There will be tables and chairs…

Ξ January 30th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Musician, Indie, Andrew Bird |

…with pony rides and dancing bears…

There will be tables and chairs, pony rides and dancing bears

…and yes, there will be snacks.

I was able to pick up the Andrew Bird iTunes Session EP last week and it has renewed the love I have for this man.  Some of the notable tracks on the album are “Skin is, My”, and “Opposite Day”. All of the tracks were recorded live and more than live up to the expectations I have for the Bird man: they are not at all like his other recordings or previous performances.  That’s what I’ve always loved about him.  That’s what music is; the true craft.  It’s a living, breathing, changing thing. To me, Andrew Bird keeps the spirit of performance alive.

I forgot which composer believed that music should never be recorded…that’s up for some googling later.  Regardless of who it was,  I understand where he’s coming from.  The true form of music lies in the performance, where things can change and mistakes can be made.  With a (studio) recording, you’re getting the same canned performance of the piece.  Listen to 5 different orchestras of the same ability play the same symphony.  You’ll find none of them play it quite like the other.  I don’t mean that you can just take a symphony and butcher it into some unrecognizable piece, but you can take it and make it your own within what the composer has set out for you. Andrew Bird definitely captures this feeling in his performances. He doesn’t strictly follow the map, he only uses it as a guide.

Don’t get me wrong, recordings definitely have their place (and ho ho, this post is about a recording).  I have tons of recordings of symphonies which I use for reference when performing orchestral repertoire, and I enjoy listening to recordings of my favorite artists on a daily basis.  But they aren’t the be-all, end-all way a piece should sound. That’s what’s great about this album. I don’t ever expect to hear Bird play these songs like this ever again, and he probably wont.

If you haven’t checked out Andrew Bird’s iTunes Sessions EP, or you’ve never listened to him at all, I definitely recommend listening to this album.  It is purchasable here:

So don’t you,
don’t you worry
about the atmosphere.

Original post by Sufjan


Okay, Well, Just Tell Me What Happens at 2:14 a.m. EST, August 29th

Ξ January 29th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized, ai, music |

Artificial Intelligence has always fascinated me. I think it’s probably fascinated everyone… even people who didn’t grow up wanting to play poker with Soong-type androids or reading about paranoid androids and robopsychologists,… or, you know, growing up a little and wondering exactly how the Enterprise’s main computer does its natural language processing and if the Universal Translator actually assists with or simply serves to complicate the syntactic ambiguity problem.

That said, I’m not a linguist (I wish I were, by the way, but that’s a story for another time) and I certainly don’t have the intellectual chops to be an actual AI researcher. Case in point: I know enough about basic probability theory to understand the underlying principles of Bayesian learning and to think to myself, “Hey, that’s pretty neat. I could use this here and here and here.” But that thought is quickly replaced with something along the lines of “OH DEAR GOD, MY EYES ARE BLEEDING”, augmented with a lot of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending, as soon as the equations start popping up.

So long story short, am I going to be the one who solves the natural language problem? No. I’m much more likely to just spend my time bitching about comma-splicing in Facebook statuses. Am I going to be the one who develops a self-learning defense grid? No. I’m much more likely to join Cyberdyne for their awesome dental. Am I going to be the one who builds a protocol droid that can speak the binary language of moisture vaporators and can grumble humorously about how some nerf-herding smuggler’s hair-brained scheme is going to make him violate all three Asimovian laws? No. I’m much more likely to write a short story about said droid learning said binary language after being stranded in the unforgiving deserts of Tatooine and finding himself nursed back to health by a beautiful moisture vaporator with dreams of getting off her backwards world and seeing the galaxy beyond. (She dies at the end.)

