DIARY 2005















Tue, Aug 30

<02:06 EEST> Been thinking about buying a flat. It would make so much more sense to pay off the loan rather than paying the rent, and with the kind of 30-year loans you can get these days, the comparison is actually not far off. I'm also keen to move away from the current apartment, which from the beginning has been a little disappointing, but hey, it's been dirt cheap too :-/

A quick and rough analysis has shown, though, that I probably can't afford to buy flat I'd like to live in. The problem is that, while the comparison between loan and rent holds quite well, I wouldn't want to buy something like this or my previous apartment for a more permanent abode. It's not like I'd have to spend the entire loan period of 20+ years there, but I still feel that owning your apartment carries an air of permanence. It's times like this that give me fleeting thoughts of an industrial research & development job that comes with roughly double my current salary :-/

<14:40 EEST> FSCK!!! I'm considering to join the camp of Linux users that abhor ReiserFS, which until now I have not understood. I've used that filesystem since early 2001 without glitches (until now), and the choice back then was simple: it was the first journaling filesystem to make it into the vanilla Linux sources. It also seems faster than most other filesystems.

The glitch came up yesterday as I was moving Hoo to Linux 2.6.13. The root filesystem was broken as I booted the new kernel. After recovering it from backups a few weeks old, the root worked smoothly, but the other ReiserFS partitions were being broken similarly. I didn't have backups for those, but fortunately most of the files were recoverable; after doing reiserfsck, the top-level directories were found with random numerical names under lost+found. So I could have used that for the root filesystem as well :)

In all of the cases, the top of the filesystem tree had been broken, but the contents were mostly intact. It was all very systematic, and there was no sign of hard drive failure -- thank goodness the replacement drive is OK.

I'm not actually sure if it's due to the new kernel and ReiserFS per se, because Sigmatrix works fine with it, and there seems to be a DMA bug in the EPIA BIOS. The bug has manifested itself previously with spontaneous reboots during bootup (the next bootup always works), but after the BIOS update that too is gone.

It's for things like this that I like to have some diversity in filesystems nowadays; there are two JFS partitions on Hoo that weren't hurt at all. It's tempting to think about a conversion to JFS entirely... until the next glitch that hits JFS and leaves Reiser intact :)

I guess the only question is, why didn't the previous kernels eat ReiserFS for breakfast? The BIOS was broken all that time. I imagine it's because recent Linuxes are making progressively more use of hardware, and the older kernels were easier on the motherboard.

Sun, Aug 28

<23:52 EEST> I sometimes wonder if the apparent focus on book and movie reviews on this journal gives a distorted view of me. Naturally, there are things that I'd rather not write about here, that are best served live, but even so I sometimes find the remaining selection rather one-sided. One reason for books and movies is that they are somehow partially objective, and therefore interesting/useful to a wider audience.

Staying on topic ;) I might mention Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, a mini-series of six episodes that I've watched recently. I had just finished reading the Sandmans, and the author mentioned plans for the series in the afterword.

At first, the style seemed hopelessly cheap and pretentious, and stuck in the 1980s in a bad way. However, the story seemed absorbing enough and I watched on. It helped that I'd been immersed in the comics just before, because it dawned upon me that the series has managed to recreate the comic book style quite masterfully. It was reading one of Gaiman's comics 'in realtime'. I also loved the rich variety of British accents and phrases.

Sat, Aug 27

<02:11 EEST> Watched Batman Begins. I would probably have skipped this, if it weren't for the cheap firm tickets that Rigorist had obtained, and the movie turned out quite positively surprising. The story in particular was nice, with considerable divergence from the expected comic book action, and notable philosophical and conspiratorial elements.

However, the execution was not satisfying, it was too much of typical Hollywood shite after all. There was a lack of consistent stylishness, and many of the actors weren't convincing.

One of the worst details was the science of the microwave weapon; I hate it when contemporary science is twisted like this. It's much better to invent fictional science to do "impossible" things than rewrite trusted old theories like electromagnetism. IMHO, science fiction does not have to obey current scientific laws, but it should be somehow consistent and logical. These factual errors are particularly striking in a story of Batman, since he's supposed to be utilizing realistic technology and skills rather than imaginary superpowers.

<16:03 EEST> As I learned Buddhism back in Britain, I started to think it would be the ideal 'national philosophy' for Finland, with our introverted spirit and opposition to authorities. For a long time I had regarded Christianity as an unnatural forced add-on to the Finnish culture, since we'd had our native animistic religion for thousands of years, but I couldn't see everyone going back to those traditions.

