I'm road-tripping up to Seattle tomorrow with Sushu and Chris. Won't be back until the end of the week.
I'm road-tripping up to Seattle tomorrow with Sushu and Chris. Won't be back until the end of the week.
OMG OMG check out what our friend just gave us. We look so cool! |:-D
This is pretty cool: A guy plays the famous riffs from 100 rock songs, in chronological order, all in one take, producing a twelve-minute history of rock-n-roll. My observations:
1. Wow, that guy is good.
2. If I was learning guitar, I would think the synchronized fingering guides underneath that video are an amazing resource.
3. Most of the differences between the various styles and eras and sub-genres of rock is in the vocals and the production and how distorted the amplification is. Stripped of all the cultural and historical signifiers that say "flower power" and "heavy metal" and "punk" and "grunge" and whatnot, the songs reveal their deeper similarities, just as the skeletons of vertebrates reveal their common ancestry.
4. Sushu, who is not a huge music fan, grabbed onto the most obvious difference between the various riffs and created an instant folk taxonomy: she divided them into the "JUGGA-JIGGA-WUGGA"s and the "tweedly-deedly-dee"s. That is, the difference between chord-strumming (guitar as rhythm/harmonic instrument) and finger-picking (guitar carrying a melody line). My intuition says there's a third category too, but I can't quite define it.
5. Rock music is dead as a culturally relevant creative force, and has been for about half my lifetime. We've moved on to the historical archiving phase - establishment of the canon, analysis, remixing, nostalgia, transmission to new generations. Yeah, people will keep performing rock, but it will increasingly resemble the way they perform jazz, or classical music. An ever-shrinking, aging group of true believers will continue to follow new compositions, while most people will know a few famous songs and consider the rest too old-fashioned and esoteric to bother with.
The idea that the world is going to end tomorrow due to Mayan prophecy is so silly that it hopefully needs no debunking.
Even if the Maya did predict the world would end on Dec 21, 2012, there's no reason to think that prediction would be any more accurate than any of the other predicted doomsday dates that have come and gone without incident. But the Maya didn't predict the world would end on Dec 21, 2012. Nothing of the sort.
Since I enjoy tracing the lineage of crackpot ideas, I looked into where and how this nonsense started.
Tomorrow, in the Mayan Long Count calendar, is the end of the 13th B'ak'tun. Contrary to popular culture, the calendar doesn't "end" tomorrow, it just rolls over to the next B'ak'tun. The date will be 220.127.116.11.0. It's not a prediction of doomsday any more than the Gregorian calendar predicted doomsday by rolling over to a new millenium in 2001. I guess if computers used Mayan dates we might be dealing with a kind of "y18.104.22.168.0" problem right now, but that's about it.
There are plenty of references to dates after 22.214.171.124.0 in ancient Mayan writings like the recently discovered wall carvings in Xultun. So they clearly didn't think the world was going to end. There is only one Mayan text that predicts anything at all happening on 126.96.36.199.0, and it is merely a vague reference to an appearance by the god Bolon Yokte. It seems more likely they thought of the end of the cycle as a date to celebrate than as the end of anything.
Present-day Mayans are certainly not real impressed by the 2012 hysteria.
That's the other weird part of this 2012 doomsday business -- we keep talking like the Mayans are a vanished people. They're not. Despite the genocidal attempts of Europeans, there are about 7 million Mayan people (i.e. descendants of one of the Maya groups and/or speakers of one of the Maya languages) living in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras today.
We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.-- Rigoberta Menchú, Guatemalan of Mayan ancestry, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
As I've written before, pretending that native Americans had some kind of magic powers is perhaps slightly better than pretending they were savages, but it's still a falsehood based on racist stereotypes.
Anyway, where did the prediction of apocalypse on December 21, 2012 come from? Not from the Maya themselves, but from a German scholar, Ernst Förstemann. In the early 1900s he examined a Mayan book of dates and astronomical predictions called the Dresden Codex. At that time, the only part of the Mayan writing system that westerners had translated were the dates; so all Förstemann had to go on was the dates and the pictures. The last page of the Dresden Codex features a illustration of a sky lizard vomiting water. Speculating wildly, Förstemann interpreted it as a prediction of an apocalyptic flood at the end of the B'ak'tun cycle.
Förstemann's interpretation of the Dresden Codex says more about the western Judeo-Christian tradition (obsessed as it is with floods and doomsday prophecies) than it says about Mayan culture.
