Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rova Saxophone Quartet, The Drift

Here's Rova Quartet's website.

While I'm posting classical saxophone stuff I might as well put a link to a Debussy piece for orchestra with saxophone.

There Are Many Nerds In San Diego

...and below is where to meet them. Moving here from San Francisco 2 years ago, I've often complained that San Diego culture isn't nearly geeky enough. Slowly but surely over the past few months I've discovered the nerdy corners and nooks of this place. There are lots of interesting, smart, fun, strange people here. In the interest of making San Diego a nerdier place, and to save you the trouble of digging, I highly recommend the following organizations to meet your fellow oddballs, science geeks, metalheads, and deviants:

The San Diego New Atheists and Agnostics - a predominantly social organization that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Atheist groups are always great places to meet interesting folks. General secular group events (including this one's) are listed centrally at SDCoR's calendar (the San Diego Coalition of Reason).

3RDspace is a cool venue in Normal Heights that hosts groups, art shows, you name it. Look at their calendar to see what's coming up.

Lesswrong - whether or not you're in San Diego, this rationality blog lists meetups for cities around the world, and some have been in San Diego and Irvine.

Sifter - gathers interesting folks and often focuses on exercise and outdoors stuff.

Che Cafe - frequent metal.

Should you decide to go to any of their events, feel free to say it was Mike and his awesome blog Speculative Nonfiction that steered you there. This will gain you immediate credibility.

Richard Cheese, Man in the Box (cover, orig. Alice in Chains, Facelift, 1990)

This is more clever than you'd think. It's also a smart idea to expand your audience, because when you're genre-shifting like this you can record just about any music that you enjoy, and then put the lyrics with it and say "this is Man in the Box". (The Tori Amos approach to Slayer's Reign in Blood was quite guilty of this; it's not clear that it's an interpretation at all.) But to be fair to Mr. Cheese, this sounds more like Man in the Box than I expected.

This version is almost more Klezmer than lounge-lizard.

Paper: Habitability of Tidelocked Planets

People in the planetary science groups at UC Berkeley and U. Hawaii produced this paper, which models possible instabilities in the climates of gravitationally tidelocked planets. As you might expect, in terms of habitability, it's worse to be tidelocked than not. Although Mars isn't tidelocked they use it as an example of the kind of run-away weathering that tidelocking could produce.

Here's an article of what would happen to our geography if the earth stopped rotating.

Iapetus is tidally locked to Saturn, as the Moon is to Earth.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

At Least Humans Have an Enzyme That Breaks Down Carbon Nanotubes

Kagan et al demonstrated last year that myeloperoxidase (which clinical types will recognize as an oxidative defense against certain bacteria) can break down nanotubes. Thus allaying once and far all any remaining concerns about the singularity and bio-invasive gray goo.*

Above: Believe the Singularity is coming? Well then you can rest easy that when the AIs decompile you in order to print matter at their whim, at least your hand won't turn all black and fall off like that. Not because of the specific structures pictured here that is. You're welcome.

*By that I mean, not allaying once and for all those concerns.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Van Canto, Battery (orig. Metallica, Master of Puppets, 1986)

I especially like the huge ancient-Rome-sounding perfect fifths they did for the bridge section. H/T to my fellow UCSD SOM Class of 2014 metahleads.

Only disappointment was that I was hoping the female would take the guitar solo. Around 2003 there was a crazy Japanese guy who did an all-vocal recording of himself covering Slayer's Angel of Death and put it up by MP3 (pre-Youtube days) but I can't find it. A music professor friend of mine once said that the evolution of Western music was strange in that the two kinds of sounds that humans make either imitate beating something rhythmically, or the tonality of the human voice, and Western music until recently neglected the former entirely in favor of the latter. So it's interesting that in versions of metal songs that return to more traditional instrument - strings like Apocalpytica, or the human voice as here - that they still end up including drums, much to their betterment. Ever seen Apocalyptica live? Their drummer might be my favorite that I've ever seen perform.

There's something to be said for a genre that inspires this kind of passion and inventivity. You don't see people doing stuff like this for Philip Glass or Lady Gaga.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cast Iron Crow in SoCal Early-Mid November

Cast Iron Crow is planning a tour supporting their debut album (First Edition) to Southern California in November. Venue suggestions for San Diego are welcome (leave a comment). Reviews here and here (free download at that last one). For CIC updates from the source, go to their Tumblr or Facebook.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The BNR Death Metal Tournament; Or, the Triumph of the Classics

Older records on average did better in BNR's death metal tournament. The average age of the releases in each round increased as the tournament moved toward a champion.

