The Roundup for April 1-30, 2020 Edition

(Unhoused by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.

I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.
– Fred Rogers

Great Photography Shots

Some of the photos for the 2020 All About Photos Awards are just terrific.

“Jump of the wildebeest” © Nicole Cambre. 5th Place, All About Photo Awards.
“Beyond the wall” © Francesco Pace Rizzi. Particular Merit Mention, All About Photo Awards
“The Wallace’s Flying Frog” © Chin Leong Teo. Particular Merit Mention, All About Photo Awards
“Step by Step” © Mustafa AbdulHadi. Particular Merit Mention, All About Photo Awards
Untitled © Yoni Blau. Particular Merit Mention, All About Photo Awards
Woman Mursi © Svetlin Yosifov. Particular Merit Mention, All About Photo Awards

Music I’m Digging

My April best-of playlist features some classic alternative and a lot of not-so-new rap and R&B. I guess this is the first full playlist I’ve created purely when in self-isolation?

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare-Jim Baker in FISA Errors // Baker previously was responsible for, in part, reviewing the FISA applications put before the FISC. Recently, the DOJ IG found that 29 of 29 applications they reviewed had errors, including a seeming failure to document or prove the facts set out in the applications. Baker assessed the legal implications as well as the normative implications of the deficits, and the need to develop stronger managerial control over all future applications.
  • CBC Ideas—The Shakespeare Conspiracy // Using Shakespeare as a kind of distancing tool—he’s long dead and so unlikely to enliven contemporary political passions—Paul Budra explores how different scholars and public intellectuals have asserted who Shakespeare ’really was’ and the rationales behind such assertions. In an era where the West is increasingly concerned about the rise of conspiracies this espisode provides a range of productive tools to assess and critique new and emerging conspiracies.
  • NPR throughline—Buzzkill // Mosquitos are, without a doubt, responsible for more human deaths than anything else on earth. This superb short podcast goes through how mosquitos have been essential to empire, warfare, and changes to humans’ genetic makeup.

Good Reads

  • The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic // Anderson has done a spectacular job showcasing the beautiful humanity of Weird Al. In tracing his origin story, and explaining the care and time Al puts into his work, and the love he has for his fans, you really appreciate just how lovely a man he is. If anyone is a Tom Hanks for the geeks, it may end up being Weird Al.
  • There Is a Racial Divide in Speech-Recognition Systems, Researchers Say // It’s as though having engineers of particular ethnicities, building products that work for them, while also lacking employees of other ethnicities, has implications for developing technology. And the same is true of when developers do not include people with diverse socio-legal or socio-economic backgrounds.
  • The chemistry of cold-brew coffee is so hot right now // God bless the coffee-obsessed scientists who’ve taken a deep dive into the way that coffee beans respond to different extraction methods, as well as provide their own cold brew recipes. I can’t wait to see what research percolates out of this lab going forward!
  • What’s the Deal With False Burrs? // Having only recently managed to properly clean my home grinder, I was curious to learn a bit more about the differences in burr grinders. While I’m satisfied with my current grinder I can predict—based in owning a ‘faux’ burr grinder—that a Baratza Encore or Virtuoso is in my near future.
  • LIDAR: Peek Into The Future With iPad Pro // The recent release of the newest iPad Pro iteration has been met with a lot of yawns by reviewers. That makes a lot of sense, given the combination of the ongoing crisis and relatively minimal changes over the 2018 iPad Pro. The only really major new thing is a LIDAR system that is now part of the camera bump, but no mainstream reviewers have really assessed its capabilities. Fortunately the folks from Halide—a smartphone camera company—have dug into what LIDAR brings (and doesn’t bring) to the floor. Their review is helpful and, also, raises the question of whether professionals who do modelling should be consulted on the utility of these kinds of features, just as photographers—not gadget reviewers—should be asked deep and probing questions about the cameras that are integrated into smart devices these days.
  • The Mister Rogers No One Saw // Fred Rogers has had a number of films made about him and his life, but this essay by Jeanne Marie Laskas is different because it is so deeply personal about the relationships Fred had with those around him, and with the author. He inhabited a world that was just a little bit different than our own; his creativity was drawn from this place. But it was also a creativity linked with a deep ethic of work, where he focused on ensuring that his art was as perfect as possible. And left unstated in the article is one of the real testaments to his work: he would re- edit episodes, years after they had first been produced, when he found there were elements he was unhappy with or that no longer adequately represented what he had learned was a more right way of thinking about things. Also left unwritten in this piece was Fred’s belief that children we resilient and could be taught about the world; his shows dealt with issues like the Vietnam war and nuclear war in ways that were approachable to children who deserved to be involved in understanding their world, and always knowing they weren’t alone in it, and that it was perfectly ok to have feelings about it.
  • New York and Boston Pigeons Don’t Mix // The sheer size of pigeon populations–they extent across vast swathes of urbanized (and road connected) land–is pretty amazing. But, equally interesting, is how rural environments seem to, effectively, segregate populations from one another. It’s just another example of how genetically diverse groups can exist all around us, without our ever realizing the distinctiveness.

