peteg's blog

Greg Egan: Teranesia

/noise/books | Link

Another from mrak's shelf. Again he goes in for the flaccid ending. I don't know enough biology or quantum mechanics to be too upset by the fast and loose narrative arc. Post modernism gets a big serve but the portrayal is too ludicrous to serve as a critique or satire.

AFL Grand Final: Swans lose to West Coast, 85 to 84.

/noise/sport | Link
Irritatingly the Swans came home very strongly in the second half, readily making up the circa-twenty-point deficit of the first, but not quite enough to win it.

artery: improv at the Old Darlington School.

/noise/music | Link

Jon told me about this rather obscure little gig in a seemingly obscure building on the Sydney Uni campus, organised under the NOW now aegis. The attraction was Chris Abrahams hammering sundry stringed, percussive instruments. As it turned out the first set from the "special guests" — Dale Gorfinkel and Robbie Avernaim, from Melbourne — pushed my buttons with their heavily augmented vibraphone. Their key innovation (for my money) was the re-introduction of rhythm via the little motors they applied to the vibraphone's bars to keep a steady but not monotone ambience.

After that I slipped into my usual semi-detached disinterest when Jon Rose (violin, strangely expressive saw), Clayton Thomas (double bass) and Chris Abrahams (harpsicord, organ, ??) launched into the usual improv schtick. The last set was an at-most-three-at-a-time ensemble job.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Another swim at Coogee, flat as a flounder. A bus had rammed into the side of a car at Alison / Carrington, cops attending.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Another swim at a Coogee. The waves were bigger but no stronger than usual, and the crowd thin. I reckon it was warmer in today than on Sunday.

Grand Challenges in Computer Science

/cs | Link

Tim told me about this talkfest. I've only watched half of Amir Pnueli's presentation so far, and it seems to be mostly a recapitulation of old, old stuff (cf Kai's presentation in his undergraduate concurrency class).

Anyway, the big problem is the downloadable videos don't include the slides, so it's pretty tedious trying to follow what's going on. I'm told the streaming versions don't suffer from this.

TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

/noise/talks | Link
There's a whole bunch of interesting VODcasts over at TED. Daniel Dennett's is a little disappointing as he only reacts to a creationist tract — he's capable of a lot better than that. Steven Levitt's is hilarious.

Sydney Uni emeritus physics prof endorses the Hilmer approach.

/noise/politics | Link

Today in the Smage, Emeritus Professor Harry Messel suggests cutting the uni management staff by 50%, hoping to reduce the buzz word bingo. Whilst I applaud the sentiment I can't but think that the unis are just reacting as well as they can to the Fed's bums-on-seats policies, which Barry Jones so rightly sheets home to Dawkinisation. (That's not to say that the Liberals have done much to help things in more recent times.) Perhaps we can conclude that the AVCC is now just a cheese, wine and Jaguar club after all the good it's done in the last ten years.

Any attempt to reshape education has to address the skills shortages, and that means getting serious about TAFE. A Federal education minister with a half-life of more than a year and an eye for public policy might also help.

There's a great article by the University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor Glynn Davis in a recent Griffith Review on these problems. I must have missed the ensuing "intense debate".

Update: Ross Gittins says something similar about the broader skills shortage.

Greg Egan: Luminous

/noise/books | Link

A bunch of sci-fi shorts lifted from mrak's shelf. Some are kinda cute, pushing my latent geek boy buttons. I liked Luminous itself, modulo the manifest inconsistency of allowing theorems to change their apparent truth assignments after they'd been examined. It is these small noise-making holes that keep me from reading too much more of this. The last stories, Our Lady of Chenobyl and The Planck Dive, were somewhat irritating as they concluded tepidly.

Urk, yet another round of Elvis Costello reissues.

/noise/music | Link

Supposedly Universal is releasing yet another round of reissues of Elvis Costello's early (read good, deserved reputation-building) records. The completists must be tearing their hair out.

I take the attitude that once one has punted $AU30 on the deluxe double CD Spike (etc.) reissue then future musical upgrades should be free.

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

/noise/quotes | Link

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
So I've been swimming at Coogee for the last four days straight. The water is still cool to cold, but with the land being thirty degrees and more with a blustery northerly it's actually harder to get out than stay in. Today's waves were the biggest yet, large but without power. No necks snapped in the time I was there.

Peter Carey: Bliss

/noise/books | Link

This came as a pleasant surprise after an abortive attempt at Oscar and Lucinda. I found his prose largely prosaic, but he does turn out a decent sentence every so often. The opening one:

Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him, and it is this first death which we shall now witness.

seems to leave one unresolved by book's end.

