peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at Long Bay. I intended to eat lunch and go snorkeling but forgot the gear, so I simply went for a swim from the southern boat launch. Pleasant enough in the water. The clouds were as threatening as they have been for the past few weeks.

One of the most famous motifs in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is the land-reclaiming tetrapods of Bombay, which presumably look something like these. I found this pile of regular tetrahedrons right next to the old boat launch, and wonder what their purpose was.

Dial M for Murder

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this a while ago, but can't remember when. I think this highly-rated Hitchcock left me a bit cold.

Dances With Wolves

/noise/movies | Link

This movie was huge when I was a kid, the Titanic or Avatar of its day. I'd put off seeing it as Costner is an all-American clown, and Waterworld made his name mud. (I'm going on inuendo here, I haven't seen any of these movies.)

To my surprise this overly-long-but-not-long-enough epic didn't drag. The narrative arc was too predictable — I knew the wolf was going to get it from the get-go — but the cinematography and editing redeemed this a lot. They make the prairie look both alluring and adversarial, justifying the bonding and xenophobia of the native American tribes and the way Costner develops a relationship with them. The score was more intrusive than I expected.

Even so, Costner is a ham actor. He overplays the American pioneer self-stereotype: the rugged individual worthy of respect who everyone truly respects, and gushes respect at everyone and everything around him. There is simply too little contention after he is initiated into the tribe for it to be any more realistic. I was hoping they would explore the politics between the native tribes, the local economies and also the civil war itself. Why was the soldier's fort where it was? — after the initial suicide-run the confederacy is MIA.

Worth a look. The frontier is a grand American myth.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay, slightly later (7pm) than my usual time (6:15pm). Again, storm clouds, deserted, but with some larger waves due to the stiff breeze blowing on-shore. The water was clean, and still no precipitation worth mentioning...

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The weather is so weird, almost completely overcast and grey, reminding me of Göteborg, but little rain, just some thunder and distant lightning. The bay was deserted apart from the joggers. Quite clean too, as according to Pete R. it hasn't rained down there much either.

OK, so the big storm they warned about did blow in around 7:20pm...

Das Boot (1981)

/noise/movies | Link

Kyle told me this was worth watching back in 2004 or so, and I can now, finally, agree with him. The version I watched over two nights was the director's cut, dubbed in English. I feel a bit cheated by that, but at 3hr 20min I won't be rewatching it any time soon.

Well, what's not to like? Somehow it being slow as hell does not drag, and unusually for cinema it encourages the imagination by alluding to, but not explaining the implications of, various mechanisms, protocols, political views and so forth. The acting is pretty good, characters generally solid, the direction sure and cinematography fine.

Martin Amis: Success

/noise/books | Link

I haven't read Amis in ages, and I don't know what possessed me to pick this one up. I found it quite similar to, but not as off-putting as, Dead Babies. What, the upper classes of England are a bit weird, a bit separate, a bit above it all?

Amis's notion of success here is pretty feeble, barely encompassing sex and expensive conspicuous consumption. Posing, in other words. No character in this novel does anything much at all, each being purely in thrall to their empty inner lives. This indeed might be Amis's point, but it hardly seems worth revisiting now.

Laughing Clowns and Dirty Three at the Enmore Theatre

/noise/music | Link

This was a Sydney Festival gig, and as such it was pricey and sold out quickly. I went with Jon, who I hadn't seen since last year.

The novelty of the evening was that both bands would play a full album end-to-end. The Laughing Clowns did History Of Rock 'n' Roll Volume 1. I believe there is yet to be a second volume, though one can never fault Ed Kuepper's exuberance. Briefly, they are indeed some kind of experimental jazz/punk/whatever group, as their presumably self-written bio on Wikipedia says. The bass at the Enmore was cranked up a bit too much for me to get all the nuance, so I found them a bit incoherent.

Incidentally I recall Ed Kuepper mostly for his fabulously trashy mid-90s Wasn't I Pissed Off Today, on high rotation at JJJ at the time, and the ethereal All of these things from the same album. I'd bracket him with Dave Graney for vocals, and maybe Chris Abrahams for eclecticism: an all-Australian sub-star.

