The Den of Ubiquity

Wednesday, March 26, 2003:

Swimming Through Apologies

I got a new hard drive for my computer this week. Excitement, huh?

I've been thinking of something like that for a while, but a talk with Edna at work about how low hard drive prices were settled it. I had two 6-gig drives, and I was getting cramped on both of them. I wanted to do something about it while I still had enough free space to burn CDs.

That seemed to me the easiest way to copy/backup my D: drive, onto CD. I'd already taken three or four CDs worth of material off of there, but it kept filling up. I had a few CD-RWs, some of which I had burnt things onto for the Calgary trip last year, and I made up a plan of which combinations of directories to put on which CDs. Very efficient, the whole thing.

I ran out of CD-RWs, though. No problem--I had a bunch of CD-Rs that I'd gotten from work because they weren't working very reliably. I had burned a couple and had no difficulty, so I figured they just worked on my computer. I burned one, and it was fine. The next one some files didn't come through, but they were MP3s I was pretty sure I had backed up somewhere else. Then the next one didn't work, after three tries. I tried at 24x, I tried at 8x, and eventually I decided that maybe that was just a mostly bad batch after all.

So, I rearranged things to put the less mutable files onto other CD-Rs that I had on hand(but which had not been free), and then reburned the CD-RWs, and I had enough room.

I had been planning to go last Saturday, until, in shopping around on the Internet to compare prices, I discovered that one store was having an actual sale on the next weekend, that is, the weekend just past. So I held myself off for another week. I found myself drawn perversely to updating things like my book and music catalogues, stored on my D: drive and already backed up. Well, considering how long it's been since I did some of those things, I didn't mind that much. I copied them to my C: drive temporarily.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, I went to the computer store. $138 for an 80 MB drive--sweet. But I was worried about compatibility. I've got an HP computer, a Celeron 433, that I bought...well, shortly after Simon was born, so about three and a half years ago. And I'm running Windows 98 SE. It was entirely possible, I figured, that one or the other would be unable to cope with 80 MB. I asked at the store, and one of the tech guys tried checking it out, but concluded that HP supplied no helpful data one way or the other. His advice was to bring my computer in, and they would try to install the drive on a day when they were not busy with the sale. My computer might not be able to handle anything higher than 20 GB, or even 9.6 GB, or it might have no problem with 80. He couldn't tell.

I did that yesterday afternoon, and stood there with some trepidation as the tech tested the drive. And, lo and behold, my computer had no problem with it. Yay! So now I have an 80 MB drive. I did have to download "MaxBlast", an overlay program from Maxtor, the disk's manufacturers, because other Windows 98 SE wouldn't be able to grok the sheer immensity of the disk, but that worked no problem.

Now my biggest concern is the fact that all the files, copied back onto my new D: drive from the CD backup, default to having the read-only flag set. The same way that files always do when you copy them from CD, for some brain-dead reason. I mean, sure, unless you've got one of those fancy systems where a CD-RW can be treated as a gigantic floppy disk, the files on a CD-ROM are by definition read-only, but is there any reason that that flag should persist when you copy it to your hard drive? It wouldn't be such a big deal if there was a way to easily set the flags on all the files in a directory, and in its subdirectories, but as far as I know there isn't. (If there is, then let me know!)

Oh, and for some reason, in the backup procedure, all the files in the /usr/bin directory of my cygwin installation disappeared. In the sense of becoming invisible, that is. They were still there--I could see them from within cygwin--but Windows Explorer would have none of them. It claimed the folder was empty, not even hidden files within it. Cygwin knew that it was full. And when I checked, the \cygwin\usr\bin folder on the backup CD was similarly empty--but that's where I copied the files from, so it must have worked... Anyway, I solved the problem easily enough by copying everything from /usr/bin to /usr/bint from within Cygwin...and those files showed up no problem in Windows Explorer. I haven't quite worked up the courage to delete the original /usr/bin folder(now called /usr/bing), but I did rename it and replace it with the visible-file copy.

If it wasn't for the backup CD looking the same, I would blame it on a bug in the overlay program, but I guess it's not that. I don't know what it is, but I've worked around it, so unless it shows up again I won't worry about it.

We take Luke in for a checkup early tomorrow morning, so I have to finish this quickly, before "The West Wing" starts. (I'm still a bit annoyed that last week's episode was pre-empted by the shallow am I? I'd rather see a fictional American president than the real one, I guess. I can't take George W. Bush seriously with that eternally puzzled expression on his face.)

I finished reading the Steven Erikson book, of course--in fact, I've read four more books since then, but I might not have time to get to all of those. Anyway, it turned out to be a pretty damned good book, and I will continue in the series. I already had the next one, Deadhouse Gates(900 pages, to Gardens of The Moon's 700), and on the weekend I picked up the third, Memories of Ice(1100 pages); the fourth is out in hardcover, but I didn't check the page count.

Oddly enough, the characters that came together in the first book seem to split up into two groups--as far as I can tell from the back cover blurbs, anyway, you follow one group in the second book, and the other group in the third book. No idea how long the series is projected to be, either--these days you can get away with any length, it seems, with Robert Jordan opening the way. Anyway, the book did a great job of juggling all of its different characters, mingling modern politics and intrigue with feuds going back hundreds of thousands of years. It's not Robert Jordan, nor is it George R.R. Martin, or Glen Cook, but it you like some or all of those, you might like this series.

