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NOW v3

Another Now page update. Previous contents, for posterity:

After a tumultuous few months, we’ve landed in San Francisco 🌉. It is both wonderful and strange to have ended up in the exact place that I left when I moved to the UK 10 years ago. I’m more than a little melancholic—about the friends and family we’ve left, about the complicated state of the city, and more—but I’m also excited to reconnect with old faces and meet new people. As the virus 🦠 allows!

Work-wise 👩🏻‍💻 I’m currently: developing a bilingual website designed by John Morgan studio for a London-based gallery 🖼; developing a new website for Gort Scott Architects designed by Polimekanos; collaborating with Bec Worth on the WIP 🚧 open-source WordPress theme that powers this website; working with Sasha Engelmann and Sophie Dyer on an archive and online community for people that collect NOAA satellite 🛰 weather imagery; and consulting with a few orgs and individuals in North America and Europe.

The most recent sites I’ve developed are the new Open School East site ✏️ designed by Sam Baldwin and “Eternal Return” designed by Jules Estèves for artist Elizabeth Peyton. Read a little bit about “Eternal Return” in the New Yorker. Writeups on the build process for these sites coming soon, hopefully…

I’m still settling in to SF, but I’m very open to new projects and particularly teaching / talking opportunities. Get in touch if you’d like to learn or work together.

Limited free time is currently taken up by: navigating what it means to be an adult in the US; working harder on how I confront obvious and not-so-obvious racism in myself and others; finding a used car 🚗; walking and foraging 🍄; catching up with distant friends on FaceTime or Whereby; figuring out how to make friends in a new place during a pandemic 🤷🏻‍♀️; contributing to the Feminist Open Source Investigations Group; cooking, baking, making drinks; remotely contributing to the choral collective Musarc 🎵; and finding a new choir in the Bay Area.

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More books for the never ending list

More books for the never ending list.

  • What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub, 2020 (read introduction)
  • The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, 2006 (read excerpt)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, 2020 (read excerpt)

And a few excerpts / quotes from current reading that I’m finding extremely useful and relevant.

The cover of the book “The Modern Temper” by Joseph Wood Krutch, designed by Paul Rand with four zig-zag shapes in beige, white, black, and blue

If the gloomy vision of a dehumanized world which has just been evoked is not to become a reality, some complete readjustment must be made, and at least two generations have found themselves unequal to the task. The generation of Thomas Henry Huxley, so busy with destruction as never adequately to realize how much it was destroying, fought with such zeal against frightened conservatives that it never took time to do more than assert with some vehemence that all would be well, and the generation that followed either danced amid the ruins or sought by various compromises to save the remains of a few tottering structures. But neither patches nor evasions will serve. It is not a changed world but a new one in which man must henceforth live if he lives at all, for all his premises have been destroyed and he must proceed to new conclusions. The values which he thought established have been swept away along with the rules by which he thought they might be attained.

To this fact many are not yet awake, but our novels, our poems, and our pictures are enough to reveal that a generation aware of its predicament is at hand. It has awakened to the fact that both the ends which its fathers proposed to themselves and the emotions from which they drew their strength seem irrelevant and remote. With a smile, sad or mocking, according to individual temperament, it regards those works of the past in which were summed up the values of life. The romantic ideal of a world well lost for love and the classic ideal of austere dignity seem equally ridiculous, equally meaningless when referred, not to the temper of the past, but to the temper of the present. The passions which swept through the once major poets no longer awaken any profound response, and only in the bleak, tortuous complexities of a T. S. Eliot does it find its moods given adequate expression. Here disgust speaks with a robust voice and denunciation is confident, but ecstasy, flickering and uncertain, leaps fitfully up only to sink back among the cinders. And if the poet, with his gift of keen perceptions and his power of organization, can achieve only the most momentary and unstable adjustments, what hope an there be for those whose spirit is a less powerful instrument?

And yet it is with such as he, baffled, but content with nothing which plays only upon the surface, that the hope for a still humanized future must rest. No one can tell how many of the old values must go or how new the new will be. Thus, while under the influence of the old mythology the sexual instinct was transformed into romantic love and tribal solidarity into the religion of patriotism, there is nothing in the modern consciousness capable of effecting these transmutations. Neither the one nor the other is capable of being, as it once was, the raison d’être of a life or the motif of a poem which is not, strictly speaking, derivative and anachronistic. Each is fading, each becoming as much a shadow as devotion to the cult of purification through self-torture. Either the instincts upon which they are founded will achieve new transformations or they will remain merely instincts, regarded as having no particular emotional significance in a spiritual world which, if it exists at all, will be as different from the spiritual world of, let us say, Robert Browning as that world is different from the world of Cato the Censor.

