Term, gentlemen, please

Everybody out, again.

I didn’t rush into school yesterday, but spent the morning buying more music. This time I added to my tiny collection of 18th century English composers who are not called Handel. My sole representative of the period had been Boyce’s Eight Symphonies (Op. 2) to which I’ve now added the complete trio sonatas. In addition to that, I bought Arne’s Trio Sonatas played by Collegium Musicum 90 (he’s Mr Rule Britannia, I believe), and Opp. 1 and 5 to 8 by Charles Avison played, but not ironically, by the Avison Ensemble. Boyce seems to be the most Baroque of the three whereas Arne and Avison have hints of the galant style even although the three were of the same generation. Bits of the latter pair’s music will suddenly sound like the Bach Boys (who wrote California Girls [What a fine example of the academic quality of this blog. –ed.]) Haydn or Mozart in short bursts. That’s another reason for buying this music. The style is slightly different.

I also bought an album of sonatas for violoncello and basso continuo by Geminiani, who was in London at the same time as Handel. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything by him before.

I went and bought lunch and then went to school where I watched people playing musical desks, a game which I played early, but almost no one joined in. I can understand why we should be grouped by department, but I liked things mixed because it gave the office variety.

And then it was time to go and babysit PAL 2. Well, that didn’t happen. I got up to the classroom to be told by their form teacher that she’d told them to go and play outside. I’ve been trying to get them to do that for the past two or three months, but at the end of each class about 95% sit there inertly. We ought to have them move from one room to another between periods although that’d just be an invitation for the dim bulbs to forget to bring anything each time.

The temperature and humidity have soared over the past two days. We’ve actually had some blue sky and sunshine, which is a relief after weeks of predominantly grey weather. But even as I write the haze and cloud is building up and we may yet have the thunderstorm which qq originally forecast.

The orange bike scheme which has appeared around Wuxi does seem to have been being put to use although I’ve yet to see anyone riding one. There are bikes outside Walmart, but the scheme hasn’t got as far as Baoli. I noticed that outside Houcaller, someone had parked their electric scooter beside one of the orange bollards to which the bikes are locked. I’m expecting other people to follow suit until the orange bikes have been displaced by scooters.

I’ve never really surveyed the park outside Baoli, but I note that the vast majority of vehicle parked there are electric bikes and scooters. As for bicycles, I’d say they’d count for less than 5% of everything in the parking area. What will happen when clowns on their electric scooters graduate to cars?

I’ve also heard, but cannot confirm, some story that the Metro may never see the light of day because of instability in the vicinity of the 360 building. Why Wuxi even needs a Metro is beyond me. If it went out to Tesco, Auchan and Metro (the German supermarket) in the New District or out to the airport, it might be useful. But as far as I can tell, it’s merely going to circle the centre of the city.

In the end I bought Faarlund’s Syntax of Old Norse and Volume 1 of Ringe’s A Linguistic History of English. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic for my Kindle. I decided that two reference works were better value for money than a bunch of novels which I’d probably never read again.

I note that I’ve ended up being disappointed with quite a number of authors over the past ten years. Stephen Clarke’s Merde series wore a little thin when he seemed to depart from the semi-autobiographical stuff into the world of pure fiction. Stephen Hunt should never have been published. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series stopped being any good two books ago (and, sad to say, I see another volume will be out soon). George Martin also lost the plot and his compass. Brandon Sanderson dragged on so much that it made Martin look like a model of succinctness. Alexander McCall Smith, I can take or leave, but would generally leave. Arturo Pérez-Reverte has never ultimately sustained my interest in the Captain Alatriste series.

I do need to see the inside of a real bookshop to have a decent look at what’s available. Trying to browse Amazon is a painfully slow experience and a lot of the time I’ve scanned the titles before any of the cover images have even appeared. I suspect that the usual Forces of Darkness are to blame for the tardiness of the site because opening channel D does seem to speed things up.

