The Roundup for June 9-15, 2018 Edition

Club Life by Christopher Parsons

I had the pleasure to have so many of my friends and family come to Toronto this week for a work-related event. It was an incredible experience where we all came together to push ahead some of the cooler projects we’re respectively working on, and generally catch up and spend time with one another. It was really an opportunity to deepen our relationships while, at the same time, goofing around and just enjoying one another’s time.

Throughout I was struck by the value, and importance, of just connecting with one another in person. We all often communicate with one another using digitally-mediated tools and technologies. But there is something that is always missing with those technologies: a fundamental element of our humanity cannot be communicated over a text, hangout, or phone call. We can’t read one another’s expressions the same way. We can’t perceive one another’s feelings the same way. Nor can we just hug one another to greet one another or to provide a sense of support to one another.

Our ability to remain ‘connected’ with one another is an incredible element of the contemporary digitally-mediated world. But connection is also something that is far too often regarded as a substitute for physical presence and sharing of time with one another. Digital connections are incredible supplements but surely cannot replace actually being with one another, and I’m deeply appreciative that I had the opportunity to spend time with my favourite people this week, and can’t wait until we pull everyone back together against next year.


On a slight administrative note, I’ve started providing some context around the various links, podcasts, and other materials that I’m trying to roundup on a regular basis. Hopefully it’ll help clarify why those items struck me as worth including in any given week.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

― Fred Rogers

Great Photography Shots

Takashi Nakazawa’s images of Mount Fuji are absolutely breathtaking.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Upgrade – How Should a Man Be?//A good discussion about the nature of Western masculinity, the threats that men experience to their egos in contrast to women, and ways of addressing the emotional intelligence deficient held by most men
  • Planet Money – The T-Rex In My Backyard//Yet another amusing podcast from Planet Money, this time about the economics of dinosaur bones. Left unstated is whether these economic ‘rules’ apply globally or principally to the United States.

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Gallery

A Quiet Sunday Walk

A friend of mine and I travelled into Toronto’s Canary district over the weekend to make some photos. Normally I take photos on solo walks, and it was a nice experience to be in the presence of someone else who was also focused on making images. Some of my highlights are below.

All images were shot using an Olympus E-M10ii and and Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R Lens. They were edited using a combination of Apple Photos and Polar.

Namaste by Christopher Parsons
Primary Stairs by Christopher Parsons
Scrambled by Christopher Parsons
Memory by Christopher Parsons
Overheads by Christopher Parsons
Sands by Christopher Parsons
Melancholy by Christopher Parsons
Land by Christopher Parsons

And one shot from the walk home!

Flee by Christopher Parsons

The Roundup for June 2-8, 2018 Edition

A New Light by Christopher Parsons

It’s one day after the 2018 Ontario provincial election. The winning party ran on a semi-platform that is designed to actively undermine the province’s climate change reforms, dismisses the importance of raising the minimum wage, and is actively hostile to efforts to improve sexual education. In the stead of these values, the party asserted they would reduce the cost of beer, reduce taxes, reduce energy costs, and otherwise work to promote ‘business friendly’ policies. The ways in which these values and objectives would be reached were never explained in a rigorous and methodical way: people voted for values and out of anger at the former governing party.

On days like today, it’s easy for progressives to get upset, angry, and/or depressed. But such emotions are reflections of our own dark and often unproductive states of mind. While a government can significantly affect the policy landscape, damage can be undone and most harms repaired or remediated. Instead of falling into dark states of mind, we are in a time when it is essential to evaluate where we can contribute to our societies and advance the values that we think with enhance our lives, and the lives of those around and affected by us. To promote a more progressive society we might actively promote, support, and elevate the roles of persons of colour, indigenous persons, and women in our communities so that they are better situated to accomplish their personal and professional goals. We might volunteer for causes that are important for progressive politics. We might even actively work to support a political candidate or party that didn’t accomplish the results we wanted.

In effect, it’s during times of change that it makes the most sense to get actively involved in our world, to influence the persons and organizations we’re involved with, and seek to effect change that extends and supports civil rights protections and equality amongst all people. Now is not the time for getting angry, per se, nor the time to lay down and wait for the next four years. No, if anything, today is just like yesterday, and is just like tomorrow should be: it’s a day to actively work towards improving the communities we find ourselves within so as to ensure that all persons enjoy equal rights and are able to thrive in their personal and professional lives.


