Irma Vep Saves the Day

I gave High Life a go last night and ended up having to bail about halfway through — something I almost never do when watching a film by myself. It was just too bleak and unpleasant — and I usually have a high tolerance for bleakness. Each minute sapped my curiosity about where things would end up further and further until it dried up completely. Maybe it had something to do with having driven for six hours earlier in the day.

It was still early when I pulled the plug, so I reached for another film that had long been on my to-watch list — Irma Vep. What an absolute joy from start to finish! I had expected something more serious about the struggles of creating art — part of the reason it’s been sitting unwatched for so long — and worried I’d have to cringe through some blithe 90s racism. I was wrong on both counts. There’s tonnes of drama and argument behind the scenes, but it’s all so enjoyable to watch, and Maggie Chueng comes across as being totally in control the whole time. All the performances feel so natural and the camera dances about the whole time, adding energy to every conversation. It’s a nice change from the fussy framing and intentionally stilted delivery of so many films today.

What’s In My Ears Right Now?

What to do when you’ve listened to Blue Rev a million times and can’t wait for a new Alvvays album? Simple — go back and listen to their previous one, Antisocialites, which also has tonnes of great songs. Probably works better if you haven’t heard it before. Can’t get enough of In Undertow right now. Has one of those bits that I love where Molly’s voice goes from highish to lowish, taking the song from great to greater.

Speaking of old music that is new to me, Morningside by Fazerdaze is a revelation. It was Lucky Girl that hooked me, but it’s not really representative of the rest of the album. Song after song had me amazed that this was her first album.

Sometime last year I saw a video of Courtney Barnett recommending some albums to Kurt Vile. There may have been more, but the ones I remember were Dick Diver’s Calendar Days and Chastity Belt’s I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone. That album’s opener, Different Now, was the soundtrack to hours and hours of wintery driving in Japan last December. Now Courtney has released a cover of it and, umm, it didn’t do much for me. Maybe the original is too hardwired into my head. I keep waiting for things to happen than don’t. Oh well, it’ll probably turn more people onto Chastity Belt so overall a good thing.

Properly Crispy

Happy to announce that my fear that Recipe Tin Eats’ method of tenderising the pork for sweet and sour pork by marinading it overnight in a sauce containing baking soda either wouldn’t work or would taste strange was unfounded. Super tender, super tasty and super crispy. Total home run!

I can’t speak for the sauce because we used a Japanese one from a packet — that was the flavour we wanted — but I doubt it’d be anything but great.

Gathering Crickets

While playing the main story of Ghost of Tsushima, I tended to ignore all the little collectible things — singing crickets, Mongol artifacts, banners and the like. Basically, anything that didn’t make me a more effective killing machine seemed like a pointless distraction.

Nowadays, things are different. I start each play session by donning the Traveller’s Attire and choosing something to search for. Then I just follow the guiding wind across the countryside, taking out stray bands of mongols and bandits along the way, until I find what I’m looking for. I like that these items don’t appear as icons on the map. There’s no point in using fast travel because you don’t know where you’re heading — just the general direction. It’s very relaxing and peaceful to just walk or ride across the countryside.

The Coffee Dilemma

A note for future me — when at work and faced with the choice between drinking instant coffee or using a couple of paper towels as a make-do coffee filter because you left the filters you bought the day before at home, always always always go for the paper towels even though it takes longer and looks ridiculous. That one cup of instant you had a year ago that you thought was surprisingly good was a one-in-a-million never to be repeated again.

Not Much of a Career

Last night I arrived a little early to pick up my wife from a dinner in Fremantle and parked on the side of the road to wait. While reading on my phone I heard some voices from behind and saw in my rear view mirror someone trying the handle of the car behind me. It took me a little while to realise what was going on and before I knew it my drivers side door was opening. I let out a surprisingly loud and aggressive shout as I pulled it shut and three guys ran off into the night.

I was genuinely surprised at my reaction. I am definitely more a flight than a fight person. I think it was the suddenness with which it happened. There was no time for my brain to get in the way. If they hadn’t run away immediately, I wonder whether I’d have kept up my aggro facade. Happy I didn’t get a chance to find out.

