Spafford & Mungion Bring Incendiary Jams To St. Louis [Photos]

first_imgSpafford and Mungion are in the midst of their first-ever spring tour together, and it’s off to a smashing success. Last night hitting the Old Rock House in St. Louis, MO, fans were treated to an exciting double bill that kept the room rocking and rolling in the right direction.With high energy performances, showcasing their top level musicianship, Mungion never stray too far away from each other and display impressive interplay between members.With a style that is laden with heavy grooves and easily danceable, Spafford is creating improvisational highlights on a nightly basis that are simply extraordinary. Together, they deliver an exciting new direction that gives the jam scene hope for a bright future.Check out the full gallery below, courtesy of Tara Gracer.Setlist: Spafford | Old Rock House | St Louis, MO | 04/05/17Set: Windmill, Minds Unchained, Leave the Light On > Weasel*, Slip & Squander, All In, Into the Mystic^, Electric Taco StandE: Shake You LooseNotes: *Red’s Jam tease / ^Van MorrisonSetlist: Mungion | Old Rock House | St Louis, MO | 04/05/17Hung Daddy, Schlingo, Qremake, Sir Duke, Ferris, Makanda, Shallows Load remaining imageslast_img read more

Lotus To Release First-Ever Concert Film Next Week Of Red Rocks 2014 Talking Heads Tribute

first_imgFans have been eagerly awaiting Lotus’ latest project, the release of their first-ever full-length concert film, which is due out on Monday, September 4th. The concert film captures the jamtronica act’s performance at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, back on September 19th, 2014. That show was particularly special, as it saw guest vocalist Gabe Otto of Denver group Pan Astral join the group for a special “Talking Heads Deconstructed” set, featuring Talking Heads classics reimagined in Lotus’ signature style.As bassist Jesse Miller noted in a press release, “The origins of this show start earlier in 2014 when we were approached by a festival to put together a special set. After a few different ideas, we landed on the Talking Heads Deconstructed idea; mixing in our styles and melodies. I was little bit wary of the idea initially because the Talking Heads are covered by so many bands in our scene. But, when it all came together, I thought we were able to give these covers a unique spin that really made these songs feel like our own.”After an unexpected three-year-long process to secure the licensing rights to use the Talking Heads’ songs in their film, Lotus has finally pulled it off and is getting ready to share their film debut with the world. Live at Red Rocks, September 19, 2014 is due out Monday, September 4th, with pre-orders available on the group’s website. Upcoming Lotus Tour DatesSeptember 1-3 – Garrettsville, OH, – Summerdance at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park [Lotus headlines all three nights!]September 8-10 – Minot, ME – Great North: Music & Arts Festival 2017 [Lotus performs 4 sets over 2 nights]September 15 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater [tix exclusively available as two show package with 9/16 Red Rocks]September 16 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre w/ Com Truise, Nosaj ThingSeptember 23 – Philadelphia, PA – Skyline Stage @ the Mann w/ Beats AntiqueOctober 19-20 – So. Burlington, VT – Higher Ground w/ The Main SqueezeOctober 21 – Boston, MA – House of Blues Boston w/ The Main SqueezeOctober 27-28 – Richmond, VA – The NationalNovember 3-4 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl w/ Square Peg Round HoleDecember 1-5 – Punta Cana, DR – Dominican Holidaze [Lotus performs Sat 12/02 at 6:30pm]January 17-22 – Departing from Miami, FL – Jam Cruise 16last_img read more

EXCLUSIVE: DSO’s Rob Barraco Talks Phil Lesh, New Projects, & Keeping The Dead Alive

