Monthly Archives: February 2006

Blog revisionism

I have decided to keep boring technical details out of the blog and moved them to a personal top secret hidden Wiki instead. I don’t want to frighten people off by talking about X11, apt-get, ARD and rsync incessantly.

I babysat last night for the second time in my life. This time was a lot easier at 8 months old than at 11 days old (where there was a lot of crying). This time Nina just went to sleep. And stayed asleep, so I got to nerd on the internet and book hotels for my Easter holiday. Thats the kind of babysitting I like!

Films not to watch for a cheerful weekend

But you probably shouldn’t avoid.

I’m starting to realise that my aversion to film over the last decade or so is sadly misplaced. Whether it’s just because I’ve found more immediate forms of entertainment in occasional TV or more frequent internet abuse, I’m not sure. Books I’ve always read, and the investment in time is generally worth it. So why 20 hours on a book but not 2 on a film?

I think the answer has been exposed this weekend, and this is the fact that there is the difference in perception between what I think a film is like and what the film is actually like.

Item one on the agenda is Million Dollar Baby. No not the 1934 vaudeville version, or the 1941 version starring an former president of the United States of America, but the 2004 Clint Eastwood boxing tale. I was a bit disparaging of this film after queuing it up on my rental list, it was on Harriets reccomendation and whilst I have every faith in the female ability to pick films, I was under the impression that this was going to be unadultarated schmaltz from start to finish, working class girl, works hard, makes impression on gruff boxing trainer who takes her to the top, gets her rewards, lift trophies kind of movie. It isn’t. OK sometimes it is a little tiring to watch Clint and Morgan Freeman trading ‘who can be the crotchiest old cantankerous, 60 fags and a bottle of whisky a day’ lines, but about 3/4 of the way through the film it does serve up the most unexpected curve ball (hey I can talk baseball too!). No spoilers, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Not at all. I’m going to keep my mouth shut before I start berating films before I see them based on what I percieve their content to be. It’s not a film I’ll buy but I see no reason to avoid it. In fact watch it. Just don’t watch it for a happy ending, as there isn’t one, and the one that there is is both morally ambiguous and wont sit well with those of a strong religous persuasion.

Item two is Oldboy, part of my current mild fascination with Asian cinema. This one’s from Korea, and has just blown me away. There’s few films I just cannot look away from, and this is one long car wreck of a movie. And I mean that most sincerely. It’s a movie that really actually makes you feel guilty for being such rubberneck during it. Every scene feels more and more intimate and by the time you start to figure out what is going on your interest turns to something more akin to revulsion. And the plot.. suffice to say if there’s any reason for watching stuff like this, its for the sole reason that Hollywood could never come up with, nor execute with the same panache or style. It’s a beautiful film – and does make me think a little of Infernal Affairs in terms of the gorgeous portrayals of modern city living (in a rather seedy, gritty urban way). Reviews of this film have been mixed at best that I’ve seen online and I’m not sure why. It’s a revenge movie that starts with the protaganist being imprisoned for 15 years for something he really has no recollection for. The film builds on the release from this, and the attempt to track down why he was imprisoned and by whom. As I was watching it the nearest thing I could compare to it was a Haruki Murakami story commited to celluloid. The same idea of initial wonderment and mundanity that transforms into intrigue and surrealism is very present here. However Murakami doesn’t tend to include quite so much violence, which to be fair is not overstated here, but is everpresent. Again, no spoilers, but just when you think you’re on top of the plot (which is unfurled and presented with great care as you follow Oh Dae-Su) the rug is whipped from under your feet, and the car crash continues as you’re inexorably drawn into one of the most peculiarly satisfying endings of any film I’ve seen. Definitely on the purchase list. Now if only I can get Harriet to watch a subtitled movie. Or do I have to wait for the 2006 Hollywood remake? All I can say, is that if it adulterates the storyline one iota (as the main theme is deeply unpalatable) it wont be fit to hold a candle to the original.

Hooray for film, boo to my complete ignorance on the topic.

Queued up next:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ichi The Killer
The Edukators
Goodbye Lenin!
Assault On Precinct 13
Battle Royale 2

Has to be something good in there too.

