Sunday, July 27, 2014

Better than MP3

Some people are ahead of me, and some are way behind. If you haven't moved beyond MP3s, listen up. MP3s were patented in 1985 by a German university, which still holds that patent. They don't collect royalties -- thank you very much! The format became popular in the late 1990s because internet speeds were fast enough to actually move them around. Now, we don't need such compressed (ie low quality) digital music. There are many superior formats, and they're usable now because of fast speeds and an abundance of cheap storage. I got a 2TB external for $59 recently. No excuse to listen to highly compressed digital music.

There are several options for better music, and I finally -- laughably in 2014, I know -- downloaded my first track of better music. I grabbed Please Read the Letter, by Plant / Krause. I use the GOM audio player, which I consider the best available, which plays FLACs and WAVs. I got the WAV from It's stunning. I use a low-end laptop for music, which is kind of a joke, along with good headphones and a headphone amp. It's stunning. It's stunning. Did I say that already? Robert Plant, btw, can't hit the high notes anymore, but he still has the chops. He won a Grammy for the album the song was included with. The song was written, of course, with Jimmy Page. I admit that part of the reason I like the song is because long ago I sent a letter to a girlfriend, just as we were breaking up, and she returned it unopened with "I'm not reading this" written on the outside. Never forgot that. It was a last ditch effort to save things, and it failed. If only she had read that letter! It was as if the song were written for me. Ever feel that?

To give you a comparison, the MP3 version of the song is about 6MB, and the WAV is 199MB. With cheap audio equipment an MP3 is fine. In fact, 256k and up is fairly good. I have a lot of that, and I don't mind listening to that stuff. But, we're way beyond that level of quality. MP3s date to 1985, and it's 2014 now. Think about it.

The only problem I'm seeing at HDtracks is that most music is available only in album format. I went through the plastic record scene, and I'm unwilling to return to buying an entire album so I can listen to two songs. That's a deal killer. Some are available per track, though.

After listening to the lossless Please Read the Letter, I listened to the MP3 versions of Embryonic Journey by Jefferson Airplane and Medley by Leo Kottke (which is an astounding example of mastery). They sound fantastic. MP3s aren't bad. Still, we can do better.

On a totally unrelated subject (because this is no longer a political endeavor), I just finished the first draft of my new novel. It's only the second time I've done that, and the first one was not good. I never showed it to anyone, let alone try to find an agent or publisher. This one is different. It's fantastic -- although I'm biased, of course. It's about a guy who discovers he has a triple helix, instead of double. It's how he makes the discovery, and what it means for him, and against him, and the effect the discovery has on humanity. Sci-Fi, technically, although it's character driven. Not much science until the halfway mark. Wish me luck. My odds of publishing a fiction novel just went from 20,000,000:1 to 15,000,000:1!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adrian Peterson Q&A

Peterson did another Reddit AMA. My favorite:

Q: If I get the first overall pick in my fantasy league this year, tell me why I should pick AP?

AP: Do you want to win?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Web Wisdom

Here are a few gems I've found. They come from Reddit posts and comments, plus YT comments, news media comments, etc. I'm not giving credit, except in a few instances, because it's too much work and, well, dis be da web.

If our ass was split horizontally, it would clap when we run down the stairs.

"What the hell are we drug testing a janitor for? What's the worst he gonna do? Drop the mop? If you're thirty-nine years old and a janitor you should get to smoke a joint." -- D.L. Hughley

'I'll be speaking with my lawyer' is the adult version of 'I'm telling mom'.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Rain Song

I have to find something to post since my political complainings are in the past... Here are several covers of Led Zeppelin's Rain Song, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created. All of the musicians in these videos are extremely talented -- there are many hamfisted covers out there, and these are not those. As good as these people are, however, consider the talent of the person who first created the song -- Jimmy Page. Staggering, really. It's not classical guitar, sure, but it's nearly surreal talent on display.

As for JP, some of his individual talent is lost in LZ. That's blasphemy for true believers (Led Heads), but I think it's true. The band works well together, as all 4 members are (were) considered virtuosos. JP created 95% of the music, though, and his guitar playing shines through while simultaneously losing something with the other band members doing their thing. That's why I like covers. These artists fall short of JP, but JP's brilliance and talent are evident here in a way that isn't accessible in the full LZ version.

