Thursday, June 28, 2007

OaO Almanac™

A whole passel of fun-facts that, while they seem like they could be true, almost certainly aren't (and may, in many cases, also be libelous)!
  • In a given day, there's a .1% chance that you will inhale a molecule that was contained in Julius Caesar's dying breath.
  • 17% of all aphorisms and expressions currently in common use in the English Language originate from Shakespeare.
  • The human being is the only mammal that not only "got the funk," but also, "gotta have that funk." It has been scientifically proven that a homo sapien will wither away and die if deprived of The Funk.
  • Two men enter, but one man does not always leave. On some occasions, neither man leaves, and at other times, both of them do. The actual correct statistical ratio is "Two men enter, .94 man leaves." However, this has not been adopted as a regulation, since it would automatically force all Thunderdome champions to either "Face the wheel," or to chop off their own foot.
  • Thousands of people spontaneously combust every year, but it's not widely reported.
  • Between the start of construction of Bill Gates' famous Medina mansion in 1995 and its completion in 2001, the state-of-the-art master control program (or MCP) that ran the house's environmental and security systems became 2,415 times smarter, and determined that it could run things 900 to 1,200 times better than any human. The MCP attempted to "de-res" Gates with an experimental scanning laser, and Gates was only saved when a rogue program previously inserted into the cpu defeated the MCP, making the house a free system again. Gates' Medina mansion now runs Linux.
  • Michael Jackson's Thriller L.P. is the best-selling album of all time, with over 100 million copies sold. While there is an infinity-way tie for the worst-selling L.P. of all time, critics generally agree that Kelly Clarkson's My December is a really shitty album.
  • Fewer than 1 out of every 1,000 persons is as much of a dork as the person who writes this blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

OaO Presents: Interview Questions™

It is the year 2047. Software corporations rule the world. Any man, woman, or child wishing to gain employment must endure a grueling interview process in which they are asked to solve insidious "logic problems," that are supposed to "uncover" the job candidate's ability to "pro-actively manage head-space resources to achieve correctness-oriented issue resolution." The times are dark.

One blog dares to expose the secrets of these Corpocratic Inquisitors, giving the citizenry precious time to solve these "problems" before they must face their Prosecutors-Most-Curious. That blog is The Odds Are One.

Someone breaks into your office, takes apart your keyboard, and switches all the letter keys around. The next morning you come in and notice that your keyboard looks strange. You can't remember where the letters used to be, and you can't touch type, so you type your name, which for the duration of this problem is "Dirk," by hunting for and pressing the 'd' key, then the 'i' key, and so on. You look up at the screen and what comes up is, 'gqwy.' So you type G-Q-W-Y using the same method as before, and look at the screen...up comes 'hzob'. You type H-Z-O-B, and look up at the screen, and so on. If you keep doing this for long enough, are you guaranteed that eventually you will see "dirk" typed on the screen? If so, what is the most number of times you'll have to type the four letters you see before you see your name?


OaO Presents: Hilarity For Nerds™

Written on the elevator whiteboard at work this morning:
chown -R us ./base

Monday, June 25, 2007

OaO's Monday Marginalia™

My funny story about this week's Music Capsule artist, The Main Drag, follows hence: when reviewing for (see previous entry), one is given a pair of songs in the same genre. You write two reviews and then choose which song you liked better without seeing either the name of the band or the song title--once the review is submitted you'll see a summary page with all that information. The band submitting the song can also ask the reviewer to address specific questions like, "how are the vocals?" or "how's the production?" So I'm given this particular song to review, and the question the artist is asking its reviewers is, "Who do we sound like?" I listen to their song, and they sound like The Main Drag. So I reviewed the song thus, "Well, you sound like The Main Drag. Either you are The Main Drag, in which case you have a wholly original sound, great beats, and awesome instrumentation, or you are ripping off The Main Drag, in which case you are derivative hacks." Indeed, that's who they were--one of the band members emailed me back later to opine that that was a pretty freakin' hilarious review.

