kites can't jive (June 2020)

June needs to be a month of change. The Black Lives Matter movement reverberated around the world and reminded everyone, again, that the USA, Australia, and elsewhere have systematically destroyed the lives of black people. And that needs to change. And that change involves the structures that govern every day life and it involves us, as individuals.

kites can’t jive is a music column. It’s narrow in its focus. But part of June’s changes, for me, was to listen to more black musicians. Sometimes it was rediscovering an old favourite, sometimes it was looking for new voices. It was always about listening to the stories of talented artists.

This isn’t activism. It’s not a replacement for the work we all need to do to tear down systemic racism or address the history of injustice our societies have perpetuated. Education is important, yeah, and listening to and supporting the work of black artists can be part of that.

But you don’t get to listen to a few tracks and read a book or two and say “I’m done”. This is step one. This is a soundtrack. There’s a lot more work to do.

Listen to this

Nyaaringu by Miiesha

Mieesha’s Nyaaringu is incredible. Just take a moment to go listen to album opener “Caged bird”. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album: the moving spoken word, provided by Miiesha’s late grandmother, Miiesha’s voice, and an exploration of her experience as a young Indigenous woman.

The second song on the album, “Black privilege“ continues the theme:

Funny, when I lose, you keep on complaining Then write the new rules, just to be bent on breaking Told me that I choose the noose that you’ve been making Then I need to prove I’m worthy of saving

Nyaaringu would be great if it was just the songs. But the spoken word interludes from Miiesha’s grandmother are peppered throughout the album. Her story, her advice, and recollections mirror, extend, and contextualise Miiesha’s lyrics.

It’s a reminder of an important truth: the struggles Miiesha’s singing about have been here for a long time. And, as she says on “Black privilege“ they’re a result of deliberate choices by white Australia.

Other highlights

Black thoughts by Ziggy Ramo. A stunning debut album that explores Australia’s history of racism, colonialism, and trauma.

Rosetta - EP by Dua Salah. Soulful, hypnotic hip-hop about everything from race, to gender, to identity, and more.

Dead like me by Danny Denial. Heartfelt, raw, catchy rock that mixes bits of indie and grunge. “Suck my Jesus” has a perfectly infectious hook you’ll feel weird about singing around the house.

Pleasure venom – EP by Pleasure Venom. Everything you want in a banger of a post-punk record.

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADASS by Joey Badass. Badass takes his golden-age-of-hip-hop sound, pushes it forward, and uses it tell listeners what it’s like to live in the US as a young black man.

The return by Sampa The Great. Fantastic storytelling, tight flows, and a real statement of intent in Sampa The Great’s fantastic debut album.

RTJ4 by Run The Jewels. If there was ever a time for RTJ to come out swinging, it’s now.

Abandoned language by dälek. “Turn that page muthafucka cause our story’s all scripted. 600 years, ain’t a fuckin’ thing different. Don’t speak to us about strength and upliftment. The closest thing to paradise is mad distant.”

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Everyone’s joining the ban train

The bans are flowing.

Reddit banned r/The_Donald, r/ChapoTrapHouse, and 2,000+ other subreddits:

Reddit will ban r/The_Donald, r/ChapoTrapHouse, and about 2,000 other communities today after updating its content policy to more explicitly ban hate speech.

“I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a call with reporters.

It’s almost as if people are realising that no one platform has an obligation to house abusive, degrading discussion.

That’s not incompatible with free speech.

Every discussion reaches an end point, for a time. That means platform holders do, at some point, get to say “Hey, you’ve been talking about this for a while now and we’ve decided that people shouldn’t be vilified or denigrated on the basis of their race. That’s the decision we’ve reached after your voluminous arguments here”.

That’s how the entirely fictional “marketplace of ideas” is supposed to work. People agitate for a point of view and, if they’re convincing, that point of view is codified in the policies and laws and moral code of a society. In the case of online chatter, those policies manifest as bans or community guidelines.