Once my heart had stopped pounding, Billy Bragg’s lines from Welcome to the New Brunette popped into my head.

The people from your church agree
It’s not much of a career
Trying the handles of parked cars
Whoops, there goes another year
Whoops, there goes another pint of beer

Denser Than a Hockey Puck

Will I ever learn? On a whim, I looked up the lyrics for the Malkmus song Old Jerry and the line “Art is denser than a hockey puck” is supposedly “Heart is denser than a hockey puck”. What nonsense! I’m going to continue to sing “Art” as I barrel down the freeway.

Hand in Hand

This was almost certainly unintended, but Shiv’s hand coldly placed on Tom’s as they drove away felt like a negative echo of Mr Darcy touching Ms Bennet’s as he helped her into her carriage.

Skipping Over

I have reached the point with Blue Rev where the songs I used to skip over — Pomeranian Spinster and Tile By Tile among others — are now the ones I skip to.

A bit of a hit around

We’ve been driving past Robertson Park tennis courts for years, thinking we should pop in and give it a go sometime. That feeling gained some impetus when I found out that Steve Malkmus played there when Pavement came to Perth in February. Silly, I know, but still …

Today we finally did it and it was a tonne of fun. It’s been over ten years since I last played tennis, and that was at a house we were staying at down in Yallingup and was very much fuelled and/or hampered by copious amounts of wine, so this was the first sober tennis I’ve played since I was in high school.

It was just $15 an hour and mercifully uncrowded, so our many wayward hits didn’t cause any bother for anyone else. We didn’t actually keep score or anything like that. Our main goal was to keep some kind of a volley going and help each other get the ball over the net. All in all a very good hour.

Just One Cookbook’s Macaroni Gratin

This macaroni gratin is probably the first actually new recipe I’ve made this year. It was a late request on a Sunday, with just enough time to get to the shops.

For ages I’ve shied away from anything vaguely rouxish. I’ve never quite gotten the hang of mixing flour into things properly. But this time was a total success — not even the slightest floury hint.

Net Happiness

It makes me happy to think of the millions of people out there joyously gliding, crafting, cooking, ascending, recalling, fusing, climbing, and all the other things you can do in the new game. If world’s net happiness has been boosted even just a smidge, that’s pretty cool.


While savouring the Roy kids’ final few bouts of sniping and betrayal, I’ve been dipping into the final season of Halt and Catch Fire. I’m struck by the contrast. It builds so much warmth and love for the characters. You really want them to find happiness and feel there’s a good chance they will.

Succession – Spoiled Yet Unspoiled

Having been late to the Succession season 4 party I went into episode 3 knowing what would happen. While I’m sure I would have enjoyed it just a bit more if I had not, the episode was brilliant. It made me think about what I really like about this show. It’s not the events that matter, it’s the reactions to those events — the side glances, the body language, the moments of realisation and, of course, all that wonderful and nasty dialogue. That said, there are a few media sites, both old and new, that could stand to be a tad kinder in their crafting of headlines and URLs.

Switching iPhone Apps with an External Keyboard

Today I started experimenting with using my iPhone with the external Bluetooth keyboard I bought way back when I got my first-generation iPad. It’s been a while since I used it and the batteries (yes, it’s that old) I left in it had begun to rust. A bit of rust on the outer cap was getting in the way of the new batteries making a connection but a bit of scrubbing got it working again.

All in all it was a good experience. It’s a million times faster to type on a proper keyboard than the usual software one. Some apps, such as Ulysses, Bear, and Safari, have very good keyboard shortcut support. Others are very limited.

The biggest surprise is that there’s no easy way to switch apps without enabling full keyboard support in the accessibility settings. Once you do that you can hit Function+Up Arrow to get the usual app switcher that appears on a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. It’s great that full keyboard support exists as it enables all apps to be fully keyboard controllable. Unfortunately, it makes apps that have taken the trouble to support external keyboards slower and more difficult to use.

At the moment it seems like the easiest way to switch apps without having to tap the screen is to hit Command+Space to bring up the search screen, type in the first few letters of the app you want, then press Return when it shows up as the top hit. It’s clunky, especially when you want to switch back and forth between two apps, but is the best way I’ve been able to work out so far.

