Music Monday: Symphony of Science

I’ve already stated how awesome Auto-Tune the News is (for the record, I am insanely jealous of the people that saw the Gregory Brothers perform at the StarKid shows this weekend, albeit glad that I didn’t have to be surrounded by teenaged, rabid Glee fans for four hours), but to be honest, their videos have been fairly lacking as they extend themselves into touring and their actual job of being intentional singers. But a nice alternative to the Gregory Brothers has sprung about in its place: Symphony of Science.

Released by the YouTuber John Boswell, under the username melodysheep, Symphony of Science is less funny and more inspiring; slightly less entertaining and slightly more educating; and it is chock full of physicists and other scientists in the public sphere. It began with “A Glorious Dawn,” featuring the late Carl Sagan (who’s kind of become the mascot of the project, like Einstein to mental_floss or George Washington to George magazine) and Stephen Hawking, an unintentional song so intentionally beautiful it caught the ear of Jack White, who released it on his record label, Third Man Records:

The project – which takes from Sagan’s Cosmos, TED Talks, NOVA, and other science series – grew in terms of the number of scientists featured to a sort of ensemble cast, like here with my personal favorite, “The Poetry of Reality,” one of the pieces Boswell’s put together that not only has resonant subject matter (it makes me want to go out and join the ranks of the 12 scientists featured, however impossible that may be) but a really great melody (albeit one that sounds a bit like this Hank Green song):

And finally, the latest Symphony of Science track, “Onward to the Edge,” which for whatever reason almost made me cry.


Thursday Trivia: Things that Start with “X”

There are two reasons this post came about: first, because of one of the facts below that I learned at the Lists exhibit at the Morgan Library about a month or two ago. Second, and more importantly, because in virtually every alphabetical list, the letter “x” is presented with the word “x-ray.” Hell, even the NATO phonetic alphabet uses “x-ray” for the letter “x.” (At that rate, why don’t you just say “x”? The letter “x” is the only part of “x-ray” that particularly matters in that instance! Ughhhh….) Needless to say, that always leaves me a little perturbed. So instead, here are five things you can use in place of the word “x-ray” and a little bit of information about them:

  • Xenurine is an alternate name for a cabassou – which is in turn an alternate name for an armadillo. Cabassous is the genus for “naked-tail” armadillos, which lends credence to the etymology of xenurine – Greek for “strange tail.”
  • XI is not just the Roman numeral for 11, but is also a Greek letter and an acceptable two-letter word in Scrabble. Other two-letter words using tough tiles accepted in Scrabble include “qi” (a Chinese word meaning “vital energy needed in battle”) and “za” (a shortening of “pizza.”)
  • X is the first call letter for all Mexican radio stations, which is in turn divided into XE and XH for AM and FM, respectively (XH is also often used for TV stations). In Major League Baseball, the San Diego Padres’ English and Spanish radio stations are Mexican stations – so-called “border blasters,” which emanate from Mexico (specifically Tijuana) but have a high enough wattage to be heard in San Diego and elsewhere in Southern California.
  • In the Harry Potter universe, Xenophilius Lovegood was responsible for the publication of The Quibbler, which sort of served as the National Enquirer to The Daily Prophet‘s more upstanding, heralded culture (with the exception of Rita Skeeter, who is closer to the Perez Hilton of the wizarding world). Filled with stories of (most likely fictional) creatures and stories of cryptozoology, it makes sense that ol’ Xeno was given his first name by J.K. Rowling; “xenophilia” literally means “love of strange things” in Greek.

This Week’s Musings

We’re back with another week of posts. It’s a podcast week – 5 questions on Nintendo – and here are the textual things I’ve got cooked up:

  • Music Monday: I talk about Bon Iver briefly.
  • Wednesday Top 5: In honor of the upcoming Vendy Awards, my five favorite New York City food trucks.
  • Thursday Trivia: Again departing from the five-facts format, I present a brief history of TV musical shows.
  • No Friday post this week, but do expect a recap of the aforementioned Vendy Awards via the YouTube channel sometime this weekend.
And we’re talking about serious business on AccioNerds, getting nostalgic on TMV, and doing whatever I usually do on Twitter and Tumblr (meaning, not much).
See you in a bit for Music Monday, but first, here are a couple of videos I wanted to present on Friday but didn’t. The first is Hank Green’s song about quarks, “Strange Charm” (also the video that initiated me into Nerdfighteria), and the second is the downright awesome “mathemusician” Vi Hart talking about the science of sound (it runs a little long at almost 13 minutes, but it’s well worth it):

New Video and This Week’s Musings

So here’s a video I did for World Blood Donor Day:

You might want to play this as soon as you’re done with it. In any case, this week’s musings! I’m going to make it sort of a Top 5 week – largely ’cause I have I double-length post out of the way and partly because it should be interesting.

