Archive for May 2003
Still no news from the bank, I’ll give them a few more days before I call them again. The amounts involved are not enough to cause me serious financial concern, and I think I’m lucky that money doesn’t mean that much to me.
I’ve never seen Strictly Ballroom before, but I recorded it last night, wondering what all the fuss was about. Highly predictable in a “Fame” way, of course, but with a healthy wallop of post-modern Australian mockumentary humour. This was the breakthrough film for director Baz Luhrmann, who went on to direct Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.
It has one plot feature that annoys me every time I see it: when you see an ugly duckling at the start, you know she will be transformed into a beautiful swan by the end; and you know she will start off wearing glasses, which will be removed later. In this case, the glasses are cheap and ugly, and compounded by blotchy skin and frizzy hair. In general, though, spectacles alone are seen as a sign of repression, of gawkiness, especially among women. Real women don’t wear specs, do they? You don’t see them in the cast of Friends, Melrose Place, or Buffy.
Why is this? Specs are a normal part of life, worn for sensible medical reasons, and I fail to see why they are so stigmatized in the popular media. Example: there’s a commercial on at the moment that features a nightclub scene with horse-racing commentary. Various guys, named like horses, try to “pull” a girl; of course there’s a guy wearing glasses, given the name “Hopeless Case”, who lasts about one-and-a-half seconds. (And you wonder why I don’t go to nightclubs?) In commercials for cleaning products, even, the guy using the “wrong” product is a bespectacled wimp.
In TV and film, specs are seen as an “accessory”, to make a point in a plot, so the prop master makes the actor wear a pair that stands out in an obvious ugly fashion on screen, like a huge pimple. That doesn’t match what I see every day, starting with the Armani set that I’ve had for over four years, since they’re very well made and my eyesight appears to have stabilized. I wear glasses by choice now, they actually serve to “enhance” my “coarse” features.
There aren’t many women in the building I work in, but a high proportion wear glasses all day, every day. I take that as a good sign, indicating that they have their priorities right, and aren’t going to jeopardise their eyesight for the sake of fashion. I tried contact lenses over ten years ago, but they were too high maintenance for me, and actually made me queasy at first (a known problem). Now that disposable lenses are more freely available, and more reliable, I should try them again, especially if I get the extra role in King Arthur.
My eyesight isn’t a problem in my daily life, but it has stopped me from doing something I’ve always wanted to do: fly. The new European rules applicable in Ireland are slightly tighter than the rules I remember reading in the UK years ago, both of which effectively bar me from flying, for reasons of colour vision and the extent of my short-sightedness. Even laser corrective surgery wouldn’t help, since the rules explicitly reference your eyesight before the surgery.
The good news is that the UK is introducing a new Private Pilot’s License standard for recreational flyers, under which your eyesight must match the rules for heavy vehicle drivers, and colour vision is not a factor. I know that flight simulation programs are not as detailed as the real world, but I’ve seen nothing there that makes colour blindness a safety factor. I guess the rules were required in the early days of flight, when pilots had to pick out runways or other landscape features in darkness without navigational aids, but that’s no longer the case in general aviation. I expect to fly only in daylight, and I’m never going to confuse a red light for a green light. If I move back to the UK, then, that’s something I expect to pursue. Ceiling Unlimited, and all that.
I’ve written before about the Cyclists of Dublin; well, once they get behind a wheel, it doesn’t get any better. We’re approaching a Bank Holiday long weekend, and so the police – sorry, Gardai – here are once again ramming home the Road Safety message. As ever, the young male drivers are the most obvious problem, with or without alcohol. The government’s behind this, so you can bet there will be no mention of the substandard roads, markings and signage.
I decided years ago that I will avoid learning to drive a car for as long as possible. I did try it a little, in South Africa, and I have toyed with the idea of getting a motorbike, which I haven’t forgotten but don’t feel in a hurry to pursue.
Why is this? Is it fear? I haven’t been in many accidents, none recently:
- 1973, I think: my father rolled his Morris Minor on the road from Stirling to Dunfermline in Scotland. I was tossed about the rear and escaped with perhaps one bruise, but my sister got glass in her hands and scalp.
- 1977: my father hit and killed a pedestrian in his Toyota, one of a drunken line stretched across the road late at night.
- 1982: my father drove his Peugeot off the road and across a ditch, damaging the chassis, though still we took the car on a 600km journey the very next day, to pick up my new stepmother from the airport.
- 1984: on the way back from a dinner to celebrate my sixteenth birthday, a taxi cut a corner and clipped the corner of my father’s Opel, bending the suspension and smashing a mag wheel. The taxi kept going, and we barely limped home.
