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 live a pretty minimalist lifestyle — I try to be super careful about new purchases and to not own more than I need — but it’s been a few months since I’ve done a purge. So over the past week I’ve gone through almost all of my clothing, cupboards, and drawers, and quickly and easily found four (small) bags of things to either recycle, donate, or sell. I still feel like I need to get rid of some additional things or, if not dispose of them, at least more tightly organize some of my spaces to dispense with any clutter in my closed storage spaces. I find that even organizing the ‘hidden’ spaces in my home — such as closed drawers that only I open — provides me with a sense of relief; it’s not sufficient that things outwardly appear organized and tidy, it’s important that even that which no one sees has the exact same properties. Sorta like how Steve Jobs demanded that his factories were organized by design principles and the insides of the early Apple IIs were meant as works of silicon-art…
“Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does.”
― George Orwell
Great Photography Shots
As is increasingly common — in part because I keep spending time looking at just how much you can get out of smartphone cameras, and even those which are years old! — I was struck by these black and white mobiography images. It’s really impressive how well the small sensors on smartphones, even those as old as the iPhone 6 and 6s, work when placed in ideal lighting situations.
Music I’m Digging
Jrd. – Growth // I’ve been listening to this album some through the week and been really enjoying its downtempo beat; it’s been great for quietly reading or cooking. If I have one complaint, it’s that many of the tracks seem too short – just as they start to find their full on-grove, the track is over and it’s on to the next one.
Neat Podcast Episodes
99% Invisible – Atomic Tattoos // I was struck by how during the Cold War, Americans were specifically taught to engage in resiliency preparation in the case of an Atomic attack. This podcast starts by examining why certain people had their blood type tattooed on their rib cage, but then proceeds with a broader assessment of resilience and questions whether Western nations are anywhere near as resilient, today, as they believed they were in the 1950s-1970s.
Hurry Slowly – Creativity vs Efficiency // I appreciated how, in this episode, the host explores how efficiency actually can act as a barrier to creativity. The manifold numbers of hinderances in life and creation can actually fuel the creative process itself and, as such, creatives needs to reflect on whether they really, truly, want to become ‘efficient’ and if so, why and for what specific benefits.
The Rise and Demise of RSS // This is a tremendous summary of the history of the RSS protocol and the reasons behind why it was forked multiple times. I don’t know that I agree with the concluding assessment — that RSS is falling increasingly out of use — insofar as it still powers a lot of the backend of the Internet, unbeknownst to many Internet users. Moreover, as companies such as Feedly grow and attract subscribers I expect that people will use RSS more and more, even if they don’t know their reading is being powered by RSS feeds. Still, it has to be admitted that outside of a relatively tech-literate audience the protocol itself is largely unknown. Less evident, however, is whether knowing about the protocol matters so long as it remains in use.
If we stopped upgrading fossil-fuel-using tech, we’d hit our climate goals // While there isn’t any possibility that the world will generally swap its infrastructure to green technologies in the near future, this study (depressingly) shows how much of a difference would be made should we adopt green infrastructure now versus by 2030. Do it now, and we would likely limit limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times; do it by 2030, and most of the simulations put us on the wrong side of 1.5°C but below 2.0°C.
The Homebrewery // This is a pretty cool latex installation that enables a dungeon master to robustly produce documents that looks and feel very similar to official Wizards of the Coast publications.
The Confessions Game // I’m a big fan of these kinds of ‘games’, which are really facilitated conversation starters that bypass trivial talking. This looks like it would encourage some pretty intense discussions amongst friends and partners.
One of the things that I’ve struggled to accomplish over the past several years is to aggressively avoid buying things for the purpose of just satisfying other people. I want the things that inhabit my life to bring me joy, first and foremost, with others’ considerations a distant second or third (or ninth!) priority. For a trip that I’m embarking on there were some purchases that I had to make: some new pants and shirts that I’d put off buying for a few months. So after a suitable amount of research (and discovery of appropriate sales) some new menswear came into my life.
