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Posts Tagged ‘taxonomy

“If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing”*…

 

Chutney

A map of “chutney,” a genre based in the southern Caribbean, especially Trinidad and Tobago, which was most popular in the 1980s

 

You could argue that on the face of it, the project Every Noise At Once feels like staring into the abyss, and that the abyss is a completely straight line. The site, designed by Glenn McDonald, is an effort to visually map all the world’s musical genres algorithmically using Spotify data. Through the miracle of computer programming, the collective artistic genius and work of diverse individuals and cultures is flattened out into a single sprawling word cloud, with rock genres cluttering in the center, and other more remote musics pulsing off in seemingly stochastic drifts. Some might view it as a sign of impending doom, I suppose. But you could also see it as beautiful, fractal representation of the joys to be had in crossing cultures and musical styles; a vision of a world with the walls taken out…

McDonald is cheerfully upfront about the fact that Every Noise At Once isn’t a definitive single view of the world of music, but a discussion about possible landscapes. “Our computers can now enter plausibly into arguments over almost 500 genres, from a cappella to zydeco,” he says in an explanation of the project. Genres are always fuzzy, porous, and changeable anyway. Every Noise at Once updates and rearranges itself regularly, offering not a single vision of global sound, but a more tentative invitation to explore outside of your comfort zone.

And exploring is really a blast. It’s great fun to scroll around the map, looking for genres you’ve never heard of, and taking a moment to try to figure out what it is, where it’s from, and what it sounds like…

An attempt to map every music genre that exists, no matter how obscure: “Every Noise at Once” does its darnedest to create order out of chaos.  Explore for yourself here.

* Sir James Barrie, Peter Pan

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As we hum along, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that Dan Rather began to sign off his CBS Evening News broadcasts with the word “courage.”  He insisted that it was just a signature line and had nothing to do with the news at the time.  In any case, other newscasters ridiculed and parodied Rather, and he dropped it one week later.

 

Written by LW

September 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We can learn a lot from trees: they’re always grounded but never stop reaching heavenward”*…

 

Cook pines at U.C. Irvine

… or reaching in some direction, anyway:

California’s Cook pines have a weird characteristic. The towering trees lean conspicuously to one side, always toward the south, as though buffeted by years of strong winds.

But no one really understands why.

So a few years ago, botanists from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo took up the mystery. They collected data from 100 or so trees in California. Every one leaned south.

Then came an “aha” moment.

The scientists reached out to a colleague in Australia and asked him to check the Cook pines there. What he told them was “crazy,” said Jason Johns, who was the lead author of a study drawn from the research.

“The pattern was there,” he said, “just in the opposite direction.” The trees appeared to be leaning toward the Equator, a trait never before documented in the plant kingdom.

Cook pines are native to New Caledonia, an archipelago in the South Pacific, but they’ve spread the globe, including thousands in California. The Cal Poly researchers found that the leaning pattern held with measurements from Cook pines taken on five Continents.

According to their calculations, the odds that it resulted from chance, said Mr. Johns, “were point zero, zero, with like 14 zeros in front of it. It was pretty clear.”

The why, however, remains an open question.

Mr. Johns was reluctant to venture a theory. Pressed, he talked about a cell process called “signaling cascade” and the interplay between growth, sunlight and gravity.

The Cook pine discovery, he offered, was an example of how far science has to go in understanding the way the world works.

“As you know with anything,” he said, “the more you uncover, the more you realize how little you know.”

The biological compass.

* Everett Mamor

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As we orient to due south, we might spare a thought for Herbert Faulkner Copeland; he died on this date in 1968.  An biologist, he delineated four biological kingdoms, instead of the (then-canonical) two for plants and animals.  A decade after Darwin’s Origin of Species, Ernst Haekel had proposed (1866) adding a kingdom, Protista, for microorganisms, but it was never adopted.  Copeland further discriminated among the microorganisms in a paper in 1938, splitting them into two kingdoms: Monera and Protista.  Copeland identified Monera as organisms without nuclei, and Protista as being largely unicellular, with nuclei.  By 1956, he published a book, The Classification of Lower Organisms, still trying “to persuade the community of biologists” to adopt these four kingdoms.  Change came slowly, but continues now beyond Copeland’s ideas to five or six.  He was the son of botanist Edwin B. Copeland, from whom he learned the principles of classification.