Cool Things

  • I Miss the Office // If you want office sounds for your work at home, then this site has you covered. (Also, if this is what you’re missing you’re kinda weird!)
  • How to Make Whipped Coffee // I am very curious to try and make this at some point in the future!
  • The Slow Fade of City Life // When the last two images are accurate, you know it’s a lot easier to get through the lack of the city.
  • Campari and Orange Juice // I have to say, this is my new favourite brunch drink. It tastes almost like grapefruit juice, though the real secret—not in this recipe—is to aerate the Campari and OJ in a blender before mixing in a cocktail shaker. The aeration really opens up the Campari and gives the whole drink a level of creaminess it otherwise wouldn’t have.
Aside

2020.4.17

For the last few weeks I’ve been jarred awake by an overly loud alarm; it didn’t seem to always be so loud, but maybe I’d forgotten?

Nope. Not the case at all. When I updated to iOS 13.4 it set my ringer and alarm volumes to 100%. Now that I’ve reduced the volume I’m hopeful that my wake ups will be a lot more peaceful than they’ve been for the last few weeks.

To change the volume of the built-in Apple alarm: Go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics. Under Ringers And Alerts, drag the slider left or right to set the volume. As you drag, an alert will play, so you can hear how the volume changes. Turn on Change with Buttons to use the volume buttons on your device to change the alarm volume.

Aside

2020.4.14

I’ve been lusting over a new coffee grinder given the current state of self-isolation and, thus, increasing my coffee consumption at home by about 300%. Part of the reasoning has been that I—seemingly—couldn’t pull apart my current grinder to give it a deep cleaning, which was throwing off some of the taste.

It turns out, however, that I just didn’t have the right angle to grab, twist, and pull the top of the grinder.

20 minutes later and I’ve got a very clean coffee grinder and the first brew already tastes better and more true to the beans. And my lust for a newer grinder has receded (somewhat) for now.

Aside

2020.4.8

I really appreciate and respect the journalists who are trying to explain to their audiences why location tracking isn’t a panacea to Covid–19. But holy hell is it ever tiring to schedule multiple interviews a day to walk each of them—and their audiences—through the efficacy and human rights issues linked with such surveillance.

Mobile device tracking only starts being a real possibility when absolutely massive testing is possible, especially when up to 50% of asymptotic persons can spread the disease without knowing they are infected. And even then there are strong indications—such as from Korea—that a multifaceted approach is required that needs to be pre-planned and -coordinated before an outbreak.

Diverting telecommunications engineers, now, from better securing networks or bringing networking capacity online towards developing surveillance systems of limited effectiveness is about the worst idea that could be promoted right now. Unless, as a society, we really want to develop superior surveillance systems that will certainly be repurposed by law enforcement and security agencies, that is.

The Roundup for March 1-31, 2020 Edition

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(Curves by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


We are living in the midst of particularly chaotic times. I won’t bore you with my thoughts on them—you have lots of your own, and there are millions of others you can avail yourself to—but, instead, offer a few questions that Neil Postman reflected on in his lecture, “The Surrender of Culture to Technology”:

  1. What is the problem to which technology claims to be a solution?
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. What new problems will be created because of solving an old one?
  4. Which people and institutions will be most harmed?
  5. What changes in language are being promoted?
  6. What shifts in economic and political power are likely to result?
  7. What alternative media might be made from a technology?

It strikes me that, as a society and species, we may need to ask these questions frequently to better appreciate the implications of using different classes of technologies to mediate the spread and consequences of the disease current ravaging the world.


