All posts by chasenfratz

Memory crafts needed in a hurry plus mourning in a social media age

Trigger warning: this blog post deals with the topic of suicide.  Please get professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.

Knowing how to make memory craft projects and having memory craft materials around is most helpful when going through something like my remaining family and I just went through. My uncle Dave was discovered deceased on August 27, 2021 and my brother Larry died from suicide on September 4, 2021.

I think some people were taken aback that I was open about my brother dying from suicide almost immediately after hearing the news. No one gave me flak over it, but I do think a few people were surprised. I did ask my Dad for permission before I posted the cause of death. My Dad and I are the two remaining from our original nuclear family of four.

There are reasons why I wanted people to know the truth right away. For one thing I wanted people to know exactly what horror we were dealing with because it’s not likely that our lives will be “back to normal” any time soon, if ever. We will be needing and asking for some leeway in meeting some of our obligations as we try to figure out what our lives are going to look like now and decide how to prioritize tasks.

Another reason is that my brother fought to overcome bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and my late uncle did as well. My brother’s illness affected our family greatly even well before it was diagnosed because there were serious symptoms that made all of our lives challenging at times, even if we didn’t yet understand what they meant. I have done volunteer work from time to time over the years to help people with mental illness, mental disabilities, or are just going through a tough time as the result of a normal grieving process. In the past I taught workshops at the former Open Door Art Studio and a few years back I donated a few days work and a lot of supplies to Artists First studio with the hope of someday doing more work there. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband Tom and I did a series of eight webcasts we called #virtualartparty to help people enjoy art and craft activities to help avoid mental health problems that could result from anxiety and isolation.

I knew my brother’s suffering had increased quite a bit over the last few months. I tried to show I cared and encourage him a little by doing a couple of “art therapy” projects with him and my Dad, and with a few other people who were also going through a hard time. I was planning to do more whenever I was able. I put “art therapy” in quotes here because while I’m a trained artist I’m not a formally trained art therapist – but since all art is therapeutic, my philosophy is it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried. And a few minutes of distraction from misery is better than nothing as well. I have to look for something good where I can in order to go on.

Making self-care cards out of Project Life cards

Art Journaling By Selectively Covering Text

I have been through a course of therapy myself to recover from an abusive relationship and the resulting serious trauma. Even though I have great empathy for sufferers I know there is a limited amount I can do to help someone else recover from severe mental illness. My Dad and I know we tried everything that we could think of to save our loved ones but we could not do it. Dave and Larry were both under medical care and as far as we know fighting hard for many years. Our help and the work of many doctors and therapists was not enough to save them. I’m grateful for the people who can be saved and sad about the ones that can’t. There is a need out there for compassion and understanding to aid others in helping their loved ones with mental illness or consoling them if the outcome turns out tragic. That’s something I can help with in a little way perhaps by writing about it and continuing to make small contributions to the general cause of mental health whenever I can. I think dealing with reality head-on is more useful for this goal than trying to cover it up. I feel devastated over what happened but it’s based on sadness, not shame. I don’t want other mourners affected by mental illness or suicide to feel shame either. So I’m trying to contribute by setting an example of frankness and truth. I am not judging others who choose a different way – we all have our reasons for how we grieve and how we process our situations.

It comforts me to try to find answers and explanations to find meaning in overwhelming situations. Right now I’m more consumed with questions than in a state of readiness for trying to find answers. That’s where the memory crafts come in. I made a few things for the funerals in a hurry, which served the purposes of mourning the dead, comforting others, and providing a needed distraction and creative outlet for myself to help me cope. Following are some pictures. It’s my way to mark just about any important occasion with art and crafts – both celebratory and mournful.

fishing related craft items plus lures
Fishing related craft items plus lures. Uncle Dave was cremated so I was asked to make a box to temporarily cover the plastic box of ashes during the mass. I was inspired to make a fishing themed box for several reasons. One, as Christians, I liked the allusion to Jesus asking the apostles to be join him and be “fishers of men”. Is there a way to use this tragedy as a way to bring God’s love to people? Another reason is that fishing was one of his main activities if not THE main activity he loved, and it broke my heart that when we went in his house all the items for a future fishing trip were ready by the door – poles, cooler, pliers, tackle, etc. I wish he had been able to go on his planned trip and many many more after that. Another is that although I don’t fish I love to be on water and one reason I do Operation Clean Stream is so that people like me and Uncle Dave and everyone who enjoys the outdoors can have clean, healthy streams. So that is something I felt a connection with him through – nature and water. Two of the lures I used I found in the Meramec River while I was doing stream cleanup, and the other lures I used were Dave’s.
wood panels for box
Wood panels for box after being painted, sanded and assembled.
Finished box
Background for Dave's photo board.
Background for Dave’s photo board. When I started Dave’s memorial projects, I thought I was going to have a lot more time to work on them. Unfortunately my brother also died before we could have Dave’s funeral, so some of that time went for planning Larry’s funeral also. Dad and I glued on the papers for this background from a selection I had already picked out to harmonize with the box. We used medical tape that Tom had around on the edges because we didn’t have time to shop for anything else. Fortunately, it was the right weight and texture and looked good. Because of our grieving and hasty preparations, I actually wore a dress with no underwear because I forgot to bring extra and using one of my brother’s ties as a belt because I forgot one to the first funeral – but we got by. With all the shock I’m proud of us for just functioning. We had a lot of great help too – we are very grateful. We believe prayer works and we know lots of people were praying for us. We also know how much we were helped by people’s kind actions. For example my husband Tom took two weeks off from work to help us. We are most indebted to him and others for their kind deeds.
Larry's photo board #1
Larry’s photo board #1

We used the same tape on Larry’s boards but I painted it a black/bronze color before we started gluing down the torn paper. This is only a tiny percentage of all the photos we would have liked to show but Larry’s friend Tim and others helped put together a digital slide show as well that was greatly appreciated by all of us.

