Podcastination Nation

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Thought it was about time for an update on what’s in the ‘casting playlist.

I just subscribed to The Missing Cryptoqueen (BBC), which was featured on this week’s Fortunately (also BBC). It’s the story of what appears to be a financial scam on a massive scale: a Ponzi scheme masquerading as a cryptocurrency. It’s a good listen, although, as ever, I’m absolutely bewildered that people ever fall for these things. I mean, if a relative came to me and said, “Oh, I found a fantastic investment opportunity. You need to get on board,” my immediate reaction is no thanks, I’ll leave my pension exactly where it is. And if they were to add, “It’s a Bulgarian cryptocurrency,” my first thought is Mafia. My tenth thought would probably be, oh, outside of any financial services regulatory framework, then? What could possibly go wrong?

And yet it seems that thousands of people have invested gambled millions of Euros like so many cartoon characters with fruit machine eyes.Other recent additions to my playlist include Backlisted (Unbound), a books podcast, which came to my attention when David Hepworth guested on an episode about Beatles books. Quite apart from that, it’s always good to listen to people enthuse about things they love. It’s a little blast of fresh, optimistic air in our fractious times. I prefer Backlisted to Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year (Ora et Labora), which is also on my list, as it’s less of a plug show and more about pulling out unjustly overlooked titles and authors. The most recent episode, about Elizabeth Taylor (who I’m convinced is overlooked because of her name, which is shared by someone more famous than her), is a perfect place to start.

Another podcast featuring someone (theoretically) enthusing about something they love is The Band: A History (independent), which ought to be right up my street, but unfortunately the presenter needs some voice training. His delivery is flat and monotonous, making a fascinating subject seem dull.

Heavyweight (Gimlet) is back, and presenter Jonathan Goldstein is here to show The Band guy how it’s done. Former This American Life reporter Goldstein can take the most mundane episode from an ordinary person’s life and make it dramatic and mysterious. What is Heavyweight about? It’s a little like the late lamented Mystery Show: people get in touch concerning unresolved incidents from their past, and Goldstein does his best to put people in the same room to have it out. I know it’s a good podcast because I have a flashbulb memory of picking up chestnuts in the garden in France while listening to an episode about someone who was kicked out of a sorority in college and never knew why. It’s episode #10, if you want to check it out. (I have a similar flashbulb memory of listening to an episode of Criminal about the theft of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey while riding my bike in France.)

I’ve started listening again to The Word podcast, which I had wrongly believed finished, or at least gone behind a paywall. This oversight can be rectified by downloading back episodes, of course. I love the content, but have to say that their audio quality is poor. Given that so many people manage to make podcasts with great audio, not all of them working for NPR or the BBC, then this seems a bit off.

Finally, a couple of complaints. I would never make a mean comment about a podcast on the iTunes review thing, but I have to get a couple of things off my chest.

There are a few people I kind of follow and listen to multiple podcasts they’re on, mainly because they’re enthusiastic/knowledgable about things that interest me. Merlin Mann, for example, is on a few podcasts, and I generally like his stuff. I love Roderick on the Line, and Reconcilable Differences (Relay) is still a favourite. On the other hand, I gave up on his Do By Friday because the constant giggling by one contributor and shilling for Patreon on the show got too much. I listen to a lot of Incomparable Network shows, many of which feature founder and former Macworld editor Jason Snell. But I can’t listen to Mr Snell’s podcast Upgrade (Relay), because his British co-host Myke Hurley is an idiot and a philistine ignoramus. I’m assuming his parents were idiots too, for giving him a nickname instead of a name and then misspelling it.

Talking of idiots. I like to listen to the thoughtful John Siracusa, who occasionally guests on The Incomparable and co-hosts Reconcilable Differences. But I cannot listen to his technology podcast Accidental Tech (ATP), because both of his co-hosts are whiny, entitled, car bores and one of them is also an idiot.

