peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay, the last for the year. The day was overcast with drizzle, but not the forecast showers. The water was calm and very warm, supposedly 21 degrees, and quite clear given the messy weather of the past few days.

We swam across the mouth of the bay, from the northern snorkel ramp to the rocky outcrop on the southern tip. I had hoped to get to the bombora but wimped out. I spotted a stingray near the scuba chain-path, but there was no chance of a photo through that much water. Instead, I got a few good ones of a mildly suspicious groper. Loads of fish, including some of the biggest stripey zebra fish I've seen.

To Die For

/noise/movies | Link

Many years ago, someone told me that this was Nicole Kidman's finest performance: because her character is so close to what her legions of detractors imagine her very own personality to be, it almost seeems like she isn't acting. Well, perhaps. Skilfully made, though the story is quite vacuous.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Drove back to Sydney from Orange via Penrith, which now looks somewhat like the Parramatta of my childhood. The Nepean has tempted me many times, but the locals seem to prefer to paddle rather than swim in it, so I didn't get in. Anyway, I got back in time for an early evening at an almost entirely deserted Gordons Bay, which was absolutely perfect: clear, calm, warm water, and just a few clouds.

Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children

/noise/books | Link

I can't remember when I last read this, though I have been recommending that anyone and everyone do so for many years now. The first two books flow beautifully, and then I had the same trouble as last time: Parvati feels like a half-sketched pawn, little more than a mechanism for Saleem to acquire a son of the requisite biological connection. The war in Bangladesh is a bit too abstract. It all gets a bit too impersonal, unmagical, sad.

I wonder now if Rushdie was trying to set things up for a sequel, on the children of midnight's children. It seems that a Deepa Mehta film is in the works.

Double Indemnity

/noise/movies | Link

I got this noir on the strength of the high IMDB ranking, and it is indeed not bad. The sassy rapid-fire dialogue from the actuary, amongst many other devices, make this fairly straightfoward tale of insurance fraud into more than just that. I have never seen the lead actors before and remain unconvinced.

The Asphalt Jungle

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of it being highly rated on IMDB and Sterling Hayden. It is also a vehicle for a young Marilyn Monroe. A heist movie, not as dexterous as The Killing but similar in many ways.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Very few people about, far fewer than I would have expected this week. The water was perfect, clear and temperate.

Team America

/noise/movies | Link

It is so strange, the passing of the Bush era.

Snorkelling at Cape Banks

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I headed down to Cape Banks with Rob in the mid-afternoon for a snorkel around the rocks. The western side is quite calm as it is sheltered by what some call Pussycat Island. We will have to go back and explore around the wreck of the SS Minmi.

Rob managed to get this photo of what I imagine is a common Sydney octopus, octopus tetricus. The best I could do is get this conference of fish near a rock ledge. The trick seems to be to either get up close and use the flash, or shoot horizontally.

We saw loads of fish, all quite relaxed on what was a strange summer day: cool, overcast, threatening rain. Hard to believe it was 42 degrees in Penrith just a few days ago.

T. E. Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom a triumph

/noise/books | Link

The classic sandals-and-machine guns saga by Lawrence of Arabia. Like the movie (but more so), it is an incredibly long and repetitious account of Lawrence's efforts during World War I to forment and support the Arab Revolt. Amongst these 700 pages one might hope that he would provide more context more regularly; often people are mentioned once or twice only, using just a surname or nickname, and the composition of caravans is left implicit. This makes it difficult to keep track of who is where when, what the military objectives were, and who is feuding with whom over what.

The language is pretentiously florid, as if the author is trying to write a Bible of Arab insurgency. Lawrence introspects regularly, albeit with a knowingness that does not work well with a non-specialist such as I, and the progress of his thinking is obscured. Reglarly my eyes glazed over and vast tracks made little impression. George Orwell continued in this tradition of siding with anti-establishment sentiment and writing about it, but realised early-on that flowery language gets in the way of clear apprehension.

Still, it is a fabulous tale. The land is vast, the camel rides heroic. The best parts analyse Arab culture on the road: feasts, sexuality, what is fair game to raid, what is valued, and so forth. Lawrence's motivations, where I could divine them, seem romantic: he would have been just as happy helping in the liberation of the Indians, it seems, if he had been digging up their antiquities instead.

Also interesting are the power relationships amonst the English and Arab hierarchies. Lawrence venerates General Allenby and Emir Feisal as the great men of the day, respects Auda for his ability in battle, and the technical knowledge of his sappers and troops. The Turks are regularly rubbished though, in contrast to the Germans who are deemed an enemy that one can be proud to have.

The international relations of the day seemed a lot more gentlemanly, centering on personalities and lobbying by venerated (upper-class) parties, and there was a lot more emphasis on direct control of the dominion, rather than the indirect approach of Pax Americana. I put that down to the technological limits of the times.

I guess I am more interested in the post-WWI history of the Middle East; after the efforts of King Hussein of Mecca and sons in the region stretching from Hejaz to Syria, how did Saudi Arabia come to occupy the two holy cities? — Lawrence's maps show just a relatively small kingdom around Riyad, which may also have been called something like Wahibistan. Wikipedia has some answers. From a local perspective the British efforts may well have looked like the last crusade.

Somewhat sadly, Feisal did not last too long in Syria, ruling from Damascus; the French ejected him in 1920. It seems that Jordan is the last remnant of the Hashemite regimes, and from this distance it appears to be one of the more tolerant, stable and successful countries in the region.

I'll have to watch the movie again.

Samson and Delilah

/noise/movies | Link

Well, I must say I am glad I did not rush out to the cinema to see this one, and can't fathom the five-star reviews from the At the Movies pair, even allowing for their boosterism. I grant that it is beautifully shot, the actors luminous, and the material worthy, and yet... I needed more dialogue, I needed an exploration of Delilah's need for servitude. As it was, I would have expected the commentariat to have made more of the essential vein of misogyny she is cast into. Both, or indeed all, characters never had a chance of doing anything much at all.

The structure is a fairly standard nothing-ever-happens-so-we-iterate-it opening sequence, and the denouement is the only redemptive moment. Perhaps I've been watching too many tell-don't-show movies to really appreciate this one.

The drug thematics are strongly reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream: the thrones are already broken and the hair is being cut. Trainspotting this is not.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, trusting the prognosis of Beach Watch that the bacteria would not slaughter me. Quite choppy, with a mild on-shore wind.

Robocop

/noise/movies | Link

First time I have seen this schlock. I thought Verhoeven had been unfairly savaged by the taste police on the strength of having only seen Total Recall and his recent up-market effort Zwartboek (Black Book), but now I would have the pitchforks out for him too, if this were 1987.

On the up, the shameless efforts of some B and C grade actors were good to see. Some soon picked up their game for David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The special effects have the same special cheese as McDonald's. There are a couple of blunderbuss side-jokes: the creator of the ED-209 death machine is a Dr McNamara, though Arnie would not recognise his hummer in the SUX 6000.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening swim at Gordons Bay, before the storm forecast by the BOM rolled in. The water was surprisingly cool.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Midday lunch and paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people there, reminding me why I go later in the day. Some people were learning to scuba dive off the ramp on the northern side.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Calmer than yesterday.

Conroy: Too Dumb To Fail

/noise/politics | Link

Well, the fantastic filtering from earlier in the year have ground through the wheels of governance, making mandatory blacklist-based censorship seemingly inescapably imminent.

Argh, they've even ceased the earlier, much more sensible, policy of providing client-side filters to anyone who wants one. How many people are going to vote on telecommunications issues now?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lonesome early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Absolutely no-one in the water apart from some sea gulls, as the day was grey and threatening rain.

My Left Foot

/noise/movies | Link

The story of Christy Brown, amazingly rendered by Jim Sheridan. Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker really earned their oscars for their efforts here. It would have been so easy to slide into sentimentality and mush, but it never does.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I'd left it so late I thought I'd be dodging the raindrops forecast by the BOM. The waves were large for the bay, making me wonder how Coogee fared today.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Feeling an animal need to get the hell out of Randwick for the day, I scooted down to Cronulla with the aim of snorkelling somewhere along the reefs south of the main beach, or perhaps even making it out to Shark Island. Cronulla itself has not changed since my last visit, sometime around about when the riots took place, and like the last time, the whole area was so flat I couldn't think of it as place to surf.

I found plenty of fish along the reefs just off Shelley Park. The park itself was infested by a bazillion school kids waiting for the term to terminate by honing their cricket, soccer and touch footie skills. I didn't make it out to the island as I couldn't see it once I was in the water, and was plenty satisfied with the coastline.

Foxy Brown

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, blaxploitation, Pam Grier in her heyday. Entirely as one would expect.

The End of Violence

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of Bill Pullman and some vague memories of its release more than a decade ago. Directed by Wim Wenders, it is strangely dissociated, really just a soundtrack looking for a movie. The dialogue is all school-boy suggestion and no connection. MacDowell is precisely her beauty, nothing more.

The Remains of the Day

/noise/movies | Link

I had to see this after identifying Emma Thompson as the lustrous lawyer of In the Name of the Father. The inoffensively poetic title had me rapt too.

Thompson is fine, albeit labouring with a quite limited character. Similarly Hopkins has the tricky task of portraying an almost entirely characterless man. Some time in the first half I realised that the art of this movie is in starting with promise and sliding into emptiness, a sort of anti-character development.

The thematic seam is rich, with everyone and everything on the wrong side of history. The moral superiority of the upper classes is severely questioned, as are the ideas of an ethically servile underclass and gentlemanly international relations post World War I. The Nazi-sympathiser stuff is clunky, and I could imagine the book doing a much better job there.

Overall I found it dreary, more a piece of well-executed art than anything especially inventive. Sometimes the sentimentality became too much. Also I got lost in the temporal gap: what happened to the couple in the seaside town after they moved away from the house? — a daughter, sure, but what did they do for money? What became of their boarding house aspiration?

Perhaps sadly, while I can see that Ishiguro almost certainly did a better job with this material than this movie did, I have no great interest in revisiting it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

First foray into the surf for the season. Standard Coogee dumpers. Not many people there for a temperate day. Perhaps the high cloud put them off.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon paddle on the northern side of Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp. I forgot to take the snorkelling gear, much to my chagrin as the water was unbelievably clear.

Mary and Max

/noise/movies | Link

I finally got around to seeing this stop-mation which got massive media coverage earlier in the year. Like the preceding Harvie Krumpet, the characters are few, oddball and inhabit a not entirely satisfying narrative. The craftsmanship is painstaking, and I really wanted to like more of it than the fine incidental observation-humour.

Casino

/noise/movies | Link

I though I'd seen this before. It must be one of Scorcese's finest directorial efforts, keeping the plot ticking over while seemlessly splicing in all sorts of things. The characters develop and the audience remains engaged. My only beef is that it is impossible to empathise with any of the characters here. I'd go so far as to say that this is de Niro's biggest failing as an actor, his incapacity to make us genuinely give a shit about his scumsuckers.

Was this a retread of Goodfellas? Heh, seems I haven't seen that for a long time either.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Loads of people. There was a photoshoot, a mermaid on the beach, hopefully not sitting on the blue bottles I found there last time. Saw quite a few fish, even though the surf was larger than usual. Perfect day for it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Perfect all round.

Witches of Eastwick

/noise/movies | Link

What we have here is Nicholson trying to channel his character from The Shining and failing. Updike's story aims to shock middling-upper-class NYC society ladies, and tends to the banal; is there anyone left who can take this cartoonish misogyny, religious and sexual deviancy, for anything more than a feeble provocation? The narrative is stock: devil gets girls, devil loses girls, girls apply a supernatural restraining order on devil.

This positively discourages me from reading any Updike at all ever.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle at Long Bay on this, the first fine day since I got back to Sydney. The beach watch told me the water would be clean, as it indeed was.

It was also my first attempt to use the Olympus μTough 6010 I bought on Monday from Ryda out near mrak's place. Yes, I got the boring dark-grey one. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find that it takes more skill than I presently have, between the general unsteadiness while snorkelling and the apparently low-light conditions under the water.

It must have been breeding season recently, with loads of little fish hanging around, unsure of what to do.

A Serious Man

/noise/movies | Link

Splurged my freebie Palace Cinemas ticket (the one I got for joining their movie club) on this, the latest Cohen brothers anti-adventure, at a late-afternoon screening at the Academy Twin. The theatre was almost empty, making me wonder why they bother with these daytime sessions. More thematic than character-driven, with a weak narrative arc that allows everyone to wallow in the mud and not really amount to much at all. Some of the situations are sharply satirical, though I have to wonder if it has any lasting merit.

Peter Cameron: Finishing School for Blokes.

/noise/books | Link

The recent media racket over the boys of St Paul's reminded me that I meant to read Peter Cameron's tale of debauchery and intrigue at St Andrew's in the 1990s. It turns out that he left at the end of 1995, coincident with the arrival of my mates from our country boarding school.

The book is probably most interesting when it is salacious, though there are a lot more details about the drinking than the shagging. I'd totally forgotten about the phantom arsehole, a symbol that was once ubiquitous around Sydney Uni. The politics between the Principal and the Council is tedious beyond belief, and the text slides into self-justification and repetition, and becomes occasionally unsound: Cameron makes it clear that he kept the students at arm's length as much as possible, but also claims that he knew them well enough to capture their essences in a few brief unflattering stereotypes, and that there was a lot of mutual respect floating about.

Overall it is as well-written as one would expect from a heretical lawyer-minister. Cameron himself comes across as initially clueless about Australia, almost inexcusably so after all of Donald Horne's fine work. I wonder if they ever did get another Principal of any calibre.

Funnily enough the wheels fell off the 'drews Rawson Cup monopoly circa 1998, well before the women totally routed the traditionalists in 2002. mrak tells me that was the death knell of the Andrewsmen.

