This is the new year

Thinking lately

  • How do you decide to make a big change in life?
  • How do you rediscover what’s important to you?
  • How many concerts in a week is too many?

I’m struggling with the first one, working on the second, and am pretty sure the answer to the third one is “three”.

Reading lately

The American Top 40 chart includes more dance songs, more songs performed by DJs, and significantly more white artists than its counterpart, the Billboard charts.

Shit’s racist. I used to listen to the Ryan Seacrest Top 40 driving between Chicago and Michigan because it was one of the few things that I could listen to consistently along that entire drive on just a few radio stations. It wasn’t exactly quality radio, but it kept me awake.

The Secret Lives of Playlists

The business meets somewhere at the crossroads of public relations and payola—a tradition as old as the music industry itself, historically used to define the illegal practice of record companies paying for commercial radio airtime. (Under U.S. law and FCC regulations, Payola is illegal on radio, but those laws do not apply to digital streaming platforms.) According to a 2015 Billboard article, a major-label marketing executive confirmed that pay-for-play is (or was) definitely happening.“According to a source, the price can range from $2,000 for a playlist with tens of thousands of fans to $10,000 for the more well-followed playlists.” And many are already calling the platform’s new “Sponsored Songs” endeavor a 2017 incarnation of payola.

I keep thinking I’ll get sick of Spotify thinkpieces but I’m not there yet. This one covers (in part) how Spotify structures their service to prioritize playlists over albums or other artist-created works, instead effectively reinstating payola and creating pay-to-playlists that then earn top billing all throughout the service. Me, I make my own playlists most of the time.

Can anyone turn streaming music into a real business?

Everyone wants streaming music to be cheap or free for listeners, offer every song ever recorded, be made available on every device, be consistently lucrative for the industry, and give new and established artists robust support for new music. We all want snow that isn’t cold or wet. In principle, everyone is willing to pay, and everyone is willing to compromise, but no one is willing to compromise enough.

Womp womp. This is why for all of my use and support of services like Spotify and SoundCloud, now that I can afford it, I’m trying to buy the music that matters to me when possible. Less likely to disappear that way.

Within The Context Of All Contexts: The Rewiring Of Our Relationship To Music​

Old music, reframed or brought into new circulation, can be as dynamic and unpredictable as new music.

How relying on ~ the algorithms ~ has changed how we encounter music and what that means.

I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry. Not Anymore.

Confronting my own aversion to anger asked me to shift from seeing it simply as an emotion to be felt, and toward understanding it as a tool to be used: part of a well-stocked arsenal.

Leslie Jamison is one of my favorite essayists, and this is no exception.

Writing Lately

I wrote two posts about analyzing my personal music data corpus. Reflecting on a decade of (quantified) music listening fits in with the rest of my blog posts about music, taking the personal tack to the quantified side of things. I also wrote up how I did all the analysis for my company blog, 10 Years of Listens: Analyzing My Music Data with Splunk. I’ve done some more analyses since these posts, like building something that lets me review the listening patterns for a specific artist compared with the dates that I’ve seen them in concert, and I’m working on analyzing if there is an average listen threshold before I see a band in concert (or not).

I also wrote about the importance that climbing has had in my life over the last year and a half in Finding Myself on the Wall. Grateful to get back on the wall tomorrow.

I took the time last year to start converting a dormant side project into a blogging series to share the links I’d collected. Calling it Borders on the Web, I post reminders of the borders that do exist on the web, as much as the techno-utopians in the world might like to pretend that they’re going away.

Listening Lately

The trend in the last year or so toward more disco vibes has been… unexpectedly awesome. Going to see at least three of these artists live in the next few months… hoping to see more music from Thunder Jackson and Disco Despair soon too.

Some great DJ sets / mixtapes on here too. Seeing the xx live last year was a highlight, almost entirely because of Jamie xx. Realized that’s a show I’d pay more than I’d like to admit to go see if it were just him DJing. Haven’t managed to see Alex Cruz yet, though he’s been in the city a couple times since I’ve been here.

Happy 2018, everyone. Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you don’t mind the occasional youtube artifact retweet.

