Age Eight: I'll Be Back Shortly... As a Girl

 44. Pitch modification

Pitch modification is a signal processing technology that can change the pitch of a singing voice higher or lower so that a male voice can be made to sound like a female voice or vice versa.

If you take a recording of a voice and play it at a faster speed the pitch will go up, but it will also go by more quickly. Conversely, playing it at a slower speed will make the pitch lower but it will also go by more slowly. Pitch modification keeps the speed of the recording unchanged while changing the pitch of the singer’s voice.

A further complication is that a voice is comprised of many different frequencies called partials. The sound can be broken down into these composite frequencies. If you are changing the pitch of a sound to be higher each waveform in each frequency must be made shorter. This requires repeating waveforms to keep the speed the same. Conversely, lowering the pitch means stretching out the waveforms of each frequency and may require eliminating some waveforms to keep the speed the same. In pitch modification technology, this adding or removing of waveforms must be done in a way that does not make the resulting voice sound unnatural.

Changing the pitch of a sound is an example of digital signal processing and requires very rapid computations to break down and reassemble all frequencies of the sound in real time.

I used pitch modification in a performance at the TED conference on February 21, 2001 in Monterey, California. I was demonstrating how you could change yourself into someone else using the virtual reality technology of 2001. During the performance I changed myself into a young female rock singer named Ramona.

For the visual aspect, I had magnetic sensors in my clothing which picked up all of my movement. The computer created a real-time animation (on a large life-size screen) of Ramona who moved exactly as I did. Ramona was essentially a virtual puppet of my movement. This was a very early demonstration of motion tracking, which has subsequently been used extensively in making movies.

For the audio aspect, my voice was turned into a woman’s voice by raising the pitch by two octaves using pitch modification. My voice also drove the movement of the avatar’s mouth, so it looked like Ramona was giving the presentation, though the audience could also see me at the same time.

A band came on stage and I sang (as Ramona using the virtual reality and pitch modification technologies) Grace Slick’s song “White Rabbit” (made famous by her band Jefferson Airplane in 1963) as well as a song I had cowritten with singer-songwriter Zoux, “Come Out and Play.”

Then my daughter came on stage and, using the same pitch modification and motion tracking technology, was turned into the male backup dancer (who looked like Richard Saul Wurman, the head of TED at that time).

You can listen to my singing at TED 2001 both with and without the gender change using pitch modification here: A clip of this TED performance also appears in my documentary movie, The Singularity is Near. See for the trailer and for more information about the movie.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, during Danielle’s debut at age eight at the CMA Music Festival, she starts out singing as a male using pitch modification to lower her voice by two octaves.


45. “Come Out and Play”

“Come Out and Play” is a song I co-wrote with the musician Zoux. I sang this song at the 2001 TED Conference having turned myself into a young female rock singer named Ramona using virtual reality and pitch modification technologies.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Danielle sings this song for her encore during her debut performance at the CMA Music Fest which propels her to worldwide fame.

See the entry for pitch modification for more information about the visual virtual reality technology I used in my 2001 TED performance and the pitch modification technology that I used and that the eight-year-old Danielle uses in her debut performance.


46. King Midas

The legend of King Midas begins with him as the wealthy ruler of the land of Phrygia in Asia Minor. He spends his days counting his gold coins and is obsessed with his gold possessions.

Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, passes through Phrygia one day and is treated to several days of luxury by the king. To thank Midas for his kindness, Dionysus offers to satisfy one wish. The king replies, “I hope that everything I touch becomes gold.” Dionysus warns the king to make sure that this is really what he wants but the King insists that this is indeed his wish.

The next day King Midas is delighted to find that everything he touches, such as his chair and his table, instantly become gold. But this gift quickly turns into a curse when he hugs his daughter who is turned into a gold statue.

In one version of the story, the King dies from hunger since everything he tries to eat turns into gold before it enters his mouth.

In another version the king prays to Dionysus, asking to be relieved of his self-inflicted curse. The god of celebration decides to give the king a reprieve and removes his ill-considered magic power. The king’s daughter is restored to life and Midas becomes a kind and generous king. He discovers that the love of his people represents the true source of riches.

King Midas has become a metaphor of the curse of too much wealth, fame or success.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, when Danielle becomes an instant worldwide music star at age eight, she finds that the magical powers of stardom threaten to make her into a King Midas with her only friend Amu. Claire gives Danielle a hint as to how she can overcome this “curse.”


47. Gordian knot

Like the legend of King Midas, the legend of the Gordian knot also comes from the land of Phrygia in Asia Minor. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great was on a march of conquest. He reached Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. He was shown the chariot of the founder of the city which was tied to a pole by a very elaborate knot. According to the legend of the city, the knot would be untied only by the future conqueror of Asia. After examining the knot and coming to the conclusion that attempting to untie it in the usual fashion would be a futile endeavor, Alexander drew his sword and slashed the knot. Fulfilling the prophecy, he did indeed go on to become the ruler of Asia.

Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot - Berthèlemy

Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot painted by Jean-Simon Berthèlemy (1743–1811) which hangs in the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts

“Slashing the Gordian knot” has become a metaphor for a bold and unexpected action that decisively solves an apparently unsolvable problem.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Claire suggests to Danielle that she use a Gordian knot solution to her problem.


48. MP3 file

MP3 is a method for compressing audio files (making them smaller) without any noticeable loss of quality.

There are two categories of data compression: lossless and lossy. Lossless compression allows a file to be compressed to a smaller size and to perfectly reconstitute the original data when decompressed. This method of compression is generally based on identifying repetition. For example, if a file of 3,000 digits consisted of the sequence “123” repeated a thousand times, lossless compression would compress that to the sequence “123” followed by a code that indicated that this sequence should be repeated a thousand times. This representation would require much less than 3,000 digits.

Lossy compression, on the other hand, does not allow the original file to be perfectly reconstituted. It relies instead on an understanding of human perception, in this case auditory perception. For example, lossy compression of an audio file can take advantage of the phenomenon of “auditory masking,” which was discovered by American physicist Alfred M. Mayer in 1894. In certain circumstances, a tone will be inaudible to human listeners when masked by a signal of lower frequency. Thus the information for a masked tone does not need to be included in the compressed file. MP3 compression takes advantage of this insight into human auditory perception along with many others.

As a result, an MP3 file is only about eight to nine percent of the size of the corresponding compact disc file and is generally indistinguishable to human listeners in audio quality.

By the mid-1990s, MP3 had become a popular standard for the emerging phenomenon of peer-to-peer sharing of music files. Napster was launched in 1999 offering both legal free files as well as illegally copied files that users “ripped” (copied) from their CDs. The record industry responded aggressively to what they called music piracy and Napster was shut down in 2001 as a result of lawsuits.

Unauthorized MP3 file sharing continues, but in the first decade of the 2000s legal MP3 downloading sites from Apple, Google, Amazon, and others became big businesses. In the second decade of the 2000s, the downloading of MP3 files is becoming gradually eclipsed by real-time streaming of music in which listeners do not keep a copy of the file but just stream the data as they listen to it.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Danielle demonstrates to Claire how she can download an MP3 music file with 30 lines of code.


49. C++ compiler

C++ is a popular general-purpose computer programming language which originated in 1983 (although it had a predecessor called “C with Classes”). A C++ compiler is a computer program that translates programs written in C++ into either machine language, which are the 1’s and 0’s that a computer understands, or into assembly language, which is subsequently translated into machine language by a program called an “assembler.”

A brief history of computer languages is as follows: Assembly language originated in the 1950s with the advent of the first programmable computers. Assembly language is very close to the machine language that a computer directly understands, but it allows programmers to use letter sequences for operation codes and give names to variables.

High level programming languages emerged in the mid to late 1950s. These allowed programmers to write algorithms without having to be overly concerned with the complexities of a particular computer and to more easily move programs from one type of computer to another.

Fortran, a popular scientific programming language, was introduced in 1957. It allowed for multidimensional arrays and nested loops. The C programming language, which became widely available in 1978.

I have programmed extensively in both FORTRAN (starting in 1962) and C. When C was introduced, I saw it as a generalization of FORTRAN. FORTRAN had strict limitations, for example, on the number of dimensions allowed in an array. C did not have these limitations. C also expanded the number of variable types. For example, in C you could directly program transformations on text strings.

In the 1980s, a concept called “object oriented programming” (OOP) became popular. In OOP, a program is created from blocks called “objects,” which contain both data structures and code. The idea is that an object in an OOP language is self-contained and can be reused for different purposes more easily than a subroutine in languages such as FORTRAN and C. Unlike an object, subroutines had numerous dependencies on the program it is contained in.

C++ is essentially the OOP version of C. It has been the programming language of choice for complex programs in virtually every industry.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, C++ is also eight-year-old Danielle’s programming language of choice. She demonstrates her prowess in C++ to Claire.

How You Can Be a Danielle and learn to program computers from a young age.


50. George Orwell

Born Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell (1903–1950) was an English novelist and journalist, best known for his dystopian anti-totalitarian 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-four. It was published two years after the Cold War with the Soviet Union had started.

George Orwell 1943 press card portrait

George Orwell’s 1943 press card portrait

The setting for Nineteen Eighty-four is a totalitarian world overseen by Big Brother, who enjoys a cult of personality despite the fact that he may or may not exist. The super state “Oceania” is the ultimate in totalitarianism: every aspect of life is determined by the state. Under Big Brother there is an Inner Party elite that persecutes any semblance of independence as “thought crimes.”

