Monday, January 18, 2010

Keith Tippett Group – "Dedicated to you, but you weren't listening"

Remember Keith Tippett? He was the weird pianist who played on two early King Crimson records ("In the wake of Poseidon" and "Lizard"). He had a 'style' which sounded like he gathered up all the keys and tossed them in the air. At one time, Robert Fripp offered Tippett the job of joint musical director of KC.

I was quite excited when I found an online copy of  this album, expecting some striking but challenging music. How wrong can one be! Not surprisingly, the album sounds like the Soft Machine (six of the eleven musicians playing on the record had already recorded or would record with the Softs), specifically "Fletcher's Blemish" on "Soft Machine IV". "Fletcher's" is the track which I like least on that record, and unfortunately the Tippett record is forty minutes of squealing in the same manner.

I had burnt a copy of the album onto cd for listening purposes, specifically for the car journey from home to my MBA studies on Friday morning. The disk found its way into the nearest dustbin when I arrived.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Organisational Behaviour

The second course which I have taken for my MBA degree is in Organisational Behaviour (OB). I thought that this would be a relatively simple course after the rigours of Accountancy, but I was mistaken. It is clear that some courses are maths based (accountancy, economics, finance) whereas others are word based (ob, sales, human resource management). I am definitely maths orientated, making those courses which are considered to be 'hard' easier than those courses which are supposed to be 'soft'.

It's not that I don't understand the material; a fair amount seems to be self-evident. It's more that it seems that one simply has to remember a large amount of material and regurgitate it the exam, as opposed to learning a set of rules and how to apply those rules to differing sets of numbers (accountancy). The ob material has to fight for valuable real estate in my memory and needs a larger area than the abstract rules necessary for accountancy.

When I was young, I was blessed with a prodigious memory, and this memory helped conceal the fact that I wasn't used to synthesizing knowledge from what I had previously learnt. This became apparent at around the age of fifteen, and for a few years I floundered until I acclimatised, taking in basic facts, abstracting from them rules, and then using those rules to apply the basic facts in new settings. This is basically what I have been doing at work for the last twenty years and is the basis of my professional 'fame'.

This approach isn't working with ob and I am becoming slightly worried about how I am going to perform in the approaching exam. To add to my worries, I checked the MBA timetable. The ob course is scheduled to finish at the end of January, but the exam will be in March. My third course, Economics, will start in the second week of February. So there will be a two week period when I have no studies and then a three week period in which I will be studying one course but revising for a previous one. This might have been acceptable when I was a full time student, but now it's going to be difficult, especially as I have a mentally challenging full-time job which occupies me during the day.

How can this be? I assume that the following theory is true: the exams for the semester beginning in February are held in June. Counting back to allow for fifteen lectures and a short revision period means that the course has to start in February. Heriott Watt University has determined that exams should be held in December, March and June (basically every three months). So there is a small overlap in February and March. Ok, I hear you ask, why can't the December courses last longer or start later than a few days after the previous semester's exams? Because the students have already started a new course, and because the lecturer teaching the ob course has embarked upon teaching yet another semester of ob. 

I am tempted to attend the first few lectures of the new semester's ob course whilst simultaneously studying economics, in order to help retain the material. Fortunately there is no time table clash, but on the other hand, it means carrying on making two journeys a week to the college (economics will be at my favourite time, Friday mornings between 8-11am, whereas ob will be on Wednesday evenings, 6-9pm).

In an attempt to help me study and remember the ob material, I am about to attempt a technique described in the book "Brain Rules". I am going to dab a little perfume on the back of my right hand and then read the material. I am going to do this every time I study. I am going to do this prior to the exam. The theory is that the brain makes a connection between the perfume and the ob material, or as we could call it in database theory, the perfume serves to index the ob material. Thus smelling the perfume is supposed to cause immediate recall of all the material.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Licensing a song

The Randy Newman Internet mailing list (aka 'Little Criminals') is girding up its loins for a new cd. There have already been previous cds: the first was a single cd (including my version of "Last night I had a dream"), the second was a double (my contribution being "Jolly Coppers"). So I don't know whether the new one will be our third or our fourth. Complicating matters is another double cd in which Little Criminals performed their own songs ("All I want" and "Before noon" being my songs), so maybe the new cd will be the fourth, fifth or sixth. Complicated!

The cd's organiser (Susan) has asked for every contributor to produce a valid mechanical license for the song being performed. As the first LC cd was organised by someone who worked in music publishing, she worried about getting the licenses; the second cd organiser also worried about the licenses. The wikipedia article states that a mechanical license is not generally required for an artist who is recording and distributing their own work, and so the problem did not arise in the third cd.

I want to contribute my version of "Something Special", which has been laying in the vaults for several years, gathering dust. Susan suggested that all contributors first try to get a license via the Harry Fox Organisation which easily allows one to obtain a limited quantity license. Unfortunately, the song which I want is not available via HFO and so I have now written to the song's publishers to ask for a license.

I am hoping that they will ask a nominal sum for the license. According to Susan, a license from HFO for the quantities that we will produce will cost about $20, which is definitely nominal. If I get quoted a sum which differs radically from this, I will have to consider contributing a different song, one which is in the HFA catalogue. The first song which springs to mind is "Every time it rains", but this song has already been covered twice on previous cds. Whilst my version is somewhat different, I would prefer there to be no comparisons.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Does Satie have friends in Hollywood

It seems that Erik Satie, French minimalist composer from a hundred years ago, is having a renaissance in Hollywood. Last week I saw the film 'Elegy', in which Ben Kingsley, amongst other things, is a pianist who likes to play Satie's "Sarabandes" in order to get the juices flowing.

Today I saw bits of the film "The painted veil" (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts), and this too had Satie on the soundtrack.

Neat tricks in the 'management' program/2 - MDI

I wrote a week ago about the use of non-modal dialogs, and how I was trapping the OnDeactivate event in order to minimise them. Whilst showing the program yesterday to the client, I discovered an unwanted side effect of this: it was impossible to show two opened child dialogs simultaneously. As one would open, the other would minimise; if I clicked on the second, the first would minimise. Ooops.

In a strange case of serendipity, the evening before found me playing around with MDI forms. I have never used this multiple document interface technique before, but it seems to match perfectly with the non-modal dialogs. Once I had realised my mistake yesterday, I realised that the entire program had to be revised in order to use the MDI model. The original main form did not use a menu, which precluded MDI, so I created a new main form, defined a menu and based all the MDI child dialogs on that menu. To make things easier for the client, the program automatically displays what was the main form upon starting. Of course, I removed from all the child forms the 'minimise on deactivation' event.

The code to activate these forms is becoming simpler and simpler. Contrast the code for a modal dialog box
with TModalDialog.create (nil) do

with the code for a non-modal dialog box
with TNonModalDialog.create (nil) do show;

and finally the non-modal MDI child dialog box
TMDIChild.create (nil);

After creating the MDI child, I call the main program's cascade method in order to ensure that the dialogs don't lie on top of each other. Each child dialog frees itself in its OnClose event.

Most articles about MDI assume that the MDI child dialogs will be identical - the easiest example of this for a Delphi programmer is the IDE itself; the windows displaying the code of the different modules are identical MDI child dialogs. But it doesn't have to be like that, and my program shows how to use non-identical child dialogs. Had those articles been clearer on the subject years ago, then I probably would have been a veteran MDI user and wouldn't have had to write this.