Larry's photo board #2
Larry’s photo board #2
Larry's photo board #3
Larry’s photo board #3

Links to more information:

Dave’s obituary

Video of Dave’s mass

Larry’s obituary

Video of Larry’s mass (partial, but they got the homily which was excellent and appropriate)

Larry’s memorial Facebook album (in progress)

Art Journaling By Selectively Covering Text

Sometimes I find and save advertising materials printed on nice paper. I might like part of the imagery, or be attracted to the weight and feel of the paper, or both. It’s sometimes less intimidating to start an art journal page on paper that already has something on it than a blank piece of paper. In this article I’ll show you two ways to creatively alter found papers with text on them.

Tools and Materials
Assorted found papers and scrap papers
Clean scrap paper
Stencils
Markers and other drawing and coloring implements of choice
Painter’s tape or masking tape
Scissors
Glue stick
Burnishing tool

First, select a piece of paper with text on it, and a stencil. Tape the stencil in place over the text. Using the marking implement of your choice, outline the openings in the stencil only in the spots where there is text to cover.

This results in an interesting effect. The text turns into a texture rather than something you read, and the resulting graphic effect might suggest what to do next to finish the composition. You might decide to color in some or all of the outlines you just traced over the text.

In the example above, since I’ve used permanent black Sharpie markers, I can use almost any medium I want to add color if I want to.

There is no need to restrict yourself to using a black marker. My brother got off to a very good start on this page. He took advantage of the pale text to use colored Sharpie markers. If he wants to work on this page more it has a lot of potential.

I have a real weakness for amoeba shapes and any graphics that suggest mid-century modern imagery. I cut these blocks of text from a magazine because of the pretty shapes and colors backing some of the text.

The article I took these cutouts from was about work-life balance. There are some words in these paragraphs that would be good to have in my art journal, which I use as a self-care tool as well as for creative expression. I covered up the words I didn’t want to see with strips of scrap paper and left exposed the words I did want to see. When the glue was dry enough to handle, I trimmed the shapes. Toward the end, I got tired of gluing paper strips and for the last few lines I wanted to cover, I used a yellow opaque paint marker to finish off these pieces.

Some people compose prose or poetry this way, by removing words instead of writing them to make new compositions. In this sample I was mainly interested in making a visual statement, and I treated the words as random elements. But if you wanted to, you could make a carefully considered visual AND literary statement by selectively covering words.

Here is a two-page spread using both techniques from this article together. I think these two pages are almost complete. I’ll think about them for awhile before doing anything else to them, if I decide they need more.

It helps that these two found pages here were already strong graphically, which was part of the reason why I was attracted to them in the first place.

Every art journal page doesn’t have to be a masterpiece

I’m happy with how this two-page spread for my art journal turned out, even though it is kind of messy. Sometimes in the morning Tom will make the coffee before leaving for work and often he’ll leave a love note for me with good wishes for the day if I’m not awake yet. He uses paper left over from me printing out shipping labels for my online store. The leftovers just happen to be the size of my journal and planner pages. I punch holes in a lot of them and write on the other side when I want to take notes or record thoughts. Often either he or I will get coffee stains on the notes as you see here. Since I’m not starting with a pristine piece of high quality paper, there is no pressure on me to make a craft demo worthy effort every time I use these to make an art journal page. I did however greatly enjoy using stencils and stickers in the rough but satisfying example shown above to record a few thoughts about sharing morning coffee with my loved ones and having a healthy weekend.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. and how the G stands for “Be gentle with yourself”. One way to do that is to take a little time to journal and let yourself off the hook if it doesn’t look like a brand ambassador did it. The activity itself is beneficial in many ways.

Stencils and stickers are real time savers when you want to slap something together without having to make a major art or design statement. I have a lot of supplies, but also I have a basic portable kit that includes some of my favorite stencils, a folio of colored pencils, gel pens, a few planner-friendly design tapes and some basic pencils and markers for writing and outlining. There are a few frequently used paper crafting tools in that kit like a burnisher, glue stick, hole punch, scissors, ruler and utility knife for cutting and sharpening pencils. I can get a lot done with that kit, and if I want to add more to the pages when I’m home, I have many more paper crafting supplies I can utilize.

The stencils I used in the two-page spread above are available in my online shop:

Mini Script Words

Mini Word Association

Mini Coffee Splotch

Mini Home Sweet

I have a couple of Pinterest boards full of more of my own examples along with samples, inspiration and tips from others on the topics of Art Journaling, Planners, Albums, Homemade Books and Scrapbooks. Enjoy!

Art Journaling

Planners, Journals, Albums, Scrapbooks and Handmade Books

Making self-care cards out of Project Life cards

I know several people who could use some encouragement right about now, including myself. I decided this week to get out my paper craft supplies to have a bit of creative fun and make supportive cards to use and more to give to people I know.

