Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tonight I have to leave it...

More Swedes...

Though this song seems to borrow perhaps a little too heavily from The Cure and might not the fall in the gigahilton range of the spectrum, I think it still falls squarely in the megahiltons. (If not this, try last year's Please Please Please or The Comeback) Actually, in light of their other tunes, this song is in all probability a well-intentioned homage. In any case, enjoy!

The latest from Shout Out Louds...

Artist: Shout Out Louds
Song: Tonight I Have to Leave It
Year: 2007
Free download: link

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I am John

Too busy to write, but I've got a backlog of interesting music...

In addition to the Norwegian exports, I've seen quite a bit of interesting stuff coming out of Sweden. For example, this strange video by "Loney, Dear."

Artist: Loney, Dear
Song: I am John
Disc: Loney, Noir (2005, 2007)

House on Fire

This time, something from The Clientele.

"Their music has often been noted for its reverb-rich production and MacLean's distinctive breathy vocals (an effect achieved partly by MacLean singing with a microphone plugged into a guitar amplifier) and unique guitar style. Their lyrics take a strong inspiration from surrealist literature and art from the early 20th century; "We Could Walk Together" quotes a line ("like a silver ring thrown into the flood of my heart") from a 1928 poem by French surrealist Joë Bousquet; the song "What Goes Up" quotes the poem "Stupidity Street" by Ralph Hodgson in its entirety." -- Wikipedia

Several of their songs remind me of British Invasion bands of the mid 1960s such as Chad & Jeremy, the Association, et al.

Artist: The Clientele
Song: House on Fire
Disc: The Violet Hour
Year: 2003

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mistaken for Strangers

Artist: The National
Song: Mistaken for Strangers

IHWTH: Cheetah Edition

I hate when that happens: Cheetah Edition.
(Rated G)

Man vs. Nature

It's true Nature weaves some beautiful patterns:
The dazzling spots of a peacock,
The stark contrast in a zebra's stripes,
The contoured fluorescence of a poison frog.
But not plaid.
We get credit for plaid.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Knives from Bavaria

Artist: Dean & Britta
Song: Knives from Bavaria


I feel as ambivalent as the guy who won a lifetime supply of White Castle.

The way things look...

Wittgenstein: "Tell me, why do people always say it was natural for men to assume that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"

Friend: "Well, obviously, because it just looks as if the sun is going round the earth."

Wittgenstein: "Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth was rotating?"

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Circles of Affection

Circles of Affection

In appearance, he's an aged Sandinista--a cigar, a soiled t-shirt, a defiant but wrinkled fist atop a flexed arm. (The teddy bear just seems to be along for the ride.)

His quotidian appearances are as regular as a rooster's crow. If you don't know better, you'll first assume nothing more than a weathered man making a U-turn on an old Italian street; but each evening, before the sidewalk diners, his little truck orbits through a dozen circles, and then it leaves the way it came.

It frustrates the stern, grandmotherly innkeeper. Hands on hips, she shakes her head and mutters, "He thinks he's my boyfriend..."

The rain falls hard...

The hat tip goes to PZ Meyers for this inspiring chorus of Finns singing praises to every dark cloud imaginable. (It's given me a new perspective on life: Morrissey seems much cheerier now.)

Ringtones are all irritating.
When you buy furniture...
All you get is a pile of boards...

Economics 101

Rising gas prices invariably lead people to the conclusion that gas prices are high simply because oil companies have conspired to raise prices. Sometimes I worry this belief will become widespread enough to induce politicians into legislating a price fixing scheme or some system of rationing. Even if oil companies are colluding in any particular case, there's a more serious underlying problem of demand increasing faster than supply.

Although I'm not a real fan of the oil companies, I think there are some important basic pricing facts about which consciousness needs to be raised. Prices are largely being determined by supply and demand. As gas prices rise, will oil companies reap outrageous profits? Probably, but it's for the same reason a individual with basement full gold has the power to become dollar rich. (And if you force the individual to sell the gold below market prices, you can be sure it will disappear quickly.)

