The Roundup for September 1-30, 2019 Edition

(Blurred Vision by Christopher Parsons)

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


I’ve been thinking more and more about the process of making street photos. When I first started seriously trying to make photos, about four years ago, I pushed myself some to take candid shots of people. These efforts culminated with a transit worker challenging me because I’d taken a candid of him without permission. Now, it was lawful to take his photo—I was shooting from a public space—but the confrontation itself left a lasting impact on me. And, so, I didn’t really shoot photos of people for years because I didn’t want to have that kind of negative experience again.

But for the past few months I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable taking photos that include people. So, what’s changed? First, I’m not really taking photos of people, per se, but instead of scenes that happen to include people. I’m not looking for any particular person and, instead, looking to just fill a scene with humans or interesting subjects. I’m also not being sneaky like some street photographers advocate: I’m making it clear, by raising the viewfinder to my eye, that I’m taking a photo. But I linger at a scene with the camera raised, and don’t move when people are wandering through my frame. They don’t necessarily know if I’ve taken a shot. I just sit with my discomfort of waiting.

I don’t know that I have a lot of great photos, yet, as I’m taking shots of people. There are some that I like but I definitely don’t have a ‘style’ at the moment, per se. But I’m pushing myself way outside of my comfort zone when I’m taking photos that, just two years ago, I felt psychologically barred from taking. By getting out of my comfort zone I know I’m expanding the range of the subjects, and environments, and stories I’m able to capture. It’s hard but, I have to believe, will be valuable over time as I teach myself how to be comfortable working in very different styles and types of making photographs.


I might be shifting how I publish these roundups in the near future; I keep finding that it takes me a long time to get all of the pieces together due to workflow changes over the past six or seven months, and that means these come out once a month or so (at best). And I think I like the idea of stuff coming out more commonly. Stay posted…


Inspiring Quotation

You can’t be what you can’t see.”

― Marian Wright Edelman

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been shooting a lot with my new iPhone 11 Pro the past little while, and so wanted to showcase some really nice shots taken on mobile phones that effectively use negative space.

(Morning sun‘ by @x1234)
(This Place‘ by @joseeh)
(Sometimes God holds you back temporarily until the road is clear to continue‘ by @nnkrenz)
(A lifeguard is like a lighthouse, guiding ships to safety‘ by @rawsdeb)
(G O L F L I F E‘ by @iphotokunst)
(Untitled‘ by @ipiotrxs)

Music I’m Digging

  • My favourite songs of September 2019 are public. Songs bias towards R&B, rap, and alternative (as normal), though with a fair number of songs about the ends of relationships and managing the aftermath.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary – World War Two: The economic battle // This was a really interesting review of the second world war, wherein the core argument is that part of the reason for the UK’s success is that it had fully embraced a market economy and so could focus on certain productivity activities (e.g., factories for building planes and war material) and outsource others (e.g., production of food). This economic position was significantly mirrored by Japan, and contrasted against the economic frameworks of China and Germany. Definitely an argument that I’d never heard, or thought about, before.
  • Commons – Dynasties 2: The Irvings // This season of Commons is surprisingly good. I’d largely abandoned the show a few years ago because I didn’t find the content worth spending my time on, but this season is very different. In this episode, we get taken into the land of New Brunswick and how the Irving family functionally controls it and has deliberately (and in bad faith) signed deals that benefit the company’s bottom line to the detriment of residents of the province. If you want to learn more about one of Canada’s most secretive and wealthy families I can’t recommend this piece highly enough.
  • Lawfare – WTF, Ukraine! // There is a lot going on in the news about Ukraine and the Americans at the moment. This episode of Lawfare breaks down all the major players, the history, and what is really going on in the most recent Trump-related scandal. If you want to figure out just what is going on in under 60 minute, then this is the podcast for you.
  • 99% Invisible – The Help-Yourself City // I really appreciated the discussion of “informal urbanism” that is the focus of this episode. In effect, this mode of urbanism takes place when individual or groups of urban residents transform elements of their city without the permission of the government. It includes everything from neighbourhood signage, park benches and chairs, bus shelters, graffiti, and more. While there are some problematic outcomes to these behaviours—significantly linked to liability when these informal elements of the urban landscape cause harm to someone—it was pretty great to just have a concept to capture these essential elements of living and vibrant cities.

