Thursday, July 28, 2005

It's early in the morning, and though I'm half-dazed, there seems to be worth wherever one cares to look. The sun shines gently into my eyes, and for a moment I consider moving, but quickly conclude that there is no shade to be found. The initial frustration gives way to a sense of wonder and contentment. My eyes fix upon the ground, my mind faraway in thought. Soon, the ground is invaded by a group of people engaged in pleasant conversation. Initially sadenned, I realize it is not so bad. My focus shifts from the ground to them. I don't register precisely what they're saying, but the tone is so affable that I can't help but feel a part of it. I smile as though I've reminded myself of something funny, and things don't seem so bad.

But later, much later, when it is dark outside, I cannot remember whether any of this happened. "Was it really this morning?", I ask myself with genuine surprise. I don't wish for my thoughts to drift away, but they do so on their own accord. There is a slight tinge of sadness, but somehow I know they will be back tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

There's no point in mulling over things the way I do. I seem blessed with the ability to make vast expanses of time fade into nothing at all by just thinking about many things at the same time, and not doing anything about them, except worry. "Fret away, my pet", I can hear those voices say. But not today, not today! It gets better with time, of course. Changes pile on and things seem less frightening than they once did. And there's no denying that what I consider to be pushing to the limits is what so many people consider to be just another day! Maybe it isn't right to compare onesself to others in such regards, for fear of more emotional complications, but at the very least it seems to teach me new lessons which I think I ought to be familiar with. That ain't so bad, now is it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Classic Album series seems to serve excellently as a way to help me warm to certain albums. A somewhat strange statement to make, but I think it has worked its wonders yet again. Or am I just under its spell temporarily? At one point, I thought Dark Side Of The Moon to be utterly overrated, and saw nothing that could possibly explain its status. Much later on, spurred by the gut feeling that I was missing out on something, I saw the Classic Albums program on the album. I think I realized I was missing something when they started going over "The Great Gig In The Sky" - the sea crashing against the rocks, that that point I said to myself "There's something there", and that even if the album was indeed gruesomely overrated, there was some magic here that I hadn't spotted before. I think I listened to the album again that very night, and wouldn't you know, it started making sense. I didn't become one of the people proclaiming it to the be the best album ever (such a thing doesn't exist!), mind you, but I quietly wondered, as I've often done, why I didn't hear anything (special) before.

I've never understood Who's Next either, so I thought I'd chance fate and see whether the mini-documentary would set me straight. As luck would have it, once again the program revealed to me that I like some of the material more than I thought I did (as they began a clip of "My Wife", I said to myself "Hey, I recognize this's sort of catchy, isn't it?") And, in the customary coincidence, I realized that the melody I was thinking about at the start of the day was none other than the one from "Getting In Tune". Slowly, but surely, I seemed to realize that I liked more of the material on the album than I'd led myself to believe. And, "Going Mobile", which for some reason I despised, seemed to make much more sense, and fit in with the mood I got from the two numbers here I've always adored ("Baba O' Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"), what with "When I'm drivin' free, the world's my home". It was starting to make conceptual sense as a whole, and the pieces of Lifehouse seemed to fit in my head.

I don't want to give the impression that it was the melodies that helped me change my mind though; no, no, no, they're important and all, but that isn't the biggest reason for my change of heart. I think it was the energy, the layering of sound that I saw/heard - I don't know precisely what it is, maybe it was just seeing Townshend on stage frantically belting out chords with such passion, and hearing him say what some of the songs meant to him. It all just made me feel more respect for the album, and feel as though I was being unfair in dismissing it. I tried listening a lot closer, and started finding things I didn't notice before. It also made me wonder what it is about The Who's particular brand of music that makes me shut off so easily. Quadrophenia was a tough cookie, but I eventually cracked off the outer shell and saw some brilliance in there (I don't think I've fully absorbed the whole thing just as yet!)

There are quite a few other acclaimed albums that I seem to have no problem "getting", indeed a few of them rank among my personal favourites. It made me realize that I seem to be a far more passive listener than I would've thought; in that I all too easily dissociate with the music and make it float into the background. It just happens that the sort of music in Who's Next (or Quadrophenia, for that matter) pushes whatever internal snooze button exists in my head. Reading some of the reviews of said albums helped me understand why. The Capn gives Who's Next the thumbs up because "the total effect that this album has on me, each and every time I listen to it, is so strong as to be undeniably deserving of an A+". Yes, the holistic approach to reviewing that I mentioned in the last post. But hang on, didn't I say that I tried to do that? Well, yes, but with certain albums, I think the way I listen to them makes me miss out in terms of a clear overall impression. It's easy as heck for me to hear or The Boatman's Call for that matter even Unknown Pleasures and magically "understand" what the appeal is. But in some cases, it's truly difficult, and it is what inspires some puzzling abonormalities in my taste.

Why is this the case? I think it's because I haven't yet developed a sophisticated enough palette to pick up the quality of certain music. To some extent, if the lyrics don't do anything for me, and the melody (vocal or instrumental) isn't all that catchy, and the song goes on for more than a few minutes, and there isn't this element of intangible magic (which can redeem anything), I seem to shut off. On writing this, I start to say "Hey, that seems a fair enough criteria". But it isn't entirely fair, for it is what made me once call "Won't Get Fooled Again" boring (shock! horror!), while happily sitting through the whole of "No Time To Think" with no qualms whatsoever; "No Time" just goes on and on, but Dylan's lyrics are enough to keep me entertained. See, the problem* with such a set of criterion, is that it doesn't account for unrestrained spirit, or soul, or whatever you want to call it, and just sheer power of sound. Which (I think anyway) is the magic you can find in something like "Won't Get Fooled Again", which makes it anything but boring. It's all a bit up in the air, this; but I think that's what I initially got out of Quadrophenia, what made me go from "Oh lord this is boring" to "Amazing..that..feel is just incredible!". There's more, obviously, but I do dislike trying to categorize such things. Put it down to the belief that they don't form an acceptable metric as the sum of the parts anyway.

I don't think it's time to despair as yet, though, for the palette can be refined, only it takes time. I mentioned in my review of Strange Days that I saw absolutely nothing in the album when I first heard it. "Hah! That Starostin has no idea what he's talking about!", I smugly said to myself (darn, "Love Me Two Times", "People Are Strange" and "When The Music's Over" all passed me by..I still can't believe it!), and later blurted out to someone that I positively hated the Doors. I think my reason was "they're so bluesy" or something equally cryptic (ehh this was probably after I'd heard L.A. Woman, which, surprise surprise, I also didn't like, and where for some reason both the title track and "Riders On The Storm" passed me by completely). The remedy as I see it is gently easing into different styles, in the hopes that they will bring one closer to style one seeks to enjoy. One of my broader goals, actually, is to someday understand jazz, which I have enormous respect for, but at the moment seems beyond my reach. A bit too intellectual for the current me, I sometimes say! But again, it's no doubt also because I haven't developed the palette required to stomach such things, and as such end up trying to listen to them like I might Stranded - not a good idea!

Don't be fooled (heh), though, for I still think Who's Next is overrated, but no longer do I think it's overrated and uninteresting. No, it's definitely interesting, and now I seem to be getting to the level-headed stage where I can say "I like it, but best album ever it is not". A step in the right direction! But this change of heart doesn't hide the fact that both Who's Next and Quadrophenia give me headaches by the end! I suspect it's because I play them loud, in an attempt to take in those bass lines and screaming solos. Ah, but no pain, no gain, do they not say? I don't think I've quite "got" the album yet, though I think I've convinced myself that there is some value in it, and that perhaps a few more careful listens can take me closer to pronouncing some sort of final judgement on it.

Since I've touched on Quadrophenia a couple of times, I may as well try to go a bit further with what I think about it at this stage. The sound is dense, and a few listens have made me realize that the first disc is near perfect - the problem, though, is the story is very hard for me to pick up. I still have no idea what "The Punk And The Godfather" is about, and as such end up listening to the music. "Isn't that what you should do anyway?", you ask. Well, it depends. The story is clear enough on "The Real Me" (a powerful rocker, and just the right length), but it seems a bit vague in other places, and as such I end up with a somewhat disjointed picture. The parts you do pick up are mostly quite good, and lyrically I think Pete is pretty on the money - I guess we're meant to relate with at least one of the four personalities, perhaps even all of them! However, the music makes up for this, because most of it is top-notch. Townshend certainly fell in love with synths by this point, and he uses them quite tastefully, complementing the guitar quite nicely. The song quality does ebb and flow a little, but most of it is of a surpisingly high quality - approaching this album with a slightly different mindset can produce quite a few benefits!

* Problematic only in the sense that if you apply it, you might miss out on something. Then again, maybe not, and maybe you'll filter out lots of garbage. Good going!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I sometimes wonder about these music reviews I spend so much time reading on other sites, and thinking about writing myself (most of which have never seen the light of day). One of the reader comments at John McFerrin's Yes reviews gives us his review of Tales From Topographic Oceans as a picture - the album cover to Yesstory. He tries to describe how the picture captures his feelings about the album and the songs contained, and does a somewhat convincing job of it; at the very least, he is able to awaken a part of me that totally agrees with him, and wants to say "Yes*!! How can you possibly attempt to explain the worth of music with words? You can't really tell me if this album is good or bad! This is all just wallowing in the mire!" (quite an excitable voice, no!?). This is no doubt fuelled by my own frustrations on the few times I've actually sat down and tried to review albums. I remember spending lots of time at the end of last year trying to come up with words to describe why I adored "Waiting For The Sun", but what I came up with ("a soft synth-propelled opening is shattered by a monstrous riff") sounded very feeble compared to the amazingly powerful feelings the song seemed to invoke in me; I seemed to have reached a problem where merely pouring on more adjectives wasn't going to solve anything.

I then started wondering whether the mistake was singling out individual songs. My Transformer review is structurally uninspired, because all it does is go song by song. This works sometimes, but some of the more interesting albums are where you can't look at it as a direct function of the songs it has**. When I tried to write my thoughts on Plastic Ono Band, this became quite clear to me; out of context, quite a few of the songs might not strike one as being particularly powerful. But it just seemed to me that taken as a whole, the whole atmosphere was somewhat overwhelming, and this was something I had no chance of exploring if I were to just list each of the tracks and go through them step-by-step. I tried to move towards the holistic review style in my most recent efforts, in the hopes it would provide the answer to what I was searching. But looking over my review of Forever Changes, I still feel unsatisfied. And I can't even begin to think how one might review Another Green World. I've often thought about whether it's impossible to properly describe the charm of "St. Elmo's Fire", but even more daunting is "The Big Ship" - I dare say it's near impossible to explain what that's about. I saw a RYM user call it "spiritually cleansing", which is pretty close, but it's almost impossible to give a clear reason. One can describe it perfectly step-by-step, but the end result will always be crushed when you play the song the next time - that final synth will hit, and you exclaim "What the heck was I going on about, that's not why it's great at all"!

The obvious question to ask is whether this is all a reflection of a lack of skills on my part. Well, to a large extent, yes, but it's also interesting to read some of the reviews by people who actually do have such talent, like George Starostin and John. They more or less go for the "overall picture" approach to album reviewing, but even their high-quality reviews don't seem to always be on the money. In terms of expressing some of the wonder of the music, that is, not the mirroring of my own opinions! (Let It Bleed gets a 15? I still can't figure it out!). Why then did I look up so much to these two reviewers? Surely if they couldn't express the wonder of "Editions Of You", I had no chance? As I see it, it comes down to the question - what is the point of the review/reflection? Therein I think lies the answer. One can't approach the it with the mindset that I possessed (and still do to some extent, unfortunately) - that it will be able to convey an equivalent feeling as listening to the music would. I think that's my hang-up, and what has stopped me in my tracks; the feeling of inadequacy when I read over what I've written, only to go "No, no, no! That's not it at all! That doesn't explain why I love "Watching Alice", I've made it sound so drab and unappealing!" - this is followed by me asking "Well, why do I like it anyway?", leading to much frustration, and eventually, submission to the fact that I probably can't do what I want to do with the review.

Perhaps with all this out in the open, I can try to write again, but I fear old habits die hard. I think I will probably have to settle for musings I give on RateYourMusic, rather than the drawn out reviews of yore. Funnily enough, my RYM musings are usually far more potent than most of the lengthy reviews/rambles! Part of the problem is that it's so much fun just thinking about things one likes, so any effort put into them, wasted or not, is usually far beyond healthy doses - which makes it doubly disappointing when the end-result is so limp and uninspired!

Now, with all that said and done, maybe it's as good a time as any to take a deep breath and try not to get tied up about albums in future. Lou Reed was asked what he thought about Transformer in the Classic Albums documentary about the albium: whether it was a personal favourite, whether he thought it deserved all the praise it got, and so on. I'll never forget the way he matter-of-factly said, "It's just an album. You make it and then you go and make another one". Heh, I ought to take a leaf out of Lou's book (and maybe even create a classic underground album in the process).

* Believe me, no pun intended at all

** There's a bit in one of the more esoteric record review sites, Steve And Abe's Reviews, about how the attitude of wanting to hear a song with the album it's contained in confuses rock with a novel, and that compilations shouldn't be looked down upon! It felt good to see someone put this view forward, because I think otherwise I'd have lost my way entirely; it's good to get an injection of common sense sometimes. I certainly fell head first into this trap, not even looking at compilations because I saw them as somehow inferior to the original albums. Stupid, stupid. Or, at least, sometimes stupid. There are places where it certainly does apply, for like I said, sometimes it is quite important to have the album as a concrete entity, and extracting individual songs from it can be somewhat detrimental. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, though, because I've always bounced from one extreme to the other. Before this period of elitism, my music listening strategy was deadly simple. Play the CD once in the background. If some song leaves a residual effect, make an MP3. If it doesn't, too bad, maybe next time (which, of course, would probably be never; hey, I already had the best songs, right?) It's obvious then that I would have an extreme backlash against this practise, so much so that I wouldn't listen to a song outside of its context to the album it was in. I'd start humming "Peace Frog", and say "Gee, what a great song. I wouldn't mind hearing that one more time. Ah well, maybe next time I feel like hearing the whole of Morrison Hotel". But as I've mellowed, I've realized that I began applying this restrictive practise far too much, in places it clearly didn't belong. Now I've been set free to find a new illusion.
Fear of failure - I've wrestled with it below the surface before, but now I'm rather tired of it, and wish I could conquer it rather than having it buoy upwards for others to witness and make witty dinner conversation on. I wonder what I'll decide to do - I can see that declining will make me wonder whether I've let another gift go by unopened, but it doesn't help ease my worries. I don't even know myself whether my reluctance to accept is due to some antiquated (and potentially incorrect, from a purely logical point of view, if such things are possible) ethical standards, or whether it is me trying to stem yet more change. Maybe I can read this post much later and laugh at how I was worried about nothing. Or maybe I'll feel sorry at an opportunity lost! "The question", I hear someone important saying, "is whether this is merely a lack of self-belief or an astute yet harsh pragmatism". I feel as though I should say to whichever unfortunate soul has to size me up, "Look fellas, I fear you're confusing work ethic with ability; I don't want you to accept me with false hopes that I will never live up to". I just don't want to get caught in the situation where I'm surrounded by genuinely intelligent people who are brought down by my ineptitute; my brilliant analysis of a greedy algorithm in last year's algorithms exam isn't going to help me much in a crunch situation!

People have already voiced gentle dissent, but I suppose most (somewhat rightly) assume this is a diversion to hide my real fear of having to make a moderate change, albeit for a short while. Of course, I am jumping the gun a bit, because nothing has been signed, nor do I have any reason to suspect that I will be picked. If I don't, think is nonetheless an interesting gedanken I may as well participate in.

Edit: It's kind of surreal to read back on things like this. Not that I was wrong or changed my view; nossir, I went through the whole process thinking the same thing at every passing moment (and I made sure everyone knew this). And yet somehow, it is over and done with now, just another "achievement" under my belt. In the event that I promote the whole thing to people in future years, it's somehow unfair that like-minded people won't realize the true paranoia that lurked underneath, and thus realize that you can pull through. You might think you don't deserve the opportunity and all that, but no-one else seems to think that. Even if you feel you haven't done anything (because it doesn't seem like anyone notices!). I suppose life goes on.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Whether or not this is tongue-in-cheek, I'll never know. (That's my customary pithy prefix out of the way) Half-fiction, half-truth, but which is which?

If you can't do this, you're truly beyond hope, I told myself, but a second later I knew that I would be standing here an hour later with my head hung in shame. They're just children! You can talk to them!, the inner voice prompted, as though that would change things. I briefly flirted with the idea of actually doing this, but those old feelings came back, and I knew it was no use. They had put their foot down, nothing was going to happen, and I was going to stand there for an hour. Now convinced of my predicatement, I began to lament my situation. Oh God, I should've stopped this earlier, now look where I am. I had stood by mutely when I was somehow thrown into the situation; I was expecting something menial at the time, maybe lifting benches, setting up tables, all things I could handle to a certain extent. I was told however that it was something far easier. Great! I can get out of here soon, I happily thought to myself, eagerly waiting to be told what trivial activity we had to perform. "All you have to do is go around and talk to them, and tell them about your experiences here and what they should expect". I wish there were a way to capture the change in my inner-face when I realized just what was required; it's all so funny, really. I picked up snippets on what this was all about. "They're gifted students..interested in coming to this uni". I was rapidly seeking escape routes, at the same time telling myself Run away from this and you'll never live it down. At that point I realized that I was downright fed-up with the whole thing, and wished that I'd stayed at home. Hey, if I did, I could be listening to what Lou Reed thought of Andy Warhol.

I made several very calculated steps, trying to determine whether I could perhaps find someplace that would keep me out of sight of everyone else. Again, as I was thinking this, I was being told off; You're really scraping the bottom of the barrel here, you do realize. I surveyed these tiny enemies that had me surrounded, and hoped none of them noticed me standing there awkwardly. Luckily, they were all far too busy talking amongst themselves to notice someone nearly splitting in two from ludicrous nervousness. "Maybe talk about what goes on in an average day?", I think one piece of advice was. I imagined what such a conversation would go like, but it ended up with me explaining how I'd analyse Morrisey's lyrics and search for beauty in software design. Sure, these young 'uns would love talking to someone like me. Maybe I'd start off with a Proxy pattern and work my way up to one of Knuth's books. Oh lord, why was I not told before-hand? Why should it matter at all?, I was angrily asked. Of course it shouldn't, I angrily responded, But it just does. I can't simply will this away.

With these various mental excursions going on, I think a few minutes had somehow passed. It was at this stage that I began to believe that one the organizers was eyeing me curiously, wondering of course why I'd agreed to help, only to stand about with a glazed look in my eye. This was a royal bind; I performed a quick weighing, and decided that incurring the wrath of the people in charge would be a far worse fate than some trivial embarassment. Heck, I was used to the latter, so would one more make any difference? (I remembered at this stage what a jilted Morrisey had once asked)

There was no way out now, of course. I had to try to talk to some of them, making sure of course that a supervisor would see it - otherwise the fall would totally be in vain. I scanned the groups, looking at who seemed least likely to embarass me publicly. The smaller the better, I thought. They all seemed pretty big from where I was standing, but I tried to keep my cool. You've been through worse, I comforted myself. I saw one group that looked less intimidating than the others, and I marched slowly towards them. Get rid of the bag, they'll probably think you're some random student passing by. Too late for that, I couldn't just ditch it on the ground now. One of them noticed me approaching, and so I went into social mode. I remember how I first heard that line - Alice climbs into her human form. It seemed more appropriate somehow. A moderate beam and a pleasant "Hi" should do the trick. "Hey" was the response - Going good! Now let's just hope someone's making a note of this. I blundered through some polite questions, met with equally polite answers. Not a bad kid, I thought, trying to picture myself at his age. So many years ago... "So, I take it you like science?" I said, at this stage totally clueless as to how the exchange of pleasantries could proceed. "'Course not, it's boring", he replied with a matter-of-factness that I'd lost touch with over the years. Ah, right. Ok, see you fellas! I searched for a mild (yet witty) comeback, but offered a chuckle only. I asked whether he was more into business, economics, that sort of thing. "Nope". Probably too young to know what he wants to do; and why not? I haven't got a clue what I want to do, and I'm almost out of this place. I told him so, but he merely smiled with a puzzled look on his face. Poor kid, imagine having to come all the way here, only to talk to a classy person like me. A silence followed and the boy, clearly disinterested by this stage, proceeded to talk to his group about lord knows what. No doubt on whether the Stooges really were the first punk band, eh?

At least you tried, I said to myself, but it didn't help so much. Would it help if I tried again? What's the rush, I figured, and felt like I earned another five minutes of strolling aimlessly, pretending that I was doing something of worth. Oh lord, this was not going good. I glanced at my watch, and saw I had a good half-hour remaining. I saw a stairway that would take me far from the eyes of everyone, especially the supervisors, but I couldn't do it. Don't you even think about it, you maniac. I quietly looked out to the distance, and noticed pieces of glass lying indiscreetly in the field overlooking us. Everything has a story, doesn't it? I started to wonder whether I was a bad person. I didn't think so, but I wondered what the supervisor was thinking now. I caught her glancing in my general direction for a brief second, and imagined what she must be thinking. If she were polite, probably Useless. Half of me agreed, but the other half was growing angry and defiant, defending myself. I wasn't warned! You can't expect me to do something like this on the spot! More than all this, though, was a growing sense of boredeom with the whole thing. It would be over soon enough, and I could tuck it all away, and carry on as normal. There are no villains here, just circumstances, I feel like saying, but I'm not quite sure what that means.

"How did it go?", I think someone asked me an hour later. I had the nerve to say that it was ok, and then decided to move away as quickly as possible from the area. I knew that I would come back in a few weeks and feel nothing at all staring at the place, no ghosts to torment me, just the sound of people carrying out their everyday routine. Perhaps in a few years, some of them would be sitting there, remembering the precise moment they decided this place was for them. I very much suspect I will be there too, mulling about, itching to go home and think beside the books and dust.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Scaling is beyond me; it can be disgusting, but at the same time overly welcome. Lord knows how it can convert not attempting half an exam into a result supposedly reserved for an upper-echelon of performances. The motivation for such contradictory statements from me is of course the completion of another semester where I feared that I would near-fail a subject, given my atrocious examination performance, but then, through the magic of scaling, finding myself far better off than I deserve, so much so that the only appropriate reaction was a maniacal laugh followed by a shrug of the shoulders. There is a brief celebration on my part on receiving the "good news" (of not failing), but in such cases, it creates a somewhat hollow feeling, probably because I am acutely aware that I don't deserve most of the marks. It is downright worrying; my latest endeavour saw me spending no less than three-quarters of an hour staring blankly at the exam, not knowing what to do. Taking into consideration the fact that I also didn't put any effort into the subject the day before, I came out expecting the worst, seeing signs where they didn't exist (I thought that I was going to be punished for fixating on one of the lecturer's trademark phrases, mostly in a genial fashion, but sometimes with an air of derision). It is therefore a bittersweet "victory", one which nonetheless raises doubts as to whether I've really taken a new, restrained approach to matters.

I'm coming to the end of the structured examinations, so maybe next semester is the last opportunity to play this oh-so-amusing game of worrying for three weeks followed by shaking your head in disbelief for three hours.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

So, is Planescape: Torment the best RPG I've played? Uhh, I'm in no position to answer such a question, so let's strike that and ask instead whether Planescape: Torment "better" than the Baldur's Gate games? Actually, I don't think I'm in any sort of position to answer that either. How disappointing!

Enough of my toying with you, gentle reader! As you've probably surmised, this post is a testament to my inability to control the urge to post about something I'm excited about, even if I have nothing original or interesting to say. That's right, it's one of those meta-posts, posts about posting, which have taken up a good portion of my blog thus far. Let me quell your growing outrage by attempting to get to the point, albeit briefly - the game so far has been rather enjoyable, but I must say that I don't see why some regard this to be miles above Baldur's Gate; I find the gameplay to be rather similar. My guess is that it probably has to do with the different dialogue paths, which I haven't explored (like I said, I'm playing good now, but later I'll go on the path of pure evil). The most obvious difference is the amount of dialouge in P:T is easily two-fold, and one spends a lot more time reading than fighting. Does that sound like your kind of thing? I usually find myself preferring dialogue over combat, but I can't say that I'm floored over P:T's approach compared to either BG game - I thought BG struck a pretty good balance between dialogue and combat (but, then again, my previous RPG outing was Diablo, so my view may have been a little tainted..!).

The dialogue is usually well-written, and there's lots of it!

Combat takes a back seat, but if you're itching for a fight, you can cause all kinds of commotion

Indeed, the amount of dialogue involved can be overwhelming at times, but I for one relish it, even though it means that one tends to pay attention to incongruities in dialogue options that one might otherwise leave alone. For instance, there is a character you can talk to, whom you've never met before, but there is immediately a dialogue option asking whether they'd like to join your group of heroic travellers. Given the otherwise high standard of dialogue and story, such things tend to stick out a bit more than they would in other games. Then again, maybe I'm turning into a pedant where instead I should take Frank Zappa's advice: "Shut up 'n play yer RPG" (as the reader can no doubt tell, at this point I am totally insane. But Zappa would've wanted it that way. Did the man not say, way back in 1967, "Freak out!").

Friday, July 08, 2005

I spent (wasted?) some time trying to make a satisfactory revision of the program I wrote a year ago to play song samples from CDUniverse. It took me far longer than expected, but it's done with some degree of decency. I'm disappointed that I didn't follow a test-driven approach, because even though the program is trivial, I can easily see myself wanting to extend it in the future, and maybe even use it as part of my other not-so-secret project. The problem with tests here is that it would involve interaction with WMP, and it seems to me that actually writing tests would be far harder than the code I've already got. For instance, the code to test whether "Play Songs" really does play songs strikes me as being rather nasty - I don't see an elegant way of doing it. That dreary technical note aside, my first stab ended up with something like this:

I was quite happy with this, but it only worked with CDUniverse, which was the original intent. The problem with this is of course that CDUniverse's repository of sound clips is hardly complete, in fact the AllMusicGuide database seems to have much more. I thought it would be easy to allow one to choose to use AMG, but in fact I came across something unexpected - now that AMG requires registration for access to most of its content, the program was shot, because merely copying the URL from my browser would lead to a innocuous enough page where the links to the sound clips were blank! (The way the program works is quite primitive - one has to actually navigate to the sample page via a browser, and then paste the URL into the program. The program isn't sophisticated enough to just get an album name and then determine the URL automatically - that, of course, has been left as a job for my other project) This morning, I chose the tried and true method of the cop-out, where I decided that for AMG, one would have to copy the source as an HTML file stored on the client's hard-drive, and then use that as the "URL". Messy, no?! Of course, it works, but I am disappointed that I haven't been able to come up with an unified interface for these two providers. I'd imagine that the music catalogue program would solve these problems because of the generality of the data you feed it, but still, I'd like for this stand-alone program to be cleanly designed too. At the very least, of course, I managed to implement a simple MVC pattern here, which was something painfully missing from the previous incarnation of my catalogue program.

As for where this fits in with the catalogue program, it should be fairly obvious - the idea is that one should be able to retrieve album information and play sample clips from the catalogue program. The problem I foresee is providing a nice way to give the user the choice of getting the samples from AMG or CDUniverse (or some other provider). I'm fairly confident that AMG has samples for most clips, but there are a few (from memory) where AMG doesn't even have a review, let alone clips. And, of course, the bigger problem is this whole registration business, and quite frankly I am at a loss as to how I can solve this problem. Ah, but I probably won't work on this for a while now, because my goal now is to try to use C# to make a revised version of something else I've worked on a lot - Tetris! I can't count the number of times I've started and stopped with this game, but darn it, this time I've got to be serious about finishing it and making sure it has no bugs!

I actually used the program as an excuse to try out the beta of Visual Studio .Net 2005 (the C# express edition, to be precise). My impressions so far have been quite favourable, indeed it seems to be at an almost equal footing with Eclipse in my eyes. The IntelliSense functionality seems to be vastly improved, and I feel that Eclipse would do well to add autocompletion at least after new statements. VS.Net also keeps local variables in the autocomplete list, and remembers your last selection, which I find very useful - it saves a lot of typing, especially when doing many Console.WriteLines!

I was going to say (before I realized how ludicrous the idea is) that the one little thing that annoys me is that double-clicking on a control (such as a textbox) automatically causes the editor to create an OnClick event, and take you to the code screen. Of course, this behaviour is a perceived benefit to users, but I wish there were a way for me to change the default behaviour to be merely editing the "most common" property - f'rinstance the Text property of a textbox. As I write this, and as I begin to comprehend how stupid and unfeasible this sounds, and wonder how on earth I come up with such thoughts.

I see that in this beta, C# supports generics, which is a welcome change; indeed, I thought they would have included it in the first standard, after seeing Java's approach. Indeed, with delegates in the mix, C# allows for statements much in the vein of STL algorithms, such as songs.ForEach (delegate (Song s) { Console.WriteLine (s.Name) }) - the fact that the delegate is anonymous is very convenient! Anonymous functions/functors are definitely something I'd like in C++ - speaking of changes to C++, Stroustrup has written an article detailing the design of C++0x. He admits that C++ as it stands can be a bit intimidating for novices, and seems to want to correct that to some extent. It sounds like one of the motivations behind Java - hiding the complexity of C++ so that programmers and non-programmers alike can write code at a reasonable level of abstraction, but I don't think we're going to see C++ morph slowly into Java*. Stroustrup has said many times that Java's goals are vastly different to that of C++, and that even if he could make C++ without maintaining backwards-compatibility with C, Java is not the language he would have come up with. Some of the tweaks he introduces in the document would be quite welcome. For instance, the vector initializer list. Boost of course provides the assign library that tries to do something similar, and my knowledgeable tutor tried to make a container that supported such initialization through a cunning use of the comma operator, so the desire for such a feature is clearly present.

* But are all languages morphing into Lisp? Again, I wish I would stop procrastinating and just learn the darn language already, so that I can make up my own mind instead of relying on other people's speculations.