City Proposes Selling Art to Fund Library Expansion

I feel like the takeaway here is “poor communities can enjoy basic services like the library or they can enjoy public art, but we’re not paying for both”.

Given that the money we’re talking about here is small stakes in the grand scheme of the city budget, I’d love to see some language that at least holds ALL proceeds of this sale to funding the ongoing operating costs of this library expansion. It could pay for eight years of operation. But that won’t happen.

Rahm, to his credit, put their expansion’s operating costs into his next budget, but that only covers the first year of that. And the painting sale is supposed to pay for the one-time capital costs of the expansion itself. But… why? One-time asset sales is SUCH a shit way to run a city, as Rahm knows. He basically ran against Daley’s habitual addiction to doing just that, a good policy call because Daley fucked the city in a lot of ways (and, not coincidentally, enriched himself and his pals) via that model of financing.

I can even kind of see the logic behind “look, this painting has appreciated far beyond anyone’s expectations, this library isn’t designed to secure something so valuable, best of both worlds to sell it now before it declines in value or gets damaged/stolen, and we can use that money to make this library better”.

But also: fuck that. A chance for these disadvantaged kids to see a near-priceless piece of art in their own neighborhood, to be inspired by it and enjoy the same access to high art that every Lincoln Park and Hyde Park professional class heirling does… why shouldn’t these kids have that as well?

This just feels like more of Rahm’s endless Fuck You to the South and West Sides… even when he gives them a little, it’s with enough conditions to remind people that he really doesn’t think they deserve it.

I hope our next mayor is a little more committed to funding essential services out of taxes and revenues instead of selling off one-time assets in a punishing way to the communities the asset comes from.

Apple’s Smartphone Dominance Explained In One Feature

I’m not partisan about mobile ecosystems; I’ve spent thousands of dollars on iOS shit over the years, and thousands on Android stuff, too. I like features from both and think that choosing between a goodAndroid phone (Google’s Pixel line, essentially) and an iPhone is something that comes down entirely to personal preference.

That said, I spend MOST of my time in iOS land. Why? There’s a million little quality of life things I think iOS does slightlybetter than Android, but I’ll talk about just one in particular that stands out as it’s a very good example of what Apple gets right that Android still misses the mark on:

Adjusting the brightness of the screen.

You know often I have to do this manually on my iOS devices?

Never. I literally cannot remember the last time I had to manually dim or brighten the screen on a device. They’re just ALWAYS at the right brightness level for whatever lighting conditions I’m in.

Out on my balcony on a sunny day? It goes full max brightness without me even noticing.

Lights out in bed at night when wife is already asleep? It dims itself to almost the lowest setting.

It just figures out what is the best setting for the moment.

In contrast, the last two Android devices I used (Pixel 2 XL by Google, and Samsung’s Note 9) ranged from “needed slight, but regular manual adjustment to the auto-settings” (the Note) to “this is just broken entirely” (the Pixel).

I had a couple of Pixel 2 XLs due to Google’s iffy QA and screen manufacturing woes this generation (another thing Apple gets better; the next bum-out-of-the-box iOS device I buy will be the first). Every one of them, I quickly ended up turning off Android’s Adaptive Brightness almost immediately because I can’t stand watching a screen change its own brightness constantly while I’m looking at it while stationary in an evenly-lit room.

I never notice my iOS screens adjusting themselves; they’re just always at the right brightness.

Again, this is the whitest of whines, the First World-iest of problems, but it’s something Apple a) realized was a low-intensity but widespread quality of life issue and b) iterated until it was fixed.

Like, I vaguely remember, many iPhones ago, manually setting a brightness slider because I read somewhere that iDevices like you to do that once or twice so it can set a baseline of what brightness level each person likes in a given ambient light scenario, and then it adjusts brightness against that from there. I feel like this is data it passes along with your iCloud profiles so it carries over from device to device, because I’ve never had to fuck with it again.

These kinds of things exist throughout the Apple ecosystem, and is the thing that keeps me coming back to them even when I’m seduced away momentarily every year by the latest Pixel phone.