first_img[Video: VideosMarkG]L4LM: For the longtime fans, does it feels like going to see a theatrical performance of the Grateful Dead?Rob Barraco: We joke about it all the time. [In announcer’s tone] “Tonight, the part of Jerry Garcia will be played by Jeff Mattson.”L4LM: What is the biggest difference in working with Phil Lesh as compared to working with Dark Star for so long?RB: The first day I started with Phil, his big thing was “You are the first among equals around here.” He just wants you to play and be yourself. He didn’t want designated solos—he wanted the band to create the sounds. At first, it was disconcerting for some people. Warren [Haynes], for instance, was in the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule at the time: Sing verse + sing chorus = it’s solo time! That has been ingrained in our music society forever. All of the sudden, we were given this modern jazz approach where everyone plays. I would think of them as DNA strands. Double helixes that go everywhere, and everyone supporting each other, but everyone had their say in the conversation, and it just went on and on. It really turned into a beautiful thing. We had to embrace that—to shake the shackles of our past. We created our own language.Relive Phil Lesh’s Goosebump-Inducing Halloween Show At The Cap [Photos/Video/Full Audio]Now playing with Phil, I think he has returned to the designated solo thing. With the Terrapin Family Band, his son, Grahame Lesh, now is kind of running the band in a way. Phil is playing brilliantly as he always has, but he is allowing his son to lead, and he is doing a great job. They have a lot of shows under their belt now. I just played two shows with them at Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York—it was really fun. Robert Randolph was on the gig too, and that guy is an animal. Plus, Nikki Bluhm was singing on the shows, and she is a stylist. She can adapt really easily on the fly and is easy to get along with. I had done ten shows in a row. I’ve never done that in my entire life.Warren Haynes & Rob Barraco, “I Shall Be Released”[Video: Ryan Hill]L4LM: Wow! What was the run of shows?Rob Barraco: It started in in California with California Kind. Then, the second day, I drove to the Hangtown Festival in Sacramento. It was a one-off with DSO, and they all flew in. I did two more shows with California Kind, and then took a crack-of-dawn flight to New York and played the Brooklyn Bowl and then The Capitol. The next night, I was back in Oregon to play the rest of the time with California Kind.  I didn’t even realize I did it until I was looking at my calendar. I’ve never done ten shows in a row before. I think I’ve done seven when I was with the Zen Tricksters, and I took a day off and did another six one time.L4LM: Did you recover yet?RB: This is what I asked for in my life.  I want to play. I’ve gotten the opportunity my whole adult life—now more than ever. How can I complain? Someone needs to smack me if I complain.L4LM: Why do people attend a DSO show in Peekskill when the core original members are playing with Dead and Company at Madison Square Garden tonight [11/12/17]? RB: I think Dark Star delivers this music in a way that some Deadheads really want to hear. I’m not taking anything away from anybody because I think it is great that Bob [Weir], Mickey [Hart], and Billy [Kreutzmann] are playing. I think their thing is really cool for what it is. It’s their own voice as the originators of the music, and they’re bringing in a whole new audience. Then, there is Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Those guys are bringing in a young crowd and they have their way of playing the music—I think it is wonderful and it keeps the scene vibrating. I’ve always thought the longevity of Dead music will outlast any of the other bands.L4LM: Why is that?RB: Well, Robert Hunter’s lyrics alone can speak to anyone at any age. You can’t say that this doesn’t apply now to the year 2017. That is what genius is. It’s like Shakespeare. The language itself might be archaic, but the messages apply to everyday living now. Hunter’s lyrics are going to live forever as far as I’m concerned. Other bands? Maybe not so much.L4LM: You think the kid that just heard the Dead last week on Spotify will understand it like the Deadhead who has gone to three-hundred shows?RB: When I first got into the Dead, I was fourteen. It wasn’t even the Dead—I heard a friend play “Casey Jones” on the acoustic guitar, and I was like, “What is that?” He said it was the Grateful Dead, and just the name got me! When you’re not aware of something, you just are not aware of it. Once you become aware of it, it’s everywhere. All of the sudden, I’m walking in the mall by my house, and there is this record store, and the whole place is festooned with Grateful Dead. They had just released the Skull & Roses album. There it was again—the Grateful Dead!I must have just turned fifteen, and I had this little room in my basement. It was my blacklight room with blacklight posters and blacklight paint. My mother hated me. I had an FM radio down there when FM was a brand new thing. It was album-oriented rock as opposed to Top 40 AM radio. And I think I’m so cool, and then this song comes on, and I’m like, “What is this?  