Eli Whitney and the “Mandela Effect”

Listen: I, too, am one of those dumbasses who got it into his head that Eli Whitney was black (although, my hand to God, I swear I saw this on a sign in the African-American History Museum in Detroit when I was a grade schooler–although that itself seems problematic, as it’s highly likely that the time period I’m remembering was when the museum was closed for construction )–and had also dwelled on the irony that the cotton gin (which I believed he invented to ease the labors of enslaved persons) single-handedly invigorated the slave trade by making it massively more profitable.  I’m chagrined to admit that I may have even taught this “fact” at some point.

But that’s all trivia; read all the way through this article and meditate on the Mandela Effect, extraordinary popular delusions, and the madness of crowds—because apparently there was never any Sinbad movie titled Shazaam!

What

the

FUCK

Could your office’s awful flickering fluorescents stave off Alzheimer’s?

Almost certainly not, but listen:

Crappy fluorescent fixtures flicker at 120 Hz (i.e., 120 times each second, twice the frequency of the AC mains)—but that’s when performing perfectly.  Usually, you won’t notice that at all.  In fact, a flicker can get down to around 60 Hz before the average person can see it (I’ve been told that this was part of the motivation for choosing that frequency, as early incandescent bulbs would tend to noticeably pulse along with the AC).

But if the fluorescent light is visible and unambiguously flickering, then it’s Nackratte_01definitely down below 50 Hz.  And here’s the thing:  the bright LEDs they’re using in this experiment to successfully treat and reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they’re pulsing at 40 Hz—i.e., the “creepy horror-film industrial building” frequency.

(Please do listen to the entire podcast before deciding to spend a lot of time sitting under shitty office lights; the research is in its infancy and the rate of successful transfer of Alzheimer’s research from rodents to humans is something like 0.4%).

 

The Two Productivity Gurus You Meet in Heaven

Good Buddy AMEM writes:

You ever write a piece on productivity?

To which I reply:

Sorta!

I’ve written scads of advice things to folks who’ve emailed me expressing interest in freelance editing/copywriting, but nothing sort of generically about productivity in the “GTD” sense.

Anyway, when it comes to that, two pieces of advice jump to mind.  The first is something a rabbi said during High Holidays services once, which amounted to “God doesn’t really give a shit about something you did one time; it’s when you repeat things over and over again that God takes notice.”  The rabbi was talking about sin, basically advising against beating yourself up over a single fuck-up.  Instead, make good and move on to Do Good Things (which may or may not square you with any Magickal Sky Fairy, but is certainly a helluva lot more socially productive). 

But this position—that the thing you do one time isn’t what you are—goes for everything, good and bad:  You aren’t a thief just because you stole something one time, and you aren’t a writer just because you wrote and sold one good thing.  The last story/book/article/brochure does almost exactly jack-shit to help you write and sell the next one.  You are a writer because you write every day.  So, decide on the thing you want to be, and be that thing for at least a little while every day.

This sounds sorta stupid—or, at best, equal parts stupid and profound, like the Wise Men of Chelm—but still, every story I’ve sold in the last, I dunno, eight-ish years has been mostly written 25 minutes at a time weekday mornings while children slept.

The other piece of advice is straight from Ramit Sethi, who is sort of a huckster and sort of dead-on about most of what he says (albeit in a huckstery life-coach-ish way).  Anyway, one one his big pieces of advice (at least a few years ago, when I was more actively following him) was to stop saying “I don’t have time for X.”  All of us are busy and all of us blow precious minutes and hours dicking around on Facebook and leafing through shitty magazines and watching crap we don’t care about on YouTube and whatever.  We have time for it.  You can get up 25 minutes early every morning and write stories and novels 25 minutes at a time.  You can get in shape—great shape, really—25 minutes at a time.  You can learn about retirement savings or knitting or how to eat all vegan 25 minutes at a time.  We use time as an excuse, because we don’t really—in our hearts—give a shit about the things we say we want. Just like TLC warns, we are scrubs “always talking about what we want / then we sit on our broke ass” 

The real problem isn’t the time, it’s the prioritization.  So, just the honest and start saying “I’m not prioritizing that.”

  • “Lose some weight?  Sorry, I’m not really prioritizing going to the gym right now.”
  • “Hate my job?  I’m not prioritizing finding a new one.”
  • “Feeling perpetually pyscho-emotionally fucked up?  Yeah, well, I just can’t prioritize finding a shrink and going to sessions.”

(These are all drawn from my life, incidentally.)

Changing your language like this forces us to really look at what we’re doing, ’cause when your kid says “Can we go play at the park?” or “Can you read me this book?” or “Can we watch this show?” and instead of saying “I’d love to sweetie, but I don’t have time” you say “I’d love to, sweetie, but I’m not prioritizing that right now”—well, you feel like a royal douchebag, and you do the important thing instead of the thing you thought was important.

So, that’s the advice:

  1. Be the thing you want to be for at least a little while everyday.
  2. Don’t talk about “time,” talk about Priorities.

The “Millennial Whoop” and the Formula for Comfort Formulae

I’m interested in artistic formulea of all stripes, so my ears perked up when I stumbled across this blog post exploring why it is that every pop song I hear as of late seems to feel the same, even when they sound totally different.  The key: A little earwormy melodic alternation embedded into the hook.  Here’s the article’s kick-out—although the whole thing (which is rife with video examples) is well worth your time:

[T]he Millennial Whoop evokes a kind of primordial sense that everything will be alright. You know these notes. You’ve heard this before. There’s nothing out of the ordinary or scary here. You don’t need to learn the words or know a particular language or think deeply about meaning. You’re safe. In the age of climate change and economic injustice and racial violence, you can take a few moments to forget everything and shout with exuberance at the top of your lungs. Just dance and feel how awesome it is to be alive right now. Wa-oh-wa-oh.

