Useless Factoid of the Day: Firsts for Phones

According to author Ammon Shea:
The first American president to have a telephone on his desk was Herbert Hoover, who had one installed in 1929. The White House did have a telephone well before most of the country, as Rutherford B. Hayes had had one installed in the telegraph room of the executive mansion in 1878. It received little use at first, since so few other people had telephones at that time.

Software That [Who?] Composes Like the Masters

Meet the computer software that knows what's great about music and can compose original works that sound like they were created by the masters:
[David] Cope emptied Santa Cruz’s libraries of books on artificial intelligence, sat in on classes and slowly learned to program. He built simple rules-based software to replicate his own taste, but it didn’t take long before he realized the task was too difficult. He turned to a more realistic challenge: writing chorales (four-part vocal hymns) in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, a childhood favorite. After a year’s work, his program could compose chorales at the level of a C-student college sophomore. It was correctly following the rules, smoothly connecting chords, but it lacked vibrancy. As AI software, it was a minor triumph. As a method of producing creative music, it was awful. . .
So Cope developed his own types of musical phenomena to capture each composer’s tendencies — for instance, how often a series of notes shows up, or how a series may signal a change in key. He also classified chords, phrases and entire sections of a piece based on his own grammar of musical storytelling and tension and release: statement, preparation, extension, antecedent, consequent. The system is analogous to examining the way a piece of writing functions. For example, a word may be a noun in preparation for a verb, within a sentence meant to be a declarative statement, within a paragraph that’s a consequent near the conclusion of a piece.
Finally, Cope’s program could divine what made Bach sound like Bach and create music in that style. It broke rules just as Bach had broken them, and made the result sound musical. It was as if the software had somehow captured Bach’s spirit — and it performed just as well in producing new Mozart compositions and Shakespeare sonnets.

An Amazingly Civil Discussion on Climate Change

It's Matt Ridley versus David MacKay. Both parties agreed on a number of scientific issues, including that the role of clouds in warming is not well understood.  Ridley makes some good overall points on skepticism of scientific consensus, pointing to his own alarmism over acid rain in the past, and the difficulty of making quality decisions to affect a technologically different future. It's nice to see a debate where constructing straw men is avoided as much as possible.

Super-Subtle Animated GIFs from Movies

More here. There are some especially great ones from Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski.

Obama vs. Obama

You decide which is more representative of what our Democratic majority in Congress has actually done.

Panic Watch: The End of the Era of Cheap Chocolate!

According to The Independent:
The world could run out of affordable chocolate within 20 years as farmers abandon their crops in the global cocoa basket of West Africa, industry experts claim.
The reason for this unimaginable shortage – which has been presaged by the doubling of cocoa prices in six years to an all-time high over the past three decades – is simple.
Farmers in the countries that produce the bulk of cocoa bought by the multinationals who control the market have found the crop a bitter harvest. The minimal rewards they have historically received do not provide incentives for the time-consuming work of replanting as their trees die off – a task that usually means moving to a new area of canopied forest and waiting three to five years for a new crop to mature.
I have a hunch that if sustainable forests for paper and lumber are possible, the same can be done for cocoa.  But it's nice that those West African farmers have so many other profitable options that they can just abandon their crops!

If Industry Causes Cancer and Rain Causes Democracy, I Guess a Weather Machine is a Double-Edged Sword (#cancer #space #democracy)

Assorted links for your perusal:
  • Robin Hanson ponders the mystery of whether widespread cancer is really a result of the industrial age. Like a good skeptic, he doesn't trash the claim on its face, but rather explores all the available empirical data to evaluate the claim.
  • Looks like that habitable exoplanet scientists recently discovered may not exist at all. Too bad, because I was really enjoying all that "we'll probably see the colonization of space in our generation" chatter.
  • Is moderate rainfall the key to supporting democracy? According to economists Haber and Menaldo: "An instrumental variables approach demonstrates that while low levels of rainfall cause persistent autocracy and high levels of rainfall strongly favor it as well, moderate rainfall supports stable democracy. This econometric strategy also shows that rainfall works through the institutions of the modern territorial state borne from settled agriculture, institutions that are proxied for by low levels of contemporary tribalism."

Let's Keep Arming the Wrong People, OK? (#military #warhol #climate)

Assorted links for your perusal:
  • We're sending $60 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, supposedly to counterbalance Iran's strength in the region. Do they really think this is going to end well for us? It's like giving the Crips more guns because we're more afraid of the Bloods.  
  • The U.K. scraps a $48 billion tidal energy project that would have supplied clean electricity to 5% of the population of  the country (that would be about $16,000 per person, which seems reasonable, perhaps).  This is a good example of how infighting among different kinds of environmentalists can shut down worthwhile projects -- it would have required a dam, which irked many conservationists who are more concerned about wildlife and nature than about climate change.
  • Coca Cola is the ultimate equalizer, according to the quotable Andy Warhol.  

