nytimes: The Curse of Musical Nostalgia

“Retromania” laments how unoriginal pop is today: how it feeds on its own history, trades in references and has started reworking material from a past that is ever more immediate.

An interesting read looking at the ‘feedback loop’ of modern pop music, and the rise of “super-hybridity” - the hyper accessibility of culture due to advances such as the internet. While this leads to the ability for people to experience much more, it also leaves open the danger of recycling what’s already been recycled; leaving us stuck without originality.

theatlantic: Language Mystery: When Did Americans Stop Sounding This Way?

The language that the narrator, one Gayne Whitman, uses is florid enough. But his accent! It’s instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen old movies and newsreels from the 1930s and 1940s. But you cannot imagine a present-day American using it with a straight face. It’s not faux-British, but it’s a particular kind of lah-dee-dah American diction that at one time was very familiar and now has vanished.


"You go, I go" - The music and rhythm of traffic jams

Traffic jams are an annoying fact of modern existence and if you drive (and even if you don’t) you’ll probably encounter them in some form at least once a day. But when you’re not in the heat of the massing cars and angry motorists, it’s worth stopping and listening to the “music” that they produce. 

That’s exactly what New York Times reporter Jon Pareles did, recording a 52 second segment of a traffic jam in New Jersey. What results in an interesting piece full of shouting, engine noise and, of course, honking of horns. The “tone poem of gridlock” gives a seemingly random set of noises, but underneath there’s a kind of rhythmic movement. A “suspenseful vehicular ballet of incremental progress, small spaces immediately exploited, and the sudden relieved acceleration of drivers,” with Pareles concluding that it “sounded better than it ever will behind the wheel”. 

Yet, while traffic jams may infuriate us they have parallels with regular human existence - our cars being a “collection of rooms” as David Greene called them - where people come together to mold and clash, each person with their own direction, trying (or not) to accommodate their fellow drivers. In fact, they’re an ultimate example of collectivism, where people come together to form a single entity that moves because of, and without, individual actions. (Something I’ve written about before.)

It may be looking a little too much into the simple daily chore that some of us have to overcome, but it’s an interesting way to examine at society and, at more basic level, human interaction. Jon Stewart, speaking at his Rally to Restore Sanity back in October, used traffic jams to highlight not the conflict in society, but instead the remarkable co-operation that occurs every day:

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river.  Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences.  And they do it.  Concession by concession.  You go.  Then I’ll go.  You go. Then I’ll go.  You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car?  Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst. 

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness.  And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.  But we do it anyway, together.

While the music of traffic jams may show the inherent conflict that occurs, it’s also worth remembering that generally everyone keeps moving in the same direction, eventually making it where they need to go. Until tomorrow at least.

newyorker: The Voice of Videogames

This week in the magazine, Tom Bissell writes about the voice-over actress Jennifer Hale. Here Bissell talks with Blake Eskin about Hale’s performance as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect video games, and why Bissell prefers playing with a female avatar. Hale joins the conversation to demonstrate some of her voice-over techniques, including the finer points of grunting.

A very cool look at videogame voiceovers, with some hilarious pizza ordering by Commander Shepard.

newyorker: The Voice of Videogames

This week in the magazine, Tom Bissell writes about the voice-over actress Jennifer Hale. Here Bissell talks with Blake Eskin about Hale’s performance as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect video games, and why Bissell prefers playing with a female avatar. Hale joins the conversation to demonstrate some of her voice-over techniques, including the finer points of grunting.

A very cool look at videogame voiceovers, with some hilarious pizza ordering by Commander Shepard.

nottinghamuniversity: Chemistry of Creme Eggs - Periodic Table of Videos

What happens when you mix Cadbury’s Creme Eggs with Potassium Chlorate? Not much until reacts with the gooey stuff inside then.. well check out the video above.

via: The Guardian

A quick note…

I’m currently in the last two weeks of a final deadline so my activity on here has been limited. You’ve probably not even noticed, but I’ve not given up updating That’s Curious completely; I’m just really busy.

