Saturday, July 21, 2007

Spaceship landing?

The damndest thing: just ten minutes ago I heard the strangest sound from outside. Going to the window I couldn't figure out or see what it was. It was similar to a very had rain falling, but there was only a very soft rain, so that couldn't be it.

I noticed additional aspects to the noise which made it seem like a big machine noise. And it was quite loud. I rushed out to investigate. It was much more distant than it sounded. I had to walk all the way to the back of our square of flats, and yet past a smaller collection of flats behind them, where is a motorway.

I got more and more curious, because even from a distance, a big cloud of steam was rising behind the trees and houses, and the noise was really loud. There was a loud whistling/howling noise together with the sound like the raizing of a hail storm. It was like a spaceship landing. Uh, I imagine.

It turned out to be a road crew with a guy pointing a big stick at the road which glowed fiercely orange. It was clearly discharging a powerful heat. Maybe they were softening up the asphalt for cutting it up, I don't know.

When I got back near my own flat, I met a nice young couple coming out, and we had a cheerful brief chat about the phenomenon, on which I was the local expert now.

But until them, I did not see a single person out there to look. There must be a hundred people at least living in earshot of that amazing noise, and I was walking down there alone! Am I practically the only one who has a healthy curiosity about what's happening? Very weird.
I'm reminded of a similar phenomenon many years ago when I was living in Copenhagen very close to the railway tracks. This was also happening near midnight. And it was a very slow-moving train which was, get this, replacing the stones between and under the tracks! I know, it sounds like a joke, but it was what it was doing. It was sucking up the old fist-sized rocks in front, and pouring down the new rocks in the back. Why the hell they would need to change the stones I have no clue.
But: can you imagine the noise?! It was fantastic. I walked around by the train for a couple of minutes, because with the strangeness and the lights and the noise, it was all like a huge performance art event. I enjoyed it. I normally don't like noise, but this was just so unique.

Spook Country

Time in a couple of weeks for my own "Harry Potter" update: William Gibson has a new book coming out, yoobee (as the Danes say in lieu of "yahoo").

Here is an Interview.

"Famously his first novel set in the present, Pattern Recognition made me feel like I had put on special headphones tuned into the frequency of our lives with a sensitivity that my own biological antenna could never match. I was the fiction editor of our Canadian site at the time, and the great irony of that year was that Gibson had written a novel set in the present that was "literary" by any measure except his sci-fi pedigree, while the Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood in the same year wrote a classic science fiction novel, Oryx and Crake. Although by my lights Pattern Recognition was the far better book (and the best Canadian novel of the year), when it came time for the yearly literary award nominations, Atwood's science fiction book was recognized but Gibson's was nowhere to be found."

I can't believe SF is still a stepchild. Come on, literary people, wake up and smell the coffee. Science Fiction is not a "genre" like westerns or romance. SF is literature unbound from only describing the present "reality".

Twenty years ago Gibson said in an interview "I can't see how anybody can write a serious novel and have it not be science fiction". Well, apparently these days he can see it. Fortunately, like Iain Banks, he is equally good at both.

Nice coincidence, just found this quote:
"Mainstream literature seems like painting in miniature a lot of the time, and then suddenly you get to science fiction and you get the opportunity to work on a proper canvas." - Iain M Banks

I am trying to make it clear when text is not my own by using italics and colors. And I seem to have fallen into the convention that when I quote from comments here on the blog, I use blue text, and when I quote (larger blocks) from outside, I use green. Crystale claire, n'est pas? :)

Guess who dies

OK, so I haven't slept since yesterday, but I have now finished the last Harry Potter book.

I'm so sad that Hermione died.

Ooh, should there have been a spoiler warning?

Just kidding, I have not read any of the Harry Potters.

Man, there must be 20 million hardcore fans holed up in their bedrooms with that book today. What a publishing phenomenon, unbelievable.

I wonder if Rowling will ever write again after this.
F.I. said in part:
"...or bad in that they're learning to commodify learning by buying more products full of facile understandings and simplistic language."

