Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Unbelievable plots

Unbelievable plots

Stolen from: http://www.tickld.com/x/the-20-biggest-plot-holes-in-world-history-the-titanic-one-is-so-true

Book Review: Secondworld by Jeremy Robinson

SecondWorldSecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s nothing quite like a fast paced thriller to keep the blood pumping. Well, except perhaps a double shot of espresso washing down a hit of speed after an eightball. I think reading might be easier on the heart, though.

Jeremy Robinson’s SecondWorld has probably one of the more suspenseful openings I’ve read in a while. His hero, Lincoln Miller, is stuck underwater with no air left, only to surface and find no air to breath thanks to some mysterious red flakes soaking up the oxygen. If the lack of air wasn’t bad enough, he’s being hunted by a shark. Like I said, suspenseful.

Of course, no air, poisonous red flakes falling from the sky, sharks, that’s just the beginning of a thriller that sees skin-heads and a Nazi plot started back at the end of the Second World War, trying to purify the world. Welcome to SecondWorld.

Jeremy handles the plotting and pacing well, reminding me a lot of James Rollins. This book is a lot of fun and is very entertaining. My problem with the novel comes from some of the details that jarred me straight out of the story. To most readers this wouldn’t be a problem, but for me it was. An example was a .38 Super revolver being referred to as a hand-cannon, something that is a stretch for a yoga master. These errors and the inclusion of an overly obvious ending – not to spoil it, but add cryogenics and Nazis together and what cliche do you get? – and I had to downgrade my score on what was an otherwise entertaining read.

View all my reviews

Kids these days.

image

Something I’ve noticed on social media, and the media in general, is the denigration of kids these days. Whether it be Gen Whatever complaining about the Millennials, or just people complaining about how (insert disparaging adjective here) the younger generation are, I never fail to be amused with the curmudgeons and their ironic statements.

Complaining about the younger generation has been a popular pastime for old people since the invention of young people. Usually the complaints are followed by the creaks of arthritic joints as canes, walking sticks and Zimmer frames are waved at the sky; because everyone knows kids live in the sky these days. Even some of the great philosophers have gotten in on the act of denigrating these uppity kids:

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers. – Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.)

That’s right, since the dawn of time, old people have complained about young people and how they are destroying society. And we should know, just look at how terrible society is now: deaths from war are at a thousand year low, homicides are also on a steady decline, the economy is on a 2000 year high, literacy levels are at an all time high, we live longer, and less kids die so they get to grow up, become old, and complain about the kids these days. How can we live in such a terrible time in history!

You see what is happening is a form of nostalgia, pining for a time that never really existed. This golden age only appears golden through a pair of rose coloured glasses, from which only the good memories remain, the bad memories having been covered over with years of alcohol abuse. The kids these days are doing the same stuff the oldies were doing at the same age (as witnessed in this Daily Show video).

We really need to stop with this ageist nonsense. Society has advanced: kids learn different things at school because different things will be expected of them in the future, computers are a thing now, phones are really handy, pop music is as dull as ever, and nobody cares how far you had to walk to school back in your day. So let’s stop picking on different age groups and get back to criticising the things that really matter: sport referees.

Kids+these+days_7fe0b2_4939074

More articles worth a read:

http://www.anxietyculture.com/antisocial.htm

http://mentalfloss.com/article/52209/15-historical-complaints-about-young-people-ruining-everything

http://startupguide.com/world/the-world-is-actually-getting-better/

http://readingsubtly.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/the-self-righteousness-instinct-steven.html

20 Proven Benefits of Being an Avid Reader

This fMRI scan reveals distinctive increases in brain activity during close reading across multiple brain regions, with strength of activation shown in red for horizontal cross sections of the brain.

This fMRI scan reveals distinctive increases in brain activity during close reading across multiple brain regions, with strength of activation shown in red for horizontal cross sections of the brain.

If TV is the lard developing, heart attacking inducing, entertainment form, then reading is the brain workout. I’ve previously posted about how reading is good for the brain, but science is keen on finding out more, so there is always new research that brings up cool findings. I’m reposting an interesting article I found (here) that lists some benefits from reading with links to the research, proving that reading is good for you.

ENHANCES THE SENSES

Merely reading a word reflecting a colour or a scent immediately fires up the corresponding section of the brain, which empathises with written experiences as if they actually happened to the audience. Researchers believe this might very well help sharpen the social acumen needed to forge valuable relationships with others.

ENABLES LIFELONG LEARNING

In correlation with the previous perk, sensual stimulation makes it easier for aging brains to keep absorbing and processing new information over time. This occurs when the occipital-temporal cortex essentially overrides its own programming and adapts to better accommodate written language.

ALLOWS FOR BETTER SKILL RETENTION

Avid readers enjoy a heightened ability to retain their cognitive skills over their peers who simply prefer other media — even when exposed to lead for extended periods, as indicated by an article in Neurology. It serves as something of a “shield” against mental decay, allowing the body to continue through the motions even when facing temporary or permanent challenges.

IMPROVES CREATIVITY

When educators at Obafemi Awolowo University incorporated education-themed comics and cartoons into primary school classrooms, they noted that the welding of pictures to words in a manner different than the usual picture books proved unexpectedly beneficial. Exposure to these oft-marginalized mediums actually nurtured within them a healthy sense of creativity — a quality necessary for logical and abstract problem solving.

