Archive for June, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

This story in The New York Times about a simulcrum of Philip K. Dick started a fun chase. The android was a project of Hanson Robotics. I think I read about it last year in this post on Boing Boing. A PKD android was already too good. Then it lost its head.

The story probably made the news because A Scanner Darkly will start in theaters soon. I recognized the animation in the trailer. Flat Black Films used rotoscoping software to create it. I previously blogged Jen Drummond‘s short documentary film The F.E.D.S. that features similar animation. I have known her since elementary school, and she was one of the Flat Black Films animators for this new movie. I like to big up the hometowners.

In the entry on rotoscoping, Eadweard Muybridge is mentioned for his photographic studies investigating the gait of a galloping horse. Thomas Eakins, one of my favorite artists, collaborated with Muybridge in studies of motion. Little connections delight me disproportionately.

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Michael M. on June 29th 2006 in General, Movies

Toynbee local

This story about Toynbee tiles, strange plaques embedded in the streets of several American cities and some South American ones, ran on KSDK in May. The video is also on YouTube. I have been interested in this story for a while. I photographed the local tiles. I would like to bike downtown and look again, but I have yet to return.

While never extremely popular, the mystery has staying power. The Wikipedia entry turned up several leads. Searching Google News turns up several recent stories. There is also a Flickr group.

Justin Duerr, who also has a MySpace profile, has spent time researching. He claims to have figured out who started placing these tiles. He plans to release a documentary next summer called Resurrect Dead (profile) that is supposed to answer several of the mysteries.

My favorite explanation so far comes in this story. A railroad worker known as Railroad Joe may have made and placed the original tiles. Many of them are in cities served by Conrail. I look forward to finding out more when the documentary is released.

Update June 30: I remembered that /. had this article a few years ago.


Michael M. on June 29th 2006 in General

String of puns

This article on /. about criticisms of string theory has the best string of puns I have seen in a while. Browsing with a high threhold makes /. tolerable. The pun is the highest form of (mediocre) humor, bathroom jokes being the lowest form of (hilarious) humor.

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Michael M. on June 25th 2006 in General

Bobby Lounge video

Bobby Lounge, whom I like a lot, has a link to Fifty-Strength Films. It has a video of him playing “I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down” at the Louisiana Music Factory last summer. I also saw that he has some tour dates. He has nothing scheduled up this way, but with a little luck I might make it to the McComb or New Orleans show.

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Michael M. on June 25th 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Vigilante blogging

The story of the stolen Sidekick that I came across on /. has bubbled upward. This article in The New York Times covers the story. If you somehow missed it, have a look. It is amusing and also sad.

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Michael M. on June 21st 2006 in General

Paying to work

Some transitions at work have led me to think again about my current job and my future prospects. I have wanted discovery and novelty in my work from early childhood. I found science and engineering attractive. As I got older, my desire to find a combination of them with more immediately helpful pursuits led me here, and it is a great place. Although I feel privileged to be here, it comes with its share of problems. It is inherently unstable and transitory. My immediate future is unpredictable, and my further future moreso. I do not know much about my eventual career. I wonder when I will make a real living.

Take This Internship and Shove ItAnya Kamenetz in The New York Times came at the right time. The op-ed examines the effects on unpaid internships on the work world. She has this post on her blog and a follow up. I never found myself in that situation. When I started college on a more commercial track, the one internship I had paid nicely.

The internship problem is not entirely foreign, but it is a different experience than mine. Underpayment is more familiar. Googling her led to “Wanted: Really Smart Suckers: Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty” in the Village Voice. This territory is nearby. Graduate school is mostly fun and interesting. We are lucky to receive a good enough stipend to live reasonably well. It is unstable, though, and it is often hard to see where it will lead. My peers outside sciences, the subject of the article, face additional problems I do not.

My discovery of the Kamenetz articles follows finding Women in Science by Philip Greenspun linked from a /. comment that followed this story about falling science ability in America. The discussion turned toward why women less often choose careers in science. Greenspun’s essay raises good questions. Maybe they do not choose science because it is not a great choice. I remain hopeful, though, that there is good out there yet undone and that I can contribute to its doing.

