Review: Flight (2012)

What happens if a pilot, high on alcohol and cocaine, saves his plane and almost all the souls on board after the plane is crippled by a catastrophic equipment failure, one that would have lead to an unsurvivable crash in any other pilot’s hands? This is the question explored in the film Flight directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington as the pilot in question.

Let’s be clear about this, as the movie has been (in my opinion) badly misrepresented in advertising. It’s not a disaster movie, depicting in lovely detail every scare the crew and passangers go through – the flight and the crash are a short sequence in the early part of the film, and are hardly ever returned to. It’s not a detective story, following the NTSB around as they solve the puzzle. What it is, instead, is the story of the pilot, dealing with the aftermath. It is a morality tale, to be sure, and one that doesn’t paint with subtle strokes.

The mismatch between advertising and movie is nicely underscored by the contrast between advertisements on the screen and the composition of the audience in the screening I attended today, at Finnkino’s Fantasia theatre here in Jyväskylä. There were about twenty people in attendance. All the women present were there with a man; there were some unaccompanied men like myself. The advertisements seemed to be targeted on a woman-rich environment, however.

The movie might pass the Bechdel test, if one is feeling generous. This test requires that a movie should have at least two named female characters that have a conversation about something other than a man. During the flight emergency sequence, the flight attendants do discuss the situation, very briefly, and I think every one of them is named. I don’t think that’s what the test has in mind, though. Other than that, I believe all interactions women have in the film are with one man or another.

The shock of wrong expectations aside, there were some things I really liked about the movie. Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a drug-addict woman looking to get clean who moves in with our alcohol-addict pilot for a while, had some really good sense and did the right thing when it mattered. The story was given a satisfactory ending, something I really doubted could be done as the movie unfolded.

I also like the moral conflict inherent in the setup. The history of aviation has seen many incidents where a pilot heroically saved his plane from a near-crash that he ultimately caused himself. In this movie, there was no such ambiguity as the crash would have happened whoever had piloted the plane; the only question was how bad it would be, and our hero the drug addict dealt with it exceptionally well. The ambiguity is different: the pilot should have been kicked off the controls years before, yet he was the only good choice for this flight, in retrospect.

I don’t regret seeing the film, but I hesitate to recommend it. I’ll call it a draw: 5/10.

This is Finland – happy independency day!

This is Finland.

Independence day traditions include the televising of two war movies (based on the same book), a military parade and a formal ball.

Let me tell you about the ball. It takes two hours for the host (the President of the Republic) to individually welcome every guest. This is televised and narrated (mostly reciting the guests’ names but also commenting on their attire). Then there’s one hour of televised dances and guest interviews. What happens after the cameras shut down at 10 pm is fodder for the tabloids.

And yes, it has massive ratings. Almost everybody who is not present watches the broadcast.

So there you have it, this is Finland. Happy independence day!

Iron Sky ­— not just Moon Nazis

Everybody knows the premise of Iron Sky: as a character in the movie says, it’s “Nazis … from the Moon”. It’s a given that something explosive happens in the movie. Yet, it can carry the story only so far, certainly not the full 93 minutes. Before I saw the film, I worried whether the writers had come up with something good enough to fill the blanks. Suffice to say I’ve seen the movie twice now and expect to go at least once more to the theater.

Yes, there’s lots more than just the high concept. I can’t tell you what it is… spoilers! But I can mention some highlights without giving too much away. There’s a hilarious reenactment of the Youtube hit scene from Downfall. Finland is revealed to be unique in the way it expresses its love of peace. While the President of the United States of America (Stephanie Paul) does look a bit like Sarah Palin, the character is much more believable as POTUS. Oh, and while it’s not a part of the movie, I really like the turn-your-cellphones-off infomercial using characters from Iron Sky. And yes, Iron Sky passes the Bechedel Test.

I can also tell you this: the audience laughed many times, in both occasions; it also was utterly silent in the right moments. (Well, apart from the young man somewhere behind me in the public premiere who found both a nuclear bombing and a spaceship ramming another laugh-out-loud funny.) Iron Sky is a comedy, yes, but it is also deadly serious.

