September 30, 2010

The Chaos Scenario - Bob Garfield; The Age of Spiritual Machines - Ray Kurzweil

Read these to take a break in between the first and the second Stieg Larsson books. With The Chaos Scenario, one of your two two favorite hosts of On The Media riffs on the various disruptive aspects the internet will have on media, business, and, ultimately, society as a whole. There were many questions and few answers but rather cautionary tales. If you like his discursive style on OTM, you'll enjoy his very conversational writing style.

Kurzweil's book presents a conundrum: how to objectively approach a 10-year-old book that attempts to predict the world 10 years into the future (and much further)? Additional: how to give fair judgment when the author emphasizes their credentials yet over-estimates potential accomplishments within those credentialed areas? This was an impulse purchase after reading it referenced with praise in several discussion threads. Although many ideas were interesting, I came away disliking his inelegant, artless writing style and generally dry structure. In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed the predictions and explications of bioengineering in Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future, even though I disagreed with his conclusions.

[ update 30 Nov 2010 ]

Ray Kurzweil's Slippery Futurism from IEEE Spectrum [ via Slashdot ] gives a drubbing to predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines, examining both the difficulties in separating what had been common knowledge 10 years ago from what seems prescient now, and the difficulties in getting Kurzweil to admit when he was, obviously, wrong. The inexplicable crowing that Kurzweil does in the book regarding his past business successes seems more explicable now.

Continue reading "The Chaos Scenario - Bob Garfield; The Age of Spiritual Machines - Ray Kurzweil"
posted by sstrader at 9:47 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged fukuyama, posthuman | permalink

Diaspora code

On the 15th, the Diaspora code was finally release in alpha and the reviews weren't good. The Register [ via Reddit along with Slashdot ] focused primarily on the dangerously inept security mistakes festering throughout all areas of the code. How bad? They ignore the most basic issue of scrubbing user-submitted data before inserting it into SQL queries. Here's my test for bad security practices: if even I know not to do something, it's bad. This is really bad.

Defenders--justifiably--remark that the fact that Diaspora is open source allows us to discover these flaws and publicize them to be either fixed or act as a warning to users. Closed source applications could contain worse and we'd never know. With Diaspora, Bloggers (such as MicroISV on a Shoestring) can examine the code and detail the full range of the issues involved. More interesting to me, and of greater concern, was an observation from faulteh on Slashdot regarding system requirements:

To be a seed you are going to need a hosting provider that supports ruby on rails with a freakishly huge list of gem dependencies, that is also running the thin webserver - that's right it doesn't work on apache ... In fact, installing all the dependencies on an ubuntu server running a LAMP stack still required an extra 350+Mb of extra packages ...

I haven't seen their concerns voiced elsewhere, and I'm not sure that the extra Ruby and Apache modules required result in as fragile/bloaty a configuration as they suggest. However, when very powerful blog and CMS frameworks can acheive so much with so much less, it suggests that there was a lack of architectural rigor in the decisions made early on in the Diaspora design process. All of these, of course, are minor points that ignore the 800-lb gorilla that Facebook is. What features are needed to make Facebook the next MySpace?

posted by sstrader at 8:45 PM in Internet | tagged social network | permalink

September 21, 2010


Drill, Baby, Drill [ via Arts & Letters Daily ] examines the lost appreciation of learning through memorization. Although (or because) I had a mundane, public-school education, I still remember learning my multiplication tables. In our kitchen in Colorado Springs (?) and my mom running through them with me. If that were my only memory of rote learning I'd probably not be so supportive of it, but I most firmly connect with repetition and its values my time at the piano. Learning a piece of music--both the physical aspect and the memorization--takes at its heart simple repetition. An understanding of theory, history, biography, etc. is invaluable for assistance and to actually personalize the work. But a musician must pour over the scales-and-arpeggios-and-whatnot in order to make sure that such techniques are mindless as you're working on passages more interesting than scales-and-arpeggios-and-whatnot. With the mundane backgrounded, you are free to focus during performance on the flow of a melodic line or the dramatic arc of the piece as a whole.

