Monday, March 31, 2008


I always read the words Liberian and libertarian as librarian. I wonder what that means? Did Freud have anything to say about that particular kind of slip? Anyone else consistently read one word as another?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Oldest recorded human voice, now on the Internet

Thomas Edison invented the first real audio recording device, called the phonograph, in 1887. It cut sound waves into a roll of wax. The first thing he recorded was a brief recitation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" which you can listen to here.

02/19/2013 UPDATE: I have been informed that this recording "is actually a 1927 “reenactment” of what he had done about 50 years earlier. Yes, I feel cheated too. :-) See also which point to 1888 as the earliest recording of *Edison’s* voice."
Thanks Andrew for the correction! Never let it be said that the Jolly Bloger lets a mistake go uncorrected, even if it takes five years (Jesus I'm old).

That's amazing. That's Thomas Edison's voice and also the very first real record of a human speaking, and we can all hear it at the click of a button. It gets better though.

In 1857 in France, Edouard-Leon Scott had invented a similar, though less impressive device called the phonautograph that could transcribe sound waves visually onto soot-covered paper, but could not play them back. It was the preliminary research into sound recording that would eventually lead to the phonograph, records, and ultimately the digital music we all love to steal, but by itself it was basically just a novelty.

One of the earlier recordings made on the phonautograph was a woman singing Au Clair de la Lune in 1860. The visual recording that no one ever imagined could possibly be used to reconstruct the sound itself, was given to the patent office in France and forgotten in a file for nearly 150 years.

Just recently, audio historian David Giovannoni took the primitive recording, analyzed it with microscopes and computers, and turned the squiggly scratches set in soot into a digital audio file.

I wish Arthur C. Clarke were alive to see this.

It's really cool that we can hear such an old recording, and even cooler that it was never meant to be heard. It got me thinking though that what's really incredible is how trivial it is for you and me to get it.

Merely 150 years ago the concept of preserving sound waves visually was the height of technology. And now, using methods and devices that came directly out of that technology, we're able to do amazing things with those original recordings and share the results around the entire globe in seconds. And that's cool.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pirate Wednesday - 826 Valencia

If I may once again endorse the watching of TED Talks, check out the one by Dave Eggers (also embedded below) who is doing some really cool things to supplement the public school system in San Fransisco, and in which he "asks the TED community to personally, creatively engage with local public schools."

Eggers and his group have a space in San Fran that operates as an after-school tutoring center, publishing house, and pirate supply store.


Check out their website. How cool is that! It started out as a creative way to decorate their workspace, but it has turned into an actual retail business that amazingly makes money to help fund their education work. They have some really cool stuff too, like pirate flags, glass eyes, and designer eyepatches.

Here's the video.

Briefly, in other pirate news:

A Somali official condemns the reported $700,000 ransom payment to pirates to free a Danish-owned boat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Atheist defense on Craigslist

I was perusing the Best of Craigslist page and saw a rather surprising post written in response to some vitriolic Christian rants on CL about atheists. It's called "Anti-atheist Backlash on R&R", and it's right between "i'm a producer dammit, why won't women have sex with me?!" and "Reactions to small dick!". Best of indeed.

It's very well written, so I thought I'd repost it here:

Date: 2008-03-05, 12:11PM PST

I've noticed a recent trend on Rants and Raves where certain Christian posters are attacking atheists while strangely choosing to ignore all other brands of non-Christians. Why is this? Are these armchair disciples more concerned about saving an atheist's soul than that of a Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, or Muslim? Sounds fairly selective to me.

I think I know what's going on here...

These people aren't attacking all non-Christians because they can at least personally identify with somebody else's belief; regardless of whether or not they agree with it. They are allies in the same sense that members of two opposing armies can feel a comradery with one other.

Rather, it is the non-belief of atheists that bothers them. These people have faith so thoroughly engrained in their lives that to see somebody without a trace threatens them. They simply cannot conceive of somebody not believing in a deity of some sort. The idea is completely foreign to them, and therefore menacing. It forces them to evaluate their own beliefs. They become defensive and attack because the things they hold intrinsically and unquestionably sacred are being challenged by the mere philosophical position of another.