Good Reads

  • Utopia, Abandoned // The rise and fall of Ivrea, a corporate town in Italy that was based around concepts of social justice, modernism, and social welfare, speaks volumes to all attempts to artificially manufacture spaces: while they can be made, the ethos behind them will, eventually, pass away and be replaced with dramatically new social, political, and economic circumstances. And, yet, the buildings and infrastructures will remain. The question that I’m left with, I guess, is how things will age; to what extent should our buildings stand fast against change and defy efforts to rehabilitate them—making us live history by conforming modern life to the architectures of the past—or design them to be mutable and inherently rebellious to their designer, builder, and inhabitants. Should we seek to reify ourselves through our buildings, giving us a sense of stability, or instead acknowledge and embrace the inherent uncertainties of the future?
  • What’s the secret of Filipino food in Manila? // I would never have attributed sourness to Filipino foods. Now I’m trying to go through all that I’ve previously eaten and reflecting on memories of tastes to determine if I just absolutely missed a huge part of the cuisine, or if what I’ve eaten just used different techniques and methods.
  • The Gothic Pedigree of Vampire // Justin Achilli, the former lead designer of Vampire, had an interesting comment on why Vampire possessed a different game structure than Dungeons and Dragons or other games. He wrote: “The overarching story container was not a “campaign,” with its military-conquest connotations, but a chronicle, a record, a retelling of events that happened. And in so doing, it relied very heavily on unreliable narrators, so you were never sure you were getting a clinical accounting of events as much as you were getting a definitely biased perspective of events, unless you were there, and even if you were, you’re not unbiased yourself.” I’d never really thought of how useful it was to just think of how sessions between game systems are designed differently, and Justin’s writing definitely has me reflecting on how I think I try to bridge between the two philosophies when running D&D games insofar as I try to build a series of scenes that make a story, as opposed to focusing on the militaristic languages associated with a campaign.
  • When the Soviet Union Paid Pepsi in Warships // Pepsi sought to expand its distribution during the Cold War and, after some impressive diplomatic hijinks, managed to get an exclusive deal with the USSR. The catch was that the ruble was worthless outside of the Republic and, moreover, they couldn’t be taken out of the country. And so Pepsi worked out a barter system, first for Russian vodka and, later, for old Russian warships (to be sold as scrap), with a future deal meant to give Pepsi a number of functional cargo vessels. Pepsi, at one point, had a fleet of ships that was larger than those of many nations. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!
  • The 5 Years That Changed Dating // I appreciated how Fetters examined, in depth, the drawbacks and benefits associated with online dating. Core, to my mind, is how apps have adjusted the spaces where people used to socialize to find potential romantic partners: whereas, once, you went out in the interests of finding someone interesting, now the goal is to just spend time with friends (with no real expectation of finding someone interesting). The article also discusses how the more extensive profiles encouraged on some apps, such as OKCupid, affect the likelihood of a long-term match, as opposed to apps that encourage very short profiles, such as Tinder.
  • The Future of Political Philosophy // Katrina Forrester does a terrific job of working through the importance of Rawls in contemporary Anglo political philosophy. She argues that due to how the theory was presented, along with its failure to address disruptions to liberalism in the 1960s, has led it to showcase a theory that may be significantly unable to respond to the contemporary challenges facing the nation-state and Western politics. In effect, both the requirement that novel modes of critique settle within pre-defined intellectual boundaries, combined with a sunny optimism of how liberalism ought to be, have led to the potential crisis in Rawlsian-inspired liberalism itself.

Cool Things

An Amateur Photographer’s Review of the iPhone 11 Pro Camera System

I bought my most expensive camera system last week: an iPhone 11 Pro. While the screen and battery life was something I was looking forward to, I was most looking forward to massively upgrading my smartphone camera. The potential to shoot portraits with a 52mm lens (as well as landscapes, street shots, and architecture…50mm is my preferred focal range), plus general shots with a 26mm and a 13mm equivalent was exciting. I’ve printed iPhone photos in the past and been happy with them, but would the new camera system live up to the marketing hype?

My Background

To be clear, I am by definition a very amateur photographer. Which, I think, actually makes this review a bit more useful than most. I’m not reviewing the iPhone 11 Pro as a phone or the entirety of the underlying operating system. I’m just focused on how well this device helps me make photos.

