Friday, March 04, 2005

Wanderers Meeting 2005.3.1

Last Tuesday's gathering featured Jon Bunce, an accomplished musician, who shared from his unpublished manuscript on chromatic harmony. I'd helped him assemble the PowerPoint slides on previous occasions, using my Brother MFC-8820D (which double-sided laser printer, fax machine and scanner I'm quite happy with).

Jon talked about the tone ratios, the just scale, the division of the octave into 1200 cents, and the equal tempered scale -- just scratching the surface, but given his mostly non-musician audience, we felt in over our heads pretty quickly. He gave us this background enroute to explaining his own way of labeling 352 chords based on the intervals included in them. For example, the 19 three-tone chords, complementary to 19 nine-tone chords, distill to 12 unique values with identifiers like (0 2 0 1 0 0) and (1 1 1 0 0 0).

Listening to Jon reminded me of listening to Stu Quimby, the toy man, who also has a lot of fascinating stuff to say on music theory. Per usual, I started fantasizing about all the DVD clips we could build around this topic, weaving in the relevant math (an octave is a frequency doubling, so stepping up by 12 equal intervals, including sharps, involves successive multiplications by the 12th root of 2).

Per the DVD clips, I met with Ben again, the CS major with background at Sesame Street during the height of Elmo's reign (he'd done classified stuff for the military, coding battlefield simulators and so on, before stepping up to kids' education).

I eagerly pumped him with questions about the size of the Sesame Street vid clip database, whether it was all in digital format, whether all clips about the letter A could be retrieved using some kind of automated query.

I'm interested in this stuff because of the clips database I want to see emerge around more advanced topics, i.e. lets follow these kids on up the ladder with a similar format (video shorts), but tackling harder stuff (e.g. music, group and number theory). Back in the 1980s, I wrote a proposal to then Childrens Television Workshop to do just that. I called it The Videogrammatron.


I'd contract with or hire Ben if I could find the right think tank, but what established institutions outside the Fuller School are taking our kids' educational programming at all seriously nowadays? Like, we'd already have a fleet of bizmos, staffed by master teachers, fanning out across the country, sharing these curriculum clips from juke boxes, holding seminars for teachers and students, were Project Renaissance really being spearheaded by competent management, no?

Wasn't it Education Secretary William Bennett who said our country might as well be under attack by a foreign power, and losing big time, given how dumbed down we all were? At least he put his money where is mouth was, and helped our navam casinos fund tribal projects (actually, I don't know which casinos he helped). Shouldn't the military be interested in this "under attack" possibility? Maybe a foreign ideology is invested in keeping us stupid. I'm worried about Australia.

Congress gives lip service to providing social security (boosting education is obviously a big part of that), but the thinking is all in terms of money, as if wealth magically increases regardless of whether our collective thought processes make any sense or not.

That design science revolution Bucky kept going on about: that was about providing baby boomers (among others) with a comfortable retirement. Did they go for it? Some did, and at great risk, but most paid little attention and now speak some dialect of money which does little or nothing to enhance or amplify the real wealth and life supportive infrastructure of this country. A lot of these highly paid money talkers actually do negative real work i.e. we'd be better off funding their reschooling.

Below decks, the engineers are still making some sense (some of them). But what fills the airwaves and talk shows is just a lot of blather, as if a society could cohere around stock market tickers and interest rates (greenspam) with little to no shared vision of where we're actually headed as a culture. Remember the dot com bubble? Serious Morlock technology was quickly hijacked by a bunch of know-nothing get-rich-quick Eloi, who dumbed it down with their silly IPO games; yet another march of the morons goes into the history books.


Followup: congratulations to wanderer Julian Voss-Andreae (artist/scientist) for getting published in the most recent LEONARDO (Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 41–45, 2005).