Diary

Lessons Learned: Creating a slideshow in iMovie

Background

Our community held an appreciation evening for our architects and Durham Central Park Cohousing, whose members mentored us through the journey.

During the planning, someone suggested having a slideshow play in kiosk mode on the TV in the multipurpose room while the party went on in the adjacent Common Dining Room.

And of course, all heads turned to me since I’m the de facto publicity guy who drafts the BCC blog and the (now quarterly) newsletter.

My Approach

When given this task about a month and a half before, I of course procrastinated. Well, not all the time; I was quite busy at the $DAYJOB and with other BCC and personal assignments that creating this show was not priority. I also trusted my inner guidance to let me know what to do and when I needed to do it.

But one still needs to make decisions early on, don’t one? They help to give one a place to start and to set up some useful constraints. Starting with the end in mind, I decided on the following:

  • Keep the show to about 20-30 minutes.
  • No music or other soundtrack, because there would be so much talking and other music playing in the other room.
  • The show would be a blend of still photos and drone footage taken of the construction in progress.
  • It seemed to me the simplest way to compile the photos would be to put them in chronological order; therefore, every photo needed to be accompanied by the month and year the picture was taken. I thought people looking at the pictures would want to know when they were taken.
  • The show (either a movie or a PowerPoint slideshow or some other mechanism) had to play on my MacBook connected via HDMI to the TV.
  • The show would be broken into three main pieces: pre-construction, construction, and then move-in on up to the present day. Even during construction we were having events—such as the beam-signing—so I thought those pictures could be interleaved with the constructions at the appropriate moments in the timeline.

What I Actually Created

An iMovie video slideshow that lasted almost 40 minutes. All photos were watermarked with the image’s creation month and year. The video got good reviews from the folks who saw it, and it brought back some good memories. But it was way too long.

Processing the Images

Did I say I started too late? I started too late.

We had two large stores of image files on our shared Google Drive: one set devoted to construction, one to community events. Fortunately, they were arranged in folders—and sometimes sub-sub-folders—by date. Google Drive is too slow to click and move through, so I tried downloading the folders via my browser, but there were inevitable hiccups with some corrupted files, internet burps, and whatnot.

  • At that point, I searched out and found Cyberduck, which offered a fast and simple way to download those folders to my MacBook.

Now I had lots of folders and subfolders of images. I did not want to have to traverse all those folders; instead, I wanted a single folder with all the pre-construction images, a single folder with all the construction images, and a single folder with all the post-construction images.

  • I searched around and—I still can’t believe this—found exactly what I needed: a MacWorld article from 2011  defining an Automator workflow that moved files out of subfolders to a parent folder, and then deleted the empty subfolders.
  • I selectively used that Automator workflow to pull all those nested files up into a single directory for each category of images I had defined.

Now to process those images: sort them by name? By creation date? How to ensure I’m seeing all the files in the right order?

  • I prefer sorting by name; it just makes things easier all around, especially if I was going to do more post-processing of the files later. Or inserting other images I might find later so they fitted into their chronologically right place.
  • Much searching and trying out of programs led me to PhotoMill, which performed brilliantly.
    • The key first step after ingesting the photos, was to select them all and then select File > File Attributes > Set Creation/Modification Date from Capture Date… This added the necessary metadata to the images for the next step.
    • I created a preset workflow within PhotoMill that changed all the formats—a mix of JPG, PNG, and HEIC—to JPG, renamed all the files to start with each image’s creation date and time in the format YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM, followed by the original filename, and then added the creation Month and Year in a 50% opaque white font in the lower right corner of each image, as shown here.

With a folder of images renamed, sorted, and formatted the way I wanted, all that was left was to … sift.

Because I did not have a detailed outline in mind, and because I wanted to let the materials lead me to where they wanted to go, I felt the only thing to do was to sift through all those images to make a first cut.

So for about an hour or so every day, I sorted through about 3,800 image files. Most were quickly consigned to the Trash.

I totaled the numbers of files I had. If each image lasted 4 seconds on screen, then 4 times the number of files and divided by 60 would tell me how many minutes the show would last. That first cut got me to about 60 minutes, so I knew I had lots more cutting to do.

Creating the Video Slideshow

As I sifted through the files again, I hit on the idea of calling the video “Timelines.” I decided to keep the construction images and event images separate, but staying with the pre-construction and post-construction eras. So there would be smaller timelines playing within the larger timeline narrative. I also decided to stop the show after our celebratory gala in May, after the move-ins had finished and we were ready to enjoy our accomplishment.

During that second round of culling, I created new subfolders for the images and began investigating how to present them. After looking at PowerPoint and other kiosk/slideshow programs, the simplest and most powerful tool to use was iMovie.

I consulted a MacMost video course on iMovie I’d bought a while back to educate myself for another project. Gary very helpfully had several videos dealing with my specific use case, and he refreshed my memory on applying transitions, titles, and other niceties. Using iMovie also let me easily drop in some MP4 and MOV drone videos captured during some of our events and during construction.