BETTER VERBAL ABILITIES

On the whole, readers tend to display more adroit verbal skills than those who are not as fond of books, though it must be noted that this doesn’t inherently render them better communicators. Still, they do tend to sport higher vocabularies, which increase exponentially with the volume of literature consumed, and may discern context faster.

INCREASES ONE’S STORES OF KNOWLEDGE

Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich’s “What Reading Does for the Mind” also noted that heavy readers tend to display greater knowledge of how things work and who or what people were; once again, findings were proportionate to how much the students in question devoured in their literary diets. Nonfiction obviously tends to send more facts down the hatch, though fiction certainly can hold its own in that department as well.

HIGHER TEST SCORES

Some students obviously don’t perform well on tests despite their prodigious abilities, but in general, findings (such as those offered by the National Endowment for the Arts) show a link between pleasure reading and better scores. The most pronounced improvement, unsurprisingly, occurred on exams focused on analyzing reading, writing, and verbal skills.

REDUCED STRESS LEVELS

According to a 2009 University of Sussex study, picking up a book could be one of the most effective strategies for calming down when life grows too overwhelming — great for both mental and physiological reasons. The University of Minnesota built on these findings and recommends reading some form of literature for at least half an hour every day for optimum relaxation.

IMPROVES CRITICAL THINKING

Fully engaged reading sessions — not just skimming, in other words — actively engage the sections of the brain responsible for thinking critically about more than just texts. Writing, too, also serves as an excellent conduit sharpening the skills necessary for parsing bias, facts vs. fictions, effective arguments, and more.

STAVES OFF DEMENTIA

In a British Medical Journal article, academics at the French National Institute of Medical Research showcased their findings regarding the relationship between a mind occupied by reading and a lower risk of dementia. Obviously, literature isn’t going to act as a cure, but nonreaders are 18% more likely to develop the condition and experience worsened symptoms.

DEMENTIA SETTLES IN AT A SLOWER RATE

Readers genetically or environmentally predisposed to MCI, Alzheimer’s, and other disorders characterized by cognitive decline won’t escape their fate if they live long enough; but not only do their literary habits push back the onset, these conditions also encroach at a more sluggish pace. More than any other way to pass the time, picking up some sort of book (no matter the medium) proves among the most effective strategies for delaying and slowing dementia.

BETTER REASONING

Along with bolstering critical thinking skills, the authors of “Reading and Reasoning” in Reading Teacher noted that literary intake also positively influences logic and reasoning. Again, though, the most viable strategy for getting the most out of reading involves picking apart the words themselves, not merely flipping through pages.

CONFIDENCE-BUILDING

Improved literacy means improved self-esteem, particularly when it involves kindergarten and middle school students whose grades will swell as a result, although high schoolers, college kids, and adults are certainly not immune to this mental health perk. Set realistic reading goals and work toward them for an easy, painless (and stress-free) way to kick up the spirits when confidence starts wavering.

MORE WHITE MATTER

Neuron published a Carnegie Mellon paper discovering how the language centers of the brain produced more white matter in participants adhering to a reading schedule over the period of six months. Seeing as how this particular tissue structure controls learning, it’s kind of sort of a good thing to be building, especially when it comes to language processing.

INCREASES BRAIN FLEXIBILITY

Brain flexibility is how the essential organ stratifies itself, delegates tasks, and compensates for damages, and Carnegie Mellon researchers believe reading might serve as a particularly excellent way to encourage this. These discoveries of how the brain organizes itself beg for further insight into the autism spectrum and other conditions that may stem from poor neurological communication.

IMPROVED MEMORY

The physiology of reading itself contributes to better memory and recall, specifically the part involving bilateral eye movement. However, it holds no influence over implicit memories: most of the benefit comes when recalling episodic memories.

BUILDS RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN

Kids and parents who read aloud together enjoy tighter bonds than those who do not, which is essential to encouraging the healthiest possible psychological profile. Along with the cognitive perks, these sessions build trust and anxiety-soothing comfort needed to nurture positive behavior and outlooks.

BETTER LISTENING SKILLS

Listening skills improve reading, and reading improves listening skills, particularly when one speaks words out loud instead of silently. When learning a primary or secondary (or beyond) language in particular, fostering interplay between the two ability sets makes it much easier to soak up vocabulary and grammar.

AN EASIER TIME CONCENTRATING

Once again, any bookish types hoping to claim the full benefit of this cognitive phenomenon gain it via close reading and analysis, not skimming, speed reading, and skipping. Because the activity is far from passive, it challenges the mind to focus, focus, focus: which certainly carries over into other areas of life!

ALLEVIATES MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS

Psychology professionals in the United Kingdom and United States gravitate towards bibliotherapy when treating non-critical patients, thanks to studies printed up in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy. The practice involves prescribing a library card, which recipients use to check out one of the approved 35 self-help books for 12 weeks; as a supplement (not a replacement) to conventional therapy, it has proven extremely valuable to the clinically depressed and anxious.

Bonus: It’s Good for Author’s Brains Too!

Yes, who’d have thought that writing could be good for the brain? Slaving away writing seems to be like practicing sports or music, stimulating the brain to be better. Dr Martin Lotze used fRMI to look at novice and experienced writers’ brains – probably to steal ideas for a new book – and how they worked in different writing activities. Some regions of the brain became active only during the creative process, i.e. not while copying, with brainstorming sessions lighting up the vision-processing regions. It’s possible that they were, in effect, seeing the scenes they wanted to write.

