Andrew Willett, at it again.

Category: misc. Page 1 of 52

So very, very misc.

The State of Things, Nov. 2023

The last time I was updating this blog really regularly, I was a freelancer, and single, and people actually read blogs. A lot has changed since then. I spent a lot of the last decade living my online life on social media, and as I toy with the idea of revitalizing this blog — for my own amusement, if nobody else’s — I thought I might do a little “you are here” post.

The irritatingly happy couple, on their wedding day.

Let’s start with the most important update: You may recall that back in 2009 I went on a date with D., to see John Kelly perform the entirety of Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” in his own inimitable style. That all turned out pretty well: He turned out to be the great love of my life. We married in 2017. We consider our selves very, very fortunate men.

About a year after that Dad passed on. He was a sweet, soft-spoken, smart, complicated guy and I miss him. I wish Don had had the opportunity to meet him at his best.

The other major transition is that in 2012 I managed, through hard work and good fortune and an accept-no-substitutes fixity of purpose that I think alarmed a lot of people who loved me, to turn the intermittent freelance work at Major Publication into an actual staff position as a New York Times copy editor. After a two-year rotation through the newsroom, I’m back where I started, at the Sunday Magazine. Most months I spend one week assigned not to the magazine proper but to The New York Times for Kids, which is an utter joy. I love it. If you want to see a copy, you’ll find it only in the print edition, on the last Sunday of every month. We’re extremely proud of it.

I’m not really writing fiction these days. After years and years with the Secret Cabal, a local spec-fic writers’ group, I couldn’t help but notice that every time I was due to turn something in for our monthly meeting I would start to go out of my mind. (I’m sure Don was observing this long before I was ready to say it out loud.) I eventually realized that I’d hung the sign that said WRITER around my neck at 17 and never since allowed myself to consider whether it was still making me happy. And it wasn’t: Much as I love having a story to tell people, the pressure that I put on myself to get from blank page to something I was prepared to share had drained the fun out of it. I’m working on that. I’d love to find my way back in. But for now, I’m on a break.

As things go, though, I can’t really complain. I’m a lucky guy.

Update From the Engine Room

The burning hulk of what was once Twitter is sinking into the swamp; as much as I will miss what it was, it is unquestionably time to abandon what it is now. Before I did that, though, I wanted to leave a note on my account, telling people where they could find me; and if I was going to send anybody here I figured I should make sure everything at Strange Radiation was working properly, so I spent the afternoon cleaning the carbon scoring off the matter collider and otherwise getting the place ready for visitors.

This is where it’s going to get a little nerdy. You have been warned.

Technical Notes: Implementing a Post Comment Count for Lovecraft

The most interesting aspect of that process, for me, was the chance to address what struck me as a nagging absence in Anders Norén’s beautiful Lovecraft WordPress theme: the lack of a comment count on in the post metadata field on the index page. Unable to find an explicit solution online — it seems as if the question has been asked a few times but never answered — I taught myself just enough about WordPress child themes to do it myself. If you want to do the same, create a child theme (as detailed, say, here), and then, in your function.php file, duplicate the bit of the Lovecraft parent functions pertaining to <div class="post-meta">. Into that bit of code, insert a single new line at the appropriate spot:

<p class="post-comments"><a href="<?php comments_link(); ?>"><?php comments_number( '0 comments', '1 comment', '% comments' ); ?></a></p>

Presto! That’s it. While I was in there I also got rid of the part of the same div that put the author’s name on every single post, because dude, it’s just me in here. No css changes were needed. If this helps YOU customize things, great; just don’t forget to back everything up before you get out the wrench.

Buddy Is 3

Me, in Mexico, neener neener.

I’m in Mexico! In Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatan, thawing out. This morning has been spent enjoying the breeze and teaching myself a little about the Maya civilization, which was local to here — we’re going to see the ruins of Uxmal later this week, and I’m so excited. But today is also a big day for another reason: Buddy is 3 today.

