fitteR happieR – How Depressing are Radiohead Songs?

Via Freecodecamp’s weekly email, I came across this R-based analysis that estimates and charts how depressing and sad Radiohead songs are, grouped by album. The level of sadness is determined using a function that accounts for both melodic factors (i.e., is the music sad) as well as the lyrical content. An interesting read from a coding standpoint, and after listening to a bunch of songs and comparing with the results, I think it’s about right. A lower score is a “more depressing” song.

We Drain Pipes, Not Wallets

A sign design firm, Dynamic Image LLC, recently contacted me to request to use one of my photos for a vehicle wrap project. It’s a shot I took in 2011 while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park:

I sent them the high resolution file, and asked to see the results when it was finished. Yesterday, I received an email with two photos. Turns out it’s a plumbing truck. I’m a bit biased, but I think it looks great:

Hamakua, Waipio, and Pololu

For our final two days in Hawaii Laura and I stayed at a B&B on a ranch in the Hamakua region up north.

The drive up to the ranch was six miles off the main road, three of which was through a eucalyptus forest:
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Here are a couple of horses on the ranch:
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We drove out to Waipio Valley one afternoon, and did the mile hike down and back up:
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Afterwards, we drove out to Pololu Valley. Unfortunately the weather turned overcast when we got there, but we had some good rainbow sightings on the way:
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Many more pictures on my photography site.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Laura and I visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden outside Hilo on our drive from Volcano to Hamakua. It far exceeded our expectations and I’d highly recommend an hour or so stop if you’re on the Big Island.

The garden is along a trail that’s roughly a mile loop. It’s located off a scenic road which was among the best drives we did on the island. Just a mile south of it is the Onomea Bay Trail, which we walked as well. The trail actually passes through part of the garden, but you can’t get into the main area without first buying tickets at the main entrance.

Here are some highlights from the botanical garden:
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And here are a few shots taken from the Onomea Bay Trail:
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Music I Discovered in 2016, and Some Thoughts on Subscription Streaming

I spent some time organizing my music over the long weekend, and thought I’d share a playlist I kept throughout the year of songs and artists I discovered. Most of it was released in 2016, but there are plenty of exceptions that were simply new to me. For those who know my taste in music, it’s about what you’d expect – half americana/country/folk with lots of pedal steel guitar, and the rest a mix of indie, alternative, hip hop, and electronic.

For full albums from the artists above, I’d recommend just a handful:
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett
Paradise – The Wood Brothers
The Education of a Wandering Man – Jamestown Revival
Schmilco – Wilco
Soft Animals – EP – Sofi Tukker
Fear Fun – Father John Misty (I also recommend his newer album, ‘I Love You Honeybear’)

It’s easier to share music on Spotify, but I’ve come full circle back to Apple after the Apple Music subscription service launched. I started with Spotify when subscription streaming first began, but never liked the UI. I switched to Google Play in 2014, which was an improvement, but I still found myself using Apple for my existing music library. So when Apple Music launched in 2015, it was the obvious option for me. I prefer Apple’s interface and playlists over those from both Spotify and Google Play, and like the integration with my mostly obsolete library of music I accumulated from 1994-2015.

But Apple still has quite a bit to work out. It can be buggy across devices, and there should be a better social component to the platform. There should also be easier ways to share more than a preview of songs, especially if they are shared with someone who has an Apple Music subscription.

It’s interesting to see the music industry converge on a $120 per year subscription revenue model. You can now pay Apple, Spotify, Google, and a range of smaller providers $10 per month for basically unlimited access to all available music. There are some exceptions, such as regional access – earlier this year I was frustrated that quite a bit of Japanese music isn’t available in my Apple Music subscription – but just about everything is available.

After making the leap to a subscription model, I think most people who care about music will be locked in for a long time. There may be some switching between platforms, as I have done, but there’s a huge incentive to avoid ever paying for an album or song again because everything’s already included in the subscription. I now only buy albums when I want the vinyl or know the artist. And once you go a few years without buying albums or songs it becomes pretty difficult to walk away from the subscription model. You’ll either lose all the music  you discovered over that period, incur a big cost to purchase it a la carte, or settle for an ad-supported model with no downloads on mobile devices.

I suspect most people will just keep paying the $10 per month.

