Sunday, December 14, 2008

Remember when "viral" was a bad thing? I do, and now it's on facebook and it's called "what do your friends say about you?"

There's a new quiz on facebook called "what do your friends say about you?". I haven't taken it (you'll see why), but as far as I can tell it shows you pictures of your friends (which it gets from your/their profiles) and asks you questions about them, like "Do you think so-and-so is bisexual". Then, when you answer the questions, it posts notifications in those people's profiles. They have to take the quiz to find out what's been said about them. This is viral -- the bad kind. [1] (I stopped taking the quiz at the first question when it asked me if I thought a friend of mine was bi Because I figured out what it was going to do with my response -- annoy my friend with it, by putting a message in his notification box! Then he would have to take the quiz -- and annoy a bunch of his friends -- to find out the completely innocuous thing I said about him.)

If more apps like this show up on facebook it could mean the end -- at least of my account!

Anyone have more info?

[1] I guess the "good" kind of viral is "that's sooooo cool. I'm gonna show 10 friends...."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Using Cutting Edge Technology, Stroke Victim and Guitarist of The Long Blondes Hopes to Regain Use of Right Arm and Play Guitar Again

[caption id="attachment_209" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Not quite bionic, but he may play guitar again"]Not Quite Bionic, But he May Play Guitar Again[/caption]

I don't think it's quite the "bionic hand" of the telegraph headline, but it's an interesting story: The young guitarist of the popular indie rock group The Long Blondes suffered a stroke and can no longer move his right arm. Now, with the help of some new technology he may play guitar again.

My understanding is that the supposed bionic hand, called the SaeboFlex, provides support for the hand so that less effort is required while the patient is relearning to move their body. A real "bionic hand" would do actual work, and while they do make those, it's not for stoke victims, it for people who loose their hands.


After a stroke, a portion of the brain is literally dead, and the only treatment currently available is to get other parts of the brain to compensate. This is a slow and often very frustrating process for patients, because it involves being told to move their arm (or whatever is paralyzed). On the first day, they absolutely cannot do this, and they may find the whole thing preposterous, and want to give up right then and there. Day-by-day and week-by-week, however, they learn to move their arm again. Often the therapist has to employ tricks, such as restraining their other arm, because it's so tempting for the patient to just use the other arm when asked to do tasks, because the other arm works. Rarely do they recover full use, but scientists are starting to appreciate the full extent of the brain's "plasticity", that is, it's ability to reconfigure and repurpose itself, and they have ever increasing hope for future techniques.

New techniques include all sorts of stuff beyond what would seem like therapeutic exercise, although these are improving as well. I worked in a lab that researched the effects of rTMS which was a technique that uses powerful electromagnets to induce electric currents inside the brain at repeated intervals. This seems to encourage the brain to be more "plastic" for some reason. Research into TMS (the non-repeated version) and rTMS was originally expected to be revolutionary, but has turned out to just be very useful, although I'm unaware if anyone's actually using it in hospitals.

Thanks to extrapepperoni and slashdot for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Stay Alive in a Situation that Will Never Happen

Jeffrey Goldberg, who stole our hearts when he recently got the TSA to admit that their security efforts only target "stupid terrorists" thanks to his antics of carrying knives and books entitled Jihad, wrote an article about how to stay alive in a terrorized hotel. Of course, he also admits that this will never happen. His trusted friend assures him:
It's foolish even to worry about hotel safety, because the chances of something happening on any particular night in any particular hotel are vanishingly small.  The taxi ride to the hotel is invariably more dangerous than the hotel itself.

Nevertheless he gives advice. For example, how about placing some dental floss over that laptop to find out if someone's been tampering? Sure, that's not in every spy movie. And what have you accomplished? You just found out someone stole your data, and it's too late to do anything about it. Better advice is to secure your data using readily available software or put important data on a thumb drive and bring the thumb drive with you. Okay, says Goldberg, why not block the door with a desk in case you believe that men are roaming the floors with automatic weapons? Sure, that seems... uh... reasonable (in certain parts of the world), but Golberg himself says "This is dangerous, of course, in the event of fire." Yeah, and guess which one is more likely (hint, read the above quote, and keep in mind that a terrorist BOMBING might involve fire). Goldberg's solution of filling the bathtub with water won't help with what is often considered a larger problem in fires: smoke.

Of course, some of his more common-sense ideas are reasonable: know where your stuff is in case you have to leave quickly, while others seem like they're placed there just to sound contrary and intelligent: "Stay in hotels that have already been bombed or otherwise attacked. Mumbai is a fairly safe place for travelers right now."

A note about the books titled Jihad: I wouldn't stop you either. Most Muslims understand the term quite differently than we understand it here in the west. Jihad means struggle, often interpreted as a struggle to improve ones self or society. It appears frequently in the Qur'an, and, not being a racist I'd be happy to let you through on that one. But, yea, they should take your knives away, not the crap from Colbert.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

2004 v 2008 is a cool way to track the wacko way our presidential votes are done in this country. They even let you view the electoral votes from this day in 2004, which is a neat feature, but they don't let you view today and 2004 side-by-side, so I made my own picture:


[caption id="attachment_171" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Electoral collage map: '04 vs '08"]Electoral collage map: '04 vs '08[/caption]

It's quite a difference! They also have a cool map that resizes the states in proportion with their electoral college votes:


[caption id="attachment_172" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Map with states resized in proportion to electoral college weight. Click for full size."]Map with states resized in proportion to electoral college weight. Click for full size.[/caption]

Note that this is not an unbiased representation of the American population, since it assumes each state is uniform, but it is a good visual representation of the electoral college vote, and in the election, that's what counts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Did I Miss National Take Responsibility Day?

Forgive me for getting political, but it seems like the world is falling apart and for once some of the responsible parties are actually taking responsibility! As angry as I get at those folks, I would like to applaud them for admitting their boo-boos! (also forgive me if I'm writing too fast and not making sense...)

