Friday, 2 June 2000

The Green and Slender Willow

Listening to:

Shostakovich, Six Romances on words by Japanese poets, op. 21 for tenor and orchestra. The current poem is called An immodest glance and reads (in English):

The green and slender willow
had her swaying trunk laid bare,
when the wind blew, and drew
the branches aside.

And today, my beloved,
I glimpsed your legs,
when the wind blew
and played with your light dress.

Racy stuff, classical music, you know!

The makers of the computer games Thief (and its sequel, memorably called Thief II) have gone out of business.

I would have liked to have written yesterday, in order to help clear the entry deficit but my computer was down and out all morning and receiving the ministrations of a qualified professional (i.e., not me!).

Monday, 5 June 2000

Bruckner, Madeleine’s world and Maurice

Listening to:

Bruckner, symphony #6 in A major. The recording I’m listening to is a Naxos one, with Georg Tintner conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. This is the only recording of the work that I’ve heard, so I’m not in much of a position to judge its merit. I’ve come to like the work through it though, so it can’t be all bad.

Just read:

Madeleine’s world by Brian Hall.

This was a very enjoyable morning’s read on Saturday. It is perhaps slightly susceptible to the charge of being a bit cute and sentimental, but I think this inevitable aspect of talking about small children is kept very well in hand.

Now reading:

Maurice by E. M. Forster. Are you sick of hearing about Forster yet? Somewhat to my surprise, I’m not sick of reading him yet. Maurice is quite different from the previous novels. Forster required it to be published posthumously because of its subject matter: the story of a young man coming to realise that he is homosexual. I am only up to the point where Durham has declared his love for Maurice, and where Maurice, not yet figuring out the nature of his own feelings, rejects him. Then Maurice has a little break-down and sees the light.

I’m enjoying it so far. Maurice is, despite himself, turning into a reasonable person in front of our eyes, and it's simultaneously an engaging romance. So far anyway. Naturally, if it is to be like other romances, there will be all sorts of trials and tribulations to suffer through first. Assuming that it's going to continue to be an accurate picture of the time, the homosexuality will cause its own problems.

Tuesday, 6 June 2000

Entry #56

Listening to:
Pergolesi, Stabat Mater. This is the one work that Pergolesi is really famous for. It is scored for two voices (a soprano and an alto in the recording that I'm listening to), strings and continuo. Pergolesi died at the age of 26, and this work was written in the last weeks of his life.
My second-to-last entry attempted to use the HTML <blockquote> device to present the text of the Japanese poem. I used <br> elements to end the lines, and to put a blank line between the two verses. Disturbingly, even such a simple task as this ends up looking different on the three different browsers I have access to, Netscape, Internet Explorer and Lynx.

Explorer seemed to do the best job; it indented the text, and was happy to put the blank line in place. Netscape neither indented the text, nor put a blank line in between the text preceding the poem and the poem itself. I put an extra <br> into the text just to fix this, so now the Explorer version looks odd because of the extra line's worth of white-space. What a pain!

It seems that Google has come up with a new form of web-searching, called MentalPlex.

Wednesday, 7 June 2000

Plant and Fiji news (with robotic delivery?)

Listening to:

Bach, English suite #1 BWV 806.

My famous weeping fig (it’s featured in every incarnation of my Cambridge home page since I got here in October 1994) is looking a bit poorly these days. I think it’s because it went for rather a long spell without being watered. Although I’m now being much more conscientious about giving it regular doses, it still seems a bit unhappy. I don’t need to give the trunk any more than a gentle shake and I’m guaranteed to have one or two pale leaves detach and come floating down. Further, the leaves seem happy to do it on their own overnight, so one corner of the desk is gradually being covered in dead leaves.

Fiji is to be excluded from some high-level body within the Commonwealth until there is a resumption of the rule of law. At the moment, the coup leader, George Speight is insisting that he be prime minister in any interim government appointed before new elections are held under a new, suitably racist constitution.

The news-reading “robot” Ananova (also described in this Washington Post article) would tell me all about it, if only I wasn't running Linux, I guess.

Friday, 9 June 2000

Mahler, and writing

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony #3. This is Mahler’s longest symphony, and the longest symphony of anyone’s commonly performed. My recording (on Naxos), takes one hour and forty-one minutes. Of it, Mahler said that it should contain all nature.


My entry deficit is finally beaten with this entry. I am back to my three-a-week average, and is all well with the world.

I’m currently writing an article which really needs to be submitted today, so I will be terse, and say just to look out for it in the Computer Journal.

