peteg's blog

/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.

/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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

/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.

/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.

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

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.