October 25, 2014

John Denver Gets Walk of Fame Star


THINGS are a little sunnier on the Hollywood Walk of Fame following the posthumous unveiling of a star for John Denver. 
THE Sunshine on My Shoulders singer received the walk's 2531st star on Friday, 17 years after his death.

Denver's son, Zak Deutschendorf, and daughter, Jesse Belle Denver, attended the unveiling. Denver rose to fame in the 1970s with a series of sunny, optimistic songs that included Take Me Home Country Roads, Rocky Mountain High, Thank God I'm a Country Boy and Annie's Song.
He died in a 1997 plane crash aged 53. 
 Friday's unveiling coincided with the opening of a Hollywood exhibition of photos called Sweet Sweet Life: The Photographic Works of John Denver. The musician's photos will be on display at Hollywood's Substrate Gallery for the next month.
With thanks to The Daily Telegraph 

October 22, 2014

2014 Is The First Year Ever With ZERO Platinum-certified Records


While there were certainly a number of great albums you need to have from this year, 2014 will mark the first year since its inception in 1976 that no artist’s album will be certified as platinum from sales. The award is given by the RIAA to mark one million units sold, and with only a few weeks remaining in the year, no album is even remotely close to making the threshold.

The two records nearest the magic number are Beyonce’s self-titled album and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine,” but neither have even crossed the 800,000 mark, with sales of both having tapered off months ago. 

There is one caveat, and that is the fact that the soundtrack to the animated film Frozen has moved well over three million units; but it being a soundtrack and not a single-artist release places it into a slightly different category.

Yet the year is not a complete wash, as 60 individual songs have been certified as platinum, and this is a clear reflection of the overall shift that the industry has made back to a singles-based focus. Thanks to digital downloads, buyers are no longer required to purchase an entire album, but when compared to last year, the number of platinum-certified singles is still down more than 20%.

The remainder of 2014 is rather bleak in terms of world-wide artists that could move massive units in a short time, as the only possible shot will come from Foo Fighters’ “Sonic Highways;” but it’s been nearly a decade since that band achieved such commercial sales success. Given that reality, it’s safe to say that in nearly every aspect, 2014 will mark the most disappointing and dismal year ever in terms of mainstream music sales.

Many will be quick to blame the rise of streaming music services, as a large number of industry executives claim that this discourages the purchase of full albums and even singles to an extent. 

In fact, this was what many blamed for 2014 marking the lowest album sales since SoundScan tracking began 2014 in 1991 just a few weeks ago. When these numbers were released, it was the first solid indication of how uninspiring mainstream releases have been throughout this year, as those two previously mentioned albums that are closest to platinum status were both released in 2013.

As the traditional music model changes more and more, the industry must get out of the mud and admit they have to make massive adjustments in their sales approach if they wish to survive. With the reality that songs can get millions of streams and video views, yet only sell tens of thousands of copies, the old model is no longer relevant, and when the big labels collapse, they’ll only have their arrogance and ignorance to blame.

Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions here as well.

Follow @thedailyguru

With thanks to Death and Taxes

Industry pins hopes on streaming subscribers as iTunes store sales fall 

DIGITAL music sales at Apple’s iTunes store have fallen 13 per cent to 14 per cent worldwide since the start of the year, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring the fragility of the music industry’s nascent recovery. 
The dive in download sales is stark compared with a much shallower dip last year. Global revenue from downloads fell 2.1 per cent in 2013, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, but that decline was offset by increases in revenue from ad-supported and subscription streaming services, resulting in overall digital revenue growth in most markets last year.

Factoring in CD sales, which have been plunging for well over a decade, overall music sales in most of the world held steady last year. Japan was an exception, with steep drops in physical and digital sales alike.

Worldwide revenue from recorded music totalled $15 billion in 2013.

The plummeting download numbers help illustrate why Apple bought the $10-a-month subscription streaming service Beats Music earlier this year, as part of its $3 billion acquisition that included headphone maker Beats Electronics. Apple is rebuilding Beats Music and plans to relaunch it next year as part of iTunes, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Apple is the biggest seller of music in the world, physical or digital. Its dominance over other download stores is especially pronounced, according to music executives.

Some record company executives worry that their industry could lurch back into decline after several years of relative stability, should download sales decline faster than streaming growth accelerates.

A key part of that equation, executives say, is persuading enough users of online music services to pay a monthly subscription fee, usually $10 a month, rather than stick with free versions that carry advertising and generate much less revenue for record labels. 

