Q-Boats of Late Capitalism, Volume II

“Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage”:

“Third-party delivery platforms, as they’ve been built, just seem like the wrong model, but instead of testing, failing, and evolving, they’ve been subsidized into market dominance.”

Personal moral tragicomedy: Doordash seemed to take the lead in the “whom should we order from” rankings because it was doing better about worker wages than some of the others. Have some ethics whack-a-mole to go with your pizza.

“I at least had a sense of humor about it until I didn’t” moment: A Google person turning up to reassure the author that, as with all the big platforms, you’re welcome to play a perpetual game of defense, forever looking for the next thing that will destroy your reputation or business, and then filling out a bunch of forms to make it stop. For now. There’ll always be another attempt.

(via MeFi)

current_kcrw_to_things dot r b

I listen to KCRW’s Eclectic 24 stream all day long these days. I used to have a script that was handy for getting the artist and title from the current track of a ‘net radio stream from iTunes and making a Things todo out of it for later followup. I added the script to FastScripts, assigned it to a keyboard shortcut, and it lets me just notice that I like a song, hit a keystroke, and know that the track info has been tucked away in a todo for later, so I can explore the artist a little better without breaking flow now.

That script was also a decent example of the old rb-appscript library, which allows you to write Ruby to automate Mac apps with Apple events instead of AppleScript. It was a little wonky, but it definitely made it much easier to write pretty neat desktop automations that would have involved wrangling a bunch of OSAXen with their own weird ideas.

Sadly, when I picked up my all-day stream listening habit again under The Current Circumstances, I found it wasn’t working very well: a lot of streams aren’t Doing it Right any longer, including KCRW.

Fortunately, at least, KCRW keeps its historical playlist info in JSON, so it only took about 20 minutes to:

  • Discover that rb-appscript is dead, but there’s a drop-in replacement for it called rb-scpt that works fine even if Apple is quietly killing a few supporting APIs.
  • Poke around in the source for the KCRW playlist page to figure out where it hides the JSON.
  • Take out the parts that talk to iTunes/Music to get the track info and replace them with a quick “what’s item 0 in the playlist JSON”?

rb-scpt is drop-in enough that I didn’t have to change any of that stuff from rb-appscript.

Anyhow, gist:

I’d like to get rid of the word “conservative” in everyday political conversations.

… it’s a meaningless term for understanding our politics, with almost no remaining descriptive power.

There is still a narrow slice of the political spectrum that has relegated itself, with its strict readings and narrow legalism, to the role of useful idiot for nihilists of assorted stripes. Those people espouse “conservative” ideological beliefs and adhere to rigid “conservative” principles, and they are being gamed by people do not, themselves, have a particularly conservative world view.

Those nihilists are not “conservative,” because they are hostile not only to how institutions are run when in the hands of Democrats or “progressives” or “liberals,” but are hostile to the institutions themselves. They’ve spent the past few decades chipping away at our faith in public education, and in the current circumstances are busy going after the Postal Service partially because of a mania for privatization, and partially because it could be a vehicle for enhanced voter participation and they don’t like that.

If you want, you can recurse even further into that nihilist tendency and unearth a number of camps: “watch the world burn” nihilists, “liberal democracy is a failed experiment” nihilists, and “we could probably just privatize police and military and be safe on our compounds” nihilists. These are not “conservative” positions.

We need better words than what we are using now, because the nihilists have captured people who are not, themselves, nihilists. They’ve done that partially by hijacking conservative institutions, and partially because our outmoded language and failed categories are blinding us to potential allies.

In this country, the conservative program won decades ago. That happened with Reagan and then Clinton. Democrats do not, with the exception of what passes for a “far left” in that party, talk in terms that are hostile to basic main street/Chamber of Commerce conservatism. The fundamental program of the Clinton-era Democratic party (I’d argue that’s the current era given this year’s nominee) is to triangulate enough to peel off what we refer to as “independent” voters and eke out wins.

That doesn’t all mean the “no material difference” people in the fever swamps are right. They’re wrong. It’s just that the difference between the two parties isn’t “liberal” or “progressive” vs. “conservative,” because the Republican Party isn’t a conservative institution. It is a nihilist institution that will burn any tradition or norm to the ground in order to eradicate any law that impedes the accumulation of wealth at the expense of all other concerns. In the taxonomy I put out above, that’d be the “we could probably just privatize police and military and be safe on our compounds” wing of the nihilist faction. When the Republican Party was still a conservative institution, it resisted that outlook: It saw some institutions as good things that guaranteed, if nothing else, the reinforcement of certain ideological constants.

Because that nihilist faction has to coalition with social conservatives, there are also some differences in terms of social agenda, and the Democratic Party is a more reliable ally in that regard. That’s why I’m not arguing that we need to destroy the Democratic Party, or sit out elections, or whatever left-nihilist formulations we could recount here.

I think instead I’m arguing that our politics have shifted and evolved to a point where there are people committed to what we widely understand as “civilization,” and people who are trying to destroy any of its trappings either because they have decided it is a failed project, or because it is keeping them from making as much money as they could without large parts of it.