The recent news about the puerile fuss about the girl in the see-through dress on the Shanghai Metro puzzled me. As I’ve noted before, a large proportion of the female population is now in short skirts, shorter shorts and prostitute shoes. This doesn’t seem to excite any comments from the pundits, but some twentysomething in visible granny knickers does. Linda noticed a lot of staring when she was here, and, by coincidence, I’ve seen quite a bit of that over the past few days.

I’ve been reading about the reddening of the South China Morning Post over the past week or so. I like the SCMP – or did –, but there’s something distinctly unsavoury about the paper’s apparent shift towards Beijing and the way in which a respected, award-winning journalist was treated. I didn’t know the SCMP’s owner was Malaysian, either. The recent news from Hong Kong seems fairly gloomy, but is that because of the imperial government’s interference or because of economic problems or some combination of both? Several years ago I concluded that the fifty-year period of grace after Hong Kong was returned to the Empire was not because the latter would become more like the former, but rather the other way round. One morning the people of Hong Kong will wake up and find that much of the Internet is unavailable because it upsets the feelings of the Chief Executive; that the maternity wards are full of mothers from the Mainland; that the posh shops won’t admit locals; and that all the signs are in simplified characters.

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On being decisive

If only I could make my mind up.

Last Friday the A2s had their graduation, which meant I found out who’s going to which university. We got two into Cambridge this year, and one is going to Melbourne, but most ended up at US and Canadian Universities. We didn’t have to wear gowns this year although the students did.

I was stunned to see one of the mob of nitwits had got into Rutgers, which is frankly a travesty, and surprised that the fat and skinny nitwits had both got into US universities. I also noticed that the fat nitwit was escorted from the lecture theatre just as we were running out of students to congratulate. He then returned with his robe in his fat hot hand as he walked across the theatre in front of the stage. The skinny nitwit was nowhere to be seen. The third member of that triumvirate of idiocy, who had been shipped off to the States last year, appeared at the main gate while the group photograph was being arranged.

My long weekend was interrupted by interviews of prospective students on Sunday. The aim was to assess their level of English. There were some very good ones, but also some immature basketball boys. Whether anything I say will’ve made any difference to their prospects, I don’t know. Most of the students were from a school in Zhangyi. My list also included a Chinese American girl who’s native speaker of English. He problem is going to be her Chinese because she’s probably a semi-speaker at best. The other problem is that we have nothing to offer people like her since we do first language Chinese on the IB programme and English B; she’d want Chinese B (or some foreign language) and English A. There was also meant to be an Australian girl, but like the Chinese student I saw, there was little point in interviewing her.

It’s easy to make decisions when we know what we want to do. I knew that I wanted to use some of the money which I acquired when age took its toll again to buy Balbastre’s Pièces de Clavecin Book I, Biber’s Mensa Sonora, Buxtehude’s Opp. 1 and 2, and Telemann’s Sonates Corellisantes and Canonic Duos. Those decisions were easy.

I’m not faring so well with my Kindle because I’m not sure what to buy. I’m not going to buy A Dance with Dragons. I’ve done with Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series because One of our Thursdays is Missing should’ve stayed missing along with First among Sequels, and I dread to think what the next Thursday Next book might be like. I also think Stephen Clarke has done his dash in the merde. I’m vacillating on the subject of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series which has felt long on promise, but been short on delivery.

On the other hand I stumbled across a recent book on the syntax of Old Norse, which interests me because when I did Old Norse as part of my MA, I felt that knowing Old English was little or no help. Old Norse was determined to be vexatiously quirky with its baffling array of þar, eigi/ekki, at, er, etc. Thus I’m curious to know what the language was getting up to because it couldn’t be said that EV Gordon’s Intro. to Old Norse was exactly helpful in matters of syntax. But is it worth me spending the money on it? I haven’t done any Old Norse in a very long time. In fact so long that children have been born, grown up, and graduated from university, and the last of these to them is now just a fond memory. It may be fifteen years since I last taught in a university, but I just can’t quite shake off the spirit of academic enquiry.

Perhaps I should be looking at books on music since that is my current principal interest. Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuriesin the Oxford History of Western Music series might be of interest although the review is not complimentary. Oh well, perhaps not.