One of the things you learn if you know anything about technology and software is that, if you want an easy life, you shouldn’t be an early adopter. The early adopter mentality should be that you can be first to have something but should always expect it to be flaky and buggy. This is something both Casey Liss and Marco Arment seem not to understand. So when they get the new iPhone/Apple Watch on release day and then find it takes a few software updates before things are working properly, they act like spoiled 10 year olds who have been told they can’t have birthday cake until the candles have been blown out. Which is not to mention the shameful detail that one of them is such a self-entitled baby that he actually went down to the Apple Store to buy a new phone because the one he ordered online and which was out for delivery didn’t arrive quickly enough for him. I ask you. Can you imagine being married to that? To be the wife who phones up while he is queuing in the store to inform him that his new phone has been delivered? Meanwhile, the voice of reason, John Siracusa, points out that if you were going to bent out of shape by software bugs, you should wait a few months to buy. My personal philosophy is that if you’re buying a new iPhone, don’t order it till November.

Anyway, I had to switch off an unsubscribe because I could no longer listen to these people whining. And it feels good to get it off my chest.

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Running iOS 12 on an actual iPhone 6

Image result for treacleMy iPhone 6 (Plus) is coming on four years old, and I’m eyeing that coral-coloured  X🅁  with real interest as October 19 approaches. But, at the same time, I’ve brazenly updated my 4-year old Mac to Mojave and the 6 Plus to iOS 12, on the promise that this was a “performance” update designed to give older hardware a new lease of life. iOS 12 was backwards-compatible to the 5S, so I’m one generation ahead on that.

I doubt that many of the tech journalists writing about this stuff are really still using the 6 generation phone as their everyday phone. So what is it really like in practice?

More performance?

Not noticeably. I mean, games like Pocket Run Pool and Flip Flop Solitaire still take ages to load. Overcast, my podcast app of choice, is still a bit laggy, and (most damningly), the keyboard when you’re typing in the Safari address bar works e   x    t    r    e   m    e   l     y slowly, making the letters you type appear several seconds after you type them.

I’m hoping today’s 12.1 update will address that particular issue, but the best I can say about iOS 12 is that my phone is more or less the same after updating as it was before. Give or take the keyboard lag. As for the much vaunted Shortcuts, I still can’t see much use for it, and when I do try a pre-programmed Shortcut recipe, it works so unbelievably slowly that I’d have been better off doing it manually. I mean, invoking the play-a-particular-Playlist takes about 20 seconds to work, when it works.

So it is time for a new phone. The camera always seems to have Vaseline smeared on the lens, and it has been a considerable time since I was able to hear a phone call on it without invoking the speaker or plugging in a set of earbuds.

Still, I think four years is pretty good. The original battery is still at 85% of its original capacity, and it still looks okay. My heart is set on the orange X🅁, so whatever happens, if supply is constrained, I’ll be waiting.

The Great Flickr Shitr

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The first picture I uploaded to Flickr, taken in July 2004

Flickr was one of the earliest social networks, starting in February 2004, and, among other things, pioneered the use of the hashtag, which later became a key part of the Twitter experience. It was a place where you could upload photos/descriptions, connect with other users, join groups, make comments, and create themed collections of your own photos.

I joined in July 2004, and it really felt like a small and friendly community in those days. Of course, it was hard to see how they would ever make money.

They were acquired by Yahoo in 2005, and the long downhill descent began. There are three things that Yahoo did that are variously upsetting and annoying.

The first was that they neglected it, allowing its performance to get worse, and were particularly slow to respond to the smartphone revolution. Even as the iPhone became the most ubiquitous camera used by Flickr photographers, the Flickr app experience was kludgy. As Instagram demonstrated how simple a photo sharing social network could be, Flickr’s was complicated and slow. Even today, if someone shares a photo from Flickr to Twitter, it loads extremely slowly, making for a poor user experience.

The second thing was that they tried to drive Flickr users towards Yahoo as a web portal at a time when the very idea of a web portal was becoming ridiculous. But Yahoo are an advertising company, and that’s what they wanted to do. So they loaded an ugly, clashing Yahoo menu bar at the top of the Flickr site, and they forced everyone to use a Yahoo log-in rather than their old Flickr log-in.