I absolutely am floored by the reality that Anthony Bourdain killed himself in a hotel room. I’ve watched him from afar for many years, as so many have, and I’ve always appreciated the vigour and honesty that he projected in his public life. His frank discussions about troubled pasts and the difficulties people face everywhere around the world, and how North American and European activities endanger the lives and wellbeing of persons everywhere else in the world, were and remain important assertions and lessons. But rather than remembering him most for his travels I think I’ll remember him for the positions he unwaveringly took in the face of bad actions. His essay on #metoo struck me as particularly powerful, and specifically the paragraph where he wrote:

In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.

This was the kind of language and public assertion that needs to be made. Bourdain himself was a deeply flawed individual, and he at least presented the image of someone who was trying to work through those flaws and present them as things that can overcome in the course of life. However, while those facets might be worn down over time they were unlikely to ever be entirely eliminated. Rather than showcasing himself as having overcome his past he, instead, presented himself as a man involved in an ongoing narrative, without a clear conclusion, but with an intent to rectify and avoid the sins of his past. There are far worse narratives to carry us through our lives.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

  • Jack Layton

Great Photography Shots

These aerial shots of Buddhist temples in Myanmar by Dimitar Karanikolov are stunning.

Music I’m Digging

Max Richter-Sleep (Remixes)

Art I Want

Di•a•graph•i•a by Sarah Hulsey

 

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for May 19-June 1, 2018 Edition

(Remnants by Christopher Parsons)

We get to make decisions about how we react to unpleasant or unfortunate news. For some, that means getting angry and holding onto that emotion in order to focus the anger into ‘productive’ work energy. For others, it can lead to deep frustrations and a sense of being incapacitated. And in yet other cases it might involve both of those reactions — anger and frustration — that is quickly followed by letting go and appreciating the positive aspects of often difficult situation.

Letting go is strangely both easier and harder than either of the other emotional reactions, largely because it entails confronting why those emotions are being felt in the first place. Anger and frustration tend to represent outward manifestations of our own fears, concerns, worries, or other personal traumas. Engaging with them internally means dealing with those demons, whereas using them as energy or letting them consume ourselves externalizes such emotions in ways that prevent us from dealing with our own traumas.

At least one challenge is that social norms often inform us that it’s ok to just be angry. Just be frustrated. And that such emotions are normal and needn’t necessarily be ‘moved on’ from. It’s those situations, where those you’re encouraged to return to that trauma zone after it’s been dealt with, that can be the most challenging; those are cases where the puerile desire to experience our worse is often most challenging to rise above. Rising above it, however, is a kind of active work that promotes self-reflection and self-revelation. It’s not easy, but it’s perhaps some of the most important emotional labour that we can undertake.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you.”

– Ralph Marston

Great Photography Shots

The idea of routinely capturing the same location, and tracing change, is something that is incredibly attractive to me. I often find myself pulled back to the same locations to see them at different times, with different light, and different natural coloration. And, so, I was incredibly impressed with Jani Ylinampa’s photos of a Finnish island through the seasons.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for May 12-18, 2018 Edition

Soar by Christopher Parsons

It’s become incredibly popular to attribute the activities undertaken by the Facebooks and Googles of the work to ‘surveillance capitalism’. This concept generally asserts that the current dominant mode of economics has become reliant on surveillance to drive economic growth. Surveillance, specifically, is defined as the act of watching or monitoring activity with the intent of using captured information to influence behaviour. In the world of the Internet, this information tends to be used to influence purchasing behaviours.

The issue that I have with the term surveillance capitalism is that I’m uncertain whether it comprehensively captures the activities associated with the data-driven economy. Surveillance Studies scholars tend to apply the same theories which are used to understand CCTV to practices such as machine learning; in both cases, the technologies are understood as establishing feedback loops to influence an individual or entire population. But, just as often, neither CCTV nor machine learning actually have a person- or community-related feedback loop. CCTV cameras are often not attended to, not functional, or don’t provide sufficient information to take action against those being recorded. Nor do individuals necessarily modify their own behaviours in the presence of such cameras. Similarly, machine learning algorithms may not be used to influence all persons: in some cases, they may be sufficiently outside the scope of whatever the algorithm is intended to do that they are not affected. Also, like CCTV, individuals may not modify their own behaviours when machine learning algorithms are working on the data those individuals are generating on the basis of being unaware of machine learning operating on their data.