But at the same time, I’ve wanted a new messenger/briefcase/camera bag for some time. The one that I’ve been using remains functional but it’s starting to show it’s age. There are a few places where the canvass is wearing. Ideally whatever I replace it with would be ever-so-slightly larger and maybe even be better suited to carrying a camera and a lens. Oh! And it’d be great to be able to carry a couple small books, or a lunch, plus a mobile computing device. And something that looked a little ‘nicer’ would probably be great to take on this upcoming trip.
With these requirements in mind I’ve been casually looking for a different messenger for about a month or so. I’ve visited numerous shops and held, and lifted, and filled different bags. None have quite hit the mark. Now, maybe it’s the case that there simply isn’t a bag that meets my preferred criteria! And that’d be annoying but fine. But what I kept almost doing is just buying a new messenger/briefcase so that I’d have something that would look a bit different — present me a bit differently — to others, even if I wasn’t happy with the purchase.
Ultimately, I avoided the temptation, despite there being numerous messengers that looked pretty nice. And so while I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t found what I’m looking for, yet, I’m also pretty happy with myself that I’ve managed to resist spending money just to satisfy others. Ultimately, whatever I come home with needs to satisfy me, first and foremost, with all others a distant second, third, or ninth.
I have an iPad as well as an iPhone 7. The fact that Apple has different gestures between the devices is driving me nuts; I keep gesturing in the wrong place to pull up the control centre on my phone. Also, I’m not so certain that the long press of the space bar to enable the cursor is all that great. I keep getting into situations where I run out of scrolling space or, worse, where the cursor doesn’t activate and instead iOS detects a lot of keyboard presses.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
The hardware is and has been for a long time, meat-limited. What makes the difference is the operational experience, the haptic-tactile experience, and just how much the damn camera makes you want to go out and take pictures with it.
I’ve been looking at all the neat ways that Apple has improved their computational photography capabilities in the newest versions of the iPhones. While I don’t expect that I’ll be upgrading this round Apple’s specialized imaging circuitry, again, reminds me that mobile photography can lead to pretty amazing images. So for this week I wanted to recognize some pretty great smartphone shots of skies that were featured at Mobiography.
Music I’m Digging
The Prodigy – No Tourists (Need Some1) // The new Prodigy album doesn’t drop until November 2, but their track ‘Need Some1’ is classic: it immediately has me wanting to jump up and dance, like all of the band’s best works. I cannot wait for the rest of the album.
Coins – Daft Science // This is an album of Beastie Boy remixes, using Daft Punk samples. Released in 2014, it remains one of my favourite remix albums, and is right up there with the Grey Album as far as I’m concerned.
Neat Podcast Episodes
The Current – Laws to suppress black vote in U.S. are being drafted with ‘horrific efficiency,’ says author // Anna Maria’s interview with Carol Anderson is both a chilling history lesson of how American states have historically sought to prevent African-Americans from voting while, also, demonstrating how the effects of repealing the Voter Rights Act had significant impacts on the ability for minorities to vote in the 2016 American elections. It’s a great overview of just how much is wrong with the contemporary ‘free and equal’ elections in the United States.
The Current – Minimalism: Upper-class luxury or liberating lifestyle? // While the title suggests that there would be some kind of a knock-out debate in the episode, all the panelists agree that living a minimalist lifestyle is better considered as a mindset that is crafted for each given person/couple/family. Core to this mindset is that we should only purchase or acquire things that we need, will use, and bring us happiness in our lives. Maintaining this mindset doesn’t mean not buying things but, instead, just being very deliberate in the consumer goods that we do actually spend out money on.
Good Reads for the Week
The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History // Andy Greensburg has provided the most accessible, and comprehensive, account of how devastating the NotPetya attack was. The key thing I took away from the article was this: we now live in a world where accounting software in the Ukraine can unintentionally shut down global businesses and cost billions of dollars. National borders are decreasingly relevant to the consequences of cyber activities and that, save for a small handful of transnational intelligence-based operations to mitigate such activities, the world is largely vulnerable to the next likely equally devastating attack.
