random hacks and pointless shenanigans

Waiting On the Lightning

Alright, well, that little experiment didn’t survive its first encounter with the enemy.1 I haven’t totally abandoned the whole playlist-post thing, but I don’t think it’s going to be a regular weekly feature. In fact, I don’t anything’s going to be a regular weekly feature anymore. There isn’t much point in beating myself up over failing to meet a self-imposed deadline about a fucking hobby.

It’s been the customary six-ish months since the last post around here. I’ve got some ideas to use this thing more often – maybe now that I’m out of the winter doldrums, they might even come to fruition. Or, this is just another lightning-quick flash in the pan that I’ve been waiting for, not realising that it would disappear as quickly as it comes.

Either way, I’ve been up to a couple of things. For one thing, I started a new job! It’s technically an old job. You probably don’t care about that, and I don’t blame you. There are far more interesting things to talk about.

podcast

After years of certain people (you know who you are) shouting at me that I need a podcast, I’ve finally gone and done it. My friend Noëlle re-launched er podcast, Idle Curiosities, and I’m the new co-host. Every week, we talk about things from our internet search history and what we learned as a result. I’ve been on four episodes so far, if you’re a completionist, but it’s not the sort of show that you need to listen to the entire backlog in order to know what’s going on.

I’ll probably post about new episodes every week here, under the appearances tag. Here’s the first 4 that I haven’t posted yet, for your listening enjoyment:

Being on this show is fun as all hell – even if nobody listened, talking to one of my closest friends every week and discovering what we’ve been searching for is really satisfying. I do hope you give it a listen.

flickr

In February, I went out to Reno for a week and discovered, once again, that I enjoy photography. There’s a cycle I find myself in, and perhaps you’re familiar with it too, where one sinks to such a level of long-term depression and malaise that they forget about hobbies that they enjoy. As far as I can tell, I haven’t picked my digital camera up since 2019, but it turns out that it’s a joy to use, I’m half-decent at it, and I had a lot of fun using it again. Maybe I’ll keep up with it this time around. In the meantime, I’m reëmbracing the halcyon days of early Web 2.02 and have started a new Flickr account to post them on. Twitter’s image compression sucks, Instagram is a dumpster fire, and as far as I’m aware there really isn’t anywhere great to post photography anyway.

a stupid idea i will almost certainly regret

While writing this post, I discovered that my Ruby install broke itself. Again. I’m thinking about moving to a different static site generator. It’ll probably require some massaging to make work, and I’m not looking forward to it, but I think it’s time to stop trying to keep this weird Jekyll setup on life support.

  1. the enemy, as always: my fragile mental health ↩︎

  2. It’s weird to me that I can look back on this with nostalgia now. A couple of weeks ago I watched The Social Network for the first time in years, and it struck me just how fondly I remember those really early days of using Facebook before it all went to shit. We had so much hope back then that getting everybody online and connected was going to improve things. ↩︎

The Playlizt (volume 1: the dew will temper yr fall)

Editor’s note: This was going to be a two-for-one, but I’ve already written over a thousand words. I think the next playlist can wait until next Tuesday.

If you missed the introductory post: this is the second in a series of posts about playlist I’ve recently created. I’m hoping to maintain it as a weekly endeavour.

the dew will temper yr fall

Apple MusicSpotify

This is just 80 minutes of Los Campeisnos!, one of my absolute favourite bands. Technically, it’s the first one I made since deciding to start actually trying to fix my playlists, and it was also made at someone else’s request. I could go on talking about Los Camps! for hours if unchecked. What do I even say? They’re an emo-indie band from Cardiff, you’ve probably heard You! Me! Dancing!, if only because it was used in a Budweiser commercial. I didn’t put that one on here, even though I think it’s a great song1. At large, I love and resent them and equal parts for how damn clever their lyrics are. Even at a surface read, I find their lyrics and imagery to be top-notch – and if you’re at all pretentious, even just a little, it’s hard not to fall in love. There are, of course, songs that I didn’t manage to fit in here. For example, I should have found a way to fit Avocado, Baby in.

