Cyanotype…notes to myself

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with cyanotype as a way to get people to look more closely at plants. This post is some notes to myself about cyanotype resources.

Cyanotype print of plant material.
Cyanotype of grasses and rushes (actual size 4 inches square)

Cyanotype in the classroom

Lawrence Hall of Science sells “Sunprint Kits” with 12 pieces of 4 inch square cyanotype paper and a clear acrylic overlay sheet. Cost buying direct from them is US$5.99 per kit (do not buy from Amazon where the price is higher).

Lawrence Hall of Science also sells refill packs of 12 sheets of cyanotype paper for US$3.99. The kits and refills are ideal for class use — inexpensive enough to allow people to experiment. You can also purchase kits and refills with 8-1/2 by 11 inch cyanotype paper from them. The larger sheets are more expensive (about US$1 per sheet), but if your class gets serious about cyanotypes the larger size allows for more possibilities.

Cyanotype for artists

Jacquard Products sells cyanotype sets — two plastic bottles with cyanotype chemicals that you fill with water, then mix the resulting solutions 1 to 1 when you’re ready to coat your paper. (I bought my set at an independent art supply store.)

I’ve purchased this, but haven’t yet used it. You have to coat the paper in a low light setting, and dry the paper in darkness. I haven’t yet figured out a place where I can dry the paper.

Cyanotype book

There are several self-published books on cyanotype processes available online, but I’ve found only one book by a reputable publisher — Cyanotype Toning: Using Botanicals To Tone Blueprints Naturally by Annette Golaz (Routledge, 2021), part of Routledge’s Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography series.

This book is expensive — US$66.99. However, Routledge is currently having a summer sale, and I just purchased the book for 20% off with free shipping.

Cyanotype online

Some of the cyanotype websites appear to be “AI”-generated slime. Others are too basic (“Expose the cyanotype paper, put it water, look at the result!”). But I found a few websites worth visiting:

“How To Make Cyanotypes of Flowers” on the Nature TTL website includes very useful instructions on a specific form of wet cyanotype process.

A digitized version of Anna Atkins’s book of botanical cyanotypes is online at London’s Natural History Museum website. A scholarly article with an analysis of Atkins’s book from the point of view literary analysis can be found here. Atlas Obscura has samples of a 12 year old’s botanical cyanotypes here.

Jacquard has a good guide on toning cyanotypes to produce different colors here.

Noted with minimal comment

The following sentence by J. M. Berger has been widely quoted: “If you believe that only ‘the other guys’ can produce extremists and that your own identity group cannot, you may be an extremist yourself.”

The original context of the quote provides more nuance:

“In the United States, the term extremist is frequently hurled, shorn of context, across racial and partisan divides. Many in the wider West contend that the entire religion of Islam is inherently extreme, arguing for policies that range from the curtailment of civil rights to mass internment. Within Islam itself, furious debates rage about which sect, movement, or nation is normative and which is extremist. These debates influence the study of extremism. There are perhaps three times as many academic studies referencing jihadism as there are referencing white nationalism. Pseudo-intellectuals, some in positions of political power, have argued that white nationalism is far less important than jihadism, despite the fact that white nationalism has a far longer and more deadly history. And they have shaped policies accordingly. If you believe that only ‘the other guys’ can produce extremists and that your own identity group cannot, you may be an extremist yourself. History provides ample evidence that extremism is part of the human condition and not the exclusive province of any single race, religion, or nation. Not all violence is extremism, nor are all of humanity’s countless wars, conflicts, and atrocities. Many cases are ambiguous, but some clearly align with our modern understanding of the word. The diversity and ubiquity of the problem can be seen in a review of historical outbreaks of significant violence driven by ideological belief.”

— from the book Extremism by J. M. Berger (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2018), p. 2.

Kids, mental health, and social media

Last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, issued an advisory report on social media and the mental health of kids:

“The current body of evidence indicates that while social media may
have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators
that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health
and well-being of children and adolescents….” — Social Media and Youth Mental Health (U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, 2023)

Since then, Dr. Murthy has called on Congress to place health warning labels on social media sites.

This is not just a public health concern. It’s also a religious concern, or should be. In a recent opinion piece, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin writes:

“A religious temperament might mean questioning our utter reliance on such technology: creating islands of time, like the Sabbath or Sunday, when we would liberate ourselves from technology and being more self-aware of how we use our tools, which have become our toys…. That [old] rabbinic statement that has become a cliche: ‘Whoever saves one life, it is as if they have saved the entire world.’ If regulating access to social media will save the life of one kid, it will be worth it.”

