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Jeremy's journal

Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots.

— Stéphane Mallarmé


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Monday, March 31st, 2008

March

"In like a lion, out like a lamb" is accurate for this year's third month, but the senses of the similes have been roughly altered: the beginning of March was golden with sun, and its end is grayish white and cloudy like a lamb's wool. Bleah, say I.

posted afternoon of March 31st, 2008: 3 responses

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Mapping Istanbul

Google Maps is just about the greatest thing ever. (Well ok, there are better things out there. But still.) I am over there now, figuring out what Galip's movements through Nişantaşı, Beyoğlu, Teşvikiye, and other Istanbul locations look like spatially. I can see how the Golden Horn separates these neighborhoods from central Istanbul, where are the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara in relation to the city, where the Atatürk and Galata bridges are; just great! It took a moment to see I was mistaken about Galip's walk in chapter 19 being through Nişantaşı; and looking back to the chapter I see he was walking near the Süleymaniye Mosque, which is in the center of the city, south of the Golden Horn; page 223 has him walking north, back towards Nişantaşı.

posted afternoon of March 30th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about The Black Book

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Descent/transformation

How to enter the secret world of second meanings, how to break the code? He was standing on the threshold -- joyful and expectant -- but he had no idea how to cross it.

Chapter 19 of The Black Book, "Signs of the City", seems in a way like the key to the story -- in a very meta- way, that is to say, being as Galip is spending this chapter discovering the "key" to the story he is pursuing, and thereby descending into paranoia. [Caveat lector: this is my understanding of the story at the moment, halfway through; certainly subject to revision.] I'm particularly interested in pages 213 - 219, Galip's hallucinatory walk through Nişantaşı central Istanbul, which culminates in his complete identification with Celâl.

Read some extensive quotation and light analysis below the fold.

posted evening of March 29th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Orhan Pamuk

AJAX geekery

Permit me to wax geeky for a moment: last night I added a new feature to the site, which involves dynamic loading of page elements. Fun! About half (a little less) of the size of this page (ie, roughly 20K bytes) is the blogroll, on the right-hand side of the page under the "Where to go from here" heading -- which you might not think to look at it, since most of the data is hidden when the page loads and only shown when you click on the category headings.

This means that whenever a person or a robot downloads the page, 20K of data is sent that is probably not going to be displayed or used. I've been trying for a while to figure out how to only send it to people who are interested in it, i.e. not to robots or to one-time visitors who come here from a Google search for a book their class is reading, which together account for the great majority of page views. Last night I came up with a pretty seamless solution:

I recently implemented a sticky blogroll, using cookies to ensure that once you have clicked a blogroll category header, the category will remain visible when you reload the page. So it's easy to check whether a user is a repeat visitor who has in the past looked at the blogroll -- since the blogroll is stored in a file on the server that gets read at load time, all I had to do was create a truncated version of that file (containing only data for the default visible categories) and include that instead if the relevant cookie was not set.

But then when a new visitor decides s/he wants to look at the blogroll, and clicks on a category header, how is s/he going to get data? Well in the truncated blogroll file, the empty headers are linked to a Javascript function called load_full_links, which uses XMLHttpRequest to download the complete blogroll -- so the first time you click a category you will see about a 1-second delay. But then your cookie is set, so going forward the blogroll is loaded with the page. I think it's a pretty nice bit of design/programming and I'm looking forward to using a similar algorithm for other pieces of functionality.

Potential problems:

  • I have tested this with Firefox and Internet Explorer. I'm not sure how it will work with other browsers, and it will definitely not work in a browser where Javascript is disabled. This doesn't seem like a big deal to me but if it causes trouble for you, let me know and I'll try and come up with a solution.
  • Search engines will no longer index most of my blogroll. This is, on one hand, good -- I have seen referrals from searches that hit an item on the blogroll, which generally seem like my page is not what the searcher was looking for -- and on the other hand, possibly not ideal -- Google and Technorati both pay a lot of attention to outgoing links.

posted morning of March 29th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about The site

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Bob's Mix

I bought a record at Starbucks! I feel so dirty! But listen, it's a really good record: Bob Dylan, Music That Matters to Me -- a mix of tracks Bob has put together as representative of what he's listening to these days. (In the excellent liner notes, he says, "Some people have favorite songs, but I have songs of the minute -- songs that I'm listening to right now. And if you ask me about one of those songs a year from now, I might not even remember who did it, but at the moment it's everything to me.... I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.")