Yi ngoi (Accident)

/noise/movies | Link

A Hong Kong thriller I picked up on the strength of the consensus of the At The Movies pair that this was a truly awesome piece of cinema. I liked the premise, of staging purchased fatalities as accidents, but lost interest as the paranoia rose. I was hanging at the end, waiting for the twist — surely the eradication of the gang was a staged accident, an out-sophistication of the Brain? — but found no fat lady laughing.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-morning paddle at Gordons Bay, just as the day was heating up, off the southern rocks. For the first time this season I got in with just my trunks on. Once again the water was very clear, a tad on the cool side and very pleasant.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon snorkel from the scuba ramp, north Gordons Bay. Perfect day for it, and the water was pleasant enough to go in wearing just a wife beater (to keep the sun off), and generally quite clear, apart from a lot of macro stuff suspended in it. Saw a groper, loads of smaller fish and a strange crab-like thing. Dang I wish I had a camera. Some blokes were out on their boards, hopeful that the spray from the bombora would amount to something.

VMware Fusion 3 is a goer.

/hacking/mac | Link

I've been very happy with VMware's Fusion product since their public beta a few years ago, using it mainly to run a Debian instance for Haskell hacking, and Windows for doing my tax. Recently the slow HGFS performance has been a drag while hacking ikiwiki, as git seems to take ages to perform a commit on my Mac home directory mounted under Debian. Fortunately, the unreasonably cheap upgrade to Fusion 3 yields a massive speedup.

Hmm, perhaps I spoke too soon. It seems a bit buggy: HGFS doesn't seem to cope with colons in filenames, of which there are many in the ikiwiki bugs directory.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

/noise/movies | Link

Documents the making of Apocalypse Now. Both share the same aesthetic, and this is as rivetting a trip as its counterpart. Amusingly, the original screenwriter, John Milius, went on to write and direct Conan the Barbarian and was entangled in the Dirty Harrys.

The Killing

/noise/movies | Link

I think I first saw this one at the Astor in Melbourne back in 2002 or so. A breathless plot starring Sterling Heyden (he of the precious bodily fluids), classically rendered by Kubrick in black and white.

End of Days

/noise/movies | Link

Arnie saves the world... again. Entirely mediocre. I thought Gabriel Byrne has more screen time than he does.

Simon Winchester: The Man Who Loved China

/noise/books | Link

Here Winchester recounts the life of Joseph Needham, author of the authoritative series of books on the history of science in China. His press minions were sufficiently active last year that I somehow recalled the title of this book while looking for something else.

Overall it is quite well written, if a tad too salacious, and a tendency towards a shallow engagement with the academic side of things. (I object to his overly salacious treatment of Needham's eroticism.) More background on the political organisation of the Middle and Celestial Kingdoms in antiquity would have been most welcome, as would be a discussion on how China related to the region; technologically speaking, what came out of their entanglement with the Mongols, Indians and Vietnamese? The extended section on how Buddhism got introduced is the sort of thing there should have been more of, but even a thorough journalistic biography of Needham himself is probably beyond a book of this length.

The Needham Question, as to why China's progress stalled for so long, receives a cursory treatment and is largely dismissed along "you can't prove a negative" lines. I struggle with this attitude, as it implies that historicism can never really isolate the causes and effects of events, a charge that Popper levelled against Marxism. Also I fail to see why a similar question can't be asked of Egypt, India and Arabia, with their early innovations in mathematics and engineering. Perhaps the question cannot be resolved in some absolute way, but the kinds of discussion it generates are fascinating. For example, one line is that Western thought allowed the natural (phenomenological) to be decoupled from the supernatural (noumelogical), whereas the Chinese approach required holistic explanations. Roughly, that perhaps science proper requires modularity, some means of delimiting the claimed scope of purported laws of nature.

Winchester gives the impression that the ancient Chinese were excellent and creative engineers, but somewhat less interested in building abstract models of scientific phenomena; he (but perhaps not Needham) says nothing about Chinese parallels with the great strides taken by Newtown, Leibniz et al in developing the differential calculus in the 17th century. I really would have liked to understand what sort of logic the Chinese employed.

I was irritated to find that the bibliography is enormous; the non-specialist reader would have been better served by a much shorter list of entry points into this expansive topic.

Dead Man

/noise/movies | Link

Just as good the second or third time around, at least with a few years in between. Jarmusch is remarkably restrained here, not too weird and quite patiently linear in his meditation on cataclysmic transformation. His cinematography is as good as it gets, and even Depp's fine efforts can't always draw the eye away from the scenery.

In the Name of the Father

/noise/movies | Link

Absolutely captivating, even on the second time around. The casting is perfect, direction spot-on, and script as well structured as any other. I would have liked a bit more legal background at some points, but heh, that's what Wikipedia is for. Unbelievably not in the IMDB top-250.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Returned to Little Bay with Rob in the early afternoon for an extended repeat of yesterday's snorkel. Visibility was unbelievable, the weather even better, albeit with a fairly stiff northerly (I think). I wore the spring suit again. Loads of fish, and very glad we beat the thunder storm that rolled in in the early evening.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay, where construction of ultra-modern Scandinavian-style residences continues apace. Parking is getting tighter. The water was very pleasant and clear, making me feel the spring suit was redundant, apart from keeping the sun and the jellyfish at bay. Lots of fish were out, doing their thing, as where quite a few people on the beach.

Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies

/noise/books | Link

I've been meaning to read this book since I read a review in the Smage last year, which they pinched from The Guardian. I picked it up just now because the UNSW Library copy of Salman Rushdie's latest has apparently been subjected to a five-finger discount.

Somewhat like In an Antique Land, this novel exhibits Ghosh's talent for anthropological scholarship, flawed by a lack of discipline: the imperative to house as much of his raw material as possible, even at the expense of fidelity, plausibility or pacing, overpowered his finer judgement. He successfully captures the settings of circa 1838; the slave boat, the opium factory, the streets of Calcutta, the villas of the upper crusts, the economic situation of the Indian everypeople, and so forth are vivid. But it is too much, the period too rich a seam, with England at the height of Empire, trying to bring the Chinese markets into their sphere of influence via the opium trade, to fit entirely within even a multi-ply narrative.

Unlike the portrayal of opiate abuse in Trainspotting, the drug scenes here are brief and finesse the cliched moral quagmire of recreationalism and fatalistic destructiveness without much humour.

The narrative is occasionally discontinuous through what feels like carelessness. Whatever became of the judge with the hots for Paulette? — and was the story she told Zachary about Mr Burnham fiction or truth? Either way, I found it a tiresome piece of tawdry prurience, shocking in its unoriginality. The gomusta is the glue character, possessed by his spiritual aunt, capable of making just the right things happen at just the right time. Deeti's shrine is a cute continuity device, but it has apparently no significance beyond forward referencing.

Ghosh's romances are irritating, as his heart is not really in it. Deeti and Kahlua get unofficially hitched within a page or so of becoming free, whereas Zachary and Paulette, who are bleedingly obviously intended for mutual deflowering, barely manage a snog interruptus before the 471st page. They are young and the author treats them childishly. Some other characterisations are a bit clunky; Kahlua's transformation from bullock to Deeti's cool-headed weapon of mass destruction stretches credulity; Neel's transformation from Raja to a Jesus-like figure jangles against his occasional recurrence of snottishness.

A movie is clearly in mind: imagine! Ghosh is daydreaming of having Keira Knightley segue from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to fill the corset of Paulette, and somehow reuniting the extras from Slumdog Millionaire to inflate the lascars and sundry unsavoury types onboard the Ibis. There'll be a couple of song-and-dance numbers to leaven the roti. Hmm, we still need some strapping young blokes for Zachary and Jodu... and who else but Michael Caine for the dragon-chasing Captain? Maybe Salman Rushdie's ex might just be perfect as Elokeshi...

I found the polyglot of the dialogue mostly easy to follow, though that may be because I didn't delve into it much. How much I missed I'll never know.

This novel terminates just over a cliff, and there does not seem to be any news yet of a followup to this, the first of a purported trilogy. Damnit, the spoon's in the flame.

Elementarteilchen

/noise/movies | Link

The worst German movie I can remember seeing. The characters are shallowly drawn and abandoned to their various overtly-signalled fates. As a study in how people are inscrutably drawn together and separated, there's a lot of superficiality here.

Don Walker on Radio National.

/noise | Link

Don Walker is reading parts of his book Shots on Radio National's First Person. Vignettes from a dead Australia, rendered in an unapologetically poignant smoke-cured voice, ranging far beyond the expected rock'n'roll excess.

Donnie Brasco

/noise/movies | Link

Somehow not delivering on the promise of the two lead actors: Depp is unusally bland, and Pacino seems quite defeated by his role as a washed up mafioso. Unlike the better gangster movies, there is not enough action here to justify the plotlines; too much telling, not enough showing. What did all those goons do for money? — and where was the comeuppance for the Florida sellout?

Where the Buffalo Roam

/noise/movies | Link

A not-so-great aggrandisement of the lamentably late Hunter S. Thompson, with Bill Murray playing out Hunter's imagined life. I wasn't aware of this movie before reading Ralph Steadman's book, where it gets a serve for not featuring the author himself as the artist in the pseudo-Rolling Stone office.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz with Rob. As dissociated as the reviews would have you believe.

Graham Greene: The Human Factor

/noise/books | Link

A late-career off-beat spy anti-thriller that I picked up on the strength of his perhaps-unrepeated The Quiet American. A tad too dreary to be really enjoyable.

Ralph Steadman: The Joke's Over: Bruised memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson and Me.

/noise/books | Link

Well, Thompson was right: Steadman shouldn't try to write, or in any case I shouldn't try to read it. Much preferrable would have been more art and less prose, and certainly less indulgent self-contradiction.

Neal Stephenson: The Diamond Age

/noise/books | Link

This is an old Stephenson that I stole from mrak's shelf a while ago. It seems to lack the cachet of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, but I get the impression that this author's prose is systemically flawed, so I won't be reading another. In some ways he reminds me of Philip K. Dick in that the ideas are not so hot, or have been absorbed into the ambient culture, or whatever.

At the centre of this book is a purported marriage of Victorian values with a nanotechnological society that is mostly hanging off the ex-colonial coastline of China. The aesthetic is borderline steampunk at times, more fantasy than futuristic, with some dodgy and somewhat tedious analysis of the ethics of the "Victoria I" era and Confucianism. I came away thinking that Stephenson must have recently visited the place, with his lack of Gibson's perceptiveness, the ability to scope the locality to the novel and vice-versa, resulting in this occasionally xenophobic, sometimes sinophilic melange.

This being scifi or cyberpunk or something, he is obliged to slip in some unerotic deviant sexuality. Strangely enough, the three heroines (one somewhat fleshed out, the other two skeletal) are virginal for all we know, even though the fleshy one works as an overblown architect of narrative in a high-class brothel. Possibly virginal until the sexual assaults, anyway, that are presented as a fait accompli to the sort-of revolutionary Chinese Fists. In any case, all the characters seem to be bound in overweening power relationships that lack personality.

The nanostuff is fairly plausible but not too imaginative: it generally behaves like programmable organics, and the story could have been told using biochemists rather than nangineers. Indeed, the nanostuff seems to largely bioactive in effect, apart from producing horrendous architecture and justifying an entirely predictable making-stuff-by-hand-for-rich-people unicorns and blacksmiths district.

Stephenson uses Turing machines as a plot point, firstly by having the "young lady's illustrated primer" be one, for the most part, and secondly by portraying vast numbers of young chinese girls as being entirely programmable. I found it ironic that he pronounces that Turing machines have no soul, and cannot do what a human can (yadda yadda), even while railroading his shallowly characterised actors into overly predictable fates. "Castle Turing" read like a high schooler's account of a book by Raymond Smullyan, missing the logic for the scenery. Neologism ahoy, how cheap.

The narrative stalled something fierce in the middle, and entire plotlines are left hanging variously through the novel. The children's stories from the primer are jarring rubbish. Anyway, why didn't they commercialise the book? Surely they could have been more broadly subversive without too much additional cleverness, and there'd be a huge market for it, just like TVs as "educational" child-pacifiers. Also Stephenson seems to believe in the DRM fantasy, that you can control what a user does with a digital artefact through some clever encryption: I found it impossible to believe that Dr X could not fabricate more books after he has created the first.

I never really got a handle on what the Fists were trying to achieve, or what the Seed was supposed to be. In some ways the Feed reflects the current internet: centralised to some extent, but distributed enough that the paranoid can get enough redundancy, privacy, etc. for the most part. If each Matter Compiler logs too much info, well, compose your artefact out of many things and use many Matter Compilers...

The text itself tends towards patronising flabbiness, with a subtext that the author is uncertain his jokes and allusions are going to be understood, possibly because he lacks faith in his audience, but more likely due to him not really grasping what he's trying to talk about. The section titles telegraph the action to the point where there is no tension or subtlety to be found. Ultimately this is more fantasy that scifi or cyberpunk or whatever, and not a patch on Brunner's world-building.

The Black Balloon

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, suburban Australia in the late eighties and early nineties of my childhood. As a coming-of-age story it ambles along OK, though with some more continuity and contextualisation, such as giving Thomas some male friends, the narrative may have flowed more credibly.

Up the Yangtse

/noise/movies | Link

A Canadian reality-movie doco about some young Chinese people working on a hefty cruiser tripping up the Yangtse. Also charts the impact of the Three-Gorges Dam on the peasants. A bit heart-wrenching at times, such as when the family is moving from their hut on the banks of the river to a seemingly tiny house in the city. I pitied the poor kitten getting a right scrubbing by Shui Yu and hope she has more opportunity to crank geometry now.

