Wednesday, 1 March 2000

Barbarism in the USA

Listening to:

Beethoven, string quartet, op 130 in B flat.

The news this morning on the radio included a story about a six year old shooting a class-mate in Michigan, USA. Yet more evidence to my already suspicious mind that American gun laws are farcically bad.

I hoped to be able to find some sort of reaction on the NRA's web-site, but their news sub-page required plug-ins that I didn't have.

So, instead I’ll just sound off about how barbaric the US situation seems to be. The US has the world's largest prison population, it's happy to see people bearing lethal weapons, and it executes more people than any other nation apart from China. Grr, now you've got me onto the death penalty as well. I suspect I’m about to get all incoherent, so I’ll just leave it at that, except to point you at an Amnesty International web-site, where you can read more about this sort of thing to your heart’s content.

I don’t live in the US after all. Some proportion of those who do clearly manage to lead happy and satisfying lives. Many people would prefer to live in the US than elsewhere.

Friday, 3 March 2000

Topsy Turvy

Listening to:

Oscar Petersen playing A foggy day (Gershwin).

Went to see Topsy Turvy last night and greatly enjoyed it. Spent too long looking for an official web-site (clearly it’s too arty to descend to such tricks), and instead got sucked into a set of film reviews.

The author seems to share my sort of opinions on many things, so he'll definitely get on the bookmarks list. But now I really must do some work.

Monday, 6 March 2000

Entry #17

Listening to:
Beethoven, Kreutzer sonata, played by Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Still reading:
Elton's England under the Tudors. I've read about Henry VII, Henry VIII and his divorce of Catherine of Aragon, leading to the dissolution of the monasteries and the formation of the Church of England. It's fascinating stuff, and it's good to be reading about this half-known stuff in detail.
My link of the day is to a commercial outfit that hopes you will maintain what it calls e-circles on their web-site. In exchange to looking at their ads, and for accepting a slew of cookies, you get to form various groups (whether they be of family or friends), and do things like share a calendar, make announcements, chat online, and upload photos for a photo album.

It's quite a nice idea and seems well implemented (you get to choose a little cartoon graphic to represent yourself; cute), but it is also somehow slightly too commercial.

Wednesday, 8 March 2000

Supermarket saga

Listening to:

Beethoven, sonata #2 in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2 for piano and cello.

Our local super-market is closing down, meaning that shopping trips from home are going to become that much more tedious. Still, the cycle ride to the next nearest is good exercise. I guess I should say that life in Cambridge can be led quite easily without a car.

Perhaps we should just start using what is apparently Britain's biggest online grocery shop; Tesco’s. Recently, a representative from the trucking industry came onto the radio to say that the advent of the Internet was going to result in many more trucks patrolling suburban streets because of all the deliveries that Internet shopping was going to cause.

Today, I’ve been bad; I’ve gone back and editted some of my old entries for March to make them fit into a brave new world where I don’t have a link at the top of each entry.

Friday, 10 March 2000


Listening to:

Mozart, “Linz” symphony K425 in C major. Mozart is probably still the composer with the most CDs in my collection. He’s great.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the new nomic game that David Chess has begun on his web-site; it looks kinda neat, and makes me realise that I haven’t properly owned up to being a nomic-head in this forum so far.

Lest anyone have received the wrong impression, I am a long-standing member of the Agora nomic game. This is probably one of the longest running games around. In fact, its only obvious rival would be the Fantasy Rules Committee.

One of Agora’s long-time “rivals”, Ackanomic has recently been reported dead. This may be an exaggeration (such reports often are after all), but it would be confirmation of just how hard it is to keep an e-mail Nomic game running.

Monday, 13 March 2000

Tudors and SourceForge

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano trio in D, Op 79 No 1, “Ghost”.

Still reading:

Elton’s England under the Tudors. What, still? you cry. I never promised that this was going to be a quick experience, and, unlike some, I prefer not to read multiple things at once.

I’ve read about the nature of the supposed revolution in government that Thomas Cromwell instigated during the 1530s, and I’ve also shot through the end of Henry VIII’s reign and those of his immediate successors, Edward VI and Mary. Elton is of the strong opinion that it’s as well these guys didn’t stick around. Next will be Elizabeth I, but first a chapter ahead on the economic crisis of the time (inflation).

In other news, I am pleased to report that the project I mentioned a while back as being in the process of shifting to SourceForge has now made a big step towards actually getting there. Anyway, you can read all about it at the Cheth home-page.

