Friday, April 28, 2006


Hoag has developed a guitar with optical picks. I.e. instead of microphones, the sound is picked up off the strings using optical detection of the string movement. MusicThing decided that this is "just wrong", which is understandable for a vintage / retro-oriented blog.

Most guitarists I know are so fussy, geeky and "analogue" about their gear that I expect this to be eaten alive anyway. Want to know a secret? Guitarists spend hours and hours discussing the minutiae of the technical features of their guitars, amps, and the miscellaneous hoovers and moulinexes they plug in between them. It's all about them having this or that component that makes them superior. Or they have the fret board that only uses bio-organically heat-molded spruce from the southern hillside farms in Guatemala, where the optimal micro-climate has enhanced the porousness of the material in such a way that it allows 2% more upper-range vibration-damping when playing fast passages. In each guitar that a proper guitarist owns, there are at least 3 such features, which, so they say, have been the criteria for choosing that particular guitar among the 3 655 430 they have tested in various music shops around the world, by playing 'Stairway to Heaven' and the riff from 'Smoke in the Water' driving all music shop keepers to become the edgy nervous wrecks they are. And the secret? They just buy the guitar that looks the coolest.

The makers of the optical guitar clearly know their target group, the geeky hifi-guitarists who publicly claim to prefer progressive rock, while they secretly hope they could play in Bon Jovi. So, the guitar actually looks as boring and mainstream as Bon Jovi sounds, and to give them the argument their proge-hifist side-personae would approve, according to HarmonyCentral the "pickup is responsive to string movement below and well above human hearing".

Fan-tas-tic. As blogger M brilliantly put it: "That's awesome. I've been working on some compositions that are outside the range of human hearing, and now I can finally not hear how they sound."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Great idea

Just read about this in CNet. (I know, I should be in bed by now...) This goes to the category "could work once", just like the Million Dollar Home Page. Kyle wants to trade his one red paper clip for a house. Rrright. The amazing thing is that he's almost there. He first traded his paper clip to a pen, and then via owning among other things a generator, snowmobile and a van, he went on to obtain a record contract, and currently he has a year's lease of a duplex in Phoenix in his hands.

I'm sure there will be hundreds of imitators, some of them just copying the idea, some others modifying it, maybe even coming up with something equally impressively simple and elegant. The same happened with the MDHP, selling pixels become a fad and everyone tried to follow Alex Tew's footsteps. Of course, the advertisers are interested in the novelty, the media coverage and curiosity of the masses, and only the original inventor and the first one to do it will be internationally newsworthy and get those interviews in the FT, NYT, CNN, BBC and other world-class acronyms. The rest will have to do with KACL, PBS, KCNA and the rest of them. And of course, only the original website will be generating the insane volumes of web traffic that makes these kinds of projects commercially viable for those who take part. While MDHP was just about business, the paperclip bartering seems to be more like mountain climbing, in that the people who take part seem to be more interested in making the project happen rather than any immediate financial gain.

Anyway, these two projects have really captured people's imagination, it's the "go west, young man" all over again, this time in the net.

(Pic: The Famous Paperclip from


Why is it that every time you get both your hands dirty, be it in the kitchen or when fixing a bike, your nose starts to itch? It's probably connected to the process that makes your rolled-up sleeves slooowly drop down when you're doing the washing.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Remember the news@Nature study that compared Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and found that the two were almost equally matched in terms of accuracy?

EB responded, saying the research was "Fatally flawed", to which Nature said it wasn't. While Nature and EB were swapping hate-pdf's, (I do think it would show more class if they'd behave more like gentlemen and publish their argumentation as books. So sad the world is too fast-paced for such gentlemanly behaviour...) the media and all sorts of wise-noses started debating on the issue.

What is the point of old-fashioned print-publishing, is there any credibility in on-line publications? Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning, and which one of the two media is at the thin end of the wedge? Someone pointed out that Wikipedia actually has an entry for Encyclopaedia Britannica, but the EB doesn't yet have an entry for Wikipedia. Funny...

What I found today was even more hilarious (I know it's not actually even funny, but for boring people the smallest speck of comedy will be a laugh). Some entries in Wikipedia are actually copies or adaptations of articles originally published in the EB. If Wikipedia has got it's facts right, the US copyright law states that the copyright term is 95 years for corporate authorship. This makes the 11th edition of EB from 1911 now public domain!