Slack is the other side. I happened to turn on the radio and hear On Point show about slack that /. picked up. I enjoy various team sports. Playing music is a frequent source of fun. I write this blog. Being outside appeals to me in almost any kind of weather. These pursuits do not help anybody. They do not advance me professionally or economically. Do I approach them similarly enough to my colleagues to allow me to walk a middle path? Is there a middle path that includes fun and success while contributing to others?

It is the dilemma of the extremely privileged. I can feel intensely concerned about myself and others in similar situations, and I can feel guilty for wasting my time. My worries are small in the larger human scheme. I fear little for my health or immediate future. My next meal is coming from my kitchen. I lament feeling underpaid, but I have only the tiniest concern about the possibility of personal poverty. This comment in a post cited by Kamenetz in her follow up addresses the situation. For now, to bed, and then tomorrow, out into the world to wrestle with mystery and suffering, or at least back to my safe little pampered corner of it to write some computer programs.

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Michael M. on June 20th 2006 in General


This post on the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra blog is largely just a longing for the good old days. It also cuts across two big cultural questions. How do current means of communication affect the width of culture’s dissemination? What have the distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow culture meant through history?

For all the raving about the Long Tail, how much are we missing? I imagine an older world of rural America in which everyone, black, white and more, listened to the Grand Ole Opry. B. B. King and other musicians talked about it in The Blues, the PBS miniseries. I heard plenty of Charley Pride growing up. The idea strikes many today as ludicrous. A big portion of the Midwest and South loves the Cardinals largely because KMOX broadcast the games on clear channel AM, and that relationship is gone. Listening to AM is a niche now anyway. The radio waves still work the same way. What was broadcasting? Does it still exist?

Do different genres reach as many different demographics? Every American with a television seems to have watched Ed Sullivan, and it seems to have included both the high and low. One time at Thacker Mountain Radio, the house and visiting bands closed with “Goodnight, Irene.” Every older person seemed to know it. I only did a little bit. Why? I like rap and country. I like rock music. I like the symphony. I like both art house and action movies. I like some sports. Plenty of others do, too. I see few cultural aggregators cutting broad swaths, though.

I feel compelled to praise Saint Louis. The post that the SLSO blog linked covered my weekend attending SLSO and Bobby Rush concerts with “I find it especially encouraging that a musical weekend in St. Louis can combine Bobby Rush and the SLSO.” Why not? KDHX is musically wonderful. I just heard an 11 minute song cycle “Street Hassle,” probably the Spacemen 3 version, on Suffragette City. Most metamedia have their own particular aesthetics, though. I often feel a Midwestern disregard for pretense and inconsequential categorization that I often happily stumble across. Although definitely prone to them, STL is conducive to cultural vagrancy.

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Michael M. on June 20th 2006 in General

Health by the numbers

Risk is hard to assess. Informed consent is a welcome change from paternalism, but it has problems. The phrase itself brings to mind a distinction one can draw between information and knowledge or wisdom. Competency can be thorny, too. As covered in “In Medicine, Acceptable Risk Is in the Eye of the Beholder” in The New York Times, we are very sensitive to nuances for even fairly clear decisions with hypothetically perfect information. Reality is rarely so clear or definitive. We judge some things very well and others very poorly.

Reading about wheels as a tool for representing risk churned up a few ideas. Despite the intervening millenia, hey are throwing us back onto the wheel of fortune, and woe to those spun downward. Oh, Fortuna!

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Michael M. on June 20th 2006 in General

Rebel yell, rebel talk

I came across two language stories today. NPR‘s Morning Edition featured the accent quiz Are You a Yankee or a Rebel? this morning. “100% Dixie. Is General Lee your grandfather?!” was my score. Glossary of Quaint Southernisms is linked from the NPR story. No other region received the same treatment.

Analyzing Eggcorns and Snowclones, and Challenging Strunk and White” in The New York Times led to laughter. The two blogs linked are both amusing. Language Log chronicles current trends and reports about forever mutating English. I also learned about eggcorns and the Eggcorn Database of them. Some are very funny. I find diarrhetic hilarious.

