Rendezvous, Paris, 1976, a short film by Claude Lelouch

Tuesday, 29 September, 2015

This spine-tingling short film, titled C’était un Rendez-vous, made in 1976 by French director Claude Lelouch, appears to be filmed from what sounds like a motorbike, being driven across Paris just before sunrise.

At speed. Up to 160 kph apparently. Without regard for red lights. Or intersections. Or the pigeons that strut the waking city’s narrow lanes.

This clip (flick on subtitles for the translation) explains how, and why, Lelouch made the film. So it’s not a motorbike he’s on. Somehow that makes the escapade all the more hair raising.

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Monday, 28 September, 2015

4 and a half stars

There have been at least thirteen film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s darkest, most brooding tragedy, Macbeth, since 1908. At an average rate of one point something productions per decade, over the last century, only a filmmaker with an innate flair for re-telling stories of the bloody and macabre therefore, could make a fourteenth film suitably compelling.

Macbeth scene

Emerging Australian film director Justin Kurzel’s chilling, yet stunning, 2011 debut feature, Snowtown, established his credentials in this regard, and his variation, trailer, of what is considered one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, that is thought to have first been performed in 1611, will surely take its place among the most memorable big screen turns thus far.

Set in Scotland in the late sixteenth century, the story chronicles the grisly ascent of Scottish general Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) to the throne, after three witches prophecise that it will be his. When his manipulative, ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) hears of their words, she goads Macbeth into murdering King Duncan (David Thewlis) almost immediately.

Macbeth scene

Duncan is not the last to die at Macbeth’s hand though, and indeed the killing only intensifies, even after he is crowned, as Macbeth attempts to eliminate a growing number of nobles, suspicious of Duncan’s untimely demise. Before long however, guilt begins to weigh heavily on him, and Lady Macbeth, and both begin to spiral into a self-destructive madness.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is ethereal and atmospheric, earthy and dense, and bestows a modernity on the old play without dispensing with the much cherished Shakespearean verse. Topped off with spellbinding performances from Fassbender and Cotillard, this work is certain to be compared favourably with the adaptations of Roman Polanski, Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa.

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A goal tracker that fines you for failure to achieve, and other links

Friday, 25 September, 2015

Working at a motel in a small town can be tedious sometimes, especially if you’re a teenager. How to liven things up then? Spy on the guests, of course. That’s what happens in Blood Pulls A Gun, the latest short film from Sydney based film director Ben Briand. Via Hypnophant.

How many ways are there to tie shoelaces? Two? Four? Seven? At least eighteen, according to Ian Fieggen, who also includes instructions as to how to tie each and every one. Check out the special purpose knots for occasions such as Halloween.

It’s best things like this do not go unquestioned… the holes at the centre of donuts, or doughnuts, have been shrinking, or at least are far smaller than they once used to be. Now why would that be? Vox is on the case though:

Smithsonian’s history of the donut provides a comprehensive look at the food, and from it we can draw a few guesses about why donut holes shrank. Donut holes are shrouded in legend, but they probably exist to help fry the donut more evenly – without a hole, the center of the donut would end up more raw than the outside.

The problem with conventional “strong” passwords, that should include letters, numbers, uppercase and special characters, is the difficulty in remembering them. The people at xkcd have a better idea for devising secure passwords, that are also a lot easier to remember, in that they adopt what I call a story format. The thing is, how many systems will actually allow their use?

Photo by Agne Gintalaite

Lithuanian artist and photographer Agne Gintalaite doesn’t just see a garage door, she sees but part of a colour palette, and went about photographing, from what I can gather, two hundred doors, for a series called Beauty Remains. See more images here.

The speed of light is the ultimate speed limit of the universe, at least as far as we understand the cosmos at present. In a vacuum, light moves at 299,792.458 kilometres per second. That’s pretty swift. But why does light move at that particular speed? Why not faster, why not slower? That, as it happens, is a very good question…

A further breakthrough came in 1905, when Albert Einstein showed that c, the speed of light through a vacuum, is the universal speed limit. According to his special theory of relativity, nothing can move faster. So, thanks to Maxwell and Einstein, we know that the speed of light is connected with a number of other (on the face of it, quite distinct) phenomena in surprising ways. But neither theory fully explains what determines that speed. What might? According to new research, the secret of c can be found in the nature of empty space.

