peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

9pm-ish bathe at Coogee, waiting for the fireworks with Pete R. and family. Loads of people about. Flat as, quite clean, a tad cool but getting there.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

/noise/movies | Link

Take so many beautiful women on holiday and you've got to pay for it somehow. Woody Allen consciously projects his neuroses onto all of them, with Rebecca Hall coming off the worst; at least Cruz can hide behind her Spanish, and Scarlett Johansson some kind of libertine persona. Clarkson is all neurosis and no character. It really is tough at the top of the American pile, what with all that money to burn and golf to play. I'm beginning to understand why Pomeranz finds him misogynistic; in its favour, this is too vapid to cause much offense. I think he was/is trying for a triple here with Match Point and something else I haven't seen.

The Searchers

/noise/movies | Link

Another John Ford / John Wayne collaboration. The little sense it makes is totally normative: at the end all's-well as the white girl-child is recovered from the Comanche camp and returned to some random family's shack, undergoing a change in attitude from steadfast anti-Waynery to please-take-me-home-good-sir off-screen. Wayne is hard here, unforgiving, but his Confederate backstory is left opaque and his conversion on the road to wherever answers the needs of plot but not character. There may well be a litany of awesome shots here, so look and don't think. I am not getting that truly-great movie feeling from these non-spaghetti Westerns; they might have Wayne but they don't have Ennio Morricone and Leone, or even (gasp) Eastwood.

Sneakers

/noise/movies | Link

Yet another 1980s-esque computer movie. What a slide for Robert Redford, from All the President's Men and The Sting to this. River Phoenix is totally banal here, making me wonder what his big role was. Ben Kingsley is Julian Assange circa 1992, albeit with ties to organised crime instead of disaffected employees of Uncle Sam. David Strathairn does a good job as a blind hacker, but I don't know what James Earl Jones was thinking. This movie wears its political allegience on its sleave; the NSA et al are necessary evils to secure the U.S., but not things to pal up to, which is more than it says about the Republicans.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Not as many people around as I would have expected, and parking was plentiful. The water is a bit cold below about half a metre. Completely flat, little wind and quite pleasant out. I just headed out into the middle of the bay in a singlet. I wish I'd taken the snorkeling gear as it seemed quite clean and it would have been a good day to head out to the bombora.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

/noise/movies | Link

A 1962 B-movie starring John Wayne and James Stewart, or maybe it's an A-movie made by John Ford; it is rated #249 in IMDB's top-250 after all. I found the bit characters to be much better than the leads, e.g. the newspaper editor must have been a fine stage actor, and the Swedish family deserved more attention than they got. Wayne and Stewart are supposed to epitomise brawn and brains respectively, but all I heard was Gil Scott Heron's B Movie, twenty years too soon.

TRON: Legacy

/noise/movies | Link

I promised Sandy and Albert a long time ago that we'd go see this. As it turned out, Sandy was in Melbourne with her parents, so I ended up going with Albert, Rob and his mate Nick to a cheapie 3D session at The Ritz.

This is not a movie to reflect on deeply; if it wasn't trading on the TRON brand I doubt it would have pulled a crowd at all. I wonder if it will make back the $US170M it cost for all that digital wizzbangery.

The brand really is all they're trading on; there is little of the TRON aesthetic here beyond the luminescent lines on the clothing, and Jeff Bridges, I guess. So many of the plot devices don't amount to anything: the army, the game grid, the "perfection" that Clu is charged with finding and enforcing. While I grant that genocide is more emotive than tax evasion ala Star Wars, the isos aren't given an opportunity to show what makes them special; they are as risible as reducing the Force to something in the bloodstream. Towards the end I hoped they'd switch to vaudeville, with Sam downloading the iso DNA into his iThing and flogging it to the Japanese sex robot industry, neatly dovetailing with Bridges' neo-zen and his primary competition from the 1980s.

I liked the original aesthetic; some deride it as the best that could be done in 1983, but like Art Deco and the rest of modernity I think it strikes a good bargain with the limitations of the day. That world was flood-filled, sharp-edged, digital, a partially-successful metaphor for what goes on in those then-new machines. This movie disposes of all that in trying to be realer than real, as Rob said: it is continuous, with light cycles bouncing around like Arnie in Terminator 2, rather than switching at grid points, and the planes stall like in Iron Man. Vale inventive, speculative metaphysics, hello lazy script writing.

The worst part of the whole thing is how derivative it is: we have the useless Orc army from The Lord of the Rings (how could our heroes stand against those? — don't you worry about that), and that climactic "Thou shall not pass" Gandalf guff, the Discovery-as-freight-train from 2001, "I am not your father" from one of the Star Wars, Tony Blair as Michael Sheen, camping it up as the albino who got rejected from the Matrix. Everyone's into their martial arts, which is completely unexplained as Sam does little to show he can do any of this in meatspace; Larry Fishburne is just a cop now. They missed the Genesis part of the story, and in doing so reduced this to no more than a demonstration of 3D technology in 2010, doubtlessly already surpassed. If I'd seen Inception then I could probably complain about what a crap ride through inner space this is.

Dana Stevens was even less impressed.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

First visit to Coogee all season, and it was as flat as I've seen it. There were quite a few people, but not not as many as one might usually expect; I wonder if the pom backpackers being priced out of the country is reflected in the statistics anywhere.

The Prestige

/noise/movies | Link

Wow, I saw this at The Ritz more than four years ago. I remain unconvinced. David Bowie is excellent as Tesla, and one has to wonder if he's got any more music in him. Incidentally Rebecca Hall puts in a showing as half-of-Christian Bale's love interest.

Wargames

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, early 1980s, acoustic couplers, dot-matrix, rasterized obsolescence. Broderick loves this stuff, and it might just be the best thing Ally Sheedy ever did. The plot doesn't fly, it can't, but no-one cares because it's the 1980s.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After work snorkel at Little Bay, the beach setting of choice for photographers of ladies. The water was surprisingly clear, not too rough and I did see quite a few fish. Loads of blue bottles were washed up on the beach but I was fortunate not to meet any in the water, despite an on-shore breeze. The water is certainly getting warmer.

The Last Emperor

/noise/movies | Link

Well, what are you going to do if the Chinese Government allows you to make a movie in the Forbidden City? Spend 3hr 40min on a biopic of the last emperor, that's what. I saw this in two sittings, and it could definitely have used a bit more cutting. There are huge numbers of extras here, and one can only wonder what the costume budget was. The bloke himself gets a sympathetic treatment, even though he seems completely egocentric (by upbringing, etc., sure); one cannot even claim he has his subjects' best interests at heart as he has no experience of their lives at all, at least until he is no longer emperor.

O'Toole will always be T.E. Lawrence to me.

American Psycho

/noise/movies | Link

I didn't get this, except perhaps as an extended metaphor for the GFC. A wasted effort from Christian Bale who is certainly the Robert de Niro of his day. I'm prepared to grant that it might make sense if you've already read the book, which I haven't and won't.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After work paddle at Gordons Bay. The onshore breeze had me worried before I got in, and sure enough I encountered an armada of bluebottles out in the bay. I got stung lightly across the inside of the elbow but otherwise came away OK. The water remains full of plant detritus so, while it hasn't been raining here, there must be a lot of runoff.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early-evening snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the northern scuba ramp. Quite a few people still around, but parking was as easy as I hoped... it won't be like that for much longer. The water was a bit cool, even in a singlet, and fair murkier than usual, so I didn't see much. Fortuitously I ran into the mature blue groper a bit of a distance from his usual spot. Perfect day for it.

Barry Lyndon

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Kubrick's costume drama. Beautifully shot but entirely banal; one needs to read the tea leaves to get anything out of this. Maybe he's trying to say that the Irish had a go at debasing the English aristocracy and failed? Unbelievably #219 in IMDB's top-250. I saw this sometime before 2003.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early-evening snorkel at Long Bay. The water was flat, a tad cool and pretty cloudy so I didn't see much. I swam (with flippers and snorkel in a singlet) from the northern boat ramp to the southern; according to Google Maps that's about 350m. I didn't think I was that fit. I saw the wreck of a car, maybe the same one as from April last year — it was overgrown with seaweed, rusty and roofless. I also spotted a stingray trying hard to be inconspicuous. Otherwise it just the friendly little yelllow-finned guys.

Henry Fool

/noise/movies | Link

Hal Hartley's masterpiece, I still think. Apparently I haven't seen this since 2004, a little less than six years ago. Maybe I caught it in the cinema back in 1998 or so, I can't recall.

I still have to revisit his also-masterful Surviving Desire and The Book of Life.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this about five years ago. Kaufman milks this one premise for all it is worth, and whoever shot and edited this movie are geniuses. Certainly worthy of being parked at #61 in the IMDB top-250. Note to self: it was Carrey and not Sandler who made a movie worth watching.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

One last afterwork snorkel before the storms roll in... that's if I can trust the BOM. The water was too murky to see much, and it was a bit cold and rough right out in the bay in just a singlet. Loads of dogs on the beach and in the water. The weather was perfect for it, even with a stiff onshore breeze.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Another after-work paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of blue bottles had washed up on the sand but I didn't encounter any in the water. The water is decidedly cool below about 50cm.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay, as this was the third day without rain (if I got it right). The water near the shore remains cool, but out in the bay proper it is quite OK, at least in a singlet. I ran into my first blue bottle of the season and was lucky that it didn't bring its mates, suffering just a mild sting on the left wrist and right forearm. Some blokes were trying to fish off the rocks midway along the bay.

Howl

/noise/movies | Link

A reconstruction of the events surrounding the publication of Ginsberg's Howl. Of the three strands the most interesting was certainly James Franco as Ginsberg, recounting his coming out of the closet. David Strathairn channels a little of his Ed Murrow demeanour from Good Night, and Good Luck while playing the vaguely incompetent prosecutor in the court room obscenity trial of Howl's publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I've been to City Lights and I can tell you their floor staff are pig-ignorant of all of this, of what transpired in their poetry room. The third strand is an overly literal cartoon rendering of the poem itself, giving us something to look at as Franco declaims.

Dana Stevens got me onto this. Fred Kaplan strays away from his nukes for long enough to praise the poet.

I much prefer Ginsberg's America, especially with the unofficial Tom Waits accompaniment.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

/noise/movies | Link

A George Clooney / Coen brothers segue from a few recently-seen films. I remember the hoopla in 2000 but the idea of seeing another three (stereotypically dumb) kings did not appeal; having seen it I guess one could call this their Nashville. In brief it is shysterism in the south, features some great set pieces (the Klan), though I think Clooney's hair fixation may have been as funny as it got.

Belvoir Downstairs: A Distressing Scenario.

/noise/theatre | Link

I've been pretty impressed by Version 1.0, especially by the first one I saw, The Wages of Spin back in 2005 at the dear old Performance Space on Cleveland Street. I invited Barb and Jake along to this on the cheap Tuesday, now $12 minimum, and was a bit surprised that it was only half-full. Barb (perhaps wisely) decided to stay home and unwind.

There were two parts: Everything I Know About the Global Financial Crisis in One Hour by Post, and The Market Is Not Functioning Properly by Version 1.0.

The first hour was a free association / self-indulgent / sometimes funny absurdist blah blah featuring three women. Their topic: the GFC and how to tie it to the excesses of the 1980s, the entertainment industry, and whatever else they could come up with in less than a month of preparation. To an extent this satire of ignorance and unhinged conspiracy theories suffers from Douglas Adams's complaint.

The second was Version 1.0's take. This time around it fell a bit flat, probably because George W. Bush looks and sounds quite sane on the topic of the GFC, at least relative to the kinds of crap the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and the "just say no" Republicans are coming out with these days, let alone what Obama is doing. With this bland pair and the blander K.Rudd on TVs, getting the odd snippet out, spliced with interviews with three everybodies and nobodies, the burden fell on the two women actually present in meatspace to carry the gig. Their domestics where amusing, I guess.

Afterwards we headed to the Shakespeare. It was packed out so we headed upstairs, a surprisingly novelty to us both. It's just like Melbourne.

Other reviews: Jason Blake at the SMH and some snark from Crikey.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

/noise/movies | Link

A George Clooney segue from The American. I liked the use of vintage colour filming. Rockwell is solid but doesn't do it for me. Trashy all round. Good to see Urbaniak in a bit part.

Clooney overcooks this one, which feels like it has the trainer wheels on, a dry run for the far superior Good Night, and Good Luck, which also ruminates on the golden years of the idiot box.

Army of Darkness

/noise/movies | Link

The Bruce Campbell classic. I remember seeing this back in 1996. It is somewhat timeless.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Cape Banks. After last time I figured I'd play it safe and wear the spring suit, which was wise as it wasn't any warmer. Visibility was pretty good but there wasn't a lot to see along the shoreline. Loads of people were out spearfishing, collecting abalone, doing whatever.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, a Seymour Hoffman turkey that wanted to be Memento. It falls far short. Roughly a Tomei segue from The Wrestler with the expectation of good things from the rest of the cast. It is drearily predictable, somewhat along the lines of The Man Who Wasn't There.

The Joseph Tawadros Quartet, The Great Hall, Sydney Uni.

/noise/music | Link

Tawadros was giving a freebie concert so I headed along with Jon. I last saw him around 2005 or so, when he was a student at UNSW; this time he was closing out a conference on Ameen Rihani.

We stayed for the first half then headed back to Newtown for a drink. There's lots of new small slinky bars on King Street now (maybe there always was) so I guess the new booze laws must be working.

Angel Heart

/noise/movies | Link

One trope invariant in American cinema is that people go to New Orleans and weird stuff happens. (I can readily cite Tightrope from earlier in the same decade, and George W. Bush from this one.) This was a Mickey Rourke segue, one of his classic 80s efforts, guest-starring a Robert de Niro in full Robert de Niro mode. Even the devil could not do a better Robert de Niro than Robert de Niro.

So yeah, some voodoo, some weirdness... I don't know what to make of it. We're supposed to be concerned or interested about some kind of missing guy, but as the bodies pile up we wish there'd been a bit more characterisation of the bit parts.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp. I must remember not to drive along Doncaster Avenue as the roadworks there are interminable. Strangely the water is coldest just at the shore, and gets warmer as one gets out into the bay proper.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work snorkel at Little Bay. The water was a bit too cold for just a singlet, and the waves large enough that visibility was a bit poor. Very happy to be back in the water though, given how little fine weather there's been this season.

The American

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At The Ritz with Rob, the 9:10pm session, with maybe ten other people. Someone must have told Corbijn to stop making moving photographs ala Control as the opening scene has some pointlessly shaky handheld camerawork. Fortunately Dogme 2010 this is not.

Overall it was OK but not as good as his previous effort, largely because the source material was not as strong, or perhaps Corbijn is more passionate about rock stars than quiet men. I would have liked to have seen more of the urban life in the Italian villages, and for all of the characters to be more fully developed. Clara is the prostitute with a heart of gold who decides she wants to exchange it for US dollars... seemingly unaware of what a losing proposiiton that is now. Clooney's early finger work assembling the rifle leads us to think he is more klutz than craftsman, despite the protestations to his mechanical dexterity (yes, yes, with Clara too).

It ambles OK but just doesn't add up to anything much.

Review by Dana Stevens.

The Man Who Wasn't There

/noise/movies | Link

Black and white neo-noir. Coen brothers — does their reach ever exceed their grasp more than it does here? Very melancholic and the point was unclear to me. Not a Billy Bob fan.

Cube

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I saw this with Mark at the long-defunct Dendy cinema on George St, the one that used to live inside the Metro, back in 1997 or so. I have seen the sequels since and they are shit (so don't spoil this one by going any further). The underlying design concept, viz a grid of identical sets, would make for a good stage production if there was money enough for serious electromechanical technology.

mrak complained that I write more about movies I hate than those I like. I disagree, I tend to write about the bits that disappoint, having a lifelong hypothesis that the good bits speak for themselves (and speak better than wordy recreations). To step out of character, I'd say this flick is just about perfect for what it is, i.e. shoestring scifi/horror, and the stereotyping of the characters is totally inline with that. Noone's acting skills are taxed here and that's just fine too.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

/noise/movies | Link

I was keen to see this small British indie flick after it was deemed worthy by Margaret and David. It reminded me a bit of Alexandra's Project (ugly to watch) with a Cube-ish ending (the savant wandering into the light). It is too predictable. Gemma Arterton is gutsy in her role which is not at all the same as good.

Boy

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Not as good as I hoped. Perhaps they tried too hard to avoid the Jake the Muss quagmire. The opening five minutes are the best in the whole movie.

The Wrestler

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Happy to see it again.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

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Terrible. I can see why there hasn't been another Tom Wolfe movie made since: DePalma tries to milk it but there just isn't much to milk. Griffith is annoying, and the speech by Freeman at the end is totally lame. Hanks is not yet the "great actor" he becomes in the mid-90s.

I read the book ages ago, and while it is far superior it is still not that great; it is difficult to see it as more than mere class envy from Wolfe. Taking the WASP Masters of the Universe down like this is feeble, not ironic.

Robert Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land

/noise/books | Link

I read this for the first time in 1996, my first year at uni, and as such it was like running into an old (American) friend after too many years and maybe too many drugs. The edition I had then was an ancient paperback, bought for a dollar or two at the UNSW book sale. This time it was the uncut version from 1991, a flabby 650-ish page doorstop published soon after the author died.

Well, it is an airport novel. The plot is just a skeleton on which to hang the authorial opinions, which are mouthed by Jubal "all-father" Harshaw, the other characters acting as foils and provocateurs for some fairly stock libertarian / anarchist propaganda, doubtlessly shocking at the time, typical of Heinlein. These monologues really start to drag by the second half of the book. Some of the window dressing is similar to what John Brunner does, the news flashes, the titillation, but my gut feeling is that Brunner's worlds are a bit more complete and take a broader view of things.

Would it make a good movie? Maybe, but I doubt the religious stuff would translate too well, and there's too much talking and not enough doing. Perhaps Heinlein was disappointed that it is not the foundation stone of a church as well known as Scientology...

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Cape Banks. There were loads of golfers out, and the water was too cold to be pleasant in just a singlet. I saw a few fish, including some yellow-striped juveniles who followed me around.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Five o'clock snorkel from the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Quite a few people around on this, the second of the first two consecutive days of fine weather in a long time. I got in in a singlet, and the water alternated between cold and quite warm as I swam out. Loads of fish, but no sign of the mature blue groper(s). Apparently tomorrow will be the same.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Yeah, it's about as empty and fun as I remember. At particular points the plot makes no sense, and we never do find out what Victor's deal with Stryker is.

Eyes Wide Shut

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I remember being keen to see this back in 1999 or so, the first (and only) Kubrick to be released in my adult lifetime. Watching it more than ten years later I still think there is a lot less going on here than some make out; the erstwhile Cruises are rubbish, and the titillation has no follow-through, no menace, little tension, and a conclusion perilously close to "it was a dream". Some of the cinematography is good, and he did nail the ritual scenes in the middle.

Wall Street

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Better that the sequel, and I am now firmly convinced that Stone should have looked at the GFC from the bottom (personified here by Martin Sheen) and not the top.

The Town

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I splurged my Palace Cinemas membership freebie at the 9:05pm screening at the dear old Verona. I've grown to like the refurbishment, especially now that the Academy Twin is history. The attraction was Ben Affleck's direction, having recently seen Gone Baby Gone.

Well, yeah. I'm less convinced about Affleck as an actor than as a director; perhaps he should have cast his brother again. This is essentially a heist movie, trying to evoke a sense of community, milking the product-of-where-you-came-from meme. It is solid but not as good as Gone Baby Gone; the extra fireworks rob it of much moral complexity, and it is tad too predictably macho. Casting Postlethwaite invites a losing comparison against The Usual Suspects.

Again the female characters are underwritten; one could imagine Claire (Rebecca Hall) being a bit ballsier rather than caving (to Doug, to the FBI, etc.), and what happened to Irish omerta with Krista?

The contrasting Fairfax reviews by Byrnes and Schembri must say something about how Sydneysiders and Melbournites view themselves. Dana Stevens is a bit more scathing.

Charles Yu: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

/noise/books | Link

I bought this from Abebooks; the world economy is so weird right now that it's cheaper to buy a book from an American seller via the .co.uk site, in pounds: this cost me a total of $AU20 for a first US edition in perfect condition from a shop in New York, whereas the UNSW Bookshop wants $AU26. I'm a little surprised they didn't throw in a flight to London as that might be cheaper than the postage.

Anyway, I got this book on the strength of this glowing review in the New York Times. That writer is spot-on in linking Yu with Douglas Adams, especially through TAMMY, a clear evolution of Marvin for a jaded audience. I enjoyed his rendering of time travel as an internal experience, how it works via particular gramatical structures, especially the present indefinite. However this is an asymmetric view of time, for it does not treat the foreknowledge one might gain from returning from the future.

It's well written, sometimes amusing, but a tad disappointing as it doesn't add up to much more than a rumination on father-son relationships. The discussion of his parents' experiences as migrants is too cursory.

The Maladies (with The Exiles and Border Thieves)

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It's been a long time since I've seen The Maladies, possibly two and a half years. In that time they've released an album and gained some kind of broader notoriety. mrak was silently absent, and any attempt to shoulder his number-one fanboi duties were stymied by the mediocre acoustics at Spectrum, which is really just a dungeon with a bar; the Hopetoun Hotel it is not. The band was as tight as ever and rolled out a couple of noisy unreleased songs. The support bands suffered from both poor acoustics and terrible engineering.

