Dork Geek Nerd

"Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist"

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What a swell party

The coincidence of two birthdays, two anniversaries, an impending bub, a newish address and a recently installed bar (as lovely as it is big and wooden) called for an extraordinary celebration and that's just what DL and HV staged this arvo/eve for a dozen friends, including myself.

The highlight was a live set by power duo Almighty Tallest (AC on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, AP on two-piece drum kit, monkey shaker and backing vocals), with special guest CM (ukulele, electric uke, some vocals).

They played a mix of mostly 80s stuff, plus their original compositions "I Wanna Live In A Truck" and "Japanese Girls". The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" (choruses sung Tatu-style, ie. phonetically) and Depeche Mode's "I Just Can't Get Enough" (keyboard melody plucked on uke) pleased the crowd the most.

Nearly as beaut was the chocolate fountain (skewer fruit or marshmallow on stick, hold under flow, eat, repeat). We also got to sample a new local brew (Barons Extra Special Bitter) and fill any remaining stomach space with zinging Indian curries.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Britannia still rules the waves

Cunard flagship the Queen Mary 2 is the largest ocean liner on the planet - 345m long x 72m high x 45m wide!

Just think about those figures... The average room's only 2-3m high. The allowable dimensions for a full-size soccer pitch are 90-120m x 45-90m (according to Conn & Hal Iggulden's "The Dangerous Book For Boys").

Today, the QM2 docked in Sydney for the first time and the two rival breakfast TV shows made sure we knew about it.

Keen to stand marvelling in her shadow, I took a packed lunch to work so I could skip my break and get there early.

I trudged across Hyde Park and The Domain (where two ice-cream vans were beset by customers), down behind the Art Gallery Of NSW (a third busy van) and around Woolloomooloo Bay (a fourth) to the Garden Island naval base.

I arrived tiring, perspiring and not the least bit disappointed.

I've been on some big ferries (twice across Bass Strait and once NZ's Cook Strait), but they were like toy sailboats compared to the Queen Mary 2. I reckon 150 people could stand in the windows of her winged bridge - easy.

Like all great feats of engineering, she made me proud to be a member of society and extremely humble as an individual.

I stared at her for I'm not sure how long - several minutes, certainly - until the crowd began expanding rapidly and it was time to go.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Beachin' amusement

There are two dedicated video arcades left in the Sydney CBD - the Galaxy World on George St and the G/W on the top floor of Chinatown's Market City. They're dominated by rhythm games (dancing, playing instruments), linked driving games, linked beat-'em-ups, gun games, prize-ticket games and "print club" machines for making those photo-sticker thingies.

The latest amusement at both venues, as I discovered today, is Sega's evocatively titled "Let's Go Beach: Lost On the Island Of Spice". It's a two-player gun game with typically stunning graphics but several differences -

* The cabinet's shaped like a gaudy jeep that wants to be a Filipino jeepney when it grows up (stickybeaks like me have to peer through the rear windscreen)
* Main characters Ben and Norah aren't wise-crackin' cops or soldiers, they're hapless holiday-makers in funky threads
* The object is refreshingly simple - shoot^ recognisable nasties, from glowing leeches to giant insects a la Peter Jackson's "King Kong" to leaping piranha, AND
* It's clearly been designed to attract couples. Not only are there opportunities to save each other throughout the story, the end sequence includes a "compatibility rating" (percentage), plus a cheeky comment such as, "Why are you together?"

"Let's Go Beach" is the first arcade machine in ages that's made me think: "Hey, that looks like fun!" Which makes a nice change from, "You want me to learn how many moves?" or "Sorry, I only dance like a fool when I'm in poorly lit nightclubs...and very, very drunk."

^One pair of players I watched lost their guns after unsuccessfully negotiating a waterfall and had to resort to wielding oars as weapons.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Movie review: "Sixty Six" (2006)

It's 1966 and soccer's World Cup is being held in England. Many are pessimistic about the home side's chances of making the final, which is OK with London lad Bernie Reubens whose Bar Mitzvah is on the same date. It's his chance to shine in front of a loving though largely oblivious family and everything has to be perfect.

But as Alf Ramsey's men fight tenaciously toward the trophy, the Reubens are beset by financial hardships and a nasty accident. Everyone else is glued to their radio or telly with Cup fever and Bernie's big day is looking smaller and smaller. In desperation, he becomes an expert on international football, desperately searching for an opponent who might stop England and save his dream...

We all know how the famous tournament finished and it's easy to guess the effect it has on young Bernie and his family. So, yes, the film is predictable. It's also a rose-tinted view of history making no reference to any anti-Jewish prejudice.

