peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/travels | Link

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

/noise/books | Link

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

/noise/music | Link

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

/noise/theatre | Link

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

/noise/music | Link

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

/noise/music | Link

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).

The Avengers

/noise/movies | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

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.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

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.

/noise/theatre | Link

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.