Chilnualna

George Floyd Journal

The weeks of April and May, staying at home for an indefinite period of time, oozed by. My wife and I found other projects to keep busy with–cooking, painting, sharing positive ambitions with our sons, penciling out ideas for a political and environmental future in retirement. But to be honest, there was a lot of downtime for reading, walking, resting. My blood pressure has been down as well, nothing seems rushed anymore, everything is far from our household.

And then George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. It’s now been almost two weeks, and if the onset of COVID-19 brought out some of the horrible greed and selfishness inherent in the two Americas, the protests and new possibilities in the wake of his brutal killing have begun to make our society look better. It’s now become clear that today we are coming to grips loudly and everywhere exposing the historical militarization of our country and the 400 years of oppression of generations of indigenous, enslaved, and immigrants who just happen to have colored skin.

So how has this affected me personally?

Sadly, I cannot find the courage to abandon my fear of getting the virus right now, to go out in the streets, and on the bridges, and join in manifest solidarity. I scan the media every few hours to find the inspiring courage of marchers who are STILL, in the eleventh day of protests, being harassed by fearful and reactionary but powerfully armed local and federal police forces, some from “liberal” cities that many of us assumed had purged themselves of bad apples and unforgivable conduct–but no. To each of these men and women, young and old, colored and white, who have been batoned, gassed, slammed to the ground, shot at with rubber and with lead, I want to say thank you, thank you for bringing out the problems in our society, and in my own ignorant and tolerant behavior. I am finding some hope in my children’s generation, who have started out largely neutral on race, and so have a better chance of creating a real anti-racist society. Perhaps if they lead us, my generation will make at least some changes in the right direction, instead of just continuing our painful history.

Locked up in my house, I will be looking for ways to help, and to make reparations.

And in the COVID downtime I will read and listen and watch for voices who can guide us in imagining a different America. I want to keep a record of my learning. I’ll start with one reading and update this post as I find others with history and and guidance to ways forward.

Imani Perry: A Little Patch of Something (Paris Review)

John Edwin Mason: Photos can show protests’ complexity–or they can perpetuate old lies (National Geographic)

Michelle Alexander: America, This Is Your Chance (New York Times)

My Brilliant Rohrwacher

While watching the two episodes of Season 2 of My Brilliant Friend that were directed by Alice Rohrwacher (who also does the voice-over narration for the Elena Greco character), I experienced flashbacks to the paintings of Antonello da Masina, who employed primary colors in his portraits. In at least two scenes, Rohrwacher arranges trios of actors clothed in a palette of muted primary colors. The framing of other close-ups reminded me of Picasso and Michelangelo. Whether or not the melodrama of the series engages you or not, it’s a blessing to see images like these in our frozen life sheltering at home.

lila-reading-redprimary-colors-1primary-colors-2lenu-by-picassolenu-in-agony

Oranges

COVID Journal: Malaise gives way to a kind of ease

It’s now week four of self-enforced staying at home. The daily and weekly routines have started to achieve a certain kind of structure, or at least a plate full of activities:

My wife and I have a scheduled one hour Zoom appointment with a Feldenkrais healer every Saturday morning, when we work off whatever kinks and stresses have accumulated during the week by making small movements and surrendering to the floor.

Twice a week we do exercise routines with weights.

Twice a week we clean parts of the house. I try to remember to spray cleaning solutions on most of the doorknobs and light switches at least once a week.

Two or three times a week, I obsess about keeping our food supply chain going, expanding the possibilities of different foods and connecting with different direct producers. These boxes arrive and must be unpacked with gloved hands, that must be washed thoroughly afterwards.

Each day we go for the same forty minute walk around our neighborhood, carrying our salted masks, but rarely using them, with perhaps a once-a-week outing to a place more foreign, in the next village over. The days are bright and getting warmer. The cherry blossoms are now gone, but the dogwood and wisteria are still in bloom.

Each day we cook breakfast, lunch and dinner, with food combinations dictated by the whims of our CSA box of fruits and vegetables on hand.

On weekends we allow ourselves one scary run to a local bakery or deli to pick up scones or a pre-made salad. Now I have more sympathy for the 1990s residents of Sarajevo who somehow had to get their groceries while under sniper fire for years on end.

