theengineer

The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons


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theengineer

Weekly Update

A mostly film-filled week.

Last Monday went to Chalker's Pub to hear the Sisters of Sheynville play yiddish swing klezmer. The piano player is a friend of a friend, and the performance was a lot of fun.

Tuesday was the U of T East Asian Film Club, which was showing Three Kingdoms, yet another huge scale battle film about the "kingdom" period of China. This style of film has become very popular over the past few years, maybe because the Chinese government approves of the subtext that China was better off once it became a single country. The club is terrible at notifying people when they are putting on showings however, I usually only get an email two days beforehand. And they wonder why only a few people are turning up.

Wednesday was a Hot Docs night with Christian. This months film was October Country, one year out of the life of a, to be frank, trailer trash family. They're aren't really bad people, but they have no money in a poor part of the rural US with little opportunity to get out of the holes they are in. Bleak, but compelling in a "glad I'm not them" kind of way.

Thursday was Science Night. The U of T Space and Astronomy club had a lecture by Dr. Hilke Schlichting of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. She's looking for small (under 1 km in size) bodies in the Kuiper Belt, a collection of ice and rock out past the orbit of Neptune. Anything out that far under 10 km in size is too small and dim to see with telescopes, so she's been using transits. If you look at a star long enough, there's a tiny chance that such a body will past between it and you and then you can see the star's brightness change. These transits would take about 0.3 seconds, and the chances of seeing one are very small, so you need a vast amount of data to hope to find any.

That's where things get really clever. The Hubble Space Telescope uses what's called Fine Guidance Sensors to orient itself in space. The FGSs are little telescopes that lock onto stars and constantly monitor them (40 times a second) to fix the orientation of the telescope. There's 14 years worth of this data, and she managed to talk NASA into giving her access to it. So far she's discovered one body (less than a kilometer across), and continues to hunt for more. Got to talk to her and some of the club execs at the pub night afterwards, which was great.

Friday was Cinematheque, and Panic in the Street, a noir-ish thriller set in New Orleans about a discovery of a murdered man who happens to be carrying the plague, and the search for his killers before they infect the city. A young Jack Palance (who seems to be about eight feet tall) is the bad guy, and the film was directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront). Ran into Charles there, and greatly enjoyed the film.

Saturday was the SF Book Club meeting, at which I was presenting Douglas Adams' Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. I figured that there would be plenty written up about this book, as Adams is such an influence on SF, but found that there is actually very little critical work on him (something that the librarians at the Merril Collection found surprising as well). Maybe because he's a "funny" author he's judged not worth serious attention. (I put "funny" in quotes there because as my brother points out, while Adams tells a lot of jokes one gets the impression that there's seriousness underlying what's he's doing). That evening it was over to Irwin and Lisa's for Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars, which is a lot better than the Easter bus-in-the-desert special.

Finally, yesterday was brunch at the Hot House with Paul and Susan and Rebecca (Charlene and Hayden and Wesley couldn't make it due to Wesley being ill), which was great as always. In the afternoon was a string quartet I like, and in the evening this month's Plasticine Poetry event at the Central.

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How was Three Kingdoms? I think I've seen it at Rogers for rent.

I kind of forgot to talk about that, didn't I? It was by no means a bad movie in any respect, Andy Lau and Sammo Hung are both great, all the battle sequences and such are expertly staged, but after seeing Red Cliff and Red Cliff 2 (the original movies, not the edited and mashed together version North America is going to get) this movie just felt like it was going over the same ground. Everyone is also relentlessly stalwart from start to end, a little humor and characterization past loving your brothers in arms would not have gone amiss.

If I knew the history of the characters more (I gather all Chinese are ingrained with that at birth) I might have gotten more out of it.

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