peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early-evening snorkeling attempt at Long Bay, off the southern boat ramp, for the first time in ages. Visibility was horrible. Some blokes where trying to fish from the rocks.

Erskineville Kings

/noise/movies | Link

The first hour flew past, with the second not far behind. I liked it just as much as the last time I saw it, perhaps a decade ago. The cinematography is fantastic, especially when Leah Vandenberg is in the frame.

/hacking/mac | Link

Since my MacBook Pro got a new mainboard, and being told that the new Intel CPUs are not much faster (though more power efficient), I decided to upgrade it with 16Gb of 1600MHz DDR3 1.35v memory, for $181.56 from MSY. This old 2011 Sandy Bridge can handle those specs but Apple does not admit it; so far so good though, as my readings of the internet suggested it would be.

Addendum: Mac OS X leaks like a sieve. The purge command reclaims the "inactive" memory that the OS refuses to via automatic means. Looks like I was wrong to blame FireFox for being the fat pig that it is; there's a fatter one hiding behind it. After a purge the system typically has about 10Gb free.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Waking up without too much of a hangover, Pete R. and I had a light breakfast in Avalon and walked down to Bilgola Beach. It seems there is no equivalent to Bondi/Maroubra walkway up there; we were dodging cars along the Serpentine. I avoided the rip this time and just went for a dip in the beautiful and clean rockpool. We hoofed it back to Avalon via Pittwater. It's very pleasant but so very isolated. After that, back to Asquith and then a fairly cruisy drive down to Randwick. Tiring.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

I drove Pete R. up to Avalon for the weekend. We caught the ferry from Palm Beach to the Currawong and walked back to the Basin, mostly along firetrails. There is some good backstreet parking around Palm Beach if you're prepared to walk a kilometre or two through some pleasant bushland. Afterwards we drove over to Whale Beach and enjoyed the strong rip, and then headed back to Avalon (to drink Pete's schnapps), then the Newport Arms for fish and chips, and then back to Avalon for more booze.

Source Code

/noise/movies | Link

Son-of-Bowie Duncan Jones's second outing, which is somewhat similar to his first: where Moon gave us a man living the same life over again, here we get an eternal eight minutes of someone else's. Let's quietly forget the metaphysics and join Jake Gyllenhaal on a vacation in Michelle Monaghan's eyes. The ending chases a poignant-for-Hollywood moment with disaster.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early evening snorkel from the beach at Gordons Bay. Loads of people around and pretty bad visibility, perhaps because the sun was hiding behind the clouds. I only saw a big fat wrasse. The search for squid continues.

Tallowa Dam, Kangaroo Valley

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Camping in the Tallowa Dam picnic area.

The idea was to ride down to Kangaroo Valley via the Old Hume, and back along the Princes Highway / Grand Pacific Drive. I had lunch with JAS and Andrew T out front of the OMB at UNSW and got moving around 2.30pm. It turned out to be pretty dumb to take the Hume from its wellspring at Ashfield, as it is tremendously slow; I should instead have gone via Henry Lawson Drive or Canterbury Road and so forth. Oh well.

I headed down Campbelltown Road for old times' sake, and then across to Narellan and the Camden bypass. From there it was pretty cruisy down to Picton, where I got a snack at the local Vietnamese bakery. The Old Hume fuses with the motorway for perhaps 10km, and I got Betts up to 100kph for some of that. The roads down to Kangaroo Valley from Moss Vale are quite windy as they hug the hills constituting the Great Divide. There's not much to the town itself, and from there to Tallowa Dam is easy, but riding into the sunset spoilt it somewhat. I got there around 7pm and while rumour had it that there is a campground nearby, I didn't find it, so I ended up camping in the picnic area, which seemed semi-legit as the signs were quite specific about what was not allowed. (I wasn't keen on the large campsite at Bendeela due to reports of noisy party animals.) Dinner was a klutzfest of instant Hokkien Noodles and a banana, chased by some Twinings Green Tea (which is far more palatable than their other one mixed with ginger and lemongrass). While pitching the tend I got bossed around by a willie wagtail while some small Eastern Greys looked on from the safety of the dam side of the fence. One had a tiny joey that ducked back into the pouch when it got too much. Around 11pm a large wombat was noisily rooting around nearby.

The dam itself is not large, and to my chagrin the much feted fish lift was not in operation; I guess it's not the spawning season. The water seemed not too cold but I didn't take my swimming gear.


View Kangaroo Valley / Tallowa Dam in a larger map

Next morning I hurriedly packed up, had a banana for breakfast and headed to the Maccas in South Nowra for a second breakfast. (Actually given the energy content of their hotcakes it was more a case of the one meal for the day.) They still have free wifi, though I don't see them advertising it so much. Upon refuelling Betts, I found she only needed about eight litres to do 266km, and is clearly happier with these longer rides than the short city hops she usually has to put up with. She's a bit too small for comfort though; every time I stopped my sore bum and lower back complained more than I typically do.

The ride back was pretty windy. There is a massive duplication of the Pacific Highway at Gerringong that goes on for more than ten kilometres, I guess. I stuck to the highway until I got to Kiama, and then headed for the coast, and up through the Royal National Park, stopping for a ginger beer at the Scarborough Hotel, again for old times' sake. The traffic was a lot more placid than on the Pacific Highway or Hume. I got home around 2pm on Thursday.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Sunset paddle at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Quite nice in out past the rocks, but cool near the shore. I was too lazy to do much of anything.

/noise/movies | Link

Vale, Peter O'Toole. (Another obit by Anthony Lane.)

Qwirkle

/noise/games | Link

I played Kate's homemade version of this with her in Brisbane: she'd taken some Scrabble sets and painted some coloured shapes on the backs of the tiles. This worked fine, apart from it being incomplete. Well, today I was at Bondi Junction with Dave and found the travel version at b.amused for $20, so I bought a couple of sets. The build quality is not high: the paint flaked off some of the tiles when I unpacked it. Oh well. I won my first game ever against Dave in Centennial Park later on.

American Hustle

/noise/movies | Link

With Dave at the 9.15pm session at the Verona, which was fairly packed. I enjoyed it about as much as I expected. Christian Bale almost completely disappears into his character, or would have if he didn't evoke Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. I enjoyed Amy Adams's performance more than anything else I've seen her do. The story is a bit Argo-ish.

David Denby reviews it at length for the New Yorker, Dana Stevens mostly got into it, and Manohla Dargis at the New York Times.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Evening paddle at Gordons Bay, getting in ahead of a forecast thunderstorm. Quite pleasant in.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Paddle from the southern rocks of Gordons Bay. Beautiful in, but a little ruffled by the wind. Indian for dinner in Coogee afterwards.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Snorkel from the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The big blue groper was just nearby. Quite a few stingrays out in the bay. I also saw a large mostly-green groper with a blue head. Still no squid in so long.

The New Yorker Big Book of Cats.

/noise/books | Link

I got suckered into buying this by Anthony Lane's awesome introduction; I was lucky enough to get in just before the dollar really tanked. Some of the articles are great, as are some of the cartoons, though most of the latter are of the twee sort that the New Yorker does all the time. Not all articles are pro-cat; many tell of cats getting their comeuppance from non-cat lovers. Some strike a balance, such as the excellent one on Bengal cat breeding by Ariel Levy. Some were dated. On the whole I enjoyed it.

It also got reviewed by the New York Times.

Kill Your Darlings

/noise/movies | Link

Idling on a Sunday evening at the Verona at 9pm. About five people in the audience. Who is the more plausible Ginsberg: a brave but bewildered Daniel Radcliffe or the more assured James Franco of Howl? Jennifer Jason Leigh plays his mother in an egoless performance; the scene at the end of her and Radcliffe lounging on the grass evoked her young self (e.g. Fast times at Ridgemont High). Elizabeth Olsen was fine; no idea what opprobrium she draws. This is the story of Ginsberg meeting William S. Burroughs (an excellent Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) at Columbia and thereabouts. The glue is Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) whose troubled life structures the narrative. Michael C. Hall plays David Kammerer as Philip Seymour Hoffman. The story stops just before Howl (I think), after Ginsberg is ejected from Columbia.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House: Bach Brandenburg Concertos

/noise/music | Link

My Christmas present to myself. They played four Bach Brandenburg Concertos: No. 1 in F major (BWV1046), No. 6 in B flat major (BWV1051), No. 2 in F major (BWV1047) and No. 3 in G major (BWV1048). For an encore they played the final (third) movement of No. 4 in G major (BWV1049). I enjoyed No. 6 the most, perhaps because it was a much smaller ensemble and the two blokes (Christopher Moore and Alexandru-Mihai Bota) leading on violas (no violins) enjoyed themselves so much. I was sitting in the front row of the choir, which was a mixed blessing; the hunting horns pointed backwards so they tended to blot out the rest of the instruments. The couple sitting next to me told me I was sitting where Barbara usually sits, and presumably her health issues prevented her coming today. Overall I'd prefer to buy a recording and listen to it multiple times than go to this kind of concert, if only because (irritatingly) the familiar bits were the best.

Paul Keating interviewed by Kerry O'Brien on the ABC.

/noise/politics | Link

The timing of the screening of these interviews surely did the ABC no favours. Keating himself is mostly in fine form and O'Brien sometimes manages to keep him to account, which is impressive in its own way. I certainly miss Keating's efforts at communicating his vision and policy agenda to the public at large; the last three governments came to power as policy-free as possible, having learnt from his doing Hewson slowly. Gillard's recent travails demonstrate that the ALP cannot then switch on the sales pitch and charm. I wondered why Anna left him and what he's been doing since. The piggery did not get a look-in.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early evening snorkel attempt at Little Bay. Visibility was terrible, with some large (for Little Bay) breakers stirring up a lot of plant matter. There were a lot of juveniles near the rocks next to the beach. Some blokes were attempting to spearfish in the bay itself, which I think was futile.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Met up with Pete Kirievsky at what he called the "Price Waterhouse Coopers bike parking" spot on Sussex Street in the CBD, and rode out to Homebush along Victoria Road. As he predicted, it has fewer lights and maybe less traffic than Parramatta Road. I met a mate of his from Azerbaijan, and a microbiologist from UNSW, but didn't want to embarass myself by attempting the course. I intended to ride up to Windsor with them, but bailed as Yoda wasn't there and there were a huge number of learners (~ 26). I headed back to Bondi Junction with Pete Kirievsky and his mate, again along Victoria Road and through the CBD. Nice day for riding.

The Stranger

/noise/movies | Link

Orson Welles. A Nazi embeds himself in a small town in Connecticut, and a war crimes investigator seeks to flush him out. The callousness with which they both manipulate the young wife (and that her father goes along with it) is quite off-putting. A large step down from Citizen Kane, which was made five years earlier.

Wreck It Ralf

/noise/movies | Link

Something like Toy Story perhaps? An imagined gawk at the insides of computers (here arcade games) ala Tron? The animation is OK but the plot is entirely hokey. I was sorely disappointed when the glitch turned out to be a princess - I was hoping she'd turn into a frog when he gave her a peck on the cheek.

Marramarra Creek Camping Ground

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

The last two things I wanted to do with Betts was to take her across the Harbour Bridge and go camping, which had me looking for a campsite somewhere north, but not too far north; initially I thought the Basin on Pittwater would be a goer, but they charge something like $30 a night just for the site. The Marramarra Creek Camping Ground is probably the closest (legit) free spot to where I live. Its main drawback is that it is a 3.5km walk from the end of a dirt road.

I went with not much gear: sleeping mat, bag, tent, sandwich, three pieces of fruit, half a block of chocolate and only 1.8L of water. In particular, I took no cooking gear. The idea was to strap the old underused Kathmandu hiking pack flat on the pillion seat, but as that protruded too far, I attached it vertically to the milk crate. This worked out fine — the extra 10-15kg made no difference to how she handled.

I set off around 4pm, which by good fortune turned out to be ideal. Here's the route I took, there and back:


View Randwick to Marramarra National Park in a larger map

The traffic on the bridge was more considerate than I expected, apart from one or two pushy types. I also wanted to cross the Long Gully Bridge at Northbridge, so I tried (and succeeded!) to get on to Miller Street. From there to Hornsby was pretty straightforward. Galston Gorge (thanks Pete R. for the introduction to it) was fun, apart from the impatient cars, presumably locals. I bought a double-espresso Dare at the IGA in Galston, which seemed to be the only place selling these flavoured milks. Near as I can tell Fiddletown does not exist. Fortunately most roads off Cobah are signposted dead-ends, and Bloodwood follows on directly. The dirt-road turnoff to the national park is clearly signposted, and the remainder implied by signs pointing to other places. The Open Street Map data that backs City Maps 2GO lacks loads of details, but so does Google Maps; it can't have been too hard, though, as I got by with just my poor sense of direction.

I left Betts at the locked horse-proof gate (also effective against motorcycles). The walk seemed interminable; the first 2km or so is not too bad, mostly flat or easy downhill along an access road for the high-tension power towers, until the final descent to the creek, which is quite steep. From the bottom to the campsite is perhaps a very easy kilometre on the flood plain. The area is quite pretty, nestled next to the creek. I failed to get a fire going: my geriatric lighter gave up its flint before it ran out of gas, so it wasn't for a lack of persisting with poor technique. I slept OK, using the pack as a semi-decent pillow. The morning chorus was quite loud, and the walk out about as bad as I feared; I was damn happy to see Betts again, even though my legs cramped up a bit on the ride back to Maccas Dural for breakfast. Some black cockatoos put in an appearance at some point, and a wallaby attempted suicide in the early evening, apparently not realising that Betts is not a lethal instrument. I headed back to Randwick via Macquarie Park and Victoria Road, just to tick off a few more bridges. The traffic there was thick but placid. I'd hate to be doing that every day.

Next, if I can screw up the time, nerve and crotch muscles, is Kangaroo Valley.

Griffin Theatre: Summertime in the Garden of Eden

/noise/theatre | Link

The Sisters Grimm from Melbourne show Sydney how Sydney used to be. That's Agent Cleave on the poster. He and Olympia Bukkakis lead as ridiculously tattooed and gorgeous Southern sisters hell-bent on dainty intrigue. The production and acting are top-notch. Bessie Holland disappears into the patriarchal Big Daddy, becoming Colonel Sanders (and certainly not Hồ Chí Minh). Genevieve Giuffre is faultless as the deep-voiced Black servant maid, hiding behind a gollywog, and Peter Paltos rounds out a draggy cast with his Freddie Mercury looks. The house was packed, and for good reason: it is knowing and damn funny. The costumes and set are marvels (excellent work by Marg Horwell), and great use is made of the awkwardly-shaped stage. For all that I'm not sure there's more to this than a bit of a laugh. (I agree with Alan Harstein, but not with other reviews that suggest there are intellectual depths to this whole thing; I think those reflect how shallow most present theatre works are.)

While waiting in the tight-arse Monday queue ($15) I met a lady reviewer from Mosman and a bloke teacher who pointed me to Shit on your play.

West Head Project: Recursive Space

/noise/music | Link

Apparently I went to two previous New Music Network gigs this year: Synergy Percussion and Tangents. This one was in the Paddington Reservoir and was quite restful. The ambient noise (traffic, pedestrians, tourists) drowned any subtleties the two saxophones may have had.

Before this I went to the COFA annual exhibition. Several Tracey Emin-inspired pieces there, such as the chained lion in the semi-made bed, and the prize-winning laundry line with embroidered self-loathing. The undies looked far too clean. (GOMA in Brisbane has a Tracey Emin neon piece.) Whoever stuck some hands made from soap on the wall (also prize-winning) is very skillful but needs to work on the politics of placement. Contrary to what I'd been told, there was a small amount of glasswork there too. Apparently they have a Creative Robotics Lab now. Looks like fun.

Brave

/noise/movies | Link

Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly. Excellent animation. The story is rubbish; there is no fate here, just empty-headed sloganeering. The three young boys have the best lines, despite some heroics from the ladies.

New World

/noise/movies | Link

From a review in the New York Times. One might be tempted to ask if we haven't seen all of this before: Infernal Affairs, The Godfather (right down to the execution of the police captain), and of course, that trademark Korean blood-spray (Stoker and its antecedents). This one does all that and adds some minor comedy; the be-suited minions are choreographed superbly, with makeup that tracks who came off worse in the last biff. Old Boy star Ji-hyo Song anchors the show. Jeong-min Hwang reminded me of Lou Diamond Phillips in The Big Hit: very lippy. Both he and the lead Jung-Jae Lee (with model-perfect looks and impassivity) are excellent, as is the cinematography. There are some absolutely beautiful shots. The plot is not worth overthinking.

