The Null Device
On New Year's Eve, Malaysian police raided a rock gig over accusations of "Satanic black metal" activities, detaining numerous fans, who were then drug-tested and paraded before tabloid journalists. (It appears that Malaysian tabloids look like the Herald-Sun or Daily Star, only written in Malay; I guess some things are universal.) It is unclear what the attendees are being charged with, though the tabloids have recounted all sorts of sensational stories of Devil worship, sex orgies and fanzines with "elements of violence, pornography, Judaism, and curse words like 'fuck'".
The bands insist that they weren't "black metal", though, to be fair, given the fact that they had names like Force Vomit (who are from Singapore, of all places; is potentially offensive music actually legal over there?), Devilica, Triple6Poser and 360 Degree Head Rotation, it's probably safe to say that they weren't easy-listening or inoffensively sugary pop. What it looks like is the local wowsers and busybodies using religious legislation to crack down on any subculture with a whiff of adolescent rebellion and shock value about it, such as all forms of metal, punk and That Godawful Racket Kids These Days Listen To.
(via bOING bOING)
Michael Chorost, born partially deaf, completely lost his hearing in his mid-30s, depriving him of the pleasure of listening to his favourite piece of music (Ravel's Boléro; one of the few pieces which his condition allowed him to appreciate). He was fitted with a "bionic ear", an implant that processes sound and converts it into neural impulses, at a resolution just good enough to understand speech, though nowhere near enough to appreciate music. So he studied up on neurology, music and psychoacoustics, liaised with experts around the world and hacked the implant's firmware to let him enjoy music again:
When the device was turned on a month after surgery, the first sentence I heard sounded like "Zzzzzz szz szvizzz ur brfzzzzzz?" My brain gradually learned how to interpret the alien signal. Before long, "Zzzzzz szz szvizzz ur brfzzzzzz?" became "What did you have for breakfast?" After months of practice, I could use the telephone again, even converse in loud bars and cafeterias. In many ways, my hearing was better than it had ever been. Except when I listened to music.
About a year after I received the implant, I asked one implant engineer how much of the device's hardware capacity was being used. "Five percent, maybe." He shrugged. "Ten, tops." I was determined to use that other 90 percent. I set out on a crusade to explore the edges of auditory science. For two years tugging on the sleeves of scientists and engineers around the country, offering myself as a guinea pig for their experiments. I wanted to hear Boléro again.
I suggested rebooting and sampling Boléro through a microphone. But the postdoc told me he couldn't do that in time for my plane. A later flight wasn't an option; I had to be back in the Bay Area. I was crushed. I walked out of the building with my shoulders slumped. Scientifically, the visit was a great success. But for me, it was a failure. On the flight home, I plugged myself into my laptop and listened sadly to Boléro with Hi-Res. It was like eating cardboard.
Hold on. Don't jump to conclusions. I backtrack to 5:59 and switch to Hi-Res. That heart-stopping leap has become an asthmatic whine. I backtrack again and switch to the new software. And there it is again, that exultant ascent. I can hear Boléro's force, its intensity and passion. My chin starts to tremble. I open my eyes, blinking back tears. "Congratulations," I say to Emadi. "You have done it." And I reach across the desk with absurd formality and shake his hand.But being able to hear Boléro again wasn't the end of it; with his new hearing, Chorost started getting into the music that he hadn't been able to hear before, and he's confident that it will improve further:
In his studio, Rettig plays me Ravel's String Quartet in F Major and Philip Glass' String Quartet no. 5. I listen carefully, switching between the old software and the new. Both compositions sound enormously better on 121 channels. But when Rettig plays music with vocals, I discover that having 121 channels hasn't solved all my problems. While the crescendos in Dulce Pontes' Cançào do Mar sound louder and clearer, I hear only white noise when her voice comes in. Rettig figures that relatively simple instrumentals are my best bet - pieces where the instruments don't overlap too much - and that flutes and clarinets work well for me. Cavalcades of brass tend to overwhelm me and confuse my ear.
And some music just leaves me cold: I can't even get through Kraftwerk's Tour de France. I wave impatiently to Rettig to move on. (Later, a friend tells me it's not the software - Kraftwerk is just dull. It makes me think that for the first time in my life I might be developing a taste in music.)Amazing stuff.
(via bOING bOING)
A hacker has demonstrated how easily publicly available data such as Amazon.com wishlists and web services can be used to locate Americans with potentially "subversive" beliefs or sympathies, thus demonstrating the potential threat to privacy and freedom of association of "anti-terrorist" data-mining/wiretapping proposals:
"In previous years, there were only about a thousand court-ordered wiretaps in the United States per year, at the federal, state, and local levels combined. It's hard to see how the government could even employ enough judges to sign enough wiretap orders to wiretap 1 percent of all our phone calls, much less hire enough federal agents to sit and listen to all that traffic in real time. The only plausible way of processing that amount of traffic is a massive Orwellian application of automated voice recognition technology to sift through it all, searching for interesting keywords or searching for a particular speaker's voice. If the government doesn't find the target in the first 1 percent sample, the wiretaps can be shifted over to a different 1 percent until the target is found, or until everyone's phone line has been checked for subversive traffic. The FBI said they need this capacity to plan for the future. This plan sparked such outrage that it was defeated in Congress. But the mere fact that the FBI even asked for these broad powers is revealing of their agenda."
Thanks to Google Maps (and many similar services) a street address is all we need to get a satellite image of a person's home. Tempted as I was to provide satellite images of the homes of the search subjects, it just seemed a bit extreme even for this article. Instead, I opted only to pinpoint the centers of the towns in which they live. So at least you'll know that there's somebody in your community reading Critical Thinking or some other dangerous text.The article has embedded Google Maps with markers showing where those wishing for copies of George Orwell's 1984 and the Torah (btw, would this be an instance of Godwin's Law by insinuation?) live.
(via bOING bOING)
In Australia, it is now a crime to discuss suicide options by telephone, fax, email or the internet. So much for the ideals of free speech and liberalism; apparently the right of religious busybodies to control when and how people can exit their divinely bestowed lives overrides such considerations.
Retrievr is a web-toy that lets you search images on Flickr by drawing things that look like what you're looking for on a Flash applet. It seems to go mostly by colour, rather than feature recognition, and seems to only search a small pre-cached subset of images (which tends towards the prettier end of the scale and includes a lot of sunsets, cats and arty black-and-white photos). As far as finding pictures of objects one draws, it's rather unsuccessful; though, nonetheless, it does yield interesting results.
(via The Fix)