Wednesday, 15 March 2000

Beethoven and Barrymore

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in F minor, op. 57 Appassionata. This recording is on a now defunct CD label called Lunar. This comes from the DDR (i.e., East Germany that was). It’s a good recording, and it was very cheap ($10 in New Zealand). I’m pretty sure that the Lunar CDs were the first I ever saw that were budget. Since then, Naxos have moved into this market in a serious way, and the Berlin Wall has fallen.

(Incidentally, there’s no sign of any deterioration in the physical substance of the CD, which is pretty good going for something that is now over 10 years old.)

Saw Never been kissed (with Drew Barrymore) on video the other night. Basically, it’s a pretty dire movie, though I imagine it’s a deal better than the other films we saw trailed on the video. My standard technique of entering the URL gives interesting results this time. It links to a site providing soft-porn shots of famous actresses. Clearly the people distributing the film couldn’t be bothered getting the domain-name for it. A little further research at the Internet Movie Database site, reveals the correct site. It also gives it an average rating of 6.5/10, which is incredibly generous.

Anyway, the film only served to remind me of the ridiculous obsession that high school seems to exert over film-makers, and the bizarre way it is portrayed. Or, and this is a thought to take your breath away, maybe US high schools are really like that. Tell me it ain’t so.

Friday, 17 March 2000

CD traversal, Hunger Site, Peace in Ireland

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in D, op 28 Pastoral. What, yet more Beethoven? It just so happens that I've decided to “traverse” my CD collection. I keep track of where I’m up to, and every day I try to listen to one CD from that position in the collection. I bring in other CDs too, but I typically start my day with the traversal CD.

One of my daily visits is to the Hunger Site. Being able to make a free donation of food for the benefit of the starving seems a good idea. Or at least, I thought so until today, when I was suddenly struck by the thought that maybe food aid isn’t really the best way of helping needy people. I’ve read that extensive food aid can really mess up local economies, because it can only serve to discourage local farmers. Equally, not having anyone to sell food to because they all died of starvation last year is also likely to be bad for local farmers. I guess I have to hope that the UN world food program knows what it’s doing.

Today is St. Patrick’s day. President Clinton will apparently be urging the politicians of Ireland to “give peace a chance” or some such. Who knows, maybe this will make a difference. Most people I’ve met from Northern Ireland are pretty cynical about the “peace process”, but you never know.

Monday, 20 March 2000

Elton’s Tudors

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata No. 28 in A, opus 101. I was listening to something else before, honest! Alfred Brendel is a star.

Still reading:

Elton on those dang Tudors. Didn’t get as much read this weekend, but I managed to get through the description of 16th century inflation, and onto preliminaries about the reign of Elizabeth I.

(Incidentally, her perhaps not so direct descendent, Elizabeth II is currently touring Australia. Not so long ago, the Australians voted to retain her as head of state. The Republican movement made a pig's ear of the campaign, not seeming to pay enough attention to the distrust felt for politicians, and then backing a scheme which would have politicians elect a President, rather than letting the general public do it directly, as happens in Eire (Republic of Ireland) for example.)

Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing ever more about Elizabeth. I think the general theme of the period is the gradual construction of a state independent of the person of the Monarch. For all that Henry VIII was a powerful individual simply as monarch, his reforms, in conjunction with other factors, ended up strengthening the power of Parliament. All this then came to a head in the Civil War of the next century. It’s fascinating stuff.

Had our oven fixed this morning. It meant a late start to the day, but HeatComplete (hate their web-site) did their bit, and I think it was probably worth it.

Wednesday, 22 March 2000

Educating Rita, Mahler & online diaries

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony #3. I first came across the name Mahler in the film Educating Rita where a minor character attempts (perhaps successfully) to commit suicide to the strains of Mahler.

Clearly this doesn’t do Mahler any favours; but I don’t think it’s very fair. His music is not just doom, gloom and for the terminally angst-ridden.

The film is otherwise OK though. Julie Walters and Michael Caine are both very good.

Elsewhere, Judith at Calamondin is becoming increasingly cryptic. I think the problem is that she has decided that she wants to talk about Important Stuff, just as if the web was a private diary. However, you have to protect the innocent, and keep some things private, and the result verges on the inscrutable.

This is the second time I've attempted to write this entry. While writing version one, I started to speculate about the degree to which Netscape had implemented the various Emacs editing commands. For example, Alt-D works fine to delete words. I wondered about Alt-Q to fill a paragraph, typed it in and promptly caused Netscape to exit. My immortal prose had only been in a text entry box, and it was lost forever. (So much for immortal!)

Got to test the oven last night; it works, hurrah!

Friday, 24 March 2000

Umm, a variety really

Listening to:

Little brown jug, performed by Glenn Miller et al..