As for this present unhappy time, haunted by ghosts from a dead world and not yet at home in its own, its predicament is not, to return to the comparison with which we began, unlike the predicament of the adolescent who has not yet learned to orient himself without reference to the mythology amid which his childhood was passed. He still seeks in the world of his experience for the values which he had found there, and he is aware only of a vast disharmony. But boys—most of them, at least—grow up, and the world of adult consciousness has always held a relation to myth intimate enough to make readjustment possible. The finest spirits have bridged the gulf, have carried over with them something of a child’s faith, and only the coarsest have grown into something which was no more than finished animality. Today the gulf is broader, the adjustment more difficult, than ever it was before, and even the possibility of an actual human maturity is problematic. There impends for the human spirit either extinction or a readjustment more stupendous than any made before.

The final pages of the first chapter, “The Genesis of a Mood”, from The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, first published in 1929

I picked up a copy of this and a few other great secondhand books from the Alley Cat Bookshop in the Mission.

I understand that The Modern Temper has a pretty pessimistic outlook overall which might make it tough to finish, particularly in the current circumstances… But I’d like to finish it. Even though it was published almost a century ago, the feelings and psychological maladies that Krutch describes are more relevant than ever. The painful, unending cynicism. That unchecked growth and progress have incalculable ramifications on human consciousness, that we must be more wary of the consequences.

I’d like to follow it up with his book The Measure of Man from 1954 where he supposedly considers the modern world more optimistically, and possibly with the nature books he wrote later in life while living in Arizona.

What follows is a Duchampian door, at once open and closed, logical and whimsical, focused and drifty, academic and anecdotal. Part explanation, part justification, part reification, and part provocation, it’s a memoir of sorts, an attempt to answer a question I often ask myself regarding UbuWeb: “What have I done here?” Is it a serendipitous collection of artists and works I personally happen to be interested in, or its it a resource for the avant-garde, making available obscure works to anyone in the world with access to the web? Is it an outlaw activity, or has it over time evolved into a textbook example of how fair use can ideally work? Will the weightlessness and freedom of never touching money or asking permission continue indefinitely, or at some point will the proverbial other shoe drop, when finances become a concern? The answer to these questions is both “yes” and “no”. It’s the sense of not knowing—the imbalance—that keeps this project alive for me. Once a project veers too strongly toward either one thing or the other, a deadness and predictability sets in, and it ceases to be dynamic.

From the introduction to Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb by Kenneth Goldsmith, published this year

But there is so much more that I’ve underlined and noted in this book. Very worth reading, particularly for anyone dealing with creative copyright and / or the web these days. Get it from Columbia University Press.

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Current listening: “Playing Piano for Dad”

Currently listening to the album “Playing Piano for Dad” by h hunt (2016). Thanks to BL for the rec, by way of SB. It’s all about the piano, but I also like the occasional background talking, bits of humming, snaps, throat clearing, restarts, sighs, hearing the pedals. It’s an antidote to the franticness of the news cycle this October.

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Some thoughts after finishing CA poll worker training

Just finished my poll worker training for the November 3 election. I’ve been impressed with how SF has rolled their remote training out. The one disappointment was that I couldn’t pause it and then resume it another day. I had assumed I could (shouldn’t have assumed!) and ended up having to redo an hour of it.

We’re to arrive at 5:45am on election day and will likely be there until 9:30pm or later. Polls open at 7am sharp and stay open until 8pm, with anyone in line at 8pm being permitted to vote. The whole process is a bit more complex than I anticipated, but I guess it makes sense given the scale of the operation.

Most of it is about common sense, common courtesy, and following instructions, but some points surprised me a bit. When someone comes in to the polling place to vote, we’re to offer them PPE and share the health and safety protocols they need to follow, perfectly sensible. But if they refuse to wear a mask or stand six feet from other people, we’re not allowed to turn them away. The right to vote supersedes health and safety guidelines. Ultimately this makes sense, it is the way it has to be. I cannot imagine the chaos that would ensue if an anti-masker were turned away at the polls… But it felt counter-intuitive at first, and it makes me hope that elderly folks that might normally volunteer are reconsidering for this particular election.