Once or twice a week we Zoom with friends, and in one of these try to contact someone we have lost touch with over the months gone past.

Once or twice a week we set up an evening movie club offering with our kids or friends, as an excuse to stay connected and to monitor their and our wellbeing.

Each day I track Twitter, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Syllabus, and The Atlantic, scanning for hopeful or distressing news on the pandemic, and the attempts to test, treat, or search for cures. I also swarm over the weekly newsletters from Deepnews.ai, and occasional blogs from the London Review of Books and The Yale Review.  I am learning what ELISA means.

Each day I answer emails and think about why I am not producing the software I probably should be, instead focusing on making software that gives me pleasure: understanding color.

Each day I think about doing art, or watching art from the National Gallery’s Twitter feed, or watching Paul Foxton paint live on Facebook. I am now down to only two or three active sessions of oil painting or pastel painting a week, much less than my pandemic resolution to myself would have it, but slow and steady nonetheless.

Two or three times a week, I will crack an article in the New Yorker, or read more of I promessi sposi.

Every day I report to the Stanford National Daily Health Survey that, so far at least, all is well. That prompts me to monitor myself with a thermometer, pulse oximeter, and blood pressure monitor.

Each evening I check the Marin County Health Department’s COVID website, wincing before reading the day’s counts of new cases, hospitalizations, ICU patients, and deaths. The results are not conclusive, but there have been no new deaths in the past two weeks.

To close each day, we watch an episode from a British crime series, or spend an hour with the TV dramatization of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

Somehow, while I am feeling highly inefficient, my blood pressure is down, and my middle-of-the-night mortality nightmares have receded. So I will trade the efficiency for boredom and seeking little joys, juggling all these routines and observing how few hours there actually are in a day.

Tassel flowers

COVID Journal: Reduced-contact lifelines

Thanks to these suppliers, my wife and I are really trying hard never to enter a market or store:

Just before the lockdown order came down we signed up for weekly CSA deliveries from Capay Valley farms’ Farm Fresh To You program. Besides fruits and vegetables, we can purchase eggs, single origin coffee, organic yogurt, and some specialty items, although more of those (especially grains and meats) are appearing as sold out as time goes on.

After using Instacart to deliver groceries from local supermarkets like Mollie Stone’s Market, we have since switched to weekly orders of non-local farm produce, meat, fish, dry goods, and miscellaneous household items using United Markets online “UnitedToGo” curbside pickup system. At the beginning of the lockdown, there was a four day wait for orders. Because their order system became overwhelmed, you now have to place an order exactly at 9, 11, 1, or 3 o’clock to have it ready for pickup in seven days.

One of the few pleasures in shelter in place that my wife and I abuse is our daily cheese and crackers pre-dinner snack. While we can order sheep and goat cheese from United Markets, we found out that the world’s best gluten free crackers can be ordered directly from The Organic Pantry Co. in packages of 6 boxes.

To go with the crackers you can order two pounds of goat cheese from the wonderful Cypress Grove Cheese Company in Arcata with free shipping!

And when we do get the nerve to drive with windows rolled up through our neighboring towns, we plead with shopkeepers to bring items outside to our car, and they oblige, grudgingly or happily. This lets us have a couple of non-home-cooked treats each week–the ever-popular Chinese Chicken Salad from Comforts in San Anselmo, and the magically light polenta scones and fresh baked Italian bread from Emporio Rulli in Larkspur.

For emergency supplies like disinfectants, medical devices, and masks, that you cannot find in markets or Amazon (which we are pretty much boycotting during the pandemic), I have turned to Ebay and Etsy. So far, knock on wood, I don’t think I have been scammed, although price gouging is part of that experience.

A Road Trip Update

IMG_8116After six weeks of venturing no farther from my house than the next town where the curbside grocery pickups were available, I arranged for a food run. It seems as though a lot of vendors that are putting food supply chains together seem to have settled on Friday afternoons as the pickup time. So the past Friday I hit the road and breezed through the beautiful agricultural landscapes that straddle the Marin – Sonoma county line.