Okuribito (Departures)

/noise/movies | Link

A well-made Japanese flick on the topic of helping people get on with their afterlives. Sentimentality threatens to swamp the other, more carefully wrought aspects at times, and the humour dries up as business is gotten down to in the last third. The acting is all-round superb, and the director makes Japan look like paradise (even during the season of peak business).

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay. Beautiful day for it, quite warm in the sun, and even alright in the wind. The water was quite cloudy and got a bit rough close to the sea. I didn't see much.

John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar

/noise/books | Link

The fattest Brunner I've yet read, and I doubt he topped these 515 pages. This, not Jagged Orbit, was his first fat book. It is deservedly tagged as his must-read novel.

Brunner must have been on some very good drugs in the late 1960s, and I guess those of the earlier 60s had had time to settle in and make his brain their own. One must wonder if these sorts of books furthered the cause of liberated recreational drug use that the author favours, for at this point in history, none of his fantasies seem to have come through. Indeed I would expect that the late-in-life Brunner was doing the same stuff as the Brunner who wrote this book.

This book is expansive, being perhaps the most holistic attempt at world building I've read. Apparently this sort of thing is called social science fiction. The author's voice, and sometime deus ex machina, is the sociologist Chad Mulligan, whose "hipcrime dictionary" channels Bierce's Devil's Dictionary, and more broadly runs a line echoing the technoculturalists of the day, Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan in particular. The news flashes, the limited attention spans, the population pressure: as speculation, it is top notch.

Let us not dwell on the plot any longer than the author did.

I find it amusing that all the old-school models of computers were way off, positing some small number of humongous machines with incredible IQs that managed the affairs of the world. I reckon we'll only have general-enough AI for this sort of thing after almost everyone has enough computing power to run private instances, totally changing the dynamics of these speculations.

There's lots of racial commentary here, especially on post-colonialism and within the borders of the U.S. These issues were massive in the late 60s but seem to have been stage-managed into timidity now. The eugenics in this book remains as unappealing now as it probably was then, though I do note that choosing the sex of your offspring is becoming socially acceptable.

Here's another review.

The Deer Hunter

/noise/movies | Link

I've seen this before, probably back in the days of VHS. At three hours it's a real slog. The opening 80 minutes or so is something like the wedding scene in The Godfather slowed down and drained of any moment. It does pick up around the 2 hour mark though.

Version 1.0: The Bougainville Photoplay Project — A slideshow with fireside chat

/noise/theatre | Link

I figured it might be worth heading back to the Old Fitzroy Hotel on the strength of the last Version 1.0 show I saw, viz The Wages of Spin. (I felt this theatre lost the plot a few years ago.) The company's schtick is to highly orchestrate and slickly integrate multi-media with traditional theatrical mechanisms, exploring topics in more depth than the average Smage article without being precious.

Well, pretty much as billed. Paul Dwyer's solo performance is heartfelt, effective and convincing. It is a bit indulgently sentimental, but forgivably so as the stories are deeply personal, often focussing on Dr Dwyer senior's visits to Bougainville as an orthopedic surgeon in the 1960s. The production was as I expected, seamlessly stitching the monologue to video, photographs, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous props. Even with all this stuff, the skillful lighting made it clear where one's attention should be.

Unlike East Timor, the story of Bougainville goes mostly untold in Australia, perhaps because few really want to think about our, or anyone else's, post-colonial activities, but more likely because it is now generally unknown that Papua New Guinea was a colony of Australia until 1975. Roughly the troubles in Bouganville during the 1980s and 1990s were all-too-familiarly due to the locals not receiving an adequate share of the mineral wealth of their own land.

This show promised to explore the mechanics of restorative justice and reconciliation in the rapidly changing cultures of that part of the world. I felt this came off less successfully than the treatment of other topics, and was a bit disappointed that the theatrical recreation of such an event was the limit of the substantive material. It left me with no clear idea about what makes these processes possible, or how much they might be at odds with Western culture and notions of justice.

Ultimately this monologue is a show-and-tell public lecture, albeit more immersive and performative. I guess this is something that might strike a chord with an older audience that directly experienced town-hall style activities that don't take one to be a fool or party hack. As such it felt a bit weird to pay to attend it, and for there to be no question-and-answer at the end.

/hacking/mac | Link

I had my first encounter with an Apple "Genius Bar" today, having been referred to the one on George St in Sydney by the always-helpful staff at CompNOW at UNSW. In brief, the power adaptor for my MacBook was getting dangerous, with the insulation on the wire between the box and the computer wearing through, and sometimes getting quite warm. Apparently these things are known fire hazards.

The genii require booking, and I think I got the final one of the week: 4:45pm on this, a Sunday, afternoon. The machine is still under an AppleCare warranty, so the bloke replaced it on the spot. The CompNOW people said it would take them three to four days to do the same thing, as they had no stock, and moreover would need to hang onto my adaptor for that time.

Ararat

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this because Eric Bogosian is in it. (I remember seeing Igby Goes Down, which he's also in, more recently than Talk Radio, but must have forgotten to blog it.) It just might be possible that he has done or can do something truly great on film.

Ararat is a worthy movie, necessitating its creation and complicating any commentary on it. The cinematography is occasionally excellent, the acting fairly stodgy, and the present-day story a bit too fantastical and oblique to credit. Some of the historical scenes are brutal, others are deftly handled. The subject matter — the genocide of Armenians by Turks during World War I — required more historical perspective than I had to really get to grips with, and the movie didn't help on that front.

As always, IMDB has many perceptive user comments. There's an article in Foreign Policy on what's been happening there recently.

Moon

/noise/movies | Link

At the dear old Verona with Dave. I don't think the cinemas have been renovated since I've been in Sydney, though their new-ish café-bar is comfortable and cute, especially on a rainy evening.

Moon is a little bit of quite a few movies: Blade Runner, Fight Club, 2001, and some District 9-esque corporation loathing. Sam's vehicle looked like the venerable Moon Patrol. Someone pointed at Alien, though the one where Ripley has her self-encounters is more apposite.

The aesthetic of the moonbase interiors is fine, but the exterior design is a total cliche. Gerty was a bit uninventive, and its motivations remain obscure; Kevin Spacey is not the best choice for voicing a robot. The communication amongst the characters was fairly random, and why they didn't discuss more stuff is unclear. Rockwell's acting is excellent, though.

Overall this was a bit disappointing after the review on the ABC's movie show last night. I just don't see this as a majorly original premise or execution or aesthetic or anything.

The Rebel

/noise/movies | Link

Hong Kong-style kung fu from Việt Nam. Beautifully shot, with a narrative so formulaic that the gaps in it do not need to be filled. The cinematography and scenery are top-notch.

/noise/politics | Link

Computerworld has devoted a page to the National Broadband Network. This is fantastic, seeing all the arguments lined up in one spot. Nothing says awesome quite as much as not doing a cost-benefit analysis, and keeping the dirty paws of the Productivity Commission off our precious tubes which will likely be swinging from the trees (so to speak).

Taking a breath, the arguments Conroy provides when pressed are more to do with pervasive internet than fat pipes. In a parallel universe Telstra's near-enough universal coverage is fairly priced to all comers, and pigs' wings are the new frogs' legs.

Killshot

/noise/movies | Link

Straight-to-DVD schlock thriller. I got this on the strength of the Mickey Rourke revival, and Mr Brick, who unfortunately is merely channelling Brad Pitt at his trashiest. The NRA couldn't have written a better script for more guns in society.

John Brunner: The Jagged Orbit

/noise/books | Link

Brunner is on some good drugs here: it's the end of the 1960s and this is (?) his first fat book: almost 400 pages of splintered narrative and psychedelic scenery. In fact, all the characters are on drugs too.

In essence this is a fairly standard story about a computer that tries to predict the future and goes crazy in doing so. It amounts to something like Arnie in Terminator 2, banging on about a future that is somehow going to be avoided and yet somehow can't be, except in this case it is because the Skynet-equivalent is not so much involved in the killing but is merely trying to maximise sales for its arms cartel owners. Uh-huh.

He has some cute devices but all are entirely dispensible. There are no unattractive women here, and all are geek ideals. Utopia ahoy... barring the urban decay, but that's OK, presumably we're all holed up at home on drugs. The writing is self-indulgently flabby and there's a good chunk of condescending say-don't-show in the latter parts. Can't we have a deus ex machina with a smaller mouth?

Festen

/noise/movies | Link

On Dave's recommendation. Perhaps the epitome of the Dogme 95 style. Extremely well constructed, albeit a little too King Lear at times. #230 in IMDB's top-250.

Apocalypse Now (Redux)

/noise/movies | Link

Over two nights, as three hours is too long to sit still for. I last watched this about two years ago. It remains unique to me: literate, not entirely coherent, knowing, expansive. I have grown to like the redux version, especially the encounter with the French, where the visceral attachment to their ancestral land is explored in more depth and ambiguity than modern cinema seems capable of.

Belvoir Downstairs: The Only Child

/noise/theatre | Link

My first time at Belvoir in more than two years. I dragged Dave and his friend Belinda (contemporaneous ex-BKK AYAD) to their cheapie Tuesday downstairs performance: pay at least ten bucks and run the risk of seeing some theatre that might be OK.

Well, The Only Child was more than OK. Set entirely in a bathroom, embodied in an ornate bath tub and shower fitting, the cast of four savage a marriage under stress. The acting was excellent, the dialogue taut and the narrative gripping for the most part. Structurally and thematically there were some obvious parallels with Closer, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: trust is violated, restored, vulnerability displaced by vengeful capriciousness. Humor prevents things spiralling down the plughole.

The set and lighting designers are genii, and I'll be keeping an eye out for other things by the Hayloft Project from Melbourne.

Jason Blake's review for the Smage is spot on.

Lukas Moodysson: Mammoth

/noise/movies | Link

Moodysson goes to Hollywood, New York City, Bangkok, the Philippines, and the locals everywhere go aah... The parallels with Babel are several and manifest, and both are mediocre ruminations on globalisation. At his best Moodysson is unsubtle and troubling, whereas this work is merely coarse, riffing on misunderestimating the intelligence of international English audiences.

Kayaking on the Lane Cove River

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Iain had the brilliant idea of going kayaking on the Lane Cove River this afternoon. The weather was perfect, and we (Ellen, Iain and I) timed it quite well, apart from the traffic snarl caused by the Sydney Marathon: I spent about 30 minutes on Wattle St, trying to get onto the Anzac Bridge.

We got our boats from the Sydney Uni boat shed at Black Wattle Bay, as Iain is a member of the canoe club. I plumped for the Volvo 240 of boats, a wide heavy touring kayak, figuring it would be more stable and hence I'd have less chance of capsizing and losing my glasses. Ellen and Iain wisely plumped for smaller, more agile ones. Strapping the three boats to the roof rack on Ellen's car took some time but wasn't too difficult (for Iain).

The paddling itself was quite fun, but I struggled to go straight for any significant distance. I think it had something to do with how I was holding the paddle, and also not judging the angular momentum of the boat too well. The views are excellent, through to the CBD and the Bridge. Of course I fell into the river when trying to get out of the boat, but the glasses stayed on this time.

John Brunner: Manshape

/noise/books | Link

I didn't get into this one; perhaps I read it too quickly or wasn't paying attention. The central conceit is suicide institutionalised at the cultural level, and the book explores the putative causes thereof. Too much plot-furthering explanatory dialogue, not enough action.

Some other bloke has been ploughing through Brunner this year and posting his thoughts. His grasp of the genre is admirable.

Mammoth

/noise/movies | Link

I watched this by complete accident; I had intended to view Moodysson's latest of the same name. This one's a turkey, for the Summer Glau fans only.

/noise/politics | Link

Conroy might not be smart enough to implement or kill off the Great Firewall of Australia, but perhaps he is pigheaded enough to actually split Telstra along its natural cleavage, viz retail and intertubes. I'm curious as to what kind of restitution the Government will offer the dudded shareholders; the stock is held far and wide, which might make for some electorally-significant anger in a year or so.

Incidentally the Smage's much vaunted National Times masthead seems to think that recycling aged (but no less insightful) John Quiggin opinion is worthy. Fairfax's skillful rebranding of the emperor's clothes remains threadless.

Dennis McIntosh: Beaten by a Blow: A Shearer's Story

/noise/books | Link

A somewhat dreary memoir, reminiscent of the Victorian weather, but a page turner nevertheless. The episodic structure wears a bit thin as variety dries up: escape to a shearing shed, so-and-so shore so many sheep per unit time, hit the booze, wake up and wonder about the (future) wife and kids.

The hook is the entirely Australian and now entirely alien life of the shearer, addicted to increasing productivity, always needing to be faster. The sketch of the industrial relations history is somewhat interesting as it covers the time immediately preceding the disintegration of unionism in Australia; the key issue in the early 1980s was the use of the wide comb.

I reiterate the general complaint that the ending is too sudden; we start with a car crash and end with a whimper. Apparently he got a Masters in English literature in the not-too-distant past, and the story of getting from the shed to there might've been worth wiring in. Drawing a parallel with Henry Lawson is a long bow, for this bloke is not pretending to be a poet.

Coincidentally the author is currently reading the book on Radio National's First Person.

David Halberstam: The Best and the Brightest

/noise/books | Link

I picked up this book on the strength of Fred Kaplan's citation in his Wizards of Armageddon, hoping for more insight into Robert S. McNamara's decision making. Well, wasn't I disappointed; Halberstam's take is that it is indeed turtles all the way down, until we get to the one with the weak knees.

This book is expansive, a reporter's in-depth reconstruction of the decision making processes surrounding the U.S. engagement with Vietnam from the post-war period up to about 1968. Structurally it is a narrative with mini-biographies of the major players embedded at mostly opportune points. Clearly Halberstam immersed himself in Vietnam itself in the 1960s, mined the Pentagon Papers and made the most of his time with Daniel Ellsberg.

