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Current Events

Death as Art

These are the times we live in. Artist James Beckwith plotted each death from January thru June along a timeline, on a map and set it to music, “each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded” says Beckwith on his YouTube page.

This work was emotionally a difficult piece to write and may be upsetting to some people. I created it to highlight the terrifying spread of this virus and to try and understand how frightening its exponential growth has been. There seems to be something much more real and chilling about these numbers when you hear them, as well as seeing them.

James Beckwith

Beckwith took his inspiration from an earlier piece by the Japanese artist (and former foreign exchange dealer) Isao Hashimoto who created 1945-1998 an audio/visual representation of nuclear proliferation which you can see below.

“1945-1998”
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Current Events

Deep Fake Chaff

There’s a thing called chaff that fighter aircraft use as a counter-measure against radar. It’s basically strips of aluminum foil which, when deployed in a cloud behind a plane as flies through the air, confusing the enemy radar with multiple targets.

I think of chaff when I think of how a Boston University team has figured out how to add invisible visual noise to images to throw off Deep Fake algorithms. Clever!

Source images on top row, distorted images below

The BU team’s algorithm allows users to protect media before uploading it to the internet by overlaying an image or video with an imperceptible filter. When a manipulator uses a deep neural network to try to alter an image or video protected by the BU-developed algorithm, the media is either left unchanged or completely distorted, the pixels rendering in such a way that the media becomes unrecognizable and unusable as a deepfake.

Protective Filter Defends Images and Video against Deepfake Manipulation
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Current Events

Europe puts up a wall

The headline said, Alabama students throwing ‘COVID parties’ to see who gets infected but the reality is so much worse. It was a contest – they would invite someone they knew tested positive and threw parties as some sort of dare. And they did it multiple times.

They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot.

This is why the European Union has put a ban on travelers from the United States. No country that’s trying to get a handle on the pandemic is going to risk the possibility of letting one of these wing-nuts in.

Which brings me to the now infamous Palm Beach city council meeting. The meeting went on for hours to make time public comment about a mask-wearing ordinance and provided many choice highlights of unique American craziness. Thankfully the City Council voted 7-0 in favor of requiring masks to be worn in public but the public debate was as ugly as it was ridiculous.

This is how democracy works in America, you open things up in an effort to be transparent and listen to the concerns of your citizens and constituents and the only people that show up are those that have enough time on their hands to fall into YouTube and Reddit rabbit holes and wait for hours for their 2 minutes at the mic. The great American Experiment has gone off the rails. The Dream is a nightmare. We have become a parody of ourselves.

Heh, Tyler passed this on to me – I’m not the only one who’s made the connection.

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Current Events

Dock Ellis and the LSD No-Hitter

On June 12th, 1970 Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates threw a no hitter against San Diego – while high on LSD. The story has so many twists and turns that make it even more incredible including one tidbit I only learned about later – Dock woke up the next day and didn’t even recall he pitched or threw a no-hitter.

“I’m as high as a Georgia pine,” Ellis said.

Dock Ellis’s no-hitter on LSD, 50 years on

Would you believe some yarn from a puckish ball player who claimed he “couldn’t pitch without pills” and was known to pull a leg or two (look up the curler incident)? Dunno. There is no footage of the game so any visual evidence has been lost to the sands of time. But it’s a great story and, as a comment on the YouTube video above notes that Dock’s entry in the box score would have been, “Ellis, D.”

Watch the video above to hear the story in his own words.

The story of the no-hitter was told by Ellis in an interview on NPR. That audio is used for the animation by cartoonist James Blagden above.

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Current Events

Little Big

Anybody who thinks that the Russians have no sense of humor has not seen Little Big, Russia’s entry in this year’s Eurovision contest.

With over 125M views, Little Big’s Uno video is the most watched video on the Eurovision channel. The annual contest was unfortunately cancelled this year due to the pandemic but there’s plenty more to see on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

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Current Events

Racism and Forgetting

“this country is really gifted at forgetting.”

Boston University recently held an all day symposium for its students to discuss the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd and connecting the current civic unrest to the long history of institutionalized racism in the United States.

Most of the sessions were closed to only BU students but, thankfully, the opening discussion was uploaded for the public and is well-worth watching. Attending were:

  • Ibram X. Kendi (Moderator), Professor of History (as of July 1, 2020), Founder, BU Center for Antiracist Research
  • Paula Austin, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies
  • Louis Chude-Sokei, Professor of English, George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American Studies, Director of the African American Studies Program
  • Saida Grundy, Assistant Professor of Sociology and African American Studies

A snippet. . .

