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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Old singers never die – they just surround themselves with younger people. Or do they?

In May 2011, I wrote a “tymshft” post in my Empoprise-MU music blog, comparing Focus’ original version of the song “Hocus Pocus” with a subsequent bluegrass version by the Cleverlys.

I haven’t listened to the Cleverlys version in a while, but I’ve recently had occasion to listen to Focus’ version – both the Midnight Special version that I shared in 2011, and some more recent versions that I found on YouTube.

There are, of course, a multitude of differences between old and new performances of “Hocus Pocus.” But the biggest one is that Thijs van Leer, who sang the entire thing back in the 1970s, now only sings portions of the song. Some other guy – apparently younger – is drafted to hit the really high notes. (You notice this with other older artists, who often perform with musicians young enough to be their kids.)

Is this just a problem with age, where old singers just can’t sing like they used to? According to Jeannie Deva, the answer is no. It is possible for an older person to maintain, and even improve on, his or her singing capability. However, there are certain things that can cause a voice to deteriorate.

Singing with poor or no vocal technique
No or inadequate vocal warm-up or vocal cool-down
Drugs (legal and illegal)
Regular and excessive alcohol consumption
The accumulated effect of cigarette smoking
Performing with deficient or no monitors
The wrong microphone
Shouting over your instrumentalists’ stage volume
Emotional stress
Physical deterioration from poor nutrition or sleep
Psychosomatic illness occasioned by emotional hardships, losses and upsets

Drugs, alcohol, smoking, stress, lack of sleep – I guess those have been known to occur to rock singers.

Regurgitated news, the 1821 edition

Whatever one may think of Alex Jones, this post from Prison Planet is accurate:

Where can you go to find “trusted” news about Fukushima? Well according to Google News, only the mainstream sources are “trusted” these days. That’s why they’ve removed nearly all alternative news sites from their news index, leaving only the monotone, mindless canned mainstream news sources for people to read.

But just how mindless are these mainstream news sources? To find out, I did a Google search on spent fuel rods and plutonium, and the results were a massive regurgitation of the exact same news from multiple mainstream news sources.

The details, found here, demonstrate that all of the major news “sources” just re-run the same stuff. That article that you found on the Huffington Post, Mashable, or wherever was, more often than not, originally published somewhere else.

This is a common complaint about the so-called online news industry.

But the complaint is nothing new.

In 2011, the Saturday Evening Post published an online article celebrating its 190th anniversary. “But John,” you’re saying to yourself, “how could the Post have been only 190 years old when it was founded by Benjamin Franklin?” Read the article for the true story of the “link” between the magazine and Benjamin Franklin – but it certainly made for some wonderful marketing in the 1960s.

And you’ll see one other thing in the discussion of the August 4, 1821 issue:

But when it came to filling up the pages with copy, the Post did what modern newspapers still do; reprint items of passing interest from other newspapers.

Yes, even in 1821, there was not enough news to fill all of the newspapers, so the Post had to get some news from other sources.

The City Gazette of Washington says, that in [leveling the ground] in front of the President’s house, the laborers came to a spot where five graves were opened. One of the coffins was in perfect preservation, and the remains of a corpse was exposed, exhibiting long dark hair, perfectly strong and neatly folded up under the skull. [The White House grounds are] said to have been the burying ground of the Peerce family, of Bladensburg, and that the bodies have been interred about 40 years.

It’s a wonder that Alex Jones hasn’t hopped on that story yet.

How did banking and government exist before the 21st century?

I have been employed in the biometric industry for nearly twenty years. Yet despite my long immersion in this industry, I can understand when outsiders conclude that we are all insane.

Rick Agostinelli, Chief Executive Officer of Digital Persona, recently made the following statement. However, any of us in the industry could have made the same statement, with the same tone.

More than half of the people in the world have no identity credentials. As a result, they have little or no access to banking or government services.

Now when Mr. Agostinelli makes this statement, or when I make this statement, we are talking about this as a serious problem that needs to be solved. But when normal people look at the statement, their reaction is more likely to be, “Why is the second sentence related to the first?” Or, why does the lack of identity credentials necessarily RESULT in a lack of banking or government services? After all, for thousands of years of human history, banking and government services were accessible to everyone, despite the lack of biometric capabilities. Why? Because the communities were small enough that identity credentials were unnecessary.

Let’s say that you were growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the late 1800s. You could walk down to the bank, and the banker would know who you were. Well, to be honest, the banker was using a crude manual form of facial recognition…but you didn’t have to carry an identity credential around with you to get your money out of the bank. Similarly, any government official in the town would know who you were. If you were arrested that evening for breaking into that same bank, the constable didn’t have to match your fingerprints against a national database of prints. He’d just lock you up in his jail.

But today, we have determined (or some of us have determined) that identity credentials are essential to keep the banks and the governments running. This is partially due to the number of citizens that governments must serve – the nation of India needs to provide services for over a billion people. This may be due to other purposes also – purposes that alarm civil libertarians and criminals alike.

Whatever your industry, it’s important to take a step back and make sure that your industry is not engaged in groupthink – or, as Evgeny Morozov noted, that you’re not trying to solve the wrong problem.

When choice isn’t – how Big Data, and the highest bidder, could “guide” you

I haven’t even finished reading an article and I already want to share something out of it.

Phil Baumann shared an article by Evgeny Morozov that, among other things, notes that Silicon Valley is not subject to the same critical analysis that is applied to, say, the oil industry. As I said, I’m still reading the article, but I was struck by Morozov’s futuristic “what if” buried within…which shows how a decision that you would presumably make independently can actually be guided behind the scenes.

