The Roundup for April 18-May 20, 2019 Edition

(Contemporary by Christopher Parsons)

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


For the past several months I’ve been trying go determine just what has been going on with my Apple Music smart playlists. Specifically, I have a playlist that is supposed to update with all the songs that I’ve liked over the past 3 months. However, the playlist hasn’t properly been updating…and now I know why. If you ‘love’ a track in iTunes (i.e., on MacOS) then the track is automatically added to your iCloud Music library and then added to my smart playlist. If, however, you ‘love’ a track in the iOS Music application then the same does not happen: you signal to Apple’s machine learning algorithms that you like the song for purposes of Apple creating playlists for you, but the song won’t be added to any smart playlists that you have created for yourself. What’s worse, there’s no way to go back in time and determine all the songs that you’ve liked in the past in the Music application, so that you can’t retroactively add them to your own ‘loved tracks’ playlist.

This is simply absurd: it means that people who exclusively and heavily use Apple Music and expect a baseline feature parity between the music players have to use a non-mobile ‘solution’ in liking music, if we want to have an ongoing record of what we like. I’d think this was a random bug but, apparently, based on the forums I read this has been an ongoing problem for over a year. I’m incredibly disappointed that Apple has chosen to behave this way and struggle to understand why they’ve let this decision stand.

At present, the only ‘solution’ that I can find is to reflexively go and add albums after I’ve listened to them, if I’ve liked any tracks in them; otherwise I need to manually go through the process of adding tracks to a library (which strikes me as too involved a process). To say this is disappointing is a gross understatement.


Inspiring Quotation

Our relationship with food, wholly transformed since the ’60s in ways both heartening and horrifying, has lost touch with a truth none of us can afford to leave behind: Cooking isn’t a luxury; it’s a survival skill.

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been enjoying Om Malik’s photography for a bunch of time now; I think what I’m really appreciating is the grittiness of the images, combined with the (perception of) low resolution/throwback images from the 1960s and 70s. I don’t know that all of the elements he includes are ones that I want to imitate, but I appreciate the distinctive style that he’s developed over the pat few years. Some of the photos, below, are from his May 6, 2019 outing titled “A morning at the Huntington Beach

(Red-y for the games by Om Malik)
(A moment of reflection by Om Malik)
(Untitled by Om Malik)
(I hope I didn’t miss the waves! by Om Malik)

Music I’m Digging

  • Beyoncé – Lemonade // I hadn’t heard this album until it was recently released across all streaming services. While I knew it had received high praise upon release I’d (effectively) dismissed the praise as just what comes with any release from Beyoncé. Having listened to the album several times I’m still stunned with the beauty and rawness of this album. My only regret is that I didn’t listen to it when it was first released.
  • Lizzo – Cuz I Love You // Lizzo’s previous EP was exceptional in that it showcased her incredible vocal range and ability to create a tight series of works. Her new full-length album is no different: it’s the best kind of pop that is possible and is very, very easy to endlessly consume.
  • Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky – Droneflower // This is a very particular kind of album. It is most definitely not something to listen to when in poor spirits; the lyrics and musical accompaniment is almost designed to depress the spirit and lay one low. This is an album that combines the lightness of an ethereal voice with that of harsh and brutal music. It’s definitely one of the most intellectually intriguing albums I’ve listened to this year.
  • The National – I Am Easy to Find // This album is unlike any other that The National has released: it’s far less moody that earlier albums, and the inclusion of significant female vocals means that the album sounds like The National but not actually of the National. I’m still trying to determine if I like the album or not but, either way, it definitely shows that older bands can develop new sounds!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • HuffPo Followup – One-on-One with Gerald Butts // This is a wide ranging and deep diving interview with the former principal secretary of Justin Trudeau. Butts is, at points, deeply convincing — specifically around whether pressure was placed on the former Attorney General — but otherwise is insightful for how he regards public service, what matters in advancing liberal socio-political (as opposed to political party) values, and the baseline importance of contributing to the public and our shared democracy.
  • Wag the Doug – “Unfortunately, That Tree Can’t Employ Anybody” // This ongoing popup podcast on the Ford government outlines all of the anti-environment and anti-climate elements in the government’s recent budget. It’s bad. But who expects anything less from a Ford?

