The Psalms

Narcoleptic yokel coming to know humility and regret.

Mablis Festival Dot no

A not altogether-cohesive review of July reads and research.

In case you're similarly long overdue for a reminder that beautiful things are still being made on the internet...

After nearly a year of relative sobriety from my old, once-severe addiction to Web Site hunting, it occurred to me just yesterday that some explicit wandering as I once did for days at a time – through the clever, innovative, and uniquely tasteful projects through which an astonishingly-original few give their whole thinking (and often physical) selves in obscurity despite how little financial (and often professional) incentive is maintained by those who unknowingly need it the most – might be the best feasible remedy to my current, most perplexing state of faithlessness and bafflement toward the ambitions of trades and cultures I feel I once so thoroughly understood. A great portion of you are surely undergoing your own manifestations of the same hopelessness – I cannot ever remember a time in my life when global events were so utterly discouraging so relentlessly.

Design and The Open Web

In this present when every element of American reality is so much more incessantly ugly than we could’ve ever imagined, let’s take at least a momentary respite to look at some visually irresistible and/or super sick Sites on the truly-resolute Open Web to assure our existential selves that yes, beauty shall not cease to exist. For better or worse, my #1 goto source to find innovative, delicious web design has always been Typewolf, who announced last fall that he will not be continuing his “Site of the Month” section, though his relentless “Site of the Day” roll will continue, unhindered.

Zeff Cherry

Recent Discoveries

Poolside.fmPoolside.FM is a retro digital oasis for your summer” | The Verge

Audio

Those of us for whom the Podcast medium became a trusted and relatively regular one in our lives long before anyone figured out how to make a real business out of it – certainly eons preceeding the original startup podcast-only (apparently HBO-like publication – Gimlet Media – to be successfully launched. Now, though, your mom – perhaps even her mom – listens to podcasts, and what was once a The single Missouri alumni at The Verge, Ashley Carmen, explored the proliferation of podcasting and the process by which it became profitable.

In 2009, only 11% of the U.S. population had listened to a podcast in the past month.
How podcasts became so popular | The Verge on YouTube

Whilst trying out Garageband for iOS’ new sample packs, I sampled the accompanying video to the article and produced the best “track” I’ve ever made with the app (for whatever that’s worth.)

Speaking of Gimlet Media: the latest episode of my longtime favorite of their podcasts, Reply All, is a sort of condensed remake of my favorite podcast episode of all time (of any show, not just this one) in which hosts Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogtmaintained an open telephone line for 48 hours and spoke with a whole bunch of people (mostly Americans) about... whatever. The result was beautifully human, if you’ll forgive my use of the cliche. I tend to revisit it when I’m feeling particularly isolated from and/or confused about the general ambitions of the people around me. I’ll be honest: I didn’t pay much attention to my first listen through the new episode, but I can tell you that it is worth your time, at least.

I was distraught when Spotify bought both the aforementioned Gimlet Media and the social audio turned podcasting app Anchor – both of which I (rather ridiculously) felt a special personal ownership over. (The latter, especially, because they reached out to me early on to feature Extratone’s channel on their music section.) However, it appears that both are being treated fairly well in the 18+ months since their acquisition – probably because they’ve been making Spotify money.

Further Reading

Other Favorites

#software

Yes, I am still managing to waste my time digging up and re-arranging some very old content, but I just couldn't resist. Somehow, it didn't occur to me until yesterday evening that I could sort through the original video files of my old vines fairly easily in fucking Google Photos and blast them through iMovie for iOS into a full montage relatively easily.

Some of these are very cringey...

Yes, I'd love to finally get around to my ultimate romantic editorialization on that most dearly departed social network, but things are way too jumbled right now, obviously.

#meta

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so illequipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you.

#quote

Summer Coldfront relentless, the country keeps doors and walls reverberate all but rest in summer’s heat

I remember the dawn and dusk – the open palette, gradiented above opposite a front overtaking me, on the 4030, tilling terraces ’round the North 180

growing here is not a war with Earth, but a chronological board game, won by the punctual and patient

I am neither of these, but I am fond of a good emergency

and it all plays out for me; the torrent released in Missouri haste big drops turn to steam on the labored muffler too much to do; getting it over with, God cries in heaves, quickly, around here

#poetry

Mastonaut Full Screen

Premium desktop Mastodon clients incoming?

Since you last heard from us, the federated social network Mastodon has scaled tremendously in usership and steadily grown technologically into an incredibly robust and dynamic platform. Perhaps inevitably, Eugen Rochko and his gaggle of open source developers have continued to embarrass the living fuck out of Twitter's team – at least for those who've continued to pay attention (i.e. those of us whose sense of aspiration has yet to perish.)

I planned on getting ahead of an innovative wake in iOS development by watching closely for the first “premium” Mastodon clients to come out, which I suspected (quite correctly) would carry the first substantial risk-taking on the part of plucky social apps to be seen on the goddamned App Store in what felt like eternity. Unfortunately, I've ended up far too deep in screenshots/insights from Toot! and Mast, creating a bit of an overwhelming obstacle in comparing and/or reviewing the two without sinking deep in my regular, pretentious hole. (Though both of them are absolutely gorgeous, fascinating, and impressive projects which you should invest in and follow if you're interested in the future of federated social whatsoever.)

That said... I'd like only to mention and briefly demonstrate the first premium desktop Mastodon client, Mastonaut, which I had the privilege of experiencing momentarily last night.

Mastonaut Add Instance

In the interest of brevity (and because I was unable to continue fucking around for any length of time,) I'll just list some observations:

  • The entire GUI experience is distinctly uncluttered (or perhaps barren, depending on your subjective desires from this sort of thing,) but duplicates dearest TweetBot's functionality impressively well considering its age as an independently-developed product.
  • Keyboard shortcuts! Fuck me, God.
  • I love the live-updated instance directory search (above) as a second landing for first-time users.
  • Though I did actually have to repeat the first-time login process after freezing and subsequently force-quitting Mastonaut, I think you'll probably place the blame on my own immediate and inpatient window management mania considering how smoothly it all went the second time around.

To be honest, Bear, Spark, and recent other beautiful Mac applications beckon me to buy or hack myself into MacOS again. If I have time in the near future, I'll show you why.

#software

The Psalms is proudly hosted by Write.as – a new sort of blogging content management system built atop Markdown and maintained by a company which explicitly shares my commitment to a better, Open web. My theme is adapted from Anxiety by Max Henderson. The full CSS can be found below.

Colors

Expired Sour Cream David Blue Red Alarmed Suburbanite


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Modified in April 2020 by David Blue for bilge.world.

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   warranty.

   You should have received a copy of the CC0 Public Domain Dedication
   along with this software. If not, see
   http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0

   I am not a web designer or coder. This code is messy. Hope you enjoy.
   Open to any suggestions.

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Licking Dark

My girlfriend very generously offered to go for a drive with me yesterday evening, though neither of us particularly expected to end up parked at 5:40AM outside a little Diner called Ziggie’s some four hours away from home. I managed to learn a bit about driving apps and briefly flood my Jetta’s intake long enough to stall it after fording some flood water a wee bit too rapidly.

Since I’ve begun working in Kansas City and occasionally commuting from Columbia, I’ve found incentive to revisit the crowdsourced driving directions mobile app Waze, which I recall being very excited about in early 2016. It’s smoother now, yet devoid of that pseudocountercultural sense in a design sense. Functionally, it is still the most reliable method of police detection I’ve ever encountered – in this Second Era of my Waze usage I have yet to see a single Missouri Highway Parol car sat in the center of I-70 that hadn’t been reported on Waze first – even at crazy hours on weekday mornings – which should be all the reassurance one needs regarding the immediate future of their userbase.

Downtown Licking

I'm using Waze to drive to to Licking, MO, arriving at 2:24. Watch my drive in real-time on the Waze map! David Blue on Twitter

Somehow, I was unaware until this morning that Waze allows you to “share” your route by generating a link to a web app of theirs that will live track your progress. Though I can’t actually imagine too many use cases for this, I still think it’s cool. Anybody who’s interested in stalking my every move should follow me on Twitter – where I’m sure I’ll be sharing more drives from now on – and/or DM me and just ask me to enable 24/7 location-sharing for ya!