After that I read Son of The Mob by Gordon Korman. This is another of his rare teen books, as opposed to his other, middle-school-or-younger oriented books. He has a deft hand with character and humour, very much like Terry Pratchett in a way, though so far he sticks to mainstream. This book is not quite as funny as some of them, and there is a lot of seriousness in the underlying story of the son of a mafia don(who wants nothing to do with his father's business)falling for a girl...who turns out to be the daughter of the FBI agent bugging their house. It's still superb.

Time for some more of that lazy, hazy, crazy countdown of spring...

338. Brian Eno & John Cale: Cordoba, from Wrong Way Up

John Cale's participation in this collaboration has been described as "subdued", and this song is a perfect example. It's minimal, with spare touches of synthesizers and Cale's almost detached-sounding vocals. And yet there manages to be a sense of menace that builds throughout the song. Each line of the lyrics seems barely related to the rest, leaving many gaps in the story it tells. I keep thinking that the main character in the song is a terrorist, with a few odd references to packages and the like, but I can't be sure. In any case, it is a powerfully understated song.

337. Berlin: The Metro, from Pleasure Victim

I've finally come around to the opinion that Berlin's first album was their best, or at least contained some of their best songs. This is one of them, with a propulsive synthesizer rhythm(like a train, I suppose)supporting Terri Nunn's vocals, which are by turns biting and melancholy.

I'm not a member of the Animal Kingdom. I'm from the Animal Republic.

Aaron // 9:48 PM Clix me!

Friday, March 14, 2003:

Searching For The Undeniable Truth That A Man Is Just A Fool

It's been a bad week for fire in Edmonton.

On Tuesday,
an entire apartment building in the river valley burned down. I believe it's actually on my normal work route, but I haven't been that way in a few days. The street was blocked off Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, at least, causing big traffic snarls, so I've been taking an alternate route.

It apparently started because someone was trying to defrost a water pipe in the underground parkade with an acetylene torch. This is not as weird as it may sound to some people from warmer climates; it's usually an effective process and not that dangerous...except when the water pipe is in a ceiling full of cardboard insulation, from fire codes forty years or so out of date.

Then, last night, there was a fire right in the middle of the Arts District on Whyte Avenue. They haven't figured out what caused that one yet, but since the first one doesn't seem to be arson, we hopefully don't have a firebug on our hands. Otherwise I'd be very suspicious. The casualties there were limited to a pet store on the upper story, thankfully.

Both places are in the oldest sections of town, though. Old materials and old fire codes make them more fire risks. I expect that after this a lot of places will be brought up to the current code.

Weirdly enough, searching for these articles brought up links to another story involving a fire in the same area of the river valley, back in September. This one was just a single apartment, not the whole building, and practically more of the coverage came from the fact that several football players from the Edmonton Eskimos, the local CFL team, helped catch a woman who jumped. It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't the same fire as the above, though.

There are a lot of people out there with strong opinions about the whole U.S. vs. Iraq thing. Most of the entertainment community, for instance, seems to be strongly against the war. This is not that surprising to me. From what I've seen in the blogosphere, though, opinions there are a little more divided. This may be because of the "left-wing media bias" I've heard so much about.

It makes me think about Billy Joel's song "Shades of Grey", about how one can't always see issues in black and white any more. But even the song would probably be read as being opposed to war, because, of course, you can't say that the U.S. is right and Iraq is wrong, right?

But I take it one step further. Maybe Iraq is not evil and the U.S. is not good; maybe Saddam is not evil and George W. Bush is not good. But maybe George W. Bush is not evil either. (Or Dick Cheney, or whoever you think is really running the U.S. right now.) Can war be justified even if one side is not evil and the other side is not good?

Well, is war about good vs. evil, or is it about other things? Even though every single analogy ever made is imperfect, because analogy is not the same as identity, let's try some analogies on for size.

Let's say that you have a policeman who knows that a former criminal has firearms in his house. Are the police justified in going into the house and tearing it apart, or arresting the resident? Maybe they are, especially if the firearms are illegal. But what if they send some people in to search the house, and nobody can find the firearms? But the police say that it's still there, because they have secret information(not admissible in court).

Let's reduce it more simply. If the police think that a person is a threat, that they may commit a crime in the future, because they have in the past, then they are not justified in arresting that person, outside of "Minority Report".

And now let's break the analogy. If the criminal attacks or kills a person, then they can be arrested. So, therefore, should we only make war on a country that attacks another country first? Or even then?

Countries are bigger than people, of course. They take much longer to kill, for instance--or at least they did, before the advent of nuclear weapons. And that's the thing. In the days of land wars, or even land, air and sea wars, then if country A attacks country B, then country US could probably intervene before country B was too damaged.

There is, of course, the question of why Iraq, instead of North Korea, or Pakistan, or something. That, I don't know. I didn't say I was for the war, but that I could see the pro-war point of view. It always seems a bit more complex than the anti-war point of view, which seems to reduce to "Killing is always bad". I confess that I don't hold that as an axiom, which is why I can't always make myself agree with people who do. Killing is usually bad, but always? One can always come up with cases. And the opposite of "Killing is always bad" is not "Killing is always good", but "Killing is not always bad".

And that's about enough for me to say on the topic right now. Let me just say that I'm still on the fence.

From Billy Joel and fire, my mind immediately leaps to the song "We Didn't Start The Fire", of course. Which I happened to be listening to on the way to work today, and wanted to write about, but I didn't expect such a classy segue...

I like the song, but sometimes it bothers me a little bit, in a Gen-X vs. Baby Boomer sort of way. It covers elements of the news from, what, 1946 to 1965 or so, over several verses. And then it spends a single verse on 1966-1988(when the song came out), as if it were implying that things had started spiraling out of control once he reached adulthood.