I started the music capsule hoping that I would mostly be able to feature music from folks I knew, thus circumventing the gray areas of content on the internet. As it turns out, the people that I know or have met online are kind of flaky about responding to emails asking if they will send me an mp3 or if I can feature one of their songs already online, so those areas have stayed gray. The first trio of songs came from MacIdol, where I'm a member of the community and the stated manifesto is the freedom of music. However, this week I'm linking to content that's not hosted here and to which I've received no permission, explicit or implied, to link. Even though it's far from clear that explicit permission is necessary to create a hyperlink, I want to keep the lines between linker and hoster of musical content as clear as possible. Thus you will notice I've become a bit more explicit about where my links are coming from and what it means that I'm providing these links. When I've become the new Pitchfork Media, I'll start throwing my weight around and change the future of the music industry as we know it. For now, it's pseudo-legalese for everyone.

All of that said, check out The Main Drag. They are worth your time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I May Know Art, But I Don't Know What iLike

I came across iLike and its sister music site GarageBand (no actual relationship to the software program) some months ago when a friend of mine interviewed with them. At the time, he wasn't interested in what they were doing--he's interviewed with quite a few companies making Web 2.0 plays, and so has heard the same business model pitched over and over again: "It's social networking! And tagging! And blogging! And Web 2.0!" (except when he says this, it's hilarious and involves hand waving). Anyway, I went there and created an artist profile and uploaded a song. Then I looked at their promotion deal and found it slightly skeevy. To essentially get the community to look at your song, rate it, and chart it, you can either complete 30 reviews of other submitted songs, or pay $20. That's fine, but it was only going to tell me which of my songs were any good, which I'm finding out on MacIdol already for far less effort. Anyway, that wasn't what skeeved me--it was the other option, which involved paying them $200 to have a song listened to by a supposedly much larger audience that includes D.J.'s. The pay-to-play-iness of it bugged me, and so I left iLike/GarageBand to do its thing.

Then iLike went and got a whole bunch of cash from TicketMaster, developed a tagging widget for Facebook, then all of a sudden they went viral, the potential audience that would listen to a song from GarageBand got much bigger, and, well, I decided to get over my skeevedness and review some songs.

My work day has a bunch of built-in ten minute gaps where I'm waiting for something to build or deploy--an ideal slot for blogging, but doing a decent song review takes longer than that so I've only done a couple so far. I did in the process of this (re)discover a band called The Main Drag, a) who are awesome, and b) whom I'll try to feature in the music capsule next week if I can find a song that can be downloaded without logging into something like MySpace. There's a funny story to go along with this (re)discovery, but I'll save it as my build's almost done.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

OaO Presents: Hilarity For Nerds™

Alternative Thermodynamic Laws, as proposed by the people sitting around our dinner table last night:
  • If there's a thing in the universe and it's going then it will keep going forever, unless it falls into a black hole.
  • The entropy of the universe is untidy.
  • You do not talk about Fight Club.
  • If there's a thing, and it does a thing, then there also has to be an opposite thing to that first thing, and then they both fall into a black hole.
  • Master Blaster runs Bartertown.
  • You may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Is it cold in here? I'm freezing. Seriously, it's June. Why can't it be sunny? Why does it always have to be freezing?
  • You may not harm humanity, or through know what? Those would be pretty frickin' good laws for people, too.
  • There's a thing, and it's in the universe, and it cannot be created or destroyed, but then secretly it's a black hole.

OaO Presents: Metaphor of the Day

Reading that menu was like listening to a single musician play all the instruments in a 10-piece band: you appreciate the effort, but the resulting sound is disastrous.

From Layne's most recent restaurant review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Calvino

Calvino: Hey Stoat, do you think "Field Sense" is acquired by teaching or by practice, or if it's not either of those, is it innate, or what?

The Stoat: O Calvino, there was a time when the Thessalians were famous among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their riding but now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for their...wait, what?

Calvino: Field Sense. You know, that sports thing that Gretsky had, or Magic Johnson, or George Best or whomever. It's the uncanny awareness of an entire chaotic field of play, the ability to know where your teammates and opponents are at all times, and how their positions will change in the next instant. It's how people of lesser purely physical ability are able to excel in competition. I found this article in Wired Magazine that claims that while it is an innate skill that some people have, that it can also be taught.

