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Monday, December 7, 2009


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

ILL ETIQUETTE: YOU (OUGHTA) HEAR A GREAT BIG FLUSHING SOUND


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

Not only is what we bring to a bathroom experience and what we ultimately leave behind one and the same, it isn't especially pleasant to dwell on or gaze down upon. But gaze we must. Because - and it pains me to say this, really, it does - I've noticed a unfortunate tendency on the part of public restroom patrons lately: they evacuate, flush weakly, then bolt. (I'll save my diatribe on the importance of lathering and washing hands for another time.) As a result, the process of deciding which stall to occupy - a process that shouldn't require much thought at all – more often than not turns into a gruesome game of eenie-meenie-mo.

Sometimes, it's necessary to hang around a minute to see whether everything is sucked into the sewer system. (If you've clogged the bowl, don't stroll away whistling as though nothing happened. Have the decency to let someone - someone with a plunger, ideally - know that the bowl is clogged; you don't have to identity yourself as the culprit.)

Sometimes, you need to flush twice to cover your tracks.

Sometimes, you only need to flush once, but to initiate the flushing mechanism, you've really gotta put your wrist, maybe your whole forearm, into the act of moving that handle. For the love of God, do this. Hold your breath, close your eyes, whatever you've gotta do, but strain and concentrate until you've flushed that bowl clean.

Karma.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ill Esoterics: "An Earful"


By THOM HAWKINS

A few weeks ago, I pulled a pea-sized gob of black earwax from my left ear, got curious, and wanted to know more.

It was one of those situations where I always assumed that my experience was similar to that of others because we don't talk about earwax in polite company. After I found out that earwax, known scientifically as cerumen, comes in different varieties, I decided to follow up with friends and co-workers. According to several sources, including this fascinating article on Japanese ear-picking salons, "wet earwax is most common in those of European and African descent, while East Asians have dry, powdery earwax." While hardly a statistically valid sample, amongst those I asked, the two European (Italian and Slavic) and one African descendant had dry, flaky earwax, while the East Asian's was "golden and waxy." One woman I interviewed claimed not to have earwax, which sounds like a way to distinguish human from alien or cyborg.

My doctor friend (the golden and waxy East Asian) couldn't recall learning anything about cerumen in med school, but from his personal experience had seen it vary from "flaky and white to dark brown and caked." He also pointed out that race would be a factor in the appearance because some of the wax is sloughed skin, so the skin pigment contributes, at least to the color of the wax.

The wax is produced in the outer third of the canal, and the motion of the jaw while chewing shifts the wax gradually outward, containing dust or debris that has entered the canal, and pushing it outward. The use of blunt objects to clean the ear, without the use of a scope, could push the cerumen further into the canal, impacting or blocking the ear drum. Not only is earwax migratory, but because earwax type is genetic, earwax can be used as a genetic marker to determine the relationship between migratory peoples.

I've always heard that you should never stick anything in your ear that's smaller than your elbow. Myself, I've always used pen caps--they're the perfect length to pick through the waxy mounds without venturing beyond forbidden canal territory. I've also poured hydrogen peroxide in my ears, something I once saw my drummer friend's girlfriend do to clean his ears. My sister used to work at a health food store, which sold ear candles. I have not tried these because the principles behind their operation never seemed scientifically valid--and in fact, it is disputed by any reputable source, and often condemned as dangerous. However, while we debate even sticking bits of cotton fluff on paper sticks in our ears, the Japanese once again have an ear-refutable technological advantage:

Before you get the idea that this trend emerged with the rich, ear cleaning is an Asian tradition, originally performed by a wife for her husband, then outsourced to street-side "professionals" before making a clinical leap. There are even reports of a club in Tokyo where a man can get two female otolaryngologists to clean his canals simultaneously. Okay, I made that up. I think.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

ILL CASH QUERIES: SIX MORE QUESTIONS FOR RAPPERS WHO MAKE IT RAIN


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

No, we couldn’t leave well enough alone.

1. In our very limited experience - limited to rap videos, pretty much - flush-with-paper rappers usually opt to make it rain in nightclubs and strip clubs. But is there any rule that prohibits ballers from making it rain while checking out in the 10 Items Or Less aisle at Wegman’s, during a family summer barbeque, or while undergoing a routine physical? What if the urge to bring the thunder struck you during Sunday service when you realized that the collection plate was just a few parishioners away? Would you heed that call?

2. Let’s say that you want to make it rain, but you just don’t have that much cash on you - if you’ve got $1,000 in $100s, that’s weak sauce - and there’s no way to break any of it into smaller denominations. But you’ve got tons of change outside in the Escalade. If you throw that change instead, are you making it sprinkle? Would you ever do that? (You might hurt some people, and the effect wouldn’t be quite the same.)


3. Is there something one shouts just prior to making it rain, like a warning or announcement or something? Or do you just sort of impulsively hurl dead presidents into the air when the mood strikes you?


4. Have you ever made it rain only to realize that no-one noticed, and that, for all intents and purposes, it never actually happened?


5. Do you ever practice making it rain while alone at home, with Monopoly money?


6. If they can put on a man on the moon, why can’t they invent or biologically engineer a Yves St Laurent branded, Eva Longoria-look-alike fem-bot to throw your money for you while you’re buying out the bar?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

ILL CASH QUERIES: FIVE QUESTIONS FOR RAPPERS WHO MAKE IT RAIN


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

Hip-hop’s storied history of “making it rain” - throwing fistfuls of cash into the air in a public venue in order to make a declarative statement about one’s extravagant, inexhaustible wealth - appears to be on the wane. Despite Gucci Mane’s recent insistence that he and his crew throw money “like we mad at the ceiling” and a confused Jim Jones naming his latest mediocre effort Prey IV Reign, the drought is apparently over and rain sticks being put away. “Niggas still makin’ it rain, and we off that,” Timbaland admonished, several weeks ago, on “Off That” from Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3. Producer/singer The-Dream joined the debate on a lament-strewn Love vs. Money cut: “I can’t even hate the homie/I am to blame/Instead of loving her, I was making it rain.” But we had some lingering questions about the practice, and because we don’t know any ballers, shot-callers, or rappers personally - let alone any who regularly make it rain - we figured we’d pose them here in the hopes that our readers could answer them or maybe pass them along to somebody who can.

1. When you’re preparing to go out for the evening, do you specifically designate a certain amount of money as “making-it-rain money,” in the same way one wad of greenbacks might be “stripper-tip money” or another might serve as “buying-out-the-bar money,” or is it all the same to you?

2. What happens immediately after the money is thrown? Do you - or an underling, perhaps - gather it up? Or can other people fight for it? Let’s say, hypothetically, you were hurling $100 bills, and some of those bills fell - sorry, rained - into a puddle of puke. Would you demand that paper back?