...but of course everyone came to see the Dirty Three do Ocean Songs, at presumably their only concert in Sydney this year. I missed them at last year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival, largely because the rest of the lineup looked thin. The 2006 gig at the Metro set my expectations ridiculously high, and I recall mrak and his brother Chris being similarly blown away.

I rate Ocean Songs as their best, but it is more ambient than rock, and the Enmore is not really up to any kind of nuance. (The Dirty Three have made three kinds of music: this ambient-ruminative soulful stuff that makes it clear they're from Melbourne, recovering from being Jeffed in the late 90s; the Saturday-afternoon-evening rock'n'roll of their hell raising years, the early-to-mid-90s of the classic Melbourne live-music pubs; and Cinder, presumably tunes for the twenty-first century diaspora.)

So they rocked it out, I can cope with that. Heck, I knew it would be thus. Warren Ellis gave a lot of schtick to the crowd in his ironic-Jesus manner, and totally butchered the opening Sirena by failing to switch out of Grinderman mode. It's a track you just can't rock out. He slowed down for the next few, getting it together with Jim White and Mick Turner for an Authentic Celestial Music that, even with the detail difficult to discern (damn that excessive bass, no! — crank up that violin) araldited the crowd to their seats.

The filler part of the album, roughly tracks five through eight, went over better than their studio counterparts, leading into the second peak of Deeper Waters, or as Ellis likes to call it, Epic. Clearly they play this one a lot more often than the rest, spinning it out to some ridiculous length with effortless aplomb. Many people left straight afterwards, not staying for Ends of the Earth or the possibility of an encore, which didn't eventuate anyway.

So a great gig. Ellis was in fine form, and Jim White's drumming was so animated, so energetic. Conversely Mick Turner was very laid back, and together they somehow made so much more coherent noise than they had any right to. As they always do.

I would carp about our "A Reserve" seats, right at the top of the stairs. We had a good view of the stage, between the continual stream of people walking in front of us. The no-loitering policy meant that the security people regularly intervened, somewhat destroying the rapture the band creates. I guess the Sydney Festival billing attracts a minority (of the crowd, but perhaps members of a wider majority) who have more money than sense, who aren't there for the music.

I wish they'd put out another album.

Sweet Smell of Success

/noise/movies | Link

Not sure why I got this one; perhaps just because it was there to be had. Ah yes, it is number 10 on one of IMDB's lists of noir. Well constructed, I guess, but one really has to like scuttlebutt and muscular hustling to get into it. It is too much of a snotty society piece for the dialogue to be affecting.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at an almost entirely abandoned Gordons Bay. The water was cleaner than I expected after the recent inclement weather. Apparently the overcast, steamy and occasionally stormy conditions will continue for a week or more.

Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence

/noise/books | Link

In an early scene a Scotts laird drops his mottled todger on the table as some sort of enticement, and while fighting this imagery I was compelled to draw the parallel with Rushdie and this novel: to wit, an attempted demonstration of manly masterfulness that failed to impress. Allowing a further 331 pages for redemption was wise but ultimately ineffectual.

Once more I find myself outside the target demographic of a historical romance. Relative to his earlier works, it is excessively scatalogical and foul-mouthed, and even worse, flaccid and unexciting. Sure, this might pass for something of an imitation of Irvine Welsh by a subcontinental tyke, but then I wouldn't have bothered reading it. It is also clear that Rushdie does not have a lot of faith in his audience, regularly explaining the jape, the rumination, the issue of the moment until it loses all lustre.

Most irritating is how seriously the author takes the book, describing how much research was involved, and even providing a six-page bibliography, to what end I know not. Thus it suffers from the same fault as Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies: it must turn a profit on every part of overmuch scavenging, and yet by the pigeon-hole principle there can never be room enough for it all.

