There being a bucket-drumming busker in the neighborhood, which is rare (and welcome).
The tininess of the Hanukkah section at Michael’s.
How the Lincoln Yards development [11-29-18] has given me a deeper perspective on “shop local.” I had always tried to support small businesses because I wanted to “give” money to people who are closer upstream to the goods/services they sell than corporate managers are (the Michael’s visit above notwithstanding). But now I see that it’s also about how our physical world looks on an immediate, neighborhood scale. Businesses that own land have profound control over the lifestyles of people who live near them (e.g. by granting/withholding access to particular goods or services) and how it feels to live there (e.g. by changing the material landscape). If small businesses wield that power more responsibly, then they’re even more important than I thought.
On some level I wonder whether big businesses should have any presence outside of commercial districts in the first place. If your idea of home extends also into your neighborhood, then it’s weird to think that a national or global organization—a group of people that don’t live anywhere near you—would have any control over how your home is constituted. But I’m not sure that a restriction like that would be helpful, since it would effectively make a world where businesses can only serve the people who live immediately around them, and even some of the most righteous brick-and-mortar small businesses want or need to serve people farther than that (think of a family-owned regional restaurant chain). (Plus, the distinction between “residential” and “commercial” area doesn’t really exist in dense places like Manhattan. Plus, maybe that concept of “home” is too expansive. Plus, lots of people just want a Starbucks on their corner.) Maybe a better solution isn’t a ban on big businesses in residential areas but instead better oversight over which businesses are allowed to use land there (beyond zoning laws), how they use it, and how much of it they can amass.
Visiting my grandpa Zaid in the hospital and watching him sing through narcotic pain meds.
The dog waiting for its owner in the driver’s seat of a car in the hospital parking lot.
Kid Rock’s surprising insightfulness about concert ticketing economics in a Planet Money interview from 2013.
How even just a few days of my grandpa’s being in the hospital has brought other families’ experiences into sharper focus for me. My family has so much privilege—access to a good hospital, to which we were only able to take him because we didn’t have to rely on (or pay for) an ambulance; relatives whose jobs allow them to come and advocate for him. If it’s been this tough for us over the past few days, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like for others without those advantages. And then there’s the scale of it: that something like what we’re going through (and often much worse) is replicated thousands of times every day.
How even at a well-run hospital, my grandpa’s care depends on his kids’ and grandkids’ being there to listen to doctors, make decisions, and follow up on things that might otherwise slip through the cracks (nurses have to be reminded that he’s blind, for example). I know that some hospitals have “sitters” that will stay in-room with a patient when they don’t have the constant supervision of an ICU room. But even with that program (which is opt-in), it seems like a wonder to me that anyone gets adequate care without relatives or friends who can treat it like a (hopefully temporary) full-time job.
The music, animal masks, and leather jumpsuits in this ‘70s Bollywood movie intro (search “animal mask Bollywood”; via Amos).
Listening to Deerhoof’s cover of the Shining soundtrack while staying overnight in a near-deserted, massive former monastery.
The ice floating by on the Fox River.
How if a big driving force of our behavior is our discomfort with ambiguity, then it makes sense that we would latch onto brands so strongly, since they’re these stable, knowable identities. I‘m sure that MBAs have written about that but I was just thinking about it in pop psych/philosophy terms.
It’s the same case with mass-produced goods, since each individual instance of one is virtually identical to the next. It gives us the feeling that they have this knowable, ideal form, and that they’re not contingent objects made out of contingent materials by contingent people with contingent hands. (Jony Ive practically says as much in Apple design videos.) That, combined with their ubiquity, makes them comforting; it’s nice to know that you can go almost anywhere in the world and find a twelve-ounce can, or eat a Big Mac that tastes the same as home’s. (I knew a tour manager who would do exactly that even in food meccas like Italy and France.) But it’s worth giving up that familiarity sometimes. Or more than sometimes.
And this, from the New York Times op-ed “The Rise of Woke Capital”: “‘As much as we fear corporations gone wild,’ Poulos concludes, ‘we love corporations that love us.’ And in a rich society people may prefer that their #brands prove this love by identifying with favored social causes rather than through the old-fashioned expedient of paying their workers a little bit more money.”
Joe Kennedy’s simple, great State of the Union 2018 rebuttal speech (I just got around to it).
Merve Emre’s reasonable but kinda pessimistic take on Katie Paterson’s “Future Library” project, where 100 well-known authors have each deposited a book to be released and printed in 2114 on trees grown specifically for the purpose, outside of the library, 100 years earlier.
The loss of innocence I felt when Dave Grohl said “white people dance to lyrics [not the groove]” in a comedy video with Kyle Gass (via Amos).
