Monday, June 29, 2015

Pop Will Eat Itself Kick a Hole in the Speakers

One reason why I don't get mad when I'm rickrolled is because I quite like Rick Astley.

I know many people loathed him, including my beloved Pop Will Eat Itself. But Rick, pay them no mind. You're ok.

PWEI with full hate on.  Astley's in the noose, hang loose kid.

They were my favorite band in the late 80s to early 90s.

Superworm tip

Ever been afraid to give a big, lively, scary superworm to a little, slow gecko? Drop the worm in mango juice and it'll be dead in 30 seconds.  Even if you fish it out and try to clean it.

I admit I found this out totally by accident and was slightly pissed at myself before I realized Fatty the Geico Day Gecko might still eat it, which he did with gusto, relish, and mango juice.

Robert Palmer, Lowell George and The Meters

Northern Soul: Robert Palmer was from my home town in Yorkshire. He doesn't sound like it; he sounds like he's from New Orleans. In this case it's because he's backed by The Meters, with the unmistakable sound of Lowell George (of Little Feat) on slide guitar.

This startling album opener consists of Sailin' Shoes, Hey Julia  and Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley. My hometown has never been as funky (and never has been since).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The intersection of Beyoncé and Bioinformatics - modification by dissent

A friend brought up this article on the "evolution" of popular music. Scientists' revolutionary findings on pop music.

I think most of us are at least a little bit aware of the arguments about cladistics, and how DNA sequencing has revolutionized it into ever more argumentative factions, and given the above I would imagine that proudly declaring you've proved scientifically that there were only 3 new varieties of American pop introduced after the 1950s, namely:
1. The British Invasion, 
2. The Eurythmics
3. Hip-Hop

- would be at least a little bit contentious. (Though I can easily imagine this as three populations of animals - R&B, gated snare, and poetry-over-drumbeat-with-no-melody, so he's not entirely wrong.)

Anyway, the bit I like is that the semi-literate journalist makes a number of mistakes, my favorite being "It's the process that Darwin spoke about, modification by dissent [..]"

Ah, yes, the famous Darwinian theory of modification by dissent. I know it well. (It's actually "descent with modification by means of natural selection".)

I read a little bit more about Armand Leroi and he's worked with Brian Eno and generally seems to know a bit about music and a lot about evolutionary biology. Comparing sequences of DNA - or even phenotypical traits -  to make a "map" of where creatures fall in terms of similarities is a fairly common thing in biology, and he's using the same type of maths to look at short sequences of music, which seems like it might be a reasonable thing to do, in theory.

What does it all mean? 

I doubt if his results "mean" anything concrete as obviously, unlike genes, today's music landscape isn't literally descended from chunks of previous music that have been sorted and then sent off into the wild to be naturally selected. I can see that a map of popular music since 1960 could be drawn as British Invasion R&B, gated snare and synthesizer 80s pop, and the no.melody-kick.drum-sample-poetry music of today, but it's certainly not the way I would have described it before reading the piece - and looking at the vast list of assumptions in his paper, there's probably 10,000 different equally "mathematical" ways to draw the map.

Still you can't fault a scientific paper where the caption to Figure 1 is "Data processing pipeline illustrated with a segment of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975, one of the few Hot 100 hits to feature an astrophysicist on lead guitar."

Here's his original paper. Beware: math

Han Solo, shooting first, in the original Star Wars cut

Just for youngsters, i.e. anyone under thirty-five, here is a clip from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, showing that Han shot first, and indeed was the only one to shoot, because he hit Greedo, obviously, and there was no return fire. (Thanks to uploader Daniel M Kobayashi.)

Whenever this one comes up, there's always a few people who don't care who shot first. They don't care that Greedo (in the Special Editions) missed at point blank range, and they don't care that Han waited for him to shoot first, a non-survival trait that really seems out of character for him as we first meet him.

As far as I'm concerned, Han not only did, but must have, shot first because he thinks only of himself - which he continues to do for some time.  That's why he's an interesting character. When he starts thinking of others, and even helping other people for free, that's when you know the character has grown.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

In an impassioned argument against the proposal for a Hugo for "Sagas", a professional SF writer writes:

"Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

I don't know whether that fantastic image makes me more likely to buy their work or less.

