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Sep. 24th, 2014

I V vi (iii) IV (I IV V)

In November 2006, Rob Paravonian posted his Pachelbel Rant to YouTube, and it quickly became popular, and now has 12 million views.

At the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Axis of Awesome played their Four Chords Song, and it became really popular, with that video having over 30 million views, and their 2011 official music video (with a slightly different set of songs) a tick under 20 million.

If you read the comments on the Pachelbel Rant video, you get things like this:

Was disappointed when the group "AxesofAwesome" completely ripped it off with "Four Chords".

I just realized that Axis of Awesome completely stole the concept of this video.

And OK, maybe those are the only two comments accusing the Axis of Awesome of plagiarising the concept. But I want to respond to them here anyway, because yesterday I discovered this video by Benny Davis (keyboardist for the Axis of Awesome) singing an early version of the Four Chords Song in November 2006.

So there we go, independent (re-?)discoveries of a piece of musical comedy.

Sep. 14th, 2014

YouTube comments

When Google made commenting on YouTube go via Google Plus, it created a loud chorus of online protest. News and tech sites ran with these stories, no doubt hoping to attract lots of eyeballs of angry YouTube commenters who didn't want to use Google Plus.

Left largely unremarked during the controversy, but generally known, was that YouTube comments sections were typically a cesspit featuring the absolute dregs of humanity. The switch to G+ comments has improved the quality of comments tremendously. You'll still see the occasional hundred-post-long flame war on Israel-Palestine on a video about ducks or whatever, but the percentage of non-offensive and even useful comments is much higher today than it used to be. I often read the comments, and occasionally I even find them useful – perhaps pointing me to an interesting related video, or raising some background information that I can go away and verify.

There's one exception to this general rule that I came across tonight. In the pre-G+ era, the saddest place I ever saw on YouTube was the comments of Mariah Carey's One Sweet Day. Almost all of the comments – literally 95% or more – were RIP messages to lost friends or family. Page after page of people finding some comfort from the song and leaving a little personal message. I don't know what motivated anyone to express their grief in the form of a YouTube comment, but the memory of those comments makes me tear up even now.

There's still some of that in the G+-style comments to One Sweet Day, enough to make me sad if I scroll through enough of them. But people posting the song to Google Plus are often not leaving a comment at all, or perhaps snarking about the evolution of Carey and pop music more generally since the 1990's.

A little bit of good Internet has been lost.

Jul. 24th, 2014

In which I write about myself

When I was little, perhaps eight or nine years old, I experienced a certain phenomenon for the first time. Perhaps it's a common thing that I just haven't read about. I don't know what it's called, and I doubt I can even describe it well enough in prose, let alone in terms that Google might understand. This first occasion experiencing it was so long ago, I don't even remember whether it was an external sound, or something purely imagined. It might not have even been an auditory thing, but I'll pretend that it was regardless.

Imagine a sort of beat, but the sound isn't something sharp like a drumbeat. Maybe the sound of walking on gravel, or flicking the bristles on a toothbrush. This sound repeats regularly, roughly once a second. In my brain, it is as though these sounds follow a positive feedback loop (alternatively, like a resonance), rising in volume. Eventually (maybe after a few seconds, maybe a few tens of seconds) the imagined noise in my head is intolerably loud. That evening when I was eight or nine, I burst into tears at it. As I recall it, the news was on the TV, and Mum thought that I was reacting to the footage of the war zone (Yugoslavia?), trying to comfort me accordingly.

Over the years, this same sort of feedback-loop-thing repeated itself occasionally, ending more calmly than wild crying. My memory is that it was something I could almost command at will: imagining those regular, quiet sounds, and having them dominate the apparent noise inside of my brain. But it was long ago (how long ago? When did it stop? I don't know – in my teenage years maybe? Early adulthood??), and perhaps not as common or as controlled as I remember. I tried summoning those regular sounds just now, and I can only experience what feels like a faded ghost of what I remember: my brain stubbornly whirring away normally, saying only (in some metaphorical sense) "I know what you're trying to do, the sound used to get loud like this,", but this isn't actually overpoweringly loud.

Sometimes it wasn't sound-based. In what I associate more (though not exclusively) with dreaming was having the size of a ball (or a spherical rock) get larger very quickly. Perhaps the rock was on one end of a seesaw, and, without wanting to, I would imagine it rapidly getting many times larger than the seesaw. It would destroy any hope of imagining what I wanted to imagine about that ball or rock.

