Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bicycle Sound Systems

Corey Kilgannon wrote an excellent article and Tyler Hicks (whose work is sampled above) captured amazing images of the bicycle sound systems build in Queens, NY by young immigrants from Trinidad and Guyana.

Unwieldy, costly, and loud, these home-fashioned portable sound systems recalled for me the vivid descriptions of the Jamaican sound systems of the 1950s in Dick Hebdige's Cut 'N' Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music. The men building the bikes in Queens play "Caribbean beats," according to Mr. Kilgannon, but the early Jamaican sound systems were devoted to American RnB music brought over from the United States.

As the years passed, the demand for black American RnB in Jamaica grew stronger. But there were no local groups who could play the music competently. So large mobile discotheques called "sound systems" were set up to supply the need. The sound systems played imported RnB records at large dances which were held in hired halls or out in the open in the slum yards. The music had to be heavily amplified at these venues if it was to convey the right sense of conviction. And if people were to dance they had to hear the bass, which carried the important "shuffle" rhythm. So the systems got bigger, louder and "heavier" (Hebdige, 1987).

The systems grew so large, loud, and bass-heavy, in fact, that Junior Lincoln, a Jamaican record producer, remarked, "You've never heard anything so heavy in all your life" (Hebdige, 1987). The early sound systems were built and run with money making in mind, drawing huge paying crowds. But as reggae music developed as a Jamaican sound, the sound system returned as a potent means of expression. Hebdige explained,

The sound system provides an opportunity for the grassroots people to talk back, to respond, to choose what they like and don't like. At the blues dances, the people can dictate the dj's choice of sounds. And each sound system has its own toasting heroes who can express the feelings of the crowd (1987).

It is very interesting to me that these men in Queens are blaring their Caribbean beats, interspersed with some American favorites: they are using the sound system as a means of cultural pride and identity rather than playing on it the music of the colonialists, like the Jamaicans of the early 1950s. It would appear that the sound system that reggae developed in the mid-1970s and which allowed for expression of a cultural form of music has carried on in this path and continued to develop as a means of expressing one's heritage through music, in this case songs from Trinidad, Guyana, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

McLaughlin Insanity?

Freakiness: Thought about listening to John McLaughlin disc after listening to Bitches Brew, Pangea, Argartha and after having _not_ looked at the shelf that John McLaughlin Electric Guitarist was on for a long time, I went to retrieve it. That disc, and only that disc, was pulled slightly out from being lined up with the rest. Chilling. I decided to go ahead and listen to it....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Laptop Club

Amy Tiemann, who writes a parenting and technology blog for, created a wonderful post about "The Laptop Club," which was in turn picked up and written about more extensively. This club of second and third grade students meets during an after school program. The student started last year creating "laptops" that were drawings of laptops, complete with customized appearances, specialized keys on the keyboards, and commonly-used applications.

While the author of the article that I read, as well as Ms. Tiemann, were interested in the social ramifications of this club, I do believe that they missed a very important point. Ms. Tiemann remarks that these students were using the laptops as a means of "demonstrat[ing] their knowledge of pop culture and social networks." Being made a special key on a student's laptop, for example, was "like being in someone's 'Top 8 Friends' on MySpace," even though these young students likely did not know what MySpace is.

The point that I think both the author and Ms. Tiemann missed, however, is that the students see the technology as a means of collaborating and socializing. The technology is a facilitator, whether it is through sending email, IM'ing, or otherwise interacting with the technology as a central focus of the students' attention and activities. These students could be having conversations and playing but they are emphasizing the role technology plays in conversation, collaboration, and play for a child of the 21st century. More so than demonstrating the students' awareness of pop culture and social networks, I think this type of play demonstrates the central role technology plays in how today's students interact with the world and one another. It is not enough to have a conversation: rather, the conversation is created around and facilitated by the technology.

I appreciate Ms. Tiemann's attempts to delay the rush to the internet by her own children. Young children must be made aware of the social opportunities and situations that can be explored and developed in a real world environment. But we must also provide young students like these opportunities to use the technology, to explore the types of relationships fostered by technology, and to compare these relationships with those they create in a real-world environment. These students must be able to create and develop relationships in both real and virtual worlds, and actvities like The Laptop Club are excellent examples of how we might get students thinking about these subjects and developing the necessary social and technological skills to meet the challenges.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brewing with Robb

Brewing with Robb - 01.jpg
Originally uploaded by Camera Wences

I had the opportunity, at last, to join Robb Wick, an art teacher at the high school, when he brewed a batch of "Pond Scum," a Mirror Pond-style Pale ale. I had participated in various brewing efforts in the past, from a failed batch inspired by a Shakespeare class in high school through quaffing the fine ales my brother Mark turns out from time to time back in Rhode Island. No previous brewing experience, however, prepared me for the absolute garage science Robb has going in his brewing setup.

While the rig used to be set up as a gravity system, it was impossibly tall. Welded by Grant Bower, also at the high school, the new system had a nice electric pump to move boiling water from the top tank around as needed, as well as to pump the brew that has been boiled from the grain to the tank on the right, where the brew is boiled again, then has the yeast added. From there it is pumped into a fermentation tank, where it grows its magic.

