Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cat Power

Chan Marshall at KCRW (Morning Becomes Eclectic) February 29, 2008:

"New York"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Microsoft Songsmith

I learned via the February 4th WNYC Soundcheck podcast about the phenomenon of Microsoft Songsmith. To me, it is the opposite of karaoke. Whereas karaoke is everything but the vocal, and the vocal is the only live part added at the end, Songsmith starts with the vocal (apparently sung synched to a metronome-like set beat) as a start point, and then the software generates what the rest of the song might sound like according to your preferences. As WNYC puts it, "With the release of Microsoft's Songsmith, seasoned songwriters and amateurs alike can generate canned accompaniment to their own voice (or those of others) with the touch of a button." Songsmith compositions seem to have gone viral a few weeks ago, although many of the YouTube videos still only have a few thousand hits. They (at WNYC) put some examples here, and linked to some others at Musicradar. Check out this playlist at YouTube or create one with a search. Microsoft's geeky (anti?-)ad may make you appreciate the production values of real ads. If you have a pc lying around and some audio tracks, you can give it a try for your 6 hour free trial. [download] [screen-shots]

Here are some lesser-known hits of "The Songsmiths":
Tom's Diner (and Glockenspiel Emporium)
Heart of Glass (and Metal!?)
Reggae-o-head's "Reckoner"
PussyCat Dolls (Don't Cha)
Billie Jean (is not my robot?)
Slim Shady (pleeease sit down?)

Just as with real musicians, it's hard for the virtual band to have a hit, but perhaps someday the robo-musicians WILL be better.

Tunes generated by economic data allow the depression to generate its own soundtrack! Any data will do.

I wonder how this cyber-muzak will wash back and influence human musicmaking, like songbirds imitating cellphone ringtones. Will musicians imitate famous bad Songsmith compositions in their live shows? Will machine translations of random wikipedia pages be the most popular lyrics?

We got the beat
Beat it
Heard it thru the grapevine
Just what i need, ed. (the cars)
The Doobie(us) Bros: Long Train Running
Buddy Holly (weezer)
What's goin on?
God only knows (bleach-boyz)

Cop shoots Trump Chump Chimp dead

I am running Mac OS 10.5.6 again on my 21-inch iLamp. Last year at this time, it froze whenever the screensaver ran, driving me back to 10.4 (and closer to Ubuntu). In keeping with Apple's corporate philosophy of "Less is More," the newsreader RSS screensaver in 10.5 now only shows 3 news stories, instead of 10. (Thanks, Steve.) Yesterday, as the screensaver cycled through the top 3 stories from Yahoo News, I saw "Huge Chimp Shot Dead After Mauling Woman in Conn." and clicked on 3 as instructed to pop open the story in a browser page. To my surprise, I saw this:

The picture was a little surprising. Look at the powerful jaws on that thing. The vacant, staring eyes. The face, almost human, but not quite. It just doesn't seem right that people are allowed to keep 200-pound monsters like this as pets. Funny thing, though, the story didn't seem to mention the animal mauling a woman or being shot. So I looked around the news and found the promised and elusive story:

The story goes on to describe the chimp's lifestyle, how, raised as a human, he's quietly living the American dream in the suburbs, wearing clothes, surfing the internet, using a remote to channel-surf TV, riding in a truck, doing a little acting, working hard, paying taxes, and drinking a little wine. The article goes on to say that "Chimpanzees are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for many years." That goes without saying. It seems like a species-ist statement considering that HUMANS are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for many years.

Colleen McCann, a primatologist at the Bronx Zoo, said Tuesday that chimpanzees are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for years.
"It's deceiving to think that if any animal is ... well-behaved around humans, that means there is no risk involved to humans for potential outbursts of behavior," she said. "They are unpredictable, and in instances like this you cannot control that behavior or prevent it from happening if it is in a private home."
After the initial attack, Travis ran away and started roaming Herold's property until police arrived, setting up security so medics could reach the critically injured woman, Conklin said.
But the chimpanzee returned and went after several of the officers, who retreated into their cars, Conklin said. Travis knocked the mirror off a cruiser before opening its door and starting to get in, trapping the officer.
That officer shot the chimpanzee several times, Conklin said.
The wounded chimpanzee fled the scene, but Conklin said police were able to follow the trail of his blood: down the driveway, into the open door of the home, through the house and to his living quarters, where he had retreated and died of his wounds.
Herold and two officers also received minor injuries, police said.
A woman answering the door at Herold's house Tuesday morning declined to comment.
Conklin told reporters the chimp was acting so agitated earlier that afternoon that Herold gave him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in some tea. Conklin also suggested the animal may have attacked Nash because she was wearing her hair differently and perhaps wasn't recognized.
The chimpanzee was well-known around Stamford because he rode around in trucks belonging to the towing company operated by his owners.
Police have dealt with him in the past, including an incident in 2003 when he escaped from his owners' vehicle in downtown Stamford for two hours. Officers used cookies, macadamia treats and ice cream in an attempt to lure him, but subdued him only after he became too tired to resist.
At the time of the 2003 incident, police said the Herolds told them the chimpanzee was toilet trained, dressed himself, took his own bath, ate at the table and drank wine from a stemmed glass. He also brushed his teeth using a Water Pik, logged onto the computer to look at pictures, and watched television using the remote control, police said.
When he was younger, Travis appeared on TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the "Maury Povich Show" and took part in a television pilot, according to a 2003 story in The Advocate newspaper of Stamford.
"He's been raised almost like a child by this family," Conklin said Monday. "He rides in a car every day, he opens doors, he's a very unique animal in that aspect. We have no indication of what provoked this behavior at all."