We now know that social media has serious adverse effects on adolescent and pre-adolescent health. So let’s do something about it.

Why the debate shouldn’t matter

I’ve read three or four recent news stories claiming that some large percentage of voters are going to place a lot of weight on the debates.

My personal opinion is that this seems silly. Skill in debating doesn’t necessarily correlate to skill in governing. Furthermore, a president of the United States is really only as good as their team. Debating skill tells me nothing about the ability of someone to put together a good management team. (Besides, we’ve already seen both of the two major presidential candidates govern for several years; we already know how they’re going to perform.)

But the United States seems obsessed with high stakes performance evaluations like the presidential debate. For high school kids, we love our high stakes school tests, and our SAT scores. For sports teams, we love our playoff games. For Unitarian Universalist ministers, we love our “candidating week,” seven days in which to evaluate a candidate for a years-long tenure.

We United Statesians also love our hyper-individualistic take on leadership. We love to imagine that the Great Man theory of leadership is correct. We like to believe that one person in a leadership role has a huge impact on an organization, which is why we pay Chief Executive Officers of for-profit corporations millions and billions of dollars. Even though the Great Man theory of leadership is obviously wrong, we fervently cling to our belief in it; we are leadership theory fundamentalists.

And people wonder why United States democracy is in such trouble….

Things that you’re NOT liable to find in the Bible

Louisiana state law now requires that the Ten Commandments shall be posted in every classroom. But if you compare the Ten Commandments found in the Bible with Louisiana’s Ten Commandments, you quickly see that they are not the same Ten Commandments.

Where did Louisiana’s Ten Commandments come from? Apparently, in the 1950s “representatives of Judaism, Protestantism, and Catholicism developed what the individuals involved believed to be a nonsectarian version of the Ten Commandments because it could not be identified with any one religious group” — Anthony Flecker, “Thou shalt make not law respecting an establishment of religion: ACLU v. McCreary County, Van Orden v. Perry, and the Establishment clause”, St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary, vol. 21:1, p. 264 footnote 136. (This Patheos post gives another take on the same story.)

In other words, the Louisiana version of the Ten Commandments may be inspired by the Bible, but it is not Biblical. If you’re a Biblical purist, you could say that Louisiana’s rewriting of Exodus 20:2-17 is actually a type of graven image or idol — something that seems like it comes from God, but is actually made by fallible humans.

Below the fold, I’ll include several translations of the relevant Bible passages so you can compare them.

Continue reading “Things that you’re NOT liable to find in the Bible”

Plan now for Pee-on-Earth Day 2024

In just two days, it’s time for everyone’s favorite holiday — Pee-on-Earth Day!

When you flush your urine down the toilet, you use a gallon or more of drinking water. From there, your urine enters the stream of wastewater, typically joining human feces to be processed in a wastewater treatment plant or a septic system. By treating urine like feces, our society wastes clean water and energy (energy to purify the drinking water, and energy to run the wastewater treatment plant).

Here in the northern hemisphere, human urine doesn’t spread pathogens. And human urine actually makes a pretty good fertilizer, for plants that want a lot of nitrogen. So instead of flushing urine away, you can spread it directly on plants, although urine is such a concentrated fertilizer you probably will want to dilute it so you don’t give the plants fertilizer burn.

Pee-on-earth bumper sticker. Image (c) Carol Steinfeld, used by permission.

The one problem with human urine as a fertilizer is that First World humans tend to eat way too much salt, and excess salt gets processed out of our bodies through our urine. There are a number of ways to deal with this problem. First, you could eat less salt, which would be good for your health. Alternatively, you can spread urine on a compost pile; some salt will leach out during composting, plus the addition of other compostables will lessen the concentration of the remaining salt significantly. Composting is probably the best alternative, because when you compost urine you can adjust the inputs to the compost to balance the high nitrogen content of the urine.

My spouse, Carol, who writes about ecological pollution prevention strategies, invented the term “peecycling” to describe recycling urine as a fertilizer. She peecycles year round, using urine collection bottles made of used plastic juice bottles (thus turning a single-use plastic bottle into a multiple-use peecycling jug). We’re apartment dwellers, but we have a tiny side yard where we have a compost pile. Then we use the compost to fertilize our tiny eight foot square garden.

