Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Fun Articles”

I Before E, Except…

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That’s right. Never trust anything the grammarians say, with their “rules” and mnemonics.

Apparently the 923 words figure comes from a QI fan who crunched the numbers from Scrabble. Most of the words are more obscure, so the rule is probably okay for the average person, and invaluable to football commentators.

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Literary Fiction in Crisis

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Literary Fiction in Crisis was the headline lede for a series of articles in The Guardian last month. Long known as a balanced and inclusive arts publication (/sarcasm) they sought to highlight a serious problem and a solution for literary fiction.

In case you haven’t heard, people aren’t reading literary fiction. Book sales are dropping. I covered this in my post on Australian Fiction, and US Fiction, and the Guardian article covered the UK figures in its first piece in the series.

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Let’s try not to think too hard about sales being in value terms and not volume. I mean, ebooks aren’t usually priced cheaper or anything and would hardly contribute to this revenue figure whilst being more profitable. Clearly we need to get onto blaming the real culprits. Stupid kids these days are playing Tweeters and Facepage instead of buying books.

One reason suggested by the report for the decline in literary fiction sales is the recession, happening at the same time as the rise of cheap and easy entertainment. “In comparison with our smartphones, literary fiction is often ‘difficult’ and expensive: it isn’t free, and it requires more concentration than Facebook or Candy Crush,” the report’s authors write.

Won’t someone thinking of the starving artists!!

The researchers looked at the 10,000 bestselling fiction titles over the last five years and found: “Outside of the top 1,000 authors (at most), printed book sales alone simply cannot provide a decent income. While this has long been suspected, the data shows unambiguously that it is the case. … What’s more, this is a generous assessment. After the retailer, distributor, publisher and agent have taken their cut, there won’t be a lot of money left from 3,000 sales of the 1,000th bestselling title. That we are returning to a position where only the best-off writers can support themselves should be a source of deep concern.”

OMG, you’re telling me that artists have to have day jobs?* Oh the humanity! Surely this must be a new thing… Unless it has literally always been a thing. If only there was a graphic somewhere that could highlight the proportion of authors who make a living writing…

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Source: A 3.5 year old Guardian article…

The second article covers some of the same ground before highlighting a couple of important points.

This continuity imperative has long been built into the foundations of commercial publishers, who expect many of their most successful writers to cough up a book a year. And as publishing has become more centralised, with much of its power now concentrated in three giant conglomerates, it has become more ruthless.

The brutal truth is that through the 1980s and 90s it was possible for the literary novelist to make a living on advances that didn’t “earn out”. They were supported by an old-fashioned value system that sanctioned the write-off of losses for the kudos of association with an “important” writer and a belief that literary value could be offset against the profits of more pragmatic publishing.

These points are ones which are not made often enough. In an industry that runs on the work of part-timers (88.5%), the proceeds to these employees are decreasing, the time commitments are increasing, and the investment in their careers is decreasing. Where are the three articles criticising this problem?

Of course, we need to steer the ship away from that iceberg of issues. The second article instead makes the argument that the UK Arts Council should fund more authors (and let’s assume the implication is that other governments around the world should do the same).

Unlike the performing arts, publishing has always been a largely commercial sector that has had to square its own circles. This is reflected in the fact that it gets only 7% of the funding cake handed out by the Arts Council, compared with 23% to theatre and 11% to dance.

Personally, I want to see Arts Council funding to be decided in a Thunderdome. It would be great to see starving artists facing off against one another for grants. The fit and agile dancers doing battle against the people who spend all day sitting and typing. They could stream it on Pay Per View and raise some extra arts funds.

There will be those who argue that this just shows that literary fiction is a hangover from the past, and the poor dears should knuckle down and resign themselves to writing what people actually want to read. But few would dare to make the same argument about experimental theatre or dance.

Yes, I’d argue this. And I would dare to make the same argument for theatre and dance. Thun-der-dome, Thun-dur-dome, Thun-der-dome!

The third article in this series makes just this argument – just to be clear, for writing what people want to read, not fighting in the Thunderdome. It doesn’t mince words and goes straight for the jugular.

Following the announcement from Arts Council England that sales of literary fiction are plummeting, it is suggested that arts subsidies be deployed to help writers survive. I have another idea. They should write better books.

This article goes on to imply that literary authors could put some effort into writing stuff people want to read, mainly via utilising compelling plots, which the author feels is a major flaw in literary works. I think he misses an important point. Authors can write whatever they want. But I do agree that authors can’t expect to earn a living from this unpopular writing, nor have people like it, nor have it be accepted as appropriate (e.g. racism). Pleasing a small club of literary snobs with worthy books doesn’t entitle authors to a full-time career.

Of course, nobody is proposing supporting genre authors. They aren’t writing important fiction and are thus not real authors. They deserve to starve! This is the main issue I have with the argument to fund literary fiction. Somehow we’ve glossed over all the authors who aren’t making a living writing genre, as though they have nothing to contribute to society, and are thus unworthy of arts funding. Admittedly, a very good study, mentioned in the second article, does show there are clear empathy differences between readers of genre and literary novels** – although why is still a question to be answered. So there is an argument to be made for literature support.

