Linked: Birds of Rushy Common

Jon Hicks:

Rushy Common is part of the Lower Windrush Valley Project, and area of gravel pit lakes, created by gravel extraction when the A40 was built. It’s what I call my ‘local patch’ – not necessarily a birding hot spot, but my closest place to relax and watch birds. It’s the place where I observe the comings and goings throughout the year, and feel inspired to to paint what I see.

These illustrations, done with Procreate on iPad Pro, are beautiful. I love the mood of the Peregrine Falcon and the water reflecting the Great White Egret is evocative. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these.

Goodbye to the Gallimaufry

Numu is a website and iOS app for tracking new music releases which seems a spiritual successor to RecordBird. As previously noted, I have tried to use Apple Music to manage this over the past few months but it’s not the ideal tool. I stumbled across the Numu iOS app as I was finishing that previous article and I’ve had a little time to use it in the meantime.

The Numu iOS app connects to your Apple Music or Spotify music library and builds a list of artists whose releases you want to track. I only use Apple Music, so I granted it access to my library and waited for the import to finish. The process took a while and ended with a crash, but it seems it was complete, perusing my list of artists.

Once the app launched again, Numu showed me all releases from artists in my library. I’m not sure how far into the past the list goes, but I’ve scrolled back as far as 2009, so it’s certainly not just the past few years. The releases remain in the list until you mark them as listened. The types of items displayed (albums, singles, EPs etc.) can be customised from Settings.

Numu also allows you to manage the artists it tracks. An Artists tab displays all the musical artists you’re following, sorted alphabetically or by date of last release. A quick swipe allows you to remove an artist from your following list. To add a new artist, however, an item from that artist must appear in your music library. Numu can then rescan your library, find the new artist and add it to your list – without adding previously removed artists.

Numu was created by Brad Root and is completely open source (both the iOS app and the Django backend application). The data which powers the application comes from another free and open source project, MusicBrainz so it’s no surprise to find this statement:

Numu Tracker does not work with advertisers and does not sell information to any third parties under any circumstances.

I had concerns about the reliability and sustainability of Numu, as well as its business model when I first discovered it. Since reading about how it was built, those concerns have been allayed. This purpose-built solution to tracking new music releases will doubtless be more effective than the gallimaufry I relied on in Apple Music.

Linked: Interactive IPA Chart

If you’d like to hear examples of labiodental sounds other than /f/ and /v/, an interactive International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart is the place to go.

(My favourite vowel is the close front rounded vowel, /y/.)

Linked: Labiodentals and Diet

In a study published in Science (pay wall) last week, Blasi, Moran et al. propose that labiodental sounds (in English, /f/ and /v/) may have developed as a result of changing human diet.

Our ancestors ate harder foods, which ground down our front teeth. This gave us a bite where our top and bottom teeth met. Though possible, labiodental sounds would have been difficult to produce and thus unlikely to appear in language, the authors argue.

As our diets began incorporating softer foods, our top teeth weren’t ground down as much, so the teeth stayed closer to the front of our mouths. The authors suggest that because of this, labiodental sounds became easier to produce and thus were introduced into the pantheon of potential sounds for language. These sounds now feature in many languages worldwide.

Whilst not without detractors (this is science after all, the debate never ends), it’s an interesting theory nonetheless.

(via the Science in Action podcast.)

Music to My Ears

Several months ago I found myself in a quandry: Record Bird was shutting down and I didn’t know how to best stay apprised of new music releases. Record Bird did a fantastic job at not only showing me upcoming and newly released albums but also of informing me of videos, both live appearances and official music videos. It excelled by doing a few things well. Now, nearly a year later, I’ve not discovered a comparable tool, but I’ve found my way using the best tool to hand: Apple Music.

New Releases

Apple Music has two potential ways of presenting you with new music. The first is the New Releases section found at the bottom of the ‘For You’ tab. It comes close to fulfilling my requirements but falls short. It doesn’t display upcoming releases and it seems to only show entries from artists whose music you’ve added to your Library through Apple Music. Anything that comes from your own music collection doesn’t register in the system. Moreover, there doesn’t appear possible to add an artist so that their music could appear here, even if the artist’s work is available on Apple Music. Because of this wrinkle, I’m not sure how accurate the New Releases section is, but I’ve had some success with it.

New Music Mix

The second method works only by serendipity. The New Music Mix is a playlist, updated weekly, of ‘new music from artists we think you’ll like’. It doesn’t purport to do what I want, but I’ve found that it quite often does. More than once I’ve been listening to the playlist and noticed a familiar voice only to discover it’s new music by a beloved artist. The featured track frequently comes from a pre-release album which I can add to my Library and be notified upon its full release. When this works, it’s actually the closest experience to what I had with Record Bird.