Now, as someone who personally remembers very little news from before 1971*, I find this a little bit annoying. Sometimes I think I should try to come up with my own list of events from my own lifespan, to cover the first twenty years of my life or something. Of course, this would involve some research on my part. I know that there were a lot of significant things that never made it into Billy Joel's song--the Iran hostage crisis(though he does mention the Ayatollah, I suppose), the death of John Lennon, the Challenger explosion--and certainly a few things since, like the Gulf War, Monica Lewinsky, and September 11th.

Maybe someone's already done this. But it's still something I will probably think about from time to time. I'm not a big news follower--I'm pretty sure that I didn't hear about the Challenger explosion at the time, for instance, or cold fusion--so hey, if I heard about it, it must have been important.

Like many people, I imagine, sometimes I like to play the "what if I were omnipotent?" game. Oddly, I wouldn't really want to mess too much with the world as it is. I'd be the master of Holodecks, running simulations of the world if things were different. Experiencing it all vicariously, in a sense.

But then I keep thinking of John Brunner's book The Stone That Never Came Down, still one of my favourites of his. It's been a while since I read it, but here's how I remember it, more or less. At the beginning, they come up with some substance by accident--I think it's a drug or chemical, rather than a virus. A man gets injected with it, or ingests it, or whatever.

And after that he becomes a completely rational person. Not logical and emotionless--rational. Able to take everything into account before he does anything, not just working off of emotion, but taking it into account like everything else. The rest of the book follows him and those he recruit as they attempt to spread this substance throughout the rest of the world.

This, to me, would be something close to utopia.

Of course, the biggest problem with it would be that it might negatively impact the arts. If everyone was rational, what would happen to music, and books, and even TV and movies? Kim Stanley Robinson's The Pacific Edge was an attempt, fairly successful, to write a novel taking place in utopia, but still containing interpersonal conflict.

The way I've come to think about human emotions is kind of like the sense of taste. They are both wired into us for reasons that have nothing to do with modern human society, but a lot to do with whatever environment we evolved in before we started to bypass natural selection. And a lot of them both we probably share with other mammals.

The four basic tastes are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Anything more complicated than that has to come from the more complicated sense cells in the nose, though exactly how that works I'm not sure. The tastes all seem to have fairly straightforward associations. Sugar is good because it gives us a burst of energy, and when you're struggling to survive, that's a good thing. Salt is mostly good, because it something that we lose in the heat and need to replenish. Sour and bitter are probably meant to be bad, meaning things like underripe fruit or alkaline water. People like me who love sour things are probably freaks of evolution...or maybe underripe fruits are not as bad as all that.

Similarly, if you think why sulfur compounds smell bad, then it probably comes either from decay, or from volcanic gases, both of which are not that good for us. I'm not sure if volcanic gases would be prevalent enough to do that selection, though, so I'm not sure. (And remember, kids, that not everything is an adaptation. Some things are just left over from what we started with.)

So with emotions, I think that they come about the same way. Certain things make us happy the same way the sugar tastes sweet. And perhaps there are higher and more complex emotions the same way there are more complex tastes once you get other organs into it. Anger and fear and all those things affect us at a prehuman level.

Today, we know that eating too much sugar is bad, because we're wired for a time when there was never too much sugar, so we always turn it into fat. Are our emotions any more suited to a modern society? If we understood them better, then we would know better which ones were hazardous to our health.

I finished reading Precursor a few days ago, and it was pretty damn good. As always, despite most of the action seeming to occur off-screen, Cherryh keeps the tension cranked up to a high level. Perhaps because of the fact that the main character is mostly in the dark.

Then I breezed through Neil Gaiman's Coraline, which we had gotten from the library. It was pretty good, though I'm not sure if Simon will be getting a copy anytime soon. I'm taking the cover quote from Lemony Snicket to heart.

Now I'm starting another big huge fantasy series, "The Malazan Book of The Fallen" by Steven Erikson. I picked up the first two books mostly because he's a Canadian author, and I still like to support Canadian writers. I'm about a third of the way into the first book, Gardens of The Moon, and it's interesting. It managed to make the transition from one set of characters to another without losing my interest too much. The first part reminded me of both the Black Company books and, a little bit, of Michelle West's most recent fantasy series. The next part is a bit less intense, with more of a Thieves' World kind of atmosphere to it. So it's not all on one level. We'll see if it keeps my interest, and if I get to the second book anytime soon. Or buy the third.

I've been borrowing Red Dwarf videos from the library and rewatching them for the past few weeks. I got the first two series no problem, but the first half of the third is unfortunately missing; I might have to try to find that in a video store.

Some of them I'd actually only seen once before, and that on Showcase, a Canadian cable channel that, unbeknownst to me, cut several minutes out of them to put commercials in. Filthy swine. So some of what I saw was completely new, though admittedly not completely essential to the plot.

It's between the second and third series that they make a big break, though. Norman Lovett leaves as Holly, the ship's computer, replaced by Hattie Hayridge. Robert Llewellyn joins the cast as Kryten, giving the whole thing quite a different dynamic. And, in a hyperspeed rendition of the "Star Wars" opening info dump, they dispose of several plot threads from the first two series entirely. Maybe they just thought they'd written themselves into a corner. (Although there's still the bit where Lister five years later apparently goes back and marries Kochanski...did that ever happen? Or is that in the same timeline where Lister turned into a brain in a jar?)