So, where surveillance capitalism depends on a feedback loop that is directly applied towards individuals within a particular economic framework, there may be instances where data is collected and monetized without clear or necessary efforts to influence individuals. Such situations could include those where a machine learning algorithm is designed to improve a facial recognition system, or improve battery life based on the activities undertaken by a user, or to otherwise very quietly make tools more effective without a clear attempt to modify user behaviour. I think that such activities may be very clearly linked to monetization and, more broadly, an ideology backed by capitalism. But I’m not sure it’s surveillance as it’s rigorously defined by scholars.

So one of the things that I keep thinking about is whether we should shift away from the increasingly-broad use of ‘surveillance capitalism’ to, more broadly, talk about ‘data capitalism’. I’m not suggesting doing away with the term surveillance capitalism but, instead, that surveillance capitalism is a sub-genus of data capitalism. Data capitalism would, I believe, better capture the ways in which information is collected, analyzed, and used to effect socio-technical changes. Further, I think such a term might also capture times where those changes are arguably linked to capitalist aims (i.e. enhancing profitability) but may be less obviously linked to the feedback loops towards individuals that are associated with surveillance itself.


After approximately twenty months of work, my colleagues and myself have published an extensive report on encryption policies in Canada. It’s a major accomplishment for all of us to have finally concluded the work, and we’re excited by the positive feedback we’ve received about it.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Ambition is a noble passion which may legitimately take many forms… but the noblest ambition is that of leaving behind something of permanent value.”

– G.H. Hardy

Great Photography Shots

Some of these storm chaser photos are practically otherworldly.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Aside

The Roundup for April 23-20, 2018 Edition

Hidden Point by Christopher Parsons

I shifted over to this domain name, and WordPress environment, a little over eight months ago. In addition to moving multiple years of content I also committed to at least one post a week though, ideally, would post many more than that!

I’ve been largely successful with meeting those goals. As such, I’ve been able to maintain a regular personal writing habit. It’s also meant I’ve locked down some of my ruminations and thoughts so that I can reflect on them later on down the line.

However, there are some things that I’m not entirely happy with. First, I’ve been privately writing small ‘reviews’ of books and movies but haven’t gotten around to posting them here. Part of that is wanting to do them ‘well’ and the other reason is that I’m trying to decide if I should have posts and then a master page that links to the posts, or just posts, or just a page. But expect that to be figured out pretty soon.1 I also really like the idea of putting up a gear/software list of things that I routinely use, and want to steal an idea from a friend of mine who posts the podcasts that she’s really into at any given time. And I want to put some thought into developing a public blogroll, likely based on the RSS feeds that I consume, though I admit that I’m not entirely sure of the utility of blogrolls in this day and age.

The reason for contemplating these changes to some of the content and structure? Mostly because I think I can move more of my writing to this location; there’ve only been a few times that I thought I was getting too ‘close’ to mimicking the work on my professional web presence or private journal, and even then the tone was sufficiently different that it belonged here as opposed to those other locations. But I’m also motivated to modify some of the content here because I want what I write to be interesting and useful for other people; I often find that bloggers’ reviews and insights about the things they use are the only way that I discover the existence of certain tools, products, workflows, and cultural items. So I want to give back to others, just as they have freely given to me and everyone else who visits (or has visited) their sites.


I spent some time this week writing about a recent proposal to significantly weaken the security of the devices we carry with us on a daily basis. In short, I think that the proposal:

doesn’t address the real technical or policy problems associated with developing a global backdoor system to our most personal electronic devices. Specifically the architect of the solution overestimates the existent security characteristics of contemporary devices, overestimates the ability of companies to successfully manage a sophisticated and globe-spanning key management system, fails to address international policy issues about why other governments couldn’t or wouldn’t demand similar kinds of access (think Russia, China, Iran, etc), fails to contemplate an adequate key revocation system, and fails to adequately explain why why the exceptional access system he envisions is genuinely needed.

Device security, and especially efforts to weaken it, fundamentally raises technical and policy issues. Neither type of issue can be entirely divorced from the other, and it’s important to recognize that the policy issues are both domestic and international; failing to address them both, at the same time, means that any proposal will almost certainly have terminal weaknesses.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.”

— Michael A. Singer

Great Photography Shots

The shots from this year’s Sony 2018 World Photography Awards are stunning. Here are some of my favourites:

“Untitled” from the series “Ex-Voto” © Alys Tomlinson, United Kingdom, Photographer of the Year, Professional, Discovery, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
“Letter of departure” © Edgar Martins, Portugal, 1st Place, Professional, Still Life (Professional competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Footnotes

  1. I suspect I’ll opt to a post-per-review, with them aggregated on a distinct page.