Author Archive | Ian Robinson

The return of American fascism

Fascinating article by Sarah Churchwell in The New Statesman on the history of American dalliances with fascism in art and in reality. Some excepts below. But read the whole thing. Its a marvellous piece of writing. 

In June 2020, as millions of Americans protested against systemic racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd – a killing described by many as a modern lynching – the proposal that some military bases be renamed after someone other than white supremacists prompted a tirade from Trump. He tweeted that they were “Monumental and very Powerful Bases”, “Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations” that “have become part of a Great American Heritage”, a “history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom” – in brazen denial of the fact that they had started a war over slavery and lost. Thus for “Winning, Victory, and Freedom”, we must read “losing, defeat, and slavery”, while remembering the importance of the big lie to the Nazi propaganda machine.

Sarah Churchwell

In the 2020 presidential election the cult of the leader has also, for the first time in American history, been codified in the official ­platform of the Republican Party, which promises only to “continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda” regardless of what that agenda might be. The Republicans’ current stated allegiance is not to the United States of America, but only to their own “modern Caesar”: in Trump they trust.

Sarah Churchwell

Interesting Stuff – Week 31 2020

Phishing Icon

Culture

The Observer had a good series of articles on Facebook and how it influences politics and culture. 

The Guardian reported on proposals to tax over-40’s more to pay for social care in later life. My initial thoughts on this are positive. It seems like a good idea to me. Works in Germany and Japan according to the article. Doesn’t add to burden on younger people, who already have a raw deal with rent and mortgage costs.

Universities have been in silent trouble for a while. COVID-19 may be the tipping point for many. This article in Nature is a good synopsis of the crisis.

Doesn’t look like remote work will end anytime soon in the big tech companies. Google said their staff will be working from home until at least June 2021, as reported by Ars Technica. The same article also outlines long term plans by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft to extend remote working. Apple followed them this week. As AppleInsider detailed.

This is fabulous. During the lockdown, an amateur woodworker from Belgium built an electric guitar from scratch using a thick wooden shelf he had to hand. This 26-minute video summarises the build. Well worth 26 minutes of your time.

Technology

More information about the Twitter security breach came to light this week. Ars Technica reports on how the attackers used spear-phishing techniques to get access. 

But it turns out that the hackers were teenage amateurs, rather than some sophisticated or state-backed outfit. They have all been arrested and charged. Wired has the details.

On the topic of spear-phishing: it often uses social engineering techniques to get access to peoples data. Here is a short video that shows how easy it is for scammers to get your info over the phone.

Following the poor Intel results last week, and the announcement of more delays to their 7 nm fabrication process, the company announced some changes in senior roles. One notable one was the appointment of Irish engineer Ann Kelleher to lead the processor division.

Science

We will probably never know how life started on Earth. Deep time and plate tectonics recycling the Earth’s crust will have destroyed the evidence. But it was likely via pre-biotic self-organising chemical reactions. New research  summarised in Chemistry World last week shows evidence of some self-replicating molecules showing metabolism. Remarkable stuff. 

It’s been a busy few weeks for Mars exploration. NASA successfully launched its Perseverance rover this week. It follows in the trail of missions from both the UAE and China. Hopefully, they will all get into orbit and land successfully.

Apps

This is intriguing. Algoriddim djay Pro AI – Neural Mix music app for iPad. It can extract individual vocal, melody or drum tracks from songs. And allow you to mix in different ones from other sones. Using an AI-based algorithm. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with the DRM protected Apple Music I have. But for non-DRM protected tracks, it is is pretty impressive.

Interesting Stuff – Week 30 2020

Sci-Fi doodles

Culture

Neotext – a new Sci-Fi fiction publisher launched this week. Their website has both new short stories, and essays about Sci-Fi and concepts from Sci-Fi. This essay by Adam Roberts on how he defines Sci-Fi is excellent.

Technology

A New York Times article with inside details of the group that got access to Twitter admin tools and used it to steal valuable and sought after twitter user names to sell. And how one of the group then sent after popular bitcoins companies and then influential Twitter users to scam Bitcoin from people. It looks like 30+ (twitter updated their estimate) of the users also had their Twitter data downloaded. That has everything in it. Not good.

Intel announced this week that they will miss their targets for their next-generation processors. Before that TSMC disclosed that they were moving to risk estimates for their 3nm chip fabrication processes next year, with full production at this smaller scale targeted for 2020. Remarkable! Apple Insider has details. Apple’s iPhone and iPad chips are made by TSMC using Apple’s designs. Mac’s due this year will also use Apple Silicon fabricated by TSMC.