Anyway, it's fun watching these again. I hope to be able to find the rest of them, and I also hope that one day they continue with the series...

A week or so ago, someone on the SF Canada listserver posted a link to an article in The Atlantic called "Caring For Your Introvert", by Jonathan Rauch. I tend to think of myself as a classic INTP personality, and years ago I had formulated the theory that introverts recharge from being with people by being alone, while extroverts recharge from being alone by being with people. It's nice to see that other people corroborate this as well.

If you are an introvert, or think you may be one, read this article. If you're not, but you know someone that you think may be(or is just no fun at parties), then read this article too. Of course, if you're a blogger, you're likely an introvert, right?

Now for some library CDs:

Ultravox: Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. This seems to be a collection of singles and rarities, or something, from the Midge Ure era of Ultravox. I'm less than enthralled by Ultravox in general, but there are some good tunes, like the title track and "Hymn", that I hadn't heard much before.

Talvin Singh: Ha. For some reason I was expecting India-style pop, like Dal-Dil-Vog or something, but this is all electronic and mostly instrumental, with some Indian instruments to spice it up a little bit. There are a couple of interesting tracks, but the rest came off as a little bit samey.

Wishbone Ash: Bona Fide. I didn't know much about this band, but I did read up on them at the All-Music Guide, as is my wont. They list this album as a "compilation", but given its lyrical references to September 11th, I'm inclined to think it's not. It veers from hard blues-rock to slightly softer stuff, and at no point struck me as essential.

The Stranglers: Hits And Heroes. Another singles/rarities collection, from the Stranglers, going up to "Strange Little Girl". I'm not that much of a fan of their earlier stuff, but "Golden Brown" is one of my favourite songs, and I found the other songs from that period to be interesting as well.

Spin This!. This is a compilation put out by Spin! magazine, a couple of years ago. I've never read the magazine, but The Spin Alternative Record Guide made quite an impression on me when I first read it. The fact that I found few of the artists lauded therein to be to any degree listenable has palled it on me somewhat, but I thought I'd check it out anyway.

It's mostly either rap, electronica, or sludge. The electronica I already had, and the other two I could mostly do without. The major exception to this was Nikka Costa's "Like A Feather", which must have gotten on by mistake, and Gorillaz' "19-2000", which I had apparently musically misfiled under rap. So hopefully I will get something out of it...

On to the countdown:

340. Duran Duran: New Religion, from Rio

Now that I've gotten over my phase of considering Duran Duran a guilty pleasure, and can like them guilt-free again, I have to acknowledge that I really like this song, mostly because of its interweaving vocal lines. When I first heard it, on an early-80's underdocumented cassette, I had no idea that its subtitle was "A dialogue between the ego and the alter ego", but now I have it on CD.

339. Traveling Wilburys: The End of The Line, from Vol. 1

The trading off of the five vocalists works well on this song, even if I still suspect that everyone gets to make up their own verse, and the harmonies when they get together are wonderful. I also can't help but associate this one with the video, made after Roy Orbison died, with the empty chair where he would have been sitting.

"Petting zoo? I thought this was a Killing and Corpse Raping Zoo..."

Aaron // 10:25 PM Clix me!

Friday, March 07, 2003:

A Break In The Battle

It is truly hellaciously cold(we're talking about the Eighth Circle here, the part of Hell that is actually frozen over)here. Today has been around -30° Celsius, and the rest of the week hasn't been much better. Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to describe. This morning, it was hard to see well enough to drive, because of all the exhaust fumes. Like one's own exhalations, they condense at such low temperatures, and you realize just how much your car is really putting out. (Most of it is probably water vapour and carbon dioxide, but still.) Of course, the most exhaust comes out when one's car accelerates forward, so if you're second in line at a traffic light, you may have to wait several seconds after the first person moves before you can see well enough to be sure you're not going to rear-end him, or hit a snowdrift or pedestrian or something.

Luckily there hasn't been too much new snow falling, mostly because of the cold. The sunniest days, with no clouds to hold in a little bit of warmth, are the coldest. There has been some bitter wind, though, and you discover the true meaning of the word "snowdrift". At those temperatures, snow is in little granules as tiny as sand, and they behave the same way in the wind. They might as well be called dunes.

Was it only last weekend that it was above freezing? I think it was, because Sharna came over in the afternoon on Sunday, and Simon and I were in the backyard building a snowman. Not the front yard, because that's where the driveway and sidewalk get shoveled into--the snow is much thicker, and it gets a fair amount of dirty ice and stuff too. Nobody will see it in the backyard, but that doesn't bother me too much.

I don't have a lot of snowman experience. Only the naïve think that all you need for a snowman is to have snow. You need sticky snow. You need to have snow, and yet have above-freezing temperatures. Maybe in some areas there are a lot of above-freezing days in winter, but northern Alberta is not one of those areas. So you take advantage of them when they come.

Luckily snowmen are not too hard to make. The biggest problem I had was taking the big balls of snow I had after rolling, and trying to smooth them out--they were so loosely packed that they often just fell apart. But I learned quickly. The snowman isn't particularly big, but it's got three globes, radishes for eyes, a baby-carrot noise, and a red pipe-cleaner mouth.

Sunday afternoon it started snowing, and the snowman got another layer on him; Sunday night was when it started to get really cold. So the snowman is still out there, and probably mostly ice by now. I can't help but hope that it gets warm enough for him to melt soon, though. I'm tired of winter now.

Remember how a little while ago I was telling you about Nicole's cousin who was pregnant with twins? The one who had the huge blood clot in her leg, and was in bed resting?

