Black Gate: Afrofuturism and Empowerment

Posted July 23rd, 2014

But that’s the irony of dystopia. Writers make novels about the types of issues that marginalized communities face every day, and pass it off as something that could only happen in the future.

Read more of Afrofuturism and Empowerment.

Interview with Ann Dryuyan

Posted June 29th, 2014

Why is God telling me to stop asking questions? When we defied God by tasting of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, that’s how we became ourselves. You know, God may not like that part of us, but I do.

- Ann Druyan in an interview with Salon

One of the unfinished essays on my computer is an attempt to read The Demon Haunted World (which Druyan co-authored with Carl Sagan) as mythology. She backs up everything I intended to say in that piece right here in this interview.

Space Oddity – Track by Track

Posted February 9th, 2014

Since finding my Stylophone, I wondered if anyone had transcribed the parts from Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, and to my surprise, I found YouTube videos of the individual tape tracks from the recording session.

Lead guitar and Stylophone


Backing vocal, flute, cello


Other tracks include bass and drums, acoustic guitar, and of course the lead vocal.

Deadline Riot: A Group NYE Resolution

Posted January 20th, 2014

I’ve joined the gang at Deadline Riot, a group blog for songwriters who are all attempting to write one song every week this year. So far I’m right on schedule and have contributed three new demos:

  1. At a Gas Station in Indiana – a fake Billy Bragg song.
  2. Shalott – a tiny jazz ballad.
  3. See the Little Goblin  - a Blackadder reference in song.

I suspect blog posts on songwriting will migrate over there for the year as well.

Quantum Theory and Dualism

Posted December 23rd, 2013

Via Neuroskeptic, a new paper in Brain and Cognition investigates the maximum affect Heisenbergian quantum uncertainty could have on synapses

Wildly waving toward the quantum world has been one major defense for dualist theories of mind – which posit that the mind is not reducible to the brain. It’s also the last line of defense (just above “magic”) for many people who wish to retain some notion of a soul.

As many have insisted must be the case, the numbers reveal that the Heisenberg uncertainty has no affect:

I conclude that Heisenbergian uncertainty is too small to affect synaptic function, and that amplification by chaos or by other means does not provide a solution to this problem. Furthermore, even if Heisenbergian effects did modify brain functioning, the changes would be swamped by those due to thermal noise. Cells and neural circuits have powerful noise-resistance mechanisms, that are adequate protection against thermal noise and must therefore be more than sufficient to buffer against Heisenbergian effects. Other forms of quantum indeterminism must be considered, because these can be much greater than Heisenbergian uncertainty, but these have not so far been shown to play a role in the brain.

This is unsurprising for anyone who recognizes the scale at which nerve cells interact – several orders of magnitude larger than  the quantum world. But it’s good to see people investigating this assumption.

Read “Neuroscience, quanitum indeterminism and the Cartesian Soul” by PG Clarke.

Too Little Evidence, Too Much Speculation

Posted December 22nd, 2013

Last night I read the chapter of Electric Eden on Nick Drake (“Orpheus in the Underwood”), and shocked by the stories I hadn’t heard before, I summarized the last years of his life for Erin. This morning she found this nerve interview with author Trevor Dann, author of Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake. Cannabis-induced schizophrenia, Asperger’s, dissociative identity disorder, and abuse are all floated as explanations for his withdrawn behavior. With a spread that wide-ranging and contradictory, it should be obvious to them that there either do not have the necessary evidence or do not have the necessary expertise. Both probably true in this particular case.

I’m wondering now about this cultural drive to – not just speculate – but to seek and defend definitive answers where it’s unlikely that we’ll ever be sure of one. Is it so difficult to remember someone like Drake by just the facts?

The Second Generation of Electric Folk

Posted December 21st, 2013

I was very happy to read this 1971 piece on Steeleye Span and Mr Fox, “the second generation” of electric folk, written by Karl Dallas for Melody Maker. He expresses exactly what attracts me to these two bands early 70s output: the diversity in the arrangements and the forsaking of standard rock cliches. Dallas notes

The carefully structured nature of their arrangements is one of the things which is tending to hold most electric folk bands back, I feel. The lack of room to manoeuvre has been very noticeable on recent appearances by Fotheringay and is possibly one cause of their lack of fire. The arrangement used by Steeleye and Fox are both pretty complicated so I think it will be a long time before they have finished exploring the potentials of them. In fact – and if this sounds contradictory, I’m sorry – Steeleye’s arrangements tend to be so complex that the essential words of the songs are sometimes swamped by so much music. This may be a balance problem added to the fact that Martin Carthy and Maddy Prior still basically sing in an ‘acoustic’ style and have not adapted themselves to the different techniques needed in a rock band.

Like the difference between the acoustic and electric guitars, the close miked voice of the rock singer is really a completely different instrument from the ‘acoustic’ voice which is merely amplified to carry it’s true tones into the far corners of a big hall.

I found this turn interesting because of the history of Steeleye Span, which I’ve noted here before, of turning into a rock band who happened to play traditional material. Prior certainly adapted more of a rock vocal style as the years went on, but this was accompanied by the band losing much of what made Please to See the King interesting: the sparse and delicate arrangements, with no drums and and no rhythm guitar strumming away for no other apparent purpose than to add volume.

What Is a Program?

Posted December 21st, 2013

In a series exploring the inner-workings of a computer, Mark at Good Math, Bad Math has written a better basic definition of program than is usually found elsewhere:

Back when people first started to study the idea of computing devices, they talked about computing machines as devices that performed a single, specific task. If you think about a basic Turing machine, you normally define Turing machines that perform a single computation. They’ve got a built-in sequence of states, and a built in transition table – the machine can only perform one computation. It took one kind of input, and performed its computation on that input, producing its output.

Building up from these specific machines, they came up with the idea of auniversal computing device. A universal computer was a computing machine whose input was a description of a different computing machine. By giving the universal machine different inputs, it could perform different computations.

The point of this diversion is that looking at this history tells us what a program really is: it’s a description of a computing machine. Our computers are universal computing machines; they take programs as input to describe the computing machines we want them to emulate. What we’re doing when we program is describing a computing machine that we’d like to create. Then we feed it into our universal computing machine, and it behaves as if we’d built a custom piece of hardware to do our computation!

Read more of “More Basics: Compilers, Programs, and Languages.”