First, Alan Greenspan sort admitted that he doesn't understand capitalism, or at least how and why it might break down saying, "I don't fully understand why [the credit meltdown] happened." The truth is, this bust was exactly like any other bust, but what confused him is that, for so long, he has been able to blame problems on lack of free markets and this one is so clearly a result of free markets gone awry. I'm not saying free markets are necessarily all bad, but, lets face it, maybe the central pillars of our entire economy need a little oversite, no? Just a little. The bad news is that now Alan Greenspan, an intelligent man who's finally said something people really need to hear, has been discredited in most people's eyes in the space of a few sentences. But lets face the facts now, this was a typical boom/bust cycle: everyone went crazy, overvaluing their assets until suddenly they realized their assets weren't worth anything and the bottom fell out. It's more psychology than math and it happens every boom and bust cycle. Every boom there's some justification for why the boom will last forever. In the internet era we were supposedly in some kind of new economy where we didn't actually have to produce anything. Nonsense, but people believed it. This time, Greenspan and other geniuses told us that thanks to his deregulation, the markets were finally free to keep expanding and that people with subprime mortgages could refinance when the values of their houses went up (this was what he called "democratizing credit" as if that had something to do with our voting rights). Nonsense again, to believe that any market, even housing, would always go up, but people believed it. The housing market was already overvalued, when all this started and only became more overvalued because of those subprime mortgages. But since the banking industry was now deregulated thanks to Greenspan, they only had to police themselves, which they weren't interested in doing because they were all living in a fantasy land of ever increasing property values. It's hard to be sensible about this stuff when you're caught up in a culture of people making rationalizations, so a lot of smart people all made the same mistake. That's why there's no such thing as a safe investment, kids: it's all a gamble. Personally, I think an industry that is gambling with other people's money should be regulated, so that risk is minimized. Until recently, Greenspan disagreed, but now he agrees, and I think we should aplaud him.

Now, we find out that Bill Clinton "blew it", too! Mr. free-trade-solves-all-problems now admits maybe if it leads to starvation we should do things a bit differently. "Food is not a commodity like others," Clinton said. "We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves." Actually, Mr. Clinton, you may not realize this, but the "free trade" rules regarding food are quite different from other free trade rules. Let me explain. Lets start with the basics of free trade. First off, so-called free trade agreements have very little to do with making trade free. If they did, as my friend Mike pointed out to me, they could be just a page or two long. Moreover, many economists talk about how, because of the law of comparative advantage, both countries automatically benefit from free trade. Even if we assume that the agreements have anything to do with free trade, the law of comparative advantage, is about moving goods, and these agreements have a lot to do with moving capitol, which negates the benefits of the law of comparative advantage.

But let's get back to food and why it's different from other things: the US has enormous farm subsidies and then wants other countries to engage in "free trade" with us, which essentially floods their economy with cheap food. Food that sells in their country for less than the price it takes to produce. That's not free trade. But it seems like a good thing because it means people of these other countries can get cheaper food. The problem is it's not good because it means these countries must now depend on foreign sources for food and no longer have the infrastructure to produce their own food. When international food prices fluctuate, this can destroy their economy from the bottom up: it starves their poorest people making them either dead or unable to work (never mind the fact that it immediately puts farmers out of work). Why would poor countries agree to this? Well it's true, they could veto the agreement, as they eventually did with the new round of trade talks but remember it's not the farmers who make these deals, and in the short run, cheap food sounds good. The other thing is, the poor countries want to have access to foreign capital and investment. In many cases, I think it's true that this aspect of globalization can be helpful to many poor countries, and many of them mistakenly think (or thought) that this would bring their economy up so much that they would become industrialized and not need to produce their own food. As far as I know, though, no major economy exists without the ability to produce it's own food, even if it means it has to subsidize its own crops. (Unfortunately, of course, free trade is often nothing more than an opportunity for rich countries to export their environmental and labor issues to poorer countries who are desperate for an influx of capital, which is bad for the poor and working people of all countries, not to mention the environment.) Clinton did not go so far as to back off from his entire free trade stance, of course, but he did acknowledge that at least some aspects of it are causing people around the world to starve, and I think he should be applauded for admitting this mistake.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Signs that your cat may have a drug or alcohol problem

[caption id="attachment_152" align="alignright" width="158" caption="Adorable behavior such as this may be a sign of something more sinister!"]Adorable behavior such as this may be a sign of something more sinister![/caption]

If your cat is using alcohol and drugs, it's a good bet they're doing everything possible to keep that activity hidden. The last thing they want is for their owners to give them a "hassle" about his newly-found "entertainment." But continued alcohol and drug use will affect your cat's behavior, attitudes and even choice of friends.

Here are some signs to look for, if you think that your cat may be using:

Mood Swings
    Most cats go through normal mood swings. But look for extreme changes -- one minute happy and giddy followed by withdrawal, or fits of clawing at the furniture more than usual. Is your cat both aloof and prone to acting out? These are possible signs of drug and alcohol abuse. 

New Friends? 
    If you cat is using, chances are they will begin hanging out with other cats with similar interests. Has your cat suddenly turned away from their old friends? Are they hanging out with an older (driving age) group or with those that you suspect are using drugs? 

Physical Health 
    Have you noticed a change in appetite? Is your cat extremely finicky about the food they eat? Does your your cat have strange or inexplicable sleeping patterns? 

    Have you notice anything missing lately? Alcoholic beverages? Maybe some really neat sounding pill bottles? 

    Has your cat suddenly developed a complete disregard for others? Does your cat get in your way or have a "bad attitude"? Is your cat evasive or troublesome, perhaps hiding when they know they've done something bad?

Little Things 
    Have you noticed a change in hairstyle or "fashion" choices? Are they suddenly using breath mints consistently? Is your cat suddenly very secretive? 

Overt Signals 
    Has anyone ever told you your cat is drinking or using drugs? Do you know that they have "experimented." Have they suddenly developed the need for additional money, for vague or unexplained reasons? Have you ever seen them stagger? Or have you noticed any slurred speech? Changes in the pupils of their eyes, or redness or bloodshot eyes? 

Again, many of these changes could be attributed to normal cat behavior. But if you have noticed a pattern of several of these "signals" your cat may be using alcohol or drugs.


thanks to for.... virtually all of this text.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Use for an Old Tool

[caption id="attachment_157" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="That's what I've been trying to tell you!"]That's what I've been trying to tell you![/caption]

Oh, yeh, people have been using homing Pigeons to catch people who can control electricity for, like, hundreds of years, now. Isn't that how they caught magneto, too?

