Reading: Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

This was one of those email on sale alert impulse purchases I make for Kindle Books from time to time. It looked like it would fit into my current theme of reading on creativity and craft. It turned out to be a great intuition.

This a 25th anniversary editon of what is called in the blurbs “a classic book”. Picture This is very simply a short, illustrated deconstruction of how some identifiable elements of an image (color, position in the frame, shape, distance from other objects) are interpreted by us emotionally. Since it’s a classic book and I readily agreed with almost all the observations, these truly appear to be universal, wired in aspects of brain function in interpreting the visual world. Often Bang takes exactly the kind of ecological approach I’d use, talking about why something would feel a certain way based on relationship or common experience without resort to theory or some evolutionary design concept. Quite simply, we can’t be sure how we got here, but here we all are. In fact, it would be interesting to know to what extent these observations hold true across cultures.

Right after I finished the book, I pulled up my public gallery in Flickr. It’s been a while since I actively used the app, but it’s a quick way to get an overview of my photographic work.

Looking at my work through the eyes of Bang’s book, it’s amazing how almost all of my images are restful, balanced and lacking tension. I chose this image from a few years ago as a good example. There are two objects in frame, the white paint square to the left and the remnant window sill on the right. There are the background gray and white color blocks. The main characters here are off center vertically, but balanced. They seem friendly as if they might be chatting with each other. Even though nothing is centered vertically, the greater weight of the dark object rests comfortably away from the picture edge and the the white square takes up the other side, getting close to the dark bar in its space.

Will my images change? Actually, I doubt it, given that this is how I see the world. Maybe more a reflection on me than on the art. Or both.

Reading: Slough House by Nick Herron

Number seven in the series, Slough House by Mick Herron is another great addition to this spy thriller series. Of course, if you’ve read any of the series or watched the AppleTV+ show, it’s character drama and commentary on post-cold war bureaucracy and politics. This book focuses particularly on the domestic politics of England.

I’ve realized through reading the series that by focusing on this outcast group in the spy world and their often inept efforts that are always successful ultimately, the books have a way of looking upwards into the corridors of power- both political and organizational. Like much good fiction, we get a pointed reflection of our times. This is what life was like.

Reading: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

One of the older posts here that continues to get some hits is a bit of a meditation on the photographer Eliot Porter, who was an influential early color landscape photographer who is now, I fear, largely forgotten, even though he was an important influence on landscape photographers and my own approach to the intimate view.

I had no answer at the time, but after finishing Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, I felt like maybe I had a bit of insight into why some artists, while influential, are forgotten while others, influential or not, continue to be relevant. Cloud Cuckoo Land is very much a work of contemporary fiction. It is generally somewhat fantastic in its settings, plot and characters- shifting in time and space from ancient Greece to the fall of Constantinople to modern day and a future time, all tied together through the device of the Ancient Greek manuscript, Cloud Cuckoo Land. Most fiction today shifts scene and character point of view. Or makes narrative construction a central part of the experience in one way or another.

For some reason, it brought to mind James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I reread last year, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which I reread a few years ago, both influential books of my youth. But it seems to me that while Joyce is still celebrated and read, Pynchon is becoming another forgotten artist who was influential, but now seeming less interesting to read.

Perhaps one reason why artists like Porter and Pynchon fade is that those they influence, surpass them in the very areas in which they innovated. It’s clear that most landscape images taken by YouTube photographer influencers and now much better images than those Porter took. We have better capture methods, better exposure control and better post-processing tools than Porter had. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has created the kind of majestic monochrome images that Ansel Adams made, keeping his work relevant for us. Sometimes doing it first means doing it so well that those that follow seem to be imitating. Others are surpassed by those that come after and so are forgotten as they were innovative and influential, but ultimately not of a quality that lasts.

Cloud Cuckoo Land seemed to me to take the tools of modern fiction and use them in a fun, somewhat hopeful way. The basic text is an absurd Greek fantasy of no great merit and the stories told that are spun from it similarly are comedies of no particular great merit. Yet the whole is a nice meditation on literature, stories, comedy and, perhaps best of all, is a compelling fun read.

I won’t judge it for the ages. That will depend on those that follow us.

Wabi-Sabi Intention

This photo is one extreme of the casual approach, approaching the almost arbitrary selection of content. I’m showing this just to make a point about what I’m thinking about this year in creating photographs. My instinct is that this is just a bit too far, but with just some structure it would work. It lacks gesture which is enough of a subject for an image.

My contribution to working in public.

Reading 2023

Currently Reading


Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell


Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

Deciding Better: The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight by Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, Adam Bulley.

Jewish Studies: Nefesh Hachaim by Rav Chaim of Volozhin

2023 Reads


The Gunslinger by Stephen King (audiobook)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norris by Susanna Clarke (audiobook)

Slough House by Mick Herron

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Joe Country by Mick Herron

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy (audiobook)

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

London Rules by Mick Herron


Novelist as Vocation Haruki Murakami

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

The Entangled Brain: How Perception, Cognition, and Emotion Are Woven Together by Luiz Pessoa. Note that free PDFs of the book chapters are available here.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being Rick Rubin

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America by Pekka Hämäläinen

Reading Plan

I’ve got three categories of reading running. Fiction, nonfiction general reading, and books related to the On Deciding . . . Better project. The idea is to have variety but focus on finishing a book in each category. Always having a few ready on deck of course.

In fiction now I’m branching out from pure SciFi and SciFi tinged Fantasy into more literary picks with SciFi overtones. I loved reading Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel last year, so I’m pushing a bit in that direction this year. But probably alternating that with finishing the Slow Horse series and maybe pickup another spy series- for the variety.

