peteg's blog

Hud

/noise/movies | Link

A Paul Newman classic, black-and-white 1963. Patricia Neal plays an excellent foil and her Oscar was well deserved. It is something of a morality fable set somewhere in Texas; the old rancher's cattle contract foot-and-mouth and their liquidation kills him too. Hud is the ne'er-do-well who ends up alone, shrugging and in charge of a diminished kingdom.

Our Man in Havana

/noise/movies | Link

A Graham Greene confection, directed by Carol Reed. Alec Guinness leads, with Maureen O'Hara his too-late love interest. As far as colonial espionage fiascos go, Cuba circa 1959 is not a bad setting for it. The MI5/6/whatever angle is suitably Yes, Minister.

Goodbye VMware Fusion, hello VirtualBox

/hacking/mac | Link

I got sick of VMware Fusion 3.1.3 failing to bring the bridged ethernet interface back up after sleeping, and figured that it wasn't worth $US40 to find out what the newer v4 does on the now near-obsolete Snow Leopard. Time to try out the free/libre VirtualBox that so many people have mentioned.

Well, installing Debian is easier than ever. Configuring the network was quite tricky though, as I have a relatively complex setup. The first adaptor is a NAT interface for talking to the internet. The second is the ethernet bridge that serves TFTP and NFS to the ts7250 ARM board when I'm hacking it, and the third a host-only adaptor so I can SSH into the virtual machine. That all seems to work OK. The bridged ethernet is even more reliable than before: it always comes back after sleep, and the TFTP boot does not time out like it used to under VMware.

... and then there is the USB connectivity: I plug the FTDI-based AVR programmer into the virtual machine so I can make install there. This doesn't work too well with VirtualBox due to this bug, though cranking the number of CPUs down to one does get it to go: I can program the AVR using it. The USB performance seems a bit dire though, and this is one area where they lag VMware by a long way.

I don't know if the graphics emulation is much chop as I use X11 over SSH to (only) run Emacs.

The Fallen Idol

/noise/movies | Link

A Graham Greene short story and script, directed by Carol Reed. Murder or accident at the French Embassy in London? I found this one a bit too stodgy to consider it a crime of passion.

Thredbo Diggings

/travels | Link

I decided to camp the night at Thredbo Diggings on Andrew T's suggestion. The road from Canberra to Cooma was quite busy, though from Cooma to the diggings was quite peaceful. It cost $16 to enter the Kosciuszko National Park, and the camping was free. The campground is quite pretty and popular. The ducks are quite insistent about being fed and the kangaroos are quite curious too. I didn't see any platypus or go for a walk as it was too wet and cold, and I didn't bring the right shoes.

The African Queen

/noise/movies | Link

Bogey and Kate Hepburn head down the river in pursuit of some kind of Kurtz in 1915... this has been on the list for a long time. Kate is not as screwy here as she was in Bringing Up Baby.

How to Steal a Million

/noise/movies | Link

Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole (pre Lawrence), Eli Wallach (pre Ugly but still nervy) in a Parisian rom com heist. It would've made a passable date movie in its day.

Net Origin meltdown

/noise | Link

My VPS got deleted on 2011-12-10. Net Origin don't know why. They gave me a new one with three months free hosting; I guess I can't complain as their service level agreement (SLA) only talks about downtime, not deletion.

I signed up with these guys with a 50% recurring discount on their monthly price of $12 for their bottom-of-the-barrel plan on a VPS physically located in Los Angeles, which is fine for what I use it for. This plan is presently $8 a month to all comers.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. I got there just as the thunder storm broke. I don't think I've been in the bay while its been raining; everything has a different colour and there's some awesome runoff from the streets.

The Comedians

/noise/movies | Link

Burton, Taylor, Ustinov, Alec Guinness in the Haiti of Papa Doc, written by Graham Greene. How could it be so tedious? Seeds of his superior A Quiet American: the taciturn Englishman who's seen the corruption (etc) before.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. It stopped raining on Thursday or so, and I can't miss this sliver of an opportunity. The sea was quite warm, a little bit of surf. I met a couple of blue bottles going in and out.

The Night of the Generals

/noise/movies | Link

The Nazis, the gift that kept giving to Hollywood for many a decade. Peter O'Toole is probably the worst of the actors but is still magnetic; he overdoes it as a German General, a character with no need for bolted on antipathy. Omar Sharif is solid, Donald Pleasence keeps himself amused. Operation Valkyrie looks the same as when Tom Cruise didn't manage to pull it off. Joanna Pettet is great as Ulrike, the Queen of Poland. It seems she did little else. As far as WWII movies go, this one still has something to say.

The Man Who Would Be King

/noise/movies | Link

John Huston directs Michael Caine and Sean Connery in a Kipling classic. Christopher Plummer is the suitably stunned Kipling character. This is the British colonial experience in India writ small: freemasonry, avarice, pre-John Howard mateship. It is expansive in a way that would take CGI now. The plot is a tad stodgy but everything else makes up for that.

A Bridge Too Far

/noise/movies | Link

I was wondering what there is to see around Nijmegen, and Andrew T mentioned "the bridge too far", somewhere near Arnhem over whatever they call the Rhine in that part of the Netherlands. We actually did cross that bridge on the way to an art museum; here's a photo by Tom. The Dutch fired up as we crossed and explained how Nijmegen had been destroyed by the Allies (mistaking it for a German town?) and so forth. The Germans sat around and tried to figure out what the movie's title is in German and whether anyone had seen it.

This was an Elliot Gould and Gene Hackman segue. James Caan may have only had one decent movie in him. Richard Attenborough directs and forgets to cut: a movie too long.

The Silent Partner

/noise/movies | Link

Another Elliot Gould, where he gets to unbutton all the girls' tops. Christopher Plummer is interchangeable with Terence Stamp elsewhere. Canadian, Toronto, 1978. Thriller, bank heist of sorts but more a society piece.

The Player

/noise/movies | Link

Altman, Tim Robbins in the lead. Overloaded with Hollywood references. Not bad, not awesome.

Dương Thu Hương: No Man's Land

/noise/books | Link

Written in 1998 by Dương Thu Hương, and translated in 2005 by Nina McPherson and Phan Quy Duong. This one is a triangular pseudo romance with far too much artifice and verbiage. Huong is back to her old food-porn habits and something as simple as getting some third-person plot progression on the page becomes an exercise in describing just how many tiles are broken in the courtyard of the non-character that the anonymous crowd is parked at. It is a screen play from an exacting auteur.

Bon-the-bat is occasionally credible, but only historically; Mien is a vacuous pawn straight from the beauty salon. Hoan sometimes fires up but is mostly the stereotypical slick business dude, Ken to her Barbie. Huong's observations about village life are almost entirely banal; what, there's a lot of malicious salacious gossip? People are two faced? Say it ain't so. This is some composite of Romeo and Juliet, or maybe King Lear, with the Party playing the erstwhile King... or would be if it weren't Vietnamese; that makes it a reiteration of The Tale of Kiều.

I found the majority of the 400 pages tedious beyond belief, though most had just a sniff of something flamable. I don't know if I can face up to the last book on the list: Memories of a Pure Spring.

The Ides of March

/noise/movies | Link

I've been sitting on my Palace Cinemas membership birthday freebie for four months now, waiting for them to put on something watchable at the Verona. I really liked Clooney's previous political/press Good Night, and Good Luck, so I put aside Dana Stevens's misgivings and fronted the 9:20pm session. Suffice it to say that even sitting unfashionably close to the front didn't stop an entire row of mouthbreathers infesting the row behind me. They proceeded to talk, rustle, etc. — coming in late, one doesn't need to observe the STFU compulsory courtesy short. They quietened down after a bit, but not before I got the impression I was in for two hours of having the scenario explained to some dumb bastard by his mate with the extra neuron. I don't know why these groups go to see these movies at these times; surely a trip to the pub would be better all round.

I didn't renew my Palace Cinemas membership this year due to this sort of thing, and hardly used it last year due to the paltry selection of even prima facie decent movies. I'll be sad when the Verona goes the way of the Academy Twin.

Anyway, the movie was the fiasco Dana said it was; two-thirds was Politicopath 101, and the last third possibly required another month or two at the academy. Ryan Gosling handled his transformation well, from slick media PR flack to slick media PR flack without a soul. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the pick of the actors though, completely natural as a rumpled campaign manager. Clooney overdealt his own hand this time, just enough to make the whole thing a bit ludicrous. I've been studiously avoiding Giamatti since his wine snobbery (that I didn't see), but he is quite good here.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Midday paddle at Gordons Bay. A lot colder than the previous days, perhaps due to the lack of sun. Quite windy too.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. I should have gone for a snorkel instead. Quite cool at the ramp itself but OK a bit further out in the bay.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Perfect day for a late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The water remains very clear and reasonably warm.

The Hustler

/noise/movies | Link

Before The Color of Money paired him with Cruise, Paul Newman got hustled by George C. Scott and fell in love with Piper Laurie (Catherine Martell in Twin Peaks) in black and white, in 1961. Rated #200 in IMDB's top-250.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Long Bay, from the boat ramp on the southern side. The water was the cleanest I've seen there and visibility was quite good; loads of immature fish to see, and even a group of seven small squid. The peace and tranquility was somewhat spoiled by some blokes on their jetski who seemed to like razzing the other users of the bay.

The Long Goodbye

/noise/movies | Link

Altman, but mostly Elliot Gould being fantastic: the rambling internal monologues are a great device to bring text to the screen. The opening scenes with the cat are classic. Mr Precious Bodily Fluids (Sterling Hayden) is solid as a Hemingway clone. That would be Arnie putting in a cameo as the muscle in the office. For all of this I couldn't imagine reading the Chandler original.

This is not the best Altman I've seen (that was probably Shortcuts) but it is still damn fine.

Night Moves

/noise/movies | Link

A minor Gene Hackman, 1973: murder/mystery thriller. Hackman ambles along and always seems to be in the frame when the women are wearing less than they otherwise would. Not bad, not awesome.

The Parallax View

/noise/movies | Link

A not so hot political conspiracy thriller from the parallel universe of Warren Beatty, 1974. Apparently he was huge in his day; in mine he is only identified with turkeys like Dick Tracy. This isn't terrible, just slow and antiquated, like The Conversation; it is a minor part of Hollywood's golden renaissance, contemporaneous with Coppola's big works. Assassinating Senators? It's cheaper to buy them! — or bankroll some astroturfing, etc.

The scenes on the plane date it so much. Smoking? Climbing onto the plane from the street? ...

Modesty Blaise

/noise/movies | Link

A Terence Stamp segue from The Limey. A strange movie, all fizz and no bubble. Of course it is a swingin' sixties Bond spoof, but done in a way that doesn't recognise that Bond itself is a parody.

House of Flying Daggers

/noise/movies | Link

Another Zhang Yimou visual feast. The bamboo forests are gorgeous. They must be running out of narrative novelty to make Zhang Yiyi a blind martial artiste; I think they should try doing one that has no plot at all. I'm not much of an Andy Lau fan, I must say; he seems inexpressive and overbearing too often. Takeshi Kaneshiro was also in Chungking Express; here he looks too much like Orlando Bloom in full elfin regalia.

I'm beginning to see the point of Hong Kong martial arts flicks: there's so much dancing and music, and so little blood that they serve as date movies. They are visually more sumptuous than the typical American rom com, but probably just as normative. This one takes it for granted that the government troops are canon fodder (so to speak), and that the government is corrupt, I guess.

Western movies demand we suspend disbelief; the unbelievable stuff (martial arts) in The Matrix is done in cyberspace, and we need that clearly delineated fake space so we can philosophise about what's real and mrak's homunculus theory and so forth. This movie takes it for granted, not even trying to rationalise the lack of reality; this may have been Bob Carr's complaint about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: It doesn't ask for disbelief, it assumes it.

Chan Koonchung: The Fat Years

/noise/books | Link

Ah yes, another GFC novel. This one is set in 2013 (I think), but really it is 1984, Brave New World and an entire third devoted to economic didacticism. In brief: China uses the GFC to turn inwards, to found a new era of satisfaction, complacency, whatever. Oh, let me spoil it for you: there's something in the water. Now you need not read it.

I pulled this out of the ANU Menzies Library on the strength of Linda Jaivin's review at Inside Story. Her review is far superior to the source material, which is a mostly skillful synthesis of overly familiar dystopian tropes, with some nice Chinese touches, such as the Red cinematic canon and the nomadism of Fang Caodi. The final third (where all is revealed!) is flabby and tedious. I found the whole thing overly predictable; there is nothing as arresting as Orwell's image of a boot stamping on a human face here. I ploughed through it hoping to find something so durable, and came away knowing that it's just another fad.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Midday paddle at Gordons Bay. The slate-grey skies kept the crowds away; I was almost the only person there, certainly the only one on the southern side. The swell was larger than usual, the tide was up. Quite pleasant in; the temperature about the same as out.

Dana Sachs: The House on Dream Street

/noise/books | Link

I extracted this one from the ANU Menzies Library a few months ago, on the strength of Dana's translation efforts. Here she recounts her experience of living in Hà Nội in the 1990s, both before and after the U.S. normalised relations with Việt Nam in 1995. This memoir was published in 2000.

The strength of this book is that it is not at all abstract; it is essentially a romance, both with a place and a man, with the author eventually moving on from the man but retaining a fixation on the place. Some awkwardness ensues, and the American ending — the erstwhile couple both paired off with children — is not entirely satisfying as Phai's bride is so unclearly drawn, and his future so uncertain.

There were some strange echoes of my time as an AYAD: some days you really do need to say whatever, more's the pity. Dana didn't want to turn 30 away from home, whereas I was happy to, as it turned out. She had a student visa to study Vietnamese; she makes me wish I'd spent more time on that. Tết was a pretty dire time for me, partly because I was heading back to Australia for Peodair's wedding and also because my friends had all gone back home for the holiday; I guess the difference was that her family-of-sorts lived in Hà Nội, whereas no one seems to admit to actually being from Sài Gòn.

I found and still find troubling her familiar dismissal of time in non-Western countries, that "this is not real life", the suggestion your real life is going on elsewhere while you idle, something sometimes reassuring and othertimes vexing. Unpacking just this attitude could be spun out to book length.

I learnt some great slang here: "phở không có người lái" — pho without the pilot (without meat).

As observed by others, this book inexplicably does not include her interactions with Nguyễn Huy Thiệp. You can read something about that here, but there's got to be more.

This book deserves to be bracketed with the roughly contemporaneous Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. Apart from the obvious difference in viewpoint due to the authors' genders and ethnicity, there is also a feeling that Dana is looking for a exotic home whereas Andrew still has itchy feet.

Raise the Red Lantern

/noise/movies | Link

Pete's Dad recommended this one to me. It is indeed a visual feast, with some believably bitchy characters. (They are playing for small potatoes beyond the genetic; actually I doubt the sprogs of this bloke made it far, as the revolution sputtered along in China from the 1920s to 1949.) The setting is awesome.

Yimou Zhang also directed Hero and sundry other turkeys. I'm glad he did some good stuff too. Apparently Li Gong was in 2046. Saifei He is fantastic as the opera singer, mistress #3.

Infernal Affairs III

/noise/movies | Link

I thought Scorcese ripped off just the first one; turns out he composited that and this sequel-sequel. Good to see Tony Leung again, not totally convinced by Yeung or Andy Lau's flameout. Kelly Chen sizzles as the shrink who isn't. The plot, well, I don't know... Totally unnecessary and therefore compulsive.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early afternoon lunch and paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people, reminding me why I go later in the day. ForecastFox is telling me it is 38 degrees today, which I'm not fully crediting. The water was very pleasant and clear, no surf.

Infernal Affairs II

/noise/movies | Link

When you're onto a good thing, over do it. This one is a hodge podge of Godfather III and the first one. Carina Lau blows in to lend some pizzaz to what is otherwise an all bloke affair.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Long Bay, off the northern boat ramp. Lots of fish, the water as clear as it ever is there. The old car wreck is still moldering away. Quite pleasant in. Clouds threatening, but I think we'll miss any substantial rain.

Road to Perdition

/noise/movies | Link

Another one of those Hollywood gangster romances that leave no trace of a memory. Tom Hanks has a habit of dying stupid; how could he go out so feebly? Paul Newman simmers here, almost as if he knows how risible his lines are.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay, still parked out but not so many people actually at the bay. The water certainly feels warmer than when I last got in. Very pleasant, no waves. I've been lucky not to have the promised showers and thunder storms these past few days.

Gordon Mathews: Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

/noise/books | Link

You've seen the film, now read the book. I don't know if there is a soundtrack.

Mathews is an American sociologist tenured as a professor at the Christian University of Hong Kong. He tells of first visiting the Mansions in the 1980s, and one gets the feeling that the funding for his anthropological studies arrived just a little too late; with China coming to understand what it takes to thoroughly own global trade, his low-end globalised traders are heading directly to Guangzhou, no longer in need of the Hong Kong middle man with his enforceable contracts and British business sensibility. This is certainly not Wong Kar Wai's 1960s Hong Kong.

The best part of this book is its promise, and when it recounts the stories of residents, either through anecdote or reportage. I found it fascinating as there doesn't seem to be anything like this building in Saigon, even as China is pricing itself out of the market. Then again, Vietnam is not yet known for high-tech manufacturing, or cranking out good-enough copies of mobile phones.