However, not everyone can peecycle year round. That’s why Carol has declared June 21, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, as Pee-on-Earth Day. Everyone can save at least some of their urine and return it to the earth on Pee-on-Earth Day. Find or make a peecycling jug now, so you’re ready for June 21!

Learn more in Carol’s book, Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine To Grow Plants. Order her book online here. UPDATE: Carol’s webhosting service has bonked her website — if you want a copy of the book, leave a comment or email me and I’ll make sure you get one. (If you order it through Amazon, Carol gets almost nothing from the sale, so if possible please order direct from her.)

(By the way, I’m the one who coined the phrase “liquid gold” to describe reusing urine, some thirty years ago. It’s my one claim to literary fame.)

Emblem saying "Urine Charge — Take Life Full Circle!"

The original colors of New England meetinghouses

There’s a stereotype that all the old colonial-era meetinghouses in New England were covered with white paint both inside and outside.

Not true.

According to Peter Benes, in his definitive book Meetinghouses of Early New England, there was a wide range of exterior colors, ranging from unpainted to blue to green to orange. The Cohasset Meetinghouse was built in 1747; the first record of its exterior color dates to 1812, when it was pea-green with white trim.

As for the interior color, an architectural consultant hired for the 1986 renovation found what he thought was a bit of the original interior paint color under the pulpit. When the steps to the pulpit were remodeled c. 1837, a board was left behind with pale yellow paint marking out where the former steps were. The architectural consultant believed this was the original color. While he didn’t give his reasoning, the layer of paint is quite thin, thinner than you’d expect if it had been recoated at some point.

Pea-green outside, and pale yellow inside, not stark white. How tastes have changed over the years.

Old wood showing some pale yellow paint.

The wisdom of P. T. Barnum

The great Universalist showman P. T. Barnum once said his success was due in no small part to self-promotion: “I thoroughly understood the art of advertising, not merely by means of printer’s ink, which I have always used freely, and to which I confess myself so much indebted for my success, but by turning every possible circumstance to my account….” (Struggles and Triumphs, ch. VIII)

Donald Trump has been convicted of felonies, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to him because he knows how to turn the circumstance of this guilty verdict to his own account. He gets lots advertising for which he pays nothing. And now he will be able to appeal the verdict, thus garnering even more free advertising, right up through the November election.

By contrast, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to know how to turn every possible circumstance to his account. As the incumbent, he should be grabbing headlines, but he’s not. He needs to learn from P.T. Barnum.

P.T. Barnum never actually made the statement, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” But it’s a principle by which he lived his life. People today could learn a lot from that sly old Universalist showman.

Some truths about “AI”

In an article on the New Scientist website, science fiction author Martha Wells tells some truths about “AI”:

“The predictive text bots labelled as AIs that we have now aren’t any more sentient than a coffee cup and a good deal less useful for anything other than generating spam. (They also use up an unconscionable amount of our limited energy and water resources, sending us further down the road to climate disaster, but that’s another essay.)”

That’s at least three uncomfortable truths about “AI” (or as Ted Chiang calls it, “applied statistics”):

(1) “AI” is not sentient, i.e., it’s not an intelligence.
(2) The only thing “AI” can really do is generate spam.
(3) In order to produce spam, “AI” takes an enormous amount of energy.

I’m generally enthusiastic about new technology. But not “AI,” which strikes me as a boondoggle start to finish.


The Eurovision song contest is usually ignored here in the U.S. That might change a teeny bit with this year’s contest, which was won for the first time by a non-binary singer, with a song about how they came to terms with their non-binary identity. (This song will surely be condemned by the U.S. right-wing, and perhaps embraced by some of the U.S. LGBTQ+ community and their allies. But most Americans will probably ignore Eurovision, as usual.) Good for Nemo for winning.

But this is the only Eurovision contest where I actually had a song that I wanted to win. The nu-folk duo Puuluup, from Estonia, teamed up with the Estonian hiphop group 5miinust on the song “(Nendest) narkootikumidest ei tea me (küll) midagi.” They came in 20th, out of 25 finalists. Of course they didn’t win; if I like them, they’re not going to win.But wouldn’t it have been cool if someone playing a folk instrument — in this case, the talharpa — won Eurovision?