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A mini-doc about the Minimoog
05.06.2011
01:04 pm

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Heroes
History
Music
Science/Tech

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Here’s a cute lil’ doc about the origins and early use of the wondrous Minimoog from the company that brought it into existence. It’s so very easy to take for granted today but this was the very first synth to have a built-in keyboard. I was fascinated to learn that its signature tone, the thing that allows it to cut through any musical setting it’s used in was an unintended excess of overdrive. Credit Moog for realizing what a brilliant mistake they had made and not changing it.
 

 
Bonus: Two of my favorite funky Minimoog workouts, firstly it’s The Harlem Buck Dance Strut from Les McCann’s 1973 LP Layers:

 

And here’s crooner Marvin Gaye bringing you some Minimoog (or is that an Arp Odyssey ?) magic on After The Dance (instrumental) from his brilliant and under rated 1976 LP I Want You:

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Amateur Astro-photographer takes largest interactive image of night sky
05.04.2011
04:39 pm

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This is the largest true color photograph of the night sky ever created. It was shot by first time astro-photographer, Nick Risinger, a 28-year-old from Seattle. This is not just one view of the night sky but a 360-panorama composed from 37,000 individual photographs, taken by Risinger during his 60,000 mile trek across the western United States and South Africa.

“The genesis of this was to educate and enlighten people about the natural beauty that is hidden, but surrounds us,” Risinger said.

The project began in March 2010, when Risinger and his brother took a suite of six professional-grade astronomical cameras to the desert in Nevada. By June, Risinger had quit his job as a marketing director for a countertop company to seek the darkest skies he could find.

Every night, Risinger and his father set up the cameras on a tripod that rotates with Earth. The cameras automatically took between 20 and 70 exposures each night in three different-color wavelengths. Previous professional sky surveys (including the Digitized Sky Survey of the 1980s, which is the source for the World Wide Telescope and Google Sky) shot only in red and blue. Including a third color filter gives the new survey a more real feeling, Risinger said.

“I wanted to create something that was a true representation of how we could see it, if it were 3,000 times brighter,” he said.

Risinger sought out dry, dark places far from light-polluting civilization. Most of the northern half of the sky was shot from deserts in Arizona, Texas and northern California, although Risinger had one clear, frigid night in Colorado.

“It was January and we were hanging out in Telluride waiting for the weather to clear in Arizona or Texas,” he said. “Finally we realized the weather was hopeless down south, but it was perfectly clear where we were.” They drove an hour away, set up near a frozen lake, and sat in their car with the heat off for 12 hours as the temperature outside dropped to minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I would have loved to turn the car on for heat, but I was afraid the exhaust would condense on the equipment and make a shutter freeze or ice up the lenses,” Risinger said. “Certainly it was the coldest I’ve ever been, but I’ve still got all 10 toes and fingers.”

The southern hemisphere was captured in two trips to South Africa, not far from the site of the 11-meter Southern African Large Telescope. While there, Risinger and his father stayed with a sheep farmer who also watched the skies with his own amateur telescope.

Back in Seattle, Risinger used a combination of standard and customized astrophotography software to subtract noise from the cameras, stack the three colors on top of each other, link each picture to a spot on the sky and stitch the whole thing together. He taught himself most of the techniques using online tutorials.

Risinger plans to sell poster-sized prints of the image from his website and is looking for someone to buy his cameras, but otherwise has no plans to make money from his efforts. He wants to make the panorama available to museums and planetariums, or modify it for a classroom tool.

“When Hubble shoots something, it’s a very small piece of the larger puzzle. The purpose of this project is to show the big puzzle,” he said. “It’s the forest-for-the-trees kind of concept. Astronomers spend a lot of their time looking at small bugs on the bark. This is more appreciating the forest.”

A giant zoomable high-definition version can be seen here.
 
Via Wired
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Why Intelligent People Use More Drugs
05.04.2011
04:02 pm

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Drugs
Science/Tech
Thinkers

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Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (a book, I highly recommend, no pun intended). He also has a great blog on Psychology Today’s website.

Kanazawa has a theory, which he calls the “Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis” which goes something like this: “Intelligence” evolved as a coping mechanism of sorts (maybe stress-related?) to deal with “evolutionary novelties”—that is to say, to help humankind respond to things in their environment to which they were previously, as a species, unaccustomed to. An adaptation strategy, in other words.

Translation: Smart folk are more likely to try “new” things and to seek out novel experiences. Like drugs.

How else to explain toad licking? Someone, uh, “smart” had to figure that one out, originally, right? Someone intelligent had to come up with the idea to synthesize opium into heroin, yes? Yes.

But to be clear, and not to misrepresent his theories, Kanazawa clearly states (in the subtitle) that “Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing,” either…

Consistent with the prediction of the Hypothesis, the analysis of the National Child Development Study shows that more intelligent children in the United Kingdom are more likely to grow up to consume psychoactive drugs than less intelligent children.  Net of sex, religion, religiosity, marital status, number of children, education, earnings, depression, satisfaction with life, social class at birth, mother’s education, and father’s education, British children who are more intelligent before the age of 16 are more likely to consume psychoactive drugs at age 42 than less intelligent children.

