Persistent Anti-GMO Myths

One persistent theme in my writing about scientific topics is that, to optimally serve our own interests, public discourse and decision-making on issues that are highly scientific should be informed by the best evidence and scientific analysis available, not on lies, myths, misconceptions, or raw ideology. I am therefore attracted to topics where I think the myth to fact ratio is particularly high.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) is one such issue. The propaganda machine seems to be way out in front of the more sober voices trying to correct the record and focus the discussion on reality. I also see GMO as the ideological flip side to global warming denial.  In the latter case we seen industry and free-market ideologues sowing confusion and misinformation. They also do the ideology shuffle — a dance in which, whenever they are nailed by the facts on one point, they state that their objection is really based on some other point. They never really acknowledge the point, just side-step it.

Anti-GMO activists, in my experience, operate the same way. They have marshaled every possible point they can against GMO, whether or not they are true or valid. When one such point is exposed as a myth, they simply slide over to some other point as their “real” motivation for opposition, but never give any ground.

via NeuroLogica Blog » Persistent Anti-GMO Myths.

I’ve often been surprised when I read what anti-GMO people think are the dangers of GMOs. There is a very strong level of superstition around GMOs, and, as this article points out, there is hard science behind GMOs. There are also a lot of myths around GMOs, and this article debunks many of them.

iTunes Tip: Quickly Add Songs and Other Items to Playlists

If you’re browsing your iTunes library, and you want to choose some songs to listen to, you probably know that you can drag them to playlists to add them to those playlists. But if you have a lot of playlists, and you want to add songs to a number of different playlists, it may be difficult to have all the playlists visible in the iTunes source list (the sidebar on the left).

There’s a neat way to add any items to playlists without dragging them. Just right-click on a song or other item, then choose Add to Playlist, then choose a playlist from the submenu that displays.

That submenu shows all the regular (i.e., not “smart”) playlists in your iTunes library. (You can only add items to smart playlists by setting conditions.) You can easily add items to playlists that are at any location in the iTunes Source list, and even to playlists in folders or sub-folders.

Mac Pro Audio Ports: Microphones Not Recognized

You can’t plug a microphone with a 1/8″ plug into a new Mac Pro. Here’s why.

I’ve got a microphone to review for Macworld, specifically for its use with speech recognition software such as Dragon Dictate. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I was surprised to find that the Mac Pro doesn’t recognize this microphone.

HT6024_1-macpro-audio_ports-001-mul.png Apple has a support document entitled Mac Pro (Late 2013): Audio ports which explains the audio interfaces on this computer. It says:

Audio out: The left audio port with a speaker icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for audio line out. It can use analog audio and digital S/PDIF fibre optic cables. Audio devices you connect to the port will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. Note that this port does not support headsets or microphones.

Headphone port: The right audio port with a headset icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for headphones. When you plug in headphones to this port, sound is redirected from the internal speakers to the headphones. Headphones will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. If the headset contains a microphone, it will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Input. iPhone headsets including mic and inline controls are supported. Digital output devices are not supported on this port.”

You’d expect that the headphone port would work with a microphone. When I plug a Sennheiser PX 100 II-i into that port, it shows up in the Input pane of the Sound preferences as External Microphone.

System Preferences001.png

But when I plug the microphone I’m reviewing into the same port, it doesn’t show up. Since it’s a microphone only – not a headset with mike – it’s not recognized.

2014-08-01 10.27.55-4.jpgI’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it has something to do with the type of plugs each device has. As you can see in this photo, the Sennheiser headset with microphone has a 4-part plug; the other microphone has a 3-part plug. My guess is that the Mac Pro is recognizing the different parts of the plug in order to detect whether or not it will recognize the device.

Whatever the case, it’s important to know that a standard microphone with a 1/8″ plug won’t work in the Mac Pro. If you have one, and want to use it with the Mac Pro, you’ll need some other way of getting the audio into the computer, such as a USB adapter. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The mike I’m testing does come with a USB adapter, but I wanted to try it without the adapter to see if there was any difference in accuracy.

