Friday, January 30, 2004

Before looking for a free Python IDE for Windows, I was fairly certain that there would be more than a few options that would satisfy me. After all, Python is a relatively popular language (although perhaps not gifted with as large a fan base with the C-family of languages, it's still managed to earn a name for itself in a short time span, which is a notable achievment), and so one would imagine that there would be some solid effort into making an environment to aid development.

Unfortunately, my search left me somewhat disappointed. There do appear to be a fair few IDEs available, but the quality leaves a little to be desired. This is no doubt primarily due to the fact that there are free IDEs for other languages (the best of which I think is Eclipse for Java) of a reasonable standard. It's not that the Python IDEs I've found are bad - most of them do allow you to edit files with syntax highlighting, and that is in itself something. It's just that I've been spoilt by offerings for other languages (although, it must be noted that Eclipse started off with a $40 million donation from IBM - not something that can be taken lightly).

The best of the lot which I've tested seems to be Boa Constructor, which is based on wxPython. Of course, it's still far from perfect, but it's a start, and definitely preferrable to developing with Notepad (yes, I know Python comes with IDLE, but you know what I mean). I don't particularly care for the fact that each part of the main screen takes up its own space on the taskbar, since I usually have other apps open at the same time (which causes a lot of unnecessary crowding).

With all my fussing over the IDE, I haven't really explored Python all that much. The small taste I've had so far has been promising. Of course, I say that about everything new I try. I must be very easily impressed, or very dumb (or both - and I have a feeling that's the case). "Ooh, lambda functions..."!

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Continuing on from my previous post about Experts Exchange, I've posted a couple of replies today, but when scanning a few of the questions, I realize also that the system is being abused by people who are obviously trying to use it to get their homework done. It's a moral issue then, considering whether or not to provide the answer to these people who, I think, will most probably simply copy the solution word for word and submit it as their own, without paying any attention to the contents i.e. not learning anything from the experience. The end result is a sense of misplaced altruism that benefits no-one really, and if anything encourages such people to continue cheating (and that's what it is, I think).

Having said that, the thing to do would be to try to get the person to realize why it isn't such a good idea to post such questions in hope of getting a complete answer, no strings attached, and try to get him/her to find out the answer themselves, with only guidance from others. But of course, it's idealistic to think even 50% of people would listen to this.

What if such a question is posted with 500 points up for grabs? Anyone might be tempted to respond (I don't consider myself to be above this), just to increase their score, which by the way I think is part ego-stroking.

Monday, January 26, 2004

At around about this point I realize that part of the reason why I continue blogging on is because I actually like seeing my thoughts splashed on the net, no matter how insignificant and dull they may be. Not only that, I think I enjoy reading my own writing. A bit self-centred, you might say, and you would be correct. On the subject of the point to the blog (although I've done it to death already), it would appear that there are other authors who share the same doubts and who dismiss their blog in the much the same manner I do (although it's usually with a bit more style; my dismissals are basically a sermon on nihilism). So the blogging community isn't exclusively comprised of people who have interesting things to say (of course, once one starts putting to words personal stuff, then it definitely becomes interesting, but that's from a voyueristic perspective). I guess it has its fair share of people like me (though most are substantially more interesting), who post just for the heck of it.
I just saw the bit in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, where Allen's character rolls his eyes as a rock critic quotes Dylan's Just Like A Woman (followed by the amusing exchange of "Did you catch Dylan?" / "Me? No, my raccoon had hepatitis"). Seeing as how I'm no expert on Allen's works (heck, it's the first time I've seen him actually act), I've no idea whether this is reflective of his real view on Dylan. But that's irrelevant when compared to the idea of finding him (Dylan) trite, which is, I must admit, a view I've rarely heard anyone famous express (but like I said before, I don't know if Allen was serious or not). This view got me thinking.

