Category Archives: Song of the Week

Race for the Prize

There aren’t many mainstream songs about scientists. I only know of two. One is quite well-known but I don’t like it and it doesn’t really seem to be about science anyway. The other one is The Flaming Lips’ “Race for the Prize”. It was released in 1999 on The Soft Bulletin, and describes a competition between two scientists who are in a race to find “the cure” (not the band, all lower case).

Continue reading

Toys at sea

In January 1992, a container with yellow duckies and other bath toys fell from a cargo ship in a heavy storm. The container opened in the accident, and the contents spilled out into the Pacific.

Cargo ships lose a few hundred containers at sea every year. The containers usually sink, and the contents end up on the bottom of the ocean. These bath toys, however, were made to float – and float they did.

Song inspired by the travelling bath toys, by Rich Eilbert

Continue reading

Moot Point

The word “moot” is doesn’t come up much in song lyrics*. My cursory search turned up 30 unique songs that use the word. Almost half use “moot” in a way that may not be consistent with normal usage of the word – at least to my reading.

Inarguably, the most famous use of “moot” in a song is in Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”.

I’ll play along with this charade
That doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love but the point is probably moot

It is pretty hard to miss. They lyric sticks out like a sore thumb, in part because “cute” and “moot” almost rhyme but don’t. Like an uncanny valley, if such a thing actually exists, of rhyme.

Continue reading

O(K Go)ptical Illusion


OK Go are known, in addition to their music, for their quirky videos, particularly a no-edit style that reduces “production values” (and costs) while making the whole thing that much more impressive. They’ve done a Rube Goldberg machine and a sound generating car-obstacle course combo. Now they have an entire video based on optical illusions.

One of my favorite things about optical illusions is not that they show that our brain can be tricked (which it can). It is that optical illusions are entertaining proof that the reality we perceive is a processed version of actual reality. Optical illusions represent a hack of that system.

Hat tip to Lauren Davis at io9.

Space Updatity

We have a hopeful sounding update on the takedown of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s video cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from the International Space Station. According to Ars Technica, it was Hadfield himself who took down the video in order to comply with his original agreement with David Bowie. For those paying close attention (eg, not me), Hadfield gave us a little advanced warning that this was going to happen:

Screenshot 2014-05-28 11.23.48

Hadfield and Bowie’s camps are reported to be working on a new licensing deal that should see “Space Oddity” from orbit return to the Web at some unspecified future date. Don’t hold your breath, though. Getting the details of the first, one-year license hammered out apparently took several months – probably due to the variety of individuals and government organizations involved.

If I were David Bowie*, I would be grumpy with my representatives for not getting a new deal done before the old one expired. In the one line of an otherwise very wise discussion of the copyright issues surrounding Hadfield’s “Space Oddity” cover (endorsed by Hadfield) that misses the point, Meera Nair says:

Yet the fact that something that people liked to watch was disappearing from YouTube prompted a bewildering public outcry.

The outcry might have been unreasonable, but there was nothing bewildering about it to regular viewers of the Internet.

The original one-year license made sense at the time. In retrospect, the video seems like the most likely candidate to go viral ever. At the time, who knew it would matter so much when the license expired?

Hadfield’s cover of “Space Oddity” was tremendously good press for Bowie and introduced the song to generations that were not necessarily familiar with his oeuvre. While not necessarily fair, it was obvious that the removal of Hadfield’s cover from the public spaces on YouTube would make Bowie look like a monster. In many ways, this is less a copyright FAIL than a public relations FAIL.

*I suspect that, were I David Bowie, that this issue has not been at the top of my priority list.