The nonfiction category is for general information, filling in gaps in my understanding of the world. I’ve enjoyed reading popular presentations of quantum physics like Carlo Rovelli’s Helgoland, history or art. Right now, after two books of political US history, I’m drawn to asthestics and am really enjoying Rubin’s book.

Next is my project specific reading for this project, On Deciding . . . Better which has been going on 25 years now. Last year, I spent time on the fundementals of statistics and Baysian reasoning. This year it’s catching up with neuroscience to ensure the current accuracy of the ODB manuscript.These books get written and then reviewed for note taking as I described here.

Finally, I spend time every morning on a work of Jewish ethics and philosophy. Having read through some recent commentaries over the last few years, I’m going back to sources like the famous Nefesh Hachaim. Now this doesn’t generally so directly enter my notes here, it is foundational to my thought and personal growth.

A bit more conventional image of the puppy.

Operant conditioning is a powerful tool for shaping behavior. Still, much is to be gained by thinking about what the world looks like from the puppy’s point of view. Facinating how a puppy shows stress through affection, aggression and play dependiing on context. I’m learning to see through the surface appearance to see where the behavior is coming from.

The Emacs and LogSeq excursions

Once I had my Linux box up and running with Regolith and i3wm, I wanted to integrate it into my developing Zettelblogging workflow.

First, I explored the world of Emacs. There is a wonderful community around Emacs currently with great YouTube videos and blogs. I’d be remiss if I didnt’t mention Prot, Sachua and David who served as guides to integrating Emacs into my workflow. It took a program called SyncThing to hook the Linux box into my Apple-centric iCloud workflow efficiently although seeing folders from the Mac over my home network is pretty easy in Linux, particularly having the Gnome tools available.

In the end, Emacs, like Linux itself, is a high customizable environment that was engaging but in the end just didn’t bring that much utility to the actual work. In fact, both act as potent distractions to actual research and writing.

Next I explored LogSeq, which is one of the new generation of note taking apps like Roam, Notion and Craft. I kind of liked it and found it more straightforward in use than I had imagined with its backlinking and autotagging style. But in the end it was too much a self contained system and really not easily integrated with the Drafts/DEVONthink/text/PDF workflow I had built up over the years.

So I’m back using the tools on the Mac and iOS where each piece of software is a bit more opinionated and fits a particular use case while all working well together. Suprisingly, the Kindle Scribe is my latest useful tool, giving me a nice way of reading PDFs in depth. I’m hoping the notetaking side becomes better integrated, but for now my notebooks and fountain pens are just as good as a digital notetaking tablet. Notes are an initial step in input and my goal is working in public on that input.

Why Linux captured computing and not the desktop

It’s clear that the Linux desktop failed even as Linux became the single most widely deployed OS behind the scence. And as Linus Torvalds, the creator of the OS knows, the reason is the fragmentation of the user experience.

Even knowing this abstractly didn’t stop me for spending a good bit of the first half of 2022 building a PC and playing with Linux, I’ve built a few PC with my youngest son as gaming rigs. I fell in love with the Teenage Engineering mini-ITX case they call the “Computer-1“. So when they became available again at the beginning of last year, I bought one and then the parts to put together a Linux box. Just Intel on chip graphics since the case is too small for a high powered graphics card and I wasn’t looking to use the build for gaming or other graphics uses.

What I wanted was a fast, minimal system not filled with distractions and extras. Since Linux runs fine on hardware ranging from my Raspberry Pi to multiprocessor servers, I figured that a well configured box would be about as fast as possible on standard tasks like text editing and browsing.

My biggest motivation was to really try a tiling windows manager. One of my biggest frustrations with MacOS is how inconsistently windows are spawned and so randomly placed. Working with two large external monitors multiplies the problem. I’ve mostly dealt this this by using a utility called Magnet which quickly allows screen tiling. And the new Stage Manager OS approach actually helps a bit. But using a minimal system with a tiling WM is just another experience altogether.

So I used a Linux distro called Regolith which integrated the I3 tiling windows manager with the Gnome System Mangement tools on Ubuntu. Sounds complicated already, doesn’t it. These distros on Linux are absolutely necessary because of the complexity of putting together a full suite of system management tools. There are literally dozens of distros. I found it pretty easy to find a distro and get it loaded on my newly built machine. But when something goes wrong or you want to add a functionality and keep it updated, it starts taking time to look up how to install or change some settings file to get things right. So far from the experience of running MacOS or Windows.

I can see how if one were running a certain configuration and just wanted to maintain function, it would be a reliable way to go. But as a user, there’s just so much friction that I can see how any casual user would be detered from continuing. Lets just say that to run Linux as a user, one needs to be at “Hobbyist” level. Willing to invest time into running the machine to learn how it all works and customize an experience.

So I got my Linux machine up and running. In the end, I ended up with a full Gnome install running with I3 loaded as the window manager at startup. That was just the start of the journey though, as I spent more time after that going down the Emacs and LogSeq rabbit holes. But I think those are tales for another day.

iPhone Photography and the Puppy

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Expect lots of puppy photos here. I have not had such a willing model in many years.

So far, it’s been iPhone photography all the way. This is a portrait mode image to get that blurred background. Digitally created in the phone with the AI system combining two images, but no work and quite impressive looking.

I’m figuring out how to use the bigger cameras for these portraints, especially the Leica SL2 which has been pretty idle without roadtrips and landscape photography.

The puppy’s name is Thiebaud, named after the California painter, Wayne Thiebaud. Pronounced in both cases “TEEBOW”. We’re learing about each other and I’m learning how classical and operant conditioning work in the real world, training an animal that now lives here. The power of positive reinforcement using food is quite remarkable, which I ought to know after decades of reading about behavior studies in the lab.

Speaking of lab, she’s a black Labrador Retriever from Viklan Labradors in West Chester, PA. A confident, playful and very motivated companion.