On the plus side, the characters in "Sixty Six" aren't as one-dimensional as they first appear (probably because it's based on the director's own childhood), the schmaltz never grows sickly, and the file footage of the matches provides an electric connection to a whole country's excitement. The casting's great all round, with Helena Bonham Carter that bit greater than the rest as Mrs Reubens.

Final word: An unlikely winner.

[Australian cinema release date: March 15]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Free entry to Freemasonry

Housed within the grand architecture of the Sydney Masonic Centre is the outwardly modest Museum Of Freemasonry, whose unseen curators make do with a small cluster of rooms and halls. Which is not to say the MOF's collection is unimpressive - as one would expect from a centuries-old society, there are treasures. I'll visit again just to look at the beautiful painting (by I know not who) of the Queen Of Sheba's meeting with King Solomon. Amid the display cases brimming with Masonic trappings - sashes, medals and the like - there also sit a number of antique wooden chairs better termed thrones. Conspiracists will nod with glee at the replica Knights Templar robes and tomes such as Eliphas Levi's "History Of Magic" in a closed cabinet in the adjoining library. Even those repulsed by esoterica and fancy dress will find value in exhibits devoted to Australian Prime Ministers who were/are lodge members (about 10!) and local Freemason inventions (Vegemite! Cherry Ripe!). I lingered longest over the series of enlarged photos depicting past "installation" ceremonies - hundreds of earnest fellows in matching suits, looking at once stately and sinister. Their motives remain a mystery to me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Movie review: "Election 2" (2006)

Two years have passed since the events of the first film and tradition dictates Hong Kong's Wo Sing triad must elect a new chairman. There are problems...

The current holder of the office, the unpredictable Lok (Simon Yam), relishes his power and is pushing for an unheard-of second term. The elder members, or "Uncles", are against the idea. They'd prefer the position go to the outwardly respectable Jimmy (Louis Koo), who's made them fortunes selling pirated porn - only he wants out of the gangster game to become a legit businessman. Then there are bosses like Kun (Ka Tung Lam) who've grown sick of waiting for the top job and and believe they have the numbers - and the nads - to stake a claim.

When the deal-making and threats don't determine a winner, extreme violence ensues in the form of kidnapping, torture and assassination. But ultimately it's not the cars full of well-dressed, well-armed henchmen who'll decide the election - it's the candidate who's willing to go beyond "normal" criminal limits. Let's just say you won't forget the scene with the guard dogs and the mince grinder in a hurry.

"Election 2" is a more complex tale than its predecessor as the triad politics expand to include mainland Chinese authorities (who in some ways are even scarier). The acting is of an equally high standard - it's always a good sign when surviving characters are played by the original cast members. The soundtrack also merits a mention. Composer Robert Ellis-Geiger's nervous strings and martial drums really amplify the tension. By the end, they're resonating right through you.

As a sequel, I can't fault this movie. There's plenty of scope for a third part, too, with major figures in the ongoing struggle unaccounted for or yet to take sides.

[Australian DVD release date: February 21]

Note: For my mini-review of "Election", see the September 20, 2006 entry.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Non-traditional gender roles

The January 2007 issue of "Japan+" magazine contains lists of the occupations most aspired to by Japanese school children (as identified by two surveys).

Number six on the boys' top 10, ahead of videogame programmer, chef, professional basketballer and policeman/fireman, is "comic writer/illustrator".

"Comic writer/illustrator" also appears on the girls' list - at number three! Only kindergarten teacher and nurse are seen as more desirable vocations.

I find these results astonishing, even for a comics-obsessed nation like Japan. Can I infer that there are currently or soon will be more women producing manga than men?

Would someone with more knowledge on the subject care to comment? Sis? RS?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

These sporting deaths

It started on Friday when Australia lost the first final of the Commonwealth Bank one-day cricket series to England. Bowler hats off to the Poms for fighting back from what have been described elsewhere as two "near-death experiences", but we made some crucial mistakes, eg. McGrath dropping Bell on 18 (he eventually reached 65 in a fine partnership with Collingwood).

Miraculously, I managed to rouse around 5-ish the following morning for the live telecast of the Sharks vs Waratahs Super 14 game from Durban in South Africa. Before the final whistle, I'd dozed off in disgust at the low standard of rugby union. Going down 22-9 is one thing, but when a point-scoring machine like Hewat misses 4/7 penalties, it pains the peepers.

Things didn't improve in the evening as my NBL team the Sydney Kings were mauled in Melbourne by the Tigers. Every time I switched over, we seemed to be missing baskets or they seemed to be making them. It finished 99-83, their way.

