Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ray Bradbury and the emergence of science fiction in mid-century America

 Sam Weller and Dana Gioia discuss the impact of Ray Bradbury in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Weller: Is there any way to measure Ray’s impact on popular culture?

Gioia: Let me offer one perspective. If you compiled a list in 1950 of the biggest grossing movies ever made, it would have contained no science fiction films and only one fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz. In Hollywood, science fiction films were low-budget stuff for kids. The mainstream market was, broadly speaking, “realistic” — romances, comedies, historical epics, dramas, war films, and adventure stories.

If you look at a similar list today, all but three of the top films — Titanic and two Fast and Furious sequels — are science fiction or fantasy. That is 94 percent of the hits. That means in a 70-year period, American popular culture (and to a great degree world popular culture) went from “realism” to fantasy and science fiction. The kids’ stuff became everybody’s stuff. How did that happen? There were many significant factors, but there is no doubt that Ray Bradbury was the most influential writer involved.

It’s interesting you say this because you don’t seem to be afraid — some critics don’t want to connect popular culture or mass culture with literature or with high intellectual arts. You seem to say that Bradbury is one of those people who brought these two things to the crossroads.

In my academic training, I was inculcated in the tradition of the psychological and social realist novel, the so-called “Great Tradition.” This was an extraordinary literary lineage — Austen, Eliot, Dickens, Conrad, James, Cather, Hemingway, not to mention Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky. The realist novel was one of the great achievements of Western literature. It provided a powerful means to articulate and understand personal and social relations of enormous complexity. Three cheers for realism! Maybe even four.

But there are different modes of storytelling. The most primitive is myth, where natural forces become personified in narratives. The next historical development was romance. In romantic narratives, we have the world not as it is but as we wish or fear it to be. This was the mode of medieval and Renaissance narratives. (Centuries later it also became the mode of science fiction, fantasy, horror, Gothic romance, and old-school mysteries.)

Realism is the mode that emerged last. Although the realist novel quickly became the dominant narrative form, its popularity only dates back about 400 years. The realist novel had a particular power that made it very attractive. The realist mode allowed one to see the world simultaneously from the inside and the outside. It compared — usually with a great deal of irony — the subjective experience of characters and the exterior world that surrounds them. Great novels mediate these two realities with tremendous finesse.

But realism is not the only way to tell a story, and the romantic mode never vanished. Even some of the realist masters, such as Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Balzac, found themselves exploring the mode of romance to represent certain human possibilities. Romance remained very strong in American literature with some of our most original writers — Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But it never became academically respectable. It smacked of popular or children’s literature. As a senior at Stanford, I had to ask permission to add Mary Shelley to my reading list! (Another student asked to read H. P. Lovecraft and got a stern lecture.)

What books are you thinking about here? What do you consider Bradbury’s best period?

Sam, you’ll probably disagree with me — but I think Bradbury’s best work was mostly done in a 10-year period in the early part of his career. In one remarkable decade he wrote: The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), The October Country (1955), Dandelion Wine (1957), and A Medicine for the Melancholy (1959). The books came one right after the other, and he created a new mode of speculative fiction.

The culture immediately recognized his achievement. Suddenly, major mainstream journals published his fiction, and producers adapted his work for movies, radio, and TV. Millions of readers, who would not have read pulp fiction, came to his work. He also became the first science fiction author to attract a large female readership. ...

For 10 years, he was Joe DiMaggio. Every time he went to bat, there was a good chance he would hit the ball, sometimes out of the park. It’s significant that Ray’s great hitting streak came in the 1950s, a period of national optimism. Despite the anxiety, darkness, and anger in his work, Bradbury always wrote in a spirit of hope and reconciliation. He never believed humanity was beyond redemption. Perhaps as America shifted into the late 1960s and beyond, he lost touch with the culture.

Friday, December 25, 2020

What's up with GPT-3, neural nets, and machine learning?

This is a long rambling discussion, over three hours. But useful. Pro, con, down the middle, you name it. Dip in an out as you see fit.  
Connor Leahy, for example, is a true believer in machine learning etc., but he's right that: 1) GPT-3, after all, does something and we need to take it seriously, and 2) that it may even indicate something about the universe. Not sure he can give a useful explanation of the second, but I've taken my own crack at it in GPT-3: Waterloo or Rubicon? Here be Dragons, Version 2, which began as a series of blog posts at New Savanna. A big later, I think it is, Scarfe, and Duggar have a discussion of the distinction between pattern matching and reasoning that's worth a listen. They should take a look at this paper from the Olden Days:
Yevick, Miriam Lipschutz (1975) Holographic or Fourier logic. Pattern Recognition 7: 197-213.