I also read just recently that the introduction to Old Norse by Valfells and Cathey, of which I have a copy, is not longer in print. (On Amazon UK, a paperback copy is currently being offered for £188.94. Seriously?!) I never got round to having a good look at the book, but it appears to be highly regarded. I brought Michael Barnes’ A New Introduction to Old Norse Part I Grammar back with me to the inGlorious Motherland. The book is quite detailed in its 258 pages and has all manner of handy hints and tips which would’ve been useful for me nearly 25 years ago.

Finally, the weather is being absolutely appalling this morning: dull, grey and very wet, and showing no sign that it’s about to stop. I will almost certainly have to wear full dress uniform when I go out; and by the time I get back, I will be nicely stewed. The other day I happened to be on my way to Carrefour when the city was struck by a mini monsoon, half of which went up my nose and the other half into my eyes. I needed windscreen wipers.

A Feast for Crows

By George R.R. Martin.

By the end of the 4th book of Martin’s Ice and Fire series we have learnt that Daenerys is quite important and that Melisandre is wrong. Those are the only two pieces of information (in my estimation) that have anything at all to do with whatever the main storyline is. (My prediction remains that the real plot is the Others vs. the dragons; everything else is just padding.) The rest is subplots which may or may not have a point.

Repetition

One of the big problems with A Feast for Crows is the repetition.

  1. We know Cersei Lannister is a sneering tyrant. There’s no need to establish this at the start of each of her chapters.
  2. All the religious nutters seem to have come from The Big Book of Religious Nutter Clichés.
  3. Hot chicks from the Summer Isles.
  4. Overuse of the same novelty diction (e.g. mislike, mummer’s farce, be like + inf., upjump).
  5. Another gratuitous lesbian scene, this time with Cersei.
  6. The Night’s Watch still can’t keep their tackle in their trousers.
  7. I think we know that Sam Tarly is timid, and we could also do with some synonyms for “craven”.
  8. We also know that Brienne is quite masculine. It’s well established.
  9. Sansa overdoes the use Sweetrobin. (But I should be grateful that Martin has resisted the use of Bobby, which would be even worse.)
  10. Do we really need another girl shark in the form of Mya Stone? Aren’t Cersei and Asha Grayjoy enough?
  11. Too much casual mutilation.

Significant moments

Sandor and Gregor Clegane are both dead, but died offstage.

Typographical errors

There were several instance of .?.?. in the Kindle edition which could easily have been edited out.

Roll of the dead

Martin continues mowing down characters. Davos Seaforth’s death got mentioned on a number of occasions. Podrick Payne, who was first Tyrion Lannister’s and then Brienne’s squire, got strung up.

New characters

Margaery Tyrell is the new player, but having spent much of her time offscreen, she makes an overly abrupt appearance in her conversation with Cersei. She also seems to fall into the girl shark category.

New subplot

It’s something to do with making Mycella Lannister queen in place of Tommen. Did we need another subplot? Should Martin be throwing yet another kitchen sink into the goulash as it spills out of a pot which was never big enough in the first place?

Lest we forget

The comet which featured so prominently previously has been almost utterly forgotten. The dire wolves, which looked like a motif, have also largely been forgotten.

Conclusion

A Feast for Crows is another collection of subplots which seem to add little or nothing to a main story. Martin has become noticeably repetitious, which doesn’t help allay the feeling that he’s losing (has lost?) control of his bloated epic. Borrow the book from the library or ask for it for Christmas or your birthday. Skip it and possibly A Dance with Dragons as well, and find that you’ve missed almost nothing when the next volume in the series eventually appears.

Where people have strange-shaped heads

And they speak an unknown language.

After a degree of dithering, it has been decided that the start-of-term conference will be in Chengdu. Now, when I say “in Chengdu”, I’m being rather generous. “Near Chengdu” would be more accurate and about as accurate as “Wuxi is near Chengdu”. I suspected that we might get dispatched to 石室的 North Lake School, which, I’m informed, is a long way from anywhere; and it seems that my fears were right. We may be in a five-star hotel, but it’s a five-star hotel out beyond the fourth ring road, which places us so far out of the city that I think the area is known as, er, Tibet.