As I see it, there are a few paths we could tread. The reading industry could acknowledge that most authors are part-timers and do more to support this reality while they balance a day job with their art. Or we can acknowledge that arts are an important aspect of our culture and support ALL artists with grants – not just the “important” literary ones. This latter option could be easily and justifiably funded by taking government funding out of popular high level sports – i.e. no more free stadiums for you football! Let’s just hope that sports doesn’t go up against arts in the Thunderdome.

*Side note: we could probably even refer to the artistic projects as the Side Hustle. This piece by Zen Pencils is quite good and captures the idea behind the author dream.

**Worth reading this paper, which I’ve linked directly. I expected this to be a small sample, poorly analysed, poorly reasoned, paper that was written to elevate snobbery with pseudoscience. It was actually a very solid study. Although, it is worth noting that literary merit was on a spectrum, so literary could be found in many titles. This included Raymond Chandler in the top third of literary titles, which surprised me (last spot was James Patterson, which should surprise no one).

The Emu War

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From Veritable Hokum. Check them out!

And yes, this Emu War actually happened. Roughly 20,000 emus migrated into the Eastern Wheatbelt area, discovering newly cleared farmland filled with crops and watering points for sheep. They liked this supply of food and water and were ambivalent toward the soldier settler (and other) farmers’ tough run of grain prices and droughts.

Since these were ex-soldiers facing ruin (from drought, grain prices, broken subsidy promises, and emus – blame the killer emus!), they liked the idea of using machine-guns (2 Lewis Guns) against the birds in the same way they’d used them against opposing infantry in WW1. This didn’t go anywhere near as well as expected. Emus are faster, harder to kill outright, and generally not running straight at a machine-gun embankment; so their casualties were low.

Two attempts were made at an emu cull, but ultimately the government decided to offer a bounty on emus instead. Later they went with the tried and trusted move of building a fence to keep the emus out of agricultural areas (along with dingoes, wild dogs, rabbits, kangaroos – although the latter laugh at attempts to build a fence they can’t jump over).

Top 10 Posts of 2017

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Everyone seems to be doing these Top 10 Posts listicles on their blogs, and I’m nothing if not a joiner.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’m not a joiner at all. But I do want to do a listicle. I’m not exactly sure why I want to do a listicle, but it is probably to do with procrastinating from doing something hard.

If we go by the blog stats, this was a pretty good year. 2016 technically had more visitors and views than 2017 (just), but it was buoyed by one post going viral in December. Every month for 2017 has outperformed 2016 in every metric (except of course the viral December post). I wrote 114 posts in 2017, 66 book reviews, had +25k visitors, and +30k views. Not huge numbers, but I’m pleased that the page is continuing to grow, especially in the areas of likes and comments. A big thank-you goes out to my followers and regular readers, new and old.

So let’s see what the most popular posts were.

1) The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals In Australia

Recognise this one from last year? Originally written for one of those comedy list sites, I’m glad so many have enjoyed this post.

2) Do People In Australia Ride Kangaroos?

One of my trademark snarky Quora answers. Its popularity both last year and this year shows that I need to write more articles about Australian animals.

3) Shark Attack

This is one of my older posts discussing the overblown coverage of shark attacks. I actually prefer the post I wrote a few years after this one, but probably need to revisit this topic with more recent stats. Which people can ignore in favour of the older post that pops up first in their search…

4) Book vs Movie: A Clockwork Orange – What’s the Difference?

Finally a post written in 2017 on the list. This is part of my long running series that piggybacks on the CineFix videos. I do enjoy sharing the videos and discussing book adaptations.

5) Book vs Movie: The Bourne Identity – What’s the Difference?

And we’re back to posts from other years… This is one of my favourite book adaptation posts. When I first read The Bourne Identity I couldn’t get over how dissimilar the book and movie were. I didn’t understand why anyone would bother to pay the author money to proceed to not use their source material. Essentially, this book and movie are partly the inspiration for my discussions on book adaptations.

6) Why Being Smart Sucks

Whilst perennially popular, I didn’t write this one, just added some colour commentary. Wish I could claim more credit on this piece.

6) Book vs Movie: The Warriors – What’s the Difference?

Another book adaptation post. These were popular this year.

7) Book vs Movie: 2001 A Space Odyssey – What’s the Difference?

Seriously, I must have hit a search engine algorithm or had people scrolling back through previous instalments or something.

8) 20 Proven Benefits of Being An Avid Reader

This article was a repost of a listicle, but unlike the original list, I’ve actually included links to references. Not that you’d know it, since they have deleted the original.

9) Fast and Furious Series

After watching Vin Diesel leap a souped up V8 over a decidedly murky shark filled estuary, I felt the need to write this post. I wrote another more recently summarising the series thus far. This will probably become a regular series given people keep going to watch these films.

10) Is Sport King In Australia?

When I pitched this article the response was deafening silence. I decided to write it as a blog post instead. It then became my most down-voted item on Reddit. Apparently we don’t talk about sports negatively. Especially not if you back it up with facts. I’m glad people here have once again enjoyed it.