Inspiring Quotation

“The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”
— Carl Sagan

Great Photography Shots

I was really struck by the modernist architecture that Bogdhan Anghel has captured in Budapest. I can say I’ve ever thought much of visiting that city, but now I’m starting to reconsider that position.
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Music I’m Digging

I’ve been home for a lot of this month, which has meant I’ve had lots of time to listen to music on my home-speakers which, honestly, has been pretty terrific. There’ve also been a ton of great albums that have come out, many of which contributed tracks to my favourite tracks of March 2020 list.

  • Bones UK—Bones-UK // The mix between the guitar riffs and vocals are absolutely delightful; this almost has a Garbage vibe at points, which almost immediately endears the band and album to me!
  • Dirty Projectors—Windows Open (EP) // As a longtime lover of all things Dirty Projectors, this short EP is everything I’ve come to expect from the band. Lovely music to relax to in these routinely anxious times.
  • Run The Jewels—Ooh LA LA (Single) // Classic RTJ sound, with the sounds of DJ Premier mixed throughout. This track bridges some of my favourite hip hop groups, and while it’s a little slower/relaxed than my favourite RTJ tracks, it’s a solid contribution to their ongoing corpus of work.
  • Jay Electronica—A Written Testimony // I hadn’t previously come across Jay Electronica but having now come across this album I’ve subsequently listened to everything I could find that he’s done. The mixing of his work alongside the sampling from Jay-Z is just terrific.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary-North Korea’s celebrity defectors // I had no idea that there was a subset of Korean society that put North Korean defectors on near-daily TV, where the defectors will talk about the hardships of living in North Korea. Of note, the exploitative nature of the episodes stood out, as did the like fabrication of many of the stories so that the persons presenting stories retain their jobs.
  • The Axe Files-Gerald Butts // Gerald Butts is the former chief advisor and strategist to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Axe does a great job unpacking some of the things that Butts has been involved in; beyond the usual discussion of his past, the discussion also outlines some of Butts’ assessment of the Trump era and its impacts on Canada/US relations.
  • 99% Invisible-This is Chance! (Redux) // This rebroadcast episode is a story about an earthquake that struck Anchorage in 1964. The earthquake was terrible, but what’s genuinely heartwarming is how the community came together. What perhaps struck me the most was how valuable journalists were in this period, and how they (like with first responders) run towards danger as opposed to race away from it.
  • Lawfare-How Do You Spy When The World Is Shut Down // The CIA is in a challenging situation given the country lockdowns occurring in the face of COVID–19: how can CIA officers engage with, or recruit, spies in an era where they can’t physically meet with people? On the whole the discussion was insightful, though the failure to recognize that the CIA’s Internet-based communications and modes of recruitment are unreliable in light of the agency’s loss of its China-based spies was a notable gap in the conversation.

Good Reads

  • How computational power—or its absence—shaped World War naval battles // In this special piece published by Ars Technica, Huang outlines the importance of naval plotting and how it transformed both fleet deployments and conflicts, as well as its roles in major battles in the 20th century. It’s notable because it both showcases the increasing value of intelligence collection to mobilize forces and resources around the world, and for appreciating the difference between tactical versus strategic situational awareness.
  • Why Birds Are the World’s Best Engineers // I loved this long, and in-depth, assessment of the novel characteristics of birds nests and how challenging it is for scientists to even determine how they develop their strength and integrity, let alone replicate such characteristics. Once more, we see that animals that surround us are ingenious in ways that was struggle to fully appreciate, let alone mimic.
  • Forget that tired-old coffee ring effect: “Whiskey webs” are the new hotness // Really cool research reveals that there are different chemical properties between American and non-American whiskeys, to the effect that the former manifest ‘webs’ that are unique to specific brands whereas the latter only do so when fatty composites are also added to proofed-down whiskey. While the authors talk about how this technique could be used too sniff out counterfeit whiskey, my mind went to something a bit different: in theory, it might be possible to determine if, say, a Japanese whiskey was just something that was rebadged Canadian whiskey or scotch.
  • Pablo Escobar’s Hippos Fill a Hole Left Since Ice Age Extinctions // I find it moderately amusing just how much attention Escobar’s hippos attract, but this this article was a novel way to consider how introducing large herbivores can restore ecological links that have been broken for thousands of years. While the authors of the underlying study are not calling for deliberate introductions–and recognize that humans may be less willing to introduce top predators into their environments, as well–the research showcases the prospective positive effects of animals taking root in environments far from home.
  • A 7-Eleven in Japan Might Close for a Day. Yes, That’s a Big Deal. // It’s stunning that attempting to take a single day off causes such consternation for a major franchise, and speaks to the failure of corporate executives to recognize that their franchises are owned and operated by humans and not robots. One set of facts that I thought was fascinating from the article was that, “[t]he government considers convenience stores part of the country’s infrastructure, like highways and sewers. They are expected to help promote regional tourism and to help with local policing by offering a safe place for people to flee to. Its stores can be called on to help distribute aid and supplies during a natural disaster.” It’s so foreign to me that convenience stores would be so important to society given how they operate in North America, and speaks to how subtle cultural differences can be between different countries with similar businesses.