If it is true that demand is outstripping supply, high prices are a critical factor in maintaining the balance between demand and supply; without them shortages will ensue and long lines at the pump; in addition, high prices provide an impetus to entrepreneurs and other agents pursuing sources of alternative energy. Without the signal of rising energy prices, what will impel them to act and pursue alternatives?

Finally, if we as a society find ourselves outraged by the profits reaped by the oil companies, it's not a matter that can be solved by mandating low prices, which, again, will in all likelihood lead to shortages. It's a problem that needs to be solved by taxing oil companies or some similar measure.


"MEQUON, Wisconsin (AP) -- Motorists pulled in to Harvey Pollack's gas station, honked and gave him a thumbs-up -- because he wasn't selling any fuel.

The owner of Towne Market Mobil in this suburb north of Milwaukee shut down his pumps for 24 hours, hoping to start a movement aimed at convincing oil companies to lower their prices."


"While gas prices seem to have spiked recently, the issues leading to this increase have been decades in the making Our nation’s refining capacity has been stagnant for thirty years, we have limited our options to increase domestic supply, and we depend more and more on foreign sources of oil that are becoming increasingly scarce because of rising demand in other countries like China and India. "

Economics in One Lesson:

"Now we cannot hold the price of any commodity below its market level without in time bringing about two consequences. The first is to increase the demand for that commodity. Because the commodity is cheaper, people are both tempted to buy, and can afford to buy, more of it. The second consequence is to reduce the supply of that commodity. Because people buy more, the accumulated supply is more quickly taken from the shelves of merchants."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hardest logic puzzle ever

"Three gods A, B, and C are called, in some order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are 'da' and 'ja', in some order. You do not know which word means which."

more at Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Latest Novel

Artist: My Latest Novel
Song: Sister Sneaker Sister Soul
Year: 2005

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Architecture in Helsinki

If you need to jumpstart your own creativity, exposure to madcap creations of others is the ultimate solution*.

The whizzing whir of the Heraclitian flux that is life is keeping me too occupied to say much here. As far as 21st century music goes, I've developed an appreciation for Architecture in Helsinki, an effusively creative Australian octet.

What follows is the video for Heart it Races, but I have to warn you that this is the most whacked of the AiH vids I've found. (I love it, because I get bored easily.)

Even if you hate it, don't dismiss them off hand. They have quite a range and several videos on YouTube; e.g., check out Kindling (Winter Version), which somehow leaves me recalling both Smashing Pumpkins and Madness, if that's even possible.

*Actually, I don't know if it's true that immersion in others' creativity can jumpstart one's own creativity--I made it up--but if it inspires you to make something up too, let me know... as a test of the hypothesis.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mais Pourquoi

Song: Mais Pourquoi
Artist: The Pinker Tones

Monday, May 21, 2007

Kudos to Heroes

When I try to recall another small screen comic book worthy of comparison, I always come up empty-handed. Only a few television shows managed to make it on my regularly watched list; and of those few, NBC's Heroes wound up my fave. Thanks to creators, cast and crew. Well done!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The third movement of Brandenburg Concert No. 3. Performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Guess what?

If you're a publicly traded treasure hunter (OMR) and you find $500M of loot, your stock goes up.

TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- Deep-sea explorers said Friday they have mined what could be the richest shipwreck treasure in history, bringing home 17 tons of colonial-era silver and gold coins from an undisclosed site in the Atlantic Ocean.

Estimated value: $500 million.



The film version of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis premieres at Cannes this week.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Visual Illusion of the Year

The top 10 finalists in the Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest have been posted.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ich bin ein xNTP-er

via BoingBoing, Salvador Dali on What's My Line?

It seems that from Dali's perspective the answers to almost all of the questions asked about him are true. Is it the workings of a supremely creative mind or just a language issue?

