Playlist of the Month: July 2018

This one feels a bit more eclectic than I usually am; I think it’s because I pulled some old stuff back in, too.
Punching in a Dream (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous
How It Is – Majik
The Weight – Amber Run
Beretta Lake (Listen2Liri Remix) [feat. SAINt JHN] – Teflon Sega
Home – Blue October
Hail To the Victor – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Another Mouth to Feed – Rebecca McDade
Technicolour Beat – Oh Wonder
Pompeii (Acoustic) – Bastille
Desert Rose – Jay Brannan
Thin – Aquilo
drugs – EDEN
Heaven/Hell – CHVRCHES
Silhouette – Aquilo1
All I Want – Kodaline
Love Like This – Kodaline
Crystals – Of Monsters And Men2
Wolves Without Teeth – Of Monsters And Men
Black Water – Of Monsters And Men
Thousand Eyes – Of Monsters And Men
I Of The Storm – Of Monsters And Men
We Sink [explicit] – Of Monsters And Men
Backyard – Of Monsters And Men
We Don’t Talk Anymore (feat. Selena Gomez) [Attom Remix] – Charlie Puth
Age Of – Oneohtrix Point Never3
Follow Your Fire – Kodaline
Closer – Majik
Lost My Mind – Lily Allen
Higher – Lily Allen
Silent Movies – Aquilo
God’s Plan – CHVRCHES
I Could Fight On a Wall – Aquilo
Body – SYML4
Six Feet Over Ground – Aquilo5
Animal – Majik
Brother – Kodaline
No Choir – Florence + The Machine
Arrows – Haux
Black Snow – Oneohtrix Point Never
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau
Babylon – Oneohtrix Point Never
Time – Kidswaste
You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen6
Wonderland – CHVRCHES
Oceans Away – A R I Z O N A
We’ll Take It – Oneohtrix Point Never
Summertime (feat. San Holo) – Yellow Claw
The Journey – Sol Rising
Follow – SKALE – E – TRON
Come On Then – Lily Allen
X – Majik
Wild (feat. Khai) – Kidswaste
Now & Here – Aquilo
Who Are You – Aquilo
Thunder – Imagine Dragons
The Fault In Our Stars (MMXIV) – Troye Sivan
stutter – EDEN
Confidence – Majik7

  1. Text message I sent to somebody earlier this month: “I think I want to marry Aquilo’s voice” 
  2. Is this exactly three years since this album came out? I think it’s right about there, I guess I now associate it with summer in the new neighborhood we live in. 
  3. This is just so delightfully weird, I love it. 
  4. I’m not sure if the lyrics entirely support it, but from the portion of them that I actually paid attention to, this totally sounds like it’s from the perspective of a trans person. 
  5. I love stuff like this, it sounds sad but it’s actually happy! 
  6. Go listen to this, it’s amazing and spooky 
  7. This might be a dead link, actually; they were just posting it as a temporary sample kind of thing. 

Productivity and Organization

Over time I’ve acquired a reputation for being an organized (and, presumably, productive) person; occasionally, people ask me for tips.

Be as efficient as you can.

In the interest of following my own tips, I’m writing this up as a blog post so I have something I can quickly send to folks when they ask. Automate things where you can; if you’ve got the time to learn it, Workflow is a wonderful tool.1 I’ve got a good chunk of my morning routine compressed into pressing a single button on my phone and, depending on how complex my calendar is for the day, answering a question or two.

Don’t trust your brain to remember things

The human brain is a wonderful machine! Unfortunately, it’s terrible at remembering things, but also convinced that isn’t the case. The good news is, we invented writing, and then computers, both of which make it much easier to remember things. So don’t just put stuff in your head and assume it’ll stay there; it doesn’t matter what you use, but have somewhere permanent that you can put stuff. Depending on what you prefer, you can use a planner or notebook, or go all digital like I have. Personally, I use a combination of the system-default Calendar app, syncing through Google Calendar, with Drafts 42 as my “writing thoughts down in the middle of the night” app, Day One as a journal, and Ulysses for any longer-form writing or note-taking.3

Have a to-do list

Technically speaking, this is an extension of the above, but don’t trust yourself to remember things you have to do in a day. If they’re at a specific time or meeting with someone, they go in your calendar; otherwise, they go on the to-do list. Again, this can be on paper if that’s your style, but if you’re a big ol’ tech nerd, you’ve got a bounty of options. The built-in Reminders app is… there, and it’s not great, but it’s free and meets the bare minimum of functionality. Personally, I’m a big fan of Things 3,4 but Omnifocus is also a big name in the field, if (in my opinion) over-complicated. That said, task management apps like that are a huge market on the iOS and macOS app stores, as well as just online, so you should be able to find something you like.
Once you’ve started using it, I recommend the “vaguely Getting Things Done” style, which consists of “write stuff down as soon as you think of it, and file it away in the proper place when you’ve got time.” The important thing is to not go “oh, I’ll remember that later,” because there’s a really good chance you won’t.

Figure out what you’re spending your time on

You know that feeling like you’ve wasted a whole day? That’s stupid, but it’s also hard to convince your brain you’ve been productive if you don’t actually know what you’ve been spending your time on. Having a to-do list helps with this; you can look at your list for the day and see all the things you’ve checked off.5 Beyond that, you may want to try time tracking; I’m a fan of toggl and use it all the time. I keep the website pinned in a tab on my laptop, and rather than use their app, I’ve got some Workflows built that interact with their web API.6 It works pretty well for me; I know what I’m spending time on, and I can also use it for some very accurate billing, should I need to.

