Link

VPN and Security Friction

Troy Hunt spent some time over the weekend writing on the relative insecurity of the Internet and how VPNs reduce threats without obviating those threats entirely. The kicker is:

To be clear, using a VPN doesn’t magically solve all these issues, it mitigates them. For example, if a site lacks sufficient HTTPS then there’s still the network segment between the VPN exit node and the site in question to contend with. It’s arguably the least risky segment of the network, but it’s still there. The effectiveness of black-holing DNS queries to known bad domains depends on the domain first being known to be bad. CyberSec is still going to do a much better job of that than your ISP, but it won’t be perfect. And privacy wise, a VPN doesn’t remove DNS or the ability to inspect SNI traffic, it simply removes that ability from your ISP and grants it to NordVPN instead. But then again, I’ve always said I’d much rather trust a reputable VPN to keep my traffic secure, private and not logged, especially one that’s been independently audited to that effect.

Something that security professionals are still not great at communicating—because we’re not asked to and because it’s harder for regular users to use the information—is that security is about adding friction that prevents adversaries from successfully exploiting whomever or whatever they’re targeting. Any such friction, however, can be overcome in the face of a sufficiently well-resourced attacker. But when you read most articles that talk about any given threat mitigation tool what is apparent is that the problems that are faced are systemic; while individuals can undertake some efforts to increase friction the crux of the problem is that individuals are operating in an almost inherently insecure environment.

Security is a community good and, as such, individuals can only do so much to protect themselves. But what’s more is that their individual efforts functionally represent a failing of the security community, and reveals the need for group efforts to reduce the threats faced by individuals everyday when they use the Internet or Internet-connected systems. Sure, some VPNs are a good thing to help individuals but, ideally, these are technologies to be discarded in some distant future after groups of actors successfully have worked to mitigate the threats that lurk all around us. Until then, though, adopting a trusted VPN can be a very good idea if you can afford the costs linked to them.

Link

WatchOS’s Basic Failure

Elizabeth Lopatto, in January 2018 for The Verge, writes:

The Move goal is adjustable — I can lower it at any time — but there’s no way to program the Watch to consistently honor my rest days. I just have to manually lower the goal for that day, and then raise it for the next one. Unfortunately, this requires too much of my attention. I have actual things to do that are more important than manually telling my fitness app to let me rest, so mostly I forget to do it until it’s too late. Even when I remember, I wind up with a different problem: I forget to reset the Watch to a higher Move goal the next day. I spent one week being psyched that I hit my goal only to discover that I had only hit the lowered goal.

It’s two years later, and several versions of WatchOS have come and gone, with another is forthcoming. And yet Apple hasn’t fixed this very common and very basic problem with their wearable line of products.

Apple has repeatedly stated that it recognizes that the Apple Watch is a super popular device for fitness tracking, and I can attest that it’s about the best wearable that’s currently on the market. But when the world’s richest company can’t even get the basics of their product right it raises questions about what it’s really focusing on, and why; pushing people to exercise each day, and forego rest days, is harmful to health and fitness alike. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the current Watch betas fix this problem, though maybe Apple will surprise people with some extra promise when they reveal their new devices in the coming days.

Link

Election Nightmare Scenarios

The New York Times has a selection of experts’ ‘nightmare scenarios’ for the forthcoming USA election. You can pick and choose which gives you colder sweats—I tend to worry about domestic disinformation, a Bush v. Gore situation, or uncounted votes—but, really, few of these nightmares strike to the heart of the worst of the worst.

American institutions have suffered significantly under Trump and, moreover, public polarization and the movement of parts of the USA electorate (and, to different extents, global electorates) into alternate reality bubbles mean that the supports which are meant to facilitate peaceful transitions of power such that the loser can believe in the outcomes of elections are badly wounded. Democracies don’t die in darkness, per se, but through neglect and an unwillingness of the electorate to engage because change tends to be hard, slow, and incremental. There are solutions to democratic decline, and focusing on the next electoral cycles matters, but we can’t focus on elections to the detriment of understanding how to rejuvenate democratic systems of governance more generally.

Link

The State of News

Tom Ley, over at Defector, wrote:

Everything’s fucked now. Newspapers have been destroyed by raiding private equity firms, alt-weeklies and blogs are financially unsustainable relics, and Google and Facebook have spent the last decade or so hollowing out the digital ad market. What survives among all this wreckage are websites and publications that are mostly bad. There’s plenty to read, the trouble is that so much of it is undergirded by a growing disregard (and in some cases even disdain) for the people doing the actual reading.