/travels | Link

On my return trip from Brisbane I camped at the Cypress-pine campground, Boonoo Boonoo National Park at Kate's suggestion. (She also suggested I go via Stanthorpe and Thunderbolts Way, but I was insufficiently mindful to execute that.) I drove up to the waterfall first as I got there too late to do the river walk. The pools there are quite beautiful, and the water not too cold but a bit scummy. There were a couple of German couples and a brace of younguns were hanging around at the same time as me. I wandered about a kilometre up the river walk track and found some more pools; contrary to my expectations the track meanders a long way from the river. The camping grounds were packed, with only a few spare spots. Several blokes (10?) had ridden down from Toowoomba-ish on some very fine motorcycles including a couple of BMW boxers.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Setting off from Station Creek, I aimed for a paddle in the Clarence River at Grafton. The helpful bloke at the information centre warned me of some spiny fish in the reedy shallows; I went in off the boat launch at Corcoran Park (yep, next to the sewerage treatment works). The water was quite warm and the current not too bad near the shore; I didn't venture out far.

Pining for the salt water, I headed off to Evans Head for some lunch (fish and chips from a delightful Kiwi lass). A friendly girl at the beach directed me to the surf club where some other people were attempting to swim. I ended up standing around in the waist-high breakers, which were dumping another 10-20 metres out. I don't think that beach is much good for anything unless it's blowing a storm.

/travels | Link

Spent the night at Station Creek, Yaraygir National Park on Andrew T's suggestion. (I ambitiously bought a New South Wales National Park Annual Pass in the expectation of more camping this season.) Indeed the dawn chorus is something to listen to. I went down to the beach but got there far too late to swim, even if that is possible; it looked quite exposed and possibly rough.

The Falcon and the Snowman

/noise/movies | Link

For which David Bowie did This is not America. Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton (previously unknown to me), Lori Singer (the blandly perfect foil for Hutton). Young blokes doing stupid things: trafficking in drugs and government secrets. Based on a true story, I'm sure, with motivation coming partially from Whitlam's sacking in 1975, and the shenanigans in Chile.

Ensemble Offspring: FINЀ: Numero Uno and Roar

/noise/music | Link

I was going to ride Betts down to Campbelltown (specifically Campbelltown Road) with this gig as the excuse. The rain put paid to that, and I was giving Erina a lift anyway. As always they had some nice bits but it was difficult to get into the whole thing. I liked the gong as played by Bree van Reyk. They did some performance art-y bits in the middle - and I had to wonder if these came with the piece or were intended to spice up some fairly abstract sounds. The venue was the same as, very pleasant (and I do like the neon in the foyer). We had a drink and a light dinner at the cafe in between the sets.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

/noise/movies | Link

Guy Richie yet again. McAdams does not survive the first reel. Downey Jr pays homage to Ledger in drag and lipstick on the train? (outcamping Stephen Fry?) A geeky anachronistic Einstein in the lecture theatre? Jude Law is workman-like; his disinterest in Kelly Reilly was approximately mine. If I wasn't told how clever and moral everything is I would not have an idea. Haven't we seen all of this before? — V for Vendetta not being the least of it. These guys did not avert the fall of Western civilisation; they embodied it.

Sherlock Holmes

/noise/movies | Link

Guy Richie, Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams (taking a walk from To the Wonder). Always something to see but can she act? Mark Strong was much better as the father in Kickass. Richie does the bare-knuckle fighting thing again, just like Snatch. Meh.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early evening snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Not the best visibility ever, and not that warm out.

Anaconda (produced by the Tamarama Rock Surfers, at the Bondi Pavilion)

/noise/theatre | Link

As the BOM predicted, the rain ceased in the early afternoon, so the ride up to Bondi after dinner was quite pleasant. The ride home via Dover Heights was even nicer.

This is a play by Sarah Doyle, who apparently has some form for writing these things. Today was a cheap Tuesday, so the price was $21 to sit in the front row just off centre. The set essentially evoked the triangles of LGBT iconography (though I have no idea what a blue triangle implies). The themes were heavy (sexual assaults by schoolboys on schoolboys) and the drama toys with notions of redemption, the bystander effect, the unfixable, the incorrigible. None of the characters develop much, despite the revelatory air; in particular Leeanna Walsman is (valiantly, ably) stuck playing a society housewife (also careerist lawyer?) who just wants her husband's opprobrium to go away. Does this scandal make my bum look fat? (Again, Walsman herself does a fine job.) New jailbird Walker is pure symbol. I guess this is the problem with such extreme situations: everyone and everything is so polarised that we're left asking equivalents of "what would Jesus do?", for various notions of Jesus.

The Adventures of Tin Tin

/noise/movies | Link

Better than I expected. A bit too frenetic at times; I wanted to look at more than just what's in the foreground. The Siamese early on is gorgeous, and Snowy's interactions with the other animals are some of the highlights. The (motion-capture) animation is pretty good, and perhaps because I am familiar with the Tin Tin aesthetic, not particularly uncanny.

Dana Stevens at Slate.

To the Wonder

/noise/movies | Link

Terrence Malick's outing from last year. He has clearly hit a sweet spot with his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who more recently shot Gravity. In contrast to the chattering men and silent women of Lawrence of Arabia, here Ben Affleck utters hardly a word; his women, when given the chance, do string a sentiment together. Olga Kurylenko, last seen as a Bond chick in Quantum of Solace, seemingly has a half-life longer than Gemma Arterton's. Rachel McAdams is a fetching and completely implausible ranch heiress. As the whole thing is as impressionistic — and even more abstract — than usual, it ends up feeling quite pervy: watching people fall into and out of love without really learning much about them or the logic of their romance is weird. During all of this Javier Bardem does not seem to get much understanding from God. I quite liked the marriage scene, where prisoners are signing legal documents right alongside the celebrant.

David Denby reviewed it for the New Yorker, A. O. Scott for the New York Times and Dana Stevens at Slate.

Lawrence of Arabia

/noise/movies | Link

The David Lean masterpiece. It's being shown as part of the British Film Festival at the Palace Cinemas.

Ball of Fire

/noise/movies | Link

There's a Howard Hawks retrospective on somewhere and I thought this looked decent. It's cornball: Gary Cooper is overly arch as one of a group of profs assembling an encyclopedia circa 1941. Barbara Stanwyck sings, dances and changes her mind about being gangster Dana Andrews's moll too rapidly for plausibility. I didn't really get into it.

Ghanchakkar

/noise/movies | Link

Suggested by a New York Times review. The opening scene is great; the wife gets many good lines. The cinematography is good but not particularly inventive. Somewhat flaccid through the middle. Tarantino-ish at times. A bit meh really.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

I met up with Ben at Coogee with the intention of snorkelling at the south end of Coogee beach. We instead headed for the north end due to a "Caution: dangerous currents" sign near the life saving club. Saw lots of the usual suspects, and Ben identified his favourite smooth toadfish for me. There was also a big blue groper hanging around at the end of the rockpool. Beautiful morning for it, with the stormy weather holding off for the entire day.

The Look of Love

/noise/movies | Link

Winterbottom places Steve Coogan amongst a sea of breasts in this biopic of the king of SoHo, Paul Raymond, sometime Britain's richest man. It's all a bit cold and creepy, very transactional, and quite off the rails. I guess I live in hope of him doing another Jude or 24 Hour Party People.

Probably provoked by Dana Stevens's review.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Late-morning snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The big blue groper was sitting in about two metres of water, and seemed to think my fins might be some kind of competition. Some huge wrasse and so forth but still no squid. Very pleasant in a wife beater. Not too many people.

Tim Winton: Eyrie.

/noise/books | Link

Being Winton's first new novel since Breath in 2008, I raced out to the Co-op Bookshop at the University of Technology, Sydney on Jones St, near Pete R.'s work (and the CS department) and blew $35 on a hardcover. I didn't bother to read any reviews as Winton is uncritically deified in Australia.

Going in cold, I really enjoyed the masterful dialogue and his portrayal of crumbling lives. Most of the characters are women, tough women, and a singular friendless man, a wonky gudgeon for the ensemble to orbit. We're in Fremantle and the disgust with aspirational boganism is ambient and strong. Christianity and faith get another outing, paired with a suitable amount of scepticism that suggests not so much disbelief as (respectful?) wonderment. Was the ending hurried? I certainly rushed through it in three sittings, chewing up 250 pages in the second. I'm left wondering where else he could have gone.

On the down side, the opening is a bit too self-consciously try hard as Winton has futilely exercised the thesaurus to no good effect; soon enough he finds his rhythm and things get a lot tighter, so I guess we can blame the editor.

None of Winton's stuff really sticks with me. I don't fault him for that, but can't help wondering why. The reviews I read after are uniformly fawning and shithouse; Winton already said what he meant, and better.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the southern rocks. Not the best visibility ever. A small stingray was doing the sand-flapping trick, and some fat wrasse sat in shallow water on the northern side. On the way back in I saw what may have been a small wobbegong — the tail was eel-like and it had a lot of small, short tentacles on its face.

Griffin Theatre: The Floating World

/noise/theatre | Link

I tried a couple of Mondays ago to get into this on the cheap ($15) but missed out due to the excellent reviews and a bunch of oldies who'd been camping out front since 5pm. This time I got there at 5:20pm (thanks Betts) and would probably still have got one if I'd shown up a bit later. I used the time before the show started to get a croissant and macchiato from the patisserie on Darlinghurst Road.

This is an old Australian play, and has dated somewhat like Summer of the 17th Doll. We're on the 1974 Women's Weekly Cherry Blossom Cruise to the erstwhile empire of Japan, and alongside a seedy master-of-fun we have a very war damaged returned soldier and his self-possessed wife, as well as a pan-Asian servant-class type and (in flashback? dreamland?) a fellow soldier. The acting is excellent, especially given the minimal sets. I enjoyed but did not fathom the Drinking Bird, and the accompanying Jinglish instructions were a bit of a clanger. Justin Stewart Cotta opened with a nice piece of physical expressiveness.

Dave tells me that Richard Flanagan canvasses a similar topic in his recent The Narrow Road to the Deep North. To me it was an antecedent of David Malouf's The Great World.

The Spooky Men's Chorale at the Camelot Lounge.

/noise/music | Link

Erina invited me along to see this men's choir which is certainly not a men's group. The best part for me was when they momentarily paused in their cleverness and sang a Gregorian chant straight; that was captivating. I enjoyed the rest in a Monty Python sort of way. We had their pizza for dinner, and the bar staff were very friendly. A pretty stock inner-west kind of crowd, I think. The venue is full of Camel (cigarettes) paraphernalia, upstairs from the Django bar which is full of other sorts of stuff. Teascapes was this kitsch back in the day.

The Iceman

/noise/movies | Link

Dana Stevens's review made me take a Michael Shannon segue from Man of Steel. He is as entrancing as she says, but overall there's not a lot going on here beyond a stock underworld trash removal service. Good to see Winona again. Ray Liotta is stuck playing the same-old guy he always does.

Evelyn Waugh: Vile Bodies

/noise/books | Link

Two Waughs in a row is too much for me. This one is a society piece, a heavy-handed satire, and so very modern (scandalous) for 1930. The plot is clunky and unfocussed (stuff happens) and none of the characters is particularly interesting. Again an easy and quick read.

This is one of Bowie's top-100 books. Not sure I'll be trawling for more.

Our Nixon

/noise/movies | Link

I got suckered into watching this CNN-screened production by a writeup in the New York Times. It's a bit drecky: billed as home videos of Nixon's time in the Whitehouse, it is mostly just warmed-over scandalsheet stuff. There is too much stock footage from the TV networks. I did enjoy the coverage of Nixon's trip to China, and the bewilderment of his entourage at a propandistic Chinese opera celebrating the peasants overthrowing a landlord.

Man of Steel

/noise/movies | Link

Vacuous entertainment for the empty-headed, as I was this evening. Snyder is a gifted visual artist but suffers from the paucity of his material; I hope one day he can find something else to portray than ultraviolence, and 9/11 exaggerations. How can anyone care when two practically indestructible superdudes face off?

American Gangster

/noise/movies | Link

Despite his Oscars Denzel Washington's movies are not highly rated on IMDB; this tops the list. Coarsely put, Ridley Scott remakes The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America at similar length to the latter. Russell Crowe reprises his role as tough (indigestible) moral fibre from L.A. Confidential, The Insider, etc. I quite enjoyed it, unoriginal though it seemed; shades of Zodiac too. Apparently Roberts's disintegrating marriage and custody battle exaggerates Serpico and has no basis in reality.

Advise and Consent

/noise/movies | Link

Something of a 12 Angry Men, but in the U.S. senate. The opening is a whirlwind that does not bode well for the rest, though as things slow it supplants urgency with quiet reflection. I don't rate all the twists, nor the impetuosity of the players, but it is a fine outing for Gene Tierney (as a sophisticated society hostess), Henry Fonda (the President's man for Secretary of State), Charles Laughton (a lion of the Senate) and many others. A late Otto Preminger.

Training Day

/noise/movies | Link

On Dave's recommendation. Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke. Hawke strikes me as an interpolant of Tom Cruise and Christian Bale. The story falls apart at some point and is a bit predictable all the way along; perhaps they should have aimed for a twist at the climax. Good work from the actors however.

... and that about wraps it up for Lode Runner.

/noise/games | Link

Loderunner level 151, err, 1.

I've been fascinated by this game since I was a kid. At some point I bought a copy of the IBM PC version on a blue 3.5" disk that I still have. I'm sure I played it more on the Apple ][ back in the day however, and I never saw an official disk for that platform. Apparently there is an iOS version of this classic now. This time around I played all 150 levels in an excellent Apple ][ emulator: Open Emulator, which features all the monitor distortion you tried to forget, and the friendly sound the Disk ][ Drive makes while chewing your floppies. I chipped them €10.

Don't take the men figure there literally; I saved and reloaded frequently.

I always meant to check out Choplifter and so forth, but I fear I'll need a joystick to play them comfortably.

Evelyn Waugh: Black Mischief

/noise/books | Link

A recent review in the New York Times pointed to this, and David Bowie apparently has Waugh's Vile Bodies on his book list. I extracted both from the UNSW Library. As with the last Waugh I read, this is heavy-handed satire of (pre-)colonial Africa and the venalities/incompetencies/etc. of the foreigners and locals. I didn't find him that funny this time around, perhaps because I could see where he was going too often. The concluding cannibal's feast, where the liberated diplomat's daughter is unknowingly consumed by her caddish boyfriend-of-the-previous-moment, prefigures Ishiguro's climax in When We Were Orphans. Mercifully a quick read.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early-evening snorkel at Gordons Bay. I went a bit too early and got caught up in the traffic on the scuba ramp. Some large ludderick and the usual suspects, and a small stingaree, seemingly too immature to do the sand-flapping trick.

The Turning

/noise/movies | Link

With The Ritz showing uniform dreck on this cheap Tuesday, I was tempted to give my Palace Cinemas membership a workout and go see this adaptation of Tim Winton's collection of shorts The Turning, which I read a long time back. Apparently he has a new book out now, but I have yet to check it out.

This presentation, like the book, is a bunch of shorts, but I couldn't connect any of the shorts in one with those in the other, perhaps revealing that while I enjoy Winton's work it doesn't stick with me; the form, however, does. I can't remember all of the movie either, as it was three hours with an intermission (from 8.15pm to about 11.40). I hadn't really noticed the fantastic classic neon sign out front of the Verona.

I felt the movie must have been strongly influenced by Winton's later Breath, with a fair bit of surfing. Western Australia looks like a foreign country, and sometimes there is overreach in the pathos. Often the stories are revelatory, and it is not clear that the presented axis is enough of a pivot to achieve the indicated effect. As always the movie adaptation involves some loss of inner space. Each comes with its own ambience, spanning over-talking, dialogue and silence. There are some particularly striking uses of suspense, such as the Aboriginal kids go to the beach with their elder men, who engrossed and dignified in their fishing allow the boys a little too much freedom. Another has a mature version (Callan Mulvey) of a kid entangled in other child's death returning to the scene.

The pick of the actors is probably Rose Byrne, who turned in a masterfully egoless performance opposite an ever-beautiful Miranda Otto. This was the lynchpin story, I guess - turning towards Christ, the domestic violence, the low expectations and possibilities of the trailer park. Throughout the portrayal of Christinianity is respectful. Roxburgh and Blanchett have fun as a married couple, though Niven is a bit too arch as his mother. I did not identify Mia Wasikowska. Hugo Weaving's dead man walking reminded me somehow of an earlier Australian cop movie that I can't recall the name of. Dan Wyllie turns in a solid effort too in the final (? - I think) one, revealing his deadly skeet shooting skills. I was captivated by the dance episode: a woman works her way through a series of seated blokes, lined up like they are practising the hats puzzle. The final bloke suspends her with a single arm; he holds the woman (the world?) in his palm. Susie Porter is a happy-go-lucky cleaning lady whose lawyer-in-training son learns from a teachable moment.

Bourbaki Ensemble: Barber's Adagio for Strings and so forth.

