Archive for February, 2009

Stormbringer, remastered

February 26th, 2009 by Reinder

The music industry's slowest remastering program lurched forwards one more step towards completion this week. Starting in 1995 with the 25th anniversary edition of Deep Purple in Rock, it has now finally managed to get around to the release of the 35th anniversary edition of the album Stormbringer that was originally released just 5 years after In Rock. For Deep Purple fans, of which I still am one, it's a big event. For many years, the original masters were missing and this reissue had been eagerly anticipated even by those who, like me, always thought it was a bit shit compared to their best work. After the 2004 30th anniversary edition of its predecessor Burn, I concluded that the album had really come back to life with its new and improved sound quality, and that it was much, much better than I remembered it being. Likewise, Stormbringer has come back to life with its new and improved sound quality. Unfortunately, it's still a bit shit, and in some ways is even less inspiring than I remembered.
It starts off well enough with the title track, a mid-uptempo rocker with some nice brash keyboard work from Jon Lord, that uses the vocal teamwork of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes well. Problem is, it does that in pretty much the same way as the opening, title track of Burn from less than a year earlier, and "Burn" is the better track of the two, with a faster tempo, a more energetic rhythm section and some of the best guitar and keyboard work in the group's history.
On the rest of Stormbringer, though, the band are either going through the motions of creating Deep Purple tracks or experimenting with adding soul and funk elements to the formula.

Many fans absolutely hate the soul and funk elements, but they could have worked if everyone had been into it. The main problem was that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was spending his time and energy working on solo material, wasn't interested in the funk and did not have the professionalism to even try to make the group's material work. He famously played one of the solos with just his thumb. It shows: someone who did not know Blackmore's other work would not hear what was so great about him on this record. Apart from a few flashes of his old lyricism, such as midway through the solo in "Hold On", he plays obvious, unoriginal licks without putting much of his energy into it.

The result is a mishmash. Nothing on the album is embarrassingly bad (that would have to wait, as far as studio work was concerned, until 1987's House of Blue Light and especially 1990's Slaves and Masters) but as a whole, little of it excites or lifts the spirits and many tracks wear out their welcome pretty quickly.

One caveat: my review is based on the download sold through iTunes, which means that I'm missing out on several things. One of them is the CD booklet - I really wish a digital version of that had been included, because the liner notes from present and former band members and champion Deep Purple trainspotter Simon Robinson have always been great reads and given plenty of context to the album for those of us who, like me, weren't there at the time. The other is the quadrophonic mixes. They are present on the iTunes edition, but they have been mixed back down to stereo so they don't add all that much to the package (although some of them are alternate cuts that do hold some interest for Deep Purple completists). The physical disk, on the other hand, comes with a DVD in which they can be experienced in 5.1 multi-channel. I'm not really into that, but if you are, then buying the physical package is probably worth it and may redeem this so-so record far more than a straight stereo remaster ever could. For me, as someone without a 5.1 system and someone who hasn't even played records directly from CD in years, it would just be another plastic disk to fill my shelves with, so I've passed on it.

Tiny Art Director

February 23rd, 2009 by Reinder

Jeroen J. pointed me to this: Tiny Art Director, in which artist Bill Zeman shows off some of his work that was commissioned, and then critiqued in no uncertain terms, by his daughter, who was three at the time he started the blog. Responses range from "I like this" and a job status of Accepted to

Upon seeing the preliminary sketch, the art director, in a rather unprofessional outburst, collapsed on the floor sobbing and screaming.

Now if only more art critics did that, we'd have much better contemporary art in this world.

Changes to the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan home page…

February 22nd, 2009 by Reinder

To prepare for the return of Feral as the ongoing serial on ROCR.net, I have moved Invasion back to the Crossovers section of the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan archives. Feral returns on Monday with a (hopefully) weekly schedule. Until then, you'll be seeing the last page published, from back in September of last year. I hope this doesn't confuse people too much - it's what happens when you've got two series from the same continuity running over the same period.

[Adam Cuerden] 4’33″

February 19th, 2009 by Adam Cuerden

Below, if this works right, is John Cage's 4' 33", in a lavish production:

[Edit: Evidently not. Just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUJagb7hL0E - We'll wait for you to come back.]