Went to Hunger Site today and discovered that they've changed their original design. There's less text on the page; and now the site attempts to set a cookie when you connect to it. Hrumph!

The situation in Northern Ireland continues to develop. David Trimble now has a challenger for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party. Heard all about it on the BBC Radio 4's great Today programme. The “informed opinion” certainly seemed to think that the challenge by Smyth would be bad if it succeeded, because Smyth is against the Good Friday agreement.

This web-log is a bad habit in many ways. It's just encouraging me to document my life in yet another way. I've already mentioned my “pen-and-paper” diary, but you didn't know about the lab logbook, nor the book-list, did you?

Trawling through Salon's pages the other day, I came across some interesting essays by Ellen Ullman. One of them is all about the struggle software engineers have to keep up with the cutting edge. I wondered if I could class myself a S/W engineer, and decided that computer scientist was probably more accurate.

Monday, 27 March 2000

Entry #26

Listening to:
Mozart, string quartet in B flat major, K458
Just read:
(Incidentally, I embrace and welcome the ambiguity of the two meanings of "read"; consider "reed" and "red".) Elton, England under the Tudors. I've learnt all about Elizabeth I, the ridiculous end of Essex, Drake's circumnavigation of the world (only the second ever), and a whole panoply of other bits and pieces.

Perhaps one of the most interesting bits was the discussion of the English wars with Spain. Elton points out that English successes against a declining empire (Spain was in the middle of losing its Dutch territories) didn't necessarily mean that Spain was an easy target. In fact, after initial successes by the likes of Drake in the New World, the English really only had the success of repelling the Spanish Armada. Their own attempts to do something similar failed miserably. Elton thinks that the English were too ready to believe that Spain was a spent force, when it was in fact still the strongest European power.

To read:
Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. Just in case you thought I only read serious stuff. Pratchett is a good writer. I've come to dislike Granny Weatherwax a little; she seems too perfect and too powerful. She may be shown up in Carpe Jugulum, which I've started, but which is now on the official back-burner. I disliked the way in which she had to come out on top at the end of Witches Abroad. I think Pratchett could have just as easily allowed the witch native to the New Orleans setting to triumph.
Heard on the radio this morning that the film American Beauty (which I wrote about on the 16th last month) has won five Oscars.

Talking of Oscar-winning films, I've been amused recently by two humorous references to The English Patient. (Just got to love the way Miramax's web-site index of film names treats initial pronouns "an", "the" and the like as significant.) Anyway, one reference is a scathing reference to George W. Bush's way with words in Doonesbury. The other is the alleged use of the term by BMW executives to refer to the parlous state of their (English) ex-subsidiary Rover. If the state of their web-site is anything to go by, it's no surprise that BMW wanted to get rid of them.

Wednesday, 29 March 2000

New buildings

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony #4 in C minor, Op. 43. This symphony was composed in the mid-30s, but not performed until 1960. After being severely criticised by Pravda for his opera Lady Macbeth, Shostakovich withdrew this symphony from rehearsals and the next symphony of his to be performed was the fifth.

The Soviet Union in the 1930s has to have been one of the most terrifying places to live.

Forgot to put my watch on this morning after my shower. I'm cut off from the universe!

The supermarket saga continues: it seems that we may be about to acquire an Asda in place of the Co-op. We had to walk into town on Saturday morning to do our shoppping at the central Sainsbury's. Central Cambridge is carnage on Saturday; I can't recommend it. We did stop off to do some other window shopping though.

The Computer Lab is moving to a new building next year. The building site has recently been officially blessed. The pictures of big-wigs in hard-hats are ridiculous. It's all so much posturing, a mutant machismo maybe. Here's an example.

Friday, 31 March 2000

A crisis of conscience

Listening to:

Revolver by the Beatles.

Spam from Yale

I got an interesting “spam” from the Yale University Press yesterday. The writer asked me to advertise a recently published book on Brahms on my composers web-page, and offered a review copy.

I don’t know whether I should accept the offer or not. Being sent review copies of books by publishers is fairly standard practice, so I don’t have any qualms about being “bribed” into writing something positive. However, the big problem is really that I would have to read the thing. I have an enormous enough back-log of other books to read that I would feel guilty about promoting this freebie to the head of the queue. (I could hardly reply to the offer saying “Yes, I’d love the review copy, but I probably won’t get around to reading it for 18 months”, and yes, it is that much of a backlog; that’s why I have a list to keep track of it.)

In other news, it was revealed on the radio this morning that women in Britain are on average two inches shorter than women in the rest of Europe. This is apparently explained by the fact that there is a generally lower standard of living here, and poorer diets.