We were now at, oh, a day before the event? I reported that I’d have a really good first draft, and figured I’d have most of Saturday to get it mostly good.

Renaming the files as I had done meant that, as I dropped in batches of files, they sorted into the sequence I wanted. Adding the drone videos was also dead easy. And iMovie let me know how long the video was, so I could do more drastic cutting as needed. I had iMovie render low quality videos I used to review what would be the final product.

The MacBook Pro’s M1 processor made very short work of the video creation; on my old iMac, it would have taken maybe 90 minutes. I was so happy I got the Pro.

The video wound up at about 40 minutes, still about 20 minutes too long. I did some cutting and moving chunks around, but did not have a better creative idea to support such a drastic cut. Had I arrived at this point a week earlier, a better idea would have appeared.

What I Would Have Done Differently

  • I could have eschewed watermarking all the photos in favor of using titles or other iMovie captioning. But then, I’d have still had to reference each image’s creation date to get that info correct. So, six of one…
  • I would have foregone sifting through 3,800 images. My process, for better or worse, is to sort through everything. I did find a few great shots that way, but that effort was over the top. As Liz noted, whenever people were not in the pictures, the air went out of the show.
  • In the next draft of this video, I will trim the 15-20 minutes of boring construction photos. Since I named the video “Timelines”, I will instead create more mini-narratives showing the progress, say, of the hallways and the lobby from studs to sheet rock to paint. Those will tell more meaningful stories within the larger construction narrative, and the impact will be greater to see 2 years’ progress on a defined space within the span of a few photos.

Resources

How I’m reading books these days

Trinity College Library 1900

6 Breathtaking Libraries

Library Extension for Firefox/Chrome/Edge

Firefox remains my browser of choice on my MacBook mainly because of Library Extension, which does not work in Safari. With this extension, I can go to a book page on Amazon or Audible and see whether the book is available either physically or digitally via the Durham NC public library 

Books, Ebooks, Audiobooks

Both ebooks and audiobooks are available via my library credentials from the library’s own site, Overdrive/Libby (via the Libby app), and Hoopladigital (via the Hoopla app). Checking out an ebook from the library itself delivers it to my Kindle Oasis or Kindle app.

One of the great bonuses of Overdrive/Libby is its access to magazines; Liz loves reading The New Yorker this way on her iPad mini.

Hoopla delivers not only ebooks, but audiobooks, music, and a limited selection of movies/TV series. What continues to astonish me with Hoopla is its deep selection of comics and graphic novels; before buying a graphic novel from Amazon/Comixology, I check Hoopla first and am usually pleasantly surprised. Its comics reader is not as good as Comixology’s, but it’s decent.

I’m an Audible guy, and have been since the late ‘90s; it’s mostly reliable and offers lots of stuff. I’ve used Apple’s Books app now and then, but did not care for the experience. I have an app on my iPhone called Bound Audiobook Player that is useful for playing audiobook files I’ve ripped or created from other sources. And I’ve written before about using Audiobook Builder for “binding” separate MP3 files into consolidated audiobook files.

Devices & Apps for Reading

I have a Kindle Oasis that I am finding myself using less and less. I appreciate that its lighting is probably better on my eyes than the iPad’s, and that it offers only reading with no other app or online distractions, but it feels increasingly clunky to use.

On my iPad, I configure the Kindle app so that I can scroll through a book like a web page (when that is supported) rather than tapping on the side of the screen to advance to the next page. I like to read with my glasses off in the evening, so I can make the font size quite large on the display while still displaying a lot of text.

This article led me to seriously consider reading Kindle books on my iPhone. And it’s actually a pretty good experience, once I’ve adjusted the font and scrolling. I find myself now opening the Kindle rather than a browser when I am fiddling with the phone.

I rarely use Apple’s Books app for anything beyond PDFs, though I have bought a few items from its store that were not available via Amazon. I always forget about the Books app. The ability to organize and manage my collection is limited, though the Kindle’s is really not that much better.

Lately, for “classic” books, I’ve been using the Serial Reader app and am loving it without really knowing why. It delivers chunks of a book daily that can be read in 10-15 minutes; sipping a book rather than gulping it, as it were. I paid for the app so I could load an EPUB book from Gutenberg, and it handled the ebook flawlessly. Right now, I’m reading a book of Wodehouse short stories.

One problem with so many apps and devices is: read the same book on multiple devices? Read different books on different devices? What type of reading works best with each device? How many books can I read at a time without overwhelming myself? I’m still working that out.

Comics Sites & Apps

Comixology remains my favorite comics reader, despite how Amazon has wrenched its UI into a confusing mess to match the Kindle app’s equally frustrating UI. The Comixology reader can only read comics purchased or borrowed from Comixology. Many pixels have been spilled on how Amazon has ruined the Comixology web and digital experience, and the criticism is justified; attempting to discover new work on Amazon’s Comixology sub-site is next to impossible; still, the Comixology app’s comics-reading engine is the best and easiest to use.