Rushdie fails his own test of a novel: this book does not make the imagined world any larger. The Italians have already burnished their history to a blinding shininess. The tired and repetitively dissonant reduction of women to that which can "walk, talk and make love" (p323) jangles against the powerful and well-drawn females of his earlier works. This lament by a female reviewer at the Guardian captures it well:

This brilliant, fascinating, generous novel swarms with gorgeous young women both historical and imagined, beautiful queens and irresistible enchantresses, along with some whores and a few quarrelsome old wives - all stock figures, females perceived solely in relation to the male. Women are never treated unkindly by the author, but they have no autonomous being. The Enchantress herself, who turns everyone into puppets of her will, has no personality at all, and exists - literally - by pleasing men. Akbar calls her a "woman who had forged her own life, beyond convention, by the force of her will alone, a woman like a king". But in fact she does nothing but sell herself to the highest bidder, and her power is an illusion permitted by him.

In one marvellous scene Akbar's wife and mother come to show his imaginary wife Jodha how to release him from the Enchantress's spell, and in so doing are reconciled with Jodha in a moment of hilarious feminine solidarity - but the Enchantress materialises, Jodha vanishes, the women are defeated by the man's obsession. Indeed, the men in the book are as hormone-besotted as adolescents. All their derring-do, their battling for cities and empires, comes down to little more than a desire for a bed with a young woman in it. Machiavelli becomes a disappointed middle-aged lecher whose middle-aged wife "waddles" and "quacks" while he looks at her, of course, with loathing. But then suddenly, for a page or two, we slip into her soul; we feel her anger at his disloyalty, her hurt pride as a woman, her unchanged pride in his "dark sceptical genius" and her puzzlement at his failure to see how he lessens himself by scorning what he has that is treasurable and honourable. For that moment I glimpsed a very different book, almost a different author. Then it was back to the dazzling play of fancy and the powerful dreams of men.

The prose is tired and flat. There is too much needless rendering of the same name in several languages, which is really just an observation that the written once had a phonetic relation with the spoken, and the spoken sounded different to people with different mother tongues. Self-evident I would have thought. An uninteresting issue too, as Akbar could not read nor write, but I guess Rushdie needs to provide a Rosetta Stone for the bibliography. These gestures and nods to history needlessly crowd out the possibility of a deeper contextualisation with manifestly bald facts, and so he falls short of what even Ghosh achieved.

Occasionally the text swings into tune with Amartya Sen's conception of identity as plurality, such as Akbar's inner monologue about the supreme emperor's use of the first-person singular (circa p30), an otherwise spurious digression. Conversely he often reduces his minor characters to little more than "beauty", "princess", "likes being on the winning side", etc. — essentially wanton and without personality.

After talking to Nell on Thursday I realised that the best things Rushdie has done in the past twenty years or so were his short pieces, the essays compiled in Step Across this Line. So while I found this book substantially out of character for him, I could not expect him to surmount his previous efforts in this form.

I managed to dig this book out of the UNSW Library after their recent stock-take; thus it must have been merely misplaced and not lost, unlike my time spent reading it. I substantially agree with this review from the New York Times, and Reimer's effort at the SMH.

Leave Her to Heaven

/noise/movies | Link

Gene Tierney in colour, in the upper reaches of IMDB's noir list. I think she was upstaged by on-screen-younger-sister Jeanne Crain here, maybe because her character was a frosty whiny psychotic bitch who we saw coming from the earliest frames. The blokes were mostly limp and the plot a bit fanciful. The cinematography was occasionally great when it wasn't fake. Probably a cut above the average Days of our Lives arc, and not generally suitable for any other audience.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. More people than usual about, probably due to the heat of the day, and the day being Friday. The water was a lot cleaner than last time. I wonder if anyone came along and cleaned out the rubbish, or if it somehow cleaned itself. Loads of seaweed on the beach.

White Heat

/noise/movies | Link

Over several evenings. Another of IMDB's highly-rated noirs. I didn't really get into it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Spent the day in Woy Woy with Nell. We hoped to go snorkelling somewhere. The surf on Putty Beach was huge, and the lifesavers had closed it, so we ended up at Lobster Beach, within the Bouddi National Park, a short and steep walk from near Wagstaffe. To our chagrin there was a dredging boat not far off the coast doing laps, reducing underwater visibility to centimetres, so we could really only go for a lazy paddle.

