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Month: May 2009

Disney Records is evil and stupid

Me whining

The new Pixar movie Up just came out.  I haven’t seen it yet, but look forward to sometime in the next couple weeks.  Can’t wait to see Pixar animation goodness in 3D!

Right now, as far as I can tell, Pixar is the only good part of Disney.  (Well, them and the theme park rides.)  In fact, Disney executives should just fire themselves and let Pixar take over.

Anyway, I’m pretty angry with Disney right now.  I saw that Michael Giacchino composed the score the Pixar’s new film, Up.  Giacchino also did the scores for The Incredibles and Ratatouille.  These are two of my favorite film soundtracks of all time; Giacchino is just brilliant.  I was really looking forward to adding the Up CD soundtrack to my collection . . . but NOOoooOOO . . . according to this post, Walt Disney Records doesn’t plan on releasing a physical CD.  They’re selling the score as download only, through iTunes and Amazon and such.

What the?!  Why?!?  Is creating physical CDs that expensive?  Do they think all the people who would have bought the physical CD will just as happily download the album for only $3 less?  Did they think it was just about the music?  No, no, no . . . if it was just about the music, there’d be no reason to buy anything.  For physical CDs, it’s about having something physical, something collectible, something you can easily play in any CD player.  For digital downloads, it’s about convenience.  One click (or a few) and you got the music you want.  These are non-transferable.  If I can’t have a physical CD, what incentive at all do I have for purchasing a download?  That’s not what I wanted.

So thanks a lot, stupid Walt Disney Records!  I hate you now!  And I’m not buying a digital download for this movie soundtrack!

Or . . . who knows?  Maybe the blog post is wrong, or maybe they’ll release a physical CD in a few years?  Well, by then it will be too late!  You big pathetic losers!

Stinks.

Blagh … and java programming

I’m tired.  My sleep schedule is just terrible.  That holiday weekend wasn’t good for me.

I don’t have much to say right now anyway.  I’m not sure I’ll have my first album ready by August anymore; my interests have once again shifted to something else.  Over the past week, I’ve been working on my melody project again, something I started quite a few months ago (August 2008), but it’s just been sitting there for a while.  I made some minor improvements to the algorithm (to be more specific, I took the recursive inverse directional beta loops and strongly conjoined them with the dysfunctional relative note sequence data curves coupled with reticulating splines, and programmed in the consciousness of a monkey. (More seriously, I changed the algorithm so that the output melody would be guaranteed to not be any of the input melodies, which had been a threat in the previous version if you were mixing only a few melodies that didn’t sound very much alike.  With the modified algorithm, the program forces the melodies you’re using to mix.  Overall, I think it gives better results, but it depends on the melodies you input and how similar they already sound (and your own melodic tastes, of course).)), and I also made this spiffy javascript page which aids in the formatting of the text files the program uses as input.

What I’d like to do this summer is release the melody project in it’s current form so that others can fool around with it.  I’m hoping to turn it into a Java applet that will run on a web page.  It shouldn’t be too hard; it’s already Java after all.  I mainly need to program a good input-output system, since it can’t so easily load and save text files from a visitor’s computer, since it will be on a web page.  I can load the text files from my server easily enough, then I suppose the output could just be text in a text box.  That would be the easiest, and will probably be what I end up doing to start off with.  But that is a pretty annoying burden for the site visitors; they’ll have to interpret the output text by themselves (it’s not really hard, it’s just extra labor).  So I’ll have to program a text-to-MIDI converter so visitors can easily and quickly hear what the output melodies sound like.  And then there are a thousand other improvements I could blather on and on about, but those are my first ambitions.

So that’s what I’ve been working on…

Oh, and remember to vote for a note!  (That whole experiment is going to take forever…)

Is doubt good?

I saw the movie Doubt last night.  It was… eh… it wasn’t bad, it was better than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t that good either, in my opinion.  You can definitely tell it’s based on a stage play, and if you’ve been to a few stage plays you might recognize it’s style: pacing is different, there are long conversations, little music, little action, lots of talking.  Not necessarily boring conversations, sometimes quite engaging conversations, that’s an area playwrites can be brilliant at while most films move much quicker.

