📺 Victoria (Season 2): This is such a charming show. Finishing up the season was like saying goodbye to close friends.
📺 Victoria (Season 2): This is such a charming show. Finishing up the season was like saying goodbye to close friends.
I’ve written before about why I chose Apple Music over Spotify, but this integration between Spotify and Instagram is exactly the kind of thing I wish Apple would do. They are just hyperlinks, but something about those links embedded in a story feels more magical.
🕹Eastward - this game, from a Shanghai studio, looks like a retro-pixel RPG enthusiast’s dream come true. No release date has been set.
I’m not a lifestyle guru. You probably won’t see a post with a listicle on 11 ways to hack your sleep on this blog. I do, however, have a practice that I have used and want to share about managing bedtime. Specifically, how you can manage devices when it’s time to go to sleep and how you disconnect.
I recently implemented a Disney Circle device, which allows you to manage wifi devices and usage profiles for each individual in your house. With the circle, I can manage how much internet time my kids get each day and can apply even more granularity to the usage of things like the major social networks. Fortunately, my kids haven’t gotten to the stage where they have a desire to use the social networks. I’ll enjoy that for as long as it can hold.
The Circle is not only for the benefit of my children, though. It also helps my wife and I to maintain more healthy internet habits. I spend too much of my life looking at a computer screen during the day in a building leased from Red Hat. I need to detach from the screen at some point during the course of evening. Or be forced to do so, if necessary. That is where the Circle comes in. I used to have my WiFi router set to turn off at 9pm, but that became problematic when I my wife and I were watching something on Netflix and it ran just a little bit longer than we expected. Enter the Circle, with its device or user-specific settings. I am now able to restrict only our mobile devices at 9pm (7:30 pm for the little guys) and I don’t have to worry about the Apple TV.
One thing I like about this method is that I don’t have to put away my device completely. I happily read articles that are saved to Pocket on my iPad, for instance. The difference, though, is I’m much more focused and intentional and there are bounds to my consumption. Once I’ve read the articles I’ve saved, that’s it. There are no opportunities to go down a hyperlinked rathole. I’m not going to find myself scrolling down an infinite list of Instagram picks that are curated by a machine to appeal to me. I won’t get engaged in some Twitter rant thread and go to bed angry.
At the risk of overstating the point, how you manage your internet access can have a major impact on your life and your relationships. With so much work having gone into making your device seem like the best way to spend your limited attention, most people need some kind of barrier to overuse. I recently talked to a friend who had been battling with his wife over his child’s YouTube usage. His wife made the point that they needed to rely on the child to curb his own internet usage. To expect an 11-year-old to have the necessary willpower to combat the tricks and techniques of the technology industry is too much. Adults have a hard enough time with technology withdrawal, and kids are especially vulnerable. Ultimately, it’s best to have some kind of system in place to prevent excessive internet exposure.
One thing to note is that the Circle is not a truly end-to-end solution for device management. It can only control internet access through wifi. So, if your kids (or you) are overindulging on games, and those games do not require a constant internet connection, you have to find another solution to keep that behavior in check.
Collage using work from Duncan Rawlinson and Derek Liang
This poster speaks volumes to my teenage self and I’m really tempted to buy it.
This past week, Alto’s Odyssey, the sequel to the much lauded iOS game Alto’s Adventure, was released to positive reviews. Alto’s Adventure offers a take on the “endless runner” game that gives a snowboarder a vast natural playground for collecting coins and doing simple tricks. Odessey isn’t a brand new experience, but rather builds upon its predecessor in innovative ways.
What interests me about the Alto’s franchise is how people use the games in a therapeutic way. Several folks have written about Alto’s Adventure as a meditative experience and a treatment for anxiety.
I’ve played Alto’s Adventure a lot over the past year and a half. Like very a lot. At first, I played because the game was fun and I wanted to beat it. But eventually, I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious. It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don’t even notice anymore…which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can’t control.