Unfortunately the novelty starts to wane somewhere around the middle, with the realisation that all players mentioned in the book are monothematic: they are there for money, money, money. This is what makes the building work, a friendship amongst the Indian, the Pakistani and the African possible, and indeed Hong Kong itself is the same effect written larger. That the mainstream of the host culture (Hong Kong Chinese, and more recently mainland Chinese) is uncomfortable with the third world in their midst, and identify it along racial lines, is surely true in most countries.

Another realisation was that this book never gets to grips with the role of women in the building, with the two roles on offer being a sex worker or a (Chinese) co-owner of the building. Perhaps the few women traders are mostly into clothing and are operating in another district. It is difficult to discern whether the incessant staring at the passing women in the building is a cultural thing (a women-as-property trope from the home country) or the behaviour of a large number of sex-starved expats, both, neither, etc.

Mathews treats the plight of asylum seekers at length, and wisely restricts himself to prognostication and not prescription. From a Western perspective it is interesting to see what the Eastern approach is and will become.

To be more curmudgeonly, this book makes me think that anthropology is at the more boring end of travel writing. Less repetition would have been lovely, and a bit less promising and a bit more carry-through. I don't put a lot of stock in non-empirical paradigms, and it seems that coining them is the essence of this sort of work. Here we get the "cultural supermarket", which is perhaps trying to summarise the idea of accessible multiculturalism, i.e. exotic food with the menus in English. Unfortunately it also connotes blandness, transactionalism, exploitation of primary producers, and so forth. I'm getting that ill-fitting cheap suit sort of a feeling.

I guess I was hoping for more of a biography of the building, ala Birmingham's Leviathan, in addition to the stories of individuals. Early on, Mathews tells of a shirt of his falling fifteen stories down a light well from a clothesline in the 1980s, and the possibility of it still being there; in doing so he lifts Chungking Mansions out of the generic facelessness of the ghetto. As Sickboy said about heroin, what keeps the relationship going is personality.

I picked this up from the UNSW Library on the strength of a review on Inside Story. I was a bit surprised the library had such a recent book (August 2011).

Three Colours: Red

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, I couldn't get into this one either. A masterwork too easy for me to dismiss.

Three Colours: White

/noise/movies | Link

Not really French so much as Polish. Julie Delpy has little room to move as the wife who only really wants her husband to perform in bed. The husband does the Godfather Part II thing of something dodgy in Warsaw after a dismal departure from Paris. I couldn't really get into it.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. A few people around, not too many, as the clouds rolled in the from the west. Saw a few groper of medium size (large females) and loads of catchable luderick. The water was mostly clear, with huge variation in the currents; right near the sucba ramp it was freezing, but about 10 metres out it was very pleasant. mrak tells me there was a 6 foot swell at Maroubra today. I could belive that; it was totally flat at Gordons.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-morning snorkel at Gordons Bay with Rob. Loads of people there already, and the Clovelly car park was already full, so we had to go around to the southern side. Didn't see much, but wasn't really looking. The water temperature was all over the map around the bay; I reckon it must have had a spread of 3-4 degrees.

John Lanchester: I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay

/noise/books | Link

I picked up this book on the GFC from the UNSW Library on the strength of this review in the New York Times. Lanchester's columns at the London Review of Books are great; for example, his notional review of two books on Murdoch. At book length, however, his prose gets much looser, and the repetition (even within single paragraphs!) killed it for me. I take that to mean that his editors at LRB did not work their magic here.

As is typical with pop accounts of highly technical things, Lanchester gets a few things wrong. As I'm not an economist, that I can pick holes in some of his points (he makes some errors of logic) does not induce confidence in his rendering of the stuff I didn't know about. Sure, he is upfront about the limitations of his metaphors and so forth, but I think he overestimates their utility as the whole space is counter intuitive. His prescriptions for repairing the economy are essentially a return to the banking policies enacted during the Depression and would be familiar to readers of John Quiggin's blog.

His ultimate call for people to say [we have] "enough" suffers from the same myopia that he accuses Keynes of. Still, he must be enjoying the Occupy protests.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. The beach was almost entirely empty. The swell was a lot larger than usual, with waves breaking onto the sand. Not too cold in a wife beater. Lots of immature fish around right now.

Three Colours: Blue

/noise/movies | Link

Again, I saw this on VHS ages ago. It is almost the definition of the 1990s French art house movie, being one of the few broadly available in the video stores. It is opaque, a bit arty, somewhat gratuitous... There's a bit too much saying and not showing. Binoche is better elsewhere. I believe one of the other two is superior. Blue is for liberty? It is visually very blue, and indeed a bit blue in the stereotypical ways.

Office Space

/noise/movies | Link

A Mike Judge creation. I just found out he was responsible for Beavis and Butthead. 20th Century Fox went a bit nuts with the anti-corp films in 1999. I saw this back in pre-history, and found it laugh-out-loud funny both times.

Fish Tank

/noise/movies | Link

English realism: Michael Fassbender, tourist, housing commission, 2009. Apparently this is Essex. I couldn't really get on board as none of the characters had much depth; this flick lives in the margins of the extremes with precious little up and no reason to believe there ever was or will be much. The music of the estate sure has moved on since Trainspotting. The cussing is a bland, banal and tedious attempt to shock, as is underage legal substance abuse. The cinematography is solid and quite pretty when it isn't trying to be part of the action.

The Australian parallels would be something like The Boys or Animal Kingdom, though this is about a mid-teens girl.

Dương Thu Hương: Beyond Illusions

/noise/books | Link

I extracted this from the ANU Menzies Library a few months ago. I hadn't realised that so many of her novels had been translated — Nina McPherson sure is industrious! Her efforts here with co-translator Phan Huy Duong are top-notch.

This is very much a falling-out-of-love socialist realism effort, a first novel that recreates the author's experiences of the early to mid 1980s in Hà Nội, on her road to becoming an expat dissident. As always her prose is fine, but this one could have been cut in half; there is a lot of repetition that is probably supposed to deepen things. I got impatient because this verbiage displaces so many details, such as just which of Nguyen's flexible principles Linh ultimately objected to. Her self-inflicted loneliness is sometimes difficult to indulge; and privation is generally the cost of principle, but we knew that already.

Her biggest failure is to not make us see Tran Phuong as Linh does; to the reader he is always a compromised greaseball, albeit perhaps a gifted compromised auteur greaseball, and so it is hard to understand why she doesn't see that. This is a bit weird as she does a great job with the blokes in her later novels; indeed, Nguyen does OK here, and she handles his discovery of spine quite well. The mysterious artist-hobo is perhaps a sugar-daddy wannabe; that one is left dangling. As always, Hà Nội is the center of the universe (as Paris presumably is for her now).

I see from elsewhere on the net that this is perhaps a Vietnamese Madame Bovary.

Two more to go from her, I think: Memories of a Pure Spring and No man's land, apparently both held by ANU.

This is Spinal Tap

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this ages ago, before I started keeping track.

Long term stable Linux kernels and compat-wireless

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Skipping right over justifications, I've been trying to get the ts7250-based nixie clock project in the can, at least hardware-wise. To recap, I was hoping to use Linux RT to drive the multiplexed nixies from user space, and that worked. The problem was that if you want to decode mp3s on the board at the same time then the CPU load is insane; one or the other is fine, with mp3 decoding taking maybe 70% CPU tops, and the display down in the noise. David G at NICTA suggested I write a kernel driver as it was probably the cache flushage (or other context switch overhead) that was killing it. Instead I took the less hairy chested and hopefully more reusable path of driving the display with an ATmega328P, interfaced to the ts7250 by TWI/I²C. That was the easiest hack ever: everything worked first-go (to the limit of the code on the AVR).

As I'm stuck with a 3G dongle for internet presently, I was hoping to use the ts7250 as an access point. To that end I bought a TP-Link TL-WN722N from MSY and set about getting it to work. The box claims it goes to 150Mbs, but the bloke at MSY told me I'm only going to get 54Mbs out of it from the MacBook Pro. I have zero idea about post-802.11g wifi; all I know is I can get several megabytes a second at UNSW on the UWN.

I've had luck with compat-wireless before, but really struggled with the 2.6.34 kernel, the most recent one that Matthieu's patches apply to cleanly. (Something really funky happened in 2.6.35 and onwards to do with SPARSEMEM — suffice it to say that if I can get one of these more recent kernels to boot then I only get 32Mb of memory, not 64Mb. Everything else seems fine though.) After much fruitless hackery I asked on IRC, and got the first useful advice I've ever received from that medium.

In brief, some long term stable Linux kernels are more popular than others, and as many distros picked up 2.6.32 it is the one to go for. (2.6.34 seems to be the least popular release around that time — apparently 2.6.35 got used by some embedded systems.) Sure enough, an hour of compiling later and I had the latest wifi drivers built and working on the ts7250. The moral is not to believe claims of compatibility with unpopular kernels.

Getting hostapd going is another story. I have a basic configuration that lets the MacBook Pro connect, but nothing exciting happens as I haven't configured the TCP/IP machinery on the ts7250 yet. The fun bit is figuring out what it wants to know about WPA2.

I also bought an ATEN UC232A USB-RS232 adaptor. MSY was promising them for $18 but had no stock, so I had to pay $25 in Little Tokyo. It's top notch, it even works through a hub.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people around. The water was quite clear, and just a little cold. The day was quite warm, 34 degrees.

Infernal Affairs

/noise/movies | Link

It isn't what Scorcese added to this movie so much as what he took away; it's shot-for-shot what got him that Oscar. I wish I'd seen this first. Tony Leung doesn't really get dirty here, and mostly just saunters around looking for trouble, sometimes finding Andy Lau (but not Maggie Cheung). The director/cinematographer Andrew Lau does a solid job in downtown Kowloon but unfortunately decided to milk a sequel and another which I now have to watch. Lau and Leung are back for the third.

Rated #228 in IMDB's top-250.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-morning paddle at Gordons Bay with Tim, recently returned from Paris. I got in in a wifebeater, and it was pleasant enough once I'd lost sensation in my toes.

Hero

/noise/movies | Link

The things that Tony Leung makes me watch. Maggie Cheung plays his wife-like attachment, similarly lethal with a sword, fancifully swatting arrows with her drapery. And that is Ziyi Zhang as his woman-servant. Jet Li flexes every muscle in his body and exactly none in his face. Quite beautifully shot, but vacuous; martial arts here is some kind of ballet, and the philosophy is that the power of the status-quo collective should not be disrupted by any free thinker. I hope "I learnt this from calligraphy" sounds better in Mandarin, and is not a mistranslation of Mao's "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun (brush)".

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

The zip on my old water boots came unstuck yesterday, so I went back to Sydney Dive Academy to buy another pair. After that, well, where else is there but La Parouse? The water at Cape Banks was a bit rough, but not so rough that getting in and out was difficult. I didn't see much. The water there is noticeably cooler than at Gordons Bay.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Though Manly Hydraulics Lab reckons it is 19.2 degrees in the sea presently, I still got in my spring suit, but without gloves or wife beater. It was pleasant enough, and reasonably clear too. Two blokes were turning the rocks over for some fish out where the big blue groper usually hangs around, and sure enough, there he was. I also saw some small bright green eels in a metre or so of water. I wonder if they are Moray eels. Should have taken the camera.

Hồ Aanh Thái: Behind the Red Mist

/noise/books | Link

Another Curbstone Press effort, from 1998, translator-in-chief Nguyễn Quí Đức in this instance, assisted by Regina Abrami, Bac Hoai Tran, Phan Thanh Hao and Dana Sachs. Wayne Karlin edited it, whatever that entails. From the ANU Menzies Library.

This is a collection of his short stories, generally set in the late 1980s in Vietnam, with a few in India. The Goat Meat Special gets another run, meh. I did like:

  • A Fragment of a Man (something romantic happens in the hills while a bloke is serving a somewhat spurious punishment during his army service)
  • The Indian (a man carries his mother's bones with him around the world)
  • The Chase (villagers enforcing their dress code in 1980s Việt Nam)
  • The Barter (an Indian ex-Virgin Goddess develops a taste for Western things)
  • The Man who Believed in Fairy Tales (Việt Kiều literalism — a Vietnamese national is transformed into a blue-eyed white-skinned American)
  • Leaving the Valley (trafficking in young women in India)

The novella Behind the Red Mist is like Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, without the grammatical whimsy: a 17 year old in the year 1987 is electrocuted, and spends a magical few months (wall-clock time) in 1967 learning about his parents as young people. OK, well, it is Vietnamese, so the pronouns need to shift: his father insists on becoming his older brother, his grandmother an aunt. He seems to fall in love with a young woman whose family has passed. As a vehicle for comparing the war-time and post-war generations this is a decent gimmick which he could have spun out to novel-length.

It's the best thing I've read from him yet.

2046 (Are you still in the mood for love?)

/noise/movies | Link

Wong Kar Wai closes out 1960s Hong Kong with an impressionistic sci fi romance anti-thriller, aesthetically not too far from Bladerunner. It follows on from In the Mood for Love and (more tenuously) Days of Being Wild, with Tony Leung Chiu Wai breaking a few more hearts on his way to the train terminus, albeit in a somewhat diffuse way; a surfeit of riches, perhaps. Ms Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ziyi Zhang) carries off the haughty femme fatale part of her role perfectly, but struggles with the transition to human. I quite like the sound track by Shigeru Umebayashi.

In the Mood for Love

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The best Wong Kar Wai I've seen yet. Once again it is 1960s Hong Kong, and two neighbours are tiptoeing around their partners' likely infidelities in a knowingly frail way. Maggie Cheung is amazing here, as is Tony Leung Chiu Wai. The middle scenes of noodle runs and role-playing non-dates are amusing, poignant, delectable. The ending, in Cambodia, is suitably enigmatic. It gets a bit Hal Hartley at times.

Days of Being Wild

/noise/movies | Link

Another Wong Kar Wai. The cinematography is similar to Chungking Express with a far looser story. I was waiting for something to happen but it sort-of didn't; being a stylish playboy circa 1960 in Hong Kong looks pretty effortless to me. There are some good scenes in the first half before it runs out of gas in the Philipines.

Hồ Aanh Thái: The Women on the Island

/noise/books | Link

I wasn't so impressed by Hồ Aanh Thái's anthology of Vietnamese short stories, so I was relieved to find that he's a better writer than editor. The story is set on Cat Bac (or is that Cát Bà?) Island. Wikipedia tells us the latter suits his purpose better, but as always there's something lost in translation.

This novel is essentially a few short stories about the individual characters, glued together by some đổi mới social change. It's fine as far as it goes. On to his short story collection put out by Curbstone Press that I also borrowed from the ANU Menzies Library...

This one's alright: Garbage and passion.

Nguyễn Huy Thiệp: Crossing the River

/noise/books | Link

Another excellent collection of short stories from Curbstone Press that I was fortunate enough to extract from the ANU Menzies Library. The translations by Dana Sachs are fantastic. I skipped the ones I'd read before, which may indeed have been the best:

  • Crossing the river
  • The general retires
  • Without a king
  • Salt of the jungle
  • Fired gold
  • Life's so fun
  • Remembrance of the countryside
I did read:
  • Lessons from the countryside
  • My Uncle Hoat
  • The winds of Hua Tat: Ten stories in a small mountain village
  • A drop of blood
  • A sharp sword
  • Chastity
  • Rain
  • Love story told on a rainy night

    Thiệp spent some of his life in the mountains north-west of Hà Nội, and this story covers some of the same ground as Balaban did perhaps twenty years earlier: the Golden triangle, opium smuggling, customs officers and so forth.

    "What do you know about love?" asked Bac Ky Sinh.

    Trieu Phu Dai sighed. "It's an unscrupulous emotion."

  • The water nymph

    This is the best account of post-1975 peasant life I've read, I think, with the poverty grinding on towards the year 2000.

  • The woodcutters

Greg Lockhart translated some of these stories more than a decade (1991) before this collection (2003). There seems to have been an argument about how to (de)classify Thiệp's work along Western lit crit lines. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Brick

/noise/movies | Link

Third time through, four years later. It's certainly time for Brick II, or at least for Mr Brick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be in something else worth watching.

The things you learn from IMDB: Mr Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is the vice principal. The director Rian Johnson has a pile of stuff at his website. I just wish he'd made another noir, rather than a not-so-hot screwball.

Belvoir: Summer of the 17th Doll

/noise/theatre | Link

Apparently I haven't been to the theatre in more than a year, partly because (as far as I can tell) Belvoir has abolished their cheap Tuesdays at their downstairs theatre. The Doll was on upstairs, and I was fortunate enough not to have studied it at school.

Steve Le Marquand is Roo here, apparently just the big wooden lug the script calls for. Peodair told me that they named their youngest after Roo; Rufus though, not Reuben, with the desirable attribute of being big. OK then. His mate Barney is played by Dan Wyllie with an all-Australian greaser demeanour that puts my teeth on edge; hence he is probably perfect for it, height and all. Susie Porter is generally very good as the pivotal Olive, though Robyn Nevin dominates whenever she's on the set. Helen Thomson as Pearl does well in an unappealing stuffy north-shore sort of way, with the faux sensibility and propriety of a Hyacinth. Yael Stone is fantastic as the voluble "neice" Bubba, and TJ Power was fine in his last-minute call up as Johnnie Dowd. Neil Armfield has them all where he wants them.

The set is nicely done in a period sort of way, with the novelty of the window opening straight onto Belvoir Street.

