Monday, 28 March 2011

Day out in Dorset

After having only driven passed it on sporadic trips westwards, C persuaded me to visit Christchurch with her on Saturday. She's been on many occasions (having once not lived far from it), but I've only ever seen it as a series of roundabouts on the way to somewhere else.

Anyway, we had a great day for it (and, apparently, for insects; they rendered the air hazardously unbreathable at times), in fact the first proper shorts weather of the year. This did, of course, translate into a warm and slightly sticky journey to Christchurch because of the town's sluggish and much put-upon road "network". However, we eventually made it into a parking space close to the town's main landmark, its 11th century Priory.

However, our first port of call was, well, Christchurch's port. Presumably because it's where two rivers reach the sea, the town has a good natural harbour. It's protected from the sea by a tidal marshland, which translates, somewhat unfortunately, to a distant muddy shoreline. Still, it's not like there aren't plenty of nearby places if one's after some littoral action.

The main draw in the town, at least for us, was the Priory, and it didn't disappoint. Despite the size of the town, it's impressively large, and we must have spent more than an hour winding our way through its various chapels and corridors. Needless to say, this left me trigger happy with the camera. Here's view back towards the entrance of the Priory ...


There's quite a bit of stuff in and around the Priory about its commissioning and construction. Including a story about how, when Ranulf Flambard tried to have it built on a nearby hill against the wishes of the townsfolk, the building materials kept mysteriously moving back to the present site. Flambard cited this as the Will Of God, but I think he could have looked more profitably to less lofty intervention. Anyway, the builders are commemorated in this metal frieze ...


And, as usual, there was a lot of stained glass for me to snap photographs of. Among the more unusual pieces, actually in an atrium off to the side of the Priory, was this quality item showing an imminent beheading. This does, apparently, have some sort of historical connection to the Priory, but it still seems a strange thing to make a stained glass window of ...


After the Priory we strolled up and down the town's main street and grabbed an early dinner, but while there are a few other interesting things there (including this art deco cinema), the Priory's the main attraction (though yachties and charity-shop connoisseurs may disagree).

Sunday, 27 March 2011

First cut of the year

Maybe after documenting the first cut of the year for, like, 20 years, I'll be able to say something statistically significant about climate change and lawn phenology. Last year the cut happened on the 10th April ...

In passing, I've no idea where those black bars are coming from - Flickr seems set on messing with my movies. Presumably it's some sort of aspect ratio thing or something. My Fallout movies the other day didn't suffer from it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Wasting time in the Wasteland

Confined to quarters today with a cold (which I've presumably passed along to everyone at work yesterday). While Live Mesh is still working with my work XP machine, this isn't a big hurdle that stops me working. Though a bigger one today seems to be the speed of the connection. Not sure if it's my end or NOC's end, but it's been painfully slow the last couple of hours this afternoon. A perfect excuse for a bit more Wasteland exploring and time-lapse "photography"!

First up is a movie taken from the Scavenger Platform on Lake Mead, and runs from sunrise to sunset ...

This second one shows an eastward view from the slopes of Mount Charleston, looking over the settlement of Jacobstown towards the distant New Vegas strip. Again, it's a sunrise to sunset affair ...

I just need to find a good vantage point to run-off a pretty sunset. Well, and the time - I expect I'll be back in my office tomorrow.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Fighting the Evil Empire

Alerted by a work colleague to an anti-Murdoch petition, I took the opportunity to mangle a half-baked, pseudo-ecological observation into an argument against the expansion of the Evil Empire of said Media Tyrant ...

Dear Secretary of State,

As a ecological scientist, I have a small degree of experience studying competition, a pivotal aspect of this subject, and one never very far from the lips of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists (though less frequently their actions).

What I've learned from this is that, for all the immense variety of life histories on Earth, conglomerating all living matter into a single super-organism has not been a strategy that is favoured by Nature.

This may seem an obtuse point to raise with respect to Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB, but I am entirely unable to see how attempting to go where Nature has not helps either capitalist systems or the democratic habitats in which they occur.

Unlike focusing of market power in an oblique sector of the market, say a plastics conglomerate, what is being proposed by Rupert Murdoch is, effectively, a winnowing of a service critical to democracy.

As such, I would like to register my objection to the proposed deal and call on you to immediately refer it to the Competition Commission.


... Not that I expect my words to have any significance beyond me venting my distrust of the owner of the odious Fox News.

Friday, 11 March 2011


Ever since the almost unforgivable Armageddon, I've been wary of films involving Bruce Willis, but he's still someone who's able to turn in good work every now and again. Not that RED is exactly "high quality" - more a guilty, if solid, pleasure. By way of summary: retired CIA agent chats up improbably single office girl, only to have former employers come after him, necessitating abduction of said girl and hook-ups with varied former colleagues as the motive for targeting him is unravelled. Very little that happens in this "action comedy" comes as much of a surprise, but it makes up for its shallowness with some crowd-pleasing performances (cf. Mirren and Malkovich slumming it) and some enjoyably daft set-pieces. And, still my heart, it features the perfectly-formed smile of Mary-Louise Parker.
Grade: B (high +1 on the Leeper Scale)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Time-lapse season ...

... is upon us once more ...

This one used a recent purchase that C made from eBay: a reflective egg cup/warmer. The lighting's a little bit too changeable, and makes the early part of the movie a little incoherent, but it picks up at the end a bit. Makes me think that getting hold of a mirrored sphere might make for interesting photographic possibilities.

