What I’m reading shouldn’t be considered as recommendations—indeed, I often don’t enjoy them and don’t finish them. However, what I’m listening to definitely can be considered as recommendations.
There is also a YouTube playlist of all the songs referred to below.
A TV soundtrack theme (a warning that there may be spoilers)
Low - Silver Rider (from Rectify)
Rectify is a pretty special (and underrated) show, and Low is a fantastic band. This is one of the best moments in a series with lots of them, with the great characters Daniel and Tawney. It is worth listening to the whole song, too (I’ve actually mentioned this before, back when I was talking about Low by themselves). There is other good music in the show also, such as Shark Fin Blues by The Drones and We Are Fine by Sharon Van Etten — though the score became a bit too prominent in the mix for my taste in the later seasons.
Radiohead - Lucky (from Six Feet Under)
Six Feet Under was a show that I regularly watched with friends on late-night TV. We were heavily into music, and Radiohead was a big part of that — seeing them in unexpected combination was great. Some other good moments from the show (each pretty overblown, as was the show’s motif) are All Apologies by Nirvana, Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie, and Breathe Me by Sia (a great show finale).
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Source Tags & Codes (from Friday Night Lights)
I couldn’t find a clip of this appearing in the show, but it is such a good song and really grabbed my attention at the time (I had heard of the band and a few of their songs before, but not this one). “The time” was actually when I was living in Minneapolis and training for my first marathon in Austin, Texas — given the Texas link between the band and the TV show, it became my marathon theme song.
Don DeLillo - Americana
As mentioned last month, I have started working my way through the bibliography of Don DeLillo’s novels — starting with this, his first. It was different than I thought it would be, as a first novel. Denser and longer. I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much, given that the characters weren’t very pleasant to spend time with. Again, shades of great writing and precursors to topics and characters he would explore more fully later on (the advertising executive in Underworld comes to mind, in particular).
Don DeLillo - End Zone
This was more like it! I really enjoyed this one. I had read it before, but liked it more this time — that I tend to get the most out of DeLillo on re-reading is something I will have to keep in mind as I proceed through his novels. Sports (particularly topical as I was reading this during the Superbowl period), nuclear weapons, interesting and memorable characters and scenes.
Tom DeMarco & Tim Lister - Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams
A very interesting book about the social, commercial, managerial, and organisational aspects of technological work. Most of it rang very true with my experiences and it provided a few new things to ponder in relation to my day-to-day work.
- My use of Garmin’s “suggested workouts” to set my running schedule continues to go well. I am on track to run every day in February, which is a frequency I haven’t really approached before (typically 3–5 days per week). I like running daily — it is easier to maintain a consistent routine, and I haven’t found it to be particularly difficult to recover each day. It is leading me to some of my highest weekly distance totals of my 15 years or so of regular running (about 83 km this week).
Although I still find it to be the best way to create publication-quality figures in Python, I think it is time that I moved on from Veusz.
It always proves difficult to install and it isn’t seeing much developer activity lately.
I had a bit of an explore of the other options in the Python landscape, but most of them didn’t seem to be to my tastes.
I will switch over to matplotlib; I have always used it for quick interactive plotting in IPython sessions, but now I will use it for more serious figure creation.
It is actually going pretty well, with some new features in the library making things easier (e.g., subfigures) — this blog post has also been very useful.
This has led me to create my first Python package that has been released on PyPI:
pympljstyle. This is a library that applies some appropriate matplotlib figure settings depending on the journal, the figure size, and the figure contents.
- As a continuation of my dabbling back into computer games, I am just starting to play Red Dead Redemption. I have been looking forward to it for a while, so I hope it is as good as it sounds! It is taking me a while to get used to a console controller again.
A movie soundtrack theme.
Hammock - This Is Not Enough (from Columbus)
I recently saw Columbus and absolutely loved it — one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. The soundtrack by Hammock was great. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of them actually, given that I’ve read them being described as a mix of two bands that I have mentioned here previously: Explosions In The Sky and Stars Of The Lid. I’m not sure that this specific song appears in the movie itself (it is in the trailer, at least), but it is so good, and suits the movie so well (particularly when paired with the visuals from the movie in this clip), that I had to select it. I can highly recommend the movie, particularly if you’re in the mood for a slow, dreamy, affecting, aesthetic experience. I would love to see it in a cinema.
Neil Young - Dead Man Theme (from Dead Man)
This was my favourite movie for a long time. I am a big fan of Neil Young (and need to write some more about him soon), and his soundtrack for this movie was mostly atmospheric guitar work. Except for this track, which played over the credits (I love the audiovisual congruence when the electric guitar comes in) but was inexplicably left off the released soundtrack album. Great signature Neil Young-style guitar playing.
Peter Gabriel - A Different Drum (from The Last Temptation Of Christ)
I haven’t seen this movie for a long time (I think it might be an underappreciated Scorsese movie, like another), but the soundtrack album (Passion) is excellent and still gets the occasional listen (it is also a good album to listen to while working, I find). Peter Gabriel is an interesting character and is someone who I feel like I should be more familiar with. I remember him being quite innovative technologically — I recall a multimedia work of his being on a CD-ROM I had that was bundled with a PC magazine in what would have been the mid to late 1990s. And his duet with Kate Bush, Don’t Give Up, is a classic with a great music video.