What readers are being served when a sports blog leverages its technological innovations in order to create a legion of untrained and unpaid writers? Who benefits when a media company cripples its own user experience and launches a campaign to drive away some of its best writers and editors? Whose interests are being served when a magazine masthead is gutted and replaced by a loose collection of amateurish contractors? Who ultimately wins when publications start acting less like purpose-driven institutions and more like profit drivers, primarily tasked with achieving exponential scale at any cost? What material good is produced when private equity goons go on cashing their checks while simultaneously slashing payroll throughout their newsrooms? Things have gotten so bad that even publications that get away with defining themselves as anti-establishment are in fact servile to authority in all forms, and exist for the sole purpose of turning their readers into a captive source of profit extraction.

The truth is that nobody who matters—the readers—ever asked for any of this shit. Every bad decision that has diminished media—every pivot to video, every injection of venture capital funds, every round of layoffs, every outright destruction of a publication—was only deemed necessary by the constraints of capitalism and dull minds. This is an industry being run by people who, having been betrayed by the promise of exponential scale and IPOs, now see cheapening and eventually destroying their own products as the only way to escape with whatever money there is left to grab.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most direct and forceful assessments of how the news media has become what it is, today. Rather than having reporters and editors working to produce high-quality products which are designed to serve the interests of their readers they are, increasingly, forced to capitulate to managerial actions that are designed to temporarily gin up sales numbers at the expense of the very readers who should be being served. It’s no wonder that the state of political discourse, and public discourse write large, has become so degraded when that degradation is actually chased after if it means a few more ads or advertorials can be placed for a short-term increase in numbers.

Link

Safe Streets and Systemic Racism

Sabat Ismail, writing at Spacing Toronto, interrogates who safe streets are meant to be safe for. North American calls for adopting Nordic models of urban cityscapes are often focused on redesigning streets for cycling whilst ignoring that Nordic safety models are borne out of broader conceptions of social equity. Given the broader (white) recognition of the violent threat that police can represent to Black Canadians, cycling organizations which are principally advocating for safe streets must carefully think through how to make them safe, and appreciate why calls for greater law enforcement to protect non-automobile users may run counter to an equitable sense of safety. To this point, Ismail writes:

I recognize the ways that the safety of marginalized communities and particularly Black and Indigenous people is disregarded at every turn and that, in turn, we are often provided policing and enforcement as the only option to keep us safe. The options for “safety” presented provide a false choice – because we do not have the power to determine safety or to be imagined within its folds.

Redesigning streets without considering how the design of urban environments are rife with broader sets of values runs the very real risk of further systematizing racism while espousing values of freedom and equality. The values undergirding the concept of safe streets must be assessed by a diverse set of residents to understand what might equitably provide safety for all people; doing anything less will likely re-embed existing systems of power in urban design and law, to the ongoing detriment and harm of non-white inhabitants of North American cities.

The Roundup for June 1-30, 2020 Edition

(Urban King 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 put together, and self-published, another photobook that is entitled “Pandemic Chronicles: Book I”. Each week that my city has been in (functional) lockdown, I’ve gone out once or twice and made images while just stretching my legs outside.

Over the past four months it’s often been hard to figure out how, exactly, I’ve been processing the life changes that have been imposed as a result of the pandemic. My life has, in many respects, reverted to that of my life during my PhD. So, lots of time inside and rarely leaving leaving my home, and having considerably less social contact than normal.

I think that it’s through my photos that I can best appreciate how I’ve felt, in retrospect, and understand how those images reflect how I see the world. The book that I made isn’t particularly dark: it’s just…lonely. It showcases the city that I live in, without the people that make it the city that I love. It shows people living their lives, often alone or separate from others, or while engaging in ‘safe’ behaviours. And, towards the end, it shows the light returning to Toronto, though in a format that differs from prior summers.

Photography has, and remains, a way for me to engage a creative part of my brain that otherwise would lie fallow. And, also, it’s operated as a meditative process that uncovers how I have been in the world, and how the world has been presented to me. As someone who has struggled with the idea of a ‘narrative’ in image making, I think that this book is a breakthrough because it ‘says’ something in aggregate that is more than just a presentation of visually pleasant images: it speaks to where I live, and how it has endured in the wake of the city’s closure. Is it the height of art? No. But it’s the closest I’ve come in this medium so far!


Inspiring Quotation

“Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something.

Austin Kleon

Great Photography Shots

(Photos included in ‘Pandemic Chronicles: Book I’ by Christopher Parsons)

Music I’m Digging

This month has been packed with a lot of listening, with some alternative and R&B pretty tightly mixed in with hip hop. The best of what I listened to in June includes tracks from Yung Tory’s Rastar (including Mizu, Water Pt 2, and Netflix & Chill), Kali Uchis’s TO FEEL ALIVE (EP), HONNE’s no song without you (Single), and 6LACK’s 6pc Hot(EP).