This one's a little more conventional, and the light's a lot more consistent. So it works a lot better - well, if one likes watching the sun track around a room at high speed ...

Friday, 4 March 2011


A not-as-deep-as-it-thinks-it-is LA-set drama about a celebrity psychiatrist with his own problems. While too incestuously Hollywood (it even visits the sign several times), as well as predictable from the get-go (a healer who needs healing), it's all done pretty well, and I'm a bit of a pushover for nice characters and Kevin Spacey.
Grade: C+ (0 on the Leeper Scale)

Ice-edge blooms

Oooh - fleeting fame on our corporate website's front page! Actually, the fame really belongs to our student, Mahé, whose enthusiasm more than 18 months after leaving us finally got us over the finish line. In spite of the best efforts of GRL to misunderstand basic English. In passing, as with all such press releases, the "quotes" attributed to me are near-lifts from the paper by our press officer. I did not say these things ...

No sequel please

Apparently, some fools over at Warner Bros. seem to think that the world is short one Blade Runner sequel, and want to redress this. While, thankfully, there's still plenty of time for them to fail in their aim, I can't help but cast scorn on such an ill-founded idea. Top of the bill, what can they possibly bring to the setting and characters that could conceivably add to the original? As a meditation on slavery [*], the story is complete - what more of value can be said? Secondly, in spawning a sequel (or, worse, a prequel) they'll doubtless have to finally legitimise one of the number of cuts of the original film - which group of fans do they wish to piss off more? Those fanboys who worship at the altar of Director-Knows-Best (regardless of deeper meaning), or those pretentious types [*] who value the (original) film for its loftier ambitions? Basically, while the possibility to be surprised is ever-present, what can any (pre-)sequel do that allows it to avoid antagonising disparate fans while being of interest to everyday cinema-goers or to those with a critical bent? Oh, wait - I forgot - it need only make buckets of cash ...

[*] At least as I read it. As I've harangued friends endlessly in the past, the only cut of the film worth a damn is the original theatrical release. Sure, it's not what "The Master" wanted (of whom, can I just say Gladiator - WTF?), and it's not without its own flaws, but it's the only one that has a meaningful story arc. Namely: human killer sent to "retire" repressed and ostensibly valueless replicants is shown, through various (violent) events, that they have moral value and ultimately comes to spare and rescue one of them. This has a lot more weight than: unknowing replicant killer sent to "retire" fellow replicants ultimately realises that he is one of them. But what do I know?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Norwegian reflections

Back in Scandinavia, but no crime in sight this time. On the contrary, Out Stealing Horses, by the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson, has won praise, and prizes, from the literary establishment. There's no hint of a Salander or a Wallander in this slender volume.

Set in contemporary Norway, the novel is narrated by Trond, a recent widower who has retired to the rural east of the country, an area familiar to him from his youth in the 1940s. While gradually slotting himself into a slower-paced life full of practical considerations, he meets Lars, a neighbour and fellow hermit, who he recognises from his distant youth. Reflecting on this time, Trond first reminisces about his friend Jon, Lars elder brother, and how an unthinking action on Jon's part resulted in tragedy and began a chain of events that led to the breakdown of both of their families. Pivotal to this unravelling is the unspoken relationship between Trond's father and Jon's mother, a bond formed by resistance activities during World War 2. Told largely through Trond's oblique reminiscences of his summers with his father, the novel meanders gently as Trond comes to a better understanding of the events of his youth. This insight also sheds light on Trond's own relationships and on the path he has taken his life.

Overall, this is a beautifully written tale of remembrance and re-evaluation, full of great little details, and entirely happy to tell them at its own pace. While the core structure of an elderly - and male - narrator looking back over his life is a fairly standard trope, the novel distinguishes itself in the quality of its writing and its supple avoidance of the usual clichés. On the former point, the translator is to be commended for the care she's taken in getting what are at times quite subtle passages into lovely English prose. On the latter, I really quite liked the way that the author surprised me throughout by gradually filling out the story and backstory without ever doing so bluntly or obviously.

That said, it's definitely one of those novels where, at the end, I'm not really sure what it's about. Sure, I get that the narrator is piecing elements of his past into a more complete whole, but I'm not sure to what end. My best guess is that there's some parallel being drawn between the narrator's father's sudden abandonment of his family and the narrator's own gradual withdrawal from his own family. But the author leaves a little bit too much only hinted at for me to be sure. While I usually like my novels a little less vague, the writing here makes up for this, and the author doesn't dissemble into unexplained occurrences, he just lets the reader to a bit more work filling the gaps. Or so it seemed to me. And, thankfully, the author doesn't pull that trick of inexplicably holding back some vital information just to give an unearned sense of closure on the final page (cf. The Sea - a novel that I really came to dislike in the end).

Anyway, even though I couldn't work out what Mr. Petterson was getting at, I really quite enjoyed this one. Buoyed up by this one, C has bought his most recent novel, so I'll doubtless get back to him again at some point.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Popular posts

Just spotted a widget that displays a blog's most popular posts. I've added it to the left sidebar (then patched it with help from over here), and it looks pretty good. At the moment it's showing my I ❤ MATLAB post from November last year as "most-loved". I've just looked at the stats and, for better or worse, this is unlikely to change any time soon - inexplicably, it's waaaay ahead of everything else. Can someone please help me and read something else here instead?