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Tech

Roam, If You Want To

In his latest newsletter, Chris Bowler spends a bit of time on the Roam note taking service that is currently in beta. His reference for Roam was Drew Coffman. I love Drew, and he attaches to new ideas with the zeal of an ancient Athenian. Roam bares more resemblance to a wiki than anything else, but its proponents insist it’s a completely new way of thinking about note taking. The service is thick with enthusiastic documentation on how to use it for different purposes, adapting it to GTD, increasing your speed and productivity with a plethora of keyboard shortcuts, etc.

There’s even an org-roam for Emacs. Which you may need, if you can’t access the cloud database of your notes.

Roam Reference interface
Roam Reference interface

Roam only has a web app, and it’s not a particularly attractive one, at that. The site for the service partially obscures this by resizing browser windows in screenshots to make things seem a bit more native. The app just looks clunky, though. The pages have more bullets than a early-20th-century Chicago gangland murder scene. Perhaps a bit unintuitively, you can turn most of the bullets off by right-clicking on the title of the page. Otherwise, you end up looking like a PowerPoint junkie in desperate need of a fix.

The big draw with Roam seems to be the ability to create linked notes on the fly, by typing the name of a new note in double brackets. It is a cool idea, although I could also see it creating a fairly unwieldy database or a bunch of empty pages waiting for content that never comes. I’d like to see apps like Bear and IA Writer try out something like this, though. Bear already has a similar style of linking to other notes and IA Writer’s content blocks seem like a natural fit for this sort of functionality.

It’s clear that, even in the 21st century, note taking is still evolving. For a information hoarder like me, that’s a good thing, even if I don’t love every solution that is created.

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Tech

iLamp

It’s surprising to see that the “iLamp” version of the iMac, which hasn’t been sold for 15 years, continues to appear in new places. This version of the iMac stands out in the line of products as being the most unusual. It is the only iMac to feature most of the guts in the stand, instead of behind the display.

Outer Peace, by Toro Y Moi (2019)

I was in my second round of college when these models were starting to be phased out. They were still on the campus of NCSU, lined up in libraries and computer labs. Those rows of white and transparent screens almost floating in the air were captivating and futuristic.

Candorville by Darrin Bell (2020)

In my view, throughout its iterations, the iMac has ALWAYS been a great computer. Obviously there is something special about this particular machine that has stayed with people, though. Knowing Apple enthusiasts, there are surely a few techies who have upgraded the internal hardware and have these things running MacOS Catalina.

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Tech

Time to Look Forward

Andy Nicolaides from The Dent has a post about continuing to care about things that may seem inconsequential during these times of isolation and illness. He emphasizes that it’s okay to look forward.

If any of you reading this have been thinking there’s no point in starting that new podcast you’ve had on your mind for a while, or writing a blog post about how much you like that one episode of Star Trek, or whatever, I ask you to reconsider. Create, joke, play, discuss, speculate, enjoy, love, write, record, laugh. You don’t know who’s day you may brighten with whatever it is you put out there. At the very least, you will enjoy it and that should always take priority.

For his part, Nicolaides will still continue to share his passion for new Apple gadgets at The Dent. I’m going to continue to post interesting things I find from around the interwebs, and they may or may not be related to a certain virus that shall not be named (certainly not by point of origin, as is the habit of some sinister villains).

Incidentally, if you are interested in starting a new podcast, Micro.blog is offering free microcast hosting with their standard hosting plan for the month of April.

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Tech

Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash

Inspired by Austin Kleon, Omar created a one page zine, about living through quarantine in China during the Coronavirus outbreak. He has also been blogging regular updates about what the isolation has been like. The quarantine not only excludes contact with others, but for families, it tests your internal dynamics.

To answer the question of what people would do if stuck inside all day, Arsh Raziuddin from the Atlantic posits this:

The answer is far more familiar than the fearful conjecture forebodes. Many Americans would do the same thing they do now, mostly. Netflix has already fused us to our couches. For years, contemporary society has been bracing, and even longing, for quarantine.

He goes on further to point out that modern technology has been paving the way for discretionary, if not mandatory, isolation for some time.

If conditions get truly bad, a serious public-health lockdown would indeed upend ordinary life. Barring that extreme, efforts such as the ones just mentioned extend a process that was under way long before a novel virus threatened to go pandemic. In a way, “quarantine” is just a raw, surprising name for the condition that computer technologies have brought about over the last two decades: making almost everything possible from the quiet isolation of a desk or a chair illuminated by an internet-connected laptop or tablet.

