Archive for December, 2006


One of my earliest posts was about numbers stations and the Conet Project, and I mentioned them one other time. Found via this post on WFMU‘s Beware the Blog, the Conet Project is now available for download. I got them with DownThemAll. /. has this story giving numbers stations the attention they deserve, and Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher is an enjoyable BBC program about them. The messages broadcast probably have been encrypted with one time pads. Consequently, decoding them is impossible for an outsider. In one case, police stumbled upon pads hidden in a bar of soap and other places in a spy’s apartment. I enjoy the idea of messages floating around us that are completely inaccessible to all outsiders to the conspiracy.

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Michael M. on December 31st 2006 in General


Long after many others, I saw Borat at the Chase a couple of weeks ago. It is hilarious although not uniformly so. Borat is all over the web with a Wikipedia entry, a MySpace page, an IMDb listing and many clips on YouTube, all quite active. I was even a little concerned going into the movie that I had seen too much on the web for the movie to be very funny. I did not need to worry.

He spent a lot of time filming in Mississippi. Suspicions of another Sahara of the Bozarts entered my head, but I did not find myself bothered by the portrayals. The Clarion-Ledger published this article about all the attention he dedicated to the Magnolia State. Another piece appeared in the Madison County Herald, a local paper of suburban Jackson. Borat’s scene at a Pentecostal camp meeting, mentioned in both, is amazingly funny. Recently mentioned Congressman Chip Pickering appears in that sequence. He had little to offer for the C-L story.

When I found the scene on YouTube, my search turned up several related videos. The portrayal churned up challenges and responses about the portrayal of pentecostalism. I also found this discussion started by someone who appeared in the movie at the revival scene. The Madison County Herald story points to this discussion.

The Pentecostal criticism typically rests on the assumption that mocking is bad or contrary to belief. One of the YouTube video responses from this church levels charges of hypocrisy at people who see the movie while calling themselves believers. I do not see joking as necessarily antagonistic to its subject. I sometimes can laugh at a joke at the expense of something I value. The humorlessness of his response is sad. Borat, however, does not lack for humor, and I recommend it whether or not it pokes fun at things you hold dear.

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Michael M. on December 30th 2006 in General, Movies

Another daddy

As part of my general interest in old weird stuff and my specific interest in Mississippi John Hurt, I have dedicated some attention to Casey Jones over the past several weeks. I have been curious about Casey Jones on and off for years. As previously mentioned, we had to memorize and recite a version of the ballad in eighth grade that I quickly forgot, yet nobody seemed to make the connection then that we were only a mile or so from the IC line that Casey Jones ran in the hometown of his fireman. I visited the now closed and decaying museum in Vaughan.

I learned to play Hurt’s version of the standard on my guitar. His lyrics, however, do not include one of my favorite verses. In it, the wife tells the children not to cry over their father’s death because they have another father elsewhere. The real Mrs. Casey Jones lived until 1958, well after the 1900 wreck, and never married again. She understandably hated those lines. In this 1937 Time article about a folk festival, I found more about her reaction on the second page. She collaborated with someone to write another ballad. The lyrics fit with the tune I know. It will be fun to start mixing lyrics from her version in with the others.

Oh, I sing oj my husband, my darling Casey Jones,
With blue eyes always smiling, with laughter in his tones ;
A-dying at the throttle upon the old I. C.,
My Casey, husband, Casey, who meant the world to me. . . .
Sometimes I wake at midnight, when all the world is dead,
And Casey, my dear Casey, seems standing by my bed;
Then I can hear him whisper, just as he used to do,
O Janie, sweetheart Janie, see, I’ve come back to you.

Chorus : . . .

Nobody ever pulled a train just as my Casey dear.
1 always dream of Casey Jones as my brave Engineer,
He knew how to live and he knew how to die.
So all who knew him loved him, and now you know why.

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Michael M. on December 30th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

It’s like I’m smelling in stereo.

