Sunday, 27 February 2011


The cheering at the end of The King's Speech was an equal mix of appreciation and relief, and awoke some of those softly snoring. Now eyes that have grown used to the dark are slowly getting reaccustomed to sunlight.

The Best Pictures' overriding theme this year was dismemberment. 127 Hours, True Grit and Winter's Bone all involved arms being cut off, and The Fighter had some heavy hand abuse too. We'll see which way the Oscar jury goes tonight (on one hand, on the other...ho ho!)

I can tell you that, from my semi-concious 2am state, Inception is definitely a dream from start to finish. Also, Colin Firth is the best actor in the world, and ten films in the Best Picture category is probably a few too many. Oh, and I'm far too old to stay up all night.

Until next year: survivor's photo.

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As the credits roll on The Social Network to the strains of The Beatles' Baby You're A Rich Man, the significantly thinner crowd is anticipating the tenth and final film.

The sun is rising over the mall outside, I crunch back to my seat through the inch-deep layer of popcorn on the floor, and I think next year I might do the two day version rather than the overnighter...
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Ever wondered what a cinema looks like at 4.40am?

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It's late, Inception is next, and things are starting to get weird...

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Time to refuel after The Fighter

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Saturday, 26 February 2011


Oops, forgot the photo. Fatigue is obviously setting in.

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I am very pleased to be joined on the red carpet by Daphny and Elad! Daphny is wearing vintage Vivienne Westwood, and Elad's hair tonight has been styled by Laboratoire Garnier.

We have just enjoyed True Grit and now have a WHOLE HOUR before The Fighter. We've struck out into the mall and found ourselves at Asqew Grill. I think eating non-cinema food could be considered cheating, but now I will have some money left on my card for midnight pizza and a hotdog for breakfast.
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Toy Story 3 and 127 Hours. One about toys that come to life, the other about cutting off your own arm, yet thematically so similar in their portrayal of redemption and personal triumph.

The latter is somewhat more gruesome than the former, it's true. Does it still count as watching 24 hours of film if you have your eyes closed for a good percentage of one?

Now in line, waiting for pizza, before film three (The Kids Are All Right) at 2pm.
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You join me, live, in cinema 10 at AMC Emeryville. This modern movie theatre, sympathetically nestled in the Bay Street shopping mall, is today honoured to play host to the elite and foolish of the film-going world.

When I walked in this morning, the second person to arrive, you could already tell something special was going to happen. As the seats slowly fill, anticipation is reaching fever pitch.

The forecast snow showers failed to materialise, and I eschewed the bus to walk here in the sunshine and enjoy the festive atmosphere that always surrounds occasions such as these.

On my way I passed the gates to Pixar studios. Fitting, as this event begins with a showing of Toy Story 3.

So, as I ponder how much junk food my $20 voucher will buy me, and the buzz of Oscar conversation lowers as the lights dim, join me as we celebrate the best of Hollywood, and check back throughout the day for further dispatches.

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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Movie trailer

This is a bit of an advertisement for a future blog post, really. On Saturday our local cinema is showing all 10 Best Picture Oscar a row!  Yes, it's a full 24 hours of cinema magic, and I'm going along (with several cushions and a six-pack of Red Bull).  Whoever decided the programming has a sense of humour, as Toy Story 3 which kicks off proceedings at 10am is followed by 127 Hours, a true story about a guy who had to cut off his own arm.

If you combine that with Inception at 2am and the real possibility of drifting between sleep and consciousness during a film about dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, and the $20 gift card they're giving everyone for popcorn and coke (both of which come with unlimited refills anyway)'s going to be an interested day/night/day.  It could also help with the jetlag our forthcoming trip to England promises.  The only question is whether I'll be alive enough to watch the actual Oscar's ceremony that evening.

Who needs to do a triathlon?  I bet you don't get free popcorn when you do that.

Monday, 21 February 2011

It shouldn't happen in California

Our swimming pool is full.

Of rain!

And our local Mt Diablo has snow on top!!'s a cute picture of Shauli and Arbel to brighten things up.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Any old silicon

There are some things that should always be enjoyed alone.  Like hula-hooping naked, or eating a whole packet of Chocolate Hobnobs in one sitting.  To this list I can add "visiting the Computer History Museum" and its massive new Revolution exhibition that opened a few weeks ago.