I'm sure there are many things that could be said in Cage's favour. I cannot actually think of them, but I'm sure they exist. However, I myself see this performance as a sign of the complete atrophy of quality control in the modern classical music scene, where pretending to like the indefensibly pretentious and awful is sufficient, and actually liking music a sign that you are hopelessly unhip.

Perhaps one could make this work. For instance, you could suddenly break into Rick Astley after three minutes, treating this with all the respect it deserves. You could announce afterwards, "Well, wasn't that nice. I'm sure we can all feel very cultured now, now that we actually convinced ourself that something so stupid was worth putting on and paying all these highly talented men and women to be here for. Right, let's remind these people what good music is. Pull out the Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto scores from last night's concert." You could break into one of Gilbert and Sullivan's songs poking fun of pretentiousness.

Just don't break into any more songs by John Cage.

Remastered Feral images test

February 19th, 2009 by Reinder

Last year when Aggie was drawing Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, the size of the images gradually expanded from a width of 560 pixels to, eventually one of 648 pixels, with proportional but varying height. To make things more consistent, I have remastered the pages before Aggie's stint to that same width, but I want to test them before uploading them to the website, to see if the dithering has turned out right and if the pages haven't turned out too heavy (they're at around 200 KB per image these days, which I think is pushing things a bit for webcomics). So I'm posting some of them here to see if they work and look good on various browser/OS combinations. The preview images are scaled down by WordPress, but clicking on them will bring up the full web images:

Page one, Jpeg, 250 KB

Page one, Jpeg, 250 KB

Page 15, PNG, 204 KB

Page 15, PNG, 204 KB

Feral page 32, PNG, 200 KB

Feral page 32, PNG, 200 KB

Feral page 40, PNG, 128 colours, 228 KB

Feral page 40, PNG, 128 colours, 228 KB

No update this week but next week is pretty assured

February 16th, 2009 by Reinder

Now that Invasion is over, I'm switching back to the Feral storyline, so that'll be coming back soon. Unfortunately, I'm still strapped for time and the switch involves writing a lot of new material before I can even start drawing, so it'll be a while before new updates start coming. I'm aiming for new updates to start on a weekly basis on Monday, February 23, 2009, though.

They'll be some changes to the process again. I'll be doing things mostly digitally for a while, at least until I've got the A3 scanner working again. Penciling is still done on paper, but Aggie has challenged me to come up with a comics page that's done entirely in digital media before she does. Sounds like fun!

In short, new comic on Monday the 23rd. Hopefully, I'll have the whole story in the bag before the end of the year.

[Adam Cuerden] Citizendium: The Encyclopedia only pro-Homeopathy editors can edit

February 12th, 2009 by Adam Cuerden

Larry Sanger, part-founder of Wikipedia, wrote in 2001:

How are we to write articles about pseudoscientific topics, about which majority scientific opinion is that the pseudoscientific opinion is not credible and doesn't even really deserve serious mention?

If we're going to represent the sum total of "human knowledge"--of what we believe we know, essentially--then we must concede that we will be describing views repugnant to us without asserting that they are false. Things are not, however, as bad as that sounds. The task before us is not to describe disputes fairly, on some bogus view of fairness that would have us describe pseudoscience as if were on a par with science; rather, the task is to represent the majority (scientific) view as the majority view and the minority (sometimes pseudoscientific) view as the minority view, and, moreover, to explain how scientists have received pseudoscientific theories. This is all in the purview of the task of describing a dispute fairly.

This became part of Wikipedia's policies, and remains so to this day. However, in Sanger's new project, Citizendium, he's thrown this noble goal out the window, and actively works to suppress views skeptical of homeopathy.

However, let's discuss the Citizendium Homeopathy article first.

The Citizendium article was largely written by Dana Ullman, who Time magazine described as the "leading proselytizer of homeopathy". It shows: Criticism is practically non-existant, and what little remains is pretty much strawmen designed to be attacked and knocked down, or exist solely as statements on the line of "some criticism exists. Now back to more informatiion about this great form of alternative medicine you should try"[1]

The early sections are pretty bad in themselves - discussing the process of homeopathic dilution with no mention that no molecules are likely to remain in most homeopathic remedies - I should probably quickly explain for the uninitiated:

First off, it's possible to know the number of molecules in an initial substance if you know its mass and its molecular weight, and there are upper limits to how many molecules could exist in a certain volume or mass of substance. Homeopathic remedies use serial dilution to the point that 1part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1060, or 30C in homeopathic notation) is the level of dilution recommended by Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, for most treatments.

