Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Sound Cellar: Joan Jett for PETA

I almost forgot about this one...but it came to me just in time for Thanksgiving. This is an old PSA - I don't know when it was recorded - that Joan Jett did on behalf of PETA.

It must have been difficult to record an anti-turkey PSA while so clearly stoned on tryptophan ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ron Houben Update

Of course.

As soon as I clicked "Publish Post" on my Ron Houben comments, I saw the Wired Science Blog's take on the same subject .

It looks like the FC part of the story is indeed bullshit but it also appears that Houben was sentient all this time.

Whoa. Holy crap.

Anyway, I'll just post what they posted... completely attributed of course ! But keep your ears open because this story surely isn't over.

By Brandon Keim

The statements of a Belgian man believed to be in a coma for 23 years, but recently discovered to be conscious, are poignant, but experts say they may not be his words at all.

Rom Houben’s account of his ordeal, repeated in scores of news stories since appearing Saturday in Der Spiegel, appears to be delivered with assistance from an aide who helps guide his finger to letters on a flat computer keyboard. Called “facilitated communication,” that technique has been widely discredited, and is not considered scientifically valid.

“If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don’t trust it,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics. “I’m not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly.”

Facilitated communication came to prominence in the late 1970s after an Australian teacher reportedly used it to communicate with 12 children rendered speechless by cerebral palsy and other disorders. Over the next two decades, it gained some adherents in patient and medical communities, but failed to produce consistent results in controlled, scientific settings.

Researchers said that facilitators were unconsciously or consciously guiding patients’ hands. Multiple professional organizations, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that facilitated communication is not credible.

Far more credible, however, is emerging research on patients thought to be in vegetative states, but revealed by brain-scanning technology to be at least minimally conscious, and even aware of what is happening around them. These two strains of research have collided in the figure of Houben. In 2006, a full 23 years after a horrific car accident left him paralyzed and apparently unconscious, tests run by the University of Liege’s Coma Science Group showed that Houben’s brain was active, and almost normal. He wasn’t a vegetable, but aware, and trapped silently in the prison of his ruined body.

Houben has since proven able to answer yes-or-no questions with slight movements of his foot. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and raises the chilling possibility that, as estimated by Coma Science Group leader Steven Laureys in a Monday New York Times story , as many as four in 10 people considered utterly comatose may be misdiagnosed. But the legitimacy of interviews given by Houben and his facilitator to Der Spiegel , and shown on video by the BBC , may not be as certain.

“I believe that he is sentient. They’ve shown that with MRI scans,” said James Randi , a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, “You see this woman who’s not only holding his hand, but what she’s doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She’s pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it.”

According to Randi, facilitated communication could only be considered credible if the facilitator didn’t look at the keyboard or screen while supporting Houben’s hand, and helped him type messages in response to questions she had not heard, thus ensuring that Houben’s responses are entirely his own.

The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million-dollar prize to a valid demonstration of facilitated communication, and Randi invited Houben to participate. “Our prize is still there,” he said.

In the Der Spiegel interview, Houben and his facilitator recounted his ordeal. “I would scream, but no sound would come out,” they wrote. “I became the witness to my own suffering, as doctors and nurses tried to speak to me and eventually gave up.” Of the correct diagnosis, they wrote, “I will never forget the day they finally discovered what was wrong — it was my second birth.”

According to Caplan, Houben’s apparent lucidity after spending more than two decades in complete isolation — circumstances known to be psychologically and cognitively damaging — is hard to believe.

“You’re going to lie for 23 years in a hospital bed with almost no stimuli, and then sound completely coherent and cogent?” he said. “Something is wrong with that picture. The messages are almost poetic. It sounds too lucid, like someone prepared these things to say. I’m not saying it’s all a fraud, but I want to hear a lot more.”

Whatever the final verdict on Houben’s facilitated communication, however, it does not alter the fact of his misdiagnosis. Laureys could not be reached for comment, but said in an Agence France Presse story that “every patient should be tested at least 10 times before they are categorically defined as ‘vegetative.’”

Facilitating Misery

The AP reports today about a Belgian man who was thought to have been in a vegetative state for the past 23 years but who appears to have been conscious during that time, just unable to communicate.

