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26 September 2007 to 31 May 2007
And here are the 25 least consistent:  

# Artist Spread Average
1Sepultura 25.022 67.55
2In Flames 21.621 60.74
3Megadeth 19.333 71.54
4Krieg 18.455 71.19
5Deicide 18.007 74.15
6Deathspell Omega 17.925 83.93
7Metallica 17.863 69.16
8Virgin Steele 17.747 74.5
9Six Feet Under (US) 17.601 55.15
10Dissection (Swe) 17.275 70.67
11Sentenced 16.626 66.79
12Moonspell 16.312 78.28
13Nuclear Assault 16.234 72.04
14Mayhem (Nor) 15.754 67.69
15Machine Head (US) 15.453 55.06
16Within Temptation 15.379 61.25
17Slayer (US) 14.537 73.97
18Children of Bodom 13.943 77.63
19Black Label Society 13.937 75.05
20Pantera 13.921 69.97
21Celtic Frost 13.717 73.4
22Cannibal Corpse 13.476 74.89
23Motörhead 13.319 78.23
24Danzig 13.037 80.0
25Pain of Salvation 12.934 87.77

Most of these follow the "great once, crap now" pattern (I think we can now officially call this "Sepulturding"), which makes one wonder whether developing a fan-base is really worth the bother in the end. Deathspell Omega deserve a special note: if they'd had the sense to release Infernal Battles under a different name, their other 4 albums would give them a standard deviation of 1.66 on an average of 92.86, and we could have a very obscure statistical argument over whether that means they are in fact even greater than Fates Warning.
My analytical tools make various otherwise-elusive questions easy to answer, so while I'm playing with heavy-metal data, here's another thing I wondered about: which bands have the narrowest and widest ranges of ratings? To answer this meaningfully I counted only releases that have 4 or more reviews, and only bands that have 4 or more of these releases and at least 10 different reviewers. For these I then averaged the ratings for each such release, and ran standard deviations on the sets of averages. So a low standard deviation means there's some consensus that the quality of the band's output is consistent. High means consensus that the quality varies widely.  

Here are 25 most consistent. "Spread" is the standard deviation, "Average" is the average rating of the releases used in the calculation.  

# Artist Spread Average
1Coroner 0.908 88.21
2Helstar 1.455 90.54
3Moonsorrow 1.676 89.98
4Dark Angel (US) 1.767 82.15
5Candlemass 1.842 89.78
6Lamb of God 1.845 68.5
7Obituary 2.004 85.32
8Type O Negative 2.035 89.16
9Accept 2.193 88.06
10Agent Steel 2.479 90.49
11Fates Warning 2.531 93.36
12Alice in Chains 2.538 88.83
13Iron Savior 3.025 88.25
14Falconer 3.083 84.42
15Therion (Swe) 3.159 90.38
16Sodom 3.294 83.4
17Kamelot 3.463 90.52
18Gorgoroth 3.496 84.71
19Judas Iscariot 3.602 89.03
20Bolt Thrower 3.652 88.31
21Suffocation (US) 3.701 86.48
22Angra 3.758 88.63
23Enslaved (Nor) 3.926 88.85
24Vader 4.162 85.78
25Bal-Sagoth 4.249 89.9

I sense a hastily-assembled cash-in Coroner boxset in our future. I think this also means that Fates Warning is the most consistently great band in all of heavy metal. So now we know. And Lamb of God gets some sort of weird prize for being the most consistently mediocre.
If you're going to waste your time doing obsessive analysis of data on which nobody's life or ecology depends, you ought to at least do it diligently and efficiently.  

About a month ago The Deciblog published Justin Foley's attempt to answer the timeless question "How likely is a metal band to start their name with a particular letter of the alphabet?". For his sample set, Foley took the combined rosters of several metal labels (he doesn't reveal either list), which gave him 814 names, for which he then calculated the first-letter distributions, reaching the startling conclusion that the most likely letter is S.  

