Friday, December 21, 2007

Unsilent night

Here's a cool way to celebrate Christmas, Phil Kline style. Too bad it won't be happening in Atlanta, but maybe it's happening in your town.

Thanks to laughing squid for the video, and for bring this to my attention. Original Article.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Creating Stageplots on your Mac with OmniGraffle

A while back I posted about stage plots and why they are so important, especially at festival gigs, but I did not go into much detail about how to make one, other than to say draw one by hand if you lack the technical skills. Of course, there's as many ways to make them as there are people making them, but I've been using a program called OmniGraffle for a while, and it occurred to me that it would be a great tool for making stage plots if you're a mac user. It's extremely intuitive once you spend fifteen minutes with it and if you've got the right stencils, it's a breeze.

First download and install OmniGraffle. You won't need to buy it to try it out. You may not even need to buy it at all if your stage plots are simple, since it lets you add up to 20 objects before you have to pay. After you've downloaded Omnigraffle and tried it out a bit, download my stencils, which include an amp stencil, an instrument stencil, and an general purpose stage plot stencil.

After downloading it, unzip the file, and copy the stencils into ~/Library/Application Support/OmniGraffle/Stencils/. Next time you start OmniGraffle, it will see the new stencils and you can grab the images and lay them out on a document. When you're done, save the document and use the export feature to save as a jpeg, or pdf. I threw some instruments together and came up with this in no time flat:

OmniGraffle Stage Plot
(click image to enlarge)

Beautiful it a'int, but clear it is, especially considering all the stuff on stage. For details on what should really go into your stage plot, remember to see my blog posting on that subject, but you get the idea. If you have an instrument not covered (I only did the basics), you can either use a box and label it or find a picture of it online.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Controlling Subversion Post-Commit Email Size

First off, if that subject line makes no sense to you, you can probably stop reading. This post has no entertainment value whatsoever -- it is entirely practical. It's for people administering the subversion version control system.

Still reading? Okay, here's the problem: like many users of subversion (svn for short) I like getting e-mail diffs from svn after each commit, but sometimes, like after a move, copy, or vendor drop, they are too big. Way too big: they have even caused out of memory conditions on my subversion server. They have sent emails on the order of 12 megs, and that was only limited by the emailer, not by any part of subversion so far as I know.

Why? by default, subversion ships with some hook script templates that you can configure. The templates point to some simple, easy to use perl scripts, so you'd think that's what the subversion developers are endorsing. When I asked about this on the mailing list, I got two responses, both suggested I use something else, and one even used the phrase "bit rot". The take-home message: don't use those perl scripts! Instead, here's a more modern way to get your emails and limit the diff sizes while your at it:

  • Download and unzip the patched mailer script.

  • Check the first line of the script and make sure that it matches the path to python on your system. If not, modify the scrpt, so that it does.

  • As it is, the script omits diffs if they are larger than 50k. If you want to change that, look for and modify the line: MAX_DIFF_SIZE = 50000.

  • Put the patched mailer script somewhere sensible. /usr/local/bin is not bad. ~/bin/ is sensible as well, if your repo is installed somewhere in your home dir.

  • Edit your post-commit hook (in your repository's hooks directory) so that it looks like this:

    /full/path/to/ commit "$REPOS" "$REV"

  • Now the last step is the tricky one: Somewhere on your system there is a mailer.conf.example file. You can usually find it using "locate mailer.conf.example". Copy that to your subversion repo's conf directory and call it mailer.conf. It is well commented and you should be able to go through and make changes logically, but it pays to be careful. I recommend setting generate_diffs to modify, as that prevents diffs from being generated on files that are simply copied, added or deleted, but people's preferences vary on this one.

  • To test the configuration, run the post-commit script with complete path to the repository and the last revision number as arguments. That should send an email for the last commit.

If you like everything about this except the bit about limiting the diff sizes, you can, of course, use the that came with subversion instead of the patched version, just use locate to find it on your system. Everything else stays the same.

For even more control, you can also look into SVN::Notify.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pro-Audio Lolcats

I've had a nasty flu this week and haven't been able to get much work done. Somehow, in my delerium, I thought it would be a good idea to make pro-audio themed Lolcats:


Thanks to Julie from Kitty Wigs for letting me use the picture of her cat Chicken in her custom made Pink Passion Kitty Wig™, available from her site for $50. Seriously, check that out.

By the way, if you're sick of all things cute, but also secretly enjoy it, check out the satirical Cute With Chris. The best part of that site are the videos which feature everything from sarcastic humor about people's obsession with cute things to... actual obsessing about pictures of cute things. At least I think that's what's going on, maybe I'm not smart enough to actually get it. There's also a fair bit of making fun of news-caster speak, obnoxious YouTube comments, and the occasional picture of poop, cat vomit, and some childish non-sequitors which somehow make sense (at least to me) while your watching. Warning: there's some cursing in this particular video, so maybe don't watch it at work:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Crazy Violin-Voice Man

Holy Crap! Talk about falsetto. (jump to one minute if you want to just hear the first part where he's singing about eight octaves above middle-C. He does it a few more times throughout the video.)

There's some other interesting and inexplicable stuff in this video, too, like musicians with sacks over their heads. Together, it kinda makes me feel like I am watching the entertainment for some sort of alien race. Vitas as he is known, is also a fashion designer, so maybe this whole thing was his concept.