On the topic of mobile apps for those folks like me who’s only real hobby is just fucking driving around, I did actually find mention in a listicle from a real motoring enthusiast’s publication. “Seven Apps That Will Help Improve Your Driving Experience” is not exactly the sort of advisory article I remember seeing in Road & Track considering that it actually only contains one single app even vaguely related to True Driving Pleasure called Greatest Drive.

Users contribute their favorite routes and with Yelp integration you can either pick a destination to find the most scenic way to get there or find a good spot to eat along the route you've already chosen.

Of course, it’s nowhere to be found on the App Store, but it sounded relatively foodist anyway.

Other notes:

  • Licking, Missouri may have a silly name, but the data says it’s struggling. Look for the median household income.
  • Apparently the premier mile-tracking app right now is Microsoft’s MileIQ, which I’m going to continue to try because I can’t resist automatically-generated PDF reports, ever.
  • I gave my girlfriend administrator roles for my derelict joke Facebook page Boiler Explosion Memes and she’s somehow managed to get it to almost 100 likes / +25,000% impressions in just a matter of days!!!!

#photography

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Assuming Jesus Christ is in your thoughts this evening before yet another anniversary of his birth, I am infinitely astonished by the truth in what I’m about to suppose with you. If the Son of God was living today, most of us have agreed for a long time now that he’d use marijuana recreationally – big fuckin whoop. I think it’s far more interesting and appropriate (we all know his birthday was wholly reconfigured into a consumerist holiday long ago) to speculate on how he’d behave after finding himself inadvertently in the market for a new laptop within the ~$1000 range (following a stubbed toe whilst walking on water incident, perhaps.) Surely, it would not be entirely holy for him to opt in to the Foxconn-complicit world of Apple, Incorporated, nor the openly-blasphemous one created and exuberantly grown by Google LLC, and I’m afraid he’d be too much of an End User idiot to integrate any of the sparse Linux-dedicated hardware available. In May of 2017, however, Billy Gates’ old Microsoft finally released “the laptop we’ve always wanted them to make,” but could its recent update be truly worthy of our Lourde and Saviour? Or your newly-enrolled offspring? Should you sprint downstairs and swap out the new MacBook Air you just bought?

From an entirely valid perspective, an observer might declare my last two months of 2018 to be an outright shameful period defined by hypocrisy and traitorous betrayals. After finally taking the time to explore the full narrative surrounding Linux and the bloody tale of Microsoft’s cruel genocidal destruction of countless creative software projects throughout computing’s adolescence (see: “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish,”) I eventually declared myself “100% Open Source” and began outlining an essay designed primarily to express that Linux is finally ready to be the operating system of the people without succumbing immediately to the brand of cybercrackpot illegitimacy associated with the L-word in the minds of the general public so readily thanks to decades of misinformed, condescending neckbeards. Such a feat would require entire new planes of cultural awareness and dialectal delicacy, yet certainly result in zero personal reward from even the best possible outcome, yet I proceeded to ponder the subject very deliberately all the way through October because I genuinely believed in a new democratized future of computing. 2018 had been my Grand Awakening to the idyllic possibilities of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) across the whole applied spectrum from office suites to social networks, yet – as two thousand eighteen comes to an end – I’ve managed to find myself among the most jaded, soul-sapped tech community I have yet encountered: Microsoft Administrators.

Complimenting this Linux-laden culture in which I was not so long ago deeply embedded was a confused and frustrated outlook regarding what I felt were excessive and completely idiotic sacrifices across the industry’s hardware design to the greedy, gluttonous god of Lightness. It seemed only reasonable to Myself As Consumer that the entire buying public should exclusively seek designs prioritizing greatest possible performance and battery life, even from portable computers and smartphones, so I assumed my perspective on this updated iteration of Microsoft's most laptopy Surface laptop – which exists in large part to compete directly with Apple's beloved (and just-updated) MacBook Air – wouldn't be at all useful. However, a few weeks ago, my employer prompted me with a sweet sweet ultimatum: for the sake of a tax break, I want to spend ~$1000 on a laptop for you as soon as possible. Yes, I know I should consider myself a very fortunate man – this wasn't even the first time I'd been surprised with the “hey, I want to buy you a laptop but it has to be today” experience, and may even be considered a sort of sequel to my Tales of Whirlwind Manic Consumerism, but it’s ultimately one of the most idiotic strategies to achieve a major purchase decision and completely inadvisable for anyone on a budget. Still I was indeed thankful to be put in a nearly-identical situation of Consumer Electronic haste, and have come to be especially appreciative of the specific time I was approached as such: just one week after Microsoft launched the Surface Laptop 2.

Considering the vast majority of its users are trapped inside my television, there’s no harm in covering the Surface brand with our virtual palm for a moment. If you’ll indulge me so, you’ll notice that Microsoft has actually delivered unto us The Laptop II – as in, the sequel... the successor to every other laptop computer yet conceived... but does this one machine truly represent the second coming of the Notebook Christ? Naturally, it would be a bit zealous to stand behind this extreme statement with 100% sincerity, but there truly are certain elements of this Personal Computing product's execution which do indeed will its user to expect and/or desire from others in coming years. As I've stated before, I also simply cannot help but be jazzed by such bravado from the mouths of even a company with as crooked and hateful history as Microsoft's. (Note: no other technology company has actually achieved what Microsoft historically has in this regard, and hopefully none ever will again.)

I must be honest: it hasn't yet been two months and I've already scuffed and perhaps even stained the beautiful maroon alcantara surrounding my machine’s touchable body, but it’s occurred to me that I might draw upon the vast library of automotive interior tutorials available on YouTube – and even purchase some of the alcantara care-specific products they recommend – in order to really maintain the exterior of the Laptop II. After all, alcantara was undeniably car culture’s material first. I should also confess that objectively, the Surface Laptop II is the best-suited computer for my personal uses that I’ve ever owned or used for any length of time. Subjectively, I don’t think all of the hardware design touches that make it so – like its keyboard layout, divine 3:2 aspect ratio, and particular I/O complement – have yet had the chance to seduce my emotional brain into truly loving it as much as I certainly should by any reasonable measure. For my own sake, I hope I’m able to fall in child-like infatuation with its magic, but in the interim, I believe the coldness of my heart should hopefully preserve any useful commentary I might have to add. Though this is undoubtedly the most timely review of a hardware product I’ve ever published, I’d still ask that you indulge my perspective suggesting the importance of considering it part of a package with its operating system, considering that the whole of tech media would’ve unanimously declared it the year’s “best laptop” were Apple’s aging, but still widely-adored MacOS absent from the frame.

I've tested a bunch of laptops this year, running the spectrum of 2-in-1s, Chromebooks, MacBooks, gaming laptops, etc. Everyone's needs are going to be different, which is why there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for laptops. But enthusiasts’ laptops aside, I strongly feel the Surface Laptop 2 is the best laptop of the year. And by that I mean the best laptop for most folks' needs.

With as much humility as possible, I must add that I myself am anything but “most folks,” yet my experience so far with the product has been one of astonishing compatibility and battery life. Using recommended power settings, the Surface Laptop 2 endured four hours and twenty-two minutes of a workload it wasn’t particularly designed for including heavy web browsing, image manipulation, brief audio/video capture with OBS, and moderate subsequent editing in Audacity and OpenShot. Dan Seifert – Vox Media’s “only Windows user” – reported “about seven hours” of Microsoft’s claimed 14.5, but frankly, I don’t know what any of y’all are doin – I’m just thankful this machine is a better marathoner than any other I can recall owning. While we’re on the subject, I consider Microsoft’s inclusion of a magnetically-attached power cable and unassuming auxiliary USB charging port on the attached power supply to be personal godsends – further evidence, even, that the Surface Laptop 2 was actually designed to be nice to use. For the sake of those readers actually in the market for a new laptop who’ve somehow found themselves here, though, Raymond Wong’s review for Mashable is the most thorough offering you’ll find – it’s quoted front and center on Microsoft’s web page for the Laptop II, even – but it’s important to mention that his critical comparative perspective predates the late launch of its ultimate competitor, the new MacBook Air. Rather pitifully, however, his colleague’s “good, but not great” resolution suggests that Apple failed to challenge Microsoft’s relatively moderate update enough to warrant any revision, and that Mashable as a publication stands by my new laptop’s Best of the Year title, for whatever it may or may not be worth to you.