Discomfort, Trust, and Digital Selves

It’s been awhile. I’ve spent the last four months applying for new jobs, interviewing, getting hired, and moving from the midwest to the bay area. It’s been a long ride (drive, really). I’ve been out here three weeks now, and it still feels strange to call it my new home (new license plates on my car notwithstanding).

I’m a tech writer by trade, as I’ve alluded to/mentioned in the past with my post on Prescriptive Design and the Decline of Manuals, and I’ve so far enjoyed being in an area so tech-focused (though I do worry about the bubble).

Let’s get back into it, shall we?

Continue reading

Accessibility, Sound, and Communication

My birthday was yesterday! To celebrate, I ate an overly large and overly expensive steak and sorely undercooked brussels sprouts. Do yourself a favor and always roast brussels sprouts until they are caramelized and crunchy, then put some reduced apple cider and maple syrup on top. YUM!

Technology, while making the world more accessible than it has been in the past, has a lot of work to do for people with disabilities. A huge example of this is the shortcomings in OCR (optical character recognition) technology. In short, OCR sucks. And when we use it to simplify our lives (make a PDF into something that I can copy-paste into a text file), then when it fails it’s a minor inconvenience, and a silly one at that.

Just one problem. Continue reading

Dams, Fish, and Engineering Disasters

1870 Train on a Railroad

David W. Butterfield (American, 1844 – 1933) Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad, about 1870 – 1880, Albumen silver print 42.2 x 56.6 cm (16 5/8 x 22 5/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Once upon a time (okay, the first one was in 1871), fish were carted across America in railroad cars. Of course, this was terrible for native fish species, but great for fisherman looking to fish fish that were in demand.

More than a century later, a community around the Putah Creek in California rallied together to restore a creek that had run dry after the watershed was transformed by a dam and opportunistic farmers.

Continue reading

Prescriptive Design and the Decline of Manuals

Instruction manuals, and instructions in general, are incredibly important. I could be biased, since part of my job involves writing instructions for systems, but really, they’re important!

As this look into the historical importance of manuals makes clear, manuals (and instructions) make accessible professions, tools, and devices to anyone that can read them (which, admittedly, could be a hurdle of its own):

“With no established guild system in place for many of these new professions (printer, navigator, and so on), readers could, with the help of a manual, circumvent years of apprenticeship and change the course of their lives, at least in theory.”

However, as the economy and labor system shifted, manuals did too:

“in the 1980s, the manual began to change. Instead of growing, it began to shrink and even disappear. Instead of mastery, it promised competence.”

And nowadays, manuals are very rarely separate from the devices or systems they seek to explain:

“the help we once sought from a manual is now mostly embedded into the apps we use every day. It could also be crowdsourced, with users contributing Q&As or uploading how-to videos to YouTube, or it could programmed into a weak artificial intelligence such as Siri or Cortana.”

Continue reading

Libraries, Digital Advertising, and the Machine Zone

Librarians are an underused, underpaid, and underestimated legion. And one librarian in particular is frustrated by e-book lending. Not just the fact that libraries have to maintain waitlists for access to a digital file, but also that the barriers to checking out an ebook are unnecessarily high. As she puts it,

“Teaching people about having technology serve them includes helping them learn to assess and evaluate risk for themselves.”

In her view,

“Information workers need to be willing to step up and be more honest about how technology really works and not silently carry water for bad systems. People trust us to tell them the truth.”

That seems like the least that can be expected by library patrons.

Continue reading

Torture, Ownership, and Privacy

The Senate Intelligence Committee released hundreds of pages (soon available as a book) detailing acts of torture committed by the CIA.

Continue reading

Taylor Swift and Being Between Stars

Taylor Swift has been blowing up the music industry lately, first by surprising everyone with the beauty of her latest album. SNL dubbed it a result of Swiftamine, and I can certainly say I’m under the spell.

Then, pre-release, she removed her entire discography from Spotify. The Atlantic reflects on this decision by pointing out, “Owning music outright, instead of renting it through a streaming service, would be better for listeners and artists in the long run. Indeed, it would be better for just about everyone except Spotify.”

Continue reading