Clean up

Finally, staying organized is not only helpful for quickly finding things, it also just tends to make you feel better about everything. Take time when you can to organize your work and living spaces. If you’re currently in college, you’ve probably got ten thousand pages of various papers drifting around; next time it’s time to buy textbooks, I recommend going digital (it’s slightly cheaper, and then you only have to carry around your laptop/tablet, which you were probably gonna be carrying anyways, and you can search in your books, which is quite helpful). For the zillions of pages of handouts you get, invest in a scanner that can do duplex scanning and a recycle bin; it’s amazing how much space you can save by getting rid of all the papers.7 Once you’ve got things digitized (or, preferably, as you get them digitized), come up with a neat organizational system and stick to it. For school stuff, semester/term lines are a nice dividing line; if you’re doing the whole ‘adult life’ thing, the tax year is a good one.8

I’m going to call it done there. If you skipped to the end, the single most important thing I’d like you to get from this is brains are bad at remembering things; write stuff down. That’s my number one tip, so if you only take one thing from this, that’d be it.
If you’ve got any questions, I’ve recently brought back the ability for people to leave comments, so go ahead and do that.9 And hey, maybe I’ll do more posts like this, I enjoy doing the writing, and it’s fun to be able to support the various apps I use.10

  1. In September 2018, or thereabouts, it’s going to disappear and be replaced by Shortcuts, but from what we’ve seen in public betas, Shortcuts has the same functionality, some new features, and a new coat of paint, so if that link doesn’t work, just search the App Store for ‘Shortcuts.’ 
  2. Drafts 5 has been out and received very good reviews for its automation capabilities, but all I really want from the app is a dark color scheme and the ability to open directly into a new document, so the old version works for me. 
  3. That link is to Ulysses’ iOS app, but thanks to their subscription system, you pay for it on one platform and get it on iPad and Mac as well; mostly I use it on the Mac, but it’s nice to have it available wherever. 
  4. That’s their macOS app; they’ve also got separate iPhone and iPad apps. 
  5. This is why I’ve got Things set up not to sweep things away as soon as I check them off, but to leave them there until the end of the day. If I look at my list and it’s empty, nothing to do and looking like I’ve done nothing, the “oh god I wasted the whole day” feeling gets so much worse
  6. If you’d like to know more about those, leave something in the comments that I’ve just remembered I opened back up. 
  7. You don’t necessarily need to do what I did, which was a roughly five-year-long process of clearing out every paper I own, but then, you’re hopefully less of a pack-rat than I was, too. 
  8. Oh, and don’t leave those files in a single place; the nice thing about being digital is that it’s easy to make copies, and when you’ve got copies, you don’t have to worry that you’ll lose the original. These days, I throw all the current stuff into iCloud Drive, but I used to use Dropbox; older things get moved from whichever cloud to an external hard drive that’s backed up with Backblaze
  9. It’s one of the only ways to get in touch with me. Bonus productivity tip, for those of you reading the footnotes: social media sucks, stop using it. 
  10. Shameless self promotion: as an app developer, I know how danged hard it can be to actually make a living from the App Store. Support the people making the stuff you use. 

“The Control of Nature,” or, “there’s nothing like finding out 100,000 tons of concrete has no foundation left whatsoever”

John McPhee

I’ve actually had this book for quite a while; one of the essays in it was required reading for a class I took, oh, two years ago or so? Something like that. I quite enjoyed the read at the time, but somehow never thought to read the other essays in the book. I found it again in the whole mess of moving out of campus housing after graduation and decided to toss it into the to-read pile, and I finally got around to it.1

And I’m glad I did; while “Los Angeles Against the Mountains” wasn’t quite as fun to reread as it was to read the first time around, the other two essays were both just as enjoyable on first read as I’d hoped. McPhee’s writing style is beautiful; very visually descriptive, deeply informative, and with well-timed flashes of humor throughout.

I’m going to split this review up a bit and include some excerpts from each of the essays, to try to give you a sense of not only McPhee’s voice, but also the content of the essays.


The first essay, “Atchafalaya,” follows the US Army Corps of Engineers and their work on the Mississippi River; it’s far more involved than I’d ever thought, and the project is fascinating.

On the outflow side—where the water fell to the level of the Atchafalaya—a hole had developed that was larger and deeper than a football stadium, and with much the same shape. it was hidden, of course, far beneath the chop of wild water. The Corps had long since been compelled to leave all eleven gates wide open, in order to reduce to the greatest extent possible the force that was shaking the structure, and so there was no alternative to aggravating the effects on the bed of the channel. In addition to the structure’s weight, what was holding it in place was a millipede of stilts—steel H-beams that reached down at various angles, as pilings, ninety feet through sands and silts, through clayey peats and organic mucks. There never was a question of anchoring such a fortress in rock. The shallowest rock was seven thousand feet straight down. In three places below the structure, sheet steel went into the substrate like fins; but the integrity of the structure depended essentially on the H-beams, and vehicular traffic continued to cross it en route to San Luis Rey.

