Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Te of Piglet

Benjamin Hoff wrote the book, The Tao of Pooh, sometime in the nineties, and followed it up a while after with The Te of Piglet, which I bought secondhand while I was in England, put in a box of stuff that was sent home by sea, parked on a shelf and then forgot about until the other day, when I was looking for something to take on the plane with me to Auckland.
I haven’t read the Pooh book, so I can’t compare the two, but The Te of Piglet is best when it’s telling stories from Taoism’s great wealth of wisdom, or when it’s quoting Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books directly. Hoff’s own contribution is mostly to pull the Tao and the Milne together, and fill in the gaps. He writes kind of mini-essays between - some of which are interesting – and dialogues between the Milne characters which lack the charm of the originals (especially Eeyore, whom he just doesn’t get right at all), and some of the most inexorable poetry I’ve come across in a good while. Published poetry, that is.
Nevertheless I enjoyed the book a great deal, including some of Hoff’s own musings. He knows his Tao, he knows his Milne, and he’s managed to bring the two together comfortably. I’m not entirely sure that the Piglets of this world would feel he does them justice; he promises a little more than he achieves. But it’s kind of nice to know that I’m more of a Piglet than an Eeyore – as someone dubbed me once. I may have some Eeyore characteristics, but it isn’t my modus operandi.
In the back of my copy of this book are advertisements for all the other Pooh spin-offs. The Latin version of Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie ille Pu) is advertised, but it had been around for some time. However, there’s a follow-up to that too: Domus Anguli Puensis – or The House at Pooh Corner.
And then there’s Pooh and the Philosophers, Pooh and the Ancient Mysteries (good grief!), The Pooh Book of Quotations and The Pooh Dictionary.
But wait, there’s more! Winnie-the-Pooh on Management (yeah, right!), Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving (please!), Winnie-the-Pooh on Success.
And if you thought those were ridiculous, try these: Pooh’s Little Fitness Book, Winnie-the-Pooh’s Teatime Cook Book (using nothing but honey, presumably), Winnie-the-Pooh’s Trivia Quiz Book, Eeyore’s Gloomy Little Instruction Book, and finally Pooh’s Little Instruction Book.
I wonder how many of them made any money?

Stats at the all-time high!

Got my readership stats from the Orble.com site today and was pleasantly surprised to see that they were the highest they’ve ever been. Curiously enough, these high numbers are never reflected in their counterpart over on Google Analytics. I’d love to know why the two don’t match, but it’s not the end of the world. I presume Orble’s stats system knows what it’s doing.
Top of the list of posts on WorkReport.net is the one about the Titanic Museum. It’s been top of the list every time I’ve checked the stats. Again this is a curious thing: why does this particular post get picked up time and again? I don’t come up anywhere near the top on Google with this particular item, so how is that a bunch of people find my post each day? And what’s so hot about the Titanic Museum anyway?
I know that the movie, Titanic, is one of the all-time most-loved movies (don’t even consider asking me why), so does that have some kind of offshoot to the Museum? Who knows? As long as it keeps bringing one of my posts higher up the list, I’m happy!
The other top post, the one on Webitz.net, is called 69 Ways. It talks about a blog run by a 13-year-old (at least he was when I wrote the post back in 2007) called Make Money Online with a 13-year-old.
I’d love to know more about this guy – my suspicion is that he’s actually rather more than a 13-year-old. More likely he’s a smart adult cookie who thought that passing himself off as a teenager would have more effect. It obviously does! I wonder how long he can remain a teenager, though? Or won’t people care?
Anyway, his site is still a lot of fun to visit: full of money-making schemes, some of them typical of the Net as a whole, some of them workable. He also has an article on there written by someone else on driving traffic to your blog. It’s the sort of thing ProBlogger does well, and it’s the sort of thing that does drive traffic – just writing about it seems to do it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Heresies?


I wrote about the philosopher John Gray a while back without knowing much of him or his work at that point. I’d been reading an article in the NZ Listener in which he was quoted at length relating to his most recent book.
Since Gray keeps turning up on my HitTail search results I thought I’d follow one of them through, and in doing so came across a review on an earlier book by Grey called Heresies: against progress and other illusions. The review is by John Banville and appeared in The Guardian back in Sept, 2004.
Banville quotes Gray several times as well. Here are some examples:
"The danger of American foreign policy is not that it is obsessed with evil but that it is based on the belief that evil can be abolished."
He says that the direct heirs of the Enlightenment are "missionaries of a new gospel more fantastical than anything in the creed they imagined they had abandoned." (Banville comments: One of the heresies promulgated by Gray is that many of those who today continue to hold to religious faith are far more profound in their thinking, and certainly better educated, than most of their liberal-humanist opponents. )
And something that would no doubt irk dear old Richard Dawkins: "in intellectual terms atheism is a Victorian fossil."

Postile

Just over a year ago I tried to find out what the word, postile, meant, and didn’t have much success. However, it’s obviously a word that people go looking for, and get all sorts of results. Which, in a way, is surprising in itself. Getting results for a word that doesn’t appear to exist is quite clever on Google’s behalf.
Way back in 2004, Nick, who was then a design engineer in California, wrote that he was suffering from postile dysfunction. Look up that phrase on Google, and you get a whole pile of bloggers using it. Did Nick start it, then?
Postile dysfunction appears to be a play on the phrase erectile dysfunction, and bloggers seem to express the idea of running out of blog ideas by it. But because it’s not firmly established in that way, it can also mean when a post that’s been uploaded goes wrong somehow. Intriguing.

