Well, it's starting to look as if this blog thing isn't working out any more. I am shocked and saddened to see that we're coming up on six months since my last post. Six months! It's not that nothing is going on in my life, or that I haven't given thought to topics I'd like to blog about. In fact, I've thought a bit about reasons why I haven't blogged. Here's what I've been able to come up with:
Naturally, I've got to start off with the same
reason you'll hear from anyone else. <whine>I'm so
busy!</whine> Sure, I might be able to claim that I'm a busy
person, what with my important job and all. Ha. Plenty of
other faculty members maintain active blogs and still get their
work done. And it's not that I've lost interest in the medium of
blogging; I read more blogs than ever.
For the past year or two, I've been growing
dissatisfied with the editorial policy I established for this
site. Specifically, I decided that I wanted to remain anonymous
(or at least, that I would not overtly identify myself).
Increasingly, I'm finding that this policy interferes with
my ability to talk about interesting topics that would
reveal my identity.
This blog is still powered by a set of
Python scripts that I wrote, mostly in 2000 but with occasional
updates thereafter. Rolling my own was a worthwhile experiment
in 2000, but it's a nuisance today. As the medium evolves,
it would require ever more effort on my part to stay current.
And as little time as I've been devoting to blogging, I've got
even less to spend on developing the underlying code, particularly
given the many excellent free solutions out there for the taking.
What I'm building up to here is that I think it's time to experiment
with a change, to see if it can renew my interest in blogging. This
is something I've been contemplating for a while, and I think I've
finally built up the motivation to go for it. There are many ways to
go about this change; here are my requirements:
I'd like to host the software installation and
all the content. Just as a matter of principle, I prefer not to
rely on a third-party site. Having my own blog installation
also allows me to make finer-grained changes to look, feel,
I expect that the new blog will not be anonymous.
Theoretically, I lose the ability to speak freely about, say, my
job, my bosses, my students, my colleagues, and so on. Of course,
that "freedom" is the blogging equivalent of
security-through-obscurity (the text of this blog has always been
in plain view), and is therefore mostly an illusion.
Still, it would be nice to make an occasional restricted post.
This sort of thing is easy in Livejournal, but that only works
because I read enough LJ blogs
that it's worth having an account and friending people. I don't
want to force readers to keep track of an account on my site.
Ian's blog, which uses browser-based authentication, has a similar
issue. Also, I like using Google Reader for RSS feeds, and
even if I have some form of authentication it's not clear that
it can be compatible with Reader (or other aggregators).
Does anyone have thoughts on that?
I absolutely want to support comments. That's
one of the most painful absences in my software---the comment
threads on the blogs I read are a rich source of information
and entertainment. I don't want
to go through the effort of implementing comments myself.
I don't want to have to deal with comment spam.
I want better tagging or categorization of
entries, so that, for example, I can point people at the complete
set of One Minute of Music posts.
I'd like to have a web-based interface for
authoring entries. My software requires me to create a text
file and run a script that enters it into the database.
The web-based approaches simply seem more lightweight,
which means that I might be more likely to post.
Other features (feeds, customizable themes, images, etc.) are important but
so common to blog software that I don't need to mention them.
Anyway, right now I've got a mostly-working test installation of
Textpattern running on this
server. It seems like it has most of the features I want, though
I kind of prefer Bloxsom
file-based model over the use of mysql in Textpattern and
still playing around with the look and feel, but if everything goes
smoothly I might announce a changeover at some point.
Or not. As is common in the medium, this might be the last gasp of
my nine-year-old blog. To paraphrase the old saying, perhaps we ought
to blog as if every entry were our last.
(Oh, and at this point, music fans might be wondering "whither One
Minute of Music"? Good question. I do have a few doodles I've been
working on, and I enhanced my musical capabilities by buying
Propellerhead's new software Record when it came out. I've been stuck, actually---I've
got a full-length pop song that cries out for lyrics, but I've never
written complete lyrics before. I've also got a few other doodles
that could become more OMOMs. I don't think anything will happen on
this front in October. Maybe November...)
Every now and then I see something built using Flash that makes me wonder whether I should learn to program in it. I mean, ultimately there's nothing you can do in Flash that couldn't be done any number of other ways, Java being the most likely alternative. However, it seems like Flash is running away with the coolness and sophistication, leaving Java to pick up the unappealing scraps (such as my university's appalling graduate student application system). I think I have a prejudice that tells me that Flash is too slow and not very programmable. I suspect that impression is about 17 years out of date (my first CO-OP job in 1992 involved creating Interactive Multimedia content using Macromind Director, which I believe was a very early precursor of Flash).
The most recent case in which I was thoroughly impressed by Flash is
Audiotool is a flash-based music production system. It provides simulations
of some classic synth gear: the TR-909, the TB-303, a matrix tool
reminiscent of the Yamaha Tenori-On, a pile of effects pedals, and a few
other gizmos. It's obviously less flexible than Reason, but the fact that
it runs as a Flash gizmo inside a browser window is somehow very neat.
Plus the interface looks like a physical tabletop covered with gear; the
comparison to the Reason Rack is inescapable.
Seeing tools like ths one makes me think I ought to learn Flash for graphics
and sound work. Happily, one of the developers of Audiotool has made the
source code for a bunch of his previous experiments available for the curious. That might be a good starting point. There's also the growing body of open source Flash development tools to consider.
First of all, thanks to my mother, who pointed out that this site was reporting internal server errors. For the record, I believe the maintainers of this server upgraded the web server installation. As a result I was running on a more recent version of Python, in which the random number generator I was trying to use was deprecated. I changed my calls to random (mainly used to choose a tagline at the top of the home page) and all was well.
I realize that I left the
in the previous entry unanswered. Ian was the first to respond with
the correct answer (not surprising, since he studies codes for a living,
at least to a first approximation). I'm sure most readers recognized
the mysterious black writing as
Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, the writing
system used to write aboriginal languages such as Inuktitut. OK, great,
so they included some Inuktitut message in the ad, perhaps the
name of the film, right?
Wrong. The text is a simple substitution cypher (a cryptogram) of
the English name. It's easy to see that, because the syllabic
characters are broken into "words" with the same length as those
in the English name. Looking more closely, you can see that the
same symbols are used consistently to represent the same letters:
ᑎ for T, ᕿ for E, and so on (go ahead, test your
browser's Unicode support!).
So what's the deal here? It comes across as a cheap and insensitive
stunt, as if the person creating the ad thought they had to make it
look more "Inuity". As if it didn't matter what the text was; the
syllabics are just clip art, after all, not actual language. Besides,
in Canada the movie doesn't even use an Inuktitut name or writing, as
is obvious from the movie's official site -- just French and English. (They do use the name
Inuujjutiksaq internationally; I wonder what that translates as.)
I've been trying to come up with a good analogy for what kind of
insensitive graphic could accompany a movie about a different culture
just to reinforce the point. But I haven't been able to pick the
appropriate group or offensive graphic:
"Can you believe that the ad for that movie about a black/Jewish/gay/furry
has a _________ in it?" And no, I don't mean a black-Jewish-gay-furry
person (as interesting a movie as that would make). Pick one, or devise
We have the calendar for our local repertory theatre hanging from our bulletin board at home. On the front page of the current issue, they've been advertising the Canadian film The Necessities of Life. Here's their ad:
After walking past this ad for weeks and merely glancing at it, I noticed something very odd about it over the past few days. Does anyone else see what it is? And no, I'm ignoring the two (count 'em, two) typos in the name Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Just curious.
Helpful comments regarding my personal appearance in the context of teaching
I finally got around to reading the written comments on my teaching evaluation forms from last term. For the most part they're positive. The overall ratings are probably my lowest ever, which isn't surprising given that this is the first time I've taught non-majors. And some individual students were quite negative. Oh well. The most common criticism was that the lectures are too fast. I do have to work on that -- I tend to speed up when I get excited.
There were a few interesting comments on my personal appearance. One
student wrote "I appreciated that Craig always had a casual appearance.
It made him very approachable". I've seen different attitudes on the
question of appropriate dress for faculty. Clearly I'm on the casual
end, though I don't go around in the summer wearing tight Adidas shorts
like at least one professor in my department. I know our chair (who is
a very snappy dresser) would prefer us all to be a bit more dressed
up. But I agree with this student: I'm a casual person, and I want
students to feel at-ease with me. My
a distinguished professor, once told me that the only rule I needed to
remember for teaching was to wear a jacket and tie, and I know professors
my age who follow that rule. I don't think I could.
On the other hand, I suppose it's possible to be too casual.
Two students, one from each of my sections, wrote that I should shave
my back hair because it's distracting. I assume they're not suggesting
that I shave it in class; that would be very distracting
indeed. Perhaps I can kill two birds with one stone and wear more
Happy new year! With the arrival of 2009, I bring you another unsolicited discussion about words.
I've been reading Dickens's Oliver Twist, which Nath was kind
enough to give me as a holiday present. I haven't read any Dickens before,
though we've enjoyed listening to Patrick Stewart's reading of
A Christmas Carol ever since Chris gave it to us year ago.
Through that reading, I've come to love the rhythm of Dickens's prose
(made all the better through Patrick Stewart's delivery).
In this book we are introduced to a number of scofflaws and ne'er-do-wells,
including Fagin (the old Jew), Bill Sikes, Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger),
and Charley Bates. This last character, being a youth, is frequently
referred to by Dickens as "Master Bates". Heh heh heh. Master Bates.
Get it? Of course you do.
Now, let's reflect on this. We have to assume that Dickens did not intend
this pun (I mean, it's not like Charley Bates spends the book, er, living
up to his name). We also have to assume that he was intelligent enough to
avoid introducing such an egregious pun unintentionally, since it disrupts
the flow of the story for intelligent-but-puerile readers (i.e., me).
The conclusion I come to is that the word "masturbate" simply wasn't in
common usage at the time.
Is that possible? Well, the introduction to my copy of Oliver Twist
claims that the book was serialized beginning in 1837, in a magazine for which
Dickens was hired as editor. Looking up "masturbate" in the Oxford English
Dictionary, we see
that the first recorded use of the word in English was in 1839 (and the
next after that was in 1880). The dictionary also tells us to compare with
the french masturber, which was used by Marquis de Sade in 1787.
(Interestingly, there are also several competing etymologies for the word.)
Taking the OED as authoritative on first use, we can make a legitimate claim
that indeed, Dickens might not have been aware of the word when he wrote
Oliver Twist, despite his considerable vocabulary. We can assume
that this wasn't a not-so-subtle bit of lowbrow humour at his character's
expense (as funny as that would be).
Of course, this analysis leads inevitably to one other question.
If masturbation was only invented in the early 1800s, what did people
do before that to pass the time?
This morning, I decided spontaneously that I would finally attack the problem of hooking a commenting system into this site. I figured out a simple way to do this.
Now, many of you already use the
feed of this blog for comments. I appreciate that, since they did all
the hard work and I'm just piggybacking on top of that. I decided that
when building the page view for individual thingo entries (which you can
find by following the link from LJ, or clicking on [link]), I would scrape
the LJ page for my feed and figure out what URL they're using to represent
that entry. Then I can embed that link in my blog to direct people to the
appropriate page for comments. For bonus points, I'd cache the URL
so that I can go back later and see old comments.
Mission accomplished, sort of. If you're looking at the single entry
view for this entry, there's a fair chance that you'll see a comments
link at the bottom. The caching doesn't seem to be working, but I'm
not worried about that problem. You see, the big issue is that LJ
doesn't seem to store old syndicated posts and their comments. All
the wonderful comments you've left in the past are gone! We can't
revisit our discussion on whether Harry Potter can be choked underwater,
I guess I'm left with a couple of options. I can write my own commenting
system. Writing blog software was an interesting exercise in 2000,
but at this point I can't see the point; frankly, other people have done
much better jobs at this than I ever will. I can become a partial sell-out
and install popular blogging software like Blosxom or MoveableType, or
become a total sell-out and use a hosted blogging site. In both cases,
I would want to find an automated way to pump all my old blog entries
into the new system. Or I can abandon comments altogether and remain
a Web 1.0 curmudgeon (as my uncle would say, I can embrace trailing-edge
Yes, I'm calling this September's OMOM. I'm hoping to have more time
in the second half of the month to do an October Minute.
Yes, this is more bleepy electronic stuff (sorry, no chucka guitars).
Unlike some of the previous Minutes, however, I actually kind of like
this one. I think it holds together reasonably well.
The whole thing got started because of the beautiful sound that makes
up the sixteenth-note sequences. The sound was hiding inside a complex
arpeggiated Combinator in the Reason Factory Sound Bank, but I'm using
it without the arp.
Unlike several other Months, I didn't draw inspiration from Zero 7
this time. The most obvious antecedent for this song is the
beautiful Aphex Twin song "Chesh", which is on an ambient compilation
that Doug gave me years ago. I think the high theremin-like sound
towards the end is reminiscent of a song by Aphex Twin and μ-Ziq on
the "Expert Knob Twiddlers" album. So thank you, Mr. James.
I also stole one miniscule idea from Tom Third.
Thanks for listening, and remember to ask your local radio DJ to play
more Minutes of Music.
Those of you who eagerly watched the calendar inch over into October, hoping for the next installment of OMOM, are no doubt disappointed by now. I still haven't put one up for September, and I'm not sure I'll be able to make one any time soon. My schedule's simply too full at the moment. Rest assured that when I find some spare time, I'll devote (some of) it to music making. Interestingly, T suggested today that we should start an on-campus music production club, which would meet over lunch every two weeks or so and work on making music. That would probably help me find more time for OMOM.
In other news, I'm pleased to report that I supported the arts. Specifically, I purchased a single mega-ticket for a five night performance of all fifteen Shostakovich string quartets. Woo hoo! I even threw in a donation to help support this fairly ambitious project. And so, to our esteemed prime minister, who claims that ordinary Canadians do not support the arts, let me say this: Bite me, Harper.
In still other news, I'm really enjoying the new album Dear Science
by TV on the Radio. But I don't think I'm out of line when I say that the
video for the
song "Golden Age" is, like, totally gay. I'm not I could articulate why
exactly, but, well, wow.
With the onset of autumn, Nath brought home a book of slow cooker recipes from the library. Hurray! I love soups and stews that have been simmering all day in the slow cooker. Also, it's just about the only way that my poor nubby teeth can handle beef.
Unfortunately, this cookbook is not without its problems. In several places,
a recipe will encourage you to "serve this with" some other side dish mentioned
elsewhere in the book. The Chicken Cacciatore recipe suggests Roasted
Potatoes as a side dish. Great, except that both recipes take hours to
cook in the slow cooker (or am I expected to have two?). To be perfectly
fair, I should say that I don't know exactly how long it takes to cook the
roasted potatoes -- the page number you are directed to contains the recipe
for Pork Chops With Winter Fruit, as does the entry for Roasted Potates
in the index. I'm not sure what the deal is there.
Later, the recipe for Caramel Peaches (yum!) observes that it's
"the perfect dish to whip together when unexpected guests arrive".
Mind you, this is a dish that cooks on low heat for four to six hours.
I can understand "whipping together" a batch of cookies or brownies.
But if you have six hours to put together this dish for impending guests,
they can scarcely be considered unexpected. On the other hand, making
your guests wait six hours for dessert might be an appropriate way to
punish them for arriving unexpectedly. Take that, guests!