If the new MacBook Air came in at the same price as the old one, it would be a steal. Sure, you pay for the privilege of being able to use macOS on the Apple ecosystem. But in years past that also meant access to cutting-edge features and design. As pretty as the MacBook Air is, there's nothing that innovative about it. In today's Apple, it seems, privilege amounts to just staying current.

You won’t find many others who regularly invest editorial merit in publishing 2500+ word laptop reviews anymore, which I’d concede is plenty reasonable in the Surface Laptop’s case, at least. Perhaps your first point of comparative entry should be a barely-dated conversation between Kara Swisher, Lauren Goode, and Dan Seifert on Too Embarrassed to Ask regarding the original’s odds of truly competing in the “premium laptop” segment (if you’d prefer to hear from those who struggle to take it seriously, that is.) Assuming the original product direction of the Surface line still stands, Microsoft doesn’t actually intend to sell at high volume, especially when it comes to this runt of the marque, which does not hesitate to omit itself from the popular discourse of the moment surrounding tablets as the future of all computing to which all of its siblings have contributed so much. Though I shall always remember my dearest Libel (the special edition Spectre x360 with which I built most of Extratone) with great respect and deep fondness – I think it’s even worth mounting on some sort of plinth – the significantly-cheaper Laptop II has already demonstrated true value in its “premium” segment bragging rights with far superior materials and build quality. If you’re looking for the prettiest possible slice of magnesium lightness but aren’t the sort to have followed the story of Microsoft’s first venture into personal computer production since it began in the last year of the Mayan calendar, it’s worth your while to read Joshua Topolsky’s projections of the project’s impact on the popular narrative surrounding Microsoft from history’s freshest possible perspective: the eve of the first Surface tablet’s launch.

The entire tablet was designed in-house by Microsoft's teams, and if you believe what was said in the presentation yesterday, design and functionality in hardware has suddenly become a big deal in Redmond. That's a big shift, and it's an important one. The announcement of the Surface shows that Microsoft is ready to make a break with its history — a history of hardware partnerships which relied on companies like Dell, HP, or Acer to actually bring its products to market. That may burn partners in the short term, but it could also give Microsoft something it desperately needs: a clear story.

A pungent stigma festered from Microsoft’s history of inadequate and inelegant public relations (especially compared to its greatest longtime rival) has remained in relentlessly obvious orbit around every “significant” Windows and Office update for so long that its status quo has grown into a truly inhibitive force for all parties involved. Topolsky is unquestionably a compromising favorite of mine, but it’s hard not to decry then-CEO Steve Ballmer’s failure to comprehend Josh’s day-after insight in the whole three months that passed before his Seattle Times interview in September, 2012. Ultimately, The Big M is either incapable of understanding any alternative utopic Visions of Computing to its own, or simply overwrought with the same counteraspirational carelessness its culture has always depended upon. In analytical terms regarding Ballmer’s utilization of the forum’s opportunity to finally tell the fucking story, at least, the timidity of a term like “pre-eminent software” as a viably bright new beacon in contrast with “people would say we were a software company” (emphasis mine) – as if Steve-O himself doesn’t even have the power to publicly describe his company’s function as its #1 man – combined at the apex of what was almost impressively-negligent behavior.

I think when you look forward, our core capability will be software, (but) you'll probably think of us more as a devices-and-services company. Which is a little different. Software powers devices and software powers these cloud services, but it's a different form of delivery...

Don’t make the same mistake I did and wear yourself out trying to extract the meaning from these three sentences – there’s none to be found. Ultimately, whatever opportunity the Surface project could have provided for Microsoft’s identity has been vastly overshadowed by its success as last resort supercatalyst to restore any sense of dignity and pride within the hardware companies who produce the vehicles. In Fall 2017, The Register quoted industry gossip regarding the company’s new CEO Satya Nadella and his intent to “exit the product line” because “overall they are not making money [and] it doesn’t make sense for them to be in this business,” but newcomers to this conversation should know that no subsequent reporting has corroborated anything but a sustaining future of the line, though the measurable rate of innovation in Microsoft’s products continues to leave much to be desired. Now that you’ve heard from the experts, though, allow me to expand our lens a bit and examine what the Surface Laptop 2’s existence suggests as per The Present & Future of Computing.

The Clam Clan

In case I’ve yet to mention it, all of my tech writing is in substantial debt to my much-older and child-oriented siblings for providing 8 nieces and nephews over the course of 11 years – if not for any reason but the perspective offered by the slightest observation of their day-to-day lives. In this profoundly bizarre and historic technological sprint our species is experiencing, the differences in their respective relationships with consumer tech as they’ve grown up are fascinatingly… disturbingly significant. My eldest niece Abby was born four years after myself in 1998, and her younger sister Amber just quite three years later in 2001. All three of us are Aquarians who went to the same public schools (aside from 2 exceptions on my part,) and the two sisters have been close, significant influences on each other all their lives, yet the way Abby and I use and think about computers differs significantly from Amber’s. Our first real PCs introduced an important social and intellectual vehicle to our pre-teen lives, and both of us still “live on” our machines as young adults. For us and many others from this short-lived microgeneration of ours, budget laptops like the Dell Inspirion 2200 (which served as the first “real computer” for both of us) introduced the internet and Being Online as a State of Being with AIM groups, MySpace, and Yahoo! chain mails before smartphones and tablets were capable of doing so.

Amber prefers to use her iPhone for most everything and regards her computer as a tool for work – it’s booted up and down exclusively for that purpose, which is significantly healthier than the habit Abby, myself, and many of my Online friends developed: we left our computers running and Logged On all the time because we were otherwise unreachable. We learned from origin to depend on them for 100% of our computing tasks – from streaming Pandora to playing Flash games within six billion open browser tabs – which likely explains both our ADD and its resulting influence on the ease with which our personal computers can distract us. As a Journalism student and professional photographer, Abby uses the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, and [Insane Blogger] David Blue has spent years looking for an alternative, becoming the first and only iPhone user to make extensive use of its Bluetooth keyboard support in the process, but both of us are entirely uninterested in the rest of the industry’s insistence on convertibles, removable keyboards, or ‘professional’ tablets. I wish the Linux community was finally ready to drop the elitist pretenses plaguing its nerdy history; I wish I could finally tell someone like Abby that a machine like the System76 Galago Pro could slot itself into her workflow without losing her time or compatibility – that the reputation surrounding Linux People had finally lost most of its validity and her desire to learn more about computing as a young woman and Power User would be met with respectful and worthwhile conversation from their end. Unfortunately, I’ve still found some of the Old Guard to be elitist, socially behind, and juvenilely possessive, as if computing was still the niche interest from their 1980s and 90s childhoods. Though this conversation certainly warrants its own essay in the future, I’ll just express now that it’s a real shame some folks don’t realize the entire point of making great things is ultimately to give them to the world.

The opportunity I’ve had in the past year to finally get my Linux distro frenzy over with and out of my system managed to both radicalize and democratize my understanding of MacOS, Windows, and Linux as they are in the present. While I had nothing better to do, fiddling with Ubuntu Studio and Linux Mint to the extent I did throughout Spring and Summer led me to further appreciate the value of keyboard shortcuts, gave me my first real proficiency with a command line, helped globalize my comprehension of my own technological privilege, reacquainted me in a huge way with both the true history of software and my own personal past as an experimental test tube baby of Microsoft’s, and helped to answer a lot of questions I’d worried over for years about why software seemed like it simply couldn’t improve anymore. While it’s true that important open source projects like ElementaryOS continue to sprout from the Linus Extended Universe and the growing Open Source community on Mastodon is filled with brilliant, helpful, unpretentious, and remarkably curious enthusiasts (probably because many of those I’ve interacted with so far are non-cis and/or non-white,) little ole me was able to stumble upon some totally unnecessary and excruciatingly ignorant sociopolitical commentary by way of the white, middle-age host and his undoubtedly-white and staunchly libertarian caller on a live broadcast of the Ask Noah Show. (It’s not as if I haven’t said ignorant and very ugly things too, but I wasn’t a forty-something father on a semi-professional talk show representing an entire community.)

