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“What do you listen to when you’re at home?”

Brian Wilson pauses for two seconds. “I listen to a record called ‘Be My Baby,’ by the Ronettes.

[H]e often brings up “Be My Baby,” and the song’s ability to “make emotions through sound.” You sense that this is where Wilson really lives: in emotions triggered by sound. The more the book makes that clear, the better it gets.

You will read of Wilson, at a party in the mid-1970s, drunk on chocolate liqueur, commandeering the turntable and playing the song’s drum intro ten times, until told to stop; “then I played it ten more times,” he remembers. (In Peter Ames Carlin’s Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, published in 2006, the engineer Steve Desper tells of making a tape loop for Wilson consisting of only “Be My Baby”’s chorus, and leaving Wilson at home to listen to it. “I must have been gone for about four hours,” Desper told Carlin. “And when I came back, he was still listening to that loop over and over, in some kind of a trance.”) In describing his reaction to the song upon first hearing it, he remembers shooting a BB gun, as a boy, at a man in a bean field sitting on a motorcycle; pop!—the man fell off his motorcycle. It was like that, he explains: “Be My Baby” was the BB pellet, shot by someone crouching out of sight; Wilson was the motorcyclist, unaware of what was going to happen to him.

Be My Baby.

Apple Music’s “Library” concept is still confusing

Apple Music is much improved, but it is still way too complicated.

Fundamentally it is complicated because it wants to be your cloud library for “your music,” that is, music that you have ripped from CDs or bought from iTunes or whatever, while also being a modern streaming service. That decision has led to the centrality of the “library” concept.

For a pure streaming service, the concept of a library is simply redundant. There is the streaming catalog, and then your playlists. A “library” need be nothing more than a really big playlist (“My 10,000 favorite songs”) or a meta-playlist that just shows you everything in all your other playlists. There’s no reason to introduce another level of hierarchy, and especially not to hang functionality off of it.

For a service that also wants to be a repository of “your” music, maybe you also need a library. But the execution can be improved.

Apple has improved on the library concept a number of ways since Apple Music launched. You can now set it so that adding tracks to a playlist from the Apple Music streaming catalog no longer automatically adds them to your library. Previously, your playlists could only have tracks that are in your library, which is bonkers for a cloud jukebox service. Another improvement is that your own music files now either upload to Apple Music, or match to DRM-free cloud files that you can download free of any restriction on any other computer. Previously, they only matched to entries in the Apple Music streaming catalog, and downloading them was the same as downloading any other Apple Music track–that is, they were DRM’d tracks tied to your subscription. There are real improvements!

Nevertheless the centrality of the library concept still holds Apple Music back. For example, some kinds of metadata only sync between devices for tracks that are in your library. If you create a playlist of tracks, half of which are in your library and half of which are not, and then listen to it 10 times on your iPhone, when you pull up that playlist in iTunes on a Mac, only the tracks in your Apple Music library will have playcounts. That is just silly. Whether or not you have listened to a track is a fact that has nothing to do with whether it is in your library.

Another consequence: in the iOS app, there is now a “downloaded music” section. This is helpful! But if you browse in this section by artist or album you will see, not the artists and albums currently downloaded to your phone, but only the artists and albums downloaded to your phone that are also in your library. So, if you make a playlist of 10 new albums to check out (and why would you want them in your library?) and save it offline, none of them will show up under the artist or albums area of your downloaded music. Those tracks will only be visible if you look under that specific playlist. Again, this is silly: An album is either downloaded to your phone or not. Why are albums that are downloaded to your phone not visible in the “albums” view of the downloaded music section unless they are in your library?

My solution would be this: Your iCloud Music Library should contain only matched and uploaded songs. It should not be possible to add Apple Music tracks to your library. Your library is your music that you brought to Apple Music, and it should not intermingle with Apple Music tracks. When I check out a book from the library, I don’t make room for it on my shelves.

