The weirdness and awesomeness of long-form YouTube

I found myself listening to this recently:

From the description:

This is the ambient electromagnetic signal of our Sun and Neptune which have been combined with each other and then deepened and smoothed out quite a bit.

Now I don’t know how exactly this audio version was derived, but … hey, it works for me for my “white noise needs” (certainly well enough to consider cancelling my Brain.fm subscription, more so because I’m consolidating subscriptions these days and trying to get rid of as many of these yes-its-“sub-$5”-but-do-I-really-need-it ones).

After this “space noise”, I discovered “engine noise”, which comes in a huge variety as well:

  • The ambient engine noise from the Enterprise (TNG):

 

  • Ambient engine noise from the Nostromo:

 

This is why I don’t think I can live without Youtube (deadly serious here).

I can find substitutes for Gmail, for Docs, even Google Search (DuckDuckGo has been my default on iPhone/iPad/MacBook for over two years now, I use gmail but primarily through MailMate, and I really only use Docs at work).

When it comes to Youtube, I go the opposite way: I’m willing to pay some token amount — beacuse I’d listen to engine noise without advertisements 😁

Monthly Recap (Oct 2020)

A tesseract in 3-D, with Magnatiles

Major updates

  • Gradual “actual physical school” transition for Tara
  • Halloween!

Minor updates

  • Introducing card games to Tara: War, Go Fish!
  • Misc maintenance
    • replacing hood and range in kitchen
    • AC repair
  • A new pen: TWSBI 580
  • Using Obsidian and liking it

Watched/read/made

  • Finished reading Harry Potter & Sorceror’s Stone with Tara, started on The Chamber of Secrets
  • Watching: Enola Holmes, The Old Guard, Serious Men, Rebecca
  • A few episodes of The Great British Baking Show and Somebody feed Phil
  • Lima beans science experiment for Tara’s school

Generally interesting links – Oct 2020

Solzhenitsyn at Harvard, 1978

Computing

Programming languages

The web

People

The world

Science

Misc

On Airtable and Numbers

I tried out Airtable for a year, for a simple personal spreadsheet that I’ve been keeping for a few years now.

It’s slick, and quick to enter data, but in the end I’ve decided to go back to Numbers.

Yes, boring.

Things I liked:

  • I really liked being able to easily add images when needed
  • Having single-select and multi-select lists are useful and intuitive. I miss this the most in Numbers.

Things I didn’t like:

  • To do something as simple as making a little chart, I needed to pay $20 a month! Yes, the Pro plan had far more than charts, but I just cared about this one small feature, and it seemed ridiculous to me.

Things I didn’t care for:

  • I realized I wasn’t going to use the 3rd party Airtable plugins or integrations.
  • There is an intermediate Plus plan ($10/mo). I expected to use it, and would’ve been okay with it, but surprisingly didn’t hit the size limit on my bases.

Adaptations in Numbers

I was able to get most of the way to a single-select box by a combination of

  1. Setting the data type for the column to “popup”
  2. Adding a conditional highlighting (this is surprisingly easy to do)

Conclusion

I’ve always been one to try out new apps, and new tools, because there are always ways of doing things better, and the satisfaction that comes with that.

Recently though, I’ve been very sensitive to my personal info becoming siloed in a bunch of different places, and I want as much of it as possible

  1. Open format
  2. Local
  3. Index-able

Moving from Airtable to Numbers involves giving up a few features, but it satisfies these requirements I’m placing on my tools these days, so I’m quite happy about it 🙂

My history with computers, part 4: The early internet

Context

In my previous post I talked about how the realm of what was possible expanded when we got a better, faster computer … but it took a whole other leap with the first “on-line” experiences.

Quaint rumors

I think the first way of knowing anything about this was Internet for Dummies (probably this). Having literally no other point of reference, I read and re-read this.

It was wild.

Part of it was about the various “walled gardens” that were the most popular options: Compuserve, *America Online * (or so the dummies book told me, we had to start with what was available at the time, a “text” connection with a national telecom provider).

Part of it was gobbledygook about setting up PPPoE settings with an ISP (as an aside, folks who actually ventured into all this without a technical background in those days must’ve been effing brave. There was a lot of stuff to configure back then, none of this “oh is the WiFi on?”, no)

But all of it was about how cool it was to interact with people online.

First contact

I have a vague memory of this, but there was some sort of an “internet course” I signed up for (or rather my dad signed me up for). It was supposed to be a few days of an hour each, and was a bit dry, but in the end there was, yes, some time with an actual browser.

I’m sure there are millions who experienced it the first time this way: Netscape Navigator, the coarse-grained meteor logo with its brilliant flash … and then the page loads … what is this thing?!

If this sounds lame, well, I was lame, but this was also a genuinely rare experience at the time.

On-ramp to the information superhighway


The way magazines talked about this new thing was pretty funny too, in retrospect (and given where we’ve ended up, painfully idyllic). The world-wide web, the information superhighway, all kinds of phrases trying to describe what people thought about it, all of it optimistic.

Well, nearly all: I watched a talk by Neil Postman towards the end of the 90s, it was a devastating critique of the impact of television, it sounds like an early warning today (if you like that sort of thing, byte-sized versions: 1, 2)

“Cyber cafes” sprung up like weeds, offering 30-minute slots to be online. Just imagine that, having your entire web presence — not just your laptop or desktop, not just your smartphone or smart tv, everything! — being limited to this tiny slot of time, not just per day, but per week! This was, for many people, the only chance to catch up on emails, chat, whatever.

