Monthly Archives: October 2006

out on a limb

swinging by the pool A couple of weeks ago Marica and I took a day trip to see my Mum. We all jumped in the car and did a cruise to a legendary corner of the river where – for as long as I can remember – there’s been a rope swing that takes you right out over the water below. Years ago, some brave (or foolhardy) public minded soul had climbed the huge cottonwood tree, swung a wire rope, and added a simple branch seat/grip at the bottom. It was all deceptively simple and easy. You grabbed the branch, ran out until the rope tightened, the bank sloped away, and away you went – lifting up, flying, you – the weight at the bottom of the pendulum, arcing around over the water and back to the shore.

Frighteningly, because the rope was long, the arc took a surprisingly long time to scribe. Your hands began to sweat and slip. Your muscles began to strain, then ache, then plead for release – and that would mean dropping into the uncertain green waters below. I never did – a) I can’t swim that well, b) I’m not given to dropping into unknown, and c) it would’ve meant giving up the struggle – and by which stage you were back on the bank. Or mostly so.

Today, the tree has been replaced with a single (possibly taller) pole, reinforced with wire rope struts, a long steel rope, a nice padded hand grip, and a sturdy (comfortable) seat. Who would’ve thought health and safety legislation would have anything other than a compliance demand?

So, without much further ado, I climbed on board, and with a flutter of fear, launched. The arc was as long as ever. That silent, meditative scribing of invisible lines in space. Body memories flooded back in – fear of heights, ground speed rush, the thrill, the change of visual perspectives. I’ve swung of a similar length of rope we installed under the Whangaehu Bridge. Spent hours straining muscles, and days aching afterwards. It’s a fantastic exercise. But mostly, I love how everything seems to go silent, once you leave the ground, and the rope takes over.

View Treehouses & Playhouses You Can Build product details at Amazon The image above is from a video I made at the time. I think it’s sad how in our rush to protect kids from harm we don’t allow them the opportunity to build tree huts, yell like Tarzan, fall out of trees, and get blistered hands from rope swings. We do allow them to live in all kinds of violent and vile situations and then pretend to be surprised and hurt by the damage that befalls them. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t protect our kids, what I am suggesting is that we can make stimulating and engaging environments for them – usually the more economically (not cheaper) the better – leaving room for their imaginations and spirits to soar. There’s learning and values for a lifetime to be gained there.

memoirs of a geisha

View product details of Memoirs of a Geisha (Widescreen 2-Disc Special Edition) at AmazonToday’s movie (loving these long weekends) is Memoirs of a Geisha. Apparently the film caused controversy when it was made because of the casting of three Chinese actors in lead roles. The acting was for the most part sensitive and scaled to suit, although at times I felt the actors seemed ‘busted’ for acting, looking around, oh dear, and then carried on. I guess there’s a challenge in acting Japanese while speaking in English.

I’m unsure if the movie is accurate to the book, and equally uncertain if the book is accurate and faithful to the realities of life in those times – or whether the real story was a western perspective of how geisha life might’ve been. I suspect a more accurate picture might be built up by reading the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

View product details on Memoirs of a Geisha at AmazonVisually the movie is delicious, but, mostly, I loved the restrained John Williams sound track, with Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Itzhak Perlman on violin, and Pro Musica Nipponia Ensemble convincingly presenting a soundscape to enhance the rich imagery. I thought it was interesting that in the scenes with western music I was reaching for the volume control, whereas previously the music was so complementary I hadn’t needed to adjust the volume. I was struck that Williams had composed music to set the actors, rather than the usual approach where the composer writes for the overall scene. With, or perhaps even better without the movie, the music is fascinating and beautiful.

maximum creativity

I awoke this morning on the shoulders of a dream. That’s a bit unusual as I rarely remember dreaming at all. Today was different. Today, Eldon had given me the job of servicing the projectors in the Regent Theatre. Strangely, the projectors were downstairs, under the balcony seating area. I was on the phone talking to the supplier of the parts and there was so much noise I couldn’t get it clear that we needed the parts urgently. Eldon was philosophic – he didn’t think the time would be wasted at all. ‘Have a look at what Ian’s doing.’

Ian was working on setting wooden type, and had been printing some book plates, using engraved wooden blocks of pear wood. I was excited as I’ve always wanted to have go at printing using wooden block fonts, and even moreso at the opportunity of cutting my own designs. I felt good – that warm feeling all over – that my time was going to be creatively spent, and I was going to learn something here and that, and I, was valued.