Shirking with intent

It’s Friday afternoon, so you’re allowed to do a little extracurricular Googling right? In an effort to customise my 15″ G4 Powerbook I went looking for some screensavers and came across this little gem:


From the website:

“Structure is a screensaver for Mac OS X that draws on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s protein databases to display beautiful 3D protein structures on your screen. It ships with about ten sample structures and via the Internet has seamless access to a database of tens of thousands more. Regardless of whether you know anything about biology or not, the structures on your screen create a mesmerizing and informative screensaver.”

For those of you more biologically inclined, its basically a PDB structure viewer like RasMol. However for the jobbing bioinformatician, it does now look like I’m hard at work on some obscure 3D protein structure whenever people wander into the office and the screensaver has kicked in! Bonus.

Little bits of internet genius

Stuck for something to read? Polished off one great book, but need something else that someone else who read it has gone on to read?

Step forward What Should I Read Next?

“Enter a book you like and the site will analyse our database of real readers’ favourite books (over 18,000 and growing) to suggest what you could read next. It’s a bit like browsing the bookshelves of a (very) well read friend!”

Plan. I like!

Finally some politics I can be happy about!

“MPs have voted by huge margins to ban smoking from all pubs and private members’ clubs in England.

Ministers offered a free vote amid fears of a Labour backbench rebellion against government plans to exempt clubs and pubs not serving food.

MPs decided by a margin of 328 to ban smoking from all pubs. They then voted by 200 to extend this to clubs.”

Ahhh. A breath of fresh air sweeps through the nations social hubs. My father will be delighted, and so am I. I have images of people who will be less than pleased, but in a slightly sadistic way this makes me even more delighted.

I have noticed in recent years that I have gone from 99% of my friends smoking to about 5% of my friends smoking. Yes some of the friends have changed, but its certianly dropped further off the agenda…

Or maybe everyones moved onto briars and Romeo Y Julieta‘s these days ;)

ID Cards

I think my opposition to ID cards is fairly well known. I’ve signed the No2ID pledge which states:

“I will refuse to register for an ID card and will donate £10 to a legal defence fund but only if 10,000 other people will also make this same pledge”.

So the ID cards bill was back in the Commons today after a good kicking in the Lords, who were mainly concerned with the ‘creeping compulsion’, i.e. if you want a passport then you get an ID card too. This will come into being in 2008 (so remind me to ‘lose’ my passport in late 2007 for a 10 year renewal). Anyway Tony was hiding out in the sun after his plane couldn’t get him back to the vote, and it was amusing to see him sweat a little in front of the press.

It didn’t matter though as the Commons passed the damn legislation again, and even with a handful of Labour rebels, it wasn’t exactly tight. Please, Upper House.. give it another kicking back to the Commons so we can end this compulsory ID card scheme once and for all.

I’ll tell you another thing as well, if the Tories pledge next election to scrap the legislation altogether, I’ll vote for them on that basis alone. Now that’s saying something about how much I dislike this plan…

Asian cinema weekend

No not that kind of Asian film, get your mind out of the gutter.

This weekend I’ve managed to get through Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong), Versus (Japan) and Battle Royale (Japan).

Infernal Affairs was the clear winner here – it’s beautifully shot and is overwhelmingly tense in places. The basic story is that an undercover cop is placed with a criminal gang. At almost the same time a member of the gang is admitted to the police force. After 10 years both protaganists have effectively inveigled their way into top positions with their respective chosen careers. However when the plants start feeding information back to their handlers about the same crime – it becomes obvious both side has a mole. The desparate race to uncover the mole leaves a (small) trail of dead bodies, and an interesting twist.
You’re never sure quite who you’re meant to be rooting for, or whether people have the allegiances they claim to. Glued to the screen all the way through. Plot reminds me somewhat of Serpico as well, another great film.

Versus, well, it’s just a bit of your ordinary Japanese ultraviolence. With a plot best described as ‘paper-thin’ it is a kind of excuse for a Japanese zombie movie. With splattering aplenty and kung-fu fun it’s an ideal way to spend an evening. You can’t call it horror, it won’t really spook you out, and I left the viewing assuming that it was a comedy.. but not being *entirely* sure. No regrets watching it.

