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Friday, January 29, 2010


  Is anything more lovely
than banks of cumulus clouds
lit by a full moon,
against a deep blue sky
dotted with rare, bright planets?

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Large Apple

  Shadow of the Empire State Building, New York, November 2009 by A.E. GravesLast autumn, my still life work on metal plates, which I had made with my homemade large format camera, won a spot in a juried group show in New York City. It was my third juried group show in New York, and I was becoming frustrated that I'd been unable to SEE the shows my work was in. (My first juried NY show, out in Rochester, had been documented in a lovely, hand-bound catalog, but that is rare.)

I hadn't taken vacation all year, primarily due to being broke. But I had a small emergency fund with a few 8+ year old shares of Apple stock in it, shares that had just reached an all-time high.

So I bought a ticket, booked a hotel room for three nights with the help of my officemate, and went.


In my remote childhood, I had set foot in NYC many times. Those were the years of visiting grandparents at least once a year in either the heat of summer or the depths of winter. My father worked for an airline, and we had some flight benefits. I have recollections, quite vividly, of JFK International airport: of endless red carpeting, coin operated bathrooms, the vending machine where my mother would let me buy a packaged coffee cake, dirty snow - piles and piles of dirty snow - and the long ride in a Connecticut Limousine back when it was still a limo, lined with row after row of businessmen in suits, driving us at odd hours of night or morning to Connecticut.

This was my first trip to New York FOR New York.

Rockefeller Center detail, November 2009, by A.E. GravesThere were many highlights to the trip, both visual and social:

-The approach to Manhattan from JFK, during which I realized how the Empire State Building really does look grand.
-Dinner with my officemate and his partner; drinks at improbably fashionable Buddakan ( - launch the site and take the tour; the lighting is actually much lower in real life), which I'd like to visit again.

-Visiting THE Museum of Modern Art ( in its spectacular "new" building.
-Dinner at Safran (, because nothing says home like 'black rice' with dinner, and I had gone too long without it. Aaaah.
-A pleasant, first in-person meeting someone I had only known on-line.

-Coming to the realization that my SF City walk translated PERFECTLY over to NY: I could walk down the street unmolested by hawkers of tour tickets and other sightseeing miscellany. They parted before me, only to set upon the nice Midwesterners behind me. I was also encouraged to vote in the local elections. I took this as a high compliment.
-A visit to the Empire State Building. I wanted to do at least ONE classic tourist thing, and I'd heard it was pleasantly 'deco.
-Lunch at HanGawi, an incredible Korean vegetarian restaurant near the Empire State. The meal was completely amazing.
-The Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim (, a building with bathrooms so tiny that my knees touched the opposite wall when I used the facilities. (You knew that Wright was short, didn't you? He was short. And indifferent to the needs of taller people.)
-A walk through Central Park.
-The opening night party for my group show at Soho Photo Gallery!! My officemate, plus a good friend who had come all the way up from Washington DC on a bus, plus her friends joined me. I gave a roving lecture on the different processes used to make the images. It was a blast!
-Dinner in the East Village with my DC friend's entourage at a little Italian bistro that made unsealed squash ravioli with the most incredibly tender pasta...

NYC metro mosaic, New York, by A.E. GravesWednesday
-An ultra-fresh bagel from a street corner cart. Mmmmm: poppy seeds.
-Lunch in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, at a charming little restaurant with potent lattes and Victorian-era metal pressed ceiling tiles. I chatted with the owner and barista for a while before my date arrived. New Yorkers are friendly!
-A tour of Brooklyn, followed by hours of relaxed socializing over classical music (Mozart, mostly) and tea.

This was just a reconnaissance trip: my officemate and I have a long, running list of things to do when we are there again at the same time later this year. I could have easily spent a week just working through my list of museums, but my hotel budget means those items will wait until another visit.

Despite dark and cloudy weather for most of the trip, I have two albums up on FB: New York City in 600 x 800 pixels is my phone photo collection, and New York City - a few buildings covers the few times I brought out my Digilux to handle low-light situations.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:40 AM

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The mystery of the missing dead

  There are images in the news media of Haiti that have no correlation here, though there were images that came close during Katrina. I'm not speaking of the devastation: I'm speaking of who may be shown as victims, whose bodies are acceptable to display as news.