Jes answered:
What's wrong with simplistic language? I'm a notoriously slow reader. It usually takes me about a month to read a book, I don't know why. But this doesn't seem to apply to the Harry Potter books. Somehow I'm able to just breeze through them with a clear picture of what's going on in my head. The simplistic language is one of my favorite aspects of the books. It always confuses me why people talk about simplicity like it's a bad thing.

Is it intellectually stimulating or escapism? Who cares? In my mind, it's an amazing story with tons of interesting characters, and an entire universe unto itself. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is their business as far as I'm concerned. Just different perspectives is all.

Jes has a point. I have heard very clever writers saying that it is lot more challenging to write simply and clearly than to make it complex and impressive. Some academic books are basically unreadable.

Clint Eastwood and the attractive murderer

In an earlier post I mentioned Clint Eastwood and Unforgiven. It was suggested I give it another chance, and since it was available on HD DVD, I did.

It certainly looks beautiful in HD. And I admit it is a very good film with a lot of good points, perfect timing, excellent acting, good characters, the works. And it has a lot more nuance than westerns normally have.

But I will contend that ultimately it still boils down to the same old thing: admiration for a killer.

When William Munny, in the charismatic and handsome frame of Clint Eastwood, rides out of Big Whiskey in the end, saying that if anybody hurt the prostitutes for putting up the blood money, he will come back and kill everybody, there is pretty much not anybody watching who does not feel deep in his/her gut: "my god, there is a man!" You just can't help it, it's in our dark nature.

And you can even see this excemplified in the admiring and longing looks given him by the writer fellow and by the prostitute with the scars, as they watch him leave.

There is no way around it: it is gut-level admiration for a man who by his own admission has killed many innocent men, and women, and children, and who killed several more just minutes ago. And the film aims for it, it is where it gets its marketing power.

I am shocked that I've been unable to find any other reviewers who really question this. It is not a "great wrong", but there's certainly nothing beautiful about it, and it needs to be recognized.

In a documentary about Eastwood, the narrator says about Unforgiven: "the sherif has tortured and killed Will's best friend. He has no choice but vengeance." And that's the exact untruth to be uncovered. There is always a choice. Violence begets violence, and he who breaks the chain, wins.

Don't get me wrong, I am not villainizing "the Clint" here. His hyper-violent movie characters are merely reflecting an important aspect of human nature. I'm just saying it's an aspect we'd do well to look at some more.

Joe Dick ads:

The following is from Wikipedia, and I have not checked the accuracy, so like all Wikipedia entries take it with a grain of salt:

"... although many critics and viewers consider the film emphatically anti-violence, David Webb Peoples has stated in interviews that this was not his intention: he wished to present violence as morally complex, as opposed to simply "wrong". Further evidence of this is the statement in the closing moments of the film that Munny is rumored to have gone to San Francisco and prospered in dry goods, lending support to the idea that Munny's brutal slaughter of Big Whiskey's sheriff and deputies at the film's climax was in some sense redemptive."

Eolake is back (and don't know how to stop):
Yes, or it surely depicts the idea that you can commit such horrible acts without any price to your life or soul.

Obviously I'm not immune to the charm of the movie, otherwise I'd not be upset by it. :)

Another way to express my problem with it: if you listen to the movie, it is clearly against violence. The characters say it many times. But if you look at the movie, it is clearly for it. The violence is presented in a way so it is enjoyable. A friend of mine said that the final big gun battle was "like an orgasm".

In other words it is not so much "ambiguous" as it is hypocritical. It is like "don't do what I do, do what I say."

By the way, I'm just watching the docu about the film, and the wiki entry is pretty correct, DW Peoples (the writer) does say that the reason people think it's an anti-violence movie is that most other movies are "pro-violence" in the sense that if it is the good guy doing it to the bad guy, it's OK. But that reality is more complex, and that it's often difficult to pinpoint who's the "good guy" and who's the "bad guy". Which I think is wise. You'll notice that each participant in a fight always thinks of himself as the good guy.

