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2017: A Year in Review

That Sunday started out like any other. I woke up at around 4:30 AM, glanced at my phone and went on with my morning routine. This meant firing up Headspace for my daily mindfulness ritual then opening Day One for my daily brain dump. By 7 AM, I laced up to go for an easy 5 miler by Riverside Park. All done before Max woke up.

But it was no ordinary Sunday.

In a few hours, Rica and I would walk to Mt. Sinai. We were about to meet this guy for the first time.

Oscar Jose “Oz” Medina was born on December 3, at around 3:45 PM.

I’m not speaking on behalf of my wife Rica here, but things are definitely easier the second time around. Or maybe things aren’t as daunting at this point, having raised one in the city for the last three years.

4 is a great number. Manong (big brother) Max has a nice ring to it. I grew up with an older brother and it was great. I’m really excited for Max and Oscar to hang out, play and look after each other.

We still have a couple more years to enjoy the boys while they’re still at this age. But they do grow up so fast. I should stop counting for now.

Eats

I spent more on groceries than on dining out this year. My wallet is thrilled. I finally found my happiness and fulfillment in the kitchen. It’s where the magic happens.

There was a lot of culinary experimentation in 2017.  It was a conscious effort to get out of my comfort zone (I’m looking at you Chicken Adobo) and try new things.

This year’s menu was quite diverse –  featuring Cream Cheese, Dill and Pea dumplings, Persian Winter Stew Fesenjan, Roasted Whole Fish, Brazilian Pao de Queijo, Kibbeh, Palestinian Musakhan, Brown Butter Cornbread,  Bo Ssam, Mentaiko Pasta, Ilili-inspired Brussel Sprouts and Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs. I even made longganisa from scratch!

I also made my peace with frying. Having an instant-read thermometer helps.

I went through a pretty fun Chinese cookery phase as well. Inspired by Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Every Grain of Rice”, I made Red-Braised Pork, Fish-fragrant Eggplant, Three-Cup Chicken (technically Taiwanese) and Stir-fried eggs with Tomato. They were so good we made them part of our regular rotation.

But when I do eat out, I make sure it’s cheap and tasty. I finally tried the breakfast sandwich from White Gold Butchers, the American Honey from &Pizza,  revisited El Sabroso’s pernil with rice and beans in the garment district, and this obscure halal cart at the corner of 31st and Broadway (not Rafiqi’s). I’ve gotten so frugal that anything beyond $10.00 for lunch was deemed too expensive.

I also ticked off a couple of my items from my New York pizza list, like Sal and Carmines in the Upper West Side, Joe’s Pizza (I know) in the West Village and Sacco’s Pizza from Hell’s Kitchen. Of the three, Sacco’s was my favorite. Sacco’s crust is pretty special. Still, it’s a distant second (or even third) to my go-to Pepperoni Square from Prince St. Pizza.

We had a pretty great summer. Working in the Flatiron district meant access to a cluster of Mister Softee Trucks.  This humble $2.50 chocolate-dipped vanilla soft serve cone is all I need on a sweltering summer day.

Music

Leave it to Spotify to take care of all the data wrangling. I now exclusively listen via this medium. I never considered signing up for Apple Music. I’ll always go with the streaming service that knows me best. Long live algorithms.

The graphic above pretty much sums up my year.  Dagny rekindled my fascination with Scandinavian Pop music, and I ended up listening to a lot of Astrid S (got a ticket, missed the concert), Anna Of The North, Marlene and Vanbot.

Acts from down under also made their presence felt. Yumi Zouma, whom I’ve followed through the years, released a pretty great album. I also discovered GL, a Melbourne-based funk act that is amazingly consistent at churning out ear candy.

Then there’s PC Music. The collective/record label based in the UK had me confused but towards the end, I ended up joining the cult. Their music is kinda hard to describe. It’s like one person’s interpretation of what pop music from the future should be (based on something they read on the Internet).

I am not in a position to give authoritative cultural critique, but PC Music ringleader, A.G. Cook is quite the talent. His collaboration with another artist I admire, Charli XCX, produced Pop 2, probably one of the best albums of 2017 – released in the last week of December. What a great buzzer beater.

