Except for a few trees that have existed for a millennium or more, hydrazoans that can regress to a larval state and regrow into adults multiple times, and single-celled organisms that replicate through cell division, most living organisms are young. Some live days or weeks, others a single year, still others decades, and a few a century or more.
My mother celebrated her 103rd birthday this past week, but what I notice is her lack of friends, something she has commented on since before she was 90. They have all died off. The last one lived to 102.
Reflecting on this I have decided that it makes most sense to seek out friendships with younger, rather than older, people. If people were 30 years younger, then when I reach 90, they will still be a youthful 60 (or less). Hopefully, most of them will still be alive.
This means that I am prioritizing friendships with people who are born in 1975 or later. Yet, I do not intend to be fanatical. If I find someone interesting born in, say 1947, or earlier, I will also offer them friendship.
For various reasons, some people choose to have pets (companion animals). Are these creatures substitutes for friends? In many cases it appears so. I feel absolutely no need to complicate my life co-habitating with a cat or dog or even a Guinea pig, and especially not a younger woman.
Data: The world’s oldest individual from a clonal tree is Old Tjikko, about 9 550-year-old. This Norway spruce located the in Fulufjället Mountains in Sweden, according to Leif Kullman, Umeå University. Old Tjikko is suspected to be the only living trunk of an ancient clonal colony.
The tree’s age was revealed by carbon-14 dating its root system. Four generations of spruce remains were found at the site, all with the same genetics. Spruce trees can multiply by cloning, so while the individual trunk is younger, the organism has existed for at least 9 550 years. There is a cluster of about 20 spruce trees in these Swedish mountains estimated to be over 8 000 years old.
The oldest known living animal is a nematode, recovered in 2015 near the Alazeya River, in Siberia, Russia, and revived. It was dated at approximately 41 700 years old – making it more than four times older than Old Tjikko.
Note: This post differs from some other tidbits. It was written 2019-10-30.
A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In this weblog, most tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been awaiting editing and expansion for at least six (6) months. Today, I am flaunting these rules, and exposing myself once again as a rebel.
Shawn W. Rosenberg claims that western democracy is devouring itself and won’t last. Rosenberg’s prognosis is that over the coming decades, western democracies will decline in number. Those that remain will become shrivelled pseudo-democratic incarnations of themselves. Right-wing populist governments will offer voters (and increasingly non-voting citizens) simple answers to complicated questions.
And therein lies the core of his argument: Democracy is difficult and requires effort from those who participate in it. It requires people to: respect those with different views from theirs and people who don’t look like them; process vast amounts of information and separate good from bad, truth from falsehood; apply thoughtfulness, discipline and logic.
While Rosenberg focuses his professional attention on what is happening, my amateur status allows me to fantasize on why. Once again, I will target the evils of conservative and libertarian economics, which has created a miniscule minority of winners, while it has also created an ever increasing mob of losers: People pressed into earning less than a living wage, whose time has been stolen from them, so they have little opportunity for rest (including proper sleep) and relaxation, let alone for the effort required to maintain a democracy.
Democracy is not a single, unified way of governing, but a family of approaches to government. American political scientist Larry Diamond, states that a democracy must fulfill four key characteristics: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. See: Larry Diamond and Morlino, L., The quality of democracy. In Larry Diamond, In Search of Democracy (2016).
Said another way, democracy can be operationalized in different ways, yet still fulfill these four basic elements.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (microstates are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy ”; “flawed democracy ”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime”. (p. 2)
My position is privileged, living in Norway, the country ranked #1, in the latest published (2018) Index, and raised in Canada, tied at #6. Altogether there are 20 full democracies of 167 countries, representing 4.5 percent of the world’s population.
This weblog post is scheduled for publication 2019-10-29, the day that celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Báb, born Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819 – 1850), the first of two prophets in the Bahá’í Faith.
The principles of the Baha’i Faith include: gender equality; the harmony of science and religion; the need for universal compulsory education; the need for a universal auxiliary language; an obligation to independently investigate truth; and, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty. One of the appeals of the Baha’i Faith, when I first encountered it in 1972, was its administrative order, including its system of elections. Perhaps that is what Shoghi Effendi (1897 – 1957), Guardian (head) of the Baha’i Faith from 1921 – 1957, was aware of, when he implemented the current incarnation of a Baha’i administrative order.
This administrative order does not pretend to be entirely democratic. Shoghi Effendi stated that it incorporates elements of autocracy, aristocracy and democracy. His objective was to include “such wholesome elements as are to be found in each one of them…” while excluding the “admitted evils inherent in each of these systems…” so it “cannot ever degenerate into any form of despotism, of oligarchy, or of demagogy which must sooner or later corrupt the machinery of all man-made and essentially defective political institutions.”
