Archive for the ‘Blag’ Category

Tales of Engraved Ulysses

Ahhh! Hah hah mwaaa-haaahhaa!

Can we make the font larger?

It seemed like a good idea at the time, Craig Venter’s encoding of a passage from Ulysses into the man-made DNA code of their self-claimed “synthetic life form.” Now the estate of James Joyce wants their cut. Think about it — this leak is an order of magnitude bigger than the most successful torrent out there. There could be billions of copies out there, and almost as many people waiting for Apple to approve the synthetic life form reader app. It’s a slippery slope, folks.

Album of the Moment: Baba Brinkman

 :: Baba Brinkman ::

Chicks dig a man with a big brain.

The listserv at my local campus is now exploding with all manner of uncouth and unruly commentary, stemming from one student’s rant against the Creationists handing out free water and atheist-hatin’ literature on the Student Union Quad. The discussion jumped the shark within an hour of its starting, but its entertainment value has only increased: “these people are actually calling atheists and agnostics “bad” people (which is a form of racism)” … what? Give me some Baba Brinkman.

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YouTube Link

If I want to hear arguments that reference evolution, I’m going to hold them up to Baba Brinkman’s standard. His beats are jazzy and smooth, ready to blend in with the cubicle hum, but his rhymes are laced with acid and research. Over the course of The Rap Guide To Human Nature, Brinkman explains how game theory, ovulation, microbial disease vectors, and any number of Gladwellesque data points all fit in to evolutionary biology and behavior. Heavy stuff indeed, but the rhymes make it easy to remember. My advice to all you creationist-haters out there: Remember your Brinkman gems and drop them on those pamphleteers. Or use them on the ladies:

“My histocompatibility complex is majorly intoxicating – girl, I’m so symmetrical”

The Rap Guide to Human Nature

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Music Industry

Any article attempting to describe the sea change going on in the “Music Industry” these days, and furthermore having the temerity to display some numbers or perhaps a pretty graph to support these claims, is fundamentally flawed. The transformation that has been gripping and kneading the business of making music for the last fifteen years is still going on, and we still don’t know how this recipe is going to turn out.

Of course, that doesn’t stop anyone from shouting about what they think is going to pop out of the oven once this sonic revolution is over. Some outfit called Bain & Company published a white paper that features this lovely graphic:

Image: Bain Analysis

The logical conclusion from this picture is that the public’s interest in purchasing music peaked sometime in 1998-99, and it’s all been downhill from there. But wait! Some people have objected to the graph’s lack of adjustment for inflation and population. The amended graph (taken from this article, which is pretty good), looks more like this:

Image: Recording Industry Association of America

That’s better, right? We can now identify two peaks (disco!), but the growth seen in the last two decades of the 20th century doesn’t seem quite as spectacular, and the slumping trend at the end is even worse. It truly must be the end of the music industry.

That is, if you define “music industry” as “businesses that report their numbers to the RIAA”. While that may have been a near-totality of those selling music thirty or even twenty years ago, it’s certainly not the case now. Absent from these numbers are any number of independent labels, and the hordes of musicians now selling their music directly to fans. It’s impossible to know how significant that number is — it’s the dark matter of the music industry.

Another qualification to keep in mind is that these numbers represent the sale of music in the form of recorded media and digital downloads. Live music and merchandise sales, which in practical terms provide more of a living for the savvy musician than do record sales, are completely absent. Does this mean that we can draw ANY conclusions from all these prettily-colored blotches?

Sure — if by “music industry” you mean those parasitic intermediaries that take a 95% cut of the revenue generated by musicians, then yeah, that’s toast. The real question is “will musicians be able to earn a living from their talents in the future?” That answer is less clear, but more positive. The total amount of money spent by the public in music makes for quite a large pie. Whether that pie is growing or shrinking will always be under debate and fodder for articles like this one and the ones referenced above. These charts make a compelling argument for its shrinkage, but as I pointed out there are pieces that are simply not accounted for. I suspect the pie is actually growing — it’s just that those pieces aren’t being tallied as directly as people are used to.

Shrinking or growing, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on, though. This pie is cut into more and more slices every year. The days of Michael Jackson’s maw-choking servings are over, but that just leaves more pie to be divvied up for the rest. And that’s a good thing.

Album of the Moment: Miss Li

 :: Miss Li ::

Hide the knives, here comes Miss Li.

I’m digging Late Night Heartbroken Blues, the 2006 debut album by Sweden’s Miss Li (aka Linda Carlsson). Miss Li — it doesn’t feel right to address her as an unadorned “Li” — sings in lovely lilting English, and with the sort of edgy little-girl warble that you associate with girls who shred your heart with the casual off-handedness that some people use to pick at their beer bottle labels during conversation.

