Archive for September, 2007

Chasing fiddles

I spent a while looking for the album Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from Mississippi after learning of it from someone I met at the blogged Mississippi John Hurt Festival. It was released in 1985 on vinyl through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Herbert Halpert recorded the tunes in 1939 with support from the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ and Music Projects and the Library of Congress. Sociologist Abbott Ferriss accompanied him. Using an old army ambulance converted to transport recording equipment, they made over 300 recordings, including 115 fiddle tunes.

Finding a copy of a vinyl album issued in small numbers 22 years ago is no easy task. Folks in the old-time world, however, have been very helpful to an unknown person, me, who contacted them asking for help finding one. Several Usenet discussions mention the album. One included statements that it had been reissued on CD, and another person suggested contacting Cleff’d Ear, which I tried unsuccessfully. The originator of the thread told me that he had found digital versions of the tunes and generously offered to send me a copy, but he had not found the album itself. I corresponded with two people behind the production, Tom Rankin and Gary Stanton. They contributed to a booklet included with the album, as did Ferriss. They told me that a CD reissue has been considered, but it has not happened yet. I also found Tom Sauber who worked on the project. Rankin and Stanton both looked for copies for me, but found none. Stanton did send me a CD with the tunes and photocopies of the booklet. Larry Morrisey, Heritage Program Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, suggested that I contact County Records. Folks there also looked around for copies, but found none. Finally, I inquired at the Old Capitol Shop, the store of the Department of Archives and History, as Harry Bolick suggested.

The shop had one copy left! It was closing soon for reorganization, though. Partially due to Katrina damage, the store has made several moves lately, and they were planning to close for September and October. It was already late August by the time I found out the copy. In a stroke of luck, my mother happened to be passing through Jackson the next day. I wrote asking the store to hold it for me, and they had it waiting behind the counter for her. Now I have it. It has 42 tracks, all short examples of the tunes rather than fully developed performances with variations because Halpert had to conserve disks. The music is terrific and strange. I hope that someday the whole collection of recordings is released.

More relevant to my current residence, I got Dear Old Illinois: Traditional Music of Downstate Illinois as a birthday present. Garry Harrison and Jo Burgess compiled it. I have only begun to explore the collection, but it is great so far. I have both the CDs and the book, which has notation for many fiddle tunes. It might inspire me to develop my sight reading.

In addition to pursuing recorded fiddle music, I looked into a new fiddle for myself. The Enterprise-Journal, my hometown newspaper, published “Pulling Strings” back in May about two locals men who had become luthiers in retirement. It is missing from their web archives. As part of my playing and listening on my trip home this past summer, I had a great visit with violin maker Robert Causey. Soon I will have one of his instruments for my very own.

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Michael M. on September 24th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Multiplayer Asteroids

As a child, I loved the video game Asteroids. It was one of the few games I ever flipped, scoring 100000 points, on my Atari 2600. Waxy Links reports that Multiplayer Asteroids is back. It was up for only a few days after I learned about it the first time. Then it went down. I kept checking the site hoping that it would return. Now it has. Despite the title, there are no asteroids in the game.

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Michael M. on September 18th 2007 in General

Perfect pitch

I enjoyed this /. story about perfect pitch, but I doubt some of the information. According to “Music of the Hemispheres,” a newspaper article that I blogged a while back, two-thirds of people on the street were able to sing a favorite hit song from memory within a semitone of its recorded pitch. The majority of people apparently have quite accurate pitch abilities. They are not trained to perform as people with perfect pitch do, giving a note name when presented with a pitch, but they have some of the necessary skills. When I do not have a tuner handy, the R.E.M. songs “Driver 8” and “The One I Love” are favorites to remember. Both start with an E. The discussion on /. includes some informative comments about tuning, temperament and other technical music matters.

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Michael M. on September 17th 2007 in General, Music


I get blog spam as many, many blogs must. Its characteristics are weird. One spammer always targets this post. If you go to the post, you will see no spam comments. All the spam comments use the same name, Diether, making them very easy to filter. They keep coming anyway. This post gets most of the rest of the spam. Lately, the names used have been towns in Alabama. Akismet does a good job of catching comment spam with only a few false alarms and misses. It has stopped over 3000 spam comments since I started using it. I only wish that spammers actually kept track of their failures and used them to stop wasting their resources and mine.

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Michael M. on September 17th 2007 in General


I recently started using MythArchive. It makes creating DVDs of my favorite television shows a snap. It is a plugin for MythTV that takes the recordings made by the recording software and creates DVDs with menus and chapters based on television listing information. For a long time, MythArchive would not compile on my computer. My system runs x86-64, and I think that the build failure was related to differences from a regular 32 bit x86 system. The latest release of MythTV compiled without any big problems. Before having it working, archiving my shows to DVD involved cumbersome steps and often led to problems with the audio. MythArchive hasĀ  failed a few times, but it is a great tool.

