Author Archives: J39M

About J39M

Julian is something of a (self-declared) weirdo who enjoys quiet pondering and aimless wandering. When that's not on the roster, he can be found practicing his scales and arpeggios on any nearby piano. Julian has a singular, non-homosexual fixation on the pianist Rafał Blechacz, and can be frequently heard spazzing out about him. Julian loves Studio Ghibli films and won't miss up any opportunity to fanboy about any one of them. His running favorite is probably "Spirited Away," closely followed by "Howl's Moving Castle" and "My Neighbor Totoro." The film score that holds his heart, though, is Yuji Nomi's gorgeous creation for "The Cat Returns."

Shooting a whale in a teacup

Before Rogue One came out, I remember reading some excited comments on Reddit amounting to a score wishlist from Giacchino. Most of that wishlist came true: first and foremost, Darth Vader’s theme got a good showing (Krennic’s Aspirations and Hope). This is like shooting a whale in a teacup; Giacchino could have stuck in an Imperial quote played by a Peruvian pan flute and made the crowd go wild.

The finer points of the A New Hope score that the aforementioned comment hoped for were the insidious minor-third motif (which I hadn’t really taken notice of before) and the over-the-top Death Star flourish.

To my delight, Krennic’s Aspirations fulfilled the former almost gleefully. Giacchino really did his homework, I imagine. However, the Death Star motif didn’t get any showing that I can remember. In fact, the Death Star doesn’t seem to have any particular musical motif for itself in Rogue One since it is rarely the focal point in this movie.

A shower thought came over me tonight: the 2 firings of the Death Star provide a musical foil to each other from film to film. The cue Destruction of Alderaan is chock-full of dramatic tension, whirling up and down the heartstrings before culminating in a shocking and angry resolution in which Leia’s home is destroyed. The big ending to The Battle of Yavin evokes Holst (a bit like the opening Tantive IV chase) with no less bombast, going for the wholesale brass fortissimo to keep the audience engaged.

Compare these 2 examples against how things played out in Rogue One. In Star-dust, the quiet, almost nonchalant destruction of Jedha is just background noise while Jyn tearfully reconnects virtually with her father. One of the quickest genocides in galactic history plays out over quiet piano chords with minimal orchestral work. The cue and scene are serene, because the emotional crux of the scene lies between Jyn and the unreachable Galen. In Your Father Would Have Been Proud, the rate of mickey-mousing drops below zero as a choir layers a slow-paced cue over the abrupt destruction of the upper Citadel tower (and the death of Orson Krennic). Again, the action need not be frenzied because the outcome is inescapable. Jyn and Cassian have no way out; all they can do is collapse on the beach and wait for their time to come, soaring away on a heroic refrain of Jyn’s theme. The Death Star is mostly irrelevant in the scheme of things, having failed to interrupt the rebel transmission.

Compare the cues against each other and you see that we lose nothing by the omission of the quasi-motif of the New Hope Death Star. Rather, the musical blindness to the Death Star prevents the audience from being distracted by what is the largest on-screen object, enhancing the flow of the story.

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Mistake of the day: pyinotify

I’m rewriting an old application. The next-gen evolution here is that instead of a time-based loop, I’m rewiring the flow of execution to take cues via pyinotify. (I was terribly proud of calculating the average song length in my library and using that to decide the loop timing.)

I followed the example code and read the documentation. I found that the key takeaways were

  1. I was to use WatchManager.add_watch to monitor my file. In this case, that’s ~/.quodlibet/current. The documentation clearly states that files and directories both are watchable – though the tutorials only seemed to cover directories.
  2. I watched for the event pyinotify.IN_MODIFY – because I would be waiting for a file modification.

When I tried a dummy run just to see things in action, the event process was triggered as expected. However, processing had fallen through to the “default” event – not IN_MODIFY as I wanted. To make matters worse, no further events were ever seen again (even when they should have happened). I was only getting the one event – and the wrong event, at that.

There’s no head-scratching here. When I added some more verbosity, my gross mistake became very clear. The process of changing ~/.quodlibet/current is to write the new one out to a tempfile and then swap it into the “real” current file. This is two(-ish) events in ~/.quodlibet, and neither of them is a modify to ~/.quodlibet/current.

EDIT: I think the once-off happens because your watch is invalidated. When the tempfile clobbers ~/.quodlibet/current, the underlying file is no more – so you’re watching a ghost whose name was already usurped on the filesystem.