The play itself (from 1955, or should that be 1977?) is an ode to a dead Australia if ever I saw one. The contemporary equivalent would have to be set in Perth, with Roo ending up broke by the rent on a one-bedder in Port Hedland after a blue in the pit. Barney would have kids in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory and what fun we could have riffing on the intervention. One of Barney's voting-age boys would be in Parliament, there'd be an awesome rant against the Family Court, and someone would have to be gay. The girls would be cutting cocaine for the blokes at the start, and probably work for a "Hell has Harbour Views" law firm rather than a local pub. In short, it would be so much more sophisticated and entirely banal. What would be as socially challenging now as liberated women looking for a good time (on their own terms) was then?

I have to say that it was worth forty dollars and beer money for theatre of this quality. I should go more often.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, these movies just don't stick. About the only thing I remember from either of them was Bill's Superman screed, after which it is all downhill. Inglourious Basterds may well be the best thing Tarantino has done. Morricone and camerawork does not a spaghetti western make. #142 and #236 in the IMDB top-250 respectively.

Seven Samurai

/noise/movies | Link

Rated #13 in the IMDB top-250. I've heard a lot of reverential comments about Akira Kurosawa and this film, which I think is generally held to be his best. It's an action flick, and if you can handle the histrionics of Shino more than I could, it might be worth a look.

Chungking Express

/noise/movies | Link

What fun: two separate stories about lovelorn cops running around Kowloon after kooky girls. The cinematography is impressionistic and this aesthetic lifts the whole thing above the twee. On the recommendation of Cath.

Now to read the book!

Michael Clayton

/noise/movies | Link

A very sombre Clooney fixes everything, getting even Tilda Swinton to swoon as the ship goes down with classic New York visuals. Not bad but the plot is a bit over-egged and unoriginal. In the mould of The Insider and so forth.

Bridesmaids

/noise/movies | Link

I dunno. Clearly I'm not in the target demographic. Wiig (the strongest part of the weak Paul) is at her best when she does something unexpected, especially when she has her knowing conversations with her cop and her best mate. The story ambles along quite OK until it takes the necessary jag upward to an American ending. I couldn't really get into Rose Byrne's non-character. We didn't even get to meet the groom! — and what about all those side stories, like the bridesmaids' kiss on the plane?

Dana Stevens dug it. It is certainly not crap.

Out of Sight

/noise/movies | Link

More Soderbergh completism. I agree with him that J. Lo is pretty good here, as is Don Cheadle, although Clooney doesn't quite commit to playing it straight or playing it Coen. The movie is ruined slightly by some shit dialogue at a critical juncture or two; the spliced up bar scene is really good up to the point where Clooney opens his trap. In brief, the story is mediocre but there are enough other things to keep you on the hook. Pulp Fiction editing helps on that front.

Samuel L. is too cool for this movie.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. I picked the day to go: a forecast 27 degrees was actually 31. The bay was flat with quite a few more people there than I expected. As usual, I saw a few fish but not too many, and the water was mostly OK in a spring suit and gloves, until I got past the rocks where it got noticeably colder.

The Limey

/noise/movies | Link

Stephen Soderbergh directs, Terence Stamp acts. That would be Melissa George in the photos. Cut up editing. Sometimes pretty good. Not entirely sure what the point of it is. Peter Fonda is less greasy than the situation demands. General ineptitude from the nominal bad dudes. Rated highly by the Soderberg completist.

Lê Minh Khuê: The Stars, The Earth, The River

/noise/books | Link

A collection of short stories, some of which I'd read before in other anthologies. The translations by Bắc Hoài Trân and Dana Sachs are excellent. All of the stories sparkle, and she doesn't indulge too much in the war / enemy / corruption / communism stodginess endemic in this genre.

It seems that the good work of the Curbstone Press has come to an end, by the looks of their parked domain. What an ignominious way to go. It's good that the ANU Menzies Library has such a great stash of this sort of thing.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water was pretty cold, but sort-of a little bit OK in a wifebeater, spring suit and gloves. I didn't see much despite the water being pretty clear, apart from what I think was a large school of immature gropers quite close to the scuba ramp. The surf was a lot larger than it has been, which makes getting in a bit easier as I have less discretion about when my body parts get frozen.

Natural Born Killers

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah. I first saw this back in 1998 on VHS, at college with Pete R.. None of Oliver Stone's other movies get anywhere near the pitch of this one.

Agora

/noise/movies | Link

This swords-and-sandals mini-epic is beautifully shot and sometimes effective, with Rachel Weisz doing the heavy lifting. The plot is pretty scatty, as exemplified by a massive non sequitur in the middle where she gets hitched to her womanising student that she had previously handed her monthly cycle to. This compromise makes her later uncompromise difficult to comprehend. Also her verbalising "what if we look at the world as it really is" flies in the face of Hypatia's platonism; maybe they could have given the lines to an offsider named Empiricles or something. I did like the way they introduced her slave to Christianity, as it was abundantly clear what the attraction was. Conversely it is a bit surprising that he doesn't have a crisis of faith at some point, especially towards the end.

Rio Bravo

/noise/movies | Link

A Howard Hawks western starring John Wayne. Unlike Hawks's earlier efforts, this one is much less screwy and a lot slower. There is still some sharp reparte, and while he doesn't patronise his audience, it's difficult to see what the point of it all is as the formula is followed slavishly. Angie Dickinson flirts outrageously with the Duke and deserved to be more than a domestic goddess.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

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An overlong Hitchcock. Doris Day is fine on the acting front but her character is flimsy, especially when histrionic; she's at her best playing the wife, duelling with Jimmy Stewart, and so much less interesting when impetuous or motherly. There are some good camera angles in the Albert Hall but much of it has Doris more-or-less helpless, rubbing her brain cells together. It is not particularly edifying.

The Cars That Ate Paris

/noise/movies | Link

The cars that ate Paris has always connoted the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe to me, and I guess I expected this to pay some kind of tribute to Goddard. Heh, I couldn't be more wrong.

Like the Barry McKenzie movies, this is a celebration of bogan culture as perceived by the new wave Australian Film Development Corporation (now AFC) elite muppets. Taxpayers in 1974 would have been right to think that socialism is coming, and that it is mediocre and something to be feared; under socialism man acts abominably and the scripts are quite terrible. Thematically we have an Irish stew of lobotomies, experimenting doctors, isolation, Napoleonic tendencies, a tanking economy (a return to bartering), cars, bogans, bogan youths, bogan youths driving cars, and so forth. It is one of those movies where the cast and crew had the most fun.

Sofala itself is quite pretty, and the best shots are of the town from up high. It strikes me now that I don't think I've seen a Peter Weir film I liked.

Dead Man's Shoes

/noise/movies | Link

Another Shane Meadows effort, from 2004. This is not as polished as This is England, and quite a lot more brutal. The acting is solid, not so sure about the story.

Catch-22

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This being the 50th anniversary of Joseph Heller's iconic novel, I figured I should watch Mike Nichols's adaptation of it. I feel sure I saw a contemporary Catch-22-ish thing years ago, but the movie archive is oblivious. This one is complete spaghetti (just like the book) and sags under the weight of unconvincing dialogue; what is funny to read sounds trite when spoken, or maybe it's just that Heller can show with words what the movie cannot. Also I don't think Yossarian looks like Alan Arkin, and Martin Sheen seems almost childish here, such a long way from his trip up the river.

The Shining

/noise/movies | Link

Ah yes, Kubrick's horror film. Jack Nicholson is at the peak of his game here and at times the psychopathic Jack Torrance appears to come too easily. Shelley Duvall is excellent as his foil. The cinematography is brilliantly Hitchcockian. Rated #49 in IMDB's top-250.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. I can attest that the water off Sydney's coastline is colder than off Sweden's presently, whatever the Manly Hydraulics Lab says, though it was sort-of comfortable in a wife-beater, spring suit and gloves. There are loads of fish there presently, some in quite shallow waters, and the visibility is quite fine.

Dogs in Space

/noise/movies | Link

I remembered this from years ago as some kind of vehicle for Michael Hutchence at the height of his fame, circa 1987. I'm not at all sure it tries to do much more than glamorise Melbourne 1978, and it would be difficult to claim that it succeeds even at that; for instance, the heroin-ending is absolutely feeble. In any case it does mark some point on the downward trajectory of Australian movies through the 1980s. I did like the abiding fascination with space exploration, and the reentry of Skylab, though as I remember it broke up somewhere in Western Australia, i.e. out past Moonee Ponds.

John Balaban: Coming Down Again

/noise/books | Link

1974, northern Thailand, the golden triangle: a friend of Lacey's and the man's girlfriend and her Lao girlfriend are incarcerated by Thai border guards after carrying a minor amount of something-or-other across a border. Lacey, professor, poet, American, organises some bandits to liberate them. Balaban writes as well as I hoped but not really about what I expected; he implies there is some truth underpinning this fiction, but it is difficult to know what, and if this is more than just a ripping yarn written ten years after the event. The ultimate deus ex machina, featuring an NVA detachment and the words of Hồ Chí Minh, is a bit tough to swallow.

Reds

/noise/movies | Link

Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and just briefly, Gene Hackman. Beatty directed and wrote this paean to the American journalist Jack (John) Reed, present at the birth of Red Russia, and garnered an Oscar for his efforts. Keaton got a nomination for being more-or-less a clothes horse for radical chic.

I'm not at all sure what this movie is trying to say about America and the Russian Revolution, and perhaps it is stuck in the late-70s when 1989 looked like it would never come. The ending is quite egocentric: what happened to Louise after Jack dies? Does she try to go back to the U.S. (where she would presumably be arrested) or remain in Soviet Russia? Somewhere in that 200 minutes Beatty could have told us.

The Brothers Bloom

/noise/movies | Link

I watched this in the early afternoon, jetlagged and mostly out of it. This movie deserves even less consciousness, despite the efforts of Rachel Weisz. What I liked about Brick is totally missing in Rian Johnson's writing/directing here.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle in the Kattegat, in a bay just north of the Akvarellmuseet at Skärhamn, north of Göteborg, with Cath. I'd never been swimming in the sea in Sweden before, and the water was surprisingly not-cold, at least in a wife beater. Cath warned me to avoid a strongly-coloured jelly fish, sitting on the rocks in a metre of water, as apparently they have stingers floating in the water. On top of the bluff the wind was quite strong; good sailing weather I guess.

Wallabies 25, All Blacks 20 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisvegas

/noise/sport | Link

The Wallabies sure learnt their lessons over the past few weeks, and came out more strongly than they have in a long time. The backline was far from flawless but the All Blacks let them off the hook with even more costly mistakes. Ashley-Cooper had his best game all year on the wing, and Anthony Faingaa was solid in the centres. The Australian forwards were very impressive. Deans is going to have trouble shuffling in the recovering / returning players.

I watched the game with a couple of Australians and a sole Kiwi in The Dubliner on Östra Hamngatan in Göteborg, where I saw some of the Rugby World Cup in 2003. The current exchange rate takes some of the sting out of the beer prices: whereas it used to be $AU10 for a pint of Guiness, it is now only $AU9.

Burn After Reading

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this at the cinema back in 2008 and couldn't remember anything about it. Not the Coen brothers' finest outing, that's for sure. Brad Pitt fails to convince in this moronic role, and both Tilda Swinton and Malkovitch play themselves, or at least conform to their stereotypes. As a riff on the craziness of late Bush II homeland security, this is too heavy handed to really get on board with.

This is England '86

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A follow-on TV series from This is England. At about twice the length, these four episodes feel less focussed than the movie, taking on more of the melodrama of a soap opera than a Thatcher-era skinhead biopic. I really don't like what they did to Woody, and Shaun seems too ineffectual, but otherwise the characters prove worthy of a revisit that fleshes them out. Riveting.

Elektra Luxx

/noise/movies | Link

I got suckered by Zacarek's review, and by Mr Brick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) putting in an appearance. (I just remembered that Malin Akerman was in Watchmen.) A bit grindhouse. A bit off-the-wall. Not entirely successful.

This is England

/noise/movies | Link

Jake recommended this to me when I saw him last. I really enjoyed the English realism, set in 1983 at a time of Thatcher, the Falklands War, and incredibly pervasive social disadvantage/decay. This is the movie Romper Stomper and American History X wanted to be. The characters are well-rounded and the story just naturally ambles along, up to the climactic scene, where Combo, who was otherwise quite nuanced for a skinhead, flames out in a way typical for his kind on film. Before that point the movie only toes the edge in a most unsettling way.

There are loads of loose ends and so I am not surprised there is a follow-on TV show This is England '86, which I think is what Jake saw at the Sydney Film Festival.

I'll be looking for more from director Shane Meadows and these actors.

All Blacks 30, Wallabies 14 at Eden Park

/noise/sport | Link

Not as bad as it could have been, but the Wallabies still don't know how to turn possession and territory into points. Disappointingly Vickerman looked lost when he came on, at least in the lineout where he should have been running noise. Conversely the pack did hold up all night. Genia did the work of two men, and Ioane often looked like most of the attack. Ashley-Cooper seems invisible these days, and Rocky needs to get fit. I was surprised to see the Kiwis fumble a certain try; their backline usually has impeccable handling skills. The refereeing was abysmal (he made dodgy non-decisions against both teams: knock-ons, crooked lineout throws, offsides, ...). I hope they get that right for the World Cup.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at an unusually empty Little Bay. I got in with a wife beater and spring suit, and gloves (the usual for this time of year). Somehow the water didn't seem too cold after a bit, but it was pretty cloudy so I didn't see much.

Carnal Knowledge

/noise/movies | Link

A Jack Nicholson classic from 1971, directed by Mike Nichols. Here's Bobbie!

Mother Fish

/noise/movies | Link

I found out about this freebie screening at the Law Faculty from the Shitz issue of Tharunka. Apparently it is nearly Foundation Day once again. They had some IT problems in Law G04, so after about an hour we got moved to the Staff Common Room on the top floor. This new law building, forty-something years in the making, is right next to the unibar, and this being Thursday night we got an earful of somebody's birthday party. I must say that the library there is full of studious people, very quiet, unlike the main one. It is totally full though, most of the time, including sitting room on the floor.

I went in cold, with no expectations of this movie. It opened in a way that reminded me of a song by The Herd, the Prime Minister (Rudd this time, Howard then) saying that though our refugee policy might be a bit crap, it's the least crap of all possible policies. The voice-over was sweet, but also a bit spooky, as the auteur Khoa Do (Anh Do's brother) was clearly trying to render the ancestral spirits. (It was in Vietnamese, which made it clear that it was the younger sister of the woman in the scene doing the talking. The English translation lacked a lot of nuance.) Once we get to the tailor sweatshop, though, things are pretty grim. Khoa followed Lars von Trier down the Dogville path of minimal sets but with less conviction; the camera became a water puppet as it followed the four characters on their river boat from somewhere in Vietnam to somewhere in Thailand, and as things slowed down I started looking at my watch. It didn't help that the boat people spoke English all of the way, and it seems the emotional crescendo happened while I wasn't watching.

Executive Producer cum "million-book selling author" Matthew Reilly (I took that to mean he wrote airport novels) opened proceedings by saying what a brilliant, arresting, and special story this is. I can only think that he has good intentions but no conception of Vietnam, for very similar stories have been rendered in English by Andrew X. Pham and Nam Le, the latter of whom cast a huge splash across literary Australia not a few years ago. (Let's just quietly ignore the truckloads of stories and movies from the 1980s.)

I also found it funny to hear presumably Southerners fantasising about phở tải, when everyone tells me it's a northern dish.

Good intentions, yes, I got that. Human suffering, that too, the plights of refugees, and so forth... but I had these prior to seeing this movie.

The promotional website is here.

Captain America

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At the largely-empty 4pm session at The Ritz in 3D. That 3D was pretty jarring as it didn't add much to anything. I was intending to go to the late session but woke up at 6am this morning after a one-coffee Monday. (It seems that disruption of my caffeine regimen makes me sleep less, and in the short term work harder, at least on things that don't require much deep thinking.)

This summer I'm watching all these cartoons I didn't read as a kid. I'm sure they represent/debase many blokes' childhood, but to me there's nothing sentimental in it. This one is yet another genesis story, pushing the fascistic country-first buttons and not much else. It's not a great action flick, largely because the characters are entirely meh and the director has no conviction in the action scenes, resorting to an action montage early on for no apparent reason.

There are loads of cinematic hat tips: the flying fox is a no-tension ripoff of Attenborough's effort in Where Eagles Dare, as are pretty much the entirety of the World War II themes, or at least those that aren't fake and/or anachronistic. I guess returning to that war makes sense to Hollywood, for history has not been kind to America since. X-Men did a better job with their retro James Bond revival aesthetic; mutants are so much less fake than supermen.

Hugo Weaving really hasn't moved past Agent Smith. I liked him as Agent Smith, but I don't like Agent Smith trying to be Mr Evil German. Acting-wise he's solid but his character is mirthless/worthless, a generic bad dude, set on world domination and therefore timely liquidation at the hands of the superman. Perhaps the novelty was that he's "wearing a mask" for the first half of the film; one gets the impression that he watched Kill Bill Vol. 2 and decided to put Bill's theory of superheroes to the sword. I felt sorry for Hayley Atwell, she of the trembling lip and vacuous character; she should have been a companion of Doctor Who.

Captain America was the cartoon industry's contribution to the war effort; when we see him flogging war bonds and the kids running around pretending to be Captain America, that is what this character was all about. Those scenes are a 1940s update of the same in Once Upon a Time in America and resonate because they are timeless. (Or entirely of their time, take your pick.) My point is that this character makes no sense in the modern era: the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not spread around, and even the recent economic turmoil (that one might partially attribute to the cost of these wars) has had more effect on the class of people who are actually fighting, i.e. the women and men who aspire(d) to profit from their labour, than the people who once bought war bonds; it is not so easy to pretend that we are still in this together. So rather than rebooting these tired anachronistic characters, how about cooking up some new ones? This apparently being the last in the Avengers prequels (whatever that means), one has to wonder what's going to get the mega treatment in 2013.