While Raziuddin is skeptical of the notion that anyone could get bored or restless at home these days, the confinement diaries of Omar and others might tell us that it is indeed still possible.

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Tech

The Social Media Morass

A few months ago, Consequence of Sound reported on Disney passing on the chance to buy Twitter because, in the words of Disney chief Bob Iger, “the nastiness is extraordinary.”

Gladiatrix fight photo by Hans Splinter from flickr.

Once upon a time, way back in 2017, there was a little website called Twitter that caught the eyes of the monolith Disney. The idea at the time was for Disney to acquire Twitter to help modernize its distribution, The New York Times reports. When Iger saw the downsides of Twitter firsthand, though, he realized the deal couldn’t possibly be worth it. He began feeling intense dread and knew he had to reject the deal.

Whether the overall nastiness started with Gamergate or the Trump presidential campaign, by 2017, it had hit critical mass. Around the same time as the revelation about the Disney purchase, Tim Challies wrote about “becoming a Kwitter.”

At the top of the list is the simple reality that I may have the wrong disposition for Twitter. The man just doesn’t fit the medium. Over the past few years I’ve awakened to the reality that in many ways I am a weak person. I am weak physically, constitutionally, and in some ways emotionally. Especially, I’ve learned that I am easily fatigued, drained, or discouraged when involved in unnecessary conflict or even when witnessing it. If my unsanctified disposition is toward cowardice and running away, I believe my sanctified disposition is toward peace and peacemaking. Yet Twitter is a medium that seems to generate conflict and to thrive upon it. I find it a discouraging and intimidating place to be. I derive negligible pleasure from it. It adds nothing necessary to my life and very little that’s truly beneficial.

I can relate to the admission of being weak in some ways and though I’m not usually conflict averse IRL, I see online conflict as mostly unproductive. Rarely do hostile exchanges result in changed minds or reconciliation. On a platform like Twitter, it can also feel like conflict can be unexpected and especially intrusive.

I was caught off guard by this aspect of the platform one Sunday a couple of years ago when I quoted something that I had read in a popular newsletter and liked and with which I identified. I tweeted the quote with attribution. I did find the quote on a Twitter but I couldn’t use the retweet or quote features because the original tweet had some additional comments that didn’t really add context. So I used the good old copy and paste and throw some quotes around the copied text method. I then added “(x Twitter handle) has said:.” Pretty simple, right?

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Tech

Affiliations

Patrick Rhone writes about why he used Amazon for affiliate links and why he no longer does so. He now favors a site called Indiebound, which serves to federate a group of independent bookstores and positions itself as the conscientious consumer alternative to Amazon.

In the post, Rhone quotes Dan J on the danger of using the ubiquitous e-commerce site for book recommendations.

The problem with linking to Amazon as a “safe default” is the same as the problem with just publishing your book on Amazon and calling it a day: it entrenches Amazon as The One True Place Where Books Are, and, while convenient, that’s not good… it’s not good for society to have one big private corporation responsible for distributing such a huge proportion of the collective written work of the human race.

This highlights a problem that pops into my brain every time I make a purchase from Amazon. Not only do I not want Amazon to own the market on books, I don’t want them to own the market on almost any category of consumer goods. I would rather they not be the leading retailer of apparel, furniture, electronics, vinyl records, hygiene merchandise or any other product groups.

When I was younger, Blockbuster Video was in its ascendency. As they grew, I watched a pattern emerge. When there were good, independent video stores in the same area, Blockbuster aggressively sent out coupons that offered excellent deals on rentals. They were enticing and certainly gave a customer reason to choose them over the competition. When, inevitably, the independent stores went our of business, the well of coupons from Blockbuster magically dried up. I witnessed this phenomenon play out a number of times.

I can’t help but think of the Blockbuster strategy whenever I can choose between Amazon and a viable alternative. The alternative would preferably be an independent business, but even another corporate chain is better. A chain or independent, hopefully, that specializes in a certain segment of products and that can build their business around enthusiastic customers.


I say all of these things as an Amazon shareholder who fully believes the market has room for a variety of retail establishments and that, despite that, Amazon will continue to grow.

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Tech

This Is The Way

The Mandolorian Unofficial Wallpaper

From Deviantart, a beautifully subtle Mandalorian wallpaper in an assortment of colors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0.

