Saturday, March 29, 2003

The joys of marketing

Well, I received a frequent flier statement from Qantas today. It included a section at the bottom telling me that I would no longer be receiving statements in the mail.

As part of our ongoing commitment to provide better service to our members ...... bronze members outside Australia and New Zealand who currently receive a paper statement and newsletter will be sent their last mailing in May 2003

The message is that we should use the website instead. Okay, that's fine. I have been using the website to find out my frequent flier balance, book flights, et cetera for years. The paper statements are of little use to me. But still, telling me that they are being eliminated as part of their plans for improving customer service is probably a bit much, particularly given that their Gold and Silver frequent flier members are not getting their service "improved" in this way. Obviously they are cutting it out to save money. It would be nice if they would just say so.

Friday, March 28, 2003

In Australia, our five year old girls don't take any shit

(The Times, March 28, 2003)
And why do they always feature dead cats?

Why is it that the really sick examples of Flash animation always have something to do with Japan?

(via James Russell).

(Note: If you haven't ever watched the legendary Kikkoman animation, you really must).

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Programming in Poland, and the end of Moore's law

Brian Micklethwait has a very interesting piece entitled "The Polish Software Miracle", which discusses just why so many smart and capable programmers and technical people have come and are coming out of Poland. I will add that it isn't just Poland: there are Russian, Bulgarian, and other nationalities in there as well. (The Slavic computer expert with an accent like Count Dracula who knows things about Unix that the rest of us cannot imagine and who we suspect may want to take over the world is something of a cliche in the IT world, and is parodied hilariously in the character of Pitr in the User Friendly comic strip). But I am digressing. There was one particular point that Brian made that I wanted to address.

It so happens that I have a tiny moment of experience of these people, because I visited Warsaw in 1986, where I was supposed to collect information about the computer hardware needs of the Polish political underground. I was as completely out of my depth as I have ever been in my life. Talk about level of incompetence. These guys knew more then about computers than I will ever know.

I don't believe it mattered, because the message I took back to London was very simple. Just send us anything you can, they said. Whatever you send, we'll get it working, they said.

So I learned then of the nascent Polish computer software miracle, and I also learned the reason for it. At that time, computer hardware in places like London was rocketing forward, leaping ahead in power, plunging in price, much as it has been doing ever since. Not so in Poland. Hardware there was called "hardware" because it was so hard to come by, and once you got your hands on a computer, you made it do things scarcely dreamed of outside Silicon Valley. If you were Polish in 1986, for example, you made a laser printer print out the Polish alphabet. Only God and the Poles knew how you made that happen, then, if the thing wouldn't do it already. Thus the Eastern European software miracle. These guys were and still are largely self-taught.

By the mid 1970s, the computer industry and computer science were quite advanced. Mainframe and minicomputers had substantial amounts of memory, ran sophisticated operating systems and were programmed with high level languages. Then, in Silicon Valley and Texas in the mid 1970s, the microcomputer was invented. Although these were real computers, compared to the state of the art in the minicomputer and mainframe world, these things were incredibly unsophisticated. They had very small amounts of computer power, tiny amounts of memory, no hard discs or anything similar, and they lacked the power to run anything but the simplest of operating systems or languages.

To get microcomputers to do anything useful, it was necessary for programmers to gain a profound understanding of how the computers worked and were designed. It was also necessary to learn how to program incredibly efficiently and write extraordinarily tight code.

And people did this. They got these computers that were incredibly lacking in power to do things that their manufacturers would never have imagined. Remarkably, if you have to it is possible to write a word processor that runs in three kilobytes of memory, or quite sophisticated games that run in even less. Some of the software that was developed was extraordinary. The way in which such software was developed was different from the way in which the minicomputer and mainframe world developed software at the time, which had become a larger scale industrial process. (I suspect that there was a similar "guru" period at the beginnings of the mainframe and mini industries too, but I do not know very much about this).

This world did not last long. Moore's Law worked its magic, and microcomputers became twice as powerful every 18 months. One consequence of this is that there was less need for efficiency. If you wrote a program inefficiently today, that ran slowly and used the absolute limits of today's hardware, then within a very short while the computers running it would be so much more powerful that it would run quickly on the new generation of hardware, regardless of how inefficiently it worked. You didn't have to find ways of making programs more efficient, because there were always more resources today than yesterday. Moore's law means that programmers no longer needed to be smart. And as a consequence they weren't What is known as "software bloat" occurred. New versions of the same software than in a previous version used up ten kilobytes of memory used up ten magabytes. They may have run twice as slowly as the old version, but as the user's computer was four times as fast, there was still at least some illusion that progress was being made. I am not sure this is necessarily a good trend. One consequence is that nobody studies the old code, and nobody figures out where it is inefficient and why, and as a consequence programs are often buggy and less stable. If your resources are precious, then you cannot afford for there to be anything in the program that the programmer does not understand.