Essentially, I was quite frustrated and disappointed to find that Linux is still let down most by its own community, but the operating system itself is still much further along on its way to becoming a real alternative for the average user than mainstream tech journalism would have you believe. However, in my case, finally taking the time to really learn about Open Source computing also helped me understand (surprisingly) why Apple and its environment continue to be the best and most popular choice for professional applications. Linux Mint gave me tremendous power in enabling me to alter, specify, and redesign the most minute details of its interface, but I couldn’t have foreseen how all-consuming such power would be for someone like myself. In retrospect, I’ve realized that I ended up spending more time perfecting my custom LibreOffice Writer shortcuts than I did actually writing – I somehow found myself in a mind state which justified unironically creating a shortcut for the Shortcuts menu. Though I swore I’d never succumb to the bewildering hobby of collecting and exploring different Linux Distributions, it took no time at all for me to fill a folder with disc images of the installers for almost a dozen different interpretations of the operating system after I’d made the simple concession to myself that I’ll just try Ubuntu, that’s all. The most profound realization from all this (arguably otherwise wasted) time: for a user like me, a walled garden is actually the best place to be productive because apparently, I don’t have the self-control to keep myself from running away and/or fixating on completely unproductive tasks without its boundaries. I think this phenomenon is perhaps the worst culprit in the persistence of the aforementioned divide between “computer people” and everyone else who simply uses computers, as I’m sure any one of the latter could tell you after all of five minutes with a Linus type.

The most comprehensive and somewhat-urgent revision to illustrate the significance of this contrast from my perspective regards the exceptional iOS/MacOS markdown-based notetaking app Bear. Frankly, my own “Word Processing Methodology” essay from June has already become problematically out of date (and therefore embarrassing) in terms of my own knowledge of the segment and its history. Though I promised the conversation was “done,” I’ve continued to explore further into word processing’s history as well as its current state. “I had a go at Bear’s free iOS experience and saw little functional difference from DayOne,” the old, negligent, cursory David Blue noted, but if I’d simply been willing to cough up a bit more time and just $1.49 a month for Bear Pro, I’d have spared myself such shame and realized that the hype around this app really is 100% justified. Bear is the most beautiful iOS app I’ve ever seen, but I’m now also fully qualified to declare it the most effective execution of “distraction-free” writing software to come along in the past 25 years. Developer Shiny Frog’s secret is their perfect balance between capability and simplicity. It turns out, Daily Content Lord Casey Newton’s word on this matter really was worth more than mine, not to mention more succinct: “Bear may look simple, but there’s power underneath the surface.”

Those longtime Linux and Windows diehards who’ve tolerated me thus far, listen up: MacOS may be ancient, neglected, and full of incongruencies, but its single-minded methodology paired with Apple’s iCloud really does make it the most effective and elegant environment for most people to simply get shit done. It’s clear that many of you have realized the importance of simplicity for compact and/or educational distributions, but let me just add that the democratization of Linux provides a gargantuan development opportunity to make something that beats MacOS at its own game without starting from such a shitty premise and all of its resulting compromises – all without detracting from any other technically-minded distributions whatsoever. That is the magic of The Distro, remember?! If you’ve existed in a similar state of confusion to that of my entire adult life regarding the appeal of Apple products – despite having once been an extensive OSX user, myself – you’re very welcome for the insight. Instead of paying me for the profound self-improvement I’ve just provided, try prioritizing this newfound knowledge the next time you talk to your MacBook Pro-loving friend about their workflow. If you’re like myself, you’ll find their arguments have magically transformed from the bewildering bullshit they’ve always seemed to be into challenges for future competing operating systems to surpass Apple’s old bitch and excel in because MacOS and even its much-younger iOS counterpart – as well as the billions of people who depend on them – desperately need real competition in order to maintain their viability, much less become what products of the world’s wealthiest company should be.

Yes, the manner in which these operating systems are perceived really is an important discussion prompted by a product as insignificant as the Surface Laptop 2 because as you read, the industry is bracing for another paradigm shift in computing, which many believe (preposterously, I might add) could be as significant and disruptive as 2007’s introduction of the iPhone. This machine of Microsoft’s and its “new” MacBook Air counterpart could potentially be the last designs to carry us to a computing future where the tried-and-true clamshell design is forgone entirely by the mainstream, but Apple’s release of this year’s new iPad Pro prompted even the most Cupertino-loving tech commentators to respond with genuine discord along with a few long-overdue shouts of “are you crazy?!” I’m very proud of The Verge’s Nilay Patel, in particular, for so eloquently deconstructing its usability for all but the very wealthy. “It is impossible to look at a device this powerful and expensive and not expect it to replace a laptop for day-to-day work,” he reminds us in the introduction to his full review of the updated product, along with a beautifully transient sentiment which I think we all needed to hear again: “I don’t think people should adapt to their computers. Computers should adapt to people.” Even something as consumerist and bourgeois as the introduction of another pricepoint-burgeoning Apple hardware flagship can turn a simple tablet review into a much-needed manifesto for a user-centric way forward for the industry, which is itself worthy of celebratory encouragement.

I’ve favored The Verge and its cast long past the point of excess throughout the span of my work about technology, but Nilay’s review and its accompanying episode of The Vergecast are truly special and profound gems of content that shouldn’t be passed up. Apparently – as the Editor-in-Chief immediately insists as the episode begins – his “ongoing theory” that “the more important you are, the less actually important work you do, and the more likely you are to be an iPad user” roused anger from “that whole class of [billionaires,]” but the experiences behind his argument actually suggest that Apple’s own favorite child of late – into which it has begun investing and thereby implicitly sponsoring over its much older brother as the ultimate heir of the majority’s future computing – has unequivocally failed to do its part in growing the iPad Pro into the “laptop replacement” we’d all heard so much about. Of iOS 12’s performance as an operating system beneath true work-related tasks, he exasperates “you have to spend all of your time figuring out how to do stuff instead of doing stuff,” which I couldn’t help but hear as echoes of my own late Linux lamentations. As thankful as I am to have finally achieved enlightenment of the Planet Apple, I’m afraid I was pitifully late: its very natural laws underwent their most brutal tests of the 21st century this past year. Now that I’ve finally come to adore the elegant effectiveness of a new generation of iOS apps like Bear, I’m faced with yet another of the episode’s statements of weight: “I think it’s time to stop pretending that the future of computing looks like Apple’s restrictions.” On the opposing end of the line, the world’s first trillion-dollar company’s other major product release of 2018 managed to disappoint even the most fanatical fans of its original operating system’s best-selling platform with an insultingly mediocre update to the MacBook Air marque upon which it once so fondly doted.

My best friend’s parents bought her the original Surface tablet when she enrolled in art school, and her frustration with its lackluster keyboard (among others) leads MacOS alternative-seeking users like us to wish Microsoft had started with a traditional design like the Surface Laptop first. Perhaps Apple and Microsoft’s emphasis on their tablets is nothing but a bit premature for the most current crop of users, and the rest of my nieces and nephews will expand upon an entirely different methodology of usership when they receive their freshman computer. Those elders of us who still take the Clamshell form seriously and love printing our documents are apparently facing a future industry saturated with products we can’t believe in, but it’s up to you to decide if this issue is worth expending your energy in advocacy for either camp. With my 120+ word per minute proficiency with physical keyboards, I for one have been completely bewildered by the iPad as anything but an indulgence for reading text on the web, and I’m pleased as punch with my Surface Laptop 2. Even if it proves to be the last new computer I’ll ever own to come as optimized for my use, I’m just grateful and astonished it happens to be the best yet.

#hardware

Chuck Klosterman

The genius of one Chuck continues to perform to the refreshing benefit of scholars in American culture.