Here’s to 12,018: I hope everyone has a good year!

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.

Things you only do when drunk

I’ve always been amazed at what a few quiet drinks at your local allows you to do. Alcohol imbues superpowers to all those who consume. Some of those powers are amazing, others are powers we’re glad we forget about the next day.

Play pool, snooker, or billiards
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Eat a kebab
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Find a kebab store
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Listen to the greatest hits of the 80s
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Go to a nightclub
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Queue for a nightclub
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Dance
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Sing Karaoke

Not drop dead instantly from embarrassment from being at a Nickelback concert
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Movies that need claws

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Hugh Jackman is a proud Aussie export. We love that he is a Hollywood A-lister, and even more that he makes the rest of us Aussies look awesome.

But, and there always is a but, Hugh has appeared in some films that could have been greatly improved with one simple addition. I give to you the list of movies that would have been much improved if Hugh had popped the adamantium claws and gone berserker.

Van Helsing
Let’s face it, anything would have improved this schlocky mess of a movie. Instead of Hugh turning into a werewolf toward the end, if he had turned into Wolverine and shniketied some vampires, this would have been watchable.

Australia
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Wolverine living in outback Australia? Then he could have taken on the invading army during the WW2 scene.

Scoop
Imagine a Woody Allen film with Wolverine in it! Imagine the boat scene with Hugh going Wolverine on Scarlet Johansen’s character, and Scarlet going Natasha Romanov on him! Imagine if this newly awesome film wasn’t directed by a creep!

Deception
Imagine if this film didn’t suck. I think adding Wolverine to the mix would have done wonders for this lame movie.

Real Steel
Wolverine versus Robots. I rest my case.

Swordfish
Who else wanted to see Hugh decapitate John Travolta in this film? Or any Travolta film barring Pulp Fiction?

Pan
I’m not sure anything would have made this a film worth watching, so claws wouldn’t have hurt.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Wouldn’t it have been great if Hugh was playing Wolverine…… Wait a minute. This movie sucked even with Wolverine in it.

The Ultimate Multi-tool

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It seems that my work, my hobbies, my break time, and even my writing all bear an uncanny resemblance.

I listen to music, usually from iTunes.

I watch TV shows, usually streaming.

I catch up on the news, usually via live streaming.

I read up on the latest science, usually on science blogs.

I play guitar, with the computer backing track and music on the screen.

I catch up with friends, on Facebook, Twitter, and Email.

I phone family and friends, using Skype.

I sit down to write at the computer; possibly it is time I started using a typewriter.

Book vs Movie: Silence of the Lambs – What’s the Difference?

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Do you prefer a Chianti or an Amarone to accompany human liver and fava beans? This month CineFix ask the question in their What’s the Difference? on Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

I’m going to be controversial here and say that the movie, Silence of the Lambs, was better than the book. That’s right. I’ll give you some time to warm up the tar and pluck the chickens.

That isn’t to say that the novel is bad, far from it. In my original reviews of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, I noted that they were great stories, very interesting and layered (thematically, compositionally, etc), and gave us a charismatic villain for the history books. But I wasn’t a fan of the writing. Some passages were on point, especially some of the dialogue that was pretty much lifted straight into the movie, but other parts felt like they were letting down the team.

Compare that with the cinematic classic and you can see which one stands taller. The themes, particularly the sexism, are more subtle yet more omnipresent (camera angles and shot staging vs inner monologue). The tone of the film is brought to life, and how could it not be with Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter exuding menace and demonic magnetism, and the brilliant cinematography – the night vision scene is unmatched.

It’s a pity none of the movie sequels managed to capture the same magic. I’m yet to read the rest of the Hannibal Lecter novels, so it would be interesting to hear if they managed to continue the magic, or if they slowly drained of life with each thin slice.

A Place To Write

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Where I pretend I write. Nice, isn’t it. (Not pictured: mosquitoes, noisy kids, actual desk the computer usually resides on.)

Of late I have noticed a disturbing trend occurring on writing blogs and groups: Write Shaming.

Write Shaming is when writers post images of their favourite place to write. Usually they attach some little story – because they’re writers, they can’t resist – about how inspiring the location is. The story about how awesome the local cafe is compared to their purpose-built study. Or how the desk was secretly trying to kill the author. The goal is that people become envious and to have them start thinking “I could write well/heaps/both if only I had a setup like that.”

This all got me thinking about an article from Patricia Briggs’ site and a recent discussion we had at my local writers’ group: What are all the cool kids writing with? Whether it be the latest liquid-cooled PC with a display that makes the term UltraHD seem quaint, or your chisel set and pile of clay tablets, every writer has their own setup for crafting masterpieces. Well, everything from Twilight fan-fic through to masterpieces.

So what better way to procrastinate during prime writing time than to discuss all the writing toys you could be buying.

Portable writing tools

This list includes:

  • Pen and notebook
  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • Tablet

In Australia Pilot Press created a Diary for Writers. It has writing prompts, weekly ideas pages, writing tips, contact details for writers’ centres, and dates for competitions, events and festivals. Of course, there are plenty of other notebooks made specifically for writers… they just kinda seem feeble in comparison now, don’t they.