There’s a rather odd entry from Wikipedia on the word: Postilė (Postilla, tatai esti trumpas ir prastas ischguldimas euangeliu) is postil written in Lithuanian language by Jonas Bretkūnas in 1591. Positlė is one of the best known works of Jonas Bretkūnas.
Okay. The picture at the side has the word on the cover; it’s not a piece of music as I’d first hazarded. Seemingly Bretkūnas was a linguist and historian.
We get a bit more information here: The "Postilė" by M.Daukša is one of the most significant monuments of the ancient Lithuanian written language. Already in the preface the author praises the mother tongue, encourages Lithuanians to cherish it. This work gives us a possibility to perceive the Lithuanian language of the 16th century, to learn richness of it, to widen the vocabulary and the phraseology of the Modern Lithuanian literary language.

Postile is also a family name for a number of people living in England and Wales.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Professor Antony Flew, who became a believer in a Creator last year, presented his forthright views on Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, in a recent article. His article, (click here), shows his key reasons for his belief in a Divine Intelligence.
He also makes it clear in his book, There is a God (page 213), that it's possible for an omnipotent being to choose to reveal himself to human beings, or to act in the world in other ways.
Professor Flew’s article is testimony to the developing thinking of someone who is prepared to consider the evidence and follow its implications wherever it leads.

Meanwhile, Dawkins continues to act like a teenager with acne who can't think beyond his new-found discovery that he's growing hair in funny places.

Footnote: There's a wide-ranging discussion relating to the argument between atheists and believers here; Flew's gradual changes of view are laid out clearly in the middle of the article.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Franklin Taylor


I have an edition of Mozart’s sonatas edited by Franklin Taylor – edited in 1906, in fact, though my copy isn’t that old.
It’s curious that Mr Taylor tells us that Mozart seldom wrote anything more than f (forte) or p (piano) in terms of expression marks, and yet he then litters the music with Franklin Taylor interpretations, most of which are odd, to say the least. Fps, (fortepianos) which are quite inconsistent with the music; louds and softs where we don’t need them. It’s as if he felt he had to contribute something to the edition, or thought the pages looked bare without expression marks everywhere.
I appreciate his laying out of the trills and appoggiaturas, because those aren’t always easy to work out on the spot, but we could have done without his attempts to interpret the way the music should be played. Mozart, it seems to me, like Bach, is perfectly interpretable on the basis of just playing the music – at least once you’ve had a few years’ worth of playing behind you.

Pacific Blues


My wife and I are flying to Auckland today via Pacific Blue, one of Virgin Blue’s offshoots. We’d booked a flight several weeks ago when fares were particularly cheap, so we’re hoping we won’t be sitting in seats that make you keep you knees under your chin somewhere.
Pacific Blue offers a web check-in system and notified me by automatic email yesterday that I could do this. (For some odd reason you can only do it a day in advance, compared to Air NZ’s facility to book your particular seats weeks in advance.)
So I clicked on the link in the email, put in my number and then tried to find my departure city from the drop-down list. Hmm, all Australian cities, and I’m leaving from Dunedin in New Zealand.
Rang Pacific Blue. Turns out I have to be on the New Zealand web check-in section. Try again. Put the reservation number, drop down, find Dunedin, and click next. Receive message: Web Check-in is not available for itineraries containing international flight segments. Please proceed to the airport and see the Pacific Blue Guest Services Staff..
Ring Pacific Blue. Must be a temporary glitch. Try again later.
Try again later. Still a glitch.
Try again when I get home from work. Same message. Ring Pacific Blue. This operator’s explanation is that there must be an international component in my flight! I tell her I’m only going from Dunedin to Auckland. I look at the flight plan. Is it likely that the Christchurch to Auckland section is international? Seems unlikely, since Pacific Blue, as the operator ought to know, is New Zealand based, not international!
We have an impasse, I say. She doesn’t understand the word, since she’s probably sitting in the heat of Malaysia. We have reached a wall. She tells me she can’t check in for me because she doesn’t have access to that facility. That makes two of us. We don’t depart on the greatest of terms, since her willingness to help doesn’t go beyond what she’s been trained to do, apparently.
Hopefully, when we get to the airport today, the check-in staff won’t have the same difficulties!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where has the Penny Factory gone?

Last year I mentioned the Penny Factory and its handcrafted jewelry (I’ve decided to spell for our American friends today). The Penny Factory got a mention because I’d bought a pair of cufflinks from their stall at the Royal Norfolk Show.
Today, however, when I went to check their site to see if they’d updated it, as they were proposing to do I couldn’t even get near the URL I’d previously had.
BTInternet got itself in the way, and first warned me that I might be going to a phishing site – was I sure that it was a BTInternet site that I wanted. Well, after a bit of debate I decided, Yes, it was, because I’d used it before. So then I got offered the chance to put a ‘seal’ on the site, something that would only appear if I was trying to get into it. (This is the BT Yahoo site, not the Penny Factory one). So we created a seal.
Did that help? Not a bit of it. Now BTInternet wants me to put in the username and password I previously created when I last went to their site. But when I was last at this site there wasn’t all this rigmarole. So what the heck’s going on?
Meantime I tried to find the Penny Factory through Google. I can find it, but only as a street address. There’s no obvious sign of an Internet address anymore.
Which all seems rather strange. Plainly the BTInternet system has decided it doesn’t like the loose and easy way things used to be done, and has made itself so super security-conscious that you can’t actually use it!
So my apologies to anyone who’s tried to access the link from the post I did on the Penny Factory last year. It looks as if you may have trouble finding them.