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Wikipedia Entry for Gossip Girl

While everyone else is obsessed with the idea of teens getting it on (OMG! Teenagers having Sex! Can it be?) I couldn't help but notice something else about the show based on a school affiliated my own snotty-a#$@ed childhood alma-matter, so I wrote my own wiki entry...

Gossip Girl (TV Series)

Jessica Szohr. In the eugenically sterilized world of Gossip Girls, black people have been improved: their new eye color is blue!In addition to lots of hot white characters, Gossip Girl also features a hot non-white character who plays Dan's BFF. (She even looks less white in other pictures!) If you believe she grew up in a scary part of Brooklyn, I'll sell you a bridge to that borough.

Gossip Girl is an American television teen drama based on the popular novel series of the same name written by Cecily von Ziegesar. Gossip Girl revolves around the lives of socialite young adults growing up on New York's least exciting neighborhood, the Upper East Side. The characters attend elite academic institutions while dealing with sex, drugs, jealousy, and other issues faced by today's rich white kids (oh, right, and Dan's BFF, what's-her-name1. She has to deal with pretending not to fit in, despite being from scary Brooklyn). Issues not addressed in detail include: depression, college admission, school work, money, medical problems, emotional problems, etc. (fortunately, that TV unfriendly stuff doesn't happen to these kids, even, surprisingly, anorexia).

Despite the appearance of non-wasp characters a non-wasp character, the audience is able to fantasize themselves into an all-white world (just like Groton's founder Endicott Peabody dreamed of, too!) because that character at least has blue eyes and is really hot and has a "normal" job working in a cafe (off-camera she's a model).

Apparently, the writers attended New York City private schools either in 1947, or in the South, because several of the episodes depict things like coming out cotillions (I know the characters are too old for bar/bat mitzvahs, but cotillions? WTF? How about the Gold and Silver Ball next season?).2

Anyway relax, this show is totally race-sanitized: no major Asian characters or Black characters (unless they have blue eyes, exotic sounding names and can pass for children of characters from the '90's hit show Friends), and definitely no Jews. Not the Upper East Side I remember from my high school days, but it's definitely the Upper East Side many of my friends' parents probably dreamed about. It's sort of like a eugenics project, only it's not real, so you can feel good about that, too, because some of those schools really are eugenics projects and that's more than a little creepy.


The show's critics allege that the show raises some adult themes. What exactly constitutes an adult theme? According to Bill Waterson, it's things like doing paperwork, filing, etc. Indeed, the show has that: Nate becomes involved in the family business and so on, so I advise parents caution when allowing their children to watch this show.

Season 2

Rumor has it that more adult themes are in store next season. Perhaps they'll be doing taxes, or learning right from wrong or even drinking adult drinks like cosmos? Perhaps the smarter ones will grow up properly and turn into chicktellectuals.

Discussion Questions

  • Wasn't there an Asian chick with no lines in the pilot?

  • What's more boring, a blog about a TV show or a TV show about a blog?

  • If you were going to have a bitchy argument synchronized to a song, which song would it be?

  • In what way is Jessica Szohr's character not white?3


1 It's hard to remember the character's name when she's missing from more episodes than any other character. I wonder why that is.
2 Okay, truth be told, there were a few cotillions, but nobody got excited about them except the young ladies' mothers.
3 We're looking for either everyone talks about how great she is in order to feel accepting of her, or she provides advice and, you might say, spiritual guidance the real other characters.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Apple Sounds Song

Here's a song, of sorts, made entirely of those annoying apple alert sounds.



Personally, I prefer this (gasp!) windows one, but they are working with much more modern sounds, so I guess that's not surprising.

More info about the apple one on the unofficial apple web log. Thanks to extrapepperoni for bringing that to my attention.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Till Death or Blackberry do You Part

A new study commissioned by Sheraton hotels in honor of Global Out of Office Day (which should clearly be renamed) found that although most people feel that technology gives them more quality time and flexibility with family and friends (84%) and 77% say their PDA helps them enjoy life more, A whopping 87% of professionals bring their PDA into the bedroom, and in what may or may not be a related finding, more than one-third of folks surveyed (35%) say if forced to choose, they'd pick their PDA over their spouse. While some might say that says a lot about the state of so-called crackberry syndrome, I say dump your spouse already -- there's no love there.

Fortunately, there is an answer!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Dear god, don't say Arrrr today!Today is talk like a pirate day, so whatever you do, do not talk like a pirate, or everyone will know what a big stinking dork you are. If you already knew it was talk like a pirate day, God help you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's not about 1s and 0s

It seems like a lot of people think computers are all about 1s and 0s and if you understand 1s and 0s you'll somehow understand computers. People comment about this and I've been asked how my work relates music to 1s and 0s, even though I basically never ever think about 1s and 0s when I do, I usually think about them in different terms). Today I heard an interview on the Leonard Lopate show with some clever folks. They got asked a question along the lines of "How does a microchip know anything? Like how does it know that 3 * 3 is 9?" and the answer seemed to somewhat stump the clever folks, who stumbled for a moment, and then said, to paraphrase, well it starts with the transistors, which are like switches (they had explained that a bit already) where on is like 1 and off is like 0 and you can build up logical relationships using the transistors... [he gave some examples]... until eventually you can built up to things like that. huh? To be fair to the clever people, this seeming simple question is actually a very hard question, and it's not the type of question they are used to answering, so they were kind of put on the spot. Moreover, they probably hadn't thought about things like that since they were 8 years old, and as clever 8-year-olds I'm sure it made intuitive sense to them, but if someone has no idea what they were talking about and is going to take home any message from that explanation at all, it's that, somehow it boils down to the 1s and 0s.