Which is when the problems began for me.

The third thing was that Yahoo did what all these tech companies do: they tried to avoid their user support responsibilities by pushing people towards forums, where the same questions get posted over and over again, with similar answers, and nobody ever gets helped, and the secret portal into actual technical support is hard to find and opaque. All of which is the inevitable result of a free service that clearly doesn’t stand a chance of making money through advertising and which becomes a white elephant, or a millstone hanging around the neck of a slowly dying corporation.

Yahoo is acquired by Verizon, Flickr slips further down the list of priorities, and more and more people find themselves in the same situation as me: unable to resolve the log-in, or successfully recover lost passwords. In 2013, Yahoo was hacked, and 3 billion user accounts were compromised.

Around the same time, my Flickr log-in and password corrupted in some bizarre way and went from being a recognisable email/password to being long strings of random characters.

Like this: 0753036973656d61dc27j2gs1s29h4g8

That’s not my own corrupted log-in, but mine was very similar, and so was the password. I mean, it’s not even an email address. In time, I was unable to get in at all, and after a fruitless run-in with Yahoo support, I ended up creating a new Flickr account so I could continue to upload pictures.

But it was never the same, and I was never happy, and I eventually stopped using the service.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 20.54.00The screen grab left shows a sample of the many Flickr users who are having issues accessing their accounts.

My own problems were exacerbated by the way my Yahoo identities seemed to burgeon. When Yahoo acquired Flickr, I already had a hidden Yahoo identity, because my then-internet provider, BT, used Yahoo as the backbone for its “brinternet.com” email service. But somehow, I ended up with yahoo.com and yahoo.co.uk identities. Over time, and attempts to log into Flickr, these have expanded, and I now appear to have four distinct ways of logging into Yahoo. Four!

But here’s the thing. Every single one of them connects to the new/replacement Flickr account, and none of them will connect to my 2004 vintage Flickr account. So I have four Yahoo log-ins, and no way to get into my old Flickr. In my mind, at least one of the log-ins should resolve to the old 2004 account, but no longer does. So it’s an orphaned account, is what it is. There’s a case here for keeping hold of all of your old computers, phones, and other devices, because account details might be cached/stored. O for the iMac that used to be in the garage.

And it has been five years.

I’ve tried on a couple of occasions to get help from Yahoo. When I saw the news that Flickr is being sold to Smugmug, I thought it was time to try again.

Yahoo’s response is basically robotic. You give them the details of your account(s) and you still get a response along the lines of “I cannot find the account with the details you have given. Please give…”

I got exactly the same automated response as last time. Replying to their emails rarely elicits a human response. They send through a link to “security questions”, which ask you things you could only know if you had access to the account. It’s enraging, and obscure:

  1. Name five private groups or private albums on the account
  2. Give the date of the last charge in the format dd/mm/yyyy
  3. Name the 3rd party services that are linked to the account (apart from Facebook/Tumblr)

My response to (1) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

My response to (2) is, I don’t even know what this question is asking.

My response to (3) is, I don’t know, I haven’t been able to see inside the account for five years.

We went through this three times.

Each time, I replied to their email saying I didn’t understand and couldn’t possibly answer their questions. Each time, I didn’t get a response until I filled in something on the security page. Each time, I was then told that my responses were inadequate.

In the end, they refused to give me access to my account—but they did offer to delete it on my behalf. Consider the warped logic of that: no, we can’t verify your identity, but yes, we will delete all these photos that might not belong to you, because why not.

Meanwhile, I still have four different Yahoo log-ins that all give access to the wrong Flickr account. Meanwhile, I continue to receive communications to my secondary email address which are aimed at my original identity.

The only solution appears to be for me to click through 3,600 photos and manually download them, then add them to the other account, and try to live with the knowledge that the kudos attached to being a 2004 early adopter of this pioneering service is no longer mine.