Anthophobia is a morbid dislike, or fear of flowers. Buy why would anyone be afraid of flowers? Well, if they were ever to rise up, and attempt to subdue us, then there might be something to worry about, an idea that is explored by Valentin Petit, in a short film titled Anthophobia.

Follow these seven simple steps and you too may have a creative breakthrough. Actually the process may not be quite that straightforward, but hopefully it will help set you along the path towards whatever goal you are seeking.

And on the subject of creative breakthroughs and achieving goals, being focused, and having sort of accountability mechanism is vital. For assistance in that regard, look no further than Go Fucking Do It, which allows you to submit a task or goal, a deadline, and then a monetary fine, if you fail to achieve what you set out to do. How does that sound?

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The Intern

Thursday, 24 September, 2015

2 and a half stars

Fed up with retirement, and at a loose end following the death of his wife, seventy year old Ben Whitaker (Robert DeNiro) decides to return to work. Things are a little different this time around though. Rather than taking on a senior role, he is hired as an intern at a New York City fashion start-up, in The Intern, trailer, directed by Nancy Meyers (“The Holiday”, “It’s Complicated”).

The Intern scene

Although the idea of hiring senior, or retired interns, was the idea of company founder Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), she is initially reluctant to engage much with Ben, until he inadvertently becomes her driver, after he discovers the existing chauffeur is drinking on the job. It is only then that the two begin to form a bond, and the story becomes interesting. Expect it doesn’t.

Before long Ben has not only become Jules’ workplace confidant, but also virtually part of her family, where her stay at home husband, Matt (Anders Holm), and young daughter, Paige (JoJo Kushner), quickly warm to him. It is a situation that sees Ben and Jules form a mutual admiration club, and genially trade feel-good compliments for the next ninety minutes.

The Intern scene

Problems stare this fairy tale like production in the face, but everyone involved simply turns a blind eye. A seventy year old takes the job of a university graduate, with nary a snide word from anyone? Not a problem. Ben becomes aware of a serious issue with Jule’s and Matt’s marriage, but keeps it all on the down low, and still remains in Jules’ good books? Not a problem.

And that’s the problem, there are no real problems, no tension, no drama, and precious few conflict points. And those that do make their way to the surface are quickly dispatched, by way of a few soothing piano notes. I spent the two hour run-time wondering what the point was. Without success. This one’s strictly for fans of DeNiro, Hathaway, and feel-good movies.

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A glimpse at future jobs and work through today’s start-ups

Wednesday, 23 September, 2015

We all know that the way we’re going to be working in the future will differ from what we’re used to now. Indeed, it will be down to many of us to create the very jobs that will keep us employed. In other words, if we do not become an entrepreneur ourselves, we will most certainly know someone who is. Chances are we will be working for that person.

If you elect to take the path of self-employment, or entrepreneurship though, what would you choose to do? If you’re going to take a leaf out of the books of other start-up founders however, you’ll find that your options are pretty much only limited by your imagination. I wouldn’t quite say that anything goes, but you might be surprised by some of the ideas people have.

Casper mattress

Casper, founded in April 2014, are a New York City based company that sell mattresses. While that hardly seems futuristic, it’s the way they operate, that distinguishes them from other sellers. Rather than offering a bewildering range of options, they supply one type of mattress, with a standard firmness, rather than the five or so you may see elsewhere, but in varying sizes.

WiFi Trash Bin by ThinkScream

The creation of Raj Desai, and Pratik Agarwal, of Mumbai IT company ThinkScream, the WiFi Trash Bin rewards those who wish to keep their surroundings in public places, such as cinemas and sports stadiums clean, by allocating them free wi-fi time when they place rubbish in a kiosk like litter bin. Here’s an idea that could enjoy much wider application.