It was awesome to hang out with Robb, Ryan, Grant, and Gary. I learned much more about the brewing process and gained a deeper respect for Robb's talents. Prost!

Robb talked about how hop prices have skyrocketed for many reasons, including crop failure in Europe last year and a warehouse fire that destroyed a large amount of stock. Interestingly, on the drive to work this morning NPR ran a story about hop farmers in Oregon that discussed just these exact economic trend.

Check out the Flickr set, accessible from the photo above or from this link! I was only able to stay through half of the total process, unfortunately.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Top 3.3 for A/UX 3.x

In another time sink I located the patches in com.unix.aux and was able to get Top 3.3 to compile for A/UX 3.x systems. My release notes:

I am pleased to announce the availability of Top 3.3 for A/UX 3.x:

This directory contains a pre-compiled version of top 3.3 for A/UX 3.1.1 as well as the source code from which the binaries were built.

Compilation Notes:
It was compiled on an A/UX 3.1.1 Macintosh Quadra 700 using Apple's cc and make.

The included m_aux31.c machine module was buggy and would not compile with either cc or gcc. I tracked down a patch on comp.unix.aux that was never committed to the included machine module. Credit to Richard Henderson, who was responsible for top on A/UX, for this patch:

I was unable to use the patch files in A/UX or OS X, so I hand-applied the patches.

The three files patched, display.c, utils.c, and m_aux31.c, are included in this release.

Top is pretty machine-specific because it is looking at memory usage, etc. The patches should make this version of top run on any A/UX 3.x release.

Installation Notes:

Download and uncompress the top-3.3-aux-bin.tar.gz file:

gzip -dc top-3.3-aux-bin.tar.gz | tar xvfmo -

To install use CommandShell to navigate to the top-3.3-aux-bin directory and from within the directory type:

make install

The parts will be copied to the correct locations (/usr/local/bin/top and /usr/local/man/top.man1) on your A/UX box.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Perl 5.005_04 for A/UX 3.1.1

I had some time on my hands so I set out to compile Perl 5.005_04 for my A/UX 3.1.1 computer, a Macintosh Quadra 700. After a fitful day I was able to get it to compile and install! Here are my release notes:

I am pleased to announce the availability of Perl 5.005_04 for A/UX 3.1.1:

This directory contains a pre-compiled version of perl 5.005_04 for A/UX 3.1.1 as well as the source code from which the binaries were built.

Compilation Notes:

It was compiled on an A/UX 3.1.1 Macintosh Quadra 700 using gcc 2.7.2 and gmake 3.7.4.

I chose version 5.005_04 because it was close enough to Jim Jagielski's 5.004_01 that I could crib from his previous work. Additionally, it was a "new" enough version of perl that I could get cowsay to work on my A/UX box.

I used Jim Jagielski's from his compilation of perl 5.004_01 as my guide for configuring the proper variables to get perl 5.005_04 to compile. The I used is included in the directory.

Make test ran fine on the compilation, failing only three tests:

Failed 3 test scripts out of 190, 97.37% okay.

The installation went fine.

Installation Notes:

Download and uncompress the perl5005_04.tar.gz file:

gzip -dc perl5005_04.tar.gz | tar xvfmo -

To install use CommandShell to navigate to the perl5.005_04 directory and from within the directory type:

make install

The parts will be copied to the correct locations (/usr/local/bin/perl and the relevant man pages directories) on your A/UX box.

Verification of Installation:

This complilation of perl 5.005_04 has been tested on an A/UX 3.1.1 Mac. I was able to install and successfully run cowsay 3.03 on the A/UX box after installing perl 5.005_04.

In the image above you can see I have ssh'd into the A/UX box from my OS X MacBook, verified Perl is installed, then ran cowsay. I previously built binaries for ssh 1.2.32 that are hosted over at the Penelope A/UX server.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Scratch Programming

I wrote a bit about trying to interest students in Scratch, noting that while students certainly enjoyed the graphics-editing part of the program, as well as playing some of the pre-built games, like a Pac-Man clone, very few were making the leap into programming using Scratch.

All that changed, however, once I asked a fifth grade girl whether she had ever used Scratch. She was aimlessly drawing in KidPix Deluxe, so I thought she might appreciate a little bit of a challenge. I started by explaining that Scratch was cool because it had a rich drawing part to it, but that you could also make the drawings do different things. I showed her the "Breakdancing" project that comes with Scratch, which she thought was pretty funny. I also showed her how to mount the server on the library computers so she could save her work.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I find that her friends, too, have developed an interest in programming using Scratch. One girl had a sprite, or character, of which she had customized the appearance. I asked her what she wanted to do with the character, and she said it would be cool if she could move it around. I showed her that by using the Control programming blocks she could make the character move according to the keys she assigned. We struggled a little bit with reversing the direction of the character, but we got it working. She in turn taught her friend how to make a similar character in a different project move.

The girls then moved on to recording short songs that they sang. Now their character will sing short ditties when clicked!

I think that the gradual success of getting students to program in Scratch is encouraging. I am particularly interested in the fact that it is girls who are making the most of the programming environment. The programs they create encourage collaboration, and the process by which they are teaching one another the steps, like mounting the server or controlling the character, also reward the students' collaboration. It will be interesting to see where their Scratch programs go next and whether Scratch holds their fickle interest.