Abstract: A tentative model of a system whose objects are patterns on transparencies and whose primitive operations are those of holography is presented. A formalism is developed in which a variety of operations is expressed in terms of two primitives: recording the hologram and filtering. Some elements of a holographic algebra of sets are given. Some distinctive concepts of a holographic logic are examined, such as holographic identity, equality, containment and “association”. It is argued that a logic in which objects are defined by their “associations” is more akin to visual apprehension than description in terms of sequential strings of symbols.
Yes, it was published in 1975, which is ancient times in the world of artificial intelligence. It seems to me that what Yevick called holographic logic is similar in spirit, and even in mathematics in some respects, to current work on neural networks, while, in contrast, ordinary logic is as the abstract has it, “description in terms of sequential strings of symbols.” That gives us a starting point to think about the contrast between pattern matching and reasoning. I say a bit more about Yevick's work, and what David Hays and I made of it, in this post, Showdown at the AI Corral, or: What kinds of mental structures are constructable by current ML/neural-net methods? [& Miriam Yevick 1975].

Overall the video confirms my belief that we don't have a useful framework in which to think about minds, machine, and intelligence. We're constantly being surprised, and don't really know why anything works. Contrast this, for example, with the framework we have for thinking about manned expeditions to Mars. Elon Musk not withstanding we may not venture there for decades, who knows? But we can think about it in a detailed, systematic, and coherent way. We can't do that with machine intelligence.

Festive Table – Look but don't touch [Longwood Gardens 2012]



Thursday, December 24, 2020

City in the distance

DeepMind's MuZero

Abstract of linked article:

Constructing agents with planning capabilities has long been one of the main challenges in the pursuit of artificial intelligence. Tree-based planning methods have enjoyed huge success in challenging domains, such as chess1 and Go2, where a perfect simulator is available. However, in real-world problems, the dynamics governing the environment are often complex and unknown. Here we present the MuZero algorithm, which, by combining a tree-based search with a learned model, achieves superhuman performance in a range of challenging and visually complex domains, without any knowledge of their underlying dynamics. The MuZero algorithm learns an iterable model that produces predictions relevant to planning: the action-selection policy, the value function and the reward. When evaluated on 57 different Atari games3—the canonical video game environment for testing artificial intelligence techniques, in which model-based planning approaches have historically struggled4—the MuZero algorithm achieved state-of-the-art performance. When evaluated on Go, chess and shogi—canonical environments for high-performance planning—the MuZero algorithm matched, without any knowledge of the game dynamics, the superhuman performance of the AlphaZero algorithm5 that was supplied with the rules of the game.

Mapping characters in the Gospels [digital humanities]

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Themo [old]

Seinfeld likes the Marx Brothers [so do I]

The NYTimes just ran a piece where Jerry Seinfeld talks about his current reading: “So the book that’s on my stand right now that I’m really, really enjoying is called Four of the Three Musketeers, by Robert Bader, and it’s a very, very long, detailed history of the Marx Brothers.” He goes on to remark:

This Bader — it’s a ridiculous book. I don’t know what this guy was thinking, that he would spend this much time and do this much work on the Marx Brothers. This is not an old book, it’s from like 2016. But he did the most incredible job of research. And he’s also a very good writer. And you know, to me, the history of the Marx Brothers is kind of the invention of comedy, not just as a substance but as a business. And also, if I can put this the right way: They emerged as Jews in New York City, just kind of coming out and going, “By the way, we’re better at this than anybody.” And ever since then you can trace — I mean, you can trace comedy obviously back to the Greeks — but in terms of what you see now, in the world, the Tigris and Euphrates to me is the Marx Brothers and vaudeville in the teens and early ’20s of the last century.

I share Seinfeld’s admiration and affection for the Marx Brothers. Years ago in my late teens I read an autobiography by Groucho, Groucho and Me I believe it was called, and one by Harpo, Harpo Speaks. Both of course talked about their early days in vaudeville, which I found fascinating. I remember that Harpo also talked about playing golf. Groucho may have talked about golf as well, but it’s Harpo I remember, in particular how, for whatever reason, he played a round in the nude.

