Tuesday, 2 May 2000
The longest journey
Bach, Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. More
of that beautiful religious music.
- The longest
journey by E. M. Forster.
I didn’t end up liking
this as much as Where angels fear to tread. It
held my attention throughout its length, not least because there
was some great plot development. However, the final section
(some 80 pages), a denouement of sorts after the plot’s greatest
climax, was a disappointment. It was too long, there was too
much authorial comment, and to make it worse, the comment was
tedious Romantic rhapsodising about the importance of being
close to the earth, and not bowing down to society’s awful
conventions. These are fine sentiments for a character to
express by word or deed, because you can then take them or leave
them with the character. If the author starts getting all
ideological himself, I begin to object. In WAFT
(great acronym :-), the novel expresses some similar ideas but
To read next:
Darwin among the machines by George
Dyson. It gets quite a good review
on the New
Wednesday, 3 May 2000
Games with the Universe
Schumann, symphony #1 in B flat major, op 38 "Spring".
I should have explained yesterday that the reason I was writing on a
Tuesday rather than Monday was that Monday was a Bank Holiday in
England (and possibly other parts of Britain too). We were nominally
celebrating May Day. Any excuse for a holiday as far as I’m
Perhaps the May Day connotations affected my choice of colour scheme
for the month.
Another thing I should have said yesterday was that although I bought
all six Forster novels at once, I decided on getting them that I
wouldn’t read them all in a row. Instead I get to read two, and then
break for something else. That’s how Dyson gets to appear between
The longest journey and Room with a view.
In another of my little games with the universe, I have started
wearing shorts. The intention is that I will keep doing so until 1
October. As I tell the incredulous, I had to wear shorts all year
round when I went to secondary school, so just doing so for 5 months
of the year shouldn't be too difficult. (It does get colder in
Cambridge than in Wellington though.)
While on the subject of calendars, I recently discovered the site for
the Long Now project. It's
something I'd like to know was going to succeed, but the nature of
things is such that the best we'll see is it set up and lasting our
Friday, 5 May 2000
Mozart, piano trio in C, K 548. Sprightly,
Democracy in Action
I’ve yet to see a copy of the
I love you virus. But then, I don’t
use a Windows machine, so it wouldn’t have affected me in any case.
It’s clearly kept David
Chess busy; his log entry for yesterday is very short indeed.
England had a bunch of local elections yesterday. It was good to go
to the polling station and feel that one was doing one’s bit for
democracy. By virtue of Commonwealth citizenship, I am even able to
vote in the UK’s national elections; which is just as well in terms of
supporting democracy because I can no longer vote in New Zealand
elections, having lived away for too long.
There doesn’t seem to be an official elections result page for these
elections on the Web. The newspapers have results (Cambridge council
is now controlled by the Liberal
Democrats), but not in any particular detail. I have no idea
whether or not the particular councillor I voted for got in or not.
page hasn't been updated yet.
Our towels were still damp from swimming on Wednesday, so we decided
to skip it today. The shame, the shame!
Monday, 8 May 2000
Darwin among the machines
Bebop by Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie.
- Darwin among the
machines by George Dyson.
This wasn’t that good
after all. The historical narrative seemed accurate, and was
interesting. However, the conclusions Dyson was drawing about
the nature of AI, evolution and all that sort of thing, were
waffly (i.e., lacked precision, making it impossible to tell
what, if anything he meant), and occasionally just bizarre.
Java a meta-language? Object oriented programming languages
somehow analogous to the random processes of natural
selection? Yeah, right.
To read next:
Back to Forster; Room with a view.
Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Beethoven, Fidelio. This is the recent
Naxos recording. It got quite positive reviews, so I thought
that £10 for two CDs was almost certainly worth it. I’m not
attempting to follow the libretto (only in German) or the plot
synopsis (in English) from the booklet. I’m happy to get a
sense of the music from just having it on in the background.
Health Tip from
Don’t eat acidic apples on empty stomachs in the late
I went to see the film Galaxy Quest on Friday evening.
It is brainless stuff really, but amusing nonetheless. There is an "official" web-page for the
movie that is a good send-up of movie fan-sites in general.
