peteg's blog

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.

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.

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.

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.