Real Estate Bubble 2.0 Is Going To Be Awesome

I can’t even begin to understand the real estate market in this town…
$1,750 for a 471-square-foot studio?
$2,800 for a 928-square-foot two-bedroom apartment?!?!?!?
EITHER of those is more than I pay in mortgage for a 2-bedroom modern condo with all the fixings in a beautiful, safe neighborhood where I can see my local El stop from my front door, and it’s a Brown Line stop, not the overcrowded hellhole of a Blue Line stop this development is nearby and touts as a central benefit (because you do not get parking with that price, the development HAS no parking because lol “TOD”, and good fucking luck parking on the street within a half-mile of that place once it’s occupied. Or, hell, even NOW. Logan Square’s a bitch to park in already).
And, of course, these projections are all WAY over what the developer promised the rents would be… can today’s renters afford this shit? Like, if somebody legit had two grand to drop to housing, why wouldn’t you… buy a bigger condo than this, and spend what would certainly be leftovers from a cheaper mortgage payment on something else?
I get that buying a place is a colossal pain in the ass; maybe you’ve got high income now but no down payment saved up. Maybe you’re not planning to necessarily live in Chicago or Logan for more than a few years and just don’t want to put down hard roots yet. But, damn… spending THIS kind of money on a rental, tiny ones at that, even in a cool (well, formerly cool, currently fucking insufferable) neighborhood… it just seems like such a colossally bad idea.
Also… why is there no penalty for these insanely evil developer ghouls when they straight-up lie to the city and the community about what they’re going to build and how it will be priced for market? Like, the promise was “we’ll be able to add youth and vitality to the neighborhood by offering a ton of micro units at these rates” and instead we’re getting regular-assed apartments at rates 30-60% higher than promised before the fucking place even opens.
I look forward to the post-2019 real estate crash, when this monument to hubris, this gigantic white elephant, will emptily hulk over its corner in Logan Square, a grim reminder of the era when shithead real estate monsters honestly thought that our economy would produce enough millennials with real jobs and incomes to support their demanded amount of gold to live in this jumped-up dorm.

My Doppelgänger is an Unemployed Racist Canadian Construction Worker

I’ve been having this issue for years where I’ve been getting somebody else’s email. I know why it’s happening; I’ve just been at a loss to solve it.

One of my email addys is “shawnritchie@gmail.com”. I’ve had this since the day Gmail launched back in 2004.

Somebody keeps shopping and using “shawn.ritchie@gmail.com” as THEIR addy. This is a feature Gmail allows that lets you track which shithead corporation sold out your email to spammers. You sign up for their shit using your email address, but you insert a period somewhere in the first part of the address so that, when you start getting spam addressed to that address, you know which asshole company done sold you out.

Some dipshit either thinks this is their actual address (it’s not) or is just giving it out as a fake address whenever a store asks them for one. But they’re not smart enough to actually gin up a REAL fake address, or to not use it for shit that will actually result in their personal info going to a total stranger.

So, for years, I’ve been getting the occasional receipt for various purchases this dumbass has made, sign-up info emails for accounts he’s setup at various forums and websites (including some weird preacher shit, and some weird cheerleader shit, neither of which I looked into too deeply).

One time a few years ago, I got an email from some web forum that seemed like a small community so I emailed their admin to say “hey, can you hit up username whatever and ask him to stop using my email address ‘cuz I’m getting all of his shit from your forum and do not want it?”.

No answer, nothing worked, so I’d just occasionally unsubscribe him from these things, grit my teeth, and carry on with my day.

Mind you, this isn’t an incessant daily flood. It’s a few emails every couple of months. But the incessant… STUPIDITY of it all really bugs the shit out of me. It looks perfectly legit to Gmail (because it basically is) so it doesn’t get caught by their spam filters; it gets delivered as legit, to me.

A few weekends ago, though, I got a couple in a row from some hotel rewards program and it just got under my skin, so I went digging.

Stupid easy password reset for that site? Yep.