Apparently there's been some controvery over whether or not he's really singing, but according to Wikipedia, those notes are in the range of a (non-castrato) countertenor. I've certainly heard other singers, like Tim Booth of the band James hit similar notes, but it never sounds quite so... alien.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

Amen Brother, the World's Most Popular Drum Break

Here's an old video from 2004 that just came to my attention. (Thanks Peter!) It doesn't really need to be a video, since it's mostly audio commentary over a shot of a record player. The commentary, though, is very interesting -- it discusses what is arguably the most important breakbeat of all time (the "Amen Brother" break). I don't follow the author's logical leap that one company claiming copyright of their copy of this breakbeat is proof of overbearing copyright laws, but I do agree in some sort of copyright reform. I may be misinterpreting the author's intent, but I think he is implying, though citation of Lawrence Lessig among others, that radical change in copyright laws are required to enable breakbeat and hip hop music to survive because of increased litigation.

While I think the record industry has done some despicable things in this situation, and I never approve of "making examples" of people, I don't think we need to tear down copyright laws all together. Rather than ending copyright as we know it (which, as a practical matter, is not going to happen in the foreseeable future) there are plenty of other solutions. For example, right now when bands wish to do a cover song, the paperwork and fees involved are both reasonable because the industry has setup a clearinghouse for it: the Harry Fox Agency. In the same way, it would be great if the industry setup a clearinghouse for samples. Granted, the calculations for using samples would be more complex, and in some cases it may be intractable, but there's no reason it could not be done for many or even most cases of sample use.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Unsequenced 2000xl

This guy plays his 2000xl unsequenced, and he does a great job. It's great to see someone play a drum machine like a normal instrument. Loads of fun to watch:

Thanks to Music Thing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, or maybe just Harder

I can't help but wonder how long these folks spent practicing for these videos -- they are all in one take! The hand one has been around a while, but the body one is new. I wonder what's next.

Laughing Squid also reminds us of the groovy dancing girl, that everyone seems to love.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shotspotter: Acoutic Gunshot Positioning

Shotspotter, inc, a Mountain View, CA based company has an interesting technology that uses microphones placed in an area such as a city neighborhood or a military combat area that can be used to automatically detect and triangulate the position of gunshots. Conceptually, of course, this is not difficult, but the devil is in the details, and they claim to be able to do things such as automatically ignore sounds like cars backfiring. They also claim their triangulation algorithms are robust against interference such as echos that I imagine plague their microphones in urban environments. Whether this requires calibration for each setup is unclear to me from their website, but even so, it would be am impressive feat -- echos off of large buildings can often be louder than the original sounds.

They also say a lot of analysis can be made based on data collected from even sparsely placed microphones, and give an example:

ShotSpotter sensors detect gunfire at a range of one to two miles away from the sensors, and ShotSpotter systems have been shown to be accurate to within 25 meters over one to two mile ranges.

In addition, ShotSpotter performs real-time spooling of all signals captured at a sensor, to support later detailed forensic and intelligence analysis of events. Such information can include other non-weapons events, weapon type and direction of fire analysis, and even information related to the direction and speed of shooters on the move.

Forensic evidence from a drive-by shooting
11 shots fired by two gunmen in vehicle moving NNW @ 9mph
Want to hear it? Click Here....


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I don't usually blog about kooky, geeky music instruments, because that's what the fantastic blog music thing is for, but this one is special: reactable is a "tangible" musical instrument that is based on a table, with pieces that you can move around to change how they interact. What makes it special is that the developers had the idea for what they wanted to create and then figured out how to create it rather than starting with a piece of technology and trying to figure out what they could do with it. (Of course there's nothing wrong with that, lots of creative genius starts with exploring new technology, but the world seems to be awash with that kind of thinking at the moment). The end result looks very musical.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trick or Treating in Inman Park

I went trick or treating in Inman Park last night with my neighbor's kids (no mom, that is not mine. There is not something I forgot to tell you). People really go nuts for halloween around here. I think any holiday where kids knock on strangers doors and ask for stuff and are expected to get it is a good holiday. Add costumes to the mix and it's just great stuff! Little 5 Points also had a parade a few weeks ago, but the parade didn't seem as fun as previous years' parades.

Monday, October 22, 2007

...but Rock Star IS My Backup Plan

Front Design
Front Photo
Back Photo
Click images to enlarge

The XO Wave Tee Shirts are here! They are fun, sassy, and they tell everyone at the party you are not planning to be a sales associate forever (even if, admittedly, that is what you just finished saying you do now).

These are really nice shirts. They are printed on high quality, fitted Alternative Apparel Basic Crew Tees. Nice soft feel, too.

I wore mine recently at the Candler Park Fall Fest, and people loved it. Here I am pretending to be a rock star back stage with Mark Clement. The XO Wave logo is printed on the back. You can buy 'em now for less than the price of just the plain Alternative Apparel crew. Now that's a plan!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Which iPod Sounds the best? (or: Audiophiles with iPods)

iPod impulse response from Hifi VoiceWhich iPod sounds the best? It seems some folks take this question very seriously: Mark Heijlingers recently compared the frequency and impulse responses of two iPods using a pretty minimal setup of his mac's built-in line in and Fuzz Measure. Looking at the curves, I can only say I'd be shocked if someone using the included earbuds could hear the difference -- both are quite similar -- but he certainly makes the case for an audible difference in sound quality when using, say, a nice pair of headphones.