I don’t know what language I would propose instead of “conservative” vs. “liberal,” but I do think the puck is pretty close to being where it is headed and we’re using language from a bygone era to categorize people and their beliefs in a way that is causing us to miss a huge political realignment.

See also this one, which is along the same lines of thinking:

Not a historian, but I imagine every time a society or system has undergone radical, shocking change, there have surely been people who were sitting around thinking that the radicals clamoring for change had no chance because they simply weren’t being realistic. I’m sure the radicals who ultimately upended those societies were glad they didn’t stop to listen to the “realists” as they set about defining the new reality, grateful they understood the truths of the old one well enough to destroy it.

An extra RSS health tip

One thing I forgot in my media pruning post: I set my RSS client to “mark as read on scroll.” If I don’t stop and read something or save it to Pocket, it’s marked as read as soon as I go past it.

That which is real

Let’s set aside the juxtaposition of “a more sensible America” and “radical overhaul.” That’s just someone’s ideology showing. The part that gets people hurt and killed is the next sentence.

”… both radical and realist models warrant serious consideration.”

Three years of a vicious kind of realism from radicals who have set out to obliterate norms and make the country a meaner, crueler place, and the reasonable center still holds on to a broken taxonomy where “radical” and “realistic” are … different from each other? It’s like saying “both the color blue and cars warrant serious consideration.” As surely as there are blue cars, there are realistic radicals.

‪The moderates lost the last election not because there was, like, a glitch in the matrix—a disorder of reality—but because they had a poorer mastery of what is real. Me, too. I don’t know how many times I reloaded the NYT’s electoral forecast widget on election night. “Damn thing must be broken, how the hell does that guy have a 90 percent chance of winning? It’ll smooth out when the west coast comes in.”‬

We can make excuses: The electoral college is unfair, James Comey subverted the election, Russian trolls. None of it matters, because a lot of us—and a whole presidential campaign—believed right up until all those influences large and small prevailed that there was no way the election could possibly go the way it did. A certain kind of radical—the kind most people reading this will not identify with—had a more realistic view of what the country could tolerate.

And a very grim realism continues to prevail: The leader of the Senate can steal a Supreme Court seat. So, who’s the realist? The guy who stole the seat? Or the people saying you can’t steal Supreme Court seats because of customs and norms? One of them handed that seat over to his party, the others just have to live with the consequences for the next several decades. One of them has power—control of our living reality earned by understanding it—and the others don’t. Just using the phrase “stealing” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what is real, because no crime was committed, no laws broken.

Not a historian, but I imagine every time a society or system has undergone radical, shocking change, there have surely been people who were sitting around thinking that the radicals clamoring for change had no chance because they simply weren’t being realistic. I’m sure the radicals who ultimately upended those societies were glad they didn’t stop to listen to the “realists” as they set about defining the new reality, grateful they understood the truths of the old one well enough to destroy it.

You don’t have to be of any particular ideological persuasion—or a radical of any particular bent—to understand how damaged the NYT’s frame is. If you’re a moderate, all I can say is that your paper of record is failing you. If you’re a radical, you should be delighted: The reasonable center you’re going to need to step over at some point doesn’t understand how reality works.

I’m really fond of the Kobo Forma’s large, rubbery physical buttons and didn’t realize how much I had come to dislike the Kindle Voyage’s haptic feedback.

The first few generations of Kindles had physical buttons, then there was a switch to using the screen to change pages. If the Kindle were a fast or responsive device, that might be fine–touch works fine on Kindle for iPad–but it’s not and it felt like a challenge to get it to register a touch reliably. I bought a Kindle Voyage because of the haptic feedback feature, which seemed to be the closest we were going to get to buttons.

Haptic feedback felt like a big improvement. Over time, though, I began to feel like I had to rest my thumb just so on the edge of the device. For whatever reason, my thumb always drifted toward the “back” region of the touch-sensitive area and I’d end up on the previous page.

Having real buttons back is nice. The Forma largely feels like it is a bit more responsive than any Kindle I’ve used. It also has a setting to only refresh the screen at chapter breaks, which does a lot to make page turns feel snappier while ensuring that the e-ink screen will occasionally get a power wash.

I’ve got a few other appliances and devices that have gone where the Voyage did, with flush, touch-like mechanical switches underneath a uniform surface: My dishwasher, an air purifier, a humidifier. None of them are great. Whatever the switch mechanisms are under the mildly flex plastic touch surfaces, they are dialed in to need a level of force I never quite get right: they register too much force as a double-tap, but won’t acknowledge the kind of grazing tap we’ve been conditioned to deliver with smartphone touch screens.

I think a generation of industrial designers got the memo that physical is out, touch is in, but are misapplying the principle with poor “touch-like” mechanical interfaces.

Digging micro.blog

dot unplanned has been a going concern for almost twenty years. It started life as a Greymatter blog for a brief while, then moved on to MovableType, wandered briefly into OctoPress, then settled into a self-hosted WordPress blog for a bunch of years.