This means that when you search for an album in Apple Music, you shouldn’t see the “Add” button, or the cloud button that you see when Apple Music thinks that album is already in your library. It’s worth pointing out how confusing those buttons are in practice, by the way. Here’s what happens when I look up the album “The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone” by the Apples in Stereo in Apple Music.

I see the “add” button, even though the complete album is already in my library. Why? Because it thinks I’m missing one track, “I Can’t Believe.” Why? When I look at that album in my library, I see that every track but that one matched, and that one track uploaded. Why? I don’t know. I just know that this is an ugly mess. I’d rather not see any ugly “add” or cloud-looking buttons at all or have what I am looking at in the Apple Music catalog change based on what’s going on with my matched and uploaded music. (Of course, behind the scenes Apple should correlate when I listen to matched music to entries in its catalog for the purposes of recommendations. But all that should be invisible to me.)

Finally, when it comes to browsing-type features–where currently I can browse my library by artist or album or song–make it so that I can just browse “My Library” (uploaded and matched tracks) or “My Library and Playlists” (which gives people that want it the ability to build a “collection” of songs they don’t own). This would seem to provide the best of both worlds, and would be conceptually simpler.

It isn’t necessarily stupid to have some issues with surge pricing

The amazing thing about arguments with people over Uber’s surge pricing is that the unreservedly pro-surge pricing people seem to think that only they understand basic economics and that the people they are arguing against are simply stupid. The most spectacular example of this must be Georgetown professor Jason Brennan. He has seriously argued that voting should favor the knowledge elite (“More knowledgeable citizens’ votes [should] count more.”), and, in a since-deleted tweet, probably-jokingly suggested that disagreeing with Uber surge pricing was grounds for disenfranchisement.

There are a number of problems with this–not least of which are the claims that surge pricing is easily gamed by drivers and otherwise may not actually reflect supply and demand. But let’s put that aside and assume that surge pricing works exactly as its proponents say: it gets more cars on the road, increases net social utility, and so on.

Because what if, in some circumstances, you just don’t care? Economics tells you, at most, what the consequences of certain policy decisions are. But it doesn’t tell you why you should prefer one set of consequences over another.

Let me explain exactly what I mean: It may be that in some situations, for some people, the idea that people with more disposable income should get rides first is so morally reprehensible that they’re willing to take the hit on net social utility. In fact, a lot of people seem to think this–price gouging is almost universally condemned after natural disasters. You might be able to draw a distinction (price gouging is just opportunism, but surge pricing is a price signal that increases supply) but certain similarities remain. In particular, the people who can afford to pay most for rides are not necessarily the people who need rides most. The idea that someone should be able to jump the queue ahead of someone who might need a ride more in an emergency situation simply by paying more bothers a lot of people–and this is an ethical stance, not an economic one. Not to mention resentment at percived profiteering. (The best counter to this position is that a first-come first-serve system, with more shortages, is not clearly more just to one where the rich can jump to the front of the line.)

Nevertheless, what I’m saying is this: It is a legitimate ethical stance to prefer some level of shortages and queueing to an economic system that produces greater social utility but disproportionately benefits the wealthy. It may be stupid to deny that this tradeoff exists, but picking one outcome over another is not a matter of intelligence, but of values.

More broadly this tradeoff is similar to broader social questions, such as whether it is better to have a society that is wealthier, but unequal, or one that is slightly poorer, but more equal. A lot of people would argue that the more-equal society would be happier, and therefore the preferable choice. In any event preferring the poorer but more equal society over the richer but less equal society is not a matter of stupidity. Similarly, expressing reservations with surge pricing may be a reasonable ethical view that takes full account of the likely consequences.

🔥🔥John’s Take🔥🔥

Surge pricing is entirely unobjectionable most of the time (New Year’s Eve, after a big sporting event, and so on) but, in times of emergency or natural disasters, there needs to be a way to make sure that people with genuine need get priority over those who merely have the ability to pay more. Granted, it’s hard to know exactly how to pull that off–but unless there’s a way to do it, you’re better off with a first-come first-serve system, or maybe just increasing the amount that drivers get from each ride without raising prices for passengers.