Well, she had her babies. Three months early. 27 weeks along, to be precise.

Needless to say, the twins are still at the hospital, in the preemie care unit(whatever its official name is), until they get a little bit closer to where they should have been born. They were about four pounds, I think. Mostly just skin and bones. Their mother's sent lots of pictures, and it's hard to see much because they've got so much medical gear strapped to them... Poor things, really. Definitely not encouraging siblings, I'd say.

Elizabeth and Katherine(Catherine?)are the names, anyway. Fairly traditional. Okay if you like that sort of thing.*

We'll probably wait at least until the babies are home from the hospital before we go and visit. Karen stayed in the hospital for a few days, mostly to get the rest of the blood clot dissolved now that they weren't worried about her going into labour and bleeding unstaunchably anymore.

Once again, we are grateful for how uneventful Nicole's pregnancies have been, really...

The toilet in our main floor bathroom is not the best. For a while now, it has generally refused to flush the whole way unless you hold down the handle for a few seconds extra. It was still the most frequently used, though, because let's face it, we spend a lot of time on the main floor.

And then, last week, it just snapped. The flush handle, that is. Nicole was going to call a plumber to fix it, but then she decided that $85(one quote)was too much for a stupid broken piece of plastic. So we decided that we would fix it ourselves. With some trepidation, as we are not the most handy people in the world.

On Saturday we headed over to Home Depot, armed with the broken pieces of the handle to make sure we ended up with something reasonably close. I always do that, terrified of buying the wrong kind or size of something, and maybe having to(shudder)return it. We did look at a metal handle instead of a plastic one, but weren't sure the chain would hook into it as well or something, so we just went with plastic again.

And when we brought it installed easily. It screwed together, we snapped the chain into place with a little bit of effort...and the toilet was fixed! We had saved...well, at least $60, if we had to count gas and time into the whole thing. (How much is my free time worth? An open question.) And we gained a certain measure of confidence, having succeeded at a simple home repair task.

For an encore, I even managed to replace the dimmer-switch cover in Simon's room that had broken off a year or two ago, that Nicole thought would need major effort to fix. Admittedly, it had been a handyman who had told her that. Shows what he knew...or maybe he was thinking to make a fast $100 on us.

Of course, we still have no idea how to fix the cupboard door in the kitchen that's come off. I've looked at it, and others that don't come off, and I can't tell what is different between them. I'll save that one until Nicole's parents move down in April. Her dad's handy. Even if he is 63 and coming down with Parkinson's, he could probably fix it better than I could.

Lately, at work, I've been dipping my toe into a programming practice called "Extreme Programming". It's also called "Agile" programming, apparently, because of people who like the concept but distrust the term "Extreme" for a paradigm that's supposed to be used every day, not just in "Extreme" situations. And I can see their point--it sounds like you should be programming while snowboarding or something.

There's a lot of different elements in Extreme Programming(often called XP, to the confusion of Windows users). Refactoring is one I'd already gotten into, and I was getting a toehold on testing. There's some other elements that I don't foresee introducing right away--especially pair programming. That's just like it sounds--having two people programming together. One types, and one watches over the other's shoulder. In my own limited experience with this, the watcher tends to notice a lot of typos and things before the typer.

It won't happen at Joseki, though, because we don't really have another full-time programmer. Edna does a lot of other things, and while I've switched over to Java, she's taken over all of the Visual Basic code--our existing code, in other words.

The Java seems to be going really well. I think I've learned a lot about programming since I went to University, from having done a lot of it, writing a huge project practically from scratch, practically all by myself. Now I find it easier to see what would make things easier, in a way that the software hacker I was, cobbling together little C or Perl or Pascal programs to run tiny simulations or keep track of data, never could. Not that my stamina has necessarily increased or anything.

The extreme programming cycle makes it easy to build a project by taking a large number of small steps. The testing procedures mean that you always know when you've broken something earlier in your code by introducing something new; refactoring makes it easier to avoid breaking things. In the true XP paradigm, you're supposed to write tests first, a few at a time, write your code until it passes the test, and then repeat. At the end of the day, you can decide to throw all the day's code away and start afresh the next day--write it off as a prototype or a blind alley. I haven't quite gotten that brave yet, and besides, I haven't really gotten into version control with Java yet...

Now I want to start doing Java stuff at home. But that'll probably mean upgrading something, probably hard drive space. My two 6-gig hard drives are down to a total of about 1.5 G free, and that's with some stuff offloaded onto CD-R. I hear that hard drives are available for pretty reasonable prices these days. If I can convince Nicole that $150 is reasonable...

We are seriously considering going to Worldcon this year...again. Nicole got a big cheque from Public Lending Rights, which basically a subsidy from the government based on having her books in a number of randomly-sampled libraries across Canada. That's a great system, if you ask me.

The Worldcon is in Toronto, one reason that it's appealing to us; hopefully we'll be able to at least see Steve, if not stay with him. His current living situation is a little unstable, though, and nobody's quite sure where he'll be in August. Also, if you want, as a writer, to get the most out of Worldcon, it's best to get to the parties and schmooze with other writers, and editors...which means it's easiest to stay at one of the hotels near the Con. I don't really want to ride the Toronto subways at 11:30 at night or anything, thank you. Oh, and you should probably try to sign up to be on panels, too. We did that at Conversion a couple of years ago.

