Posts from November 2020

Ars Technica
"Seven out of 50 video clusters the researchers identified are deemed 'situational' music. This designation doesn't operate under the standard concept of genres but rather the context in which the music takes place. This includes relaxation music like 'Ambient/Chillout,' 'Sounds of Nature,' and the ASMR-affiliated 'Hair Dryer Sound.' The paper concludes that situational music, sometimes deemed trivial by musicologists, is growing in popularity."
One great aspect of the Internet is that old (or new!) niche media can find its audience. This ambient music is my jam, glad I found it. [via waxy via mefi]
San Francisco Chronicle
"The countercultural movement’s pursuit of peace, love and understanding was a worthy goal. This time around, let’s make sure our quests for self-transformation and world-transformation are aligned."
My friend Stuart on the need for new ethics around mental health treatment with newly legal psychedelics.
"’00: There also must be some really good music discussion forums."
[pained face] The Internet is complicated and didn't go as planned. Paul Ford converses with his past self about where we are in 2020.

Update: Paul added a new version of this conversation that is less jokey and more earnest. For example, he elaborates on the discussion forum pain I quoted above:
"’20: Independent forums are mostly dead, swallowed up by Reddit, social media, and the like. I cannot overemphasize how much the lesson of the web is that people, given the choice between the freedom of operating and managing their own platform, and running a centralized platform that they do not control, will choose the centralized platform."
Sometimes it's worth explaining the joke!

Music: Light Saturday

an old oak tree with unusual colors

Some mellow guitaring for your Saturday.

Great podcast episode about those mystery Chinese seeds that people were getting in the mail a while back. It's a good story that touches on our collective paranoid psychology, Amazon scams, government agencies, international shipping, and the weight of seeds.
Washington Post
"Each lawyer has a responsibility to evaluate the merits of a case or an argument before bringing it before a judge. No one, in fact, has a right to file frivolous lawsuits, and lawyers are supposed to either talk their clients out of filing frivolous claims or withdraw from the representation. Telling a client they have no case, when that’s what the facts and law indicate, is an essential part of the job. If lawyers fail to do so, court-imposed sanctions or bar discipline can follow."
I hope there are some consequences for these frivolous lawsuits.
New York Times
"In response, the employees proposed an emergency change to the site’s news feed algorithm, which helps determine what more than two billion people see every day. It involved emphasizing the importance of what Facebook calls “news ecosystem quality” scores, or N.E.Q., a secret internal ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism...Typically, N.E.Q. scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds."
Facebook has developed an internal metric for determining the quality of a news source but they choose not to use that knowledge in how they distribute information.
First message on Biden's .gov transition site:
"We are building an administration that looks like America."
Very relieved and happy about this: The presidential transition begins as the GSA formally recognizes Biden’s victory. Also, this: Biden Names First Cabinet Picks, None of Whom Want to Destroy World Order.

Music: Knock Knock

a campfire with colors from purple to red

Who's there? Every 80's synth sound.

Music: Factory Chime

clouds in a glass ball with psychedelic colors

Goofing around with an MPD218 + GarageBand.

The Markup
“We will prioritize pages with great page experience, whether implemented using AMP or any other web technology, as we rank the results,” Google said in a blog post.
This is amazing. The AMP experience in Safari on an iPhone is terrible. AMP doesn’t even do well the thing it set out to do. Add in the way Google HOSTS those pages causing domain confusion and you get a total mess that has only been adopted because Google has monopoly power. Making efficient pages is a good goal but AMP in its current form can’t die soon enough.
The Atlantic
"It’s time to buckle up and lock ourselves down again, and to do so with fresh vigilance. Remember: We are barely nine or 10 months into this pandemic, and we have not experienced a full-blown fall or winter season. Everything that we may have done somewhat cautiously—and gotten away with—in summer may carry a higher risk now, because the conditions are different and the case baseline is much higher."
This article has a good summary of positive news that is on the horizon for ending the pandemic. But we need to buy more time to get there and that means getting through winter. Oregon just ordered a two week freeze to try to get a handle on climbing cases and hospitalizations.

Rain Wave

raindrops reflected on a surface with psychedelic colors

New lofi twin peaks-ish track. I guess my blog is my SoundCloud now?

(The sound effects in this track are thanks to cc attribution-licensed sounds I found: Rain Background and Distant Thunder which both appear to be by Mike Koenig but I couldn't find a definitive link. Thanks for making your sounds available!)

Coping with GarageBand

One of the activities I miss most from pre-pandemic times is getting together with friends in a garage and making music. I still get together and play online with friends via JamKazam. We affectionately call it Lag Jam which gives you some indication of the problems with playing live together online.

Part of the process of getting up and running with JamKazam was getting my instruments wired more directly into my computer. A microphone pointed at an amplifier works ok, but once you're running your guitar directly in, the sound improves dramatically. I picked up a Yamaha AG03 USB mixer which lets me plug in a guitar and mic and that's all I need.