This is so cool.” And the DJ gets on and says, “That was the Grateful Dead.” It was “Uncle John’s Band”, and I was hooked after that.I still didn’t understand what the band was about until I went to my first Dead show, and I got it like the silver bullet in the forehead. It was at the Academy of Music in NYC. March of ’72, and it was the last show they did before they went and did the ’72 Europe tour. The opened with “Truckin’”, and we all knew “Truckin’”.  Then they jammed and that was where I got it. Phil was the one who blew my mind the most because I was really into bass players back then—Jack Bruce from Cream, the bass player from Led Zeppelin. Phil played like no one else. It tore me apart, and it changed me forever. The fact that I got to play with this man for like a thousand shows—I couldn’t have scripted it.[Photo: Rob Barraco Facebook page] No keyboardist in the world has performed more Grateful Dead music than Dark Star Orchestra’s Rob Barraco. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan turned on the love light as the heroic original leader of the band when the Acid Tests were frequent and free. His unfortunate passing at the milestone rock star age of 27 spawned a keyboardist curse that followed the Grateful Dead throughout the rest of their history. After the Grateful Dead officially blew out the candles on their 30th anniversary in 1995, numerous acts took on the role of keepers of the flame, attempting to recreate and reenact those magic years before the death of Jerry Garcia. Robert Hunter kept writing lyrics, while the remaining core members of the group developed The Other Ones and The Dead, which branched off into projects like Phil Lesh and Friends and Ratdog—Rob Barraco was a main player throughout.Dark Star Orchestra Enters Its 21st Year During Celebratory Show At The Paramount TheaterHe may not have been an actual member of the Grateful Dead or an original member of Dark Star Orchestra, but Rob Barraco certainly had enough experience on his resume to get the full-time job offer from the band when they lost their keyboardist in 2005. We sat down with Barraco less than 24 hours after DSO’s sold-out 20th Anniversary show on November 12th, 2017, to discuss his future, his past, and the long strange trip in between.Live For Live Music: Dark Star Orchestra—twenty years! How was last night’s anniversary show? Rob Barraco: Last night was a blast. What a show! I have been running ragged—I haven’t had a night off in ten days, but I shouldn’t complain because I recently spent a full week in France drinking wine. Ever since then, I’ve been out in California touring with a new band, California Kind, which I have with friends from Phil Lesh and Friends and The Q [The Quintet]—John Molo on drums and the rest of the members of the David Nelson Band [Pete Sears, Barry Sless], and then we have this 24-year-old singer-songwriter, Katie Skene, and this insane guitar player from Los Angeles. The project’s way steeped in the blues and R&B… Way more than I’ll ever know.L4LM: Where did you pick Skene up from?Rob Barraco: John Molo met her producing a young band, and she played for him and he lost it. He got a hold of Barry Sless, and Barry called me and said we got this idea for a band. I said, “I don’t know, man. You guys are in California, and I’m in New York. I mean, I have no free time as it is.” I went out and did it, and now I’m hooked.L4LM: Has California Kind given you a chance to do new stuff?Rob Barraco: Oh yeah, we’ve been writing. Katie has a million originals, and Barry and I have stuff.  We are also doing covers of things we’ve always wanted to play but never have. We picked a bunch of Blind Faith and Traffic tunes—obscure stuff that’s really cool to play, and nobody else is doing it. We’re trying to make it our own and make it sound like us.L4LM: With twenty years of an ever-evolving Dark Star Orchestra lineup, what does the future hold for the band? Rob Barraco: We’re going to continue doing what we do. It seems like we keep raising the bar for ourselves. Each show that we put under our belt, we are that much more in tune with each other. Some of the jamming gets to these spaces that I never dreamed we could go. A couple years ago, we started recording some original music, and we are going to get back to that now. Who knows? Maybe we can release an album of original music within the next twenty years…Dark Star Orchestra, “The Thrill Is Gone”last_img read more

