Friday, July 29, 2016

The night manager

I probably bought my copy of John Le Carré's novel shortly after its publication in 1994. I have always enjoyed the book and have repeated the experience of reading it several times over the years. I discovered a few months ago that the book had been turned into a television series, but expected that it would be some time before I would be able to see it.

A few weeks ago, whilst idly zapping through the channels on our television, I discovered a new channel, AMC, which "primarily airs theatrically released movies, along with a limited amount of original programming". One piece of original programming is - you guessed it - "The Night Manager".

The first episode which I saw was the third, which began with the attempted kidnapping of Roper's son, Daniel (for those who don't know the book nor the series, this will mean nothing). OK, I thought. This means that the first episode would have been Switzerland interposed with Cairo, and the second Cornwall and Canada. Due to problems with the blank dvd discs which I have, I only watched (and recorded to dvd) the third and fourth episodes, whilst recording (and leaving on the 'Yes Max' machine) the fifth, sixth and seventh episodes.

Wait a minute: seventh episode? IMDB lists only six. What is happening here? The other day I downloaded a Blu-ray rip of the series: I now have all the episodes on computer (and dvd), but without subtitles. This version only has six episodes. We watched the first episode, which was slightly different from what I expected, but was in chronological order: Cairo preceded Switzerland. But it was the second episode which caused internal turmoil: this began with the kidnapping!

Only when I watched the second episode did I realise what must have happened: each Blu-ray episode is at least 50 minutes long, making the whole thing 300 minutes in duration. The AMC version has seven episodes, each about 43 minutes long: also 300 minutes. Presumably they cut and pasted scenes to make the story more palatable, and maybe even cut out some. I quite agree that beginning the second episode with the kidnapping (which has moved from the Bahamas to Mallorca, no doubt due to budgetary reasons) is very jarring; it would have been better to move the Cornwall part (transposed to Devon, presumably not for budgetary reasons!) to the beginning of episode two, then continue with the kidnapping. 

I hope that there aren't any more major edits.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"When the music's over"

The latest installment in the casebook of literary creation DCI (now DS) Banks (written by Peter Robinson) is a deeply disturbing novel; whilst some of it is enjoyable in the way that police procedurals are, it is as upsetting as an earlier novel in the series, "Aftermath".

As Robinson frequently does, the book is divided into two stories, an 'Alan' and an 'Annie' story; these do not overlap. Also as per a few Robinson books, one of the stories is split between now and 50 years ago. Unfortunately, this is very much a novel for these times - or as one might have said 50 years ago, Robinson has tapped into the zeitgeist. Views espoused by one character, Paul Warner, are exactly those of the people who voted 'leave' in the recent British referendum, aka Brexit. Events which happen in this book appear to have been inspired by real life in Britain from the past few years.

Coincidentally, I saw a few days ago an episode of the British series 'Silent Witness' (which features crime solving pathologists), which was about exactly the same subject matter: Pakistanis grooming young white girls for prostitution. Some of the dialogue from that episode (broadcast 2012) is paraphrased in this book. I'm not trying to suggest that Robinson plagiarised the television programme; these unfortunately are sentiments expressed by the British people of the 2010s. To be honest, I'm glad I'm not there any more.

This is the 'Annie' story which is very powerful; it could easily have filled a book on its own and is very well developed. Accompanying Annie (who has become slightly more mature and is even hoping for promotion, although still somewhat out-spoken) is the recent addition to the team, DC Geraldine (Gerry) Masterson, who is given a much bigger part in this book than previously. DC Masterson gets her superior's rank wrong at one stage, calling him DCI Banks rather than DS Banks. Maybe she had yet to get used to his promotion, but I don't think so.