“There is a group of very smart and very well-read people out there who like to read about language and who can put together arguments based on evidence from sources and background knowledge which is not made up or nuts,” he said. “It’s a big world out there.”

I love deadpan.


Michael M. on June 20th 2006 in General


The D.J. Auteur” in The New York Times Magazine profiles Danger Mouse and his project with Cee-Lo Green, Gnarls Barkley. I really like the songs I have heard, especially the terrific “Crazy.” I put in a library request today.

When Gnarls Barkley performs live, there are 14 people onstage. Technically, however, Gnarls Barkley is just two people: Danger Mouse (the aforementioned Burton) and an Atlanta-based singer-rapper named Cee-Lo (born Thomas Calloway). But in a larger sense, Gnarls Barkley is really just one person, and that person is Burton. Cee-Lo is essential, but he’s essential in the same way Diane Keaton was essential to “Annie Hall”: he is the voice that best incarnates Burton’s vision, so he serves as the front man for this particular project. Burton will aggressively insist that Gnarls Barkley is a two-man game, but that seems more magnanimous than accurate. On the surface, Cee-Lo looks like the vortex — he wrote the lyrics and sings the vocals on every song, including “Crazy,” a single on the cusp of becoming the demographically limitless song of the moment (i.e., a 2006 version of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”). Yet even while “Crazy” is Cee-Lo’s song, it’s still Burton’s design. It’s the product of a singular vision, which is (more or less) the whole idea. The music of Gnarls Barkley is collaborative, but not in a creative sense; the goal of this collaboration is to reproduce the music that already exists inside Burton’s skull.

This paragraph downplays Cee-Lo Green’s role far too much. Obviously, Danger Mouse directs the music, but Cee-Lo’s singing is something special. I cannot remember any recent pop singing with such exquisite pitch, especially not by a man. The “Hey Ya!” reference is right on, though. “Crazy” is great in much the same way “Hey Ya!” is. (“Hey Ya!” had a wonderful alternate video. The original is good, too.) Both “Hey Ya!” and “Crazy” should be covered by country musicians. They should become jazz standards.

I was delighted to read that Res sang backup at Coachella although she really should have blown up by now. I have a blog entry about her and other innovative black music that I may never finish. Good luck, probably in the form of a New York Times article or maybe KDHX, led me to her album How I Do back in 2001 or 2002. It is a terrific mix of vocal talent, tight harmony, instrumentation, production and styles. I love listening to the songs over and over and directing my attention to different vocal or instrumental lines. Her Myspace page has streaming songs, including several new ones. I cannot understand how she is so good and so unknown.

I wish Danger Mouse and Res would cut an album. Maybe Martin “Doc” McKinney could produce Cee-Lo, too.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Free willie

That Wild Streak? Maybe It Runs in the Family” in The New York Times caught my attention because I and several friends frequently rehash questions of free will and choice. Free will, if it exists, is definitely quite restricted and often ineffectual or easily thwartable. I wish acknolwedgement of the limits were more freely given.

Scientifically, I expect us to find more genes that dispose one to caution or risk. I predict that the genes discovered will be rather boring. The risk takers in a certain family will have single point mutations in the regulatory sequence upstream from the PIP3 kinase gene or something similarly arcane and strange. How the genes actually relate to behavioral differences will be unclear. Biologist Gene Robinson talked here earlier this year about gene expression and honey bee behavior. He even wrote this NYT op-ed. Many of the genes his screens pull out do not make much sense. What does that gene have to do with being a nurse bee? It also can be hard to tell whether a behavior activates a gene or the other way around.

Mechanisms are not the whole story. Even if the mechanisms of how certain genes influence behavior remain veiled, their existence should inform our thoughts. Inherited factors direct us certain ways. In our genes permit it, there are reasons enough for a little decency and understanding.

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Michael M. on June 18th 2006 in General

Rock out

Felicia Collins currently is featured on Apple Hot News. She plays on the Late Show. I know very little about her, but I enjoyed reading it. I wish I had the money, talent and time to work with Logic Pro. I have not even played with GarageBand in a long time, though.

