Writing

w/e 19 November 2017

The Good Wife, The Good Fight, and acting classes.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve finished watching the final season of The Good Wife which has been entertaining, although I try not to think about whether it was worth using up over 100 hours of my life. We regularly rolled our eyes at obvious breaks with how-the-world-really-works in order to move the plot along, and groaned whenever something tedious was signalled in advance (oh no, Alicia’s going to fall for this guy… yawn). But we also cheered whenever a favourite character reappeared or Alicia got serious and kicked some ass (which didn’t happen often enough).

We’ve now progressed to the follow-on series, The Good Fight, and watched six of the ten episodes. It does at least make clear the strengths of its predecessor. I hadn’t realised how well Wife balanced Alicia’s storyline and those of all the supporting characters. Without her, and some of the other main characters, Fight feels a bit empty, like a vehicle continuing its journey despite the driver having got out. Series can work without a central character: Game of Thrones, Treme, E.R., etc. etc. But Fight, so far, feels like it’s struggling to find the balance. It’s not quite Diane’s story, or Maia’s story… but there aren’t enough other stories to make it a varied ensemble piece either.

Unfortunately, while Wife had occasionally unrealistic moments, episode six of Fight surpassed it by far. ChumHum, this universe’s Google/Facebook, gave a room full of lawyers a few hours to write the service’s acceptable use policy for its social media service. A room full of lawyers who obviously hadn’t given the issue a moment’s thought before. And then it got worse… any user who was automatically banned due to their posts could appeal, and the appeal involved two sessions arguing their case, in person, in Chicago, with a panel of the law firms’ partners. Something tells me this wouldn’t scale. Bizarre, especially when Wife was, compared to many shows, not terrible when it came to its tech-related storylines.

I kind of want to know how Maia gets on but otherwise little is grabbing me. What I really want is a spin-off following Elsbeth Tascioni’s practice, with Marissa Gold as her investigator. That would be so much fun.

Away from TV, and in the absence of any work at the moment, I’m doing a couple of acting classes a week. I’ve joined a course that’s part-way through, and which I did last year, learning the Meisner Technique. One class in, it’s enjoyable to be going over this again, now I don’t have to struggle so much with keeping all the new things straight in my mind.

I’m also doing occasional “drop in” classes, working on the first few pages of Uncle Vanya with a partner; I’ve spent some of this weekend learning my lines for our next class.

And that’s about it at the moment. Have a good week.

In Weeknotes on 19 November 2017. Permalink

w/e 5 November 2017

This week I spent four hours each weekday with some folk from the Salon Collective, exploring how to adapt a classic play, to set it in modern-day England.

I’ve hardly done any acting classes this year (never mind actual acting) so was a little apprehensive about whether this was still something I could do, or wanted to do. And I’ve barely done any of this sort of devising work since LISPA more than nine(!) years ago. I found so much of that kind of process difficult, in terms of dealing with people, that I’ve been wary of doing any more. But I thought it had been long enough that I should try again.

Thankfully it was a mostly fun and rewarding week. There were moments — like when I was slithering along the floor from one corner of the room to another — when the thought “What am I doing with my life?” flashed through my mind. To be fair, that happens enough on a normal day, sat alone at my computer, but the query felt more urgent during such moments.

And some of the devising process was as tedious, for me, as I recall it being at LISPA. It can be like sitting through long, rambling meetings with half the people throwing in every vague thought that crosses their minds while the rest (hello!) have little to say, and struggle to get a word in when they do. However, at least there was someone leading the process, unlike in our groups at LISPA, which kept it moving and helped the decision-making.

The rest of the time, the majority of it, was good. We slowly worked out who the characters might be if transplanted to today, what their relationships would be like, and where the whole thing could be set. We did a few lengthy improvisations as these modern-day characters, which were fun and always created or changed relationships and ideas. I don’t know if this will go any further as an adaptation, but it was interesting to explore. And spending a load of time with the same group of actors working on something was a lovely way to spend the bulk of the week. Having not done much of this for a while it was also nice to feel “I can do this”, and feel comfortable doing it, even while slithering across the floor. Which is different to feeling “I’m good at this” but still, it’s nice that it feels “right” somehow, sometimes.