Salt & Fat’s 707 Fried Chicken

Crispy fried chicken on a plate

A while back I wrote a little about Salt & Fat’s Butter Tomato Sauce setting me on the journey to learning how to cook. That sauce was and is great, but it’s the Summer Babe to 707 Fried Chicken’s Gold Soundz. I’ve made this fried chicken hundreds of times over the years and it’s become our go-to dish whenever we have friends over. If you’re new to deep frying, I’d suggest following Neven’s instructions as closely as possible but there are some parts of my current process that differ from the recipe.

Cutting the Fat

Neven recommends cutting extraneous fat off the chicken. These days I generally don’t bother — partly due to laziness but also to enjoy its crunchy goodness.

Drying the chicken

I’ve used countless paper towels dutifully soaking up as much marinade as I can from the chicken, but I’ve recently stopped. Again, a bit of laziness and it doesn’t seem to make much difference spatter-wise once the chicken is properly covered in potato starch.

Potato Starch

The recipe calls for sweet rice flour, but it’s something I was never able to find in Japan. Instead I use potato starch, which is the go-to starch for deep frying chicken in Japan and is now easy to get in Australia (check out the Asian aisle in Woolworths).

Candy Thermometer

Temperature control is really the key to stress-free deep-frying. My initial attempts at this dish were foiled by cooking in over-hot oil. I have memories of my kids gamely struggling through those charred lumps. Getting a thermometer made all the difference. Although I once bought a candy thermometer I found it difficult to use and read. These days I just use a regular meat thermometer and stick the pointy bit in the oil. You have to hold it for a little while for it to read the heat but it’s not too much of a bother.

The best writing about cooking doesn’t tell you how to make just one thing. It gives you a springboard to explore. Although I still mainly use chicken thighs for this, it’s a great way to fry wings as well. And once you have confidence dealing with hot oil the delights of tonkatsu, spring rolls, and tempura await.

Pavement: Echelon Your dreams

Do I have a favourite Pavement song? I don’t think I do. Some I like more than others, but for the most part my favourite at any moment is the one I’m listening to right then.

But, of course, there are a dozen or so that exist on a level above all the rest. Among them, and the one I most hoped they’d play when they came to Perth was Fillmore Jive, which I’ve never heard live.

And play it they did. It was every bit as huge, soaring, swirling and glorious as I’d dreamt.

Hot Spring Amber

While I was dozing off yesterday in a relaxation chair at a hot spring in the Japanese countryside my brain recognised a slight similarity in the bland piano background music to Dick Diver’s very much not bland song Amber and kept trying to match the lyrics to the music. It would get through a couple of lines of lyrics but then the music would veer off in a different direction, but again and again it kept on trying.

Mastodon – Links and Styles

Of the issues with Mastodon raised by Dave Winer, the ones I’m most interested in are links and styles. It’s baffling to me that in 2023 we’re still looking at raw urls and that although I can insert little emoji as much as I like, I can’t make text italic or bold. These limitations kind of made sense in Twitter’s early days but make none for Mastodon.

Fire Ceremony

Osaka from a distance


If Pressed

He stands by the door, all ready to go — 250 yen in his left pocket, bus fare, and 550 yen in his right, which is for the subway. He knows he should probably get one of those cards that you can just tap through and not have to juggle handfuls of change. If pressed, he’d find it hard to explain why he hasn’t. The bus he had hoped to be on passes.

Tied Fortunes

Calendar Days is Back

I made it through a week or so without having Calendar Days playing on repeat in my head.

It’s back now, especially the verse that goes “There’s a kind of quiet. A fighter jet’s applause. They’re all saw toothed fragments. Scattered in an empty hall.”

The Phone Disguised

Despite the valiant attempt to disguise it, nothing can hide the futuristic technology lurking with this box plonked down randomly in the Sumiyoshi Taisha grounds.

It’s trying to fit in with this, so it’s a kind of high bar.

Early January Photos

House vs Plant

Sumiyoshi Park in the evening

The platonic ideal of a cheeseburger

Sumiyoshi Lantern at dusk

Chiaki waiting at the station

New Years Eve Day

Sliding Doors and Blazing Flames

One week into my Japan trip and I have not done much at all — lots of cleaning, spending time with family, eating and drinking — which is pretty much how I planned to spend the first week.

