Author Archives: Louis-Dominique

France Gall

Working? Music. Resting? Music. Driving? Music. Traveling? Music. In Taiwan, pining for my wife who is a world away? Music. I like to have music on. When music is so well crafted that it resonates with me, it brings tears to my eyes. And if the lyrics on top of the music are evoking tearful emotions, I’m even more likely to tear up. And if the emotions evoked by the music are those that I’m already feeling, watch out.

The musicians, the singers, the lyricists I like: they are for me the stars in a musical firmament. The north star in my firmament went out last week.

France Gall died.

In my firmament no genres are excluded. Oh, I have preferences, which change with time. For instance, I no longer seek heavy metal music like I once did. I still appreciate how well crafted a heavy metal song can be. It’s just that I don’t usually feel like listening to that genre, anymore. So yeah, I have preferences, but if I let my player shuffle music for me out of the ones I thumbed up, hello genre-whiplash! Some electroswing, some country, a Sanskrit poem, a novelty song, a classical piece, some bosa nova, some plain old swing, rock and roll, … Billie Holiday followed by Deadmau5? Why the hell not?

I’m not faithful to any artist. Musical appeal for me comes from the individual songs rather than from the artists themselves. In the vast majority of cases, I love only a few of an artist’s songs, and I am indifferent towards the rest, or downright detest it. It is rare that I’m going to just like everything an artist does. Like genres, though, some artists resonate with me more than others. There are those few artists whose work I usually like. Instead of selecting from their opus the few things I like, I eliminate those few songs of theirs that I don’t like.

France Gall and Michel Berger are in that latter group. In the case of France, there’s a demarcation line between what she sang before and after she met Michel. I hate most of what she sang before Michel started writing for her, and love most of what she sang after he started writing for her. What a gift it was that France and Michel found each other! What music came out of their union! What love!

That mention of Taiwan at the top? Yeah, that was not random. France and Michel were with me for my stint in Taiwan. Before Taiwan, I knew France but not Michel. I became aware of her from listening to “Ella, elle l’a” and “Papillon de nuit”. I loved those songs when they were released and playing regularly on the radio and TV but I did not seek more from France at the time. I don’t know why I did not seek her albums, really. I cannot find any good reason. I also knew “Sacré Charlemagne” from my childhood but I could not have told you that France was the one singing that. In the early 2000s, I came across other songs of hers, and my interest grew. It is in Taiwan though that France and Michel moved to the center of my musical firmament. It is there that I figured out that her songs were written by Michel, and sought his music in addition to hers.

If you like music, you certainly know the difference between hearing a song and listening to it. (Heck, if you’ve lived for a while, you know the difference between hearing and listening, in general. Hearing your significant other versus listening to them? Major difference, which you ignore at your own peril.) There’s one song that really highlighted the difference for me: “Rhythm for You” by Eddy Christiani. I heard it quite a lot, at first. Then, one day, I put everything down and I finally just… listened… to… the… GODDAM… SONG! Magic! I looked at that gem for years without seeing that it was a gem. What a moron I was! (Incidentally, Eddy died last November. Another star gone.) I guess it is like when one day you really look at someone you’ve known for years and finally you really SEE that person, and fall in love. So yeah, there are songs I hear and hear and hear, and I like them, but one day I finally BLOODY LISTEN, and I fall in love. It is in Taiwan that I fell in love with France’s and Michel’s songs. I missed my wife, and I listened to their songs, especially the love songs. France, Michel and I were all pining, together, for my wife. France, Michel and I also celebrated the birth of my first granddaughter, Olivia. Michel had written a beautiful song, “Mandoline”, which was perfect for the occasion. Okay. France and Michel were not physically there, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. So there…

I talked about France as the north star earlier but really, if you haven’t guessed already, she’s one of a binary system: France and Michel rotating around one another. Michel died in 1992, before I even knew of him. The binary system at the center of my firmament had been a single point of light from the start. Now France is gone, and the brightest start my musical firmament has gone dark. The binary system is no longer visible.

There are other stars in the firmament, yes. And I can still enjoy the incredible gifts that France and Michel gave all of us. In one interview I listened to, France was talking about the premature deaths of Michel and of their daughter Pauline. She said she was so lucky and grateful to have had them in her life at all. Taking a page from France’s book, I’m grateful that her songs and Michel’s were in my life at all.

Why I Plan to Ditch Ubuntu

Throughout the years I’ve used Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, Debian again, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Ubuntu again. Except for that brief stint with Linux Mint, Ubuntu has been my distribution of choice since Feisty Fawn but lately I’ve been thinking about ditching it. Canonical has made a number of terrible decisions that have damaged Ubuntu’s value. In this post, I’m going to go over the issues I have with Ubuntu. Continue reading

WTF ECMA?

Ok, so apparently the following is valid JavaScript:

var undefined = "blah";

Yes, you’ve read that right. What I’m doing there is redefining the undefined symbol to “blah”.