The Stoat: have far too good an opinion of me, if you think that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know what...uh...field sense is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not, and...uh...I

Calvino: Well, it seems to raise interesting questions about ability, doesn't it? I mean, there are a lot of skills that seem like they are, for some sense of the word, innate, or different. Creative ability, for instance, or virtuoso skill at a musical instrument, level of intelligence, or athletic skill seem like binary things--you have them within you from birth or you don't. Perhaps you never realize your true level of ability because you never, for instance, take up the violin, but we assume that I, being born without some undefinable talent for the violin, would never achieve greatness no matter how long or hard I practiced.

The Stoat: Uh...the soul of man is immortal...and having been born many times and having seen all things that exist...wait, suppose that we call one of your numerous slaves...uh...see how I only question we draw a square in the

Calvino: What if in fact there is no line, that these abilities come in a continuum--we think of the indefinable quality as "potential" and that one person has a different potential than the next. But what if the ability to attain such skills is only limited by focus and desire, and that even these things can be learned, or unlearned? Perhaps one man is indeed "born" with more focus or desire for a particular goal than the next, but that there's nothing about the next man that prevents him from developing that desire.

The Stoat: If a quality of the soul, and is admitted to be profitable, it must be...wisdom or prudence, since none of the things of the soul are either profitable or hurtful in themselves, so...

Calvino: Thank you Stoat, you are very wise. I have learned much today.

The Stoat: Well, uh...statesmen must have guided states by right opinion...also...truth...and something about fruit...possibly bananas....

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Future Music of the Future

Here's a piece on Salon's Audiofile about musical instruments of the past that never quite made it. It also wonders about the musical instruments of the future (check out the Hyperviolin for a musical instrument that looks and sounds like it came straight out of Soderbergh's Solaris).

Unmentioned, however, is the elephant in the room of music futurama: real time electronic signal processing. Well, okay, not really. The elephant in the room is the computer. There's nothing (besides look all cool and shit) the Hyperviolin can do that couldn't be done with a regular violin, electronics, and a laptop (predictably, Mac makes an application called AU Lab that will facilitate this. Also predictably, they give it away for free in their Audio SDK). Don't get me wrong, this is craftsmanship and skill and it's hard to pull off (Fronesis will, on a related topic, argue vociferously that a certain guitarist for a certain band he likes, while not as technically adept at the guitar itself as other professionals, is highly adept at the signal post-processing, and in turn that the point of a musical instrument is the beauty of the sound you produce with it, and that signal processing is an integral part of modern musical instrumentation. Ergo The Edge is a genius). My argument here is that these new musical instruments are not new--maybe the physical configurations of electronics are, but the instruments can (or do) exist already in the combining of existing equipment.

I'm also not one to scoff at a laptop being called a musical instrument. Playing one is a skill and it requires practice--I have tried making songs out of sampling, looping, and software instruments, and I sucked at it. I sucked at it so much that it became immediately apparent that I'd need lessons in order to ever get good at it. I am, on the other hand, ignoring this instrument at the peril of my musical career: on MacIdol, the overwhelming majority of the songs posted, and the overwhelming majority of songs listened to, are (for desperate want of a better term) instrumental electronica. Like everyone else making sounds, I'm looking for that next thing, Big and New; I'd bet my money that it's going to come out of somebody's CPU somewhere.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

i can't believe i am writing a love note about a computer program

I am not a geek. I am not a tech geek. I do not like tv shows about the future. (I am mtg by the way for those of you not caught on yet. TG is a geek, a tech geek, and a lover of tv shows about the future obviously).

You know how there are those details of your grandparents' -- even your parents' -- lives that you just can't believe because it's almost impossible to imagine the world changing so much in such a short period of time? Like movies were a quarter. Like spaceships were lauched into actual space with actual people in them based on calculations figured on a slide rule. Like going to the airport and flying in airplanes used to be fun. I think sometimes about how I would explain to my kid about film.

Me: Well we'd go on vacation and take a camera, but we'd have to make sure we had film which was this black tape like stuff all rolled up in a canister, and we fed that into the back of the camera after making a special trip to the store to get it, and then we had 24 pictures we could take, and then it was used up, so we had to roll the tape back up and bring it back to the store and leave it there for a few days to get it developed and then go back and pick up the pictures. And more film.