Shoji – work in progress

Probably the biggest home task I took care of was renewing all the shoji paper for our sliding doors and windows. It’s a fairly time consuming task that involves removing all the old paper, cleaning the frames then gluing new paper to them. I messed up the first one by getting the paper alignment wrong, but soon got in the swing of things. It’s not fun exactly but it is quietly satisfying.

A Japanese shrine at night with a fire blazing to the left.

We live in walking distance of Ishikiri Shrine, one of the major shrines in Osaka and our usual destination for our new year visit. Unfortunately, thousands of other people also head there. This year we gave it a miss on new year’s eve and went to a much smaller shrine closer to home. It was cool and laidback and the blazing fires were nicer to watch than anything at the big shrine.

Locational Connections

I used to be very into audiobooks. I mostly listened to them while taking walks around the neighbourhood. It has been yonks since I listened to an audiobook. Not for any particular reason — just a thing that happened. Same thing for podcasts.

I have very clear locational connections between certain places in my neighbourhood and books I listened to well over a decade ago. Whenever I pass them, the voices of the narrators bubble up in my head. A corner I used to round on my way to work still puts me in mind of Dune. A temple a little up the mountain reminds me of Ender’s Game. And then there’s the park in the pictures here. This is totally the Pattern Recognition park. Walking there today, so much came came back to me — the Footage, Cayce’s Buzz Rickson jacket and the filed-down buttons on her Levis.

Fast Tracks and Face Masks

The other day I arrived back in Japan after three years away. After having closed its doors to foreign tourists for so long Japan is really keen to get people back here. You still have to show you’ve been triple vaccinated or have passed a recent PCR test but it seems like they’ve tried to make the process as easy as possible. Before you fly out you can upload your vaccination and PCR test information online so you only need to show a QR code when you get to Japan.

It’s a good idea to take screenshots of the three QR codes you need before leaving so you don’t have to mess about with the web app when you arrive. If you do that, though, make sure to include your name in the screenshot. Mine was cut out of the vaccination screenshot so I ended up having to show a paper copy of my vaccination certificate anyway. It didn’t take more than a minute, but I was on a flight that arrives to fairly early in the morning so didn’t have to wait at all. Your milage may vary.

To make things even smoother, they now let you fill in your disembarkation cards and quarantine questionnaires at the same time. So instead of scribbling answers on a terribly spaced Little form on a wobbly aeroplane table you can do it all beforehand and just show them the QR code. I really hope other countries, Australia especially, adopt some kind of online quarantine questionnaire. Having to fill out those forms while I’m in the air is one of the things I least like about travelling abroad.

Masks! Everyone is masked all the time. That wasn’t unexpected but still a bit of a shock at first, having come from Perth, where people mostly stopped wearing them when the mandates were lifted. It’s not just inside either. People wear masks even outside walking down the street by themselves. In just two days I’ve seen many people driving cars by themselves but still wearing a mask. Aside from the protection, both to yourself and others, masks have the benefit of helping to keep your face a little bit warmer in the chilly winter.

Tricky Cake

A rectangular slice of what appears to be some kind of coffee sponge cake with a coffee bean on top. There are three layers with a layer of coffee cream in between.

It was over ten years ago, but I still clearly remember the night I came home from work and was offered this delicious looking coffee spongecake. I spent a good long while trying to cut off a piece with my chopsticks. It was only when I saw the chopsticks bend that I realised that this was no ordinary cake or, in fact, a cake at all. Top marks to my wife and daughters for keeping a straight face throughout my struggles.

Ghost of Tsushima – Welcome to Iki Island

I’ve started playing Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island expansion. I’m playing it differently than I did the main Tsushima campaign. This time, whenever I see a golden bird flutter overhead, I follow it and find out where it leads instead of just rushing on to the next objective in the story. Ignoring them previously let me to miss many shrines, hot springs and chances to compose haiku. Following the birds, and exploring the question marks that pop up on the map has led to a much richer experience.

I love that Iki Island is a lush and colourful place. So much of the second part of ghost of Tsushima took place in its wintry north, which was decidedly less attractive than the autumnal hues of the first part.