Then, as now, LeRoy Dugas was the person whose hand controlled Old River Control—a thought that makes him smile. “We couldn’t afford to close any of the gates,” he remarked to me one day at Old River. “Too much water was passing through the structure. Water picked up riprap off the bottom in front, and rammed it through to the tail bed.” The riprap included derrick stones, and each stone weighed seven tons. On the level of the road deck, the vibrations increased. The operator of a moving crane let the crane move without him and waited for it at the end of the structure. Dugie continued, “You could get on the structure with your automobile and open the door and it would close the door.” The crisis recalled the magnitude of “the ’27 high water,” when Dugie was a baby. Up the alley somewhere, during the ’27 high water, was a railroad bridge with a train sitting on it loaded with coal. The train had been put there because its weight might help keep the bridge in place, but the bridge, vibrating in the floodwater, produced so much friction that the coal in the gondolas caught fire. Soon the bridge, the train, and the glowing coal fell into the water.

One April evening in 1973—at the height of the flood—a fisherman walked onto the structure. There is, after all, order in the universe, and some things take precedence over impending disasters. On the inflow side, facing the Mississippi, the structure was bracketed by a pair of guide walls that reached out like curving arms to bring in the water. Close by the guide wall at the south end was the swirling eddy, which by now had become a whirlpool. There was other motion as well—or so it seemed. The fisherman went to find Dugas, in his command post at the north end of the structure, and told him the guide wall had moved. Dugie told the fisherman he was seeing things. The fisherman nodded affirmatively.

When Dugie himself went to look at the guide wall, he looked at it for the last time. “It was slipping into the river, into the inflow channel.” Slowly it dipped, sank, broke. Its foundations were gone. There was nothing below it but water. Professor Kazmann likes to say that this was when the Corps became “scared green.” Whatever the engineers may have felt, as soon as the water began to recede they set about learning the dimensions of the damage. The structure was obviously undermined, but how much so, and where? What was solid, what was not? What was directly below the gates and the roadway? With a diamond drill, in a central position, they bored the first of many holes in the structure. When they penetrated to basal levels, they lowered a television camera into the hole. They saw fish. (28-30)

“Cooling the Lava”

The next essay is set in a very different clime: a volcanic eruption in Iceland, with occasional detours to a similar eruption in Hawaii. The way he describes these immense forces is amazing; it feels as if he’s trying to make sure you feel the same sense of awe that he does.

The university installed [the seismometer] on Einar’s farm about a year before the Heimaey eruption, its primary purpose being to sense the threats of Katla, an unusually dangerous volcano only fifteen miles away. Hekla is in the area as well—the stratovolcano that appears in early literature as one of the two mouths of Hell. Groans from dead sinners have been heard in the crater. But Hekla is out in the open, observable under the sky. The baleful Katla is covered with ice It lies under Myrdalsjokull—a glacier field of two hundred and seventy square miles. When Katla erupts, as it has about twice a century, it creates a vast chamber of water under the ice. When the water reaches a critical volume, it lifts the ice cap, and one or two cubic miles bursts out as a violent flood—a blurt of water twenty times the discharge of the Amazon River. The outwash plains these floods have left behind are as desolate as the maria of the moon. A town, villages, and farms lie between Katla and the sea. (113-114)

While I’d probably call “they saw fish” my favorite line of the whole book, probably the best example of his sense of humor comes from this description of a golf course:

In 1801, it came down off Hualalai, a lesser volcano eight thousand feet high, and poured into the sea. There on the leeward side of the island, where rainfall is ten inches a year, the lava has remained essentially unchanged. Resorts have sculpted it like movie sets, landscaped wit imported soils. The bunkers of designer golf courses are not concave and full of sand but—lovely in the green surrounding turf—solid black islands of undisturbed basalt. Use your wedge on that. Your hands sting for a year. If a long approach shot lands on one of those, it bounces to Tahiti. (152)

Finally, from a portion of the book where I could feel myself mentally adding a few things to my bucket list:

The rock, being essentially glass, was very sharp. It was also hot, particularly where a tube lay below and molten lava was running there. We came to a skylight and inched toward it. Steam swirled above it but did not close off the view—of the racing orange currents of an incandescent river. By an order of magnitude, this was the most arresting sight I had ever seen in nature. The time spent gazing into it could not be measured.

Gradually, I began to think. Out of curiosity, I asked Christina if we were looking down into the near side of the tube or were standing over the middle and looking at the far side of the tube.

“The far side,” she said.

If my legs still had knees in them, I was unaware of it. (155)

“Los Angeles Against the Mountains”

The last essay of the book is the first one I read. It was interesting; at the time, I found it fascinating, and since that first reading I’ve come back to it again and again in my mind.

Los Angeles is overmatched on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by very high mountains. With respect to these principal boundaries, Los Angeles is done sprawling. The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on earth. Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose. Rising straight up out of the megalopolis, they stand ten thousand feet above the nearby sea, and they are not kidding with this city. Shedding, spalling, self-destructing, they are disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world. The phalanxed communities of Los Angeles have pushed themselves hard against these mountains, an act of aggression that requires a deep defense budget to contend with the results. (184)

It follows the Los Angeles Flood Control District, or, as the locals call it, Flood. Now, controlling floods seems like it’d be easy in Los Angeles, the city of perpetual doubt, but that’s far from the truth; not only is there the occasional bit of torrential rainfall, but also something much more difficult: rockfall.

Many people regard the debris basins less as defenses than as assaults on nature. They are aesthetic disasters. To impose them on residential neighborhoods has been tantamount to creating a Greenwich full of gravel pits, rock quarries at either end of Sutton Place. The residents below Hook East were bitter when the basin was put in. Months later, the bulldozer tracks were still visible, they said, meaning that nothing had happened—no debris had come, and not even enough rain to obliterate the tracks. So why had the county used taxpayers’ money to build something so obviously unnecessary? A form of answer came when the basin overfilled in one night. Afterward, people criticized the county for not building basins of adequate size. (246)

What was most interesting to me, though, wasn’t just the concept of trying to fight against these rockfalls; it was the interrelationships between everything.