For the past few years I’ve shot with a bunch of cameras, including: an iPhone 6 and 7, Fuji x100,1 Sony rx100ii, and Olympus EM10ii. I’ve printed my work in a book, in photos of various sizes that are now hanging on my walls,2 and travelled all over the world with a camera in tow. I have historically tended towards street photography (broadly defined), some ‘travel’ photography (usually nature and landscape shots), abstracts, and admittedly relatively few portraits. If you want to get a rough assessment of the kinds, and quality, of photos that I take then I’d suggest you wander over to my Instagram profile.

I should be pretty clear, upfront: I make photos, not videos, and so have pretty well zero comments about the video camera functionalities on the iPhone 11 Pro. Also, if you’re looking for some raw technical stats on the iPhone cameras, I’d suggest you check out Halide’s assessment.

Body, Controls, and Handling

The iPhone 11 Pro is considerably larger in hand than the iPhone 7 that I came from. It’s also, with the Apple-branded clear case, quite slippery. This means that I’ve been super cautious in taking photos where dropping it might mean I’d lose it forever (e.g., shooting outstretched over rivers and major highways). The buttons are significantly more solid than my iPhone 7 and, as such, I’m disinclined to use them as a shutter button for fear of messing up my composition or introducing camera shake. Though if I’m being honest, it was pretty rare that I used anything other than the on-screen shutter button on my iPhone 7.

The screen of the iPhone 11 Pro, itself, is bright and beautiful. It’s night and day between it and the iPhone 7. To activate the camera from the lock screen you press and hold the camera icon; after a second or so, the camera app will open and you’re probably ready to shoot. Probably, you may ask? Yes: there’s a glitch in iOS 13 that means that sometimes the camera app launches but the image of what you’re trying to capture isn’t shown on the display. The solution it to take a shot and, afterwards, the display should display the image the camera is showing. Usually. But not always.

If you used burst mode a lot to get the right shot in a burst, get used to a lot of missed shots. In iOS 13, you press the shutter button in the camera app and slide to the left to initiate bursts; holding down on the shutter button start recording a short video (slide to the right if you want to record video and not hold down on the shutter button in the app). In actual use, I’ve ended up accidentally taking a bunch of short videos instead of a burst of shots, which meant I’ve missed capturing what I wanted to capture. A ‘Pro’ camera should let me set photo controls. The iPhone 11 Pro fails, seriously and significantly, in this regard.

When composing a shot, you’ll routinely see what is beyond the focal length you’re using. This means that, as an example, when you’re shooting with the 26mm lens, you’ll see what would be captured by the 13mm lens. On screen, the extended parts of the scene which would be captured by the wider camera is slightly desaturated and on the outskirts of the grid you can enable in the Camera app settings. Some reviewers have said that this looks like what you might see when looking through a rangerfinder-style camera, like a Fuji x100. I fundamentally disagree: those reviewers have not clearly used a rangefinder for extended periods of time, where you can see to the left and right of the frame when looking through the viewfinder. It’s helpful to have that in a camera you’ve raised to your eye, because the rest of your vision may be obscured and so you may not realize what’s about to step into your frame. This is less of an issue when shooting in a smartphone. Much less of an issue.

If you rely on a tilted screen in a mirrorless or DSLR to get the shots you like, while, you’re going to be out of luck. It’s a camera phone without an articulating screen. Maybe Samsung’s folding phones will integrate this kind of feature into their camera app…

I haven’t shot using the flash, so I can’t comment on what it’ll be like to use.

If you’ve used the iPhone Camera app, you’ll find that few things have meaningfully changed. The ‘big’ changes include a notification along the top left corner if night mode is activated (along with how many seconds it’ll take to use the feature) and an arrow along the top of the app that, if tapped, will let you switch some of the default features (e.g., flash on/off/auto, live images on/off, timer, or filter). Despite being a ‘professional’ device—which has a pile of internal gyroscopes!—the camera app doesn’t include a horizon level, though if you’re taking flat shots you’ll get an indicator to show if you’re perfectly level.

I tend to see the stock photos app as part of the control of an iPhone camera. Some of the additions are good—tilt shifts in particular!—but I loath losing how iOS 12 ‘grouped’ features into categories like light, colour, and black and white. And I really miss being able to adjust neutrals and tones in the black and white setting. Why’d you take those away, Apple? WHY!?