/noise/music | Link

David Angell, my first-year calculus tutor, took up conducting amateur orchestras some time in the late 1990s. I made it to a couple of his gigs years ago. At $30 for an adult, the crowd was small and appreciative, and St. Stephen's in Newtown has super acoustics for this kind of chamber music. Betts is super-happy after her tune-up, and I enjoyed the ride over despite some overly aggressive traffic (for a Sunday, anyway). I think one of the music profs was was playing cello; last time I saw him (or the bloke he most resembles) he was opposite some of his students: the Tawadros brothers and a bloke playing tabla, in the Clancy. The draw was Barber's Adagio for Strings, which I only recently realised was at the heart of Ennio Morricone's score for Lyne's Lolita. The second set featured some lovely harp.

Version 1.0: The Vehicle Failed to Stop

/noise/theatre | Link

Preview, $20 at the Carriageworks. There was a fairly large crowd of fello cheapskates. The topic — contractors operating beyond the reach of the law in Iraq, and the carving up of the country's economy — was similar to the first production I saw from these guys (The Wages of Spin at the dear old Performance Space on Cleveland). The performers were fine but I didn't really get into it. The room is cavernous and well-suited to this kind of work.

UNSW Justice Talks: Nicholas Cowderey

/noise/talks | Link

Cowderey was famous for taking it to the politicians while he was the Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW back in the 1990s and early 21st century. I read his book Getting Justice Wrong sometime back then. As a semi-retired visiting professor at UNSW, tonight he spoke on those old themes, and gave us his backstory: assisting the Commonwealth in prosecuting R&R drug violations by visiting American soldiers, and four years or more in Papua New Guinea as a prosecutor. Contrary to Fraser et al, this was not a mea culpa: he acted on his beliefs while he had power, though he often found the law and justice to be at odds. We heard of the husband who assisted his wife (suffering from advanced MS) commit suicide who later owned up to it all, forcing the police to charge him with murder. The result was a conviction for assisting suicide and a twelve-month good behaviour bond; some kind of justice in his eyes. He claimed the Greens have "an excellent policy" here. There was also the young Vietnamese bloke who gave a clean needle to a junkie who overdosed later that night, yielding a manslaughter conviction.

Broadly Cowderey explored the schism between justice and the law, and advocated for more discretion for judges etc. — which is cold comfort for those of us outside the legal arena who so easily see the costs and obfuscations and not so often the progress. I got the impression that he felt much of his work as DPP in prosecuting drug offenders was a waste of time, though he was careful to say that the other laws are already strong enough to handle organised crime, black markets and all that. I heard the same about the terrorism laws back in the day.

2 Guns

/noise/movies | Link

Cheap Tuesday at The Ritz. The 9:20pm session was not very full. Main cinema, upstairs, downstairs closed. Wahlberg has been in some decent stuff recently (The Fighter amongst others, and seemingly a string of TV shows). I never really got into Denzel Washington, but not for any particular reason. He's fine here. Unfortunately the best bits were in the trailer. This is something like Stone's Savages, but far more wooden; perhaps the rest of it ended up on the cutting room floor. Paula Patton gets all sexy but can't act, again reminding me of the Stone outing. It fails to make a fist out of the rich premise of messy interactions amongst the US intelligence services that Bush facilitated post-911.

Nelson Algren: The Neon Wilderness

/noise/books | Link

Ribbat cited this collection of short stories in his book on neon. It's post-war noir. I struggled to get too enthused but every so often he does get it together. Mostly tales of alcoholism, pugilism, prostitution and the odd white out. Chicago never sounded so cold and fiercely lit.

Algren appears to have vanished without a trace. I still have his most-famous novel The man with the golden arm (also the title of a Barry Adamson song) to come.

A Slow Rip @ The People's Republic

/noise/music | Link

A 6pm gig at the venue that looks like something out of A Clockwork Orange (no, no, not the korova bar). I liked the first set by A Slow Rip; a wall of noise slickly done. I skipped the second one due to running out of energy (again). The inbetween guys were interesting too.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

/noise/movies | Link

Somehow I overlooked this Otto Preminger / Gene Tierney effort from 1950. A solid slab of B-grade noir: slab-of-beef with a side of concrete Dana Andrews is a vigilante cop chasing some cardboard villains. Unfortunately Tierney's character is vapid; otherwise things are just fine. Both were better in Laura. Some nice twists and turns that rush the conclusion.

Love Streams

/noise/movies | Link

John Cassavetes directed and starred opposite his wife Gena Rowlands in a screwy take on a successful writer's life, and his sister's mental unwellness and unwinding marriage. I can't say I got into this overlong indulgence. I think I prefer his works where he remained behind the camera.

Alaska Projects: Musical Alaska #12 — Phillip Glass: Music in Fifths

/noise/music | Link

I headed back to the carpark in the Cross for another subterranean gig. Free booze and all that for their second birthday, and I missed out as I was on Betts. The Glass piece came over OK after I realised that the squealing children and barking dog (yes, someone brought their dog) improved it. I skipped the second set in response to an urgent need to hack, the like of which I haven't felt for years. My attempt to buy their free water with a $10 donation was met with a copy of the third issue of the World's Only zine.

Gravity

/noise/movies | Link

Dave was mad-keen to see this at the IMAX at Darling Harbour, and it was my first visit to such. We got some dumplings from Sydney Noodle King beforehand, and a pricey coffee at the Belgian chocolatier on the way.

Clooney does his usual alpha-male good-old-boy schtick, and Bullock drifts towards cliched histrionics. It's a homage to heaps of earlier sci fi flicks: Barbarella (woman gets undressed in space), 2001 (the space child, umbilical cords), Marvin the Martian, probably Apollo 13 (unseen by me) and so forth. Of course it is visually very impressive and was probably worth the $31 tickets. I found the plot pedestrian, with a standard string of emergencies and near misses, and the emotional stuff quite manipulative. For all that it was very immersive.

Apparently this bloke also directed Children of Men, which I remember being a bit meh. I think Dana Stevens is about on the money: the opening sequence is awesome.

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

I promised Betts a service after getting my provisionals, and so today was the day to head back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket and do business with Phil. I think he (or her previous owner) told me that I'd need a new rear tyre, and after 4,000kms certainly an oil change. Phil didn't have the former in stock so I had to wait until Tuesday to pick her up, which was too windy (and I too disorganised), meaning I didn't get her back until Wednesday. Apart from a few days without a motorcycle, the exercise cost me $419: two hours of labour, about $200 for the tyre, and the rest on oil and spark plugs. "Go easy on the corners, slippery when new", he tells me. She certainly feels better at low revs after a tune-up.

I spent the rest of the day at Sydney Uni in Fisher, and later met Dave in Glebe for a coffee. I probably should go back to Motorcycle Accessories Supermarket and see what they have to say about my disintegrating safety gear.

/noise/beach/2013-2014 | Link

Early (for me) morning trip to Little Bay with Barb, Alex and Alana. Perfect weather for it. I only got in up to my shins, though after the initial shock wore off I got thinking that a swim may have been possible. Summer has come far too early.

ACO Underground at the Oxford Art Factory

/noise/music | Link

I've been meaning to see Tognetti play his violin for years now. For thirty five bucks I also got to see him play the keyboard ala Warren Ellis, or more accurately, Leonard Cohen. (OK, he didn't actually make a big deal of switching it on.) Shades of Dylan in a park in London in 2004? I guess I can see why Ellis will never play with these guys.

I think Satu Vänskä usually plays second fiddle to Tognetti, but this was certainly her night. She was super-awesomely-excellent on the violin. Her repartee made it clear she was amongst (north shore, Vaucluse) friends. They did two renditions of Reznor's Something I can never have (the latter the entirety of the encore), citing Natural Born Killers, somewhat spartan and cleaned-up where Reznor does fragile violence, which is inward directed and hence somehow OK. Some other songs that I can't name verged on the twee. I had to wonder if we've seen all this before with Fourplay's "infamous" Metallica cover. And that was back when I was a kid. They closed out the main set with some pleasant Vivaldi before an aborted encore and then the reprise.

I got wondering if they should have kept their other night jobs; did almost everyone in the crowd wish they were playing something else, or with their old bands? Guests Jim Moginie (Midnight Oil) and Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) left me hungry for words with bite.

The warm-up was a poetry-slam over some nice violin work by one of the ACO blokes. They called themselves Marcie.

Saigon Street Names

/noise | Link

This Google maps overlay gives an historical sketch for the people the streets are named after. Totally awesome.

/hacking/mac | Link

My MacBook Pro was playing up; maybe an external disk got frisky, maybe some projector somewhere, I don't know. It's working again after four (4!) visits to the Apple Store. First up: Bondi was totally useless. They reinstalled Snow Leopard and sent me on my way. The CBD store decided the DVD drive was busted, but when it came back it was sicker than before, with scanlines on the LCD and a complete refusal to start. They took a week to replace the guts and it has been OK since. All of this was free under AppleCare; that has about six months to run. I'm not very impressed with the working knowledge of the geniuses. I did enjoy being without it for a week though.

For future reference: my retail copy of Snow Leopard is too stale to boot this machine. The grey disks that came with the machine crashed when restoring the Time Machine backup (!). Fortunately an up-to-date Snow Leopard got things back.

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

It took a bit of blood under the bridge for me to face up to the MOST again. Today I prepared by going to Dave's croissant shop in Banksmeadow (pricey but tasty) and eating a couple of bananas, one just before attempting the test at Botany.

Yet again I had Laurie (from Ride It Right), who while entirely capable makes me think it's a one-woman operation. (I've gotten good advice from a variety of people, and would have preferred someone else purely for that reason.) I was five of six, the first of the MOST-only people. Being far less nervous, and much more aware of my speed, I lost only three points: two for going too far on the short stop, and one for failing to do the head check immediately before doing so. I was off like a shot to get my red P plates, which have the same conditions as the learner's, but now I just wait a year to get the open licence.

Laurie was super happy that everyone passed; most impressively, a Thai bloke did it perfectly on his mate's Harley straight after me. (He needed to convert his licence to an Australian one now that he has PR. I later found out that he works at Chao Praya.) There was a nice old Suzuki Betts-equivalent whose rider works at a bar near the Hollywood. An Indian bloke had a scooter, and is looking for IT work.

Blue Jasmine

/noise/movies | Link

My first cheap Tuesday at The Ritz in a long while. Still only $8! ... and only one-third full, with most of the crowd respectfully quiet. Not so many trailers, mostly stills. Some promise in the new movie about Assange; one can hope that Benedict Cumberbatch uses his superpowers to better effect than in the last Trek.

Woody Allen directs Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins (last seen in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky back in 2008) in what is apparently a retelling of A Streetcar Named Desire. I'll have to go back and find out what Brando did to it. I enjoyed his humour, which mostly came through bluntness and age inappropriateness. Blanchett mentally disintegrates as the movie goes on, and she steals every scene she's in, which suits down-market Hawkins just fine. Baldwin is a bit typecast as a monied-up shyster. Bobby Cannavale lets his inner Billy Zane loose whenever he gets a chance. It's set in San Francisco, but clearly New York is where Allen's heart is.

David Denby reviewed it for the New Yorker, and Dana Stevens for Slate. As Dana notes, the computer bits are archaic; Allen gives Blanchett an iPhone, and surely the MOCs are happy to deliver to those.

MacDonald/Spence/Denley/Altman/Pettigrew @ The People's Republic

/noise/music | Link

A Laura Altman segue from her Alaska Projects gig, pointer from the NOW now. She was playing clarinet as part of an improv five-piece, and it had nothing to do with frogs. I bailed after the first set as I stupidly didn't eat before I went. Nice venue. I'll be back.

Cristoph Ribbat: Flickering Light: a history of neon

/noise/books | Link

Jon pointed this work of cultural criticism out to me. The first chapter is strong, and the references quite rich, but it tails off as it starts to free-associate; sometimes the author has done little more than find the word "neon" in some pop artifact. It is often too broad and does not account for the technology. What was it that Zappa said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture? There are not enough photos. It seems that most artists get their neon fabbed by someone else; that's certainly true of Tracey Emin. Some good pointers: Nelson Algren, Rudi Stern. I fished Sprengnagel's Neon World out of the UNSW Library. I need to read Wolfe's take on Vegas. Ribbat is completely off base with the sound of neon: it's alarms, sax, metal on metal, an improv gig, industrial, early 80s movies, Barry Adamson's Moss Side Story.

A review in Slate.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

The u-turn takes some doing.

Rode out to Homebush once again in some fairly heavy traffic. A beautiful day for doing so. The idea was to get enough practice to pass the MOST (and hence get my Ps) next Wednesday. To that end I did about ten circuits and only fluffed the swerve, and maybe the short-stop, and that was due to trying too hard. Everything else was fine. (Thanks to tunafi2h for the photo.)

When not practicing, I got talking to a Hungarian bloke who's living at Annandale, and doing IT. He'd been to see Félix Lajkó a few times in concert, to my chagrin. Previously he'd been working in Cork, Ireland, where the weather is dire and the pubs violent. He rode a Honda CBF 125, with the same intention I had with Betts, but without the risk of buying something second-hand. I also chatted to Sean from Campbelltown.

Afterwards I tried to buy a hat or something from DFO (Direct Factory Outlet), which is something of a ritzy downmarket Westfield. As Dave observes, it is there that they flog what cannot flog itself in the normal shops. No joy at all.

Synergy Percussion: Check My Machine at 107 Projects, Redfern.

/noise/music | Link

A Bree van Reyk segue from the Ensemble Offspring gig out at Parramatta. Twenty bucks. Bree played most of the gig, with two or three blokes. Also a solo by one of the blokes. Some of it was quite good, other bits twee, like the 8-bit synthesisers / sequencers that put me in mind of the gameboy thing I went to a few months back with Ben. There seemed to be a fair bit of improv. Some of the automation was quite funky: automatic bass drums, and a snare (? - I think). Some ambient-ish stuff. 107 Projects is a nice space.

Thomas Seeley: Honey Bee Democracy

/noise/books | Link

How did Seeley get away without the omnipresent disjunctive subtitle? I paid $AU26.28 to Amazon UK for this in March 2011, back when they had free shipping to Australia. It sat on the shelf for ages, and it has similarly taken me weeks to get around to writing about it. As a result I've read and re-read some sections a few times, and perhaps some of it not at all.

This is an excellent book. Seeley makes it completely clear why people would be passionate about this stuff, and explains the scientific method in a way that should abide with everyone who went to high school (one might hope). As he is a prof writing about his career-long love affair, the story gets eyeglazingly-detailed at some points, and the logic of the experiments sometimes gets lost; but for all that, it is a marvellous read.

It is, of course, difficult to extract lessons for humans from these insects; see, for instance Rob Dunn in Slate. Seeley is careful to limit his opinions to human situations similar enough to the bees, for instance by requiring that they share the same goal and are plausibly honest with each other. He is adverse to drawing some other conclusions; on p227 (and elsewhere) he empirically observes that only bees that pay (by visiting the proposed nesting site) get to vote, which contravenes notions of universal suffrage but is familiar from history, e.g. the Federalist arguments about balancing democracy against mob rule in the U.S., and the situation in the Australia of the 19th century. The bees' strategy/algorithm requires honest representation and shared objectives/values; as Seeley himself demonstrates through his experiments, the swarm is very easy to manipulate, and so one might conclude that we learn nothing about robust distributed decision making in the presence of distorting factors. I would further claim that the social insects show that there is no wisdom in becoming more specialised. Efficiency yes, wisdom no.

Slate also has some fantastic hi-res photos of bees.

Call Girl

/noise/movies | Link

On Andy's recommendation. In many ways a Swedish movie. It wants to have too much of everything and ends up with an empty fist. Lukas Moodysson this is not, though it evokes the murkier end of the Tillsammans era.

Stoker

/noise/movies | Link

With Dave at the dear old Verona, 9pm session. $11 for him on my student movie club membership, birthday freebie for me. The attraction was to see what the Korean master auteur Park Chan-Wook could do in English, and I got exactly what I expected: a visual feast with excellent editing. It's well-paced, not too gory (at least not Oldboy gory) and Nicole Kidman does not irritate. Mia Wasikowska works hard in the lead, and Matthew Goode is carving out a niche as a psychotic (c.f. Ozymandias in Watchmen). Park's use of colour is superb: he paints the scenery with blood in a style superior to Tarantino's in Django. The low rating (7) on IMDB just means that the advertising got plenty of people to go in cold.

A. O. Scott, Park prospective at the New York Times. Dana Stevens didn't review it. Anthony Lane's for the New Yorker is behind their paywall, but more-or-less says this is a slavish remake of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.

Mohammed Hanif: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

/noise/books | Link

I could see where Hanif was going with A Case of Exploding Mangoes but not here in his second time around. Alice herself lacks agency: stuff happens to her, and she gets ogled a lot, and so it goes. Parul Sehgal at the New York Times saw more in it than I did.

