You are here

bfields's blog


Last weekend was my dad's 65th, so my mom, sister, aunt Carol, and uncle Chunk all showed up for the weekend; mom and dad first, arriving Thursday afternoon, then Carol and Chuck showing up at our apartment (where my parents were staying that night) as a surprise later in the evening, and my sister meeting us at Greenfield Village Friday. Greenfield Village was better than I expected--the demonstrators seemed pretty knowledgeable, and there weren't a lto of visitors, so I got to ask a lot of questions. We saw a Jacquard loom and talked to the guy restoring it for a while.

Saturday was Belle Isle--also more interesting than I expected--followed by stops at Cederland and Shatila in Dearborn to stuff ourselves. Sunday we had lunch together at Seva, then everyone went their separate ways.

This last weekend I got obsessed by a subtle (hence fun!) file locking bug in the kernel that someone reported, and spent most of Friday night and Saturday writing a test-case (more fun than expected since I normally don't write that much non-kernel code) and trying to figure out what to do about it.

Sunday we went to watch the Sandhill Crane migration--there's a preserve not far away where they congregate for a few days before setting off for Florida. It's impressive to see groups of them soaring back in after their day foraging, but they were kinda far away, it was getting cold, and the whole thing went on a little long. Worth seeing, though.

I made it to my French conversation group the last couple wednesdays and had a good time. I think my comprehension is slowly improving, but producing sentences is still difficult--I'll rush headlong into one, realize half-way through I have no idea how to finish it, then get lost. But I guess talking in English is a little like that for me too sometimes.

November's book group book is Clive Barker's "Weaveworld", which I liked more in the end than I expected to. I think the thing I find most difficult is that the characters (especially the two protagonists) are total blank slates--they have no personality at all. But by the end I was almost wondering if that was intentional--as a story about stories (fairy tales especially), maybe that's how it should be. I dunno. His writing also seemed really verbose. I had the feeling it could have been half the size if he'd just stopped telling us how earth-shaking each new event was supposed to be.

I watched "Fauteuils d'Orchestra". The part that amused me most was a bizarre bit of stunt-double choreography in an extra: the goal was to give the illusion that a certain character was playing the piano, during a continuous take that started with the camera stage right of the piano, then circled around it downstage ending stage left, showing as it did the pianists back, his hands on the keyboard, then the pianists face over the open piano. They did it by using the (pianist) double at the start, then (as the camera crossed in front of the piano) having him slide under the keyboard, where he continued playing, hands above his head, as the actor mimed playing along with his hands hovering just above the pianist's. That allowed the camera to get a view of the piano with the actor's face and the hammers still moving in time to the music.

Then last night I finished Truffaut's "La Mariée etait en Noire", a Hitchcock tribute. I like Truffaut a lot, and Truffaut was a great admirer of Hitchcock, whose movies I detest--so apparently this sort of relationship isn't transitive, alas. Anyway, Truffaut's take on Hitchcock has characters that actually seem like humans instead of icicles. I didn't feel like there was much to it, but it was worth seeing once.

bakeathon, invasions barbares, family

I finally got around to finishing "Invasions Barbares". I think the best scenes were actually at the beginning, but it was all good. We also saw Disney's recent "Around the World in 80 Days", which was absurdly contrived, but had some good Jackie Chan bits that saved it from being a total waste of time. And we've been watching the occasional episode of "Buffy", on the strength of recommendations from a couple friends and of sharing a writer-director with "Firefly". It's OK, but not as interesting to either of us as Firefly.

The "bakeathon" testing event at work went well. I didn't have much testing to do, but I had a couple people that I wanted to get some work done with, which we did. And it was fun to have a few more people around the office. Trond and Laura's party was good.

One of the interns had a few of us over to see "Planet Earth". I have these vague memories of David Attenborough huffing and puffing to the top of this or that mountain to point out some obscure bird species on a BBC show that we saw on PBS occasionally when I was a kid, and I assumed this would be the same thing (and sorta wondered why it still had fans). But I guess it's a more recent series. There was lots of dramatic photography. It looked good projected on their wall, but was also a little too soothing--I slept through part.