The core of a meditative practice is directed focus on something. The most common object of focus is the breath. In mindful breathing, the mind is attuned to breathing, and when distractions inevitably arise, the mind is being trained to gently come back to the breath. In the Christian tradition of Centering Prayer, the practitioner learns to respond to distraction by mindfully bringing focus back to a sacred word. It is in these rituals that we can find a growing ability to let go of things that are not helpful and focus on the beauty and simplicity of the life that God has given to us.
For some, playing a game like Alto’s Adventure can be a calming substitute when meditation is difficult. Sameer Vasta writes about turning to the endless hills of Alto’s Adventure when he’s too keyed up to meditate.
I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with anxiety and depression, but I haven’t shared that one of my favorite coping mechanisms for my anxiety (at least, when it isn’t very bad, but still needs intervention) is to play zen mode on Alto’s Adventure. The repetitive motion, the serene landscapes, and the soothing music is often just what I need to center myself and recapture my composure.
The stigma of adults playing videogames seems to have been relegated to the past. Still, when gaming, I find myself occasionally wondering whether completing arbitrary tasks to satisfy a computer program is the best use of my time. When you start to look at gaming as being a possible avenue to better emotional health, though, the calculus starts to change a bit. Everyone needs a counterweight to the heavy demands of life in our modern world. Framed that way, $4.99 and some time reserved for fun seems like a pretty good deal.
The folks from the writing tool IA Writer (which I love) have an amazing blog post that gets a lot right about the current state of the web. They discuss the problems that are being widely reported and an alternate solution to taking a “digital sabbatical.”
Again, taking a break is generally good advice. And yes, there is Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is great. Alphabet sounds like a James Bond Villan and it is not harmless, but Google Search is powerful. And no, you can’t escape digital culture as long as you live in a society that lives on digital fuel. If you block email you’ll have trouble holding onto most jobs. If you have no cellphone people just won’t get in touch with you anymore. Who calls landlines these days? However long your digital Sabbatical, you will inevitably get sucked back in. And so will your kids.
Rather than completely breaking from the internet, they suggest you change your model of engagement.
But instead of protecting them from the evil Internet, teach them to read, write, draw, paint, ask and think. Teach them researching, blogging, FTP. The challenge when you are in is to not become passive. To change from consumer to maker, following to self-thinking, quoter to commentator, liker to publisher, but mostly, from getting angry about headlines of articles you haven’t read to reading precisely, asking questions, researching, fact-checking, thinking clearly and writing carefully.
Van Halen’s debut record recently celebrated its fortieth birthday. Consequence of Sound featured an article, by Wren Graves, on the record and the culture that made it possible. I was struck by the observation Graves makes that much of the band’s antics at the time wouldn’t be tolerated today.
Late-70’s Van Halen were flamboyant and full of themselves. Some of their higher-profile hijinks are the stuff of legend. In those days, there were a few rock stars that were notorious for trashing hotel rooms. Van Halen took it to the next level and trashed the whole seventh floor of a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. The band was infamous for their pretentious tour riders demanding a bowl of M&M’s with all of the brown ones taken out. Van Halen’s cocaine and heroin use was well known and just considered part of their persona.
Graves writes about the difference in public perception of such behavior between now and then.
In many ways, the public has become more tolerant than it was in the 1970s, especially in regards to marginalized groups. But it’s interesting to note the ways in which audiences have become less tolerant, too. The rock and roll lifestyle, with its grams and groupies and all its messy grandeur, is no longer quite socially acceptable. Wanton destructiveness is no longer cool; the health and lifestyle choices of the rich and famous are fair game for criticism; and diva demands get you ripped apart on Twitter. All of this goes to show why superstars are more risk-averse today than they were in the ’70s and ’80s: They have to be. In the internet age, mockery is the national pastime and mistakes linger forever.
I personally think the lack of tolerance for such behavior is mostly a good thing. I don’t want to see hedonistic, well-heeled rock stars trashing hotels, glamorizing drug use and marching toward self-destruction under the gaze of impressionable youth. What fascinates me, though, is thinking about the broader cultural trends under which allowed the arena rock bands to engage in such behavior with very little career-damaging repercussions.
