Shamisen Serendipity

I don’t listen to the radio any more, and I don’t listen to music TV either. This makes me dependent on other forms of media (movies, TV shows, YouTube) and other guides (blogs, friends) to help me find my music. What I’ve discovered is that I’m encountering much more eclectic music this way, and interestingly, a lot of it isn’t very recent. In fact, a few of my favourite bands had already broken up by the time I started listening to their music (alas for The Delgados…).

My latest discovery has been the Yoshida Brothers. If you’ve seen the Nintendo Wii commercial, then you’ll have heard them. The music uses the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument that is plucked rather fast. I can’t imagine how I would possibly have heard their music on the radio or on TV, and even if I did, it would’ve been difficult to discover who they were. With the internet, and in this case, YouTube, I was able to listen to it and find a note written by another viewer who knew the artist.

I’m quite curious as to how other people discover new music. We have Pandora – an internet radio station which can be customised for various styles of music – at work, and I heard a few new artists that way, but after a while it became rather boring. If you turn on the ‘Zero 7’ station, unsurprisingly, you just end up hearing songs that remind you of Zero 7, but often not quite as inspired or good.

Whenever I’m at Oxford, it’s always interesting to have a look around the music being shared over iTunes and browsing people’s libraries – if I find someone with similar tastes, I check out their other highly rated songs for ones I haven’t heard of. Of course, this only works if people actually rate their songs (a startling high number do not). A new iTunes plugin called iLike seems as if it might do the trick in terms of looking for patterns between your favourite songs and other people’s and then suggesting new artists, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to installing it quite yet. I’m slightly surprised Apple hasn’t built in the functionality themselves, but who knows what they’re planning…

Notes on the BBC Audio Drama Festival

On Tuesday, after about five hours of sleep following the Second Life ARG panel, I found myself at the BBC Audio Drama Festival in London. As usual, I was due to give a talk about ARGs. I did think it was a little strange that I was invited to speak, because while we do have audio drama in Perplex City, it’s not our focus, but what the hell – it seemed interesting, and I thought I might learn something.

And I did. I won’t go over my talk because it was the usual introductory stuff (although I might write up something about the audio components one of these days), but I’ll provide a few notes on the other speakers. Continue reading “Notes on the BBC Audio Drama Festival”

…in Second Life

It’s late notice, I know, but I’m going to be in Second Life tonight at midnight, talking about Perplex City, ARGs and (unsurprisingly) Second Life. It’s part of the Second Life Future Salon, and hosted by the Electric Sheep Company. You can find out more here. Also, you don’t need to be in SL to watch the talk – it’s being shown as a video at Destroy TV.

Although I have read an awful lot about Second Life and expounded many times on it, I’ve never actually played it until now. Many of my thoughts were confirmed, and some were overturned. I definitely intend to write up something about it… after the talk tonight.

Where’s Adrian? (The Sequel)

Next week, I’m speaking at a couple of conferences on Perplex City in London. Can you guess I didn’t get much notice? Anyway, if you happen to be going to either, please say hi!

Tuesday November 28th: BBC Audio Drama Festival. I’m speaking on the Gaming panel, which is at 9:30am and also repeated at 11:30am.

Friday December 1st: FutureMedia C21 Conference. I’ll be on the first ‘Case Studies from the Digital Frontier‘ panel at 9:50am.

I’m probably going to the London MetaFilter meetup on December 8th, and I’m going to be in Toronto from December 13th to 21st.

In other news, I’ve posted a rather long comment with further thoughts on religion and a ‘church without religion’, in response to Chris and Brooke’s interesting points. I’m talking to a lot of people about this (probably boring them to death) and doing a lot of thinking. It’s a very interesting subject.

On Religion

When I was 16, I was a member of my school’s debating society. As with all school debating societies, it wasn’t long before we landed on the topic of ‘Science vs. Religion’. It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that, at the time, I strongly self-identified as a scientist and atheist, and so I naturally took the position of ‘Science’. I think the teacher was pretty pleased by this, mainly because he hadn’t had any luck in finding any other people prepared to take that position.