When fire comes, it puts the nutrients back in the ground. It clears the terrain for fresh growth. When chaparral has not been burned for thirty years, about half the thicket will be dry dead stuff—twenty-five thousand tons of it in one square mile. The living plants are no less flammable. The chamise, the manzanita—in fact, most chaparral plants—are full of solvent extractives that burn intensely and ignite easily. Their leaves are glossy with oils and resins that seal in moisture during hot dry periods and serve the dual purpose of responding explosively to flame. (209)

It burns as if it were soaked with gasoline. Chaparral plants typically have multiple stems emerging from a single root crown, and this contributes not only to the density of the thickets but, ultimately, to the surface area of combustible material that stands prepared for flame. Hundreds of acres can be burned clean in minutes. In thick black smoke there is wild orange flame, rising through the canyons like explosion crowns. The canyons serve as chimneys, and in minutes whole mountains are aflame, resembling volcanoes, emitting high columns of fire and smoke. The smoke can rise twenty thousand feet. (210)

If you walk in a rainstorm on a freshly burned chaparral slope, you notice as you step on the wet ground that the tracks you are making are prints of dry dust. In the course of a conflagration, chaparral soil, which is not much for soaking up water in the first place, experiences a chemical change and, a little below its surface, becomes waterproof. In a Forest Service building at the foot of the mountains Wade Wells keeps some petri dishes and soil samples in order to demonstrate this phenomenon to passing unbelievers. In one dish he puts unburned chaparral soil. It is golden brown. He drips water on it from an eyedropper. The water beads up, stands there for a while, then collapses and spreads into the soil. Why the water hesitates is not well understood but is a great deal more credible than what happens next. Wells fills a dish with a dark soil from burned chaparral. He fills the eyedropper and empties it onto the soil. The water stands up in one large dome. Five minutes later, the dome is still there. Ten minutes later, the dome is still there. Sparkling, tumescent, mycophane, the big bead of water just stands there indefinitely, on top of the impermeable soil. Further demonstrating how waterproof this burned soil really is, Wells pours half a pound of it, like loose brown sugar, into a beaker of water. The soil instantly forms a homunculus blob—integral, immiscible—suspended in the water.

In the slow progression of normal decay, chaparral litter seems to give up to the soil what have been vaguely described as “waxlike complexes of long-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons.” These waxy substances are what make unburned chaparral soil somewhat resistant to water, or “slightly nonwettable,” as Wells and his colleagues are won’t to describe it. The the wildfires burn, and temperatures at the surface of the ground are six or seven hundred centigrade degrees, the soil is so effective as an insulator that the temperature one centimetre below the surface may not be hot enough to boil water. The heavy waxlike substances vaporize at the surface and reconvenes in the cooler temperatures below. Acting like oil, they coat soil particles and establish the hydrophobic layer—one to six centimetres down. Above that layer, where the waxlike substances are gone ,the veneer of burned soil is “wettable.” When Wells drips water on a dishful of that, the water soaks in as if the dish were full of Kleenex. When rain falls on burned and denuded ground, it soaks the very thing upper layer but can penetrate no further. Hiking boots strike hard enough to break through into the dust, but the rain is repelled and goes down the slope. Of all the assembling factors that eventually send debris flows rumbling down the canyons, none is more detonative than the waterproof soil.

In the first rains after a fire, water quickly saturates the thin permeable layer, and liquefied soil drips downhill like runs of excess paint. These miniature debris flows stripe the mountainsides with miniature streambeds—countless scarlike rills that are soon the predominant characteristic of the burned terrain. As more rain comes, each rill is going to deliver a little more debris to the accumulating load in the canyon below. But, more to the point, each rill—its naturally levees framing its impermeable bed—will increase the speed of the surface water. As rain sheds off a mountainside like water off a tin roof, the rill network, as it is called, may actually triple the peed, and therefore greatly enhance the power of the runoff. The transport capacity of the watershed—how much bulk it can move—may increase a thousandfold. The rill network is prepared to deliver water with enough force and volume to mobilize the deposits lying in the canyons below. With the appearance of the rills, almost all prerequisites have no sequential occurred. The muzzle-loader is charged. For a full-scale flat-out debris flow to burst forth from the mountains, the final requirement is a special-intensity storm. (212-214)

And, again, there’s always that sense of awe, for nature and all the forces involved. But he tempers it well with human stories:

The Harkness house projected from the hillside and had a carport beneath the master bedroom. The debris tore off the master bedroom with Sara and the baby inside. The bedroom fell on the family station wagon. With the bedroom on top of it, the station wagon went down the driveway and on down the street. In what remained of the house, the twins and their sister Claudine were unhurt. Sara and the baby came to the end of their ride unhurt. The station wagon suffered considerably. When the bedroom was taken off it, the car was twenty-six inches high. (263)

At this point, if you’re still reading, I think it’s safe to say you’re as interested by these clips of the essays as I was by the whole things. I can absolutely recommend that you give it a read.

  1. Technically it was the second item on the pile, behind Baldwin’s “Collected Essays”, but that’s a rather dense book that I’ve been working on for a while, and I needed a bit of a break.


I’m quite happy to announce that I now have another app available on the App Store!1 Before you click, I’ll warn you, this one isn’t free, but the App Store has always encouraged trying a variety of business models, and “paid up front” was next on my list;2 $0.99 seemed a fair asking price for a lightweight utility.