Nineteen Eighty-four cover - Orwell

The front cover of the first edition of Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell’s most influential novel

In Oceania, there is ever present surveillance by the government using “telescreens” that can spy on the private lives of citizens. The concept of telescreens was prescient for 1949.

Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel, works for the Ministry of Truth with the job of rewriting history including the revision of old newspaper articles to support the government’s version of history. Secretly he hates the regime and dreams of revolution.

Many details of Nineteen Eighty-four mirror the Soviet regime of Josef Stalin. Stalin also set up a vast apparatus to spy on his own citizens. The Soviet Union also featured a pervasive effort to rewrite history, as shown in this photo of Nikolai Yezhov walking with Stalin in the mid-1930s, compared to the same photo revised by Soviet censors following Yezhov’s execution in 1940.

Stalin and Yezhov

In Nineteen Eighty-four, Big Brother issues “orders of the day,” which mirrored Stalin’s daily orders of the same name. There are many other parallels.

Many of the phrases in Nineteen Eighty-four have entered into common usage, including Big Brother, thought crime, doublethink, and thought police. Indeed, the adjective “Orwellian” has become descriptive of totalitarian surveillance and the rewriting of

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Claire and Danielle discuss Orwell’s view of clichés and metaphors.

How You Can Be a Danielle and combat totalitarianism in the world.


51. Alpha tester

Alpha and beta testing are phases of testing of a new product. The terms usually refer to computer-based and software products but can apply to any product or service.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, although the terms are not rigidly defined, alpha testing generally refers to testing by insiders such as employees, or in eight-year-old Danielle’s case, her sister.


52. Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was formed in 1934 to enforce federal securities laws which regulate the sale of stocks and related securities. There are very demanding legal requirements in order to sell stock to the general public. The SEC (and the securities laws) provide exemptions from these requirements provided the sale is made to “qualified investors.” One of these requirements is that the purchaser have a certain net worth (in 2014 this was $1 million) or income (in 2014 this was $200,000 per year). This legal provision has been criticized as it restricts the opportunity to buy stock in emerging companies to people at a certain level of wealth.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, the eight- to twelve-year-old students to whom eight-year-old Danielle is selling stock in Danielle Music do not meet these wealth requirements, and as Mom points out, they are also underage.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


53. Music streaming

Music streaming is a method of accessing online music files in which the user can begin to listen to the file before the entire file is downloaded. Generally, the file is not stored on the user’s computer at all; users simply stream each file as they listen to it.

As with downloaded files, music streaming transmits the file using a lossy compression format, such as MP3 (see entry for MP3 files).

Music downloading, largely using MP3 compression, started in the mid-1990s and became popular during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Music streaming began to eclipse music downloading during the second decade. Spotify, the most popular music streaming site, was launched by a Swedish company in 2008 and had 75 million active users by 2015. The attraction of Spotify is that users can listen to virtually any musical artist at any time. One of the few exceptions is Taylor Swift, who pulled her music from Spotify, explaining “[Musical artists] are complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things. They keep running towards streaming, which is, for the most part, what has been shrinking the numbers of paid album sales.”

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Martine Rothblatt defends Danielle from a lawsuit from Columbus Records by threatening to cut off support for a music streaming service of theirs.


54. Chief Operating Officer

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a company is usually the second highest ranking executive after the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and reports to the CEO. While every company organizes their executive responsibilities somewhat differently, the COO is often responsible for the day to day operations whereas the CEO is responsible for overall strategy.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Martine Rothblatt and Danielle discuss who is going to be the COO of Danielle Music.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


55. Incentive stock options

A stock option is a contractual right to purchase shares of stock of a company at a set price, called the exercise price. If at the time a stock option is granted the exercise price is the same as the then fair market price of the stock (in a public company that would be the public price at that time), then the grant of the stock option is a tax-free transaction. Stock options are a popular way to provide a form of stock ownership to employees in new companies because there are no taxes due when the grant is made.

An incentive stock option (ISO) is a type of stock option that only can be granted to employees (not consultants) and carries certain tax benefits in the United States. Specifically, when the stock option is exercised (to purchase the underlying shares), the individual does not have to pay taxes at that time. If the person holds the stock for at least one year from the date of exercise and two years from the date of grant, then the profit made on the sale of the shares is taxed at the long-term capital gains rate (which is generally about half the rate of regular income). However, the person may have to pay the “alternative minimum tax” when exercising the shares.

