August 31, 2010

Noteflight: online software for composing and sharing musical scores

Here at UBEST headquarters, we have experimented with a vidiscript-based Virtual Studio for enabling online musical collaborations. This setup should allow users to share and comment upon audio or video files, perhaps representing works in progress, while giving them the option of blocking access by random members of the general public.

But what if you just want to draft some sheet music without making a recording? Then Noteflight may meet your needs quite well. I tried it yesterday and was impressed by its ease of use ... and by the fact that it's free! (There's also a "premium" version available for $49.)

Among other attractive features, registered users can easily share their scores with unregistered people; each score has a unique URL. Also even though preparation of the scores is web-based, and printing web pages can often be a challenge, my sample score snippet looked fine when I printed it out.

August 30, 2010 is safe again

We've cleaned the site and re-uploaded all of the needed files, and Google confirms that the suspected malware is gone. Let us know if you have any problems accessing the site.

August 26, 2010

Science Song of the Week #14: "Natural Decay" by Mark Rosengarten

Do you ever wonder what might have emerged if Timbuk3 and The Cars had teamed up to record a science song?

August 25, 2010

Please don't visit

We have set about as a central hub with links to our various sub-projects, including this blog. seems to have been hacked or corrupted in some way such that visiting it may lead to the inadvertant downloading of malicious software. We are investigating this issue; in the meantime, we apologize for the inconvenience.

August 19, 2010

Science Song of the Week #13: "CSIRO"

I'm in Melbourne, Australia for the 12th International Congress of Parasitology (ICOPA XII), so ... how about an Australian science song this week? The Backstreet Boys parody shown below was pointed out to me by Janet Newman, a scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). It is a sort of CSIRO theme song, highlighting its many specialties (climatology, oceanography, immunology, crystallography...). Most boy bands have some degree of carefully engineered diversity -- the cute one, the shy one, the great dancer, etc. -- but this group is a truly interdisciplinary one featuring a biologist, a chemist, a physicist, a math(s) guy, etc.

August 13, 2010

MASSIVE rebuilding project

Once upon a time -- OK, it was in 2004 -- I created a free online database of math and science songs, which I called MASSIVE: Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere. Its visual appeal was limited and so were its search options (e.g., you couldn't do compound searches such as "songs by artist X including term Y in the title"). Nevertheless, I was quite proud of my creation and rejoiced when it was featured in the NetWatch section of Science magazine.

And then life got really busy -- fatherhood, new job, etc. -- and I stopped updating the website. That was three years ago. Now I'm trying to move the project forward again.

There are many aspects of the website that could be improved from the user-interface side, and yet the question I find myself returning to again and again is, "How can I make this as easy as possible to update?" My experiences as a contributor to, a website devoted to target-based drug development for "neglected" diseases such as malaria, have reminded me over and over that regular updates of curated information are both (A) extremely important and (B) extremely hard to achieve.

So you'll have to pardon me if in the coming months the MASSIVE website continues to look as though it were designed by a middle-school student. I've got three years of curation catch-up to do.

August 12, 2010

Science Song of the Week #12: "Regulatin' Genes" by Tom McFadden

In my early days of exploring the world of science songs, most of the songs I encountered seemed to be by middle-aged guitar-playing white guys who had rewritten the lyrics to songs that they had learned when they were younger.

This is not meant in any way as a criticism of middle-aged guitar-playing white guys, some of whom are quite talented! (And, for the record, I myself am a 37-year-old white guy, though not one who plays guitar.) But it does raise an important educational issue, namely, is the music of older generations the best "hook" for teaching the younger ones?

I think the answer is "it depends." There's a lot to be said for quality, and if what you do well is folk songs or Beatles parodies, then students may indeed appreciate those. However, I'm always intrigued when someone presents scientific content in a more contemporary musical format, and this week's featured song is an example of that. It is by Tom McFadden, an instructor of human biology at Stanford, and his colleague Derrick Davis. The song has been posted on YouTube for about a year and a half and has racked up 130,000 views as well as an endorsement by the TierneyLab blog.

August 6, 2010

A "step" beyond science songs

One of my favorite science blogs is The World's Fair. As its name implies, it covers a diverse range of topics, but one recent post of possible interest to our readers was Dance Your Ph.D.: One Month till the Duedate! This post is but one of many in the blog's category of The Art/Science (Non?)Divide Building.

To me, conveying scientific content through song seems challenging; doing so through dance seems really challenging. I applaud those who are willing to give it a shot, though, and I imagine that the effect can be almost magical under the right circumstances. My Ph.D. adviser, for instance, met the woman who would later become his wife at a dance performance designed to illustrate how a nuclear reactor worked, or something like that. He impressed her by explaining the scientific basis of the various dance moves, and a chain reaction ensued....

August 5, 2010

Science song of the week #11: "I Feel Fantastic" by Jonathan Coulton

The video below, like the one we showed you last week, was produced for an online contest. In this case, Popular Science commissioned singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton to record a soundtrack for its "Future of the Body" issue (August 2005), then invited readers to create videos for the song "I Feel Fantastic." The winning entry, by Andrea Crain, is shown here.

Though this song does not delve too deeply into the science of pharmacology, Coulton clearly has more than a passing interest in science and math. Among the free songs available from his website are Bacteria (based on a Kentucky Fried Chicken training video) and Mandelbrot Set (inspired, I believe, by a course he took from Benoit Mandelbrot at Yale).