  • Top 5: Tomorrow, my 5 favorite chocolates and 5 fruity candies, as promised but not gotten to last week.
  • Thursday Trivia: I’m going to do something different for this week’s Thursday Trivia. Much like the top 5, it’ll be double-length – part 1 will be 5 facts about James Earl Jones, and part 2 will be sort of an Pat Kiernan, “In the Papers”-esque video going through facts I find interesting in the next issue of mental_floss (what I hope to make a feature every other month), which I got this morning.
  • This week on the ThursTriv Podcast, I announce the winners of the bonus podcast prizes (currently nonexistent – get answer-emailing, people!) and the answers to the questions in that podcast, along with 5 questions on Sesame Street. (Kelly Cordray’s going to come on the show to talk about Sesame Street with me sometime within that span, so it may be a bit longer than usual and possibly without a song.)
  • Stuff I Like: I still haven’t written about Yoo-Hoo yet?! Jeez, I’m slow! In lieu of that, my 5 favorite non-juice soft drinks.

Additionally, I’ll be talking about comedy and comedians on AccioNerds tomorrow; talking about YouTube and what I like and dislike about it on Year of the Nerd Friday; and talking about…something on TMV Saturday. Also, I’m hoping to get to see the Coen Brothers’ True Grit on Saturday before the Cyclones home opener at the Museum of the Moving Image and possibly the documentary Page One, on the New York Times, on Monday – I’ll review those on Tumblr as part of the standard short post/photography rigamarole, with the even-shorter-post rigamarole continuing over on Twitter.

This Week’s Musings

I’m doing this week’s preview of what I’ve got cooked up here on Random Musings a day early, largely for the reason that my parents, by reading this post, will know I wasn’t abducted by aliens or anything when I came back into the City yesterday. So there’s that. With that in mind, here’s this week’s scheduled posts:

  • Music Monday: In preparation for his Celebrate Brooklyn show on Friday, I introduce you to Andrew Bird.
  • Dueling Top 5: Kelly Cordray astutely realized that I’ve never done any posts on candy, so I’ll do two Top 5 posts this week; one on my Top 5 chocolates, and one on my 5 favorite fruity candies, which will run Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
  • Thursday Trivia: Largely because I was there last Friday and I’ll be there this Friday, 5 facts about Prospect Park.
  • I’ll be honest – between  my construction of the Grand Slam tournament we had at the Macaulay Spring Picnic and my birthday this weekend, I never got around to writing and recording the ThursTriv podcast on the New York City subway, so I’m going to do it this week. Meaning y’all get an extra week to send in your answers to the bonus podcast questions to win fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) prizes! (C’mon, Pecoraro, it’s just 5 questions and a song! Jeez…)By the way, about the podcast – it’ll be moving to Tumblr very, very soon ’cause there I can set up an RSS feed and then apply to have it on iTunes.
  • Stuff I Like: I finally get around to writing about my love for Yoo-Hoo.
Additionally, videos on my personal channel (which I’ve kind of neglected these last few weeks and made basically a second channel for my collective of collabs), AccioNerds on Wednesday, my new project Year of the Nerd on Friday, TMV on Saturday; a glut of Random Doodles and short-post/iPod photography rigamarole on Tumblr; and the even-shorter-post rigamarole on Twitter.
I’ll see y’all tomorrow for Music Monday – but first, enjoy Hank Green talking about giving blood and the life of a blood cell, largely ’cause I’m giving blood for the third time in 2011 (and the sixth time in the year to date).

Thursday Trivia: Para||el Universes

If the choices we make define who we are, we may be more people than we think.

Daniel Pecoraro has done wonders to unlock the secrets of this universe, but what about the rest of them? Yes, I am talking about parallel universes, the many-worlds interpretation, whatever you want to call it – another you may be calling it something else in another world.  Once considered a ridiculous proposal, the theory is quickly gaining ground among circles of scientists as a plausible explanation for the workings of the universe(s?).

Let’s learn some fun facts about it which, at the very least, hold true in this universe:

  • The theory was proposed by physicist Hugh Everett (father of Mark Oliver Everett of the band Eels), a graduate student studying quantum mechanics at Princeton University during the 1950s.
  • Everett’s theory began small – with subatomic particles. While big things like apples and tennis balls follow the laws of classical physics, small matter like atoms and subatomic particles follow the laws of quantum mechanics.
  • Particles following quantum mechanics behave not as individual particles but have wave-particle duality.  For example, if tennis balls were fired through two slits at a wall, they would hit two consistent spots on the wall in line with the slits. However, small particles behave like waves, passing through the slits and winding up in multiple places on the wall that would be considered impossible according to the laws of classical physics. Physicist Niels Bohr concluded that the reason for this strange pattern was that the small particles actually pass through both slits at once.
  • Hugh Everett found it hard to believe that matter should behave differently according to size.  He reasoned that since everything is made up of elementary particles that follow quantum mechanics, everything – big and small – should follow the laws of quantum mechanics. If these small particles can be in two places at once, then so can anything. His studies led him to his theory of parallel universes.
  • Everett proposed that the universe splits every time a quantum event occurs. After the split, the two separate universes created would have no way of knowing about each other or influencing each other. In the experiment where small particles are fired through slits in the wall (called Double Slit Diffraction), the universe would split, allowing for the particle to wind up in every place on the wall in some universe.