Overnight, my enjoyment of the BBC World Service's excellent "Sportsworld" radio program was marred by Newcastle United defeating Liverpool 2-1 (after we'd led early, through a successful Bellamy strike). Naturally, the two sides ahead of us in the EPL, Manchester United and Chelsea, both won - widening the gap.

The most important contest of the weekend was today's A-League preliminary final between the Newie Jets and Adelaide in the South Oz capital. It was gruelling. They scored first, forcing us to battle from behind as we'd done the entire season. After 90 minutes, it was a goal apiece. We dominated extra-time, creating a succession of chances as their inferior fitness showed, more than one player succumbing to cramp. But come the 120-minute mark, it was still level. Penalty shootouts are an unholy creation. We lost 4-3, their goalie Beltrame completing an indisputable blinder. I was too tired to curse and couldn't complain about how far we'd climbed from the bottom of the table.

Which brings us back to cricket and the second final (of a possible three)... England amassed an adequate total of 246, then savaged our top order batsmen before a downpour brought the hateful Duckworth-Lewis system into effect. Twice the Aussie target was readjusted due to rain. When the weather set in and time expired, they'd kept us pinned down enough to steal a surprise series victory and regain a measure of pride following their 5-0 Ashes drubbing. Collingwood was awesome again. (But why no mention of the Kiwi contribution in anyone's speech? A mite classless, I thought.)

Six drokking losses out of six - it's lucky I'm not a betting man or I'd be in deep stomm. And you don't need to be a "2000AD" reader to decipher that :-)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Eyes on the pies

If you're a fiend for meat-filled pastries, it pays to surveil the supermarket freezers as wacky varieties are always popping up. Case in point: Sargents Premium Steak In Green Peppercorn Sauce With Red Beans Pies.

That's what I had for dinner tonight, with lightly seasoned wedges and a bottle of Crackenback Pale Ale (not to my taste), while watching the new ABC series "Around The World In 80 Treasures" (very much to my taste).

So how was it? Well, despite conforming to the stereotype of the politely enthusiastic, ruddy-faced English explorer, presenter Dan Cruickshank offered many fresh insights - even revelations...oh, the pie? It was OK.

The pastry was ordinary - as you'd expect from mass-produced, frozen food - but the filling was pleasantly dense (thanks to the red beans) and had a definite peppery zing. Shame about the awful grey colour.

And now for something slightly different...

"Planar Chaos", the lastest expansion for Magic: The Gathering, is a jumble of old spells, new concepts and cards that break the rules about what each of the five colours can do. Rather than use the Theme Decks in a round-robin tournament, I decided to clear off my coffee table and play four "multiplayer" games (the quotes indicate the fact that, sad git that I am, I was the sole participant :-)).

I began by drafting the basic rules. The decks would only be able to attack to their immediate left and defend to their immediate right. They would all draw eight cards on the first turn. The initial starting order would be random, thereafter it would be the reverse of how the decks had just finished. Points would be scored as follows: 3 for being the "last man standing"; 1 for each opponent knocked out.

Before I reveal the results, here's a rundown of the four decks...

Endless March [red/white] - Versatile (mostly) weenie creatures that can return each other to your hand to avoid going to the graveyard or to reuse coming-into-play effects; plus a small amount of direct damage.

Ixidor's Legacy [mono-blue] - Tricksy critters. Includes nasty combos such as Serendib Sorcerer + Merfolk Thaumaturgist (make target creature 0/2, then switch its power and toughness = dead creature).

Ritual Of Rebirth [black/green/white] - Accumulate land quickly by dumping/milling fatties into the graveyard, reanimate these cheaply and "stomp a mudhole" in your opponent (as WWE announcer Jim Ross would say).

Unraveling Mind [black/red] - Almost every monster in this deck possesses evasion or a wicked ability. Add graveyard recursion and heaps of creature kill (including direct damage) and you've got classic black/red.

So here's how it all finished...

[Deck____Game 1__Game 2__Game 3__Game 4____Points (overall ranking)]

Endless March____1st__2nd__4th__2nd____9 points (1st)
Ixidor's Legacy____3rd__3rd__2nd__1st____7 points (2nd)
Unraveling Mind____2nd__1st__3rd__4th____4 points (3rd on countback)
Rituals Of Rebirth____4th__4th__1st__3rd____4 points (4th)


* The games lasted 10, 10, 12 and 11 turns, respectively.
* Suprisingly, the most convincing victory was by the last-placed deck, Rituals Of Rebirth, which ended game 3 on 44 life with total board control.
* This multiplayer madness took me five hours to complete, not including a lunchbreak in the middle.
* The CDs I listened to during play were: "The Dark Third" (2006) by Pure Reason Revolution, "Are You Sitting Comfortably?" (1989) by IQ, "Anoraknaphobia" (2001) by Marillion and "Aerial" (best release of 2005) by Kate Bush.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Reviewing by numbers

Do the following topics interest you?

