Archive for October, 2010

New Party CD in Development

Hey, it’s never too early to start thinking about my next party CD, right? There have been some good suggestions, like Nigel’s idea of a compilation of early ’90s hip hop, but I think I’m going to mine an obscure musical genre: shoegazing. Unlike past CDs focusing on musical movements tied to a particular moment in history, like bossa nova or polynesian pop, shoegazing music is more elastic. Without a doubt, the ’90s marked the heyday of the genre, but there are still some great bands out there keeping the form alive. For those who have never heard the term shoegazing, it refers to music that has an atmospheric quality to it. How the shoegazing moniker emerged is somewhat murky, bit it probably referred to the tendency of shoegazer bands to peer at the floor during performances. Some suggested this was due to not wanting to engage with the audience, but a more likely reason is the attention the bands lavished on their chains of effect pedals between their guitars and amplifiers, which were the secret weapon to the atmospheric sound. The shoegazing phenomena took off with the release of the album “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine in 1991. The album was rumored to have cost 250,000 pounds and took two years to record, nearly sinking the band’s label, Creation Records. Here in the States, shoegazing was largely overshadowed by the mammoth popularity of grunge, but the movement managed to develop enough steam to take through the ’90s and inspire a number of band to pick-up the torch and continue making music in the same vein (often branded as nu-gazers instead of shoegazers).

For me, the challenge will be deciding if I want to stick only to music created during the shoegaze heyday, from roughly 1988 to 1996, or to include contemporary tracks from bands like Mallory. Alison by Slowdive is a must, but picking one track from MBV’s “Loveless” album will be a challenge. I think the CD packaging will be influenced by Vaghan Oliver, who was kind of the in-house designer for the 4AD record label. Anyway, more to come in future posts. Maybe even a draft playlist with links to the actual songs.

Add comment October 27th, 2010

Evolution Explained

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Add comment October 2nd, 2010

Intergalactic Planetary, Planetary Intergalactic

Unless your cave dwelling in Afghanistan doesn’t have the internets, you have probably heard about the planet in a nearby solar system that could possibly harbor life. For years, astronomers have searched for earth-like worlds in what’s called the “goldilocks zone”, meaning a planet that’s not too close or too far away from its sun. This newly discovered planet, awkwardly named Gliese 581g, is about 20 light years from Earth, which is super close in space terms. Still, it’s too far away for humans to ever reach in our lifetime. But I wonder if anyone has thought about some long term autonomous mission to this far off world yet? Even if we sent a probe to investigate, it could take a couple centuries to get there. That brings up all sorts of questions, like how do you design and build a power supply that would work that long? And how do you construct a delicate and complex machine to survive such a long journey with prolonged exposure to radiation and  micro meteoroids? Once the probe reaches its destination, it would also need some kind of artificial intelligence (AI) to determine proper orbit and the like. The on board AI would also need to make decisions about how the planet would be studied and what data should be transmitted back to earth (which wouldn’t reach us for another 20 years). Of course you could always include large telescopes in the payload package that would allow us to study the star system long before the probe reach it. Even if the probe failed in the last stages of the mission, the deep space data would likely be worth the effort.

The only practical deep space concepts from NASA I’ve seen are ones designed to study the interstellar regions just outside of our solar system. I’ve never seen detailed plans for a probe designed to travel to another solar system (other than rough concepts for nuclear powered crafts from interplanetary societies dating back to the ‘60s and a few really out there newer ones like Project Icarus). But even if we could design a probe that travels just one-tenth the speed of light, it would still take 220 years to reach Gliesse 581g. Of course our current propulsion technology does not offer anything that could get us to one-tenth the speed of light, so we would have to develop something pretty revolutionary. The other thing I thought about was slowing such a fast moving probe down once it reached this new solar system. I suppose that’s where the AI would come into play again. Once the probe reached the destination star system, it would have to calculate and execute a maneuver that would put it into a stable orbit around Gliese 581g. While the obstacles to creating and deploying a probe to this new planet are formidable, I would love to see scientists and engineer at least brainstorming hardware/software concepts — even if they are totally far fetched.

Add comment October 2nd, 2010


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