Monthly Archives: November 2012

Fun in dark corners

I happen to have found a portal for the darker corners of the net: domains in the back pages of the Google transparency report. (Here’s page 357). Here are some of the fascinating goblins I have found there.

http://www.freeserials.org/ is Free Serial Numbers, Download Keygen Keys, Free Crack Downloads. I guess what you do here is combine the key they give you with a legal or otherwise copy of commercial software packages like Photoshop. This is one of the least crappy sites I have come across in this region of the net, at least on the home page.

facebook.com is way back on page 78, between egybest.com and g2bbs.com. Apparently Google gets about 30 requests a week to block URLs at Facebook.

The absolute biggest prize so far is the visual design on jo1jo.com, which relies on Flash because an animated gif cannot get garish enough. An animated gif cannot physically attain this level of Vegas-strip heinousness.

Important note: do not enter this snake pit of sites unless you have your security act together. There is a 100% chance that you will come across trojans and browser-based virii, not to mention warez, crackz, mp3z, pr0n and red-hot illegality of all kinds.

Wasp Hounds

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_nose:

In the Wasp Hound odor detector, the mechanical element is a video camera and the biological element is five parasitic wasps who have been conditioned to swarm in response to the presence of a specific chemical.

sciencentral.com:

A new device for detecting suspicious odors has an unusual component. Its brain consists of five tiny trained wasps. Their trainer, agricultural engineer Glen Rains, admits the idea may sound far-fetched at first.

“I initially thought some people would kind of look at it like some kind of a flea circus type thing,” says Rains, associate professor at the University of Georgia. But as he wrote in the journal Biotechnology Progress, the sensor is cheaper to use than trained dogs and more sensitive than some electronic noses.

Since the wasps don’t sit up or bark, Rains invented the “Wasp Hound,” a handheld device to contain and watch them. It’s a plastic pipe into which Rains inserts a cartridge containing trained wasps. The cartridge has a small hole in the center though which air is pumped by a small fan. A simple camera that takes black and white images four times per second is focused on the hole, and is attached to a laptop that displays the images in real time. A light sensor controls the lighting. “The idea is, we control the environment the wasps are in by keeping them enclosed in the Wasp Hound and we observe what they’re doing with a camera and read it with a computer to tell us when they’ve detected an odor,” Rains explains.
If the target odor is not present, the wasps just wander around the cartridge. But when they sense the scent they’ve been trained to respond to, “then they all start crowding around the hole to try to get at what they think is food coming in,” Rains says.

Rains thinks the Wasp Hound would be a better detector of the natural poison aflatoxin in stored food crops like corn, peanuts and cotton seed. The toxin, which recently contaminated pet food in 23 states, can also cause liver cancer in people.

I’m thinking about the wasp hounds from the perspective of augmented reality. You could put the cartridge in your backpack, then link the camera on the wasps to your Google Glass display.

IR ink

You can buy an infrared ink pen for $18.43. To see the writing use your smartphone as an IR camera, which will reveal IR signals. On an iPhone 4 you can do that by using the front-facing camera.

Proposed uses, from the vendor of this pen, for IR ink:

  • Marking items or bags that can be seen by security personnel without the target knowing. The target will not see the ink and will not see any special light such as a blacklight used in the more typical UV invisible inks. A security monitor can view marked items on a separate monitor discretely and securely.
  • Writing and marking papers, maps, special correspondence and letters in a very secure method. It is highly unlikely that a third party will discover any writing of IR1 invisible ink.
  • Marking items which need to be preserved in normal visual appearance but also need to marked for some other security concern.

The basic deal seems an improvement to the classic dumb kid’s toy “invisible ink”. It’s not secret writing, though, because anybody with a detector can read it.

You could use an augmented reality app on a smartphone or something like Google Glass app to show you an IR view of the world, and it would reveal things written in IR ink.

DMCA flow chart

DMCA process flowchart from Nexcess:

The average person possesses an incomplete or even total lack of understanding in what typically happens when claims of online copyright infringement are made in the United States. As a web hosting provider, we see no shortage of DMCA notices for content appearing on our clients’ sites. With this in mind, we felt it only fitting to be the ones to create the following flowchart that shows, in no uncertain terms, exactly what happens when a copyright claim is made under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

DMCA Process Infographic
Infographic created by Nexcess.

Senses as apps

View using bike helmet rear view mirror

I got a rear view mirror for my bike helmet. Now I can’t believe how long I have gone without eyes in the back of my head. I wish I could wear it all the time – walking around, at my desk, on the sofa at home.

The benefit is only partly about seeing dangerous traffic, though obviously that is upside. But that’s like saying that the benefit of ordinary vision is being able to run away from predators. I mean, yes. Running away from predators and not being hit by a car are good things. But that’s not saying much for the value of vision. The value is in the joy and pleasure you get from the entire visible world, including things like sunsets.

My rear view helmet mirror is like gaining a new sense. I am like a person born in 2D, on a flat piece of paper, suddenly perceiving depth.

I wonder about use cases for things like Google Glass. Could it be running metrics on the world around you? You’d be seeing graphs of things that you don’t currently have senses for. Sub-scent chemicals in the breeze, like bionic smell. The temperature and humidity over the course of the day. Stray electromagnetic energy when a train goes by underground. A geiger counter. Ultraviolet and infrared vision.

Don’t build a TV app for your omnipresent head mounted display. Create sensory apps and let their uses speak for themselves.

futurism of music

Looking back at our time 200 years from now, they won’t think how primitive the guitars were, they’ll think how primitive the guitarists were. The players will all be monsters who routinely do what only our virtuosos can.

Not that virtuosity is worth all that much. Just that it’s a practical problem.

LilyPond – ly2video (alfa): English Suite I: Bourree I (J. S. Bach)

ly2video is a nice hack which generates a video from sheet music. The video shows the sheet music on a single unbroken line, with continuous horizontal scrolling from beginning to end, and with a cursor moving to show the currently playing note. The sound in the video is the MIDI output of the notation.

This will seem unremarkable because it is sheet music, which is meaningless to most people. Try to ignore that.

It is a step in the evolution of sheet music for the sake of easing the cognitive work a musician has to do. By having a single endless line that only makes sense if it is automatically scrolling while you play, this format abandons the physical page. If a musician loses his place, which happens all the time, the cursor reminds him.

For a musician having a hard time understanding the rhythms in the notation, the video acts like an animation. You can verify this by watching the video and carefully keeping track of the little black dots, so that you are matching the dots you see with the notes you hear, one dot for each note. You don’t have to read music to start having an intuitive sense of what the visual notation means as far as rhythms go. This technology is helping you with the cognitive work of learning to read notation.

It makes so much sense that I wonder how it ever makes sense to have sheet music that acts more like paper than film.

This is why it’s worth overlooking the fact that almost nobody reads music. The system of writing music as dots and flags on staffs is growing into something barely recognizable, but it is a starting point for new technology that helps with the mental part of making music. Helping musicians with cognitive grunt work is new technology with lots of fresh turf.

Soundslice, Chromatik, computer-aided musicianship

I wonder about ways that computers can make musicianship easier. A lot of musicianship is rote work like converting from one key to another, memorizing chord changes, and keeping the tempo straight. There’s no artistic or creative value in these things. If automata can help it’s no loss.

That’s what struck me when I came across these new learning tools –

Soundslice is a guitar tablature animator.

Tabs have never sounded so good. Soundslice lets you sync tabs with video so you can see (and hear!) them in real time. Gone are the days of ASCII art approximations.

And Chromatik enhances notation with social features like sharing recordings.

I wonder how much further this can go. There’s usually a tradeoff between protecting the musician from himself and empowering him to go higher. A step sequencer or a diatonic toy piano prevents him from hitting off key notes, but also keeps him from playing notes with a lot of flavor. It’s hard to play saxophone skillfully, but if you can do it then you can make amazing music.

Is it possible for computer-aided musicianship to make this line more fuzzy?

checking out Cloudplay

Cloudplay aggregates no-royalty + no-lawsuit music sources. Which is a twist on “free and legal.” It’s “free, legal, no strings attached.”

Attached to the company, that is. Cloudplay isn’t accumulating bills.

The pattern with music products like this is that they struggle with finding a critical mass of users, but if they do get users they can last a long time. That’s the opposite of Pandora or Pirate Bay, which easily attract huge numbers of people but also have crippling debts (in royalties or legal problems).

Cloudplay is a similar product strategy to Tomahawk, which aggregates multiple sources (“content resolution”) but includes for-pay sources like Spotify. Tomahawk’s catalog is a superset of Cloudplay.

It’s a different value proposition than aggregators of music blogs, which are providing a conversational or social context for the music and repackaging the music with the look and personal touch of HTML-based music blogs. To Hype Machine, Shuffler and Exfm, if a song isn’t being up in the blogs it’s out of scope.

Cloudplay’s user experience is striking. It is about unifying the user experience into a gated community on the client side. It has a sanitary and controlled feel along the lines of iTunes. The search results – across services – are super fast (but sloppy – there are a lot of irrelevant results). The look and navigation is same for, e.g., YouTube and Soundcloud.

Something else striking is that in the midst of this very offline UX you can still copy out a public link to share. Right now I’m listening to a YouTube version of “Rebel Rebel” as if it were a local MP3, and I can still snarf a link on the open web to pass along – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U16Xg_rQZkA . This fixes a common problem with apps like Rdio and iTunes, that you end up all by yourself in a gloriously rich desert island.

Cloudplay monetizes by selling the app, priced at $2. So they don’t pay for content and charge for software.

It’s a neat idea executed nicely.

Life Aquatic playlist in progress

I want to embed a playlist of the complete soundtrack of The Life Aquatic. But I want to do it on the open web, where anybody can listen. To do that I just need a list of URLs that the Yahoo Web Player can digest, including MP3s and YouTube. The player will knit them together (as long as you’re reading this post right on my web site, on gonze.com, in a browser, in 2012).

Rdio has a track list. And here’s the playable media, with play buttons if you’re on my site:

  1. Shark Attack Theme – Sven Libaek
  2. Loquasto International Film Festival (Score) – Mark Mothersbaugh
  3. Life on Mars – David Bowie
  4. Starman – Seu Jorge covering Bowie
  5. Let Me Tell You About My Boat – Mark Mothersbaugh
  6. Rebel Rebel – Seu Jorge
  7. Zissou Society Blue Star Cadets/Ned’s Theme Take 1 – Mark Mothersbaugh
  8. Gut Feeling – Devo
  9. Open Sea Theme – Sven Libaek
  10. Rock N’ Roll Suicide – Seu Jorge
  11. Here’s To You – Joan Baez
  12. (below is TBD, just text and no media link yet)
  13. We Call Them Pirates Out Here – Mark Mothersbaugh
  14. Search And Destory – Iggy & The Stooges
  15. La Nina De Puerta Oscura – Paco de Lucia
  16. Life On Mars? (Album Version) – Seu Jorge
  17. Ping Island/Lightning Strike Rescue Op – Mark Mothersbaugh
  18. Five Years – Seu Jorge
  19. 30 Century Man – Scott Walker
  20. The Way I Feel Inside – The Zombies
  21. Queen Bitch – David Bowie

That’s all I have for now. It’s kind of a scavenger hunt to dig up the rest of these. I’ll keep updating this as I get time for the scavenger hunt. If you come across any missing tracks, post a link in the comments.