Nice Laundry socks

Just as mattress supplier start-up Casper is out to eliminate the middle man by selling direct, so to is Washington, D.C. headquartered Nice Laundry, who will ship new socks straight to you when you need them. Company founders Ricky Choi and Phil Moldavski likewise wanted to simplify the buying process, by offering a range of colourful, inexpensive, socks.

Photo by Luke Spickler

Yes, people want their pets to look stylish. Dharf is a Sydney based company founded by fashion designer Isabelle Genest in 2012, that aims to make your cat or dog the coolest pet on the street, through their range of animal wear accessories. It’s leashes, collars, harnesses, and jackets for the dogs, and bandana and bow tie collars for the cats. (Photo by Luke Spickler.)

And the takeaway is?

The more things change, the more they stay the same? The work, or operation, or output, of all these start-ups looks pretty normal to me. But consider that at least two of these companies are disruptors. They’re shaking up an existing paradigm, and cutting out a middle man, or layer, between a producer and a buyer. A trend if ever there was one, and there’s more to come.

Another company is adopting a relatively novel way of countering what might be called a social issue, or anti-social behaviour, while the other has identified a niche in the market, one that you could argue has always been there, but in this case is bringing the idea more into the mainstream. And there’s plenty of similar opportunities for others, it’s just a matter of spotting them.

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Tuesday, 22 September, 2015

3 stars

In the opinion of Reddit member Erik V. Olson, it is the world’s second highest mountain ranges that pose the real challenge when it comes to scaling them. He contends for instance that Mount Kenya, in Africa, requires rock climbing, while Kilimanjaro, the continent’s highest, is a “walk up”. The same situation also applies for mainland Australia.

Everest scene

Here Mount Townsend, the second highest peak is trickier than the tallest, Mount Kosciusko. Ditto when it comes to Asia’s K2, versus Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. That’s not to say Everest is a mere “walk up”, even if there are only a couple of difficult spots. As Olson notes, a lack of oxygen and the cold, are the real challenges facing those attempting the climb.

It is these factors, lack of oxygen, the cold, together with a sudden change of weather, that prove perilous to a group of climbers in Everest, trailer, the latest feature of Baltasar Kormákur (“The Sea”, “2 Guns”), that retells the tragic 1996 ascent made by New Zealand mountaineer and entrepreneur, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), and a party of seven other climbers.

Everest scene

Adventurers including Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), assemble in Nepal, and under the guidance of Hall, and base camp manager Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), prepare to make the climb. While eventually reaching the peak, disaster strikes as they begin to descend, when a violent storm hits.

Based on the book Into Thin Air, written by journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) who was part of the group, “Everest”, while offering a realistic depiction of conditions faced by the climbers, is let down by shallow characterisations, and a hope on the part of the filmmaker, perhaps, that the memory of actual tragedy can be left to tell the real story telling.

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How do bookshops stay in business in the electronic publishing age?

Monday, 21 September, 2015

By rights bookshops should have long since ceased to exist. Swept aside by ebooks, electronic publishing, and online communication, and square into the dustbin of history. Indeed by now these quaint shelf lined emporiums should only be recalled via dwindling references, solely in nostalgic exchanges between older and younger generations, about the way things once were.

But that’s not quite what has happened. Booksellers are still with us. And rather than going into retreat, some are expanding, and opening new shops even. For all their convenience then, why have bookworms refused to wholly embrace the electronic successors of the bound paper volume? So what is it that bookshops are doing today to prosper, and remain in business?

Rather than attempting to extract trade secrets, or delve through annual reports, I asked myself what I could learn from booksellers, simply by looking at the way they appear to be operating, on the basis I was going to open a shop. So consider this more of a thought experiment, and a series of deductions, rather than in-depth or scientific research.

Paperback is the new black

In order to broaden their customer base, booksellers have become more exclusive by making a concerted effort to reach out to a narrower band of consumers. Clearly these are people who favour the paper over the electronic, and see the endangered species that is the paper book, as having a certain desirability. But that’s not the only way booksellers define customers.

