This is INFODUMP 43. The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
This is a longer letter than I was planning to write, but the nature of writing a section a day means the thing does have a tendency to spread out. As discussed below (in, God, EXHAUSTING detail), this has been written partly in Notion and partly in an app called Zettlr, which I have become very excited about. I am also digging into the Zettelkasten system, so you can certainly look forward to having your brains run out of your ears while I talk about that at some point in the near future.
Anyway, on with it...
It's coming up to crunch-time on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. We have eight full episodes and three bonus episodes to finish, and so the week has been spent listening to evolving versions of each episode.
As I mentioned in an earlier letter, the whole Covid situation meant we had to make some alterations to how we record the show. Usually everything in the show that is not overtly set in the studio is recorded on location. This time around, we decided to limit the location recording to those scenes that absolutely had to be done that way and to record everything else, "studio" stuff included, remotely. (Remote recording means the actors are at home in front of their own microphones and we're recording them remotely on our own software - this generally sounds fine, but it gives a little less leeway in terms of microphone position etc and it has the disadvantage of the actors not being able to act with each other in the same room).
I'm happy to report that, thanks to some incredible editing by Karen Rose and amazing sound work by David Thomas, everything is sounding great. The big test for me is if, while listening to a sequence, I am picturing the environment in which I recorded it, or the place where the action is supposed to be playing out. A chunk of the first few episodes is set in Mosul, Iraq. This stuff was recorded on location in a field in Essex. I was being attacked by wasps as we recorded it, but couldn't move (or scream), so the memory is pretty fresh in my mind. But listening back, I can hear a street market, traffic, car horns... I'm transported to Mosul. The combination of the acoustics we captured out in the countryside (the sound bouncing off a big old barn) and the atmospheric recordings we sourced of Iraqi streets, not to mention the stellar performance of Walles Hammond, who plays pretty much every Iraqi bystander/taxi driver, erases Essex from my mind completely. And if I buy it, knowing how we actually created the environment, I'm pretty sure the listeners are going to.
Music is once again provided by Tim Elsenburg, who we this time asked to come up with a complete score for one of our bonus episodes (a monologue by Kennedy Fisher on a tangential mystery), as well as spots for Eleanor Peck's gigantic monologue (spoiler: Eleanor Peck gets another gigantic monologue, it's about the length of a Radio 4 afternoon play and Nicola Walker knocked the thing clean out of the park in about an hour of recording).
All the regulars are back; Jana Carpenter and Barnaby Kaye outdo themselves in this series; Kennedy and Heawood have never been so good. Steven Mackintosh, Phoebe Fox, Ferdinand Kingsley and Mark Bazeley reprise their roles, each one every bit as good as you'd expect. And we also have some newcomers; Karla Crome, Kyle Soller and Jennifer Armour are all officially in "the gang" now, and I hope they'll come and play in future podcasts.
And a special mention to Michael Maloney, who I have been trying to cast in something for about twenty years and finally succeeded with this. I don't think I will ever get tired of listening to his Parisian archivist.
All of which signifies that we are nearly done. This was a really difficult series to write, because it's going to be the last outing for Matthew Heawood and Kennedy Fisher, at least for a while, and it needed an ending that was both satisfying AND in keeping with the show. In arriving at that, we created a series that is a much slower burn than the others, but which builds to something that I think really pays off. I think we managed to stick the landing, but that's up to the audience to judge and I suspect it's going to be fairly divisive.
We're waiting for official confirmation, but I think this series will be released, in whole or in part, from November 19th.
Did I mention that I dropped my 80mm Hasselblad lens into a ditch? Well, that happened. It fell out of my bag on Hampstead Heath while I was photographing one of the sources of the Fleet River and splashed into a few inches of muddy water at the very top of the river. It was in the water for maybe five seconds before I fished it out. I then dried it off and sent it to a guy who fixes Hasselblads, hoping the damage wasn't too extensive. This is the photo he sent me when he'd opened it up...
If the story has a moral, it is presumably something about not dropping valuable camera equipment into rivers. There may also be something worth saying about what the hell is in that water? Anyway, lens not repairable, but there is light at the end of that particular tunnel because I managed to source a more modern replacement from a second hand camera shop, a lens that was made twenty years later than the original and has had a fair few of the kinks ironed out. The Hasselblad lives, and is actually better than ever. Here's the first image from the replacement lens. I still can't say I've got the hang of this camera yet, but I am loving using it:
I thought I had tried every to do/productivity app out there, and then I stumbled across Sorted3. This glorious little app (I'm calling it glorious, but this is only day 2 of me using it and it could easily fall over at any point) combines a to do list with a time-block scheduler. Which is to say, you put all of your tasks into it, tell it how long each one should be allocated, and it organises your day for you. Crucially, it also takes into account calendar appointments so, unlike every other iteration of a day-planning app, it schedule AROUND the stuff you've already booked in.
