Aside

2019.8.13

McSweeny’s list, “Critically Acclaimed Horror Film Of The 2010s Or Your Ph.D Program?” strikes eerily close to home.

Number 2, in particular, seems familiar: “You find yourself in an opulent but sinister setting that possesses subtle but undeniable links to antebellum slavery. Everyone who has been there longer than you seems to have completely lost the will to live. You are warned by at least one of them to get out. You try to comply but powerful forces keep pulling you back.”

The Roundup for July 14-31, 2019 Edition

(Confused Exposure 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.


I’m in the process of determining what new camera I want to buy, principally to replace my aging Sony rx100ii. That camera was bought in used condition, and has been to four continents and taken approximately 20K shots. It’s been dropped, frozen, and overheated. And even gotten a little damp from salt air! It owes me little and still produces solid (black and white) images: it seems that in my abuse I did something to the sensor, which means colour images sometimes just turn out absolutely wacky.

So what do I want versus what do I need? I know from my stats that I prefer shooting between 50mm-100mm equivalent. I know that I want a fast lens for the night.1 I don’t take action shots so I don’t need the newer Sony cameras’ tracking magic. I don’t want anything bigger than the Sony—it’s size is a killer feature because I can always carry it around—but definitely want a pop up viewfinder and a 90 degree tilt screen. I don’t want another interchangeable system: my Olympus kit has me covered on that front.

What do I want? I’d love to have easy access to an exposure dial. An internal ND filter would be super great. Some in-body image stabilization would also be stellar, and if I could squeeze in the ability to charge from a USB battery pack while keeping prices under $1,000 that would be perfect. Oh, and something better than Sony’s pretty terrible menu interface!

What don’t I need? Any more than 20MP, actual waterproofing2, a big body or permanent viewfinder, an APS-C sensor, audio-in features, dual SD card slots, or crazy fast tracking.

This currently means I’m very interested in some of the older Sony rx100 cameras—namely the iii and iv—and maybe the new Canon G5Xii. I know my actually photographic outputs are, in order, Instagram, my TV, photos on my wall (no larger than 24×36”), and then photo books. I know a 1” sensor is more than enough for all of those uses. Now I just need to see how the Canon’s reviews shake out, the cost of them, and then evaluate the differential between Canon’s and Sony’s cameras!


Inspiring Quotation

Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.

  • Marc Riboud

Great Photography Shots

I have a set of abstract photos that I’ve taken over the years and, to date, while I appreciate them they aren’t ones that I’ve decided to print or routinely display. Still, several of the below abstracts (taken on smartphones) are inspiring just to look at and think about the process of developing the respective compositions.

(‘Last ices of the winter‘ by @paulenovemb)
(‘Untitled‘ by @lisalam628)
(‘Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier‘ by @bazillus)
(‘Untitled‘ by @reneetakespics)

Music I’m Digging

  • Goldlink – Diaspora // Goldlink’s album is a terrific summer album: lots of pop notes with a taste of Caribbean beats and good mix between somewhat gravelly male and ethereal female voices. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to while writing or reading, working out, or just doing chores around home.
  • Machine Gun Kelly – Hotel Diablo // I’m still trying to really get a handle on what I think of this album, but I’ve definitely listened to it a lot over the past week or two. I think I’m appreciating it principally for its nostalgic value: it has a lots of beats and sounds from late-90s/early-00s nu-metal and rap. So I don’t think that it’s ‘quality’ per se, but definitely speaks to my younger self.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare – Jack Goldsmith Talks to Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter // To begin: I’m never a huge fan of a Secretary of Defense who is a strong advocate for war, and Ash Carter is definitely that class of Secretary. However, he provides a superb view of the entirety of the Defense Department and what goes into running it, as well as the baseline challenges of both engaging in offensive cyber operations as well as the role(s) of legal counsel in developing military operations. If you want an insiders view of the different layers of the Pentagon, and how the institution has developed over the past few decades, then this is a great episode to listen to.
  • Frontburner – What did Canadian peacekeepers accomplish in Mali? // Richard Poplak has a non-nonsense, direct, discussion with Michelle Shephard of just how little value Canada derived from its half-billion dollar peacekeeping commitment to Mali. At least part of that failure is linked to how Canada’s foreign policy had to be entirely recalculated to deal with Donald Trump when he was elected President but certainly everything cannot be laid at Trump’s feet.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Meat and Potatoes // I have to admit, I never really thought about how important potatoes were to the Europeans in establishing a reliable source of caloric intake, nor how you could connect the potato with contemporary efforts to find new foods to both feed the contemporary world and save the environment at the same time. If you want to think a bit more about the source of your food, today, and what it might mean for your food, tomorrow, then this is a solid episode to sink your…ears?…into.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Infinite Scroll // Proving once more that everything new is really just the old reborn, Slate examines how Renaissance scholars were entirely overwhelmed by information and had pretty well the exact same issues with information, then, as contemporary societies do with the growth of the Internet and rapid spread of information. It’s interesting to hear how scholars and the public fought against things like indices, tables of contents, and reviews of books; similarly, today, we hear people push back against any and all efforts to summarize, synthesize, or distil books, articles, and (even) podcasts. The commonality between the arguments of yore and today are largely identical, which speaks to how important it is to take history into account when evaluating the travails of the contemporary era.
  • Lawfare – Jonna Mendez on ‘The Moscow Rules // Ever been curious about the different tricks that were used by CIA case officers in Moscow during the height of the Cold War? Then this is the episode for you! Mendez, a former CIA officer, recounts the various techniques, technologies, and troubles that the agency developed and overcame in the process of engaging in espionage against the most equally matched adversary in the world on their home turf. Though mentioned somewhat sparingly, there are lessons to be gained from the stories she recounts from her time in the Cold War, including the very real value (at the time, for the USA) of obtaining military technology secrets well in advance of the technologies entering production: with these secrets in hand, as an example, the USA successfully built in countermeasures to Soviet radar systems. Today, you can imagine how the Chinese government’s theft of American and other allies’ military secrets may similarly position that government to develop countermeasures much, much faster than otherwise expected.

