June 26, 2015

Eloquent Roundup, Week 7

Big week and long roundup, but I still had to leave things out. Also, a shout out to @shawnblanc.

This week was a big one, in which I saved over two dozen articles to my Instapaper account and only linked to a few below. In addition, there were quite a few things I read that didn’t warrant a link (just like every week). Nevertheless, this week’s collection includes research papers, blog posts, rants, and data visualizations, while still giving room to Shawn Blanc to commemorate his busy week.


Articles and Commentary

Technology

I am pretty excited about Apple’s forthcoming update to the Mac OS and so is Jason Snell. I feel that the update brings some much-needed refinement to the operating system in many ways and it is not remotely silly to be excited about updates to web browsers and notes applications if you use those things! In addition, being a user of the application launcher, Alfred, I am always hoping for better Spotlight enhancements. Jason has a good list and one with which I wholly agree: 6 reasons to get excited about OS X El Capitan - Macworld

Speaking of default applications that just keep getting better, Seth Clifford writes on a subject that is also close to my heart. Like Federico Viticci, I reevaluate my application choices about twice a year. Try as I might, I don’t always choose Apple’s default applications for everything, but Seth brings up some great points about the virtues of such a move. I had to reset my device to defaults recently and I found that it was refreshing to be able to choose, from scratch, what to install and what to leave out. It would indeed be refreshing to be able to restore to defaults more frequently and be back up and running within an hour as Seth mentions. Bravely default. - Greetings from the Grid:

There are still plenty of strange UI choices and functional misses for me in some of Apple’s default apps. I could probably write a series of posts on this topic alone. But what I’m discovering is that the more I give in to accepting that some of these apps provide the core functionality I need in a certain app, the less I find my mind wandering toward exploring an endless array of options and falling into a rabbit hole of tweaking workflows and deluding myself into thinking it’s helping in some way. Faux-ductivity. I’m totally coining that. Try to stop me.

The Dark Sky app had a big enough update this week that I thought it prudent to discuss weather apps in general. If you count the Apple Weather app, I currently have four weather apps installed on my phone: Dark Sky, Check the Weather, Perfect Weather, and Apple Weather. Each has distinct design methodologies and advantages, including widgets, notifications, and overall app design. But the question that I keep coming back to is what makes a good” weather app to me, which is an inherently personal question in my opinion. Does it need a radar? Does it need hourly information? What notifications, if any, are necessary? If it has a widget, will I remember to use it when I need it or will I just go to the app anyway? With the Dark Sky update, it leads in two of the three aforementioned categories and I am trying it out on my home screen. I will let you know if I ever make a firm decision on this note, but in the meantime, check out all the goodies: Dark Sky 5 - Forecast Blog

I am a big proponent of alternative transportation methods, be it bus, bike, or otherwise, so when I read some of the items in the list of what could make Uber a better service, I was immediately on board. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so just go check it out: Uber for Uber! - Medium

Devin Faraci reviews movies for a living and he decries the current state of the movie industry in an epic rant, calling for competence in story telling. I was discussing movie quality recently with a colleague and what I realized is that there are two types of movies: those that are there for entertainment value alone and those that strive to be better. A now-standard comedy will almost always be universally canned by critics, but that doesn’t mean its not entertaining. Nevertheless, there are comedies that strive to be great and those are almost always lauded by critics and canned by some audience members who don’t get it. I don’t think Devin’s rant should only be for movies either, those things that attempt to entertain us should be an expert in the basics of its craft; that includes movies, television, books, and games. Without a baseline of competence, the bar just keeps getting lowered, allowing more and more cruft to become the norm. If we have these types of low expectations in one area of our lives, how can we expect other areas not to be affected? Movies Should Be Good - Birth.Movies.Death.

I’m talking about the basics of storytelling, more or less. For some reason this is where certain audiences draw the line - asking for good storytelling is just the sort of snobbishness that ruins their fun at the movies! They don’t draw that line at cinematography - if a film were out of focus, or if it were continuously framed in such as a way as to obscure what was happening onscreen no one would say What did you expect, Citizen Kane?” No one would say that because we expect basic competence when it comes to cinematography or lead acting. It’s just a given - a movie where the camera isn’t focused properly is a movie that wouldn’t get released. But a movie where the plot makes no sense, where the themes are muddled and where the characters have neither arcs or motivation? That sh*t busts records.