The article quotes University of Virginia professor of psychology Daniel Willingham: You can't be proficient at some academic tasks without having certain knowledge be automatic -- 'automatic' meaning that you don't have to think about it, you just know what to do with it.

posted by sstrader at 9:34 PM in Culture & Society , Music | tagged arts and letters daily | permalink

September 11, 2010

Car radio

My 2002 Beetle came with a cassette player. That must've been relatively standard eight/nine years ago, because I remember getting a free cassette when Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters opened for Dave Matthews at Chastain (?). The B side of the Headhunters cassette had John Scofield playing with Medeski, Martin, and Wood. There was much funky goodness that got lots of play in the beetle.

cassette.headhunters cassette.scofield

Side A:

  1. Funky Hunter (6:57)
  2. PP Head (3:46)
  3. Skank It (Future Homosapiens - live mix/breakbeat club version) (6:37)

Side B:

  1. Boozer (5:26)
  2. Jeep on 35 (4:28)
  3. A Go Go (Attica Blues Morphed Schofield [sic] Mix) (6:32)

Around the same time, I would listen to Live365 and recorded several classical stations onto cassette for car-listenin' (laptop -> stereo + cassette deck). A few years back I started to listen to podcasts in the car (MP3 player -> cassette adapter + phone jack). A year or so ago I wrote some PHP pages to allow me to dynamically build streaming playlists at work and access my MP3s at home. I could browse by artist and album and select tracks from them to build the M3U. That worked beautifully for a while, but for some reason my upload speed at home has slowed enough to prevent streaming. I've had mysterious (aren't they always?) network issues possibly related to updates on my Ubuntu web server. Navigating those pages from the phone was tricky anyway. Starting with my Storm and continuing with my Android (HTC Incredible), I've used Pandora to listen in the car.

A couple of days ago, I found StreamFurious in the Android App Store. It allows you to stream from a list of PLS stations including SHOUTcast and public radio stations. Finally, WNYC in my car! I hope to get some combination of RadioWave with StreamFurious working eventually.

posted by sstrader at 1:38 PM in Phones | tagged android, beetle | permalink

September 7, 2010

Where was I?


Busy weekend with guests in town and yet I still didn't (1) see any DragonCon shenanigans or (2) go to the Decatur Book Festival. Friday was the aquarium. It's been four years since we've been there so we were long overdue to return. The little sea worms (aka garden eels) were still as crazy lookin' for their sheer lol-ness:


Saturday was an LSU party at the house. Drink of choice is the youth tonic stolen from The Publik House down the street, found the recipe online with the name berri ricky (?!):

  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • 1 part agave nectar (or simple syrup)
  • 4 parts club soda
  • Build ingredients over fresh ice in a highball. Stir. Garnish with a lime wheel.

In the words of Kramer: it's very refreshing. Me and my brother and Matt hung out then parted ways to go see Machete (aka Mah-cheh-tay) at Atlantic Station. Not the immersive retro weirdness that was Planet Terror, but still very quotable and violently and babe-tastic.


Sunday was long lunch at North of NOLA. Our first official meal there and it was outstanding. Sadly OTP and so too distant for frequent visits. Mary and Lisa enjoyed themselves more that it appears:


Monday was brunch at Flying Biscuit in Candler, a farewell to all, then the first two Red Riding movies on Netflix streaming. Oh, and I went for a jog and probably got a stress fracture in my right foot. After next Monday's podiatrist appt, I'll probably be spending the next two months in a walking cast. :-(

Oddly, two new restaurants in Midtown were closed all weekend and so we had to cancel plans for both of them. The Publik House next to The Fox and Noon on Crescent Ave. gave up some of the busiest foot traffic days of the year and made us redirect people elsewhere. Come on, guys.

posted by sstrader at 6:13 PM in Where was I? | tagged jogging, restaurant | permalink

September 2, 2010

Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 4, 2nd movement

Excerpt from Jonathan Summers' liner notes for the Naxos recording of Prokofiev's piano performances:

In 1935 whilst in Paris Prokofiev was persuaded (probably by [conductor Piero] Coppola) to record some of his solo works for French HMV. He probably had a group of his own works that he specifically chose to play before the public, as he selected the Andante from the Fourth Sonata as well as some Gavottes, the popular Suggestion Diabolique Op.4, excerpts from Visions Fugitives and two new works from Op.59 which he had just written. The Etude from Op.52 had been written a few years before and is an adaptation of music from his ballet The Prodigal Son.

Four sessions were needed to complete the recordings - the 12th, 25th and 26th February and the 4th March 1935. The Andante from the Fourth Sonata was recorded at the last session in one take along with a fourth take of Op.31 & Op.25 which, in the end proved unnecessary as take 3 was published. Not surprisingly, the Etude Op.52 required the most takes, six in all, with take four being selected for release.

posted by sstrader at 8:41 AM in Music | tagged piano performance, prokofiev, prokofiev piano sonata no. 4 | permalink