A few days ago, /. had this story about human olfaction. This story aired the day before on NPR‘s All Things Considered. Noam Sobel‘s laboratory is behind the research. I enjoyed meeting him when I visited the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute back during graduate school applications, and one fellow applicant I got to know on the interview trail ultimately joined his group. I have had a number of friends in olfactory research from my start in neurobiology through today. It is an interesting and very open field of inquiry, and I enjoyed learning more about this recent work.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2006 in General

Rice Bowl

I attended the New Orleans Bowl last night. Troy Trojans trounced my Rice Owls soundly. The Superdome is in decent shape. It was Rice’s first bowl game since 1961. Even though they fell further and further behind, Rice fans seemed happy to be there and continued rooting for the team. I did not expect to see the Owls play again in person. It was a good present.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2006 in General


I blogged about the Carolina Chocolate Drops not too long ago. Roy Kasten, host of KDHX‘s Feel Like Going Home wrote this article in the Riverfront Times. It is worth a look. I still hope to see them next week.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2006 in General, Live, Music

Lactose and evolution

Last spring, I posted about insights into the human mutations that allow a minority of us to metabolize lactose into adulthood. This story on /. points to this article in The New York Times along the same lines. This new study also comes from Jonathan Pritchard‘s laboratory along with collaborators in Sarah Tishkoff‘s group. It confirms the idea that mutations conferring lactose tolerance arose separately. As one might expect, the mutations occurred in regulatory DNA regions rather than in regions that code for the lactase protein itself. Some of them even seem to have happened recently, maybe within the timeframe of recorded history. It is exciting to think how groups’ genomes bear the stamps of historical changes in their civilizations.

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Michael M. on December 12th 2006 in General

Hodgman to Coulton

After blogging two times about John Hodgman, I caught this story about his frequent collaborator Jonathan Coulton on NPR‘s Weekend Edition Sunday. Both have been instrumental in the variety show Little Gray Book Lectures, which I certainly would attend if I lived in New York. Along with the music, he discussed his unusual approach to licensing and music sales. I recommend the story to learn a little more about him and to hear a few songs performed live.

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Michael M. on December 10th 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Carolina Chocolate Drops

A Tom Hall‘s concert, I picked up a copy of FolkFire. The Carolina Chocolate Drops were on the cover. They are a rising African-American string band. Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind is their new album. Check out their videos on YouTube and their page on MySpace. The group will perform December 27 and 28 at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. At Childgrove Country Dancers on Friday, December 29, they will play a concert followed by playing the dance. I blogged about the black experience in country music a while back. The banjo, in as much as it is a musical instrument, is one more African than European. String band music almost died, African-American string band music doubly so. It is good to have this group watering the roots. My holiday schedule remains unset, but I hope I get to see them while they are here.

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Michael M. on December 10th 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Two greats from Independent Lens

Thanks to my PVR, I saw two excellent films on Independent Lens. I record all episodes of the program broadcast on KETC, my local PBS affiliate. I often fail to watch them, though. This weekend, I spent some of my free time catching up, and I discovered to excellent films.

Still Life with Animated Dogs covers one man and his four dogs Roosevelt, Ike, Johnson and Spinnaker. After watching, I found that the creator was Paul Fierlinger. After escaping from totalitarian Czechoslovakia, he eventually made his way to an animation career in the United States. He made Teeny Little Super Guy! He even discussed the series in this thread on LiveJournal.

The Sesame Street connection brings me to The World According to Sesame Street. This documentary covers the development of the show in South Africa, Bangladesh and Kosovo. A friend said yesterday that she was glad to have grown up with local children’s programming rather than dubbed American shows. The Americans present all immediately began explaining the Sesame Street formula. Teams from the parent show help combine elements of the American show with local ideas and customs.

The development of the show for Kosovo was the most remarkable to me. The team brought together individuals from different ethnic groups in the country. They ended up developing two overlapping shows Rruga Sesam and Ulica Sezam for Serbs and Albanians. Some of the reasons were linguistic. The people were also just astonishingly bigoted. That they managed to find these attitudes by interviewing people in the streets is not surprising. The attitudes extend to the people working to develop the show who supposedly are interested in having children grow up better than in the past.

Sesame Street, consumed by me in large quantities as a child, is probably largely responsible for my reaction to the Kosovar conflicts. While it might be nice to attribute my rejection of their attitudes to my keen sense of justice and my personal perspicacity, the hours and hours of television I watched probably explains more of my reaction. I hope that the little Albanian Kosovars and the little Serbian Kosovars will become similarly subtly inculcated.

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

Who wants to live in Mississippi?

Following this previous post, I caught NPR‘s Morning Edition story about the advertising campaign Mississippi… Believe It! by
The Cirlot Agency. They have too many references to “Hollywood.” They are too reactionary and defensive for my taste. My tastes are weird, though, and I do not now anything much about advertising.

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Michael M. on December 10th 2006 in General


Based on the Waxy Links declaration “Alexa’s Web Discovery and Amazon Earworm are two of the best corporate blogs,” I started tracking the latter. Amazon Earworm‘s Amazon Blog regularly has good music posts. The one pointed me to Robert Christgau‘s review of Crunk Hits Vol. 2 on NPR‘s All Things Considered. Soon after, I found it in my library‘s catalog and requested the album be put on reserve for me soon after.