Yesterday I came across an article on the Körtti movement or "herännäisyys" that provided one explanation for my earlier speculations. It seems to be a branch of Christianity that in many ways goes in the direction of Buddhism. There's still the unnecessary (IMHO) burden of a central deity, though. That's one reason why I cannot imagine becoming a convert myself, however interesting the community appears.

Mon, Aug 22

<14:27 EEST> There's a sense of emptiness in the air. Is this all it was? After seven years' accumulation of expectations? What next? Do I have any more dreams left?

The past weekend was the premiere of Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning at Tampere. Having done a small part in the film, I had the privilege to attend this great event. Incidentally, it was also a way to meet a couple of old friends: Rudi, who's in the core team as one of the scriptwriters, who did time in Cambridge along with me; and Mikko, my brother in arms.

I already wrote litte bits of review in Finnish, so I'm not going to repeat it. The movie was a very positive experience in many ways, though not perfect, especially when it comes to acting. But that's all about the review for now — I might analyze it more as I get the DVD in a few weeks. Saturday night was all about the communal experience, not so much about the film itself, even if it was the epicentre of our geeky gathering.

One of the interesting sidetracks I got into was a long chat with Jukka and Marjo Mäntylä of the Huba crew. They have also released an amateur film recently. It's a comedy medley very much in the spirit of Monty Python, and it has lots of subtleties and details that are worth watching a few times over.

I feel like it's been an important event and I should write more about my experiences, but it'll probably take a few days for everything to settle. Besides, I'm off to Varkaus in a few minutes. Be seeing you!

Sat, Aug 13

<02:48 EEST> Friday was one of those days that makes you believe in synchronicity. Not that it means anything macigal, just a coincidence where lots of related things happen at once. It was a day of technical matters, starting from a phone call about my warranty-replaced hard drive that I went to get back.

The local outlet of Data-Info being in Kuokkala, it was a short trip to go to the physics department where I had stuff to print. A PQCD PDF was perhaps too much of an abbreviation even for the poor Windows machine that crashed upon trying to print it. Not just bluescreening, but harsly power-cycling. Naturally I tried it again, with the same result that gathered some bemused looks from other people around. Eventually, even after another machine refused to cooperate with the PDF, I converted it to good old Postscript. I only managed to print the first third of the manual though, because then the printer started to mess with me.

As I mentioned this to Teak, he remarked having just taken a calculator for warranty repair, as it had developed display glitches. Perhaps it's just not a good day for information tech.

On the plus side: the hard drive I got back is a faster model (probably since the old one isn't being manufactured any more). And I got my first Slashdot front page story that I'd submitted the previous night. Maybe it was a zero-sum game after all :)

Tue, Aug 9

<21:45 EEST> The power supply fuse in the ADSL modem blew again today, after two weeks of operation. As I replaced it blew again soon, and I did some current measurements. It was taking about 1.2 A which should obviously break the 1-A fuse. But curiously enough, the next replacement has worked well, with about 0.75 A. Something has been wrong in the meantime though, which is pretty disturbing as it might go again any time in the future, and it's a bitch to debug :-/

Sun, Aug 7

<16:59 EEST> You know how annoying it is to know a tune whose name you don't know, and therefore can't, for example, google for anything about it. I've had this problem with a song that often appears in horror comedies and it's been in one of the TV adverts of the Finnish sugar industry. It's undoubtedly classical music, but having listened through many of the famous composers I haven't caught that piece.

The other day on Slashdot I came across Query by Humming which I thought might save me from the agony. I've seen commercial services that do the same, but this one was free; you only had to record your humming and upload the file.

That's how I found Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which is part of the Nutcracker suite. I was keen to learn more about the tune, and I even came across a guitar tab :) Thus last night I had a surge of excitement I haven't had in a long time, as I learned to play it. It's probably the first 'classical guitar piece' I've studied, even though it's not really a piece for the guitar. It sounds surprisingly good, because the atmosphere is mostly conveyed by unusual chord sequences, but of course the proper orchestral version is infinitely more eerie.

I also found a tab for two guitars which I'm really looking forward to play, if I can find someone to do the other half. It should be a lot closer to the original feel, with the melody clearly separated from the backbeat rhythm.

Thu, Aug 4

<22:27 EEST> Watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

From a number of reviews, I was expecting this movie to suck big time, at least for those who have read the books. Moreover, I've never been a big fan of the books; back in the day I read them for a school assignment, and for a general interest in SF classics.

