peteg's blog

A Red Orchid Theatre incubator: Celebration by Harold Pinter infused with the music of Mauricio Kagel.

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$10.00 + $1.00 Convenience Charge = $11.00, bought 2015-07-22. Presented by the incubator, "a caKe experiment with music by beyond this point". Directed by dado, who also played the role of Julie. Two-thirds packed, and where else are you going to be on this Friday night? Ran for about an hour, played for laughs and cut up with miscellaneous po-faced percussion. The raw material is a brutal accounting of the Posh-and-Becks nouveau riche trash culture of the late 1990s. Elliot Baker as Lambert nailed his part of that; Dan Wenzel as Matt was suitably inert. The interjecting waiter spouted a mix of the true, the plausible, and the manifestly fraudulent, all of it tosh, embodying the earlier English tradition of guilt by association; Stephen Walker's fine comedic timing made that all work. Maria Stephens nailed the creepy slutty resistability of Prue, and Carolyn Molloy may have been reading the BBC news while recounting her complete faith in the flaws of her beau Russell, played with perfect insouciance by Michael Doonan. David Weber as Richard the restaurateur was cannon fodder.

Annoyingly the Chicago Reader has decided to severely reduce the number of theatre reviews they publish.

The 606.

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The 606 trail (aka Bloomingdale Line) opened back in June, but it's taken me this long to find a spare school day to ride the length of it, east-to-west. The bridge on Cortland is being reconstructed, so it was a little tricky to get to the trail head on Ashland (traffic sewer beyond compare). They've done an awesome job, and I expect it'll be even nicer when the plants mature. Rode back to Atomix, where I read up on various tax codes.

New MacBook Pro.

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It's been about four-and-a-half years since I bought the last one. I'd been hanging on for Apple to release a machine with the latest quad-core Intel processors, but those got released just before these new models, back in June, and so I am stuck with some earlier year's. (I think Apple might have known that the yields were poor.) What forced my hand was that Isabelle started reliably crashing the old machine, perhaps due to the heat, dust and possibly borderline support for the memory I put in it. Or maybe it did have the infamous GPU hardware bug, despite getting a new mainboard in September 2013.

Anyway, what I give up with the new machine is a DVD drive, which I only ever used to reinstall the OS, and an ethernet port, which I will miss if I ever get back to hacking hardware. Also they have gotten rid of the Kensington lock slot. I now have to use Yosemite, which is not hugely different to Mavericks, so shrug. What I gain is USB3, a superfast SSD, a very sharp screen, and less weight to lug around. I doubt the battery life is going to matter, or the extra ThunderBolt port. So faster, yes, but otherwise pretty much a wash. I do like having a machine where the only moving parts are the keys and the fans though.

Buying the thing was an ordeal. It was quite expensive: $2.5k and another $230 in Illinois state sales tax (I mind paying money to the state less than to the Fed), but amortised over four years it's not so bad ($2 a day). I live quite close to the Lincoln Park Apple Store and figured that if I put enough cash on my Visa debit card, things would go OK. But when I got there I figured what the hell, let's try putting some of it on the credit card. This failed, and the card got totally blocked. They like doing that to me — why they can't just reject the transaction and notify me I don't know. I'm never going to rely on it when I'm overseas. Then the debit card got blocked too, as it has a $2k daily limit. The lady at my credit union told me about that, and said I could go pull another $1k in cash from an ATM. Another two calls to them got it unblocked, two trips to the ATM ($600 limit per withdrawal there) got me the difference, and an intervening switch of sales assistant finally allowed me to pay for it. The machine was brought up from the stockroom three times, by the same girl, to my excruciating embarrassment. They insisted I take my 84 cents in change. This is why I shop online.

After that I spent the whole afternoon sitting in the Apple store reinstalling Yosemite (all for a case-sensitive root partition) and Xcode. Everything comes off the internet now, so it's slow. At home the Migration Assistant took five or more hours to scrape my data off the Time Machine backup. After that, reviving the usual arcana (MacPorts, the venerable perl blogging script, some settings) went far more smoothly than previous times.

Update 2015-08-02: The right shift key ceased to pop back up after mild use. A trip to the Genius Bar at Apple Lincoln Park on Monday 2015-08-03 got it replaced, and we'll see if it's fixed.

Sideshow Theatre Company: Stupid Fucking Bird

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Goldstar ticket. $20.00 + $6.00 service fee = $26.00. 3pm. On the suggestion of Adam, the ever present barman at the Chopin Theatre, who is doing this company's books. Had a late lunch at Simply IT Vietnamese, a not-so-tasty ginger chicken claypot. The Taste of Lincoln got between me (at Fullerton) and the Victory Gardens no-longer-Biograph Theater. Apparently based on Chekhov's The Seagull, about which I know nothing but am guessing is the source of his principle about stage props. This has its moments but I felt a similar distance from it as I did from Three Sisters; wallowing in lurv-induced self pity does not make for good drama, and no amount of "new kind of theatre" contrivance is going to change that. The cast did modulate the emotional temperature quite well, but it's oftentimes a long slog between meaty bits. The set and scene transitions are nicely handled, with Katy Carolina Collins belting out some tunes. I didn't recognise Nina O'Keefe from The Other Place. This is a reheat from last year, with the same cast.

