Archive for May 5th, 2008

A welcome video

May 5, 2008

I am having so much fun with my eee pc; today, I recorded a short video welcoming the readers of this blog; by default it gets recorded in ogg format. I then used ffmpeg to convert it into avi format; got an account and uploaded the video to YouTube.

Musicalisation(?) of seismological, meteorological and geomagnetic data

May 5, 2008

Alex Ross in the New Yorker on John Luther Adams’ “The Place Where You Go to Listen”:

At the Museum of the North, on the grounds of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, the composer John Luther Adams has created a sound-and-light installation called “The Place Where You Go to Listen”—a kind of infinite musical work that is controlled by natural events occurring in real time. The title refers to Naalagiagvik, a place on the coast of the Arctic Ocean where, according to legend, a spiritually attuned Inupiaq woman went to hear the voices of birds, whales, and unseen things around her. In keeping with that magical idea, the mechanism of “The Place” translates raw data into music: information from seismological, meteorological, and geomagnetic stations in various parts of Alaska is fed into a computer and transformed into an intricate, vibrantly colored field of electronic sound.

Ross goes on to give his impressions as he visited the Place several times at different hours, and how the music was and in what manner it synchronised with the Alaskan interior:

When I arrived the next day, just before noon, “The Place” was jumping. A mild earthquake in the Alaska Range, measuring 2.99 on the Richter scale, was causing the Earth Drums to pound more loudly and go deeper in register. (If a major earthquake were to hit Fairbanks, “The Place,” if it survived, would throb to the frequency 24.27Hz, an abyssal tone that Adams associates with the rotation of the earth.) Even more spectacular were the high sounds showering down from speakers on the ceiling. On the Web site of the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, aurora activity was rated 5 on a scale from 0 to 9, or “active.” This was sufficient to make the Aurora Bells come alive. The Day and Night Choirs follow the equal-tempered tuning used by most Western instruments, but the Bells are filtered through a different harmonic prism, one determined by various series of prime numbers. I had the impression of a carillon ringing miles above the earth.

And, with such Avant-Garde music, can Yoga be far behind?

On the two days I visited “The Place,” various tourists came and went. Some, armed with cameras and guidebooks, stood against the back wall, looking alarmed, and left quickly. Others were entranced. One young woman assumed a yoga position and meditated; she took “The Place” to be a specimen of ambient music, the kind of thing you can bliss out to, and she wasn’t entirely mistaken.

A must-read piece; you can also listen to some samples of Adams’ music at the New Yorker site by clicking on the audio button below the piece. Have fun!

An ad suggestion for Obama campaign!

May 5, 2008

I understand that there are a couple of attack-ads and attack-attack-ads which are getting aired in North Carolina and Indiana. This reminded me of a Southwest ad that I read about a while back:

Nobody’s Going to Shoot Southwest Airlines out of the Sky for a Lousy $13.

Given that the gas tax holiday will reduce gas prices by 10 to 15 cents per gallon, I think Obama should go for an ad which says

Nobody’s going to shoot me out of the presidential race for a lousy 15 cents.


A couple of Linux links!

May 5, 2008

Oh! It feels so good to be back with a Linux (or, should I say Gnu/Linux?) machine after using Windows and Mac for nearly two years (the only times I did use  a Linux machine, it was via remote login and not at the console). In any case, I am happy to be back with Linux and editing files, the instructions for which, come with the warning — Beware: you should know what you are doing, if you are editing these files — the good thing about such warnings is that, even though I may not actually know what I am doing, the very thought that I am editing a file which warrants such a warning gives me such a kick! Any case, you can expect more Linux links in these page from now on. Here are the first couple:

  • Does professionalization of Linux matter? Tom Slee at Whimsley argues that it does; for one thing, according to him, with recent changes, the Cathedral and Bazzar model might be breaking down. His punchline:

    Open source, like any new phenomenon, is changing. Our understanding of it has to change too. The Linux Foundation report prompts us to re-examine some of the neat and clean dichotomies that were floated around ten years ago and see if they still hold water. A few do, but many don’t.

  • Should Linux have a standard, single distribution? It is only natural that with professionalization, you will get such questions; the short answer is no. And, that is precisely what Shawn Powers argues for, over at Linux Journal in this short post.

Happy linuxing (and happy tux racing!)

Open secret of success

May 5, 2008

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker on why Toyota is innovative and how it has managed to keep its edge (link via Mark Thoma):

Calling Toyota an innovative company may, at first glance, seem a bit odd. Its vehicles are more liked than loved, and it is often attacked for being better at imitation than at invention. Fortune, which typically praises the company effusively, has labelled it “stodgy and bureaucratic.” But if Toyota doesn’t look like an innovative company it’s only because our definition of innovation—cool new products and technological breakthroughs, by Steve Jobs-like visionaries—is far too narrow. Toyota’s innovations, by contrast, have focussed on process rather than on product, on the factory floor rather than on the showroom. That has made those innovations hard to see. But it hasn’t made them any less powerful.

At the core of the company’s success is the Toyota Production System, which took shape in the years after the Second World War, when Japan was literally rebuilding itself, and capital and equipment were hard to come by. A Toyota engineer named Taiichi Ohno turned necessity into virtue, coming up with a system to get as much as possible out of every part, every machine, and every worker. The principles were simple, even obvious—do away with waste, have parts arrive precisely when workers need them, fix problems as soon as they arise. And they weren’t even entirely new—Ohno himself cited Henry Ford and American supermarkets as inspirations. But what Toyota has done, better than any other manufacturing company, is turn principle into practice. In some cases, it has done so with inventions, like the andon cord, which any worker can pull to stop the assembly line if he notices a problem, or kanban, a card system that allows workers to signal when new parts are needed. In other cases, it has done so by reorganizing factory floors and workspaces in order to allow for a freer and easier flow of parts and products. Most innovation focusses on what gets made. Toyota reinvented how things got made, which enabled it to build cars faster and with less labor than American companies.

The diffusion of Toyota’s concepts has had a real effect; the auto industry as a whole is far more productive than it used to be. So how has Toyota stayed ahead of the pack?

The answer has a lot to do with another distinctive element of Toyota’s approach: defining innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis. (The principle is often known by its Japanese name, kaizen—continuous improvement.) Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it’s taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible. According to Matthew E. May, the author of a book about the company called “The Elegant Solution,” Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers. (Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do.) Most of these ideas are small—making parts on a shelf easier to reach, say—and not all of them work. But cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before.

A short, but very readable and informative piece. Take a look!

When to take photographs

May 5, 2008

Tyler Cowen gives some pointers in a short post which packs lots of punch:

If you take photos you will remember the event more vividly, if only because you have to stop and notice it. The fact that your memories will in part be “false” or constructed is besides the point; they’ll probably be false anyway. In other words, there’s no such thing as the “one-time in-person viewing,” it is all mediated viewing, one way or the other. Daniel Gilbert’s book on memory is the key source here.

Furthermore you don’t need the later viewing for the photo or video to be worthwhile. It’s all about organizing your memories in the form of narratives and that is what cameras help us do, if only by differentiating the flow of events into chunkier blocks of greater discreteness.

A photo that requires retakes might be more effective than a photo you get right the first time.

Cowen goes on to tell about his own photo taking habits and links to a post with pointers to take better photographs. Take a look!