You'll note that I adjusted the y-axis from 0, because even in the first round (with the on-average newest releases) the average age was still 16 years old. That's right - the youngest group of records, on average, came out in 1995.

Why might this trend exist? The following possible explanations assume that the number and accessibility of metal releases has remained roughly constant since the late 80s (easy to argue with, more below) and also that the voting represents actual opinion.

1) Maybe the old sh*t is better. This is the most interesting possibility, especially if it generalizes to other areas of art. ("I liked Dali's early stuff but he sold out man.")

2) It's rare that people become metal fans and then later stop liking metal, but as people age, they do stop getting into new bands. Also, most metal fans aren't old enough to be lost through death, and it's not growing any faster than it ever was; so by the population dynamics of metal, most metal fans should have been metal fans for a while. Therefore there may be a tendency for more people to like older stuff. Note that if this is true, the average age should stay constant. So in other words, if they run this tournament again in 10 years, the average age of the first round should stay about 16 years, but then it will mean a release date of about 2005, not 1995.

3) In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb expresses something like Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") as it applies to art over time. If 90% of everything is crap, the older something is that has remained accessible and current, the better it's likely to be - assuming quality has even a slight positive correlation with retention of interest in the work over time. Hence, instead of constantly digging for what might be a great work of art or literature or music (but probably won't be), a reliance on classical canons is a good crowd-sourcing strategy. And it's the rare death metal connoisseur who won't enjoy Death's Leprosy, the winner of the tournament.

4) Again generalizeable: maybe early successes in a genre define the genre. These constraints then sow the seeds of the genre's stagnation, because if future works stray from those constraints, they aren't as good; and if future works remain within those constraints, they're boring and not as good. That Leprosy is not compared against Megadeth's Rust in Peace (which won BNR's separate tournament for "regular" metal) but is the winner of its own category is interesting, because it's clearly being measured differently. This might be a good definition for speciation in the arts.

Note that if anything, metal releases have become more abundant and more accessible since the 90s and certainly the 80s. Therefore, if changing accessibility has an effect, it should skew toward the later releases (assuming quality is constant, we would find more good metal albums later, just because there are more metal albums later). So that can't explain what we're seeing here.

Other comments from this peanut gallery, which you should probably dismiss as being expressions of personal taste only:

- I'm surprised that Deicide got as far in this competition as it did. Even when I was 17 it was mostly good for a laugh, although carrying around this tape in school was enough to get me the nickname of Satan, which stuck for years.

- I love both Obituary's Cause of Death and In Flames' Jester Race but if I had to pick one I'd go with the latter. Looking at how the voting went, the neoclassical NWOSDM sound seems to be fading at the close of the metal Silver Age.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Games and Hyper-Reality

This lecture by CMU Prof Jesse Schell should be retitled "How Our Worst Cognitive Weaknesses Are Exploited For Money By Video Game Makers". Using games as incentives to get people to do things isn't a new idea but he boils a lot of it down to psychology in a very clear way. This brings up lots of points.

There are lots of people who don't ever play video games; unless you count this version of Missile Command, I'm one of them. It's not that we're Amish or something, but many of us just don't see the point of spending time learning skills (i.e. the necessary information and maneuvering in a game) that are not transferable out of the game, and which result only in points in the game. Here are some points that are much more worthwhile spending time on: going up 50 points on your credit score! going down 30 seconds on your mile time! Going down 20 points on your cholesterol! That last one gives you literal life points.

The problem is that I (and many other people) wish we were better at paying attention to those kinds of points. Life already is a kind of game anyway (especially if you think we live in a simulation) but the problem is reinforcement. If saving money and eating well and investing and doing speed work-outs (which I hate) had some kind of immediate positive feedback, either from beating your friends or seeing automatically how you've improved over time, lots of people would do them more and better. Schell talks about this at the end of the lecture. If somehow my efforts in Halo or Mafia Wars (those are games, right?) could help me organize my finances, then I would play those SOBs every damn day.