Dana Stevens gave it a faith-testing thumbs up.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Andrew T tells me this is a luderick.

I got in to Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp at the north eastern end at 1pm after too much flaffing about. Getting into the spring suit with a wife beater on is a bit tough, and I was lucky to get some help from some Asian (Korean? Japanese?) scuba blokes. The water was about the same as last time, a bit cold but not terribly uncomfortable, but not as clear. There were loads of sizeable fish in really shallow water. I wonder why. I still haven't found the big blue groper.

Linh Dinh: Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam

/noise/books | Link

Argue with a smart man,
Can't win.
Argue with a stupid man,
Can't stop.

— Vietnamese proverb

This is a high-quality collection of contemporary (1990s) Vietnamese short stories that I scraped from the ANU Menzies Library months ago. Linh Dinh is responsible not only for anthologising these but also for many of the translations. His overly-brief introduction provides an account of the authors and the situation in Vietnam, đổi mới and so forth. I wish it had been longer.

Memorable:

  • A Marker on the Side of the Boat is another war story from Bảo Ninh (translated by Linh Dinh).
  • Nguyễn Huy Thiệp's Without a King (translated by Linh Dinh), a tale of a lone woman in a household of five sons and a widower.
  • Scenes from an Alley by Lê Minh Khuê (translated by Bắc Hoài Trân and Dana Sachs) juxtaposes rising affluence and crassness of Westerner expat consumption.
  • A Stagnant Water Place by Thế Giang (translated by Cường Nguyễn) is a fly-on-the-brothel-wall.
  • Nine Down Makes Ten by Phạm Thị Hoài (translated by Peter Zinoman, up to his usual standard), tells of a woman's men.
  • In the Recovery Room by Mai Kim Ngọc (translated by Nguyễn Quí Đức) is an old man recounting his sex life to his son-in-law.
  • Đỗ Kh.'s The Pre-War Atmosphere is the most exotic of these stories, mixing the Vietnamese and the Lebanese in Orange County.

Near as I can tell the passion for translating Vietnamese literature has passed, apart from the odd angry shot.

Martin Davis: Engines of Logic (softcover, previously The Universal Computer)

/noise/books | Link

Professor Martin Davis got sick of engineers getting all the credit for the omnipresent computational machines and wrote this book, released in 2000, to reclaim some ground for the grand tradition of logic. It is lively, well-written, but too short, selective and incomplete, as it is driven by the author's interest in particular topics, which he doesn't always contextualise sufficiently for the non-expert to nod along with.

The Professor is most famous in computer science circles for his propositional calculus, which is still the basis of modern SAT technology as far as I know. This doesn't really come out here, or why SAT is so important. Similarly Wittgenstein gets mentioned in passing, but nothing is said of his contributions to the story of logic, or his overlap with Russell and Turing. This book seemed a prime opportunity to canvas his opinions of Gödel's work and also Turing's. The micro-biographies of the logicians are quite well done, I think, albeit with a slightly jarring special focus on their political stances and (anti)semitism. (Many Jewish intellectuals oppressed by the Nazi regime moved to U.S. academia, with Princeton a major beneficiary.) Even so I came away with no better conception of David Hilbert than that with which I started. I guess mathematicians don't stick.

Personally speaking, I'm not interested in reading pop sci accounts of Turing or his machines; his biographer Hodges has more details, and it is difficult to get excited about the 1001st popularisation of the universal machine. I skipped those bits, and for that reason this wasn't the book for me. Conversely I was interested to know how set-theoretic esoterica like the Continuum Hypothesis (that Davis goes on about) fit with notions of computability. What do the constructivists think? What does Davis think about the rise of neo-Brouwerism, the contemporary flowering of type theory as a (the?) logical foundation of programming? We want to know! Instead we get some engagement with the philosophy of AI types like Penrose and Searle, which seems so quaint in these days of Google-level natural-language processing, and what IBM recently did with Watson. Intelligence is so 20th century.

The obvious comparison to draw is with Logicomix. I'm not going to attempt that.

Some money quotes: On Kurt Gödel:

When Gödel: sought to become a U.S. citizen, he prepared, in typical Gödel: fashion, for the perfunctory examination on U.S. institutions before a judge — he submitted the Constitution to the kind of meticulous analysis only he would have performed. Moreover, he became quite agitated when he concluded that the Constitution was actually inconsistent. While driving to Trenton, the [New Jersey] state capital, for the procedure, Einstein and Morgernstern his supporting witnesses, tried to distract Gödel from his discovery, fearing it might cause trouble if broached. Einstein told one joke after another. But when the judge asked Gödel whether he thought a dictatorship like that in Germany was possible in the United States, the candidate began to explain his discovery. Fortunately the judge quickly understood with whom he was dealing and interrupted, so that all ended happily.

Davis also recycles Turing's good point that Gödel's incompleteness theorem only applies to sound systems, i.e. in a limiting sense intelligence requires us to be prepared to speculate. Turing made similar observations.

On Hegel:

[...] Despite Kant's emphasis on the importance of science, post-Kant philosophy in nineteenth-century Germany evolved in a different direciton, moving to an absolute idealism that conceived of ideas and concepts as primary and sought to understand the world almost as though these were what it was made of. One of the leaders of this movement was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose lectures were attended by hundreds of eager disciples. Hegel had many followers (among whom, famously, were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels), and scholars still find much worthwhile in his writings. However he was capable of contorted reasoning that simply invites ridicule, especially in his massive two-volume Science of Logic in which readers were asked to ponder the deep thoughts:

Nothing is simple equality with itself.

Being is Nothing.

Nothing is Being.

Both of these categories in the transition from each to the other dissolve into the further category: Becoming.

That probably tells you if this is the book for you. In any case, do read this good interview with Davis.

Saving Private Ryan

/noise/movies | Link

With one half of Hollywood off fighting in Guadalcanal, crowd pleaser Spielberg took the remaining men to the beaches of Omaha on D-Day, 1944, delegating operational command to Captain Tom Hanks and his band of teary-eyed cannon fodder. The opening action is incredibly well-shot, perhaps the best unreal war footage I've seen, which makes the dialogue in the less breathless scenes so much more painful. (I remember being completely overwhelmed by that opening scene when I saw this at a cinema back in 1998.) The incredible scale of these scenes and the rhythm of life in the army (at least as I imagine it, tedium interlaced with adrenaline rushes) are somewhat ruined by the impression that these boys barely know each other, let alone themselves.

Matt Damon is actually pretty decent here, maybe because he has a bit part. Tom Hanks always strikes me as hokey, in a way that American audiences seem to love. Wave that flag, shut up and love your country already (or leave). #43 in IMDB's top-250.

In a Lonely Place

/noise/movies | Link

Bogey plays the domestic rough nut and gets the beauty but unsurprisingly can't keep her. This one from 1950 is set in Hollywood or thereabouts and he doesn't seem to have had a moment's peace since before the war. Gloria Grahame as the female lead would probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder now, for she goes from strong and combatative to doormat within a scene or two, despite being the Scarlett Johansson of her era. There's enough rom but no com, and while it isn't terrible I can't see why it's 8/10 at IMDB.

— refrain of the 1950s socialite. "Likewise, I'm sure!"

Bringing Up Baby

/noise/movies | Link

Classic Howard Hawks screwball, with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in 1938. I didn't really get into it, apart from the odd one-liner. The monomania of Hepburn's Susan outdoes the dishiness of Cary's zoologist David in their hunt for the leopard, the dog, and the intercostal clavicle bone of a brontosaurus. Grant was much better in later pictures.

His Girl Friday

/noise/movies | Link

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell take on the newspaper game in a suitably cynical fast-paced screwball stage-show kind of way. An absolutely classic Howard Hawks from 1940. Here's Hildy's (Russell) account of her getting organised with her boss / former husband, Mr Burns (Grant):

Remember the time we stole Old Lady Haggerty's stomach off the coroner's physician...We proved she'd been poisoned then, didn't we, Walter? We had to hide out for a week. Do you remember that?...That's where, I mean, how...

Rated #239 in IMDB's top-250, deservedly. The closest thing to this now is some kind of Coen brothers flick; indeed, I'm sure there's a PhD out there comparing Hildy and Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in The Hudsucker Proxy.

Evelyn Waugh: Scoop

/noise/books | Link

I extracted a recent edition of this book from the UNSW Library on the strength of Hitchens's atypically muted column on Murdoch's travails, and The Loved Ones. Sometimes it is laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes historically obscure, always heavy-handed. A quick read.

John Lanchester wrote a good, long long article on Murdoch a years ago, from the London Review of Books.

Vertigo

/noise/movies | Link

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak play in Alfred Hitchcock's Freudian San Francisco, 1958. Rated #45 in IMDB's top-250. Yeah, I didn't get that masterpiece feeling from it, mostly because the second half left me wondering how long it would take Jimmy to twig, or when he'd realise that Midge was the keeper, while nothing much happens on screen. I'm also totally over car chases (at any speed) on the streets of that city.

Novak does a good job of making the 1950s look glamorously horrible for women.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

/noise/movies | Link

A neo Picture of Dorian Gray that is far too Forrest Gump for my tastes. The clock runs backwards, really? The plot arc is tediously predictable — Caroline, Benjamin is your father! — as there is not much flexibility in the frame. Every so often Fincher pulled a camera angle or sequence that reminded me what a genius he is, but the material is too limited for him to make much of it. On that front the narrated car accident multi-timeline sequence in Paris was the pick of the few parts that lifted the pace and engagement above the soporific.

Brad Pitt is a bit too blandly Brad Pitt here, as his character is essentially an everyman (really no man) playboy whose only trick is to age backwards. Maybe he pushes some people's Hemingway buttons, I don't know. Cate Blanchett is occasionally luminous in her role as a black swan turning white (maybe). The effects are seamless but to what little end.

Vietnam: A Traveller's Literary Companion (ed. John Balaban and Nguyễn Quí Đức)

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I also extracted this one from the ANU library. It is much better than the previous two collections as the two editors have carefully ensured the translations are top-notch and made a decent fist of selection. What is even more awesome is that they include enough bibliographic detail that one could track down not only where the English translation was first published but also the original too (for the most part). I'll be looking for more from these guys.

Some are products of đổi mới, e.g. Nguyễn Huy Thiệp's four contributions, though the general flavour is mid-90s contemporary. I wish they had found something else to excerpt from Dương Thu Hương than Novel without a Name. Standouts:

  • Nguyễn Huy Thiệp's Salt of the Jungle, Crossing the River and Remembrance of the Countryside were all great, but would have benefited from some framing. I found his Fired Gold intriguing and opaque.
  • The Saigon Tailor Shop by Phạm Thị Hoài is at once a lark and mostly disposable. The melodrama is palpable and consciously overblown, I guess to contrast the Hà Nội setting with the fashion.
  • Lê Minh Khuê's contribution is a reverse-Oedipal romance, A Small Tragedy.
  • The piece by the editor Nguyễn Quí Đức, The Color of Sorrow is one of those classic Saigon stories/cliches: spend more than a few days there and you'll marry someone, or at least get your heart broken. Andrew X. Pham recounts a similar experience, and I could go on.

For all that I'm not sure there's as much evocation of place as the authors wished for, or as implied by this format. Where is the coffee, the bia hơi, the lẩu? How about the cyclos, the traffic, the modernity? The map on page v evokes that feeling of things being a bit indefinite.

The Thin Red Line

/noise/movies | Link

A Malick segue from The Tree of Life, over two nights. Hollywood goes to war, as it was billed at the time. The acting is pretty solid as apparently he put them through hell, so there wasn't much need to actually act. Least convincing are Travolta's fly-in fly-out General and Clooney's ma-and-pa routine at the end.

Malick does not attempt a female character here; Miranda Otto is ethereal, beautiful, and plotwise a vehicle for some faithless brutality that smudges the hard-fought victory of a ridgeline in Guadalcanal in World War II. James Caviezel is beautiful to watch, credible in his Jesus role, which is probably what got him the guernsey in Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (unknown and unseen by me). Sean Penn is solid but uninspired, and Nick Nolte has boots too big to fill as the arsehole Colonel sacrificing men to his career aspirations. (The boots are Robert Duvall's from Apocalypse Now, and there is no surfboard.) The list goes on, but I'll stop here.

The version I saw was fully 2hr 50 min, with awesome cinematography. I like the ambience, especially the opening scenes with the villagers. The Japanese are totally characterless and barely differentiated; the game here isn't to humanize the enemy but to dehumanize the Americans, or at least subject them to some kind of Zen retribution.

I saw this at the cinema back in 1998, I'm sure of it, probably at the Verona. I also saw Saving Private Ryan then too, but remember nothing of it apart from Spielberg's overwhelming opening scene. Maybe worth a revisit.

When too much hardware is barely enough

/hacking/mac | Link

Apple continue to ship their MacBook Pros with insufficient memory. I got jack of this thing hitting swap even though it had another gigabyte on my previous MacBook; subjectively it felt worse for the same workloads, maybe because Chrome is a memory pig. (I'm back on FireFox now.) So last Friday I went to MSY to buy a couple of 4Gb sticks. Their price for Kingstons: $42 each. Apple wants $480 for the pair. That is an insane price differential.

MSY (being MSY) only had one in stock, however, and I wasn't in the mood to wait howeverlong. (It is extremely irritating that they don't indicate their stock levels online, or allow online orders. It is also irritating to have to wait for some bloke to pointlessly, endlessly complain about their refusal to give him a replacement/refund when his son couldn't install a CPU properly.) I hoofed it back to the place where mrak got his last time, in the little slice of Tokyo on George St near the tram line. They wanted $60 a stick which was fine by me, and the bloke helped me install it. While prying the underside off it I tipped three of the tiny screws onto the floor, but somehow by the end of our conversation he had recovered all three. I have no idea how he did that.

Thus far I cannot get it to use the final 1.5Gb or so, even with Windows XP and Debian running in VMware concurrently. Thus I can hope it will last a year or so, though I fully expect Lion to eat it when the time comes.

Today I bought what may have been the last two Logitech USB hubs available in a shop in New South Wales, from Myer in Orange, for $36 each. mrak told me ages ago that these things were reliable and I've been happy with the one I got at the time, which is presently hooked up to the BeagleBoard at ANU. The price tag was $60 each but the bloke gave me a hefty discount on the merest suggestion they were overpriced. I am shocked that Logitech has not replaced this classic hub, and that there is nothing else readily available with its reputation for just working.

Paul

/noise/movies | Link

Another Pegg and Frost bromance. I dunno, it's a lot weaker this time around; previously they renovated the cliches, this time they just ran with them, and there's a limit to what Pegg's puppy-dog eyes can lift. Everyone is willing but the script is weak. Kristen Wiig's effort makes me wonder if Bridesmaids is more chop.

Byrnes at the SMH.

Super Rugby: Queensland Reds 18, Canterbury Crusaders 13

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I headed down to the Duke of Gloucester for the first time in ages to watch a Super Rugby match. This one was far superior to the Brumbies versus the Western Force farce from a few months ago, almost enough to restore my faith in Australian provincial rugby. (Now if the Waratahs could field a full-strength side for more than half a season...)

In brief, there was some great work from the Reds early on when they lacked possession but still scored first points (Cooper kicked a penalty after Carter missed one). I was slightly worried when Cooper made a massive knock-on under no pressure whatsoever, as if he was auditioning for the Wallabies circa 2005, but no, that seemed to be his only egregious stuff-up for the night. He didn't get to do much, which was unsurprising as the Crusaders are canny enough to shut out the playmaker more often than not. Genia worked hard, as did Saia Faingaa. The personal tries for Genia and Ioane were awesome, both untouchable, as was Carter's effort. All reminded me of Latham's ability to score from anywhere, something Kurtley Beale is doing for the Waratahs and the Wallabies. Hopefully they can play off each other.

Richie McCaw was all over the rucks, and one can only hope that Pocock will address that for the Wallabies. Also the Reds scrum was pushed around pretty much all night, which doesn't bode too well. I see that the Reds number eight Radike Samo is making a return to the national squad, and I hope he is more disciplined there than he was here in the dying stages of the match.

I have never seen so many people in a pub in New South Wales barracking for Queensland and New Zealand, or so glad to see a Queensland victory.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay. The Manly Hydraulics Lab makes the unbelievable claim that it is 21 degrees in the water, warmer in than out, and sort-of comfortable in a wife beater, spring suit and gloves. It started to rain just as we got there and just as we left; in between we got some fantastic sunshine, and the water was clear in any case. Saw a few groper including a large but not fully mature blue one.

Hồ Aanh Thái: The Legend of the Phoenix and other stories from Vietnam

/noise/books | Link

I scraped this strange short-story collection from the ANU library a while ago, along with Banerian's and a couple of others. It was published by the National Book Trust, India in 1995, as the anthologist has ties to that country.

Unfortunately there is nothing particularly good in this collection that I hadn't read before — Nguyễn Huy Thiệp's The General Retires is probably Lockhart's translation but is not identified as such, and jangles in the context of the other much poorer translations, as does the excerpt from Dương Thu Hương's Novel Without a Name. It is very post-war victor-oriented, and as such there's plenty of enemy puppetry here.

Fight Club

/noise/movies | Link

It's been five years and I still remember just about the entire thing. Still rated #14 in IMDB's top-250, good to see.