This review makes the obvious connection to Vonnegut and I echo some of his qualms.

For A Few Dollars More

/noise/movies | Link

The Maladies at the Hopetoun Hotel

/noise/music | Link

In my role as fanboy #2 I, with much help from Sean, swelled the crowd for what proved to be one of their tightest gigs yet. Jon was impressed by the cover song they did, which I now so thoughtlessly cannot recall the details of. Dan did record the gig at mrak's behest, so here's hoping something comes out of that.

Their next one is at the Hopetoun Hotel on November 4.

Dirty Three: Horse Stories and Dirty Three

/noise/music | Link

Finally turned up in the post today. No time to listen now, must ... well, yeah.

The ALP: Full of "Factional Daleks"

/noise/politics | Link
Senator Robert Ray seems to think that the modern post Hawke, post Keating ALP has no need of a DLP to keep them from power — they're perfectly capable of doing that to themselves, keeping everyone inside the tent pissing on each other. I wish I knew what Peter Garrett has been doing since he got into parliament. Perhaps he's been enjoying the surf at Maroubra.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

/noise/movies | Link
At the Greater Union at Westfield Bondi Junction. Quite enjoyable. The first half or so was a lot less fluidly edited than the latter half.

First swim of the season.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
I braved the supposedly 19 degree water (if I'm reading the BOM's sea surface temperature map correctly) and early Irish tourists at Coogee in the early afternoon, sans wetsuit. Quite pleasant, once I got the shoulders in.

Second snorkelling effort for the season.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link
Rob and I headed down to the south side of Little Bay. Finally all my gear seems to work OK. Not much to see.

Dresden Dolls at the Roundhouse.

/noise/music | Link

I promised mrak that I'd say a few words about this, and as always, the following was written well after the face-paint and bowler hats had been removed.

I'd quite intentionally never heard a Dresden Dolls track before going to this gig, trusting mrak's impeccable taste and plumping for a ticket blindly. (Originally it was supposed to be at the Gaelic Club, and I got in when they shifted it to the much larger Roundhouse.) Andy reckoned they were good, Jon just wrinkled his nose, and Dave mumbled something about it being emo but — when pressed — warned me off expecting a trashing of the Roundhouse ala Fear Factory back in '96.

It was all ages, so one had to drink plastic beer in plastic cups in the specially marked zones. Wow. The first thing I noticed when I found where the smokers lurk were some pearl earings, making me think she had something to live for. The rest of the crowd seemed standard apprentice-zombie and prototype-vampire inner city types, some obviously out after their bedtimes. (Some, as I later found out, were also out of their biochemical tolerances as well.) Curiously there were some older punters, older than me even, and I don't want to ponder that too much.

Some of the value-maximisers had already scored the tour tshirt, branded "Punk Cabaret is Freedom" on the back with the tour dates. Apparently there were two gigs in Melbourne versus the singular here. I don't for a minute doubt that Bleak City, being world class and all, pumps out more enthusiasts for this kind of schtick than we do, but still it hurts.

All this before the music began (I'd missed the support). I scoffed my Tooheys Extra Dry (urk), politely muscled some younguns out of the way on the upstairs balcony, in order to listen to... a man with an accordion, encouraging the underagers to spin about on the spot to simulate drunkenness with a somewhat obtuse Irish knock-off drinking dirge. Unfortunately it lasted quite a long time.

Anyway, the Dresden Dolls themselves, a bloke playing drums and a girl on the piano and singing. I'll get the unabashedly positive stuff out of the way first: I like the format, and the drummer is excellent. The tunes are mostly solid. The drummer's shirt lasted all of two songs, at which point the crowd went crazy, though I just couldn't get as excited as when that happened at The Thaw's gig a month ago. The girl's accent drifted, from Scots to upper-crust English before settling (somewhat) on a Boston sort-of-Irish lilt.

Now to quibble, as my training requires me to: cabaret? Well, maybe, I wouldn't know. Punk? Surely not, except in that 90s thrash faux American style. I found a lot of it to be just a good fusion of recent noise, progressive Brit-Pop melded with elements of neo-punk. It seemed to me that this juxtaposition of soft melodies and hard-edges is but an update on the Guns'n'Roses patina of my youth: to wit, Axel's combination of sandpaper vocals and a face that would earn him megabucks at the Cross.

