Another Hex-mas Miracle

I can’t remem­ber if I’ve ever been able to lis­ten to as much of Jon Solomon’s 25-hour #WPRBX­mas as I did this year. It was fan­tas­tic as usu­al and pro­duced some great quotes from my sister-in-law.

But the real Christ­mas mag­ic hap­pened on Christ­mas Day, as the Fall set wrapped up with the debut of Chica­go Now’s Hex-mas Enduc­tion Hour.

When I tell you I could­n’t buy it fast enough. I was spell­bound from the open­ing notes of “The Christ­mas­si­cal.” A must for any Fall fan!

Why Are Voice Assistants so Dumb?

The voice assis­tant seemed so cool and made so much sense. What happened?

If you fol­low Inter­net of Shit, you already know. This Bloomberg sto­ry about Alexa adop­tion sug­gests even the biggest play­ers in voice-enabled hard­ware are strug­gling to find their why. 

We have sev­er­al Echos in our house, all of which are used for extreme­ly banal rea­sons that are just eas­i­er than con­nect­ing dumb speak­ers by blue­tooth for the most part, or press­ing but­tons on an oven timer. Of course, they were envi­sioned as trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­o­gy, not egg timers.

Bloomberg does­n’t go deep on this, but points to the over­all onboard­ing expe­ri­ence as being where users seem to check out, if not short­ly there­after. Some of the com­plaints are famil­iar: in an effort to get you to do more with the device, it starts ask­ing you if you’d like to try new skills, few of which have any rel­e­vance to what you’ve been doing with it.

Dieter Bohn wrote how we’re still get­ting voice assis­tants wrong for the Verge in 2019 and if you search the title of this post, you’ll find no short­age of com­men­tary. Heck, Android Author­i­ty asked their read­ers if they used them and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty said no. To be clear, this isn’t that they strug­gle with nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing — they absolute­ly do — it’s also that they don’t seem to con­nect to any pat­terns in usage and then devel­op intel­li­gence built around it. Isn’t this what AI and machine learn­ing is all about to the layperson?

It’s not just Alexa; it’s every voice assis­tant I’ve ever used. If you’ve found any Alexa skills or rou­tines use­ful, share them below.

Another Year Trapped in Amber

I was try­ing to find the right way to describe how 2021 felt and then I read this:

For Niko­las Tsamouta­l­idis, an assis­tant prin­ci­pal, the most vivid image of the post-pan­dem­ic stu­dent body was at lunch this year, when he saw ninth graders — whose last full year in school was sev­enth grade — prepar­ing to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” “It’s like fifth or sixth graders,” he said, “but in big bodies.”

New York Times

There was a meme float­ing around Face­book this year that went direct­ly to the heart of this, name­ly, that the last “nor­mal” year for a 7th grad­er was 4th grade so the above hit me hard. I cer­tain­ly see it first­hand with my own kids, but rec­og­nize how adults have been impact­ed, too.

At the out­set of the pan­dem­ic, we quick­ly make some risk assess­ments around our pod. They weren’t per­fect; in fact it was com­plete­ly porous, but pared down nev­er­the­less. Our core group was real­ly three fam­i­lies. It has­n’t changed much since. We vis­it­ed Michi­gan twice this year and it was like step­ping back into our social lives.

At the out­set of the pan­dem­ic, it tru­ly felt like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­plete­ly reimag­ine our­selves and how we live our lives. It’s felt more like try­ing to get tooth­paste back into the tube, espe­cial­ly as new vari­ants emerge and dis­rupt our lives again and again. How can we as a soci­ety real­is­ti­cal­ly address these challenges?

The Endless Fight Against the Infinite Scroll

I first wrote about how to com­bat the infi­nite scroll — since dubbed doom­scrolling — back in 2018, bor­row­ing from the updates Jason Kot­tke makes about his media diet. It’s still all about inten­tion­al­i­ty, right? It still is and I try not to stare at the screen in search of some­thing that nev­er mate­ri­al­izes, but phones just demand our atten­tion, don’t they?

Great exam­ple from Char­lie Warzel why it’s impor­tant we put bound­aries around this behav­ior. Can I just say I hate learn­ing over and over that Neil Post­man was more right than I could’ve imag­ined him being when I first read him as a col­lege freshman?

So here’s how I’ve been keep­ing myself busy when I’m not watch­ing Twit­ter unspool.

