03 August 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.08.02

Monday: man arrested for videotaping policeman who threatened him with gun in traffic stop; plagiarism and the modern university student; Masnick debunks yet again a bogus claim about counterfeiting losses; Campbell's Soup writes (admiringly) to Andy Warhol (1964); RIAA sending takedown notices for the album Radiohead gave away for free; the future of the book is....the app?; Scientopia, a new blog collective; a way round Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?; The Rap Guide to Human Nature (no, seriously); a critique of methodology in the social sciences; a softening on the "nativist" side of the nativist vs. empiricist debate in linguistics?; music as an antidepressant; does music interfere with concentration in the workplace?; Sandow critiques Mac Donald on the rosy state of classical music; Tommasini reviews Dionysos; a Milton-Cross-like synopsis of Warren G and Nate Dogg's "Regulate"; a mechanical opera singer (well, not quite yet, but almost); what's wrong with Inception?



Your Police State at Work

Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing passes on the story of Anthony Graber, who has been arrested for videotaping the policeman who stopped him for speeding on his motorcycle:
Police officer Joseph Uhler was caught on film charging out of his unmarked car and waving his gun at a unarmed motorcyclist pulled over for speeding. When the footage was uploaded to YouTube, authorities raided Anthony Graber's home, seized his computers, arrested him, and charged him with "wiretapping" offenses that could land him in jail for 16 years.

[...]

[The State of Maryland] contends that Uhler had a reasonable expectation of privacy while waving his gun around in public and yelling at a motorist with a giant video camera mounted on the top of his helmet.





Academia

Trip Gabriel's article in the NYT on plagiarism has gotten quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere:  "Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age."

See, for example, dlende at Neuroanthropology, who focuses particularly on the work of his Notre Dame colleague Susan Blum, discussed in Gabriel's article.

I confess to a nagging disastisfaction, both with Gabriel's article and at least some of the ideas put forth by Blum, but I haven't got time to write more about this at length right now.  In brief, what seems to me to be missing is an acknowledgment (or at least a recognition of the possibility) that many (even most?) cases of authorship are straightforward.  (For example, I just wrote the previous sentence, it is very likely that this sentence has not been written before in the entire history of human discourse, and the opinion expressed in it is mine.)

To use a sentence written by someone else, expressing that person's idea, without attribution, and especially for any type of gain (including getting a grade in a class) is a moral and ethical offense.  We shouldn't cloud this fundamental and obvious fact behind vague references to changing notions of authorship, &c.



Creative Rights

Mike Masnick at Techdirt calls out Stephanie Clifford of the NYT for passing on a bogus and long-since debunked claim that counterfeiting costs American businesses $200 billion every year. Masnick points out that this figure has been shown to derive from a Forbes magazine article in 1993, where it was simply made up—which, however, has not prevented lazy journalists from incessantly repeating it as a "fact" up to this day.

Masnick cites the research of Felix Salmon, who has estimated that the actual figure is closer to $5 billion.



Techdirt also reproduces this 1964 letter from William P. MacFarland, Product marketing Manager for Campbell Soup, to Andy Warhol:




Masnick comments:
Can you imagine that happening today? There's simply no way. Instead, you'd get a legal nastygram cease & desist, with all sorts of claims about trademark and a likelihood of confusion and demands to hand over the paintings immediately. And then people would defend Campbell Soup, saying they "had to" defend their trademark. How quickly the world has changed.



Masnick also wonders why the RIAA is sending takedown notices for Radiohead's album In Rainbows, which is the one the band gave away for free.



Books and Publishing

Is the future of the book ....the app?  if:book thinks it may well be.



Science

A Thoughtful Animal (and several other sources) have pointed to a new science blog collective, Scientopia, founded by Mark Chu-Carroll of the blog Good Math, Bad Math (which I follow) and several other refugees from Seed's Science Blogs.  They're just getting started, but I wish them luck.



A research group thinks that it has found (theoretically) a way around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, using quantum entanglement.  See Casey Johnston's story at ars technica: "Quantum memory may topple Heisenberg's uncertainty principle."

The article is:
Mario Berta, et al. (2010), "The uncertainty principle in the presence of quantum memory," Nature Physics. The article is behind a paywall at the Nature Publishing Group, and costs $18.00.
Here is the abstract:
The uncertainty principle, originally formulated by Heisenberg, clearly illustrates the difference between classical and quantum mechanics. The principle bounds the uncertainties about the outcomes of two incompatible measurements, such as position and momentum, on a particle. It implies that one cannot predict the outcomes for both possible choices of measurement to arbitrary precision, even if information about the preparation of the particle is available in a classical memory. However, if the particle is prepared entangled with a quantum memory, a device that might be available in the not-too-distant future, it is possible to predict the outcomes for both measurement choices precisely. Here, we extend the uncertainty principle to incorporate this case, providing a lower bound on the uncertainties, which depends on the amount of entanglement between the particle and the quantum memory. We detail the application of our result to witnessing entanglement and to quantum key distribution.
So I'm beyond Stage 0 on this one, since I can understand the title and the abstract.




