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Month: June 2007

External hard drive

I’m thinkin’ about buying an 500 GB external hard drive… probably no time soon, but maybe in a few months… or half a year… or a year. I’m still low on funds since the money I do make get sucked up by George Mason University. Anyway, I only have 10 GB left on my 120 GB hard drive, and every month it seems I have to do house cleaning to keep it around there. All my MP3 music only takes up about 13 GB, so that’s certainly not where the majority of my storage is being taken up. I’ve also got some quite large music software programs though, sample libraries, and computer games that I need to play more of. Then I have years worth of collected stuff in my “My Documents” that I just don’t want to get rid of just in case. I’d love to shove all those “I-might-need-one-day” files onto a big old 500 GB hard drive so I don’t have to worry so much about space for a while. Wouldn’t that be nice? What’s that? You don’t care? You think that I think everyone is stupid?! Wha?! Well, I’m sorry, I had to blog about something… I keep missing days to fill the Internet with more clutter.

New CDs…

I got my hands on some new CDs a few days, including the Shrek the Third soundtrack (not the collection-of-pop-songs-soundtrack, but the musical score) composed by good old Harry Gregson-Williams and recorded and orchestrated with the help of a bunch of non-famous people. Many great variations on the Shrek themes here, especially the first track which gives the Shrek theme a delightful Baroque twist.

I also bought one of those movie theme compilation box-sets… a Varese Sarabande 25th Anniversary Celebration collection. $15 for four CDs is quite a good deal in my opinion, and the CDs are filled with unforgettable music like… well, I can’t remember right now, but you get the point. No, seriously, it’s got some great tracks like “The Man from Snowy River”, “Iron Will”, “City Slickers”, “The Mists of Avalon”, “Ice Age”, “The Iron Giant”, “Air Force One”, and many more.

Good stuff.

Blu-ray

I went to Best Buy a few days ago (didn’t buy anything) and I finally saw an example of what Blu-ray looks like… looks good! Really good. Of course, my family won’t have an HDTV any time soon, but perhaps by the time I move out in 2 or 3 or 5 or 9 I’ll get to see one in the house. There’s still a bit of a battle between the Blu-ray format and the HD-DVD format, but my guess is that Blu-ray will win because it sounds cooler and the blue cases look cooler. Even the movies themselves though are way too expensive, so I reckon it’ll be some years, perhaps even a decade, before some HD movie quality discs make it to the mainstream market. I’m not sure how many people even have HDTVs that can play these things. So, until a format wins and the prices drop by 50%, probably best to stick with DVDs (unless you are rich).

Musicals…

I was surprised to learn not too long ago that Mel Brooks has turned Young Frankenstein into a musical, and it will be coming to Broadway sometime this year. Although I’ll probably miss it’s Broadway production because I’m too poor and far away from New York for such things, I’ll be sure to get my hands on the music somehow. I wonder how they’re going to get the stage show to be in black and white… maybe the audiences will have to wear special glasses?

If you love musicals but are afraid of monsters that Put on the Ritz (will that be in the musical?), you should enjoy The Count of Montecristo: A Musical. Although it’s all in Italian for now, I can’t get enough of this music. Every melody is catchy and powerful and goosebump-giving. I sincerely hope this musical can also make it to Broadway, I would think it could gain many fans here in the USA.

As for my own musical… I haven’t even started yet.

No such thing as random

I watched two movies tonight… The Fountain, which looked interesting but turned out to be pretty dumb, and one of Darren Aronofsky’s earlier films, Pi, which was also pretty dumb. I’d give them both 5 out of 10 stars, which I guess isn’t too bad. What the films lack in good storytelling they at least make up for in thought provoking-ness.

Like listeners of a meaningless symphony, any human who watches these films could come up with his or her own meanings (and say whatever you’d like about the director’s intent, although be careful not to be too arrogant and presume to know something you don’t).

The Fountain had a definite theme of life and death, and creation through death (or life through death). Through parallel and interlinked stories, the main character battles death, both through the loss of a loved and through the confrontation of his own mortality. Meanwhile, a “tree of life” always seems to hold a promise of everlasting life, an unreachable goal that he thinks would solve all his problems. But the real solutions to his problems lie within himself. Boy, does that sound corny.

Pi seemed to have a lot more mathematical crap thrown into it for little reason. On the one hand, it might teach some audiences something new. Personally, unless you have something new to say about Fibonacci sequence, I no longer find branches and bunnies and golden ratio art all that interesting. If it doesn’t emerge naturally, forcing it isn’t going to accomplish anything. You can keep trying all you want, but you gain nothing. And, actually, that seems to be one of the themes of the film… (even if I just made it up)

Let me put it another way before I seem as ambiguous and meaningless as the films. A number, by itself, is meaningless. A sequence of numbers is meaningless. It is our conciousness that must create meanings for these numbers; that’s why we use them. They don’t just exist, they’re only representational tools. There’s an old philosophical question that asks: “If man did not exist to think of numbers, would they exist?” If you’re trying to answer that question, though you might have fun with it, you’ve gone too far; no answer is really practical, whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ isn’t going to change anything. (You might as well ask “can anything exist without someone to perceive it?”) The real problem lies in what people decide to do with numbers.

In Pi, all these dumb people want to use a certain number to control the stock market or reach religious enlightenment. They’re using numbers backwards. Yes, everything in the world can be explained with numbers and through mathematical calculations. But everything can also be explained with soda cans and toothpicks, with letters and spaces. What gives numbers their meaning is us, what we see in them, what we put into them. A number itself is meaningless. A word itself is meaningless. (A child could ask “why do things fall?” and an adult could say “because of gravity” … the child has learned nothing but a new word while the adult didn’t understand that he didn’t really know the answer. Unfortunately, the child often accepts just the word. He might even be a college student.) This isn’t to say numbers aren’t useful or that there’s no “truth” behind their pure concepts, it means it is we who actually define them, not nature. We can apply them to nature, but they are emergent properties of our own minds, not physical things. Tree branches and conch shells may seem to know about the Fibonacci sequence, but their structures are only emergent properties from the laws of atomic physics. That we can find patterns in them and apply our numbers to them may be fascinating (it certainly is to me), but it doesn’t imply anything about the Fibonacci sequence itself. So, when artists try to force math into their work, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Focus more on your own artistic desires than on what math you think governs the world.

In Pi, the main character also tries to find a pattern in the stock market. While there is indeed no such thing as true randomness, you can’t find a pattern in the stock market with the outcomes alone. This isn’t just because the system that dictates the stock market prices is too chaotic for anyone to understand (though it is), it’s because you can’t find a pattern for something simply by viewing data. Well, alright, many times you can find a practical example (day comes after night), but flipping a coin a million times will not help you determine what it will land on next, even if you can compute some weird pattern.

All this blather reminds me a bit of the book I just read, The Black Swan. According to IMDB.com, Darren Aronofsky’s next film will be called Black Swan. Hmmmm….

I know what you Google

I think most people who read anything from this blog come through Google or some other search engine. When that happens, I can see through my “Awstats” statistics program what people searched for to get here. Here are some of the searches people have done that led them to this website (with my evil commentary):

“jazz suite no. 2- waltz 2.mp3” Not here
“video i m in debt up to my eyeballs” Sorry, no video here
“sibelius 5” Use Overture 4
“stuff for facebook” Try looking on facebook
“black swan taleb free download” Pirate, go buy the book
“black swan free download taleb” Ooh, nice job changing the wording
“peter van der merwe” Book author
“what word is used for beheading chickens” What?!
“meaning of comb in my dreams” Means you’re stupid?

A lot of people search for themselves or their companies or something that has to do with them in blogs, so careful what you say in a blog that anybody can read. On an episode of TWiT, they even warned that some employers may look through blogs when deciding whether or not to hire someone. Wouldn’t that stink?

Computer science decline?

I was listening to TWiT #100 today and they mentioned an article by Ryan Paul about declining interest in Computer Science at universities.

In the article, Paul says:

I have less than fond memories of my own experiences with computer science education. I was frustrated with the emphasis on niche commercial development tools that I had never used before and have rarely used since. I also got frustrated with the emphasis on technical minutiae that aren’t particularly relevant to general application development. Assembly programming and compiler design skills acquired in college aren’t going to be very useful for software developers who enter the workforce and get paid to write web applications with ASP.NET or Ruby on Rails. That particular problem could largely be resolved by the emergence of new academic programs that differentiate between computer science and web application development. Few schools do this, however.

YES. Exactly! Being a Computer Science major at George Mason University, I can attest to this. (And I still have two semesters to go that I’m not really looking forward to.) Anyway, I’m always somewhat delighted to find someone out there who I don’t know who seems to agree with me on something. I have far less than fond memories of especially the past two semesters, in which 90% of what I learned is just crap I’m not going use. It’ll definitely be useful for some people, but I think my time could be much better spent. It’s very frustrating to be interested in emergent properties, game programming, and artificial intelligence when professors waste your time with math problems and assembly programming assignments. (But if you tell the professors this, they will say that you need a change in attitude if you want to be successful, the same kind of advice spouted off by vacuum cleaner sales men, as if such a position is really high on the what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up list. Attitude is much more likely to be influenced by success than vice-versa, so give me a break. And then there are the adults who think there’s no such thing as a lousy professor and advise young people to learn every piece of pointless knowledge they can and always be happy because they wish they could go back to college. And then they say learning is a life long process. Ok, then, why do I need college to learn if I’d be learning anyway? And I would think I’d learn a lot more with an actual job doing something useful than doing math problems out of text books and programming binary trees in LISP.)

Ah, fun rant…

Further, Paul says:

Improvements to computer science education are being touted as a way to prevent the United States from continuing to lose relevance in the technology industry, a problem that is also becoming pervasive across the board in other fields relating to math and science. Although increasing the number of computer science students could make the United States more competitive in the tech industry, there are other factors that should be included as well. Encouraging students to become technology entrepreneurs isn’t going to do much good if abusive patent litigation, for instance, prevents them from innovating and developing products.

More good points! I just read The Black Swan, and I think I remember the author saying something like “the reason capatalism works so well is that it allows for Black Swans.” (Not an exact quote, check the book for the actual words.) I think this could easily be applied to the field of computer science as well. Let the Indians do the tech support, there’s not going to be a Black Swan out of there. Let China manufacture the plastic toys, no Black Swan out of that either. Let the Japanese be good at their math problems and piano playing, no Black Swans there. Oh, you can make a fine living out of any of the above, but the best thing I think American universities can do is encourage students to be creative and “become technology entrepreneurs”, because that is where the Black Swans lie waiting somewhere in the dark. (And for all you bad professors out there, that means give your students less math homework! And please do not think saying “I challenge you to be creative and think out of the box!” is truly any kind of encouragement. You have to encourage it through your actions and your teaching style. I had one professor who always said “I’m trying to teach you to think out of the box!” and then gave us dippy math problems while spouting off anti-Microsoft rants because they’re successful and he had to become of professor.)

Ok, I’m done for now. And don’t think I’m going to change my opinions when I’m 40. I’ll hopefully just be less annoyed by all the time I was forced by the education system to waste because I’ll have more interesting things to think about…

Music time…

I wrote Trio for Harp, Flute, and Oboe No 2, Op 39 last night. Woohoo!

I also made “The Banquet” piece into a video…

Not much else to say today. My sleeping schedule is unfortunately sort of in reverse right now. 🙁

Oh, I had a weird dream not long ago in which I somehow ran into my 10 year old self. I tried asking him what was on his mind, what kinds of stuff was he thinking about. He said something about a poem or lyrics or something and then I woke up. Certainly wins the prize of one of the strangest dreams I’ve ever had. Sometimes in dreams you see yourself in 3rd person, but I’ve never dreamt of two of me talking to myself. Very weird, yet pretty cool.

Tortured prodigies

I’m on page 90 of The Name of the Wind, and while it seems pretty well written, there’s something about the characters I don’t like. Unfortunately I just can’t pinpoint it… it’s like a cognitive dissonance in my mind that I can’t sort out… very annoying.

One thing that bothers me is the characterization of the main character. He’s narrating his childhood, and it turns out he’s an amazing 11-year old prodigy who can learn things unrealistically quick. I find that I don’t really care about him. I think perhaps the problem is that he’s just too independent, or perhaps he’s not tortured enough. (Granted, I’m only on page 90. Maybe something tragic will happen. Seems like it should. Still, he seems rather arrogant, not someone I’d want to have lunch with, and most main characters should strive for that desire.)

Prodigies need to be tortured, don’t they? I think one of the most prominent examples of the tortured prodigy the poor brilliant little Ender Wiggin (perhaps paralleled by Bean), who not only has to save humankind, but struggles with the need to be loved. (It can sound a bit corny in a blog, eh?) There’s also the chess kid, Josh something, from the film Searching for Bobby Fischer (who’s in Iceland), who must also bear the burden of amazing intelligence. There’s also that Little Man Tate, poor thing, and I just saw a preview for some foreign film called Vitus (I think), about some prodigy piano player who just “wants to be normal”, whatever that means. Boo-hoo.

But it’s not really prodigies that need to be tortured, that’s the burden of being the main character. Main characters need to be tortured somehow. Not necessarily physically (though that’s a possibility), but the main character’s torture is the entire point of any story, isn’t it? What the main character goes through. It’s common literary advice to make the main character suffer as much as possible. Who doesn’t relate to suffering? (Autistics?)

So if the need to be tortured comes from the burden of being a story’s main character, what makes a prodigy so popular among young main characters? How often are genius adults main characters? Old smart people are just jerks. (That’s a joke, by the way.) They may work perfectly well as supporting characters, but if the main character is recognized as a brilliant genius, then he’s probably 14 years old or younger (and also probably male, as male is the dominant sex in our society, whether you like it or not). And, come to think of it, main characters are probably not over 50 anyway. There are exceptions, but I can’t think of many main characters who are in their 70s. If you’re going to live through a story in someone else’s shoes, you probably prefer it to be someone young and good lookin’ (like me).

Oh, and another thing. I hate seeing main characters on book covers. I suppose it works fine for children’s books, but on adult book covers they try too hard to make people look attractive. Perhaps it helps sell books (though I’d want hard evidence of that if any publisher claims it, as I doubt there is any), but it annoys me endlessly.