Productivity

I logged a total of 1936 hours and 13 minutes on Rescuetime in 2017 with my 2-year old Macbook Pro. I spent a whopping 153 hours on Slack, despite it being lower by 2016’s 185 hours. Facebook came in second at 111 hours, only because I managed a lot of campaigns last year (which probably accounts for half of that, but still). My productivity pulse was more or less flat. I think I can easily improve this metric by significantly reducing social media time. I don’t even post!

I’m most proud of the 37 hours I spent on Sketch, a design tool that brought so much joy at work (compared to 10 hours in Photoshop CC). Aside from it being the design tool du jour, it gave me access to a universe of wonderful plugins for user interface design. If there’s one tool I would like to use more in 2018, this is definitely it. It’s a great time to be a design professional.

Google Sheets use went down a bit, only because it was replaced by dashboard work on Google Data Studio and 2017’s favorite spreadsheet, Airtable.

In this brave world of software, incumbents are being challenged by other platforms that truly provide alternatives – a different way of doing things. From Sketch to Airtable, we might soon find ourselves using a completely different software stack, reminiscent of the time Google Doc usage gradually took over Microsoft Office. In fact, I’m writing this entry in Dropbox Paper, the hip word processor used by product people. But old (occasionally heartbreaking) habits die hard and I still use Evernote as my other brain. With Google, Evernote, and Dropbox (let’s add Milanote in the mix), I might have to consolidate my note taking ecosystem soon – I just need a good framework to organize their coexistence.

I deleted more apps than I installed this year. Apps and games that sounded good on paper (way too many to mention) were promptly deleted if they didn’t pass the Kondo test. My mobile app usage revolves around the habitual use of Headspace, Day One, Gyroscope, Fitbit, Strava and the Reddit App. Okay fine, Instagram too.

Coding

After telling myself that I should take a refresher course on software development, I jumped the gun and signed up for a semi-serious online course. It was an online frontend development program spread over 12 weeks. It was so much fun. I knew it was going to be fun.

After not touching code for more than a decade (actually, almost TWO), I finally have enough working knowledge of git, modern HTML and CSS and how Javascript is just one extremely complicated “scene” by itself. I plan to dive deeper into Javascript this year.

I don’t see myself pivoting to a software career soon. I’m just work-jealous of all the talented developers I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Now I understand why great engineers care about proper documentation, adhering to a style guide, breaking things down into components and optimizing for happiness.

So yes, I’d love to be dangerous enough to understand what the hell is going on. Also, having an active Github account, a text editor and terminal in my macOS dock look cool.

Putting it All Together

My professional development story has been quite interesting. I did a little bit of design, a little bit of code, a lot of production and product work. I’ve never been this happy with the craft in years. I’m so glad I live in an age where process, tools, and culture can yield work you can be extremely proud of.

Did I mention that I got scrum certified for fun?

101 Half Marathons

I went beyond my mileage goal of 1200 miles, ending the year with a total of 1349 miles (2171 kilometers) spread over 251 runs.

I wasn’t really training for anything, I just felt like running a lot. I increased the frequency of my runs from 3 to 5 times a week, increasing my weekly mileage from 15 miles to a steady 25. If there was one activity that kept me sane, this was certainly it. It also helps that I live in a building with a decent treadmill and I live right next to the park.

I eventually signed up for a major race at one point, flying to Toronto for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. Prior to that, I did a couple of NYRR runs in the city. The consistency paid off, allowing me to set a personal half-marathon record of 1:48.

I could go on and on about how I found my running groove again. It has become second nature to me and I’ve never felt this way before. I now keep three pairs of shoes on rotation, my closet is full of tech wear and I even replaced my ancient GPS watch. I’m just thankful that I get to do this comfortably, without any injuries and with lots of joy. Nothing beats an early morning run.

It was also my first time to volunteer in the New York City Marathon. I signed up as a mile captain and did pretty much everything. I stacked water, swept cups on the street and cleaned up my station like a champ. I didn’t realize how intense the whole experience could be!