I'm unsure whether to place this under Science or Music.  Perhaps it is a marriage of the two:

Vaughan at Mind Hacks points to Baba Brinkman's The Rap Guide to Human Nature, a series of (NSFW) raps on Evolutionary Psychology.  Listen free online! (Requires Flash Player, which I don't feel like installing right now, as I can't see why I should have to install anything new...especially if it has to do with Flash.  And anyway, I've been able to watch and listen to every other Flash item that has come up recently, so why am I being told to install something extra for this one?)




I am still reading Jim Manzi, "What Social Science Does—and Doesn't—Know," at City Journal, a major critique of the methodology (and the dearth of controlled experiments) in sociology. 

I have concerns: for one thing, Manzi seems to me to be cherry-picking bad examples (and mainstream economics is a pseudo-science, and shouldn't even count).

But more (perhaps) after I finish reading it.  At any rate, a probable must read for anyone interested in questions of method in the sciences and other disciplines.



I've just started to follow Livia Blackburne's blog *A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing*, which looks to be potentially of great interest.




Linguistics

Edmund Blair Bolles at Babel's Dawn writes on a recent conference paper by confirmed "nativist" Steven Harnad that seems (in Bolles' view) to suggest some softening of Harnad's position in the standoff in linguistics between nativists (who believe in some form of Universal Grammar) and empiricists.



Music

Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune Online reports on new research from Mexico claiming that the music of Bach, Corelli, and Mozart can help alleviate mild and moderate depression.  Jacobs writes:
Following up on a small number of recent studies, the Mexican team conducted an experiment on 79 patients of an Oaxaca clinic. The 14 men and 65 women, ranging in age from 25 to 60, were diagnosed as suffering from low to medium levels of depression. They were not taking any medications for their condition.

All participated in an eight-week program. Half the group took part in a 30-minute weekly counseling session with a psychologist; the other half listened to a 50-minute program of classical music each day. Their recorded concert featured two baroque works (Bach’s Italian Concerto and a Concerto Grosso by his contemporary, Archangelo Corelli) and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos. Each week, participants reported their levels of depression-related symptoms using a standard scale.

“We found positive changes at the fourth session in the music therapy group, with the participants showing improvement in their symptoms,” the researchers report. “Between the seventh and eighth weekly sessions, we observed improvement in 29 participants, with a lack of improvement in four. Eight abandoned the group.”
Mozart's Sonata in D for Two Pianos, K. 448, is the piece notoriously used in the original "Mozart Effect" study.

The article is:
Sergio Castillo-Pérez, et al. (2010), "Effects of Music Therapy on Depression Compared wi.th Psychotherapy," The Arts in Psychotherapy (in press).  The article is behind a paywall at Science Direct, and costs $19.95
Here is the abstract:
This paper reports a study testing the effects of music on depression and compares them with the effects of psychotherapy. There are mainly three conventional treatments for depression: psychotherapy, pharmaceutical treatments, and electroconvulsive therapy. Because conventional treatment has proven to be poorly successful, new means of treatment must be found that might improve depression when used together with other therapies. A randomized controlled clinical trial was performed with a convenience sample of 79 patients aged 25-60 years with low- and medium-grade depression. The Zung Depression Scale was employed for selection purposes. Patients were randomly assigned to the music therapy group (classical and baroque music) (n = 41), or the psychotherapy group based on conductive-behavioral therapy (n = 38). The music therapy was applied for 50 minutes a day, every day, for eight weeks. At the end, the music therapy group had less depressive symptoms than the psychotherapy group, and this was proven to be statistically significant with the Friedman test. We propose that patients with low- and medium-grade depression can use music to enhance the effects of psychological support.
I'm extremely skeptical (this sort of study is often so poorly designed), but will have to reserve judgment until I read the article.

But it immediately occurs to me that the performance is going to matter as well as the piece...and I'm guessing they didn't control for that variable.  A performance of the "Italian Concerto" on harpsichord is going to differ considerably from one on piano, and a performance by, say, Cyprien Katsaris, is going to differ considerably from one by Glenn Gould. And both of these are going to differ in fundamental ways from a performance by Trevor Pinnock on harpsichord, and his is going to differ very substantially from Landowska's.

Obviously a competent experimental design cannot assume that these differences aren't going to matter.

As usual, one would also like to know which movements we're talking about.  The outer movements of the Italian Concerto do not seem at all restful to me. But perhaps that's because I've played it.



Codex flores reports (briefly) on a new study showing that music can interfere with concentration.  Oddly, Codex flores doesn't provide any kind of link to the article it cites.