Before I saw Iron Sky the first time, I thought I would be comparing the film to Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest. Now, I don’t find those comparisons very useful any more (but I would rate Iron Sky above Spaceballs, any day). The film I find myself, quite to my surprise, drawn to as the best comparison is Kubrik’s classic Dr Strangelove. While Iron Sky doesn’t match its brilliance, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, Strangelove is one of the best films ever produced.

I give Iron Sky ★★★★☆. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

Why interest-bearing loans do not create an ever-increasing demand of money

I sometimes hear it claimed that the practice of charging interest causes an ever-increasing demand for money. The argument goes, since principal plus interest is more than principal alone, money needs to be created (by taking on a new loan) in order to pay back the loan. It is then claimed that this creates a vicious circle of ever-mounting debt. The argument is fallacious and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of money. If, as is indeed the case, money can be reused, there is no vicious circle. Consider the following gedanken experiment.

Suppose I loan you twelve twenty-euro notes for one year, with principal repayment every month and interest totalling twenty euros due at maturity (that is, at the end of the year).

For simplicity, let’s assume you do nothing with the money, just sit on it. Every month you come to me and give me one of the notes I loaned you.

Assume for simplicity again that I do not do anything with the notes I receive from you, I just sit on them.

At the end of the year, you have one twenty-euro note and an obligation to pay me fourty euros (the last installment of principal, plus the agreed interest). What do you do?

One thing you could do is come to me and ask for a further loan. That could be done, I could give you one of my hoarded twenty euro notes and you could then retire the original debt (albeit with a new twenty-euro debt). But this is not the only option.

Another option is that you mow my lawn a couple of times. The wage we agree on is fourty euros in total (assume for simplicity that there are no taxes etc). You do the work, I give you two of my hoarded twenty-euro notes; you now have sixthree of them, one left from my loan and two that I paid you with. Now you can pay the last installment of the principal and the interest. End result: you are no longer in debt, and you have a twenty-euro note that you can do whatever you want with.

Neither scenario required the creation of new money.

Dear Lazyweb: Does this software exist?

I’ve been wondering if the following kind of testing management software exists (preferably free software, of course).

It would allow one to specify a number of test cases. For each, one should be able to describe preconditions, testing instructions and expected outcome. Also, file attachments should be supported in case a test case needs a particular data set.

It would publish a web site describing each test case.

A tester (who in the free software world could be anyone) would take a test case, follow the instructions given and observe whatever outcome occurs. The tester would then file a test report with this software, either a terse success report or a more verbose failure report.

The software should maintain testing statistics so that testers could easily choose test cases that have a dearth of reports.

As a bonus, it would be nice if the software could submit a failure report as a bug report .

(Note that this would be useful for handling the sort of tests that cannot be automated. There are many good ways already to run automated test suites.)

dctrl-tools translations

dctrl-tools 1.14 (targeting squeeze) has the following incomplete translations (as of right now in git):

ca: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.
cs: 108 translated messages, 1 fuzzy translation, 2 untranslated messages.
de: 111 translated messages.
en_GB: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.
es: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.
fi: 111 translated messages.
fr: 108 translated messages, 1 fuzzy translation, 2 untranslated messages.
it: 65 translated messages, 8 fuzzy translations, 38 untranslated messages.
ja: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.
pl: 49 translated messages, 2 fuzzy translations, 60 untranslated messages.
pt_BR: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.
ru: 108 translated messages, 1 fuzzy translation, 2 untranslated messages.
sv: 84 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 23 untranslated messages.
vi: 89 translated messages, 4 fuzzy translations, 18 untranslated messages.

I have put the relevant pot and po files up. This is not an archival URI, but I’ll keep it available long enough for this.

Submissions through the BTS are accepted, as usual.

Debian developers and others with collab-maint access may, if they wish, push their updates directly to the Git repository. Please use the maint-2.14 branch and please read the README.

I will NOT be gathering translations from Rosetta.

All contributors and committers are asked to declare whether they can affirm the Developer’s Certificate of Origin. The commit tag Signed-off-by is, by convention, interpreted as an affirmation of that document by the person identified on that tag line.

Departure from Olympia

I spent two weeks earlier this month in Helsinki. One day, I happened to walk with my mother, Maija Tuomaala, to the Olympia Terminal at South Harbor just as a big ship was scheduled to leave. I took the opportunity to film the departure; earlier this week, I did some postprocessing. The above is the result.