Following Spotify playlist curators around New York’s live music scene

In an otherwise boring conversation about some press release or another, a Spotify PR person mentioned to me that an artist who had a big hit on the platform’s Fresh Finds playlist was discovered when one of the curators just happened to see them play a show in Bushwick. I was as surprised as anyone really can be by an email from corporate PR.

Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.” What’s going to a show in Bushwick have to do with it? I had visions of a bunch of suits using their business cards to get into cool shows for no reason other than to feel like Vinyl-era record execs for a night. It seemed extremely redundant, and more than a little like posturing. Why bother?

“It’s basically their job,” I was told. Okay but, excuse me, how is that a playlist curator’s job? To find out, I asked if I could tag along with on a few of them on their nights out. I did not expect the answer to be yes, mostly because I thought it should be obvious that my intention was to point out how weird the whole thing was.

But the answer was yes. So, for three weeks, I went with Spotify playlist curators to live performances in Chinatown, Bushwick, and an infamous club on the Lower East Side. I got dozens of half-answers to the question: Why are you here?

Source: Following Spotify playlist curators around New York’s live music scene – The Verge

Spotify traditionally focused on using data and algorithms to surface new music. Apple Music, when launched, made a big show of their human-curated playlists. With the former’s interest in IRL listening, and the latter’s acceptance that computer-generated playlists can be good at scale, it seems like the differences are receding.

Getting ratioed for your bad take

Technology is a constant source of new vocabulary – not just new words but new ways of using existing words. One I’ve noticed this year is ratio as a verb in internet slang, which I’ve bundled here with the more familiar take as a noun.

Ratio entered English in the 16thC as a noun borrowed from Latin, gaining its familiar modern sense decades later in a translation of Euclid. About a century ago – the OED’s first citation is from 1928 – ratio began life as a verb meaning ‘express as a ratio’ or similar. Here’s an example from Harold Smith’s book Aerial Photographs (1943):

Each print which departs from the average scale or shows any apparent tilt is rectified and ‘ratioed’, or corrected for scale, by means of a projection printer.

And now a new sense of ratio as a verb is emerging on Twitter.

Source: Getting ratioed for your bad take | Sentence first

Here’s an intro, if needed, to the use of ‘ratio’ on Twitter to describe Tweets which have disproportionately more replies than retweets or likes. And, after that, an exploration of how it is used as a verb.

See also nominalisation: how verbs become ‘zombie’ nouns. I’m particularly bothered by two (at the moment): ‘bake’, as in the thing that was baked; and ‘ask’, as in the instruction.

What you should read, depending on the season

One should read the classics in winter, because then one’s mind is more concentrated; read history in the summer, because one has more time; read the ancient philosophers in autumn, because they have such charming ideas; and read the collected works of later authors in spring, because then Nature is coming back to life.

Source: What you should read, depending on the season

This, by Chang Ch’ao in the 17th century and via Austin Kleon, has been on my mind recently. I don’t subscribe to the principle anywhere near as rigidly as this, but I do see patterns in the types of books I read across a given year.

Also, increasingly: non-fiction during the day, fiction once the sun’s gone down.

Kickstarter launches subscription platform Drip

Kickstarter seeks to take on the likes of Patreon, Flattr et al:

Kickstarter’s hesitance to launch new products over the years gets back to this same apprehension. “Once you start to have some success, everyone, both inside and outside the company, starts asking, ‘Why don’t you try this or launch that?’ I’ve seen how that can be insatiable, and we’re always trying to watch out,” Chen explained. “Very quickly through inertia, you can end up at a place where you don’t have control.” For many employees, this restraint became a point of frustration. “We’re falling behind the competition, and we’re at risk of losing our lead in some key categories,” a current staffer told me.

Source: Kickstarter launches Drip, a new service that lets fans subscribe to their favorite creators – The Verge

The UX of 280

This is where the design challenge comes in: How can we make a UI that communicates these different character constraints that is still easily understood globally? Simply replacing the number doesn’t work because we can’t be certain which language you’re going to be Tweeting in. We could guess which language you’ll use, based on your location or system language, but that falls apart quickly, as many people live in foreign countries or travel regularly. Additionally, many people Tweet in multiple languages, sometimes within a single Tweet. Because we count dense alphabets differently than non-dense, mixed language Tweets can result in some intricate math that we want to be able to abstract away. The challenge here was to create a design that adapts to different character limits without relying on a number, works with the many ways people compose Tweets, and is intuitive enough that people don’t have to spend time thinking about it.

A recap of some of the UX decisions made to show that Twitter users now have 280 characters with which to compose their post, not 140.