These things are never definitive and permanent. People will keep arguing that, hey, maybe people should be attacked on the basis of their race and those people may successfully convince major online platforms that those arguments should be allowed. They’ve certainly done a good job of it at the highest levels of government for a long, long time.

But, for now, the pendulum seems to be swinging ever-so-slightly away from that POV. It’s only taken years to get here.

Back to the bans.

Twitch has “temporarily” banned Donald Trump’s account:

Twitch has temporarily banned President Donald Trump, in the latest surprise and high-profile suspension from the streaming service. Trump’s account was banned for “hateful conduct” that was aired on stream, and Twitch says the offending content has now been removed.

This comes after Twitch permanently banned the massively popular Dr Disrespect for as-yet unknown reasons and swathes of other streamers over sexual abuse allegations. (There’s nothing to suggest that Disrespect’s ban falls into that category, though.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government has shut down a long list of Chinese-based apps:

The government of India has decided to ban 59 apps of Chinese origin as border tensions simmer in Ladakh after a violent, fatal face-off between the Indian and Chinese armies. The list of apps banned by the government includes TikTok, which is extremely popular.

A government press release announcing the ban stated: “The Ministry of Information Technology, invoking it’s power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats has decided to block 59 apps since in view of information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

Others include ShareIt, Clash of Kings, WeChat, and UC Browser. Here’s a full list.

This is what it looks like when a government is really trying to limit what people say and where they say it.

Update

YouTube has removed five channels used by high-profile white nationalists in the US:

The removed accounts include those ​owned by far-right political entertainer Stefan Molyneux, white nationalist outlets American Renaissance and Radix Journal, as well as longtime Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. YouTube also removed two associated channels: one belonging to alt-right poster boy Richard Spencer and another hosting American Renaissance podcasts.

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iOS 14's widgets bring the Windows Phone dream back to life

Tom Warren, sparking joy in my heart:

Microsoft showed off the future of mobile home screens a decade ago with Windows Phone. The key to the vibrant interface was Live Tiles, animated widgets that felt alive. Nothing has lived up to it ever since.

I’ve always wanted Apple to bring these Live Tiles to the iPhone. Apple’s overhauled iOS 14 home screen finally does that, enabling lively widgets for apps that sit on the home screen. It’s the final addition to the iPhone that I’ve been missing from Windows Phone, 10 years after Microsoft first introduced Live Tiles to the world.

I hadn’t made the connection but I can’t not see the similarities between Windows Phone’s Live Tiles and the widgets in iOS 14. And I love it.

I’m one of the few unabashed fans of Windows Phone that ever existed and Live Tiles were part of why. I don’t think enough apps ever used them to their potential (there weren’t enough apps on Windows Phone period) but I daresay iOS’s home screen widgets will see more uptake and more experimentation. The dream lives on.

In more ways than one: Windows Phone had one home screen and an alphabetical list of all your apps one swipe away. The App Library will be a step towards that.

All I need now is an iPhone with a bit of Nokia-Lumia-800 flair to its hardware design. The iPhone 5 already had that feel to it. You can do it again, Apple.

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Platforms like Mixer, Twitch, and YouTube don’t care about you

Microsoft shuttered their streaming service Mixer without warning. That extends to people streaming on the platform – most of them found out at the same time we did. Here’s Alex Walker, reporting for Kotaku:

Some Mixer streamers discovered the news during the middle of their stream, while they were processing the shock of racial allegations the company. “Mixer just tweeted, let’s go Mixer,” streamer PrincessCourt told her chat, resulting in a long, quiet stare at the screen while she processed the news.

This must be devastating for people who have built an audience on Mixer. Especially since Mixer presented the shutdown and the shift to Facebook Gaming as a good thing.

That’s, ah, a failure of communications right there.

The headline on Walker’s article, itself a quote from PrincessCourt, is right: “They clearly don’t give a shit.” And, really, services like Mixer (and Twitch, and YouTube) don’t care about most of the people streaming on their platform.

