Animating and reading and music and stuff…

Animation studies continue

It’s now week 7 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! The first semester (of 12 weeks) is half way over!

Last week’s assignment involved animating a pendulum. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I caught some sort of virus, so I lost a nice chunk of animation time, and my assignment turned out pretty “blagh.” I mean, it wasn’t completely terrible, but it needs lots of polishing, so I’ll post that up on YouTube after I do a revision. Feeling better now, so I hope this week will be better.


I finished reading The Talent Code the other day. Overall, ’twas a pretty good read, though I still think that in some of the chapters the author kind of goes off on these less interesting tangents. There was this whole chapter about how good some “KIPP program” schools were, though to me they seemed kind of brain-washy. One of the main points of the program, besides instilling militaristic discipline, was to not only get the students to go to college, but get them to want to go to college. Apparently the founders of the KIPP program believe that going to college is pretty much the most important thing in the world. It’s kind of … disturbing. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to it, in terms of there being a correlation between income levels and college attendance, but I don’t think brain-washing children to believe that college is the most important goal in life is necessarily helpful, even if the students in this KIPP program preform very well on tests.

Which kind of leads me to another problem… so often it seems that how “good” a school is is determined by comparing it to other schools. People say things like “this school scored in the 90th percentile!” That sounds pretty good, but it actually really doesn’t say that much. What exactly is the “score” of the 90th percentile? Shouldn’t the actual score matter? With this sort of comparison-rating system, a school (or a student) doesn’t even have to improve for their score to improve… everyone else just has to do worse.

Along the same lines (though this is a complete tangent from the subject of the book), I hate when teachers, both high school and college, grade to a curve. As if a bell curve should naturally arise in the grades, and if it’s not there, you just shape the test scores to it. It makes no sense; you can get a better grade simply because everyone else did lousy on the test? But really this is part of the bigger “grading problem” in general that schools have; they simply use grades in a completely wrong way, as a form to easily compare students and to act as an easy gatekeeper for decision making. Unfortunately how well someone knows facts or a skill is not so easily numbered. (And this is really related to the “school problem” in general; how so many people think it’s a good use of time and money to teach and learn things students are not interested in or are not going to use. I’ll spare myself from going off on that tangent today…)

One last thing I’m starting to understand, from this book and others with similar themes, is that our personalities, as defined by our decisions and interests, are, or at least can be, as malleable as our intellect. They are a product of our environment. Maybe not completely, of course, but the true (often subconscious) sources of interests and personalities are quite complex; they do not simply emerge from DNA. In other words, if you observe that someone is bossy when they are a baby, that’s not necessarily just because they have “bossy” genes. Although, maybe they do… my point is that it’s complex. And people can change, at least to a greater degree than they may realize. Not easily, perhaps. It might take a complete overturning of your environment, and the change might be from “stable” to “completely depressed and crazy”, but it’s possible. I do wish it were easy to understand how interests come about and how they could be changed, but they seem to get so set-in-stone that we think of them as being as unchangeable as stone…

The other book I finished reading was Federations, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was kind of a mixed bag… I thought some stories were very good, especially Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason and Symbiont by Robert Silverberg. Some were OK. Some were uhhhh-what-the-heck? (I have more traditional tastes. When authors try to get all experimental and stylized, I don’t always get it. One of my big pet peeves is unisex/nonsex pronouns, like “hirs” and “shim”… blagh! You’re not clever! Stop it!)

Will books die soon?

In other news, I read this article in which some guy says that physical books will be dead in 5 years. *gasp* Firstly, the article states that we must consider what has happened to music and films, which makes no sense to me. Those are digital art mediums in the first place. You watch a movie with a digital TV, and you listen to music on speakers (or headphones). Those have required electricity to perceive the art for a long time. Not so with books. So I don’t think the comparison is entirely valid. Also, movies are still quite non-digital, in that they still are sold on physical discs. This not only helps prevent copying (to a degree), but it also allows customers to trade, rent, borrow, return, and resell their movies. In a purely digital world, we can’t do that. Money would only ever flow one way. Great for movie distributors (if they can prevent illegal copying enough), somewhat lame for everyone else (unless you can get free movies by watching ads at certain intervals… but still no returning or trading).

He also says that the sales of Kindle books has outnumbered the sales of hardbacks. OK… that in and of itself is not really evidence of anything, as far as I can tell. We’d also have to see a decline in hardback sales, and look at paperback sales. And publishers would have to at some point conclude that publishing a hardback would not be worth it. And then conclude that paperbacks aren’t worth it either. These business decisions would, I think, be way too drastic for publishers to figure out in just 5 years. Unless, of course, Kindle and other ebooks take off so well and make publishers so rich that they have nothing to worry about by going all digital. So I guess I’d really have to look at the publishers’ records to know…

Eventually, books may very well die, or at least become mostly dead… but in just 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Some beautiful music!

Lastly, as a reward for reading all that blather (or for scrolling down), here’s some beautiful music for you!

Want more? Of course you do!

These pieces were brought to you by the Portsmouth Sinfonia which I came across last week (or yesterday or something)… what beautiful sounds!

Deadline failure and other such things

I was hoping to compose 5 minutes of music a week, starting last Tuesday, but unfortunately I was only able to compose 2 minutes and 46 seconds by this past Sunday.  So I fail!  Shocking, no?

I blame a few things:

deadlineclock1)  My job. It’s a part-time job, so I can’t blame it for taking up too much time, but it does take up time.  So I must blame it.

2)  Fatigue. This is also job related.  When I have to work at 9 AM, that means I am pretty much tired throughout the day.  Which isn’t a problem for doing most things.  But I think a lot while I’m composing; it’s a very mind-intensive activity; it takes a lot of focus for me.  And when I’m fatigued, music has a way of lulling me off to the land of pleasant dreams, especially the incredibly fantastic music I compose.  So it is extremely difficult to compose while fatigued.  I did try taking some caffeine tablets, but alas, no effect.  I must have high caffeine tolerance.  I could feel it make my heart beat faster, but nothing else.  Of course, caffeine really isn’t supposed to be used to counter sleep-deprivation, so maybe it has nothing to with tolerance.  But that’s what some people seem to use it for and they swear by it.  It doesn’t help me though.

3)  Not being able to stay up all night. Again, job related.  Since I have to be at work at certain hours, I am not free to simply stay up as late as I want composing and then just sleep until I am not tired anymore.  (Not that this problem doesn’t plague most people.)  I sometimes seem to think more actively at night, perhaps because there are fewer distractions; the TVs and radios are off, no one’s on the phone and no one calls, etc.  But I can’t use the time to my advantage if I need to get some sleep in before going to work.

4)  Perfectionism. Or pickiness.  I spent 2.5 hours a few nights ago composing and orchestrating 4 bars.  I think that’s the longest 4 bars ever took me.  But I’m very pleased with the result.  Though I suppose I could fiddle around and tweak orchestration for many many hours, it always eventually has to come to a point in which I am pleased enough and must move on.

5)  Other stuff. For example, on Tuesday, I had to spend time tidying the house for guests.  Chores are evil and must be blamed.

That said, I must say I’m extremely pleased with the progress I’ve been making with my latest piece so far.  I went to bed yesterday with the melodies I composed annoyingly humming through my mind uncontrollably.

A big disadvantage of giving myself a deadline has emerged: I get angry. And stressed.  And a bit depressed.  And what fun is that?  I blame all the other stuff I must do, like go to work, which just makes going to work that much more painful and annoying.  So I’m very much considering throwing away the deadline and just composing as often as I can.  I don’t want to be angry by having goals and then not reaching them due to things like having to go to work that I can do little about.  Or I could just blame my undisciplined self for not being more disciplined and getting more done when I do have chances, but that won’t make me any happier either.


federationsSince I don’t have much time for composing, I have even less time to read, but in what short moments I can spare, I’ve been reading a collection of science fiction short stories in a book called Federations.  Here are my very short reviews of the few stories from the book I’ve read so far.  They are only my subjective opinions, and I am perhaps more picky than most (ratings are on a scale of 0-5 stars):

Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card:  4 stars.  I actually read this in another book before, so I skipped reading it again, but I almost always enjoy Orson Scott Card.  Very good story from the Ender’s Game universe.

Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine:  2 stars.  Though the premise was very interesting, the author didn’t seem to do much with it.  It was more of an idea story, as nothing much really happened.  A world was presented, some unimportant things took place, and that was it.

Life-Suspension by L. E. Modesitt:  0 stars.  Interesting characters with interesting dynamics.  But nothing very interesting happened.  And there were these battle scenes that were too cryptic for me with all their pilot-in-battle speak.

Terra-Exulta by S. L. Gilbow:  3.5 stars.  Not really a story, but a very fun fictional letter.  I enjoyed it.

Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold:  1.5 stars.  Again, an interesting premise, but an uninteresting story.

Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove:  2 stars.  Had it’s funny moments, but most of it’s humor was just stale and annoying, as if the author just wrote the story off the top of his head, writing down every stupid joke he thought of.  Didn’t really work for me.

Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason:  3.5 stars.  Started off a bit confusing, but once the story started rolling, it was actually quite good.

Different Day by K. Tempest Bradford:  0 stars.  Yikes.  While I like the idea of not portraying an alien race as a clichéd “monoculture” (as we humans certainly aren’t), this not-really-a-story didn’t really do much with it.  It’s just a three page ramble.

And that’s all for today, methinks.