Dumbing Down

January 31, 2008

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(As a side note, when I used the Google Image search for “dumb” tons of pictures came up of George W. Bush.  While I’m not a supporter of him, I find this joke of calling him dumb getting as old and lame as a comedian saying “Git r dun” after every punchline.)

  I was sent a link the other day which was video that was critical of the American education system (this video is available at the end of this blog post).  High School students are asked who important figures in history are and some of the responses are shocking.  I’ll be honest and admit I did not know who Calvin Coolidge was but the other people I did.   

   It is scary that students recognize pop culture icons before people who played (or play) an important role in our world.   Often I find Canadians criticizing the United States for this but I think that Canadian High School students would probably perform pretty similiar on this test.  While we do have Canadian laws in effect to try and promote our culture, with the Internet being or on its way to becoming the primary media source for many Canadians, these laws will eventually become obsolete.  American culture plays a large role in Canadian culture whether we like to admit it or not. 

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Frank Mir vs Brock Lesnar

January 30, 2008

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Saturday night sees Frank Mir and former WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar fighting at UFC 81.  Although this isn’t the main event (Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is), this is the fight I am most looking forward to seeing.  Lesnar is a huge guy and he has a credible background (he’s a former NCAA wrestling champion).  When Lesnar fought Min Soo Kim he bashed him from half guard and won by strikes.  This was Lesnar’s only MMA fight and Min Soo Kim’s record is not so great (he’s lost to the aging Dan Severn).

Frank Mir does have a good record including a win over former UFC Heavyweight Champ Tim Sylvia.  Mir did an amazing armbar to Sylvia that ended up breaking his arm.  It is interesting to point out that Mir has a loss against Brandon Vera and Vera has been defeated by Tim Sylvia. 

Although I don’t like making predictions on fights because I am normally wrong, I would like to see Mir win but for some reason I don’t think he will.


The Wonder Years

January 30, 2008

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The Wonder Years was one of those television shows that I never really watched as a kid even though I was around when it did.  It aired from 1988 to 1993 so I was five to ten at the time.  I remember hearing some kids talk about it at school and vaguely remember watching parts of it but wasn’t a regular viewer of it.

The first time I remember watching it on a regular basis was during a summer between Grade 7 and 8.  It aired two times on CBC in the afternoon and another time at like 2:00 or 3:00 AM.  I remember trying to stay awake to watch these late night episodes and most of the time I either fell asleep or got in shit from my parents for being up so late and then “sleeping in until noon the next day”. 

The show had real moments which other sitcoms seem to ignore.  In one episode, Kevin Arnold is constantly getting yelled at his dad for no reason.  Not until he job shadows with his dad and sees his dad getting yelled at by his boss does he come to understand the reason behind his dad’s frustrations. 

The show does not appear to becoming to DVD any time soon due to the cost of obtaining the rights to the music that aired on the show.  Anyone who has seen the show should remember the classic songs that played on it.  They were songs that were from the generation the show was placed in (1968-1973).  If you can’t remember, this site has a list of songs played in each episode.  The songs played a crucial role in the episode. Another tv show, WKRP in Cincinnati, that featured classic rock songs took them out for the dvd release and many fans were disappointed about this.  Hopefully this does not happen with The Wonder Years if it is released but odds are it will. 

As there are no official dvd releases and I don’t know of any tv stations which play the show regularly, I had to *ahem* find the episodes online.  Many of the episodes are old VHS copies which people have transferred to a computer which normally annoys me but for some odd reason it adds to the nostalgia.  It is like when I was younger and bored I would sometimes dig through old VHS tapes of tv shows I recorded that were now 5+ years old.  Even though they weren’t the best quality, it had the warm feeling of memories from when you were younger that were associated with it which at times were better than the shows.


Internet Communications and Social Networking

January 28, 2008

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When I first started using the Internet (probably in 1995 or 1996) I used IRC to talk with and communicate with my friends.  At the time all of these friends were people I knew physically.  (I did not have an e-mail address until a few months after using IRC as I didn’t know about Hotmail, Rocketmail or Yahoo! Mail).  I met many people on IRC from across the world and for a few years would probably talk to them at least once a week online.  Although I still occasionally use IRC, there is only one person who I met using it that I still keep in touch with who I haven’t met.

I noticed that in terms of communicating with others on the Internet there has been a trend.  For me, in terms of chatting online it went IRC->ICQ->MSN.  For many of my friends they skipped IRC and ICQ and have only used MSN.  During this change involving chat client I have noticed that Social Networking has seemed to take over.

I have had accounts with Hi5, Myspace and Facebook but one day I decided to delete my accounts on all of these sites.  The main reason I did it was that I found they were taking up too much of my time (especially Facebook) and in reality I had no real reason to be on them.  In my opinion Myspace is a great site if you are promoting something.  You can find thousands of musicians and comedians who have a venue to easily self promote where they may not have the opportunity elsewhere.  I don’t have anything to promote so I thought that being on there was somewhat useless.

I have heard stories of people using Facebook and finding people they have not talked to in years (whether it be old friends or classmates from school).  This shows how large and powerful of a site it is when so many people are members.  I did meet some people on there that I hadn’t talked to in a long time and still keep in touch with them without the site through e-mail.  In this respect, I find Facebook a powerful tool.  However, for me the cons outweighed the pros. 