The core concept of Meditime came from a podcast I was listening to.3 The idea is this: why do all the meditation apps have to be guided meditation, or come with ten million different settings, or decide what you should be listening to while you meditate? The point of the whole thing is to clear your mind, after all, and personally I’ve never had any luck with doing that while somebody is talking at me, and the lovely sound of water in a creek mostly just makes me feel like I need to use the restroom.

So, as with my previous app, having found nothing that I actually liked, I muttered “fine, I’ll do it myself” and opened Xcode.

The result is what I honestly believe I can call the simplest meditation app out there; swipe up or down to adjust the timer, double-tap to start. Adjust the time while it’s running if you like, or double-tap to stop; and if you don’t want a timer at all, drag it all the way down to zero, and it’ll run as a stopwatch, instead. At the end, the app will automatically log the session to the Health app, so you can keep track of it all nicely.4

As I said, the app is $0.99, but there’s no ads, no in-app purchases to ‘upgrade’ anything, and that one purchase will work on iPhone, iPad, and the iPod Touch, assuming Apple still makes those.5 And I’m already planning to update it to work well on iOS 12, including a little bit of support for the fancy new Siri Automation things. So, hopefully you can see the value, and if you’ve got a buck to spare, I’d quite appreciate it if you’d give it a try.

  1. In case you missed why that says “another,” have a look here.
  2. Still to go: free with in-app-purchases and subscription-based; I’ll be skipping the ‘free with consumable in-app purchases’ because apps made that way are generally terrible and at least a little bit immoral.
  3. And no, that isn’t a direct link to the episode, because I’m not certain which episode it was, although a reasonable guess would be this one, although there’s also a chance it was this one; either way, Do By Friday is a great podcast and I recommend it. Although not, I should add, to children, everyone involved does enjoy swearing.
  4. It’ll work without doing that, though, too; if you don’t want it saving to the Health app, just don’t give it permission to do so, and it won’t bug you about it.
  5. It requires iOS 11.4 to run, so hopefully you’re all up-to-date, as you should be.

    And saving to the Health app will only work on devices that have it, so the iPad won’t do that, but if Apple does decide to add the Health app to iPads, it’ll start working there, too. (I can’t comment on whether or not the iPod Touch can do that, because I genuinely have no idea if they support Health or not. Seriously, does Apple even make those anymore?)

Fluidics 1.1: The Animation Update

The first major update to Fluidics is now available on the App Store!1 In all honesty, it was largely a ‘bug fixes and performance improvements’ update, but I’ve always hated when app updates list that, so I made sure to include a couple user-facing features so there’d be something fun to talk about, at least.
In this case, those features were animations. The most notable is the background – rather than being drawn once, the ‘water’ in the background is now animated, which I think makes the visual effect much nicer overall. Swiping between the three main pages of the app is also much smoother now; instead of a single ‘swipe’ animation being triggered by any swipe, it directly responds to your swipe, so you can change your mind about which direction to swipe halfway through, and it feels more like you’re moving things around, rather than switching pages.2
The big changes, though, are largely invisible; a whole lot of work on the internals to allow for future features I’m planning.3 The gist of it is that a lot of the internals of the app are now a separate library, which means I can share code between the widget and the main app without needing to copy-and-paste all the changes I make in one place to the other.
Past that, there were a couple little tweaks — the algorithm that calculates the water goal is a bit less aggressive with the way it handles workout time, and there’s now a little “this isn’t a doctor” disclaimer in the Settings page that I put there because the lawyer I don’t have advised that I do that.
And, the bit that turned into more of a project than I thought: VoiceOver support. VoiceOver, for those that don’t know, is one of the core accessibility features of iOS; when enabled, it basically reads the contents of the screen to the user, making it possible for visually-impaired people to use iOS. By default, any app built on UIKit has some support for VoiceOver, but the further you go from the default controls, the more broken that’ll get. The way Fluidics works, it was super broken; technically useable, but downright painful to do. After a day or two of vigorous swearing and arguing with the Accessibility framework, I’m proud to say that Fluidics is now VoiceOver-compatible.
If you’ve already got Fluidics on your phone, it’s a free update from the App Store.4 If not, the whole app is a free download from the App Store, and I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy using it. Leave a review or whatever; I’m trying not to be pushy about that.
Oh, and I’m in the process of updating the app’s website; I got such a good URL for it that I want it to look good to match.

  1. There was a bugfix update earlier, version 1.0.1, but that’s not at all exciting, so I didn’t bother writing anything about it. 
  2. If you’re curious, this involved rebuilding the entire interface, from three separate pages that’re transitioned between to a single page that’s embedded in a scroll view. 
  3. And no, I won’t be telling anybody what those are just yet; I don’t want to promise anything before I know for sure it’ll be possible. 
  4. In fact, it may have already been automatically updated — the easiest way to tell is to open the app and see if the water is moving or not. 

