The Roundup for October 1-31, 2019 Edition

(Evening Horror 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

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

Great Photography Shots

Really liking some of of these symmetrical smartphone shots!

Lower Chamber‘ by @chasread
Untitled’ by @emilia photographe
Untitled‘ by @mina.juveler
Sucked into the light‘ by @arpixa
Holocaust Memorial Berlin‘ by @iphotokunst

Music I’m Digging

This month’s ‘best of’ songs clock in at about 3.5 hours, and include 56 songs. They’re biased towards rock, rap, alternative, and a bit of pop.

  • Marie Davidson—Working Class Women // This is one of the more novel albums I’ve listened to this year. Davidson is clearly a very gifted artist and performer: the album is as much an aural piece of art that could belong in a gallery, as it is something that’s curious to listen to. It is a challenging album to listen to insofar as it’s really not one that fits ‘well’ as background music. Davidson compels your attention, and you are deeply rewarded to giving it to her.
  • BANNERS—Where the Shadow Ends // The newest album from BANNERS reminds me of their original EP, Banners, and less of Empires on Fire. And that’s a good thing! It dovetails the crooning voice that I’ve come to love, with sufficiently interesting lyrics and melodies that I keep coming back to sample the album time-after-time. There’s nothing on the album quite like ‘Start a Riot’ or ‘Back When We Had Nothing’, but that’s just to say that the album is its own as opposed to trying to mold itself into that of the band’s first album.
  • Phantogram—In a Spiral (Single) // This is Phantogram at it’s best. Hands down: haunting melody, terrific melody, and killer beats. Race to listen to this. You will be rewarded!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Sporkful—My Food History Wasn’t Lost. It was Stolen. // Colonists to the United States (and Canada) engaged in systematic cultural and biological genocide of the native people’s who predated their arrival. In this episode of the Sporkful, Dan speaks with poet Tommy Pico about building his own indigenous food history, when that history had been systemically eradicated. That discussion is potent, but what is particularly powerful is the poem that Tommy reads over the final 15 minutes of the episode: it speaks to the challenges of growing up as a native person in America and what it means to be confronted by white supremacy on a daily basis.
  • The Economist—The Death of Cash // Cash is a real thing for a lot of people, and this episode does a good job in thinking through how cashless societies are being born, and the associated costs of how moving cashless can disenfranchise the least advantaged persons in society.
  • TVO—Addressing Police Mental Health and Suicide // Policing culture is ‘macho’ in its character and its members have historically been taught to push down their feelings, don’t talk about the hurts associated with their job, and just get the job done. This episode includes raw contributions from senior policing staff on the need to seriously engage with mental health issues and, also, personal stories that reveal how the historical culture has harmed the same staff, and how they are working to mitigate the same harms to contemporary service members. While a single episode won’t change policing culture it’s important and brave for some of the most ‘macho’ people to come forward and be frank and honest about mental health. Only by doing so will mental health issues more generally become destigmatized.

Good Reads

  • What Are “Love Maps”, and Why Do They Matter? // This Medium post outlines the importance, and need in healthy relationships, to really understand the contours of your partner’s past, present, and future. It discusses how understanding more than surface details is critical for long-lasting relationships and why, also, understanding those underlying elements of whomever you’re with—both their more and less positive elements—is essential for providing the support and intimacy that keeps relationships alive and thriving over time.
  • Alexa and Google Home abused to eavesdrop and phish passwords // Installing barely manageable wiretap devices into your home remains, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very bad idea.
  • The Messy Truth About Social Credit // If you’ve ever been curious about China’s social credit system then this is required reading. In short, the system is about building trust in institutions and between individuals predicated on institutional and private company data sharing. The actual workings of the system are different from what exists in the United States but there are remarkable similarities. The social credit system is something worth keeping an eye on but isn’t, at the moment at least, the Foucaultian panopticon brought to life.
  • Every Photo Tells a Story. His Spoke Volumes. // Burgess’ recounting of the life, and photography, of Sam Falk’s reveals how Falks approached his craft and transformed it within the New York Times. But, more substantially, Falks photography serves as a reminder of the world as it used to appear and the vividness of our collective pasts. The past was in motion just as much as today is, and was populated populated by people who were invested in their worlds, who were curious, and who were all as-in-motion as those of us today.

Cool Things

  • Glencairn Whiskey Glasses // I’ve been more assertively trying to learn about whiskey for the past few months, including watching a whole lot of tasting videos from The Whiskey Tribe, investing in a bunch of bottles of bourbon of varying cost, and purchasing some Glencairn whiskey glasses. The glasses, in particular, have been revolutionary: I’ve always sipped from heavy cocktail glasses, but the Glencairn ones are revealing a whole new world of smells. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

The Roundup for December 30 – January 5, 2017 Edition

Climb
Climb by Christopher Parsons

I’ve long planned a lot in my personal and professional life. I keep financial roundups so that I can see how I’m faring through and across years, periodic emotional evaluations, and live by my weekly and quarterly professional schedules.1 But what I’m doing is only kinda-working. So I’ve been casting about for a new process to not just hold myself to account but to hold myself to better set goals and accomplish my tasks at hand.

I’m considering adopting shortened planning periods (e.g. 10 week planning cycles, with a 2 week ‘buffer’ for recollection, learning, evaluation, and next-cycle planning) and will likely experiment with this approach to professional goal setting and project completion. But I also want to get better at reflecting on my annual themes and goals. To that end, I was interested in what Michael Karnjanaprakorn (of Skillshare) wrote about planning his ‘ideal’ year.

Specifically I was interested in how he reviews his monthly and weekly goals. In writing about monthly goals, at the end of each month he evaluates:

  1. From 0–10, how do you feel you are doing?
  2. What were the highlights and lowlights?
  3. What were the biggest lessons learned?
  4. Review your goals and assess your progress. Did you spend your time on the right things? If not how will you improve next month?
  5. Write down goals for the upcoming month.