I'm glad Jon told me about it, and it was good to see Albert and Sandy getting into it.

The Boxer

/noise/movies | Link

Jim Sheridan always does a solid job with what he's got, and I guess he felt he had to make a movie about the Troubles, but the script for this one is a plodder. Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson play lovebirds separated by fourteen years of incarceration due to his juvenile entanglement with the IRA. Blair is on the radio advocating what became the Good Friday accords, and the IRA personage is nervous that he cannot satisfy his partisans. That was something worth exploring more deeply.

Unfortunately the whole thing does not deliver on the promise of its writers, director, stars or topic. Brian Cox (here Mr IRA) is Edward Norton's father in 25th Hour, and the climax is a creakily familiar taking out of the trash.

Punch Drunk Love

/noise/movies | Link

Adam Sandler, Emily Watson... Magnolia this is not.

Killer's Kiss

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One of Kubrick's first. The acting is a bit clunky. He learnt a lot about Hitchcock in making this. Not bad but not in the same league as its immediate successors.

Transat at the Petersham Bowling Club

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Jon invited me along to see this band that he's been talking up for a while now. They are a long way from Australian pub rock, and without ear-bleeding volume didn't manage to quell the crowd's conversations.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay. Dad tells me it's the filthiest beach in Sydney, not due to the adjacent sewerage treatment works as one might suppose, but because of the huge storm water drain that empties onto the northern end. The water was fine in a spring suit and singlet, quite calm but with poor visibility. I didn't see much.

The Beguiled

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Yankee Clint Eastwood versus a tribe of Southern women during the Civil War. An early 70s effort. Yeah.

The Expendables

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It could have been worse.

Malcolm X

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Another Spike Lee effort, from 1992. At three hours it was a bit too long for comfort. Well made, shot, etc. but perhaps spoilt by its earnestness; the irreverence of the later 25th Hour is missing here.

25th Hour

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As good as I remembered. The music echoes Once Upon a Time in America, as does the story to some extent.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

A snorkel in the rain with Rob. Up to 1:30pm or so the day was perfect for it, and then the storm blew in. We went anyway. The tide was out at Little Bay so we went much further out, past the rock break, than we usually do. Perhaps for that reason we spotted a stingray, the biggest I've seen, perhaps a metre across, and some Port Jackson sharks resting at the bottom of a crevasse in the rocks. The water was OK in a spring suit and singlet, with gloves. Visibility was excellent as the regular rain (and recent fine weather) has thoroughly cleaned the streets.

Shutter Island

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I didn't really get into this. The suspenseful stuff dragged, and the twists left me cold. The ultimate one (if I got it right) is too subtle after the earlier blunderbuss revelations. Scorcese makes everything look great, as usual, but I am yet to see more than a still-blank canvas in DiCaprio. How much longer can he remain boyish, in a faux and hackneyed tough-guy pose? Dennis Lehane wrote the book on which this was based.

Nothing much here for me.

Will Self: The Quantity Theory of Insanity

/noise/books | Link

I read a lot of Will Self ten to fifteen years ago, in my impressionable youth. This is the first time I've read him since then, and this collection is a lot weaker than I remember. I only really enjoyed the titular piece, and even then not so much; the idea of reductivist studies is still funny, but these days it is played out in the real world, far too literally. I imagine that if he wrote that story now he would point to Madoff's ponzi scheme, providing quality financial services to the financiers. Self is too smart to be authentically empathetic; unlike Douglas Adams his humour to enlightenment ratio tends toward the brutal.

Gone Baby Gone

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A lot better than I expected, and I can see why Casey Affleck went on to star in The Killer Inside Me. It is something like Se7en, piling things up, twisting, skirting a little too close to impossibility, stretching its poetic licence to fit a fable. The themes are assembled masterfully: cops, kidnapping, drugs and absent mothers, filmed resolutely without condescension, without an American ending. Boston never looked so good; they must have shot it at the height of summer.

This was a Michelle Monaghan-segue from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and she is solid here, though hers is the weakest of the central characters. Ed Harris reins in his signature largeness in disarming fashion. Morgan Freeman is relatively inoffensive.

Certainly the best movie I've seen for the first time in a long time. The author of the original book, Dennis Lehane, has a sequel of sorts due out in a fortnight. Now I'm keen to see Ben Affleck's new movie The Town.

Towelhead

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A Lolita for the 21st century? Certainly a dash of Aronofsky, and perhaps Moodysson. Being American-made it has an uptick at the end, a crack that lets the light out. Eckhardt chooses the toughest roles to play, and he does fine with the slobbering. Great to see Toni Collette here, and Peter Macdissi nails his role as the Lebanese migrant father working at NASA.

Animal Kingdom

/noise/movies | Link

Meh, yet another Australian gangland saga. I'm glad I didn't see this in the cinema. Edgerton doesn't make it past the first half-hour, and all the characters are so underwritten that I couldn't care about any of them. Guy Pearce is solid but given very little to work with. Nothing new here.

The Girl from Monday

/noise/movies | Link

The Girl Who Fell to Earth... irritating camera work ruins an otherwise fun ride, though it is clear Hartley is sliding into a late-career rut here. Bill Sage tries hard to anchor a mildly incoherent plot and succeeds as much as anyone could.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

/noise/movies | Link

At the 6:40pm session at The Ritz with Albert and Sandy. I had to go see this, being the new Oliver Stone movie and all that, but it simply isn't that great; the plot is bent to fit, and the ending makes no sense. What, you can buy money with happiness? LaBeouf has none of the sly levity of Michael Douglas, and the movie is flat when he all too regularly does his earnest thing. It was good to see Frank Langella (as always), though his tiredness is pretty depressing. The usually solid Josh Brolin is in full-on bland mode, as if he is training for Pierce Brosnan's old roles. I appreciate that Stone felt he had to comment on the travesty of the GFC but perhaps it might have been better to look at it from the other end of town.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

/noise/movies | Link

I last saw this one at the cinema in 2005. Still funny. The best thing I've seen Val Kilmer in for sure.

No Such Thing

/noise/movies | Link

Twenty-first century Hal Hartley, this is his A Clockwork Orange. Apparently I haven't seen this since 2004, and it is better than I remember. The first thirty minutes moves quickly, maybe too quickly, and it flags around the hour mark when Polley gets to Iceland. Robert John Burke is somehow familiar underneath all that makeup, as are the rest of Hartley's regulars, most of whom put in small cameos. Mirren is great as the old media hound, a role she reprises in State of Play.

Mystery Train

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this late-1980s Jarmusch effort a long time ago, and remembered it as being better than it is; Dead Man is a long way from here. The Japanese couple in Memphis is probably its best aspect, though he does make some of the other stuff funny. This subtle, indulgent kind of movie making is really out of fashion now.

William J. Duiker: Ho Chi Minh

/noise/books | Link

This was recommended to me by the anthropologist from ANU who ran our post-AYAD debriefing sessions. It has taken me a long time to get to as someone loaned it from the UNSW Library for ages, and I wasn't prepared to buy it as I was pretty sure I wouldn't be reading it twice. I had a pile of things I was hoping such a text would cover:

  • What did Hồ Chí Minh have in mind for the post-war Vietnamese society?
  • What was the historical basis for the drive for the Hà Nội regime to reunify with the south?
  • In what esteem did he hold his successors Lê Duẩn and Trường Chinh?
  • Why did his (relatively) liberal, conciliatory outlook not prevail?
  • How is he viewed now?
  • etc.

Trying to give an account of Hồ Chí Minh's life, especially in English for a non-Vietnamese audience, is a Herculean task, not the least because Hồ was an obscurantist and the Russian Soviet and Vietnamese Communist archives remain closed to Westerners (as far as I know). Duiker's strategy for filling in the many gaps is to fall back to giving a biography of the Vietnamese Communist movement, and therefore at times the arcane arguments within the ICP loom larger than the man. Moreover his final decade, when America became so bluntly entangled, is covered too cursorily.

So we have many famous names being mentioned without their stories being told: Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Lê Duẩn, Lê Hồng Phong, Hồ Tùng Mậu, ...; it is like walking the streets of modern-day Hồ Chí Minh City without a guide, or with a young person. This gets a bit frustrating as it is unclear just what their contributions were, and why they were deemed worthy of such dedications.

Duiker does a good job discussing the critical period from around 1943 to 1957, when Hồ and comrades emerged from southern China to organise the resistance to the Japanese and seize power from a divided France. It remains unclear to me just why the disastrous land reforms were enacted, but Hồ's fingerprints were all over the resolution of that issue, the shifting emphasis from establishing socialism in the North to the reunification with the south, and the artful navigation of the Sino-Soviet split. I tend to think that this is the only period where Hồ had a chance to act on his peacetime aspirations for the Vietnamese people, though it is difficult to fathom much as the situation was so incredibly compromised for all players. (The French and Chinese were recovering from invasions and internal disunity, and the people of north Vietnam had been the subjects of a massive famine, substantially due to the WWII-Japanese occupation and scorched-earth retreat.)

Possibly the best part is the final chapter, From Man to Myth, an all-too-short account of Hồ's legacy and relation to contemporary Vietnam. Duiker's conclusion, that he is largely irrelevant to the youth and had little lasting influence on the government, rings true enough. Still, I wish he had explained the cultural context better, exploring the idea of Hồ as the most recent liberator of the Vietnamese nation from foreign interference, a line that includes such unimpeachable figures as the Trưng sisters and Trần Hưng Đạo. Whatever one's view of Communism and the current regime, surely this is worth something? Duiker's apt description of Hồ as "part Gandhi, part Lenin" deserved to be unfolded.

As his target audience is America, probably academics and possibly some of the disapora, Duiker must contend with a substantially monochrome view of communism. Hồ, communist of nationalist? Revolutionary or patriot? Such dichotomies are a tad useless unless we attach a bazillion adjectives and a thesis or two. Still it is clear that Hồ was certainly a cultural revolutionary — one of his central goals was to kill off the corrupted feudal mandarin system that the French had coopted. It is less clear, at least from this text, whether the system had always been corrupt or had become so under colonial pressures; Duiker contends that it depended on a strong Emperor for moral rectitude, and for all I learnt here they may have always been on the lam. He also leads us to believe that Hồ was not much of a communist theoretician, for all his training and arrangements with the Comintern; apparently establishing the socialist state was on the never never, subordinate to reunification. This is essentially the position Lê Duẩn adopted in the 1950s at the expense of the more orthodox socialist Trường Chinh who wanted paradise to be established in the north before more blood and treasure was spent on rescuing the south from the foreigners.

This is the biggest problem with this text, that Hồ is just plain weird from a Western point of view, and can only be demystified by extensive explanations of Vietnamese culture and history, which Duiker clearly can't do in reasonable space. The coarseness of many of the discussions is explained away by providing an extensive bibliography, but I was hoping for more lapses into Hunter S. Thompson-esque gonzo, given how much the whole enterprise depends on anecdotes and barrow-pushers; of course one cannot expect much objectivity from the dispossessed, and it is somewhat of a sham to pretend otherwise.

Structurally the book faces the basic problem that Hồ had two lives, firstly as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, shadowy Cominternist, and his more famous post-1945 self, who took an age to admit to being said agent and hence to being a Communist. This is handled about as well as it can be.

As a work of history there are some clangers obvious even to an amateur like me: to claim that the war in Vietnam provided any new insights into the limits to the US's ability to contain Communism is garbage, for the Chinese had already done this in Korea by 1954 (well before the US had troops on the ground in Vietnam), assuming the massive post-WWII expansion of the Soviet Union hadn't already rung those alarm bells. I don't think it makes sense to argue about the motivations of the US in a biography of Hồ Chí Minh, except as it influenced his aspirations and plans. This patchy treatment of history external to north Vietnam is a bit irritating, as we go from talking about Bảo Đại to Ngô Đình Diệm without a referendum or even a nod to the thinking of Eisenhower, Kennedy, etc. on that front.

Also I found it confusing that Duiker asserts that Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa ("Southern Uprising", the road to the airport) is a pet project of Lê Duẩn due to him being born in the south (p501), whereas we are told barely ten pages earlier (p492) that he was born in Quảng Trị, north of Huế — which is about as north as one can get while still being south, assuming we are taking the foreigner's 17th parallel as the demarcation. Perhaps Duiker meant that he is from south of Hồ's Kim Lien in Nghệ An Province.

Duiker restrains himself on the salacious stuff. He asserts that Hồ married a Chinese woman before WWII, and fathered a son with "Miss Xuan" in the mid-1950s. Of course what we really want to know is if he fathered Nông Đức Mạnh.

This is purportedly the most authoriative biography of Hồ Chí Minh in English, and it probably is. Unfortunately it is too boring, with lots of historical detail but not much perspective, even though Duiker's prose is up to the task of telling an interesting story. It is like the streets of Saigon, where all the names have lost their referents. Ultimately many of the characterisations are as bland as the bitumen of the streets themselves, and this is most frustrating; while Hồ spoke many languages and came to understand many Western cultures his story remains opaque on foreigners' terms.

Incidentally Duiker cites Duong van Mai Elliott's account of four generations of her family. I guess I can't be too surprised that someone beat Andrew X. Pham to this narrative structure.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

First snorkel of the season, with Rob at Gordons Bay in the mid-afternoon. The day was absolutely perfect for it, about 23° tops with a light north-easterly breeze. I got in wearing a singlet and the spring suit, and found the water bearable; we've gone in when it has been much colder. Some brave blokes went in in just their trunks. Apparently the water was about 18° according to the Manly Hydraulics Lab.

Perhaps due to it being a bit cooler, there were heaps of fish in the bay. We found one of the big mature blue gropers still hanging around the rocks down from the headland carpark, and quite a few immature ones of various sizes. I forgot the camera.

Flirt

/noise/movies | Link

Hal Hartley wrote a short and made it three times, trying to refract a stock love triangle through the milieus of New York, Berlin and Tokyo. Most effective was the first one, with Bill Sage and Martin Donovan playing off each other, and Parker Posey dipping her toe into Hartley land. In Tokyo he cast himself opposite his (future?) wife Miho Nikaido, who later put in a sterling effort in Henry Fool.

This is his worst "feature" by a long way.

Howl's Moving Castle

/noise/movies | Link

On Albert and Sandy's recommendation. Rated #248 on IMDB's top-250. I didn't follow it too well, and lost track of who the evil people were, and how the spells got undone, and all that sort of stuff. I guess the visuals are supposed to make up for all of that.

AVRUSB serial connections going for $AU3 a pop.

/hacking/avr | Link

As I said a while ago:

[T]his bloke has a super-cheap approach to USB interfacing, viz using those USB-RS232 cables that don't do level conversion. I'm off to buy a cache of them from eBay.

Well, I bought five of those cables from these guys in China for a grand total of about $AU11. They turned up less than a week later, and are about as cheap and nasty as their price suggests.

The first thing to do was to ensure the Mac recognised them. This was painless as they look like a Prolific PL2303, about as stock as they come. The second step was to extract the circuit board from the (very cheap and very nasty) serial plug. This took a while as the plastic is pretty tough; next time I'll heat it up a bit first, or perhaps try out the Portasol's hot knife. Also I smashed the ceramic resonator in the process, which was a mixed blessing as apparently they are not very stable wrt temperature, so replacing it with a 12MHz crystal is probably worthwhile anyway. Good thing I got something like a lifetime supply from Sure a while ago.

The remaining problem is that RS-232 inverts the signals: low is a logic 1. These cheap cables treat low as something like 0v, so there's nothing fancy required to get the signal the right way up; two instances of the circuit at the bottom of this page did the trick, one for each direction. I tried a 10kΩ / 100kΩ pair as he suggests but the power sucking 1kΩ / 10kΩ combination seemed necessary.

After wiring that up, the magic incantation screen /dev/tty.PL2303-0000xxx 9600 for some xxxx worked fine as a zero-functionality terminal. It seems that 9600 baud is the limit with the default 8MHz-divided-by-8 clock of the ATmega328P, which surprised me as I wasn't expecting anything more than about 1200 baud to work due to the probably huge error in the clock.

So all up there's the cable ($AU2.20), two transistors (Jaycar is expensive here, $AU0.26 per BC549, where Farnell only wants $AU0.10 or so), four resistors (marginal) and some time. Much better than $US20 for a "USB TTL cable".

The other thing to note is that while the AVR's UART is incredibly easy to get going, the code depends a lot on which particular chip you've got: I had to pepper the I/O register names in mine with 0s for no reason I could fathom, for the ATmega328P only has one U(S)ART. (Yes, yes, there are a few other serial interfaces but those are hardly universal; they are not even asynchronous AFAIK.) Here's the guts of it:

#include <stdint.h>

#include <avr/io.h>

#define BAUD 9600

static inline void
UART_read(uint8_t *c)
{
  while(! (UCSR0A & _BV(RXC0)))
      ;
  *c = UDR0;
}

static inline void
UART_write(uint8_t c)
{
  while(! (UCSR0A & _BV(UDRE0)))
      ;
  UDR0 = c;
}

static inline void
UART_init(void)
{
#include <util/setbaud.h>

  /* Set the baud rate */
  UBRR0H = UBRRH_VALUE;
  UBRR0L = UBRRL_VALUE;

  /* Turn on the transmission and reception circuitry: 8 N 1. */
  UCSR0B = _BV(RXEN0) | _BV(TXEN0);
  UCSR0C = _BV(UCSZ00) | _BV(UCSZ01);

#if USE_2X
  UCSR0A |= (1 << U2X0);
#else
  UCSR0A &= ~(1 << U2X0);
#endif
}

Next up is fabbing it on some veroboard.

Life During Wartime

/noise/movies | Link

Solondz returns with an anticlassic. New actors fill the roles of his decade-ago Happiness, which hooked me with zigs and zangs that are totally absent here. There is no tension as everything is telegraphed. Shirley Henderson from Trainspotting is feeble in Jane Adams's role. The topics are icky and there is no payoff. The original cast was wise to stay away.

I can't help but feel that Anthony Lane saw another movie.

Grinderman #2

/noise/music | Link

I'm not much of a fanboi, it's been out for a couple of weeks already. Apparently the Dirty Three are headlining the Meredith Festival, something I would have expected to hear about on their mailing list. Sniff. I guess I've got to hope they put something on in Sydney.

A biography and review at the New Yorker.

The Incredibles

/noise/movies | Link

On Albert and Sandy's recommendation. By far the best (modern) animated flick I've seen. IMDB rates it 8.1 and #185 in the top-250. I think the comedy works as well as it does because Mr Incredible and cohort don't muck around with subtlety or false modesty. I liked the nods to video games with the two-dimensional guards, amongst other things.

The Gods Must be Crazy

/noise/movies | Link

On Loan's recommendation. An African classic, I guess. Apparently this movie single-handedly revived the myth that rhinoceros stamp out fires.

Despicable Me

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz with Albert and Sandy at the 7:30pm 3D session. This was my first time to don the specs, and indeed it was worth the price of admission. The movie itself was a bit more ho-hum than I expected, perhaps because the jokes were a bit stale and the plot too childish.

Amateur

/noise/movies | Link

A mid-90s Hal Hartley effort. I bracket this and Flirt as his mid-career misfirings. Martin Donovan is only OK as he does not have the room to express himself as well as he does elsewhere. I fear Elina Löwensohn really isn't that great an actress, though she does look fabulous in some shots. Thematically it is difficult to get excited about, with a string of cliched juxtapositions and a humour that seems forced. Hartley's artificiality is missing here.

The Unbelievable Truth

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, Hal Hartley's first feature. Adrienne Shelley is indeed even more luminous here than she is in Trust and he makes the most of what became his regular cast. The signature artificiality is nascent, subordinated to the needs of plot and character, apart from some classic repeated dialogue in the middle. I don't know when I last saw this but am glad to see it again now.

Trust

/noise/movies | Link

It's about time I got back into the Hal Hartleys. I saw this most recently four years ago. Adrienne Shelley is as arresting as ever, and opposite a nihilistic Martin Donovan she shines as brightly as she always did. I have a feeling she's even better in The Unbelievable Truth. The arc is sweet and Hartley finds a place for all his film-school set pieces and ruminations. He nails the cyclical cognitive dissonance at the abortion clinic, and all the niggles of the power plays amongst the characters.

Doxiadis, Papadimitriou, Papadatos, Donna: Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

/noise/books | Link

Kai lent this to me. I think he got it in Europe and read it on the plane back, presumably on the basis that it was co-authored by one of the big computation complexity theorists, Christos Papadimitriou.

This graphic novel covers the development of symbolic logic from the late 19th century until World War II, using Bertrand Russell as the narrator, and does a much better job of covering the big man than Monk's biography. It ends with Gödel's result, and the return of pervasive warfare in Europe. Mentioned are the Vienna Circle (but not Karl Popper), von Neumann, Turing and the computer, Frege and the historical link between logic and madness, and other things. It's a shame they left Popper out as the story about him, Wittgenstein (who is mentioned) and the poker is priceless. Also he killed logical positivism far deader than the bullets of some fascist.