Playlist of the Month: June 2018

It’s been a busy month; if I haven’t mentioned Toggl before, let me mention it now, as a convenient way to make charts demonstrating that you’re overworking yourself.
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello
Punching in a Dream (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous
Free – Kidswaste
Homegrown – Haux
How It Is – Majik
The Weight – Amber Run
Beretta Lake (Listen2Liri Remix) [feat. SAINt JHN] – Teflon Sega
Bloodsport – Raleigh Ritchie
Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
Home – Blue October
22 (OVER S∞∞N) – Bon Iver
One Track Mind (feat. A$AP Rocky) – Thirty Seconds to Mars
L’aérogramme de Los Angeles – Woodkid & Louis Garrel1
Headlights (feat. Ilsey) – Robin Schulz
Hail To the Victor – Thirty Seconds to Mars2
Another Mouth to Feed – Rebecca McDade
Amen (LCV Choir) – Amber Run
Heaven is a Place – Amber Run
Technicolour Beat – Oh Wonder
Faux – Ed Tullett & Novo Amor
Running Up That Hill – Track & Field3
Better – SYML
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
Pompeii (Acoustic) – Bastille
Touch – Haux
Atlas: Four – Sleeping At Last
Alone – Haux
Desert Rose – Jay Brannan
Zombie – Jay Brannan
Callow – Novo Amor
Really Gone – CHVRCHES
My Enemy (feat. Matt Berninger) – CHVRCHES
Sorry – Aquilo
Miracle – CHVRCHES
Never Say Die – CHVRCHES
Thin – Aquilo
drugs – EDEN5
Heaven/Hell – CHVRCHES
Ricochet – Haux
Hurt for Me – SYML
Lucid Dream – Owl City
More Colors (feat. Chelsea Cutler) – Kidswaste
Silhouette – Aquilo6
The 5th of July – Owl City
Where’s My Love – SYML

  1. I was hoping “L’aérogramme” translated at something neat, but no, it means exactly what it looks like, “aerogram” 
  2. I keep saying “hail to the victim” when I’m singing along to this one, which kinda makes me hope Weird Al does that version someday 
  3. I’m probably due to rewatch some Warehouse 13 sometime soon, aren’t I? 
  4. Honestly, this song is just kinda hilarious to me. Listen to the lyrics, it’s brutal. 
  5. “‘cause I’m a f*ckin’ mess inside” and my Millenial Humor makes me mutter “that’s some hashtag relatable content” 
  6. I’m gonna go ahead and call this one my favorite from this month, I just really like it. 

Open-sourcing Variations

Now that the whole concert is over, and I’ve finished going through approximately all of the WWDC sessions, I’ve decided that Variations won’t be receiving any further development — it wasn’t going to be enough of a priority for me to do it any justice, and I’d hate to half-ass it.1 The app will remain on the App Store, for now, though if it breaks in future iOS versions, I’ll probably pull it entirely. Instead, I’m releasing the source code, as-is; if you’d like to look through it, it’s right here.
I had fun building it, and I like to think that it does some interesting things with the implementations under the hood, so hopefully somebody can find some use from it.

  1. This is, hopefully, a hint about some of my other projects that are a higher priority; announcements of those will, of course, show up on this here blog. 

Playlist of the Month: May 2018

Slightly delayed, as I wanted to let my capstone posts finish up before I posted this.
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello
Punching in a Dream (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous
Free – Kidswaste
I Like Me Better – Lauv
Homegrown – Haux
Love Lies – Khalid & Normani
Save Me – Majik
How It Is – Majik
Kings and Queens and Vagabonds – Ellem
The Weight – Amber Run
Beretta Lake (Listen2Liri Remix) [feat. SAINt JHN] – Teflon Sega
Bloodsport – Raleigh Ritchie
Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
Home – Blue October
22 (OVER S∞∞N) – Bon Iver
Live Like a Dream – Thirty Seconds to Mars
One Track Mind (feat. A$AP Rocky) – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Rider – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Stay – Pentatonix
L’aérogramme de Los Angeles – Woodkid & Louis Garrel
Dawn Will Rise – Thirty Seconds to Mars
New Rules x Are You That Somebody? – Pentatonix
Despacito x Shape Of You – Pentatonix
Headlights (feat. Ilsey) – Robin Schulz1
Perfect – Pentatonix
Say Love – James TW
Hail To the Victor – Thirty Seconds to Mars2
Another Mouth to Feed – Rebecca McDade3
Love Is Madness (feat. Halsey) – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Amen (LCV Choir) – Amber Run
Issues – Pentatonix
Havana – Pentatonix
Great Wide Open – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Heaven is a Place – Amber Run4
Someone To You – BANNERS
All We Do – Oh Wonder
Technicolour Beat – Oh Wonder5
Faux – Ed Tullett & Novo Amor
Running Up That Hill – Track & Field

  1. The album art on this one is hilariously bad 
  2. Catchiest one off the new album, if I do say so myself 
  3. The guitar line in this is beautiful, I love it so much. 
  4. I was gonna say ‘probably my favorite off this EP’ and then I thought about it and realized that all three of the songs I’ve got on this list are my favorite of the EP. I’m indecisive, okay? 
  5. There’s a good amount of throwback music in this playlist, I’m aware. 

Variations on the Theme of Life

Grey Patterson

Download on the iOS App Store
I have always been fascinated by the emergent properties of mathematics: simple rules create complex structures. When you get down to it, this is how all of our modern technology works. Variations is based on that concept and was composed for performance through an application written for the iOS® operating system.
At the core of the application are cellular automata based on Conway’s Game of Life (1970), which is a grid where each square is either ‘on’ or ‘off’ and follows a strict set of rules. A square that is off (‘dead’) can become alive (be ‘born’) if it has the right number of living neighbors. A square that is alive can die if it has too few (loneliness) or too many (starvation) living neighbors. The rules are simple, yet they can create astonishingly complex patterns; there is an entire field of mathematics devoted to studying these patterns, Automata Theory.
Variations allows these patterns to play out both visually and aurally. Tap the screen to allow the grid to move through another cycle of living and dying, or just listen to the music created by a single frozen moment. No two people will ever hear the same set of sounds: the starting point for the patterns, as well as their evolution, are uniquely generated every time the Variations application is run.