Electioneering is another interesting topic. It was only mentioned once in the introduction when talking about protecting voters’ rights, but it’s likely to be a problem in this election I think. In the San Francisco-based training that I did, electioneering was described as visible or audible advocacy for anything on the ballot, gathering signatures for a political petition, displaying campaign literature, and wearing campaign buttons or t-shirts within a 100 foot radius of the voting place. Electioneering rules on election day are different in each state, but most are somewhat similar to this. I think a lot of people might not realize it’s not ok to wear their Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence t-shirt to go vote!

The point that probably surprised me the most relates to poll watchers. The legalities vary a lot state-to-state but in California, there aren’t any statues about it to my knowledge. The training stated that in California, poll watchers must be welcomed so long as they’re not intimidating voters, don’t interfere with or slow down the voting process, don’t interfere with voters’ rights, and aren’t compromising the safety of the voters or workers (as in, they’re not causing the polling place to exceed pandemic-related capacity restrictions).

The qualifications in other states can be very particular. You can see a decent rundown on this ncsl.org page but check with your local election official to be sure. Based on what I’ve read, the most common qualifications and requirements often include restrictions on the number of watchers allowed per polling place, being a registered voter in the precinct, wearing an identifying badge, being officially appointed by your party (with sometimes byzantine sub-requirements), and being registered in advance as a watcher with your county. The most restrictive states are probably Minnesota (watchers not allowed, only challengers, and they can only be appointed after gathering 25 signatures regarding a specific issue) and West Virginia (doesn’t permit them at all). Ohio was the only state I found that doesn’t allow poll watchers to carry firearms or deadly weapons.

The problem is that these restrictions will likely be overlooked by much of the “army” (our president’s militant wording, not mine) being urged to “watch very carefully” by President Trump during the first debate and on Twitter throughout this election cycle.

People are fearful that they can’t trust anything they read in the mainstream media, and the flames of those fears are being fanned by deliberate acts of disinformation by the Trump/Pence campaign such as spending thousands on Facebook ads promoting unfounded rumors about Biden. Based on that fear, it’s understandable that they would want to witness the veracity of an election for themselves, particularly since one of the only leaders they trust is urging them to do so.

So we have a situation where likely tens of thousands of people are ready and willing to be poll watchers. All well and good I guess, as long as they all stick to the rules. The Trump/Pence campaign is making some small effort to keep their official poll watchers on the right side of the law using training videos.

But what about the unofficial poll watchers? The people that don’t know better and take it upon themselves to make sure everything is going according to Trump’s plan? They put themselves at risk of heavy fines and even jailtime, let alone putting others at risk and debasing our electoral process depending upon their actions and intentions. Considering the aggressive vigilantism we’re currently seeing among the far right — the Michigan governor kidnapping plot is case in point — I would be sad but absolutely not surprised to see some explosive behavior among unofficial poll watchers in Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and elsewhere.

I think it’s unlikely that I’ll see many problems at my precinct in San Francisco. And even if something arises, the SF poll worker training made it clear that it’s not our responsibility to de-escalate, that we’re to call the Election Center who will provide guidance and get the right people involved if necessary. I’m more worried about the swing states. You’d hope that cooler heads would prevail, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of that these past four years.

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Just what I needed

A photo of the North Fork of the American River near Clark’s Hole

I haven’t been posting much recently. There’s not a lot about this year that I’d like to remember. Of course there’s a ton that must be remembered, just not much that I’ll look back on fondly.

But we went swimming in the North Fork of the American River last Friday, that’s something to smile about. The heat radiated up off the path on our walk there and back. There was a big family enjoying the sun and water, and two girls chatting, standing in the shallows and drinking from a wine bottle. They warned us about the territorial crawdad near our toes.

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aaronzlewis.com

Another personal site well worth checking out:

aaronzlewis.com

There’s a lot of great stuff going on here: a cocoon for fledgling writing that’s maybe not quite ready for prime time yet but well worth sharing, web-like behavior in that the site pulls in content from various sources (Twitter, Arena, his blog, etc.). It really gives you a well-rounded picture of his personality.

The use of color and transitions is great too, usually when I see a site with this much movement and color it can come across as wacky / zany. That’s fine and appropriate for some personalities, but it’s not the sort of thing that I would go for on my own site. So it’s cool to see someone accomplish a friendly, colorful, and playful design without it feeling too over the top.

I like the tone of his writing too, particularly the “mentors, collaborators, & co-conspirators” bit on his Credits page. I’ve wanted to add something like this for a while but haven’t been sure how to present it.

It’s interesting, coming across sites like this makes me go back and forth about where I’m going currently with my own. On the one hand I’m really enjoying making a site that others can use, it’s been great to see how people use it. On the other hand, I can only go so far with making the theme really “me”. There may be other ways to address this though… worth considering!

