The Old Magick

An ESP32 chip with OLED displaying the time and date set by NTP over WiFi.

Not thinking about the Strange Days is more and more my hobby. To distract myself, I peel the onions within my more physical hobbies. A good hobby has layers and each one could be its own area of recreation. Radio is great in that regard.

I have a microprocessor that came on a development board with an OLED display. It is WiFi and Bluetooth enabled. I put together a small program to grab the time from an NTP server and display it. I put power to the chip, it connects to my WiFi, grabs the time, and shows it. Incredibly simple. But in that chain, how many things could I not recreate from scratch?

That’s where it falls down for me. I don’t think that I could pull together what I’d need to reproduce such a function. I know how the components work and could do a block diagram, sure. Obviously, I can write code. But could I do it all from nothing? No.

Radio is a little different. One can still assemble a pile of resistors, capacitors, and coils and make a functional radio. Each of those pieces can be fabricated using simple materials. It really is the basis of so much tech. And there are books that can take one from nothing to a functional radio, given time and patience. It’s wonderful to play with that power and absorb that knowledge. It really feels like mastering a kind of magic – the old kind from legends and the deep past.

It’s a sickening feeling, but it feels like we as a culture are on the edge of losing things. Hard earned knowledge and a respect for curiosity are threatened. Perhaps it’s time to enhance all of our personal libraries where we can with books that hold the basics. We may yet need them.


An ancient bookmark from the Empire State Bldg.

We are stuck. Nothing is really moving. Or so it seems. And with that lack of motion comes a natural anxiety for most. Those most afflicted are the ones lashing out. There aren’t as many as one would think. The outliers bubble to the top of the social media feeds because they demand clicks and eyes. Why is that? Because it’s outside of the experience of most but still close enough to be seen on the edges or in the distance.

In this time of stasis, we can think. We can reflect. We can imagine.

It isn’t easy. None of this is. The disasters that are piling up each day are very real. They were all predictable and predicted. This is not the stuff of prophecy, but the output of science and society. Each item whether it be wildfires, hurricanes, social unrest, or plague is the consequence of a combination of action and inaction. All very rational.

Hard to look at, isn’t it? That’s a shame. We’re stuck here and that’s the only channel we have left.


A notebook, magazine, and pen on a clipboard

Even in the midst of great and horrible events, milestones come and go. Our little family crossed one this week. It doesn’t really matter to anyone outside of our house, but it’s fairly momentous. Maybe more so for me than the others for some reasons. It was important to take note of it. And now it has passed. But the world is different now for having crossed this threshold.

Nothing stays the same. Some change is good. I’d like to think we trend toward progress. This is one of those moments. I will remember it.


A male cardinal clinging to a window screen

For months now, this male cardinal has been terrorizing my bathroom and office windows. In the early mornings of the weekend, he’s jumping on the screen and pecking at the glass. I’ve read a bit and learned that he’s likely attacking his reflection. Setting up pictures of owls or other threats may only make him more likely to attack, they say. I’ve become a bit numb to it, but I’ve wanted to get a picture of him in action for some time. And today, I grabbed my camera just fast enough to get him. His mate is on the bird feeder collecting seeds while he protects her from…the windows.

I wonder how much of my life and the things I do really boil down to pecking at windows. How much of my fear, how many of my perceived threats, are manufactured in my own head?


A low creek

I’m not much of one for lifehacks these days. There was a time when I believed that productivity was something that was important. It’s less so now. Now it’s not so much about how much one does, but what one does and with what level of quality. I don’t need more shortcuts or more automation. I need fewer of the things that require shortcuts and automation. And maybe that’s where we are collectively.

Me looking at the news every day will not change the number of new COVID-19 cases found in my county. My behavior pattern is set and will not be altered on a timescale that is measured in hours or anything less than months. Reading about the latest garbage spewed by partisan hacks will not change how I plan to vote. These are all ships that are far from port.

That’s where the filtering comes in.

Some people remember how to use computers. Some people even know about things like “hosts” files. I use this arcana to do things like make sure I never see certain websites. An errant link click doesn’t need to send my mind into a spiral. It can simply send me to a page that says, “Nope!”

But the biggest filter is not opening the browser at all. More reading of books. More experimenting with projects that are meaningful to me. More time with my family (not that this kind of time is necessarily in short supply in these Strange Days).

I’m thinking about music again. Art Music. The kind of music that I wanted to make the last time I lived in this ZIP code. I’m hearing the world in a different way. I’m feeling like some of the filters are really working.