Watch Nine Inch Nails Play “I’m Afraid Of Americans” At 2018 Live Debut [Watch]

first_imgThis weekend, Nine Inch Nails performed a pair of shows at The Joint in Las Vegas, NV as a warmup for their upcoming global tour. The performances—on Wednesday and Friday nights, respectively—were full of highlights, including the live debut of their recently released single, “God Break Down The Door” and more. Another night one highlight came in the form of an excellent “I’m Afraid of Americans”, the David Bowie track to which Trent Reznor originally contributed in the late ’90’s. Watch high-quality fan-shot footage of “I’m Afraid of Americans” and the live debut of the new song below:Nine Inch Nails – “I’m Afraid of Americans” (David Bowie)[Video: PIT FLIKS]Nine Inch Nails – “God Break Down The Door” (Live debut)[Video: Bastard Pride]Setlist: Nine Inch Nails | The Joint | Las Vegas, NV | 6/13/18Metal (Gary Numan cover) (first performance since 2009)Me, I’m NotThe Beginning of the EndSurvivalismMarch of the PigsThe LoversFind My WayBurnGod Break Down the Door (live debut)Letting YouGave UpEven DeeperI Do Not Want This (first performance since 2009)I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)Less ThanCame Back HauntedOnlyWishHead Like a HoleView Full SetlistSetlist: Nine Inch Nails | The Joint | Las Vegas, NV | 6/15/18Branches/BonesWishSanctifiedCopy of ALess ThanMarch of the PigsPiggyThe FrailThe WretchedCloser1,000,000I Can’t Give Everything AwayThe Background WorldThe Great DestroyerBurning Bright (Field on Fire)The Hand That FeedsHead Like a HoleEncore:OnlySurvivalismThe Day the World Went AwayHurtView Full SetlistAfter a run of overseas dates, Nine Inch Nails will begin their Cold And Black And Infinite North American Tour in September, culminating with four shows at the Palladium in Los Angeles, CA. See below for a list of NIN North American tour dates. For a full list of upcoming dates, head here.Nine Inch Nails – Cold And Black And Infinite North American Tour 201809/13 Phoenix, AZ Comerica Theatre09/14 Phoenix, AZ Comerica Theatre09/18 Morrison, CO Red Rocks09/19 Morrison, CO Red Rocks09/22 San Antonio, TX River City Rockfest09/24 Memphis, TN Orpheum Theater09/26 Atlanta, GA Fox Theatre09/27 Atlanta, GA Fox Theatre09/29 Nashville, TN Ascend Amphitheater10/09 Washington, DC The Anthem10/13 New York, NY Radio City Music Hall10/14 New York, NY Radio City Music Hall10/19 Boston, MA Boch Center10/20 Boston, MA Boch Center10/22 Detroit, MI Fox Theater10/23 Detroit, MI Fox Theater10/25 Chicago, IL Aragon Ballroom10/26 Chicago, IL Aragon Ballroom11/23 New Orleans, LA Saenger Theatre11/24 New Orleans, LA Saenger Theatre11/27 Irving, TX The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory11/28 Irving, TX The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory12/03 San Francisco, CA Bill Graham Civic Auditorium12/07 Los Angeles, CA Palladium12/08 Los Angeles, CA Palladium12/11 Los Angeles, CA Palladium12/12 Los Angeles, CA PalladiumView North American Tour Dates [H/T Consequence of Sound]last_img read more

Pondering energy’s future

first_imgEvery day, the United States sends $1 billion offshore to finance its appetite for fossil fuels, a situation recognized for decades as a threat to national security and energy independence.In 1974, President Richard Nixon was the first in a long line of chief executives to promise reductions in energy from abroad. But the percentage of U.S. oil imports since then has nearly doubled.Meanwhile, fossil fuels are the source of the greenhouse gases blamed for global climate change, an ongoing problem that has engendered another round of presidential promises. The Obama White House recently pledged to reduce such gases 83 percent by 2050, with 2005 as a baseline year.Reducing dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases are the two major challenges of U.S. energy systems, a visiting federal energy official told a Harvard audience Tuesday (Sept. 21). To meet these challenges, he said, the government’s best role is to mitigate risk in the energy industry and to leverage innovation.Theoretical physicist Steven Koonin, undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), opened this year’s Future of Energy lecture series, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.Koonin is a rare veteran of all three spheres in the energy puzzle: academe, business, and government. He has been a professor and provost (California Institute of Technology), an industry chief scientist (BP), and since last year a federal bureaucrat. At the DOE, Koonin is the science office’s chief research officer. If you count last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he has influence over $100 million in funding for energy-related research, loans, and loan guarantees.Koonin offered a broad perspective in his session opening the series. Center director and climate scientist Daniel Schrag said that the next lecture — coming Oct. 12 by an executive whose company makes tiny $2,000 cars — will get down to the details of managing Earth’s energy future.Koonin told a capacity crowd at Science Center D that the U.S. energy business is complex, operates by calculating risk and profit in the long term, and approaches innovation slowly and conservatively. After all, he said, any decision on technology will create infrastructures — and costs — that last for decades.“The energy business is not simple,” said Koonin, “and the people in it are not troglodytes.”Nor are they venture capitalists, said Koonin. In that economic sector, risk and innovation are king, but profits get taken fast. “Exit time” is measured in years, not decades. And average funding pools — at $150 million — are not enough to prompt scaled-up change in energy systems. “The energy business,” said Koonin, “is not the venture capital business.”He said government does not have sufficient capital of its own to scale up the needed changes in energy systems, which remain largely in private hands. Change only will happen if it is profitable or mandated, said Koonin. Government tax credits are powerful incentives for change, he said. Wind industry installations went up when the credits were in place, and slipped when the credits disappeared.Government can also play a big role in the essential steps that Koonin outlined to improve energy security and reduce greenhouse gases. Among them:Promote vehicle efficiency. The technology is in hand to increase the fuel efficiency of American cars by 30 percent, for about $2,000 a vehicle.Conserve. Koonin offered “a sense of what is possible” in one example. If all motorists in Texas simply drove at the speed limit, U.S. gas consumption would come down 12 percent.Gradually electrify the U.S. vehicle fleet.Pursue unconventional fuels.Decrease the energy intensity of buildings. Heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilating use 40 percent of U.S. energy.Develop “smart grids” for energy transmission and storage. That means adding digital sensing, measuring, and control devices to increase reliability and efficiency.Set a price for carbon, by cap-and-trade or other means.Explore emerging technologies such as concentrated solar power and carbon capture and storage.Changing energy systems is difficult and slow, said Koonin, who reviewed the historical record from 1850 onward. Industry favors change on “decadal time scales,” he said. The gas-scrubbing systems for coal plants, for instance, took 40 years to develop and perfect.But government can help industry to manage the capital risk of energy innovation, said Koonin, and is already accelerating invention in what he called “a new set of research structures.” These include a network of national labs, the federal “energy hub” concept, and, for short-term projects, the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy.Koonin’s decades of research often involved large-scale rapid computing, so he sees another bright side to the energy innovation picture: big and fast computer simulations of the kind that in the 1990s were used to replace U.S. nuclear testing. That alone, he said, accelerated computer technology by a factor of 10,000.The same predictive simulation capability can be focused on U.S. energy issues, said Koonin. “We need to do more of this, faster.”last_img read more

