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The Changelog – September 2023

Not a great September, I should say.

A sad person waiting for something on the riverbank.

In early September, I found myself in an emotional slump. For the first time since late 2019, I was overcome by crippling anxiety and disheartenment. It’s not that I hadn’t experienced anxiety since 2019, but I had never reached this level of intensity (which isn’t a bad accomplishment considering I had to navigate a global pandemic).

Fortunately, I have some experience with these situations, so I was able to regain control in a week instead of the three months it used to take.

Moments of crisis serve as reminders to focus on the present. I find it fascinating how, when confronted with current anxieties, all the small things we used to worry about become negligible. We often think, “I was so foolish to worry about that!”

After the big wave passes, it washes away all the old debris. A kind of emotional cleansing. I’m sure there are better methods, but I prefer to look for the silver linings.

Housekeeping

This month, I wrote a brief how-to on how to remove extension-generated rubbish from my SingleFile snapshots. If you don’t know what I am talking about, maybe the article is not for you. But if you are curious, here it is.

One article in a pretty bad month is worth celebrating.

Reading

The Last Exile by Ann Shin

In August, I came across this book through the Kobo Daily Offer (in Italian, La Collana di Giada, or “The Jade Necklace”). It was priced at €1, and in the short description, it promised a love story set in North Korea. I’m not typically drawn to romance novels, but the North Korea aspect intrigued me, so I thought, why not? It was only €1, after all (a somewhat insulting price for something that, I assume, cost the author tens of hours).

In the end, though, it was an honest-but-not-great book. But I don’t regret spending that token. I’ll do it again.

The main issue is that it feels unreal, and it is clear that the author wrote with the brakes on. While delving into the inevitable exploration of the gritty and tragic lives of North Korean refugees, there seems to be a barrier separating the reader from the disturbing reality. This doesn’t mean the book avoids difficult subjects—it certainly doesn’t—but I feel they pass by too quickly to be truly deeply felt.

The Internet Con by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is an influential tech journalist, blogger, and sci-fi author. He is the kind of know-it-all who loves to tell others about “The Truth.” You know. It is a pretty annoying attitude; especially when he ventures into things he doesn’t know very well.

However, Doctorow knows technology very well, and on this particular issue, we champion the same fight. This book is a must-read for any modern web citizen.

The Internet thrives on the interaction of small, open entities. It is not designed for large, vertically integrated companies that seek to blatantly stifle competition and corrupt the system.

All the economic systems are like pools of water. You need to put a stick in it and shake it vigorously. You need to add new water and let the old water evaporate. They require agitation, movement, and filtering. If you let a big chunk of mucilage become too big, it will clog the filters, stop the movement and your pool becomes a swamp.

So fuck those big tech companies. We need competition, interoperability, and ownership of what we buy and do on the web.

Watchlist

Star Trek: First Contact

Emotionally knackered, I sought sanctuary in my happy place: Star Trek. I decided to continue my rewatch of every Star Trek movies from where I left: Star Trek: First Contact.

First Contact is the first Star Trek film I ever watched. Back then, I only knew the franchise thanks to my uncle videotaping The Next Generation on VHS for me.

For this reason alone, First Contact was and still remains my favorite Star Trek movie.

Yet, it’s not solely due to nostalgia. It is objectively the best movie of the TNG era and, by itself, a solid movie.

Barbie (2023)

In the last issue, I explained to you why I always watch the most hyped movies with a sensible delay. The same thing happened with the most popular movie of 2023: Barbie. This time, however, due to “family pressure,” we jumped on it the day it became available on digital release.

And I liked it a lot. Is it a masterpiece? I don’t think so. But I liked it quite a bit. It was fun, it made me smile, and added that bit of existential and self-reflection that put it above the “mindless entertainment” bracket.

I don’t really understand why this movie sparked so much debate. It doesn’t do anything outrageous. The Kens are clearly a parody. Parodies are lenses that help us see the parodistic aspects of real life. But if your life looks like a parody, probably the problem is yours.

I guess the socially media-polarized discussions of the modern era can only accept two kinds of judgments for any cultural product: either it is a timeless masterpiece that will revolutionize the world, or it is a disgusting mess that endangers us all.

Sometimes things can just be good enough.

The Afterparty (Season 2)

The Afterparty first season has been one of the best hidden gems in the Apple TV+ catalog. The second season tries to replicate the winning formula, but predictably falls short. It lacks the freshness and sharpness of the first season.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the format follows the Agatha Christie model, with a diverse group of characters confined in a house where the “detective” must solve a murder case. In The Afterparty, each episode narrates the “same” story from the perspective of a different character. The uniqueness lies in how each story mimics the style of a different movie or genre, often in a relevant and intriguing manner. You may encounter a noir episode, a musical one, an animated one, and so forth.

The second season continues along the same path. The story remains engaging (though more predictable than the first), and the red herrings and plot twists are still well crafted (though, once again, more foreseeable than in the first). Except for a few questionable episodes (Spoilery Section 1).

The script is good enough to make everyone a plausible suspect by the end. On the other hand, it makes everyone a plausible suspect.

If you know what I mean.