The big advantage of a notebook and pen is that it gives you a consistent place to record ideas. Many famous novelists are known to have a notebook on their bedside table for that inevitable just-before-sleep brilliant idea that you’ll totally remember in the morning… More’s the pity that some of those ideas weren’t lost.

Phones and tablets are taking over the role of notebooks in this modern age. With synching programs like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, etc, able to run on all your devices, your ideas are safe to embarrass you when you rediscover them ten months from now. Phones and tablets are more than powerful enough to be your primary writing tool as well. Phones have defied the pre-smart phone trend of getting smaller, and are now sporting screens big enough to be seen by some stranger two rows back on your commute. Let’s hope the police believe you’re a writer when that stranger reports you for that twisted thing you wrote. You know the one.

Tablets and small laptops are starting to become interchangeable now. No longer are these highly portable devices in possession of processors that run at the speed of two tortoises passing notes to each other across a football field. Writing isn’t exactly a hardware draining or intensive software activity, so the choice really comes down to how much you like typing on a tablet versus a laptop. And which one has the coolest games and other procrastination tools. Even Scrivener has launched an iOS friendly app for iPhone and iPad.

One caveat to tablets and laptops is the keyboard. Some keyboards are not full-sized and can be challenging or plain infuriating to use, especially if you touch type. Although they also act as a great excuse for your pathetic typing skills. Another issue is that some keyboards aren’t real keyboards, and much like typing on a tablet or phone screen, they don’t have any tactile feedback and can lead to some hilarious typos. Turn predictive text on for sentences that make even less sense than your drunken uncle discussing politics and the economy.

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The writing desk and computer

Yes, yes, I know, there are some people who prefer to write things out longhand. They spend countless hours with pen/pencil in hand writing on thinly sliced dead trees only to have to spend even more hours transcribing it into an electronic format that is of any use. So excuse me if I acknowledge that this is 2017 and talk about computers for writing.

While portability can be awesome, having a dedicated space with a full-sized – possibly “ergonomic” – keyboard, a screen that doesn’t induce eyestrain from having to read documents in 4 point text size, and an internet connection that doesn’t drop out every time a car drives past and blocks the Wi-Fi signal has advantages. As above, computers are more than capable of handling the pressures of word processing, which makes the choice more about budget and what graphics package you need to run Netflix* in UltraHD. Laptops can fill the role of desktop computer here with a base station connecting a decent sized monitor, etc.

These articles cover some of the options:

http://www.patriciabriggs.com/articles/writing/computers.shtml

http://mattgemmell.com/a-laptop-for-writers/

https://techspectacle.com/best-laptop-for-writers/

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Writing Software**

Writing software is still oddly dominated by the “my computer came with it” word processors. Needless to say, MS Word is highly popular because people don’t know any better. Word is a highly versatile program that can do just about anything, integrates with all the plugins and add-ons you can imagine, and does a perfunctory job of being useful. In its favour it is the most supported program, which means updates actually happen, integration with programs like referencing software is a thing (hey, us science nerds care about that stuff!), and editing with tracking and commenting is excellent. MS Word is the jack-of-all-trades, and thus master of none, and has so many features there are entire lists to point out the stuff you didn’t know it had.

Of course Mac OS have their own less popular versions of the MS Office programs. But Apple admitted people liked Microsoft and let MS Office come play on their OS.

Linux users and anyone liking freeware have long utilised the MS Office knockoffs of OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Since the demise of OpenOffice and the limping of ApacheOpenOffice toward the same fate, LibreOffice is as close to MS Office you’ll get without feeling too dirty.

There are plenty of online options that all have limitations and benefits. Google Keep, Evernote, Onenote, etc, fill differing roles. These aren’t just writing and note tools, but can also save documents and webpages. Since they are cloud based, anything you have saved there is accessible anywhere, anytime. Well, unless you have third world internet like us Aussies.

The online options also extend to apps that are made for writing and not just note taking. Google Docs is the most obvious, especially with its sharing capability. Novlr is an online/offline subscription based app made by writers for writers. ApolloPad is an online writing app with features like cork-boarding and timelines – pity it is still in beta. Novel Factory is another online subscription based writing app made by writers for writers. Apparently writers don’t get paid unless they can also code software.

Dedicated writing apps aren’t always best served in the cloud or online. Feature rich programs tend to play better when they can hog your RAM directly rather than through your browser. Novel Factory has a Windows version that isn’t subscription based. Bibisco is an open source (yay, free!) dedicated writing app with some cool but standard features. WriteItNow has a lot of features, including an events chart to help with planning. And what blog on writing tools would be complete without flagellation over how awesome Scrivener is? Personally I’ve used Scrivener for years and love it. I didn’t even get paid to say that – hint to any of the app developers out there, I will cash for comment.

Like any good procrastination effort, there is a lot to compare, contrast, analyse, and digest here. I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is an entire list of add-ons and plug-ins that are great tools for writers (e.g. Hemmingway) that I may cover in another blog if people are interested. I may cover it even if people aren’t interested. That’s just how I roll.