(Side note: The New Music Mix is one of my favourite things about Apple Music. Occasionally it has produced some bizarre playlists but recently every week has included several tracks I enjoyed greatly and most of the rest were well within the range of being listenable. I’ve found several new artists to follow thanks to this list.)

Apple Music Friends

The last and frankly worst option is finding out about new music from your Apple Music friends. I include it here because at least once I’ve seen someone I follow has listened to an album I might be interested in but hadn’t heard about. Unless you follow people with whom you have implausibly similar taste in music and you trust them to be more cognisant of new music, don’t rely on this.

Apple Music is Mostly Adequate

I have found that Apple Music is mostly adequate at keeping me aware of new music releases. I’d love to be able to add and remove artists from the New Releases list and be able to find upcoming releases, though. This verges on becoming too much for what should be a music player and library manager. Perhaps such features would fit better in the iTunes Store app where it could also provide this functionality for the Music and Film stores. Nonetheless, I miss having a dedicated tool like Record Bird for keeping me up-to-date musically.

Linked: Japanese Banks Will Finally Stop Using a Piece of 1800s Technology

Yuki Hagiwara:

It has taken more than a century, but Japanese banks are finally parting ways with a piece of technology that hasn’t felt cutting edge since the shogun reigned.

Hanko, the personal stamps required for even simple transactions in Japan since the 1800s, are getting phased out at some of the country’s biggest financial institutions.

This is encouraging news, but I’m not sure how far this will go in eliminating the use of hanko/inkan throughout society. I’m not too bothered by the system myself, but that ivory continues to be used for making them, especially ivory of ‘dubious origin’, is despicable.

Some day when I’m in a particularly good mood, ask about the difference between a ‘sign’ and a signature when signing a document.

Linked: Bite Size Command Line

Puzzled by ps? Flummoxed by find? Always wondered about awk? The Bite Size Command Line zine is here to help! Every page takes a command line tool and explains the most important things to know about it.

Julia Evans makes these great comics which are packed with useful information. She recently released another, Bite Size Networking, which looks just as informative as the others in the ‘Bite Size’ series. I love that these are hand-written.

Linked: Bad Release Notes

Jeff Johnson, formerly of Rogue Amoeba, purveyor of StopTheMadness and Underpass, has made this site which is:

Dedicated to shaming apps for their bad release notes.

I’m so pleased someone has done this. It’s so frustrating performing an update and not knowing what’s going to change upon doing it. I want to know if a bug I encounter has been corrected or if a feature I use is changing.

Fortunately there’s less of the trend of silly stories being told in release notes, but I’m sick of reading ‘Bug fixes and performance enhancements’ with no further information.

Linked: Pete Souza’s best photograph

The shot shows the kind of interaction President Obama had with President Putin during his tenure. It was 2014, a particularly tense time between the two countries. You can see in the facial expressions and gestures that this was a very serious conversation. There are interpreters stood behind them, but I get the impression from Putin’s face that he understood exactly what was being said in English.

The more I look at this photo, the more the meaning in the body language deepens.

(via Paul Kafasis.)

Linked: Online regex tester and debugger

Looks like a nice tool to try out the next time I need to write a complex regular expression.

(via Jonathan Wight.)

Music, Radio…Podcasts?

BBC Sounds is the new platform for all audio content produced by the BBC. As it is said ad nauseam: music, radio, podcasts. Officially launched in November 2018, Sounds was devised to replace the existing iPlayer Radio service. Its launch comes with goals like implementing new features and refreshing their image to appeal more to younger listeners who may be more familiar with apps like Spotify. This is good.

As with iPlayer Radio before it, I am no fan of the BBC Sounds app itself. I shall leave that to one side for now. The matter in hand today is the use of the word podcast on the corporation’s new platform and their aggressive push to get listeners using the Sounds app.

BBC Sounds is not a podcast app

For two reasons:

  1. Sounds only delivers audio provided by the BBC – you can’t subscribe to any podcast you’d like with it
  2. More importantly, most of the audio programmes delivered through Sounds (specifically spoken word content) have no RSS feed and thus can’t be subscribed to from a true podcast app like Overcast, Castro or Apple Podcasts

This has long been the case and I don’t really disagree with it. Not everything need be a podcast. What’s important is to remember that by using that word, podcast, users have certain expectations from the app. I understand that it’s being used as a shorthand way of referring to audio programming but I don’t like the meaning of the word being diluted by the BBC and others.

Why are the BBC so keen on Sounds?