This is what happens when hardware is plentiful. In Poland, and in the rest of the Eastern bloc, hardware was scarce. People had to write code themselves, and if they wanted to add new features, they probably had to take old features away to make space. If they wanted the computer to do things that it was not designed to, they had to get extremely close to the machine to do so. What does this lead to? Really good programmers, but unconventional programmers who do not do it the way people are ever taught to do it. Something very similar to what came into being in the 1970s when microcomputers were first invented. And something quite similar to what like also came into existence in the 1940s and 1950s. In recent months and years, something similar has been the case with software for cellphones, which have far less computer power than do PCs. (Interestingly, some of the extremely efficient software from 1970s and early 1980s - mostly games - has actually been recycled for use on cellphones).

In the last five years, there has been a slight slowdown in this trend. This is not because Moore's law has stopped, but is because the key factor determining speed for most PC applications has ceased being the power of the CPU or the amount of memory, but has instead become the speed of the internet connection. A five year old computer is generally fine for most internet applications, because the speed of the average internet connection, although faster than it was five years ago, is not that much faster than it was five years ago. Rather than buying a new PC every two years, people are now buying a new PC every three or four years. (In addition, the average cost of PCs sold has dropped dramatically, whereas previously prices had stayed about the same and power had increased. People are aware they do not need the latest state of the art CPU, and are thus buying computers further from the cutting edge). Because of this, software companies are no longer as able to assume that everyone will have more power and memory next year, and I think that the average quality of software has improved because of this. Certainly the latest versions of Microsoft Windows are more efficient, more stable, and less bloated than was the case a few years back. And I think what I have just explained is a factor in this.

But this is a temporary setback. At some point in the next few years I think we will go back to upgrading at the same speed as Moore's Law. Moore's Law looks like it will continue for at least a couple of decades, and the ingenuity of hardware engineers may ensure that it goes further than that, but the laws of physics do put finite limits on how far it can go. At some point it must stop. When it does, programmers will no longer be able to rely on next year's computers being faster and having more memory than this year's and will instead have to face the fact that improving efficiency and intelligence is the only way to improve their products and develop new applications. The first way they will do this is by cutting through fifty years of software bloat. And that will be a lot. They will have to make their programs cleverer and smarter. They will have to understand their hardware better. We will be back to another version of Poland in the 1980s. It will not be quite the same, because the speeds and amounts of memory being worked with will be greater by a factor with a great many extra zeros on the end, but it will still be something similar. And it will certainly be an interesting time. However, it is still at least a few decades away.
Quote of the day


"Umm Qasr is a town similar to Southampton", UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday. "He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr", said one British soldier, informed of this while on patrol in Umm Qasr. Another added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."

(via William Gibson).

Well, the last time I was in Portsmouth, I had just arrived on the ferry from Cherbourg, and I had missed the last train back to London, so I had to spend five hours outside due to being unable to find any pub, cafe, or establishment of any other kind that was open all night. Last time I was in Southampton, I spent several hours in a very nice pub with a couple of friends of mine drinking excellent real ale. I personally vote for Southampton too. (I haven't been to Umm Qasr, though).
More things that really aren't that surprising

It just goes on and on. The Australian cameraman who was killed in Iraq last week was killed by a fanatical Saudi suicide bomber. When can we take on that wretched festering sore of a country?

I have had the worst migraine of my life today, which was utterly hideous. Hence the lack of blogging. I am now okay, although I am still feeling a little weak. I will likely have something up in the next couple of hours.

All that said, I suspect blogging shall be lighter than usual over the next few weeks. I am making a concerted effort to leave the ranks of unemployed bloggers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003


I have added Transport Blog to my blogroll. Since I write for it, I have put it at the top. (Also, I have a new post over there, this one on twin engined airliners and what routes they are allowed to fly). Otherwise, my blogroll is simply in the chronological order in which I added the entries.
Post-modern warfare

Unsurprisingly, the British television coverage of the war only occasionally shows what the Australian contingent are doing. For one thing, the Australian contingent isn't all that large, and for another, the British coverage has understandably focused more on the British contingent. However, yesterday they showed some Australian divers diving into the water at Umm Qasr as part of the operation to remove mines from the water so that the port can be reopened and used for supplying troops and humanitarian aid. With these divers, they showed that "specially trained dolphins" were using their sonar to aid the search for mines. What the report didn't saw was whether these dolphins were part of the Australian team, or had come from somewhere else. It would make me proud to know that Australia's dolphins are helping out.

Update: Several people have pointed out that these are US naval dolphins based in San Diego. I also read in the Times today that a dolphin named Takoma has swum off into the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Takoma, the Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, had been in Iraq for 48 hours when he went missing on his first operation to snoop out mines.

His handler, Petty Officer Taylor Whitaker, had proudly showed off Takoma’s skills and told how the 22-year-old dolphin was among the most pampered creatures in the American military.

Takoma and his fellow mine hunters have a special diet, regular medical checks and their own sleeping quarters, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of the military whose domestic arrangements are basic, to say the least.

The wayward Takoma set out on the first mission with his comrade, Makai, watched by the cameras as the pair of dolphins somersaulted over the inflatable dinghy carrying their handlers.