Quantum Computing and Cryptography // Bruce raises an interesting set of questions: what if it turns out that number theory, upon which we have developed our public key algorithms, is just a temporary and erroneous area of math that in fact does not hold the promise we thought that it does? What if, instead, all cryptography fundamentally has to return to information theory — such as what underlies the security properties of one-time passwords — given the factoring potentials of quantum cryptography? While we may never attain quantum devices capable of decrypting all public key systems the very potential that an entire line of mathematics may be consigned to the dustbin of history is a provocative thesis.
I Came of Age During the 2008 Financial Crisis. I’m Still Angry About It // This opinion piece in the Sunday Review does a good job of capturing the frustration and anger that the millennial and post-millennial generation has about the aftereffects of the financial collapse: by merit of when we happened to be born and emerge into adulthood, we were condemned to managing higher debt loads than those before us, with little access to capital, and little expectation that we would access capital needed to purchase homes or otherwise follow the ‘normal’ timelines of our parents and grandparents. Worse, because social welfare systems were pillaged before us, we’re in a situation where we are more responsible for those around us while simultaneously having fewer resources to support our aging family members and communities. Regardless of how ‘effective’ the recovery has been, or even how ‘sheltered’ Canada was from the financial collapse, it’s left a permanent scar on many workers’ lives that will continue to breed resentment and distrust in core institutions, likely to the continued detriment of social cohesion.
What Paulson, Bernanke, Geithner and Neil Irwin Don’t Get // This piece by Ed Walker nicely summarized what the New York Times has just totally failed to account for in their coverage of ten years after the financial crisis. In short, the “crimes, fraud, cheating, or corporate wrong-doing” been not been substantively taken up in the Time’s articles and, as a result, the broader rationales for public fury were largely elided. The story that elites tell themselves about the recovery, versus that which is shared at dinner tables and living rooms and bars by those most affected by the crisis, misses the point entirely. Never forget: money and economics is emotional, first, political, second, and rational when lucky.
iOS 12: The MacStories Review // Continuing the tradition, Federico Viticci has done a masterful and comprehensive job accounting for the changes in iOS 12, and summarizes what matters to end users and why. I appreciated his very significant deep dive into Siri shortcuts but remain curious and confused by the addition to the operating system. There are some things I want to automate but still have challenges wrapping my head around how to do so, despite deep dive explorations of the feature by people like Federico.
The Effectiveness of Publicly Shaming Bad Security // Troy’s analysis of why public shaming of companies’ bad practices correlates with discussions I’ve had with senior executives working at social media companies and internet service providers. Quite often there are people who want to fix bad practices but need advocates on the outside to be given the resources to actually make shame happen.
It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs // There’s a whole body of literature called technological determinism that critically interrogates the extent to which technology itself drives history. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of what is regarded as such determinism is, in fact, a normative shifting of the economy by key decision makers; technology isn’t doing anything but facilitating or being used to implement a particular groups’ decisions. It’s nice to see an opinion piece in the New York Times recognize that what we often see ascribed to ‘technology’ is, in fact, the product of decisions made by elite decision makers.
Josh Ginter – Toronto Travel Log // I have this dream of making travel logs that are as succinct as what Josh has put together. While I had the bones of such a log for a past trip to Central America it just never came together. Hopefully I can find the time to do something like this the next time I’m travelling somewhere for vacation.
Inside the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin // A lot of the information covered in this story has been told before in Musk’s biography, but never with such specific and personal detail. Musk, himself, is a mixed bag — just like Steve Jobs, with whom he’s often compared — but what he drives smart people around him to accomplish is genuinely spectacular.
Skeleton Cutlery // Oki Sato has done a tremendous job in making a cutlery set as absolutely simple as possible, restricting what is present to clean lines and leaving empty those parts of the cutlery that are less immediately necessary. I admit to thinking that the design of the knife is too stark – I think that the form may be upsetting the function – but the other items in the set look divine.