You and all Your Friends Could Probably Fit Inside Africa (#twitter #africa #seinfeld)

Assorted links for your perusal:

You Just Killed a Thousand Puppies by Avoiding the Farmer's Market! (#locavore #supremecourt #afghanistan)

Assorted links for your perusal:

Tomorrow's Shame is Today's Culturally Accepted Practice (#friedman #appiah #atheism)

Assorted links for your persual:

25% Less Rich, But Much Richer in Character (#crash #stuxnet #freespeech)

Assorted links for your perusal:

It's All About Comparative Advantage (#prison #eugenics #cars)

Assorted links for your perusal:
  • Oxymoron(ish) alert: The freest prison ever. 
  • In defense of stupid people. In short, they allow you not to waste your talents. 
  • SURPRISE: "Cash for Clunkers" was a lemon.  Let the controversy begin.  

Near Misses, Sad Pisses, and Handle Brisses (#health #accident #israel)

Assorted links for your perusal:

Keeping a Mummified Centenarian is the Best Form of Welfare (#carp #japan #volcano)

Assorted links for your perusal:

C'mon Guys, We All Benefit from an Asteroid-Free Workplace (#nasa #chicago #tattoo)

Assorted links for your perusal:

Own a Drone! (#espionnage #organic #travel)

Assorted links for your perusal:

The Brainy Boon of Nature's Survivalist (#fantasyfb, #disease, #shortfilms)

Assorted links for your perusal:

Don't Let Apple Toy With Your Brain! (#apple)

A great piece on all the terrible ways Apple is manipulating you.

Murder by Numbers: God vs. The Devil (#bible)

Apparently, according to the Bible, God has killed approximately 2,270,355 more people than Satan.

Satan is such a pussy.

Economics, (good god, y'all!): What is it good for? (#economics)

The brazen Psy-Fi Blog challenges the usefulness of economists:
Now, leaving aside the question of whether we want our professional economists to be entertaining, this opens up the question of whether untrained commentators can provide any useful insight into matters financial.
The answer, speaking as an economically untrained scribbler, is almost certainly no: the vast majority of financial blogging opinion on any matter of prediction is worthless and that which isn't is indistinguishable from the rest. Unfortunately this is a conclusion of limited usefulness, because most trained economists can't actually offer any useful predictions either and following Athreya's prescription would almost certain deny us any opportunity for useful advances in the world of macroeconomics.

A Magic Bullet Made of Thorium: The Next Big Thing? (#nuclearenergy)

According to the Guardian:
There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.
Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Lomborg Kinda Sorta Reverses Himself (#climatechange #AGW #lomborg)

Bjorn Lomborg has come out in favor of a carbon tax and additional spending to deal with climate change.  Now everyone is all excited that a climate "skeptic" has made a u-turn.

But Lomborg wasn't really a skeptic on the science, he just believed that there were other environmental challenges that were more important, or at least more easily solved, that affect the lives of many more individuals than warming. I don't consider this a true reversal, as it sounds like his new book will at least consider different ways of handling the fallout from climate change, as opposed to the one way that most adherents of climate change orthodoxy espouse: a return to the pre-technological ages.

We Are All Libertarians Now [Ok, Probably Not You. But I am]

In defending [distinguishing?] himself from being "the most famous liberaltarian", Reason's Nick Gillespie gives a wonderfully succinct definition of what it is to be a libertarian:
it's a belief that life is too precious to be wasted on something as stupid as politics, so let's shrink the areas in which that sort of consenus is necessary to the smallest sphere possible. And then let's let folks live their lives basically however they want as long as they're not infringing on other's people rights to do the same.
When viewed from this distilled soundbite of common sense, it's amazing libertarianism is so unpopular (from both sides) all across these United States (and pretty much everywhere else, too).

No, Hello Kitty was NOT created to reward the Devil (#hellokitty)

The controversy has [finally!] been settled.  Hello Kitty has nothing to do with the devil.  The same, however, cannot be said for the Little Twin Stars.

LOL: "Conspicuous Conservation" Shoes Make it Look Like You Were Near an Oil Spill

These shoes provide a great service.  Not only do you know that the person wearing them wants to appear environmentally conscious, but you also know he or she is a narcissist.