Takoma’s role was to sweep the way clear for the arrival of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Sir Galahad. US officials had said that dolphins, first used in Vietnam, were a far better bet than all the technology on board the flotilla of ships.

Petty Officer Whitaker had tempted fate by saying: “Why would they go missing when they have the best food and daily spruce-ups and health checks?” Two hours later Takoma had gone Awol. “Twenty-four hours is not unusual,” a nervous Petty Officer Whitaker said. “After all, he may meet some local company.”

Takoma has now been missing for 48 hours and the solitary figure of Petty Officer Whitaker could be seen yesterday patting the water, calling his name and offering his favourite fish, but there was no response.

I don't know about him, but I think I might have waited until I was back in San Diego, as swimming off into the Pacific somehow seems more appealing. On the other hand, perhaps Takoma got depressed because he had no idea how long the war would go for, and swam off while he could.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Back to my normal programming

This article (via slashdot) discusses the fact that the world's first 20 inch colour screen based on Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) is about to go into production. This is a large WXGA (1280x1024) colour screen, good for laptops or other applications such as flat screen televisions. This is quite exciting.

But what does this mean? Well, as I have mentioned before, flat panel displays presently come in two types. The most common are Liquid Crystal Displays, such as those on laptops, mobile phones, and flat panel televisions with smaller screens. These consist of arrays of pixels, each made of a material that varies from being transparent to opaque depending on the size of the electrical voltage you apply to it. Each of these pixels has a red, green, or blue filter placed over it, and a light is shone from behind the screen. Therefore it is possible for any image in any combination of colours to appear on the screen. These screens are strong and robust, and have very stable images, making them excellent for computer screens. However, for televisions they leave a little to be desired, for several reasons.

Firstly, LCD displays are an example what are called transmissive displays. This means that the light coming from the front of the screen is not being generated by screen itself, but is being shown from behind the screen and through the screen. Transmissive displays have two problems. They have limited viewing angles - meaning that they are best viewed from directly in front of the screen rather than from one side. They are not all that bright, and these types of screen are not very good in environments where there is a lot of background light. (Rear projection televisions, which were the most common type of large screen set until recently, are also a transmissive display, and also have both of these problems). These problems can be reduced by making the screen itself as thin as possible,LCD displays specifically have another problem, which is that they have slow response times. Rapid moving action on LCD screens tends to blur.

None of these problems are huge issues for computer screens, which we look at from straight in front and on which we generally do watch fast moving action. (The exceptions are when we watch DVDs on out laptops, and when we play games). For this reason, and due to the fact that billions of dollars have been spent on designing LCD screens that are both thiner and which have faster response times, LCD screens have been moving from merely being used on laptops to being used on many desktop PCs as well. (The exception is high end gaming machines, for which LCD resonse times are still clearly too slow). There has also been a move towards producing LCD based flat panel television screens for domestic use, but these leave something to be desired.

These are one of two common flat panel technologies for television screens. The other is plasma displays. A plasma display essentially consists of a large number of tiny neon lights, in a mixture of red, green, and blue, each of which is controlled individually. Together they can produce a picture. Plasma displays (like conventional CRT televisions) are an emissive display. The light is actually generated on the surface of the display. These are very bright, can be viewed from any angle, and have fast response times. However, it is not possible to build individual display elements below a certain size. This means that images on plasma screens are often a little grainy, and that plasma screens cannot be made less than about 32 inches in diagonal. Also, plasma displays are very heavy, fragile, and use a lot of power, whereas LCD displays are light, robust, and use relatively little power.

Therefore, the flat panel display market presently consists of two technologies. LCD is predominant for displays up to about 30 inches (although the largest in existence is 40 inches) and plasma is predominant for screens from about 40 inches (although the smallest is 32 inches), with some overlap between 30 and 40 inches.

What would be good is another display technology that is emissive and hence bright and can be viewed from any angle, uses low power consumption, allows small pixels and so does not lead to grainy displays, and is not heavy and not fragile. OLEDs may potentially be able to fill this niche. The little flashing lights on the front of your computer are Light Emitting Diodes (LED), but these are solid state light emitting diodes made from semiconductors like Gallium Arsenide and Gallium Nitride. These cannot be made very small, and so are only useful for making very large screens. (However, they have revolutionised the technology behind very large screens like stadium scoreboards). However, it turns out that it is also possible to make LEDs out of organic molecules - that is those consisting of chains of carbon atoms. If this can be done, these can be used for building screens These can be much smaller than conventional LEDs, and a great deal of effort has been spent on developing them to the level where an array of them can be put together to create a screen. Conceivably, OLED displays will lack virtually all of the limitations of LCDs and plasma displays, and if they fulfil their potential they will probably supersede both.