The correct approach is to watch ~/.quodlibet and match on the exact file being reported in the event fire.

J39M

I appreciate blunt friends

I have as of late been moaning and whining incessantly at 2 very blunt friends of mine. The moaning and whining arises from a personal crisis that requires honesty and pragmatism to quell (and possibly address). Some friends I confided in erred on the side of consideration and immediate kindness. I appreciate that – but the wounds within continue festering.

The bluntness is like a sudden splash of cold water, like the shock you get when you drop off the boat thinking that Hawaiian water is warm. In ordinary conversation, it might seem like “well, not really what I was looking for,” but it is a necessary thing that I ultimately look fondly back at.

Bruce rattled the fence as he clambered up. He lithely made his way down, turning right at the corner peach tree, continuing to the grimy bathroom window, and hanging a final left into the homeward stretch.

Bruce stopped. Home was supposed to be here, just off the fence. This was not home.

He paused. He turned in place (an impressive feat even with his feline grace) and retraced his steps – right, past a spotless bathroom window, and left at the apricot tree. Bruce’s nose perked up. He had passed here only moments before, but none of his scent lingered. It was as though he had never been here.

Unnerved, he turned again, one paw slipping audibly on the usually steady fence. Right at the lemon tree, past the blank wall, and left to the home fence. Nothing. A nondescript backyard, not very tidily swept – definitely not Bruce’s home.

Bruce did not turn around again. He continued down the fence. If he was lost, he could always find his way home from the neighborhood streets he knew best. He passed the four-way at the juncture of houses and continued on, eager to hop off the fence.

But the street was not ahead. He came instead to another four-way fence meet-up. Bruce turned left. He must have been accidentally running parallel to the street.

Five fence intersections later, Bruce was still lost and increasingly unsure why all the houses here formed a perfect grid with no egress to the street. Stranger still was the unnatural calm. There were far fewer crickets than August usually provided. Every single house was dark, even though it was scarcely an hour after sundown. Bruce hadn’t run into another living thing – not even a pesky dog to taunt.

Bruce bent and made to drop off the fence.

He froze immediately and couldn’t move. Waves of foreboding crashed over him. The yard, sparsely planted and somewhat unkempt, leered malevolently at him. Bruce knew that he absolutely could not stray from the safety of the fence.

Bruce slowly straightened up.

Meow. A plaintive and confused sound escaped him.

Meow. Bruce just wanted to get home.

Meow. Bruce was scared.

Meow. Bruce was lost.

Meow.

The unending grid of cold houses stretched unimaginably far in all directions.

“How glad I am!”

Peter was excited to visit someplace new. He milled around more excitedly than usual, bumping up against all his classmates. Down the ramp he galloped, taking in all the fresh smells and sounds. The road to the unfamiliar building was narrow and fenced closely. Peter squinted and saw someone sitting in the grass beyond the path, outside the enclosed confines in which he was walking.

“Hello!” said Peter.

“Hello,” came the distant reply.

“My name is Peter,” said Peter, “who are you?”

“I am Paul.”

“Paul, what are you doing there? Why are you outside the boundaries that we trust and know to be safe?”

“Because it’s not my lot to be there, Peter.”

“What rubbish, Paul. It’s safe in here. You get fed, you won’t get sick, and you won’t be exposed to the elements. How glad I am not to be you, Paul!”

Paul made no reply, watching as Peter rambled his way into the building. Through a grimy window, he glimpsed the path transitioning into a conveyor, feeding an enormous machine.

“Paul, you will someday grow old, grow sick, or grow weak – and then you will die in any number of ways before your time! How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” Peter trotted to the end of the path and stopped walking as the conveyor took up his motion.

The machine belched black smoke out its top and gushed red waves out the bottom, moaning and groaning like a vengeful spirit. Peter did not notice his that his classmates were one by one entering the machine but not obviously emerging from it.

“Paul, life is good like this! How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” Shadow fell over Peter as he was swept whole into the machine.

“How glad I am not to be you, Paul!” and Peter said no more.

Paul made no reply, bowing his head.

Google Fantasy Maps

Google stands at the crux of having another exciting content platform. All they would have to do is marry their AR / VR offerings with Google Maps.

Today, you have satellite, traffic, and other overlays on Google Maps. These are all functional features that are dead useful. I propose that Google add useless overlays to make Maps an entertainment platform.