Good Reads

  • New type of plastic is a recycling dream // It’s pretty amazing that novel chemical formulas may enable use to continue to use plastics, while mitigating their longevity (and enabling us to subsequently re-repurpose the chemicals that form the plastic in the first place). The question or issue, of course, is whether this technology will be adopted or if the costs of shifting to it mean that few companies will retool their entire production line, thus leaving us with the current wasteful technologies despite technical advances in plastics making.
  • Why Don’t You Just // This very short transcript of a talk at a technical conference nicely summarizes some of the annoyances I have when persons with technical/coding backgrounds interject with solutions to social problems. The ways in which the injections take place often (implicitly) devalue the work that has often been put into the problem at hand and, in the process, elevates the technical/coding skills above those associated with the social sciences and humanities.
  • How Erik Prince Used the Rise of Trump to Make an Improbable Comeback // The Intercept has published yet another terrific close on Erik Prince’s exploits and activities, this time with a focus on how he sought to take advantage of his association with Trump associates to advance his own interests. The article is rife with explanations of how Prince is involved in self-dealing and, also, with people who continue to authorize and facilitate his activities despite knowing his past history. It’s not just shocking that Prince is seeking to illegally be involved in private war activities but, also, that wealthy and influential people keep succumbing to his silver tongue.
  • Phishing and Security Keys // Risher, a security engineer at Google, has a terrific and accessible and blunt piece about the importance of security keys and the relative value they offer in contrast to other kinds of password systems. Left unstated is the issue of when people lack their hardware tokens: technologists and engineers have so-focused on making computing convenient that adding in friction is a hard thing to sell to most users, to say nothing of the issues in ensuring that keys work across all platforms and devices. Still, two factor authentication is a good thing and if you’re particularly paranoid then this piece should explain why you should try and opt for a hardware token to sign into your accounts.
  • Conquering The Carolina Reaper Requires Self-Deceit, Milk, And A Lot Of Barf // I haven’t laughed this hard in a while. The author’s description of his own experiences with epically hot peppers, as well as those in the professional food and pepper eating competitions, is an epic (and painful!) but of food journalism.
  • Status meetings are the scourge – Signal v. Noise // While I largely agree that many status meetings are monsterous wastes of time, I remain moderately unconvinced about the efficacy of posting what you’re doing to your colleagues to update them: face time is valuable because you can compel the attention of your team. Should you do so very often? Probably not. But never? I have a hard time envisioning that.
  • There really is something unique about Tennessee whiskey, study finds. // It is amazing just how much research goes into understanding the nature of alcohols, and how this science could revolutionize the qualities of whiskey and other spirits. I remain excited about just what we can learn about aging processes and how this will affect the quality and quantity of products brought to market!
  • Listening to My Neighbors Fight // I found this to be insightful, mostly as a personal essay that clearly unpacks the situation that almost all urban city dwellers experience at some point. This bit of writing, in particular, seemed to perfectly capture the situation that we’re all in at some point: “You can call the police. But you run the risk of wasting their time and mortifying your neighbors. Even worse, you might possibly put your neighbors in danger if the police were to overreact and hurt them. You can also simply ignore the noise and hope it stops. But then there you are, just you in your home, not knowing when a fight is just a fight—another messy part of the social contract that neighbors learn to ignore as a part of life—and when it’s worse. Google neighbors fighting and you’ll find Reddit threads and advice columns full of people trying to decipher the line between ordinary disputes and domestic violence. When does it become my business?, we want to know.”

Cool Things

  • 33 Deserted Places Around the World // This series of abandoned locations are spectacular, and remind us that the Earth will continue on even as our waste and artifacts are long-abandoned by us.
Aside

Apple, Handoff, and the Apple Ecosystem

I listen to a lot of podcasts and music throughout the day. It drives me nuts that there isn’t a consistent and reliable way to start listening to something on my Apple TV when having breakfast, shift to my iPhone while heading out to walk to a coffee shop, shift to listening on my iPad while reading/dealing with email, back to my iPhone for a walk to my office, and then finish listening to a playlist of my Mac without having to open the music app on each device, each time, and navigate to my place in a given playlist and start listening. Yes this is very much a first world problem but it’s the precise kind of problem that Apple’s famed integration is supposed to solve for me!

Aside

2018.9.13

Not going to lie: I was tempted to upgrade my iPhone 7 this year to the new X-line, but given it would cost just under $1,800 (CAD) after taxes to get an Xs with sufficient storage, and before getting Apple Care, I’m just going to hold onto my iPhone 7 for yet another year.

Aside

2018.7.24

I spent a large portion of last night deleting all of my iCloud-stored data on my iOS devices and then re-downloading all of my data. Again.

The reason: Photos wasn’t updating across all of my devices. Again.

It’s maddening that Apple can’t seem to get syncing to work reliably across their devices. These kinds of failures makes it challenging for me to recommend people to fully invest in Apple’s services.

A Civil Rights Company?

Photo by Youssef Sarhan on Unsplash

Much has been made of Tim Cook’s advocacy on issues of privacy and gay rights. The most recent iteration of Safari that was unveiled at WWDC will incorporate techniques that hinder, though won’t entirely stop, advertisers and websites from tracking users across the Internet. And Apple continues to support and promote gay rights; the most evident manifestations of this is Apple selling pride-inspired Apple Watch bands and a matching pride-based watch facealong with company’s CEO being an openly gay man.

It’s great that Apple is supporting these issues. But it’s equally important to reflect on Apple’s less rights-promoting activities. The company operates around the world and chooses to pursue profits to the detriment of the privacy of its China-based users. It clearly has challenges — along with all other smartphone companies — in acquiring natural mineral resources that are conflict-free; the purchase of conflict minerals raises fundamental human rights issues. And the company’s ongoing efforts to minimize its taxation obligations have direct impacts on the abilities of governments to provide essential services to those who are often the worst off in society.

Each of the above examples are easily, and quickly, reduced to assertions that Apple is a public company in a capitalist society. It has obligations to shareholders and, thus, can only do so much to advance basic rights while simultaneously pursuing profits. Apple is, on some accounts, actively attempting to enhance certain rights and promote certain causes and mitigate certain harms while simultaneously acting in the interests of its shareholders.

Those are all entirely fair, and reasonable, arguments. I understand them all. But I think that we’d likely all be well advised to consider Apple’s broader activities before declaring that Apple has ‘our’ backs, on the basis that ‘our’ backs are often privileged, wealthy, and able to externalize a range of harms associated with Apple’s international activities.