When I was in college, in the mid-90’s, a good friend of mine used to complain about his dislike of Christianity, because its tight morality was keeping him restricted from living the life he wanted to live. Since he was living a carefree college lifestyle, regularly getting hammered at bars downtown and occasionally even sleeping with girls he didn’t know, I asked him what Christians were preventing him from doing. He didn’t have an answer to that.
Some say we are now living in a post-Christian era in the US. It’s ironic that, in this post-Christian era, the outrage culture of the internet has created a new moral orthodoxy. In some ways, this new orthodoxy is most restrictive than any religious-based moral code we have seen in recent times. Those who transgress, or step outside of the bounds of what is considered acceptable, find themselves subjected to punishing levels of scorn and derision. All of this is fueled and enabled by a level of technologically-enabled interconnectedness the likes of which we have never previously seen.
Some days, I find myself questioning the value of my Netflix subscription. Though not terribly expensive, the monthly cost of the service has gone up recently (I got my email notification a couple of weeks ago). As Netflix works to develop more and more of their own content, their catalog of video for which they need to pay licensing fees has shrunk. Our family finds itself going back to buying DVD sets for those TV shows that, a couple of years ago, you could find on the market leading streaming video service.
Then I watch a Netflix original series like The Crown. Though I’m a big fan of historical dramas, I didn’t know I needed a show about the modern day British royals until I watched The Crown on Netflix. The long span of the rule of Queen Elizabeth during some turbulent and transformative years means that the show has a lot of interesting material with which to work. As good as the subject matter is, though, the show wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as it is without the amazing performances from the principals.
Claire Foy, who I had only previously seen play a pretty unlikeable Ann Boleyn in Wolf Hall, captures the reigning queen with both sympathy and vigor. Foy’s eyes could tell a series full of stories by themselves alone, and it’s in those eyes that viewers can find the uncanny ability to humanize a British monarch. If you weren’t an admirer of the queen before watching the show, you’ll find it hard to withhold admiration after you’re gone through the series. Foy’s Elizabeth comes across as a woman who has had enormous responsibilities that she never would have wished for thrust upon her. She struggles with an overpowering Prime Minister, feeling undereducated in the presence of other government officials, fears of infidelity, Christian forgiveness, family relationships gone sour and stinging personal criticism from journalists. Throughout it all, Elizabeth is vulnerable but resolute.
Matt Smith is a great fit in the role of Prince Philip, Elizabeth’s husband and the Duke of Edinburgh. He plays the locker room, towel-snapping, man’s man aspect of Philip’s personality with aplomb. He’s also funny in a cynical kind of way and his steadiness even when you think he’s going to go astray makes him an endearing character.
Vanessa Kirby is also a standout, chewing through the plush royal furniture as Princess Margaret with an intensity that suggests she knows she’s running out of time. It’s almost as if Kirby is trying to make her mark before turning into Helena Bonham Carter at the stroke of midnight.
The twentieth century is an interesting time for the British monarchy. It’s made clear during the course of events depicted in the show that the royals have no official ability to influence the British government. Instead, the queen must use her powers of indirect influence to shape events in the kingdom. This is never more apparent or more satisfying than when a succession of prime ministers are summoned to meet with her. Some of my favorite moments from both the first and the second season of the show are when Elizabeth meets with John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, Jeremy Northam as Anthony Eden and Anton Lesser as Harold MacMillan. Her quiet but firm wisdom and the implied power of her crown have a certain effect on these ambitious men that’s humbling and instructive. It’s simply a joy to watch.
Smart speakers are becoming ubiquitous. Apple finally released their entry into this increasingly crowded market with the well-reviewed HomePod. Streaming services, most notably Spotify and Apple Music, are in their ascendancy, having each added tens of millions of paying subscribers over the last couple of years. As much as I hate blog posts decrying the death of things, these trends certainly signal the grave digging for music on physical media could soon begin.