I’d grown up watching Groucho on TV. He had a quiz show called “You Bet Your Life.” The quizzing wasn’t very serious – the money was peanuts. It was a vehicle for Groucho’s wit. My father loved the show. He loved language and Groucho was a master of word play, puns in particular. I associate the term “ad lib” with my father’s remarks about Groucho. It was only later that I’d associate the term with jazz performance.

Father also loved their movies, but I didn’t get to see any of them until I went to college. Seinfeld mentions their first film:

The first Marx Brothers movie was “The Cocoanuts,” which was originally a play that they did. And talkies had just happened, and a couple of years later Hollywood was looking around for anybody that could talk on film, and obviously grabbed the Marx Brothers. And so they made this movie. Nobody really knew how to make a movie; they just kind of shot the play, onstage. And the brothers hated it. They hated it so much, they wanted to buy it back so it wouldn’t be released. Then it was a gi-monster hit and it made a fortune. That’s so much fun to read, stuff like that. People do things and they hate them and the public

loves them, and then they have to change their thinking on it.

I’ve seen it, at least once in college, and probably once or twice on TV. I’ve also seen Horse Feathers, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera (I own that on DVD). I’ve probably seen the others, but I don’t have specific memories. Aside from general antics, each film would have a set piece where Chico played the piano and Harpo played the Harp.

My favorite scene from the films is a one from Duck Soup where Groucho and Harpo mirror one another. Harpo is disguised as Groucho. The mirroring starts at 2:04, but you should watch from the beginning to get some idea of the context.

Groucho is in the foreground and Harpo is the mirror image. He gives the game away at c. 3:41 when he has the wrong hat behind him – it’s his standard “Harpo” hat. Chico joins them in a three-way question.

In response to a question, Seinfeld remarks that while he’d like to see the Marx Brothers adapted for TV or movies

But I don’t know if people would be interested. And you could never do it. You could never recreate these guys. Remember they did that Three Stooges movie? My manager, George Shapiro, says trying to get someone to act like a comedian is like trying to get them to act like a baseball player. It’s almost impossible. There’s so many tiny polished movements they have that the best actors struggle to replicate.

What about the effort it took for Groucho and Harpo to imitate one another?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Heron, reflections, shadings

Jerry Seinfield on his career and craft [Progress in harnessing the mind]

Skip the first 7:35; the host, Tim Ferriss, reads advertisements for his sponsors. The rest (except for another commercial interruption at about 30:50) is a fascinating conversation with Jerry Seinfield, who's just published a new book about his career and craft, Is This Anything? One of the most interesting lines of discussion is about how Seinfield 'trains' is brain to write. Yes, he's a stand-up comedian performing for a live audience, but he creates his material through writing.

He repeatedly uses talks of the brain as a dog that needs to be trained. The training must be systematic, and the system(s) must be simple. THe first talks about writing at about 12:30 or so, though the dog metaphor doesn't show up until somewhat later.

First of all he emphasizes that writing is difficult, very difficult. There are two phases (c. 15:00 or so): 1) free-form creative, 2) polish and construction. Writing is 95% rewriting. Once he's polished a bit to the point where it sounds pleasing to his (inner) ear, he takes it on stage. He registers audience response and uses it to guide more rewriting. C. 17:42:

Creating, fixing, jettisoning, it's extremely occupying, it's never boring, it's, the frustration I'm so used to it at this point I don't even notice it, And, it's just work time.... I like the way athletes talk about "I gotta' get my work in."

A bit later he uses the phrase, "the systemization of the brain and creative endeavor." That's clearly something Seinfield has thought about a lot, and over his whole career. And then 18:34: So basically it's on stage and off stage, the desk and then the stage, and then back to the desk, and then back to the stage, and that's endless." So we've got two desk phases, creative and rewriting, and then back and forth between desk and stage. Seinfield then does on to talk about being cranky and irritable. That's the source of those little insights around which he builds his bits.

Skipping over various material, including his TV show, his younger years when he looked into (c. 30:00), "yoga, Zen, a little Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, Buddhism, I read a lot of stuff...I was looking for a working philosophy" and from that he created his own "operating system" his term. "It's very pragmatic. It's not faith-based in any way."

