Archive for November 2004
The holiday is over, and it’s back to work tomorrow morning. After a trip to Dublin centre, for shoes, MIDI cables, pork pies and houmous, I have to conclude that Christmas is over too, at least for me. Now I just find the whole thing sad, over-commercialized, totally phoney, and it’s not even December yet. For the rest of the year, it’s almost nothing but work, most of it in a low-staff situation, firstly with other people on training, then the holiday season, when I have exactly one day off. Last year, well, I needed to take a break by early February, that’s how mad it was, and I won’t get to do much else over the season.
I won’t be going to the corporate party this year, since it looks to be identical to last year’s. No thanks, Before I left for my break I floated the idea of an “anti-corporate” party with everything that the corporate party won’t have, starting with a civilized atmosphere and good food. I wonder if anyone else ran with the idea, or will it be all up to me to arrange? I can do that, but I expect some committment from the others to the principle of having a good time. If someone says they’ll show up, and doesn’t, that’s a slap in the face that I won’t be keeping to myself. G’Night.
Ow, my poor feet… I should have checked the map before setting out this afternoon, then I wouldn’t have had to estimate my actual mileage, afterwards, at about eight miles or thirteen kilometres, most of it in a freezing north wind. I decided to carry on the full three-mile length of the South Pier of Dublin Harbour, past the Poolbeg power station, all the way to the lighthouse, just to see it for the first time. The way back, in the dark, along the narrow uneven pier, with sea on either side, was a little hair-raising. I can take it, but my walking shoes are about two years old and paper thin. Oh well, tomorrow is a good day to get reshod, before the last in the current Japanese classes.
Help! I’m pussywhipped!
“The man in today’s scenario not only knows how to listen, sympathize, look after a baby, and leave the seat down, but he can now add baking to his list of female-friendly skills. Yesterday he actually managed to bake a loaf of bread, an essential survival skill in this age of nanotechnology. Never mind that he didn’t knead the dough for long enough, so it almost totally failed to form a bread-like consistency. Never mind that he left the dough to rise for too long, so that it collapsed during baking. Next time, get a mixer with a dough hook, dude: the result can be called a noble failure, falling somewhere between bread and cake, like a light Irish soda bread without the dryness or the bicarbonate-of-soda taste, very edible and rather nice when served warm with corned beef and yoghurt mayonnaise.”
OK, enough of the third-person for one day. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and the remaining half will probably be gone by tonight, after I hit the deli for some pastrami or honey-roasted ham. Apart from the baking, trips to the bank and the centre of Dublin, I’ve spent the last couple of days pottering around, and this weekend I have the place to myself, since my flatmate is off home to Tipperary for a long weekend. Because Dublin centre is now so close to where I live, I’ve already made unnecessary trips, wondering what to do when I got there. There’s an experimental music gig on there later, just the kind of thing I’m in the mood for, and so what if it goes on till late? It’s not like I’ve been getting up early this week.
I found an old MP3 CD of mine while looking through my flatmate’s CD collection, so I have a real nostalgia trip going on while I’m typing this: Hunting High And Low by A-ha, the strange Norwegian pop stars who burst on to the scene with this album just over 20 years ago, starting with the infectious single Take On Me. The album was part of my general musical awakening during the mid 80’s, alongside 90125 by Yes, OMD’s Architecture And Morality, and others. I didn’t know much about synthesis then, but today I hear the Yamaha DX7 all over it, a instrument whose twentieth anniversary was celebrated last year, one as important to synthesis as the Fender Stratocaster was as a guitar.
A couple of years ago I wrote an essay on secure music, about my attitude towards music downloading, and last night on CNBC a music industry representative was asked why it was still so expensive – which it is, in my opinion. He tried to explain the pricing in terms of a shift away from albums back towards individual tracks. I’m not buying that, and I wrote a little more on the topic, enough to deserve a page of its own: see albums vs. singles.
A couple of very unproductive days later, much of it spent reading Teeth Of The Tiger by Tom Clancy. Now I’ve finished it, it’s clear that it’s only the first part of what will be a longer saga, involving Jack Ryan Jr., the son of the main character of most of Clancy’s previous books. In Executive Orders, Ryan Sr. had promulgated the Ryan Doctrine, which indicated that the enemies of the USA will not be safe anywhere in the world, and underlined that with a missile strike on an Iraqi cleric. Teeth Of The Tiger is the continuation of the same policy, but by other means entirely, in the form of a “black” organization operating without congressional or presidential oversight. Set up by Ryan Sr just before leaving office, its existence is unknown to the current president. They are party to the intelligence gathered by other agencies, and use that to fund their operations, but the downside is that they can not call on any other material resources.
If anything, the events of the past few years must seem liberating to an author like Clancy; it’s now a decade since he suggested that an airliner can become a weapon of mass destruction – you have to wonder just who was paying attention to the fictional ending to Debt Of Honor – but reality has since blown past many of his maddest ideas.. The Cold War is over, the enemies of the USA don’t play by any civilized rules, so the gloves are off. It’s not all gung-ho, however, and Teeth Of The Tiger is replete with philosophical musings on the legality and morality of the path followed by the new black organization. At one point Jack Jr. even has the sense to ask “what if I become like them?“, and doesn’t have a neat answer to that question. Does he finds out later? We’ll see.
My new place has a great view of the Lansdowne Road stadium – the grandstand, not the field – and there’s another big match on there today: Ireland vs. USA at Rugby. The crowds are gathering and littering the streets profusely, as they were last week, when people were giving out Fisherman’s Friends. I wish I’d known about that but, by the time I went past, there remained only thousands of little packets littering the streets in all directions, and the turbine-powered street-sweepers were deafening everyone in earshot. People!
So, today is just a chillout day, engaged in what you might call Multi-Slacking, i.e. doing multiple unproductive things at the same time. (Not to be confused with what Dilbert author Scott Adams calls “multi-shirking”, which is the failure to do many important things, all at the same time.) One is writing this blog, which is verging on the productive (in my humble opinion), but I’ve also been cooking fresh ravioli, and half-watching an American Chopper marathon on the Discovery Channel.
I’m a little ambivalent about the whole concept: it’s interesting to see these bikes being built, the way the whole can be much more than the some of its parts, but I was surprised to see how much Orange County Chopppers don’t do on the bikes. They buy in all the major components from specialist suppliers, often using them stock, and farm out the paint work. Then again, it is a commercial business, with paying customers, and they can’t take the time to get as skilled in those areas as the specialists are. They have become a major player in the local economy, cash filtering through them, from the rich clients down to parts suppliers, engine specialists, and pizza restaurants.
After the first series, however, the Teutul family have become celebrities, soap-ing up the inevitable arguments, and even get to build a bike for Jay Leno to be unveiled on The Tonight Show. It’s only a matter of time before they get tired of having cameras in their faces, as the Osbournes finally are – they announced, this week, that they are calling a halt to their “UnReality TV” show.
In-between episodes, we have commercials, of course. I’ve often felt that advertisers who spend lots of money on commercials are doing so because they can afford to, they are making huge profits. There are cases when advertisers need to take a risk to attract a market, but when I see saturation of the airwaves by a few big names, it’s clear that they are not competing with each other on price. I’ve moaned about advertisers, before, but the Discovery Channel seems to attact a different class of advertiser. Nickelodeon has its toy ads, MTV and similar channels are currently clogged with ringtone commercials, but DC is full of ads for financial services. Want a loan, but have a poor financial record? They will give you the money, but they will get their pound of flesh in return, in the form of high interest rates, or a foreclosure on your house. (If you’re not a homeowner, i.e. with substantial collateral, you needn’t apply.)
The Japanese work I put in on Sunday seems to have paid off, and I’m a lot happier with the verbs; boring as it sounds, it’s a critical part of the language training which has taken up most of the semester. It’s also showing up some limitation in our teacher’s methods, I have to say. For example, she’s treating verbs as a something to be memorized on their own, not taking advantage of common roots behind the words. This is the kind of thing that jumped out at me:
- 広い (hiroi) = wide, spacious (adjective)
- 広げる (hirogeru) = to widen, enlarge (verb)
- 広げる (hirosa) = extent, area (noun)
- 広場 (hiroba) = plaza (noun)
- 広く用いる (hirokumochiiru) = widely used (expression)
Makes sense, and something similar happens in English (wide, widen, width, widely), but Sensei was actually annoyed that I noticed it happening here too, and said “don’t do that”. Sorry, too late…
A fairly lazy Sunday, with a Quiche Lorraine in the oven, the Discovery Channel showing a series on rebuilding a Range Rover – piece-by-piece – and me tackling Japanese verbs, again. In class, we’re going at it in a piecemeal fashion over this semester, and so I’m taking the time today to lay out and categorize the major verb forms in a single spreadsheet page. Japanese for the Western Brain, a series of articles by Kim Allen, is a great help here, and includes an exhaustive list of verb conjugations that I’m turning into a Kanji + Hiragana table in Excel to print out and use in class. At the same time, I’m using what I’m learning to conjugate real verbs. Enough blog, back to work.