Saturday, August 30, 2003


I have a couple of little pieces on football at ubersportingpundit. (Also, my reports on the rest of the Bangladesh v Pakistan second test (which Pakistan ultimately won by nine wickets) consists of updates to this piece).

Friday, August 29, 2003

Michael goes to the movies again

I saw Confidence, which was sort of blah. I find Edward Burns to be about the least interesting leading man in the movies, and my irritation is increased by just how self-important he seems to be in real life. (Let's face it, the movies he has directed himself are pompous and trite). I wasn't quite convinced by Rachel Weisz as his accomplice in the complicated confidence games that go on in this movie. This is possibly a perception problem, however, as from her other roles I can't help but think of her as simply too English to be an LA crook. Dustin Hoffman does appear to be having fun, however.

Basically, though, the trouble with this type of film is that they are often sewn together from lots of pieces, each with different movie cliches on them, and this one is a bad example. (Its use of the deat narrator device from Sunset Boulevard is lame, as Mark Steyn points out here). Worse, perhaps, the best examples of the genre have comlicated but at least logical (and at times hilariously clever) plots, character relations that make some kind of sense, a genuine sense of humour, and the crispest and most sparkling dialoge. What I mean by this is that the best examples of the genre are written and made by David Mamet and star his generally superb repertory company of actors, and this one rather sadly isn't and doesn't.
A new feature of this blog

Somehow, when I post a Samizdata quote of the day, I feel it has to be in some way libertarian. However, I like posting quotes of the day, particularly when they have a certain whackiness, so:
Michael Jennings quote of the day

I can put it on myself instead of asking my mom. I feel just like an old-fashioned Japanese girl, but better since I have a cell phone tucked in my Velcro obi.

- Japanese schoolgirl Erica Tanaka, quoted in Wired Magazine, discussing the benefits of a self-fastening kimonos.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

There is a fine comedy series in this.

If you read the credits of a movie, there are lots of job titles that are incomprehensible unless you have either worked on a movie set, or someone has explained them to you. (What is a "Grip". What is a "Best boy"? Even when they have been explained to you, the job titles seem to make little sense. (The Grip is the most senior electrician. The Best Boy is the number 2 electrician). One thing that you will see in movie credits is "Craft Service". Now what does this mean?

Craft Service is in fact the title given to those people who provide the crew with food and drink throughout the day. If a member of the crew wants a Coke, or a cup of coffee, or a donut, or a sandwich, or a candy bar, it is the job of Craft Service to give him what he wants, immediately. This is actually very important, because 18 hour filming days without breaks can be gruelling, particularly if they occur frequently as they do for American television programs trying to produce an episode a week for nine months. People find this kind of work much easier to do if they can always get a cup of coffee of a snack without any effort. There is apparently an art to providing good Craft Service, which is to provide people with what they want to eat and drink almost before they have realised it themselves, and if someone on the crew likes a particular sort of chocolate bar to make sure these are always available.

Two further points. Firstly, while Hollywood actresses starve themselves half to death, crew members are often a little on the pudgy side. Craft Service is one reason why. Secondly, I don't have the slightest fucking idea why it is called "Craft Service".

This all leads in to this hilarious piece on the Sofia sideshow blog about filming a movie in Bulgaria, where the Craft Service guy is an "old school Bulgarian" (ie he lived most of his life under communism) who refuses to show initiative of any kind, because under communism that was dangerous. Also, you must defer to authority. For instance

"Man, it's 40 degrees out here! And the crew says you aren't giving any ice."
"Do you have ice?"
"Why aren't you giving any to the crew?"
"Because I don't have enough."
"It's your job to have enough."
"Nobody told me to buy more, so I am giving it to you and John [Line Producer]."
"In front of the crew...oh $%#("
A shrug in response.
"Buy more!"
"If you say so."

The only thing I can decipher is that the safest route in the old days here was to do exactly as told, no matter what, and to never use creativity or initiative, nor to speak if there is a problem, but to wait until specifically asked if there is a problem with the specific task previously assigned.

That's right. Although his job is actually to keep the crew's morale up, he does such things as serve cold drinks to the boss, but warm ones to the rank and file. That's just fabulous. Read the whole thing. All together it is funnier than a little extract. And it demonstates just how pernicious communism was.

(Link via Natalie Solent).

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Redirection, and Martian observations

I have a little piece on Samizdata pointing to these wonderful photographs of Mars that have been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. What can I say. It is a privilege to be alive in a time when it is possible to see such things. There is quite literally nothing that would make me happier than seeing a human being walk on Mars in my lifetime. (Okay, there is one thing, which would be to walk on it myself. But that is of course quite unlikely, although I don't believe it to be utterly impossible. A lot will change in the next 50 years).