While the vinyl market is still slowly growing, and new vinyl pressing plants are opening, the once-beloved compact disc seems to be on its way out. The latest blow to the format is that Best Buy, which was once one of the largest retailers of music, is getting rid of their shelf space for CD’s this year. An article from Consequence of Sound reveals the details.
Come June 1st, Best Buy will no longer offer CDs in its retail stores. Physical music is only generating around $40 million in annual revenue for the company and executives would rather dedicate the floor space to more lucrative items, Billboard notes. Best Buy will continue to sell vinyl for at least the next two years, but titles will now be merchandised with turntables.
Another big box retailer mentioned in the article, that is striking a blow to the CD, is Target. They still plan to stock compact discs, but are trying to force the records labels into a deal where the labels will have to buy back any unsold inventory. This is an interesting turn of events. When the record labels held the power and wanted to push retailers into switching from the vinyl record to the higher-margin compact disc, they offered buy backs on unsold CD’s but not on records. I guess the shoe is on the other foot now and the retailers have the upper hand.
When was the last time Best Buy had a decent CD selection? Truck stops and Cracker Barrell have been beating them for years.
— Numero Group (@numerogroup) February 4, 2018
Last weekend, my five-year-old and I created a collage together.
For a few years now, I’ve followed a “read the Bible in a year” program. Last year, I used the plan from Bible Class Material, which presents the readings in a more-or-less chronological order that I’ve found extremely helpful for following the Old Testament material.
Every year that I have read the Bible, I have gained new insights and different passages have stuck out to me in different ways. It’s been a new experience, each time. Heraclitus said that “a man never stands in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This has perhaps rarely been more apparent to me than when wading through the river of life-giving waters that is holy scripture. When I bring to the reading fresh experiences from my own life, I see the verses through different eyes.
This year, one of the books I have discovered anew is the book of Jonah. Famous as being one of the most kid-friendly books of the Bible, Jonah has a lot more to it than the children’s adaptations present. Most of us are familiar with this Sunday School depiction of Jonah as the reluctant prophet, called to a foreign city to preach about God, attempting to run away from the task to which he is called and ending up in a “big fish.” After his encounter with the fish, Jonah realizes he can’t escape God’s will for him and does indeed travel on to Nineveh. However, most of the “Jonah and the whale” stories for younger children omit the the fourth and final chapter of the book completely. If you can put aside the whole guy getting swallowed by a big fish and having a change of heart thing, the last chapter is where the book of Jonah really gets interesting.
It is well understood from any reading of the story that Jonah fiercely resisted God’s command to go to Nineveh. If we put ourselves in the place of Jonah, the command from God was like being asked to go to Mosul under ISIS control and preach repentance. In fact, the city of Nineveh, to which Jonah was called, was located in the area of the modern day city of Mosul. The Ninevites had been brutal to the Israelites, as the carvings from Lachish attest (be sure not to miss the guys getting flayed alive). Not only did Jonah not want to go, but, as is revealed in the fourth chapter, Jonah didn’t actually want the Ninevites to repent. He wanted them to end up as toast, deserving recipients of the righteous wrath of God.
However, surprisingly enough, the Ninevites did heed the prophecy from the Lord that their city would be destroyed if they didn’t repent and turn from their ways. Jonah was far from being happy about this outcome. The successful prophet turns his back on God again, this time angry that the citizens of Nineveh actually listened to his warnings and were spared from the punishment they so richly deserved. Jonah’s despair causes him to wish for his life to end, there in the desert, under the hot sun. Instead, in a single day, God makes a tree that grows to a height that shields Jonah from the scorching rays. After having endured the sun’s punishing heat, Jonah is more than happy to accept God’s gift. However, the next day, the tree has withered, causing Jonah to complain bitterly. God responds by reminding Jonah that he has made the people and animals of Nineveh just as he has made the tree.