Anyway, one of the themes of the film was, not surprisingly, doubt.  Which is a nice coincidence since I was just reading a book (and still haven’t finished it) called Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.  I mentioned the book a few posts earlier; it’s about the history of questioning religion, the history of people doubting.  The philosophical question is: is doubt good?

From a scientific point of view, yes, of course, one should always be questioning.  That’s what leads to more experiments, more discoveries, and a better knowledge of our world.  And you do experiments to try to prove your guesses wrong; that’s often the easiest way to go about it.  And when you can’t prove yourself wrong, you know your theory may be on to something.

But with religion, you can’t do experiments.  You can’t even get God (or Zeus, or whatever) to talk to you man to man.  So what’s the use of doubt?  It becomes not an act of experimentation, not a question spoken out loud, but a thought, something to think your way through (of course you can talk about it with others, but your answers won’t be emperical).

I think a good faith embraces the questioning of itself.  That might seem contradictory; how can faith really be faith if it’s being questioned?  On the other hand, how can faith really be faith if it’s never questioned?  Isn’t that blind faith, and thus, not faith at all?  But faith being questioned isn’t true faith either, it’s uncertainty.  But isn’t that the way to faith?  Through uncertainty and questions and doubt?  After all, if you had perfect faith in everything you believed in, you’d be perfect.  You would do everything right and always be pleased with yourself.  You’d always be happy, I would think.  You would never face any moral dilemmas.  And I bet a lot of people would envy you.

In college, I sometimes came across people who thought they had all the answers and went around campus advertising their religion… but they really didn’t have all the answers, they just didn’t have any questions.  Ask them about some moral dilemma or about the nature of God and they only gave empty answers, like “Well, God is mysterious!”  Well… yeah!  A mystery is something you don’t know!  That God is thought of as “mysterious” is an indication of an imperfect faith.  And I would think faith must be imperfect for us, it’s ingrained in the very nature of our humanness.

So, in a way, to doubt, to question, is to have faith… faith in faith.

But what about atheists?  (Some might even say that atheism is a faith, and the only way to really have no faith is to not be human, or to not have life at all.)  Would it be equally beneficial for an atheist to doubt and question their own atheism?  Is “blind” atheism really atheism?  Are atheists that are certain with themselves just not asking any questions, or giving empty answers?

Obviously science doesn’t have all the answers, or at least we can’t find them all right now.  But does that mean the answers aren’t there?  Scientists still spend plenty of time looking and questioning… isn’t that faith?  Faith that answers exist, that there does exist a knowable truth?

So… is doubt good?  I don’t know… it implies an imperfect faith, and is therefore bad… but it’s required to arrive at a more perfect faith, and is therefore good…

Blah blah blah blah . . .

A melody experiment and stuff

A melody experiment

I posted this melody experiment yesterday.  It’s something I’ve been wanting to try for a while; I’ll be very interested in the results.  Basically, the experiment consists of creating a melody by people voting for the next note.  I simplified it as much as I could; the rhythm, time signature, key, starting note, etc., are already determined, accompanying harmony is not being considered, and there are only 15 choices spanning two octaves; no accidentals.  There could of course be many more choices, and I’ll definitely be interested in exploring them in the future, but for this first try I wanted to make it as simple and direct as possible.  Such simplification will, I hope, also get the final melody written much sooner!

I don’t know whether the final melody will be strange and random, very generic, or perhaps pretty good; I am eager to find out!  It will have to sound like something after all.  I think it will get much more interesting a few more notes or bars into the melody, when the first notes begin to actually influence our expectations of what note should come next.  Oh yes, then it will be very interesting I think.  In fact, I considered going ahead and writing the first couple measures just to get to that point right off the bat, but then decided against it.  After all, maybe the beginning will be interesting too?

So, if you get a chance to visit this page and vote, I’d really be interested in everyone’s choices!