Everett compared the fact that we cannot feel the splitting occur to the way we cannot feel the Earth rotating.  The splitting creates millions of new worlds per second. According to the theory, everything that can happen will happen in some universe. There can be no such thing as “too many coincidences.”  This might explain how a rare planet with such life forms as the Earth came into existence (After all, at its conception, our universe was smaller than the electron that follows the laws of quantum mechanics).

Everett’s theory does not apply only to experimentation at the microscopic level. If his theory is correct, some physicists argue, the universe splits every time a decision is made in our own personal lives.  If the choices we make define who we are, we may be more people than we think.

As our knowledge grows, an increasing number of physicists acknowledge the logic in Everett’s theory. In 1995, a poll of 72 prominent physicists revealed that 58% of them believed in the theory. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until acceptance of the theory becomes…well, universal.

Thursday Trivia (on Friday!): Snowflakes


That's pretty awesome. Image by Vlastula Juricek (Flickr name Vlastula).

A couple of weeks ago, there was a nice little dusting of snow across Manhattan (though, since Manhattan is practically covered in salt from about November to March, no one really noticed come the next morning, save for everything having a layer of salt on it). Further, for the last month there has been an equally nice and equally small dusting of snow falling on every page of this blog. Because of these multiple snowfalls – and in the hopes of a White Christmas here in New York – here comes five posts on snowflakes: Continue reading

Stuff I Dislike: Cicadas

So this is what a cicada looks like.

Now, compared to, say, mosquitoes or wasps, cicadas are pretty damn innocuous. They don’t sting, they don’t carry disease. It’s just that they make so much noise.

Now, it’s not like cricket noise, like this. That’s fine. In fact, it’s quite soothing. And further, what else are you going to use as a sound effect for small crowds? Instead, cicadas sound like this.

Another reason I hate waking up early in the morning during the summer: subjecting myself to the loud cicadas. I’d rather subject myself to hours of vuvuzela listening – a freakin’ vuvuzela concerto, for goodness’ sake – compared to listening to that. After the summer, you always forget about them, and then – just like the circus – they come right back for the season.

And, entomologists? Enough with that 17-year cycle of when cicadas sound louder, or there are more of them, or whatever. That’s crap. There always seem to be so damn many of them, but you never see them – you just hear them. All the damn time. Unlike nice ol’ crickets, who you can actually see, at night, and sometimes, they serve as your conscience and dance. (Oh, wait, that’s Pinocchio.)

Thursday Trivia: Happy Pi Day!

It’s Pi Approximation Day across the world – in the European style of writing dates, it’s 22/7 – the approximation of π. Pi Day is generally celebrated on March 14th (3.14), but I missed it for the blog.

The March Pi Day’s celebration is largest in San Francisco (no, there’s no parade) at the Exploratorium, the local science museum. (The Exploratorium staff, I assume, wrote the Explorabook, a book of science experiments I got as a kid and still love to this day.) The celebration, consisting of public events in and around the museum – including eating of fruit pies (and later pizza pie) – began in 1988 under the purview of Larry Shaw.

Four more bits of trivia about the Pi Days after the jump! Continue reading

This Week’s Unrandom Musings

It’s the first full week in July, and with it, the first week of this month’s Unrandom Musings. Here they are:

  • Music Monday: I discuss how I have increasingly frequent urges to listen to Weezer’s “Island in the Sun.”
  • Tuesday Afternoon Stuff I Dislike: I break out of the intellectual line and discuss why I dislike crossword puzzles.
  • Wednesday Top 5: The top 5 most interesting phobias, in my opinion. (It’s 7/7, seems like an interesting idea.)
  • Thursday Trivia: 5 bits of need-to-know info on umbrellas.
  • Making Crap Up: This week, the theme is Mets closer (and poster boy for antacids) Francisco Rodriguez: “6 Bits of Francisco Rodriguez Advice that Will Land You in Prison”.
  • Saturday Night Stuff I Dislike: I discuss the peculiar sport that is Canadian football.

This week’s video, Cristobal Vila’s amazing short “Nature by Numbers”, comes to us from mental_floss. Filled with absolutely incredible animation, it shows what I and many other nerds have already seen – how math is prevalent in nature. Also, it shows that I finally know how to embed Vimeo videos in WordPress.