I learned from Angus Croll that this is something ECMA added to ECMA 3. Presumably, in earlier versions you could not do something as pants-on-head stupid as this but someone someone thought that adding this capability would be an improvement. How did that work exactly? “Hey! JavaScript is not sucky enough. Let’s allow undefined to be redefined to arbitrary values.”

Here’s how an intelligently designed language handles this kind of nonsense:

$ python
Python 2.7.4 (default, Jul  5 2013, 08:21:57) 
[GCC 4.7.3] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> None = "blah"
  File "", line 1
SyntaxError: cannot assign to None
>>>

Angus points out that ECMA 5 disallows assignments to undefined so I guess one of the ECMA luminaries had an epiphany.

Boss Battles

Yahtzee in this Extra Punctuation column argued that boss battles ought to fit in with the rest of the game. That is, a boss battle should not require the gamer to rely on a specific set of skills which have hitherto been considered optional in the game. A good example is that if a game gives you the option of creating a super stealthy character rather than a brute force fighter, the boss battle should not be winnable only by brute force. I agree. In the comments on his column the following opinion was expressed:

Well, some skills are better than others and if you did not select the skills which would allow you to win the boss battle, then it just sucks to be you. It is like real life. If you are trained in nuclear physics, you are unlikely to survive a fight with a ninja.

This is a paraphrase capturing the gist of the original statement. I do not cite because it would open issues I don’t want to deal with. I’m going to explain why this opinion is terrible.

Continue reading

The Finale of Lost? Meh…

Lost started with a bang but ended with a whimper. After last night’s finale, I have to say that Lost is going to become my go-to example for illustrating how easier it is to sprinkle a story with mystery without having any idea of how the mystery is going to be resolved than it is to write a solid story in which mystery serves the purpose of a well-crafted plot. I am reminded of J. Michael Straczynski (creator of the sci-fi show Babylon 5, among other things) saying that people often came to him with “ideas” but that what matters to an author is not an idea but a story. It seems to me that Lost was a show in which too much emphasis was put on ideas and too little on story. Read on for more thoughts…

Continue reading

The Definition of “Activist Judge”

So Justice Stevens is about to retire. Already there are calls for the President to make sure that the judge nominated to replace him is not an “activist judge”. I imagine a discussion about the meaning of “activist judge” going like this:

Alice: “The president must not nominate an activist judge!”

Bob: “What do you mean by activist judge?”

Alice: “Well, an activist judge is one who is imposing his values on me by means of judicial decisions.”

Bob: “What if the judge shares your values? Is he then imposing his values on you?”

Alice: “No, because our values coincide.”

Bob: “So only a judge who does not share your values could be an activist judge. In effect, your real position is that the President must not nominate a judge who does not share your values.

All the blah blah about activist judges amounts to “let the President nominate a judge who shares my values.” Using the word “activist” instead of spelling out the real intent (“shares my values”) is just a way to disguise a selfish desire under a cover of pseudo-fairness.

(Oh, and don’t assume that in this discussion one side is inherently Democrat and the other Republican. No matter which roles the parties are playing in the current context, the roles are quite reversible and have in fact been reversed again and again.)

The Drive-by Yoda

There is a certain type of person often encountered in public forums on the Internet but also in “real life.” I call this kind of person, the “drive-by Yoda”.

He is a “Yoda” because like Yoda, he likes to speak words of wisdom. However, his method is to spout wisdom while driving by his target. In a drive-by shooting, a criminal tries to kill a target by shooting bullets out of a moving car. In a similar way, the drive-by Yoda tries to make a point (i.e. hit a target) by spouting wisdom while “driving by” a discussion. I’m talking here about discussions in which all the parameters of a problem have been explained. The drive-by Yoda, because he is driving by at a fast pace, is unable to seize the whole picture. It may be that he is lazy, that he can’t be bothered to really think about the problem, or that he thinks the problem is not worthy of his attention. At any rate, he whizzes by but rather than apply a healthy dose of self-awareness to realize that maybe he does not have the full picture and therefore should remain quiet, he still offers pearls of wisdom. Yet because the drive-by Yoda has not seized the problem, his contribution is faulty. He fills the gaps in his understanding of the problem with wild guesses and offers an answer which is patently inadequate to anybody who paid attention to the parameters of the problem.

It is a bit like in the American Idol auditions at the start of a season. Very many contestants who could not sing a tune to save their lives consider themselves to be great singers. The drive-by Yoda thinks his contribution is worthy of a prize when in fact it ignores the problem being discussed.

My Squirrel Phase

Young naive folks are likely to do things which in retrospect are pretty stupid. I was a child once and I was naive too. So I did stupid things. It gets even stupider when said child is trying to say things in a language he does not master. There was an ethnic insult against Anglophones which was current in Québec when I was a kid: “square head.” (The Urban Dictionary states that the insult is always expressed in French but this is false.) I heard the insult without the benefit of knowing English or getting a full explanation as to what it meant. An untrained ear is treacherous. Soon I started calling the Anglos “squirrels.” You can imagine the surprise when someone addressing me in English would get the evil eye accompanied with the exclamation “DAMNED SQUIRREL!!!”