Seinfield then starts talking about his daughter, who has a "creative gift." (c. 33:57): "When you have a creative gift, it's like someone just gave you a horse. Now you have to learn how to ride it...You either learn to ride this thing, or it's going to kill you." And now we get back to writing (c. 33:41):

If you're going to writing, make yourself a writing session What's the writing session? I'm going to work on this problem. Well, how long are you going to work on it? Don't just sit down with an open-ended "I'm gonna work on this problem." That's a ridiculous torture to put on a human being's head... You've got to control what your brain can take... You have to have an end time to your writing session. If you're gonna sit down at a desk with a problem and do nothin' else, you gotta' get a reward for that. And the reward is the alarm goes off and you're done. You get up and walk away a go have some cookies and milk...That's the beginning of a system.

He goes on and gets around to exercise, mentioning a book, Body for Life, by Bill Phillips, which he praises for the way it systematizes exercise. And now we come to it, the dog, (c. 38:10): "You gotta' treat your brain like a dog you just got. You got it; it's so stupid. The mind is infinte in wisdom. The brain is a stupid little dog that is easily trained....Do not confused the mind with the brain."

Though it is obvious enough, notice Seinfield's distinction between mind and brain. Though he no doubt knows that the mind is somehow in the brain, he doesn't talk about it. He talks about the brain. And he talks about training is as though one trains one's body or as one trains a stallion or a "stupid little dog." This training is being executed by an operating system. His instructions about writing remind me of the routine of Anthony Trollop, the Victorian novelist, who set himself to writing 250 words every 15 minutes for three hours a day between 5:30 and 8:30 each morning. Following this routine he wrote more than a novel a year for 30 years.

Let's return to Seinfeld. He tells us that we should never tell anyone about what we wrote on the day we wrote it. Why? Because they might criticize it and that would rob you of the satisfaction of having done your writing for the day. That satisfaction is very important. It's your reward. (c. 40:34): "The key to being a good writer is to treat yourself a baby, very extremely nurturing and loving, and then switch over to Lou Gossett in Officer and a Gentleman and just be a harsh prick ball-busting son-of-a-bitch about that is just not good enough." You switch back and forth between these two modes, which Seinfeld likens to two "quadrants" of the brain.

Ferriss then asks him about performing and whether or not, when he's just finished a (killer) set, he asks for feedback from other comics. Before Ferriss finished Seinfeld remarks that "you just got feedback" (the audience's reaction); you don't need anything more: "You don't have to ask anyone anything."

About performance, Seinfeld goes on (c. 42:44):

There's no greater reward than that state of mind you're in when that set is working. If you can extricate yourself from your Self, which is the goal in all sports and performance arts, if you get out of your mind, and are able to just function ... there is no greater reward. But, you know, if you want to have an ice cream Sunday, go ahead. It's going to pale in comparison.

We're now only about halfway through the interview, but it's time for me to wrap this up. Feel free to listen to the whole thing.

It seems to me that Seinfeld is talking about behavioral modes, in the sense that I've written about them in many posts here at New Savanna. The idea of behavior mode comes from Warren McCulloch and it refers to distinct pattern of global brain activity that supports a particular kind of behavior. McCulloch is was interested in such things as hunting, sleeping, exploration, courtship and so forth. Seinfeld talks 1) creativity (generating ideas0, 2) critiquing, editing, and rewriting, and 3) performing. His operating system moves the brain (a stupid little dog) from one mode to another. Notice his emphasis on boundaries. The writing session has a definite beginning and a definite ending. So does a performance. The trick is to learn how to move the brain from one mode to another.

Finally, I note that being able to talk and write about the mind-brain in these terms, for a general audience and without mystification, counts a human progress as surely as DeepMind's recent breakthrough in protein folding. Why? Because, ultimately, a human behavior and hence all progress depends on the mind. Learning to harness the mind's activities is the deepest and most difficult task before us. Without that, little else can happen.

* * * * *

Addendum: Somewhat later in the discussion the Seinfeld raises the subject of depression, nothing that he still gets depressed, saying nothing about how often, for how long, nor how severely. Ferriss notes that he too gets depressed. Seinfeld mentions that about 20 years ago he read that depression seems to accompany creativity; that gave him a sense of relief. He does not, however, belief that creativity comes out of depression (as he said before, it comes from irritability and crankiness). You might want to take a look at this post from August, Perhaps these conditions aren't mental disorders at all (anxiety, depression, PTSD).