My bookgroup's annual book-choosing meeting was last week. The group has grown in recent years, which makes the book-choosing a bit chaotic. I don't really remember what we chose or whether it was anything I was particularly excited about. The best part was actually talking to a few of the comics fans afterwards.

Our book for next month is Clive Barker's Weaveworld. I decided I didn't want to read it in order, so I'm reading every 221st page instead, wrapping around when I get to the end. It's got 548 pages, and the gcd of 221 and 548 is 1, so in the unlikely event that I keep this up (and don't mis-add at some point), I should eventually hit every page. Barker's writing style isn't to my taste. It tries a little hard to be poetic or something. But I have to make a good-faith effort to read it so I can go next month and trade experimental French comic books with another attendee.


I returned the bad copy of "Invasions Barbares" and picked up another copy last week, but just got around to watching it last night after Sara had gone to bed. I saw about the first hour or so, with some rewinding to catch trickier dialog. There's one character, an apartment manager, that has just a sentence or two of dialog that I can't understand a single syllable of. I don't know if there's just an incredibly thick accent (what kind?) or some other language entirely.

Anyway, I was enjoying it, but it was also making me kind of tense. I had some idea it'd relax me to watch a little bit of something familiar before going to bed, so I watched some of "L'Auberge Espagnole". It didn't work. Movies just make me nervous for some reason. I should stick to books. I got to bed after midnight and was tired for most of the day, the first day of our more-or-less-annual CITI NFSv4 Bakeathon.

Besides late-night movie-watching, I also did some work Sunday, and stopped by Busch's for groceries on my way home. I don't know why I don't do that more often--it only takes an extra hour or so if I ride my bike.

Saturday we went to an art fair at the Matthaei Botanical gardens to see Dave's sister Heidi, who was showing her stained glass, and to see a silly performance involving three "gardeners" and a string trio (and punch and cake--hey, why pay to go to a concert when they could be paying you?).

Altogether I was outside (in unseasonably warm weather) for a little longer than I'd intended, so I took a nap on getting back, had some dinner, then went to Ajit's, where we finished the last two levels of the wonderfully silly "Rayman: Raving Rabbids".

Before the weekend, there was a week--anyway, that's the way it usually goes. I'll have to take it on faith, though, since I seem to have forgotten most of it. I know that I skipped my Wednesday French conversation group for the second time in a row, and I'll probably skip it again this week since Trond and Laura are having us over for dinner that night.


Sara came down with something last week, and since Friday I've been feeling about to come down with the same thing, but it's never quite hit. I think I'm just going to be a little stupid and tired for a few days without really ever getting sick.

But anyway Saturday neither of us actually felt like going anywhere, so it was a quiet day at home for me, though Sara did a little shopping and work in the afternoon. While she was gone I tried watching "the Barbarian Invasions", so I could turn off the subtitles and try my comprehension skills against some fast-talking French-speaking Canadians. I managed to caught more than expected with the help of the rewind button. Alas, the DVD software died a few minutes in--looks like the DVD was scratched up. I traded it in for another copy at the library today.

Sunday Sara talked me into going to Gallup park for some China-themed event. We watched a few dragon-boat races, ate some free (tasty enough, but not unusual) Chinese food, then headed back home.

That night we stopped by our apartment complex's potluck. There was a guy Adam there who I've seen post on some local Ann Arbor forums defending odd 911 conspiracy theories and such with some of his friends. That easily-avoided character aside it was a pleasant enough group, including some we'd met before (Melissa, Erika) and some we hadn't.

I've been fishing through a big stack of random French-language stuff I bought at the library sale a couple years ago, looking for stuff to read. This weekend it was Marcel Pagnol's script for the movie "César" (which I've never seen; but perhaps I should). As with Jean de Florette it's about old folks with family secrets.