Three of the Best Rock Concert Movies of All Time

I like using iTunes’ shuffle mode, and every now and then, it pops up something I hadn’t heard in a while, giving me an Aha! moment, reminding me to spin a (virtual) disc that hasn’t been heard recently. Today, the one that set me off was Born Under the Punches, by Talking Heads. Listening to this, I was reminded of their great concert film Stop Making Sense, and that made me think of a few of the greatest concert movies of all time.

81p94HdVNPL._SL1474_.jpgA great concert movie isn’t just a film of a great concert; it has to be more than that. Stop Making Sense (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one of the best as much because of the innovative approach to the concert itself, as the way it’s filmed. And the music’s great too.

It starts with David Byrne coming on to a bare stage, alone, carrying a boom box and an acoustic guitar. He presses a button on the boom box which starts playing a rhythm track – it’s not really the boom box playing that track, but who cares? – then goes into an acoustic version of Psycho Killer. Another band member comes out for each of the next few songs, until the full complement is on stage. From then on, it’s a rocking show, with foot-tapping rhythms and powerful beats.

I remember seeing Talking Heads on this tour, at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, in Queens, New York, and it was an awesome show. It’s great to have some of that tour on film.

51JFQ6SRTCL._SY300_.jpgThe Last Waltz (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a film of The Band’s 1976 retirement gig at Winterland, in San Francisco. Held on Thanksgiving day, this epic concert featured the A-list musicians of the time: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers, Paul Butterfield, and Eric Clapton.

Filmed by Martin Scorcese, it features a few interviews, and a couple of songs shot on a soundstage, but the essential of the movie is (parts of) the live gig. The movie itself is only about two hours, but the concert lasted from evening until dawn; after it was over, promoter Bill Graham treated the audience to a Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.

The Band’s music is great, but the movie shines because of all the guests who play some of their best songs. And there are great jams with a pantheon of rock musicians on stage at the same time.

91YuwZKlRRL._SL1500_.jpgEveryone knows about Woodstock. Maybe your parents told you stories about it… If you’re old enough to remember it – I was a bit too young to go, but I heard about it at the time – it was a major event, especially to those of us in New York City. When the movie and albums came out, it was a magical experience, seeing all those great musicians performing in such epic surroundings. The movie shows not only the music, but the creation of the event as well. Some of the interviews can be a bit boring, but they do set the scene, helping viewers realize the scale of the festival.

With the director’s cut released in 2010 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), we now have a lot more footage. At just under three hours, there are also two hours of songs that had never been shown before (including a huge 39-minute Turn On Your Love Light by the Grateful Dead) on a bonus disc.

Back in the 1970s, there was a cinema near where I lived that had midnight showings of concert films on weekends. I saw numerous great movies there: two of the three I mention above, and films such as Yessongs, The Grateful Dead Movie, The Song Remains the Same, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Gimme Shelter, and lots of others. But the three above stand out as the best marriage of music and filming, and, in the case of The Last Waltz and Woodstock, huge events.

It’s commonplace now for bands to film their performances, and concert films are a dime a dozen. But none of them have improved on these three classic films. Woodstock is pretty old now, and The Last Waltz is from the 70s, but if you like that music, you’ll love the movies.

Stop Safari from Asking You if You Want Notifications from Websites

Are you annoyed by Safari asking you if you want to get push notifications from some websites? Here’s how you can turn those messages off.

Safari for OS X has a feature called Push Notifications, which lets you get notifications on your Mac – banners or alerts – when a web site wants to let you know about a great new article. I find these quite annoying, and I’ve turned them off, but I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know how to keep Safari from displaying the dialog.