Vacuum tubes for the ipod: Music Cocoon MC4 by Roth AudioWhile I am glad there is interest in improving sound-quality, I doubt most consumers care that much. Truth be told, I don't care that much because when I'm using my iPod, it's usually in noisy environments anyway. But if it weren't for people who cared a lot, the sound quality would probably be a lot worse than it is now, so I certainly applaud the effort. Not to mention the fact that without audiophiles with iPods there would be no place on the market for wacky products like the vacuum-tube-based Music Cocoon MC4 by Roth Audio.

Thanks to Chris Pepper for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jurors: Democracy's Suckers

Jury DutyA few months ago I was called for jury duty and had to serve for a few days. No one like jury duty as far as I know, but it's as inevitable as taxes and a bit more interesting. I kept a journal when I could and filled in the rest later. I'm not sure how good a story this makes, but it's my story, so now it's in my blog...

Thursday, May 31st. 8:45 am. We're all waiting in a big room at the courthouse waiting. A nice man came out to tell us how we are the cornerstone of democracy and he knows it sucks that we have to be here. It seemed heartfelt, but then he ranted a bit about how we should not talk on the phone and drive at the same time and for God's sake ease off the gas a little. That really ruined the heartfelt part.

They gave us each jury stickers which is supposedly to prevent people from talking to us. How nice.

Thursday, May 31st. 9:15 am. I always freak out when people start calling out names. How is my name going to be butchered today? Here in the south, almost noone gets it right (except one time a waitress casually returned my credit card and receipt and said "here you go, Bjorn", which left me in a state of shock). After today, I think I will officially change the prononciation to the southern "buh-jorn".

Oops. Video time, gotta go.

[a few minutes later] Well, that was inspiring! I am an integral part of US democracy! Woot. Now waiting for my name to be called again and off to the trial room where I have to answer questions about my knowledge of mold, leaky pipes, my past landlords and.... Rush Limbah. Apparently this is crucial to the trial. In particular I had to give a history of leaks and mold in my building (which was not insignificant). And then the big one:

"Given your history, do you think you can be fair and impartial in this trial?"

"[smiling] Well, we all have our biases..."

"[laughs] yes, but what about in this case?"

"It depends on the facts: my pet peeve is when people in authority have a responsibility and don't meet it."

"But does a tenant have responsibilities as well?"

"Absolutely: if they see a problem and don't say anything, the landlord can't be held responsible for not fixing it."

I got picked to be part of the jury. I ended up against the client of the lawyer who asked all those questions.

The judge is a stereotype of southern conservativeism. An old white man with a strong, charming, aristocratic southern accent. I was a bit surprised, then, when he turned out to be quite laid back:

Judge: "Alright, I think it's time for a recess."

Defense Attorney: "Judge, how long will the recess be?"

Judge: "You got somewhere you need to be?"

Everyone laughed at this, and I felt a collective relaxing of the shoulders.

He took a few moments to personally thank the jurors for being there. It was a speech not unlike the one we had earlier, but he really meant it, and that made me feel valued. He really thought this was what government by the people was all about and he really thought our presence mattered. This small gesture made the whole experience much better for me.

Thursday, March 31st, 12 pm. It's lunch time. I was lucky my wife was in the neighborhood and I could meet her, especially considering all the jurors were still awkward, shy and untalkative around each other, like we were all still getting used to each other's smell. It's peculiar how people's social inhibitions can go up so much in an unfamiliar setting. After lunch they filed us into a room and the awkward chit-chat with strangers started, though mostly there were long pauses. Then someone told a story about when she was on a jury for a murder trial. Apparently she knew five of the people involved in the case, including, I believe, the deceased and the accused, but she was picked anyway and then halfway through the trial she got dropped. The whole story was so engaging it got everyone talking. I wish I had an ice-breaker like that (without the having-your-acquaintances-murdering-each-other part).

Thursday, March 31st, 1:30 pm. Back in the trial room, we saw opening arguments and heard from some witnesses. The judge kept fiddling with stuff on his desk because he was so bored. He got some amusement later, though -- he had a good chuckle when one of the jurors fell asleep. I'm not sure how aware that the microphone on his desk amplified the impact of his chuckle.

Thursday March 31st, 3:15 pm. Back in the waiting room we laughed about how boring the trial was, though we were not yet allowed to talk about specifics. Several people commented about the complexity of the trial. I didn't find it especially complex, but there were a lot of details and neither lawyer told a good narrative in their opening arguments. I was surprised by this, and would have thought the opening arguments to be a chance for each lawyer to present a story, and for us to then see who's story fit's better with the facts we hear.

One of the lawyers had remarked in his opening arguments: "I think you'll see that this is a simple case." Big mistake, buddy: you just told 12 people that something they think is complex is simple and then you want them to decide in your favor! (well, he won anyway...)

Then we complained about Bush until they brought us coffee. Mmmmmmmmm, coffee.....