Thanks to an episode of Peter Kafka's Recode Media, I've just now discovered that former New York Times Magazine Ethicist, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and longtime men's interest media-affiliated sports and music columnist Chuck Klosterman pronounces his surname kloa-ster-men instead of klaw-ster-men as I have been, shamefully – even within earshot of other human beings on a handful of occasions. I am willing to submit myself for punishment for these transgressions under the single condition that I be allowed to call him Cuck Klusterfuck the next time he ends a spoken sentence with “or whatever” in an interview – an unfortunate habit he's maintained for years. If my own byline had any pedigree in the world of literary criticism, I would now collect his penance simply by including those hateful, 90s stoner-kid buzzwords in every quote, unedited, but it most certainly does not. I've searched moderately hard for any reason to bother contributing any criticism of books or their authors and returned with very little. I've read The Broom of the System and White Girls this year, yes, but I'd have to be a Fuck Boy to write anything about David Foster Wallace, and Hilton Als’ elegant, genre-busting masterpiece is so far beyond both my societal rights and perceptive capacity that I wouldn't dare utter a single editorialized peep about it – aside from a log line-length recommendation – even under immediate threat of certain death.

Given my recent voluntary relocation to Portland, Oregon and the word-y pursuits on which I choose to spend all of my money and energy, I should adore everything about Chuck Klosterman and in turn he should be completely invisible across the under-30 demographic, yet I’ve found a special originality in his voice since first exploring it and I think it might be worth requalification. A good friend of mine once dug his first novel Downtown Owl out of a bulk box of bargain books she’d bought as a preteen, long ago and became an enthusiastic fan of his perspective and a harsh, but fond critic of his persona. It was her copy of his second that I read first: The Visible Man – ultimately a surprisingly-original take on the psychologist of a gifted outcast tale that classically exemplifies the easy-to-digest yet thoughtfully-exploratory reputation of his craft. Thanks to her library card, I was able to follow it up immediately with Chuck’s latest, most topical work – an anthology of past essays written for publications like The Guardian, Grantland, and GQ entitled X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, which proved an impossibly entertaining, even more polished execution of The Quaint Chuck’s Explanations in non-fiction form, beginning at onset with refreshing brevity in its introduction.

I’m not fully accredited by either side of the professional equation (sportswriters think I’m too pretentious and music writers don’t think I’m pretentious enough,) but I’m able to write about whatever I want, as long as it actually happened.

Using “pretentious” even when just vaguely and loosely expressing other readers’ thoughts about your work is the first of many miniscule technical infractions against convention laid down in X’s arrangement which proves to act toward the benefit of its experience. If you substitute car nerds for sportswriters, I’d personally identify with this picoautobiography in a big way, but more importantly as a reader I had never encountered anything written about sports which I would describe as pretentious, per se, and that realization could very well have birthed enough curiosity to land the sale, had I been skimming in a bookshop, which I would’ve eventually been pleased with.

Now, during what we should hope to be the first dawn of a new microera of sincerity, we must recognize how valuable it is for Klosterman as an observer to be comfortably engaged with his subjects, emotionally, and confident in the value of his commentary in middleage without the need to insist upon his eccentricity, as so many cringey, culturally-daft Dads do, these days. He uses keywords in his writing and spoken publicity that should dismiss him immediately as one of these – a nostalgic, out-of-time dork – but are instead somehow magically manipulated to serve him in articulating reasonable, even profoundly-innovative insight. As I have explored his bibliography and his publicly-expressed thoughts, I have been caught up and hinged on a single supposition: Chuck Klosterman is the only white, 46-year-old bearded Portland Dad you should be reading. Do mind that I am in no way exempt from this lens, but it’s still my job to determine his viability as an intellectual – a “thought leader,” even – for those of us who were conceived around the same time he was wrapping up his collegiate sentence at the University of North Dakota.

For a solid hunk of the American reading audience, a quick, elemental vector of quality and mastery we look for in an essayist is the ability to “transcend” their subject matter for even the most presumptuous and conceited among us, usually to deliver a more abstract sentiment to leave with. Here, Klosterman’s significant career experience is irrefutably evident – in X, he achieves this transcendence organically with a fluidity unlike anything I’ve read before. We can already check a single box: convincing even a young professional twenty-something to shell out for a physical hardback of contemporary non-fiction requiring any sort of academic effort to consume is going to be nigh-impossible, even though X actually happens to be the best-looking specimen of print product design I have ever handled across cover, type, and layout. It’s been difficult having to convince myself to give this copy back.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must take special care to emphasize just how highly I regard Peter Kafka as editor and interviewer extraordinaire within the Media beat – well-proven to be capable of hitting consistently hard on both novel and old guard industry personalities with refined, seemingly unimpeachable stone-faced skepticism. However, this Chuck Klosterman interview for Recode Media is an uncharacteristically disarmed display of serious admiration: he introduces X with an outright confession: “It’s great. I bought it. I bought a signed copy,” which is an unexpected oddity (though not an unwelcome one – I’m glad Peter enjoys his life.) Their conversation dips briefly in personal history (Chuck and his wife moved to Portland from Brooklyn for its proximity to family) before plopping down upon the substance of his clearly superb and matter-of-fact interview technique. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a conversation between Kafka and any previous guests with whom he was quite so obviously alike in general disposition.

The only reason I’m able to ask you these questions is because I’m a reporter and I can ask you questions now that I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable asking you if we were friends, so I’m not going to pretend that we are and I’m not going to create some fake thing where we’re going to have a relationship beyond this conversation. I’m just going to ask you the things I want to know about and I hope that you respect the fact that I’m just being straight with you. I find that that works much better.

From the broadest possible pop cultural lens, Chuck's most spectacular and widely-circulated work, demographically (I assume) is his 2015 interview and cover story for GQ with Taylor Swift – then “the most popular human alive.” Yes, it really is worth dwelling on the image: this guy... this very Dorky Dad, just hanging out with the most highly-demanded teen idol who's ever lived, sitting awkwardly next to her in the backseat of her car as she maniacally panics to accept a call from Justin Timberlake. When one Chucks such a distinguished contrast upon such a high-profile contemporary medium, the weight of the potential scrutiny becomes palpable, but Klosterman anticipates and braces for this (very risky) business in the only manner he can: acknowledging it over and over and over again in the second paragraph of his every interview appearance.

It doesn’t matter if it was complimentary or insulting necessarily. It would seem as though I wasn’t taking her seriously as a musical artist, and the idea is that I do. That’s why I’m writing about her is because I do think she’s a meaningful, significant artist. It’s not worth the risk of having the story then get shifted by other people who perhaps just perceive themselves as somebody who’s a watchdog for certain signifiers or certain elements of the culture and that their job is to be on the watch for this. If your story then gets moved into that silo, that’s all it’s going to be remembered for... It’s a touchier thing now. It’s a more dangerous thing.

In the print itself, the cover story is prefaced by a very short but uncomfortably-telling complaint about changing expectations for culture writers. One might reasonably suggest that Klosterman regards the practice of calling out or remarking on “creepy misogyny” as “dumb” – nothing but the byproduct of changing “times.”

Something you may notice in the following 2015 feature on Taylor Swift is that I never describe what she looks like or how she was dressed, even though I almost always do that with any celebrity I cover... If I did, it would be reframed as creepy misogyny and proof that I didn't take the woman seriously as an artist. It would derail everything else about the story. It would become the story.

But… is it? Note how desperately close his language comes to the common white guy whining about feminism classification without actually fitting the bill. Right…? It doesn’t? Surely, it must be certified Awake through some combination of keywords or format I’m unfamiliar with or unable to visually register because Klosterman’s ass would have long been grass, otherwise. These 224 words are X’s most contentious, which you could call impressive, all things considered – he appears to care enough about his public image to curate it somewhat diligently. When a motherhood blogger published an open letter in 2013 citing three very ableist uses of the R-word in his work, it only took him two days to respond: “I was wrong. You are right.”

More than any other writer of his demographic, Chuck Klosterman has a close, wary relationship with the everchanging contextual boundaries of public expression. He knows when to be transparent with his feelings on progression, and he's careful to avoid what could be “problematic” for the sake of functioning better as a writer (I assume.) For Slate's I Have to Ask podcast, he managed to speak extensively about these mechanisms for nearly an hour without bellowing anything definitively cringey.