A statistically impossible proportion of my friends are INTP or ENTP. I don't know what that means, if anything.

HTML: a pain in the math

If you're unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of trying to create web pages discussing math, the page Math in HTML (and CSS) sums up the abysmal state of affairs pretty well.

At this point, MathML is still more a dream than reality. Usually, my preferred solution involves rendering LaTeX to GIF or PNG and uploading the images (my favorite online renderer).

Lately, given the goal of learning several things at once, I've been posting little applets here and there. Today's offering attempts to address some of the math + HTML challenges I've encountered.

Given the caps of HTML and CSS, we can:

1. Create tables.
2. Nest tables inside cells of other tables.
3. Define top, left, right and bottom cell borders independently.
4. Specify alignment and justification of cell contents.

These pieces are enough to cobble together fairly decent looking matrix expressions in HTML. Plus, unlike rendered expressions, the elements of these matrices can be selected and copied to the clipboard, because the matrices are constructed from HTML tables.

Here's a sample capture of a matrix expression I created in HTML:

(I'd embed the actual HTML, but Blogger likes to muck with pasted HTML.)

The brackets are a combination of cell borders (top / bottom) and table borders (left / right).

Not exactly rocket science, but two big motivators are my own needs and the fact that there appear to be a lot of frustrated people on the Net who are resorting to techniques that are less aesthetically pleasing and/or hackier.

Here's a link to a little applet that constructs matrix expressions using a simple syntax (to which I should probably devote a little more effort towards documenting):

Matrices in HTML Applet.


Note: If you think about it, the ability to nest tables within tables and define sizes coupled with the layout engine of the browser offers some promise in laying out mathematical expressions fairly easily. At this point, I'm left pondering how many LaTex expressions could be reasonably supported.

Update (5/28/2007): I discovered a list of programs that convert LaTeX to HMTL. Also, Approaches to WWW Mathematics Documents.

Breaker 1337, Rubber Duck

Dusting off atrophied neurons and vaguely remembering a time when I was just a lad, I find myself thinking of the CB craze of the 1970s.

Everyone had to have a Citizen's Band radio and be versed in all the attendant lingo. 10-4, Good Buddy. Got your ears on? Watch out for Smokey!

(Sigh. I never said everything before 2000 was good.)

My question is:

Which social networking phenomenon will go down as the CB radio of the 2000s?

I've got some ideas, but I'll refrain, and leave you with my apologies and a mashup tribute to Convoy, the 1978 film based on the song by C.W. Mccall (again, there are so many things wrong with this...).

Pump up the Convoy

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fine & Mellow

Billie Holiday. Fine and Mellow.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

April Showers

Google has its downsides. In addition to doing a wonderful job of reminding me how unoriginal I am, now there's this...

I thought I'd search Google News for another Paris Hilton-is-going-to-jail link to cheer folks up and serve as a small glimmer of hope for pop culture and the future of humanity, but then I found this:

Governor Arnold too Busy to Help Paris Hilton (link).

There are so many things wrong already it's hard to continue, but I must, for things get worse. The source of the link is In addition to reminding me just how unoriginal I am, Google is now reminding just me fast and far inanity spreads.

Even people in China are subjected to this?

It's supposed to be Communism OR Paris Hilton. You're not supposed to have deal with both. It's a basic socio-political truth... at least I thought it was.

How big a card does one need to buy to apologize to a billion people? I don't know, but I'm sure it's something much bigger than anything I can afford, so I'll just have to leave it at this:

Dear People of China:

Even though I do what I can to spare your eyes from "Governor Arnold too Busy to Help Paris Hilton," I still feel the need to apologize.

I'm very sorry.

- metamerist

And now we return to our regularly scheduled escape from pop culture in the naughties with the following clip. Before YouTube, I'd never seen a young Mel Torme in action. April Showers. Check it out.