Thursday March 31st, 4:00 pm. We heard from our first witnesses. I admit that at this point I'm started to feel a bit confused myself. They keep jumping around in the timeline and ask question after question about things that don't immediately seem important. I can't help but speculate as to why they might be important and I wonder if this speculation is going to affect my final judgement.

Friday, July 1st, 8:35 am. I arrived a little late, but fortunately it didn't seem to slow things down. Other jurors were waiting in the jury room sipping on coffee. The coffee smelled really spectacular and a few people commented on how good it was.

Friday, July 1st, 10:00 am. The trial is really going now! It feels surprising like one of those silly lawyer shows on TV: objections, emotional witnesses, and even the occasional "may we approach the bench your honor"s. The big difference is that on TV they cut out the irrelevant bits so what's left is actually interesting and exciting, but in this case, things were still boring in between outbursts.

One thing that did strike me was how charismatic both lawyers were. The defense lawyer seemed immediately likable. Even if he had a certain lawyerly sliminess, he had a quality that makes you want to please him, like the teacher you really admired in high-school. The prosecution's lawyer was not immediately striking. He was less self confidant, but you got the feeling that, in the end, he believed he was working towards the right end, even if you weren't sure he was going use ethical techniques to get to that end. I really believed that he believed he was right, and that made him very compelling.

Friday July 1st, 12:00 pm. The judge gave us an hour and ten minutes for lunch. Over half of us ate together which shows how much more bonded we are as a group than just yesterday. After lunch was over we were subjected to some long and boring testimony. One particular series of questions went on for about fifteen minutes simply to establish how much money was owed on a particular day. At the end of this, you could faintly hear the judge (who still did not entirely understand the sensitivity of his microphone) say "Mercy!"

Friday July 1st, 4:00 pm. We were let out early because the lawyers and judge had some business to attend to without us. Despite the fact that we were done hearing evidence, the judge assured us that there was no way we'd be able to finish that day.

Monday June 4th, 8:30 am. One of the juror's was late, so there was an air of tension in the room as we settled in, but finally we went in and the judge asked us not to be mad at the juror: "It always astounds me that we can send people into space and arrive on time to the second, but we can't drive down the street and get there on time because we never know what traffic is going to be like."

Monday June 4th, 10:30 am. Closing arguments convinced me who was right and who was wrong, but I wasn't convinced about if the law or contracts were actually broken. I probably assigned too much emotional weight to these arguments, actually, since nothing the lawyers say is evidence and their allowed to lie as much as they want, but it's hard not to be drawn in by the arguments. Before deciding, I would have to remind myself to think about the law, not my emotions.

Monday June 4th, 12:30 pm. Lunch with a few jurors again. It was nice to have a little break, but I think a lot of us just wanted to go back and get the job done.

Monday June 4th, 1:30 pm. The judge read us the relevant real estate law and charged us with picking a jury foreperson and coming to a decision. The law was really boring and I admit I didn't quite catch the important parts.

Monday June 4th, 2:00 pm. Back in the Jury room we were finally allowed to talk about the case. No one else wanted to be foreman so I volunteered. I had planned to do this -- no one else seemed like a leader and I thought I would be pretty good at separating emotion from fact, logic and so on. I had emotions about the case, but I thought I would do a good job facilitating coming to a the right decision quickly and efficiently and I said so. Everyone seemed to like this since they wanted to get home, but they also wanted us to do the right thing.

Someone suggested we start by going around the room and letting everyone speak. This was a great idea because after that everyone felt comfortable voicing their opinion and knowing that everyone else cared what they had to say. It also gave everyone a chance to vent and finally say what they'd been wanting to say but weren't allowed. It was a bit gossipy, more than a discussion of evidence or case specifics, but I think that's what everyone needed.

Many people expressed their dislike of the defendant, a feeling I shared, but I also mentioned that I was worried this would cloud my judgement. In fact, in retrospect, I think it did when it came time to awarding a cash settlement.

Then we debated the case, which was essentially this: the defendant was a landlord who rented a house to the plaintiff. The plaintiff's children were allergic to mold and the house had mold, which, it was claimed, made the kids sick. The plaintiff also claimed to have lost a lot of her personal possessions because of the mold, and to have been very inconvenienced (to put it mildly).

In his closing arguments, the defense had pointed out that the prosecution had to prove three things:

* That the house was unsafe
* That the defendant knew the house was unsafe
* That the defendant did not correct the problem

In the deliberating room, we were really stuck on this first one, and I must say I am not sure how close we came to issuing a very different verdict. Someone suggested asking for a written copy of the relevant law again to tell us exactly what was meant by unsafe. So we made a list of questions for the judge and returned to the courtroom. Good thing: the law he re-read us (for some reason, a written copy could not be provided) said nothing about "unsafe" -- it just talked about "defects". The defense had planted the whole concept of safety into all of our heads and we hadn't even noticed! In retrospect, he had probably been using that word all along, starting with his opening arguments.

Back in the deliberating room, this simple fact made our jobs easy: we all agreed there was a defect, that the defendant knew it (we disagreed about when, but we agreed she knew in time to do something), and that she did not take sufficient action. I took a quick vote on each point and on the conclusion: we all agreed that the law was clearly on the plaintiff's side.