(The recording above is from the premiere, in which the audience was asked to open the application simultaneously.)

Five After Six

Sophia Reinhardt

 Five after Six for Two-Channel Fixed Media (2017) was realized in the Composers’ Studio at Linfield College using Logic Pro X and recorded audio. In her poem, my sister shakes off sleep and drags herself to the coffeemaker to brew a mug, while she groggily waits for her sweetheart to stop by and say good morning. I set this musically with soft pads/synthesizers in the background behind the recording of the poem, while pre-recorded “early morning sounds,” like a brewing pot of coffee or chirping birds, play quietly throughout the piece.
Five After Six
Anastasia Reinhardt

Still dark. The coffeemaker
in front of me sleeps unawares
as I fill its craw with tap water.
The foggy glow of the streetlights
creeps into the kitchen through
the window behind the sink, thinking
that I won’t notice if it tiptoes soft
enough. I plunge my hand into the
solemn, self-important sack of coffee
grounds and measure out my life
for today. My other hand is holding
your voice close to my ear, while my eyes
flicker from the grounds to the window,
watching for your headlights. As a little
bird lights on the tree just outside
the window, I hear the heaviness of the
sliding door behind me, and your soft
voice hangs itself in the room like the fog,
smothering my slowly bubbling troubles
as your arms surround me.


Grey Patterson
Listen on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, or most other streaming platforms.
I started working on the piece while abroad in Austria, following a summer spent in Louisiana. In between the two trips, I was home for just over a week, during which my family went camping in Eastern Oregon. It’s a long-standing tradition in my family – we went when I was very young, and I caught my first fish off the docks by Pelton Dam. A couple years after my parents got divorced, my dad started taking my sister and me up to a property his then-girlfriend had on the other side of the river. A year after they broke up, my mom picked up the tradition, and it soon expanded to include cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
The frequency with which my parents moved – they traded off, more or less, but I worked it out recently and I have, on average, moved twice a year over my entire life – has meant that I don’t really associate anywhere I’ve lived with the concept of ‘home.’ In general, I think of people – my parents, my sister, and so on – instead of a place. But, occasionally, the concept of home has to be linked to a place; it’s what the term means, after all.
This piece is devoted to the place I think of when I’m homesick; to weekend afternoons playing video games with my dad; to the halcyon days of my childhood.


Grey Patterson
Watch on YouTube

Ehren Cahill, piano
As the title implies, somnus is based on sleep. The opening section first took shape two years ago, as part of a Musicianship III assignment exploring the ambiguity between the parallel major and minor keys. The second section is more nervous, following the dreamer into restless sleep, before finally returning to opening material as the dreams settle once more.


Sophia Reinhardt
Watch on YouTube
flight, for video (2015, 2018) is a nostalgic piece, which reflects on personal difficulties while working through those challenges toward change. This is realized musically through the conflict between the F major and E minor chords that open the work; this idea ‘interrupts’ the musical progress when it returns throughout the piece. The version presented today is the result of a collaboration with animator Kailyn Nelson, choreographer Ivanna Tucker, and dancers Bella Reese and Jared Lingle.

One Giant Leap

Sophia Reinhardt
Watch on YouTube
The soundtrack for the movie, One Giant Leap (2017) was made in collaboration with George Fox University students for the Fox Film Festival in Spring 2017. In it, a girl learns about the first moon landing while watching television with her parents. The events inspire her to build a rocket with her friend so they can follow in the astronaut’s steps.
To support the story, I scored the movie simply, using childlike melodies, simple harmonic language, and instruments that might be found in an elementary school music room. This is an alternate version of the film, which includes my montage sequence.
The movie was written and directed by Emily Hamilton, and produced by Tayla Yogi.

Project Happy Days

Sophia Reinhardt

Project Happy Days for Two-Channel Fixed Media (2017) emerges from a creepy texture that develops into a peppy exploration of recorded audio, distortion effects, spatialization, and several software synthesizers native to Logic Pro X. The title is a bit of a misnomer: upon reading it before hearing the piece, one would expect a happy tune; instead the piece opens with the distressed wailing of sirens. However, a happy little melody does emerge eventually, playing over the sirens and pushing them to the background. This interplay stands as a metaphor for the way in which happiness can be achieved despite not-so-happy situations.
This piece was created in the Composers’ Studio at Linfield College using Logic Pro X software synthesizers and pre-recorded audio.


Grey Patterson
Watch on YouTube

Kristen Huth, vibraphone; Pedro Graterol, viola; Hannah Terrell, cello; Keelan Wells, mixed percussion; Sophia Reinhardt, conductor
Bioluminescence is inspired by the experience of diving in Puget Sound after sunset. The water swells to life with bioluminescent microorganisms – every move you make is trailed by a swarm of glowing blue lights.
The piece follows the course of a dive – walking from the shore to the water, swimming out to the dive site, and then the descent. Underwater is a very different world compared to our normal lives; you can see your own breaths drifting away, or get a taste of what it’s like to walk on the moon. But in the end, returning to the surface is a must; accordingly, the piece comes to a close with a mirroring of the opening motions.