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Michael M. on September 17th 2007 in General

TimesSelect gone

This article in The New York Times announces the end of charges to access certain parts of the site. TimesSelect was one of the subscription features. The paywall could be bypassed for some articles using the New York Times Link Generator, but TimesSelect strictly required subscription. The paper aggressively sought sites posting TimesSelect articles. I link to the paper often, and I am glad to see the paywall go.

Update September 18: The news is popular with coverage from /., from Digg and from reddit.

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Michael M. on September 17th 2007 in General

Hearing development

Developmental studies have changed medical care. Experience shapes brain structure and function, especially early in life. This article in The New York Times is about the importance of early intervention for hearing problems. The news matches with previous findings in vision research. Many babies have problems aligning both eyes, lazy eye being one commonly known condition. Now ophthalmologists try to correct problems early because we know that delaying treatment can harm a child’s chances of developing good binocular vision and depth perception. The recent findings bring parallel news about hearing. Children with hearing loss also should be treated when they are young. Having an interest in developmental neurobiology myself, it is great to see this attention to the practical benefits gained by understanding how important experience is to the maturation of young children’s brains.

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Michael M. on September 13th 2007 in General


More than a game played with dominoes, it is our biggest and most natural satellite. I have written about our celestial companion before. That we visited it is wonderful. Via Kottke, I found this review of a new movie coming out about the Apollo program. In the Shadow of the Moon looks great. The subject matter is so rich that anything less would be disappointing. According to the showtimes page, it will open here September 28 at the Landmark Hi-Pointe. I am ready.


Michael M. on September 12th 2007 in General, Movies

Peering into the mind of a child

This article in the Record brings news of an advance in functional brain imaging. Researchers have developed tools for functional imaging in infants. By shining infrared light through the head and measuring its intensity at several positions, brain activity can be measured because transmission varies with oxygen level. In children, using magnetic resonanceĀ  is often difficult due to the stillness required, and techniques that use ionizing radiation such as positron emission tomography (PET) are too dangerous for children. It looks like a real advance filling a diagnostic gap. Another report includes a video. The technology has resulted in spin-off company Cephalogics.

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Michael M. on September 12th 2007 in General

Sonic Voyager

I posted a ways back about the golden record bolted onto the Voyager space probes. I was compelled to check out Murmurs of the Earth from the library and to learn the story behind the record. It is now the 30th anniversary. This op-ed by Timothy Ferris, who helped make the record, in The New York Times brought a smile.

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Michael M. on September 5th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

Amy LaVere

I mentioned the talented Amy LaVere in my post about Black Snake Moan. She was featured on the World Cafe show that aired on KWMU Saturday. Her song “That Beat” comes from recently blogged Carla Thomas. It is one of her many connections to her adopted home of Memphis. LaVere moved there for its culture. She has made her share of her connections. Previously mentioned James LutherJimDickinson produced her new album. I enjoyed the songs on the radio. She should tour up this way.

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Michael M. on September 4th 2007 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Magic science

I enjoyed this cool article in The New York Times about the Magic of Consciousness, a symposium held earlier this summer through the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Stinabeena liked the piece, too. Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde organized the conference. I got to know Steve pretty well several years back, and I know Susana a little. Steve’s work has focused on the mechanisms of visual illusions, and studying illusions reveals a great deal about the nervous system. He is a great person to have organized it. Besides the famous magicians, a few other names stood out. Michael Lynch, a philosopher mentioned in the article, was at Ole Miss while I was. He was talking about the same stuff then. I also enjoyed the article’s link a video that I have heard about for years.


Michael M. on September 1st 2007 in General

Riley Baugus

Thanks to the Folk School discussion group, I found this story that aired on NPR‘s Weekend Edition Saturday. It profiles old-time musician Riley Baugus. It reminded me of another story worth hearing from All Things Considered about clawhammer banjo. Although the focus of this newer segment is the banjo, Baugus also plays fiddle and guitar. Contrary to what Noah Adams said, I would characterize old-time as more rhythmic and driving than bluegrass, but on the whole, though, he makes some fine distinctions.

The focus is on the Round Peak style in which banjo and fiddle closely intertwine. Two instruments from two continents met on a third to transform and complete one another. When we can, a friend and I play together. I fiddle; he frails. It is just in our living rooms, and we still are learning. We join the true vine. I understand the use of “seduced” and “entranced” in the radio piece.

The story also hints at the participatory quality of the music. When Riley Baugus heard it, he wanted to learn it; he wanted to do it. I am a few generations out of the fields, but the desire for entertainment is enduring. The older I get, the more I feel that fun is something made more than had. This music is DIY that never died. I delight in knowing that people here and there around the country who heard this story will feel that they have to become part of it, and they do.

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Michael M. on September 1st 2007 in General, Music

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