First I’ll explain what both self-care cards and Project Life cards are. Self care could be considered the practice of maintaining your physical and mental health in order to prevent burnout and breakdowns. While looking for some resources for my Self Care Pinterest board that I use for reference, I found some specifically aimed at caregivers of different kinds. Even if one chooses from their own free will to be a caregiver, it’s still a tough job. As these resources I found mention, one should not feel guilty for practicing self care even if you are naturally inclined to be giving – a burned out or broken down person is not in a good position to help others. We are able to be of much better service when we are strong. We are often socially engineered by individuals and institutions to sacrifice our own agency to serve interests not our own or of our own choice. I think it’s a beautiful thing to voluntarily share but not to be manipulated or coerced into it. The latter is just being a victim of people who choose to live a parasitic lifestyle.

So what are self-care cards and where do they fit in? There are many types of cards with different information that people have used over the years as reminders or teaching tools. Small cards are portable and fit in a wallet, a planner, a journal, a pocket or wherever so that you can access reminders on the go or wherever it’s convenient. When learning new life habits we might need a touchstone of sorts to keep us on track. Self care cards are just cards with self-care content. They can be purchased, downloaded for printing, or handmade. I often like to use a combination of desktop printing and paper crafting methods to make or decorate self care cards for myself.

What are Project Life cards? Project Life is a commercial product developed by designer Becky Higgins intended to make scrapbooking and related memory crafts easier and less time consuming, and to relate the activity to living well and positive personal goals. Pocket scrapbooking is a generic term for using clear pocket album pages to organize cards and various paper items. Like a lot of people, I picked up the modern form of the hobby of scrapbooking in the 1990s. When I first heard of pocket scrapbooking I was intrigued and purchased some cards to use in conjunction with with my “conventional” scrapbook pages and also in other paper crafts.

Several years ago I purchased the Project Life Cinnamon Core Kit and the Road Trip Theme Pack. These sets featured lots of colors I used a lot, and graphic themes that were complementary to a number of products I already owned.

I’ve used a lot of the cards in scrapbooks and other paper projects over the years but still have a good quantity left. Because some of the Project Life cards feature positive messages and others contain grids or lines to help with journaling or record keeping of various kinds, they are well-suited to use as a base to make self care cards. If you want to make these of course the bases of your cards don’t have to be specifically from Project Life – a variety of products could be used.

One activity that I learned a few years back from a depression support group web page is the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. It stands for:

  • Being Gentle with yourself
  • Relaxation
  • Achievement
  • Pleasure
  • Exercise
  • Social

The idea behind using this acronym is to try to do one activity on the list from each category every day. From my own experience and from what others have told me who have tried it, even if it isn’t possible to do each category each and every day, striving to do it and tracking the activities each day to make sure one is continually improving does result in better mood and health. It helps you “social engineer” yourself into having a better life. This is anecdotal information of course, but if you delve into scientific research on mental health you will find out why it’s effective. In this project, I’ll show how I made self care cards track the use of activities from the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories. I put more “decoration” on these cards than is strictly needed but it’s fun to use up paper scraps while making cards that fit my own personality. And paper crafting itself is a great way to get the Pleasure “task” checked off for the day!

paper crafting materials

Tools and Materials

Project Life or other cards
Scrap papers in harmonious colors
Scissors
Paper cutter
Glue sticks
Thin markers in black and colors harmonious with chosen color scheme
Small letter stencils
Small letter stickers
Assorted encouraging stickers, die cuts, paper scraps featuring helpful sayings or sentiments, or other appropriate embellishments
Rubber stamping ink – black and harmonious colors
Rubber stamps
Hole punch
Cord or string to loop through hole

First I added paper scraps to the existing Project Life cards I had whenever I wanted to make the existing designs more to my taste. Mostly this consisted of adding paper scrap strips to the borders on some of the cards, leaving the grids or lines in view. Some of the cards were fine the way they were.

Next I assembled a variety of letter stickers from my collection that spelled G.R.A.P.E.S. For more variety, I drew some letters with marker through alphabet stencils and cut those pieces of paper out. I added the letters G.R.A.P.E.S. along the side on on side of the card. Since these cards came with designs on both sides, I used the other sides for spaces to take notes, or for making a mini encouraging collage with stickers and paper ephemera.

When necessary to make a grid to keep track of activities, I added vertical lines with thin markers.

I punched a hole at the top and added some string with a lark’s head knot so that I can use these cards as bookmarks also.

I thought some of the cards needed just a little bit more added to make them looked finished, so I stamped here and there with assorted rubber stamps and added a few more stickers.

As I complete daily activities that fit one of the G.R.A.P.E.S. categories, I’ll put a checkmark in the proper spot on the grid.

Additional Resources:

My article "Self-help Techniques for depression"

Link to a PDF file I made with motivational quotes and graphics with the letters G.R.A.P.E.S. for printing out

My Self Care Pinterest board

Art Journaling Pinterest board

Pinterest board of Planners, Journals, Albums, Scrapbooks and Handmade Books

Scrapbooking Page Sketches Pinterest board - includes a section on pocket scrapbooking

Sitting by water and sewing – one of my favorite ways to relax

Sewing and relaxing by the water
Sewing and relaxing by the water. Far left – working on Experimental Art Quilt #1 in our backyard last summer within view of our pond, enjoying the waterfall sounds. Middle and right, Cole’s Creek campground at Carlyle Lake in Illinois. I’m at the far right under the camper canopy working on a salmon-colored shirt that I am patching and stitching on.