The debate attracted the largest audience the society had ever seen – at least two dozen! I was up against a couple of people from the neighboring girls’ school, and I must confess that I don’t remember a single word they said. In fact, the only thing I remember from that debate is my declaration that religion had caused wars, created strife, impeded scientific progress and was essentially good for nothing. Was there anything good about religion, someone asked. Continue reading “On Religion”

The Prestige

I find that when a movie is over-effusively recommended to me, my expectations become raised to the point where I can only be disappointed. So I’ll keep this short: you probably only have three more days to see The Prestige at your local cinema. I suggest you check it out. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen that equals, if not betters, the book it was based on – and in this case, the book was extremely impressive in its own right.


‘Ministry’ is the name of the latest installment of G. W. Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. These sixty page booklets have been arriving on my desk every Monday for the last five weeks, and there are still another five to go. It’s certainly a novel delivery system.

I can’t remember exactly how I heard about ‘The Glass Books’ – either it was from a weblog or from our lead writer, Naomi Alderman – but I didn’t require much convincing to pay £25 to sign up for the weekly installments. Whether or not the story was any good seemed immaterial, I just loved the idea that a publisher was releasing a book in this way, just like the old penny dreadfuls from over a century ago. Continue reading “Ministry”

The Name of the Gene

While studying biology and genetics at Cambridge, we learned the names of a lot of genes. One of these was Sonic Hedgehog, a rather important gene involved in development of many organisms. Our lecturers always seemed inordinately pleased to tell us this gene’s name, perhaps hoping that the ‘cool’ name would rub off on the subject and themselves. Let me tell you this: there is nothing cool about calling a gene ‘Sonic Hedgehog’.

The New York Times has found a few people who agree, in their article ‘Sonic Hedgehog’ Sounded Funny, at First (at first? I don’t know if it ever sounded funny). There are many other genes with similarly foolish names, although none quite as silly as ‘Sonic Hedgehog’. I think even our lecturers got tired of it and after a while we just called it ‘Shh’.

At the moment, people can call genes pretty much whatever they want, and so it’s no surprise that you get a lot of crap; let’s face it, people aren’t scientists because of their sense of humour or literary skills. The whole thing still depresses me though; it suggests to the world that geneticists are just a bunch of jokers who can’t take things seriously, or at the very least, make a good joke.

There is no equivalent body in biology to the International Astronomical Union, which officially names all stars, planets, asteroids, and pretty much everything else in space, and there probably never will be. Biology moves faster than astronomy, and there are an awful lot of organisms and genes out there, and far more biologists than astronomers. The prospect of being able to name your very own gene is no small incentive for biologists, and most people take the privilege quite seriously. As usual though, there are a few people who spoil the fun for everyone.

Who supports longer copyright?

Various news outlets today have been claiming that the Public ‘support longer copyright’. I quote from the BBC article:

62% of people polled by YouGov for the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) think UK artists should be protected for 95 years, as they are in the US.

I found this very surprising – I can hardly believe that many people in the UK really care about copyright durations, and I imagine that those that do are likely to be opposed to it. This survey, of course, shows that I’m wrong. Or am I? It all depends on the exact question that was asked int he survey. The Observer article puts a slightly different slant on it:

The study, by YouGov, found that 62 per cent of those polled believe British artists should receive the same copyright protection as their US counterparts.

Ah… this is obviously not the same thing as the British public actually wanting 45 years added to copyright. This is the public wanting copyright parity with the US, without necessarily knowing (or being told) what the US or UK copyright regimes actually are. If people were asked the question ‘Do you think British artists should receive the same copyright protection as those in the US?’, I’m hardly surprised that they agreed. Why wouldn’t they? The US seems to be a reasonable enough place, so surely we should have the same copyright rules.

Unfortunately for the BPI, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for their aim of enriching their members. The simple fact is that they can’t risk an open question of prolonging copyright, because there’s a real chance that most people would be against it, hence the reason for disguising the question.

I would dearly love to find out the exact data gathered by YouGov for this BPI survey. Hopefully it’ll be released next week and we can find out whether I’m right. The problem is that even if I am right, it’s hardly likely that any newspapers will bother changing their articles.

One more quote from the Observer:

Just under 70 per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds hold that view, the highest of any age group surveyed. That is likely to surprise some observers, as they are the generation most likely to illegally download songs.

If it surprised you, why didn’t you spend a minute to look into it? Or perhaps that’s not your job as a journalist.