There are much, much smarter people out there who are going to do these things. They’re working on it now. And even if I can never solve the problems they’re solving, I want to start understanding the challenges they’re facing. And I don’t meant that I want to understand it in a mathematical sense. (Well, that’s a lie. I do want to understand it in the mathematical sense. I just think I should understand the actual manifestations of it first. That will also give me time to get over the whole eye-hemorrhaging issue.) I mean that I should understand what it means to try to get an artificial system to make decisions, to do something human, and be able to see firsthand what is stopping us.

So can a robot write music? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. There are even efforts to generate music that is capable of provoking an emotional response in a human listener by capturing the principles of music psychology in knowledge bases that can be used as decision weights by the system’s inference mechanisms.1

How cool is that? Seriously. Next thing you know, we’ll have androids shredding.

So anyway. I’m building a rule-based system that’ll generate music. I call him BachBot. He probably gets beat up at the Young Robots Finishing School for that name but we hang out sometimes. We’re starting with species counterpoint. One of his first epics: Ode to Beefy the Musical Wondercow2.

1. Hmm. Who owns the rights to music generated entirely by a rule-based system?
2. Title mine. BachBot doesn’t create his own titles yet, unless you count auto-incrementing his test outputs. He does that just fine. We’ll tackle the whole natural language thing, you know. Later. Right now, I’m more interested in him not shredding my gorram ears apart by insisting that a minor second is perfectly okay in first species counterpoint.

Original post by blah


Dragon Quest Fan Translations

Ξ January 29th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized |

If you’re a fan of Dragon Quest (aka Dragon Warrior), my net-friend Tom-Servo has been translating Dragon Quest V (PS2) to English.  You can find the patch over at his website  You’ll also find a patch for Dragon Quest III (SNES), as well as a few translations of other games.

Original post by ojuice



Ξ January 28th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized, WoW, data nerd, star trek |

The Dork
Believe it or not, it has occurred to me that I’m pretty dorky. I know. Between the hours a week I spend writing for a Star Trek RPG (yes, it’s measured in hours), my habit of muttering “failed reflex save” whenever I trip into or out of the conference room (because simply tripping in front of the executives isn’t quite the right kind of embarrassing), and the fact that I have my WoW raid schedule in my work calendar so no one schedules a server maintenance window they expect me to attend over the dragon-slaying, it took me a long time to come to the same shocking conclusion… but here we are. Pretty dorky.

Or rather, there we were.

I have realized today that I may have stepped away from the realm of “pretty dorky” and, if not entirely doused myself in, at least tested the waters of “Good god, what is wrong with you?” levels of dorky. Perhaps I’m even ascending ever closer to the tantalizing heights of the transdork threshold1.

What could possibly be dorkier than spending one’s free time writing for a Star Trek RPG and playing WoW?

It might just be worse than you can even imagine2.

The Meta-Dork
Have you ever wondered about the population variations between PvP and PvE realms? What the most popular gems are by class and spec? If the character gender distribution skews toward female for more attractive models? I have. So has zardoz, of recent WoW Insider fame. He has managed to collect a great deal of raw data and, between a little SQL and a dash of xsl, has started giving us some neat insights into population characteristics.

But beyond simple data collection and reporting…

Have you ever wondered about causality? Suspected anecdotally that there has been some sort of change to the population, proven or disproven by actual comparison to a baseline that such a change has actually occurred, and then wanted to dig deeper to identify possible causal relationships? A content patch? A major class modification? A critical change to PvP mechanics? Changes to gear scaling or stat mechanics?

Have you ever wondered what makes a world-class guild precisely that? Beyond the simple explanations – They’re better players. They raid more often. It’s a hardcore guild. – are there other behavioral traits that contribute to their success, traits we can actually tease out from the data about their players? How do members of a world-class guild spend their time in game? What is the temporal relationship between a dungeon/raid launch, the accumulation and dissemination of gear, and the receipt of achievements? How quickly do members change specs, gems, or gear following a significant mechanics change? Do gear, gem, stat, and build preferences vary greatly between functionally-analogous individuals within a class or are the same trends occurring between all? If it’s the latter, does it occur all at once, suggesting a much more structured, top-down guild management structure, or is there a waterfall effect between members, a more bottoms-up kind of view, with the changes occurring at the individual level before spreading over time to the rest of the group? If it’s the latter, are there individuals who consistently drive the changes, power-players we can identify simply through these relationships?

