Milwaukee, Minnesota

Milwaukee, Minnesota is an engaging story about Albert, a mentally retarded ice fisher in Milwaukee (which keen observers of American geography will note is actually in Wisconsin). It starts out gently, but quickly turns into a mystery, with various parties vying for Albert’s attention and the money left after his over-protective mother died.

Albert is played by Troy Garity, who at times looks uncannily like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Good supporting performances come from Randy Quaid and others, who do a good job of conveying complex sub-plots and old grievances without saying a word.

The film has a few beautiful external scenes, particularly when Albert is ice fishing, as well a superb closing shot (which I won’t spoil by describing). However, there is a strange greenish-yellow tint to many other scenes, particularly those indoors. It looks like it’s probably deliberate, but I’m not quite sure why: personally, I find it distracting. Despite this, Milwaukee, Minnesota is a well-executed low-budget film with a strong story and good characterisation. Well worth a watch.

Liquid Relaxation

For anyone who hasn’t heard, there are new EU-wide regulations on hand baggage - which have the effect of slightly relaxing the rules that were in place at UK airports (although there are still plenty of awkward gotchas). The implication of this, of course, is that either the original terrorist threat has subsided (although it would be nice for the security ‘services’ to explain why), or that they panicked and couldn’t handle the situation they suddenly found themselves in. Either way, I suspect the next knee-jerk reaction isn’t far off. In the meantime, maybe this will reduce the number of annoyed executives having to check in an overnight bag.

Incidentally, any particular reason we can’t have a free market here? I’d happily pay less for less ‘security’.

The History Boys

The History Boys is a little different from some of the other ‘up-North-lads-do-good pictures of recent years (Full Monty, Billy Elliott). Firstly, it is a bit intelligent (although it’s probably a bit unfair to expect the Full Monty to be intelligent, superb though it is, and there’s still a lot of English-lit. and philosophical self-indulgence in The History Boys). It’s a strong character-focused film, and masterfully acted by a surprisingly large set of prominent performers (who aren’t really as young as they look), as well as being hilarious to boot - to the extent that the more serious scenes sometimes dull the film’s impact.

The inter-character rivalry makes it an easier film to believe than, say, the hero-worship of Dead Poets’ Society, and only the slightly messy ending - which has probably just been clumsily adapted from the original play - upsets the strength of the plot. The clichéd gay stereotypes don’t help the film’s bid for originality, but it’s still a worthy watch, although you’ll probably get more out of it the more strongly you relate to the teenage schoolboy personality type.

Fight, Fight, Fight!

Richard posted a link to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’s multi-guess Economic Literacy Test. Most of it was fairly easy if you know the standard economic textbook viewpoint on capitalism (which allows for a few market failures but is mostly fairly single-minded about the market’s ability to be efficient).

Unlike Richard, though, I only managed 11/13 on the first pass. So in true bad loser style, it’s time to defend myself. I got the right answer second time round on both questions I failed on, and I was dithering over two possible answers on both. One mistake was because of the ambiguous use of the phrase ‘public interest’ in the question (they actually meant: make goods and services people want, I thought of cuddly things like clouds and cars that don’t pollute). The other was to do with high inflation and the money supply - mah, I’ve never understood macroeconomics properly anyway. Plus it was the 12th question and I was getting slapdash…

OK, I’m ignorant. Time to go do some reading.

Two Google Ideas

Google have created a powerful brand based on creating simplicity from complexity (what all good IT is about). Their tools aren’t perfect, but they’ve made life easier for billions, and so I think they still deserve some free feedback from time-to-time. So, a few thoughts:

  • Mr. Google, please develop a podcast search engine. So much interesting content is now being released as podcasts (quick plug for my favourite: EconTalk), that it would be useful to be able to search them. All you have to do is invent a speech-to-text interpreter that actually works reliably. Simple. [Note: as I sometimes do, I wrote this post in advance of it being published. I’ve since discovered that such a tool already exists. However, I thought I’d leave the original prose here: Google, if you get one out soon, you could still corner the market]

  • Mr. Google, please stop developing so many interfaces - and plug them all together. If I want to do an exhaustive search for something, I now have to search Google Web, Google Images, Google Groups, Google News, Google Video, Google Blog Search, Google Book Search, Google Scholar, and possibly others. This is not a good thing - you’re straying from the simple search you started with. Some of those searches do show up in the main search results, but you could do a better job of tying them together to show what I’m actually looking for. This could be a real competitive edge, especially since the basic searches that MSN and others provide are now actually quite reasonable.

Google still have an edge in providing what people want - for a company so technically-focused, they either have talented marketers or are just lucky. Please, Google, keep it up.

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