Spotify AB offers such a free, ad-supported option; Beats Music does not.

In the US, recorded music sales are nearly 50 per cent below their peak in 2000, though they’ve been essentially flat for the past few years. This year’s decline in global iTunes music sales mirrors domestic declines.

Revenue from US download sales fell 12 per cent in the first half of 2014, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. But a 23 per cent jump in paid-subscription service revenue helped overall digital revenue increase slightly to $2.2 billion in the first six months of the year.

The number of digital albums sold in the US so far this year — on the upswing a year ago — is down more than 11 per cent, while digital track sales are down 13 per cent, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Nielsen Entertainment analyst Dave Bakula chalked up the declines mostly to “a shift in the way consumers are consuming music,” noting that total streams on services such as Spotify and Pandora Media Inc. were up 46 per cent for the year to date, compared with the same period last year.

Streaming services now account for nearly one-third of the revenue from recorded music in the US, according to the RIAA.

The relative trajectories of downloads and streaming vary widely from market to market.
In Japan, the second biggest music market, there is almost no streaming business to speak of.

In a handful of smaller markets including Sweden, streaming is almost all there is; paid downloads are virtually unheard of.

Despite the slowing US music sales, Apple reported this week that global iTunes sales — including movies, apps and books — increased to $4.6 billion in the third quarter, up from $4.3 billion in the same quarter a year ago.
Apple didn’t break out figures for music sales.

Another factor potentially weighing down digital sales could be this year’s album release schedule, which features bigger end-of-the-year releases than last year’s, many of them by artists with young, digitally savvy fans, said Nielsen’s Mr Bakula.

Taylor Swift’s forthcoming pop album, “1989,” is slated for release next week and is expected to be one of the year’s biggest sellers.

British boy band One Direction and hip-hop star Eminem have albums due out next month. Some of the most notable releases in recent weeks, by contrast, have been albums by country heavyweights Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean, which tend to sell more physical copies and fewer downloads than other genres, said Mr Bakula.

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October 19, 2014

Archaeologists Digging Up Cecil B DeMille's Movie Treasures


I have not seen this version of "The Ten Commandments" although I believe it is being restored. It is a silent movie. Made ninety years ago - unbelievable!

DeMille later made another version of it in 1956 which I have watched several times.

The production is terrific: great lavish sets, costumes, musical score and a terrific cast.  
And it is a timeless story.Of course there was no CGI back then: all extras and hard work. It truly is an epic movie! Just look at these costumes:

Picture above: via Bing

Here are some stills:Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter and Charlton Heston.


Now we are to be treated by an even newer version: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)    

I have just watched this new movie and my advice is: save your money.
It was a great disappointment from Ridley Scott!  
Newer isn't always better.


ARCHAEOLOGISTS working in the sand dunes along the California coast are digging up ancient sphinxes - but these are made of plaster. 
MORE than 90 years ago, legendary filmmaker Cecile B DeMille erected 21 giant sphinxes and a temple as a set for the silent, black-and-white classic movie The Ten Commandments.
But in 1923, when filming was over, DeMille abandoned them among the sands of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. 
 Now, archaeologists have begun excavations on a sphinx that they hope will eventually be on display at the nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Centre, which has raised $US120,000 ($A129,835) for the dig, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of site," said M Colleen Hamilton, a senior historical archaeologist with Applied EarthWorks and project director for the excavation.

"I've worked on sites all over the country, and I think this one could only happen in California." Crews began digging in 2012 and found one sphinx, but money for the project ran out. Parts of that sphinx's head are on display at the Dunes Centre. When they returned this year for the body, they found the wind had shifted the sand, exposing the plaster and damaging it beyond repair. 
 But the wind had also revealed a hint of the foot and leg of another sphinx, the Times reported. "It was a really pleasant surprise when we found out it was almost a full sphinx," said Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Centre. 
The second sphinx was missing much of its face, but archaeologists had been looking for an intact body to put on display to match the earlier head. Residents of Guadalupe, a small farming community, left the set alone for decades out of respect, said Shirley Boydstun, 86, a member of the Rancho de Guadalupe Historical Society. 
"The old-timers have always known it was out there," she said.

With thanks to The Herald-Sun          
Picture below with thanks to Live Science. More information there.



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Great Minds: Mary Anning, "The Greatest Fossilist in the World"


Learn about Mary Anning, one of England’s most important contributors to the field of paleontology.