But the two groups differed slightly in how their brains worked whilst being creative. Novice writers activated their visual centres, whilst experienced writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech. “I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice. Experienced writers also had a region called the caudate nucleus become active, the part of the brain involved in skills that comes with practice. In the novices, the caudate nucleus was quiet, showing that practice works the brain.

Some other articles to read:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/your-brain-on-books/

http://theairspace.net/commentary/stanford-researchers-reading-jane-austen-a-truly-valuable-exercise-of-peoples-brains/

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/september/austen-reading-fmri-090712.html

Job perception: title vs. what you actually do

dayjob

Cruise ship activities director.

Nightclub owner
Front for drug money laundering operation.

Corporate CEO
Taker of long lunches and caller of meetings to remind people you’re the boss.

Cabinet Minister
The person immediately to the Prime Minister’s right when major announcements are made. Responsible for nodding head in background of TV coverage of the PM making the announcement and the person responsible for any fuck-ups (unless they can be blamed on someone in a government department).

Director of Government Department
In charge of minister publicity stunts and press releases.

Plumber
Semi-professional fisherman with a once or twice a week day job assigning an apprentice to do some plumbing.

Electrician
Similar to plumber except with less water and shorter working hours.

Apprentice
The doer of all shit jobs ever imagined and some that were too gruesome to imagine.

Commercial Pilot
Bus driver with lower risk of crashing, better perks, longer hours, and shorter life expectancy due to radiation at altitude.

Journalist
Press release copy and paste expert.

Columnist
Writer of articles on topics that they probably haven’t bothered to research, or researched by reading what other columnists and journalists have written.

Police Officer
In charge of making sure others don’t do stupid and annoying shit that will hurt everyone around them. Not to be mistaken for parking meter attendants, nor strippers.

Strippers
Not to be mistaken for police officers, firefighters, school girls, secretaries, nurses or prostitutes.

Advertising Executive
Professional liar and manipulator for hire to inanimate objects and services.

Scientist
The survivors of explosions and experiments that engulfed their high schools in flames, now tasked with finding even more cool ways to blow shit up.

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

Sometimes my worlds collide and produce awesome stuff. Today I present science smashing into writing and producing a revision of the periodic table of elements (did you know that the periodic table should actually be seen as cylindrical?).

Apparently this gem has been doing the rounds of the internet for at least a year, which shows you how out of touch with reality kids makes you. But recently the Periodic Table of Storytelling has become interactive, with James Robert Harris taking his design of storytelling tropes to the next level. Serial killer name aside, James has created a fun tool that is worth checking out.

periodic_table_of_storytelling_by_computersherpa-d3d6rdj-817x1024

James has also developed a few other narrative media that are worth checking out, such as the hero’s journey using Star Trek. See the rest of his webpage here: http://www.designthroughstorytelling.com/design-through-storytelling

Poe vs. King rap battle

This is ten kinds of awesome.

I love to hate tech articles: internet speed

I love technology. So many cool things have been made during my lifetime that it is hard to believe that as a 30-something I can remember a time before mobile phones, laptops, CDs, DVDs, tablets, and even personal computers. Since I love technology and love to read, it is a no-brainer for me to keep abreast of the latest developments via tech articles, especially since these articles are so woefully out of touch with the average person that they are comedy gold.

The article that tickled my funny-bone this time was all about Google’s new internet service. As part of Google’s plans for world domination, whilst not being evil of course, they are entering the market with an optical fibre broadband rollout in the USA. This video explains the deal with Google Fibre (video a little old now):

The funny part is the article author lamenting his current internet pricing and speeds relative to the service offered by Google:

My $52-per-month plan bestows me with the unheralded power of 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up, a depressing far cry from the (Google Fibre) $70 (and 1 Gbps up and down).

Sorry, not funny ha-ha, but funny sad. According to the reports into global internet speeds, the average US internet user is downloading at 10Mbps, with only 34% of users getting speeds above that (see figure below), ranking them top 10 in the world for speed.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013

Meanwhile my Aussie internet is ranked 44th in the world, with average speeds of 5.8Mbps and 9.7% of users having average speeds higher than that.

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 - Asia

Akamai State of the Internet Report Q4 2013 – Asia

So the tech author was lamenting internet that not only ranks as some of the best in the world, but is also some of the cheapest. In Australia we have some the most expensive broadband in the world (although not as a % of income) and the service is quite possibly far worse than our average speeds would suggest. Just a few kilometres from where I’m sitting, deep in rural Australia, there are people who can’t get the internet. Whilst I have above average internet at work and at home – although that average bar is low enough for an asthmatic 2 year old with no coordination to jump over – the copper network is antiquated and slows the speed of internet down the further you get from the hub. Once you are 20-30 kilometres out of town, the internet is so slow that you are running dialup speeds, which is ridiculous and annoying when most of the web assumes broadband speeds. These slow speeds means that most people not in town have satellite broadband, which is speed limited by the number of users at any one time, is really expensive, and even the top speeds are capped at 800kbps. No, I’m not kidding.

Australia isn’t even in a position to climb the internet rankings in any great hurry either. There were two broadband plans taken to the last Australian election: Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Node. Since optic fibre (that stuff Google is rolling out) is only going to the node, that means people in cities will have to pay to get their connection upgraded, while we can now expect to see most rural areas of Australia covered by satellite plans (the ones I just told you sucked). Both of these options are more expensive regionally or where the “node” is a long way from the “home”. See the outline below (source):

Access to the internet is a wonderful thing: information at your fingertips, streaming news and entertainment, commerce on a global scale, and lots of porn. Australia is not really in the digital age, limping along with second-rate connections, political plans for second-rate upgrades, and monopolies charging big $$ for second-rate services. Which is why the tech articles are so interesting in the way they show the massive disconnect between the writers, tech services, and the rest of the world.