Again, check out Hoopla’s deep catalog of comics, including many recent releases. Don’t buy from Comixology if you can borrow from Hoopla.

I check the Humble Bundle site once a month for its book bundles; the bundles are priced so that portions of what you pay go to both charity and the publisher. Most of the book bundles typically deal with programming or gaming, though they sometimes have fiction themes or instructional themes (how-to-write books during NaNoWriMo, for example). They also usually have at least one comics bundle. For a relatively small price, you can sometimes get a couple of dozen (or more) comics/graphic novels in a themed bundle. Some of the themed collections I’ve bought include a Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie Showcase, Ed Brubaker’s Image Comics work (his incredible Criminal series), and titles from One Press and Top Shelf; these bundles helped me catch up on lots of titles I had missed.

The Humble Bundle comics can be downloaded in multiple formats (PDF, CBZ, CBR) though that isn’t consistent; occasionally only one or two formats are offered. I prefer to read these on my iPad. There are many many comics readers out there; I’ve used Chunky Comics Reader for so long on my iPad that I can’t get used to other readers. Chunky is still available and works great, but the last update was 2 years ago, so it’s probably abandonware, alas. A good second choice to try is the Panels comic reader, which is being actively developed.

I’ve tried both the Marvel and DC comics readers; Marvel’s reader is better, but neither are all that great. The main advantage of these services is getting access to nearly the complete catalog offered by each publisher (new issues are delayed by six months, typically). Both services offer monthly and yearly subscriptions; I like paying for one on a monthly basis till I finish reading through whatever is interesting to me, then stopping that subscription and moving to the other. 

Good Lord

Until I wrote this post, I had no idea how convoluted my reading life had become! But it’s not that hard in practice, I think. I use my iPad for most reading: comics, Kindle app, and Serial Reader. On my iPhone, I also have Serial Reader (it syncs progress across all devices, or at least is supposed to), and Kindle (for light non-fiction that is skimmed more than read). 

And yes, I have a chair and lamp reserved for reading good old-fashioned papery codex books. Books are a proven technology that never go out of style. 

Ciders

North Carolina Cideries Are Seeing a Gentle New Craft Cider Renaissance - INDY Week

I’ve never been able to stand the smell and taste of beer, so I could never see the appeal of it to people. Ciders, though, are really fun. I heard cider described as the alcoholic beverage for people who like soda pop, and that’s not far wrong for me. Berry and citrus ciders are my favorites. I currentlly have two crowlers in the fridge from Bull City Ciderworks: Upcide Down (pineapple cider) and Early Bird (a blend of BCC’s cranberry and ginger ciders).

(Relatively) Recent reading

Arnold Bennett: Lost Icon by Patrick Donovan. 📚 An excellent biography of the phenomenally famous and successful British author of the 1910s-20s who is little-known and littler-read today. For a man who tried always to live and behave sensibly, his relationships with the two women in his life showed the limits of his self-satisfied rationality. Still, it was a remarkably busy and industrious life, with his journalism and “pocket philosophies” (such as How to Live on 24 Hours a Day) jostling alongside his fiction and plays. Virginia Woolf bears some of the blame for the eclipse of his reputation, though some responsibility is borne by time and shifting tastes. I remember reading his play The Title and one of his novels, and the mustiness of the atmosphere and archness of the prose turned me off. I should go back and try the novels on which his reputation rest, like The Old Wives Tale and The Card.

Bennett’s friend Frank Swinnerton wrote his own remembrance of Bennett and was a novelist in his own right. I downloaded Nocturne 📚 from Gutenberg (and loaded it into Serial Reader—ah, technology) and skimmed through it rather quickly. An interesting idea, to tell the story of two sisters, both loving and antagonistic, in a single night, with some moments of actual drama and interest. But so much telling. I started to see how parts of the story could work as a play but the dialog was so stilted, the narrative voice so ever-present, and the storytelling itself so stiff (not to mention that I didn’t trust Swinnerton’s psychological portraits of the sisters) that I found this short novel to be pretty forgettable.

In the comics world, I binge-read Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (my favorite artist of the series). So light, clever, funny, and fast; they really brought the joy of reading comics back for me. I also loved that they included the letters pages from the original comics, featuring cosplay photos from readers young and younger. The community that grew up around this positive and—yes, why not—wholesome comic was a delight to read. I felt both satisfaction and sadness when the run reached its end.

I also binge-read Garth Ennis’s The Boys 📚 after hearing about the Amazon show; I really cannot recommend it. It’s a brutal satire of superheroes that is itself really ugly, violent, with only two characters I really cared about; their love story is actually quite warm and tender but, jeez, you do have to wade hip-deep in blood and guts to get to it. Like all these sagas, it’s melodramatic so I kept reading to see what happened next (I also never learned to just quit reading a book I’m not enjoying). But based on my description, you can kind of guess what happens next every time.