Afterwards we had some decent pub grub at the ancient Woy Woy hotel after an extensive and ultimately fruitless search for a pub with water views in the greater Woy Woy / Gosford area. It's all suburbia, every last square metre. I think most people patronise the bottle shops and drink on the shorelines.

Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

/noise/books | Link

The real deal. I recalled this being a composite of his excellent Doctor Who scripts, City of Death and the unfortunately-incompletely-produced Shada. His humour is as gently raucous as ever, canvassing and expressing an English sensibility that Thatcher consigned to the landfill of history. However it is his self-knowing scatterbrained magpie tendencies, born of curiosity, that bring home the bacon. I shudder to imagine what the kids are reading these days: surely not this, without a vampire in sight.

Completely wired.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Finished wiring up the clock, and it seems to go fine. The video is pretty boring, I know, but I had to have some evidence of how I spent the past few weeks. :-) The tubes do have uneven brightness: the third one seems to have a blackened grill, and is dimmer even though it has a smaller anode resistor. The fourth also has a smaller anode resistor, making it a bit brighter than the first two.

Apart from some fiddly soldering with a fat wedge tip, this came together fairly easily. The next thing to do is sort out the software, rig up a case and see if Andrew T will part with another ts7260. I've yet to try out John Taylor's power supply, and am hoping I can run the whole show off the 5v the ts7260 is supposed to pump on the LCD port.

As for numeral systems, the answer is a big no — there are heaps of natural-language numeral systems in common use, even now.

Heaven can wait

/noise/movies | Link

Another Gene Tierney, and doesn't the colour film just love her. The plot is a bit too this-is-my-life to get excited about, though there are a few set pieces I found funny. I'm guessing they lifted those directly from the stage play. The Age of Innocence this is not.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Beyond the rocks the surf was quite rough, and indeed visibility was poor and I didn't see much. I had a group of tiny fish follow me around the bay, which they've done before when I've been there with Rob.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at a mild Gordons Bay. The sky was remarkably clear of clouds, the water and air was warm, so it seemed like much earlier in the day. Lots of rubbish at the point where I usually get in, plastic and leaf litter.


/noise/movies | Link

Another from IMDB's list of noir. Had me going the whole time, though long-time murder-mystery addicts might find it straightfoward. The lead murderee, Gene Tierney, is gorgeous and cuts a plausible swathe through a long list of suitors. Clifton Webb is authoritative in his role as Oscar Wilde clonee in full Importance of being Earnest mode.

The production is not far from a stage play, relying on dialogue and acting, poise and grace where special effects dare wander now. I am flummoxed by IMDB's rating system: this garnered 8.1 out of 10 from more than 13,000 people, and is still somehow not in the top-250.

Shadow of a Doubt

/noise/movies | Link

Sifting down the IMDB noir list, I found this, an early Hitchcock. It is a bit too slow and all-American for my tastes. Joseph Cotton is creepy, and not altogether unlike Jude Law. Teresa Wright is wide-eyed and luminous in this performance, the year after she won an Oscar (how young she must have been). The comedic relief was too robotic, and the climax a let-down.

Real-time and high-resolution timers for Linux running on the ts7260

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I got bitten by the classic Linux-ism: the standard resolution of usleep is only 10ms on these ARM boards, which is way too slow to do the kind of multiplexing the clock needs: I need delays of about 2ms and could use 100µs. I'm allergic to busy-waiting in user-space too.

The short story is that I tried 2.6.31.x and couldn't get the board to boot, but works fine, after some mild futzing in applying the patch in the ts7260 forum's file area at Yahoo. It does not provide high-resolution timers for the ARM ep93xx which the ts7260 is blessed with, though. One can readily apply the RT patches to, but these also do not include the hrtimers stuff; one needs a further, not so clean patch to get these working.

So the clock now seems to scan OK, with no flicker visible to my eyes (on the single tube I have installed so far). Well, that's true provided that no other process is running. I've selected the right scheduler, cranked up the priorities, locked the program's virtual memory, and generally futzed with no improvement in robustness under load.