Friday, July 04, 2014

9 ways to pronounce "ough"

Must be tough learning English as a second language...

A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

Great acoustic guitar

If you like acoustic guitar, and I know you do, because you're kind of a dumbass if you don't, I found a YouTuber worth following, although he stopped uploading a couple of years ago. He does acoustic covers of some great rock, and he's talented. From his name, I'm guessing he's Polish, but it's hard to say for sure. Anyway, the vids are fairly low quality, but still very good. Here's the link to his YT channel, and below are a few vids.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Funny headline at National Post

Unless I'm misreading the headline, the Nat'l Post of Canada made an error. A ghost is leading the fight against militants in Iraq? The details say it's the daughter of the killed woman, but the headline says it's the dead politician herself, doesn't it?

As a side note, Canadian press is worth reading. They're our neighbors, plus a lot of interesting things happen in Canada, believe it or not. A few sites worth checking:

Toronto Globe & Mail
National Post
Vancouver Sun
Montreal Gazette
Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg Sun

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Walmart doesn't take NYT's nonsense lying down

The New York Times has been called out on shoddy, biased reporting once again. I'm glad whenever a target of the far left stands up and fights back. The Times is, of course, a far left media company that routinely ignores facts and reality as long as it properly pushes socialism on a deeply uneducated public.

This time Walmart was the target of the smear, and here's Walmart's response. Fantastic.

The last time the socialist paper of record was smacked down was when they did bad reporting on Tesla. More info here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

EgyptAir 990 investigation

Longform linked to an interesting story (Atlantic story here) about the loss of a 767 and the investigation that followed. I don't really know what to say about it, except that it's a fascinating read, and it's also a window onto why poor countries are poor.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Turing test passed, Skynet coming to kill us all

The Turing Test has been passed for the first time. Does this mean anything? Nobody knows. The test claims that AI exists when a text-based exchange with a computer is thought to be human for 1/3 of people talking to the computer. And that is the clumsiest sentence I've ever written. Hah. That finally happened with a piece of Russian software. Interestingly, an earlier version of the AI program is online for anyone to use. Reddit crashed the site, but it will be back soon.

Of course, Russians and computer honesty are estranged items. Undoubtedly a Russian midget was jammed into a PC console to answer the questions. Every answer was, "Putin is Lord. Your Crimeas are belong to us."

The king of vaporware, and publishing a book

Two great reads, both via longform. The first is an entertaining tale about Xanadu, a piece of software (really a large network) dreamed up by the man who coined the term "hypertext". The story is from 1995, Wired mag. The second is about publishing a fiction novel -- the ins, the outs, the whathaveyous. The story of getting a book published is sometimes as good as the story in the book. Book article is at Vanity Fair.

More on Xanadu: the project began in 1960, and it was released a few weeks ago (that's April 2014). Here's a Guardian story on the release. Amazing -- 54 years and it's finally ready! Ted Nelson is the guy who dreamed it up, and coined hypertext. The 1995 Wired article came out when the WWW was taking off, and my first impression was that the WWW was Xanadu, and it certainly is similar. When Nelson was asked about the web, his reply was, "Nice try."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Diary of a madman -- Rodgers, not Ozzy

I've made a habit of reading manifestos of madmen. Heh. I read Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler, and I highly recommend Das Kapital and Mein Kampf. I also read the Unabomber's diatribe, which is another must-read. I'm half way through Rodgers' 124-page "manifesto", which is really an autobiography, and I recommend this as well. Honestly, the kid was a good writer. I haven't gotten to the angry part yet. The basic writing style is just that, basic, but he has the essential skill -- he could write something that's readable. I planned on skipping to the end, but I've found myself reading every word. It's a fascinating and warped look at a troubled young man. I think a lot of people are just like him, but crossing the line to mass murder is something I can't understand. He blamed others for his own problems, which is something all too common in today's American society.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wikipedia outed again

I'm stunned with the rise of Wikipedia, although I shouldn't be. The Great Unwashed got that nickname for a reason. People generally don't understand why an encyclopedia "anyone can edit" is a terrible idea. I've discussed this before here.