It does not all boil down to the 1s and the 0s. Computer science has almost nothing to do with 1s and 0s and the reason the answers get so confusing is because for some reason everyone thinks that when you want to break things down for laypeople you break it down with 1s and freaking 0s. 1s and 0s are in the appendix of computer science. An accident of efficiency, convenience, and history, and that's about all. Now I'm a programmer, not a computer scientist, but in every good programmer is a bit of a computer scientist and I'd like to take a stab at explaining this in a different way. Without 1s and 0s. So, here's my version of how microchips and computer science really works (as a bonus, I'll even show you how 1s and 0s fit in so you understand when people try to do you the "favor" of dumbing it down):

Over the years computers have gotten smarter. They started out by being "hand-wired" (or in the case of microchips they were designed) to do exactly what they were "told" to do. The people who designed and built them understood everything there was to know about them because there wasn't that much to know (beyond the mindbogling complexity of the quantum physics underneath it all). But as time marched on, they got complex and they got to the point where they needed division of labor: one person needed to design and one person needed to "program" it, maybe. So they had a meeting and agreed on how stuff would interact, but the programmer didn't care how the designer made it happen and the designer didn't care how it was used, as long as they both stuck to the prearranged agreement. And that's really all computer science is: division of labor, only we call it "abstraction", and as computers get more complex, there's more and more of it. Computer scientists talk about the "machine layers". It's called "abstraction" because, to the programmer, the hardware is just an "abstract" thingamajiger that does stuff, like add and store numbers. The programmer doesn't need to know how, and that's the key to the power of computers: people can build on each others work without having to understand how the previous person did their work. The person designing the hardware can even come up with faster or different ways of performing the same operations, and as long as it meets the agreement, everything should keep working.

Most users recognize the hardware, the operating system and the software, as three important layers. Computer scientists subdivide each of these three layers quite a bit more. These layers and sub-layers are really ways of dividing up labor so that everyone can agree on how things are supposed to work. The layers of course, are purely conceptual. When you are using a computer, you are typically using all layers to some degree, but if you want to understand a computer, or change how it behaves, it is convenient to think about one layer at a time, or to think about how the layers interact.

Now, the lowest layer, supposedly, is the 1s and 0s, but you're not really doing anyone any favors by explaining that, because what has a 1 or a 0 got to do with bigger numbers or something useful like, say, text? That's why in computer science (as opposed to dumbed down computer science) we call the lowest layer the "digital logic level" which sounds scary, but it's something we can actually explain (we can't explain 1s and 0s). Digital logic is simple combinations of switches, memory and other devices made out of transistors, resistors and capacitors which, combined, can perform simple operations such as addition, subtraction, and even multiplication and division, as well as storage of data. An important fact about the digital logic layer is that it must exist in hardware. That is, you can't "reprogram" or change it later short of destroying it with, say, a sledgehammer. It happens to be that all modern computers use binary (which is simply a base-2 number system, in the same way that our familiar number system is base 10), which is a way of encoding numbers, text and all other information as sequences of 1s and 0s because it is fast and convenient to do so, and for no other reason. There have been computers built that are fundamentally modern in design (though they are quite old in terms of computational power) that have used base 10, but you won't find any of these except in a museum.

So the answer to "How does a microchip know anything? Like how does it know that 3 * 3 is 9?" is simply this: it is possible to build hardware that knows the answers to simple arithmetical problems, but you must build your way up from very basic building blocks. Because this type of simple knowledge must be implemented at the digital logic level, it must exist in hardware. You can't program it in later. (actually, I suspect early computers did not have multiplication in hardware, only addition, but that's really beside the point).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My imdb entry for The Dark Knight

I think all IMDB movies should have a suggested drinking games section.


Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers (WGA): Jonathan Nolan (screenplay) and
Christopher Nolan (screenplay) ...
Release Date: You haven't seen it yet?
Genre: na na na na na na na na na na na Bat Man! [no?]
Tagline: Why So Serious?
Plot: An idealistic, filthy stinking rich and (therefore?) above the law Batman takes on the forces of terrorism completely psychotic Joker, who's plots grow ever more powerful even though he claims he never ever has any plan, he burns all his money, and all of his followers have various, extreme, apparently untreated debilitating mental disorders. As a twist on the usual comic-book movie, instead of fixing things, Batman and his enemies leave a trail of destruction, chaos, death, and, of course the requisite fake deaths of any major hollywood movie.

Cast (Cast overview, first billed only)

Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne / Batman [OMG, he was BOTH. Now I get it!]
Heath Ledger ... The Terrorist
Aaron Eckhart ... Norther Alliance, Osama Bin Laden, etc. [Terrorists who were originally funded by the US, but then turned against us.]
Michael Caine ... Bill Clinton/America's apparent past/things we can learn from/smart sidekick/spiritual leader
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... America's Lost Innocence
Gary Oldman ... [Obama? America's Future? I don't know. I need some help on this one.]
Morgan Freeman ... The coalition of the willing
Monique Curnen ... All those US Soldiers who try to do the right thing! Support our troops, Baby!


Additional Details

Also Known As: Batman Begins 2 (USA) (working title)
Batman Begins 2 through 7 (USA) (subsequent working title)
Batman: The Dark Knight (USA) (informal title)
Batman: The Dark Knight 1 through 5 (USA) (informal title)
Rory's First Kiss (USA) (fake working title) [Seriously, this is out of imdb. I suspect it was originally conceived as a Gimore Girls movie].
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace, and that fact that anyone under 13 will need a nap in the middle.
Runtime: Get comfortable. Very, very comfortable.

Goofs: Continuity: In one of the first scenes with Det. Ramirez, you see her holding a cup of coffee. In between takes she switches between holding the cup with two hands, then only one hand and finally with two hands again. The cuts in the scene are immediate and linear, so she could not have changed how she holds the cup in between cuts. [That was mind-bogglingly exciting. Thanks imdb!!]

Trivia (and place where I get to say "Spoiler alert"): black sidekick doesn't die (OMG!), but he resigns indignantly to prove that he's doing the right thing, so he won't be in the sequel, or if he is he'll either come back into the fold or regret leaving or both. (Have Morgan Freeman join the bad people? I doubt it. I think that would break his contract.)

Suggested Drinking Games:

Drink whenever Batman disappears.
Drink whenever you are taken aback by someone referring to Batman as the Batman.
Drink whenever you think the movie is over. (not recommended for lightweights)
Drink whenever Batman speaks in a low voice.
Drink at every bad one-liner. (Actually, this is not so bad as most action movies)
Drink every hour, on the hour.
Drink every time Morgan Freeman or Michael Caine is smarter than Batman.
Drink every time you can see into the future. (Villain left protected by one cop, etc.)
Drink every time Bruce Wayne is a dick.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Webcomic About Session Musicians

It's cold. It's harsh. It's probably a little close to home for most musicians. It's called F Chords and it's a new web comic about a couple of session musicians trying to make a living.