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Red Leaves

Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Politics and Matter [Media Notes 52]

I’ve watched all of the Star Trek franchise except for the animated series and for the most recent ones: Discovery, Short Treks, Picard, and Lower Decks. I’m currently well into season six of a re-watch of Deep Space Nine, which is, for me, those most interesting of the Trek series I’ve watched.

This is a speculative post about the myth-logic (think of Lévi-Strauss) operating in the series and, in particular, is a query about the relationship between Odo and the political nature of DS9.

Unlike the others in the series, DS9 centers on a single world: the station, Deep Space Nine, Bajor, the planet it orbits, and the wormhole that is near them. The others all move from place to place in the galaxy. To be sure DS9 moves about as well and there are many episodes that aren’t on either the station or Bajor, but the station is the central locus. More or less, I believe, as a consequence DS9 was able to develop longer story arcs, with the final two seasons being an extended story about an inter-world battle between the various people and empires in the series. Thus the series had a more political focus, though the politics tended to be relatively simple power politics ultimately realized through armed combat.

The first two Trek series, the original series and Next Generation, featured a character dominated by intellect, Spock and Data respectively. Voyager had a similar character, the holographic doctor. DS9 lacks such a character. To be sure, Doctor Bashir was very intelligent as a consequence of genetic enhancement in childhood (something we didn’t learn about until, what? the fifth season), but he carried his intelligence differently than Spock or Data. For example, he didn’t long after humanity in the way Data did.

But DS9 does have Constable Odo, who is trying to figure who and what he is. What he is is a Changling, a creature who has no intrinsic for and is able to take on a variety of different forms, not only of other humanoids, but or animals and even inanimate objects. He is in some sense the opposite of Spock and Data. They are Mind, while he is Matter.

As the series moves along we learn that there are other Changlings; indeed, there is a planet of them. And those Changlings are, in some mysterious fashion, the heart of the Dominion, an empire located in the Gamma Quadrant on the far side of the wormhole. First we learn of the Jem’Hadar, drug-addicted warriors. Then we learn of the Vorta, who command the Jem’Hadar. And finally we learn of the Founders, who run the Dominion. These Founders are Changlings, like Odo. His relationship with them will turn out to be important in the dynamics of that war that dominates the final seasons of the series.

Here’s my query, as best I can formulate it: Within the scope of the myth logic operating in the franchise, what is the nature of the relationship between 1) the opposition between Odo (as Matter), on the one hand, and Spock, Data, and The Doctor (as Mind), on the other and 2) the episodic and relatively light politics in those three series, on the one hand, and the extended stories and political interactions of DS9, on the other hand? Is it one of mere contingency, or is there an element of necessity, or myth-logic in that relationship? I suspect that latter, but I don’t really know, nor am I prepared to argue it at this point.

Addendum: Think of Odo in relation to the emergence of Object-Oriented Ontology.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The end of the music business [as we know it]

Monday, December 7, 2020

October moon

To the Moon! Jacob Collier @3QD

Several times during my undergraduate years I had experienced something you might call “the true thought is the afterthought”: I would write a paper, turn it in, and only then would I come to understand what I’d been writing about, what I’d been seeking. So it is with my current piece at 3 Quarks Daily: Jacob Collier, a 21st Century Mozart? – https://3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2020/12/jacob-collier-a-21st-century-mozart.html.

After giving the piece its provocative title I said nothing about that title until the very end, where I did say something, but not much, certainly not as much as I’d had in mind when planning the piece. But even what I’d planned would have missed the point, which is a subtle one.

Why even suggest such a comparison – Jacob Collier and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – when I know, and stated, that it’s pointless on the face of it? I was certainly playing to a widespread mentality that likes to rank and order things, all kinds of things, certainly including artistic accomplishment, as a way of measuring excellence. In Collier’s case we do not and cannot know – which I more or less said in the article.