Foley put his results in a bar-chart, which I assume means he used a spreadsheet, so hopefully he didn't spend a whole lot of time hand-counting. But he should have spent even less. The Encyclopaedia Metallum is not only just sitting there with a collaboratively-amassed and collectively-moderated database of 50,000+ metal bands, but they've even already split it up by first-letter and there are band-counts right at the top of each letter-page. Add, divide, and you're done.  

Here, then, is the much better-informed version of this still-pointless breakdown:

? % *
# 0.3%
A 9.1% *********
B 5.9% *****
C 6.3% ******
D 8.9% ********
E 4.9% ****
F 3.6% ***
G 3.0% ***
H 3.9% ***
I 3.7% ***
J 0.6%
K 2.2% **
L 3.1% ***
M 7.4% *******
N 4.2% ****
O 2.3% **
P 4.0% ***
Q 0.2%
R 3.3% ***
S 10.8% **********
T 4.5% ****
U 1.3% *
V 2.7% **
W 2.7% **
X 0.3%
Y 0.2%
Z 0.7%

Most of Foley's numbers aren't that far off. His small sample-size leads him to overestimate J and Y, and underestimate Q and V, but the absolute numbers for these letters are small anyway. He also seems to underestimate A, P and R, for reasons which are not apparent in his opaque reporting, but might have to do with language tendences, as EM's list is probably more global than his.  

But the biggest discrepancy in Foley's numbers, by far, is T, which he credits with 9.3% of the band-names, where EM data indicates less than half that. Here I have a wearyingly mundane but highly plausible theory: Foley has accidentally counted all the bands whose names begin with "The " as T, despite specifically saying that he didn't. This is obviously both philosophically and methodologically repugnant, and although I regret the maelstrom of blogospheric outrage that will undoubtably accompany my public exposure of this error, I think we owe ourselves (the) Truth.  

Of course, the thousands of metal fans around the world who have put time and effort into building the Encyclopaedia Metallum did it because they care about the music, not the alphabet. The site is the definitive central reference source for most metal-related matters, and certainly the final arbiter of obscurity for the vast unknown majority of the bands it lists.  

It also has, in addition to its factual content, tens of thousands of percentage-scored, user-attributed, peer-moderated reviews of metal recordings. What it does not have is any sort of similarity analysis to make use of the huge data-graph represented by the connections between bands, users and ratings. There is a wearyingly mundane reason for this, too: trying to do similarity analysis with SQL queries will make you want to eat your own neck.  

So here is an actual contribution to the world's knowledge on this admittedly peripheral subject: empath, the missing similarity analysis of EM user/review/band data, accurate as of yesterday. Pick a band, see the other bands that people who like the first band also like. Data wants to form shapes. In a better world, this would be just as easy for EM to do themselves, updating live, as it is for them to serve their raw data into web pages.  

Easier, actually. I bet it took me less time to do this analysis than it took Foley to make a bar-chart of first letters. But I have better tools. I have better tools because at the moment I'm paid to design better tools. If I do my job well enough, eventually you'll have my better tools, too. I'm not designing them to tabulate heavy metal, I'm designing them to answer questions. Not all answers turn out to be shaped like Truths, of course. But if you can't answer them, you can't be sure which are which.
1. Good light.
2. Elevate child to proper height.
3. Remove awkward outer casing from instrument.  

It should be possible to refer explicitly to something particular on a web page. To anything, whether or not the page's author thought to assign it a (secret) labeled ahead of time.  

The most obvious way to mostly provide this, it seems to me, is for the HTTP URL syntax to include a way to specify a search string at the end, which the browser simply plugs into its own Find function after loading the page. I will randomly suggest that since we already have "#" for fragments at the end of a URL, and valid fragment IDs must begin with an alphanumeric or an underscore, "#=" could be used for passing search text. So where  


refers to this blog-entry as a whole page, you could also do  


to refer directly to this phrase.  