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 1-29, 2020 Edition

(Handy by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


This roundup is late, due to contemporary events in the news. So while late, each of the collated items are from the period before COVID-19 truly began shutting down North America; hopefully they’ll help you pass the time that you may be spending in quarantine or self-isolation.


Inspiring Quotation

“Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you, as deeply as they’ve met themselves. This is the heart of clarity.”
— Matt Kahn

Music I’m Digging

My February 2020 ‘best of’ playlist features a lot of La Roux’s tracks, plus an (un)healthy number of tracks from Allie X and Phantogram. I also spent a lot of time going back into my library and listening to older stuff, so you’ll get a nice mix of rock, alternative, and some R&B.

  • La Roux-Supervision // A new year and a new album! The instrumentals, alone, are pretty great throughout the album with a downbeat 1970s-like sound, combined with Elly’s approachable lyrics. This is definitely not the high-voltage performance that we had in her breakout album that came out a little over a decade ago(!) but showcases that the DNA of her music can stay the same while shifting in its tonal balance.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Agenda-DIY Pensions: A Good Idea? // As a millenial who harbours a borderline terror of being unable to afford rent when I retire, I was curious about this episode of the Agenda: would it provide useful information about pensions, or significantly entail ‘professionals’ failing to appreciate and understand their confusing products, and assert that the existing systems were significantly the way forward? I got the latter. While the guests did acknowledge the need to develop better cultures of saving and education they fundamentally didn’t engage with the issues that affect me and the people that I know; we have more debt than any other generation due to our educations, pay higher rents than the past generation, and as such are significantly delayed in our ability to contribute to pensions. Combined with a bunch of scaremongering around ETFs and it comes across as more of the same: a bunch of professionals professing the value of the current system which isn’t working, while ignoring the conditions facing people in their late 20s to mid 30s.
  • The Current-Global Secondhand Economy // I always knew that there was a whole economy around secondhand goods, but didn’t really appreciate how extensive it is, nor how central Canadians purchases are to fuelling the summer-side of the economy, in particular.
  • The Economist-Thomas Piketty // *This was a great, and very combative, interview between the Economist and Piketty. He argued his basic thesis—that capital accumulation is the root of inequality and risks serious social harms—while fending off his interlocutors who asserted his positions lacked sufficient persuasive capabilities. Highly recommended.

