Daily Notes for 2023-05-10

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Noodling http with verb and Emacs ๐Ÿ”—

My traditional “poke around an API” tool is usually an irb session, because I’m probably headed for Ruby once I understand what I’m asking for. This morning a thread on r/emacs led me to verb, an org-mode-aware http client. At its simplest, you give it an org heading like this, from the project page:

       * Example request :verb:
       get https://api.ipify.org/?format=json

Then verb-send-request-on-point to get a buffer with the json response.

But it also works with org-babel:

#+begin_src verb :wrap src ob-verb-response
get https://api.ipify.org/?format=json

#+begin_src ob-verb-response
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Length: 23
Content-Type: application/json
Date: Wed, 10 May 2023 17:18:25 GMT
Vary: Origin
    "ip": ""

That’s delightful.

As I’ve leaned more and more into org-babel, I’ve been trying to figure out why it feels both like a big discovery but also something I remembered doing, and it finally occurred to me this morning: I used to use BBEdit’s “shell worksheets” all the time to test and model a suite of scripts I’d written to help with my copyediting work.

My main use case was “here’s a filter I wrote, I’ve got some problematic HTML from some writer sitting here, paste it over in the worksheet, run the filter on it, see how it goes.” It’s been … wow, a little while … since I was doing that. I just did a quick spotlight search on the librarified version and it looks like the last time I edited it was 2009.

org-sticky-header-mode ๐Ÿ”—

Sometimes, deep into an org-mode file, I get sort of lost and wondering where I am. org-sticky-header is for those times, providing a breadcrumb line at the top of the window:

An Emacs screenshot showing breadcrumbs of org headings

org-sticky-header in my ox-hugo file.

More like cit-a-dumb, amirite? ๐Ÿ”—

Al and I saw a trailer for Amazon’s Citadel in a movie theater and being the sort of people we are it seemed like catnip. Waiting around for it to arrive, I perused the reviews and was only mildly surprised that they were savage. We watched it anyhow, and I guess I think two things:

  1. It’s a very expensive spy show by people who produced Avengers movies, so yes, it is something of a pastiche. A little Mission Impossible, a little Bourne Identity, a little Black Widow, a little Agents of SHIELD, a little Kingsmen. There’s a soapy element to it. You can MST3K the living hell out of it on the first watch.

    Do I like it? I mean, yeah? It is not demanding, it’s a little silly, you could even call it dumb in an endearing way. It is for sure trope-y, anyhow. I don’t end an episode feeling resentful of the time lost – good sign! – and it is honest about how it intends to get you back each week: reveals, as opposed to more puzzles.

  2. TV criticism is really tedious.

This is not a “let people like dumb things, critics!” complaint.

It would be really weird to me if a big, expensive Amazon spy show’s critics/audience enjoyment ratio skewed high on the critics side. Big, expensive, popular entertainments are miraculous constructions of cross-demographic box-checking and cynical cultural manipulation designed to do about as well in Topeka as they do in Atlanta. Television critics, on the other hand, come out of a narrower cultural milieu, and exist in uneasy tension with their reading audiences.

I’d hate having to go review an Avengers movie, or a season of the new Star Trek show, or a new Star Wars thing, because the fandom for established properties is right there, waiting for you to not like their thing they like. It’s sort of complicated by the occasional swerve: Gender-flip a property, play with elvish phenotypes, etc. and that makes it fraught in a different way and the calculation changes.

Something greenfield, though – a non-property – and I’d guess critical instincts are on clearer display. Maybe the stars bring along a fandom, but it’s just not as dangerous.

The reviews for Citadel felt a little like that. Like, sort of harsh over stuff that gets a pass when it’s attached to a big franchise. And a lot of focus on inside baseball: Changing creative teams, the production cost, etc.

So, subhead aside, you know, Citadel seems better than the critical consensus. I’d say its current “middling C” audience score is more fair than its “high F” critical average. If I had my thoughts completely in order around genre grade-curving, I might even go higher than “middling C.” Its Major Genre is “spy thriller,” and its Supporting Flavors are “breezy” “romantic,” “light,” and “cross-demographically appealing.” Your curve can do a lot of work with that.

My gut tells me it is not going to produce a lot of stans – It seems like the kind of thing I imagine every generation believes the next older generation would prefer a little more. But it’s also an okay diversion. If I watched a lot of t.v. and really believed every minute of it needed to count, Citadel probably would not make the cut. But I tend to watch t.v. when I do not want to invest the time in a movie, and feel a little too tired to read a book. Things like Citadel work great for me.

Carrion Comfort ๐Ÿ”—

I don’t know why Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort burbled back up on social media, but it did, and I was fresh off a re-read of Homicide that was sort of grueling this time, so I figured what the hell.

Which makes two books in a row that I picked up remember-expecting one thing and finding something harder.

Homicide was one of the foundational texts of what became The Wire, which I recently re-watched. The book and series share characters (real people in Homicide thinly adapted for The Wire) and some scenes in The Wire are lifted straight from Homicide.

The Wire holds up well today. The cast is diverse, and that softens some of its harder observations about racial politics in a one-party town, by which I guess I mean, “which lets it get away with Clay Davis as a character.” Homicide also holds up, despite being published in the late ’80s, but I think it probably enjoys something of a reverse pedigree, too, and I think it would bother a lot of people if it came out today: There’s much less appetite for its rough irony, even if you have no problem locating where its heart is at, and even if you know to treat it like honest reporting.

But wow was it hard to read this time. It probably should be hard to read a book about a year in the life of a homicide squad in a city that averages better than a murder a day. It doesn’t flinch. It took me forever to get through, because it was just hard to read it.

But it also felt important to read it. It reminded me a lot, this time, of David Grossman’s amazing On Killing, which I read while I was in therapy for some military stuff. (For the record, because it comes up, no, I have never killed anybody, but On Killing had a ton of explanatory power for me trying to make sense of what had happened to me in the army nonetheless.) The two feel connected by an understanding of why some people become police (or join the army) that has gone completely missing in the popular discourse, and in the poignancy with which they consider the consequences of exposing a human to the things a homicide detective, or a soldier, are exposed to. I don’t know how our society will find its way to moral balance between the cultural poles that give us law-n-order copaganda and “ACAB,” but Homicide could be an important text in the process.

Anyhow, I didn’t like Carrion Comfort much when I read it in the early ’90s. I think my taste in horror was maybe more Lovecraftian, and it felt a little overstuffed. There are places where it tells and doesn’t show. But there were a few scenes in it that stuck with me that weren’t what you might expect to stick from a novel about mind-controlling vampires. So when it came back up again and I was in need of a cool-down, I loaded it up in the Kobo.

I’m about a quarter of the way through it this time, and I appreciate it more. Like, the horror parts are more horrible to me. The parts I thought were maybe extraneous now feel like nice attention to detail. Some of it still feels a little tells-doesn’t-show, but I feel a little more patient about them and I wonder if they were just a way to get the audience to sort of pay attention where it matters in the early going.

Anyhow, enjoying the re-read, but it’s landing harder this time.

I’m not saying org-re-reveal helped me win the presentation … ๐Ÿ”—

… but I’m not not saying it, either.

And, I guess, by “win” I mean that superstition forbids me to say much about some paperwork I signed, but I signed some today.