Hosted by: Hank Green

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Tim Hansen : How To Read Music



Like an actor's script, a sheet of music instructs a musician on what to play (the pitch) and when to play it (the rhythm). 

Sheet music may look complicated, but once you've gotten the hang of a few simple elements like notes, bars and clefs, you're ready to rock. 

Tim Hansen hits the instrumental basics you need to read music.

Lesson by Tim Hansen, animation by Thomas Parrinello.

Picture credit: Red Barn Blog

Inside The Mind Of Teenage Maths Genius Alex Gunning



ALEX Gunning is not very good at the trumpet.
He glances cheerfully at the offending instrument, propped in a sunlit corner of the room fronting this inner-Melbourne home, as his three younger sisters and step-mum Katherine, a music teacher, subject him to a good-­natured ribbing. “It’s because he never practises,” says Katherine, quietly chiding three-year-old Genevieve for bouncing around on the piano stool and scattering biscuit crumbs all over a floral-patterned rug. “In our family it’s like, ‘Do music or else!’ ” chimes in violin-­playing Cathy, 12, while 10-year-old Victoria (clarinet, cello and recorder) nods vigorously.

“A lot of studies show that studying music improves maths outcomes,” Katherine continues, leaning down to pat a superannuated ­ginger tabby weaving through her legs. “Even as a little kid, Alex understood key signatures and stuff because he could see the patterns.” Does that make him better at music? “No.” The undiluted answer makes everyone laugh. “Intellectually, he’s good at it,” she says, “but physically not as good. Alex has made it through on the bare minimum.”

In the corner, riding the edge of an overstuffed armchair, Alex grins, scratches at his chin. The 17-year-old couldn’t give two hoots about blowing his trumpet. Scales and arpeggios: boring. Part of, but apart from, this loving jumble of Saturday-morning home life, Alex Gunning – recently ranked No. 1 maths brain for his age group in the world – is busy running numbers through his beautiful mind.

When Alex returned from Cape Town, South Africa, in July after winning a gold medal at the 55th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) with Australia’s first ever perfect score, there were no crowds at the airport clamouring for selfies with him; no TV cameras or ticker- tape parade. Intellectual problem-solving makes for an uninspiring spectator sport, a couple of rungs down the glamour ladder from chess. 

Still, victory was sweet for the teen dubbed the “rock star of maths” by the Australian ­Mathematics Trust. “It’s an absolutely extraordinary achievement,” says Angelo Di Pasquale, Australia’s team leader at the Olympiad. “The ­Chinese team almost always gets a clean sweep of gold medals and the Americans, Russians and Koreans gobble up all the rest. Australia doesn’t usually get a gold medal, so for Alex to get it with a perfect score is incredible.”

Di Pasquale has been training Australia’s mathletes since 2000. To put Alex’s win into perspective, he cited another IMO alumni, Australia’s most famous mathematician Terence Tao. Tao, winner of the prestigious Fields Medal – the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for maths – competed in the IMO three times. “His third time he got a gold medal, which is great, but he never got a perfect score,” says Di Pasquale. “I don’t think we’ll see the likes of Alex again for another generation.”

Only 500 of the world’s elite high-school maths brains made it to that hall at the ­University of Cape Town where, over two four-and-a-half-hour sessions, they sat in rows bent over sheets of paper silently unpicking six very knotty questions. The competitors attacked the questions with combinatorics and graph theory; they grappled with functional equations, polynomials and geometric inequalities. Alex was in his element. “You don’t know immediately what techniques will work with what question,” he says now. “The important thing to do in the beginning is just to get your mind around all the questions, because you can often work on them in the background.”

The handful of Australians at the competition had come through a challenging, year-long selection process. They began by beating thousands of other school students in qualifying exams before going on to attend summer schools and two rigorous 10-day training camps. When Alex sat down at his desk in Cape Town to begin his calculations he had hundreds of hours of practice under his belt and an ­arsenal of problem-solving techniques at his disposal. He also had a natural instinct, a genetic gift that allows him to recognise patterns in the number clusters, to sail coolly across different branches of mathematics, skimming a geometric angle here, scooping up a prime number there, to come up with a stunning solution. “He sees connections between things more readily than most,” says Di Pasquale.