Add these producers to my lifeline once a month then:

Wildflour Bread in Freestone, California, for whole wheat sourdough bread that is as good as any I have ever tasted. They were set up with the standard six-foot tape marking in the waiting line, and luckily the walk-up service was fairly deserted at 2 in the afternoon, when lots of their sweets were already sold out. But the bread…

Piezzi Provisions, a pop-up store on Highway 1 in downtown Tomales. I don’t know the history of this set up. They share the same building as the Tomales Deli and Cafe. You order ahead on the web, and choose from products from their suppliers, Tomales Farmstead Creamery for goat cheese, True Grass Farms, Stemple Creek Ranch, and Rossotti Ranch for meats, and Daily Driver for breakfast goods. There was one customer ahead of me but the town was abandoned, save for a few bikers spread six feet apart in front of the town post office.

I headed back south with a couple of ranch chickens and some goat cheese, and made a final stop at Fast Food Français, a restaurant-turned-take-out-supplier on Caledonia Street in Sausalito. Even though Caledonia is off the tourist track, “F3” is one of those neighborhood go-to places, so there was not exactly a crowd, but several people hanging around at five o’clock. I paid a premium for a pre-ordered “baker’s box” including impossible-to-find flour, baking powder, chocolate, sugar and other essentials that had gone missing from my pantry.

James Turell's Twilight Epiphany at Rice University

COVID detection and contact tracing via smartphones

I’m currently fascinated in how people can contribute geographic and symptomatic data (wittingly or unwittingly) to aid science’s and government’s understanding of the spread and depth of the coronavirus outbreak. Someone somewhere in the echelons of government and/or Big Tech is going to have to convince Americans to start using the best of these so we have some good national data to inform public health decision-making going forward. In the meantime I’m collecting links and will add them to this post as they become available.

Mapping

These are projects collecting (anonymous to what degree?) geographic information, either by GPS or just zip code

HealthMap – Up and running since 2009, this is built by a global data consortium that collects infection data from a very wide variety of sources. John Brownstein at Harvard is the project lead. Geo-tagged results are displayed on the HealthMap website and on a mobile phone app.

Kinsa’s US Health Weather Map – Sponsored by a digital thermometer company, these data maps have been up and running since March 2020, capturing fever data across the US. A collaborative effort between the company and Oregon State University. Anonymous data is collected using Kinsa’s free smartphone app. The app does not require you purchase one of their thermometers to submit symptom or temperature data. If you opt-in your “anonymous” (there is no actual explanation from Kinsa on how they protect your identity), geo-tagged temperature readings are collected by Kinsa immediately and the map is updated in real time.

COVIDNearYou – Also from Brownstein’s group, a daily people-powered survey that tracks the geographic spread of the outbreak, with a simple daily question of how you are feeling. Users can enroll their mobile phone to receive reminders to take the survey each day. Data collection and display are done on their website.

Stanford Medicine’s National Daily Health Survey – more daily data collection, available on the Stanford Medicine website. Data is collected in a chat window, and users are asked to give basic demographic information, whether they have been in contact with confirmed infected persons, and whether they are experiencing any of the COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Sore Throat
  • Head Ache
  • Muscle Aches
  • Loss of Taste
  • Loss of Smell

Users can register by email to receive daily reminders to take the survey.

Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports – Google is attempting to anonymize all the geographic data they collect to produce country-, state- and county-wide PDF mobility reports that chart how much the interventions to the virus has slowed down individuals’ mobility over time.

MIT has launched Private Kit, smartphone apps that store geo-tagged information users’ phones and lets users share them with researchers or not.

For-profit private GPS data harvesters X-Mode, LOTaDATA, Unacast, and others are also tracking this kind of data over time. These data points are being harvested by the CDC and fed out to researchers as part of an initiative called the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network. Of course the CDC doesn’t list the private companies supplying all this data, only the research institutions who will be analyzing it and giving reports back to governments. I bet the transparency of this kind of setup would be very different in Singapore or the EU.

Update: Facebook has developed sub-city grid maps of mobility, but only researchers get to see them, according to Bloomberg News.

Contact Tracing

These are projects that use privacy protecting Bluetooth proximity data to protect and alert users.

TraceTogether – Singapore government’s GPS-free proximity-aware smartphone app, released on March 20, 2020.