The focus here is certainly on the people, and so motivations and the relative import of things suffer a bit. That Russell and Whitehead took 362 pages to prove that 1 + 1 = 2 is held up to the standard ridicule, and that is unworthy of this text. (The same could probably be plausibly shown from scratch in Isabelle in less than 100 lines. That's progress!) Conversely Papadimitriou (the character) helps to provide enough future-history that negative interpretations don't overwhelm the narrative; for example, the main story finishes just on the cusp of the realisation of mechanical computation, and he points out that Turing's work was instrumental in the Allies victory. More central to the narrative is his observation that Russell's work was a necessary precursor to Gödel's, and so it cannot be judged a failure.

I don't read graphic novels much, and if Kai had not foist this on me I would not have sought it out. It's a pleasant, sometimes fun and all-too-quick read. The topic is far too large for this kind of treatment.

Freezing my nads off in Tidbinbilla, again.

/travels | Link

Once again I spent a night in Canberra and thought I'd see how often they change the code on the shower block at the Woods Reserve Recreation Area. I can confirm that it is changed at least once every two months.

After a moderately clear day, the rain blew in around 4:30pm and didn't let up until morning (as far as I could tell). The large eastern grey kangaroo I saw last time escorted me down the turnoff to the campsite. I set the tent up starting around 8:30pm, and the Macpac Nautilus's faults meant that things didn't stay as dry as I would have liked: when the fly's door is open the water runs off onto the floor of the tent itself. Still, I managed to keep things dry enough.

It was a tad cold, perhaps three or four degrees, and the morning foggy. Soon after I got into the tent I had heard some faint scratching, as if something was digging near the tent, and I did find a small hole near the door when I got moving. Something had feasted on ends of the carrot I had discarded... and perhaps come looking for somewhere out of the rain.

A talking clock.

/hacking/avr | Link

Hacking AVRs is too easy these days: without any real snags I got an LED flashing on one of the pins of an ATmega328P. From there it was a short step to hooking up an SPO256-AL2 General Instrument speech synthesis chip from circa 1980 and getting it to talk. Making the AVR listen to the SPO256-AL2 required me to read the AVR manual: the AVR's GPIO pins have distinct registers for reading inputs (PINx) and setting outputs (PORTx), unlike the ARM in the ts7250.

I bought the SPO256-AL2 at a good price from a bloke in Melbourne. Email me if you want his details.

Slightly harder was getting the AVR to talk to the DS1307 real-time clock hanging off the TWI/I²C bus. As it didn't just work, I put off debugging this until I could borrow an oscilloscope from Andrew T. He lent me a venerable BWD 539D that was probably abused to within an inch of its life in the electrical engineering laboratories back when I was an undergrad. Suffice it to say that even with my inexpert knowledge it quickly showed the TWI/I²C bus was alive, and with some minor software fixups things came good.

On that front I started with something not too far from Peter Fleury's venerable TWI/I²C code, and ended up with something a bit cleaner and more abstract. There really isn't much going on with that protocol.

Today I wired up a DS18B20 one-wire temperature sensor in parasitic-power mode. It worked immediately using this driver after some minimal configuration and plumbing. Too easy.

My next step is to add an accelerometer, specifically this cheap one from Farnell. I think it is pretty crap as far as accelerometers go, being intended more for the user-interface sort of application I need it for: tap, double-tap, I'm-this-way-up, don't-shake-me-so-hard. Soldering it will be fun, and I need to figure out how to do the level conversion between the 5v required by the SPO256-AL2 and the DS1307 and the 2.8v this accelerometer wants on the TWI/I²C bus. SparkFun's tutorial makes it look not impossible.

After that I hope to put all this stuff on a PCB and polish the software. The power consumption is a bit crazy, with the SPO256-AL2 chewing about 75mA at 5v, as one would expect from vintage TTL technology. It could probably be simulated by a low-end AVR for a milliamp or less now.

Here's a sample of it saying the time and the temperature. The code is at github.

On another note, this bloke has a super-cheap approach to USB interfacing, viz using those USB-RS232 cables that don't do level conversion. I'm off to buy a cache of them from eBay. Possibly cheaper is the mostly software approach.

The Killer Inside Me

/noise/movies | Link

Wow, I have no idea what Winterbottom is trying to do now. As noted by Paul Byrnes, this is something in the vein of No Country for Old Men (etc) but even more brutal. Suspense was a bit hard to come by after the first half as the main character really does only have one modus operandi, and isn't that clever. Pullman has almost a cameo role, somewhat to my chagrin, and the ending is too Romeo and Juliet.

Completely unnecessary.

Bang! with Albert, Sandy, a French couple.

/noise/games | Link

Sandy had been raving about this game a while now, and Albert managed to find the Bang! The Bullet super all-inclusive version at a games shop in the Sydney CBD. Today was the first run through at their place, and inevitably we butchered the rules: we required a player to have a gun in their possession before they could shoot, so I got killed in the first game before I got to do anything. In the second I managed to take a few life points off Sandy (who was the Sheriff both times) before I got annihilated, which was convenient as I did make it home in time for the rugby. There's got to be some payoff for these games where some people finish before others!

On that front Australia lost 23-22 to the Kiwis largely because Giteau was off with his boot; we should have scored at least another ten points. I feel so sorry for Deans, the coach... what more can he do? Also the backline has yet to wake up to the fact that Beale is going to have a crack from just about anywhere and needs mates when he does. Still, the Wallabies are on an upward trajectory that raises hope that next year's World Cup will be entertaining, at least.

Simple Men

/noise/movies | Link

I haven't seen this Hal Hartley effort in about six years. It is probably the weakest of his first four features, which isn't saying a hell of a lot really. Always great to see Martin Donovan, Bill Sage, Karen Sillas... and that artificiality peculiar to Hartley. As a series of small-scale vignettes, the overarching plot and narrative are largely immaterial, just like how it ends or where it goes.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

/noise/movies | Link

A passable piece of fluff from 1989. Pfeiffer's character is a bit schizoid, a trashy cynical ex-AAA-escort (Alcoholics Anonymous America?) whose voice lets her put on the ritz. Jeff Bridges and his brother Beau are the boys. Both characters are barely sketched and the plot is barely there. I have no idea how it got some Oscar nominations. The lounge piano music is sweet. IMDB's score of 6.6 is about right.

Rope

/noise/movies | Link

Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart host a murder... what's not to like? Sitting at #216 on IMDB's top-250, this noir was probably better as a stage play. Thematically it is a bit of a threadbare response to the ubermensch vibe of the times. The cast is solid and the camera work brilliant.

Belvoir: Gwen in Purgatory

/noise/theatre | Link

I hadn't been upstairs at Belvoir for ages. I went to this Saturday matinee courtesy of a freebie from Palace Cinemas. My membership has now paid for itself twice over.

The central ambit of this play is the life of the aged matriarch coming to terms with her own mortality, the conniving of her children and grandchildren, the unearthing of old family issues and unhealed wounds. In many ways it reminded me of David Williamson's The Club. Melissa Jaffer is fantastic in the lead role, and the others are good enough to carry it along, but I found myself spacing out as there were too many set-piece revelatory plot devices, and simply too much talking. I don't think anyone in the audience would be challenged by any of the themes here; Codgers presented the generational attitudes towards race with more flair. The jokes are sometimes original but often reworkings of the familiar. The family's Catholicism is satirised in a vaguely insincere way, or to borrow a Keatingism, flagellated with a warm lettuce. There's not much tension.

As one would expect the production is great with a single simple and effective set. The target demographic is certainly the cashed up greying boomers who made up more than half the audience. For those reasons it is easy to beatify the play, as Jason Blake does in the SMH, but it really isn't that deep. So perhaps it will end up a classic, though I don't think there is much of the old Mother and Son magic here. (Heh, it seems Jaffer played Cracknell's younger sister in that.)

Bridges of Shangri-La, Saboteur, Citadels with Pete R. and Rob.

/noise/games | Link

At Pete's place after the kids got put to bed. Bridges of Shangri-La is perhaps better with three players, but I got hammered early when I made a couple of poor Master placements, and as I therefore had no chance to win I ended up playing a kingmaker role, ensuring that Rob got over the line. I don't think Rob enjoyed it too much, it's a bit too dry.

Saboteur was good with three players. Pete cleaned up after a massive blunder from Rob and I at the start: we played some deadends around the start card, and Pete (as saboteur) managed to completely block us.

Citadels was better too; each player gets two characters per round and the strategy is a bit different. The game goes faster, with less dead time waiting for one's turn. I won due to some poor strategy from Pete and Rob in the final round: if you've got seven cities and have a competitive number of points then it pays to take high-ranked characters pretty much irrespective of what you've got in your hand: you're likely to avoid getting killed or thieved, and the payoff for finishing first is huge.

Saboteur, Citadels with Ilan, Nitzan, Pete R., Rob, Maria, Allan.

/noise/games | Link

Alan and Maria hosted the fortnighly meetup at their magic flat in Kingsford. Over a massive cheese platter and wine we opened with the traditional Saboteur and moved on to Citadels, which I missed about two-thirds of with shockingly poor judgement of character cards. The King got stuck with Ilan so Alan and Pete R. got almost no choice about characters for most of the game.

I can't remember who won but it wasn't me. I think we need some new games.

Bonnie and Clyde

/noise/movies | Link

Ranked #222 on the IMDB top-250. I can see the genesis of Natural Born Killers here but not much more. Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman... they're better elsewhere.

Patton

/noise/movies | Link

General Buck Turgidson survived the Strangelove nuclear holocaust to lead the U.S. Third Army to a loud but fairly bloodless victory over the Nazis in World War II. Francis Ford Coppola was one of the writers, and there are elements of Godfather bombast, pomp and ceremony here. At almost three hours, it is gripping in a is-anything-going-to-happen sort of way, and I guess that's enough of a reason for it to be #225 in IMDB's top-250.

I found it vaguely amusing that this aggrandising propaganda, of the omlette-making variety, was made in the late 1960s when the American people's support for the war in Vietnam was seriously flagging. Patton's logic of continuing from Berlin to Moscow is impeccable: we're going to have to fight them anyway, so let's do it while we've got the army there...

Stand By Me

/noise/movies | Link

Classic coming-of-age, parked at #161 in IMDB's top-250. The acting is very good, the narrative arc all-American. I can't believe it's based on a Stephen King novel.

Don Walker: Shots

/noise/books | Link

I've been meaning to read this for more than a year, and having done so wish I'd gotten to it sooner; Walker did a good job reading it for Radio National, but I prefer reading to (non-conversational) listening. Even so, some parts compelled me to pause and recall his smoke-cured voice.

The book is disjointed and impressionistic, recounting a caring childhood but a tough beginning to his music career, which is probably inevitable no matter the talent. He is clearly a private person, quiet, reflective, and unapologetically elides any detail that he doesn't want to share. There's a solid class consciousness throughout, and that while the scene makes for easy women, letting them go is not so easy. Tucker's Daughter is now so much more than a upward tick on Ian Moss's slide into history.

His stories about his first career, about being trained as a theoretical physicist and cranking the aerodynamics of bombers in Adelaide, are great, tinged with something like lifelong regret that that side of him was stunted in its development. Perhaps all physicists are failed rock musicians. Sexual desperation on the train running up the east coast is pure 1970s.

The way he talks about regional Australia is hardly unique — Malouf has done a good job too, Winton maybe. The Cold Chisel fans may be let down by the lack of specifics. God knows what he runs on, for he sounds like he gave up on hope sometime before 1975. There is a lot of violence here too, with Walker himself somehow detached about it all, not above it, not in it, perhaps disgusted that those who can aren't creating.

Review: SMAGE.

The Ninth Gate

/noise/movies | Link

A millenial hellraiser from Polanski. I expected a lot more from him and his cast — Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Frank Langella... how could it be this empty? It is robbed of any suspense by the trivial pattern amongst the texts, the deus ex girl appearing just when she needed to, and a total failure to innovate on the stereotypes of the occult. I am sure fans of this type of junk have pored it over and discovered all sorts of symbols and references, deeper meanings and bullshit, but I think the ending nailed it: hollow and two hours too long.

Yes, I feel ripped off. More so now that I find that Polanski wasn't taking it very seriously either. Sheesh, why make this tripe when you can do so much better?

Frankie and Johnny

/noise/movies | Link

A Pacino and Pfeiffer rom with some com in New York City. I have no idea why he signed up for this one: his character is unusually soft headed and there's no chance for any kind of glory. Pfeiffer tries hard to be a lower-class waitress but is too beautiful to credit with any of this stuff. Perhaps her gay BFF was innovative in 1991, now it just seems tired.

I found it funny in a ludicrous kind of way.

Andrew X. Pham: The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars

/noise/books | Link

I finally bought this from the UK version of Abebooks. The pound is worth so little these days that it is cheaper to buy that way than directly from America. As always, the postage was twice the price of the book, ultimately costing me something like $AU14.

Here Pham tells the story of his father Thong; unlike his earlier Catfish and Mandala, he deals himself a very minor role, and makes not much of their relationship. The three wars are the occupation by the Japanese during World War II, the first Indochina War, against the returning French colonials, and the American War. The book dovetails with Pham's earlier stories, ending with his father free of the re-education camp, of the catfish, so to speak. The climax is (rightly) the family's move south in 1954, paired with Thong's release.

It is as well-constructed as his earlier work, with the same paired-stories structure and relentless pacing, occasionally scintillating prose and more often than not manages to perfectly capture the settings. I reckon the best parts deal with the end of the mandarin era, the squeeze the land-owning gentry were in between the Việt Minh and the French; roughly, there was no way for the nationalist but not communist people to get on board, with the gentry forced to placate both sides when the guerilla insurgency got going. Pham's ancestors were the patricians of the Tong Xuyên Domain, a place beyond Google's ken, apparently somewhere between the coast and the capital.

Hà Nội is not rendered so well, and little is said about the other classes, apart from some prostitutes from the villages; Lockhart's translated tales The Light of the Capital do a better job there. I was fascinated by his account of Sài Gòn in the days before and after its fall/liberation as it is the sort of thing I could read entire books about. The scenes from the American War are well-handled and the corruption made manifest, though the potted history might be a bit dodge; who cares about the facts though, this is about the people.

The book provides no real insight into the motivations of the new regime, focussing on the seemingly senseless acts of revenge that are (of course) what sticks in the memory. The absolutism of the Việt Minh may have been necessary for them to secure power, and possibly also for them to win the war, but its lack of flexibility, its inability to encompass those stuck in the middle after WWII or those disenfranchised after 1975 was a real liability; fittingly Pham closes with the image of brother pitted against brother, the cleaving of the family, the most un-Vietnamese thing ever.

Incidentally the somewhat progressive Communist cadres, such as Võ Văn Kiệt, do get some recognition in this book, albeit accompanied by the stench of nepotism. Near as I can tell the only road named after this bloke is in Quảng Ngãi, and seems to go nowhere.

The Ghost Writer

/noise/movies | Link

I've read way too many reviews while waiting for the incredibly-late Australian release of Polanski's latest effort. I liked The Pianist and Chinatown, though I can't remember much about either. I spent my birthday freebie at the Verona, the 9pm session.

I guess this is an attempt at a classical political thriller, ala Chinatown or All the President's Men, but it only really succeeded in reminding me of how dire the new movie scene has been for so many years. It was good to see Rents out and about, with David Tennant hair, and it was a relief that he got the majority of the screen time. Kim Cattrall is indeed quite flat, and Brosnan is miscast; he never relaxes into the role. The plot unfolds in a revelatory way, but never really makes us care, for conspiracy theories are the currency of Dan Brown novels. Perhaps they need to be local, ala Chinatown, to be worth thinking through, or incredible but rooted in fact ala the Nixon escapades. At least the editing and cinemotography are coherent, though I couldn't call it beautiful.

Reviews: Dana Stevens, Sandra Hall, Denby at the New Yorker.

Glengarry Glen Ross

/noise/movies | Link

Pacino flogs real estate with Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. It's not bad but it doesn't really go anywhere. Mamet wrote the play and the movie is therefore dialogue-heavy.

Stephen Vitiello: The Sound of Red Earth at the Sydney Park Brickworks in St Peters.

/noise | Link

I heard about this installation on the ABC news last night. It's funny how the spaces that the Sydney working man of fifty years ago sweated in have been turned into places of art, especially of this kind. Three of the old kilns have been resurfaced, with red clay, sand and dirt, that serve as the only visual entertainment for this attempt at capturing the sounds of the Kimberley. Perhaps it is immersive but as there is nothing to focus on, and very limited seating, it is difficult to linger.

Some kind of progress.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

The controller for the nixie clock is ridiculously complex, given how many buttons the remote control has and the combinatory explosion of modes it can be in. Ergo the attraction of Esterel, the venerable imperative synchronous language that is supposed to nail exactly these problems.

The only publicly-available tools for Esterel are from the crusty old v5.92 distribution of circa 2000, which presumably occurred before Gérard Berry et al tried to commercialise it. [*] Fortunately for me, Tim has tried them out recently and demonstrated that they're not too crusty for my kind of purpose.

Up to now I've spent more time than I should doing the boilerplate, and am only just getting started on the controller proper. It is difficult to work out the architecture ahead of time, given how much of neophyte I am with the language. The system interfaces are pretty good, and it seems possible that one day I could run some of this code on an AVR.

I meant to say that Rob gave me a remote that works fine with the ts7250. I think he got it to control MythTV. It's quite nice, and the HID driver in Linux has been very cooperative.

[*] Well, there is also the Columbia Esterel Compiler, but it hasn't seen any development for many years now.

The Panic in Needle Park

/noise/movies | Link

An early Al Pacino, from 1971. Bleak, fairly soulless, a not-at-all Trainspotting take on a completely insular heroin scene in New York. The movie provides no reason for people to do drugs; simply they are addicts and have no moral fibre. It is a product of its time, I guess. Pacino is OK playing a low-grade shell of a hustler. His next role was Michael Corleone.

Little Miss Sunshine

/noise/movies | Link

Better than I expected, and deservedly at #237 on IMDB's top-250. The whole thing is held together by Olive, which allows the adults to get on with being stupid and funny. Perhaps they were the family Muriel grew up to have. Toni Collette is solid, as is Steve Carell.

Bridges of Shangri-La with Pete R.

/noise/games | Link

I managed to draw against Pete this time, despite him plying me with three beers. The two-player game is wearing thin, it must be said; roughly the game comes down to how many of your opponent's pieces you can tie up as students in unreachable villages, and if you can leverage a "private" bridge, where she or he cannot place a student and hence blow the bridge. We also had an arms race, where two maximally-populated villages faced off across a bridge. This looks like a who-moves-first loses thing, but towards the end of the game having some extra pieces really helps, if they can be placed, so losing seven students is not so bad.

Tron

/noise/movies | Link

I last saw this somewhere between 2003 and 2005, I think, as I remember buying the 20th anniversary edition DVD in Sweden. This is solid 8-bit movie making, with a workman-like plot that is thankfully unobtrusive. The aesthetic remains awesome, being in some ways the internal flipside of Bladerunner's, and there is just the hint of the Dude in Jeff Bridges' performance.

I can't wait to see how they butcher the sequel.

AVR programmer and demo board from Sure Electronics.

/hacking/avr | Link

For many reasons, mostly not so good, I want to get the gear needed to hack some kind of microcontroller. After working on Andrew T's microphone board, and assembling the Bulbdial kit, I'm pretty sure AVRs are the devices to use, though I expect others will swear by PICs. In both cases there are way too many to choose from.

I plumped for an implausibly cheap programmer and USB / LCD / atmega16 demo board from Sure Electronics, hoping they would be happy with each other. Sure has an eBay shopfront, but it is cheaper to order from them direct. They screwed up my order a bit, giving me an LED controller or something in place of a power supply. I decided to wear that, as the postage was cheap and delivery rapid — Hong Kong Post airmail in about a week [*].

Things look promising. The board has a lot of stuff on it — a USB port, a temperature sensor, the LCD panel, and most importantly, all the ports broken out. Unfortunately it uses a Silicon Laboratories CP2012 chip to talk USB, and their driver for Mac OS X is pretty terrible, inducing kernel panics at critical moments, like device disconnection. Apparently there is a Linux driver now. The Windows driver is fine.

The programmer and board aren't totally happy with each other though; my first attempts at scraping programming info from the board failed, with the sort of errors that made me think the programmer was fine but the board recalcitrant. Fortunately one of the wise heads at AVRfreaks told me to remove the LCD board, and sure enough magic happened.

The plan is to prototype things on this board and then construct final versions on veroboard; the hope is that the other AVR chips are close enough to this stock atmega16 to reduce porting to a formality.

[*] Upon closer inspection I found that they got my order spot-on. The power supply is half of some kind of LED driver board, the other half being some kind of PIC, and hence the board is a lot larger than I expected. It has a different part number to what I ordered.

The Liberals can the internet filter

/noise/politics | Link

Apparently the small-l Liberals have prevailed and the tubes won't be getting filtered in the near term. This effectively neutralises the issue as far as the election goes, for Labor cannot possibly muster the numbers in the Senate, so Hockey et al can only hope for more votes because they're making the right noises; he made a simple coherent argument in favour of the old model, of free filters running on people's local machines.

Nevertheless I am still putting Conroy last, even if it takes me half an hour to number the Senate ballot.

More worrying is the proposed expansion of spying powers, the recording of internet histories, and so forth, being driven by the Attorney-General. I liked McClelland's early noises about something-or-other, but he has morphed into a latter-day John Ashcroft.