Also read Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles 📚, which I guess was a story of its time. Brilliant and bold in so many ways, because Morrison. Morrison is brilliant but—and I will take the blame here—few of his stories have stuck with me.

I also read Chip Zdarsky’s run on Howard the Duck, another funny book with heart, though dug in more to the character’s past and not as light-hearted as Squirrel Girl. I like Zdarsky. He has a sense of humor but he also writes good action/superhero stuff; I’m currently following his Batman run.

Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Wonder Woman: Historia” is deep-dish, gorgeous artwork, very dense, very myth-laden storytelling on the birth of the Amazons. I hope she’s able to continue the series.

I’m trying out the DC Comics app on my iPad and have been rereading Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman run, which Williams eventually took over later as both writer and artist. The story is good, as melodramatic and soap operatic as these things are, but Williams’ layouts are jaw-dropping. It’s worth checking out the physical books from the library to really take in all the detail and the strange way he breaks the panels down, as if he dropped each page from a high window and then reassembled the shards into a new whole.

Etaoin Shrdlu

Etaoin Shrdlu is a somewhat infamous phrase among language enthusiasts. It is pronounced “eh-tay-oh-in shird-loo” and is believed to be the twelve most common letters in English, in order of most frequently used to least frequently used. The expression came about from linotype typesetting machines. Were one to run a finger down the first and then second left-hand vertical banks of six keys on a linotype machine, it would produce the words etaoin shrdlu. Linotype machines were sometimes tested in this manner. Once in a while, a careless linotype machine operator would fail to throw his test lines away, and that phrase would mysteriously show up in published material. The full sequence is etaoin shrdlu cmfgyp wbvkxj qz.

Source

Sunday is for Introverting

Friday was spent running errands, Friday night was caroling in Mary Fran and Stefan’s backyard, Saturday lunch and afternoon were spent doing essential catching-up with Sue (recently moved back to NC from Santa Rosa), and Saturday evening spent with our Bull City Commons brethren and cistern with a chummy and cheery happy hour at the Bartlett’s common room/patio. Sitting there and watching the rain come down and wash the streets, smelling that fresh air – who needs TV? Afterward, a post-Happy Hour get-together in Jackie and David’s apartment with some yummy Spaghetti Bolognese.

Much eating, drinking, and socializing over the last two days gifted us with restless sleep and the need to pull the covers around ourselves on Sunday. Given that cohousing attracts introverts, we have a saying after we’ve spent lots of essential energy socializing: “I need to introvert.”

So that’s what today is about: introverting. Puttering about, writing Christmas cards, maybe shopping for groceries. Gathering energy for next week.

Update on my Libib.com graphic novels library

I have been using Libib.com intensively the last several weeks to scan in my graphic novels. I have gone full-nerd on ensuring better cover images are in place, even for books I know I will be shedding.

My Libib.com graphic novel library totals 210 books right now – didn’t know I had that many! The bar-code scanning goes well most of the time, but direct market or older books (25 years+) don’t scan in well, so I manually enter the ISBN and that usually works a treat.

As with many collectors, when I processed a pile of books I was surprised to see things I’d bought and intended to read one day but never did. The classic rubric for getting rid of something is forgetting you had it, yes? It is ruthlessly efficient. But it is not as strong in me as the delight in discovering a book that is ripe for rediscovery.

There are some other graphic novels/comics lovers in our community who would like to plunder the collection; we’re talking about maybe having a lending library bookshelf or three stationed on the various floors of our building. We’ll see.

I’ll likely go through and keep the stuff I really want to tend, find digital equivalents if they exist, and then export a CSV of the rest and shop it around to local comics shops to see if anyone is interested. I’m discovering old editions of things that are listed for rather high prices on Amazon and Ebay, though whether they see for those amounts is a data point for another day. I know that I don’t want to get into the business of being an online bookseller; I’d rather find a good home for the collection where others can enjoy them.

On downsizing our DVD collection

In our house, we have embraced streaming video. It’s convenient and mostly reliable.

So, as part of our downsizing, I took a lazy Saturday to sort our DVD collection into three piles:

  • Yes (keep)
  • No (discard)
  • Maybe

I thought, with so much content available via streaming, I would be able to discard a good number of those DVD titles. This shows my naiveté, I expect. I was surprised at how many of our favorite and precious movies and shows are not easily accessed via the streaming services.

We live in the future, where you can watch a movie from a small plate of glass in your hand, but the future is not evenly streamed.

As I pondered whether or not to keep a title, I used the JustWatch site/app. Enter a title and JustWatch tells me which services offer the title for subscription, rent, or purchase. 1

For example

Mrs. Dalloway and Topsy-Turvy are two movies that we like trotting out every few years to enjoy the stories’ now-familiar contours and textures.

Mrs. Dalloway is viewable only on odd platforms like Hoopla 2, Tubi, PlutoTV, and Filmrise, or on Amazon Prime Video via its IMDb TV channel (ad-supported, which for me is a hard no).