That was the easy part. The next question was how much to award the the plaintiff. In addition to medical bills, the Plaintiff was also claiming "general damages", which is sometimes called "pain and suffering", though that's not really accurate. The idea is not just to compensate for intangible feelings and inconvenience, but also the lost time, the difficulty and expense of bringing a case to trial, the loss of articles who's value is difficult to document and so on.

The plaintiff's lawyer, in his closing arguments, said something like "Now I don't like to ask for a specific dollar amount for general damages, though some lawyers say you should ask for three times the specific damages...." The jurors all agreed that although that was a slimy way of asking for three times the specific damages, it was the only guidance we had (The defendant's lawyer gave us no guidance). One specific part of this claim was the articles the Plaintiff had left behind when she moved, but when we asked for a record of her claims the judge had told us we had to use our memory. I found this frustrating considering the amount of effort that goes into record keeping, but I'm sure there's a good reason. Anyway, I never took those claims too seriously (one thing I remember was that she claimed to have lost a washer/dryer. I simply didn't believe that a washer/dryer would go bad due to mold.)

At this point, I realized it was going to be very tricky to agree on an amount. First, I broke the problem down: specific and general damages. The specific damages were easy, the Plaintiff had given us an amount, and all we had to do was vote. 12 hands went up and that problem was solved. Before tackling general damages, I let people debate openly for a while, knowing it would be like calming down a middle-school classroom afterwards (indeed, my throat was a little sore at the end of the day), while I thought. It was clear from listening to the arguments that people's opinions varied widely: from zero to 6 times the specific damages. I was unsure myself about how much I thought the plaintiff was entitled to, though I was comfortable with notion that it was an intangible value and some over- or under-estmation was bound to happen. I took a moment to myself to think it over and then gave a bit of a speech. It went something like this:

I don't think it's going to be possible to come up with a single dollar amount that everyone thinks is the best dollar amount to award, but I do think it's possible to come up with a single dollar amount that everyone is comfortable with, and I think that needs to be our goal.

People seemed satisfied with that, but I decided to do a vote anyway, and saw twelve hands. Phew, that was going to make it easier.

Coming up with the dollar amount was surprisingly fast after that: I let people continue debating, and when someone expressed an opinion about a specific dollar amount, I wrote that amount on the board. (A few people were confused by the fact that we had already voted on specific damages, so I had to make a table -- people were still confused, but got it in the end.) Occasionally, someone would tell me I could take an amount off the board, at which point I settled everyone down a bit and took a vote before I took it off to make sure it was really okay. People were passionate and a bit unruly, but I didn't think this was a case I could or should try to calm them -- people had to express themselves and if they didn't they wouldn't be satisfied with any number we put up.

After some loud arguing, I managed to calm folks down. One thing that was clearly bothering people was that they wanted to think in terms of how much the plaintiff should receive after her lawyer was paid, rather than a total amount. Some people suggested what a normal lawyer fee would be but others were unsure of the estimate. Finally someone suggested picking the amount to award the plaintiff and say "plus legal fees and court costs". I didn't know if it was allowed (turns out it was) but a I rewrote many of the existing numbers on the board in terms of this calculation, and it was immediately clear that we were approaching consensus. A lot more numbers came off the board, and in a few moments we were ready to announce our verdict, and we were out of there by 5:30 pm, which meant we didn't have to come back another day. Moreover, we all felt that justice was served.

I've heard it said that the US Justice system is victim-centric. I think that was clearly the case here: the plaintiff presented herself and her children as victims and easily won the case once we were convinced of that fact. Moreover, in deciding on general damages, no one was concerned with the burden of payment on the defendant -- instead they wanted to ensure that the plaintiff received the right amount of money, and once we figured out we could do the calculation that way -- in terms of the victim -- we completed our deliberations in no time. Of course, the payment was going to be a huge burden on he defendant, but she wasn't seen as a victim, so she did not enter into the calculation. She wasn't really seen as a villain, either. A bad person? Maybe. Neglectful? Definitely. But not a villain, and not evil, and yet her burden was completely ignored. I don't know if this is right or wrong, but in retrospect, I might have reduced the awarded damages a bit because of this.

Monday June 4th, 5:30 pm. I thought things were over, but both lawyers wanted to talk to the jurors, and me especially. I was confused by this at first, but I noticed that other jurors felt extremely uncomfortable by the idea, even of speaking with the lawyer who argued the case they sided with. I felt it a bit myself, but not like the others. I don't know what it was, but the idea of facing these folks was terrify to the jurors. The lawyers were powerful, charismatic people, and now we would have nothing over them. They didn't need anything from us now that the verdict was submitted, and we felt weak. But there was something else: maybe it was because the case had been charged by the breaking down of a previously close relationship or because so many people identified with the victims and therefore felt like victims themselves. Whatever it was, many jurors were cowering at the idea of facing the lawyers, and we were all going out the same way, so I decided to do one more thing as jury forman and go talk to the lawyers and give the jurors a chance to slip out, if that's what they wanted.

