October Tracks, 2019

I use an IFTTT applet that adds tracks that I’ve saved on Spotify to a monthly playlist. In October I tapped the heart icon 26 times.

This playlist is mostly tracks I’ve very much liked in the past and it’s the first time I’ve told Spotify of my fondness. 

Most of the tracks, too, were added while singing along to a Spotify radio playlist based on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ by Scissor Sisters. Honestly, reader, I don’t think there’s a better seed song for a playlist. Every track is golden.

My favourite new track was Prelude For Time Feelers by Eluvium. It’s a simple piano-based instrumental track that slowly snuck into my head while I was working on a document. Eluvium is actually a  bloke named Matthew Cooper, who, among other things has scored at least one film. Prelude For Time Feelers would feel right at home in an action scene where our heroes die valiantly against impossible odds.

My favourite old track was Parables by Rebekah Higgs, an artist I found via an SXSW mp3 download probably a dozen years ago. I distinctly remember playing some new songs on the stereo in the other room and sorta dozing. When Parables came on I was kinda, sorta unsure if I was fully awake. Dream pop indeed. 

There’s some new tracks from the new The Hold Steady album on there. A couple of tracks from The National’s excellent I Am Easy To Find. And a bunch of britpop and songs I’d dance to if I was the kind of person who found dancing fun. 


It’s currently Shitsville

Jason Kottke recently talked about Kurt Vonnegut’s six seasons: Spring, Summer, Locking, Winter, Unlocking, and Autumn. He noted that in Vermont the two extras are unpleasant and go by different names “Stick Season” and Mud Season.

New Zealand, and especially Wellington, also follows a six season notation originally posited by Adam Shand and made into a real time calendar by @dmanww

The six seasons: 
Summer - Jan to March
Autumn - March to June
Winter - June to  Mid-August
Spring 1 - Mid August to Sept
Shitsville - September to Mid-Dec
Spring 3 - Mid-Dec to Jan

Unfortunately we’re right in the middle of a classic Shitsville season. Temperatures are cool even when it’s sunny. It’s grey and rainy more often than not. It’s always onshore at the beach. I can’t wait for Spring 2.

Used pencils

Two HB pencils. One is two short to use comfortably. The other is a couple of sharpens away from being in the same state

It’s quite satisfying use a pencil till it’s too short to hold comfortably. The longer one is just hanging in there. The shorter one is going into my nerdy work caddy for those “where the hell is my pen” moments.

I lose pens all the time but I tend to hold on to pencils so that’s generally what I have at hand when I’m writing notes in meetings, making lists, and drawing diagrams.

I pretty much always use paper for those kinds of tasks. As a computer enthusiast I’ve experimented with all sorts of digital systems for notes (Google Keep, Notes on my phone, text files, google docs), lists (Trello, spreadsheets) and diagrams Miro, Paint, Lucid Chart) but nothing works as well, especially for capturing and doing first & second drafts as an analogue system.

I was very heartened to find on Austin Kleon’s blog, a talk by Clive Thompson on pencils and keyboards, where suggested my preference for analogue is the best way for planning and for retaining information.

Thompson talks about getting obsessed with fancy pencils. I tried one of those Palaminos – it was a nice pencil but not that much nicer than a bog standard HB from Staedtler.

Fancy keyboards, though, I am on board with. Thompson notes that for smashing things out, typing is the way to go. As the owner of a particularly obnoxious mechanical keyboard this is a cargo cult I’m happy to be a part of.

Warren Ellis doco

I like Mondays as Warren Ellis‘s ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter drops in my inbox. The newsletter is part glimpse into the sausage making of comics and telly programmes, part advice and warning about trying to do lots of things at once, part gear/music/book/comic/website recommendation, part here’s some weird stuff, all fascinating and fun.

Ellis’s TREES and INJECTION have been highlights of the last few years. You might know RED and RED 2, the Bruce Willis/Helen Mirren/John Malkovich movies based on characters created by Ellis.

Ellis’s comics career has been long and very influential. Some of the writers and artists I really dig today can link their success directly to Ellis’s work and the community he fostered. The documentary WARREN ELLIS: CAPTURED GHOSTS tells that story.

Well worth a watch if you’re interested in comics, writers, artists, and a bit of pop history.

The Hold Steady Live on KEXP

I found The Hold Steady in late 2006, just after the release of their third album Boys and Girls In America. I was a new dad, it was a hot summer, and I spent many afternoons pushing a pram around the neighbourhood listening to Craig Finn sing about killer parties, whiskey & ginger, and shenanigans in the chillout tent. I dove into the back catalog and became a firm fan of their bar band meets beat poet vibe.

The later albums were pretty good rock albums but the storytelling didn’t grab me as much. Craig Finn released a few solo albums that seemed closer to the mark. I knew they’d released a new album recently but hadn’t taken the time to give it a solid listen.

After watching this performance for KEXP, that’s gonna change. Denver Haircut and You Did Good Kid seem like a return to the style that I came to know on sunny hills near my house. Thrashing Through The Passion is first up on the playlist tomorrow.

Thank you, Scotland, for the best kind of egg

“You’re Scottish: fry something”

— The Doctor to Amelia Pond

I don’t know a lot about Scottish cuisine. Most of what I do know I’ve gleaned from telly and Scottish Twitter and it sounds delicious!  Chips drenched in curry sauce and washed down with Irn Bru seems like a cracking way to finish a night out. Haggis is probably the most famous dish but doesn’t seem to be an everyday thing. 