We were doing all this at Theatre Deli near Liverpool Street station, which is quite new, and quite odd, in a good way. I think they take space in buildings that are soon to be demolished or refurbished, renting it out as rooms for rehearsals, classes, etc. For example, they had a branch in the old Guardian building on Farringdon Road, now flattened. There’s a nice cafe on the ground floor, rehearsal rooms upstairs, all of which were, I assume, previously meeting rooms for whatever business was there before. Carpet tiles, suspended ceilings, power sockets under floor hatches, identical bathrooms in the same location on every floor, minimally tasteful monochrome décor, and the sounds of rehearsals all around — music, screaming, Shakespeare, unusually grammatically correct conversations. We were in a room that, in one direction, looked across the road at a standard City office full of smartly-dressed people staring at two screens each, and in the other faced the half of the building whose insides were being pulled apart by men dressed in hi-viz and hard hats. I imagined, after Brexit, after financial firms leave the UK, tower blocks full of nothing but young people dressed in athleisure gear and loose woollens, running and shouting round once open-plan offices and boardrooms, developing their theatrical indictments of post-capitalist inequality.

Anyway, have a good week, whether you’re doing any slithering along the floor or not.

In Acting, Weeknotes on 5 November 2017. Permalink

w/e 29 October 2017

WordPress, Japanese, The Death of Stalin, The Vietnam War and a happy gig.

Most of the weekdays I was working on making a client’s large report look good and work well in WordPress, which is now just about done.

In not-work-but-still-internet-typing news, I rewrote my Hiragana and Katakana practise in JavaScript, from PHP, so that it can more easily be moved with the rest of this site to a non-PHP server in the future. This also made it better in several ways, which is nice.

I saw The Death of Stalin on Tuesday which was a lot of fun, although I wished I hadn’t seen the trailer — that was when I had the surprise of the absurdity, so I knew what I’d be getting. Although the cast were all good I did sometimes find myself watching Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev and thinking of Buscemi’s other harried, period suit-wearing, ruthless boss Nucky Thompson which, given Thompson’s general competence, made Khrushchev seem less absurd than the useless English-accented people around him.

We finished The Vietnam War this evening, a depressing but well-worth-doing experience. It reminded me of watching The World at War as, I think, a young teenager. Grim but important. Men and their egos.

To end on a happier note, I went to a gig this week, which I haven’t done for a while, and a loud guitars gig not for even longer. It was Diet Cig, mentioned a couple of weeks ago, supported by The Spook School who you can see below or here. They were both good and it was a lovely, warm, fun evening in a small venue in Hackney. Happy young people with good tunes, guitars and drums. Thumbs up.

In Weeknotes on 29 October 2017. Permalink

Board games for two players

Four months ago I asked on Twitter for suggestions of board games that work well with two players. Here are the suggestions.

I’ve linked to the games’ pages on BoardGameGeek and included their average rating on the site. I’ve also added the names and comments, if any, of those who suggested them. Thanks to all of you!

We’ve yet to even look through them properly and choose what to start with, but getting a list together seemed like a good, if belated, first step.

In Misc on 26 October 2017. Permalink

w/e 22 October 2017

A quiet week.

One day starting to turn a long PDF into nice HTML pages for a client; some financial admin; a little more work on rewriting this site and trying to work out how to do things; finding it all a bit much; a couple of migraines; and three days by the sea and offline.

We also watched season one of Mr Robot, about which I knew nothing other than that lots of friends on Twitter seem to like it. The show’s not bad, on the scale of TV dramas, despite a complete muddle of plotlines, but that’s damning with faint praise. I guess one reason some people like it is that all the techy hacker stuff is well done. That seemed reasonably plausible, so much better than on almost any other show. If only everything else was treated with such fidelity. If only characters’ behaviour was as believable as the way they spoke about hacking. If only the functioning of the businesses was half as authentic as the activity on the command line. That stuff’s no worse than other shows but given the attention paid to the tech stuff (finally) it makes other so-often-sketched-in parts even more obvious. I’m a bit baffled as to people’s enthusiasm and not sure I can bother trying season two.

Well, another week. Remember, you’re a tiger:

In Weeknotes on 23 October 2017. Permalink

Combining HTML files with a Django website

I’ve been trying to work out how to run this site using Django, while maintaining some of old static HTML files on gyford.com at their current URLs. But I’m a bit stuck and am looking for ideas.

My website at www.gyford.com has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. The bulk of the site (the weblog and associated pages) is currently running on Movable Type with a lot of custom PHP, and that’s the part I’m slowly re-writing in Django.