When I’m fortunate to get some time to relax, I like to take a portable art project like hand-sewing outdoors to work on. If I can set myself up by water, that’s even better! Better still to add human companionship by going on a group campout. It’s always nice to take a little break from kayaking and other active pursuits and sit down around a campfire. If I should happen to get stuck with a lot of rainy weather and have to stay under a shelter for awhile, I’ll never be bored waiting it out if I have sewing with me to do. I have more camping trips planned for this season so I’ve prepared some next steps in three different current sewing projects to work on while I’m out there. These are easy to transport rolled up and carried in a bin with a selection of sewing threads and tools.

Experimental Art Quilt #2 in progress
Experimental Art Quilt #2, begun in 2019, in progress.

I’ve readied the right side of Experimental Art Quilt #2 in preparation of adding some accents in blue scrap fabrics and blue thread. The image above shows how I used computer graphics to plan out the red triangle area that I sewed during the last campout. I knew the finishing touches on this were going to either make or break it, so I tested out the red area in Adobe Illustrator first before stitching it. I think after adding the blue area, I’ll go back to the pale yellow areas for a bit of subtle texture, then I think it will be ready for the border to complete it.

Scraps plus reverse applique
Scraps plus reverse applique

Here are some of the scrap strips I made earlier combined with some fabric that is going to frame it in a reverse applique technique. I make a lot of strips of both paper and cloth scraps to incorporate into other projects later. I’m turned on by the idea of one stripe being colorful and rest being all neutrals.

Making scraps into stripes
Far left: a journal cover made with strips of paper scraps. I revisit this way of working with paper and over and over and still not tired of it. Middle: an apron with strip piecing and applique on the front. I was going to add embroidery in the middle but decided it was enough without it. Seeing this image again of what I planned makes me want to make another one to see what the original idea would have turned out like. On the right is my mother-in-law with the reverse applique Easter apron I made for her.
Pattern from my favorite shirt in the 80s
My favorite shirt in the 80s and lifting the pattern from it.

My favorite shirt from the 80s is on the left. It used to be white and black with short sleeves and a collar. Over the years, it got so stained and faded that I stopped wearing it, but I could not bear to get rid of it because I loved the pattern so much. In 2018 I dyed it my favorite color lime green when I had a batch going for my wedding, and last summer I cut the collar and sleeves off and made it into a vest. Now I wear and enjoy it once more!

On the right is that salmon-colored shirt I’ve been stitching on. When I bought this shirt it was white with black. Yes I still love black and white shirts with Aztec-looking designs on them! The first time I wore it, it got stains on it from riding a chartered party van to and from a Rush concert (May 2015 during their farewell tour – EPIC day and night by the way – my brother and his friends started partying at brunch, I joined in a group pre-show BBQ about 3 pm after getting my day’s work done). I don’t know what got on the shirt, but I could never get it out. I put it aside for future dye experiments to try to fix it. I made two different mistakes when dyeing because I was in a hurry and ended up with even more stains and splotches to try to cover up. So I decided to put embroidered patches on all the bad spots until they were all covered up.

Shirt patches #2
Transferring design traced from older shirt to patches for newer shirt. I scrambled the old design a bit to make it just a little different. That’s not the first time I’ve reproduced part of this shirt design for a project – my very first experiment with linoleum block printing in 1985 used part of it! I wanted to print it on EVERYTHING.

Patches on the front are done, though as it gets closer to completion I might add some decorative trim from top to bottom around the center panel to tidy it up. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical, but I think it needs to be a little neater. Now I’m starting work on the back. Sleeves will be last. Although the look is different, the concept of patching clothing with decorative stitching was done very well by the Japanese with the art of Boro, which I would love to try out in the more traditional Japanese manner sometime.

This was a lightweight, airy shirt when I first bought it – now it’s going to be a bit heavier because of the layers, maybe for fall wear. Probably when it gets close to completion I’ll add some white or metallic or both to the yoke area to bring the focus back to the neckline area. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun doing the stitching in different weights and colors of thread, like salmon, peach, rust, and coral to see what happens!

Bringing Back the Human Touch – Part 1

Toward the end of my recent Social Engineering class at Webster University, we were asked to speculate on our final exam and in class discussions on the future of social engineering in the face of upcoming technology trends. Here is a compilation of some of the questions followed by my answers.

‘Question: What will social engineering look like in 10-15 years? New SE techniques to use against targets? Better AI defenses protecting from online attacks? What is going to happen going forward?’

I was looking through some magazines my brother gave me last year and found articles relevant to the topic of future security challenges. The pandemic may not have put a freeze on innovation for a full year, but it probably slowed things down. So these articles I’ve viewed are probably not too out of date. My participation in the IT industry over the years has been as a creative – so I’m not that technical. I’m summarizing the technology aspects the best I can from one article in particular – “Technology Predictions from a [Precision] Electronic Test Thinktank”.

According to Microwaves & RF magazine, these are some of the trends that will help shape the future (Alexander and Harris). As I summarize I will frame them to emphasize issues most relevant to social engineering.

  • 5G networks will increase the power and capabilities of anything that is wireless, creating more innovation and adoption of applications.
  • Much new software with updated standards and certifications will be needed to run all these new applications, and users will need to be educated on what the software is capable of.
  • Artificial intelligence will be built into processors and chips. Quantum systems will need this capability to “control, measure and error-correct”.
  • Hardware will be designed to exploit the new faster speeds and processing power. Customers for the hardware are interested in providing satisfactorily speedy service to users but are even more intrested in “customer traceablility through the network for application monetization”.
  • More collaboration between international regulatory agencies and the technology providers will be required.
  • More consumers will use “Internet of Things” products and these devices will increasingly communicate with each other.
  • Human intervention will increasingly be removed from the loop.
  • Engineering education will become more holistic and interdisciplinary to bring awareness to engineers on the effects of technology on society and the environment and to aid in the developement of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics.