Editing the genome

first_imgThe power to edit genes is as revolutionary, immediately useful, and unlimited in its potential as was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. And like Gutenberg’s invention, most DNA editing tools are slow, expensive, and hard to use — a brilliant technology in its infancy. Now, Harvard researchers developing genome-scale editing tools as fast and easy as word processing have rewritten the genome of living cells using the genetic equivalent of search and replace — and combined those rewrites in novel cell strains, strikingly different from their forebears.“The payoff doesn’t really come from making a copy of something that already exists,” said George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who led the research effort in collaboration with Joe Jacobson, an associate professor at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You have to change it — functionally and radically.”Such change, Church said, serves three goals. The first is to add functionality to a cell by encoding for useful new amino acids. The second is to introduce safeguards that prevent cross-contamination between modified organisms and the wild. A third, related aim, is to establish multiviral resistance by rewriting code hijacked by viruses. In industries that cultivate bacteria, including pharmaceuticals and energy, such viruses affect up to 20 percent of cultures. A notable example afflicted the biotech company Genzyme, where estimates of losses due to viral contamination range from a few hundred million dollars to more than $1 billion.In a paper scheduled for publication July 15 in Science, the researchers describe how they replaced instances of a codon — a DNA “word” of three nucleotide letters — in 32 strains of E. coli, and then coaxed those partially edited strains along an evolutionary path toward a single cell line in which all 314 instances of the codon had been replaced.That many edits surpasses current methods by two orders of magnitude, said Harris Wang, a research fellow in Church’s lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering who shares lead-author credit on the paper with Farren Isaacs, an assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale University and a former Harvard research fellow, and Peter Carr, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab.In the genetic code, most codons specify an amino acid, a protein building block. But a few codons tell the cell when to stop adding amino acids to a protein chain, and it was one of these “stop” codons that the Harvard researchers targeted. With just 314 occurrences, the TAG stop codon is the rarest word in the E. coli genome, making it a prime target for replacement. Using a platform called multiplex automated genome engineering, or MAGE, the team replaced instances of the TAG codon with another stop codon, TAA, in living E. coli cells. (Unveiled by the team in 2009, the MAGE process has been called an evolution machine for its ability to accelerate targeted genetic change in living cells.)While MAGE, a small-scale engineering process, yielded cells in which TAA codons replaced some but not all TAG codons, the team constructed 32 strains that, taken together, included every possible TAA replacement. Then, using bacteria’s innate ability to trade genes through a process called conjugation, the researchers induced the cells to transfer genes containing TAA codons at increasingly larger scales. The new method, called conjugative assembly genome engineering, or CAGE, resembles a playoff bracket — a hierarchy that winnows 16 pairs to eight to four to two to one — with each round’s winner possessing more TAA codons and fewer TAG, explains Isaacs, who invokes “March Madness.”“We’re testing decades-old theories on the conservation of the genetic code,” Isaacs said. “And we’re showing on a genomewide scale that we’re able to make these changes.”Eager to share their enabling technology, the team published their results as CAGE reached the semifinal round. Results suggested that the final four strains were healthy, even as the team assembled four groups of 80 engineered alterations into stretches of the chromosome surpassing 1 million DNA base pairs. “We encountered a great deal of skepticism early on that we could make so many changes and preserve the health of these cells,” Carr said. “But that’s what we’ve seen.”The researchers are confident that they will create a single strain in which TAG codons are completely eliminated. The next step, they say, is to delete the cell’s machinery that reads the TAG gene — freeing up the codon for a completely new purpose, such as encoding a novel amino acid.“We’re trying to challenge people,” Wang said, “to think about the genome as something that’s highly malleable, highly editable.”This research was funded by U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.last_img read more