It almost became an addiction with checking the site every few hours to see what is new and if I had got any messages.  An e-mail would be sent to me saying that I had a new message from someone but would not say from who.  As a user this was annoying as you had to login to the site to see the message but from a marketing point of view in terms of advertising, this was a smart tactic.  Now I know some people don’t like Facebook due to the advertising on it but it is somewhat naive to think that a site this large would be able to function without advertising or a pay to use platform.  However, some of the advertising techniques they use (such as Beacon) are more controversial.  These factors did play some part in my decision to leave Facebook but the biggest factor was that it was taking up too much of my time.  Now I have more free time to aimlessly surf the internet and do other unproductive things. 


Sampling and Turntablism

January 28, 2008

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“Caught, now in court cause I stole a beat
This is a sampling sport”
– Public Enemy – “Caught, Can We Get A Witness?”

 When it comes to sampling and turntablism in regards to music, I am pretty much clueless.  However I feel that both of these art forms are often neglected and given negative connotations as either “stealing” or “noise”.  If you are remotely interested in either sampling or turntabling, I recommend watching the documentary “Scratch“.

  Some people refer to scratching as merely noise due to a dj dragging a record against a needle to make sound or noise.  As well they may say all it really takes to do is a person to turn a record.  In regards to this, isn’t drumming just hitting something?  There is more to these arts then just simple body movements.  Some DJs and turntablists are able to take a single sample of an instrument and through various scratching techniques make it sound like this single instrument is playing a more complex piece.  For an awesome example and video of this check out Kid Koala – Drunk Trumpet.

  Sampling sometimes has the negative connation of “stealing” due to dj’s taking pieces or samples from other musician’s music.  However look at a musician like DJ Shadow who’s album “Endtroducing…” is built around samples and uses them merely as building blocks in creating a song that is uniquely different from the artists who he sampled from.  DJ Spooky has an interesting view on sampling in saying that songs which use many samples form kind of a network between songs and/or genres which may not have existed before.

To illustrate an example of this I am going to choose a song from, in my opinion, one of the greatest rap albums of all time: Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”.   The song I am choosing is “She Watch Channel Zero“.  According to Wikipedia the samples that are listed (and known) for this song are:


  • Angel of Death” by Slayer (guitar)
  • “Funky Drummer” by James Brown (drums) 

  •   In this respect, “She Watch Channel Zero” acts as a connector between Slayer’s “Angel of Death” and (the often sampled) “Funky Drummer” by James Brown.   This in a sense makes “She Watch Channel Zero” an amalgamation of a thrash metal song and a funk song.  Although this is a simple example consisting of two samples it helps to show how sampling can be viewed, in a sociological-like sense, as a bridge between two different musical genres that appear to share little in common. 


    Data and Technology

    January 27, 2008

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    Does it ever occur to you that that while you are sitting at a computer and say, surfing the web, that millions and millions of calculations are taking place with just zeros and ones?   Broken down into its lowest form of a bit, “a bit of storage is like a light switch; it can be either on (1) or off (0). A single bit is a one or a zero, a true or a false, a “flag” which is “on” or “off”. 

    For most people it would be a daunting task to take a program they use everyday, say an e-mail client such as Outlook, and even write the pseudocode for it.  From here, imagine writing actual workable source code from scratch that would allow this program to function.   Although even after completion of the previous task, the program code is still not broken down into zeroes and ones, but it gives you an idea of how powerful the process is. 

    Joe Rogan has a track on his new cd “Shiny Happy Jihad” in which he gives the premise that there is a disaster and only a room full of average people survive.  He comments that they would do fine  “until shit started breaking” and asks how long it would take someone if they were set in a forest with a hatchet to send an e-mail.  Although it is an extreme example it makes me wonder how many times in a day that I use something and ACTUALLY understand how it was made and how it works.


    Loudness War

    January 26, 2008

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    Today I had to drive four hours in total and decided to grab some cds that I hadn’t listened to in a while to make the ride more enjoyable.  One of the cds I chose was Red Hot Chili Peppers “Californication” which in my opinion is almost as good as “Blood Sugar Sex Magik“.  While I love the songs on the album, I also find that at sometimes it is physically painful to listen too.  The reason for this is the distortion and clipping that you can hear in some of the songs on the album.  Under “Californication” on wikipedia it is quoted that

    “The album received criticism for what Tim Anderson of The Guardian called “excessive compression and distortion” in the process of digital remastering,[28] and was the subject of an online petition which garnered over 1,000 signatures.Stylus Magazine labeled it as one of the victims of the loudness war and commented that it suffered from digital clipping so much that “even non-audiophile consumers complained about it”.

    The best way to understand what the loudness war is to hear an example of it.  The following clip on YouTube is the best explanation I’ve seen of it.

    Although I did not know exactly what this was referred to until a year or so ago, I knew there was something going on involving the levels that certain CDs were mastered at.  I remember listening to an older album in my car (I believe it was Tom Waits “Rain Dogs“) and having the volume at a comfortable level.  The next cd I put in was a newer album (I’m not entirely sure what it was) and I was shocked in how loud the album was in comparison to Tom Waits “Rain Dogs”.  I noticed that these older albums were “softer” in volume and had more dynamics in terms of differences between softer and louder parts of songs then newer albums.

      This is happening with older songs and albums being remastered as well.  The following is an example of the waveform image for The Beatles “Something” and the years that it was remastered for release.  Notice an increase in the loudness?

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    It almost seems like record companies are following the creed that “bigger is better” with their own: “louder is better”.