Neat Podcast Episodes

I’ve been listening to a pair of new podcast shows over the past month that I’d recommend. From the CBC, there’s This Is Not A Drake Podcast, which uses Drake as a way to talk more about the history of rap and hip hop. So far I’ve really appreciated the episode on mixtapes, as well as the connotations of Nice Guy rappers.

Very differently, I’ve also been listening to the Globe and Mail’s series, Stress Test, which is about money issues facing millennials in the time of Covid. The episodes haven’t been staggering brilliant (a lot of the advice is pretty time tested) but the caution and suggestions are all helpful reminders.

Good Reads

  • Reflections from an “Accidental” Mentor // Prof. McNamara’s discussion of what it means to be a mentor— first and foremost modelling who we are, as individuals, rather than fitting within a particular narrow category of who we are normatively expected to be—is good advice, and important if we are to expand what is ‘normal’ within academia. She also focuses on celebrating the commonality across scholars; we’re all nerds, at heart, and so should focus on those attributes to create community. I agree, but for myself it’s more than that: it’s also about ensuring that the structures of professional environments are re-articulated to enable more junior persons to experience their jobs and professions in ways that weren’t possible, previously. It’s not just about focusing on commonality but, also, assessing baseline principles and values and ensuring that they conform in theory and practice with welcoming, creative, equitable, and inclusive environments. And, finally, it’s about accepting and making clear that as mentors we are fallible and human, and creating workspaces where others can also betray these inherently human (and humanizing) characteristics.
  • Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In // Jon Stewart’s comments throughout this interview are worth the read; his assessment of the problems of contemporary political media—centred around the ‘need’ for content to fuel a 24/7 media environment—as well as for the media to engage in structural assessment of practices, are on point. Similarly, his discussion of the nature of racism in American society (but, also, Canada) strikes to the heart of things: even if someone isn’t deliberately malicious in deed or thought, they are conditioned by the structures of society and power in which they live their lives. And those very structures are, themselves, racist in their origin and contemporary design.
  • Hacking Security // Goerzen and Coleman do a terrific job in unpacking the history of what is secured by computer security experts, and why certain things are within or outside of bounds for securing. Critically, while experts may be involved in protecting ‘assets’ or combatting ‘abuse’, where threats to assets or abuse arise from the underlying profit mechanisms associated with large technology companies, those mechanisms are seen as outside of bounds for security teams to engage with. Similarly, the failure of security teams to consider, or address, ‘political’ issues such as abusive speech, harmful video content, or propagation of racist or white supremacist content all showcase the need to critically interrogate what is, and isn’t, made secure, and to expand security teams by adding social scientists and humanities scholars: technology is political, and we need security teams to have members who are trained and competent to consider those politics.
  • Once Safer Than Gold, Canadian Real Estate Braces for Reckoning // Canadians have been doubling down on their debt-loads for over a decade to the point, today, that on average Canadians owe north of $1.76 per $1.00 of income, with that number rising in the country’s largest cities. Housing is particularly vulnerable and, if it is destabilized, can be devastating to the Canadian economy more broadly given that it accounts for around %15 of GDP; slowdowns in housing will delay the revival of the Canadian economy, while simultaneously threatening the ability of Canadians to stay in their homes—now—or retain their savings to invest for their retirements—in the future. If anything good comes of this, maybe it will be a reminder that allocating the majority of your savings into a single asset is, indeed, not a good long-term investment solution which could have knock on effects if investors decide they want to move to their next bubble, and let the housing bubble deflate as gracefully as possible.
  • Sure, The Velociraptors Are Still On The Loose, But That’s No Reason Not To Reopen Jurassic Park // McSweeney’s, once more, showcases the merits of satire in the vein of Swift’s A Modest Proposal, this time in the era of government failures in the face of pandemic.
  • You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument // “I have rape-coloured skin.” Not only is this perhaps the most poignant lede I’ve come across in an opinion piece in years, it also sets the stakes for the Williams’ article; the very skin of many Americans (and Canadians) is a testament to violent and racist actions taken against women who were forced from their homes to live as slaves. That testament continues, today, and not just in the monuments that were established in the Jim Crow era to deliberately attempt to continue subjugating Black persons, but in the very skin inhabited by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of enslaved people.
  • Vladimir Putin’s war of fog: How the Russian President used deceit, propaganda and violence to reshape global politics // I take issue with some of MacKinnon’s choice of language in the first ¼ of the article—he suggests that truth is substantively confused and that Putin’s tactics are more successful that I think are appropriate to concede—but beyond that he’s done a masterful job in creating an overview of who Putin is, what he’s done, and how he’s come to (and held onto) power. If you’re a long-time Russia watcher you may dispute where MacKinnon puts some of his emphasis, or in his assessment of some events, but I don’t think that you can deny that this is a helpful article that provide the broad contours of Putin’s life and career. And, after having read it, it will hopefully inspire people to learning more of the financial, military, or other scandals that have happened throughout Putin’s leadership of Russia.