If you like music in webcomics, today's wigu also has Jesus playing guitar.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Yikes! Unasked for Compression Now on YouTube!

My video camera has a terrible mike and I've found that applying a lot of compression can help, but only after applying other effects, such as high pass filters to get rid of the rumble. Why not just apply compression straight up? because every consumer video camera on the market has a built-in automatic gain control which is similar but better because it works at the source to prevent distortion. Of course, most of my videos are stupid, and a lot of some videos on youtube are really cool. Especially some of the music related ones. The last thing you want with a music related video is someone mucking with the sound, right? Well, that's what youtube has started to do according to niceone on slashdot, but he also offers a nice suggestion for getting rid of the problem by tricking the the youtube compressors. Haven't tried it yet, but thanks for the warning niceone!

There are some example clips and so on on his post and I could hear the difference even on my built-in MacBook speakers, which are the worst.

Thanks to the author of extra pepperoni for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

About Moving to NYC

Spent several days without AC.................check

Improved wardrobe.............................check

Had conversation with one of my
favorite musicians............................check

Worked ass off at new job (but
felt very hip)................................check

Assisted at podcasting workshop
for sex workers and SW activists..............check

Got furniture stuck on the way
up to my apartment............................check

Wrote snarky blog entry about
moving to NYC.................................check

Does this stuff happen to everyone on their first week in NYC?

Don't worry the new job isn't a real job, just a minor distraction from XO Wave. The furnature still isn't all up the freaking stairs. I have a video here. The solution? Oh, no problem, we'll just saw the thing in half. And it's no big deal, It just an antique Chinese bed. Not quite as nice as this one.

Friday, May 30, 2008

AEG-Electrolux sponsor noise awareness

Here's a cool ad campaign that also raises awareness of ambient noise. It's designed to to promote AEG-Electrolux's new line of quiet laundry appliances. Their billboards, such as the one pictured, can be seen across western Europe in several major cities (London, Berlin, Brussels, Milan, and Madrid):

dB meter in London

They also have a blog supposedly dedicated to noise awareness with headlines like "School kids and night club owners join forces against noise pollution", when, in fact, no such thing has happened. School kids shouted at their billboards to see if they could make it jump, and a nightclub owner took pictures of the billboard near his nightclub as proof that his club isn't that loud at night. I fail to see this as constituting "joining forces", or even working against noise pollution, really, so I won't link that blog.

Another annoyance: their website asks "Did you know that an increase of just three decibels doubles the intensity of the noise?" While technically correct, this question misleads most of their readers because, outside of a technical context, it suggests to many people that a change of 3 dB will sound like a doubling in loundness, which it won't. Psychoacoustic research tells us that a change from 6 to 10 dB sounds like a doubling1. But I guess that doesn't sell as many washing machines.

Finally, while it's cool that you can view the current noise intensities of three of the major cities online (with histories!) It's a shame that the dB Meters seem to max out at 95 dB, which is only 5 dB above the range of volume levels given for a major road, according to wikipedia, and much quieter than, say, thunder, so you couldn't use this to get an accurate account of actual average noise levels over time -- at least not of this spot in Berlin:

berlin is loud
Click for Full Sized Chart

Despite the minor annoyances, I love the ad campaign, and I love the billboards!

Thanks to laughing squid.

1Here are some citations given in a standard acoustics text, The Science of Sound, by Thomas D. Rossing. I haven't checked them myself, but the 6-10 dB figure is commonly used:

Stevens, S. S., and G. Stevens (1975). Pychophysics Introduction to its Perceptual, Neural and Social Prospecta. New York: Wiley.
Warren, R.M. (1970). "Elimination of Biases in Loudness Judgements for Tones," J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 48:1397.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Apple Desktop Video "Again and Again"

Here's an interesting video made from an Apple screencast:

An of course, the original video, by the Bird and the Bee:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Crayon Physics

I'm not much of a gamer, but here's a cool looking game. It's called Crayon Physics Deluxe and though not available yet, there's a freeware demo version and a super cool looking YouTube video:

There's also a free online version (rip-off?) found here. Lots of fun to play when I was home sick this week!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

30 Strangers

Here's a video I made this weekend for a friend of mine by asking total strangers to wish him a happy birthday:

I couldn't believe how easy it was to get 30 people (or so) from the Sweetwater 420 fest to do this. I think the key in getting people to participate was going up to people who were not otherwise occupied, and who didn't look like they might be easily put off (like they were waiting in line or otherwise potentially annoyed by something) and explaining it quickly. Having the video camera in hand was helpful because they knew immediately I was going to ask them to be on camera, and that's were I was going with it. I also had my wife by my side and I think it's easier when you have a pair of people, especially a man and a woman.

My only regret was not having a decent mike attached to the camera, but I wonder if a more professional looking setup would have intimidated people. My tiny handheld and very amateurish looking camera may have helped make people more comfortable with the whole thing.

The gag at the end is a little silly, but it gave me an opportunity I was looking for.

Anyway, hope the video is interesting to folks who don't know either of us!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Your lucky lotto numbers

If everyone plays the same set of lotteries and the same numbers come up in those lotteries, why does everyone have different lucky numbers? Am I less likely to win if I play someone else's numbers?

lucky numbers

Friday, April 11, 2008

Robot Guitar

Here's an interesting guitar from Gibson. They call it a "robot" guitar. I would just call it a guitar with motorized tuning, (nobody called motorized faders on mixers "robotic") but I guess that's not as sexy (although personally I'm not sure musicians want to be thinking of their instruments as "robots"):

Gibson robot guitar

The instructional video shows you how it works.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Atlanta Events For Musicians

Last night I organized a meetup, and a lot of folks asked about regular music events in Atlanta. I haven't checked out all of these myself, but maybe this is the month to do it!