The message that we can take away from the book of Jonah is that the creator God makes, and yes, even cherishes, our enemies. It’s a bold and disconcerting lesson. It likely brings us no more comfort than it brought Jonah. We should keep the book of Jonah in mind when we read that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There is a consistency of thought there stretching from the prophets of the Old Testament to the teachings of the Son of God in the New Testament. It’s almost as if, though not many people, if any at all, can actually follow these teachings, they help us to understand the heart of God. They help to shape our perception of how who God is and what He values.
Recently, the hosts of The Bible Project podcast had a question and response episode about the book of Jonah. For a more thorough explanation of this fascinating book and what it has to tell us about God’s love, please check out the podcast.
After I started writing this post, my pastor preached a sermon on the exact same subject, and I knew I had to hurry to finish and publish.
I recently mentioned to my boss that I’m used to metrics being involved in my work. I’m used to decisions being made based on data. I’ve taken it for granted that enterprise organizations like to be able to measure things that may impact profitability. The last few jobs I’ve worked out were pretty rigorous in tracking certain metrics.
However, in my personal life, I’m not into self-quantification. Even at the height of their popularity, I never wanted a FitBit. I feel like I can get the benefits of exercise without counting my steps. Similarly, I feel that I can eat well without counting calories. Probably the best rules for simply eating well come from Michael Pollen:
It isn’t hard to follow those rules (or it shouldn’t be, at least). You don’t need an app to do it.
As I write more this year, I appreciate one of the 2018 liberations of blogger Aleen Simms:
Looking at numbers. Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.
I also appreciate what Manton Reece is trying to do with his service Micro.blog. His response to Simms liberation is this:
It mirrors a philosophy we have with Micro.blog to launch without follower counts or public likes. Follower counts are not very useful for a new platform. They add anxiety and unavoidably lead to value judgements when considering whether to follow someone, instead of letting the quality of someone’s writing and photos speak for itself.
In the spirit of Reece’s philosophy, does the fact that my Medium blog, as of now, has a big fat goose egg for the number of followers color people’s responses to it? Does it make visitors ascribe less value to it than they would other, similar blogs on Medium? I know, from my stats, that people have been reading the posts, but not all of them are active on Medium. Even some who have liked the posts haven’t followed the publication.
If you are conducting a MailChimp marketing campaign, metrics on how customers are interacting with your communication make sense. You need to know what strategies are generating interest. Do the same sort of metrics make sense for a personal blog, though? Having hooked up Google Analytics, which offers an array of metrics, to a personal blog, I can say that for me, the answer is no. The most interesting thing I learned through Google Analytics were the geographic locations from where the hits my blog was receiving came. As much as I like external validation (who doesn’t?), I’m not sure I need to offer readers the ability to like my tweets, my Instagram photos and my blog posts.
For the social networks, the ability to like posts make a bit more sense than the ability to like, for instance, a WordPress blog post. Often times, when you post a link to a blog post from a social network, your friends will indicate that they like it on the platform where they saw the link. Which is affirming, but for traffic that comes to your blog from other sources, it looks like no one likes your post. That is not really a big deal, except that a platform like Medium makes kind of a show of their version of likes (claps). They have to do this, because their business model is now based around claps. If you publish stories only to Medium members, as part of their Partners Program, the number of claps you receive determines the amount of compensation you get for the story. It’s a pretty ingenious way of rewarding content that people find valuable. However, it doesn’t really work as well for those of us who are just writing to put thoughts out there, with no dreams or aspirations of ever getting paid for that writing.
When I find myself checking the stats on something I have put out there, I’m reminded that it might be better to liberate myself from the need for validation. Perhaps I can learn to simply put something out there and move on to the next project. It would be nice to have tools that support that goal.
Austin Kleon writes about his take on copyright law here. Since Kleon published a book titled Steal Like An Artist, he encounters a lot of people who assume he is against copyright. He assures the reader that he is not against copyright protections for intellectual property. He does, however, believe that art builds on prior art.
Every artist knows that art comes from art—it’s only the honest ones who admit it. But the reality is we live with a legal system that leads to musicians being advised not to acknowledge any influence whatsoever.
