Your Music has BAD GENES.

Thanks to Corina, I am in the process of discovering a new method of discovering music.  The service is called Pandora, and it is, according to itself, a ‘free internet radio site based on the Music Genome Project’.  While I ahve yet to visit the actual Pandora site (available only in the US due to copyright reasons?!?!), since I don’t listen to music in the office, I am excited by the possibilities.  What’s inside the music box?  You won’t know until you open it and it TAKES OVER THE LIFE OF ALL HUMANITY.  Ahem.

So – a little bit more about the Music Genome project.  It’s an attempt to classify your interests based on a number of song characteristics.  To me, this seems somewhat similar to the Hit Song Science software I’ve mentioned before.  However, instead of tracing the characteristics of songs that are hits, it suggests things you might like based on your favorite songs or artists.  Like Amazon, it suggests things you might like that are similar to your current selection, comparing artists and songs on various ‘gene’ criteria.

Despite my own reluctance to share my personal favorite anything, and despite my deeply-rooted fear of all preferences musical, the idea intrigues me.  We all have different preferences at different times and in different moods – will this online service take that into account?  Or will I simply scroll through endless lists of similar music that is not quite what I like?  Is individual taste really reducible to a number of music characteristics, even if those characteristics collectively number in the 500s?  or will I find some weird correlations between the songs I prefer?  I anticipate both interesting new discoveries, and new ways to critique and disparage the tastes of others.  You like angular melodies, HA!

Deep Autumn

There is something enticing about the cusps of the year, the melding of summer and winter into one through the transition periods of spring and fall. Short little crocuses burst up from beneath the snow and ice, and even the trees pulse with quickening life, sap and rivers flowing rapidly, equally fluid. Even the sky melts into a sort of liquid spattering that falls gently to earth. The soil beings to breathe under the gentle rain, exhaling misty puffs smelling of last year’s leaves and the white crispness of newly thawed ground. It is in spring that we cast of the old layers – old life, old ideas, old desires – and attempt to do a spring cleaning of ourselves, reaffirming what is most good.

Autumn, the true depth of autumn, seems even more alive. The first edge of winter, hanging in the air, lends a sort of danger to the season, an alert crispness present at all times in the cooler temperatures as well as the quality of the air itself. The air becomes drier – the night skies, completely clear. It is in autumn that the stars shine down on us the most awesomely, like so many splinters of reflective broken glass. It is in autumn, with the nights growing longer, colder, and also more vivid, that we begin to understand who we are both as inviolate individuals and the complex interweaving of humanity that refuses to be untangled. It is in autumn that we begin to suspect our true worth to our fellow man, and to wonder at the existence of others.

As a lover of fairy tales, children’s stories, and literature, I was intrigued by this article on the relative value of different stories.  In an era of reality television and rampant blogging, what is the relative worth of personal opinion, truth, and individual experience?  Does the artfully crafted short story which make never be published or read by a wide audience, have more or less worth than the serial Japanese cell phone novel with minimal details and broad themes that will be read and reread by millions?  Who determines the standards of the writing craft, and what should be read as ‘serious’ writing?  Are there truly new forms, or are flash fiction and the aforementioned cell phone novel only the use of new technologies and realization of a shorter attention span?  Should we even be trying to create something new, or should we resign ourselves to doing what has already been done as well as we can?  Finally, with all the lives that have been lived before mine, what comparative worth does my perspective have?  Can it be crystallized and distilled for preservation?  Should it be?

I’m not ready to ‘take out the threat’

While I don’t generally consider myself a pacifist, I am not a big fan of guns, either.  I don’t see myself going hunting, as I don’t really want to kill things.  And while I may insult people verbally and even threaten physical injury, for the most part these threats are only talk.  I supposedly know some basic things about loading and firing a sidearm due to Mike, but again my actual experience is virtually nonexistent.  I don’t want to hurt something or someone, and due to my poor hand-eye coordination and general klutz, I feel like a gun in my hands is like a monkey with a grenade.  Sure, nothing might happen, but he might pull that pin and lob it, too.

At its core, my reluctance to deal with guns stems from two things – a fear of myself, and a fear of the weapon being used against me.  The first is more nebulous and hard to qualify.  Do i get angry too easily?  Do I do things I later regret?  Wouldn’t a gun only render more harmful these aspects of my self?  The second is easier, but perhaps realistic for others who might carry guns.  I am a physically weak woman.  In a confrontation with another, a gun might make me initially stronger than the opposing force, but eventually, the gun will probably be taken from me.  What then?  Of course, this is true with any weapon – knife, brass knuckles, swords.  But somehow a gun seems the most threatening.