Despite mentioning numerous times to my supposedly educated friends that I was heading to this Mecca of knowledge and fun, I had absolutely zero offers of company.  Maybe it's because everyone else has jobs now.  Whatever - on this rainy Friday morning I caught the CalTrain down to Mountain View and walked to the newly renovated building in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Being on my sweeney turned out to be a blessing, as I enjoyed over three hours of pleasure unadulterated by companions who may have got a little bored learning how a slide rule works, or marvelling at a reconstructed Babbage Difference Engine, or even playing Space War on a PDP-1.  I did resist buying the "Complete Geek Package" (including t-shirt and silver pin badge) and went for standard admission.  If you're willing to part with $500k you can become a "giga-donor".

The place is a vast treasure trove of all the most important things in the world.  Along with Cray supercomputers (once $10m each, now deployed as couches) and an original Enigma machine, there's an Apple-1 built and signed by Steve Wozniak, the first computer mouse (and the b&w film made to demonstrate how to use it), the tea pot that started the computer modelling and animation revolution (because everything has to start with a decent cup of tea), 1/2 of the computer that beat Kasparov at chess, and, unfairly hidden, a ZX Spectrum.

Yes, it was Christmas and birthday all rolled into one!  A group of noisy school children inevitably breezed through, competing with one another over who had played the most games consoles on display.  Ha!  I was ready to give them a clip around the ear and tell them what it was like to paint on the Apple ][.  They were whisked away by their teacher, foolishly bypassing the section on the philosophy of hypertext, tapping on their 4th-generation iPhones and Gameboy DS Lites - none of which were to be found in the display cases. As with all things computing, I guess the museum is already out-of-date.

This is where it is all happening.  Or happened.

The mainstay of every engineering student back in the day.

Two of computing's most important figures and yes, they're both British.

IBM took a while to focus.

A genuine WW2 Enigma machine!

Why don't modern computers look like this?  It's far more romantic.

I concur.

The Neiman-Marcus Honeywell Kitchen Computer.  At $10k it was what every modern 1960s housewife needed (with integral chopping board).  Strangely it didn't catch on, as this great article discusses.

They keep getting faster.

I always wanted one of these!

But I did have one of these.  What's it doing in a museum?

A computer that paints, and its none-too-shabby output.

This is the teapot that started the computer graphics revolution.  It's true!  This finally solves why that teapot kept turning up in the Windows screensaver.

Ergonomics were not around when the first mouse was invented.

Here's the man!

And me playing.  Although this turned out to be a re-written version!  Fairly shocking when you realise quite how intricate the original ghost's behaviour was.

Debates still rage in the Davies household about whether Emily really did take the family Tetris crown with 169 lines.  She could never offer documentary proof.

An original Apple-1, built by Woz himself!

The rather more important ZX Spectrum.

I had one of these too!

This was Google's first search server.  Everyone who typed in "Britney Spears" went here.

Modem.  Old school.

The first piece of spam ever sent.

Now this is a real computer - a PDP-1.

And this is one half of the computer that beat Kasparov (in shady circumstances).

Can self-satisfaction be programmed?

A Difference Engine!  Babbage designed this but it was never built in his lifetime (150 years passed, actually, and then a few came along at once).

Me and my Cray 1 Supercomputer.  We're after a sofa.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


While watching telly at the gym (one of the clever ways they keep you coming back for more) I caught an episode of the classic, popular US show Jeopardy!  This is the one where they give you the answer and you have to ask the question.  It never really took off in the UK, probably due to our higher standards of education.

Tonight's show was a bit different from usual, and I'd read about it so was very happy.  Alongside two human contestants (the two most accomplished in the show's history, I might add) was a supercomputer designed by IBM called Watson.  Unlike Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer that beat Kasparov and was known for its taciturn and humourless manner, Watson is programmed to understand puns, jokes, and wordplay, and so is more sociable from the start.

Any warm feelings I had quickly faded as I saw how surgically Watson swept away his puny biological opponents.  To even things up he still had to press a buzzer mechanically, but even opposable thumbs that have served humanity so admirably were made to look useless.  The computer dropped one point, I think, the entire game, finishing around $20,000 better off than the other contestants.

