The Null Device

2003/7/29

I just saw Nói Albinói, an Icelandic film about a teenaged boy growing up in a small town at the foot of a mountain in rural Iceland. The story is the usual one about growing up as an outsider in any other small town, with the typical anxieties and alienation enhanced by the stark surroundings; the cold daylight, long twilights of winter and omnipresent Icelandic wood panelling adding a palpable feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom. Nói is of above-average intelligence and bored with school, and has an alcoholic Elvis-worshipping father, a thing for the new girl in town and dreams of escaping to a tropical island far away, anywhere away from the town. The film ends with an unexpected and cataclysmic climax, and there is a rather appropriately bleak Jonathan Richman song in the closing credits. I liked it; though it's not an uplifting sort of film. You could almost get seasonal affective disorder in the 90 or so minutes that it runs. Though if you coped with the last few Radiohead albums, you should be fine.

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2003/7/28

First there was Commodore 64 UNIX and IntyOS for the Intellivision, and now someone is writing a graphical multitasking OS for Pac-Man arcade machines:

Alpaca is a small multitasking operating system for Z-80 computers, specifically for Pac-Man/Pengo arcade hardware. It is an expansion upon my PTUI project, which was originally just an experiment to see how much of a real GUI can be put into the tight constraints of Pac-Man arcade machine hardware. The limitations are a total of 1kb of RAM (for storage and stack), 16k of ROM, sprite/tile based video hardware (1k color, 1k character ram), joystick, and two buttons.

Mind you, it doesn't do anything useful yet. (There apparently isn't enough space in a Pac-Man machine to fit an OS and applications, at least without optimising it further.)

And here is an extensive page on coding for the Pac-Man/Pengo hardware, including technical info, links to tools and sample ROM sets (no games, but there's an audio sequencer or two there; I'm sure there are some avant-garde applications for one of those).

It's interesting to look at the memory maps and other documents. In some ways the arcade machines were conceptually similar to 8-bit computers; in other ways, however, they're bizarre (for example, the Pac-Man machine's video RAM is all over the place).

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First a Brazilian artist commissioned a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, and now a biotech company is displaying fluorescent white mice at the Bio Taiwan 2003 expo. With photo, though whether they really look like that is debatable. (via jwz)

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I went to the Empress Hotel this (Sunday) afternoon to pick up the pictures from my exhibition, which was to have ended this weekend. I was told by Sandra, the proprietor, that the next exhibition doesn't go up until next weekend, and so my pictures can stay up for another week; probably until sometime on Saturday afternoon or so. So, if you haven't yet seen them and are interested, you have another chance. And if you want to buy a print, email me and mention The Null Device for a 10% discount.

(What are these pictures, you ask? They're autotraced digital photos, mostly related to the local live music scene. There are portraits of artists (including members of Minimum Chips, Ninetynine and I Panic), some candid shots of the last day at the Punters Club, and a few unrelated things (such as a scene outside the Safeway on Smith St.).)

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The final film I saw today was Morvern Callar. This film was stylistically in the tradition of recent drug-culture films like Trainspotting and Human Traffic, in that it was primarily focussed on the subjective experiences of its protagonist, a Scottish checkout chick whose oversensitive record-collector boyfriend kills himself, leaving behind a mix tape (containing Stereolab, Broadcast, Lee Hazlewood and the Velvet Underground), money for his funeral and the manuscript of his unpublished novel. She covers up his death, sends the manuscript to a publisher under her own name, and uses the funeral money to go on a holiday in Spain with her best friend (the very cute Kathleen McDermott) and, of course, the mix tape. It's not a very complex plot; though the point of the film is in the rollercoaster of emotions she experiences. It was OK, though it's probably the sort of thing you have to be in the mood to get into (read: watch this on DVD at home with certain substances).

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The second film I saw today was The Mother, a film about the busy lives and overcomplicated relationships of various loud, brash London yuppies, and their elderly parents and boisterous, squalling children. The script was by Hanif Kureishi, so unsurprisingly the theme was one of seduction and adultery; in particular, of a triangle between a woman in her 30s/40s, the married chancer who's her boyfriend, and her elderly, recently widowed mother. In contrast to the grey corridors and introspective stoicism of the previous film, the sets were all modern convenience and designer furniture, and the characters spent a fair bit of time shouting at each other. One got the feeling that, for them to be more neurotic, they'd have to be from New York.

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The first film I saw today was Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, a Danish/Scottish co-production. This was a black comedy/drama of sorts about a chronically suicidal man who helps run a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow with his overly indulging brother. Oh, and various women (including a slightly dippy nurse at the hospital where he goes for counselling) find him irresistible. The film has a dry, deadpan humour about it, maintaining it among the grim circumstances (other than suicide attempts, the story includes terminal illness and tragic death), and yet while there is emotion, the film keeps on, with a combination of Scottish stoicism and the Scandinavian aesthetic; you can't help but feel that, were Hollywood money involved, it would have been smothered in shmaltzy sentimentality, hamfistedly grabbing for the audiences heartstrings to manipulate them to tears, though since there isn't, there's none of that there.

The visual side of things was quite beautiful, with good use of that cold Northern sunlight, and lots of blues and greys; the cinematographers made good use of the Glaswegian locale. The soundtrack (by Danish composer Joachim Holbek) was also quite good, reminiscent in places of Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson's score to Englar Alheimsins, a film with which Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself shared more than a few similarities. Hopefully Wilbur won't disappear without a trace as Englar did (despite Fat Cat releasing its soundtrack, probably due to the Sigur Rós songs on it) once its film festival run finishes, as it's really worth seeing.

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