Saturday, June 25, 2005

I came across a book of Lester Bang's reviews and musings on rock in general, and my impression is fairly positive (by which I suppose I mean that I can relate to most of his views, and that his writing of a good quality; or something along these lines). I only became aware of this legendary critic through his praise of VU, specifically White Light/White Heat, and at the time it struck me that he was the sort of person who'd embrace the rawer sounds of say the Stooges and the Ramones, but reject new friends like Eno. After all, I remember hearing WL/WH and thinking it to be near unbearable - I still can't believe I sat through all of "Sister Ray"...painful! It was of course quite rash of me to make such judgements, for he seems to like them all with equal discretion; Another Green World he says is too "becalmed", but he still digs it. I also thought that he'd be another vitriolic Doors-hater, judging by the exchange in Almost Famous (where Morrison is called a "drunken buffoon"), but his view is far more measured (though Morrison's still a "Dionysian bozo"!), and in fact about as close to my own view as I've seen.

He doesn't always read my mind though, as with his scathing review of Desire. As I have mellowed, I have to come to see the merits in such criticisms of later Dylan efforts, regardless of my own sentimental attachments (Desire was the first Dylan album I heard, doncha know). I've read before critique of Dylan's idealization in "Joey" and "Hurricane", and I don't doubt the validity of such arguments. But it strikes me also that there are..different ways to view things? My way of listening and appreciating Desire was cemented four years ago, and I doubt very much it will change now, no matter how persuasive the writing is. I suppose when I listened to "Hurricane" all those years ago, what I was drawn to was the passion and anger that I felt the song conveyed - the story was put across (I thought) effectively, with a truly moody violin providing quite an atypical sound for a Dylan album (at that stage of course, I had no idea what a typical Dylan sound was). Having said this, I do of course confess that such a thing is not alway enough to obviate onesself from responsibility; after all, writing convincingly does not mean one can write about anything, true or false! But like I said, my view has already been cemented, and that view (unfortunately) totally disregards the points made by critics of the song. In some sense, it does not bode well, for it is a very severe case of close-mindedness! Of course with such matters, it does not matter all that much, and indeed even if it did, this is one of those things where I simply don't care. With this made perfectly clear, it's probably a very good thing that there aren't more people like me, the world would be far too messed up to be remotely functional.

Oh, right, I was talking about Lester Bangs - well, another thing I found interesting was that he also predicted the death of rock circa '76, a bold statement to make, but it's easy to see such a motivation. He was a little premature (but I have the gift of hindsight!), but I guess that's the stage when most of the rockers from the golden age started showing signs of being jaded. Of course, it was also the start of the punk-rock movement, and I'm interested as to what Bangs thought about it. John Peel certainly took to it, I believe in fact going so far as to call The Fall the best band he'd ever heard (it's strange to think that the same person could lend his voice to Tyrannosaurus Rex's "Romany Soup" back in '69, ain't it!!). The Fall, now there's a crafty bunch. I'm interested in their catalogue, but frankly I'm a little scared - this is the problem with reading one too many reviews without listening to anything, they can create these outlandish (sometimes garish) images of things that are completely far from the truth (or, at least, from one's personal reaction to something). I'd wager that by this time next year I'd have acquired (probably through fraternal means) one of the 40-odd albums Mark E. Smith put his name to, so let us see what time makes of this curious band; with such high praise, they're bound to disappoint at least a little (or maybe not!?).

