Thunder Dome

Learning to love from a distance

Unless you’ve been offline the past week, then you’re likely aware that California has been inundated by precipitation — vast torrents of rain, and enough hail one afternoon that my backyard here in San Francisco looked like someone had tipped over a ton of ice cube trays.

Along with the rain has come something I became relatively inured to as a child in New York, but experience far less often in the San Francisco Bay Area: lightning. The rain got so intense this past week that I pulled up the website to track the impending impact. For the record: I am no longer inured. In fact, I still suffer low-grade storm PTSD since the four years I lived in New Orleans (1999-2003: loved the city, but hurricane alerts take a toll).

A screenshot from Lightning Maps showing thunder approaching
Circles of Hell: These slowly expand on the Lightning Maps website to show thunder as it emanates from a strike, each depicted here as a bright yellow dot. 

At the height of the storm, it was amazing to watch in the website’s interface as the lightning strikes exuded thunder out of hearing range, and to then sit and wait as the thunder approached, each strike’s fierce echo visualized in ever-changing Venn diagrams of doom that slowly expanded and decayed in equal measure.

So much online life is founded on semi-asynchronicity, on latency, on lag — on communicating in fits and starts, on sending out information and waiting for a reply. In the case of email it can be hours or days (or if I’m your correspondent, months); with social media and, especially, text messages, we’re accustomed to brief pauses that we struggle not to fill with meaning. 

With the geometrically perfect, slowly expanding circles of browser-based Lightning Maps, the meaning is clear. (Side note: if you know of an ad-free way to experience this data, please let me know. I bought the iPad app but far as I can tell, the app doesn’t feature the slowly expanding circles I found so useful in the web interface.) The latency between lighting strike and thunder is based on rudimentary physics, not on someone’s availability or mood. You watch as the wave of sound approaches. Given the sheer force of some of the recent thunder, especially in the context of its relative unfamiliarity in these here parts, the live map has provided a form of comfort by helping prepare me for the arrival of the next boom — and the one after that. 

Scratch Pad: rain, fiction, UX, Prince

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, usually in the morning over coffee: collating most of the little comments I’ve made on social media, which I think of as my public scratch pad, during the preceding week. These days that mostly means

▰ lightning -> thunder -> dogs -> sirens

▰ First two novels I finished reading this year: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers and And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer.

▰ Outside, it’s nonstop rain. My Facebook feed is nonstop Jeff Beck RIPs.

▰ This week’s Disquiet Junto project is the second of the year, but the first that I wrote up in the redesigned backend. Felt good — a little unfamiliar, certainly, but it went smoothly.

▰ It’d be nice if YouTube Music was available in “split screen” mode (or “slide over”) on the iPad. A small wish for 2023.

▰ If “the song that was #1 on your 23rd birthday is how your 2023 will play out,” then apparently Prince’s “Batdance” (maybe my least favorite Prince hit) is my year ahead. I have no idea what that means. (Could be worse — in England on that day it was Jive Bunny’s “Swing the Mood.”)

▰ There are many strange things about the first episode of Seinfeld, among them that, naturally, the audience doesn’t cheer when Kramer walks into Jerry’s apartment.

▰ Sentence I typed today: I aspire to be the love child of Alexander Isley and E.E. Cummings

Scratch Pad: 2023, Menus, SuperCollider

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, usually in the morning over coffee: collating most of the little comments I’ve made on social media, which I think of as my public scratch pad, during the preceding week. These days that mostly means

▰ Happy new year. Let’s leave 2022 in the dust.

▰ Listening to Alexandre Desplat’s score for the film Tirailleurs sure makes my sitting here typing all day feel more adventurous than it actually is. Walter Mitty would have loved a good pair of headphones, not to mention access to streaming audio.

▰ I thought it had become impossible to turn off autoplay on SoundCloud, but it turns out the little button is hidden, placed in the poppup from the “Up Next” menu in the lower right corner.

▰ Font love:

This is a photo of part of a receipt from a. Chinese restaurant. The text has decayed due to the sort of printing use.