The Year of Living Dangerously

/noise/movies | Link

A young Mel Gibson goes to Indonesia in 1965 and gets the girl (Sigourney Weaver in this instance). He is so wooden, perhaps yet to slip out of Mad Max mode, and she so girlishly giggly that the romance is totally implausible. The focus is certainly on the Westerners, mostly boorish colonialists, the Indonesians being there just for colour.

With no knowledge of the history, I learnt little here and had some difficulty following what looked to be the big plot points. Peter Weir may be taking an anti-colonial stand (in 1982?), but it has been done better elsewhere. Linda Hunt got an Oscar for her portrayal of the mysterious photographer Billy Kwan.

Set and Citadels with Albert, Sandy, Pete R., Ilan, Nitzan.

/noise/games | Link

This fortnight we played at Ilan and Nitzan's place in Maroubra. We started with Set, where one has to find three of the twelve cards on the table that, for each of the attributes, are either all the same or all different. (The nesting of quantifiers was hard for us new players to grasp, but became intuitively obvious after a few rounds.) The patterns are sometimes difficult to discern and it takes too much concentration to be a very social experience. Apparently there is a whole class of games like this.

After that we had a full game of Citadels, using just the basic characters. I ended up winning but not very convincingly; it seemed to be a waste of time to pick up cards, as the magician wasn't a very popular choice for everyone else. I think I used it for more than half my turns, collecting just a little gold and building as soon as I could. It took maybe two hours to finish.

David Halberstam: Ho

/noise/books | Link

I picked this one up on a whim from the UNSW Library. Halberstam had a lot of insight into the American side of the Vietnam War, and seemed willing to learn from those who understood the Viets, such as Graham Greene and Paul Mus. As a quick sketch of Hồ Chí Minh so soon after he died (this 117 page book was first published in 1971), it is not bad. However he touches on then glosses over so much history that his assertions on just about every other topic are too glib. The origins of the North's People's Army deserve better treatment (I expect Greg Lockhart sets the pace here), the connections with Mao and Russia are elided (who made the tanks used by the North?), and the life of the people in the North under the new Communist regime is not canvassed at all. It is not clear what the problems were with the old mandarin system; indeed, given the ruthlessness ascribed by Halberstam to Ho it may have been just another rival power base that needed to be suppressed.

Given this lack of depth, Halberstam opens himself up to charges of whitewashing the Communist regime's activities, though he probably intended to focus on their nationalistic motivations and avoid the stereotypical hysteria over the red bogeyman. This is something he dodges much more successfully when analysing the American political and war machinery. From what I've seen, those who criticise him do not appear to grapple with the nationalism versus Communism distinction.

Two Hands

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this at the Verona when it was released in 1999, and apart from Rose Byrne, remember not much else about it. Ledger cuts a swathe through the high-profile Australian actors of the day: Bryan Brown is third-rate playing a gangster and this isn't even his best or final effort at it. Tom Long is typically flat, and David Field so transparently posturing. It tries to keep too many balls in the air, and pulls up empty. Perhaps its legacy is as a launchpad for Ledger, and a platform for Powderfinger's biggest hit.

In Bruges

/noise/movies | Link

#191 in the IMDB top-250. I didn't get into it at all; too much is telegraphed, the characters are lame, and I'm not a fan of any of the actors. The much vaunted subtlety and totally artificial morality left me cold.

Insomnia

/noise/movies | Link

Pacino, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan... directed by Christopher Nolan, set in Alaska. Somehow this is less than the sum of its parts, even though everyone is trying hard. I think I prefer Pacino when he's pretending to be from New York; he seems out of place here as a west coast cop.

Bridges of Shangri-La

/noise/games | Link

Finally got around to playing it with Pete R., at least in a getting-to-know-the-rules kind of way. He won, despite my conniving. It is certainly better with more than two people.

Sea of Love

/noise/movies | Link

Pacino is the pseudo-romantic lead in this cop-thriller, which is wedged somewhere between 9 1/2 weeks and Basic Instinct, right down to the Joe Cocker rendition of the eponymous song; nothing growls 1980s in quite the same way. John Goodman has the best part.

It isn't bad — the suspense is handled well — but it isn't that great either.

Kick Ass

/noise/movies | Link

Knowing, slickly produced, director Michael Vaughn has clearly been studying Fight Club closely since his much less interesting Layer Cake (circa 2005). The climax would not be out of place in any of Arnie's classics, but the unflinching brutality is. Nick Cage is minor in his supporting role, and quite OK at it, but the real stars are so obviously the kids, whose patois would be familiar (but surprising) to any geek of the 1990s. Somehow this reminded me of Brick, a revival of an old genre via youth.

This is certainly the action movie of the year, worthy of its 8.2 rating on IMDB and position at #167 on the top-250. There will be sequels... if you can't innovate, renovate, I guess.

Toy Story 2

/noise/movies | Link

Better than the first one. At #228 in the IMDB top-250.

Toy Story

/noise/movies | Link

Wow, I am slow to see this one, 15 years after it made such a splash for Pixar. It is parked at #149 in IMDB's top-250, understandably enough. I liked the two-track humour, but was hoping for more of the adult track to be integrated with the story, as I remember it being in Shrek. The whole thing felt a bit twee, to be honest.

...And Justice for All

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this 1979 Pacino vehicle a long time ago, probably on video tape. It's a fun but not particularly subtle or plausible drama set around the courts of Baltimore, or perhaps a subtle comedy saddled with excessive melodrama and obliviousness. Pacino here is just slightly smaller than the movie, and this might be one of his last efforts where he tries to do more than just channel his inner-Al, enjoyable though that often is.

Saboteur and Citadels with Albert, Sandy, Pete R., Ilan, Nitzan, Maria, Allan.

/noise/games | Link

Huge turn out for the first games night I hosted, and for once Pete R. didn't spill his drink. We began with Saboteur, after which we tried to learn how to play Citadels. (I bought it at Mind Games in Canberra for Sandy, for her birthday.) Hopefully next time we'll get though a complete game of it. Fun, fun, fun...

I also bought a copy of Bridges of Shangri-La, which I will play when I can find two or three other people who are up for some anti-social analysis-paralysis. I have fond memories of playing it with Sus's husband Magnus many years ago.

Freezing my nads off in Tidbinbilla.

/travels | Link

Well that was a dumb idea. I had reason to be in Canberra on Thursday, so I planned to get there on Wednesday and camp the night at the Woods Reserve Recreation Area. If I had thought it through better I would have camped Thursday night and saved myself the late drive back to Sydney.

Anyway, I drove down through Tuggeranong, arriving around 8pm. The camping ground is quite civilised: hot showers, plenty of room, though most sites are some distance from where you can park your car. I set up the old Macpac Nautilus in the headlights of the car, and froze my hands off while doing so. The ambient air wasn't too bad but the ground was already frosty.

The tent hasn't let me down before, but it isn't up to this kind of winter camping; according the BOM it got down to about -3 degrees in Tuggeranong around 3:30am. My sleeping bag is purportedly good down to -6 degrees, but that proved to be another furphy. I didn't sleep too well, largely because I wasn't used to breathing cold air, a problem I solved around 4am by burying my head in the bag. The shower was pleasant in the morning, though the three minutes on, two minutes off duty cycle meant I had to shiver while waiting for that extra minute to wash the shampoo off. It was too cold to shave. Oh well.

The frost in the morning was pretty intense. Both sides of the tent's fly were dusted in ice. Fortunately the ground was still soft, so getting the pegs out was easy, and even luckier the car started without a fuss. On the drive out I spotted this roo just a short distance from the campsite. I think it is the biggest Eastern Grey I've seen in the wild.

Later I found the cold had pretty much killed the MacBook's battery, but it does seem to still hold a charge.

City Hall

/noise/movies | Link

A seriously mediocre political thriller. Pacino phones it in, and Cusak is yet to hit his High Fidelity straps. The requisite romance subplot is a fizzer.

In the heat of the night

/noise/movies | Link

A Sydney Poitier classic, rated at 8.1 on IMDB and unbelievably not in the top-250. Rod Steiger got an Oscar for being the police chief here, after playing Mr Joyboy so well in The Loved One a few years earlier. I somehow managed to pick the person who did it, which is unusual for me; perhaps the murder plot is pedestrian. I also found the racism a bit one-dimensional, and the peripheral characters a bit flat.

A Bulbdial clock

/hacking | Link

3:24:50pm

I bought this kit a while ago, when the Australian dollar was near its peak. The postage to Australia is insanely expensive at $US40 or so, whereas they'll ship it for free to the locals. The kit itself is a bit pricey, partly excused by the high number of LEDs (about 70) in it. I got the Chronodot, so it would keep time even without power, and a black/transparent plastic case.

Putting it together is too simple: the instructions are exceedingly well written and the design quite well thought through. It took me about five or six hours in total to solder the components to the board and assemble the case. The few fiascos were minor.

Ultimately it is even more beautiful than I expected, and I'm very happy with it. That doesn't stop me carping though. :-)

  • Most irritating is that the power supply socket and programmer header are well inside the case (you can see it on the right in the picture). This means that you need to pull the front cover off to access them.
  • The viewing angle is quite narrow, as the clock dial is recessed a long way into the case.
  • The clock is essentially digital, i.e. 3:45pm is rendered with the hour hand pointing at '3', and the minutes hand at '45', whereas an analogue clock would point the hour hand closer to '4'. This is surprisingly confusing.
  • The flat watch battery that powers the Chronodot is soldered on, so replacing it will require finding something very similar. These days I would hope for a super cap.

I highly recommend this kit, with some misgivings about the cost; the Evil Mad Scientists deserve to become rich if they can keep cranking out open-sourced novelties like this one.

Edward O. Wilson: Anthill

/noise/books | Link

Mr Ants wrote a novel, and so I had to read it. It was extensively reviewed a few months ago, most memorably by Margaret Atwood, who showed not only the requisite respect for the author but a beautifully sensitive contextualisation of the work itself. Read what she wrote, it is spot-on.

I will simply add that the central novella is worth the price of admission, as is Wilson's keen observation of the South's proclivities.

The New Yorker has a taster of the novella.

Dick Tracy

/noise/movies | Link

As cartoonish as Batman, but otherwise forgettable. I didn't get any of the humour in this at all. The acting is so-so, and Warren Beatty quite wooden. There are good reasons that it is largely forgotten. I don't understand why Pacino got a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but in any case he didn't win.

Brides of Christ

/noise/movies | Link

Like The Thorn Birds, they don't make them like this anymore. In this case it is easy to see why: the last big piece of drama that I can remember the ABC funding (and producing?) was Changi, superficially structurally similar to this. We can thank the funding cuts and crap management of the Howard era for the current situation of outsourced mediocrity.

The first episode is nigh-on perfect, and though the later episodes flag a little the standard is kept high. All of the actresses are brilliant, with perhaps Josephine Byrnes and Brenda Fricker being the standouts. The young Naomi Watts is just a little too histrionic and bloody-minded for my tastes; some of her mannerisms are familiar from her later work, but she learnt subtlety after this one. Harold Hopkins puts in an appearance as a worn-out husband, and Russell Crowe as a gung-ho mechanic.

Has there been anything in Australia in the past twenty years that would be worthy of this sort of treatment?

The French Connection

/noise/movies | Link

Hackman got an Oscar for his efforts in this one. I don't know, it's all a bit too Dirty Harry for me. At least it doesn't patronise its audience even at its most artificial. The cinematography is pure 1971.

Adding a temperature sensor to the clock.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

My Hồ Chí Minh clock has a temperature reading on it, alongside the lunar calendar, so I figured the nixie clock should have one too.

In the past one-wire temperature sensors have been cheap and plentiful, and were traditionally hooked up to classic PC serial or parallel ports. Nowadays the sensors seem to start at $US5, though I was fortunate to get some DS18B20s from this bloke on eBay for $AU3 each plus postage. The ts7250's GPIO pins stand in for the less flexible interfaces of yore.

These DS18B20 devices are pretty fancy, being able to source power parasitically from the data bus and yielding 12 bits of temperature data. They're only accurate to 0.5° on average, though, or perhaps a bit better at room temperatures, so I don't understand why one would need more than the 9 bits of the other models.

Anyway, wiring it up took about 5 minutes, and finding a suitable cable another half-hour or so. Fortunately the first four GPIO pins of the DIO header on the ts7250 are supposed to have the requisite pull-up resistors, so the sensor can indeed be powered parasitically.

Getting Linux to talk to it was a bit challenging, as the one-wire drivers don't seem to be set up for actual use. Apparently you have to use the non-mainline w1-gpio-custom module to indicate the GPIO pin to the one-wire driver. I don't know how to do it any other way; perhaps it is supposed to be hardwired somewhere. Moreover to get timing right for the parasitic powering, one needs a few more patches, which this bloke has hacked together.

It works:

# cat /sys/bus/w1/devices/28-0000027d5e12/w1_slave
09 01 4b 46 7f ff 07 10 bf : crc=bf YES
09 01 4b 46 7f ff 07 10 bf t=16562

but often the w1-therm driver complains:

w1_slave_driver 28-0000027d5e12: 18S20 doesn't respond to CONVERT_TEMP.

and the CRC check fails with occasionally crap data. I'm suspicious about the device ID as the code apparently does know about the DS18B20. Unloading the w1 drivers doesn't work either. Still, this is all much better than I had any right to expect, I guess.

Old Shure e2cs die, replaced by Sennheiser CX300-IIs, news at 12.

/noise/music | Link

The old Shures have been failing for more than a year now; actually the wiring in the left driver came erratically unstuck quite early on, and more recently the right one is going the same way. It makes for a a less than pleasant listening experience.

I initially decided on some Klipsch S4s, which Techbuy has for about $100 delivered, based on a pile of reviews. However they wouldn't supply them for about three weeks, so I plumped for these middle-of-the-road Sennheisers instead. The Apple store was selling them for $70, but their store at Bondi didn't have any in stock, so I ended up at Hardly Normals where they had a huge pile of them for $59 each, the cheapest I saw anywhere.

Buying these kinds of earphones is a pain as none of the shops will let you try before you buy, putatively for hygiene reasons, and hardly anyone has several pairs of similar phones and writes a sensible comparison of them. Almost all online magazine reviews find something positive to say about what's under review, and owner's comments tend to be biased by their shopping experience, or what happened when it broke, or buyer's remorse or the avoidance thereof, or whatever.

All I'm going to say is these things produce muddier sound than the e2cs did; I think I could do without the bass booster.

Saboteur with Albert, Pete R. and Sandy.

/noise/games | Link

First games night in a long time for me, having been away and all. We played most of a game of Scotland Yard, abandoning it when it became apparent that with only four detectives it is just too hard to corner Pete R.. Afterwards was Saboteur, which was fun. I cleaned up by chance; it is a game where it pays to be stingy when others are generous or suspicious.

Unforgiven

/noise/movies | Link

Clint Eastwood's first Oscar success, from 1992, deservedly. Suspenseful, character-driven, a new play on old clichés. That the Man With No Name is reborn was always on the cards; it was going to be about the how. Hackman hams it up a little.

Batman

/noise/movies | Link

Nicholson has a lot of fun here. Burton keeps everything moving, and the cinematography is perfect. The plot is comic-book pure.

Scarecrow

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this one ages ago. It features a Godfather-era Pacino in a comedic role, and a pre-Lex Luthor Gene Hackman doing his best to be sensitively tough. Driven by dialogue, which is sometimes sketchy. There is a washed-out early 70s realism to the cinematography. Not bad, but it does drag at times. A counterpoint to Cool Hand Luke, perhaps.

In the Year of the Pig

/noise/movies | Link

This is the pick of the anti-Vietnam War docos I've seen so far. I struggle to believe it was made in 1968, while LBJ was in power and Hồ Chí Minh still alive, as the level of cultural awareness canvassed here far outstrips that of the U.S. Government as represented by McNamara, Rusk et al.

Like Hearts and Minds, many injudicious comments are made, but these are counterbalanced by erudite commentary from some people who do know South East Asia, including at least one US Senator. Perhaps most interesting is the Frenchman Paul Mus, who demonstrates a keen understanding of Vietnamese culture and aspirations. He died soon after the movie was released. Also David Halberstam puts in a suitably literate and awestruck appearance.

The iconic footage of Madam Nhu, Uncle Ho, LBJ, Bảo Đại, Ngô Đình Diệm, Curtis LeMay, ... is priceless, as are the images of the Vietnamese people during wartime, especially around Hà Nội. There is much less war porn here than in the typical doco.

Topical: The Journal of Vietnamese Studies had a forum on Paul Mus in 2009.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

/noise/movies | Link

At the Chauvel with Rob at their show-and-tell with one of the writer/directors Judith Ehrlich. I think she was out here for the Sydney Film Festival. It opens more broadly this coming Thursday.

I'd been meaning to see this film since I first heard about it more than a year ago. It is well-constructed and occasionally riveting, with some great selective quoting of Nixon. They could have dropped some of the worn-out war porn though. There is a degree of self-absorption here that is also vaguely troubling, but it is difficult to communicate the nuance of political influence without sliding to extremes.

Much was made during the discussion of the recent hoopla around Wikileaks and its founder Assange, and also the similarly-recent legislation in Iceland to protect whistle blowers. There seems to be little to learn from this film about connecting to the general population in ways that might change policies; Ellsberg's big impact was to get the Watergate investigation started, which was also a fortunate accident for him as it allowed the court to dismiss the charges arising from his leaking the Pentagon Papers. As always with technicians, he failed to understand how little the people care about details and proof.

Ellsberg is very similar here to what he was in Hearts and Minds, which is perhaps unsurprising as his life has been in some kind of stasis since 1971. (Ehrlich stated this quite flatly.)

I wonder if Ellsberg's book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is worth reading.

David Marr, Quarterly Essay #38: Power Trip, The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd

/noise/books | Link

Marr can write, there's no doubt about that. The question is whether he can analyze. Rudd is driven by anger? Well, maybe, but what does that tell us? Obsessed by detail, unable to delegate, an oppressive boss... one wonders that the government has managed to do anything at all. I was relieved when Howard went down in 2007, but my small hopes for this lot had evaporated well before I read this. Crabb's efforts have definitely reduced readers' expectations of the commentariat.

Crikey develops this argument further. I concur with the observation that Rudd is more boring than angry. This essay does not explain why Rudd decided to fill his void (if there was one) with generalist political power rather than make money ala his wife and Turnbull.

Probably all you need to read is contained in this excerpt in the SMAGE. I don't think the full version is worth twenty bucks. If you're desperate for more, you can read Judith Brett's take in Inside Story.

Incidentally I did buy Quarterly Essay #36: Australian Story: Kevin Rudd and the Lucky Country by Mungo MacCallum, and found it so feeble that it defied a write-up. Mungo claims to hold on to reality with both hands but seems to have little familiarity with evidence. This journal's glory days are long gone.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

/noise/movies | Link

I remember Bob Carr calling this one a turkey when it won an Oscar (or something) back in 2000. I have to agree, the cliches are tedious and there is no depth. All the flying looks totally fake, the fighting is ho-hum, except perhaps between the two women. Oh sure, it's a form of dance, in which case I'm watching the wrong movie. Capriciousness robs everyone and everything of possibility.

The Karate Kid

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of Dana Stevens's review of the remake; I can barely imagine that Jackie Chan is as funny there as Mr Miyagi was here. Having an Okinawan protagonist was apposite then, and I wonder if the Beijing setting, the fresher prince, the kung fu, etc. will satisfy. This was perhaps the Gran Torino of its day.

It has the cheese, and all that other wonderful 1980s stuff. The ending is a bit abrupt, and the whole thing is totally implausible, both of which add to its charm. I liked the lead boy, he reeked of east coast meets west, but his opponents were banal. Shue is vapid and game.

Another Slate article on the cultural import of this film.

Hearts and Minds

/noise/movies | Link

An anti-Vietnam War doco from 1974. There is some iconic footage here, and some stupendous comments from people who should have known better. I am keen to see more of the Saigon from that era.

The summary at Wikipedia is quite good.

The Thorn Birds

/noise/movies | Link

Loan's mate chị Mai is a big fan of the book (in translation) and this mini-series, so I figured it'd be worth a look. There are some great performances from actors in minor roles, especially Christopher Plummer as an Italian Catholic operator. The leads are a bit more wooden, partially excused by some dodgy dialogue and hackneyed set pieces. The characters are a bit too shallowly drawn for me to get excited about, but are sufficient vehicles for the main themes, I guess.

Whatever its faults, they don't make them like this any more; no longer is anyone really interested in romancing undeveloped Australia...

Trung Nguyên: 1 Nguyễn Thông, District 3.

/AYAD/HCMC/Cafes | Link

This "official" one is at the railway station. As the whole place is smoke-free, it is quite comfortable, albeit totally empty. I think the train users have other things on their minds than coffee. Perhaps it gets busy when the train comes in. The coffee is so-so.

City Lights

/noise/movies | Link

Classic Chaplin. It didn't exactly scream "masterpiece!" at me, but it had its moments.

Trung Nguyên: 26B-C Lê Lợi

/AYAD/HCMC/Cafes | Link

A brand-new tiny "official" cafe in the heart of the tourist district. The coffee wasn't great, the prices are the same as elsewhere, and there is little to attact me to this place.