The battery life when I’ve taken the iPhone 11 Pro for a day of shooting has been great; I was out for about 7 hours one day to just shoot and took about 250 photos, while listening to podcasts and reading news and such. I had 17% after a full days normal use plus shooting, but I was shooting with a brand new battery in ideal temperatures for batteries (20-24 degrees). The real test will be when winter hits in countries like Canada or the northern USA and we see how well the batteries hold up in semi-hostile environmental conditions.

Image Quality

I’ve been super impressed with the camera system included in the iPhone 11 Pro. Despite being impressed there are definitely areas where computational photography is still very much a work in progress.

I’ve been taken aback by just how much dynamic range is captured by this camera when I’ve been making photos. This is especially the case when I’ve used the camera in low-light or sheer dark conditions. As is true of almost all cameras, it generally performs admirably in well lit situations. What follows are a selection of shots taken over a three day period; they are all edited to my taste, using just the stock photos app. What follows is a (broad) selection of those photos in indoor, high day, and sunset conditions.

I also did a late evening photowalk. It was pitch black (for a major urban city…) and so the following images are good representations of what urban photographers can probably pull off without a tripod.4 In many of the images I was resting the camera either tightly against my body or something in the natural environment (e.g., a tree trunk) to reduce camera shake.

I did run into some computational…weirdness…in some of the shots. When shooting the Cinesphere, I sometimes got this weird yellow arc that stretched along the top. Also when shooting scenes with the Cinesphere and the Japanese Temple Bell, there were times when it looked like the upper right of the frame (proximate to the Cinesphere in the shot) had extremely severe vignetting. Also, I noticed that I got lens flare when shooting at night; while this could be corrected in post using something like Snapseed I can’t ever recall dealing with flare on a regular basis on prior iPhones.

Also, don’t buy this camera and expect to get cool light trails using the default camera application. While night mode takes a lot of exposures to create the final shot, you’ll only get the slightest of blur from moving vehicles. Similarly, due to the fixed aperture of the cameras you’re not going to get any cool light flares or sun stars , nor can you seriously control the depth of field as you could in a camera with much more manual control.5

Conclusion

The iPhone 11 Pro is a marvel of a camera system. Seriously: it’s spectacular for the size of the sensor, though it damn well better be given its sheer cost!

I can see this camera fitting into the lives of a lot of creative amateurs. (Probably professionals, too, but with grumbles.) For me, and people with at my skill level with photography, this is a major equipment investment that I think will be pretty great: it’s a supplement to, not a replacement for, the aging Sony rx100ii I carry with me on a day to day basis, and it’s genuinely fun to shoot on. The Photos app, while annoying in some of its reconfiguration, is generally more powerful than in its last version. And the ability to easily and quickly shift between the 13-52mm focal ranges cannot be appreciated enough: it’s like having a permanent kit lens attached to your smartphone, and that’s just awesome.

Should you upgrade or buy this camera system? I dunno. I had an older phone and totally could have stuck with it for another year or so, and I’m happy with my upgrade. But for around $2,000(CAD) you could get some really nice new glass, which might be a better investment if you’re always carrying your mirrorless camera or DSLR with you, or if having better control of aperture, camera levels, or other ‘niceties’ are the core thing you’re looking for. But if you’ve increasingly been leaving your ‘big’ camera and glass at home, but still want a lot of functionality when making photos on your smartphone, and have the disposable income, then you’ll probably be pretty happy with the iPhone 11 Pro.

  1. In honesty, it was too much camera for me at the time, but it taught me to really love and want to work on my photography. ↩︎
  2. My largest prints are 24×36, from my Sony rx100ii and Olympus EM10ii (using an Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens). ↩︎
  3. Why won’t Apple bring the camera filters in Messages straight into their camera app? Oh hey! Did you even know Apple had a pile of filters for fun stuff in Messages? I bet not given how buried they they—open messages, tap the star button in the lower left side, then tap the three concentric rings, fight with the stupid UI a bit, and tada!↩︎
  4. If using a tripod, the internal gyroscopes will detect this and let you take up to a 10s ‘exposure’. ↩︎
  5. Some of this might change as Halide and other competing camera app manufactures update their applications. But the stock camera app is pretty limited in computation control of the aperture, especially for landscape or street photography. ↩︎

The Roundup for August 1-31, 2019 Edition

(My Most Popular Photo 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

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.”