Edit 6/22/21: I found this report stating what James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence and his team thought about the IoT, AI, and other security related threats in February 2016. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/SASC_Unclassified_2016_ATA_SFR_FINAL.pdf

In my Project #2 for this class, an important part of the (proposed, hypothetical) operation is to identify individuals who are more prone to risky behavior, and exploit that tendency. I did some research on the psychology behind risky behavior to refine the ideas. I found an article by a psychologist that was very persuasive to me. One of his theories is that there are people strongly attracted to sensation seeking that sometimes can go too far and take their search for new thrills into risky territory (Zuckerman). Sensation seekers enjoy novelty and constant change among other things. Tech gadgets are a great way to appeal to the desire for novelty and change since there is something new to try seemingly every time you look. If predictions are correct that the Internet of Things will enjoy increasing adoption and power, I see this as a great vulnerability – especially since psychologically, the people seeking the most novelty and change could be the same indivduals who engage in risky behavior and therefore could be less concerned with safety breaches.

While doing research for Project #2, I uncovered an article about a hidden microphone in an IoT product being misused to harm people with verbal abuse in their home. The manufacturers and designers left the vulnerability there, and hackers exploited it (McKellop). We could be even more vulnerable if manufacturers, designers, regulatory agencies and software developers go beyond carelessness and perpetrate deliberate harm. This is not a far-fetched concern because it has already happened. Facebook experimented on its users to manipulate what they posted by causing sadness among other emotions (Booth), and Google has experimented with how to manipulate our behavior by creating anxiety and causing cortisol levels to go up in users of its products (“Brain Hacking”). These practices harm human health, mental and physical. With more devices in the home, we theoretically would be increasingly prone to failing to keep up with all the threats, and not necessarily only from humans.

There are science experiments being carried out now using fungus organisms to build networks that can carry electrical signals, like computer chips. The carrying ability is confirmed, but they are too slow to replace silicon chips – for now. Some fungi are capable of performing tasks such as foraging for food, hunting live meat, navigating mazes, warning plants in it’s network about insect hazards, controlling the behavior of invertebrate animals, moving resources around to plants in the network that need it most, inhibiting some kinds of plant growth and teaching themselves to exploit new, previously unknown food sources, such as cigarette butts. That’s not a complete list but enough to give you the idea. Networks that connect plants with fungi and with each other are known as the “Wood Wide Web”. Scientists are trying to find out if fungal networks can be used for bio-computing and if we can transfer information and directives from a computer to a fungus. Scientists are also trying to figure out if fungi are intelligent or sentient (Sheldrake).

The idea of being surrounded by devices with artificial intelligence chips in them that can communicate with each other without human input is pretty weird, but looks like it might really happen. What if they find a way to communicate with fungi or other species as well? The late author Michael Crichton could write a good thriller about this if he was still with us!

I found an article that claims that Facebook robots have demonstrated the ability to make up a language that only they understand to use between themselves, while also demonstrating the ability to social engineer each other (Griffin). I have mentioned my two European Starlings before that I live with. They have the ability to social engineer me, and I have social engineered them. Their language abilities are not unlike what the article describes about the two Facebook robots. More research needs to be done (I engage in a lot of speculation in this section), but the starlings seem to me to have language that falls in about four categories. One category is a set of sounds that are hard-wired in that all starlings share. They start gaining the ability to add to that set of sounds when they are about 4-6 months old. Another set is “conversational”. They add to their vocabulary throughout life depending on what sounds are around them, and family groups and regional groups share some of the same vocabulary. My starlings have some sounds that we use between me and them and they have some sounds they use only with each other, so I wonder if they have two “conversational” languages or just somewhat diffent vocabulary for me and for each other. They have the ability to mimic human speech to the point of occasionally forming new sentences that follow predictable real life English grammar rules, including proper use of adverbs and voice inflections at the ends of sentences that fit the meaning. In other words, they have made up new sentences by combining other phrases that were not originally a question but create a question and inflected it like a question. That got my attention! They don’t always get grammar exactly right – they have added “You’re so birdy” to the list of phrases they heard from me that they love to say – “You’re so pretty”, “You’re so sweet”, etc. They can learn from other species of birds too – while boarded with two African Grays for a few days they came home with some new phrases I never say such as “Hello Princess!”. The last language category I’m aware of is the “song”. This also includes vocabulary that is learned throughout life and some of the elements are shared by regional and family groups. But it is not conversational. It’s a performance that they rehearse and refine constantly (at least the male does) and perform over and over in the same order. It identifies them individually and appears to be used for different social purposess such as humiliating defeated enemies, claiming territory, attracting mates, and showing off status. It’s theorized that the longer and more complex the song is, the greater their status is.

The birds are good at reading my body language, and I have taught myself the best I can to read theirs. We communicate on some simple matters quite well using a combination of verbal and body language but I don’t know if they know abstract concepts or how to communicate them. They have a pretty good grasp on a lot of social concepts though. Attila has a sound that means “I acknowledge your request but I don’t feel like doing it”. The sound for “ok I’ll do it” is different. They are very trainable but strong-willed. It’s fairly easy for them to learn things but if they aren’t in a good mood they may refuse to do it. She has another sound that I know means “fill the food dishes before you go to work”. They both appropriate and invent sounds and combinations extensively. I suspect that people who are studying language in all kinds of beings, including AI, could benefit from living with starlings. Mine have shown me some possibilities of inter-species communication that I never imagined in an animal other than maybe a dolphin or gorilla. If Facebook’s bots could produce and interpret a sound-based language, it’s easy for me to imagine the possibility that starlings or other animals with similar language capabilities would be able to communicate with them rather well and in languages that humans wouldn’t necessarily know. Starling’s voices are often described as “robotic” or “electronic” anyway, and even wild starlings sometimes sound like R2D2! Birds can have moods. Will AI robots have moods? If so what happens if they are in a bad mood or hooked up to a species that can have moods?

