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This is the third time I’ve run in the City2Surf. I’ve been running regularly for about seven years and you’d think I’d be getting used to it, but every time I finish the 14k from Hyde Park to Bondi I can’t quite believe that I did it.

Last year I finished in 88m, which is just under the 90m qualifying time for a green bib. I hadn’t really thought much about that until I got to the bib collection at Darling Harbour on Saturday and saw how small the green queues were compared to the blue, yellow and orange ones. There were thousands of us, but a small fraction of the total. I don’t think I’ve ever qualified for any kind of race before: it made me feel a bit like I was a part of an elite, but mostly that I was among the very slowest part of that elite.

It also meant that I had to get up earlier than usual.

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The green runners start right after the wheelchair athletes and the frankly implausible reds, who have demonstrated the ability to run the course in under an hour. Starting early is great because there’s a lot less time standing around freezing on College St while FM radio presenters yell at you over loudspeakers. There’s still a bit of that, as you can see.

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I wasn’t expecting too much this year as my form’s been a bit off. One of the things which keeps me running is that it’s good for my mood, but that cuts both ways. When my mood’s poor or I’m stressed, which has been the case for a lot of this year, my pace goes down. But running with the green pack was really good. In previous years I’ve spent a lot of time dodging people who’ve slowed down to a walk, which is a bit stressful, but very few green runners did that before Heartbreak Hill. So the first six Ks seemed to fly.

I needed to take a break twice up the Hill: my main City2Surf aspiration is to make it all the way up to Vaucluse without needing to do this. Coming around the hairpin bend at the top, we met an icy southerly which we’d been sheltered from thus far: it made the last stretch a bit more of a struggle than usual. One thing that also seems to be part of the green pack was getting barracked by fellow runners: when I broke into a walk in the final stretch a bloke behind me yelled, in a not unfriendly tone, “COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!”

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My other C2S aspiration is to have a decent expression on my face when I take a finish-line selfie.

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Even though I wasn’t expecting to, I improved my time to 87m, so I’ll get to keep my green status till 2020 (qualification lasts for two years, for some reason). The other great thing about it is that Bondi wasn’t anywhere near as crowded when I got there, so I could get a yoghurt and a coffee and a beer without too much hassle, and take in some accidental glitch art from this video screen showing the wheelchair racer’s presentation.


Antisocial August

I’m spending August off Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, with a few exceptions – I’ll still be posting deepdreams stuff to last-visible-dog, and I might start a new series on @FSVO.

And I’ll probably show off about the City to Surf next weekend.

If you need to get in touch, there’s email, or comment here – I’ll still be blogging.

Nine Layers of the DeepDream Algorithm Ranked in Order of Eldritch Abominationhood

Like many nerds, I’ve spent a lot of spare time over the past week playing with the open-source code for Google’s DeepDreams visualisations. This runs a visual-recognition neural network—basically, an artificial model of a visual cortex which has been trained on a big image database—through a feedback loop, which adds all sorts of psychedelic hallucinations to images. (If you are interested in the technicalities, here’s my post on how I got it running. If you want to get started with less fuss, I’d recommend Ryan Kennedy’s containerised version.)

Most of the output has only used a single layer of the net: there are actually nine available layers [actually, as it turns out, there are stacks more than nine, but these are the ones named “output”] so I set up a loop to apply each of them to a single image (some randomly-generated colour noise) and see what the different effects were. Here they are, ranked in ascending order of eldritch horror.

3a. This is the lowest-level layer, so it’s all rather abstract and decorative in a 1950s-public-art way. Like bacteria, or tapeworms, as my daughter said.

Layer 3a

4b. When I set this experiment running, I expected the results to get steadily more nightmarish as they became more figurative, but I was wrong. These incredibly stoned dogs are almost cute.

