Categories
Culture

Visiting A Superpower that is also a Failed State

Last week I took an extended weekend off to drive down to the Twin Cities with my family, for the first time in almost exactly 3 years. Ever since we started going down there for punk shows (long before Odessa and I were married) we have made it a habit to trek down at least once per year.

The title of this post is a reference to Chuck Klosterman’s latest book “The Nineties” which we listened on the way there and back. Klosterman audiobooks have become as much of a tradition as the trip itself. Something about the combination of his comic-book-guy-from-the-simpsons delivery plus the fact that we are literally driving through the setting of some of his anecdotes is just so perfect.

In all seriousness though, between the events of January 6th, the presidency preceding it, and the George Floyd protests in the Twin Cities I was bracing for the worst. I expected to arrive in a country where my affiliations would be questioned every time I wanted to use a restroom, a political zealot yelling on every street corner and just general chaos.

But for the most part, everything was normal, like it had been previous years.

So Many Flavours of Mountain Dew

For many Canadians, trips across the border are a bit like visiting a giant Theme Park of Capitalism or maybe walking into r/latestagecapitalism. We simultaneous gawk at the sheer audacity of all the different things we can buy while buying as many of the things as we can possibly buy.

The varieties of Mountain Dew are a prime example a running joke even. [Up in these parts we typically have 3 flavours of Mountain Dew: regular, diet and a rotating cast of alternates (code red, blue shock, that new black one, etc)]

Well I’m happy(?) to report that the state of the world has not affected the junk food shelf. Not only that but the US consumerist machine has managed to find dozens of flavours of everything! Doritos, caned coffee, beef jerky, beyond meat jerky, skittles… you get the picture.

On Apple Pay and Tap

A quick note on Apple Pay.

I was pleasantly surprised that tap payment was available literally everywhere. This was not at all the case 3 years ago — chip&PIN was not even readily available.

That said most cashiers acted like I was one of the first people they’d ever seen actually using my phone to pay.

Economic Indicators

A Walmart sandwichboard style sign advertising service jobs starting at $16/hr and stocking jobs starting at $18/hr. It's located inside a Walmart store.

In the face of a mostly normal visit, the effects of inflation seemed a lot more real down there. Even though the inflation rate is only about 1% higher.

For one, nothing is cheap anymore, especially food. Even though the relatively exchange rates have remain roughly the same (30%, ±5%) for the 20 odd years I’ve been visiting The States you could always count on cheap fast food. Even after currency exchange.

And I’m not really sure any of the clothes and other stuff we bought is significantly cheaper like it used to be. Ohdessa did some on-the-fly comparison shopping vs the Canadian websites and often found similar to cheaper pricing on the .ca.

I bought new shoes out of compulsion.

Actually, gas is still cheap. About CA$0.30/L less (US$0.92/gal).

The most striking economic indicator was the WE’RE HIRING signs literally everywhere! The sign to the left is from a Walmart in Fergus Falls, North Dakota — a state with a $7.25 minimum wage. A Taco Bell in Fargo, ND was advertising a $500 signing bonus! $1500 bonus to start on as a mall cop at the Mall of America (salary not listed).

Not coincidentally, the McDonalds we visited that was not boasting of above minimum wage was so short staffed that the shift manager apologized about the wait to every single customer.

[N.B. Some of these posting might be total compensation (including things like healthcare) but are likely to still be multiples of the minimum wage.]

Art

Two teenagers and their mother surrounding a table, listening to audio recording on headphones. They are in an art gallery with art pieces on the walls behind them.

To counter-balance the kind of icky consumer tourism aspect of these trips, we always try to hit up some art galleries. The Twin Cities have a great art scene!

We were able to check out Piotr Szyhalski’s COVID-19: Labor Camp Report. I am not good at describing art so I will just say that this is the most incredible art exhibit I have ever seen. The dystopian posters, the performance, the orchestra. Such amaze!

PS

The Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Mendota Heights, Minnesota kinda sucks.

Categories
Apple Culture Google

Is iOS a Social Network?

When I left the iPhone ecosystem by switching to a Google Pixel 3.5 years ago people who knew me well were surprised. I had become an Apple guy. But iOS was boring. It felt stagnant. The Pixel felt like an innovative layer on top of an otherwise maybe-not-so-great Android ecosystem. I was quite happy with it and I was confident I wouldn’t switch back.

