Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Age and Gender Plot for Music Tags

Source: Last.fm blog

Young and male are in the top right corner. As are Metallica, Slayer, and Iron Maiden, the awesomest bands ever. Not surprisingly my tastes are younger than my body (consistent with the text analysis of this blog), although I do like the Yellowjackets (admittedly haven't listened to them in years).

One obvious observation: the lower right is blank, and size corresponds with numbers of mentions. This suggests that people talk about music less as they get older, and that older women don't talk about it at all. I definitely listen to less music than I did even 5 years ago.

This may be consistent with the observation that music is unique among types of art in that people, especially young people, use music to define identity and community, sometimes to the point of physical violence against outsiders. You don't see riots with surrealists fighting impressionists or gothic and Victorian architecture fans wearing T-shirts to advertise their loyalty and lifestyle. No specific hairstyle has ever been associated, to my knowledge, with being a fan of futurist sculpture. Where music is concerned, aggressive marketing certainly feeds the communities and identities relating to pop music but it doesn't create the tendency to begin with.

Consequently, my hypothesis is that strongly-identified musical subcultures are a form of signaling identity. Support:

- Music is more important to people below 30, especially teens and late 20s) who are still forming their identities

- Music fades from prominence in people's lives at exactly that time in life when people get married (no need to signal to mates) or have careers that define them more concretely

- The types of music that most attract young people contain lyrics that allude to, or performers that appear to engage in, a fantasy lifestyle that the music fan does not actually engage in (rap and crime, metal and evil, girl-pop and being a princess, etc.)

- Music is less important to women across all ages; women don't rely on active signaling for mate finding to the same degree that men do.

- Genres of music that are good for signaling must be exclusive of social values at large. No young male music fan wants to follow a band that dresses and acts normally and respectfully and mundanely, no matter how good the music is.

That we do see this behavior with some genres of pop music certainly says something about aggressive marketing, but again, we still don't see the "mannerist lifestyle" being marketed, or even twelve-tone serialism for that matter. There is something about popular music that makes it uniquely well-suited to forming subcultures around - the listening experience is passive, can produce strong emotional responses, and as mass-market art, the works tend to be less nuanced than other types of music. If some other art meets these same requirements I would argue that the same thing will happen, and maybe it already has with anime.

Monday, September 27, 2010

LBNL Scientists Model Supernovas

Astrophysicists from Lawrence Berkeley Labs (and other contributors) have a paper in the Astrophysical Journal about their model which allows them to model supernovas much more accurately. Of additional interest in the story is that if you read this TIME article about it, you would believe that it was Princeton and Princeton only that had put in all the effort (read: coding) to make the model work. Word has it that LBNL wrote the code and basically held their hands while Princeton were doing this work, and only found out about the TIME article second-hand once it was published.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally Saw a Space Launch

A spy satellite on top of a Minotaur vehicle, launched last night from Vandenberg AFB, exactly at the start of the launch window. (What's interesting about this satellite is it's apparently the first one designed to spy on other satellites.) I watched from Refugio Road just southeast of the tunnels near Gaviota, which is ~25 air miles from the launch site. From that distance the vehicle was not obvious but the stage separations were quite clear (I think you can kind of see one in the time lapse photo below as a slight bulge and then narrowing near the top of the arc as it tilted west out over the Pacific). A low crackling rumble became audible just about 2 minutes after the launch (from 25 miles!); much more suspenseful waiting for that than counting seconds between lightning and thunder.

I've been wanting to see a launch for years. Finally!

Image at Gant Daily

Monday, September 20, 2010

That's It, Just Read Boing Boing

That's it. If you want to see how our species will be exterminated, just go read Boing Boing, I don't have to re-post them any more here. It's like every 50th article now. Boing Boing posts should have a a tag called "Mike's Singularity nightmares coming true exponentially faster". Here are the cyber-insects already. They're dumb so far, but they can fly now.

And you can print them. In stranger eons, there will be no Great Old Ones, only Tiny New Ones.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Did I Tell You. It's Little *Flying* Robots You Should Be Scared Of

Listen, I warned you all, I really did. But no, everyone thinks that the evil Singularity monsters will look like the grinning red-eyed Terminators. No. Nothing so clumsy. They'll be little, and they'll fly. And they can already take our beer. See? It may already be too late. (H/T Boing Boing.)

To Help You Talk Like a Pirate - Pirate Metal!

And it's Scottish pirate metal. Behold, Alestorm:

Thanks to Scott in my class for the reminder of this important day and H/T to Friendly Atheist for the metal. And I'm having trouble deciding if the artists intend this to be taken seriously.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ant Mills and Intelligence

Ant mills are all the rage in the blogosphere the past few days. Ants get locked into a pattern of following each other in a circle, and their little ant nervous systems don't have the plasticity to break the loop. A hymenoptera halting problem?

Like you, I watch this with pride and think "Look at those stupid ants. I'm so glad humans have no cognitive foibles or blind spots which cause us to follow each other into oblivion!" Never mind that these particular ants are milling in the ruins of a once-great civilization. One solution to the Fermi Paradox: because any nervous system will have such failure modes, intelligence is in fact an evolutionary dead end, and only fecundity matters.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Singularity Watch: Teaching Robots to Lie

I don't know what these guys are thinking. Maybe they're trying to create a new enemy for the Autobots: the Politicons. ZING!

Doomsday Vault for Animals

The Norwegians already had a Doomsday Vault for plants, but as it turns out right here in San Diego there's one for animals. Now that doesn't mean you can go eating condors and Siberian tigers now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Habitable Exoplanet Discovered by Mid-2011?