An interesting detail rarely pointed out is that the most hateful and vengeful character in the movie might be Alice, the prostitute madam. It is her who insists that the offending cowboys die and arranges for the blood money reward. This is despite the fact that one of them is a good man and pretty much innocent except for not having acted fast enough to stop his friend. And when he returns he attempts to do right by the scarred woman by giving her an extra pony of his own, which he was not required to do. And then Alice refuses this nice offer (without asking the victim) and drives him away into the arms of the killers. Not big on forgiveness.

I will concede that within the framework of a big, popular, Hollywood movie, this film is probably as far as we can currently go towards an anti-violence movie. If you'd made a movie like this and not made the violence seductive and aesthetic, it would instantly have lost 90% of its audience. At least.

Friday, July 20, 2007

OMG! All Online Data Lost After Internet Crash!!!

Very funny news report parody.

"... an archaic telephone-line based network of low quality printers..." Or what you might call "fax". ROTFL.

Can anybody figure out what's the source of the video? Who made it and have they made more?

Fun With Fractals

This image is not all fractal, I think, but definitely partially, as evidenced by the repetition of form you get when you zoom in on it. Here are three different zoom levels. Amazing.

Photos on canvas

Bill Atkinson is now offering photo prints on canvas. Sounds like a good idea to me.

I just got his book Within The Stone.

Fast internet

A residential connection which can download a movie in two seconds!

Lord knows I could use that. The connections around here suck butt. I am paying for two supposedly good connections. And just today, the DSL connection kept crapping out on me (disconnecting), while the cable connection was downloading at around 15k, which is totally painful. It took me three hours to download a 85MB file.
I don't understand why the two connections are sometimes problematic at the same time, one is on the phone network and the other is on the cable TV network. Totally unrelated, so I would think.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Edges and Swirl and sons

Influencing hearts and minds

Thanks to Timo for pointing to a very interesting article about how groups and individuals influence minds and make converts.
It is written by a hypnotist who is giving away the secrets of powerful speakers.
A quote:
"Over the years, I've conducted professional seminars to teach people to be hypnotists, trainers, and counsellors. I've had many of those who conduct trainings and rallies come to me and say, "I'm here because I know that what I'm doing works, but I don't know why." After showing them how and why, many have gotten out of the business or have decided to approach it differently or in a much more loving and supportive manner.
Many of these trainers have become personal friends, and it scares us all to have experienced the power of one person with a microphone and a room full of people. Add a little charisma and you can count on a high percentage of conversions. The sad truth is that a high percentage of people want to give-away their power--they are true "believers"!"

Green Lines, Popart

I'm beginning to use more features of the software. It's amazing, it's like there's an infinite picture/universe you can scroll around in and zoom in and out of, totally changing the picture. And that's even without changing the settings and origins of the image.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hippie art

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine
Warmly recommended. One of the most seminal, funny, and quirky films I've seen in years.

It also has, if you care to look for them, many good points to make. For instance about child beauty pageants. Apparently, and I can certainly believe this, the typical parent who pushes their children in these things are the Midwestern uptight types who are so scared of sex and anything progressive that I bet they have to take a laxative every week to have any bowel movements at all.

What they naturally can't see at all is that this terror of sex is exactly what ends up creating something like child beauty pageants, where seven-year-old girls come on stage and look for all the world like walking Barbie dolls, the tan variety (due to loads of spray-on tan). Inches of make-up and dead-sexual costumes. It... is... creeeeepy!


Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.
-- Thomas H. Huxley

Bollox. If you're just about to hit a toddler with a brick, by all means hesitate.

Leviathud weighed in:
From personal experience, too much of my time has been wasted hesitating and worrying about the worst of possible consequences. Life would have been much more interesting had I, to paraphrase a slogan, "just done it".

eolake said...
My point is that sayings like "He who hesitates is lost" apply well to a frontier world with bears and so on. In a real civilization mature thought is often necessary on complex issues.

... I've looked up the author of the quote, and like I suspected, he lived in the old west, and was a man of the type who would also proudly say: "The great end of life is not knowledge but action" (an actual quote of his.) In other words a "rugged individual" type. Very valuable type in society, but not the only type needed. Thoughtful types are needed too.

