Archive for April 30, 2014

Jim Europe’s Society Orchestra

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , on April 30, 2014 by telescoper

More than a few people have commented on the fact that my musical tastes are a little old-fashioned, but here’s a piece that’s a bit old even by my standards. It’s by a band from the immediately pre-Jazz era called Jim Europe’s Society Orchestra. Led by James Reese Europe this band pre-dated the much more famous Paul Whiteman band in popularity, playing at the Carnegie Hall for example long before Whiteman’s ever did which, for a group of black musicians, was quite remarkable at a time of racial segregation in the United States.

When World War 1 started, Jim Europe enlisted in the 369th Infantry Regiment, which fought with immense distinction on the Western Front. The regiment, comprised of African-American and Puerto Rican soldiers, was dubbed the “Men of Bronze” by the French army and as the “Hellfighters” by the German army, on account of their legendary toughness. In the latter stages of the war, Jim Europe formed a military band to which he gave the name “The Harlem Hellfighters”. He died in 1919, after being stabbed in the neck by one of his own musicians.

This particular record was made over a century ago, on December 29 1913. As you might expect, the recording quality is not particularly good (to put it mildly) but it always strikes me as absolutely amazing that we can hear anything at all that was recorded so long ago. The line-up is very unusual by modern standards: two pianos, five banjo mandolins, three violins, clarinet, cornet, and a drummer. That’s on this particular tune. No personnel information is available except that it is certainly Jim Europe himself who delivers the encouraging shouts.

It’s pretty basic stuff from a musical point of view, in that everyone plays in unison and there’s no improvisation or any other development of the tune, but it’s certainly a performance full of energy and fun as well as a valuable piece of Jazz prehistory. The tune is Downhome Rag, which was written sometime in 1913 by Wilbur C Sweatman, is still performed by traditional jazz bands today. But not like this!


Ode to SnarXiv

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on April 30, 2014 by telescoper

So many things pass me by these days that I’m not usually surprised when I have no idea what people around me are talking about. I am however quite surprised that, until yesterday, never heard of the snarXiv. As its author explains:

The snarXiv is a ran­dom high-energy the­ory paper gen­er­a­tor incor­po­rat­ing all the lat­est trends, entropic rea­son­ing, and excit­ing mod­uli spaces. The arXiv is sim­i­lar, but occa­sion­ally less ran­dom.

The snarXiv uses “Context Free Grammar” together with a database of stock words and phrases to generate its content, which is actually just limited to titles and abstracts rather than entire papers. It’s just a matter of time, though. The results are variable, with some making no sense at all even by the standards of theoretical particle physics, but the best are almost good enough to pass off as real abstracts.

Here’s an example in the form of the abstract of a paper called (P,q) Brane Probe Predicted From Conformal Blocks:

Recently, work on new inflation has opened up a perturbative class of braneworld matrix models. We make contact with observables, moreover investigating trivial Beckenstein-Boltzmann equations. Next, using the behavior of a left-right reduction of models of WIMPs, we reformulate instanton liquids at the LHC. After discussing positrons, we check that worldsheet symmetric central charges are equivalent to electric-duality in gravity. Finally, we make contact with a special lagrangian brane, surprisingly obtaining models of inertial fluctuations.

Why not have a go at arXiv versus SnarXiv to see if you can spot the genuine article titles?

I’m tempted, with a nod in the light of the Sokal Affair, to suggest that a similar approach used in the social sciences, but the thing that really struck me is that someone should do a snarXiv for astronomy and astrophysics. Or is someone going to tell me it already exists?

Come to think of it, judging by some of the proposals I’ve read while serving on the Astronomy Grants Panel over the years, a similar generator may already exist for writing grant applications…