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Things to consider doing

There are several things I do that I think are very positive in my life, yet I don't see other people doing them, or even discussing them. Some possible reasons:

  1. They're good for me, because of me-specific reasons, and they wouldn't be good for most other people.

  2. They're not actually good, I'm just deluded.

  3. Other people haven't heard of them, it takes time for ideas to spread.

It's hard for me to tell what category things are in, but in case it's (3) perhaps listing some would be helpful.

What would other people put on a list like this?

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Tune Freedom

There are two common ways to handle the music for social dances:

  • Caller picks a dance, which has a tune.

  • Caller picks a dance, musicians pick a tune.

Well, really, it's a bit of a continuum:
  • In old time square dancing, the band plays something good and the caller calls to it.

  • In modern contra dance, the caller chooses a dance, tells the musicians what it's like, and they pick some music that will fit the dance reasonably well.

  • In Scottish Country dance, the caller chooses a dance, which specifies what tune to start and end with, and the musicians choose other tunes to play in between.

  • In English Country, traditional contra dance, and several other forms, the caller chooses a dance, which has a specific tune that the musicians are expected to play.

Each end of the continuum has something going for it. At the coordinated end, you get music that can fit the dances really well. If the dance has some fun twiddle a third of the way in, the music can as well. Over many evenings dancers can learn to associate the music tightly with the dance, helping them remember it and building memories of specific dances that reach across decades. At the uncoordinated end, it's a lot easier for new bands to get started. They can work up a few great sets, practice them for months, and know they'll get to play all their solid stuff regardless of what dances the caller chooses.

One problem with having the music tied to the dances is that it means the callers are picking the tunes, and callers are not always very good at this! Some callers are very musically aware, and when preparing for a gig choose dances that have tunes that are (a) good and (b) that the band they're working with will sound good playing, but this is hard and such callers are definitely a minority. Worse, the feedback loop is messed up. Organizers normally complete the feedback loop: they make a booking, see how that works out, then decide whether to invite them back. But in a dance form where the caller chooses the music, the organizers often aren't knowledgable enough to tell the difference between the music being good/bad because of the caller's dance (and hence tune) choices, or because of the band's musical ability.

This is what I think is behind the contra dance community having a much more lively musical culture than the ECD community. There is basically one ECD band that is a big draw, and they've been around for decades, while there are dozens of contra dance bands that people will specifically come out to hear if they see them on the schedule, many of which are relatively recent.

And I'll go farther: great music leads to high attendance leads to a thriving and healthy community. So we should prioritize arrangements that foster great music, even if this means giving up some on tune-dance connections.

(Dances with unusual-length parts make this somewhat tricky. Nearly all contra dances are 64 counts divided into four 16-count sections, so while not all tunes will sound great with all dances, if you pair a random tune with a random dance the mechanics still work out. On the other hand, if you always have specific tunes for specific dances then you can write a dance with however many counts you want as long as you find or write a tune to match. So if you have a kind of dance that hasn't historically allowed the musicians to pick tunes you do need to figure out (a) how much variation in count distributions you want to preserve and (b) how the callers and bands can communicate around this.)

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Kickstarter Creator Spam

I'm running a Kickstarter, and maybe people who have done this before already know this, but apparently this gets you a lot of spam. Since starting it three days ago I've gotten eight different message offering to help me get my campaign funded, via Kickstarter's own messaging system.

Since I haven't gotten any legitimate messages, and these all look pretty aggressively commercial, what keeps Kickstarter from blocking them?

(On the other hand, since creators are notorious for using Kickstarter to spam their friends about supporting their projects, maybe this is just a thoughtful way to restore balance in the world?) more...

Comment Roundup II

As I wrote last time, sometimes I make comments on Facebook or elsewhere that, back when I had more time, I would have expanded into full blog posts. Since I don't seem to be getting around to that so much anymore I'm trying just collecting them here. more...

Anthropic Density

When people talk about the density of a city, they typically say something like "Somerville has 18k people per square mile". They're dividing the population by the area. This is nice and simple, but the statistic it gets you isn't actually a good match for what we mean when we say "density". We can do better!

The problem with using people/area for density is that this represents the an average from the perspective of the land. If there are 100 people per square mile and you pick a random square mile, you should expect to find 100 people on average. But we actually care about the perspective of the people living on the land: how many other people live near you? Let's call this "anthropic density." [1]

These metrics are similar, but not the same. Consider two towns, each square, each two miles on a side, each with the same number of people:

  • Town A is homogeneous, with the the people smoothly distributed over the four square miles.
  • Town B has a dense center, where 90% of the people live, and the remaining 10% are smoothly distributed over the rest of the town.

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On Sharing

There are two main sharing philosophies I encounter with other parents. Say one kid is playing with a toy, and another kid comes up who wants to play with it:

  • Sharing is mandatory: the first kid has to share with the second.
  • Sharing is optional: the second kid has to wait until the first kid is done.
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