Baha’i elections are at variance from standard western democratic practice. At the local, regional (uncommon), national and world level there are boards (Spiritual Assemblies/ House of Justice) each currently consisting of nine members. Nominations and campaigning are prohibited to guard against manipulation. Voters are discouraged from consulting with each other about the suitability of individuals. However, they are encouraged to study and discuss, in abstract, the qualities needed to serve, but without to individuals. Individuals should be voted for on the basis of their qualities.
The definition of transhumanism used by the World Transhumanist Association is: an advocacy, for the ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities.
For religious transhumanists, the operative word is ethical.
Some early writers:
J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) Daedalus: Science and the Future, 1923 http://bactra.org/Daedalus.html
J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) The World, the Flesh and the Devil, 1929 http://www.quarkweb.com/foyle/WorldFleshDevil.pdf
W. D. Lighthall (1857-1954) The Law of Cosmic Evolutionary Adaptation: An Interpretation of Recent Thought, 1940, discussed in, Peter Harrison & Joseph Wolyniak, The History of ‘Transhumanism’. Notes and Queries 62, 2015, 465–7 https://doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjv080
Julian Huxley (1887-1975) Transhumanism, in, New Bottles for New Wine, London: Chatto & Windus, 1957, pp. 13-17 https://web.archive.org/web/20160625132722/http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/more/huxley
I. J. Good (1916-2009) Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine, Advances in Computers, vol. 6, 1965. https://web.archive.org/web/20111128085512/http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Good-Speculations-Concerning-the-First-Ultraintelligent-Machine.pdf
Note: This post was intended to be a chronology of Transhumanism. It was originally written 2018-07-11 and saved at 20h13m36s. It is published in this inferior state to acknowledge that the topic is no longer being prioritized by this writer, and to encourage others, who may have an interest in the subject, to create related, but more interesting, in-depth weblog posts.
A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In this weblog, tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been awaiting editing and expansion for at least six (6) months.
It is now over fifty years since I first heard a recording of a synthesizer, and became intrigued (but not enthralled) by this rather artificial music production machine, as were many other young people. As is frequently the case, the older generation was more sceptical. Wendy (then Walter) Carlos (1939 – ) performed on and programmed the synthesizer, Benjamin Folkman (? – ) performed on supplementary keyboards, while Rachel Elkind (1939 – ) produced. The album was Switched-on Bach (1968), and referred to ten works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) in the public domain.
These pieces were played on a modular Moog synthesizer. The recording process was labour intensive, and necessitated a close cooperation with Robert Moog (1934 – 2005), designer of the instrument. A custom 8-track recording machine was built by Carlos from components. The synthesizer was monophonic, meaning only one note could be played at a time. This meant that each track had to be added individually. Each note had to be released before the next note could start. In addition the synthesizer frequently needed to be tuned, because of tonal drift. The album took approximately five months and about one thousand hours to produce. By 1974 over a million copies of it had been sold.
Why anyone would want to buy an off-the-shelf synthesizer is beyond my comprehension. Synths are ideal DIY projects. Despite this, there are several approaches that can be taken to build one.
YouTube contains a number of sites dedicated to music and electronics. The one I have found most useful is Notes & Volts. Its three basic Arduino videos provide insights that go beyond the introductory tutorials provided by Jeremy Blum: Arduino on a Breadboard; Arduino as ISP; Arduino on a Proto-Board. It also has 9 videos about MIDI for the Arduino. All of these provide insights that extend far beyond the Arduino. There are also several music related projects, including an Arduino Granular Synth and a Teensy Synth. More information about the Teensy Synth is available at Arduino Slovakia. Teensy is a development board made in Sherwood, Oregon. The latest version, 4.0 uses an ARM Cortex-M7 processor at 600 MHz. However, the Notes & Volts synth specifies version 3.2 using a much less powerful ARM Cortex-M4 processor at 72 MHz.
Another approach is to find a kit, buy it and build it, slavishly following provided instructions. Elektor is probably the best place to look. It is a bi-monthly electronics magazine first published in Dutch in 1960, and in English since 1975, renamed ElektorLabs magazine in 2019. It offers a wide range of electronic projects, background articles and targets engineers as well as enthusiasts. Synthesizers are just one area of many, where PCBs, kits and modules are available. Microcontroller based projects have downloadable source code and (sometimes) executable files available free of charge from their website, along with PCB and other artwork.