Broadly speaking, the first album (Hold On Now, Youngster…) is the most twee of the crowd. From there, the albums get more emotionally heavy-hitting, and a bit less chaotic.2 There’s something to that first-album energy, though, and it’s not like they get any less frenetic. They only got more emotionally raw – listening to the front half of this playlist while deciding on a final track order nearly brought me to tears.

Side A: Prologue / Heart Swells

The first two songs are a prologue of sorts – I didn’t want to go right in with the emotional depth charges.3 In Medias Res is almost too perfect an encapsulation of how LC! likes to arrange a song – lush orchestration and the sort of dynamic shifts that will send you diving for the volume knob if you’ve got it too high for the quiet bits. Death to Los Campesinos! is the song I originally started the playlist with. It’s jangly and bright if you ignore the lyrics.

In some way or another, all the songs from Heart Swells / Pacific Daylight Time through to Knee Deep at ATP remind me of failed relationships and forgotten friendships. Heart Swells is uncharacteristically straightforward for Los Camps – I didn’t give it much attention the first few times I listened to this album, but that was a mistake. Baby, I Got The Death Rattle and You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing are desperate anthems of self-loathing. The Fall of Home, heart-wrenchingly, sums up everything I’ve ever felt while driving through the town I grew up in.4

Content warnings apply to The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future, moreso than for others – if ever a Los Camps song is obviously about self-harm and suicidal thinking, it’s this one. You’ll forgive me for not dwelling on it too long, moving and moody as it is. Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1 is a little lighter, if you can consider a song about wasting your money in a phone box trying to call your ex “lighter”.5

A Litany / Heart Swells brings us almost to the end of Side A. I was feeling particularly smug for managing to bookend this part with the two Heart Swells, if you’re wondering – and I absolutely tried to fit Heart Swells/100-1 in there too. We can’t have it all, like this ballad tries to remind us. A slow, almost hollow shout into a the void, and the faintest of replies.

If we’re going to continue this tortured metaphor, Knee Deep at ATP is an overture to Side B, which is more musically upbeat. I can pinpoint where I started falling in love with Los Campesions, and it was this lyric:

Maybe the lining of a winter coat mightn’t be the best place / to hide a summer secret

Side B: A Good Night for a Fist-fight

Songs about Your Girlfriend is, to a fault, full of those turns of phrase that I love so much. A Slow, Slow Death almost feels like it belongs on Side A, but… there’s a certain sense of hopefulness in accepting the inevitable, and that tips the scales for me.

An article I read ages ago declared that We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, as a song title, was as good a way to sum up LC! as any. I tend to agree, but the song itself is also a damn fine encapsulation of their whole deal. Layers of metaphor, waxing poetic about the end of a long-distance fling, a shrieking nihilistic damnation of one’s own vital organs. If I had to rank their songs,6 this one is on the podium. So is Here’s to the Fourth Time, and I honestly can’t put my fingers on why. There’s something about the vocals that just gets to me. Every so often, I get in a mood where I want to listen to the same song on repeat for an hour or so, and Fourth Time is a frequent flier on that particular mission. International Tweexcore Underground, honestly, is just here because it’s fun. A little bit of painfully upbeat early-installment weirdness, but the good kind.

Romance is Boring is another podium finisher for me. It’s loud, it’s brash, it bites. It’s good. If you care about that sort of thing, it’s even got a little bit of a personal victory for lead singer Gareth – he stole one line from one of his favourite bands, The Beautiful South (whose lead singer he would later briefly tour with). Los Camps also covered the song in question if you’re feeling exceptionally meta about it all. Coming up for air from the digression: I don’t know jack about guitars, and the only way I know how to describe the guitar sounds on this track is “crunchy”. Crunchy is good.