Log in, hey, got a home addy, credit card info and… thank fuck, a phone number. Let’s see if it’s legit…

ring ring

“Hallo?”

“Hi, is this Shawn?”

“Ay-yuh. Who is this?”

“This is also Shawn. This will be a bit weird, so hear me out…”

I explain the situation.

It’s quickly made clear that I’m talking to a blue-collar Canadian guy (squares with the Ontario address I got from logging into one of his accounts) who knows fuck-all about the Internet. He does, however, like to chat with strangers.

I do not.

I explain the situation. He’s obviously not getting it. So I explain it again. Soon after, I explain it a third time (my wife overheard the whole thing and can validate what she refers to as my “amazing patience” with this guy, “amazing patience” NOT being something I’m ever accused of having).

He clearly has no idea what’s going on, he “only uses email to apply for construction jobs” from some province-run website up there, but his wife does the shopping and his kids use his card so maybe they did it, he’s not sure…

… and I don’t care. I explain that I just want to stop getting this guy’s personal info. I’m a generally moral person; many people who would get this access to a stranger’s accounts, would not be. I explain that I need these emails to go away, so whether he’s skating the truth with me, or if he needs to talk to his wife and kids about it, whatever, I’ve told you what to do, just do it already.

After the third walkthrough, hoping against hope that what’s going on here and, more importantly, what the fix is, will sink in, he comes back at me with:

“Y’know what it could be? We got these fucking Pakis up here who do computer scams…”

hard stop

“Dude, we’re done here. I’ve explained what you or your family members are doing wrong. I’ve explained the fix. I’ve spent WAY more time on explaining this to you than I should have to, and my reward is apparently two barrels of Canadian racism right to the face. Fix your shit, or I’ll just start cancelling accounts for you or maybe buying me some treats on your dime. Your call. Good day”.

Sigh.

Obviously, my faith in humanity has been at a low ebb for some time now, but this one sucked the wind outta me. I can’t imagine having a conversation with a helpful, friendly stranger who went out of their way to try and help ME with a problem of my own devising, and deciding that dropping some cask-strength racism would be the appropriate return volley.

And, in that way of entitled white shitheads the world over, he obviously had no inkling that dropping the Canadian equivalent of an n-bomb on a total stranger might not be appreciated. Like, he expected me to just take it in stride because I’m sure he only deals with white people in general and has that weird suburban expectation that everybody else is Exactly Like Me.

I haven’t gotten any more emails on his behalf, but I also haven’t gotten any warnings about the donations to various bail bond funds I’ve been making on his card, either, so c’est la vie.

Amazon Is Stupid

I found out from a guy I follow on Twitter (the excellent Chicago Sun-Times general columnist Neil Steinberg, for the record) that Mark Kurlansky, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, has a new book out.

This post isn’t about that book, although I’m gonna burn a graf or two here on a recommendation; the new book is called Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas, and I’m recommending it even though I haven’t read it yet and it doesn’t even come out for a few more weeks. Why? Well, because I read his prior books, Cod, Paper, and Salt, and greatly enjoyed each of them.

In case you can’t tell by the titles, he picks a single thing that is immensely important to human history and development, and then writes about the how and why of that importance. He’s a great writer, finding ways to work in all sorts of fascinating and interesting little human vignettes into these long-arc stories of the history of physical things. The books are highly entertaining, and I’ve learned a shitload I didn’t know about the topics from them. Go buy them.

That said, I want to bitch about, well… how I found out about this book.

You see… I’ve been an Amazon customer (don’t get me started on their evilness and how much Bezos sucks; they are, he does, but there’s no such thing as ethical consumption under Capitalism so it is what it is) since they were still just an amazing online bookstore. My first purchase there was in 1998 and, natch, it was a book.

I’ve since bought, let’s see… checks Amazon account

Jesus Christ.

I’ve bought, um, five hundred and fucking seventy books on Amazon since then.