Art reflects life and life reflects art. If art is impactful, it inspires others to make art. It used to be said that everyone who heard the Velvet Underground went out and started a band. That’s what art does. It inspires others to create. I use art here in a very broad sense, meaning everything from painting to skateboarding to making spaceships out of LEGO bricks.
I have struggled with the concept of artistic appropriation myself. There are times when I feel like all of my ideas are just born on the back of someone else’s work. Frequently I see something that has been created by someone else and wonder if I can do something similar and put my own spin on it. There’s a kind of guilt in that, though. It’s as if I expect myself to come up with creative works ex nihilo (out of nothing), regardless of how unrealistic that is. To underscore the difficulty of coming up with something completely new, Amanda Petrusich, writing for the New Yorker, examines just how hard it is to make original music these days. She uses the example of a white noise recording being scrutinized for plagiarism.
White noise is generally defined by hazy and inharmonious hissing—it’s noise-eating noise, anti-noise, a way of drowning out other sounds. Per a BBC report , the claimants accusing Tomczak of infringement included companies who peddle white-noise recordings as sleep therapy. It turns out that his nondescript hissing mirrored their nondescript hissing. (Following the BBC’s report, all of the claims were dropped.)
Maybe we can all stop pretending that we can generally create art that owes nothing to its influences. I like the way that Petrusich puts it when she writes, “Yet there’s something lovely and comforting about the continuum—about art begetting art, about a pulse traveling down a line.”
When I was in Walt Disney World earlier this year, the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom was being updated to include a new animatronic Donald Trump. The event was closed for the update and I wondered how everything would turn out.
Donald Trump rarely says things that inspire us. More often, he is inarticulate and boastful. He routinely says things that divide Americans and sound petty, at best. In my mind, seeing that the hall was closed for the addition of his representation, I had to ask myself what they were going to have him say. Obviously, Disney would have to put the best possible face on the current President of the United States. But could even the best imaginations in the world pull off such a feat?
It turns out I need not have worried. Even faced with animating a president with such a dearth of good material, the fine folks at Disney have given us something presidential. In fact, the animatronic version of the 45th president comes off as a much better version of the man. It kind of makes you wonder how things would be different if reality imitated art. What would it look like if Donald Trump had become more presidential, as he took office, like his supporters hoped he would?
At this point, most of us have read about all of the research and effort that has gone into making apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. addictive. The concept of variable reward structures was proven decades ago by experiments on rats to be one of the most effective ways to drive repeat behavior. In contemporary times, humans are the subjects of the experiment and the instruments are mobile phones.
Let’s face it, we’re all viewed as rats pushing feeder bars now.
We are prone to grab our phones at any time to give us a little boost in the form of likes or retweets of our posts. Given our understanding of the habit forming nature of social media apps, I guess it’s no surprise that one of the newer articles to signal the death of social media starts out with a comparison to cocaine and heroin. Other articles that have been written recently about social media underscore the addictiveness. They have titles like Your Addiction to Social Media is No Accident, Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens and Want More Time? Get Rid of the Easiest Way to Spend It.
When I noticed one religiously Twitter-loving V.C. had become dormant on the platform, I e-mailed him to ask if he was O.K. His response: “Having a hard time imagining why I would come back [to Twitter]. Feels like an addictive, inflammatory disease that I have kicked, much to my immune system’s pleasure.”
Not only are we frequently told of how easy it is to get hooked on social media, but we’re also told about how destructive a social media habit can be. Destructive to our relationships in real life. Detrimental to our ability to keep our minds open, as we’re bombarded with easy rewards for our confirmation bias. Harmful to our self-esteem, as we pour through posts from people that seem to be living better lives than our own. Eroding our sense of empathy, as we come to view others as pictures on a screen, rather than as whole people, made in the image of God.