COVID Watch – From Stanford researchers, proximity tracing and other applications, currently in alpha, with expected rollout before the end of April. Details on their website.

DECODEproject – Privacy-protecting proximity tracing tools, described in a post on Medium.

Updates (April 12):

More Bluetooth tracing apps are now launching, as reported by Stacey Higginbotham.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health has commissioned app developer Dimagi to customize its CommCare platform into an app for COVID reporting, tracing and notifications.

Google and Apple have teamed up to produce specifications (and later develop these int iOS and Android toolkits) for proximity testing. They discarded the ETFL’s DP-3T suggestions and developed their own Bluetooth protocols. The DP-3T group responds.

The Sunday Times (UK) has reported today that the digital group within the NHS has been rapidly developing a mobile contact tracing app in collaboration with Google and Apple. The app is expected to be released shortly as a prerequisite for re-opening society after the current COVID wave has peaked.

And a British privacy and security group from Cambridge University has published the most cogent reasons why we should not rely on these apps, that can never replace person-to-person tracing systems and paper immunity slips issued by doctors.

A GitHub user is attempting to crowdsource a summary of all the activity around smartphone-enable contact tracing.

A scientist from USC has organized a more detailed document listing over 50 contact tracing projects.

Today, Frederic Filloux reports on why he thinks “radical” smartphone apps are going to hit the wall in western countries:

The chances of seeing such an efficient — while closely controlled — apparatus being developed collide with a critical factor unfortunately not limited to France, which is the mistrust of political leadership.

And for the last word, George Saunders has an Atwoodian vision of where tracing, labeling and quarantining will lead America after the “third election” (of Donald Trump Jr).

Spring maple

COVID Journal: Too Much Information, more time to think

It’s now almost four weeks since we started to check out from social society. This week I veered off a bit from obsessing on insecurities surrounding my attempts to learn to be an oil painter. Instead I devoted a bit more time to listening to experts in the world of the virus.

Some significant events of the past week (March 30 to April 5):

On April 2, I virtually attended the Stanford HAI Conference on AI and COVID-19, all five and a half hours of it. It’s all a blur now, but it was thrilling to watch one scientist after another describe how they have pivoted their research so quickly to respond to the pandemic. One of the most interesting technical responses to the outbreak was described by John Brownstein (Twitter: @johnbrowstein) at Harvard. He and his colleagues are collecting fever data from Kinsa smart thermometers and have an army of web scrapers (people, not bots) trying to assemble data from all over the world. The result is the realtime website COVID Near You. Now all we need is data from every hospital and every person who thinks she has the virus.

The next evening, I watched over an hour of the second COVID-19 Grand Rounds from UCSF’s Department of Medicine. This one was a followup of the the first one held two weeks earlier. While UCSF has a dozen or so COVID patients, they are ingesting daily peer-reviewed studies from China, Italy and the US, and are trying to figure out what to expect will be coming into their hospitals in the next months, and more importantly, how they can treat patients to reduce the mortality rate. But they seemed a bit stymied, because four months into this thing, there are still not enough data points. UCSF itself is starting up ten or so clinical studies for different treatments.

Meanwhile Dr. Matt Willis, the chief county health officer in Marin County has been at home recovering from his infection. He reported in the newspaper that he self-monitors his fever and blood oxygen level and reports it to his physician, so that they can make the decision together, if it comes to that, to check him into the hospital. Wishing him and all of the afflicted the shortest and least painful times with the virus.

The cheap cloth masks I ordered for our children and ourselves arrived from Etsy one day after the CDC buckled and admitted that wearing masks was not a bad idea, after months of concerted messaging from the Surgeon General and others discouraging mask use by non-medical workers (obviously in order to keep us all from trying to buy up all available supplies). Kudos to Zeynep Tufecki for starting the ball rolling on promoting masks three weeks ago. All the panels at Stanford and UCSF this week were asked about masks, too, and pretty much said we should all be wearing them. So this will be a new thing whenever we go into a populated area or market.

Based on the information from Brownstein, I scoured Ebay, and ordered a Kinsa thermometer, so I can contribute to their health maps. We’ll see if it arrives. And because I fear I may be hit like Dr. Willis, I also ordered a finger pulse oximeter from ihealthlabs.com. No shipping information yet, so I’m just hoping it will come before I need to use it. Add these to my app-enabled blood pressure monitor. Welcome to the age of personal digital health monitoring.