The thought of doing this all over again in 2018 makes me nervous. Best I can do is lace up and run. And surprise, I’m running the Chicago Marathon in October 2018.

Filipino-American

In June of this year, I became an American. I made the decision to apply for citizenship early in the year, which may or may not have been influenced by the Cheeto. I could’ve done this a few years ago but the timing felt right this time and I just wanted to make things official with the country I’ve called home the past seven years. Having started out my life in the United States as a reluctant migrant, I’m grateful for all the opportunities this country has given me, the culture that allowed me to flourish professionally and the people that truly make this country great.

I’m also thankful for the fact that I managed to eventually acquire dual-citizenship. Nothing was lost or compromised. This is representative of who I am. I am a Filipino-American.

Reads

My reading roster was a mixed bag this year. I let my newfound frugality get the best of me, and I often find myself reading “free” books from the Amazon Prime Reading catalog and good ol’ NYPL. To be fair, I did get to read a couple of gems from there. The worst feeling is paying for a book you didn’t like.

I set a repeat goal of reading 30 books in 2017, exceeded it by 2. The last book I read, Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of the Good Life” suggests a much lower number focusing on quality and retention over a superficial book count. I somewhat agree, but reading to me is another form of meditation. It allows me to focus (sans the Internet) on one task. I don’t want to downplay the therapeutic role of reading in my life.

Let’s talk about the ones that I really, really liked. Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” was a great meditation on end of life care, the elephant in the room in your 30s. While this scenario doesn’t apply much to close-knit family structures like in the Philippines (and I hope this doesn’t change in the years to come), it’s a great way to condition your mind to start thinking about the inevitable. I don’t think I’m ready to confront my own mortality at this point. At times, I feel like I’ve just begun.

As an unabashed Scandophile, I’ve read good books and bad books this year on the subject. “The Little Book of Hygge” was probably not meant to be consumed on a Kindle and was probably written as a cute book. It was bad. But then again, I don’t think it took itself seriously enough. Another book in the same genre, “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living” was better. Maybe because I actually read a hard copy. Anu Partanen’s book “The Nordic Theory of Everything” was quite engaging and I could identify with her narrative about moving to NYC (It’s just that I came from the most un-Scandinavian of countries). Still, it’s a great book on the so-called welfare-based (more like well-being) governance that has given its people the distinction of being the “happiest.”

I consider Alia Malek’s “The Home That Was Our Country” one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was a compelling read on the author’s family history and interspersed it with key moments in Syria’s colorful and oftentimes tragic history. I stumbled upon this book at work, where it was originally planned to be part of our book club. Reading this book made me further empathize with the people of Syria and how they, like people from the Philippines, rely on strong familial relationships to ensure the survival of their people.

Of course, there are some honorable mentions to contemporary “hits” like Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”, J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”, Angela Duckworth’s “Grit” for being the celebrated books they’re supposed to be.

Crypto

This wouldn’t be a 2017 summary without mentioning cryptocurrencies. It took me two years to make my first deposit since I first opened my Coinbase account (which surprisingly turned my dollar sign-up bonus into twelve bucks). I was off to a good (delayed) start.

I have to be honest, I tried really hard NOT to put more than I responsibly should. Nor am I spending a lot of time “playing” this wildly speculative market. I chose to be on the boring side of things. Dollar cost averaging is fun. I’ll probably stop once I hit the 1BTC milestone.

The underlying technology behind crypto though is interesting. But let’s face it, we’re still years away from an acceptable user experience. In the meantime, let’s stare at this cartoon cat living in the Ethereum blockchain.The Age of Lagom

This took me a while to write. A lot happened in 2017. I wish I had a chance to travel more, considering that the only time I traveled was in Canada for my half marathon. That should change in 2018.

But I like where I am now. I have two wonderful boys, a great marriage/friendship/partnership with Rica,  I eat well, running makes me happy and I enjoy what I do. Is there really anything I could ask for?

I’m entering an exciting age of contentment. Anything beyond this would more or less have a trivial impact on my overall well being. The middle is a wonderful place to be. The Swedish term Lagom describes it perfectly – it’s just the right amount. I find myself taking a walking break in the middle of the day not really compelled to do anything. It’s a glorious feeling.