People who regard assembly of an IKEA flatpack, as DIY, will be pleased to hear that Eurorack is the flatpack standard for modular synths. The format was originally specified in 1996 by Doepfer Musikelektronik. There are two basic technical specifications that have to be met:
The starting point for constructing a Eurorack is usually a case and power supply. DIY cheaters, will be able to buy these either separately, or together. The electrical specifications require the use of a red stripe to mark the -12V supply on each module’s power cable, and include keyed connectors which physically prevent modules from being plugged in incorrectly. 3.5 mm monojacks are used to connect
Purists will then populate their rack with modules containing sources and processors.
Sources – characterized by an output, but no signal input; it may have control inputs:
VCO – Voltage-controlled oscillator, a continuous voltage source, with an output signal that may be a simple or dynamically modified waveform.
Noise source – A random voltage output typically providing white, pink and/ or low frequency noise.
LFO – A low-frequency oscillator, optionally voltage-controlled. Typically used as a control voltage for another module.
EG – An envelope generator is a transient voltage source, typically configured as ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) to control the amplitude of a VCA.
Sequencer, aka Analog Step Sequencer, may act as a source or a processor.
Processors – characterized by a signal input and an output; it may have control inputs:
VCF – Voltage-controlled filter, attenuates = lessens frequencies below (high-pass), above (low-pass) or both below and above (band-pass) or between (band-reject = notch) certain frequency. Typically with variable resonance, sometimes voltage-controlled.
VCA – Voltage-controlled amplifier, typically a unity-gain amplifier which varies the amplitude of a signal in response to an applied control voltage, with a linear or exponential response curve.
LPG – Low pass gate using a resistive opto-isolator to respond to the control voltage.
RM – Ring modulator where two audio inputs create sum and difference frequencie but suppress original signals.
Mixer – A module that adds voltages.
Slew limiter – Sub-audio lowpass filter.
S&H – Sample and hold, typically used as a control-voltage processor.
Sequencer- (see above).
To populate their rack appropriately, the ModularGrid database can be used to find suitable modules. As this is being written in 2019-10, there are 8 525 Eurorack modules to choose from, that have populated 224 551 racks in the Eurorack universe.
The advantage of a modular synth is that it can be whatever one wants it to be. The user is the designer. It is relatively easy to customize. It also allows the user to start off small, and to expand gradually. This has a second advantage. It takes time to learn how to use gear. One can start off by reading the manual, but then one has to experiment. Patching = connecting with 3.5 mm monojack cables, is part of this process. If a module turns out to be of limited use, it can be sold – or even traded.
Originally written as Publishers, then changed to Some British Publishers.
I am happy that there were many publishing houses in the world. Variety was the staple of the book trade, and much needed in today’s uniformed world. In this post, I thought I would reminisce about one of the publishing houses that influenced me over many years, David & Charles.
David St John Thomas and Charles Hadfield started David & Charles at Newton Abbot, Devon in 1960. I found their titles on Britain’s canals and railways fascinating, and in particular their works that incorporated industrial archaeology. It did not hurt their reputation that the company was based in the Newton Abbot railway station building or that the locomotive shed was used as a warehouse. They also published travel books, including an Islands series and the Light and the Land photography books by Colin Baxter. In 1971, the company bought Readers’ Union, with book clubs for even more enthusiasts such as needlecraft and other handicrafts, gardening, horses and photography. The company was sold to the American F+W Publications in 2000. F+W were similar specialist publishers, but for the American market.
Note: This post was intended to provide information about several British publishers. The others to be included were: Faber & Faber, Observer Books and Pelican Books. It was originally written 2018-02-08 and saved at 02h07m41s. It is published in this inferior state to acknowledge that the topic is no longer being prioritized by this writer, and to encourage others, who may have an interest in the subject, to create related, but more interesting, in-depth weblog posts.
A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In the context of this weblog, tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been waiting to be edited and expanded for at least six (6) months.
Pianists are typically dependent on the venues where they play, to provide them with an appropriate instrument. Without a team of roadies, it just isn’t practical to load a piano onto the back of a tour bus, and offload it for every concert/ gig. Other musicians may have instruments with considerably lower mass. A piccolo weighs in at about 160 g, a flute is generally less than a kilo, a trumpet just slightly more. Even a tuba has a mass of 20 kg or less. An upright piano weighs about 200 kg, and a grand piano may reach 500 kg, or more.
The pianoforte was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 – 1731) about 1700. This early instrument is a vastly different from the one in use today, which is a distinctive product of the industrial revolution. Not only does the modern version offer a larger tonal range, its treble register is enriched by using a three string choir. Wire strings mounted onto an iron frame, precision cast to withstand the tremendous tension of these strings, also offer the opportunity to vary loudness. Accessibility to the piano was enhanced with the invention of an upright piano in 1826 by Robert Wornum (1780 – 1852).