  • Read­ing
    • Sing Back­wards and Weep. Mark Lane­gan takes you on an odyssey through his career at the mar­gins of the Seat­tle music scene and soci­ety itself. As some­one who real­ly became a music obses­sive as grunge broke, it was a heart­break­ing work. Lane­gan tells a sur­vivor’s tale that gives an over­due human and humane per­spec­tive on the lives and deaths of his close friends Kurt Cobain and Layne Sta­ley. It’s a grip­ping, brac­ing read.
    • Newslet­ters. I need to declare newslet­ter bank­rupt­cy but just can’t. Your newslet­ter is great and I get why peo­ple are turn­ing to email to stop fight­ing algo­rithms, but I’m open to strate­gies for bet­ter email man­age­ment so they’re not just com­plete­ly buried.
      • But as Bri­an Mor­ris­sey writes in the Reboot­ing, email is hard­er than we’re ready to admit. I’ve spent the bet­ter part of the week on a new desk­top (!) PC (!!) just to make my per­son­al email more man­age­able and found that newslet­ter are fre­quent­ly buried in the fun­ni­est places because of how AI sorts your inbox.
  • Watch­ing
    • Ted Las­so. The first sea­son hit me — and every­one else — like a ton of bricks at the out­set of the pan­dem­ic. It just hit the right notes for the moment. Sea­son two? It has­n’t charmed me in quite the same way, and it seems like pub­lic opin­ion has turned sour.
    • Garth Marenghi’s Dark­place. I was first intro­duced to this in grad school or there­abouts by Todd L. Burns. It’s on Ama­zon Prime and if you’re a Matt Berry fan, it’s won­der­ful to look back at this moment in his career.
    • Rick and Morty. I’m not caught up. Appar­ent­ly the sea­son redeems itself, but it’s been try­ing my patience.
    • The Phillies. I’m reluc­tant to admit that this deeply flawed team has won me back with a streak that put them in first place in August. I’m ready to have my heart bro­ken again.
  • Lis­ten­ing
    • Pod­casts
      • Chin Music — Get­ting Kevin Gold­stein back is a gift that just keeps on giving.
    • Mix­cloud — seri­ous­ly this is the future of radio and I hope they can stay indie forever.
    • Albums — too many to list. I’ll share my favorites now that we’ve got just 4 months to go (!) in 2021.
  • Doing
    • Lit­tle League base­ball. Char­lie’s team fin­ished fourth in New Jer­sey. He made a tal­ent­ed team in his only sea­son in the league. If you’ve spent any time around youth sports, you might know how dif­fi­cult this can be. It was a tri­umphant con­clu­sion to an impres­sive Lit­tle League career. He’s excit­ed to start trav­el ball again this fall, along­side hockey.
    • Run­ning. I hired a coach last sum­mer to try to train for a 100K race. It was going great, right up until the time of the move, when I was strick­en by a relent­less case of plan­tar fasci­itis. I’m near­ly com­plete­ly recov­ered but have no races on the sched­ule. I’m back to run­ning about an hour a day at a good pace, but the dif­fer­ence this time is that I’m focused on being lighter. I’m down about twen­ty pounds since the end of June and am look­ing to lose about twen­ty or so more. My hope is that being lighter will trans­late to few­er repet­i­tive stress injuries.
    • Tech upgrades. New phones! We’re all on iPhone 12 now. I’m typ­ing on a Win­dows desk­top PC and it is hilar­i­ous­ly won­der­ful to have an all-in-one in our lives again. I may even write more, but don’t want to com­mit just yet.

Keep choos­ing things that take you offline when you can and remind your­self that infor­ma­tion isn’t the same as action.

My Year in Music

Dan Bejar

It’s Decem­ber 30th, I’ve sub­mit­ted my for­mal fake P&J bal­lot and I’m lis­ten­ing to the new Emma Swift album and hav­ing regrets. A music crit­ic’s work is nev­er done!

It’s been a hard year but I was per­son­al­ly soothed by all the great music that came out this year. For the first time in my expe­ri­ence as a music enthu­si­ast, I had a list of 100+ albums that I enjoyed so much I might have includ­ed them in a top ten. I had top tens of scuzzy rock, jam, folk, coun­try, jazz, ambient/new age and more. I have a defen­si­ble top five albums by guys named Jeff! As much as we suf­fered in quar­an­tine, through a dif­fi­cult move to a famil­iar place that isn’t yet home again, music was a balm.