From my family to yours, I wish you a great 2018. Let’s move forward, mildly.

 

2016: A Year in Review

We were certain about a couple of things at the start of the year. The US presidential race had a clear favorite, financial markets were relatively stable and even work plans were all in place.

Yet here we are in 2017. Who would’ve thought that President Trump would be sworn in a few days? That the Philippine president would cause so much division among my friends and family? Who honestly saw this coming?

Still, I think 2016 was a pretty outstanding year.

Eating In… 

We pretty much spent the same amount for restaurants and groceries this year. This meant that we pretty much dined at home in 2016 – an amazing feat if you live in New York City. If there’s something we can take away (no pun intended) from this, this translated to huge savings on our part, enough to offset childcare costs. This makes me happy.

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2016 was a great year for cooking. I finally found my groove in the kitchen.  We experimented a lot this year and this led to new meal plan staples like beef kababs, porchetta, fish cakes, a simple Lebanese lentil soup, weeknight pasta, and shakshuka. In fact, I even got out of my comfort zone and started making fried chicken at home with a dutch oven. My pantry also diversified a bit and now you can find Za’atar spice, Tahini, Garam Masala, tubs of Miso and Gochujang. And oh, did I mention that I finally nailed meatloaf?

Gear wise, I finally upgraded to a steel pan for making pasta, a kitchen scale that proved to be extremely useful,  and an instant-read thermometer for roasts. On the knife front, I jumped in on the Misen Knife hype train only to be disappointed by its apparent dullness. My $7.00 kiwi knife is way, way better in terms of sharpness and value.

Speaking of which, I really have to streamline my kitchen. I’ve been guilty of acquiring unitaskers in the last five years and I’m running out of storage space. Given a chance to start my kitchen gear all over again, I probably would’ve skipped the dutch oven, a lot of graters and a salad spinner. These things take up too much space and I found myself using my cast iron pan for a majority of recipes.

There is a downside to all this home cooked grub. The in-laws gifted me with a Zojirushi Rice Cooker and we had so much fun using it that we ended up cooking more rice than usual. At one point, we were buying 25lb bags of jasmine rice which would last us a month. As a result of this processed carb madness, my blood sugar levels went up and I just had to quit rice. Since then, we’ve pretty much transitioned to bulgur after trying out cauliflower rice. It’s gross.

But hey, I lost 8lbs since the beginning of the December. That says a lot!

…Sometimes Out

I  live in a city where restaurant dining has evolved into a sport yet I still went to the same places. There’s Dons Bogam in K-Town for their lunch special, Golden Unicorn for Dim Sum, Prince St. Pizza for their pepperoni squares, Taiwan Porkchop House in Chinatown, Spice for their lunch special,  and Legend 72 for Upper West Side chinese. My most recent discovery was the lunch special from Curry Express in Curry Hill.

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And then you have your gems. Max and I enjoyed the Crispy Mimiga from Momosan, Nomad’s Chicken Burger,  the fried chicken from Dirty Bird in Morgantown, WV, The Flæskesteg sandwich form Benny’s Pølsevogn in Gentofte, the Fried Chicken Taco from Huahua’s Taqueria in South Beach, any sandwich from La Sandwicherie – also in South Beach, Hot Star Fried Chicken from Manila/Hong Kong, the 3-way lechon from Mesa, the Egg Custard Bun from Sun Hing, Hong Kong,  and the eggs en cocotte with foie gras from Le Jardin d’en Face in Paris.

Read

I’m on my fourth year of the Goodreads reading challenge and I maintained my reading quota of 30 books for the year. I was pretty much done by early December.

I’m quite happy with this year’s lineup. I managed to read some of the year’s most popular books like Adam Grant’s “Originals”, Bill Burnett’s “Designing Your Life”, Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” and  Jake Knapp’s “Sprint”  both of which were standard fixtures in airport newsstands. As I transitioned towards a frugal mindset, I count “The Millionnaire Next Door” and “The Index Card” as life-changing reads. For fun, I added John Armstrong’s “How to Worry Less Money” in my repertoire.