Great Photography Shots

The whimsy, symmetry, and lines of these bowling alleys make me want to go bowling in Germany!

Music I’m Digging

  • My ‘Songs I Liked in August’ playlist is done, and is biased pretty heavily towards rap, R&B, with some metal (i.e., TOOL).
  • Dave – Game Over (EP) // ’My 19th Birthday’ and ‘Question Time’ are really amazing tracks that showcase Dave’s ability to engage in contemporary social and political issues in the UK, but which also affect most developed countries. The former song grapples with the challenges he has with his first major relationship, questioning how he should behave and how he can overcome his own patriarchal attitudes towards women. The latter is an anthem for the UK under Prime Minister May, where has asks her, along with all other major UK politicians, the hard questions that were likely on the minds of most socially consciously citizens of the United Kingdom.
  • Dave – PSYCHODRAMA // This full-length album continues Dave’s encounters with himself, and situations of himself growing up in South London. His flow remains as strong as his earlier work, and continues to work through the challenges of growing up socially conscious, in a time that often feels more ignorant, racist, and nationalist then decades past.
  • TOOL – Inoculum // Their first new album in 13 years, the technical instrumental skills alone make this 80+ minute album worth the listen and the wait. But it’s more than that: Keene’s lyrics continue to impress, while deftly floating in and out of the instrumental scores.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Secret History of the Future – Dots, Dashes, and Dating Apps // This is a fascinating episode that showcases just how much the telegraph, and writers of that era, imagined the uses of the Internet which are now commonplace. As always, everything old is new again, and it behooves is to attend to our pasts to both foretell the challenges of the present as well as better envision new futures.
  • Planet Money – The IT Guy vs The Con Artist // It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look of how the US Postal Office was able to take down scammers using an insider. The bravery exhibited by the protagonist in the episode, Filipe, and willingness to right wrongs, makes this a particularly positive episode to listen to.
  • Modern Love – The Night Girl Found A Day Boy // Modern Love has to be one of my favourite podcasts, and I really enjoyed this episode’s story of how the couple overcame a major and inflexible difference to develop a long lasting and positive committed relationship. Throughout, I was thinking about how much a couple can push through if they’re able to stand side by side together to support one another, while simultaneously appreciating and respecting one another’s differences.
  • The Daily – Inside Hong Kong Airport // The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are pitting democratic values against those of autocracy, and protestors are valiantly trying to secure their democratic processes. The reportage in this podcast drove home, at an emotional level, just how committed protestors are, as well as the seeming indifference or disbelief amongst mainlanders that individuals could rise up against their government on their own, and without having been manipulated by foreign government spies.