There’s one dish I’m more familiar with. One that I’ve had only occasionally. One that I’ve relished on every occasion. Today I took the time to learn how to make it.

Take an egg and boil it for about seven minutes–till the yolk is only slightly runny. Wrap it in sausage meat mixed with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, fresh sage, and some flour to hold it together. Cover the wrapped egg in bread crumbs like you would schnitzel. Deep fry in oil for 7-9 minutes, till the bread crumbs are golden brown and the meat is cooked.

That delicious creation is a scotch egg, surely one of the best exports of that great and proud nation.  

Serve it warm with piccalilli or a similar condiment. Pack one in a lunch box and be the envy of your work mates. Cook up several, cut them in half, and be the toast of your the other a parent when you share them round during half-time at your kids rugby game.

Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard

I went to the local second-hand bookshop looking for an Elmore Leonard novel, any Elmore Leonard novel. I was looking for the kind of dialogue that Quentin Tarantino looks up to. I was looking for a character like Raylan Givens in Justified

Cuba Libre has a lot going for it: set in Cuba when America invades. Corrupt local soldiers. Honest local cops. A cowboy with a fast draw that gets him into trouble. A beautiful and smart blonde a long way from home. A soldier unjustifiably detained. A greedy plantation owner and the old fixer that works for him. A dumb henchman. A cold-heart-ed killer.

Unfortunately the book is only just the sum of its parts. I’ve followed Ryan Holiday’s advice and given it a few weeks to settle in and I like the book much less than I did when I finished it. The flaws have become more obvious: Some characters and plot points are superfluous. The dialog is exposition heavy rather than snappy. I didn’t buy the romantic storyline at all.

Look, the story is fine. It would be a decent holiday read. But this probably isn’t the Elmore Leonard I was looking for. 

This post is syndicated to GoodReads.

Progress on a new video game

In the spirit of showing my work, here’s a peek at a game I’ve been working on:  codename SPADE. 

A character moving through levels

SPADE started out as a cut down clone of Shamus, an annoyingly hard yet oddly addicting game I played for hours and hours on my family XT clone in the late 80s. Despite all those hours I never got close to clocking the game. I want SPADE to be a game I can actually beat.

I’ve been making the game in pico-8, the same tool I used to make yet another version of robotfindskitten last year. 

I started out building the maps manually using pico-8’s sprite and map editor. It looked kinda like this. Pretty fussy and complicated to write code around.

Pixel art is not my forte

For some reason I decided it would be easier and more fun to do procedural generation of the maps. Darius Kazemi’s articles on how Spelunky’s levels are generated provided the recipe. I expected it would take me a few hours to implement. 

It took a lot longer. Like ages. Like a “how the fuck did I ever consider myself a programmer” amount of time. I got really good at logging and debugging.

DebugView.exe is an app for looking at print statements

I’m now at the point where I have any number of levels and a character that can move through them.

I have a TODO list and whenever the mood takes me and I have some quiet time I try and knock something off the list. Adding robots is next.

I’m not sure when the game will be playable. Working on it is a relaxation thing more than anything else. It’s been quite satisfying to do little bits at a time. I’m collecting screenshots of the game, photos of notes, that kind of thing. That archive has already brought me joy.

 I know I won’t be putting SPADE on itch.io like I did for robotfindskitten. I think it’ll just be for me. I hope I can beat it.

Thirty days of stretching

I injured myself almost a year ago. I ignored my coach and used very poor form to lift something heavy. My back was a bit sore the next day and the day after that. I took it easy and went back to my normal routine a few days later. A couple weeks after that I reached down to pick something up and noticed a shooting pain in my leg. Four hours later I could either stand up or lie flat and anything in between was excruciating. My upper right leg was quite numb. The diagnosis was two pinched nerves.

Rest, physio, dry needling, and a regimen of stretching helped me recover. I got back to the point where there was numbness but no pain. I don’t lift heavy things now. The gym is about lots of lighter reps with good form rather than aiming for PRs.

After a while stretching fell by the wayside. I’ve always been pretty lazy when it comes to post-workout care and some months ago I realised the lack of stretching was contributing to a plateau in my recovery from my injury. Then I committed to lifeguard training and decided to get more serious about stretching.

In started going to some Sunday yoga classes at my gym and enjoyed them. Then I subscribed to ROMWOD, a daily yoga-like routine aimed squarely at people who do Crossfit. There’s a bajillion free yin yoga videos on YouTube that I could have gone with but paying for ROMWOD gives me some encouragement to do it regularly.

Until just over a month ago I was doing a ROMWOD routine a couple times a week. Better than before but not a habit and not enough to really get good results. Not worth the subscription either! Then a post from Austin Kleon’s archive about keeping a Seinfeld calendar struck a chord. I decided to make stretching a habit.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

Jerry Seinfeld

I drew up a thirty day grid in my brain dump notebook and committed to doing a ROMWOD routine every day. I’d mark an X in the grid whenever I completed a routine. I wrote DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN at the top.

Thirty days later, I’d done a routine every day, the chain unbroken. I saw some results: more feeling in my leg; more flexibility in my arms and shoulders; less soreness. Stretching, along with swimming, and drinking water has paid dividends.

Keeping up the chain was difficult. I got sick twice and the congestion and headaches weren’t super conducive to yoga moves. I did the shorter workouts on some of those days. I had to plan around a night away: an early morning routine one day followed by a late one the next.

Crossing off the grid every day was very satisfying. And I genuinely think the stretching helps. It’s a habit now and I look forward to getting out my mat & blocks and stretching as Daniel Head’s baritone encourages me along.