I was looking for more information about strophes and antistrophes, and Greek poetry in general, as I wanted to know more about the structure of Euripides' plays. I have to say, his plays are pretty tough, and those Greek gods are guite a bunch of a**holes, to be frank. :-) Euripides wasn't holding it back. He must have had a pretty dark imagination to come up with all these schemes... And you can see his ideas and turns of plots being utilised in every Tarantino movie and sick Korean flick about revenge and suffering. That's imitation, or even plagiarism and watered-down as that. It's all been said over 2000 years ago, which is sad in a way (any new ideas, anyone?), but since it also means it is public domain, what can you do?

Oh, about writing books as a way of arguing. My favourite example is the debate about studying cognition, figuring out the inner workings of The Human Mind. Steven Pinker, of Harvard University, wrote a book "How the Mind Works", in which he, according to his humble website, provides a "grand synthesis of the most satisfying explanations of our mental life that have been proposed in cognitive science and evolutionary biology, with insights from disciplines ranging from neuroscience to economics and social psychology. [The book] is also fascinating, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining." Pinker's book was published in 1997. Right after that, in 2000, another cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor published a book called "The Mind Doesn't Work That Way", where he criticises cognitive science, including Pinker, for getting some of the epistemological issues fundamentally wrong. Pinker has been publishing stuff since then, but to my disappointment, none of it is titled "Does too!".

(Pic: Penguin Classics cover of Euripides' "The Bacchae and other plays", from

Friday, April 14, 2006

Wow, I want it. What is it?

It's a Monome. A box with buttons on it. You can press the buttons and control your MIDI with it. Check out the video, is that cool or is that cool?

It's so simple and elegant, I like it, and I want it, even though I can't think of anything I could use it for at the moment. But that's the beauty of it, it's all open source and modifiable, and everyone will come up with an individual way of using it. And that's great, there are too many over-defined and focus-group oriented and very limited gadgets and tools out there. The ones that genuinely promote creativity and are open-ended deserve good karma.

(Pic and the original story, thank you

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Yesterday I forgot my laptop at work. I was going to take it home because I was planning to watch some DVD's in the evening, but halfway home I realised I didn't remember to pack it. I just had the empty backpack. I didn't feel like turning back, so I decided to read instead.

Well, during the night (I like to think this way, even though it was probably early this morning) someone had gone through our lab and sticked a "Pass - Electrical Safety Test" sticker to all the plugs in the room, including my laptop's. Thank you,"NS". I don't know what this test entails, but it must be a quick one, since I came here at 10.30 and already all approximately 100 or so plugs in the facility had been labelled.

Now I actually would be allowed to use the adapter in the University Library, as well. They insist that if you want to plug in your laptop to their grid you need to have the university electrician to test, approve and label your plug first. I have to say that I have so far adopted a slightly freer interpretation of this rule... as in not having any stupid checks and plugging in anyway. I'm sure one of the reasons my laptop power adapter is so big is that they needed more space for all the safety stamps and standard insignia they have printed in the bottom of it. I know, the CE stamp only says that the product has been intended for sale in the EU, and is not a proof of safety as such, just an indication that the producer is claiming they've followed the rules and standards. But still.

In my welcome pack (the material my college sent me prior to starting my studies) they said that no adapters would be allowed. Meaning adapters you buy at airports to fit your two-pin plug to a three-hole socket. All plugs for electronic devices would need to be changed and those plugs tested by the above mentioned university electrician. Again, I took what I think was a more common-sense approach. It is strange how a nation where the general building standards and house technology in particular are of a good old pleistoscene standard, electricity safety issues are made to such an artform. It could be the general obsession with stamping and labelling things, and the innate ability of English people to focus on the irrelevant nitty-gritty.

For instance, what is all this about plugs? BBC just run a feature where they were making some sort of a point by canvassing people and asking if they could wire a plug. Why? Is this a survival skill I've missed? Do people need to show they can wire a plug before they are allowed to buy a house or cash they paycheques? Are dextrous plug-wirers more attractive to the opposite sex than those who don't give a damn? In my opinion, if you are serious about electrical safety, you don't start messing around with plugs on your own in the first place, especially if they are of the moulded type that can't be changed without braking them, as the one in the picture in the BBC story.