They inexplicably seem to be at a loss for reasons for the attack. Let's go over a few:
  1. He's living in the society of another species. Imagine the stress you would experience living alone (without a mate) among wolves, sheep, cats, aliens, stag beetles, bonobos, or ants, and trying to earn a living and accommodate yourself to their society.
  2. He's not human. He cannot be judged according to the standards of human society.
  3. He's aging and ill. His body and mind are in declining states of health. He may lose control once in a while.
  4. They have him on medications. Medications usually have psychological side-effects. Also, these drugs are not approved for use in chimpanzees and may affect them differently.
  5. They gave him Xanax. Same as number 4, only worse. The psychological effects on a chimpanzee cannot be predicted from the (mixed) effects on humans. Maybe the neighbor kids are giving him pot, acid, ecstacy, crack, crank, or other drugs as well to see how he reacts or test them out.
I think the officer also erred by not considering him "bro" enough to get tased. He must have not had a taser, because I would think that would be better than blowing chimp blood all over your car and uniform.

The takeaway impression of the subconscious mind:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Standard Chronomenclature (2009†02•12º)

Various ways of writing and numerically abbreviating dates exist in different countries. This can be confusing when you find a document dated 02-03-04 and have no way of knowing if the creator of the document was thinking in American, Australian, British, German, French, Swedish, or another way. February 3, 2004, March 2, '04, and March 4, 2002 are among the possible interpretations. 

The most logical way is to follow the system which is implicit within numerals themselves, that of placing larger units to the left and smaller units to the right. This has the added advantage of placing your files or photographs in order when used in alphanumeric file systems. 2009-02-12 will come after 2007-02-12, 2009-01-12, and 2009-02-11, for example. 

However, aside from placing numerals in the correct or at least logical order, I have often toyed with alternative date representation systems which would reduce the ambiguity of the unadorned number by linking it with a convenient abbreviation not unlike the m, k, cm, and other units. This is needed because people will not adopt the international system overnight, or even within their own lifetimes. 

For a time, I found that writing the year as four numerals makes that clear enough, and writing the month in Roman numerals was attractive, but that completely negates the advantages discussed with data in computers. 

Something similar to the Japanese 年 月 日system (e.g. 2009年2月12日) would be ideal. These characters represent year, month (or moon) and day (or sun). Looking at the (Roman) keyboard viewer, I think the best available characters are †(option+t), •(option+8), and º(option+0) or alternatively ˚(option plus k). Since we have a Christian calendar, plop a cross thingy right down there after the year (†). The four quadrants represent the four seasons and the Earth's travel through these quadrants in its orbit. The moon is often associated with a crescent but a parenthesis is the only thing close to that, and is reserved for other uses, so consider instead the moon as a reflective, mostly dark body (90% black, albedo 0.1). Represent it with the •(option and 8 on a US keyboard). That "bullet" also reminds us that the moon was created when a large body tore through the early Earth like a bullet. Last but not least, there is the day. The day is best represented by the sun, or in this case, the degree sign º(option+0(that's a zero)) or ˚ (option+k). The really nice thing about that is that a degree is considered 1/360th of a whole (circle), and a day is 1/365.25 of a year.Close enough!  Actually, using 0 may be a superscript (?) while k is a degree sign. Depending on whether you think you will confuse today's temperature with today's date, one or the other may be preferred.  