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Written by LW

October 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in”*…

 

In European societies, knowledge is often pictured as a tree: a single trunk – the core – with branches splaying outwards towards distant peripheries. The imagery of this tree is so deeply embedded in European thought-patterns that every form of institution has been marshalled into a ‘centre-periphery’ pattern. In philosophy, for example, there are certain ‘core’ subjects and other more marginal, peripheral, and implicitly expendable, ones. Likewise, a persistent, and demonstrably false, picture of science has it as consisting of a ‘stem’ of pure science (namely fundamental physics) with secondary domains of special sciences at varying degrees of remove: branches growing from, and dependent upon, the foundational trunk.

Knowledge should indeed be thought of as a tree – just not this kind of tree. Rather than the European fruiter with its single trunk, knowledge should be pictured as a banyan tree, in which a multiplicity of aerial roots sustains a centreless organic system. The tree of knowledge has a plurality of roots, and structures of knowledge are multiply grounded in the earth: the body of knowledge is a single organic whole, no part of which is more or less dispensable than any other…

As Krishna observed in the in the Bhagavad-Gītā, “stands an undying banyan tree.”  Explore it at “The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan.”

* Isaac Asimov

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As we celebrate diversity, we might spare a thought for Douglas Carl Engelbart; he died on this date in 2013.  An engineer and inventor who was a computing and internet pioneer, Doug is best remembered for his seminal work on human-computer interface issues, and for “the Mother of All Demos” in 1968, at which he demonstrated for the first time the computer mouse, hypertext, networked computers, and the earliest versions of graphical user interfaces… that’s to say, computing as we know it.

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Written by LW

July 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If man thinks about his physical or moral state he usually discovers that he is ill”*…

 

As we consider revising our New Year’s resolutions…

The term wellness was popularized in the late 1950s by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, the so-called father of the movement. Writing in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 1959, Dunn defined “high-level wellness,” the organizing principle behind his work, as “a condition of change in which the individual moves forward, climbing toward a higher potential of functioning.” Dunn drew a distinction between good health—the absence of illness, or the passive state of homeostasis—and wellness as an active, ongoing pursuit. While good health is objective, dictated by the cold, hard truths of modern medicine, Dunn’s wellness is subjective, based on perception and “the uniqueness of the individual.” Dunn’s ideas have gained a steady following, approaching near-ubiquity in the 21st century—in 2015, the global wellness industry was valued at $3.7 trillion.

But without the emergence of Europe’s middle classes, without the wealth and leisure afforded by the Industrial Revolution, today’s wellness culture wouldn’t exist…

The full– and fascinating– story at “The False Promises of Wellness Culture.”

* Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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As we reconsider that cleanse, we might spare a thought for Swedish botanist Carl Linné, better known as Carolus Linnaeus, “the Father of Taxonomy,” born this date in 1707.  Historians suggest that the academically-challenged among us can take heart from his story: at the University of Lund, where he studied medicine, he was “less known for his knowledge of natural history than for his ignorance of everything else.” Still, he made is way from Lund to Uppsala, where he began his famous system of plant and animal classification– still in use today.

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Written by LW

January 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Taxonomy is described sometimes as a science and sometimes as an art, but really it’s a battleground”*…

 

Taxonomy, the art and science of classifying life, really should be a civilized pursuit. It encourages solitude, concentration, care. It rewards a meticulous attention to detail. And while it might occasionally receive some good-natured ribbing from the popular culture—think of all those butterfly collectors stumbling around in Far Side cartoons—it continues to play a vital role at the foundations of modern biology.

It can come as a bit of a surprise, then, when that veneer of civilization cracks, and the field reveals itself to be one of the more contentious arenas in science, a place where arguments over names and classifications rage through the literature for decades. This is both a strength, as challenges to current classification keep the field dynamic and relevant, and an expression of its hardwired vulnerabilities…

More at “Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?

* Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

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As we contemplate classification, we might send carefully-spelled birthday greetings to Alfred Mosher Butts; he was born on this date in 1899.  An architect, artist, photographer, and inventor, Butts found himself at loose ends in the early 1930s, and set out to design a board game, settling on one that utilized both chance and skill by combining elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles.  He carefully analyzed how often each letter is used (thus determining how many of each letter to include and how many points each one would earn), then drew a board and glued letters on some balsa tiles.  He first called his creation “Lexiko”, but later changed the name to “Criss Cross Words.”  In 1948, he sold his game to James Brunot, who made a few minor adjustments to the design and renamed the game “Scrabble.”  Today it is sold in 121 countries and is available in 29 languages; approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide.  Roughly one-third of American and half of British homes have a Scrabble set, and there are over 4,000 Scrabble clubs worldwide.

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Written by LW

April 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

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