I have a long history of ‘dating’ furniture and other adornments for my home before buying them. Before buying my coffee table, as an example, I spent about 4-5 months looking at coffee tables all across the city I live in. I wanted to get a sense of different styles, sizes, materials, and prices before deciding on the piece that I ended up purchasing. The same is true of almost all other major pieces of furniture and electronics that I own. In effect, I spent a lot of time searching for beautifully designed and highly functional items.
For the past three or four weeks, I’m been looking to get a single statement piece for a chair in my living room. I’m in a small space and, as a result, I’m going to see the given accent piece multiple times a day: I want each viewing to be enjoyable. Several weeks ago, I’d found the pillow that I knew was perfect for the chair but held off purchasing it to evaluate other options and explore more possibilities. Before choosing something that was going to reside with me for years I wanted to be certain there wasn’t anything else that was superior or competitive.
When I went to get that perfect pillow this weekend…it was sold out. Limited run, so unless I can find it second hand I’m going to have to just continue the search. Which is fine; there will be another accent piece that will fit that chair. But I’m going to regret not moving more quickly on it for a while.
I think that, when done by ‘normal’ people, the pickiness I personify is probably what drives a lot of minimalist homes. I think of people like Steve Jobs, who famously refused to purchase furniture that didn’t appeal to his design aesthetics. And in watching, and listening to, people who live ‘minimalist’ lives a key element of their very being focuses on neither wanting a lot of things nor wanting ugly things; that which they own should bring joy to their lives, and that which wouldn’t bring joy should be eschewed so they can concentrate on that which is joyful.
There are lots of reasons why people abstain from minimalism. But at least one is likely linked to being taught that it’s not ‘right’ to live in semi-furnished environments: you should be filling your home with all the pieces that society designates as ‘normal’ as soon as you move in. The actual ability to furnish homes so quickly, and frankly so cheaply, is made possible both because of low credit rates and ‘fast’ furniture: think budget IKEA pieces and other stores’ furniture that looks beautiful…until scratched to reveal the particle board (or other cheap materials) underneath. Forty or fifty years ago it wasn’t strange for people to sometimes wait years before they acquired all of the furniture for their home, much of which was well built and could be passed along to another generation.
Minimalism, contra to that past era, is arguably less about passing things along to the next generation.1 But it is about waiting, patiently, until the right pieces are available at the right time. And to find a piece of furniture you need to spend time looking: it’s not as simple as walking into any store’s showroom and picking up the pieces that you want. Minimalism involves caring about what is coming into a home and proactively being involved in genuinely looking for furniture, accents, or other things you will be living with for years to come. And that very act of slowing down and acting deliberately is what makes the hunt for pieces that come into my home both meditative and frustrating. Meditative because it forces me to slow down and move more deliberately and carefully. Frustrating because I’ve become so used to getting whatever I want, as soon as I want it. Minimalism is, in some ways, a call back to a past that isn’t that long ago, and certainly isn’t lost forever.
While I’m still keeping my stuff in Apple Notes — a problem I had with the app functionally being unresponsive was addressed a few point updates ago — I remain tempted to switch things over to Bear so I can work in Markdown. Michael Tsui has a nice summary of how to transfer notes out of Apple’s product. The caveat is that there’s no way to export attachments, which makes this export method a non-starter for me, personally.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
Your art comes from your community. You must attend to your community.
Great Photography Shots
Unlike every other week, I only have a single photo this week, from Peter Baumgarten. His photo is amazing. But what was even more inspiring to me was his discussion of what went into making the photo: shots like this are the result of a bunch of work and a dash of luck!
Music I’m Digging
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Once (Music from the Motion Picture) // It’s been years since I listened to the tracks on this album and, to this date, there are several that strike right at my heart. The movie itself was excellent and largely made so because of the music; if you’re looking for a series of songs about the rise, lingering, and collapse of love, then this is an album for you.