Kick Ass 2

/noise/movies | Link

Regretting not seeing Kick Ass in the cinema, I drug Dave along to the 4:50pm session at The Ritz. More violence, less funny (after the first twenty minutes or so) and lacking a climax. Choppy camera work makes me think the actors weren't up to it. Not a completely terrible way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Dereb the Ambassador at The Basement

/noise/music | Link

"Ethiopian Soul" for $5 on a Wednesday night. With Dave and Dan Ferguson, who both got right into it.

True Confessions

/noise/movies | Link

Robert de Niro, Robert Duvall. An interpolant of The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in America, Tender Mercies. Unfortunately not that great. de Niro is the bent priest trying to straighten, and Duvall is the underloved second son, now a policeman.

Alaska Projects: Musical Alaska #11 — [Volta Collective] time without light

/noise/music | Link

Dave and I got there in time (having been trained by them starting promptly at the last one) to hear the six-voice choir sing Carlo Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday. The acoustics of the carpark were perfect. Dave reckoned Laura Altman's interspersed compositions reminded him of a frogs' chorus after rain in Bangkok.

Alice Terry (and guitarist friend Dave Rodriguez) at Bohemian Grove

/noise/music | Link

Dave's mate Em was heading out to this gig down near Central, so we went along too, after the gig in Kings Cross, in the spirit of why-not. Dave legged it from the Cross in record time. Em said she'd been to this venue a few times, and caught the performer at 505 last week (?). Smokey vocals for sombre jazzy (or country?) tunes, some covers, some originals. Small crowd. As always, it was someone's living room. $10 donation at the door.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

/noise/books | Link

My great expectations of this modern American classic were not met with awesome. The prose is not that great, the plot is meh, as are the characters. Perhaps the central challenge when writing righteously about vacuous people is in avoiding vacuity yourself.

The Year of the Dragon

/noise/movies | Link

Mickey Rourke is a Polish policeman trying to clean up New York City's Chinatown. His opponent, John Lone, went on to star as the older Pi Yu in The Last Emperor. Fabia Drake is fab as the sour nun with a British accent; she is pretty much the only one who takes it to Rourke here. Oliver Stone lets fly with some characteristic unsubtlety in the script. It seems that Michael Cimino had the misfortunate to make a string of good movies early in his career, this apparently being the last.

To Live and Die in L.A.

/noise/movies | Link

Willem Dafoe counterfeits in the mid-1980s, Secret Service Agent William Petersen tries to ensnare him in a sting. A nice little genre-busting action/thriller.

Raising Arizona

/noise/movies | Link

Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter. A Coen brothers effort from 1987. Surprisingly banal; typically these guys avoid cliche.

The Driver

/noise/movies | Link

The other antecedent to Drive. Lots of car chases. Some suspense. Not a lot of dialogue. A bit boring really.

The Grandmaster

/noise/movies | Link

Master director Wong Kar Wai returns with his stars Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi (and ...) for a biography of Kung Fu (Wing Chun) legend Ip Man. The cimeatography (by Philippe Le Sourd, not Christopher Doyle!) is as awesome as ever. Umebayashi Shigeru repeats his sterling efforts on the soundtrack.

There is something of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America in this, with the chopped-up timelines, stolen legacies, and most clearly the Morricone theme over tears in the rain. The opening scene is just like the Agent Smiths v Neo scene in one of the later Matrixes, but better, so much better. There is a great white-out scene towards the end with Zhang Ziyi. The film ends in mid-1950s Hong Kong and I hope he returns to the 1960s next time around.

Twitchfilm has more details. The review in the New York Times is gushier than I can be, as is their prospective.

Kazuo Ishiguro: When We Were Orphans

/noise/books | Link

Another Ishiguro from the UNSW Library. There is something of Great Expectations here; an invocation of the British Empire, stymied lives, vocationalism, living for others, and so forth. The author is a master of structure, effortlessly gliding amongst time and place while avoiding that of which he does not wish to speak. For instance, in a move that prefigures Never Let Me Go, he creates parental characters that never clash with the adolescent narrator due to the central mystery, which effects the transfer of the narrator to the mother country, where much of the narration occurs.

I found the suspense here used to good effect, with the elisions of fact sharpening and not distracting from the climax. It left me with less to think about than Never Let Me Go however.

Elysium

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At the 9:30pm session at the Hoyts at Eastgardens. The ride down and back was freezing. The port looks fantastical from the roof the building (the uppermost carpark), just like the set of a James Cameron classic. There were about ten people in a theatre with seating for something like 300. That was approximately nine more than I expected.

This is something of a followup to District 9 in director Neill Blomkamp's distinctive style. I found it strange that he set this story in L.A., something like 150 years hence, given that the city looked just like the present-day slums of anywhere. It is, of course, quite graphically violent, and I hadn't seen that much blood dripping from extremities since the Wallabies last played the 'Boks in Pretoria. Thematically it's all a bit Matrix (read Biblical) with an admixture of Terrence Malick for the dreamy bits: a saviour clearly needs to sacrifice himself for the greater good of dirt poor humanity. The politics is a bit confused, with salvation being something magical, cataclysmic, external, and not something to work towards. Elysium's refugee policy just might be the endpoint of Australia's. Some excellent work from Sharlto Copley, who clearly immensely enjoys working with Blomkamp, and Matt Damon was quite good too. My only real complaint was the jerky camerawork and spaghetti action scenes, which spoilt some excellent sets. FIXME Elysium http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2013/08/12/130812crci_cinema_lane?currentPage=all http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2013/08/elysium_starring_matt_damon_reviewed_with_optional_spoilers.html http://movies.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/movies/elysium-sends-matt-damon-into-a-dystopian-future.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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This being Peodair's last night in Australia for a while, we went in search of a Korean barbeque. I had vague memories of one up around Neutral Bay that I'd been to with my old uni mates more than a decade ago; it turned out to be in Cremorne, and fortunately for us, closed for some family reason. We headed up to Chatswood, which is supposedly something of a Koreatown, and luckily happened upon the Goldmart Korean BBQ, at 28-30 Anderson Street. Roughly it is a grocery and butcher with some seating out the front where you cook the stuff you buy there using a charcoal fire.

Ashes of Time

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An early Wong Kar Wai that I've put off seeing for ages. Very impressionistic, and the colours he (or Christopher Doyle) extracts from the desert are psychedelic; the result is far more unsettling than Chungking Express as these settings are more naturalistic (i.e., no fluoros or neon). I found it difficult to follow pretty much everything beyond Maggie Cheung's monologue.

Hot Fuzz

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The least of the Cornettos. It's one big windup to the comical final thirty minutes. Surprisingly few (zero?) pratfalls from Pegg, who is less convincing playing the straight high achiever. I don't remember much of it from 2007.

Michael W. Clune: White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin

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A review in the New Yorker blog gave me a Trainspotting flashback; has it really been half a lifetime since I read that book instead of preparing for my first-year exams? Perplexingly it is acknowledged by neither the review nor the book itself, so I imagine Irvine Welsh has the cold-turkey chills. In any case Clune's ambit is a broader rumination than Welsh ever aspired to; while both expend some effort explaining the social implications of being on dope/skag, Clune is far more interested in the effect on his inner self. In some sense it is an expansion of what Trainspotting (the movie) reduced to a Renton voiceover:

People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid.

Where Danny Boyle carefully suffocated heroin glamour with Edinburgh squalor, Clune is far more nuanced about his white outs in Baltimore, Chicago and New York. Being American we get nothing like Renton's colonized-by-wankers speech, and there is no Mother Superior or NHS.

Clune's prose is repetitious, hypnotically repetitious in the small, fast-moving in the large, which like his "memory disease" makes every whiteout and the search for one a repetition of the first time, and indeed his account of that one is scary-good. Being a youthful junkie "the future is forever", though he closes with a wife and dogs; "I don't think about the future." (David Bowie in 1984, presumably another voice of experience: "You'll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow's never there.") The cycle of addiction and recovery is tawdry at times, and many relationships are presented in fragmentary form, some with entries and exits, dismal and sublimely visual, visceral. The mandatory sex scene somewhere in the middle is hilarious. A veil is drawn over the passing of his druggy buddies, and his intellectual life is almost entirely elided. Narcotics Anonymous is a life-saving machine, if you can strap your life to it; not everyone can.

I knew it was the book for me from the razor blade embossed on the cover. I wonder if he found it difficult to find a publisher, given that it was released by Hazelden, an anti-addiction press. Unfortunately Clune's professional lit-crit is hard work to get into, though I have hopes that Gamelife, "on computer games as spiritual education", will be more like this.

Courageous.

The Silent Hour: Ion Pearce, Julian Day, Andrew Tuttle, Live&Direct

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A NOW now advertised gig, though I didn't see any of that crowd there. Their blurb:

She's BACK.. elegantly composed! For those of you who appreciate the beauty of sound and symphonic textures. The Silent Hour is an intimate evening dedicated to electroacoustic and audiovisual composition.

Established in 2011, TSH is one of its kind and has presented Internationally acclaimed artists in the field of electroacoustic and audiovisual explorations such as Daniel Blinkhorn, Axel Singer, Chihei Hatakeyama, minamo, Greg Haines, Spartak, Pollen Trio, Ollie Bown, Seaworthy, Fourcolor, Pimmon and Moskitoo in the heart of William Street East Sydney.

Featuring Wednesday the 14th of August are local sensations Ion Pearce and Julian Day along with Brisbane artist touring his new release 4064, Andrew Tuttle.

Wednesday, August 14
Level 2, 77-83 William St, Darlinghurst
$10

I went for Julian Day; Jacob keeps telling me he's into weird stuff, and he didn't disappoint. He turned up with his girlfriend, two vintage Casio keyboards and about ten hefty bolts (of perhaps 20mm diameter; see here). Seated on a cushion on the floor, his performance consisted of carefully placing the bolts on the keys of the synthesisers and adopting a zen of concentration. The result were lots of beats and harmonics between the notes and the two synthesisers, which was far more interesting than my description implies; as the perceived sound depends on the propagation path, moving one's head was enough to discover another timbre. It was certainly more emphatic than Eno's ambient, and I found it quite relaxing.

The second dude (Andrew Tuttle) had a laptop and a banjo and did something atmospheric. The last guy (Ion Pearce) was a poet-of-sorts, recounting over moody drums/bass/guitar, played by his two collaborators. I could see where he was going.

The venue was a Shaolin monk / martial arts room. Their propaganda (respect/trust yourself and your master, ...) is touchingly fascistic. There was no blood on the dojo floor, and the present Bruce Lee revival proved as yet insufficient for him to put in a showing. I think it used to be the General Store for Contemporary Art.

Shaun of the Dead

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The pick of the Pegg/Wright/Frost Cornettos. With Dave.

The World's End

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With Dave at Broadway Hoyts, $18 each. Pegg and Frost, Rosamund Pike as the chick game enough to act straight opposite five likely blokes and Pierce Brosnan. Frost got the best bits. Pegg limits his pratfalls to about five.

Dana Stevens loved it.

Shapeshifter at the Metro.

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With Dave and his mates (Justin, Dan Ferguson, Em). Just like old times for them, and now that I am twice the age of those wearing not more than their underwear, kinda fun for me too. The music is clearly keyed to altered states of being, rushy and not too melodic. Too much bass for Dave until we found a possie up the back near the bar.

David Bowie: Five Years

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Dave got me onto this Bowie doco that was screened on the ABC at the end of July. They could have spun it out to 90 minutes per album with footage this good. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with his string of guitarists from the 1970s and early 1980s.

NIDA: Moving Parts

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Colin Friels sports a dodgy cockney (?) accent opposite Josh McConville's plantive Melbournian. I decided to go to this ages ago, when I thought I'd be a bit freer than I have been; I wasn't really in the mood tonight, and the play itself didn't change that. There are some funny moments but those belong more to the delivery than the script. The set was nice, though static. The themes were quite tired. I can't say it was worth $55; better, I think, to just read the interview with Friels.

Mohammed Hanif: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

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I came to this book by following a pointer from Mohsin Hamid. It's a great tale of the various forces who sought to truncate the reign of Zia ul Haq, whose fictional character gets fleshed out in a big way in the closing pages, as does the erstwhile ISI head General Ahktar. The fine-grained writing lets the show down at times; Hanif occasionally zigs or zags a little too disconnectedly, or too crassly suppresses key facts in an attempt to rachet up the tension. For all that the plot is fantastic.

A review in the New York Times. There's a parallel-of-sorts with Shame by Salman Rushdie, but it's been too long since I read that one. On to Hanif's second novel, I guess.

A portrait in the New Yorker.

Free motorcycle parking at Sydney Airport.

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I can confirm that there are indeed loads of motorcycles parked illicitly at Sydney Airport. Betty survived a couple of nights there unscathed. Certainly beat waiting around for the 400 at 11pm on a cold Sunday night.

Tangents and Cycle 440 at the Seymour Centre.

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The NOW now promoted this gig. Ben and I got in for $10 by virtue of being on their mailing list. The appeal was to see Peter Hollo (ex-Fourplay) again after so long. We missed about half of the opening set, which I quite liked: Cycle 440 (Sam Gillies and Kevin Pen) on the piano and laptop, manufacturing soporific ambience. I didn't really get into Tangents proper.

Crossfire

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Past the point of diminished returns on Mitchum's filmography. A black-and-white from 1947 where the shooting is like the morals: merely limp-wristed gesturing. It wants to be To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Wolverine

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With Dave at the super-expensive 6pm 3D session at Event Cinemas on George Street. I didn't get much from the extra dimension; perhaps it works best for cartoons. Overall it was a bit meh, a string of Japanese cliches seen from a very comfortable West. I'm getting less convinced by this adamantium mythology as the series drags on, though the credits teaser promised a lot in the next one, apparently including a Fassbender reprise. Afterwards we went for a pricey and yet underpriced dinner at Mamak; they could quell their queues if they jacked the price of a curry to $20.

Haruki Murakami: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

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Less gripping than Kafka on the Shore, with long stretches of banality that even the author/main character acknowledge, especially as the novel winds down. I guess I missed the fantastic on this journey into inner space. It was written roughly contemporaneously with classic cyberpunk; I think Neuromancer is better written, and Bladerunner has better cinematography. Again there is a preoccupation with borderline underagers.

I found the information transformations performed by the narrator to be implausibly weird. Murakami comprehends the notion of a key but fails to realise that with that comes the possibility of anything (you trust) doing the computation; there is no need for a human agent in that loop. The conflict between the System and the Factory is ill-drawn and unresolved; Junior and Tiny are unmotivated and apparently not as fearsome as the narrator thought them to be. I pushed on to the end in vain hope of a final twist.

The Hit

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Terence Stamp rats out his crime boss and a decade later John Hurt and Tim Roth attempt an extraordinary rendition from Spain to Paris. Bill Hunter is totally superfluous (though mercifully brief) and only functions to get Laura del Sol into the Merc with the other, longer-lived, gents. Some of the cinematography is nice but not a patch on a proper spaghetti western. The plot is pedestrian and entirely too predictable; as a meditation on how to die it has no answers. Did anyone think things would go any other way?

The Killing of A Chinese Bookie

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I really enjoyed this one. Cassavetes captures the owner of a seedy nightclub (the Crazy Horse West, in California) whose love of gambling outstrips his good sense. In some ways it echoes Thief in that the mafiosi have even less smarts. The cinematography is excellent; the scenes inside the club are beautifully lit. I liked the muted soundwork at the Chinaman's: mutilating what we hear of such a critical juncture is a nice touch. Ben Gazzara anchors the show with his usual understated elegance. It is a bit slow but it didn't drag, perhaps because it often says things at-most-once, with sparely drawn characters.

The Big Steal

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A 1949 followup-of-sorts to Out of the Past. Robert Mitchum plays an honest cad to Jane Greer's flirty uptown girl while he searches Mexico for the Army's payroll, stolen by some random guy, whose fiance just happens to be the tasty Greer. Mitchum's Army boss is in turn chasing him, but luckily Greer knows she has to throw her lot in with the most handsome of the male cast.

The Long Good Friday

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I was expecting something closer to Mona Lisa; instead I got an overinflated Bob Hoskins-as-kingpin East Enders saga. Some of the cinematography is awesome (the hoods hanging in the abattoir, for instance) and there's the odd piece of vintage cockney slang. Mirren bats her eyelashes in an upper-toff kind of way.

Thief

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The second movie of the night, completely breaking the rules of the moment; I guess I can't face Murakami right now. Many people at IMDB point to this as the source material for Drive (alongside the late 1970s The Driver.) James Caan is awesome here, especially in a triple of early scenes opposite Tuesday Weld. Some of the cinematography is excellent; the neon reflected from the hood of a car cruising to destiny is something to see.

