Saturday, September 25, 2010

Notes and Links

* How to make a basic wire recorder. Wire recorders were the predecessors of tape recorders; instead of magnetic tape they worked by magnetizing hair-thin chromium-steel (i.e., stainless steel) wire. The wire didn't have the recording range of later magnetic tapes (limited bandwidth, I believe), being good enough for voice recording but relatively poor for much music recording. (However, the quality could still be fairly decent; here's a YouTube clip of a decent quality wire recording of music.) It was also a temperamental technology, inclined to snarl or snap at the slightest problem. On the other hand, higher quality recording wire is far more durable than magnetic tape. As with magnetic tape, the recording can be magnetically scrambled, but recording wire is much less sensitive to stray magnetic fields; recording wire corrodes, but far more slowly than magnetic tape deteriorates. The serious disadvantage of wire over tape, however, is that it requires a fairly fast recording speed: you go through wire much faster than through magnetic tape. This is why the wire is always ultra-fine, despite the problem of breakage: for anything more than very short recording you need thousands of feet of it.

I suspect that if you couldn't find real recording wire that you could adapt 40 gauge stainless steel ribbon to the purpose.

* I very much liked this essay by Meir Soloveichik on why Jonah is the primary reading for Yom Kippur.

* John Farrell on people placing Darwin in the bogey man role.

* The Grand Taxonomy of Rappers' Names

* Terry Pratchett forged his own sword to celebrate his knighting. That's exactly the right way to do it.

* Speaking of which, I recently read Pratchett's Small Gods in the Discworld series; it struck me as pretty much all of Pratchett's works strike me -- a lot of trite, banal, overused jokes such as one might hear in any lively pub in the world, strung together loosely into a story. Don't get me wrong. The sort of thing Pratchett is doing, satirical fantasy, is extremely difficult, and the result is inevitable: humorous satire and parody must be recognizable but fantastic settings reduce the recognizability, meaning that pretty much the only way one can pull it off is to have one's humor consist entirely of the most recognizable and obvious kinds of jokes. That Pratchett is actually a good author, and manages to rise well above what he is sometimes in danger of being, the Dan Brown of people who like to pretend that they are more clever and witty than they are, is seen in the fact that he often does manage to make the story itself come together in an artful and funny way. But it did start me thinking about one of the trite tropes he uses, the gods getting their power from human belief; and it made me wonder where that started. It's a very common fantasy trope these days. The commonness is easy enough to see the explanation of: it was spread by role-playing games and their assorted associated media. Dungeons & Dragons and things inspred thereby. But was that the origin? Are there cases earlier than D&D? (The TVTropes link makes some suggestions, few of which are actually plausible.)

* Martin Cothran has a rousing defense of Chesterton's philosophical acumen. One of the signs (neither necessary nor sufficient, but nonetheless a genuine sign) that there is more to Chesterton than meets the eye is that even people who have radically different views than he did are often impressed. Cothran mentions Shaw, of course; but there is a long list of others. One thinks immediately of Martin Gardner arguing repeatedly that "The Ethics of Elfland" was one of the most insightful post-Humean works in philosophy of science -- a claim that, however surprising, is more easily defended than you might think.

* I don't know if most of my readers now this, but one of my specializations is the problem of the external world; I wrote my thesis on Malebranche's account of our knowledge of whether the external world exists, and that thesis was (and still is, although in a very on-again-off-again way) part of a larger project of understanding different transformations of the problem in Malebranche, Berkeley, Hume, and Shepherd. So I found this comic quite funny.


* So a couple of days ago Ahmadenijad was soapboxing in the UN and accused the US of being behind the Sept 11 attacks; the US diplomats walked out in the middle of the speech, which was the right thing to do -- there are better uses of our diplomats' time. But the list of the delegations that followed the US in walking out is interesting: Canada and all twenty-seven members of the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, and Costa Rica. (There are possibly one or two others; reports give a vague 'at least 33 delegations'. And not all delegations were present -- the Israeli delegation, for instance, was absent, officially for Sukkot, although there seems to be a widespread belief that there were additional reasons.)

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