Saturday, 31 January 2015

Various Unrelated Thoughts

I wish I didn't have to program, though I know it's entirely my choice. How paradoxical does that sound? It's my choice to do something I wouldn't choose to do. My life has always been like this. No matter what I've accomplished, it's always my computer skills that people want or demand that I use. I wish I could just spend my days writing but there's no money to be had in writing. Not here. Not outside London. Possibly not inside London unless your mother was a columnist and is happy to land you a gig on the nationals. I can't cartoon well enough to earn money that way. So, I'm stuck trying to brush up on the only thing I've ever been slightly good at and for which there might just be a demand, even though deep down I don't actually enjoy doing it.

Or perhaps isn't the right phrase. I do enjoy it but I enjoy it too much. My interest in programming is something I shouldn't feed. It makes me too distance, uncommunicative. It feeds the very part of me I'm sure is completely Asperger's. Sometimes, it's like giving a junkie a needle. Computers are my needle.

Today I spent pulling my hair out in frustration. I'd wanted to write and draw but I forced myself to learn to program in 'Windows Presentation Framework'. To the non-geek, programming is usually done in one of a few languages. The most popular is probably Java but the use of C# (pronounced C sharp) is rising and that's what I use. However, the language is only half of the business of being a programmer. The language you use to code is actually communicating with something bigger and more powerful. I suppose it's a bit like knowing French and being able to order an army around the field. The 'army' I've recently been 'commanding' was called Windows Forms and it was an easy thing to do. I'd say 'Create a window' and it would create a window. I'd say 'When somebody clicks on this button, count the number of beans in this pile' and that's what it would do. It was easy. In its way, it was fun.

I'm still 'speaking' in C# but I'm no longer using Windows Forms which is considered old fashioned. Microsoft want people to use this WCF system and, frankly, it's a royal pain in the arse. Somebody said it doesn't so much have a 'learning curve' as a 'learning cliff'. It's monstrously complicated to do even the simplest things. I finally have a basic program working but took me all day to do something that in Windows Forms (the old technology) would have taken me an hour.

Wish I could just write for a living but doesn't everybody? Everybody believes they can sling verbs and nouns together and produce readable prose. The truth is that so much of the prose I read is written by people with a cloth ear to the nuances, flows, and beauty of the English language. Thank god fewer people can code but, then, even that's not as rare a thing as it once was. I figure there's some guy in India who does everything I do but at a lower price. I'm plagued by that guy in India. The bargain bucket me.


I was bought a gift today. I'd been wanting to play Assassin's Creed Unity for a while but I'd dismissed it because I'd read so many bad reviews. No game has received such bad press and has been perceived so poorly. However, it was on sale and I'm lucky enough to have somebody who cares enough about me that she keeps my spirits raised with the occasional game.

Tonight I spent three hours playing the unpatched version and about half an hour on the patched version. I have to say: either patched or unpatched, Assassin's Creed Unity is a stunningly good game. Of course, there are the occasional glitches but, based on my experience of the game, they are so mild as to be completely forgivable. It's not even a matter of praising the glass half full rather than the glass half empty. The game is brimming with moments where I'm sitting there just spellbound. Perhaps it's because I've always loved that period of the late eighteenth century. Revolutionary France fascinates me because it was an expression of those forces I'll be been waffling on about in subsequent paragraphs. I also love Paris, Gothic architecture, the novels of Dumas and anything that involves a sword fight. For me it's the best game I've played in a long time and it just feels like it's opening up into something very special. I have no idea where the criticism has come from. Perhaps people were playing a different game. Makes no sense to me. Ubisoft have just become my favourite developers again.


As I settle down for the evening and try to figure out what the hell I'll draw tonight, I notice that ISIS have killed another hostage. Another journalist killed for doing what journalists do. This is an obvious thing to say but I'll say it anyway: ISIS is very different to anything we've seen before. There might have been equally bad pockets of nihilistic ideologies in recent history. My mind goes back to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. In Africa, we've seen genocide in places like Rwanda. Yet for over half a century, it's the Nazis who have been our measure of the worst forms of human barbarism. That said: the current situation around Syria and Iraq feels so very different. There was always something deeply rational about the Nazi blood cult. It's why it's so often associated with Nietzsche who wrote about the irrationality of compassion. They mechanised killing in a way which, had it been any other discipline, they might have been considered Modernists. ISIS are not Nazis. There is no reason to ISIS. There's a feral cruelty about everything they do, as though some collective adrenal gland has gone bad. In that sense, I tend to think that Boris Johnson was right in what he said today. This isn't just a bad ethos or bad 'thinking'. It's pathology. It's self-abuse. It has the stink of postmodern. It's death for death's sake.

I'm beyond thinking I'll ever understand the Middle East. This last week there's been so much criticism about our government lowering our flag to honour the dead Saudi king. We're rightly appalled at Saudi regime and the brutal punishments they inflict when people try to express their right to free expression. Yet the reality is that none of us would want the lid to come off that tinderbox of tribal rivalries. Was it naive of anybody to believe that by taking down Saddam that democracy would flourish in the region? Freedom in anything is frightening but it takes the truly enlightened to enjoy it. With the freedom to do anything comes the potential of chaos. It's the great paradox, I suppose, that to enjoy freedom you also have to accept a self-imposed restraint. Again (I always make this point), it is the thing Conrad expressed so profoundly in 'Heart of Darkness'. Civilization is founded upon a lie but that lie is crucial is we're to keep our civilization. What ISIS prove is that some societies are not mature enough to deal with freedom. In the place of one brutal dictator, they would put a thousand brutal despots, each interpreting a desert fable as though it were an eternal truth. I don't hold the UK or America apart from that truth. I'm generally a Republican but there's a small part of me that realises that a Monarchy might at least impose a sense of order upon the country. For everything the monarch represents, there's the truth that there's all the things they don't represent which would come to the fore in a Republic. There's also the fact that when you destabilise any system, you should be prepared for the long process of it finding a new balance. Revolutions are not things you'd really wish upon any people.

I always think of it in terms of my gut. I sometimes have a tricky gut. Since I was a child, I've always had problems with some foods. It makes me cautious about what I eat. Friends and family mock me because I always eat the same things but I view my stomach as a system. Disturb its equilibrium and it's a sod to get it balanced again. So much of the world works the same way and the sad reality is that equilibrium is often maintained through hellish forces. ISIS might itself be a hellish force which will produce a new equilibrium. I'm not sure. I just don't know what hellish force can come along and silence them. I'm not even sure we want to know what hellish force could silence them.

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