A lot of people within those companies care about streamers, of course. But, organisationally, most creators don’t matter. The big ones – the people who pull in massive numbers – matter because they’re the people who provide scale. And scale is how outfits like Mixer make money and gain any semblance of cultural cache.

YouTube celebrated small, indie creators for a time because that’s how they built scale. Once the company was big enough and, for all intents and purposes, a monopoly, those smaller creators were less important. A whole lot of other things – like massively popular creators and music labels and movie studios – were driving millions of views and, thus, millions of dollars in revenue.

That matters more, to YouTube and to Mixer and to Twitch, than fostering a familial relationship with small-fry makers.

And that’s the tragedy, really. Services like Mixer and all the rest push this cultural line of “You matter, we’re a community, we’re a family” to hide the fact that, when you publish videos on these services, you’re working for them. You’re finding views and giving them something to run ads against.

You’re an employee, but you’re not. So you don’t deserve the same treatment or protections.

And, unless you’re someone they need to make a whole lot of money, you don’t matter. They don’t give a shit.

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Spaniards can't stop ruining important artworks

It happened again:

Conservation experts in Spain have called for a tightening of the laws covering restoration work after a copy of a famous painting by the baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo became the latest in a long line of artworks to suffer a damaging and disfiguring repair.

The case has inevitably resulted in comparisons with the infamous “Monkey Christ” incident eight years ago, when a devout parishioner’s attempt to restore a painting of the scourged Christ on the wall of a church on the outskirts of the north-eastern Spanish town of Borja made headlines around the world.

Parallels have also been drawn with the botched restoration of a 16th-century polychrome statue of Saint George and the dragon in northern Spain that left the warrior saint resembling Tintin or a Playmobil figure.

Once is an accident. Twice is a trend. Thrice is a Netflix series waiting to happen.

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Women share stories of sexual assault in the world of video game streaming

Taylor Lorenz has pulled together a Twitter thread filled with allegations of sexual assault in the world of video game streaming:

Dozens of women in the gaming and streaming world are coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault against a slew of top Twitch streamers, YouTubers, gaming/esports influencers, and gaming industry personnel.

Both Twitch and Emmett Shear, Twitch’s CEO, released statements. Shear’s tweet started with the phrase “important conversation” and that always feels like a euphemism.

“Crazy how we keep fucking this up, huh?” wouldn’t be a good look, I guess.

The reality is that Twitch has failed – systematically – to build a healthy platform. Even their Safety Advisory Council was so poorly implemented that it became unsafe for one of its members.

This isn’t a new “important conversation”. It’s one that’s been happening time and time again but, so far, places like Twitch haven’t done anything real about it.

Just ask Justin Wong, a former VP at Twitch, who shared a story about how the company let someone accused of sexual harassment because he was another VP’s uncle and an “important” partner.

Meanwhile, pro-wrestling is confronting sexual assault in its world too. Countless women (and a few men) are sharing stories of assault and harassment and the people who did it and enabled it.

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A long list of short thoughts about things announced at WWDC (2020)

Apple announced a lot of new things for their platforms at WWDC. Let’s turn them into a list, complete with quick reactions.

Overall

Kinda wish Tim Cook opened with “Hey there”.

Hearing a room full of people cheer about setting default email and browser apps would’ve been something

Nothing on my wish list was announced because my wishes are, again, too brave.

Whole lot of nice steps forward for mature OS platforms.

iOS 14 and iPadOS 14

iOS 14: What if Android looked nice?

App Library: Just let me default to the alphabetised list, like a civilised person.

App Clips: Can’t wait to be reminded they exist next year.

App tracking controls and privacy info: Love it.

Memoji: Still hard to believe that we don’t have the technology to make a hug emoji that doesn’t look like someone smiling at and backing away from a mugger.

Messages: All the changes would’ve been great if my main group chats hadn’t migrated to Discord a while ago.