This is why the article I quote at the start of the post is so interesting. Apparently Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corporation or Taiwan in collaboration with IBM Japan have actually done this, and they have a 20 inch OLED display on the market. I haven't actually physically seen one of these, but it would be interesting to do so. Still, it sounds good. What is also interesting is that the large keiretsu based Japanese consumer electronics companies like Toshiba and Hitachi are again absent. (Sharp and Seiko Epson appear to be doing work in the area though - these companies also pioneered LCDs 25 years ago). This new development is another invention of the parallel consumer electronics industry that has sprung up in Taiwan, Korea, and southern coastal China (with American expertise) initially to provide low cost components essentially for the PC industry but which has subsequently broadened.

In any event, this is big news. You are going to see OLED displays everywhere within a small number of years. (For a little more information on OLEDs, there is quite a good article here).
Would you want to serve in the navy on a "Bob Hope" class ship?

The US military has traditionally bought its weapons from a number of enormous military contractors. Contracts involved huge amounts of money, and the contractor that got the contract often depended more on the influence of the senators in the particular states in which the contractors were based then on whether the contractor had the best bid, or whether it was likely to go over budget or not. Components were built to so called milspecs - military specifications that were not the same as the specifications of similar civilian products. The companies that arose to fulfil this market are not always all that nimble, although this varies from company to company.

This is not too bad when the number of components are relatively small, or the production runs are relatively large. However, it fits less well in the modern tech economy, in which the fixed costs of developing products (or components) are enormous, and the marginal costs of producing units are close to zero, and in which products are assembled from an enormous variety of off the shelf components. This article talks about the new generation of companies that are working as defence contactors to build modern high tech weapons. The companies mentioned in the article turn out to not be quite as small and nimble as you think they are when you start reading: they are perhaps only small and nimble compared to the defence contractors that came before (and some of the companies mentioned are in fact spinoffs of the companies that came before), but there is still a definite trend here.

As a caveat though, NASA was traditionally essentially a spinoff of the military, and it traditionally did business with the same defence contractors as the Pentagon. A few years ago, it decided to change its way of thinking: rather than inventing everything from scratch, its unmanned space probes were to adopt a philosophy of "Better, Faster, Cheaper", in which they were to be assembled from off the shelf components. This has had mixed success. Once or twice a mission designed this way has gone spectacularly right (Mars Pathfinder for instance) but in a lot of cases things have gone wrong. In order to make missions cheaper and get the most bang for the buck, one thing that has been done without has been proper testing. While there is nothing wrong with using off the shelf components in principle, NASA's institutional structure did not cope with this change very well. I suspect there are similar questions about the Pentagon's ability to cope with similar changes. That said, the Pentagon is far less besieged than NASA, and I doubt that such things as shirking on testing have gone on there, certainly not since September 11.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Fun with referral logs

This site comes in at number six on Google for "Picture of a decayed banana". Great.
Oscar Wrap Up

Okay, just a quick overview. I didn't manage to blog what was happening because I was too tired, but I did watch it. On the whole the Oscar show was pretty restrained. A few people wore anti-war badges, and a lot of women wore black, but the most commonly expressed political sentiment was the very uncontroversial wish that the business in Iraq will end quickly and with minimal loss of life, and that American servicemen can come home safely and quickly. The two exceptions were Michael Moore's speech upon winning Best Documentary Feature, and Pedro Almodovar's speech upon winning Best Original Screenplay. Almodovar gave a relatively restrained antiwar speech, and Michael Moore was anything but restrained. (More on this later).

Thoughts on the winners. I did not do a very good job of prediction, getting only two of the top eight categories, although most of them fell into my possibles. When Chicago won for Art Direction, I started to think we would get a Chicago landslide, but this didn't eventuate. In the four acting categories, we got Nicole Kidman (good, and my pick, but not my choice), Adrien Brody (very good, and nobody predicted it - his speech was also the best of the night), Catherine Zeta-Jones (definitely not my pick, but still not an embarassment), and Chris Cooper (good, although I thought it might go to Christopher Walken at the lat minute). Screenplay awards went to The Pianist and Talk to Her.

The Pianist was clearly doing well, but I was amazed when Roman Polanski won for Best Director. Not that he didn't deserve it, but because of the certain infamy that the man has. (This is someone who was unable to attend because he would be arrested if he tried it). Given that I thought that this one would be much harder for The Pianist than Best Picture, I thought for a moment that The Pianist might be about to pick up that, too. However, Chicago got that. There has been a little bit of a tendency in recent years to give Best Picture to a "light" film and Best Director to something more "serious", and this followed that pattern again. (Previous examples: Shakespeare in Love and Gladiator for Best Picture, but Stephen Soderbergh for Traffic and Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan for Best Director). Martin Scorsese lost after a very dirty campaign waged for him by Harvey Weinstein, but managed to look absolutely delighted that Roman Polanski won. It must be just how much Scorsese loves the movies, I think. A great filmmaker who should have won a long time ago won the award after making a spectacular return to form. Scorsese's film on the other hand was one of his lesser ones, and he probably knows it. (I might compare this with the reaction of Ridley Scott a couple of years ago after losing for Gladiator who looked really disappointed. He wasn't ungracious. He just looked really disappointed).