Baby Yoda forever!

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Tech

Engineering Our Art

Image via Bruce Timothy Mans

Music is easier than ever to discover. Surely this is a triumph and yet, it makes me kind of sad when I think about how one doesn’t have to search out and find music in traditional ways anymore. Pitchfork and Rolling Stone may still be relevant, but you don’t need the encyclopedic knowledge of a music critic to tell you what you might like these days. Plug in some songs you already know you love, and have an algorithm feed you what else you will probably enjoy.

It really works, mostly. What the formula probably won’t tell you, that you should know, is that “Pale Blue Eyes” was the sonic template from which Mazzy Star was birthed. It won’t tell you that “Sex Beat” by Gun Club created the sound that was heard in many a Pixies song. You might figure some of those things out from recommended “influencers” lists, but it will be hard to put together an entire band’s catalog from the seed of some forgotten classic.

Turning art recommendations into a system is about more than just algorithms, though. If you feel like you just want to unwind, in addition to the “chill mixes” that all the streaming services feature, neuroscience has found the song that will most relax you. After listening to the song, “Weightless,” by Marconi Union, I can attest to the fact that the song is indeed, incredibly relaxing. They even have a ten hour version. With results this precise, it can be hard to argue with science.

This trend is not limited to music, either. New technology is even going to assess what audiences would like to see on the big screen. Warner Bros. is planning on letting AI green light their movies.

It works by assessing the “value” of an actor, estimating how much the film could make in theaters or streaming sites, and offering “dollar-figure parameters” for packaging, marketing, and distribution decisions behinds movies.

Human creative choices are not entirely out-of-the-picture, but data drives business decisions. They say lightning doesn’t strike twelve times, but based on the criteria above, don’t be surprised to see artificial intelligence recommend Die Hard 12. Thank goodness the Skywalker series is over because things could get a lot worse for that unfortunate family’s saga. You might even find yourself wondering what could go wrong with reconstituting a couple of dinosaurs from some ancient DNA to make a theme park, again.

As with many of the scientific and technological advancements, these things seem like mixed blessings. Computers can never replace humans in some areas, and creativity is certainly one of those areas. Tastes will never be an exact science. I like to think people are a bit too mysterious for that.

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Tech

Do You Like Me (check yes or no)?

Next week, Instagram is set to begin hiding like counts on posts in the US, according to this TechCrunch piece. The move is expected to hurt influencers on the platform, as initial tests in other countries showed that likes on posts went down when the counts were not displayed. The influencer economy is supposed to be a big part of what drives the platform. The speculation is that anything that hurts those influencers and their ability to use Instagram to build their businesses too badly will be rolled back.

I’m not completely bought into the idea that influencers are as strong a driver of engagement on Instagram as they are assumed to be, but to be fair, I haven’t looked deeply at the data. However, I know that the move will be good for teenagers who view posts as popularity contests and delete photos when they don’t achieve a certain like count, for fear of embarrassment. I appreciate the fact that those who are steering the Instagram ship are taking steps that account for the mental health of its users.

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Tech

Chipping Away At Democracy

There has never been a better time to quit Facebook, after the company recently revealed a policy that formalized the ability of politicians to lie in ads on the platform. Techcrunch writer Josh Costine called the move a disgorgement of responsibility. The web publication has another piece by Costine, calling on Facebook, and other tech companies, to ban political ads altogether. The ban would hold until they can come up with a coherent policy that doesn’t erode democratic freedoms by inundating the populace with misinformation.

No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.

The formalization of the policy accepting misinformation in ads came after the campaign of Joe Biden called on Facebook to remove ads promoting false claims about him that were made by the Trump campaign. Facebook refused to take the ads down, abdicating any responsibility for their veracity.

In response, the campaign of Elizabeth Warren posted an ad blatantly lying about Mark Zuckerberg endorsing Donald Trump.

Costine writes, in the TechCrunch piece, that “It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.”

I’ve always stayed away from Facebook, watching from the sidelines as the company has made a series of bad decisions, every one seemingly worse than the previous. However, I did go back to Instagram a couple of years ago after quitting when they were originally purchased by Facebook. Now, I am now rethinking my relationship with that platform, especially after my recent push to consolidate my web presence at my own site. I am under no illusions that as many people would go to my personal site to see my photos as see them on Instagram, but more limited exposure seems a reasonable price to pay for principles. After all, I’m not selling anything.