Cultural notes:

Before licensing issues ended their online runs, I was able to catch the last two American Conservatory Theater productions for this year. Both Toni Stone and, especially, Gloria were a joy to watch. They were taped in front of live audiences just a month ago. Hearing the laughter and applause from a crowd was bittersweet. One of the main subjects of Gloria has something to do with the futility of the 21st century “creative” workplace (in this case a print magazine in the internet age). Office spaces which have now disintegrated into everyone working from home.

From Twitter I swerved into a few discussions on the intersection of politics, philosophy and epidemiology from two sources, engaging articles in the Italian review Antinomie, and a post on the magazine Perfil by the Argentine writer Pola Oloixarac. They both are in the same circle of thinkers. Now I have to read and think a bit more also. Less coding, more thinking ahead?

Jasmine

COVID Journal: Week 2 1/2

The newness of being confined to quarters is wearing off. I’m noticing the innate human tendency to normalize: I now have to remind myself out loud to keep up the twenty-second hand washing, scrubbing down doorknobs and surfaces, and other daily sanitation routines.

What’s more insidious is a feeling that managing the time during the day is difficult. What seemed like an endless stretch of minutes in each day, commencing with the dawn dread of a daily Twitter update, and ending with a late night of binge TV watching or reading a novel, seems to have shrunk quickly. Now it’s easy to feel the day has departed with nothing accomplished. In the past seven days, these have been done:

an oil painting started, but not yet picked up again (next week I will try again)

a one-hour online Feldenkrais session

online shopping for handmade face masks for ourselves and our kids on Etsy, and finding that it’s hard to get one in a reasonable amount of time

a tech webinar on how to make graphs with a programming language

income tax forms returned electronically to our accountant and a check mailed to the tax board

three Netflix parties

two grocery delivery requests initiated (this is stressful when you come to realize that they won’t have what you need and that the hardworking grocery and delivery workers are beginning to burn out and probably won’t be able to get you things on time)

a drop-in radio party with our son, the Austin bubblegum-rock DJ

two social Zooms with friends

testing the waters with airline and hotel refunds from trips canceled and finding out how unfriendly this process can be

In between these necessities and distractions, we’re trying to have a semblance of order every day. I’m finding that the schedule for most days will probably be four things to cover the fourteen hours between wake up and sleep:

cooking for an hour, either for a lunch or a dinner, but not both

going for a half-hour walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon, trying to find a new route every once in a while

coding for my software startup for a maximum of three hours, or painting for two hours, but not both

reading, napping, or watching a movie for a couple of hours

There are a few unexpectedly nice things that happen here and there, usually when we meet someone new or discover someone we know who lives in the neighborhood on our distancing walks. And the trees are all in flower along the streets, so we’re coming to appreciate the grand valley oaks all around us in their bright green spring leaves. We have ignored them for the 25 years we’ve lived here.

I’m hoping in the coming weeks to feel more stable and less anxious and drained about life in general, and will try to be able to give a little more to others. That would be an opportunity to grow.

COVID Journal: First weekend of lockdown

We went out for a walk yesterday, Saturday March 21, the first sunny Saturday since citizens of the Bay Area and then California were ordered to stay at home. My wife and I started to take seclusion seriously around 10 days ago, and decided to self-isolate as best we could a week ago. As March weather here in Northern California has been good and getting ever so slightly warmer each day, the two of us have been in the habit of doing a daily 30 minute mid-afternoon stroll together on the quiet hilly suburban streets around our house, where we usually encounter one or two others. We nod or say hi to these neighborhood strangers and keep apart.

But yesterday we had envelopes to mail and food to pick up, so we decided to walk in the dedicated multi-use paths along the creek. It was a terrifying experience for me (not so much for my wife) to be honest. It appears as though everyone in the county from elementary school kids to retirees like us were out in force. The 10-foot wide pavement was hardly wide enough, with bicyclists, runners, family groups and other walkers in constant motion, or hanging out at bridge crossings having group conversations. We just tried to hold our breaths and keep to the extreme right margin, or wait for people to come and go if the pavement narrowed. On the return to our house, we illegally hopped a barricade to gain access to a dead-end footpath that was less populated, and I only felt safe once back inside with hands washed and door handles wiped down.