Short Circuit

I haven’t seen Short Circuit since my children were young – it was one of those movies (along with its sequel) that we watched over and over. The story and characters are pretty simple, but what makes the film is the wonderful character of Johnny 5 with his increasingly warm ‘humanity,’ his delightful eyebrows, and his constant cry of Need More Input!
I thought Steve Guttenberg was good at the time, but he seems a bit flat in the movie now, a bit slow-paced. And I thought Ally Sheedy must have vanished from the movie scene, but in fact she's kept on making movie after movie ever since (and made a number before this as well). She plays an over-the-top-irritating, too silly for her own good, and pretty much one-note character whom we don’t ever really believe in. Fisher Stevens’ pseudo Indian character (the father of all the other Asian IT people in movies?) has some funny malapropic lines and some surprisingly crude ones, considering this is supposed to be a kids’ movie. He was the only actor to make it into the sequel, where I think his lines might have been toned down a little, but it’s a long time since I saw the sequel (which also featured Michael McKean, that mad actor who’s appeared in some of the spoof documentaries made by Christopher Guest).
All the actors seem to be on that second-level area where they get plenty of work but they’re not really household names. I thought Steve Guttenberg had vanished from movies, as well, but in fact, he’s been just as busy as Sheedy. Obviously there are thousands of movies out there that we just never hear of – until you check out IMDB!
Any carping about the movie aside, it’s Johnny 5 who’s the real star. Apparently there were more than a dozen actual Johnny 5s, swapped and shuffled as required. Certainly some of them must have barely survived the ‘stunts’ they went through.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What links to what


I don’t often check out the Digxa Mini Stores links that show up on my posts but I’d no sooner published the last post when three appeared on it. Curiously the third only turns up when you click on the particular post and separate it from the rest of the page.

Anyway, linked to the phrase Love Vacuum Cleaners is an eBay ad for 10 genuine vacuum cleaner bags Numatic Henry George. I had no idea what Numatic Henry George is, but it turns out that the Numatic Henry is a kind of vacuum cleaner, so cute that he couldn’t help but turn all your negative feelings towards vacuum cleaners upside down. The George bit of the name seems to be another member of the same family. (There's a picture of one of the family at the side.)

The second link appears on ‘Hate Humans Association’ and leads to a book called From Hate Crimes to Human Rights. I hope it isn’t also going to get me comments from people who hate other people. Ouch.

The third link came up in relation to the phrase: having your innards emptied regularly. And was for Nurofen Tension Headache Caplet! I seriously doubt that Nurofen Tension Headache Caplets would really do much for you after you’d had your innards emptied, but I guess they’d be better than nothing.

I still hate vacuum cleaners


Sometime ago I wrote an article entitled I Hate Vacuum Cleaners. I haven’t changed my mind.
The vacuum cleaner we bought some time before we went to England last year has now pretty much conked out on us, and we’re having to borrow our daughter’s cleaner. (Fortunately she lives upstairs.) I notice that even on her relatively new cleaner bits are falling off left, right and centre.
Yes, I understand that vacuum cleaners lead a hard life and are very much under-appreciated (it’s certainly more difficult to lift all your carpets, haul them outside, throw them over a handy line and then beat them for a morning). But they deserve what they get. I won’t go into all the reasons now, because I talk about them in my article, but suffice to say that the people from the I Love Vacuum Cleaners Association (ILVaCA) get very little change from me.
I’ve just been reading a piece on Kirby vacuum cleaners, and their claim to be very reliable and light to move about. They should be reliable; here in New Zealand they cost a fortune. I didn’t realise they’d been around so long (1907); I thought they were relative newcomers to the vacuum cleaning field. Reliable or light, personally I don’t think it matters whether you use Sebo vacuums, or Kirbys, or Dysons, Hoovers, or Electrolux or any of the other dozens of brands. They’re all tarred with the same brush.
You see, vacuum cleaners have an association themselves: the I Hate Humans Association (IHHA – yes, I know it’ not easy to pronounce, but vacuums have more ability with the letter H than humans have – it’s something to do with having so much air sucked through them). From the IHHA Manifesto (which I've managed, by devious means, to acquire) we learn that their underhand methods are simply part of a plan to be released from all work that involves suction, being pulled around, and having your innards emptied regularly.
Next time your vacuum gets stuck on the corner of a door, don’t just assume it’s accidental. It’s not; no machine could get caught up in the ways vacuums do.
It’s a conspiracy.

Photo courtesy of www.butkaj.com on Flickr.com

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rehearsal Progress

For some weeks we’ve mostly been rehearsing scenes from the first act of Voyage of the Dawn Treader with just the main characters. That meant that in general there were no more than seven of us around at any time. Today we added in the ship’s crew, and suddenly just under twenty people are all trying to occupy the same space.

Most of today was spent on getting the ‘crew’ into their right places for the half a dozen scenes they’re in. Fortunately one of the cast has some nautical experience and can suggest what different people would be doing, but it’s obviously quite a task to find reasonable things for that many people to do for several scenes.

The ship has been built, though not decorated as yet. We’ve yet to find a workspace where the ship, the ‘triangles’ (multi-purpose triangles that can be set for different scenes) and the actors can all come together to rehearse. Several places that were possibilities have fallen through, but there are still some options left open. Let’s hope we can get into one of them soon!

Friday, July 18, 2008

A mystery search

I’ve just finished reading the 2006 book, Naked Conversations, which is all about blogging (though more for businesses than individuals) and one of the blogs they mention is Joe Wikert’s Publishing Blog. He now calls it the 2020 Blog, but according to the book it used to have the phrase ‘Average Joe’ in the title.

On HitTail yesterday, someone put ‘average joe blogspot mvoc’ in the search and, surprisingly, Google put my blog at the top of the list, beating Joe Wikert by about four places. That’s a bit of a puzzle, because what Google’s done is take the archived page for March 2007, which contains all three of the words, but not at all together. ('Average Joe' appears as a phrase.) There are around thirty posts on the page, in fact. Can’t have been a very satisfying search result for the searcher.

It was in this post
that I mentioned some firm that stated they were using dogs to track down mould: ‘Since 2003 we have been using specially-trained dogs, trained just like bomb dogs or drug dogs, to detect and locate the source of mould growth by detecting the gasses (MVOC’s) mould growth gives off.’

Why would someone go searching for ‘average joe blogspot mvoc’? It doesn’t seem a likely group of words to lump together. Maybe some reader can give me a clue.