Tillsammans (Together)

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Moodysson's best effort, I reckon; just as excruciatingly funny the second time around. He did most of the work in choosing the setting of a hippie commune in suburban Stockholm in 1975, as it seems to have pretty much written itself. The early scene in the kitchen is the best I've seen him do.

He seems to have gone quiet since he got into too-hard-to-watch territory with Lilya 4-ever and A Hole in My Heart in the late 2000s.

The Tree of Life

/noise/movies | Link

At the 9.15pm session at the dear old Verona. There were a surprising number of people at the bar and at this session (and the other movie at a similar time). Movie Club tickets are getting expensive: for $13 I hoped not to have someone mouth-breathing behind me and so forth. Anyway...

This is a Terrence Malick flick. If it wasn't I wouldn't have been there. I think I went to see his The Thin Red Line at the cinema for the same reason; the critics go ape when this great auteur cranks out something new, like they used to with Kubrick. I guess they think he is the opposite of Michael Bay.

Here we have Brad Pitt being a generically strict father in 1950s Waco Texas, and Sean Penn going all emo under GWB in 2003. The universe is born in scenes that LSD fans have been waiting for since 2001. (The star child need not be jealous, however.) Yes, it is impressionistic, but it is more scattered and mildly incoherent. The aesthetic is probably Mad Men (but I don't watch that). Jessica Chastain is luminous but lacks any kind of inner life; her faith in god, dotage on her children and under explored entanglement with Brad Pitt is the limit of her character. (We see the rough edges of their marriage and Pitt's disappointments, but I have no idea what she wants from life.)

Yeah, it's not a bad way to pass the time, but you really need to be in the mood for an extended melancholic trip. No distractions!

Dana Stevens, yeah.

The Wrong Man

/noise/movies | Link

... and in my case, the wrong movie. The year 1956 has an honest-as-the-day New York family man accused of heists he didn't commit (he's honest, remember?), and Henry Fonda and Alfred Hitchcock make it entirely banal. In contrast to the roughly contemporanous Fonda vehicle 12 Angry Men (1957), this (almost) made me wish for the summary justice of Dirty Harry's San Francisco circa 1972. Fonda was also way better as the bad dude in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West.

Mildred Pierce

/noise/movies | Link

Dunno why I picked this one, a Warner Brothers black-and-white from 1945. Attitudes are changing with the man drought due to the war. It is a bit strange as the bland 1950s lay just over the horizon when the women here are doing it for themselves.

Joan Crawford is solid, and I haven't seen her in anything else. (Apparently this is her finest.) Her first husband was wooden, and her daughter so totally a 90210 valley girl, too vacuous, but that didn't get in the way of the moderately crap plot, where the mother-daughter relation got stretched out of shape a few too many times.

Mildred's restaurants are so very American — some composite of diner, bar, formal thing... a place where Tom Waits could get a start.

Neil Sheehan: Two Cities: Hanoi and Saigon

/noise/books | Link

I picked this up from the UNSW Library after Ellsberg made many references to him. I was hoping he would tell the story of the cities post-1975 but it is instead mostly an account of the return to Vietnam in 1989 of Neil Sheehan, war reporter for United Press International and later the New York Times. These are a dime-a-dozen as so many people with the ear of a publisher blew through Saigon in those days.

For the most part this is just another war memoir, with the requisite interview with the seemingly eternal Võ Nguyên Giáp that McNamara et al did a few years later. Far more valuable would have been an account of how the culture has changed, but Sheehan is not equipped to do so, for he never learnt that much about the Vietnamese in all the years he spent there. I was a bit surprised that this was his first visit to Hà Nội; I sort-of assumed all the hacks made a pilgrimage there as guests of the regime, but Sheehan explains that they were picky, only inviting those they thought would disseminate their propaganda.

Most interesting to me was his take on the street names of Sài Gòn. Here's the meat of pp70-71:

The "Vietnamizing" of the city had also gone forward in the renaming of the streets. Most of the renaming, like that of the thoroughfare from the airport for Nguyen Van Troi, had been done simply to honor Communist martyrs, but in other instances there had been a deliberate attempt to wipe away the shame of the colonial past. A main crosstown street in pre-1975 Saigon was called Phan Thanh Gian, for a nineteenth-century mandarin who poisoned himself to apologize to the nation after being pressed into ceding the first Vietnamese territory to the French — Saigon and the Mekong Delta. In the catechism of the Vietnamese Communist nationalists, suicide did not excuse handing over part of the motherland to a foreign conqueror; Phan Thanh Gian should have refused and died resisting. And so history had been brought full circle by expunging his name and renaming the street for the triumph that drove the French from Vietnam — Dien Bien Phu.

Louis Pasteur, the French chemist and father of bacteriology who remained an icon to older Vietnamese physicians, was still too great a reminder of the colonial period to be given a reprieve for his good works. Pasteur Street was now called Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for the fiery daughter of a mandarin family who became the most famous woman martyr of the Vietnamese Communist cause, executed by a French firing squad at Hoc Mon near Saigon in 1941. The original U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam headquarters had been located on Pasteur Street. [...] The Vietnamese Postal and Telecommunications Service had taken over the main building. [...]

Renaming the city's main street was a problem for the new rulers. Until 1954 it bore the name Catinat. Ngo Dinh Diem, Washington's first strongman, then gave it a perfectly good Vietnamese name, Tu Do, which means "freedom". The name could not be allowed to stand after 1975; it was too evocative of the American era, of Diem [...]. The victors therefore renamed the street Dong Khoi ("uprising"). When Diem changed Catinat's name to Tu Do, the Saigonese continued to call it Catinat. Not until the late 1960s, when Diem was long dead, did the younger people begin to call it Tu Do. Now only out-of-towners call the street Dong Khoi.

Cross-checking a Caravelle from the early 1960s (e.g. this one) and a current-day one or Google maps bears out the claims of the first paragraph, allowing that the "Vietnamizing" began a lot earlier (1954 at the latest), and that the Vietnamese idiom is fatherland, not motherland, as in the Fatherland Front that was active in the South when Sheehan was there the first time.

The second paragraph rings totally false, however; Pasteur then and now is the same street (see the above maps), and Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai was Hồng Thập Tự (red cross) on the old Caravelle map.

I'm more curious to know about the street with the embassies on it, now Lê Duẩn, previously Thong Nhut (maybe thống nhất, "united"), running from Independence Palace down to the zoo, past the Diamond Plaza and Notre Dame church. As Lê Duẩn died in 1987, I wonder when the name changed, and if it was given a (distinct) new name in 1975.

Here's some old postcards and things with these old street names.

Incidentally the Securency scandal marches on, and for once Julie Bishop is making sense. I wonder how squeaky (clean) their recent deal with Canada is.

Fay Grim

/noise/movies | Link

I don't think this is much chop on a second viewing. Parker Posey is willing but her character is weak. Thomas Jay Ryan dominates Henry Fool but is reduced to a bit player here. I hope Hartley can do something new sometime soon.

Night and the City

/noise/movies | Link

This is the wrestling noir that Barton Fink did not write in 1950. The director, Jules Dassin, also directed the later Rififi, but the real attraction is (of course) Gene Tierney. Strangely her role is tiny and she is completely disempowered; a big part of her charm in e.g. Laura is that her character (and not just her looks) overwhelms men. She is criminally wasted here.

The setting is London, the East End, the underworld, and the plot fails to find much traction. Richard Widmark in the lead left me completely cold, all Jim Carrey-ish in his puppy-dog ingratiation without the humour or whatever it is that Carrey has.

X-Men: First Class

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz at 3:15pm, upstairs in pokey theatre 6. I guess I should have hurried.

It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting: I could watch Fassbender all day, and McAvoy was fine, albeit not particularly American. (I didn't remember him from The Last King of Scotland.) Director Matthew Vaughn (of Kick Ass fame) is big on the titillation: we meet the forever fetching but implausible C.I.A. agent Rose Byrne running around in her undies, and all the girls henceforth are unzipped to the sternum (or lower). At times January Jones's anatomy is more convincing than her acting. I don't know if she's any good, I don't watch Mad Men, and it didn't help that her Emma Frost was totally M.I.A. from the second half; I figured she'd be somehow pivotal ala Jean Grey but she simply wasn't.

I liked the James Bond aesthetic-in-passing, another genre-revival gimmick that sat well with the whole genesis/reboot game. The arc was very similar to one of the earlier x-men movies, you know, the one where Magneto wants to mutanize everyone, Jean Grey does the black swan thing... err, yeah. Maybe there is only one plot and it is the same as the previous three or four, genocide on a flight of fancy, a franchise in a state of permanent reset. The problem is that follow-ups can only really innovate in the fighting scenes, the CGI, and the cast of mutant bit players, i.e. the relatively boring bits.

Dana Stevens reviewed it for Slate.

Barton Fink

/noise/movies | Link

A 1991 Coen Brothers. I didn't get into this anything like Intolerable Cruelty. Goodman is solid, Judy Davis sultry. Turturro leaves me cold in that Charlie Kaufman kinda way. What's in the box? Tarantino's soul from Pulp Fiction, or Gwyneth's head from Se7en?

Nozick and Libertarianism

/choice | Link

Slate has an article on social philosopher Nozick and libertarianism. I'm not totally convinced that he can be dismissed this readily, but there it is. His Wikipedia entry makes some bald claims that he did renounce his raw libertarianism of the early 1970s by the end of the 1980s in a book...

I've been vaguely curious about abstract notions of "justice" since I bought Amartya Sen's recent book on the topic, where he takes John Rawls to task, I think. It is still on the shelf after a year or two, unfortunately. As far as I understand it, Sen's "capabilities" incorporate both talent and context, that is, a person's talents are a bit useless if she is not in a position to use them, and as society plays a large role in providing (mediating) opportunities, social obligations arise as practical necessities. This seems pretty obvious, and Quiggin beats libertarians over the head with more-or-less this point. Utopianism ahoy...

Update: Metcalf posted a rejoinder to all those who doubt him.

Intolerable Cruelty

/noise/movies | Link

A Coen brothers effort from 2003. I liked Clooney here, at least in the first half where he is distracted and bored but very professional. The whole thing is pretty cheap I guess, especially the Jewish Davros who owns the law firm and the Hollywood socialites. Zeta-Jones does not much more than look fabulous in a variety of frocks. Things particularly fall apart on the segue from N.O.M.A.N. to love.

James Banerian: Vietnamese Short Stories

/noise/books | Link

I extracted this venerable collection from the ANU library after reading the author/editor/translator's review of Dumb Luck; he also reviewed the epic The Moon of Hoa Binh.

There's a good overview at Amazon. I felt the collection was on the weak side, with the overt and mostly irrelevant political attitudes the author expresses in the introduction not helping it a great deal. (To give him credit these do draw attention to his other books, on the lives of the Vietnamese boat people of the 1970s and 1980s, a period far more recent than most stories here.) It is ironic that đổi mới cranked up within a year of this book's publication (1985/1986 depending on who you believe), sparking something of a renaissance in Vietnamese literature, including criticism of the regime (e.g. Dương Thu Hương). These days the pervasiveness of the internet has cracked the cultural scene wide open, and everyone can bemoan the lack of intellectualism everywhere.

None of these stories provided much of an insight into traditional Vietnamese culture; mostly they paint Rousseauan man-in-his-natural-state pictures of upstanding poverty, something easy to romance and much harder to envy. In that way it is a bit like Henry Lawson without the authenticity of his first-hand (living it) experience.

The pick for me was Monk Tue by Khái Hưng, which has been posted here.

Bullitt

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Steve McQueen and an already balding Robert Duvall as a taxi driver on the mean streets of San Francisco 1968. Jacqueline Bisset is Steve's arty girlfriend, demonstrating that even as a lowly-paid glory-free copper, McQueen is irresistible to the girls in men's work shirts. Unfortuately the whole thing is painfully slow and lacking in suspense. Maybe it's a forerunner of the Dirty Harry kind of reactionary west coast cop flick. The ending is pure Heat, a foot chase in an airport. The middling car chase is interminable and apparently famous.

The Hudsucker Proxy

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A Coen brothers from 1994, and they're on the road to the Dude. A stylised take on industrial America in the late 1950s. I like Jennifer Jason Leigh (probably due to The Machinist) and she is fine here as a noir-ish high flying journalist. Paul Newman does a great soulless corp man caricature. I have never been a fan of Tim Robbins but I'll grant he's OK here, in a sort of Jim Carrey vacuous mode. Bruce Campbell gets a small cameo and should have milked it for more.

Blood Simple

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The Coen brothers' first feature, from 1984. Maybe a template for Shallow Grave, sorta. A twisty murder on commission set in Texas.

Another Year

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A salutary lesson on missing the boat. Naked this isn't; it is a movie of manifest shallows. The characters all lacked the capacity to surprise. Has Mike Leigh been watching too much Lars von Trier? I had some hopes that Imelda Staunton would anchor the thing but it was not to be.

Cane Toads: an unnatural history

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I saw this 1988 (bicentennial?) documentary on the strength of the reviews of its recently released successor, Cane Toads: the conquest: here is Paul Byrnes looking back to the original with fondness while frying the rehash, and Liz Farrelly happily drawing parallels with other low-lifes.

I didn't find it as funny as I hoped, though the Queensland scientists seemed to be sufficiently in on the joke for the gallows humour to freely flow. The farmers brought the stupidity of the whole thing into sharp relief, playing the blunt straight men to the clowning of the urbanites. The druggy from wherever was a bit cheap, though the bloodless Joh-voters with "mate" toads were damn near scary. Queensland just isn't that much of a joke these days, I guess; probably due to all those Victorians moving up there with expectations of government services and other forms of socialism.

The mouse-eating sequence put me off my dinner.

Daniel Ellsberg: Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

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I read this on the strength of the movie The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and my general interest in Ellsberg as a technocrat during the American/Vietnam war.

Ellsberg's game is probably not so different to McNamara's, viz to defend his position in conflicts that have mostly faded from memory. While he is not exactly a whizz kid, nor the best and brightest, being born a decade or so late, he admired, and to an extent emulated, defence secretary Robert S. McNamara and others whose cold war values were forged in the moral clarity of World War II. Thus this text often makes it seem that that he is a handmaiden to history, where he is aware of the problems (the inability of the U.S. Government as an institution to learn about the Vietnam situation and translate that learning into (in)action) but the mathematical techniques he mastered and furthered at Harvard are of not much help. It is the time when M.A.D. rules and no-one can see past it.

The late 1950s and 1960s were a time of realpolitik, of breaking a lot of eggs and not being too picky about the omlette. In some ways Ellsberg's point of view is not so far from Kissinger's, who gets a remarkably even-handed writeup here; apparently Ellsberg held Kissinger in high regard, and maybe still does, perhaps up to his time as Nixon's National Security Adviser; certainly not after the bombing of Cambodia and Watergate. I found it strange that Ellsberg does not weigh in on Kissinger's October surprise in 1968, where he reputedly encouraged the North Vietnamese delegation to delay negotiations until after the Presidential elections, promising better outcomes from a yet-to-be-elected Nixon administration. It was a potentially pivotal moment that is clearly related to Ellsberg's central concern of shortening the war.

The most vibrant parts of this book are when Ellsberg is in the south of Vietnam, from 1965 to 1967, talking about his friendship with John Paul Vann, who incidentally got written up by the Neil Sheehan, the bloke Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to; I guess in the period between then and now Ellsberg self-identifies as an iconoclast and Vann was a powerful model for that. Ellsberg's stories about being out on patrol, of semi-suicidal driving on roads encroached by jungle, and the links he draws with his later thinking about the futility of this war are a composite of poignancy and triteness, a need to test his manhood while leaving his brain in first gear. His conversion from hawk to leaking dove is done on the road to Damascus, and his account of this critical juncture in his life is irritatingly oblique; just what are his parameters for violence? How should the U.S. use its hegemony, then and now? Were there any worthwhile outcomes from the war at all? (It is clear to me that nothing could justify the war, but some make the case that it did scare the dominoes into falling other ways, or something like that.)

The late-1960s peacenikery gets a solid treatment, as does the trial. Both could have been spun out a bit longer, with more detail; it is intriguing that there was no U.S. equivalent of the Official Secrets Act — meaning that a U.S. citizen cannot betray the republic by revealing information to the U.S. public. I wonder if that still holds.

Ellsberg alludes to a lot of people and things that were going on at the time, sometimes too briefly, with not enough background. I grant that it is tough to communicate all the context in a tale like this one, and I guess you just have to chase up many sources. I'm sure someone somewhere has stitched together a list of books about Vietnam and Watergate and a good order to read them in; here's a start:

... but yeah, the list is endless; I barely know where to start if one wishes to get to grips with the mathematics of the day or more formal/academic histories.

Overall the book reeks of technocracy, and is strangely impersonal. Why did he choose to undergo psychoanalysis at that particular time? He does allude to his sex life, but nowhere close to where this biography apparently goes. (I can't be arsed reading it now.) This is not mere prurience on my part, for I would like to know if he got seduced into the peace movement; that would be a far more convincing reason than any Ellsberg himself stumps up here. For all of this, I got sucked in and read it over a couple of days, after a moderately slow start. The approximately 450 pages was sometimes a slog, with some sections that seem to have escaped editing, and a bit too much flabby repetitiveness.

Ellsberg casts a long shadow through the media, as it was they who actually communicated the Pentagon Papers to the public — a role currently filled by wikileaks — and in doing so, scored a major First Amendment victory over government claims of "national security". Thus the broad interest in the official release of the papers, forty years later:

What is the take away story here? Get yourself into a position of trust and then violate it? Avoid being a morally compromised/vacuous technocrat? Ultimately Ellsberg fares better than McNamara, if only because he does recognise how bankrupt the whole gig was.