To outsiders, maths at this level is abstract and impenetrable. The process of working out the question is part of the answer: it’s all about the proof. A proof is a series of steps based on axioms and deduction rules that reaches a desired conclusion. So far, so logical. But, as the great mathematician Vladimir Arnold said, “Proofs are to mathematics what spelling is to poetry.” There is more to it: an indefinable something at the nexus between science and art that makes an answer soar, with the power, on occasion, to upend our understanding of the cosmos. The very best proofs are simple and elegant, in the way that the most compelling arguments in rhetoric are often devastatingly succinct. To maths aficionados, a 12-line proof can be as breathtaking to behold as a Van Gogh.

The questions at the IMO grew progressively harder over the two days. Some of Alex’s answers were ­similar to the official solutions; others were ­different but nonetheless correct. His solution to the formidable final question, which most contestants didn’t even attempt, was not only different and correct. It was, in the words of one Olympiad adjudicator, “beautiful”. While some competitors were pummelling and crunching the numbers into submission, ­filling page after page, Alex was applying the finishing touches to the maths equivalent of perfect little oil paintings. On both days, he finished a couple of hours early.

Alex carries the weight of genius lightly. He’s a happy soul, highly regarded by his IMO teammates and well-liked at his non-selective state school, Glen Waverley Secondary College, where he’s in Year 11. He plays chess (“but not especially well”), reads “reasonably decent” ­science fiction, and does well enough at the trumpet, despite his family’s teasing, to play in the school band. For fun, he reads Harold ­Davenport’s Multiplicative Number Theory, Michael Spivak’s notoriously tricky Calculus, and crunches maths problems that would make his classmates weep. “I’ll just look some problems up and say, ‘That looks interesting. OK, I’ll do that’,” he says. “That’s the good thing about having an interest in what you’re good at.”

The ginger cat, Walter, clambers up onto the boy’s lap and sniffs at a plate of biscuits. ­“Walter used to ignore him when he was younger and ran around a lot,” says ­Katherine, “but now Alex is his favourite because he sits still and reads.” Alex “eats books at a terrific rate”, his father James agrees.

James Gunning has a PhD in Applied ­Mathematics and is a geophysicist at the CSIRO. He takes no credit for his son’s abilities, beyond suggesting reading material and, through his work, exposing Alex to the range of applicability in mathematics, a field he refers to as “the lingua franca of the sciences”. 

Gunning wears his practicality like a comfy cardigan and, proud as he is, he’s cautious about having anybody get carried away by Alex’s achievements. Mathematics is a peer-driven pursuit and its practitioners tend to care little about accolades or prizes, he says, pointing to the celebrated ­Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman, who turned down the $1 million Clay Millennium Prize he won in 2010. “It’s not about awards; it’s more about challenging yourself,” he says, adding that for Alex to peg himself to his IMO No.1 ranking (he shared first place with two students from China and Taiwan) would be “a slightly strange response”.

“Alex has done exceedingly well but being a professional mathematician is a long road and you don’t want to get too beaten up about a high-water mark along the way,” he says. “Very likely Alex will wind up doing some form of pure or applied mathematics, or perhaps ­theoretical physics, and that’s seven years of ­university work. It’s a long apprenticeship and Alex is only right at the beginning.”

He acknowledges Alex is “gifted” but warns not to underestimate how hard he’s worked. “It’s probably very difficult to be as successful as he is without a genetic blessing, but on the other hand he’s also sweated quite a bit,” he says. “He hasn’t just cruised on natural ability.” Alex showed an interest in numbers from an early age. “I remember a colleague of mine asking Alex what his favourite computer game was and he said, ‘Excel’,” Gunning laughs. “He had discovered you could write the integers in column one and some formula in column two and drag a certain button and the formula would be reproduced all the way down. He thought this was terribly exciting.” Alex was six years old.

As Alex talks to me in the mysterious ­language of maths, his father kindly draws ­analogies to bridge the yawning chasm of understanding. This thing is “like playing Bach with panache”; that one is “like the way a writer uses vocabulary”. Combinatorics, he explains, is “well, counting stuff, but not really that”. Figuring out the probability of winning TattsLotto division three could be considered a combinatorics problem. “A pretty simple one!” he adds, and he and Alex fall about laughing.

Gunning eventually takes pity on the maths dunce in the room and rewards me with a maths-geek joke. “An exceptionally sociable mathematician,” he says, grinning wryly, “is someone who looks at your shoes rather than his own shoes in conversation.” It’s funny because it’s true. Mathematicians are the first to admit it’s a field that cultivates eccentrics. Why is that? “It requires a devotion to abstraction and a capacity for periods of very, very long sustained concentration on one thing,” says Gunning. “It’s the kind of work environment where the modern obsession with multi-tasking is anathema. Probably because of the sheer amount of private time you need to cultivate your skills, you’re possibly a ­little less socially aware than others.”