3. When you’re making it rain, do you throw all big bills, like $100s or $50s? Or do you cheat a little, throwing a couple big bills with a bunch of $5s and $10s?

4. Is there a gentleman’s rule about simultaneous rain storms? By this I mean, is it customary for rappers to take turns making it rain? It should be, right? Because that would cut back on disagreements about whose storm front was more formidable or dope or what have you.

5. Have you ever hired a professional counterfeiter to fabricate currency for the express purpose of this sort of showing out, only to have someone with intimate knowledge of U.S. legal tender - like an off-duty Treasury agent, maybe - pick up one or two at the spot where you’re throwing Benjamins and call you out on it while you’re hoisting a chalice of expensive champagne with your entourage? If so, how do you come back from something like that?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

ILL DAD-ROCK ROUNDTABLE: Introductions



The idea of a "dad-rock roundtable" is as old as the original concept for this site. It began as a lark, in which I envisioned a bunch of dudes just crucifying Wilco's Jeff Tweedy while pretending to get stuff done at work. But in practice it evolved into something honest, thoughtful, and revealing, even if the electronic back-and-forth took place in early August and it took me months and months to find time to arrange, sort, and format the results. Our inaugural "dad-rock roundtable" will run in pieces over the next several months. Enjoy, and feel free to chime in in the comments (or answer the questions posed yourself), even if you're not a dad, or even a dude.


Ray Cummings: Are you, or have you ever been, or are you about to be, a dad? What is your vocation and profession (if the two are not identical)?

Al Shipley: Hey guys! I'm about to become a dad for the first time in, oh, 2 months, or whenever the guy decides to come out. At the moment, I'm juggling a 9-5 office gig and writing freelance, although at some point I'm probably going to focus just on writing (to whatever extent that pays anymore) and other work and be a stay-at-home dad, since my wife is in grad school and her Ph.D is way more important than anything I've got going on. Still in that nervous/excited phase where I swing from optimism to pure fear on a daily basis.

Pete Gershon: Yes, I am a dad, two times over. While my perceived full-time gig is the publisher and editor (and art director, and ad sales guy, and envelope stuffer) of Signal to Noise, I am, in fact, a full-time, stay-at-home dad, having moved from fifteen-hour days of working on the magazine to sneaking in short bursts of productivity during naps and after the kids have been put to bed. Being a dad is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I am really savoring this time with the kids, particularly while they're still young enough to enjoy having me involved in their business! I am especially excited to be taking my almost-four-year-old to his first concert this weekend ... his babysitter is an aspiring improvising flutist and she's got an early gig on Sunday night, so I'm going to let my boy stay up a little late and bring him out to the show (and show him off).

Matt Lingle: Well I guess I will start with question number one. While technically I have never been a dad in the true definition, I did go through the whole delivery room experience with a friend of mine which in my book should count for something! lol Afterwards I spent a few years living with her and her kids so I guess for this discussion I will count myself as being a dad.

Zac Early:
Come this September (the 11th to be exact), I will have been a dad for one year. Lucia loves Dan Zanes, the Muppets, Kimya Dawson, and Pavement. So, I think I'm off to a good start with her musical tastes.


I am an instructional specialist for an organization that provides professional development for teachers using inquiry-based methodology and technology. For the most part, I work from home. I'd like to write for a living, but I just blog and think up writing projects with friends. (There may be a children's book in my future about indie rock. No kidding.)

Tom Breihan: Yeah, I'm a dad. Been one for just over three months now. It's pretty overwhelming. I work at Pitchfork and write a lot about music. Hi.

Doug Mowbray: I have never been a father in the usual sense of the word. I am father to a cat. And I am father to a small publishing biz, twentythreebooks. And, of course, I am father to all the mistakes I have made in this lifetime, some of who are still at home because they are underage, and some have just refused to leave the nest and get jobs and become productive members of a deployed society. I am not quite the father of my successes because I have a hang-up about taking credit and accepting praise.

I work for the State Highway Administration in the Highway Safety Office. I am a grants manager and a highway safety data coordinator. Basically I manage federal highway dollars and sit at the center of a vast network of state agency databases that house data related to vehicles, roads, drivers, crashes, etc.

Thom Hawkins: I am a dad--of a little boy, 10 months. While in utero, my wife took him to hear Cat Power and Kanye West. I placed an ear bud in her belly button to pipe in John Coltrane, Glenn Gould doing Bach, and anything on Sugarhill Records. He likes to rock out in his high chair, slapping along with the music--he likes anything with a good beat, and thinks it is hilarious when his parents sing along.

I am a strategic planning specialist for an Army program.

Ray Cummings: When you hear the phrase "dad rock," what springs immediately to mind? I think "Don Henley" and "Bog Seeger" and "Wilco," myself.

Al Shipley: I know what dad rock is supposed to be, but I think like most people I view it through the scope of my dad's tastes and his generation. He was born in '50 and has the same Beatles-on-Sullivan story every kid of that period has, but most of the stuff that I really associate with his taste now and that I really remember hearing a lot growing up is what's now known by the equally played out "yacht rock" pejorative -Steely Dan, Michael McDonald-era Doobies, etc. My mom kept all the vinyl in the divorce, and when I got my first turntable I devoured a lot of it -- CSNY's probably the only thing in there I never totally connected with (my parents seemed to own every solo album Crosby, Stills or Nash ever made). Even as an alt-rock kid, I never really rebelled against classic rock or my parents' taste that much, and was probably as into Hendrix as I was into Nirvana. Even in high school when me and my friends all got into old punk and new wave, I liked the dad-rockiest stuff, like Elvis Costello or Television, the most. I don't really listen to Wilco or whomever the other archetypical bands of 'new dad rock' are, but I'm not gonna turn up my nose either -- a lot of my favorite rock records of the past 5 years (Ted Leo, Apollo Sunshine, Spymob, Sloan) are pretty damn dad rock. Maybe my boy will remember that, or maybe he'll think of all that other stuff I listen to, gangsta rap and noise and R&B, as his dad's dad rock.

Pete Gershon: Yeah, Wilco is the band I've always heard associated with the term "dad rock". I happen to love Wilco, and it's one of the bands my kids enjoy, too ... I have tried playing some far out stuff for them, but they dig a simple tune and lyrics with words they understand. We also listen to a lot of Bob Dylan together, and stuff like Elvis Costello, Pavement, the Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Beatles (my wife, meanwhile, is getting them started on Tori Amos and Erikah Badu). For me the term 'dad rock' makes me think of semi-edgy (but mostly middle-of-the-road) tuneful pop music. You know, nothing obviously square, but CMJ/Spin/Magnet-friendly enough as to be safe and non-threatening.

