Your Brain Will Betray You

People are dumb. If they hear something that is unclear or ambiguous, they will hear whatever they want to hear, or whatever they are told to hear. And I don’t mean they’ll interpret “nice shoes” as a genuine comment when it was meant sarcastically; I mean people will actually hear completely different words depending on what they are expecting to hear. Even you are not immune to this.

Try this. Listen to the song embedded below. It’s Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” backwards. Listen particularly to the section that starts at about 4:40 on the little timer.

Unless you’ve been exposed to this before, you probably heard random backwards gibberish, with maybe a few things that sounded like real words.

Now listen to the clip below:

It’s the same song you heard before. The exact same noises reached your ears, but you probably heard completely different words than you did at the 4:40 mark in the previous clip. To prove it, go back and listen to it again if you’d like. After seeing the purported lyrics, I can’t listen to it with out hearing the Satanic message.

Of course, it’s probably not really a Satanic message. We just look for the words we were told to look for in almost-random noises, and our brains make us find them. You could probably do this with almost any song. For example:

And with this in mind, I present to you the most fucked up thing you will see all day:

Edit: More of the same here.

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Book Review: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson


I Am Legend is a difficult book to categorize. At first glance, it’s a vampire novel; an accurate characterization, because yeah, there are vampires in it. But the deeper meaning and metaphors behind them, the structure of the story, and the situation the main character finds himself in, make it feel more like a zombie story. But even then, the focus isn’t so much on the creatures, but on the main character and his inner struggles, making it more of a sappy drama. You could even argue convincingly that it’s science fiction.

Given these overlapping categories, and the fact that I Am Legend came out in 1954 and has influenced subsequent generations of horror fiction, it could easily feel stale and cliche reading it today. It doesn’t; I Am Legend still feels fresh and new, even to someone like me who has seen and read almost every piece of horror fiction released since I was born (and a lot from before that, too).

Part of its brilliance has to do with Matheson’s writing, which gets right into the main character’s head, and feels just detailed and realistic enough to relate to. There is also some ineffable eeriness to it. Certain mental images – like pudgy Ben Cortman standing outside, constantly yelling at Neville to come out – stick with me in a way that other authors’ don’t, for some reason. I Am Legend should be required reading for anyone even remotely interested in the horror genre.

A note about the upcoming movie of I Am Legend starring Will Smith: WTF? Judging from the trailer, the movie has almost nothing to do with the book. Will Smith can be an OK actor, but I really can’t picture him pulling off the depressed, alcoholic, sexually frustrated, elderly Robert Neville from the book. No, I picture the Will Smith version romping around destroyed New York with his dog buddy (who must have had a good agent, because his role in the movie seems significantly expanded from his book counterpart), sharing feel-good moments, screaming “Aw HELL naw!” whenever he sees a vampire, then punching them in the face and spouting hilarious lines like “welcome to Earth”. And that is really the opposite sort of character from the one in the book. I like a good end-of-the-world movie, and I’d probably be excited about this one if it didn’t have the title “I Am Legend.” It’d be better if it had only claimed to be loosely based on the novel, and had a title like…oh I dunno… “Fresh Prince of the Entire World.”

Magnets: Beyond Holding Things to Fridges


Some random but fascinating tidbits that I’ve learned while writing my comps today:

  • There are over fifty known sensory systems that have been identified in living things. Why, then, is a “sixth sense” seen as a far-out impossibility?
  • The genome of bacteria that can sense magnetic fields is only about 4.3 megabytes. All the information needed to create this organism could easily fit in an email attachment. The human genome is about 750 Mb. Bigger than a bacteria, but still smaller than Windows XP.
  • Magnetic structures, similar to those that allow the bacteria above to detect magnetic fields, have been found in a 4 billion year old meteorite from Mars. This is half a billion years older than the earliest known life on Earth. It suggests that the ability to detect magnetic fields may have been one of the first sensory systems to evolve, and that the ability to do so may have been brought to Earth from Mars.

While I still want to get this part of my comprehensive exams over with, it’s actually turning out to be pretty cool. My paper involves the following kickass things: Ghosts, hallucinations, Jesus, pigeon navigation, The Virgin Mary, ESP, psychokinesis, turtle navigation, mental patients, God, airplane crashes, whale suicide, lobster navigation, and now, Martians.

References:

Kirschvink, J. L., Walker, M. M., & Diebel, C. E. (2001). Magnetite-based magnetoreception. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 11, 462-467.

Rotten Apple


Is it just me, or are Apple’s new iPods sorta disappointing?

The Shuffle hasn’t changed. The Nano does video and has a new interface, but looks fat and ugly (best comment I’ve seen about it: “does it do the truffle shuffle?”). What’s now called the “Classic” has the new interface and looks pretty good, and got a storage increase, which is nice, but for me, not worth upgrading for.

What will be talked about most is the new iPod Touch. It is, almost literally, an iPhone without the phone. It has all the stuff that people have been asking for in the top-of-the-line iPod for years: A giant touch screen, a snazzy new interface, and most importantly, a wireless internet connection to connect to the iTunes store directly (and, I pray to Jobs, sync with a computer wirelessly). It even has some cool stuff nobody expected, like having a web browser and doing fun stuff while in a Starbucks location.

This is all awesome. If it stopped there, and we used logical assumptions to fill in the blanks, I’d currently be putting my old iPod and a few internal organs up on Ebay in order to pay whatever it could possibly cost to get my hands on one. Unfortunately, one of those logical assumptions turns out to be false. I’m talking about storage capacity. This is the most advanced, most expensive iPod ever. It looks like an iPhone, but its focus is on music and video. So you’d expect it to hold the most songs and videos, at least as much if not more than the Classic. But this assumption is wrong. The biggest Touch is only 16GB.

It looks like they took the “iPhone without the phone” part a bit too literally. Why would I want this new iPod, then, if it does less than the iPhone, but doesn’t do much more? This sentiment is enhanced by the fact that Apple has also announced that the Touch’s WiFi capabilities will be immediately available on the iPhone as well, and it has just dropped in price to only $100 more than the Touch.

I’d rather pay $100 more for the same device with a phone. But I’ll do neither, not only because the iPhone still isn’t available in Canada, but because 8GB, or even 16GB, isn’t enough space to hold even a medium-sized music collection. Mine is already bigger than the previous 80GB ceiling, so even if I could afford it, using the Touch or iPhone as my primary iPod just isn’t practical.

Why can’t Apple just make one device that does everything? Fix the stupid problems with the iPhone, add a 160GB drive to it, and nobody could resist it.