I'd like the world to adopt this by next Tuesday, 2009†02•17º. (Everybody needs a few days to adjust.) Please make a note of it. (Persons over 65 have until 9†3•1˚.) Just remember Option/alt and t8k. (Your mnemonic is "ALTer Tate, Kay" or "Alt/t80"). 
[alt/t/8/k] OR [alt/t/8/0]

Monday, February 09, 2009

Peace through Parks

Throughout the last hundred years, there have been proposals for Peace through Unilateral Disarmament, Peace through Love, Peace through Strength, and Strength through Peace. Wars rage on.

I propose Peace through Parks.

First of all, note that many, (most?) but not all, of the world's many wars originate in border disputes. Russia-Georgia, the Falklands, Israel-Palestine, and others come to mind. By resolving all outstanding border disputes, war is less likely. Imagine if the property lines between you and your neighbors were not clearly defined, and you were all armed to the teeth and had some long-standing grudges. If you could at least agree on the property line, you could build a fence there and relax tensions.

Secondly, note that the world can use as much greenery, preservation of nature, and parkland as it can get. Areas not exploited by humans are needed in every biome to preserve biodiversity and other Gaian systems.

Basically, therefore, the proposal is to turn all disputed territory into international peace parks -- natural areas where human presence is prohibited.

To work best, such a system would need some kind of sanction or push. Most of the world's nations would have to be sick of war and push the rest to agree to settle their border issues. They could block countries from having a vote in the UN General Assembly until they had resolved all disputes. Alternatively, countries with unresolved issues could be kept out of the latest trade agreements or the WTA.

There could be a multi-stage process for this. The flowchart would go something like this, as follows. Nations would report their borders to the UN or another mediating authority. In cases where they disagreed, where two entities claimed the same territory, they would be given a chance to resolve it by mutual agreement, submit it to binding arbitration, or agree to remove all personnel and installations from the disputed area and allow it to revert to nature, either for perpetuity or for a century at a time. If you choose the century option, simply suspend all arguments and agree to discuss this issue again in 100 years time. The default option of creating international parklands would be the preferred wherever possible.

Returning to our neighborhood analogy, you don't need to necessarily settle disputes with a surveyor's clear line. You can take the area between your line and their line, and grow a big hedge there, a stand of bamboo, or whatever grows there, an impenetrable brush, perhaps.

How would this look in its actual implementation? Let's start near home, in Japan. Japan's claims to Sakhalin and some of the Kurile Islands would either be agreed to, resolved in favor of one of the parties, or the whole area would just be turned into a vast nature reserve. Where the sea is involved, the old 12-mile limit or a similar rule would probably be best. Bears and perhaps wooly mammoths would again roam and rule the land. Displaced persons would be compensated for the loss of their property. Call it a stimulus package, or create a system to generate income from the area to repay the displaced or to fund the compensation board.

Also involving Japan, the Takeshima/Dokdo/Liancourt rocks/islands and the waters around them would make a good nature reserve. This place is a wasteland not worth the investments made in it (and certainly not worth fighting over). The fishery resources around it benefit both sides the most if the area is preserved as an undisturbed breeding ground to help sustain fish stocks in the open ocean. The resources on the immediate sea floor can be saved for another century. There are similar disputes with Taiwan and China, and between China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others, which can all be settled in the same way, by creating nature reserves.

More complicated cases arise where large populations, third parties, or different cultures are involved, such as the Basques, South Ossetia, the former Yugoslavia, Kashmir, Tibet, and the Amazon. Without self-determination and devolved autonomy to indigenous people, this would not make much sense. In other words, it's better to give autonomy to Kashmir, or make it a nation (or two) than for India and Pakistan to settle the dispute by evacuating Kashmir.

Let's take some extreme and potentially absurd cases. What if Mexico were to claim California, Texas, Colorado, and the rest of the southwest United States? The disputed area is probably too big to be considered as a park. Suppose then that, in addition, the settlement went Mexico's way, and these areas were returned to Mexico. This might seem to be a nightmare scenario, but would it really be so bad? Adding 60 million or so "Anglos" to Mexico's population would instantly make it a bilingual country. The wealth of the north combined with the labor force in the south could create a potent economic superpower. The northerners would demand better governance than has sometimes come from Mexico City in the past. If the northerners didn't feel they were getting a fair deal, they would secede again, or perhaps parts of the south would, repeating history in a different form. The America that didn't fight and win the war with Mexico would be different but possibly better, and no worse than the America that did not fight and win the war with Canada. By this I mean that people tend to be prejudiced in favor of their own timeline and not consider that an alternate history could have been better or worse.