The first wave of Spotify criticism, about the infeasibility of the all-you-can-stream model, and now the second wave (led by Liz Pelly), about the influence of algorithmic playlists.
The longest nose I’ve ever seen, an older guy’s at the brick-oven pizza restaurant.
Wondering whether reading and writing about creativity (“meta art-making,” like The Creative Independent) is a way to procrastinate on our own art or if it’s just good, healthy rumination on this thing that we love. Probably the latter most of the time and the former sometimes.
The coffee shop whose name and logo look like a Shellac rip-off: “Shellates.”
Cory Doctorow’s review of WTF by Tim O’Reilly, all about how false conflicts between things we love (like Facebook, or Woody Allen movies) and things that do harm (like Facebook’s lobbyism, or Woody Allen) privilege the harm-doer and undermine our efforts to keep and improve the thing we love.
“The progressive insistence that the baby is inseparable from the bathwater works to the favor of big business and big tech. If technology’s critics insist that you have to choose between Facebook and surveillance and manipulation, they affirm Facebook’s own position. But if critics insist that Facebook has deliberately, cynically married something wonderful with something terrible, they invite people to join their case and fight for a good Facebook, rather than demanding a kind of antitech hairshirt that insists that you have to give up, not demand better.”
[Related, 12-23-18: A Tufts research study found that most people won’t quit Facebook unless you give them $1,000 to do it (via Motherboard).]
The stuff I learned from Tom Whitwell’s “52 things I learned in 2018” post (via Kottke):
That Elon Musk’s Boring Company flamethrower isn’t actually a flamethrower, it’s a torch, and it’s marked up something like 500%.
The money laundering scheme where people algorithmically make, sell, and buy fake books filled with gibberish on Amazon.
That acoustic guitars were twice as prevalent as electric guitars on the Billboard 200 in 2015.
That nuclear testing has likely led to as many cancer deaths over time in the US as were killed by the US’s bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
That some Chinese companies have been requiring their employees to wear brain wave sensors (e.g. train conductors).
That the Tunisian government offers its citizens one year of paid “startup leave” to take off from work and start their own company. A very American, Homestead Act-y idea that seems unimaginable in present-day America.
Ridley’s idea about a scientific basis to astrology, where ancient cultures (rightly) intuited that everything is materially connected, and they just made some best guesses about the specific consequences of those connections. That is, the planets being aligned in a particular way actually does minutely affect gravity on earth or cause a cascade of events (butterfly-effect-style) that changes your life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can trace aspects of our lives to those influences or codify them in any way.
Admiring the in-counter cup cleaner things they have at bars and coffee shops.
The vacant storefront with nothing inside except for a drum kit in the window, facing inward.
Elvin Jones’s drumming on the newly released Coltrane “lost album.”
The amazing visualization of population density on Pudding.cool.
The nice, farm-to-table restaurant using New Amsterdam vodka bottles as water jugs.
Feeling frustrated as ever that conservatives support a totally free market because they’re afraid of being dominated or imposed upon by the government, but we have way more recourse with the government than we do with the companies in our lives (e.g. even my beloved Apple). Good luck trying to oust Tim Cook. It’s much easier to run your own congressperson.
Trying to better understand Liz Pelly’s new Baffler piece about Spotify. Is it so bad that people want to listen to music in the background? Or is the blameworthiness not in their listening, but in the way Spotify and labels/artists are using data to precision-engineer music for background listening? I think active listening is worthwhile and important but I’m not sure that people are wrong to be background listeners per se.
The ambulance outside the Amazon fulfillment center.
Bowling for Sima’s birthday.
The animations on the scorekeeping screen circa 2003.
The zipper of my cymbal bag getting stuck on a hole in the crotch of my jeans.
The college-age kid wearing an LED holiday sweater and rollerblades at the airport.
The TSA agents at checkpoint 7A seeming happy.
The flight attendants on Alaska 1201 seeming sad.
The googly eyes that someone had put on the Alaska Air Eskimo logo at the gate.
Miriam Posner’s article in Logic Magazine about why global supply chains are so opaque (and why that shouldn’t excuse Fortune 500 companies from making them transparent).
The searchable database of over 200,000 Japanese woodcut prints at ukiyo-e.org (via Kleon).
Wondering how anti-discrimination laws work in the film casting industry.
Scott Walker’s infuriating lack of integrity in limiting the Wisconsin governorship before his successor, Tony Evers, takes office.
On one hand, it’s within his mandate to impose those limits because he’s still the governor and his will is still, for a little longer, the expression of the people. But on the other, more reasonable hand, it’s a disrespect to voters and to the process because it subverts a more recent expression of their will.