I used to go for a sort of computer class … think of it as a sort of after-school activity … and there was time at the end when I was waiting here, when I opened the browser (the wars were swiftly over by now, Internet Explorer had already won, though I kept trying out new releases of Netscape Navigator (later Communicator) on our home computer) and just randomly go places.

My early web

I wish I could remember more, but I don’t, so here are a few initial forays that come to mind.

WWF (now the WWE)

(Where would I be without the Wayback machine, to remind me how things used to look?)

I wouldn’t watch a minute of this today, but back then I was about-to-stop-being-a-fan. So I printed out a t-shirt design and my mom (yep, I had a great family) actually copied it onto a real t-shirt with fabric dyes. Totally lame, but it felt epic.

X-files

I was a legit fan (maybe I still am, at some level … more on that later). So the official X-files website was the first one I devoured in depth-first fashion.

Then discovered fansites. Then discovered the shipping sites. And now you know more about me than you want to. Okay.

Geocities

Ooh, Geocities, such a 90s thing. A utopian take on having different tribes and communities(there was already such a diverse bunch) have clusters of home pages.

Obviously, I hung out at “Area 51”.

Someone tried re-inventing this recently with “Neocities”, but … you know, you can’t repeat the past.

(Update: someone made a mirror of the old site)

Hotmail

My first email. Probably one of the first “email-as-a-service” offerings. At this point it might be possible to guess my first password.

Yes, for a long time, this was the only password I had: there were no other places to “log in” to, and the computer at home was single-user!

(It was a whole six years before I switched to Gmail, but I shouldn’t jump ahead)

Web-rings

There weren’t blogs as yet, just stand-alone websites (this was when people actually wrote html! Think about that! People are capable of so much more, and yet …)

Non-web bits

Every online activity wasn’t directly related to “surfing the web”. There were a bunch of things like downloading themes and desktop backgrounds that happened because it was easier to do them.

Messaging

Yahoo Messenger!

MSN Messenger!
AOL Messenger! (yes, the one part of America Online that survived longest)

ICQ! (what a weird name, now that I think about it … and having to memorize numerical userIDs … sheesh)

I forget which came first, but I ended up using all of these extensively, and (naturally) all of these chats and contacts are now lost.

There is definitely some tradeoff between keeping records and throwing them away. While I’m apprehensive about having everything I do recorded these days, I also like coming across at least a few key images or emails etc from the past.

Gopher

I didn’t really use a lot of this, only knew about it from the Dummies book in fact, and … really one of those “alternative routes” that never really got taken because “the internet” and “the web” became synonymous, and that was before “the web” became “2.0”.

Napster

Hoo boy, Napster. The way people got music — and also the way music really became globally available and accessible, in the days before Youtube/iTunes/Spotify/whatever.

Run software. Search. See results. Download. Wait

I didn’t even have a fast internet connection (it was measured in kbps), in the beginning, so I waited a whole day to download one measly MP3.

I’ll tell you, it felt wonderful to listen to that one little MP3 over and over.

Yes, I know. It sounds … pathetic, now. No real takeaway, except perhaps that we value whatever we put in effort for, heh.

Transition

Time to stop, and hit publish, or this’ll never be done.

Next time? Dunno, maybe my first (and now that I think about it, also the last!) “personal desktop”.

Youtube and Spotify

Youtube is always goiong to be superior to Spotify just because … it has more stuff.

The downside is that it’s hard to know wtf is real any more, when searching for something.

The upside is that the “tail end” of what’s available is much longer on Youtube.

Today, for instance, I discovered Jun Fukamachi
(electronic jazz music, sort of. Like a lot of people I end up really liking, a dead person. Anyway.)

Spotify, for instance, shows just three albums:

Youtube has … many, many albums. This particular one was an album made in 1984: Starview HCT-5808.

Now, many of them might be fake, but … as long as there is something I can get on Youtube I can’t get on Spotify, well, I’m going to add to my playlists there, aren’t I?

Sky Guide

Showing Jupiter and Saturn in the sky together.

Apps on our smartphones get a bad rap for wasting our time, and deservedly.

It’s true that most are either harmful or neutral, or a distraction, or a minor convenience.

One set of apps that are genuinely something that exist only because we have “computers in our pockets” are apps1 like Sky Guide, which have this magical ability to tell me which stars are in the sky, highlight them for me as I move my phone around, and display helpful connecting lines, the ecliptic, etc

I can’t believe I paid the price of a cup of coffee2 for something that’s mine to use forever, and that works so well and is delightful every single time I use it!


  1. A larger list of similar apps here ↩︎
  2. $2.99 on the AppStore right now. Compare with a Grande Freshly Brewed ($2.10) or a Tall Caffe Latte ($2.95) at Starbucks ↩︎

Monthly Recap (Sep 2020)

A unicorn, with its notebook, I think.

Major updates

  • Trip to Capitola

Minor updates

  • A new family board game: Labyrinth
  • Re-activated my Facebook account, mostly to follow Tara’s school account
  • This month went by … really quickly
  • Created a separate place to record all the fragments I keep finding

Watched/read/made

  • Watched Vast of Night (Amazon)
  • Away, Social Dilemma, Pets United, Struggle: life & lost art of Szugalski (Netflix)