The 'Alan' story is about how a famous (fictional) entertainer raped a fourteen year old girl 50 years ago in Blackpool. This story line is obviously based on its real life counterparts of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris et al., and is a bit weak. From a literary point of view, victim Linda Palmer's memoirs about her holiday resonate very strongly with Banks' own memories of a similar holiday with Graham Marshall in 'The summer that never was': one from a male perspective (meeting girls) and one from a female perspective (meeting boys). Of course, Palmer's stay in Blackpool ended somewhat differently from that of Banks, but it is interesting to read. But is this a sign of lazy writing? Robinson has already covered this material, albeit from a different viewpoint.

Another sign of lazy writing might be the inclusion of DI Chadwick and DC Bradley from 'A piece of my heart' (which, as it happens, I read again a few days ago). Judging from the characterisation of Chadwick in the earlier book (apparently ten years ago), he was a very moral person and there is no way that he would have ceased investigating the rape of an underage girl on his own initiative. This story is much less developed than the other; it is somewhat surprising that Banks is the person investigating, as I thought that his rank would have him coordinating the two investigations rather than taking an active part in one (and of course, interviewing attractive women). I thought that this book would develop DS Winsome Jackman's character, after her leading role in the previous book, but she barely exists.

Having written all that, the closing conversation between Banks and Palmer is classic Robinson and goes a long way in healing any wounds which might have been opened by the rest of the book.

When the music's over
Turn out the light
(The Doors)




Monday, July 18, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

More mobile phone

For the past few days, I have been receiving messages on my phone telling me that I can upgrade the operating system to version 6, aka marshmellow. I thought that I would wait until the weekend to do this, when I would be turning on my personal wireless router. The reason why I was waiting for the weekend was that the kindle edition of the latest installment in the DCI Banks series was being published on Friday, so I would be turning on the router for that.

Unfortunately ... I discovered that whilst the router provides internet services when it is physically connected to my laptop computer via cable, it has ceased broadcasting its existence; in other words, no wifi. This meant that my phone could not download the update and the kindle could not download the book. Naturally, discovering this on Friday afternoon means waiting until Sunday to get it fixed.

Today I established a chat session with the phone company; after dismantling the router in order to get the sim's identity number, I was told how to reset the router without changing any settings (one presses simultaneously on the 'wps' and power switches and holds them depressed for at least ten seconds). This did the trick, so now my devices can access the internet.

The kindle downloaded the book in a flash (this is always amazing to me) and the phone could download the software update. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to download the update; downloading then took another twenty minutes or so, after which I installed the update (another five nerve wracking minutes).

Now that the phone has restarted, the os seems remarkably similar to what was before. The icons have slightly changed borders, but otherwise nothing immediately strikes me as being a result of the update. I thought that I was going to have to learn a new interface, in the same way that Android 5 was different from Android 4, but fortunately that seems not to be the case. Sigh of relief.

I'll be writing about DCI - now Detective Superintendent Banks - in a few days, after I finish the book. I haven't even touched it yet. I did prepare myself, however, by rereading the previous book, 'Abattoir Blues', during which one musical item stood out: Agnes Obel and "Aventine". I downloaded it, not expecting too much. The first track on the album - "Chord Left" - reminded me strongly of Satie, although that's because it's set in an exotic scale (probably Phrygian) and the sole instrument is piano. Vocals remind me of Alison Goldfrapp. Although it's been playing in the background all morning at work, I haven't listened sufficiently closely in order to form an opinion.

Friday, July 08, 2016

New smartphone

My entry level smartphone has been frustrating me somewhat in the past few months. There are two major problems with it, which may be connected: there is no provision for adding a memory card and sometimes applications will not update as there is not enough ? (memory or disk space) for them. Otherwise, the phone is satisfactory. Getting an upgrade was very simple: I went to my manager and explained my problem. She immediately wrote an email to the person who deals with phones and he ordered me a new one.

Originally I was offered two models: either the Samsung Galaxy S5 or LG 4. My son in law recommended the LG, so I asked for this; when the phone came yesterday, it was the Galaxy. Not very important to me. My first action with the new phone was to charge it completely which did not take very long. I wanted to extract the SIM from my old phone and insert it into the new one but was stymied at the very first hurdle as I couldn't open the old phone! As I wanted to buy a memory card and a protective cover, I decided not to do anything on my own.