I've been thinking about the phrase to throw someone under the bus recently, as it was used approximately 16,993 times in the discussions about publisher Tor's open letter disavowing Irene Gallo's Facebook comment, which, since it referred to her by name, was widely considered to be throwing her under the bus.

To throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase in American English meaning to sacrifice a friend or ally for selfish reasons. It is typically used to describe a self-defensive disavowal and severance of a previously-friendly relationship when the relation becomes controversial or unpopular. (Wikipedia)
But what bus? Does it refer to the enemy's bus, in order to slow it down, or provide a sacrifice for it? Or does it refer to our own bus, and if so, why would we want to throw one of our own under it?

It turns out nobody knows. It's quite a new phrase, apparently coming to prominence in politics in 2008, and probably not more than 20 years older than its first citation.

The first times that phrases like it were used, they were more of the form "it's better to tour in the bus than under the bus", a reference, I think, to travelling with the rock stars (or sports stars) on the bus versus travelling in the luggage compartment under the bus.  Cyndi Lauper's name often comes up with this non-thrown usage.

When it comes to being thrown under, rather than just being under, the bus, it's even more modern and the range of possible origins is huge. Is it a reference to being sacrificed to a juggernaut as opposed to making the sacrifice yourself? Is it true that Vietnamese women used to throw newborn babies under a bus in order to collect insurance payments from Americans? (Ecch. I hope not.)  Does it owe its origin to a debate in the New Zealand parliament, where it was discussed how to provide for someone's dependents should they fall under a bus? Is it really from The Trolley Problem, where a psychological subject is told that a trolley is on a track that will kill an entire family, and is asked if he would be prepared to throw a diversion lever that would save the family by sending the trolley down a different track where it would kill a single person?

Or was it all from a Charles Bukowski book?:

In Septuagenarian Stew (The Life of a Bum), published in 1990, the Charles Bukowski character Harry pushed his friend Monk in front of a bus, and then stole Monk's wallet while Monk lay unconscious and probably dying in the street. After taking the wallet, Harry went directly to a bar and, using Monk's money, bought himself two double whiskeys. Later, Harry went to the Groton Steak House and, again using Monk's money, bought two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries ("go easy on the grease"). (Explanation by Thursagen.)

I don't know. But I love the phrase "Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Water lily blossom

I bought a bare-root water lily back in March. I didn't have much hope for it, as commercial bulbs of exotic plants in my estimation always tend to the condition of Venus Fly Traps - i.e. dead within six months. However this one has thrived, or perhaps thriven. It's in a pot with clay soil in it, and yes, I do give it aquatic plant fertilizer, which has turned the entire "pond" a fetching shade of algae-green.

Still, it's a pretty lily, and it's been flowering for a while now.

(The tiny fish are the ones the Vector Control people hand out - mosquito fish, or Gambys, which eat the mosquito larvae. If you're in California and you don't have any Gambys in your pond, call Animal Control or Vector Control for your county. They're free and they're nicer than getting giant swollen mosquito bites, West Nile Virus etc.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Johnny Pneumonic

I'm not surprised to see this - 'pneumonic' for 'mnemonic' - as the people at work all pronounced it that way.  (In a health care setting, and for all I know elsewhere, people have to learn keyboard shortcuts for lengthy technical terms, and the IT word for these short cuts is 'mnemonics'.)

I pronounce the p-one nyooooMONick and the mn-one nimMONick, but at the lab, both were noooMONick. That was in So Cal. The writer of the page imaged below is from London, so maybe I'm just wrong and they're both the first one.

Anyway, since it is a medical term, a story about Johnny Pneumonic would be pretty interesting. Johnny Mnemonic was about a data courier, Johnny, who has to transport double his standard 160 gigabytes of data in his brain implant to a customer in order to be given a cure for his nerve disease, whereupon Japanese gangsters get into the act. Mnemonic is from the word for the Greek personification of memory, the Titan Mnemosyne. It means to aid the memory, in particular a sequence of letters or images that help you remember.  It was originally a short story by William Gibson, and made into a movie starring Keanu Reeves which I quite liked, although it was roundly panned.