Rounding out the potential podium: By Your Hand. I’m a sucker for the drums, the almost-triumphant chorus, the insufferable layers of sexual innuendo, the luscious second verse into the bridge… there isn’t anything here I don’t like. If you listen to just one track from this whole list, go with this one. I guess that makes it my favourite, if I really had to pick.

My Year In Lists makes the cut for two reasons:

  1. These lyrics:

    You said, “Send me stationery to make me horny”
    So I always write you letters in multicolours
    Decorating envelopes for foreplay

  2. The line that immediately follows:

    Damn extended metaphors, I get carried away

At least they know they’re doing it.

In the event that you didn’t notice that this band is British, a lot of their lyrics involve football metaphors. Every Defeat a Divorce (Three Lions) is more obvious about it than most – it’s not difficult to imagine a dating history as tortured and hopeless as England’s perennial failure to win a championship. 5 Flucloxacillin takes the cake, meanwhile, for hardest song to spell. Its album, Sick Scenes, came out in 2017, and it’s not difficult to read the majority of that album as a reaction to the forces conspiring to fuck things up: the immediate after-effects of the Brexit referendum, the class warfare between older and younger generations, the utter defeat that felt all too common that year.

There are lyrical themes and phrases that Los Camps! like to stitch through their work – She Crows (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #4) is partly here to represent their most recent release: a 2021 EP of songs cut from 2011’s Hello Sadness, but also to represent the Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown Tetraology. #1 came on 2008’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. We’ve Got Your Back, on Romance is Boring (2010), is technically suffixed (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2. Similarly, Baby I’ve Got The Death Rattle is Uncredited Breakdown #3.

Let It Spill, if verified Genius annotations are to believed, contains Gareth’s favourite verse. I wasn’t originally sure how to finish the playlist off, truth be told, but I could’ve done far worse than this. 2013’s No Blues had to be represented somewhere, and if it wasn’t with Let It Spill I bwould’ve gone with a song I’m awarding an honourable mention to, For Flotsam. No Blues is far, far from a bad album, to be clear. I just couldn’t make that track, or Avocado, Baby fit. If you’ve really enjoyed the playlist, there’s more tracks for you out there.7

Emacs tells me I’ve now written over 1800 words about this band at this point, and I’m sure you want me to shut up. Here’s the links – see you next week.

Apple MusicSpotify

  1. Please refer to my previous comments about liking songs with a big crescendo – this one’s about as big as they get. ↩︎

  2. I draw a line between “chaotic” and “frenetic” – there’s certainly a hyper-active, up-tempo feeling to a lot of LC! songs, but I don’t think anything sums up the pretentious chaos of Hold On Now, Youngster any better than the count-off that begins Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats↩︎

  3. Do you really think I could resist starting a playlist off with a song named In Medias Res? Of course I can’t. ↩︎

  4. Lead singer and lyricist Gareth spoke at length about The Fall of Home, and there’s some bitter irony in me having to give you a Wayback Machine link in reference to a song about municipal rot. ↩︎

  5. For the longest time, I thought that the last line of this song was “many years practice of speaking in hashtags” and not “speaking in hushed tones”. Not quite the same, is it. ↩︎

  6. Please do not make me rank them. ↩︎

  7. If you’re at all cynical or morose about the holiday season, you’ll love A Los Campesinos! Christmas. You might also like Christmas Will Break Yr Heart – it’ll come up whenever I get around to LCD Soundsystem. ↩︎

The Playlizt (volume 0: the late night list)

Here I go with another bullshit writing experiment… this one might be weekly, but it’s more likely to be fortnightly. I don’t really want it to become monthly, at that point I’m not sure it can be called a regular feature at that point. We’ll see. (If you want to skip the tedious backstory and just get to what the hell I’m doing, click here.)