Neat Podcast Episodes
The Documentary – Neighborhood: We Might As Well Be Finnish // An overview of both the political situation that Finland finds itself in, today, as aggression from Russia increases as well as a history lesson of the challenges Finland has undergone over the past two centuries. This podcast helped me learn a bit more about the political history of a country that I was otherwise pretty ignorant about.
The Documentary: Norway’s Silent Scandal // What happens when a BBC journalist intrudes into the relatively sleepy country of Norway? On the one hand, you learn a lot about the issue of child protective services taking children away from their parents with disturbing regularity. On the other, you learn just how unwanted foreign journalists are when they apply their journalistic interests to situations that might receive less, or different, attention from domestic journalists.
The Documentary – Not Making Babies in South Korea // In this episode, the BBC examines the social and gender reasons for the startlingly low birth rates in South Korea — women are currently expected to have 1.05 children in their lives. In an unsurprising spoiler, the higher costs of child rearing, the challenges women face at work when wanting to become mothers, and failure to shift domestic norms around distributions of domestic and professional labour are all linked to the country’s low birth rate.
Dear Sugars – Talking About Privilege // Two different kinds of privilege are discussed in this episode: male privilege associated with expectations that women take a man’s last name upon marriage, and male white privilege, where the man refuses to meaningfully engage with his African American partner’s racial identity. In both cases it felt like the men had fundamentally failed to engage with their partners as full partners in their life journey; in neither case, it seems, did the men recognize that the difficulties and questions their partners had identified needed to be genuinely worked through together. The problems, in effect, weren’t recognized as ‘group’ problems — save that they affected both parties — and were instead problems that the women needed to fix. This style of contemplating difference and challenges in interpersonal relations strikes me as a poor way of building strong and robust relationships which, to my mind, are predicated principally on open communication.
Clerks! (Part I) and Clerks! (Part II) // I had no idea what, in precise detail, law clerks for the Supreme Court of Canada did on a regular basis. I knew the basics — they helped with writing legal memos/briefs, argued with their Justices’, etc — but not the history of clerking in Canada, the rationale to increase the numbers of clerks assigned to each Justice, nor the breadth of activities that clerks are sometimes tasked to accomplish. I found it interesting that, in the assessment of past clerks, those who would benefit from the experience are likely those who move into academia or the non-profit sections, whereas those who shift into corporate practices are less likely to benefit from their year in Ottawa.
Good Reads for the Week
When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage // Wilding provides a good assessment of the kinds of self-care exercises we undertake, and which are counterproductive, as opposed to those which tend to be more challenging and active, and which also satisfy our existential needs. Central to the ‘good self-care’ activities is a mindfulness that accompanies an activity: they aren’t retreats from the world, per se, but are designed towards developing ways to build emotional, social, and physical resiliency in the face of stressors.
Bribes, Backdoor Deals, and Pay to Play: How Bad Rosé Took Over // A good take on the bad practice of companies trying to buy their way onto prestige wine lists. I’d never considered this as part of how wine lists were chosen but it makes me that much more curious about how, and why, restaurants’ lists are produced.
The Unlikely Activists Who Took On Silicon Valley — and Won // Confessore’s article outlines, in depth, just how California’s newest privacy legislation was crafted and passed. Perhaps more importantly, it showcases how dedicated small sets of individuals can come together to press for political change when they are opposed by incredibly well-resourced companies.
In Pakistan’s Financial Crisis, an Opening for Chinese Lawfare // China is aggressively expanding its foreign influence. From building space bases in Argentina to creating and arming new islands in the South China Sea to engaging in hostile loan practices, they are behaving exactly like a rising power ‘should’. They are also trying to push, pull, or drag other countries to shift off the US dollar as their trading currency; if they can woo key US allies, such as Pakistan, it will merely continue to speak of the rising global dominance of China, and especially in their close region of influence.
Anthropocene looks to be an incredible movie about the sheer impact that humanity has on the Earth, and the broader implications it has for understanding ourselves and where we live.
Indeed, there is a fundamental issues of being unable to find people who will inherit actual possessions; when we all have our own homes filled with furniture, why would we want out parents’? And even if we did, where would we put it? ↩