A selection of essays on the topic of AI and how it will shape our future. Written by leading pundits and experts. Published by The Rockefeller Foundation.

The NHS England COVID-19 contact tracing app has been a shambles from day 1. Sky News has the sorry tale.

The UK National Cybersecurity Centre website has some great information on it. This article on Identity and Access Management is a good starting point if you are looking into the topic.

Science

Apple committed this week to make its supply chain 100% carbon neutral by 2030. Excellent. Where Apple leads, others follow. 

They also published their 2020 Environmental Progress Report.

Maths

Tim Hartford, who presents the BBC More or Less radio show and podcast, announced that his latest book will be published in September. It is a layperson’s guide to how statistics and other numerical data is used and abused in everyday life. It’s called How To Make The World Add Up! I’ve preordered it on Apple Books!

I love what Crash Course is doing on YouTube. This week I discovered that they had lined up with Arizona State University to offer a selection of courses. Including this one on Algebra. Bloody marvellous.

Interesting Stuff – Week 29 2020

Blackboard with maths statistics, equations and ideas

Culture

Prospect Magazine list and poll on the top 50 thinkers in the Covid-19 influenced world right now. Interesting list. Many new to me.

Wired UK article on why we should be wearing transparent face masks. To help people who have hearing issues. And also everyone else, as we use facial cues in everyday speech more than we think.

First, be kind – Your feedback has the power to encourage another person, or shut them down, possibly forever. Excellent advice for everyone. When giving feedback or advice, or even just your opinion. Be nice. 

Web

Nebula is a subscription video service for content creators to post educational and information videos without having to worry about ads and the vagaries of the YouTube algorithm. To surface their content. Also, as it’s not YouTube, you won’t be lead by the hand to videos showing the worst of humanity. Only $3 a month. Bargain. I subscribed. They might need to throw more server capacity or network bandwidth at it though. Time will tell, but I’ve had a few buffering issues using it. Issues that I don’t get on YouTube. 

WindowSwap opens a random video taken from someone’s window in their house, apartment, or office. The videos are showing what’s happening in that place when the video recording took place. Looks to be recordings rather than live webcams. But still fascinating, and brilliant.

Technology

The EU introduced new rules for mediation between businesses and online marketplace providers. The latter include online marketplaces, social media and creative content outlets, app distribution platforms, price comparison websites, professional collaborative platforms, and search engines. In effect in the EU from 12th July. Some interesting stuff, like having to give companies 30 days notice before terminating access to a service. Some are interpreting this as Apple and Google will need to provide 30 days notice before removing apps from their app stores. A summary of the provisions is available here. The full regulations are available in multiple languages and formats here.

M. G. Siegler on how much change there has been in personal computing over the last 20 years. From a desktop PC with a 20 kg (44 lb) monitor to a 0.45 kg (1 lb) iPad Pro. Remarkable.

Wrong About the Apple Silicon Mac – Rene Ritchie outlines why most people are thinking incorrectly about the Mac Apple Silicon migration. Watch on Nebula or YouTube.

Apple are updating their API’s, documentation and contributions to open source projects to remove any exclusionary terms. Nice one. 

STEM

Quanta Magazine article on the incompleteness theorems by Kurt Gödel.

Conrad Wolfram has a book and project to try to update the teaching of mathematics to take heed of the fact that computers exist and can be used to enhance the curriculum. Most people in the future will have access to computational power that they can use to do calculations for them. And with knowledge engines like Wolfram Alpha, and AI systems they will often be able to ask questions in plain language. There is a sample lesson for the new maths curriculum they are developing on the Wolfram blog.

Dea Matrona – so good!

There is a lot of good music coming from many new and upcoming bands and musicians right now. That’s always been the case of course. I don’t buy into the idea you hear that there is no good music “these days”. People who think that aren’t exposing themselves to new music. I discover most new stuff via Twitter or the Apple Music recommendation posts on Instagram stories or weekly email. Some recent examples of new discoveries for me are Yonaka, Alice Merton, Ariana and The Rose, Charly Bliss, Du Blonde, Ina Wroldsen, Klara, Soak, and Wild Rivers. All great.

The latest discovery came via Twitter. Barbara Whearty posted a video of the band Dea Matrona busking a version of the Fleetwood Mac song Go Your Own Way in Belfast city centre at Christmas. Wow! It is so good. The video has since gone viral, and at the time I write this has been viewed over 480,000 times. After seeing this video, I listened to their original music and their other videos on YouTube. Two of their songs from last year made it into my top 10 list.