To an extent, this already happened with their promotion for Fantastic Beasts. Take it a step further – imagine a creepypasta overlay. Reported Slender Man sightings (complete with subtly photoshopped portions of StreetView), SCP reports from around the globe, and Mowgli’s Palace in North Carolina. Imagine a sci-fi overlay where you can walk ’round Iowa and see the USS Enterprise being constructed. Augment this whole system further with “contributed” videos to complement StreetView.

I know I would sink a lot of leisure time on Google Maps if I could explore Hogwarts Castle or see some of the city-bending of Doctor Strange play out live.

159 – A word about uncredited orchestras

One of my biggest pet peeves is thumbing the liner notes and flipping the jewel case back to front and failing to find a credit for the orchestra. Oh, great, John produced this album, too. Oh, great, John also conduced these cues. Fantastic. How about you tell me who was actually responsible for making these beautiful sounds?

This is most prominent in my Harry Potter selection. I used to have Sorceror’s tagged as John Williams / LSO purely by (mistaken) assumption. I went back, looked, and realized that this was wrong. To this day, Sorceror’s and Prisoner both live with John Williams as the sole credited artist on all tracks. Goblet and Order, thankfully, have the LSO and the Chamber Orchestra of London unambiguously penciled in.

This imbalance has long bothered me, because the purpose of my sticking as close to possible to the urtext of the liner notes has been to faithfully document who was who in the album. It’s not really fair to me (and to my scrobbles) to treat John Williams like a ubiquitous monolith.

Starting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I tried something new. I labeled it as Williams (Dudamel) with a ‘”Highly Regarded” Freelance Orchestra.’ The name is taken from a press release describing work on the TFA score. It’s outlandish and unprofessional enough to not be mistaken for something actually given verbatim in the liner notes but satisfactorily descriptive to scratch my documentation itch.

I continued with my three selections from the Nichijou scores. I have volumes 1, 4, and 8 in my collection. The album title is one of those unnecessarily lengthy ones that blow out my player UI when loaded, and it explicitly gives Hungary as their recording location (wow!). Watching the special features on the Blu-rays (that came with my purchase of 1, 4, and 8) corroborated this, but unfortunately I couldn’t discern the name of the orchestra they worked with. At time of writing, Wikipedia retains records of 9 Hungarian orchestras. I found a larger list of 21. Therefore, the final tags are for Yuji Nomi leading “1 of 21 Possible Hungarian Orchestras.” I would be ecstatic to find out which one exactly.

The trend has most recently spilled to Rogue One, tagged as Michael Giacchino (Tim Simonec) with “Enormously Varied Contract Orchestra.” I forget if they were explicitly described as contracted (but I believe they were). The “enormously varied” label comes from the fact that the liner notes actually included a 169-strong roster of the musicians who took part in the score. I gleefully typed them up and saved them as plaintext, but was happy to summarize them as the EVCO (instead of going for the artist gore that I use for operas and Mahler’s 8th).

J39M

158

We the people jointly accept a death tax of 30.000 people per year on the road (NHTSA 2015). That means that by the time you tear your eyes away from the device reading this, someone will have died in a traffic accident somewhere in the US. We don’t have the means to fix this right now, so we live with it and don’t think about it.

What happens when we throw flying cars into the mix? The motions of driving are regulated by virtue of roads being essentially one-dimensional. If we give the controls to anyone who can wave a license at you, what then? If such a disturbing percentage of our population has trouble staying on a road, how can we expect them to safely operate something that can traverse (and fail) in all 3 dimensions? (Failure will mostly involve a downward trajectory. You do not come to a stop in the air like you stop on the road if your vehicle fails. You fall, and woe betide anything in the way of your landing.)

My worry is that we will shrug and accept it. Suppose just 20 people per year get guillotined, crushed, or crashed by flying car incidents. Do we shrug and consign the report to the bottom corner of the paper? Do we accept that death has just become that much more random?

Suppose some hotshot startup creates a true transporter (I.E. one that doesn’t have the swampman problem) and makes it viable for private use. Everyone can operate one from the comfort of their home. The catch is that seriously improper misoperation will lead to an explosion that can take out two city blocks (not unreasonable for a transporter, I think). You don’t want your gin-bottle neighbor to have something like that, do you?

No death is acceptable. If we believe that willfully opening up new avenues to unexpected termination is a substantially different evil from ignoring the deaths that currently plague us (and yes, we need to work on those too), then we should oppose the freeform development of flying cars until the state and federal governments can work together to strongly regulate this dangerous and negatively disruptive industry.