The following graph shows the association between childhood general intelligence and the latent factor for the consumption of psychoactive drugs, constructed from indicators for the consumption of 13 different types of psychoactive drugs (cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD, amyl nitrate, magic mushrooms, cocaine, temazepan, semeron, ketamine, crack, heroin, and methadone).  As you can see, there is a clear monotonic association between childhood general intelligence and adult consumption of psychoactive drugs.  “Very bright” individuals (with IQs above 125) are roughly three-tenths of a standard deviation more likely to consume psychoactive drugs than “very dull” individuals (with IQs below 75).

 
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Shit, I must’ve been pretty smart because I purt’near crossed almost everything off this list (except for the sleeping pills) by the time I was seventeen!

Kanazawa concludes:

Consistent with the prediction of the Hypothesis, the analysis of the National Child Development Study shows that more intelligent children in the United Kingdom are more likely to grow up to consume psychoactive drugs than less intelligent children. ... “Very bright” individuals (with IQs above 125) are roughly three-tenths of a standard deviation more likely to consume psychoactive drugs than “very dull” individuals (with IQs below 75).

If that pattern holds across societies, then it runs directly counter to a lot of our preconceived notions about both intelligence and drug use:

People—scientists and civilians alike—often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes.  The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals.  Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing.

Speaking for myself—and I wasn’t a very innocent child by any stretch of the imagination—I was already trying to smoke banana peels (“They call it ‘Mellow Yellow’) and consuming heaping spoonfuls of freshly ground nutmeg when I was just ten-years-old. I got the banana peels idea, yes, from reading about the Donovan song and its supposed “hidden meaning.” The nutmeg idea came from the infamous appendix of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, which I was able to pick up at the local mall (When my aunt, visiting from Chicago, caught wind of what my 4th grade reading material was, she was shocked—and told my mother so—but little did she know that I was already at that age actively trying my damnedest to get my hands on some real drugs).

This study explains a lot, I think. An awful lot!

Why Intelligent People Use More Drugs (Psychology Today)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Morningstar Commune and the roots of cybernetics
05.04.2011
04:06 am

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Drugs
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A photo of Morningstar Ranch featured in Time Magazine in 1967.
 
By the time I visited Morningstar Ranch (aka The Digger Farm) in 1968 it was becoming a suburb of the Haight Ashbury. Young hippies, like myself, were drifting through the Sebastopol commune not quite knowing why we there but feeling we needed to be there. It felt less like an actual community than a halfway house for people yearning for community. None of us were actually ready to settle down yet. We were too fucking young. The idea of going back to the land was nice in theory, but we were still digging what the cities had to offer: rock clubs, bookstores, Love Burger on Haight St., hot water and supermarkets.

Lou Gottlieb founded Morningstar Ranch in 1966. A former member of the folk group The Limelighters, Lou had a spiritual epiphany and felt compelled to explore alternatives to the status quo approach to living. Morningstar was Lou’s experiment in communal living, a work in progress that wasn’t really work but some kind of joyous attempt at re-defining how we lived as neighbors, lovers and caretakers of planet Earth.

Morningstar had an anarchic spirit. It was literally open to everyone. What you did when you got there was up to you. I don’t remember any rules. Most of us didn’t have the discipline or patience to become active members of Lou’s wild dream. We were either too lazy, too restless, or both. There was a core group that kept the place functioning as a community, but for the most part nomadic flower children passed through the place on their way to something called the future.

In nearby Palo Alto, the beginning of virtual realities were stirring in the shadows of mainframe computers.

Long before he co-founded The Hackers Conference, The WELL (considered by many to be the first online social network) and the Global Business Network, Stewart Brand was staging acid tests with Ken Kesey and his ragtag band of Merry Pranksters. Brand, who popularized the term personal computer in his book II Cybernetics Frontiers, took his first dose of acid at the International Foundation for Advanced Study in 1962.

The proto-cybergeeks conjuring electric magic in what would eventually be known as Silicon Valley were dropping Owsley and conceiving realities in which brain meat interfaced with machine and the mind could perceive itself in its true limitless state. Many of these bearded outlaws from computerland were Gottlieb’s close friends and early pilgrims to Morningstar.

We - the generation of the ‘60s - were inspired by the “bards and hot-gospellers of technology,” as business historian Peter Drucker described media maven Marshall McLuhan and technophile Buckminster Fuller. And we bought enthusiastically into the exotic technologies of the day, such as Fuller’s geodesic domes and psychoactive drugs like LSD. We learned from them, but ultimately they turned out to be blind alleys. Most of our generation scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control. But a tiny contingent - later called “hackers” - embraced computers and set about transforming them into tools of liberation. That turned out to be the true royal road to the future.”  Stewart Brand (founder of The Whole Earth Catalog).

In this short clip from Canadian television, Lou envisions a cybernetic world where machines do the work while humans have all the fun.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Max Matthews pioneer of computer music R.I.P.
04.24.2011
03:08 am

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Music
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Max Matthews was a visionary genius who helped pioneer the use of computers as musical instruments. Mathews died on 21 April 2011 in San Francisco, California of complications from pneumonia. He was 84.