Getting excited about the Robinhood app’s checking and savings bank accounts with 3% interest until the president of the SIPC said that those accounts weren’t insured and that Robinhood never even called the SIPC. (They had been advertising the accounts with SIPC insurance.)
Our super nice Lyft driver who was a former informant for the US military in Afghanistan and who moved from there because people knew he was an informant for the US military.
Him wistfully recollecting about his US soldier friend who had given him a pair of Air Jordans.
Talking about Brazilian punk music and Caetano Veloso with another one of the sweetest Lyft drivers of all time, Silvio.
Him showing me a Voice Memos recording of him and his ex-girlfriend singing a song he wrote, which I pessimistically expected to be kinda bad but which was very beautiful.
How nice it is, still, that San Francisco didn’t get rid of its trolleys in a knee jerk for the future.
Waiting in line, like the tourists Casey and I are, for bubble tea at Boba Guys.
The drummer in the cocktail band at Casey’s company’s holiday party with a mini tambourine attached to his shoe.
How even with little familiarity of his work (I’ve watched a few episodes of Parts Unknown and read and loved Kitchen Confidential), I have denial about Anthony Bourdain’s death. Not really about its reality, but about its being suicide. Some part of me assumes, or wants to believe, that it was pharmaceutically influenced or accidental.
The internet-controlled RobotStreamer[.]com RC car wandering the street (with a human overseer).
The French bakery, Tartine (suggestion from Oona). Eating a massive mushroom croque monsieur because they didn’t have many other veggie options. The spicy pickled carrot on the side. I figured: I’m 23 now. I don’t have to have the palate of a four-year-old anymore.
The birthday candles that Casey had secretly bought across the street and stuck into my croque monsieur.
The drizzle at Mission Dolores Park, where we walked up a hill and then back down.
The ceramics and home goods store, Heath, and all its beautiful magazines and design books. We sat in the cafe and read for a while.
Flying home from San Francisco.
The woman at SFO with a graphic pattern dress depicting a face that seemed to be Chairman Mao’s.
The beacon lights on the plane’s wing tips lighting up the rain, showing us how fast we were going.
My controversial decision to poop during the flight, and the prolonged turbulence that started as soon as I sat down.
Lake Michigan as an invisible, black slick.
Mom and Dad surprising me with cake and “Happy Birthday” when I walked in the door at home.
The NYTimes article about woke capitalism: how some brands perform wokeness to distract consumers and workers from demanding more substantial, long-lasting improvements (like higher worker pay). It helped me understand how I could believe conservatives are responsible for corporations run amok and still find validity in the fabled rural American worker’s conviction that liberalism is to blame for all her problems (because woke capitalism is a product of liberalism).
I was at a conference once with a seminar that explicitly called on attendees to incorporate woke capitalism into their businesses. It was pretty well-meaning, but even then the idea struck me as deflective.
The Oatmeal article about backfire effect, the cognitive bias that causes us to reject ideas that conflict with beliefs we already hold (or want to hold), i.e., to minimize the friction between new info and old info. That sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when we’re thinking about, for example, racism and how people could be so immune to logical arguments against it.
How The Oatmeal and The Pudding are both visual storytelling sites and they’re both named for mushy foods? Coincidence?!
The horrifying Baffler story about student debt by M.H. Miller.
The computer science online college Lambda School’s unique tuition model: they charge you nothing until you start making money, and only then they take a portion out of your income (over two years, capped at $30k, if your salary is at least $50k). If the education is worthwhile, that model makes so much sense to me. The school’s interests are directly aligned with yours. And since everyone wants a high-paying job, there’s little chance of students abusing the system. I hope more colleges consider a model like that (especially those with big endowments to finance it) until we collectively decide to subsidize the fuck out of education.
The Fast Company story from 2017 about those orange scissors that are in every home/office: “The company has an unusual way of determining the quality of each finished product: The quality control team listens to the sound of each pair of scissors as they’re closed.”
How I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable with the lionization/romanticization of curiosity, because it can make it seem like you have to make yourself interested in uninteresting things, collect Fun Fact trivia-isms, or find esoteric hobbies, to have the virtue of curiosity. But it just means to be open to truly interesting things, enthusiastic enough to dig into and find more of them. Curiosity’s not just for nerds. Or else everyone should feel able and free to be a nerd.
The chipped paint and patinated metal on the bases of IV stands in contrast with the sterile white plastic of all the other machines in Zaid’s hospital room [12-2-18].
How the screen showing Zaid’s vitals shows another patient’s vitals, too, a weird connection between him and a stranger in another room.
How we have a lot of common knowledge about relatively low-tech stuff, like cooking and health, and not very much common knowledge (or not very common common knowledge) about things like internet password hygiene, data back-up durability, social media etiquette, etcetera. It’s interesting to imagine a world where there are mnemonic phrases and children’s stories about computer-y topics that are just as prevalent as those about non-computer-y topics. Look both ways before you cross the street, and never daisy-chain your passwords.