We live in a country that has banned all manner of images of our own war dead, even draped in our flag; where controversy remains over the depiction of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks in art, fiction, literature, and news; where the victims of even the daily automobile accidents that claim so many lives are draped before any image is taken.

There are rules: the rules are strict. But they do not pertain to all of us in the same way.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:17 PM

Friday, January 22, 2010

Handmade science books

  The New York Public Library has a full set of scans up of its copy of Anna Atkins' masterpiece! NYPL Digital Gallery | Ocean Flowers: Anna Atkins' Cyanotypes of British Algae ( fills the search results you can peform if you search for "cyanotype." The NYPL's summary:
Photographs of British Algae is a landmark in the histories both of photography and of publishing: the first photographic work by a woman, and the first book produced entirely by photographic means. Instantly recognizable today as the blueprint process, the cyanotypes lend themselves beautifully to illustrate objects found in the sea. The Library's copy of British Algae originally belonged to Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), inventor of the blueprint process, among his many other photographic as well as scientific advances.
My favorite single image may be Dictyota dichotoma, but I've been known to change my mind.

I love the idea of producing small editions of hand-bound books of unique prints. In my spare time. While I'm resting.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Have your people call my people

  My current co-workers are great in many ways. One of the best ways is that they are socially decisive when it comes to going out. A typical conversation goes like this:
Awesome coworker: I want to go out for a drink! Are you free Thursday?
Me: Yes!
AC: Let's go out to [Bar X]. I'll see you there at 7!

You know this impresses me. I am pretty good at facilitating outings, but I love it when other people facilitate, or when the people I'm working with make it easy. I LOVE how easy my co-workers make it. I'm also impressed by the decisiveness they use in picking a date and sticking to it. It means I get to go out often!

I've written in the past about how some of my other social groups propose social events, but actually scheduling them is like playing a one way version the game Battleship: they will tell you when they CANNOT go out if you propose a specific time, but they will not tell you when they CAN go out:
Gamma Squadron: I miss you gals! I have lots of news! We need to get together next week!
[Agreement from Alpha, Beta, and Delta Squadrons]
Me: How about Thursday?
GS: Miss.
Me: Wednesday?
BS: I have an exercise off the coast of Japan that night.
Me: Well, when are you free?
AS: I can't wait to see you all! You should know that I'll be busy Saturday evening with cooperative drills off the coast of Madagascar.
Me: With who? Madagascar doesn't have a navy, does it? What about Tuesday?
DS: Miss.
Despite this, we still get together quarterly, and have a GREAT time when we do.

This week's event challenge with a non-co-worker peer group involves something like a 'punch line.' It's when everyone is cooperating to move an event forward, and someone who ignored the discussion until the last minute suddenly jumps in to express disappointment on whatever has been agreed to. (This is similar to the "seagull manager:" an absentee superior who unexpectedly swoops in, poops all over everything, and then leaves.) I have declined invitations for other events to hang out with this group, but sometimes that just doesn't pay off, as the event doesn't come together. This week, It took FIVE CALENDAR DAYS to schedule a three person movie event, with one 'punch line' abstention. I will parody this here, for my amusement, if not for yours:
Day 1
Me: [message to five person social group] I want to see Vampire Robot Foreign Drama with Zombie Female Lead this week or weekend! Well, okay, let's just work with the weekend.

Cooperative1: Count me in! I'm free this weekend.

Day 2
Cooperative2: Count me in also! Both days this weekend work!

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5
Me: I guess that's everyone? Here is a list of possible times on Day6. I propose Time4 followed by dinner, with Time1 preceded by brunch as a backup.

Cooperative1: I endorse both of these plans, with Time4 taking precedence because you proposed it as the plan, and I am very cooperative.

Cooperative2: I also endorse Time4, though I wish to endorse the other plan if it draws in additional participants, such as PunchLine, who may not be available at some point over the 24 hour period that is Sunday. PunchLine?

Cooperative3: I will be away all weekend, but that's for thinking of me!

Me: [110 hours after sending the initial proposal] Great! I have another invitation for Time1, so Time4 it is!