Paul noted:
Seems to me anyone who always and consistently behaves one way or the other -- either always acts or always hesitates -- isn't paying much attention to the circumstances he's in and whether those circumstances demand one or the other course.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


A "Minigun" (machine gun) in an SUV.

Apart from wondering how the f**k you can build a thing which can fire up to 100 rounds per second, I can only think: these are evil inventions. They are clearly not meant to mow down soldiers: soldiers don't stand around in large crowds waiting to be mowed down. They are meant to mow down civilians, and wars like Vietnam has shown us that that is what they are used for, for getting those civilians that the napalm did not get. Evil inventions.

Alex chimes in:

Interesting movie clip.

You'll notice that the vehicle used was a GMC, probably a Yukon, a sibling to the suburban, which is commonly used by enforcement agencies such as the FBI and CIA (drive around DC). You will also see that the car was equipped with a 911 lighting package, blue lights behind the radiator. Again suggesting this be used for a law enforcement application.

I can see how early machine guns were used for high repeat rate of fire, which obviated the need for accuracy, and in trench warfare, urban and guerrilla warfare, it makes sense (not that war makes sense). However, seeing machine guns mounted on jeeps as used by the militia world wide, it is obvious that the intended target is not an invading army, but civil unrest, the general populace.

This weapon of war has no right trying to present itself as an enforcement vehicle. It would not have helped on 9/11, it would not have helped Lockerbie, Manchester, Warrington, Atlanta or any of the other towns where terrorist have struck.

Back to me:
No kidding. Here in UK, even in peaceful little Bolton, the police have sometimes made a point of walking a couple of guys through town in riot gear and machine guns... My question is: even if there is a bank robbery or whatever... you're going to "keep peace" with machine guns?

TTL elaborates:

The best answer I know of as to why arms get manufactured in the U.S. and why America is obsessed with war is put forward by Eugene Jarecki in his film Why We Fight (2006).

The film re-introduces the concept "Military-Industrial Complex" of which President Dwight Eisenhower warned about.

Jarecki is very intelligent in his arguments and the film is excellently directed -- possibly the best documentary on this subject.

"The message here is that while there may be some who sincerely believe that America's various military engagements (in Iraq, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and elsewhere) since World War II are the product of our God-given duty to spread freedom and halt the influence of evil ideologies around the world, the real reason we fight is that war is good business."

Alex added:
I just remembered an old SciFi movie where they introduced an anti-terrorist helicopter gunship to the police force.

The film is "Blue Thunder" and it was set in LA just before the Olympic games were to be held there. The film looked at invasion of privacy, police state and the use of military grade weaponry in the policing arena.

Of course, everyone (TV Producers, TV Audience) thought the helicopter was cool, and there was a follow series where the hero did lots of daring deeds and rescued people, but the film ended with the pilot deciding it was a bad thing and he trashed the 'copter.

Meandering onto the American love of guns and weaponry, look at Lego's "Dino Attack" series of a few years ago, the heroes had "stun "weapons to disable the dinos, they looked like guns and missiles on the toys. Now look at every other countries Lego catalogues, you'lll see "Dino 2010", where the same trucks and helicopters came with lassos, cages and grabber claws, but not a single gun.

Sad statement about the country I chose to raise kids in.

Françoise Hardy - Tous les garçons et les filles

Françoise Hardy - Tous les garçons et les filles

Even in my native Denmark we were played this song in French in high school in the late seventies. It seems it's been used by French teachers all over the world. Good choice.

My only problem was mustering sufficient suspension of disbelief to be able to believe that somebody looking like her could not find anybody to hold her hand and look in her eyes.

I remember my class mates laughed when I asked our teacher how old Françoise was. Heck, it was purely intellectual interest, I swear!

... I am just realizing that this is one of the songs I heard once over thirty years ago, and which I am still singing occasionally. Admittedly some of the French lyrics went a bit haywire.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Marilyn Monroe - The Diamond Collection

Marilyn Monroe - The Diamond Collection
Sadly Amazon US does not have a similar offer, but I wanted to alert my European readers to Amazon UK selling this collection for sixteen pounds. That's eleven DVDs for the price of one or two! A good offer in anybody's book. (I don't think anybody is making any money on this one. Must be a loss leader of some sort?)

