I took these pictures of Roman and Babylonian dice at the Pergammon museum in January.
Although these are from very different time periods, they share a lot in common; the arrangement of the dots on each side, the circles around the dots – they’re basically the same die, thousands of years apart.
It struck me that these dice must have been much in demand, but that they are easier to test than they are to make true. To find out if a die is fair, you simply throw it as many times as you can and record the distribution of results.
To make it fair, you need to pick a geometry to match the number of face you need, carve it as accurately as you can and then keeping tweaking the weights and filling in the holes until it rolls evenly.
Once the die has been corrected, there should be a 1/6 chance of each side showing up. We’d use a chi squared test nowadays to check this;
Σ (observed – expected)^2/expected
Obviously, the more throws, the closer you get to an even distribution. This remains the most accurate way of testing dice, particularly hand-made dice which may contain eccentricities from uneven weight distribution or face geometry.
But then here’s a chinese die I bought in Burma – this is a different approach to solving the same problem – you spin it. It’s only made of wood, but it should give more random results than a slightly uneven bone die.
Only one way to find out really, I’d rather someone else did the throwing though.
These models are from the short film “Beasts of the Free Enterprise Zone” from 1998. They’ve been printed using a Makerbot2 printer, sanded, filled and given a grey undercoat.
This creature was supposed to have a luminous eye to aid hunting prey in the original film, something I dropped due to the rendering time for volume lighting back in the day. To recreate this effect I overpainted the whites of the eyes with phosphorescent paint from Revel.
It can be hard to work out which areas of white have received the phosphorescent paint and surprisingly it’s easier to do this overpainting in the dark, as the brush and paint pot are also clearly visible.
I bought some bell jars to put the models in, just to increase the taxidermy effect. Maybe I can drop them off at the Dead Zoo some day and have them added to the collection.
For the last couple of years I have been picking through Wikipedia for information about the earliest recorded people, both in photos and sound. In a way these are the first people we can truly say existed or that we can know directly.
Before Edison’s recording cylinder, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville constructed the Phonautograph, a recording-only medium that he saw as a way of generating art from sound or perhaps even a kind of stenographic device. A vibrating membrane blew smoke patterns onto a rotating drum of paper, creating long sooty sheets of paper.
In an amazing piece of hi-tech archaeology from Berkeley Labs, the sound of a man – possibly Édouard-Léon himself – singing ‘Au Clair de la Lune’ was recovered from one of his early experiments.
It’s a terrible recording, but this is where we started.
The only 18th Century voice
Until the clever guys at Berkeley find some other unintentional recording, the only other way to push that date back is through early recordings of older people. Recently an old Edison recording made in Germany was discovered, containing the voice of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. The recording was made in 1889 but Helmuth himself was born in 1800, making this the only opportunity we have to listen to a voice from the 18th century, to cross ‘the Great Span’ of 200 years, as Alger Hiss would have it. This recording is significantly better than the Phonautograph.
No earlier human voice exists, but acoustic archaeology may yet find a way to reconstruct accidental recordings, perhaps from a potter’s wheel or a waterline – who knows?
However, if we broaden our definition of the ‘recorded voice’ to include lyrics with melodic and rhythmic notation, we can go back further. There is an amazing sequence in Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams where an archaeologist produces a neolithic bone flute, describes the hole spacing as matching a pentatonic scale and then proceeds to play ‘the star spangled banner’ (or ‘to anacreon in heaven’ as it was once known) on a 40,000 year old instrument.
The Delphic Hymns
Although we know of a number of ancient instruments, we have little evidence of what was played on them until the first musical notation arrives. We lose the direct connection that a recording gives us and the result is much open to interpretation. The rest of these sounds are modern approximations, played on the same MIDI instrument.
There are two hymns from Delphi, including words and music, which were inscribed on marble as competition winners in ancient Greece. Below is an image of the second, followed by a recording of the first. The songs were written to Apollo by an Athenian named Athenaeus in 128 BCE.
(MIDI courtesy of wikipedia, MP3 conversion by Solmire)
The Greek Tomb
Another 100 or so years later, we get the first complete song, on a funerary monument; the Seikilos epitaph;
If we are willing to accept fragments of notation, we can go back even further.
Dating from the Bronze Age, 1400 BCE, we have the Hurrian cult hymn to Nikkal. Discovered in the Royal Palace at Ugarit (modern Syria) in the 1950s, this fragmentary cycle of songs were recorded on clay tablets. The largest surviving fragment was sung and intended to be accompanied by a stringed instrument. Indeed the tablets also include tuning instructions.
Here is a link to an interpretation on SoundCloud.
I was hoping that installing these would be as simple as apt-get install nodejs and apt-get install mongodb but it took a little more than that. NodeJS is straightforward but I needed this guide to build and install MongoDB. Even with this, the process took about a day to grind out on the Pi and left me with 75% of my SD card full.
Something they don’t really get into in the guide is that you need use raspi-config to knock the GPU memory down to 32mb in order for the build to succeed. Without that extra memory, the linker will fail with “ld terminated with signal 9 [killed]“.
The next step is to apt-get install npm and you can add express and mongoose to get your app started.
I bought a Raspberry Pi this week and used it to replace the server this blog is hosted on. There are plenty of guides to installing WordPress on the Pi but I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of them were necessary and the whole process took only a few hours.
The old radiation king server vs. the new multi-coloured contender.
I even managed to get Ampache up and running with little effort. Tomorrow I will add NodeJS and MongoDB and see how they run.
It is not as fast as the last server but the switch from a 250w power supply to the 3.5w that the Raspberry Pi consumes makes the whole effort worthwhile. I have overclocked the Pi, switched on Quick-Cache in WordPress and now I’m happy with the results.
Daniel Fitzpatrick kindly invited me to show some films at Hollywood Babylon last weekend and as ever it was a fantastic night out. I don’t know know how he managed to persuade so many people to come for the Super 8 films but I had a huge crowd for the trailers reel and the excerpts from Rollerball ’75.
I brought along my Kenneth Anger T-shirt and a professional-looking flashlight on a chain. The Cannon Distributors badge came courtesy of Hollywood Babylon. All I need is a haircut now.
Christmas is over and we got rid of the tree today, but it wasn’t all sad news; I put up Ronan’s Birdhouse in the back garden today. I haven’t been able to find a nest camera yet but at least the house is up in good time for nesting season.
I hosted another night of films in Annesbrook on the 11th, all organised by Shane at 50% Human. We screened films and provided a meal for about twenty guests. As well as some Super 8 digests, Tim Hawkins and I had spent the afternoon assembling a rough cut of a horror movie to round off the night whilst Carmel managed the logistics. At midnight we were able to premiere our short film;
‘The Picture in the House’ is a loose version of the H.P. Lovecraft story that marked a transition from gothic horror to a more local New England sort of tale. This adaptation shifts the action from post-civil war America to Ireland, after our own civil war. A young anthropologist collecting folk tales on a tape recorder takes shelter in a remote Mayo farmhouse during a storm and begins to doubt the occupant’s hospitality as a fever takes hold. The old man of the house can be seen in the still below;
Still from 'The Picture in the House'
Imagine the mind-bending horror when the hideous old man from the film appeared at the screening!
The Unexpected Guest
As well as the home-made horror, we had a full programme of films, from a 10 minute trailer of ‘The Phantom Planet’ with a surf rock soundtrack to a hypnotic screening of George Méliés ‘Voyage Dans la Lune’ from 1902.