Ian Watson: The Embedding

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I asked David S. at work for a suggestion and this came up first. Here's his summary:

A French anarchist studies the complex language of an endangered Amazonian tribe while aliens make a strange deal with the United States government. Short (~200 pp) and very interesting.

The Chicago Public Library's copy is authentically 1973. The title refers to centre embedding, a syntantic/grammatical concept that is explained briefly towards the beginning; it was and remains unclear to me why it would contain the secrets to the universe. I was expecting something more semantic, like homomorphic encryption, or Douglas Adams's idea that understanding life, the universe and everything demanded the construction of the Earth, or Kurt Gödel's cute syntactic tricks. The violent response to the coldly transactional aliens was somewhat predictable given the time it was written. I chugged it over a few days and enjoyed it for what it was. There's the odd gross out (a witch doctor munching on a living child's brains, for instance) and I guess I have never felt comfortable with English notions of mental healthcare since I read Will Self's Quantity Theory of Insanity. The ending fails to evoke the emotional state that the aliens purportedly sustained for 12,000 years.

Anoop Sarkar explains the linguistics some more, and is right to observe that Watson's cynicism is wearing.

David S.'s second suggestion was Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, which I also got from the Chicago Public Library but didn't get far into: the prose is a bit impenetrable. That first novella may have been a little heavy on the centre embedding.

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

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Pankaj Mishra pointed at another book by Shamsie in his Dear Uncle Sam... essay; this one looked the most promising of those I could find at the Chicago Public Library. Shamsie writes some quite fine sentences and sometimes evokes the Peshawar of her imagination, but is let down in the large by focussing overmuch on the fictional parts of her reconstruction of history, at significant cost to the facts. The Englishwoman-archaeologist is too much of a cliché to anchor anything, and who could be so clueless about the status of minorities in hostile host countries? Helen Dunmore has it right. I found the ending conceit, of showing the same scene from three (four?) different perspectives, failed to ratchet up the tension that was clearly intended. I read it over a few days, and substantially finished it between snoozes in Tom Ping Park on Sunday afternoon.

Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

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Borrowed from the Chicago Public Library. Rashid is fine in the short form but is quite repetitious and loose in this longer exposition of what ails Pakistan. Also the book has dated quite rapidly; the situation with Iran has evolved significantly, for instance. The opening chapter recounts exactly the tale of bin Laden's demise that Seymour Hersh has recently called into question. I get the impression that there's more value in his earlier books on the rise of the Taliban.

Hal Hartley: The Book of Life

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Wow, it's been an age. Hartley clearly tried to mine the Wong Kar-Wai school of impressionistic cinematography with patchy results. The whole thing is a shambles.

Hal Hartley: Amateur

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I enjoyed it this time around. Perhaps it takes more patience than I've had before. The first half is funny, and the second is a little too heavy in comparison.

Terminator Genisys

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With Christian. 6pm, 3D, River East 21, $16.56 + $9.93 in beer, which I sorely needed. Mostly turkey. At least Arnie can still deliver a one-liner. I had expected endless action scenes and explosions, and left wishing there had been more action scenes and explosions. Jason Clarke should have signed up for the next Star Trek reboot instead. And let's not talk about Emilia Clarke.

Manohla Dargis.

Oracle Theatre: The America Play at the Public Access Theatre.

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It ended up being a beautiful day despite the dire warnings of thunderstorms for the afternoon. I got some lunch at the Simply IT Vietnamese on Lincoln. The curried chicken was quite OK. Afterwards I cycled up to the eastern side of Belmont Harbour, which is as pleasant and secluded as anywhere near the city. Between snoozes I ploughed on with Ahmed Rashid's Pakistan on the Brink, which is sadly dated. The first chapter is precisely the story that Seymour Hersh has called into question. Had an early-ish dinner at Asian Mix Cafe, the same-old chicken laksa, which was its usual tasty self.

The theatre was almost at capacity. The play itself is sometimes difficult to grasp, being somewhat surreal, though the production is top-notch and the humour leavens the opacity. In particular Travis Delgado was great as the "lesser" Lincoln. The grave-digging second half was harder to get into.

Chloe Riley at the reader. Jacob Davis.

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Vale, Omar Sharif.

John Brunner: Total Eclipse.

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Extracted from the Chicago Public Library. Brunner's fat books are great, if not always convergent, but he is deeply suspect in the shorter form. The premise here is mostly 2001-style alien archeology with a dash of Stranger in a Strange Land; not spectacularly original by 1974 but sufficiently intriguing. Nothing however is made of the original telescope conceit, and his gestures at economics lack the conviction he previously brought to ecological issues. The "one of everything" trope makes no sense as they made four large statues, and multiple cities. This is a skeleton that he tired of before putting on the flesh.