Engines of our Ingenuity #2206

animatedlogo2.gifProfessor John H. Lienhard of the University of Houston has been narrating episodes of this radio series for NPR since 1988. Broadcast by KUHF FM at UH, the show is simply one of the best on public radio. As the website describes it, “… Engines of Our Ingenuity is a radio program that tells the story of how our culture is formed by human creativity.” But it’s more than that; it’s a vehicle for Leinhard himself, who is a sage and a poet as much as he is a scientist and engineer.

You can get the podcast off NPR, or visit the show’s website for transcripts of every episode.

This morning’s episode, # 2206, is Leinhard’s thoughts after reading Mankind So Far, a critical review of the origins of man and the theory of evolution by William Howell, written in 1944. Leinhard is full of praise for the meticulousness of Howell’s approach, noting:

A theory it is, of course, but in the true scientific sense. It is no mere supposition.

What’s fascinating in Howells’ book is how squarely he looks at holes in the prevailing account of our evolution. Most of his questions have since been resolved. The hallmark of any science is that it’s driven, not by what we presume to be true, but by pin-pointing what we don’t yet know.

That’s typical of Leinhard – to always invoke the context of science. And no episode of Engines would be complete without his final insight; in this case, he masterfully turns the modern-day controversy on its head:

[Howell] wonders what we’ll evolve into in a million years. While we cannot know, there’s no shred of doubt that we’re far from finished — that the creation continues. And there lies the great beauty behind the hard fact of evolution.

let us not talk falsely

I am probably too young to be as familiar with Bob Dylan as I should be. However, thanks to Ron Moore and Battlestar Galactica, I am now introduced to All Along the Watchtower, and the song just blew my mind. I haven’t had as visceral a reaction to a song like this since I first heard Hotel California. The only other band that gets my brain raccing like this is They Might Be Giants, but they go for the relatively straightforward symbolism; this song in contrast is more amorphous, lending itself to far richer interpretation. It’s akin to a religious text or a prophecy.


“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

And here’s the song on YouTube, performed by Jimi Hendrix.

When I discover a new song like this, it takes a while for it to seep in. So I have nothing profound to say. I’m just going to consume it.

frak me though, what else is out there under my nose that I don”t know about?!

no one knows my plan

This They Might be Giants song is off their John Henry album. Lyrics courtesy of TMBW:

In my prison cell I think these words
I was careless
I can see that now
I must be silent
Must contain my secret smile
I want to tell you
You my mirror
You my iron bars

When I made a shadow on my window shade
They called the police and testified
But they’re like the people chained up in the cave
In the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy

No one understands
No one knows my plan
Why the dancing, shouting
Why the shrieks of pain
The lovely music
Why the smell of burning autumn leaves

I was always fascinated by the reference to the allegory of the people in the cave, but never moved myself to investigate until recently. It turns out that it’s a reference to (obviously) the Allegory of the Cave, in Plato’s Republic. The implication is that the narrator of the song possesses the key to reality (Plato’s Forms).

How is this significant? I don’t know. Do you? leave a comment and speculate.

musical taste

Tonight, I remarked to a friend that I don’t listen to music much anymore. On reflection, however, that’s not quite true. While I do enjoy my Hitchhiker’s Guide radio scripts or NPR more than anything on FM radio at any given time, there are admittedly some pieces of genuine music that I have a soft spot for and which if I do happen to hear, I’ll go out of my way to listen to and sing along to (as long as no one else is in the car 🙂 And I don’t just mean movie soundtracks, either (though they rank highly).

The thing about most of these is that they either evoke a emotion in me or I find some kind of resonance in their lyrics. I rarely enjoy a song for its aesthetic value alone. To click, there has to be a reason, and its something I just cant predict or even point to a pattern for. I’m fairly happy with a very tightly focused collection of music, which I might not listen to that often but which when I do, I expect the same few dozen songs in rotation. I suppose this is the opposite of the typical iPod user profile, but I know what I like and I just don’t have any interest in carrying around anything extraneous.

Maybe I’m just stubborn.


I see that Shamus is offline for going above bandwidth 🙁 (UPDATE: he’s back!) The likely culprit is his brilliant “DM of the RIngs” parody which reinterprets The Lord of the Rings as a D&D gaming session. It’s a concern that all of us hobbyist bloggers, especially in the otakusphere, should share – we tend to put creative things online, be they motivational posters or site maps or videos of our kids or audio samples from our favorite science fiction. The assumption we make in putting them online is that only a small circle of readers will partake of our binary goodies, which is the essential opposite of the political blogsphere in which the only output is text and everyone wants to get the Big Link.

One way to reduce our vulnerability is to use thirdparty services. YouTube for video and Flickr for photos (or comics) are obvious solutions. But what about audio? Is there a Flickr/YouTube for pure sound? It would be pretty interesting. An obvious but utterly illegal use for such a service would be to put your music collection online so no one could access it. If you were able to password protect your audio links however then you could upload copyrighted content for your personal exclusive use. However, I doubt such a solution would satisfy the RIAA given that they took on mp3.com a few years ago for a similar scheme. Still, maybe the RIAA sees the benefits of YouTube’s collaboration with the MPAA and might be open to fresh thinking. Or maybe not.

But would an audio sharing site have any appeal without copyrighted content? Most would argue no, but I can see a lot of people using it for their own stuff. There’s an active MIDI community for example that would probably love a YouTube-like interface to simplify their filesharing. Brief excerpts from popular radio and TV are also probably justified under fair use, as well. And of course voice recorders are almost ubiquitous now on digital cameras and cell phones and mp3 players, so baby’s first words and ad-hoc skits and even random interviews might onstitute a large fraction of the content. I know that in college my friends and I experimented with WAV files and microphones for all sorts of things… Today’s computing environment affords exponentially more capability.

So, does such a service already exist? should it exist? what should it be called?

Update: an interesting blog post about audio sharing. And there’s already a service called Odeo which has some of the functionality that I am looking for, and seems tailored to podcasts in particular (which is an obvious application of such a audio-sharing site). Odeo seemed to have been founded by Evhead of Blogger fame, and there’s already a WordPress plugin. Seems promising. I’ll have to play with this thing further…

Update 2:

powered by ODEO

kawaii poster contest

voting has begun in Riuva’s motivational poster competition. (warning: many entries NSFW!) I got one sympathy vote from Shamus. I guess my entry was too Haibane-insidery.

ah well. if you’re gonna vote for something, vote for Sugar! In fact, I think I’ll start a kawaii poster contest of my own. Anyone want to take a (SFW) shot? First prize will be me printing it out for the enjoyment of my four year old (who is about halfway done with Hooked on Phonics). Here’s an entry to get us started that sets a low bar indeed: Waffo

The rules are: kawaii, safe for work, and readable by a four year old 🙂 (and I guess it doesn’t need to be exclusively devoted to Sugar.. I guess. We can even accept that penguin chick too.)