When you go to a website that uses this feature, you’ll see a sheet in Safari like this:

Safari004.png

It’s annoying to have to click Don’t Allow each time you land on a website using Push Notifications, but you can turn these dialogs off in Safari’s preferences. Choose Safari > Preferences, then click on Notifications. Uncheck the option at the bottom, Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications.

Safari001.png

If you’ve already allowed certain websites, you’ll still get notifications; you just won’t get asked any more. And you can remove any of the websites that have asked – whether you have allowed or denied these notifications – by selecting them in the same window, then clicking Remove, or nuke them all by clicking Remove All.

Book Review: Give My Regards to Eight Street, by Morton Feldman

FeldmanComposer Morton Feldman was a voluble man, but he didn’t write much down. He taught and gave lectures, but his collected writings fit in this book, Give My Regards to Eight Street (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At just over 200 pages, it contains articles about art and music, and liner notes and program notes for some of his works. While Feldman famously wrote many multi-hour works, in has later phase, his words are more concise. Unlike his friend John Cage, who wrote a number of books, Feldman never published any collection of his writings while alive.

As the publisher’s blurb for this book points out, “While his music is known for its extreme quiet and delicate beauty, Feldman himself was famously large and loud. […] Feldman’s writings explore his music and his theories about music, but they also make clear how heavily Feldman was influenced by painting and by his friendships with the Abstract Expressionists.” Feldman discusses music, but more often he writes about art. He was strongly influenced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, all of whom were his friends.

Art was, to Feldman, a way of life. But, as he says:

Art in its relation to life is nothing more than a glove turned inside out. It seems to have the same shapes and contours, but it can never be used for the same purpose. Art teaches nothing about life, just as life teaches us nothing about art.

He writes a lot about art, and how it influenced his music, and, in one lecture given in Frankfurt in 1984, goes into some detail about his music and the way he composes. But this is not a treatise, and there is little real insight into why he composed the way he did, especially in the longer, late works that have been so influential. He didn’t seem to want to go into much detail about those works. He explains some of his processes, but lets the music speak for itself.

This book therefore isn’t a key to Feldman’s music, but it is an entertaining read to better understand his influences, especially those that came from painting. If you appreciate Morton Feldman’s music, you’ll want to read this book to get a better idea of what made the man tick.

Dear Music PR Person, You’re Doing It Wrong

If you send out digital music files or CDs, do it right, or reviewers will simply ignore what you send them.

I get a lot of music to listen to and review. I review classical CDs for MusicWeb International, and I review lots of CDs and downloads here on Kirkville. When I get CDs, I rip them so I can listen to them more easily on my Mac, or on my stereo that connects to my iTunes library. And when I get digital downloads, I add them to my iTunes library immediately.

I got two lots of music in the past few days, one was a single album, and the other was about a dozen albums. And when I added them to my iTunes library, I saw that they were poorly tagged. One had no tags at all: the tracks were just “track 1,” “track 2,” etc. The other had track names, but nothing else.

iTunes001

So, in the interest of helping music PR people get music listened to, let me make some suggestions for how you should provide digital music.

  • All tracks should be tagged. All tracks should have tags at least in the following fields: Name, Artist, Album, and Year. You can add a Genre tag, but I might change that. If you can’t bother with tagging files, why should I bother listening to them?
  • The music should be provided at a decent bit rate. The best option is to provide lossless files: either Apple Lossless or FLAC. You can provide WAV or AIFF files, but they take longer to download, so I recommend you avoid them. If you provide files in any other format, make them at least 256 kbps. (And please, don’t send Ogg Vorbis files.)
  • All tracks should be the same bit rate. The single album I got this week had 24 tracks at 160 kbps, and 1 track at 80 kbps. Do you seriously expect me to judge the sound quality of a recording at 80 kbps? If so, then you need a primer on digital music.
  • The downloads should include album art. This can either be embedded in the files (best option) or separate. If it’s embedded in the files, you should make sure the embedded file is at least 600 x 600 pixels, and you should include a high-resolution copy of the cover as a separate file. If you only send me a 200 x 200 pixel file for cover art, I’ll throw it away.
  • Include liner notes. All downloads should include liner notes. These should be in PDF format, so they reproduce the layout of what one gets when buying a CD (or a download with a digital booklet). Don’t send me Word files.

