#9: Uncanny normalcy

I desperately want to believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train

October 25, 2020 • Day 227

Hi everyone. It’s fall here in New Jersey. The trees look amazing, and I finally get to wear a warm jacket and carry a warm beverage when I walk the dog every morning.

The U.S. election is now finally by the grace of God less than ten days away. Sometime since that first debate, definitely since Trump’s bout with Covid, the zeitgeist consensus that had been assuming this election will be disputed and result in the death of democracy has given way to marveling at (or standing in) hours-long lines for early voting. Trump has stopped railing against mail voting, or at least folks aren’t reporting on it as much, and the media (thank God) have stopped asking him if he’ll accept the result of the election.

There’s still a risk that the election could be close, could end up in the courts, which means it could end up decided by newly sworn-in Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose rammed-through confirmation vote is tomorrow. The election may also not be close at all; it’s hard to imagine that an election with unprecedented turnout and polls showing Biden with a steady, durable +9 lead for weeks will suddenly yield a 2000-style succession crisis.

This week the election seems normal. The debate seemed normal, except of course that one candidate was Donald Trump and that Trump was even more living in the Fox News Cinematic Universe than usual. But the tempo and tone felt debate-like. It’s so tempting to hope that a little over a week from now, we’ll be celebrating a landslide win by presumptive President-elect Biden.

But, to quote Ted Lasso, when things have been fucked for ages and ages, it’s the hope that kills you.

Like, next weekend we’re having a Halloween party for our daughter and some friends. Everyone will be masked and we’re working out good protocols for giving out treat bags safely. Still, is it safe enough? Is this party, meant to bring comfort and hope, actually the thing that will hurt us?

And beyond our own lives, there’s the recognition that other people’s comfort and normalcy are threatening to us. I want people to enjoy a night out, or holidays with their loved ones, and in fact assume that many people are doing those things… and that’s why Covid is still a threat to my family.

We need a word to describe the feeling that comforting, normal things or situations are in fact dangerous, such that comfort and risk are so intertwined that it’s hard to feel good about anything — an uncanny normalcy.

New Jersey’s Covid reproduction (Rt) number is back up to 1.3. I’ve been hearing more ambulance sirens.


I spent part of the weekend re-building my personal website in WordPress.

Sometimes I need to put up some Content™ — a new bio, an updated list of talks I’ve given, a 10,000-word treatise on my WFH desk setup — and I don’t want to have to deal with all the Node-React-Webpack-PostCSS-Git-Netlify JAMStack bullshit. I want a boring web site where I can update things. Code frustrates but never bores me. Too much code gets in the way, or rather gets me to get in my own way. What I want from code is to feel clever.

At the same time, I don’t think I want a NoCode® design-in-the-browser solution like Webflow or Squarespace, where simple things cost real money and hard things cost crazy money. On top of that, there’s a learning curve where I have to figure out the in-browser design surface’s way of doing things. I know how to build web pages. I don’t know how to Webflow web pages.

That’s kind of my problem: I know web pages so well and yet I need a simple web site. I need to regain beginner’s mind in order to get out of my own way and put up a damn basic page with my contact info and C.V.

Having said that, Webflow is [Borat voice] very niiiice. It’s the first visual web editor I’ve used since the original Dreamweaver that does a great job of making web page structure and CSS attributes comprehensible without pretending you’re in some other medium like print design.


This was kind of a big tech week:

Two weeks ago I was anticipating the new iPhones’ launch event; last weekend I had just placed my pre-order. This weekend I have my new iPhone 12 Pro in hand. I took this issue’s lead photo with my new phone and the just-released Halide Mark II, processed in the just-released 2021 edition of Adobe Lightroom which has a fancy new color grading tool. Here’s another Halide shot, of our friend Lisa taking a picture of June during our (Covid-safe!) family photoshoot earlier today.

Peak Design, makers of fine camera straps, bags, and carbon-fiber tripods, launched a Kickstarter for a new line of mobile phone accessories, neatly timed for iPhone launch week when lots of people will be looking for things to magnet to the back of their new phones. I’m excited about this one — I have a lot of Peak gear and it’s all really excellent.

Adobe also shipped Illustrator for iPad, which is pretty good! Moleskine — yes, the notebook company — makes apps, and they shipped V2 of Flow, their open-canvas writing and drawing app for iPad. (Big new features: you can now share canvases with others for multiplayer drawing, or use your iPhone as a remote ‘pencil case’.)


I didn’t do much drinking this week, but here are two highlights:

  • A classic martini using the recipe from Meehan’s Bartender Manual (2.25 oz gin, 0.75 oz dry vermouth, stirred)

  • The Cutter, a Paper Plane variation with Campari and Amer (on purpose this time!)

On the other hand, tonight we decided to celebrate Oktoberfest at home with German beer and a German sausage-and-potato salad feast. I got kartoffelwurst (pork sausage with potato and caraway seed) from Olympia Provisions and made homemade German potato salad from an internet recipe. (At least in our house, German food is just pork, potatoes, and white vinegar in various configurations with different seasonings.) And, of course, beer (a Munich-style lager).

Hopefully next Oktoberfest we can have friends over to help us finish the potato salad. I made too much.

Next week, it’ll be just two days until the election. It’ll also just have been Halloween. Here’s hoping you all keep staying safe and sane.

Best,
—DD