It was a big year for food writing too. I started the year with a compilation of winning entries from the Doreen Fernandez Food Writing Award, then moved to Fuschia Dunlop’s “Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper” and Ina Yalof’s “Food in the City”.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something that provided so much inspiration to my workflow (since David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”) so it was so much fun reading Dan Charnas’ “Work Clean” – a productivity system modelled after the concept of “Mise en Place”.  This was my favorite  book of the year.

Of course, this year’s reads wouldn’t be possible without the amazing New York Public Library. I can really feel my taxes at work here. I pretty much took advantage of the fact that they’re good with newer titles and you can also borrow content for your kindle. Prime reading, introduced late in 2016 was also a pleasant surprise (quality wise) considering that it’s just an add-on to your prime account.

Running

I broke new ground with my mileage this year, clocking a little over 811.3 miles or approximately 1,300 kilometers – spread over 174 runs. In fact, I’ve run more this year than I did in 2010, the year I trained for the New York City Marathon. December, typically a slow month for running ended up becoming my biggest month, with 108 miles over 24 runs.

It helps that I have access to a gym here in the building, allowing me to run on days where it’s just too hot or cold. The best outdoor runs were along Riverside Park during Spring, Summer and early Fall where you can either choose to go all the way up to 125th st. or down to Chelsea Piers for a fun 6 or 8 mile route.

As for touristy runs, I managed to log some miles in Miami’s South Beach and around the lake in Gentofte, Denmark (where I ended up swallowing a lot of gnats in the process).

Travel

I traveled a total of 57,202 miles this year, spread over 6 countries and 11 cities.

I mostly traveled for work. I visited a pre-Zika Miami in February and really enjoyed the food and the Wynwood district. I also spent a huge chunk of time in Hong Kong, working from our shared space in Kennedy Town while I explored the city on weekends. I’ve been to Manila twice, where the cityscape and people are constantly evolving.

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My family spent a couple of weeks in Europe during the summer, hanging out in Copenhagen and Paris. I’ve always wanted to experience Scandinavia and I felt that Copenhagen really delivered on its promise as a clean, happy and cozy city. Paris, on the other hand, was quite intense, rivaling New York City in its energy – with better bread.

My last trip for the year was an overnighter in West Virginia. As an immigrant, the concept of a college town felt was pretty foreign to me. Engaging the people of WVU was quite an eye-opener and I learned a lot about the whole state itself and how they’re trying to cope in a post-coal world. It was quite inspiring.

Music

Music became more of a utility this year. It kept me company while I prepared dinner at home, made me mentally focused at work and motivated during my runs. Having said that, I didn’t really work that hard to find music. Spotify pretty much did all the work for you with their Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists. And while I did cherish the chase, it seems that machines are just better at figuring these things out. It’s just a matter of training your algorithm.

It was another shameless year of pop(ish) music both old and new. I went through an extended Sophistipop period this year, which started out with a random curiousity towards Prefab Sprout and down the rabbit hole I went (again). For this year, I really enjoyed Jessy Lanza’s Oh No, George the Poet, the sophomore Niki & The Dove Album, Anohni, and Yumi Zouma’s Yoncalla album.

So here’s an unpopular opinion. I think you guys have to listen to the “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” album. The thing with Lonely Island music is that the jokes are extremely clever, going beyond the shock value of their lyrics. But then again, I might be reading too much into a diss track about the Mona Lisa.

As for my kitchen playlist, it’s mostly a sampling of Scandinavian Jazz Trios (which is shorthand for saying that I try really hard to be sophisticated as I cook meatloaf).

Productivity

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I recorded an all-time high of 1994 hours, 31 minutes in Rescue Time. And that was just time spent on my Macbook. My productivity pulse went down to 75 from 2015’s 80.

It was an election year for the Philippines and the US, so naturally I spent a huge amount of time – 157 hours to be specific – frantically refreshing News websites for the latest polls, elections results and commentary. For example, I spent a total of 8 hours, 26 minutes on Fivethirtyeight alone. New York Times, which we can access for free in our office, clocked in at 16 hours.