Ghostbusters

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I don't recall having seen this before. Bill Murray is mega here, although no one misses out as Aykroyd and Ramis spray the lines around.

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Vale, Gil Scott-Heron.

This Sporting Life

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A William Hartnell segue from Brighton Rock. Richard Harris is pretty good here, but probably better in his late-career effort with Jim Sheridan, The Field. It's all a bit too violent for my tastes; on the rugby league field is one thing, domestically quite another. I guess it captures the postwar restlessness, and ambition of the British film industry.

The Great Escape

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It's about time I found out what's so great about Steve McQueen. Here he is the all-American tough guy who can escape from anywhere at any time; I don't know why the Germans didn't execute him on sight. Charles Bronson puts in a fairly typical stony performance as the claustrophobic tunnel digger. I prefer his efforts in the spaghetti westerns. This was a Richard Attenborough segue from Brighton Rock, and he does indeed look fifteen years older.

The movie makes out that an Australian made it to safety by bicycling and walking to Spain. According to Wikipedia Bram van der Stok was a Dutch pilot in the RAF. Oh well. I didn't think much of the actors' Australian accent anyway.

Overall it's not bad as a bunch of vignettes about how the POWs got stuff done, their bravery and all that glorification of war stuff.

Parked at #111 in the IMDB top-250.

To Have and Have Not

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Captain Bogart gets the girls, all the girls in a bar on Martinique. Not much really happens but the quick repartee makes the movie, and Bacall shows she can keep up. It is something of a dry run for Casablanca, replete with the good French and the bad French, the Nazis/Vichy as a backdrop and the semi-doomed romance. A Howard Hawks classic.

Out of the Past

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Noir from 1947. Robert Mitchum in the lead, pulls it off pretty well, but not as well as he did in The Night of the Hunter. I lost the thread around the two-thirds mark; it wasn't clear to me why he was allowed to come and go so freely. Good to see Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) in a relatively youthful role; he does smarmy about as well as his son. Jane Greer smolders more than she acts, for her character is an outmoded femme fatale with not much of an inner life. The palaver is quite good.

/noise/canberra | Link

Another perfect late-autumn day for bicycling around Canberra. Flatmate Amanda told me that Canberra does have a train station and it is in Kingston, so today's mission was to find it. It's tucked away behind a fairly sizeable electricity substation.


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The ride wasn't very taxing, though it does get a bit rural out along Dairy Road, amongst the wetlands on the banks of the Molonglo.

Afterwards I had a Vietnamese coffee with Nguyen at ANU. My trusty Trung Nguyên number five has gone sour because I packed it with the condensed milk. Still drinkable, just not awesome.

Brighton Rock

/noise/movies | Link

Noir from 1947, based on a Graham Greene novel. I prefer his more recent colonial A Quiet American. Richard Attenborough is suitably psycho in the lead role of Pinky, but the credulity of Rose is too much of a stretch (for a modern audience). It was strange seeing a moderately youthful William Hartnell (the first Doctor) as Pinky's last loyal enforcer.

I saw this on the strength of Paul Byrnes's review of the recent remake.

/noise/canberra | Link

I trekked out today to the Canberra Glassworks on the bike, after driving to the Royal Australian Mint to pick up some Royal Wedding coins. (The bloke in front of me bought about $500 of coins, seemed knowledgeable and rated the design of those coins "meh".) I stopped at the Carillon expecting there to be a café; it must be the only touristic thing in Canberra without one.


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As you can see, the ride was almost entirely flat and untaxing. I was aiming for a coffee somewhere in Kingston but got waylaid by the Glassworks (some guys making an indescribable ornament, strangely bland but complex to construct) and the Old Bus Depot Markets. There are loads of black swans in Bowen Park.

The weather was pretty much perfect after a completely overcast morning.

The Last Detail

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An early 1970s Jack Nicholson behaving badly. Perhaps he sums it up best:

Welcome to the wonderful world of pussy, kid. The basin is yours.

/noise/canberra | Link

I figured I'd test out the bike today by riding from ANU to the Royal Australian Mint, following the western edge of the lake, and then back across the Commonwealth Avenue bridge:


View Larger Map

I had lunch on Black Mountain Peninsula, which is full of picnic facilities and carparks. Canberra is over-tamed. After that I rode a long way west and south, around Government House and what must have been a golf course. I didn't end up making it to the Royal Australian Mint as I missed the turn off, which was presumably one of the several marked "Woden". I stumbled upon the Oaks Brasserie that I'd been to with Pete R. and Loan, and had a snack there (pricey but a nice ambience). As you can see on the map, they've screwed up the bike path around Alexandrina Drive, presumably so the Toorak Tractors in exile save $0.01 on their fuel bills when they go to visit the GG. Even so it was an easy and relatively quick ride back to ANU on the mainstream commuter route. The weather was pretty much perfect the whole time.

The bike goes OK after I futzed with the quick release stuff and the front brake, but the gears need adjustment; I'm operating on roughly eight when I expect there is 12. Ben also reckons the brake pads need replacing, and doubtlessly the tyres need to be pumped up. It's easy to ride on the flat, but a bit creaky powering up hills. I've added a rack to it and Steve H has gifted me some panniers that will do the job.

Vũ Trọng Phụng: Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

/noise/books | Link

Translated by Shaun Kingsley Malarney, University of Hawai‘i Press.

I borrowed this from the ANU library on the strength of earlier Vũ Trọng Phụng reportage in translation. The topic (prostitution in colonial Hà Nội in the 1930s) is a bit far from what I'm interested in; Hà Nội had a special status in those days, as French jurisdiction stopped at the municipal limits, and so the Girls Squad, Dispensary, etc. were hamstrung. In contrast Sài Gòn and greater Cochinchina was under the full-blown control of the colonialists, and it seems that there is almost nothing in translation from the region in that era. I'm also more curious about the status of women from an indigenous (traditional) perspective and how it changed when exposed to Europeanization, for courtesans cast a long shadow over Vietnamese literature and yet it is held that there is no place for that sort of thing in traditional Vietnamese society.

Malarney is certainly across his stuff, which one might expect from a professor in gender studies. His translation is excellent and his introduction certainly worth reading both before and after the main text. The interviews with the various players (two prostitutes, the director of the Dispensary, etc.) are intriguing. It dovetails well with Vũ Trọng Phụng's earlier account of the industrialists. I like it that the best account of what "lục xì" means is a Vietnamese rendition of the English "look see".

I can only add that "chicken" (gà) is slang for prostitute, at least in Sài Gòn.

One of the lovely librarians at the Menzies Library at ANU dredged this out of the new book processing pipeline for me. I can't get over the irony of the Menzies building being full of Asian materials, nor how helpful the library staff are. If this is inefficiency, let's have more of it.

Thunderbirds are GO

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Quaint futurology from the mid-1960s, a 2pm school holiday special at National Film and Sound Archive where everyone got in for $5. They certainly overestimated the attention spans of twenty-first century children, and just how weak a plot a movie can get away with; I guess that the years immediately preceding the moon landing were a time when the theme of space flight was bankable. The all-American entanglement with the Martians is risible: the intrepid spacemen go there, blow one of them up and wonder why they get the crap shot out of them. At least the Russkies shoot first.

By far the best part is the modelling. That just might be timeless. Perhaps I'll have to trawl IMDB's Supermarionation category.

Salman Rushdie: Luka and the Fire of Life

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I read Haroun and the Sea of Stories a long time ago and was charmed by Rushdie's foray into children's stories. He is well-placed to do this sort of thing, being broadly educated and (historically) playful and irreverent.

Here, however, we get a rewarming of the the aged/obsolete pantheistic god routine that Douglas Adams carried off so well, albeit with godship incorporating Sonic and Mario. Adams was funnier and more inventive; this reads like Rushdie trying to make the classics appealing to the video game generation, and exhausting the theological referents he dug up, yielding a Frankenovel (but not Frankenstein). Fair enough maybe, but all "puzzles" are resolved by deus ex machina, a boring and unambitious metaphysics that does not get better with repetition. For these reasons and more it lacks a moral dimension and falls far short of the classics, such as those by the famously immoral Oscar Wilde.

Some of this reads like an essay pleading for continued attention to imagination, reflecting but not really extending his earlier arguments for liberalism that I am susceptible to, but these are far more abstract than Wilde's concepts of commonwealth, and so unlikely to make much of an impact on a child. The Guardian review has the money quote:

"Magic is fading from the universe," one character warns. "We aren't needed any more, or that's what you all think, with your High Definitions and low expectations. One of these days you'll wake up and we'll be gone, and then you'll find out what it's like to live without even the idea of Magic."

The cheapness of thrills is pernicious, yes, but I fear it takes experience to develop notions of value, not fairy stories. Don't believe anyone who says this is Rushdie at his best/worst/most creative/most irritating or any other damm thing; this book merely reinforces my feeling that Rushdie's best days are behind him, and maybe this should have been called Prometheus Wept.

I borrowed this from the ANU library.

ACT Brumbies versus Western Force

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I figured I'd risk going to see another rugby match at the ground; it's getting on to three years since I last went, and this game reminded me why: it was complete rubbish.

The game itself can be dispensed with quickly. The Brumbies had a few more ideas in attack but their defence fell to bits in the final quarter, resulting in a come-from-behind scoreline of 25 — 17 to the Force. Giteau (for the Brumbies) was mostly jeered (when he kicked for goal from anywhere and everywhere), and cheered only when he kicked a penalty out just before half time. (The Brumbies proceeded to fumble that attacking opportunity.) Ashley-Cooper came on in the last twenty minutes or so and did nothing much.

The afternoon cost me $43, consisting of $37.95 ($33 for a student ticket and $4.95 for the pleasure of booking it with the nice lady at the ANU Ticketek office) and $5 for parking. This is too much for a game of this quality; I've avoided seeing better rugby at Coogee Oval because they charge $20. My seat was in the "inner bowl" on the eastern side of Canberra Stadium (previously Bruce Stadium), so I was staring into the sun (but warm) until the final quarter, when it got cold, dark and bad for the Brumbies all at once. That spot would have been OK if the game had grabbed the crowd, but as it was there were many people standing around aimlessly, blocking the view.

There is no doubt the club realises it has problems when only 13,500 supporters turn up for a likely win (which wasn't). Long gone are the glory days of Gregan and Larkham, and now even George Smith. I'm certainly not likely to go back. The pick of the games this year will presumably be the Reds versus the Waratahs, provided the Tahs field a full-strength team and bring their pride. It strikes me that Australian rugby stretches to support three decent teams in the Super Rugby competition, let alone five. We're going the way of South Africa. One can only hope that the Wallabies will play entertaining rugby before they exit the world cup in the first elimination round.

Prizzi's Honor

/noise/movies | Link

I guess Jack Nicholson had to have a go at playing a mafioso, though I'd be surprised if he had two goes at it. (His character in The Departed is an Irish hood.) William Hickey steals it from him with his mesmerising performance as the skeletal Don Corrado Prizzi, who appears to not have a single red blood cell in his body. The opening is far too reminiscent of The Godfather, with an Italian wedding and sideline shenanigans. Kathleen Turner is not totally credible as the hot-shot hot assassin and Jack's love interest. Not bad but not anything particularly great either.

My Name is Nobody

/noise/movies | Link

... and this is the fag-end of the spaghetti westerns. I don't know why Henry Fonda is in this, five years after the far superior Once Upon A Time In The West. Presented by Leone is a long way from being directed by Leone, try as hard as this mob does, and even Morricone seems half-hearted here. I didn't really follow the plot (why did the Wild Bunch load up on explosives?) nor get into the characters. The clichés are tedious.

Bi, Don't Be Afraid

/noise/movies | Link

A French/Vietnamese/German production screened by National Film and Sound Archive as part of their Regional Intersections program. I went to the one and only session at 2pm with my new housemate Amanda, after lunch with her and Tom and his brother, in Canberra for a buck's night, at dear old Café Essen.

This is a series of impressionistic snapshots of urban generational life in Hà Nội, and there is little in the way of plot. What we were sold:

Six year old Bi’s extended family lives near the neighbourhood ice factory. In a steaming Hanoi summer, ice seems to represent each family member’s desires, whether as a playground and tasty treat for Bi, pain relief for his aging grandfather or the inner sexual frustrations of his spinster aunt. The first feature by the writer of Adrift (featured in Regional Intersections 2010) is "... a thoughtful cinematic exploration of inchoate longing, the messy consequences of physical decline and encroaching death, and confirmation that sex and youthful exuberance spring eternal" (Screendaily).

I was surprised at the number of sex scenes in this thing, as I thought this was a Vietnamese production, where traditional allusion typically dominates prurience. It would have been more satisfying if there was more development of the disconnection between father and eldest son, his wife and her sister, and just maybe the mores of the coming generation. Gratuitous the sex is, perhaps an artefact of European involvement rather than indigenous expression. There was some depiction of om culture when Bi's father went to the hair-cut masseuse, albeit with the top-shelf extra being a bottle of water (La Vie).

The copyright read 2008, so it has taken ages to get distribution in the west.

Where Eagles Dare

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Richard Burton, World War II action hero? Why, how things have changed. Clint Eastwood is reduced to playing second fiddle (unaccountably as this postdates The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and the whole thing reeks of English triumphalism, of milking the Nazi cow when it was already horizontal. The pre-CGI stunts look well-done in brain-off mode.

Incidentally, vale Sidney Lumet. I didn't realise just how many of his movies I saw and enjoyed.

Vũ Trọng Phụng: The Industry of Marrying Europeans (Kỹ Nghệ Lấy Tây)

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Translated by Thúy Tranviet, Cornell University, 2006.

I extracted this from the shelves of the Menzies library at ANU, or more precisely, one of the lovely librarians managed to find it after my (plus-and-minus a non-Dewey decimal) search yielded nothing. I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't been out of the library for many a year.

This is reporter/culture critic Vũ Trọng Phụng exploring the om culture of northern Việt Nam in the 1930s. Specifically he satirises the entanglements of the local ladies with the French Foreign Legion, giving a wide berth to those enmeshed in the politically thin-skinned colonial administration. He skirts the fine line between (mostly) serial marriages (for money) and outright prostitution, albeit with enough nods and winks for us to know that it is playing on his mind (cf the more-recent translation of Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi which I also borrowed). He also spends some time pondering the plight of the Eurasian children who are stuck between the two cultures.

The translation is so-so, and certainly not as good as Nguyễn Nguyệt Cầm and Peter Zinoman's Dumb Luck.

Again, the introduction would have been better as an afterword. It contains too much lit-crit for my taste; to simply situate the work against the times and culture, and even better, how it played in Việt Nam since it was published would have been far more useful.

The spy who came in from the cold

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Richard Burton. Very cynical. A nice not-too-twisty Le Carre. 1965. Not too tense as the plot unwound fairly predictably. Burton reminds me (anachronistically) of Paul Darrow, the voice and delivery.

Farewell Exetel.

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After a bumpy two-and-a-half years with Exetel, I'm pulling the plug. They were cheap when I signed up, but are now in the business of arbitraging Optus new-customer contracts and picking the cracks around wireless broadband. They made it impossible to plan for the future; the cost of changing ADSL plans varied from free (when I signed up) to $70 to $10, all for "business reasons", and usually concurrent with the imposition of a surchage intended to lever people off their perfectly adequate plans onto more lucrative "new-customer" contracts. I want a provider that has the foresight to be profitable now and next year without having to play these games.

Presently Exetel seems to be the cheapest non-Vodafone reseller of wireless broadband, and I was tempted to sign up with them so I have some connectivity in the coming uncertain days. However once signed up to their bottom-of-the-barrel plan, I cannot later adjust the quota without breaking a 12-month contract. Moreover they were offering these cheap last year when I didn't know they'd be playing the tricks they are now.

The prevailing attitude in Australia these days is "if you don't like it then leave", so yeah, I'm gone already.

The Departed

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I saw this about four years ago, around about when it was released. This is a bit of a Nicholson segue, from 1970 to 2006, and a Leonardo one too, I guess, from the lamentable In(c)eption. The plot is swiss cheese, and there are some things Affleck handled better in The Town, such as having ever-so-slightly more plausible female characters. Vera Farmiga has way too much to handle with the feeble Psych 101 bullshit she has to deal up. What was in the envelope? Leonardo's soul? Nicholson has a lot less fun here that he had elsewhere.

This is parked at #58 in IMDB's top-250 and some say it is Scorcese's best. Casino had better editing... but for all of that it does keep the tension up.

Five Easy Pieces

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An early Jack Nicholson lead role, on the road to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but not there yet. Well cooked but there's something a bit dead about about Robert, and making fun of pretentious social commentary like that was passé even in 1970. As a series of portraits it suffers from the generally unhinged nature of everyone.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Morning snorkel with Rob, during a couple-of-days break in the cloud and rain. The water was cool and fairly cloudy, and the fish were certainly enjoying the excess of plant material. Saw heaps of fairly large fish, including a few immature gropers, but not the big blue bloke.

Australian short stories

/noise/books | Link

I borrowed two collections of Australian short stories from the UNSW Library ages ago. Despite the decrepitude of their pages (presumably not acid-free), they were both reasonably recent. I didn't read either in their entirety, partly because I'd read some before, sometimes because I didn't like the sound of story, othertimes because I remain scarred by high school (Peter Goldsworthy in particular).

