Mixed media, Saturday 18 April 2015

I find myself at a crossroads with regard to how I listen to and buy music. Back in 2005 I still bought albums and ripped them to MP3. When the iTunes store went DRM-free, I would shop around to see whether it was cheaper to buy a CD or to buy it online. Not long after that, I decided that CDs were too much effort for the Euro or two I might save by getting a physical copy. Throughout it all, iTunes has been my musical home where I meticulously annotated tracks with source metadata (when and where I bought them), rated them, and gathered them into year-by-year playlists.

But now I also subscribe to Spotify, and I find myself using it more and more – for the monthly “New Music Monday” shared playlist at work, for other publicly shared playlists that I consume like radio, and for sampling new artists and tracks. Since the start of the year, I’ve probably spent more time in Spotify that in iTunes. It struck me that if I want to listen to music I have already purchased, isn’t it better for the artist for me to listen to them on Spotify, instead of in iTunes? If I use Spotify, they get a (minuscule) cut for the stream.

So is my new musical workflow: find new artist using Spotify, buy and download their album through iTunes, and then go back to listening to it on Spotify? Because that sounds like madness. If I stop using iTunes for listening, I won’t be gathering play counts, and so I won’t be able to produce a “most played” playlist at the end of each year. Also, while they have improved quite a bit recently, Spotify’s options for managing playlists are junk. And they have no way for me to rate songs beyond putting them into a “starred” or “favourites” playlist – whose management option I just described as junk.

Basically, I want Spotify to be better than it actually is. Until it gets there, I will continue to use it for the features I like, and curse it for fucking up my decade-old carefully honed music listening workflow. Thanks, Obama.

On heavy repeat this week: Adventure by Madeon. This is a huge album – the deluxe edition features eighteen tracks, and is over an hour long. Not a minute of that time is wasted. It’s full of lush EDM with giant beats and more hooks than the world bass fishing championship. There’s so much pleasure here, so many great tracks, that I’m having a hard time not listening to it. If this doesn’t end up as my album of the year, I’ll be amazed. (And also delighted, because I love great new music.)

Also enjoying Belle and Sebastian’s Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, although to be honest listening to it has made me go and spend more time with their back catalogue instead. (Curiously, I’m enjoying Write About Love more now than I did when it came out.)

Fiona and I went to the Pathé cinema in Zaandam to see Cinderella. It’s a well-made, charming, classic treatment of the fairytale – it doesn’t try to be anything more, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do. I found it a bit bland, and disliked Helena Bonham Carter’s fairy godmother, but I’m not really the target audience. As a wholesome, happy family film: very good.

Parallels on Netflix was intriguing as a pilot, but I don’t think there is a series to back it up. It suffers, like many sci-fi films, from being set in a universe where science fiction as a genre apparently does not exist, and characters are baffled by the idea of parallel universes. Sure they’re allowed to boggle at the fact that it is happening to them, but I can live without the added layer of incongruity.

On my trip to Edinburgh last week I watched Richard Linklater’s “Before…” trilogy back-to-back. (In the sense of, “over the course of three evenings”, not actually in a single sitting.) And wow. Before Sunrise is a deserved classic. So simple, so rich and engaging, all as a result of completely natural and believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Their reunion in Before Sunset is thrilling, the tension coming from opportunities missed and pent-up desires instead of joy of discovery and anticipation of the first film. Before Midnight finds Jesse and Céline together, in their forties, both happy and disappointed, full of conflicted emotions over how their lives have turned out. Bickering, fighting, wondering if they are still in love. Beautiful films, true to life’s ambiguities, they blew me away.

I saw a lot of posters for Brooklyn Nine-Nine when I was in New York in February, and it popped up on Netflix a while ago. I tried the first episode last week, and binge-watched the rest of the season straight away. It’s hilarious. I’ve loved Andre Braugher since Homicide: Life on the Street. His performance as Captain Holt is as dry as they come. Andy Samberg, whom I only knew from The Lonely Island is a great comic lead. It’s perhaps not terribly ground-breaking, but it’s full of great characters, and well-written with a mix of great lines and physical comedy. I just enjoyed the heck out of it, and am looking foward to season two appearing.

Also: Best Fiends is now my Kwazy Cupcakes.