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And this is probably my most popular Flickr photo, taken in 1998 but scanned in 2005

Melting Down is Good for Business

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Toxic masculinity, as embodied by Rupert Murdoch’s melting face

It’s been a week of meltdowns in the news, sure enough. Meltdown was the name of one of the CPU bugs that were revealed in the New Year. While people were still shitting their pants over the Great Apple Battery Scam (not a scam), Intel revealed something they’d been sitting on for a while, which was that the way their CPU chips works (by speculatively anticipating what they’re going to be asked to do next) leaves them vulnerable to exploits. This was trumpeted widely as a precursor to the End of All Things, Millennium Bug style, since just about anything with an Intel or ARM processor was affected, but (as of Saturday) we’re still alive. Still, you can smell the lawsuits from here, can’t you?

It was last May that all British Airways flights from two airports were cancelled because of an IT problem, and this is the kind of meltdown that pundits fear might ensue when a system vulnerability like this is revealed. More seriously, that same month saw “cyber chaos” in the NHS, as computer systems that hadn’t been updated from Windows XP were attacked over a weekend.

This is what I think of whenever people express concerns about Trump and his obsession with weapons and nuclear buttons. This past week of Whitehouse Meltdowns following the “revelations” in Michael Wolff’s book have been entertaining, and you can’t help but hope it takes us one step closer to the Hollywood Ending of this Presidency, which is when the American people collectively point their fingers in Trump’s direction and pause dramatically before saying, “You’re fired.”

While it’s clear that millions of people are going to suffer as a result of Trump’s “welfare for the rich” tax legislation and his “welfare for the rich” healthcare changes, I have less fear that he’s ever going to launch a nuclear strike. This seems like a cartoon fear of a cartoon president, a childlike clown who has no real power, and is simply going to end up being managed when the grownups take over. Trump is not Putin: he has no real power. Like the rest of the Republican Party, he’ll do the bidding of his corporate and media masters, the Ronald McDonald birthday clown of politics.

As well as being good for lawyers in class action or cease and desist lawsuits, these various meltdowns are good for the news business, as people addictively click on stories to read about how Apple or Intel are ruining their lives or how Trump’s hair is combed and lacquered. And I’ve noticed as an adjunct to all this that the papers are full of chin-stroking columns about the perils of social networking and screens. It’s all New Year New Me and Think Of The Children and, very helpfully, Black Mirror season 4. Same as it ever was, if you ask me. Ten years ago, I would chortle with my students about all the Facebook negging that the Daily Mail went in for, but like lawyers smelling Class Action, the newspapers are all smelling New Year’s Resolutions, as people try to detox from Trump and Bannon and Trolls and whatever that episode of Black Mirror was about.

Should we be worried about tech meltdowns? Probably. As rail commuters weep about paying nearly £8000 a year just to get to work, and our cars hit pot holes and have their own personal meltdowns, and the NHS suffers through yet another Winter Crisis, it’s clear that our infrastructure is fucked. And when it comes to IT, which is increasingly getting involved in every part of our lives, the infrastructure is all in the hands of corporations. So whether it’s your light bulbs, your front door, your fridge, or your TV, these CPU vulnerabilities are likely to strike anywhere. And the only way to hold these corporations to account is via the blunt instrument of the class action lawsuit. Because the politicians do not have their minds on infrastructure, do they?

In the UK, we’re distracted, permanently, by Brexit meltdown. In the US, they’re distracted by Trump meltdown. And even if they weren’t, absolutely no politician ever is interested in building infrastructure projects that won’t come to fruition until long after they’ve left office in disgrace after putting their hand up someone’s skirt. So, in a sense, we can blame toxic masculinity for all of these meltdowns. Men are really too emotional for high office.

Bring on your internet wrecking ball

DNGlrABUIAAr9RO.jpg-large..Having spent the last 20 years of my life wasting time on the internet, I sometimes wonder if I’d be happier without it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but as we all face the consequences of the targeted use of Big Data to manipulate elections and referenda, and Twitter’s latest hamfisted “improvement” irritates the shit out of us, how much of it would we really miss if it went away?