A while back I did a series of rituals with someone who specializes in such matters, working through some stuff. In our very first session, I was told to visualize walking down some stairs into the earth, where among other things I’d find an animal waiting to meet me. And there he was: a winged garter snake who flapped over and coiled itself around my right arm. In that very moment a little background process running in my head knew I’d found my tattoo. I’d circled the idea for years, never finding an image I wanted to risk living with forever — but this was it.

After months of casting about on the internet, I found the amazing Johno, who at the time owned Black Iris Tattoo in Greenpoint. One look at his instagram feed told me this was the guy. There was an email conversation, and we made an appointment. It was HAPPENING.

I spent much of the night before the big day staring at the ceiling, miserable. What if I got it and hated it a day later? For the rest of my life every time I looked in the mirror it would be a source of shame and regret. Should I cancel? But if I canceled, wouldn’t I regret THAT every time I looked in the mirror? Either way, I was on a familiar road to self-torture.

Then I remembered: One of that snake’s messages was to treat myself as I would others — with love. And living in fear of my being mean to myself was not loving. I decided to roll the dice, get the ink, and love myself anyway, no matter what. That was the kind of man I wanted to be.

So I went to Brooklyn. The sketch Johno had made from what I sent him was… thrilling. Magnificent. And he spent a few hours putting it where it belonged, and today I am a man who loves his ink and what it reminds him of. Thanks, Johno. 

The result.

And happy birthday, Buddy.

The New New

Well, it was lose the blog archive or migrate away from Movable Type and into something, you know, modern and functional. So that’s happening. Plus it might be fun to have a place to yammer at greater length than Twitter or Facebook allow. So, yeah. This is happening. Ere long this will actually start to look good, even. But for now, it works and my ISP isn’t rolling its eyes at me.

Finger-Crossing

All kinds of shiny new stuff going on under the hood. What that means for the future of Strange Radiation, I’m not yet certain. I am curious to see how the antispam systems hold up.

Process

Let’s begin with another music video: “In Your Arms,” by Kina Grannis. The song itself is… cute. A happy if not particularly world-shaking romantic pop tune. But the video:

I know, right? That’s a hell of a lot of work. Specifically, it’s 2,460 frames, created and shot entirely by hand over 1,357 hours using 288,000 jellybeans. Damn. The numbers are tabulated in this equally fascinating (to me) video — the one that actually moved me to write an entry in my poor neglected blog — right here:

On the face of it, two solid years of labor for a single music video sounds pretty crazy. Her record “Stairwells” came out in early 2010 — isn’t the buzz cycle for a disc supposed to have ended by this point? On the other hand, the final result is getting a lot of attention. And she comes off as pretty charming in the making-of, to the point that I’ll probably give a few of her other songs a listen as a result.

I don’t know what it says about me that I so often find the “how we did it” documentation at least as interesting as the end result. I have spent many happy hours, for example, listening to the screenwriters’ commentary tracks on the Lord of the Rings extended DVDs, as Jackson-Walsh-Boyens talk about the millions of tiny decisions they had to make on what to keep, what to move, what to cut. (The screenwriter’s commentary on “Sense and Sensibility” is pretty great as well, but hey, Emma Thompson, how can you go wrong.)

And finally, if you haven’t seen the animation work done for Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance,” well. Hie thee hither.

Beaten to the Punch by a Buncha Swedes

Nertz. See, this is what happens when you have to do things like go to work and write a novel instead of investing your time and energy in projects of more immediate importance, like turning recent funkstraveganzas into a cappella free-for-alls — other people do it instead. It’s kinda Nordic, but hey, hats off to them anyway.

For those who don’t know the original, the oh-so-fabulous Janelle Monáe, well, hi, Dad — here’s your reference copy, which for some reason has been declared off limits for people who want to embed it in their blogs.

And now I’m going to bed.