According to our local newspaper, it was the same scene happening in our beautiful local state and county wild parks, on Mount Tamalpais and in Point Reyes. Mobs of people, trying to escape their confinement and get needed fresh air and sunlight and space.

So now I think we will go back to the little street outings from here on out. The sky is the same, the trees are in flower and it’s sad to say, fewer possible virus-spreading humans to encounter.

COVID Journal: Online things you can do at home

While we’re all shuttered in place, it turns out that life can be busier than ever before. In this time of crisis many arts organizations, creators, and internet-savvy individuals who are sharing skills are providing us with free and fundraising opportunities to enrich our lives. I’m having to remind myself to not to try to do too many things in a single day, but the temptation is strongly there, while my wife and I sit at home, cook meals, read together, wait for packages, and try to go for walks that will keep us away from others.

With the idea of balance and calm in mind, here are some of the things I am participating in on a regular or occasional basis, or may take advantage of when things get bleak:

Live oil painting lessons with Cotswold realist painter Paul Foxton, most days of the week at 8 am Pacific time. Paul is a calming voice and a very good teacher of value, color and technique. Each day’s session is usually 60-90 minutes. Join Paul’s Facebook Art of Calm Artists group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/655667988543204

Live book readings, discussions and author events from the Virtual Book Channel and the Quarantine Book Club. Visit https://lithub.com/literary-hub-presents-the-virtual-book-channel and https://www.quarantinebookclub.com for more information.

Live yoga sessions with New York techie Erik Hinton. Schedule varies. Subscribe at https://www.twitch.tv/esmooov

Art and commentary from museums around the world are being shared daily under the Twitter hashtag #MuseumMomentOfZen. I have only begun to explore this resource, but one of the deepest and most thoughtful I have found so far is from the US National Gallery of Art. Their account is https://twitter.com/ngadc

The de Young Museum is doing live curator discussions on their Facebook page, called “FB Live”: https://www.facebook.com/pg/deYoungMuseum/events

More and more film makers and distributors are sharing free access to works that were only visible through DVD purchases or at limited runs in museums and art-house cinemas. Others are offering downloads or time-limited screenings for a donation to help out closed cinemas and their laid-off workers. Here is a sampling of films I have found and watched or hope to see.

The Green Fog, directed by Guy Maddin. https://vimeo.com/356966508

Helvetica, directed by Gary Hustwit. The first of Hustwit’s documentary films on design and designers that he is releasing here: https://www.ohyouprettythings.com/free

La Vendedora de Fósforos (The Little Match Girl), directed by Alejo Moguillansky, courtesy of El Pampero Cine. Streaming at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qP3T1jmnkYs

Turns out that The Little Match Girl is one of a bunch of recent Latin American films that are now streaming. Argentine critic and curator Diego Lerer has the list on his Micropsia blog.

“Circle of Quarantine”: 10 Downloads of your choice for $49.95 from the catalog of Oscilloscope Labs. Many of Oscope’s films are on Kanopy, but there are gems here such as Madeline’s Madeline, River of Grass, L’Attesa, etc. https://store.oscilloscope.net/products/circle-of-quarantine

Kino Marquee, from Kino Lorber. Their initial screenings are of the fantastic Brazilian film Bacurau, directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho. I guess you visit one of their sponsored donees to actually purchase virtual tickets. These are Film at Lincoln Center (New York, NY), BAM (Brooklyn, NY), Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, NY), The Little Theatre (Rochester, NY), Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Riviera Theatre (Santa Barbara, CA), The Frida Cinema (Santa Ana, CA), Denver Film / Sie FilmCenter (Denver, CO), Belcourt Theater (Nashville, TN), Loft Cinema (Tucson, AZ), Austin Film Society (Austin, TX), Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH) and Aperture Cinema (Winston Salem, NC). If you like the Austin Film Society, here’s where to purchase a $12, five-day pass for Bacurau: https://kinonow.com/bacurau-austin-film-society

