Monday, 3 April 2000


Listening to:

Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde.

Just read:

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.

I read this in bed on Saturday morning, and thought it was great. Highly recommended. Of course, Pratchett's Death is a great character, and the wizards of the Unseen University are also very clever.

Now reading:

A pick of Punch, a collection of bits and pieces from Punch magazine. It’s not bad, but there are fewer laughs per page than in the Pratchett.

The person who compiled the collection is Miles Kington, who I think now writes a column for the Independent newspaper (their web-site requires JavaScript; ugh!). His taste, as revealed by both his columns and his selections, is all too fond of mannered whimsy in my opinion.

New Zealand have just lost the third cricket test to Australia. Cricketing news courtesy of the great CricInfo web-site.

Wednesday, 5 April 2000

The Folio Society

Listening to:

Mendelssohn, symphony #3 in A minor (Scottish).

I should have said last time that Pick of Punch (which I’m still reading) is from the Folio Society, a high-falutin’ book-club. They produce very nice hardback editions of books, complete with illustrations that are usually very good. I’m very keen on their series of Joseph Conrad's works (novels and collections of shorter pieces). They’ve published two a year for the last few years, and I now have seven, of which I’ve read Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness (which came with another couple of stories as well) and Nostromo. I thought the latter was particularly good.

However, I also have to admit that charges of pretentiousness might come a bit close to the mark with this outfit. They’ve been going for a while now, and some times I think that I’m shelling out more money than is warranted (four books a year at about £20 each).

Here’s a very amusing piece on Salon about the corporate cartoon characters of America, such as Ronald McDonald, and their over-anxious minders.

Friday, 7 April 2000


Listening to:

The white album by the Beatles.

I was wondering about the physics of bomb blasts the other day, perhaps prompted by the news of an explosion in an army barracks in Londonderry. If you’re not close enough to an explosion to be affected by the heat released, nor any flying bits of shrapnel from the bomb and its casing, how does the shock wave affect you? (Not well, I'm ready to believe, but I’m looking for a bit more detail than that).

What’s a “shock wave” anyway? It’s just air, innit? Does it do its damage by lifting you off the ground and slamming you into nearby buildings, or does the impact of the wave do damage in itself? I guess the latter must be the case. A famous IRA bomb in London caused plate glass windows on buildings within a large area to shatter, but you could explain this with the first hypothesis by noting that the windows were fixed into position and couldn’t react to the force of the explosion by flying away.

And if I’m behind a sturdy post-box (they’re big steel things in Britain), does that shelter me from the effects? At all?

Or am I underestimating the area of effect of the heat and shrapnel? Is this how a bomb does most of its damage? All these questions, and no real answers.

On a cheerier note, I was a happy customer of the Parkside pool this morning. I had a good swim, and emerged feeling simultaneously refreshed and pleasantly exercise-tired.

I was going to have a rant about anti-intellectualism and anti-education attitudes today (predictable stuff coming from an academic I suppose), but I think I've probably wittered on for long enough already, and I have two bug reports to deal with.

Monday, 10 April 2000

A slew of books

Listening to:

Brahms, symphony #3 in F, op 90. My traversal has passed through Beethoven and onto Brahms. This CD is the first Brahms CD I ever owned. I remember buying it and thinking, “I wonder if I’m going to like this.” Dear reader, I do.

This is the symphony that features briefly in an episode of Fawlty Towers. Basil is listening to the opening movement on a tape recorder, and Sybil, walking past, tells him to turn off the “racket”. Stridently, Basil replies, “Racket? Racket? This is Brahms’s third racket!”

Just read:

Pick of Punch

I finished this on Thursday night. It had its moments.

Granta 62: What young men do.

I read this in bed on Saturday morning. The previous Sea issue was better, but this was still pretty good. The title piece was all about rioting and carnage in Indonesian Borneo. There was an amusing story in there about a high-heels fetishist, and also a very interesting extended obituary for Martha Gellhorn, a respected journalist. (Well, the writer of the obit. certainly respected her.) She was Ernest Hemingway's second wife as well, and had interesting, and fairly derogatory things to say about him.

Where angels fear to tread by E. M. Forster.

