Way Behind Back
Thanks to everybody who stuck through the lectures, such as they were, for the last two weeks. I wrote these “lessons” over about a twenty-minute period each morning as I was preparing for class. What showed up on the blog did not, to any real extent, make its way to class.
There was no time for preparing more complete articles. Class lasted a solid nine to five, with mornings given to prep and/or recovery and afternoons left for working on consulting projects.
Ideas posted here are necessarily sketchy, too. If I were to fully develop or prove any claim, it would take too much space or time or both. Most readers would rapidly lose patience. However, since some readers clearly want more detail, I will try, as best I can, to post accompanying papers, especially to the more controversial ideas in probability.
When I left for Ithaca, I had exactly four emails in my Inbox; now, the number is best characterized as vast. Lots of people sent great links, story ideas, and comments. I promise to answer or post these over the next week.
The invention of new mental medical maladies continues apace. The latest is “shift-work disorder”. It is, we are told confidently, a “medical” disorder. Commercials—“Talk to your doctor now”—for new pills to combat this awful affliction now appear regularly on the radio.
And just what horrors await those who suffer from shift-work disorder? Generally, tiredness, caused by inconstancy in sleep patterns. Surprise! Because you feel lagged after switching from day to nights, that sluggishness you experience is not just because you haven’t slept well, but because you now have a syndrome, which, through the application of money and pills, can be treated.
Bad Music Isn’t Just Simple
Remember this article? We created a new measure of musical badness:
Musical Badness (MB) quantified is this: the proportion of the time a length of music is devoted to repetitiveness.
MB is thus a number between 0 and 1. Consider our three examples: the endless tone has a melodic MB of precisely 1 because the repetition is exact however long the â€œpieceâ€ lasts; the harmonic MB is also 1 and for the same reason; as is the lyric MB, obviously.
A score of 0, it must be emphasized, does not indicate goodness: our score says nothing directly about excellence. For example, a chaotic series of â€œbleepsâ€ and â€œbloopsâ€ supposedly emanating from a computer, such as were often heard in 1950s science fiction movies, would score very low on the melodic MB, but in no sense would this music be good. Neither would singing the dictionary make for a sublime lyric.
“Bleeps and bloops” are not constrained to the movies; they can also be found on stage. Terry Teachout, drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, today points us to a paper by Fred Lerdahl, “Cognitive constraints on compositional systems.” (PDF) Lerdahl tells us that he is “not interested in passing judgement on the composers and compositions that are mentioned”, but he does show us that very complicated music—the opposite of that categorized by the MB scale—can be just as bad as simplistic music.
You need merely read the first sentence of this paper to get the gist: “Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maftre (1954) was widely hailed as a masterpiece of post-war serialism. Yet nobody could figure out, much less hear, how the piece was serial.”
Ah, modern “art.” As long as it is “complex” or “controversial”, it is proclaimed “good.” Here, Boulez is both, but especially complex. Lerdhal says that “The lack of redundancy [in Boulez’s piece] perhaps overwhelms the listener’s processing capacities.”
This, then, is the opposite end of the MB scale. The MB can, as originally anticipated, be adapted to qualify overly-complex as bad. Both very high and very low MB numbers imply a high probability of rotten music.
More to follow…(I think I figured a way to actually implement this in software; just have to find time to do it!)
Finance Bill Emphasizes “Consumer” Protection
The new finance bill builds in, we are told, a “consumer watchdog agency.” But “agency” means, as it always does, bureaucracy. A new layer of government, that is; a layer which, like its brothers, will require feeding from the public trough; a place of dining which will soon be discovered (once more) to be too small to accommodate all the hungry mouths.
Anyway, I detest, as I’ve said many times, the word “consumer.” It indicates both avarice and slavishness at the same time. It tells us our only function in life is to consume, consume, consume. To consume what? Just what we are told to.
The word was never needed. We already had the serviceable “persons” or “people”, or even the more proper “citizens.”
The OED tells us that the word originated—as early as 1692; an instance is produced from Locke—as the technical opposite of “producer”, and in that context, it is forgivable. But it no longer means just that. It now means a beast-like thing, an automaton with unstoppable chomping jaws aimlessly wandering through malls and snapping up whatever is within reach.
Indeed, the earlier, non-technical definition of the word, says the OED, was negative. From the Bible: “Mal. iii. 11, I shal reproue the consumer for youre sakes.” Amen to that.
USA 2, Ghana 0.