Good Reads

  • Berlin Freezes Rents for 5 Years in a Bid to Slow Gentrification // The idea advanced by some stakeholders–that increasing rents will somehow only rise to the level that is equitable–is absurd, if not entirely asinine. Housing needs to be affordable in order to have vibrant, liveable cities; homes cannot be regarded as investments, but as places to live.
  • The Money Behind Trump’s Money // While Enrich’s article is, largely, a recitation of past articles detailing the fraught relationship between Deutsche Bank and Trump it’s a very cohesive recitation. Whereas past news articles have slowly added to the trickle of information that is known about the current President’s financial history, this article comprehensively stitches together everything that is known. Throughout, the bank is shown to have had a disregard for law, ethics, and propriety: this continues, to date, and led the International Monetary Fund to brand Deutsche Bank “the most important net contributor to systemic risks” in the global banking system as of a few years ago.
  • Interview with Mohamad Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods // Fakih is a star in Toronto: an immigrant businessperson who has grown a massive business while extensively giving back to the community. What is most revealing in this interview is how he engages with, and treats, his staff: they are the stars, and he actively works to get to know them and enable them. It’s a ‘traditional’ style of management that is underappreciated in an era where Silicon Valley-style managerial approaches tend to dominate the headlines, and refreshing to hear this older approach being championed and leading to positive results.
  • Wacom drawing tablets track the name of every application that you open // A solid bit of sleuthing by Heaton revealed that Wacom’s mouse drivers come bundled with Google Analytics, and that they are monitoring each and every application that is being opened. The most nefarious thing ever? Nope. But sketchy nonetheless? Hells yes.
  • Apple, Just Bundle News+ Already // I keep reading from the Apple Commentariat that Apple News is a failing service that is, depending on the commentator, too expensive, too poorly designed, too much, or (weirdly) too good a deal. A lot of the issues seem to boil down to this: it’s not super intuitive to find what you want and, even if you do, there is so much content offered that you develop stress hives because you’re never done. Plus, Apple offers so many services, now, that bundling them would be a better option for consumer. It’s only the last one that resonates with me, but only if bundles were to be made in an additive way—where the more you bundle the more you save—as opposed to having to pay for stuff I don’t want (I’m looking at you, Apple Arcade). I feel like, in Canada, the use case is that there are so many paywalls that it’s a pain to know what’s happening in this country at the time something breaks and the Apple News subscription means I can catch up on what matters. I’ll never read everything and that’s fine: I, like most people, made my peace with that a long time ago.
  • Bumble Bees Are Going Extinct in Time of Climate Chaos – “We Have Now Entered the World’s Sixth Mass Extinction Event” // The world is dying around us, and we are the cause of those deaths but are seemingly unable to affect sufficiently meaningful changes to save the world and, by extension, ourselves. And even if we manage to take actions that keep just enough of the world alive, and ensure that a mass of humans survive the next extinction, what will the survivors be able to say to the next generation to justify the dramatically less vibrant world we pass on to them?
  • Why Wealthsimple and robo-advisers aren’t scaring Bay Street anymore // *As a new robo-investor, this piece in the Globe and Mail caused me to reflect a bit about the underlying premises of the article. It begins with a bold—probably foolish—assertion that robo-investment companies would have trillions under investment in record time and that, absent achieving that lofty promise, it was challenging for the companies to turn a profit. Moreover, the target group—millennials—have $30,000 or less invested, on average. And thus the companies are at risk of collapse. Those facts may be true but, at the same time, I suspect that for most millennials who are at the crux of finishing paying off student loans and now struggling to decide whether, and if so how, to save for a home, or to start investing in retirement. In other words, everything is delayed by 10-15 years; as such, I expect these advisors to truly going to start paying off as an increasing number of millennials are in situations to invest in their long term futures, and I bet that’s still just a few years off. *
  • How to Be Healthy, in Just 48 Words // This is just pure and simple and obvious advice.
  • How My Worst Date Ever Became My Best // I loved how this Modern Love story unfolded, and the wry humour that comes through towards the end of the piece.
  • I’m Single and I’m Fine With It // There is so much in this personal essay that resonated with me, including being happy that a relationship has ended, and how that has taught me that it is appropriate and ok to end others that don’t live up to what I desire. And it speaks to things I still don’t really understand—‘casual’ relationships—and what they can mean as well. As someone who routinely wonders if the best relationship I could have had is behind me, columns like this help me revisit whether this is the case and, if so, whether that’s really as bad as imagined.
  • The Curious Case of the U.S. Government’s Influence on 20th-Century Design // This deep dive assessment of how the Office of Strategic Studies—the precursor to the CIA—developed contemporary techniques of information delivery and presentation is impressive, and showcases how much of contemporary design is based in conflict studies.

Cool Things

  • Mars Iwai / Mars Iwai Tradition // I really appreciated this review of the Mars Distillery products; it’s transparent in its evaluation and is honest in its assessment that some Japanese whiskey is just sorta ‘meh’. As someone who’s hosted a Japanese tasting I have to admit that an awful lot of what’s available in Canada is expensive without being particularly exciting, and this just reaffirms my experiences and doubts over the current state of sub-$100 Japanese whiskey.
  • Work/Play III Hardcover Notebook // I want, want, want, want these notebooks. I see them in my near future, given that I’m almost through my current sets.
  • Vertical Landscape Art Print by Eiko Ojala // This has to be some of the coolest three-dimensional art I’ve seen recently. Would love to have this for my walls!