In the late 1950s Max Mathews created MUSIC, the first widely used music synthesis program while working in the Acoustic Research Group at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Over the next forty years at Bell Labs and then at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, Mathews advanced and refined digital computer music synthesis.”

Matthews created the Radio Baton which is featured in the video below. His enthusiasm for his invention and love for the music he creates with it is inspiring. The video was shot in 2010 when Matthews was 83 years old. A marvelous human being.

A Radio Baton is an electronic instrument with two baton controllers and a receiving base called the antenna. In the end of each baton is a small radio transmitter. As the batons are moved over the receiving base, four antennas in the base are able to determine the batons’ location in three-dimensional space. The movement of the batons through space are converted into instructions determining how the music is to be synthesized.
The Radio Baton Conductor Model uses the model of an orchestra conductor controlling the musical tempo, dynamics and expression of the piece. The Conductor program puts the pitches and the durations of the notes in a score that the computer reads as a sequence of beats in the computer memory. The conductor can move the batons around with his two hands, controlling six variables, and assign these variables to whatever functions in the music are important at any instant of the music.
When asked if the radio baton was a successful instrument, Mathews answered, “I suspect actually it was too successful. It may have made music too easy to play. But my vision there, and the vision I think I got from John Chowning was that everyone could have his own orchestra and could interpret music according to his particular feelings about it. And that this might be a much more satisfying way than simply sitting and listening to a recording or simply listening to a concert in a concert hall.”

In the video, Matthews performs pieces by by Bach, Chopin, Beethoven and Appleton, demonstrating the artfulness of electronics.

Matthews once said that “a violin always sounds like a violin, but a computer is unlimited in terms of timbre it can make, so it can enrich music.” His mission was to learn, as he put it, “what the human brain and ear thinks is beautiful. What do we love about music? What about the acoustic sounds, rhythms and harmony do we love? When we find that out it will be easy to make music with a computer.” Enjoy Max Matthews making some music with a computer:
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Video: Burberry uses hologram models for runway show in Beijing
04.15.2011
01:19 pm

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Fashion
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Below, a longer version of Burberry’s impressive hologram show in Beijing. Turn off the sound, though—it’s awful.

 
(via BuzzFeed)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Video gaming pioneer Gerald Lawson R.I.P.
04.14.2011
03:45 pm

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Pop Culture
Science/Tech

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Video gaming pioneer Gerald Lawson has died from complications related to diabetes. He was 70 years old.

In 1976, Lawson designed the Fairchild Channel F, the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console. He went on to create software for the Atari 2600 in the early 80s.
 

Lawson was the sole black member of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early computer hobbyists which would produce a number of industry legends, including Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Lawson also produced one of the earliest arcade games, Demolition Derby, which debuted in a southern California pizzeria shortly after Pong.”

In a 2009 interview, Lawson was candid in his appraisal of Jobs and Wozniak: “I was not impressed with them — either one of them, actually.” He was so unimpressed by Wozniak he turned down his application for a job at Fairchild.

In March, Mr. Lawson was honored for his innovative work by the International Game Developers Association, an overdue acknowledgment for an unfamiliar contributor to the technological transformation that has changed how people live.

“He’s absolutely a pioneer,” Allan Alcorn, a creator of the granddaddy of video games, Pong, said in an interview with The San Jose Mercury News in March. “When you do something for the first time, there is nothing to copy.”

 
Here’s Mr. Lawson discussing Fairchild Channel F and the roots of virtual reality:
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Inside the home studio of Chris & Cosey with Electric Independence
04.11.2011
08:00 pm

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Music
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A new episode of Electric Independence has gone online at VBS.tv, and it features an excellent interview with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (aka Carter-Tutti/Chris & Cosey) seminal electronic musicians and one half of Throbbing Gristle.  We find out how the couple met, how they were introduced to electronic music and their life in (and after) Throbbing Gristle. Gear heads are also in for a treat as the duo talk about the synths and equipment they use and have used, including some rare home made synths by Carter. It’s also heartening to see them keeping bang up to date with technology, including the use of Kaoss pads and BC8 synths, and recording their music with Ableton Live on a MacBook.
 

 
Previously on DM:
Happy Birthday Chris Carter: ‘The Spaces Between’ LP re-issue

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
A birthday message from the planet Tuffington
04.11.2011
07:32 pm

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Amusing
Animation
Movies
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Butch Tuffington made this short video using “Happy Birthday” by electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire.

As usual, Mr.Tuffington delivers something both cosmic and comic. Zen montage with a lysergic twist.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Spellbinding animatronics reel by John Nolan
04.11.2011
03:05 pm

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Movies
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Simply put, John Nolan‘s 2010 reel for his animatronic creations is amazing. You may recognize some of John’s work from Clash of the Titans, Where the Wild Things Are and the television series Being Human.

BTW, there’s a blobby thing with lips that’s rather disturbing in this video. Just wait for it.

 
(via Nerdcore)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
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