PunchLine: [Half an hour later, about 111 hours after the proposal went out] Oh. I guess that doesn't work for me.
The lesson: decisive people are considerate people, cooperative people are considerate people, and everyone else can sit on the floor playing with tinker toys (<- cool) ALONE (<-less cool), because I'm done with them.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:20 AM

Saturday, January 16, 2010


  lighting at SFMoMA 75th Anniversary Party concert room, January 15, 2010If I had known that the line to get into SFMoMA's 75th anniversary preview party would snake all the way around the block, I probably would have just gone home. It just seemed so... improbable. When have I ever had to wait in line to get into SFMoMA? That's the point of being a member - not waiting in line.

As the gentleman waiting in line beside me observed, how the heck is he supposed to feel elite in a line like this? I told him to think of it as a mass performance piece. That only consoled him somewhat.

The line moved quickly: I passed the loading dock dining area featuring Taco Truck, a Belgian waffle truck, and Chez Spencer's French take away truck by 8:50, and was in the door and submerged in the art-loving, party-going throngs by 9.

I have never seen that building quite so full of people. Every balcony on the stairwell, the bridge, the entrance to the stairs - all were packed.

SFMoMA exterior in low lightI had cleverly seen the 75th anniversary show (ending today!) and the first half of Focus on Artists (Richard Diebenkorn, Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Clyfford Still) in advance, so I could focus my energy on not being trampled, observing proper mosh pit behavior, watching a live performance by the Magik Magik Orchestra (, who filled the space usually occupied by Caffe Museo and played over an incredible din (and who played poppy tunes quite unlike what they have up on myspace, which, to the extent I could make out the parts, sounded fun (some of which reminded me structurally of songs by Marcy Playground, even though they weren't actually very similar)), chatting with three great people I hadn't seen in a while, watching part of the set by the Dodos ( interesting than the orchestra), and acquiring champagne from stoic, overwhelmed bartenders using a drink ticket that another patron reached over and handed me upon hearing me tell my friends that I wanted a drink. (Yaaay, art patrons!)

It was a nice scene to visit, and I'm glad no one was trampled while I was there. I'm glad I went, because I wouldn't have believed that the museum has so many members, or that so many people could fit into the building.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:04 PM

Vietnamese under the garage

  vegan lemongrass chicken at Green Papaya
Who can resist a Vietnamese restaurant menu with vegan lemongrass chicken? Not me.

Green Papaya Vietnam Cuisine Restaurant ( at 825 Mission Street is one of the storefronts that has improved the street-level experience at the 5th and Mission Garage. You used to walk along what felt like a gloomy concrete car bunker, menaced by random driveways: now there are brightly lit storefronts with a coffee chain (guess, go ahead, just guess), a beauty parlor, and some sit-down restaurants. Green Papaya is one of those.

I was lured in by their proper vegetarian section, and the frequent appearance of the word "vegan." (At some restaurants (like an infamous one on Kearny), the "vegetarian" section didn't translate over correctly, and might include something like "eggplant with ground pork.") The word VEGAN is rarely mistranslated, and having a multiple items labeled with that word got me interested.

The photo if of item #83 on the dinner menu, vegan lemongrass chicken (ga xao sa ot chay). "Vegan chicken" is not very much like chicken to me, though it routinely fools my omnivorous friends. I suppose it's like the chicken of TV dinners: it seems like something that has been pureed and then pressed into dense slabs. This was mixed with tofu, onions, a few dried chilies, and a tasty sauce. It was not complex - there were no bright flavors from fresh herbs, the lemongrass was subdued, and the dried chilies weren't joined by tangy fresh chilies - but it was satisfying in a 'brown foods' kind of way. Filling. Hot. Well-seasoned.

One issue I had is that you're looking at about $16 worth of food in the photo. If you are like me, you're used to paying less than half that for this amount of food. It was satisfying, but I'm not sure it was $16 satisfying. They only had white rice. In comparison with Golden Era, my dish wasn't VERY lemongrass-y. I think I would prefer more of that fresh, lemongrass flavor.

I'll likely visit to try other dishes on their menu, but I'll likely do so at lunch, where the prices are closer to what I'd expect.


posted by Arlene (Beth)11:40 AM

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Culture beyond dairy

  I'm not a huge fan of nursing from cows: I really don't want to look, smell, or be shaped like a growing calf. Or get any weird cow ailments, for that matter, or drug residues - the sort of thing we worry about if we are nursing our own kids, but not if we are being nursed by other animals.