Good Reads

  • Ham of Fate // Without a doubt this is the most scathing, and articulate, assessment of Boris Johnson that I’ve read to date. Of particular note is the ways in which Johnson masks a very deep racism through elite language. Whereas Trump is blatant and boorish, Johnson is slightly more subtle and studied.
  • What Apple’s T2 chip does in your new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro // Gallagher has a pretty accessible, and extensive, article outlining everything the T2 chip is doing in Apple’s newest devices. I knew about the security properties but was unaware of the audio and image processing it also is involved in.
  • The forgotten part of memory // I’ve been pretty convinced for a long while that perfectly recording and remembering information is detrimental to a person’s life, on the basis that from an evolutionary and social perspective we have forgotten information and seemed to still persist and evolve as a species. Research in Nature showcases the apparent truth that forgetting is normal and important, and that we may do it to abstract away some details of precise encounters so as to build up abstract thinking that’s suitable to solving a range of problems, instead of being overly mired in the details of solving very specific incidents and experiences.
  • Combating disinformation and foreign interference in democracies: Lessons from Europe // Though written to derive lessons for the United States Government to learn from, this article from the Brookings Institute does a good job outlining the successful, somewhat successful, problematic, and disasterous responses to adversarial disinformation and influence operations campaigns. Ultimately, however, the crux is mostly missing from the article: should states and their populations truly fear disinformation—is the Swedish approach genuinely useful or is it, perhaps, just that some populations can sense disinformation when they see it? Regardless, the comparison between actions undertaken by Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, and Bulgaria provides a handy overview of some policy options available to democratic states, if not effective assessments of the utility of such options.
  • Influence Operations Kill Chain // Bruce’s assessment of the elements of effective influence operations is pretty on the money, though I do have to admit I’m partial to the comments made by Jones, which recognizes that while it may be hard to deal with influence operations, there are things that the government can do to address issues which arguably have much more significant (and problematic) roles on election fairness. These issues include: 1. Gerrymandering; 2. Deregulated political spending; 3. Systematic black disenfranchisement; 4. Black box electronic voting machines; 5. VoterID laws; 6. Drug felons who can’t vote; 7. Domestic for-profit news propaganda; and 8. Campaign strategies to game the Electoral College. Still, even fixing the aforementioned list will do little to prevent information operations from, over a long-term, threatening democratic integrity as clefts in society are identified and widened in efforts to decrease trust in the democratic system itself.
  • Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After Property Bubble Burst // Things in Ireland, like major cities in Canada, are terrible if you want to either rent or own. In effect, rent prices are too high to enable saving for a downpayment while, at the same time, owning is sufficiently affordable that — if people want — an owner can save up for another downpayment, and the cycle simply continue.
  • How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars // It’s one thing to strongly believe that the language of the American right wing is fuelling the violence, hatred, racism, and misogyny being expressed by a host of white supremacists throughout the country. It’s another to have the very words of American media commentators placed against the language of the President of the United States and white supremacists alike.
  • Acquisitions Incorporated Review // I’ve been on the fence about the new D&D sourcebook based on Penny Arcade’s adventuring groups. On the one hand, I appreciate the humour of the games but I wasn’t certain about whether the gaming supplement that’s emerged from those games was just Wizards cashing in on the popularity without adding real substance. This review has mostly convinced me that this is a neat supplement that I might want to add to my (growing…) collection of gaming books.
  • Facebook’s Illusion of Control over Location-Related Ad Targeting // This deep dive into how Facebook tracks location showcases just what a lie it is that you can exercise control and stop the company from tracking your location. Well researched and yet another indication as to why this is a malignant company that needs to be heavily regulated.
  • Do not Fall in Love with a Smart, Introverted Man // While some of the assertions of introverted men seem a bit off — we’re not all messy or nearly as eclectic as Lowe makes us out to be — I can appreciate this line: “One day, he will decide to leave you. It will be sudden and swift with no warning.” The thing is…I don’t think that’s true. The messages which communicate warning are made, deliberately and regularly, but are often unheard. And that failure to hear us is, in and of itself, one of the reasons why we may have decided “quietly, independently — because that is how he has solved every problem — that it’s over.” There’s a fundamental values mismatch, and communications mismatch, and potentially even an intellectual stimulation mismatch, and so the introverted man is making a decision they know is correct. Even if that’s not what the other partner thinks or wants.

Cool Things

  • Trails of Wind // While in our conceit, humanity may believe it changes the world without regard for the environment, a mapping of how we actually terraform the earth can showcase that we unconsciously, as a species, build in accordance with global environmental patterns and characteristics. I wonder, though: as climate forces changes in the jet stream, will we end up with monuments to the past that are left abandoned or will we, instead, re-engineer these monuments so as to continue using them?
  • The World’s Greenest and Most Economical Shelving System? // This shelving system is substantially based on Dieter Ram’s design philosophy and design language. While it’s expensive as hell, once invested you’d never need to buy shelves again in your life. Definitely want!
  • The Best VPN Services // The Wirecutter has done terrific work sifting through various VPN providers to identify solid choices. If you use or want to use a VPN then check out their work!
  • Paramour: A One-Shot Music Video Filmed From the Perspective of a Toy Train // Just a cool bit of filming!

The Roundup for December 24, 2018 – January 13, 2018 Edition

(Rusty Heights by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! It’s taken a bit longer to put this together given the holidays, but I’m hoping to get back to scheduling these every other week or so. 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.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to take my coffee-game to a whole new level: I was generously gifted a Hario Cold Brew Coffee Pot by my family in December, and a Vietnamese Coffee Filter by a friend earlier this month. It’s been a lot of fun trying to determine which brew methods I prefer more or less and, also, meant that my coffee intake has probably doubled in the past month or so! Expect some thoughts and discussions about using either tool sometime in the future!


Inspiring Quotation

Be louder about the successes of others than your own.