The latest, from the BBC, says that 90% of Wikipedia's medical articles contain information inconsistent with the latest research. Also, around 70% of doctors and med students use Wikipedia. Good luck with that.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why I'm a misanthrope

See this vid:

And these are the good ones. At least you know what they are before wasting any time with them. What, exactly, humans are has been well understood for a very long time. Here's what Cicero said in a letter to a friend in the 1st century BC:

"Everyone's real character is covered by many wrappings of pretense and is concealed by a kind of veil: face, eyes, expression often lie, speech most often of all."

Robins nesting on a satellite dish

Somebody uploaded a pic of a robin family nesting on their satellite dish. Hmmmm.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Led Zeppelin sued again (and copyright law, Tolkien and elves)

Note 1: I didn't proofread, edit, or spellcheck this. This is the web, FTLOG. Let the errors go.

Note 2: Applicable videos are below, after the text.

There's a detailed story in Businessweek about the latest copyright infringement lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands. I've read most of the biographies and sagas about LZ, plus I have all their music and videos. With that level of interest, I've followed the lawsuits. The suits ask interesting questions of us: what is a "basic" sound that simply exists for anyone to create a variation of, what is a song that loosely inspired another, and when is borrowing considered copying (or stealing) under the law? I feel bad for judges and juries who have to sort these things out, because it's an example of human culture being shoved into a rectangular box, and it can't possibly fit. That's probably why most of these lawsuits are settled prior to an official ruling.

These kinds of lawsuits exist in nearly all aspects of life: technology -- hardware and software, books and other writing, cars, etc. I once read that 99% of all cell phones sold in the world yield some of the profits to Microsoft because the company owns so many technology patents. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and countless others, often buy companies not for their products or services, but to acquire the patent portfolio. It's complicated and fascinating.

The latest lawsuit against LZ involves Stairway to Heaven, which sounds a lot like a song called Taurus, by the band Spirit. Does that mean it's copyright infringement? Hard to say. Many people have tried to say LZ's song White Summer (sometimes called Black Mountainside or White Summer / Black Mountain Side) is theft of a Bert Jansch song. To make things more interesting, Jimmy Page started doing the song with The Yardbirds, before LZ was formed.

Jansch is (was) a British folk guitarist and singer who did his own version of the song, which he called Black Waterside. Turns out, Jansch's song is similar to a song called Mustapha, by Davy Graham, which came out a couple of years before Jancsh released his own version. Jansh's song is also similar to Graham's guitar version of She Moved Through the Fair. Some say LZ should credit and pay Jansch and Graham. However, Black Mountainside is a British (or maybe Scottish, I can't remember) folk song dating back hundreds of years. This makes it fair game for anyone to use for inspiration, and is likely the reason LZ hasn't been sued over their version.

Another area of creativity I've enjoyed, and one that intersects with Led Zeppelin, is fantasy novels -- although not for many years. There just isn't enough good fantasy out there to get fired up (with a few notable exceptions). Tolkien is, of course, the Founding Father, and has never been bettered. When I plowed through The Lord of the Rings as a kid, I thought it was the most creative thing anybody had ever produced. I found out it's not nearly as creative as I thought, starting with elves.

Elves existed in popular culture in Celtic and Dark Age Britain, and probably most Celtic areas, at least a thousand years before Tolkien came along. They were thought to exist in a parallel universe, traveling back and forth between their own world and ours through known gateways. The Isle of Avalon in Arthurian mythology is the most famous of these gateways. Myrlin the magician, of Arthurian mythology, could travel freely between both worlds, and he is rendered as Gandalf in LOTR. The elven folklore was so powerful that England's first king, Alfred, is associated with elves. Alfred, btw, was spelled Aelfred at the time, with the A and E combined in the Old English ash character. Today's "alf" could just as easily have been rendered "elf". The name means, literally, "elf councillor".  One had to be very important to give advice to the elves, as the people of the time believed, because the race was considered wise and mysterious. In LOTR, Frodo was formally named Elf Friend by the elves. It was a high honor, borrowed by Tolkien wholly from real folklore that existed for thousands of years.

To this day, there is some debate about whether "Alfred" was the name of the king, or his title, or both. The way people thought in the 9th century was so different from our own, we may never know. My opinion is that if a royal family in 9th century Anglo-Saxon / Danish England named a second or third son, as Alfred was, A Councillor to Elves, they would have been viewed as incredibly arrogant. Others probably gave him the title, and it was assumed as his name. This was fairly common at the time -- choosing, or adopting a name chosen by others, after attaining a high office. Midieval kings did this as a matter of routine. This ancient history can be seen today in the way Popes change their name upon attaining the office.