My favorites this year fall com­fort­ably into what you might call “head music.” I found myself return­ing time and again to psych, ambi­ent and jazz ver­sus try­ing to focus on lyrics and hooks. That said, my album of the year was Destroy­er’s “Have We Met.” It fit the year too per­fect­ly and coin­ci­den­tal­ly was the last show I saw this year and my last in Detroit. It was per­fect and bit­ter­sweet. Eleanor Fried­berg­er opened. I prob­a­bly saw her play Detroit in the last 6 years more than any oth­er artist. I get emo­tion­al think­ing about it.

Even in 2020’s dark­est moments, there was always a record to lis­ten to. These were my favorites, in alpha­bet­i­cal order:

  1. Arbor Labor Union — New Petal Instants
  2. Arboure­tum — Let It All In
  3. Autechre — SIGN
  4. Bar­ry Walk­er Jr. — Shoul­da Zenith
  5. Beau­ty Pill — Please Advise
  6. Ben Sere­tan — Youth Pastoral
  7. Bill Fay — Count­less Branches
  8. Bill Nace — Both
  9. Blitzen Trap­per — Holy Smokes Future Jokes
  10. Bob Dylan — Rough and Row­dy Ways
  11. Bon­ny Light Horse­man — s/t
  12. Brigid Daw­son and the Moth­ers Net­work — Bal­let of Apes
  13. Bruce Horns­by — Non-Secure Connection
  14. Bruce Spring­steen — Let­ter to You
  15. Buck Cur­ran — No Love Is Sorrow
  16. Bul­ly — SUGAREGG
  17. Carl Stone — Stolen Car
  18. Char­lie Kaplan — Sunday
  19. Chris Forsyth with Gar­cia Peo­ples — Peo­ples Motel Band (Live)
  20. Chro­mat­ics — Fad­ed Now
  21. Chronophage — Th’pig’kiss’d Album
  22. Cir­cles Around the Sun — s/t
  23. Con­stant Smiles — Control
  24. Con­tain­er — Scramblers
  25. Coun­try West­erns — s/t
  26. David Grubbs & Taku Una­mi — Comet Meta
  27. David Nance — Staunch Honey
  28. The Dead C — Unknowns
  29. Death Val­ley Girls — Under the Spell of Joy
  30. Deep Sea Div­er — Impos­si­ble Weight
  31. Deep Space Duo — Spacetones
  32. Deer­hoof — Future Teenage Cave Artists
  33. Destroy­er — Have We Met
  34. Dezron Dou­glas & Brandee Younger — Force Majeure
  35. Dog­wood Tales — Clos­est Thing to Heaven
  36. The Dream Syn­di­cate — The Uni­verse Inside
  37. Earth­e­ater — Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
  38. Eli Win­ter — Unbecoming
  39. Elkhorn — The Storm Sessions
  40. Emma Swift — Blonde on the Tracks
  41. Ezra Fein­berg — Recum­bent Speech
  42. FACS — Void Moments
  43. Fire-Toolz — Rain­bow Bridge
  44. Flat Worms — Antarctica
  45. Fuzz — III
  46. Gar­cia Peo­ples — Night­cap at Wits’ End
  47. Greg Dul­li — Ran­dom Desire
  48. Guardian Sin­gles — s/t
  49. Guid­ed By Voic­es — Mir­rored Aztec/Surrender Your Pop­py Field/Styles We Paid For
  50. Gunn-Truscin­s­ki Duo — Soundkeeper
  51. Gwenifer Ray­mond — Strange Lights over Garth Mountain
  52. Hailu Mer­gia — Yene Mircha
  53. HAIM — Women in Music Pt III
  54. Heather Trost — Petrichor
  55. Heathered Pearls — Cast
  56. House­hold Gods — Palace Intrigue
  57. The Howl­ing Hex — Knuck­le­ball Express
  58. Imag­i­nary Soft­woods — Annu­al Flow­ers in Color
  59. Irre­versible Entan­gle­ments — Who Sent You?
  60. Jack­ie Lynn — Jacqueline
  61. James Elk­ing­ton — Ever-Rov­ing Eye
  62. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions
  63. Jeff Park­er — Suite for Max Brown
  64. Jeff Rosen­stock — NO DREAM