In other categories, a suprisingly large number of things were got right. Miyazaki won Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away. Polanski won. And, amazingly, Eminem won Best Original Song for Lose Yourself from 8 Mile. The academy recognised anime and hip-hop. This is great.

Normally, the five nominees for Best Original Song are performed at the Academy Award ceremony. The producers try hard to get the people who performed the original songs to also perform them on the evening, and they usually get three or four out of five. (The performers are not necessarily the nominees, because the award goes to the songwriters). They get some quite famous people, and last night we had U2 and Paul Simon. For any songs for which they cannot get the original performers, they get a ring in, often someone like Faith Hill or Celine Dion. However, this presented a problem with Eminem, because he announced months ago that he would not attend. There was some speculation about who the academy would get to perform Lose Yourself, but is seems they ultimately decided that nobody but Eminem could do it properly, so they chose nobody. And given the conservatism of the academy, nobody expected Eminem to win. But he did. I am delighted he did, because it is a terrific song, and it was integral to the film. It was great to see Babra Streisand open the envelope, look at the winner, and go "whoa", too. His co-songwriter Luis Resto accepted the award, and demonstrated that if you are a nominee, you can in fact be admitted to the oscars wearing casual clothing. (The creators of South Park demonstrated a few years back that if you are nominees, you can get in in drag, too). Resto also had to climb over John Williams to get to the aisle in order to walk to the stage and accept the award. People who are expected to win normally are placed in positions where getting to the stage will be relatively easy. Not him.

Other brief thoughts are that despite Peter O'Toole's initial reluctance to receive a lifetime achievement award, he attended and gave a very gracious speech. His introduction, given by Meryl Streep, was also terrific, and my compliments to whoever wrote it.

Moore got applause when he got up to accept, a bit of a cheer when he started off, and then the booing got louder and louder as he started referring to Mr Bush as a "fictitious president who won a fictitious election" and attacking the war effort. The people booing clearly overwhelmed the people cheering. (Steve Martin then made a joke about the Teamsters outside having assisted Mr Moore into the trunk of his limousine). Moore was immediately followed by Jack Valenti to award Best Documentary short.. There is someone who I really would have liked to have booed.
World Cup final wrap up

Sorry for the delay on this. I spent some time paying too much attention to the oscars, and I also have had a Blogger problem or two. (I have had to write this entire post twice. Grrrr).

In any event, the final. I went and watched this in the Walkabout pub Shepherd's Bush. On the Hammersmith and City line from Hammersmith, I met up with a groupt of Australians going to the same place. I said hello, and we talked about the match, and I predicted an easy Australian victory. I said I thought Australia would score 280, and India about 180. I also said that I thought that Ponting was due a big innings, and the conditions in Johannesburg (unlike Port Elizabeth) would suit him. One of the other Australians said loudly that Ponting was just a bloody Tasmanian, and nothing should be expected from him.

In any event, I reached the pub. I was a little late, and five overs had been bowled. Indian capain Ganguly had sent Australia in, and they had scored 38 runs off five overs. Gilchrist continued hitting the ball around the ground and to and over the boundary.

This went on smoothly until the 14th over. Harbhajan Singh bowled the first ball to Gilchrist. There was a deflection, a noise, the ball went to slip and Ganguly claimed a catch. The umpire gave it not out. The replay showed that the ball missed the bad, deflected off the thigh, and then bounced before Ganguly caught it. Clearly it was not out, and clearly Ganguly knew this. Extremely poor sportsmanship, particularly considering the extremely good sportsmanship from Gilchrist in walking against Sri Lanka. Gilchrist on that occasion announced it was time we starting taking people's word about whether they took catches and the like. By today's evidence, Gilchrist is some distance from reality, sadly. People who criticised his decision to walk against Sri Lanka will use this as justification for their arguments, sadly.

Gilchrist was rattled by this, and got a bit of a rush of blood to the head and attempted to hit Harbhajan out of the ground. He gave a chance off the fifth ball of the over, and was caught going for a big swing and hitting it up in the air off the last ball of the over. 1/105 off 14 overs. A great start, none the less.

Australia then lost Hayden in the 20th over off Harbhajan Singh. 2/125 off 19.5. At that point, Martyn joined Ponting. At first, Ponting looked a little out of sorts, and Martyn looked in form. The two pushed the run rate at about a run a ball, scoring 100 runs off about 17 overs, to take the score to 2/226 off 38 overs. Martyn at this point had scored 56 off 58 balls and Ponting 49 off 72, with only one four. At this point, it was time to boost the scoring rate. And Ponting suddenly, and amazingly found his touch, and started hitting enormous sixes. By over 44, he had hit five of them, and he had taken his score to 95 not out off 98 balls. (Martyn at this point was on 71 off 70). Ponting then slowed down for an over or two, in order to make sure he completed the century. Clearly, a century in a World Cup final as captain was very important to him. Upon getting the century, he started up again, and ended up with 140 not out with eight sixes and four fours off 121 balls. Martyn managed 88 not out off 84 balls, with eight fours and one six. He would no doubt have also liked a century in a World Cup final, but Ponting had most of the strike in the last ten overs. All in all, Australia managed an amazing 2/359
off their 50 overs, their best ever score in a one day international. At this point, the match was close to over. India needed to do something miraculous to win. Even if Tendulkar played at his best, this was very likely too many runs.