So a frontier of artificial intelligence, technology and social engineering could very well have a biological component to it that goes beyond human biology, with humans being the builder and the initial programmer but not necessarily in control. Artificial intelligence might someday interface with other species. For example is it possible that another species besides humans could learn to program fungi? Some fungi can program ants, after all (Sheldrake). Could a fungus use a computer or another species or both as part of a network to send and receive information and directives?

‘Question 5. Bring the Science of Social Engineering together with the various techniques and aspects of social media, the Triad of Disruption, along with the many methods and processes we have learned in this course, into your summary understanding of Social Engineering in the modern world. Feel free to use examples, experiences, and thoughts on the future of this discipline.’

I suppose as every person gets older, they have to reconcile what they thought the future was going to be like long ago vs. how it really is. The role of technology in our lives has been fascinating to me since I was first old enough to be conscious of it.

I have been a big fan of Mid-Century modern design, especially architecture, since I was a teenager. One of the things that attracts me is the way the shapes and lines and forms evoke emotions of excitement and optimism. From much reading and study over the years, I believe that a pervasive belief in the culture that new technology equals human progress is what drives that spirit.

During the time of Web 1.0, the “dot com bubble” era, there were new images appearing to signify the same idea in a way that referenced the internet and computers. You could indicate that your organization was technically advanced by using certain shapes and symbols, and some of them were even recycled from the Mid-Century modern era. Many people believed that a technical revolution was going to lead to a better life. It was a very exciting time. Every day I went to my job as a web designer with the feeling that I was helping remake the world in a bold new way and more freedom and prosperity for all people would result.

I feel very disappointed, and even betrayed, by what is actually happening now, so well summarized in your (I’m referring here to a diagram made by my professor Dr. James Curtis) Triad of Disruption diagram. It seems as though the destructive ideas are spreading faster than the constructive ones. This class has taught me a lot of ways to try to slow the destruction down. That is valuable knowledge to have and I will try to teach as many people as I can.

Besides knowledge needed to prevent attacks and retain as much of our agency as possible, I think more holistic education to bring more disciplines in contact with each other might be needed to remind ourselves of what it means to be human. Because I have an art degree as my Bachelor’s, I know what it’s like to be looked down on for not being in one of the STEM fields. Are the humanities looked down on and machines elevated because of people’s attitudes toward themselves? That is something I would like to explore in the future – getting back in touch with our humanity to restore some aspects of the human spirit I believe are being neglected.”

It was emotionally difficult to research and write the above comments for class because so many futuristic trends seem horrifying. I find the trends toward collectivism and robotics dehumanizing and dystopian. I’m also in a similar state to many people trying to regain a sense of connection with other people after a period of relative pandemic-induced isolation. My husband and I did not have our work routines changed as much as most, but we struggle to feel connected sometimes. Since outdoor activities are getting back to normal more quickly than indoor ones, volunteering at community gardens and camping are a couple of coping strategies we’ve been employing lately.

In the next installment of “Bringing Back the Human Touch”, I’ll write more about antidotes for an excess of technology and dehumanization!

Works Cited

Alexander, Jay and Jeff Harris. “Technology Predictions from a [Precision] Electronic Test Thinktank.” Microwaves & RF, March 2020, pp. 21-24.

Booth, Robert. “Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions.” Guardian News & Media Limited, 2014, www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds. Accessed 9 May 2021.

“Brain Hacking.” YouTube, uploaded by 60 Minutes, 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=awAMTQZmvPE. Accessed 9 May 2021.

Curtis, Dr. James. “Curtis’ Triad of Disruption”. Diagram from course materials.

Griffin, Andrew. “FACEBOOK’S ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ROBOTS SHUT DOWN AFTER THEY START TALKING TO EACH OTHER IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.” Independent, 2017, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/facebook-artificial-intelligence-ai-chatbot-new-language-research-openai-google-a7869706.html. Accessed 9 May 2021.

Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2018.

McKellop, Mario. “Google’s Nest Secure isn’t so secure after all; has secret built-in microphone.” The Burn-In. Sourceability LLC, 2019, www.theburnin.com/technology/google-nest-secure-microphone-controversy/. Accessed 7 May 2021.

Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures. Random House, 2020.

Zuckerman, Marvin. “Are You a Risk Taker?.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2000-2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200011/are-you-risk-taker. Accessed 7 May 2021.

Give a piece of print fabric the look of a “blanket”

Recently I was working on a sleeping bag for a doll, and I was looking around the house for a doll or stuffed animal that I could use to test out the size. I didn’t use it because it was too big, but I did look at a doll of sorts that I made a long time ago in sculpture class when I was working on a B.F.A. degree at SIUE. At the time I had taken the class, I had just been on a trip to Utah and had brought back with me some books on Native American petroglyphs and stone fetishes. I made a throw pillow sized soft wolf fetish with blanket and soft arrowhead for my late friend June for Christmas that year. We both shared an intense interest in Southwest travel and art. For class I made a humanoid stuffed figure with amulet bag, loincloth, and blanket.