Don DeLillo - The Names
A relatively complex work with many characters and storylines. I don’t think I fully grasped it, but I enjoyed it anyway and found it to be great in many places. It was interesting that I could identify ideas, phrasing, situations, etc. that he would repeat or explore more fully in his other works. Incidentally, I’m thinking of starting to read all of the DeLillo novels in order of publication. I’m excited by what I might find in the many novels of his that I haven’t yet read. First up will be Americana.
Haruki Murakami - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
I had read this a while ago and felt like reading it again. I don’t know — it is nice to hear a running regimen and philosophy be articulated by a writer, but overall it felt fairly slight.
Cory Doctorow - Red Team Blues
After enjoying his talk on “An Audacious Plan to Halt the Internet’s Ensh*ttification” (see my entry for December 2023), I thought I’d have a read of some of his fiction work. This was a kind of a ‘techno-thriller’, which I don’t tend to enjoy too much. That trend continued here.
I really enjoyed the Life of the Record podcast on Bonnie “Prince” Billy's great I See A Darkness album.
Will Oldham speaks so intelligently and interestingly on a range of topics, and it was great to learn more about the making of the album.
It also reminds me about the greatness of the Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy book by Alan Licht.
Speaking of music journalism, it was sad to see the merger of Pitchfork with the GQ magazine (?).
It is not a website I visit too much these days, but it was essential visiting for me in the first decade of the 2000s (back when it was
- I have been having fun writing a browser extension for work. Well, I was having fun until I tried to make it cross-platform so that it not only works with Firefox but also with Chrome-based browsers. Unfortunately, I had written it for an extension API called Manifest V2 and the Google-controlled Manifest V3 has now become required in Chrome-based browsers — but without directly transferable functionality with Firefox. It will take more work to convert it to V3, and hopefully the browsers will have settled on a convention by then. But keeping it to Firefox for now is also OK.
- I mentioned last month how much I was enjoying looking into the Elixir programming language, but that one downside was that it didn’t support type checking. Well, it seems that it is coming to the language! It might be worth looking into more, maybe via Machine Learning in Elixir.
A few songs referencing summer, for southern hemisphere topicality (though it has been a mild summer so far in Melbourne).
- The Fiery Furnaces - Here Comes The Summer
Fennesz - Endless Summer
A great hazy mix of glitchy electronica and acoustic guitar sounds evokes a great wistful summery vibe. As does the eponymous album overall — see Shisheido for another particularly good track.
Animal Collective - Summertime Clothes
A good song about the summer heat. As is often the case for Animal Collective, the album that this song is from is inconsistent but pretty good (and has a neat cover). I’ll return to Animal Collective in this section soon.
Amor Towles - The Lincoln Highway
This author’s “A Gentleman in Moscow” was a comforting read for me during pandemic isolation. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one anywhere near as much. Some nice writing, if often overly precious, but a lot of changing perspectives made it a bit ponderous and it had an oddly nasty tone.
Jennifer Egan - The Candy House
I didn’t like this one very much either! It was difficult to put down, but I found it hard to keep track of the characters and didn’t find the storyline all that interesting.
Don DeLillo - Mao II
Mid-tier DeLillo, by my reckoning. But, being DeLillo, there is still lots of great writing in it and a few standout scenes. I don’t tend to like books where there is a writer as the protagonist — it always feels a bit self-indulgent to me.
Last year (2023) was a year of considerable change for me — all positive though, I think!
- I started a new job, at the Melbourne Data Analytics Platform at the University of Melbourne. It’s going great.
- I moved to a new city (Melbourne) — first living in Brunswick and, from mid-January, living in Coburg. Also great.
- Related to the above, I purchased my first home. Mentally challenging currently, but will be good in the medium to long run.
- I ran the most distance I have in a calendar year: 2,575 km, which is an increase of about 30% compared to last year. I set PBs in the 5 km (20:39, once in Bathurst and once in Parkville) and the half-marathon (1:38:41, at the Orange Running Festival), but had trouble with a marathon (DNF).
- I sold my car and bought a bicycle. I’m really enjoying the cycling commute to work.
When I was planning to do Advent of Code in December, I was thinking of using it as a way to learn a new programming language.
That got me thinking about what features I would like to be present in my ideal language.
I came up with:
- Static typing. See my recent post for how useful I find static typing to be (even in its somewhat ad-hoc form in Python).
- Named function parameters. These seem like such a big benefit in correctness and readability for the small cost of verboseness.
- A good REPL interface. I do a lot of my programming with a REPL open in one window (usually IPython, which is great) and an editor open in another window and alternate between the two.
- Namespaces for imports. I like knowing where things are coming from.
- I think my experiment with using Train As One as my virtual running coach is over. Although I overall liked the platform and its approach quite a lot, I found that it wasn’t really adapting very well to my running and their marathon training plan didn’t work very well for me (low peak distances). Instead, I am now trying Garmin’s “daily suggestions”. These have been great so far, and it should be able to incorporate a lot more information into its plans (given that I wear my watch constantly). I’ll see how it goes.