See other articles: http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/the-rise-and-fall-of-australias-44-billion-broadband-project

http://www.politicalscience.com.au/2010/04/why-we-need-national-broadband-network.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_access

Lying about books you’ve (not) read

book-pic

As with most things Hank and John Green are involved with, I have become a fan of Mentalfloss. Their recent article on embarrassing things we all do was interesting, but had one point in it that made me think “what the hell is wrong with you people”.

By “you people” I obviously mean it in the pejorative dissociative sense, in that I’m not having a shot at you, or Mentalfloss, just the ubiquitous and ethereal “them” and “you”. Unless of course what I’m about to write does hit home, in which case, stop it now!

One of the items listed as an embarrassing thing that everyone does, was people claiming to have read books and watched movies they haven’t in order to appear more intelligent. I have previously discussed the list of books people claim to have read and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve haven’t read certain “classics”. I do have to admit to having claimed to have read a book I haven’t, To Kill a Mockingbird (still on my TBR pile), but that is also why I’m coming out against the practice.

And that is the point I wish to make here, there is no shame in not having read a classic book or watched a classic film. Maybe you don’t like extraordinarily long and self-indulgent wedding scenes in a movie (Deer Hunter). Maybe you don’t like novels with more than 450 main characters (War and Peace has over 500). There isn’t any shame in that. And how many “classics” have gone unread because they were in the wrong language, poorly translated, never got published, or just lucked out (John Green made mention of this recently).

Essentially we are worried about our subjective taste disagreeing with someone else’s subjective taste. The stupidity here is that we are being judged for something we haven’t done, rather than a strong opinion one way or the other on the actual topic. If we came out and said “Well, I hated 1984, it was rubbish” or conversely “Well, I loved 1984, and anyone who says it’s rubbish is a poo-poo head” we’d get into deep arguments about the relative merits of the novel. That is perfectly acceptable. But if we say “I haven’t read that one (yet)” or “Never seen it” then the response is something along the lines of calling us crazy, implying we have lived too sheltered a life, and/or that we have missed out on something great.

They could be right, of course. We may have missed out on the single most impressive book or movie ever. Our lives may be dramatically improved by reading or watching the work in question.

Or not.

The reality is that it really doesn’t matter. Some people will never have enjoyed a Jack Reacher adventure, or clung to the edge of their seat reading a Matthew Reilly novel, because they have been busy reading all the “great literary works”. Who is to say that their choice of entertainment was superior? Some people prefer to watch sports: are they any less entertained?

I think we have to stop pretending that our subjective opinions are something to be ashamed of. Like what you like, don’t be ashamed to say so either. I’m always amazed at the number of closeted Buffy fans there are, which only shows how damaging this mindset of “worthiness” is.

From Cracked.com

From Cracked.com

The pros and cons of owning a toddler

paint-baby-thumb986947

Pro: They are easy to entertain with just about anything.
Con: They want to turn everything you own into a sticky, finger-mark covered, toy.

Pro: They make charming noises as they play, running around being delighted by any and everything.
Con: They make noise the entire time about any and everything, usually at ear splitting volumes.

Pro: You’ll have so many social events to attend that you’ll be flat out partying.
Con: All of those social events involve other people’s toddlers, usually mashing food into the carpet.

Pro: You will have everyone buying your toddler clothes and toys so you won’t have to spend much on clothes and toys.
Con: Everything costs more with a toddler and you won’t be able to walk through your house without tripping over all of the crap your toddler has been given.

Pro: They spend a lot of the day sleeping, so you get plenty of down-time.
Con: You spend most of the day trying to get them to sleep because they refuse to take a nap despite being so tired they just want to cry.
Con: All that down-time is spent cleaning, cooking and basic personal hygiene that can’t be managed whilst the toddler is awake.

Pro: Someday they’ll be grown up and able to support you as you age.
Con: You’ll probably do a crap job of raising them and they’ll decide to put you in a home with only one staring window.

Book review: Freezing Point by Karen Dionne

Freezing PointFreezing Point by Karen Dionne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone not familiar with the Killer Thrillers group, Karen is one of many great authors who are on the list with Zoe Sharp, Sean Black and Boyd Morrison (to name just 3 off of the top of my head). They have a tag-line: Great reads – guaranteed. I think it holds true.

Anyway, Freezing Point is an eco-thriller that moves along at a cracking pace. Plenty of conspiracies, corporate greed, wacky environmentalists, scientists in the frozen wilds, idealists caught in a mess, and rats that have developed a taste for humans, all competing for the most precious resource: water.

I enjoyed this novel, which I believe is the first in a series of related eco-thrillers by Karen. The only thing I disliked was the abrupt ending. I felt there was more to come, several chapters worth, but it was wrapped up with a few lines in what was essentially an epilogue. Regardless the “great reads” tag-line holds true.

View all my reviews

Book review: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist: A Novel (O'Hare and Fox #1)The Heist: A Novel by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, I haven’t read a Janet Evanovich book in years, despite my wife having most of them on our shelf. I haven’t read a Lee Goldberg book in a least a couple of months. So when I picked up this collaboration between two witty and highly entertaining authors I was playing “try to figure out who wrote which bits” without any success. Unlike some author collaborations, this was an actual collaboration.

I will now try to write a paragraph without using the word ‘collaboration’…… Dammit!