Losing September

Concerts attended this month:

  • Flute player R.K. Srinivasan. One of my favorite parts was a long segment with the two percussionists (Rohan Krishnamurthy on Mrdangam and Samar Saha on Tablas) trading back and forth at progressively shorter intervals. The room was packed, as it was for the Debashish Bhattacharya concert I saw last year, and for good reason.
  • The University Symphony Orchestra playing Brahm's Academic Festival Overture, Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, and Pictures at an Exhibition. The Rachmaninoff is a real marathon, and full of technical fireworks. I think it might have been a little much for the non-piano-nerds with me (Sara, Paul, and Dave), but they seemed to enjoy the concert overall. We had some pizza at Silvio's beforehand, and Paul gave us a lift home afterwards.

Movies watched this month:

  • A Nous La Liberté: if you see this on DVD, don't miss the interview with director René Clair's widow Bronja Clair. Not a silent film, but it feels like it could be. It's short on dialog (but includes some fun songs). I couldn't follow much of the French, mostly relying on the subtitles.
  • Sky High: sort of fascinating to me just for its absolute adherence to the teen high-school drama template: the hero's introduction to a new environment, discovery of new friends, coming into his powers, betrayal of his friends, disobedience of parents, lesson learned summarized in a speech which for some reason I think is obliged to include the words "I guess what I'm trying to say is...", suspenseful climax taking place at the prom (oops, sorry, homecoming). I almost wanted to go rewatch it and take notes, but I didn't like it that much.
  • La Jetée, twice, for the umpteenth and umpteenth plus first (but not the last) time.
  • High Society: Somehow I only noticed at the very end that this is a remake of "The Philadelphia Story". For some reason I expected to be embarrassed by the presence of Louis Armstrong, but except for an overly corny opening (with the band pretending to play while on the bus to Newport), I actually thought he was the best part of the movie, both for his music and his role as a one-man Greek chorus.
  • Kung-Fu Hustle: over-the-top and immensely fun, and also made great use of music. If you had to see just one I'd pick the similarly silly Shaolin Soccer first, but this one was worth it too. Skip the Stephen Chow interview in the DVD extras; the interviewer is bizarre.
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut: I don't entirely get the crudeness-for-crudeness'-sake thing, but there's a joke a second, and the musical numbers are amazing. I enjoyed spotting the Les Misérables and Olkahoma references.

Books read:

  • Truffaut's "Le Plaisir Des Yeux": I've been reading this off and on for a while, and finally got through the end last week. The end is a bit of a shock: after lots of warm sympathetic articles about films and film people he's known, the last section collects some of the essays he wrote as a young critic, including the famous "Une Certain Tendance du cinéma français". They're interesting, intelligent, full of nice supporting details, and quite scathing. As a collection of essays the book as a whole can repeat itself a little, and has some parts that didn't interest me, but I really enjoyed most of it.
  • Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners": contrary to earlier claims that all I care about in a book is a lot of interesting little jokes and details, here's a short story collection full of that sort of thing, and my complaint is that it often seemed like an arbitrary hodge-podge. Still, I might give it another try some day. I particularly enjoyed the title story.

Continuing stuff:

  • I've been going to my Wednesday evening French conversation group most weeks and enjoying it.
  • Work keeps being interesting. I always get less done than I wanted to, but in retrospect it's always a lot more work than I expected. I set up a bunch of new test machines last week (taken over from a departing grad student's research) and have some plans for them. Some side projects (like git documentation) are also chugging along well.
  • Thanks to Ajit I have a mild continuing addiction to "Rayman Raving Rabbids". Fortunately I only have the chance to indulge it every other weekend or so.

Stuff I didn't do:

  • I still haven't had much time to work with my OpenMoko phone. Maybe this weekend....
  • Cooking: somehow I'm eating out a lot. Though often for good reasons. Yesterday Ben was in town and I had a good time with him and some other friends that evening at the ABC.

labor day

Dean, a graduate student in the lab where I work, graduated this year and is leaving soon for a new job at IBM. So today Sara and I went to a party for him. We sat outside a few hours, ate and drank, were in turn eaten and drunk (thanks to a wide variety of insects), and chatted. It was nice mixture of new folks and people we knew from elsewhere.