Picking up on Al's comments, you know, my own dad listened mostly to classical music while I was growing up (the coolness of which I'm only now understanding), though he did branch out to Bob Dylan and even Willie Nelson in his more unexpectedly rebellious moments. I remember long car rides as a kid being subjected to Michael Feinstein, who as some of you might know is a really ultra-corny singer and pianist specializing in old Tin Pan Alley stuff. There was also Tony Bennett. Oh, and a lot of Pavarotti.

As for whether or not my kids ultimately pick up on my own tastes, who knows? Even if they don't, at the very least, when they hear 'Lonely Woman' in a dorm room someday they'll say "Ugh, that's Ornette Coleman, please turn that off ... my dad used to make us listen to that stuff all the time."

Ray Cummings: My dad was a classical music dude, too. But he also went in for a lot of boomer standards - Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Rolling Stones, and so on. When I think back to childhood and what he'd typically play on his super-duper cassette/vinyl record hi-fi, it was a metric ton of Sade and James Taylor.

Heh. I have a mix CD that my son and I listen to when we go to the park - hence, we call it "the park CD" - they've been a few iterations of this mix, but I have to include Deerhunter's "Octet" every time. Nodin, who's almost three now, goes nuts for that one. It's almost as though it signals the beginning of a father-son adventure - albeit a father-son adventure that will involve me chasing him around park equipment to make sure he won't get hurt because I forgot to bring toys or sidewalk chalk again!

I put some long, harsh, unreleased Lightning Bolt jam [which wound up on Earthly Delights as "Colossus"] on the latest version of the mix for the sake of variety; for a while he tolerated it, then at some point (as his vocabulary expanded) he started asking me to change to another song. Lately, he's all "I don't like this song."

Matt Lingle: When I hear "dad rock," the first thing that comes to mind is the late sixties early seventies genre. I think nothing but classic rock, only with a softer side. Almost like AM radio hits. As for specific bands, I would have to say Steeley Dan, Toto, CCR, Simon and Garfunkle, to mention a few.

Zac Early: Dad rock? I think I'm with the guys who cite classic rock. My dad was all over the Stones and Beatles. He saw the Stones in the late 60's at Hara Arena in Dayton, OH, the same place I saw Nirvana like 25 years later. He also loved all the Motown and doo-wap stuff of the 50's and 60's. We had every oldies station in Dayton and Columbus programmed to the radios in the family car while growing up. I learned to dance (for better or worse) from my dad as these songs played over the radio.He didn't know a ton about music. I taught him about Led Zeppelin. He just thought they were a great band to get drunk to. However, he did teach me to groove to the rhythm, to listen to (and eventually butcher) the lyrics, and to keep some diversity in a music collection. To this day, he still buys classic rock CD's he used to own on vinyl, but his current favorites include Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. Now that's some punk-ass dad rock if I've ever heard it. He'd probably like Wilco, at least their more mainstream-y stuff.

Was that coherent?

Tom Breihan: I think of, like, Starsailor, but that's not because my dad listened to Starsailor. Or anything that sounded like Starsailor. Actually, both my parents barely ever really listened to music. I can remember one long car trip where they both waxed eloquent about "Like a Rolling Stone," but that's it. Mostly my dad liked really high-voiced female folk singers who he could just kinda tune out. They had a lot of records from their younger days, but they never listened to them or anything. I used to play frisbee with their old Laura Nyro joints when they weren't home, and I broke a bunch of them just for fun, but they never noticed because they never listened to the things.

Oh, and my dad liked baroque music. Lots of that. I guess baroque music was my dad-rock.

But yeah, I didn't get into music through my parents at all. It was completely a self-generated thing. Looking back, I'm not even sure how it happened. This, of course, convinces me that my daughter is not going to give a fuck about music at all, certainly not the music I like. Actually, though, all signs point to her being pretty into it. Or anyway she giggles a lot when my wife and I sing to her. Right now, her two favorite songs are Cecelia and the Kit Kat "gimme a break" song.

Doug Mowbray: "dad rock" brings to mind Jane's Addiction's "Had a Dad." I too have a few fond memories of a father listening to a bygone era of music, but my experiences are tainted by the facts of my life: divorced parents, absentee biological father; stepfather steps in, but he later dies. So, had two dads in my case. Plus, I was dumped off on my grandparents a lot when I was young, so sometimes I count my grandfather in the dad category.

My tastes therefore range from my grandfather's era, 40's and 50's, and my stepfather's (heretoafter referred to as my father), 60's and 70's, with the competing clanging of the 70's and 80's of my mom because she was the one with the radio turned up loud the most often. My grandparents would sit in the kitchen and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee and listen to stations that played Sinatra and Crosby, but they would also listen to the stations that played the Beatles and Dion. I used to ride to Ocean City with them many times a year and for 3 hours down and 3 hours back I was awash in the 50's and 60's, something I have carried over into my adult life. I really don't follow a lot of contemporary music and that's partly because there is still music to mine and discover from 40-50 years ago.

The first CD I ever bought was The Chronic by Dr. Dre. The second CD I owned was a copy of The Doors Greatest Hits I stole from my father. To this day, when I get soundly soused, a wannabe Jim Morrison comes out of my belly and throat.

My father was all about buying sound systems and awesome speakers, but he worked for the railroad and was never around so all the play they got was from my mother: Stevie Nicks, Heart, Journey, Jon Secada. 70's and 80's rock and 90's contemporary pop. Really fucking loud. With the vacuum running. Something I do these days but I am usually blasting Van Morrison or whatever strikes my fancy that day.

My father did get me into CSN&Y. I still love them today. And he was the one to introduce me, oddly enough, to The Dave Matthews Band. I was never much of a hippie lover and that's how I dismissed them (ironic considering that I love the hippie era music, though I sued to always say that had I been around then I would probably be a cokehead instead of a pothead, but in either era, always an alcoholic), but he turned me on to them proper and I appreciate their work still.

Thanks to Pop, my grandfather, I have a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your proclivity) Frank Sinatra collection. I prefer the more ballady, barroom bluesy, lost my girl and I am half-cocked numbers, but it's pretty much all good to me. I got XM radio partly because they have a Sintra station, but soon realized I couldn't leave it on indefinitely because Manilow will pop up every now and again.

Over the years I have taken on temporary surrogate fathers and my musical tastes have expanded based on that, e.g., reading the Beat Generation, moving to Colorado to trace a few of their steps, and falling in with folks who taught me about jazz. As I worked my way through that genre and my cornucopia of inebriants, I fell under the spell of John Coltrane: the early stuff for swinging, the middle period for pining, and the later stuff when hallucinogens are available.