I’m still battling through on medium level difficulty even though it quite often ends up with me dead. It’s character building, I suppose.

Blue Badges

Continuing my tradition of absolutely not seeing what was coming — I remember thinking that the word “blog” would never catch on and that nobody would put up with seeing ads in their Instagram feed — I am baffled to see Twitter’s blue badge being positioned as the cornerstone of their subscription efforts. I could easily see paying to avoid ads or being able to make edits to tweets, but to get a badge next to your username? Not so much.

Salt & Fat’s Butter Tomato Sauce

The day ten years ago this recipe for tomato-butter sauce was posted on Salt & Fat was the day I started to cook. Until then I had prepared plenty of food and certainly thought that I had been cooking, but all I had really been doing was warming a few disparate ingredients enough to be edible and adding a bunch of salt at the end.

This, however, was the first time I had taken a few ingredients — tomatoes, an onion, salt and butter — and created something that tasted entirely different. I still remember the jolt I got from my first taste of this sweet, salty, jammy sauce. It was like alchemy.

Salt & Fat is a blog by Neven Mrgan and Jim Ray that ran from 2010 to 2014. It’s been on hiatus for a few years, but its archives are a treasure trove of ideas that massively expanded my food world. Food is food, after all, so it’s not as though any of this is going to go out of date anytime soon. A few highlights off the top of my head are —

That last one is for boiled potatoes, and is a particular favourite. Nothing could be simpler, but few things are as tasty in their simplicity. I no longer make any of these exactly as described, but I use the techniques described every single day.

Missing Japanese Input Sources

I ran into an unusual Mac OS bug this morning. I hit the kana key to type an address in Japanese, but it came out in romaji. I hit it again — same thing. When I looked in the input menu, I saw that all the Japanese and Korean input options had disappeared. I attempted to add them again in system preferences but they didn’t appear as choices. The Chinese options were also missing. Oddly, when I logged into another user account on the same machine, everything was where it should be. Multiple restarts did nothing, nor did changing my main language to Japanese.

I finally found a mention of something similar relating to High Sierra in a blog post that recommended doing a safe boot to set things right.

I tried it and it worked. Phew! I have no idea what triggered it, though.

Not Quite My Own C64

My first computer was a Commodore 64. Way before I had my own though, I had access to one at the local public computer lab—aka, K-Mart. The local library had a few C64 magazines full of BASIC programs ready to be typed out, but magazines, for some reason, could not be loaned. I can’t clearly remember, but I think there was also a rule against them being photocopied. Otherwise why would I, as I clearly remember, have spent hours copying these programs by hand into an exercise book? Maybe I just didn’t have enough money.

After I’d got one down and more or less checked, I rode my embarrassingly non-BMX bike to K-Mart, where I stood for hours typing away on the display machine. It seems strange now, but I don’t remember anyone ever asking me to move on or stop what I was doing. The majority of the programs I tried out threw up a SYNTAX ERROR, caused either by my hunt-and-bash typing, poor copying, or the frequent flaws in the magazine text.

Sometimes, though, they worked, and when they did it was like hitting a home run. I had no way to save these programs, though, so when I was done I had no choice but to just walk away, leaving them to be wiped when the power was shut off for the night.


Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is one of my favourite short stories. Its centrepiece is a meticulous description of the protagonist’s self-dissection of his own brain. It’s a mechanical being (although the word mechanical seems too crude) so rather than blood and bone, it’s an assemblage of intricate mechanisms. Reading it takes some concentration — you really have to pay attention to each word and try to hold the image in your head as each detail is added — but it’s well worth the the effort.

When I was done, my brain looked like an explosion frozen an infinitesimal fraction of a second after the detonation, and again I felt dizzy when I thought about it. But at last the cognition engine itself was exposed, supported on a pillar of hoses and actuating rods leading down into my torso. I now also had room to rotate my microscope around a full three hundred and sixty degrees and pass my gaze across the inner faces of the subassemblies I had moved. What I saw was a microcosm of auric machinery, a landscape of tiny spinning rotors and miniature reciprocating cylinders.

You can find the story online at the Night Shade Books site, or in Chiang’s recent collection, also called Exhalation.