*Netflix being the PG friendly term for any of those streaming sites you’ll be accessing.
** Thanks to Gary from my Spec-Fic writing group for his list of writing apps.

Reading is good for the brain…. d’uh

I may have mentioned it before, but I am a science nerd. It may also be painfully obvious that I like reading. And before you ask, yes I do wear glasses and own a lab coat. I can fancy dress as anything from a doctor to a scientist.

What I love about science is the way it goes about trying to understand the universe. In fact science even came up with a few studies on how reading is fantastic for you. Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that ‘‘readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative”. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways – although that’s hardly surprising nor unique.

Nicole Speer, also from Washington University, utilized brain-imaging to look at what happens inside the brains of participants while they read. She discovered that as people read, they are constructing a virtual reality inside their heads every time they read. That’s a fancy way of saying they imagined the stuff they were reading.

A reader’s brain in action.

So. The book is better… Who’d have thunk?

It is good to have some evidence that our brains get more out of reading. Without evidence, claims are not worth the air they consume. Just ask anyone who has tried to get conspiracy theorists to provide evidence for their claims.

Another study scanned readers’ brains to see how reading compared to web browsing (reading plus).*

Each volunteer underwent a brain scan while performing web searches and book-reading tasks.

Both types of task produced evidence of significant activity in regions of the brain controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities.

However, the web search task produced significant additional activity in separate areas of the brain which control decision-making and complex reasoning – but only in those who were experienced web users. (Source)

Brain activity in a personal not used to using the web while reading

Brain activity in web newcomers: similar for reading and internet use
Surfing the net brain in action.

The researchers said that, compared to simple reading, the internet’s wealth of choices required people to make decisions about what to click on in order to get the relevant information. So not only is reading good, but exploring and interacting with what you are reading is even better. Surfing the net, getting lost in a fictional world…. wait that is the same point twice. Anyway, it leads to even more brain activity.

Now before you all go in search of internet porn to enlarge your brain, remember that you’re meant to be reading the porn sites for the articles.

 

* It took me a bit of searching to find the original journal paper for this study. The BBC article and original press release were easy. A personal gripe of mine is when press releases and news articles fail to link to the original article so that we can fact check the claims. So as part of growing your brain with reading and internet browsing, please spend some time searching for and reading the original scientific papers that are reported. And if it wasn’t peer reviewed, then it could have been made up, like that rubbish about us only using 10% of our brain.

Things they don’t tell you about air travel

Flying is a modern luxury marvel we take for granted. There was a time when popping overseas for a weekend holiday was a ridiculous proposition. Around that same time I was trudging forty kilometres to school through two metres of snow.

Whenever I’m on a plane it is about the only time I’m sorry that I live remotely to the most isolated capital city in the world. People complain about the long haul flights to various destinations, well I had to catch a long haul just to get to the long haul connection. It gives you a lot of time to think about the realities of air travel.

1) If things get really bad, the pilots have ejector seats.
They may be called ‘captains’, but they have no intention of going down with the ship.

2) You are not Ralph Fiennes or Tiger Woods.
And let’s face it, flight attendants have standards even if you were.

3) First class is a myth. They wouldn’t be seen on the same plane as ordinary people.
Rich people are afraid they might catch poor.

4) If you see gremlins on the wing, you have been lucky and received the non-watered down alcohol.
Keep drinking, you might see Elvis and Hendrix.

5) Yes, the seats are deliberately designed for people smaller than you.
Airplane designers were assured that no-one over 175cm and 80 kilos would ever go anywhere.

6) The bookings system takes into account claustrophobia in the seating assignments.
They immediately assign the claustrophobics to seats between the largest people on the flight.

7) People with a fear of flying are catered for.
Their in flight movies are ‘Airplane’ and ‘Alive’, plus they are spared from all the turbulence warnings. Comes as a real surprise.

Science writing explained

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Have you ever heard a scientist talk and wondered what the hell they were saying? Did they use the word theory to mean something other than “I reckon”? Well, you’re not alone.

Language is very important to scientists. Without precise language there would be no way for them to write peer reviewed papers that could send an insomniac to sleep. Communicating science is all about letting everyone in on the data and knowledge that is being accumulated in the endless march forward into the unknown. But because scientists are marching into the unknown, they prefer to make their statements as vague and non-committal as possible. This way, if they are correct they have cautiously alluded to the right answer, and if they are wrong they can pretend their statement was hinting at the correct answer all along.

In keeping with my previous explanations of music reviews and book reviews I have found a chart explaining science terms. This list has helped me, I hope it helps you too.

Modern Music Su….

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There is something about music that we all love. By “music” I mean I’m going to discuss the popular stuff that people love to criticise. By “we all” I mean some people, since not everyone likes music, and even music lovers have tastes that differ from the norm. And by “love” I don’t mean the squishy kind. As a music fan I feel the need to defend modern music, since I quite like some of it.

