I’m a Type-aholic

One of the downsides of a life as a graphic designer is that my Mac has a lot of fonts installed. Partly from past work assignments, and partly because I’m a sucker for a pretty typeface at a knockdown price.

Can I remember which are in the first group, and which are in the second? Not really. All I know is that I’ve probably not called up more than half of the fonts in my user library in years.

I’ve been prompted to take a long, hard look at my Font Book lists because I’m now having to use Microsoft Word again for work, and it keeps popping up a warning that it can’t load all of the fonts. I can — and have — ignored that in the past, but it’s really bugging me now!

To be honest, I should really let my Monotype Library Subscription take more of the strain of loading up fonts when needed (via the SkyFonts app), and let go of most of the other fonts I’ve got cluttering up the lists.

For now, I’m disabling those fonts that I know I won’t be needing any time soon, and hopefully at some point Microsoft Word will be mollified.

(Of course, it’s the only app on my machine that makes that complaint, so it’s really Microsoft’s problem not mine, and I’m only using Word for copyediting and proofreading, not page layout — however, I know from bitter experience that Word can get twitchy and unpredictable if it doesn’t have exactly the right fonts to display the document.)

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

LastPass have announced they’re going to restrict their Free tier to either computers or phones / tablets — if, as many people do, myself included, you use it on both sets of devices, you’ll have to stump up for LastPass Premium.

I’m currently considering my options. One of them is 1Password, which I’ve used before and generally found to be a solid performer. Another option I tried in the interim was BitWarden, which is cheaper and pretty good, but I had lots of trouble with their app on the iPad.

I don’t begrudge paying for services that are valuable to me, within reason. LastPass is currently working well for me, but that hasn’t always been the case. I was a customer of theirs before I moved to 1Password, and the impetus for that move was a combination of poor app quality and disquiet over their acquisition by LogMeIn, a company with a reputation for buying up well-respected security services and then either killing them off or restricting the free tier in a bid to force people to pay up. I suspect that LastPass have had to improved their apps in the face of increased competition. And the way in which they’ve done this change smells like a cash grab to me.

(Their case for keeping my custom isn’t bolstered by the news that their Android app has advertising trackers — while I’m no longer an Android user, I have no doubt that their i(Pad)OS app would have the same if they didn’t have to disclose it.)

So, on balance, I will probably go back to 1Password since they seem less likely to mess me around in the future. Trust is important to me, over and above price and features — one reason why I walked away from Evernote, for instance, and won’t be coming back.

“Being Cancelled”

John Scalzi wrote this piece to break down what ‘cancel culture’ actually refers to. It’s a long read, but here’s the key points:

  1. Being ‘canceled’ basically means learning that you’re replaceable
  2. ‘Canceling’ is certain people discovering that capitalism doesn’t love them as much anymore
  3. “Being Cancelled” doesn’t mean you never work, it means you work in the minor leagues
  4. When you’re privileged, consequence feels like oppression
  5. The age of (unmediated) celebrity social media is (probably) coming to an end.

Why there’s no such thing as lost learning

James Williams, writing in TES:

The move to delivering online teaching is problematic. Children may be living in homes with poor wi-fi, in data poverty or with no access to a suitable device

While these are problems that hit the headlines and gain a lot of media traction, there is an underlying narrative that’s a lot more harmful than not being able to view a lesson at home. It is the narrative that our children are losing out and falling behind, and that they need to catch up

As the situation has developed across the first lockdown and this one, I’ve been listening to media interviews and have noticed a worrying narrative. A popular line of questioning to parents and children is about “lost learning”.

The narrative focuses on the idea that children only have one chance: that what is not done now is lost, and this is extremely damaging for their future education or employment prospects.

The danger here is that we risk creating a generation of children who will forever be known as the “lost” generation. But their learning has not been lost – because you cannot lose something you never had. 

My sister works as a primary-school teacher, so I’ve had a glimpse into the unnecessary stress on everybody in the education system due to this persistent narrative.

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon, but the pandemic has served to highlight both the pressure to return to ‘normal’ schooling and the alternative ways in which education can be delivered.