For reasons mainly related to availability, I decided to give iPhone another chance earlier this year. My opinion has flipped almost immediately.

This may sound silly but a lot has changed since 2018; iOS feels fresh again. For example, it’s implementation of widgets is really clever and useful; the cross-device focus mode is a great solution to the notification overload problem. Among other things. Apple is back on its game. I thought I would miss the pixel but I almost don’t at all.

A month in, I’m noticing some things that lead me to wonder if Apple might be building a social network, in reverse, without a newsfeed.

Messages as a Social Sharing Hub

One of the core features of any social network has always been the ability to message with other users privately or in groups. In the early days it wasn’t real time. It was more like limited email. All of my earliest social experience had private messaging features: forums and even prior to the internet BBSes.

In a world where we’ve all been avoiding physical contact and hiding in our homes as much as possible lest we get the plague, text-based messaging has become the definition of social for much of the world.

iOS’ Messages fills this need. Obviously.

But iMessage is doing something that goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen a social network implement.

“Shared With You”

Apple’s News app has a (somewhat buried) feature that lists news articles that have been shared with you in iMessage. Automatically.

Apple News > Following
News > Following > Shared with You

It’s almost like a newsfeed specifically limited to the app you’re looking at.

Similarly, Safari’s “start page” shows you everything shared with you from every conversation in iMessage (that isn’t a News link). Particularly handy when you’re trying to remember which shoes your wife wants.

Safari Start Page

Both of these are more useful and easier to manage than the crazy algorithmic newsfeed of a Facebook or LinkedIn. Both of these features are synced across devices (including MacOS).

Other Apps

“Shared with you” isn’t particularly well implemented in other apps.

Music has a concept of “friend” but they’re hard to find and I’m not convinced there’s much utility in seeing things like your friends’ playlists.

Photos has shared albums but they’re not integrated with iMessage or anything else – perhaps because this feature pre-dates Siri and perhaps also because it’s available outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Gamecenter has fallen by the wayside as a user-centric feature. It’s just a storage and leaderboard utility for game developers now.

Etc.

Contacts as Profiles

Another social-network-esque feature surfaces with the “Contacts” widget.

First, the widget presents you with a Siri-generted top 6 (or 3 in the smaller version) contacts reminiscent of MySpace’s “top 8”. Hilarious.

Secondly, it’s able to take advantage of iOS integration to securely display a couple of features that might make you nervous in any other context. That is, the contact’s focus status (note: the icon becomes a car when driving focus is enabled) and their current location (if location sharing is enabled).

When you tap on one of the icons, you get a version of the Contacts app that’s more condensed and useful than anywhere else in iOS. It removes all the settings options and editing features that you see in other contacts views, leaving only the contact’s details and shared items.

It’s a user profile.

To reiterate, the extra brilliant thing here is that all of this data has been collected, organized and analyzed on device. No need to grant a third party intermediary with ulterior motives access to your data.

Is this a social network?

The features I’ve described could be summed up as “link sharing” and “messaging.” In my opinion, these have always been core features of every social network. Perhaps the most important features of those social networks. What is Facebook’s core feature? A newsfeed of shared links (albeit perverted by a terrible algorithm).

Not to mention that a large amount of social networks are built around just one of those two features. Reddit was just a link feed for most of its history. Snapchat is just (picture/video focused) messaging. Etc.

At the very least iOS has some of the features of a social network.

However, iOS is missing two features fundamental to social networks. Posting and friend/group discovery.

iOS doesn’t have a mechanism to post a link or message to all of your contacts at once (aside from creating a giant group message comprising all of your contacts and I feel like that would be ridiculously chaotic). Nor does iOS give you a way to find new people, nor discover interest groups.

Without these features there is no “networking.”

No. It’s Messaging+.

What Apple has enabled with its cross-app-data-linking is more like “messaging+”. It adds functionality to iMessage.

It makes an already social experience more useful, in ways that none of the current social networks are actually able to accomplish.

Apple could go further and position itself to – maybe not replace but – obviate social networks as we know them today.

If Apple finally released iMessage for Android (like it’s been promising) so that everybody on any device had access. And if they opened up iMessage’s “shared with you” API to other apps (in a responsible manner) then I think things could get really interesting.


