Gongol.com Archives: April 2010
Brian Gongol

April 29, 2010

News When will politicians realize that sarcasm never translates well?
Britain's Conservative Party is running a campaign ad based entirely off the idea of being the opposite of a party full of bad ideas. But sarcasm never translates well, especially in politics. A witty aside (like Ronald Reagan's famous jibe about Walter Mondale's "youth and inexperience") can be a work of art -- Mondale even cracked up when Reagan joked at his expense. But a long-form setup of "here's a bunch of awful stuff that could happen", followed by ten seconds of "don't let this happen to you; vote for us" is weak. It's too stupid to be satire but too complicated for people to get the joke without trying. It's undoubtedly going to backfire. On a related note, Britain is also host to the Freedom and Responsibility Party, an oddly-named group if ever there was one. Not that freedom and responsibility are separable; they are not. But voters rarely wish to be reminded that they're responsible for anything.

The United States of America The question of statehood for Puerto Rico returns
If Puerto Rico were to be admitted as a state (still only a distant possibility), some other state would likely have to be admitted at the same time, but of an opposite political character. For instance, if Puerto Rico appeared to be a likely Democratic-leaning state, it might be enough to push voters in California to split the left-leaning urban coastal cities from the right-leaning inland, creating a Republican-leaning second state of inland California.

Computers and the Internet How to make music without any knowledge or skill whatsoever
All music is mathematical in nature -- 4:4 time, syncopation, scales, and everything else that makes music pleasant to the ear comes from some kind of mathematical cause. Wolfram has used that to create a composition generator that creates music out of randomized numbers and formulas. The songs sound a little cheesy for now, because the MIDI platform on which they're based is tonally limited. But with time and refinement, there's really no reason the general principle couldn't be applied to making lots of random, personalized music to suit every person's taste. They lyrics may still have to be created by hand, but why shouldn't we enjoy a little bit of automated creativity? Stephen Wolfram, who put his name on the company behind the music generator, gave a TED talk in February in which he suggests that the relative unboundedness of computing potential means that we just have to keep developing chips and computing models that are slightly better than the ones that already exist, and as those iterations build upon themselves, sooner or later we'll be able to figure out a lot of the world's problems through computation.

Computers and the Internet Hugo Chavez starts up a Twitter account
If the arrival of the socialist bombast of Venezuela doesn't signal the beginning of the end for Twitter as a social phenomenon, it's hard to guess what will.

Computers and the Internet HP buys Palm
Palm has floundered a lot as a maker of handheld PDAs and phones, even though it was one of the originators of the field of what became smartphones. That Hewlett-Packard still sees enough life in the operation to make it part of the company suggests that HP has some pretty big plans in store. The presence of HP in a market already crowded by the likes of Apple and Google should make the smartphone market a very exciting place to be a consumer for the next few years.

Humor and Good News Now he sees it -- now he doesn't
Chicago Cub Marlon Byrd loses a fly ball in the sun, then catches it behind his back. It's really just a lot of fun to watch.

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