Although the conference won’t give us much time for larks and frolics regardless of our location, I was hoping at least to make the pilgrimage to High Fly, but it seems that the heathens have deprived the faithful of such a chance; and anyone who was hoping to see the sights of Chengdu won’t be seeing much at all.

The weather had reached that uncomfortably humid phase as it goes greenhouse on us. Yesterday morning the cloud was grey but thin enough to reveal the disc of the sun and let the heat through. By some time in the afternoon, the cloud had thickened along with the haze, and the light had turned a dull yellow. It’s done something similar today although at the moment the dullness is less extreme. I’ve decided to go to Ajisen for tea tonight and will not be surprised if it starts raining around the time of my departure. It’s the sort of weather which makes me feel like snoozing.

Recent supercar sightings include a white Lamborghini Gallardo parked down outside the Olympic Museum yesterday, and an Audi R8 on 解放路 at lunchtime. What joy there is in my heart to see such a gross disparity in the distribution of wealth in the Empire. Now I know for sure that it is “the advanced nation”.

The exchange rate is improving again as the cost of music downloads from Presto Classical falls slightly, and the price of some downloads from the Classical Shop or Hyperion Records is getting quite competitive as sterling sinks alongside the Euro. Even so, I’ve stopped buying music for the moment partly because of the price and partly because I’m trying to assimilate what I’ve bought so that I’m not always thinking, I know I’ve heard this before, but…

A Storm of Swords

By George R.R. Martin.

The Starks. Robb suffers from extreme involuntary abdication at the Red Wedding because he did not marry Walder Frey’s daughter. Catelyn continues being a tiresome domestic tyrant, but the same wedding sees her become an apparently undead domestic tyrant. Sansa marries Tyrion Lannister, unwittingly helps to assassinate King Joffrey, and escapes to the Eyrie where Petyr Baelish, having married Sansa’ aunt, Lysa, throws the mad old bat to her death. Arya continues trying to go somewhere, but keeps falling in with all the wrong people, including the undead Sir Beric Dondarrion, before she gets caught by Sir Sandor Clegane. She arrives at the Red Wedding just in time to miss the fun, but does get to whack or see whacked some of the people on her to-do list. She eventually gets away from the badly wounded Sandor Clegane and gets to say Valar morghulis, which seems to mean “I’d like to travel first class, please”. Carried by Hodor, Bran travels north with Jojen and Meera Reed in search of the three-eyed crow. The party has encounters with Jon Snow and Sam Tarly, who helps them pass beneath the wall and who delivers them to the mysterious Coldhands. Jon Snow also goes over the wall where he finds himself with the wildings and getting some from the world’s most annoying girlfriend before returning to the Night Watch where he is accused of being a traitor and elevated to the rank of Lord Commander.

The Lannisters. Like Arya, Jaime ends up doing a lot of travelling with Brienne of Tarth after Catelyn unilaterally releases him to get Sansa and Arya back. Like Arya, he falls in with the wrong people and ends up losing a hand, but makes it to King’s Landing where he is promoted and falls out with his father, Tywin. Tyrion is forced to marry Sansa Stark, who is now, supposedly, the sole surviving Stark and heiress to Winterfell. The wedding is a farce, and Tyrion treats Sansa well even although it brings much mockery from others. After Joffrey’s death, Cersei accuses her brother of his murder, and he is condemned only to be rescued by Jaime and Varys. From Jaime he learns the truth about his first wife, Tysha, but tells his brother that he did indeed assassinate Joffrey (untrue) as a parting shot. As Varys leads Tyrion to safety, the Imp pays a call on his father’s room where he finds Shae, his rental friend, who betrayed him at the trial, and his father, who he also kills.

