Graphic Non-fiction: Hidden Systems

Hidden Systems by Dan Nott

Dan Nott’s graphic book — Hidden Systems (Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind The Systems We Use Every Day) — is a visual exploration of what the subtitle says it will do — go deep into the workings of three main systems that are part of our modern lives: the Internet, the electrical grid and water networks.

In each section, Nott shows how well-informed he is with his research as well as how skilled he is as a visual artist and storyteller. The reader is quickly immersed in systems thinking, and architectural and engineering design, but Nott never goes so far into the weeds of those worlds that the average reader gets lost. Nott is an able and reliable guide, and the visuals here provide angles of understanding that text alone might not.

Nott brings us into the mostly invisible networks of wires and pipes that form the core of society (caveat: modern American society), where so much of how things function for us depends on extensive networks. These systems bring benefits but also have fundamental weaknesses and historical impacts on the environment and people, too.

Nott shows the historical beginnings behind the visi0ning of the Internet and electrical and water systems, and how some thinking created opportunities while other thinking created vulnerabilities. In some cases, the development of these systems happened by chance or without a larger vision or design, leading to problems in the grids.

We often just see the surface of our surroundings, but by understanding these systems more deeply, we can form our own questions about their past and future. The answers to these questions can help us not only to fix these systems, but also re-imagine them — creating a world that’s more in balance with the Earth. – from Hidden Systems, by Dan Nott, pages 238-9

I found that, after reading Hidden Systems, that I found myself seeing the landscape of power grids and water systems and the Internet in more nuanced ways, noticing the physical connections in my own community, the places where these fundamental services flow and connect, and that’s what good books do, right? They make us notice the world, in a different way.

(I write this on my Internet-connected laptop, at a table with a light over my head, and cup of coffee brewed with tap water by my side — all elements of the networks that Nott examines in book)

This book would be a good addition to any middle school or high school library.

Peace (and Systems),

Daily Create: Ten Clicks In

I submitted the idea for this morning’s Daily Create, using River to navigate through a series of artistic tiles and end on a page of art. I made a short video of my excursion with my ten clicks. I found it interesting and mesmerizing and rather soothing.

Peace (Wandering In),

DS106: Remix Monday (Week 1)

DS106 Remix Mondays Week1

After a DS106 Daily Create prompt yesterday (Sunday) about coming up with a new day of celebration based on Stir-Up Sunday, I decided that a Remix Monday sounded cool. Then, I thought, maybe I should try to do it — to remix a single piece of art, five different ways, over five weeks, every Monday.

Remix It Mondays

I dove back into the DS106 archives and found this image and text by Guilia Forsythe that was used more than 10 years ago by the DS106 community (before my time) for a Kickstarter campaign, and began to brainstorm some ideas. I soon realized that the image was actually a remix itself, from a Sonic Youth album cover (Goo), and although the album cover seems to have a “fair use” license, it also seemed to say you had to use the entire album cover, not just pieces of it.

So, I mostly am focusing on the handwritten text that was part of the remix done way back when, although today, for my first remix (the next will be next Monday), I revamped the art itself, adding new images to replace the original, but keeping the same text, which celebrates the act of making art.

Peace (and Remix),

Book Review: The Comfort Of Crows

I love Margaret Renkl’s regular column of observational writing in The New York Times and I enjoyed her last book – Late Migrations – immensely. Her latest book — The Comfort Of Crows — hit me in a different way, as she documents the seasons of the year through the lens of nature in her Nashville yard.

My connection with her narrative is that, like her, our three sons have all moved out of the house (the last one is in his first year of college) and my wife and I are navigating these empty spaces that were once full of noise and activity. We’re awash in the stories of their childhoods in sudden memories, and thinking of where our next phase of life will bring us.

Renkl does the same, but with lovelier language and keen observational skills, and this collection of short essays and “praise songs” for nature and the animal world resonated, particularly as she grapples with the changing environment and animal passages through her property, connecting what she is seeing out her window with her own family history and her own stories.

The Comfort Of Crows is beautiful writing, made even more delightful by the collage and artwork of her brother, Billy Renkl, who illustrates each section with intriguing art that mixes various media together to capture the natural world.

Peace (ponderings),

AI NotebookLM Experiment: Analyzing Terry’s Poems


I vaguely remember signing up as a beta user for Google’s NotebookLM AI experiment but then forgot about it until an invite came in my email yesterday. It’s still a bit funky in its workings but the general idea is that it uses Google Bard, with up to 10 texts that you can upload or paste into its system for inquiry.