Schell also makes a few comments on the commodification of experience, echoing comments that Umberto Eco and others have made about modern capitalism, and how this has changed life specifically for American consumers. The experiences which are created and sold to us are quite brighter, more clearly-defined, more real than the things they're imitating – and they become "hyper-real". (Ever have a cherry pie without coloring and extra flavors, and realize you didn't like it as much?) This wasn't key to Schell's talk but it's interesting to see this theme's convergence with the technology world.

My own eureka moment on this came during a visit to the California Adventure section of Disneyland, which features various California gold-rush-history-themed rides set among transplanted ponderosa pines and ersatz Sierra granite. As I stood looking over the simulated whitewater of one of the rides, it occurred to me that I could be in the real actual Sierras, with wild ponderosas and genuine granite and whitewater, in about four hours. With no lines, and no screaming kids (or not screaming for long anyway, until the mountain lions do us a favor). But I had still paid to be at this fake one. The commodification of "wilderness" experience is my particular high horse, but then again I'm just fine with going to Taco Bell for "Mexican food", so I guess we all have to pick our compromises.

Disney vs. actual redwood forest.

Notice though that the question of hyper-reality applies to things we purchase mostly for their sensory content: music, food, experiences like Disneyland. Why? Some of the hyper-reality has to do with the brute sensory input of colors and flavor and meeting preconceptions, but some of it has to do with the ideas and beliefs you experience while you're consuming the product. So far it seems to be mostly food products that have exploited this avenue; i.e. you're thinking about how thoughtful of a person you are for buying fair-trade coffee and local organic produce, and what kind of wonderful people from a distant land you've interacted with indirectly. But not all products are as amenable to this as food. I don't know that people are concerned with whether their external A/C unit is "authentic".

"Creed is Good"

I think that phrase is even darker and more nihilistic than Gordon Gecko would have uttered, but this Slate article makes that dubious claim.

True confession, not only did I actually not mind Creed but I performed covers (singing Scott Stapp's part) with current Cast Iron Crow bassist Joseph Evans on guitar. (Next show, September 17th at the Englander in San Leandro.)

I just realized I'm the Ron McGovney of Cast Iron Crow.

Michael Moore Introduces Satanists in a Jacuzzi

The Words of a Great Man

Grand Magus, Black Sails (Hammer of the North, 2010)

Grand Magus was recommended to me by Tom of Crysknife.

Like Entombed Grand Magus has some very American-hard-rock-sounding elements, although moreso than Entombed they come across at times like a NWOSDM-infused version of Skid Row (the good elements of Skid Row). Mountains Be My Throne is another good one.

How The World Looks When It Rotates

To paraphrase an anecdote told by Paul Churchland in Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind, Russell said to Wittgenstein that people had a hard time grasping that the world was round, and that the world rotated rather than the sky, because that's just not how it looks.

Wittgenstein retorted, "Then how would it look, if the world did look like it was round and rotated?"

It was meant as a smart-ass rhetorical question to prove Wittgenstein's point that the world already looks like it's round and rotates, if your thinking is good and you knew what to look for. But I disagree. Because if the world looked like it's round and rotates, here's what it would look like.

A Timelapse Journey with Nature: 2009-2011 from Henry Jun Wah Lee on Vimeo.

The dramatic impact on our perception made by just changing the time scale is sublime.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Crowd-sourced Reverse Image Search

[Added later: the best guess seems to be that it's a Japanese door-curtain, i.e., the Japanese answer to a bead-curtain. If you think you can verify this or can definitely identify it as something else don't hesitate to comment.]

Here. H/T Dan. Google is trying to automate it but it didn't work well for this image (below). Would've been nice when I was trying to figure out what the flowers outside my front door were. Answer: Callistemon. I found it only because a nice gentleman in Georgia posted pictures happened to use the same descriptor I do, "toilet-brush flowers".

Here's what I'm trying to figure out what it is dammit. My own guess is it's a blanket or something for an office floor. It's hanging partly on a door here, it's flat fabric and about the thickness of a thin blanket, and it's the right size to drape over your legs. It has a tag on it that says "Oswal".

So what is this?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tom and Jerry, the Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R. Theme (1967)

Honestly, I still walk around humming this theme. I wish the composers would've written a whole album of spy theme music.

