Mixed media, Sunday 23 August 2015

I’ve surprised myself by actually having read a few books over the last couple of weeks:

  • High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. Intense thriller. I knew from reputation that it was dark, but it was even darker than I had anticipated. Genuinely classic noir.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. Great story, well told. Classic “scientist as hero” science fiction that runs at a super fast pace. It’s all action (survival action rather than fight scenes), with no filler.
  • Field of Prey by John Sandford. An excellent episode in the series.
  • Not strictly a book, but Tim Urban’s latest post on WaitButWhy.com, “How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars” is a fun read. It’s essentially SpaceX propaganda / Elon Musk fanfic, but I’m happy buying in to the whole space exploration thing, so I’m okay with that. I would love to personally see the earth from space some day. As far as I’m concerned, Go Elon Go!

Films:

  • Maleficent: Slightly sub-meh.
  • Magic Mike: Until recently I hadn’t spotted that this was directed by Steven Soderbergh. It was only when I read a couple of reviews that compared the sequel to the original that I caught on to the fact that – aside from the raucous stripping scenes – this is a melancholy film, reflecting on how easy it is to accidentally give up on your dreams, while you think you’re busy pursuing them. Very good.
  • Fast & Furious 7: Bonkers, but in a good way. Runs too long, though, especially the final sequence in LA.

Podcasts:

Limetown is a new 7-part podcast that starts off as investigative recent-historical reportage, but quickly moves into the realm of science-fiction suspense. (It’s fiction, cleverly disguised as reality.) The first episode is very good. Next one due in September.

As well as 99% Invisible, I’ve added the Accidental Tech Podcast to my weekly listening. It’s soothingly geeky.

Music:

I’m going to see TV On The Radio at Paradiso tomorrow. They had to cancel the European leg of their tour earlier this year, including a date at Paradiso. For some reason I didn’t get a ticket for that show anyway, but I’m excited to be catching them this time round. I’ve been listening to their latest album Seeds a lot again over the last week, and it really is splendid.

I also remembered that I still have an eMusic subscription, so I plundered that for some new music: Working Girl by Little Boots, The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam by Thundercat, and Rips by Ex Hex — all excellent.

I’ve given up on Apple Music. I still listen to Beats One, but I’ve turned off auto-renewal for the trial subscription, and I’ve turned off iCloud integration to get rid of the tracks I’d “added to My Music” during the short time I was actively trying to use it. My main reason for ditching it is the way that Apple Music tries to blur the line between my music and their music. If I want to download a Apple Music track for offline listening (I spend a lot of time on airplanes and away from wifi and cellular signals; this is a key use case for me), its appearance in iTunes is identical to a track I have bought and own.

The DRM-free track I can back up and do whatever I like with. The Apple Music track is DRM-protected, and will be useless if and when I decide to abandon Apple Music, or when Apple Music decides to abandon me (by locking me out of my account for some reason, or by ceasing to exist). If you don’t download a track, but keep it as streaming-only, you can use the “iCloud download” status to distinguish see that it exists only in the cloud. But once you download it, short of doing a “get info” on the track and looking at its file extension, iTunes offers literally no way of selecting and filtering rented tracks in its UI.

Maybe if they did something about that, I’d give it a second try. Maybe. But for now, I’m getting comfortable with Spotify Premium for music discovery, collaborative playlists (also a key feature I use), and casual listening. iTunes is for the collection of music I own and can do with what I like (software licensing terms notwithstanding). I think that Apple Music is probably fine for many people. It’s just not for built for me. My next concern is that Apple keeps making iTunes worse and worse for the purposes I do care about.

The week of rock, 2-6 November 2015

A few weeks ago, around the time that I buckled down and bought the Foo Fighters ticket I’d been dithering about, I went a bit mad buying even more concert tickets. In particular, I filled in all the gaps for that entire week:

  • Monday 2 November: Battles at Melkweg. (New album “La Di Da Di” out on September 18th.)
  • Tuesday 3 November: Dutch Uncles at Paradiso (small room, yay!). This is amusing because…
  • Wednesday 4 November: Garbage at 013 in Tilburg (20 Years Queer anniversary tour) — with support by…Dutch Uncles. (Previously)
  • Thursday 5 November: The aforementioned Foo Fighters at Ziggo Dome
  • Friday 6 November: Gaz Coombes at Tolhuistuin. I missed him when he played Amsterdam back in February, so I’m glad to get a second chance.