I was reminded of these old memories today. I'd been reading a discussion about photons and coherent states, and I pondered, as I occasionally do, how little I understand about quantum mechanics. What's an "observable" and why should it be a Hermitian operator in a Hilbert space? (Real eigenvalues, whatever, my main confusion is on representing something physically measured as a matrix. Or why non-commuting operators should exist. Turning Poisson brackets into commutator brackets just because. Totally weird stuff, though perhaps within the realms of "spend a few weeks looking at your old uni notes, in particular representing things in quantum by wavefunctions rather than kets, and you'll work it out".)

I went on to think of how, more generally, I don't understand things. Why does particle physics have Lie algebras in it? Why does anything exist? At the latter question, I imagined galaxies and the Big Bang and atoms and gravity and I had one of those weird positive-feedback-loop-things, my brain getting totally flipped out over the existence of anything at all, matter, energy, physics. It only lasted a second or so, but it was a powerful force in my head for that second, as though it was driving me fast towards a sort of existential madness*. Then it ended. The existence of the universe and physics is still really weird, but it's something that my brain can consider calmly and stably.

*Whichever meanings or connotations of 'existential' apply here, those are the ones that I mean.

I think this "getting briefly and excessively weirded out over the existence of anything" thing has happened to me before. Whether it belongs in the same category as the regular beats that made me cry when I was eight, I don't know, but it feels very similar.

Jul. 7th, 2014

Statement questions

"Why would anyone do this."

Sometimes people ask a rhetorical question, and deliver it as a sentence, without the upwards inflection at the end that we see in genuine questions. Not all rhetorical questions are delivered in this way, but it's an important enough difference in tone that when writing, the question mark is often replaced by a full stop.

That is how I used to write these statement-questions, but a friend objected, finding the full stop mentally jarring having just processed the words as a question. Did I misread? Did he mistype? And so I started putting a question mark after the full stop in these cases: "Why would anyone do this.?"

It's a solution that's just satisfying enough for me to keep using it – for people who get what I'm doing, it makes the statement-question unambiguous, and should hopefully reduce the mental jarring. But even assuming that people know what I'm doing, it is unsatisfactory: I've tried to internalise the full-stop-question-mark over a period of years, but that question mark still makes me start upwardly inflecting the end of the sentence that I've just typed specifically to not get upwardly inflected.

It occurred to me this evening that a better solution would be to borrow and then modify from Spanish. Upward-inflecting questions would get an inverted question mark ¿ at the start and a regular question mark at the end ? . As soon as the question starts, the reader would prepare to upwardly inflect at the end.

Statement-questions, on the other hand, would only get the final question mark.

Upwardly inflect: ¿Why would anyone do this?
Don't upwardly inflect: Why would anyone do this?

So, the final question mark merely confirms that gramatically, the words just written are a question. The presence or otherwise of the inverted question mark primes the reader for the appropriate inflection.

As practical suggestions go, this is somewhere beyond the "utterly useless" end of the spectrum that covers everything I've ever suggested before. It would require the internalisation of a different punctuation system by all English speakers, forgetting entirely the cues that come with the single question mark at the end (cues that would live on in all the centuries of books written before my idea becomes standard). But it seems an elegant solution, and I thought it was worth documenting, albeit in a post which I'll sneakily upload to LiveJournal in the dead of night Australian time and won't link to elsewhere.

Apr. 9th, 2014

Popular below-the-line candidates

Following the publicisation of Joe Bullock's speech just prior to the April 5 WA Senate election, I saw many Labor supporters say that they'd vote below the line for Louise Pratt, who had the number-two spot on the Labor ticket behind Bullock.

At the time of writing, we don't have the breakdown of BTL votes from the WA election, so I'm taking this opportunity to see how we'd expect to see a "below-the-line for Pratt" movement, by looking at some results from 2013. The most interesting thing to me is that Pratt was already very popular BTL relative to Bullock last September.

For each of the major parties and Greens (and all the other parties, but I haven't bothered posting them here), I calculated the ratio of BTL votes for the first candidate on the ticket to the votes for each subsequent candidate. For example, the first entry in the numbers below reads "Brown to Bilyk, 5.5": in Tasmania, Carol Brown received 5.5 times as many BTL votes as Catryna Bilyk.

I'm looking at the sample of voters who supported a party and chose to vote below the line; perhaps this was because they didn't like their party's group voting ticket, or perhaps they didn't like the order of candidates their party had chosen. I'm interested in this latter case.