And while you're in a high-energy mod mid-60s action theme kind of mood, here's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Peter Gunn and Hawaii Five-O. (I'm so sorry they Miami Viced the Hawaii Five-O theme for the re-boot. Only having Hottest Cylon Award Winner(tm) Grace Park kicking ass keeps me from condemning the show outright.)

Vernor Vinge, On How the Future Surprised Him

San Diego's own Vernor Vinge speaks to Reason Magazine:

One of the many things I liked about Deepness in the Sky was his subtle treatment of libertarian themes as they run into the messy realities of human life and struggles. Being able to non-clumsily incorporate Big Ideas into fiction is a sign of real skill.

More on his book Rainbow's End here.

Karnivool, Roquefort (Themata, 2006)

Here are some zany kids from Perth, West Oz, who I'm sure are gonna go far.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A More Formal Approach Detracting from the Simulation Argument

Brian Weatherson's approach has implications for the self-indication assumption mode of argumentation in general; specifically, he addresses claims on why and whether certain properties (like being human) can be exempted.

Roberto Venosa

Drugs. Drugs now. Venosa's website here.

Angela Bassett, Waiting to Exhale

This is the hottest scene from any movie ever. And now I have shared it with you.

You're welcome.

Balochi Music

Balochi are an ethnic minority in NW Pakistan and are the targets of a fairly ruthless internal war waged by Pakistan's always-ethical, non-lying, not-playing-one-side-of-the-other-and-incompetently-at-that military. I haven't yet thought about it in music theory terms but a lot of these pieces sound 2/3 Indian, 1/3 Celtic to me, and the style (as well as elements of the Balochi language) traces clearly to pre-Islamic Persian times.

Biological Material in Impact Ejecta

This article calculates the odds for Earth ejecta seeding Europa (actually, just Jupiter, but some would hit Europa).

A frequent topic here is the ability of comets and wet asteroids to serve as vectors for replicators, given that a) they have liquid water, b) organic compounds like amino acids and nucleobases, and c) small gravity wells that are easily escaped. Some comets are hyperbolic, which means they escape the solar system. (See here for calculation of spread rates between solar systems based on hyperbolic comets.) Whether this is the seedign of proto-biological materials, or a "lifecloud", or von Neumann probes is really up to your ability to gauge the intentions of probe designers, their ability to prevent function-destroying but fertility-enhancing mutations, and your own cut-off for a definition of primitive life (self-replicating RNA? Viruses? Floridians?)

Lyzanxia, Silencecode (Mindcrimes, 2003)

Somehow a lot of the bands that Carcass has strongly influenced are in France, like these excellent fellows. Carcariass is another great one although is maybe a little more Stockholm-sounding; although I imagine both bands might object if I say they were "influenced" since they started very early on and could be argued to be contemporaries.

Lyzanxia's Mindcrimes is one of the best metal albums of the last decade. I couldn't embed the first track on this album (Time Dealer) from anywhere but it's my favorite and has an off-tempo bridge section which is just brilliant.

Bonus: Carcariass, Watery Grave (The Killing Process, 2002). Both Lyzanxia and Carcariass are outstanding and should be much better-known than they are.

The Fermi Paradox From An Economist's Standpoint

As a dismal scientist, Karl Smith is probably onto something when he asks Where Is Everybody.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Give it until about 1m20s.

In Ictu Oculi, Greta Alfaro.

If that's not enough for you, this might be. You might also try the late great Wesley Willis.

A Use for Quadrotor UAV's

Finally. Matternet is developing models for delivery of critical high-value supplies (like medicine) in parts of the world that lack roads and security infrastructure. Not surprisingly, the company's in-box is currently at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

Below is a test flight of a quadrotor (not Matternet's model) at Stanford.

The Physics of Throat Singing

We have two sets of vocal folds in our larynx; one is "false" or vestigial, and doesn't normally serve to help us make sounds. Little kids often discover this independently, although it has actually been elevated to cultural art form - previous post with Tuvan throat singers here. Here's PhD thesis in acoustics by Leonardo Fuks about the physical properties of both woodwind and false vocal fold phonation (main section here, ToC here). I wonder who learned it first, Tuvans or alligators?

As an aside, China got UNESCO to recognize throat-singing as their own cultural contribution, which is outrageous B.S.

Alash River, Tuva, by Konstantin Mikhailov.