Today I went to a mobile phone/computer shop nearby. A 32GB card cost 65 NIS, about $18, and the cover a bit less. The salesman opened my old phone with no problem and extracted the SIM; this was 'full size' and thus too large for the Galaxy (just as well that I didn't try this on my own). He used a tool to cut the SIM to the correct size - actually he cut it too small and had to use an 'adapter' in order to get the SIM to fit. Apparently there are three sizes of SIM: large, small and very small. On top of the SIM he inserted the memory card; we checked that everything worked and then I was on my own.

I quickly discovered two facts: the physical controls on the phone are subtly different from those on my previous phone, and that the operating system has been upgraded from 4 to 5. These two facts caused me no small bother at first, but I think that I'm getting the hang of things. After getting everything connected, several apps started downloading - this already is something new, as previously I had to wait for a wifi connection for this to happen. Several of the apps are superfluous to my needs so I uninstalled them.

I connected the phone to the mobile computer and restored photos and ringtones which I had previously saved. Using a Google account means that I had no problems restoring contact information. I then started personalising the phone: setting up the shortcuts to what I wanted, etc. In doing so, I discovered some new tricks: I can 'star' contacts then see them in a special view (making it easy for me to dial them) and discovered how speed dial works (after assigning numbers to the contacts, a long press on the given number dials the speed number). This meant that I could remove the phone short cuts which I had added to the desktop, thus allowing a better view of the background - naturally, a picture of my granddaughter. I also set up some albums in the gallery and discovered how I could move pictures from album to album.

Now that the data, shortcuts and similar are set up, there remains the task of getting used to the new buttons. I'll look again at the manual which I downloaded yesterday in order to learn what does what.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Michael Herr, RIP

Sometime in 1975 or 1976, I bought a copy of Tom Wolfe's book 'The New Journalism', which in time has become something of a classic. This book consists of either complete magazine articles or chapters from books which had been or were about to be published. In time, I would buy some of these books.

In March 1978, I bought a copy of Michael Herr's book about Vietnam, 'Dispatches', which had just been published; one chapter of the book had appeared in Wolfe's collection, which was why I was so interested in it. Also, growing up in Britain during the late 60s/early 70s, I had been aware of the Vietnam war but knew very little about it. Herr opened my eyes.

It was also the time of the Litani operation, about which I was hearing on the radio and which echoed with what I was reading. At the time, I was staying at my parents' house in Cardiff, relaxing after final exams, and trying to write reports of seminars which I had attended during the year.

I don't know whether 'enjoy' is a suitable word to use when writing about a book which describes war, but I have to say that the book very much touched me. I heard an echo of it in the second half of Kubrick's "Full metal jacket" and was not totally surprised to discover that Herr was one of the scriptwriters.

I never encountered anything by Herr after that, but 'Dispatches' will always be part of me. Thus I was totally surprised to read his (excellent) obituary by Tim Page, one of Herr's closest friends in Vietnam. This article is as well written as 'Dispatches' was.

I have no idea whether Tim Page and Jimmy Page are related (probably not), but there is a photo in that Guardian obituary in which T. Page looks very similar to J. Page.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sophisticated syntax in Priority

Let's say that I want to write a trigger which will check in the Contacts form whether a contact already exists with the email address which has just been typed in. 'PHONEBOOK' is the name of the contacts table, ':$.EMAIL' is the name of the email field and ':$.PHONE' is the id field.