At the same time as plugs are being an important skill that old people are excellend and the younger generations can't be arsed about, the BBC is running a series of stories about people's ideas on how to save energy. As you could guess, they are concentrating on the truly important things like the amount of water you put in your kettle or whether you could run a poster campaign or a competition on who switches off their stuff the most. The debate on the site is very typically British. One commentator said that while an inter-county competition in saving energy could drop the consumption of energy by 25% for the duration of the competition and 10% permanently, it might not be good since "for some people it would smack of "nanny knows best". Right. Why would anyone in their right minds give a dingle about such intelligent and well-founded opinions?

It's amazing how people prefer talking about these small details while the actual culprits of poor energy-economy are so glaringly obvious. Newsflash: this is not a tropical island, and never will be, no matter how much you try to globalwarm. Double-glaze your windows, insulate your houses and stop warming them to 27 degrees at day and then letting them freeze at night. Second suggestion: ban the bulb.


Dead day

This day is so dead. I haven't really been able to get anything done, so I'm actully going to pack my stuff, go home, do something else, and then perhaps try again later.

Hasn't really been my day, I had a flat tire in my bike, then my iPod run out of battery when I was walking to work. The weather is awful and my girlfriend's away in Finland. Poor me. :-)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Priorities first

When it comes to work, there are three categories of it. "On topic", " "on topic" " and "off-topic". The last category is also known as "procrastination" or "pseudo-work". Cleaning the floortiles under your cooker with a toothbrush when you actually should be writing your thesis is "off-topic" work. So is ironing the curtains, alphabetising your DVD-collection or re-partitioning your hard-drive and organising your browser bookmarks. Usually it is very difficult to do any on-topic work while there is any off-topic work around.

On-topic work is like an unicorn: easy to define but rarely seen. Writing your thesis when you need to write your thesis is clearly on-topic, and so is looking up the reference to the article with the study you are writing about. But looking up references is where the slippery slope to "on-topic" work begins. Sooner than you think, looking up a reference leads to spotting an interesting article you had put aside for later reading, which brings into mind the other article you needed to find. And in just a few seconds your perfect on-topic work of producing concrete output has turned into yet another literature search and hours spent going through the clutter of hits, with the result of finding 3 articles you already have and 79 others you will never need.

So, doing "on-topic" work means you are actually working around the subject but not actually making any progress. I just noticed that I'm procrastinating in "on-topic" work for the third day running. For some weird reason, I all of a sudden decided that I need to understand how the statistical procedures I'm planning to use actually work. And therefore I'm now implementing them to the computing environment I usually use. While this would qualify as on-topic work any other time, now when I'm actually in a hurry just to churn out the results, it is actually not just "on-topic" but borderline off-topic. Especially since most of the stuff I've programmed is not working and I already have all these tools (that actually work), albeit in another environment.

Did you spot the point where on-topic became "on-topic"? Let me highlight: "therefore I'm now implementing...". So, while the intention was pure ("to understand how [they] work"), the vague definition of "understanding" let the "procrastinator within" to take over and start spending time in writing and testing code. Sneaky...

And, the "p w" has managed to convince me not to mend my ways, even though I now see what is going on. I have actually consciously decided to keep on writing these implementations, because it actually is an efficient, if a bit slow way of learning the procedures. But since I need to cut to the chase and get those results as well, I think I need to work overtime. Or just cut down the time I spend in full-blown procrastination or "off-topic" work. :-)


Monday, April 10, 2006

Oops not an oops?

Remember the Chinese vases in Fitzwilliam Museum that broke to pieces when a museum-goer tripped on his shoelaces? The museum announced its plans for glueing the vases together, and conservator Penny Bendall was set on the task. And now, as The Dude would put it, "new shit has come to light".

First, the guy who broke the vases, Nick Flynn, was not allowed to attend the museum press-conference. Then, a week later, he was arrested and then bailed by the police, who now suspect he might have broken the vases on purpose! The police have released no details about why they think his tumble was not an accident, but they refer to an earlier arres on King's Parade.

So Mr. Flynn is a bit of a hoodlum, but why would he smash three priceless vases? Publicity, probably. I don't think anyone would harbor a grudge against some 1700th century Qing vases. Or was Mr Flynn traumatised by the decor of his childhood home to the extent that he now goes "tripping" in places that have fancy China? The story continues, and I'm sure the local press will have a ball with it, even though it seems that the national media has been quiet about it, perhaps unwilling to give the crook the publicity he yearns. This or that, the story continues...

(Pic: Conservator Penny Bendall doing a preliminary assembly of the vases. Photo (c) Fitzwilliam Museum)