Recently there have been a number of people disparaging modern music. E.g.:

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This isn’t a new argument. Much like the kids these days argument – wave your Zimmer Frames at the sky now – the modern music sucks argument is based around a number of cognitive biases. Survivorship bias is one part, in that we only remember the music that lasts, and we certainly don’t remember the bad stuff. One of the more interesting parts of our biases is how our musical tastes are formed in our teens and early twenties (14-24). In part this is when our brains are developing and we are creating our identity. Another part is that everything is still new and exciting, so we get a rush from experiences that we won’t later in life. So everything after that short time period seems strange and against the natural order of things.*

Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity. – Professor Daniel J. Levitin (Source)

But of course, rather than discuss the interesting dynamics at play, the discussion has instead latched onto a study that provides “objective proof” that modern music sucks. Rather than directly cite the study, the vitriolics have found a Youtube video that misrepresents the study to suit their preconceived ideas.

So what does the objective proof study actually say? Well, after a quick search – seriously, how hard is it for these whiners to link and read the damn study – I found the original study. But rather than provide proof that music has gotten worse since the 1960’s, it instead directly states:

Much of the gathered evidence points towards an important degree of conventionalism, in the sense of blockage or no-evolution, in the creation and production of contemporary western popular music. Thus, from a global perspective, popular music would have no clear trends and show no considerable changes in more than fifty years. (Source)

Kinda the opposite of the claim, huh! As a general statement, music hasn’t gotten better or worse, it has pretty much stayed the same over the last 50 years. Nobody has ever noticed that…

Other studies have looked into changes in music over time. A more recent study found that styles of music have changed, often becoming more complex over time. But it isn’t quite that simple. The more popular a style of music becomes the more bland it becomes.

We show that changes in the instrumentational complexity of a style are related to its number of sales and to the number of artists contributing to that style. As a style attracts a growing number of artists, its instrumentational variety usually increases. At the same time the instrumentational uniformity of a style decreases, i.e. a unique stylistic and increasingly complex expression pattern emerges. In contrast, album sales of a given style typically increase with decreasing instrumentational complexity. This can be interpreted as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation once commercial or mainstream success sets in. (Source)

In other words, music sucks because it tries to be popular. And it works.

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So saying that modern music sucks is nonsense. What is bland and generic is popular music. Always has been, probably always will be. There is good music being made all the time, you just aren’t going to find it without looking.

* The full quote from Douglas Adams is:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Let’s Get Legible


If you have ever spent any time in the comments sections anywhere on the internet, you will be aware that people’s grammar and spelling sucks. Sometimes it appears to be laziness. Sometimes the content makes it clear the person slept through their English and Science classes. And other times that is just how that person “communicates”.

But it isn’t isolated to the internet. The borderline illiterate retired football player who is now a TV personality. The weather presenter whose qualifications start and end with how white their teeth are. The cut and paster reporter who now relishes the fact that their company’s sub-editors were laid off. We seem to be surrounded by lazy or solecistic people.

This is a problem.

How can we effectively communicate in the marketplace of ideas if we can’t utilise proper grammar and spelling? Are we really going to wade through a 3000 word rebuttal argument that lacks paragraphs and capitalisation at the start of a sentence – seriously, try to not respond with “Would it kill you to use paragraphs?” How good will our comprehension of the points be if we struggle to understand what is written, let alone what is meant?

Now grammar isn’t as “proper” as we’d like to think. There is no reason to chastise someone for using literally in place of figuratively when the intention was for hyperbole. But damn you to spend an eternity watching Suicide Squad in a theatre full of people talking on their phones if you use theory when you mean hypothesis.

Language evolves over time. Generally language has become more concise and simplified to aid in communication. For example, if you read Robinson Crusoe in 1719, you may have noticed a few differences to the current version. Such as the title. Could you image the latest thriller using this snappy title?

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pirates.

Don’t worry, the novel is still boring laborious to read. In fact, just read the original title, saves you reading the whole book.

So being a Grammar Nazi* isn’t really the goal. But demanding that ourselves and others try to communicate clearly is a worthwhile goal. Because how am I to know if I agree with DeadMeatSlab45’s points about immigration unless I’m able to parse them through the all caps and intemperate use of exclamation points? It’s time to be legible.

I look forward to spotting my grammar and spelling errors after this post is published.

*Hasn’t that term taken on some new meaning this week!

Job Descriptions

dayjob

Cruise ship activities director.

Nightclub owner
Drug money laundering, hiring models to chat up, and providing DJs with ecstasy.

Corporate CEO
Executive meetings on golf course, executive meetings at exclusive restaurants, executive meetings at strip clubs, and calling random staff members to remind them you’re the boss.

Cabinet Minister
Required to stand 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. Being responsible for any fuck-ups when the announcement goes badly (unless it can be blamed on someone in your department).

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

Plumber
Required to spend long hours as a semi-professional fisherman. Once or twice a week assign an apprentice to do some plumbing.

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

Apprentice
Responsible for doing all the shit jobs to facilitate industry professionals. Good career advancement opportunities to become semi-professional fisherman.

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

Journalist
Press release copy and paste expert. Responsible for keeping drug dealers and coffee shops in business.

Columnist
Responsible for writing articles. Not responsible for researching articles. Cultivate sources for articles, such as fellow columnists, journalists, and bloggers with “truth” in their page title.