I read this in bed on Sunday morning and thought it very good. I saw the film when it came out in NZ. This was one of at least three Forster adaptations featuring Helena Bonham-Carter that all seemed to come out at roughly the same time.

The book is really quite amusing for most of its length with savage, but funny, portraits of repressed Edwardian sensibilities. Nonetheless, there are dark tones throughout and the ending is definitely dark, if not absolutely tragic. I think I slightly missed some of the impact of the ending because I was reading so quickly, but that's just some indication of the way in which it was a compelling read.

To read next:

The longest journey, again by E. M. Forster. A while back I bought all six Forster novels and now the day of reckoning is upon me.

Wednesday, 12 April 2000

Stories of the blind

Listening to:

Brahms, symphony #4 in E minor, op 98. More great Brahms. I guess I could have said in my previous entry that I have become quite a fan of his.

Writing a diary entry last night, I realised that I didn't mention probably the most interesting and affecting part of the Granta issue that I read on Saturday. This was an account of a journalist and his increasing blindness caused by cataracts and a dodgy retina. His description of the way in which the world around him faded from view was really very powerful. There was a happy ending too; a doctor did the required operation, and lo, his sight was restored.

I’m quite willing to believe that the reason I didn’t remember this part of the issue when writing on Monday was because the censorious part of my brain didn't want me to think about such scary stuff. The truth will set you free and all that, but you might not like it.

It reminds me of a funny thing that happened to a lab-mate of mine. He was doing a web-site for someone, and had to explain at one point that putting real text into the page instead of graphics which had that text in them was a good idea. He mentioned that it made searching and indexing better, and that it wouldn’t prevent people with Braille readers from accessing the site. Impressed by this, the clueless client gave way.

A little later, lab-mate was contacted by someone else within the generally clueless organisation: I hear you’re doing some Braille web-pages for us...

Friday, 14 April 2000

Work and play

Listening to:

Pink Floyd Dark side of the moon. My office-mate is having a week and a half off in the US. My neighbour is also away all this week. This means that I can dispense with the headphones, and listen to my music the way nature intended! :-)

Work-list, play list

Work, work, work. Cooper's algorithm for deciding Presburger arithmetic, the semantics of C, contexts, action calculi, the lambda calculus, type systems, subject reduction, interactive theorem proving.

Play, play, a little. If music be the food of love, play on, swimming, badminton, games on computers or not, big college feasts in honour of ancient benefactors.

And there I must leave you, because both of the above are today taking precedence over my compulsion to document my life.

Monday, 17 April 2000

Starting The longest journey

Listening to:

Mozart Coronation mass in C major, K. 317.

Still reading:

The longest journey by E. M. Forster. I read the first few chapters of this on Sunday morning. I like Forster’s style; his writing seems quite lucid and unaffected. I’ve only managed a few chapters so far, but the characters don't seem as well-drawn as in Where angels fear to tread. They’re not as vivid. I could grow to like the main character Rickie E., but his is still a character that clearly has a lot of developing to do. Just as you’re not meant to approve of everything Pip does in Great Expectations, so too Rickie has some growing up to do.

I was playing the tourist guide in Cambridge yesterday for a friend over from NZ. Miraculously the weather improved after a dreadful Saturday. You can see what Cambridge looks like right now, if you like.

Wednesday, 19 April 2000


Listening to:

Heinrich Schütz, Motets for double choir. This is beautiful choral music with a distinctive “churchy”, ancient sound.

Once upon a time, someone told me something like the following story:

Once a upon a time, a child was born to talented musical parents. They decided that the child should be raised in complete isolation from the human, musical world, and that its only aural companions should be the sounds of the birds and animals of the fields and the forests.

After seven years of this musically isolated upbringing, the parents finally introduced their child to a piano, and were all aquiver to see what the young child would do.

After hitting the keys of the piano and beginning to understand their function, the child, slowly, but with increasing confidence, picked out the simple beauty of Bach’s C major prelude from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier...

I have rarely been so irritated.