Layer 4b

4a. The level preceding 4b is similar except that the dogs look pissed-off. I call this one “The Seer”

Layer 4a

4c. This is the default layer which the open-sourced code uses: “puppyslugs”, or, I guess, eventually, “DeepDreams classic”. Here we see a single puppyslug in its native habitat of trippy as hell eye-cobwebs.


If this gives you the creeps, close the tab now. We’re not even halfway. The Google researchers mercifully withheld the worst.

5a. While layers 3b, 4a, 4b and 4c all show a distinct tendency to furriness, at 5a we’ve left the mammalian world far behind. This is the second-last layer, but even though it’s a mass of exoskeletons and scales, it’s still creating things that you could imagine seeing. Through a microscope, in a drop of very bad pond water. When you’d dropped acid.

A riot of carapaces and scaly writhing forms

3b. This is a step back to the lower levels of abstraction, and at first it seems like interesting fuzzy spirals and loops. Until you notice the… well, they’re not exactly dogs. Doglike features. Cells, even. Eyes. Emerging.


5b. The Elder Gods. This is the final layer in the neural-net stack, and it’s pretty bad. At least the flea-fish-microbe things of 5a had three-dimensional-ish bodies. At least the puppyslugs had… faces. I miss the puppyslugs. I miss their little weird faces.


4e. No.



Are those… apes? Eating a piano-accordion. Inside cobwebs. (Don’t look too closely at the cobwebs.) This is a Max Ernst nightmare.

4d. China Miéville’s fictional fantasy world Bas-Lag has a region call The Torque, a relic of an ancient war, which makes things go wrong. I never really cared to see anyone try to visualise its effects.


Yeah, nah.

Day 11 – a song from your favourite band

I could um and ah about what my favourite band really is, but if you measure it by how much of their catalogue I own, it’s the Fall by a long stretch. “Paint Work”, with its slightly off chords, mumbling journal entries and accidental tape cut-ups of tv documentaries, is still as good as it sounded when I first heard it.

[extremely Gen-X student imitating Mark E Smith voice] and sometimes they say “Hey! Mark! You’re spoiling all the paint work”


Granville Crest 1

The theatre is a surprising sight on a corner of long, straight Blaxcell Street, which is mostly lined with cottages and small apartment buildings. It rises from the street corner like a magnificent coral, pale pink with letters curling across the roof. They still spell out “Crest”, although it has long ceased to be a cinema with that name. The Crest is now the owned by the Blouza Association, a Lebanese community group with origins in the town of Blaoza in North Lebanon. The roundels that once spelled out Hoyts on the front fin of the cinema now spell out Blouza, and the hall occasionally hosts the group’s functions. Most of the time, though, the hall is closed and only glimpses of the elegant foyer can be had by peeking through the doors.

Granville Crest Foyer

In the first half of the twentieth century Sydney had a proliferation of local cinemas…

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I’m hopelessly addicted to Kai Krause’s Frax app. (More of mine here.)


One of the things I missed most about Twitter was recommending things, so I started noting things down and here is the backlog.

Orange Is The New Black

Thelonious Monk, Alone in San Francisco

Behind the Candelabra

Borges’ essays on Dante (please, don’t read or write anything about Dan Brown, just read these and/or the poem)

Danny O’Brien giving Bruce Sterling a serve

Scattered Order, “Escape Via Cessnock”

Pamela Zoline

Langenscheidts Konversationsbuch English-Deutsch

David Bellos, Is That A Fish In Your Ear

M John Harrison, Climbers


Graham Robb, The Discovery Of France

Dukkah stuffahs, which are capsicums stuffed with chopped mushrooms and onions and dukkah with grated cheese on top and some more dukkah and then roasted in the oven

The Bad Plus play The Rite Of Spring

Akira (even though the rival gang look like Juggalos: fuckin’ psionic powers, how do they work?)

Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling


Running, hurting one’s calf while running, taking up lap swimming because your physio told you not to run, even though you’re the last person you’d think would swim laps at 6:30AM


Seeing your daughters get into weird nerdy stuff like Homestuck