This country is really gifted at forgetting. Forgetting is built into capitalism, into the kind of predatory capitalism we have here. Forgetting is crucial to how you create constant obsession with newness, innovation and commodities.

Dr. Louis Chude-Sokei

The context of that quote being, of course, that racism in America continues to persist because we never come to terms with this country’s history of racism.

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Current Events

Post-Pandemic Wuhan

Japanese documentary film maker Takeuchi Ryo has been living in Nanjing, China for seven years sharing. with his YouTube audience what it is like for a Japanese ex-pats living in China.

Long Time No See, Wuhan

In May, Mr. Takeuchi spent 10-days in the newly opened Wuhan, the Chinese city that was at the epicenter and perhaps source of the Coronavirus pandemic. We get a glimpse of a city flickering to life after a long, hard lockdown.

There’s the harsh economic reality of restaurant owners having to cut their prices to attract back customers who are also hurting from lost wages. We learn how contract tracing works in practice, movements are tracked everywhere, it’s Foursquare check-ins, enforced by law. QR codes have finally found widespread adoption. We experience life in the city through several individuals we meet up close.

There’s a nurse who volunteered on the front lines. She’s normally bubbly and would dance to help lift the spirits of her patients but asks to stop the interview when asked to recall what it was like to see so much death. She almost quit her job before the pandemic hit but now she has found a new purpose in her career.

There’s the construction worker who didn’t sleep for three nights while building that famous insta-hospital that went up in just 10-days. His future is uncertain as goods manufactured in Wuhan factories are shunned across China due to fears of contamination. Yet he’s just happy to be alive to raise his family after seeing complete civic panic and the potential collapse of society, up close.

There is also a newlywed couple that re-unite after quarantine forced their separation. Their joy to be together is infectious and through them you feel a giddiness that comes only when happiness has been denied for a long time.

The exuberant optimism of the city’s residents today in Long Time No See, Wuhan hint at what must have been a horrible period of sadness and despair. Only someone who has suppressed happiness for a long time could be this joyful and optimistic.

I am happy for the future of Wuhan but it’s those hints of what they went through that has me worried. I don’t feel like Americans are prepared to give up their freedoms in the same way that those in Wuhan did and still do so today. Americans cannot even agree to wear a mask in public. How will we ever enforce mandatory temperature checks, location tracking, and regular testing to reduce the spread of this disease? I hope we can pull together and do what needs to be done to turn things around.

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Current Events

Trump 404

Swap out HRC for your latest opponent.

The 404 page on donaldjtrump.com is a re-work of his one from the last election but instead of trolling Clinton, it’s trolling Biden.

Minor tweaks.

Meanwhile, on joebiden.com, the 404 page is the same error page used during the primaries.

To see the full gallery from all the primary candidates, you can view them here.

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Current Events

For Deadheads Only

When Deadheads try to explain their appreciation for the Grateful Dead, they will probably point you to a concert at Cornell University in 1977, in particular the sequence from Scarlet Begonias to Fire on the Mountain.

YouTuber Michael Palmisano has built up his channel, Guitar Teacher REACTS around the deconstruction of live music jams. To celebrate his 100,000th subscriber, Michael deconstructed Scarlet > Fire from 5/8/77.

I’ve listened to this version many times but following the Guitar Teacher through his hour-long analysis revealed flourishes that I knew all along were there but never fully appreciated or had the vocabulary to explain. From Scarlet’s “mixolidian lick” to Keith’s arpeggiating progressions – he calls out all the shiny bits and holds each one up to the light like its own little gem.

At the transition into Fire at around 21 minutes, Michael breaks down how each musician transitions over “step-by-step” until the band collectively agree it’s time to jump over. Watching him walk you thru the magic, painted in real-time as only a band that plays together, night after night, can do is infectious.

Related:

Listener’s Notes

Live for Live review

Jambase review

If you’re interested in hearing the recording, straight thru, without interruption, here’s a link to the recording.

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Current Events

Rube Goldberg

So what did you do during the 2020 shelter in place? Check out this contraption that took two months to build and tune.

Side note: did you know Ruben Goldberg went to UC Berkeley where he studied at the College of Mining and Engineering. His first job was as an engineer with the San Francisco Water and Sewers Department which is where he probably got his ideas for all his crazy inventions.