Battle Royale, well I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while after failing to read the book on loan from Simon. Again the premise is papery – the adults in Japan have grown weary of continual disrespect from the children so to teach them a lesson enact the Battle Royale Act, which seems to suggest that children can be removed from school once a year (one class in a lottery) to be taken to a deserted island, armed to the teeth and allowed to kill each other. I was expecting another carnageathon after Versus, but despite 40 odd deaths, it’s really not like that. Sort of a Lord of the Flies, or Lost, with more guns, knives, grenades etc.. but its a rather touching movie. Firstly it explores the fragility of childhood friendships and relationships, as cliques are torn asunder by geographical and mental separation. Some children take to the task with glee, others remove themselves from the game honourably. The film rewards with an acceptable ending that you don’t see being possible most of the way through. It does however reinforce the opinion in my mind that the Japanese schoolgirl uniform is a bizarre thing to fetishise…

It was great to watch some non European/American films for a change. Next up is Ichi the Killer and Oldboy, which has been given a bit of a kicking in the IMDB reviews but hey ho it’s all about viewing with a (cleaved) open mind…

Technology I want NOW please

From the tech-gui list I came across this lovely movie about Apples new patented touchscreen displays. The demos are extremely pleasing, and the Minority Report like filing of photos would appeal to any of us who loved the UI design we saw in that file.

I wonder if this is going to appear in the iPod line – the next generation ones are reported to be not using the clickwheel, so it makes sense if there’s a virtual one. What I would love to see is an full iPod with a screen that covers the face, with a little mixing desk, virtual decks and the ability to cue up tunes… a sort of touch-screen mobile Final Scratch. That could certainly liven up the rather jaded concept of iPod Parties. Actually come to think of it, all it would do is release a horde of wannabe DJ’s… oh hang on, there’s already lots of those. Bring it on!

Stuff I have learned today

GenePix is a nice piece of software, however it still takes far too much manual intervention especially when a) you have lots of chips to spotcall b) all your scanned slides have half of the top set of blocks missing. Its flag calling is rather unweildy to say the least. It is however simple enough to do once you know all the keyboard shorcuts and have the iPod to keep you sane. This applies to v4 – I don’t know what v6 is like as the dongle doesn’t unlock it from demo mode.

That’s me broken my rules about blogging about work then.

Secondly.. did you know that the fear of palindromes is aibohphobia, which is itself a palindrome. Someone has a sick sense of humour…

That got me starting to think about my phobias. I don’t really have many unusal ones, but I’ve become increasingly fearful after working with mainly LCD flatscreens, that I am occasionally convinced that any CRT I am at is going to explode. This is not a great feeling, and I can’t find a name for it in Google. Maybe I’m getting a little strange in my old age.

The IT crowd

So a new Channel 4 comedy about IT support. That should have just about everyone I know interested in it, if you’re ‘skilled’ with a computer tech support doesn’t so much happen.. more it’s kind of forced upon you. In Oxford I had my first experience of running proper support for Bio-Linux, but yeah, there are still those people who are sure you’re just there to de-malwareify their PC or change the frickin’ toner cartridge in their printer.

So is it any good? Apart from the annoying Channel 4 person voice over that pronounces it ‘The it crowd’ instead of ‘the I T crowd’, I have to say a resounding yes. I watched the first episode as they released it online (with no ads!) last week, but watched it again with Harriet, and the second episode on Friday night.

Anything that makes me laugh out loud 3 or 4 times between advert breaks has to be a good thing – I can’t wait to see how it pans out even though it can be a little overacted in places. Whoever they were consulting with for the ‘real’ IT angle has done the show proud. We can see Commodore PET‘s laying around, EFF stickers, Perl Camels and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster! This of course had to be explained to the slightly less geeky Harriet as she has not yet been touched by His Noodly Appendage. However none of this stopped her from finding it amusing, so I guess it does have interdisciplinary appeal (plus it means she will let me watch it on Friday nights in future)..