A thousand craters

Between 1951 and 1992 the U.S. conducted 925 nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles NW of Las Vegas. Around 100 of the explosions occurred above ground, which resulted in the greatest fallout occurring in the Rocky Mountain States and the Great Plains (enough to cause tens of thousands of cases of thyroid cancer).

Satellite images of crater-pocked site can be viewed via Google Maps: link Zoom in with the navigation tools for more detail. The scale annotation in the lower-left gives an estimate of the physical size of the craters.

The impetus behind this attention is a recent viewing of Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie, an excellent (and highly recommended) documentary created by the Discovery Channel in HD. There's a lot of declassified footage in the film, including a number of scenes of terrestrial devastation occuring in real time during the explosions. Schools should be required to show this film.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Joel Spolsky, hear, hear!: "Virtually all American consumer electronics chains, national ISPs, telephone companies, credit card companies, and cable companies use Econ 101 management. Instead of having smart people figure out how to train their frontline customer service workers to serve customers well and profitably, they make up metrics that sound good and let the low wage, high-turnover customer service people come up with their own systems, which, inevitably, involve scamming customers and ripping them off."

Tom Evslin's Microsoft Memories recalls the culture of Microsoft while he was there in the early nineties. He closes commenting on problems with the sort of bullying culture Microsoft became known for:

"...Two problems with this approach: one is that kinder and gentler people, who may be still be very smart, get stomach aches and other unpleasant symptoms when they gave to confront bullying. Microsoft lost out on some people who could have contributed but couldn’t take this kind of heat. Second problem is that the bullying gets emulated down the line. There was nothing quite as absurd as a newly-hired college graduate thinking he could be as smart or rich as billg if he could only manage to be as rude."

I have very bright friends who were seriously put off by Microsoft interviews--so much so that they walked out of interviews or rejected offers.

From Carnival of Mathematics #7, one of the best but geekiest .sigs I've seen in a long time:

question = 0xFF; // optimized Hamlet

Warning: If it makes no sense, experience with bit-twiddling C code may be a prerequisite.

Methods for working with highly dimensional data are an area of personal interest, and I posted a bit on low discrepancy sequences a while back. On this front, Geomblog has an interesting post titled Faure sequences and Monte Carlo methods.

It's a litte last-year-ish, but if you haven't read it and you're interested, Love at First Byte was a nice little article on Donald Knuth in Stanford Magazine.

Five Great Puzzles and Paradoxes to Tickle the Mind.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Vasa Tale

I'm left thinking about feature overload thanks to an interesting chain of posts: The language of the future is JavaScript -> The browser wars are upon us again -> Brendan Eich's JavaScript 2 and the Future of the Web.

Due to the nature of the typical software development process (add features -> release -> repeat), software seems destined to destroy itself through feature overload. It's true for applications, but even programming languages aren't immune.

There's a beautiful simplicity in JavaScript, and I hope it doesn't get bloated to death.

Thinking about this left me recalling a classic anecdote offered by C++ language designer Bjarne Stroustroup regarding the demise of a Swedish warship named the Vasa.

CUJ: You have often used the story of the Vasa to encourage taking the simple route in defining the C++ language. But it is pretty much common public opinion that C++ is one the most complicated languages in existence. Any comment on that? If there are different "levels'' of C++ usage, how would you characterize them?

BS: Clearly there was a danger; why else would I bother telling a cautionary tale? Construction of the Vasa started in 1625, at the request of King Gustav. It was originally intended to be a regular warship, but during the construction the king saw bigger and better ships elsewhere and changed his mind. He insisted on a flagship with two gundecks; he also insisted on a lot of statues suitable for a Royal flagship. The result was (and is) very impressive. Rather top heavy, though. On its maiden voyage the Vasa only made it half way across Stockholm harbor before a gust of wind blew it over; it sank killing about 50 people."

(The CUJ interview is here.)