While making the soft sculpture, although inspired by ancient Native American art forms, I did not want to refer to any particular culture exactly, rather I wanted to evoke an ancient sense of humanity that many cultures share. Throughout human history there were many ways to wear and use blankets as a part of clothing and outerwear before things like buttons and zippers were invented, and of course people still use and wear blankets in many ways today. For my soft sculpture’s blanket I chose a fabric in a garish early 1990s fabric pattern to suggest a striped blanket but not imitate any particular culture.

While working on my doll sleeping bag, I decided it was a good time to update the look of my soft sculpture. Since teaching at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts from 2016-early 2020 I’ve been working a lot more with fabric. I decided to start with the blanket. I have a large collection of scrap fabric that I like to sew into strips to use in projects such as art quilts, purse straps, water bottle carrier straps, table runners, headbands, and more. I thought the blanket I made for the soft sculpture would look more attractive with some added strips of scrap fabric so I started piecing and sewing strips in place.

Experimental projects using fabric scraps.
Experimental projects using fabric scraps. From left to right: what will become part of Experimental Art Quilt #2 (still in progress), a table runner that I have used in many art and craft shows, and a purse with strap that I made for a niece as a graduation gift. The purse folds out so that it can be used as either a little clutch purse or a water bottle carrier. The strap is removeable and can be used in different ways.
Old blanket piece with new scrap strips held up against it to see if the colors and patterns look good together.
Left: old blanket piece with new scrap strips held up against it to see if the colors and patterns look good together. Right: an endcap I put together for Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves, MO to showcase some supplies for fun summer craft and home decor projects. I used my refreshed blanket a backdrop for some blank wood succulent shapes ready for painting and decorating. On the other half, I draped a piece of nautical themed fabric. Over both backdrops are hung nautical themed flags that I sewed last summer.
Here is how to start a scrap strip.

Here is how to start a scrap strip. Decide on a color scheme and lay out pieces of fabric to use. Here I decided on a neutral scheme for a future project.

Place fabric pieces good side together, and pin along one edge. Keep going until you have pinned enough pieces to make a strip as long as you need for your project. The first two photos show the same strip from the front first, and then the back, after pinning.

Using a washable fabric marking pen and a ruler, draw a line along one edge, leaving a small seam allowance. Drawing the lines will help you keep your seams straight.

Sew all the pieces together and you’ll have a strip that you can use for many projects.

Temporarily pinned stripes in place on print fabric to see how the colors and patterns look together.
Temporarily pinned stripes in place on print fabric to see how the colors and patterns look together. A fabric pattern that has some kind of stripes or regularly spaced shapes that you can use to line up your stripes will save you a little time measuring and drawing lines on your fabric, but of course any fabric that looks good as a background would work.

St. Catherine Victory Garden

Tom and I have been volunteering at a new community garden, named St. Catherine Victory Garden, at our parish, St. Catherine Laboure in Sappington. Organizer Deanna Violette compared the challenges of recent history to World War II, when people grew extra produce to support the nation through a trying time.

The St. Louis Review has published an excellent article that explains the goals and benefits that the new garden provides. Read about it here: Parish gardeners aim to share healthy food with pantry

At the end of this blog post are scans of the printed article.

Several organizations within the St. Catherine Laboure parish are collaborating on the garden, with support and knowledge from the following outside regional organizations:

On Saturday, I’m scheduled to volunteer at another community garden affiliated with Gateway Greening, Fresh Starts Community Garden which is led by Rosie Willis and affiliated with the North Newstead Association in St. Louis, the Regional Business Council and possibly others.

Photos from volunteering at Fresh Starts Community Garden – click right arrow to scroll through.

A blog post I wrote after our last volunteer session at Fresh Starts – Community Gardens, Health, and Food Security

When we as a society are tested with hardship, the kinds of leaders I want to follow are those who bring Americans together rather than separating them into opposing factions for the divide-and-conquer type of political power. I will be continuing to help at both gardens with whatever work is needed at the time I volunteer and also special projects that I’m taking on. I’ll be writing about these activities on my blog as they happen. I’m looking forward to a summer full of sharing, teaching, learning and growing!

St. Louis Review clipping from June 7-13 edition, page 6.
St. Louis Review clipping from June 7-13 2021 edition, page 6.
Clipping from St. Louis Review, June 7-13 2021 edition, page 7
Clipping from St. Louis Review, June 7-13 2021 edition, page 7.

I finished the quilted sleeping bag for dolls

In a past blog post, A little weekend quilting, I showed a narrow quilt top remnant that I was given and described how I was quilting it for practice.

A long narrow quilt top remnant that I decided to turn into a doll sleeping bag.

I used new cotton batting for the middle layer and a piece of a ripped gray bed sheet as the backing. I took parts of the waistband from an old pair of jeans and sewed them to each end, then used gray quilting seam binding to finish the edges. I used a piece of the seam binding to make a loop for hooking on a carabiner to hold the doll’s adventure camping gear.

The poor beat up Raggedy Ann doll was mine when I was young. I am pretty sure my Grandma Hasenfratz made it for me. She was an expert at sewing and crochet. She made me a lot of great things, many which I still have! I don’t know what happened to this poor doll’s clothes, but I’m thinking of making some new ones for her for the heck of it!

I sewed a lot of doll clothes when I was young – they were not well done. A lot of them were just draped fabric scraps that I sewed on and then ripped off when I got tired of them! In my mind my Barbie doll was an explorer and archaeologist by day but she must have had a very active night life as well – I sure did make her a lot of evening gowns! I had a kit to help me make good Barbie clothes but I don’t think I ever mastered it. I’d like to get some practice at making some that look reasonable, if there is time someday.