Sure, this sort of spoof, of movies and of fan-sites, is easy to pull
off as the targets are so obvious, but that doesn’t stop them being
Friday, 12 May 2000
Wanna be a polyglot
Brahms, sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat, op
120 #2. More of that beautiful Brahms clarinet
I’ve decided that I want to be able to read and speak more
languages, and that I want to be much better at my existing
second languages (French and Japanese). I don’t know
how or when I will find the time necessary to do this, but
at least now I have a goal in mind. I want to be able to
read librettos published only in German, I want to
read Virgil's Aeneid in the original Latin.
I got all enthused about the Aeneid by an
interesting review of a book about it in the
London Review of Books.
Unfortunately, their web-site doesn’t have their full
content online. Apparently this may change. All I can
link to at the moment is the contents page from the
Friday, 19 May 2000
A Room With a View
Brahms, Intermezzo in C sharp minor, from Three
Intermezzi, op. 117.
- A room with a view by E.
I read this while on holiday in the south of
France, and it seemed appropriate to be reading about
Italy and its effect on the English while in another
warm Mediterranean country.
I thought ARWAV was OK, but not great.
Part of the problem was that the characters weren’t
really that sympathetic. Sure, you’re meant to like
Lucy Honeychurch, but she remains a bit of a cipher
in my opinion. Somehow the reader is only told about
her mental and emotional turmoil, and not able to
really feel it. This makes reading the novel a rather
detached experience. I suppose the cause of this is
that it’s difficult to identify with Lucy’s
predicament because it’s so foreign to our everyday
Howard’s End by that man Forster again.
My opinion of this is higher. The principal
characters don’t seem as diffident (alternatively:
in such obvious need of a kick up the backside), and
the general Forsterian humour, which I definitely
appreciate, is still there.
La Belle France
So, as alluded to above, I’ve been in France for a holiday
recently. This has caused the log to go into entry
deficit. I will attempt to do four entries next
week and the week after to make up for this appalling
The trip away saw me see some great sights:
Baux de Provence, Arles
Monday, 22 May 2000
Mahler, Forster and Fiji
Mahler Das Lied von der Erde. This
famous piece is not typically counted as one of
Mahler’s nine symphonies, but it is really symphonic
in scale and character. It was written after the
death of Mahler’s four year old daughter, taking as
texts some supposedly Chinese poems in German
translation. The overall theme of the poems is of
the beauties of the earth and its eternal cycle of
death and rebirth. I found that it took me a while
to “get” this music, but I now think it’s one of my
favourite works by Mahler.
Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. The novel
is developing apace. It’s hard to believe that the
impending marriage between Margaret Schlegel and Henry
Wilcox will be a glorious success, but at least
Margaret’s personal emotions and feelings seem to
make a deal of sense. She is much more successfully
drawn than Lucy Honeychurch.
A coup in Fiji
There has been an attempted coup in Fiji. I lived for over two years
in Nadi as a young child, and started school there. I can’t really
remember much from that time, and certainly wasn’t aware of the
tension between the native Fijians and the Fijians of Indian descent.
There has already been one coup in Fiji, led by Sitiveni Rabuka in
1987, and the thought of another one plunging the country into chaos
again is very disheartening.
However, this “coup” doesn’t seem to have the
support of the army, and
the President there seems to be holding firm, despite the fact that
much of the rest of the country’s top politicians are being held
hostage in the Parliament in Suva. For example, there are press
releases from the real government at the official web-site.
Tuesday, 23 May 2000
...the oft-told story of Abdul Kassem Ismael,
who was said to have had a library of 117,000 books in tenth-century
Persia. Not only did he carry his library with him while he
traveled, on the backs of 400 camels, he trained the camels to walk
in alphabetical order.
- Listening to:
- Brahms, Variations and Fugue on a theme by
Handel, op 24. This is the last Brahms CD of
I think my one Britten CD is next.
- If you've been exercising quite hard in the pool, and
find yourself dizzy and feeling a little sick upon getting out;
find yourself a patch of ground to sit on, bow your head, put it
between your knees even, and wait for the blood to get back to
Wednesday, 24 May 2000
- Listening to:
- Bach, Goldberg variations.
I subscribe to a magazine called BBC Music magazine
like it because in addition to lots of classical music reviews each
month, it comes with a cover CD of complete works (the Britten I
mentioned yesterday is one such). This contrasts with
magazine which comes with a cover CD
containing a dozen or more musical snippets. To my mind, there is
precious little enjoyment to be had from hearing 5 minutes of the
Schumann's 4th symphony, or 3 minutes of Beethoven's
However, it's not my intention to whine about this phenomenon today.
