Archive for July, 2013

The Tragedy of Holiday Weekend Festivals

Scheduling festivals for holiday weekends makes a lot of sense in the individual case. If you’re the organizer for a multiday festival like Bumbershoot, scheduling for a long weekend allows you to pack in more acts (and sell up to 50% more tickets) without worrying that you’ll lose a lot of your attendees to work on the final day of the festival. Considered in isolation, scheduling for a holiday weekend, is a no-brainer.

The problem is that this leads to a prisoner’s dilemma. If all festival organizers follow this same logic, then they end up competing for attendees, many of which might want to go to several of the festivals.

Case in point: Labor Day 2013. There are three festivals (that I know of) that I would love to attend: Penny Arcade Expo, Bumbershoot, and Libertopia. I actually ended up with tickets to both PAX and Bumbershoot and might try to split my time between them, since they’re both right here in Seattle. But the vast majority of people will only pick one, thus potentially reducing the turnout at the other two. If all three were scheduled for separate weekends, they might actually all profit, even though two of them (at least) gave up the coveted Labor Day Weekend.

Note that this effect is irrespective of festival topic. The three I mentioned cover video game/nerd culture, music, and libertarianism respectively. But there are many people who have at least two of those interests for whom attending any of the festivals contains the implicit opportunity cost of not being able to attend the others.

One possible solution to this is a hypothetical agreement of festival organizers to just all schedule for different weekends, potentially with the caveat that no one gets the coveted three-day holiday weekends. But, as with all such agreements, this only works until one party defects, schedules for a three-day weekend, and enjoys the benefits both of having the long weekend and of having no competition for festival-goers’ time and dollars. I strongly suspect that there isn’t a Nash Equilibrium for the problem of festival scheduling, and so organizers are stuck taking the possibly sub-optimal route of always scheduling for the long weekend, even when that might reduce their take through competition with one another.

All of this is a long, boring way of saying: I’m going to Bumbershoot this year, but I really wish I could go to PAX and Libertopia as well.

*Guitar fuzz and brief, unintelligible screaming*

One of my favorite experimental bands is a band out of Oakland (late of Koenji, Japan) called Large Prime Numbers. It’s fronted by game designer and gonzo journalist Tim Rogers and they make such glorious noise.

Feast your ear-holes on the most punk rock thing they’ve probably ever heard.

Part 1:

Part 2:

I love the thick, fuzzy texture that masks the song at first, before it breaks out in a sudden double-time frenzy.

Note, after the break out, how out of control it feels without ever going off the rails. The second half of Part 1 is the music the Germs could have made if they’d been nerds and stayed off the heroin.

Notice the theme that suddenly precipitates out at ~3:45 in part two. Keep an ear open for it in the rest of the song on your second listen. You’ll notice that it’s not novel when it appears so clearly, just a distillate of a theme shot through the entire rest of the piece. Pay attention also to what this thematic guitar solo does to the arc of the whole 21 minute performance. It’s the apogee, the Golden-Ratio-situated pinnacle, of the musical statement of the tune, and it pays off the all the melodic debt taken out in the 15 minutes that proceeds it.

This is the kind of noisy brilliance that curious, experimental nerds make when they get their hands on guitars.

While we’re on the subject of QotSA

Holy hell, that’s some talent right there.

“First it giveth, then it taketh away”

Sean Nelson, Make Good Choices

Artist: Sean Nelson
Album: Make Good Choices
Label: Really Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2013.6.4
Score: 10/10

I’ve never been coy about my assessment of Harvey Danger as one of the greatest bands of all time. So it’s not lightly that I say that Make Good Choices is the most consistently excellent record that Sean Nelson has ever been a part of. Nelson, former frontman of Harvey Danger, released his first solo album earlier this month after having it 8 years in the works, and as a longtime fan, I’m convinced it worth the wait.

The album is crammed wall-to-wall with clever, bitter lyrics on a shiny backdrop of smart rock and roll, tinged ever so slightly with New Wave pop. The opening epigram, taking a vague-but-strident stand on the matter of Correct Rock and Roll, sets brilliant stage for themes of musical arrogance and excess.