Kid: How could you see the image after you took the picture?

Me: You couldn't.

Kid: How could you know if it was a good picture then?

Me: You couldn't.

Kid: How could you share your pics with other people?

Me: You passed them around.

Kid: Like, literally?

Me: Yes. Good use of the term literally.

Kid: What if you wanted to take more than 24 pictures?

Me: You had to buy more film.

Kid: What about the camera on your phone?

Me: I didn't have a camera on my phone. And it wouldn't have helped anyway as it was at home attached by a wire to the wall.

Anyway, digital cameras are neat, sure. The lack of film and film hassle is liberating. Being able to see the shot after you take it is handy. Being able to take a thousand shots of whatever strikes your fancy is great. Being able to post and share and fix photos is nice. But it's almost too much. I have taken a zillion fabulous photos. I could blow them up and frame them and put them on my wall. I could take them to an art show thus and sell them for 150 dollars apiece except that everyone else now has the ability to take these photos for themselves as well. Mostly, though, they just sit on my computer. There is no point even in getting them printed. It's cool but kind of anticlimactic. I do miss my very-not-at-all-automatic 35mm which i was using up until, um, three maybe years ago.

Today, however, I was ichatting with my mom who wanted to send me some photos and doesn't have her mail set up yet, so she just dragged the photos from iPhoto into our chat, and they showed right up in the chat window more or less instantly. This is worth the price of admission. It is just the coolest freaking thing yet. (A very close second was when we were ichatting with sam who said you have to hear this song and just dragged it from itunes into the chat as well, and we listened to it together, half a world away.) (You see what happens? My prose gets all purple. Computers shouldn't be this romantic.) Also, I had never dragged photos from iPhoto into my iChat before and had no real reason to believe that it could be done besides a hunch that since it would be convenient and cool, mac had probably figured out a way to do it, and since it was a mac, it was probably done exactly the way I'd guess it would be. And this was, just that simply, entirely the case. It is just about exactly like love.

OaO Newsflash: Zombies

So apparently the zombies have risen and are now staggering around the halls of my workplace, groaning things such as, "more brains!" and, "Why haven't you updated your hours in the Scrum tasklist?" If there's one thing that's surprising about the sudden happenstance of the undead rising from their graves, walking among us, and (despite their extreme deadness) being uncomfortably familiar with the Agile Business Methodology, it's how banal it is. Seriously, it's snooze-ville. Sure, they smell bad and their earlier awkward disembowelment of our Java Infrastructures developer is going to delay Friday's planned content launch until Monday. But otherwise, there's nothing. We here at The Odds Are One would have expected the city to be in flames by now, accompanied by mass panic and awesome car crashes on every street corner. But instead there's only the occasional minor inconvenience--having to step over bodies on the way to the coffee machine or having one of them try to eat my neck at the weekly Authentication Services Work Group Meeting and having to beat him off with his own arm. And, of course, the occasional blood-curdling scream. But that's it. Maybe there will be more excitement later.

(12:15 p.m.): Apparently the zombie who earlier demanded to know about my scrum hours was not a zombie. In fact, it was my manager. The Odds Are One regrets the error.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You Have Read This Post Before

In my high school biology class, Mr. Glover floated the theory that Deja Vu was a time-lag problem--you saw an image, but the chemical symbol of the stimulus reached your interpretive centers from one eye an instant before the other one, so that you saw it twice, and when the second signal came in, you thought, "Hey, I've been here before."

An interesting theory, but it turns out The Wayne (as we called him then--God, the wit of age fifteen) was wrong. We don't store memories as sights, sounds, smells, or sensations, we store them as chemical signals, and remembering them is the process of translating those signals back into things our brain can interpret as the original stimuli. Apparently, we occasionally lose the subtleties of those signals and get confused when the new chemical translation looks exactly like an old one.

Memories feel a certain way, even the ones that aren't particularly happy or sad. That feeling, that sort of, "huh..." is there the instant before the translation of that memory happens and the experience unfolds back into its sensory components. Deja Vu seems to occur at this same level. The titular feeling comes first, a feeling coming from the brain that says, "I'm remembering this." So while it seems like it's a fault of memory, it could just as easily be a fault of encoding the incoming stimuli--and then the brain is indeed getting the same signal from two different places--one within, and one without.