So far all we've done is buy one membership for Nicole. We are planning, if we do go, on leaving the kids behind with Nicole's parents(who will be well settled in by that time). Simon will be almost four; he should have no problem with it. Luke will be just a year old, so we'll have to see. The memberships are $275 each(until they next go up), and the airfare is about $200/person, each way, plus taxes and stuff.

I think it would be fun, but it might be overwhelming, too. There's no way we could manage to take in anywhere near everything, of course. And if I do end up meeting writers that I really admire, like, say, Steven Brust, or George R.R. Martin(who's the Guest of Honour), I imagine I would end up babbling stupidly and coming across like a starstruck idiot. Which I guess is one reason to be on a panel, to be able to talk about something else.

I hope we can make it. So far our finances are looking good. But then, we thought we'd make it to Winnipeg's in '94, and ended up wasting our $95 membership fees(either it was a lot cheaper, or we registered a lot earlier). Well, I got to vote on the Hugos that year, but that was about it. We might manage that this year, though we'd be registered too late to nominate...

Crossing my fingers, though.

A while ago I got an email from the guy in charge of, who wanted to know if I had any Ackanomic information to put up. I sent him some of the stuff, and recently he nudged me into sending some more. I've got tons of email, of course from my sojourn in the game, and from earlier as well.

I ended up going to his site and wandering round a little bit recently. I felt a vague urge to do something Nomicky, but I really didn't want to actually get involved in a game, because I don't have time for it. I did take a look at the NomicWiki, with a bunch of Nomic information in Wiki format. There was apparently an attempt to do a Wiki-based Nomic game, but that didn't work too well. How can Nomic work if anyone can edit any rule at any time, as one can on a Wiki?

I had also thought that a blog might be a great format for a Nomic. You can have one blog, editable only by the Speaker or something, with the rules, and another which serves as the public forum. Possibly more than one. Just replacing the old mailing lists with blogs.

Apparently someone else came up with the idea, because I found something called BlogNomic. It doesn't look quite like how I had envisioned it, though. For instance, you have to have a blog to play, and while you can do Nomic-related activities on it, you can't actually mention Nomic on your blog. Anyway, it also had other outlandish requirements, like having to update at least once a week, so it probably wouldn't work for me anyway.

There are a lot of dead Nomics out there. I don't know what makes one Nomic succeed and another fail, or one last for years and then fizzle out. When I was in Ackanomic, I was gung-ho for months, then I finally got my share of the responsibility, and then it became work, and then I lost interest. I don't know if that's the typical cycle(it is for me, anyway), but if so it probably depends on enough people being in the right phase at the right time. Also, after time most Nomics tend to accumulate lots of cruft in the ruleset, overelaborate things, and get into phases of just refining the ruleset rather than shaking them up.

It was fun at the time, but I wouldn't do it again right now...

I was finally listening to a bunch of MP3's that I'd downloaded a while ago. I was on Bearshare looking for some rare Barenaked Ladies and Kate Bush songs(not together, I should add, though that would be cool), and found a few. But listening to them...I wondered who the hell labelled them. Not somebody who had actually acquired the track with any information, apparently.

Labelled as "Kate Bush & Annie Lennox" was a song called "When The Rain Came Down". It sounded a little bit familiar with I started to listen to it...but that voice didn't sound like Annie Lennox. It sounded deeper. And then it hit me. It was Happy Rhodes.

I first heard of Happy Rhodes mostly because of a guy named Steve Fagg from the U.K. who sent me a tape of her stuff, among others, when I asked about her on, the Kate Bush newsgroup, some time ago. If you listen to some of her stuff, it sounds like Kate, from her early days...but others sounds nothing like it. Happy Rhodes has a very masculine voice in some ways--she probably sings tenor, and she has a falsetto. The falsetto sounds like Kate Bush; the tenor might have sounded a little bit like Annie Lennox. But honest, it's the same person.

Then there was "The Spirit We", which was labelled as "Kate Bush & Indigo Girls". Another guess, which turned out to be wrong. It was a good song, but I didn't hear any of the vocalists supposedly present. A quick search on the net revealed that the song was by a woman named Rachael Sage, and the same song was available on her website. Sloppy.

There were a couple supposedly with Peter Gabriel, too. Both were from a live bootleg, I think, and of questionable sound quality. One, "Here Comes The Flood", may very well have had Kate Bush on it, but she wasn't singing, so I couldn't tell. The other one was more rewarding--a cover version of "Another Day"(I don't know who did it originally, but This Mortal Coil also did on "It'll End In Tears"), with Gabriel and Bush both singing.

Kate is not the only one to get so mislabeled, though. One of the Barenaked Ladies songs I got was "Marajuanavile"[sic], and a quick listen confirmed that while the vocalist did sound a little bit like Ed Robertson, there was no way this was the Ladies. This was some bad comedian getting into some crass drug humour. I didn't even finish listening to it.

I remember looking for Weird Al Yankovic songs a while ago, too. I got four or five that were not Weird Al, but someone had figured that they must be, because they were parodies. As if he's the only parodist around...

I have been trying, lately, to mostly look for actual legitimately accessible MP3s, from promotional websites or or the like. This works best for obscure artists that I can't find at the library, who need to promote themselves by MP3. It's a great way to sample, though it's more hit-or-miss. If I don't like the one or two songs put up on the sample, then how will I know if the rest of the album might happen to be great? I can think of a few albums that I grew to like in spite of the singles. Of course, going on file-sharing services only allows me to go by title, so that's not always any better.