GSV Empiricist

Grey Patterson

The GSV Empiricist, or General Systems Vehicle Empiricist is a ship in Iain M. Banks’ Culture series of novels. In its first physical appearance, the Empiricist is described as having “no single outer hull surrounding [its] hundreds of individual components, just colossal bubbles of air held in place by field enclosures.” And it’s enormous:

Comfortably over two hundred kilometres long even by the most conservative of measurement regimes, fabulously, ellipsoidally rotund, dazzling with multiple sun-lines and tiny artificial stars providing illumination for motley steps and levels and layers of riotous vegetation – belonging, strictly speaking, on thousands of different worlds spread across the galaxy – boasting hundreds of contrasting landscapes from the most mathematically manicured to the most (seemingly) pristinely, savagely wild, all contained on slab-storeys of components generally kilometres high.

In short, it’s a mobile city with a population of ten billion, and I wanted to try to capture a little bit of that scene here. In truth, exploring a space this vast would take hours, even moving incredibly quickly, so I composed the work from the perspective of a static drone, observing the passage of this behemoth. The piece moves throughout the ship, bringing forth several novel acoustic spaces.
(Both quotations are from Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata.)

The Capstone Series

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the process of wrapping up a four-year pair of degrees: a BS in computer science, for which I built and released an iOS Application, and a BA in music with a focus on composition. My capstone project for the latter was to put together a concert of pieces that I’d composed; rather than do that alone, I joined forces with one of my fellow composition students, Sophia Reinhardt.
Between the two of us, we managed to do it, creating enough music for an entire concert. I’m still a little amazed, to be honest; putting together a concert is a lot of work!
It’s done, now, and after taking a bit of time to catch my breath, I’m following it up by creating a digital version that I can share with the folks who couldn’t make it in person.1
Since the majority of the pieces were done as digital audio, this actually isn’t all too hard to do, just a matter of putting together information about them and getting the files compressed into MP3 format and whatnot. For the pieces that were performed live, we were able to get video and audio recordings, and I’ve done my best to put them together in a nice way.2
This post will serve as the index; I’ll be releasing the rest one a day for the next ten days. Each post will include some information about the piece, including which of the two of us composed it, who performed the live pieces, and what the program notes for it were.
Without further ado:
1. GSV Empiricist
2. bioluminescence
3. Project Happy Days
4. A Prairie
5. One Giant Leap
6. flight,
7. somnus
8. Halcyon
9. Five After Six
10. Variations on the Theme of Life

  1. Friends and family that live in other states, for example; turns out plane tickets are still expensive, and science still hasn’t figured out how to build teleporters. Somebody should get on that. 
  2. For reference, I’m writing this post before I’ve actually done that bit of video editing, so hopefully Future Grey will have done a good job. 

“The Big Meow,” or, “a better ending than I even bothered to hope for”

Diane Duane
I don’t think I’ve done a review of one of Diane Duane’s books on here before, but that’s not for lack of reading them — it’s just that I’ve been reading them since significantly before I had a habit of writing book reviews, or even a blog at all. The Young Wizards series is something I’ve read and reread and reread again; I’ll pick up one of the books for a reread almost as often as I reread Tamora Pierce.
A quick bit of context, then: the Young Wizards series is set in a universe1 where wizardry is real, and has a very distinctive purpose: slowing down entropy. Wizardry is based on language; wizards learn a special language, the Speech, that was used by the gods to create the universe. With those abilities, they fight the good fight, acknowledging that, yes, one day entropy will win, the universe will die… but they’re not going to let that happen any earlier than it absolutely has to.
The Big Meow is the third in a spin-off trilogy of sorts, following the team of feline wizards that maintain the worldgates at Grand Central Station.2 As in the second book, though, they don’t spend much time on their home turf; most of the book is set in Los Angeles, and there’s some fun to be had as they try to get used to the West Coast style.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the book, though, is how well it handled a certain issue: representation. The protagonist is a cat, and Duane does an excellent job of guiding the reader through that mindspace, through the different perspective given by an interspecies difference. The part that stood out to me, though, was how this, as a side effect, made for a surprising bit of queer representation. Rhiow, the protagonist, was fixed; as a result, this book, written before the word ‘asexual’ had even begun to enter into the public sphere with ‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’ and everything else under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, has an asexual protagonist. The first two books did too, and it feels entirely natural; Rhiow just has a different perspective on certain things, and cracks a few jokes about it with her coworkers. It’s not treated as a big deal at all.
In this book, it becomes a bit more of a focus, as we get a bit of a love interest subplot. And it’s handled quite well: there’s a bit of angst about the whole “I’m fixed and that makes me broken” thing, but her friends are quick to give her a loving whack upside the head, and help her stop seeing that difference as a negative and instead as just a difference. It is, possibly, the best bit of asexual representation I’ve ever read, and it’s quite touching.
Plot-wise, I think I enjoyed this one more than either of the others in the trilogy; the first goes a bit weird in places, and the second has a very cool setting that gets a bit confusing. This, though, doesn’t get lost at all, and the storyline is fun and beautifully creepy. It’s a bit fitting that this book, the one set in and around Hollywood, feels absolutely the most cinematic of the three. I’d totally recommend giving it a read.3
(And, while you’re at it, go read the rest of the series — the Young Wizards books are amazing. Pick up the New Millenium Edition box set, it’s totally worth it.)

  1. Well, technically, a collection of universes, but I digress. 
  2. Public transit: also useful for wizards. 
  3. Normally this would be an Amazon link, but Diane Duane runs her own ebook store, which I’m quite in favor of as it means the majority of the sale goes to her instead of to Amazon.