Suppose you want to become a vegetarian. So you go to Facebook and use its Graph Search feature to search for the favorite vegetarian restaurants of all your friends who live nearby. Facebook understands that you are considering an important decision that will affect several industries: great news for the tofu industry but bad news for the meat section of your local supermarket.

Facebook would be silly not to profit from this knowledge – so it organizes a real-time ad auction to see whether the meat industry wants you more than the tofu industry.

To this point, there’s nothing really new here. The meat industry and the tofu industry have been battling for our minds – and wallets – for years. But now that you have an individual Facebook account, tied to a Google or Apple phone that you carry with you all the time, that battle can be carried out on an individual, personal level. Morozov assumes that the meat industry won the ad auction, and magical things begin to happen.

[Y]ou enter your local supermarket and your smartphone shows that the meat section offers you a discount of 20%. The following day, as you pass by the local steak house, your phone buzzes again: you’ve got another discount offer.

In the past, I (and other) have spoken of the ideal form of advertising as one that doesn’t feel like advertising at all, since it provides you with the information that you want. But what if you only get SOME of the information you want…and the party that didn’t pony up the money is shut out? Then something like this could happen:

After a week of deliberation – and lots of cheap meat — you decide that vegetarianism is not your thing. Case closed.

Of course, had the tofu industry won the ad auction, things might have gone in the opposite direction.

Now in and of itself, this would not be a problem – provided that the whole deal was done transparently. “Transparency” is a word that is often preached as the foundation of social interaction – I should be transparent when sharing my likes and dislikes with Facebook, Google, and the rest. But the companies that use my data, and in some cases own my data, are not always all that transparent themselves when saying how that data is used.

My quick thoughts – let me get back to reading the article.


Remember when people used to own cars?

When I have the choice, I usually prefer to purchase things rather than rent or lease them. With some notable exceptions (mobile phones being one of them), I outright own just about everything in my personal possession. Now perhaps I’m paying off the purchase price via a loan, but at the end of the day I will own these items, and not have to worry about infringing the rights of the actual owner. I can paint my living room purple if I want. I can rip the sleeves off of my long sleeve shirt. I can drive my car for 16,000 miles if I want.

Well, ownership of cars may go away.

Yes, I know that car leasing has been around for decades. But I’m talking about something even more restrictive. Let’s welcome Digital Rights Management (DRM) to automobiles. From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Forget extra cupholders or power windows: the new Renault Zoe comes with a “feature” that absolutely nobody wants. Instead of selling consumers a complete car that they can use, repair, and upgrade as they see fit, Renault has opted to lock purchasers into a rental contract with a battery manufacturer and enforce that contract with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that can remotely prevent the battery from charging at all.

Also see Boing Boing and Dave Hill, and you’ll see discussions about “rooting” your car.

But if you’re comfortable with the idea of renting your car battery, remember that at least in the UK, you rent by the mile. (Which seems odd, when you consider that the United Kingdom is a metric country, and Renault is a French firm.) For example, on a 36 month contract with 7,500 miles per year, you pay £70 per month. On the other hand, a 12 month contract with 12,000 miles results in a £113 monthly payment. You can’t sign a contract with over 12,000 miles per year; like your usual lease setup, you pay for extra miles.

Renault justifies its practice as follows:

You wouldn’t pay for a lifetime’s worth of fuel in one go when you buy your car, so why should you buy your battery in one hit? Most electric vehicles are more expensive to buy initially than their petrol or diesel counterparts, because of the cost of the battery. At Renault, we spread the cost of the battery out over the lifetime of the car, not just the time when you own it. So you don’t have pay for it all at once. This makes the car less expensive than you might think.

Refreshing, eh?

I assume that Renault doesn’t own its headquarters building.

A homeless shelter that costs two dollars for two hours. Slightly bumpy.

When you’re homeless, you not only need to worry about a place to stay, but you also need to ascertain whether this place is safe. Some of the homeless in the Silicon Valley area have hit upon an innovative solution.

[R]iders can start at the Eastridge Transit Center and travel for two-plus hours to the end point at the Palo Alto Transit Center. There, they wait for a return bus, and then maybe make the round trip again.

And despite the fact that some (including some commenters) are uncomfortable with having “those people” on the buses, the (Santa Clara) Valley Transportation Authority points out that this is perfectly legal.

“We serve the public, and that includes anybody who has the need for transportation and has the ability to pay,” said Greta Helm, the VTA’s chief external affairs officer. “If people present a valid fare, there’s no reason to dispute them boarding.”

Some of the nay-sayers are very uncomfortable with the fact that two of “those people” are a father and his 10 year old daughter.

The father was uncomfortable revealing details about their lives. But he did say that he’s 40, has been unemployed and that he and his daughter, who is in fifth grade, are on a family shelter waiting list.

“She’s managing, much better than I ever expected,” the father said after waking her as the bus reached Eastridge at about 1:45 a.m. “I have no idea how she’s doing it. This is one of her best years so far in school.”

One of the commenters said that the daughter should be taken from the father and placed into child protective services, and another asked what type of a role model the father was.

Frankly, I think he’s an excellent role model. He’s providing for his daughter as best he can.

Time for the semi-annual reader spike – looking for Ben Franklin?

If you’re looking for my March 2012 post “Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time joke is taken seriously,” you can find it here.

And if you’re in Indiana and will be looking for a drink tonight, you’ll have an extra hour to do so. But you’ll lose it in March.

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