Adware practices

It’s not enough to be careful when you install a new piece of software, and not accidentally accept a ton of additional crap you didn’t ask for. You now also have to take care when uninstalling things as well. These uninstall dialogs (which are from pieces of adware that try to make themselves look legit by offering uninstallers in the first place) are even more deceptive than the installers that bundled them in the first place.

Basically, trust no-one.

Embrace Boredom

Dan McKinley – “Choose Boring Technology”:

Let’s say every company gets about three innovation tokens. You can spend these however you want, but the supply is fixed for a long while. You might get a few more after you achieve a certain level of stability and maturity, but the general tendency is to overestimate the contents of your wallet. Clearly this model is approximate, but I think it helps.

If you choose to write your website in NodeJS, you just spent one of your innovation tokens. If you choose to use MongoDB, you just spent one of your innovation tokens. If you choose to use service discovery tech that’s existed for a year or less, you just spent one of your innovation tokens. If you choose to write your own database, oh god, you’re in trouble.

Any of those choices might be sensible if you’re a javascript consultancy, or a database company. But you’re probably not. You’re probably working for a company that is at least ostensibly rethinking global commerce or reinventing payments on the web or pursuing some other suitably epic mission. In that context, devoting any of your limited attention to innovating ssh is an excellent way to fail. Or at best, delay success [1].

What counts as boring? That’s a little tricky. "Boring" should not be conflated with "bad." There is technology out there that is both boring and bad [2]. You should not use any of that. But there are many choices of technology that are boring and good, or at least good enough. MySQL is boring. Postgres is boring. PHP is boring. Python is boring. Memcached is boring. Squid is boring. Cron is boring.

The nice thing about boringness (so constrained) is that the capabilities of these things are well understood. But more importantly, their failure modes are well understood.

I like boring technology.

Tattoo

Got a tattoo yesterday.

I have wanted a tattoo for ages, but for a long time I put it behind artificial barriers: “if I achieve this goal, then I’ll allow myself to get a tattoo.” I made it into a reward for myself, and I always found ways to sabotage the goal, and to ensure that I never felt like I deserved it. I do that a lot. I don’t think it was a subconscious signal that I didn’t really want a tattoo; rather that withholding something I really did want was an easy way to punish myself for falling short of my goals. It looked like a carrot, but acted like a stick. It’s a self-destructive streak that I’m working on.

Anyway, last weekend I was in Amsterdam for the afternoon to do some shopping and meet up for a beer with Orde who was in town for the Mobilism conference. I stopped in at the House of Tattoos on the Haarlemmerstraat, and made an appointment for this weekend. (I had done some internet research into Amsterdam tattoo shops already; it wasn’t quite a spur-of-the-moment thing. The House of Tattoos had been an open tab for a while, and when we were walking down the Haarlemmerstraat a couple of weeks ago, I mentally bookmarked its physical location as well.)

Sjap at work

For my first tattoo, the experience could not have been better. Everyone I spoke to there was super nice and welcoming. It was Sjap who did my tattoo. When he called me through from the waiting area he spotted that I was reading Edge magazine, and we basically spent the whole time talking about video and board games. I came in with a prepared design (the Aleona logo that Mark Grossman made for me a few years ago), and Sjap spent a good long time getting it in exactly the right position on my arm, wiping the template off my skin several times before settling on the final, perfect angle. I’m absolutely delighted with the result.

My tattoo

Stadium Rock

I love seeing bands at small venues, but somehow the three events I have in my calendar for the rest of the year (so far) are all massive gigs:

  • 21 June: Taylor Swift at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. (Vicki at work put “Shake It Off” into the New Music Monday playlist last year; I discovered Red; Fiona discovered that I liked Taylor Swift; promises were made about seeing her if she ever came to town; tickets were bought. Fiona + Abi + me + maybe a friend of Fiona’s. Alex: “NOPE”)
  • 23 June: Foo Fighters at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. (After watching Sonic Highways I really wanted to see them live. I got an after-market ticket for the pitch, because a hospitality package didn’t seem very rock and roll. Note to self: it’s a Tuesday. Remember to ask for that afternoon off work.)
  • 19 October: Imagine Dragons at the Forum in Copenhagen. (This is one Alex does want to see. Alex and Fiona are both fans, but we missed them on their last tour. This time round I tried to get tickets for Brussels, but they literally sold out as I was clicking through to buy them. Fortunately Copenhagen is still within reach for us, and the gig is on the Monday of the kids’ autumn school holiday. A fine opportunity to spend a few days in a new city!)