(Everything that follows has an implicit "in my opinion" tagged at the start, by the way)

We can neglect the fact that Just Like A Woman is far from Dylan's highlight as a lyricist; the song itself is not bad, but the man has done much better things with his words than this. Why focus on the lyrics? Well, Dylan's influence was always, I think, primarily with his lyrics. My music-listening experience has confirmed the widely-held view Dylan revolutionized the concept of the song lyric as he incorporated beat poetry (yes, I do consider some of his stuff poetry) and opened up the door to stream of consciousness style composition. Along with The Beatles, Dylan pretty much shaped the face of most of rock music that followed in some way or the other.

Ok, so Dylan was influential. But that doesn't necessarily mean that he was good, does it? Of course not! The important thing then is whether or not his work was of a sufficient standard to be taken seriously. Lines like

She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

'Just Like A Woman' - Dylan

certainly don't sound too good when read out loud (which is the case in Annie Hall). But then again, what about

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected,
The endless road and the wailing of chimes,
The empty rooms where her memory is protected,
Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times

'Changing Of The Guards' - Dylan

That sounds a bit more "poetic". One can deconstruct and analyse the lyrics as one would a poem, if only to gain an idea of how "complex" it is. I doubt it would be possible to use this to show how "good" a poem is, but still, it's something. So we have a way of establishing that yes, Dylan's work was indeed complex. You can't dismiss all his stuff as easily as you could Just Like A Woman (from a lyrical point of view, I reiterate) as somewhat trivial and, arguably, banal.

But do these "poetic" lyrics actually mean anything? If they don't, does it really matter? These are tricky questions. For the first one, I think in a lot of cases, the lyrics mean whatever you want them to mean. That may sound rather cheap, but I wonder the fact that the composer's attached meaning to a lyric alters the power of one's personal meaning. Does it matter if Dylan didn't intend Desolation Row to be semi-autobiographical (which I think it is)? I don't think so.

A good essay on this by Robert Hunter (lyricist for the Grateful Dead) is found here. He analyses one of his songs to counter the claim put up that his lyrics make no sense. Before doing so, he notes that "I may know where they (the lyrics) come from, but I don't know where they've been".

This doesn't mean that you can pass off any old nonsense as "good poetry" just because someone can attach any meaning they want to it. I could write

The wailing catfish scratches on my glass
While the open mouth is silent with sounds
Of tears falling down my cheeks

off the top of my head, but that doesn't necessarily make it brilliant because you can interpret it as being an epic postmodernist view of romance in a crazy world. I think it's the way in which the lyric is presented that determines this - allusion, imagery, etc.

The argument then of songs not having any readily identifiable meaning is perhaps not as simple as one would think.

So there are times when as of themselves, the lyrics can't possibly mean anything. We attach meaning to them, but I think it's wrong to associate the composers meaning with the meaning of the lyric itself. Of course, there are the lyrics where the meaning is (seemingly) straightforward:

I've heard you say many times
That you're better 'n no one
And no one is better 'n you.
If you really believe that,
You know you got
Nothing to win and nothing to lose

'To Ramona' - Dylan

Here the meaning can't be hidden under allegory or the like - it's just a statement made by Dylan. So here again it's the way in which the statement is made that's important. Does it boil down to personal taste? I wonder.

I don't think I've quite made my point, partly because I'm not quite sure what it was supposed to be. That Dylan was a good lyricist, not some pretentious twit who strung a few words together? Ehhh possibly. I also fear I've treaded on the subjectivity/objectivity debacle, and the question of intrinsic/extrinsic value. Time to get out Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.

And just to reiterate one final time, I really like Just Like A Woman, especially the version on the Concert For Bangladesh. I just share Allen's character's view that those particular lines are nothing special. They're not bad, but they're not genius (as a lot of his other work was).

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Scream therapy - I think I need some. Then again, who doesn't? On days like today, nothing really flows - everything is by and large stagnant, and I can't focus properly on any one task. The end result is a wasted day, and what's worse is that throughout the day there's this deadly dull feeling in my mind - I'm not too sure how to describe it, actually. I just end up ruining everything I try to do, and feel outright miserable.

For some perverse reason it (scream therapy) seems appealing; not the end result (which is supposedly feeling better), but the action itself seems appealing. Perhaps it has been firmly entwined with Lennon and his application of the concept in Plastic Ono Band. Come to think of it, I do engage in silent scream therapy - I "scream" silently as "loud" as I can. If that sounds odd, that's because it is odd. Very. Now let's never speak of it again.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I often find myself drifting over to Experts Exchange with intentions of actually replying to one of the messages there, but I've never actually carried through with it. Granted, it's not as though the solution to each problem is immediately apparent to me, but I think there's something else about it that puts me off.

The points system is a double-edged sword, and is ultimately the incentive for a lot of the replies. People with no experience in a particular problem domain chip in with the results of a Google search just to be in the running for those magic points. Of course, it isn't wrong that they do this; after all, the end result is that they are providing something that maybe you've missed. After being close to a problem for a while, one tends to lose sight of what is relevant and what is not, and so an outside perspective is almost always a good thing. I suppose this somehow detracts from the fantasy that's subconsciously created (for me anyway) in other forums, that of people replying due to altruistim, not out of a desire for something in return (the awarding of points). Sounds silly, doesn't it? Perhaps that's not even it, but at the moment that's what I feel.

I don't care for the after-squabble either, once the problem has been solved, and several members try to argue why they should get the points. I don't mean to generalize based on a few experiences, but there you go.

And finally, I am genuinely curious how many "IT professionals" have got help from the site. A lot of messages seem to be from, quite bluntly, newbies. I suppose some of the replies are from people who know their stuff, and definitely the top- posters are professionals, if not in title then at least in ability.

I don't mean to criticize the site at all, actually. It seems quite a useful resource, and one I'm sure I will someday make use of. But still, that doesn't mean I can't confess being uncomfortable with it at times.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Isn't Band on the run one of the finest songs ever?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I was about to write something about how good Jeff Beck's guitar sounded on Rod Stewart's first album; however, a quick check revealed that I had my facts mixed up, because in fact it was Stewart who worked on Beck's first album. That could have been embarassing, if we forget that you and me are the only one reading this (you know who you are).

New look to the blog, too. The first one was too bright, I suppose. I prefer darker colours in general.

By the way, this is precisely the kind of spur of the moment blog that I should strive for! Pointlessness at its best!
Ahh what the heck, maybe I will finish my website and put music reviews on it. After all, there isn't exactly much point to this blog either, but I still do it. For some odd reason, it's fun, expressing one's feelings. The fact that no one else reads it is only mildly detracting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Frequently, my obsession with music has lead me to consider making a music review page. Much like this blog, my notebook (a notebook of ideas, don't ya know), the fantastic book in my head, and many other things, it has the distinct trademark of another idealistic pursuit that will, for all intents and purposes, exist solely in my head.

For starters, the fundamental problem is that if it were to be a serious review site, who in God's name am I to review anything? If we scrap the notion of it being serious, and take it to be a site that's just done for fun, then who am I expecting to read it (much like the blog, I know, but I think I'll treat it as an online journal pretty soon)? I wonder who in the huge world would be interested in what I like and don't like - aside from me.

And once again, when it comes down to it, writing a review is a lot of work - not something that one can do in 5 minutes if it's to be half decent. I'll bet that after a couple of them, laze will once again take over me.

Of course, there is the chance that someone will listen to something and then, as I sometimes do, search on the net for reviews of the album, just out of curiosity, perhaps to see if others like/hate it too and whether (s)he has missed anything in the listening.

As usual, I suppose I'm overthinking. Now if I were to start overthinking properly, instead of in an incoherent mess, perhaps things would become more interesting.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Why outsource when you can hire from these guys at Primate Programming Inc: The Evolution of Java and .NET Training?