Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Symphony No. 8 of Jean Sibelius

As documented here, I received on Saturday a telepathic performance of Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 8, long thought to have been lost forever after the composer was seen burning a mass of papers in his fireplace around 1945. In the video below Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra plays three fragmentary parts of previously unknown music of Sibelius.


In an alternate timeline / mirror universe, the above video is due to known Sibelius scholar Timo Virtanen. He has identified these fragments from Sibelius' archival remains as the most probable candidates for belonging to the lost symphony. The original video in its entirety (including Virtanen's interview in Finnish), courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat, is available for viewing here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seek, And Ye Shall Break It: A Personal Rant

Last July, standing in the middle of the room, I let my gaze fall upon a bookshelf, stuffed quite full of books. I came up with a thought:
I wonder how much do I actually pay for the delight of having an overflowing bookshelf in my home.
Some background information is necessary to describe to proceedings from here. It is no secret that in the past decade I have become more and more interested in finding weaknesses in various systems, in order to break them apart. Loosely described, a system can be found anywhere where there are rules dictating how events are to be connected to each other. I suspect such understanding of 'systems' is simply a computer-literate redressing of the concept of 'language games', as described by late Wittgenstein. Incidentally, the workings of these systems is easiest to demonstrate in computer programs, which -- at their very lowest level of binary code -- are nothing but rules to control electric impulses inside the computer. Infamous as the fact is, computer software as a set of rules or a system is always breakable due to the impossibility for the programmer to keep track of infinity of variables and to anticipate the creative effort of others who may, for various reasons, want to try and work around the set rules. Consider, for instance, one of the iconic 8-bit platformers, Capcom's Mega Man (1987), which rules i.a. that one is not allowed to walk through solid walls. As Joel Yliluoma's animated GIF demonstrates, that one rule can be broken:


How does this happen? Interestingly, the effect is produced by exploiting other rules the programmer has put down regarding the usage of ladders in the context of the game. While normally used rather conventionally to climb up or down, the possibility to do both of these simultaneously (that is, direct the character to move both up and down at the same time with precise timing) results in something different, producing a glitch in the system and bypassing one set rule with the help of another(s). A simple example in itself, such approach can be adapted outside of clearly-defined rules systems, even as far as describing one's religion or society as a 'game', 'played' by a set of 'rules' (social conventions, legal statutes, etc.), which -- as is the nature of all rules -- can be bended or even broken, consequences of such actions withstanding. Arguably, the most intriguing systems are ones in which one is itself a participant. If one cannot really step outside of the system while maintaining a participatory connection to it, trying to decipher the rules and bend them to the breaking point becomes an exercise in risk assessment. In other words, when you are in, you (generally) stay in whether your rule-bending resulted in the desired or the unpredictable.

But back to July. I had made the connection betweens books, space and expenses before, but not really understood it. Quite simply, if I did not have so many books, I would not need the bookshelf (besides, there was another one in the living room), in which case I would not need the space for the bookshelf, in which case I could live with about two square metres less, in which case I would not need to pay money for the non-needed space. What if I converted all those books into e-books? Have we not invented libraries for the specific purpose of storing those ink plots placed on wood pulp glued together? And seriously, when was the last time I printed out a pdf? Somewhere around 2006?

Going through the e-book project with my wife, we began to see other potential developments. What if I virtualized all those retro computing pieces lying in the cupboard -- a task I had actually done half a decade ago when computer emulation began to come together? Which of these movies were we going to watch in the future, given that in our societies of abundance every movie that exists in convenient format (DVD/Blu-ray) could be obtained within 24 hours if desired? How about those dishes we had not needed for some three years; how much did we pay for the space for hoarding those rarely-if-ever-needed cooking accessories? Why did we actually have half-a-dancing-hall in front of the sofa? What did we even do at home, come to think of it?

Not much, spacewise. As we figured out to our mutual surprise, after a hard day's work, unless we were attending an event or had a training session, we'd generally settle down with our own laptops, occasionally watching or playing something together, but nothing that really required any more than a few square metres of space. Most of the superfluous space would be used by our two cats as a racing track, but even they would have preferred a more vertically challenging setup. Some truly fascinating possibilities began to emerge in our minds.

How much is much? How much is enough? In Finland the average amount of living space is somewhere between 35 and 40 square metres per person, but how do we choose to read these statistics? If we happen to be fairly average in this regard, is that good or bad, and where would we like to go from there? And if we tried to work around our socialized understanding of required living space (for happy, worthy-of-a-human-being-existence by First World standards), to what figure would we all things considered arrive?

On paper, we got down to 20 square metres, in total.

Which prompted a search for a more modest apartment, bearing in mind that all the money thus spared could still be invested in living standards by other venues, such as making sure those 20-something square metres were utilized to their full extent. As luck/fate/insert-universal-randomness-here would have it, by the end of July we had found a very good candidate, and by the end of August purchased it. A single room in a 110-year-old mansion with a garden, pictured below. By the end of September we had moved in. Thus ends the story of how I broke yet another system, and lived happily ever after.


History, however, has taught us that no original ideas exist, nor do ideas ever stay fixed over a period of time. Ideas can always be traced to their precedents. It is obvious to me that the necessary precursors prompting my recent move are ideas prominent in degrowth, downshifting and simple/slow living movements. In other words, what really did happen was a jump on a trendy bandwagon, a mere play on the hip factor for the sake of shaking a convention a bit. Or am I being too harsh? On one hand no one can deny that e.g. my ecological footprint would not have gone down drastically which -- in our current rules of language usage -- makes me a near-saint. On the other, no one should suggest that this drop was anything but a by-product of moving to a smaller apartment, and certainly not a big factor behind the original decision. And it still very much fits into First World living standards, probably even better (as in 'more technical gadgets to play with') than before.

Seemingly, this one system remains as solid as ever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World, Here I Come!

Put all the necessary paperwork in motion, received the all-important computer access to the university resources. Contemplated on making a four-year plan, but decided to adopt Jorge Cham's instead:

PhD Comics, originally published on May 5, 2008.

I'd post more, but right now I have this pint to take care of.