Creative Destruction

November 10, 2013

Entrainment in Physics

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery,Science — Brutus @ 1:39 pm

Saw a curious YouTube video, courtesy of Slipped Disc, Norman Lebrecht’s blog at Arts Journal:

I puzzled for a short while about how independent mechanical devices could sync up. The first commentator at Slipped Disc identifies the phenomenon as entrainment, which is accurate except that the comment refers to music therapy. With metronomes, however, there is no nervous system at work as with entrainment in humans. Rather, this video merely demonstrates a property of physics, also called entrainment, whereby interacting oscillating systems achieve mode lock or sync to the same period. In fact, the Wikipedia link in the previous sentence includes a CBS News report assuring everyone that it’s merely physics. This property was observed 350 years ago. Let me draw attention to the fact that the floating tray on which the metronomes sit moves sufficiently (left and right in the video) to allow the devices to interact. In truth, it took me only a little poking around to uncover the physics of it.

March 15, 2012

Mayan Calendar Miscount

Filed under: Content-lite,Current Events,Geekery,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:10 pm

This image has been making the rounds:

I admit to being initially taken in by the apparent discrepancy in counting methodologies, but as with so many things, I lack the expertise to fully evaluate the accuracy of the claims. It was no surprise that someone else did, however, as can be appreciated with this YouTube video:

Of course, I never believed in the first place that the Mayan prophesy meant the end of the world. Rather, it was merely the equivalent of the odometer on the car turning over 100,000 back when there was no display for the hundred thousands place, meaning it would reset to 00,000.0.

December 20, 2011

Burnt Impressions

Filed under: Art,Business,Geekery,Humor,Religion — Brutus @ 4:02 pm

This latest just makes me laugh: a company called Burnt Impressions Inc. in Danville, Vermont, is selling a line of toasters that burn images of one’s choosing into toast.

It’s usually a T-shirt maker that jumps on a trend first, but I suppose if the trend to be coopted is spectral images appearing on grilled cheese sandwiches, then it makes perfect sense to make a toaster than does it for you. Current options include Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Nativity, the peace sign, and the pot leaf.

I also saw a couple puns worth repeating: Cheesus Christ and Jesus Crust.

July 28, 2011

Upskirt Marilyn

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Geekery,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 7:12 pm

Been absent for a while. Nothing short and sweet to blog about until now, which is a 26-ft. sculpture of Marilyn Monroe’s famous pose from The Seven Year Itch.

I used to work in that building at 401 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. The plaza in front has been rebuilt almost continuously in the last decade and has frequently been the site of large, outdoor sculptures. I happened by there today, but the unveiling apparently took place July 15, 2011.

Far be it from me to impose my aesthetic on anyone else, but I can’t not observe how trashy this is, offering passersby the most garish upskirt photographic opportunity ever. And naturally, tacky Americans are only too happy to oblige.

April 14, 2011

Bach on Wood

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Geekery — Brutus @ 2:44 pm

Something simple and fun, no explanation necessary:

March 25, 2011


Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 9:24 am

This is pretty funny: an article on “How to Be a Better Listener” in the Chicago Tribune. In next week’s column, learn how to walk on two legs! But in the meantime, listen up! Here’s the set-up:

Did you know that March is International Listening Awareness Month? According to the International Listening Association (ILA), we only retain about 50 percent of what we hear immediately after we hear it, and only another 20 percent beyond that. So how can we get those percentages to rise?

I suspect the author knows nothing about cognition and makes the usual assumption that increasing those percentages means improved cognition. Well, sorry, that’s not the way perception/memory works. We discard the bulk of immediate perception to make room for new stimuli constantly flowing in. If we didn’t, the tank would overflow and nothing new would get in.

If the article were instead about focusing one’s attention, then maybe there would be something useful in it. She gives five suggestions that mostly amount to the same thing:

  1. Don’t take notes at meetings.
  2. Clear your mind.
  3. Absorb the feedback.
  4. Don’t argue, understand.
  5. Body language is key.

All but the last are about eliminating or reducing distractions by getting out of one’s own head and paying attention to someone else. This is good advice all the time. The last is unnecessary: body language is perceived subliminally. Conscious awareness of it is not generally necessary.