* A history of US involvement in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO)
* The benefits/drawbacks of a competitive society
* Where does mathematical talent come from? (genetics vs learning environment)
* How maths is taught in American schools and elsewhere
* What it takes to qualify for the IMO
* Why do boys traditionally do better at maths than girls?
* Reasons for the high proportion of Asian students in US IMO squads
* Case studies of various mathematical prodigies
* Case studies of the 2001 US IMO team
* The 2001 IMO questions (with at least one possible solution for each)
* Creativity in problem solving
* How the US (and other top countries) fared at the 2001 IMO
* Do gifted children become "successful" adults?
* The achievements of former US IMO team members
* What is genius?
* The genius in us all

If they do - and note that the above list is just my crude summary - consider reading Steve Olson's elegant scientific investigation, "Count Down: Six Kids Vie For Glory At The World's Toughest Maths Competition".

Rather than exploit its brilliant young subjects for entertainment value like the movie "Spellbound" (which I admit to enjoying), it places them in a wider discussion about how we learn and reason, and the beauty of mathematics.

One last thing... The book regularly refers you to the appendix for solutions to the various questions, so save flipping and use two bookmarks! :-)


Those strips of sunburn have caused me more grief than expected this week. They often felt sore/itchy under my work trousers, but I couldn't apply more cream until I got home (I've switched to an antiseptic variety - Savlon). So I'm taking a sickie today. We're far enough advanced with the next issue that it shouldn't inconvenience my colleagues too much.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


We're giving away a couple of those XXXX Gold Beach Cricket Sets in the magazine and the task of carrying them several blocks from the sports store to our prize cupboard fell to CM and myself.

The kits aren't super-heavy, but they are cumbersome. It takes a fair-sized box to hold a bat, ball, stumps, bails, bag and artificial "switch" pitch (used to provide bounce on the sand).

CM opted to transport his set under one arm; I went for the on-the-shoulder method preferred by builders. I'm proud to say neither of us bumped or hindered a single person along the way.

Which is a miracle, really, considering no-one made the slightest effort to allow us any extra room. I know we're talking about the CBD in the afternoon, but what about common courtesy?

I had several people cut in front of me, forcing a sudden halt. Others couldn't wait to overtake - and slow right down. Then there were the groups determined to occupy ALL of the footpath.

Ultimately, it's no big deal as we didn't allow ourselves to get flustered and made it back without incident or injury. But just because you live in a city of strangers doesn't make rudeness acceptable.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Bright pink bands around my thighs and calves are reacquainting me with a pain I've not felt since my irresponsible seaside childhood. Turns out Le Tan Gel can be rubbed off with extreme ease - and obviously was by the ends of my shorts and tops of my socks while I sat/stood/sauntered in the unceasing heat at Eastern Creek yesterday, watching the A1GP motor racing with the M. fellas. There's also singeing on my left wrist (watchband) and nose (I have a habit of pulling the visor of my cap down until it rests on the bridge). The moral of the whinge is: you can slather on SPF 30+ three times over the course of six hours and still come away sunblasted if it's poor-quality stuff. Just as well I specialise in damage control, innit? Vitamin E cream morning and night, plus the application of a makeshift ice pack in the evenings should hopefully end my dermal torment by week's end. I don't recommend dropping by the apartment for a visit, though, unless you want me to answer the door in my undies, on legs resembling seafood sticks.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I'm crap at "Marvel Heroes"

SC, DL, CM and I had superhero teams of equivalent strengths (I was the Marvel Knights - Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Elektra and Spider-Man). None of us had played before. We were all partaking of the same beers (Old Admiral and Three Sheets, both brewed by Sydney's Lord Nelson Hotel). And we each managed to solve one headline (mine was "City block vanishes!"). Yet, when pressing prior engagements forced us to quit the conference room at work at 7pm, I had the least points. Which makes me crap.

Self-deprecation aside, "Marvel Heroes" is a gorgeous boardgame. Between the four of us, I think we praised every aspect - the detailed board, the colourful cards (which recycle art from the comics) and especially the painted figurines that look even better than HeroClix. Actually, we didn't compliment the rules. Although SC had read them properly and DL had skim-read them, there was much referencing of the manual. It seemed to have been poorly translated from the original Italian. Where's Cypher when you need him?