Most interesting to me was Halberstam's narrative of how the substantial expertise on Asia in the State Department was sidelined and purged by the the irrational U.S. policy towards post-revolutionary China, from circa 1950 to the early 1960s. Roughly McCarthyism (exemplified by the platitude that only Nixon could go to China and not be red-baited by Nixon) gave rise to the idea that those interested in China were by-and-large fellow travellers, whereas those following the Russians were apparently OK because of the big-boy issues of missile gaps and atomic tensions.

Hence by the time that Kennedy and his best-and-brightest were taking decisions that would severely limit Johnson's options in 1965, Communism had become this atomic red monster that ate all the dominos before it. It was quite late in the day, 1966 or so, that McNamara acknowledged that the Vietnamese just might be fighting on nationalistic grounds, quite at odds with the idea of the Comintern (etc). As Halberstam wryly observes, at the time the dominoes themselves didn't seem to mind too much.

Unlike so many other books on this time in history, much attention is paid to the antecedents to the American involvement. News to me was how the preeminent general of the time, General Matthew Ridgeway, kept the U.S. out of the French disaster at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954. This wise consul went unheeded a decade later. Eisenhower comes out sounding like a man of rare reason to me, winding down the military in a way that slipped away from McNamara. Also Halberstam pointed to events I wasn't aware of, such as the Brinks Hotel bombing. (These days Wikipedia's coverage of just about anything is superior to just about any non-principal source — which publisher could ever devote so many pages to so much arcana? — but this book still provides a top-notch jumping-off point.)

Generally the decision making mechanisms in the various bureaucracies (Defence and State in particular) seemed debased by the all too familiar cover-your-arse selective hearing that we get so much of now. Truth tellers were marginalised, 'yes' men rose rapidly, systems were implemented that kept the noise and discarded the signal. In essence, rational the best-and-brightest may have been, but also quite disconnected from reality: evidence-based activity was M.I.A. The why and how of Johnson (et al) hiding of the escalation from the congress and the citizenry is quite plausibly constructed, and perhaps the saddest part of this debasement of the American deliberative apparatus.

It seems that McNamara understood the limits of force (at least in Vietnam) by about 1966, about two years into the escalation. Eerily familiar is the absence of a plan for winning, let alone what to do after winning: was the U.S. going to occupy South Vietnam for decades?

The text itself is slightly flabby, and could have been more tightly edited in a few places. It sometimes got a bit too repetitive, going beyond the rehashing that makes such a long narrative tractable to the casual reader.

Pointers to recent material:

The Man Who Fell To Earth

/noise/movies | Link

Mid-70s David Bowie anti-classic. If anything the plot gets in the way of a thoroughly mediocre piece of cinema. They may as well have followed Bowie around doing his everyday sort of thing, and pretended this was some sort of doco. Ah, I see it was directed by Roeg, who did Walkabout.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob along the rocks between Bare Island and Congwong Beach at La Parouse. (Apparently Little Congwong Beach is naturalist, news to me.) This time Rob wore his spring suit, and I went in as kitted up as I could, but was still too cold to really enjoy it. Saw a couple of fish with reasonable visibility.

District 9

/noise/movies | Link

At the apparently unbranded last-cinema-standing on the venerable George St strip, whose box office area now looks like the guts of an old Grace Bros store. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing with Jacob after a fine meal at the incredibly popular Mamak.

In many ways this is precisely the movie one might expect to emerge from modern South Africa, a coarse tale leavened with many sharp insights told with unflinching firmness. Issues of race and origins are never far from the surface, nor is the possibility of transmogrification. The plot was a bit holey but my brain didn't object too strenuously.

The Hosts at Carriageworks

/noise | Link

I've had a soft spot for the Performance Space for many years, though I haven't been back since they moved to the Eveleigh rail yards under the Carriageworks moniker. Last thing I saw from them was a sprawling production of The Wages of Spin at their old Cleveland St premises. Well, today was the day.

Wade Marynowsky's The Hosts is an installation of several tall, orotund and frankly Dalek-ish robots in a fairly large, partially-lit, hermetically-sealed space. Being the early afternoon, I was the only one there, which added to the general spookiness and claustrophobic ambience. I got the impression that the robots were probably sound activated, or at least there was some way to interact with them, but I didn't figure out how. I expected some diversity amongst them, something closer to the kinetic sculptures at the MIT Museum, something less uncanny. Perhaps I should chase up the reference to Masahiro Mori, The Uncanny Valley (1970).

Planet Terror

/noise/movies | Link

The superior half of the Grindhouse pair. Rodriguez has a lot of fun here, leavening his self-aware splatter horror with corn and myriad semidressed chicks with guns. Effortlessly trashy cinema.

Jackie Brown

/noise/movies | Link

Recovering from an overly large night with Albert and Sandy, I got sucked into this, the most feeble of the first three (the canonical three?) Tarantino efforts. The plot is almost entirely linear, and there's not much going on beyond the twisty heist. I last saw this back in 2004 on LaserDisc.

The Splinter Orchestra at the ABC.

/noise/music | Link

Albert and Sandy joined me on a foray to the ABC at 10pm to be part of the small audience for this live broadcast on ABC Classic FM's New Music Up Late with Julian Day. I don't remember having been inside the ABC's Ultimo facility before this.

The Splinter Orchestra's schtick is mostly unstructured improv, unattractive to the masses and hence rarely heard on mainstream radio: something more likely to be on 2SER at two in the morning. I found the ambience quite restful, albeit slightly industrially claustrophobic at times. Chris Abrahams was mutely on the piano. The gig can be found somewhere in the ABC's sprawling website, best of luck finding it.

We headed to the Clare afterwards, which was within twenty minutes of closing.

Afterwards I found that the ABC has an entire website devoted to offbeat music.

Loading URLs in Emacs.

/hacking | Link

Put (url-handler-mode 't) in your .emacs, and then saying C-x C-f followed by a URL will yield a buffer full of webstuff.

Everything is bright and shiny.

/hacking/mac | Link

Last Friday I decided to get the MacBook's case fixed again — due to a design flaw the top keyboard panel tends to crack in the bottom right corner. This is probably related to how I carry it around in a backpack. They also replaced (at least) the caps on the keyboard, which are perhaps a part of the same assembly (?).

I also took the opportunity to buy a copy of Snow Leopard from the pushers at CompNOW on the UNSW campus, thinking my poor little MacBook could benefit from the decreased memory pressure. In brief:

I'm slow: a new Carbon Emacs has been out for a month.

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

/noise/books | Link

I last read this book about a decade ago and don't remember much from the experience. Conrad's prose is of the old school, more Dickens than Orwell, and the occasional locution sometimes jangles. The story itself is quite edgy, quite gripping, with the occasional lapse in continuity and allusion to current-time events to keep the reader awake.

I feel, as with most classics, it is a bit pointless trying to say much when so much has already been said.

Death Proof

/noise/movies | Link

A turkey, and it is clear why I didn't pay any attention to this movie back in 2007. Tarantino's purpose here is to launch Zoë Bell, a long-time stuntette of his, into a career of serious actoring. The film itself is not worth reflecting on, but as beautifully photographed as ever, with all those signature Sergio Leone angles.

Time to pull out some oldie-but-goodie...

William Gibson: Virtual Light

/noise/books | Link

Another book I stole from mrak's bookshelf a while ago. Definitely by 1993, and probably quite a bit sooner, William Gibson had developed a fairly rigid stucture for his novels: roughly, fibrous chapter-long episodes that climax in entanglement. This is the book that proves the rule.

In essence the plot is cops-and-robbers, without real cops. Well, one of the ex-cops is the Knoxville hero who saves San Francisco from gentrification, and post-book is presumably ravaged by an increasingly cyberspunky pseudo-heroine. The cyberpunk elements are well-used, lending the cities a Bladerunner-ish ambience. There are some clangers though, like having Swiss-style data fortresses and yet requiring some critically-important information to reside on a pair of virtual reality glasses for plot, and probably tax, purposes.

As with most of Gibson's output, I found myself hurrying to finish it, wondering what it is all going to amount to, and afterwards being somewhat saddened that he didn't bother with a take-home message.

Inglourious Basterds

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz's early evening session with Dave. Much better than the reviews had led me to believe. Dave observed that Brad Pitt has become his own caricature. Cristoph Waltz was amazing, as was Michael Fassbender, last seen in Hunger.

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie

/noise/movies | Link

An embarassing turkey. Beresford is a decent director, but his partnership with Barry Humphries turned out a moronic celebration of bogan (née yobbo) culture in the mother country. I have no idea who is into his Edna Everidge creation, for she seems to be precisely what John Howard would have found attractive. I grant she is a vehicle for his real achievement, the zero-entendre joke. Philip Adams probably claims to have revived the Australian film scene on the back of this, which seems quite astonishing from this point in history. I hope all involved enjoyed their junkets.

Praise

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this movie ages ago and quite liked it, perhaps essentially due to the lethargic gracelessness of Fenton, who shuffles around with puffer in one hand and fag in the other. The Dirty Three provide a killer soundtrack. Horler is unbelievably good here, and the film sags when she departs the frame for good. Brisvegas gets a bit of a raw deal as the film is mostly set indoors.

Bruce Sterling, ed.: Mirrorshades

/noise/books | Link

I pinched this one from mrak's shelf a while ago. This book promises to checkpoint the cyberpunk genre circa 1988 by collecting short stories from some or all of the major players, such as William Gibson and apparently Sterling himself, whom I've never read.

The best, for mine:

  • Tom Maddox's Snake Eyes was cute but inspecific. Available from his website with a lot of other stuff.
  • James Patrick Kelly's Solstice is an adventure in drugs as legitimate experience-enhancers, and as artforms. Definitely the best written story in this collection, but rates meh for cyberpunk. Again, his website has loads of his writing.
  • Paul Di Filippo's Stone Lives had some promise, enough to justify looking at his other stuff. I would say this exceeds the average for cyberpunk in this collection, albeit with a ghost-in-the-corporation that makes the twist somewhat predictable. Shades of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land?

Overall the collection was paint-by-the-numbers: if there's a woman, she is a sex object, deviant at least in apperance and otherwise indistinguishable from the blokes, Trinity from The Matrix being a modern canonical example. If there is politics, there is the 1980s totalitarian against the free American. If there's a book editor, he is into self-aggrandisement.

This book might have lead me to doubt that my conception of cyberpunk, which I take to be pretty much defined by Neuromancer and Bladerunner, coincides with anyone else's... if it weren't for the reviews on Amazon. Hopefully I can jump off from here.

Knowing

/noise/movies | Link

Execrable, predictable dreck. For every passable Lord of War, Nick Cage is in ten turds, and Alex Proyas's achievements are now buried under his non-achievements. The premise itself is abstractly interesting — cf Newcomb's paradoxical problem — but this stodgy vehicle is mired in treacly sentimentality. Poor Rose Byrne, her character is incoherent.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

The BOM forecast a top of 28 degrees for today, so I convinced Rob to come for a snorkel with me. We plumped for Long Bay, as did many others, arriving around 1:30pm. The water was quite clear and not too cold, definitely no worse than our last foray to Watsons Bay. Rob got by with just some trunks and a rashie, but I went in fully suited up, trying to avoid antagonising the cold I caught from Pete R.'s son Jack last weekend. Quite a few fish to see. We headed down to Paris Seafood at La Parouse afterwards, and didn't get lunch until 3:30pm.

In actuality the air temperature only got up to 26 degrees on the coast, and I would believe those who claim the water remains around 18 degrees.

Revanche

/noise/movies | Link

An Austrian bucolic cops-and-robbers flick. Tightly constructed if a tad implausible at a critical juncture or two. Ultimately the narrative evaporates, and life apparently goes on. Beautiful cinematography.

Walkabout

/noise/movies | Link

I passed up on seeing this at a cinema with German-Albert-formerly-at-Optus a few months ago. Find here all the Australian cliches, beautifully photographed and spread as sparsely as the landscape.

Fred Kaplan: Wizards of Armageddon

/noise/books | Link

The passing of Robert S. McNamara has reignited my erratic search for substantive information on this icon of rational methods. (The computer science equivalent might be Dijkstra.) In his rehashed pseudo-obituary, Fred Kaplan made reference to interviewing McNamara for his PhD thesis of 1983, titled Wizards of Armageddon, which I figured might be worth a read given that his polemics on Slate are usually interesting and coherent.

In brief, this book is about the strategic thinking of the civilians entangled in the U.S. war machine immediately following the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 1950s and early 1960s are dealt with in some detail, which makes sense as these were the most interesting periods, and presumably Kaplan had a mountain of newly declassified documents to trawl through, myriad ungagged players to interview. Conversely by the time of Carter and Reagan we're definitely into newspaper clipping territory.

The centerpiece of the narrative is the construction and evolution of the RAND Corporation by the U.S. Airforce, home to many international policy thinkers over the years: Kenneth Arrow and many other illustrious economists have spent some formative time there.

Kaplan alludes to some of the central mathematical concepts, such as game theory, that underpin the strategic analyses that he describes without providing enough detail to be engaging; showing the prisoner's dilemma in extensional form deepens rather than covers this gaping hole. By treating lightly over technical specifics, the book sometimes feels like little more than a laundry list of participants, reports and military obscurities. Perhaps I really should be aspiring to read Machine Dreams.

Interesting were the various views of the Korean war: some took it to be a failure as the U.S. didn't win, whereas others felt it was a success as it achieved limited goals using limited resources. The tension between these views is mirrored in the schizophrenic thinking about the use of nuclear weapons, as portrayed by Kaplan. Roughly, how could the U.S. win in a mutually-assured destruction (MAD) scenario? The two options seemed to be be either not to play, implying more Koreas, or to hope that some sophisticated signalling with nuclear devices (e.g. the "no cities" policy) got read correctly, resurrecting the possibility of a doubtlessly-Pyrrhic victory.