Sometimes You Have to Stay Up Late and Write Stuff Down

I got off the subway this evening at my usual stop, from my usual position at the door directly ahead of the conductor, which lets me off right in front of the exit. But as my neighbors and I squeezed off the train I got edged just far enough back from the front of the pack that it was impossible to break free. I was caught in the mob, trapped in second gear, forced to wait my turn at the turnstile and on the stairs. And as we shuffled up to the surface I noticed how the melting snow had left behind this horrible black goop slopped into the creases of every tread in the staircase, and I started composing a footnote.

The horrible black goop on the stairs is the same crust of soot that covers the snowdrifts on the sidewalks up on the street. It gets mixed in with the snow as it falls, but at first it’s hard to see: it’s too thinly distributed. But when the snow melts, most of the soot is left behind, so you get smaller and smaller snowdrifts that turn blacker and blacker and blacker. The rest is carried as silt by the melting snow as it drains into the stairwells, and is left behind on the steps.

All true, but I wondered why the sudden urge to analyze a random corner of urban living. But then I thought, Oh. It’s because I’ve been reading the new Finder collection.

Finder is a black and white science-fiction comic that Carla Speed McNeil started self-publishing in 1996. It has gotten a lot of critical notice over the years but has achieved nowhere near the wide readership it deserves. It’s been picked up by Dark Horse: they published the first new story volume in years this week, called Voice, and will be collecting the previous seven volumes in two omnibus editions this year.

What’s it about? It’s about life a very very very long time from now, when most humans (and humanish people) are living in vast domed cities but some people (human or otherwise) live outside the walls. It’s about culture and the ways we fight the rules we live under. It’s about the things that we decide make our lives worth living, and the ways we protect them. It’s about a drifter named Jaeger who comes and goes, who’s an outsider everywhere, and how he gets in and out of trouble. (Women are often involved.)

McNeil’s characters are vivid, sensitive, thoroughly realized. Her art is gorgeous. (I mean, check out the kid leaping along the top of her blog. So expressive. When she draws people dancing, you can feel the air they displace as they move.) And her worldbuilding is top-notch. It’s so dense, in fact, that the various volumes all have extensive footnotes in the back, just to point out all the cool stuff that would otherwise be missed as the story sweeps along. That young woman? Studying for full adult acceptance into the clan of her birth, which in her case means hours of mental mathematics. That girl? Actually a guy, but her clan all looks female. That vine covered with television screens? Grows like kudzu. Runs pirate broadcasts. Every square inch of what you can see has a story.

I’ve got a real sweet tooth for dense worldbuilding myself, and McNeil’s knack for invented anthropology just floors me. Between the comics and the footnotes, I can read and reread Finder for hours. I met McNeil at the NY Comic Con in the fall and had a total fanboy meltdown, burbling excitedly at her for much too long and then only realizing after I walked away that I’d left out the part where I actually introduce myself. ([Facepalm].)

I really should be in bed right now. I just finished packing for Boskone — too many shirts, for sure, but I couldn’t decide — and I’m crazy tired, and the bus to Boston waits for no man. But I wanted to put this out there. You should be reading Finder.

We Live In The Future, vol. 732

Time to close a browser tab. Hey, look! Finnish a cappella singers gone wild! A nice tech demo combined with a good arrangement. I approve. (But I’m still not convinced I need an iPad. Fun as it looks.)

Public Service Announcement: DateTags and MT4

For those using StaggerNation’s DateTags plugin with Movable Type 4 (or, presumably, 5): there was a change in the MT3 —> MT4 transition with how entries’ date information is handled. This change can make DateTags behave in odd ways in cases where posts are assigned publishing dates other than the dates on which they were originally written — for instance, if you’re writing entries today and assigning publishing dates three weeks from now, because you’re using DateTags to create a calendar of upcoming events. To address this problem, do a global find-and-replace in your plugins/DateTags.pl file: where you see created_on, replace it with authored_on.

That is all.

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