I apologize for being a bit windy in an email, but the word 'dad' has its complications for me, and so 'dad rock' is even more baffling. In many ways, I am my own father, and so when I think of dad rock, I think of music I used to listen to (2 Live Crew, NWA, Operation Ivy, Motley Crue) that I often rediscover through some sort of iTunes/iPod shuffle. Dad Rock is something that you enjoy because it reminds you of a time a place a significant person and at some point you pretend to your friends that you hate that shite music and eventually you end up returning to it and slowly admitting that you couldn't live without it.

Ray Cummings: There's definitely some truth to your definition of "dad rock," Doug. Sometimes it just takes a lot of life experience to recognize how essential and timeless our formative musical experiences were, or are.

Thom Hawkins: Obviously "dad rock" brings to mind Wilco, but, as with others, also the things that my father listened to, and exclusively so of the members of my family. I was raised on Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, Peter Paul & Mary, the Kingston Trio, and the "Love Me Do" period Beatles. My father, though, listened to Andy Williams and Julio Iglesias. I mined my father's records when making mix tapes for girls, thinking they would find me more sophisticated if I listened to Andy Williams. Some even did.

I also think of the Dad-ism "don't rock the boat," which, even if my father never spoke those words, I still associate with him. Therefore, I think of "dad rock" as music that merely floats by ... that returns from a hectic day at the office, has its dinner, takes out the trash, looks over its stamp collection, and goes to bed early. There is no hook.

I also think of the "wife voice"--that shift in tone universally applied by husbands on the phone with wives.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ILL ESOTERICS: "Puzzle Space"

By THOM HAWKINS

Take a grid of nine dots:



Connect all nine dots using no more than four contiguous (i.e., without lifting pen from paper) straight lines.



Most have trouble solving this puzzle upon first encounter. There solution depends upon the identification and rejection of a false assumption. The assumption itself is caused by a perception that the problem space is limited to the boundary indicated by the dots; therefore, the solution literally involves thinking outside of the box. (The usual solution uses four lines. There is also a solution that involves rejecting the assumption that a point drawn on paper is only a representation of a zero-dimensional location, rather than a two-dimensional shape the actual height and width of the spot on the paper. Further solutions reject the assumption of Euclidean geometry, or that the line itself is one-dimensional.)



In the puzzle, we can learn from a thorough examination of the puzzle space and the rules. For example, the number of lines that can be drawn through one dot and one dot only is infinite. There are only two ways (though this can be applied multiple places within the puzzle) that a line can connect two and only two dots (one up, one over; one up, two over). There are also only two ways (though, again, this can be applied multiple places within the puzzle) that a line can connect three and only three dots (one over, one over; one up, one over, one up, one over).



In addition, the lines must connect at their ends to solve the problem, because, based on the rules (i.e., not lifting the pencil), one would have to waste a line to backtrack to the middle of a previously drawn line. Any solution involving lines connecting only at 90-degree angles can also be quickly dismissed through trial and error, because so few options exist.



"Just as a solution is sensitive to the proper isolation of the problem, it is also sensitive to proper delimitation (constraints). In general, the more broadly the problem can be stated, the more room is available for conceptualization. A request for the design of a better door will probably result in a rectangular slab with hinges and a handle. Is that what is wanted, or is the problem really a better way to get through a wall?" -James L. Adams, Conceptual Blockbusting



A few factors play into our puzzle space constraint, most notably Gestalt principles of grouping:



  • The principle of closure: It is part of our perceptive mechanism to create order from disorder—thus when we see a group of dots, we connect them into shapes—e.g., astronomical constellations and connect-the-dot pictures. Therefore, when we implicitly connect the outer dots into a box, a barrier to extra-dot perception. There is, in effect, an illusory contour enclosing the box.

  • The principle of proximity: The space surrounding the nine dots makes the group of dots proximate to each other. In addition, the space surrounding the dots is not defined either geometrically, or linguistically. It is, thus, a puzzle void. One of the test subjects noted that a hint could be provided by drawing a box around the nine dots to include the space surrounding, thus defining it as part of the puzzle space and affecting the perception of proximity.

  • The principle of similarity: The dots are all the same size and shape, lending to their perception as a closed group.

Another puzzle that relies on a false perceptual assumption is this one:




How can the same smaller shapes rearranged leave a gap in the bottom version of the larger shape?



The false assumption here is one of perceptual approximation. A puzzler will measure the base and side of what appears to be a right triangle, and confirm that they are equal in the top and bottom shapes. Of course, as we know from the Pythagorean theorem, in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse will be equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. But the puzzler's mistake is that they've assumed based on the right angle that this is a right triangle—but it isn't a triangle, because the false hypotenuse isn't a straight line. When first presented with this problem, I was working with a group of engineers. When I pointed out that the "hypotenuse" in the two shapes was intersecting the grid at different points, and therefore, wasn't a straight line, they dismissed this as a poor rendering of a valid problem. In fact, I was correct, because the two triangle-like shapes in the larger shapes are right triangles, but they have different slopes; therefore, the first of the two conglomerate shapes is actually a polygon, cleverly disguised as a right triangle.



In both cases, the problem is how one can identify, and therefore validate or invalidate, these hidden assumptions. What is the process of reconciliation that takes place?



The idea that assumptions, whether valid or not, occlude our problem-solving abilities means that we must develop methods of analysis for making implicit assumptions explicit so that they can be evaluated.



When I was in elementary school, a teacher posed a problem—make ten with five nines. The answer she intended was some version of 9 / 9 + 9 - 9 + 9 = 10. I was the first to raise my hand. I drew my solution on the blackboard:




Is this answer "right"? It depends on the use. A problem without a purpose leads to a solution without a use.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I knew this "national H1N1 emergency" stuff was for real when I saw a dude riding a bicycle through Harrisburg this morning with a white surgical mask on. (The Michael Jackson mourning period's over, right?) Yikes!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ukrainian sand artist is so amazingly talented that no exposition's really necessary. Just click here. Try not to gape. HT: Sanjeevani Wijenaike Silva

Friday, October 23, 2009


You know, I love the idea that the entire overarching conceit of "River of Brakelights" appears to be Julian Casablancas getting, just, way, way too into spinning the actuality of bonkers NYC traffic into some quasi-poetic, philosophical/omniscient treatise about Darwinian societal ratraces and urban sprawl, to the extent that he unknowingly exasperates whoever's supposed to be squiring him back from whatever party they're trying to escape, and that person just up and bolts while Casablancas is obliviously belting out this rhythmically-exacting observational epic on a Brooklyn (or Williamsburg, maybe) street corner, I guess. And then at the end of the song, Julian's all "Where did you go? You were my ride home!" Sometimes you've just gotta know when to shut up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Please: stop whatever it is you're doing, and download the live Lotus Plaza track you can find after clicking here, which is about 58.98% better than everything else he's done and maybe 20% better than whatever it is you're listening to right now. For real. I mean, just some seriously tender, string-section drrrrrrrrrrrrrone that goes from mournful to autumnal to blissed to avant-limbo.