Is the acoustic piano still fit for purpose in the 21st-century? Opinions are mixed.
Enter the keyboard. Even one that is relatively massive, such as the Yamaha MX88 with its 88 full-sized, touch-sensitive keys, weighs in with a mass of less than 15 kg. It is a lightweight and portable synthesizer, augmented with over 1 000 voices from a sound engine that can mimic strings, woodwinds, brass and even pianos! Many professional users complain that it doesn’t work well as a synthetic pipe-organ, in part because it lacks drawbars, and features a piano oriented keybed. Keybed refers to the keys of a keyboard and their underlying mechanisms.
I am imagining my mail box filling with an infinite number of virtual complaints from irritated Scandinavians for my failure to prioritize their regional favourite, the Swedish Clavia Nord. To make amends, I will not mention other Japanese brands such as Casio, Korg or Roland that make impressive keyboards, but focus all my energies for the rest of this paragraph to describe a Nord Electro 6. Yes, it weighs less than the Yamaha. Yes, it has fewer keys (73 or 61), but the keybeds are available in two flavours, hammer action for pianists, and weighted waterfall for organists. Yes, it can imitate 1960’s transistor organs, Vox Continental and Farfisa Compact. Yes, it is available in an attractive red. It also costs over twice the price (over NOK 20 000), compared to a Yamaha (less than NOK 10 000).
Stop! I’ve tried to illustrate by example, a major problem with many equipment reviews. They attempt to compare two (or sometimes even three or more) products, and are far too taken up with the specific qualities of some market leaders, rather than looking at the principles that will help a person decide what sort of product they need.
It is important to understand the intended purpose of a keyboard. There are different qualities of keyboards for different purposes. A synthesizer is a keyboard that produces sounds, without additional equipment, although some may need amplifiers and/ or speakers. A keyboard synth is especially useful for musicians interested in practising and performing. It is something that will fit in any practice room as well as any performance venue. Most use sample-based synthesis, using pre-recorded sounds. The Yamaha MX88 is an example of such an instrument. In contrast, the Nord Electro 6 is – at least in part – an analogue synth that manipulate electrical signals to create sounds. The number of keys on these instruments can vary, but with 49, 61 and 88 being three standard offerings.
For composing and recording, a music workstation is an upscale device from a synth, that can be more appropriate for recording work because it incorporates more hardware and software. It is also more difficult to use. It is essentially a computer in disguise. The most important additions involve onboard storage, such as hard disk drives or SD card slots capable of preserving multi-track recordings of performances. They typically include a touch-screen display. Connectivity to and from other devices is also important. Perhaps the most important music workstation was the Open Labs Production Station, introduced in 2003. Unfortunately, Open Labs went out of business in 2010. Many music workstations use custom operating systems built on top of the Linux kernel. Less sophisticated, but more portable models, are often referred to as arranger keyboards.
Digital pianos differ from the above instruments in that they only try to fake one instrument – an acoustic piano. Typically, they use weighted keybeds or hammer action to realistically simulate the feel of an acoustic piano. Their embedded sound clips are most often sourced from acoustic pianos, with realistic sustain and decay programmed in. Most digital pianos have 88 keys. Amplifiers and speakers may be separate, or built into console units designed for residential use.
Most modern electric organs today use sample based sound synthesis, but incorporate drawbars and modulation wheels to modify sounds.
If, at this point, I were asked which of these I would prefer, my honest answer would have to be – none of the above. My interest in a keyboard is limited to having a MIDI controller, a device that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to other MIDI-enabled devices that will ultimately play some form of electronic music, when attached to appropriate amplifiers and speakers/ headphones.
MIDI controllers come in various of forms including drum pads and other control surfaces, samplers, sequences and other units with knobs and/ or sliders, as well as keyboards. There are even wind (read: breath) control units. This means that I want a synthesizer separate from the keyboard. Potentially, it could be inside a computer, but even here there is a need for flexibility.
Keyboard MIDI controllers vary in the numbers of keys offered (from 25 to 88) and response characteristics. They can be velocity-sensitive – where they respond to the speed at which they are pressed; varying degrees of weighting for varying degrees of piano like realism; with or without aftertouch, to assign additional parameters including vibrato or filter sweeps. The most impressive characteristic of a keyboard MIDI controller is its cost, typically from less than NOK 1 000 to 3 000.