Probiotics - all of those beneficial bacilli - often only appear in stores as refrigerated pills or in dairy yogurt. I love "rejuvelac" (, which is a fermented, dairy-free mix of probiotics and other neat stuff, but it is hard to find.

This is part of why I love the incredible soy yogurts made by WholeSoy & Co. (, an SF local company. I like the taste better than that of dairy-based yogurt, I don't have to worry about calf-like tendencies, and it's locally made with organic soy!

It tastes significantly better than Silk's soy yogurt to me, and I love Silk's other products.

I don't usually endorse specific brands of things, since most of what I eat is cooked from scratch rather than pre-prepared and packaged, but this is good stuff. And vegan. And addictively tasty.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

AT&T: Worst Service in the World?

  Let me tell you a story.

My ex/roommate had a phone account with AT&T. When he moved out, we weren't exactly on speaking terms. He told AT&T that I wanted the phone number. Without my permission and without notifying me, they put the account in my name.

I began receiving past due notices for bills I had never seen, and threats about restrictions on the phone service that, frankly, I wasn't using.

I contacted them, asked them to disconnect the phone, and told them that, while I didn't appreciate them secretly creating accounts in my name, that I could overlook all of their errors if they could clean up their mess. I gave them my credit card number. I told them to pay it all off, close it down, and send me a statement. I said I could get a refund from my ex-roommate.

It is now two months later, and I'm receiving collection notices from a collection agency for another bill I have never seen, for an account I never authorized, which I asked them to shut down on November 6th, which also was based on bills I have STILL never seen.

Is there a way they could have screwed this up more? I was trying to be nice to clean up the old account by giving them money for services they had not even described to me, and yet somehow, they managed to make the entire situation stupider.

It is official: I loathe AT&T. They suck monkey butt.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:07 PM

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday afternoon

  image of cloudy afternoon skies over Ocean Beach, January 10, 2010 by A.E. Graves
This weekend may have been just refreshing enough to prepare me for another week of work. Just maybe.

Or maybe that's just the nap influencing my judgment.

Having time to take a nap is so... luxurious...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:22 PM

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Kim Chee Explosion

  Is this (a) a Korean experimental jazz trio or (b) what happened in my kitchen this Saturday morning?

Kids: if you try out kim chee in a jar from a refrigerated display case, and if that kim chee comes with a warning, printing on the top of the jar, warning that it must only be opened over the sink because natural fermentation is creating internal pressure, you should probably keep it refrigerated and open the jar over the sink. Unlike, say, what I did.

It was delicious. And I wasn't wearing anything I was fond of.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 AM

Friday, January 08, 2010

Comical plea for sympathy

  A tall woman was rambling loudly to a captive audience of one - the bus driver - about her health problems. She had some developmental issue, from the sound of it, but also a growth disorder of some kind, which made me pay additional attention because I've known people who thought they had that.

Her plea for sympathy went off track when she said, "You know that stuff that Wolverine has in his bones? I have that."

There's some sort of mutant-public transit endorsement there, but I don't want to use it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Friday, January 01, 2010

Development: Hunting/Gathering -> Cottage Industries -> Mass Manufacturing -> Cottage Industries

  Bigger isn't always better.

I'm reading one of several entries in the Uppercase Magazine blog about mainstream magazines that have ceased publication (, and am doing a bit of comparing & contrasting. Uppercase is a small operation: the founder has a small team that works with her, has a great website, a small gallery and shop, an adorable line of products, and more than 900 subscribers, so she doesn't need to be solely beholden to advertisers. The mainstream big magazines that are being shut down are vast enterprises with huge offices, vast editorial departments, huge sales organizations, thick layers of well-paid business managers... The sort of model business we have always been told is best, the business we should all want to have, because bigger is better.

Yet bigger is better ceased publication months ago.

Those big publishing houses, for periodicals and for books, are supposed to be an be-all-end-all dream for all those of us who work in any medium that needs to be printed -- we know, because the stuff they print tells us so. But there is increasing evidence that this just isn't the case.


An interesting discussion broke out on an old-fashioned mailing list for specialist photographers recently on a related topic. A fellow photographer was shocked to learn that his publisher had decided not to continue publishing his textbook: he was more or less told that reliable sales of small editions/print runs were no longer worth the publisher's while, and they were going to focus on books with wider appeal for bigger print runs. The author was devastated - his students will no longer be able to buy the book he wrote - and he had no input on the decision not to continue printing it.

