peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Getting in ahead of the forecast showers, I headed down to Little Bay in the late morning for a snorkel. The water was a lot colder than when I last got in at Gordons Bay, at least until I got out to the rocks. Not much swell, and the water seemed clear enough. I didn't see much apart from the tiniest goat fish.

Changeling

/noise/movies | Link

I'd got it into my head that this movie was rubbish, despite the general robustness of Clint Eastwood's recent output, and because Angelina Jolie is generally the worst part of any movie she's in. Given that, it (and she) was better than I expected.

I liked how Eastwood shipped some iconic imagery from his career into more settled contexts: digging in a boneyard, a noose around a neck (but less the hanging itself), and (in contrast) justice coming from a lawyer. The cops are totally bankrupt, little more than punching bags. It takes me pretty much the whole movie to believe that Malkovitch is not a psycho, though he is on the edge for most of it; his character may have been more sympathatic than he managed to portray. The bloke playing the crim got a raw deal: his character is stock nuts and gutless. Is Clint trying to distinguish moral absolutism and absolution here?

As observed by Dana Stevens, the movie's biggest weakness is the unidimensional characters that don't develop much, though Angelina does get a bit steelier towards the end. It is entirely unsubtle throughout. I guess it's a bit Million Dollar Baby (strong female lead and resulting moral issue) with still-open M.I.A. themes that might link it to Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers. Clint's trip to Cuckoo land is as completely humourless as everything else.

Cross of Iron

/noise/movies | Link

James Coburn as a German corporal/sergeant on the eastern front in 1943; war at its most ludicrous, looking back from 1977 through a German soldier's account. I would have traded a lot of those explosions for further plot developments. This is something like Paths of Glory with bombs.

Stephen J. Pyne: Voyager: Seeking newer worlds in the third great age of discovery

/noise/books | Link

I got suckered by a review of this book in the New York Times, and figured it'd have to be worth six squid for a copy from a U.S. bookseller (via Abebooks). I'm now absolutely certain that copy was remaindered for good reason.

As everyone my age or older knows, the Voyager probes were sent by NASA to survey the outer planets on a "Grand Tour", and sent back some awesome photographs throughout the 1980s. I'm generally curious about the science they carried out but more interested in the engineering that yields spacecrafts as functional as these still are 34 years later. What electronic technology did they use? (Integrated circuits had been around for a while, and I could imagine they used custom chips with transistor counts in the tens. What substrate?) What is the power source? What is the architecture of the several onboard computers? — and so on. I feel the kid who can't stop asking why.

You won't find satisfying answers to any of these questions in this book. This is a literatti's take on exploration whose erudition garners great reviews from other literatti (i.e. in the mainstream press). The central premise is not really Voyager so much as an overcooked "third age of exploration" neologism encompassing the author's previous history of Antarctic exploration and now space. Unfortunately he is less interested in educating than in appearing erudite, so we get the old synaptic twinge of faux intelligence when we know what he's going to say, and feel dumb (and numb) for the rest of the time. I can't pretend to get all his references; I didn't know anything about the exploration of the United States and still don't.

At times the book gets almost offensively desultory, such as its treatment of Voyager 2's encounter with Neptune which includes barely a page on the moon Triton. Things get seriously weird out there at the gonzo end of the solar system, and as we're not going back any time soon it would have made sense to spend more effort on these unique features of this program. The photographs are also complete rubbish — black-and-white, and nothing iconic. Irritatingly the author makes a lot of these famous images in the text. Voyager 2 is the same age as me, but while I'm stuck in a circle centred on the sun with its crash-test sibling, it's out there doing things, not reading poor accounts of the same.

Ultimately the bibliography was the most valuable part. Tomayko's account of NASA's use of computers in spaceflight can be found here, and Heacock's account of the engineering is also easy to find on the net. The photos are freely available from NASA. My questions are answered on the Voyager Wikipedia page under "Computers" — I guessed they might have been using military-spec 54xx TTL chips but had not heard of "Silicon on Sapphire" technology.

Hugo

/noise/movies | Link

A Scorcese automaton flick. The Ritz is only showing it at kid-friendly times, so I fronted the nominally-cheap Tuesday 2pm session with my 3D glasses in my pocket; $12 for an experience I can't yet have at home. They've gotten savvy to the turn-offs of cinema patrons with their STFU advice to hipsters at the start of the feature, but as always this only applies to other people. Two kids turned up a fair way into the film and sat just in front of me, with one answering his phone after a bit — "I'm in the cinema!" — and noisily taking regular hits from some sort of aerosol. They left with five minutes to go, so I expect they came for the aircon and relative privacy, or perhaps 3D without glasses looks awesome when you're high. The older couple sitting behind me thought they were in a cafe. In contrast the supervised children were quite well behaved.

Anyway, what is Scorcese trying to say here but that cinema is bereft of new ideas? This film starts out with some shock-and-awe camera work but soon degenerates into an art movie history lesson. The characters have that kind of brittleness that Hollywood thinks is deep enough for us to engage with; Kingsley is a twat just long enough so we know his scars to be those of the slighted auteur. The child actors fair somewhat better, as we can take their shallowness for callowness. Jude Law got five seconds to lift the mood, and Sacha Baron Cohen garnered some laughs for I don't know what beyond the crowd's shock of recognising Borat. The narrative is essentially teleological.

The promised mechanical aesthetic is a pale imitation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's, similarly set in a quaint Paris but not as quirky.