For extra credit we could also support "@" and a number for getting to the Nth use of that text. So  


would refer directly to this phrase, not the one above.  

Useful, semantically reasonable, eminently implementable.  

[See the discussion on vF.]
Two of the very bad features of the SQL-based conception of relational data-modeling, I think, are these:  

- one-to-many relationships are significantly harder to handle than one-to-one relationships (and, inversely, many-to-one relationships easiest to handle by defactoring)  

- absence is significantly harder to handle than presence  

It's easy to add an Artist column to an Album table, for example, so we get:  

Black OneSunn O)))

But if you want to model the fact that collaboration albums can have multiple artists, you need an Albums table, an Artists table, a join table, and a bunch of IDs:  

Black One1

Sunn O)))1


This is already a pain in the ass, and thus you get a world filled with cop-outs like this:  

Black OneSunn O)))
AltarSunn O))) / Boris

and this:  

AlbumArtist 1Artist 2Artist 3
Black OneSunn O)))FALSEFALSE
AltarSunn O)))BorisFALSE

both of which are tolerable enough to just look at, but awful when you go to try to get the computer to answer even perfectly sensible questions like what albums Boris has done.  

And then, when you want to add a little more detail, you really ought to do this:  

Black One1

Sunn O)))1


but instead you'll probably try to get away with:  

Black OneSunn O)))CD/LP/D
AltarSunn O))) & BorisCD/LP


AlbumArtist 1Artist 2Artist 3CDLPD

because if you have the latter, you can do:  

SELECT Album, Artist

FROM Albums

which is easy to understand, although it won't work because you forgot you don't have a field called plain "Artist" anymore. Whereas with the five-table form you have to do something like:  

SELECT Albums.Album, Artists.Artist

FROM Albums, Artists, Authorship
WHERE Albums.ID=Authorship.AlbumID
AND Artists.ID=Authorship.ArtistID
FROM Formats, Formatship
WHERE Albums.ID=Formatship.AlbumID
AND Formats.ID=Formatship.FormatID
AND Formats.Format='Download'

and that's probably still wrong.  

I submit that this is all a colossal mess, and it's a wonder the database-driven software we get driven out of it isn't even more woeful than it is. A better paradigm would embrace the opposites of these two flaws:  

- the modeling of a relationship should be the same whether the relationship is one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one or many-to-many, and should be the same no matter how many "many"s you have  

- absence and presence should be equally easy to assess  

And I think a useful rough metric for such a new system is that it allows you to model your data without ever needing to say FALSE.  

And I think this, I think, because I think this is how we think and talk about relationships between things when nobody is getting in our way:  

Black One was recorded by Sunn O))), and was released in CD, LP and Download formats. Altar was recorded by Sunn O))) and Boris, and was released in CD and LP formats. All of these albums were released on CD and LP. Altar is the only one that wasn't released in Download format.  

Take these out of sentence form and make the data-types explicit and everything is still perfectly straightforward:  

Album: [Black One]

Artists: [Sunn O)))]
Formats: [CD] [LP] [Download]  

Album: [Altar]
Artists: [Sunn O)))] [Boris]
Formats: [CD] [LP]

or, looking at the same data from a different perspective:  

Format: [CD]

Albums: [Black One] [Altar]  

Format: [LP]
Albums: [Black One] [Altar]  

Format: [Download]
Albums: [Black One]

and then the old questions are also easier:  

FIND Formats WHOSE Albums INCLUDE 'Black One' and 'Altar'

FIND Albums WHOSE Formats DON'T INCLUDE 'Download'

Subliminating the one/many distinction allows us to talk about albums with 3 or 8 or 0 artists just as readily as we talk about albums with 1 or 2. Fixing the query language to handle absence lets us cope with the introduction of a new edition into our dataset, say, without having to add a new field for it and/or go through asserting that everything we already knew about doesn't have that format. I suspect pretty much every database field headed X and filled with TRUEs and FALSEs could at least be more usefully modeled in my new world as a relationship called "Characteristics" that either does or doesn't include X. And usually, as with formats, there's actually a meaningful label that contains information itself. The point is that things have relationships to their characteristics, or their formats. They don't, except in a very existential sense, have a relationship to falseness. FALSE is a machine thing.  