I recently found an entry in my journal, from five years ago, in which I contemplated joining Facebook. That never actually happened. Over the past year or so, I’ve thought about giving up other social media on a number of occasions. People I follow on various platforms (mostly Twitter) have taken breaks from time to time, tired of the toxicity of the discourse or just the time drain. Most of them have come back. They miss hot takes on current events, sharp and funny quips, and friends that can’t be found elsewhere.
Quite often, using social media is presented as a binary choice. Either you do it, or you don’t. While used in excess, digital social platforms most definitely can present all of the problems described above, it is possible to strike a healthy balance. There is a third way that promotes connections between people where they live part of their lives (online) and does so in a healthy way. While I still wouldn’t recommend Facebook, mostly because of all of the data they collect about you and your contacts and the way they turn your life into their product, other social networks can be a more casual investment.
When I was thinking about my ongoing relationship with social media, I found this podcast from Paul Martin and Tim Challies to be very helpful. Challies does a good job putting some of the alarming statistics in perspective. He outlines some of the types of interactions that should go on through social media (keeping touch with those that are distant) and some (such as conflict) that definitely should not take place in that forum. Challies advocates staying away from people who are obviously not people of character online and reminds that you don’t need to engage with those who disagree with you.
There are ways you can balance your social media usage so that it ends up being a net positive. If you find yourself constantly checking social media, you can be mindful of that. You can learn how to break the twitch. A simple way to start might be to avoid making checking social media first thing in the morning or late at night. Recognize that what other people post online is a version of themselves and don’t get trapped into believing that others are living their best life and you are not. Those van life posts on Instagram are carefully staged to represent an idyllic moment. Don’t stoke or feed into conflict online. If you have people attacking you for things you've said, consider making your profile private.
Twitter, Instagram and other social networks can bring us closer together. They can help us keep up with family and make good friends in distant places. In moderation, they can help us keep up with the news. They can introduce us to the beautiful creations of others. We just need to be careful of the ways in which social media can be abused and end up being a negative influence. My hope is that we can all learn to use social media without it owning us.
When I first saw the headline that Moogfest (which occurs annually right down the street from my house) would be featuring a 2018 lineup led by female, non-binary and transgender artists and would feature a keynote by Chelsea Manning, I was a little surprised. Moogfest has always attempted to be cutting edge, even to the point of hubris, but the new strategy just didn’t make sense.
By Judah Gross (Finding love at MOOGFEST) via Wikimedia Commons
I found myself wondering: What relation does gender have to music in that it should be an exclusionary or disqualifying factor in whether you play a synthesizer festival? I confess that I wasn’t familiar with most of the artists mentioned in the article about the lineup. One name did stick out to me, though. Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek (playing as CEP) was named as one of the promised performers. I’ve been listening to Chairlift for a few years now. I consider their 2012 album Something as a independent synth pop masterpiece, with an abundance of hooks that make it accessible to anyone. I found myself wondering if Polachek met any of the criteria for the Moogfest grouping, other than being female.
Apparently Polachek took issue with the announcement, as well, stating that gender is “not a genre.”
“I was very excited to do a sinewave set at Moogfest next year, but am furious to see my name on an all-female / non-gender-binary announcement list that went out today,” Polachek wrote on Instagram. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t want or need a sympathy pedestal, especially not from a male curator. Take my name off this victimizing gimmick and put me in the pit with the boys, I can and will hold my own.”
Polachek subsequently pulled out of Moogfest 2018. The organizers of the festival were very graceful about the exit, even sending an apology letter to Polachek, which clarified that their intention was not to take the focus off of the art.
It seems this is becoming a more common scenario. Those that are traditionally viewed as marginalized are given special status. The intentions are good, but there are two possible negative outcomes:
As the potential audience for the festival, I have to say my preference for the lineup would be one of all around inclusiveness that makes the music the primary criteria for choosing the lineup.
Listening to twee pop from South America and feeling nostalgic about the 90’s was not how I planned on spending a sick and tired Monday night. Yet, there I found myself, eyes glued to yet another screen, soaking up sounds from a far away place and digging into information about a scene I never knew existed.