PBHA auction set for April 24

first_imgThe 9th Annual SUP Auction, sponsored by the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), will be held April 24, 5:30-8:30 p.m., in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub. Auction proceeds go directly toward supporting PBHA’s Summer Urban Program (SUP), a network of 12 student-run summer camps that benefit more than 800 children in Boston and Cambridge. The event is a silent auction followed by a live auction, which usually earns $50,000-$70,000 and attracts approximately 300 Harvard faculty, alumni, and affiliates.Each year, SUP employs approximately 150 college students and 100 local high schoolers, an undertaking that requires significant time, planning, and resources that account for approximately 40 percent of PBHA’s overall budget. The auction provides much-needed funding for SUP, and items range from quirky, one-of-a-kind experiences to all-inclusive vacation packages.According to Daphne Griffin, chief of human services for the city of Boston and executive director of Boston Centers for Youth & Families, “The Summer Urban Program does an excellent job addressing two critical issues in Boston during the summer months: summer learning loss and the need for meaningful youth employment.”PBHA is a student-run, community-based nonprofit public service organization based on the Harvard campus.  It operates 86 programs engaging 1,400 college students in year-round public service in the areas of youth development, housing and homelessness, adult services, ESL, advocacy, and out-of-school-time programming. For more than a century PBHA programs have provided vital experiences for generations of leaders in service and activism while developing real, meaningful community partnerships. PBHA strives to create change on multiple levels in Boston and Cambridge. With professional staff support and advice, PBHA is a unique manifestation of college students’ idealism, energy, and initiative.last_img read more