I listen to a lot of music. In fact, there’s an entire system set up to deliver a constant feed of pleasant yet unobtrusive background music that I can listen to from basically anywhere in the house.1 When I don’t have the BGM running, I’ll either pick an album or two to queue up or turn to a Spotify mix, because they’re usually pretty good. The main reason I’ve just been streaming music for a while, though, is that all my playlists suck. To a fault, each one of them has grown to be about six hours long, are completely disjointed, and are full of tracks that I skip every time.

To be honest, I was perfectly happy to keep living like this. That is, up until a friend of mine asked me to make a playlist after I’d queued a bunch of tracks up in Discord one night. It was entirely off-the-cuff, but I think it turned out pretty decent, in retrospect. While I was compiling it into an actual playlist on a streaming service, I started adding some similar tracks, but feared that it would quickly swell like so many other lists have. With that in mind, I decided to arbitrarily limit myself to 80 minutes per playlist – the maximum length of a standard MiniDisc, before ATRAC3 let you wedge double the music on a disc.2 With that constraint in mind, and working from the songs I’d thrown into that music bot, I ended up with two pretty dang good playlists. Since my friend mentioned liking my musical taste, I used those as jumping-off points for what turned into 5 ~80-minute compilations.

I’m going to try and post a new playlist weekly from here on out. Hopefully, it’ll be an interesting way to help me sort through my disaster of a music library and share some of the songs that I truly adore. Before I start in on the playlists that started this all, I’d be remiss without also mentioning another inspiration for this project. My friend Emily puts out a newsletter and playlist every week of brand new music. You should subscribe to it – I find something I never would’ve otherwise heard every time.

With the tedious backstory out of the way, here’s Volume Zero of what I’m calling The Playlizt:3 the late night list.


The first two playlists were made directly from the tracks I queued up in a voice chat – I split them in 2 to meet my arbitrary and self-imposed 80-minute duration limit, and I tried to sort them by mood. Volume 1 is definitely a little moodier than Volume 2, but I was (and am) in a fairly depressed state so they’re honestly all a bit moody. Links to the playlists on Spotify and Apple Music are available after my commentary for each one.

Volume 1

  • Ask Me Anything is the very first song I heard from The Strokes, and shortly after this they became one of my absolute favourite bands. This song doesn’t really sound much like their other work, but it’s heavy on the Mellotron and I love a good Mellotron feature.
  • This playlist actually has a few songs that were my introduction to a given band – a late-night Wikipedia rabbit hole about London Underground stations and their architecture led me to Mornington Crescent, a track off of what I consider to be Belle & Sebastian’s best album.
  • Listening to Lucy Dacus convinced me that Dancing in the Dark is actually a trans anthem with this cover. I will not be taking further questions at this time.

Listen: Apple MusicSpotify

Volume 2

  • You Are A Tourist is my favourite Death Cab song, but I do insist that you listen to the demo verson if you like it.4
  • Another introduction, another cover: I Can Change is how I discovered Ezra Furman. (Your eyes do not decieve you – this playlist has two different LCD Soundsystem covers.)
  • California Stars might be the best song off of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s project writing music for unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs. I became obsessed with it when an ex of mine moved to San Francisco, and it’s stayed in my head ever since.

Listen: Apple MusicSpotify

Volume 3

  • I’ve always liked Beck – the thing about his music is that he covers a lot of wildly different ground. The first two songs here are a bit quiet and downtempo, but it picks up after Guess I’m Doing Fine with Heroin. (I’m a sucker for a good crescendo, a song that builds up into something – Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up from vol. 1 is another favourite example.) Honestly, I only just noticed that I started and ended this one with two wildly different Becks.
  • If you liked Magma, you’ll like the singer’s new band, Nova One. I’m also duty-bound to point out that, like me, they’re from Rhode Island.
  • Another soft spot of mine is long and meandering songs. 23 Minutes in Brussels meanders something fierce. Up with People doesn’t wander quite as much, but it’s certainly taking its time in a way really speaks to me.

Listen: Apple MusicSpotify

Volumes 4 and 5 are probably the least bleak and moody of the whole set. They also have the highest density of songs I was really into during high school.