Friday, October 9, 2009

ILL PRIORITIES: Eight Things That New Nobel Peace Prize Winner Barack Obama Should Do Today

By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

1. Climb to the White House roof and let loose with one of those intense air-punching fits that sports fans unleash when their teams reach the playoffs. Also: shout "YESSSS!" a couple times.

2. If they're in or near the capitol today, exchange a high-five or Revolutionary drug brothers handshake with Al Gore, and give Bono a nuggie.

3. Treat Michelle to a night out on the town. She's a good woman who doesn't get out much.

4. Figure out where, exactly, to display the Nobel medal: mounted on the Oval Office desk? Over the headboard? In the Air Force One commode? Or would it make more sense to have several replicas made for display in each of those locations, then stash the actual medal somewhere else?

5. Rush order a replacement for that Swiss Army Knife he lost back in junior high.

6. Leave Jay-Z a voicemail: "Eleven number one records is quite an accomplishment, but, you know, I just won a Nobel Prize today."

7. Treat himself to at least two or three Kit-Kat bars.

8. Drop a couple crisp new Hamiltons on lottery tickets, because, hey, you never know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NOT-SO-ILL Q+A: PSYCHIC ILLS


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

Brooklyn, New York foursome Psychic Ills are responsible for some of the modern era's most modest space- and psych-rock workouts; the oft-mannered, elliptical swirl-cone throb on 06' Dins evoked Scottish garage-rockers Clinic and krautrock legends Can at their most sober and self-contained. Last year's Mirror Eye - recorded following the departure of founding member Tom Gluibizzi and the addition of new keyboardist/synth player Jimy SeiTang - found the Social Registry signees emerging a sound less submerged but no less trippy.

In a mid-September email interview – which was supposed to run on the web site of an East Coast alt-weekly, but was scrapped, understandably, because it was too pithy – we quizzed droll multi-instrumentalists SeiTang, Tres Warren, Elizabeth Hart, and Brian Tamborello about their handle, their mutating sound, and their arresting cover art. You can tell that the band really, really put their hearts and souls into answering my questions – and for that, I’m so grateful that I’m practically turning blue because I’m poking a hole through my cheek. Cheers!

Ill With The Composition: What, exactly, are "psychic ills"? Whenever I see or think of your name, I immediately flash on the Yellow Swans' Psychic Secession.

Tres Warren: It's just a name--a couple of words put together. I don’t know that record, but I saw them at Tonic a couple years ago and was into it.

IWTC: How did wind up on tour with the Butthole Surfers? That's huge.

TW: We got asked to do it.

Elizabeth Hart: The day we got the email about the tour, I had listened to The Butthole Surfers while on the subway en route to work. Synchronicity. It was kind of a no-brainer.

IWTC: While Dins struck me as songs emerging from then receding back into a sort of primordial static, Mirror Eye seems, in a way, more realized or direct even as it's got a prism-psych feel to it. Did you go into recording Eye with a different methodology in mind?

Jimy SeiTang: Perhaps so. Maybe some of the Moldavite prism crystals were aligned differently when we went and recorded that album.

Brian Tamborello: Not necessarily. We didn’t go into it with any defined methodology. Of course, we had changed as people over the couple years that had passed, and Jimy had joined us, so there were just natural differences in the way we approached the music.

IWTC: Can you tell me a bit about the significance of your album artwork? The cover of Dins had a sort of pop-realism feel, with candy-colored blotches overlaying a grainy, black-and-white photo of a helicopter, while Mirror Eye's cover seems to be a blurred action shot of a woman playing a tambourine that looks as though it were ripped from a magazine.

TW: The cover of Dins is a painting by Wolf Vostell, from 1968, called "Three Hairs and Shadow." The cover of Mirror Eye was pretty much ripped out of a newspaper--well, it was a collage that I removed the collage elements from.

IWTC: You record live to tape, right? Do you find that that process yields more unusual results, happy accidents?

BT: Recording live naturally opens the process up to both pleasant surprises and frustrating confrontations with the music. Sometimes the latter creates a tension that leads to, and can only be shattered by, the former. “Mantis” was basically born of that.

IWTC: What's coming up next for Psychic Ills? After the tour, of course.

TW: Hanging around. Probably make another record. Stuff like that.

JST: New concepts, new ideas through sound and textures - and yeah, lots of hanging around.

IWTC: Bands that make mystical, lysergic music seem to take on an automatic shroud of mystery, even if they don't intend to; they almost become living myths, even if they're just regular folks. What do you think that your fans would be surprised to learn about each of you?

TW: I don’t know. That we were killing time at nudist hot springs between shows the last time we played on the West Coast?

JST: That we all live through another dollar, another day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ILL MILESTONES: 2007

That's how many page impressions Ill With The Composition has received to date! Which means something significant, right? Right?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ILL MUSICAL MADELEINES: The Kinks, "Lola" (c. 2002)


By THOM HAWKINS

Driving north from Oberlin, Kansas, toward Valentine, Nebraska. I left home just a week before. Rolling dusty green hills broken by quick crevasses filled with saplings and dry streambeds. A few days earlier, at a gas station near Hermann, Missouri, I bought a few tapes to play in the car--Grandpa Jones, Johnny Bond, and The Kinks. Since then, a stop at the pirate house in Lawrence--no one was in so I unbuckled the typewriter, pulled up a cinderblock, and nothing came out. T. was asleep inside, I found out later. I stayed in F.'s mother's room--she was away in Alaska. In the hallway was a box of communal pornography--I contributed marginalia to some of the more interesting articles. We drank beer and talked all night under flashing neon lights. I woke up early, and wandered down to the living room where a train hopper with horns tattooed on his forehead was watching The Rock. I asked his name and in a dark brown voice he said "fuck." I continued west across Kansas, refueled in Junction City, had lunch in wide-boulevarded Russell, and went to the movies in Colby, twenty-five miles short of the Colorado border. It was windy, then, and I turned north toward Atwood and Ludell. The one motel in town was closed for the night, so I parked in the lot and crawled in the back to sleep. Up with the sun again, I passed through Ludell and Oberlin and once again aimed north, heading across western Nebraska toward the Black Hills. When Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola ends, I rewind the tape to the beginning of the song and let it go again and again.