Given a spectrum of characteristics, some relevant and some not… have you wondered where your guild lies compared to the world-class ones? Have you wondered where you lie on that spectrum, compared to same-spec toons in those world-class guilds or sitting pretty on top of the PvP rankings? Which of those characteristics are relevant? Which are suggestive? Which are evocative?

Oh yes. I wonder about these things all the time.

And more than that, I wonder how I can answer these questions using nothing more than raw, clinical data. This is the good stuff, the holy grail hand grenade.

I’ve been mining both the Armory and Wowhead for quite some time3. We’ll see where this goes.

1. Or maybe I just need a new kind of dilithium.
2. Please just take my word on this and don’t even try. The Borg are still working on it.
3. I’ve actually been mining my Star Trek RPG for years too and there’s some great stuff there. (And maybe some not so great stuff. Do I really want to know why the writers on one ship in the fleet write proportionally more posts – we’re talking a statistically significant number of posts here – with their characters on the holodeck versus any other location? I’m not so sure I do…) But really, we’ll have to save that discussion for another day. There’s only so much dorkiness a single post can hold.

Original post by blah


Good News / Bad News: WoW 3.3.2 and PUGs

Ξ January 26th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized, WoW |


The Good News:

Shield Slam: Damage modifier from block value decreased, and scales worse at low block value levels. Players in high-end gear shouldn’t notice the change. In addition, threat generated by Shield Slam has been increased by 30%.

The Bad News:

The only PUG warriors out there are the ones who are tired of waiting in the dungeon finder queue and spend the first ten seconds of the instance respeccing to Prot and changing into their 2.5k GS tank set.

The Good News:

FoS: Trash mob Spell Reflect abilities have been changed. It now has a casting time, and will proc only twice at a rate of 75% instead of 100%.

The Bad News:

Now we have to wait for the PUG mage to fail at assisting, somehow pull aggro despite his terrible dps, and die after running out of healing range instead of just Arcane Missile-ing himself in the face.

The Good News:

Dead players are now able to re-enter the instance when the Ick/Krick and Forgemaster Garfrost encounters are active.

The Bad News:

They don’t get automatically booted from the group and replaced with a toon not being played by a monkey. They celebrate this small victory by pulling all the packs you diligently and efficiently avoided the first time through.

The Good News:

YES! They have finally heard our prayers and are removing all the repetitive fight mechanics that make all the vastly overgeared players who are running the instance only for frost badges heave much-put-upon sighs and afk.

HoS: Brann Bronzebeard has been working out, so he’ll run faster during the escort event.
Nexus: Anomalus will create rifts only once.
OK: Elder Nadox’s Ahn’kahar Guardian will only spawn once.
OK: Jedoga Shadowseeker will initiate her volunteer phase only once.
UP: Players can bring down Skadi’s drake using only three harpoons, down from five.
UP: Svala Sorrowgrave only casts Ritual of the Sword once, down from thrice.
VH: Portals will open faster after Portal Guardians are killed.

The Bad News:

PUGs will still

  • Diligently stand in Searing Gaze. They will avoid Searing Gaze only when there is Dark Matter to go stand under. Once afflicted with this debuff, they will then resume standing in Searing Gaze.
  • DPS Anomalus even though he’s invulnerable. After not noticing that they are doing no damage at all during this phase and allowing the tank and healer to carry their dps, they will celebrate the boss kill by jumping off the first platform and falling off the ledge.
  • DPS Elder Nadox even though he’s invulnerable. After not noticing that they are doing no damage at all during this phase and allowing the tank and healer to carry their dps, they will celebrate the boss kill by running out of the healer’s dispel range with Brood Plague on and pulling the geist pack.
  • Diligently stand in the lightning AoE and Cyclone Strike. They will avoid these only when there is an add for them to fail to dps.
  • Diligently stand in Grauf’s frostfire breath. They will avoid this only when they are busy asking what the harpoons on the ground are for.
  • Diligently stand directly underneath the Ritual of the Sword while looting Svala’s corpse.
  • Mention between 5 and 20 times that they only need one more boss for Lockdown! as they skin the mobs from two earlier portal spawns.