I had written repeatedly before the match that the duel between McGrath and Tendulkar would be crucial to the match. However, it only lasted five balls. Tendulkar pulled the fourth ball of the innings for a cracking four, and then hit the next ball up in the air when attempting to repeat the shot, but misjudging it. McGrath took the catch off his own bowling. Ganguly then came in and joined Sehwag, and Sehwag went for the bowling. After about 10 overs, the clouds appeared to be closing in. There was a discussion of what rain would mean. In a sane world, the mach would simply continue the next day, but for some reason the ICC cannot give this to us. We have to have a situation where the Duckworth-Lewis rule is used if we get between 25 and 50 overs, the match is replayed if we get rain before 25 overs but play is possible tthe next day, and the match continues the day after that if we get less than 25 overs today, but tomorrow is a complete washout. As to why the rules have to be this complex, I do not know. The commentators announced around the 10 over mark that in the event of a 25 over match, India would need 1/135 off the 25 overs to be declared the winner. There has been discussion of this elsewhere, and I have said my piece there. I do not think was as easy a target as some people do. What happened in the event was the Lee got Ganguly and McGrath got Kaif, to reduce the score to 3/59 off 10.3 overs, which would have made the required target (a lot) higher. And the loss of more wickets in chasing such a target was almost certain to happen, which is why it was not as unfair as it seemed to some people. After 17 overs, India were 3/103, with Sehwag still batting extremely well. The players went off due to rain for 30 minutes, but the game resumed with no loss of overs. Sehwag continued batting well, until Lehmann ran him out brilliantly for 82 off 81 balls.

This came in the middle of a period in which Australia somewhat oddly lost the plot a little in the field. They don't often do this: their fielding is normally superb. Ponting missed a difficult catch at slip, and Hogg missed another difficult one at point. There was no shame in either of these, but Australia often do take great catches. Then, Martyn missed a sitter at midwicket and Symonds missed a relatively easy one at mid on. Not like the Australians at all, and in the end only temporary. Dravid was bowled by Bichel, and after being given a number of chances, Yuvraj Singh was well caught by Brett Lee and Mongia was caught by an absolute blinder of a catch by Martyn, redeeming himself. This took the score to 7/209 off 35.2. At this point, Australia were home, and it was just a matter of wrapping it up.

Back in my world, at this point someone came up to me and said hello. It was one of the people I had met on the train that morning. Apparently he was a Tasmanian and his mates had been taking the piss with him for being a Tasmanian when I had joined their conversation. I had inadvertently taken his side by praising Ponting. This guy shook my hand and complimented me on my good call. Oddly, while Ponting is a Tasmanian, he lives in my home town of Wollongong as his girlfriend or wife (I forget which) is studying at the university there (of which I am myself a graduate), so there is some sort of a connection there, as well).

Back in the match, Symonds got another wicket with his next over, and then Ponting brought Lee and McGrath back, and they finished things off, getting India out for 234 off 39.2 overs. Australia won by 125 runs, winning the World Cup for the third time.

Oddly, though, I wasn't that impressed with Ponting's captaincy in the field. Admittedly, when you are defending 359 you do not have to do that much in the field, but I think he got his bowlers muddled up a little. If this Australian.side has a weakness, it is the lack of a good all rounder. Australia play four specialist bowlers (Hogg, McGrath, Lee, and Bichel) and they have to then make up ten overs from Symonds, Lehmann, Ponting, Martyn, etc. A key test of Ponting's captaincy skills is whether he can get 10 overs out of this lot without conceding too many runs. Yesterday he had Lehmann bowl one very expensive over early, which Sehwag hit all over the place, and then went back to his specialists, bowling out Bichel and Hogg. He therefore found himself at the end of 35 overs still needing nine from his part time bowlers. This compelled him to bowl Symonds from one end and Lehmann from the other. As it happened, Symonds was successful, and a fair few wickets had fallen by that point anyway, so he did not end up needing a full ten overs from the part timers. However, if say Sehwag and Dravid had still been batting, we would have one of those periods where the fielding captain has no option but to keep feeding easy bowling to good, set batsmen. (This happened in New Zealand's game against Australia when Bond finished bowling, for instance). Ponting needed to get through at least three or four more overs from his part timers prior to 35 overs, but he didn't. Ponting would no doubt say that if the wickets had not fallen he would have done things differently, or that given the size of the Australian score it didn't matter, but I don't quite see it that way. As I can see it, Ponting made an error. I cannot see Steve Waugh making the same error. (Waugh was always very imaginative in his bowling changes. Ponting is more predictable).