Props to @levisan for pointing my train of thought down this track.

Categories
Culture Tips & How To's

How To: Work From Home, Be Productive and Stay Sane

I just spent a few minutes looking through my draft posts for inspiration to restart blogging.

I came across the oldest draft in my queue, dated November 11, 2009.

I missed 11/11 1:11 by 6 minutes!

The post read as follows:


I’ve worked from home for 6 of the past 8 years in a variety of workspaces. Initially I worked in my parents basement, I briefly worked in my mother-in-law’s dinning room and for the past 2 years I’ve worked in the common space of a 2 bedroom apartment, with a toddler. Over this period I’ve maintained a 35 – 50 hour work week and managed to stay sane (and reasonably productive). Now that I’ve had my own dedicated works space for a couple of weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on a few of the ways I’ve been able to make it work.

  1. Good Employer
  2. Keep A ToDo List
  3. Don’t Answer The Phone
  4. Set “Business Hours”
  5. Don’t Follow Them
  6. Be Distracted

Reflecting on this now that we’ve all been covidworkingfromhome for the past 18 months (or is it 32?) and have just started a permanent remote positions, I’d say that list of advice still rings true.

1. Good Employer

Simply put: you need an employer who trusts you to work from home. One who understand that things might come up throughout the day and doesn’t have a problem with that.

If you’re having trouble finding an employer like this in 2021, imagine how rare it was 12 years ago.

During COVID, even bad employers didn’t have a choice but to begrudgingly let their employees work from home. Good employers will differentiate themselves from by ones by allowing their employees to continue working from home into 2022 and beyond.

2. Keep a To Do List

What I really meant by this was “be organized and focused.”

I still prefer physical to do lists. I like crossing things off with a pen and crumpling up the list at the end of the day.

Organizational tools and apps have really matured and keeping a physical to do list is not really necessary.

Don’t forget to include personal/home things on your to do list. Writing everything down is a great way to keep yourself from getting distracted.

3. Don’t Answer the Phone

“The phone” is much less of a thing in 2021.

Better advice would be “don’t read text messages, or non-work DMs”.

4. Set “Business Hours”

Over my years working from home this has come to be the main key to success.

Setting business hours adds the structure that I need to stay focused. It also sets expectations with my family. They’ll know not to interrupt or distract me between 8 – 5 unless it’s urgent.

Having an office door that you can closes helps, but it’s really not as crucial in my experience.

5. Don’t Follow Them & 6. Be Distracted

These two rules are really the same thing “allow yourself to be distracted.”

I’ve found that giving myself permission to break the rules has been the key to staying “sane.”

Take a long lunch, grab a coffee, go to the store.

Just don’t stray too far, too often.


In 2021, I would only add two additional pieces of advice to this list.

7. Wear Pants

Get dressed for work.

I’ve found that it really puts me in the mindset to get to work.

This has been a rule I’ve always followed, I don’t know why I didn’t add it to my original list.

8. Have an Amazing Partner (or I guess, live alone?)

I couldn’t have made it this far without an understanding wife.

Categories
Culture

When Facebook Turns Against You

Yesterday Facebook surfaced one of my aunts posts in which she alluded to a conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 death numbers are being fabricated. Normally my response to these sorts of posts on Facebook these days is to simply hit the “snooze for 30 days” button.

But this was my favourite aunt who I’ve respected since I was a child. She is not a “crazy aunt,” she is level-headed and well educated. Facebook has also never shown me a post of hers like this before, so I assumed she still had her wits about her.

I decided to spend some time with a thoughtful and researched reply. It was as follows.


There are a bunch of ways in which this statement doesn’t pass the smell test:

1. “We can’t know that the people who died, died from Covid19” I don’t think that the statement is true. I think we can know in the vast majority of cases. People are not randomly getting some a combination of symptoms similar to: kidney failure, pneumonia, meningitis, etc. Doctors know what the symptoms look like, they even have a test for the disease. If someone has the symptoms, they test postive for the disease and then subsequently die, it would be silly to say that they didn’t die of the disease.