The dream moved at this point and I found myself with a group of people – it might’ve been a picnic – I’m not sure the event. I was with strangers, but felt very comfortable. I was kidding around with a little girl – she was funny and we decided we would make some musical instruments together. Other people thought this was an idea and so a few of us got together a small ensemble of spontaneous music. Ian joined us with this funny bent metal harp, with what looked like fuse wire strings. I said to him, ‘You lyre’, and he laughed…

I gradually woke out of the dream and felt very refreshed. I’d like to have dreams like this more often. I wondered if I do, and I spend my sleeping hours printing and making music – no wonder I wake up feeling tired so often.

image from http://www.gemueseorchester.orgBy way of a side dish, the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra have released their second cd. If you’d like to hear an except from the Radetzky March – this was the march my school mates and I were marched into our classrooms each day after the morning assembly; or check out other tracks from their two cds. Try to imagine the richness of music formed…

…exclusively of vegetable-based instruments, although where necessary, additional kitchen utensils such as knives or mixers are employed. this creates an autonomous and totally novel type of sound which cannot be achieved with conventional musical instruments. marinated sound ideas and canned listening habits beg for expansion!

Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont

image from http://www.mrspalfreythemovie.com Today’s movie, Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont, tells stories of friendships and the development of families. I believe families are made up of people, by choice, rather than by the old fashioned method. Your family are the people you meet along life’s path who relate to you; and they may, or more frequently from my experience, may not be related to you.

You can see a trailor for Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont to get a sense of the beautifully presented oh-so-British acting expertise, the beautiful settings, and the superbly lit sets. The lighting was exceptional – consistently seemless transfers from indoors to out, which coupled with the sensitive music made the movie a rich delight. Enviable – I would have been very proud to have been involved with the production.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the story – Mrs Palfrey, an elegant elderly lady, recently widowed, moves from Scotland to London to be near to her grandson, Desmond. It’s unclear why she bothered. He doesn’t return any of her phone calls, nor does he visit her. A twist of events brings Mrs Palfrey together with Ludovic Meyer, a young writer. He notes that they both have ridiculous names.

View Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont product details at Amazon (Virago Modern Classics)Ludo helps Mrs. Palfrey by pretending to be her grandson, convincing the other off-beat elderly residents of the Claremont believe that she really does have a grandson. Ludo and Mrs Palfrey find out they have a lot in common with each other, and their friendship becomes increasingly deeper. Turns out Ludo likes the poems of William Blake, as did Mrs Palfrey’s husband. Me too, as it happens.

The real grandson shows up at the hotel, and things get a little tangled. I think Desmond is the weakest character in the film – he’s bad – not in an evil kind of way, but in a two dimensional, cardboard cutout Punch and Judy show kind of way. I’m not 100% that the film couldn’t have managed without him. Nothing to do with the actor, just the character itself seemed thin, and borderline irrelevant.

Really good movie, good sound Bristish story, delicious technically, at least four tissues maybe more.

where did the dinosaurs REALLY go?

A few days ago the morning radio DJs were talking to kids and asking them, ‘Where did the dinosaurs go?’ It seems an innocent enough question and there were a number of theories put forward by the kids – one I quite liked about climate change causing the plants to die back and the herbivores toppling into mass extinction and the carnivores following quite soon after. The DJ’s thought that wasn’t a bad theory and I think it’s got some potential. The theory they were most approving of was the ‘giant rice bubble pointed at New York, oops, missed hit Yucatan, someone’s gonna have to pay, I’m looking at you, T-Rex’ approach.

Secretly, I remembered by own theory, which goes like this. Contrary to popular media presentation, dinos were not dumb. They were very, very smart. Far smarter than anything before or since. They were around a long time. Far longer than humans have been here. They developed high levels of technology, the kind of technology that humbles ours today. They went from the equivalent iron age to the nanotech age, in one movement, totally leaping over the industrial age. Becoming bored, they turned their enquiring minds skyward, and ye gods, there’s a giant rice bubble pointed at New York. Rather than wait for the inevitable, the smart, fit, and young minds adapted their technology, and left. That’s right. The dinosaurs left the Earth. They left their dead (as we would), the old and infirm (as we would), the poor (as we would), and range of pre-luddite, bleeding heart tree-hugging, environmental, do-gooders who wanted to stay with earth to the end – as we’d leave them too. The rest? Business class, outa here.

Could this have happened? A number of years ago I had a version on SimEarth for my Amiga 500. The game kind of ran well – if snail paced – and at one point, about four in the morning on a particularly successful earth simulation, the senior sentient life form on my earth – a form of chicken – did exactly as I explained above. These super-smart chickens went from metals to nanos without recourse to the industrial age, and left the planet. The next most developed life forms, the cetacean-oids, started their rise, while the human-oids were still way down the line.

Could this have happened? I was surprised yesterday at work when one of my colleagues pointed out that New Scientist had published an article entitled Imagine Earth without people based on this very premise. Seems there’s a reasonable expectation if humans were to cease their influence on the Earth, our record here would vanish quite quickly. A few million years later and there would be very little evidence that we had been here at all.