Last year I gave the blog a long read, going all the way back to the beginning, and I didn’t like a lot of what I saw. It didn’t feel representative of me: The earliest stuff was pretty coarse and angry, and some of the stuff in the middle felt misguided and potentially hurtful to people I’ve learned more about over the years.

I struggled with that for a little bit, then decided to just take most of it down and put back only some recent things I would stand by, plus a few posts of historic interest. The rest went into a personal diary app that pings me on the anniversary of each post (2,000 of them), where I can still have access to content that amounted to a public journal and where I can be reminded of where I used to be.

I decided at the time that my main creative outlet had become photography, so I built a hosted WordPress site with a heavy emphasis on photography. I didn’t end up using it much after the initial setup lift: Clunky, constant plugin updates, didn’t feel graceful.

So now I’m on micro.blog for blog stuff and SmugMug for photo hosting.

micro.blog is pretty awesome. I looked at it a year ago and shied away. I still wanted a little complexity and I wanted a “substantial” platform, and thought I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by WordPress. What I get with it, though, is a really simple way to share ideas and status without the heavy feeling of WordPress. There’s room for customization that’s not much to manage if you’re used to something like Jekyll. I was able to bring my personal domain over (with SmugMug, too) and add a few menu links to other bits of my web presence without a lot of hassle.

One thing I’ve noticed now that I’ve internalized that I have this as an outlet, is a willingness to write little things that are longer than tweets but smaller than stuff I would have reserved for WordPress. It’s a sort of megatwitter that isn’t as willfully esoteric as Mastodon feels and that leaves room for acting as the anchor for a web identity.

When I think back to that first Greymatter blog, wow. My laptop weighed eight pounds and got three hours of battery life. I don’t think I’d even given in to having a mobile phone at that point (but did have a Handspring Visor). I splurged for a 2 megapixel digital camera. The world I live in now, where just an iPhone and a mirrorless camera would allow me to maintain a ‘net presence, is so far away from that.


I’d been putting off Joker until it was rentable, so that was last night’s viewing.

I dunno.

I had a few moments where I enjoyed it as a piece of motion picture craft. Like, literally “for the medium of pictures that move I admire the composition of this shot or the motion of the camera in this scene or the shades and tones of the whole thing.”

I think much younger me, ca. my early 20s would have liked it much more because I would have read its unrelenting, dismal, grim, seedy, grinding spiral of squalor as authentic. Last night I read it as monotonous.

A few other things about it:

  • I agree with a sentiment I saw go by on Twitter that Joker as a character is best without an origin story. The Joker that walks into the frame in The Dark Knight is enough, and the running “how did your face get like that” bit underscores the point. It reminded me of a paper I wrote a while back about the nature of villainy in spy movies: Spy novels of the ‘50s and ‘60s are ideologically motivated; the corresponding movies are usually recast as struggles of a precarious global order against chaos and non-state actors.

  • Joaquin Phoenix was generally good. There were only a few moments where I felt like I was being grabbed by the face and pointed at ACTING, and those were more directorial choices.

  • I can’t connect this Joker with any Joker that comes after. If someone felt like doing a Gotham ComicCinematic Universe that played this thread out, I guess I’d be curious about how they’d get us from this Joker to the Joker we know. I don’t understand how this Joker would survive long enough to become that Joker. I’d still wait for them to come out as rentals.

  • I deleted a paragraph about the gender politics of the movie, because I think the script blinked on Thomas Wayne and arranged the scales in such a way that Penny Fleck is Arthur’s bigger problem. As I sit here typing, I think it’s probably wrong to try to turn this into a just-so story about Todd Phillips’ misogyny; I also think it’s wrong to let him off the hook for how he chose to arrange the pieces.

After 10 minutes with my new Kobo

My Kobo Forma arrived tonight.

I signed into the Multnomah County Library on the Kobo via Overdrive and instantly disliked the interface: No way to filter on availability, slow, no way to browse anything other than curated collections (e.g. Star Wars novelizations, cookbooks, “what’s new”). So I grabbed my phone and opened Libby—which has awesome search and availability filtering—checked out an ebook from the library, picked up the Kobo and synced it, and there was my book. It’s as smooth as a Kindle, which is all I wanted: a small step away from Amazon, and a low friction way to use my public library more.

  • The Forma feels lighter and thinner than my (dying) Kindle Voyage, the display lighting is better (it takes on a yellowish hue as the evening progresses, so better for sleep), the screen is bigger, and there are physical page buttons.

  • It treats library searches as first-class citizens alongside the Kobo store. If the book you searched on is in your library, it’s as easy to check out as it is to buy.

  • It syncs with Pocket.

  • When it sleeps, it shows you the cover of the book you’re reading.

  • It syncs with Dropbox, so as I liberate Kindle books, there they’ll be.

Bottom line after 10 minutes: It’s a device that wants to give me a good experience without being as low-grade hostile or cranky as a Kindle when it comes to non-Amazon content. Now to figure out what I don’t like about it. 😀