I couldn't be totally honest with the defense lawyer in front of his client, and it was clear in a moment's conversation with him that he was oblivious to this fact, but I told him what he wanted to know. He seemed so powerful and cold-hearted at that moment, ignoring the woman beside him who he had been defending. Specifically, he wanted to know how we reached the dollar amount, and how we decided that his client knew about the mold. He also wanted to know if our verdict would have changed if we knew she had been involved in other lawsuits. I dodged the answer because, frankly, I was caught a bit off guard by that. I think he simply genuinely wanted to know the answer but it felt to me that, even after the trial was over, he was still trying to make the plaintiff look bad, which I thought was pretty distasteful. (Another juror I ran into later reminded me that this had actually came out in the trial by accident and we were told to forget we had heard it. Go figure -- I actually had!)

When I went over to the plaintiff, she was crying and had little to say, but her lawyer was eager to talk and thank me. He, too, wanted to know about the dollar amount, and just wanted more of a feeling of the deliberations than details. It came up that there was a lot of disagreement at first and that there was even one person who stated that he felt the plaintiff was "just doing this for the money". The lawyer asked who that was, so he could be more careful picking jurors next time, and I told him, but I also said it would have been a mistake to leave him out, because he quickly came around and ended up being the most ardent supporter of a large award.

Some other jurors slinked by on their way out, avoiding even looking in the direction of the lawyer, but while avoiding the lawyer, many wanted to give the plaintiff a hug, because she seemed like she needed the support. I thought this looked a bit awkward, but she seemed to appreciate it, so I gave her a hug, too, (turned out it was awkward -- she didn't know us, after all!), and went home.

What the Case Was About

This is probably interesting to nobody, but this is what the case was about: the defendant was a landlord who owned some property that the plaintiff (who's name was confusingly similar to the defendant's) and her two young children had lived in when they all suffered some illness. It turns out there had been a major leak, and the plaintiff claimed that not enough was done to clean up after the leak, leaving the basement as a breeding ground for a mold which her children were allergic to. In addition, the plaintiff claimed that she had to leave a bunch of moldy stuff when she moved out because it was too infected. She was claiming a lot of money, and the defendant was countersuing for back rent and because she had to clean up the mess the plaintiff left behind. Both sides agreed on a surprising number of details about the case, so it was surprising to me that they were in court. There were not enough records kept, though, to make the plaintiff's case, or the counter-suit, crystal clear. A few facts were clear:

The plaintiff's children got sick more between the time of the leak and the time they left, and it racked up a considerable medical expense. It seems likely, but not definite that their illnesses were exacerbated by the mold. An environmental cleanup company came out and fond mold and sent the defendant a letter explaining the possible dangers of not cleaning up the mold, but the defendant did not share the report with the plaintiff. The defense did do a few things to try and reduce the moisture: they bought her a sub-par dehumidifier (which was pulling about a gallon per hour of humidity out of the air!), and a few other things, but they did not follow the advice of the environmental cleanup company and fully remediate the situation.

The leak was a critical point in the case. Thousands of gallons of water were involved and the basement, where the AC intake for the plaintiff's apartment was, was very moldy. There was some discussion, especially by the defense, of checking behind the walls for the mold, but that seems irrelevant in light of the construction of the AC.

The plaintiff also claimed that a number of expensive things were ruined due to the mold. Some of this seemed plausible enough, a sofa, children's toys and so on, but she also claimed a washer and dryer. I don't see how a washer and dryer could be damaged by mold. On the other hand, the defendant stated that the state of the materials she left was "junked but mold-free", and it seems like a washer-dryer would not be worthless.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Compact Disc!

The Venerable CD Turns 25 Today

25 years ago today the first CD was mass produced in Hannover, Germany. Abba's The Visitors was followed by countless other CD releases, and CDs continue to be the number one format for purchasing music, although this will probably change in the next few years.
One of the interesting things that comes to mind is what this means for the age of individual CDs: CDs contain aluminum, which eventually rusts and makes the CDs unplayable. Accelerated aging and "stress tests" suggest that CDs should last about 30 years -- not as good as Vinyl -- and it looks like real-life is catching up. CD-Rs, at least the high quality ones which use gold, are said to last much longer -- up to 100 years -- but you have to keep them in cool, low-light conditions.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

ISRC Police

I got a call from RIAA yesterday. The name RIAA, perhaps most famous in the last few years for their aggressive litigation against filesharing, including suing a 12-year-old girl, might strike fear in your heart (especially if you've got Kazza or Limewire running on your machine), but this phone call was friendly.

The call was about how XO Wave comes up with a default ISRC code. If you are unfamiliar with ISRCs, you should definitely read up -- every day that passes will make it harder for musicians to get paid without them (in fact, I believe all songs sold on all the major digital music stores must have ISRCs associated with them). ISRCs are used for tracking royalty payments, tracking sales, and so on, and each recording of every song must have a uniquely assigned ISRC for it to work.

Without going into detail, an ISRC code consists of four parts: the country code, the registrant, the two-digit year, and the designation. By default, XO Wave assigns some values to these things, but unless you manually set the registrant, it won't burn to disk. RIAA was concerned because the default country code was derived from the computer, and you might accidentally associate the country code with the wrong registrant. For example, say you work for Tripple-A records in the UK, and have been given the registrant code 'AAA', your ISRC codes might look something like this: ISRC UK-AAA-07-00000, but if you're running XO Wave in the US, it will default to: ISRC US-AAA-07-00000, which might actually belong to another label (AAA Records registered in the US). Though this is an unlikely scenario (especially since you'll probably have to enter the ISRCs by hand which gives you another chance to check it over), I concede it does unnecessarily increase the risk of error, and anything that does so is bad.