Middle-sized theatre


It’s amazing how people get older while you’re not looking. There’s a photo of a man in the new weekly newspaper, D-Scene, whom I knew when he used to come into the bookshop, probably back in the first years I was there – that’s nearly twenty years ago. He’s now 42, which is probably perfectly reasonable, but it’s as if a whole pile of years suddenly scuttled away.
And Ana James, the opera singer I used to accompany when she was only in her teens, is now 32 and has been married for three years. She’s currently touring New Zealand in a production of Hansel and Gretel, which for some reason isn’t coming to Dunedin. [That's her in the blonde wig.]
The problem with Dunedin’s theatre scene these days is that the Regent, which has a large stage and plenty of good backstage facilities, also has a huge auditorium, and for many middle-size productions, which this one probably is, it’s just too big. Too few people would attend to make it worth it.
Equally the Mayfair, while it’s a good stage (not so good backstage, but it’s passable) only holds around 400, which for some productions is just too few to make it worth putting the show on.
There’s been talk of having a theatre in between these two for many years, but nothing has come to pass as yet. Consequently perfectly good productions pass us by, or else they come to the Regent and play to half-empty houses.
Whatever numbskull decided that the middle-sized theatre we did have, His Majesty’s, should have been turned into a nightclub, is, I hope, ruing the day over and over. I wouldn’t curse such a person, of course, but I hope he’s got plenty of pimple cream to deal with what’s coming to him. (Just kidding!)

D Scene, the newspaper, isn't called that on its own website (!). It's just called the Scene. Rather confusing, since the actual paper definitely has a D in front of the word Scene.

And one other footnote: the play I'm involved in at the moment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is going to be performed in the Mayfair. A piece of shameless plugging.

Apropos of nothing at all


I found this picture amongst a bunch of photos on the work computer. Don't know where it comes from, so hopefully it's not something with copyright issues, but it's just a wonderful shot.

How'dya like to be the guy in the middle?

The photo has a title: Manifestacion, Corea. Corea is presumably another word for Korea, and I guess manifestacion means 'demonstration'. Sounds like the photo is Spanish in origin, but looking up a bunch of photos under that title on Google gives me hundreds of others, but not this one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

HitTail provides the material for a surreal kind of dream

While watching movies on Korean Airways, sitting in my distressed oatmeal trousers, I mused and became distracted and thought about how I could extend Heaven into Hell, the reverse of what some characters in C S Lewis’ The Great Divorce attempt.
Kiri te Kanawa, seated behind me, was meanwhile wisely telling her manager that she refused to sing any compositions by John Cage, while another John, John Grey the philosopher (he was three seats back) was spouting forth to the New Zealand artist, Karl Maugham. Karl, I note, is now doing screen prints, as I saw one in the Milford Gallery the other day. I prefer his original paintings, because the colours are so rich, but his subject matter – abundant gardens – continues to appeal. A young man in the gallery was telling me that Maugham has hundreds of photos of gardens that he works from.
Further back in the plane there’s now some dispute about Alfred Hitchcock being regarded as an auteur, since the very word itself has gone skewhiff. At least Hitchcock never made a movie, someone else shouts, in which a horse climbs a ladder, as one does in Bandidas. Or supposedly does. I think Hitchcock would have included a ladder-climbing horse if he'd found the right place for one.
A couple of foreigners have just walked down the aisle, chatting. Mr Vanderlught and Benigno Aquino, neither of whom I have ever met, even though their names have appeared previously in this blog. tend, with their serious demeanours, to make the plane feel like Bleak House, or Miss Havisham’s home in Great Expectations, that book that Lloyd Jones’ writes so fondly of in his own story, Mr Pip.
The plane takes a sudden dip and we all think we’re headed for a shorter life than we expected, rather like the young man who sailed down Baldwin St in a wheelie bin.
As the plane flattens out again, I suddenly realise my namesake, Mike Crowl, from Conroe High School, is sitting across the aisle from me. He holds a full video card, because he has been taking endless photos of the actress sitting next to him, Alice Brockway. She is proclaiming forth that Yes, you can put lemon peel in a compost.
The last I see of her is when she rides away from the airport to the Penny Factory, on a pennyfarthing, which the proprietor of the aforesaid Penny Factory will no doubt turn into a piece of enamelled jewellery, such as a pendant, or a stud.

I’ve been learning a poem over the last week or so called Curiosity, by Alistair Reid. I found it some time ago when I had a book of his out of the library. Previously I’d learnt another of his poems, Growing, Flying, Happening, and thought it was great. Curiosity also appealed to me, but as I tackled some of the lines today I found it quite odd rhythmically.

Here are the lines in question:

Face it. Curiosity
will not cause him to die --
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill,
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.

The succession of doubling ups of the letter, l, is okay, and the rhythm paces along quite comfortably until we get to the line with the word, idyll, in it.

Now, I’ve always pronounced this idyll to rhyme with riddle (as in Chesterton’s line: Hey diddle diddle will rank as an idyll, if I pronounce it chaste,’) and as far as I can tell that’s the general British pronunciation of it. (The Americans apparently rhyme it with the word, idle, but they’re prone to peculiar pronunciations.)

If no less an authority than Chesterton says the word is idyll, rhyming with riddle, then that’s good enough for me. But try saying that sort of idyll in the middle of this poem. It works in its own line, but it clashes oddly with all the hills, and wills and hells, and kills. I thought at first Reid might have had an odd notion to pronounce it i-dill, but it’s unlikely, since it throws the rhythm right out.

But pronouncing it idyll (rhyming with middle) is a riddle, because it gets no importance, and usually you’d think that idyll, because of its curious sound and comparative rarity, would get some room to breathe. Not in this poem.