Lee and Janet have written a very entertaining novel and I think this will make for a cool series of adventures. The setup is the standard odd couple device we’ve seen done to death. Fortunately Lee and Janet have the charged paddles of ‘interesting take’ on the odd couple romp. I think it was the stock moments that kept this good novel from being great. Then again, they did manage to include a conman, FBI agent, thief, corrupt lawyer, embezzler, fake drug lord, and real pirates in the same heist novel. Add in ninjas for the next one and it could be perfect.

View all my reviews

To block or not to block: that is the question.

funny-graphs-untitled2

The internet is a wonderful place to find information on just about any topic you can imagine and few you can’t. From the latest scientific study to the grumpiest cat, from insightful commentary to rule 34: the internet has it all. The problem is that not everyone is rational, logical, nor well informed, and they still have internet connections and the ability to make webpages and comment on social media.

As someone who tries to share science and knowledge with people, I love to engage and discuss topics. If I can help someone understand or learn something about a complex topic, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. The more science communicators out there doing the same thing, the slightly better the world becomes. This better understanding leads to better decisions, better ideas, better inventions, better cat photos.

The problem is that not everyone appreciates being told that they are mythtaken or wrong. Others are adamant that they aren’t wrong. People will argue against the overwhelming scientific evidence on topics like climate change (real, man-made, we need to do something about it), genetic modification (breeding technique, cool innovation that is more precise and has great potential), modern medicine (seriously!?!), evolution (as solid a theory as gravity), and even the shape of the Earth (yes, flat-Earthers still exist). This anti-science nonsense is thankfully on the losing team, they just aren’t playing with a full deck.

It is these science deniers that are the most frustrating to deal with on social media and the internet. There is no evidence you can show them that won’t be dismissed – often as a conspiracy – and there is no rationality to their arguments. But they can also be very convincing to people who don’t know enough about a topic, which is how myths get started. And that is dangerous, once myths are started they are very hard to get rid of. So it is actually important to make sure that the science deniers aren’t existing in an echo chamber, which the internet has facilitated to some extent – I’m looking at you Alex Jones, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola!

These science deniers can be a menacing drain of time, effort and inner calm. The easiest way to deal with them would be to block them, excise the wound, possibly burn the evidence of their existence. But then the science deniers have won. Their echo chamber is just that little bit more echo-y. But the echo chamber is going to keep echoing regardless, as discussed above. But won’t somebody think of the children!

I really hate blocking people on social media. The science denier drivel may pollute my newsfeeds, but blocking them also leaves me open to my own echo chamber. Sure, I might think I’m good at picking good information from bad, but if my thinking is never challenged, how can I be confident I’m not falling for confirmation bias? I guess this is the Catch 22 of the modern age, but with more cats.

The decline of cinema

theater management

There is only really one thing I miss about living in the city and that is going to the cinema. Of course, I’d miss that even more if there were movies worth shelling out this month’s mortgage repayments to see. The idea of paying big bucks to sit in a seat that has probably been used for sex by strangers, eating snacks that have a 2000% markup, after forgetting your earplugs and going partially deaf, which is a blessing after the pre-movie ads, is just not that appealing. Now Australian cinemas have decided they aren’t charging movie goers enough money and have decided to blame an easy target to justify their cash grab.

Cinema executives have blamed piracy on the recent price rises of ticket prices in Australia. Because of course it is piracy that is to blame, and not the marginalising of the customer base with exorbitant pricing regimes. Nor could it possibly be that people have more alternate entertainment options, including waiting a few months to watch the latest “blockbuster” in their own home cinema. Nor could it be the rubbish that so many movie studios are turning out.

Let’s dissect this nonsense like the original reports in the media should have done. There are many factors at play in the decline of cinema. The first real problem is that there hasn’t really been a change in the proportion of the population that go to the cinema in 40 years, but the number of times per year they go has been steadily declining since the 90’s.

ATTENDANCE
(% BEEN TO THE CINEMA IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS)

FREQUENCY
(AVERAGE NO. VISITS PER YEAR)

Graph: Cinema audiences attendance rate, 1974-2012  The tables following provide the data.
Graph: Cinema audiences attendance frequency, average number of visits, 1974-2012. The table following provides the data.

 

So rather than keeping audiences entertained regularly, audiences are clearly becoming more occasional customers. Underneath that general trend are some interesting changes in the demographics of cinema attendance. It is no secret that Hollywood movies are made for teenagers. Teens are a huge chunk of the cinema audience. But, the biggest change in the repeat attendees is in the teen market, which has been in steady general decline since the 70’s. Which part of the market is going to be most impacted by price rises? Go on: guess!

ATTENDANCE RATE
(% BEEN TO THE CINEMA IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS)

FREQUENCY
(AVERAGE NO. VISITS PER YEAR)

Graph: Cinema audiences attendance rate by age, 1974-2012. The table following provides the data.
Graph: Cinema audiences frequency of visits by age, 1974-2012. The table following provides the data.

 

Another way to look at this is in the proportion of the population going to cinemas in the age demographics. Below you can see the 14-17 and 18-24 age groups are overrepresented as cinema goers, this starts to even out in the 25-34 group (also known as the settling down and going out less demographic), is at parity in the 35-49 group (also known as the parenthood has stolen my social life demographic), and people over 50 clearly don’t like all the loud noises.