Last night we went for a walk around the neighborhood with Ajit, ending up at Foods and Flavors, where we got some good takeout which we ended up eating at home, after giving up on a bench in Cedar Bend park--the mosquitoes were a little too aggressive, and the food a little too liquid to be convenient picnic food.

I also made a little progress on various projects, but my openmoko phone still isn't making calls; I'll have to make some time to tinker with that next weekend. And the regular cell phone is getting so little use that I'm wondering whether it was worth even the very minimal prepaid plan I bought. OK, maybe I should actually tell people the number.

rain, phones, pleasant confusion

So, I now have a Motorola V195 with a t-mobile prepaid plan that seems to work ok, and an OpenMoko Neo1973 which, out of the box, boots a Linux kernel which then panics when it can't find the root filesystem.

In the OpenMoko's defense, this was the advertised behavior. In fact, the intention was to ship it with only a bootloader; the kernel slipped in there by accident.

We've been having stormy weather lately, and Saturday looked likely to be another rainy day, so while Sara went out and worked and (later) roasted marshamallows in a mosquito-infested swamp somewhere (reportedly, this was fun) I stayed home and loaded the OpenMoko software and played around a bit. The software's still too primitive to be much use, though.

There was a particularly dramatic downpour Friday afternoon. Just as I was thinking of leaving work to meet friends for the final show of the summer Japanese film series, I started getting warnings from coworkers of the "mother of all storms" headed our way. Estimates based on staring at the radar suggested I had 10 or 20 minutes, so I packed up and set off to see how far I could get before it started.

I got to our meeting location, a small hot dog place just a block from the auditorium, with time to spare, and enjoyed watching the clouds roll in. Sara and Rachel both got drenched.

The movie, "All Under the Moon", was funny, in both senses of the word. Sara's uncle Bruce told us once that he usually only watches about the first 15 minutes of any movie--the part where you still don't know what kind of movie it is. I never quite lost that feeling in this one. I did follow the outline of the plot--here a man and woman have a falling out, here they reunite, here the friend who previously flaunted the gains from his shady business deals gets what was coming to him, etc.--but a largish cast of characters, a bizarre subtitle translation, and some missing cultural clues (the things that identify someone as Korean to a Japanese (or some other less clueless) audience are mostly lost on me) all left me ignorant of the details. I like being confused. I'd still get a lot of fun out of a second viewing.

work, phones, french

Work just piles up more and more. On the one hand it's frustrating not making faster progress on so many projects. On the other hand, it's kind of exciting to have a to-do list with so many interesting things on it.

Saturday I went to juggling and did mostly club-passing with Dave. My left-hand chops are almost getting reasonable. (Using "chops" here not in the generic sense but as a term for a specific type of overhand pass that's thrown with a bit of a downward chopping motion and that I can do much better in my right hand.) We had some food at Cottage Inn afterwards, then I went home while the rest of them left to see the Simpsons movie. I'm sure the Simpsons movie is fine, but the idea didn't interest me.

I got some peaches before juggling at the farmer's market. I always do that on Saturdays, and carrying them around the rest of the day is always a problem. I've never figured out how to do it without damaging them. But it just means we have to eat them sooner. They're always extremely good, so that's not hard.

I've resisted the mobile phone until now, but two things have worn down my resistance. One was our trip to San Francisco earlier this year, when we had several groups of friends to meet all at the same time, and made them all work harder to coordinate with us then I think they should have had to.

The other is the OpenMoko project, which aims to build a phone completely from free software. I ordered one a few weeks ago, and with luck it'll arrive Friday. It's a developer preview at this point--the hardware's apparently stable enough, but it sounds like the software can't even dial or receive calls reliably yet. Looks like great fun to play with, and possibly give me a chance to speed along development in some small way, but I'll need a SIM card to actually play with it, and, well, a cell phone with a prepaid plan doesn't cost that much more than just the card, so I may as well have an actual working phone too. So I've got some other inexpensive GSM phone also winging it's way towards me.