The track list is just great. I think I've only ever heard 5 or fewer of the 16 tracks previously -- and many of the performers I had never heard of before today -- there is blues, country, reggae, Hawai'ian, jazz and more. And what really makes the record -- what makes me happy to have it and want to listen to it as a record, rather than as a collection of songs, is Dylan's commentary. The liner notes are a small booklet, with one long paragraph for each song, and they are frankly much better writing than I have oherwise seen from Dylan's pen. The way they are written gives you a sense you're listening to him speak, and he's in a really good, congenial mood, grinning and saying "Now listen to this one, it's gonna blow your mind!"

Listening to the first song, "Do Unto Others", is funny because the opening riff is exactly the same as "Back in the USSR" -- Dylan says he thinks John Lennon probably heard the recording at a party sometime and forgot about it -- Ellen asked Sylvia if she knew what the lyric "they say, do unto others/ what you would have them do unto you" means; Sylvia nodded and said, in a bored-little-girl tone, "Yeah, what goes around comes around...."

Full track listing below the fold, mainly because I could not find it online anywhere.

posted evening of March 26th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Mix tapes

Wrist

I discovered, during my violin lesson today, that I am not moving my wrist at all when I pull and push the bow. This seems like something that will be pretty easy to fix now that I know about it, and should have a very beneficial effect on my sound.

posted evening of March 26th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Fiddling

A fragile coalition

This story just gets me down. My first reaction (well after the inevitable "WTF are these people thinking?!!!1!") is, aw crap, does this mean I need to support Hillary now because Obama getting the nomination means McCain wins the election? or words to that effect. And obviously (a) my support is in no way crucial to a presidential candidate, indeed if history is any guide it's a liability; (b) extrapolating from a headline to a visualised course of the entire rest of the campaign is silly, and I'm no political scientist to begin with. But the whole narrative seems to have shifted from Democrats triumphant and united, to a slim, shaky majority of Democrats which can be broken apart by a minor news story pumped up by the Republican machine. (Of course I blame Hillary.) Unhappy about this development.

posted afternoon of March 26th, 2008: 2 responses

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Singing and playing fiddle

I like to sing and to play violin; what I am aiming for is a style of playing where I can sing, play rhythm in between the lines of the verse, and play melody on breaks and between verses. I only have two songs where I can really do this, viz. "The Louisville Burglar" and "John Hardy was a Desperate Man"; I have mapped out how to do it for "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" and "Stagger Lee", and I think those two will come fairly quickly with practice; in Blues, I am close to knowing how to do it for "Sweet to Mama" and "Rising Sun Shine On". With this and a couple more songs, I would have a set -- but I need to find a partner, preferably either a guitarist or a banjo player. Jerry is not satisfied with the progress we've been making together and wants to play on his own. Hopefully I will be able to find somebody at one of the folk music jams around here.

posted evening of March 25th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Music

Song to learn

Listening this evening to MS John Hurt playing "Stagger Lee", and it hit me that his guitar part would translate really well to violin. Going to try it out when I go downstairs later on.

...Yep -- really fun.

posted evening of March 25th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Songs

A couple of reviews

Today I recommended Never Let Me Go to Heebie-Geebie, who is leading (under duress?) a small reading workshop at her college. I think it would be a great book for the workshop; I thought I might also take a look at what some reviewers have said about it. Two I found very insightful: Louis Menand in The New Yorker -- Menand is not enthusiastic, exactly, but he seems to like Ishiguro and to get what he is writing about, and makes me really interested in reading the rest of Ishiguro's novels; and M. John Harrison writing in The Guardian, whose final paragraphs just made me tear up:

By the final, grotesque revelation of what really lies ahead for Kathy and Tommy and Ruth, readers may find themselves full of an energy they don't understand and aren't quite sure how to deploy. Never Let Me Go makes you want to have sex, take drugs, run a marathon, dance - anything to convince yourself that you're more alive, more determined, more conscious, more dangerous than any of these characters.

This extraordinary and, in the end, rather frighteningly clever novel isn't about cloning, or being a clone, at all. It's about why we don't explode, why we don't just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been.

(James Browning's review in The Village Voice, which I think is the closest of the three to a "rave", seems pretty incoherent to me and gets some details of the story wrong.)

posted evening of March 25th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Never Let Me Go

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