January 7, 2011

Things Retired, Not Remembered

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery — Brutus @ 10:00 pm

From the not-really-news department comes a report of things due to be dropped from use, never to become part of the memories of people just now being born:

  • videotape
  • travel agents
  • separation of work and home
  • books, magazines, and newspapers (and newspaper classifieds)
  • movie rental stores
  • watches
  • paper maps
  • wired phones
  • dial-up Internet service
  • encyclopedias
  • forgotten friends (and forgotten anything else)
  • the evening news on TV
  • CDs
  • cameras that use film

The list goes on, but you get the idea. I doubt pretty seriously that most of these things will go the way of the dodo or that even if they do their prior existence will fail to register on those born after their disappearance. After all, technologies from yesteryear still exist in museums, in films, and in archives that we use and enjoy today. So for instance, books, CDs, and newspapers will simply disappear? Nope. Sorry. They may rise or fall in their prevalence of use, but the sheer fact that libraries collect these media will ensure they will still exist and be useful for a long time yet to come.

Yes, technologies do come and go, but the news of the death of most of these is wildly premature and imprudent. These death notices are predicated on the availability of alternatives that serve the same or slightly updated functions, but the alternatives suffer from their own lack of permanence and vulnerability to failure. GPS is more permanent that a paper map? I doubt it. Encyclopedias will dry up and blow away? Please. They’re moving online, but they still exist. Print media are moving online, too, but the printed page is still valuable and preferred in many instances.

I’m not impressed by techno-Utopian writers who opine breathlessly about the future just over the horizon and how quaint our current technologies will soon be. As recent failures of the iPhone alarm function demonstrate, it might also be premature to embrace every new technology and abandon tried-and-true old tech.

November 10, 2007

Suffer the Rich

Filed under: Economics,Geekery — Brutus @ 2:27 am

In his short story “The Rich Boy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” I haven’t read the story in a long time, but as I recall, Fitzgerald goes on to describe the character of the very rich with an acute perceptiveness hard to imagine with today’s cluttered, distracted literary aesthetic. Writers simply don’t have the time and focus anymore to work out character the way writers of the past did. Being a product of this era, I’m also at a loss to describe the character of the rich accurately. But like power, I’m pretty well convinced excessive wealth has an absolutely corrupting influence.

Forbes magazine recently released its 25th annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans, so the idea of what constitutes being very rich thrust itself upon me with some renewed vigor. The article states that it now takes $1.3 billion just to make the list. So, um, pardon me, and believe me when I say this is not out of envy, but isn’t it rather obscene that there are 400 people in the U.S. who each possess that much wealth? Forbes says the collective amount is $1.54 trillion.

Numbers like those are just a snapshot, and I certainly don’t possess the wherewithal to comment meaningfully on something so far beyond the reckoning of an average wage slave. Still, what is one to make of this article by Reuters, reporting on the sorry fact that living well — that is, having a super luxurious lifestyle — now costs more than ever? Forbes actually keeps an index, not unlike the Consumer Price Index, called the Cost of Living Extremely Well Index (CLEWI), which tracks the price of a selection of luxury goods. That cost is apparently rising faster than the Consumer Price Index. So let me be among the first to shed a few crocodile tears that it’s increasingly difficult for the superrich to distinguish themselves from the merely rich.

If citing Fitzgerald isn’t obvious enough to the uninitiated, he lived during the Jazz Age, which followed behind the Gilded Age (roughly 1870s to the 1890s). The Gilded Age was characterized by radical polarization of wealth, not unlike our situation today. So Fitzgerald had the advantage of perspective and hindsight on the peculiarities of a certain class of people. If we’re currently in the midst of another Gilded Age, it may take a decade or two for some insight on the those whom we might think twice before admiring.

