Back in the day before Facebook, we had to have multiple services for posts and pictures. I ultimately became a Flickr customer, but not without some wringing of hands about putting my photos in the service of another company.
These days, that concern seems incredibly naïve, considering how much of my writing and photography is currently behind locked walls at Facebook. Part of what I’m going to do with this new daily writing project is liberate some of the more interesting stuff that I’ve put into their walled garden and make it available on my blog, and on Flickr. I still have concerns about Flickr (especially in these days of angst for Yahoo, its parent), but it’s the best photo hosting service, hands down.
For me the finding that’s most interesting is that the neural pathways for music are completely distinct from the ones for speech, though there’s a little activation overlap when listening to music with words. In fact, the research identified completely distinct neural pathways for music, speech, frequency, pitch, and “spectrotemporal modulation.”
I’d love to see the follow-on that evaluates these activation pathways in trained musicians vs. lay listeners.
Note: A more complete version of the article appeared in the New York Times.
The ongoing standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon reminds me of other breakdowns in law and order. With the fundamental question of private property vs. the federal government, it’s not quite as dramatic as the American Civil War, but it’s a dramatic standoff nonetheless.
But the Civil War seems to lurk everywhere I look. The photo above showed up on my Flickr home page today and sent me off to learn about the Shelton Laurel Massacre, in which a Confederate Colonel, Lawrence Allen, from my dad’s home town of Marshall, North Carolina and his lieutenant colonel James A. Keith went hunting for Unionist sympathizers in Shelton Laurel Valley. After torturing local women, including the 85 year old Mrs. Unus Riddle, and burning houses and slaughtering livestock, they rounded up fifteen suspected sympathizers, all related and most with the last name Shelton, and began to march them toward East Tennessee where the Confederate army lay. Along the way two escaped, so Keith ordered the remaining thirteen captives shot, including three boys aged 13, 14 and 17. Keith evaded the law after the war but eventually was tried for the massacre after the war in civilian court, and would have been vindicated by the state superior court had he not escaped two days before the verdict was returned; he was never recaptured.
Learning about the massacre hits home. My great-great-grandfather was a Confederate army deserter who only wanted to plow his fields; it’s likely, had he been in Shelton Laurel rather than in the caves in the hills above Marshall, that he would have been rounded up by Keith’s soldiers as well.
Some more resources on the massacres: a letter by Col. William R. Shelton giving an oral history perspective on the incident; a 2013 blog post in the New York Times providing some historical and legal perspective on the issue; an essay discussing some of the deep divisions in the mountains; an essay by a novelist and a descendant of a possible participant in the massacre; and a recent article discussing other accounts that cast doubt on Keith’s responsibility for the massacre and suggesting that he may have been framed by Augustus Merrimon, who wrote the report on the massacre for Governor Zebulon Vance.
- Cowboy Boots – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (The Heist). Let’s not judge, okay? I grew to appreciate Macklemore during his many live in-studios on KEXP, and there’s something homey about hearing him rap about the passage of time—though the chorus about urban cowboys on Capitol Hill is a little annoying.
- Sarah Anne – Daniel Bachman (Jesus I’m a Sinner). It’s not fair, the talent of this kid, who comes across as the second coming of John Fahey. This is a strong track from what’s ultimately a journeyman album compared to his epic River, but still mesmerizing.
- Last Time – Black Dub (Black Dub). A disappointing track that buries the old gospel song in layers of drums and reverb, along with the stylistically unsuited (if strong) voice of Chris Whitley’s daughter Trixie. I expected better from Daniel Lanois.
- Superhero – Jane’s Addiction (Strays). Okay, Shuffle, I guess the theme of today’s Random 5 is “regret.” As in, regret that I picked up this reunion disk 13 years ago. At least the playing is as tight as Perry’s lyrics are lame (“I’m not your average guy”? Really?).
- Like a Virgin – Madonna (Celebration). This is where I’m supposed to dump on Madonna like I did when I was 12 years old, right? Can’t do it. Incredible track, and her still-hiccuppy vocals sell the song in a way that her more mature voice couldn’t have done years later. I’m reminded of the joke in Sting’s “Nothing Like the Sun” tour program, where they did capsule bios of each band member—including Branford Marsalis, Minu Cinelu, and the late great Kenny Kirkland—and asked them about their musical guilty pleasure. “Madonna’s backing band” came up about four times.
Because that’s what the call for law enforcement backdoors is. There’s a certain kind of magical thinking in law enforcement and politics that says we should be able to have things both ways—encrypt data to keep it safe from bad guys while letting us in. It doesn’t work that way. If the crypto algorithm has a secret key, it will be found. Or stolen, if OPM tells us anything about the state of security in the federal government.
I’d like a presidential candidate who calls for stronger, not weaker, encryption, and who starts by demanding it of federal software systems.
As teased last week, my current obsession is applying what I’ve learned about Lego architecture to landmarks that I know well. Without giving away the whole game, let’s say that an important part of the project is building convincing columns in Lego. There are several good how-to resources available for building medium scale columns (a Flickr pool, a couple of YouTube videos, some more elaborate and authentic tutorials focused on Greek and Roman styles, some really elaborate stuff on the Corinthian order specifically), but not a whole lot summarizing the options for building Architecture-scale columns. By Architecture-scale I mean miniature models such that the scale might be 1 brick height = 5, 10, or even 20 feet, as is the case with some of the moderate size models in the line.
Fortunately the Architecture line itself provides a pretty good set of options, and there are a few others that might be worth your consideration. Let’s explore!
Note: There’s a whole ‘nother topic on capitals. We’ll come back to that another time.
The humble cylinder brick (aka Brick 1 x 1 Round, #3062a or #3062b), which I first encountered in trans yellow and green in the classic Space days, has both advantages and disadvantages for building columns. Pro: you can stack it to create whatever height you like. Cons: if all you have is the common grooved model (as opposed to the older variant with no bottom lip), the groove can be distracting.
This approach combines the Bar 3L (#87994, also available in 4L version) with the Plate 1×1 Round with Open Stud (#85861). You simply push the bar down into the open stud and off you go. Bars are versatile for columns, as you can also use them with clips (e.g. #4085) to hold them to a façade. I’ve topped the columns with simple round 1×1 plates (e.g. #4073), but see my note about capitals above.
There are a couple of fence-type items that make good, if plain, columns. The spindled fence (#30055) is probably the most straightforward.
For cases where columns combine with arches, using an arch part (like this Arch Panel, #90195, also known as a “castle window”) can work just fine.
If you’re building in a really small scale, the Brick with Handle (#2921) can do the trick. The disadvantage is that you have to raise the brick, since the handle extends the full height.
There are probably more options, and I’ll probably figure out a few more as I build, but I thought I’d start this list and see if anyone else has additional ideas.
- Writing this blog post
- Updating internal wiki page
- Updating internal BI dashboard
- Listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play “Song of Joy”
- Watching Slack
- Working on slides for a webinar at noon
- Double checking my shopping app to replace the shirt whose elbow tore on me yesterday
- And Bricksmith waits in the dock for when I have a spare moment
- And I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
(Aside: what is it with men’s dress shirts and elbows that tear? I’m losing track of the number of good dress shirts (thankfully, not the bespoke ones) I’ve had to dispose of because of elbow wear.)
So yeah, I’ve got full blown N.A.D.D. The good news is that I can also hyperfocus when necessary. Now to go off and find the thing that’s going to trigger the hyperfocus today…
It’s twenty-five years since I put that mix tape together, and I’ve spent the last few years feeling as though “this land is condemned.” If the response to the Obama presidency has taught me anything, it’s that slavery was the original sin of this land, and that its repercussions still play out today. So on the heels of writing about the Underground Railroad in my town, about misattribution of black collegiate spirituals by white a cappella performers, about the bureaucracy of slavery, of carefree use of the symbols of the Confederacy a hundred (or 150) years after the end of the Civil War, and of minstrelsy, listening closely to the song again bears dividends.
And I am left feeling that amid revival tents, amid the attempts to dress up the past betrayed by cheap hooch, and despite the otherwise redemptive charge of the blues, we are left with this: an arrow in the doorpost, the ghosts of slavery ships, and the promise of our life in these United States undercut by power, greed, and the inevitable corruption and decay of our descendants.
- Disorder – Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures). Great start to an undercaffeinated Friday morning. There’s something about the starkness of this early Joy Division song: the extremely dry studio production, the guitar all fifths and fourths, the great Peter Hook bass line moving frenetically around the guitar in sixths, and the way the song completely comes apart with Ian Curtis’s frantic “I got the spirit.” I could listen to this song all day. And have.
- Grandma Brackbill Dec. 1978 w/Ralph Homsher (track 4). This is an odd one, but a cool one. It’s an interview with my great-grandmother Esta Leaman Brackbill when she was 91 years old, conducted by my great-uncle Ralph, that our family recently digitized. Not a lot of revelations, but a fun retelling of the story of the man who got drunk and tried to burn down Uncle Frank Leaman’s barn and was caught on the porch of my great-grandmother’s house while she and the other children were inside and their parents were off somewhere. Good stuff.
- I Will Be There – Van Morrison (Saint Dominic’s Preview). I went deep down the rabbit hole on Van Morrison a few years ago (ten? geez) on discovering Astral Weeks, and picked up this album and a few others. Of course, nothing else is like Astral Weeks, but Van doing traditional blues is fantastic, even with the tossed off line “Gonna grab my suitcase, and my toothbrush, and my overcoat, and my underwear”!
- Pieces of Sky – Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers). Beth Orton’s Central Reservation was on constant repeat for me for about a year, and the followup Daybreaker accompanied more than a few road trips, but her subsequent albums haven’t worked as well for me. This song might be an example of why: the production (courtesy Jim O’Rourke) has just the right amount of emotional restraint but she disappears into it, and the song feels unfinished—it ends too soon.
- Messe basse (Fauré): Sanctus – Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, George Guest conductor (Fauré: Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine; Duruflé: Requiem, Quatre Motets). A brief movement for choir and organ from a lesser known Fauré work. He jointly composed a full mass setting with his pupil André Messager providing the Kyrie and the O Salutaris; the Fauré movements (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) were subsequently published stand-alone as the Messe basse. It’s a brief but effective setting of the Sanctus for treble and alto voices with organ; I want to go back and listen to the rest.
Lessig shows two types of unfortunate naïvety in this narrative, one of which he acknowledges. He calls the promise to resign “an albatross that would ultimately sink the campaign,” and notes the inability of the press to explain it in a soundbite, the confusion of the voting public, and other factors that contributed to sinking the campaign. But I think he misses an important point. Another reason that this promise sank the campaign was the insight it provided into Lessig’s more serious naïvety: his belief that the culture of American federal-level politics could be fixed in one term via legislative fiat.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over eight years at Veracode trying to convince enterprises, software suppliers, and individual software developers to take security seriously is that you don’t change culture overnight. You don’t do it with a law. You don’t do it with economic incentives. You do it, at least in part, by changing norms – what people will and won’t accept – and by showing people what “good” looks like. You can’t do that by passing legislation and then leaving in the middle of the night.
Welcome to my new time sink.
With the past weekend’s killer storm in DC and Charlottesville (as well as most of the rest of the mid-Atlantic), I couldn’t help but thinking about ice gnomes. One of the great fun songs of my Virginia Glee Club days was singing “The Winter Song,” an odd little tune that… well, look at the lyrics:
jHo, a song by the fire;
Pass the pipes, pass the bowl.
Ho, a song by the fire
With a skoal, with a skoal.
Ho, a song by the fire;
Pass the pipes with a skoal,
For the wolf-wind is wailing at the doorways,
And the snow drifts deep along the road,
And the ice gnomes are marching from their Norways,
And the great white cold walks abroad.
But, here by the fire, we defy frost and storm;
Ha, ha we are warm, and we have our heart’s desire.
For here, we’re good fellows, and the beechwood and the bellows;
And the cup is at the lip in the pledge of fellowship.
I had always wondered about the tune, so did a little research. Turns out “The Winter Song” is a collegiate song, but it originally comes from Dartmouth, not Virginia. The poetry collection Dartmouth Lyrics prints the poem “Hanover Winter Song” by Richard Hovey, who in 1898 convinced his college friend Frederic Field Bullard to write the music.
The tune lived on in Dartmouth fraternity singing, until that tradition died away, and in Dartmouth singing groups such as the Aires. But it took John Liepold to bring it to the University of Virginia, where it’s become a favorite of the Glee Club.
Here’s one of the first things I wrote about Veracode, a few days after I started. What hasn’t changed is the fallacy of trying to stop exploitation of application layer vulnerabilities by going after the network, or as Chris Wysopal said, “doubling the number of neighborhood cops without repairing the broken locks that are on everyone’s front doors.”
What has changed? Well, we were a tiny, scrappy little company when we started. But we just picked up senior sales and marketing leadership with pedigrees from RSA and Sophos, and we’re a lot bigger than we were eight years ago. It’s a fun day to be at Veracode, realizing just how rapidly we’ve grown.
Otherwise the rules are the same: turn on your music player, hit shuffle, and list the first 5 tunes that come up… no cheating. I hereby swear to blog about it even if it’s embarrassing.
So here we go:
- What Is Your Secret – Nada Surf (The Weight is a Gift). A favorite band ten years ago, I need to go back and revisit some of their later albums which didn’t stick as much with me. But The Weight is a Gift and its predecessor, Let Go, are in my top 100 albums list, and even a lesser song like this is still a great listen for the harmonization.
- Song That Made Us What We Are Today (Demo) – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Mother’s Milk). I’m not the biggest Chili Peppers fan in the world but I do love their earlier, edgier stuff, and this instrumental track is all bristly funk.
- Oh Carolina – Virginia Glee Club (Songs of Virginia). I’ve written about this track before and it’s still funny. What I didn’t write about is the musical form. A lot of these football songs were written for the spectators to sing at a football game and never had harmonizations, so when the Glee Club went to record this one they had to come up with a new arrangement for it. It’s a fun combination of traditional harmonization and multi-octave voicing that I hope we do as an alumni song someday.
- Like the 309 – Johnny Cash (American V – A Hundred Highways). In the aftermath of David Bowie’s death, it’s interesting to revisit Cash’s. Where Bowie’s was, in retrospect, a premeditated surprise managed for maximum artistic impact, Johnny Cash’s had all the inevitability of Revelations—the public awareness of his health problems, the death of June, the elegiac tone of the last few albums. In that context, his first posthumous release is both moving and comforting, with the bluesy shuffle of “Like the 309” a good representation of the tone.
- Above Chiangmai – Brian Eno (Ambient 2 – The Plateaux of Mirror). I went back to find the other albums in Eno’s Ambient series the other week, and was glad I did. This one is mostly composer Harold Budd on piano responding to “tones” introduced by Eno, who otherwise contributes mostly sound textures to the recording. The track “Above Chiangmai” is a soundscape in itself, sounding as though the piano is heard through the bones of the skull rather than the ears, and is hypnotic in its simple melodic improvisation. A little Satie, a little Cage, and all Eno.
Rich’s analysis, which I agree with, aligns with another recently published article about the disparity in ranged weapons adoption in Europe in the Middle Ages. The question: why did it take the French and Scots nearly a century to adopt the cheaper, easier, and more effective longbow, instead continuing to rely on the more challenging crossbow? Answer: precisely because those technologies were cheaper and easier to adopt, they were blocked by the rulers of less politically stable states, who feared arming citizens with the weapon might lead to revolution. Only in more politically stable England was the longbow adopted.
There’s a clear analogy between restricting access to longbows and the current state desire to insert backdoors into consumer encrypted communications. What’s striking is the political difference in who’s doing the restrictions on crypto technology. It’s not just failed or unstable states (though there are plenty of those who seek to circumvent crypto), but also major global powers like the United States and India. I’m not sure whether that says more about the threat posed by crypto, or about the United States.