Source: Looking After Number One-forty – Twitter Design & Research – Medium

My restaurant ruined my life 

Cooking would have remained a hobby if I hadn’t stumbled across old footage of Michelin chef Marco Pierre White preparing a stuffed pig’s trotter on YouTube. It was an audacious dish and maybe even a bit sinister. It looked a little like a stubby, sun-baked human hand on a platter. I loved how the deft skill of an unlikely genius and a few choice ingredients transformed a cheap cut of meat into a beautiful plate. The dish was transcendent to me, and in a rough kind of way, so was its creator. White smoked. White sneered. White swore. He was handsome. I could envision him swaggering around his Hampshire restaurant, the Yew Tree Inn, dropping exquisite plates of food in front of wealthy customers with all the bombast of a star footballer. As he got older and no longer cooked in the kitchen, he was known to hang about the bar and drink cider with customers, at times with a .22 rifle close by in case he had the sudden urge to go rabbit hunting. To me, Marco Pierre White was inspirational. I wanted to be him. And I wanted my own Yew Tree.

It’s safe to say that this plan—starting a restaurant off the back of being a bit interested in food—doesn’t go quite as well as the author would like.

Source: I poured my blood, sweat and life savings into my restaurant. Dumbest thing I’ve ever done

The two Macedonias

Here’s a geolinguistic dispute I didn’t know existed:

Matthew Nimetz wants to make something clear – he has not spent every waking moment of the past 23 years thinking about one word: “Macedonia”.

“I have probably thought about it more than anyone else – including in the country,” says the 78-year-old US diplomat. “But I have to disappoint anyone that thinks it’s my full-time job.”

Since 1994, Nimetz has been trying to negotiate an end to arguably the world’s strangest international dispute, in which Greece is objecting to Macedonia’s name and refusing to let it join either Nato or the EU until it’s changed.

Greece says the name “Macedonia” suggests that the country has territorial ambitions over Greece’s own Macedonia – a province in the north of the country – and is a blatant attempt to lay claim to Greece’s national heritage.

When you look at it on a map, you can appreciate the potential confusion:

Even when a nation has a fixed, agreed name, people call it different things. See this Quora answer to the question “Why is the word Germany different in different languages?”:

Basically, because there were Germans before there was a Germany. Each of the Germans’ neighbors came up with their own name for them, long before there was a German state that people might want to refer to uniformly.

And spare a thought for Guinea. Which one though?

Guinea. Equatorial Guinea. Guinea-Bissau. Papua New Guinea. The Gulf of Guinea. Guinea, Virginia. Guinea, Nova Scotia. The world has more Guineas than a pirate’s treasure chest. What explains the prevalence of the name?

The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change

The Arctic permafrost was once an area full of vegetation. But it’s been freezing for 35,000 years or so. Every summer it thaws slightly, and every winter it refreezes.

As climate change sets in, the summers have got longer and the winters are warmer. This means more of the permafrost melts, and the remnants of that vegetation—protected from decomposition by the freezing temperatures—is exposed.

As it melts, microbes and other forms of life will reawaken. What forgotten pathogens lie beneath?

And then, as they watched, a virus appeared in their viewfinder: Pithovirus sibericum, a massive ovular virion that had survived 30,000 years frozen in the ice core. It was also the largest virion ever discovered.

“We tried to isolate amoeba viruses without knowing they were going to be giant viruses—and a totally different type of virus than we already know appeared,” Claverie said. “It turns out the viruses we are getting [in the permafrost] are extremely abnormal, extremely fancy.”

Claverie and Abergel’s viruses aren’t a threat to humanity—yet. But human pathogens have also survived freezing and thawing in the permafrost. Last summer, an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia infected dozens of people and killed one child. The vector of disease is thought to be the thawing and decaying carcass of a reindeer killed in 1941.

And a team of Canadian scientists recently found a strain of bacteria, Paenibacillus, in a cave in New Mexico that had been closed off for more than 4 million years. Though harmless to humans, the ancient bacteria was resistant to most clinical antibiotics, including most of the newest and most aggressive. The discovery suggested that bacteria can survive the most exotic and remote environments.

The problem is compounded by our desire to access precious metals, rare earths, petrol, gas and gold throughout the arctic. If, say, Russia wants to access them, millions of tonnes of permafrost needs to be moved for the first time in millions of years.

Even more worrisome are the microbes we don’t know. “No one really understands why Neanderthals went extinct,” Claverie said. Sometimes, he catches himself when talking about these possible permafrost-locked diseases—they may have threatened humans or human relatives in the past, he’ll say. Then, he’ll change tense, emphasizing that they could do so again.

Source: The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change – The Atlantic

Fuck Twitter

Gabe Weatherhead:

Twitter-the-company is made up of people that have consistently made poor, self-serving decisions while patting themselves on the back for making the world more connected. Well, fuck you all. You gluttons helped put us all here and now suddenly you might come up with an algorithm to spot Nazis? Here’s an idea to put on your fucking Trello board: Look for avatars with swastikas on day one. Take day two off to recover from your code bash hangover. Day three you can look for accounts that mostly post negative sentiments (using a Python library that’s five years old) and then map their connections to find another Nazi pool-party. On day four, take another break. You deserve a rest for waiting a decade to do even the smallest amount of engineering work to make the world better. Day five might be busy while your executives are explaining to congress why you actively assisted a foreign government to spread disinformation during the US election. Also, enjoy your weekend you fucks.

Source: Fuck Twitter