Pinned conversations: Legitimately handy. No more scrolling through acres of spam messages to find people I only ignore by accident.

Emoji search: And there was much rejoicing.

Widgets: My obsessive tinkering with my home screen just got more complicated.

Compact UI: Phone and FaceTime calls look great, as goes picture-in-picture.

Compact Siri: Now it won’t take over my screen when Siri decides to pop up for no good reason at all. Hooray.

Default email and browser apps: Cool. Just means I’m going to spend hours researching new email apps again.

Translate: Fun.

Maps: Lots of great stuff that might come to Australia eventually.

Maps guides: Clever way to add useful content without relying on crowd sourcing, a la Google Maps.

Car Keys: Can’t wait for my partner to tell me we’ll never get a car with this.

Apple Music: Changes look positive. I’ll have inexplicably strong feelings about all of this once I can play with it all.

Scribble: This will be a real “what, I couldn’t always do this?” feature once it drops.

macOS: Big Sur

macOS: Huge Unit.

macOS: Self-Aware Name We Hope You Meme.

macOS: We Fucking Love Mountains.

Notification centre: “We think it’s good now, guys, seriously.”

UI changes: “How many synonymous do you have for ‘sleek’?”

UI changes: Lots of nice changes I’ll stop noticing quickly but will miss if I go back to an older version of macOS.

Control centre: Makes sense. Seems fine.

Safari password monitoring: Getting closer to being a decent iPassword replacement for me.

Safari privacy report: Love it.

Macs and “Apple silicon”

Can’t wait to see this evolve. And to read more about it from people who know a lot more about this than me. The transition should be finished right around the time I’m looking for a new computer. Convenient.

tvOS 14

It’s still here.

watchOS 7

Sleep tracking: How long until Apple releases a watch band designed especially for sleeping in?

Sleep app: This looks like a nice evolution of some features that were already pretty okay.

Charge notifications: Clever and helpful.

New watch faces: Can’t wait for the yearly “They can’t make nice faces” takes.

Complications: Should be fun.

Fitness workouts: Reminds me that I really need to clean out my workout list.

Hand washing: Cute headline that probably won’t amount to much in the short term. Clever tech, though.

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The picture 12 billion years in the making

Caleb Scharf, writing about the end of a journey that began long before our planet was even a thing, in his book Gravity’s engines:

Finally, as if playing their part in some great cosmic tragedy, they are captured within a cylinder that is only 4 feet across, a mere 0.0000000000000000001 percent of the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy within which it is embedded. Instead of sailing on to infinity, the photons are caught in the high orbit of planet Earth, inside the great Chandra Observatory, where they are coaxed deep into a series of nested tubes of iridium-coated glass. In the next few nanoseconds these ancient photons of X-ray light finally encounter something in the path of their long journey through the cosmos: a piece of meticulously prepared silicon, itself composed of atoms that were forged inside another star, dead for billions of years. The silicon absorbs their energy and, where each photon lands, releases electrons into the microscopic pixels of a camera. Within a few more seconds a voltage automatically switches on, sweeping these electrons off to the side toward a line of electrodes – like a croupier gathering up the chips on a roulette table. Here, after a journey of 12 billion years, the photons are registered as electrical charges and converted into something new. They have become information.

That information is now a picture in a book you can hold. That picture shows “signs of a young and extraordinarily massive black hole”, flanked by “dragonfly wings of light” that are “hundreds of thousands of light-years across” and so bright that they represent “an energy output a trillion times greater than that of our sun”.

Just in case you weren’t feeling particularly small today.

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Apple's Windows Problem

You know what makes a phone or computer great? Amazing software. You know what doesn’t? So much rubbish software that you can’t find the amazing stuff.

Apple doesn’t quite have the problem. Yet. But it’s close.