Sure, some were gifts, but most of them were for me, me, me. There’s also been at least a few hundred books I didn’t buy on Amazon as well, given that I blew a few paychecks a year at Borders until they closed, and also was a steady user of the Chicago Public Library throughout this period, too. But, point being: Amazon has 570 points of fucking data on me regarding what kinds of books I buy, who my favorite authors are, etc… they have thousands of points of data on me if they’re tracking which books I’ve added to wishlists but not bought, which books I’ve spent time looking at the store pages of but then neither bought nor wish-listed, etc… and I’m sure they ARE tracking that data, too.

I bought each of the three Kurlansky books I’ve read previously through Amazon as well, just to be clear.

And yet… in no way, shape, or form, did Amazon figure out a way to say “hey smr, that guy you’ve bought all of his previous books from from us, usually immediately when they come out? He’s got a new one coming soon; interested?”.

This has happened recently with other authors, too. Authors I love, whom I’ve bought tons of books from Amazon by, and they have huge, important new works come out and I find out about them via sheer happenstance because Amazon’s algorithms are apparently as smart as a three-year old on a sugar high who just got kicked in the soft spot of the skull.

This seems kind of insane to me. Everybody touts these algorithms, that Amazon and Google and whoever can predict what we want before we even fuckin’ want it, yet the most reliable ads I get from them are, like, for toilet seats but only after I JUST FUCKIN’ BOUGHT ONE and in complete ignorance of the fact that modal number of toilet seats an individual purchaser on Amazon probably buys per decade is without a doubt: one.

You have way north of 50% of the data on my book purchases for the last two decades. You also own Goodreads, which I’ve been fairly well-integrated with for years, too. You know exactly how much and how quickly I’ve read each of these fucking books, because I read them in your apps or on your e-reader. So you know if I’ve punted on a given book after 20 pages, or if I’ve devoured a given author’s huge door-stopping brick of a book in a frankly embarrassingly short period of time right after it comes out.

In short: YOU KNOW WHAT BOOKS I LIKE, AMAZON.

So why in the fuck don’t I get an email or something from you, or a prominent ad or placement on your website during my basically weekly visit to the book part of your website telling me that this guy has a new book dropping very soon?

You’ll happily show me books by authors I’ve never read before but who’ve written books even vaguely related to subjects I have read books about before.

You’re MOST likely to show six books on exactly the same exceedingly narrow topic I just finished a book about, even though you have my ENTIRE ADULT READING HISTORY and therefore could easily determine that one thing I don’t do, ever, is read two books about basically the same topic back to back, ever, ever, EVER. That’s NOT HOW I READ. AND YOU KNOW THIS ABOUT ME.  As much as I may love the topic of Roman governorship during the Principate era, nobody who ain’t paid professionally to study that shit is gonna read TWO books on that topic in the same year. Yet the most prominent placement I get when I go to the History Books section of your website while I’m reading a book on that exact topic will be six more books on the exact same goddamned thing.

But a brand-new book from a guy whose every other book I’ve bought the instant it came out and read basically immediately in a very short period of time? All of which are facts you have in your data about me?

THAT book, you never tell me about.

Apple Music figured this out, and I haven’t been using that service even a year yet. Every week I get an email that basically says “you have albums by these artists in your library, and they all have new shit out this week. Click here to get it, enjoy”, and it’s sorted with the artists I have the most of and listen to the most upfront.

But this is somehow beyond Amazon. The closest they can get is “hey man, you bought a mattress last week, want six more right now? Are you sure? Are you SURE SURE?!?!?!? Okay, that’s cool, don’t buy one now, but we’re going to show you nothing but mattress ads across the entire internet for the next, say, oh, six weeks. That cool? Cool”.

I don’t get it.