As has been true for a long time, there is some ts7260 stuff in the latest Linux kernel (, and apparently the RT patches have been merged to the mainline. (I cannot really tell, but the CONFIG_PREEMPT_RT and friends options are there.) I'll see if I can get that to boot and perhaps figure out the hrtimers story there.

An aside: here's a good post on the proper treatment of SIGINT.

Douglas Adams: The Salmon of Doubt

/noise/books | Link

It has been an age since I've read anything by Douglas Adams. His style is at once familiar, an amiable bar-propping old friend, even when it is as travestied as it is here. I acquired this from Pete R.'s stash of books-to-toss, having not been tempted to read it for years, and almost wishing that I hadn't now.

Of course the prose is fine. What's lacking are those tangents, the sheer irrelevancy and irreverence to plots and characters that gave his earlier stuff its suspense and force. Then again, it might be the converse that I'm actually whinging about. This is a compilation of various rants, and most tantalisingly, bits of a third Dirk Gently. The editor goes out of his way to warn the reader that it's a let down, and don't be disappointed, it is.

The part I liked the most was the presumably previously unpublished Turncoat from October 2000. Here's the bit that struck the chord, slab-quoted Ramsey-style:

But nowadays everybody's a comedian, even the weather girls and continuity announcers. We laugh at everything. Not intelligently anymore, not with sudden shock, astonishment, or revelation, just relentlessly and meaninglessly. No more rain showers in the desert, just mud and drizzle everywhere, occasionally illuminated by the flash of paparazzi.

Creative excitement has gone elsewhere, to science and technology: new ways of seeing things, new understandings of the universe, continual new revelations about how life works, how we think, how we perceive, how we communicate. So this is my second point.

Where, thirty years ago, we used to start up rock bands, we now start up startups and experiment with new ways of communicating with each other and playing with the information we exchange. And when one idea fails, there's another, better one right behind it, and another and another, cascading out as fast as rock albums used to in the sixties.

There's always a moment when you start to fall out of love, whether it's with a person or an idea or a cause, even if it's one you only narrate to yourself years after the event: a tiny thing, a wrong word, a false note, which means that things can never be quite the same again. For me it was hearing a stand-up comedian make the following observation: "These scientists, eh? They're so stupid! You know those black-box flight recorders they put on aeroplanes? And you know they're meant to be indestructible? It's always the thing that doesn't get smashed? So why don't they make the planes out of the same stuff?"

The audience roared with laughter at how stupid scientists were, couldn't think their way out of a paper bag, but I sat feeling uncomfortable. Was I just being pedantic to feel that the joke didn't really work because flight recorders are made out of titanium and that if you made planes out of titanium rather than aluminium, they'd be far too heavy to get off the ground in the first place? I began to pick away at the joke. Supposing Eric Morecambe had said it? Would it be funny then? Well, not quite, because that would have relied on the audience seeing that Eric was being dumb — in other words, they would have had to know as a matter of common knowledge about the relative weights of titanium and aluminium. There was no way of deconstructing the joke (if you think this is obsessive behaviour, you should try living with it) that didn't rely on the teller and the audience complacently conspiring together to jeer at someone who knew more than they did. It sent a chill down my spine, and still does. I felt betrayed by comedy in the same way that gangsta rap now makes me feel betrayed by rock music. I also began to wonder how many of the jokes I was making were just, well, ignorant.


/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay, running a bit of a risk after the recent rain. The water was very pleasant. Too lazy to go very far.

The Narrow Margin

/noise/movies | Link

Another noir from the early 1950s. I have no idea why I picked this one in particular; perhaps because one of the actresses is also in Kubrick's The Killing. The acting is a bit patchy, the plot a bit predictable, modulo a twist of a very short duration.

Screwing up my nerve

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I wired up most of the first nixie tube to the board today. It's a bit hairy for a few reasons: a misconnection could fry me or the ARM board, and small mistakes could lead to extensive resoldering. Thus far things have gone OK; it turns out my 33kΩ-series/33kΩ-pull-down setup is strong enough while the ARM board is unpowered, but once the ARM board is fired up the 100kΩ pull-up on the ts7260 is enough to fire the anode switcher. I cured this empirically, by reducing the series to 11kΩ and the pull-down to 4.7kΩ. It works, and the voltage levels seem plausible, but they still imply the current is very weak. I wonder about noise.

