Monthly Archives: April 2007

New terrorist threat

Recently, my mother went to Dublin for a English teacher course, and I asked her to bring back fresh supplies of my favourite toast spread, Marmite. Marmite is a weird yeast-based syrup of sorts which has a very distinctive flavour which apparently doesn’t fit too well with the average Danish taste buds, and is therefore hideously expensive and almost impossible to get in Denmark due to lack of popular demand.

Duly, my mother acquired said Marmite, but upon passing through the security check-in for her flight to Copenhagen, the security clerk confiscated the Marmite which she unwittingly had stowed in her hand luggage! Despite being unopened and hardly very liquid, the Marmite was taken away with no compensation, leaving my dear mother with no choice but to return home without the long awaited goods.

I know that some people severely dislike Marmite but classifying it a terrorist threat is going a bit too far!

Searches as art installation

When I went to the Google HQ for the Ubuntu Developer’s Summit in Mountain View, I – and many others – were suitably impressed with the cute art installation that they had installed in the lobby. It is simply as screen showing Google search queries scrolling by:

One list of Google search queries

more such queries

It is quite hypnotic to look at such search queries, trying to guess what people are trying to find out. It is curious to see how people use Google both to find things they know where are (such as Hotmail or and things they do not (vacation planning, 4 wheel drive test). But perhaps especially the ones who take the query part a bit too seriously – such as writing “que es un servidor web?”

I enjoyed the thought that all of these queries were performed in real time and that it was a complete list of queries as it happened. But soon my illusions were shattered when I was told that the list scrolling on the screen was a cached copy of searches filtered for profanity looping on an old server unconnected to the Internet standing behind the lobby counter.

But still, the idea has huge potential. Every single little query we feed to Google is part of a story in itself, and collecting them would be a very telling way to describe how we use both computers and the Internet through Google. As a little experiment, try going to the Google page on a computer and a browser you use often, and try looking through the list of old queries that you have fed it. See if you can remember why you searched for some of those things in the first place – you’ll be surprised at the stories which might appear…

Kurt Vonnegut R.I.P.

I just saw today that Kurt Vonnegut, writer and misunderstood anthropologist has passed away, aged 84.

So it goes.

(as a lot of obituaries no doubt will be saying referring to Vonnegut’s own writings)

I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read from Vonnegut’s pen, both sharply sarcastic and quietly wise. If you haven’t done so, I would recommend you read a bit of it now to commemorate. If you’re around Copenhagen and interested in borrowing a Vonnegut book, let me know.

Natfilm: Quintuple feature

What is now almost two weeks ago was also the week of the the Natfilm festival here in Copenhagen. And I managed to catch no less than five films in six days. I’ll give each of them a brief mention here.

Ryan Gosling got an Oscar-nomination for his role as the idealistic teacher in this film.

The best of the bunch was Half-Nelson. A touching, somber yet curiously hopeful film wrestling with some of the big themes of how change works in our lives. Interestingly enough the title does not refer to the wrestling hold but rather to the song of same name written by Miles Davis apparently referring to the hardships involved in fighting a drug addiction which is in part what the film revolves around.

The film is a debut from the young screenwriting/producing/directing duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and it shows that they have spent almost 4 years working on this. The film has so much depth of detail and forethought that you leave the cinema wondering how all those other films could get away with offering you so little. A fuller review can be found here.

player piano

Vier Minuten
Another good film was German film Vier Minuten which tells the story of a young girl with an amazing talent for playing piano who has been imprisoned for multiple counts of violence and a murder, and how she meets the all-women’s prison’s old piano teacher and a shaky friendship evolves. It is quite powerful and full of evocative piano music.

one canoe...

Ten Canoes

Ten Canoes is the first film to be made with an all Australian Indigenous cast speaking their own language. It has a strange glow of fairy-tale about it of that swimmingly foreign concept of one-upon-a-time. It is built around a simple black-and-white frame story which then allows for the full-colour telling of an ancient aboriginal myth. Filmically, it is not astounding, but the content is so foreign that you cannot avoid being drawn in.

Rolf de Heer

The Balanda and the Bark Canoes

Immediately following Ten Canoes, I saw the “behind-the-camera” documentary about the filming. The title refers to the white men (called Balanda by the Australian indigenous peoples) and the bark canoes which inspired the director Rolf de Heer to make the film. He had seen an old photo of ten aboriginals in bark canoes traversing the Arafura swamp taken by Australian anthropologist Donald Thomson in 1936. It was quite astounding to see the squalid conditions under which the aboriginals live today and follow the (white man burdened) efforts of de Heer to get a film underway with the help of the locals.

The local Yolngu-speakers had forgotten so much of their history and traditions and spend a lot of effort making the ten canoes and javelins necessary for the filming. And amazingly enough, de Heer corrected their designs by referring them to Thomson’s photos which suddenly had become the authoritative source on the culture of which they had lost so much (or rather, which had changed so much with them).

Not only did the documentary set the Ten Canoes feature into perspective, partly explaining and partly excusing. I didn’t like the excusing part, and I really didn’t like how incapable these aboriginals appear, since it only enforces de Heer’s role as the burdened Balanda. But it is well-worth watching, and the two films together will probably soon become a staple in anthropological film clubs for apt discussion about the role of anthropology and the famed good-bye to the Tristes Tropiques.

The Honor of Knights
This “film” was bigged up in the festival programme but turned out to be utter shite. It continues the long tradition that Don Quixote cannot be made into a decent or complete film.

Blurrily busy

The past week has moved by so quickly, it all seems like a blur now. I’ve certainly been too busy to sit down and blog. I’ve managed to move into my lovely new home, buy new furniture, assemble said furniture, have had lots of people visiting and gone to two concerts.

First, my room is now nicely settled, and upon finishing the decorating and cleaning, I snapped a few pictures to give an idea of the size and shape of things. My fellow commun.. (..ists? What is the proper word?) have made the transition easy so far, and I look forward to getting to know them a bit better.

Second, the two concerts. I went with my dear mother to see Bob Dylan play in Copenhagen on Monday night. My mother has been a fan of Bob’s since she was 13, but this was her live concert with his Bobness. The stage show was not exactly impressing, and his vocals probably won’t win him any new fans (I hardly understood a word he was singing all night), but the music was very Rhythm and Blues – he even reinterpreted some of his old hits this way, and it did rock quite well.

Though I’m not much of a fan, it’s hard to underestimate the importance that he has played in the last 40 years of popular music, and I was surprised to find how much of the music reminded me of so markedly different later artists as Metallica, Beck, Kashmir and the Smiths. Curious.

The other concert was Timbuktu on Tuesday night. Timbuk is the best-selling Swedish rapper who have been touring Scandinavia for the past month with his amazingly tight backing band “Damn!”, and Copenhagen was the final stop of their tour (due to an unfortunate cancellation back in February). It was a great, funky and happy experience with lots of pranks and hijinks along the way. The crowd went crazy when they played “Det brinner i Paris” as the final encore. Good stuff.

Now, after all of these distractions. I can finally settle down for the last long stretch of thesis work – hopefully. So it’ll still be busy, but a different kind of busy. Oh well.