The ratio of BTL votes between first and second (or third, fourth, ...) candidates is not a perfect way to capture supporter dissatisfaction with the leading candidate – if the GVT in a state is unpopular, then that would lead to more of that party's supporters voting below the line, and they would likely be giving the top candidate their first preference, thus inflating the ratio that I calculate. The natural way to capture dissatisfaction with the GVT is to just look at the percentage of votes for the party that were below the line, but this is problematic for the inter-state comparisons that I would like to make – ballot paper lengths and ticket preferences can be significantly different between states, leading to large relative changes in BTL voting rates.

With those caveats out of the way, here are the ratios of a party's lead candidate to subsequent candidates, in order of increasing relative popularity of a non-lead candidate.


Tas: Brown to Bilyk, 5.5; Brown to Thorp 1.8, Brown to Dowling 4.3

NT: Peris to Foley, 2.1

WA: Bullock to Pratt, 2.4; Bullock to Foster, 10.7; Bullock to Ali, 13.8

Vic: Marshall to Collins, 5.7; Marshall to Tillem, 29.0; Marshall to Psaila, 36.5; Marshall to Larkins, 41.4; Marshall to Mileto, 21.1

Qld: Ketter to Moore, 5.7; Ketter to Furner, 21.7; Ketter to Boyd, 9.3

NSW: Carr to Cameron, 8.1; Carr to Stephens, 25.5; Carr to Kolomeitz, 134.2; Carr to Nelmes, 121.1; Carr to Chhibber, 35.0

ACT: Lundy to Sant, 19.0.

Liberals or some sort of LNP:

ACT: Seselja to Nash, 3.5

Tas: Colbeck to Bushby, 4.2; Colbeck to Chandler, 8.9; Colbeck to Courtney, 8.7

Vic: Fifield to Ryan, 8.4; Fifield to Kroger, 4.2; Fifield to Corboy, 6.9

NSW: Payne to Williams, 9.0; Payne to Sinodinos, 4.5; Payne to Hay, 24.0; Payne to C Cameron, 21.6; Payne to A Cameron, 11.0

SA: Bernardi to Birmingham, 5.5; Bernardi to Webb, 16.1; Bernardi to Burgess, 19.8; Bernardi to Cochrane, 67.7; Bernardi to Weaver, 56.1

NT: Scullion to Falzdeen, 6.0

Qld: MacDonald to McGrath, 20.5; MacDonald to Canavan, 31.9; MacDonald to Goodwin, 19.7; MacDonald to Craig, 25.4; MacDonald to Stoker, 13.3

WA: Johnston to Cash, 14.1; Johnston to Reynolds, 15.2; Johnston to Brockman, 29.7; Johnston to Thomas, 22.3; Johnston to Oughton, 14.9


NT: Williams to Brand, 6.5

Tas: Whish-Wilson to Burnet, 8.3; Whish-Wilson to Ann, 24.6

WA: Ludlam to Davis, 10.1; Ludlam to Duncan, 38.2

Qld: Stone to Bayley, 10.9; Stone to Yeaman, 47.5

ACT: Sheikh to Esguerra, 22.0

NSW: Faehrmann to Ryan, 58.1; Faehrmann to Blatchford, 36.9; Faehrmann to Ho, 38.4; Faehrmann to Findley, 53.5; Faehrmann to Spies-Butcher, 45.1

Vic: Rice to McCarthy, 41.7; Rice to Truong, 55.1; Rice to Christoe, 124.7; Rice to Sekhon, 132.7; Rice to Humphreys, 40.3

SA: Hanson-Young to Mortier, 74.9; Hanson-Young to Carey, 66.8

A few obvious things spring out to me. As mentioned earlier, Pratt was already popular with BTL Labor voters compared to Bullock. (She also received more BTL votes relative to Labor ticket votes than any other non-lead Labor Senate candidate outside the Tasmania and the ACT.) Lin Thorp, formerly a minister at state level in Tasmania, was the most popular non-lead candidate by this metric. On the conservative side, both Arthur Sinodinos and Helen Kroger were high-profile candidates who appear to attract a bit of a personal vote. Greens voters seem pretty happy with their lead candidates. On a lighter note, there's more than a hint that voters disproportionately give their first preference to the last candidate in a large group.

Anyway, the little sociology experiment on WA Labor voters will be looking at the Bullock-Pratt ratio as it is counted in the coming weeks; if there was a decent swing against Bullock to Pratt, then we should see the ratio of their BTL votes fall from 2.4 to something lower. My guess is that it will fall a little below 2; I'd put the under-over at around 1.9. (Update: A few hours after posting, and I see that the first couple of hundred BTL's show Pratt getting more votes than Bullock! At this stage it looks like I'd have been closer with 0.9 rather than 1.9.)

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