Now I can switch amongst the cathodes (those I've wired up) using the K155ИД1, and that's about that. I need to replace all my resistor pairs and solder up a further three tubes. Joy.

In other news John Taylor's high-voltage power supply turned up. Took about four days to get here from California. I haven't fired it up yet, but will after I get the display board completed.

Multiplexing conundrum

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I constructed a further three anode switchers and they work fine. Now I'm up to wiring in the nixie tubes, but as I only want to do this once, I'm getting a bit ginger. My concern is that the multiplexing setup I'm using, which is essentially what everyone seems to use, allows more than one tube to be on at a time. So in the worst case the poor K155ИД1 chip would have to pass approx 12mA (four tubes at 3mA each), which exceeds its rated 7mA.

From the software I've found, no-one seems to do anything clever, so I expect their microcontrollers get into the main scanning loop quickly enough that nothing blows up. Unfortunately the ts7260 takes several seconds to boot Linux, with the boot loader delaying three seconds for recovery purposes, so I don't think I can ignore this.

According to the ep9301 ARM chip specs, the ts7260 is supposed to configure all these GPIO pins as inputs on bootup, which leaves them floating. This is probably safe from the chip's point of view, but not the nixie board's.

A solution is to pepper the anode drivers with pull-down resistors on the bases of the buffer transistors (the MPSA42s). Ha! That's what this guy was doing. Hmm, perhaps everyone does it. :-) I'm using 33kΩ which seems to do the trick. The voltage drop across the series 33kΩ (between the ARM and the buffer transistor) increased from 1.7v to 2.3v, so the current for a logic-high has gone up to about 70μA, if I've done my sums correctly. That seems barely plausible.

This still leaves the circuit at the mercy of the software. A complementary approach is to gate the high tension, which I'll investigate doing when John Taylor's power supply turns up. I want to switch the nixies off under software control anyway.


/noise/movies | Link

As good as ever. Can't believe I haven't seen this in five years.


/noise/movies | Link

Well made, I guess, leaving aside the tangled, unresolved plot. Gangland reality TV?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel off the southern boat ramp at Long Bay. Beautiful day for it, being so damn hot. The water was cloudy but warm enough. I spotted about six squid (so Rob tells me) in a row, going nowhere.

The ARM is in control.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I soldered up a stock PNP-NPN transistor tree for the anode control, and surprise, it worked first go. This was reassuring as it is the first time the ts7260 has been hooked up to the high voltage.

The next step is to replicate that a further three times, and then wire up the nixies. Board layout is the toughest part of this project, I am geometrically weak.

Alan Ramsey: A Matter of Opinion.

/noise/books | Link

I am glad I didn't buy this book. It is like digging up the old lino in an ancient kitchen, erratic brilliance and occasion littered with cockroach droppings and obscurity. At his best, Ramsey was insightful and brought context and perspective to the events of the week, perhaps even wisdom, all of which are beyond the reach of any of Fairfax's current Australian political reporters. (Not, I note, beyond their aging foreign correspondents.)

The best were the timeless articles, his specials around Anzac Day about the wars and returned soldiers, the monuments and disillusionment. Perhaps he should have turned his hand to this, something like military history, rather than crank out the rather tired prose of the last five years of his reign. And this is the key problem with the collection: nothing dates like political opinion, and so the selection does not, could not, reflect his oeuvre.

Structurally it would have been much better if someone else had selected the articles, for as it stands there is the niggling feeling that some whitewashing has occurred; for example, I recall only one or two references to Howard as "the toad" in this book, but it seemed to roll around every Saturday while the man was PM. The Latham boosterism seems much abridged, and there are no comments on Rudd's blandness. Also some glue text would have helped immensely, setting out the issues of the day. His postscripts needed prescripts.