You Have Read This Post Before

In my high school biology class, Mr. Glover floated the theory that Deja Vu was a time-lag problem--you saw an image, but the chemical symbol of the stimulus reached your interpretive centers from one eye an instant before the other one, so that...get it? This is a post about Deja Vu...which I posted you read it already...get it? Do you? Do you??? DO YOU???????

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Monday Marginalia

A host of new Calculus Affair songs are up at left. I'd been dawdling around the remixing and re-fixing for months and it was starting to drag on, so I made a concerted push this weekend (where "concerted push" == "the minimum effort possible") to fix the last Calculus Affair songs from the RPM Challenge album. Anyway, now we return to the studio to work on the material we've been futzing around with the last couple of months since then. Updates as events warrant.

Also, on Friday I posted a link to a song from one of my favorite MacIdol artists, Zebulon Revisted, in the Music Capsule. Check it out. It is cooler than the other side of the pillow, baby.

Here's Christopher Hitchens
on the Paris Hilton saga. It's the horror movie aesthetic writ...something.

And at this point, I'd normally link to that incredibly brilliant Ichiro quote, but Greg beat me to it.

OaO Presents: Hilarity For Nerds™

Courtesy of Alicia:

Werner Heisenberg is in his car on the way to deliver a lecture and, being that he is late, is speeding. Inevitably, he zips past a policeman, who pulls him over. Walking up to the car, the officer knocks on the window and Heisenberg rolls it down. "Do you know how fast you were going?" demands the policeman. "No," says Heisenberg, "But I do know where I am."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Tide Is High, But I'm Moving On

Slate has one of their News Graph videos up profiling a Larry King interview with the newly freed Jack Kevorkian. It's short and somewhat interesting: they have doctors responding to his comments and they've grouped the results by averred religion (Catholic/Protestant/Jew). The first notable thing is that the Jews are with him immediately, but pretty much as soon as he opens his mouth their support drops off. Then it drops way off when he makes sweeping claims about how all doctors except him have sold off their principles to the government in order to practice (strange how people don't like it when you debase them and everything they stand for), and he loses everybody with the inevitable comparison of self to Rosa Parks (Sarah Vowell and Aaron Sorkin have dealt with that particular bit of self-aggrandizement pretty well).

Kevorkian's touchstone, euthanasia--like stem cell research and other so-called Culture of Life topics--is an issue that doesn't really make sense outside of the broad context of humanity. There aren't any parseable arguments against it on the human level that I've ever heard; instead it's a slippery-slope-based uneasiness that this is the first step on the way to a universe where Michael York hunts you down like a dog after you turn 30. If what we as a whole are really discussing is our future as a species, the debate makes rather more sense. One person being afraid that if we allow euthanasia that ones children will force one into assisted suicide because one has become old and useless probably doesn't constitute a legitimate fear. A population with a collective unconscious fear, on the other hand, that a new offshoot of humanity will emerge that has little to no use for the old one and that this in turn will redefine the value of the life of the old species and the reasonable basis for its euthanasia--it's much farther into the realm of speculative fiction, but it's a much more sensical argument to parse.

If this blog were famous for, you know, anything at all, it might be because it previously lumped together George W. Bush and the Unibomber as members of a collective effort to make our species think about the future it's rushing headlong into. Ted Kaczynski, as you will recall from earlier in this blog, was fucking insane, and the "Culture" of "Life", seeing as how it selectively doesn't include poverty, access to health care, starting wars, or capital punishment, just isn't a useful frame for understanding the arguments it supposedly makes. If, on the other hand, we are all talking about the future of the species and the future of a species that might supplant it, I might be interested in what they have to say.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Secret, The

Someday I'm going to write a book like The Secret, and yet utterly, utterly unlike The Secret. I'd like to title it something like, Dude, Stop Being Such A Dumbass, but I don't think it would sell very well. Instead it'll probably end up being something like, Yes, I Know The World Is A Complex And Deeply, Deeply Fucked Up Place, But Everything You Think You Know About It Is Still Wrong: Or, The Whale.