Oh yeah. It’s like my own private festival.

Scratchcards

Once upon a time, shops would give you a promotional scratchcard, you’d scratch off the silver foil, and know straight away if you’d won a prize. Not any more. Here’s the workflow now, for an “everyone gets a prize” promotion at WE:

  1. Scratch off foil
  2. Go to the store’s web site (actually a third party domain running the promotion on their behalf) and enter the code under the foil. Enter my email address. Tick the checkbox to confirm that I’m willing to receive a single email with my prize details. Press the OK button.
  3. Open the incoming email. Click on the link in the email.
  4. Visit the store’s prize web site (same third party running things). Enter my name and date of birth. Tick one checkbox that I’m willing to receive further marketing offers from the store. Tick one checkbox that I’m willing to receive further marketing offers from the third party running the promotion. Press the OK button.
  5. Redirected to another teaser page. Message at the top of the page says something along the lines of, “you’re just a few steps away from fabulous prizes!” But first I have to click a button saying how often I’ve shopped at their store in the last year. Click “3 times”, because I go there regularly.
  6. I now seem to be in the middle of a survey. Three pictures: which of these styles of children’s clothes appeals to me most? Click on the middle style, which looks pretty cool. Click “continue” button.
  7. Nothing happens. Click a different picture and click “continue” again.
  8. Nothing happens. Fire up script debugger. Track down script error, which appears to be caused by the fact that the Facebook “Like” script didn’t load.
  9. Of course it didn’t fucking load. I block Facebook like a pro.
  10. Now I’m in a situation where they have acquired all my details and consent to be marketed at, but where I can’t collect on my half of the deal.Or they would have them, if I had actually entered my real name and date of birth. I’m not completely stupid.

Progressive disclosure used as a dark pattern. This is regrettably pretty much standard operating procedure for marketing these days.

Related: “The ethics of modern web ad-blocking” by Marco Arment.

Don Norman on logic

Don Norman in RISKS digest 28.88:

[T]hat’s why we have so many accidents: engineers think sensibly and logically and are completely unaware of how people really behave. As I tell people over and over again, logic is an artificial way of thinking, invented by philosophers and mathematicians. if it were how we thought and behaved, it wouldn’t have had to be invented and it wouldn’t be so difficult to learn.

Overnight at Biltschehoek

For our wedding anniversary this year we didn’t do much special on or around the day. On the Friday after the day itself, I walked to Amsterdam to meet up with Abi after work. We wandered around town a bit and had a (very good) burger at the Burger Bar on the Warmoesstraat. But it wasn’t a “big fancy” dinner out. So on Friday 31st July, just a day after I’d got back from my “back-to-school” trip to Edinburgh, we took off on a quick overnight trip, just the two of us.

It was the first time we’ve left Alex and Fiona on their own overnight.

We’ve left them alone while we’ve been shopping, at work, or out to dinner & a movie before, but this was the first actual overnight, where they had to sort out their own dinner, their own bedtime, and their own getting up the next morning. To make it easier, because it was a Saturday morning in the middle of their summer holiday, they didn’t have to get up the next morning at all. But still, it was a first.

Their reaction: “Fine, whatever. Why are you still here?”

OK.

We didn’t go very far. We got a last-minute deal on a room at the Van Der Valk Hotel De Bilt, just East of Utrecht. After I finished work, we threw some clothes into an overnight bag, and it took us about 50 minutes to drive there. We settled into the lovely room, freshened up a bit, and had a lovely meal in the restaurant downstairs. It was dark by the time we were done eating, but we still wanted to take a stroll around the area. We walked along the old Amersfoortseweg for a ways, then crossed over the A28 to Zeist, where we walked back past the enormous Vollenhove flats.