Update June 19: “A Nod From Knopfler: I Want My A.M.D.” in The New York Times is another high profile digital processing music story.

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Michael M. on June 18th 2006 in General, Music

Mental illness and diabetes

This article in The New York Times addresses the problem of diabetes in the mentally ill. I had not considered the problem before, but it makes sense. Weight gain is a common side effect with many psychiatric medications, and obesity is a big risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Other links seem to exist between the drugs and diabetes. The article extensively quotes John Newcomer, a WashU doctor, who seems to be researching the metabolic effects of antipsychotics. The burdens of type 2 diabetes can be great for anybody. This dilemma is so sad. The treatment that lets them function disposes them to a deadly disease, and the first disease makes the second much harder to manage. It is good to know that research is happening here.

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Michael M. on June 12th 2006 in General

I might have been deposed.

A representative of Progressive, an insurance company, called me today regarding the Memorial Day accident I blogged. After getting my permission to do so, he recorded me over the telephone answering a few questions about it. There must be some dispute surrounding the wreck. I felt silly not being able to give even a single name. Now I wish I had asked for more information about why I was called. Since there was no oath, I do not know whether it counts as a real deposition. I wonder where it will lead.

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Michael M. on June 12th 2006 in General

Symphonic Beatles

This post on the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra blog warns of an impending Classical Mystery Tour set for September 16 at the UMB Pavilion. The traveling show pairs tribute group Beatlemania with local symphonies. I do not know how to feel about it. I am a symphony fan, and I love the Beatles. I remember enjoying a tribute band in high school. Still, I cannot help but expect disaster. However it goes, I will try to see it in person.

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Michael M. on June 11th 2006 in General, Live, Music

John Hurt videos

I linked to some John Hurt YouTube videos recently. This thread on Mudcat includes discussion of the John Hurt episode of Rainbow Quest. The thread has posts from Hedy West, the person who sat next to Hurt on the show.

The Mississippi John Hurt Blues Foundation now has forums. This discussion about Hurt videos led me to the Mudcat forum. It lists several other videos that I would like to see.

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Michael M. on June 11th 2006 in General, Music


This post at Kottke got me thinking. Eric Steel made The Bridge, a new documentary, about suicide jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge. The problem big enough to have its own section in the Wikipedia entry. He then posted again about it. Many suicides, possibly nearly all, are preventable deaths. In this case, the bridge needs better fences. My engineering education, my medical education and life in general have all taught me that systemic changes are better than instructions and lectures. They are better than doing nothing, too.

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Michael M. on June 11th 2006 in General, Movies

Powers of 10

I have mentioned the film Powers of 10 several times, and Charles Eames came to my attention after a recent trip to the history museum. This recent Kottke post has the movie streamed from YouTube.

In the credits, I noticed Elmer Bernstein listed. He composed for The Great Escape, a great movie, and The Magnificent Seven, a movie I still have not seen. I came across his name after reading something about The Magnificent Seven theme and searching several weeks ago.

Back to Powers of Ten, I am not sure how it found its way to YouTube. Watch it while you can.

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Michael M. on June 10th 2006 in General, Movies

Web stumbler

This article on /. is about Google in China. It is not real news, but I suppose it is timely. As this post on ABB reminded me, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests just passed. I posted about the Google censorship following the Frontline documentary The Tank Man. We need a modern democratic China, and I doubt that Google’s kowtowing to tyrants helps.

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Michael M. on June 7th 2006 in General

Hurt on Tonight Show unlikely

New urban legend story Balls Up at Snopes led me to a sad realization.

Since nearly all the kinescopes, videotapes, and films of the Tonight Show (both the Steve Allen and Johnny Carson versions) made prior to 1972 were subsequently destroyed, and much of what was broadcast live on television in the 1950s was either never recorded or similarly destroyed afterwards, whether this humorous faux pas ever played out in real life is unlikely to be definitively proved or disproved.

I had expressed my wish to see Mississippi John Hurt’s appearance on the Tonight Show, but now I know that it probably is not possible.

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Michael M. on June 7th 2006 in General, Music

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.