Getting the mixer opened up more possibilites than just live jamming. I also got a new Mac Mini not too long after lockdown and started playing around with GarageBand so I could add parts to my own playing. Cringe along with me at an early stab at recording The Girl from Ipanema:

(I was inspired to record it after watching this amazing video: The Girl From Ipanema is a far weirder song than you thought.)

I was lulled into thinking I could record with GarageBand because the interface is simple at first glance:

GarageBand interface showing six instrument tracks

The basic function of selecting a track and pressing record is easy to figure out. However, each button here is hiding a world of knobs, settings, and sounds you can tweak:

GarageBand interface showing the pedal board, loops panel, automation tools, and more

If you search around for GarageBand help online the first thing you'll see at every forum is someone responding to a GarageBand question with "Get a real DAW, newb!" (Digital Audio Workspace). Yes, and: GarageBand is surprisingly configurable once you dig beneath the surface a bit.

Early on I commandeered the family electric piano (my kids have moved on to cellos) and that opened up the world of MIDI instruments in GarageBand. Not only do I have dozens of keyboard sounds to choose from, but it lets me add percussion to recordings like the latin shakers in that early track.

Here's a heavy synth track I put together while I was watching election returns come in:

Some parts of learning to record felt awkward—like playing to a click track to keep things synced. But the part that I really enjoy that is different from playing live is finding sounds that work well together. Anyway, here's Wonderwall (not really, it's a Boards of Canada style track I made after I discovered loops and sound effects exist in GarageBand):

I'm trying to incorporate more guitars with my synths and having fun with lofi-style tracks:

There are good tutorials for GarageBand out there. This one helped me select some good sounds to go together to get a head start: How To Make LoFi Beats In GarageBand. One more, why not?

In conclusion, to sum up, all in all goofing around in GarageBand has been a fun pandemic activity that has given me some new ways to enjoy music. And if that isn't a real DAW, whatever. (Thanks for listening, I don't have a SoundCloud.)
New York Times
"The New York Times contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting. Officials in 45 states responded directly to The Times. For four of the remaining states, The Times spoke to other statewide officials or found public comments from secretaries of state; none reported any major voting issues."
Good to see confirmation.
The Nation
"None of these lawsuits provide evidence of massive voter fraud. None of the lawsuits provide evidence of voter fraud at all. Some of the lawsuits allege some accidents, but the remedy for those accidents is counting more votes, not fewer. Trump’s claims that his poll watchers were not allowed to watch the counting of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania is flatly untrue, and his lawyers have had to admit in court that they were allowed in the room. They’ve been reduced to arguing that their poll watchers were not close enough, which, whatever. The remedy for that is to move them closer, not throw out tens of thousands of votes."
This article is helpful for my government transition anxiety.
"Even if recounts and/or continued vote tallies somehow managed to overturn Biden’s lead in these states and give them to Trump, the president would still be below 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. Biden would still be the winner. That’s why all major news organizations declared him so Saturday."
Our current authoritarian dumpster fire is a systemic Republican party problem, not a problem with particular individual Republicans. If it wasn't clear already the entire party is currently working hard to cement baseless election conspiracy theories in their followers. Calling it curious is a curious word choice.
New York Times
"There’s a reason Barack Obama built an entire national campaign apparatus outside of the Democratic National Committee. And there’s a reason that when he didn’t activate or continue that, we lost House majorities. Because the party — in and of itself — does not have the core competencies, and no amount of money is going to fix that."
AOC on the road ahead within the Democratic party.
"Democrats fretted almost continuously that Biden wasn’t doing enough to enthuse voters, to dominate the conversation, to turn out the base. But in the end, he won in the highest-turnout election since perhaps 1900, mobilizing more voters than any candidate in history."
Joe Biden, President. Things are looking up.
a street lined with yellow and red trees
Fall Street
New York Times
"If there’s no way for the trailing candidate to catch up, no legal way, no mathematical way, then the race is decided, essentially,” Sally Buzbee, The A.P.’s executive editor, said in an interview. “And if there is any uncertainty, or if there are enough votes out to change the result, then we don’t call the race."
The AP has done this before.
Facebook said “most” issues have been fully addressed, and that it’s working with advertisers to handle their concerns. The company also stressed that no ads were paused or rejected by humans or based on partisan ideologies. “We have worked throughout this election to maintain a neutral playing field, and that remains true in the face of these problems,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We understand that time is of the essence at this stage of the campaign season.”
The idea that algorithms are neutral is very dangerous—it’s just not true because an algorithm is made up of potentially hundreds or thousands of human decisions. (Even just one key decision can tip scales.) Humans are biased by business concerns or blind spots even when they’re working hard not to be. And I think Facebook has never been neutral based on their actions.

Facebook is a private monopoly and they are a terrible de facto Federal Election Commission. Plus they charge Biden more for ads which isn’t legal in other media. Facebook made the choice to favor conservatives a long time ago and the results are hurting society.