Topsy-Turvy cannot be streamed at all, on any platform.

And there other favorites from our – ahem – curated collection that are not easily available online:

  • The BBC’s 1967 series The Forsyte Saga, which is cozy wintertime viewing, at least up till Old Jolyon’s death. Only the 2002 BCC update is available on BritBox.
  • 1978’s The Norman Conquests plays with Tom Conti. Available on Amazon via a subscription to something called BroadwayHD. I could sign up for the free 7-day trial, but, no.
  • John Cleese and Connie Booth’s 1975 comic and touching short film Romance with a Double Bass. The DVD is long out of print.
  • The charming Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows is available via Acorn TV, a service available via our public library. That’s OK, but there is a bit of overhead involved to log in to Acorn TV. Slipping the DVD into the drive is more convenient in this case.
  • BritBox does not even carry the classic Leonard Rossiter series “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” though there are fugitive episodes on YouTube. I have a Region 2 DVD of the series that I ripped to my Mac long ago (the Superdrive will let you play a non-Region 1 DVD up to five times, I think, and then no more).

And so on. I have some DVDs I’m keeping because they are really good, out of print, and available nowhere else. Others I’m keeping because they have special features that cannot be accessed via streaming, like the Criterion Collection’s edition of F for Fake and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

It’s not a large list of DVD titles – about 25 or so – but still, I was surprised that they aren’t ALL online in a more easily accessible way. Their absence from the streaming services means I will be holding them close for some time yet.

The Maybe pile

The Maybe pile is for the 20 or so DVDs I’ve either never seen and want to see at least once, or they have some interviews or behind-the-scenes feature I’m curious about, or I want just one more look before making a final decision.

Some of those DVDs are the very arty or obscure foreign movies I picked up for cheap when the late lamented Visart Video chain went out of business over a decade ago. I always think I have a more refined taste for the esoteric than I really do.

Still, before I decide whether to keep or discard, I’d like to see Chekhovian Motifs and Decasia: The State of Decay. But right alongside those worthies I also want to see the dance numbers from Follow the Fleet and The Barkleys of Broadway 3, plus the featurettes for Top Hat and Batman: The Movie (Adam West is my Batman).

The future comes with a price tag

I remember one of Ramit Sethi’s rules being to pay as you go rather than subscribe to services you pay for and don’t use. Most streaming movies are rentable for $4 or $5 from the major platforms, and not much more to purchase. So if I have a hankering to see The Dark Knight Rises again (um, doubt it), then I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see it. And so The Dark Knight Rises Blu-Ray goes into the discard pile.

Despite Ramit’s advice, though, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and AppleTV 4. We also have access to PBS Video, Hoopla, and Acorn TV. The chances of finding a streamable movie from one of those platforms is pretty good. So I’m not worried about meeting our entertainment and distraction needs.


  1. Back in the day, we re-purchased favorite titles to upgrade to better technology: from vinyl to CD or from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. And we owned them; they were ours. Now, we pay for the right to view or listen, and who owns what is murky. [return]
  2. Hoopla is available via our local public library and has its own AppleTV app. But Hoopla imposes a daily cap on the number of items – ebooks, video, music – that Durham Library patrons can check out. So, if you decide to check out a movie at 7 pm, you may find that the daily limit has been reached and you’re locked out. [return]
  3. DVDs have this very much in their favor: scene selection. Scene selection makes it dead easy to jump to the song-and-dance numbers in musicals, whereas I cannot hop around with that amount of precision while streaming. [return]
  4. Good thing I don’t pay for cable too, huh? ‘Cause that could get expensive! [return]

INTJ catchphrase

I remember once reading through descriptions of MBTI personality types. For each type, they included a short catchphrase characteristic of that personality. I identify as INTJ, and the catchphrase for that type was “Well…what did you think would happen?”

I shared this with a friend, also an INTJ, and we both marveled at how this expressed our often unspoken reactions when we would hear other people complain or wonder about this or that event happening to them. For us, what happened to them sounded extremely logical based on the starting point, and why couldn’t you have worked that out for yourself beforehand??

Since discovering this catchphrase, I try to notice when I think it and stop myself saying it out loud. There’s such an “I told you so” superiority vibe to it; even if I don’t say it, I’m sure people can feel it.

Now, when it’s appropriate, I will lay out my expectations for something (a movie, a project, a meeting) before the event starts. Because, anyway, who’s to say I’m right? But at least I’ve said out loud what my personal and emotional logic is laying out before me, imaginary though it may be.

I also try to notice when I am starting a sentence with “At least…” and stop it from passing my lips.

Sherlock Holmes: observations and deductions

I have been listening to the Sherlock Holmes stories read by Stephen Fry.

As one would expect, Fry does a marvelous job of it. He’s a lifelong Sherlockian and his love for the series comes out in some of the personal essays he wrote to accompany each book, and also in his narration.