The story goes on to claim that car crash victim Ron Houben finally broke through with the help of speech therapist Linda Wouters “who rapidly moved his finger letter by letter along a touch-screen keyboard,”

She told the AP that can feel Houben guiding her hand with gentle pressure from his fingers, and that she feels him objecting when she moves his hand toward an incorrect letter.

Sounds like a heart-warming story for the holidays – man freed from the prison of his own body by a patient and loving therapist.

Sadly, this story has all the hallmarks of overly-credulous journalism and poor medical and science reporting.

This is almost certainly a case of “Facilitated Communication”, a thoroughly discredited technique that purports to help those with brain damage, autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and other conditions communicate.

In FC, a non-communicative patient’s hand is placed in the hand of a facilitator which is then placed on a keyboard or onto a series of pictures. The facilitator then guides the patient’s hands to specific letters or images based on the patient’s movements, typing out messages.

You can imagine the emotional impact this would have on the family of the patient. At last, a breath of hope from a handicapped child or injured relative. Unfortunately, this glimpse is virtually always an illusion. It’s nothing more than a parlor trick.

There is simply no good evidence that this is anything more than the wishful or deluded thinking of the facilitator.

The American Psychological Association has issued a Position Paper on FC, stating that "Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that facilitated communication is not a scientifically valid technique for individuals with autism or mental retardation" and describing FC as "a controversial and unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy."

In the case of poor Mr. Houben, a blindfold would tell us all we need to know. If Linda Wouters, his “speech therapist”, were blindfolded and followed Mr. Houben’s hand around the keyboard, what kind of message do you think would come out?

“I’m here! I love you but I can’t speak or communicate!”

More likely something like “ksdu8ehncfp –p 038nwcp;js osdpioj”

The AP story gives the most glancing mention of the possibility that this is a case of FC. They quote Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania who said,

"That's called 'facilitated communication,'" Caplan said. "That is ouija board stuff. It's been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it's usually the person doing the pointing who's doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping."

In the very next line the AP asks Mr. Houben how he felt when his consciousness was discovered and continue, fully credulous, to virtually interview him! Wouters plays along and answers dutifully, spouting clich├ęs and platitudes.

Elsewhere in the article the AP makes mention of the use of a “specialized brain scan that was not available in the 1980’s” but doesn’t bother to mention what this magical new kind of scan is and whether or not it will soon reveal scores of people trapped like Mr. Houben was.

It’s a case of sloppy reporting and it’s a case of fraud. I sure hope that Linda Wouters is only deceiving herself because the alternative would make her the most unspeakable kind of wicked.

This is a sad story about a family being taken for a ride. Let’s get the blindfold out and send Linda Wouters back to the fringe.

Bohemian Muppetry

Sesame Street's 40th birthday passed without comment from me. This should make up for that.

(After clicking "play", click the "HD" button for, well, HD.)

The Sound Cellar: Linda McCartney, “Hey Jude”

First let me just say that the authenticity of this track is somewhat dubious. This purports to be a recording of Linda McCartney’s isolated microphone run through the mixing board at a Wings concert.

If this is real, it is a testament to the enormity of Paul McCartney’s love for his wife. For if it’s true, Linda’s vocals are so comically terrible that blind love could be the only explanation for keeping her in the band.

And I kind of want that to be true. They were, by all accounts, blessed with true love. If you believe in that sort of thing. I once heard that during the entirety of their marriage, Paul and Linda only spent one night apart – the night that Paul was arrested in Japan for possession of marijuana.

I can’t vouch for that story either…but I once read it on the internet so it must be true.

As for the authenticity of the audio clip, “Station Manager Ken” from WFMU writes in a 2006 blog post

I got this tape from drummer Samm Bennett about ten years ago, and started playing it on the air. Someone told me that it was a hoax created by a DJ in Boston, and at the end of this MP3, you can hear the DJ starting to talk. The person who declared this to be a hoax sounded authoritative on he subject, but I can't for the life of me recall any details about it.