Daenerys. Daenerys acquired an army of eunuchs and conquered several cities before deciding to settle down. It turned out that Ser Barristan Selmy, who had been so unceremoniously dismissed from his post as High Commander of the Kingsguard after Joffrey’s ascension to the throne, had been working for Daenerys for quite some time, and the supposedly faithful Ser Jorah Mormont had originally been working for Varys. In spite of Mormont’s assistance in the conquest of Meereen, he was dismissed.

The Rest. Sam Tarly gets his own chapters. He manages to kill one of the Others with an obsidian dagger, rescues one of Craster’s wife-daughters (Gilly), and escapes from Craster’s home after the murder of the Lord Commander. With help from Coldhands, he delivers Gilly safely to the far side of the wall, and engineers Jon Snow’s promotion to Lord Commander. Davos Seaworth survives various trials and is even elevated to the post of Hand to King Stannis. He saves Edric Storm, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son, from Melisandre’s mania for human sacrifice. Theon Greyjoy takes Winterfell, which is then taken off him by the brutal Ramsey Snow. After that, Geryjoy disappears from the story.

A Storm of Swords is beginning to reveal the cracks in Martin’s bloated epic. He has got repetitious, which is especially obvious in the adventures of Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. Arya’s story also tends to be the same thing: she keeps falling in with some fairly dubious characters, looking for some way of escaping from them, escaping, and then doing it all over again. There are repeated human rights violations, which are merely tedious rather than shocking. The women in the story tend to be repetitious. There are a few too many whores and the word gets used ad nauseam. The massacre at the Red Wedding was very revenge tragedy, but Joffrey’s demise at his wedding seemed to be milking the same cow for no particular reason.

At times events also got a little obvious. Sansa Stark’s romantic notions are an obvious target for undermining. She’s hoping to marry some brave, handsome knight, but finds that she may get landed with a less handsome knight, and then gets married to a badly scarred dwarf. The pretty Jaime Lannister gets stuck with the ugly, lumpen Brienne of Tarth. Tyrion’s misfortunes also got to be more of the same as he ducked and dived through the toxic politics of King’s Landing.

The multiple narrative threads in the book have occasionally coincided, but there’s very little feeling of integration. I’m left wondering where it’s all going because at this point I can’t see exactly what Martin’s intending. My current prediction is that the battle between the God of Light and the Others is probably going to be the ultimate conflict; or perhaps not. Perhaps Daenerys and her dragons (fire vs. the ice of the Others) are going to play a central role in that. It doesn’t matter whether my predictions turn out to be correct or not, but ultimately I’m hoping for a satisfactory conclusion as the threads of the story are brought together. They are going to be brought together, aren’t they? Once Martin has finished, how much of the entire saga will actually have contributed to the main plot? (I’m inclined to think it should have been Vol. 1 Stark Saga [250pp.], Vol. 2 Lannister Saga [250pp.], Vol. 3 Return of the Dragons [250pp.]. Done. Dusted, Debloated.)

Martin has tended to be a safe pair of lexical hands, but there are occasions when he slips. I noticed at least one “stymied”, which loses marks for inappropriate diction, and there were other places where the author seemed to have nodded off. He suddenly had Jon Snow’s wilding girlfriend, Ygritte, speaking in Dialect when she wasn’t constantly saying, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”; but previously she hadn’t spoken in Dialect. Then another character started speaking in Dialect, which had the effect of making the writing feel unrevised.

Martin seems to have opted for sensationalism (just look at Catelyn’s reappearance in the Epilogue) and mismatched buddy episodes in A Storm of Swords to keep readers going. I haven’t lost patience with the series, but I’m wondering how much longer my toleration will last.

Go to work on an orange

Bollards to that.

A week or so ago, some orange bollard-like things appeared on the pavement outside Houcaller on 香榭街. I thought it might be some attempt to make the motorists who think the cycle lane is there for their convenience to pay to park in my way. But this morning I found out what it’s really in aid of because there was a line of orange bikes attached to the bollards. Obviously you pay your money, ride the bike around, and then park it to get your deposit back. There’s a second one over near the street that runs along the west side of the school grounds.

