2015.10 minutiae

  • Some time ago I found that suddenly I could not go outside when the sun was out without getting a migraine.  Floppy hats and sunglasses didn't help, so I thought that I was going to have to decamp to the Northwest or someplace where it was permanently overcast.  But it turned out that sunglasses were the solution after all — it's just that I needed hardcore sunglasses with near eclipse-level filtering and polarized lenses and whatnot.  One bizarre side effect: I went to gas up my car, and discovered that I couldn't read the gas pump's LCD screen — it just looked like a psychedelic swirl of rainbow blobs.  Without my sunglasses, it looked perfectly normal.

  • ESPN forgot how football works:

  • My old grad school colleague Deep Singh can't catch a break.  A few years ago the Associated Press interviewed him about a controversy in which a girl in Utah had been kicked out of school for wearing a nose ring, and when the article was published he discovered that the editor had decided that he must be the girl's father.  Then this month he googles himself, and…

  • I got a message saying that I had a voicemail waiting for me.  I played the voicemail.  It was a pre-recorded message which said "Thank you, and have a great day."  …You're welcome, I guess?

  • Here is a situation I confront almost every day:

    So there I am at the stop sign, about to turn left onto Marin Avenue.  Marin has a center turn lane.  The lane is specifically designed so that you need only wait for a break in the traffic coming from the left — then you turn into the center lane, put on your right turn signal, wait for a break in the traffic coming from the right, and change lanes into the traffic lane when it is safe to do so.  Nevertheless, recently there has been about a 50% chance that the driver in the position of the white van in this picture will pound the horn.  I actually started to wonder whether I had mislearned the applicable traffic laws here, so I went to the California DMV web site and pulled up the driver handbook.  And it turns out that, no, these people are just idiots.

  • This month I released another installment of my audio program Radio K, which I record on a program called Audacity.  Audacity displays graphical representations of the sound waves it has recorded, as you would see them on an oscilloscope.  Most voices behave the way you would expect a sine wave to behave, and while they change amplitude and frequency to reflect volume and pitch, the peaks are roughly symmetrical with regard to the center line.

    My voice does not.  I had noticed that when I spoke, the peaks in my voice usually went up a lot higher than they went down:

    I didn't think anything of this — I'm also used to seeing audio represented as an animated bar graph whose spikes only have a positive component, so it didn't look unusual to me.  But then I recorded a segment with Kat Zhang, and here is what her voiceprint looked like:

    So while my voice frequently threatened to hit the top of the window but never the bottom, hers frequently threatened to hit the bottom of the window, but never the top!  I couldn't figure out what on earth this could possibly mean — I was pretty sure that it didn't come out that way just because I am from the Northern Hemisphere and she is from the Southern Hemisphere, but dismissing that hypothesis left me with no idea at all.  So I asked around, and learned that vocal timbre has a polarity — that is, the main tone of a voice may be a symmetrical sine wave, but it has all sorts of harmonics that add up in an asymmetrical way, and while these usually balance out, for some people they don't.  So while the direction of the peaks doesn't actually make a difference in how a voice sounds — you can invert it electronically and it sounds exactly the same — it just so happens that my harmonics add up to create a disproportionate number of positive peaks, and Kat's add up to create a disproportionate number of negative ones.  Go figure.

  • Stephanie on one of cbc.ca's election night features: "Apparently I can watch Justin Trudeau watch the results, just in case I didn't want to watch them myself"

    Me: "And I heard MuchMusic's new format is just video of Justin Trudeau listening to his Walkman"

  • And from a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook: "Fondly remembering the H1N1 vaccination clinic on Parliament Hill where I sat next to Justin Trudeau as he needlessly took off his undershirt to get the needle."

  • At a stoplight I happened to glance over at the car next to me and saw that the driver was busily twisting the end of her hair into a rope and frenziedly biting down on it.

  • I finally decided to try those new-ish Trader Joe's candy clusters with chocolate, caramel, pecans, and toasted quinoa — that last ingredient had struck me as highly dubious, but then again, crisped rice has been a delicious staple of chocolate bars for ages.  As it turns out, the quinoa is a bad enough idea that I now seriously wonder whether there was some sort of accident down at the factory and someone twirled his mustache and said, "Throw them away? No! We'll market them as a new innovation in confectionery! Muha muha muha!"

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