Still, an absolutely great performance by the Australians. They win two World Cups in a row, and become the first side to win three in all. They will be very pleased with the way in which they won ever game, and in particular with how they won in Port Elizabeth in tricky situations that did not suit them. It was particularly impressive that after they lost some of their top players either temporarily or permanently, the less well rated players like Symonds and Bichel really came through. Plus it is also impressive that every player in the side performed when needed. There were no real standounts: just great cricket from everyone.

Well, that wraps up my World Cup coverage. I have enjoyed it greatly, but cricket coverage will drop from now on. Australia's tour of the West Indies starts in a fortnight, and I will cover this. I have promised to post an explanation of the Duckworth/Lewis rule, but I am yet to deliver. I will do so at some point, but right now I am not sure quite exactly when. The Duckworth/Lewis rule is quite similar to what I would come up with if I were designing a rain rule myself, but it is derived in such a way to make its workings rather opaque. I can think of a different but substatially equivalent formulation that would be much easier to understand, but somewhat sadly I think that my chances of getting the ICC to replace the Duckworth/Lewis rule with the Jennings rule are not high. In any event, my explanation of Duckworth/Lewis will eventually come. Well done to the Australian team. I have had fun.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Okay, Academy Award Predictions

I have made various predictions about nominations and likely winners before. If you are really concerned, you can find them using the search engine to the left. In any event, the major categories. My predictions for the winners in bold.

For Best Picture, Chicago is the shortest priced favourite since Titanic. It will almost certainly win. I don't mind too much, because it is actually pretty good. The quality of the five nominees is the best we have seen in years, in my opinion, also. Of the other films, The Two Towers is a beautifully crafted blockbuster, but will not win because the academy has decided not to give the award to the middle of a trilogy. Gangs of New York is good Scorsese but not great Scorsese. The Hours is perhaps not that interesting and is perhaps even a little trite from a story point of view, but is packed with great performances from start to finish. The Pianist is the best film of the five, and is widely perceived to be the best film of the five. If there is an upset, The Pianist will win (as it did at the Bafta awards). However, I doubt there will be.

The real question is whether there will be a Chicago landslide or not. The film could conceivably win Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and three acting awards. The key indicator for this will be the supporting acting awards, which are announced early. If Catherine Zeta-Jones wins, then there likely will be a landslide. If John C. Reilly wins as well, then there definitely will be and Martin Scorsese and Charlie Kaufman might as well get up and go home.

For Best Director, Martin Scorsese has long been the favourite, sort of as a career achievement film. Nobody thinks that Gangs of New York is as good as Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or Goodfellas. (I'd also add The Age of Innocence and Kundun and a couple of others. However, this list simply demonstrates how embarassing it is that the academy has not honoured him before). However, the infighting over this one has been extremely vicious, with Miramax clearly overstepping the line and breaking academy rules. (I will not go into the details now, but I can if anyone really wants me to). The worst of this furore occurred after most votes were in, so it may not hurt Scorsese as much as it could have, but it will hurt. Plus, Rob Marshall won the Director's Guild award for Chicago which is the best predictor of directing Oscars. This one is practically a tie. I will go for Scorsese because I think Mary deserves it, and Rob Marshall doesn't at this point in his career. But only just.

Okay, acting awards. For some reason, in the acting categories (with the exception of Best Actress, where none of the nominees have won before) a huge number of past winners have been nominated. This brings to the fore the "Does (such and such) deserve to win two oscars". Or "Does (so and so) deserve three oscars at this stage in her career" factor, which I think will come into it in quite a few places.

For Best Actress, though, it won't. Nicole Kidman is favourite and has been all along, although Renee Zellwegger has been mentioned a lot as a likely winner. Both actresses are seen as due, I think, and both actresses are nominated for the second year in a row, although Zellweger is perhaps seen as less of a "serious" actress than Kidman, which I think will count against her. I thought that both actresses were better in their nominated performances last year (Kidman for Moulin Rouge, Zellweger for Bridget Jones' Diary), personally, and that Kidman's performance was the least of the three main performances in The Hours, both in terms of the acting and in terms of whether it is actually a lead performance. I wish Meryl Streep was nominated so that I could say I wanted her to win. As for the nominated performances in this categorty, the one I would like to win is Julianne Moore for Far From Heaven, and she has some chance, although being nominated in two categories may split her vote. I think though that Nicole Kidman will win this one, except if we get the Chicago sweep. (Salma Hayak and Diane Lane are making up the numbers here).

As for Best Actor, the early favourite was Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt. However, Nicholson won relatively recently, and although I think the academy may give him a fourth oscar some day, I don't think they will do so this year. Nicholas Cage is just great in Adaptation, but I think the voters may find the film a little too self-indulgent to give it an Oscar for a lead performance. Plus, Cage has sullied his reputation a little by appearing in too many mindless action movies. Daniel Day Lewis is over the top in Gangs of New York but it is a delicious performance and he is likely to win. Plus we are all delighted to see him back in the movies. Michael Caine is very good in The Quiet American but the political mood is wrong for the movie and Caine has won two Oscars before and won quite recently for The Cider House Rules. The early "Caine has never won in the lead category" campaign fizzled away, largely because Miramax decided to concentrate on Daniel Day Lewis in this category. The fifth nominee is Adrien Brody for The Pianist and I think he is a real chance. (He is also the only nominee in this category to not have at least one Oscar already). He is superb in the movie, and if the academy decides to honour that movie without giving it Best Picture, it may do so here. I rate him second favourite after Day Lewis.