I’m nearly done and then I can get back to writing about interesting things. That’ll be nice.

nytimes: How Slavery Really Ended in America (paywall)

On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel. Fort Monroe, Va., a fishhook-shaped spit of land near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, had been a military post since the time of the first Jamestown settlers. This spot where the slaves took refuge was also, by remarkable coincidence, the spot where slavery first took root, one summer day in 1619, when a Dutch ship landed with some 20 African captives for the fledgling Virginia Colony.
Two and half centuries later, in the first spring of the Civil War, Fort Monroe was a lonely Union redoubt in the heart of newly Confederate territory. Its defenders stood on constant guard. Frigates and armed steamers crowded the nearby waters known as Hampton Roads, one of the world’s great natural harbors. Perspiring squads of soldiers hauled giant columbiad cannons from the fort’s wharf up to its stone parapets. Yet history would come to Fort Monroe not amid the thunder of guns and the clash of fleets, but stealthily, under cover of darkness, in a stolen boat.

nytimes: How Slavery Really Ended in America (paywall)

On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel. Fort Monroe, Va., a fishhook-shaped spit of land near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, had been a military post since the time of the first Jamestown settlers. This spot where the slaves took refuge was also, by remarkable coincidence, the spot where slavery first took root, one summer day in 1619, when a Dutch ship landed with some 20 African captives for the fledgling Virginia Colony.

Two and half centuries later, in the first spring of the Civil War, Fort Monroe was a lonely Union redoubt in the heart of newly Confederate territory. Its defenders stood on constant guard. Frigates and armed steamers crowded the nearby waters known as Hampton Roads, one of the world’s great natural harbors. Perspiring squads of soldiers hauled giant columbiad cannons from the fort’s wharf up to its stone parapets. Yet history would come to Fort Monroe not amid the thunder of guns and the clash of fleets, but stealthily, under cover of darkness, in a stolen boat.

How a car’s differential works (the thing which lets two connected wheels spin at different speeds), from what appears to be the 1960s. A very clear explanation and rather interesting.

via: Boing Boing 

(Source: youtube.com)

londoneveningstandard: Newspapers operate a ‘hierarchy of death’

The latest available Home Office figures show that there were 619 murders in England and Wales - 421 male and 198 female - in the 12 months up to September 2010. This was, incidentally, the lowest total for 12 years. Though there were almost two murders a day, papers did not cover them all. Though more than twice as many men than women were killed, the female victims achieved a greater proportion of the coverage than males.

So there is the first part of the explanation for what I call the media’s hierarchy of death. Women get more coverage than men and, if they happen to be young and attractive, they will certainly get more space too. The pictures alone will ensure that.

nukezilla: The 3DS Under a Microscope

To demonstrate the 3D effect, try a quick experiment: close one eye and then hold both index fingers up vertically, putting one a short distance in front the other so that the far finger is obscured by the near one. Keeping the fingers in place, then switch eyes, and you should now be able to see both fingers.

That is basically how a parallax barrier works. Placed just slightly in front of the LCD screen, when held at the correct distance it ensures that each eye is only able to see certain pixels on the screen. The image presented to each eye is of the same scene from a slightly different angle. The brain interprets this as a 3D image because it performs the same trick when we look at stuff in the real world.

Whether you’re into gaming or not, this post details in an impressively clear and easy to understand way how the glasses-free technology in Nintendo’s 3DS works. (It’s worth noting that I write for Nukezilla, but this is awesome so I’d link to it regardless.)

nukezilla: The 3DS Under a Microscope

To demonstrate the 3D effect, try a quick experiment: close one eye and then hold both index fingers up vertically, putting one a short distance in front the other so that the far finger is obscured by the near one. Keeping the fingers in place, then switch eyes, and you should now be able to see both fingers.

That is basically how a parallax barrier works. Placed just slightly in front of the LCD screen, when held at the correct distance it ensures that each eye is only able to see certain pixels on the screen. The image presented to each eye is of the same scene from a slightly different angle. The brain interprets this as a 3D image because it performs the same trick when we look at stuff in the real world.