The relationally astute will note that the five-table version is the fully-normalized representation that would support an SQL-based implementation of my new form as a display abstraction, and presumably my pseudo-query-code could be preprocessed into the messy SQL so I'd never see it. But that's my point: SQL is too low an abstraction, which makes it too hard to do things naturally, which makes it too hard to pass along natural behavior to the victims of the system. I'm mainly arguing for a better abstraction. (Although I also expect it's still always going to be bad that there's no better underlying way to represent lists, so I'm also probably arguing for the better abstraction to not merely be layered on top of the bad one.)  

The discographically astute will note that Altar is available on iTunes, and that I have vastly undermodeled the rich and complicated space of Sunn O))) release formats. But if I'd done the examples in real detail, I'd still be typing out the bad versions...

What Muybridge did for horses galloping, I will become famous by doing for tiny children sneezing.

My parents report, and I vaguely remember this myself, that for the first few years of my being allowed to go to movie theaters and see real (i.e., non-"family") movies, I would invariably come home after each one and deliver some epic panegyric insisting that whatever it was was the best movie I had ever seen. The only specific movies I recall thinking this of as an impressionable early movie-goer are The Eagle Has Landed, Capricorn One and Clash of the Titans, and I submit that it is not unreasonable to consider this an ascending order of quality, albeit in the last case maybe only if one was a 14-year-old boy in 1981 and hadn't seen pointedly naked movie-breasts in anything else yet.  

You will eventually get to the age where we begin worrying about how to stage your exposure to adult concepts, too, and before that the age where we start having to negotiate with your own loopily underinformed idea of your personal tastes. But for now your comprehension is blissfully abstract, and pretty much anything is likely to be the greatest thing ever, or close enough for us to amuse ourselves by inferring the nuances of your reactions from the gradually-less-random expressions that flicker across your face.  

I have been taking advantage of this state by attempting to give you a sweepingly unguarded pre-self-consciousness grounding in modern rock music. I realize this might sound suspiciously like me just listening to music while I'm holding you, but your reactions are both surprisingly organized and not what I claimed I thought they were going to be, so I feel like the experiments are at least marginally non-solipsistic. Later, no doubt, you will turn out to mostly like some new kind of music B and I fundamentally fail to grasp, but at least you'll have the benefit of some Manic Street Preachers b-sides buried deep in your psyche.  

One of my favorite dopey anticipatory theories, developed a while ago after reading an evocative article about the sonic harshness of the womb, was that babies are naturally intuitive fans of deeply textural black metal. The coursing blood all around you, the sudden tumbling motions, the frantic gnashing hum of your own brain growing. Might as well call it birth metal.  

This idea proves to have some limited sense to it, at least, in that churning noise at high volume has some undeniable visceral effect. There's a long stretch of the middle of Part II of Metal Machine Music that puts you to sleep approximately as effectively as the "ocean" loop on the sound-module that came with your pack-and-play. Likewise a few carefully-selected sections of Aube's Aqua Syndrome. The ocean noises also kind of work on Bethany, though, whereas Reed and Aube kind of make her want to encase her head in cement, so given the open format of our house, and our affection for her head, the ocean sounds usually seem like the better option in practice.  

Little Tiggers do not turn out to like death metal at all, to my mild surprise and pro-forma-ly brooding disappointment. Even the Leviathan and Xasthur pieces I holistically experience as most textural prove to have far too many dynamic and tonal shifts at the second-by-second scale, and you're perpetually either getting restless during a quiet part or being startled when the noise blasts in again. Sad. Statistically this was the most likely age at which you'd appreciate death metal, in that there's not even the outside danger of your accidentally figuring out any of the words. Later you'll realize it's another silly thing that only boys like, and thus yet another thing for which I might as well apologize in advance.  

