A Clash of Kings

By George R.R. Martin.

In the Seven Kingdoms it seems that everyone is a quarrelsome king of one sort or another these days. Joffrey thinks he’s High King; his uncle, Renly, quite forgetting primogeniture, claims to be king; his other uncle, Stannis, also claims to be king (which he is, but he seems to be in no hurry); Robb Stark is King of the Northlands (but barely features); and Daenerys suddenly thinks she ought to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms as if she’s always wanted the job (but that’s what owning three dragons does to a girl).

Catelyn and Sansa continue to be a little dull; Arya continues her career as a ten-year-old homicidal maniac; Bran makes some new friends and suddenly his ability to possess his wolf’s body is all explained; Tyrion does what he can to run King’s Landing, but loses most of his nose in the course of Stannis’ attack and gets scant thanks afterwards; and Jon Snow ends up on the far side of the wall with 10,000 wildings after him.

Martin manages to sustain the pace reasonably well in this volume although there are one or two places where I lost patience with copious amounts of waffle.

There are two new main characters in the form of the ex-smuggler Davos, and Eddard Stark’s former ward, Theon Greyjoy, who finds himself neither fish nor fowl. The former, I think, is in over his head as the guv’nor’s right-hand man, and will probably end up in situations from which he only ever escapes by the skin of his teeth (until his luck finally runs out); the latter seems to be another Tyrion Lannister in that all he wants is for his dad to say, “Well done! I’m proud of you, son”, but he’ll keep getting kicked in the teeth.

There are also times when I think Martin had a page headed New characters, sat thinking for a few moments, and would then write Ser Ralph Roister-Doister – a pig-buggering bastard. In other words, there seems to be an excess of characters who are pig-buggering bastards as if the author thought, “Must have a different character. Can’t be like Aragorn or Gandalf or Elrond. What would be different? … I know, a pig-buggering bastard! No one’s ever thought of that before.”

A Game of Thrones

By George R.R. Martin.

When I bought A Game of Thrones nearly a year ago, I did wonder whether my patience would last to the end of the first volume in the series. It survived sufficiently intact for me to have bought A Clash of Kings for my Kindle last week and to have started reading it over the weekend. But more of that in a later entry.

There’s civil war in the Seven Kingdoms after King Robert is killed by a boar while hunting and his son, the petulant boy-king, Joffrey, has Eddard Stark, the former king’s right-hand man, executed on a whim. Meanwhile, the sole survivor of the previous dynasty, married off to Genghis Khan, finds herself raising a litter of dragons.

Each chapter of A Game of Thrones is written from the perspective of a particular character: Eddard Stark, his wife, Catelyn, his daughters Arya and Sansa, his son, Bran, his illegitimate son, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and one or two others. It stops the narrative from getting stale, and Martin has managed to keep each part sufficiently interesting to prevent readers from skipping the dull bits.

I’m not so sure about the characters themselves. They feel a little 2D with Robert, the fat, roistering king (sounds familiar); Eddard, the sensible friend (i.e., the designated driver); Catelyn, the hard-arse (think of Lynette Scavo from Desperate Housewives); Arya, the tomboy; Sansa, the naive girlie girl; Lysa (Catelyn’s sister) and Cersei (Robert’s wife), the deranged loons. There’s even a new religion on the block, and the next thing you know, Joffrey will be ordering the invasion of a remote nation because they might have weapons of mass destruction. We also have that obsession about the son (Tyrion) with the greater father (Tywin), which seems to be a stock trope of American culture.

There’s also an excess of child characters in the story. I know it’s based on the Wars of the Roses, but we’ve got a whole tribe of Wesley Crushers running around from Arya and Robb Stark to Jon Snow to King Joffrey.

The book is fairly light on the fantastic, but there are supernatural elements lurking in the background such as the wights who come to life in the Black Tower (or whatever it’s called) and the dragons which Daenerys hatches in the fire at the end of the book. There’s also something important about the seasons in this world, but again, there have only been hints.

Apart from the occasion intruder, the language is thankfully free of Americanisms, which can utterly destroy the tone of fantasy literature. So far I’ve seen no sign of any of the “dwarven [sic!] strike teams” or “kobold assassination squads”, which litter the world of D&D.