Since RIAA's right about all this, we'll be fixing it in a future release by making default country code a preference. In the meantime (and, heck, even after it's fixed), be sure to be careful about how you use those ISRCs -- always make sure they are correct when burning your masters or someone else may be getting your royalties!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Notter

Things to read while waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I'm not a fast reader -- perhaps I am dyslexic, though I was never diagnosed -- so I often enjoy children's books. Over the past year I've read quite a few, and here's a review of some of them. You can read them instead of, or in addition to the ones by J. K. Rowling.

Magyk (Septimus Heap: book one)
Septimus Heap is the story of a family of "ordinary" wizards and their trials after the "ExtraOrdinary" wizard is overthrown by the evil Necromancer DomDaniel. Older readers might find that some of the plot feels predictable, but the story is nevertheless compelling -- perhaps because the characters and settings are just enough like real-life to be relatable, and just different enough to feel mystical. Unlike Harry Potter, this book has a pretty even split between major male and female characters, which should make for a slightly broader appeal -- at least once Potter-mania dies down a bit.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials: book one)
Easily my favorite of the bunch, The Golden Compass is probably already considered a classic by people who make that sort of judgement. Known as The Northern Lights in England, and soon to be made into a US Movie (can't wait!), this book follows Lyra, a human, and her "Daemon", a magical, shape-shifting animal that accompanies all people in the world of this novel. Lyra is an orphan who has her basic needs seen to by her caretakers, but her caretakes are distant, so at the start of the novel, her character is tomboyish and outwardly tough, but we also see her fragility and need for more human connections. Through exploration of issues such as family, trust, gender and social norms (including norms created just for this world), the reader watches what happens as Lyra grows up, and ultimately how she matures and draws from her few positive experiences to become something closer to an adult. Books two and three are next on my list.

Midnight for Charlie Bone (The Children of the Red King: book one)
Charlie bone is a barely-veiled take-off on Harry Potter. Even so, it is not without virtues: it's easier to read, simpler and less frightening than Harry Potter, so it aught to be good for younger readers. Potter fans won't be surprised that Charlie, who thinks he's ordinary, finds out he has a special power, goes to a wizard school, and so on. You already know the story, more or less, and, actually, you probably know most of the characters too, although Charlie's friends, instead of being Ron and Hermione, are a slightly socially awkward kid across the street with no wizarding powers and his dog. I'm not sure what that says.

The Once and Future King
This classic by T.H. White contains the familiar stories of the sword in the stone, Sir Lancelot, King Aurthor and Queen Guenever, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlyn the Wizard, and so much more. Much to my surprise, this was not a children's book, though. Really: don't read it to your kids. After book one (which I found enjoyable, but a bit boring) the series gets quite violent and suggestive, and it's probably too tough a read for most kids anyway. All of the main characters in this book are fated to have hardships, but those hardships, White tells us, are what built the foundations of modern England, such as Civil Law. White's obvious admiration for all of his characters, despite their flaws, is contagious, and it impossible to take sides fin the love triangle that emerges between Sir Lancelot, King Aurthor and Queen Guenever. The end of the book, which contains White's unveiled argument in favor of free trade, is a peculiar non-sequitor and, to me, a bit of a let down. In the thirties, when the book was written, it may have fit more plainly into the book's narrative of the foundations of English History.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Listenting with Your Scanner

A few years ago, someone sent me a link (via Slashdot) about a Ofer Springer, who figured out how to use his scanner to take pictures of vinyl records using a scanner and use software to read the grooves off the pictures and ultimately create audio files. The original site is still up and has some cool pictures and audio. The results aren't great, but it's a neat concept. (One slashdotter suggests why it might not be possible to get super high fidelity audio using this technique, although on casual reading I think he incorrectly makes the assumption that not being able to hear quiet sounds means you can't hear anything).

Just this morning, NPR did an interesting story of a newer attempt at the same problem. Physicist Carl Haber developed a system based on the same idea, and is currently being tested at the Library of Congress. I wonder if these two folks know about each other.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Hair Mail

In answer to the question "what did you do with your hair?", I did, in fact, drop it in the mail to Locks of Love. I was thinking of the less well known Wigs for Kids but they seem to have stricter hair requirements. I don't mind if Locks of Love sells my hair (something which some have alleged they do with most of the hair they receive) because even then someone is enjoying the wig and it helps, even if only slightly, in getting a wig to a kid.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Medieval Tech Support

Introducing the Book shows what tech support might have looked like in Medieval times. I'm not sure if this is funny to people who haven't worked as surrogate tech-support with their friends and family, but it's funny to me.....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Too Busy to Post!

I've been so busy lately, I haven't been able to complete a single post (I have, like, 10 half-written posts that will probably be irrelevant by the time I actually do post them). But busy is good -- good things are in store for XO Wave in the next few months!

But I decided to take the time to make a short post to celebrate that today, I got a major haircut. This is somewhat shocking, as you can see from the photo. I am really quite pleased with the cut, which was from the Sweetgrass Wellness Spring in Little 5 Points, Atlanta. I would be remiss, in light of a certain presidential candidate's recent haircut bill, in not mentioning that the cut was an affordable $30. Mention my name, and, according to the receipt, you'll get 20% off (and so will I).