Witness the video for “Oh Boy,” a song which is more than a bit twee, but whose video (a tribute to the Cure’s “Close To Me” video, intentional or not) is quite fun:

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YouTube Link

Late night heartbroken blues

Axe Cop: The Meme

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It’s rumored that Nikola Tesla once built a simple mechanical device which, when placed somewhere inside a building, would find the structure’s natural resonance and exploit it in a way that would have the building shaking itself to pieces within an hour.

I think internet memes work in the same way — something resonates in the popular hivemind and before you know it, it’s reproducing, mutating and evolving its crashing way to the beach, where it sprays out in  glory before being washed under by the next meme and the tragic intangibility of mixed metaphors.

So let’s wade in Axe Cop for a bit. There’s nothing unusual about a web comic put together by brothers, Ethan and Malachai Nicolle in this case. The spin comes from the 24-year age difference, with Malachai’s kindergarden-level writing chops being mated to Ethan’s near-30s artwork.

The effect, as you’d expect, is slick and surreal. Malachai’s fevered 6-year-old imagination is somewhat reminiscent of Japanese narrative WTFness, but at heart is just plain eager to take on a plot twist, no matter how nonsensical. Come to think of it, it’s no less credible a police drama than Face-Off, Con-Air, or any number of hyphenated Nic Cage vehicles. Let this trailer, freshly mutated off the original strip, serve as testimony.

Alice and Kev

Alice and Kev. I take it Kev smells none too swell.

Kev is smelling none too sweet.

I’ve been sucked into the story of Alice and Kev, two characters in The Sims 3 which their creator has deemed shall be homeless. Alice is on the cusp of being a teenager, while Kev is her dad, an irascible, irredeemable lout. They sleep on benches in the park, where Kev raids nearby trash cans and Alice cadges the occasional meal from the kindly older folks nearby (who seem to be losing their patience with the whole arrangement).

It’s fascinating because, given only a handful of basic human traits and preferences, what we see play out is disturbingly lifelike. I’m linking to somewhere in the middle of the story, where things are coming to a head, but if you’d like to start from the beginning, here you go: Alice and Kev: Genesis.

What exactly is The Sims 3 saying about human nature? Are things really not that complicated? Can all this misery really be explained by the fact that some people aren’t, well, nice?

What’s in a name?


A.H. Campbell wants Luftwaffles for breakfast

A.H. Campbell wants Luftwaffles for breakfast

Heath Campbell wonders why it’s so difficult to purchase an inscribed birthday cake for his adorable toddler, pictured at right. It’s hard to figure out which is more disturbing: That someone named their child “Adolf Hitler,” that a newspaper devoted the equivalent of five web pages for the story, or that I read all five. At least I can justify that last one, by extracting the one useful-to-everyone nugget from the article:

The grocer offered to make a cake with enough room for the Campbells to write their own inscription. But the Campbells refused, saying they would have a cake made at the Wal-Mart in Lower Nazareth Township. The Campbells say Wal-Mart made cakes for Adolf’s first two birthdays.

Chinese Democracy is out?

So I found out about the release of Snakes N’ Barrels’ — I mean, Guns N’ Roses’ — I mean, Axl Rose’s — Chinese Democracy the same way I find out about any GNR news: by Axl Rose gaining the media’s attention by being a complete tool.

I’d figured the release of this album had been relegated to the Escathon, and if Mr. Rose were smart (obviously, he isn’t), he would have delayed the release of this oeuvre to the point where it’s posthumous, with perhaps something about having the first copy shot out of a cannon from the Sunset Strip specified in his will. Then he could concentrate on accelerating its release by being the self-destructive Axl we know and adore/despise, instead of tweaking knobs and adjusting reverb until that particular turd was polished smooth.

It happens all the time: anticipation for a delayed release builds up to a certain point, after which it becomes a joke. Then it’s like waiting for your dinner, and irritation and hunger overtake any pleasure that may be gained by an incremental degree of “perfection.” I’m reminded of the Stone Roses, who triumphed in a bidding war in the late ’80s, only to spin their wheels in the studio for a couple of years and a lackluster album. The importance of anticipation, and meeting those expectations, was way overblown in their (and I suppose Axl’s) head. The Beach Boys’ Smile is another album that comes to mind. Although the quality of that is far superior than anything that these Roses could have put out, by the time it was released its importance was based more on its role as a historical document and legend-made-real than as an actual collection of songs.

As much as I love music, I’ll be the first to admit it’s a consumable, disposable artform. You can’t deliberately create a work of genius. If it isn’t in you, it’s not coming out of you. Everything can be improved, but the law of diminishing returns applies as brutally (if not most brutally) to albums like Chinese Democracy.

In a way, I’m disappointed that this album is out. It provided such rich fodder for jokes. Axl, please start work on your next album, The Dr. Pepper Fiasco, now.