Having read this, I wondered how persuasive such a simply piece of patterning might be. So, in five minutes I sketched out this little tune and, whaddya know, it sounds like the outro of basically anything I’ve stumbled across while tuning across the dial during the last several long summer car trips:

For the curious, there’s literally nothing going on in this song: The left hand is just a straight C Major chord alternating with whatever you call that lazy F Major where, instead of actually moving your hand up, you just skooch your thumb and index fingers up one white key each, so that you pick up F Major’s F and B while keeping C anchored as the bottom note (maybe that’s an “inversion” of F Major?)  The right hand, as per the “Millennial Whoop” formula, is alternating between the G and E two octaves up—i.e., the V and III in a progression where C is the root (i.e., I).  The lyrics (which, depending on your speakers, might be hard to hear without headphones; I’m shit at mastering) are just whatever popped into my head, and the whole thing was recorded using my cellphone.  The only “studio magic” (done in Garageband, and largely without any digital pixie dust) is “doubling the vocals” (see below—which is an excerpt form my book Junkyard Jam Band )—especially important in this instance because 1) I can’t sing for shit (which double-tracking tends to obscure) and 2) the mic on my cellphone didn’t pick up my voice particularly clearly, on account it was sitting on top of my keyboard’s speaker.  Even if it had caught my singing, I likely would have doubled the vocals anyway (which are actually quadrupled by the end—listen with headphones, and you’ll hear two extra voices, slathered in “chorus” effect, that come in on the second round of Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh-ohs), since that sorta lush studio overkill is baked into this running-’til-the-break-of-dawn! summer-hit genre.

 JJB-doublingvox
Continue reading “The “Millennial Whoop” and the Formula for Comfort Formulae”

DUNGEON!!!

My son has been at “Rocks & Robots” camp this week (mostly building

"You are likely to be eaten by a grue..."
“You are likely to be eaten by a grue…”

sumo-wrestling robots with Mindstorms, plus two half-days of rock climbing), and apparently he and several other kids have developed a species of spoken-word text-based adventure that they play over lunch, called “Dungeon!!!”  The game starts with someone saying something along the lines of “You are in a cage hanging from a rusted chain, and realize the cage door is not actually locked. What do you do?” Whoever else is sitting around is in the party and starts asking questions and making decisions. No gold, no XP, no dice, no pencil, no paper—just you and the Dungeon.

But the best thing, IMHO, is that in order to look around the room you say ls (the *nix command to get a list of the contents of the current directory, like dir in DOS).ubuntu-cp-demo

Why?

“Because it’s easier than saying ‘I look around the room,’ or whatever.  And sounds cooler.”

And, yes, he did indeed “Get the idea from computers.”

*headshake* Poor lil nerd don’t even have a notion of the basic framework of what is and is not cool.

Running his Ruby scripts from the command line
Running his Ruby scripts from the command line

Three Thoughts on Nukes: The Parable of the Six Fishes, the Demon Core, and the 10,000 Dead Americans We Don’t Care About

one

Which reminds me of a story Penn Jillette used to tell.  He and Teller were scheduled to appear on TV (maybe Letterman?), and so they prepared a new twist on a classic trick: You take a volunteer’s watch, put it in a bag, smash it, dump out the tattered remains, do some patter, and then make the watch reappear whole and ticking.  In their version for Letterman (or whoever), they were going to take the host’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium, and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them.  The host would freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!

But the network standards folks wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen.  So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the trick: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it.  They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch.  Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.

The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that Nuclear_Blast_Animation_Blinding_Lighteveryone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.  Perhaps this is why, if we are to have a death penalty, we should televise it.  Perhaps viewing should be mandatory.  Perhaps the president should be forced to kill one patriot before he or she kills 10,000 abstract men, women, and children.

two

Consider The Demon Core and the sacrifices researchers make (occasionally heroic, but almost always mundane, and very often totally unforeseeable).  I’m mostly putting this here because I’d first heard about this when I was a kid, and realized that many folks hadn’t–and further, that most folks don’t realize what a duct-tape-and-butterknives affair science really is.  We imagine clean labs and specialized gear, but in real life it’s a lot of tupperware and dirty countertops.  A few folks are celebrated for the “Eureka!”s, and even fewer die terrible (but instructive) deaths.  The vast majority toil steadfastly day after day to further human progress one negative result at a time—so that we can go onto to totally disregard their hard-won findings because an actor or know-nothing shouted something demonstrably false at the top of their lungs just long enough to fool our just-half-a-step-from-monkey brains.nuclear_explosion_test_at_sea

three

I hasten to add that, having protested the continuing operation of a damaged Fermi II back in the 1990s and edited a textbook about Chernobyl, I am now nonetheless firmly pro-nuclear energy.  As a species, we need a lot of electricity, and we’re gonna need even more to dig ourselves out of the slow climate avalanche that’s going to kill us.  The way we currently generate bulk electricity kills tens of thousands of people annually (for example, air pollution from burning coal kills more than 10,000 people each year just in the US)—and that’s when it’s working as intended.  Even taking into account the inevitability of the occasional Fukushima or Chernobyl, we’re still better off with the Demon Core than the Devil We Know.

FUN FACT: My grandad is in this picture!
FUN FACT: My grandad is in this picture!