It started out when I saw an Instagram post about a rerelease of a record by South American disco pioneer Junior Mendes posted by Bandcamp (that website is an international treasure). Since Instagram doesn’t allow hyperlinks in posts, I navigated over to the Bandcamp site to do a search for the record. As often happens with the internet, I saw a piece that distracted me from my original search and got sucked down a rabbit hole. The piece that drew my attention was a Bandcamp Daily feature about Gatitx Discos, a Central/South American noise pop record label that just released a compilation showcasing their artists. The artists hail from Chile, Peru and Argentina and draw heavily on early 1990’s UK and US indie pop for inspiration. The music on Gatitx Records sounds intentionally very different than the cumbia and reggaeton stuff that you typically hear coming out of that part of the world. The first track to which the article calls your attention is a song called “Husker Dü” by the band Peruvian band Gatxs Monteses.
“We don’t want to talk about ideology, but I don’t trust rich people,” says one of the members of Gatxs Monteses via email. “Rich people have control of music, they play music as a hobby or [to get] attention…[we want to] make the music real, nothing more.”
The low-budget DIY attitude helps to explain the garagey feel of the music. All of the tracks from Gatitx Disco that I sampled had a distinctly lo-fi feel that took me back to my late high school and early college days listening to bands on labels like Sub Pop, Merge and Matador Records. It felt refreshing, because even indie music tends to have such a polished sound these days.
I knew that I should have turned off my iPad and rested, but I kept clicking to sample the next band. I wanted to hear how accurate the blurbs about the bands were in their comparisons to the luminaries of an earlier age of indie pop. It turns out that they didn’t stray far from the mark.
For example, take a listen to “Perfect Date” from Kawaiimaster420. You are sure to pick up on the J. Mascis guitars. If you were weaned on Dinosaur Jr., it should make you feel the urge to put Green Mind on the turntable.
The Argentinian band Ice Cream Ü effectively channels Superchunk in their track “Patio” from the full length Un Espacio Entre Portales.
The track “Paracaidistas” by Jardinería del Mar sounds like something from early K Records and features nice call and response boy/girl vocals.
I spent longer than I should have going through the Gatitx Discos catalog. If you are looking for something different and maybe a trip down memory lane, checkout the article and the bands featured. Most of the full-lengths that I listened to were name your price, so they represent a great opportunity to get into the sounds the kids to the south of us are making.
Also, the Junior Mendes record that Bandcamp was promoting was nowhere to be found on their site. That’s just the way that the internet works.
Today was one of those days. Down with a cold and unable to do much, I spent much of the day in bed and moping about the house. Then the mail came, and brought with it two new records from the Sounds Delicious series. I had been eagerly anticipating hearing Frankie Rose cover the Cure and almost immediately put it on the turntable.
The cover of Seventeen Seconds is glorious. Although Seventeen seconds has never been my favorite album by the Cure, I can appreciate the atmospherics and the Factory Records sound of the LP. Rose doesn’t stray too far from the source material in her recording, which makes sense, given her love of the original.
Meanwhile, Rose said of the cover, “‘At Night’ is a favorite off of the original album. I tried to change as little as possible, giving it a only slightly more modern fidelity. How can you mess with the perfection of the original without destroying it? It’s my best offering.”
You can read more about the LP on the Sounds Delicious site here.
Hearing the cover of “A Forest” that was released a couple of months ago, and seeing Rose’s former band Beverly live at the Local 506 made me want to look deeper into her catalogue. I’m glad I did, because her most recent album (excepting Seventeen Seconds), Cage Tropical, is easily one my favorites to come out this year.
On Cage Tropical, you can hear the Cure influence on Rose’s original music, as well as a bit of the Cocteau Twins, but the songs are more than mere rehash. Rose uses not only her musical influences on the album, but bits of yet-to-be-created sci-fi worlds, as well. However, she always treats the songwriting with as much care as the atmosphere, and the album rewards the listener for her efforts.