I’m trying not to be too cynical, but the zeal and insistence to get people using Sounds makes me suspicious. Several weeks ago the BBC tried an experiment making what had been a traditional podcast (the wonderful ‘Fortunately…’) an exclusive Sounds audio programme. Many, myself included, were upset by this move. In an episode I heard (once the exclusivity ended) there was an interview with the BBC Sounds launch director, Charlotte Lock, explaining the reasoning for fencing it away. My ears perked up at her mention of wanting more data.

How much data do the BBC need from us? Certainly some is required to be able to power the personalisation features of the Sounds app, but as for anything more, I’m not sure. Radio 4, and the Home Service before it, have thrived since 1939 with only basic listening data (also see the twenty year trends). The data collected helps determine how much funding Radio 4 receives from the corporation and helps inform programming decisions.

Being a public service in the United Kingdom, there are no advertisements which makes the primary, if only, source of funding the licence fee. This started to change recently when in May 2018 the BBC partnered with Acast, dynamically-inserted advert demons, to begin monetising podcasts internationally. Acast who:

“…use advanced targeting abilities and analytics to monetise international content”

‘Advanced targeting abilities’ which are mostly rubbish according to people in positions to know.

An Audio and Advertising Platform?

With my cynicism fully engaged, Sounds is starting to make more sense to me. The BBC appear to want more data to feed to the advertising golem. Understandable given continuing funding cuts to the BBC, but no less disgusting as a listener.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting the BBC drop advertising entirely. They need to generate revenue like any content producer. Serving adverts which respect listeners’ privacy should be paramount on their list of requirements, however. Simply by observation, it’s clear that independent podcasts and podcast networks like Relay FM and 5by5 have thrived without resorting to exploiting their listeners.

The BBC Silo

Considering this, I can easily imagine a future where all BBC audio programmes are available exclusively through Sounds and it’s not exciting. Putting podcasts inside a walled garden is a tactic that’s yet unproven. What we have seen is that podcasts have thrived thus far without exclusive platforms – anyone can download them with any client. More people download, more people hear the programme, more people hear the adverts. If the BBC were to make all their programming available only through Sounds, it would be a mistake.

Sounds is a silo which forces me to split my attention. I can’t have the BBC programmes I listen to and regular podcasts in Sounds, and soon I may not be able to have everything in my podcast app of choice, either. I have tried before to maintain this split but it becomes too difficult on the BBC side – no notifications, poor user interface and only a third of my listening content. If forced to use Sounds or iPlayer Radio, in their current forms, I will simply replace the BBC programmes with other audio, an outcome that surely neither of us want.

Linked: About Heldane

Kris Sowersby:

Heldane is a hybrid, a bastard, a fabrication. I vultured my way through history picking the bones from old fonts I like to make something new. I hesitate to call it original, but it is new. But only in a strict temporal sense — that is, this exact typeface hasn’t existed before. I used to say Heldane is “my Garamond” as a shorthand explanation, despite having very little to do with Garamont’s work. But it’s very much in the garalde genre. I’ve drawn fuzzy golden threads from his contemporaries to weave my own texture.

There are so many things I love about this typeface. My highlights include the spur on the G, the swash capital M and of course the pilcrow/capitulum ¶.

Linked: Language is power

Jason Kottke:

Language is power and words are meaningful beyond their simple or intended definitions. For any given problematic word, there are so many other words you can use.

Spot on.

This stood out to me as I was writing about BBEdit last week. I appreciate the spirit Bare Bones inject into the tag line for the product, but the verb used rubs me the wrong way.

At first it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I’d use the language of the tag line more directly to title the article, the image file or simply quote it in the article body. Ultimately I decided I didn’t want that word appearing on this site with that meaning.

Linked: The ultimate guide to DuckDuckGo

Brett Terpstra:

If you don’t already have the scoop, it’s the search engine that can serve as a complete replacement for Google (and Bing and whatever else you like), except it respects your privacy and security. And while Google does some cool tricks, DuckDuckGo does some even better ones.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine ever since it was added as an option in Safari and only have to resort to Google occasionally, mostly for things in Japanese.

The transition was simple, as most of the skills I’d picked up using Google over the years transferred. Since then I’ve learnt some new tricks, like prioritising search results from a country or region and of course their fantastic bang searches.

Linked: When Greeks Flew Kites

Monthly series in which historical novelist Sarah Dunant delves into the past for stories and moments that help frame the present, bringing to life worlds that span the centuries.

Another of my favourite podcasts. The month-long interval between episodes makes them all the more sweet. Sarah Dunant’s voice is a joy and the stories she tells and presents are doubly so. This month’s programme is on shame – may the rough music not come for thee, friend.

Listening in a darkened room with headphones recommended.