Another perspective (circa p200) is given by Clausewitz's ideas on military objectives: if war is politics by other means, and self-destruction is assured once the bomb comes into play, then using the bomb cannot possibly be sanctioned by a government which notionally has the civic wellbeing in mind, or indeed, derives its sovereignty from the populace. Therefore war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. became impossible to countenance (if we are prepared to grant the Soviet rational self-interest) and the proxy war of Vietnam (and so forth) became inevitable. I wonder if this fed into McNamara's thinking at the time.

I observe in passing that Herman Kahn's escalation ladder (circa p223) is reminiscent of Rapoport's tit-for-tat strategy for the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Kaplan uses exactly that moniker to label Kahn's Type III Deterrence.

Kaplan struggles to distinguish between the policies that make sense while there is a nuclear imbalance — for instance, the U.S. had no need to be particularly subtle in its use of the first atom bombs as no other power could challenge it — and those for the equilibrium state where any of several actors could bring the planet to a biological conclusion. In the latter case MAD is justifiable due to it being something like a Nash equilibrium, and moreover the policy makes it highly unlikely that conventional wars will get out of control if the actors are rational. Kaplan does not even mention Nixon's behaviour in this context.

Concretely (p315), Kahn's theory of escalation clearly leads to an arms race, at least until MAD levels of weaponry are established. After that it makes sense to a military-industrial complex acculturated to constant expansion to pour money into anti-missile defence systems, which up to that point are prohibitively expensive (p322). Kaplan would have done better to tie these arguments to the dynamics of the situation more often.

McNamara has some key roles in this saga, but my desire to get some handle on his methods, some insight into how he dealt with the complexity of the defence portfolio, and specifically the moral ambiguity of the bomb went unsatiated. We get some comments to the effect that he was well aware that the Vietnam War was not right and not ever going to be right; for example (p366) in 1966 he states in a public speech that communism is not always at the centre of conflict in the developing world. His loss of certainty at this time, the end of his stint as Defence Secretary, unraveled his public unemotionalism, giving the impression that his morality was only underpinned by rationality: from his incredibly abstract view of the war, only possible by being so far from the action, it was justifiable on a rational posturing basis and no other. Coupled with the obligation he felt to his country to take his best bite of a shit sandwich, the disaster appears inescapable.

Clearly Kaplan has found his niche in writing for Slate; he has a keen eye for interpreting policy and theory, and reads well in the short popular form. This book needed stricter editing, as it was quite repetitive in some places, but I grant that was not so easy to achieve in the early 1980s.

Public Enemies

/noise/movies | Link

At 10am at The Ritz, on their at-most-$8-for-anyone day. I was sorely disappointed by this movie; the narrative arc rarely strayed from the entirely predictable, the characters were mostly meh, and the spaghetti camera work got too much too often. Johnny Depp tried his best to turn Dillinger into something, anything, more than a cardboard cutout. Christian Bale channelled Keanu Reeves, who at least knows his own limitations.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

/noise/movies | Link

As promised, I sat through this again, and found it just as absorbing as the first time. His strident claims about rationality reveal he had no comprehension of behavioural economics.

Ambiently I'm chugging through Fred Kaplan's The Wizards of Armageddon but have yet to get to the part on Robert S. McNamara's time as Defence Secretary. More when I do.

Web Censorship: the other unflushable turd.

/noise/politics | Link

This is hilarious: apparently the censorship test came out awesome. It won't slow down the tubes, those nickel-and-dime ISPs have proved it!

I'd like to be able to say Exetel is above the fray, but a quick googling will turn up all sorts of contradictory attitudes from the company. I must admit I haven't noticed their content filter, but it makes me distinctly uneasy.

TBC: Testing By Convention

/hacking/haskell | Link

mrak and I have been working on a testing harness for Haskell that suits our development styles better than the existing ones. It will:

  • Try to compile and run all tests, even if some do not compile or run, or some source modules from the project do not compile.
  • Find the "conventional" tests automatically, reducing boilerplate significantly.

TBC is at an embryonic stage of development, and would greatly benefit from feedback and/or patches. :-)

The git repo is here: http://github.com/peteg/TBC/, and here's the Hackage page.

Andy Gill & Graham Hutton's Worker/Wrapper in HOLCF, finally.

/hacking/isabelle | Link

Finally completed this bit of work, started sometime around December 2007. The Isabelle proofs available here remain a bit rough, but I did manage to find a bug in the original presentation by Andy Gill and Graham Huttonunwrap must be strict for fusion to be correct. From there it is a short step to a fusion rule that provably works. I've submitted a corrigendum-ish paper to the JFP and we'll see what happens now.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

/noise/movies | Link

Too long, but well made.

Whitlam Institute: Getting to grips with the economy: John Quiggin, Steve Keen, Guy Debelle

/noise/talks | Link

Trekked out to the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta with Pete R.. Took us a bit more than an hour to get there, with heavy traffic on Parramatta Road and the M4 even around 4:30pm; I find it hard to believe that anyone would do this every day.

We got there perhaps ten minutes into Quiggin's keynote talk, which sounded a lot like he was reading directly from his blog. Generally he focussed on what the institutional response to the global financial crisis should be, in structural terms. I guess the guts of it is in Quiggin's paper, and in brief, the idea is to get the public sector to take a larger role in the areas where markets have not shown themselves to be superior. A sample argument: the government can always borrow at better rates than the private sector (presumably axiomatically: the private sector is underpinned/regulated by the Government, and hence cannot be a better risk) so there is no real (as compared to political) gain in financing via public-private partnerships. A lot of the nuance was beyond my limited understanding, but as always he sounds at least plausible and often irrefutable.

Of the two respondants, Steve Keen, A/Prof at the University of Western Sydney, stridently claimed the economy is fuelled by debt to a much larger extent than the government admits, and that it has a pervasively pernicious effect. Pete R. was suspicious about his charts and simulations, which were difficult to interpret in such limited time. Most interesting was his claim that all decreases in unemployment since the great depression have been funded by debt that has yet to be paid off; in other words, we have no story for sustainable growth. One man's debt is his countryman's investment?

The other respondent was Guy Debelle, who cursorily dismissed a lot of what Keen had to say. It was difficult to take him for more than a technocrat, playing the reassure-the-sheep role that the Reserve Bank is generally adept at. Not much light, and the heat was a bit tedious.

John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider

/noise/books | Link

Finally got to one of Mark's recommendations after finding it at the secondhand bookshop on Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn that Bernie took me to. It is definitely the best of the Brunners I've read thus far.

This is one of those big ideas author hobby horse scifi operas, where some things are spelt out in excessive detail and some details are skimmed right over. (Think libertarianism and Heinlein.) I can't really take utopianism seriously, except perhaps real utopias: who's to say the new powerbrokers will be any better than the old ones? — but this is merely aspirationalism on the part of the author, not worth analysing further, and I'm not going to get sucked into strawman work...

The book's big claim to fame is the first appearance of the (tape)worm meme. The idea of programs self-propagating through computer networks surely did not originate here, though just what such a device might achieve is quite well explored. His actual proposal is probably closer to a botnet now, something that could only be removed by dismantling the network.

I'll bite a bit on the idea that there should be no privacy on the network: his focus is on institutions, which mostly produce information that could ideally be made freely available. Moverover Brunner seems to understand that all transactions will be tracked but misses the implication that corporations (and not just government) will abuse that info, and it may be the cross-referencing that ultimately causes the most pain. Really, how is it workable to have zero privacy for government decisions and reasonable privacy for individuals? &mdash but I said I wouldn't get sucked in.

The plot gets a bit implausible at the discontinuity from recorded memories to real-time action, and I found Kate to be little more than a geek fantasy, the wise woman who understands, her intuition perfect and forward to boot. Shame about the scrawniness. Precipice is too perfect a settlement to be stable, and he never mentioned who's collecting the garbage.

The Delphi Pools are cute, albeit coarsely sketched. Here Brunner slips past the obvious moral concerns (that some things are broadly thought too icky to bet on) and instead presents them as a means for the government to adjust the well-being indices of the population, a conundrum for any more immediate democracy. Full points for exploring this feedback loop, but how about the myriad others?

For more, you can read someone's brain dump full of spoilers on Wikipedia. Here's another review that takes it apart a bit more.

First of the cyberpunk novels? Perhaps, perhaps not, I dunno, but worthwhile in any case.

The Big Hit

/noise/movies | Link

The big cheesefest. A Marky-Mark classic, where he almost out-Arnies Arnie as a ham actor. Lou Diamond Phillips in peak form. I note Elliott Gould appears in the drunken Jewish father role.

I think I've seen it twice before, and I wish my memory was worse.

Wake in Fright

/noise/movies | Link

As mrak has accused me of posting too many things of tweet length (the horror), I'll have to start padding out the movie log with extraneous bullshit like this.

At the Chauvel at the pensioner hour of 11am, on the day of the week that everyone gets in for $9. The last thing I saw there was apparently The Passenger almost three years ago. The last thing I remember seeing there was a collection of student shorts, specifically the fantastically provincial Beef Off, many years ago.

Of course I went on the back of the hugely inflated ratings awarded by the review crowd, and not because Nick Cave claimed it to be "[t]he best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence" (the grab on the flyer for the movie). Dare I buck the trend slightly and assert the plot is spaghetti, the characters generally unbelievably one-dimensional, and wonder at how anyone can take it to be saying much about anything. Sure, people in the bush go shooting, but I strongly doubt they drink more than urbanites. I wonder if we're (collectively) going up or down in the per capita rankings. People are cruel everywhere, and there are plenty of places that are aggressively hospitable to people of Anglo stock. The acting is occasionally fun.

The cinematography is sometimes enjoyable, reminding me of the towns of my childhood.

Parkes Radio Telescope Open Day

/noise | Link

Dad and I headed off to the Dish in the early morning, and got to their once-in-a-blue-moon open day around 10:30am. The helpful organisers claimed to have taken about 1500 visitors through the telescope building on Saturday, and that we were fortunate that they were better organised today. (ABC news later claimed 7000 people visited that weekend.) We queued for about 40 minutes, much less than we had anticipated, and the tour went for about the same again. Almost all the electricals have been rewired now, with the old receiver module (now taken by several people for a lunar landing module exhibit) being replaced by one with a humongous 13-head sensor, piped with fibre optics. Apparently the media got to go on the Dish itself on the Saturday morning, but I haven't seen any photographs from that. The tour was fantastic, everyone becomes a geek.

The CSIRO staff seemed to be enjoying themselves, talking about all kinds of things. I guess the beauty of this telescope is that it spans so many scientific and engineering disciplines. The Albert Einstein character kept the kids enthralled and made me wonder if his faith might've been restored by these efforts in the 1960s.

Dad scrounged up an old book for me: Parkes: One hundred years of Local Government. Compiled by R.T. Tindall in association with the Parkes Centenary Book Committee. Griffin Press, ISBN 0959278605, 1982. I scanned the chapter on the radio telescope and posted it here (circa 14Mb PDF).

I can't help but feel that while scientific progress might be faster than ever, the type of science and engineering that captures the public imagination has slipped into history. Australia will chuck $88 million into a Chilean optical telescope, and one can only hope the Chileans keep their pollution under control (and the Brazilians stop cutting down the Amazon). Quiggin opines that the moon was approximately as far as we can go, but with his being an economist I want to see the error bars.

Neil Armstrong asserts that the race to the moon was a byproduct of the cold war, a Kantian perspective that I find vaguely troubling.

John Brunner: Into the Slave Nebula

/noise/books | Link

I fear this one was written sometime around 1968 to satisfy a soul-destroying contractual obligation. The title gives most of it away, and smeering it with scifi does not improve on an entirely predictable plot. Perhaps the reader is supposed to be amused that the author is aware that this space romance is a turkey.

Vale, Robert S. McNamara.

/noise/politics | Link

I read today that Robert S. McNamara is dead. Kaplan's piece in Slate gives a reasonable account of what made him such a pivotal figure; I can't say the same of his counterpart writing for Salon, whose portrayal of the broader history of the Vietnam War is much, much weaker than his stridently polar conclusions.

Perhaps it is time to watch Fog of War again. I definitely won't go as far as to re-read In Retrospect.

John Brunner: Total Eclipse

/noise/books | Link

I picked up a pile of Brunners at Gould's. As always, I walked in with hopes of finding some particular books, viz the ones that Mark suggested, and walked out with other things. This one takes on a classic theme, viz alien anthropology, ala Asimov's The Gods Themselves and Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, and does nothing special to it. Oh, of course the boy genius solves the puzzle of why the aliens died out. Sorry to spoil it for you.

What I found most frustrating was the imprecision: apparently these aliens produced "exactly one" of their artefacts, or at least that is what was found by the 100,000 year late Earthlings. Only one knife? One house? Err, of course not, he mostly meant one type of knife, house, etc. except perhaps where he doesn't; maybe there is just one ship in the entire world. What was the point of that telescope anyway? I hoped it was going to go all 2001 and take great vengeance on the various stereotypes in this book.

The ending is a bit depressing (perhaps too like the subsequent Rama X for two many Xs) and a tad predictable given all the self-absorbed personalities involved. Are they not smart enough to think up other ways to pass their time?

This review is a bit fairer.

Bugsy

/noise/movies | Link

Ennio Morricone did the music.

From Dusk Till Dawn

/noise/movies | Link

John Brunner: Telepathist

/noise/books | Link

Mark suggested I read some John Brunner, and though he didn't recommend this one in particular, it was all I could find at Gleebooks second-hand a few months ago. I haven't read this sort of classic pulp-ish scifi for a long time, excepting the occasional moldering Asimov, and having looked through quite a few library catalogues and second-hand bookshops they are getting quite difficult to find.