I’ve long been acquainted with the Holmes stories – I’m sure I read the Adventures and Memoirs volumes in my pre-teen years – but they never quite stuck in my mind and I never progressed much farther. I depended on other media (TV, movies, comics) to fill in the gaps.

The whole realm of Sherlockiana on the other hand – the annotated volumes, the encyclopedias, the books about Sherlock – seemed a bit more fun. And, in fact, I think I absorbed most of what I know about the Sherlock Holmes universe that way.

So it’s interesting to hear the stories as an adult. As a kid, I remember really trudging through the long other story inside A Study in Scarlet and wondering why it was there. I can stand those digressions a little better nowadays.

So far, I’ve heard A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, Adventures, and am about halfway through Memoirs. Here are some stray thoughts I’ve had listening to them:

  • The most interesting bits of a Holmes story happen before the plot gets started. The description of Sherlock’s world, his habits, his table-talk, and so on, are what I find most interesting because Sherlock is typically the most interesting character. Example: the first few pages of “The Greek Interpreter” where Watson meets Mycroft and learns more of Sherlock’s family history. They do not contribute to the story’s plot or theme, but they color in more of Sherlock’s universe, and that’s fascinating.
  • Which underlines that it’s Sherlock we’re really interested in, not the stories.
  • Good lord, but so many of these stories are resolutely undramatic. All tell and no show. This makes the stories feel quite inert despite their sometimes lurid content. “The Engineer’s Thumb,” for example, is a thrilling bit of pulp melodrama as Victor Hatherley finds himself isolated, escapes being killed by a metallic press, and attempts the rescue of a young lady. But we’re not there with him as the action is happening, only being told about it afterward. So I finish the stories feeling rather cool toward them.
  • The Ian Richardson version of “The Sign of Four” actually improves on the original story in a few respects, particularly the boat-chasing climax and the capture of Jonathan Small. Doyle painted himself a rich canvas but did not take advantage of some of the details to make the stories a little tighter and more thrilling.
  • The stories typically bring one-off characters onto the stage where they recount long monologues and deep background information on the characters’ life histories, Sherlock is involved to a minimal degree, and then – poof – story’s done. I’m thinking here of “The Yellow Face” and “The Copper Beeches”: intriguing setups, but Holmes is a secondary player on those stages. Also, these monologues stop the story’s momentum stone dead.
  • Which leads me to wonder whether Doyle really was more interested in telling those stories of thwarted passion and conflict rather than neatly trimmed and tidy mystery stories.
  • There are a few stories where we travel along with Holmes the bloodhound as he investigates the case in real-time, as it were: “The Red-Headed League,” “The Speckled Band,” “Silver Blaze,” and “The Resident Patient,” for example. Those are fun. But there aren’t as many of those as I remembered.
  • There is the wizardry of Holmes’ deductions, of course, but since the reader is rarely given the clues, the reveal is always a bit of a cheat. The hardest thing about writing a detective story is finding a good clue (the creators of both “Sherlock!” and “Columbo” have said as much). So as I listen to the stories, I listen for the clues that Doyle deploys so Holmes can characterize, say, the owner of a hat (“The Blue Carbuncle”):

…That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him.

He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect … He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid on in his house.

  • How did Doyle devise such rich and wonderful names for his characters? Jabez Wilson, Hosmer Angel, Enoch Drebber, Joseph Stangerson, Thaddeus Sholto, Fitzroy Simpson, Hall Pycroft, Neville St. Clair, Jephro Rucastle, and – my favorite – Dr. Grimesby Roylott.
  • Doyle’s vocabulary amps up the thrills because they aren’t really there in the stories. Characters feel forebodings of horror, dread, unease, monstrous, hideous, etc. Doyle was really writing some potboiler stuff: the colorful, lurid, melodramatic, and pulpish back stories of the characters or the culprits are tamed and made presentable in the genteel sitting room of 221B Baker Street.

On hearing "Carmina Burana" this afternoon

Many years ago, we had a work friend who was a member of a community chorus; they usually performed popular or light programs of songs.

One year, the director really wanted to flex his muscles so they studied, practiced, and performed Carmina Burana, with key soloists and some instrumentalists hired for the performance.

It was challenging for her – different from the normal “pops” style of concert programming and difficult musically, especially such an odd piece that she was not familiar with before. By the end of it, she was enjoying the musical and theatrical challenge of the piece.

We met with her after the concert and asked what the next concert would be.

“It’ll be a concert of Gershwin music. It’ll be good,” she said. She paused, and added, a little wistfully, “But it won’t be Carmina Burana.”

Loose verse

Loose verse written sitting in an outdoor chair, under an awning of the car repair place, during a warm all-day rain

When did I become my grandfather,

an old man whose only pastime is

sitting in a chair on a sidewalk

watching the weather

looking at people passing by

looking at his thoughts passing by

not distracting himself with a book,

a phone, a game, a podcast,

food, not even coffee (well, apart

from my thermos sitting on the ground beside me)

Sitting waiting on my car to be worked on,

I’m content not feeding my mind with

others’ ideas or imaginations

Just sitting quiet and still

part of the landscape

part of the weather

On today's agenda

Liz just finished weeding a section of the front yard; we’ll see if Home Depot has mulch later.