Developer Will Shipley nailed the issues facing iOS and macOS devs in his scathing response to a survey from Apple. The whole thing is worth a look over but this is the crux for me:

Having thousands of third-party developers coming up with great ideas is the way Apple thrives. Right now GOOD third-party developers are dying out. Yes, there are a billion terrible apps in the App Store, so it’s easy to say, “Oh, we have developers.” That’s what Microsoft told themselves for years, “We have tons of (bad) software! There’s no problem!”

I built a gaming PC a little while ago. There’s a pandemic on, I was bored, my Xbox is uninspiring. Things happen. And it was fun: I bought a Mac-like case, put the thing together, now I have a lot of sensational games to play.

I won’t be doing any work on it, though. When I rebuilt kites can’t fly, I did it on my MacBook Pro. When I write, I do it on my MacBook. When I have to do anything that isn’t playing games, I’ll be doing it on my MacBook. That won’t be changing any time soon.

Why? Because the Windows software scene is bleak. Sure, it’s functional but it’s not much more than that. Even the software I use to monitor my PC – and this is software that comes highly recommended – is a nightmare to use. It’s as if the obtuseness is the point.

Taste matters

A little back, I was looking for a nice markdown editor I could install on one of my work laptops. It was a decrepit Windows thing. There were a few that seemed okay. But there was nothing nice.

There’s iA Writer now. And Mark Text. But not a whole lot else. Meanwhile, macOS is lousy with beautiful, robust markdown editors. And that’s just one type of app.

I appreciate functionality, of course. But I also have taste. And I want the developers whose software I use to have taste too.

The good ones do.

Here’s Will again:

Apple should be doing everything it can to support good third-party developers that make the real Apple apps that make Apple devices unique, and provide cool Apple-only experiences. But, again, all the developers I know who do this are dying off, because of the App Store’s policies.

I used an Android phone for a year or so. Didn’t take. Went back the iPhone. I have a Pixel 3 for work, now. Figured I’d try the platform again in a non-committal way. Hasn’t taken either.

The phone is fine, in most ways. I could even get used to the OS. It’s just the apps. Everything I rely on may have functional equivalents on Android but none of them are as nice. As tasteful.

Fantastical. Drafts. Overcast. NetNewsWire. That’s just on my home screen.

Apollo. CalcBot. Elk is the single most elegant currency converters I’ve ever seen.

It’s a currency converter. Why does a currency converter need elegance? It doesn’t. But it has it. Because some Apple devs – the good ones, the ones that make Apple’s platforms worthwhile – value elegance alongside functionality and pragmatism.

I’m sure a lot of Windows and Android devs do too. But, for whatever reason, they’re a lot harder to find. Maybe the Apple’s App Stores do a marginally better job of it. Maybe the Apple communities I’ve stumbled on spend more time lifting up elegant apps than the Windows once I’ve found.

I don’t know what it is. But it’s something I value about Apple’s tech.

More than marketing

Apple seems to value it too. Or they like saying they do. Every WWDC, the company does something to signal that the devs that make stuff for Apple’s platforms are special. That they’re appreciated.

That’s what they say. But that doesn’t always line up with what they do. The requests in Wil’s tweet aren’t new. But Apple seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Maybe it’s easier to produce a five-minute video once a year to tell people they’re loved than to make the course correct required to really demonstrate it.

That’s just speculation on my part. Maybe Apple are doing the right thing, on balance, for most people (according to the data they value). Maybe I’m being unfairly cynical. But it’s hard not to be.

I’ve taken a stroll around Windows’ and Android’s avenues recently and I’m not a fan. The apps and software on Apple’s hardware aren’t anything like that at the moment.

They still have taste. I hope they keep it.

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The WNBA is back

The WNBA:

After significant discussions with the league’s key stakeholders, including the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the WNBA today announced elements of plans to return to the court to begin the WNBA 2020 season. The league is finalizing a partnership that would make IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the Official Home of the 2020 WNBA season highlighted by a competitive schedule of 22 regular-season games followed by a traditional playoff format.

Let’s go.

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