Time to read a little more of A Clash of Kings.

A Clash of Traffic

Go on orange.

The situation: Some halfwit on an electric scooter starts taking a left turn as the light is turning orange. At the same time some halfwitted taxi driver comes hurtling through the intersection and almost squashes the first moron against the front of a bus turning left from the opposite direction. The clod-brained peasant on the electric scooter is most aggrieved. Question: Which idiot is at fault?

If the Empire was governed by the rule of law, then I think the dolt on the electric scooter would’ve been (officially) at fault because the orange light signals the end of the green phase for traffic going straight ahead not the start of the green phase for turning left; but the nitwit in the taxi should also be censured for trying to speed through an orange light when he should’ve been slowing down to stop.

Mr Bamboo’s policy is to wait for the light to turn green and check behind him.

This wasn’t the only instance of idiocy I saw today. I was crossing 县前街 when I saw another moron on an electric scooter ride out in front of a car with a gap of 10-15m between them.

23rd of May. There was another incident at the intersection outside Baoli yesterday. I didn’t see it happen, but as I was turning left, I saw that some woman on one electric scooter had been knocked over it by some man riding another. She was yelling irately and he was probably wondering what the problem was.

The Edinburgh Dead

By Brian Ruckley.

There’s been an odd death in Edinburgh and Taggart, sorry, Adam Quire is on the case in spite of the Edinburgh establishment and Lieutenant Baird. Things take a turn for the weird when he encounters a man who refuses to die, and some dogs of a similar inclination. There’s only one thing for it.

(Early 19th century Edinburgh. Medical schools. Human anatomy. See, I knew you’d say, “Burke and Hare.”) Yup, Burke and Hare. I know you’re groaning. So am I. Let’s cut to the chase. The demon takes possession of Hare; Quire whacks him; end of story.

Now before you think that I’m about to throw a turnip or two at Ruckley for resorting to the world’s two most overused body snatchers as (fairly minor) characters in his book, I will observe that he’s a perfectly decent and readable writer. He doesn’t approach this as if the supernatural is an ordinary, commonplace thing. Instead, Quire finds himself dealing with something entirely out of the ordinary which neither he nor the reader really properly understands in the end. Some sort of entity possessed Blegg and then Hare, but the details remain a mystery. Ruckley could’ve started referring to druids and Crom Cruach (“the worm that turns” [Are you sure about that? –ed.]) , but spares us from the sort of excess in which, say, American fantasy authors would be prone to indulge.

A good read, but less Burke and Hare next time.

It’s not a bug; it’s a feature

A buggered-up feature.

It seems that the WMP Album bug (multiple albums when only one would be expected) isn’t a bug but, in fact, a feature. Let us think about CDs. If one album has fifteen artists, how many CDs are required? One. Yet some brain at Microsoft thought that albums should be broken down by artist. Er, no. That’s merely annoying and serves no sensible purpose.

I’ve tidied things up in WMP by having one main artist for each album and sending the rest off to Contributing Artist. It doesn’t seem to have had an adverse effect elsewhere in the system yet.

Although I’ve solved one peculiarity of WMP, I still think Winamp does the whole organisation thing better without trying to be too clever by half.

Do we have an answer?

Winamp.

Winamp is the popular alternative to Windows Media Player. I had a version of it many years ago, but never kept it long for reasons I no longer recall. I think it might’ve been annoying in some way. It also seemed to be more famous for its skins than for much else at the time.

After Real Player turned out to be a disappointment, I thought I’d try Winamp again out of curiosity rather than hope.

As it turned out, once I’d rejected all those extras which are only of interest to the developers, who, as usual, assume that everyone lives in the States, Winamp returned immediate rewards. Among the albums listed by WMP was some jazz thing, which I thought was one of the pieces in the Sample Music folder. Not having any particular interest in such things, I’d ignored it. But Winamp revealed this was not just a single piece of music, but a whole album. When I investigated further, I found that it wasn’t some album of jazz music by Stan Getz, but actually Monteverdi e suo tempo by Capriccio Stravagante and Skip Sempé.

Subsequently, Winamp has forced me to tidy other things up such as the album artist. Because of the diversity of this information even within the same album, albums were getting split into parts, and as a consequence I’ve limited each one to a single artist as far as possible. It mostly works. The extra artists have gone into the contributing artist section.