He proposed a letter-writing campaign to the publisher to demand that they continue to print it. This is a position that assumes that a big publisher is the best option, or perhaps the only option. He received several supportive replies for this plan.

The majority of replies were NOT supportive of this plan. Most writers asked why he should be satisfied with a publisher whose decision-makers he would never meet controlling his book, and with it his ability to teach. Two major solutions were put forward by a range of authors: small press publishing and print-on-demand. Small press publishing had advocacy from several authors who had chosen that route and had with pleasing results: in support, an actual press representative wrote to discuss their abilities, and how their small size allows them to generate competitive small runs. Since the printing requires an outlay of cash that the author hadn't planned for, print-on-demand was also proposed: POD technology allows for beautifully printed books to stay "in print" indefinitely, for little or no up-front out-of-pocket cost, though at a higher per-unit cost (since they are printed in editions of 1 using more expensive equipment).

No one really stepped up on behalf of the publisher who was discontinuing his book, so the services a big publisher may offer (editing, design assistance, distribution, advertising) weren't talked up, to the extent that is even an option. The abandoned author didn't gush about those services, assuming he had once received them.


I am telling these stories about magazine and book publishers, but there are similar stories with record companies, film companies, greeting card companies, photographic supply companies... You name it. I'm reading more and more in support of the comments I made in the Perils and Profits of Scale which is basically this: companies whose entire business model is pinned to the fundamental economics of quantity really aren't supporting most creatives and others whose primary product is quality. (Or specificity, for that matter.)

The technologies that can allow people to build a successful small business based on quality and/or specificity are maturing now. I now have a choice of POD services to print books for me in a range of formats and paper qualities; I receive catalogs from companies that will burn my music onto CDs and print up packaging for me in large or small runs, or who will sell me the equipment to do so myself; I know people who are running, or have run, small businesses using sites such as eBay or Amazon Marketplace which allow them to specialize in their area of expertise without needing to be the next have-one-of-everything, breadth-without-depth chainstore...

In an economy where more and more of us are learning that big employers aren't the safest places to plan our futures, especially if employment doesn't quite meet all of our expressive needs, having these sorts of tools is a GREAT thing.


People who like the top-down options that the big companies give them - the blond pop vixen of the week, celebrity hairstyles, top ten paperback bestsellers, Tom Cruise movies - might only be aware of these things when some celebrity turns up wearing an outfit from obscure fashion designer running a label out of her garage, or carrying a bag she found on Etsy. Inexplicably, some people I know are using new technologies to follow old-technology companies - as if CNN/EPSN/UNFUN hasn't already told you six different ways the same stuff they're going to tweet to you! But it really doesn't matter so long as the people who DO want to use these tools to sell or buy things that meet their needs can use these tools to their advantage.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:55 PM

Last and first meals

  My final 2009 meal was a late evening, post-nap snack of: a big glass of Italian red wine (Barbera d'Asti), an apple, and a plate of ume soba (bright pink and sweet-smelling, but plain-tasting) with shiitake men tsuyu dipping sauce.

My first breakfast was an apple, a pot of miso soup, and a few squares of coconut white chocolate.

I hadn't been expecting the Japanese theme, but there it is.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:32 AM

Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010!

  cloudy sky over Emeryville, New Year's Eve 2009, by A.E. Graves2009 is not a year I'm going to miss: years involving major transitions are often uncomfortable, like new jeans that just don't fit correctly, and won't until you've really had a chance to break them in. Or perhaps drop a few pounds, and then make a bad analogy about them.

The good things in 2009 were truly good: invaluable friendships, the joy and laughter with the people closest to me, successfully building my first large format camera, getting my work from the new camera into a juried New York City gallery show (and going to NYC for the opening!), having a local gallerist choose some of my work to hang in San Francisco in 2010, developing the optimism to date again (and actually going on dates), getting better at yoga, witnessing the cautious beginnings of actual recognition for my skill and hard work at my job...

The bad things were just incredibly bad. I'm doing my best to leave the roughest parts of 2009 behind, keeping the lessons, the scars that can't be healed with Vitamin E, and little else. I've got a new face cream that's doing wonders for the lines from looking so damned pensive all the time.

I have great plans and a full tank of optimism for 2010. I hope it's a great year for us all.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM

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