  • The Apache Cafe used to host the somewhat legendary Mike Club every week on Tuesdays, but it's now been replaced by Tru Skool, which includes both a prerecorded song battle and an MC battle (The Mike Club was just an MC battle). Also at the Apache is the monthly Producers Swap Meet a competition of beats with big name sponsors.$10

  • For the singer/songwriter, Eddie's Attic, in Decatur is the place to be. They host what they can rightfully claim is "Atlanta's premiere open mike for the performing songwriter," and they've discovered some pretty big name acts over the past 15 years, too. $5

  • The Eyedrum has a monthly Open Improv for the more experimental and adventurous types. Basically, people bring their instruments and sometimes their own amps and make lots of noise -- it's very free form. Usually it's on the Thursday of the month, though you've got to check their calendar (This month on it's on the first Friday). free

That's it for now. I'm sure I'll add more to this list in the future!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Downtown Atlanta Tornado Damage

Downtown Atlanta recently got hit by some tornados. I happened to be downtown and caught some pictures. This isn't an exhaustive survey or anything, just some pictures I happened to snap.

Factory converted to loftspace crushed by tornadoGSU Student Housing BuildingWestin Hotel Broken Windows

More on my gallery.

Input Lists (Corrections)

In Part II of my series on Stage Plot input lists I got a few of my facts wrong. Not about input lists, but about the band I picked on, Kansas City Funk Syndicate. It wasn't because David Freeland, who had originally contacted me with some excellent questions about his band's input, was unclear, it was just that so much time had passed between asking his questions and me actually blogging about them. I forgot some important facts and got confused, so here are some clarifications.

One thing I wrote was that Funk Syndicate should buy a new mixer. This would have been good advice had my version of reality been the right one. David clarified that their mixer can reorder inputs -- the reason their input list seemed "out of order" was because of "ergonomics on the [mixer] and the money channels since some of our preamps are better than others at the moment. A lot of the channel moving is all of the relabeling more that the capabilities of the mixer." In short, they could have changed the channel order but it takes time to relabel their mixer and their outboard gear. (I am also guessing that by ergonomics they mean that they wanted the important stuff on one "page" of their mixer, which only has 16 physical faders, but at least 32 physical inputs). Makes perfect sense.

Still, it presents a problem for the FoH mixer who isn't used to finding most vocals at one end of the mix and one lonely vocal at the other. Confound that with something that I am guessing happened: Funk Syndicate sent their stage plot and Input List to the venue explained everything, including their unusual input list, the venue said it would be no problem, but failed to communicate it to the mix engineer in advance and the mix engineer got caught by surprise but Funk Syndicate thought he knew what the deal was going to be. I'm just guessing, but that kind of thing happens all the time.

I don't have a great solution to the issue without actually seeing the whole rig, and knowing all the concerns, but here's what I suggested to David:

If it were me, the first thing I would consider would be simplifying the rig -- sometimes less is more. Personally, I have never heard the difference between high quality and very high quality preamps in a live situation, but you guys might be hearing it -- especially with in-ears, or if the preamps are actually full channel strips or you've got other outboard. Or just give in and lose a little of that on your money channels. Labeling can also be an issue. You could try two colors of sharpie (one for each setup).

I don't know if this is workable -- every band is different and sometimes it can be difficult, emotionally, to have spent a hard-earned cash on high-end gear and not use it because it doesn't fit ergonomically into the rig. Something else to consider might be to give your venue two input list options, and let them choose. This could backfire because you are giving them choices they are not used to, so you'd have to find a concise way to explain the difference. You'd also want to be able to switch between them easily, preferably on site because the odds of the venue actually passing the question on to the FoH engineer and getting back to you with his or her answer is small.

* * *

Well, David has a tricky situation, no doubt, and I'm not sure I've done much to solve the problem because there is no easy answer. If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember to be as communicative, open and clear as you can be and remember to anticipate problems and be ready for them. A weird input list is one potential problem, so if you have a good reason for not following the usual rules, make sure to communicate those reasons, and, if you can, have a backup plan!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Input Lists (The Other Part of Your Stage Plot) Part II

In part I of this post, I covered the basics of input lists. I noted in that article that most people don't need to worry too much about the actual numbers they assign to their inputs in their input lists (aka the channel numbers), because most engineers won't pay them much attention. I recently got an email from David Freeland of the Kansas City Funk Syndicate who had a question about the channel numbers on his input lists, and I'll address that in this posting, but many readers may simply want to read part I, since channel numbers are not relevant to most bands.

NOTE: while this post still stands on it's own, it turns out I got some facts wrong about KC Funk Syndicate. For corrections, see Input Lists (Corrections)

Why your channel numbers generally don't matter

In general, you might think it would be easy for a mix engineer to adhere to your request for channel numbers. In reality, different mixer configurations and the desire to have continuity between sets (especially at festivals) makes this difficult. For example, a typical small format mixer looks like this:

16 channel mixer

but most large format live consoles don't look like that, because there are too many channels and you want the important stuff (the mains and the busses) in the middle where you have the best access to them. So, large format live consoles look like this:

Large format live console

The upshot is that building from left to right (which is how you setup your input list) is not the only, obvious way to go. On the big mixer pictured above, for example, I might put my lead instruments and auxes on the first 24 channels (which are to the left of the main section), and the drums, bass, and other rhythm instruments on the next 24 channels, which are on channels 25-48, which wouldn't make any sense at all except to someone who was looking at the same mixer. Another way to go might be to alternate bands on the left and right sides of the mixer, which might seem strange, but I heard of one festival which had a rotating stage, and they might want to do that to swap out bands faster -- especially if they had two engineers sharing the same console!

Don't even think about trying to organize your input list in anticipation of this, though, because you won't know where the split on the mixer occurs, how your engineer likes to split things up, or what the other acts will be. Even if you did, your input list would cease to be a logically grouped, organized reminder of the important sound sources of your band, which is the whole point of the input list.

KC Funk Syndicate's Stage Plot

Let's, take a look at KC Funk Syndicate's Stage Plot (Contact Info is Blacked out):

KCFunkStagePlotOpen in this window
Open in new window

The first thing you'll notice, aside from the fact that they've got a very large band, with a very well organized stage plot is that their input list is out of order. Their vocalists are at the top (good!), except for one, Karl, who is close to the bottom (bad!). There's also some channels that are not strictly inputs, but rather talkback channels and so on (confusing!).