ILL ALUMINUM TUNES: John Wiese's "Circle Snare"


John Wiese
Circle Snare
(No Fun Productions)

By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

That John Wiese and his sample fetish, right? You know?

The California-based noise laptopper's last couple - or couple dozen, same difference - recordings have involved warpings and manglings, severe and and less so, of others' already malign sonics. Cincinatti, conceived and recorded with Burning Star Core atmospherist C. Spencer Yeh and released earlier this year, delved into self-sampling-as-aesthetic. But Circle Snare (No Fun), where Wiese built compositions from recordings of "tape, electronics, drum machine, microphone, [and] MSP" is a more slippery, stripped-down affair.

At moments, listening to this, I thought of the sounds of a metal lid being twisted off of a peanut bottle, then back on, then back off, and of barehanded mountain climbers painstakingly ascending, slipping down, then scrabbling back up sheer cliff faces; there's a brute circularity to Snare at first, to how and where snaps, crackles, and stark pops fall in the mix as "Circle Snare (First)" begins its uncertain-to-all-outward-appearances advance. Noise "errors" and detritus that would typically be edited out or relegated to the margins is slowly brought to the forefront over a glowering synth substrata. Then the spits and clicks and whirrs actually seem to go on the attack, a revolving, homicidal constellation of minutiae. The remainder of Snare mines more chaos-theory gold from this idea, approaching things slightly different, no-less-intriguing angles, building from meager table scraps to something that eats, ultimately, like a hearty meal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

ILL IMAGINARY PRODUCT: "ESTRADA" SPECS NOT FOR REAL

BY RAYMOND CUMMINGS

As an impressionable young boy - innocent, light of step, totally sold on violence-soaked, prime-time television trash - I watched CHiPs religiously. As with so many other fondly remembered early-to-mid 1980s series (Miami Vice, All In The Family, The Dukes of Hazzard, etc.), I don't actually remember much of anything about the show in terms of dialogue, plots, or what have you; in this instance, all that comes to mind is the iconic intro image of Erik Estrada and whatever white dude was rolling with him riding their highway patrol cycles against an open sky. That, and a flurry of scenes where Estrada's squeeze was hit and killed by a car, but her dog survived; it was a fluffly little white dog; Estrada cradling the dog and stuff.

In any event, Erik Estrada isn't dead. Recently, he appeared in a Burger King commercial with NASCAR's Tony Stewart in which he's hawking signature cop shades with "ESTRADA" superimposed on the lenses. Now, these sunglasses don't actually exist, and aren't for sale. It goes without saying that your corner vender of illegal Armani and Gucci knockoffs should be making a killing off of the things - and if you wait a few weeks, he or she just might be - but that's not stopping me from wondering who'd profit from wearing the things if they became available.

ELLEN DEGENERES

She's spunky! She's quirky! She cannot dance, but dances anyway! She's the host of a daytime talk show imfamous for mercilessly short celebrity interviews! For reasons that defy the laws of space and time, she will co-judge American Idol this winter! Ellen should just - as soon as reasonably possible - start wearing "Estrada" specs all the time. When quizzed about them, she should pretend that the questioner asked "Why are you wearing a pancho indoors?" to which the only reasonable response is "I'm not wearing a pancho, this is a frisky work shirt that I'm rocking like a slightly spazzed-out office drone celebrating happy hour."

TONY DANZA

Tony Danza's inexplicable, deathless popularity results in the Who's The Boss? star being accosted and smothered in hugs by dozens of menopausal soccer grandmas everytime he goes to Whole Foods, which is, like, every day. Enough of that bullshit. He needs a disguise!

EDWARD FURLONG

Because a pair of "Estrada" sunglasses could, hypothetically, re-interest the paparrazi class in the doings of Terminator 2 star Edward Furlong.

JA RULE

Ditto. But as I understand it, Ja is a giving fella. Which would mean that the two people in his entourage would also probably receive "Estrada" shades, on him! What a guy. It's MURDA!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

ILL MIXTAPE: STAYCATION JAMS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE


My staycation doesn’t start for another week and a half or so, but I thought I’d hook you up with a bitchin' commemorative online mixtape full of recent faves, like, right now, because I’m good like that.

ONEIDA “What’s Up, Jackal?”

WYE OAK “That I Do”
CAROLINA LIAR “Show Me What I’m Looking For”
HEARTS OF ANIMALS “Maybe”
GUCCI MANE “Gorgeous”
HALFLINGS “Keep Holding Hands”
WHITNEY HOUSTON “Million Dollar Bill”
WHITE SUNS “Exposable Income”

Hear it here.

And, yeah, this site has been quiet of late - I’ve been dealing with some real world issues. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 4, 2009

ILL CH-CH-CH-CHIA: Three People Who Should Get a "Chia Obama" for X-Mas

By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

You've seen - and loathed - those commercials. You've cracked, rightly, that the Chia Obama looks nothing like Barack Obama. And surely - though you can't quite bear to admit it to yourself or anyone else - you've wondered: if I was inclined to actually buy a few of these things, who would I give them to for Christmas?

We've got some ideas.


YOUR OBAMA-ADORING AUNTIE

She's got the "Yes We Can" tote bag, the buttons, the t-shirt(s). She tracked down mp3s of our president's address on race, his acceptance speech, his inauguration speech, and some secretly-recorded audio of the dude joshing with reporters on a plane between campaign stops. Now she can place a ridiculously inaccurate rendering of Hope's grinning herald on her mantle, one that sprouts vegetative folicles.

YOUR STONER HOMIES

They like to talk to themselves, to the carpet, to the dog, to the fireplace, and to the television whenever Maury Povich or Larry King is on, and they like to imagine that those objects respond in kind, taking part in lively, round-robin conversations about which Doritos flavors rule, and which ones are totally bogus, and the plusses and minuses of exoticly-named cannibus strains. Now, because you are thoughtful and know them better than they know themselves, your stoner homies can palaver with the prez - or just convert him into a bong.