As for Tolkien, his major works were loosely designed to provide a creation myth for Great Britain, so they needed to feel like they originated in the Dark Ages or earlier -- hence the similarities to the folklore and literature of the period.

If you read the Niebelungenlied (sp?) and the Kalevala (sp?) and Arthurian literature and some other Dark Age stories, you quickly discover that Tolkien is not nearly as creative as most people seem to believe. He had some novelties, and was a great writer, and crafted a heavyweight story on things that mostly existed earlier. He plagiarized nothing, yet invented little. His greatness was the story and the writing. Magic rings? Like elves, commonplace for the era, and not invented by Tolkien. Today we see an echo of this ancient history whenever a wedding ring is placed on a finger.

Tolkien was influenced by many sources, and he in turn was a major influence on Robert Plant, the primary lyricist for Led Zeppelin. Many LZ songs contain references to LOTR. And, just like Tolkien's writings, many LZ songs can be traced back to older sources -- other rock songs or earlier blues songs, but that doesn't necessarily mean theft. If it was that easy, Robert Jordan would have been sued by Tolkien's estate for the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels. Tennyson's estate, if it still existed, would sue both, except that copyrights expire after awhile. The descendants of Beowulf's author would sue everyone. Tolkien was, after all, an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) scholar and considered one of the best translators of Beowulf. (update: May 19 was announced Tolkien's translation is being published.)

A recent lawsuit was that of Dan Brown over his authorship of The Da Vinci Code. The authors of a non-fiction (although highly speculative) book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Brown because, they said, Brown fictionalized their book. I don't believe Brown denied this, and after reading both of those books, I can say he would have been foolish to deny it -- they're nearly identical at the idea level. Brown won because, as the British court said, an idea can't be copyrighted. The main idea in both books is the Holy Grail, a powerful motif of Arthurian mythology, which greatly influenced Tolkien, who greatly influenced Robert Plant. This why I wrote this long-winded post -- so many parallels, so many connections, so much gray area, and occasionally a court of law has to sort out the meaning of it all and how the law applies. Ridiculous and fascinating. Oh, I also wrote this because I love LZ and Tolkien, and also because I believe law must exist, and because it's a mostly rational concept that deals with irrational human beings, it will never function well.

So, what's the dividing line between an idea and an original work of creativity, protected by copyright laws? LZ will win the new lawsuit if they can demonstrate that the song Taurus had nothing to do with Stairway to Heaven or that Taurus was merely the idea that prompted an original work. The Businessweek article shines a light on this: "Ultimately, the legal test isn’t what experts say. Under U.S. law, the standard a jury or judge would apply is whether the song in question sounds like a copy to an ordinary lay listener." Tolkien's estate will never have to deal with these types of lawsuits because the copyright on Dark Age literature is long expired, and also because the exact authorship of many of the works is impossible to prove, but these are the only reasons.

I've read most of the source material that influenced Tolkien, such as the Arthurian stuff, the Kalevala, the Norse sagas, the Niebelungenleid, Beowulf, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Taleisin, Aneirin, etc. I've also listened to most LZ music, as well as the source material. The parallels are uncanny. If LZ stole Taurus and re-worked it as Stairway to Heaven, then Tolkien stole Gandalf from Old Welsh writers. I don't hold it against Tolkien -- I don't consider him a thief -- and I don't consider LZ a thief over Taurus. The inspiration seems clear, but I think it stops well short of copyright infringement.

I'd give you 10:1 the suit is settled out of court with a small monetary payout and a new credit appearing on future releases of Stairway to Heaven.

1. Spirit's Taurus

2. Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven

3. LZ White Summer

4. Bert Jansch's Black Waterside

5. Davy Graham's Mustapha

6. Davy Graham's She Moved Through the Fair

7. LZ plagiarism claims:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bugatti Veyron review (the best one)

Youtuber saabkyle is the best automotive reviewer on the internet -- better than well-funded car magazines. Here's his Veyron review. In Kyle's words, "It was unlike anything I have ever felt, the thrust was incredible!"

Friday, April 04, 2014

Walking backwards through Tokyo -- you will like this

Film played in reverse; link because I can't find the Vimeo embed (maybe it's no longer offered).


Tuesday, March 25, 2014