I’ve been really bad at reviewing my monthly (and quarterly) goals but that’s a result of why I’ve historically set and logged professional goals: I’m just really bad at remembering all that I’ve done in any given year, and so fall into deep funks if I can’t periodically go through the past year and realized ‘oh, hey! I’m actually doing a hella lot of work, and am advancing both my own projects and those of colleagues and partners!’ After years of doing this kind of goal-tracking I want to get better at longer-term tracking that is less done for just mental health reasons and more for organizational accountability reasons.

So, to try and get better at reviewing longer-term goals I want to try something like what Michael has outlined. But, at the same time, I want to figure out a way of nicely presenting this information a glanceable digital format; all of my weekly tracking is on paper and so it’s not particularly conducive to understanding longer-term trends that exceed a month or two.

With regards to weekly updates, Michael evaluates progress on monthly and weekly goals. Specifically:

  • Review annual & monthly goals
  • Review last week’s progress
  • Review habits
  • Plan weekly priorities (3 personal & 3 work)

I’ve been good at reviewing my last week’s progress and thinking about weekly priorities but less good at either thinking about habits or how activities really advance my longer-term goals. So I want to adopt some of these kinds of reviews as well.

But the area that I most need to focus on surrounds setting longer-term personal life goals. I’m pretty good at professional goal setting: I’ve been setting and hitting the big ticket items over the past decade or so. But I don’t have really good visions for what I want to happen in my personal life.2

To this end, I’ve adopted a series of personal goals this year that aren’t just about reforming habits but are more focused towards longer-term aspirations. I’m going to be curious as to how those really work out but, to be honest, I just want to try and envision what my non-technical personal goals might be.3 If I can spend a year thinking through what I want to do with my personal life over the next 5, 10, and 20 years, and have some discrete strong ideas, then I’ll really be happy regardless of how well I accomplish the more technical personal goals I’ve set for myself this year.


Companies are doing everything they can to ensure that you own a speaker and/or microphone device that is hooked into their virtual assistant. Microsoft is trying to do it with Cortana. Google with, well, Google. Amazon with Alexa. And Apple with Siri.

For a long time it’s seemed like the assistant that comes with your chosen smartphone would act as the pathway into any given virtual assistant. While some might have multiple assistants on the same device — by way of installing the assistant in a separate application — it was unlikely that the secondary assistants would ‘take over’ your daily operations. And given the failure of Amazon’s Fire Phone, Amazon was likely out of the running for establishing the most dominant assistant in the United States.

But then along came Amazon’s smart speakers and the landscape of smart speakers and Alexa in the continental United States has changed dramatically. As noted by M.G. Siegler:

Amazon is winning this battle because they’re putting Alexa everywhere. Some of this is thanks to third-parties, but a larger part is the strategy to sell devices such as the Echo Dot for $29. At such prices, it’s not only a no-brainer to get one to at least try out — it’s a no-brainer to get a few of them to place all around your house. If this is the winning strategy — which I believe it to be — Apple cannot compete with this because it’s not in Apple’s DNA to run this type of playbook.

I think that one the one hand Siegler is very correct: Amazon is fast becoming a dominant player in the United States. But there are a few limitations to his (admittedly brief) analysis:

  1. Amazon’s Alexa, by being as cheap as it is, lacks the prestige of Apple’s brand and, by extension, Siri’s exclusivity;
  2. Apple’s ‘moat’ which is created around their infrastructure by only letting Siri be the default virtual assistant means that a lot of non-price conscious users will keep waiting and using Apple products;
  3. Alexa is a very United States-focused product; the speakers are cheap by not essential to conducting daily life or business. Contrast with smartphones which are requirements for daily life in many areas of the world; this means that even as Alexa floods the U.S. market the emerging economic regions of the world will continue to adopt Android (i.e. Google) and, to a far lesser extent, Cortana and Siri.

While the ‘threat’ to Apple of Alexa’s spread-by-speaker is linked to people buying them in droves I think that Amazon’s smart speakers are fundamentally poised to intrude into Google’s market and less Apple’s. Moreover, while people tend to only buy speakers once in a few years4 that tends to be the case because they’re expensive. So if people are only spending $100 or so on speakers…will that mean they’re disincentivized to buy ones that sound significantly better to play music? For consumers that purchase the HomePod they’re unlikely to replace the one or two they buy every few years, whereas if someone dropped $60 on Amazon speakers they might be tempted to just shift over to Google’s own (equivalently priced) offering or even to Apple’s or Sonos’ more expensive, and better sounding, premium offerings.

I think that the real threat to Apple or to Google will come as consumers purchase the more expensive and, by extension, better sounding, speakers. Those kinds of devices are unlikely to be replaced and will function as another kind of ‘moat’ that will contain consumers in a given virtual assistant ecosystem. Though it would be pretty amazing to see a world where people, when selling their phones second-hand, also end up selling their speaker sets alongside them to truly switch ecosystems…


Great Photography Shots

I’m absolutely loving some of the 100 best iPhone photos of 2017 which have been collated by iPhone Photography School. A few examples:

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

  1. Ok, so I sometimes blow the quarterly schedules but I hold myself to account for why they get blown.
  2. To some extent my ‘success’ in planning long-term professional goals has been tightly linked to a historical failure to balance my work and life: my work entirely dominated everything I did and who I was.
  3. Technical goals being things like reduce student loan debt by X or learn Y new recipes.
  4. I’ve been using the same 2.1 speakers attached to my TV for over a decade at this point and not really tempted to replace a perfectly good set of speakers for something else that would be equally perfectly good. Except for maybe a pair of Apple HomePods…