Firstly, Relations: Australian Short Stories, edited by Carmel Bird, was published in 1991. Memorable:

  • John Morrison, The Hold Up: stuck on a train in suburban Melbourne (the Box Hill line) a long time ago.
  • Judah Waten, Mother: a well-told account of a Russian Jewish family's migration to Australia.
  • Marjorie Bernard, Habit: cute old-time romance between a city man and a country girl who runs a guest house with her sister.
  • David Malouf, The Empty Lunch-tin: a signature gentle exploration of poverty from the perspective of the well-intentioned comfortably-off, presumably a first-hand experience.
  • Patrick White, Willy-Wagtails by Moonlight: a slice of middle-class life of the sort that David Williamson used to capture.
  • Thea Astley, Write me son, write me: middle-class sprog joins a commune and sponges off the olds.
  • Jessica Anderson, The Late Sunlight: an aged Hungarian countness slumming it in Sydney meets a young humanities scholar.

Secondly, The Australian Short Story, edited by Laurie Hergenhen, published in 1986 (my copy republished in 2002).

  • Thea Astley, Home is where the heart is: aboriginal dispossession, cops and soft-hearted / hard headed whites.
  • Archie Weller, Pension Day: an aboriginal elder ends up as a homeless drunk in Perth, a long way from home.
  • David Malouf, Night Training: abusing green soldiers is a time-honoured tradition in all armies. I wonder if he has direct experience of this somehow.
  • Alan Marshall, Trees can speak: a mobility-impaired man makes friends with a hermit miner.
  • T. A. G. Hungerford, Green Grow the Rushes: a country long-distance romance, climaxing (of sorts) in Hong Kong.
  • Patrick White, Down in the Dump: another closely-observed account of middle-class mores, pretensions, affectations and so forth. The structure of White's writing here is fascinating, economical and oblique, but light enough to be humorous.

B. Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson: The Leafcutter Ants: Civilisation by instinct

/noise/books | Link

I found it strange that they released this small photograph-laden coffee-table book as a follow-up to their encyclopedic Superorganism text of last year. It turns out this is an expanded version of a chapter of that book. What makes it weird is the composite of explanantions for non-experts, the photographs and the occasional burst of specialised biological information, such as species of bacteria and the finer anatomy of fungus and insects.

It's a quick read and the photos are awesome. Here's a video profiling Hölldobler which includes footage of the concrete cast of the massive leaf cutter nest in South America.

And that about wraps it up for Portal.

/noise/games | Link

Yeah, that was fun. I enjoyed it right up to the final stage, which was a bit too repetitive (do more-or-less the same thing n times), and the time limit destroyed the casual pacing of the rest of the game (stop and read the graffiti!). The puzzles were generally easier than I expected, and I only got really stuck a couple of times.

Technologically I found the Steam client and Portal itself to be overly crashy on the new MacBook Pro, with the graphics subsystem often seizing up when I tried to exit or switch out of the game. This might be due to immature graphics drivers, or their inability to shuffle state transparently between the two cards. It also required a hack to get around its case-insensitive filesystem requirement.

Valve looks like they've overcooked Portal 2, with many more ways of getting around. We'll see in a few years time. :-)

Inception

/noise/movies | Link

Nolan went to see The Matrix and knew he could do it better. Or maybe this is warmed-over Memento. Or maybe I shouldn't have seen this particular exploration of empty inner space. It is presently parked at #8 in IMDB's top-250, and I'm not going to begin fathoming why.

Anyway, I'm still wondering if Leonardo is ever going to grow up, or modulate his hissy-fits of rage into something plausible. Ellen Page has similar problems; she was childish but potent in Hard Candy; here she is merely childish, a thread of a character that allows Leonardo to explain what the movie itself cannot. Watanabe plays the entire zaibatsu, and Mr Brick (Gordon-Levitt) has some totally auxiliary pow-wow with a token English action figure. Cillian Murphy is the audience, dazed and bewildered. The wife doubtlessly put in a better turn as Piaf (I have only seen her in the forgettable Public Enemies). Nolan is a gifted director, no doubt, and the cinematography is awesome, but all of this is completely inhuman.

Things I didn't get: the zero-gravity stuff looks awesome, but hey, when the car hits the water there's gravity, yes? So there's no need for that fancy stuff, just get your timing right. Also these "kicks", they're a stack, yes? As in, a kick higher up brings you out of a dream lower down; if so, there was no need for Page to fall off the building four levels down. This has the same problem as Tron: Legacy: if you're going to dream up a world, a physics, an isolation tank of love, why would you make it so much like the existing one, shittiness and all? Just what is the attraction of "reality" anyway? How could the top ever fall? Magical mystical metaphysics destroys suspense, for anything can happen at any time for any reason — coupled with time dilation things could work out any which way, like the stories spun by drunks. Nolan seems to have forgotten the constraints that made his earlier stuff work.

What is the point in chase scenes with guns? No one of significance can die, for the movie has another two hours to run. Oh, let's stop here.

Dana Stevens saw it back when it was cool.

Further steps with the talking clock.

/hacking/avr | Link

I bought a couple of the MMA7660 accelerometers I mentioned some time ago from Farnell (before their gender op). The chips are incredibly tiny, 3mm to a side, and 0.5mm pitch legless contacts have to be seen to be believed. Soldering wires onto those was beyond me, and I was fortunate to have Aaron at NICTA kindly solder one to a board for me. Etienne more-or-less inhaled the other one. Some basic prodding seemed to indicate that the device was still functional after this surgery.

Much later I tried to solder some wires to the board, using NICTA's excellent facilities (Dremel, high-end electric iron and stereoscopic magnifier). Suffice it to say that the device showed no signs of life after that. Fortunately the market has responded to my demand in the intervening period: the Mad Scientist Hut sold me a couple of these devices pre-attached to macro breakout boards. Their prices are OK but their shipping is very expensive, at about $10 for the pair. I guess it would make sense if I'd bought fifty of them, but I didn't.

Suffice it to say that the bidirectional circuit mentioned in SparkFun's tutorial did the trick of interfacing the circa 3v TWI/I²C levels of the accelerometer to the circa 5v used by the AVR and the rest of the circuit. I fabbed it on some stripboard and get plausible readings from the sensor.

The penultimate bit of hardware hacking was to switch off the speech chip when quiescent, with the goal of getting the current draw under a milliamp in the most-of-the-time case. Doing this with is a FET is entirely straightforward, but the current draw remains a ridiculous 6.5mA. I think (hope) that is fixable in software. Adding the batteries — a button cell as a backup for the RTC, and four NiMH AAs — is largely a mechanical problem. Later I might also try to bring the volume under software control.

I have begun trying to flesh out the control software for this thing. I'm trying to avoid writing spaghetti C and have been a little successful, but am hoping for a more abstract way of writing the core state machine as it will involve commands coming as data on the U(S)ART and timeouts, as well as the presumably complicated interactions the accelerometer will allow. Maybe I can get by with less overkill than Esterel.

The code is at github. Possibly of interest to others is the growing MMA7660 driver for AVR.

Mars Attacks!

/noise/movies | Link

Tim Burton saw Independence Day and knew he could do better. This is probably Sarah Jessica Parker's finest outing, though Portman doesn't even phone it in. Jack Nicholson is a bit irritating as the President, probably due to his inability to be limp-wristed and elastic ala Bill Pullman. The Martians are hilarious, along the lines of Army of Darkness, and it is a shame Bruce Campbell didn't get a cameo.

Vũ Trọng Phụng: Dumb Luck (Số Đỏ)

/noise/books | Link

Translated by Nguyễn Nguyệt Cầm and Peter Zinoman, University of California, Berkeley, 2002.

I've had this one on the list for ages now as a result of reading Greg Lockhart's translation of one of Vũ Trọng Phụng's short stories. Loan tells me it's now literature, something to torture the school kids with, after being banned for an extensive period due to it being deemed politically incorrect by the Communist regime.

This satire is Set in Hà Nội in the 1930s during a period of cultural and political renaissance fired by a changing attitude towards colonies by a new left-wing French regime, and a literary vacuum due to the young people being trained in quốc ngữ (the modern Vietnamese script) and not the classical Chinese ideograms. Zinoman explains all this at length in his introduction, which is better read as an afterword. This form of social commentary seems passé, at least in extended form; perhaps it is now unkind to attack entire classes of people, whereas the individual muppet is fair game. (I'm thinking of John Clarke's transition from Fred Dagg to the 7:56 Report here, so this might just be an antipodean perspective.)

The aspirations of pretty much everyone get a serve here, except the nascent indigenous political movements that climaxed in the founding of of a post-colonial nation state in 1945 (or 1954 if you prefer). Xuân is riding the meteor upwards, cutting a swathe through the top-end of society, ably exemplifying the Peter principle. The middle-upper mercantile classes are busy directing the tastes of the cashed up, and sexual and religious mores are under pressure to Europeanise. This is not to say that traditions are sacrosanct here, with a dog-eating Buddhist Monk bargaining like a fishmonger's wife, and the hai lúa from the countryside being thoroughly routed. There is no sympathy for the Mandarin system under the emperor either, as it has been thoroughly compromised by its dealings with the colonial authorities.

I have to wonder how much got lost in translation, as so much comes across well. "Horned husbands" was new to me but is apparently quite common. "Số Đỏ" literally translates as "red number" or "red destiny", which accounts for Xuân's hair colour as well as the cultural confusion of numerology and fate. Zinoman and wife keep their translation lively, though it is a little too American in places.

The closest Western referent is probably Candide, although here the central character is far from oblivious and under no delusion that this is the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps it was culturally impossible for there to be a Leibniz in the Confucian tradition.

I'm doubly keen to read his The Industry of Marrying Europeans now, and the recently-translated Luc Xi: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi.

Zombieland

/noise/movies | Link

Jesse Eisenberg in training for The Social Network. Not much has changed in two years; the comedic tropes are totally formulaic. This was something of a Harrelson segue from The Great Santini, who did it better in Natural Born Killers so many years ago. Are zombies the new metaphor for the unwashed masses of America? I guess this is a post-irony date movie. It is not terrible and also not Shaun of the Dead (etc).

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early-afternoon snorkel with Rob at a packed Gordons Bay, off the Clovelly carpark scuba ramp. Heaps of people around for what the BOM predicted was to be the last summery day for a while. The water was a tad cool, fairly clean and there were some quite large fish around. Didn't see the big blue groper, just one of his groupies.

The Great Santini

/noise/movies | Link

This is Duvall chanelling his far more oblivious Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, bringing war to peacetime. Acting-wise he ends up more like The Apostle, looking a lot like Woody Harrelson in The Messenger.

The movie fails to convince by trying to do too much, covering too many bases with insufficient depth: race relations in the south; aging father supplanted by son on the cusp of manhood; army brats, a smart-arse daughter; and so forth. I would have liked to see the pilots improve/screw up under Santini — they didn't have much of a role at all, just an audience for a speech — or the director of the base get some comeuppance, or something.

The Time that Remains

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of an Anthony Lane review in the New Yorker. I'm not sure we saw the same movie, and am more on the side of the IMDB crowd that rate it a 7. What to Lane was ironic (etc) was to me a bit pretentiously arthouse (etc): it is a series of vignettes and these aren't all good and certainly don't hang together or separately. There's a lot of meat in being of the Christian tradition in Nazareth during that period (1948 until now), and Suleiman is right to portray it absurdly, but wrong not to try for more heft.

High Sierra

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently one of the first of Bogart's breakthrough movies. This is a fairly standard heist-noir, not so different from the French effort of last night. Bogart is banal by his later standards but his ability to tear the girls up is unparalleled.

Tim Kreider: Twilight of the Assholes

/noise/books | Link

I like Kreider, he's smart and crass enough to draw some pretty funny cartoons, previously weekly at The Pain: When will it end?. I'm a bit less enamoured of his "artists statements", which are about 50% of this book; what is bearable weekly is monotonous and too repetitive in book form. A lot of the comics are still great though. It does not contain his classic Science v's Norse Mythology and so on, making it not quite a greatest hits.

As with everyone who thought Obama was more than just another politician, the euphoria at his elevation here is a bit too much to take. Just today (Australian time) Obama backslid on all those Gitmo presidential directives that Kreider (and I) cheered on in those early days. I look forward to The Pain returning, especially if Palin pulls a Pauline Hanson.

Rififi

/noise/movies | Link

French noir from 1955, highly rated by IMDB. I dunno, it would have been impressive in its day but we've seen it all since in more recent heist movies, such as the roughly contemporaneous The Killing, which is rated similarly rated but is much more popular. The heist there is far more interesting than the heist here, but they unwind in parallel kinds of ways.

The Social Network

/noise/movies | Link

I was a bit surprised that Trent Reznor won an Oscar for what is (by his standards) a tame soundtrack; much more memorable to me are his efforts in Lost Highway and Natural Born Killers. I cannot fault his taste in directors though: Fincher is a genius and it was a bit sad to see him waste it on this, a story barely worth telling told so well. Jesse Eisenberg is fine in the lead, but this is no Fight Club and he is not Brad Pitt or Edward Norton.

Already #183 in the IMDB top-250, but surely that's its peak.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Little Bay. Good weather for it despite the morning's threatening clouds. The water was full of plant material and a bit cloudy. We spotted some small squid on the rock / sand boundary on the way in.

When too much hardware is not quite enough.

/hacking/mac | Link

Finally Apple released a new MacBook Pro that was worth buying; I'd been waiting about two years for this. Somewhat surprisingly, given Intel's problems with the SATA interfaces on their new Sandy Bridge chips, Apple managed to roll out the new laptops pretty much under the radar and at a time that suited me: NICTA wanted me to pay off my salary sacrifice by the end of March (the end of the fringe-benefits tax (FBT) year, I believe), so I hurried off to the Apple Store at Bondi, where the service was terrible but everything was shiny.

The calculus of which one to buy was pretty easy, as it turned out. The 13 inch ones, which I would be inclined to buy, only have two cores and crappy Intel integrated graphics, and the bottom-end 15 inch one has an ATI/AMD card that is apparently worse than the previous-generation's NVIDIA one. That left the top-end 15 inch, of which I got the 2.2GHz one as I'm not going to miss 100MHz of CPU performance. I was going to get a high-resolution screen and faster hard disk, but they don't do that in the shop, and teeing up a delivery was a bit tricky, being on holidays and all.

It ended up being a lot of cash with the AppleCare and the 8Gb iPod Touch, free with a mail-in rebate. Yep, I got suckered the same way last time, but this time it's free! What could go wrong with that...

Performance-wise this machine smokes the old Core2 Duo MacBook; building my stock Isabelle theory takes about a third of the time, albeit by toasting my thighs. Given that the unibody is (even) more durable than the plastic case, I expect to easily get four years out of this thing. Moreover I can play finally all those games of yesteryear, such as Portal. I think there are a few issues for Apple to iron out yet, though; it's a lot crashier than the old MacBook, perhaps due to immature graphics drivers.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Little Bay with Loan. Most people had left by then so it was pretty quiet. Same as always. Beautiful day for it.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Morning paddle at Depot Beach. Beautiful and quiet. Went for a walk with Loan afterwards through the rainforest.

Early evening paddle at Mystery Bay, another camping spot on the South Coast, amongst the rocks. Again it was pretty much perfect.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early evening paddle at Depot Beach, an isolated camping spot on the South Coast. The water was a tad cooler than around Sydney but still quite pleasant, and Coogee-ish in its flatness.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people around, some backpackers. The tide was way out and the water very clean. Would've been good for a snorkel.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

A brief paddle, late afternoon, at Little Bay with Loan, Jake and Barb. Beautiful day for it, no surf, tide right out. Later on dinner at the Duke of Gloucester for the first time in years.

Peter Lloyd: Inside Story

/noise/books | Link

I've been keen to read this book since it was published back in October 2010. Luckily for me Borders was offering 25% off and free shipping from their online store, an offer which doubtlessly triggered their bankruptcy. I find it ironic that these bricks-and-mortar shops bleat about how the internet is destroying commerce while offering steeper discounts via that very same channel than I can get in-store anywhere.

Anyway, I knew of Peter Lloyd from his coverage of events in Asia for the ABC, and was saddened to hear that he'd gotten busted for drugs in Singapore in 2008. I completely understand the need to do drugs while in Singapore, not that I condone being there in the first place. Given that he lived in India and previously Bangkok and presumably had events to cover elsewhere, why in hell subject oneself to the tyranny of Lee? Well, his boyfriend works for Singapore Air.

Lloyd is one of those intelligent restless people who quickly learns enough about whatever to sound authoritive without actually being so, and moves quickly enough not to be caught out. Therefore his small stuff-ups irritate me immensely, such as his "mister ant" — it is highly unlikely that he met a male ant in his Singaporean gaol cell. Also Australia is not the biggest continent (that would be the one he was incarcerated on), merely the biggest island. Moreover the swearing in this book brings the tone down and does little more than signify that he's in a non-professional mode here. He doesn't even pretend to be objective about Lee Kuan Yew, and it is unfortunate that his venting about Lee/Chinese supremacy is so damn unsurprising, or that the wheels of justice are square-shaped in that city.

Perhaps fatally for the longevity of this narrative, doing time in a Singaporean gaol is terminally banal, and possibly even less violent than on the streets of that city. So this is more of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diary, a story of survival by someone who was never going to go under; an account of a small dip in an otherwise upward trajectory that won't even be noticed by the proceeds of crime mob. He's back "home" now, entangled in Lateline; what with Leigh Sales moving to 7:30 he may even be the anchor.