AGE PROFILE OF CINEMA-GOERS COMPARED TO THE AUSTRALIAN POPULATION
OVER THE AGE OF 14, 2012

Graph: Age profile of cinema-goers compared to Australian population, 2012. The table following provides the data.

So while the proportion of the population that have been going to the cinema each year has been pretty steady across the entire population, it is the number of times people go that is making the difference, especially in that much coveted teen “I want to see explosions and car chases” market. (Interesting aside: when you look at the age group breakdowns you do see that the over 25 audience since the 70’s have generally increased in their likelihood to attend the cinema, but this has been static for most demographic groups since the mid 90’s.) To put some hard numbers on that difference in the number of times a teen goes to the cinema each year, in 1974 the 14-24 demographic averaged 16.4 visits to the cinema, in 2012 that had dropped to 6.6 visits.

Obviously there are a lot of changes in the marketplace that have occurred over this time. TV has expanded, cable TV is a thing now, home rental or ownership of movies is a thing (VHS succeeded by DVD, now being superseded by Streaming, which will probably be superseded by actors coming to your house to perform on demand), computer games have grown in leaps and bounds, the internet, all vying for our attention and wallets. Just look at the change in households with various alternatives to cinema (NB: the game consoles data doesn’t tell the full gaming story, see this for more about that market):

Graph: Proportion of households with computer, Internet, mobile phone, games console and DVD player. The following table provides the data.

I alluded to this above, but one big change has been the home cinema. Some people will remember a time when some cinema screens were actually not much bigger than the ones installed in many homes now. Sound systems have improved greatly over the crappy little speaker that was the drive-in experience. Now we have high quality TVs and projection units that rival anything you can get in a cinema complex, and these come with a pause function, easy access to food that doesn’t kill your wallet nor beat your heart with belly flab, and sound settings lower than jackhammer. Then you have all the other possible entertainment options available, suddenly the list of movies (not) to see just isn’t as appealing.

The one thing cinemas still have going for them is windowing. For the first few months after opening, there is no other (legal) way to watch the film, you have to watch it in the cinema or wait for the DVD release. Although it seems clear people are more willing to wait, let the dust settle after opening weekend, and figure out what is worth watching, whether that be at the cinema, on DVD, when it makes it to TV, or at all. And now I’m going to contradict myself and say that piracy proves people aren’t willing to wait for those other options, preferring simultaneous releases. Both arguments still point out that people just aren’t as interested in paying big(ger) bucks to see movies in the cinema. Of course movie studios and distributors don’t like that idea, since windowing is great for their bottom line, especially opening weekend.

Now the reason for the price rise could be something to do with this chart, showing that 21% of the market is in the highest income households. Cinemas are obviously betting that their price elasticity is low and will take the price increase in their stride. What this ignores is the age demographic data above, which shows a sizeable chunk of the audience may be from affluent households, but that doesn’t mean their teenage bank account is bulging with lots of cash.

Equivalised gross household income quintiles No. cinema-goers (‘000) Share of cinema-goers (%) Attendance rate (%)
Lowest quintile 1,010.6 9.7% 47.2%
Second quintile 1,305.6 12.5% 50.8%
Third quintile 1,879.1 18.0% 66.6%
Fourth quintile 2,106.4 20.2% 75.3%
Highest quintile 2,199.2 21.1% 80.0%
Unknown 1,930.5 18.5% 65.8%
Total 10,431.4 100% 65.2%

So we see that cinema audiences are becoming more occasional consumers, the trip to the movies is a special event, not a regular event. Teens are a big chunk of the cinema market and they aren’t the repeat customers they used to be. This is what happens when you price customers out of the market, you bite the hand that feeds. You also have them turn to other entertainment mediums. Blaming piracy for what is demonstrably a long term trend is a pretty big reach. I’d also argue that piracy is a reaction to consumer demand for lower pricing and simultaneous releasing, so that audiences can consume the movies in the way they want to, not the way they are being forced to, at a price that is commensurate with the utility received (e.g. people pay as much or more for a DVD – less if you consider it a couple or family purchase). If cinemas have anyone to blame it is themselves and their suppliers (distributors and studios). Using piracy to justify a price increase is clearly unfounded.

Of course, what needs to be mentioned is that films are essentially a loss leader for cinemas so that they can make money selling snacks and beverages. This ticket price increase is probably driven through the supply chain rather than by the cinemas themselves. But this also shows how cinemas have to adapt in order to survive. Going out to a movie is an experience. People are more willing to pay for experiences rather than stuff (DVDs). So if cinemas can get serious about screening experience at a fair price, they might get the audience back, or at least stop the decline.

Did I mention: all men are evil!

42-17984473 The Australian media have a few targets they rely upon to generate readers: dole bludgers, terrorists, boat people, terrorist boat people, dole bludging terrorist boat people. Today Tracey Spicer decided to add men to that list with her article: I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.

Now clearly, whilst men are to blame for most wars, most economic problems, most political problems…. Okay, men are shit. But it is just a little bit sexist to declare all men are pedophiles. It is even more misleading of Spicer to make arguments justifying the myths and misconceptions about child sexual abuse. She starts her article by insisting that despite 90% of abuse being perpetrated by someone the child knows, that a stranger on the plane better not be male and sitting next to her kids. Let’s just ignore that entire issue of proximity of people on a plane not changing that much by moving one seat away.

Spicer is very concerned about the “more and more” unaccompanied minors flying and how airlines should be making kids as safe as possible on flights. First of all: “more and more”, seriously? I did a search for some statistics on unaccompanied minors flying and came up as empty as the “more and more” statement. Secondly, the safest possible option would be for a suitable guardian to travel with the kids when flying. Preferably this person accompanying the child would be unrelated to the child, over the age of 40 and Tasmanian. But I guess it is too much to ask for concerned parents like Spicer to travel with their kids.

