Here Comes Science

So, before my daughter was born, I bought 3 children’s CDs put out by They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 123s, Here Comes Science. The first two are enjoyable and make for entertaining educational listening. The last one is the most enjoyable to me, but I’ll admit a good bit of bias.

Here Comes Science has the task of describing the methods and results of thousands of years of human exploration and discovery in an entertaining way. I think they handle this very well. The opening words to the album really frames where they’re coming from:

Science is real
From the Big Bang to DNA.
Science is real
From evolution to the Milky Way.
I like the stories about angels, unicorns and elves.
Now I like those stories as much as anybody else.
But when I’m seeking knowledge
either simple or abstract the facts are with science.

“Put It to the Test” further reinforces the point of the process:

If somebody says they figured it out
And they’re leaving any room for doubt
Come up with a test Yeah, you need a test

Are you sure that that thing is true?
Or did someone just tell it to you?
Come up with a test

(Test it out) Find a way to show what would happen
If you were incorrect (Test it out)
A fact is just a fantasy
Unless it can be checked

I like that reinforcement to go study and learn about those things. It also seems to echo LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Most of the rest of the album is focused on those facts that have been discovered. Photosynthesis, How cells work, atomic elements, etc..

If I had a complaint about the album, it would be the ordering. It’s a bit… haphazard, but not always. For example, I’d put the physical processes (The Elements, Solid, Liquid, Gas, What is a Shooting Star?, How Many Planets?, Why Does the Sun Shine?, Why Does the Sun Really Shine?, and Roy G. Biv) before the songs about biology (Cells, Photosynthesis, The Bloodmobile, My Brother the Ape, I Am a Paleontologist) with Human-centric stuff at the end (Computer Assisted Design, Electric Car, The Ballad Of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)).

That being said, I thought it was funny that Track 8 was “How Many Planets?”. “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” referenced “Why Does the Sun Shine?” (through a lyric of “Forget that song, they got it wrong. That thesis has been rendered invalid,” which reinforces, to me, that the result of exploration and testing sometimes produces results that conflict with our current understanding, and we have to refine those understandings to better fit reality. Plus it means we get to keep a really fun song.

It’s a good kids’ album and I’d recommend it to any parent that wants to try to kindle excitement about the study of reality in their own kids.

Thanks for reading.

Surveys and music

So, if you didn’t know, there are sites that reward you for taking surveys. I take them at Survey Monkey Contribute because they’ll donate to your choice of several charities. Recently, I took one that was basically asking “If <brand name> started making headphones, would you consider buying them?” I basically said “No,” but it’s not because I have a particular problem with <brand name>.

When I was in college, I studied electrical engineering. It ended up being a surprisingly broad topic: Power generation, digital circuit analysis, electromagnetic signal creation, propagation, and filtering, etc.. Humans have been incredibly creative with how we push electrons around.

Using them to create sounds is obviously a very popular usage, and the people who managed to this the “best” first quickly had their names popularized and, expectedly, they charge a premium for it. The problem for those companies is that their technology is almost impossible to keep secret. Even if you manage to make speakers more compact using new materials or discover a way to get a better frequency response from the amplifiers, eventually it’ll be found out and be accessible to any company smart enough to do it. At that point, you can only hope your reputation is more important to the consumer than your price point.

Where I’m going with this is that speakers, given how well we understand physics and materials and electricity, have mostly reached a peak in performance. Neodymium magnets were probably the last big breakthrough for headphones. Everything at this point is just adjusting equalizer settings. And that’s why I did my best to discourage <brand name> in their survey from entering the market. It’s saturated. Price point is now the only metric that matters for the average consumer. “Audiophiles” have probably already rage-quit this article anyway, muttering about the virtues of Monster™ cables.

But, being who I am, that wasn’t where the thoughts ended. I recognize that my knowledge of sound and speakers and filters hasn’t really expanded in about 8 years. It’s been a similar amount of time since I’ve played in a group setting, which I really enjoyed. I’m of the opinion that music is the greatest of the arts, and being a part of that was delightful. I liked blending. I liked being part of the harmony, of the texture of music. A feeling not just of knowing that there’s a place for you, but also of fulfilling a need. That’s a good feeling, in the context of music and in life. It’s probably why I feel the need to answer random surveys about headphones.

Thanks for reading.

I Post Things, August 13th, 2014

For Lightning Speed, Prodigious Memory, Phenomenal Multitasking, See A Musician
I’m honestly surprised that they didn’t compare it to learning to type on a keyboard or ride a bike.

The famous cellist Pablo Casals was once asked why, at the age of 93, he still practiced three hours a day.

“I’m beginning to see some improvement,” he said.

The Case for Eating Organs
Organs are super nutrient-rich, but some of those nutrients are harmful if you over consume them, which is very easy if you’re eating super nutrient-rich food. The block quote is directed at Americans:

It’s obvious that organs are more nutritionally complete, but we live in an era of over nutrition, not under nutrition.

Prepping for a Cometary Martian Encounter
We’re repositioning the artificial satellites we have in orbit around another planet to avoid damage from the ejecta from a passing comet. This is going to kind a be a running theme from me, so go ahead and get used to it: We live in the future.

My pal Karl Battams has more details on this at the Planetary Society blog, and JPL has a part of its site dedicated to the cometary encounter. This will be something to keep our eyes on for sure.

Rosetta: Still Pacing a Comet
No, really, we live in the future.

Just a reminder: Humans have a spacecraft tailing a 4-billion-year-old comet more than 400 million kilometers away and moving at nearly 16 km/sec, all the while taking pictures, sampling material blown out of the primordial snowball’s guts, and generally just being awesome.

California Breakup Plan Would Create Rich and Poor States: Report
This is my shocked face. 😐

The plan, which supporters hope to put before voters as a ballot initiative this November, is backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper, who submitted 1.3 million signatures in favor of his proposal to Secretary of State Debra Bowen last month.

The wealthiest of the proposed new states would be “Silicon Valley,” comprised of the affluent, pricey tech hub near San Jose, along with San Francisco.