An idea that changed the world

first_imgThe Russian Revolution of 1917 was called the “Ten Days That Shook the World,” the title of a book by foreign correspondent Jack Reed, Class of 1910.But how about the one day in Russia that shook the world, and still does? That was Jan. 23, 1913, a century ago this week. Mathematician Andrey A. Markov delivered a lecture that day to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg on a computational technique now called the Markov chain.Little noticed in its day, his idea for modeling probability is fundamental to all of present-day science, statistics, and scientific computing. Any attempt to simulate probable events based on vast amounts of data — the weather, a Google search, the behavior of liquids — relies on Markov’s idea.His lecture went on to engender a series of concepts, called Markov chains and Markov proposals, that calculate likely outcomes in complex systems. His technique is still evolving and expanding. “This is a growth industry,” said Boston-area science writer Brian Hayes. “You really can’t turn around in the sciences without running into some kind of Markov process.”Hayes writes the “Computing Science” column for American Scientist magazine and delivered one of three lectures about Markov on Wednesday. The session at the Maxwell-Dworkin building, “100 Years of Markov Chains,” was the first of three symposia this week in ComputeFest 2013, sponsored by the Institute for Applied Computational Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).There are close to 200 lectures, classes, performances, and workshops during Harvard’s Wintersession this January, a quickly evolving tradition of freewheeling intellectual stimulation between semesters. But only one event celebrated the centenary of a landmark idea.Before Markov, said Hayes, the theory of probability involved observing a series of events that were independent of each another. The classic example is flipping a coin, an activity that makes probability easy to calculate.Markov added the idea of interdependence to probability, the notion that what happens next is linked to what is happening now. That creates what Hayes called a “chain of linked events,” and not just a series of independent acts. The world, Markov posited, is not just a series of random events. It is a complex thing, and mathematics can help reveal its hidden interconnectedness and likely probabilities. “Not everything,” Hayes told an audience of 100, “works the way coin flipping does.”In an article on Markov that will appear in the next issue of American Scientist, Hayes contrasts the probabilistic simplicity of coin flipping with the complexity of the board game “Monopoly.” Moves rely on a roll of the dice, but where the player ends up — Park Place? Jail? — also depends on where the player begins. Suddenly, probability (where you end up) is linked to a present state (where you start). Events are linked, not independent. That’s a Markov chain.A “Monopoly” board has 40 possible “states,” the same as the number of squares. But Markov chains now are vastly larger. Google’s PageRank search algorithm, for instance, has as many states as there are pages on the Web, perhaps 40 billion.Markov was abrasive, confrontational, and iconoclastic, “Andrew the Furious,” one contemporary called him. He was also inclined to look at things in purely mathematical terms. But in his 1913 lecture, he introduced his technique by analyzing the frequency of vowels and consonants in a work of literature. (Markov used the first 20,000 letters of Alexander Pushkin’s 1833 verse novel “Eugene Onegin,” a work that almost every Russian knew).Such numerical analysis “is about the most primitive and superficial thing you can do to a poem,” said Hayes. But it proved what Markov wanted: that letters in language are interdependent, and that over time they converge into stable patterns. These patterns of behavior in a complex system are at the bottom of what modern scientists want — a simulation of what reality is, whether on the level of a cell or on the level of the entire Web.Markov’s work is a core abstraction needed for modeling probability today, said Harvard’s Ryan Prescott Adams in a second lecture, and in turn that kind of modeling is “fundamentally important for reasoning about the world. The world is a big, noisy place,” he said, and “the calculus of probabilities provides us with the required tools for reasoning under uncertainty.”So probability is a lens for inferring hard-to-see realities in complex natural systems. Adams, an assistant professor of computer science who leads the Harvard Intelligent Probabilistic Systems group, provided a few examples from his own research collaborations with colleagues in other disciplines: cell deformities that may help infer cancer in cells; simulations that predict photovoltaic efficiency; and ways to predict (model) mortality in patients hospitalized in intensive care units. The idea behind this Markov-style modeling, he said, is to “connect noisy and incomplete observations with the hidden quantities we wish to discover.”Science owes a lot to Markov, said Pavlos Protopapas, who rounded out the event with insights from a practitioner. Protopapas is a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Like Adams, he teaches a course touching on Markov chains. He examined Markov influences in astronomy, biology, cosmology, and meteorology.Rosalind Reid, executive director of the Institute for Applied Computational Science, had the last words. “Cranky as he was,” she said, “Markov would be very pleased to hear all this.”last_img read more

A walk in Thoreau’s woods

first_imgWhen ordinary people talk of nature’s colors, they mention browns and oranges. When scientists do, they talk of melanins and carotenoids.Since 2008, the two worlds have met at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) in an exhibition that has been both instructive and attractive. “The Language of Color” uses some of nature’s most striking examples — brilliant toucans, hue-changing chameleons, and contrasting zebras — to explore how nature makes color and how animals use it to hide from predators, discourage rivals, and attract mates.The exhibition, which staffers say has been one of the most popular with the public, has occupied the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery long past its original 2009 closing date.After five years, though, the exhibition will close Oct. 7 to make way for a new display of author Henry David Thoreau’s Maine woods, featuring the photographs of Scot Miller. Miller is a nature photographer whose work has illustrated recent editions of two Thoreau books, “Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic” and “Cape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American Classic.”The new exhibition will also include Thoreau-related specimens from the museum’s collections, such as his plant specimens from the Harvard Herbaria and his pencils from the Houghton Library. The opening, scheduled for mid-November, will be accompanied by a lecture series in the fall and spring. In April, a related exhibition will open at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology on Maine’s Penobscot people.Jane Pickering, executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, of which the HMNH is part, said that with 200,000 visitors to the museum each year, it’s likely that somewhere around a million people have walked through the color gallery. The exhibition has been particularly popular with teachers bringing their classes to visit, Pickering said, and with art students looking to nature for inspiration.Jonathan Losos, the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and one of two faculty members whose work is featured in the color exhibition, said that once he saw how well the gallery came together — complete with the dewlaps of the anolis lizards he studies — he wasn’t surprised by its popularity.“It’s spectacular,” Losos said. “I always enjoy walking in and looking at the beautiful graphics, but it’s also exciting to be making room for a new exhibit.”Hopi Hoekstra, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, the other faculty member whose work is highlighted in the color gallery, said she regularly suggests that visitors take a walk through the gallery. One display highlights her research into the evolution and genetic roots of coat color in field mice, and much has changed since it was created.That research, Hoekstra said, launched her lab, which has since tripled in size and branched into related areas. Now, researchers there are examining the genetic roots of animal behavior, along with continued studies on the evolution of coat color.“We started with color because it’s the most direct connection to ecology,” Hoekstra said. “Measuring color is easy; measuring behavior is hard.”last_img read more