As you can tell, I'm kind of loving this. There's a beta version for the desktop, which does stumble here and there, but the iOS and iPadOS versions seem to work like a dream.
I've probably posted a link to a time-blocking guide before but here's another one, just in case.
Last time out, I talked briefly about Notion, and I'm happy to report it's still going strong for me. I'm using it to link notes together and to create world-building databases for projects, and I'm also using it to keep track of projects; having it act as essentially a virtual work environment. I think the iOS and iPadOS versions suck pretty badly, or maybe I just haven't figured them out properly yet, but the desktop iteration is great.
I've found the key to it is to relax and not try to figure out how to use every bit of Notion's functionality, but just to build out the bits that are useful as you go along. My "Today" page is constantly evolving depending on need. Right now, it holds a list of pending projects (which updates automatically as deadlines hove into view); a scratchpad for notes and ideas; daily journal entries; change notes on the various Shadow Over Innsmouth episodes, which are updated as I listen to each new version; links out to my company Notion, the INFODUMP home page etc. But any one of these blocks can be moved around/changed, depending on what I need on any given day.
Midway through writing this letter, I stumbled onto a Markdown app called Zettlr, which is just extraordinary. It's like a slightly more manual version of Ulysses, but I think I really like it. Unlike Ulysses, it doesn't separate it's functionality out between iCloud folders and Dropbox folders; you just tell Zettlr which folders you want to have access to and it treats them all the same. It's probably not as "Mac-pretty" as Ulysses, but I'm kind of over that aesthetic now. Zettlr feels a little more minimalist, a little more mechanical, and a lot more solid as a result. In essence, I think it's the happy medium between IA Writer and Ulysses.
I work almost exclusively in plain text (MD) files nowadays and I dislike having anything bundled into an app package that I can't get at. Right now, this section of the newsletter is being written in Zettlr, but the file is also being referenced by DEVONthink and it sits in Dropbox as a boring old Markdown file, which means it can be opened, read and edited by pretty much anything. I like that flexibility, to be able to work on my phone or iPad, or whatever I have wherever I am.
Lastly, in the "stuff" section, I have finally ditched Fantastical as my daily calendar. I liked it for lots of reasons, but there were just a few bits of it that became increasingly irritating and the whole Flexbits subscription thing started to bug me. I am now using BusyCal, which has a slightly more corporate vibe, but which seems to be solid and seems to understand when I want it to do something and when I want it to stay the Hell out of my way.
I'm reading Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel. I was under the impression that I was very late to this particular party, but it turns out that almost no one I know has actually read it. Read it! I'm only halfway through, but I think it's the perfect Covid-era novel. Sure, a story about a plague that wipes out 99% of humanity might not SEEM like something you want to get lost in at the moment, but actually the flu in Station 11 is SO MUCH WORSE than Coronavirus that it's actually quite comforting to look up from the book and realise the real world is not THIS bad. Without giving too much away, the story revolves around a troupe of actors and musicians touring the East Coast of America, performing Shakespeare to small settlements of survivors, twenty years after a flu strain has decimated the world. Mandel also flashes back to life before the plague and, as far as I am through the book, it seems she's building to a big reveal about SOMETHING... It's such a page-turner, I highly recommend it.
I've also started thumbing through Olga Mecking's book "Niksen", which is about the Dutch art of doing nothing. I bought it after reading this piece Mecking wrote on the subject. I'm not sure how useful this book is going to be, as doing nothing is already something of a superpower of mine, but it seems like an interesting read.
Not much to read this week, as I have been swamped listening to things:
As I finish up this week's letter (Saturday morning - Halloween YAY!), the news is suggesting we might be about to head into a month-long National lockdown. Again. It's probably not before time, because we seem incapable of learning the lesson that doing a few bits and pieces doesn't really affect the spread of this virus, but I know another lockdown will be very hard for a lot of people. I guess all we can do is take each day as it comes and try to keep our heads above water. This too shall pass. Given the length of this letter, there's a good chance that the month has simply flown by already as you were reading this.