Father and son delve into an animated discussion about the well-documented quirks of the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös. The most prolific mathematician of the 20th century, he was also the most sociable – but only with fellow alpha-brains. “He travelled around the world… just popping in to see different mathematicians and saying, ‘OK, do some maths with me’,” says Alex admiringly. Erdös co-authored so many papers that he became the maths world’s Kevin Bacon, with mathematicians ranking themselves by degrees of separation. (James Gunning’s former supervisor worked with someone who worked with Erdös, so he has an Erdös ranking of 3.)

Mathematicians use a vocabulary peculiar to their field and Gunning is amused to see the terminology drift into completely non-mathematical contexts in the family home. “Because [daughter] Cathy and Alex spend such a lot of time together, I’ve noticed Cathy has started to use expressions such as, ‘This is true even if that is the case’ and particular little linguistic tics like, ‘The set of sweet blue cheeses is at measure zero’ – bizarre things like that.”

Alex acknowledges the set of people at his school who share his boundless enthusiasm for maths is nudging zero. That’s why he flourished at the training camps and why he considered the IMO competition “fun”. “It was nice to meet so many people interested in the same thing,” he says.

“The great thing about these competitions is that these guys go to a place where being freakishly good at these things is not all that unusual,” says former ABC broadcaster Adam Spencer, the newly appointed Maths & Science Ambassador at the University of Sydney. Spencer, unofficially Australia’s coolest nerd, officiated at the IMO team announcement ceremony at Parliament House in June and took a shine to Alex. “A lot of these kids are at selective schools and even there they are outliers,” he says. “Now, when Alex gets to go and hang out with other people who enjoy nothing more than busting really hard algebra problems, he gets to realise what they’ve got is not weird; it’s nothing to feel ashamed of or feel unusual about. It’s beautiful.”

The beauty of maths only reveals itself with patience, said Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani upon winning the Fields Medal in August – the first female to do so. “I can see that without being excited, mathematics can look pointless and cold,” she added.

Maths as it is taught in schools has an image problem, Gunning agrees. “It is portrayed as a necessary but painful rite of passage – a duty and a chore on the way to your chosen uni degree. It is possible to grow to love the field for its own sake, but to get to that frontier of mathematics, it’s about 10 years ahead of the syllabus and most high school teachers don’t have any idea that it’s a living, growing subject.”

Alex’s local public school recognised, appreciated and nurtured his talent early, creating a maths enhancement group and arranging a mentor from Monash University. Alex had the option to go to a selective school but, Gunning says, Glen Waverley Secondary College has “one of the most affirmative intellectual cultures in a government school I’ve ever seen. He’s quite privileged to be there – his teachers have been tremendous in creating opportunities and putting resources behind him.”

Alex is lucky (and self-motivated). But Spencer says the Australian education system can do better: by exposing primary school children to a better syllabus and installing more ­passionate, qualified maths teachers. His view chimes with that of Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. As part of a national science strategy unveiled in September, Chubb recommended that every primary school have at least one specialist maths and science teacher – a policy already used in ­Victoria and South Australia. Director of the ­Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Professor Geoff Prince, went further, saying the failure to staff schools with inspiring maths teachers was at a “critical” level, with 40 per cent of classes in years 7 to 10 not being taught by qualified maths teachers.

“The Alex Gunnings will always rise through the processes we’ve got,” says Spencer. “But we can’t look at his individual result and go, ‘That reflects where Australia is at as a nation.’ We can do more for kids who have a bit of potential and a natural curiosity and get a buzz from maths. The way it’s taught now, it’s not until third-year university that you get to see some of the true beauty that’s inherent in mathematics.”

In any discipline, children are motivated by aesthetics, and Alex agrees it’s a shame students are only exposed to mathematical “grunt work”. “The thing they teach you at school is: repetition is good, repetition is good,” he says. “I would tell other kids before dismissing mathematics as boring to have a look at some of the other more interesting problems out there.”

Back into the swing of the school year at Glen Waverley, Alex is studying vectors and matrices and looking forward to next year’s International Mathematical Olympiad, where he hopes the questions are “a bit harder”. The gold medal doesn’t change his day-to-day school life much. “It just gives me an excuse to say to the teachers…” he pauses, glances at his father. “Well, it just gives me more of an excuse to stuff around in class, I guess.”

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