The pattern should be fairly obvious. But I’ve never been injured in a car crash, and my worst accident ever involved just me, my bike, and a chain crossing my path. Far worse have been the accidents involving others, including:
- David, from the pipe band I was in, though not at the same time: he was killed on the same road he had been seriously injured on a year earlier, and I was one of the pipers who played at his funeral;
- Anthony, a year ahead of me in school, but a fellow geek who taught me a lot about computers and music: he went off the road, for unknown reasons, in Zimbabwe, and wasn’t found until it was too late;
- Dawn, my adopted sister, who broke down on the highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and decided to wait in the car for safety. The car was hit by a large truck, and her injuries were too severe to survive.
Fear of accidents must be a factor, then. Expense is another, when I add up what it costs to buy, insure, and run a car. I prefer the idea of a motorbike because it takes up far less space and resources, and the environment is another factor in my decision.
The more I think of it, though, I have to note that I’m simply coping quite happily without a car, primarily because I plan my activities accordingly. The lack of a car affects where I go, and when. On the rare occasions (even here in Dublin) that public transport doesn’t meet my needs, I can get a taxi. A work colleague helped me move house last year, from a place with good public transport links, to a place close enough to work to walk. There’s a bus service to the airport that gets me there in time for a 06:30 flight.
The lifestyle suits me, but I’m also aware that cars have only been widely available since the 1920s. What did people do before that? Even with horses, they had to plan ahead. There were times when the availability of a car could have saved lives; how many more lives have cars cost? But please don’t confuse me for some neo-Luddite, who wants to change other people’s lives to suit my preferences. I just don’t need the convenience of a car, not at that price.
Wonderful. I’ve just found out that there are transactions, on one of my credit card accounts, that aren’t mine. This includes a £1000 cash withdrawal that took place in Sheffield while I wasn’t even in England. There is also a huge restaurant bill, a huge hotel bill, and what appears to be three plane tickets, totalling another £1200 or so.
While I have my doubts about the cash withdrawal, the other items don’t appear to be fraudulent – it would be a rather dim conman who logged such easily traceable items. If the police get involved, they can easily get the person details from the hotel and restaurant, and using a plane ticket requires photo ID, which is logged.
I’ve reported it to the bank, and they’re sending some forms out to me. The account was closed immediately, of course, and they can transfer the balance to another account of mine. I have been paying £10 a month on a “payment protection plan”, so let’s see if that is worth anything.
The Eurovision results were too late for the Sunday Papers, so I’ll get the reactions tomorrow. Quote of the day, by Annika Sorenstam, the top Ladies golfer, who hit the headlines last week when she played in a men’s PGA tournament – the first lady to do so in fifty years:
I’m competitive. I used to play chess with my husband, but he beat me, so we don’t play any more because we can’t find all the pieces.
One of my colleagues is getting married this summer, so he’s currently gearing up for the big day. The nuptial conversation ratio is at 50% and climbing, and he’s wisely refused to invite any colleagues from work, only friends. He’s known his fiancée for several years, which, according to a report in the Sunday Times today, could be a problem. A psychology team at the University of Texas have done some research and plotted courtship times on a graph against the failure rates of the subsequent marriages. They saw a clear trend curve, with around 18 months of courtship giving the best chance of success.
They use the actors from Friends as examples, so while Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt appear to have hit the nail on the head with 18 months, Matt LeBlanc has known his new wife for over five years. Leaving it too long tends to create “sleeper wives”, apparently: the ones who say “I love you, you’re perfect, let’s get married… now change!”
I don’t really know why people bother, frankly, but I also know it’s not rational. (Marriage offers tax advantages in some countries, of course.) The lengths people go to can be quite extreme. In parts of India, for example, widowers can only marry widows and vice versa. If a bachelor wants to marry a widow, what’s a guy to do? Simple: he gets married to a tree. The tree is then cut down, and he’s then a widower, with the right to marry a widow.
The late comedian Bill Hicks used to comment that “it would take a very special lady… or several average ones.”, but even he found somebody. I used to have people ask me why I’m not married, to which my response was something like “I can’t do it by myself, can I?” I don’t get asked that any more, it’s pretty obvious by now that I’d only be husband material if I was a Black Widow or a Praying Mantis. It’s one o’clock, time for lunch, dum de dum de dum…
I’m slumming it this evening, musically; the Eurovision Song Contest is on, the annual parade of Eurotrash in tight dresses and dodgy suits, where cookie-cutter musical styles are applied to kindergarten lyrics with a shotgun.