Again I am drawn to George Starostin's essay about rock being dead, and whether or not it matters; considering it was written six or so years ago, where (presuming the lack of inclusion on the site implies lack of listening to said artist; which may be flawed) he hadn't heard a fair amount of post '60s material that's now featured on his site, so I wonder whether his views have changed. I suspect that he might have changed his view a little, to the extent of admitting that rock did have a few tricks up its sleeve in the late '70s (he sure loves Before And After Science!), but I think he'd still be pretty adamant about rock being dead; not that I can blame him. Dead, of course, meaning not that every melody in the world has been used up, or every chord change or what have you, but rather the broader ideas surrounding rock. I don't think that rock is necessarily dead, but it's probably dying (this whole area is rather subjective, because one would have to properly define what innovation really means in this context). I think that I fall into the camp of "Well, rock may be dying, but it doesn't matter..too much", in that I can deal with the fact that most artists today aren't bravely ploughing ahead into unchartered waters. For instance, Cave (really the only post-1980 artist I'm moderately familiar with) may not have produced any sort of true innovation since his Birthday Party days, but these things don't seem to matter all that much to me. I don't think George necessarily disagrees that there is still good music being made, rather it's that this music is not providing something that hasn't been done before, only in a slightly tweaked way. All I can hope for is that I don't run out of interesting artists in my lifetime - though it seems like "the future's uncertain and the end is always near"!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What a start! Doing badly in an exam gives you a chance to reflect on things, such as what the point of not just the exam, but the whole unit. In this particular case, it is all the more frustrating because there was a lot of subject matter that I cared about. What's funny is that the marker won't see this, and take me for some vapid fool who doesn't see why Proxy is an obvious choice for the question. The marker, of course, doesn't see the hours spent reading wikis and sifting through documents on OO principles, finding blogs related to design, tricking my brain into learning about patterns through doodles, and so on. The greater goal in all those things was to learn, not to get a mark, and I achieved that to a certain degree. But this dismal result does no good to my confidence, nor to my will to put any effort into actually learning (this is only temporary, I'm sure, but still, it is largely demotivating). Gumption traps, eh? Listen really close and you can hear it all escaping..!

I suppose it's much as I feared, in that my appreciation for patterns has been marred by my inability to apply them in any practical sense. I get the (elitist) feeling that my peers are no better off than me, but I always seem to think like this. Invariably I end up attaching some rather arbitrary number to such a subject, but I am glad that this particular subject has produced more, and given a brief glimpse of a possibility of some sort of fulfilling future.

(This post was intended to be made a couple of weeks earlier, although you wouldn't know it from the date, but I decided to continue the ancient practice handed down from generation to generation of not posting here during exams. The rationale is to minimize distraction, but what it actually does is reduce the number of available scapegoats. So now it would seem that the only person to blame for my results is myself! Ahhh, tricks and turns at every corner!)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Meera, in case you don't get e-mail notifications of new comments - I've finally gotten to completing the book-tagging you requested!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Starostin's back!! This is the first time I've ever been so excited about the re-surfacing of a website. During his temporary hiatus, I found the value of John McFerrin's reviews and CapnMarvel, both of which are rather good, but they're still in their infancy compared to George's site. I find John's tastes to be a little too similar to George's at times, especially so when I disagree with George's ratings in the first place! I don't see how this is his fault or anything; after all, the writing is what's important. His reviews are for the most part well thought out, but he doesn't always convince me. This is no doubt true of all review sites, but there sometimes seem to be a slight set of double standards (maybe I only notice this when it's my artists who come under the hammer!?). At any rate, judging by his itineary, it looks as though he's going to have a busy year ahead of him - I have no doubt he'll continue improving.

The captain on the other hand actually seems on occasion to mirror my own tastes (I found his rating of The Notorious Byrd Brothers to be much more in line with my personal view compared to most of the other reviews online), but I couldn't live off his word, if only because of the sometimes overly irreverent writing style. In this sense, he's a bit like Mark Prindle, but at least his reviews are fairly long, and do attempt to give some rationale behind his rating. He seems to be only second to George in terms of frequency of updates too!

Anyhow, perhaps I should feel concerned, because I just know that I'm going to spend hours reading all the new reviews he has posted (for no reason, other than to further my "education" on such matters).

Monday, June 13, 2005

Regarding the "test" I mentioned at the end of the last post, it has been hopelessly failed within a couple of days. I think it was sometime yesterday that I realized that something had popped inside, and that, as always, I was going insane from sitting in my room and trying to focus on some dry piece of theory. It's no surprise I get so insane, considering how boring I normally find this week. I don't think things can get as bad as they did last year though; put that down to the subjects getting mildly more interesting as the years go by. Maybe I am also learning how to keep my interest sustained, though I wouldn't bet on it. There were periods today where I could have easily flung my book on design patterns out of the window. Imagine that! There comes a point when the abstract just overwhelms you, and one feels positively suffocated. I was attempting to resolve a very common problem, namely determining the difference between the various creational patterns. After reading class names such as "ConcreteBuilder" for more than a few hours, I tend to get very restless and most agitated. Yet I somehow came across this snippet from an O'Reilly book which helped calm down my boiling blood. Mild humour and Zen are certainly the best way to make me see straight, and more amazingly, I think I finally understand the decorator pattern. It's funny that you can stare at something for months and months, and still have only a vague idea of what it really means. But the image in the aforementioned book with the overlapping condiments suddenly made things click. As such, it's left me feeling positive, as though I have accomplished something today (which isn't true by a long stretch of the imagination).

I sometimes wish that there were more books and resources that did away with the omnipotent voice and instead attempt to actually engage the reader. Both have their place; after all, I probably wouldn't reach for the O'Reilly book for a five-second refresher on Abstract Factory. But after spending a day of wading through dry (though no doubt correct) technical documents, I am a little sick of how unfriendly some of them are. By this I simply mean that I wish that there were more technical books that made one feel some sort of connection with the author, and helped the reader really understand things. As an example, I remember reading the book Design Patterns Explained (wow, lots of technical books huh?*), and the author mentioned at the start of his explanation of the Bridge pattern (to paraphrase): "When I first read the GoF description, my initial reaction was 'I understand all the words in that sentence, but I don't know what it means!'". After that, he proceeded to walk one through the rationale behind bridge in a clear, concrete fashion. It is certainly a more useful learning process than meditating on "separate abstraction from implementation"!

Coming back to getting bored with studying, there's something to be said about the attitude with which one approaches such things, of course. If I may employ a rusty cliche, it's very much the forest and the trees analogy. I can't say that all my boredom these past few days has been because I haven't grasped the bigger picture, but most of the time, in retrospect, I think my boredom stems from a fixation on some small section that I feel I must somehow master. When combined with a lack of sleep and a mild but ever-growing sensation of hunger, things can quickly get out of hand. As with all things, knowledge of this does not by itself hold the key to victory. The problem is that if I do try to pursue ideas to help shape the big-picture, there is a part of me that asks why I am not trying to better prepare myself for assessment. It's rare that these two forces are in unison, although this semester they have gotten along better than normal.

* I've been quite occupied with the technical side of things lately. This is nothing particularly unusual, for it has all the signs of being something that will die down (though not entirely) given sufficient time. On the one hand it is good that I have rekindled my interest in such matters, but at the same time I can't help but wonder why sometimes I positively hate all things technical. For some reason, reading some online forums just..makes me sick. That's on the programming side of things - where I read posts asking how to sort elements in a ListBox or what have you. I can't be sure, but I think it's again because it seems to me to exemplify focussing on the minute details. But what sort of talk is that, you have to get your hands dirty with such things at some point. (Like the comment on this article about design patterns says, "He ends of up calling this thing "the quality without a name" and can only gesture at it with obscure utterances like "A system has this quality when it is at peace with itself, when it has no internal contradictions ... when it is true to its own inner forces". Now, I majored in Philosophy, and so talk like this strikes a chord with me, but by god, this doesn't help much when you're staring down an Emacs buffer!". Indeed!)

I find that even with things remotely technical, and I can't give you any reason why, I read them and then say to myself "Oh God, I can't do this". By which I mean I feel as though I can't spend my time thinking about some of the things people discuss. I used to be fairly interested in the latest hardware, such as the battle between the Pentium and the Athlon. But nowadays, I have a distinct sense of apathy towards such things. Someone recently asked me the details of my network connection, and I professed that I had no idea. I got a strange look, seeming to suggest "For someone who wants to get into the field of computers, you don't seem to know all that much". Sure, I still browse through stories on CNet occasionally, and read with interest the odd story about the developments in Longhorn and what have you, but there are some things where I simply don't care. It seems that any talk of the latest graphics card, the newest beta of Firefox, or the most recent Fedora update (little joke, that one) is met with an indifferent shrug on my part. In that sense, I am a most unusual techie, and I wonder how things have changed in this regard.

(Silly update: I noticed the quote at the bottom of Slashdot was "LILO, you got me on my knees...", and it seemed to exemplify what I couldn't quite express above. There was a time where I might have found something like that funny, but now, I really don't - not that I feel sickened or anything, it doesn't make me angry or irritated or anything, really, but it seems to be the sort of thing where the former me would have smirked or laughed, but now I just blankly stare..more pieces of the puzzle fall into place)

Friday, June 10, 2005

I feel as though I ought to have something meaningful to say at the closure of another semester, but rather surprisingly, I don't. I used to place inordinate value in these things, but nowadays, these milestones don't seem like they can evoke powerful emotions in me. I remember feeling much the same at the start of this semester, and was quite curious then as to why this once constant source of inspiration was failing me. As it goes with these things, I am a little concerned whether I am overly commited to this insane quest I seem to have undertaken the past few weeks. If I could put my finger on what it is that is precisely different, I would say that it appears to be a sense of calm. I am somewhat disturbed by how angry I remember I was last year - anger at no-one in particular, just undirected rage hurled out at the universe. It's easy enough to sit here smugly and pity my former self, but I shall wait till one of the bigger tests is completed - sitting through ten days of unmitigated stress and keeping my head intact.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My most recent experience with test-driven development as a design methodology has been largely positive, but one must be warned about the importance that refactoring plays within the whole process. In my exuberance, I found myself writing lots of tests, and dutifully running them everytime I performed a non-trivial (and what exactly does that mean? Perhaps we'll get to this later, gentle reader!) change. However, I also found that my program was getting somewhat ugly as far as design goes. It's not that I wasn't refactoring, but rather that my refactoring was insufficient, and that I was always re-examining code (and design) in a very limited sense. So, I ended up with locally clean modules, which combined (no surprise!) to give a not-so-clean global system. I am not entirely convinced in the use of TDD as an exclusive approach to design, this lone experience aside.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I think of late I have become overly fixated on the quest for elegance and the very art of problem-solving/design/converting thought to expression in general ("Between thought and expression, there lives a lifetime", eh?). This led to an embarssing (in retrospect) question about the ideas behind trying to prove things, which I'm sure must have amused my lecturer. I seem to try to and focus on these higher-level notions during my paltry attempts at teaching, and although I'd like to think that they provide the impressionable recepients of my sermons some appreciation for the "bigger picture" behind seemingly tedious calculations; however, at the same time, I find myself being unsatisfied with what I perceive to be my own oversimplifications of the whole process. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that I don't want to think of myself pigeon-holing something so mysterious and fascinating into a series of mechanical steps. But oddly enough, I feel as though I place too little importance to the implementation of said ideas; it's as though I treat them as mere tedium standing between us and our solution. Yet they deserve more respect, do they not?

(I sometimes wonder what on earth I am talking about. I can't say I reject some of the things I have brought up this past month, but in my present state of deprived slumber, I find it all a bit unreal)

I won't recount the details of yet another bout of analysis paralysis I suffered recently, for it goes mostly the same as my previous tale. The result was far worse, both in terms of the final solution I decided upon, as well as my intuitive notion of its overall worth. I am supposed to defend said solution tomorrow, but quite honestly it is quite an amoral thing, for the whole thing is an abomination created by a lack of sleep and a lack of any sort of ingenuity or insight on my part. I feel as though I ought to apologize to the very notion of software design for violating its tenets so. The experience has been enough of a disappointment to make me inevitable question whether it is my fate to gaze outward, searching forever for things beyond my grasp..but my response is simply "Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that. No more of that"

Update: Much like last semester, it seems that no defense was needed, for no questions were asked. This was not out of some brilliance in my design that I did not previously see; it was, I suspect, purely because of a lack of time on the marker's part. It seems that I have been unjustly lucky yet again, and yet again when it comes to a piece of software that I am rather embarassed about being associated with.

Funnily enough, I think that in the general time period of both marking sessions, I (quietly) invoked a spirit of defiance in some attempt to calm myself down. Perhaps I have stumbled upon the secret formula? Alas, perhaps I am running out of (poorly perceived) spirits to invoke - after Iggy, who remains?!