Social Networking was also unusually high this year. On top of election fever, I also managed a lot of Facebook ads this year so that counted towards the total.

This year’s most used and abused app was Slack at 185 hours. This is significant a shift from email, which went down from 2015’s 199 hours to 140 hours this year. Spreadsheet usage also went up from 43 hours to 55. Google Sheets just keeps getting better.

I started journaling habit using the Day One app. I was never the type to keep a journal but Day One’s simplicity made it easy. Now that I’m a year in, it’s utility has increased by flagging you on your entries from the previous year.

I did a couple of “unproductive” things too which meant using my Macbook Pro for gaming. This year, I played a lot of Borderlands 2 (I know, it’s old) and tried out interesting games like This War of Mine. For mobile, I pretty much got obsessed with Pokemon Go for a couple of weeks. I must say it’s a great time to be a gamer, regardless of hardware.

The Year Ahead

A year ago, we thought we’d be out of New York by now. In December, my wife and I decided to extend our New York life indefinitely. The city has been such a great enabler, it really made a lot of things possible despite the skyrocketing rent, crazy childcare costs and everything inbetween. Yet, we’re still here, still thriving and raising a toddler in the process.

After writing this yearend report, 2016 wasn’t really that bad. My family will continue to do things that worked well last year, from saving, to cooking and traveling. We’ll probably have a couple more surprises in 2017 and the best thing we could right now is to be resilient and more importantly, just show up and get things done.

 

Last.fm

Since 2006, I’ve logged over 114,905 songs on last.fm, the online music service that focused on recommendations and discovery. Acquired by CBS 7 years ago, the service didn’t quite caught up with the community of newer networks like Soundcloud (and even Spotify to a certain extent).

It was pretty damn good for doing one thing though – that is to keep track of music played across multiple devices.

Social by design, it was meant to bring together a community of listeners, taking cue from the growth of social media in the late 00s. I’m just assuming that It somehow lost its mojo, and almost all of my 32 friends on the network stopped using the service, down to just 2-3 people still scrobbling to the service. Visiting the actual site can get lonely. It felt like a time capsule from 2009 . I can’t seem to find a good analysis of its traffic through the years but this Google Trends graph is pretty telling.

I can only speculate on what happened here. But that’s not really the point.

No other website on the Internet has chronicled my life the way Last.FM did. As a scrobbling service, it did a pretty great job working its magic while hidden in plain sight. It was just there, tirelessly keeping track of every song you played. When Spotify arrived in America 3 years ago, I was happy to see last.fm scrobbling support. I didn’t have to say goodbye to the service after all. The story continues.

More than a year ago, I decided to finally pay tribute to this unsung keeper of your personal history. For $3.00 a month, you were given access to the (now discontinued) radio streaming service, discounts on last.fm merchandise, tag-filtering (which I don’t really get), an ad-free experience and early access to new features.

The real fun lies with Last.FM’s, Playground, which allows you to generate various visualizations from your data. The listening trend map, only accessible to subscribers, is probably the best. Currently capped at 24 months, the app produces a high-resolution graph of your listening behavior. The density of the information contained in the image is so amazing that it can actually evoke feelings of nostalgia (“October 2012 was a good month”) to appreciating listening patterns (a depressing winter can really influence how often and what you listen to).

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Then you have other reports like this listening clock.

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Power users can also export their data. You can load it into a service like vida.io and come up with these awesome visualizations. I recently installed a Soundcloud scrobbler extension on Chrome since I find myself listening to Soundcloud just as much as Spotify. Though it’s a bit intermittent, I have more confidence now on the data I have on Last.FM.

It would be great to have a better way of navigating through your data, possibly integrate it with a service like Timehop just to completely recreate memories of a specific day. I can only hope for better ways to put my listening DNA and history to good use. Getting more people to use the service is a good start.

The Last.fm Spotify app seems to add another layer of utility within the Spotify client but with the discontinuation of the app program , I don’t know if I’ll just play along with the app’s native recommendation engine (not quite as good). I gave up on iTunes when they started making drastic changes to the user interface.

But Last.FM? It’s still there. Still scrobbling.