Software Musings

Holiday Listening

Posted on: 04/05/2006

I’ve just returned from a short holiday in Italy (see here) and, since I passionately hate travelling, I filled my iPod with 27 hours of speech before I left. Given the difficulty of finding good podCasts amongst the millions available, I thought that I should share links to those I took.

Perhaps the most exciting podCasts on the planet at the moment are those of the 2006 Reith Lectures from the BBC. The scripts are available but don’t read them—listen instead to the recordings because Daniel Barenboim’s passion comes through so strongly in his voice. The lectures are being given in places currently important to Barenboim: London, Chicago, Berlin and Jerusalem. I sing in a very amateur way and listening to such a professional musician talk about music and, in particular, the silence before, within and after it, is overwhelming. Following the lectures he answers questions from some highly placed colleagues (including Sir Willard White and Alfred Brendel). As any professional would, he tailors the questions to fit the answers he wants to give but that is excusable. I normally find question-and-answer sessions intensely embarrassing but not here—professional talking to professional about a mutual passion.

Nothing could match those Reith Lectures and we move down to a more earthly plane to discuss some of my other choices. Shortly before leaving on holiday I discovered The Philosopher’s Zone (a strange positioning of the apostrophe, implying presumably, that there is only one philosopher in the zone). These are elementary but accurate discussions on philosophical topics. Of particular interest was the one discussing Stanislaw Lem’s book, Solaris. Lem, of course, died a month or so ago and, although I had a vague idea of his work, I had never realised how Solaris could be tied effortlessly into Descartes, Kant and countless other philosophers along with Maxwell (his daemon) and, of course, Lord Kelvin.

In addition to the Reith Lectures, the BBC has also been coming up trumps with its delightful and idiosyncratic In Our Time series. Here Melvyn Bragg seems to have great fun in pulling together three experts and then giving them time to express themselves. On many discussion shows I get the impression that the experts are there as extras—here they are the central focus. Over my holiday I heard discussions on such diverse topics as The Great Exhibition (1851), Immunisation, The Oxford Movement and what should have been Goethe but turned out to be a history of mammals (Goethe was, of course, a mammal and I suppose that that was the tie in).

Another podcast favourite of mine is 12 Byzantine Rulers which was intended to be a number of lectures tracing the primary emperors in the eastern Roman Empire (Diocletian, Constantine, etc.). Unfortunately everything seemed to be going well until Justinian where the series seems to have stopped abruptly. I hope that the additional lectures will appear soon—it’s a bit like reading a WhoDunnit with the last 20 pages missing.

I also picked up some podcasts related to my work: half a dozen of the Burton Group Inflection series (note the strange spelling of “inflexion”). There was one in particular of which I held high hopes—Web Services Management—which I hoped was going to explore WSDM and WS-Management but which had nothing to do with Web Services Management; instead it was an interesting talk on runtime governance. I suppose this was a bit like the BBC promising Goethe and delivering the mammals.

So these kept me less irritable than normal on the aircraft flying to and from Europe from Canada. The holiday was restful, the journey stressful. I particularly hate those sheep-pen arrangements whereby one has to queue first one way and then the other to shew a passport or check that one’s iPod is not a bomb. I cannot understand why people don’t spontaneously erupt with Handel’s All We Like Sheep and shame the airports into finding a less degrading way of treating the people from whom they derive their money.


3 Responses to "Holiday Listening"

On the subject of language, a thought has struck me about our occasional misuse of gender in Spanish as we’ve tried our best to talk to the locals. What does such a mistake sound like to a native speaker? For example, in English, there’s a yokel sound to a misuse of the verb “to be”, as in, “I be very glad to see you.” Having no gender ascribed to nouns in English makes it difficult , though, to imagine what a Spaniard would make of, for example, “Los cabras feliz.”

Having sat for an evening last week with our hosts in Italy talking German I was wondering the same thing. I noticed a couple of winces on their faces when I got the gender wrong (what a pleasure to be able to use the word “gender” correctly). The question of ambiguity arises: are there many words in Spanish which exist with different meanings in different genders?

In German I can’t think of any but there may be a few. The difficulty would possibly arise with some of the prepositions that take accusative or dative nouns depending on movement (“in Switzerland: in der Schweiz”, “into Switzerland: in die Schweiz”). You could probably get some ambiguity there if you really tried.

I’m glad that you’ve experienced a similar disjunction. It is not so much a question of quantity as inference. What meaning does a native speaker of Spanish place on the sentence (how is it heard?)? Perhaps, also, what is the implication of that for the true meaning of the sentence as spoken?

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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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