I can’t say it’s better or worse. It’s just different, and because it’s different, it makes me feel uncomfortable, but there’s actually like an adversarial relationship with the history of anything, and that somehow that history is seen as oppressive. And you shouldn’t even know about it. It’s better to live in now.

A quick jaunt from pretty horrendous to almost-ideal, then. If we are to place our faith in Chuck as our last bearded champion, we must hope that last sentence is sincerely intended to be his lens to the changing world. Granted – even if it is the truth – it’s not as if persistent acknowledgement of one’s position can miraculously wash away any systematic patriarchal dynamics involved in authoring (or reading, for that matter) a high-profile feature of a young woman on cover of a magazine which explicitly seeks most to speak to “all sides of the male equation,” (are you sure about that, Condé Nast?) especially considering how unlikely it would've been for me to read anything about Taylor Swift outside of this very white man's anthology. Fundamental themes of power and control are threaded throughout both his fiction and non-fiction, which is especially prevalent in the Macho Big Boy cultures of the athletics and music industries. In profiling Taylor Swift – the undisputed apex of the latter in 2015 – Klosterman provided a firsthand account of the grueling maintenance of a public and private personality under tremendous strain from said factors as they were magnified to the max by the most extreme celebrity.

Here we see Swift’s circuitous dilemma: Any attempt to appear less calculating scans as even more calculated. Because Swift’s professional career has unspooled with such precision, it’s assumed that her social life is no less premeditated.

I’m right there with Chuck: I’ve even found a fundamental pillar in Power and Control relationships supporting my own fiction experiments: how we attain them, how we lose them, and how best to make use of them – all of which had apparently been quite problematic for Taylor Swift for most of her adult life, though we wouldn’t be allowed to really comprehend how deep her inner turmoil had drilled until it overwhelmed even her expertly-designed self-control four years later, boiling over entirely with such unexpected violence that all of America’s pseudorural glam-pop-country-glossy-chode-hipsters let out a simultaneous, dangerously-alarmed holler of OH FOR PETE’S SAKE that was actually heard and recorded from the overflying orbit of the International Space Station.

It’s somehow different when the hub of the wheel is Swift. People get skeptical. Her famous friends are marginalized as acquisitions, selected to occupy specific roles, almost like members of the Justice League ('the ectomorph model,' 'the inventive indie artist,' 'the informed third-wave feminist,' etc.). Such perceptions perplex Swift, who is genuinely obsessed with these attachments.

No, it’s not only worthwhile as an exercise in superbly athletic self-awareness – the Taylor profile is profound. I’d recommend reading and treasuring it with or without the rest of the anthology because bizarre intersections like these are rare to come by from anybody else. Short, sharp, and occasionally somewhat petty notions are what Chuck Klosterman does best and most originally. Thanks to a digression of Kafka’s beginning with “you and I are about the same age…,” he arrives (by way of REM, believe it or not) at a significant statement about youth and identity.

It seems strange to me to be into music for its coolness outside of high school. That seems like that’s the only time when you’re a young person and you’re using art basically to create a personality because you don’t have a real personality yet.

Klosterman is debatably exempt from the traditional academic abstract of “objectivity” for the vast majority of his notable work because of its stated primary subject: his “interior life.” Perhaps the success of his voice could be at least partially attributed to his development of an existential muscle – a perspective unique enough to entertain, yet no less recognizably Midwestern with which he’s been able to reflect particularly clearly on the profession in tandem with the experience he’s accumulated over the course of his career.

You know, when you’re young, you’re a real emotional writer if you’re a writer… If I was a young person now, I would be incredibly attracted to the idea that when you’re 22 you can be a national writer, which was impossible when I was 22.

In a way, Klosterman does surmise that it was indeed its objectivity that media lost, and that writing is no longer a “one-way relationship,” but a sort of ridiculous dance in which “many people feel the reason they’re consuming media is to respond to it… that it’s not for the content.” I would remind old Chuck that there are very few functioning adults outside of academia or retirement in the United States who spend much of their time reading anything solely for the sake of absorption, and the disparity between those who were and weren’t was exponentially greater in the past. The story of American media is defined by its cycles of waning and waxing democratization, but many of the more traditional avenues in the business have bet on the “two-way relationship” to keep them relevant.

My own favorite chapter of the collection is a 2500-word personal essay constructed for Grantland to answer a single incongruity: “Why is watching a prerecorded sporting event less pleasurable than watching the same game live?” Some form of this question has at least mildly troubled every American since the 1960s, including myself, and Klosterman manages to provide an entertaining and concise analysis of this plight through his own wisdom. In its short preface in the volume – which was written “in 2008, in Europe, when [Chuck] was pretend depressed” is the story of his encounter with a house-painting stranger, to whom he explains the meter for success in his opinion-manufacturing profession, as he sees it: “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.”

Last weekend I was in a hashish bar in Amsterdam. It was post-dusk, pre-night. The music was terrible (fake reggae, late-period Eric Clapton, Sublime deep cuts.) I was sitting next to a British stranger with a shaved head and a speech impediment. Our conversation required subtitles, so I imagined them in my mind. He told me he had lost three family members within the past year: his mother, who was sixty-six; his uncle, who was fifty-six; and his sister, who was forty-six. He said he'd just turned thirty-six. He asked if I saw a pattern developing. “Yes,” I said. “But only numerically.” I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a housepainter. He asked me the same question about myself. “I manufacture opinions,” I said. “Really?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?” “By the number of people who agree or disagree,” I said in response. “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.” “That’s interesting,” said the bald British man who could barely speak. “I guess house painting is a totally different thing.”

Rarely are situations or discussions that begin with back in my day actually constructive in any sense, but Chuck Klosterman appears to be the exception. If you’re willing to indulge him, you may find yourself reassured. He now writes from a remote cabin (with WiFi,) was tortured – like all of us – in sifting through and compiling his old work for X, and finds its index to be his favorite part.

Exploring the index from a book you created is like having someone split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the contents of your brain.

He is willfully and completely ignorant of the Harry Potter franchise, yet able to sincerely witness and convey the nuances of back-to-back Creed and Nickelback concerts in a confident, fascinating technique of which any other music or culture writer would deprive you. He is “almost embarrassed” by his emotional attachment to the Charlie Brown peanuts. (See: Chuck Klosterman on Charlie Brown.)

I haven't watched A Charlie Brown Christmas in at least twenty-five years, solely because I can't emotionally reconcile the final scene.

You’ll notice that his entire answer to the live television debacle is – again – entirely about control (or the lack thereof.) In fact, his relationship with and desire for control also contributed to his choice of profession.

Part of the reason I became a writer is because it was this completely controlled reality where I could do this thing by myself where you’d go out and you’d do the interviews and stuff, but then you’re back by yourself, transcribing and then writing. Then, when the story is done and you send it off, that’s the end. Now that’s the middle. Now it’s like, when the story is published, it’s the middle of the process very often because the consumer feels differently now.

While Klosterman’s voice is pleasant to someone like me, neither it nor himself necessarily belong to The People. In his X review for Paste Magazine, B. David Zarley proclaims essays to be “a love letter to a moment,” concluding that Chuck is “’effectively narcissistic,’ proving that culture essays can teach us something about ourselves and the people around us.” For The Washington Post, Justin Wm. Moyer notes “it’s hard to think of another writer who could make a 30-page, deeply reported essay about a North Dakota junior-college basketball game interesting,” suggesting that this new collection marks Klosterman’s ascendance from critic to philosopher. From what I’ve read to date, I would counter that he has always fulfilled the term to the extent of its usefulness in the 21st century and is even now beginning to redefine it. Last January, he braved the “dystopic” Google Gates to speak critically for a crowd of Googlers, describing them as “an umbrella over the entire culture,” and urging caution and reflection in the coming future to keep them from doing “something bad.” His engagement with them – especially during the Q&A – is a fascinating insight into the Greater Google Mind, and I would encourage any invested parties in Chuck Klosterman’s role as a philosopher to watch the talk in full. I was unfamiliar with “the boat-sails-wind analogy” before I read James Murphy’s interview for LCD Soundsystem’s “last album.”

Your life is a boat, the sails are your emotions, and drugs are the wind. When you're a kid, your boat is small and your sail is huge, and drugs are like a hurricane.