I asked David about this and he explained that they really wanted the channel numbers assigned to the numbers he gave them because they were supplying their own monitor system and engineer, and the venue (a large casino) was supplying FoH system and engineer. Now, I'm sure the FoH engineer asked, as I did, why the channel order had to be that way. Couldn't the monitor engineer use a more sensible channel order? Apparently, the answer is no, because the monitor engineer was using a pre-programmed digital mixer who's tracks could not be reordered. That stray vocalist had been added to their act recently, and so had to be added to the end because the digital mixer was incapable of reordering their the tracks into a more sane order!

I don't know how much of the venue's irritation stemmed from not being able to call the shots (FoH engineers usually call the shots on things like channel numbers), and how much stemmed from actual confusion about having the vocals being separate, but David told me the venue was definitely upset.

Given this limitation, David did the right thing presenting an input list with the channel numbers assigned in order, and he was able to communicate the situation very clearly to me, so I presume he did so with the venue as well. That said, I agree with the venue, that David should consider other options in the future.

What's the Solution?

Since David upset the venue, he did some research, came across some of my previous posts on stage plots and asked for my advice. Before I get to that, I should say that if Funk Syndicate were the only band on the bill, and the FoH engineer was advised of the situation in advance and they had plenty of setup time, the FoH engineer should have been able to deal with the unusual setup. It's not ideal, but it's hardly an impossible situation and it's all clearly documented. Oddities like this are life sometimes, and David is clearly open to suggestions. I don't know if the FoH engineer was being a jerk or simply making a recommendation that they change their setup -- all David said was that the venue, "gave him some grief." I hope it was the latter.

Clearly, the ideal situation for Funk Syndicate would be to ditch the mixer that can't cope with changing channels. Seriously, I love digital gear, but it has to suit your purpose, and in this case, the centerpiece of a live setup is so inflexible that it can't be made to play well with other gear, so it should be dumped. I realize it was a big investment, and Funk Syndicate may not need to go to this extreme for what is, in fact, little more than a nuisance, but it is the right solution. E-bay will help recoup the loss. Although this is the best solution, keep in mind that even with a mixer that can swap channels you might still run into trouble -- what if FoH (for whatever reason) needs to rout you into channels 48-56 and your mixer only has 36 channels. In this (admittedly very unusual) case, you will not get your channels to line up.

Short of that, I do recommend reprogramming the mixer so that the input list is more in keeping with what FoH engineers are used to. Since Funk Syndicate are probably usually the only act on the bill, probably have plenty of prep time, and do a long set (I am guessing here) many of the usual "don't tie yourself down to one set of channels" argument won't apply, but I think they will continue to rub FoH engineers the wrong way if they continue with their current setup. I would definitely recommend, at the very least, reprogramming their board so that they could use the following input list (or something like it). Notice that I've left 2 channels open so they've got some room to grow. Maybe they should leave even more channels open depending on their mixer and snake configuration, but this way they are not expecting their venue to have more than 24 channels.

24Frank Vox
23Neil Vox
22Kim VoxWireless
21Kevin Vox
20David Vox
19Bob Vox
18Karl VoxWireless
10-11KeysStereo DI
3Hi Hat
(3)(Stage Talkback)Return

Note that I've left returns on there, so that the venues know they are needed, but I've separated them from the rest of the mix. If they wanted to use them as inputs to to monitors I would recommend patching them in as auxes, or as much higher channels (not otherwise assigned), rather than assigned channels, because the FoH guy won't want to see his own outputs coming in as input channels.

Again, if Funk Syndicate is in a situation where FoH can't conform, then this won't solve their problems, but it should do in well over 90% of cases and it should keep most FoH engineers pretty happy.

A final solution is to do nothing and simply be extremely humble when facing FoH engineers. This will leave David facing some irritation, frequent, though slight delays in setup (since things are not where people are used to seeing them) and maybe occasional minor mistakes, but probably never anything worse than that.

So, while there's no perfect solution, there are plenty of workable options. David will have to be aware of the compromises -- irritating FoH mixers a bit vs reprogramming his mixer vs suffering with mismatched channels in his monitor and FoH mixes vs dropping a lot of cash on a new mixer. Even with a new mixer, there may be a rare case of channel mismatch, so nothing is perfect in this world.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Input Lists (The Other Part of Your Stage Plot) Part I

Previously I've posted a lot about stageplots. You'd think I'd've said it all, but the truth is I've glossed over something important: the input list. I recently got an email from David Freeland of the Kansas City Funk Syndicate who had a question about input lists. I'll get to his question in part II, and, today, focus on the basic facts of input lists, which are really quite simple.

Previous articles on Stageplots:

You might be tempted to think input lists are not that important. After all, if you're a huge touring act, you're probably touring with your own engineers who know your inputs, and if you're five-piece local act, house engineers might not even bother looking at your stage plots much less your input lists most nights. The truth is that unless you are a solo acoustic act it's very unlikely that any engineer is going to keep a complete input list in their heads and having it written down is the way to go. If you are ever asked for an input list, that means someone is trying to help you, so you should try and give them the best input list you can, so they can help you as best they can. Making good input list is ridiculously easy, and, as David's experience has taught him, having a good input list can save you some grief (actually, there wasn't much wrong with David's input list, and it still caused him some grief!). So let's just take a few seconds right now to get this right!

We've got a stage plot, why an input list?

Your stage plot clearly shows all your instruments, and should show how you want them connected to the sound system (via DI or mike -- you did do that, right?), so why do you also need an input list? There are a few reasons. The most common reason is simply a check list of all instruments so that the engineers can make sure they've got signal for everything. It can also be a place for additional notes or reminders. This is especially true if you've got a huge act and you simply can't put all the information you need on your stage plot. It's also a good chance to put the important stuff up top to help your engineers focus on what's import -- eg. lead vocals first! Since most mix engineers build their mix from the "bottom up" you might want to number your list backwards, like so, but we'll see in a moment why that probably doesn't matter:

7VocalsWireless Mike (We can provide)
6Acoustic GuitarDI
3-4Drum Overhead

Notice how the input list is ordered in the same way that the mixer might be set up -- so that the mix can be built from the "bottom up", and the "money channel" lead vocals, are at the top, where they are least likely to be missed. Notice, also, that stereo sources get two channels -- you'll do the same thing with stereo keyboards and so on.