The MIDI communication protocol avoids sounds, but encrypts parameters that specify sound characteristics so that a hardware or software instrument can decrypt them and play a sequence of sounds. In 2019-01 a new MIDI 2.0 was announced, updating MIDI with auto-configuration, new DAW/web integrations, extended resolution, increased expressiveness and tighter timing. It is backward compatible with previous versions of MIDI, preserving the interoperability of older devices.
There are two other devices that should be mentioned in conjunction with keyboards. A sequencer is a device that records MIDI data and plays it in a user-programmed sequence. It is in essence a 21st-century player piano. A sampler records live sounds digitally to produce audio clips. These clips can be manipulated in various ways. Some keyboards incorporate sequencing and or sampling capabilities, usually implemented using a combination of hardware and software.
An alternative approach to the use of a keyboard synthesizer or a music workstation, is to use a Eurorack modular synthesizer. Its format was originally specified in 1996 by Doepfer Musikelektronik. Currently, it is the dominant hardware modular synthesizer format. There are over 5000 modules available from more than 270 manufacturers.
Once the category of keyboard has been determined, it is then possible to specify the characteristics of its components. Here are some, in order of importance.
Connectivity: Keyboards can connect to computers (and other devices) physically for the transfer of data in a variety of ways. There are FireWire, MIDI, mLAN and S/PDIF and many other types of interfaces that will work. However, a guiding principle should be to avoid these and other legacy connectors, and stick to USB ports, where these are available. Analogue signals are another matter, XLR connectors, 6.35 mm (1/4″) TRS audio jacks and 3.5 mm TRS minijacks are all commonly used. 3.5 mm monojacks are also used to connect to Eurorack synthesizers. Digital audio can be combined with video using HDML connectors.
Number of keys: They vary from 25 to 88. Reasons for opting for less than 88 include space restrictions and musical genre. Personally, I am considering 61 keys, but will be making a mockup of both it, and a 49 key unit, to ensure it will fit onto the height adjustable desk that I will be using.
Keybed action: There are four main choices. Weighted, semi-weighted, hammer and synth. Weighted and semi-weighted offer varying degrees of resistance. Hammer action approaches the feel of an acoustic piano, with mechanical hammers. Synth action could be more properly called no action, because of its lack of resistance. Personally, I would want something in the middle (weighted or semi-weighted), rather than something more extreme.
Key sensitivity refers to the ability of a key to sense the force/ speed of a key and to either to create a sound or send an appropriate MIDI message.
To understand voicing, polyphony and timbrality it is necessary to look at some theory, along with recent technological history. Voice is used in two distinct ways. In the second paragraph, the Yamaha MX88 was described as having 1 000 voices. That is, 1 000 descriptions of how a sound potentially can be played involving an oscillator, amplifier and assorted filters. When the time comes to actually play a note, a specific voice will be selected. A monophonic instrument is one that can only play one note at a time. It cannot play chords. Most woodwinds and brass instruments are monophonic. During the 1960’s and 1970’s almost all synthesizers were also monophonic.
A polyphonic instrument allows many notes to be played simultaneously allowing the possibility of playing chords. A piano is an example of a polyphonic instrument. The Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, an analogue synthesizer manufactured between 1978 and 1984, was the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer and the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor. Now, most synthesizers are polyphonic, producing between 8 and 128 note polyphony.
Timbrality refers to the ability of a keyboard to play notes on different channels simultaneously. A mono-timbral instrument produces one sound on a single channel. A multi-timbral instrument can produce sounds on multiple channels. For example, one channel might imitate a piano, a second channel a guitar, a third channel a bass and a fourth channel a flute, etc.
Arpeggiator: An arpeggio is a chord whose notes are played successively, rather than simultaneously. An arpeggiator electronically creates an arpeggio when a single note is played on the keyboard.
Since I am not a musician, I cannot justify the expense of an expensive keyboard. When called onto the financial director’s carpet to justify a keyboard purchase, at some time in the future, I will have to explain why I need yet another, relatively expensive input device. Fortunately, she is used to my imaginative stories. I will try to divert attention away from the purchase price, to the cost saving of not buying a Nord Electro 6.
Here is my short list of MIDI keyboards with prices in NOK (Norwegian kroner). The quick, but not particularly precise, way to convert NOK to USD is to divide these prices by 10.
Komplete Kontrol MKIII
The MIDI keyboard will be used to input data to LMMS, an open source digital audio workstation application program on an Asus VivoMini. Output will be through a headphone connected to the computer using a 3.5 mm TRS minijack.
Note: In writing this post, I thought very often of my friend, Olaf Olafsson, former Moscrop junior secondary school (Burnaby) language teacher and resident of New Westminster, who retired to Squamish, where he became an avid keyboardist.