Running

I started running in April, during (the first) lockdown. I used to love going for long walks, but wanted to up my fitness and running seemed like a good option. One thing that bothered me about walking is that I'd often end up checking my phone, replying to messages, or even idly checking Twitter while I walked; walking in itself didn't necessarily require all of my attention. After a few months of running a couple of times a week, in the last week of September I decided to try running 5km every day for as long as I could.

I've been averaging pretty much exactly 5k per day, though with a few days off and a few 10ks to compensate. To my surprise, I actually love doing it. One big reason is that I have to do run and only run; there's no phone-checking, nor even the temptation to do that. It's just me, some music or a podcast, and the constant task of brushing my sweaty hair out of my eyes.

Sext

The fifth service of the Divine Office, usually performed at noon. The service consists of several responsories and psalms which are sung.

According to OnMusic Dictionary. Why, what did you think it meant?

Civilizations

I've gotten hooked on a fantastic YouTube channel and podcast recently, called Fall of Civilizations. It produces multi-hour-long documentaries about great ancient cities and cultures, and their decline. The one on The Sumerians is a great starting point.

The rise and fall of civilizations is such a fascinating topic, and taps into what feels like such a root theme for humanity. Everything we make has its rise, glory days, decline and collapse; this applies equally to TV shows, political systems, companies or indeed entire civilizations. Unlike most animals, we architect our own rises and falls, and constantly push and pull at equilibrium rather than drifting along with it.

It seems like the speed at which this happens to a civilization correlates with the rate of technological advancement within it. It's mind-bending to me that the Sumerians fell victim to an ecological disaster that unfolded as a result of millenia of broadly similar farming and irrigation practices. It's incredible that their habits lasted through enough generations to cause problems that only emerge after double-digit centuries. Modern-day farming has changed drastically in just the past 50 years.

What's interesting, though, is that humanity on the whole forms a much more resilient metastructure. Our transient creations emerge from the interaction between thousands, millions or billions of free agents, and seem inevitably to fall victim to what I describe above. But humanity itself is far more resilient; the comprising civilizations, the ones that weather their falls, are there to start afresh each time.

Folklore

Taylor Swift's new album is excellent. I've listened through quite a few times at this point, and it's good from front to back. The last track, Hoax, is my favourite I think.

Tabs

The entire tab experience of Xcode 12 is perhaps the most infuriatingly unintuitive software experience I've ever had.

Exam results

There's a complete fiasco currently underway regarding A-level results in the UK. In short, given the inability to run conventional exams, teachers were charged with predicting students' grades based on their academic performance to date, and subsequently an algorithm was applied to massage these predictions into some semblance of a normal statistical distribution.

There's an endless rabbit hole of ways in which this was a bad idea. Much of the furore around this centers (rightly so) on the institutional bias against state schools and particularly those with students from predominantly low-income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. Put simply, because those schools historically tend to skew lower in terms of academic performance, their students' grades were lowered. Conversely, those from so-called public schools, whose results are typically above average, had their already-privileged students' results boosted. This system disallows standout students based nakedly on geographical and financial factors. Where previously, a hard working student with a tough personal life, who 'against the odds' gets all As was viewed as a shining example, this approach treats them as a statistical aberration to be ironed out. This is unfair and damaging, to say the least.

While this is a really odious development, I don't think this represents a shift away from equality and fairness, though. My opinion is that this is a completely logical extension of what has always been true about the education system (in Britain and Ireland anyway, I can't speak for others). These systems have always heavily discriminated against those from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those who for whatever reason are judged not to be cut out for academic greatness. The system instead favours the questionably valuable skill of exam-passing, and rote learning, whose efficacy corresponds mostly to the strictness of one's parents and the expensiveness of one's tutors.

Rather than introducing clear and unfair biases, the exam process of 2020 simply exposes those which have been there all along.

Camera Button

A dedicated camera button on, say, the next iPhone, would be amazing. Not just one to that opens the camera app or works as the shutter when it's open, I'm thinking one where you could single press to take a photo, and hold to start taking a video, whatever state the phone is in.

The ubiquity of camera phones has been a revolution in recent times for covering police brutality, civil rights abuses, and tragedies like yesterday's explosion in Beirut, but often things happen so quickly that videos are of the aftermath more so than of the event itself. Capturing things even a few seconds sooner could make a huge difference, and I struggle to think of a software shortcut that could work as quickly.

Changing Pocketscapes

Since my early teens I've had a pretty thought-out idea of what deserves a spot in my pockets each day. The earliest distinct set of contents I remember, coinciding with my beginning secondary school and generally needing to have money on me, was simple:

Right pocket: phone.
Left pocket: keys and wallet.

The first major disruptor of this was the iPod. It was a must-carry device and, if you can believe such a thing, far more important to me than my phone. Thus, it and its earbuds naturally got a pocket to themselves. My candybar phone and its monochrome, low-resolution screen neither needed nor deserved such treatment. This is the last change, until very recently, that actually increased the total number of things I carry:

Right pocket: iPod.
Left pocket: phone, keys and wallet.

This ordering was fairly resilient. It lasted through my all my classic iPods, and into the iPod Touch era. Even when I made the leap to smartphones, they lagged so far behind my iPods in their preciousness that the pocket situation didn't change. Things were only disrupted with the arrival of my iPhone 3G, usurping both the iPod and the phone and greatly simplifying things:

Right pocket: iPhone.
Left pocket: keys, earbuds and wallet.

Obviously the idea of the bare metal of the earbuds' headphone connector in contact with the pristine iPhone screen was unconscionable. So the earbuds got demoted. And this state has been so far the longest-lasting of them all. The arrival of AirPods reduced the clutter in my left pocket, and blissfully eliminated the earphone tangle, but didn't affect which item went where. The ubiquity of Apple Pay has also meant I've occasionally abandoned the wallet entirely. But there's been one addition very recently, that I didn't expect:

Right pocket: iPhone.
Left pocket: keys, AirPods and wallet.
Left-back pocket: face mask.

Two Improvisations

A couple more improvisations from today.

Three Steps
direct link
Tenth Step
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Empire Strikes Back

Tonight I saw Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back in a cinema for the first time. There's a rash of older films being shown at the moment, presumably due to the lack of new releases during the pandemic. When booking the tickets, I thought about what version of the film would be shown; more specifically, I wondered just how specialised it was going to be.

It's been a long while since I looked at that list of changes in Star Wars movies, but the despecialized editions are the ones I've most recently watched. My memory was that Empire is perhaps the least changed of the original trilogy, certainly in terms of plot points. Post-watch I found myself continuing to think that; pretty much all of the changes I spotted were visual. Some were unpleasant; turn-of-the-century computer graphics and prequel-esque matte painting replacements felt out of place, but nothing that completely broke my immersion. On the whole, not nearly as bad as I feared.

Redbeard

I'd on occasion wondered why the German plan to invade Russia during the Second World War was codenamed Operation Barbarossa. It doesn't feel like a very Germanic name, and my basic knowledge of Romance languages had me thinking it must mean something along the lines of Operation Redbeard. As such I'd thought it might be some kind of reference to the Red Army, but the actual answer is more interesting.

The name comes from Frederick I, also called Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor during the 12th century. Barbarossa was regarded as among the most charismatic leaders of his age, and tried during his reign to establish the European dominance of the Holy Roman Empire (comprised predominantly of modern-day Germany); the appeal of such his name to the Nazis is obvious. Interestingly, the plan did originally have a much more Germanic-sounding name, Operation Fritz.

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