17 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.16

Friday: Žižek!; Will I? I Will; Unhinged; a really old gene for sperm; NYT Mackerras obituary; Kissin spouts off; Book Catalogue for Android; death by caffeine; unlock your inner savant.

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16 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.15

Thursday: The misuse of behavioral economics; combining "pay what you want" with charitable donation is better than "pay what you want" alone; the Wason selection task; a new kind of nonsensical syntax; a cave full of fossils of inattentive marsupials; a biography of George Price (of the Price Equation); genetically-modified animals (with a photo of fluorescent kitties); New York prepares for Varèse orgy; a French retrospective on the New Musicology; reflections on Vermeer; a beautiful photo of the Western Hemisphere; the food and drink of Star Trek.

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15 July 2010


Another small reconstruction from Wednesday's Digest, which was instantly (and, I hope, painlessly) evaporated by ScribeFire's death ray.

Three items showing that physics is still really really weird.

Gravity doesn't exist—at least according to a new theory of physicist Erik Verlinde, reported by Dennis Overbye in the NYT. As Overbye describes the theory, Verlinde believes that "the force we call gravity is simply a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder."

I don't understand this, but that's okay, because according to Overbye: "Some of the best physicists in the world say they don’t understand Dr. Verlinde’s paper, and many are outright skeptical."

Verlinde's paper, "On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton," is available at arXiv, for those hardy enough to attempt it.

Was our universe born inside a black hole in another universe? Yes, according to Nikodem Poplawski of Indiana University, whose theory is described by Alasdair Williams at io9.

Poplawski's paper, "Cosmology with torsion—an alternative to cosmic inflation," is likewise available at arXiv.

Those physicists have the right idea about the distribution of their work: put it somewhere where people can download it and read it without paying $35.00 for each article.

Jeremy Axelrod has an entertaining review at The New Atlantis of Jeremy Bernstein's new book Quantum Leaps. Bernstein's book is, in Axelrod's telling, discursive, anecdotal, and disorganized, but still full of interesting bits. Some quotes:
“Princeton is a madhouse,” J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote his brother in 1935, “its solipsistic luminaries shining in separate & helpless desolation. Einstein is completely cuckoo.”


Where did it all begin? Circa 1900, Max Planck theorized that energy was made up of discrete units, or “quanta.” This was an idea Einstein later applied to light, arguing that it travels in what we now call photons — the smallest units into which light divides. (Hence the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, uses the still-hip term to describe the tiniest portion of solace possible — though solace in the form of champagne, fast cars, and fetching European women would in fact involve many quanta. What other new words from the early 1900s can you think of that still sound Bond-worthily modish today?)


Bernstein tells us he once had tea with Schrödinger; one thing he learned during their visit is that Schrödinger was not fond of cats.


Unfortunately, this sort of disarray characterizes too much of Quantum Leaps. A little digressive enthusiasm can liberate a book like this to snatch up tidbits purely for the sake of enjoyment — welcome padding for its point-making. But the names and adventures of quantum physics simply need too much explanation for a book that is laid out like a dinner of tapas.
And there's more: on Heisenberg, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox and quantum entanglement, Schrödinger, the famous double-slit experiment, George Berkeley, Lenin (who vituperated against the theories of Ernst Mach), the Dalai Lama, and quantum inspired woo.

This post is my first using ecto. It's straightforward to use, has some nice aspects. More as I gain more experience.

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Sir Charles Mackerras

Obituaries and appreciations of Sir Charles Mackerras, who died yesterday in London at the age of 84.

The story from The Sydney Morning Herald

A lovely tribute by Rupert Christiansen in the The Telegraph. A quote:
For many years, his heads-down, no-nonsense work ethic left him underrated, or certainly little known to the wider public. Perhaps he didn't care much: he had no taste for worldly glamour or gossipy press coverage, and he was always totally focused on working to the best of his abilities. But it was a source of some quiet satisfaction to him that in his last decade, he was awarded membership of the Companion of Honour and the Royal Philharmonic Society's Gold Medal. For unstinting, unselfish services to music, he richly deserved them.
An obituary by Matthew Weaver at the Guardian. A quote (from a Guardian interview in 2005):
[Mackerras] likened conducting an orchestra to hypnotism which he used to give up smoking. "A great deal of the conductor's art is, as it were, hypnotising them by your very presence, emanating what you feel about the music... I've never understood quite how it's done."
A story at Classic FM, with various helpful links, including this video interview with Mackerras this past October.