In comparison to Pulp, one might take the Dresden Dolls' Coin Operated Boy (by god do they love their gratuitous profanity) against Live Bed Show or Underwear or something of that ilk, even his latest solo effort; in short, Jarvis Cocker has more to say and says it. Their piano rock-outs reminded me of Elvis Costello's (or perhaps more fairly Steve Nieve's efforts on) Strict Time. One of their songs sounded like a direct knock-off of the Pixies' I Bleed, specifically the fem vocals.

No, I wasn't trying to hate them. Late in the gig, after some ultra-repetitive thrash had sent me in search of a beer and led to the discovery that the upstairs bar had closed, they launched into a bloke-on-guitar, girl-on-vocals cover of Port of Amsterdam, last heard by me performed by David Bowie. Spooky, a hairs-raising-everywhere experience. (It's an old folk song, right? — "He'll drink to the health / Of the whores of Amsterdam / Who've given their bodies / To a thousand other men".)

Up to then I would've said they were post-irony; not over-serious but at least earnest and unhumorous, except in that way you can be with blindly adoring fans. (mrak's puppy dog eyes are classic on that front.) And yet... around this time the drummer peeled off a country riff, showing some awareness of the transgressive and inherently uncool. That would have been a good time to leave: for their house-lights-are-on-next encore they rolled out Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, which was surely older than most of the crowd. I was re-educated as to why people used to cringe about the 80s.

One last weirdness: the funny thing about a sound-triggered light show is that sound ends up travelling faster than light, which makes me wonder about the punters' mental processes.

For the desperate JJJ recorded the concert and took a lot of photos. I'm not in any of them.

Will Self: Cock & Bull

/noise/books | Link

I think the New York Times review is spot on; this is dross. Another from mrak-in-Qatar.

A Fistful of Dollars

/noise/movies | Link

Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House: Belkin Plays Tchaikovsky.

/noise/music | Link

Vijay was keen to see a concert at the Sydney Opera House, so he suggested this, a matinee. We got cheap seats (circa $35 each) in the Choir section. Thoughtfully they put "Rear View seating behind the Stage" on the tickets and emphasised that we would be facing the conductor, which was quite daunting. Still, I did get a first-hand lesson as to why they put the loud instruments up the back.

The program's main bit was Tchaikovsky, of course, Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, with the Russian violinist Belkin doing the classical equivalent of lead guitar. They opened with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro: Overture and closed with Beethoven's Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 Eroica, presumably to keep the punters (largely oldies and student-types) from rioting. All of it was new to me.

A new track from Jarvis Cocker.

/noise/music | Link

Fellow Pulp fan Jon told me that Jarvis Cocker has put out a new track, purportedly the first from a forthcoming solo album. Check out MySpace (urk), or ask The Hype Machine; it follows every fad, no matter how naff.

Ah, it's good to see him articulate the Hobson's choice of intolerance: "If you don't like it then leave". For Australian expats that also means shaddup.

Dirty Three: Cinder and Ellis's 3 pieces for violin

/noise/music | Link

I led Vijay on a merry chase through Sydney CBD expecting (at least) Red Eye to have Horse Stories. No joy. I settled for these other two instead, and bought Horse Stories and their self-titled effort from their website. Wow, not only usable but cheap.

On a first listen I think I've hit the point of diminishing returns, to which I attach the caveat that almost all of their other material has similarly failed to excite on a first listen.

/noise/quotes | Link

Gilles Kahn, French Computer Scientist of some renown, ends his seminal paper The Semantics of a Simple Language for Parallel Programming (Information Processing 74, Proceedings of IFIP Congress 74) with the following:

Our last conclusion is to recall a principle that has been so often fruitful in Computer Science and that is central to Scott's theory of computation: a good concept is one that is closed

  1. under arbitrary composition
  2. under recursion.

Darlinghurst Theatre: Terrorism

/noise/theatre | Link

The Darlinghurst Theatre has $18 previews, invariably on the Wednesday before the show opens. That's why I was there tonight.

The play was billed as "The Presnyakov Brothers' black comedy", and this production certainly is black if not so very humorous, apart from some cringe-bringers worthy of the The Office. The (relatively) large cast were uniformly great, and ambient sounds were well-used to create spaces (the automatic door of the airport in particular) on an otherwise static set.

Structurally the ambit was to recount a series of loosely connected stories that show the permeation of terrorism through people's lives, from the impersonal, the public to the intimate, and exhibit the range of responses, of fatalism, neuroticism, revelry and marginalisation. The characters remain nameless throughout. Effective? Perhaps. Worth a look? Yep.