The fact is that we – as a community of politicians, teachers and education experts – decide what any child must know, understand or be able to do at each age, not some natural law of learning. Why should a child know the structure of a cell membrane by the age of 16? I couldn’t know that information at 16 because it had not yet been fully discovered and described. But I learned it at a later stage. 

We could just as easily change what we require children to know, understand and be able to do as leave it alone. Change will, of course, have knock-on consequences, but they are consequences I think we can accept and adjust for.

It’s not a surprise to be that the calls to reopen schools and gets kids back into classrooms has mostly come from politicians. Over the last few decades, successive governments have seems more concerned with moving our education system away from public control and accountability and toward for-profit schooling than they have children’s futures. And ‘reforms’ of the examination system have only served to pressurise both children and teachers.

Let’s try thinking more holistically. We have a rare opportunity here to reshape our educational landscape and make it better. Why are we not planning to teach far less, but teaching it so that children gain a greater depth of understanding, rather than a breadth of superficial knowledge?

For those who would argue that we can’t teach less because it would disadvantage young people entering the workforce, I’d ask how much of the core knowledge you learned in all your O levels, GCSEs, A levels or even degree is used day to day. 

Employers continually bemoan the fact that graduates don’t have the “right” knowledge for their industries. That’s true. Why are physics graduates so often employed as commodity traders? It’s not because they can explain forces or how gravity works or why fluids behave the way they do. It’s their skills in mathematics and logic.

Children are learning at home, with or without a device. By “learning”, I don’t mean remote lessons in English, maths or science. Children have more free time to explore arts and crafts, music and any number of life skills, from baking to improving their IT abilities. We need to talk about all these things they have gained, and not just focus on what’s been “lost”.

For all the talk of ‘life-long learning’ and ‘continuous personal development’, the reality these days is ‘for those who can afford it, and screw the rest’. This needs to change, both in government (local and central) and business.

Browser Tab Mastery in Vivaldi

I’ve taken advantage of the customisation features of the Vivaldi browser, by doing the following:

  • Removing the close buttons from browser tabs,
  • Learning the keyboard shortcuts for cycling through tabs,
  • Making new keyboard mappings for tab management,
    • Shift + Cmd + W to close all other tabs,
    • Ctrl + Cmd + W to close all tabs to the left of current one,
    • Opt + Cmd + W to close all tabs to the right of current one.

I should note that I don’t keep that many tabs open at any one time, usually only the ones I need to perform whatever task I’m currently doing. Anything that I may want to refer back to gets sent to DEVONthink for safekeeping.

Bandcamp should be Substack for musicians

Alan Jacobs:

I’m waiting and hoping for some major musical artist to say, “Screw this. I’m taking my music off all of the streaming services, and instead will sell it from my website and on Bandcamp.” I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened already.

Of course, many artists don’t have the choice as long as they are under contract with a record label, but there must be some artists of stature who are between contracts and who could therefore make this move. Maybe the economics aren’t what I think they are, but everything I’ve read about the minuscule payments the streaming services offer musicians suggests that artists who already have a following stand a very good chance at least of breaking even by selling rather than streaming; and moreover could set an example for others that might lead to a breaking of the streaming services’ hold on music.

My (admittedly small) sampling of artists on Bandcamp that I follow suggests they either never entered the music ‘industry’ or are now out of it. And while Bandcamp does take a cut from sales, I’m pretty sure that those artists are getting more money from those sales than they would from streaming.

And I say advisedly “hold upon music” as opposed to “hold upon artists,” because as has been amply documented, the way that the streaming services work has exerted enormous power on every aspect of the songmaking process, down to the details of composition. Just listen to this BBC radio documentary for the ugly, ugly details. For instance, because listeners have to stick with a song for 30 seconds on Spotify in order for the artists to get paid, some writers are putting the choruses at the beginning of songs in order to grab people’s attention right away. The very idea of a song building slowly to a climax, or taking an unexpected turn partway through, has become a financial impossibility. In other words, the streaming services are Taylorizing everything about the music industry, which was headed in a Taylorized direction anyway. (Seventy-two songwriters worked on the assembly line called Beyoncé’s Lemonade.) 