Along the way we saw what looked like a wooden aquaduct running over the top of a road sign gantry, but with no connecting waterway. We concluded that it must be a wildlife crossing. The next day we drove through several much larger wildlife crossings, and learned that the Dutch term for these is ecoduct, which is awesome.

The next morning we got up at a leisurely pace, and set out to see what the surroundings looked like in daylight. We had noticed on the map that we were near to a sculpture garden, and we found it. It’s actually the Provinciaal JitsArt Museum, Beelden op Beerschoten, a permanent exhibit of works by Dutch artist Jits Bakker. The works on display here are stone and bronze sculptures. They’re fabulously dynamic – I loved them.

The sculpture garden is in the middle of a larger nature area, and we walked around there for a bit more before returning to our car and driving on to the Great Pyramid of Austerlitz.

Yes, pyramid. In the Netherlands.

It’s a Napoleon thing.

It used to have fabulous views as far as the eye can see. Now it’s just mostly trees. (And a car park, an exhibit, a snack bar, a café, and a small amusement park for the younger kids.)

We drove on to Utrecht. We parked at Hoog Catharijne and walked into the old city centre. I had my eye on some shoes, which is not a statement you’ll often hear me make. But Converse had released the Chuck Taylor II sneakers earlier that week — the first redesign of the classic All Star shoe since, like, ever — and damn, I was excited.

We found them on sale at the Snipes store on the Lange Elisabethstraat. I’ve been wearing All Stars since 2003, but the pair I bought last year betrayed me. I have only worn them occasionally since then, and never for long stretches. I bought a superbly comfortable pair of British Knights to replace them as my main sneakers.

I’d done my background reading on the new Chucks, and I examined all the new features on the pair I tried on in the store. Although the overall shape of the shoe is pretty much the same, the construction feels much better. The lining is thicker, and feels luxurious. The elastic straps attached to the tongue should keep it in position, and stop it from wrinkling as it gets worn in. The soles are not completely flat and unyielding! They actually have some arch support! The All Star logo ankle logo is now an embroidered patch rather than a printed circle of rubber. They wanted to keep the shoe exactly the same, but give every aspect of it an upgrade.

Comparing the linings
Comparing the tongues
Elastic attached to the side of the tongue
The new embroidered logo

And they’re comfortable. Oh yes.

I bought a pair of black high-tops. They come with two pairs of laces, black (pre-installed), and white if you want to swap them to get closer to the old look. (I think I’m going to change mine.) My main question about them is how they will hold up over time. The old Chucks acquire a familiar scuffed and weathered look after they’ve been kicking around for a few months. I’m curious to see how the new ones age after wearing.

We walked around Utrecht for another hour or two, and finally settled ourselves down at the Winkel van Sinkel for some drinks and early evening snacks.

On the way back home, we stopped off at McDonalds and brought some food in for Alex and Fiona. They were fine, of course.

Twiske evening walk, Thursday 23 July 2015

The RSS feed of podcasts published by 99% Invisible only goes back 100 episodes. I started listening to 99PI back in April on my last marathon walk, which was around episode 161: Show of Force. So to go back beyond episode 61 I manually download them and load them into Downcast (my current podcast app of choice).

Or I use the web archive to go back the each episode’s permalink, and play it directly from there. That’s what I did on Thursday 23rd July. I had a week of time off at home after our two weeks away, and I used most of it to reorganize my office (again). The stacked-plastic-box filing solution I had been using to replace my old steel filing cabinet wasn’t pleasing me, and the giant bookcases had been feeling oppressive. I cut one of the bookcases down into two parts so that I’ve got some wall space to hang things up, and I made an Ikea run to acquire a couple of under- and near-desk filing space. It makes a big difference, and even now, almost a month later, the clutter equilibrium on my desk is at a much lower level than before.

But the maintenance work left me feeling tired and depressed, so I went out for a walk in het Twiske on the Thursday evening. Listened to the (short! 4-5 minute long) first episodes of 99% Invisible, and enjoyed the golden hour around the setting sun.

Bridge, water, Landsmeer in the distance
Still water, warm evening