What I did not say is why, nonetheless, I felt more or less compelled to offer the comparison in the first place. Mozart, more than any other classical composer, has become, rightly or wrongly, a figure for prodigiousness. That is what Collier may well be, seems to be, about. What seems so remarkable about Collier is the combination of musical sophistication and skill with (relative) accessibility and popularity. As one musician – I forget who – remarked in a video, musicians with the kind of intricate sophistication Collier exhibits do not get nominated for Album of the Year, as Collier just has. How’d that happen?

This comparison should not be understood as a device of logic and reason. It functions as a device of metaphor and indirection.

When I think of the Collier phenomenon, if you will, the music, but also its reception, the variety of musicians who think well of him, I conclude that I have no way of judging him. I’ve not seen anything quite like this phenomenon and so, in consequence, offer up this absurd history-breaking comparison about which I cannot be serious: Mozart | Collier.

I suppose the comparison could as easily have been with Beethoven or Bach or, for that matter, Armstrong, Ellington or perhaps the Beatles. Why not? Except that those names are not so thoroughly absorbed into figurative usage as “Mozart.” Someone of one of the video’s I watched suggested that Collier is a generational musician. Perhaps that is it. Which to say, that is the scope of the question. It will be awhile a verdict becomes apparent.

* * * * *

Let us return to earth and listen to the arrangement which earned Collier the 2020 Grammy for an instrumental or a cappella arrangement, Moon River:

The music is almost static for the first minute and twenty seconds. Tones come and go as faces appear and vanish in the video. What a strange almost meditative way to open an arrangement.

Collier had asked well a hundred fifty-one people to make short videos of themselves singing “moon.” He then collaged those “moons” into the opening minute and twenty-seconds. Here’s a list of them:

Suzie Collier, Sophie Collier, Ella Collier, Ben Bloomberg, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Eric Whitacre, Hans Zimmer, Steve Vai, Ty Dolla $ign, Chris Martin, Charlie Puth, Lianne La Havas, Tori Kelly, David Crosby, Chris Thile, Daniel Caesar, Kimbra, Laura Mvula, MARO, Cory Henry, dodie, Becca Stevens, Jack Conte, Nataly Dawn, Oumou Sangare, Jules Buckley, Jamie Cullum, Tank, Beardyman, Genevieve Artadi, Sam Wilkes, Greg Phillinganes, Michael League, Hamid El Kasri, Avery Wilson, Jojo, Jonah Nilsson, Tom Misch, Darwin Deez, June Lee, Kathryn Tickell, Merrill Garbus, Nikki Yanofsky, Sam Amidon, Alvin Chea, Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Khristian Dentley, David Thomas, Joel Kibble, Andrea Haines, El Cockerham, Blake Morgan, Barney Smith, Chris Wardle, Jonathan Pacey, Rob Clark, Sam Dressel, Barak Schmool, Pedro Martins, Jake Sherman, Jonathan Dove, Brian Mayton, Fred Harris, Nicola Hadley, Steve Mulligan, Clyde Lawrence, Gracie Lawrence, Sumner Becker, Jordan Cohen, Thomas Gould, Gareth Lockrane, Gwilym Simcock, Jason Rebello, James Maddren, Nick Smart, Pete Churchill, Tom Cawley, Umar Hossain, Mischa Stevens, Jose Ortega, Claudio Somigli, Alessandro Melchior, Christian Euman, Rob Mullarkey, Adam Fell, Michael LaTorre, Michael Peha, James Wright, Noah Simon, Matthew Celia, Rocky Borders, Josh Helfferich, Robert Watts, Ewa Zbyszynska, Arend Liefkes, Jasper van Rosmalen, Murk Jiskoot, Ruben Margarita, Aleigha Durand, Allayna O'Quinn, André Smith, Asya Bookal, Briana Marshall, Catherina Lagredelle, Celine Sylvester, Chad Lupoe, Chesroleeysia B, Cleavon Davis, Cole Henry, Danielle Cornwall, Haley Flemons, Holland Sampson, Jason Max Ferdinand, Jourdan Bardo, JP Scavella, Kashaé Whyte, Keviez Wilson, Kobe Brown, Kristin Hall, Leonard Brown, Lincoln Liburd, Louis Cleare, Maia Foster, Malik George, Malik McHayle, Marissa Wright, Matthew Cordner, Mykel Inez, Naomi Parchment, Natrickie Louissaint, Patricia Williams, Roddley Point-du-Jour, Samella Carryl, Terell Francis-Clarke, Zaren Bennett, Leo Janssen

The first three on the list are his mother and two sisters, respectively. Beyond that it’s a miscellaneous collection of people Collier knows. Some are well known musicians. I recognize a few names and they span an interesting range of musical kinds. The range is no doubt larger than I know. Many of the people are just people Collier knows, just friends. The list itself makes few distinctions.