Perhaps there’s a way to make it work. I haven’t quite found it yet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John Cage engages


Earlier this month a thousand people gathered at the former church of St Burchard in Halberstadt to listen to the latest progression in John Cage’s ORGAN2/ASLSP – As slow as possible. All they heard was a change from a note that has been playing continuously, day and night, for several months to another note that will now play continuously until November. The ‘piece’ is due to finish in 2639 – I won’t go into the complicated permutations relating to why it should finish then.
The organ note (it’s an automatic organ, so it doesn’t need to have someone stand there holding it, though that might make it more interesting) is loud enough to sound like an air-raid siren, apparently. Great for the neighbours. I wonder how many of them have gone slightly bonkers having this monotony going on in the back of their heads for months at a time? How many have shifted out of the neighbourhood since 2001 when the first note began?
Note that I say the first note: the one that changed on July the 5th, was only the sixth note in a series.
Some call this a masterpiece. On what basis I can’t imagine. A masterpiece requires someone to be at the top of his game, working perfectly with the best of materials. Nothing that Cage ‘composed’ in his later years is a masterpiece. He’s not a composer (though once upon a time he did actually write music). He’s a purveyor of that old school of the Emperor’s-New-Clothes. And the thousand people who attended the change of note are testament to the fact that there are still plenty of fools around who will claim anything weird and peculiar is a masterwork merely in order to be in on the game.
And even better if the thing either needs enormous explanation – or no explanation. As one of the crowd said, ‘It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just there.’ Yup.
Cage was only a master at convincing a certain number of people to take him seriously.

To convince yourself that I'm wrong and Cage is right, you can read more about the Project here.

The photo is of John Cage laughing at all the people who take him seriously (!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blogging NOT in English

Every so often out of curiosity I click the link ‘Next Blog’ on the top of my blog. In the past this would bring up a host of blogs in English, with the occasional one in a foreign language.

Whether the random nature of this has decided tonight to link to everything but English I’m not sure, but I’ve struck in succession:
Rosas do Cotidiano (in Spanish, with lots of photos);
Blog do Guillermo (also in Spanish, with lots of toddler photos);
Digital Nature (a stockbroker’s blog which appears only just to have started - it has one entry on Azizi Ali, a millionaire writer on personal finance in Malaysia);
Jannice Lindell, who comes from Uppsala in Sweden, and is therefore writing in Swedish;
A blog in Chinese (I think) on which I can read nothing;
Reflexos, another Spanish blog, by the looks of it, with a nice graphic at the top;
Brookeb’s little photo diary (lots of lovely garden photos)
Another Chinese blog, focusing on motorbikes;
An Egyptian blog (?) with only one entry from a few days ago;
And my favourite out of these, another Asian blog, called My Lego, with some great Lego constructions.

I read yesterday in a book called Naked Conversations (which is about blogging, for those who might think otherwise) that English is no longer top of the languages when it comes to blogging: Farsi is well above it, and Asian languages are also high on the list. My quick survey seems to indicate that Spanish might be heading up too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New York Waterfalls

There was a brief article in our local paper the other day about Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls. These are four man-made waterfalls built on New York’s East River. They pour down from great heights (between 90 and 120 feet) and are up to 80 feet across. All the water they use is pumped up from the River itself, a kind of permanent recycling. (Though I don’t think there are any water purifiers involved!)

You can read a full article on the waterfalls in the New York Times, which includes a video about the falls, with their creator speaking, and lots of moving pictures of them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Finding Myself

I'm sure I'm not the only person who does this: sits in an idle moment, types in their name into Google, and sees what comes up.

I'd been typing data entry stuff a good deal of the day and gave myself a few minutes respite, this afternoon. Amongst some of the more unusual results were these:
I'd mentioned Catherine Zeta-Jones in a post somewhere and got picked up by a site called Boxxet, which apparently is a site where you can share content. Someone, I presume, has shared my post and there I am on Boxxet, all unawares. I might investigate Boxxet further, if I have the time.

All my mentions of HitTail in posts struck gold. I now have an entry on the Everyone Loves HitTail site (quite honestly I was beginning to think I was the only person who knew what HitTail was). This site is: Dedicated to collecting quotes and testimonials about using HitTail, a decidedly inspiring Web 2.0 long tail writing suggestion tool.

The comment that goes with the mention of my post is this: This belongs in Funny Suggestions. Oh, the things you learn about your site, your readers, and the world when you use HitTail!

Yes, well. I think that's a compliment.

Thirdly, and rather to my amazement, I got quoted by a local freebie paper called Deadline.
They archive their previous editions online, and there in a discussion of John Caselberg's poem, The Wake, they quote a section as follows from my old site.

John Caselberg is best known perhaps for his poem ‘The Wake’, described as an “astonishing poem” which became the subject of a series of paintings by the Caselberg’s contemporary Colin McCahon. Mike Crowl notes “Wake is an extremely well-crafted poem, making full use of the language with its aural resonances, its varied rhythms, its inner rhyming, its broad vocabulary
and complex sentence structures. More than that, it takes the death of a beloved animal, a family pet, and extends this into a ringing wake for the tragedy of the deaths of all beloved ones, including humans”.

So, there you go. Oh, there was one other. In a site rather strangely called, isthisyour.name, there's a reference to Fiona Henry, a local singer. I have my suspicions that Fiona's name has just appeared on there out of the blue, but anyway, my post about her has appeared there as well. The more you do on the Net the more visible you become....slowly. It's like a gold chain that keeps on growing - though the gold is a bit slow coming.