For Lexi’s Masters

Inevitably each week, I read something with Lexi to assist in her graduate course work. If you are at all interested in what a graduate student in a foreign language has to read for class, read the two following articles; both are fascinating, worth a read, and presented in their full text due to their age (2008 and 2006, respectively):

ABSTRACT: One myth about language and immigration in North America is that nineteenth-century immigrants typically became bilingual almost immediately after arriving, yet little systematic data has been presented for this view. We present quantitative and qualitative evidence about Germans in Wisconsin, where, into the twentieth century, many immigrants and their descendants remained monolingual, decades after immigration had ceased. Even those who claimed to speak English often had limited command. Quantitative data from the 1910 Census, augmented by qualitative evidence from newspapers, court records, literary texts, and other sources, suggest that Germans of various socioeconomic backgrounds often lacked English language skills. German continued to be the primary language in numerous Wisconsin communities, and some second- and third-generation descendants of immigrants were still monolingual as adults. Understanding this history can help inform contemporary debates about language and immigration and help dismantle the myth that successful immigrant groups of yesterday owed their prosperity to an immediate, voluntary shift to English.

The national demographic transformation that has become more evident in the last decade was easily foreseen at least 10 years ago. Our future student growth is as predictable: In a mere 35 years, White students will be a minority in every category of public education as we know it today, and non-English-proficient students will grow significantly. Unfortunately, these emerging majority ethnic and racial background students continue to be at risk” in today’s social institutions.

Science!

Stephen Hackett spent the week at the NASA Social program, a fact about which I am exceedingly jealous. However, I learned two things about Stephen that I didn’t know: he is only a couple months older than me and we both desired to be astronauts well into our adulthood. These two similarities in our background gave me a bias to enjoy reading the linked post: The sky calls to us - 512 Pixels

The glories of the universe are breathtaking on their own, but when coupled with the grit and grind required to climb on top of a live rocket to go explore them, the whole business becomes truly inspiring and heroic.

I really don’t understand how some people still think that climate change doesn’t exist, but even more astounding are those that try to prove that it is anything but our fault. Bloomberg has a data visualization post that blows the mind: What’s Really Warming the World? - Bloomberg From the methodology section, A Word About Temperatures:

Climate scientists tend not to report climate results in whole temperatures. Instead, they talk about how the annual temperature departs from an average, or baseline. They call these departures anomalies.” They do this because temperature anomalies are more consistent in an area than absolute temperatures are. For example, the absolute temperature atop the Empire State Building may be different by several degrees than the absolute temperature at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. But the differences from their own averages are likely to be about the same. It means that scientists can get a better idea about temperature with fewer monitoring stations. That’s particularly useful in places where measurement is very difficult (i.e., deserts).

I love books, a trait I hope I am doing enough to pass on to my daughter and one that becomes clear when I discuss my career in library-based IT. Naturally, therefore, I was interested in The New Yorkers op-ed on the subjects of reading, mental health, and bibliotherapy. I added a couple items to my future reading list because of the article, including one that is literally a list of books to help with different ailments. Fascinating! Can Reading Make You Happier? - The New Yorker

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.

Honorable Mention

Shawn Blanc had a big week; he released The Focus Course, a 40-day, guided, online course about doing your best creative work. From the introduction material:

Topics include diligence, focus, life vision, time management, habits, dealing with overwhelm, getting things done, finding proper tools, overcoming analysis paralysis, fixing your workflows, the tyranny of the urgent, simplifying, thriving in the midst of a distraction-prone work/life environment, the act of balancing work and personal life, doing your best creative work, strengthening your creative imagination, building deep personal integrity, and more. Whew!

Shawn provides a few of the course resources for free if you are not in the market for the full class, but at a current sale price of $199, it seems like great material at a fair price. From On Procrastination:

We feel like frauds, we’re afraid nobody will care about what we do, or that they’ll reject it completely and call us bad names. And so we avoid making anything. Or, maybe we make something but it’s vanilla. It lacks character and personality. It’s our fear that keeps us from making anything of value.

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