Sunday, February 28, 2010

Still working even when feeling lousy

I was feeling lousy yesterday afternoon/evening. This has been happening a lot lately, and it always starts around 5pm (maybe sometimes earlier and maybe sometimes later). This is probably due to the fact that I seem to have reasonably high blood pressure and that the bp rises during the day. I spent two weeks at the beginning of the month measuring my blood pressure twice a day, and although the results showed that the bp tends to change and reach an undesirable peak, they weren't conclusive enough for my doctor, who ordered a 24 hour continuous measurement. I have a followup meeting with him on Thursday to discuss those results, which apparently too weren't totally conclusive. In the mean time, there are days when I have a headache and don't feel well; analgesics might hide the pain but they make me feel weird as well. Yesterday was one of those days.

I was trying to revise for the Organisational Behaviour exam which is in another 10 days. Whilst I feel more confident about knowing the material, I am suffering from an inability to turn that knowledge into an essay which answers a question posed. The exam does not consist of questions like "Discuss the differences in the content theories of motivation" but rather will present a short story about someone and ask "How would your knowledge of OB help this person?". I read about leadership styles in the morning (there are basically four theories, but I'm not going to go into that now) and got them organised in my head, but in the afternoon I couldn't think about anything connected with OB.

I took the dog for a walk and thought about what I could do in the hours remaining before I go to bed. I decided to do some work for my occupational psychologist, hoping that I would be capable of doing something which required me to use knowledge which I already possess as opposed to trying to cram more knowledge into my hurting head. Our flagship exam consists of 400 questions and takes about 40 minutes to complete; she has contracted with some kibbutz to present a smaller exam which tests for only about six or seven characteristics. My job was to figure out which questions needed to be asked for those characteristics and prepare an exam program which asked the minimum number of questions needed – as opposed to a plan which we had several years ago in which the examinee answers all the questions, but scores are generated only for the characteristics that we want to measure.

The first part of this was easy, setting up a resource file which contained the necessary questions in English and Hebrew. Then I wasted about an hour trying to automate the production of an equivalent resource file with Russian questions before I realised that I was on the wrong track (does the word 'unicode' mean anything?). Once the penny dropped, I hand edited the existing Russian resource file, whittling it down from 400 questions to 246 (which is the number of questions in the new exam). This effort may be pointless as there may be no Russian speakers who will answer the questionnaire, but it's better to do the work now then later.

Then I started trying to convert the exisiting exam to use only 246 questions instead of 400. This actually shouldn't be too difficult as the code is fairly parameterised. As I want to use the existing report generator and store examinees' results along with everyone elses, the exam program has to use the same file format for its output, and this includes a 480 element array for the answers. Why 480? Because originally the exam had 480 questions before we scaled it down slightly to 400. The current resource file has a list of non-existing questions (80 numbers) and sets the appropriate elements in the results array to a certain value. I hit a conceptual block when considering how I was going to implement this list in the new exam. I had done enough work for one evening, so I tried to watch the news and then had a shower.

As funny as it may seem, I do a lot of creative work in the shower, and the answer to my conceptual problem swiftly appeared. I had been storing the list of non-existing questions as a string in this format '1,5,12,218, 337', etc. As a (small) string in Delphi can hold only 255 characters, it would seem that the list is limited to only about 90 questions. This was ok when I had 80 questions not to be included but was unsuitable for 234. The answer in retrospect was easy: store in the resource file two strings (because the length is limited), where each element represents a question. If the element is '1', then the question is valid, and if the element is '0' then the question is not to be asked. Thus the strings stored in the resource file will be something like '00011110011010….'. In the exam, I will load these strings from the resource file, traverse them and mark the array in the output file appropriately.

I also need a flag in the results program to signify the fact that an examinee took the shortened exam and that results should be calculated appropriately. I know how I'm going to do this, but haven't got there timewise yet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Organisational Behaviour/2

I was not in Dubai and neither was my passport. It happens that I know (or rather, knew - I've haven't seen this person in maybe 20 years) someone whose passport apparently was in Dubai. Not surprisingly, he is somewhat upset, especially as his real passport is in his possession, and that he wants to travel to the 2012 Olympic Games; he is afraid that he will be stopped and arrested when he arrives in Britain.