All about Eve

/noise/movies | Link

Something of a chick-flick with brains (but only something). Bette Davis is great, as is Anne Baxter. Addison DeWitt is such a cliche that I can't believe the actor got an Oscar for playing him. This is the sort of intrigue Sydney theatre types dream of.

Parked at #88 on IMDB's top-250.

Trung Nguyên: Corner of Trương Dịnh and Lý Tự Trọng.

/AYAD/HCMC/Cafes | Link

This one is new since my last visit. It is an "official" one, quite similar to the others, with a non-smoking floor. Quite near the tourist areas. There is no point drinking anything but the coffee as everything is expensive. I got a card and now have a few other new ones to check out.

Elizabeth Pisani: The Wisdom of Whores

/noise/books | Link

Caroline from DRD lent me her copy of this personal memoir of the early days of the global AIDS intervention, covering a decade from roughly 1995. Pisani is at her strongest when she is telling anecdotes and presenting data, and at her weakest when she gets vague and non-constructive.

Like many experts, Pisani does not seem to realise that a lot of her experience is generic; for example, many data crankage (statistical) activities suffer from the problems she had, and would the collection process be so very different if the goal was to influence drink driving in the developing world, or efficiently saving cute furry creatures? Possibly less sexy, I grant you. Her bullshit bingo is age-old, and some themes get a Freakonomics-ish treatment, such as the idea that more people having sex is safer. Such coarse oversimplifications are rife in these types of books, but sometimes she is careful, for example in identifying that it is network effects that dominate in the spread of disease. The management of aid money struck me as largely an accounting issue, readily solved by finding a good accountant.

Stylistically Pisani sometimes gets tediously repetitious. The chapter The Naked Truth is twice as long as it should be, and that space could have been used to more fully explain infection vectors. Occasionally she is patronising and neo-colonial, partly because she wants to forment an iconoclastic lone-rider image, sometimes because that is how she thinks about some issues; arguing about whether prostitutes would prefer lipstick of nail polish as a reward for completing a survey is a trivial example. Her appeals to the crutch of rationality are tedious, especially when she robs it of any kind of universality. Some analogies have less than half an arse. For all her scientific training she is a journalist at heart.

Occasionally she touches on ethical issues, such as whether AIDS testing should always be voluntary, confidential, etc. These are interesting questions but she doesn't do much more than begin to explore them. I don't doubt there is a wealth of material out there on the morality of development, though as it is a mile from "the data", Pisani is likely unfamiliar with it. Her bibliography has the common problem of these polemics: it was designed to add heft and authority rather than serve as an entry point for the non-specialist who is the most likely reader. (One of her anecdotes is that by 2006 she had become so predictable that her colleagues knew what her criticisms would be; ergo I doubt they will critically read this text.)

Her TED 2010 talk gives a good sense of her tone and mode of discussion; the graph at approximately nine minutes in is the kind of rubbery thing I'm complaining about: is it only STIs that cause spikes in HIV load? What about pneumonia and suchlike?

For all that Pisani is not unnecessarily salacious, and her message is valuable, albeit not especially constructive; she offers no suggestions for getting the ants out of the sugar bowl, and indeed her solution was to become a queen ant (as far as I can tell). However unless we take her overly literally, there is little "wisdom of whores" in this book, which is more about nibbling at the hand that feeds.

Topical: Foreign Policy reports on drug rehab in Hải Phòng.

The Book of Eli

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, the power of the trailer... Oldman, Waits, Washington, how could it be this bad? I felt ashamed that I took Loan to see this pile of crap at the Cinebox Hòa Bình on 3/2 street. Should have seen a chick flick instead.

Finally, xe ba bánh photos.

/AYAD | Link

Following Andrew T's advice I uploaded a bunch of photos to Google's Picasa. Enjoy. The quality is a lot lower than the originals but you get the idea.

Ye gods.

/noise | Link

Dennis Hopper just fell off the twig. Unbelievable. I suppose they'll now have to abandon any thought of a sequel to Apocalypse Now.

Some years they're dropping like flies.

/noise | Link

Vale, Martin Gardner.

I expect this is a journalistic simplification:

In his philosophical writing Mr. Gardner rejected speculative metaphysics because it could not be proved logically or empirically.

as Gardner surely knew that Popper refuted this position a long time ago. The argument would have been familiar to him, being roughly a diagonalisation: this predicate ("can be proved logically or empirically") refutes the scientific process as a truth-producer just as readily as it refutes metaphysics. Thus one needs some kind of transcendent (speculative?) account of knowledge that cannot be purely logical or empirical. Kant is turning in his grave.

Andrew X. Pham: Catfish and Mandala

/noise/books | Link

I read this book back in August 2008, when I was was on the road around the central and northern reaches of Viêt Nam. This time I was sitting on a couch in District 1 of Hồ Chí Minh City. I ploughed through it too quickly; as before the first half was scintillating, while the second half, mostly focussed on life in America, was less interesting to me. Still, it is difficult to imagine a better account of immigration and identity.

This makes me want to read his more-recent account of his father's life.

Tim Page: Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden

/noise/books | Link

My old bookseller on the corner of Bến Thành market has moved on, so I dealt with her non-English-speaking colleague. I got this one on the strength of the topic alone, viz taking the train from Hồ Chí Minh City to Hà Nội soon after the country was reunified. It was disappointing though, for Page's style is a pale imitation of Hunter S. Thompson or thereabouts, and there aren't any photos. His attempts to find out what happened to his photojournalist mates failed to grab me. More context and detail would have been better, even if he covered less ground by doing so.

He has a lot to say and has probably said it elsewhere.

The English Patient

/noise/movies | Link

A movie that tries to appeal to everyone: a bit of war, romance, deserts, exotic localities, history and so forth. It succeeds mostly when expansive, and is tedious when personal. Fiennes does OK, but is lumbered by an incoherent character who gets implausibly histrionic when he should have been stone cold. Binoche steals the show, as she always does, and won an Oscar for doing so.

Iron Man

/noise/movies | Link

Ah yes, the original. Apparently I saw this back in August 2008, but it didn't stick with me. It is superior to the sequel. The climaxes in both movies are unsatisfying as the boss dude is killed off way too quickly.

Iron Man 2

/noise/movies | Link

At the Galaxy Cinema on Nguyễn Du with Loan. I enjoyed it, but would have preferred more screen time for Mickey Rourke. There was too much to fit into the time, and it was very dissatisfying that this neo-Vlad got destroyed so quickly. But yeah, something to see.

Infamous

/noise/movies | Link

I had put off watching this one for years, as I'm just not that interested in Capote. There is a narcissism at work here that is truly repellent. Still, good performances all round: Toby Jones is convincing, Bullock almost fabulous, Daniel Craig able. Good Sunday evening fare in Saigon.

/AYAD/HCMC | Link

I spent National Day with Loan in HCMC. The modern nation of Việt Nam is 35 years old now. We went to the zoo, to visit the elephants. Here I am feeding one of the old cows some sugar cane. I think she remembered me from two years ago.

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

/noise/books | Link

I was talking to mrak and Ang about Douglas Adams's The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, and had this foist on me. The premise is quite similar, with the Norse pantheon running the show; I guess their tales parallel the Jewish conspiracy theories of men. Gaiman spends more time pan pantheon, although the Greeks are MIA. Fundamentally he dodges the essential problem that not all gods are comparable; for instance the Christian God is necessarily absent, as is Allah, for they are omniscient, etc. Following Gaiman's ontology I guess many comic book heroes would be modern gods, or that there should have been a god of superheroes. Anyway, whatever.

There is too much tourist stuff in this book of the form "I went here and saw that." The preamble makes it difficult to take any of it seriously as Gaiman asserts that separating location fact and fiction would take significant effort. Do I really care about all those decaying roadside attractions? Moreover the problem with this type of universe is that nothing is predictable, so there is little possibility of tension. I just wanted to know how it ended, and ultimately the plot just evaporated. The metaphysics is mostly stock, and motivations are a bit opaque at times.

Gaiman writes some occasionally sparkly prose, but is indulgently flabby about it. The book ambles around directionlessly quite often, and narrative is certainly subordinated to observation. Again, William Gibson does this too but his writing is taut, so it doesn't get in the way of character and plot.

Laura is a deus ex machina, and all the characters are American everypeople: hustlers, shysters, trailer trash, urban professionals, and so forth. Shadow is a bit of an everyman, the big dumb bloke who's not dumb but not alive, and has a generally indistinct personality. Gaiman's fixation on coin tricks is not easily or well rendered in prose, and I didn't bother to visualise them as I didn't know the terminology.

I note Gaiman's nod to Brunner's sociologist from Stand on Zanzibar by naming the Lakeside cop Chad Mulligan.

The heists, well, I saw them on The Real Hustle. OK, the book predates the TV show, but their presentation has more flair (or is it sexiness?) than Gaiman's. While the referentialism tickles the neurons with that "aha, I get it, I'm smart" feeling that feels like thinking, to me it cheapens the whole enterprise, and just makes me sure that there's more out there than in here, that with all that I do get there's a lot more that I'm missing. It is a pointless, lazy approach to writing.

I am surprised this book got such huge recommendations and so many prizes.

The Field

/noise/movies | Link

Another Jim Sheridan effort, recounting the strong identification of the Irish who stayed behind during the famine and the land, and the generation gap they have with their children. It's OK but failed to grab me as much as his best did. The acting is solid. Brenda Fricker has a marginal role, unfortunately.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel at a fairly flat Gordons Bay. Great day for it, excellent visibility for the most part, fairly flat conditons. The water is definitely getting cooler, though a wife beater and a pair of gloves are enough to keep it at bay presently.

El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)

/noise/movies | Link

I found this one by trawling the IMDB top-250: it was parked at number 216, presumably because it won an Oscar. I'm thinking the Inspector Rex fans would like this, but I somehow didn't really get into it. There's a lot of repetition of the motif of the empty life: the missed relationship, being incarcerated, the murdered wife. Perhaps that covers everyman; unfortunately the central female character is overly passive about these matters, even though she wears the pants.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob off the southern end of Coogee. The day was calm with little swell, and the water warm enough. We got in next to the rock pool out the front of the surf life-saving club and headed around the rocks to Wylie's Baths. It is surprisingly shallow along there with heaps of rock shelves and reefs. Saw quite a few fish and this solitary squid who didn't seem particularly fazed by me. (This photo has been enhanced by iPhoto.)

After we got out a bloke told us that there were a few larger gropers to be found along that stretch. I guess we'll have to go back.

The Man from Earth

/noise/movies | Link

Imagine a parallel universe where the averge script writer was as famous as Tom Cruise and remunerated similarly. Further, that dialogue and argument are prized over explosions; anti-Michael-Bay forces dominate. This is what Highlander would look like in that universe.

I got the pointer from jwz's webspace.

Richard Burton: Tales from the Arabian Nights, selected from the book of the thousand nights and a night.

/noise/books | Link

I had intended to read at least this selection from cover to cover, but gave up after about 660 pages. Structurally the text is fantastic, stories-within-stories and so forth, but most of the time I'd have to say that Burton's commentary on the text outshines the text itself. It is a huge stylistic indulgence, flowery and archaic even by his times.

The framing story of Scheherazade and her murderous king is great, though I expected it to be returned to more often; in this text the King takes her maidenhead and 500 pages later she has had three children. The first 34 nights take about 350 pages. By the supplemental nights they're down to about a page each.

Plenty of the stories are farcical ala Monty Python, such as the occasionally hilarious The Hunchback's Tale. I also liked the mysticism of The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.

The Wikipedia page provides a good account of how the various translations relate. Apparently a complete, unexpurgated version of Burton's text is available.

Bladerunner

/noise/movies | Link

Rob lent me his DVD of the Director's Cut from 1991 (I think). No narration. Brilliant visuals, camera angles, photography. Irresistible.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Warmer in than out, I would say, bearable. Little to no wind, mild swell, looked clean enough. The clouds blowing through made the sea bottle-green.

No Way Out

/noise/movies | Link

I got talking to Rob about Blade Runner and he suggested I see this as another example of Sean Young's efforts in the 1980s. It also features Gene Hackman and a young Costner, both of whom are bigger than the movie. It's not bad, and very 1980s — I don't doubt that it was IMAN's acting in this that won her David Bowie's heart. The tension ramps up, sometimes implausibly and clunkily, but nevertheless resolutely, until it is abruptly terminated by a non-sequitur of an ending.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp on the northern side, swimming westwards. The weather is back to being perfect again, though the swell was large enough that visibility was mediocre. I didn't manage to find the huge blue groper. Andrew T tells me that they need to be quite old, circa fifty years, to get to that size. Difficult to believe with all the fisherpeople around.

Anyway, I did see quite a few younger gropers, and loads of the usual fish. I was surprised to find this stingaree in the sand, at a depth of two metres or so. It spent some time trying to splash sand over itself to blend in better. They seem to be shy but not retiring.

We have real time.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Finally I have managed to get a real-time Linux kernel running on the ts7250, resulting in a flicker-free display. Score one to patience.

Briefly, the Linux RT blokes skipped 2.6.32.x as the kernel's concurrency foundations got a reworking. They released an RT patch against 2.6.33.2, and as ynezz has forward-ported the ts72xx patches it was a cinch to move to the bleeding edge. YAFFS (a flash filesystem) broke as it uses some old-school mutexery. Grossly updating it all to the struct mutex way of doing things is straightforward and seems to work.

Hacking the clock driver code is trickier now though, as the process runs at the maximum real-time priority. If it loops without making syscalls, the system dies.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Making a habit of these morning snorkels, I headed down to Gordons Bay around 9am. The surf was a bit rough so I went westwards into the bay where I found loads of immature blue gropers. There were also some quite long things that looked like garfish but were swimming at depth, and heaps of the usual species. The water remains comfortable, the day is sunny and the wind mild. Visibility was only fair between the whitewater and plant litter. Getting out was more work than I wanted it to be.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I love the sound of tradies in the morning... My neighbour is getting her bathroom renovated and so I ventured half-asleep down to Gordons Bay for the first morning snorkel in a long time. I headed eastwards from the scuba ramp in search of the big groper but stopped when the whitewater got too heavy to see anything. There were a huge assembly of fish around that point. I eventually found him right in front of the ramp, chasing some females. The water was about the same temperature as the air (I'd say), something like 20-22 degrees. I got slaughtered by the cool off-shore breeze when I got out. Visibility was fair to good.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early afternoon snorkel with Rob at Long Bay. We got in from the northern boat ramp and headed eastwards. Visibility was OK, not great, and the water noticeably cooler. Just the usual suspects were about.

The Messenger

/noise/movies | Link

Worthy themes, similar to those of Brothers, but I didn't get into it. Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton are solid, albeit playing characters not particularly interesting to me.

Welcome

/noise/movies | Link

A French flick in the Ken Loach mould. This is the best movie I've seen for the first time in a long time. I think I caught the short at Micmacs, which sketched the bones of the plot, the characters and calibre of the story without making it at all clear how things were going to go.

The main characters are well drawn and their motivations clear. Vincent Lindon is the leading man, and Audrey Dana plays his ex-wife. Occasionally the cinematography is perfect.

I would have liked the backstory to be fleshed out just a bit more, particularly the trek from the Middle East to Calais, how the Frenchman and his wife got to where they are, and to make Mina into more than just a pretty face. These are mere quibbles. As in Micmacs, Sarkouzy is on the screen just long enough to switch him off.

It is unbelievable that France can have so many people in bureaucratic limbo within its borders. For all its faults, is Australia's system this bad?

This movie is somewhat like Lilja 4 Eva with less brutality, allowing some hope for the individual human spirit.

Brothers

/noise/movies | Link

It seems that Jim Sheridan can indeed do some wrong. The topic of this one is worthy, focussing on the psychological destruction of Marine Captain Tobey Maguire at the hands of some badass Afghans, and his inability to relate to his brother and wife on return. (His relationship with his father is obdurate.) We are told a few times that Portman is beautiful, just in case we have let her involvement in the mentally scarring Star Wars pre-trilogy besmirch our opinions of her. Gyllenhaal comes out looking the best in this cast of cardboard cutouts.

The plot is quite holey as it is difficult to wring the kind of tension Sheridan is looking for while retaining a grasp on reality; the whole thing falls apart if, for example, we knew what Portman was told about Tobey's existential status (presumably he's MIA, but she's in no doubt that he's dead). Also this fictional military has a quite ineffectual hands-off recovery program.

More show, less painting the past with words please Mr Sheridan. And try to make a movie that outdoes the short next time.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Fine if only moderately warm day. I trekked down to Long Bay to see if I could spot some squid. Visibility was quite poor and all I saw were the usual suspects. Pleasant enough in, not much in the way of swell.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Quick paddle in the pool at the northern end of Coogee. The tide was out and so there was only about half a metre of water in the western end. Luckily I've learnt to swim in that much from my snorkelling launches...

In America

/noise/movies | Link

Jim Sheridan is a master story teller, focussing in tight on a very few characters and showing how things are for them. Clearly this is a deeply personal story for him. The acting is quite good, the children particularly excellent, Mateo electric and beautiful. I remember Samantha Morton for her luminous performance in The Libertine, and here she is grittily competent. I would only quibble about the manufacturing of tension, and the slightly stodgy (Irish?) narrative arc. Immerse yourself and ruminate.

QBE Travel Insurance, for the unlicenced rider.

/travels/2010-Vietnam | Link

From a tip by a mate of Darren: if you intend to ride a bike in Vietnam and don't have an Australian or local licence, QBE's policy does not rule out covering you provided the bike is 100cc or less. Read the policy carefully though, for they may still play some kind of illegal-activity shenanigans. I hope I don't have to find out.

You can get steep discounts by looking around. I got mine through Global Surf Travel for 30% less than going straight to QBE. Strangely QBE still process the payment and issue the policy directly from their website. It remains a lot more than e.g. AAMI (for me about $250 versus $165) but it might actually pay out if something happens.

Wrapping up Worker/Wrapper.

/hacking/isabelle | Link

At last I have completed the submission process for my worker/wrapper corrigendum-ish thing: the JFP emailed me the printing proofs and I have sent them back, all four and a half pages of it. I am told it will be online sometime soon, and in print at some later time.

Secretary

/noise/movies | Link

I remember seeing this when it was released, which must have been sometime in 2003. This is Maggie Gyllenhaal in her break-through role, and she is game and lustrous. Her love interest (James Spader) is a Mickey Rourke-alike, and this is indeed a 9 1/2 weeks sort of deviancy for the new new century. What's not to like?

The Twin Peaks aesthetic is sometimes a bit kooky, a bit creepy, but this is alleviated by a tight focus on the characters, and some of that Lebowksi dreaminess. Maggie is great and I liked how her character evolved; a more sophisticated take on power relationships that is not as readily trivialised as stereotyped feminism.

I reckon this would have made a great stage production ala Oleana, which I saw NUTS produce so many years ago.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Too weary to really enjoy it; it has been a while since I got a decent sleep, as the flat opposite my bedroom window is being renovated. The tradies have been there every day for the past week (including this weekend) from 7:30am. Anyway, the water was fine, the sky and water clear. Probably would have been perfect for a snorkel.

Johnny Mnemonic

/noise/movies | Link

Who would have thought that Keanu's power animal was a dolphin? This one has a bit of everything, except a plausible plot, characters, continuity, tension. As such it is fine except where it obviously fails to match grasp and reach; it is something of a dry run for The Matrix. Lundgren hams it up well as the preacher, but Rollins is only convincing when aggressive. Keanu markedly improves in his next few movies after this one.

The animation is Tron-ish. Gibson's work is debased as he is usually focussed on the immediate, the local: his characters don't save the world. Also there was a lack of sexual deviancy, a central theme of cyberpunk. It could have been worse, but it could also have been a lot more than just a quest.

Those with sharp eyes will spot a frequency counter (or something) with nixie tubes in one of the climactic scenes.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Clovelly, Rob, gropers, stingaree, early evening, a bit rough but very clear, water a tad cool.

William Gibson: Burning Chrome

/noise/books | Link

A sparkly little collection of short stories by Gibson at the height of his neuromantic period. Bruce Sterling has an ego far larger than his talent, and his attempts early in his introduction to bracket himself with Gibson made it easy to skip the rest of it. Moreover I'd read their collaboration Red Star, Winter Orbit in Mirrorshades, and here it really jangles against the purely Gibson efforts.

Stand-outs were:

  • Johnny Mnemonic. Was the movie really all that bad? I guess I had better find out.
  • Hinterlands. Provincialism.
  • New Rose Hotel is much better than the movie, more's the pity.
  • The Winter Market is Gibson observing Vancouver, keenly. I wish he'd do more social commentary in general. (As well as, not instead of.)
  • The titular Burning Chrome is a dry run for Neuromancer, and is fine for all that.

Micmacs

/noise/movies | Link

Mr Amelie returns to his kooky childish roots in his signature style. I got a freebie from the distributor via the State Library. I could only make the 12pm screening at the Academy Twin today, and just one other person present. How can they turn a profit on these sessions?

The theme of this one is infantile, and taken on with the moral clarity of George W. Bush: the CEOs of two weapons manufacturers are identified with all the evil machinations of any and all such companies. They get the comeuppance that is so obviously in the offing from the first few frames.