Virtual Cinema, from Film Movement. Currently offering screenings of six films that would have been in theatrical release. New films Corpus Christi, directed by Jan Komasa, The Wild Goose Lake by Diao Yinan, Zombi Child by Bertrand Bonello, and Advocate by Rachel Leah Jones. And restorations of some that I really want to see: Bruno Barreto’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976);The Killing Floor (1984), directed by Bill Duke; and especially Luchino Visconti’s L’Innocente (1976). https://www.filmmovement.com/in-theaters

Update on April 2, 2020:

Grasshopper Films and Magnolia Pictures have now joined in, offering tie-ins to art houses with Pedro Costa’s latest Vitialina Varela and new Romanian film The Whistlers, respectively.

On April 21, Neon pictures has joined in the video streaming-with-fundraising movement.

Shared film clubs are popping up, with links to suggested viewing. One local example is the California Film Institute‘s new website, CFI Selects: https://www.cafilm.org/cfi-selects

ElmConf US 2.0

St. Louis Courthouse
St. Louis Civil Courts Building. Architect: Klipstein & Rathmann (1930)

This year I was invited to speak to this wonderful little (300+ attendees!) pre-conference before the annual Strange Loop conference in St. Louis. I found lots of interesting food for thought in the other speakers’ talks, and I blissfully am still unaware of the predominant reception of my 20 minutes of fame, where I tried to show how “easy” it is to do nice animations in Elm using the CSS transitions engine available in modern browsers. Links to my talk are at the bottom of this post, but first off, here’s what I heard, learned and started to think about in the immediate aftermath of ElmConf:

The Future of Elm

Expanding Elm’s Acceptance in a React World

The panel Q&A at the end of the day was very interesting, judging by the significant number of votes for questions about how Elm can expand it’s reach “in companies”. I think there are several issues here that could be addressed, but I don’t work for a company that has a large programming staff, senior architect, etc. (at our company we just made the leap as a group–none of us had much Elm experience–to use Elm, and we are so happy with the results!) so I am pretty naive on the politics of platform selection in tech companies.

Evan Czaplicki (the creator of Elm) probably is not so naive, because it’s obvious he spends a lot of time understanding the questions that these employers or their employees bring to him about Elm. One significant bit that should go ka-ching in tech companies that I did hear over and over again at the conference (and it’s also my personal experience programming in Elm) is that Elm coders are extremely happy using the restrictions and conventions presented by Elm, getting help and satisfaction from the compiler, tracking down issues in the time-traveling debugger, acquiring new skills in functional, immutable programming and seeing quick reliable results and eagerly look forward to bug fixes and tricking the compiler into giving them the blessed “all clear” signal; as compared with the JavaScript world where “all clear” means now you know there are lots of other bugs lurking in your code ready to break things. When I did chime in about comparing Elm’s present-day uptake to that of Ruby on Rails from several years ago, I of course forgot to bring up the fact that there was this same feeling back then, of wow, I just have to follow the rules and this new expressive language (Ruby) and this framework (Rails) that seems to understand what I need, actually makes me happy to use it.

I know it’s not very Elm-y to go negative, but some of the anecdotes that were mentioned, about infighting in JavaScript shops over coding style, choice of frameworks, complex tooling and setup, etc sounded pretty dreadful. (“And then the whole team of 6 developers ended up quitting.”) I’m wondering if, as the number of companies that are making the switch to Elm increases, whether the main Elm website might use a few testimonials from respected names that could describe some of the contrasting pros and cons between Elm and JS, especially when it comes down to individual and team morale and productivity.

Elm Best Practices and Emerging Domain Solutions

I really liked the fact that Evan mentioned that a lot can be done to improve Elm without changing Elm itself; instead by listening carefully to long-time and newer users’ frets and misunderstandings, and responding with some important documentation and sample code. I think if there were an “Elm Foundation” (maybe there is) with a small, active board focused on PR, the biggest thing that could add more legitimacy to Elm might be an e-book series (or collection of Elm packages and sample applications) highlighting best practices in various problem domains that confront current JavaScript/React/Angular/etc. shops.