Stuff – WolframAlpha

Somebody on a forum mentioned this website: WolframAlpha (and this impressive video about it, maybe better to watch this first).  I really encourage all geeks to check it out, it’s a lot of fun to play around with.  Here’s a graph comparing the popularity of different spellings of my name, Sean, Shaun, and Shawn.  WolframAlpha created it by me typing “sean shawn shaun“.  One can see the popularity in the name sort of exploded in the 1970’s, and seems to be slowly becoming unpopular again, but is still quite popular right now.  (By the way, “Sean” is the correct spelling, the other ways are wrong!)

It has a huge wealth of info, and is (of course being from Wolfram) especially good at math questions.  I typed in “What is the 5000000th prime number?” and it told me: 86028121.  Of course!  I typed in “What is the 5000000th digit of pi?” and it told me: computation timed out.  Of course!  I typed in “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” and it told me: 42.  I typed in “What is the derivative of 6x^x^x?” and it gave me some long equation.  I typed in “1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 13, 19, 28, …” and it gave me a possible generating function for the sequence. I typed in “How old was Martin Gardner in 11/25/1985?” to find out Martin Gardner was 71 years old when I was born (and he’s still alive).

And all that’s just touching the surface.  So it’s fun to play around with.  Lots of stuff there, and it should improve with time.

Not another social network!

This post is not about some other social network that has just popped up and why it is stupid.  It’s about social networks in general.

I know a few people who, alone or with others, are trying to build and start their own social networks.  Of course, my first mental response does tend to be “oh, please, give me a break, like you’re ever going to be successful with that!” … but that was my first response to both Facebook and Twitter as well, so I’m obviously bad at predicting whether or not something will be successful.  (Facebook still really doesn’t appeal to me that much, I just stay on it because friends and family are on it and it makes it easy to keep in touch with them all at once; I think they should really just all join Twitter.)

Anyway, when determining whether or not a social network will be successful, I think there are two factors.  The first is:

1) Luck! If there are two social networks that are roughly the same, the one that attracts the most participants will do so out of luck.  For example, I joined Facebook because people I knew were already on it.  (When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t know it would go anywhere, so all the info on my profile was fake, saying I enjoyed playing soccer and watching romantic comedies.  When it became much more popular, I truthed it up.)  If my friends and family were on some other social network that was roughly the same, I would have joined that.  Once one social network starts snowballing, the others are doomed, and there’s just nothing that can be done.

This luck factor is I think what makes some social networks popular in some countries and not in others.  Because most of the people we know the best live in our own country, different countries may have different social network popularities.

Anyway, what this also means is that no matter how many great “qualities” your social network has, there’s just no way to automatically get it snowballing.  There is no magic element you need to add.  There’s nothing you can do to ensure success.  Nothing.  Nothing! It will depend on luck.

2) Elegant organization. This won’t ensure success, but it may at least prevent your social network from being complete uninovative copy-cat drivel.  I’m reading a book called What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis.  In it, he mentions that he went to some conference or something and people were asking Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, what to do to create such successful social networks.  And Zuckerberg said “You can’t.”  You can’t force-create a social network.  You can’t just build info forms and expect people to use the system you control to connect with each other.  But Jeff Jarvis went into a bit more detail about what Zuckerberg said:

[Zuckerberg] told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question.  You don’t start communities, he said.  Communities already exist.  They’re already doing what they want to do.  The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

~From What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, page 48.

So … don’t even try to create that community.  Just give people something useful, a way to elegantly organize their photos, their messages, their whatever, in a way that they can’t now (though I think photos and messages are pretty much covered, thank you very much).  The community that already exists and would benefit from your method of organization will then, with luck, move in.

(The book expands on just what “elegant organization” means, but I think it might be self-evident… still, it’s worth checking out the book.  I also recommend Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for the whole “luck” issue.)

Now… how will Twitter make money?

