24 June 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.06.24

Today: John Wilkins has better links; Google vs Viacom (round 1 to Google); ASCAP protects us from dangerous freedoms; an ACTA Action Alert; minor thirds as a "sad" intonation in speech; concert pianists as model organisms; Martin Gardner on Duel at Dawn; "Against Narrativity"; the online handbook of narratology; a dead zone in the Gulf?; I'm not watching the return of Futurama, damn it.

John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts has even better links today than I do, so you should look at them.  I'll be reading the new article on "Faith" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  And this hominid phylogeny is excellent.

Copyright news

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing reports Google's victory over Viacom in the first round of Viacom's lawsuit against Google charging massive copyright infringement by YouTube. What Doctorow has to say is more interesting than the report at Yahoo News to which he links.  After reading his post, you should be classifying Viacom as "corporate scum" (if you weren't already), of an only slightly lower grade than BP.

Meanwhile, ASCAP is apparently trying to raise money to fight such terrorist organizations as Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (to see the purported ASCAP letter, see the links here).

I hadn't been following Public Knowledge until I ran into the ASCAP letter (good marketing job, ASCAP! Thanks!). Public Knowledge has a Action Alert on ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which is being negotiated in secret, seems to have become a back-door strategy for the American "content" industries to force the rest of the world to adopt the most noxious aspects of the DMCA, and is slated to be implemented not as a trade agreement, but as a kind of executive order.  In other words, American government at its most sleazy and corporately anti-democratic.  Public Knowledge has the Action Alert set up as a very easy e-mail to the Obama adminstration.  Do it now.

And just in case you don't believe me, see this communique on ACTA from the American University Washington College of Law.

Cognition (Music and Otherwise)

Ferris Jabr at Scientific American describes a new study that suggests that minor thirds are used in speech intonation to express sadness.
The article is Meagan E. Curtis and Jamshed J. Bharucha (2010), "The minor third communicates sadness in speech, mirroring its use in music," Emotion. The article is behind a paywall at APA PsycNET, and costs $11.95.
Because it is behind a paywall, my reaction so far is based on Jabr's description.  But Jabr quotes Curtis herself admitting:  "I have only looked at speakers of American English, so it's an open question whether it's a phenomenon that exists specifically in American English or across cultures," Curtis explained. "Who knows if they are using the same intervals in, say, Hindi?"

Well, yes, obviously.  And obviously (although this is not mentioned in Jabr's article) one would need to consider that perhaps people who grew up in a culture in which minor thirds were often considered to express sadness might well adopt (even unconsciously) the use of that interval in their speech to represent that emotion.

So it's a little difficult to get excited about this just yet.

Sound examples are online here, from the Music Cognition Lab at Tufts.  Surely there is someone in the Music Department at Tufts they could ask about this?  Or perhaps not....

Deric Bownds points towards an article by Charles T. Ambrose at American Scientist, "The Widening Gyrus: Concert pianists could be model organisms for studying the physiological basis of intellectual greatness." The article can be read complete online.

As Bownds says, the article is actually disappointingly thin (at least for pianists who are interested in cognitive science). Most of it serves as an introductory summary of various relevant aspects of knowledge on the brain (the summary of adult neurogenesis is especially useful as a place to start on that topic). But in fact, very little has been done on pianist brains as of yet, so Ambrose is really just making a suggestion.  I'm assuming he wants pianists to will their brains to science rather than have living pianists dissected like lab rats....

The Rest

Martin Gardner, who died this past 22 May, was working up until the end. He has a wonderful review in the June issue of The New Criterion of Amir Alexander's Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics. Gardner clearly retained until his death his lifelong infectious enthusiasm for great mathematicians and their accomplishments, and this is as good an example as any of his lively and lucid style. He makes me want to read the book.

The "Duel at Dawn," by the way, is the duel in which 20-year-old mathematician √Čveriste Galois was killed. The introduction to the Wikipedia article summarizes his contributions to mathematics this way:
 While still in his teens, he was able to determine a necessary and sufficient condition for a polynomial to be solvable by radicals, thereby solving a long-standing problem. His work laid the foundations for Galois theory, a major branch of abstract algebra, and the subfield of Galois connections. He was the first to use the word "group" (French: groupe) as a technical term in mathematics to represent a group of permutations.

Vaughan at mindhacks points to philosopher Galen Strawson's 2004 article "Against Narrativity," which argues against the notion that every person creates (and should create) a "narrative" of his or her life.  The article can be downloaded here. Because "identity" will be one of the ongoing topics of this blog (and indeed, has already been a framing topic, although not always explicitly), I'll be reading Strawson's article and I'll report further if it seems warranted.

Speaking of narrative, Philosophy's Other points to the open-access publication, the Living Handbook of Narratology, which may be worth investigating.

Language hat links to the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, which is available in full online.  Looks like a wonderful resource. For the musicians among my readers, a good place to start might be the article on "Concert Music."

considers whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster may create a "dead zone" because of the very high volume of methane being emitted (40% of the "spill"). The satellite photo of the spill that illustrates the article is horrifying.

I am disappointed to note that I am not watching the redebut of Futurama on Comedy Central tonight. Because I am sitting a cat, and the owners have cable, I drove expectantly out to their place in time to watch it, only to find that they have only basic cable, and thus no Comedy Central.  (Clouds of gloom.) 

As a small consolation, Alasdair Wilkins has a nice piece on the show at io9.
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