Archive 019 (SEP 2005)

a dusty old archive by chris lawson

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Marcoola Diary: Pt Cartwright
Marcoola Diary: Noosa National Park
Marcoola Diary: Pt Arkwright
Marcoola Diary: Kondalilla Falls
Marcoola Diary: Mapleton Falls
Marcoola Diary
Review: Modern Times
Review: Spin
Philosophy of Snakes & Ladders

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Marcoola Diary: Point Cartwright

24 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

More rock pools.

The Glass House Mountains and the Blackall Ranges are 25-27 million year remains of a chain of volcanoes. Erosion has exposed the hard volcanic core of these domes and cores, leaving dramatic shapes like the inverted cone on the left of the horizon.

A hermit crab seen through water.

Just a nice shape, carved out of the granite by small stones swirling around in the waves and grinding a depression.

I don't know what this arthropod is, but at about an inch long, it looks remarkably like the fossils of the smaller trilobites that roamed the shorelines up until the Permian Extinction.


Marcoola Diary: Noosa National Park

23 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The kids really wanted to go climbing over rock pools this afternoon.

I know it's just a skink. Dime a dozen. But I really like the pose.

Not a great shot of a goanna, I know, but it's rather difficult to make a quick adjustment to your camera (which I'd set at 50 ASA) when your kids are stomping around behind you calling out, "Where's the goanna? Where's the goanna?" This is the least blurry shot, artificially sharpened.

We have seen goannas by the bushel-load this trip, in sharp contrast to last year. I don't know if it's just because we're doing more walking, but most of the goannas we've seen have been small fellas, which would imply there's been a boom in hatchings recently.


Marcoola Diary: Point Arkwright

22 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The kids really wanted to go climbing over rock pools this afternoon.

Here they are working hard on their combination of found art and installation. What are their chances for an Australia Council arts grant?


Marcoola Diary: Kondalilla Falls

21 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

A few km further along from Mapleton is the Kondalilla Falls National Park. It's a little less popular because, although it is a stunning track, some parts are extremely steep.

The Kondalilla Creek runs down this mountain wall. It collects in a pool that many visitors swim in...

...before spilling over the edge as a long waterfall.

The whipbirds were calling and we saw nature at its finest. Following shots: a dragonfly, purple and white lichen, and a white flower (which I have not attempted to identify).

Kondalilla Falls shows the natural world at its very best. If only it could be speak so kindly for humanity. On this walk we saw an idiot who had brought his dog unleashed for a walk through the National Park (the second we've seen in two days). We saw lots of eroded paths where other fools have gone off the marked track in order to save themselves from walking all of 20 metres. And we saw the bush turkey below, which not only trotted up to within a foot of us, but then followed us 100 metres up the path in the hope of cadging some food. Apparently a lot of people are drawn to the beauty of our National Parks but don't give a damn if they ruin it for future generations.


Marcoola Diary: Mapleton Falls

20 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The Blackall Range runs along the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Although most of the coast is now built up, the hinterland is still very rural. The Mapleton Falls has an easy and popular walking track, but it's worth it for the views.

The Falls themselves tumble down this 102-metre cliff.

Old hollows like these become shelter for wildlife.

This gum tree is laced with a young strangler fig vine. When the strangler fig grows, it will look like this:

Eventually the fig will be strong enough to stand on its own. By this time, the tree it has grown around will have died. Parasitism is not limited to the animal kingdom. Strangler figs are one of my favourite plants. When I write a story called "El Salvador Dali" they will feature prominently in the landscape.


Marcoola Diary

19 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The moon on the horizon is a visual cliché. But how can you resist when it looks like this?

I have not tinkered with the colours. When it comes to sunsets, I consider that cheating.

Mudjimba Island, the same evening.


Review: Modern Times

4 SEP 2005 | a Frankenblog review | permalink

Something old.

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times bears up surprisingly well today. Chaplin proves that he was every bit the experimental filmmaker as well as a populist physical comedian. Modern Times is a strange blend of silent and talking movie: there is a soundtrack, and there is speech in the soundtrack, but most of the dialogue is conveyed with title cards. This was not merely a technological decision but an artistic one: in Modern Times, the only voices that are heard are those through machines: voice recorders and closed-circuit TVs. Whenever a person speaks directly, the words are conveyed by title card. There is only one exception: a song at the very end, but the words are Opera-Italianoid gibberish and the story is conveyed by gesture alone, so the spell against verbal communication isn't broken.

Even more extraordinary are the giant, wall-sized closed circuit TVs by which the industrialist runs his factory with equal means of personal intrusion (one of the screens watches over the rest room) and intimidation. Modern Times was filmed in 1936, when television was still a highly speculative experiment, and yet Chaplin was able to foresee not only a potential commercial use, but a social phenomenon: the surveillance and electronic bullying of the working poor. It is hard to imagine that George Orwell was not in some way informed by Modern Times when he wrote 1984, with its televised dictatorship. The scene in which Winston Smith tries to find a corner of his room for privacy is an uncanny echo of Chaplin's failed attempt to smoke a cigarette by himself.

Whether Chaplin was aware of the scientific research on television or simply made it all up, he was foreshadowing the cyberpunk motto, "the street finds its own use" for new technology. Instead of worrying about how television worked and its technical limitations, Chaplin asked himself how a ruthless factory owner would use it and assumed that the technology would converge on its customers' desires. And boy was he right.

Modern Times is also surprising in that, for a film filled with physical humour and slapstick, the gags are entirely driven by plot and character and not by some petty directorial need for cheap laughs. Stacking up Chaplin, Keaton, and Tati, it is fair to say that slapstick has been given a bad name. Sure it can be tawdry and tasteless, but it can also be sublimely choreographed and advance the story.