'Pneumonic' just means 'pertaining to the lungs' originally from pneuma, which can either mean vital spark or breath of life, or just breath, or air, for short, and eventually refers to a 'lung'. (Not to be confused with pneumatic, which means something filled with or operated by compressed air, unless you're reading Brave New World, in which case it means bootylicious, except when describing the chairs.)

The most frequent use of the word pneumonic is in Pneumonic Plague. This is caused by the same bacterium as Black Plague or Bubonic Plague, but instead of infecting the lymphatic system (and causing it to come up in lumps, or buboes) it infects the lungs. Because it can be coughed out by the infected and inhaled by those around, it is far more infectious than flea-spread Black Plague and more virulent. At least until antibiotics were developed, it had a kill rate of close to 100%. As antibiotics fail over the next couple of decades, it could make a comeback.

If Johnny Pneumonic were to be hired to carry airborne plague across the globe, it would make a fine short story. (As 12 Monkeys already did, in fact.) You could tell Johnny he'd been infected with the cure for cancer. He'd never know the difference, at least until it was too late.

Octopus adorabilis, the adorable octopus

This isn't a Dumbo octopus - it's ears are smaller, for a start. (Dumbo octopuses are of the genus Grimpoteuthis, and this one is of the genus Opistthoteutis.) But it is at least as cute as a Dumbo, so cute in fact that Stephanie Bush of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who is describing it for the literature, suggested calling it "adorabilis", the adorable octopus.

All octopuses are adorable, though.

Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers - “Trying To Believe (ft. Alison Mosshart)” (Official Music Video)

Alison Mosshart with Bob Thiele & The Forest Rangers or rather the other way round, but I'm a Mosshart fan first, with "Trying To Believe".

This is a seriously gnarly video (so intense I had to close my eyes a couple of times) with actors from Sons of Anarchy -  Mark Boone, Jr. (Bobby Munson), Niko Nicotera (Ratboy), Dayton Callie (Wayne Unser), and Michael Ornstein (Chucky) - comprising a Russian Roulette game with Alison and Bob Thiele. The song's pretty good too. I love Alison's smoky voice.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lyle Hopwood's 115th dream (at least)

I dreamed I was back at college, surrounded by the usual cadre of odd friends and hangers on. There were a few instances of my normal dream tropes – for example, at one point we had to avoid zany Japanese killers who could apparently hide in tiny boxes which were cunningly set into the floor – but a lot of it was normal college.

I really wanted to go an hour long lecture on artificial life starting at 11 am, but to get in, you needed to show a commemorative coin issued by the university. I didn't have mine with me and had to go back to my rooms (while my friend went into the lecture, with my coffee) to search for it. For some reason I had all of my valuable coin collection outside my rooms in the cupboard in the corridor. I had my friends search the rooms while I looked through the cupboard. Eventually I found a coin (though I wasn't sure it was the right one) and went back to the lecture. It was ten to twelve, the talk was over and no-one even looked at my coin as I walked in. My coffee had gone cold and my friend said I could have another cup from the buffet table, if no one had seen me come in. But they had seen me come in.

So I went to the bar instead. My friends were there. I had that odd dream feeling that I didn't really know them well and they would leave me if I wasn't entertaining. I proposed we should all go to the local good restaurant, Jan, and I'd pay. We got to Jan. They had big red-cover menus with a pasted-on front plate. The place had used to be called Japan but they'd shortened the name because that's modern. We ordered, but it turned out there was a Yakuza hit on the place. The servers disappeared and the fight didn't end until one of the gangsters saw me and collapsed in fright. Apparently I'm a big cheese in Dream Yakuza-land.