This has been running through my mind for a couple of days as the Telecom companies in the USA make yet another attempt, through their bought-and-paid-for congressmen, to abolish net neutrality, and thus allow for differential pricing, and a two (or more) speed internet, depending on what you pay for.

You may have seen the graphic above circulating, which purports to show (it’s in Portuguese, and I’m not a doctor) what happens when service providers are allowed to split the open internet into walled-garden “bundles” of different services. Note that this appears to be a mobile phone package, but the point remains – this is what people fear could happen to your regular home internet subscription as well.

Let’s take it from the top.

Messaging: €4.99 a month (opening offer; €6.99 usually?) for the privilege of using your phone as a phone (basically). Well, I guess this I’d need to pay for, just in case I end up in a ditch somewhere (with a phone signal).

Social: €4.99 a month (as above) for your Facebook, Insta, Twits, Snapchat, Pinterest etc. So, yes, I’ve been addicted to Twitter since 2009, but take it away from me? Oh, please don’t throw me in the briar patch, B’rer Fox. Sure, I’d miss it at first, but only in the same way that I miss cigarettes.

Video: €4.99 for YouTube, Netflix (in addition, I’m guessing to your monthly subscriptions to these services). Unavoidable, given that I mostly watch streaming TV services these days. So I’m in for €10 a month so far.

Music: €4.99 Spotify and whatever else those are? I could probably do without this, given that I still host all my music on my device. So unless this includes podcasts, I’m not sure I’d bother.

Email and Cloud: €4.99. So they’re demanding payment for access to your gmail and your iCloud, which is super. Unavoidable, I suppose, which puts me in for €15, plus whatever the basic monthly fee is, plus all the other monthly subscriptions.

Of course, what most customers would want to do would be to choose, say, just the services they use, so these bundles (like TV packages) are designed to have you pay for shit you don’t use – bearing in mind that you’re being asked to pay for shit that is currently free because it has nothing whatsoever to do with meo telecom or whoever they are.

The situation is this: the telecoms are going to get their money. They’re going to get their money, and they’ll keep getting their money, and the only way to avoid giving them your money is to give up on all of it, an increasingly unlikely prospect in a world in which all government agencies are basically assuming you have internet access.

But then, what might it be like, over there on the other side of the walled garden, away from cat memes and Trump tweets and robot followers and troll farms? And away from this blog, of course. All good things…

32 Short Films About Cycling Stuff

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  1. It says a lot about my Shimano commuting cycling shoes (http://amzn.eu/24kXhZ0) that I sometimes don’t take them off for an hour or so after arriving home. This is the first shoe/pedal combination that hasn’t left my feet screaming agony after a 10-mile ride.
  2. Maybe the pedal-assist electric bike is a help with that, but well done Shimano for making a shoe that’s both comfortable on the bike and comfortable to walk in.
  3. One of the things I love about my Kalkhoff Integrale Limited Edition is that it is (until the next time I buy the very latest iPhone model) pretty much State of the Art as far as its category of things (electric commuter bicycles) go. To whit:
  4. The carbon belt drive, which means no chain, no oil, no ruined work trousers.
  5. The low-maintenance hub gears.
  6. The combination of smart battery, motor, computer, bluetooth linked app.
  7. The battery integrated into the downtube.
  8. The integrated lights, with smart ‘parking’ feature for safety first.transparent_csm_kh16_integrale_ltd_white_updated_eb74974ee4_34cb567afb
  9. My one continuing qualm about the bike is its weight, which there is no getting away from. The truth is, I blast through the 16 mph assistance limit pretty easily, but then my legs are pushing along an absolute beast of a bike.
  10. Momentary sideways instability, as I discovered, can quickly result in a spill. Hurt my ankle in September (?) and I still can’t run on it.
  11. If I could have a word with my past self, I would advise him to get the size below. At 1.83 metres, I’m borderline between Medium and Large, and the Medium would have been a bit lighter.
  12. You live and learn.
  13. I’ve deleted Strava, Cyclemeter, etc. and have stopped measuring time, distance, speed – even when I’m on my normal road bike.
  14. Partly it was to do with the electric bike – it was trivially easy to get into the top ten for the KoM on some Strava segments.
  15. Which was funny for a while.
  16. But in the end, it’s an empty achievement and I don’t care.
  17. More importantly, I want to just ride the bike and be in the moment, not worrying about how far and how fast and challenging myself and pushing myself.
  18. A lot of people enjoy this, I know.
  19. I don’t, though.
  20. Is this what they call mindfulness?
  21. Anyway, riding between fields of rape and enjoying the feeling of being immersed in yellow and feeling the slight warming of the air coming off those fields, that’s where I want to be.
  22. I don’t think people who use Strava are bad people.
  23. But being the loner I am, the idea that I’m stacking up all these stats is kind of pointless. I don’t care about myself, and I don’t know anybody who would be remotely interested to hear my average speed for a ride.
  24. My cycling shoes, the comfortable ones, are a size bigger than my normal shoe size.
  25. It’s a compromise.
  26. Actually, I have odd-size feet, which means that one of the shoes is two sizes too big.
  27. But here’s the thing. It’s almost a universal rule that cycling gear is too small for normal people. You always have to buy a size bigger than you think you need.
  28. So if you’re an L for a t-shirt or shirt, you need the XL.
  29. If you are an XL, you need the XXL.
  30. But here’s the other thing.
  31. Many cycling gear manufacturers don’t do the XXL.
  32. Which is why I look ridiculous on my bike.