“That’s hubris, that is.”
“Yeah, I’ll say; cocky authors, who d’they think they are?”

Tuesday, 13 June 2000

Past England

Listening to:

Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance marches. These are the quintessential Imperial English tunes. It’s easy to imagine the feeling of Victorian pride and confidence that might have attended their first performances. Of course, maybe I’m imagining a pride too far. Circumstances when they were written may have been utterly unlike the way we imagine them now. Nonetheless, this is the aura I think most people attach to them now. Women in the elaborate dresses; men with monocles and an Empire on which the Sun never sets.

Still reading:

Maurice by E. M. Forster. This conveys rather a different picture of a similar era needless to say. However, I’m afraid to report that I haven’t made any progress with it at all. This is because I was in London over the weekend. We went to see the Tower of London on Sunday. It’s an impressive building, and fascinating for the history that it “embodies”.

Wednesday, 14 June 2000

Bits and bobs

Listening to:

Chopin, 24 Preludes.

Here’s an interesting piece on the way in which the government here wants to legislate to allow itself the right to monitor all e-mail as a matter of course.

...the Home Office, which knows little of business and even less about the internet, but is endlessly attentive to the needs of the police, the security services and the Byzantine imperatives of official secrecy.

Here’s a response.

Friday, 16 June 2000

Entry #61

Listening to:
Martinu, Cello Sonata #2, H340. This is angular, modern music, written in New York in 1941. It takes a little bit of getting used to. With the help of the BBC music magazine, I am accumulating a list of positive reviews of cheap Naxos recordings of things I haven't heard before. This way I get to broaden my horizons but do it pretty cheaply.
The BBC has been annoying me a bit of late. In Britain, there has been a bit of a brou-haha of late about asylum seekers. The government now seems to feel that it can't be seen to be "soft" on the issue, the Conservative opposition party having made popularity gains by casting itself as the hard-line option.

So, not so long ago, there was a story about a plan the government had to increase the numbers of rejected asylum seekers who were deported. Apparently, many who fail to gain asylum still manage to stay in the country anyway. So, the impact of the policy was described solely in terms of absolute numbers of people who would be housed in camps and then deported. Year by year, the plan was for this number to increase. What annoyed me was that it was not at all clear what these numbers meant. Was the fact that they were increasing an indication that they were going to be handling a greater proportion of rejections in this way, or was it an indication that the number of rejections was going to go up as a proportion of the number of asylum seekers, or was it an indication that the number of asylum seekers was going to be increasing?

The whole story made me quite irritated. Talk about a classic case of innumeracy in public discourse. The Refugee Council didn't tell me enough to be able to figure it out either.

Monday, 19 June 2000

Forster and English football

Listening to:

Chopin, a CD called Rondos and variations played by Idil Biret. The current track is called Variations brillantes. It seems an accurate title.

Just read:

E. M. Forster's Maurice.

Well, how wrong I was. Clive Durham didn’t work out at all. Sorry for the spoiler, but I have to say that it wasn’t really a conventional romantic novel at all. It did have a happy ending though. I liked it a lot. I think I may even put it above Howard’s End in my Forster ranking.

Now reading:

A passage to India by, yes, you guessed it, E. M. Forster. I’ve read Part I of this, and have liked it a great deal so far. More on it as the story develops. I wonder though what someone like Kipling made of this when it came out. Apparently (according to the blurb on the back of the book), this was Forster’s most successful novel and has sold in its millions.

The English football team won their group match against Germany 1-0 on Saturday night. The fans went a-rioting in Charleroi (Belgium) and around 500 of them were arrested. As I believe the Duke of Wellington said of his army, I don’t know what they do to the enemy, but they scare the hell out of me. This country is bizarre; it will serve them all right if the team does get kicked out of the competition, as I heard the authorities have suggested.

Wednesday, 21 June 2000


Listening to:

Beethoven, symphony #2 in D major, op 36. This is a recording from 1963 with Herbert Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, a very famous coupling. Nonetheless, as Hofstadter says in Le ton beau de Marot (not a bad book BTW), it’s Beethoven who should get top billing.

I actually have a box set in front of me of all of the 1963 recordings of the nine symphonies. I chose this particular CD because it couples the 2nd with the 4th symphony. Of the nine, I know the 4th least well, so I like to listen to its freshness and surprises. Does this mean that other music, which I’ve listened to many, many times is stale? Well, maybe stale is too strong a word. No, I like to hear the familiar development. I like to hear again how beautiful it is, even though I know what’s "going to happen".