JOHN MCCAIN

Gardening's rough when you can't raise your arms above waist-level. With Chia Obama - or a thousand Chia Obamas, perhaps, if you are a financially secure prankster with access to John McCain's mailing address - the 2008 Republican presidential hopeful can tend a literal plot of Hope with very little effort, while vibrating with geriatric loser's rage.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ILL PHRASE POLICE PATROL: "It Is What It Is"

By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

When folks - in reflexively surrendering to what they perceive as an unchangeable circumstance or condition - lazily sigh "it it what it is," I cringe. Something toxic washes over me. The situation at hand suddenly feels just that much more hopeless and unsalvagable; any confidence hovering in the room evaporates. Department managers and rappers seem inordinately fond of the phrase, drawn to its dismissive, near-palindromic cool like lemmings to the edge of a yawning ravine. Said with an air of abject resignation, "it is what it is" stands in for "that's life" or "what will be will be" or Sopranos hands-thrown-up staple "whaddya gonna do?" Why not use one of these ancillary phrases, one wonders? Why not invent a new cliché to signal intractability? Why not say "rock meets hard place?" (Nobody ever says that. Which may be for the best.) In any event, "it is what it is" is unacceptable phraseology. and must be destroyed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ILL MUSICAL MADELEINES: Radiohead, "Planet Telex" (c. 1998)

By THOM HAWKINS

The apartment on Gelding Drive. S. makes hot dogs in the microwave. I try to make dinner using a black bean burger. The patty is bland, so I add barbecue sauce. This is too tangy, so I add Frosted Alphabits from S.'s collection of forty boxes of cereal. I reason he can't miss it if I only take a little from each box. I sit down at the black lacquered table and turn on the CD player. Eating takes me five minutes only, but I always start at the beginning of The Bends.

Sitting at his computer in the dining room, S. mocks the opening guitar to "Planet Telex." I counter his behavior by staging a life-size cardboard cut-out of Barbra Streisand next to his computer. Neither of us drinks normal milk. I drink soy and he drinks acidophilus with bifidobacterium.

I also keep a hammer in the refrigerator because there's enough room and I have no other place to put a hammer where I will not lose it. There's a strip mall across the street where my sister works at a health food store next to an Italian cafe. I sit down for ten minutes ... if no one speaks to me, I walk out ... if someone takes my order, I ask for a pound of angel hair with tomato cream sauce. When we leave the apartment in S.'s car, he tunes the radio to a station that plays disco ... we're out of range of the tower, but S. reconstructs the song through the fuzz. All I hear is static.

ILL BUMPER STICKER: "My Other Hatchback Is A Hyperlaureate/Hypertextural Stallion I Ride"

HT: Cecilia Rivas. Anyone got a link for a site where these are for sale? (Have you ever seen one on a car? If so, where and when?)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ILL HOW-TO: BLOGGING YOUR WAY TO INTERNET-FIRESTORM INFAMY (or at least a book deal)


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

1. Take a strong position about a person, group of persons, idea, or institution that is in stark opposition to the general consensus.

2. Explain in detail why other people are wrong, and you are right. Cite examples that support your hypothesis. Name names; take no prisoners.

3. Share a personal anecdote - or several - tangentially related to whatever issue is under discussion.

4. Swear. Rather, swear in moderation. Swear for emphasis. Swear tastefully. But swear. (Do not, however, swear on your mother, your grandmother, or your grandmother's mother.)

5. Come up with cruel nicknames for people who will probably disagree with you and, hopefully, will smear your credibility in the comments sections. You will also need cruel nicknames for those persons, groups of persons, ideas, or institutions you are attacking. All of these nicknames should be pointed, funny, and bear a hint of truth. When rival bloggers give you dap or condemn you on their own blogs, readers of those blogs should be forced to stifle a guffaw and automatically feel moved to check out your original post, because you are a clever, insightful Web 2.0 intellectual. You are a cultural shaman. You are so money.

6. Proffer false empathy for those for those who will inevitably disagree with you, those who are part of the problem, and yourself, for caring so much about this issue. Then turn on a dime and whip out the chainsaw.

7. Conclude with a witty endnote that ties together all that came before and, crucially, suggests that all is not lost.

8. Repeat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ILL MUSICAL MADELEINES: Ray Lynch, "Celestial Soda Pop" (c. 1993)

By THOM HAWKINS

It's Christmas Day, 1993. I'm in bed with the 24-hour flu, vomiting bile into a metal E.T. trashcan. Of the presents I got, the only one I can think to enjoy is a CD by Ray Lynch--Deep Breakfast, which I listen to in its entirety. I learn in the following days that is a mistake--as soon as the first song, "Celestial Soda Pop," begins to play, my stomach turns. My mother sits next to the bed, looking for something to say to make me feel better. She picks up a one-page 'zine from the bookshelf next to me and begins to read an article about what an asshole Santa Claus is. I agree, sometimes. But the article contains some language that reminds me of the time I insisted that the "Parental Advisory" label on Blood Sugar Sex Magik was an overreaction, and she opened the CD booklet to the lyrics for "Sir Psycho Sexy" and read aloud: "There's a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen."

The next year, I am also sick on Christmas, and my right lymph node swells up to the point where I look like I no longer have a chin on that side of my face.

Friday, August 7, 2009

ILL REVISIONISM: Jess Harvell Updates Ellis' "American Psycho" for the Aughts

I mean, I could (in keeping with the formatting of this site thus far) Google for appropriate artwork, but why bother? Really, just lick - I mean, click - this link and bear witness to the efforts of a talented scribe who - in my opinion, anyway - has got a wee bit too much free time on his hands. Have a safe weekend, everybody. This is not an exit, etc.

ILL LSD SNOWCONE: Neon Indian, "Laughing Gas"

By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

Sometime during the past week or so, as July gave way to August, summer finally decided to make an appearance in central Pennsylvania; suddenly, the air possessed a muggy heft, sweat came easier, and the constant hum of our basement dehumidifier became part of the overall domestic ambience. Lazy dips in the cheapie inflatable - and largely neglected - backyard pool became imperative; yard work, less so. And then -as if on cue - the promo for Neon Indian's Psychic Chasm materialized in my mailbox, Tex-Mex hued paper sleeve and all.

So what've we got here? A post-Ducktails, post-Ariel Pink laptop stew that burbles and warps like overbearing summer sunshine (ozone alerts, we hardly knew ye) is supposed to. The aluminum definition of what Glenn Danzig meant by "dirty black summer." Interstate traffic jams that seem to have no beginning or ending, and weeks later, all you can recall is the sensation of roasting alive in a smoldering cage of plastic, steel, and upholstery.

As titled, "Laughing Gas" suggests delirium, dementia, surreality. As experienced, it delivers those questionable goods: dosed giggles looped and cajoled, a synth hook nicked from a half-dozen 80s pop-radio staples and hiccup-ed into vertigo-disco infinity, an almost seasick rhythmic bounce, vintage boom-bap beats. Freed from the Reagan-era associations it evokes, "Gas" runs the risk of seeming inconsequential, disposable, trifling; yoked to them, it conjures the flush of near-dehydration following a day-camp marathon, four-square throw downs, "Cruel Summer" blaring from a Cyndi Lauper-wannabe counselor's ever-present boom box.