A few more library CDs I might as well do:

Barenaked Ladies:Rock Spectacle

I forgot this one last time. This one was almost their real breakthrough in the U.S., before "Stunt" and "One Week". It's from the tour for their third album, "Born On A Pirate Ship", which is not really considered their best, but it does contain some good songs from their first three albums. Still, considering that I thought "Maroon", their fifth, is their finest work so far, it doesn't do much for me.

They do do some fabulous improvisation stuff live, interpolating all sorts of things into "If I Had $1,000,000", and doing lengthy rap routines, but that's only a little bit tucked onto the end of the CD. That's most of what I was looking for on MP3, to be honest, and I haven't gotten around to listening to it yet. A lot of that is probably bad bootlegs too...

Natalie Imbruglia:White Lilies Island

This one was a little bit of a disappointment. The only track that really stood out for me was "Beauty On The Fire"; the rest didn't do much for me. Maybe I should try to give it another listen.

Marah:Float Away With The Friday Night Gods

When I went to look up this band, I discovered that they were supposed to be inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Could've fooled me--from this album, I would have filed them under "Madchester". Even the opening track, "Float Away", which featured Bruce himself, didn't sound like him, though it was pretty good. It's almost worth acquiring, since about half the album is pretty decent("Shame" being the other standout track for me, mostly because of the guest vocals of Caroline Lost, whoever she is), but the last three songs were just meandering and raucous and turned me right off.

Right now I'm reading Precursor by C.J. Cherryh. This is the fourth of her atevi books, about a colony of humans stranded on an alien planet. The main character, Bren Cameron, is the main liaison between the atevi and the humans, and there are no shortage of tense situations for him to deal with. By this point in the series, it seems that most of the sympathetic characters are atevi(apart from Cameron and one or two others), and Cameron seems to be able to figure them out better than the humans in his life. We'll see if that changes anytime soon...

Before that I read(reread?)Nightwings by Robert Silverberg. If I read this one before(and I suspect I did), I totally didn't remember it. It's really three linked novellas, though I don't know if it was published separately, or maybe serialized. It's set on a future Earth that has overspent its social capital, and ended up mortgaged to an alien race that it had treated intolerably. The book deals with one character and how his life is transformed when the alien creditors show up to repossess the planet. It's pretty good, but not outstanding.

Then there was Blake's Progress by R.F. Nelson. It's a weird book, almost all from the point of view of William Blake's wife, Kate, who is taught by her husband to time travel. They run into other time travelers with their own agenda, and there follows a bizarre battle of reality that makes Fritz Leiber's "Changewar" look like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Well, not really, but it is pretty spectacular.

This weekend is looking a trifle busy. Besides our normal library/bookstore trip on Saturday, Nicole and I are scheduled to go give blood, and then get haircuts. There was going to be a Heraldry Society meeting too, but Darren's car didn't start, with the weather and all, so he's trapped in Red Deer this weekend and can't make it. And of course the usual weekend chores--dishes, laundry, etc. Plus cleaning the bathtub and cleaning the cat's litterbox, which have been put off several times now, each. We're so bad.

Time to wrap this up, now, with the latest entries in the countdown:

342. The Pretenders: Back On The Chain Gang, from Learning To Crawl

This is a definite classic, from what has grown to be one of my favourite albums. I've known this song for longer, though, and it is bittersweet and melancholy and even a little bit vulnerable, with an exquisitely understated performance from Chrissie Hynde and the rest of the band.

341. Bruce Cockburn: Laughter, from Further Adventures of Bruce Cockburn

A gentle song, laughing at many things but not seeming to mock them outright. More like the way you laugh at a child--sometimes they do things wrong, and sometimes they do things that are just too precious, and either way you can't help but laugh. At least, that's what parenthood is teaching me.

The more things stay, the more they change the sane.

Aaron // 11:41 PM Clix me!

Monday, March 03, 2003:

Treasure Just To Look Upon It

This time I will mostly be playing catch-up on the recent library CDs. I wanted to put more in, but I think I'll be trying to go to bed earl...ier than usual. Last night, Nicole was out volunteering at a charity casino(the charity in question is the Young Alberta Book Society, which has paid her a fair bit of money this year, so it works out)until 2:00 AM, and I stayed up finishing a NaNoWriMo novel that I've been meaning to read for a while. Then there was laundry to put bedtime was pretty much 1:00 AM myself.

Hopefully, with "The West Wing" and "Friends" apparently scheduled to be reruns this week, I can sneak down again for another blog entry this week. That'll be refreshing. On the other hand, I might try to finish the puzzle rally instead. I've only got two more puzzles left...

This time, we have:

Marillion: Araknophobia: I remember this band mostly from the Fish era, with "Clutching At Straws" and "Misplaced Childhood", both of them okay albums but not great. I reviewed Fish's "Sunsets On Empire" way back on the first couple of days of this blog. But I hadn't gotten around to listening to them with their new lead singer, Steve "h" Hogarth.

From this album, I am very impressed. They have managed to update prog-rock to the 21st century without going too heavily into sludge. It's still definitely prog--there are eight songs on this album, averaging just under eight minutes each, with the longest topping 11. And lyrically I have some issues--"This Is The 21st Century", the longest one, is all about how we should abandon those outdated 20th-century attitudes that the universe can be understood logically. But the music is okay, so I think I could still listen to the song.

The standout tracks were "Map of The World", one of the shorter tracks on the album, and "Quartz", longish but powerful from its central image, of "quartz vs. clockwork". But the whole thing is great, and definitely a wishlist item. Now I have to see if they've been turning out more work of this quality... I suppose that h's vocals are not nearly as distinctive as Fish's, but you can't have everything...