There was something I'd recently found out that I wanted to tell my friends. I remember telling two separate groups of them during the dream, but only remember one time clearly. It was some sort of prank day, like April the 1st, except I remember clearly it was August, and we watched people fill a Camaro with pies, and other people order ten courses of a gourmet meal to be delivered to a public telephone. I told my friends that I'd completed my first year at college, but had never taken any of the exams. This didn't upset them much; I suppose it happens to a lot of people. Then I said I'd been going to classes all this (second) year, and had just realized that I'd never been sent a course brochure. I wasn't enrolled in any classes! It hadn't made any difference to my attendance, as I suppose they were used to people auditing classes, and anyway I had my commemorative coin, when I could find it. So I'd been going to lectures for months, having completely forgotten I hadn't received any communication from the college and was almost certainly not a student. We were walking back past the Camaro at this time and everyone agreed the pie joke was funny. The public call box and the gourmet meal, not so funny, they said. A lot of people had found the food and were eating it, though, which wasn't true of the pie-filled Camaro.

When I woke up, as I became aware again, I remembered I'm retired, so in a way I'm really auditing a course I'm not enrolled in. Spooky.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stealth reading for the Hugos

Yes, I should be writing more reviews of Hugo-nominated works.

I don't feel like doing so, though. I had to take a break after the first batch just to find out what the hell John C Wright was going on about. I've read around the subject enough to get a clearer picture, but I feel like I've chased the equivalent of Cicada 3301 - or maybe Tony the Tiger's coupon clipping scheme - as far as I can.

The latest was learning (via Camestros Felapton, and don't ask me where exactly, as that rabbit hole is a thousand feet deep) that when Tybalt the talking cat in One Bright Star to Guide Them tells the protagonist to strike his (Tybalt the cat's) head from his body, there's an antecedent. And no, it's not Jesus's sacrifice. Even VD who shall not be named assumed it was, but no. It's a reference to folklore. (That passage is on page 57 of Ursula K Le Guin's The Language of the Night in my paperback copy.)

"Our instinct, in other words, is not  blind. The animal does not reason, but it sees. And it acts with certainty; it acts "rightly", appropriately. [...]There is often a queer twist to this in folktales, a kind of final secret. The helpful animal, often a horse or a wolf, says to the hero, "When you have done such-and-so with my help, then you must kill me, cut off my head." And the hero must trust his animal guide so wholly that he is willing to do so. Apparently the meaning of this is that when you have followed the animal instincts far enough then they must be sacrificed, so that the true self, the whole person, may step forth from the body of the animal, reborn."

It's a word-for-word plodding reference to it, in fact, which makes me think even less of John C Wright than before. It's like a box he checked off.

It's also hard reviewing these things as File 770 is scouring the web for content and when they do pick up one of your pieces, hoo boy beware the flood of hits. I will have loved what they were doing in 2025 but right now it's a bit irritating.

In the meantime, I did start other Hugo stories and books. None of them has grabbed me, though. Instead I reached into the To Be Read (TBR) pile and started on Mythago Wood - now there's a good story. Even though I don't like it, I want to finish it. I'll be back to the Hugos later.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Murderer classification

Google is definitely losing it. After yesterday's odd search suggestion, today I opened the news section to find:

I actually (hangs head in shame) read Gawker sometimes, but I wasn't prepared to have the Gawker headline "Search for Escaped Murderer With Huge Dick Extends into Vermont" featured as the top news story on the page.

Rarely do I find myself needed to classify murderers by dick size.

I see Gawker gets the words "penetrated" and "extends into" in the tiny quotable section of the headline/story, so obviously years of training are paying off there. I couldn't help noticing that "for" is uncapitalized while "With" and "Into" get caps. Truly, their stylebook must be prodigious.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Worm = Dragon = Hoard of Gold, perhaps?

So, I was filking a song to commemorate the new Sex Pistols credit card, and couldn't think of an alternate phrase for "to have no money". As you do, I typed it into Google. Google suggested "lumbricus terrestris" as an alternate search term.

It's an earthworm, known in England as the common earthworm, although I gather in some places it isn't so common or is actively unwanted. What it has to do with not having any money, I have no idea.  I did a Google search on earthworms about seven months ago, but that was fifteen bazillion searches ago, and not related to money in any way, shape or form.


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