Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I had a huge post written about a couple of oddities, and it blew up without saving anything but a little shred of the post.  I'm just not in the mood to rebuild it all so I'll just post the stuff it was around without comment and people can just think about it themselves.
First: why some prices on Amazon are so crazy, regarding a 23 million dollar book on flies.
At first I thought it was a joke – a graduate student with too much time on their hands. But there were TWO new copies for sale, each be offered for well over a million dollars. And the two sellers seemed not only legit, but fairly big time (over 8,000 and 125,000 ratings in the last year respectively). The prices looked random – suggesting they were set by a computer. But how did they get so out of whack?

Amazingly, when I reloaded the page the next day, both priced had gone UP! Each was now nearly $2.8 million. And whereas previously the prices were $400,000 apart, they were now within $5,000 of each other. Now I was intrigued, and I started to follow the page incessantly. By the end of the day the higher priced copy had gone up again. This time to $3,536,675.57. And now a pattern was emerging.
And then a video about how the music industry is cutting its own throat with lipsynching and autotuning (content warning: Britney Spears singing without autotune or backup singers masking her voice):

With this comment on why autotune is worse than just weirdly robotic sounding stuff that ruins singing.
Even if A=432 Hz sounded better, music wouldn't sound a lot better because we use 12 tone equal temperament [TET] which is a bit dissonant tuning. What 12 TET means is that the distance between every half step is equally long and there are 12 notes in our scale.

For example to make major thirds sound good, you need to tune them down a bit. 12 TET is a compromise - it makes your instrument sound good enough in any key. If there was no 12 TET, music would sound better in one key but whenever there was a key change, you would need to change your tuning a bit or change your instrument - you would need to have an instrument for every key.

As I said, the major third in "perfect tuning" is a bit flat compared to 12 TET that instruments like piano and guitar use. If you have a good ear, you can hear when a major chord is perfectly in tune. Instruments that can do it (for example strings and wind instruments) play the third a bit flat. This has to do with the overtones. If you play harmonics on guitar, you'll notice why 12 TET doesn't sound perfect. If you play the harmonic on your fourth fret, that's the major third. Look at your tuner - it says it's a bit flat. When you play the open string, the note actually includes all the harmonics - one note isn't just one frequency. It includes the fifth, octave, major third (a bit flat), minor 7th (flat), major 2nd, augmented 4th (in between perfect 4th and augmented 4th) and major 6th (pretty close to minor 6th). This is the overtone scale (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7) (also known as lydian dominant). And when you play a major chord on a 12 TET instrument, the major third you play isn't in tune with the overtones of the root note. That makes it sound slightly dissonant and that's why you need to play the third a bit flat.

I don't know about A=432 Hz but that alone won't make your music sound a lot better because of 12 TET.

A=440Hz isn't the only standard tuning. That's just a standard in popular music. But lots of songs are tuned a bit lower or a bit higher than A=440Hz (especially in a bit older music, for example some 80s Metallica songs were tuned a bit higher and some 70s AC/DC songs a bit lower). Also, in classical bands people tune to A=442Hz, sometimes even a bit higher.

I like some lousy music too, but I don't think it all should be that way.

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