It seems odd to me though – maxing out at $120 per customer each year feels like a sub-optimal outcome for the music industry. With music ownership – physical albums and digital downloads – it was easier for the music industry to extract different amounts of value from different market segments. Casual listeners may have only spent $20-30 per year on a couple albums or a handful of songs, but music enthusiasts would spend substantially more. For many years I probably averaged $300-400 per year on music purchases.  With unlimited streaming subscriptions, it’s much more difficult to price discriminate across these segments. My streaming subscription is worth more than $10 per month to me, but that’s all I have to pay.

As I was thinking about this I became more curious about the streaming subscription market and found some data on music revenue trends:

US recorded music revenues peaked in 1999 at over $14B per year when CDs still dominated, went into free fall for the next decade as pirating became a thing, and then stabilized at around $7B per year in 2010 and have stayed there since. In 2010 streaming subscriptions represented just 3.5% of the market. By 2014 they were 12% ($800M), and in 2015 were 18% ($1.2B). With Apple reporting 20M paid subscriptions globally last month, that’s about $2.4B per year assuming prices are similar between countries. At least half of this is probably in the US. Add in Spotify, Google, and the long tail of smaller players, and I’ll bet last year’s US paid subscription revenue was well over $2B, passing CD revenue for the first time.

As the music ownership markets gradually disappear – taking  the most valuable music customers with them – and subscription streaming becomes dominant for the foreseeable future, I suspect we’ll see new pricing models that try and extract more value from heavier subscription users. A few thoughts come to mind. Caps on the number of monthly streams could be added, not unlike mobile and home broadband data caps. Quality tiers could be introduced (i.e., making Tidal a feature, not a product). There could be higher price tiers for access to new music within the first few months after release. Taking this a bit further, artists with negotiating power who want to maximize new album revenue, such as Taylor Swift, could charge via the streaming music providers for early access to their new releases.

I’d bet overall subscription prices rise at some point as well. Prices are currently set at levels to acquire new users and grow the market. The music industry needs to convince the masses to try a new way of paying for music. Once the subscription market is relatively saturated and few people are buying music to own anymore, I would think the music industry would raise the cost per stream, forcing Apple, Spotify and the rest to raise their prices. Maybe not in 2017, but I’d guess soon after as the music industry regains some confidence after a painful and uncertain 15 or so years.

Photographing the Milky Way

I’d never photographed the night sky until last week. Living in the Northeast, it’s rare for me to have a clear opportunity without lots of light pollution. And when I’ve been lucky enough to travel somewhere remote, I’ve generally been without a tripod or the right lens. In Hawaii, light pollution is low and visibility is great, so I decided to give it a try while Laura and I were visiting.

Here’s what I used for settings on a Nikon D7200 with a 16-80mm lens: manual mode, ISO 6400, focal length 16mm, f/2.8, shutter speed 25 seconds, and focus just a few millimeters to the right of infinity. I tried a few slight variations of those, but found the results weren’t as good.

I shot the first bunch while walking back from the lava flow outside Kalapana. When we were about halfway back, the sun had completely set and the stars came out. I walked about 50 feet off the road to get away from the flashlights other hikers were using, and then balanced my camera and tripod on some lava stone.

Here’s what I got:

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There are clear parts of the Milky Way in all of them. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy near the center of the first shot, and there’s a shooting star on the left side of the second.

A few nights later, Laura and I were at a ranch in Hamakua near the northern coast of the island. The sky was clear again, so I thought I’d try some more. We were at a higher elevation which should have improved visibility relative to my first shots. I also had some more interesting foregrounds to work with:

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I think the focus isn’t quite as sharp in the second set, but I like them more. Let me know if you have any tips on camera settings or post production techniques.

Lots of Lava and Steam

Picking up from the previous post on where to see lava in Volcanoes National Park, here are my shots from the Kalapana lava flow site. We arrived around 5:30pm, just before sunset. I had a lot of trouble choosing which pictures to post, but these are the highlights.

Lots of steam coming off the ocean as the lava hits the water:
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Here there’s some lava shooting up into the air – it gets a little too close to the boat:
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This is my favorite shot of the bunch. I love the steam patterns over the ocean with the silver water and boat driving away:
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As it gets dark, the glow becomes brighter:
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Lots of explosions in the steam:
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This was by far my favorite part of our time in Hawaii. I’d never seen anything like it. The 8 mile hike was well worth it, and we had some great views of the stars on the return walk.