Nationalize Facebook

This Cambridge Analytica brouhaha is finally waking some people up to the idea that Facebook, in its current form, is probably a Bad Thing. This realization is GOOD, but I don’t think the assumed follow-up of: “delete my Facebook/shut Facebook down” is the best possible one. I say this because, whether or not anyone admits it, there ARE things people like about Facebook. Let’s tally them up:

  • Staying in touch with friends, family (many of whom we otherwise wouldn’t keep up with at all)
  • Getting the news (well, that it gets people to read news who otherwise wouldn’t at all is a good thing. The KIND of news they’re reading is mostly bad; more on that later)
  • Seeing funny videos (let’s be honest; this is what most of us are on the platform for, and that’s a fine END but FB as its constituted today is a terrible MEANS for this purpose. That can be changed; more on that later as well)
  • The dopamine hit of getting likes on our own posted content (we’re all whores for the likes, and I don’t expect anyone to apologize for or bemoan that fact)

What’s bad about FB:

  • The ads (some are useful, most aren’t, and it leads to the following bullet, which is much, MUCH worse)
  • The invasion of privacy that leads to our FB activity being turned into a ridiculously micro-tuned and precise profile of who we are and what we like that is then sold off to advertisers in a fashion we, the end user, have absolutely no visibility into, much less control over (and the stated protections FB takes on our behalf, allegedly, are routinely violated without penalty, as seen in, again, the current Cambridge Analytica mess)
  • Their algorithms are essentially designed to drive you to look at ever-more extreme versions of the shit you actually like (YouTube has this problem as well, but way worse). So, if you’re mildly in favor of gun ownership and click on and engage with every post that supports gun ownership, eventually your feed will be filled with people demanding that any gun control advocates be gassed in camps. This isn’t ideal.
  • They’re destroying every media outlet in existence by forcing them to pay to reach their users on Facebook even though FB does nothing to create the content that people actually want to see. Why the fuck should The Onion, for example, have to pay FB to promote its own posts when FB users clearly want to share The Onion’s posts on their own on a wide scale, for example? It’s not the Facebook part people want, it’s The Onion’s content. Yet the only person making any money on that transaction is Facebook. Fucking ghouls.

The vaunted Market offers no solution here, as it demands constant growth and Facebook is running out of new conquests to gain. Effectively every American who’s willing to use the service already is. So they have to up the average user’s engagement instead. Which they do through increasingly shitty ways. Sure, there’s still a few billion Third Worlders who can be enticed to join FB but they don’t really have any money to spend so they’re not that valuable to FB’s actual customers, who are the advertisers, so the engagement thing has to take precedence. Why on Earth FB can’t just hit a stable state of making billions of dollars reliably every year instead of being forced to grow by the insatiable maw of Mammon is something Capitalism pimps will tell you Is Just Because That’s The Way It Has To Be, but whatever, it’s going to lead to FB’s utter destruction the way things are currently going.

So: What can be done here? Some options:

  • Facebook charges users so it can rely less on advertisers
    • This ain’t gonna happen; FB still gets waves of its dumber users reposting terribly artifacted GIF memes claiming FB is gonna starting charging $5.95/mo. or something for access and THEY AINT GONNA PAY FOR THIS NO WAYS NO HOW and, well: I believe them. So FB knows this is a non-starter; one of the most-impossible acts in business is to start charging for something you originally gave away for free, so this idea is stillborn.
  • Facebook offers a Pro tier so that those of us who really can’t stand the ads can opt out of them
    • Yeah, no. FB makes more off of the ad profiles than it could ever charge even from ALL of its users, much less just a willing subset. And those of us with the disposable income and the willingness to pay for an ad-free Facebook are precisely the people Facebook’s advertising overlords most want to reach. So this, too, is a non-starter.
  •  Facebook gets increasingly user-hostile to the point that people just stop using the service. Remember mySpace? Yeah, me, neither. It can happen, but again, that’s not the goal I want. I want FB to be friendly and usable for its original purpose, not destroyed entirely.

The answer that comes to me to square all of these circles is: Nationalize Facebook. Facebook can serve a social good in providing communication channels for people who would otherwise be isolated. This is an increasingly huge health issue in the United States (and all developed nations), so the government providing an easy way for people to stay in better contact with each other would be a Good Thing.