Vertical Horizon: Everything You Want: I think I heard the title track on the radio, which was my first inkling that I might have misfiled them under "sludge" some time ago. I think I got them confused with "System of A Down" or something. (Vertical, Down, you know.) This is a very enjoyable album that manages to straddle the line between modern pop and rock quite well. The biggest problem might be that it's just not that distinctive. My first listen, I failed to come away with a clear impression of the album; luckily, I managed to get around to a second one. Also a wishlist item.

Brad Mehldau: Largo: Another one of Tom's recommendations, and again, it's jazz. I admit that it is interesting to hear a jazz cover version of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android", and a few Beatles tunes as well, but that wasn't enough to hold my interest in the album. I'm just not a jazzophile.

Cheryl Wheeler: Circles & Arrows: This one probably came from the compilations of female folksingers I was listening to a while ago. This one also mostly falls below my radar, being acoustic, lyric-oriented folk singing without a lot of musical edge. The only exception that I noticed was the rousing "Estate Sale", which cheerfully extolled the joys of "going through dead people's houses".

Britney Spears: Britney: I didn't really expect to like this album. I mean, it's hard, as a person with any taste in music at all, to not develop the opinion, imposed from outside, that all this teen-pop stuff is crap. I'm bombarded with it constantly. But the fact is, when I sat down and listened to this album, it was really solid. Part of it was that apart from a ballad or two(somehow I hadn't pictured "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman", the title I've seen so many times, as a ballad, but it was), it was solid uptempo pop, without getting too far into bubblegum territory. Oddly, the song that struck me most on my listening was "Anticipating", which is a little bit cheesy, but also catchy. I'm afraid that this makes my wishlist as well. (I'll give Christina her chance too, don't worry...)

Billie Myers: Vertigo: I was never that keen on "Kiss The Rain", but I thought that "Growing, Pains" had several other great songs on it, like "Having Trouble With The Language" and "Tell Me". It still wasn't an even enough album to make it onto my wishlist, though. I'm not sure if this one is yet either, but again, it's got some good songs, like "Flexible", "'Roll Over Beethoven'", and "Bitter Fruit(Dead Weight)". Lyrically, she maybe seems to be trying too hard, and musically, not always trying hard enough, but I think she's getting better.

Coldplay: Parachutes: This was the CD that Nicole got me for Valentine's day, not the Avril Lavigne. Not to belabour it now, but it's still a great album.

For a while now I've been mostly alternating between the university radio station, CJSR, and "Mix 96", the 80's pop/modern rock station. Mostly I listen to my own tapes, of course, but, especially in cold or damp weather, the tape deck doesn't always work, so I have to resort to the radio.

A few days ago I was driving to work and waiting for the tape deck to kick in(it usually does sometime during the drive, but not always), and 96.3 FM was playing weird stuff. Specifically, they would be playing, say, "Seven Minutes In Heaven", for one minute, and then a voice would say "Six", and they'd start playing...well, something with the word "six" in it. Like a musical countdown. Which I thought was cool, because I've been working on lists of number songs as well. I wish I knew how far back they'd started... Anyway, 8:45 turned out to be "zero", and apparently this was the launch of "96X", the "new" station.

It sounds pretty much the same to me, I have to say. I guess I haven't checked to see if they're still playing as much 80's stuff(which they were starting to call "retro" so they could encompass the early 90's as well)as they used to, which is the only change that might have happened. They even went so far as to say that they're trying to play the pop from the pop/dance/rap station, and the modern rock from the modern/classic rock station. Well, considering that they were already playing anything from Jimmy Eat World(but who wasn't?)to Puddle of Mudd or Default, that's not much of a stretch. Just a marketing ploy, I guess.

They've also been playing a lot of the latest Alanis Morissette single, "Surrendering". It's a weird one, and I can't help but wonder who picked it. I've had "Under Rug Swept" for some time, and frankly I can think of catchier songs they could be playing. I wouldn't have picked "Precious Illusions" either, though that had a cool video. (Haven't managed to catch a video for "Surrendering" yet.) It does seem to work, though. I especially like the little guitar bit at the end of the second chorus. Makes me want to sample it over and over again and build a song around it, if I had any song-building equipment/material around. (Are there any good computerized musical composition programs out there? I keep getting these urges...)

But then, "Unsent" was a weird single too, and so was "Hands Clean", really. Very talky things. Maybe Alanis is trying to become a female Sting. Heh. Just getting more pretentious and multisyllabic with each album, until only aging Gen-Xers listen to her stuff anymore, and "You Oughta Know" is played on classic rock stations the way "Roxanne" is now. (Actually, they should be playing her early pop stuff, like "Too Hot"...that'd be a scream.)

And now straight to the countdown:

344. U2: All I Want Is You, from Rattle & Hum

I still don't understand the people who say that "Rattle & Hum" was one of U2's worst albums, when it has songs like this on it. Maybe it's the fact that they're reusing the "slow buildup/crescendo" element that they already used in "Bad", and even earlier on the same album in "Hawkmoon 269". But I find it a very effective technique anyway. The video for this song was pretty good too, as I recall, with the circus midget and his unrequited love...

343. Crash Vegas: Smoke, from Red Earth

After this album Crash Vegas rarely got this country again, but on this song it really worked for them. Michelle McAdorey's soulful voice lilts through the melancholy music and lyrics to paint a solid emotional texture, almost verging into Cowboy Junkies territory. I could picture Margo Timmins singing this one, maybe an octave lower...

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

Aaron // 10:12 PM Clix me!

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