Good Reads

  • ‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now // Shatz’ review of Said’s Orientalism and application of its key insights to the geopolitical changes in how the Other is conceived of — as now a threat, not because it is external and to be created through our knowledge of it, but because it is within us and is changing ‘Us’ — presents a stark view on the era of racism, fascism, and ignorance today. Whereas the orientalism that Said focused on was, principally, that linked to elite power-knowledge constructions that served the West’s practices of colonization, today’s is born of a deliberate lack of expertise and knowledge. Whereas the past cast the Other as external and a threat, today the Other is within and consequently domestic politics is the focus of elites’ aggressions. While Shatz is hesitant to assert that the end is nigh, his hopefulness towards the end of the essay is perhaps not as hopeful as he imagines: there are, indeed, efforts to defray, mitigate, and prevent the contemporary situations of hardened and violent orientalism. But despite the power and influence of art it remains unclear to me how effective these cultural acts of resistance genuinely are against a structural practice of aggression, harm, and ignorance.
  • Congress Will Ignore Trump’s Foreign Affairs Budget Request. Others Will Not. // Both chambers of the US legislature are opposed to the significant cuts that the Trump administration has sought in its budget appropriations. However, the signals sent by the administration have meant, internal to the State department, that staff resistant to democracy promotion have enjoyed enhanced status and positions in pushing back against attempts to preach American values abroad and who are, instead, advancing the transactionalist style of politics favoured by the current administration. Simultaneously, autocratic leaders abroad have taken the administration’s stance as a signal that their activities are not going to be denounced, or strongly opposed, and sometimes even supported, by the American government. While all of these signals may change following the next presidential election (though perhaps not!), the denigration of the State department is not something that can be remedied by electing a new president: it will take decades to rebuild trust, restrengthen ties, and hire and train new staff. The long term effects of the Trump administration will be felt throughout the world for a very, very long time regardless of whether he is currently in the White House.
  • Doug Ford’s Legal Aid Guarantee // This quotation from Spratt’s assessment of the Ontario government’s cuts to legal aid speak volumes: “Unrepresented accused are also more likely to be steamrolled in our courts. You see, our justice system is adversarial and only functions if the adversaries – the prosecution and the defense – are equally matched. An impoverished, marginalized, or unsophisticated self-represented litigant stands no chance against the well-funded state. With odds stacked against them, many unrepresented accused are coerced into pleading guilty, even when they are not. Because of Ford, there will be more wrongful convictions.” Worse, given that legal aid is being cut to assist in bail hearing, more accused will simply plea out so that they can go home and work the jobs they have to try and survive; losing the job they have could have catastrophic consequences, as could being unable to get home to care for their young family members. Ford’s cuts won’t save money in the short term and will almost certainly lead to increased court time and costs, and remuneration to those improperly convicted, going decades into the future.
  • The Future of the City Doesn’t Have to be Childless// I fundamentally agree with the premise of the article written by Love and Vey. Cities are very much being designed without families—or, at least, middle and lower class—families in mind. I agree that parks and other amenities are needed, as are spaces to facilitate youth development and lower income housing. But that isn’t enough: housing has become an investment space, where hundreds or thousands of properties are traded in an instant by holding companies, and where developers are building for investors rather than residents. We need to correct the market by pushing market forces out of housing development: rental buildings need to be prioritized for development, and developers of high rise condos obligated to pay significant fees to foster inclusive social properties around their buildings. Doing anything less just picks around the edges of the catastrophes propagated by the market in urban environments.
  • The Future of Photography // I keep thinking about what kinds of cameras I want, and why, and whether I really need them given the technical characteristics of contemporary cameras. I think that this post significantly, though not quite entirely, captures my current thinking when it’s author writes: “Today all modern cameras give you an image quality that is good enough even for the most demanding applications, in fact most of us will never use their full potential. What we usually do is to make a photo book now and then but most of the time the pictures will be displayed on the internet or on our TVs. So the ever increasing resolution makes no sense anymore. If your camera has 24MP you trow away 66% of the pixels in case you display them on a 4K TV in case you use them for the internet it is 90% or more. If you change to a 61MP camera you just trow (sic) away more pixels. … I think the real key is to offer a satisfying shooting experience so that you just want to take out your camera to take some pictures. A nicely handling camera with a good shutter sound and solid lenses with a real aperture ring is all it takes. That’s why I think Fuji has grown so popular.” The only thing I’d add is this: I really, really like flip out screens and the ability to see what I’m shooting in the bright sun through a view finder.
  • Why we fight for crypto // Robert Graham has a good and high-level assessment of why calls by the US government to undermine the security provided by contemporary cryptography are wrongheaded. Worth the read to recall why all the current Attorney General’s calls, if adopted, would endanger individuals and society, and constitute irresponsible policy proposals that are not supported by an evidentiary record of requiring such modifications to cryptography.
  • How to Prevent and Treat Tick Bites and Lyme Disease // Part of a broader, and frankly disturbing, special series on ticks and the dangers they pose, Heid’s short article gives you all the information you need to limit the likelihood of getting bitten by a tick, and what to do should you discover one on you, and how to respond should lyme disease symptoms appear.
  1. Recognizing that a ‘fast’ compact lens isn’t really all that fast when looking at full frame or even APS-C equivalencies.
  2. I’m in love with the idea of shooting in the rain, but not so much the actual getting wet part, so I don’t think I need full waterproofing and most camera can take a bit of light rain here or there in my experience.
Aside