Cool Things

  • iPad OS + Magic Trackpad 2 // Lots of people already have figured this out but…the new version of iPad OS + a Magic Trackpad 2 and a keyboard is a really, really compelling combination. I’ve using this as my writing and work system for a little while and it continues to prove to me how robust the iPad actually is, and how many of the pain points have been, or are being, ground away with each version of the operating system. That said, some of the gestures are very, very opaque—in particular those associated with the slide over window—and so you may want to review how, exactly, those gestures really work to get the most out of the process (and not get frustrated when certain windows just won’t go away!)

The Roundup for May 1-31, 2020 Edition

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 several weeks I’ve been sorting through all of the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken during the current state of pandemic we’re all living within. My photography is often a reflection—often unbeknownst to myself—of my thoughts and attitudes. The earliest weeks of the pandemic saw me making images of the city as though it were empty, grey, or isolated. And while those moods still pervade through later photos, there are increasingly also bursts of colour and joy, though still mixed with an emptiness to the city that calls into question what things will be like in six, twelve, or twenty-four month’s time. Many of the shots I’m taking, now, still feel almost documentary in nature, but at what point does the documentation end, and it simply becomes contemporary street photography?


Inspiring Quotation

More simply, real change only happens when the thing that white supremacists fear becomes true: that the mainstream increasingly becomes rather than simply appropriates the “ethnic.”
-Navneet Alang

Personal Photography Shots

I’ve been going out, once a week or so, to get a walk and make photos while walking around my city. Unlike past months, I’ve contributed a set of these rather than other artists’ images.

Music I’m Digging

  • Neisha Neshae-Never Know (Single) // I remain entranced by Neisha’s voice, though have to admit that this lacks the potency of her EP, Queenin’.
  • ZHU & Tinashe-Only (Single) // Beats by ZHU and vocals by him and Tinashe make for a very danceable track. I’m really hoping that they do more work together or, failing that, that we at least get more work from ZHU for the summer.
  • Yiruma-Room With A View (EP) // Without a doubt, Yiruma has created some of the most beautiful classical piano work that I’ve heard this year.
  • Kenlani-It Was Good Until It Wasn’t // The tracks “Can I” and “Everybody Business” are, for me, the real standouts on this album. I admit that I was hopeful that “Grieving”, with James Blake would be really awesome, but their styles just didn’t quite seem to come together. Her work with Tory Lanez, as well as Jhené Aiko, are far more balanced given how their styles compliment Kehlani’s own.

Good Reads

  • Barton Gellman—Dark Mirror // Gellman was one of three reporters who were directly entrusted with the Snowden archives, and spent years reporting out of the documents. His assessment of what it was like to report on what he learned, the nature of the surveillance apparatus, working with Ed Snowden, and his broader thoughts on the relationship between public government and national security are erudite and fantastically interesting. I’ve just devoured this book and cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • How Should Biden Handle China? // This piece is less useful, to be honest, in thinking through what policy the United States or its allies should adopt than is assessing engagement strategies that aren’t working. Setting aside the irregularities and chaos associated with the Trump administration’s approach, the assessment of how European efforts have been equally unhelpful are informative for guiding policy makers on what hasn’t worked even when policy activities have been carried out by governments with comparatively competent foreign policy bodies. While an understanding of what doesn’t work isn’t inherently useful in knowing what does work, it at least provides a set of strategies that seem to be unproductive to take up in a new administration.
  • 1989-1996 Canadian Housing Collapse Looks Eerily Similar to Today // Economists around the world have been warning of a Canadian housing bubble for a very long time. But Canadians have ignored the warning and dove into the market on the dual fear that they would otherwise never be able to buy a home, and the notion that renting amounts to throwing money away. The result has been a lot of Canadians owning homes they can’t afford. As the bubble pops, we’re going to see just how much economic havoc is going to follow from these decisions for the housing market as well as the economy more broadly (housing, in Canada, constitutes one of the largest sectors in the economy).
  • The Jungle Prince of Delhi // I’ve had this article open to read for months and months, but kept not getting to it. That’s a shame, as it is (and remains) a terrific story filled with past dynasties, the histories of British colonialism, the hard task of journalism, and the capability of truth to be creatively imagined into being. I can’t recommend this detective piece highly enough.

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.

The Roundup for March 1-31, 2020 Edition

Title
(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!