I started a new MBA course in economics two weeks ago and am enjoying it. This reminds me why I am studying for an MBA degree - the intellectual challenge and enjoyment. Organisational Behaviour has cast such a shadow that I forgot that learning can be fun. Regarding OB, I am revising and reviewing the material almost daily, but it is so difficult to retain anything. Today I was doing multiple choice questions on the home university's website; the advantage of doing is this that one gets to know the answers and why they were chosen. Out of four answers in a multiple choice question, there can often be three which are right - but one will be 'more right' (or optimal) than the others. We have another revision meeting next week, and the exam is in two weeks time.

I have been trying the 'learning with smell' technique but it isn't too successful as I don't have a good sense of smell. I think that I ruined it during my last year of university when I did a two month lab project which had me working with acetonitrile all the time. This is a rather foul smelling liquid, and I don't think that the lab was too well ventilated. I have been 'learning with sound', but of course I can't take the exam while listening to an mp3 player. Fortunately, I have a musical mind and can normally remember most pieces of music.

If I am worried about the OB exam (and believe me, I am worried, and even have nightmares about it), then the focus lies not in the multiple choice questions (which carry only 25% of the marks) but in the three essay questions. I look at sample questions and haven't a clue what to answer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Licensing a song/2

I wrote about a month ago about the process of licensing Randy Newman's "Something special" for a new Little Criminals disk. I finally received an answer

In order to issue you a one-time mechanical license for our minimum of 1000 units and a one-time DPD license for our minimum of 1000 units, please complete the requested information below.

The mechanical rate is dependent on the length of the composition, as per the US Copyright act. Each unit is $0.091 (9.1 cents) as long as the composition length is under 5 minutes, which your recording of "Something Special" is. 

Once licenses are issued you will pay $91.00 for a mechanical and $91.00 for a digital download (DPD) license.

The only problem with the above is the quantity: I doubt that we'll even get to 200 copies (hard and soft combined), so the above license is ten times too large. I have written back asking the publisher to lower the minimum amount but I'm not expecting too much.

In lieu of including 'Something Special', I decided to prepare my version of 'Dayton Ohio 1903', a somewhat nondescript song which earned a slightly jazzy arrangement. Thinking about it today, I realised that the opening flute lick could be harmonised, so I slightly revised my arrangement. One good thing about digital music is that I can change notes for one instrument without affecting anything else - and still have my vocals perfectly synchronised. 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The body

Our satellite TV supplier broadcast a film, "The Body", during the week. I only recorded it because I saw that it starred Olivia Williams, an actress of whom I can never get enough. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film was what might be termed an 'archeological thriller' set in Jerusalem (and totally filmed on location). Ms Williams is an Israeli archeologist, although no attempt whatsoever was made to explain away her British accent. Similarly, British workhorse actor John Shrapnel was also cast as an Israeli (and spoke some words in Hebrew, correct grammatically, but with a ludicrous accent), despite his British vowels. 

Both these actors were seldom without a cigarette in their mouths; this was shown so much that I wonder whether the film was hinting that Israelis are heavy smokers. Fortunately, the percentage of smokers has decreased dramatically and the ban on smoking inside buildings means that I rarely - if ever - have to smell cigarette smoke.

At one stage, Antonio Banderas, cast as a Spanish priest (at least they got his ancestry correct), drives to a monastery to visit another priest who is hiding lest someone kill him (one has to watch the film to understand why). That monastery is only a few kilometres from my home, and as it is floodlit every night, I can see it from my balcony. As shown in the film (and in real life), the building has two stories, but one sequence apparently has Banderas running up three flights of stairs....

The film is primarily concerned with the discovery of a set of bones belonging to someone who had been crucified. As someone points out at the beginning, Romans only crucified poor people, yet the skeleton was found in a rich man's grave. People begin to suspect that the bones belong to Jesus, which is why the Pope dispatches Banderas to investigate, alongside his Israeli colleagues. 