So I'll do it for you. The article is:
Nick Perham, Joanne vizart (2010), "Can preference for background music mediate irrelevant sound effect?," Applied Cognitive Psychology (published online 20 July 2010).  The article is behind a paywall at Wiley InterScience, and costs $29.95.
Here is the abstract:
Research suggests that listening to background music prior to task performance increases cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, through the mechanism of increasing arousal and positive mood. However, music preference has not been explored with regard to a more common and realistic scenario of concurrent music and cognition, namely the irrelevant sound effect  (ISE). To examine this, serial recall was tested under quiet, liked and disliked music sound conditions as well as steady-state (repetition of 3) and changing-state speech (random digits 1-9). Results revealed performance to be poorer for both music conditions and the changing-state speech compared to quiet and steady-state speech conditions. The lack of difference between both music conditions suggests that preference does not affect serial recall performance. These findings are discussed within the music and cognition and auditory distraction literatures.
The presentation of this at Codex flores seems to claim considerably more than is evident from the abstract.  Their headline and subhead:
Musik am Arbeitsplatz schadet der Konzentration

Ein plärrendes Radio im Büro senkt laut einer Studie der University of Wales die Leistungsfähigkeit von Kopfarbeitern.
But nothing is said in the abstract about the "workplace" or "blaring radios," and I'm skeptical that the latter will be found in the original article.

It's also fascinating that Wiley has a copyright notice on the abstract.  Does that mean they expect PubMed to pay a licensing fee?



I've been meaning to write a detailed response to Heather Mac Donald's piece in City Journal a couple of weeks ago, "Classic Music's New Golden Age," which seemed misguided and wrong to me in almost every particular (I mentioned the article in my Digest for 20 July).

Greg Sandow may have saved me the trouble: I've just discovered his series of posts on Mac Donald's piece at his blog at ArtsJournal.  I'm only now reading Sandow's posts, but they are here, here, here, here, and here.  There's a lot to argue with in Mac Donald's article, and Sandow apparently thinks so, too.  I'll report back if it seems there's more to say.



Anthony Tommasini at the NYT reviews Wolfgang Rihm's new opera Dionysos, at the Salzburg Festival.  (I linked to an enthusiastic review of the opera here.)  He professes to like it.

But can it be a good sign that Tommasini uses the word "ponderous" in both this review and his review (which I linked to this past weekend) of Rihm's ballet Tutuguri?  There he wrote:
But the barbaric blasts become ponderous.
In the review of Dionysos he writes:
But while “Dionysos” is not that long (about two hours), and the staging was phantasmagorical, the piece was at times curiously ponderous.
I have no trouble believing that Rihm's work sounds ponderous.  I have trouble understanding, though, why Tommasini is working so hard to put a favorable spin on both pieces.  I guess because we're supposed to believe that Rihm is an Important German Composer (or IGC, pronounced "ick").



The Browser points to the synopsis on Wikipedia synopsis of Warren G and Nate Dogg's rap song "Regulate," and writes:
...if you ever find a piece of writing that is funnier than the synopsis of a rap song as given here, please let me know.
I was skeptical, but it turns out to be a wonderful bit of satire (not sure if it's intentional), describing the action of the rap in the mode of a Milton Cross opera plot synopsis.

A sampler:
On a cool, clear night (typical to Southern California) Warren G travels through his neighborhood, searching for women with whom he might initiate sexual intercourse. He has chosen to engage in this pursuit alone.

Nate Dogg, having just arrived in Long Beach, seeks Warren. On his way to find Warren, Nate passes a car full of women who are excited to see him. Regardless, he insists to the women that there is no cause for excitement.

Warren makes a left turn at 21st Street and Lewis Ave, where he sees a group of young men enjoying a game of dice together. He parks his car and greets them. He is excited to find people to play with, but to his chagrin, he discovers they intend to relieve him of his material possessions. Once the hopeful robbers reveal their firearms, Warren realizes he is in a less than favorable predicament.



Greg Hickock at Talking Brains points to a lab at Waseda University that is constructing robot models of the vocal tract.  The lab has a page in English on its vocal robots here, with video samples.

I, for one, welcome a future when human opera singers are replaced by robots.  No temperament or ego.  And the robots will probably, on the whole, act better.






Film

I haven't yet seen Christopher Nolan's hit movie Inception.  However, I'm a sucker for this kind of sci-fi movie, and the trailer (which, the other day, a 14-year-old student of mine showed me how to watch via Front Row) has a sufficient number of cool effects to make me wanna go see it (even though my rational mind knows that the effects in the trailer may be the best ones in the entire movie). 

Last week, when I wrote (here and here) on Hans Zimmer's score for the film, a friend wrote to warn me not to expect too much of the film, that I might be disappointed.

It sounds as if he may be right.  The Owls (Ben Walters and J. M. Tyree) discuss the film at 3quarksdaily: "What's the Matter with Inception?"
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