Benny & Joon

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Sweet to the point of saccharine. Benny & Joon themselves are realistic enough but if the solution to their situation is Johnny Depp then we are all in deep trouble. Set somewhere in Washington State; Spokane? Deer Park? A segue from a review of the new Depp movie The Lone Ranger, which is apparently an unnecessary exhumation.

Netrider Learners' Session

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Going for my Ps tomorrow, so one last chance to practice. I overdid the swerve once, and tried to weave too tightly through the cones also once, and jammed the brakes on too quickly on the stop. My u-turn now seems dependably adequate. Everyone was reassuring and positive; it's funny-strange being amongst such a supportive crowd. I talked at length with a Russian bloke (Atom?) working at Fairfax Digital.

... and on Sunday I bombed the test by locking the brakes up on the pass-or-fail quick stop, after doing 3-4 adequate ones in practice immediately before. The sun was in my eyes, I probably hadn't had enough lunch and certainly not enough sleep, the mostly-talk-and-little-show classes earlier in the day dulled my concentration. Bleh. I don't think there's much to learn between now and redoing it, beyond being in better physical shape when I turn up, and being more mindful at that point. $175 for the day, and it will be $50 for the resit when I get around to it.

WALL-E

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Apparently I saw this back in 2008 at The Ritz. It remains excellent on a second viewing.

Drive

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A long time ago my friend Leon, an eternal postgraduate student in the philosophy department of ANU, told me that Ryan Gosling was awesome, and pointed to this as evidence. My continuing jetlag haze prevents me from protesting too much, but I didn't really get into it; I had a perpetual hope that it would lift, right up to the end. It was also far gorier and violent than I expected. The whole thing is so very 1980s, right down to the Badalamenti soundtrack, which is that much closer to the mainstream than he used to do for David Lynch.

Yosemite National Park with Penka and Rajat.

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The super moon from Glacier Point, Yosemite.

Penka and her husband Rajat took me to Yosemite for the weekend. We did a lot of driving. Tonight we ended up at Glacier Point at sunset, and got a fantastic view of the (almost) super moon. Rajat observed that it was in strange confluence with the winter solstice.

Computer History Museum in Mountain View

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An ancient mechanical totalisator from NSW.

Penka dropped me off at this mecca of dead hardware. Entry was $US15, despite the sponsorship of Bill Gates, and lunch was the same again. The story begins with Babbage's difference engine (with a part of a replica made by a Dutchman on show) and proceeds through wartime computation and Turing's contribution to the halcyon days of big iron (IBM's stretch and so forth) and the time when Cray's supercomputers really were super. My childhood was summarised in a single room (of consumer microcomputers); I didn't see an Amiga 500 (just the original 1000) or the classic Atari 600XL/800XL they had in primary school in Orange. There were several old Apples: a ][ but not a //e, a Lisa, an original Mac. They had a panel of old toy robots, but I expect there is a far larger collection out there in private hands.

Australia's (or perhaps New Zealand's) contribution was a totalisator manufactured by George Julius's Automatic Totalisators Ltd; a part of it had pride-of-place in a perspex box just in front of the entry door in the foyer. There were also some fragments of CSIRAC (I think) of the JOHNNIAC lineage, on loan from the Victorians.

Monsters University

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Penka extended her friend's invitation to this freebie screening somewhere in Palo Alto. (Prerna works for Disney games and her husband Ashish is at Google, tweaking AdSense, and is an erstwhile classmate of Rajat.) We got a pile of popcorn and the 3D technology seemed different to what I'm used to in Australia, though the effect was subtle enough that I didn't really notice it.

I can't remember the original too well, so perhaps I didn't see it. This one was OK but not great, being heavy on the American values of brotherhood and all that, and compounding the self-reliant myth of making it from the bottom. The New York Times review says more than I could be bothered to.

Afterwards we went to dinner at an upscale Indian place in the heart of Palo Alto.

Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore

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The view from Alamo Square Park.

Kate suggested I read something by her favourite author; while in Berkeley I found that Vijay had read it as well ("I enjoyed it as a story."). I finished it off while huddling from the wind blowing across Alamo Square Park after a sushi lunch with Peter Eckersley. The view of San Francisco down towards the Embarcadero is legendary.

This book is essentially a long rambling narrative in the magical realism tradition. There is quite a bit of sex and gender politics, with something of a Lolita arc with the gender roles switched. The best bits for me were when Nakata talks with cats. (Upon reflection I also see the truck driver as an echo of Kipling's Kim, with Nakata so obviously being the Tibetan Lama.) Most things got sufficiently resolved by the end, but I didn't invest enough effort to fathom the symbolism: what happened to Johnny Walker? What was with the Colonel? (Or was it Hồ Chí Minh?) What was with the iguana-like thing getting stranded? The gesturing at postmodern-ism and idealism (Hegelism, thesis, antithesis, synthesis, etc.) left me cold. I wonder if he wrote it to be enjoyed or studied.

Alcatraz.

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The excursion for the ExCape Synthesis Summer School was to Alcatraz. I went with Sean and didn't take any photos. It was a beautiful day for it, with the wind not too cold on the bay.

Pixel Sounds Festival

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I headed out to the Cambelltown Arts Centre with Ben. It's a strange little sub-genre: making danceable music with Gameboys. The last guy (cTrix) was pretty good and 10k Free Men kind-of funny in an aggressive ocker sort-of way.

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Mid-morning snorkel before the rain and cold set in. I saw the blue Blue groper and a large stingray, and loads of the usual suspects.

Mohsin Hamid: Moth Smoke

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This is Hamid's first novel. The opening trial structure a bit weird and ultimately merely parenthetic. The accounts of the "witnesses" are less fully realised than Daru's strong voice. There is a limp twist at the end. The structure is the same as his other two: boy-meets-girl amongst calamity (here the 1998 Pakistani nuclear tests). I liked the heroin-laced aitches, replacing the stoner's jays. The worst of the three but still not bad.

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Late-morning snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the rocks on the southern side. Perfect conditions all round; difficult to believe it is almost winter. I saw just the usual suspects.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The freebie ticket from my Palace Cinemas club membership has been burning a hole in my pocket for months now, and this movie, even if it was likely mediocre, was the first to tempt me in that time. The 9.15pm session at the Chauvel was empty save one other soul, and we got served up a pile of ads and a singular short in cold theatre number two.

Mira Nair also directed The Namesake, and this is a similar journeyman tale: a young Pakistani goes to the U.S. to be trained up as a financial engineer while his family continues with their traditional life near the top of the post-colonial heap, albeit with diminishing means.

It is quite different to the book, though better than those reviews led me to expect. I did not really understand why the conversation moves amongst locations in the tea house, and I feel a bit robbed that they did not set it in the markets of old Lahore. The pivotal moment is toned down to a smile and a less triumphal "awe at arrogance brought low". The lead actor (Riz Ahmed) is great, despite his irritating if apt Americanisms (fist pumping, histrionics at the exhibition), but otherwise the actors flail around. Kate Hudson's Erica is weird as she tries to play a twenty-something without much success, and the changed nature of her bereavement robs her of pathos; her blubbing after the exhibition is risibly fake. Also she doesn't disappear. Kiefer Sutherland is simply not good. Liev Schreiber has yet to recover from Wolverine; I kept wondering where his red teeth and claws had gotten to. Martin Donovan does almost nothing to earn his credit.

Georges River National Park

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Busted Vietnamese pronouns: 'Kim, I love you.'

Selecting a target at pretty much random, I rode Betty out to the Georges River National Park. (Actually I was keen to try out the hillier part of Henry Lawson Drive, and things get seriously rural thereabouts.) The whole thing was quite relaxed, and it was a beautiful day for it.

I did, however, get lost on the shoreline walk, which seemed to evaporate amongst the mud and rocks. There were lots of tiny sand-cleaning crabs at one point; quick to retreat when I got close, so no decent photos. Soon after I backtracked and went up to the ridge, which was pleasant rainforest, and not too arduous.

The peace was regularly shattered by bogans on jetskis.

Jack Womack: Let's Put the Future Behind Us

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In Red Plenty, Francis Spufford gestured to this book for an account of the rapacious 1990s in post-Soviet Russia. Being an airport novel it is nowhere as erudite, though sometimes the backhanded observations are as funny as the author intends them to be. We get the expected oligarchs, mafiosi, digs at Yeltsin and Brezhnev, the bling, the Moscow Barbies, the presumably-fictional "fred". At times he flicks the switch to Reservoir Dogs and is clearly angling for a movie deal. The plot twists become way too convenient, and with a decent edit it would have been fifty pages shorter and the better for it. I came to the end not really remembering the beginning and wondering why we were touring Sovietland in denouement.

Moduluxx Festival 2013 - Showcase @ the Red Rattler

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Ben sucked me into this at the last minute. $10 he says, but Pia at the door says $15. Oh well. The schtick was making music using synthesisers and chains of sundry processing devices; laptops have almost, but not quite, made this anachronistic. I enjoyed the second set somewhat as it reminded me a little of Tooth and Nine Inch Nails. (The first was interesting but he cut too quickly between his samples.) The last act was essentially some kind of dance music familiar to 1980s/1990s club denizens.

New Theatre: The Ham Funeral

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I booked this a week or more ago when I thought I'd be less preoccupied than I have been. The hook was that Patrick White authored it back in the 1940s, and that New Theatre now does a $17 cheap Wednesday night rather than their free-for-the-unwaged Sundays of yore. The rain made it not fun to ride Betty over to Newtown. I meant to go to the Turkish in Redfern for dinner but ended up at Yen's, and so missed the coffee that might have allowed me to follow the snappy dialogue and the many plot/character cues that passed me by. I agree with Kevin Jackson that Lucy Miller (Mrs Lusty, the landlady) goes the extra round. A valiant production for all that.

Ensemble Offspring: Between the Keys at the Riverside Theatre

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I scored a freebie to an Ensemble Offspring gig via their email list, and so after a design workshop at NICTA's ATP site in the afternoon, I rode Betty out to Parramatta; traffic was already slow on the M4 by 4pm. By riding in the breakdown lane (with lots of care and not much speed), I got there reasonably quickly. Having no idea where to park, and being allergic to paying for it and parking stations, I eventually found a free motorcycle spot at the Parramatta City Library; all streets in the city centre are 4P ticket after 6pm, and 1P ticket otherwise. The traffic in downtown Parramatta itself was quite light.

I haven't been to Parramatta for years. Imagine my surprise that the concert was in the same theatre in which I listened to Quiggin et al with Pete R. back in 2009 and not the one in which I saw John play in Codgers in 2007. I burnt a bit of time talking to Dave and perusing the Behind the Lines political cartoons in the Riverside foyer, most of which were meh.

Everything was improv/experimental-ish, albeit far more polished than the usual gigs I go to; all instruments were bespoke, as was much of the music. Something in the last piece (Hidden Sidetracks (2011) by Terumi Narushima, partner to Kraig Grady who made several of the instruments) resonated, perhaps because the "undachin tarhu" played by Anna McMichael took on something from East European folk. (This instrument is roughly a violin with a wooden cone and some "sympathetic strings" that lead to some interesting timbres.) The gig was recorded by the ABC, and perhaps the acoustics will be better when Julian Day gets around to broadcasting it; the modified vibraphone got a bit much at times where I was sitting. I liked the harmonium though as its player (Jason Noble) observed, it wasn't called on to do much.

I took Victoria Road back to the CBD; crossing the Anzac Bridge was easier than I thought, though I choked on the blind corner that winds down to it. Fortunately the four-wheel tank behind me was patient and gave me a lot of space.

Alaska Projects: Musical Alaska #8 — New Paths

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I heard about this microgig from a NOW now email. Alaska Projects is a tiny artspace on level two of a Kings Cross underground carpark, which means it is four floors under the streets. The email said 6pm-7pm, the website 5pm-7pm, and as it turned out the email was right; I blew an hour pacing the streets of the Cross, and then waited until 6:20pm for the music to start.

The blurb was otherwise accurate: Jonathan Baker played Toru Takemitsu's Paths, solo, on his trumpet, and that was sort-of awesome. Peter Jenkin (Principal Clarinet in the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra) did Bach's Partita in A Minor and something jazzy afterwards. Apparently doing that Bach piece with a clarinet instead of a flute is revolutionary. The acoustics were pretty good, and even the few cars driving past didn't disturb it too much. As they didn't have any drinkable non-alcoholic drinks, they got no donation from me (and I still feel mean).

Netrider Learners' Session

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It's time I got my motorcycle licence. I headed out to Homebush on a day made for this sort of thing. I was surprised to meet Pete Kirievsky there, riding a CB400 (2009), with a full licence. He and the other organisers gave me loads of useful advice, as always. Overall things look OK-ish, though I need yet more practice on the u-turn (head up, constant revs, use the clutch, less rear brake). I need to remember to always do the head checks on both sides.

There wasn't too much much traffic going out, but it was completely horrendous coming back, with football at the Olympic Park (and presumably Moore Park too, I guess). I was stonkered by the vast number of cars trying to park at the factory outlets at Homebush.

I tried booking a test on Sunday and found that the RTA website is down.

The Avengers

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Meh. Would've been an overwhelming spectacle in 3D. Something of an achievement to find things for each of the characters to do, especially Scarlett. #152 in the IMDB top-250.

Anthony Lane's take.

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Late afternoon snorkel off the ramp at Gordons Bay, just as the sun sank behind the houses on the ridge. The swell wasn't too bad getting in, but I was too lazy to swim against it to get out; far easier just to swim to the beach and walk back. Again, warmer in than out, with my fingers going purple in the Clovelly carpark.

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Quick midday paddle at Gordons Bay, off the rocks on the southern side. Water was warm, flat, clear. The wind was not too bad getting out. Warmer in than out.

The Removalists at Bondi Pavilion.

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This was the first production I've seen by the Tamarama Rock Surfers since they departed the Old Fitzroy. I figured a $25 preview was an acceptable risk to see a play that I mistook for something we studied in Year 10. Maybe that wasn't by David Williamson.

Some of the acting was good, but the play itself has not aged well: it now seems unlikely that an unhappily domesticated housewife trying to leave her husband after a mercurial bout of violence stands in need of some police brutality. I met Sean's acting mate Ollie there, and he wondered why TRS chose this one, seeing as polly corruption has trumped police corruption in recent years; I cynically suggested the HSC will guarantee them some income.

I've been a few times before to the theatre at the Bondi Pavilion: back in the 90s I saw Joel Edgerton play in Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and at some point Bob Ellis in Waiting for Godot. As I observe every year, parking at Bondi Beach should be cheap or even free during the off season. There isn't much motorcycle parking there either. It's getting a bit too cold to be riding around Sydney late in the evening.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Early afternoon paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The water was fairly calm, visibility good, and not too cold in a wifebeater. For all that I didn't see much. I got slaughtered by the wind on the trek up to the Clovelly carpark.

Star Trek Into Darkness

/noise/movies | Link

I didn't know Albert was a Star Trek fan. We made it to the 6:30pm 2D session at The Ritz after dinner with Sandy at the new burger bar at the Spot (where the bakery recently was), and a coffee at the Bavarian cafe (where the aquarium shop used to be). Vale Teascapes! — though it has been dead to me for more than a decade really.

The film has a bit of everything that pisses people off. In some sense it's the dead hand of unimaginative reboots mashing Trek and Star Wars into aggravation. The fight scenes were Michael Bay spaghetti, and I felt pretty manipulated by the music and Nimoy's voice. Dave had told me it was essentially a Trek 2 remake and unfortunately he was right. Overall not terrible and not great. Dana Stevens doesn't exactly disagree. I guess we can expect more convergence with the Star Wars space-Western genre now that J.J. Abrams has been charged with rebooting both.

Afterwards we joined Sandy in playing a round of Pandemic. We won easily.

Francis Spufford: Red Plenty

/noise/books | Link

This is the fairy story you write when you are erudite, learned and funny, and have ingested a library of texts on a particular subject. (Take note Ghosh and Rushdie.) Astoundingly Spufford does find room for most of everything.

This history-lightly-dusted-with-fiction shows why people without political power tried so hard to make the Communist project work; as he observes, not all of its failings were apparent to the citizenry at the time. Spufford focuses on individuals, real (such as Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich) and imagined, who mostly lie outside the dictatorship of the proletariat, as well as offering up a sympathetic portrait of Khrushchev in decline, after he was deposed. Alongside these biographies and vignettes we see the impact of the philosopher-kings' dreams on the small people, without a lecture on ideology.