Two Ways to See Active Lava Flow in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

One of the things I was excited to see in the National Park was molten lava flow. This is something that you can only experience at a few places in the world at the moment, and Volcanoes National Park is one of them.  After some research, I found that active flow has been relatively consistent in two places, with great visibility.

The first option is easy. A couple miles from the park entrance is the Jaggar Museum, which has a viewpoint overlooking the active Kīlauea Caldera. The caldera is about a half mile away, so you can’t get close, but it’s still an incredible view. It’s best to go at night, as during the day it can be difficult to see the lava itself. Even with the distance, you can still see quite a bit activity, especially with binoculars or a zoom lens:

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The second site requires a bit more planning. The Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on the eastern side of the park has been active for some time, and most recently lava flow from a branch called 61g has been spilling into the ocean. But unfortunately, it’s not easily accessible from the park. You can see the fumes from the end of Chain of Craters Road, but the best way to actually see the lava is by hiking from the other side. It’s an 8 mile round trip walk or bike ride, which begins outside the park, but you re-enter mid-way.

To get there,  it’s about an hour drive from Volcano, HI to the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana:

There’s plenty of parking, and lots of people selling water and flashlights and renting bikes for $20. It opens at 3pm each day (although some reviews say this isn’t enforced), and the best time to go seems to be a little over an hour before sunset. This way you can see the landscapes and lava while there’s still light, and then watch as it gets more impressive in the dark.

We chose to walk, and it’s relatively easy terrain on a gravel road. At the very end you need to maneuver over some lava stone to get to the area where the lava can be seen flowing into the ocean.

Here are some shots from the walk there:
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After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at the lava flow location. Check the next post for the photos.

The Books I Read in 2016

I was reflecting back on the books I read throughout 2016 this morning, and thought I’d share the list, roughly grouped by how much I enjoyed them. I’ve gotten better about quitting books that aren’t right for me after a couple chapters, so nothing in here I wouldn’t recommend.

Highly Recommend:

The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov: This is my new favorite Asimov book, displacing ‘The Gods Themselves‘, which I also highly recommend. It’s a great story, with a clever approach to exploring the philosophy of time.

Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker: A detailed account about what’s it’s like to be a commercial aircraft pilot, with many interesting anecdotes. If you enjoy flying, you’ll probably enjoy the book.

The Idea Factory by John Gertner: A well written history of AT&T’s Bell Labs and all of the important technology innovation that came out of that institution.

The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane: Probably not for everyone, but fascinating. A theory of how complex life may have first begun, with a focus on the processes that generate the energy needed to sustain it.

Sprint by Jake Knapp: An easy read on how to run a design sprint to rapidly prototype and test new products or features.

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez: A fictional story about a prominent political cartoonist in Colombia reflecting back on his career and influence.

Recommend:

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov: I continue to work my way through the Foundation series. I enjoyed this one more than ‘Foundation and Empire’ (the second book excluding the prelude and forward) but less than ‘Foundation’ (the first book). Two more to go.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan: The first book in the Raven’s Shadow fantasy series recommended by a friend. Like most fantasy books, I found it to be fun and I got through it quickly, but I wasn’t impressed enough to commit to the rest of the series.

Life on the Edge by Johnjoe McFadden: An overview of the rising field of quantum biology (i.e., how many biological processes can only be explained using quantum mechanical physics rather than classical physics). I found it to be intriguing. However, some of it is speculative and is still being researched.

The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters by Sean Carroll: A look at some of how life is regulated at scales ranging from populations of cells to entire ecosystems. It was interesting, but not as good as my favorite by Carroll, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful‘.

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon: A detailed description of the challenger sales methodology. It’s a great sales framework and the book offered some useful insights.

Cautiously Recommend:

Napoleon’s Pyramids by William Dietrich: A historical fiction on Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. The story was good, not great, and I mostly enjoyed learning some of the history, which seems to have been accurately represented at a macro level.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: This had been on my list for a while. I’ve read so many evolutionary biology books over the years that I felt I needed to read the first as well. I appreciated it’s scientific and historic brilliance, but found it a bit tedious at times, and not surprisingly found the subsequent work that has built on Darwin’s insights to be more interesting.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: I purchased this right when it came out, but kept passing it over. I finally decided to work my way through it. The book was well written with good stories, but it didn’t quite grab me. I probably would have enjoyed it more when it was first published, before all of the movies and media on Jobs.