Now, notice that the bottom edge of the dark structure is a circular arc. Why is this? Well, it is because the crater like gap that is fairly easy to see when you realise this actually is an impact crater, the Hellas Basin. This was presumably caused by a collision between Mars and an asteroid at some time in the past. The bottom of the basin is seven kilometres deeper than the rim, and is often blurred in photographs of Mars because there is vastly more atmosphere at the bottom of the basin than the top. But not in this photograh, as conditions were perfect.

This is the photo of Mars you are going to see in books for the next half century, as conditions will never be better than this.

Also, I have just opened my window and looked out. Even in the middle of London on a not perfectly clear night, Mars is truly something in the east. It should appear much brighter still when it is directly overhead later. And I really must get out of London on the weekend to see it from somewhere where there is less light pollution.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003


I have a very small and inconsequential piece on congestion charging over at Transport Blog.
Classes of Blogger

Friedrich Blowhard has been reading American Demographics magazine, which apparently tells him that

Financially, visitors to are either rich or poor; those making under $25,000 or over $100,000 a year are over-represented, while middle-income visitors are under-represented.

My theory is that this means that bloggers consist of two groups of people: smart people who are presently employed (and are paid a lot for being smart) and smart people who are presently unemployed (because lots of smart people have lost their jobs in the last couple of years). More normal people don't use the blogosphere yet. The key question is whether they will.

I am by no means the first person to connect the collapse of the tech boom with the rise of the blogosphere, but certainly quite a few blogs have been started by people who suddenly found themselves not working, but who suddenly found themselves not working. They, or in fact we, are the sorts of people who feel the need to do something compulsively, and blogging fits the bill perfectly.

The other less new explanation is that there is a student/non-student split. Certainly this was true of internet users in general in about 1991. There were people who were still studying or doing post-docs or something, who didn't have much money, but who were likely to make a fair bit when they actually got jobs, and there were people who had actually done this. This effect is not as big as it once was, but I think it is still there.

The server that holds my normal e-mail account ( is down. If anyone needs to reach me, try mjj12 at
This is what I got when I gave the answers that I thought would give me Australia

You're Australia!

You're easy-going, relaxed, and yet somewhat tough and hardy all at the same time.  You can appreciate culture, scuba diving, and even safaris.  This makes you pretty interesting and intriguing to others, though also really unpredictable and even wild.  Your knowledge of nature is unthinkable to most of those around you, even though your respect for it is sometimes less than perfect.  People really like your accent.

This is what I got when I gave honest answers

You're Vietnam!

After years of muddling through on your own, you've finally repaired yourself to a point of respectability.  You would have been much better off had people you didn't like not kept insisting on spending so much time with you.  But those times are fading quickly and these days you're pretty sure you won't get burned.  Star power!

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

Bit of a worry, really.

Monday, August 25, 2003


I have another piece on England's pathetic loss to South Africa in the fourth test at ubersportingpundit, and a piece on English beer measures (with digressions) at Samizdata.
I need to get out more

I just received a piece of spam with the subject line "Start charging toward your next GM vehicle". The thought that went through my mind was "How do you genetically modify a vehicle?".

Sunday, August 24, 2003

"How long have I been trapped in a Luis Bunuel movie?" experience of the day

I was walking down Selhurst Road in south London. Two teenage girls were walking in the opposite direction. One of them stopped me.

"Excuse me?".

Normally when something like this happens they are going to ask me to go into a shop and buy cigarettes for them, or perhaps alcohol. My practice in such cases is to refuse. As a libertarian I think I probably do support their right to smoke cigarettes or drink whisky if they want to. I also support my right to not buy these things for them if I do not want to. In extreme cases I am then sworn at. If I am in a particularly bad word, I go on to demonstate that my fluency in Anglo-Saxon is greater than theirs. However, it seldom gets this far. But none of this happened today.

"Do you know if they had ice cream in Victorian times?"

My response to this was to be completely dumbstruck. This was not what I was expecting. The question really is whether the invention of ice cream came as a consequence of the invention of refrigeration, or whether it existed prior to this. And when was refrigeration invented, precisely? My guess was that yes, it had existed in the 19th century, but that it was a rare luxury that very few people could afford, and that mass production of ice cream dated from around the turn of the 20th century. But that was just a guess. (A little googling confirms that this is fairly right, but one has to say that, yes, they did have ice cream in Victorian times). Normally I take pride in being able to answer questions like this, but in this instance I really couldn't.

I smiled. "I have absolutely no idea".

The girl smiled back, looked vaguely disappointed, and walked off.

I have, however, seen plenty of foxes recently.

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