Magnolia trees and frustration (Learning Things: April 17, 2023)

a black and white digital drawing of an owl with blank white eyes

A lot of my efforts (in all areas of my life) this week have felt like trudging slowly through mud. While writing this, I paused and looked up whether a Mercury Retrograde is approaching, and sure enough, it looks like we've been in the shadow period since the April 6. The retrograde starts in earnest on April 21. So buckle in, I guess.

Anyway, here's what I've got to show for myself this week:

Paranormal research

I'm still reading John Keel's Operation Trojan Horse, and still enjoying it. I spent a lot of time on the subway this weekend, which was a perfect opportunity to get a lot of reading done. (Though it's still slow going, since I've been taking a lot of notes.)

Over the weekend, I listened to the audiobook of The Witch's Guide to the Paranormal by J. Allen Cross, which had some great info. I'll write more about it later this week.

DIY paranormal gear

I am currently at an impasse with the biodata sonification device build.

So, the good news is that I did the breadboard build. It was my first time using a breadboard, and I learned a lot! When I powered it up, the lights turned on (well . . . two of the five lights turned on, the red and blue LEDs. The others didn't, which doesn't make sense to me.)

The bad news is that I can't quite get it to work. Right now, I haven't been able to get a device to recognize the device via Bluetooth. However, I only had access to Windows 11 machines (which apparently have bad support for BLE), my Android phone (none of the recommended midi apps were available for me to download, and the apps I did download didnt work; sounds like a bunch of free, simple midi Android apps have been deprecated), and an old and busted Macbook. So none of my devices recognized the Adafruit's BLE. Does that mean that I did something wrong, or is the issue with my devices? It's currently a mystery.

I'm trying to trace through my process to see what I could try to fix. Here's what I think I could have done wrong, theoretically:

  1. I may have programmed the Adafruit Feather wrong.
  2. I may have programmed the Adafruit Feather correctly, but I used the slightly older version of the code (because the updated code gave me error messages), so maybe that caused an issue somewhere.
  3. I subbed out a yellow LED for the specified orange LED, because I forgot that I didn't have orange ones. (Though . . . the voltage drops should be so similar that I wouldn't think it would matter? And I can't imagine that would affect the BLE anyway? I'm just trying to think of every way that I deviated from the directions.)
  4. I may have done . . . some other, mystery thing wrong when assembling things on the breadboard.
  5. I may not have done anything wrong, but since this version of the build only connects via Bluetooth, maybe my devices just aren't playing nice.

My plan was to do this breadboard build and then order a PCB and turn the components into a more permanent, soldered build that I can put in a housing (it'd be more compact than soldering everything onto the breadboard).

So . . . what are my next steps now? I have some extra 3.5 mm jacks, but have no idea where to place them on the breadboard to output midi data.

So I think I might just go ahead and order that PCB, which will include an obvious spot for the extra 3.5 mm output jack. I can also order an orange LED. That should eliminate possible issues 3-5. So if I do the build with the PCB and it still doesn't work, I'll know I messed something up with the code. (Since I feel decently confident about my soldering ability.) And it'll be easier to troubleshoot one thing, than, like, everything.

Maybe this week I can play around with that spirit box code and see if I can get it to work.

Art and paranormal investigation

In speaking of talking to plants, last week, I decided to do an outdoors automatic drawing experiment. A couple weeks ago, Randonautica brought me to a nice magnolia tree and I felt like it was a good spot to draw, so I returned to the spot this week.

I just did a quick, 10-minute test, using the same method as before (not looking at paper, listening to the Grandbrothers remix of Erik Satie's Gnoissiene No. 1). Only instead of using my iPad, I went with my paper sketchbook. I keep wanting to make this work in the iPad, but so far, I've gotten better results from using actual paper (including this time).

I was trying to communicate with the magnolia tree (which kindly rained down some petals on me while I sat, one of which I kept). My drawings reminded me a lot of the magnolia blossoms, arranged in a rectangular pattern and interconnected, almost as if they were making a sort of frame or loop. One of the blossoms had a little face in profile on it.

Interestingly, in March, I tried a similar automatic drawing experiment and ended up with a similar little face. So I'll have to keep an eye out for more like that.

Right now, I feel like I'm just trying to figure out what patterns I can find in my drawings, and then figure out what they mean from there.

I also have an inkling that I really should read the Phil Baker biography of Austin Osman Spare that I've had sitting on my shelf for the past . . . 3-4 years. I really want to dig more into both what he was doing, and what some of the surrealists were doing, since I know the idea of "automatic drawing" has been interpreted a bunch of different ways, and it could be helpful to try out some other methods.


I mentioned that I've been moving slowly this week, and that goes for my creative writing as well. The only real things I have to report, fiction-writing-wise are: I did have a helpful insight about the novel I'm writing right now, which was a good thing for me to realize before diving headlong into the next revision. And I went through my scene list spreadsheet and realized how to fix certain beats that were going on for too long or too short. So. There's that.


One piece of housekeeping: I redid my website over the weekend, which is mostly notable because you can now sign up to receive these weekdaily blog posts directly from my website, rather than Substack, if you prefer. (And if you don't want to receive weekdaily emails from me but still want to keep up with my stuff, the RSS feed for the blog is linked here.)

A couple additional new features on my website: posts now have tables of contents for simpler navigation, and tags are now visible at the bottom of posts to make it easier to browse of similar pieces.