However, there are lots of other bits and pieces that I don’t want to lose, but don’t easily fit into the structure of the main website. For example:

Ideally I’d like to keep all these online, at the same URLs, when I move the rest of gyford.com to a new Django site, but I’m not sure whether that’s feasible. And if it feasible, what would be the least bad way to do it.

Here are the options I’ve thought of so far:

  1. Create a new site, under a subdomain of gyford.com, for static HTML and its images etc. Redirect the current URLs to this site. This seems simplest, but will mean changing URLs.

  2. Host gyford.com on WebFaction which, I think, will allow me to combine a Django website with one or more “Static” websites under different directories. This sounds like it should work, and I already have PHP/HTML sites on WebFaction, but it feels fiddly.

  3. Host gyford.com on Heroku (which was my initial aim) and use multiple buildpacks to serve the Django site and the static directories. However, I can’t see anything in the docs that say multiple buildpacks let you do this, so maybe it’s not possible.

  4. Somehow serve HTML pages through the Django site, maybe using something like django-staticflatpages. I’ll probably do this for a couple of currently-single HTML pages (like /japanese/) but I think it’s a non-starter for larger quantities of pages (laborious to set up, very inefficient, and there are issues with relative links to in-page graphics etc).

  5. Use Nginx on DigitalOcean (or wherever) to serve Django and then certain directories as static files. This ticks all the boxes except I really don’t want to administer servers any more.

Leaving aside option 5, option 1 seems simplest, but it feels a shame that the URLs of pages and files should be so dependent on the differing technologies used to code the site.

After so many years of running sites that are either solely Django/Flask/etc, or else solely uploading-PHP/HTML-files-to-a-shared-server, trying to combine these different things seems unnecessarily awkward.

Do you have any other ideas? Do let me know on email or Twitter. I can’t be the first to want to do this.

UPDATE, 27 Oct 2017: Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions. We now have a couple of further options:

  1. Use a reverse proxy like Amazon CloudFront or Cloudflare to serve the static files and the Django app from different places. e.g. Put static files on Amazon S3 and the Django app on Heroku, then, I think, use CloudFront’s Behavior Path Pattern to set them as different origins. (Thanks, Frankie Roberto.)

  2. Use WhiteNoise to serve all the static files from your Django app on Heroku. e.g. Put directories of static files in the folder specified by WHITENOISE_ROOT and set WHITENOISE_INDEX_FILE (currently only in v4.0b4) to 'index.html' or whatever works for you. (Thanks Matthew Somerville.)

Option 7 seems almost too good to be true, for someone who wants a relatively simple life. I haven’t tried it in production with a lot of directories of a lot of files yet, but hopefully it’ll work fine. You could always use a CDN to help with the load if necessary. I like that it keeps all the files — static HTML files, Django app, plus its images, CSS, etc — in one location. And it’s easy to add new directories of static files by putting them in the WHITENOISE_ROOT directory and pushing to Heroku.

In Web Development on 18 October 2017. Permalink

w/e 15 October 2017

WordPress, RSS feeds, Accident, Blade Runner 2049, Lingua Franca, Diet Cig, Aldous Harding, Back.

This week I spent more time wrangling WordPress for my mum’s website. I’m not sure what percentage of the struggle is me not knowing WordPress code well enough, and how much is WordPress’s code being odd/old/bad. Possibly all of one and none of the other. I wrote a script to import a folder of photos into WordPress, plus data about each photo stored in a CSV. And then I rewrote the code that renders a photo gallery using the WordPress [gallery] shortcode so that it displays the titles of photos, instead of the captions, and it splits the photos into pages, rather than showing all photos on one page. This involved copying a large function from the WordPress source code and re-writing it, which feels bad and dirty… but also good that it’s possible to do this. I guess.

I also continued on the re-writing of my site, spending a day getting a combined RSS feed working. Given all the interesting and innovative things people are doing with code these days, spending so long in 2017 putting an RSS feed together seems… eccentric?