Pretty much as it was for the nano-saurs. Been here, done that, gone on to become the aliens and predators of our nightmares.

rock on, rock on!

image from www.mistersf.com
I was a bit horrified to learn today from Daliel at Rock On, Rock ON! that pioneering rock stack artist, Ron Divino has had a disabling stroke. I immediately felt guilty as my plan over winter was to spend more time in the great outdoors finding the inner balance of rocks – purely selfish really, because as you find the rock’s inner balance you start to find your own. Life slips past and suddenly I felt sad for us all.

The good news is apparently Ron’s making some recovery steps, and best of all, stacking rocks one handed. Looking forward to the photos. If you want to send some good wishes via email, DawnFitzpatrick2 [at] dochs.org.

Så som i himmelen – As it is in heaven

View product details of As It Is in Heaven - Så som i Himmelen at Amazon [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Sweden ]Took the first shaky steps on the big project today. We took ourselves off to see Så som i himmelen. The movie is about a famous conductor, Daniel (Michael Nyqvist), who responds to a heart attack by retiring to the white winter of his childhood village in Norrland, in Sweden’s far north. He moves into the abandoned school house and begins to meet the locals, who each are wrestling with their own past and present demons. Some of the locals are friendly, others are Daniel’s former bullying school mates who have now grown up but unfortunately not changed. Daniel is recognised as the famous conductor and invited to listen and give advice to the church choir at their regular Thursday practise. Daniel accepts the role of choir master, and finds himself out of his depth, but like many a teacher before him, a couple a calls to a sympathetic expert gets him started. As winter’s grip on the landscape begins to release, the relationships likewise begin to thaw, and like the new Spring growth, the choir develops and grows. Daniel makes both friends and enemies. In the end, he finds again, 59 seconds. And love, in many layers. And that’s all it takes.

I don’t know if it’s a true story, or based on a true story, or just a story; but I want it to be a true story. I thought the movie was a guy flick – in that respect, not unlike Big Fish. Having spent some time in Sweden, the images and characters were excruciatingly Swedish – the insanely big American car, the music, the landscapes through the seasons, the importance of coffee, the insanity of alcohol – the only thing missing was a moose, although there was a shoeshoe hare. The swedish was ‘BBC swedish’ rather than the rather more challenging northern accents, but I don’t feel that distracted from the movie at all. A good movie all around – probably about a four tissue movie, guys could probably get away with just a couple (just don’t get busted later ‘trying to find your true voice in the shower’ – we’ve heard it before and it even frightens moose).

keeping it real

I’m really impressed by people who can keep things really simple. I remember a colleague once saying that ‘entropy is the natural state of the universe, and your efforts to bring order to my chaos is offensive, not only to me, but to the universe itself’. Science teachers – they should’ve got out more when they were students.

I notice every thing I do becomes more complicated that I plan. I aspire to creating elegant web design. The results might be elegant, but the work it takes is a long way from effortless – not only is there the content, there is the coding, and the determination to keep the design simple and working. It might be easier to follow the Viruswitch’s instructions on how to create an extremely bad website. Her instructions relate more specifically to a university web site – actually, based on my limited knowledge, EVERY university web site. Why is it that university sites cannot, under any circumstances, include:

  • a search engine that produces sensible results
  • shows the fees associated with each course, clearly
  • a shopping cart for courses which allows you to pick and mix, have a running total of the fees, and the names and costs of any texts required
  • include information that at least seems current or – even better – includes information for people trying to make a plan for next year
  • has few, or no, pictures of beautiful students on the way to academic ecstasy?

I recently suggested that staff presentations about what they (we) do could be captured on video, and then be available on our intranet. We could keep the knowledge for staff who were away, or for the induction of new staff. But no, apparently, video distribution is too tech-a-logical. It’s ok to have a web site that is just one notch above unusable, so long as we don’t include information that might prove useful.

Which I think explains why I what do becomes more complicated. I add salt and pepper to my soft boiled eggs. Sugar in my coffee. Spring in my step. I try to enhance my user experience. When I work on my web sites I think about how to make the site work if I was surfing on my old Apple IIe. And then my old Amiga 500 (with the blistering 2400 bps modem). If the site would work on those machines, I figure most of the site work is dealt to. I then just have to concern myself with content. And that, I think is one of the most arcane secrets that the university and government web sites miss – it’s about having an individual responsible and accountable for an aspect of the site, and having another person with the job of going through and spot checking.

You’d be able to hire smart high school kids in their holidays. After all, in the case of the university, these are the next group of undergrads. Fire them up, get them spot checking and pay $10 for every error they find, and $20 for every time they find something they don’t understand. Deduct the $10/per – $20/per from the salary of the person who is responsible for the pages.

Keeping it simple.