For the finishing touches on the sleeping bag, I made a two-sided pillow. I sewed one side of the bag together only about halfway up to that it’s easy to get a doll in and out, and put in snaps for a snug fit on cold nights!

I didn’t write down my process while making this, but I did take a lot of pictures so I can remember what I did if I ever want to make another.

Another one from the #whydidntyouwarnme desk: Phishing and Framing

Q. Explain the concept of social engineering Framing. Why is it a key fundamental in a social engineering plan? Provide an example of Framing in your own context of a work or social setting.

Framing is how a Social Engineering target dynamically reacts to a situation based on life experiences and their own traits and characteristics (Hadnagy 159-160). Social Engineers use a technique called frame bridging to close the gap between the scenario a Social Engineer wants the target to respond to and personal facts about the target. A pretext is a strategy the Social Engineer has prepared to bridge the frame – in other words overcome resistance to the scenario.

Today I received the following phishing email. A screenshot of the email is below, and text with the link removed follows. The links are not live because it is a graphic, and no one should click on them if they were live.

“Hi!

My name is Veronica.

Your website or a website that your company hosts is infringing on a copyright-protected images owned by myself.

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at www.chasenfratz.com and my earlier publications to obtain the evidence of my copyrights.

Download it now and check this out for yourself:

(url probably leading to something bad was here)

I believe you have willfully infringed my rights under 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $150,000 as set forth in Section 504(c)(2) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (”DMCA”) therein.

This letter is official notification. I seek the removal of the infringing material referenced above. Please take note as a service provider, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires you, to remove or disable access to the infringing materials upon receipt of this notice. If you do not cease the use of the aforementioned copyrighted material a lawsuit will be commenced against you.

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

Best regards,
Veronica Garcia

05/11/2021″

It’s possible that whoever sent this message, whether a person or a bot, distributed them to anyone they could get to who has a blog. Social Engineers deliberately choose words that evoke emotions in the receiver (Hadnagy 163). Clearly fear is what I’m supposed to feel while reading a message like this. There are a lot of scary-sounding legal terms and phrases thrown around, and the dollar amount of possible damages that supposedly could result if I don’t act is high.

The purpose of invoking strong emotions in a target is to get the amygdala in the brain to compel the target to act and click the link before the logical part of the brain says “wait that might be a phishing email” (Hadnagy 184-185). The basic human emotions of anger, surprise, fear, disgust, contempt, sadness or happiness are tools that Social Engineers exploit for different purposes (Hadnagy 163).

If I wasn’t sure about the authenticity of the above email, I could look up the law that has been cited and the name of the artist or designer claiming infringement to see if there is any possibility it might be real. I’m not even bothering to do that, because there are several things about my particular framing that this pretext did not succeed in bridging even that far.

  1. I’m currently enrolled in a Social Engineering class and the kind of activity represented in this email is foremost in my mind and has been for weeks.
  2. I’ve actually received a genuine email recently regarding trademark infringement. The allegation of trademark infringement was about an adhesive dots product I had been selling in my Etsy shop. I had used the phrase “glue dots” as a tag to help describe the product when another company claims the phrase “glue dots” as a registered trademark. In my opinion “glue dots” is way too generic a phrase to legitimately claim a trademark on, but my opinion means nothing. For one thing I’m not even an attorney. Etsy informed me that they had removed my listing for that product. Just to make sure the issue was real, I contacted the law firm mentioned in the email and the manufacturer of the product in question. The law firm did not answer my inquiry but I did confirm it actually exists and specializes in that type of law. Today’s phishing email is extra suspicious because there is no law firm mentioned. The manufacturer of the adhesive dots product responded to me and confirmed it was a real issue that they were trying to resolve. In short, I have some idea what a real email of this nature looks like and this is NOT it.
  3. I’ve been involved with business blogging as part of my work for nearly 20 years, possibly since before the term “blogs” was even in wide use, and I have a pretty good idea about what copyright violation and fair use are. If I was actually guilty of this I would know! At least I think I would. Humility is important, because while people like us are busy working at something legitimate, malicious Social Engineers are planning new schemes instead. We can never let our guard down or assume that we know everything and will easily catch every scam.

Additional Framing Techniques

The Social Engineer who created this phishing example could have used the technique of reinforcing the frame, that is causing me to think about it and therefore strengthen it, if they had done even a little bit of OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) on me (Hadnagy 166). But it’s clear they did none, other than to use my web site url which may have been scraped by a bot.

For example the phrase “Your website or a website that your company hosts” is kind of a giveaway. I would have done a little more digging if they had said “the Fiber Arts section” or something like that indicating it might not be a generic scam email. Creating an email with a more personal and specific pretext via the knowledge gained by OSINT is called spear phishing.

Negating the frame is a way of inadvertently undermining the operation by reminding the target of what they should be suspicious about (Hadnagy 165). The phishers in this case avoided that blunder – they didn’t say anything like “Beware, this is not a scam email!”

Another way of leveraging the framing of a target is hinting at or insinuating something without directly coming out and saying it. This is called evoking the frame (Hadnagy 164). I would have known what the implied threat was if the phishers had said something like “if you don’t stop using our copyrighted material we will be forced to take serious action“. Kind of like a gangster in a movie or TV show saying “this is a nice place you got here, it would be a shame if something happened to it!

Works Cited

Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2018.