Knowledge beats recipes

petersen strobosoft screen

Bear with me, this will take a bit of doing…

Quoting the Wikipedia:

The size of an interval between two notes may be measured by the ratio of their frequencies. When a musical instrument is tuned using a just intonation tuning system, the size of the main intervals can be expressed by small-integer ratios, such as 1:1 (unison), 2:1 (octave), 3:2 (perfect fifth), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 (major third), 6:5 (minor third). Intervals with small-integer ratios are often called just intervals, or pure intervals.

Most commonly, however, musical instruments are nowadays tuned using a different tuning system, called 12-tone equal temperament, in which the main intervals are typically perceived as consonant, but none is justly tuned and as consonant as a just interval, except for the unison (1:1) and octave (2:1). As a consequence, the size of most equal-tempered intervals cannot be expressed by small-integer ratios, although it is very close to the size of the corresponding just intervals. For instance, an equal-tempered fifth has a frequency ratio of 27/12:1, approximately equal to 1.498:1, or 2.997:2 (very close to 3:2).

[I quote simply to avoid all my musician friends from correcting me. Tough crowd.]

There are some instruments that can be played in a just intonated fashion (voice, violin) and many that cannot easily do so (piano, guitar.) The tradeoff in using an equal temperament system is that you can easily change keys which enabled all sorts of wondrous music. However the intervals aren’t pure, and before you dismiss the value of that… part of the excitement and wonder of a choir, string quartet, etc. is that they can change keys and yet sing pure intervals (or not) as they wish. Remarkable flexibility.

The wonderful little volume “Ratio” by Michael Ruhlman displays the ratios behind cooking. In the book one can learn that pasta dough is 3:2 ratio of flour and eggs. No wonder we all love pasta—it’s a perfect fifth of a food! Cookies are 3:2:1 (flour, fat, sugar). There’s little surprise that ratios are there to be found once you start digging into ratios and they’re place in the cosmos. And more importantly, they’re far more useful.

If you have grandma’s pasta recipe (I looked up one by Mario Batalli) you get something like this: 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 4 extra-large eggs Now we can argue our way through whether this is represented by the ratio above, and how much it deviates, but my point here is if you memorize the ingredients and all the “use half the flour unless it’s not dough or too sticky stuff” you still will only be able to make that one recipe. But if you understand that the ratio of 3:2 makes a pasta dough then you have different starting point. You have *information* that you can use to create other variations… or explore the boundary between pasta and cookies etc. Same is true of music.

If you know how to hack your way through a song on a guitar and sing along that’s cool. But if you understand the intervals, the chord progressions and the meter, you have the tools that will allow you play 1000s of songs or make up your own.

One more example before I’m done torturing all this to a fare the well.

The lovely volume “By Hand & Eye” discusses ratio, although in this instance as it applies to furniture and proportion. As it says on the site…

…George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans. And the tool that helps us explore this world, then as now, are dividers.

Something like a step stool is one handspan high by two handspans wide… or the same ratio as an octave, which at this point should be no surprise. And when you begin to pin the ratios together you can find them in the subdivisions of our hands and bodies, in the spiral of a nautilus shell, and in the fractal nature of so many things, where the thing up close repeats the pattern of something of greater distance.

And all of this leads us to the Fibonacci series, which is building block that we seek at eh foundation of so many ratio related conversations (which at least for me is a good enough source from which to crib.)


A piano keyboard makes this somewhat clear…

…scale of C to C above of 13 keys has 8 white keys and 5 black keys, split into groups of 3 and 2. While some might “note” that there are only 12 “notes” in the scale, if you don’t have a root and octave, a start and an end, you have no means of calculating the gradations in between, so this 13th note as the octave is essential to computing the frequencies of the other notes. The word “octave” comes from the Latin word for 8, referring to the eight tones of the complete musical scale, which in the key of C are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

So look… I’m not telling you that your whole life should be constructed around Fibonacci, The Golden Ratio, etc. (although many things already are…). Or that the art of music, cooking, design, and creating in general might be in how and when you break or bend that cosmic sense of proportion. But it might well be the case.

The real point of all this is that recipes are for students. They are a constraint that you can embrace in order to begin producing results. Follow these drawings and you’ll create a reasonable staircase. This plan and you’ll produce reasonable tasting food. That sheet of music and maybe something Bach like will be heard, or maybe some ‘Stones or Coltrane.

But if you embrace the knowledge behind how how the universe orders itself engrained in all we use to create, you need only apply is a little bit of inspiration about where to bend the lines.

[I will no doubt be beaten about the head by one of the lovely folks who can reproduce, at will, a zillion different recipes and for whom, therefore, life is always easy. Artists always suffer.]