That's the prediction in a forthcoming PLOSOne paper. Wow. H/T Tyler Cowen. Note that habitable doesn't necessarily mean oxygen atmosphere to these authors; understood that they want to build a model based on frequency and distance-from-star at which planets are being discovered, and there's no data to put in the model anyway. Still, an atmosphere is important if you want to call a place habitable.

More importantly: let's say it's August 2011, and it's happened. What government is going to justify spending money to send probes there? None of us is going to live to see the data. I hope we go, but there's a whole different kind of political problem between watching a moon landing, and watching probes slip off into the interstellar darkness forever, at least from the viewpoint of those currently living.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cast Iron Crow at Slim's in San Francisco, Sunday October 3rd

There will be metal. Make sure you get your tickets by the 30th here.

Recall that if you have the chance to see CIC and you don't, I will punch you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blog Ratings

Analysis software is usually pretty pointless and low-resolution (if it's not completely non-random), but like many people my narcissism got the better of me. So I used this site to analyze the writing style of all my blogs, all of which came across to the analysis software as male, mostly age 66-100 (I'll take that as a compliment about my learnedness), with tone half-and-half academic or personal (are these the only two settings?). All were considered "upset". Is this the ONLY setting? I don't exactly use my cognition blog to complain!

Which one of these was not like the other? This blog, my most immature, which rated age 18-25. Must be all the scifi and metal. Besides, you're here reading it aren't you? TOTALLY NICE DUDE.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here's Me Launching a Nuclear Missile

...or at least turning the key in a preserved missile silo, and of course it's a two-person operation.

More below. The missile is (I believe) a Titan. You can see this either just south of Tucson (where these were taken), or in South Dakota off I-90. You can find the full album here.

Here is a hanging hallway. Besides the security to get into the place (duress codes, plus alphanumerics which changed every day and had to be burned after being read) the most impressive bit was the engineering of the silo itself. Because they expected nearby nuclear explosions, to minimize the effect of the shaking inside the silo, everything in the silo is suspended from the top, rather than being built into the bedrock around the shaft (which would be rocking and rolling post-nuke).

The business end of a rocket, camera inside the nozzle.

Now THAT, Sir, is a Deathlands Collection

Look at this goddamn picture:

Eat your heart out TGP. Behind that stack of Deathlands books is a whole other set of Deathlands books. I mean holy Key-rist on a hard roll. That anyone would admit to owning all of them but one (!) is amazing; the guilty party is none other than a certain Vancouver resident who goes by the alias of M'Aliceand was my nemesis in this tale of epic battle. I took about 600 pictures on my recent swing through the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies and this might be the most excellent one.

The Hot Alberta Metal Scene. Seriously.

Who knew Calgary (and Lethbridge, and Edmonton) had such an awesome metal scene? People in Alberta, that's who. Having just returned from the Great White (or at this time of year, green) North I must spread the word. Last week I was in Alberta, mostly in Jasper and Banff National Parks, so when I passed through Calgary I unfortunately didn't have time to take in a show. But the writeups in the local free papers were many. Of the names I gleaned, here are a few stand-outs:

Akakor - Hot technical Death metal! Imagine a heavier more metally Dillinger Escape Plan. Personal favorite track, Perceived to Be.

Enceladus - Described as Lethbridge power metal (a south Alberta city). I'm partial to showboating neoclassical stuff with melodic vocals (e.g. Symphony X) so I dig these guys too, although they could do with better vocal production and mixing. Check out the other bands at their CD release party. (No offense to Lethbridge, in fact congrats to Lethbridge, but how can San Diego not have a scene like this?!?!? If it does please direct us all to the right resources.)

Mark of Cain - These guys are slightly more technical than average and are helping move death metal past the point of trying to out-shock and out-gore the next band. Plus they like robots, and anyone who combines science/fiction and metal is making the world better.

JJS3 - Fun pentatonic neo-hard rock bordering at times on doom-metal. (Though from the Yukon rather than Alberta. Is there death metal in the Yukon? I spend too much time wondering if there's anything about certain cities that contributes to the musical style aside from contact with other bands; maybe in a massive territory like YT with only 30,000 other people the population density is too low to get really angry.) I find myself listening to Warrior Warrior repeatedly. The guitar tone and style reminds me of Crysknife in some ways, along with the simple arrangements and catchy melodies.

Kataplexis - Perpetual Apathy is my fave. Technical bordering on black death metal.

Striker. Excellent! Imagine Black Tide meets Hammerfall; ergo, not at all like the 80s hair band the name makes you think of. Check out "F*ck Volcanoes", an ode to that unspellable Icelandic eruption this summer, musically given the full serious-minded operatic hard rock treatment, but lyrically, er ah, not: "F*ck volcanoes! Spewing shit into the sky / Stupid assholes, Iceland why don't you go die / F*ck volcanoes, you're seriously killing my buzz / Motherf*cker." Believe it or not, it works! You will also smile when you listen to "The Keg That Crushed New York".

Divinity's record is called The Singularity, which is also a good union of metal and sf. I would say they're a slightly less grating Meshuggah, but you can hear the influence, even in the vocal style. About time for a generation of Meshuggah-influenced bands to appear.

Also check out Ominosity and Viathyn.

I don't know about you but when I find an excellent metal scene in an unexpected part of the world and I'm checking out their tunes I'm like a kid opening presents at Christmas. Enjoy!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Singularity Watch: Snake Robots

These scare me almost as much as quadrotors.

Now all you have to do is make them waterproof and try to eat Christian Bale and you're set. And I know a lot of ladies who claim to already have the second part down pat.