Even though the creator of C++ seems like an unlikely teller of the story, it's still a great story.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New Yorker: Antikythera Mechanism

The New Yorker has a piece on the Antikythera Mechanism:

"In October, 2005, a truck pulled up outside the National Archeological Museum in Athens, and workers began unloading an eight-ton X-ray machine that its designer, X-Tek Systems of Great Britain, had dubbed the Bladerunner. Standing just inside the National Museum’s basement was Tony Freeth, a sixty-year-old British mathematician and filmmaker, watching as workers in white T-shirts wrestled the Range Rover-size machine through the door and up the ramp into the museum. Freeth was a member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project—a multidisciplinary investigation into some fragments of an ancient mechanical device that were found at the turn of the last century after two thousand years in the Aegean Sea, and have long been one of the great mysteries of science. "



Blinder's dissent

Princeton economist Alan Blinder...

Free Trade's Great, but Offshoring Rattles Me...

"I'm a free trader down to my toes. Always have been. Yet lately, I'm being treated as a heretic by many of my fellow economists. Why? Because I have stuck my neck out and predicted that the offshoring of service jobs from rich countries such as the United States to poor countries such as India may pose major problems for tens of millions of American workers over the coming decades. In fact, I think offshoring may be the biggest political issue in economics for a generation."

more at wapo

Thot du jour

Some receive the gift of persuasion
Others receive the gift of truth
Individuals rarely receive both.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Nina Simone. I love you, Porgy. 1962

(Really excellent clip!)


Escape from the 21st Century continues with the inimitable Chico Marx...

Paper or Plastic?

The next time they ask you if you want paper or plastic...
Say 'plaster'.
(It keeps 'em on their toes.)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Patent Developments

Occasionally, I post items related to patents...

I'm not opposed to patents. At one end of the spectrum, there are inventions that are the product of a great deal of perspiration and research, endeavors that won't be pursued without legal protections of investments required in the development of an invention. Such protections are an important part of our system.

At the other end of the spectrum are the frivolous and trivial patents of obviousness that seem sadly contrary to the original intentions of those responsible for the establishment of patents, the fostering of progress in the arts and sciences.

I believe there's an answer in there somewhere between extremes, but currently the problem seems to be a system with too much frivolous patenting of the obvious.

Recently the Supreme Court in KSR International Co. v. Teflex Inc. offered a significant patent decision:

"In a unanimous opinion, the justices ruled that the patent in question was invalid because designing a gas pedal in such a way was an 'obvious' thing to do, at least to the average gas pedal designer, and therefore not really an invention. What's more, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, argued that the current patent regime threatened to stifle the sort of creativity that the Founding Fathers had originally created the system to foster. Courts, Kennedy wrote, have been upholding patents for technologies or designs that didn't need them, that would have been developed 'in the ordinary course' of events. In doing so, they have allowed bogus inventions to steal business from legitimate ones, and discouraged true innovation." (more Patently Obvious at the Boston Globe, via 3QD)

Also worth reading is a recent post, The Coming Patent Apocalypse, by machine learning researcher John Langford.

Take Five

The Dave Brubek Quartet. Take Five. 1961.

The Girl from Ipanema

Stumbled onto this clip of a young Astrud Gilberto singing the classic hit backed by Stan Getz. It comes from a film titled Get Yourself a College Girl (1964), a film I haven't seen. The performance seems so wooden it verges on Lynchian surrealism, but I still enjoyed seeing it sung in the context of its time.

Unfortunately this clip is cut short. There's also another clip that runs longer. It has better color, but unfortunately, there's a ton of noise on the audio track.

Excanvas: a simple line chart

Lately, I've been too busy for any serious forays into the world of ExplorerCanvas and JavaScript, so I have only what could be accomplished in a few spare minutes here and there; this time, a simple line chart applet (see for the collection thus far). Very simple, but it may come in handy for visualization purposes in future posts.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Chet Atkins. Villa. 1958.