The number of molecules in one mole of substance is 6.022 x 1023 If you started with a mole of the substance meant to be homeopathically diluted, you'd go over that at 24X or 12C in homeopathic notation, meaning that, at those dilutions - and most homeopathich treatments are at those levels or higher - the chance of you having even a single molecule of the original substance would be only about 60%. At the 30C dilution recommended by Hahnemann, you'd have less than 1 chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of getting one molecule of the original substance.[2]

So, having ignored well-sourced and valid criticism, the article then moves into outright promotion:

A fundamental reason for conflict between conventional medicine and homeopathy is that homeopathy rejects the concept of treatments that target mechanisms of disease, and instead uses remedies that target syndromes of symptoms that they believe strengthen a person's overall constitution. Some homeopathic protocols might look like the following:

  • A physician qualified in both homeopathy and conventional medicine, after diagnosing a chronic condition that does not indicate the need for medical urgency, will usually first prescribe a homeopathic remedy which he feels may be more effective and is likely to have fewer side effects than conventional drugs.

and even downright dangerous recommendations:

  • Homeopaths disagree with conventional medicine about the role of immunization and chemoprophylaxis for infectious diseases and prefer to prescribe homeopathic remedies that they believe will strengthen a person's immune and defense system.
  • For some disease conditions, such as asthma and acute bronchitis, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed not only to alleviate chronic symptoms, but also to treat acute attacks. Homeopathic remedies might also be used after an asthmatic episode with the intent to prevent recurrences.

Homeopaths are given the final word against any of the very weak strawman arguments allowed to be placed against them:

While homeopaths also want to understand how their medicines work, they assert that there is a double standard in medicine and science because there is a long history of certain conventional medical treatments that have no known mechanism of action but that are regularly used; only relatively recently, for instance, has it been understood how aspirin works, but before then doctors used it regularly despite an inadequate understanding of its actual mechanism. Further, homeopaths assert that the overall evidence for homeopathy, including clinical research, animal research, basic sciences research, historical usage of homeopathic medicines in the successful treatment of people in various infectious disease epidemics, and widespread and international usage of homeopathic medicines today, provide extraordinary evidence for the benefits of this system

And then moves on to a section that can best be described as "Let's not let those mean scientists determine who's right. WE'LL decide who's right!":

The “balance of evidence” as to whether homeopathy has any effects other than placebo effects depends on who is balancing the evidence. Homeopaths strongly value the evidence of their own experience in treating patients, supported by the satisfaction reported by their patients in surveys; they believe that this is sufficient evidence of efficacy, but also state that most published clinical trials have shown some beneficial effects.

And, finally, a grand Galileo gambit:

Mainstream scientists and medical professionals are also often interested in homeopathy, despite generally being dismissive of the theories and of the claims for efficacy. They are interested in why so many people believe in homeopathy, when they consider that it has no plausibility. They are interested too in why some studies appear to have positive outcomes - do these reflect real efficacy, or can they be accounted for by flaws in study design or in statistical analysis, or "publication bias" - the tendency for small studies with chance positive outcomes to be published while studies with negative or inconclusive outcomes are not. They also are interested in whether positive results against expectation sometimes reflect manipulation of data or perhaps even fraud.

This interest has a much broader relevance than homeopathy. A huge number of research papers are published every year in the scientific literature - PubMed covers more than 6,000 journals in biology and medicine, and excludes very many journals that do not meet its quality criteria. Many of these papers report results that turn out to be wrong for many different reasons. Usually, errors are exposed when attempts to replicate the data fail; often contradictory results are reported, but often papers are quietly "forgotten" - never cited because their flaws become evident. Sometimes in conventional science overt fraud is revealed, but often it is impossible to confirm that fraud is present. But in conventional science generally, what counts is replicability - it doesn't matter whether unreliable results are the result of fraud or error, individual reputations depend ultimately on publishing important data that can be replicated consistently. Accordingly, scientists are professionally concerned with understanding the sources of error - including all sources of error, in study design, methodology, analysis and interpretation; and for some of them, homeopathy seems like a source of examples where they feel that the conclusions "must" be wrong, so finding the sources of error can teach important lessons.

