Time and Space Wobbles: Art in the Age of Einstein

My wife and I visited the Mead Art Museum on the grounds of Amherst College yesterday, and its special exhibit was all about the intersections of science and art, in a field (I did not know about) known as “dimensionism.” The exhibit is entitled Modern Art in the Age of Einstein, and I found it fascinating and inspiring, and later in the day, I worked on my own artistic remix of some of the ideas my mind gathered from there.

This piece has multiple layers and multiple filters and frames as well as the layered small poem. The main visual layer is a from Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs, two spinning spiral wheels in motion on record players, explained in the art gallery this way:

When set in motion, the disc appears to transport the two-dimensional object into a wobbly three-dimensional cylinder that moves in four-dimensional space-time.

It’s fun to think of where art and science collide, and how poetry might also gain a toehold into our perceptions of these areas of overlap. Here, I hope your eyes are drawn to the center, the dark space of time, even as the shadows of my own hands taking an image allow you to step back to see the scene from another angle.

Peace (in the make),


A Poem for a Friend: I am Witness

My friend, Rob, who plays bass in my band, shared a story of 9/11 with me. He was in New York City at the time of the attack, watching it from a rooftop and then going to try to help amid the confusion. He moved away from the city afterwards, unable to remain in the space where the disaster unfolded.

After our talk over a band dinner, he sent me some writing he had done, as a way to continue to process and remember. He said I could use his writing as I wanted, so I made a found poem as a way to honor his sharing of his story with me.

This video version of the found poem — I Am Witness — uses Keynote for some simple text animation … and the music is something I composed and created in an app called Thumbjam as a soundtrack for the poem. I shared versions of this project at the new yap.net site, as I was working on finalizing a few things, and I appreciate the feedback from there.

Peace (may it come),

Book Review: Pop Charts (100 Iconic Song Lyrics Visualized)

This is a nifty and fun book of visual information. Artist Katrina McHugh began creating one-page visualization of pop music songs, with a nature theme, as a side project to keep her artistic spirit going. The result became this book — Pop Charts: 100 Iconic Song Lyrics Visualized, with the tag of “A Collection of Diagrams for Music Lovers.”

She even offers up the idea of making her charts a readers’ guessing game — can you identify the song from her art? I may have got about 60 percent of them correct, but each of her pieces of art are pretty interesting, as she uses a collage style method to layer in visual cues to iconic lyrics.

Can you guess this one?

Or how about this one?

This book is a great example of how visuals can project information in interesting and meaningful ways. Connecting the visuals to memory of pop song melodies (for your brain starts to sing songs with identification of the lyrics) and writing is pretty nifty conceptual art.

McHugh explains in the liner notes that she chose the nature theme for all 100 of her diagrams because she began noticing how lyric writers use nature in different ways, as metaphor and story and more. Animals, landscapes, water all run through these pieces, connecting the 100 to the whole.

Peace (in the way pop looks),

PS — The answers: Fire and Rain by James Taylor and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.

PSS — I lent this book to my band and no one liked it as much as I did. Just a heads up.

A Deeper Dive into the Health of the Internet

Mozilla Web Literacy Report

The Mozilla Foundation recently put out its 2019 Internet Health Report, and I kept meaning to dive in a little deeper to understand some of the trends of online activity, if only to better comprehend the world in which my young students are moving into (or are already immersed into).

You can access the report, too. They analysis focuses on some main areas:

Each of these sections has a series of short pieces on subtopics. I dug deeper into the sections and explored some of the following articles:

The study also makes three key policy suggestions for moving forward to a better Internet:

  • Give local governments and organizations more control over the Internet as they are more apt to have individual experiences and the public good in mind
  • Revamp the whole way advertising is delivered in view of how surveillance and psychological tools for hooking people into games and apps has taken root in so many advertising design elements
  • Purposefully consider the rise of AI through the lens of ethics and responsibility

Overall, the report surfaces some positive trends around privacy and responsibility, but also notes a continuing worry about censorship and the coming AI innovations on the horizon. I found some elements of the report intriguing, and worth a deeper dive, as it seems to provide information and balance, too.

Peace (inside the net),

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),



Graphic Novel Review: All Summer Long

Any book dedicated to “the weirdos and the part-time punks” and features a guitar-playing kid on the cover has my attention.

Hope Larson’s All Summer Long lives up to the dedication, focusing in on 13-year-old Bina, whose friendships are changing as summer vacation begins and who must navigate those changes while staying true to herself. In graphic novel format, the story unfolds over the course of the entire summer. The graphic story format works best during the boring moments, when Bina is alone, listening or playing music. The art captures the quiet moments in ways a traditional novel might not be able to.

Punk rock helps the summer move along, if rather slowly for her, and Bina is never far from either her headphones nor her guitar. Often, both. Her best friend and neighbor, Austin, has been acting strangely this summer, putting some distance between their friendship as he, too, navigates the world of being a 13 year old boy becoming influenced by peers and attracted to girls, but not Bina (maybe), and needing some space from their year-long close friendship.

When Austin goes away to soccer camp, Bina connects with Austin’s older sister, in a complicated friendship, and home life for Bina is unsettled, too, as an older brother is about to adopt a baby. The story told through the long weeks of the summer show Bina struggling to stay true to her passions even as adolescence and teen-hood begin to put pressures on her to conform.

Luckily, she’s confident enough in herself to resist the conformity and to be herself, and visiting a show to see her newest favorite unsigned band, where the lead player tells Bina to drop everything and just start a band, is the advice she needed. The book ends with Austin and Bina finding a friendship balance, laughing together. As the new school year begins, Bina begins to put up posters, seeking other girls to rock out with.

Think Bikini Kill or Sleater Kinney or L7. That’s what I heard in my head as Bina played her guitar.

This graphic novel is geared towards upper elementary, middle and high school readers. And, of course, to all of us weirdos out here. Maybe that’s you, too.

Peace (in the muse),


Book Review: Just Write: Here’s How!

So you want to write novels? You’d be hard pressed to find a better guide than novelist Walter Dean Myers, and here he is, with Just Write: Here’s How! to give you some advice.

Interwoven with his own story of growing up poor in Harlem and finding a way out of poverty through the power of writing, and of using his stories to find his own voice, Myers provides plenty of helpful tidbits here about how to approach writing a novel.

In fact, his “six box” outline for fiction (focused on character) and “four box” outline for non-fiction (focused on research) are as good as a design as I have seen, particularly as Myers shares examples from his many powerful books for teenagers, and how he goes about doing both research and daydreaming about story and structure.

The book is written for a young audience, with Myers being realistic about the life of a writer — the amount of rejection one gets, the work of revision, the abrupt shifts in story construction, the ability to take criticism and feedback — and also extols the virtues of telling stories for others.

In fact, as would be clear if you dive into his vast bibliography of fiction, Myers seeks to give voice to teenagers in difficult situations, often facing long odds and even often, facing difficult choices. And he walks the walk — often working with incarcerated youths, helping them find their own voice as writers in hopes that writing forges a path forward for them.

This book is helpful in many ways, making visible the architecture of stories, and always focused on the development of characters that a reader might believe in and root for.

Peace (in stories),