The focus of the whole album, rightly so, is Nelson’s clever lyrics. Nelson is one of the best living lyricists and, as such, needs to only be a solid vocalist to pack an impressive punch. “Born Without a Heart” is a stellar example of a song with sterling lyrics and good, though not inspired, delivery, that manages to be one of the most viscerally effective tunes recorded in the past several years. Its reliance on substance, rather than bare style, gives it evocative power, with Nelson’s vocals feeling honest in a way that they perhaps couldn’t from a more technically accomplished vocalist. The song itself is a touching apology for life-affirming Existentialism, the climax of which is the most gut-punchingly excellent line on the whole record: “we might be soldiers on a long march to the grave / but we don’t have to live that way”.

Where Nelson’s talent for lyrical and compositional interplay is on clearest display is the first single off the record, “Make Good Choices”. The drone of the thumping drums and punchy, off-beat guitar make an engaging backdrop for Nelson’s engaging lyrics and dexterous vocals. The song also serves as the most heartfelt expression of the album’s lyrical themes of platonic betrayal and broken friendships.

Another aspect of the record is Nelson’s playful use of form and genre, the high point being the waltz “Advance and Retreat”. The song is masterfully crafted, using the waltz form itself as a metaphor for the relationship between two characters. The narrator’s frustration at the dance-like “advance and retreat” is perfectly reflected in the swaying, rhythmic keyboards and swooping vocal lines. The song itself also lets Nelson show off his talent for lyrical bon mot, (“You said you like sailing, I sent my whole fleet / a rookie mistake, it’s the kind I make best”).

The album closer, “Kicking Me out of the Band” has a pleasingly recursive feel to it. It’s the most accessible track on the record and a perfect recapitulation of the themes of social disintegration. The tune features lyrics that swing from seemingly fond nostalgia to bitter vitriol, all backed by a thumping Brit pop texture of synths and chunked guitar chords. Its story of rock star vanity, excess, and subsequent flameout feels like it could easily be the digestible narrative that ties together the coy emotional fatalism of the rest of the album.

This is a must-buy record. It’s got all the wit and talent of one of the best living rock lyricists layered over catchy rock hooks. It displays the depth and breadth of an incredible artist, and it whets my appetite for whatever project he produces next. And while I hope his next album won’t take him another eight years, I’m convinced that it would be worth the wait.

On the Versatility of the Human Voice

Precondition:

The human voice has evolved over millions of years to be a versatile, extensible tool for general-purpose communication. Its facility covers everything from Mr. Thum’s brilliant vocalizations above, to the infinite variety of human linguistic expression. The pattern matching wetware we carry around in our skulls combined with this extremely flexible vocalization apparatus has given us everything from Shakespeare and Richard Hugo to Ellie Goulding and beatboxing.

My mother once espoused (and, I imagine, might still) the theory that what makes us quintessentially human is not just language, but storytelling. I don’t know that she’s right, but suspect she’s not wrong.

Anyone who has heard a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo understands that “storytelling” shouldn’t be narrowly considered. Tom Thum’s presentation tells a story, in its way. It moves from percussive braggadocio to a smoky, jazz-club vignette in the space of eleven minutes, and of the sounds Thum employs, “proper words” are the decided minority.

Whether or not it is the quintessence of humanity, this facility for narrative expression is inextricable from what makes us human, no matter what audible form it takes.

“They, they gonna see us from outer space”

“Burn”, the latest from Ellie Goulding. A killer pop tune on its own, but just begging for a David Guetta remix, if you ask me.

Your Applied Statistics Homework

Watch this talk by the inimitable John Rauser:

Next, meditate for awhile on Anscombe’s Quartet.

Think on these both next time you are reviewing your metrics dashboard. Remind yourself of them the next time you implement metrics in your code. Present them the next time you see a colleague being lead down the primrose path towards presenting only the mean.

Now go forth and sin against operational statistics no more.

“Lana started to make sounds, like the imprecations of a priestess, over the bills that the boy had given her. Whispered numerals and words floated upward from her coral lips, and, closing her eyes, she copied some figures onto a pad of paper. Her fine body, itself a profitable investment through the years, bent reverently over the Formica-top altar. Smoke, like incense, rose from the cigarette in the ashtray at her elbow, curling upward with her prayers, up above the host which she was elevating in order to study the date of its minting, the single silver dollar that lay among the offerings. Her bracelet tinkled, calling communicants to the altar, but the only one in the temple had been excommunicated from the Faith because of his parentage and continued mopping. An offering fell to the floor, the host, and Lana knelt to venerate and retrieve it.

Hey, watch out,” Jones called, violating the sanctity of the rite. ‘You droppin the your profit from the orphans, butterfinger.'” – John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

David Foster Wallace on Ambition, Perfectionism, and Confronting One’s Limits

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.