Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I have an unhealthy obsession with hand-clapping.

...in music, I mean.
I don't just go around clapping my hands at strangers.

Listen to "Penelope" by Pinback. Then read.

I was about to go to bed, but I decided that I needed to post this song because it's been in my head all day. It's been lingering there, in the back of my mind, resurfacing every so often when my brain isn't occupied with some other immediate function. Despite the coming and going, that haunting presence hasn't driven me crazy yet...so it must be good, right? Hah, that's not really a valid reason, since I have a pretty high tolerance for things that don't agree with some peoples' ears. But this doesn't fit that category, because, in the name of all things catchy, who doesn't love hand claps?!

I should probably clarify though. The hand claps that I'm obsessed with happen to be more of an important supporting rhythmic theme than a cheesy addition to the beat. It's kind of funny, because I will hear a new song that really strikes me, and later realize that it's got the claps. Heh.

Great example of the flamenco-inspired style I adore: "Boy With a Coin" by Iron & Wine
(combined with the guitar style, "Penelope" falls into this category as well)

Less constant, but still good examples: "Stars and Sons" by Broken Social Scene, "Left & Right in the Dark" by Julian Casablancas

Syncopation is great!

Here are some songs with syncopated repeating clap-beats: "Starlight" by Muse, "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" by Sufjan Stevens
Syncopated beat mostly all the way through: "15 Steps" by Radiohead (I'm a sucker for 5/4 time).

More standard beats, but still decent clapping (real or fake): "Clark Gable" by the Postal Service, "We're From Barcelona" by I'm From Barcelona (the pattern borders on being pretty standard and boring, but the song is cute), many Ratatat songs

I made this creepy digital art just for you!
Guess what else I've made?: Click here to go to a Grooveshark playlist of all these songs.

Can anyone add to these categories? I know there are some songs I'm forgetting.
If anyone actually reads this, and you know of a good song with hand claps, post it in a comment please!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I've got music, coming out of my hands and feet and kisses

I've been far too busy lately to get substantial reading done, so I thought I'd do a quick post of some songs that I've been digging lately. Most of these have come out pretty recently (thank you, satellite radio). Sometime I'll post some older favorites though, too, as long as people don't hate me for pushing my taste in music at them.

The links below go to Grooveshark, a free music service that lets you stream whatever songs you want. The ads are obnoxious, but I'll take the bright, flashy banners advertising stuff I don't care about as long as they come with a way to listen to that song I can't get out of my head but don't personally own. Descriptions and links are after the jump.

Here is a generic, poorly-edited picture of smoke that I attempted the other day. It's sad that something can be so beautiful but can't be captured in an image without being under precisely the right circumstances. But I guess that's the point of having eyes and experiencing life.

Now, without further ado:

I've never been that much of a Gorillaz fan, but I heard this song on the radio and it simultaneously creeped me out and intrigued me. It's poppy, yet dark; repetitive, yet unique. 
Gorillaz: Rhinestone Eyes

If you've seen 500 Days of Summer, you've heard the song "Sweet Disposition". The intro hooked me in as soon as I heard Dougy Mandagi's crooning falsetto mingling with opening guitar riff. "Fader" is their latest single, and I think it's pretty awesome, though in a different style than "Sweet Disposition".
The Temper Trap: Sweet Disposition & Fader

Just listen. This song makes me want to put the accelerator to the floor.
Two Door Cinema Club: I Can Talk

I recently re-discovered this band after having seen them in concert a few years ago opening for Anathallo at the Pike Room. I'm pretty sure that's it's just the one guy (who happens to be Andrew Bird's drummer) doing everything (live sampling FTW) except for the saxophone. And the saxophone rocks.
Dosh: Capture the Flag

I have been on such a Julian Casablancas kick lately... his debut solo album is fantastic. The lyrics totally make up for the poppy synth riffs, and, I don't even mind the synth riffs that much, despite my aversion to catchy things. Note: Julian is the lead singer of the Strokes, whom I love, but the style is a lot different; the Strokes are a lot darker sounding.
Julian Casablancas: 11th Dimension

