Monday, January 25, 2010

Rule changes for soccer, part 4: enforcement of offsides

The offside rule is one of soccer's finest. But it has a major problem: it is quite literally impossible for one person to enforce accurately, because it requires simultaneous visual attention at two different locations. With the simple pressing of a button, though, the offside rule can be salvaged.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Piano sound

Well, then, back to something about which I can claim to have a modicum of authority! It's common, when one hears a musician of any stripe, to comment on the overall quality of his or her "sound," and this is no different for pianists. In fact, some pianists have such distinctive ways of playing that they each have a characteristic and recognizable sound that separates their playing from other pianists. With enough listening, one acquires the impression that each note a certain pianist plays could belong only to that pianist.

But in fact, the impression that different pianists have a distinctive sound in this way is an illusion. On other instruments, a musician can create a characteristic timbre with his or her own playing. Timbre refers to the spectrum of overtones above a fundamental frequency and the variations in the amplitude of these overtones through time. Different spacings of overtones are what give each instrument and each voice its characteristic tone, as well as different members of the same instrument, and different musicians on the same instrument. Different string players vibrate differently; everyone's voice resonates in a body that is slightly different.

Unlike on a string or wind instrument, or voice, though, there's not much a pianist can do with any one note to make it unique in the same way.

The twisted economics of finance

I was reading this article the other day in the New Yorker about the aftermath of the financial meltdown last year. Since it's actually only available for subscribers, a quick summary might be: lots of "Chicago-school" economists have radically changed their thinking about the economy since the crash, and those who haven't are crazy. These economists were the dominant intellectual force behind the successful laissez-faire, pro-market, anti-regulation economic policy crusades of the 80s onward.

In the article, author John Cassidy talks about "rational expectations" theories of economics, which, simply put, hypothesize that people have a "true" model of the economy in their little heads and factor in all the variables of this model (whatever the hell it may actually be) when they make economic decisions. One of the economists in the story, Eugene Fama, claims that in the stockmarket, people's behavior, both in the run-up to and aftermath of the financial crisis, was largely rational. This claim is insane for a few reasons, but it reminded me specifically of an argument my father and I had with my mother some ten years ago about stocks (my mother, by the way, is a real life economist, but not a crazy one).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prop 8 lawsuit

Today was the first day of a federal trial challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8. Here's a passionate defense of the lawsuit by conservative challenger Ted Olson. Andrew Sullivan (one of my favorite political commentators, a homosexual himself) also comments about it here, and generally keeps up-to-date with interesting stuff on his blog.

Most people, liberal and conservative alike, expect the amendment's challengers to lose and the amendment to stand. The case is most interesting for me fro showing--and I say this with some apprehension--that the Constitution will always be no more progressive than the people reading it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

vacation over: a rude welcome back to the real world

So my long vacation comes to an end. I was going to write about music on Monday night; however, that was before I was hit by a car while biking home. Don't worry, I'm totally fine, which makes me really lucky! In addition, now I get to write about how awesome my hospital experience was!