Most atheists do not "believe" that god does not exist. Rather, they dismiss it as a possibility due to a complete lack of evidence. Otherwise, they'd have to entertain the possibility of believing in anything and everything... which is the essential problem of agnosticism. Therefore, it does not take faith to be an atheist. If the evidence changes, then most would certainly be reasonable enough to revaluate their positions. Until then, the existence of god is simply a non-issue for them. Some theists have decried this materialistic position, but without much real avail. What possibilities are we losing if we only believe in things that leave evidence behind? Ghosts, leprechauns, fairies and gods... everything in the realm of the superstitious, but nothing else. I can comfortably live with that; just as a Christian can comfortably live with the idea of worshipping Jehovah but not Shiva.

They accuse atheists of leading selfish, corrupt, and immoral lives without fear of consequences. They accuse atheists of lacking moral codes. This is, of course, irrational, fear-mongering nonsense. Today's atheist is not a self-indulgent modern Caligula or a Stalin. Today's atheist is not a socially maladjusted anarchist who lives their lives without fear of retribution. According to a 1997 statistic, only 0.209% of prisoners incarcerated in the United States identify as atheists. Since atheists currently represent roughly 14% of the overall U.S. population, this is a significant indicator of the "morality" of the modern atheist. Today's atheist tends to be a well-educated, productive member of society who more often than not subscribes to the notions of moral relativism and secular humanism... which essentially means that we realize we're all stuck on this big ball together and we must work to set aside our differences and build a better future, because it's all that there is. That doesn't sound at all like the monstrous picture that's recently been smeared here by certain self-proclaimed loving Christians.

These rabid believers clash with atheists knowing perfectly well that they are helpless to alter the ideological perceptions of their perceived foe. Why then, do they choose to partake of this exchange of bad blood? Because they're angry and they're frightened. They're angry because we have the nerve to indirectly challenge their insecurely-held beliefs with our continued existence. They're frightened because they fear that they're losing their foothold on the theocratic monopolization of America (school prayer, Christian-oriented legislature, etc.)... an officially secular country, mind you.

Lashing out, spreading lies and misconceptions, and demonizing the enemy is a natural way to react to opposition; however contrary to the teachings of their professed lord and savior. Any anti-atheist backlash you're witnessing here is simply the result of reactionary mean-spiritedness, and nothing more. The misinformation is a sign of desperation. I suppose they believe what they're saying is true in the same sense that many Muslim fundamentalists believe that America is directly in league with the devil. Feeling "right" about the subjective tends to breed violent paranoia when challenged. Mind the danger in that whatever you choose to believe.

I can't say that some atheists aren't guilty of the same indiscretion, but it's a generalization to categorize all atheists this way just as it's a generalization to categorize all Christians as rabid fundamentalists. I've been careful to avoid doing so here, despite the disrespect shown us by some members of the Christian community.

Personally, I'm a firm believer in live-and-let-live. I believe Christ was too. I don't attack others for their beliefs. I don't even ask that others question their beliefs. Everyone has a right to decide what they hold dear. I don't write slanderous, inaccurate or inflammatory material about adherents of any religion. But I do defend my positions, because I hold them dear. I find it completely abhorrent that those who attack mine do so under the protective woolen guise of love and fellowship. It allows them to appear to hold the upper hand while hitting below the belt. The atheist in America is already a misunderstood and hated underdog, and people tend to ignore the callous disregard they are often shown by these "gentle lambs of God." Were it not for atheists being their current preferred cannon fodder, I'm certain these unyielding fanatics would be baring their claws and coming for you other non-Christians and moderates next. Watch your step.

Responding to technology: Facebook edition

If you're a big lumbering corporation, organization, or market, there are two ways you can deal with technology that threatens "the way we've always done it".

One: you can adapt, adopt, and embrace the technology. A risky move, but inevitable after a certain point.

Two: you can suppress, exclude, and punish the use of the technology, which requires you to expend a huge amount of effort just to keep doing what used to come naturally.

See Seth for a way, way better treatment.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Microbes keep fallin' on my head

I'm listening to this NPR Science Friday podcast about the role bacteria play in the formation of ice and snow. It's a really interesting case of those single celled powerhouses, the men behind the curtain of the world, doing yet another unexpected job.

Bit of background: all precipitation (rain and snow) initially forms as ice in the clouds. For ice (or any) crystals to form, there must be a seed - something for the molecules to grab on to. In the case of rain and snow, this is usually said to be simply dust particles floating in the air. Turns out, these dust particles can really only seed ice formation at lower temperatures. So how do we get rain when the clouds are warm?