Here’s a video where Collier explains how he constructed the video. He devotes the first 12 minutes to that opening collage.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Glenn Loury & James Heckman discuss parenting, schooling, race, and inequality

As you may know, Glenn Loury is an economist at Brown. Heckman is a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago. The first 19 minutes consists of chitchat about Chicago; Glenn grew up there and Heckman's spent most of his life there. It's interesting, but skippable. The rest of the discussion is fascinating:

19:32 How do you improve a human being?
27:29 What "The Bell Curve" missed about human development
36:12 How teaching and empowering parents positively impacts children
44:00 The taboo of family-focused anti-poverty efforts
54:17 What is the source of implicit bias?
1:03:55 James: Politicians on both sides cultivate and exploit racial turmoil

Saturday, December 5, 2020

On the cultural contrast between computer science and the humanities, and why CS is in a position to win the hearts and minds of digital humanists

The rest of VanZandt's tweet stream:

(2/n) Hot take time.

CS depts, on the whole, are WAY better than HUMA depts at undergrad community building. Group projects as the standard, hackathons, huge undergrad TA+RA culture, active (and numerous) clubs, programming contests, undergrad conference culture, ... 3:15 PM · Dec 5, 2020·Twitter for Android

(3/n) HUMA depts do some of these things, and some of them well, but they're still largely outclassed.

HUMA has huge structural disadvantages in this "competition." Solitary research culture? That's a KILLING BLOW. How do you build community when collaboration isn't the norm?

(4/n) HUMA also has methodological disadvantages: CS students all speak a coherent foundational language of algorithms, time/space efficiency, software craftsmanship, not to mention programming languages.

In HUMA? What we share is surely important, but...

(5/n) ...it largely fails to be articulable and leverageable for community-building among, say, sophomores.

Grad students eventually learn to speak enough of our discipline's varied critical and methodological dialects, but that's far too late.

(6/n) To return to the CS+HUMA majors unaware of HDS:

They have two communities vying for their scarce time, and it's something less than a fair fight. So at places where HDS is HUMA-based, CS+HUMA majors can end up too under-engaged by HUMA to learn of and get involved in HDS.

(7/n) HUMA depts are more than capable of cultivating wonderfully engaging communities, and they oftentimes succeed in doing so to truly magical effect. But the structural advantages CS enjoys are so great that even deeply committed HUMA depts sometimes struggle

(n/n) I loved my undergrad English dept, and I loved being an English major. Spiritually, I'm English major. But the CS dept made it so easy to find community and belonging. English had my heart, but CS had my time and my presence.

FWIW, the English Department at SUNY Buffalo was an extraordinary place when I was there in the mid-1970s, and was able to create a strong sense of community within the department for various reasons, including graduate student participation in department governance, and several special programs within the department representing disciplinary specialization (philosophy, psychology, society). Still, my best experience was in the computational linguistics research group David Hays ran in the Linguistics Department. I suspect, however, that had as much to do with Hays himself as with the institutional cultural of linguistics and computation.

Friday, December 4, 2020

"My Favorite Things", from Broadway hit to jazz classic [in a revolutionary new mode]

This is an excellent video that follows "My Favorite Things" from its origins in a mid-century Broadway musical, The Sound of Music, to a hit album by John Coltrane. In the middle of the video Adam Neeley explains how Coltrane was able to exploit the song's unusual form – AAA'B rather than the standard AABA – to his own musical ends, making it a classic of modal jazz.

Incidentally, this video makes an interesting contrast with the hypeharmonic virtuosity Jacob Collier displays in his treatment of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "The Christmas Song."

Jacob Collier working out an arrangement of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

This is a long video, almost three and a half hours, but it's also fascinating on three counts: 1) you see a skilled musician tinker around, refining an arrangement, 2) you get insight into Collier's harmonic imagination, and 3) in particular, you get to hear his use of microtones. Bonus: Listen to Collier's bass lines.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Medieval depictions of the moon