  • Birthday fortune I received

Great Photography Shots

In a bit of a detour from most Roundups, I’m including some of my own preferred shots that I’ve taken over the past few months.

(Ghosts and Galleries by Christopher Parsons)
(Electric Blue by Christopher Parsons)
(Safe Harbour by Christopher Parsons)
(The Deep by Christopher Parsons)
(Eat! by Christopher Parsons)
(Dive by Christopher Parsons)
(School’s In by Christopher Parsons)
(Aquatic Textures)

Music I’m Digging

  • Bird Box (Abridged) (Original Score) // This is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross at their best. The score is haunting, dystopia, and persistently just a little creepy.
  • Neisha Neshae – Poppin on the Internet (feat. Rocky Badd) (Single) // The power and energy of Neshae’s voice comes through in this single as clearly as in her EP, Queenin’. She remains as fun to listen to, now, as with her earlier work. I’m hoping that whenever she publishes a full album it manages to retain the strength and consistency of all of her work to date!
  • Jean-Michel Blais – Eviction Sessions (EP) // Blais’ work remains evocative and minimalist. This EP came after he was literally evicted from his Montreal apartment, and the work he played was an effort to memorialize and commemorate the space where so much of his music had been produced.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (Soundtrack) // I was absolutely amazed with how good the movie turned out to be, but before I saw it I was captivated by the soundtrack. Sunflower, Familia, Invincible, Memories, and Home were the stars of the album for me, though the entirety of the album held together remarkably well. I was surprised to hear almost all of the songs when I watched the film: these aren’t just songs intended to touch on the mood of the film but, instead, are key audio-emotional components the film itself. That they stand alone as strongly as they do is a remarkable accomplishment to my ear.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Sporkful – When Celery Was More Special Than Caviar // I learned so much about celery in this episode! There are different kinds! There are different tastes! There is red, as well as striped, as well as ‘blanched’ celery!
  • The Current – ‘Don’t do it’: Trump’s criticism of central bank could backfire, warns former vice-chair // I found it most useful to hear about the difficulties in linking politics and a central bank and how, even if Trump does want to effect change quickly, that central banks and economies move so ponderously that he’s absolutely unlikely to adjust rates or the economy in a rapid manner should the current chair be replaced or the Fed totally shift its approach to the economy. Of course, neither of those things are likely and, instead, Trump will just posture for the purposes of satisfying his base.
  • Relationship Advice – What’s Your Fantasy? // The non-stigmatizing approach to thinking through, and engaging with, sexual fantasy in romantic relationships struck me as outlining a useful way of having conversations on the topic. Equally important was how to engage with a partner when they outline a fantasy that would be challenging or uncomfortable to satisfy, and how to find alternate means of expressing it in a manner that is satisfying and comfortable for all partners involved in it.
  • The Documentary – India’s battle with online porn // I went into this episode assuming, by default, that I would oppose all the proposals to ban or censor access to pornography. And while I mostly retain this position, I admit that I was shocked to learn about how common rape videos are being shared and it left me wondering about what approach makes the most sense to inhibit the spread of such violent videos while preserving basic rights. Especially given that many of the videos are shared between peers over encrypted messaging applications I don’t have an immediate response on how to deal with the sharing but, nonetheless, concur that the transmission of such videos does represent a real social ill that needs to be addressed.