Original post by blah


Let’s do the time warp again!

Ξ January 25th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ School, Pedagogy, Design, Development |

I’m taking a beginning web development class for my degree. I already expected to be extremely bored in this class, especially since it focuses on Dreamweaver and not having any knowledge of code. Dreamweaver can be handy, mostly the code view since it’s color coded and lets me see syntax much easier. So this class should be easy, right? Just ignore the stuff about using the design view and build the assignments by hand in the code view (because to me that’s easier). Then I looked through the course schedule and found something interesting. It was almost offensive, yet comical at the same time.

It reads, “Assignment #9 – Abstract = Design: Nesting Tables.”

My first reaction was “LOL”. Really? Did we time warp back to 2004 when people were using tables for layout purposes? I actually asked someone what year it was and checked to see if Bush was in office. Honestly, teaching this seems like a huge disservice to the students considering it’s an extremely outdated technique.

Let me go over the reasons why this is terrible:

  • It’s semantically incorrect markup.
  • It’s terrible for screen readers. We’re supposed to be learning about accessibility, and this contradicts that.
  • Tables are more bytes per markup than other options.
  • We have CSS. Using a table locks you in the table for good. If you use Divs and CSS, then you have much more flexibility with your layout. Should you ever choose to change some part of it, it’s much easier, not to mention that building the page in the first place would be easier without using tables.
  • Last but not least… TABLES ARE FOR TABULAR DATA ONLY!

To be fair, using tons of divs, ids, and classes just for styling is also semantically incorrect markup. But that’s the best we’ve got for design until HTML5. I’d rather use the better of the two options.

Fortunately, the professor teaching the first half of the class doesn’t seem to be teaching this, which is awesome, because I like her a lot. But come on, why is that junk part of the curriculum anyway? I still haven’t decided if I should quietly do the assignment or challenge the teacher on the terrible way she’s teaching us how to make a layout. At least she’s not teaching us to use framesets.

Original post by Sufjan


Let The Nerdery Begin

Ξ January 25th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized |

And here we are.

Original post by blah


Why I’m a Lossless Codec Snob (or : It’s all in the math!)

Ξ January 9th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized |

A lot of people ask me why I prefer FLAC to, say, V0 ripped MP3’s, or some other form of lossy music.

Really, it’s a simple question of math. Let’s assume I could play the music straight from the CD to my brain. We’ll call that a 100 on our perfect-music-injection scale. Let’s also say that a crappy pair of headphones degrades that pure audio by %10. I’d be getting a 90 on my audio-perfection scale once I started listening through my headphones. Still an A, but not perfect.

Headphones aren’t the only thing degrading my audio experience, though. There are a few other things to go through:

  • Source
  • DAC
  • Wiring/Jacks
  • etc

There’s a bunch more, but this will do for our thought experiment.

Say that the best MP3 I could get degraded my audio  8%, my DAC another 8%, and my headphones 10% (I have crappy headphones). That would net me this result:

.92*.92*.90 = .7616
or  a 76 on my perfect-audio-injection scale.

A C grade. Not that great.

But if I start with an exact copy of that first audio source, I get this:

1*.92*.98*.90 = .828
or an 83 on the scale.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell the difference between B and C work. Neither are 100%, but one is definitely better than the other. Even through a portable music player, the FLAC will always better, mathematically.

This is of course discounting the storage issue between the two. I don’t currently have a portable player, so its not really an issue for me.

Original post by logikal


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