Control x Time = the Klosterman beat. I suppose this must be what other entertainment writers are referring to when they accuse Chuck of nostalgia trafficking, but I can’t be so sure. Though I’d like to think my own snout for the stuff is especially well-tuned, I am undeniably from a different planet – even auditorily. All but one or two of the musicians interviewed throughout X were entirely unknown to me by name, which Klosterman’s voice managed to make even more compelling – not to mention the included stories of athletes and the sports industry, which include stories of the human ego, paranoia, and complex drama that always manage to transcend their setting when articulated with such dexterity.

I’ve never before written a book review of any sort – nor am I defensibly qualified to compare culture writers – but with good ole’ Chuck, I dove much further in order to tackle one very important question: should Klosterman be recommended reading for anyone under 30 above or alongside bestsellers like George Saunders or groundbreaking essayists of color like Hilton Als? In many a case, I must conclude by saying, simply, that something of value would be forgone if we shunned Chuck, even if his insight is old news to all but the most rudimentary yokels. I have little to offer women or people of color, but I’d bet X would prove itself worth a library trip for any idiot white guys in their lives who may be falling far behind. I don’t know of any other voices who are in a better position to introduce these issues, nor any who are quite so practiced at handling them delicately. While Jenna Wortham-level readers will gain little to nothing from this examination or the ecology of its subject (and will likely find themselves pausing momentarily for a deserved jest before moving on and returning to their high-level plane of complex neoliberal commentary,) but most of their less-aWoken fathers should find in Chuck a man they can truly trust, who manages to consistently distill and articulate the need-to-knows of the most complex pop culture and pop science conversations without using any of the academic language found in most institutional discourse which daddy finds too condescending and superfluous to bear. Those readers who’ve absolutely fucking despised my voice so far in this essay should give Klosterman a go – I take as much time as I can muster to fiddle with and season the words in context like this work because I basically *enjoy* the bullshit, yet I’ve found both X and But What If We’re Wrong? remarkably refreshing and impressive exercises.

[These are] the cultural conditions in which I was raised under and which I pursued journalism under. That was part of the thing that drew me to the idea of being a reporter was I was like, this is something I can do, I think. My ability to detach my personal emotions from what I am investigating, while not perfect, I can do this. And now it turns out that the opposite is what’s desirable. I think it’s really going to change the kind of person who goes into media going forward.

Reading Chuck Klosterman is going to be perturbing, but true sincerity is almost always uncomfortable. Comprehensively, his nonfiction represents perhaps the most important possible behavior to encourage from both the critic and his readership because it incubates and exudes sincere curiosity and a genuine interest in learning to listen. From the perspective of quantified societal contribution, I’d argue that Klosterman’s craft is a significantly more honorable and worthwhile pursuit than greater academic literature in its unique and entertaining treatment of subjects the establishment tends to pulverize into minutia. Unless he’s broke and/or bookish, buy X as a gift for your Dad and at least give it a try when he’s done. If nothing else, at least read the Taylor Swift interview, okay? If he doesn’t enjoy the book, I’m always available if one or both of you need to blow off some steam: give me a call at (573) 823-4380. (Normal text messaging / talktime rates will apply.)

🗎 PRINT/PDF

#media

Siri Shortcuts

Apple's latest mobile OS update might've seemed mundane, but Siri Shortcuts gives users vastly more power than Apple customers have ever before experienced.

Back in 2016, Pokémon Go, overclocked Apple Watches, pissing wearables, and What You See is What You Get blogging services all claimed unprecedented casualties among consumers according to Futureland's iOS 10 episode, which we did our absolute best to dramatize in order to survive what was expected to be the dullest event on record. We'd only that day been first made aware of Boomerang photos and the mysterious nature of “Live Blogging” as an occupation. AirPods were introduced and subsequently shit on, and the comparatively archaic 3.5mm analog audio jack was confidently parted with, finally. At least I got over “forgetting” about Live Photos because it's rapidly becoming difficult to keep stuff on the phone now. I am coming sincerely close to believing none of this is real, anyway. Today, though, it’s a damned straight ballgame, isn’t it? Months have passed since Apple pushed out its major mobile OS release of the year to more little rectangular computers than any one person could speedcount in a lifetime and YouTube is already recommending me dozens of videos about the next one. At this point, you and I are already aware of the iOS development community, who has already been using Internet Operating System 12 on their personal devices for more than half a year by the time your irises are landing here. Hopefully, all but two or three stranded, dying explorers in the arctic have updated their iPhones and iPads by now, and why wouldn’t they?

Our expectations from this ritual are completely alien compared to those we’d need to anticipate from the event 5 or 6 releases ago, when one’s phone had to be sent away (in a sense) to latch itself tight to the stability of a desktop-class product in order to undergo a lengthy, destined metamorphosis. Sometimes, backups via 30-pin to USB-2.0 cables took hours, after which the custodian may or may not find their companion’s replication had completed successfully. If it had, one had to be sure to close any applications apart from iTunes to provide a working environment of utter silence – restarting after finishing the download was my own preferred method – before entrusting the despicably unreliable software to whittle away in a sometimes frantically rebooting, feverish procedure with near life-threatening stigma: it wasn’t uncommon for an update to inexplicably fail, “bricking” the subject iPhone and requiring that one take two whole steps in the wrong direction and restore it from the entire backup they’d just created (hopefully) in order to… make another, precisely-identical attempt, for lack of variables or alternatives to the process. However, if the user planned sufficiently and made a point to begin the whole charade immediately upon arriving home for the evening, these potential frustrations could be compensated for, and odds would favor counting on their smartphone to emerge safe and sound from the procedure just before bed, when even those holding the second-newest product in the lineage would have just enough screen time to notice that text entry, web page loading, and window management had noticeably slowed before sighing and tossing their device toward the darkness.

These days, one would need to try very hard to be inconvenienced by iOS updates. My iPhone 8 Plus is two or three times more powerful than my laptop at the moment, and my new friends’ WiFi connection is better than what the State government uses internally, back home. I haven’t needed to physically back it up more than once or twice since I bought it — iCloud stores the lot for $4.99­ a month anyway. I blinked once watching Riki-Oh with high school friends some time ago and all of the sudden, a 1.6GB download isn’t really a big deal. Siddown and watch your Instagram stories for twenty minutes, and hey! You’re ready to update! Somehow, I have abruptly found myself in a reality in which I am the obvious bottleneck and my 100 words per minute on a smartphone keyboard, even, is no longer fast enough: my fucking phone is now waiting on me when it updates. The keyholder is the whole goddamned holdup.

So, what possible purpose could there be in pounding out this “Review” of a free software update that’s in no way optional (waiting a month is no longer a rational minimization of risk — it’s just dumb,) not any more difficult to attain than the bills currently waiting in your mailbox, nor allowed by the nature of mobile operating systems to compete with any cross-platform alternatives? For myself, it’s proved a gratifying tradition of sorts and a good use of my apparently-abundant time if only for the record's sake (hello, future web archivists, neohuman and otherwise!,) but this release – assuming I haven’t overlooked something – is the most globe-shucking of all because of one single featureset: Siri Shortcuts. However, the v ast majority of the intra-Apple press' coverage of this release has come across nearly as unconcerned with them as I was originally. Take Macworld's iOS 12 Review, for instance: it was the first result in my Google search for “iOS 12 review,” yet Siri Shortcuts are only mentioned in the bottom quarter of its first page. When I recorded the “iOS 12 Review” episode of my “podcast,” I spoke as if I was somehow the only person on the planet who comprehends the profound implications of this software addition – which was, of course, more of an absorbent acquisition – but I have since discovered one gem, at least, which has continued the conversation in a most superb manner. It's a technology podcast called Supercomputer, and it's hosted by Alex Cox and Matthew Cassinelli – the latter of whom developed a significant amount of the iOS app Workflow (and wrote most or all of its documentation, apparently,) which Apple assimilated as Siri Shortcuts. Both are extremely knowledgeable and competent commentators on – as far as I can hear, at least – virtually the entire iOS *lifestyle*. (For those on the outside who've never stepped in: laugh if you must, but yes it is a lifestyle, still, and it's new thought leader isn't exactly coming up short these days.) iOS is technically software, yes, but it leaves an intractable itch for some greater, transcendent term.