And two posts by Norman Lebrecht at his ArtsJournal blog, Slipped Disc:
"He achieved beyond the dreams of great conductors"

"More tributes to Charles Mackerras"

Fittingly, his last appearance as a conductor was a performance of Così fan tutte at Glyndebourne a few weeks ago.

Oddly enough, Mackerras (an Australian) was born in Schenectady.
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UPDATE: Argentina's Senate approves gay marriage

Here's the story, from the NYT.
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Daily Digest, 2010.07.14

Bastille Day Edition: ScribeFire and I; new fossil sheds light on split between apes and Old World monkeys; can you teach yourself synesthesia?; is the ability to produce speech necessary for understanding it?; more on the "neutral model" of language evolution; Charles Mackerras is dead; making music together promotes cooperative behavior; practice doesn't necessarily make you a better sight reader; Tuli Kupferberg RIP; Argentine senate to vote on gay marriage; another cool tattoo (Euler's Identity).

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14 July 2010

No Daily Digest for 13 July

There will (probably) be no Daily Digest for yesterday, 13 July, because ScribeFire just ate my nearly completed post, on which I'd been working a good part of this morning. There seems to be, so far as I can see, no way to recover what I wrote, in spite of ScribeFire's autosave.  To put it mildly, this is immensely irritating.

This may be the nail in the coffin for ScribeFire for me.  I'd been finding it annoying in quite a number of respects anyway, and was only using it because there is no obvious adequate free alternative for blogging software on the Mac.

I may, as time permits, try to "reblog" on some of the items in the lost digest.

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Annals of Closed Access: A Really Really Expensive Conference Report

I've been falling behind lately on my summaries of "closed access" in scholarly publishing, although I continue faithfully to report the cost of every closed-access journal article that I mention in this blog.

But a post yesterday from John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts points to what seems to me to be a particularly absurd example.

Wilkins points with justifiable pride to the appearance of the published volume of papers from a conference last year in Lisbon on evolution, a volume in which he has a paper.  The papers appear in the journal Theory in Biosciences (vol. 129:2-3, September 2010). The table of contents looks fascinating, if you're interested in the big picture of evolutionary theory (and I am).

One of the papers is explicitly open access: Marta Santos, et al., "Playing Darwin. Part B. 20 years of domestication in Drosophila subobscura." 

Although not explicitly marked open access, the introduction by conference organizer Nathalie Gontier's is also freely available for download.

The rest of the papers, alas, are not.  Here is the rundown (the journal is published by Springer)

Margarida Matos, "Playing Darwin. Part A. Experimental Evolution in Drosophila" $34.00
Melanie J. Monroe and Folmer Bokma, "Punctuated equilibrium in a neontological context" $34.00
Derek Turner, "Punctuated equilibrium and species selection: what does it mean for one theory to suggest another?" $34.00
Jan Sapp, "Saltational symbiosis" $34.00
Francisco Carrapiço, "How symbiogenic is evolution?" $34.00
John S. Wilkins, "What is a species? Essences and generation" $34.00
Filipe O. Costa and Gary R. Carvalho, "New insights into molecular evolution: prospects from the Barcode of Life Initiative (BOLI)" $34.00
André Levy, "Pattern, process and the evolution of meaning: species and units of selection" $34.00
Nathalie Gontier, "Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method: a new look upon the units and levels of evolution debate" $34.00

Luis Correia, "Computational evolution: taking liberties" $34.00
Ian Tattersall, "Human evolution and cognition" $34.00
Antonio B. Vieira, "Grammatical equivalents of Palaeolithic tools: a hypothesis" $34.00
Jan Verpooten and Mark Nelissen, "Sensory exploitation and cultural transmission: the late emergence of iconic representations in human evolution" $34.00
James Steele and Anne Kandler, "Language trees ≠ gene trees" $34.00
Orion Lewis and Sven Steinma, "Taking evolution seriously in political science" $34.00
Total: $510.00

You're probably thinking, "Well, sure Dexter, but of course there must be a way for you as an individual to buy the complete volume, rather than purchasing all the individual articles separately."