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So dark

Photo of the orange smoke in San Francisco

Taken at 9:40am today. Somehow it seemed to get darker between when I woke up around 7:30 and now. It’s dark enough to be 7/8pm. Apparently ash is falling like snow in Concord.

Soundtrack for this morning: Silver Apples’ eponymous album from 1968. Came across this via @erikinternet’s tweet, didn’t know about Simeon Coxe III before. RIP.

Worth reading: 2019 Guardian article ‘Fire is medicine’: the tribes burning California forests to save them.

Edit at 9am on 10 September

The sun never really came up yesterday. We woke up this morning wondering if it would be the same.

The orange is gone, replaced by light beige smog. The 10 minute average air quality index (AQI) is over 200 in most of the city according to PurpleAir, over 270 in parts of the Sunset district. “Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”

Though it looks better than yesterday, the reality is way worse on the ground.

Edit at 4pm on 10 September

Now the air is thick, opaque. AQI is in the 300s in most of the city, mid-300s in the Mission. “Health warnings of emergency conditions if they are exposed for 24 hours. The entire population is more likely to be affected.”

Edit at 9:30pm on 10 September

The AQI has dropped back to the mid-200s in SF. Things are a bit better (still not great) once you get south of Santa Barbara, hovering around 100. In the mid 100s around Tahoe. Oregon is feeling it the worst right now, it’s over 500 in Portland. As Duane King said on Twitter, “‘Airpocalypse’ helps explain why my eyes are burning indoors.

Read more edits

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On personal sites, and adios analytics

I’ve been getting approached more and more by people that want to put a link to their company’s content on specific pages of my site. I’d be up for it if the linked content was super relevant and unique, the sort of thing I’d bookmark, but it never is. The link usually leads to a generic article filled with ads, pop-up newsletter requests, trackers, etc on some faceless blog. Often the actual link they send me has a URL parameter to track whether or not I’ve clicked it (where is the self-awareness?!). I get that their employer is probably making them do it, but it feels pretty icky.

Alongside that uptick in ick, I’ve felt my relationship with my site shifting over the past few months. I loved cultivating my own little slice of the internet for so long, and some of that joy is slipping away. Some of this is probably related to the pandemic, some of it is busyness and stress, and some of it is for sure related to our SF move.

I came across this tweet from @lil_morgy, she’s definitely identified part of the problem. I’ve spent more time on Twitter in the past few months due to both moving and the pandemic. While it has introduced me to some great people, it has also started warping my idea of what success can look like. Does it mean having at least 2k followers and firing off hot takes? Sure as hell feels like it when I open up Twitter. I don’t have hot takes, my brain isn’t wired that way and they leave me with a bad taste. I like the ones that simmer, a messy family-sized stew as opposed to a perfectly formed amuse-bouche of a thought. Where does that leave me?

On a separate topic, a few days ago I came across Jim Nielsen’s post Comparing Data in Netlify and Google Analytics. (To be honest, I came across it via @davatron5000, probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. So there are good sides to it…) It reminded me of the often-futile role of analytics on so many sites. So many of my clients have added analytics because they thought they had to have it, or they’ve been forced to have it by some public funding body. But more often than not they have no time or inclination to make use of the data they collect and even if they did, how accurate is it actually in the end? The analytics platforms usually get so much more out of that data than they do.

Anyways, this is a roundabout way of saying that I just pulled the plug on my self-hosted Matomo analytics instance. Feels good. Consider it a first step towards repairing my relationship with this site that I have cared for over many years.

Note: I still feel like Matomo is one of the better options out there if you must have client-side analytics (more on this), but it was just pointless for me. I rarely looked at it, and I think even the presence of it was pulling this site father away from what it is at its core.

At its core, this is a personal site. A personal site, to me, is a website whose primary editor and intended audience is one and the same, a single, solitary, individual. My personal site is a repository for my memories, experiences, feelings, recipes, tips, photos, and more. A lot of it stays private. The things that might be interesting or useful to others are made public. Regardless, it is an ever-growing extension of myself that I have total control over, my mirror and memory aid. I want to be able to look back at this when I’m eighty and thank my past self for surfacing things that I otherwise would have forgotten, the good and the bad.

But a personal site can be anything, and that’s the beauty of it. This is my site, long may it change.


An additional thought.

What is yours?

I love coming across personal sites, and I love helping people set them up. If you give it a stab and run in to trouble, or just have no idea where to start, reach out to me and I’ll try to give you some pointers or at least bore you to death with some worthwhile questions.