For most acts, that's all there is to it. Really. You are done. It's that easy and it will make your show go that much more smoothly.

But, you say, what if, say, another act goes on first and uses channels 5 and 6 for toms, but is otherwise the same? What if the house mixer has inputs 1-16 reserved for some other purpose, like a multitrack feed? What if the the mixer is some weird configuration or the mix engineer like to put the vocals on the low number channels? What does the house engineer do? The answer is, they ignore your channel numbers. Completely. And that's okay, because most of the time you're channel numbers don't matter, and unless your channel really do numbers matter for some reason, you can stop reading.

If you think your channel numbers really do matter, part II is coming up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I guess this is part three in my new series on inexplicable and/or surprising products. (Part 1: $40-90 bottled water. Part 2: Giant iPod earphones.) This time we've got a rolling bag with speakers built in.

Boom Bag Close Up

The thing looks like it's built pretty well, and I can only guess how it sounds. I'm not sure what the applications might be. My first instinct was presentations, but most rooms with projectors will also have sound systems at least as good as anything you can carry. Obviously, this won't compare to a real DJ rig, or anything where real volume is required. The one product review on the page is positive and suggests that the customer is carrying around both a projector and a sound system, so I can see where something like this would come in handy.

Happy Birthday, Randall

According to today's overcompensating today is the birthday of uber-geek comic artist Randall Munroe, creator of the stick-figure geek comic xkcd. As far as I know, xkcd has yet to do a music themed comic, but here are two good ones:

Here's one that helps explain the overcomensating reference.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Really Big iPod Earphones

I can't figure out if this product is for real or not. The photo is obviously a fake (click to see the full-sized version), and I can't find the product on Amazon, which is one of the supposed online retailers, but some of the other online retailers do carry it and say they'll have it in stock soon, so maybe they're just not ready to ship yet, or maybe it's a very elaborate gag. most of the rest of their catalog is either the type of stuff you'd find in an airplane catalog or something else just as baffling as these giant earphones. I can't imagine they wouldn't run into IP trouble with Apple on this one, but maybe they figured they'd get by on obscurity or satire or soemthing. Real or not, I appreciate that someone made this picture.

500 xl

Worldwide Fred

Monday, February 4, 2008

An IT perspective on the Future of Digital Music

Here's the first two in a series of four interviews by the Register, a UK IT magazine, on the future of file sharing and digital music and so on. The Register's readers, being IT open source mavens, tend to be the types who believe that bands should give away their music and "perform or sell T-shirts" to make money, but these interviewees do not share that perspective:

Thursday, January 31, 2008

bling water

File this under things that shouldn't shock me: $40-$90 for a bottle of water. Seriously. Bling H20 is one of the companies that will sell it to you. Their entire reason for being is to sell a product that you can get for free, but to make so expensive that it becomes a status symbol. Sure they put "crystals" on the bottle and say it's hand crafted, and the water is "pH balanced", but, at the end of the day the product is the price. I have to give Paris Hilton credit: she knew what to do with the water, she fed to her dog. (Why do I put crystals in quotes? Well, I've never understood why cut glass with a little lead in it should be called crystals, but I'll admit it counts as bling, since it's shiny.)

But let's think about this, if even Mitt Romney will go out in public and use the word Bling (however embarrassingly), isn't it a little late to be used for an expensive hollywood brandname?

BTW, if you, like me, are naive enough to think this was all a joke, here are some videos that might convince you otherwise:

Thanks, once again, to overcompensating for bringing pop culture to my attention.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Goodbye Art for Geeks

Paul the Wine Guy recently decided to remove his extremely popular “Understanding art for geeks” set from flickr. Here's his reasoning. You can probably still find some of his art using a google search.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Does Grad School Rock Enough?

Liz: every grad student should have a backup plan.
Liz says, "Every grad student should have a backup plan."
Liz sports the discontinued organic cotton scoop-neck backup plan tee.
Other styles still available.

Liz is not the only one to give this advice. Another friend of mine recently told me that grad school is really hard and a professor once gave her the very same advice. That way, the Prof reasoned, you always know staying in grad school is a choice, and if the alternative seems better, well, get out of grad school -- it's not worth it.

Well, being a rock star is Liz's backup plan, what's yours?

Monday, January 7, 2008

XO Wave 1.0

Well XO Wave 1.0 is here! Download it now! I, meanwhile, am exhausted, and am going to bed! If you like, you can also read the full story, complete with coupons for discounts on tees!
I will have to update the newsletter tomorrow, but since I'm writing this now: If you are already an owner of XO Wave Pro, you do not need to pay again: just download the new version and you're good to go.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sexy Geeks orCyber Hotties

Well, it's no secret that it's now hot to be a geek. For some reason, presumably having something to do with the interwub, being a nerd has gone from being uncool to being hip. There's even popular alternative porn sites that are so successful that they are spawning their own knock-offs. Admittedly, that has more to do with tattoos and horn-rimmed glasses than actual geek activities like coding, but it's all part of the same culture, I think. Oops, this was not supposed to be a post about porn..... (And by the way, don't follow, well, any links on this post if you are easily offended.)

But to be a popular geek, you still have to look good. You still have to have style, kiddoes. So what's a young geek to do? Who are the roll models? Who can we look up to? Who are the cyber-hotties? Fortunately, sex blogger Violet Blue has provided a list of the top ten sexy geeks of 2007.

Somehow or other, Violet passed me over for the list. Admittedly, I did not perform any antics like "[sell] surface real estate on the front of" my new computer in order pay for it, like #7 hottie Leah Culver. But, come on, I think I'm qualified: 1. I'm cute (:-P), 2. I'm a geek (C'mon, never mind the music software business: I etched my name in a cell with a laser! A laser!), and 3. I've even been spotted in San Francisco. Even Atlanta's infamous Twinkle thought I was enough for the back of her flier (look for me -- I'm there). Granted, I haven't done much (lately) that would, say, put me in the papers, and maybe nominating yourself is an automatic disqualification, but the people want to know, Violet: what's it take to get listed? What are your standards?

Thanks to Overcompensating for bringing this to my attention.