I didn't get what makes the Hitchhiker books such classics. They're probably the most famous representatives of humorous SF, but by no means the only ones or the originators of the subgenre. I thought there were better, and above all more funny examples, such as The Cyberiad and Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem.

The movie didn't start out too well IMHO, it seemed old-fashioned in an uncool way. It looked like they were rushing to cram the highlights of the pentalogy into a single movie. But somehow it all worked to an enjoyable effect, and after a while I realized why: the style was undoubtedly Pythonesque :)

With this in mind, it was a great movie all the way to the end. It captured one of the essential elements of British humour, namely optimism at hard times. I think it accomplished this much better than the books, and I can now appreciate it as something different from other SF comedies -- then again the Python connection moots some of the originality.

Wed, Aug 3

<00:13 EEST> Watched some more movies: La Femme Nikita on Monday at Teak's place, while backing up stuff from my laptop to his fileserver -- my big harddrive is going to be warranty replaced :-/ Now back to the movie, even before it began we wondered what it is about certain French movies that are so utterly cool even when nothing much is really happening. I paid a lot of attention to camera angles which were invariably more imaginative than the Holywood equivalents, but there's also something to be said about the characters. I'm not sure how much their appearance reflects the real French people, but there's an air of stylishness in everyone, not just the young ladies. It's a stark contrast to what I see in many people particularly in Finland, an apologetic and camouflaged look.

Speaking of which, tonight I watched The Match Factory Girl, which is a prototypical Aki Kaurismäki piece. It wasn't particularly good when compared to many other of his films, but it does deserve special merit of being very concise in every way. The AK way, which in some sense is more dogmatic than Dogma, must be hard to extend into more complicated plotlines without changing the effect. But when it works you get something like The Man Without a Past.

Mon, Aug 1

<02:51 EEST> The Lionheart play had some mild and superficial synchronicities with the movie The Village I'd watched on Friday night. It was a little disappointing that I had more or less guessed the main revelation of the movie in advance. Shyamalan's films being one trick ponies (though I'm not so certain, having only seen Sixth Sense before) this is not a good thing. On the other hand, the plot was a lot deeper and more 'diffuse' than that of Sixth Sense, and it was pretty enjoyable eventually. The main ideas were, I believe, meant as an allegory of certain things in human societies, and it just happened that my toy model of society had some crucial similarities.

<03:08 EEST> To complete a triad of reviewlets, I've also finished reading a novel of real cyberpunk (in analogy to RSF ;) All Tomorrow's Parties concludes William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy, though having read the two preceding novels I'd had zero idea about them forming a trilogy. Until browsing the book and its back cover.

I had enjoyed Virtual Light quite a lot, and completely loved Idoru (the book :) Thus my expectations were high, and this book seemed dauntingly short at less than 300 pages of sparse typesetting. It wasn't quite as good as Idoru, but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless, and still one of the best cyberpunk novels I've read.

The last time I'd been in this world was in the reading of Snow Crash, and it took me some time to orient myself back in Gibson's version, as there are lots of differences behind the chrome. SC is a Slashdot kind of world, in the "I use Linux, therefore I'm k3w1" sense that acknowledges its comical slant to a great effect, whereas Gibson does serious SF. I think the essence of the Bridge Trilogy is by all means not limited to a CP setting, which I guess is one of the signs of great literature. On the other hand Gibson's stylistic quirks seem particularly well suited there, despite the impression that Stephenson is more in touch with about actual tech than Gibson.

Gibson could well be called a great writer because of his nifty style and profoundly interesting new ideas. But that combination didn't go too far in All Tomorrow's Parties for some reason. Great foundations were laid out in the form of characters and settings throughout the first half of the book, but then it was over pretty quickly and it ended with a rather hollow feeling. Although the ending was quite subtle, and I probably didn't get everything :) There's a feeling a lot more could have gotten out of this setting; I'm starting to see a pattern in lots of books, which is not so surprising in fact, that if you devote the first half to simply introducing characters and building the setting, then there isn't enough of the book left for real action. There's probably an ideal ratio which is less than 1:1 for intro and the rest ;)

Speaking of patterns, it's what the trilogy is all about, and probably the main reason why these books touch me so much. (Synchronicity is loosely the same thing, though it strictly only means temporal patterns.) I think most of fiction uses exaggerated synchronicity as an underlying tool, while of course it must be downplayed if you wish to maintain an illusion of realism, and it's not really apparent. Now the Bridge Trilogy is directly about synchronicities/patterns, you might even say it's the main character :-j

Risto A. Paju