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w/e 2019-10-20

Back to work with a few days on Job Garden this week and a meeting about a bit more work with an existing client.

I also spent an afternoon writing a python script to make it easier to create and update local backups of a bunch of Amazon S3 buckets of files. I’m trying to make updating and backing-up various sites as regular and simple as possible and this is part of that process.

§   On Wednesday evening I went downstairs to see Holly Herndon play in the Barbican and it was brilliant. I wasn’t as wild about Proto, her most recent album, as I was about Platform but the Proto-focused show was so good, and I have a renewed appreciation.

Last time I saw her perform, in 2015, it was just her in XOYO’s underground room, with an interesting projection (which I think was a kind of text-based narrative, although I forget the details). This time, in the huge Barbican concert hall, she was on stage with five other singers, and partner Mat Dryhurst on the knobs, and a huge screen. 20 feet tall? Something like that. The singers were dressed like peasants from a post-Collapse society or, as this tweet describes the aesthetic, “technofishwife cyber-Amish electroecclesiastical Hildegardian Mad Max babushkacore”.

Play that tweet’s video at a volume that has your internal organs fighting to escape (or this version of Fade on Soundcloud for better audio).

The combination of glitchy, driving, electronic sounds underlying very human and powerful singing was… not “otherworldly,” almost the opposite – an embodiment of our lives now and here (or next) – but just as fantastic as “otherworldly” suggests.

§   During one song, pairs of audience members stood up to join in, prepared plants from London Sacred Harp, which was a delightful touch. I wasn’t aware of shape note singing before but I love the sound and the “singings” look like fun experiences. Whenever I’ve wondered about joining an amateur choir before (I imagine singing in a choir is enjoyable and helps one feel good) I’ve always assumed we’d end up singing adaptations of “top pop hits,” about which I have little enthusiasm. Oddly, 19th century American religious songs sound more appealing.

§   A reply to that tweet about Holly Herndon mentioned the book Unknown Language by Huw Lemmey, which looks interesting, and whose email newsletter I came across this week (I think via one of Mark Hurrell’s tweets, which I can’t find, so might be wrong) and that also looks good. I’d never heard of him before. Coincidence or the mystical workings of the AI that controls our every waking and sleeping hour?

§   We’ve started watching the second season of Motherland, the seventh season of Spiral, and also Giri/Haji. Two episodes into each, and they are excellent so far. I am grateful for such bounties from Auntie while she lasts.

§   I never imagined I would be so interested and entertained by the valuation of a serviced offices company but the daily updates about WeWork in Matt Levine’s Money Stuff, since its abortive IPO, continue to be amazing.

SoftBank Group Corp. is assembling a rescue financing plan for WeWork that may value the office-sharing company below $8 billion …

Below $8 billion! They should have done the IPO! WeWork tried to do an initial public offering, and hired bankers who pitched it on a $60+ billion valuation, then pulled the IPO when investors laughed at it and it seemed like it might not get done at even a $15 billion valuation. But, you know, 15 is more than 8. … Conceivably some of the investors who thought WeWork sounded silly at $40 or $20 billion would have thought it was a bargain at $8 billion. Or not, I don’t know. All these numbers are sort of made-up anyway—it’s not like WeWork makes money—and at a certain point a loss of confidence is self-perpetuating; if the thing is not worth $20 billion then why should it be worth $8 billion either

And earlier:

The beleaguered co-working company is removing 2,300 phone booths from some of its offices in the U.S. and Canada, “due to potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde caused by the manufacturer,”…

I don’t understand what is happening here. Did WeWork founder Adam Neumann disturb a mummy and trigger an ancient curse? Was a WeWork built on a haunted graveyard, unleashing powerful dark energies and also elevated levels of formaldehyde? How do you have such a relentless parade of negative financial news and then find out that your phone booths cause cancer? “Our phone booths might cause cancer” was not an IPO risk factor. Nobody had “phone booths cause cancer” on their WeWork Disaster Bingo cards.

§   It is both sudden and unsurprising to find that Yahoo is shutting down and deleting everything about Yahoo! Groups, apart from the sending of emails between members of private groups. All archives and uploaded files will disappear, and no more public groups. I only heard about this via Twitter. There’s a discussion group for Pepys’ Diary that moved to Yahoo from SmartGroups (RIP) 13 years ago and I had no idea this would happen to it. No word from Yahoo. Bloody internet companies. I’d say they’d be first against the wall but there’s quite a queue these days.

Entirely tangential but, still, every time I think of Yahoo I still think of “Who are these yahoos, anyway?”

§   I’m trying to get to the point where all my RSS feeds have zero unread items but I think one of those “S”s stands for Sisyphean. There’s too much good stuff to read. Which must make trying to charge people for one’s writing a challenge.

I have so much free “content” that I want to read there’s very little I’m willing to pay money for to add to the pile. It requires such an elevated level of quality and/or specificity to be worth charging for. For example, I contribute a bit to The Online Photographer’s Patreon because it’s the ideal amount of photography-related writing for me, he seems nice, and he’s just about making his living from it. I’d pay for Money Stuff because it’s both interesting and entertainingly written. I’m not sure what I’m saying other than, “I’m glad I’m not trying to make money by charging people for blog posts or newsletters”.

§   That’s all. Have a good week. Try not to close down and delete any large, long-running internet services at short notice if you can help it.

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