Shut down, log off, fade away

Mini DV TapeWe are surrounded by digital ephemera.

A while ago now, I reactivated the Facebook account (total of friends = 1), just so there would be one place on the internet where you could find me by my actual name. My timeline consisted almost entirely of my Instagram feed. But I hate Facebook, always have, and as Zuck appears to be preparing to run for office (as a Republican, according to one thing I read), it’s time to kill it. So that’s gone.

I still use Instagram. Although owned by Facebook, it’s fairly harmless, and since I stopped using Flickr (destroyed by Yahoo), it’s the only place I upload photos. But my finger does hover over the button sometimes.

I was attempting to put together a Photos book for 2016 the other day, and I had an enormous number of those red warning triangles, because the “original image could not be found”. Massive database corruption in my Photos library – perhaps caused by my use of CleanMyMac. The photos are there – I can export them and re-import them and fix the triangle issue – but the application doesn’t know they’re there. So that is a massive pain in the arse, and brings to stark relief the eternal problem of what is going to become of all our digital photos in 5–10 years. Apart from low-resolution uploads on early Flickr, I’ve got whole clusters of photos missing.

This came up again when I was rewatching my kids’ childhood DVDs a while ago. A couple of years have gone missing, and one of the DVDs wouldn’t play (though I managed to rip the file off it). I noticed an old MiniDV camcorder at work the other day, which nobody (probably) is ever going to use, and it reminded me that I have a case full of MiniDV tapes with my kids’ (unedited) childhoods on, and I have nothing to play them on.

Digital ephemera. We live in a streaming world. Timelines flick by, news churns 24 hours a day, people are up in arms about one thing after another, ricocheting between issues of import and issues of no import as if it were all the same.

I spent half an hour this morning unfollowing a bunch more people on Twitter. People I like and respect, even admire, but I cannot bear to read their political and news tweets, because they make me feel impotent with outrage, powerless, depressed. Muting keywords doesn’t work because things always leak through, and in the end I came to the conclusion that, for the foreseeable future and for my own sanity, I’ll probably end up unfollowing most of the Americans on my feed, and many more besides.

I’ve said it before: complaining on Twitter achieves nothing; the people you need to reach are not on there; it’s not a substitute for activism. Twitter is for jokes, for people-watching, for aphorisms, art, wit, photos, videos, all of that digital ephemera. But it’s not for politics or climate change, or bringing down capitalism or fighting nazis. People get mad about stuff, sure, but never so mad that they put down their phones and do anything.