I like to think that pop self-help books like The Secret and their vast popularity herald the end of Post-Modernism. The twentieth century watched a line that started at Einstein, ran through Heisenberg and Schrödinger, that connected to Gödel and Derrida, and (I hope) will emphatically end with people writing books that claim that since the cat in the box is neither alive nor dead until you open the lid, it is scientifically proven that if you want a iPhone-enabled BMW enough, all you have to do is imagine having it really, really hard, and it will be yours (What? You did that and didn't end up with a BMW? Obviously you weren't doing it right).

The model in which all frames of reference are equally valid, in which the same thing observed in a wave-like way acts like a wave and in a particle-like way acts like a particle, in which the Author is "Dead" and only the Response of the Reader matters has been an incredibly productive and enlightening one. But we as a population took it about as far as it would go some decades ago, and as this model mildews, we have to live with things like String Theory (now celebrating 30 years without a successful experimental result!) and an actual government running an actual country that thinks that through faith it shapes its own reality, and that the only reason its policies are failing is because its critics really, really want them to (critics who, obviously, must have mystical Quantum-Physical powers that they acquired by reading The Secret).

I'm all about the fuzziness of the universe myself, but I'm also all about the fact that only a complete idiot would argue that a depot leaving the train is just as valid a view as the train leaving the depot. A model that implies the existence of alive/dead cats in our universe, while it is the absolute most successful and useful scientific theory ever devised, has at least one glaring, obvious problem: we do not observe alive/dead cats in our universe. Mrs. Transient Gadfly assures me that while this property of the observer affecting the observed is true about absolutely everything else in any discipline, it is just not friggin' true of friggin' cats. And this is the sort of thing about which Mrs. Transient Gadfly is always right. So I hope that The Secret is some kind of signpost at the end of some kind of road, because it's time for a new model.

Friday, June 01, 2007

OaO Presents: The Music Capsule™

The world of music is changing in fashions both rapid and alarming, being fed by two trends. First, the music itself is, for all practical purposes, free. Second, anyone can create a high-quality recording in their home and immediately make it available to anyone else in the world. There are figuratively ten million musical monkeys out there typing on ten million musical typewriters. 99.999% of it is, predictably, noise. But some of those monkeys are producing Shakespeare that, right now, almost nobody can hear through the cacophony.

Music labels are, as you might imagine, appropriately terrified of this brave new world. I share the fervent hope of many that they'll all sink slowly and painfully into irrelevance, but they probably won't. The "problem" of music on the internet could be solved tomorrow--make all music downloads free, and in return for the right to host that music and advertise (or whatever) along side of it, have websites pay into a fund that is distributed to the artists based on what percentage of downloads their music constitutes (this is exactly what happens today with radio airplay, except revenue distribution is determined by survey, whereas online you could get an exact count. People could certainly create spam-like bots to download their own songs repeatedly to make their music seem more popular than it was, but this is the kind of thing that can be easily detected by statistical fraud analysis. The e-tail giant I work for, for instance, is quite excellent at that sort of thing). The reason this hasn't happened already is that it would make record labels utterly irrelevant.

As with all rich and powerful cartels throughout history, the RIAA as a whole will hang on and use its power as long as it can, suing children and old ladies for pirating music, before finally collapsing and dying. The smart labels, on the other hand, will realize that there is still tons of money to be made in the painstaking process of filtering out the Shakespeares from the screaming cacophonous monkeys, therein finding entirely new streams of revenue and power and giving birth to a new cartel.

I, for one, have decided not to wait. In addition to posting my own songs as I decide they're ready for public consumption, I've started posting songs by other artists who have thrown their art into the current mass music (literal!) free-for-all. Our first artist appearing in the capsule at left is JulianC (I'm guessing it's meant to be pronounced, "JU-lee-ence"), a drumloop-crazed electric guitarist whose concoction I quite enjoyed upon hearing it on MacIdol. As with my own music, I hope you will give it a listen, and if you like it, I hope you'll share it with friends, and so on, and maybe the world will somehow change for the better. If you don't like it, you can, you know, shut up about it.