Feel free to include other items. You might want to include an EPK (electronic press kit; generally just a video with an interview of an artist). If so, make it clear whether I can use this video on my website. As for photos, make it very clear what conditions must be met to use them. For example, if credit of any kind must be given, make it easy for me to find out what I need to say.

I understand that some music PR people just send the files they get from labels. If the labels can’t get it right, don’t waste your time sending me crappy files. You may have an excellent recording to promote, but I’ll just delete the files and ignore the album. I’m not wasting my time with poor quality files, and I’m not wasting my time trying to find tags for untagged files.

If you can’t be bothered sending me quality material to judge your music, why should I bother reviewing it?

P.S.: If you’re sending out CDs for review, make sure to:

  • Upload track information to Gracenote. This is the service that iTunes and other media players use to provide track information when you play or rip a CD. So, if I want to play a CD you’ve sent me in iTunes, I want to see the track names. If I rip that CD – which I do for most CDs I receive, as it’s easier to play them, move around in them, etc. – then I want to know what tracks I’m listening to.  I got a CD the other day that, when I went to rip it in iTunes, no track information was displayed. That CD went on The Pile, and I’ll probably not think about it for a very long time.

The Reviewer’s Conundrum: What to Do with a Very Bad Recording?

I review CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, the site with the largest number of classical CD reviews freely available on the internet. I’ve been writing reviews for the site for nearly 15 years, and have reviewed some 600 CDs and DVDs.

MusicWeb reviewers receive a list of CDs every month or so, and choose the ones they want. (I also get some CDs directly from record labels.) So I go over the list, and check out what interests me, what new releases fit with my musical tastes and knowledge. In this month’s lot, I got a recording of a work I love and know very well – I’ll leave it nameless – that I tried to listen to this morning, but that was so bad, I had to give up. It’s a solo instrumental recording, and the performer plods through the piece, which, by the way, is played at a tempo which makes it about 50% longer than other versions of the same work.

So I’m faced with a conundrum. In general, I don’t like writing bad reviews; I think it helps no one, and harms the performers and record labels. But there is also a responsibility to write such a review, to alert other music fans about such a poor recording. It’s not like they can’t judge from themselves; the release is available by download, so anyone can listen to excerpts and hear what I heard, and see if they agree with me.

So what do you think? Is it better to write honest reviews of bad recordings, or just toss them aside, and spend time writing reviews of the good ones? Because, since the time of all reviewers is limited, every bad recording that gets reviewed means one less potentially good recording will go unreviewed.

Music Review: November, by Dennis Johnson

1206331157-1

Buy from: Amazon.com | Amazon UK | iTunes

The musical avant-garde has created a number of very long pieces of music. Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2, for example, runs for around six hours; other works by the same composer last from one to four hours. La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano runs around five to six hours. John Cage’s As SLow aS Possible runs from 20 to 70 minutes, but a performance underway in St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and should take about 639 years. Other long works include Erik Satie’s Vexations, which runs somewhere around 28 hours. But the latter two works are more gimmicks than anything else; Satie’s piece is merely one minute-and-a-half piece played 840 times.

Length does not equal quality, but in the area of minimalist music – this is the minimalism of sparseness, not that of repetition, such as the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass – the listener enters a sound world that moves at a different pace from the world around them. Listening to such works – Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet is an excellent example of this – forces the listener to rethink what music is and how it is heard and experienced. I like music of this type which slows me down and makes me listen differently. In many ways, November, as with many of Morton Feldman’s works, is as much like looking at a painting as it is like listening to a work for piano. It’s beautiful music that moves in slow motion.

Read more