The gay stuff always leaves one wondering who's wearing the trousers. He seems unaware of the cliche/exploitative overtones of/colonial vibes of Western man finds solace in Asian man/woman, and does nothing to defend himself on that front. How did they meet? Who was looking for what? Pisani was great on this front as she always had a reason to be anywhere, and was sure enough of herself to let all this sexual perversity in the orient wash over her.

He leaves us hanging at the end: did he get his diary out? Did he break up with his bloke? We have a right to know!

Here's a thoughtful review by an ex-journo and Lloyd interviewed by David Marr at Gleebooks last November.

The Apostle

/noise/movies | Link

Robert Duvall as a Southern preacher. Pretty much what it says on the tin. I didn't really get into it, and I guess I don't know who would.

Escape from Alcatraz

/noise/movies | Link

It's 1979 and Clint has to escape from Alcatraz, just like Frank Morris and his mates may have done in 1962. This is a bit of a plodder, but does not suffer terribly for that.

The Enforcer

/noise/movies | Link

On a Dirty Harry roll here. Rife with cliche, this one is. Eastwood does OK with a few more lines in his forehead in 1976, and it makes reference to the battle-hardened but adrift young men who returned from Vietnam just a few years before. The terrorists could have used some more back story, as I wonder how they were going to link the soldiers to San Quentin Prison. San Francisco is radiant again in that Technicolor treatment.

Sudden Impact

/noise/movies | Link

Clint Eastwood / Dirty Harry slinks into the 1980s and things are so terribly modern. As producer / director / star here he tries out a lot of things and has no problem being heavy-handed about it. Unlike the first three this one really does get on board with the vigilante: Clint might think it helps that's she's blonde and pretty and victimised, but it's all pretty feeble in moral monochrome. This one isn't set so much in San Francisco as Santa Cruz, and some of the fantastic Technicolor is lost too. I guess we can say that while computer technology was embryonic in 1983, Hollywood had less of an excuse for pumping out this dreck.

Somewhat confusingly, Albert Popwell morphs from community organiser Mustapha in The Enforcer to cop Horace King. I missed him in Magnum Force.

I dunno if these were the template that the late-80s action movies were cut from (Die Hard and Arnie's ouevre in particular), but if not these then what? Clint is all-action, has all the best lines (or even the only), and in this we get a splendid Leone ripoff of the man-with-hand-canon in silhouette. I guess the 1980s weren't kind to many who made it out of the 1970s.

The Dead Pool

/noise/movies | Link

... and that about wraps it up for Dirty Harry. It's 1988 and Clint must have run out of money, merely starring in this one with an unbelievably young Patricia Clarkson. The old lion needs a few wrinkles yet. This one is mercifully only 90 minutes. Perhaps the best thing in it is a pre-famous Jim Carrey proving that Guns and Roses will rot your brains. Liam Neeson always strikes me as a good actor who never does any good acting.

Magnum Force

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, Eastwood revisits Dirty Harry to everyone's joy/dismay. San Francisco 1973 looks great in Technicolor.

Dirty Harry

/noise/movies | Link

The only thing that isn't black and white is the cinematography. If they'd spent more time on San Francisco itself it might have been worthwhile. Eastwood is better with fewer lines (or more wrinkles).

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay. A fair bit of plant material in the water, and some scummy areas. Very pleasant otherwise.

Network

/noise/movies | Link

Robert Duvall as a body-and-soul corporate man. This is a strange one with four strong leads; Dunaway comes off fake as she hams it up a little too much, as does Peter Finch in the crazy man role. William Holden is sincere, too sincere. Duvall goes over the top less successfully than he did a few years later in Apocalypse Now. This is one of those high-concept pieces they don't make any more, something like The Great Gatsby, a tale of the emptiness at the core of modern America without the pizzazz of a Hunter S. Thompson. Here the TV itself has some humanity while the corporation behind the network gets massaged by the events of the 1970s.

Parked at #198 in IMDB's top-250.

Get Low

/noise/movies | Link

Robert Duvall is solid in the lead. Bill Murray is fine as a deadpan shyster-ish funeral home director. It's a funny little period-piece that was somehow generally overlooked.

Good review by Anthony Lane.

The Hunger

/noise/movies | Link

Just another vampire movie, an impressionistic style not really looking for substance. Bowie is solid but marginal; it's the early 1980s and he's in the business of selling out. Can Sarandon act?

I dredged this one up after reading about David Bowie's film career on Slate.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Midday snorkel with Rob at Little Bay. Bloody hot. I didn't see much. Rob took this photo of a decent-sized crab in about two metres of water.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Yet another after-work paddle at Gordons Bay. Perfect weather for it and it is yet to rain or thunderstorm.

Fair Game

/noise/movies | Link

What a crock. I had some expectations after the glowing reviews of Naomi Watts in this. I expected Penn to go over the top, as he always does with these People versus Uncle Sam things, but his and the rest of the Hollywood histrionics overpower what should have been a story sufficiently forceful in itself. All the President's Men this is not, and the fault is with the scriptwriters. Are we to believe that a woman employed for her analytic abilities is so unreflectively emotional? It is not enough to gesture at the investigations when they are the sole kind of justice on offer. This is a deadening lesson in heavy-handed civics.

Margaret loved it, but I'm on David's side.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay. The water is quite pleasant now. The wind was up and the water a bit unsettled, but still clean.

Love and other drugs

/noise/movies | Link

What a turkey. Rife with the American mythology, the gold inside every misanthrope. Gyllenhaal can't save this, he's too sincere, and nor can Hathaway with or without clothes. (AFAIR this is the first time I've seen her on film.) It is something of a mishmash of American Pie histrionics and naivety and the knowingness of Thank you for smoking without the plasticity of an Eckhart. The scene in Chicago where Hathaway goes all gooey over the community spirit broke everything (that was yet to be broken). I really did expect more from this premise and these actors, and wasn't I suckered.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay. The water seems quite clean, a little cold in places. The afternoon thunderstorm predicted by the BOM did not manifest.

True Grit

/noise/movies | Link

I've seen the last few Cohen brothers films at the cinema. This film at the Verona was not what I was expecting. I had some difficulty following Jeff Bridges' mumbling; he was a lot clearer, even when drunk, in Crazy Heart. It was a bit too Lord of the Rings for me, too much moving around the countryside while not much happens, sparse but not Leone sparse, or tense or whatever. The dialogue is good in the O Brother Where Art Thou? sort of way and Damon was actually pretty good. Brolin has a very brief time on screen, which might just be OK as I'm still getting W vibes when I see him. Hailee Steinfeld is solid in the lead and was given only a very few childishly out-of-character lines to utter.

I haven't seen the "original" with the Duke, but I can imagine just how over-the-top it is. I also don't think it's as good as those last few Cohen brothers efforts, perhaps for the simple reason that nothing much stayed with me after I exited the cinema.

Dana Stevens was more impressed, as was Paul Byrnes.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late-morning snorkel at Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp on the northern side. Perfect day for it, hot, dry, almost cloudless. The water was much clearer than it has been. I spotted a fairly large groper as soon as I got in, green but with blue rings around her eyes, and the massive blue one soon after. There were a few schools of fish east of the ramp, and the stingray was sitting in some sand trying to look inoffensive.

Condensed milk and espresso is not your friend.

/noise/cafes | Link

... when you're still wired at 2am. I drove back from Orange tonight and figured I'd get caffeinated in Katoomba around 9pm. The Mountain Ridges cafe on Katoomba Street does an espresso with (too much) condensed milk, I forget what they call it. Not quite Vietnamese, but getting there.

Virgin Mobile Broadband: it just works on everything but Mac OS X.

/hacking | Link

Coles was (and maybe still is) flogging these crappy Virgin Mobile-branded Huawei E160E modems for $24.50 (half-price), with 4Gb of data included. I figured that the modem is obsolete and hence probably well-supported, and while it is presumably locked to the Optus network, I could probably swap to a better Optus reseller or unlock it without too much hassle.

It turned out to be easy enough to get going under Windows XP, using the drivers on the modem. Similarly under Debian the default option driver does the trick, with some hackery of the chat script/ppp options. Mac OS X put up a fight though: the included drivers work fine (they're pretty generic anyway), but the included chat script was garbage. Maybe that Java monstrosity took care of all of that, I don't know. Once I twigged, patching in the relevant things from Debian did the trick.

Unscientifically, in Orange under Debian I initially got:

  apt-get install ...
  ...
  Fetched 42.9 MB in 13min 56s (51.3 kB/s)

Not terrible, but a long way from the 3.6Mbps (HSDPA, not HSUPA) this modem is capable of. Apparently the Optus network is saturated with tennis traffic, and Virgin supposedly massively oversubscribe anyway. Later it completely fell apart; under Mac OS X I got 11kbps sorts of speeds, i.e. slower than dialup, and similarly under Debian. Maybe I'm on the GPRS/GSM/EDGE/slowarse network. It doesn't bode well for mobility.

Update 2010-02-01: Back in Sydney I get about 2Mbps according to Oz Broadband Speed Test, and it does feel snappy.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Headed down to Cape Banks in the mid-afternoon with Rob. Perfect day for it, hot, and the water is still a little cold with some warm currents. Some randy couples around. We didn't see much until we got to the shallows near the beach. This little guy was very inquisisitive, and Rob almost stepped on this flathead that was sitting in about 50cm of water. We also saw a sea snail of some kind but the photos didn't come out so well.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Another after-work snorkel at Gordons Bay. I saw the big blue groper in some fairly shallow water but the photos weren't so great. The water is clearing up, I guess.

The Fighter

/noise/movies | Link

Marky-Mark Wahlberg stars in something of a return for him to Boogie Nights; he does the lower class aspirational thing really well, sincerely. I doubt he'll ever get an Oscar but this is probably his finest outing. In contrast Christian Bale got an Oscar nomination for his completely fake flaked-out rendition of the older brother, but that's just acting, there's no identification in it. It must be tough being professional.

I liked it. The boxing scenes were quite intense, communicated the violence and fascination to all comers (not just enthusiasts). Amy Adams does a solid job but ends up a little empty as she's too business-like. In some ways this is a lot like Trainspotting, but being set in America, it isn't much of a comedy but more a tragedy.

Dana Stevens loved it, as did Paul Byrnes. It is already parked at #211 in IMDB's top-250.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

After-work snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. The water is weird, a bit cold at the shore with some warm currents further out. Saw heaps of fish: some fairly mature blue gropers, a cuttlefish (purple-ish, maybe 50cm long, big eyes and a skirt), a stingray, and a feeding frenzy of a school of black fish and some vertically-striped silver guys.

Les diaboliques

/noise/movies | Link

Parked at #183 on the IMDB top-250. Clouzet (and wife Vera) also made Wages of Fear, which I preferred. This one is Hitchcock with the sideline characters of Shakespeare. It's fine as far as it goes.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Midday snorkel at Long Bay. The water was cloudy and there was heaps of junk at the boat ramp. Didn't see much, really just in it for the exercise. Perfect weather for it, ballpark 30 degrees, a little choppy on the water.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early evening snorkel at Little Bay, the place to get your wedding pictures taken. Lots of floatsam in the water, but fairly clear despite that. Didn't see much as the tide was out and it got a bit rough past the rocks.

Watchmen

/noise/movies | Link

A bit more unsettling the second time around. The mutated ending felt more forced.

High Noon

/noise/movies | Link

#139 in IMDB's top-250. I didn't get it, and moreover I was waiting for a twist that never came. Grace Kelly is very severe here, as is Gary Cooper.

The Godfather: Part III

/noise/movies | Link

The Ugly Tuco has graduated from scamming bounties to growing olives and tomatoes in the old age of a Don. Sofia is irritating. I can't see a Part IV even though this serves little other purpose than to make that possible.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Quite a few people there as one would expect, and the water was pretty cloudy after the recent rain (somewhere in Sydney). Didn't see much. It got a bit rough out past the rocks.

The Godfather: Part II

/noise/movies | Link

Robert De Niro got an Oscar for this, his least Robert De Niro acting effort: it's a long way from here to the Fockers.

The Godfather

/noise/movies | Link

Unfortunately superior to its successors, maybe because Brando is such a huge presence.

True Romance

/noise/movies | Link

A Tarantino script for an ensemble cast. Walken and Hopper have a lot of fun here, as do Slater and Arquette. Oldman was born for this role, and so forth.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

/noise/movies | Link

The plot never stays with me but the cinematography does. Van Cleef is awesome but underused, perhaps true of all of Leone's actors, even in films as long as this one.

Paul Mitchell: Dodging the Bull

/noise/books | Link

Yeah, Mitchell-from-Melbourne has great technique. His stories tend to be a bit too cleverly transgressive, and so lose their bite; for example, that one of the stories is about some born-again gays is revealed after a couple of pages, masterfully, but the rest of that piece is rife with cliché, or at least normativity, as it must be given that he doesn't have the space to pull these tricks twice. Thematically he recurringly treats the domestic violence due to returned fathers and its accompanying stereotypical quietism, as well as the fragility of men. His small-town stories suffered similarly from tired underbellies lending ambience but not presence. Often I was left dangling, feeling I'd missed the point; cryptic crossworders might not blink at inferring paedophilia from mentions of a descriptionless young lass and a damaged older gent rubbing his groin in front of some sparrows, I don't know.

McPhee definitely plucked the story most interesting to me, and as it is one of his more recent efforts, we can hope for more good stuff from him in the future.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Early evening snorkel at Cape Banks. I figured it'd be the least polluted spot after the recent rains. Simon Z at NICTA reckoned there's more fish straight after a rain and I think he's right. The water was a bit cloudy but much warmer than my previous visits. I am sure it was unwise swimming so soon after the rain.

Xavier Herbert: Capricornia

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Last time I saw them, Jacob and Barb mentioned that they'd read this, and spoke so glowingly of the language I just had to give it a go. I haven't read many of these classic Australian literary works, scarred by the neo non-classic Maestro in HSC English. I was fortunate to dig a copy out of the UNSW Library, proving that it's not just a café afterall.

The opening chapter is a blistering tragicomic account of an exploitative frontiersman arriving in an Aboriginal nation and demanding the services of the locals, specifically their women, for him and his Aboriginal company. In that Herbert neatly expresses so much of what can be misunderstood amongst cultures, as does his rapid anti-decimation (keep one-in-ten) of the tribe occupying Port Zodiac (Darwin), which is similarly painful and masterful. The bar is set unendurably high too early, but it is easy to forgive Herbert as he never slips far.

Perhaps Henry Lawson could have written like this if he'd settled somewhere for long enough; this (1938) comes well after Lawson carked it (1922). It is also on the track to Donald Horne's brand of commentary (The Lucky Country), whinging about the general crappiness of the people running the place. They might not be relieved to know that nothing has changed.

I only have two complaints about this book, neither of which kill it: the first is that the plot is lost somewhere in the middle when too much time is spent adjusting the epistemic states of the characters without anything much happening. The second is that the final third or so is a big set piece about how the law is an ass, both in general and specifically in these sorts of places, e.g. due to the impossibility of a jury trial and the pompousness of the rule-of-law minority-of-two (or so). This is a bit tiring.

Conversely I liked the heavy-handed character names, they were quaint. I also enjoyed the lightness of his treatment of the relationship between the Capricornians and the Asians, e.g. the pre-national Indonesia (Java, Papua, Timor), and the Japanese pearlers. I wish the female characters had more heft, as e.g. Heather and Jasmine have pivotal roles but it is unclear what drives them. Marigold is all status but is written out just as she is developing.

Like Hunter S. Thompson's Las Vegas, Capricornia is Herbert's vantage point for watching the wave breaking and rolling back. I'll have to read Poor fellow my country now, I guess.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

Little Bay. Not so many people, 11am-ish, parked near the Chapel. 100% cloud cover, high. Saw loads of fish, the usual suspects. A little rough out past the rocks.

Wordlines: Contemporary Australian Writing selected by Hilary McPhee

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Patchy, as all collections are. McPhee's introduction starts strong as she reflects on her return to Australia after three years in the Middle East; from the dust of Amman to being repelled by Australian "affluence, food fetishism and the politics of spin." I wish she'd kept on with that, as her summaries of the works of others contained herein are a bit pointless when they are so short and immediately available.

Not much really stood out for me, but I will be keeping an eye out for Drusilla Modjeska's Papuan novel when it's cooked — what's here is not quite enough to satisfy. Paul Mitchell struck a cord with his tale about the extra-suburban dwellers: those not in the cities and not in the bush, living neither a majoritarian or dead-Australia romantic life. The other pieces passed the time agreeably enough.

Melbourne is the vein for the whole thing. With all their education and cash, why aren't the bored housewives of Canberra writing this sort of stuff? I expect big things from this parental leave scheme.

Here's a longer review in The Australian.

/noise/beach/2010-2011 | Link

I wanted to go for a late-afternoon snorkel somewhere not too crowded. I tried Little Bay only to find it overrun by four-wheel-drives (SUVs? are we American yet?) parked on the footpaths, and drivers not prepared to let me get out of their way. Good to see that Sydney drivers have already decided to continue their unfailing rudeness into the new year / decade. I guess politeness is not a very stable equilibrium.

Anyway I made it down to Cape Banks without incident, although the traffic around La Parouse was even more insane. The water there remains a bit cool, but not as bad as it was, and maybe a little less cloudy than I usually find it. I didn't see much beyond the usual suspects.

Toy Story 3

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, better again than the second one. Wish I'd seen it in the cinema now. The animation puts the computer effects of Tron Legacy (etc) to shame. Love has been lavished on the script too. Already #26 in IMDB's top-250.