A research team led by Brent Christner has found that there are air borne bacteria that secrete a protein that mimics the lattice structure of ice, making it ideal for seeding ice crystal formation and promoting more rain than we would otherwise see. Read more here.

That's neat! Tons of questions come to mind: What would the climate look like without these little guys? Would tropical rainforests exist? What is the evolutionary advantage of this effect? Can we use the bacteria or the protein for for something (I'm looking at you, Craig Venter)?

As an aside, this shows yet another case of vain human arrogance when people say we are the only species able to affect the entire climate and atmosphere globally. I don't think we could start or stop the water cycle if we put our minds to it for a hundred years!

Friday, March 7, 2008

It's protein-rich and conveniently packaged. What's not to love?

Can I ask a stupid question?

What's so bad about spam?

CNet reports that "Google says spam is [a] huge corporate headache," but I have my doubts. I'm a big email user. I have a few different Gmail accounts for various purposes, and I believe that a grand total of three unwanted messages have made it through the default spam filter. Not a single message has been sent to the spam folder in error - I do check. Before Gmail I used Hotmail with their mid-level spam filter and again, it was extremely rare for a spam message to make it to my inbox.

At work we use a terrible webmail system that is almost more trouble than it's worth. The attachment size limit is ridiculously small, at around 3 megabytes, and the total inbox limit is laughable at 20 megabytes. I believe it costs us a lot of money as well. It would have been an inappropriate and outdated system in 1995. Yet for all of its problems, I have received maybe five spam emails.

These are public email addresses, I don't take many precautions to avoid spam, all of my addresses are out in the open in plain text and hyperlinks all over the Internet. All I use is the most basic default spam filters, and spam is so far down my list of concerns I wouldn't bother to flick a switch to magically end it, if such a device existed.

According to Google,

The average "unprotected user" would have received 36,000 spam messages in the year.

Stopping spam and other malware is the top priority for the government, legal, manufacturing and, for the most part the tech industry.
Who are these people? Is it at all useful to imagine some hypothetical "unprotected user"? That's like saying the average unvaccinated, unmedicated, Leukopenic person with no skin will get X number of diseases and infections this year. And since when do the priorities of government have any bearing on reality?

I call bullshit on anti-spam hysteria.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Oh, and the horse you rode in on

On Tuesday someone in Sudan searched Google for "fucking in sudan" and found my post titled "Go Fuck Yourself Sudan". I bet he lost his boner in a hurry.

(click to embiggen)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pirate Wednesday - Leaked Pastafarian Video

(via venganza)

Seems like it's either flood or famine with Pirate Wednesday. Since I neglected for so long, this week is a double feature.

Remember that leaked Tom Cruise Scientology video a while ago? Well it appears that someone has stolen a private internal video from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster now too (see below). Luckily we are a much more laid-back bunch, so there won't be any lawsuits or demands to remove the video from YouTube.

As well as being funny on its own, this is a really good parody of the Scientology video. Ed Adkins captured Tom's crazy intensity really well. Good job Ed!


Pirate Wednesday - Vancouver Flashmob

Why was I not informed of this at the time?

Passengers commuting to and from the North Shore aboard the SeaBus last Friday found themselves surrounded by a horde of pirates who congregated for an ocean-faring party in the middle of Burrard Inlet.

Over 300 people dressed as a variety of pirates stormed the Waterfront terminal in front of chuckling commuters and TransLink employees. The flash mob was organized almost entirely through the social networking site Facebook, which become essential for spontaneous guerilla pillow fights, art installations, and theme parties across the city.

That sounds incredible! They had two live bands, a crowd of pirates singing sailing shanties, and capped it off with a pirate dance party. Bonus points: it totally sounds like that scene from the pilot of Arrested Development where Tobias thinks the yacht party is pirate themed and accidentally joins a group of flamboyantly dressed gay protesters.

Best quote ever from passenger Sky Doherty: “I don’t know what’s going on, but that was the best fucking SeaBus ride of my life.”

Thumbs up to Vancouver public transit staff and users for not making a single complaint, and thumbs up to the Vancouver Public Space Network for having some huge balls. Sometimes this city is pretty cool.

Monday, March 3, 2008

God Bless George Carlin

(via rd)

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

I lost the game.

Fuck, and I was doing so well too. Thanks a lot XKCD.