Tonight I figured I'd try a local French conversation group. I love to read French (novels and especially comic books), so I maybe have an OK vocabulary at this point, but I rarely have an excuse to speak French.

I'm not an extrovert, and it took some effort to convince myself to go to walk into a coffeeshop to find some random group of strangers to talk in a language I'm incompetent in. It went well enough, though. They look to be a fun, diverse group of folks. Only one of them seemed really fluent (hard for me to tell), but the (painful) exercise of forcing myself to find the words I need to express a thought is good on its own.

Douglas Adams, sick

Tonight our book group did "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", which is an odd choice for a book group. Attendance was way up--twenty people--whereas if we read something longer or harder (like last month's "Riddley Walker") it may be under ten. I like it when there's fewer people, so I'll have to campaign for really unreadable stuff next year.

"Hitchhiker's" is a favorite of mine. It's not structured in any particular way, as far as anyone can tell, and often seems frankly sloppy, but I enjoy it just as a sequence of sketches and little comic essays.

Somebody reminded me of a favorite line, describing a spaceship that "hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don't." It's got the surprise that makes it funny (though ending a phrase with an unexpected negative--"a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye", "a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea"--is a device he uses a lot), while calling attention very succinctly a comparison that describes the situation (the ungainly ship shapes, the incongruity of their hanging in the air).

Another random bit I like:

Trillian said quietly, "Does that mean anything to you?"
"Mmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha?"
"Well?" said Trillian.
"Er ... what does the Z mean?" said Zaphod.
"Which one?"
"Any one."
One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn't understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so--but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it.

I don't know how original an observation that is, but it is common for people to act stupid to cover up some other confusion, and I think he captures it in a clever way here. And I like how it fits into the dialog--taking an aside like this right at the place where Trillian would respond with an exasperated silence.

There's other jokes of course that have been repeated so many times that I just get sick of them.

I think I've got a poor reading memory--I enjoy it when someone points out connections between different scenes in a book, for example, but it's rarely the sort of thing I notice on my own--so I think I read most books as a sequence of local details, and miss the coherency less than others might.

I've been feeling a little under the weather the last couple days--nothing obvious, just kind of achy and tired. Hopefully it'll clear up.

another week

The work week went pretty well. I worked pretty hard, made some slow progress, and mostly enjoyed it. We had somebody fly from Tennessee for the day on Friday to meet with us about some of our work. That still seems nuts to me--why would you want to fly twice in a day if you didn't have to? How could you travel across the country to a strange town and not want to spend at least a day or two looking around?

In any case, it reminded me of a big project we have to do that's felt a little stalled lately. I spent some time over the weekend trying to think about it some more, and it's starting to feel just a little less impossible than before.

A shorter-term project with a looming end-of-the-month deadline is also finally starting to break itself down into smaller pieces, to the point where I can believe it'll actually get done in time.

So, I did some work Saturday, but also passed clubs with Dave for a while at juggling, and got a ride with Ajit to Fred and Deanna's for games later on.

Sunday I spent a little time working at the media union, just for a change of scene. The advantage to being there on a summer Sunday is that it's deserted and there's lots of great places to sit. But the various coffee shops and fast food places are all closed, which puts a natural time limit on how long I could work there. Well, I guess I could have packed a lunch if I'd known.

Friday we saw "Nobody Knows", a documentary-style story about four siblings who, despite an impressive level of independence for their age, just aren't quite mature enough to take care of each other when their mother abandons them. It's a long slow one-directional plot with lots of nice moments to linger over--the sort of thing that's charming sandwiched between more animated scenes in a Miyazaki film, but that started to try my patience towards the end here. It was also very good, but probably too sad for me to bear sitting through it again.

And Sunday we watched "A Prairie Home Companion", which I found hilarious in a deadpan sort of way.

Earlier this week we also tried "Herbie: Fully Loaded". Sometimes you don't expect much of a movie and it still manages to disappoint you. It wasn't a guilty pleasure, or a fascinating mess, or an unintentional comedy, it was just sort of senseless and badly done and predictable.


Subscribe to RSS - bfields's blog