I love Passion Pit, but I've listened to their album so many times that it's nice to hear something new from them. And while this song is nowhere near new, the style in which they cover it is refreshing.
Passion Pit: Tonight Tonight (Smashing Pumpkins Cover)

Well...that's my update. I hope it sufficiently made up for the fact that I created, and then neglected, this blog. I hope to be less busy this week and continue reading... once I get through the latest chapters in my macroeconomics and physics classes, that is.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lexicological and Biological Change

Last Night, I started reading Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth". I chose it to be first on my list because I figured it would be an interesting contrast to the literal six-day-creation, Earth-is-only-a-few-thousand-years-old perspective my most recent read, "Noah's Flood: Birth of the Ice Age" by the Biblical fundamentalist Robert Gielow (note: I plan to write a review of this book at some point in the near future). I haven't gotten very far in Dawkins' book, but it has already provoked some thought.

In the second chapter, Dawkins describes some "evolutionary basics" - every animal has some common ancestor, etc. He notes that inheritance of traits is not always as obvious as it seems; at some point, it was commonly thought that some breeds of dogs were descended from jackals, some from coyotes, and some from wolves. This was based among traits in the dogs that seemed to be more in line with one of the supposed ancestral species. However, with advances in genetics, it was proven that dogs - all breeds of them - are descended from wolves only. Granted, they do have a common ancestor with jackals somewhere. But the point is, ancestry is not always obvious on the surface; you have to delve into history to find it.

This may seem like a complete tangent, but: is the same not true of language? English is especially guilty of having a murky lineage. We have influence from both Latin and Germanic languages, so we often have two words that are completely different, but mean exactly the same thing. We also have words that are similar enough in structure - and sometimes meaning - that they seem like they could have the same great-great-great-great-great-grandfather* word. Yet, these words often have no common root word at all!
*Something that I still don't understand about the Spanish language, even after taking five years of classes, is why there are assigned genders to its words, or how the gender is decided. What makes a chair feminine (la silla) or a desk masculine (el escritorio)? What if you make a compound word out of a masculine word and a feminine word? Is there a 50-50 chance that their offspring will be gifted with a linguistic Y chromosome? Or will there be some sort of mismatch that causes it to become a kind of hermaphrodite, similar to the genderless words of the English language?
Some words are closely related, stemming from the same root word, but splitting off at some point in time, much like a genetic mutation. Often one word will survive and the other will not; however, in English we have ended up with the words "amiable" and "amicable" - different by one letter, yet having almost the exact same meaning. Why do both words remain?

How much of language is left up to natural selection? A language's words - and styles of speaking - go in and out of popularity as determined by the usage of its native speakers. Some of this may be artificial selection, as in the case of attempting to make oneself conform to a certain perceived status or style; however, there is an element of natural selection in the process: keep up with the times, or you'll be left behind.

This may explain a portion, if not all, of the immense variation and incredibly voluminous vocabulary of the English language. It's hard to get an exact number, but there are some estimates that claim that the English language contains about 900,000 words. Of course, not all of that number are colloquial; many of these terms are scientific, obscure, outdated, or slang. A college graduate's working vocabulary is estimated to be around 60,000 words, which is only a fraction of that grandiose number. However, compare that to a Japanese speaker's commonly used set of words that numbers around 30,000, or the entirety of the French or Spanish languages which are estimated to contain a total of 100,000 to 200,000 words each.

It should also be taken into account that Japanese, Spanish, and French (yes, even French - no matter how unassimilible it seems to my ears) have rigid pronunciation guidelines; basically, if you can pronounce it, you can spell it, and vice-versa. English has such an extensive range of pronunciations for the same letter or syllable, that it's no wonder we have so many mutated words, so many non-native speakers struggling to learn them, and so many native speakers botching their spelling.

Take, for example, the word "dachshund" (dear god, i can barely spell it even though I've been thinking about it all day). It is clearly a German word, and the reason so many Americans know it (or do they?) is because it is a popular breed of dog (artificial selection, anyone? I'm sure I could go much deeper into the gene-pool-discrimination and inbreeding that is the world of pedigrees and dog shows, but I'll leave that to Dawkins' book). Anyway, because the word has been incorporated into English, it has been mangled by English speakers. Let's have Google image search illustrate this for us:

Look! Three Different breeds of canine!