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
Required to make sure not mistaken for police officers, firefighters, school girls, secretaries, nurses, or prostitutes.

Advertising Executive
Required to be a professional liar and manipulator for hire to inanimate objects and services.

Scientist
Required to have survived at least one explosion from experiments gone wrong during childhood. Leading scientists will have engulfed their high schools in flames and no longer be able to grow eyebrows. Required to find even more cool ways to blow shit up, and discover the nature of truth.

Top 5 Most Over-rated Drinks

Authors need a drink to help with the hours of writing, research, and dicking around on the internet. Some great novelists have preferred to have a scotch on hand. Some terrible writers have as well. Others can’t start writing without a pot of coffee. Others still have realised amphetamines are way better than coffee.

Which brings me to today’s topic: over-rated drinks.

For so long there have been a number of beverages that people wax lyrical about. You’d honestly think that some of these drinks were made from the waters of Pirene, or at least not made from the waters of Flint Michigan. Whether it be tradition, reputation or the cool factor, these drinks have earned a coveted place in our society that is not based upon merit – there’s a political joke to be made here, I’m sure.

1. Coffee
retro-coffee-funny
Walk around most cities and you will not be able to travel more than 10 metres without passing a coffee shop. In America this coffee shop will most likely be a Starbucks and you’ll have no idea how far 10 metres is. In Australia the coffee shop will have lycra-clad cyclists sitting out the front of it. The ubiquity of these stores is indicative of the unhealthy caffeine addiction people have. Cue the “I don’t have an addiction, I can give up anytime I want” comments in the section below.

The worst thing about coffee’s popularity is that a barista will spend 5 minutes expertly crafting you a tall mocha frap with a pump of vanilla and an extra shot of espresso. Yet ask them to make you a cup of tea and they hand you a paper cup with some hot water with a tea bag floating in it. I’ve only murdered one person for daring to charge me $5 for that atrocity.

Honestly, why don’t people do cocaine or amphetamines if they need the energy boost?

2. Champagne
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Champagne – or as it was originally known, bubbly vinegar – is often associated with rich people and people dressing up like rich people for the night. True Fact: Nobody actually drinks champagne. It is brewed specifically to be sprayed around after winning a race, or to be smashed into boats. You don’t exactly need to brew something palatable if its sole purpose is for a jockey to hose down a scantily clad model holding a trophy. The model is being paid to smile and put up with that crap regardless.

The people who insist that you can drink champagne – who have an unsurprisingly high correlation with people who think cigars are cool – do have one stipulation. To make champagne “taste best”, that is to say smooth vinegar instead of “Oh my god, I’ve just drunk battery acid”, you have to drink it out of a champagne glass. They made them specifically to improve the taste. Not a joke. Someone actually thought that would help.

3. Dry Martini
bond-martini
Would we even know what a martini was if Bond, James Bond didn’t drink them? The Dry Martini is really just paint stripper and methylated spirits served in a fancy glass with an olive. In some less reputable establishments they probably don’t bother hiding the fact and serve it in an old tin with a paint brush instead of the spiked olive.

Just because James Bond drinks it doesn’t make it good. When Ian Fleming wrote Bond he clearly needed a manly drink, and what is more manly than something that doubles as engine degreaser? Also, Bond was very self-destructive and was probably using the martinis to cure his VD.

4. Fruit Juice
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Fruit juice: now with 5% actual fruit!

Juice is the perfect combination of sugar, water, sugar, flavourings, sugar, fruit, and something else I’ve forgotten, possibly sugar. All the goodness of fruit… removed to fit more sugar in.

The best way to drink fruit juice is to grab a can of Coke and eat an actual piece of fruit. Unless you’re doing a juice cleanse. In which case it is best to replace the fruit with long-winded explanations about how much better you feel without all those nasty toxins in your body.

5. Bottled Water

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Oh look, they added fruit and sugar to water. What’s that called again?

Nothing says healthy like 100% pure profit. We capture, purify, fluoridate, and pipe beautiful clean water into homes around the world. And someone figured out you could bottle it and make people go to a shop to buy it for 2000 times more cost.

Somewhere right now is a Bond villain stroking a white cat, laughing as he watches a security feed of people buying his branded bottled water, filled from the tap in his kitchen. He has probably just closed a sale on a bridge and is planning a trip to the Arctic to sell some Inuits ice. Sorry, marketing executive, not Bond villain.

Collective nouns

A harem of guitars

An invisible of ninjas

A dude of potheads

A lie of politicians
yyetq
A scheme of crime writers

An awesome of TysonAdams.com readers

A crock of shit

Let’s not have a picture for this one…

A run dammit of bears

A swim faster of sharks

A tedium of golfers

A fiction of journalists

An ambivalence of decision makers

That isn’t literature too

Paradox - another word for idiocy

I recently reblogged an article from The Conversation about how awesome the Harry Potter books are, but how snobby (some?) literary people are about them. The vitriol and chastisement of the Harry Potter books reminds me of a time when I too was not on the Potter bandwagon. Oh how wrong I was.

Stupid kid’s books. It’s just The Worst Witch with a Chosen One narrative. That’s not literature!