Of course, it is possible that mainstream scientists and physicians have it wrong; perhaps homeopathy is indeed effective, and, if so, there is something important to be studied. Mainstream scientists enjoy a considerable degree of trust, and their assertions are often accorded considerable "authority". Some may exploit this authority, but the ethos of science generally is one of disciplined skepticism - including skepticism about all that we think we know. Scientific theories are never proven, but always provisional, subject to revision and occasional abandonment as knowledge grows. So scientists generally reject arguments from authority as being of any value - only arguments from reason, embracing current knowledge and understanding count, and these are arguments that each scientist must make for himself or herself, and make afresh as fresh knowledge comes.

There's more, like the section "A typical homeopathic visit", which reads like something out of a pamphlet advertising homeopathy, or "Scientific basis of homeopathy", which presents a half-dozen unsupported crank theories on how homeopathy supposedly could work as accepted scientific fact. But why do I say Larry Sanger is personally censoring any views that aren't in favour of homeopathy?

Because he's doing exactly that. Here's a short thread from the Talk page of Citizendium's Homeopathy article:

The contents of the article on Homeopathy on Wikipedia is controlled by the theorizing, skeptical, critics who have never tried Homeopathy. Anybody who is pro-Homeopathy is banned. I hope someone can change that!Ramanand Jhingade 13:27, 11 February 2009 (UTC)

Is it really necessary to attack people that choose not to try homeopathy? "Theorizing, skeptical critic who have never tried XXX", whatever XXX may be, gives the flavor of anyone who is not a proponent of XXX is an enemy. I would have thought that your experience here indicates that people can be critical but not enemies. Further, I would have thought that it has been established that one can form a reasonable judgment on something without actually experiencing it -- or are all obstetricians status para > 0?Howard C. Berkowitz 00:21, 12 February 2009 (UTC)

Oh, dear, one of those seems unduly nasty! Larry Sanger himself steps in... and, of course, removes not the one directly attacking people and bashing all people skeptical of homeopathy, but Berkowitz's polite response to it, replacing it with:

A comment here was deleted by The Constabulary on grounds of making complaints about fellow Citizens. If you have a complaint about the behavior of another Citizen, e-mail constables@citizendium.org. It is contrary to Citizendium policy to air your complaints on the wiki. See also CZ:Professionalism.

In the article, all criticism of homeopathy is being suppressed, and the homeopaths are allowed to run the show. On the talk page, attacks on critics of homeopathy are allowed to stand, but polite objections to these attacks are being deletedby Sanger himself. This highly biased deletion of posts is a level of discourse usually found in crank forums, not in a "professional" encyclopedia which was intented to show that its system was far superior to Wikipedia. Despite Citizendium's slogan of sorts, found on every page: "We are creating the world's most trusted encyclopedia and knowledge base", this article and the actions on its talk page remove any credibility that Citizendium might have.


Footnotes

[1]For instance, this is the only statement of criticism in the entire opening section, which is about a page, with the sentence after it provided for context:

Although homeopathy is practiced by some medical doctors, as well as by other health professionals in virtually every country in the world, most mainstream medical doctors and scientists, particularly those in the West, do not accept the principles of homeopathy today.[7] In addition to those homeopathic remedies prescribed in the professions practicing homeopathy, remedies are used by consumers all over the world for self-treatment of common self-limiting ailments and injuries.

That's it, and there won't be any mention of criticism again until about the third page, where there's a brief mention that some people objected to allowing homeopaths to advertise their treatments as effective based on homeopathic "provings" alone.

[2] The use of one mole is a gross exaggeration in favour of homeopathy: of all the solid or liquid substance (at room temprature) in existence, the one with the lowest atomic weight is atomic Lithium, which has seven grams to a mole and fills about 13 cubic cenimetres. It would be physically impossible to fit a mole of pretty much every substance known to exist into the size and weight of a homeopathic pill (with the possible exception of very exotic materials, such as liquid (or solid) hydrogen or helium), and more typical things used in homeopathy, like the organic molecules found in plants or inorganic oxides can have hundreds or even  thousands of grams in a mole. Hence, the case for homeopathy is actually far worse than described above.