  65. Jeff Swan­son — Fathoms
  66. Jeff Tweedy — Love Is The King
  67. Jef­frey Sil­ver­stein — You Become the Mountain
  68. Jen­nifer Cas­tle — Monarch Season
  69. Jere­my Cun­ning­ham — The Weath­er Up There
  70. Jess Williamson — Sorceress
  71. Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
  72. Joe West­er­lund — Rever­ies in the Rift
  73. Joe Wong — Nite Creatures
  74. Jor­dan Reyes — Sand Like Stardust
  75. Josh John­son — Free­dom Exercise
  76. Khru­ang­bin — Mordechai
  77. Kneel­ing in Piss — Tour De Force
  78. Lam­b­chop — Trip
  79. Laraa­ji — Moon Piano/Sun Piano
  80. Lews­berg — In This House
  81. Lithics — Tow­er of Age
  82. Litur­gy — Ori­gin of the Alimonies
  83. Loma — Don’t Shy Away
  84. Loose Koozies — Feel a Bit Free
  85. Mapache — From Lib­er­ty Street
  86. Mary Halvor­son­’s Code Girl — Art­less­ly Falling
  87. Mary Lat­ti­more — Sil­ver Ladders
  88. Masa­ki Batoh — Smile Jesus Loves You
  89. Mele­nas — Dias Raros
  90. Mike Polizze — Long Lost Solace Find
  91. Moor Moth­er — Cir­cuit City
  92. Moss­es — T.V. Sun
  93. The Moun­tain Goats — Songs for Pierre Chuvin
  94. Mute Duo — Lapse in Passage
  95. Muzz — s/t
  96. Myth­ic Sun­ship — Chang­ing Shapes
  97. Nap Eyes — Snap­shot of a Beginner
  98. Nar­row Head — 12th House Rock
  99. Nathan Sals­burg — Landwerk
  100. The Necks — Three
  101. Noth­ing — The Great Dismal
  102. Obnox — Sav­age Raygun
  103. Oh Sees — Metamorphosed/Panther Rotate/Protean Threat
  104. Oliv­er Coates — skins n slime
  105. Olivia Awbrey — Dis­hon­or­able Harvest
  106. Oneo­htrix Point Nev­er — Mag­ic Oneo­htrix Point Never
  107. Optic Sink — s/t
  108. Pacif­ic Range — High Upon the Mountain
  109. Pall­bear­er — For­got­ten Days
  110. Phish — Sig­ma Oasis
  111. Phoebe Bridgers — Punisher
  112. Pro­tomar­tyr — Ulti­mate Suc­cess Today
  113. Psy­chic Tem­ple — Hous­es of the Holy
  114. Quin Kirch­n­er — The Shad­ows and the Light
  115. Rat­boys — Print­er’s Devil
  116. Rob Dob­son — New Dystopia
  117. Robert Haigh — Black Sarabande
  118. Roger Eno & Bri­an Eno — Mix­ing Colours
  119. Ron Miles — Rain­bow Sign
  120. Root­less — Docile Cobras
  121. Rose City Band — Summerlong
  122. Sal­ly Anne Mor­gan — Thread
  123. Sam Gen­del — Satin Doll
  124. Sam Prekop — Comma
  125. Shaba­ka and the Ances­tors — We Are Sent Here By History
  126. Sil­ver Scrolls — Music for Walks
  127. Sir Richard Bish­op — Oneir­ic Formulary
  128. Six Organs of Admit­tance — Com­pan­ion Rises
  129. Soc­cer Mom­my — col­or theory
  130. The Soft Pink Truth — Shall We Go On Sin­ning So That Grace May Increase?
  131. Stephen Malk­mus — Tra­di­tion­al Techniques
  132. The Strokes — The New Abnormal
  133. Sun Ra Arkestra — Swirling
  134. Sun­watch­ers — Oh Yeah?
  135. SUSS — Promise
  136. Teng­ger — Nomad
  137. Ter­ry Allen & The Pan­han­dle Mys­tery Band — Just Like Moby Dick
  138. These New Puri­tans — Hid­den [MMXX]
  139. Tid­i­ane Thi­am — Siftorde
  140. Trees Speak — Ohms/Shadow Forms
  141. Trum­mors — Dropout City
  142. U.S. Girls — Heavy Light
  143. Wast­ed Shirt — Fun­gus II
  144. William Tyler — Music from First Cow
  145. Windy & Carl — Alle­giance and Conviction
  146. Xetas — The Cypher
  147. Zachary Cale — False Spring