As interested as I am in language, and as typically good I am at spelling, I am personally guilty of this particular affront to lexicographers, linguists, and English and German speakers of the world. I thought that "Dachshund" was pronounced "Dash Hound" (simply an anglicized version of the word), and that "Doxon" (a phonetic, Americanized interpretation of the German pronunciation) was a completely separate breed. It definitely blew my mind when I made the discovery that all three were one in the same; it also made me feel like quite the dumb ass. So, does English's lack of consistency in spelling and pronunciation make idiots out of Americans? (...not that we need any help.) Or are we getting something more out of it, something that other countries lack? I suppose that's up to you.

I can certainly argue it both ways. Being entangled with other languages and having a wide variety of pronunciations and words to pick from isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it can get confusing for speakers of more structured tongues, but Americans certainly have an interesting way of speaking. As they say (whoever "they" may be), "variety is the spice of life". A bigger "gene pool" of words to pick from leads to tremendous lexicological growth and rich diversity...I guess that English is truly the "mutt" of modern language.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Random Photo Post

This* is what happens when you heat up a glass bottle (we used a Coleman torch-style lighter) and douse it immediately with cold water. Note the bowl beneath to catch the shards - safety first, kids!

Science is Awesome!

*Audio reaction (a.k.a. my screams of surprised terror) not included.


Tonight, I went to the library expecting to get a book or two. Somehow I ended up with eight.

My brain's been craving new endeavors (hence, blog) and has been processing a lot of ideas (some related to book topics below), so I think reading these books might be a good place to start drawing inspiration from. It'll probably take me a while to get through them all, but I think it'll be a fun challenge. I hope to read a bit each day (in addition to working full-time, biking around Holland in the gorgeous summer evening weather, and doing homework for two online classes) and make an occasional post on my progress, thoughts, opinions, or even a brief summary. Now, without further ado: Books!

Thank you, Herrick District Library!

Here is a list of the titles I picked up:
  • "The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" - Richard Dawkins
  • "Genetics and Genetic Engineering" - Lisa Yount
  • "The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search For God" - Carl Sagan
  • "The Dark Side of Christian History" - Helen Ellerbe
  • "Religion and Sexuality" - Opposing Viewpoints Series
  • "How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th-Century Pagan" - Mortimer J. Adler
  • "Atheism" - Opposing Viewpoints Series
  • "The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Devine" - Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath
These should compare and contrast well with the titles I've read recently:
  • "Letter to a Christian Nation" - Sam Harris
  • "A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists" - David Myers
  • "God and the New Physics" - Paul Davies
  • "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe" - William Craig
  • "Mere Christianity" - C.S. Lewis
  • "Quarks, Chaos and Christianity" - John Polkinghorne
  • "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" - Harold Kushner 
  • "Noah's Flood: Birth of the Ice Age" - Robert L. Gielow
During my senior seminar class in May, I also read several articles and essays on the above topics by the likes of Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and C.S. Lewis. Additionally, I am halfway through "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, and hope to finish it at some point this summer; it was going to be first on the list, but I've only got six weeks to read all of these library books before they're due...

So, I've been thinking about starting a blog...

...because we all know that I need more ways to spend my "free time".

Anyway, it's just something that's been on my mind lately. I know that blogs don't really gain momentum unless they have a purpose (or some defining characteristic that makes up for a lack of one). So I'm going to do my best to find a direction, and possibly be lacking a good title and a sense of control for a while. Maybe my "purpose" for this blog can be to write about things I'm passionate about and interested in - whether it be photography, math, politics, music, geeky stuff, food, language, or individuality - and share them with others. I don't want this to be a journal. I want it to be both more and less personal than a journal, if that makes any sense.

I've never thought of myself as a writer, and I've never really been "into" reading blogs. I guess I may not have a lot of prior knowledge, but I can learn as I go, and I am hopeful that if anyone reads this, they can learn to bear with me.

So, greetings. Welcome to my blog.

Happy Independence Day to all the Americans out on the interwebs!
Please note: this firework was completely legal
, I promise.