This is why people make stuff…

Whether it’s music or software or chopsticks or whatever… I think the faces of the people in this video says it all. There is a deep connection between creation and human beings. Even when we don’t practice making things for years and years it is never lost. It’s as much a part of who we are as humans as anything I’ve ever come across.

I find it impossible not to enjoy this. I hope you see what I see when you watch it.

And if you care to, read about John Economaki’s experience.

Here’s why your farmed salmon has color added to it

Here’s why your farmed salmon has color added to it:

The fact that consumers will shell out more for salmon that looks wild—even if it got that way by eating pellets in its pen—hints that people want to be eating wild salmon, but not quite badly enough to buy the real deal. If it’s price that’s keeping consumers from buying wild-caught salmon, they might want to consider saving a few bucks more and start demanding farmers cut out those expensive pigments—and sell them salmon that’s gray.

[Interesting. But I’d be surprised if it happened. Maybe if a company wanted to take on the marketing of a “new” fish and not call it salmon… and still charge nearly as much. What a mess. (I should add that assuming that none of the folks involved are lying to us, we buy wild salmon, we’re not fans of food coloring.)]

Rivers Run Free… Nation’s Biggest Dam Removal Is Done

Rivers Run Free… Nation’s Biggest Dam Removal Is Done | Gear Junkie:

Last year, 72 dams were removed across the country, including the final portion of the Glines Canyon Dam along the Elwha River in Washington, the largest dam ever removed.

American Rivers keeps track of all the dams removed across the country. In 2014, those 72 removed dams were found in 19 states.

[According to American Rivers, 15O,618 acres of riverside land was protected and 4.2 million pounds of trash were removed through their National River Cleanup program. Progress!]

Open source license usage on

Open source license usage on

Open source simply isn’t open source without a proper license. Unless you’ve explicitly told others that they can modify and reuse your work, you’ve only showed others your code; you haven’t shared it. Here at GitHub, we’re big fans of open source, so we set out to better understand how our users approached licensing their code by looking at license usage across public, non-forked repositories, in hopes of encouraging more users to share their work with others.

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Share your code

If you haven’t already, we encourage you to add a LICENSE file to your project. To make things a bit easier, if you begin to create a file named LICENSE via the web interface, we’ll even provide you with a list of common license templates to choose from.

This is just the start. Look forward to a more in depth analysis over the coming weeks as to how license usage affects project success, as we delve deeper into the numbers. Of course, in the mean time, we encourage you to explore license usage on GitHub using the Licenses API.

Happy open source licensing!

[One of the many parts of software development that I truly enjoy is making easy things easier. It’s not hard to include a license in a project, but time is always at a premium and discipline is as well. When something requires even a little bit of both the chances that a large community will consistently perform those actions diminishes. Of course, even better, is when someone does it for you. Sadly, the vast majority of the code I’ve written will never see the light of day. But that’s the way it goes. We (at work) open source what we can, when we can.]

David Carr’s sad story

Nytimes hq

Scripting News:

The end of David Carr’s current column in the NY Times is, I think, meant to outrage us. Reporters are being asked to deliver papers. I’m trying to think of what the analog would be in programming. We have to do a lot of menial tasks. Without a pulpit like Carr’s on which to tell our tale of woe. But I agree. Having a professional reporter deliver papers is ridiculous.

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Summary: You have to let more of the world in. Or eventually the world will invent what you have with a different name. That’s always been the option. The Times should have fully made the transition to the web by now. The biggest part of that transition is allowing more voices to speak directly through your platform.

[I think what Dave has is still true (he’s said this before many times, he’s just not being heard (yet?). But I also think that David Carr missed something that he wrote about at the top of the column.

When the Forces of Media Disruption Hit Home –

I read on Friday that the price of taxi medallions in New York City had fallen about 17 percent, a drop created by competition from ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The impact is remarkable because neither company possesses big capital assets, or a huge number of employees. Instead, they put a new user interface over cars and drivers already on the road. In the same way, Airbnb has remade the rental markets, not by buying properties, but simply by surfacing available units on the web to people in need.

What he ignored is that there is a new interface for journalists too. It’s called blogging. And while the Times could potentially lose exclusive access to those people, no one else has to. And in fact, the Times doesn’t have to either if they do what Dave suggests. The Times no longer needs to have “big capital assets, or a huge number of employees” or at least as much or as many. They could take advantage of the new interface for journalism to rebuild their business.

I don’t mean to belittle the pain the people involved in these changes have to go through. Many probably liked the way things were, and worked hard to do their part and make it the success it was. But nothing lasts forever, and the old model is going away.]