What I've been up to

So what have I been doing on the creative front for the last couple of weeks?
Rehearsals for the Narnia play have been in full swing since mid-June, so there’s a couple of those a week; I’ve done some tidying up on the three Brass Band movements I wrote earlier in the year, particularly on the third movement, the fastest of the three. The ending of it hadn’t satisfied me for a while, and finally I cut out a chunk completely, bringing two sections together (with a small amount of connecting material), and then added about twenty bars at the end consisting of previously used music in a slightly different guise. At the moment I’m a lot more satisfied with it.
However, when you aren’t satisfied with something it isn’t always easy to see what the basic problem is. Someone else might come along and say, ‘Here, the problem wasn’t the end, but this bit of rubbish in the middle.’ Well, for the moment I think it was the end that was the problem, so that’s what I’ve fixed.
I’m going to go back to the two movements I wrote for a string quartet too, and start to do some serious work on revising those. One of them works pretty well, but again I’m not entirely sure that I’m comfortable with the ending, which could be said to peter out. That may be fine, but I’ll need to think some more about it. Usually what happens is I look at it and look at it and can’t see what I need to do to get it right and then go off and do something else (like sleep) and the answer will arrive.
I need to finish the Peter Olds songs too – I’ve written five of them and there are still three to go.
So plenty of work on the horizon!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Generation C

I've discovered that I belong to a 'Generation' after all. Having missed out on being Generation X, Y or Z, it turns out I'm in Generation C, according to a blog post I read yesterday.
Generation C people are typically under 40, but don't have to be (and I'm definitely not). They merely need to be the sort of people who find it easier to do mundane tasks (such as online banking) on the Internet. As Ed says on the blog: ‘Generation C’ is here – those internet-savvy consumers that don’t have time to waste. And whilst they’re typically under 40, this is not a generation based strictly on age like Gen X and Gen Y. Gen C are people of all ages! It’s not an age thing – it’s an attitudinal thing to be Generation C. I regard myself as Gen C and yes… I’d love to be 40 again!

I don't know that I go along with his later comments about being a person for whom time is money and so on, but in general I do appreciate being able to do things online that really don't need a trip to town, or even a phone call (usually a process of getting through several number-pressing stages anyway). If the Internet's there and available, why not use it?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Th!nk - or maybe you intuitively read that as Think

I'm reading Michael LeGault's Th!nk - why crucial decisions can't be made in the blink of an eye. It's a kind of antidote to the book, Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which proposed that we do our best thinking by intuition - especially on the spot intuition. Here's a quote from pages 40-41 of the hardcover edition.

Allan Bloom was 'irritated by the moral relativism of the day's students and their galling indifference to the heroic elements of life. The relevance of Bloom's critique to this book is clear: If there is no such thing as good or bad, there is no meaning, no will to achieve, and no need for knowledge and inspired thought. Whereas Bloom traces this apathy toward noble pursuits, knowledge and the life of the mind to a perversion of moral values, mostly as a result of the introduction of foreign ideas into American society, I assign culpability to numerous social, cultural and historical trends. These are, in their most immediate guises, trash culture, marketing, reliance on therapy, aversion to risk, the self-esteem industry, lack of standards in the workplace and classroom, and lax, hands-off parenting. Taken together, these habits and fashions have institutionalized mediocrity and glorified mental indolence, leading to the documented decline in critical-thinking skills.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

La Strada

Finally caught up with Fellini’s La Strada again after some 45 years or so. I remembered the story in outline, but had forgotten most of the detail. Guilietta Masina’s face had also stayed in the memory, but I’d forgotten what a superb performance Anthony Quinn gives in the movie. Because he’s such an unpleasant character, you tend to overlook just how much detail there is in his character. Richard Basehart is good, oddly cast in some ways, and has really only a couple of decent scenes in the movie. It’s hard to tell whether the Italian is his or is dubbed – in the version I’ve just watched the speech seemed just a bit out of sync. Quinn’s Italian is full in your face. Even though he was a Mexican by birth he does an extraordinary job of appearing to be fully Italian in every way.
Masina was probably too old for the part, but carries it off superbly, a full range of emotions often flitting across her face in a few seconds.
The movie is also significant for capturing a period in Italian history so well: I suspect there’s very little of this kind of Italy still in existence. Even given Fellini’s penchant for oddball moments the camera catches all manner of ordinary faces and mannerisms and scenes that have vanished. You almost wish Fellini had carried on along this line with his movies. Superb as the later, great movies are, they often show a freakish world, not one that’s true to the country. Perhaps it’s more that the films between La Strada and La Dolce Vita are mostly unknown to people outside Italy, and so we don’t see the transition.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Two more movies

With all the cold weather we've been doing very little except sitting in our lounge, wrapped in blankets even with the heater going, and watching a bunch of movies I got out of the library. My wife's sick with a heavy cold, so that was the excuse. I've already mentioned Will Smith's movie, but since then we've also watched Little Voice and Good Night, and Good Luck.

Little Voice
is adapted from a play, and adapted pretty well, all things considered. Brenda Blethyn is really the star of the piece, even though the focus more and more is on Jane Horrocks, who plays Laura, commonly known as Little Voice. Blethyn throws her heart and soul into her part, and in spite of her courseness and vile tongue, is far more endearing than Horrocks' character.

The problem is that the character of Little Voice is too improbable for us to believe in. She takes the play from realism to fantasy and tries to combine the two - unsuccessfully, in my opinion. In the end we just become irritated with her, even though we can understand how she might have got the way she is. For someone who lives in virtual isolation and whose voice is unpleasantly childlike to have the means to sing like Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Bassey is just out of the ball park, especially as she's surrounded by a bunch of truly down to earth characters. Any musician watching the film quickly gets puzzled by the fact that when she does come out for her big one night of singing, she apparently never practices with the orchestra (which happily moves from one number to another) and you also wonder who did all the arrangements without her being giving them any indication as to how they were going to be sung.

And more, at the end there's a major fire in the house where most of the action takes place, a big enough fire to destroy the place. Yet Little Voice and her mother go back inside, up the stairs, touch stuff, have a fight - all in a building that would still be smouldering hot and impossible to breathe in.

Michael Caine also appears in the film as a seamy loser of a promoter, Jim Broadbent appears with a terrible hairstyle and Ewan McGregor makes a ham-fisted attempt at the lover. Somehow McGregor doesn't suit romantic films (or Star Wars prequels, either). He lacks the ability to look sincere in a love scene. Think he should stick to dead serious movies.