The nationalized Facebook can also have all of the ads, tracking, etc., stripped right the fuck out of it. Fund the infrastructure and support costs out of taxes, like all necessary social services should be funded. Brands can fuck off, nobody ever signed up for Facebook out of a burning desire to have eight different Internet Mattress companies badger you six dozen times a day to buy a new bed.

But what about all those awesome cat videos and recipe smashups that you so joyfully consume all day on your feed now, how would you get them? Good news! It’ll happen the old-fashioned way (by “old-fashioned”, I mean the way it worked like a whopping five years ago); people will see shit on the greater, open Internet that engages them enough to want to share it. They can put a link in their feed on public Facebook that doesn’t containerize that content WITHIN FB itself, to where only FB can monetize it, but gasp instead you’ll click the link and it’ll take you to the ACTUAL CONTENT CREATOR’S WEBSITE. Where they can choose to monetize with ads, a paywall, or not, as their choice decides.

What a fucking idea, eh? Solves the current, vicious problem of Facebook cannibalizing the business of every company that actually makes the shit that people want to see, saving the media industry from its continuing consolidation into bland, cross-marketed mush for like four different companies. Would allow all the great indies that made the early/mid-00’s Internet a real fun place to be and do things on. A win-win.

“But… but… without the algorithm, I might run out of stuff to look at! What if my friends are being kind of quiet one day?!?!?!”

That would be good for you. Staring at a feed all day isn’t healthy; oh, there’s nothing new or interesting in your government Facebook feed? Great! Go do something else instead! It’s an opportunity! Come back tomorrow!

You’d have an easy place to go to see what all of your friends are up to and even engage with them if you so choose! I’m ambivalent about letting brands be part of it at all; if someone truly wants to see what, I dunno, Wendy’s or the Los Angeles Clippers have going on, sure, let them have a strictly opt-in-only gov’t FB account that people can choose to like and follow if their lives are sad enough. What they WON’T be able to do is pay in any fashion to promote their content into the feed of anyone who didn’t explicitly choose to see their shit. And we would make them pay heavily for the option, which would also help pay for the system’s upkeep.

I mean, we REALLY need to find a way to rollback advertising’s influence on our lives and choices. Everybody thinks they’re impervious to advertising, but the science proves: you aren’t. This shit affects everybody. It’s disfiguring the synapses of a whole new generation of children right now in ways we’re not even gonna realize for another decade. So, a government-owned Facebook would allow us to strip that horrible aspect of it right out of the system entirely or, in a begrudging nod to America’ raison d’etre (selling shit nobody needs to people who can’t afford it), we allow them to participate, but at a high-cost, strictly-regulated way. If it’s not worth it for them, great, they can fuck off and nobody gets hurt. If it’s worth it to them, they can pony the fuck up.

Think back to the mid-aughts when FB broke out of its .edu ghetto and really became mainstream: If you’re old enough, you remember that people signed up for Facebook long before it became the algorithmically-controlled, ad-laden cesspool it is today. I genuinely liked it when it was new-ish and its primary purpose was to show me a chronological list of what my friends were posting, with some static ads at the side of the feed that were obviously ads and separated as such and therefore basically ignorable. And, wow, that year or two where I reconnected with folks from my past, many of whom I had genuinely wondered about and wished I could reach out to in the years before Facebook, those were downright magical (I know this isn’t going to make any sense in like 30-40 years when everybody will have been used to being able to stay in touch with everybody at all times with ease from birth but man, it was really something for those of us who didn’t grow up that way). There’s no reason, other than capitalism, that it can’t go back to that and just be a modern version of the USPS, used by people to just stay in contact and maintain those human connections necessary for people to be healthy and happy.

We’ve got to get internet-enabled algorithmic advertising the fuck under control, it’s murdering us, and it’s making everything the Internet makes that could be cool actually suck. Since FB is the dominant single-point of entry for everybody’s use of the Internet these days AND the vector for the worst of the advertising malevolence, nationalizing the former so we can eradicate the latter seems to me to be the wisest course.

Plus, who doesn’t want to see Zuckerberg dance at the end of a noose?