Opening Links in BBEdit

Reading through the release notes for BBEdit 12.6 a few days ago, I discovered a gesture I was theretofore unaware of.

Holding down the Command (⌘) key and clicking on a link in a text document will open it in your web browser. Keeping with tradition and the gestures in other apps, using Shift-Command (⇧⌘) when clicking the URL opens it in the background, in a window behind BBEdit.

Brilliant.

Linked: Alternatives to Gill Sans

Indra Kupferschmid at Alphabettes:

If you are looking for a humanist sans-serif with a slight English flair, here are some less overused and ambivalent alternatives…

A couple of my favourites:

Linked: Classic Mac OS in the Browser

On the subject of BBEdit, you can play around with it and several other applications using this System 7 emulator in your browser, thanks to a port done by James Friend.

There are several other versions:

Still Exceptional

Screenshot of BBEdit showing ‘untitled text 218’

Two-hundred and eighteen.

This is, of course BBEdit.

That new document count is a testament to how reliable and well-used this tool is. It’s only a count of the new documents I had started. It doesn’t hold a candle to how many files I had opened in the weeks since I first launched it. For me, this is an atypical occurrence, but between site migration, adding new features and writing entries for it, I had been using BBEdit quite a lot.

No wonder it’s been around for twenty-five years. I adore it.

Linked: Renaissance Metal

John Boardley at I Love Typography:

Decorative borders were employed to demarcate or divide books, chapters or sections and, from the last decades of the fifteenth century, were used at the beginning of books as openers or title-pages.

I’ve always loved these sorts of illustrations and whilst mostly unrelated, may have something to do with the violet-y sumire drapes happening on this site.

Of I Love Typography though, John recently launched a Patreon campaign which is criminally under-funded.

Linked: Pilcrow & Capitulum

The latest issue of the Hoefler & Co. newsletter featured a couple articles from several years ago. Of note, this one about the ¶ character:

Like most punctuation, the paragraph mark (or pilcrow) has an exotic history. … in its original form, the mark was an open C crossed by a vertical line or two, a scribal abbreviation for capitulum, the Latin word for ‘chapter.’

I make liberal use of the capitulum on this site. I’ve adopted its meaning as a chapter marker and use it to mark the end of entries. It’s also linked to the permanent address of the item, conflating its appearance as a P.

I really just chose it because Heldane has a quite fetching rendition of the symbol. Aesthetics over semantics; you will hopefully see fit to forgive me.

Linked: Let Sleeping Blogs Die (or) The Return of the Personal Website

Joshua Blankenship regrets:

For the last 5ish [sic] years I haven’t touched this site. It gave the haggard WordPress database long enough to get proper hacked by Pharma Spammers a few times.

…and reminisces:

I don’t know much, but I know I love you I know I miss 2004 web, personal websites, and curation that has nothing to do with algorithms. And maybe you do, too. So here we are, dusting off the URL, like a baby Blankenphoenix rising from the ashes of 27,000 deleted Viagra comments.

I restarted this site about six months ago and had completely forgotten how nice it is to just write something, even if no one else is reading.

My greatest regret is losing all the content from my old site. All that’s left of it is some screenshots and scraps of the HTML and templates that made it. I’ve also lost the domain name I used in 2003, but that’s okay. This one is better.

(Via Brent Simmons, blogger extraordinaire.)

Busman’s Holiday

Sean Pertwee. India Fisher. Two names which stick in my head not only because I love voices but because I’ve read them innumerable times over many years. These are the two narrators of MasterChef and this is where I admit my love for this long-running television programme.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and by extension, food and cookery programmes both on radio and television. The reason why MasterChef has been even more entertaining to me wasn’t completely obvious until I made an offhand remarked to a colleague a couple weeks ago. The reason stems from an innate flaw in my brain chemistry: I love teaching.

Teaching? Yes, really. One thing that MasterChef does well in all its incarnations – Amateur, Professional and Celebrity – is take good cooks and make them better. To do this, whether it’s intentional or not, the producers have designed the rounds to push the contestants into a zone of proximal development (ZPD), where the cook is just far enough outside their comfort zone that they easily build upon already acquired learning, making them neither boring or known, nor too radical or unlearnable. These challenges increase in intensity, testing the limits of the ZPD, as the competition progresses.

All this makes it sound like watching an episode would be a bit of a busman’s holiday. It’s not though, really. Because I’m not doing the teaching myself, I can enjoy the act of watching people learn and grow whilst also tasting their fascinating creations vicariously. Additionally, unlike some ‘unscripted’ content, the inter-personal competitive aspects are, if not absent, tastefully understated.

Cooking and learning – I can’t help myself.