Harry Hartog, a name that somehow sounds like it should be familiar, is very much the new kid on the block when it comes to bookshops, having only opened in Canberra last October, and then Bondi Junction, Sydney, last month. But they have no doubt as to who their clientele are, being a “shop for the adventurer, the student of life and the next generation of reader”.

That’s no shop, that’s a boutique

If shopping for books was ever a perfunctory task, and a visit to a bookshop was uninspiring, and something to be dreaded, it certainly isn’t anymore. It’s not as if buyers have to navigate bland rows of overladen shelves bleaching in the cold glow of harsh fluorescent lights. Indeed, a keen eye to aesthetics on the part of booksellers, has transformed book shopping in recent years.

It’s not just about books

Once upon a time a bookshop used to be just that, a bookshop. You may have been able to source items of stationery, and maybe there was a shelf or two bearing accessories of some sort, but that was it. Today booksellers stock just about anything you care to imagine, from chocolate, lamps, posters, ornaments, toys, board games, to DVDs, and more, but why should I go on?

Ariel Booksellers, in Paddington, Sydney is a case in point. Scan through some of the photos of their merchandise and it becomes clear that booksellers are turning to diversification as a means of attracting, and retaining customers. Bookshops don’t have to become one stop shops, but it can’t be too bad for business to offer customers a few extra options.

Engaging customers

Social media, and the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are boons for contemporary bookshops. Here are platforms that allow them to quickly and readily connect with their customers, helping them maintain a vital edge. Online channels aren’t the only ways of fostering interaction though, and book launches, and community events, also play a role.

Small is better?

In the bookshop survival stakes, you’d think the bigger operators would have the upper hand, on account of being part of a wider chain, and the benefits that must bestow. Sadly, that’s not always the situation, as shop closures, some years ago, by high profile sellers such as Borders, and Angus and Robertson, illustrates. So if the big shops can’t make it, what hope do others have?

More than you might imagine. Smaller, independent, booksellers, especially owner operated stores, are probably more motivated to focus on their customers, and build up relationships, something that may not always be a priority for the bigger players. Buyers are also more likely to find staff at smaller shops better attuned to their interests, than they might elsewhere.

Electronic purveyors of paper

So far it’s been a case of the electronic supplanting the paper when it comes to books, but Sydney based bookseller Big Ego Books have adopted another tack, they operate as an electronic, or online only, seller of paper books. Hardly groundbreaking, but perhaps their specialty, sourcing “rare and hard-to-find titles”, is. There’s market niche for you.

And there we have it…

Well, a few suggestions at least. I for one am not keen to see the end of bookshops, but it certainly looks like plenty are doing something right, so hopefully they’ll be with us for a long time to come. As to the notion of opening a bookshop, it could hardly be considered a lost cause, even if it might not be easy, but here at least are a few pieces of the puzzle.

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How fast is the speed of light, and other assorted links

Friday, 18 September, 2015

If you have a lazy forty-five minutes then check out this animation portraying the journey of a photon of light from the Sun, its origin point, out to the orbit of Jupiter, by Alphonse Swinehart. Forty-five minutes, that’s how long it takes, travelling at the speed of light.

Light speed may be the fastest at which any object can travel in the universe, but it doesn’t seem the least bit speedy here. Until you appreciate the distances being covered, and see how quickly the planets whip by as you move outwards passed them.

Sarcasm, “the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”, to quote Oscar Wilde… used at the right time, in the right measure, it can be quite effective:

Sarcasm has many uses, depending on the degree of sharpness. The most common is to allow someone to show a negative emotion but soften the blow with humor. “You can express anger but do it in a socially acceptable way,” says Roger Kreuz, a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis.

Introvert Freelance is a series of humorous comics by French freelance designer and illustrator Sow Ay, that explores the life of, you guessed it, an introvert freelance worker. Can’t this client just email me? Indeed…

Art installation by Jakub Hadrava

Keen to raise funds to go towards restoring their dilapidated medieval-era church in the Czech village of Lukova, residents turned to Czech artist Jakub Hadrava, in the hope he could find a way to entice more visitors to the area.