You can then do questions or analysis or creative activities across all the texts (or just some, if you decide to uncheck the texts), engaging in a sort of conversation with the various texts. (Honestly, I thought it was going to have more features and I believe it will, as what is there right now didn’t seem too revolutionary to me).

I tinkered a bit, and then thought: I’ve been enjoying reading the poems of my friend, Terry Elliott, so why not use his three most recent poems. I pulled them in, and began a session of interrogating his poetic texts. I explored theme.

Terry poems Themes

Then, I explored imagery and common phrasing and words.

Terry poems Imagery

I asked the Notebook to tell me what Terry hoped I was hearing in his poems. This was the most interesting part of my experiment, I think. It gathered phrasings and explained what it thought Terry was trying to say. I’m not sure how true it is but it gave me things to ponder, and forced me to look deeper at the poems (which is the whole point of what I was doing here — allowing technology to help me see the poems in a different slant).

Terry poems instructions to reader

I also turned each poem into a haiku (the results are just “meh” in my opinion).

**The following is a haiku translation of the first poem:**

**Future is dawning**
**Make poems to see it**
**Fete vos jeux**

**The following is a haiku translation of the second poem:**

**Alone with the trees**
**Be fluid and free**
**Let the leaf fall**

**The following is a haiku translation of the third poem:**

**Be a lighthouse**
**Sharing what you have found**
**Surprised by your mind**

I asked it to write a play skit, with a poet talking to the reader, and it came out robotic and just weird – no nuance. I asked it turn that play into another one, but with a pirate theme (with hat nod to Tellio of the Olden Days of CLMOOC) of a captain talking to a sailor, and the notebook just completely and utterly ignored Terry’s poems entirely. (The nerve!). I had it write a letter to Tellio, the poet, on the issue of dreaming and the future. It was fine, and very informal in tone.

I asked it to make a Cinquain, using words from all the poems, with TERRY as the letttering. Fail. But intriguing anyway as a small poem.


**Dawning future**
**Fluid, free, visceral**
**Making sense, redrawing maps**

I asked it to write a short essay, using the text of all three poems, on the topic of hopefulness, a theme it had identified across the poem collection.

**The Tree Poems: A Source of Hope**

The two tree poems that we have read, “Imagine Your Future” and “What It Takes More or Less,” offer a source of hope in the face of uncertainty. The poet’s message is that we can find hope in the natural world, and that by connecting with nature, we can find the strength to face whatever challenges come our way.

In “Imagine Your Future,” the poet writes about the importance of dreaming and creating. She encourages us to “make and make and make” our own futures, and to trust that our efforts will be rewarded. This poem is a reminder that we are not powerless to create our own destiny. We can make a difference in the world, and we can build a better future for ourselves and for our children.

In “What It Takes More or Less,” the poet writes about the importance of being present in the moment. She encourages us to “be alone with the trees” and to “be visceral.” This poem is a reminder that we need to take time to appreciate the beauty of nature and to connect with our surroundings. When we are present in the moment, we are less likely to worry about the future or to dwell on the past. We can simply enjoy the present moment, and find peace and happiness in the natural world.

The tree poems offer a source of hope because they remind us that we are not alone. We are connected to the natural world, and we can find strength and inspiration in nature. When we are faced with challenges, we can find comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone. We can find hope in the beauty of nature, and we can find the strength to face whatever challenges come our way.

I could go on.

It’s imperfect, as Generative AI often still is, but the ability to engage with multiple texts in one place (one notebook) has a lot of potential, perhaps. A significant drawback (for now, in beta) was that it didn’t seem to have save my work from session to session (I am sure that will get fixed). But I also noticed at one point that is stopped using one of Terry’s poems in responses to my questions.

Peace (in explorations),

PS — Terry gave me permission to share this AI work on his poems

Using Padlet’s New AI Art Feature

Golden Lines with AI Art

Padlet, which I use a lot with my students for sharing across classes, recently added an AI Art tool — with a tool name that I don’t really like (“I Can’t Draw”). As you might expect, my sixth graders are quite fascinated by it but I want them to use it to complement their writing and sharing, and not just turn them loose on it.

So, as part of a larger short story unit, I introduced the idea of Golden Lines — a sentence or two or phrasing from their stories that have some importance to the narrative, and then suggested they use the AI Art tool to make art based on their Golden Lines.

They are coming out pretty interesting, I’d say, and a little later in the year, we’ll do some explorations to deconstruct how the tool works and more. For now, it’s another tool for making complimentary art for their writing.

Peace (inked out),