The aesthetic is a return to his classic washed-out colours, ala City of Lost Children. Individual scenes are great, as are the sundry mechanisms and automata. He makes good use of his varied cast. The sexy stuff should be on the cutting room floor. So enjoy things while they're on the screen, and don't think too hard: this is like Amelie but more so.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with a million others at Clovelly. Beautiful day, the water is supposedly still 22 degrees. As predicted by Rob, there were several mid-size gropers in the middle of the bay, and some large-ish fish. What I've been calling macklin are in fact Eastern Garfish.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon coffee and paddle at Coogee with Albert. The water is definitely getting cooler, but the weather is holding out, despite the BOM's forecast of showers and thunder and all that. We tried swimming out to the pool at the northern end, but gave up and walked like all sane people do.

K-PAX

/noise/movies | Link

Spacey and Bridges are in it, so it can't be too bad, right? Right? Well, it just might be. Spacey plays an American take on Douglas Adams's Ford Prefect, a too-human alien apparently compiling some kind of report for some unstated purpose. The plot tries to riff on the ambiguity of unAmerican alienness or (entirely?) American insanity, but falls apart at times as the man is clearly both. Spacey is always a bit patronising, and here he is positively encouraged to be godlike. Bridges does not look right with short hair.

The technicalities in the movie are irritating; for example, if K-Paxian reproduction was as terrible as claimed, the species would have died out, especially with long life spans.

Vale, Robin Milner.

/cs | Link

Vijay told me of his passing. Sad I never saw him speak.

Belvoir Downstairs: The Suicide

/noise/theatre | Link

Six months after my last foray to Belvoir, I saw that the Hayloft Project have once again migrated north for these dying days of summer. The cheapie Tuesday price has been jacked up to $12. I was fortunate when the girl behind the counter sweetly squeezed me in with about ninety other people when some reservations didn't show. Apparently at least some in the crowd were watching it as part of their drama studies at Sydney Uni.

This play is a farce. The comedic elements are diverse and self-knowing, which is not quite the same thing as innovative and funny. Apparently the play was written in 1928 by Russian Nikolai Erdman: roughly, Lenin is dead, Stalin is just beginning to stack the bodies, and things are looking a tad grim for the locals. Semyon Semyonovich wants out because his wife is insufficiently servile, he has no employment and no real prospects of an outsize life. Once suicide is decided upon, there's the question of naming rights. Segue to a pre-wake and then a suitably improbable conclusion for Semyon.

I can imagine that the play originally manifested a lot of political commentary, but that has been toned down in this production. Mr Nip-it-in-the-Bud would make an excellent motivational speaker, and indeed all the actors were excellent. Gareth Davies has a huge role and carries it off as well as anyone could, playing (being?) drunk ala Robert Downey Jr for extended periods. Everyone keeps their undies on this time. However the ending dragged and I wanted Semyon offed at least twenty minutes before the actors took their bows. I have to say I much preferred the director Simon Stone's efforts on The Only Child.

This crew has a lot of fans, and maybe a good press agent. Perhaps that explains the lack of diversity in the reviews. Also there is no interval, just a hundred continuous minutes, which weirded me out as I did want a beer.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The surf was about the same as yesterday, but visibility was a bit better. The water remains a perfect temperature. I didn't see any of the big blue gropers today, and I'm wondering why.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another snorkel at Gordons Bay, in the late afternoon in some fairly rough surf. Visibility was a lot poorer than it has been, though the water remains warm. There was a fair bit of light and loads of fish in the bay itself; I found one of the male gropers straight in front of the scuba ramp.

Tourist Visas for Vietnam

/travels/2010-Vietnam | Link

I headed off to the consulate in Edgecliff last Thursday to apply for a tourist visa, and back today to pick it up. They will give you a single-entry 3 month visa for $AU100, or a multi-entry one for $AU140. Seems like a lot less hassle than what people have done in the past, or trying to get a pre-organised visa-on-arrival.

Zodiac

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently I saw this with Rob back in 2007 at the Ritz. It must not have stuck. The story and acting are pretty good, though Fincher et al have to massage some tension in there to keep us on the hook. It suffers a bit from an accelerating time-frame and no real conclusion.

Up

/noise/movies | Link

Delightful.

New Theatre: Feelgood

/noise/theatre | Link

I haven't been to the theatre in a while, so I figured it was worth risking the cheapie opening Sunday evening ($10 min) to see this political something-or-other. The crowd was small, which was somewhat due to it starting at 5pm.

Briefly: the presumably-British-Labour-Party is having their annual conference at some swank hotel, and protesters are outside trying to riot. Inside we see the speechwriters at work, the snowballing of a genetically-modified scandal, and a Pilger-esque journalist's possibility of influencing government policy.

The production was solid, as was the acting. The script itself was a bit flat: as the process of manufacturing political bullshit is entirely cynical, entirely banal, it takes a lot of effort to make it more than that on the stage. The concluding speech repeats some of what came before in combination with some jarring hackneyed realpolitik. I found the humour a bit forced at times, and while it has been mildly adapted to Australian circumstances, the original English sensibility leaks through. It is probably not so far from what Williamson might attempt if he were to take on this topic.

Tender Mercies

/noise/movies | Link

I got this on the strength of the comparisons with Crazy Heart. Robert Duvall is the leading man here, and given the chance won the Oscar for it. He is excellent, reversing his psycho-with-some-empathy style (in my mind) to play a seemingly decent bloke whose boozing makes him plausibly dangerous. Indeed all the actors are great. I would have liked to see a bit more character from his new wife as she didn't seem to want a hell of a lot. Why did she get remarried? Did she want another child?

I think Bridges earnt his Oscar more than Duvall did here.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I invited Rob, Sandy and Albert for a snorkel today, at the same place I've been going to these past three days. We were quite slow in starting, getting in around 2:30pm. I gave the camera to Rob and this is the best photo he took, of the first of the three large mature male gropers we saw. I think they got progressively larger as we headed east along the headland. It is damn hard to get a photo that captures these magnificently languid creatures in perspective. Sandy didn't last too long as the water is definitely cooler than it has been: barely 22 degrees according to the life savers at Clovelly!

There were heaps of people around as it was an absolutely perfect day, and the water remains quite clear. I should head back and see what I can find in Clovelly.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I had to go back to Gordons Bay and try to get some photos of that huge groper I saw yesterday. I'm not altogether sure this is the same fish; this one liked ducking back under some rocks during the photoshoot, and I think yesterday's was significantly larger. The water seemed a bit cloudier than yesterday (perhaps due to me having the camera with me) and a little rougher with a mild northerly breeze.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water has been too clear for too many days now not to snorkel. I got in at the scuba ramp on the northern (Clovelly) side. The tide being out made it a bit challenging, scrambling over the half-exposed rocks with gear in hand. I saw a huge blue groper, the biggest I've ever laid eyes on, more than a metre long, fat and cobalt-blue. Of course I didn't take my camera. Also a smaller one, some squid, and schools of juvenile marlin (?) and a jet-black fish I know not what, and the usual suspects. Lots of larger fish about presently.

Wilde

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this biopic at the cinema back in the late 90s with an unlikely crowd. Stephen Fry is very good, as is Jude Law. The narrative arc is a bit lame; this writer's life is the tawdry, tragic flipside of his beautiful and timeless work. Martin Sheen holds up the home front.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. A few people out snorkelling, a couple of blokes mucking around in a row boat. About the same as yesterday: absolutely perfect. Flat as, incredibly clear.

Massive Attack at the Sydney Opera House forecourt.

/noise/music | Link

mrak talked me into going to this, the tacked on second gig, after I passed on going with Jacob and Barb last night for pecuniary reasons. Cutely the tickets I got from the Opera House included a download of their new album Heligoland, whereas Ticketmaster wanted another $15 for their latterly-available ones. All I'm going to say is that it is less metallic than the preceding 100th Window and Danny the Dog soundtrack.

Martina Topley-Bird opened with an ethereal solo set. Awesome to see her.

As for the Massive, well yeah, I like their old stuff better than their new stuff, and I doubt there's anyone older than twenty who feels otherwise. The night was beautiful, the location perfect, but the music was missing something; as mrak observed, the canonical versions of their songs are on the albums, and production is a huge part of what they do. They rocked out a lot of their songs, with walls of sound that sometimes had the nuance that made them famous — Angel springs to mind — but often not. All of the vocalists were strong, including Martina on Teardrop and a fabulous Unfinished Sympathy featuring Deborah Miller. I expected them to close with Hymn of the Big Wheel, given the ambience and presence of Horrace Andy, but no. Mr Andy and the shrinking non-del Naja part of the group (now just Marshall) were criminally under-used. This group has concreted over its organic roots.

The stage was backed by an impressive display board running all sorts of things. Most incongruous to me was the monomaniacal focos on political issues, newspaper headlines, that sort of thing. I don't think of this band as political so much as personal, about the connections amongst people, not their divisions. Strangely, while their music casts long shadows over various parts of my life, I have never had much empathy for the core band members.

I saw these guys straight after they released Mezzanine back in 1998 with Jacob and many mutual friends. This gig just made me feel nostalgic.

Worth reading: a harsh-but-fair retrospective at the New Yorker. Not worth reading: Bernard Zuel in the Smage. Paranoia? Darkness? What about the first two albums?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Got back to Sydney yesterday afternoon and probably should have gone for a swim. Today was just as perfect. The water is noticeably cooler than it was last time I was in, flat and very clear but with lots of street material at the fringes. There is a massive infestation of backpackers presently. Would have been perfect for a snorkel.

Waterworld

/noise/movies | Link

Costner as a merman, and Dennis Hopper in his lamest effort yet. As one would expect from the hype when it was released, the narrative/plot is crap, the characters undercooked, and the whole thing is within a hair's-breadth of failure. They should have spent more on the script (as they always should). Generic good guys, generic bad guys, generic pirate imagery, a find-the-promised-land, booty, Rambo-esque rescue effort, etc. that would shame the makers of Mario Bros. There are shades of Indiana Jones and sundry American myths here, as one always finds with Costner.

I guess it is easy to see how Costner's ego got the better of him after Dances with Wolves. His acting here is reprehensible. Rob reckoned the premise is interesting and epically fumbled. It is somewhat like watching the Wallabies play rugby.

This movie is mythical, like Star Wars, and is a mandatory watch even if it is a turkey. The cinematography is pretty good and I did like his boat.

Sleuth

/noise/movies | Link

Michael Caine and a fruity Laurence Olivier play deadly games in a country mansion. The piled-up twists are let down by Caine's inability to completely mask his accent, which is a shame as he had me going for some of it. I reckon the stage production would have been superior. Rated at #203 on the IMDB top-250, as it should be.

The commentary on class/migrant relations/condescension in England circa 1970, when there was some pretension to a new classless society, was a bit pedestrian but articulately delivered. The automata are pretty amazing.

Apparently Caine decided to participate in a remake with Jude Law, using a script by Harold Pinter.

Tightrope

/noise/movies | Link

Another Eastwood, this time from the early 1980s. The cinematography is washed out, just right for some seemy police work in pre-Katrina New Orleans. It tries to fish for a new angle on the psycho-thriller, but that particular character is shallowly drawn and implausibly generic, along the lines of Malkovitch in In the Line of Fire. The focus is on the cop played by Eastwood, a bit of a down-at-heel Dirty Harry who gets organised with the lady from the rape crisis centre. Arnie plays a similar cop in End of Days; was it never a cliché?

Again, I saw this on the strength of that New Yorker article. Overall OK but difficult to talk up as anything great. One for the Underbelly crowd.

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries)

/noise/movies | Link

I can't believe this is #151 on IMDB's top-250: it is pretty much the definition of arty pretentiousness. Briefly: a black-and-white dreamy life-wasn't-so-beautiful recreation of an old medical professor-ermeritus's life, a character study of an unpleasant sort of bloke. Narrative and plot are mostly absent. It is showy, I'll give it that, but I found no real depth in it, just allusion. Is he cold because he doesn't care about anything or vice-versa? Does this movie tell us anything we don't already know? The women are shallowly drawn, apparently lacking inner lives or anything but material motives for love. Manipulative too. Boring!

It doesn't encourage me to see any more of Bergman's work.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. All round absolutely perfect — the water is quite warm, the day temperate, little wind and some waves.

In the Line of Fire

/noise/movies | Link

I got sucked into this early-90s Eastwood thriller by an article in the New Yorker about his movies. Malkovich is a good psycho, but I rank him below his contemporaries Spacey and Hopkins. The plot has myriad holes large enough for a plethora of successful assassinations; perhaps the most ludicrous is Eastwood pulling up in a taxi on an otherwise baracaded and barren street, just in time to show us how intel was done prior to computers and save the PUSA. Eastwood is fun to watch, at times, but wooden at others, and while the scaffolding of his later signature moral complexity is assembled, nothing is made of it.

The article is better than the movie, trust me.

Crazy Heart

/noise/movies | Link

This feted vehicle of Jeff Bridges's performance-of-a-lifetime took an age to get to Australia. I caught it at 2:30pm on this, a cheap Tuesday, a week after release, four rows from the front of cinema #2 in The Ritz. I'm sure the oldies had their fun up the back.

Bridges is indeed awesome, inflating his character as Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler, even looking like he'd been drinking steadily since The Big Lebowski to just this end. I'll admit I enjoyed the music, though I can never tell if it's country or western, or whatever it is that Leonard Cohen does.

Maggie Gyllenhaal lit up the screen as she always can, but the script cast a shadow long enough to prevent her being anything interesting. Indeed the narrative arc, the possibility of plot development, was restricted to wondering how the whole thing could possibly conclude, preferably satisfyingly. I don't think Cooper figured this out either. Redemption is popular in the U.S., and probably everywhere that God is thought to be a friend of humanity, and for it to fail as blandly as it does here makes one wish for the grand follies of past times. It couldn't even manage a decent double-dip. These days even failure tastes like success.

Robert Duvall is always a bonus to me, playing those unforgettable supporting roles in great movies like Apocalypse Now and Magnolia. (Didn't these movies show us how to screw up properly?) Here his character is too minor to rescue anything from anything. The IMDB boards are saturated with pointers to his earlier take on the same theme, Tender Mercies, a Beresford effort. It's enqueued.

This movie is worth seeing on the strength of Bridges alone; be placated by the musical interludes! ... and certainly don't read any reviews before you go. Afterwards you can nod along vigorously with Dana Stevens, Paul Byrnes and Stephanie Zacharek. Or not.

The Truman Show

/noise/movies | Link

This one just scraped into the IMDB top-250; I guess the next blockbuster or two will push it off that highly esteemed list. I've never been a fan of Carrey and have definitely seen more of his movies than have been good for me. I had the distinct impression that he'd packed in after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so much wishful thinking on my part.

I doubt this is worth watching now that the reality TV bubble has come and gone, but perhaps it will be in a decade or two, when old things are new once more. The movie is thoroughly American, right up to the saccharine ending.

MPD on the nixie clock.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Slow and steady progress compiling software this week. It is tedious as hell, and I am mystified as to why mature projects still have such baroque configuration management systems. For example, GLib (a part of GTK) does not support cross-compilation out of the box. A few hacks later and it does compile relatively painlessly, so why haven't the hacks been folded back into the project itself? I think the lasting effect of Debian's packaging of the known universe is that these nasty problems get patched but not pushed (or accepted or whatever) upstream.

Anyway, I was shocked, surprised and relieved that my long-in-the-making cross-compiled MPD ran first-go on the ts7250. It took me an age to configure — ALSA calls the mixer "Speaker" instead of the conventional "Master", and ALSA is so overengineered that even something this simple requires forensic deobfuscation. Everyone's had problems with ALSA, so Google is full of unanswered questions from noobs with poor grammar, or pages from 2005 describing now-obsolete obscurities.

Well, yeah. Using the pleasant MPD client Theremin, I can now blast tunes from the Nixie clock and control it from the laptop. It sounds fine, and uses less than 60% of the CPU with the clock driver doing its thing. I feel like I have finally joined the class of 1998.

The last of the desiderata is a remote control, so I can park the clock on the mantelpiece and do less sophisticated things without the MacBook. The receiver half of this cheap-arse infra red thing I bought does not get along with the ts7250 too well, though it might be OK on stock hardware. Having pretty much given up on it, I will flog its carcase in all the fora known to Cirrus EP93xx sufferers as a public service. I would so dearly like to be cool and trendy and BlueToothy, but I have no cool and trendy mobile phone to pair a receiver with.

Witness for the Prosecution

/noise/movies | Link

Agatha Christie made this for the stage and it shows. Dietrich is weird, unattractive and hackneyed here, a frosty scheming German who spends the dying parts of the movie pretending to be a woman overpowered by her emotions. The occasional good line for the barrister does not make up for the myriad dei ex Christies. I'm sure her fans think it really does rank around #150 in the IMDB top-250, but there's no need to inflict this stuff on the rest of us.

Return to Cape Banks.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I went for a mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Cape Banks, our second foray to the aquatic reserve beyond the golf course. The rescue helicopter was returning from somewhere-or-other, and I hope the rescuee survived.

We leisurely snorkelled from the south-eastern corner of the island eastwards towards the wreck. There were loads of fish out, the usual suspects for the most part, though I did see a fairly large maroon-coloured cat fish. Rob got this photo, again so much better than my usual efforts. One has to get up close and stick the camera in the creatures' faces.

Weather-wise today slotted between the short drizzle of yesterday and the promise of storms for the foreseeable.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The water was a bit filthy, but not too bad. Beautiful temperature and quite a clear day.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

/noise/movies | Link

More dreck from Spielberg. Connery is implausible from the first. Given that this is ranked #100 in IMDB's top-250, I can see the population at large is fascinated by this mangling of mythology, a sort of Lawrence of Arabia for twits. How dumb would you have to be to invest that much effort in traps that are not reentrant?

Presently I'm chugging through Richard Burton's A Thousand Nights and a Night, which is more fascinating for Burton's footnotes than the stories themselves. The narrative structure is cute, and I now see where Salman Rushdie got a lot of his ideas from. Much doughtier fare.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Strong on-shore wind and relatively large surf (even some breakers). Pleasant enough in but not very tranquil.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

/noise/movies | Link

More dreck from Spielberg. All of the characters are irritating infantile stereotypes, and I fail to see how anyone could consider it fun to know that each problem will be solved within a few minutes, usually by an omniscience blinded only by the requirements of plot. Apparently all Sikhs are evil, unless they're smurfs, in which case they're good because they're fighting with the English Empire... or something. The female offsider whines and squeals like C3PO, but with even less humour, and the child offsider is just plain awful.

The best part of it are the occasional iconic photographs, such as Harrison Ford wielding a whip on a rope bridge, but these are easy to get over.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Bloody hot day. I figured I'd try snorkelling at Little Bay, for it has been a while since I was there last. The building of Stocklandton continues apace. The water was warm, clean and clear though I didn't see much. Three blue bottles right near the sand should have forcibly ejected the constituent zooid who was responsible for inflating the sail in these conditions.

Cool Hand Luke

/noise/movies | Link

A Paul Newman classic, perched precisely midway up the IMDB top 250. Not really to my taste. I watched it in two sessions about a week apart, and that might have been why.

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

/noise/movies | Link

Unbelievably #18 in the IMDB top-250. Riffing on all the cliches and motifs of Orientalism, there is little worth seeing here. Harrison Ford is at his wooden best, being marginally less banal than Karen Allen who plays his presumed-shaggable offsider. Totally unsubtle — the baddies are Nazis for god's sake! — but perhaps we can be thankful that it is certain that Indiana shot first and that's the way it's gotta be. Lucas was involved in the production and writing, and it shows: the treatment of anything human is entirely infantile.

It is much better than the recent one, for all that is worth. I remember now why I haven't seen many Spielberg films.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people on the northern side near the scuba ramp, which looked somewhat like a postcard from some European beach. No rubbish in the water meant that it would have been great for a snorkel. The sea was a lot calmer than yesterday. Quite warm out, 30 degrees earlier in the day, and very pleasant in. About as perfect as it gets.

The Game

/noise/movies | Link

I remember seeing this, apparently five years ago. It's a twist-piled-upon-twist sort of flick, not as successful as Fincher's best but still watchable.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I met up with Pete R. around midday and walked with him to Bondi along the coastal walk. I haven't been along that track in many years, and the improvements are vast. We had lunch at the park in Bronte, where the beach was closed, as was Tamarama due to some hefty surf. Bondi itself was relatively tame, and surprisingly uncrowded.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

The days are definitely getting shorter again, the sun sets before 8pm now. Yet another early-evening paddle around an almost entirely deserted Gordons Bay. Some sea birds (maybe gulls, I dunno, I didn't have my glasses on) were dive-bombing for fish quite near the beach. The water was warm and less choppy than yesterday. A moderate amount of leaf litter and sundry crap in the water.

Fritz Lang: M

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently a classic, and highly-rated on IMDB to boot (#57). I couldn't get into it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay. The sea was continues to be unsettled so we didn't see much. We poked around the northern scuba-ramp and swam across the bay to what we hoped would be the more sheltered southern rocks. I think I saw some juvenile gropers. Very pleasant in the water, though there was a lot of matter suspended in it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Thinking that it had been more than a day since the last rain, and trying to get in ahead of the forecast shower, I went for an early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The surf was quite rough even in the bay, due to an apparently 2.5 to 3.5 metre swell, and there was a fair bit of leaf litter, seaweed and garbage in the water. The wind was quite stiff, resulting in a lot of whitewater. A bloke was trying to fish near my hop-in rocks, but quit while I was in the water.