Hadrava promptly set about creating an installation made up of shrouded, ghost like figures, to occupy the church’s pews, an idea equal parts creepy, intriguing, and successful, judging by the influx of tourists to the church in recent times.

Ten percent of children aged between three and six display psychopathic traits, according to UNSW researcher Eva Kimonis, who is part of an international team that developed a diagnostic tool to help identify such children.

More than 200 children aged between three and six took part in the study, which found that 10 per cent showed callous and unemotional traits such as lacking remorse or empathy for the feelings of other people.

It is hoped that the tool will aid in picking out, and treating, children who may be at risk of engaging in criminal behaviour later in life.

Uncertainty… that unnerving feeling of not quite knowing what’s going to happen next. Is this something you thrive on, or does it keep you awake at night?

Research, or finding out what we can about an unknown situation, might help, but such fact finding is not always useful, as no two occurrences are necessarily the same. What is it they say? The only certainty is uncertainty…

Research may help reduce uncertainty, but it can never provide certainty. Research is an errorful process that peers into an obscure reality. Determining what is true is plagued by the problem of induction, which was recognised in antiquity by Pyrrhonian sceptic Sextus Empiricus. As British philosopher David Hume explains, it is a mistake to infer “that instances of which we have had no experience resemble those of which we have had experience”.

There’s no excuse to not use emojis now, following the recent addition of a middle finger, or flip it, emoji character. Do you think it will prove popular?

At last, a camera that will help us to take photos that are a little more unique… Camera Restricta, by way of several algorithms, powered by GPS and geo-tagging technologies, will determine how many other photos have been snapped at the same location in the past.

If a certain number of pictures have already been taken, the camera’s shutter will close up. Now it is that a smart-camera, or what?

It’s a hoary old chestnut isn’t it? The nation that McDonald’s restaurants have secret menus, and alternative dishes, that can be ordered only on request. Customers and staff were discussing the topic at a store I stopped at once on the Central Coast, with the conclusion being there was no such thing.

That doesn’t appear to be the opinion of head office though, who are quoted as saying that their restaurants do have “off-menu creations”. Seemingly you have to ask repeatedly though. Would you be up for that?

You heard right: McDonald’s has a selection of off-menu creations that don’t appear on our menu, but are available to anyone who asks. And we’re not talking a McGangbang or any other spurious and, frankly, offensive do-it-yourself creations that have been circulated on the Internet in recent years. There is a legitimate secret menu, scrawled on the back of a placemat by Ray Kroc himself in the late 1950s, that has remained buried under a missile silo in southern Illinois – until today!

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The lime green and steel grey sunset paintings of Grant Haffner

Thursday, 17 September, 2015

If I told you that New York based artist Grant Haffner was a painter of sunrise and sunset pictures, you’d probably begin conjuring up thoughts of serene and tranquil depictions of dawn and dusk, replete with soothing yellow, orange, and red hues, before I’ve been able to elaborate.

Artwork by Grant Haffner

But hold the thought involving the yellow, orange, and reds, and throw out the serene and tranquil. Haffner’s works are anything but. At least at first glance. Here we have canvases awash with vivid, vibrate, and bold acrylic paints, that give whole new meaning to the word sunburst.

Artwork by Grant Haffner

Since when, for instance, did sunsets come with flouro shades of lime green or hot pink? Or sunrises with steel grey and cold blues? But the more I look at these unorthodox colours, the more natural, and realistic, they appear. Indeed, these are the very colours of sunrise and sunset.

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Atty’s human animal hybrid artworks, blank_space, Sydney

Thursday, 17 September, 2015

The week before last, Sydney’s blank_space art gallery was decked out in black for Skel’s Please Stand By show, but this week it’s back to its more usual white colour scheme for an exhibition of works by Atty, or Graham Atwell, a Sydney based artist and illustrator, who was drawn to art through a love of the digital medium.

Vibrant colours, stencils, and street art elements, all go into the mix, to create Atty’s human animal hybrid creations, such as Steve the Eurasian eagle owl. More paintings can seen in his portfolio, or Instagram page, and of course at blank_space, where is his work is on show from now, until Friday, 9 October 2015.

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