Here Brunner is workman-like, recounting the rise of a mental superman with a broken body to the peak of the "curative telepathy" profession. At the two-thirds point I worried that it would go all Ubik with mental worlds-inside-worlds, but fortunately he dodged that bullet. It's an amiable read, but surely not his best; there are a few non sequiturs in the plot, such as the ready acceptance he finds when he returns to his home town in the last third.

Apparently it was released as The Whole Man in the U.S., which might give you some idea of the narrative arc.

David Malouf: Ransom

/noise/books | Link

The major problem with David Malouf is that I feel I am committing great sins of cliche, repetition and irreverence by even attempting to appraise his work. Could anyone summarise the ambit of this work any better than by calling it "a reimagining of a great scene of the Iliad"? Simply, I cannot.

Somewhat like the obvious reference point earlier in his career, viz An Imaginary Life, the book starts slowly and is fixated on character; the plot provides some opportunity for interaction but the preference is rumination. Scenery is sketched with incredible economy. Part IV makes it all worthwhile.

Bell Shakespeare: Pericles, Prince of Tyre at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House.

/noise/theatre | Link

Featuring a plot that would embarass Michael Bay, Pericles is one of those minor Shakespearean comedies that I was and should have remained oblivious to. The laughs are thin on the ground, and according to Wikipedia it is of dodgy provenance.

To be fair, the acting was fine without anyone standing out, and the set design quite fancy and well-used. But what is a director to do when the plot cannot possibly captivate the audience? Throw the focus to exotic music (Japanese TaikOz) and dance (err) to enliven, to enbulk. The drumming, indeed captivating at times, seemed to be of little relevance to the action, apart from perhaps evoking some kind of heraldry, yet Pericles is no worthy king. Conversely a wan flute was more impressive than the dreamy sequence it accompanied.

Thematically there were no ruminations, no exploration of the human spirit, just a bunch of coincidences and commerce. The gods are Roman (Jupiter, Diane) not Greek, and lost their gravitas in translation; not so much in the machine as worn lightly in dialogue, to glue things together, for the wordy virgin to implore as her improbable fate unwinds, and to smite the weak king and his capricious consort as explained in the closing words-rather-than-action monologue. John Bell has been spruiking this as levity, a worthy piece of escapism from the morass of the moment. I must admit to wishing for a speedier return to my tribulations.

More prosaically I was a bit shocked about the lack of etiquette in the theatre, with the late comers that were admitted well into the performance pushing past me, interrupting my view of the stage, and the usher's flashlight too regularly shining brightly in my peripheral vision. This was a preview, and if I hadn't got in for $42.50 I would've been even more annoyed.

Moreover the refurbishment of the theatre foyer is a joke. The box office is slap in the middle, so the queue blocks people walking between the bar and the dunnies. The dunnies are artless. The cloakage counter is narrow and the bloke has to walk too far to retrieve the gear, making for incredibly slow service. Again the queue there blocks the free movement of people. The bar is on the opposite side of the ticketing desk, and yes, that's another queue to snake through. The entry doors are narrow and perpendicular to the ramps, leading me to wonder how the lady in the wheelchair gained access.

Has it really been a year since i last went to the theatre? I guess I've lost interest.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

/noise/movies | Link

The horror, the horror. It is one thing to pay homage to a style of movie and quite another to vacuously and resolutely clone it. I have never been a Harrison Ford fan, indeed never saw the point in him, and all I see here is an effort to fatten various bank accounts. I failed to recognise Cate Blanchett and am shocked, absolutely shocked, that she would deign to be in dreck like this. Shocked, I tell you. Good thing she did it in commie drag (or perhaps her customary anti-fame camo streetwear).

Twelve Monkeys

/noise/movies | Link

Not as good as I remembered from my last viewing, approximately a decade ago for a first-year philosophy class. I am now convinced that even with the premise of time travel into the past, Bruce Willis should have no involvement.

Bread and Roses

/noise/movies | Link

Another Ken Loach effort, sentimentalising the workers and brutally simplifying the bastardry of the lower echelons of management. A bit cloying but otherwise not too bad. Kind-of, sort-of, It's a Free World with lost angels.

State of Play

/noise/movies | Link

At 10am in a small theatre at The Ritz, with quite a few oldies.

Abigail's Party

/noise/movies | Link

An early Mike Leigh made-for-TV. Quite clunky by his later standards, a bit hackneyed and all too clearly failing to improve on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

The Hangover

/noise/movies | Link

At the Australia Theatre in Orange, with Dave, at the just-before-school-gets-out hour of 3pm. I think the last thing I saw there was the Footrot Flats movie, back in 1986 or so. For a while in the not-to-distant-past Orange had two cinemas, but Dave tells me the other one shut down, albeit not before inflicting another four or five theatres on this venerable edifice.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

/noise/movies | Link

On Channel9, perfect for an empty mind while minding the cat.

Richard Tognetti: Various Bach pieces.

/noise/music | Link

After happening upon Richard Tognetti's performance of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin at the Orange City Library a while ago, I was keen to buy the five CD collection of his other Bach efforts. I lucked out at Boomers Books in Orange where they were still flogging it for $50, whereas the online ABC shop now seems to want $90. It's good hacking music, albeit slightly too plaintive.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Watsons Bay. This trip had been delayed for many weeks for a variety of reasons, not the least being the steady rain in May and early June. Yesterday it rained, despite the BOM's promises of fine weather. Today was in fact beautifully clear and still, quite unbelievably so after the past weeks' cold dreariness. The rumour was that the water is quite warm, circa 20 degrees.

As we expected, it being a weekday afternoon and all, the place was pretty much deserted; plenty of space in the council carpark right next to Camp Cove. The water was bearable in a wetsuit, singlet, 1.5mm gloves and boots, after the icecream headache passed. Loads of fish, some young groper and other things I don't know the names of. We made it to Lady Bay Beach where it was business as usual, and walked back to the car in what could've passed for decent autumnal weather.

High Hopes

/noise/movies | Link

Another pre-Naked Mike Leigh effort. Not as good as what came later, but not bad.

Transformers

/noise/movies | Link

Definitely not worth a second viewing. The CGI is still pretty amazing, perhaps due to the spaghetti camera work that makes the action quite difficult to follow.

I got thinking that it summarised the Bush era pretty well: a love affair with the military, particularly the grunts on the ground; a fascination with vacuous youth culture; strip-mining the 80s for franchises to blockbuster; unfriendly treatment of aliens, even friendly ones; and so forth. Doubtlessly there's a PhD thesis out there on precisely this.

I miss the cheese.

Ghost in the Shell

/noise/movies | Link

Cyberpunk? Perhaps, but for mine sliding into the post- category. The soundtrack is quite good, almost making up for the too much talking and not enough showing. What was that Don Marquis quote again? Ah, yes...

William Gibson: Mona Lisa Overdrive

/noise/books | Link

Another loose sequel-ish sort of follow-on from Count Zero, and yes, the cyberpunk style was wearing that thin by the end of the 80s. This is more a romp for Gibson with his favourite characters than any serious attempt to tell a story, or perhaps it is merely floating a collection of ideas for the Matrix sequels to raid. The metaphysics is almost completely auxiliary, the narrative weaker than ever and the new characters vapid.

Terminator Salvation

/noise/movies | Link

At the after-school session at The Ritz. It committed the ultimate movie sin of being boring, almost entirely illogical and uninteresting in the sum total, which was unfortunate as a lot of the elements held promise. Structurally the first two movies held our interest as there were only a very few antagonists, one of which was almost indestructable by the others. When there's a metric shirtload of terminating devices the suspense cannot be sustained, and this viewer left feeling that without the classic aesthetics this would have gone straight to DVD. Arnie's presence is not only totally fake but entirely tokenistic, perhaps the first time the big man has been so completely ridden.

On the ha-ha-they're-such-serious-artists front, we have Sam Worthington claiming there's some truth and reality to be had here, and I throw my lot in with whoever first observed that Christian Bale's blow-up is the most convincing part of his performance.

William Gibson: Count Zero

/noise/books | Link

A sort-of sequel to Neuromancer. The three stories, interwoven, are probably better inferred from the Wikipedia plot summary than the book itself. Given that we're in it for the stylistic flashiness, this one burns less brightly than its predecessor, and is nowhere as original. Thematically it is something of a Terminator-alike, with big strong men duking it out over some weakling who's critical to the plot for somewhat artificial reasons, and so forth.

Once more Gibson treats cyberspace as fashion accessory, making no essential use of it. Moreover the plot could not possibly work if it functioned as the internet does now, i.e. pervasively providing ambient information.

New Rose Hotel

/noise/movies | Link

The Last of the Mohicans

/noise/movies | Link

eXistenZ

/noise/movies | Link

Sunshine

/noise/movies | Link

Philip K. Dick: Vulcan's Hammer

/noise/books | Link

Prototype for the plot of Terminator and other technodystopic iconographics. Tries to out-psych 1984, combining the classics (Vulcan's hammer? As in, those flying things were forging something?) with some shamelessly artless workmanship. It's all tediously first order; if two "sentient", mechanised intelligences are waging a proxy war on each other, wouldn't you expect the smarter one to figure out a robust winning strategy?

It seems pointless to read Dick now; his ideas have either been absorbed into the popular culture or are just dross, and I can't always tell. Some may argue that he got there first, but others have polished the product and gone deeper.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link

Midday snorkel with Rob at Little Bay. We had the beach to ourselves, pretty much, and the fish seemed to be enjoying the cooler and quite calm waters. Visibility was excellent and there was plenty to see. The water was quite pleasant in a spring suit, and the day bright and sunny, albeit a bit windy. Surprisingly there was no chill in the wind.

Shoham, Leyton-Brown: Multiagent Systems: Algorithmic, Game-Theoretic, and Logical Foundations

/cs | Link

This book looks fantastic. Social choice, formal epistemics, game theory, so on and so forth. I really need a few spare lives right now.

What makes it even more fantastic is that Cambridge University Press has allowed them to distribute it as a free eBook too, making them surely the most progressive academic publisher.

The Da Vinci Code

/noise/movies | Link

Philip K. Dick: Ubik

/noise/books | Link

Confused.

Star Trek

/noise/movies | Link

At the after-school session at The Ritz.

Brian Huffman's soundness proofs for stream fusion

/hacking/isabelle | Link

I never post about anything technical I do any more, so instead I'll talk about someone else's stuff. Brian Huffman, HOLCF's last man standing, has a brand new entry in the Archive of Formal Proofs about verifying stream fusion. From a cursory read I thought he had opted for the "correct but GHC can't optimise it" variant floated in the original paper, but it turns out he has modelled the actual implementation. As always his proofs are mystifying in their clarity and succinctness.

Sweet, someone has ported the library to Standard ML.

Incidentally I stumbled upon VeriFun, which looks like it might be interesting, albeit inert. I wonder what their underlying logic is.

William Gibson: Neuromancer

/noise/books | Link

I read this about thirty months ago and didn't remember squat. Indeed, I don't remember much even an hour after completing it. The Matrix-as-vacuous-extension seems stronger than ever: the Rastas, Zion, the dub, the uneven technology. But where did they pull Larry Fishburn from? I fear mrak is right, that technology does undermine all traditional story forms; this plot probably wouldn't fly if it extrapolated from today's gizmos.

Everywhere I go, people ask me: "what impact is kruddnet going to have? What are the applications?" The ambient opinion is more of the same, or at least more of what I've already got (circa 1Mb/s down, 100kb/s up on Exetel, approx 70Gb a month, reasonable price). Sure, there's truckloads one can do with pervasive wifi (err, work in a cafe for starters), but obese pipes? When are we going to get a Wintermute?

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure

/noise/books | Link

After seeing Jude a few weeks ago, I thought I'd give the book a go, and am glad I did. Hardy's prose is nowhere as stodgy as that of his fellow Victorian Dickens [1]. While the plot drags at times, and his characterisation of female traits somewhat lamentable, on the whole the novel chugs along quite pleasantly. It's a bit like reading George Orwell: the social politics dominates (and sometimes lays waste to) all else, in a readable way.

Apparently the canoncity of Hardy's text is unclear; the Penguin classic I obtained from UNSW Library, dated 1998, has the accoutrements of an academic treatise. I particularly disliked the endnotes, as one couldn't readily tell if they were usefully explaining some classical or geographical reference or merely pointing out where the various texts differed.

I can't resist reproducing the following, from Part Sixth, Chapter 1 (p326 in the book I read):

But finding himself the centre of curiosity, quizzing, and comment, Jude was not inclined to shrunk from open declarations of what he had no great reason to be ashamed of; and in a little while was stimulated to say in a loud voice to the listening throng generally:

'It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man — that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times — whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don't admit that my failure proved my view to be the wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that's how we appraise such attempts nowadays — I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes. If I had ended by becoming like one of these gentlemen in red and black that we saw dropping in here by now, everybody would have said: "See how wise that young man was, to follow the bent of his nature!" But having ended no better than I began they say: "See what a fool that fellow was in following a freak of his fancy!"

'However it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten. It takes two or three generations to do what I tried to do in one; and my impulses — affections — vices perhaps they should be called — were too strong not to hamper a man without advantages; who should be as cold-blooded as a fish and as selfish as a pig to have a really good chance of being one of his country's worthies. You may ridicule me — I am quite willing that you should — I am a fit subject, no doubt. But I think if you knew what I have gone through these last few years you would rather pity me. And if they knew' — he nodded towards the college at which the Dons were severally arriving — 'it is just possible they would do the same.'

'He do look ill and worn-out, it is true!' said a woman.

Sue's face grew more emotional; but though she stood close to Jude she was screened.