How am I a geek? Let me count the ways...

One of the ways is that I'm a definite map-geek. I've been amusing myself with MapQuest, and zipping around the world, looking at maps of all the places I've lived. There are varying levels of detail available. Best of all was Montréal, where I was able to see the street where I lived. (The link is to a larger view, where it's easy to see the neat fact that Montréal is a city on islands in the middle of a river.)

Sendai in Miyagi prefecture Japan wasn't great, but Nadi, Fiji is definitely worst. Few surprises there I suppose. It's a shame that even at their most detailed, the maps never get as nice as those that you can get in paper from the Ordnance Survey. But again, few surprises there.

Friday, 23 June 2000


Listening to:

Bach, St. Matthew Passion. This is probably Bach’s most famous choral piece. It’s great, wonderful even. You might take or leave the religious content, but it’s glorious music either way.

EBay: Sound or Not?

I’ve been interested in the E-Bay auction company for a while in a totally academic way (I’ve never used it, and checking that the above link worked was my first ever visit to their site). Comment elsewhere is not very positive, so I’m not very keen on the idea of using it myself.

Most positive is probably David Chess’s account, which conveys the excitement quite well. But then, just how secure is this setup anyway? This article from the New York Times is all about a suspected ring of "shill" bidders, i.e., bidders who bid up the sale price in an attempt to net the seller a better deal.

Rational buyers should not be taken in by such schemes, whether or not the seller shill-bids themselves or has others to do it for them. If you bid what you think the item is worth, then you will either get it for that price or not, and it should be no concern of yours that someone else may end up paying more than they really wanted. Maybe they’ll sell it onto you later.

More worrying is Phil Agre’s description of the scheme on EBay for communal monitoring of buyers and sellers’ behaviour. Basically, Agre points out that there is not much incentive to be negative in one’s comments about others, thereby devaluing the information there.

Monday, 26 June 2000

A Passage to India

Listening to:

Mozart, piano concerto #9 in E flat major, KV 271.

Just read:

A passage to India by E. M. Forster.

I greatly enjoyed this novel. In some ways, it was more of the same. Certainly Forster seems to relish the chance to describe the interaction of two worlds, where one world is the conventional English setting familiar to him, and the other is something exotic. Sometimes the focus is on the impact of the exotic on the English, as in the two Italian novels (Where angels fear to tread and A room with a view), and sometimes the other way around gets most attention, as in Maurice and APTI.

In APTI, the principal character is probably Aziz. He opens and finishes the novel, and we get to see his internal thoughts and emotions most of all. It's difficult to know how likely a person he is, but at least Forster had actually been to India, so he’s probably not a complete fabrication of what Forster thought Moslem Indians should be like. It's really only during the novel’s central crisis that Aziz is apart from the narrative. Instead we get to see the English administration springing into sickening action.

Finally, I find the novel’s denouement very effective. This is in complete contrast to The longest journey.

To read next:

Plums of P. G. Wodehouse. This is another volume courtesy of the Folio Society.

Incidentally, the English football team are out of the Euro 2000 competition. They lost to Rumania, and didn’t need to be kicked out for the bad behaviour of their fans.

Wednesday, 28 June 2000

Entry #66

Listening to:
Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms. This is a recent recording with Pierre Boulez conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It has picked up a not entirely positive review at the BBC music magazine. I don't have any other recording, so I can't tell at this stage.

The third movement, which I'm listening to now, is quite beautiful and serene, with hushed voices singing over a gentle tympani pulse.

Of course, we're all big fans of Open Source these days. Whether you're an old style believer in the way of the FSF and the GNU system, or perhaps a more liberal, caring, 90s kinda person in the mold of Eric Raymond's famous Cathedral and Bazaar philosophy, you know that free software is where it's at.

However, it's also important to realise that it's not a panacaea. John Viega describes the way in which open-source does not cure security problems, and can even exacerbate them (because they're more readily found) in this interesting article and Eric Raymond (again) describes a similar issue with respect to the Quake 1 game.

Not that I lap up everything Raymond writes. He has an essay on the right to bear arms that I find completely astounding.

Friday, 30 June 2000

Pop psychology and a HP nay-sayer

Listening to:

Fauré, piano quartet no. 1 in C minor, op. 15.

Pop Psychology

Ever wondered why computer hackerdom is predominantly populated by males? The ABC (US version, not Australian) has an explanation. It’s a classic example of psychology by anecdote, and pretty unilluminating as a result.

What about a nay-sayer on the Harry Potter books? Here’s one.