Click here for the Lefse Records site, where non-"Laughing Gas" Neon Indian songs are available for free download.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

ILL TYPE PROFILING: Evan Kasprzak Can't Lose


By RAYMOND CUMMINGS

It's not that Evan Kasprzak can't dance; he can. If you hanker for la-de-da, tie-and-slacks, aw-shucks Gene Kelly routines, Kasprzak will, quite literally, have you eating out of the palm of his hand. On the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance, which wraps tonight, Kasprzak's solos were all about that razzle-dazzle, that sweat less flair, those mid-air heel-clicks and twirls; he was a delight to behold. Broadway will welcome him with open arms.

The problem, of course, was that So You Think You Can Dance - think of it as Dancing With The Stars with actual balls and Julliard-level competitors of whom you've never heard - prizes excellence in and domination of pretty much every last style of dance known to man: to make it to the big finale (theoretically), one must be able to demonstrate a mastery of everything from krump to the fox trot to modern to hip-hop to Bollywood to mass, synchronized routines where everyone's done up as scary, sad clowns that are actually malfunctioning dolls. (Avant-garde shit is crazy.) One must be convincing. One must, to all appearances, mean it. One must be willing, after these performances, to stand before judges who can be pretty cruel and heartless and swallow shattering critiques with nods and winning smiles and humility.

I never got the sense that Kasprzak meant his dancing, except when he was on his default-mode Fred Astaire bullshit; he has a gentle, gee-whiz (hangdog) mug that projects a gentle, gee-whiz (hangdog) kindness regardless of what he's dancing. He's consistently been a few beats or moves behind whoever's been unlucky enough to have him as a partner. He kills routines in the sense that he saps them of whatever inherent vitality or intensity they might possess. He is extreme dance kryptonite.

And yet Kasprzak is among the final four dancers. He has outlasted at least seven or eight amazingly talented contenders, including the inhumanly versatile Janette Manrara and Ade Obayomi, whose flips and pirouettes and other uncanny aerial maneuvers were nothing short of breathtaking. For this, I blame the grandmas and fourth graders of our great nation: the same people who, via telephony, relentlessly championed David Archleta and Kris Allen in the last two seasons of American Idol.

After watching last night's performance finale, I cast something like 15 votes each for Jeanine Mason and Brandon Bryant, gazelle-like stunners for whom serious dance company contracts and stardom are givens. They will still lose, of course - and lose big - because the contingent of viewers who demand that their champions be milquetoast, cuddly momma's boys is so vast that if they were to suddenly take up arms against the rest of the country, our swift, collective demise would be certain, and brutal. Heaven help us all.

ILL ESOTERICS: From Procreation to Text Generation

By THOM HAWKINS

In 1202, Leonardo Pisano (~1170-1240, aka Fibonacci) wrote Liber Abaci, a Book of Calculations that included a math problem related to fornicating rabbits. If you start with a pair of rabbits—one male and one female—who have just been born, and assuming they reach sexual maturity after one month and have a gestation period of one month, how will this population of rabbits grow? At the start of the experiment, we have one pair. After one month, they are sexually mature, and do what bunnies that age do. A month later, the female gives birth to a litter of two—again, one male, and one female. (Okay, a few more assumptions—each time a rabbit gives birth, the litter will consist of one male and one female, both of whom survive and mate; yes, yes, incest and the gene pool and all that—but that's how you get freaks like the Easter Bunny, Bunnicula, and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.) So far, we have one pair at the beginning, still one pair after the first month, and two after two months. For the third month, the first couple has another litter, but the second couple is just reaching sexual maturity and doing the horizontal bunny hop. And so on—1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. Oh yeah, one more assumption—rabbits never die. This series of numbers, not invented or discovered by Fibonacci, but merely popularized in his math text has, over the centuries, taken on cultural proportions (The Da Vinci Code, Fibonacci trading), although the numbers themselves are quite arbitrary and reproductively unrealistic. Leonardo's lagomorphs are so reliable that the series itself is often misinterpreted as each number being the sum of the two previous numbers, an assessment of sexual maturity notwithstanding. The Shao sequence takes two whole numbers and finds the difference between them, placing that number on each side of the initial pair, and working outward; for example, given a,b: a-b, a, b, a-b; then (a-b) - a, a-b, a, b, a-b, (a-b) - b, etc. In numbers, given 2,3: 1, 2, 3, 1; then 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, etc. No matter which two whole numbers are used at the start, the series will eventually begin repeating 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0, etc., demonstrating that given a random set, if a transformation is applied consistently, order will result. Both the Fibonacci sequence and the Shao sequence involve two elements: a rule (or set of rules) and a seed. Both sequences are also examples of a Markov chain. Named for Russian mathematician Andrey Markov (1856-1922), a Markov chain is a sequence that depends only on the present state, and not on any past state. That is, by examining the present state and any applicable rules, one can produce the next state without examining the history of the sequence. I first encountered the concept in Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper: "As director of MIT's Operations Research Center, [Philip Morse] had the idea of applying OR's mathematical methods to the workings of MIT's library; out of that grew Morse's thickly mathematical treatise, Library Effectiveness (1968), which uses a technique called Markov analysis to determine whether a book of a particular age and number of previous circulations is likely to remain useful; in order to gather detailed circulation statistics, Morse wanted to computerize the library. The modern library, he felt, 'cannot now be operated as though it were a passive repository for printed material.'" There is a bit of a disconnect in this passage, because it refers to the book's previous circulation, which is an examination of the past. However, this should be read now with reference to recommendation engines, which can determine selections not only on past purchases of the user in question, but on purchases made by all users in conjunction with the current book. This collective knowledge is referred to as a corpus, and it provides the analytical basis for Markov analysis. The letter E is the most common in the English language. This fact is based on analysis of any significantly sized English-language corpus. Each letter has a relative frequency of appearance, as analyzed by Claude Shannon in his seminal paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication (pdf). This is the basis for the letter points in Scrabble—the more frequent the letter is used in English, the lower the point value. In addition, by analyzing a corpus, one can also determine how frequently a letter appears in context with other letters. By increasing the context, one can generate increasingly intelligible text. Appelicontes of Teos, attempting to reconstruct the worm-eaten works of Aristotle, aroused ire by filling in the gap based on his own scholarly judgment. Given a large enough corpus of Aristotle's work, the gaps could have at least been informed, if not written by, Aristotle himself (Basbanes, A Gentle Madness, pp. 65-66). William Henry Ireland, forging the papers, and ultimately an entire play by Shakespeare, could have proven more difficult to detect by reverse engineering some of the very techniques used to identify fraudulent works (Basbanes, A Gentle Madness, p. 66). In fact, the composer David Cope has done this, by examining the corpuses of Mozart and Bach to generate "new works" by these composers. Not bad for animal husbandry.