What you like best, by far, is steady, propulsive, fast, opportunistically rock-inflected pop songs. Four minutes at most, three is better. No long intros or outros. Female singers more than men (but James Bradfield and Paul Smith are OK), and big bonus points for any break where everything drops out except the drums and vocals. B thinks this is all about how I dance with you during those kinds of songs, but you and I know it's more than that. Fefe Dobson's "Rock It Till You Drop It" is, after all, a very fine song about perseverance, or maybe equanimity, and I'm only dancing the way anybody should feel inspired to. The Go-Go's are cultural icons, and give us a way to understand how the Spice Girls embody the dangerous nominality of post-ironic identity. Shakira represents both the emotional vitality of culture and the insistent triumph over it of individuality and hair. Tommy heavenly6 is, I agree, universally charming, and by the time you're old enough to wonder what she's singing, maybe I'll again have enough spare time to translate it.  

But in case you're ever really curious, your favorite song for your first two months has been, unquestionably, "U & Ur Hand" by Pink. I don't remember how I discovered this. You like "Who Knew" and "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)" fairly well, too, but "U & Ur Hand" is clearly special. We have a special dance we've invented for it, you and I, and it has never, ever failed to please you. Once you went from beet-red squalling to fast asleep before it even got to the two-minute mark, but usually you just dance with me. Or, anyway, I dance, and you lie in my arms with your head nestled into my left armpit, gazing up at me with love. Or past me towards the nearest skylight, or lamp, or faint diagonal shadow, but I collect the love en passant.  

As you'll appreciate when you're considerably older, "U & Ur Hand" is not exactly intended for children. I usually sing along, anyway. It's a song of aggressive feminine self-affirmation, mostly, so even if its specific defiance and injunctions aren't really age-appropriate for you, or gender-appropriate for me, I think it's healthy for you to be exposed to its energy.  

And if B is right, and it's really only me you're responding to, then you're learning about how my goofy tastes in music and defiance become manifest in my body's movements and my heart's resonances, and although I don't need you to love exactly what I love, I want desperately for you to love what you love at least as jubilantly as I love what I love.  

I've long since seen a lot of movies I liked more than Capricorn One, but more than a few I liked less. "U & Ur Hand" probably won't always be your favorite song, and it'll probably save your mom and me some tense parent-teacher conferences along the way if it isn't. But not everything always has to change, and your first intuitions aren't necessarily wrong. I'll play this for you again someday, when you've forgotten, and we'll see what we think. And, maybe, remember what this felt like, when every next minute with you was so amazingly likely to be the best one yet.

B asked me whether, now that I see how much work you are, I'm more appreciative of what my own parents did for me. I definitely understand what they went through more than I ever did before having you, but appreciative isn't exactly right, for either what I feel for my parents or what I expect you to eventually feel for us. I don't remember or identify with myself as an infant. This baby we're bathing in the sink, because it's funny to try once even though you're basically already too big, is not really you. Not yet. So these pictures can't haunt you. This stuff we're doing for you can't exactly be for you. You didn't ask for it, you can't be consulted for your informed consent, and you'll have to live with the countless mistakes we're undoubtably already making. Asking you to be grateful for all this, in any meaningful sense, seems to me to be tantamount to imposing original sin. At most, maybe, one day you'll do this for somebody else who won't really exist yet. But only if you choose to for your own reasons, not because you owe anybody any kind of debt. You do not owe us your life, we are merely holding it for you in trust. Having you makes me more aware than ever that gratitude for one's own birth is a footstep into an emotional minefield. We, your parents, must be able to unequivocally forgive you for whatever it takes to get you to the point where you become you, for everything you require before you are able to take responsibility for your own commitments and responses. Until then, this work we do cannot and must not be measured in any kind of currency, it must be a gift given freely to the world.
I'm afraid to post more pictures. I fear we may have unwittingly unleashed more cuteness than the world can endure.
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