The big problem with the article is that it buys into the common myths and misconceptions associated with child sex offenders. The Australian Institute of Criminology study listed the top five:

  • not all child sex offenders are ‘pedophiles’. That is, child sex offenders are a heterogeneous group with varying offender profiles;
  • children are usually abused by someone they know, although data suggest that strangers comprise nearly one in five perpetrators of child sexual abuse against males;
  • not all child sex offenders have been victims of sexual abuse themselves and there are complex relationships between being a victim of child sexual abuse and becoming a perpetrator, which require further research. It is important to recognise that while many offenders report a history of being sexually abused, most victims of child sexual abuse do not become perpetrators later in life;
  • while not all child sex offenders have high rates of recidivism, a specific subset—those who target extrafamilial male children—do frequently reoffend; and
  • although it is difficult to accurately determine how many children a child sex offender has already offended against by the time he is detected for an offence, this number varies according to offending profiles and is unlikely to be as high as is commonly assumed. There is, however, a subset of extrafamilial male offenders who abuse high numbers of victims.

Now it is true that child sex offenders are mostly men in a father – child relationship with the victim. But let’s also remember that not all men are rapists, only about 0.012% of us (rate of 12.6 per 100,000 Aussies*). It should also be noted that sexual assault has been decreasing, whilst reporting of assault has improved (probably linked, in my opinion), although sexual assault is still a big problem. So trying to say that kids are in danger of sexual assault from an unknown male in the next seat whilst flying on a plane is nothing more than fear mongering.

The reason Spicer wrote the article is because there have been a few instances on Australian airlines of male passengers being asked to change seats. Most people would be glad to not be sitting next to someone else’s unaccompanied brat, but branding all men as pedos is not really justified, unless it gets the individual blokes a free upgrade to first class, then it’s okay. But articles like this aren’t just pedaling myths and misconceptions, they are ingraining the idea that all men are evil, and that kids aren’t safe around men.

For another indication of how this is impacting society, take a look at some of the gender ratios of teachers: the rate of men teaching in primary and secondary schools is declining, and the younger the student, the less male teachers there are. How can you encourage men to become teachers when people like Spicer are essentially saying that all men are pedos? Spicer admits she is being sexist, but doesn’t realise she is also pedaling myths and misconceptions that hurt more than her sexism.

Of course, since all men are evil, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe we should just kill all men at birth and save ourselves the trouble.

Another view: http://allsignificantbattles.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/sometimes-people-punish-you-by-giving-you-what-you-want/

* Yes, that figure is misleading because the figure is only for currently incarcerated offenders, and it is an old figure.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

Here is some Epic Rap Battles to honour the occassion.

Facebook friend qualifications

thumbup_down

Do you have demonstrated experience in clicking Like on inane/interesting newsfeed items and well developed procrastination skills? This is an opportunity to faff about on the internet and justify Facebook’s share price. I am currently seeking applicants for an exciting opportunity to become my Facebook friend. This role could be expanded in the future to include other social media, such as Twitter and Google+, based upon the relevant qualifications and performance in the primary role.

In this newly established position, you will be joining an international team responsible for strategic reposting and Liking of science articles, social interest pieces and pictures of my children and pets.

Utilising recommended and innovative social media interaction you will play an integral role in supporting my ego, stupid social campaigns I signed and forwarded, and clickbait articles from around the internet.

Key responsibilities include:
1) Clicking Like on everything I post;
2) Sharing everything I post with your other hapless friends;
3) Establishing and maintaining relationships with people you only know via the comments on my posts;
4) Contributing to regional and internet-wide best practice outcomes for social media activities.

The successful applicant will contribute to further my social media organisational strategic goals by taking a broader view of my posts and their future directions and reassess how the delivery of social media sycophantry contributes towards that.

Preferential consideration will be given to candidates who:
1) Have met me before;
2) Whose company I actually enjoy;
3) Can write a sentence that makes sense;
4) Understand and respect restraining order guidelines.

Benefits of being my Facebook friend: In addition to the warm glow of my aura offered, other benefits include your posts being Liked, someone who will actually appreciate the distraction of your posts as a means of procrastination, and access to some of my more shady friends who can arrange body disposal. I am a progressive and innovative Facebook friend that offers family-friendly flexible Liking conditions and where personal and professional development is continuously Liked and received with “congratulations” posts.

Take advantage of this opportunity to Friend a Facebook profile that is committed to achieving a progressive, innovative and procrastinated online presence.

 

Also see The Bermuda Triangle of Productivity (thanks Angela!).

Happy Easter

Originally posted on Tyson Adams:

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Misleading packaging: why reviews matter

FarCry

There is nothing worse than picking up a book, movie, whatever, expecting to be entertained based on the cover. The above example is the movie Far Cry, starring Til Schweiger, in what looks like a cool action flick. The description even makes you look past the fact that this is a video game adaptation, promising a slick action-eer:

An ex-special forces soldier turned boatman is hired by a journalist to investigate a top-secret military base on a nearby island.

The problem with this packaging is that this is a film by Uwe Boll. Til Schweiger is a fantastic actor and a major box office draw card, especially in his home country of Germany. He was also the driver behind one of my favourite films of all time, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Yet not even Til can save us from the worst director of all time.