Volume 4

  • I can’t even begin to tell you how many times Map of Your Head got stuck in my head between roughly 2010 and 2013.
  • Umphree’s McGee’s cover of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi scratches an odd jam band shaped itch for me.
  • One of the only playlists I have with any meaningful focus is the one with every member of The Strokes’ solo work – Albert Hammond Jr’s first solo album is my favourite off that particular collection.

Volume 5

Some of the tracks on vol. 5 were originally on a playlist I’ll talk about in the next post – my main theme here was rhythmic drum beats or constantly-driving music.

  • Whirring starts off going somewhere fun and ends in an explosion of guitars. It’s breathtaking.
  • Hallogallo is the song that I built this playlist around. Neu! was started by two former members of Kraftwerk in 1971 and is one of those bands that not many people listened to, but that inspired innumerable acts afterwards.
  • Going from Blur to The Strokes to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to The Rakes really sums up a notable phase in my life. (That phase isn’t over, for the record.)
  • I also had a serious Kings of Leon phase that tapered off pretty quickly after Come Around Sundown. I first heard Molly’s Chambers in a Jetta commercial, and I distinctly remember going to find it on iTunes after seeing that commercial. I’m a little hazy on this part, but it might have been one of the ones I downloaded using a code from a Pepsi cap.

I hope you enjoy this jaunt through my music library – I promise you, the next edition won’t have five separate playlists in it. If you like it (or even if you don’t), let me know!

  1. This is another one of those things that I should write up. Also, it’s usually playing Phish live recordings. ↩︎

  2. If you’re wondering whether or not I currently own a MiniDisc player, the answer is no. I’m seriously thinking about it, though. ↩︎

  3. Yes, it’s spelled like that on purpose. If you know who to blame… you know who to blame. ↩︎

  4. It samples Orchestral Manoevures in the Dark. If that excites you, go listen. Right now. ↩︎

How I Take Notes (2021 Edition)

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve been obsessed with keeping notes to myself in plain text files. A long time ago, this is the sort of thing I used Evernote for – until they drastically changed their pricing and plan options, anyway. Making me pay more money to use a service across multiple devices is a sure-fire way to encourage the construction of a janky half-baked self-hosted replacement.1 This mindset has put me at the intersection of a few rocks and hard places:

  • I stopped using Dropbox for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I already pay Microsoft for Office 365. Most importantly for this case, that means that they give me a terabyte of free storage in OneDrive.
  • My favourite text/markdown editor on iOS, 1Writer, only supports Dropbox, WebDAV, or iCloud Files/Files.app locations reliably.
  • OneDrive doesn’t work great on Files.app in iOS. At all.

On the desktop side of things, this has been a solved problem for a while. A friend of mine told me about nb, which has been working great for me as an automatic system for managing and syncing plain text or Markdown-formatted notes. Every time I open and edit a note, it commits the edit to a Git repository. When you open a note on another computer, it runs git pull first to make sure it has the latest copy. It solved almost all of my problems… except for those pesky little things called smartphones. Up until now, I had an extremely precarious system involving a WebDAV directory that was also configured as the storage directory for nb on my primary computer. This made a lot of assumptions about the availabiltiy of a WebDAV resource being shared out of my home, as well as introducing frequent merge conflicts when I’d also updated a note from another computer. Inspiration struck on how to fix this while I was setting up org-mode for myself, though.2

The new workflow works perfectly, and it looks like this:

  1. I open 1Writer on my phone, and a Shortcuts automation fires that tells Working Copy to pull my nb-notes repository every time I open that app.
  2. After I close 1Writer, another Shortcuts automation fires off telling Working Copy to commit any changes in the iCloud Drive folder that both apps save files to, then to push that commit.
  3. Gitea runs a post-push webhook that connects to a machine that’s always online in my network and has nb installed. This machine runs a webhook receiver, and it scans the Gitea payload from each POST request for a commit author that matches the one I use on my phone. When it sees one, it runs nb index reconcile to scan any files that weren’t modified by nb itself.