We've just watched the second movie, a film directed by George Clooney, who also appears in a secondary role. It's an intense piece, with little humour, no character development, a wisp of a subplot and not much drama between the characters themselves. The drama takes place offstage, as it were, with Joseph McCarthy's (real-life) rantings being the main thing that the other characters are in conflict with. It works, but only just. It's serious stuff, almost of the kind: and don't you forget it. I found it intellectually interesting, but emotionally dry. We knew a lot at the end about Ed Murrow's ideas, but nothing about his personality. You want to ask: where's his wife and family? Do they exist, or does nothing exist outside these TV studios? (Things are so claustrophic that that's how it feels.) We know that the George Clooney character has a family, but you wouldn't think so, by the way he acts. Wives in this movie are singularly unimportant. The only wife to appear shouldn't be there because she's married to one of the blokes (Robert Downey, Jnr in a very understated performance) and working with your husband or wife isn't allowed in this environment. (It's hard to know why this aspect of the story is there, really, as it has no dramatic point, and no real emotional effect.) Even the death of one of the newsmen by suicide is given very little room in the film - almost as little as the 'obit' Murrow tacks onto one of his broadcasts.

A rather disappointing movie, given its cast, its class, perhaps showing that even ideas have to be dressed up in drama to make them interesting.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Pursuit of Happyness

I really like Will Smith as an actor, and even in his blockbuster films he's made a good impression. I'm sure he can do serious, (there was that strange film with the Newmans: Six Degrees of Separation, for example) but in this film things are serious to the point of excluding the audience almost entirely. I don't think it's Smith's fault by any means. He does very well with a completely underwritten part - the man is saintly for no particular reason at all - but that's not why the film fails. It fails because it's all in one tone: downbeat, and miserable, and gloomy and so sorry for itself it can't find anything to be happy about. By the time the brief happy moment comes, Smith's character is on the point of exhaustion, and so are we. He looks as though he's about to collapse, and I felt as though I'd been dragged through a wringer backwards. I don't remember a well-made film in a long time that irritated me so much.

Much of the fault lies in the hands of the director, who's made it as though it's some neo-realist movie from the fifties, with Hollywood class overlaid. (Even the doss house is pretty smart-looking.) And the script gives the actors nothing to go on. We never find out why Smith's wife is such a harridan. She may be having to work hard, but so is he! We never get close to any of the other characters; they're all just bodies in a film without personalities. Even Dan Castellaneta turns in a Mr Serious performance that's annoying in the extreme.

I don't know what all the hype was about this movie, unless it was seeing Will Smith doing serious. Even he seemed convinced it was his big movie. Sorry, Will, not this one.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Screening Room

A piece in the local newspaper alerted me to a new area of You Tube called The Screening Room, where short movies are able to be viewed.

Short movies used to be a staple of going to the pictures when I was young, but somewhere along the line distributors decided that they didn’t make enough money and that short movies got in the way of the big movies (which started to stretch out to fill up the space left by the lack of short movies, and so the distributors weren’t actually any better off).

But people kept on making short movies. After all, not every story is a full length movie, and some are perfect in their shortness.

So I checked out the Screening Room, and have just watched a charming animated movie called The Danish Poet. The film asks if we can trace the chain of events that leads to our birth? Is our existence just coincidence? Interestingly enough, the other night my grandson asked where he’d been before he was born (he meant before he was conceived even, or as he put it, before he was a seed). The movie starts off with the narrator (Liv Ullman, of Ingmar Bergman films fame) suggesting that she was just a seed floating around space needing to find a home.

The film then goes on to show how a succession of events, all small and unimportant in the scheme of things, finally bring this seed ‘home’ as the child born of a particular set of parents.

It’s delightfully done, and worth watching more than once – it’s only 15 minutes long. (A few other movies could do with being as short).

When we lived in our previous house, our neighbour’s daughter grew up to become a short film maker – we saw her name on a documentary that was showing on TV last night, in fact. She’s not famous – I don’t suspect many short film makers are – but she is doing something she loves. And probably living on the smell of an oily rag.

The Danish Poet is directed by Torill Kove, and won the 2007 Academy Award for Animated Short.

The only thing about watching movies on a computer is that things aren't set up so well: no comfy chair, no plasma tv mount, no nothing to make it feel like a movie. Not to worry, this particular movie is captivating enough on its own.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Generic v particular

Coming across the phrase 'used cisco' the other day, I had to check it out to see what it meant. Cisco, it turns out, is something that most people in the US would be familiar with, but here in New Zealand, it's an unknown term. Well, I think it's an unknown term, because it doesn't turn up in the reading matter (like newspapers and magazines) that I have contact with.

Cisco is a brand name for computer equipment, but as far as I can make out, it gets used as a generic name for computer equipment. 'Used cisco' is such a common phrase that it turns up hundreds of links on the Net. I guess it's a bit like sellotape, which started out as a brand name, but is now used for all kinds of sticky stuff. And there are plenty more like that. Hoovers as a generic word for vacuum machines, microsoft as a software word, to name just two. Dozens of words we use commonly were once more specific than they now are.

So there we go, all you people who don't live in the States. Now you know something you didn't know ten minutes ago.

Bleak House

With The West Wing now having been viewed in its entirety, I looked around for something to replace it, and found Bleak House, the BBC serial version, on display at the library. 15 episodes, but much shorter episodes than The West Wing ones.

I kept saying to my wife: I don’t remember that from the book, but in fact they stuck pretty closely to it. In spite of the fact that I’ve read Bleak House twice, the details obviously haven’t stuck with me as well as I’d thought.