The Irish song was the subject of a competition and huge hype here, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve never actually heard it, not even tonight. I missed it, and they’ve ended up around the middle of the results table. Some of the voting was obvious: Cyprus is politically split between Greece and Turkey, so you can guess where the Cypriot votes went to. The Turks narrowly beat off Belgium and Russia for the title, and I didn’t hear their song either. The Russian group Tatu did better than the song deserved, because they’re already established pop stars with a lesbian angle.
I can’t even remember the name of the UK group, that’s how bloody awful they were, but politics surely played a huge part too, given Europe’s anti-war stance. The UK votes gave Ireland maximum points, but Ireland didn’t return the favour. Either way, it showed in the results: dead last, with nil points! I can’t wait to see the UK papers tomorrow…
Not much time to update the blog in the last few days, yet not much noteworthy has occurred. I’ve been on a training course, but in my building. My regular work has been continuing as normal in between sessions – before, after, and during “lunch” breaks, with maybe twenty minutes for myself. I barely managed to squeeze in coffee and a muffin today, between analyzing system logs and packing a rack-mountable monitor to go back to Austria.
Right now I’m playing Rickie Lee Jones, great for late nights. Otherwise, this week has been occupied by Level 42, so far. There’s a new film out called It Runs In The Family, starring three generations of the Douglas family – Kirk, Michael, Cameron – and that got me humming Level 42′s Running In The Family. That album, as well as A Physical Presence, are in the collection I retrieved from England this month, and the songs on Running In The Family were immediately familiar again. It’s a bright album, with a sparkling mid-80′s production, yet with plenty of old-fashioned sounds mixed in, such as analog synth, and Mark King’s idiosyncratic bass. They were all fans of Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and it shows through.
Then there are the songs: I wouldn’t advise reading the lyrics if depressed, frankly. The title track is about how we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents, Children Say laments the death of idealism, there are several “end of the affair” songs, and then there’s The Sleepwalkers, about how we go through life in a daze. Yet it’s still a sprightly up-tempo album, full of excellent musicianship, especially Phil Gould’s drum work, and King’s voice is at its best. He still runs Level 42, who are touring here later this year. I might go and see them, since drummer Gary Husband is involved, he’s very worth hearing too.
No forms from the bank yet – and that’s all there’s been to report this week. After I called them on Tuesday, and they closed the account, I took a little pleasure from the credit card destruction procedure. That’s not all I’m expecting, of course, and if they try to pin the fraudulent transactions on me, they’ve lost my business, at the very least.
I’m off to our lab now to do a job that epitomizes the kind of work we do here. I’m taking our main lab “cluster” (two servers plus a shared storage enclosure) down to do maintenance (change the storage enclosure), and also to move it a little higher in the rack to make room for another server beneath it.
On the one hand: shutting it down needs to be managed fairly carefully, and bringing it back up even more so, and one or more things will almost certainly go wrong and need fixing. While it’s down, though, I’ll be physically shifting the hardware and fumbling around inside the rack with nuts and bolts. I’m dressed appropriately, thank goodness. The only people who wear ties in this building are visitors or those heading out the door for interviews with other companies.
This evening I finally got around to watching Spirited Away in its entirety, and haven’t quite returned to this world yet.
It’s gathered a whole raft of awards, including the “Golden Bear” Best Picture award at the Berlin Film Festival and an Oscar® for Best Animated Feature this year. It’s also the most popular film in Japanese box-office history. There’s no question that it’s “mainstream”, then, and the US release was masterminded by John Lasseter of Pixar and released by Walt Disney Studios, but that doesn’t detract from its art.
I watched a third of it last weekend with two kids, six and four, who were totally engrossed and who might have made it to the end, but it was already past their bedtime. While it’s generally safe for kids, a few scenes might give Western kids some strange dreams..!
Hayao Miyazaki, writer and director, based his story around a little girl, Chihiro, who becomes trapped in a spirit world after she and her parents stumble on it. The parents are turned into pigs after gorging themselves on food from the world, and are headed for the abattoir unless Chihiro can get them out. She manages to talk herself into a job at the local bathhouse, run by a witch, where the gods come to chill out and get cleaned up, and finds herself in some very strange situations.
The idea of gods inhabiting every inanimate object is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Minzoku (Folk) Shinto is the best-known version of this concept, but it’s refreshing that they don’t take it too seriously. One awe-inspiring scene has Chihiro forced into helping what appears to be a “Stink God” – with even her hair trying to run away from the stench – until she notices he has something stuck in his side, and pulls. The result is totally over-the-top, yet somehow true to the story.