By the way, WFMU is a really, really great radio station. They podcast a bunch of their shows including two of my favorites, “Seven Second Delay” and “The Best Show on WFMU”. Always great.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Sound Cellar: Canceling Stamps in Ghana

WAY over on the other side of the web, FOT Molly hips us to a cool 1975 recording of postal workers in Ghana whistling and stamping while they work.

This was originally recorded by James Koetting and appears in the book/CD-Rom “Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples” .

The four men making the sounds you hear are workers canceling letters at the University of Ghana post office. Each letter is canceled by hand, a boring task that these men make more palatable by setting the work to music. Twice a day the letters are laid out in two piles, one on either side of a divided table. Two men sit across from one another at the table, and each has a hand-stamp-canceling machine, an ink pad, and a stack of letters. A letter is slipped from the stack with the left hand, and the right hand inks the marker and stamps the letter.

The other sounds you hear include another man with a pair of scissors that he clicks - not cutting anything, but adding to the rhythm. Another worker simply whistles along. He and any of the other three workers who care to join him whistle popular tunes or church music that fits the rhythm.

Thanks again to the aforementioned Molly , who dug this up via one place and another but wouldn’t you know it, the chain started at the always awesome WFMU .

This isn’t a space entry; it’s a photography entry…

…and therefore not subject to my self-imposed space moratorium .

Bernhard Christ, an amateur astronomer from Germany captured the transit of the ISS across the moon. This is a composite of several images, cleaned up for sharpness. The entire transit lasted just 0.4 seconds. ..How awesome is Bernhard Christ?

(Click to embiggen…you know you want to…just click it!)

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for the heads-up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Feelin' 7up?

Back in the day, you didn’t have to use car seats or wear bike helmets. Apparently you didn’t need milk either so long as you had an ice-box full of pure, wholesome 7up.

(Click to embiggen...really, read the copy. It's priceless advice!)

Hell yeah!

Thanks to Duke University
via Kitchen Retro via Neatorama .

The Sound Cellar: Orson Welles, “Frozen Peas”

This well-travelled nugget features Orson Welles, during his post-genius, over-blown blowhard years trying to record a voice-over for a series of television ads. The producer and director in the control room deign to offer suggestions only to find that Mr. Welles doesn’t take direction from anyone.

As a little Sound Cellar bonus I offer you another clip, this from the animated TV series Pinky and the Brain” .

Voice actor Maurice LaMarche largely based the voice of the character “The Brain” on Orson Welles and this clip, from the episode “Yes Always”, is based on the Orson Welles outtake above. Because the reference was so obscure and the cost of creating episodes was so great, writer Peter Hastings described is as a “$250,000 inside joke”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Golden Age of Video

You like the movies? The TV? A catchy beat?

Then “The Golden Age of Video” by Ricardo Autobahn is just the ticket.

Thanks as always for the heads-up to Jason Kottke

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


As a filmmaking hack I make no claims…but I know “good” when I see it and this film, “Moments” by William Hoffman is great.

The sequence of images and editing creates a continuous flow that is totally compelling to the eye and moving in surprising ways.

Thanks to Neatorama for the heads-up…

Sunday, November 8, 2009


This picture of a baby gibbon being held by it's mother in Vienna's Schoenbrunn zoo comes from's excellent Big Picture Blog .

(Click to embiggen...really, click it...the face of this infant is hauntingly human...)

The Sound Cellar: Junior Samples, "The World's Biggest Whopper"

I have a bunch of stuff in my record collection that I’ve been meaning to share here at TMUOTF but hosting audio on Blogger is a complicated-third-party-hosting deal that I just don’t have the time to figure out.

So I’ve cheated a bit and come up with the inelegant solution of creating a video that uses still images to animate the audio clip, posting them on Vimeo and then embedding them here.

So without further fanfare, I present to you a soon-to-be-semi-regular feature called The Sound Cellar.

Today’s selection: “The World’s Biggest Whopper” by Junior Samples. My personal relationship with this particular track goes back to my dad’s record collection . Among his 45’s was this recording of Junior Samples being interviewed about a bass he apparently caught in Lake Lanier, Georgia. Step into a time machine and give this a listen.

My parents are from Atlanta and Memphis so I have distant and hazy memories of visiting my grandparents in country towns with names like Etowah and Collierville and Cozy Cove. This recording seems to capture the pace of these rural, southern towns and something about the people who lived there.