It’s pretty well done, considering it’s produced in that BBC fashion of not stinting on costume and casting, but on lighting and scenery. Somehow the BBC, for all its expertise, still plays the niggard on certain aspects of its major productions. And there’s quite a bit of hand-held camera, which sometimes gets annoying, particularly when the camera’s prowling around one of the enormous gardens and we have to spy on the characters through leaves, plants and bushes.

There’s more story than I remembered, but for all that, some of the characters, such as Harold Skimpole, seem excess to requirements. My strongest feelings about the whole thing relates to the casting: some of it is top-notch, some of it is odd.

Anna Maxwell Martin plays Esther Summerson as a determined kind of character who dives in boots and all and seems to have few qualms about herself. Not quite how I remember Esther from the book: there she was much more backward about coming forward. Still, Martin has some very moving and affecting scenes. 7 out of 10.

The Wards in Chancery are excellently cast, and actually manage to give life to two of the duller characters in the story. Carey Mulligan and Patrick Kennedy therefore get 9 out of 10.

Miss Flight is played by Pauline Collins. She’s the right height, but the wrong shape. This Miss Flight is well-fed and fairly capable – and there are few flights of fancy about her. She seems to have her head well screwed on, whereas as Miss Flight ought to be tiny, like a little bird, barely fluttering her way through life. 5 out of 10, but mostly the producers’ fault for wrong casting.

Equally Jo, the sweeper boy, has plainly been getting his vittles from somewhere off stage. A skinny, small boy is how he’s cast by Dickens, and his illustrator, and this well-fed lad, though he does the part adequately, shouldn’t have been cast in this wizened role. Again 5 out of 10 because of the casting department.

Nathaniel Parker, of all people, plays Harold Skimpole. What is it about skinny people in this production? Parker was quite beefy in a recent TV series, but has lost some of that here. Nevertheless, he’s far too comfortably-built, and never convinces us of the truth of his idea that he’s too much of a child to understand the adult world. Regrettably, because I like Parker as an actor, 4 out of 10.

The one skinny actor who gets everything right is the oddly-named Burn Gorman as Mr Guppy. Not only is this beanpole exactly as Phiz shows him, he’s gauche and irritating, socially inept, has a face like something that’s been pushed sideways and all in all could have sprung from the pages of an early edition of the book. 10 out of 10.

Lady Dedlock is played by Gillian Anderson, who, I only realised part way through watching, is the former X-files leading lady. Some reviewers haven’t liked her much in the part, but I couldn’t fault her. 10 out of 10.

Likewise Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn is the epitome of malevolence, manipulation and heartlessness. Superbly done. I had an impression in my head that Tulkinghorn was a stouter person, but Dance overcame all other impressions within the first episode. 10 out of 10.

Timothy West does Sir Leicester Dedlock wonderfully; Tom Georgeson is a typical Dickens clerk (Clamb); Hugo Speer is Victorian to the sideburns as General George; and Alun Armstrong, while not being how I’d pictured Bucket, makes the role his own. High points all round for these people.

Being a Dickens story, there are a host of other minor characters, from the doctor, Alan Woodcourt to Caddy Jellyby, from young Turveydrop to Snagsby. The list goes on and on.

Two other larger parts are played by Philip Davis, as Smallweed, and Johnny Vegas as Krook. Davis throws himself utterly into his role (though we could perhaps have had one or two less of the shake-ups from his granddaughter) and Vegas is suitably slimy until his explosive demise. Again I would have expected ‘lesser’ men, in the sense of skinnier people. Not too many people managed to carry weight around in Dickens’ time, and the pictures of Smallweed that I seem to recall were of someone virtually at death’s door at all times – but managing to avoid it.

Casting obviously makes a huge difference to any piece, and my carping about skinniness aside, I enjoyed the production overall. And there’s a wonderful moment at the end, which in a way echoes Dickens’ usual tidying-up chapter of what happened to all his characters. Esther finally marries Alan Woodcourt, and as they begin to dance outside, the bright summery field is full of people from the story (those that haven’t died off during the course of it!). It’s reminiscent of the end of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, with its great dance of life.

Which reminds me that I haven’t mentioned the character I enjoyed most of all. For once, a character that I’d remembered as having a bit of weight turns up in the production as someone of ordinary size: John Jarndyce, the warm and loving man of integrity, wisdom and honesty, the man who struggles with his love for Esther (because he knows he’s too old for her), the man who's unable to help Richard Carstone avoid an untimely death from his addiction to the Jarndyce v Jarndyce case, and the man who helps many others in the course of the story. In this role, Denis Lawson never put a foot wrong. He’s been in television for ever, his first listing being way back in 1969, in Dr Finlay’s Casebook. And he appeared in the first Star Wars and two of the subsequent prequels. If I cold give 11 or 12 out of 10, I’d do it.

Antwone Fisher


We’ve had a DVD on the shelf for some time which my wife has seen, but I’d never got around to. Antwone Fisher, written by Antwone Fisher and directed by Denzel Washington.
It’s a small scale movie with no ‘action’ except a bit of fisticuffs early in the piece, but it’s typical of the best stuff that Washington puts his hand to: warm and full of integrity. Derek Luke plays the title role with ease and performs well in his many scenes with Washington.
It’s about a young man in the Navy with an anger problem; Washington is his psychiatrist, and through the course of their conversations we hear of the abuse the young man has suffered, and the way in which he’s been abandoned by his mother. After some time he decides to go looking for his family, and even though his mother remains distant and unable to come to terms with this stranger who’s her first-born, his father’s family welcomes him with open arms. There’s a wonderful scene after he’s gone off with his uncle to meet his mother for the first time in twenty or more years. When they return to the uncle’s house, instead of there only being his aunt and the other uncle there, the whole family has gathered to welcome him, from the youngest to the oldest. The matriarch greets him personally, holding his hands in hers with great tenderness. And they’ve put together a feast for him as well. It’s a great moment, and echoes the dream that opens the movie, when the child Antwone walks into a great barn full of not only his living relatives but his ancestors.