Tuesday, 2 May 2000

The longest journey

Listening to:

Bach, Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. More of that beautiful religious music.

Just read:

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 more successfully.

To read next:

Darwin among the machines by George Dyson. It gets quite a good review on the New Scientist web-site.

Wednesday, 3 May 2000

Games with the Universe

Listening to:

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 concerned.

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 lifetimes.

Friday, 5 May 2000

Local Elections

Listening to:

Mozart, piano trio in C, K 548. Sprightly, ebullient music.

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. The council’s 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

Listening to:

Bebop by Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie.

Just read:

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

Galaxy Quest

Listening to:

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.

Galaxy Quest

Health Tip from Personal Experience #1:

Don’t eat acidic apples on empty stomachs in the late afternoon.

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 amusing.

Friday, 12 May 2000

Wanna be a polyglot

Listening to:

Brahms, sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat, op 120 #2. More of that beautiful Brahms clarinet music.

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 relevant issue.

Friday, 19 May 2000

A Room With a View

Listening to:

Brahms, Intermezzo in C sharp minor, from Three Intermezzi, op. 117.

Just read:

A room with a view by E. M. Forster.

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 experience.

Now reading:

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 situation.

The trip away saw me see some great sights: Les Baux de Provence, Arles and Aigues-Mortes.

Monday, 22 May 2000

Mahler, Forster and Fiji

Listening to:

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.

Still reading:

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

Entry #49

Listening to:
Brahms, Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, op 24. This is the last Brahms CD of the traversal. 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 your brain.
...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.

Wednesday, 24 May 2000

Entry #50

Listening to:
Bach, Goldberg variations.
I subscribe to a magazine called BBC Music magazine. I 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 Gramophone 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 Pastoral.

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 at this 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 site either.

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

Entry #51

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 one 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

Entry #52

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 unlikely.

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

Entry #53

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 has 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".