Instead, I am going to comment on the way the web evolves, as
illustrated by the web-sites for the BBC magazine. First take a look
site. It's only when you scroll to the bottom of the page that
you find that it hasn't been updated since July last year. There is
no link to the new
The BBC is in a funny situation. It is a publically funded
broadcaster, but I believe it has been given permission to run
suitably separated bits of itself more commercially. In particular,
some of its Internet operations are allowed to go down this route.
Given how crap the newer site is (it gets on my wick by explicitly
setting font sizes; these end up minuscule on my screen), I guess it
is part of this brave new commercial world.
Friday, 26 May 2000
- Listening to:
- Haydn, string quartet in E flat major, Op. 50, No. 3.
The opus 50 quartets are known as the Prussian
quartets because they were dedicated to King Frederick William
II of Prussia. King Frederick played the cello, and Mozart and
Beethoven also sought his favour: Mozart through string quartets
that gave the cello part a "certain prominence"; and Beethoven
through his first cello sonatas.
The music is beautiful, and intimate.
Computer viruses are a hot topic these days; this
is a little different though. Rather than a virus that
replicates across real-world computers, it's a virus that replicates
across simulated world people. Of course, it's all a game so that's
alright. The article writer runs out of things to say towards the
end, but it's an amusing read.
I went to see Gladiator on
Wednesday night. It's a good film, and very well made, but I do have
a number of reservations about it. I guess the most important of
these is the fact that it is not nuanced at all. It's very black and
white in its presentation of the characters, and they don't develop at
all. The plot is fairly predictable, but that doesn't stop it from
zinging along and keeping the viewer enthralled.
The characters are really larger-than-life archetypes. As such the
actors all do a great job, and the pain inflicted on the heroes is
very affecting. Ultimately, the film is dark; the ending isn't really
that happy, and you leave the cinema impressed at how brutal and grim
Ancient Rome was. (I'm sure this is quite accurate.)
Tuesday, 30 May 2000
- Listening to:
- Beethoven, Sonata No. 3 in A, Op. 69 for piano and
cello. Sonatas 1 & 2 were those dedicated to the King of
Prussia (see below). I'd just finished listening to those
before starting the log.
- Just read:
- Howard's End by E. M.
Forster. This is
the best of the four novels by Forster that I've read so far.
The previous best was Where angels fear to
tread. It's probably not entirely untrue to say that
I only rank Howard's End higher because it's
longer. The extra length gives it time to develop the
characters and make them a bit more believable.
WAFT didn't really do a lot in the way of deep
characterisation, but made up for it with wit and plotting.
In any case, Howard's End is good because its
characters are well-drawn, particularly the central character of
Margaret Schlegel, and because the plot is good, and because it
ends with the redemption of someone we want to see redeemed, and
for whom we believe redemption is possible and not too
Forster's big failing in The longest journey,
the insertion of authorial voice propagandising in the cause of
anti-urban Romanticism, only mars Howard's End
once, and briefly. It's chilling reading
"cosmopolitanism" being condemned, when the USSR
used the phrase "(rootless) cosmopolitans" as a
euphemism for Jews. I'd like to think that Forster
wasn't an anti-Semite (I don't know one way or the
other), but it's still creepy to read him using language
that was later adopted for this purpose.
- To read next:
- Madeleine's world by Brian Hall. Having
got through another pair of Forster novels, I am now onto
another "intermission" book. This is one I read the first
chapter of in an issue of Granta before buying. It's the
biography of a three year old written by the child's father. It
(or at least the first chapter) is very endearing, and further
proof that children are
what it's all about.
Wednesday, 31 May 2000
- Listening to:
- Bruckner, symphony #4 in E flat major "Romantic".
Democracy is a funny thing. The coup in Fiji has not developed well.
In Northern Ireland, the peace process is moving forward again, but
the Democratic Unionist Party
decided that it will retain its two seats on the now re-established
governing executive, but that it will periodically rotate the
Ministers in question, and that it will try to hinder the institution
as much as possible.
The decision to rotate positions seems very odd; although they've
already vowed never to sit down with Sinn Fein, perhaps they fear that if
they filled the posts with the same people for any length of time,
those people would become corrupted by democracy, and lose their
enthusiasm for wrecking the whole system.
Curiously, the DUP
calls what everyone else calls the Good Friday agreement,
the "Belfast Agreement".