2019.7.15

It’s great that Apple is asserting the importance of privacy. But if they’re really, really serious they’ll stop enabling the Chinese government direct access to Chinese users’ iCloud data. And they’ll secure data on iCloud so that government agencies can’t just request Apple to hand over our WhatsApp, iCloud, Notes, and other data that Apple holds the keys to unlocking and turning over to whomever comes with a warrant. I’m not holding my breath on the former, nor the latter.

The Roundup for July 1-13, 2019 Edition

(Skydancers 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.


For the past few weeks I’ve been running a group of players through the Dungeons and Dragons adventure Princes of the Apocolypse and while, on the one hand, it’s been a lot of fun I’m having to make a lot of adjustments to get the adventure properly started. Specifically, I’m fixing the way that the adventure absolutely fails to really foreshadow things. This lack is a serious problem in my opinion; the players don’t really get exposure to the different weird cults, the power organizations’ members (e.g., Harpers or Zhentarim), or other mysteries in an organic fashion: instead, DMs are tasked with dumping a lot of information on the players in (to my eye) awkward and blunt ways. Making things worse, the major ‘hook’ in the adventure — the travelling troupe from Mirabar — just comes out of nowhere, with the PCs not really appreciating the group’s significance or reasons for why the PCs should really care.1

To address some of these limitations, I started my players in Neverwinter and as a part of an adventuring society, ‘The Order of Three Feathers.’ After meeting with the heads of their society and, also, organically receiving a few early adventuring hooks the PCs went off to the region to investigate bizarre occurrences. On their trip I dropped in the Starsong Tower adventure, with modifications: a hill arose near them during the night, with light being emitted from a crack in the side. Within, they found a lost fortress of Lathander (God of the Rising Dawn) which had been discovered, and converted, by members of the Cult of the Eternal Flame. My modifications mostly just entailed rescinding the adventure, and replacing Savrin (the spectre) with Savrin (a Flame Guardian). All of the cult members were, also, members of the Bronze Lions adventuring party: I intend, later on, to use this enemy adventuring party as a kind of band of hunters, who will seek to disrupt the PCs and other cults. Also, the dead adventurer carrying the wand of mending turned out to be a Harper agent (denoted by a Harp pin on the body) who was working in service of the Culture of the Crushing Wave.