Here are the nuts and bolts.

Webhook Receiver

webhook is an ambiguously named program that serves webhook endpoints and fires off commands when they’re accessed. After installing it, I defined a hook.

/homes/selectric/bin/hooks.json:

[
  {
    "id": "nb-sync",
    "execute-command": "/homes/selectric/bin/nb-git-hook.sh",
    "response-message": "Reconciling changes with nb...",
    "trigger-rule":
    {
      "and":
      [
        {
          "match":
          {
            "type": "value",
            "value": "SECRET SECRET I'VE GOT A SECRET",
            "parameter":
            {
              "source": "url",
              "name": "token"
            }
          }
        },
        {
          "match":
          {
            "type": "value",
            "value": "Liz Slade (roxbury)",
            "parameter":
            {
              "source": "payload",
              "name": "commits.0.author.name"
            }
          }
        }
      ]
    }
  }
]

Gitea, like other Git servers, returns a lot of useful information in its payload – in this case, I’ve told webhook to only trigger on commits from the specific author name that Working Copy’s identity is set to on my phone.3

The script nb-git-hook.sh, in the same directory, is dead simple:

#!/bin/bash
/usr/local/bin/nb index reconcile

This command tells nb to scan its storage directory for any files that it wasn’t aware of – if it finds any, it assigns them an ID number and creates a new Git commit so that it can keep track of them in the future.

iOS Shortcut Setup

While I was writing this, I discovered that Shortcuts.app on iOS doesn’t have a great way of sharing automations. If you set up a shortcut, that at least generates an iCloud share link – for reproducibility’s sake, I’ve converted the automations to simply call a shortcut instead of having individually-defined actions.

Here are the shortcuts for pulling updates from the nb-notes repository and committing/pushing updates. Set up an automation that runs those shortucts when you open or close your favourite iOS text editor, respectively, and it should work (assuming that you have Working Copy properly configured).

For the curious, I’m using a very similar Shortcuts+Working Copy setup with beorg to use my org-mode files on my phone as well. Setting that up is what led me to working out how to make this work with my notetaking system, in fact.

  1. An obvious solution here would be to have fewer devices.

    That’s not gonna happen. ↩︎

  2. That setup might be fodder for another blog post. ↩︎

  3. For things that never/rarely leave my own Git server, I have a bad habit of setting the full name to include the machine’s hostname. It helps me keep track of things a little bit more easily. ↩︎

⮕ Link: selectric401: the redbubble store

The Internet has evolved to the point where anybody can get anything printed on a t-shirt or a sticker, and I’ve decided to make that everybody else’s problem.

I sell bad jokes in physical format on Redbubble. Instead of actually putting some example images in here properly, I’m embedding a tweet:

I’d appreciate you checking it out if you’re into this sort of thing – any money I make off of selling this is channeled directly into purchasing the substances1 that inspire these bad ideas.

  1. Without coffee, the number of hours in the day during which my brain functions is catastrophically low. ↩︎

Here's To The Fourth Time!

Yeah, I’m doing it again.

By my count1, this is indeed the 4th time I’ve completely reworked my blog and started over. Last year, I tried writing about baseball. The year before that, I don’t think I actually wrote anything. Who can tell anymore? To be perfectly frank, I don’t expect the readers2 to expect much from me, and they’re correct in doing so. Part of me hopes that this time I’ll be be able to use this blog occasionally without feeling bad about how I never do. I’m also hoping that I’ll actually have things to write about: the long-abandoned projects I’ve been neglecting for years.

That’s probably all gross and unearned optimism, though.

Either way, I’m declaring a new start. Again. The thing they don’t tell you about those is that you can start over as many times as you need to.

  1. Who’s counting? ↩︎

  2. Describing the readership of this blog in the plural may be optimistic on my part. ↩︎