the lights I saw over the river

First, some background: My house looks out over the Tay, towards the road bridge. If I look to the east I can see the oil rigs waiting to be decommissioned.

One night in early September I became aware of a loud, sustained noise outside. It was a kind of constant white noise that lasted for 10 minutes or so, occasionally varying in intensity. Despite looking I couldn’t see where it was coming from. There were no large ships coming into port, the oil rigs were lit up and stationary as usual, traffic was moving freely on the bridge.

After a while though, I did notice something strange. Maybe 20 tiny lights in the air above the river, moving out to sea before turing round and retracing their path back up the river. If it was during the day I’d have sworn it was a flock of birds, but I’ve never seen birds that glow in the dark like that.

I don’t really want to know what it was I saw. I think explanations are overrated. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t need to understand absolutely every little thing I experience. I think life is more interesting for the presence of small, insignificant mysteries. I’m just happy I was there to see this strange, unexpected thing.

Anyway, that’s where the title for this month’s piece comes from. It’s an augmented drawing tool built around a hex grid and a deliberately limited palette. Usually I find myself working with either procedural colour palettes or palettes with only 2 or 3 colours. I wanted to see what I could do with a palette of 6 colours where the colours weren’t just variations on 1 or 2 hues.

Some of the colour combinations (e.g. the yellow and the blue) don’t work as well as the others, so I’m not sure I entirely nailed it. It’s nice to work with a more expansive, intentional palette than usual though.

Here’s the palette as hex values:

#2f002c
#dbbf00
#ca1e0f
#000000
#5e5ceb
#ffffff

Download the lights I saw over the river

Controls: escape: quit; left mouse: draw; right mouse: erase;
mouse wheel/1-5: select colour; m: hide mouse

The Rules:

  • The file at this link will be deleted 1 month from now (07/12/19).

  • All downloads are zipfiles containing a Windows executable.

  • All source code and assets are included, licensed under the GPL (code) and CC-BYSA (assets).

  • As long as you abide by those licenses, you can do whatever you want with the download.

Further Reading

Speaking of strange lights in the dark, Desert Oracle Radio is the place to go if you’re hungry for stories of unexplained encounters in the desert.


I had one of those months where I kept seeing connections between the different things I found myself reading. So Robin Wall Kimmerer’s discussion of Native American farming practices in Braiding Sweetgrass connects to this article in the Guardian about a more sustainable approach to wheat farming in the UK, which relates to Naomi Mitchison’s Solution Three and its concern with genetically modified, cloned crops.

And there’s this article in the Paris Review about the intelligence of plants, which is connected to The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, both of which seem to link back to Kimmerer’s account of the Native American practice of treating plants, animals etc. as neighbours, of equal stature and importance to human beings.

All of these texts feel like part of the same impulse, pointing towards a different, more sustainable relationship to plants and the land. And with our climate rapidly breaking down, it looks like reforging that relationship is becoming an increasingly urgent task.


A roundtable on labour organising in the art world over on The New Inquiry. An excerpt:

People will come to us and they’ll often talk about very practical or even transactional needs. Like, I need to network with more editors; I need health care; I need money. Those are all crucial needs that are real, but there’s this subtext to it, too. Underneath, I find that what we’re really saying to each other is, ‘I need to find a way to exist in this world that doesn’t hurt all the time.’ And we have to look each other in the eye and say, ‘I don’t know if we can do that, but together we’re going to do everything we can.’”

I don’t have much time for CS Lewis, but I really enjoyed Karlo Yeager Rodríguez’ take on Narnia, from the perspective of a middle-aged man returning to the enchanted wardrobe of his youth.

A fascinating project to build an operating system that will run on salvaged hardware if (when?) our global electronics supply chain collapses. Modern computers (and phones!) are so complex, and we rely on them for so much, that this seems like a vital undertaking.

I don’t know how it ended up in my firefox tabs, but here’s an article titled Experiments in Lemurian Time-Sorcery, about how to travel through time by summoning demons and doing maths(!).

I listened to a lot of Screaming Females this month. This one’s particularly good.


So the days are getting shorter now. The wind’s starting to bite. It’s getting time for thick clothes, hot food and warm, cosy homes. I know most people prefer spring or summer, but for me the colder months are where my heart lies. You never appreciate your home quite as much as when you come back in to it out of the cold. A good long walk is never quite as satisfying as it is when you’ve spent the day trudging through the cold and the wet, knowing that there’s a warm, dry room just waiting for you at the end of your journey.

That experience – of coming in out of the cold to a warm, welcoming home – is one of my favourite things.

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