If you’ve heard of Junior Samples at all its from the TV show “Hee Haw” but this pre-dates the run of that show. A brief description of this cut and some biographical information about Junior Samples is pasted below the clip.

I still have this 45 in my collection. Although a giant crack runs right through the vinyl, you can still hear the scratchy, dusty pop of another time and place.

From the All Music Guide

Much-loved country comedian Junior Samples was a long-running regular on the TV show Hee Haw, where he was best known for his shaggy-dog storytelling, nearly incomprehensible accent, and colorful misuse of the English language (not to mention his trademark overalls). Born Alvin Samples in Cumming, GA, on April 10, 1926, he was a sixth-grade dropout who became a comedian by accident in 1966. His son found a large fish head, and Samples told his friends it was from a 22-pound, 9-ounce bass he'd caught, which would have broken the world record. The state Fish and Game Commission interviewed him on the radio, and his story was clearly false, but the interviewer thought it was hilarious and played it repeatedly on his radio show, to tremendous response. A tape of the story was set to music by the Chart Records label and released as a single called "World's Biggest Whopper." It nearly made the country Top 50 in 1967, and Samples appeared on several radio and TV shows, also recording a full-length comedy album for Chart called The World of Junior Samples. Bull Session at Bull's Gap followed in 1968, and the following year Samples signed on at Hee Haw, shortly after the show's premiere. He was a smash hit, supplementing his stories with harmonica performances, misreadings of cue cards, and a long-running used-car salesman character. Chart released another album, That's a Hee Haw, in 1970 to capitalize on Samples' new exposure, but he concentrated on television for the remainder of his career. He remained a cast member on Hee Haw until his death on November 13, 1983. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide

Friday, November 6, 2009

Denver to Singapore in 5 Minutes

David DAngelo (whoever he is...just a guy with a Vimeo account as far as I know) has posed a pretty neat video .

"On a whim I wondered what it would look like if I took a still image with my S90 every couple of minutes/hours on my recent weekend trip to Singapore and then made a time lapse from it. For the motorcycle shots I fabricated a neck strap from an iPhone cable and some masking tape that the hotel gave me. Kind of like a cheap version of the Microsoft SenseCam."

"If you look hard, when I deplane on the Tokyo to Singapore flight you can see my Uncle and me - he was randomly on the same flight."

The music is "Not So Blue" by Quantic

Too much?

Too much XKCD ? I think not!

(Click to embiggen...)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ye Gads. 2009 is almost in the can.

And that means that “The Aughts” are almost over too.

I remember New Years Eve in 1999…I was just moving back to Boston from San Antonio, Texas…I spent New Years Eve with FOT’s (“Friend of Tim’s”) Bob and VA at a party in Washington DC…we waited for the electrical grid to fail and our nuclear arsenal to launch without provocation thanks to the Y2K bug…I remember the hosts of the party had a big coffee table book with pictures of prominent people from the century including Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who was the first man in space…I remember that I smoked a cigar and my head spun for 10 minutes…

The next morning the lights still worked and the earth was still spinning on its axis and “The Aughts” began in earnest with a crushing red-wine and cigar hangover. Life has more or less rumbled and lurched onward ever since.

I switched jobs a few times, dated a few people, got married and had a son. I bought a condo and sold it. I bought a house and a car. I got lost in the fog on a boat one night. I had a couple of surgeries. I thought I had it all figured out and then realized that I didn’t.

And I’m sitting here in November of 2009 still nostalgic for the 90’s for cryin’ out loud!

Shit. Just like at work…I’m falling behind. Nothing I can do about the clock and the calendar though. Nothing besides look back on another decade and regret my mis-spent youth!

Which brings me to the point of this post in the first place. “You Aught To Remember” is a blog that lists “100 fashions, memes,personalities and ideas that shaped the first decade of the 21st Century.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Get your Vivaldi here!

Amazon has another compelling deal running right now… ”The 99 Most Essential Vivaldi Masterpieces” for just $2.99. That’s $0.03 per track.

I have no idea how long this deal will be available so ahead and click…you could probably use a little classing up…!

Thanks (again) to Jason Kottke .