I’m listening to the BBC radio documentary, and it’s well worth a listen. While songwriters and composers have always used tricks to hook listeners, and tailored songs to the distribution formats of the day, I’d not been aware before of just how much streaming has changed the process. Songs are literally being written and arranged to satisfy the Algorithm first, then the listeners. And while, yes, they are definitely catchy, they are also very interchangeable. As are the vocals, thanks to auto-tuning.

While I don’t listen to much ‘pop’ music these days — as in ‘popular’, whatever the genre — it does occasionally cross my radar on Apple Music. I wouldn’t call any of them bad, but most of them are merely okay. In any week, I could probably count on the fingers of both hands the number that I’d actually want to listen to again.

I’ve actually been shocked when I listen to music that is more than 10-20 years old, and realised just how much variety there was. Now, some of that in nostalgia, because a lot of those tunes were ones I’d remembered from younger days, but I’ve also been spelunking around in the back catalogues of artists I was only semi-familiar with, or in some case had never heard the first time around.

By comparison, most of the music I’ve discovered on Bandcamp has been anything but forgettable. Not always to my taste, perhaps, but definitely feeling like it has been put together by human beings rather than machines. And with Bandcamp, the artists have a voice on the page, they can tell you the why, what, when and how of the composition and recording. On streaming platforms, you might get an artist bio if you’re lucky, though not written by the artist but by a journalist or (more likely) a staffer at the platform. But forget about liner notes, or any information about individual albums or tracks.

Life Without Social Media

‘I get better sleep’: the people who quit social media

Soo Youn is considering giving up the apps. She speaks to those who have already taken the plunge – with liberating results

This piece from the Guardian has been sat in my to-blog list for a while. It’s fascinating not so much for the positive effects of walking away from social media — most of which I already know of from personal experience — as the reactions of others.

I’m deliberately quoting just these parts, because I find them insightful and uplifting. The article also contains quotes of some of the negative effects of social media that people experienced before walking away, so if you want to read the original article, consider yourselves duly warned.

Morgan Richardson, 30, nurse in a Covid unit in Los Angeles. Has no social media.

Man, the stories I could tell you of being a young woman with no social media. People get crazy, they get so mad at me!

I have a partner, but when I was dating, people thought I was a catfish because I don’t have social media. I’m fairly good-looking and people would think: “She’s lying, she just has secret accounts that she uses to stalk people with, she is self-absorbed.” No, I just don’t have social media. They don’t even ask me why.

Brian Markowski, 39, cybersecurity expert and host of the Sovryn Tech podcast in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Gave up all social media.

[…]

When I would talk to people in real life, a lot of them would be saying: “Hey, did you see what this person said on Twitter?” or “Did you see what this person said on Facebook?” It was really shocking, because the online life ultimately means nothing. I could ask them: “Do you remember what you tweeted five minutes ago?” Nobody could remember.

Aden Capps, 21, English major at the University of California, Berkeley. Went from an iPhone 6 to a flip phone.

[…]

I’m not currently dating, but I have had relationships while using a flip phone. If anything, it’s been a positive thing.

[…]

Dating offline now is as challenging as it was for my dad. That’s how I think of it. But I feel like it’s just the right way to do it. It just rings truer.

I think people are kind of taken back sometimes [being approached in person] because it is an older way of doing it, but I think it’s sincere enough. It’s just a natural thing. Maybe it’s a good thing, being approached by someone who’s talking to you with their face right in front of you.

Facebook’s alternate reality

In Facebook’s alternate reality, a town square is a place for the free expression of views, where people and communities come together to find a sense of common purpose and belonging. Facebook’s living room, by the same logic, is a more intimate, personal version of this. In reality, Facebook’s town square is a place where people are ruthlessly surveilled, where hopes and dreams are turned into data profiles and sold to the highest bidder. It is a town square where all the white supremacists get handed free megaphones. In Facebook’s digital living room, your every utterance is used to sell you weird trousers or encourage you to join a group campaigning to “stop white genocide in Suid Afrika”.

James Temperton, Facebook’s Australia news ban is the best decision it’s ever made