My fellow gym-goers seemed more-or-less oblivious to the evolutionary Judgement Day that was taking place before their eyes, and were mostly watching the basketball.  I wanted to run from treadmill to cross-trainer, shaking them, trying to make them understand, but I was mindful enough of the monthly fee I would lose by getting banned.

There is some comfort for carbon-based lifeforms in that the contest (one big infomercial for IBM, really) still has a day to go, but on the evidence of tonight it's time to pack your bags and head for the hills.  I fear that even I, with my vast ability to turn computers off and on again, thereby fixing them, may be obsolete in this new world.  And Watson isn't even connected to the Internet - imagine when he can send derogatory e-mails about fellow contestants to his silicon friends.

Day 1, when Watson did display a less than perfect knowledge of Beatles songs.  Or perhaps he was toying with us.

Just imagine how well he could do on The Price is Right.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Back in shorts

It's nearly Oscar time again, which means Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley is showing all the nominated short films.  Last year was an excellent batch, but unfortunately this year there was nothing as funny as Granny O'Grimm, as charming as Wallace and Gromit, or as incredibly insane as Logorama (which won!)

I think there had been a few complaints that 2009's entrants had been too funny, as it was all a bit more dystopian and depressing, including one about pollution and someone whose mother dies as he's carrying her over a mountain.

Luckily there was also Day and Night from Pixar (which showed before Toy Story 3):

And also the genius of Bill Plympton with The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger (only "highly commended" though, not in competition.  Booo!)

If I had to pick the will probably be Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage, which is the story of a young man's trip to the island.  It's very arty, and very well done.

But my absolute favourite of the lot was The Lost Thing by Aussie illustrator Shaun Tan, about a man who finds...well...a lost thing, and his struggles trying to report it to the Federal Department of Odds and Ends:

Beautiful stuff.  Now I want a lost thing of my own...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Spinning a yarn

Once again, the idyllic tranquility of Walnut Creek was shattered by the revelation in local  Mercury News that unknown thugs had yarn-bombed one of our lamp posts.  This heinous act of vandalism, presumably gang-related, involves knitting around something in a public place in a tea cosy sort-of manner.  Our own lamp post was bedecked in a variety of horizontal stripes (which made it look fat, in my opinion), and seemed to be the work of a number of different lawless knitters:

I have to make the confession, shocking for an investigative journalist such as myself, that I hadn't actually noticed this willful act of violence until Drew (visiting this coming Saturday, and so understandably worried about crime around here) sent me a link.  By the time I was on the scene our humourless city officials had cut it down and carted it away.

You can read the original article here, although it misses the opportunity to talk about law and order unraveling in the Creek, dyed-in-the-wool criminals, or that we should just accept that sometimes knit happens.

A more balanced view of our suburban enclave is available in the State of the City address by our mayor.  She says that crime is down (at least, it was until today), that we're getting a new bakery, and that 600 apartments might be built as part of our new transit village.  I'm not sure about that last one, we prefer to keep Walnut Creek for local people.  I'm sure her speech will be featured on Walnut Creek TV soon.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Life's still a beach

While much of the rest of the US enjoyed the Superbowl, we went with fellow TV-free family the Singers to the beach (I can always watch the commercials online later).  With the sun shining down and temperatures nudging 25C inland we couldn't resist a return to Montara, and another afternoon lying on the sand.

The beautiful view...

...not appreciated by all.

Hannah and Sofia dig for something.

Beside the sea.

Tourist shot.

Some parts of the coastline are still a little savage.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Mountain of Adventure

To celebrate Anat's birthday we had a party that included a mountain and a hike.  At least, a small percentage of the guests did a hike, while most others were content to find a picnic area and sit in the sun.  Eventually, without mobile phone reception and therefore by a small miracle, we all ended up at the same place.

Arbel, unimpressed by the view.

The actual peak of Mt Diablo, which is now housed within a museum, for convenience (add to "reasons to love America" list).

The museum is tiny, but of course has a gift shop.  Here's one of the fun things they sell.

The mountain is also home to rattlesnakes and tarantulas.

Still not impressed.

Someone (and only one) was taking the hiking seriously.

Nice view.

Nicer view.

Finally, all rendezvoused at the picnic site for the birthday party.

Fini and her muse.

Party games that I'm definitely too old for.