2. “ANYONE who tested positive with COVID at the time of death has been marked as a COVID death.” I believe this is consistent with the way that causes of death are typically attributed. For example, if someone suffering from HIV/AIDS dies of a pneumonia, their cause of death will be recorded as “HIV/AIDS.” Same with people suffering from cancer. If someone with lung cancer dies of lung failure or pneumonia, their cause of death will be listed as “cancer.” Perhaps in an obituary it may be listed as “complications of cancer.” But in terms of statistics and epidemiology, deaths are attributed to the deadly diseases the victims were suffering from. So the statement “we can’t know that the people who died, died from Covid19” is not relevant because it’s consistent with the way that we normally attribute causes of death.

3. “…even if they died from any other cause.” If someone dies in a car crash what is their cause of death? Cars don’t have some sort of ability to suck our souls out of our bodies. A car crash will cause various injuries which will end our lives. Those injuries are the direct cause of our death, but the car crash is the reason we received the injury, so we say that the car crash was the cause of death. If an unwell person becomes infected with COVID and their body is unable to go living with the added stress of fighting off COVID, then COVID is the factor that tiped the scales of fate, so we would say that COVID caused their death.4. I think you might be alluding to this idea that non-COVID deaths are being attributed to COVID. Even if this were true, the numbers don’t add up. For example, the average number of deaths in New York City 145 per day. On April 7th, New York City reported 545 deaths. Even if every single death under normal circumstances was being reported as a COVID death in NYC, the numbers would only be around 145. Not 375% higher!

Now there’s no denying that the US media thrives on fomenting fear uncertainty and doubt. They make a living keeping the US public in fear and uncertain of the truth. But I can assure you that the Canadian media and media in most of the rest of the western world do not operate this way. The tone here is not one of fear, it’s one of solemn resignation to a fate beyond our control. It’s one of steadfast dedication to flattening the curve by doing our part.We’ve got this.


Her response was short and polite but I did not sway her opinion.

It’s becoming more clear every day, the USA is a failed state. We are witnessing the fall of an empire.


A friend of mine told me that he literally hits “snooze for 30 days” on every post that comes up in his feed.

It works rather well. The people you don’t care about, you only see monthly. For the people who you do care about, you get a monthly reminder to creep their profile

name redacted to preserve his privacy

I think I am going to give this a shot.

Categories
Culture

One Night In Finland. Or Is Europe Obsessed with Latin America?

During my stay in pre-COVID Finland in Feburary I participated in far to many nights of cycle-based pub crawling for a man of my vintage. One night we checked out a local pub called Ravintola House (Restaurant House?) a minutes from our place Pateniemi.

We arrived early for a midnight performance of Kulmakunnan Kutkuttajat. As the regulars started to trickle in the DJ played typical euro-dance-esque. For a few rounds Aura (or was it Karhu) none of the music piqued my interest in particular. IIRC Canada’s own Len made an appearance on the playlist.

Then the Venga Bus showed up and when it drove off suddenly the music took a distinctly tropical turn. It was the last thing I expected, I was so blown away I quickly downloaded Shazam and let it log the playlist for the next hour.

Today I finally transcribed that playlist into Spotify.

You can’t not to chair dance while you give this a listen. Read on for my thoughts, supplementary research findings and ratings.

R3HAB x A Touch Of Class – All Around The World (La La La)

In retrospect, I’m not sure if my Shazam log caught the entire set or when exactly it kicked in, there’s nothing particularly out of place or samba-influenced about this one.

Often when I’m working on code in the evening I’ll throw on an EDM festival live set and this one seems to be a staple banger. I assume it’s popular with the kids.

If the audience wasn’t primarily middle-aged Finnish rock fans and instead college-aged flower lei fans this would be have been totally expected

Verdict: 4/5 – It’s catchy.

Arash feat Sean Paul – She Makes Me Go

Arash is a Swedish Iranian singer who represented Azerbaijan at Eurovision 2009 because wut?!

Sean Paul must have the world’s most terrible yet recognizable voice. I can’t stand Sean Paul.

Suffice to say I was not expecting to hear Mr Paul 9000km from Jamaica. I wonder if you’re random pop star in a non-English-speaking country, can you just hire Sean Paul to appear on your track?

Verdict: 0/5 – I hate Sean Paul.

Madcon – Glow

I assumed this was some Will.i.am produced project that just never heard of before. It’s got that inoffensive 2010s vaguely electronically, rappy formula that Will.i.am has repeated dozens of times. But Madcon is totally Swedish and as far as I can tell, no will.i.am involved. Though they were most certainly “influenced” by him on this album.