An American archaeologist named Michael Coe reproduced Förstemann's ideas about the significance of the date in his 1966 book The Maya. It became popular with various 60s new-age hippie gurus, who interpreted 188.8.131.52.0 (conveniently falling on the Winter Solstice, 2012) not as the apocalypse but as a date of spiritual transformation or awakening. But in recent decades American popular culture (the X-files, that horrible disaster movie, pseudoscience specials on the Discovery Channel, etc) got ahold of the idea and turned the hippies' spiritual transformation back into an apocalypse.
So what we're dealing with here is a Hollywood misunderstanding of a new-age misunderstanding of an archaeological misunderstanding of a Mayan tradition that didn't predict anything in particular.
Some 2012 doomsayers even believe they know the precise agent of the apocalypse: There is an urban legend, or conspiracy theory, or something, about a rogue planet called Nibiru which is going to make a close approach to the earth; its gravity, or maybe its magnetic field, is going to wipe out civilization. This idea was started in 1995 by a woman who believed that she was recieving messages from aliens in her brain. She originally predicted Nibiru would destroy civilization in 2003. But since nothing happend in 2003, she moved the date to 2012 to coincide with the Mayan date 184.108.40.206.0.
A hilarious part of the conspiracy thoery is that a missing patch data in Google Sky was intentionally blocked out to hide the existence of Nibiru. (Hint: if Nibiru was really appraoching, blocking out Google Sky wouldn't do anything. Anybody could point a telescope at that part of the sky and see it for themselves.) What's not funny at all is that some people - children even - have been freaking out over the Nibiru rumors, to the point of considering suicide. NASA scientist David Morrison, who answers questions on the site "Ask an Astrobiologist", has has had to become something of an expert in trying to talk people out of their irrational fears.
Doomsday scenarios: Not harmless, no matter how goofy they sound. And yet, debunking them never seems to do any good. When the world doesn't end tomorrow, I'm sure the doomdsay crowd will simply pick a new date to fixate on. Some people need to believe the world is about to end. Who knows why? Maybe it helps their personal problems seem smaller, maybe it gives more historical significance to the time they happened to be born in, maybe it's a way of avoiding having to plan for the future. Maybe people react to the overwhelming change and complexity of modern civilization by imagining a future drastically simplified by cataclysm.
But whatever. Appropriating (and misunderstanding) other cultures' beliefs doesn't make your doomsday predictions any more believable. And Mayan culture should really not be blamed for this kind of crackpottery.
Ever since my falling out with the software industry, I've been talking about maybe going back to grad school to learn some new skills. Like either getting back into the hard sciences (which I regret abandoning) or learning some engineering skills (real engineering, not this slipshod circus we call software "engineering").
Especially if I want to go into green energy tech, since my most recent attempt to break into that field left me feeling that my current skillset is just pigeonholing me in the role of web-monkey.
Stanford and Berkeley both have graduate programs in green energy (i.e. in the weird intersection of policy, engineering, science, and business that it will take to make a dent in humanity's fossil fuel addiction). They are both top-tier schools. Stanford is practically across the street; Berkeley is up north, but not so far that Sushu would have to leave her school. We could find a compromise address that allows us both to commute.
All autumn long I'd been running my mouth off about applying to grad school but not actually doing anything about it, because I procrastinate like a champ, especially when it comes to fractally tedious tasks like setting up applications.
Then Saturday morning Sushu finally got sick of my procrastination and kicked my ass into gear. We looked at application deadlines and discovered that I had less than a week to apply to the Energy Resources Group at Berkeley. There's a Dec. 7 deadline to apply for Fall 2013.
After a mad scramble for transcripts and recommendation letters it looks like I might actually make the deadline. I have to take the GRE again. Last time I took it was like 1998 and they only keep your scores for five years, so I need to do it over. I've got an appointment for Thursday.
Feels weird to be preparing for a test again after so many years away from academia. I'm not worried, though. In 1998 I was nervous because I thought the GRE would, I dunno, measure my worth as a human being or something. Now I see it as just a bureaucratic obstacle that doesn't really mean anything. Don't sweat it, just get it over with and score whatever I score.
I looked at some sample GRE questions this morning and most of them are insultingly easy. Like, 6th graders should be able to answer most of these math questions, no offense to 6th graders.
Many of the grammar questions, meanwhile, are total bullshit. They're not looking for whether you can communicate clearly in the English language, they're looking for class markers, i.e. "prove you write in the dialect of an educated upper-class white American and not any other English dialect". I could rant about prescriptivist grammar but that would be a whole other blog post.
Even if I get accepted, that doesn't mean for sure I'm going back to school. I'll have to weigh it against whatever other opportunities I have before me in fall of 2013. But applying can't hurt.