The meaning of afterlife

Have you noticed sometimes people who believe in an afterlife believe in it for the same reasons others don’t?  And that reason is: what you do in this life is important and meaningful.  I’ve heard atheists argue that if we lived forever in some afterlife, then why would today matter?  We’d have an infinite amount of time to make up for it!  But if you’re time alive is finite, then it’s infinitely more important.  But to me, the opposite seems true: if we’re all going to completely stop existing one day, why would anything matter?  “Well, you want to have a good effect on the next generation,” some atheists might say.  But if that generation is just going to die and become nothing as well, what does that matter?  On the other hand, if you live forever, all the consequences of everything you’ve ever done stay with you forever; you can’t undo the past with eternity.  If you don’t live forever, then there ultimately are no consequences.

But who really lives as if nothing matters?  Only people with psychological problems, as far as I can tell.  Those who don’t believe in an afterlife still believe their actions matter (I think).  I suppose the goal then becomes to be as happy as you can now, and the future really doesn’t matter, unless of course what you’re doing now would prevent you from being happy in the future.  But the goal is all about pleasure and while I’m alive to feel it.  How much pleasure and pain you felt throughout your life ultimately doesn’t matter in the end, but it matters now, because you’re experiencing pleasure or pain now.

But if that’s the case, there’s still no rational reason to go about caring for others, unless of course it gives you pleasure.  But if it doesn’t, why should it matter?

And what if two people’s pleasures conflict with each other?  I guess one just has to suffer?  After all, it’s only temporary.  It won’t matter eventually.

Then there’s the reincarnation belief . . . we live again, but we forget everything (or mostly everything) from our previous lives.  Isn’t that just the same as never having lived?  But then . . . what about those people who get brain damage and really do forget much of their lives?  Is it really like never having lived?

What if there’s a criminal who sneaks into a rich man’s home, destroys his belongings, and kills him.  Then, as he’s trying to sneak out, he slips on a marble staircase, hits his head, and forgets the past decade of his life, which was when his life of crime began.  Without such memories, is he the same person?  When the police come and arrest him, should he still be held accountable for his crimes?  Even though now the man who will be sitting in prison is a confused man who can’t even remember what happened?  What if he wasn’t held accountable, then one day the memories came back?  Would he have to be accountable then?

Or what if he could never get his memories back?  What would happen to the man he used to be?  Surely there can’t be an afterlife for that man.  He just vanished completely.  What was the point of all the pleasure and pain, of all the hard choices, of all the decisions within those ten years if memory of them just vanished?  Just that he now has to live with the consequences?  But is he really living with his own consequences, or is he living with another man’s consequences, becausing having his memories erased makes him a completely new person?

Of course, science fiction stories have brought up these issues many times, but not many (none that I’ve read) come to any hard certain conclusions.  (Really no new thoughts here.)

So why do your decisions matter now?  Because you want pleasure now (and while you’re alive), or because we’re going to live forever?  And does that decision matter?

Audiosparx

I was doing some research (well, really just web surfing) on music licensing and I came across Audiosparx.com.  It basically allows people to buy licenses to use sound effects or music tracks in their projects, such as commercials, films, training videos, whatever.  And, if you’re a composer, they also allow you to upload your music to make it available.  Then, if someone wants to buy a license to use your music, you get about half the profits.

I googled around and found some people who hadn’t sold any tracks there, or some that had sold only a few, so I don’t expect to make much money with it, if any.  Especially since my music is very melodic and thematic, I think that makes it a bit harder to use as background music; it might be considered a distraction.

However, there’s still always a chance that someone out there will want to use my music for something . . . and it’s completely free, so I don’t really have anything to lose.  They do have some notable license sales to big film studios, which is encouraging.

Also, when I registered, I didn’t write a bio for myself, thinking I would write one later . . . but after they approved me, they wrote one for me, which was pretty nice!  Less work for me, and it was very gracious.  That said, I’m not sure how selective they are or if there are really any artists who are disapproved.

My page is at http://www.audiosparx.com/Hannifin

Again, I kinda doubt I’ll make any money, but I’ll keep you updated if I do.

