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We live in litigious times, so I should say that content reflects only my opinions!

Saturday December 17 2005

Fighting off a nasty cold by means of Scotch and sloth.

The sloth, which many would say was functionally indistinguishable from my normal resting state at the desk, is ameliorated by playing Myst V: End of Ages. Another, and in fact the last, beautiful game for those who prefer to experience environments rather than simply shoot at things all the time. I have to say that Uru is still my favourite though, in terms of a virtual world to explore. I think I'd enjoy the whole thing just as much if there were no story and no puzzles, frankly. I can never remember much about the point of the whole saga, despite having avidly bought and played all five Mysts and the Uru with both expansion packs. Still, this doesn't especially detract from the experience of gallivanting around fantasy worlds. I really should check out some of the derivative adventures that exist. I've noticed a few Myst-like games in the shops.

Little else to report. The State Micra has gone to a new home, which is a great relief as I really thought it was either going to have to rust away in my friend's back yard or be scrapped. In fact I got five hundred quid for it, after spending two in total to sort it out. Three hundred quid where I though there would none, and someone's got a good little car. Thanks be for friends with more mechanical aptitude than myself.

It's bloody cold tonight. At least my local is, well, local.


Posted at 7:34 pm by Jim Woods

Wednesday December 14 2005

I forgot.

If you want to drive yourself mad reading about the intricacies of audio compression then Hydrogenaudio is the place to go.


Posted at 11:38 pm by Jim Woods

Help, I've flirted with becoming far too anal about ripping some CDs for my MP3 player.

Loads of pieces of software doing things with tags that they mutually fail to properly comprehend. DLLs of every stripe, arcane parameters at the command line. Front ends for tweaky programs, and fiddling with Lame for hours. Critical listening, frenzied comparison on a wide range of gear. It's so easy to get really obsessive about this sort of thing if you already have a tendency to get a bit funny about audio quality. For what it's worth, I was playing around with:

Exact Audio Copy - CD copier, ripper and encoder (via Lame etc)

CdEx - CD ripper and encoder (via Lame for MP3, also various other methods with various other codecs)

Lame - excellent MP3 encoder

winLame - front end GUI for Lame

Mp3tag - a comprehensive MP3 tagging program


Life's too short to set up Exact Audio Copy for MP3 ripping, unless you're fearless when it comes to playing about with the deepest entrails of command-line parameters. Actually I am, but at the moment life's still too short. Nothing will do CD copying like this baby though.

The whole business of ID tags is a mess, with their various revisions and specs. All the players I use read different subsets, and all the encoders create them. I never know precisely what to expect, and that's after reading the official specs for the tagging process at some length. Also to be filed under "life's too short".

Rip at a variable bit rate, allowing up to 225 k/bit or so, and it's all peachy. Go for quality of encoding over speed. Rsults can be easily good enough for all but very critical listening on very good gear.

Best all-round solution is to use CdEx, which does a good job of ripping, encoding, tagging and putting things in sane and orderly places on your drive. Its age (2003, development seemingly halted) can be offset a little by using more recent versions of Lame with it than the one supplied.

I bought a lot of single malt whiskey on a three for two deal. Still cost a king's ransom, but hey - it's Christmas. Nearly. Will be by the time I've drunk this lot.


Posted at 9:25 pm by Jim Woods

Monday December 12 2005

I notice that there's a new season of Family Guy,

which I shall enjoy when we get it here in the UK. I rate this as equal to the Simpsons, and rather better than Futurama, but then I'm ever the intellectual...

As for my recent reading, which I have decided to write about here as a partial antidote to the relentless stream of observations and complaints about technology, I have read two novels over the last five days. Normally I'll get through a book a week or so. This is limited by finance rather than anything else. If I had an unlimited supply of suitable literature I'd probably never do much else, time permitting. At any rate, the two most recent - bless Waterstone's for their 3 for 2 deals - have sufficiently impressed me for me to write a little (and I mean a little) about them here.

Firstly, "The Oxford Murders" by Guillermo Martinez. Winner, no less, of the Planeta Prize. I've no idea what that is, but it's a very intelligent detective novel which I could not resist in part because of the setting. If you're a fan of the genre I really recommend this one, which manages the trick of being cerebral without being in any way pretentious or hard to follow. I have a great horror of mathematics, and yet I really enjoyed a work which is centred at least partly on it. My only quibble, and I'm sure that this is a matter of inconsequence for the general readership, is that I have such a ridiculous grasp of Oxford's geography that I couldn't help noticing that there are some inaccuracies to the sequences of roads the protagonist navigates on his way around town. Mind you, it's a lot closer to actuality than Inspector Morse's perambulations on screen (although not in the books). Apparently, Morse was shot in reading in large measure. Characteristically, I digress.

The second work I read was "The Rule of Four", by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. This is a medieval book thriller, rather in the same line as The Name of the Rose and The Da Vinci Code. A very good one at that. Perhaps not the literary firework display of the former, but a great deal better written than the latter. If you're a fan of the genre etc etc. I liked it a lot, but then this is my bag.

That Da Vinci Code; I was prepared for the basic plot, since I'd read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and most of the subsequent works by its authors, over the years. I've toyed with its premises, and even visited Rennes le Chateau when I was driving nearby on the way to visit friends. I'd count myself a fair authority on the whole hocus pocus, which is as splendidly entertaining as any conspiracy theory of its kind, and I was therefore not troubled by the blurring of reality in Dan Brown's novel. But in a fairly recent Channel 4 documentary I was moderately horrified to see rather too many earnest tourists interviewed who seemed to think that the book was based largely on historical fact. More alarming still, some seemed to realize that it was a work largely of fiction but nonetheless were well on the way to persuading themselves that it could all be true. I suppose there's always that risk with these sort of pseudo-historical novels. Circumstantial evidence is good enough for a lot of the people a lot of the time. My problem with the Da Vinci Code, which on a superficial level as a thriller I quite enjoyed, was the same problem that I experienced with Brown's other three works: the writing.

I suppose it's unrealistic to expect that all novels fit for publication be written to the standard of Eco, Le Carre or Ondaatje (to pick three really good writers more or less at random), but with dear old Dan Brown - and he is not alone in this - I cannot help but be constantly annoyed by the standard of writing. It's just really not very good. Characters are simplistic ciphers, seemingly untroubled by any concerns beyond the most obvious and stereotypical, and I am constantly driven to rephrase his stuff mentally in an attempt to make it a bit more, well, literary. I am well aware that this just means that he doesn't write the way that I do or would, which is hardly an offence. What depresses me is that given how successful the book has been, and indeed the huge amount that has been written about it, there is so little mention made of the distinctly average writing. You'd think it was a great work, rather than simply a very popular one. If being a good writer is writing something that sells, then Brown is a good writer. If being a good writer is casting some light on the human condition, and creating a believable, three-dimensional world-within-a-world and the illusion of a life of its own beyond the page, then he is not a good writer. I'm a little saddened that there is a clear parallel drawn between units sold and literary merit.

Still, we can choose what we read. I suggest you read the first two books I've discussed here. I suggest that you skip The Da Vinci Code unless you are inured to cardboard-cutout characters.

Rant delivered. Next rant brewing.


Posted at 2:09 pm by Jim Woods

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