Whether you’re into gaming or not, this post details in an impressively clear and easy to understand way how the glasses-free technology in Nintendo’s 3DS works. (It’s worth noting that I write for Nukezilla, but this is awesome so I’d link to it regardless.)

Jerry Lewis - The Errand Boy (1961) Pantomime

A classic and very clever little skit by comedian Jerry Lewis. You may recognise this from a recent episode of Family Guy in which Peter takes the role of Lewis in an also funny homage. 

google: Body Browser
A clever interactive interactive way to learn about the human body. You can rotate and zoom around the person and go through the layers of skin, bones, organs and into the nervous system. Pretty awesome.

google: Body Browser

A clever interactive interactive way to learn about the human body. You can rotate and zoom around the person and go through the layers of skin, bones, organs and into the nervous system. Pretty awesome.

discovermagazine: Interview: The Love Neuroscientist
An interview with neuroscientist Stephanie Ortique, assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University. She studied love and desire and how the brain processes them. 

How do you study the way people respond to desire? We put pictures of good-looking people on a computer and asked participants to press a button every time they were attracted by a picture. We recorded their reaction times and found that responses were much faster when the participant was not attracted to someone. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, no, he doesn’t turn me on.” But it took much longer for people to determine if they were attracted to someone, if they were feeling desire.
We analyzed the subjects’ brain activity with 128-electrode, high-density EEG [electroencephalography] and compared their brain activity while they were feeling desire with activity when they were thinking, “No, not for me.” When the subjects had no feeling of desire, we saw activity in an area involved in body recognition called the extrastriate body area, indicating, as you might expect, that they were evaluating the body they saw in the picture. But when they were feeling desire, we saw activation not only in the extrastriate body area but in a brain region called the temporo-parietal junction, which is known to be very important for the understanding of the self and one’s own body image. This suggests that sexual desire isn’t just a matter of evaluating a body. The brain is also doing some more surprising cognitive work.

discovermagazine: Interview: The Love Neuroscientist

An interview with neuroscientist Stephanie Ortique, assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University. She studied love and desire and how the brain processes them. 

How do you study the way people respond to desire? We put pictures of good-looking people on a computer and asked participants to press a button every time they were attracted by a picture. We recorded their reaction times and found that responses were much faster when the participant was not attracted to someone. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, no, he doesn’t turn me on.” But it took much longer for people to determine if they were attracted to someone, if they were feeling desire.

We analyzed the subjects’ brain activity with 128-electrode, high-density EEG [electroencephalography] and compared their brain activity while they were feeling desire with activity when they were thinking, “No, not for me.” When the subjects had no feeling of desire, we saw activity in an area involved in body recognition called the extrastriate body area, indicating, as you might expect, that they were evaluating the body they saw in the picture. But when they were feeling desire, we saw activation not only in the extrastriate body area but in a brain region called the temporo-parietal junction, which is known to be very important for the understanding of the self and one’s own body image. This suggests that sexual desire isn’t just a matter of evaluating a body. The brain is also doing some more surprising cognitive work.

builtmanhattan:

183646-54 Stone StreetArchitect: UnknownLocation: 46-54 Stone Street
Every truly great city must have at least one Great Fire, and New York City had two. (Or three, though the third doesn’t have the mythic flavor of the other two.) Mind you, none of them were at a 1666 or 1871 level of annihilation, but still, they disfigured the landscape in remarkable ways: they’re big reasons why Manhattan has very little before 1800. The first started a week after the British invaded Manhattan in September 1776. It destroyed up to a quarter of the city, mostly its extreme west side. It made the city a miserable place to occupy, with survivors living in tents among the ruins. Of course miserableness may have been the intent, though Patriot arson was never conclusively proven.
The second one arrived on December 16, 1835. Ungodly winter weather — including temperatures approaching 17 degrees below zero — heightened the effects of a gas pipe explosion at a warehouse on the corner of Exchange and Pearl. High winds carried sparks all over the city, even across the rivers to New Jersey to Brooklyn. Earlier fires already depleted much of the water supply, so firemen were forced to cut holes in the frozen East River for water, and even then, it froze in hoses and pipes. The fire was so hot, so huge, so awful, people in Philadelphia could see it. Philadelphia is a hundred miles away. In the end, nearly 700 buildings over fifty acres went up in flames, thereby gutting the commercial district in America’s largest city.
Tiny Stone Street, only a couple hundred feet away from the fire’s source, shows us what was built in the wake of the fire. There’s no record of what stood here before, but it’s easy to assume they resembled what you see all over South Street Seaport today. The new buildings were built taller and grander: four and five stories instead of two-and-a-half, machine-made brick instead of hand-molded, and a liberal use of granite, especially with the columns on the bottom floors — an application of Greek Revival style for commercial use.
Today the street offers a concatenation of bars and restaurants that serve people out in the open during warm weather. Pleasant, but a little too crowded for my tastes.

builtmanhattan:

1836
46-54 Stone Street

Architect: Unknown
Location: 46-54 Stone Street

Every truly great city must have at least one Great Fire, and New York City had two. (Or three, though the third doesn’t have the mythic flavor of the other two.) Mind you, none of them were at a 1666 or 1871 level of annihilation, but still, they disfigured the landscape in remarkable ways: they’re big reasons why Manhattan has very little before 1800. The first started a week after the British invaded Manhattan in September 1776. It destroyed up to a quarter of the city, mostly its extreme west side. It made the city a miserable place to occupy, with survivors living in tents among the ruins. Of course miserableness may have been the intent, though Patriot arson was never conclusively proven.

The second one arrived on December 16, 1835. Ungodly winter weather — including temperatures approaching 17 degrees below zero — heightened the effects of a gas pipe explosion at a warehouse on the corner of Exchange and Pearl. High winds carried sparks all over the city, even across the rivers to New Jersey to Brooklyn. Earlier fires already depleted much of the water supply, so firemen were forced to cut holes in the frozen East River for water, and even then, it froze in hoses and pipes. The fire was so hot, so huge, so awful, people in Philadelphia could see it. Philadelphia is a hundred miles away. In the end, nearly 700 buildings over fifty acres went up in flames, thereby gutting the commercial district in America’s largest city.

Tiny Stone Street, only a couple hundred feet away from the fire’s source, shows us what was built in the wake of the fire. There’s no record of what stood here before, but it’s easy to assume they resembled what you see all over South Street Seaport today. The new buildings were built taller and grander: four and five stories instead of two-and-a-half, machine-made brick instead of hand-molded, and a liberal use of granite, especially with the columns on the bottom floors — an application of Greek Revival style for commercial use.

Today the street offers a concatenation of bars and restaurants that serve people out in the open during warm weather. Pleasant, but a little too crowded for my tastes.

(via frontofbook)

nytimes: A Guide to Entice Heads Into the Clouds

Hence “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook,” published by Chronicle Books, a serious yet charming field guide to clouds. The book teaches readers how to identify clouds they have seen and gives them a place to record the sightings, just the way birders create life lists of the birds they have spotted. It even has a scoring system, in which cloudspotters receive 10 points for ordinary clouds like nimbostratus, the more or less featureless rain clouds people typically have in mind when they say clouds are depressing; 40 points for a cumulonimbus storm cloud, the anvil-shaped “king of clouds”; and more points for more exotic formations.

nytimes: A Guide to Entice Heads Into the Clouds

Hence “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook,” published by Chronicle Books, a serious yet charming field guide to clouds. The book teaches readers how to identify clouds they have seen and gives them a place to record the sightings, just the way birders create life lists of the birds they have spotted. It even has a scoring system, in which cloudspotters receive 10 points for ordinary clouds like nimbostratus, the more or less featureless rain clouds people typically have in mind when they say clouds are depressing; 40 points for a cumulonimbus storm cloud, the anvil-shaped “king of clouds”; and more points for more exotic formations.