▰ Very excited to start off a new year of Disquiet Junto projects with the very same project that kicked things off 11 years ago this week

▰ They were impressive:

Another bit of the same Chinese restaurant receipt

▰ Best part of the new Peter Gabriel song:

▰ Brown noise, but slower

▰ A great thing about social media is you post a stray thought, such as the one directly above, and a friend replies with a sonic experiment along those lines, and another shares code, in SuperCollider, as to how to accomplish it:


Notes on Note-taking

This is a screenshot of some nested folders on a Mac, as described in detail in the blog post.

Over on Mastodon, some folks asked about my note-taking/writing process in response to the above image. I replied, and then I figured I could tidy it up and archive it here, in case it’s of interest:

The short version is I have (1) a document named “today” that I just keep running notes in all day long. I have some #categories in there, to break it down, many of which remain empty by the end of the day, but they provide some organization, some guardrails. I then have (2) a document for the given month (and these end up in one folder per year as the months go by). This month’s document is titled “daily202301.” I always go “yearmonth” (or “yearmonthday”) for file names, because then they sort easily into chronological order. I’ve been labeling files that way a long time, back to the late 1980s at least. (I remember in 1996 I took a new job overseeing a fairly large editorial staff, more than a dozen people, and I requested that people do this. At first they were like “Why?” — and then they saw the benefits.)

The next morning I copy the “today” stuff and paste it to the top of the given month’s document, so at the end of the month I have a reverse chronological journal of all the stuff I’d noted. That way I start each day with the “today” doc fresh (aside from those categories I mentioned). I also have a (3) various special documents (books-in-progress, Junto material, raw This Week in Sound fodder, articles-in-progress, projects, cut’n’paste replies for over-eager publicists, etc.), that some of the “today” stuff ends up moved over to (rather than to the generic monthly documents mentioned above). (For what it’s worth, I do this all in markdown, so the files end with an “.md” suffix. These files are the same size as .txt and .rtf files, take up very little room, and are quickly searchable and indexable.)

Also, my laptop screen is arranged so I have a narrow window for the file always visible on the left 1/5th (or so) of the screen, and then all my other activities (browser, word processor, Slack, Discord, calendar, etc.) fill the remaining right 4/5ths of the screen. I use Scrivener for anything longer than a blog post and iA Writer for anything shorter than Scrivener, and I generally end up in Google Docs for stuff that gets particularly collaborative.

I also have a cheap Android tablet to my right that’s my digital project whiteboard, with all my projects listed on it. Currently it displays a Google Sheet, but I’ve used other software to the same ends. I like a whiteboard that can be turned off, rather than have it stare at me 24/7 from a wall. Also, I like to work in lots of places — cafes, museums, libraries, the couch — and this way my whiteboard is always accessible, even by phone if I feel the need to take a peek. To my left is an iPad that’s usually got my email and calendar running, and which I often lift up to take handwritten notes on, or to annotate PDFs and screenshots, and so forth. (Or to make music with, or read comics on.)

I do use little paper notepads, but I treat them as essentially disposable. I write in them, less as full text and more as line-item mental reminders, and then I transfer that writing to digital files every day or so (though sometimes there’s a bit of a backlog) by typing it and expanding the initial thoughts. At some point in the last year or so I concertedly taught myself to write in all caps by hand quickly, and that’s significantly extended the half life (i.e., legibility) of my stray thoughts.

There’s a whole lot more to the process, and the tool deployment slowly evolves over time. Everyone’s needs differ. This has just worked for me. Redesign

New year, new look, new outlook

This is a quick note to mention that has undergone a major redesign. This effort has been a long time coming, a long time in the works. The site had come to look more claustrophobic as time passed. I wanted the text to be larger, the space in which the text appeared to be larger, the navigation to be simpler, and the backend to be modernized. I also wanted the mobile version to be less burdensome to read.

In the process, a “books” page has been added to the site, and the sidebar has been cleaned up considerably.

The new theme just got turned on this evening, and there is some inevitable tidying up to be taken care of in the days ahead, but it’s 95% of the way there. Major thanks to futureprüf for the support.

And for your enjoyment, here’s a screenshot of what looked like in 1998, two years after its 1996 launch:

This is a screenshot of the incredibly simple design of the original website.

And here’s what this site looked like just before the new theme was implemented: