27 November 2005

Origins of music on the Tree of Life

this Tree of Life
is just the branching worldline
of that first DNA molecule

swaddled in RNA, protein, and phospholipids

accumulating encoded behaviors
triggerable by
environmental changes

coordinating these behaviors via
and a nerve net

each environmental trigger
and each behavior
to the rest of the nerve-net
a characteristic aspect
symbolised in neural rhythms

rhythms of alarm
of heightened alert
of desire
of contentment

simpler desires at the root of the Tree

becoming subtler as we rise

and when a pattern like alertness
needed to be maintained even when
all external triggers were hidden
(in the underbrush, in the dark)

a sort of neural
to keep your mood focused
would be invaluable

causing that characteristic aspect
to keep repeating
like a rhythmic phrase

from earliest times
among the trigger-patterns of behaviors
were mechanical/acoustic vibrations

varying in frequency and volume

with the ear emerging as
the primary detector

sifting specific triggers
from the welter

and routing them, ASAP
into responsible behavior

abstracting key sonic features
for disambiguation

laying the groundwork for a mapping
from sounds to feelings

among the ear's assignments
detecting others of the same species
was essential for mating purposes

and the sounds those others made
must have corresponded to similar sounds
made by the listener
under comparable circumstances

so variations in these sounds
corresponded to variations
in their shared repertoire
of inner states
(eg thrashing around when frustrated)

which made
projecting yourself into the other's shoes
by mapping their actions onto
your past feelings

and then choosing to make sounds
that the other will interpret
in a specific way

to frighten a competitor
or charm a potential mate

and these sounds also shape
the inner 'tune' you 'whistle'

and if your species
shows mutual assistance
the inner voice you hear
might be the projected voice
of a helpful other

(cf julian jaynes' theory
that ancient humans
heard in their inner ear
their god-boss's voice
urging them against laziness)

25 November 2005

Flash in ROM?

since casual gaming
has found a true home
in Shockwave Flash

isn't the logical niche
for portable gaming
to put Flash in ROM?

24 November 2005

Videogame music on the Tree of Life

we've considered
(and rejected)
the following representations
for music on the Tree of Life:

kilohertz-level micro-stripes
(impossible to eyeball)

abstract-colorshape animations
(not mathematical enough)

midi performance-encoding
(too instrument-dependent)

pandora musicological analysis
(not descriptive enough of moods)

another domain
that faces a similar problem
is 'scoring' videogames

where a scene may be of any length
and of any, varying mood

and where too-repetitive music
will be a huge turnoff

so the grail, here
is flexible music synthesis

that might begin from pandora-style variables
mapped onto game-plot-complications:

how should the rhythms and harmonies change
when a room is cleared of enemies?

when it's apparently cleared?

when you open a door? or a crate?

our virtual accompanists
on the Tree of Life

start from a broader version
of the same questions

as if the videogame of life
has gradually added more and more
plot complications
requiring more and more
musical subtleties

evolving up the Tree of Life

23 November 2005

Pandora.com on the Tree of Life

the Tree of Life

we looked for visualisations of
any lifebranch's
virtual soundtrack

but found only
because the musical and visual toolkits
are constrained
by archaic invented instruments

pays musicians to characterise songs
using a set of tags
that could theoretically be assigned
by an AI
('quality' is entirely omitted
as subjective)

"modal harmonies"
"chordal patterning"
"melodic part-writing"
"rhythmic syncopation"
"major/minor/mixed key tonality"
"repetitive/meandering melodic phrasing"
"extensive vamping"
"acoustic/synthetic sonority"
"light swing groove"

in listening to the 'radio channels'
generated by subsets of these tags

one notices that genius doesn't rate

kate-bush-ness isn't touched by them

the tags tend to cluster tunes
recorded during the same era

with LP 'filler' more frequent than

and often the dominant mood
can also be undercut

eg trip-hop is 'tag-similar'
to many other possible moods

22 November 2005

Scanned speeches on the Tree of Life

suppose we stripe each human branch
at every point it speaks a syllable

chimp-grunts will count
and bird chirps, mouse squeals

the human pattern is silence when alone,
(stripes wide unto vanishing)
and taking-turns in groups
(rapid stripes jumping branches
speaker to speaker and back)

occasionally groups will
grunt or chant or sing
in unison
stripes aligned in space

often one human
will complete another's thought
stripes halted as if stolen

silent spells, in groups
are often uncomfortable
punctuated by throat-clearings

like the gaping gaps
in a flowing speech
broken up by ums and ers
or likes and y'knows

unison is easiest
at a steady rhythm

but for normal speech
the opposite is practiced


if we measure the average gap
between syllables
we can paint any branch-segment that
spans exactly that average gap
a uniform yellow

shorter spans can be redder
longer, greener

so long spells of silence
are deepest green

and rapid chatter is

but now we again consider
steady rhythms
of any speedcolor
in (almost) unchanging

and where that change is truly zero
in perfectly steady rhythm
we change the color to uniform purple

and where a change speeds up, red

and where it slows down, blue

(the derivative, in calculus)

now the rare human purple passages
will be people speaking
almost robotically

while vivacious humans
will flicker red and blue

music and poetry
have a regular tempo
of notes or syllables

layered with a slower
secondary beat

also regular

21 November 2005

Interface design on the Tree of Life

let the relaxed tool-user
be represented as a green branch

so when the use of a tool
requires moderate effort
the branch turns yellow

and with high effort, red

we (mentally) trim a branch segment
with startingpoint where the tool-user
conceives a subgoal

and with endpoint
where that subgoal is achieved

the yellow-and-redder this segment appears
the lower we rate the
interface design
for this subgoal

(less common subgoals
are allowed to score redly

but the most common
need careful greening)

as the tool-user proceeds

the hi-tech tool
a pc
is streaming music
(say, via Pandora)

but the stone-age digital format (mp3)
frequently changes volume
(sometimes dramatically)

demanding quick response from the user

maybe a dedicated hardware analogue
dial on the cpu box
or on the monitor, or keyboard, or mouse

maybe a custom keyboard macro

or maybe a yellow-branch trip to the Windows tray
and an orange-branch mind-and-eye-squinch
to find the volume-icon
and an orange-red mouse-targetting of that tiny icon
followed by a retargetting on the popup control's slider
and a careful slide
a listening
a re-adjust
and finally a dismissal of the control
(o billg have mercy on us poor users)

since the pc's audio channel
is normally uncorrelated with the desktop's top app

that app needs to afford it
n square-pixels
of dedicated screen real-estate

preferably in a corner of the screen
where the mouse can be 'thrown' in a Fitt

and since volume is the most commonly required tweak
the mousewheel should become a volume control
whenever it hovers near that corner

(perhaps the lower right
is currently least-used?)

18 November 2005

Scan me

the words we speak (and write)
have rhythms that express
our inner states

stronger rhythms
subtler rhythms
broken rhythms

beats we can shape if we bother to

so the syllables dance to your tune

16 November 2005

The president's concubines

the rightwing spin machine
has only itself to blame
for the rise of the blogosphere

because when every public gesture
is made inauthentically
the public will seek authenticity elsewhere

but even so
i've learned to withhold full trust
even from the blogosphere

because the snares of Satan-Rove are subtile

so I take with a grain of salt
Capitol Hill Blues' highly plausible rumors
of W's impending nervous breakdown

or this from Drudge
that he's retreated behind a harem of four forgiving women
his wife, his mother, Condi and Karen Hughes

but the image this suggests is dramatic

W trying to be a Norman Rockwell hero
in easychair, with pipe

four concubines at his feet

while in the dark closet shadows lurk
the greedy evil connivers

and perhaps beyond
glancing worriedly in the windows
Powell and Clinton and GHW
(how far we've fallen
that GHW looks like a ray of hope)

add, too, Nora Ephron's theory
that W exercises to keep depression at bay
in the form of an exercise bike
that he keeps close by
belying the pretense of calm

and remark the absence
of his less-forgiving daughters
who must have taken an ever-increasing burden of crap
from their peers over the last few years

The Ajax factor

when digital computers were a novelty
way back in the Fifties and Sixties
nobody could guess
what they'd be best at

so every human task
that taxed our patience
was auditioned as a programming project

and many flunked that audition
often, with the words
"this is more work
than the old way"

while a favored few
were accepted
with greater or lesser enthusiasm
as simplifying that task
(those tasks)

and as the power of computers
new toolkits were gradually innovated

some new tasks were mastered
and some old tasks were streamlined

but this process of streamlining
has always been
more about inspired design
than gigabytes or megapixels or gigahertz

and most of our current tasks
in most of our current apps
still badly need replacement, as
"the old way"

when microsoft debuted dhtml in 1997
it wafted the stench of
bain de billg

but mozilla felt compelled to support it
and when the inspired designers
of google maps
(just this year)
showed what it can do
there was a collective epiphany

and, rechristened "Ajax"
it entered the collective imagination
as a new toolkit
for simplification


it's easier to program
than to discover inspired design

and most ajax demos
simplify nothing

so to remind us
what the goal is:

we have tasks
that computers can assist

but this assistance requires
user actions

and these actions require
user decisionmaking

so the goal is
to simplify the actions
and the decisionmaking

for example

i maintain a flash mp3 blog
that streams my playlist like a radio station

and just as i reread
several times a day
the latest posts to my linkblog

so i try to listen
once a day (or more)
to my latest mp3-links

and during this listeningtime
certain tasks predictably recur:

i might want song or artist info
i might want host-site info
i might want to edit the playlist
or annotate the accompanying webpage

etc etc etc

so the challenge to future
inspired designers
is simply to simplify
my path to each of these

14 November 2005

Save-the-world social software

poor pakistan
mistimed its earthquake tragedy
too soon after the west was all
disastered out

but any one of us
if we had the reins in hand
would toss what resources we could their way
just on basic principles

which (basic principles) is what's gone walkabout
in the wide wide world

so i'm wondering if it's time yet
to start aggregating people's principles, online
like a political 43 things

with a budget-simulator that lets you

and a crisis-news feed that keeps
shoving the world in our face

with a discussion area for each crisis
sorting out short and longterm solution-strategies


12 November 2005

I'm an idiot... about RDF (GTD edition)

"hi, i'm jorn, and i'm an idiot"
"hi jorn"

1st things 1st
i'll be promoting this essay to the
GettingThingsDone community

the root idea is that the 13th of each month
should be "i'm an idiot" day

where you pick the least embarrassing
of all the embarrassing things
you feel like you should understand
but don't

and post about it

because in the process of admitting
and trying to articulate
your confusion

(or even in the aftermath of that process)

you're likelier to make a breakthru
than if you kept silent

eventually we'd like to become so comfortable
with admitting our idiocy
that we can even interrupt a weighty seminar
with the stupid-sounding question
that everyone is secretly wanting to
but doesn't dare

because this is a large part
of what keeps meetings
deadly dull

and even as we humiliate ourselves
we can keep one finger crossed
in the secret hope that it will turn out
we're not idiots at all
but rather a different (higher) order of thinker

so the patron saint of i'm-an-idiot day
is probably G. Spencer Brown [Wiki]
who firmly defends the independent thinker's right
to enquire according to their own inner light
at their own pace:

"To arrive at the simplest truth,
as Newton knew and practiced,
requires years of contemplation.
Not activity.
Not reasoning.
Not calculating.
Not busy behaviour of any kind.
Not reading.
Not talking.
Not making an effort.
Not thinking.
Simply bearing in mind
what it is one needs to know.

And yet those with the courage to tread this
path to real discovery
are not only offered practically no guidance
on how to do so,
they are actively discouraged
and have to set about it in secret,
pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the
frantic diversions
and to conform with the deadening personal opinions
which are continually being thrust upon them."

most of my own idiot-topics
have something of this flavor for me

where i see a community on the other side of a fence
busily engaged in not-quite-comprehensible activity

but my inner voice holds me back from
submitting to their tutelage

(Candace Bergen memorably compared
co-hosting Saturday Night Live's original cast
to being kidnapped, like Patty Hearst
by the Symbionese Liberation Army)

so i've been suspicious of
the sgml-xml-rdf community
since way back in the mid 90s

they have a sort of true-believer attack
that sees my questions, perhaps, as threats

so every time i try to penetrate their worldview
i find my eyes glazing over, defensively

even though their domain broadly overlaps my own

we're all looking for the
semantic buildingblock

which Lisp finds in cons-cells
and Prolog finds in horn clauses
and Cyc finds in CycL

the Semantic Web
if i understand at all correctly
sees in RDF triples

A and B have relationship C

and if you want to build
you must pile relationships on relationships

as Lisp piles cons-cells on cons-cells

but programs quickly lose their way
in the twisty maze of cons-cells, all alike

when the master-structure
that underlies All Of It
is a Tree in 4D space

all important entities having
at each moment, T
a position, XYZ

and all important stories
having the general form:
at time T, the relationships were R1
at time T+1, the relationships were R2

(when Prolog was considered hot AI, in the mid 80s
i bought Turbo Prolog
and tried to rewrite a little alife sim
in horn clauses

but horn clauses are about logical if-then
not narrative when-next)

so for each entity on the tree
we might fill out a form
describing its state at a given moment
T =
X =
Y =
Z =

and since we're representing heartrate, too
H =

and these can be dissected
into a twisty maze of RDF triples

which grows far twistier
when relationships between two branches
(A loves B, madly)
are required

(my counterproposal)

my counterproposal
is to start with the types
of the two related entities

(the basic types being
person, place, thing, motive, modality)

and to note that an entity of any given type
has one possible set of relationships
with entities of each other type

so (A loves B)
is first and foremost
a statement about a relationship
between a person and a person

and data/knowledge about such relationships
should be clustered at a specific person-person site
in our core data-structure


MIDI on the Tree of Life

my intention
with the Tree-of-Life paradigm
is to explore an increasingly rich
semantic field
while keeping it all grounded in a
mathematically precise

i plan to use
wikipedia biographies
as a test case
exploring simple vs complex biographical stories
and simple vocabulary vs complex vocabulary
assigning primary colors to the commonest
words (or concepts)

but words are treacherous ground
more quicksilver than concrete

so to clear our palates
i want to explore first
the semantics of music

we considered the subTree of
creatures with beating hearts

and striped each branch with black and white lines
revealing that branch's heartrate
at each moment

but to simplify the visualisation
we might substitute green for 'resting' heartrate
and yellow for slight acceleration
red for racing hearts

so a mild startle
appears as a yellowgreen blip
on an otherwise-smooth green line

and a full day of jangling yellow and red
is more than any body should have to bear

we also brought in virtual studio musicians
to jam a musical accompaniment
to any given branch's blips and jangles

which accompaniment
could be graphed on the branch
as sound vibrations
painted black to white and back

but this encoding
is even less satisfactory than the heartbeat stripes
because it can't be abstracted
into red-yellow-green

perhaps instead
to capture the changing emotional tone
we could try animating abstract colored shapes
(we've all seen
approximations of this)

so that when we tap into
a random point on a random branch
we can choose audio improv
or abstract cartoon

and we might then try to classify
the changes of shape and color
for every possible lifestory on the Tree

but music and animation will both derive
from the arbitrary choice of instruments,
of playing styles, of visual elements, of animation styles

while the representation we need
must instead be universal

a music without instruments
animation without any predefined paintbox

so our classification of story-changes
has to look beyond
the arbitrary palette

and ask
for each subsequence
of arbitrary sights or sounds
what emotions does it capture
and which does it deny

so we're now inside the skins
of the improvising accompanists
choosing from all the possible
next actions
the fittest one

which is what composers do

focusing perhaps
on their present lifestory
or something past

or projecting themselves
into another's past or present shoes

with Thelonious Monk the archetype
of farfetched innovation
deliberately expanding the known palette
to articulate moods never before spoken (or sung)

rejecting as cliched
every pattern used even once

so that if we endow
our imaginary accompanists
with Monklike superpower

the score they'll produce
could be beyond everything ever heard
no matter whose branch we tap

(remember Joyce chose an ordinary everyman
in Leopold Bloom
to immortalise with a verbal 'score'
of streaming consciousness
beyond anything yet read)

and whatever cliched reduction we can imagine
constrained by existing instruments and conventions
is surely an offense against the Muse

aka Truth
who senses the infinite detail
of every fluctuation

02 November 2005

Music for the Tree of Life

for a billion years
on the Tree of Life
our ancestors' hearts have been beating

which we can visualise, graphically
as stripes on the Tree
of black and white

closer when the heart beats quickly
wider when it slows

(feel your pulse, now

picture your branch
as it grows)

heartrates as if measured
by a sensor-electrode
listening to your heart

but there's a richer music
to your mood

as if the sensor were moved
from your heartbeat
to your neurons' moody rhythms

tense or relaxed
expansive or introverted

braincells like studio stars
watching the movie of your life
and improvising a soundtrack

and you might move your sensor
anywhere on the Tree
and tap the music there