Summer and time

It will soon be (or is today) a year since I’ve been out of school, completely free from formal education. It’s strange because time passes much more quickly when you’re not really waiting for summer to come. When I was in school, I was always thinking about future due dates, and I always had the next break or three-day weekend lingering in my mind, looking forward to it so I could sleep in. My mental schedule was always full; I was always anticipating something. Without all that schedule aniticipation, the days have really flown by. I once read somewhere than one reason time may seem to fly by as you get older is because you don’t experience new things as often, where as when you’re young, the days are often filled with new experiences. I think not anticipating anything, not consciously waiting for anything also makes time fly. I can vividly remember sitting there in a classroom listening to a boring teacher blather on and on and looking at the clock, realizing school wouldn’t be over for another three or six hours, and just suffering. Watching the clock makes it tick very slowly. Better to spend time doodling in the notebook if you can get away with it.

That said, I don’t mind at all how fast time is flying by! It sure beats going to school.

What I admit I don’t like is hearing about around this season is other people’s vacations; it makes me want to retire. My last real vacation was 8 or 9 years ago to Disney World. But these days it seems like a pain to go on vacation. You have to secure time off work, do all this packing, take a long trip, and sleep on a dirty hotel bed (they don’t wash the mattresses), and the fellow vacationers might be annoying to share a hotel room with. And you have to spend a bunch of money. And then there’s the trouble of a vacation coming to an end. I think it’d be better to retire first, and then go on vacation . . . and never come back. Or have a job that requires travel so you don’t have to pay for it.

Anyway, I’m still spending my free time composing music for my album (or watching Hulu). I have around 6 pieces started, not sure which one I’ll finish first, but whichever one it is will be Opus 50.  Bwahahaha! (I’m really already over 50 pieces if you count all my work, but I’m only counting the ones I have listed on my MP3s page, and the three I’ve already finished for my album). So far the plan of having the album complete in two or three months is looking good! Hope you don’t mind my constant blathering about it, I’m really not up to much else. I’d probably get a bit more done if I didn’t sleep in at every opportunity though. My body still naturally wants to stay up all night and sleep until 1 PM.

Why e-books stink

Technology opinion

I keep hearing mention of the kindle and other e-readers, and I see them at book stores on display. They do look nice, definitely better than reading from a computer screen. They’re small and look easier to carry around. They look pretty darn convenient; I’d like to have one. Unfortunately, they stink.

The main reason I think they stink is because, to read a book, I would be paying for a digital file. So . . . what if I don’t like the book? Can I return it? How much control do the e-reader makers have over my collection of digital files? Can I copy them to a new e-reader if I get one from a different manufacturer? Can I copy them to my computer and copy and paste text I like? I can re-sell my old books, but what about some old digital book file I don’t care about anymore? I wouldn’t be able to get a penny for it, would I?

I currently have a part time job at the local library, and I’d say about 66 to 75 percent of the books I read are from the library. Because they’re free. If I really like a book and want to keep it, I’ll buy it, but I’m very hesitant to pay money for a book from an author I’m unfamiliar with. I use the library to “demo” books. And, as long as no one else has the book on hold, I can demo it for however long I want. Unless a similar structure could be set up for e-books, where I can freely “check-out” books for an unlimited amount of time, I won’t be buying an e-reader anytime soon. The costly monetary disadvantages outweigh the spacial ergonomic advantages.

Also, another thing I would love to have with an e-reader is the ability to underline or highlight text, and then view the writing with or without the highlighting. When reading traditional books, I always have the urge to highlight certain sentences. But I don’t highlight, either because the book is from the library, or because I simply don’t want to create distractions for my future self if and when I ever go back and look into the book again. The ability to view my books with or without my own highlighting would be a major selling point. (But I’d still want the ability to have complete control over my files, no DRM crap.)