This is a good idea because when Linda comes visiting, it means that there will be a bike for her to use.

On the other hand, I suppose it has to be ridden from one park to another unless, by chance, you happen to have a lock, and at the moment, for instance, I haven’t seen any sign of free bikes outside, say, Baoli (or, in fact, anywhere else so far).

I’ll be interested to see how the scheme fares – well, I hope – or whether the whole thing falls flat because the local peasants pinch them all for scrap. Probably the scheme is most useful for visitors to the city because people here already have bikes or electric bikes. On the other hand, why would these things be positioned where they are? The ones near Jinma I can understand, but the ones over near the school are puzzling.

Meanwhile, everyone’s been celebrating Tank Parking Day with the usual festivities such as Hunt the Student, Pin the Tail on the Protester, and (for foreigners) Conflate the Protest (which is, so I’m told, all about making Tank Parking Day seem to be about a single issue).

In personal news, Fred and I being dispatched to Kuala Lumpur for IB training in mid October. I suppose for the first month I’ll just have to make things up as I go along. Actually, all I have to do is say things such as “theory of knowledge” and “intercultural textuality” and I’ll be fine.

Signs and omens

Early prognostications.

I’ve been prevaricating all week about writing a new post, but since HM the Q is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this weekend, I have some sort of excuse to write something.

We start with mobile phones. Am I about to buy a new one? Well, I’ve had my Nokia E71 for two years and have learnt something new about it. I was sending Linda a message the other night when, somehow, I made the text bold without knowing how. Having failed to reduplicate what I’d done, I went online for further information, but that was probably only pertinent for an E71 bought in the States whereas I’d bought mine in Hong Kong and the keys did slightly different things. I eventually discovered that I could change the font style using a combination of Ctrl+Fn+i/b/u. Unfortunately, it makes no difference to the message as Linda sees it.

In the past I’ve noted that it’s often just as I need to replace some piece of kit that I suddenly learn something about it of which I was previously unaware. However, on this occasion, I have no need for a new phone and hope my current model will be good for at least another couple of years or so.

Way back when I first owned a computer, I had a copy of Fractint and eventually got to the point where I was creating animated gifs from pictures of Julia sets. Having (re)discovered Ultrafractal, I bought a copy of the basic version this week and have been messing around with it since. It seems very much like Fractint for Windows since the fractal types are all familiar old names, including the one called Tim’s Error (although that may be part of the fractal canon). I’ve already made a short video of a fly-through of Julia sets along the x-axis, which I did before many years ago. The ultimate version of Ultrafractal lets users create animations, but that one is nearly four times as much as the basic version and I’ve had to resort to generating one frame at a time.

It’s nearly time to celebrate another great moment in the annals of the Empire. Yes, it’s Tank Parking Day tomorrow. I can only assume that that must be why Carrefour was so crowded yesterday when I went shopping. Either that, or everyone was holding parties to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last night.

Windows 8 gets ever closer, and as ever the next version of Windows is preceded by the usual chorus of doubting Thomases. I remember the chorus of booing and hissing about XP, which has been extraordinarily long-lived and much loved. Vista deserved all the booing and hissing it got, and I upgraded to W7 as soon as I was able. From what I’ve seen about W8, it appears that someone at MS was suffering from concussion when they thought that Windows for fondleslab should be extended to PCs as well.

In an article on The Register a couple of weeks ago, it was mentioned that someone at MS had snorted at Aero, saying that it was a creature of its time and outdated. I have never really understood the point of Aero, which seems to be no more than a little graphical bling; but if it’s a thing of its time, then W8 also seems to be a thing of its time and will end up being part of the Age of iPad. Ten years from now (and perhaps not even that far into the future) it’ll be so 70s – all platform shoes, flared trousers, and ridiculously wide lapels.

People will probably get used to W8, and probably W9 will iron out issues with W8, but unless the hardware changes, I can’t see myself wanting a fondleslab or an OS that wants you to want one. Is MS trying to predict the future on the assumption that a generation of users will want to interact with full-sized computers in the same way as they interact with their phones?