It’s truly amazing how much detail has been crammed into the animation. Little details, such as the way Chihiro taps her feet after putting her shoes on, or the fish swimming over the submerged train tracks. The bathhouse boilers are controlled by a gruff six-armed humanoid called Kamagi, who even appears to be trying to give up smoking, since there’s an ashtray full of barely-smoked butts. Then there’s No-Face, a god undergoing a serious personality crisis.
I don’t know if Spirited Away is the greatest animation feature ever created, but it’s right up there with Fantasia or Shrek. While it’s taken the USA by storm, it’s not been heard of much in Europe, which is a real shame.
Besides my old CDs, I came back from the UK with a couple of new US Import DVDs from the extreme ends of the “family” spectrum. In the Nice corner, we have Spirited Away, the beautiful Anime masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki, which I will surely write more about later. In the Nasty corner, we have Jackass: The Movie.
I’ve mentioned Jackass before, and the movie is essentially the same as the TV show, but the Jackasses go a lot further than before, having a serious budget to work with. They start it off with a huge opening sequence, with lots of explosions, just so you’ll think that they’ve gone all Hollywood on us, but then it’s down to business.
Despite all the warnings, there are still kids going out and doing some truly stupid things. They should watch the DVD, then, during which it becomes clear that there are many safety precautions taken in the planning and execution of these stunts. That doesn’t mean that things always go to plan, as the Golf Cart sequence shows. The other drawback is that people don’t always react the way they’re expected to, especially professionals such as police or medical personnel, who really have seen it all before. The DVD has a lot of extra footage which was cut out of the movie, some of which, such as the Sand Vagina, go a bit too far for either large or small screens.
It’s a good thing that Jackass didn’t outstay its welcome, and went out with a bang, such as it was. You only have to look at the masochistic Welsh imitation, Dirty Sanchez, to appreciate the good-natured humour that went into Jackass. Some of the best pieces in Jackass don’t involve stunts or obscenity at all, such as Steve-O getting his own face tattooed on his back, or the Whale Shark Gummer (OK, not much obscenity). The movie got a very limited release here in Ireland – maybe two cinemas, neither near me, showed it for a week. I can always sell it if I get tired of it.
ps: see also my later op-ed piece on Jackassism.
More on the Post-War Iraq question will surely appear here in future, but I’m obviously too far away to appreciate the magnitude of the problem there. Reading a LA Times report about what happened in a Baghdad psychiatric hospital got Jerry Pournelle hopping mad, and he wrote a short piece: Iraq, Democracy, and Americans as Akbar:
Is there any other “civilized” city in the whole flipping WORLD where an invading army is seen as the opportunity to go pillage a psychiatric hospital and rape the patients? … What kind of people are we “liberating”???? … Me, I am beginning to think we had better IMPOSE some civilized rules of order on these people. Maybe we ought to restrict the vote to the women?
As he freely admits, he was fuming when he wrote that, but he may have a point. Maybe I’m a “pussywhipped new man” or something, but some of the things done by “tribal” men leave me going “what the fcuk?”
A suitable link for today: the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (pronounced “vehement”). That may give you some idea of the kind of week I’m having.
Actually, I’ve known about this philosophy for years, and though I wouldn’t call myself a “subscriber” or a “member”, they were the first to put a name to an opinion I’ve had for a very long time. I get a little annoyed when I hear about people having children without a thought for the long-term future, or just through negligence. In my case, my parents did seem to like the idea, but lost interest when they realized it’s not like Hollywood.
It’s not at all misanthropic as a philosophy, though it’s understandable that it attracts misanthropes-in-training like myself. Put it this way: while parenthood is the reason we are here, in an evolutionary sense, you only have to look at the animal world to see the consequences of overpopulation. While the lemming “suicide” myth is just that – a myth – they’re an example of a species where over-breeding triggers mass migrations, during which billions of their number are killed.
Do we want a similar fate? That’s what will happen if we carry on the way we are now. The site has responses to the most common objections, but they aren’t out to preach or convert people, just to present an alternative way of thinking about this world and our place in it.
Ah. A wonderful day back in the Orifice is drawing to a close. I’m definitely getting better at what I call “indispensability avoidance”, which some others may call “shirking”, or managers may call “delegation”. As I’ve said before: I learned, years ago, what it is like to be indispensable, and I consistently endeavour to “leverage the team” to prevent this happening. The two days off were a welcome break, and things hadn’t gone all pear-shaped in my absence.
I’ve added some more links to the recommended blogs list on the current blog, including Wil Wheaton, who has moved on from his Star Trek role as Wesley Crusher, to writing and general TV work. He gets a lot of stick from various people; if he sometimes seems a little wound up, you only need to read some of the crap he goes through to understand why. His Slashdot Journal entry about his time hosting a computer games show on G4 had my hair turning greyer, just by reading it.