Questions like the right to carry arms into colleges and universities bother me.  While past events have shown that students can be killed by the few bad seeds amongst them, I don’t think more guns are the solution.  In fact, I think the Second Amendment is no longer valid, or at least not necessarily applicable.  The defense of our nation now lies with the various armed forces, rather than in the hands of basically untrained militiamen.  What need would we possibly have for the common man to go armed?

In fact, I would say that both modern media and culture don’t allow for a rational consideration of what legitimizing guns on campus might mean.  it is unfortunate that Michael Flitcraft doesn’t seem to realize that the ‘someone’ coming into his classroom to kill him and his classmates is most likely someone he knows, and possibly someone he likes or is friends with.  it is unfortunate both for him and for others on both sides of the issue that ‘taking out the threat’ probably means killing someone who needed friendship, understanding, and probably psychiatric help.

Long-weekend crankies

I spent an enjoyable three-day weekend in Saint Louis this past weekend, only to have THE MONDAYS +++ when i got back.  Of course there was a meeting at 9 am that we are suddenly hosting that no one bothered to tell me about until 8:55, and of course our receptionist is out this morning and therefore unable to help me prepare.  Of course while I’m running around getting ready with water glasses and other beverage offerings, I spill in the hallway and manage to shatter a glass (at least this time it was only one – last time I broke up two).  Of course I have ten bazillion things that should’ve been done yesterday and my co-workers just want to chat and hang out while my head slowly implodes.  Add into the mix that I haven’t had time yet for breakfast, coffee, or to breath, and you have a pretty cranky admin.  The thing I really don’t get is how people want to know all the small talk about how your trip WAS.  I’ll tell you haw it IS – it’s over.  The fun times are gone, and I’m once again back in the working world, a fact I would prefer not to think about.

More profoundly, why is this a pattern?  Why do we feel such drudgery when we come back even from a small vacation, even when we love our jobs?  Are vacations supposed to renew and refresh us?  I can understand how a slam-packed, activity-based vacation could make you more tired when you return than when you started out, but that wasn’t the case for me this time.  I spent three days with college friends just hanging out.  And eating a lot.  So why am I so tired and annoyed now?  Is it just the loss of my freedom and mobility?  Is it the fact that, even though I know I’m getting paid for the hours I put in at my job, there is not a visual, direct exchange of money for services and time rendered?  If it’s not frustration with the people I work with or the work I do, what am I actually cranky about?  And how do I keep the day-back-from-vacation for turning into an annoyance and duty?

Sludge the Poor

ABC news reports yesterday indicate the EPA and various research initiatives did not follow up on studies initiated to show industrial and human waste could be beneficial in reducing lead poisoning in low-income households.  Federal money in East Saint Louis and Baltimore started programs in which several low-income households were given food stamps in return for allowing sludge to be tilled into their yards and then replanted with grass.  The minerals in the sludge were then thought to bind to lead ingested by children and prevent lead poisoning.  This way, when kids in the neighborhood eat the dirt, they have less risk of lead poisoning.  In addition, researchers did not disclose that the sludge could be potentially dangerous.  As one researcher says, ‘composting, of course, kills pathogens’.  Hm.  Must be one of those facts known only to those in the realm of science.

The thing that really gets me though, is the sham-science of these supposed ‘studies’.  The way the scientific method is supposed to work involves the testing of a hypothesis.  Testing the hypothesis that phosphate and iron in sludge can bond to lead and other dangerous chemicals is one thing, but it’s the kind of hypothesis that can most readily be tested in a lab.  Testing whether or not the sludge makes the ground less dangerous generally to humans in particular requires entirely different tests, possibly the consumption of sludge and lead poisoned dirt combinations on lab rats or other animals, before any results are released.  The idea that results were released saying that the sludge made the eating the dirt safe for children, when no studies were done on the actual effect of ingesting the dirt, and absolutely no part of the survey took participant’s health into account either before, during, or after the study, is ridiculous.  We might as well go back to quack docs and superstition if what science gives us is such shoddy research.  I mean seriously – have you had your magical sludge tonic yet today?

I can accept that research is somewhat politically and somewhat popularly motivated.  I can accept that research is sometimes skewed by personal interest or ambition.  What I refuse to accept is research like this that so intensely disregards both the moral intent and basic methods of science, namely, to ameliorate the condition and understanding of modern man through the application of the scientific method.