I found this book from a glowing review in the New York Times by Dwight Garner, and as there is plenty of material out there about it already, including some analysis by left-leaning economists and social scientists, I will just gesture at the memorable parts. The description of the development of cancer in the lungs of Soviet computer pioneer Sergey Alexeyevich Lebedev (Part VI, Chapter 1: The Unified System, 1970) is fantastic, as is the story of childbirth in the USSR (Part V, Chapter 3). The section on the genesis of Akademgorodok (Part III, Chapter 1) canvasses Soviet romance / sexual mores (single mothers, frisky young students, proper university-don-equivalents) alongside the kind of idealism I ascribe to engineers (p175):

'[...] Plenty is the condition that will let us distinguish, for the first time, between avoidable and unavoidable suffering. We solve the avoidable stuff — which seems pretty bloody generic to me, given that a bowl of soup cures everybody's hunger and a painkiller cures everybody's headache — and then we know that what's left is a real tragedy, boo-hoo, write a play about it. Who the hell ever said that plenty was supposed to abolish unhappiness? But what it will do is free our hands to concentrate on unhappiness. If we're so minded. [...] Plenty will let a truly human life begin.'

Part IV, Chapter 2 is titled Prisoner's Dilemma and more-or-less lays out how estimates for software development are still made. Somewhere in there he talks about Soviet cinema as if it is worth seeking out.

Interspersed with tales of the novelties of the Soviet computer industry (p338: "[Brusentsov's being] the only one in the world to explore three-state electronics."), its death, and sundry parts of economic theory is the odd short unsourced snippet. For instance:

Once a turnip said, "I taste very good with honey." "Get away, you boaster," replied the honey. "I taste good without you."

While I hate endnotes, I scrupulously paused at the end of each chapter to read all of them, for Spufford generously tips his hand by pointing to his sources and revealing how much he was reworked them. One of the richer is Seth Graham's PhD thesis, titled A Cultural Analysis of the Russo-Soviet Anekdot.

Here's the kind of arcana Spufford shares with us (notes, p401 for p244):

Russian has no 'h', and renders the 'h' sound as 'g' rather than (as the other option) 'kh'. The USSR was invaded in 1941 by a German dictator called Gitler.

Another on history's keen sense of humour (p417 for p346):

'They say he's saving the steel-tube industry now, since they wouldn't let him save the world?': A sarcastic allusion to Kantorovich's important role, throughout the second half of the 1960s, in a project to rationalise production scheduling in the rolling mills controlled by Soyuzglavmetal, 'Union Metal Supply'. The team he led created the part of a vast software ensemble that automated and optimised the traditional paper files of bronirovshchiki, production schedulers. Kantorovich may well have thought of the project as a very large-scale demonstration of the viability of optimal planning. Needless to say, while the planners were happy to let him use his shadow prices as an analytical tool for tuning a mill's output, they declined to take up his larger scheme of using them to automate and decentralise their own activities. It was claimed that, by the second half of 1969, the optimised method was giving an extra output of sixty thousand tonnes of steel tubes. Whatever the exact truth, the irony remains that, in the 1970s, it was down Kantorovich's optimised pipes that the oil flowed which Brezhnev's government used as their free-money alternative to sorting out the economy. See Ellman, Planning Problems in the USSR: The Contribution of Mathematical Economics to Their Solution 1960-1971 (CUP, 1973).

I was mildly allergic to the fictionalisaton in Logicomix; this is the kind of book I was hoping that would be, and I'd like to see the same thing done for the Zionist project of the first half of the twentieth century. Ironically the author is a raving Christian, the theological opposite to Dawkins and Hitchens. I have to say I'm much keener to read Unapologetic than anything by that pair, however.

On Spufford's advice I picked up Let's Put the Future Behind Us by Jack Womack, which canvasses the post-Soviet Russian kleptocracy. It's been OK so far.

2014-10-13: A piece in the New Yorker about Stafford Beer's efforts in Chile.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

/noise/movies | Link

Ilan mentioned this one to me a while back, and while I had heard about it before I do not remember how. He liked the monomania of the master sushi chef.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Midday snorkel at Little Bay. Perfect Autumn day for it. Some sort of interview was happening just near the staircase. Visibility was good, and the water reasonable apart from the odd cold current that the wife beater did little to abate. I didn't see much beyond some mid-size Ludderick.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Post-lunch snorkelling attempt at Little Bay. I brought two left-boots (for the fins) so I couldn't use those... and then I left my mask with Betty, so paddling around the bay had to do. I'm really unfit after this illness and the rest. The water was quite pleasant and totally flat. I got in with a wife beater but would have been fine without it.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Quick paddle at Little Bay. Being in the water was subjectively warmer than the strong winds that made the ride there and back not so much fun.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I tried going for a paddle off the scuba ramp at the north end of Gordons Bay but as I didn't feel like getting hammered again, I got in off the rocks on the south side of the bay, just like old times. Still pleasant in, in a wife beater, and it wasn't so rough.

No Country for Old Men

/noise/movies | Link

I greatly enjoyed seeing this for a second time. Kelly Macdonald as a Southern belle? ... and the rest of the cast is top-notch.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle at Little Bay, which proved just how much this flu has knocked me about. Perfect day for it. The water remains warm (enough) and clear. There was a photoshoot on the beach and few other people about.

Vale, John C. Reynolds.

/cs | Link

John C. Reynolds passed away recently. Lambda-the-Ultimate reflects on his scientific life.

Mohsin Hamid: How to get filthy rich in rising Asia

/noise/books | Link

You read a review in the New York Times. You are struck by the reference to a lifelong infatuation with the pretty girl. You put an order in at Book Depository and meanwhile get help elsewhere. Eventually you have a chance to read the opening chapter and decide to savour the remainder, choosing to plough through the author's earlier reflections on terrorists and (t)errorism first.

Having never read a self-help book the nods to that genre pass you by. It does not inspire you to become a non-expired-labeled expired goods salesman or start a drinking water bottling plant in your bathtub, though you have already moved to the city and forged commercial links with the military. The abuse of the aquifer under your city reminds you of the situation in the country town you escaped from. You come away with an appreciation of the twin pivots of Lahore and Karachi; perhaps Islamabad is beyond your orbit. Your eventual decrepitude is more Alice Munro than Patrick White. The pretty girl fails to disappoint (p53):

The next day she is gone. [...] You are distraught. You are the sort of man who discovers love through his penis. You think the first woman you make love to should also be the last. Fortunately for you, for your financial prospects, she thinks of her second man as the one between her first and her third.

As the book unfolds the the pretty girl becomes Rushdie's Parvati-the-Witch, without the child. Somehow you are put in mind of the "choose life" spiel from Trainspotting. You read another review in the Guardian. You order the author's debut Moth Smoke from Book Depository and add Mohammed Hanif to your list of authors to check out.

Iron Man 3

/noise/movies | Link

With Dave at the Odeon 5 in Orange. There were no 3D sessions as their machinery was busted, but I don't think that made much difference to how much I enjoyed it. We had a couple of coffees each at the Union Bank beforehand; had to make the most of it after they were closed on ANZAC Day. It is surprisingly popular given the prices, which I guess says everything about affluent the town has become with the mine.

This presumably-terminating third installment was far better than the second one. Guy Pearce was a lot of fun, as was Ben Kingsley in bogan mode. Shane Black of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fame riffs on James Cameron's Terminator 2 with the industrial sets and almost-unkillable villain. There were enough references back to The Avengers that I might have to go watch that too.

Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

/noise/books | Link

I read the first chapter of his recent How to get filthy rich in rising Asia (which was awesome) and decided to chew through this earlier one first, as I had it on loan from the UNSW Library. They have none of his other works.

Hamid writes well, casting the reader as an American, possibly a security agent/provocateur, getting talked at by a Pakistani with a Princeton education in something like financial engineering. The ancient and continuing civilisation of Lahore is evoked by the market setting, the drinking of tea and the shared dinner. The ending is pleasantly ambiguous.

I enjoyed it for the most part. The eastern-boy-meets-white-western-girl story is a bit uninspired, though I grant that it goes to non-standard places and is probably a metaphor for something that I was too lazy to unpack. Changez's increasing awareness of inequity is stretches credulity: while he is from landed gentry on a downward trajectory, one would expect him to have been continuously aware of how rich the U.S. is, where that wealth comes from, and how it is exercised; even other Westerners are gobsmacked by American consumerism and obliviousness.

This is the only 9/11-themed novel I've read so far, though I guess Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown is in precisely the same genre, viz imaginings of the genesis of terrorists. (That book is on my shelf and I have the vaguest of memories of it being meh.) I didn't find Changez's reaction to the event all that plausible; I could imagine something like a quiet schadenfreude, but his exaltation reveals him to be a barbarian, despite his education and links to a venerable culture. The reviewer for the New York Times cites this pivot as "the substance of [this] elegant and chilling little novel", whereas I see it as a cheap and crass trolling of the Americans by the author. It disappoints precisely because the rest is far more subtle.

There is a recent movie that has a poor IMDB rating, or perhaps it is too new to judge, or maybe it really is mediocre (says Dana Stevens too). As Martin Donovan is in it, I may have to go.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I attempted to go for a swim off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay around 5pm, just as the sun was setting over the houses, but didn't last long; the swell was as strong as the BOM said it would be. I got in between sets but then got hammered into the rocks. My bloodied legs earnt me no sympathy from the photoshooters on the headland. The water was otherwise perfect, warm and maybe even clear.

Douglas Coupland: Generation A

/noise/books | Link

I recall reading Generation X when I was in Melbourne in 2002, and Microserfs at some point. (It seems I did read more of Coupland's output but that stuff left little mark.) This is unfortunately a long way from those. Here Coupland is often embarrassed by his own characters: regularly a risible cliché is harried by I-take-that-back; let me make a ludicrous assertion, no, cancel that — what I really meant was something even more banal. That Solon thing, I don't get it, I don't know what the bees have to do with anything, and all that rear-loaded exposition cannot redeem this turkey from those feeble, tiresome embedded short stories! The back blurb by William Gibson tells me I should be reading Murakami instead, so I just ordered the two that Kate suggested.

For some reason the UNSW Library thought this was worthy of purchase circa 2010.

The Big Lebowski at Lebowski Bash Australia (The Ritz)

/noise/movies | Link

A while back Sean told me that he found last year's installment of this gig to be a blast, so I bought a ticket. In the meantime I got sick and he busted his clavicle, so it turned into a much smaller night than expected; $30 for the movie and a watery white Russian was a bit steep.

There are so many great actors in this: I hadn't previously identified David Thewlis as Maudie's friend, and I'd totally forgotten about Ben Gazzara. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are awesome, and John Turturro's Jesus remains iconic. Still #131 in the IMDB top-250.

Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

/noise/books | Link

A reviewer at the New York Times said:

That Alice Munro, now 81, is one of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time ought to go without saying by now.

Far be it for me to argue with that. I extracted this 2001 assemblage of short stories from the UNSW Library a couple of weekends ago. All are well-constructed and written, though some extraneous detail occasionally detracts from her central points. Often she seems to be laying a platform for a pointed observation; fifty pages of setup for just two paragraphs. Her stories are about the kinds of traditional lives that I have successfully avoided up to now: everyone gets married, some get divorced, everyone has (or will have) kids, parents are careless, you can't go home again.

I might track down more of her stuff once I'm further through my current stack.

Coda: later (2013-06-10) I read Christian Lorentzen's snark in the London Review of Books.

Le Samouraï

/noise/movies | Link

Anthony Lane gestured at Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic in the New Yorker recently, so I decided to seek out that director's highest-rated effort according to IMDB. This is very stylistic and there isn't much meat to it; it looks something like A Clockwork Orange without the psychedelia. If this makes any social commentary then it is much more oblique.

Daniyal Mueenuddin: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

/noise/books | Link

Having read Mueenuddin's Our Lady of Paris in Zoetrope: All Story, and Sameer and the Samosas in the New Yorker, I was glad to discover that he had a collection in print. (It does not include the latter story.) Somewhat amazingly, the UNSW Library bought this book in May 2010, which I'm taking that to mean that the budget cuts kicked in after that point, though perhaps an ethnic lit prof put in a special request. I'm fully expecting that the library will be high on the hit list following Gillard et al's shifting funding from unis to schools, which makes it so much less likely that I will renew my alumnus subscription.

Mueenuddin is clearly mining a scene he knows from the inside: the scions of the upper classes of post-colonial Pakistan, and in particular the peculiar story of his own family. All of the tales here are of the girl-meets-boy variety, and typically one party manipulates the other via sex; the remaining one or two detail even more prosaic corruption. This is observed at length by Dalia Sofer in her review for the New York Times.

The pick for me was Lily. There the boy and girl come from the Pakistani class of limitless opportunity, and so their machinations are not motivated by material desperation. I can't say it adds up to much though he writes well.

Iron Man 2

/noise/movies | Link

I was reminded that Iron Man 3 is coming out soon by the SMage report that the London Premiere was delayed in deference to Thatcher. This one remains full of cheap thrills. I think they should find a way to revive Mickey Rourke.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon (4:45pm!) snorkel at Little Bay. Visibility was terrible so it degenerated to a paddle around the bay. The Indian summer rolls on when the rain stays away.

The Milner Symposium, April 2012

/noise/talks | Link

Over the past few months I have been chugging my way through the videos of this meeting of computer science luminaries. Gérard Berry is very funny. (I must watch the other videos on his home page.) Gordon Plotkin's talk is quite abstruse even by the standards of this audience. Philip Wadler shows how to run a panel. Gérard Huet and Larry Paulson give great accounts of the early days of interactive theorem proving systems, and John Harrison shed some light on what he does at Intel.

Milner's last innovation in his process algebraic tradition — bigraphs — don't look like gaining much traction from what I saw here.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, the first for several weeks due to the rain. Perfect day for it, and visibility was pretty good. I was a bit crook (with a sore throat) so it wasn't the most comfortable one ever.

Quarterly Essay #41, David Malouf: The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World

/noise/books | Link

I bought this at the Bookshop before my abortive move to Canberra in March 2011, fully two years ago. Since then it has been glaring at me balefully from my bedside table; it is difficult to get into as bedtime reading, which means I have read the first section five times, the second three and the rest once while drowsy.

The first half is long on promise, riffing on various notions of happiness in western culture, and Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness" at length. I enjoyed his comparison and partial reconciliation of the Greek and Christian origin-of-man myths, and the impact on technology and rapid change on humanity's imagining of time and experience. He channels the latter through the French thinker Marquis de Condorcet, also known for his work on voting theory.

I failed to be gripped by his take on the pleasures of the flesh, or his concluding ruminations on why we in the West remain unhappy despite having our material desires by-and-large satisfied. I wondered why he didn't invoke Aristotle on this topic, for those old ideas of "the good" (lagom in Swedish) resonate with Malouf's apparent contention that happiness is some transient rapprochement between comfortable repose and the striving restlessness that forces us to seek the new. That it is of limited duration and scope is surely something that can be analysed by neuroscientists; there just might be a form of happiness that is durable and never-ending, though it probably involves drugs not yet invented. That the big ideas are truly mind-blowing, and do not induce happiness in the average person, is a bit trite to observe; my search for comprehension has rarely satisfied me, let alone made me happy, but I feel it to be necessary nevertheless.

Lazily I could ask if it is really clear that happiness is morally valid; for Westerners it supervenes on many dubious practices, not the least of which is the assumed infiniteness of the inputs to the industrial machine. Is it really true that people are pursuing happiness — long work hours would suggest not — and what would society look like if they attained it? The rarity of it (and similar desired states) is a big part of what makes it valuable.

Malouf argues that happiness is unmeasurable, a purely subjective experience, and this puts it beyond the reach of statistical analysis and hence fields like economics. (The economists understand this when they shun intersubjective utilities, though they are always tempted to treat happiness as something that can be optimised.) For him there is no one-size-fits-all account of happiness, which ironically limits what this generalist kind of writing can tell us.

There is a lengthy excerpt in the SMage. Apparently this ~50 page essay has been expanded into a ~100 page book.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

/noise/books | Link

Finding myself unexpectedly idle last Sunday, I asked John Miller which of Ishiguro's novels I should be reading; of the thin but apparently not dire collection held by the UNSW Library, this topped his list. I could find nothing by Murakami.

My only previous experience of Ishiguro was in watching the movie of The Remains of the Day, which is something of a slow burn and fade away. John did warn me that was what he does, though he gave me hope that there'd be more burn and less fade in the written form of his works. After reading this I am confirmed in my expectation that that work would be superior in book form, and I am not at all tempted to see the movie version of Never Let Me Go.

This novel smells something like Orwell's 1984, though the ambient sci-fi dystopia is never more than a skeleton on which to hang the pointier parts of the coming-of-age story. I didn't really get into the first half or so, where the narrator and her friends grow up in some kind of English public school, perhaps because I am averse to cliques. I did enjoy the second, which cashes in the first half with tales of there being a time for everything, and the limits of how much one can make good on what has been done before. It was a relief to read something with a decent narrative arc after too many Patrick White character studies.