And once again we come to my favourite book chest thumping topic. How worthy is Harry Potter and how wrong have the snobby people been about it?

I think it is worth addressing a few of the arguments that are levelled at JK Rowling and genre fiction in general. Let’s use Rowling as a stand in for all genre authors. Because all genre authors are just as successful and beloved…

Mostly the arguments revolve around Rowling not having the correct goals in her writing. Of course, these supposed goals are rather arbitrary and change depending upon who is deciding what Rowling’s goals should be. Because apparently writing an entertaining book series that sells hundreds of millions of copies, has devoted fans, promotes laudable social principles, and got some kids reading books who wouldn’t have otherwise isn’t enough for some people. They also tend to expect the world from the Harry Potter books, something that I’ll delve into further below.

Take for example this piece by Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian:

Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you’re one of the many adults who don’t have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn’t make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost. Source.

Ugh. I’ve got two words for you, Nicholas Lezard, and they are what your mum should have said to your dad on that fateful day.

There is so much to unpack in that small quote. Lezard starts by insulting fans of the books, then says he isn’t insulting them, then insults them again. Someone who could write a paragraph such as this is self-evidently someone upon whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost. He’s insulting the use of speech identifier verbs whilst failing to understand the audience and style being utilised. If you expect YA to be using the same style as the Man-Booker winners you’re gonna have a bad time.

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But why insult fans, young and old, of the series? Why insult Rowling? Although she is probably insulated from such lowly criticism in her gold-lined money castle. He didn’t like something, he can critique it, but he is forgetting that a literary critique stands on argument, not insulting people for disagreeing with him.

This speaks poorly of Lezard and other such critics. In a previous post I discussed literary people defending Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. But this is Lezard leading a charge against the peaceful village inhabited by the Lesser Works. He has marked himself the despotic bigoted scourge of Fiction Land, seeking to crush all those who would dare be different from him.

Other critics of Harry Potter have argued that the series didn’t do enough to change the world. This piece comes from the unsupported opinions at The New York Times:

But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, U.S. statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along. Source.

Of course, the problem with this argument is that it requires one series by one author to change the lives of all kids worldwide… The article itself cites the series as having sold 325 million copies worldwide in the decade since the first book’s release (a third of that in the USA alone). Out of the 1.9 billion kids and 7 billion people in the world that means only 17% of kids, or 4.6% of people have bought a Harry Potter book (because nobody ever bought the whole series, or two copies of one of the books, or saw a copy in a library). To put that 325 million copies for the entire series in perspective, roughly 175 million people paid to see A film in the cinema that was tenuously about cars. A similar number paid to see the final Harry Potter film. Let’s face it: reading isn’t that popular.

Let’s break this amazing phenomenon down a bit further. There have been several studies that have looked at readers, particularly kids, and how many of them have read the books.

Percentage of kids reading each Harry Potter book

Source

This is a small survey of children (N = 233) looking at Harry Potter fans, but is consistent with other studies and with a Waterstones reader survey the researchers used to validate the small study. You can see that most kids had read the first book, but that quickly dropped off as the series continued. The studies showed that only 25-35% of kids had read all 7 books in the series, with the average fan reading 3.98 books in the series.

Another thing to note is that studies have also found that 46% and 49% had read a Harry Potter book. Or to put it another way, over 50% of kids hadn’t read any Harry Potter books, and many had only tried one (usually the first one). The most popular book series of all time still isn’t read by a majority of people.

But what about JK Rowling’s influence on reading?

This study was of only 650 kids, but it does illustrate that particularly amongst secondary school kids that they were inspired to read. More books, more difficult books, and more fiction – and if someone can point out the difference between non-fiction and fiction I’d much appreciate it.

Another study of a similar size found supporting results:

Many, though not all, of our enthusiasts consider the Potter books a major contributor to both their self-identification as readers and their wider literacy development. Perhaps the most striking change they reported was the confidence and motivation to try more challenging books or more books in general. Thus, the Potter books—particularly the thicker ones—acted as a “Portkey” or “gateway,” transporting readers into the world of more mature fiction. Source.

The increasing complexity and length of the books was cited in both studies as giving people confidence to grow as readers. But it was also noted that one of the reasons given for not reading all of the books in the series was also the increasing complexity and length. In other words you can’t please everyone, especially not kids. Unless you have ice-cream. And the kids aren’t lactose intolerant.

So the problem isn’t that the books are second-rate, nor that they aren’t encouraging people (kids are people too) to read. The problem is that even the most popular book series ever is going to have a limited impact. Rowling has managed to connect with a huge audience – for a book – which has had positive impacts on readers, such that they are more likely to go out and read more books, even the more complex books that keep the literary snobs in a job.

It is a big ask to expect one book series to have improved literacy rates. At the risk of labouring the point – any further – most people don’t read, and most people who do read won’t have read Harry Potter. The problem isn’t Rowling failing to inspire people enough. It isn’t that she wasn’t a good enough writer. The problem is that people love to make lazy attacks on genre fiction. They don’t want to admit that reading is not that popular and that what we have been doing is probably not encouraging new readers. At least Rowling was on the right track.

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