One of the things that amazes me about Uwe Boll is not so much the fact that he is still making films (petition to stop him making films) but the fact that he is able to attract the money and star power to his movies. You would think that actors would be keen to avoid working with Uwe so that they don’t sign a career death note. But Til, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Eric Roberts, Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, Claire Forlani, Leelee Sobieski, John ‘Gimli’ Rys-Davies, and Ben Kingsley (although, Kingsley may be an Oscar winner, but he has appeared in some truly awful films), have all lined up to appear in a Uwe Boll production. Why!?! Rys-Davis has implied that the money is good and Uwe is easy to work for. No mention of exactly how good Uwe is to work with; I’m going to assume running hot and cold hookers and blow.

This speaks to the underlying problem with picking good entertainment. We can be easily mislead with a cool blurb, impressive trailer, a spot at the front of the store, a stand that tackles you to the ground and forces you to buy the movie/book. It is why movie stars are paid big money, because they have a brand that audiences recognise, and that can guarantee box office sales. In publishing you have name brand authors like James Patterson occupying the front of the store because they are reliable bestsellers. And Lee Child was recently shown to have the strongest brand in publishing, with fans following him from book to book more than any other author, because of his reliably entertaining books. Uwe Boll is the opposite of this brand of success and reliability.

Essentially media consumers like us are less likely to try a new author, or watch a film by a new director, or one that stars actors we haven’t heard of, because of the Uwe Boll’s of this world. We want our entertainment to be entertaining – I know, not much to ask really – and we hate being mislead by slick tricks. We see a cool poster or cover, we see a big name actor attached, or read a cool blurb, only to be sorely disappointed. So instead of trying something new, we stick with what we know and trust.

I guess that is why I promote books I’ve read and liked on this site. That is why we need people to review books, movies, TV shows and music. That is why we need to find people with similar tastes to make recommendations to us. If we can’t stop Uwe Boll making films, at least we can tell people about the films that are worth watching.

Exercise articles by non-exercisers

I’ve lifted weights for a couple of decades now. The challenge of lifting heavy stuff is cool and the added side effects of being stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier are awesome.

Fitness is sexy

Fitness is sexy

After being around gyms and fellow fitness junkies this long you start to realise that articles on how to get in shape are as numerous as new programs claiming to be the best program ever. There is nothing wrong with different programs with different ideals, they allow you to have some variety, or at least someone to laugh at.
functional-stupidThe biggest belly laughs come from the articles that are written by people who clearly don’t lift. They make statements that are naïve or ridiculous, they don’t understand what fit or strong are, and they don’t really remember past the last hot fitness fad. One article that caught my eye recently was this one on the “new” and “better than Crossfit” program that is all the rage. By all the rage, I’m sure it will be after enough of these promotional articles are paid for written.

The first thing that struck me about this exercise article written by a non-exerciser was just how many times this particular wheel has been reinvented. In the few decades I’ve been going to gyms I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a circuit class on offer, well, except for the powerlifting gyms whose idea of cardio is walking from the car to the gym. I don’t know what is so revolutionary about another circuit class, which is essentially what this new program is. Circuit classes just have you move from one exercise to the next at timed intervals with little rest in between, so variations on this are not new, so they can’t be revolutionary. But you have to love a good celebrity endorsement!

Okay, I’ll admit that the article is a promotional piece on a new exercise program, so I shouldn’t hate on it too much. Instead I’ll get to the statements that I wish would disappear from fitness articles, preferably by having authors who know something about exercise write the articles.

Derp 1: “This isn’t about lifting 90kg weights…..” You mean, a warm-up?
Many fitness articles, especially those with a female audience in mind, pick an arbitrary number and decide that this weight is heavy. In this article it is 90kg, which is not actually that heavy depending on which exercise that weight is being used with. This just shows how little lifting experience the author has, or how lame they are at it.

Derp 2: “New scientific research…..HIIT…..” 2005 is calling, they want to tell you about this new thing called Facebook.
The article is trying to lend some credibility to the new program by citing science and by pretending this is all brand new. The problem is that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been around as a method since the 1970s and modern science since the 1990s. So unless you are a time displaced quantum physicist, you can’t call this stuff new.

Derp 3: “Holistic, functional fitness….” So doing more than one exercise?
Advertising slogans are always funny. Holistic is all new-age-y and sounds comprehensive-y. Functional fitness is straight out of the Crossfit advertising material, so somebody thinks this term is meaningful. What the statement actually means is doing a bunch of things, but that isn’t as sexy or likely to impress the marketing department.

Derp 4: “We focus on strength, respiratory and flexibility….” By focus we mean unfocussed.
This sort of meaningless nonsense is rife in an industry represented by people who failed high school; you know, athletes. You either focus on one thing, or you aren’t focussing at all. The fact that using the term focus at the same time as holistic and functional fitness just shows how little the author understands exercise or writing a logical article.

Derp 5: “Chiropractors warn about…..” How chiropractic is pretty much a scam?
The fitness industry isn’t just filled with nonsense, it also likes to promote medical nonsense. Many of these fitness articles lend credence to quack medicine or use quack medicine to support their claims. The advantage of using quack claims is that it doesn’t require real evidence, which makes it easy to sell people on the new fitness fad.

Essentially there is nothing amazing or new about how you can get in shape, get stronger, or become sexier. Exercising in a progressive way (i.e. getting better) and eating healthily in amounts that match your energy needs/expenditure is how its done. So be wary of these marketing claims and articles written by non-exercisers.

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