On today’s agenda: I’ll vacuum the house, we’ll get groceries, order a pizza, watch a movie.

I always thought being an adult would give me a ticket to a glamorous life of non-stop excitement and stimulation. But I find much so pleasure in the day-to-day ordinariness of life that I never noticed how my dreams and vision changed.

Not a good or bad thing, just a thing to notice and wonder at.

Plausible Reality

Liz just came in to tell me today’s Cryptoquote (she does the crypto and Jumble puzzles daily). Something from Mark Twain about how fiction is obliged to be plausible, whereas reality has no such restriction. I’ve used that quote a lot in the last four years.

Today's quotes from my Kindle

These are the highlighted Kindle passages sent to me today by Readwise.


How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

The second question threading its way through this book is: how do we go about changing career and making the best possible decisions along the way? Although I offer no blueprint strategy that will work for everyone, there are three steps we ought to take. A starting point is to understand the sources of our confusions and fears about leaving our old jobs behind us and embarking on a new career. The next step is to reject the myth that there is a single, perfect job out there waiting for us to discover it, and instead identify our ‘multiple selves’ – a range of potential careers that might suit the different sides of our character. Finally, we have to turn the standard model of career change on its head: rather than meticulously planning then taking action, we should act first and reflect later, doing experimental projects that test-run our various selves in the real world. Ever thought of treating yourself to a ‘radical sabbatical’? (Location 142)


Greg Waldmann Reviews the Musical Career of Anthony Burgess (couldn’t find a link!)

One my favorite passages from his writings is at the beginning of Little Wilson and Big God, where he sits in New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1985, watching people go about their lives and thinking back on his own. “One goes on writing,” he says, “partly because it is the only available way of earning a living. It is a hard way and highly competitive… But one pushes on because one has to pay bills. There is also a privier reason for pushing on, and that is the hopeless hope that some day that intractable enemy language will yield to the struggle to control it… When I hear a journalist like Malcolm Muggeridge praising God because he has mastered the craft of writing, I feel a powerful nausea. It is not a thing to be said. Mastery never comes, and one serves a lifelong apprenticeship. The writer cannot retire from the battle; he dies fighting.” (Location 184)


Nuggets of Wisdom by Elsie Spittle

CONTINUE TO “MANUFACTURE” a healthy environment and appreciate the results, without hoping for more. Hoping for more gets in the way of appreciating what you have now. (Location 703)


The Arnold Bennett Calendar by Arnold Bennett

In the cultivation of the mind one of the most important factors is precisely the feeling of strain, of difficulty, of a task which one part of you is anxious to achieve and another part of you is anxious to shirk. (Location 963)


The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

Ultimately, if you protect yourself perfectly, you will never grow. All your habits and idiosyncrasies will stay the same. Life becomes stagnant when people protect their stored issues. (Location 889)


Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher

Habits. It’s the 5x5 rule. You are not just the average of the five people around you. You’re the average of the five habits you do, the things you eat, the ideas you have, the content you consume, etc.

Quick-elets? (No)

Used the new silicone muffin pan Liz bought me for Xmas to make some quiche muffins (although we’re trying out different names – “protein pucks”?). I used my standard spinach mushroom bacon recipe, which made two pans of “puckelets” (no).

The nice bit about the silicon muffin tin – no greasing of the cups needed nor paper cups.

Froze most of them. We have found the best way to reheat them is to let them thaw at room temperature, microwave for 40 seconds, and they taste great.

Quiche muffins2 564px

Forbes's "Should You Upgrade iOS" column

If one lesson can be learnt by all this it is to stop blindly leaping to every new iOS release.

Gordon Kelly is a frequent critic of Apple so I have always taken his iOS update reports with a grain or three of salt. But with the recent 13.x releases, I now wish I’d listened to him and held fast to iOS 12.

My SE, which usually held a good battery charge all day, drains down to 5% within an hour simply sitting on my desk.

My SE is 2+ years old so, on the off-chance, I’m having a new battery installed this week. If I still see a drain, I’ll know it’s iOS.

I have turned off automatic updates and am holding fast, for better and worse, at 13.2.1.

Update, 2019-11-13: Took my iPhone to an Apple certified service shop. The repair guy hooked my phone up to his diagnostic computer and it said the battery had gone through 600 recharge cycles; Apple says the battery has a lifetime of 500 cycles. So yeah, the battery was shot. The Battery Health setting is an OK criteria (mine was at 88%) but not the decisive one; it’s the number of cycles that is decisive. But the user cannot see the number of recharge cycles a battery has gone through, only a technician. Charging the phone up now; hoping for good times ahead.

And the latest update. I have Downlink set to update my desktop every 20 minutes today. Not sure of the lag time between the satellite snapping the image and the app processing it, but it’s effectively real-time for my needs.