For Best Supporting Actress, a lot of people are now picking Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago. I am not. She is a lightweight actress (although she is the only person in Chicago who is genuinely a very good singer and dancer), and has managed to get a reputation for being mean spirited through her lawsuits and such. On the other hand, everyone who has ever met Meryl Streep seems to like her, she had a terrific year with two really good performances, she is someone who really does deserve a third oscar and everybody knows it, and she hasn't won for a long time. So I think she will win. Of course, Julianne Moore has also had a great year with two really good performances, but the better one was in Far From Heaven. If Moore wins, I think she will win in the lead category. Queen Latifah and Kathy Bates are the ones making up the numbers here. Bates is incapable of a bad performance, but has won for Best Actress before, and has been overshadowed in the race this year.

For Best Supporting Actor, I initially thought that Paul Newman would win. Newman is terrific in The Road to Perdition but the rest of the movie is so so, and it came out too long ago. (The film deserves to win for Art Direction, though). I also was pretty positive at one point about John C Reilly's chances, because he is in three of the Best Picture nominees and is really good in all of them, but again he hasn't got much attention since the nomination (In any event, I thought he was better in Gangs of New York. Chris Cooper seems the favourite for this category, and he is good in Adaptation, but I wasn't as blown away by the performance as were some people. (The performances I really liked in that film were Nicholas Cage's and Meryl Streep's, with a tip of the hat to Brian Cox for his delightful take on Robert McKee). I think Christopher Walken was just superb - beautifully touching and understated - in Catch Me if You Can, and I am going to predict the upset. Walken has won an Oscar before and there might be a little bit of a "Does he deserve two?" factor, but he won so long ago that many people may have forgotten. In the event that they hasn't, if you think about his career at length a good case can be made for an answer of "Yes, he does deserve two". As for Ed Harris, there may be a feeling that he is worthy of an Oscar, but he has been much better than he is in The Hours in other movies, and he doesn't seem to be getting much attention. He is not impossible, but I doubt it.

For Best Animated Feature it looks like Hayao Miyazaki will win for Spirited Away. This makes me happy: the master deserves it. There is no standout amongst the American animated movies, although all are decent, and the fact that there are five nominations in total means that the non-Spirited Away vote will be split. Plus there is a much stronger realisation out their than I was expecting that the Miyazaki film is the one great film on the list. In the event that Spirited Away does not win, it will be Lili and Stitch or Ice Age. It will also be interesting to see if they give the award to Mike's New Car (a short film featuring the characters of Monsters, Inc as a way of realising that they should have given the animated feature award to Monsters, Inc last year). I doubt it: I think that either The Chubbchubbs! or Mt Head will win in this category.

Briefly, I think My Big Fat Greek Wedding will win for Original Screenplay, as Hollywood loves to reward an unexpected success (and also, that category is weak). I think Charlie Kaufman will win for Adapted Screenplay for Adaptation, although Chicago, The Hours, or The Pianist are all a chance in that category. I would like Eminem to win Best Original Song for Lose Yourself from 8 Mile because it is a great song that is integral to the movie, but Eminem is too edgy for the academy. (8 Mile also really deserved a nomination for Art Direction, but didn't get one). I believe that Bowling For Columbine will not win for Best Documentary, and (with much less confidence) that either Prisoner of Paradise or Winged Migration will win. It would be a travesty if anything other than The Two Towers won for visual effects, but we usually get travesties in that category, because the academy as a whole knows nothing about visual effects.

I am going to watch the awards live, and I may blog my reactions as they come. Anyone who wants to is free to laugh at predictions I get wrong.

Australia were sent in by India, and chose the World Cup final to hit their highest score in the 700 or so one day internationals they have played. India have no hope, unless Tendulkar can play the greatest innings in World Cup history. (I think Ricky Ponting may have done this already today.His 140 not out was extraordinary).

Update: And Australia did it, bowling India out for 234 and winning the match by 125 runs to complete an undefeated and utterly brilliant tournament for them, as well as their seventeenth one day international victory in a row. A great effort, although Australia were not quite as good in the field as they were with the bat, and I thought Ponting's captaincy left a little to be desired in the field. A round up of the match and the tournament from me later.

Erratum: Australia have in fact played 534 One Day Internationals. The "about 700" was a number I pulled out of the air because I did not have time to look it up. It remains extraordinary that Australia should be able to produce their highest score out of that many matches in the most important game of all - a World Cup final. Okay, Australia have played in five World Cup finals, so you would expect there to be only one chance in a hundred that this would normally be true. (Actually, given that the opposition in a World Cup final is expected to be much stronger than in many other matches, you would expect the odds to be even longer. This just shows the Australian side's ability to rise to the occasion).

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