John Brunner: No Future In It

/noise/books | Link

I read this one over many months, dipping into it when there was nothing better on offer. As a collection of short stories from the early 60s and late 50s it is not bad, but Brunner really only got going about a decade later. There are some cute ideas but nothing scintillating, and the prose is a bit workman-like, as if he's in it just to pay for those drugs.

Some of the stories are structurally similar to his later work -- mysteries with a late twist, narrative sliced up with extraneous noise.

Scraping the nixie clock software together.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I spent the evening polishing a root filesystem for the ts7250. The flash is quite fat (128Mb) so I gave up on some of the buggy busybox applets (udhcpc in particular) in favour of their real counterparts from the Debian distro. This approach put dropbear back onto its branch, and as the board can reliably connect to the WiFi router I can now SSH into it almost always after boot. It displays the time now, and synchronises with ntp, and the built-in real-time clock works too, albeit with some hefty drift.

Unfortunately the system still does not schedule my program very satisfactorily: any perturbation in CPU load results in flicker, and it struggles to play an mp3 without skipping. This is with a low-latency Linux kernel (2.6.32.3). I get the impression that later kernels in that series are easy to get going on the ts7250, so I might try one, but apparently there will not be a full RT patch for 2.6.32. Bleeding edge it may have to be.

Part of the reason is that my program naively uses the kernel scheduler for all delays, not just the larger ones. Thus when there is contention for the CPU the system overhead spikes, taking roughly as much time as user code. The sirq (presumably clock interrupt) load is circa 10%. I can feel some busy waiting coming on.

Putting it together.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Replacing the anode driver transistor was entirely routine. Its friend survived. As I was having one of those rare days when the crappiness of earlier decisions on this and other topics was not only manifest but within reach of correction, I decided to assemble the hardware. Here's some photos, taken with the Olympus μTough 6010 on Daz's shonky tripod.

It's running on one of Andrew T's old power supplies, as my old-school LM7805 arrangement couldn't handle the heat. These devices have good failure modes for the most part, but overheating manifests as a loop: the ts7250 draws less current when the CPU is idle, so when the regulator comes back from a shutdown due to heat the processor gets to run for a few seconds before the regulator overheats once more. Nasty.

I discovered the ts7250 puts out enough current on the USB port to power the WiFi and audio adaptors.

It seems that Google's Android platform is attracting a lot of people to ARM platforms.

Software-wise things are still on the slow. Debian's armel port features a working dropbear SSH server, so I reckon there's something fishy with my cross-compiler setup, maybe the C libraries. Conversely nothing ALSA-ish wanted to run. Generally things are looking pretty likely.

Debian on the ts7250 and another kind of disaster

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

The options for getting software onto the ts7250 are unappetising; either hand-compiling everything or running the risk of someone else miscompiling something. I'm sick of the former so I thought I'd try the latter, in the form of Debian's armel port. Martin Guy's recipe makes this straightfoward. Andrew T gave me a little script that copies binaries and just the libraries they depend on, but what I really want is an easy way to recompile programs and their dependencies. I've used apt-get source blah in the past and been happy.

Bogosity: dpkg does not like running on NFS exported through nfs-user-server. It seems that lockd has been on their TODO list for approximately the last twelve years. Sanity and serenity is provided by nfs-kernel-server.

I sorted out the remaining issues on the nixie board, viz making the anode resistors uniformly 11kΩ. The display is bright but some PWM will cure that. So it was time to fit the whole show together, and just as I gave up on one of Andrew T's power supplies I managed to release some magic smoke from the nixie board by forgetting how parlous the power arrangement was when reaching over the board. I'd switched everything else off but not my power supply, which the cockroaches will be getting when the time comes. The ts7250 survived unscathed, and a ginger replugging of it all revealed that I'd only managed to toast at most two of the anode switching transistors, and their failure mode is to go short-circuit. Phew. Relief. The Russian K155ИД1 is still going like a champ, and John Taylor's power supply didn't notice a thing.

More RoHS-non-compliant repair tomorrow.

Schindler's List

/noise/movies | Link

Another movie that was huge in the early 1990s that I only got around to seeing now. A great story, well told for the most part. Glad I did see it, for I usually give Spielberg flicks a miss. Ben Kingsley steals every scene he's in and a few in which he isn't.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I knew the rain was coming as the BOM had forecast it continuously for the past few days. The storm was late by about 90 minutes, rolling in around 7:30pm, snuffing out any chance of the Windies making the last two games of the one-day series worth watching, and otherwise unfolded as predicted. Somewhat amazingly Sydney dams went up 5% this past week.

Knowing this I went for an early-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay. Malabar was fairly dead, and the council was blasting the organic matter off the walls of the pool. I didn't see anything worth talking about, just the usual suspects. After all this time I figured I'd better get working on a duck-dive. The after-school traffic all along Anzac Parade and Avoca Street is totally ridiculous.

Nixie clock update: hacking continues

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Well! It's been a long time since I wrote about this project. A lot has happened, even some good things. Hardware-wise I put the ts7260 beyond use by somehow trashing the onboard flash. All I did was ask it to write 6kb to the root filesystem! Instead it took out enough of Redboot (or perhaps one of the even more obeisant Technologic Systems boot loaders) that recovery became a matter of finding something with real serial ports, and trying my luck with the serial blaster utility that someone wrote for precisely this contingency. Suffice it to say I got far enough to know the board is not toast, but not as far as getting it working again.

I met up with Andrew T on Monday past and he gifted me with a pair of ts7250 boards, quite similar to the ts7260 but lacking the power supply magic; I must feed them 5v and nothing more. They both fired up fine, but with Linux systems too far out of date for my purposes. Fortunately their real-time clocks appear to work, and the world has regained its rosy tinge.

So I spent this last week, more off than on, building kernels and wireless drivers and whatnots for one of these boards, saving the other against calamity. It mostly works, albeit with some dodginess in connecting to the WiFi: the dhcp client in busybox takes a few goes to get a lease. I need it to reliably connect before I can cut the rats' nest of umbilical cords the ts7250 presently lives off.

Today I bought a Creative Sound Blaster Play! USB audio dongle. MSY is selling them for just $25, a steal for such an anachronistic device. (Creative itself wants $28 + $15 delivery.) Quality is fine to these non-discerning ears. It will take me a while to compile up all the ALSA libraries and things; I'm hoping to use MAD with an infra-red remote control.

Lesson of the day: say configure --prefix=$PREFIX yadda where $PREFIX is where the artefact will appear relative to the root of the destination filesystem, and say make DESTDIR=$DESTDIR yadda where $DESTDIR is the root of the destination filesystem on the host system. ALSA embeds absolute paths into the libraries. This approach screws up the paths in the .la files that libtool generates; it assumes that you'll be compiling relative to $PREFIX.

Software wise I hacked up a crossfader for the digits. It looks OK, but as Bernie observes it will certainly need tweaking to take care of the relative digit brightnesses and perhaps those amongst the tubes too.

I spent the final week of January in Orange. I helped Dad build a wooden case for the whole thing. It's not going to set any size or innovation records, but it looks tidy enough. I'll take a photo when the software is sorted out.

Se7en

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this movie at the cinemas on George Street in Sydney with Lev back in 1996. It was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theatre, and with Trainspotting set my expectations of new-release cinema too high to be satisfied in this epoch. Start with something mediocre, I suggest to the youth of the day. Fincher's other classic is Fight Club, which it seems I haven't seen in five years.

This is Spacey's finest effort, and I was a fan right up to American Beauty. David Bowie's classic industrial-pop Heart's Filthy Lesson plays over the closing credits. I like what Reznor did to it.

The Loved One

/noise/movies | Link

I stole Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One from mrak's shelf a few years ago, but it must have left little impression: I thought it was all about a pet cemetery. Apparently this movie is more faithful to the novel than my memory is.

Anjanette Comer's Aimee Thanatogenous is luminous, wide-eyed and credulous, the graceful love-interest of the Dr Strangelove-ish Joyboy and English cad Barlow. Cinematically this is very Strangelove, black-and-white, kooky and stylised. It is an unflattering satire of American life, almost unthinkable now.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Getting in while the getting in is good: last night was damn hot and I slept badly. Zombified today. Had a late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay that was more soporific and aerobic. Big nimbus and some not-quite-condensed storm clouds blew through just before I got there, so grey skies but no rain. Slightly windy, warm water, very clean. An English couple were trying to fish in the middle of the bay.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. It has been raining heavily for several weeks, so this was my first opportunity in quite a while. The water looked clear, with no garbage on the beach or in the water. I am so unfit.

Douglas Adams: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

/noise/books | Link

Better, if anything, than the first Dirk Gently. In some sense Adams wrote the magic realism of my generation, those brought up on Halley's Comet and computers that could be fully understood, born after the moon was last visited by man, not identifiably Gen X or Y. He has a very British (not just English) sensibility, complementary to Salman Rushdie's. Perhaps his most perfect confection.

The Wages of Fear

/noise/movies | Link

A French classic perched somewhere in the middle of IMDB's top-250 list. The cinematography and effects are top-notch. Transporting nitroglycerin somewhere in South America makes for riveting cinema. Who'd have thunk it? I grant that the town scenes early on don't look promising.

Fallen Angel

/noise/movies | Link

Another Otto Preminger effort (he directed Laura). An overly pedestrian whodunnit with an all-American huckster whose shyterism wears thin quickly. Lord knows why a small-town beauty falls for him.

The Wild Bunch

/noise/movies | Link

I'm not much into westerns unless they've got an Ennio Morricone score. This movie probably deviates from the hallowed central precepts of the genre, and so might be some kind of revelation to connoisseurs.

Incidentally I realised while watching this that Stanley Kubrick never made a western.

John Brunner: The Sheep Look Up

/noise/books | Link

This is Brunner's eco-dystopia novel, and the last of his fat books for me to read. It takes its title from Milton's Lycidas:

The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread.

The style refines that of his earlier Stand on Zanzibar; a multi-stranded plot, a bazillion characters, plot-development-by-news-flash, set pieces that meditate on the author's pet concerns. It is tighter than his earlier fat books, but perversely this generates less information overload than they did, and so it tends towards the straight-out depressing. Those damn good drugs are found in lower concentrations here, and the language would embarass your grandmother.

Briefly, the U.S.A is overpopulated and incredibly polluted. Those in charge want business to continue as usual, responding to the environmental degredation via the usual war-machine mechanisms. The green movement is discredited (as always) by its association with sundry ratbags, left wingers and alternate-lifestylers. The foreign-aid do-gooders come in for a serve too. Some of his caricatured politicians don't sound so far from what we actually get on the topic of climate change (Lord Monckton springs to mind).

I couldn't find it locally in either bookshop or library, so I bought it from the agreeable Caerwan Books in Western Australia. Incidentally both this and Amis's Success use months for chapter titles.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at Long Bay. I intended to eat lunch and go snorkeling but forgot the gear, so I simply went for a swim from the southern boat launch. Pleasant enough in the water. The clouds were as threatening as they have been for the past few weeks.

One of the most famous motifs in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is the land-reclaiming tetrapods of Bombay, which presumably look something like these. I found this pile of regular tetrahedrons right next to the old boat launch, and wonder what their purpose was.

Dial M for Murder

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this a while ago, but can't remember when. I think this highly-rated Hitchcock left me a bit cold.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay, slightly later (7pm) than my usual time (6:15pm). Again, storm clouds, deserted, but with some larger waves due to the stiff breeze blowing on-shore. The water was clean, and still no precipitation worth mentioning...

Dances With Wolves

/noise/movies | Link

This movie was huge when I was a kid, the Titanic or Avatar of its day. I'd put off seeing it as Costner is an all-American clown, and Waterworld made his name mud. (I'm going on inuendo here, I haven't seen any of these movies.)

To my surprise this overly-long-but-not-long-enough epic didn't drag. The narrative arc was too predictable — I knew the wolf was going to get it from the get-go — but the cinematography and editing redeemed this a lot. They make the prairie look both alluring and adversarial, justifying the bonding and xenophobia of the native American tribes and the way Costner develops a relationship with them. The score was more intrusive than I expected.

Even so, Costner is a ham actor. He overplays the American pioneer self-stereotype: the rugged individual worthy of respect who everyone truly respects, and gushes respect at everyone and everything around him. There is simply too little contention after he is initiated into the tribe for it to be any more realistic. I was hoping they would explore the politics between the native tribes, the local economies and also the civil war itself. Why was the soldier's fort where it was? — after the initial suicide-run the confederacy is MIA.

Worth a look. The frontier is a grand American myth.

Das Boot

/noise/movies | Link

Kyle told me this was worth watching back in 2004 or so, and I can now, finally, agree with him. The version I watched over two nights was the director's cut, dubbed in English. I feel a bit cheated by that, but at 3hr 20min I won't be rewatching it any time soon.

Well, what's not to like? Somehow it being slow as hell does not drag, and unusually for cinema it encourages the imagination by alluding to, but not explaining the implications of, various mechanisms, protocols, political views and so forth. The acting is pretty good, characters generally solid, the direction sure and cinematography fine.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The weather is so weird, almost completely overcast and grey, reminding me of Göteborg, but little rain, just some thunder and distant lightning. The bay was deserted apart from the joggers. Quite clean too, as according to Pete R. it hasn't rained down there much either.

OK, so the big storm they warned about did blow in around 7:20pm...

Laughing Clowns and Dirty Three at the Enmore Theatre

/noise/music | Link

This was a Sydney Festival gig, and as such it was pricey and sold out quickly. I went with Jon, who I hadn't seen since last year.

The novelty of the evening was that both bands would play a full album end-to-end. The Laughing Clowns did History Of Rock 'n' Roll Volume 1. I believe there is yet to be a second volume, though one can never fault Ed Kuepper's exuberance. Briefly, they are indeed some kind of experimental jazz/punk/whatever group, as their presumably self-written bio on Wikipedia says. The bass at the Enmore was cranked up a bit too much for me to get all the nuance, so I found them a bit incoherent.

Incidentally I recall Ed Kuepper mostly for his fabulously trashy mid-90s Wasn't I Pissed Off Today, on high rotation at JJJ at the time, and the ethereal All of these things from the same album. I'd bracket him with Dave Graney for vocals, and maybe Chris Abrahams for eclecticism: an all-Australian sub-star.

...but of course everyone came to see the Dirty Three do Ocean Songs, at presumably their only concert in Sydney this year. I missed them at last year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival, largely because the rest of the lineup looked thin. The 2006 gig at the Metro set my expectations ridiculously high, and I recall mrak and his brother Chris being similarly blown away.

I rate Ocean Songs as their best, but it is more ambient than rock, and the Enmore is not really up to any kind of nuance. (The Dirty Three have made three kinds of music: this ambient-ruminative soulful stuff that makes it clear they're from Melbourne, recovering from being Jeffed in the late 90s; the Saturday-afternoon-evening rock'n'roll of their hell raising years, the early-to-mid-90s of the classic Melbourne live-music pubs; and Cinder, presumably tunes for the twenty-first century diaspora.)

So they rocked it out, I can cope with that. Heck, I knew it would be thus. Warren Ellis gave a lot of schtick to the crowd in his ironic-Jesus manner, and totally butchered the opening Sirena by failing to switch out of Grinderman mode. It's a track you just can't rock out. He slowed down for the next few, getting it together with Jim White and Mick Turner for an Authentic Celestial Music that, even with the detail difficult to discern (damn that excessive bass, no! — crank up that violin) araldited the crowd to their seats.

The filler part of the album, roughly tracks five through eight, went over better than their studio counterparts, leading into the second peak of Deeper Waters, or as Ellis likes to call it, Epic. Clearly they play this one a lot more often than the rest, spinning it out to some ridiculous length with effortless aplomb. Many people left straight afterwards, not staying for Ends of the Earth or the possibility of an encore, which didn't eventuate anyway.

So a great gig. Ellis was in fine form, and Jim White's drumming was so animated, so energetic. Conversely Mick Turner was very laid back, and together they somehow made so much more coherent noise than they had any right to. As they always do.

I would carp about our "A Reserve" seats, right at the top of the stairs. We had a good view of the stage, between the continual stream of people walking in front of us. The no-loitering policy meant that the security people regularly intervened, somewhat destroying the rapture the band creates. I guess the Sydney Festival billing attracts a minority (of the crowd, but perhaps members of a wider majority) who have more money than sense, who aren't there for the music.

I wish they'd put out another album.

Martin Amis: Success

/noise/books | Link

I haven't read Amis in ages, and I don't know what possessed me to pick this one up. I found it quite similar to, but not as off-putting as, Dead Babies. What, the upper classes of England are a bit weird, a bit separate, a bit above it all?

Amis's notion of success here is pretty feeble, barely encompassing sex and expensive conspicuous consumption. Posing, in other words. No character in this novel does anything much at all, each being purely in thrall to their empty inner lives. This indeed might be Amis's point, but it hardly seems worth revisiting now.

Sweet Smell of Success

/noise/movies | Link

Not sure why I got this one; perhaps just because it was there to be had. Ah yes, it is number 10 on one of IMDB's lists of noir. Well constructed, I guess, but one really has to like scuttlebutt and muscular hustling to get into it. It is too much of a snotty society piece for the dialogue to be affecting.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at an almost entirely abandoned Gordons Bay. The water was cleaner than I expected after the recent inclement weather. Apparently the overcast, steamy and occasionally stormy conditions will continue for a week or more.

Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence

/noise/books | Link

In an early scene a Scotts laird drops his mottled todger on the table as some sort of enticement, and while fighting this imagery I was compelled to draw the parallel with Rushdie and this novel: to wit, an attempted demonstration of manly masterfulness that failed to impress. Allowing a further 331 pages for redemption was wise but ultimately ineffectual.

Once more I find myself outside the target demographic of a historical romance. Relative to his earlier works, it is excessively scatalogical and foul-mouthed, and even worse, flaccid and unexciting. Sure, this might pass for something of an imitation of Irvine Welsh by a subcontinental tyke, but then I wouldn't have bothered reading it. It is also clear that Rushdie does not have a lot of faith in his audience, regularly explaining the jape, the rumination, the issue of the moment until it loses all lustre.

Most irritating is how seriously the author takes the book, describing how much research was involved, and even providing a six-page bibliography, to what end I know not. Thus it suffers from the same fault as Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies: it must turn a profit on every part of overmuch scavenging, and yet by the pigeon-hole principle there can never be room enough for it all.

Rushdie fails his own test of a novel: this book does not make the imagined world any larger. The Italians have already burnished their history to a blinding shininess. The tired and repetitively dissonant reduction of women to that which can "walk, talk and make love" (p323) jangles against the powerful and well-drawn females of his earlier works. This lament by a female reviewer at the Guardian captures it well:

This brilliant, fascinating, generous novel swarms with gorgeous young women both historical and imagined, beautiful queens and irresistible enchantresses, along with some whores and a few quarrelsome old wives - all stock figures, females perceived solely in relation to the male. Women are never treated unkindly by the author, but they have no autonomous being. The Enchantress herself, who turns everyone into puppets of her will, has no personality at all, and exists - literally - by pleasing men. Akbar calls her a "woman who had forged her own life, beyond convention, by the force of her will alone, a woman like a king". But in fact she does nothing but sell herself to the highest bidder, and her power is an illusion permitted by him.

In one marvellous scene Akbar's wife and mother come to show his imaginary wife Jodha how to release him from the Enchantress's spell, and in so doing are reconciled with Jodha in a moment of hilarious feminine solidarity - but the Enchantress materialises, Jodha vanishes, the women are defeated by the man's obsession. Indeed, the men in the book are as hormone-besotted as adolescents. All their derring-do, their battling for cities and empires, comes down to little more than a desire for a bed with a young woman in it. Machiavelli becomes a disappointed middle-aged lecher whose middle-aged wife "waddles" and "quacks" while he looks at her, of course, with loathing. But then suddenly, for a page or two, we slip into her soul; we feel her anger at his disloyalty, her hurt pride as a woman, her unchanged pride in his "dark sceptical genius" and her puzzlement at his failure to see how he lessens himself by scorning what he has that is treasurable and honourable. For that moment I glimpsed a very different book, almost a different author. Then it was back to the dazzling play of fancy and the powerful dreams of men.

The prose is tired and flat. There is too much needless rendering of the same name in several languages, which is really just an observation that the written once had a phonetic relation with the spoken, and the spoken sounded different to people with different mother tongues. Self-evident I would have thought. An uninteresting issue too, as Akbar could not read nor write, but I guess Rushdie needs to provide a Rosetta Stone for the bibliography. These gestures and nods to history needlessly crowd out the possibility of a deeper contextualisation with manifestly bald facts, and so he falls short of what even Ghosh achieved.

Occasionally the text swings into tune with Amartya Sen's conception of identity as plurality, such as Akbar's inner monologue about the supreme emperor's use of the first-person singular (circa p30), an otherwise spurious digression. Conversely he often reduces his minor characters to little more than "beauty", "princess", "likes being on the winning side", etc. — essentially wanton and without personality.

After talking to Nell on Thursday I realised that the best things Rushdie has done in the past twenty years or so were his short pieces, the essays compiled in Step Across this Line. So while I found this book substantially out of character for him, I could not expect him to surmount his previous efforts in this form.