September 14, 2007

Wrestling for Jesus

Filed under: Geekery,Religion — Brutus @ 3:19 pm

I just learned about the bizarro Wrestling for Jesus, which upon reflection would probably have to be invented if it didn’t already exist. The website appears to be defunct, but the movement is alive and well, at least with other organizations doing the same thing: Ultimate Christian Wrestling and the Christian Wrestling Federation. Wrestling has definitely morphed from the sniggering, not-sure-what-to-believe sideshow of my youth to a full-blown, guileless entertertainment in my adulthood. It helps that the truth that it’s fiction was finally revealed, which gave fence-sitters the option to happily accept that it’s merely an athletic stage show and to go ahead and indulge in the synthetic glory of juiced-up hulks simulating epic battles between supposed good and supposed evil. It’s not unlike the movies in that regard, except that it’s live action (or pay-per-view, if you prefer).

Adding the Christian element is either a masterstroke or a ridiculous detraction from the bigger, better WWE version. All the iconography, characters, and parables of the church can be redeployed in staging epic battles between good and evil, but now without irony. Problems emerge, however, when the participants (should they be called actors or athletes?) get carried away, presumably transformed by the very characters they play and stories they tell into states of ecstatic communion with the savior, and fail to pull their punches. History shows that actual Christian violence isn’t exactly a rarity, but it has to be a surprise when the fictitious violence of the hyped-up, adrenaline-fueled wrestling arena becomes real violence.

June 29, 2007

Queuing in Scarcity and Abundance

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery — Brutus @ 3:43 pm

I’ve heard tell that in cultures where scarcity is commonplace, a queue formed outside the doors of a commercial establishment signals the recent delivery of goods. So without even knowing what they’re in line for, people will join the throng waiting patiently to make their purchase. It must be a no-lose situation, where the time committed to standing in line for the purchase of an item one may not really want or need can probably be transformed into profit by immediate resale of one’s purchase to someone in the back of the line whose time may be more valuable than one’s own.

In cultures where abundance is commonplace, a queue formed outside the doors of a commercial establishment signals (sometimes in advance) the delivery to market of goods without a particular perishable date but with a high desirability quotient. For instance, folks will stand in line for hours just to spend the next two hours and $20 watching the latest blockbuster movie. Or the implausible must-have Christmas gift available in limited quantities may spark competition to queue the earliest to be assured of inventory once the item goes on sale to the public. (The Friday after Thanksgiving may be the worst instance, with bargain hunters and sales hounds camped out well in advance of a store’s already ridiculously early business hours, adjusted for the season, of course.)

Today’s release of the Apple iPhone is a fairly unique (if stupid) opportunity to observe supposed scarcity amid abundance, when trend whores scurry and scamper to queue up and camp out in preparation for the first sale of a product that will probably be ubiquitous by, I dunno, maybe the middle of next week. What possible personal advantage, coolness, hipster cred, or bragging rights attach to owning the newest electronic gadget less than a week before everyone else (and by most reports, it will indeed be virtually everyone) is lost on me. Nevertheless, the stories about folks who have been camped out beside the Apple Store since last night in preparation for the 6 P.M. stampede (and trampling, rioting, snatching, scalping, etc.) fall into the can’t-make-this-shit-up category. A true sign o’ the times.

Just in case my attitude toward today’s feeding frenzy isn’t clear, I think it’s pretty pathetic, considering so many other, more important issues competing for our attention other than … shopping. Of course, mea culpa for my bothering to blog about it.

January 11, 2007

The Empire Is The Good Guys, Revisited

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery,Humor — Robert @ 1:59 pm

(Originally posted on my old blog in June of 2005…presented for your amusement, with some minor edits for style and clarity.)

I just rewatched “Return of the Jedi” with Andrew, and in the course of the interactions with the Ewoks, I realized that the entire Ewok plotline reveals the moral rottenness at the heart of the Rebellion.

Let’s start from the beginning: what is the relationship between the Empire and the Ewoks before the movie begins? I submit that the internal evidence of the film makes it clear that they were peacefully coexisting. Several elements contribute to this conclusion, which is admittedly based on limited data, but which seems entirely uncontradicted by any available evidence:

December 29, 2006

Tuesday and Thursday Bad; MWF Good

Filed under: Geekery — Robert @ 8:28 am

Because of this and this.

Warning: severe geek levels. But funny as all get out – particularly the LOTR/D&D combo.

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