Sunday, March 18, 2007


If you miss DJs saying something about the tracks you're listening to, check out SpotDJ for iTunes (mac and windows), which lets you listen to (And record and share) "spots" for songs. Spots might include trivia, stories about bands and songs, or whatever anyone has to say. For me personally, I prefer to listen to real DJs, like those on KCRW and WXPN, but this seems like a neat idea for anyone totally addicted to their iTunes playlists (works with iPods, as well), but who still wants to hear what other people have to say about their music (or who wants others to listen to what they have to say....)

Original article in TidBits

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Crazy Scores!

I don't read scores much these days, and my ability to read music has pretty much gone to hell, but I was still able to enjoy looking at these scores.

Thanks to Music Thing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The day I was Bjorn

It's my birthday today, and as someone with an unusual name (at least in the states), my birthday often makes me think about how my name has had an impact on my life. I've always thought having an unusual name has made me easier for people to remember, and has encouraged me to strive to be different in other ways. For example, I doubt I would have gone to the trouble of etching my name in a cell with a laser had my name been John.

Today, Overcompensating did a little bit about names and had some interesting links which taught me a few things. First of all, I found out I don't exist:
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

(There's some stuff on that site to make a statistician cringe, but I think it's mostly terminology. From a cursory look at their FAQ and so on, they do seem to know what they are doing. The fact that quite a few names, such as mine, don't show up is because their list of names is based on a random sample, and the sample probably didn't include anyone with the name Bjorn.)

The next thing I found out was that names don't have any effect on your success in life. Okay, it's not fair for me to say that, because the linked article doesn't exactly make that claim. What is does say, is that in some cases, "name is an indicator—but not a cause—of... life path." Specifically, they use the example of "Black-sounding names". (The article is an except from Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.)

I've often heard it said that if you send 2 identical resumes, one with a "black-" or "immigrant-sounding" name, and one with a "white-sounding" name, the "white" applicant is more likely to get a call. The authors don't contest this, but they put the results aside by saying "Such studies are tantalizing but severely limited, since they offer no real-world follow-up or analysis beyond the résumé stunt." To them, that's not research, it's a stunt. They may be right -- such research may simulate situations that are uncommon in the real world, or don't necessarily affect people's in as significant a way as the study might suggest -- but it's disappointing that they dismiss it altogether.

Instead, Levitt and Dubner look to a research paper called The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names for the answers. This study, an exhaustive research paper looking at a huge amount of data and taking into account a large number of variables, found "no negative relationship between having a distinctively Black name and later life outcomes after controlling for a child's circumstances at birth." In other words, distinctively Black names don't cause negative outcomes. While this may be true, it seems hard to believe that something that makes your resume more likely to land in the garbage is not more likely to result in worse life-situation, but that's the claim of the article. I don't want to dispute the article, but there are always problems with this kind of research which relies on large, complex linear regression models, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to mention a few of the ways they might have found these results even if "Black-sounding" names do have an impact on "life outcome":

  • The results were present but not statistically significant. It often happens in research that results are found, but the effect is too small or there is too much noise in the data for the results to be considered "statistically significant". Unfortunately, it almost always happens that people conclude that there is no correlation, simply because there is no significant correlation, but it is not possible to draw such conclusions. In the case of this study, which was conducted on a very large sample, it is probably not a terribly dangerous conclusion to draw: We can imagine that in real-life situations, people are so much more likely to encounter racism resulting from their appearance rather than racism resulting from their names, that perhaps the naming issue is too insignificant (above and beyond skin-color racism) to make a difference.

  • The assumptions necessary for linear regression are not met. Linear regression is used in virtually every social-science study, as well as a variety of medical and other research. Though a lot can be learned from regression, virtually no studies take the time to assess the validity of a linear model, and it's especially difficult to do so on large data-sets, with a large number of variables. In practice, such techniques often work, but any good statistician should hesitate to design a study using linear regression that tries to predict the extent to which various factors cause or predict certain outcomes, so it is disappointing that such techniques are so widespread.

  • There is an interaction between the variables which is not corrected for. It may be, for example, that a uniquely black name is an advantage for relatively rich blacks and a disadvantage for relatively poor blacks. However unlikely this may be, if it is the case, it is hard to use regression to uncover all such interactions, especially with such a large number of variables.

In the end, linear regression is often the only practical way to answer such questions, and the conclusion reached by the researchers is probably correct. But, even so, that doesn't mean that the conclusion generalizes: names may still have a large impact on the path your life takes.


Thursday, February 1, 2007

iTunes Concert Calendar

Now this is cool: a program that reads your iTunes database and tells you if any of your favorite bands are coming to town! When I saw this I thought, "man someone finally figured it out!" It would be cool if it let you add events to your iCal and if it let you add bands that aren't necessarily in your iTunes Playlist, but man, what a great start! [UPDATE: it turns out you can add your own list of bands -- they explain how to do so in the FAQ.]

Download iConcertCal from:

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Merry Christmas!

A little late for merry Christmas tidings, but I just saw this. Very funny, and definitely worth the wait for the load:

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Courtesy of Dailey and Associates.