Although reported in the review. I doubt that “crunk” comes from a contraction of “crazy drunk.” I have heard the term all my life as the paste tense and past participle in an alternate conjugation of “crank.” It is amusing to hear an old rock critic discuss these things and to hear “chopped and screwed” on NPR. I did recall an earlier story about the style and the related sizzurp abuse.

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Michael M. on December 10th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Brazilian Beatles

The 6th Annual All-Brazilian Beatles Show was Wednesday on KDHX‘s Radio Rio. Check out the playlist. The mp3 stream should be available for another week and a half.

Radio Rio used to air on the weekends, and I was a frequent listener. It moved to Wednesday mornings when the station did extensive rescheduling a few years ago, and I hear it only rarely now. Even listening to the streaming show is a little more effort than I muster. I am tempted to create my own private podcast based on the stream, which should be fairly easy if not clearly legal.

I made a special effort to hear this broadcast, though, and I was rewarded. I have been a Beatles fan for most of my life. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the first CDs I ever got. In more recent years, Brazilian music has grown on me. These two great tastes taste great together.

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Michael M. on December 9th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Scientific instruments

This article in The New York Times explores some current innovations in crafting acoustic musical instruments. My main hope is that these innovations lead to a reduction in prices and greater accessibility. Musical instruments that sound good are very expensive. I wish I could expand my collection on the cheap.

One manufacturer was familiar from my visits to music stores. I should try a RainSong guitar. They are made from graphite. Fazio’s carries them locally. I cannot remember whether I have played one there. After reading the article, I think I will make another trip.

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Michael M. on December 3rd 2006 in General, Music

Going after religion

A Free-for-All on Science and Religion” in The New York Times provides a few memorable quotes. It covers the recent conference Beyond Belief. Edge has this page about it.

The best part of the article was my exchange with an artist. The graphic accompanying the article has ΔΩ rather than ΑΩ. I wrote Tad Majewski asking about it. He wrote a nice reply back to tell me that he was trying for something less obvious. He had the discriminant of a quadratic in mind because it determines the nature of the roots. I am happy to have received a reply.

Sam Harris, who has been receiving considerable media attention, figures prominently into the article. He is also a neuroscience graduate student, but I would not paint myself as too similar to him. I found this post that leads to a forum discussion with him about the meeting. It contains peculiar quotes such as “Another obvious analogy would be the civil rights movement: does it still exist? I’m not sure, but we condemn racism wherever we find it (more or less). I think the dissolution of identity or the marque (atheist, feminist, etc.) is a good sign.”

Reading the article, I felt how out of touch many of the attendees seem to be. I do not think they are delusional, but they have some funny ideas. Occasional bits of basic sense intruded.

“There are six billion people in the world,” said Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Roman Catholic priest. “If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming — it is like believing in the fairy godmother.”

Francisco Ayala is somewhat right. It is difficult or impossible to underestimate the human affinity for bad ideas, scientists included. The other side is how condescending Ayala’s statement is. Are so many human lives definitely irrational? Are people so opposed to living their lives without regard to science?

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University known for his staunch opposition to teaching creationism, found himself in the unfamiliar role of playing the moderate. “I think we need to respect people’s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong,” he said.

There is trouble when Lawrence Krauss is the moderate. If they are wrong, Krauss shows little compunction about attacking dirtily. After attending a forum here, I wrote Krauss to suggest that referring to creationists as Nazis is bad. He disagreed.

The best quote came from Melvin Konner, previously unknown to me. He showed some insight into how narrow the outlook of the conferences seems to have been.

“With a few notable exceptions,” he said, “the viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”

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Michael M. on December 3rd 2006 in General

Sun Studio

I completed my major Memphis tourist visits last weekend. Sun Studio was the last of the big sites I really wanted to see. I am sure that there are others I would enjoy. Over the years of passing through Memphis, I have visited Graceland, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the recently blogged Memphis Rock N Soul Museum. All were fun. The Sun tour was rather short because the studio is small. All that great music happened in one main room. Sam Phillips moved his business to a bigger location. Some entrepreneur reopened the original location for tours. It also functions as a recording studio at night. The wall has a picture of the Million Dollar Quartet. To the left of it is a picture of Bono in front of the Million Dollar Quartet photograph. The room also had beautiful guitars along the wall that we were strictly instructed not to touch. I really wanted to try them.

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Michael M. on December 3rd 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

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