Friday, 21 April 2000

Entry #37

Listening to:
Bach, Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier. This music has a reputation for being rather intellectual; something that Bach dashed off as an exercise for aspiring pianists (I'm actually listening to it played on a harpsichord, but that is another debate in its own right). Certainly, I think it would be a mistake to look for great emotional extremes in it. Nonetheless, it is not sterile.

I find beauty in it, and it's not just the sort of celestial beauty of the spheres that some Bach enthusiasts rabbit on about. Having moved onto the G minor prelude in the course of writing this, I can remark on the contrast that this has with its predecessor in the major. This is wistful, measured and slightly melancholic. Now the fugue: this is not wistful. If anything it's slightly defiant in a deliberate way.

Great listening, but I don't have time to write a real-time reaction to it; tempting though that is.

Earlier, I cycled to a couple of nearby shops to buy some bits and pieces for dinner tonight. On the way, I passed a procession walking down the footpath. I overtook them, and could see before I reached them that they were a big enough group to qualify for a couple of police-men as escorts.

Wondering idly if they were off to the Co-op (where I myself was headed) to protest about something heinous the supermarket had done, I passed them to find that their placards had "Jesus is King" type messages on them. Little kids just had little flags with "J"s on them. Brrr! Organised religion.

The deli had all that I needed: olives, olive oil, bread and some rich ice-cream. Free samples as well. It's a great place, and the guy behind the counter is always very friendly.

Tuesday, 25 April 2000

Computer games; Forster

Listening to:

Brahms, double concerto for violin and cello in A minor, op. 102.

Still reading:

E. M. Forster, The longest journey. I didn’t get a whole lot further this week. Rickie Elliot is rather less sympathetic now, and it s starting to become clear that this novel could well be one where the main characters are all more or less irritating. I’m still enjoying it though. The writing is good, and the characters are interesting, even if they do deserve a come-uppance.

I didn’t write yesterday because I was away in London, on a brief Easter holiday. Although we did venture out into the big smoke on Saturday, much of the rest of the time was spent playing computer games. I played two games new to me, King of Dragon Pass and Pharaoh. Both are strategy/simulation games, just like Railroad Tycoon II, which I’ve already described briefly before.

Today is ANZAC Day.

Wednesday, 26 April 2000

Religious music

Listening to:

Bach, cantata Ich habe genug, BWV 82. There has been a bit of a discussion on the DSCH-L mailing list recently about how one should approach "meaningful" music. The example of Bach's music was cited. He wrote a great deal of religious music, including this cantata. The question is, is the non-Christian or atheist forced to listen to it as “pure” music, or can they appreciate it for its underlying meaning.

I’d equivocate a bit on this one. On the one hand, I can easily listen to and greatly enjoy Bach’s music, while still completely ignoring the religious content. I don’t know any German or Latin so this is easily done for the sung works. On the other hand, knowing a bit more about what is being sung tends to add to the experience.

Intemperate rants about how awful Salon is (by Paul Ford of ftrain) notwithstanding, I still find little bits and pieces there that I enjoy reading. Try this heart-warming tale about a Unix teacher from Australia.

Friday, 28 April 2000

Brahms’s Clarinet Music

Listening to:

Brahms, trio in A minor, Op 114 for piano, clarinet and cello.

I’ve always been very fond of music for the clarinet. Even as a kid, I thought Mozart's clarinet concerto was just the greatest. When it was time to “upgrade” from recorder at the Saturday morning music lessons I went to, it was very easy to choose to learn to do clarinet myself. I never put in quite enough time to feel that I was that great, but I did at least do grade 5 practical affiliated to one or other of the music schools (Royal College of Music or Trinity College of Music).

Brahms’s clarinet music, i.e., this trio, the clarinet quintet, and the sonatas for clarinet and piano, were all written quite late in his life. All these pieces are full of beautiful melancholy. They’re not sobbing melodramas; rather they’re wistful art, sometimes almost happy as if looking back on the best bits of life in muted remembrance, and at other times sad, perhaps rueing lost opportunities.

I liked this rant on Elian Gonzalez. It’s a “New Zealand” perspective on it all, but I think that in this case all this means is that you know it’s a perspective with some distance on the events. Of course, the risk of distance is that you might be getting the facts wrong.