Dirty deeds, deconstructed

first_imgWhether it’s an investment adviser bilking clients, an athlete taking performance-enhancing drugs, or a small-business owner underreporting his taxes, scofflaws seem to find ways to beat the system in virtually every arena.Conventional wisdom dating as far back as Plato has held that people typically feel guilt, shame, or anxiety after acting unethically, and that those negative emotions effectively deter most future bouts of bad behavior.But a new finding about cheaters published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology upends that belief. Rather than experiencing negative feelings, the research says, cheaters not only don’t feel as bad after cheating as previously thought, they report a significant boost in self-satisfaction after breaking the rules, versus non-cheaters.It’s a reaction they call the “cheater’s high.”“It’s not about the fact that you didn’t get caught for cheating; it’s this idea of feeling clever for getting around the system,” said Francesca Gino, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School (HBS), who co-authored the study with Nicole E. Ruedy of the University of Washington, Celia Moore of the London Business School, and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania.Gino said she and her colleagues first became interested in why people behave badly after being regaled with tales of misdeeds. The reports that normally ethical people said they felt good after doing something wrong ran so counter to years of accepted behavioral science that the researchers wondered what was behind it.“Oftentimes, it seemed in their stories people focused on a sense of thrill or a good feeling that came out of the fact that they violated rules or that they were able to go around the system,” said Gino. “We were intrigued by this idea that in certain situations, people might actually experience a boost in positive affect rather than feel guilty when they engaged in unethical behavior.”The word “unethical” encompasses a wide range of actions that don’t clearly harm a specific individual, the way an assault and battery would, but confer unfair advantages or gains, as an identity theft or embezzlement would. Actions that offer psychological rewards like gaining greater autonomy and influence by deceiving and manipulating others, through con games or influence peddling, for example, fall into this category, as do actions that circumvent rules designed to limit behavior, like cheating on taxes or exams, or actions that involve complex intellectual challenges, such as computer hacking.The goal of the research was to understand whether those anecdotal positive feelings were real and, if they were, under what circumstances they were likely to be triggered.The researchers conducted six studies, first asking participants to predict whether they would feel good or bad after acting unethically. As expected, most participants predicted they would feel bad. But in subsequent studies, when given the opportunity to earn more money by cheating on a quiz, people did so in large numbers and reported feeling good afterward. Even when there was no money at stake, 68 percent still cheated at least once, a sign that the “cheater’s high” is not driven by a financial payoff, the researchers found.Gino called it “a worrisome finding” that so many people cheated for no reason other than thrill-seeking, given the variety of ways and frequent opportunities people have to behave unethically when there doesn’t appear to be an obvious victim.“Academic cheating is like that, where students cheat on a test or they steal materials from the library [because] it’s unclear who is suffering the consequences of the actions,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s an area where our research might be particularly relevant.”Not only do cheaters feel good about pulling a fast one, they cheat more frequently when they know they’re not alone, the research suggests.“When you see or learn about others’ unethical behavior, you’re more likely to engage in unethical behavior yourself. And in fact, the more you feel psychologically connected or similar to the people who are cheating, then the more likely you are to cheat yourself,” said Gino, who noted that it can only take knowing one other cheater for a person to begin a downward moral spiral.Gino said the researchers hope their findings eventually lead to a better understanding of why people cheat, and help identify better ways to tamp down those raw impulses.“I think that’s where we’re trying to move in our research. Whether organizations or schools or any other institutions, how is it that they can build a culture such that people refrain from cheating to start with, and would a code of ethics be enough?” she asked. “Or if in fact people do end up cheating, will they feel guilt rather than a boost in positive affect if there was a particular culture that talked about the importance of behaving morally?”last_img read more