My first album news

In other news, I finished composing my third piece for my album, and I’m calling it The Dragon King (Opus 49) … bum bum bum! But, like Dragon of the Mist, it doesn’t sound threatening; it’s not an evil dragon. (I also subtly slipped in the melody from Dragon of the Mist for a couple measures, bwahahaha!) So, about 16 minutes of music is now finished for my album (White Castle Waltz, On the Edge of a Dream, and The Dragon King). I’ve got quite a few other pieces started that I’m still working on (one is over 12 minutes long and will most likely become the longest piece I’ve ever written). I’m hoping to have the album out by mid-August. Right now I’m focusing all my creative energy on it.

Logic is illogical

It’s been very busy here.  In addition to having house guests (who left near the end of last week), someone quit at the place I work (a part-time job, still don’t have a full-time, and not really anxious for one), and I picked up a lot of additional hours that I’m still not quite used to.  My hours just about tripled.  I don’t mind at all the extra money this will bring in, but I have to get used to the new schedule.  This week it’s been a bit exhaustive, but hopefully I’ll get used to it and get into the groove of things.

I finished reading Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique last week, and posted some quotes on my Book Quotes blog.  ‘Twas a good book, I recommend it… I’d like to buy it in paperback if/when it comes out.

I’m now reading Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht.  I read somewhere (maybe on the author’s website?) that the author originally wanted to call the book “A History of Atheism” or something.  That’s basically what it is, the history of the questioning of religion, or doubting it.  That said, it’s not a book of “why atheism is correct” or “why religion is correct” … it doesn’t really seem to make any religious judgments itself, it’s more a “history of religious philosophy” book.  For someone like me who doesn’t know much about history, or religious history for that matter, it’s very educational.

So far, I’ve only read the first two chapters (which are the first 85 pages), and there seem to be qutie a few philosophers of old who questioned how we can really know anything or what the point is of questioning things is when answers cannot be obtained.

But maybe how we humans understand logic in the first place is fundamentally flawed in a way we can do nothing about.

So often we think in terms of cause and effect, an event and a reason for it, a “why?” for everything.

For many things, this seems logical.  Something happens, we ask “why?”, we come up with a reason, and that’s that.  The trouble is, we can always keep asking “why?” again.  And again.  Ad infinitum.  This usually leads us to some point where we can go no further, a point where we have to say “I don’t know” and that’s that.  But even if we could come up with answer, what would be the point?  We would just ask “why?” again, and it would have to go on forever.  Every event would have to have an infinite number of causes, going backwards for eternity.  If it goes on forever, then isn’t that the same as there being no answer at all?  There can be no end point.

One could cheat, and go in circles.  “Why are you the boss?”  “Because I tell people what to do!”  “Why?”  “Because I’m the boss!”  Of course, such circular logic is considered a logical fallacy.  But real logic isn’t always much more helpful, even though it seems to make more sense to the mind.  But if logic isn’t circular, is it linear?  A line that goes on forever?  That’s just as useless as a circle!  In fact, just about every shape logic could be in is useless.  (Well, depending on what you’re using it for.)  The whole cause and effect, one thing from another, dominoes of logic . . . ultimately I think it’s a flawed way of looking at the universe, of trying to discover truth.  But right now I have no earthly (or heavenly or hellish) idea of what it could be replaced with.

I’m sure these are not new thoughts for the world, but . . . well, there it is.  Logic is illogical!  Don’t ask me why!  Let me know if you have heard of any philosophers who have had similar thoughts, as I should very much like to read about them.  There’s gotta be someone out there, some form of thought I haven’t heard of yet…

On an unphilosophical note, I had a weird dream a few nights ago.  Near the end of it, a bunch of people gave me a bunch of presents, and it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas or anything.  Being quite astounded at my good fortune, I thought “this must be a dream!  I’m going to wake myself up!” and with some strange mysterious semi-lucid mental process, I awoke myself.  It was like my uncontrollable subconscious willingly giving control back to the my real conscious self.  It was a really strange strange experience.

I call the blog “Blather” so I can blather ya know!

That’s all for now.  Oh, in case you missed it, I posted a YouTube video a few days ago right here.  It’s a piece I’m hoping will be on my first album, which I’m hoping will be finished this year.