Dana Stevens is right to say this is a hollow sort of thing. Stephanie Zacharek talks it up in a media studies sort of way.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

It's been raining a bit recently, so no beach for me. Today I figured I'd get in ahead of the coming showers and headed to the Clovelly carpark in the late morning. I note the "no dogs" sign has disappeared from the track down to the scuba ramp. The surf was much larger than it has been but with the tide up it was pretty easy to get in. I didn't see much on my way to the beach, apart from some sizeable luddericks quite far into the bay. Lots of crap on the surface.

Flowers of Shanghai

/noise/movies | Link

The cream of Hong Kong actors and actresses of 1998 decamp to the brothels of 1880s Shanghai. Depicting a flower garden without intimate relations only leaves the bitchiness and intrigue, somewhat like Raise the Red Lantern but not as scenic. This was a bum steer from Tony Leung, though the cinematti reckon the director Hsiao-hsien Hou to be the future of the medium.

The Killing Fields

/noise/movies | Link

Combodia and the coming of the Khmer Rouge. It kicks up a gear in the final hour, giving some nuance to a regime that remains incomprehensible and impenetrable to Westerners. The acting is mostly solid — though Malkovitch has a tough gig as a post-Hopper war photographer — and Haing S. Ngor worked hard for his Oscar. I hadn't heard of the journalist Sydney Schanberg, who won a Pulitzer for his work in Cambodia and yet doesn't have the notoriety of Halberstam and Hersch (etc); I identify John Pilger with this reportage. While it was "Morning in America" it was "Year Zero" in Indochina.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Quite a few people about, but not as busy as it might typically be at this time of year and time of day. The water was cleaner, which I took to mean that it hadn't rained much if at all. Again, loads of large-ish fish, but this time no big groper. I did see a sizeable and placid female in relatively shallow water, and the biggest squid I've seen yet — there were about twenty in a group and the largest was quite fat.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

I braved the intermittent rain of the past few days by going for a snorkel at Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp. I hoped it would be less polluted than the beach itself, but it isn't. Visibility was reasonable with a lot of crap at the surface. I saw quite a few large luddericks and a big mostly-blue groper; it wasn't totally blue so I'm not sure it was Bluey.

Certified Copy

/noise/movies | Link

Some days I need to remember I'm not in the same demographic as Dana Stevens. This one is some kind of chick flick, with Juliette Binoche flouncing around Tuscany with a bloke who oozes banality. I can't fault her review though, it was what she promised.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Once again I forgot why I don't go so early: the rocks were packed with people, and there were quite a few dogs on the beach. I got in from the sand for the first time in a long while. The water itself seemed reasonably clean once I got past the (tiny) breakers.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The forecast storm seemed to have overshot Sydney — it was raining a fair way off the coast, I think. The bay was completely flat, the tide out, and the water clear.

And that about wraps it up for Portal 2.

/noise/games | Link

That was also fun. Steam was selling it for $US15 over Christmas / New Year which is cheap enough for me. I'd forgotten my password and backdoor question and it seems their helpdesk went AWOL for those few days, so I created a new account. Maybe I'll do that for each game I buy.

The game played completely fine on the MacBook Pro and archaic one-button Apple mouse. I expected the last stage to be a repetition-fest ala Portal but instead I got it first go, which was both disappointing and a relief. I got stuck a few times but never for very interesting reasons; the pump station at the top of the aircon shaft was particularly irritating as they switch off the paint (at the base of the shaft) for no discernable reason! Finding just the right spot to jump from was totally banal.

As Tom Sewell observed there's a bit of overreach here: the need for narrative has killed the elegant simplicity of the original. The new mechanics look like a composite of the iPhone games the developers were playing in 2010... which are the games I'm playing now, of course. I quite enjoyed Where's my water?, which goes to show old-media Disney does know how to commission a good puzzle game. It's worth many a dollar, and they're only charging one.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early afternoon snorkel at Little Bay after lunch with Toby. The beach wasn't too busy for January, I guess. Quite warm, a little high cloud (lighter than in the morning) and very clear water. I saw a decent-sized Old Wife out past the rocks.

Smiley's People

/noise/movies | Link

An Alec Guinness segue, on the strength of a lengthy article by Anthony Lane prompted by the current release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Of course I started with the second story and now have to go back and see the first.

The direction here is fantastic with some great framing shots; this is British TV production at its peak. Guinness is tired and worn out, not at all like he was in Havana, which is just right for this role. The source material is by Le Carré who I only know for his stoush with Rushdie. The cold war, almost as much of a gift to filmmakers as the Nazis.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

The storm still hadn't eventuated so I headed down to Gordons Bay in the early evening for a paddle. Loads of people were out snorkeling and it seemed pretty clear to me. No surf, warm-ish water. The storm rolled in around 8:30pm.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The storm didn't eventuate but still managed to kill both the temperature and the crowds; no dogs for me to dodge today. The water is quite clear and I should've gone for a snorkel.

Becket

/noise/movies | Link

Richard Burton's meddlesome priest joins Peter O'Toole's note-perfect petulant king (Henry II) for some man love in the kingdom of England in 1066 as imag'd in 1964. This flick is a lot better than one might expect from the premise.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, reminding me once again why I go much later. The place was infested with dogs and their owners, droppings, etc. I don't mind them in the water but the yapping and fighting destroys the serenity of the place. Very clear water though, would've been good for a snorkel.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late morning snorkel at Long Bay. The water was (even) cloudier than usual, and there were quite a few dogs (with their owners) at the boat launch on the southern side. I saw just the usual suspects and a stingray quite near the ramp, in a few metres of water.