And yes, that's what any rational person (or even I) would think, too.

But if there is such an option, I've been unable to find it, and I've spent a good chunk of time this morning looking for it.  It is safe to say that if there is such an option, it is not at all obvious how to get to it from the contents page linked to above.

Just to reiterate the obvious:  most of the contributors to this volume work for publicly funded institutions, so their salaries are paid by taxpayers in the countries in which they work. The greater part of the funding for the research represented in these articles was also almost certainly public. The contributors probably have not been paid for their contributions to the journal, and they certainly won't be receiving royalties, nor will their institutions receive any compensation.  Even in those cases where the institutions or the funding was private, there will be no compensation from Springer.

Thus Springer, a private corporation, is receiving the entire financial benefit from these articles.  And because it has (very likely) assumed the copyright for them, it has a monopoly on their distribution, and can thus set monopolistic prices (as it obviously has done).

Because most of the contributors have institutional affiliations that cope with the problem of access and payment, they are not forced to confront the idiocy of the terms of access to private individuals. (Because I, too, have had institutional affiliations in the past that gave me access to this kind of material, I know that one is simply grateful to have access at all, and just basically buries one's head in the sand about the wider problem.)

And anyone who knows me or follows this blog will recognize that most of the articles in this volume are of interest to me, and everything from Tattersall's article to the end would count (if I had access) as "must reads."

Could I acquire these articles surreptitiously through friends with institutional access?  Yes, of course.  But the point is that the absurdity of the conditions for access imposed by Springer are forcing me to "break the law" if I want to keep up with research that is, after all, almost entirely publicly funded, and thus should be available to me or to anyone freely or at a nominal cost that would cover production and distribution.,

For-profit scholarly publication is a blight on the progress of science and intellectual endeavor.  It must be changed.
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13 July 2010

Happy Birthday Albert

Today is the birthday of Albert Ayler, avant-garde tenor saxophonist. He was born on 13 July 1936, and would have been 74 today.  He died in November 1970, an apparent suicide; his body was found floating in the East River.

Here is "Ghosts, first variation" from Ayler's album Spiritual Unity (1964). The bassist is Gary Peacock and the drummer Sunny Murray.

I bought this album on LP when I was around 19, during the time when I was playing in Cecil Taylor's Black Music Ensemble at Antioch College.  In his Antioch class, "The Black Aesthetic in Music," Taylor taught that one of the unifying principles in black music was the idea of spirit possession, derived from West African religion, but manifesting in music of the African diaspora in such diverse forms as black gospel music, voodoo, and James Brown.  The music of Cecil Taylor and the late music of John Coltrane can be understood as manifestations of the tradition of spirit possession, as can the playing of Albert Ayler in "Ghosts."

And here is Ayler's version of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
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Daily Digest, 2010.07.12

Monday: Swiss quash Polanski extradition; digital apocalypse; closing the digital frontier?; baby brains; heresy on Broca's area; are humans unique? (fists fly in New Zealand); Young Earth (well, a little younger, anyway); David Cope; Bill Dixon in memoriam; science and painting; World Cup statistics in R; base-pair necklace sets for the biogeeks in your life; the carbon footprint of the banana.

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12 July 2010

Weekend Roundup, 10–11 July 2010

This Weekend: patent idiocy (Microsoft division); a case of nongenetic evolution; more on the WEIRD; Ariely on behavioral economics; don't confuse me with the facts; robotic teachers; AI in automobiles; a really bad review of books on Ellington and Monk; an Albert Ayler memorial concert (sorry I missed it); the history of Autotune; what a theory of music must explain (according to Changizi); film as philosophy; Facebook as subversion.

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