That the sense of the ending is so well telegraphed makes me think that Ishiguro overvalues revelation; the shifting connections between people, the charades they play and their dimishing scope of agency dominate, as they should, and I would have been just as happy if he had spelt the central conceit out from the get go, for then I wouldn't be questioning the plausibility of it at the climax where it is really the least of anyone's concerns. (Would society really countenance much of this, especially in the post WWII era that the book transiently appeals to? For the author's purposes it doesn't really matter, but it detracts from other things that do. Ishiguro gestures at justification by asserting that a society with a cure for cancer wouldn't countenance not using it.)

I liked that there were no parents, just the creepy guardians with their ambiguous agenda. (This rules out a whole strand of a typical coming-of-age saga, which is perhaps the central payoff of Ishiguro's dystopia.) Moreover there is no exploration of the ambient culture, no-one listening to chameleonic Britpop or abetting a cross-Atlantic invasion. I had to wonder if the archetype for Tommy D. was in fact Tommy from Trainspotting: he's a bit of a lettuce.

Griffin Theatre: Girl in Tan Boots

/noise/theatre | Link

Griffin Theatre moved their rush night ($15 for everyone; box office opens at 6pm, show at 7pm) from Monday to Tuesday due to the public holiday; in any case it was news to me. It was all last-minute as I didn't expect to be free, but even so I managed to rope Sean and John Miller along. I got there in about 15 minutes from Randwick on Betty, which I wouldn't have credited when I set out.

This is not an awesome play but some of the performances are good. It riffs on the flirt column in mx (the free commuter rag handed out at train stations; I miss so much by riding/cycling to work). A girl goes missing after responding to such a message, and the mother overplays the stranger danger card. I didn't get a sense that it had much to say.

After that we headed down Victoria road to the Thai near the corner with Liverpool (I think). We met up with Sean's aerial silks friend Lisa and drug her along.

Amitav Ghosh: The Calcutta Chromosome

/noise/books | Link

Being presently bored with Patrick White, I went in search of the sequel to Sea of Poppies in the UNSW Library. It seems they haven't gotten around to buying it yet, though it has been out for almost two years now, and so I came away with this sci fi pulp from 1996 instead. I read it over just a couple of days.

The central conceit of this book is contained in perhaps three pages sprayed amongst three hundred, so forgive me if I hurried on past it. (Given a hefty edit this might have been a decent short story.) Roughly the plot sways between the (still) near future, Ghosh's time of writing, and a fictionalised recounting of the discovery of how mosquitos transmit malaria back in the late 1890s by Sir Ronald Ross. This got Ross a Nobel Prize. He also riffs on the use of malaria to treat tertiary-stage syphilis which later got Julius Wagner-Jauregg a Nobel. Somehow this adds up to a mechanism for transferring character traits.

The latter use of malaria to treat another disease is clearly ethically dodgy. This pyrotherapy came up in a different guise while talking to the Persians over the weekend: in contrast to the Judaic religions, Zoroastrianism holds that fire is the strongest purifying element.

Goodfellas

/noise/movies | Link

With Albert at his place. I haven't seen this in an age. It's great as far as Scorcese Italians-in-America go.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Abortive snorkeling attempt with Albert at Little Bay (while Sandy sat on the beach). The water was fine and clear but full of jellyfish with angry-red inner bits that, according to Albert, do sting. (Plausibly Pelagia noctiluca.) Beautiful day for it otherwise.

Patrick White: The Cockatoos

/noise/books | Link

As The Vivisector wasn't totally crap, I went looking for another Patrick White in the UNSW Library. They don't seem to have Voss, so maybe I won't get to that.

This one seemed promising as it is a compilation of six short stories:

  • A Woman's Hand shows White's inability to imagine women as having much of an explicable internal life.
  • The Full Belly: Greece occupied by the Nazis. I found it difficult to grasp what he was getting at.
  • The Night the Prowler is decent (I believe he turned it into a play) but flawed by the opening gambit being the rape of his protagonist, which severely limits where he can take things. I didn't find the arc at all plausible.
  • Five-Twenty maps the decline of a couple who retire to the Parramatta Road. White is in his element and comfort zone here, just as he was in the final movement of The Vivisector.
  • Sicilian Vespers was OK but didn't amount to much.
  • The Cockatoos was the pick of this collection for me, with White exercising his ability to keenly observe social dynamics and pretensions. It also benefits from him not being as brutal as he typically is.

Overall this collection isn't great, if only because White cannot formulate a plot worth a damn.

Jenolan Caves: Orient Cave.

/travels | Link

Stupidly I headed out to Jenolan Caves on Easter Friday. The traffic in the city wasn't too bad but became hellish a few kilometres before the roadworks at Wentworth Falls, etc. It opened up past Katoomba, but even so what I expected to take two-and-a-half hours took three-and-a-half. This meant that there was barely time to make the 3.45pm Orient Cave tour, let alone go looking for the platypus in the river, despite it being a perfect day for it. The cave was as beautiful as ever.

Vernon, Florida

/noise/movies | Link

An early Errol Morris doco about the town Vernon in Florida. This is clearly at the self-parody end of his genre. I found it pretty tedious at times, though the preacher really got me.

Robot & Frank

/noise/movies | Link

I'm a sucker for anything with Frank Langella in it, and I liked the premise of an old man training his robotic carer in his vocation. Unfortunately much of it is twee and predictable. Liv Tyler is... well, Liv Tyler. Susan Sarandon is solid in her one-note sexy librarian character.

Dana Stevens talked it up a bit too much.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of suspended plant matter, so it probably wasn't too healthy. Quite temperate with some relatively large waves rolling in. Quite a few people. Saw a school of young gropers, I think.

The Benowie Track, Thornleigh to ... Thornleigh.

/travels | Link

I headed up to Asquith yesterday to spend the night with Pete R.'s family. We with Beth and the kids to the pool at Galston (via the Gorge, rife with ambitious cyclists) in the morning and set off from Thornleigh with the ambition of hoofing it over the Hornsby. It was quite hot and perhaps we didn't take quite enough water. We got quite close to the end and took the path that (subtly) said "Hornsby" and "Bluegum Forest", thinking that it would fork... but in fact it was Hornsby via the Bluegum Forest. So instead of ploughing on another 200m or so to get past the gorge, we bush-bashed our way out and hoofed it along suburban streets back to Thornleigh.

In recompense we had five beers each at the Hornsby Inn, a beer barn near the Westfield. It was a long trek back to Randwick for me; I caught the 378 by accident and walked home from Charing Cross. No time or appetite for dinner.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Early afternoon paddle at a quite-flat Coogee. Many people down there but I expect they're mostly locals; the days of backpackers overrunning the joint passed with the depressed dollar.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The swell was a lot stronger than usual so getting out was not much fun.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Given the weather and sundry other things, this was my first opportunity in six weeks to go to the learner's meetup out at Homebush. This time I took the M4 and got there in about an hour. It was a nice day for riding around the city, as evidenced by the loads of bikes.

Due to the fair weather there were loads of people. The bloke riding the CB400 goes for his test soon. Betty was the smallest thing there; the CBR250s dominated.

I got some advice about the U-turn — keep your head up and don't worry about where the bike goes. I need more revs to do it properly, but I'm getting there. The cone weave is easy now. Emergency stop was never hard, nor the dodge. I need a shirtload more reps though.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Getting in ahead of the change, I took Betty down for an early evening snorkel at Gordons Bay. The sun was behind the ridge before I got in. Visibility was pretty good, the water quite temperate and flat.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle and snorkel-of-sorts at Gordons Bay. A fair bit of plant material in the water makes me think it rained over the weekend. Good temperature, not much swell, calm and warm out. The Indian summer kicks along.

David Bowie: The Next Day

/noise/music | Link

The soundtrack of this backward looking mode of the moment has been provided, of course, by David Bowie. The Bowie at the Beeb triple CD remains pure gold, for instance, though it calls to mind my first serious nine-to-five wage slavery of more than a decade ago. I'm building the nerve to trawl the previously untouchable Berlin series, and so forth.

I prevaricated about buying a copy of his new album The Next Day, but seeing as he couldn't help himself, I couldn't either; Apple is now 30% of $20 richer. I hope the remainder helps him not have another heart attack. The power rock-pop of (You Will) Set the World On Fire recalls the end-to-end near-perfection (heh, this is Bowie) of Scary Monsters (and Supercreeps). The rest, well, I'll get there one day.

There are piles of reviews. Pitchfork goes full retro and claims the canon of the great man was already complete. Kitty Empire (presumably her real name) draws the back pointers I am too lazy to. Sasha Frere-Jones talks it up, and rhapsodises about the lyrics; and if there's one thing I learnt from Pete R., that's precisely what you don't do.

Later Ian Buruma gives Bowie's career the once-over.

Cloud Atlas

/noise/movies | Link

I dragged Jacob along to the new Wachowski effort after he inflicted West of Memphis and Django Unchained on me. Betty got me without incident from NICTA to the motorcycle parking lot at the end of Bathurst Street in the CBD. We grabbed a late dinner at dear old Chinatown Noodle King, where I think he gave me his flu.

We were about ten minutes late to the 9:10pm screening on George St, and I was too tired to follow it closely. I liked the pseudo-2046 Neo Seoul sequence until it got all Matrix/neo-Tron. The World War II British segment was fine too. However none of the story arcs were completely satisfying, and the New Ageism is tedious.

The New Yorker covered the tail end of production. Anthony Lane is ambivalent. The New York Times reviews it at length. Dana Stevens mutters a few brutal things.

Bushwalk: Royal National Park, Bundeena to Otford.

/travels | Link

On a whim Sean and I decided to walk from Bundeena to Otford along the Coast track. Preparation on Friday involved buying some supplies and deciding on a car shuffle that meant we wouldn't need to carry our camping gear too far. The weather was perfect for it.

After a moderately early start and a Maccas breakfast that probably got me through most of the first day, we both drove down to Otford and left Sean's car near the lookout at the end of the walk. I drove my car up to Garie Beach, where we dumped our gear and an excessive amount of water on top of the ridge; I climbed that twice on both sides and can tell you it's the worst incline on the whole walk. After that we parked my car at Bundeena and set off around midday carrying just water and food down the highway to Marley Beach.

That stretch is really quite pretty; loads of rocks, pretty flat, and some nice beaches. Wattamolla Dam was an eye-opener to me, a beautiful secluded little swimming hole which was comfortable enough right now but perhaps not next week. After that stretch there is a super-boring slog down to Garie Beach, and then over the hill of ill repute to the camp grounds at North Era. It didn't really feel like 17km apart from the last few hundred metres of steep incline and (bodily) decline.

We got to the camp grounds with a fair bit of sun left, finding our gear where we left it. My dear old MacPac Nautilus turned out to be easier to erect than Sean's dome. I ate my leftover (flavourless) butter tempeh cold, and Sean his chilli beef concoction. We got through the McWilliams Tawny Port, which was a bargain at $12 for 28 standard drinks. Like the distance we covered during the day, it sure didn't feel like that though; more like 5 or 6 I would guess. Sean fell asleep during my scintillating story, so I headed over to the campfire at the other end of the grounds and met a couple of UNSW Mechanical engineers: AJ from the Punjab via Malaysia, Gordon who originated from near Glasgow but has been here for ages.

I slept surprisingly well, and managed to navigate the toilet without paper not too shabbily, without even a hangover for company. Breakfast was a Sunrice pre-digested Thai Red Curry from ages ago, and some of Mum's "soluble" Bushells coffee. We got moving around 11am.

The slog from there down to Otford is hardly worth remarking on, though the rainforest had its moments. We bumped into mrak's mate Tom Murtagh and his entourage who were walking down to Burning Palms for the afternoon. Surfacing at Otford, feeling like we really had walked 8km, Sean drove his car up to the cafe where we recovered with a burger and a coffee each. Our gear was still where we left it at Garie; fortunately retrieving it was the easiest encounter with that hill of the three times I climbed it. The ambo and police were at the beach, so I'm guessing that someone passed away, but I have no details. After that we had another coffee at Bundeena, after which I recovered my car and ran into terrible traffic on the Grand Parade on the way back.

As Sandy never tires of reminding me, I carried far too much water — I estimate I used at most 50% of what I brought. Perhaps if it had been hotter I may have made it to 60%.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Loads of fish, quite comfortable in, flat as a tack. Still no squid, though the big female groper must surely be on the turn. I really need to get a tinted visor for my helmet if I'm going to keep riding back at that time of the evening.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I took Betty down to Little Bay today in the early afternoon for lunch and a snorkel. As before there were loads of fairly large fish, in particular ludderick. The beach was almost entirely deserted with the exception of a husky and his owner, and some retired gents. Heaps of seaweed on the beach, not so much in the water. Good visibility, nice temperature, no stingers, low tide, not much swell.

Out front of Dan Murphy's in Kingsford.

Last weekend Dad helped me fit a milk crate to the Ventura (short) sports rack, and today I got a chance to see how it went carrying a case of beer. The cable ties did a good job of securing everything, with the remaining flex being in the pipes that attach the rack to the frame of the motorcycle. I rode like I had just gotten my Ls again; slow and wide on the corners, fast on the straights. I don't think the load moved much but it was off-centre and slightly weird. I'll be wanting to practice a lot more before I get out on the highway with camping gear.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Visibility was pretty good, though the water was a slightly off-putting tea colour. I saw some large specimens of the usual types: a goatfish the size of a medium groper, and a large female groper.

Patrick White: The Vivisector.

/noise/books | Link

Sometime last year I signed up at the UNSW Library as an alumnus borrower for $90, optimistically imagining I would scour the shelves for all those books the kids no longer even see, what with all their iTech going bang right in front of the quiet signs while the cockroaches munch on lunch droppings. Conjoined with this was a capricious plan to read some of Patrick White's novels, seeing that at least some of his short stories weren't completely dire, and because Jacob kept joking about me being pretentious enough to attempt Voss.

Well, it pays to start somewhere down the chain. This one from 1970 is reputedly one of his better efforts, and it took me about a month to chug through. As an exemplar of brutalist modernism its only peer in my mind is the UTS tower, and that has rounded corners. The studied scatalogy was perhaps innovative or shocking when published, but is not much of anything now, and that goes double for the Australian patois. This is partly redeemed by White's fluid notions of identity: Hurtle Duffield is sometimes us ("you"), and Ms Hollingrake is the original chameleonic social cypher.

Here White is one type of artist (a writer, a vivisector) trying to capture the life of another (a painter, just possibly ostensibly Sidney Nolan or Francis Bacon) in a series of episodic, periodic portraits. We see the artist as a young man, sold into penury as a plaything of the nouveau riche, and finally post-stroke, as a master who may just have got the last word in. Clearly White put a lot of himself into the curmudgeonly Hurtle Duffield, perhaps with an eye to someone realising the paintings he only sketches with words.

I have to observe the obvious influence of Lolita on the final movement: Kathy's father is an absent Russian, and White knowingly deracinates her with Volkov, slipping singularly to Volkova when she is in her element as a young woman (p531). White opines "It seemed as though the heart were a cupboard one simply had to open: innocence hides nothing; and perfection bears looking at." Shuard is transparently the Quilty character (p534 and earlier), and making him a critic was pretty lame. I didn't get into Hero (Hurtle's Greek mistress), though I did enjoy how Nance loosed his artistic sensibility on his return from the first World War.

As Duffield says to Rhoda about Kathy: "You can't expect more than their art from artists. If you did, you might forget about the art, and die of shame for what they've shown you of mankind." — and that bites White both ways. Maman utters the semi-wise "half of cruelty is thoughtless", but no, it is not thoughtlessness so much as carelessness; being mindful does not preclude klutzing it right up. White treats May Noble, the working class artist (as the Courtney's cook), to the only letter that resonated with me (p178); a beautiful piece of plain speaking. None of this is to say that he misses any opportunity to punish his characters.

David Malouf's Harland's Half Acre covers similar territory, but as I read it well before this book log took form I cannot recall how close these are. It is impossible for me to like or dislike this novel; it was somewhat engaging, superior to Happy Valley, and so I will probably try another one.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Midday snorkel at Gordons Bay, ahead of the predicted heavy rain. Visibility was again better than yesterday. The swell was a bit stronger but not troublingly so. I saw a school of some large silvery guys that I don't think were ludderick.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Despite the dire predictions of the BOM, Randwick remained dry, and so I headed down to Gordons Bay for a late-afternoon paddle. The water was cleaner than yesterday, and the cold currents near the scuba ramp remain. I saw some pretty hefty stingrays but still no squid, nor the big groper.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Trying to slot in between the erratic rain and showers, I went for an early evening paddle at a pretty murky Gordons Bay. The water was a bit cold at the scuba ramp. I spotted a couple of small gropers and some larger ludderick in shallow water.