I love it when a new band or artist comes out of left field for me. Although in this case, the fact that I’d never heard of Dea Matrona before is entirely my fault. They have been playing gigs in Northern Ireland and beyond for a couple of years. As you can see from their videos on YouTube. I might need to get out more!

You can tell when a band is the real deal. And Dea Matrona are the real deal! Their playing is tight, and they have that crystal tone that all good bands have. Their vocals are excellent, with both singers voices having slightly different characteristics that complement each other. Their own songs are terrific, and the mix of classic rock covers they play with them is spot on.

I was lucky enough to see them live at their Black Box Belfast Out To Lunch Festival gig last week. They are superb live. Lots of bands simply play music at the audience when performing. Sod that. We can listen to the music anytime. At a show you want a performance, and Dea Matrona deliver. They are colourful and kinetic on stage, and best of all they look like they are having fun playing the new and the classic tracks. They also have good crowd interactions between songs, with anecdotes about how songs got written, and things that happened at other gigs. It is astonishing how much stagecraft and musical ability they have for such a young band. Not forgetting that the two singers also swap lead and bass guitar duties a few times during each gig. Literally handing their instruments to the other. From what I could see this meant that when Molly McGinn was playing bass, she was operating the guitar pedal effects board for Orlaith Forsythe on guitar, as they didn’t change stage positions. Remarkable. I’d bet that drummer Mamie McGinn could probably play guitar or bass as well if required! Of course, we only see the tip of the iceberg (hat tip to Scott Flanigan on this point) and not the thousands of hours of study and practice that all three band members have put in to get this good. Kudos to them as it has really paid off. They are a remarkably good band and they will be huge in the future. Rightly so. They deserve it.

Check out their upcoming Ireland gigs here, and their YouTube channel. And have a look at this cover version of Joan Jett’s song Cherry Bomb to see a band having fun!

2019 Walking Stats

My Apple Watch and Activity app on iPhone tell me that I took 1,963,261 steps in 2019. This equated to 1,087 miles walked in total. I think I was hoping to hit 1,200 miles. Setting that target again for 2020. 

2019 Steps per month chart
Steps per month in 2019
2019 Miles walked per month chart
Miles walked per month in 2019
2019 Steps and miles walked data per month
Monthly data 2019

Favourite Tracks from 2019

Don't Wait Until Tomorrow album artwork
Bad Company - Yonaka
Live at Troxy cover artwork
Triangle Walks Live - Fever Ray
Away From The Tide EP artwork
Just Wanna Rock - Dea Matrona
Away From The Tide EP artwork
Nobody's Child - Dea Matrona
Supermoon single artwork
Supermoon - Charly Bliss
Where's My Tribe artwork
Where's My Tribe - Charlene Soraia
Mint album cover artwork
Trouble In Paradise - Alice Merton
Love + Fear Acoustic album artwork
Orange Trees (Acoustic) - Marina
Feels Like Love album artwork
Feels Like Love - Chrysta Bell
I Do single artwork
I Do - Wild Rivers

Click on the Apple Music section below to a playlist with these ten songs. Click Play to hear 30 second snippets of them if not subscripbed to Apple Music. 

Favourite Podcasts from 2019

Here are the podcasts that I enjoyed the most in 2019.

Sean Carroll's Mindscape Podcast Artwork
Sean Carroll's Mindscape
Curious Cases podcast artwork
The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry
No Such Thing As A Fish podcast artwork
No Such Thing As A Fish
Accidental Tech Podcast artwork
Accidental Tech Podcast
BBC Inside Science podcast artwork
BBC Inside Science
Chemistry in its Element podcast artwork
Chemistry in its Element
Song Exploder podcast artwork
Song Exploder

Favourite Films from 2019

One film per week continued during 2019. Since starting it in February 2015 I have seen 263 newly released films. This year I saw 56 new releases in the cinema. From these 56 here are my favoutite 10. They are listed in the order I saw them during the year.

Happy Death Day 2U film poster
Happy Death Day 2U
Five Feet Apart film poster
Five Feet Apart
Booksmart film poster
Booksmart
Anna film poster
Anna
The Sun is Also a Star film poster
The Sun is Also a Star
Good Posture film poster
Good Posture
Farmageddon film poster
Farmageddon
Last Christmas film poster
Last Christmas
Knives Out film poster
Knives Out
Motherless Brooklyn film poster
Motherless Brooklyn

I’m hoping to see 100 new films in the cinema during 2020. Taking advantage of MyOmniPass that gives you a ticket for every film for a flat monthly fee.