Pete R. observed that he must have had trouble getting the copyrights on all his slab-quotations. There are only a couple in this collection.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Massive infestation of underage drinkers, apparently starting their final school year in a month or so. Despite the booze they were remarkably civilized. The water was warm, though there was the same vast amounts of crap as there was at Coogee yesterday.

Russian BCD is the same as American BCD.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I managed to hook the ts7260 ARM board up to the K155ИД1 TTL BCD-decoder/nixie driver chip, the Russian clone of the American 74141. The pinouts are identical. The short story I gleaned from Don Lancaster's venerable TTL Cookbook is that the CMOS levels of the ARM (3.3v) can directly drive one or maybe two TTL gates without anything blowing up. I am thankful that electronic technology has a forward-looking longevity that software should envy.

The ts7260 refuses to generate the promised 5v on its LCD port, so I think the little switch-mode power supply that is supposed to do this has been fried (and I'm not getting into any finger pointing). The same unit apparently services the USB port, which may lend weight to the idea that that port's brains are intact but have become unstuck from its brawn. Blowing up this kind of hardware is not much fun, it simply silently stops working.

Why do the world's languages use the same numerals? Do any deviate?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle with mrak and Pete R. at Coogee, which was as packed as I've seen it this summer. We had a few beers at the Palace afterwards, which was similarly packed. Pete takes his shovel to the beach, eliciting interest from just about everyone.

Caving in to the inevitable.

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

I caved and bought one of John Taylor's power supplies. You cannot beat $AU12 or so, you just can't. I will persevere with the one I built for now, and see if I can quell the EMI. In any case I have enough tubes for two or three clocks (depending on whether I go for four or six digits), so it won't go to waste.

Rob gifted me with some wire, so I hope I can improve the grounding situation too. You never know, it just might come good...

Cape Banks, redux

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early afternoon snorkel at Cape Banks with Bernie and Hui Nie. The water was surprisngly cold, perhaps the coldest I've been in since early summer. Loads of fish. We made it around to the wreck, but it doesn't extend into the water as far as I could tell. I spotted a cuttle fish, huge and brown, but it disappeared by the time I got into photographing position. Dang.

I did manage to take the best photo I've managed yet, though: this strange looking thing obliging sat in fairly shallow water quite close to where we got in, and wasn't at all perturbed by our swimming over the top of it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Peaceful mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Quite a few people about and a wedding at the chapel on the bluff. The brown-paper-bag building projects continue apace. Some remind me of of the studio prefab I lived in at Chalmers — flimsy, built for a price, and not designed to outlast the time it takes for the developer to cash his cheque and buy the Ferarri.

Saw heaps of fish. The water was mostly quite warm, with a little swell.

Further adventures in nixie land

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Well! After a few hours of burning some digits in, the sacrificial tube is looking pretty good. The '5' does not light the lower-left arc, and I'm not sure what I can do about that.

As for the power supply, I revise my earlier comment to say that now I would simply buy a pre-built unit from John Taylor. They're small, and for $US10, cheaper than acquiring the requisite bits.

My perf-board effort is getting tidier and more finished, albeit at the cost of much solder and desolder braid. It seems stable, with tight regulation at 182v from no load up to about 3mA after replacing my 1.5Ω current sense resistor with 0.33Ω. Apparently I should run the tubes at something like 1.5 times the rated current, allowing for multiplexing, so the supply really needs to go to 8mA. I'll leave that to another day.

I found that the multimeter leads (hooked across the anode resistor) radiated enough to interfere with the radio. However even when removed, the TV still got a pincushion effect. (I'm glad I still have an analog TV.) Placing the whole thing on top of my venerable regulated power supply eliminated any visible or audible effects, which is reassuring but not yet sufficient for confidence. I'm wondering how I can improve the grounding and shielding without huge amounts of solder or metalwork.


/noise/movies | Link

On the recommendation of Pete R., who somehow discovered this obscure French-Canadian film from the early 90s. A lyrical coming-of-age story. I am sure I missed most of the point. Occasionally worthy, regularly scatalogical, wry and unearthly: "I dream and therefore I am not".