Working at home today, awaiting the rains from Hurricane Dorian here in central NC. The coast has been evacuated. This screenshot is of my desktop; the photo is NASA satellite imagery from a Mac program called Downlink.

Diet update

Yesterday, I weighed 210.2, about a pound under my control line. This morning, I weighed 211.8, about a pound above my control line.

I could attribute the increase to a bigger than usual lunch, a supper of starchy leftovers, trying to lose weight in the winter is a mug's game, the dates I snacked on in the afternoon (if grapes=candy, then dates=chocolate caramels), a week of consistently poor sleep, or 104 other variables.

No matter the cause, I have to take the scale’s report as truth and act accordingly.

Mark Forster, when he devised his version of the No S diet, defined a set of rules for such occasions. Every day he was over the line, he added a rule. Every day he was on the line, he kept the same rules. Every day he was below the line, he relaxed a rule.

It’s an eminently sensible plan.

I started defining my own set of rules, ranking them by severity, etc. but decided to go easy on myself. I have my own toolkit of techniques; as I mark my weight on the graph, I’m already calculating which ones I will deploy that day.

The techniques are a mix of the following, in no particular order, and as the day allows:

  • No snacking
  • No sweets, though an apple or clementine is allowed
  • Water, coffee, and herbal tea only (no ciders, no diet sodas)
  • Only cold boiled potatoes during the day, with a normal supper
  • No seconds, smaller portions
  • Stop eating by 7pm or thereabouts
  • Extra laps around the parking lot at work, or a workout at home
  • Skipping one or two meals
  • Start eating at 4pm and stop eating by 8 pm

Today, I had 3 meals (cold boiled potatoes at lunch), small portions, no snacks, and walked the parking lot at work. I did have a cider.

If my weight is still over the line tomorrow, then I will aim to have my large meal about midday. I’m scheduled for a workout, so that will help burn some calories. For the rest of the day: eat less, move more.

Although trying to lose weight during winter is like pushing a car out of a ditch.

Update, 1/27/2018: I weighed 209.8 this morning, a little less than a pound under my control line. Success! The goal today is to eat sensibly, have a workout, and continue to stay on or under the line.

Restarting my diet, such as it is - 2

The key tool for me will be a weight-tracking chart made with pen and graph paper.

The chart format is described in the 1975 book Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week by Laurence E. Morehouse and Leonard Gross (long out of print). I first heard of this book through Mark Forster’s article.

The goal of the chart is to help you track losing a pound a week. This is a sustainable and non-superhuman rate of loss that should, we hope, prevent feelings of deprivation and will-power stuggles.

Here’s how Morehouse presents the graph in his book:

Weight tracking chart, graphed

  • Dates run along the horizontal axis.
  • Weight is on the vertical axis. Each block on the graph represents a half-pound, so weight amounts are placed on every second line.
  • Starting from the upper left, count down two blocks and over seven. Make a dot. Continue counting down two and over seven, making a dot at each intersection, till you get to the lower right. In the image, those dots are on days 7, 14, and 21.
  • Use a ruler to draw a line from upper left to lower right connecting those dots.

That line determines your weight control program. My graph runs from 1/13 to 2/20, about 5 weeks. Every day I weigh myself, my weight will be above, below, or on the control line. For fractions of a pound, round up or down to the nearest half-pound.

Morehouse describes the protocol:

  • The objective is to always be on the control line.
  • If you’re below the line, eat what you want so you’re on the line tomorrow.
  • If you’re above the line, then reduce the food and increase physical activity so you’re on the line tomorrow. Morehouse recommends eating 200 fewer calories and burning 300 extra calories by physical activity.
  • By the end of the first week, you should know what foods or activity are needed to stay on or below the control line.

Morehouse makes the point that your daily weight will of course fluctuate for any number of reasons; some we can control, some we cannot. But for the purposes of this exercise, treat the weight as true and adjust accordingly. As Morehouse says,

We pay attention to the scale, particularly since it’s such a good source of motivation, but we don’t take it too seriously.

If you’re above the line for several days in a row, then it ain’t the weather; do what you need to do to bring your weight below the line. But if you’re below the line, hooray! Take advantage of the fluctuation.

Keep tracking your weight in this way till you reach your target weight. In my case I’d like to be 195 lbs. So, if all goes well, I’ll get there sometime in mid-May.

There are spreadsheets out there (the Hacker’s Diet being one) that track one’s weight daily and smoothe out the fluctuations. And any app store is lousy with weight trackers.

So why use pen and paper? For one thing, I like looking at the chart and seeing how long this will take. It reminds me that sustainable weight loss is a slow process – slower than I’d like, frankly. But whenever I’ve tried to lose faster than this, I would rebound to some degree. 

Making the chart involves me in the process and updating it every morning is also more active than simply typing my weight into an app. When I record the weight and note its position relative to the control line, I immediately begin planning my day’s eating and activities.

What do I do when I’m over the line? When I figure it out myself, I will post it here!