I managed to dig this book out of the UNSW Library after their recent stock-take; thus it must have been merely misplaced and not lost, unlike my time spent reading it. I substantially agree with this review from the New York Times, and Reimer's effort at the SMH.

Leave Her to Heaven

/noise/movies | Link

Gene Tierney in colour, in the upper reaches of IMDB's noir list. I think she was upstaged by on-screen-younger-sister Jeanne Crain here, maybe because her character was a frosty whiny psychotic bitch who we saw coming from the earliest frames. The blokes were mostly limp and the plot a bit fanciful. The cinematography was occasionally great when it wasn't fake. Probably a cut above the average Days of our Lives arc, and not generally suitable for any other audience.

White Heat

/noise/movies | Link

Over several evenings. Another of IMDB's highly-rated noirs. I didn't really get into it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. More people than usual about, probably due to the heat of the day, and the day being Friday. The water was a lot cleaner than last time. I wonder if anyone came along and cleaned out the rubbish, or if it somehow cleaned itself. Loads of seaweed on the beach.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Spent the day in Woy Woy with Nell. We hoped to go snorkelling somewhere. The surf on Putty Beach was huge, and the lifesavers had closed it, so we ended up at Lobster Beach, within the Bouddi National Park, a short and steep walk from near Wagstaffe. To our chagrin there was a dredging boat not far off the coast doing laps, reducing underwater visibility to centimetres, so we could really only go for a lazy paddle.

Afterwards we had some decent pub grub at the ancient Woy Woy hotel after an extensive and ultimately fruitless search for a pub with water views in the greater Woy Woy / Gosford area. It's all suburbia, every last square metre. I think most people patronise the bottle shops and drink on the shorelines.

Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

/noise/books | Link

The real deal. I recalled this being a composite of his excellent Doctor Who scripts, City of Death and the unfortunately-incompletely-produced Shada. His humour is as gently raucous as ever, canvassing and expressing an English sensibility that Thatcher consigned to the landfill of history. However it is his self-knowing scatterbrained magpie tendencies, born of curiosity, that bring home the bacon. I shudder to imagine what the kids are reading these days: surely not this, without a vampire in sight.

Heaven can wait

/noise/movies | Link

Another Gene Tierney, and doesn't the colour film just love her. The plot is a bit too this-is-my-life to get excited about, though there are a few set pieces I found funny. I'm guessing they lifted those directly from the stage play. The Age of Innocence this is not.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Beyond the rocks the surf was quite rough, and indeed visibility was poor and I didn't see much. I had a group of tiny fish follow me around the bay, which they've done before when I've been there with Rob.

Completely wired.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Finished wiring up the clock, and it seems to go fine. The video is pretty boring, I know, but I had to have some evidence of how I spent the past few weeks. :-) The tubes do have uneven brightness: the third one seems to have a blackened grill, and is dimmer even though it has a smaller anode resistor. The fourth also has a smaller anode resistor, making it a bit brighter than the first two.

Apart from some fiddly soldering with a fat wedge tip, this came together fairly easily. The next thing to do is sort out the software, rig up a case and see if Andrew T will part with another ts7260. I've yet to try out John Taylor's power supply, and am hoping I can run the whole show off the 5v the ts7260 is supposed to pump on the LCD port.

As for numeral systems, the answer is a big no — there are heaps of natural-language numeral systems in common use, even now.

Laura

/noise/movies | Link

Another from IMDB's list of noir. Had me going the whole time, though long-time murder-mystery addicts might find it straightfoward. The lead murderee, Gene Tierney, is gorgeous and cuts a plausible swathe through a long list of suitors. Clifton Webb is authoritative in his role as Oscar Wilde clonee in full Importance of being Earnest mode.

The production is not far from a stage play, relying on dialogue and acting, poise and grace where special effects dare wander now. I am flummoxed by IMDB's rating system: this garnered 8.1 out of 10 from more than 13,000 people, and is still somehow not in the top-250.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at a mild Gordons Bay. The sky was remarkably clear of clouds, the water and air was warm, so it seemed like much earlier in the day. Lots of rubbish at the point where I usually get in, plastic and leaf litter.

Shadow of a Doubt

/noise/movies | Link

Sifting down the IMDB noir list, I found this, an early Hitchcock. It is a bit too slow and all-American for my tastes. Joseph Cotton is creepy, and not altogether unlike Jude Law. Teresa Wright is wide-eyed and luminous in this performance, the year after she won an Oscar (how young she must have been). The comedic relief was too robotic, and the climax a let-down.

Douglas Adams: The Salmon of Doubt

/noise/books | Link

It has been an age since I've read anything by Douglas Adams. His style is at once familiar, an amiable bar-propping old friend, even when it is as travestied as it is here. I acquired this from Pete R.'s stash of books-to-toss, having not been tempted to read it for years, and almost wishing that I hadn't now.

Of course the prose is fine. What's lacking are those tangents, the sheer irrelevancy and irreverence to plots and characters that gave his earlier stuff its suspense and force. Then again, it might be the converse that I'm actually whinging about. This is a compilation of various rants, and most tantalisingly, bits of a third Dirk Gently. The editor goes out of his way to warn the reader that it's a let down, and don't be disappointed, it is.

The part I liked the most was the presumably previously unpublished Turncoat from October 2000. Here's the bit that struck the chord, slab-quoted Ramsey-style:

But nowadays everybody's a comedian, even the weather girls and continuity announcers. We laugh at everything. Not intelligently anymore, not with sudden shock, astonishment, or revelation, just relentlessly and meaninglessly. No more rain showers in the desert, just mud and drizzle everywhere, occasionally illuminated by the flash of paparazzi.

Creative excitement has gone elsewhere, to science and technology: new ways of seeing things, new understandings of the universe, continual new revelations about how life works, how we think, how we perceive, how we communicate. So this is my second point.

Where, thirty years ago, we used to start up rock bands, we now start up startups and experiment with new ways of communicating with each other and playing with the information we exchange. And when one idea fails, there's another, better one right behind it, and another and another, cascading out as fast as rock albums used to in the sixties.

There's always a moment when you start to fall out of love, whether it's with a person or an idea or a cause, even if it's one you only narrate to yourself years after the event: a tiny thing, a wrong word, a false note, which means that things can never be quite the same again. For me it was hearing a stand-up comedian make the following observation: "These scientists, eh? They're so stupid! You know those black-box flight recorders they put on aeroplanes? And you know they're meant to be indestructible? It's always the thing that doesn't get smashed? So why don't they make the planes out of the same stuff?"

The audience roared with laughter at how stupid scientists were, couldn't think their way out of a paper bag, but I sat feeling uncomfortable. Was I just being pedantic to feel that the joke didn't really work because flight recorders are made out of titanium and that if you made planes out of titanium rather than aluminium, they'd be far too heavy to get off the ground in the first place? I began to pick away at the joke. Supposing Eric Morecambe had said it? Would it be funny then? Well, not quite, because that would have relied on the audience seeing that Eric was being dumb — in other words, they would have had to know as a matter of common knowledge about the relative weights of titanium and aluminium. There was no way of deconstructing the joke (if you think this is obsessive behaviour, you should try living with it) that didn't rely on the teller and the audience complacently conspiring together to jeer at someone who knew more than they did. It sent a chill down my spine, and still does. I felt betrayed by comedy in the same way that gangsta rap now makes me feel betrayed by rock music. I also began to wonder how many of the jokes I was making were just, well, ignorant.

RIP DNA.

Real-time and high-resolution timers for Linux 2.6.29.6 running on the ts7260

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I got bitten by the classic Linux-ism: the standard resolution of usleep is only 10ms on these ARM boards, which is way too slow to do the kind of multiplexing the clock needs: I need delays of about 2ms and could use 100µs. I'm allergic to busy-waiting in user-space too.

The short story is that I tried 2.6.31.x and couldn't get the board to boot, but 2.6.29.6 works fine, after some mild futzing in applying the patch in the ts7260 forum's file area at Yahoo. It does not provide high-resolution timers for the ARM ep93xx which the ts7260 is blessed with, though. One can readily apply the RT patches to 2.6.29.6, but these also do not include the hrtimers stuff; one needs a further, not so clean patch to get these working.

So the clock now seems to scan OK, with no flicker visible to my eyes (on the single tube I have installed so far). Well, that's true provided that no other process is running. I've selected the right scheduler, cranked up the priorities, locked the program's virtual memory, and generally futzed with no improvement in robustness under load.

As has been true for a long time, there is some ts7260 stuff in the latest Linux kernel (2.6.32.3), and apparently the RT patches have been merged to the mainline. (I cannot really tell, but the CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT and friends options are there.) I'll see if I can get that to boot and perhaps figure out the hrtimers story there.

An aside: here's a good post on the proper treatment of SIGINT.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay, running a bit of a risk after the recent rain. The water was very pleasant. Too lazy to go very far.

Screwing up my nerve

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I wired up most of the first nixie tube to the board today. It's a bit hairy for a few reasons: a misconnection could fry me or the ARM board, and small mistakes could lead to extensive resoldering. Thus far things have gone OK; it turns out my 33kΩ-series/33kΩ-pull-down setup is strong enough while the ARM board is unpowered, but once the ARM board is fired up the 100kΩ pull-up on the ts7260 is enough to fire the anode switcher. I cured this empirically, by reducing the series to 11kΩ and the pull-down to 4.7kΩ. It works, and the voltage levels seem plausible, but they still imply the current is very weak. I wonder about noise.

Now I can switch amongst the cathodes (those I've wired up) using the K155ИД1, and that's about that. I need to replace all my resistor pairs and solder up a further three tubes. Joy.

In other news John Taylor's high-voltage power supply turned up. Took about four days to get here from California. I haven't fired it up yet, but will after I get the display board completed.

The Narrow Margin

/noise/movies | Link

Another noir from the early 1950s. I have no idea why I picked this one in particular; perhaps because one of the actresses is also in Kubrick's The Killing. The acting is a bit patchy, the plot a bit predictable, modulo a twist of a very short duration.

Casablanca

/noise/movies | Link

As good as ever. Can't believe I haven't seen this in five years.

Multiplexing conundrum

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I constructed a further three anode switchers and they work fine. Now I'm up to wiring in the nixie tubes, but as I only want to do this once, I'm getting a bit ginger. My concern is that the multiplexing setup I'm using, which is essentially what everyone seems to use, allows more than one tube to be on at a time. So in the worst case the poor K155ИД1 chip would have to pass approx 12mA (four tubes at 3mA each), which exceeds its rated 7mA.

From the software I've found, no-one seems to do anything clever, so I expect their microcontrollers get into the main scanning loop quickly enough that nothing blows up. Unfortunately the ts7260 takes several seconds to boot Linux, with the boot loader delaying three seconds for recovery purposes, so I don't think I can ignore this.

According to the ep9301 ARM chip specs, the ts7260 is supposed to configure all these GPIO pins as inputs on bootup, which leaves them floating. This is probably safe from the chip's point of view, but not the nixie board's.

A solution is to pepper the anode drivers with pull-down resistors on the bases of the buffer transistors (the MPSA42s). Ha! That's what this guy was doing. Hmm, perhaps everyone does it. :-) I'm using 33kΩ which seems to do the trick. The voltage drop across the series 33kΩ (between the ARM and the buffer transistor) increased from 1.7v to 2.3v, so the current for a logic-high has gone up to about 70μA, if I've done my sums correctly. That seems barely plausible.

This still leaves the circuit at the mercy of the software. A complementary approach is to gate the high tension, which I'll investigate doing when John Taylor's power supply turns up. I want to switch the nixies off under software control anyway.

Gomorrah

/noise/movies | Link

Well made, I guess, leaving aside the tangled, unresolved plot. Gangland reality TV?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel off the southern boat ramp at Long Bay. Beautiful day for it, being so damn hot. The water was cloudy but warm enough. I spotted about six squid (so Rob tells me) in a row, going nowhere.

The ARM is in control.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I soldered up a stock PNP-NPN transistor tree for the anode control, and surprise, it worked first go. This was reassuring as it is the first time the ts7260 has been hooked up to the high voltage.

The next step is to replicate that a further three times, and then wire up the nixies. Board layout is the toughest part of this project, I am geometrically weak.

Alan Ramsey: A Matter of Opinion

/noise/books | Link

I am glad I didn't buy this book. It is like digging up the old lino in an ancient kitchen, erratic brilliance and occasion littered with cockroach droppings and obscurity. At his best, Ramsey was insightful and brought context and perspective to the events of the week, perhaps even wisdom, all of which are beyond the reach of any of Fairfax's current Australian political reporters. (Not, I note, beyond their aging foreign correspondents.)

The best were the timeless articles, his specials around Anzac Day about the wars and returned soldiers, the monuments and disillusionment. Perhaps he should have turned his hand to this, something like military history, rather than crank out the rather tired prose of the last five years of his reign. And this is the key problem with the collection: nothing dates like political opinion, and so the selection does not, could not, reflect his oeuvre.

Structurally it would have been much better if someone else had selected the articles, for as it stands there is the niggling feeling that some whitewashing has occurred; for example, I recall only one or two references to Howard as "the toad" in this book, but it seemed to roll around every Saturday while the man was PM. The Latham boosterism seems much abridged, and there are no comments on Rudd's blandness. Also some glue text would have helped immensely, setting out the issues of the day. His postscripts needed prescripts.

Pete R. observed that he must have had trouble getting the copyrights on all his slab-quotations. There are only a couple in this collection.

Russian BCD is the same as American BCD.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I managed to hook the ts7260 ARM board up to the K155ИД1 TTL BCD-decoder/nixie driver chip, the Russian clone of the American 74141. The pinouts are identical. The short story I gleaned from Don Lancaster's venerable TTL Cookbook is that the CMOS levels of the ARM (3.3v) can directly drive one or maybe two TTL gates without anything blowing up. I am thankful that electronic technology has a forward-looking longevity that software should envy.

The ts7260 refuses to generate the promised 5v on its LCD port, so I think the little switch-mode power supply that is supposed to do this has been fried (and I'm not getting into any finger pointing). The same unit apparently services the USB port, which may lend weight to the idea that that port's brains are intact but have become unstuck from its brawn. Blowing up this kind of hardware is not much fun, it simply silently stops working.

Why do the world's languages use the same numerals? Do any deviate?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Massive infestation of underage drinkers, apparently starting their final school year in a month or so. Despite the booze they were remarkably civilized. The water was warm, though there was the same vast amounts of crap as there was at Coogee yesterday.

Caving in to the inevitable.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I caved and bought one of John Taylor's power supplies. You cannot beat $AU12 or so, you just can't. I will persevere with the one I built for now, and see if I can quell the EMI. In any case I have enough tubes for two or three clocks (depending on whether I go for four or six digits), so it won't go to waste.

Rob gifted me with some wire, so I hope I can improve the grounding situation too. You never know, it just might come good...

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle with mrak and Pete R. at Coogee, which was as packed as I've seen it this summer. We had a few beers at the Palace afterwards, which was similarly packed. Pete takes his shovel to the beach, eliciting interest from just about everyone.

Cape Banks, redux

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early afternoon snorkel at Cape Banks with Bernie and Hui Nie. The water was surprisngly cold, perhaps the coldest I've been in since early summer. Loads of fish. We made it around to the wreck, but it doesn't extend into the water as far as I could tell. I spotted a cuttle fish, huge and brown, but it disappeared by the time I got into photographing position. Dang.

I did manage to take the best photo I've managed yet, though: this strange looking thing obliging sat in fairly shallow water quite close to where we got in, and wasn't at all perturbed by our swimming over the top of it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Peaceful mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Quite a few people about and a wedding at the chapel on the bluff. The brown-paper-bag building projects continue apace. Some remind me of of the studio prefab I lived in at Chalmers — flimsy, built for a price, and not designed to outlast the time it takes for the developer to cash his cheque and buy the Ferarri.

Saw heaps of fish. The water was mostly quite warm, with a little swell.

Further adventures in nixie land

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Well! After a few hours of burning some digits in, the sacrificial tube is looking pretty good. The '5' does not light the lower-left arc, and I'm not sure what I can do about that.

As for the power supply, I revise my earlier comment to say that now I would simply buy a pre-built unit from John Taylor. They're small, and for $US10, cheaper than acquiring the requisite bits.

My perf-board effort is getting tidier and more finished, albeit at the cost of much solder and desolder braid. It seems stable, with tight regulation at 182v from no load up to about 3mA after replacing my 1.5Ω current sense resistor with 0.33Ω. Apparently I should run the tubes at something like 1.5 times the rated current, allowing for multiplexing, so the supply really needs to go to 8mA. I'll leave that to another day.

I found that the multimeter leads (hooked across the anode resistor) radiated enough to interfere with the radio. However even when removed, the TV still got a pincushion effect. (I'm glad I still have an analog TV.) Placing the whole thing on top of my venerable regulated power supply eliminated any visible or audible effects, which is reassuring but not yet sufficient for confidence. I'm wondering how I can improve the grounding and shielding without huge amounts of solder or metalwork.

Léolo

/noise/movies | Link

On the recommendation of Pete R., who somehow discovered this obscure French-Canadian film from the early 90s. A lyrical coming-of-age story. I am sure I missed most of the point. Occasionally worthy, regularly scatalogical, wry and unearthly: "I dream and therefore I am not".

The Night of the Hunter

/noise/movies | Link

What a strange movie. Rife with biblical allusion and a psycho who wouldn't be unfamiliar to the Coen brothers, this is a sort-of Hansel-and-Gretel where the witch is a warlock who comes to them. Robert Mitchum nails his role as the murderous preacher. The black-and-white cinematography is amazing, and directing it must have taken it out of Charles Laughton as he didn't try to do it again.

This was the last of the IMDB top-10 noir movies for me to see. Definitely worth a look, though it doesn't completely hang together (nor separately).

The millionth nixie clock

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Late last year in a fit of procrastination I decided to try to build a nixie clock, following in the footsteps of multitudes. To that end I ordered some tubes and driver ICs from a bloke in Moscow who was amenable to a bit of bargaining. I have to wonder how the Russians get their hands on these new-old-stock devices from the cold war era.

I received the tubes — IN-8-2's, with long solderable wires — yesterday after about a fortnight, well packed. They are a bit larger than I expected.

For a power supply I synthesised something using an MC36043 switch-mode controller from a few designs around the net. If I was going to start from scratch now I would simply follow this guy's design and advice. I think he's quite active on the nixie mailing list.

Anyway, what I've got does fire up the tube, as you can see. It generates an open-circuit 180v or so that sags to 160-170v with the tube connected. I think this is due to my overly conservative current limiting resistor in the power supply - with a 11kΩ anode resistor the tube itself seems happy, though I won't be using such a small one long-term. From what I've measured the efficiency is at best 70%.

Many of the elements of this sacrificial nixie tube don't fire up evenly, which might be due to cathode poisoning. I have found that burning each digit in for a few hours greatly improves the coverage, reducing this partial illumination, but it remains to be seen if all digits come completely good.

The supply also generates copious amounts of RF interference, which I'm hoping some more capacitors will fix. Haven't shocked myself yet, but I am sure I will. The next step is to try to hook the driver ICs up to Andrew T's ts7260 ARM board, and see if I can bring the nixie under software control. Yes, this board is massively overkill just for a clock, but as all engineers know, you can never have too much overkill.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle in a fairly calm and abandoned Gordons Bay. Perfect water temp, light winds, lots of joggers.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Midday snorkel at Long Bay. The water remains temperate, though visibility wasn't as good as it has been, and the wind made things choppy. I saw a cuttlefish which teased me by changing colours several times — translucent to seaweed and back — before scooting off.

Balibo

/noise/movies | Link

Of the feted Australian movies of last year, this is the best I've seen yet. The story itself is a bit thin, but it is powerfully articulated and beautifully rendered, and it comes as no surprise to find David Williamson's fingerprints on it. I wish it had a little less melodrama and a bit more contextualisation; what were the roles of Portugal, of the U.S.? Did Britain really pay for the helicopters? What else did Gough Whitlam say before bodies were broken? — and so forth. Hamish McDonald feels likewise. Hmm, is he the last journo working at Fairfax?

The story of Roger East was unknown to me. Could they not have found a place for Jill Jolliffe within the film too?

It demands a follow-up, a sequel of sorts, on the liberation of East Timor, and then perhaps another on whether they've got their hands on any kind of justice yet, or ever will. Last I heard the East Timorese government had opted for a blood-under-the-bridge approach, but it seems the wind changed almost immediately. Apparently Australia still has troops there, at least according to Wikipedia, and I have to wonder whether the dog or the tail is wagging on that front.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle with Pete R. and his kids at a totally flat Coogee. Quite a few people there but not as many as one might expect on a summer weekend, perhaps due to the thunderstorm that was threatening the whole time and blew in from the south around 1pm. I went back at dusk on my lonesome for another paddle after a vegie risotto dinner with Pete, Beth, Danny, Frankie and the kids.

Femme Fatale

/noise/movies | Link

Stephanie Zacharek rated this somewhere in the bottom 24 of her favourite 25 movies of the previous decade. (Let us be mainstream about decades and calendar years ending in 0.) Well, what can I say... Rebecca Romijn-then-Stamos giddily gyrates and the boys go ah... the plot is MIA and de Palma's cinematography is excellent. The only substance in this whole picture was probably a Class A.