ADDENDUM: We have CELEBRITY TROLLING in the comments - Dana Ullman, evidently so insecure that he's worried what a no-name university student is saying about him on a fairly obscure blog can't help but show up and complain. Have a read of it - it's pretty hilarious, and even includes a claim that if you do basic applications of physical and chemical laws, like in this post's analysis of the number of molecules in homeopathic treatments, then somehow love doesn't exist.

On closure, and new beginnings

February 9th, 2009 by Reinder

In the comments to last week's Invasion episode on ROCR.net, reader TuuronTour asks:

Is this storyline going to be the final end of ROCR? I get the feeling everything is being wrapped up to get our rogue's a well-earned "and they liveth long and happily".

Tuur is almost right: the ending to Invasion doesn't so much wrap everything up as set things up so that I have the largest number of possibilities open. It'll be a while before the world will see a sequel to Invasion, but when I decide, in a year or so, to pick up where I left, I can treat the next story as essentially a new series, with a new cast of characters: Tamlin, Ragnarok, Atra, Jake, Owen, Hildegard, and... one more, with their offspring. It won't be necesary for new readers to learn the backstory - this new lot will be the gang. Older readers will still enjoy the similarities and differences between, say, original Atra and rejuvenated Atra, or be able to see the Tamlin-Ragnarok dynamic in the light of the dynamic that there used to be.

Or... I might scrap that plan altogether, bring Kel and Jodoque back a few years down the line, fast-forwarding to the year 1010. Either way works for me.

Before then, though, I will work on the three remaining stories set in the "old" ROCR universe: Feral, King Groy and Muscle. I am now writing material for Feral and while the first batch of new writing came out as drivel, there are some salvageable elements in it that should get the story moving again. I expect to be taking a few weeks off before I get around to posting any new comics though, and when I do, they will almost certainly be irregular again.

There's also the possibility of a spin-off comic set in the Wodeskog, based on the faerie village and what else might be living there. That's another thing that may or may not happen though.

Next: one more digital drawing. It's an inked version of the penciled character drawing of Aleas I did some six months ago:

Aleas inked digitally

Aleas inked digitally

Scanner/SCSI card/cable update, plus my first all-digital art

February 4th, 2009 by Reinder

I have a working SCSI card again, and though it uses a different cable configuration than I described earlier, I know what cable that is and where to find it. I may balk a bit at the cost but will probably put in the order soon, as the alternatives aren't too appealing. I have had a few items scanned at a local scanner service, but at a price of € 5 a scan and a maximum resolution of 400 DPI (NOT good enough for archiving or indeed for submission to a professionally printed magazine), the cable price becomes worth paying very quickly.

It may still be a few days before I can scan at home again, and today after testing the card, I spent some time exploring yet another alternative: all-digital drawing. I've had tablets for years, and do a lot of work with them, but until today, I had never created more than a doodle from scratch in any art software. Today, I changed that by drawing this:

Portrait of Tamlin, for use on the Modern Tales cast pages

Portrait of Tamlin, for use on the Modern Tales cast pages


It was a bit awkward for me to work on as I found it hard to draw some of the curves. I undid the jawline a few dozen times before getting one that was good enough. But the result, while flawed, is flawed in pretty much the same ways as my hand-drawn work, so for a first attempt, it's very encouraging. The image is used in the new cast pages on Modern Tales and I will try and do a full-body portrait this weekend. Total time less than an hour and likely to get faster with practice.

Two fun fantasy webcomics

February 1st, 2009 by Reinder

I discovered not one but two very promising fantasy webcomics today: The Meek, and Lumia's Kingdom.

The Meek has fantastic art and lovely colouring and reminds me a bit of Zander Cannon's The Replacement God. At only six pages into the story, it could go in a lot of different directions, but from the commentary, the creator has thought about the concept for a long time and has put a lot of work into character and concept art prior to starting on the comic proper. That is a good sign.

I instantly liked the title character of Lumia's Kingdom. Her attitude reminds me of Kel's in a lot of ways, including the bit of quick thinking in a crisis. The art is not as pretty as The Meek, but it's more than serviceable.

I'll be following both comics in the next few months, though I'll hold off on putting them on the front page list until I've seen more of their stories unfold.