So far Winamp has been doing what I wanted. In effect, it’s like Windows Explorer for music and doesn’t appear to have WMP’s more annoying habits..

Speaking of WMP’s annoying habits, I had a look at the album section in it again and found that Telemann’s Wind Concertos Vols. 1-7 had been broken up into three parts for no reason I can identify.

Also not pleasing is the exchange rate, which has already resulted in the cost of albums from Presto Classical going up to NZ$14.00; and if the price is pegged to the US dollar, then it could hit NZ$14.50 in the next 24 hours. It depends on how often Presto Classical updates its prices. This shift in the exchange rate is also why I’ve gone a little mad buying more albums because it seems better to get them while the price is more favourable.

However, I found Classics Online yesterday, which is part of Naxos and based in the States. The prices are American, too, which means that the album which costs £7.99 (US$12.72) from the Classical Shop is a mere US$7.99 (£5.02) from Classics Online. Another case of rip-off Britain. I actually saved myself a goodly sum by buying Telemann’s Paris Quartets Vols. 1-3 from there even if the exchange rate is worsening for me.

Music and computers II: This time it’s irritating

Update ≠ reversion.

Yesterday I was wondering how to add album art to my MP3 files. The solution is quite easy, but there were problems.

First, the solution. Copy the album art off the Net (or if it came as part of the download), go to the Album section in WMP, right click on the album, and paste the art in. All the files will them share the same cover art. That’s what I wanted.

Problems. I also found some facility for finding album information online. It worked quite well the first time although someone needs to explain to Microsoft that Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music aren’t really Classical in the strict sense of the term. But then things went pear-shaped. The information I was finding online was utterly wrong. Then there was the option for updating album information. I was pleased when I got some album art back, but then found that the details which I’d spent time editing had been replaced with the original information, which should’ve long since vanished from all knowledge. When I tried to correct the information about Vivaldi’s Concertos for Recorder (Die Konzerte für Blockflöte und Flautino; Camerata Köln), it took three attempts before the corrected details stuck. I kept going back to WMP only to find that nothing had changed, and a check in Explorer showed that nothing had changed there, either.

In addition to that, Vol. 6 of Wind Concertos by Telemann had somehow been split into two parts with a few tracks being listed as if they were a separate album. Not my doing as far as I’m aware. I’ve had several instances of tracks by Matthew Locke, played by the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, popping up in the oddest places.

Thus searching for album info via WMP is a bit of a waste of time because it’s likely to undo at least some changes. Updating the album information appears to do no such thing because it appears to undo any changes which might’ve been made since WMP got its claws into the album.

The more I use WMP, the more wanting it seems. Instead of being a music-playing version of Explorer in which files and folders can be altered as the user pleases, it doesn’t like it when either of these is changed, and the original meta information about a particular album or track seems to persist in the system. Play lists are quite interesting in this respect. The play list file retains its original name, and any changes after that are saved within that particular file. You cannot use Ctrl + left/right arrow keys to skip about when creating play lists or editing them where they’re listed on screen. What kind of stupid system is this? It should be possible to manipulate them like every other file name.

WMP is not entirely hopeless. I like the sync facility since it does a much better job with my Walkman than Sony’s own software. But overall, WMP keeps coming across as inept.

[15.05.12. I tried Real Player (RP) last night and uninstalled it about half an hour later. Somehow it, too, was able to dredge up dated information about the sound files when I was creating a library, and when I added some album art, which was there but missing in RP, I had to add it to one file at a time. The consequence was that I got an error message when I tried to play the sound file afterwards.

RP also decided to ignore my directory structure and do its own thing by lumping whole discs together (e.g. The Well-tempered Clavier and Corelli Opp. 1-4). It also truncated titles and other information as if it was still living in DOS world where file names could only ever be eight characters long.

No, RP was not a solution.

05.09.14. I did eventually get used to WMP, which, for a time, seemed to be quite good for editing the details of albums without the fuss and bother of using Explorer. But one day, because it started misbehaving again (album art is a particular bone of contention; but the consequences of shifting things about in Explorer can also be unpredictable), I started editing new albums with mp3tag and adding them to Winamp and iTunes before letting WMP know the new music existed.]