Google knows about plenty of reviews of other productions; here's one from the Smage.

Joseph Heller: Good As Gold

/noise/books | Link

Heller reputedly said:

"When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, 'Who has?'"

I can't find an attribution for that so I thought I'd verify it by reading this one, stolen from mrak's bookshelf. It is, unfortunately, about as good as one would expect from the quote rather than would hope from Catch-22. There are some cute ideas and turns-of-phrase but these are the window-dressing of a shop where everything has been purloined.

Actually, some of the best comedy comes from the reviews on the back:

  • "I have little hesitation in hailing it as a masterpiece" — Auberon Waugh.
  • "Such is the dreadful power of Good as Gold that it requires us to revise our own imaginations." — New York Times.

and I did also like this, from p133, as Gold gets it on with his society girl:

Again, he was at a loss as to how to proceed with a girl like her. He moved his lips about her ears and neck as though in thirsting search of an erogenous zone. A waste of time, he knew from experience. Erogenous zones were either everywhere or nowhere, and he meant to write about that too, when neither Belle nor his daughter would be scandalized by his knowledge. With a guilty start he realized his mind had been wandering...

Rugby: Wallabies v Springboks in Johannesburg

/noise/sport | Link
Being the final Tri Nations fixture of the year, the hype outstripped all other aspects of this game. The Springboks did the All Blacks last weekend so I held little hope for the Wallabies. As it was they did their best to lose, once again failing to support each other and to capitalise on some fairly good set-up play. The ref was both blind and imaginative, so I expect there'll be some backroom brawling over him in the weeks to come. 24 to 16, not really worth staying up for.

Kenny

/noise/movies | Link

The Lady From Shanghai

/noise/movies | Link

First snorkelling effort for the season.

/noise/beach/2006-2007 | Link

With Rob I finally managed to buy a wetsuit at the Surf Dive 'n' Ski at Bondi Junction: an O'Neil spring suit (short arms and legs) that seemed to fit well. It cost $229.95.

After a lot of flaffing about — mostly in suffering delusions about buying such a thing at Bondi Beach — I lasted all of five minutes in Gordon's Bay before one of the lenses in my goggles fell out. I expect that some fish with a -3.5 eye can now see properly. Not happy! The wetsuit and gloves (purchased in Melbourne last weekend) worked fine, though.

New Theatre: Family Stories

/noise/theatre | Link

The first Sunday of these New Theatre productions has free entry for students and the unwaged, that's why I went. The spiel for this show was:

A war is over. Or maybe not?

There are demonstrations on the streets, politicians are publishing self-help books, and children are left unsupervised in concrete playgrounds. From this chaos, parroting the ways of adults as observed by the uncritical and receptive hearts of children, springs a game called Family Stories.

Four adult actors play children who in turn play mums, dads, sons and daughters in a cyclical family saga spanning a decade of civil war. Every scene is a metaphor for the fear that results from living in a society without free media or civil liberties under a government at war with itself.

Family Stories is a game of 'playing house' that becomes a thrilling, hilarious, devastating allegory of a post-war society.

I found the "metaphor" somewhat threadbare; it was as if we were voyeurs in a stereotyped and somewhat violent Serbian household where the entreaty to stop thinking and articulating (to ease survival in a police state) was both predictable and non-unique to the troubled time of the former Yugoslavia. The gibbering dog / broken girl was a curiosity that went under-used and unresolved, perhaps providing a link with New Theatre's previous show, The Man Who.

Tooheys New Cup Final: Randwick v Sydney University.

/noise/sport | Link

The big game at Aussie Stadium (née the Sydney Football Stadium). Unfortunately Randwick played like a mix of the Wallabies teams of the past five years — some flashes of brilliance and occasional complete incompetency at basic things, like passing the ball. It is almost as if they thought the competition ended when they comfortably took out the minor premiership. Not to take anything away from Sydney University, it was a game where one team clearly lost.

The final score line was 16 to 10, with Randwick putting in a heroic after-the-siren Wallabies-from-2001 drive to score a winning try. The push came to an end with a colossal knock-on, which aptly summarised the afternoon.

Julian Barnes: The Lemon Table

/noise/books | Link

Well yes, I did read it through to the end. Here he refracts old age through his eternal preoccupations — sex and francophilia — in a series of short pieces. The splashing on the book's cover of an edited favourable sentence from an Esquire ("Man at His Best"?) review says enough.