The singularly most surprising thing, however, is the darkness of the story. Leaving aside a few odd developments (the gamin abandoning her sisters without a thought) and moments of exuberant sentimentality (which are at least true to their times), the fact remains that Chaplin saw nothing wrong in a mass-market, slapstick comedy being wrapped in a story about the Depression, wrongful imprisonment, drug running, strikes and strikebreakers, and poverty, poverty, poverty as far as the eye can see. In Modern Times, many of the characters are motivated by hunger, or driven to desperation by the murder of a father, or sent insane by being treated as a cog in a gruelling factory. It is oh so tempting to see the 1930s as a time of gullible audiences and sentimental confectionery, but on the evidence of Modern Times, a popular film in its day (although a minor box office disappointment), the filmgoer of that era was infinitely more sophisticated than the dumbed-down mallrats of today who go to movies to be stunned by a crescendo of gunshots and explosions until their brains are incapable of caring about the shoddiest of plot holes or inconsistent characters.

Chaplin once said, "To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it." I wonder if any Hollywood studio head today would like to hear that said in public by one of its comedy stars.

Despite being the first movie star to sign for a million dollars (and that was in 1917 - think about that for a moment!), Chaplin never forgot his roots as a five-year-old orphan scratching out an existence on the streets of London. Of course, Chaplin paid for his sympathy for the poor. He was suspected of being a communist sympathiser, and Modern Times was Exhibit A. This is a bizarre reading of the movie. While the movie portrays strikes, they are not presented in any propagandist form, and at one point Chaplin and his engineer boss scratch their heads over the oddity of being told to go on strike after they've just been given jobs during the Depression. Chaplin's character gets embroiled in any number of strikes and marches, but it is always by accident and he has little awareness of what is going on around him. One is drawn to the inevitable conclusion that the McCarthy era was so paranoid about communism that even expressing sympathy for the poor was seen as being anti-American.

J. Edgar Hoover turned his empire of G-men to the task of ruining Chaplin, and he very nearly succeeded. He was helped by Chaplin's tumultous private life and predilection for young women. The oldest of the four women Chaplin married was Paulette Goddard, his Modern Times co-star, who was 25 at the time; his other wives were 16, 16, and 18 at marriage. Chaplin was also successfully sued for paternity of a child that could not have been his, but the blood tests that proved he was not the father were not admissible in court.

Hoover used a trial finding known to be wrong, and many other exaggerations besides, to have Chaplin's US re-entry permit revoked. And the controversy around Chaplin meant that it took twenty years for his film Limelight to meet the nomination criteria for the Academy Awards (Chaplin won the Oscar for his original music score). All because Chaplin had committed the unpardonable sin of elevating himself out of poverty while remembering fondly the people he had left behind. No wonder Steinbeck had his own problems with The Grapes of Wrath.


Review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

4 SEP 2005 | a Frankenblog review | permalink

Something new.

Robert Charles Wilson has quietly amassed a reputation as an outstanding science fiction writer. Spin will only enhance that reputation.

One night, the stars go out. That is the launching point for a meditation on humanity wrapped in a love story and a political thriller - but not a space opera. In its early stages, it reminded me of Greg Egan's Quarantine, another wonderful book about the stars going out, but Spin uses the departure point for a different voyage. Where Egan wanted to explore quantum philosophy, Wilson wants to explore the paths of cosmology cut by the likes of Freeman Dyson.

This is the sort of science fiction that goes straight to the core of what I love about the genre. It is full of ideas. Big ideas. Really gobsmackingly huge ideas. Spin deals with the place of humanity in the cosmos, and it manages to wrap itself around scales of time and space that are intentionally mind-boggling.

Wilson has painted on a galaxy-sized canvas, but his singular achievement in this book is to populate his story with wonderful characters whom he describes with nuance and intimacy in small settings. Take a look at Raphael's School of Athens, a big painting about big ideas in which the characters are still drawn with care and subtlety and the size of eternity is described in the domes and distant skies of the background rather than traversed in the foreground. That's Spin on canvas.

Spin is without heroes and villains, which is entirely appropriate for a book about the unblinking universe and what lies in store for humanity out there.

Spin is without heroes and villains, which is entirely appropriate for a book about the unblinking universe and what lies in store for humanity out there.

Are there any flaws? Well, there is a minor structural problem so trivial that it is hardly worth mentioning (of course, it is a procedural obligation of the Writer's Guild to find some flaw in everything). So I won't mention it.

But there is one big flaw, although I hasten to add that the author is not at fault. Early in the book, when the world has changed dramatically and most people are refusing to deal with the implications, one of the characters excuses the population for not understanding what is happening. Most people, he says, are stuck in the pre-Newtonian universe. It is not realistic to expect them to come to grips with the complexities of modern cosmology. And that, Dear Reader, is the problem. Spin is written for those who like ideas and who want to know as much as they possibly can about the universe we inhabit, and Wilson is perhaps unconsciously admitting that he cannot reach the vast herd of humanity. In a market where Tim LeHaye can make a gazillion dollars pandering to ignorance and pride, it saddens me to predict that Spin has nearly zero chance of getting on the bestseller lists.

Wilson is currently working on a sequel of sorts. With most other writers I would be skeptical about their ability to add anything to what has already said about the world of the Spin, but if anyone can do it, Wilson can.

Beautifully written, with engaging characters and an escalation of plausible surprises, Spin must be one of the best hard-SF books of the year, although it may disappoint the nuts-and-bolts Analog reader.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Tor Books, 2005


The Philosophy of Snakes & Ladders

3 SEP 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

Basic board

Quantum board

Sisyphus board

Nietzschean board

Inheritance Tax Cut board

Feel free to use the basic board as a template for your own inventions.


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