'I may do some good before I am dead — be a sort of success as a frightful example of what not to do; and so illustrate a moral story,' continued Jude, beginning to grow bitter, though he had opened serenely enough. 'I was, perhaps, after all, a paltry victim to the spirit of mental and social restlessness, that makes so many unhappy in these days!'

'Don't tell them that!' whispered Sue with tears, at perceiving Jude's state of mind. 'You weren't that. You struggled Nobly to acquire knowledge, and only the meanest souls in the world would blame you!'

Jude shifted the child into a more easy position on his arm, and concluded: 'And what I appear, a sick and poor man, is not the worst of me. I am in a chaos of principles — groping in the dark — acting by instinct and not after example. Eight or nine years ago when I came here first, I had a neat stock of opinions, but they droped away one by one; and the further I get the less sure I am. I doubt if I have anything more for my present rule of life than following inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best. There, gentlemen, since you wanted to know how I was getting on, I have told you. Much good may it do you! I cannot explain further here. I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine, — if, indeed, they ever discover it — at least in our time. "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? — and who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?"

The movie concludes at what I think was an opportune point in the plot; the denouement merely repeats and reinforces the social commentary of the above form, driven by some under-explained female hysterics and scheming.

[1] DickensURL.com gifted me this fantastic URL: http://DickensURL.com/be3/Oh_gracious,_why_wasn't_I_born_old_and_ugly?.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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At the obscene time of 10am in the almost-entirely-empty main theatre of the The Ritz.

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Early afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Lots of those flats are finished and almost finished now. Went in in the wetsuit, quite pleasant, visibility a bit weird - almost blurry. Blue gropers, zebra fish, a tube-like one, silvery black-striped standards, but not my micro swordfish.

X Men 3: The Last Stand

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X-Men

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X-Men 2

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Midday snorkel with Rob at a fairly rough Long Bay. We got in, wearing spring suits, from a little beach a bit further on from the boat ramp on the north side, as the surf was quite rough. Someone dumped a car in the bay, just south of the boat ramp, giving us something to look at for a few minutes. Quite pleasant in, I'd guess around 18 degrees, but quite uncomfortable out (around 14 degrees with a stiff wind and some light rain).

Leonard Cohen: Live in London

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I read somewhere that Leonard Cohen had released a recording of one of the concerts of his current world tour. The tour itself now seems endless, and indeed will apparently involve more than one circumnavigation.

The set list for this gig in London is quite similar to what Pete R. and I got back in January. After a cursory listen on the laptop speakers, I am somewhat unimpressed; perhaps it took him six months to get bored enough to stop experimenting, or remember how the songs go. The schtick is almost identical, and there's nothing to complain about there, but I don't (yet) think this eclipses the live album of 1994. That had an indoors, sit-down feel, whereas this one almost makes one grateful that U2 wasn't warming up.

CDs are so cheap now, I got this for $18 at the JB Hi-Fi lurking in the basement of the Strand on Pitt St mall.

Centre of the World

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Balthazar Getty and Molly Parker. Otherwise forgettable.

L.A. Confidential

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Code 46

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I braved the runoff from the recent rain and went for a mid-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Beautiful day for it, warmish, heading for hot. The water remains temperate. Quite a few people snorkelling.

Jude

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Talk Radio

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An early outing of the trademark Oliver Stone blunderbuss. Bogosian robustly voices endless schtick that is trite and cliched at this distance. The plot has an arc that wouldn't surprise a goldfish. Might've been better on the stage, or as a radio production.

Cape Fear

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Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Bare Island. We took our time and made it all the way around, but the water was too murky to see much, and we had to swing wide on the ocean side due to the rock fishermen. Quite pleasant once in, in a spring suit at least, and the continuing forecasts of showers, thunderstorms and other rain events still fail to eventuate.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Mid-afternoon paddle with Jon at an incredibly flat and clear Coogee. I've never seen it so shallow; we went out about twenty metres and it was still only chest-height. Would've been perfect for a snorkel too.

Harvie Krumpet

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John Clarke: The Tournament

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I bought this book back in 2002, when it was first published, probably in the face of this SMAGE review that I may have read at the time. It has rotted on my shelf for that long, always too daunting with its references to too many people I've heard of but never paid any mind to. Until now, until now.

Well, that review was right. John Clarke well knows that the quality of a metaphor is in how it twangs when overextended, or how much inspiration Dali got from it fracturing. Unfortunately the biggest joy I got from this text beyond the inviting novelty of the first few chapters was finishing it.

Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson: Journey to the Ants

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I finished reading this book, a distillation and popularisation of their more technical The Ants, back on Christmas Day of last year, but have only now found time to write it up. Indeed, it is not worth trying to critically evaluate or summarise; suffice it to say that anyone with an interest in natural science should read it lock-stock.

The highlights were the personal stories of how the authors came to study these insects, and the characteristics of the various ant species, specifically the leaf cutters (farmers of fungi), the weavers (assemblers of leaf nests), the bivouac-building army ants, and the aphid-shepherders. I'd be keen to see any of these in action. The art and photographs are amazing; you can get some idea from this National Geographic article on army ants.

The concept of eusociality is fascinating, and was apparently somewhat of a mystery to Charles Darwin, who intuited that that kind of specialisation depended on strong familial relationships. In essence, the question is why it would ever be more effective to put effort into raising sisters rather than one's own offspring. Work from the 1960s on kin selection explains this in terms of generational gene frequencies, and the author of the papers on the mathematical models, W. D. Hamilton, seems to be of the old naturalist school too. I want to understand this better.

Random things about the ants:

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Early-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. After my last effort I donned the spring suit, but the water was in fact quite pleasant and pests nowhere to be found. Visibility was mediocre, the surf moderate, the day itself close to perfect.

Daz's water and sanitation project in the news

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Someone's taken the time to do a good vibes write-up of his and others' efforts on the Mekong Delta.

The Reader

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Early-afternoon snorkelling attempt from the northern side of Gordons Bay. Things were going well until I decided to swim across the bay, thinking I'd check out the rocks just north of my usual swimming spot. I ran straight into what seemed to be a flotilla, perhaps even an armada, of blue bottles. Initially I thought I'd gotten snagged in someone's fishing line and cavalierly started bulling the blue threads off my mask and snorkel, until I realised I was surrounded by the pesky little things. Suffice it to say I got stung on the lips, cheek, neck and right inner-forearm. Good thing I was wearing my spring suit or it would've been carnage.

I tried the cold shower then the hot shower, and came away thinking that the hot one reduced the discomfort the most. The bubbling of the skin went away in an hour.

Apart from that the water was very pleasant and I did see a few fish in the few minutes I was in.

David Markson: This is not a novel

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Dave C gave this to me many, many years ago, around the time he departed Australia for good. I can see what attracted him to this experiment in fiction, and also why he so freely parted with it.

Reader feels less appreciation for the non-novel on completion than whilst reading it. Pages were turned, jokes occasionally apprehended.

Artifice wears thin, preoccupations of author too banal, reader opines. Speculation, questions of a rhetorical nature, seem a cheap device. Particularly in the era of reductive analysis. Even more particularly in the face of millenia of art, much providing substantial insight.

To reference is not to create. To refer in French is to posture. To refer in Latin is to solipsistically enjoy the firing of one's own neurons. Reader would have preferred characters and plot to a toilet roll of death notices.

Reader can almost perceive the genesis of Nick Cave's circa-2004 renaissance in this book, with structure and themes closely parallelling There She Goes, My Beautiful World. Reader is relieved that the benefit was not solely the author's.

Michael Collins

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Dark City

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Appaloosa

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Traitor

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Early-afternoon paddle at Putty Beach with Sarah. Flat-as and a bit cold, but plenty secluded. We also drove around Woy Woy a bit but didn't find anything too interesting to look at.

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Midday paddle at the northern side of Gordons Bay. Getting in from the scuba ramp is a bit tricky without the boots. The water was cold-ish, I went in with a wife-beater and didn't stay long. Very pleasant day for it though.

Watchmen

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At the afternoon session at The Ritz.

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Lengthy mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Long Bay. We got in at the relatively young Malabar baths, got past the scads of floating detritus and headed out along the southern side of the bay. I was comfortable in a wife beater, Rob in a rashie and a spring suit. Loads of fish, especially immature blue gropers.

Censorship as comedy

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Well, that took longer than I expected: a derivative of the ACMA blacklist has been leaked, or least that's the claim; WikiLeaks is presently overloaded, and Conroy is not saying otherwise. I guess that if this censorship gambit is going to stake a some kind of claim to legitimacy by being consistent, they must start down the path of blacklisting Slashdot and all the other sites that, however indirectly, point at this list. Heh, they'll also need to make sure all the derived web filtering software locks it down properly too. Good luck with that.

Let the right one in

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Eller på svenska, Låt den rätte komma in. Very well constructed, but Moodysson can be that creepy without recourse to the supernatural.

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Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people there, far more than I'd expect for a Friday in March, and quite a few dogs too. Flat-as, and the water was as warm as it has been all season.

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Mid-afternoon swim at Maroubra with mrak. I ventured out a bit further this time and got creamed twice as often. Beautiful time to be doing it, and the water remains quite pleasant once in.

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Mid-afternoon stand-around-in-the-surf at Maroubra. I hadn't been for a few years and was daunted by the fearsome reputation of both the surf and the locals. The problem for me was the sand drops off pretty quick, so halfway out to the breakers I couldn't tell how far out I should go, especially without my specs. I think the surf was quite tame but wasn't sure about rips and all that. Loads of surfers, some loafers but in no sense was the beach packed.

Censorship as reflex arc

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Seems I was too hasty last month in welcoming the slide of web censorship further down the crapper; the latest is that ACMA will fine you $11k a day for linking to black-listed sites. The scary bit was the turn-around time, between the plant, the complaint, and ACMA's response. One wonders just how routine this is going to become, especially while an increasingly erratic Fielding First remains in the senate.

Zoolander

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/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Late-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Absolutely perfect conditions, and pretty good visibility to boot. Lots of fish of all sizes, including some very immature gropers, the old small silvery swordfish things, and something gray-blue, clownfish-shaped that had a single white line up its side.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Mid-afternoon paddle at a very placid Gordons Bay. A few people there. The water is just about perfect.

Zach and Miri Make a Porno

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Ghost Town

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Valkyrie

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RocknRolla

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Absolute dreck. Guy Richie must've needed to pony up some cash to pay off Madonna.

Dương Thu Hương: Novel Without a Name

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Daz gave me this one after he got back from Việt Nam, the idiomatically-Saigonese photocopied edition. I found it much better than Paradise of the Blind, containing a lot less food porn. The plot ambles through the northern theatres of war, skipping lightly over the details of battle, up to the final throws of the struggle with the puppet Southern regime. The author does a much better job of drawing her predominantly male characters than your average male author does on his women.

The Machinist

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Mid-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay. Absolutely perfect day for it, clear and warm but not hot. The bay was a bit too rough to just float around and see everything, or perhaps the spear fishermen had been working hard. The water temperature was just right, though a bit cloudy.

Griffith Review #22: MoneySexPower (Summer 2008/2009)

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Here I am, finishing reading the summer's Griffith Review at the tail end of its shelf-life. I think I started back in November. While it is less patchy than last time's, on the whole it failed to grab me. The highlights:

  • Edwina Shaw's tale of teaching in a coughJuvenile Justice Centre, The heaviness of keys, is wryly amusing.
  • I missed the point of Jonathan Raban's Just two clicks, where the activities of a hitherto-unknown-to-me Neil Entwhistle are recounted and somewhat analysed. What the subject did was bizarre and perhaps inexplicable, but for Raban to close out the essay with a string of caveating maybes is weak. It is well written though.
  • Something for the weekend is Tony Barrell's potted history of Rupert's infamous shock rag News of the World, which I always thought specialised in alien abductions. I guess the sordid sells more.
  • Peter Ellingsen recounts his coverage of Tiananmen Square in his memoir China on my mind, reminding me of all that the modern newspaper fails to deliver.
  • In Love Thy Neighbour, Craig Scutt discusses Australia(n men)'s relationship with South East Asia, well, Thailand in one particular, and sexual in another. I think the excerpt in the SMAGE is the better piece as it contains more innuendo.
  • Mary-Rose MacColl was charged with reviewing maternity services in Queensland in the recent past, and her experiences and summary findings are recounted in The birth wars. I expect her book of the same title will make riveting reading for those with a specific interest in this topic.
  • Rachel Robertson's Bonus ruminates on how her mothering of her son, who has autism, defines her as a "carer", worthy of a cash bonus from the Federal Government, because she is "eligible". The art of this essay is to enliven what I'd usually find to be a tedious word-semantic game with life experiences and a style of societal analysis that lacks obnoxiousness. Perhaps the stand-out piece.
  • The "reportage", My Banker, by Wayne McLenan would have been better billed as "bullshit". It's a long and rambling account of a dodgy investment arrangement in Central America, and like a story in a pub, didn't coalesce and didn't end soon enough. The best bits are set in Europe. His weakest piece yet.
  • Charlie Stansfield's The Last Taboo artfully explores the fraught sexuality of people with severe disabilities, based on her experience as a professional in the disability sector, and with professionals in other sectors. Another stand-out.

I found it funny that so much of MoneySexPower was concerned with disability; I was expecting the majority of the articles to cover the topical Wall St big swinging master of the universe type-A's.

W.

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Fairly tedious. I got the feeling that George H. W. Bush would have made a more interesting subject than Junior. It pushes all the buttons, too many buttons, unconvincingly. Brolin is as good as could be hoped for.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Tried going for an early-evening snorkel from the northern scuba-ramp of Gordons Bay, and got laughed out the ocean by some fairly hefty and powerful waves. Not to be completely stymied I tried paddling at Clovelly and got hammered by about the same. Not a good day for calm reflection in the coastal waters.