Of course it goes up

But will it come back down?

I’m now feeling a little less profligate because of all the money I’ve spent on music over the past few months. I went to the Presto Classical website yesterday afternoon only to find that the price of downloads had gone up because US$11 (the usual price of international downloads) now costs NZ$14. Yes, I’m still avoiding VAT by not having to pay in sterling, but it does seem a little unfair that I should have to pay more because of fluctuations in the exchange rate.

With this in mind, and because I don’t know whether there might be a further unjustified increase in the cost of downloads, I bought Corelli Opp. 1-4 and Leclair Op. 4 last night. I suppose I’ll kick myself for doing that when the price comes down again; if the price comes down again.

Anyway, I now have Opp. 1-6 by Corelli. As I’ve observed before, there are innumerable versions of Opp. 5 and 6, which I’ve owned for some time, and little, it seems, of anything else by Corelli. I noted last night as I listened to some of the music that he seems to cross the divide between 17th and 18th century Baroque. There are still lingering traces of Renaissance lugubriousness, but Corelli’s music is more forward-looking.

The French, on the other hand, seem to have preferred that Renaissance style, although that might be a consequence of the dead hand of Lully, and the English seemed to have followed the French in that respect until they heard Corelli.

That has me wondering about English Baroque composers from the 17th century. I can name William Lawes, who was killed in the English Civil War, Matthew Locke, who was apparently barking mad, and Henry Purcell, who went all Mozart or Marilyn Monroe, and died at the age of 36. Er, well… That’s it!

[28.09.14. Actually, that wasn’t it, even at the time. I should’ve been able to name Peter Philips, who was an Elizabethan religious refugee, although like Byrd, he was probably more a composer of the 16th century than the 17th. I knew of others such as Gibbons, but probably not John Jenkins or John Ward, and certainly not Thomas Simpson, Robert Johnson, Maurice Webster, and Stephen Nau. The early Stuart court also attracted various émigré composers such as the Ferraboscos.

The Parley of Instruments has produced various albums of music by English composers or those who worked in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, which are available from Hyperion.]

Music and computers

Two for the price of one.

With Freegate apt to conk out sooner rather than later, I’ve decided it’s better to type up an entry in a text editor so that I can paste it to WordPress during one of those short-lived occasions when I can get access to it.

With the start of the exams today, we enter that period when apart from invigilating, we have little else to do once the relevant exams have passed into history. As a consequence, I’ve started reading A Game of Thrones in earnest at long last. My initial impression of the book is fairly positive, but can Martin sustain my interest for another 630 pages? We’ll see.

As my journey back into the world of Baroque music continues, I happened to stumble across the Deutsche Grammophon website where it’s possible to download quite a few older albums by groups such as Musica Antiqua Köln, The English Concert, and The Academy of Ancient Music.

Meanwhile, I’ve been editing the metadata that comes with quite a few of the albums I’ve downloaded. I’m still having to replace Beethoven, Roland Dyens, and Turlough Carolan as the composers. I’ve been editing down windy titles and wouldn’t mind more succinct file names. (The Classical Shop, I’m looking at you.) I spent the May Day Holiday tracking down the catalogue numbers for all the works by Telemann which I have, and actually succeeded in finding all of them.

I’ve also learnt one or two other things from editing the metadata. I was puzzled as to why I was only able to search the file names for albums from Hyperion Records and why the title and other information vanished in the search results. I tried stripping out all of the personal information from one file and then adding it. When I searched for the metadata, the file duly appeared, leaving me wondering what the difference between the copy and the original was.

It was when I looked at the file attributes under the Advanced button that I discovered that the files were only being indexed by file name and nothing else. I ticked the box and all was well again.

Did he fall

Or was he pushed?

So, the guy with the visual problems. What’s going on? First he doesn’t want to leave when he ought to have; now he wants to leave when, it seems, he probably can’t. The facts are unclear and the situation murky.

Freegate is getting battered. No time for an extended commentary.

Later. An article I saw about reactions of people from Hong Kong very much mirrored my feelings. There’s too much uncertainty to know exactly what to think about the situation.

Even later. Possibly while China’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng may be deplorable, his apparent attitude and the company he appears to be keep­ing aren’t helping, either.