Their claim to fame appears to be touring with Gang Starr in the 90s. I gave 2010s Contraband a list, it’s decent.

Verdict: 3/5.

Adelén – Bombo

I cannot stop listening to this track. ABSOLUTE BANGER!

Adelén is a Norwegian latin pop singer. It’s an English song with an Spanish hook because European are doing absolutely everything they can to prove that borders are meaningless.

Verdict: 5/5 – Corazón.

P.S. Her other hit Olé is an inferior song and everything about this performance is exceedingly weird. I do not want to go to Sweden.

P.S.S. Wait, is this a Zumba song? That might explain everything. I don’t care I still love it. Maybe I should try Zumba.

Tones and I – Dance Monkey

This one is popular with the tik-tok-set worldwide. The first time I heard it I thought it was decent. But it’s one of those one hit wonders that relies heavily on repetition and get stale quick.

Verdict: 2/5 – meh.

Mr. President – Coco Jamboo

If I had watched Electric Circus in 1996 I am pretty sure Monika Deol would have played this one every week. But I definitely didn’t watch that. Nope.

Song was the most blatant Ace Of Base imitator of 1996. But it’s tropical reggae fusion beat fits right in with this set. Amazingly.

Verdict: 3/5 (+1 because it was snowing outside).

Eppu Normaali – Vuonna ’85

I wonder if Finland has a CanCon-esque regulation that requires clubs to play a certain amount of Finnish music. Because that track was totally out of place in the set.

Wikipedia lists them as a punk band and I was pretty excited to check out some 80s Finnish punk. Unfortunately this track is the only cut on 1985’s Kahdeksas Ihme that’s vaguely punk. As a standalone it’s catchy.

Verdict: 4/5 (+1 for that weird 80s stereo vocals thing).

Hausmylly – Ikävä Lokakuu

Verdict: 0/5 – Bad 90s eurotrash.

Anssi Kela – 1972

Kela seems to be a big deal in Suomi. His debut album sold 150,000 copies which seems huge. The video for this song has over 2.6M views.

1972 starts out strong with a soft Les Paul and softer drums, an intro that wouldn’t be out of place in mid-00s emo. For a moment I excitedly thought “oh, have i stumbled on Finnish emo?!”

Unfortunately the chorus proves I am totally wrong and this is just standard “rock.” I gave the rest of the album a listen, but nope, no emo to be found.

Verdict: -1/5 for leading me on.

P.S. Reddit says I Love Your Lifestyle is the only Nordic Emo band. They’re from Sweden and they’re great!

P.S.S. det är därför vi bygger städer screamo from Sweden. Also great!

Eiffel 65 – Move Your Body

Back on track with the dancey-dance. I’ve always thought Move Your Body was a more solid track than exceedingly cheesy “blue.” The stronger acid bass ups the banger factor by an order of magnitude. The bridge is more melodic. The string pads suffer a bit from that late 90s thing where SoundBlaster 16 can’t properly reproduce string samples or something. Blah, blah, great track.

Verdict: 5/5 – still holds up.

ICE MC – Think About The Way

I am almost certain that this was another Electric Circus standard. I mean it shouts out Canada after all. The vaguely Reggae styles of Mr MC must have been what earned it a place on this playlist.

Fun Fact – this single was released on the short-lived CD Maxi format.

Verdict: 3/5 – would be better as a happy hardcore remix.

Günther (with The Sunshine Girls) – Teeny Weeny String Bikini

Swedish vocalist + latin influences = the spiritual successor to Bombo. Teen Weeny String Bikini has no redeeming qualities. Dude’s creepy AF voice ruins it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to murder the Carol Baskin of Sweden in a bikini-based feud.

Verdict: 0/5.

Don Omar feat Lucenzo – Danza Kuduro

Last track on the playlist is legit Latin Pop from Puerto Rico. I recall hearing Danza Kuduro in a few place out and about. Looks like it hit number 1 on every chart in most of Europe (didn’t break top 80 in North America).

It’s a solid banger.

Verdict: 5/5 – Europe is having a real Latin Pop moment and so am I.


BTW, you can get a solid Burrito 100km from the Arctic Circle.

Oh. The band came on after midnight. They were pretty good and the crowd was really in to them.

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