In around 2014, the tax code put significant new restrictions on the use of ISOs making it difficult to obtain these tax benefits, so that ISOs have become less popular.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Danielle and Martine Rothblatt discuss the use of incentive stock options for Danielle’s company.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


56. Black-Scholes valuation

As described in my entry for an incentive stock option, a stock option is a contractual right to purchase a stock for a certain price in the future. If you have a stock option to purchase a certain number of shares of stock for, say, $10 each, and the current stock price is currently $10 per share, a naïve valuation would conclude that the option has no value because you could simply buy that stock share for $10 from the market. However, the stock option is a right to purchase that share for $10 for some period of time in the future, so there is the possibility that the share will be worth more than $10 in the future. Thus a right to purchase each share at some future time for $10 has some value today even though the stock is worth only $10 a share today.

The most popular mathematical model for determining the value of a stock option is called the Black-Scholes model, which was first presented in a 1973 paper, “The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities,” written by Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, published in the Journal of Political Economy.

Their primary insight is that the value of a stock is positively correlated with the “volatility” of the stock, meaning the likelihood that it will go up or down. If the volatility were zero, meaning that it had zero chance to go up or down, then the value of an option whose exercise price is the same as the current price would be zero. Conversely, if the volatility is high then you have a good chance of exercising the option when the stock price goes up.

The value of the option is also greater with a longer exercise period. An option that is exercisable for 10 years is worth more, for example, than the same option with an exercise period of 10 days.

The IRS actually uses the “naïve model” in valuing stock options, so a 10-year option to purchase shares of stock with an exercise price equal to the then current price carries no tax liability at the time of issuance. However, the IRS will tax the gain when and if the individual makes money on it at a later time.

New emerging companies often issue stock options with very low exercise prices and long exercise periods (usually 10 years or more) based on the observation that a new company with no track record does not have much inherent value. However, the volatility of a new company is inherently high, so the option nonetheless has value when it is granted.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, eight-year-old Danielle discusses with Martine Rothblatt the implications of the Black-Scholes model for her company.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


57. Long-term capital gains

If you purchase a stock, bond, or other financial instrument for, say, $1,000 and later sell it for $2,000, then you have made a profit of $1,000, which is called a capital gain. That gain is taxable as income. Under most circumstances, if you held that asset long enough (as of 2015, that was one year), the income is considered a “long-term capital gain,” and is taxed at a lower rate than a short-term capital gain or regular income. In the highest tax bracket, that rate is about half.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, eight-year-old Danielle is explaining to Martine Rothblatt that she plans to give the Chief Operating Officer of Danielle Music incentive stock options (see the entry for incentive stock options) so he will be able to enjoy the lower long-term capital gains tax rate when he makes money on the options.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


58. Series A investment

In a startup company, the “Series A round” usually refers to the company’s first financing from venture capital investors. This is typically preceded by investments by “angel investors,” which refers to either wealthy individuals or friends and family.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Danielle and Martine Rothblatt are negotiating a Series A investment by Rothblatt into Danielle Music.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


59. Simple preferred stock

Shares of stock in a company often come in different “classes.” A “preferred” class of shares has a liquidation preference to the common shares, meaning that in a “down-side” scenario (a situation in which the company has not done well and its assets are being distributed to debt and equity holders), the preferred shareholders have priority over the common shareholders (they get paid first).

The goal of investors, especially early stage investors, is obviously to achieve an “upside” scenario in which the company does well. In that situation, the downside protection of preferred shares does not convey additional value over common shares. Preferred shares will often be converted into common shares in that circumstance.

Classes of preferred shares may have other benefits beyond a liquidation preference such as the right to be repriced if a subsequent deal sells shares for a lower price than the original price of those preferred shares, or a guaranteed dividend. A class of preferred shares that has a liquidation preference but that does not have these additional benefits is referred to “simple preferred stock.”

Early stage investors will often press for preferred shares with as many additional benefits over the common shares of the founder(s) as possible.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, eight-year-old Danielle explains to Martine Rothblatt that this early stage investment in Danielle Music will be a simple preferred stock with none of these additional features. She is able to successfully negotiate this position because of the strong revenue stream that Danielle Music has already achieved (and the fact that she is a good negotiator, as Rothblatt acknowledges).

See the entry for Series A investment.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.


60. Ratchet downside protection

One of the additional features of a preferred stock (see entries for Series A investment and simple preferred stock) that a venture capital investor is likely to seek to obtain in their investment in an early stage startup is “ratchet downside protection.” This provision means that if in a subsequent investment round, the company sells stock at a price per share that is lower than this current round (other than due to the exercise of an employee stock option that was issued earlier), then the price per share of this current round will be repriced to that subsequent lower price.

If a developing company encounters delays in its plans and does end up significantly lowering its valuation in subsequent rounds, this type of provision can end up severely diluting the equity interest of the founders.

In the alternative reality of Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, Danielle tells Martine Rothblatt that she is not going to get a ratchet downside protection provision in her investment in Danielle Music.

How You Can Be a Danielle and start your own company.



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