Once, I would have written the trigger like this
:COUNT = 0; SELECT COUNT (*) INTO :COUNT FROM PHONEBOOK WHERE EMAIL = :$.EMAIL AND PHONE <> :$.PHONE; WRNMSG 500 WHERE :COUNT > 0;
This code counts how many existing records in the PHONEBOOK table have the given e-mail. A warning message (number 500) is displayed if the result is greater than 0. One day, I realised that this is unsophisticated: I don't care about the actual number of duplicates but I do care that a duplicate exists. Enter more sophisticated code
WRNMSG 500 WHERE EXISTS (SELECT 1 FROM PHONEBOOK WHERE EMAIL = :$.EMAIL AND PHONE <> :$.PHONE);
Today I discovered an even more sophisticated way of doing the same thing
WRNMSG 500 FROM PHONEBOOK WHERE EMAIL = :$.EMAIL AND PHONE <> :$.PHONE;
Theoretically, this version should be faster than the previous version which should be faster than the naive version, although practically speaking I doubt whether anyone will notice the difference. This syntax does not appear in the Priority Developer's Bible; what does appear is
WRNMSG msg_number [ WHERE condition ];
Looking at pre-defined triggers, I found a few variations:
GOTO 1 FROM PART WHERE ... SELECT 50 INTO :$.GO FROM ERRMSGS WHERE ...
I found a good use for this syntax, along with another improvement introduced in version 17: NFILE. This is documented as 'Select NFILE if the linked file comprises a group of records and you want the link table to remain empty when the user enters * or leaves the field empty.' NFILE should be used when getting a linked file when the base table contains many records - such as parts, customers and suppliers. Previously, one would declare the parameter to be of type FILE; the program would take a relatively long time to fill the table if all the records were chosen (by *). NFILE allows one to save this copying; the original table will be used if the field either contains * or is left empty.

But how does one check? In the past few months, I've been writing code like this
LINK ORDERS TO :$.ORD; ERRMSG 1 WHERE :RETVAL <= 0; :COUNT = 0; SELECT COUNT (*) INTO :COUNT FROM ORDERS WHERE ORD > 0; GOTO 1 WHERE :COUNT > 0; UNLINK ORDERS; LABEL 1;
But now I can write
LINK ORDERS TO :$.ORD; ERRMSG 1 WHERE :RETVAL <= 0; GOTO 1 FROM ORDERS WHERE ORD > 0; UNLINK ORDERS; LABEL 1;
Concise and to the point. So, one more undocumented nugget.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Vinyl log 28 - 4 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
4July1986Peter HammillSkin

I used to receive newsletters from the man himself; he developed a sense of expectation by writing that one long track on this album echoed the classic Van der Graaf Generator sound; Guy Evans and David Jackson played on this song. But even more interesting was the fact that Hugh Banton played on another track; since Banton left at the end of 1976, he had never appeared on any of Hammill's albums, unlike the other two band-mates.

At this time in my life, I had become an accountant for hire, or more accurately, a 'movement worker': one or two days a week I would travel to Jerusalem where I would do the accounts for an urban kibbutz along with some attempts at explaining simple book-keeping to them. This work was paid for by the central kibbutz movement, and every so often I would travel to Tel Aviv in order to get my expenses refunded. I imagine that there were other reasons for traveling to Tel Aviv but I don't remember them now. Presumably I would have bought this record on one of these trips, at the shop which I had discovered which stocked British imports. I'm sure I wrote about finding this shop and being stunned by discovering new Fairport records (this was the mid-80s), but I can't find that blog now.

I must have recorded the album onto cassette because I remember traveling to Jerusalem on a bus and feeling a frisson when Hammill sang "now it's coming to the crunch as you stumble on the Jaffa Gate" ("A perfect date"). This was the song on which Hugh Banton played; unfortunately, I didn't like it very much. On the other hand, the long track "Now lover", along with some other tracks ("After the show", "Shell" and "Four pails") very much resonated with me. Filling out the record are a few guitar based songs which I don't like very much and never listen to ("Skin", "All said and done"). 

There in one atypical and apparently completely MIDI based song, "Painting by numbers", which I quite like. One can find on youtube a video of Hammill miming this song, apparently for some Spanish TV show; it's somewhat incongruous.

[SO: 4207; 4, 20, 41
MPT: 732; 1,3,6]