Foundation (Season 2)

Apple TV+ continues to be the place where I find the most satisfaction. The second season of Foundation, the sci-fi series inspired by Isaac Asimov’s book series, picks up the pace after a slower and more expositive first season. It is understandable for a complex narrative plot spanning multiple centuries.

During the first season, many complained that Foundation-the-TV series was nothing like Foundation-the-books.

If you know me, you know that I don’t care at all about that. It is true, Foundation-the-TV-series is so loosely inspired by the books that the only points of contact are some characters’ names and the general direction. Foundation-the-TV-series is an entirely different entity.

However, in this case, I care even less. First, Asimov’s books, while intellectually fascinating, are not peak narrative. Second, the additions are well-crafted, and they fit perfectly in the philosophical landscape of Foundation-the-books and classical science fiction. The genetic dynasty, for instance, is a really interesting concept that raises the ethical and the self-reflective questions typical of the science fiction genre.

Moreover, Foundation’s cinematography and photography is a pleasure to watch.

Other Things

  • This month I also watched the documentary The Saint of Second Chances. The protagonist is Mike Veeck, son of the owner of the White Sox, whom I only knew in relation to the Disco Demolition debacle. I expected something moderately funny, but it quickly became inspirational and then took a plunge into a valley of tears. Holy Molly. Recommended.

Music

I take pride in being a highly eclectic listener. I listen and appreciate a wide spectrum of music genres. My playlist can seamlessly transition from jazz, to electronic minimal, to classical, to doom metal, to upbeat pop, to experimental rock, to chiptune, and more.

However, for some reason, hip-hop and rap has always been the hardest one to like. I try every time, I periodically pass through the list of the top-rated hip-hop albums of the last 30 years. I listen to them top to bottom, I read the lyrics, I explore the sampling.

I now have a good list of songs I like, but, in general, the albums seldom click for me. I don’t know. Perhaps a significant cultural gap exists between the experiences these talented artists portray and the life I lead.

Yet, I find myself more at home on the fringe of hip-hop. Industrial hip-hop, jazz-rap and horrorcore are the subgenres I feel most in tune with. Probably, because the lyrical themes are more intriguing.

This long preamble is to introduce the album I listened the most this month: His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering by Backxwash.

Backxwash is a trans rapper from Zambia, currently living in Canada, that – as you can easily imagine – has faced her fair share of struggles. The result is dark, spiritual, heavy, and anguished music delivered passionately and sorrowfully into the microphone.

Paraphrasing a quote from Moby Dick, she piled upon her music the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

That’s what resonated with me. I evaluate music technically, but the number of emotional connections (the goosebump factor) is still my number one metric for suggesting music.

So this is why this album is my September 2023 recommendation.

Gaming

Starfield (2023) is one of the Big Games of the year. I was not waiting for it, nor was I particularly hyped, but since it was included in the Xbox Game Pass, I felt I had to give it a try.

And now I am confused. I cannot decide whether I liked it or not. Space exploration games and big space operas are my jam. I would love to have something giving me the same emotional resonance as Mass Effect. Yet, at this moment, Starfield remains a coin in mid-air, refusing to land on either side.

There are aspects that I genuinely appreciate. The exploration, the space battles, the combat, and the “dungeons” all worked for me.

On the flip side, there are plenty of elements that leave me puzzled, and at times, even annoyed. For one, there is very little “space” for a space RPG. I can effortlessly leap from one planet to another, and from star to star, through quick travel, without truly experiencing anything. There’s almost no incentive to be aboard the ship.

Then, there are all the classic AAA-game bullshits: gathering quests, stupid quests where you just need to travel between two points wasting everybody’s time, etc. Why must surveying a planet involve me running around for minutes tapping the ”A” button? Couldn’t they have devised a more entertaining way to convey the feeling of surveying a planet?

There are more elements I don’t enjoy. They are not bad, but they are uninspired and clearly designed for mindless engagement and to artificially increase the longevity of the game.

Furthermore, I’ve never seen so many bugs in a commercial game since Skyrim.

I think I barely scratched the main story, so I’ll continue playing to see if I finally catch the narrative vibes. At least.

Other Interesting Things

  • 🌍 Kagi on The Small Web – We talked before about The Internet outside Big Tech: independent blogs, small indie websites and so on. This is usually referred to as “the Small Web.” In this blog post Kagi (the “premium” search engine) explains why it is important and what they are doing to “preserve” it.
  • 📝 Want to Enjoy Music More? Stop Streaming It. – I use streaming services. But I also buy music. I like to build my own collection. This article explains well why: the infinite content of new music available on streaming platforms is great for discovery, but dilute the appreciation for the individual items.

Conclusions

I’ll swiftly conclude, as tomorrow I’ll travel to Athens for work and, the week after, I’ll be in Padua for pleasure and fun.

October will be a traveling month. To know how it went, don’t forget to read the next Changelog!

Spoilery Section

  1. The episode in which Detective Danner tells her story with the arsonist is super weird and “too much.” It could have been a much better episode if taken more seriously. But I guess Tiffany Haddish had to do Tiffany Haddish at least in some episodes.
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