Sofar @ Protohub

/noise/music | Link

Some weeks ago I shared a table at Yen's with a young bloke who works at Westpac (after a decade at Optus, I seem to recall). He mentioned that Sofar was a lark: nights where musicians play in someone's lounge room. I meant to go to the one last Sunday at a warehouse in St. Peters but was defeated by weariness. Tonight, well, it was the same again but I instead muttered some clichés and headed down to the Protohub "creative space" near Oxford Street to see what it's about.

Paying a $10 "donation" at the door made it feel more like a regular kind of band night, and moreover one without a bar; I brought a single beer, but would (should) have brought more if I hadn't taken Betty. (Motorcycle parking on Campbell St at Taylor Square is a bit tight.) I got there by the strongly-suggested time of 7:30pm ("please respect our musicians"), which was early enough to park myself on a couch next to a young couple from Copacabana, down for the night. The bands started quite a while later, after the mid- to late-20s hipster crowd settled in.

Brian Campeau, a Canadian bloke with a guitar, opened the night. He was OK. Jones Jnr. consisted of a singer and a DJ, and possibly a bloke with a laptop too, but I couldn't see. They did some kind of r'n'b / motown / reggae happy stuff. The Green Mohair Suits, featuring Brian Campeau on guitar and another four guys (banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, double bass) did perhaps a Barbershop quintet, reminding me too much of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The headline (so to speak) were the Blackchords (guitars, drums) from Melbourne. They were fine enough, but I can't remember what they did. Each got about 20 minutes.

Oxford St was very lively when I left at 10:30pm. I'd have stayed out if I wasn't toasted after a long week.

Magnolia

/noise/movies | Link

Paul Thomas Anderson's finest, even now. Somehow he extracted excellent performances from the entirety of a large cast, including Tom Cruise. I grant that it flags a little towards the end. Apparently I haven't seen this since 2006 but I remembered almost all of it.

And the book says: "We may be through with the past... but the past is not through with us!"

West of Memphis

/noise/movies | Link

Instead of going to bed early after a tiring day and week, I found myself heading over to Newtown to do dinner and a beer with Jacob at the Carlisle Castle before going to see this flick at the Dendy. Jacob's mate Andy turned up just before it started. It was dry on the way over, wet on the way back, and my helmet was damp the whole time from showers earlier in the day.

This one is a well-made doco about the West Memphis 3, a trio of young blokes who were convicted of murdering three boys in 1993, and their travails with the justice system of Arkansas. As presented here the original trial seems quite weird (Satanic cults?) but I guess it was the time of Waco and all that. What was really depressing was how vindictive the State was; quick to convict, and with a futile appeals process. I half-expected them to just give up on the State system and try it on with the Fed. Eddie Vedder gets a lot of screen time, as do the other celebrity activists.

These days of erratic showers make it a little challenging to predict how comfortable it will be to take Betty anywhere. The biggest problem with water inside the helmet is not the visor fogging up but my glasses. After midnight I'm less worried about my skills (even in the wet) than about drunks and impatients.

Some kind of conclusion

/noise | Link

Being in Canberra for NICTA's TechFest, I had the opportunity to hand my thesis in to CECS at ANU early in the afternoon. Afterwards I listened to Narjess explain her graph enumeration scheme, which made more sense to me than it had in the past. We met up with Leon at University House and headed over to a Malaysian place for dinner, incidentally stranding Tom S. at the dumpling house. I had hoped to spend a fulsome evening at the Wig and Pen but a respiratory tract infection got in the way of anything serious. Although Tom S. and I were notionally sharing a room at University House, I was fortunate enough to get us a family suite, and so he wasn't compelled to contract my disease.

Narjess made breakfast for Leon, her friend Greg and I on Wednesday morning — some kind of potato cakes, fruit, tea, Turkish bread. I then had a quick coffee with Leon, whose hard disk refused to connect to my MacBook Pro. After that Narjess and I got some lunch and headed over to Parliament House in time to hear Julia open the NICTA TechFest, and in my case, meet up with Jean Vuillemin. There were signs of a concert happening out front later that evening: a celebration of five years since Kevin Rudd apologised for past sins against the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. The barbecue in the courtyard turned out to be a pre-cooked affair in the corridors of power; when my pass fell off I was politely escorted all the way back to the start, which I guess was an appropriate beginning to the year of the snake.

The trip home that evening was a bit hellish; we left around 7:45pm, and though I thought I was clever splitting a cab with other NICTA people, I didn't make it home until 12:10am.

Django Unchained

/noise/movies | Link

Jake was keen to go see the latest Tarantino, and our plan to go tonight turned out messy as we both got sick, and a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend came to stay the night. Some last-minute wrangling saw us commit to the project, though I hadn't processed the fact that he'd bought tickets to the Hoyts in the Broadway Shopping Centre when I gleefully managed to park Betty just a couple of blocks down the road from the George St cinemas. The good thing about her is that it's easy to do a U-turn even on these busy roads. It further turned out that he hadn't remembered that the tickets were for the 9pm session, so it worked out after all; we had time for a beer and a light dinner in Sappho's courtyard.

I enjoyed some parts of this, though it is a long way from the masterpiece that being #39 in the IMDB top-250 would suggest. The scene where Tarantino, sporting an Australian accent, gets blown up was priceless. I found the early parts atypically predictable, perhaps because I'd read too many reviews.

A. O. Scott at the New York Times tells you more than you need to know. Dana Stevens was right to be bored at times. Anthony Lane and David Denby unpack it at the New Yorker.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I took Betty down for an early evening snorkel at Little Bay. The water near the shore was tea-coloured, which a bloke and his wife told me was due to the decomposition of seaweed. Once I got out into the bay visibility was reasonable. The water had some cool-ish currents in it, and was pretty calm.

Earlier I drove with Sean up to Gordon for mrak's grandfather's funeral. I hadn't been to a full Anglican service before, which padded things out to two hours or so. The speeches from Peter (Mark's Dad), Mark and his brother Chris were excellent. Mike Carlton sketches Roy's life here, below the murk of Obeid et al.

Mark heads back to the U.S. on Sunday.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Hungover and seedy, I went for a paddle at Gordons Bay in the late afternoon; still too early to avoid the crowds, unfortunately. Today was just about perfect for it, and the water was clearer than Ben told me Clovelly had been yesterday morning. The water temperature is quite comfortable now.

Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory

/noise/books | Link

Greene portrays a Catholic priest on the run in post-revolution Mexico. As well-written as ever, but not much there for me.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Finally I had a free Saturday and took Betty out to the Netrider learners session at Homebush. I organised to meet Joel (riding a Husqvarna) in Surry Hills at 12:15. We would have made it on time if not for me proposing we stay on Parramatta Road past the M4 turnoff; that took an age to get past all the traffic going to the markets.

I saw Simon on his bright yellow Ducatti Monster (400cc) on Anzac Parade, and guessed he was going too. The roads were a bit wet, but not too difficult to ride on. I learnt that the rear brake is a bit useless in these conditions when I locked up my wheel on Parramatta Road near Missendon.

The course itself is well setup, similar to the RTA's provisional test one. I did a few laps and stopped for lunch. Chris (BMW) was handing out some good advice, telling me not to use the front brake when cornering. I did OK on the cone weave, though I doubt I'll ever be very fluent at it. The U-turn was harder than it looked. I think the swerve and emergency brake will be easy. (Chris: just wait until the cones go out of your peripheral vision and jam on the brakes, and don't relax until they've finished measuring.) One poor bloke dropped his CB400, which is quite a nice bike, though I prefer Betty's styling.

Coming back I took the M4 with Joel, and it was a lot faster. The wind picked up and made things a bit uncomfortable.

/noise | Link

My friend Nell sent me her novel that completes her creative writing degree at Newcastle. I read it as fast as I could, over about three days. She made much of David Byrne's lyrics for his song Once in a Lifetime, which got me thinking that, even at this point in my life, I've done many things multiple times that others do once or not at all; and I don't mean that as some kind of boast, an expression of privilege, but more of klutziness, indulgence and necessity. (At least some of these things embody the ethos of a dog returning to its own vomit, a kind of self-applied backward-looking Pottery barn rule.)

At his recent inauguration, Obama muttered "I want to look out one more time because I'll never see this again," and this is indeed a time for me to be doing some things for the last time in this life. I don't know of anything that expresses how empowering this sentiment can be 1as awesomely as Byrne's song captures the road to the middle class.

The Appaloosa

/noise/movies | Link

Another early Brando. Anjanette Comer is just as luminous here as she was in The Loved One, but she has an almost non-speaking role and the whole thing really is quite weak.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

The BOM is warning of dangerous surf conditions which I hoped might have both cleared out Gordons Bay and not really be a problem there. The swell at the scuba ramp put me off, however, so I headed over to Clovelly for the first time in an age. Somehow the the waves were quite muted, though it was very murky too.

UNSW Gandhi Oration: The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG

/noise/talks | Link

Michael Kirby reminded me that no matter how much mathematics and science I study, wisdom lies elsewhere.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel-of-sorts sans fins at Little Bay. The ride down and back was fine; I'm now easily keeping up with the traffic, except on tight corners like roundabouts. I only saw the usual suspects. The water was quite clear and is finally getting up to comfortable temperatures.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I braved the (tame) shore breaks of Coogee Beach for the first time in ages, around midday on a decently warm day. Quite a few people there but nowhere as packed as I've seen it.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Afterwork paddle at Gordons Bay. Pretty flat after the recent wild weather, and not too filthy after the morning's rain.

The Wild One

/noise/movies | Link

Early Brando effort, black and white. An outlaw motorcycle gang occupies a town to no particular end, and justice is swift and erroneous. Brando gets off one cinematic classic — in response to "What are you rebelling against?", we get "Whatcha got?"

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

First attempt at a night snorkel with Andrew T at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. We got there sometime after 8pm, just on dusk, and while the southerly had garnered a strong warning we decided to get in anyway. The sea itself was calm enough, though the runoff was more troubling. With Andrew's waterproof torches we saw loads of stringrays, several large old wives, and some other decently-sized fish that I don't know the names of. I'm still hanging out for some squid or an octopus.

Hal Hartley: Meanwhile

/noise/movies | Link

This new Hartley feature has been finished for a while; it looks like he went full indie and financed it using Kickstarter. The DVD came out last year, and that seems to be the only kind of release it's likely to get.

This is not in the first rank of Hal Hartley efforts. DJ Mendel tries to channel Thomas Jay Ryan, and while he can carry the requisite artifice he somehow doesn't fire things up as much as he needed to. The whole thing is very lightweight.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

After work paddle at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Quite a few people there at 6:30pm. Very pleasant.

Griffin Theatre: Rust and Bone

/noise/theatre | Link

I somehow heard about this production over the past few days (was it from the puff piece in the SMH?) and figured it'd be worth a shot, though at $28 (for us students) it was past the threshold of having to be decent. I hadn't been to the Griffin (Stables?) Theatre on Nimrod Street before.

I rode the CB250 from NICTA to King's Cross and managed to find a free park in a loading zone at 6:30pm; try doing that with a car on a school night. I found it easy to drift through the traffic, perhaps because it was mostly low-speed and stop-start, and got wondering where motorcycle accidents typically happen. I'm starting to feel about as safe as in Saigon on these city streets.

The production featured three very good actors, each starring in their own monologue and playing bit roles in those of the others. I found Sam Smith's boxer to be the most convincing by far, perhaps because it echoed Wayne McLennan's memoir. Renato Musolino has perhaps the most challenging and stomach-turning role as a bloke who prepares dogs for fighting. (His wife cleans them up afterwards.) Wade Briggs loses his legs to an orca at Sea World, and unfortunately the entire schtick of his character tends towards the unconvincingly farcical; more unfunny comedy than tragedy, I guess. Overall I enjoyed it, for the most part.

Melancholia

/noise/movies | Link

Lars von Trier composes some beautiful shots here, but to little effect; almost everything is pointless and stodgy. His earlier stuff left me feeling queasy and discomforted, whereas I watched this in smaller and smaller increments over several days, trying to stave off the tedium. The science is so risible that he should have omitted any kind of justification.

Anthony Lane, Dana Stevens and Stephanie Zacharek.

The Now Now Festival

/noise/music | Link

With Marc and Ben, I went to the Friday night edition of the Now Now Festival at the Red Rattler, which I'd been meaning to go to since I missed Robbo's gig there so many years ago. $15 for us students. I hoped to see Chris Abrahams do something interesting at the end of the night and was mildly disappointed. Simon Barker and Min Young Woo made some magnificent noise with their drumming. The audience abuse of the two guitarists got a bit much.

I went back on Sunday afternoon with Ben for the Splinter Orchestra, who make noise to space out to. It was at some other warehouse in Marrickville.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Snorkel at 1pm at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Being half asleep I forgot my boots so I got in with just my mask. The singlet, intended to keep the sun off, was probably redundant on this grey day. I saw some huge wrasse and loads of the usual small fry. Relatively rough for the bay. The cycle there and back was uneventful.

Charles Yu: Third Class Superhero

/noise/books | Link

Charles Yu's first collection of short stories is patchier than anything he did since. The titular Class Three Superhero, first of the collection, is by far the best.

Full Metal Jacket

/noise/movies | Link

It's been a while. This is still parked at #83 in the IMDB top-250, so not all is yet lost.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Early evening paddle at Little Bay. The ride down was a bit rough with a stiff southerly, and the beach was pretty much deserted for probably the same reason. Had dinner down at La Perouse — Danny's — afterwards. Too expensive for what you get.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

First-thing snorkel at Bare Island with Andrew T. The water was not too cold, and despite the dire predictions of 43 degrees it was comfortable out, too, with a strong dry westerly. Loads of fish, a stringray, and a cuttlefish. It got hot later on.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

After-work paddle at Gordons Bay. I got there a bit early, around 6:40pm, and hence had to battle the crowds to get down the scuba ramp. The water is quite comfortable now.

Domicile Conjugal

/noise/movies | Link

I read a reference to this Truffaut quasi-classic somewhere. It's not bad, with some great close observations of domestic life, but it's not great, being essentially conservative. The character of the wife is completely implausible.

Warragamba Dam Wall

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

The CB250 at the Warragamba dam wall lookout, which is further down the road.

The dam wall from the lookout at the bottom of the stairs near the visitors' centre.

On Friday night I rode over to Pyrmont to pick up a backgammon board, and spent some time reading a book in the park on the foreshore, looking west. Afterwards I headed back to Bondi Junction for a hot chocolate with Marc at Max Brenner's. Ang told me on Saturday night I should be going somewhere else, but I forget where.

I spent Saturday at the cricket with Jacob and his father-in-law Robin, who I'd met but not really spoken with many times. Jacob got us some very expensive ($140) seats in the Churchill Stand. The game itself was predictably disappointing, with the Sri Lankans not really having the discipline to grind out the pile of runs they needed to be competitive. After that Jacob and I had four beers each and dinner at the Dolphin on Crown Street, and then I met up with mrak, Ang and their mate Craig at the Bright 'N' Up Bar on Oxford street to listen to the Mountains (and two warmups) with a bunch of hipsters.

On Sunday I finally found the time to go for a decent burn on the motorcycle, hungover, dehydrated and a bit overheated. As the NSW State Government is trialling the reopening of the Warragamba dam wall to the public, just on weekends now, and yes, during the hottest part of the year, I figured it was something to aim for. It's about 156km round from Randwick, and a good learner track: Canterbury Road, Elizabeth Road, Park Road, etc. are a mix of 60, 70, 80 kph urban arteries and highways, and as there wasn't too much traffic it was quite learner-friendly. I stopped off at Wallacia Hotel for a coffee, and soon after loads of Harleys turned up. Their machine was broken so I got Nescafe without milk, but for the price of a cappuccino. I waited for the bloke-with-guitar-and-canned-backing-band to play Khe San but only got Flame Trees. The dam itself is not much of a tourist destination despite the claims that people once got married there. (Perhaps those people were the captive workforce housed in Warragamba township.) I stopped off at Western Sydney Parklands, where many Muslims were making picnics, on the way back for some respite.

Zwartboek (Black Book)

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this back in 2007, but had forgotten the plot. It now seems like an almost-literal foreshadow of Inglourious Basterds.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Low-effort paddle at Gordons Bay after a long day on the motorcycle. Quite a few people still down there at 7pm, and as always, the Sydney traffic makes no sense.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I rode the CB250 down to Gordons Bay about twenty minutes before sunset for a paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The water is certainly warm enough now, and the wind only mildly cool. After that I went for a burn up to Bondi Junction and back via Avoca Street. I think I'm at the point where my confidence is outstripping my skills, which are rusty after circa ten days away.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Not exactly the beach, but I hadn't been for a swim at Blackheath Pool in ages; today was it as the mist moved in from the north. When I was a kid they used to have some slides, and the pool was a lot murkier, perhaps even salt water. They also had a huge climbable rocket in the other corner of Memorial Park.