In just forty minutes, without any prior knowledge about this feature, I was able to create a Shortcut which sends any given handset's IP address and precise GPS location (among other mundane metrics) in a text message to my phone number. I could share this shortcut among my other submissions to Sharecuts or ShortcutsGallery.com, where any iOS user could download and subsequently send this information back to my phone. (Don't believe me? Have a go at it yourself and I'll send back a screenshot if you'd like.) I accomplished this without any particular skills or education in software development or cybersecurity – without any real malice, even – I was just playing around. As far as my recollection goes, Apple has never included such a powerful, potentially-dangerous piece of software in a standard software update before. It's both absolutely brilliant and sortof a ripoff to be so entrusted for the first time. In many ways – like my Disable Bluetooth & WiFi shortcut – Siri Shortcuts represent an awfully half-assed solution to some of the most basic, longtime incongruencies within iOS. Sure, it's great that I can just make myself a shortcut to completely disable my phone's WiFi and Bluetooth activity with one press or Siri command (combining “type to Siri” with Siri Shortcuts basically enables a form of Command Line functionality in iOS,) but frankly, one should've expected the world's largest company to do it themselves in perhaps the second of third version of this operating system instead of saying okay, here are the tools – you do it! in its twelfth.

I've found it inevitable when speaking on iOS to avoid discussing the other literature available on the subject at any given time. The depth to which technology media has assimilated the habits and mannerisms of a single American company is absolutely mind-boggling, regardless of its history, its market share, or even its recent trillion-dollar valuation. Dozens of media companies – CultofMac, MacRumors, Macworld, 9to5 Mac, AppleInsider, iMore, and... more – exist solely to cover one single independent company: Apple, Incorporated. One wonders how the sum total of the individuals involved with and these organizations compares with the total number of employees working for the company their careers are (for the moment, at least,) entirely centered around. (Further interesting questions: are there any comparable situations anywhere else in Western capitalism, and if not – doesn't this sort of attention constitute some kind of Monopoly, even if it was not necessarily an anti-competitive one?) For “reasonable people,” the image one conjures up of The All-The-Time Apple Beat does not lend to envy, but let's choose to limit ourselves to only the most casual forms of speculation. I do not wish to mock them, for I, too remember the sensation of The Apple Drug from an unfortunate time in my childhood development when I was willing to wear a cheap sweatshirt branded with a stupid Mac vs. Windows Users joke unironically to a real live public Junior High school. There are few more embarrassing admissions, except perhaps admitting that a part of me genuinely yearns to return to this level of enthusiasm, as misplaced and cringey as it was. It's the addiction to the mystic; it's aspirational in its democratization. Billionaires are running the same operating system and much of the same software as I am every day – even the most followed person on any given platform is still accessing it through the same interface I might be. These are incredible truths, but they also reflect a dangerous lack of competition in a product category that has become more essential to day-to-day human life than any other in just three or four blinks of an eye.

Fuck David Blue, though. Who are the real, hard-hitting minds who've kept this industry and this company in check? Well, it's funny you should ask that, because the people's quirky New York Times tech critic of late – the esteemed Farhad Manjoo – has just concluded a five-year-long technology column with some essential (if perhaps a bit unoriginal) advice: “just slow down.” If you're still following along, you shall surely enjoy clicking some of his links, and I would certainly encourage that you do until you're out of free articles, at least. When Manjoo speaks, Apple listens: his January decree for Apple to bend with the industry wind and build “a Less Addictive iPhone” is convincingly prophetic considering Screen Time – probably the most mulled-over iOS 12 addition. As someone who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (however much or little that may mean to you) just one or two years after I began using my/the first iPhone, I've developed a history of what he might call Addiction to iPhones in variable oscillation touching both extremes. I carried my first-generation iPhone for almost 5 years – as you can imagine, it was far from a 100%-functional device toward the end of that bell curve. In contrast, I've also stood in line at dawn for two iPhone launches, jailbroken, listened to podcasts only about apps (far before they were good,) and been compelled to chronicle and reflect upon all of it for as long as I can remember.

There's no denying that the iPhone has had a profound effect on my life mostly thanks to my own choices, which is why it's worth telling the vast majority of you that features like Screen Time will never help you achieve whatever vague conception of reduced usage you may have. If you haven't yet quantified the figures you'll find within it in mental estimates, you aren't really concerned at all and if you have, Screen Time will only confirm them. Using reminder notifications to optimize your appflow makes no attempt at all to actually escape the mentality of the behavior you seek to lessen from yourself. Another app is still another app; a notification reminding you to stop using an app does nothing but add still more stimuli. If you want to stop using the phone so much, *stop* using the fucking phone. If you are truly concerned about how your handset companion has changed your life, turn it off for a week/month/quarter – however long you possibly can. By that, I mean no more or less than what you can manage without getting fired/dumped/expelled/etc. If you have truly reached this point, anything less is probably worth it. There is simply no other way to get a clear picture of how it's changed you.

Google, Facebook, and the rest of the industry are well aware of this, but know they can't actually advocate against the fundamental mechanism that drives their businesses, so they express concern by doing what they know: building more software. Apple is in a slightly different situation: they still need you to buy their phones – and even to look at them – but not past the point of hurting yourself emotionally, mentally, or physically because those injuries tend to hurt one economically. Screen Time's purpose is to keep us thriving and buying, but the only effective solve for this can only be communicated in garbage cinema language: you must find it within yourself. I am actually the worst person from which to model your life, except perhaps for my iPhone use: unless there's little else worthy of my attention, my phone is not out. Even if checking my emails, Mastodon, Twitter, etc are my default tasks, there are infinitely many besides that come first. Every once in a while, it's okay to finish an important message while walking down the street or waiting at a stoplight if things are urgent, but I can guarantee you that my attention is better consolidated on traveling in 95% of cases – moving with purpose and then focusing on my composition after I've arrived is almost always more efficient. I realize that I'm cowboying it here and sound like your Dad, but I'm better with iOS than he is, yet I've never publicly run into anything while looking down at my smartphone in 10 years of hardcore use. Find somebody who's company makes you forget about all of this for hours at a time and treasure them. Also: stop playing games on your phone. What the hell are you doing? Read a blog! Explore the wonders of the open web! Your peers, your battery, and your elderly future self with thank you for it. (One exception is playing word/trivia games with your partner. That's very cute and good for you.)

I was elated to see that even Apple supports my age-old cause for Twitter Lists. Also, the new function in Apple Music allowing the user to search by lyrics appears to work very well...

To get back to specifics, the new Photos application is now basically what it should have been all along, 3D Touch has been virtually eclipsed for those strange bastards among you who never liked it, and the release's most democratically-redeemable feature is optimization, which even on my iPhone 8 Plus was blatantly noticeable and very welcome. However, probably the best insight to come out of my long, rambly End User review was the revelation that basically any other human activity is a better use of time than applauding Apple for learning to hold new features off until they've been thoroughly tested and focusing instead on smoothing existing software. In fact, I'd argue there is absolutely no reason for someone like me to say anything even remotely positive about the world's wealthiest company ever again, though that doesn't apply to The Verge or Chaim Gartenberg, who's review – for the record – was much more useful to 9999 times more people than anything I'll ever write. However, isn't it sortof unreasonable to expect anything but absolute perfection from Apple at this trillion-dollar juncture? A handful of varying interpretations of absolute perfection per product category, even.

With gorgeous, iCloud-enabled premium apps like Bear in the picture, integrating wholly into the Apple environment has maintained its relative rank above the alternatives to its specific minimal-esque utilitarian niceness which appeals so strongly to those people among both consumer and professional buyers. Readers from within this culture recognized a short time ago that iOS is in the process of replacing MacOS as the star component of this environment across the board, though there's at least a moderate journey ahead before it truly reaches this achievement for the median user. For myself, iOS 12 improved the experience of using my 8 Plus and certainly gave me something intriguing to play with in Siri Shortcuts. For the rest of the world's billions of daily iOS users, I say be as insatiable as possible – always expect more.

#software

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