Not being a Christian myself, I can only partially understand the emotional upset which would be caused by finding Jesus' bones (although at the end, one realises that the bones belonged to someone else). I can understand how important this would be, but the part about the find negating their belief I can only appreciate intellectually and am not qualified to comment whether it would be true.

Incidentally, no Jew would refer to Jesus as Christ, this being 'Messiah' in Greek. As far as the Jews are concerned, the Messiah has yet to come. The Jewish Israelis in the film refer to Jesus as Christ, and this seems to be a mistake in my opinion (no one has yet pointed this out in IMDB). One interesting point of interest appeared when I looked at the Hebrew subtitles: Jesus in Hebrew is 'Yeshu', spelt yod, shin, vav, ayin [ישוע]. The word for 'saviour' is 'moshia', spelt mem, vav, shin, yod, ayin [מושיע]. The laws of Hebrew grammar suggest to me that the two words have the same three letter root, yod, shin, ayin; very interesting theologically if this is true.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Strict Joy

The last few weeks seem to have been quite manic, with not enough hours in each day to complete all the tasks. The only thing which I remember clearly are several lectures on Organisational Behaviour (if only I could remember the contents of the lectures and not just the fact of the lectures' existence!), and these were set against a backdrop of the album 'Strict Joy' by The Swell Season. I had read about them in the arts supplement of the weekend newspaper and my interest had been piqued.

This is a very sparse album, much sparser than the usual fare to which I listen, but this sparseness is offset by the raw emotionality presented by the duo, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Their previous (and initial) recording apparently was about their falling in love, and this album is about their personal - but not professional - separation. The reviewer in the newspaper pegged it as a one of the great breakup albums, but this time with a twist: both protagonists participate in the record. 

I can't say that Glen presents his side of the breakup and Marketa her side; I don't really listen to the lyrics properly and put them together in the sense of a song. In a very limited sense, I listen to the words in an autistic matter: I can see the parts but can't put the whole together as a whole. The same thing cannot be said for the music, though. The opening "Low rising" is presented as a soul song with full band and brass accompaniment, but other songs feature only acoustic guitar and/or piano. There is good variation in the rhythms: 4/4 is followed by a fast 3/4, there's at least one song in 12/8 and one in 5/4. That's the sort of thing that appeals to my brain.

The reviewer mentioned other breakup albums, such as 'Over' by Peter Hammill. The Hammill connection is interesting, as one of the songs on the bonus, live, disc entitled "Lies" sounds remarkably as if it were written by Peter. [Side note: maybe in recognition of this fact, I played "Chameleon in the silence of the night" for the first time in years and was blown away by the intensity of the recording].

The same reviewer, in an earlier column, mentioned a group called The Clientele. I managed to lay my hands on their four albums, but found them much less convincing than The Swell Season. At their best, The Clientele are somewhat poppy and reminiscient of earlier musical days and are good. Unfortunately, the songwriting seems to have taken a step back on their latest release, "Bonfires on the Heath", and there are a few songs which actively annoy me, so much so that I find it difficult to listen to this album after the opening three songs. Have they not heard of syncopation? I would have written their horn parts with different rhythmic accents, and the insistence of falling straight on the beat has me pulling my hair. That said, their second and third albums, "Strange Geometry" and "God save the Clientele" are better.

Reading matter: "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox was recommended in my studies, and I definitely pass this recommendation on. This is essential reading for any MBA student. The only real problem with this book is that it is dated; it was written at least twenty years ago when there were no cell phones and no Internet, a time when ERP programs were in their infancy. Any manager working in a factory will understand and identify with the issues, even if they seem to be dealt with too easily. 

The other book of the past few weeks has been "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby. The author returns to his music based background of "High Fidelity" and presents a very familiar picture in the first two chapters of a non-entity engrossed and obsessed with a singer songwriter who disappeared after releasing his masterpiece "Juliet", also a breakup album. It seems that nothing so inspires art so much as breaking up with one's significant other. As Neil Sedaka once wrote, "Breaking up is hard to do", or as my mates and I parodied/paid tribute to it, "Breaking down ain't hard to do" (a motorbike song). After the opening two chapters, two of the novel's major characters have a breakup of their own, and the the book turns to a new direction when the long lost s/s becomes a major character in his own right.