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Mid-afternoon paddle a mildly rough Gordons Bay. Beautiful day for it, apparently only 22 degrees but feeling a lot warmer, even with the wind. Hardly anyone about down at Coogee. The water is finally generally warm enough to be pleasant throughout the bay.

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Braved the dumpers at Coogee in the later afternoon. Quite pleasant in, not many fellow beach users about.

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Back to Gordons Bay in the early evening for a swim around (half) the bay, starting at the beach. Beautiful, even as the storm clouds rolled in.

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Another beautiful late-summer's day in Sydney. I figured I'd try the northern end of Gordons Bay — just south of the Clovelly carpark — and sure enough it turned out to be blue-bottle free. Apparently not too many people were game after yesterday's extreme jellyfish event.

Hunger

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Much better than it had a right to be; not much happens, the narrative is entirely predictable to anyone who knows anything about the IRA and Bobby Sands. The scene in the middle, a twenty-minute plus dialogue between Sands and the priest, makes the movie. The lead actor must have a huge future, like Christian Bale (cf The Machinist) before him.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Headed down in the mid-afternoon for a paddle at Gordons Bay, only to find a surf lifesaver boat in the middle of it and a few hundred blue bottles washed up on shore. I'd never seen so many, and there were hundreds more just off the beach. Near as I could tell no-one was in the water.

Vale, Web Censorship?

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Apparently Senator Xenophon has decided to withdraw his support for Conroy's censorship legislation. I have a bad feeling we haven't seen the end of this one though, especially if Conroy's career is riding on its implementation.

Here's more from the ABC.

On the balance I will take this as evidence that my subscription to the EFA is doing some good...

Day Watch

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Late afternoon swim at Coogee with Dave. Slightly larger surf than average, quite warm and not too busy.

The International

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At The Ritz with Jen.

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Mid-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, for the first time in ages. Quiet, and the water was reasonably warm and clean out in the middle.

Revolutionary Road

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Choke

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JCVD

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The Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum

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Subtitled Home of the Somerville Collection. I took a leisurely drive from Orange back to Sydney, and happened to remember this museum in Bathurst. Apparently it has been in operation for quite a while, perhaps since 2004, in an old school building quite similar to the assembly hall at Orange Public, and incidentally, the church down the road where Gonk got married. The town didn't look so different, though almost everyone I knew has moved on, and the number of empty shops waiting for new businesses to spring forth was worrying.

The museum contains a lot of mineral and rock samples, and so would be fascinating to a geologist or chemist, I guess. The fossil collection is relatively small with the highlight being a full size cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It is impressive but also not very integrated with the ambient narrative of slowly evolving life. Something to get the kids in, perhaps.

I probably wouldn't have bothered looking in if it weren't for the nostalgia of loitering in Bathurst for an afternoon.

H. W. Lewis: Why Flip A Coin?

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I finished reading this back in mid-January but have only now found the time to write it up. I've forgotten why I picked it up, probably on the strength of a blog review or something.

This is a very Americentric take on probability and decision theory, with a smattering of public choice, game theory and random other things. Math is almost absent, so there is almost no support for all the "trust me"s the author throws in. A bibliography would have ameliorated this. There are some good pop-sci treatments of various things, but it ends up being a ramble with too much opinion and not enough evidence. The ultimate advice is formulate-then-compute, and stick to it.

The bit I enjoyed most was about Lanchester's laws, which model how two opposed army-like things inflict damage on each other as a function of time. There is a good writeup of the math here.

His take on Arrow's Theorem is a bit naive and uninteresting; a more insightful approach would have furnished some perspective through the later work of Amartya Sen (and many others) or perhaps May's Theorem, but clearly there's more table-thumping to be had in banging on about how impossible voting is.

Wayne McLennan: Tent Boxing

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I picked this one up whilst waiting for Andrew T. It was just sitting in the window of Sappho Books, someone thinking it a hook, and for $14 I figured I may as well be the mug. (The last thing I bought there was Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell.) I'm a fan of McLennan's short pieces, especially those in the Griffith Review, and the Smage gave this memoir a glowing review.

Here he recounts his recent experience, at the age of fifty, of joining an old-school tent boxing troupe on a journey from Tullamore (near the centre of New South Wales) to Far North Queensland. There's a lot of drinking, a bit of fighting, a lot of male bonding, some aggro, some scenery, and a lot more drinking. Of course he has a go himself, and of course that was ill-advised. I always liked how he expresses his regrets and fears, the dangers and his responses to them. There's plenty of quiet reflection here, in a Henry Lawson sort of a way.

Despite what the Smage opined, I preferred his earlier Rowing to Alaska, which I found more naturally episodic and more diverse in its episodes. On the topic of boxing, his earlier piece for the Griffith Review is quite riveting.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Midday snorkel with Rob at Botany Bay. We went in straight off the beach opposite Paris Seafood; visibility was bugger-all, the water was cold, and I was worried about getting run over by the tinnies flying about. As we got around the point on the way to Bare Island things cleared up. We'll have to go back and do the rest of it. So many people today, cars parked every which where.

Paul Theroux: Dark Star Safari

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Gonk recommended this book to me ages ago, and I ended up buying a Penguin classic-cover edition on the strength of that, the price, the account of crossing Lake Victoria I heard on Radio National, and the first page, where the author promises to cut through the televised myth of Africa-the-poor. To an extent he does.

The story is a sprawling, slightly flabby account of Theroux's return-to-Africa around 2001, an overland trip from Cairo to Cape Town via some of the places he spent time as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s. There's a solid focus on the individuals he met that time and this, the wildlife and the flora. Politicking gets some time in the sun but lacks sufficient background for non-Africophiles to really get to grips with.

Theroux clearly has an intense dislike of the kind of tourism Africa was once famous for — Hemingway-esque big game hunting — and the "agents of virtue", of which he was once one. I guess he wants to drive a wedge between those who attempted to provide a secular education (or similar, i.e. a worthy long term investment in the people, not infrastructure) and those who try to save souls or build monuments to aid agencies. He argues strongly that Africa has not developed, but is as bereft as anyone and everyone for what to try next. Less short-termism? More projects where Africans provide the labour and materials? A return to subsistence?

Theroux got kicked out of the Peace Corps, and you can read a great account of those days here. I think this book makes it quite clear that he benefited more from his experience than Malawi did, and that it could never have been any other way.

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Paddle at Gordons Bay at 6pm, while it was still packed with everyone else.

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Mid-afternoon paddle at a quite flat Little Bay. I was planning to snorkel but forgot to chuck the gear in the car. As I predicted they've sold the carpark-block and put up signs that tell you not to park there (everyone still does) and perversely that there is no access to the beach (even though there's a sign about fifty metres down the path that welcomes everyone to the bay). It's turning into a locals-only sort of place as the houses are completed and people with that sort of cash move in.

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Very late swim at Gordons Bay. Still quite a few people around.

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Standard early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Very pleasant.

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Mid-afternoon wade at a slightly-larger-than-usual Coogee. The water was cool-ish and the storm clouds were blowing in after a fairly warm lunchtime. Not a huge number of people down there.

Sin City

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Late-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay. Beautiful day for it, hot and calm, and it seemed a good idea to swim with a wife beater, to fend off the UV. Saw loads of fish, all too small to interest the spear fishermen, and a stingray that was making its way calmly along the rocks.

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Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Quite pleasant but a little colder than one might wish at this time of the year. A few people about, sunny until clouds threatening rain blew through. The heatwave continues.

Leonard Cohen

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Back in November I blew a significant chunk of my first paycheck as a contractor on tickets to see the big man, one for me, one for Pete R.. It was a difficult calculation, for on the one hand we needed to be close enough to check that he really was breathing, and on the other not so close that we were surrounded by silvertailed boomers. The compromise was second-tier seats and it turned out well, though from what I heard we would've also been OK if we'd braved the Entertainment Centre version of the same.

We'd planned to head up around midday, thinking it'd take about two hours and there'd be plenty of time to swan about on the way. As it was we were lucky to get there by 5:30pm, midway through a set by Paul Kelly that was having a marginal impact on a beautiful summer's afternoon. An earlier stop at a pub in Cessnock had allowed us to gauge how congenial the locals were, and I could readily imagine the town going all Wayne McLennan later in the evening.

After fortuitously dumping the car at a crossroads about a kilometre up the road, we hoofed it past the vineyards and slipped past the affable security lady at the gates of Bimbadgen Estate. She had no cause to be so affable; indeed, it was as if she hadn't been briefed on the uptight tosh on the website: why no cheese knives or softdrink? Only unopened water? ... and yes, we're already resigned to fattening the promoter's pockets by forking out large for booze at the venue, so none of that either. Surely the steep ticket prices and Leonard Cohen himself already keep the riff-raff out; there was no need for the conditions of entry to read like those for visiting hours at Long Bay.

We settled down in our pews up the back of the seated area. Leonard Cohen appeared promptly and got straight into it. He played almost everything I wanted to hear in the first half, including a beautiful rendition of Anthem. (Ultimately he played the entirety of the playable from The Future, apart from my favourite Waiting for the Miracle. He emphasised its absence by referring to his long-time collaborator as the co-author of that tune. Perverse.) The crowd was huge and exploded on the thinest pretexts. The sun set, spraying red against a cirrus front, and nobody noticed.

Pete had wriggled his way through the wrinkles to the gold-plated section, and reappeared at the break. I was worried that he hadn't drank enough but he said he was OK. We both felt a bit sorry for those up the back, getting lost in those hopeless huge screens, as the wind had blown Paul Kelly's noise around. No-one seemed particularly put out though.

The hit list continued: The Future (with Leonard losing interest in anal sex, or perhaps taking Australians for Americans, preferring it casual, but happy enough to be the white man dancing), Chelsea Hotel, Famous Blue Raincoat, In My Secret Life and so forth. I was shocked — shocked, I tell you! — to hear a slightly-too-fast First We Take Manhattan, which I'd thought to be off limits since Joe Cocker's cover. They sentenced me to sixty days of boredom... indeed. I was hugely amused when he switched on the pre-programmed synth for Tower of Song, perhaps the musically lamest thing he's ever served up. Strangely the lyrics are quality and don't spoil the cheese.

There were a couple of bones thrown to the old fans, played quickly and resolutely, before returning to such general crowd pleasers as Democracy. At this point I realised I was going to also get dudded out of The Stranger Song, which I would've thought perfect for the times. Pete got right into The Gypsy's Wife.

The band was excellent, especially the Spanish guitarist and miscellaneous wind instrument bloke. The guitarists and keyboard player, backing vocalists, drummer... the sound mix was perfect. I hope someone is recording all these gigs and they release an update of the classic CD from 1994. In fact Leonard seemed sprightly enough to crank out another disc or two of original material on top of that.

Upon the fall of the last note, Pete and I did the runner back to the car and hightailed it back to Coogee. It was all so splendid that one almost wishes that his current manager is ripping him off so we can do it all again next year.

Update: Salon ran a decent review of a few of his concerts in the U.S. in April.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
First trip to the beach in ages, for various not-so-good reasons. Beautiful evening for it, but absolutely no surf worth mentioning. The water is still a bit colder than I would expect at this time of year.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

/noise/movies | Link

Old Boy

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Milk

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Andrew McGahan: Praise

/noise/books | Link

I bought this novel on impulse, partly because of the movie, partly because David Marr apparently thought it to be one of the few Australian books of the 1990s that told it like it was. As one would expect, 'it' (embodied by Brisvegas) was drenched in sex and drugs, and just a little rock-and-roll.

I guess the inevitable comparisons are with Douglas Coupland's classic Generation X and John Birmingham's iconic He died with a felafel in his hand. I found it inferior to both, and indeed not even as good as the film, which may be due to Sacha Horler being a better Cynthia than McGahan's. Not to say it wasn't worth reading, just not worth reading slowly.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Early evening swim with Jon at a completely average Coogee.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Very pleasant late afternoon paddle in the Mereweather Ocean Baths with Sarah in Newcastle. We walked from the centre of the city down along all the closed beaches to the baths near her place. The day was pregnant with storm but we were fortunate only to have some fairly rough surf.

Romeo is Bleeding

/noise/movies | Link

The Zero Effect

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Just as good the second time around. Thanks again, Dave.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
After work swim at Gordons Bay after a beautifully warm day in Sydney. Some cold currents circulating in the bay, and the layer of warm water at the surface ran less than a metre deep.

The Interview

/noise/movies | Link

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Short paddle at a fairly standard Coogee with Jon in the late afternoon. The crowds are unbelievably thin for this time of year, nary an Irish accent to behold.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Slow paddle around a warmer Gordons Bay in the tepid late afternoon.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
After-work paddle at a standardly-sized Coogee.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
After-work paddle at Gordons Bay. Very pleasant after the first heatwave in a while.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link
Late afternoon swim in the shark-infested waters of Gordons Bay. The water was clean and quite pleasant in the sun, a little cold on the south side, after a quite warm day.

Gran Torino

/noise/movies | Link

Interview with the Vampire

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The Wrestler

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Aronofsky is maturing; this one never flinches, being full of trademark gore and nowhere as feeble as his previous effort. I wish his auxiliary characters had more character.

/noise/beach/2008-2009 | Link

Mid-morning snorkel at Little Bay. A bloody hot day. I wore the spring suit, telling myself it was to keep the sun off, and I did feel a bit silly once in the water as it was quite pleasant. Loads of people, not too many fish. A persistent little silver one, about six centimetres long, stuck with me for about ten minutes right across the bay.

Slumdog Millionaire

/noise/movies | Link

The stucture of this reminded me of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, with the TV show standing in for the pickling, and the historiography reduced to one person's life. Danny Boyle always has a thumping soundtrack.