Switching back to Firefox after years of using Safari and Google Chrome because I don’t want to contribute to Google’s outsize control over HTML/CSS/JS standards. As markets for independent native (non-web) software decline, as web traffic coalesces around a few social media platforms, and—most of all—as ad-tech gets sneakier and more ubiquitous, we have more and more interest in preserving the democratic-ish processes that have governed open web standards so far (for more detail see Ferdy Christant’s “The State of Web Browsers” articles).
Google’s browser dominance (not to mention its email dominance with Gmail, or Amazon Web Services’ cloud dominance) seems like yet another reason we should completely reimagine antitrust law for the information economy. You can’t just break up Facebook, for example, into a bunch of “Baby ‘Books” (like Baby Bells) because its value comes from its network effect. So we need tech-informed antitrust law that distributes control over, but preserves the unity of, big stores of data, rather than ham-fistedly breaking companies up to foster competition.
[12-19-18: Evgeny Morozov in The Guardian in 2016: “The rhetoric of improving competition cannot lie at the heart of economic populism in the 21st century. A much better agenda for left-leaning populists would be to insist that data is an essential, infrastructural good that should belong to all of us; it should not be claimed, owned, or managed by corporations.”]
Listening to morning radio and talking about Cardi B and Offset with my Lyft driver, who disapproves of Offset, but who also thinks the florist who tipped off TMZ about the price of his flower arrangement for Cardi should’ve kept quiet.
Liam driving me to surgery (heart eyes).
“Tell Me Something Good” on in the waiting room.
Afterward, Casey tolerating my slurping while eating.
The big piece of flesh that came out of one of my tooth sockets.
Finding reassurance in the fact that the Stickies app is still on Mac.
Vini Lopez’s funky, energetic drumming on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. blowing my mind (via Casey).
Drumming with Leonora, the baby of my friend and pseudo-sister Liz.
Wondering about psychosomaticism: At some point doesn’t our cognition get better than our body’s physical knowledge of what’s going on? e.g. Our bodies retain more fat when they “expect” that we’ll have little access to food in the future (based on recent relatively low intake), but since we’re now better able to consciously predict how much access to food we’ll have, why can’t our bodies respond to that info instead of the gut’s crude predictive mechanism?
Smelling a fresh turd from Casey’s cat and feeling like it went directly into my brain.
Sammy’s birthday: watching King of the Hill and Tales from the Tour Bus together.
Passing a Peter Francis Geraci law office (in a former Taco Bell) and wondering: do law school graduates choose to work there, or do they view it as the only option when more elite law firms are out of reach? Do they enjoy it? It seems to me, an outsider, like McDonald’s: a service (low-cost, highly available legal help) that only exists because there’s no adequate public sector option, and which can only be staffed because there’s a dearth of opportunity for so many young people.
Eating the last of my birthday cake from one week ago.
James Black’s great drumming on “The Hook & Sling” (via Dave).
The 2017 Politico article, “Does the White Working Class Really Vote Against Its Own Interests?” (Answer: materially, yes. Emotionally, no.)
“[…] Black residents in many Northern cities had little recourse but to rent cramped, subdivided apartments in buildings whose white landlords often neglected repairs and upkeep, but the physical decay of their homes fed the white Americans’ suspicions that black residents chose to live in squalor.”
Sitting in Zaid’s 1980s massage chair while waiting for an AT&T repairperson to arrive.
The fake keyboard clacking noises on AT&T’s (and others’) customer support calls. [1-1-19: Apple is the only major corp I’ve heard that tells its callers that the robot on the other end is a robot. AT&T really tries to pass it off.]
The debate about whether we should wish for a moonshot candidate or an appeasement-to-racist-whites candidate in 2020. I don’t want to be naive, but I think a moonshot candidate—a woman of color under seventy with great ideas and a straightforward manner of communicating—would be the more principled option and our best chance at winning because it’s the more principled option. Left-leaning people are tired of settling and tired of making decisions based on what Republicans will let us do instead of what we ought to do. I think we should be unabashedly principled and honest about what we want. 2016 shows us that “electability” is largely a mythical concept, anyway.
New York Times’ amazing, interactive story about the recent Lion Air disaster.
Listening to Tea for the Tillerman straight through for the first time and loving it, especially “Hard Headed Woman.”
The NYTimes story about how perpetrators of mass shootings use credit cards to finance their gun purchases (and credit card companies’ bullshit excuses for not helping to prevent or report those purchases).
The under-acknowledged genius of Instagram user takaharu.suzuki.666.