Wildfire pollution: a personal account

2020 is California’s worst fire season on historical record. Here in Berkeley, California, we were fortunate enough to never have evacuation warnings. What we got instead were unhealthy levels of pollution for a straight month. This happened all across the west coast.

There was one day–September 9th to be exact–when the sky turned a bright orange that people were comparing to Blade Runner 2049. Everyone and their mother took pictures of the sky that day–us included–and I imagine that these will be plastered everywhere as symbols of climate change for years to come.

The inside story is that September 9th was actually a brief reprieve, the pollution equivalent of the eye of the storm. I don’t understand the meteorology of it, but newspapers said that the sky was orange because the pollution was up there rather than down on the ground level. The worst was actually the next day, when the AQI reached the 300s.

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FtB fundraiser

You might have noticed the logo on the sidebar for FtB’s Carnival of Curiosity, a fundraising event.  (Some ad blockers may remove it.)  This is a livestream event to occur next weekend, from September 25-27.  FtB has been in debt for a while now because we owe legal fees for fighting off a SLAPP lawsuit–successfully, I might add.  Please consider contributing to keep this network running!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to participate in the fundraiser, but I will make a contribution of my own.

A music theory analysis of SUNN O)))

I’ve complained before about music theory, and how it fails to actually address any of the music I actually like. One kind of music I have in mind is drone music. Consider, for instance, this reddit thread on the music theory of SUNN O)))

Honestly most drone is fifths and minor scales, it’s not really complicated.

The attitude being expressed is that drone music is too simple to require any music theory. This is a failure to engage with the music on its own terms. If that’s all there is, then what, pray tell, distinguishes different songs and artists? Are they just all interchangeable?

While it may be the case that drone music is particularly simple, I feel that this only makes the lack of a music theory all the more frustrating. Most music theory is frankly too complicated for me to understand, and it would actually be nice to have some simple music theory for once, if only music theorists didn’t think it was beneath them. In any case, I think the theory behind drone music is likely more complicated than they are making it out to be. Drone is highly preoccupied with texture (aka timbre)–a subject so difficult that music theory as a field has basically given up on it.

Anyway, in the spirit of being the change I want to see, I analyzed the spectrograms of a couple SUNN O))) songs.

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Link Roundup: September 2020

OpenAI’s latest breakthrough is astonishingly powerful, but still fighting its flaws | The Verge – GPT-3 is a new language AI with astounding power.  GPT-3 first grabbed my attention when I saw someone use it to produce a response to philosophers talking about GPT-3.  Sure, some cherry-picking is involved, but the result is more cogent than the average internet commenter.  To temper (or amplify) the hype, I suggest looking at this massive compilation of GPT-3 results, including experiments that failed.  Among other things, GPT-3 is apparently terrible at making cat puns.

Although not created by GPT-3, I also thought these image completions were incredible.

Beethoven Sucks At Music | 12tone (Video, 14 min)
Music Theory and White Supremacy | Adam Neely (Video, 44 min) – Now this is the music youtube content that I am here for.  12tone explains some of the history that led Beethoven and other classical composers to be canonized.  Adam Neely discusses how “music theory” as it is commonly understood, is really the theory of 18th century European music.  The framing of 18th century European music as the objective measure by which all music must be judged is structural white supremacy.  I have a passing interest in music theory, and it’s difficult to learn in the best of times, but I find it doubly frustrating because it fails to describe any of the music I listen to.  I feel like these videos have named the problem.

If you liked these videos, you might also appreciate the paper that Neely’s video is based on: “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame“.

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COVID and perspectives on causality

Recently, people have been circulating a statistic from the CDC that says 94% of death certificates listing COVID-19 as a cause of death also list at least one other cause of death. For instance, if someone catches COVID, can’t breathe anymore and dies, perhaps the doctors would also list “Respiratory failure” as one of the causes of death, in addition to COVID. Come to think of it, why do only a third of COVID deaths include respiratory failure as a cause, how exactly is COVID killing people if not by causing respiratory failure?  Before parading around this statistic, I have to ask, do we really understand what it’s even saying?

That misleading statistic came to my attention because a friend wrote a Vox article about it. He brings not a medical perspective, but a psychology perspective, discussing the cognitive biases that make people bad at understanding causation.

Causation is also a favorite topic of mine as well, although I come at it from a different set of perspectives: philosophy, physics, and law. And although I don’t have medical expertise, it’s not hard to find the medical standard of causation from google, so I include that at the end.

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Olivia (from Origami King)

I haven’t really felt motivated to do origami since March.  But then I played Paper Mario: Origami King.  The game itself is whatever, but the art is great.  I love the premise of having origami be the villain of the story.  In a world where all the characters are made of paper, origami plays the role of zombie menace.

There’s a pretty wide range of origami, from traditional forms to stuff that’s only possible in fiction.  On the fantastical end are the Vellumentals (video contains spoilers).  On the realistic end is the origami castle, made of Sonobe units.  And then there are these two main characters:

Concept art from Origami King. The purple character is the villain, Olly. The yellow character is the sidekick, Olivia.

These characters look nearly like real origami, but they’re not quite.  Or at least, it’s not possible to make them as simply as it is portrayed in the game.  I enjoy reverse-engineering origami, so I thought I’d give this one a shot.

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