Good Reads

  • Managing Burnout // As someone who’s suffered burnout a few times I think it’s really positive that a prominent member of the security community is openly discussing this challenge. Richard’s suggestions — that you build a fund for just burnout — is pretty solid, though admittedly works better in a community with above-average wages. What is missing, however, is an assessment of how to fix the culture which leads to burnout; that has to come from management since employees will take their cues from above. And to my mind management has to focus on combating burnout or else risk losing high-value employees with little opportunity to get an equivalently talented and priced replacement employee in the contemporary job market.
  • The 12 Stages of Burnout, According to Psychologists // Ever wonder if you or a loved one are suffering through severe burnout? This helpful list will showcase the different things that suggest burnout is being experienced with pretty clear indicators that you can use for self-diagnostic purposes.
  • “They Say We’re White Supremacists”: Inside the Strange World of Conservative College Women // Nancy Jo Sales’ long form piece trying to understand and express why young women support Donald Trump is illuminating, insofar as it showcases how these women hold more complex positions on some issues (e.g. abortion, rape) than might be expected while also conforming to stereotypes in other ways. What is hardest to appreciate is perhaps that they genuinely do regard feminism as ‘over’ and no longer needed, at least as they have lived their experiences as young white women. That they do not have a longer set of life experiences, such as in long term employment, nor experiences of minority populations, combined with Fox and similar news sources filling their political news appetite, makes their positions largely unsurprising. However, what also stands out is the automatic dismissal of their values and thoughts by liberal minded persons on campus: while liberalism must be intolerant of deep intolerance — such as white supremacy — that cannot apply to people who are simply holding divergent political opinions or else liberalism will have internally rebuked it’s own reason for acting as an effective and inclusive political theory.
  • Pilot project demos credit cards with shifting CVV codes to stop fraud // The idea that the CVV will change to combat online fraud seems like an interesting idea, though the actual security is going to be based on how effectively protected and randomized the seed for the randomization algorithm happens to be. Since attackers will have access to the actual cards — at least if distributed widely to the public in the future — then we’ll have to assume that any failures that are readable on the chip will certainly be found and exploited, so the math and tamper resistance properties are going to have to be exceptionally well implemented. Perhaps the most notable element of the proposed cards arrives at the end of Megan Guess’ article: whereas a regular card costs $2-4, those with a lithium battery to update the CVV will run closer to $15. In other words, whomever is producing the cards will need to be assured that they will, in aggregate, reduce fraud costs enough to merit the heightened production costs. It’ll be very interesting to see if the cards are suitably effective to lead to mass production or whether economics, as opposed to security, result in the cards being just a short-term trial or experiment.
  • Kengo Kuma’s Architecture of the Future // Kuma-san’s efforts to make architecture disappear, and work in contravention to the fantastic metal and glass structures of modernism and post-modernism, strike me as a kind of attempt to envision wabi-sabi in structures. In effect, his focus on the natural and celebrating the traditional and honouring its (often imperfect) characteristics seem to align with a need to seek peace and simplicity absent overt efforts to establish egoist-driven artefacts devoted to humanity’s triumphs.
  • This is how Canada’s housing correction begins // Kirby does a good job in collecting data to suggest a serious market correction could be coming as the Bank if Canada increases rates, which has had the effect of squeezing a large portion of homeowners who have grown up — and relied upon — cheap credit to buy homes and other consumer goods. Key is that the assessment doesn’t just indicate a forthcoming housing correction but, also, potentially a serious recession. Moreover, just how widely will this ‘correction’ be felt: will it mostly be younger millennials or include aging boomers who have drawn against their homes to support their children’s education and home purchases?
  • Great Expectations // Reflecting on what are non-negotiable traits in relationships is something that I do with some regularity, and this Medium post does a good job of summarizing many of the basic expectations that should be realized in any loving relationship. I particularly liked how the author ends by asserting that it’s critical for partners to engage in kindness in communicating, or work to avoid brashness and hostility in communications and instead focus on communicating our feelings in an open, transparent, and loving manner.
  • The US Military Is Genetically Modifying Microbes to Detect Enemy Ships // That humanity is modifying bacteria to react in the presence of different types fo fuel exhaust and related exhausts from ships, for the purposes of surveillance of maritime environments, is the thing of science fiction. And it’s going to start happening, soon!
  • GE Powered the American Century—Then It Burned Out // In an exceptional long-form piece, Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann document the slow, though hastening, fall of the General Electric. It’s stunning to read just how hard it has been for the company, and its CEOs, to effectively reposition the company in the face of major economic and political hurdles, and without clear evidence that the company will manage to survive in its conglomerated form over the coming decade.
  • Apple Expands AirPlay 2 Video Streaming To TV Sets // Benjamin Mayo’s Assessment that Apple licensing AirPlay 2 is a good thing, because while it might cannibalize Apple TV sales it will increase the joy of using an iPhone and the overall value of Apple services, is dead on.
  • Why Cider Means Something Completely Different in America and Europe // It makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of how important alcoholic cider was for colonial Americans (and the British, more generally) for ensuring that there was a drinkable liquid available that didn’t include harmful contaminants. Nor had I thought of how the temperance and prohibition eras would have transformed the nature of cider production, and led to the destruction of orchards that contained high-tannin apples that were principally grown to make cider. If you’re interested in cider and the broad strokes of its history in the United States of America, this is a good article to read through!

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