In the case of Israel/Palestine, we often hear of the two-state solution and less often, the one-state solution. Other integers must be considered. The no-state solution would evacuate the entire area permanently and plant lots of cedars. Property-owners and refugees would be compensated for their inconvenience and loss. In many cases you would have to compensate both an Israeli claimant and a Palestinian claimant to the same property. This would still be cheaper and more humane than continued human occupation of the area. Fortunately, there is a ready source of income to fund this project. The incorporated park of "HolyLand" would be a continuing site of religious pilgrimage for many centuries, and the high admission charges would insure that the displaced Israelis and Palestinians would be well-compensated in their new homes in the countries of their choice in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Australia. Visitors to the HolyLand park would find it as hard to imagine the park grounds were once a battlefield as visitors to EuroDisney do. The park would be governed by a council composed of Jewish rabbis, Muslim ayatullahs, Christian priests, Buddhist monks, Sihks, Hindus, and members of other religions, with most employees being neutral Buddhist monks and secular scholars. Religious sites would be operated in a secular manner as museums most days, with multi-religious sites holding Islamic functions on Fridays, Jewish functions on Saturdays, and Christian functions on Sundays. Visitors to the park would be issued a sackcloth robe and would be required to bring their own food and water since all vestiges of electrical and water infrastructure would have been removed. Complex chemicals and technologies, such as lighters and matches, would not be allowed, while simple substances such as salt, oil, and soap would be allowed to be carried inside the park. These austere measures and strict policing would reduce the chance of violence.

That's a no-state solution, but what of a three-state solution? This solution could also work with a rump Israel, a rump Palestine, and the neutral third state enveloping the middle land and all shared religious sites. Rather than being abandoned, a variation on this would be for the central state to be a secular union of the peaceful, moderate members of both communities, with the 30-50% of radical Zionist Israelis in their own "Zion" enclave, the 30-50% radical Islamicist Palestinians in their own enclave, and the moderate ones of both communities who just want to get along in the largest group. This would not be a peace park but would have to be free of explosives and automatic weapons, and be highly policed. Unlike the area today, civilized life might have a chance of succeeding (without religion).

The nation-state-based world order may not be the most ideal, but until a transcending and unifying idea takes its place, it would at least be better for it to function peacefully.

Inspiration for peace parks comes from the DeMilitarizedZone between the two Koreas, one of East Asia's richest wildlife reserves. The experience of Chernobyl after 1986 also suggests what much of the abandoned world parkland may look like as it restores itself.

Rather than being imposed worldwide from above by the community, people could encourage their countries to drop their territorial disputes and/or convert lands in disputed border areas into national parks.

Warning: It may make people angry when you propose turning their entire country into a wilderness area.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Break a leg, Kev!

February 1st, 2009 --Tokyo. Somebody finally broke "Kevin's" leg(s). I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I think it was the kid with the headphones that he was making such a fuss over back in July. Hey: it's a roaring train, full of drunk people talking loudly after work and housewives gossiping at a siren's pitch over the train noise most of the time.Then there's the sardine-packing, the bad breath and other body odors, the sneezing and coughing commuters, the brazen nose-pickers. Hello? If Kevin imagines that he can hear a faint strains of music of several decibels loudness destroying the inhuman industrial ambiance when the train stops, he should put on his own headphones and play noisy recordings of industrial machinery such as trains so he can be happy.

But having said that, the couple making sweet sweet choco-love in public in his chair should give it up for the dude with the creepy glasses.

Another possible suspect at the top of the list is the guy (and girl) he walked over back in January.

Postscript: Scholars of Japanese urban rail manners posters will recall that the "Do it at home!" series follows a dubious series featuring Clifford the big red dog, and apparently aimed at the critical trouble-making 3-year-old demographic. Or they were thinking long-term, for when those kids turn 20. Or it was aimed at the inner 3-year-old encysted within each of us. But then they should have used Mickey.

Sober Driver '09

Busy busy busy. Need a break. What's Dengue Fever been up to lately? SF and NYC. This video recorded January 17 is of decent quality. Sober Driver is one of my favorite tracks from Venus on Earth. This is the fist video I've seen of this band in the Obama era. And if you dwell on that thought, it may occur to you that we do have a "sober driver" at the helm of the United States, if the US has a helm. Black coffee, no sugar, a bit of LMM for sweetness. Sobers you right up. You may also recall that the last occupant of the office, his veep, and wife were all confirmed DUI drivers!

Sober Driver has a pretty good premise and funny lyrics. I particularly like "The cake is all dry!" as something the fictional self-centered loose drunk chick of the story would say when she's tired of the party and calls her sober part-time boyfriend for a ride. I have to say that "It's withered, dull, and dry" makes a strange refrain (unless I've been mis-hearing it massively all along). Unfortunately for America, the drunk chick in this extended metaphor is the American public. Oh, well. Carry on, my wayward sons of…