I finished re-reading Accident (1965) by Nicholas Mosley this week. I fancied something short that I knew I liked. I love a lot of Mosley’s writing although I find it hard to describe exactly why, aside from his good way with similes. Here’s a passage from near the start, when the narrator, a fellow at an Oxford college, has just pulled one of his female students, Anna, from the wreckage of a car as it approached his home:

I moved through the house like someone bankrupt before the bailiffs arrive; through the dining room, kitchen, this is where Anna and Charlie had once sat: he like a satyr taking a bite out of her neck, she a white Rubens with fruit in her hair. To the back yard where Anna might be hiding (I imagined) standing in the dark among the coal and dustbins with the trees and black clouds moving. What we have asked for; choice, freedom. I went back into the house and listened. There was the sound as if of cats in a cavern, with the rocks of walls dripping. I went up the stairs. Here Anna had once appeared with her hair dark and different so I had not recognised her. In those days we had lived so much in our minds, like policemen. I went on the landing to the spare room which had a four-poster bed and grey curtains and a square armchair. Anna was lying on the bed with shoes off and her skirt in the air, no stockings. Fallen in some ballet on a tomb. She had stayed here once before when she had come with William. Had borrowed a black nightdress which I had afterwards kept in a drawer. Her legs went up into the top of her skirt and disappeared there. Thick, rather puffy face. Boyish, like a cherub. Austrians had these faces; their eyes far apart. Her mother had been English. Anna’s mouth was open as if she had been hit. Fair hairs near the edge of it.

Her bag was on the dressing table. Two screwed-up paper handkerchiefs beside it.

I felt tears coming to my eyes. Tried to encourage them. We had lived so much in our minds, dry and waiting.

Terrified. I went down to the hall again, to the telephone. I gave a number and told the exchange to go on ringing. There was the night. Silence. The dead time. Objects coming alive and waiting.

I said “Charlie? Listen—”

We went to see Blade Runner 2049 on Wednesday, having re-watched the original at the weekend. I felt like everything I saw about the movie in the few days after it opened had been amazed, everything since disappointed. I liked it. Definitely not close to perfect but it was good enough that it was more than stunning visuals and (sometimes overbearing) sound with nothing behind it. The thing behind it could have been better in places but it was alright.

I’d seen complaints that the movie depicted women as being little more than pawns and sex objects for men. And yes. I don’t know how one tells the difference between a science-fiction movie that’s misogynistic and a science-fiction movie that’s set in a misogynistic world. I guess that if it’s the latter it should be clearer that’s the case. We don’t see enough of the world as a whole for it to be clear that this is how it works. If that’s the case more obvious signposting would be needed. Yes, the sexualised avatars, the prostitutes, the giant sculptures of women, etc, etc are clues that maybe this world is even more Trumpy than our own. But we see such narrow slices of the world it’s not made explicit that these things reflect the society as a whole. The police lieutenant is female so we guess the society isn’t entirely subjugating women; it’s no The Handmaid’s Tale… so does that mean that this society as a whole, on average, is actually more balanced than what we see, and the film-makers have emphasised the titillating-to-men aspects of it? In which case it’s them, not their imagined world, that’s the problem?

Also this week, music! I still buy music when I hear an album I like enough. This makes no real sense when I can listen to the thing on Spotify but I like the feeling I could stop paying for Spotify and still “own” the music I like most. And this week I bought three albums, more than I usually buy in a month or two.

First, Lingua Franca’s self-titled debut album (on Spotify). The internet’s automated assigners of unique IDs get confused by her fairly common name; this Lingua Franca is a linguist and rapper from Athens, Georgia. I heard, and bought, a demo of Up Close somewhere ages ago and liked it enough to buy the album. Here’s a track on YouTube:

Next, I heard Sixteen by Diet Cig on Rocker’s show on Dandelion Radio and ended up buying Swear I’m Good at This (on Spotify). Here they are on YouTube:

Good fun. Finally, after watching that video I came across Aldous Harding’s NPR performance:

I’d listened to her album, Party (on Spotify), a few times when it came out and it hadn’t quite grabbed me. But seeing her perform made me listen to her differently. Something about the precision and the sense of restraining something powerful. It can only be sung like this. A few of the album tracks are a little too “folky” for me but otherwise, yes.

And, finally finally, Back finished on Channel 4 this week and I’ve enjoyed it. At first it seemed little more than Mark and Jez from Peep Show plonked into a different setting but it became its own thing in the end. It was just a shame that, in trying to keep Robert Webb’s character mysterious, he was left too blank and hard to form any opinion of. Otherwise, good. Rebecca Nicholson’s review in the Guardian was spot on and rightly picked out uncle Geoff and Cass as great supporting characters.

That’s all. Have a good week!

In Weeknotes on 15 October 2017. Permalink

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