I did my own careful listening to the speakers who came before and after me, and it occurs to me that it would be wonderful to see articles, Elm Town interviews, videos, published modules, and example apps for some common problem domains that more than one speaker mentioned. These were the things I heard, and about which I don’t see a lot of published Elm work out there (yet):

Web Workers. One magic moment at the conference was when Luke Westby clicked the “make this repository public” button for his Ellie codebase. I look forward to poring over it to understand the architecture he developed for setting up Web Workers and managing compiler jobs on them. Seems like this is a very powerful paradigm that a lot of responsive Elm apps could take advantage of.

Avoiding duplication of state in the Elm model and another source of truth (either a JavaScript system connected via ports that must maintain state; or local key-value or IndexedDB storage, as in Murphy Randle’s journaling system; or a remote backend server somewhere, as Ossi Hahnihen described in a recent Elm Town interview). Both Jonas and Murphy mentioned the nightmare of keeping two sources of truth in sync. It seems like there is some consensus that Elm front-end applications are better off always pulling a complete clone of whatever state they need to present a user interface, and immediately saving any changes made to the model out to that other system. Some good rules of thumb for singe-page applications (or as Evan said, applications that load multiple pages) would help here. Richard Feldman’s elm-spa-example sample application gets to this also, as each page fetches its page-specific model when it loads.

Deciding on strategies for using ports. Murphy’s talk was great. Since ports seem to be in many Elm projects, it would be nice to have a summary article posted somewhere that describe the range of successful approaches used to communicate with the DOM and with JavaScript libraries. I think the bigger picture on ports might be a little more complicated than the one example Murphy had; there are probably a variety of use cases out there that might provide hints to developers when they have to work with the JavaScript world.

Handling touch events. After Jonas mentioned that he had to write some custom code to allow his maps to correctly interact with touch gestures on mobile devices, I poked around on Google and could not find a widely accepted touch event library in Elm. I don’t if there is consensus on one, or whether nice examples of mobile apps that correctly handle touches are out there. Or if not perhaps they should be created.

Accessibility built-in. I kept getting the feeling throughout the day that there was huge excitement in the room about Tessa Kelly’s Accessible HTML package. I would guess that just about every developer out there wants to, or has to, follow WCAG guidelines and make his or her product more accessible, and  I think the additive incremental nature of Tessa’s approach is the right one. (Don’t know how easy it is to make React-component-based sites accessible by comparison). I think it’s very tricky in Elm right now to advocate for a package that dictates all of your view code for you, but if we had an autocomplete or keyboard shortcut to paste in, say, a fully accessible tab panel layout (with comments), and then let the developer make modifications, that might help us get to a more accessible web, in Elm. Then repeat for other widgets! Maybe the future of Elm is when there is a slick IDE that can add chunks of your view with one or two keystrokes, and that you can customize for your company’s particular coding and UI standards. In the meantime, Tessa could probably write the book (maybe she is) covering best practices for the many, many common cases of making sections of your views WCAG- and ARIA-compliant and accessible.

A Self-Review

I think it’s important to reflect publicly on my first presentation at a technical conference. Perhaps because I ended up showing almost an entire Elm app, at least one attendee reported on Twitter of being scared about CSS transitions after hearing my talk. I suppose if I ever get a second chance at this kind of thing, I’ll learn to be politically and educationally more effective (as Richard Feldman eloquently described in “Teaching Elm to Beginners”). You have to lay the groundwork and motivate folks to get them to come along with something useful but perhaps a little strange, like CSS animations. But I do think I was able to implant one or two bits of Elm knowledge (and even, hopefully, some understanding) to some in attendance. I guess I can hope I was able to stir up a little curiosity in some of the conferees to learn more about how these animations work. And it was a terrific learning experience for me personally (talk about motivation…), so I thank Brian Hicks and Luke Westby, the organizers, again and again for giving me the opportunity.

Here’s the recording of the talk:

The source code for both the demo animations used in the talk and the slide deck is available from my GitHub account if you want to play around with those animations, and get links to other animation resources.

And here are the other, highly recommended talks from ElmConf. If you’re interested in the future of Elm, how to teach (and learn) Elm, how to add accessibility to your Elm site, how to add mapping capabilities to Elm, what the fashion industry may have to help us understand different styles of programming, and many other topics and philosophies, check out the complete ElmConf US 2017 playlist: