Friday, March 16, 2007

No more Nozin'

I've started a new blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I haven't felt like posting here much recently. The only events which I felt like blogging about were recent deaths of notables like Milton Friedman, but for some reason I hesitated.

I like obituaries though. I know some of the reasons why I do.

  • They are faintly morbid. I like gentle reminders that none of us will be around forever.
  • They allow new information about familiar people to emerge. Sometimes the truth about someone only starts to emerge when they are gone. Who they were related to, or who their enemies were. How they got to be that person in the first place.
  • I like the sense of a person being parcelled up and summarised. Or the vain attempt to do it, at least. It's like dipping into Aubrey's Brief Lives.
  • Very often I only find out about someone, or why they mattered in the grand scheme of things, when they die and their lives are put in context.

I don't like it when you have to read the same boring business about someone again and again - obits have to be fresh and readable, with a bit of new gossip in there.

I don't like pretending that you liked someone after all. I do like finding out that you cared for someone more than you realised. For instance, I'm a bit of a grump about the BBC, but was sorry to hear about Nick Clarke. He seemed a nice gent.

There's a book out for sickos like me who like obituaries. It's an area I'd like to find out more about although I wouldn't want to join the society of obituarists that it apparently talks about.

If I can find a way of blogging about obits which isn't just a rehash of the same material presented elsewhere, I will try to blog about them more in future.

Not just the Inferno

The Economist has a new translation of Dante's Divine Comedy and considers why it's a work that has lasted.

Dante speaks to us in an impassioned human voice that is often aggrieved and vengeful. He wanders through a mysterious world of arcane theology. But many of the monsters who wallow in the depths of his imaginative creation are ones we recognise. They are like us. Which may be why we still cleave to his great poem.

But the book is not just about recognisable monsters. The monsters only occur in the Inferno.

Not being a proper book reviewer, I can only take a very rough approach as to why the Divine Comedy has survived.

It is like a complete upload of Dante's brain. He put the contents of his head into a poem, a poem written in a form of his own devising, as the perfect container for it.

Dante's brain had a lot of basic knowledge of humanity in it, as well as a great knowledge of his times, and the philosophy and theology behind his times.

He used ground-breaking artistry to put it down permanently in a form that would be accessible for the ages.

Many modern readers will have one key problem in finishing the book. Once you get past the monsters and gripping horrors of the Inferno, there's one primary reason to keep reading, and that is the revelation of religious truth as Dante understood it. Which would have been a life and death matter to him and his original readers.

If you have a modern scepticism about Christianity (whether our version of it or Dante's), you will be sceptical about the profound truths that Dante is gradually unfolding, as he treks on through Purgatory and into Paradise.

You have less incentive to turn the pages. Your life is not at stake in the same way. It's impossible not to realise what league Dante was in, though.

As an aside, I wondered if Dante made it seem like a good idea for poetry to pile up a crust of obscure details, given that he was admired by Eliot and Pound. (The edition I read was the one given the thumbs up by Hugh Kenner.)

Friday, November 10, 2006


There's so much content on YouTube, it's hard to think what to look for. Yesterday I came across this 1971 clip of Can doing Paperhouse.

I only ever knew Can from photos. One day the novelty factor will wear off YouTube but it hasn't happened yet.

For your consideration, David Lynch

Without cows, there would be no cheese.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Scalability by using a lot of computers

Every wondered how they get web searches to come back so fast? Obviously, by using a lot of computers. But,
Without understanding functional programming, you can't invent MapReduce, the algorithm that makes Google so massively scalable.
says Joel Spolsky, while going on to explain what functional programming is. To simplify, what he says is that if you are processing data by looping through it, then different computers can loop through different sections of the data all at the same time. This is the vital next step:
By abstracting away the very concept of looping, you can implement looping any way you want, including implementing it in a way that scales nicely with extra hardware.
What's more:
The very fact that Google invented MapReduce, and Microsoft didn't, says something about why Microsoft is still playing catch up trying to get basic search features to work, while Google has moved on to the next problem: building Skynet^H^H^H^H^H^H the world's largest massively parallel supercomputer. I don't think Microsoft completely understands just how far behind they are on that wave.
Well, Microsoft are further ahead than just basic search, but they are certainly lagging. He ends up by pointing out that too many Computer Science students are not taught this part of their subject. Is this correct? I was just such a Computer Science student once, and there was a module on functional programming module available, but if I thought about it at all back then, I saw it as a branch of the subject with not much application to the real world. As it turns out, I was wrong.

Psychedelic wipe-out

First Syd Barrett, probably the greatest talent of the psychedelic movement in Britain, copped it. And now his American counterpart Arthur Lee is gone.

What have they left us? About an LP's worth of great material or so each, a sense of innocence and wonder, and hopes that were never fulfilled.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who has died at 90, was a lyric soprano whose aristocratic purity of tone and attention to detail made her the supreme female exponent of the songs of Strauss and Wolf and produced some of the most authoritative operatic performances of the postwar era.
I'll listen to the Italienisches Liederbuch this morning...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The Weekly Standard and, less tendentiously, The Economist look back at the Suez Crisis.

The Federation of Conservative Students

The Westminster Hour, broadcast on Sunday nights, has an excellent 15 minute slot called The Sunday Supplement. The last two weeks, entitled A Burst of Freedom, have contained a two-parter about the Federation of Conservative Students. It functioned as the Tory party's libertarian youth wing during the Thatcher years and provides a colourful piece of political history. Both parts should eventually be available here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The anatomical effects of castration

Farinelli's body has been exhumed in order to study "the anatomical effects of castration".

I bought this CD of Alessandro Moreschi recordings, the only castrati recordings in existence, but while I recommend hearing it to anyone, please bear in mind that it may make your stomach feel a bit off. I bought it after reading this biography of Moreschi, which is an enjoyable read, although all the Sistine Chapel politics and infighting goes on a bit.

Corny virtues

GreenCine Daily marks twenty years of Blue Velvet by linking back to reviews, and better, a couple of interviews, from 1986.

In this one, Lynch says:
One thing that strikes me — and I don’t like to give my views on these subjects — but in a funny way, people are almost more uncomfortable with corny virtues than they are with the sickest violence. [...] The scene with Sandy and the robins puts people in a very uncomfortable position. I don’t know why, but Sandy’s speech is almost more uncomfortable than Frank visiting Dorothy and doing bad things to her.
This is a typical piece of undigested, useful observation.

Lynch's failures are more frequent than his successes, and it wasn't until 2001's Mulholland Dr. that he made another film on the same par as Blue Velvet, but he may be the greatest film-maker working, so it's hard not to get excited about Inland Empire. Even if it's a dud, somehow he always gives us the feeling that we may see something new. In a time when we think we've seen it all, he keeps alive the feeling that there are entirely new things to be seen.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A photograph of Mozart's widow

A print of a photograph of Constanze Mozart has been found in southern Germany. It was taken in 1840, when she was 76, and Wolfgang had been dead for 49 years.

Update: Norm links to Constanze's biographer, who's having none of it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Asset-stripping Belfast's port

Looks like the Port of Belfast may be sold off:
Pressure was mounting on the government today to spell out its future plans for Belfast Port.

Concern is rising that the Department for Regional Development intends to 'asset strip' the port and sell off key parts of the business - which, along with its associated land bank could be worth millions - to the private sector.

Fears of the potential break-up of the port were sparked by the publication of a Ports Policy review by the DRD last week.

The Port of Belfast has now called for an urgent meeting with Regional Development Minister David Cairns to discuss the content of the review and its implications for Northern Ireland.

The Port of Belfast's commercial director, Joe O'Neill, warned that the review will 'seriously undermine' the Port's £140m capital investment programme and impede its ability to compete with cross border ports.


Belfast Port handles almost two thirds of Northern Ireland's sea borne trade and is a vital gateway for raw materials, exports and consumer goods for the whole of Ireland.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Pat McCarthy, said he is very concerned about the Port's potential asset stripping.
Compare the fears and concerns mooted in that story with a post at the ASI blog yesterday on asset strippers:
Asset strippers may be demonized by Hollywood, but their role in promoting prosperity is significant. When companies underperform and become fat and lazy, asset strippers rearrange their assets so that they are used in a more efficient way. Trade unions, being inherently conservative, don't like it, but it the process of asset stripping in the 1980s was essential for getting Britain's economy back on track. Instead of being bad for jobs, asset stripping has created more and better jobs. No longer can companies sit around wasting away shareholders' assets.
It strikes me that selling off the Port to the private sector could increase the competitiveness of the port and, if correctly handled, would greatly benefit the local economy.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Loving Evelyn Waugh

I read a bit of Evelyn Waugh recently. Shortly to be 40 years dead, apparently. I'd recommend Scoop to anyone. The first half of A Handful of Dust is good but the second half goes sour. The Loved One struck me as fairly sour. It is praised for its perception of California. I suppose I got some of that. I haven't read my copy of the Sword of Honour trilogy yet. I am either too naive to love Waugh, or else not cynical enough. Great prose and all that though.

North Korean holiday snaps

Photos of North Korea that get as close to real life as any tourist could get (source).

A musical apology

A podcast about classical music provoked thought about my own listening habits. These days I like classical music, including a lot of opera, and not much else. But usually I play it while I'm doing something else. Lose five Barenboim Points. Also, occasionally I rebel against my own good taste and binge on something like this. Although my relationship with music is hardly out of the ordinary, nonetheless I feel there is something inexplicable about it. Probably because it's not possible for me to give music the time or attention which it deserves. I choose not to make more space for it than I currently give it, because I am not willing to sacrifice other things for it. Sorry, music.

The power that perceives the course of time

when something seen
or heard secures the soul in stringent grip,
time moves and yet we do not notice it.
The power that perceives the course of time
is not the power that captures all the mind;
the former has no force -- the latter binds.
Purgatorio Canto IV, lines 7 - 12, Mandelbaum's translation

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Sad to see that György Ligeti has died.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Basics of Copywriting

Friday, May 19, 2006

Google and tagging

Michael Arrington is less than impressed with the newly-launched Google Notebook. One criticism he makes about it, in comparison to, is that it doesn't support tagging. would have been a perfect acquisition for Google, right down to the user interface which is very Google-like. For whatever reason they let it go to Yahoo. I suspect that over time they’ll regret that decision.
Off the top of my head, I can't think of tagging being much used in any of Google's services.

There are labels in Gmail which amount to much the same thing, but the Gmail help doesn't really push these. I started out using them, but found that I didn't rely on the labels much. I just archive everything and place my trust in the search facility to find it again when I need it. And this has rarely, if ever, let me down. So my hunch is that Google are not heavily into providing or promoting tagging within their services. Their main business is search. If they get that right, then tagging is not needed.

I do miss not being able to categorise my posts on this blog by tag. I expected the Google-owned Blogger to have introduced tags by now. But at a stretch, maybe the lack of tags is not an accident, and is simply part of Google strategy. We should just throw our contect up there on the web and trust Google to find it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Two quotes from the Iliad

10.65 - 69 Naming in Homer (my italics):
Then in turn the lord of Agamemnon spoke to him:
'Better wait here, so there will be no way we can miss one another
as we come and go. There are many paths up and down the encampment.
Call out wherever you go, and waken each man to give him
your orders, naming him by descent with the name of his father.
Give each man due respect.
Let not your spirit be haughty,
but let it be you and I ourselves who do the work, seeing
that Zeus cast on us as we were born this burden of evil.'
11.155 - 162 Homeric simile leading into a devastating payoff:
As when obliterating fire comes down on the timbered forest
and the roll of the wind carries it everywhere, and bushes
leaning under the force of the fire's rush tumble uprooted,
so before Atreus' son Agamemnon went down the high heads
of the running Trojans, and in many places the strong-necked horses
rattled their empty chariots along the causeways of battle,
and longed for their haughty charioteers, who were lying
along the ground, to delight no longer their wives, but the vultures.

From Richmond Lattimore's translation

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dalrymple and Zweig

Anthony Daniels, otherwise known as Theodore Dalymple, accords with Stefan Zweig:
impulsive pity for others is a dangerous emotion which embroils us in false situations, often with disastrous results.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How Gates works

Bill Gates uses 3 screens and filters his email to 100 messages a day. He relies on flagged emails and desktop folders monitoring selected content rather than to-do lists. He uses Microsoft products and an old-fashioned whiteboard. And sadly he's not giving much more than that away. The picture at the bottom of the article catches a slightly vulnerable-looking Bill Gates. (Source: Slashdot)

The Gospel of Judas

The National Geographic have a micro-site on The Gospel of Judas. According to this codex, Jesus wanted to die in order to be free of the flesh, and Judas was the only disciple who understood his teachings enough to oblige him. There's a fascinating timeline on the site about the early church. It was a time of ideological struggle within Christianity as well as the transition period between the Roman and Christian worlds.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The London Review of Books

Stephen Pollard is justifiably steamed up that the London Review of Books gets 20 grand a year from the Arts Council.

I once subscribed to the LRB and was a bit in awe of the learning of its contributors.

Through falling out out of love with it, I learnt that cleverness and being right are not the same thing.

Stephen Pollard calls the magazine "the house magazine of the unthinking knee jerk liberal left".

Actually it is the home of dried-up old socialists who deserve nothing but ridicule.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I did read and enjoy his most famous book but I knew very little about Lampedusa himself.

Slum classicism

There's a great piece about self-education in the working class at City Journal (the link was from Laban Tall).

Scavenging through your own rubbish

Tim Worstall on recycling schemes:
"None of the calculations about recycling in general or any specific scheme such as this one include the time and effort put into sorting the items before disposal or collection. So we have left out one of the major costs associated with recycling, making sure that economic cost and real cost have diverged. Add back in the cost of that labour and the real costs will be hugely greater than the real value produced for most schemes."
I prefer to think of it as being forced to scavenge through my own rubbish.

Boot Sale Sounds

A curious blog about music picked up at junk shops.