Admittedly the collection does not include my favorite Marilyn film Some Like It Hot, but it does include another fine comedy (and an overlooked one), Monkey Business, and it has many of her films I have never seen, or not for decades.

OK, not really a "downside" as much as an irriation point, but: the physical DVD package includes some of the dumbest design decisions I've seen. Each DVD has a different face shot of Marilyn instead of a picture from the movie on it. OK, I could live with that. But then the only hint of which movie is actually on the disc is in the tiny, tiny text along the edge of the disk. I have to have really good light to even read it. And it gets worse: there are two packages because of there being eleven discs. And each package has a large, clear list of films. But get this: the list is for the other package. Geez Louize!

Skull Island

Diamonds are forever, but not for everybody. It's all in the head.


"I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person."
-- Socrates, quoted by Plato, 'The Death of Socrates'

Quoth Laurie:

"Socrates, you rock.

Some interesting facts about Socrates. He never wrote a single line in his life. He was known to stand lost in thought for hours at a time. He heard and followed, what he believed, was a divine voice within. He devoted his life to the teaching of Athen's youth, but was known to be indifferent to his own sons. He was considered enigmatic by his own countrymen, and by his disciples as well. As an aside, but perhaps not, he was known to be exceedingly ugly, a big potbelly, bulging eyes, flat nose. He was a beautiful mind. Socrates was known to say "Athens is a sluggish horse, and I am the gadfly trying to sting it to life." (what do people do to gadflies?)

The Sophists considered themselves the learned and wise of their culture. They were Masters of rhetoric, and charged money for their teaching.

But Socrates never wanted to be known as a teacher. He never charged for his "teachings". He remained poor all his life. "She is wisest who knows she knows nothing."

In life and death, he considered himself a "philo-sopher" -- a lover of wisdom, a lover of truth. He could have saved himself from drinking the hemlock by appealing for mercy, or agreeing to leave Athens, and quit his philosophy. He said, it would be like asking a soldier to turn back in battle if he thought he was going to be killed. He chose to die, because for him truth was far greater than death of the body.

He listened to people, asked questions, never "taught" people the truth --- and he sparked in every one who dared talk with him the spirit of inquiry."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Slowing down

Re my quest for laziness, ttl pointed out this video'd lecture. Carl Honore: Slowing down in a world built for speed. Warmly recommended.

Some of those suffering the most under today's super-pressure are children and teens. A Scottish school banned homework for kids under thirteen. Of course the parents were horrified, but it turns out exame results not only did not suffer, but actually improved.

Borat experience

It took me a while to getting around to watch Borat. I had seen bits of Borat on "Ali G" DVDs, and he struck me as not so interesting. But the film certainly is. It is one of the most dividing bits of culture in recent history, and it is no wonder. I found I got all the same reactions just in little me: rolling on the floor laughing... cringing with embarrassment... flinching with revulsion... Seriously, this film is really hard to watch, but impossible not to.

I bow to Sacha Baron Cohen's sheer balls. In the name of comedy he mortally insults a stadium full of drunken rednecks at a rodeo. He has a naked fight with a 200-kilo man who sits on his face. And he speaks blatantly offensively to policemen, politicians, street gangs, and worst of all, to organized feminists. I know I could not come within a million miles of doing any of that.

I wonder what Cohen is like in person. When he is in character, he is vile. And dead funny. And like the best comedians, he puts the finger right on the most sore spots of what's wrong with our world, racism, misogyny, war-lust, ignorance...

Cohen out of character on Letterman.
Cohen as Ali G, interviewing "Beck and Posh".

Update 19/7:
Pascaleiev said...
"When I first saw the Ali G Show, I didn't know he was a role. And I found he was an incredible mix of outraging, funny and sometimes even cute in his badly raised child style. Always shocking yet never mean."

Yes! Exactly right. And that is another reason I don't sympathize with people who get so damn offended: if you are not the type who get automatically offended by some things, it is clear that he is not mean. If Borat or Ali G were real people, they would just be brought up wrong or something, they are good people.