Archive for June, 2007

Chocolate Drops on Prairie Home

The previously blogged Carolina Chocolate Drops played this past weekend’s edition of previously blogged A Prairie Home Companion. The group is a great fit for the show. I scanned through stream quickly and caught three performances. They will be in Columbia on or around Labor Day. I wish they were headed back here soon.

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Michael M. on June 25th 2007 in General, Live, Music

John Prine

Sometimes a thing hits at just the right time. In the case of John Prine, it had to bounce off a few times first. This article in the Washington Post from 2005 gives his recent history. The article mentions a Library of Congress event. The stream is an enjoyable mix of song and storytelling. About the same time, high school friend Jonathan Barlow posted a YouTube video of himself singing “In Spite of Ourselves,” and the song came up in this discussion on the Mississippi John Hurt forums about music influenced by MJH. I found this video of Prine singing it with Iris DeMent for Sessions at West 54th. The light clicked on–Imagine me saying “own,” not “ahn.” The wiring just took a long time.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Dizzying Times

This article in The New York Times is about a prosthetic device for helping people with vestibular problems. My own work is on the interaction of visual and vestibular cues in sensing self-motion, so I was quite interested to see a similar topiccovered in the news.

The most interesting part of the article is about the Wicab BrainPort. The BrainPort balance is a pad of electrodes that rests on the tongue. An array of accelerometers sits outside the body and controls the current delivered by the electrodes. Gradually, a person learns to use the information coming in through the tongue for balance.

From one perspective as a neurobiologist, this work is unsatisfying. It provides little understanding into the normal function. I cannot tell whether the electrical signals delivered by the device are using a code similar to what neurons actually use.

From another perspective, it is fascinating that someone can take information arriving along a totally new pathway and incorporate it into behavior. Our brains normally do not receive much important information about balance from our tongues. In fact, one might think that using information from the tongue for balance would be impossible. The necessary connections might not exist. It appears, however, that people can learn to use this device to improve balance, and somehow the connections between tongue sensation and balance areas of the brain must develop.

The BrainPort vision system is even more interesting. Using a similar tongue stimulation approach, the device delivers visual information. The card sorting video on the page is amazing.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2007 in General

Funding CME

This op-ed in The New York Times about continuing medical education caught my attention. Many of the courses doctors must take to maintain their licenses are funded by pharmaceutical companies. The question unasked in the piece is whether doctors even go. For all the statements about bias, I have heard that many doctors do not attend the sessions. They get the credit and maybe a few free meals or free lodging. The solution proposed is to deny accreditation to courses funded by drug companies. It looks like a good step to me.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2007 in General

Children roam

Children roam less than they used to, at least in the one family profiled in this article. I found it via reddit. Another one in the Washington Post covers similar material. Using Gmaps Pedometer, I estimated how much I was allowed to roam as a child. The area was less than a square mile. My father told me places he used to ride his bicycle, and one trip to visit relatives out in the country was at least 6 or 7 miles. This post is about changes in amateur rocketry and chemistry. It got linked by Pharyngula. A lot of talk about the good old days is bunk, but maps are solid. Largely, this behavior seems driven by unbridled fear. I am glad video games were not better when I was a child.

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Michael M. on June 19th 2007 in General

NPR NYC BBQ

I listened to NPR‘s All Things Considered earlier today. When I heard the beginning of the story about the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, I thought about my friends Heath and Leslie. Leslie and her father Garry Roark own Ubon’s. They have been going up to New York for several years to give them a taste. Sure enough, I heard his voice within seconds. I had hoped Leslie would make it into the story, but she did not. The Clarion-Ledger featured both of them earlier in the week. I also turned up Peace, Love & Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue that includes Garry Roark among its profiles. I am happy to see them getting this attention, and I am past ready to head south and get more than a taste myself.

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Michael M. on June 9th 2007 in General

It makes a sound.

Saving Trees Is Music to Guitar Makers’ Ears” in The New York Times is a roll call of the prominent makers. Martin is featured most prominently. I blogged about my acquisition of one late last summer, and it has been a pleasure to play. Other big name makers Taylor and Collings also were mentioned along with Gibson. Some of the companies have formed coalitions to avoid depletion of the traditional woods.

I try to steer clear of the obsession with musical instruments that can outpace the music, but my immunity is weak. I have an irrational desire for a Brazilian rosewood guitar. It combines my irrational obsessions with Brazil and guitars. They have not been made in significant numbers since the late 1960s. IÂ have played at least one or two in stores, and they were terrific. Their price keeps me from owning one. It probably helps save both the forests and my wallet.

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Michael M. on June 7th 2007 in General, Music

Coulton NYT profile

This profile of previously blogged musician Jonathan Coulton in The New York Times made for good reading a while back. Having been slacking on my news reading, I found the story through also popular John Hodgman‘s Good Evening. Being an intarweb star, Coulton has two posts about it himself. Looking through the comments, I noticed a Heaneyland! trackback. I almost got one of those one time. BoingBoing loved it. Digg loved it. /. loved it. Via this post on Areas of My Expertise, I later found this comic summarizing Coulton’s experience that he blogged, too.

Two parts of the story move me. First, Coulton has approached music in an ancient way although he is a singer-songwriter in a digital environment. He shares his music without great reliance on treating it as property to be guarded, and he works independently of the major media channels. He plays for the audience. They give him money. There happens to be a massive digital communications system in between. Second, he remains accessible to his fans. I am not a big enough fan to have written, but I have fired off messages to big figures from time to time. Although most probably end up in a series of electronic sewer tubes, some prominent figures respond thoughtfully. Seeing the same open exchange happen in music is wonderful.

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Michael M. on June 6th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Wealth spring

The New York Times has this article about Silent Spring. It takes a strong position, claiming that the book largely turned out to be wrong in its facts and that the subsequent consequences of banning DDT have been, on balance, harmful. The journalist behind it, John Tierney, also has this post on his blog TierneyLab along the same lines. I found this article from five years ago that trumpets the same ideas. I can believe that DDT might be more beneficial than harmful; I can believe the opposite. Kottke posted with links about efforts to discredit Silent Spring.

How can anybody sort through this junk? Highly opinionated people writing persuasively can effect their programs, whether actually to the detriment or benefit of society. Industrial powers can astroturf any debate. I am left feeling overwhelmed.

Back to DDT, regions of the world with malaria might have benefited from it only to have first world actions turn the tide against spraying. This weird economic phenomenon comes into play once again. Some markets are profitable only for incremental profits, selling more of something that already exists. The products are developed for the wealthy in the first world. If they are successful enough, they might trickle down. We get ivermectin for our dogs; the impoverished of Africa get it for their river blindness. I wish I had insight.

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Michael M. on June 6th 2007 in General

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