"Chester Burton 'Chet' Atkins CGP (June 20, 1924 – June 30, 2001) was an influential guitarist and record producer. His picking style, inspired by Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes and Les Paul, brought him admirers both within and outside the country scene. Atkins produced records for Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Jerry Reed, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, and Waylon Jennings. He created, along with Owen Bradley, the smoother country music style known as the Nashville sound, which expanded country music's appeal to include adult pop music fans as well."
- Wikipedia


"The Quintette of the Hot Club of France is generally considered by jazz historians to be the greatest of all European Jazz bands. The group started out as an informal jam session that was held between sets at the Hotel Claridge (37 Rue Francois 1er.) in Paris in 1933. Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Roger Chaput and Louis Vola were playing in the hotel dance band at the time. Between sets they would play jazz together in a backroom at the hotel. One day Pierre Nourry and Charles Delaunay of Hot Club witnessed one of these sessions and arranged that the group record it's first records for the Ultraphone label in December of 1934."

- (link)

Paris Hilton is going to jail.

Tu Vuo Fa L'Americano

Classic Renato Carosone.

(My own pet hypothesis is the drummer is a progenitor of George Costanza... or Newman... or both?)

Warning: Watching Idiocracy and reading Generation Me can result in a desire to watch videos created in earlier worlds. (I am beginning to worry the "Evolution of Man" will ultimately conclude in symmetry.)

More classic music is in the queue.


If anteaters could talk...
I bet they'd hate tongue twisters.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

One Mint Julep

Barney Kessel Trio. One Mint Julep. 1964.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thinking and Feeling

Relationships between neuroscience and philosophy are a recurring theme in these parts. This comes from the Boston Globe.

"Ever since Plato, scholars have drawn a clear distinction between thinking and feeling. Cognitive psychology tended to reinforce this divide: emotions were seen as interfering with cognition; they were the antagonists of reason. Now, building on more than a decade of mounting work, researchers have discovered that it is impossible to understand how we think without understanding how we feel.

"Because we subscribed to this false ideal of rational, logical thought, we diminished the importance of everything else," said Marvin Minsky, a professor at MIT and pioneer of artificial intelligence. "Seeing our emotions as distinct from thinking was really quite disastrous."

This new scientific appreciation of emotion is profoundly altering the field. The top journals are now filled with research on the connections between emotion and cognition. New academic stars have emerged, such as Antonio Damasio of USC, Joseph LeDoux of NYU, and Joshua Greene, a rising scholar at Harvard. At the same time, the influx of neuroscientists into the field, armed with powerful brain-scanning technology, has underscored the thinking-feeling connection.

"When you look at the actual anatomy of the brain you quickly see that everything is connected," said Elizabeth Phelps, a cognitive neuroscientist at NYU. "The brain is a category buster."

link (via 3QD)

See also: Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian judgements (Nature abstract).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

So What

Davis & Coltrane. So What. 1958.

A little green cloud

Continued investigations with Excanvas/Canvas, JavaScript, etc...
Here's a link to the latest: a simple 3d point cloud viewer using Excanvas.
A few observations...
This little viewer renders a lot faster in FireFox than it does in IE7 on my laptop. I have yet to try it in Safari. The impetus behind this is mostly curiosity regarding performance, proof of concept--and a desire for something quick and dirty (i.e., hacky like I'm-not-getting-paid-for-this) to serve as a basis for simple 3D visualizations (should I ever get around to some posts on least squares, principal component analysis, dimensionality reduction, etc).
I've run into a few problems with ExplorerCanvas in the area of errant or non-existent support for gradient fills, but it does work well enough to easily produce decent mathematical visualizations without going to Flash (and ones that look better than many of visualizations typically done with Java).
I've heard SVG support has been improving in Safari. Given that, I'm may spend a little time poking around for some common vector classes built on top of SVG/VML.