The millionth nixie clock

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Late last year in a fit of procrastination I decided to try to build a nixie clock, following in the footsteps of multitudes. To that end I ordered some tubes and driver ICs from a bloke in Moscow who was amenable to a bit of bargaining. I have to wonder how the Russians get their hands on these new-old-stock devices from the cold war era.

I received the tubes — IN-8-2's, with long solderable wires — yesterday after about a fortnight, well packed. They are a bit larger than I expected.

For a power supply I synthesised something using an MC36043 switch-mode controller from a few designs around the net. If I was going to start from scratch now I would simply follow this guy's design and advice. I think he's quite active on the nixie mailing list.

Anyway, what I've got does fire up the tube, as you can see. It generates an open-circuit 180v or so that sags to 160-170v with the tube connected. I think this is due to my overly conservative current limiting resistor in the power supply - with a 11kΩ anode resistor the tube itself seems happy, though I won't be using such a small one long-term. From what I've measured the efficiency is at best 70%.

Many of the elements of this sacrificial nixie tube don't fire up evenly, which might be due to cathode poisoning. I have found that burning each digit in for a few hours greatly improves the coverage, reducing this partial illumination, but it remains to be seen if all digits come completely good.

The supply also generates copious amounts of RF interference, which I'm hoping some more capacitors will fix. Haven't shocked myself yet, but I am sure I will. The next step is to try to hook the driver ICs up to Andrew T's ts7260 ARM board, and see if I can bring the nixie under software control. Yes, this board is massively overkill just for a clock, but as all engineers know, you can never have too much overkill.

The Night of the Hunter

/noise/movies | Link

What a strange movie. Rife with biblical allusion and a psycho who wouldn't be unfamiliar to the Coen brothers, this is a sort-of Hansel-and-Gretel where the witch is a warlock who comes to them. Robert Mitchum nails his role as the murderous preacher. The black-and-white cinematography is amazing, and directing it must have taken it out of Charles Laughton as he didn't try to do it again.

This was the last of the IMDB top-10 noir movies for me to see. Definitely worth a look, though it doesn't completely hang together (nor separately).

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle in a fairly calm and abandoned Gordons Bay. Perfect water temp, light winds, lots of joggers.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Midday snorkel at Long Bay. The water remains temperate, though visibility wasn't as good as it has been, and the wind made things choppy. I saw a cuttlefish which teased me by changing colours several times — translucent to seaweed and back — before scooting off.


/noise/movies | Link

Of the feted Australian movies of last year, this is the best I've seen yet. The story itself is a bit thin, but it is powerfully articulated and beautifully rendered, and it comes as no surprise to find David Williamson's fingerprints on it. I wish it had a little less melodrama and a bit more contextualisation; what were the roles of Portugal, of the U.S.? Did Britain really pay for the helicopters? What else did Gough Whitlam say before bodies were broken? — and so forth. Hamish McDonald feels likewise. Hmm, is he the last journo working at Fairfax?

The story of Roger East was unknown to me. Could they not have found a place for Jill Jolliffe within the film too?

It demands a follow-up, a sequel of sorts, on the liberation of East Timor, and then perhaps another on whether they've got their hands on any kind of justice yet, or ever will. Last I heard the East Timorese government had opted for a blood-under-the-bridge approach, but it seems the wind changed almost immediately. Apparently Australia still has troops there, at least according to Wikipedia, and I have to wonder whether the dog or the tail is wagging on that front.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle with Pete R. and his kids at a totally flat Coogee. Quite a few people there but not as many as one might expect on a summer weekend, perhaps due to the thunderstorm that was threatening the whole time and blew in from the south around 1pm. I went back at dusk on my lonesome for another paddle after a vegie risotto dinner with Pete, Beth, Danny, Frankie and the kids.

Femme Fatale

/noise/movies | Link

Stephanie Zacharek rated this somewhere in the bottom 24 of her favourite 25 movies of the previous decade. (Let us be mainstream about decades and calendar years ending in 0.) Well, what can I say... Rebecca Romijn-then-Stamos giddily gyrates and the boys go ah... the plot is MIA and de Palma's cinematography is excellent. The only substance in this whole picture was probably a Class A.