Before the PCs start into the Feathergate Spire adventure, where they’ll run across yet another cult, I’ll be exposing them a little more symbology surrounding the Elder Elemental Eye so they’ll be keyed to watch for, and be mindful of, its symbol in relation to any of the cult symbols. The goal of all the foreshadowing is to organically make the later information the PCs collect be more understandable. As the module is written, at least to my eye, the players are expected to make pretty wild jumps to link all the groups and clues; hopefully the early additions (and frequent little notes and such I plan to add throughout the sessions) will help to reveal the actual plot and transform a principally dungeon-crawl game into something that’s more dramatic and epic from a storytelling perspective.

 


Inspiring Quotation

“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.”

— Keanu Reeves

Great Photography Shots

Paul Johnson’s work, showcased at Colossal, reveals the power of water and its ability to transform lands and spaces humans have terraformed and built upon.

Music I’m Digging

It turns out that I liked a lot more songs in June than I’d expected. The 53 songs bias towards rock, rap, and pop, and are from about a decade and a half or so of different albums. I’d totally forgotten about Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.”!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Agenda – The Problem with Plastics // This robust discussion engages with the benefits brought by plastics—massive reductions in food waste and other efficiencies are often discounted in speaking about the environmental harms linked with plastics—while also striking down some of the optimism about perfectly reusing or recycling plastics. I was shocked to hear that plastics use is only expected to reach an equilibrium by 2050 at the earliest; we’re going to get a lot more of this in our environment before we even consider reducing the actual amounts used on a daily basis.
  • Cyber – How Google Tracks Hackers // Ever wanted to know how Google thinks about, and responds to, the threats facing the company and its customers? This short podcast very nicely explains the rationales behind some of the company’s decisions and, also, how much the different threat intelligence companies privately communicate with one another to better understand the global threat landscapes.
  • Wag the Doug – How To Promote Friends And Alienate People // It’s incredibly frustrating to learn just how corrupt the current Ontario provincial government is behaving, and made that much worse by realizing how incompetent the people receiving the patronage appointments are for their allotted positions.
  • Lawfare – Mike O’Hanlon on the ‘Senkaku Paradox’ // This interview’s one of the eeriest I’ve listened to in a very long while. O’Hanlon provides a detailed rationale for why asymmetric consequences are suitable when or if adversaries seize territory that is strategically insignificant but demands a response due to either NATO or other mutual defense agreements. The thrust of the argument is that the West, and in particular the nuclear-armed Powers, need to find a way of possessing a gradual and significant escalation ladder that reduces risks of unexpected and potentially lethal escalation. If you think about kinetic, cyber, and diplomatic national security tools then this is a podcast that should be on your must-listen list: you’ll probably learn a lot and walk away unsettled about just how confused and confusing the escalation ladders amongst regional and world powers are currently.

Good Reads

  • The Hero Who Betrayed His Country // Weiss’ article on how an Estonian solider—an ethnic Russian who was a firm proponent of post-USSR Estonia—was turned by Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) and subsequently exposed information to Russian handlers over an extensive period of time is instructive of how contemporary efforts to recruit agents isn’t really all that different from the Cold War era. Many of the tactics and efforts that worked fifty years ago still to work, and speak to how human intelligence officers continue to prey off common flaws, weaknesses, and fears latent in a wide spectrum of the population.
  • What Does Putin Really Want? // Commentators often attempt to put the Russian government’s actions over the past few decades into a broader strategic context to grasp the goals of its leaders. Topol argues that Russia’s activities are best understood as a state opportunistically reacting to American withdrawals as opposed to attempts to force its way into the international stage. While there are elements of the argument that are certainly less robust, it does provide a reasonable and pragmatic argument to explain the Russian government’s activities as opposed to flights of fancy based on presumptions of Russian tactical genius.
  • Homeward Bound // Without a doubt, this is one of the more beautiful pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time. It focuses on the process of bringing rescues from the American South and up to New England. Throughout it, the strength and compassion of the protagonist, Heather Hobby, shines through, as does her absolute love for the animals she saves. And if by the end of the article you’re not in love with Tink then something’s probably wrong with you.

Cool Things

  1. Also: how are they supposed to really care about rescuing them when I can’t figure out why the hell they should care?
Aside

2019.7.10

For the past few weeks, my iPhone has been randomly slowing down at different times. Specifically, applications have just stopped responding for 20-45 seconds, and continue to stutter along after recovering somewhat. My suspicion is that the behaviour is linked to either Instagram or the native Podcasts app based on what I’ve read online, but that’s pure supposition. Regardless, I did a total factory refresh of my decide and so far all the stutters are gone. Here’s hoping they stay away in perpetuity…