Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Humor”

Can you recommend more authors like Dan Brown?

money-and-hand-of-god

I adore reading. I read very often, my bare minimum being 4 books a week. But ever since I read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown, I do not feel satisfied with any book I read. I am hungry for more yet no book seems to satisfy me. What books could satisfy me?

Can I recommend more authors like Dan Brown? Hopefully not. In the Pantheon of thrillers authors, Dan Brown sits proudly atop a pile of money that is only rivalled by James Paterson. They are both great at getting people to read their books, for a reason that is unclear to me.

I have a love hate relationship with Dan Brown. Dan writes very entertaining novels that are well paced with interesting plots. But he also manages to bash readers over the head with plot points and squeeze in a lot of useless exposition. At times you honestly think he is just bashing at the keyboard like a drunk monkey taking dictation. Personally I think that Steve Berry and James Rollins, who write a similar genre of thriller, are far better authors. If you haven’t read them already, I’d recommend anything they have written to sate your Brown problem.

There are other authors who dabble in that same genre of thriller who are worth mentioning. I’m a huge fan of Matthew Reilly, who writes insanely fast paced novels that are great fun. His Jack West Jr series have similar “find the artefact to save the world” McGuffin adventures and has a new instalment in the series coming out in September (2016). Andy McDermott also writes fast paced Artefact McGuffin Adventures* which are also humorous in parts.

A tool that might help is the Literature Map. While it doesn’t have every author, it does link them together and give you some good ideas. Or they might lead you astray.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

*I think that should be the official classification for this sub-genre of thriller.

See also:
http://bookwag.com/2013/05/like-dan-brown-then-you-will-love-these-seven-authors/

What does the Australian term “sheila” mean?

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The term sheila means you have strayed far from the path of modern Australian society and have found yourself in the backwaters of the outback. In these dark hollows near stringy-bark trees and billabongs you will find yourself at risk of flamin’ Alf Stewart.

It is generally recommended that you quickly reverse the ute back up that dusty track winding back, turn at Gundagai, and head straight for the nearest inner city cafe, preferably one in Melbourne. The main thing is to pay lots of money for coffee and sit near people wearing corduroy pants or cyclists clad in lycra bodysuits. If the cafe does regular poetry readings, more the better.

Remember, once you have escaped the outback of Australia do not use any of the language you heard on your travels. Referring to a woman as a sheila, or an old person as codger, is likely to see you arrested for stoning the crows.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

What one Aussie expression says the most about who Australians are and how they live their lives and why?

No_Problem_Mate

Mate.

Everyone is referred to as a mate. We may have never met, we may be worst enemies, we may be firing them for sleeping with our partner at the Xmas party, but we will refer to each other as mate.

This achieves many things:

  1. We don’t have to remember everyone’s names (or nicknames),
  2. We can say something incredibly insulting and have it taken as a joke,
  3. We can use it to be more passive aggressive, which really riles people up,
  4. We can pretend there is a level of egalitarianism about our society,
  5. And the egalitarianism displayed allows us to utilise Tall Poppy Syndrome.

These points are underlying cultural values that Australia holds dear. We love being able to get along with people and insult our friends.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Idioms don’t always work

Follow Fowl Language Comics and give them money.

Broken Record: the ancient idiom

Would moving to Australia be good? Any opinions?

I am a economics student after i graduate I want to move to Australia. I lived 5 years in Australia (I am a citizen). I just want to know if it would be a good decision to start my life. I know it’s expensive and tax is high I just want to hear suggestions from people that are experiencing it.

Moving to Australia is a tricky decision to make. With a land mass equivalent to the USA or large parts of Europe, you really have to decide which parts of Australia are for you. Here is a helpful map:

The cost of living in Australia is often overstated. Despite widespread rumours, it is surprisingly rare that you will pay for things with your life. The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals in Australia should help identify what to avoid.

The people who complain about our taxes are usually the same people who don’t pay them, or think they are a special snowflake. The reality is that Australia has an enviable healthcare system, social security, infrastructure that isn’t falling to pieces, and fantastic beaches (okay, you don’t pay for the last one anyway). But our internet is shithouse.

Major regional centres are often after skilled people because Aussies tend to want to live on the coast. Something to do with our love of skin cancer and white sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. The major cities also tend to be spread out more than cities elsewhere, because we love an excuse to be stuck in traffic.

We also have excellent beer in Australia. We send the rejected crap overseas for other suckers to drink.

Did anyone mention that Hugh Jackman is from Australia? Don’t worry, Russell Crowe is actually from New Zealand (except when he wins something).

Also, have you seen our ad campaigns? They might get you interested in making the trip down under.

 And when all said and done, Australia is better than most other places in the world. Just look at this map!

Just make sure you can afford airconditioning.

 This post originally appeared on Quora.

How can someone from Australia, get into an American University such as Harvard?

Widener Library, Harvard University

Widener Library, Harvard University

Australians have a proud history as the descendants of convicts. As such there is no place we can’t break into if we so desire.

The first thing is the loooonnngg plane ride from Australia to the US. Due to customs it is advisable not to bring your B&E equipment with you but rather acquire it from those new-world criminals in the USA.

The second thing is staking out the campus. Surveillance is the key to any decent break-in. You will need good notes from your observations to use in the next step.

The third thing is to have a plan for your break-in. Know your target, ingress point, egress point, contingencies, and make sure you have a cover identity setup just in case things go south.

The final point is to make sure your risk:reward ratio is balanced enough to make the operation worth it. There is nothing worse than putting the time and front money in place for low returns, especially if the penalties are high.

Of course you could just send in an application to Harvard like every other Aussie student who applies to US universities. Maybe the ex-Harvard Student Association in Australia could be of help.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Will Australia become a Chinese state?

Xenophobia: just history repeating.

Xenophobia: just history repeating.

1, there’re many industries like dairy & realestate purchased by Chinese and their govt.

2, more CHN immigrated to Oz, but didn’t integrate into local society. They’re criticised coz of their “traditional” habits.

3, many Chinese prefer profits rather than quality. many ppl argue oz will be destroyed*

Little known fact: the entire world will be owned by the Chinese in the next two decades. Unfortunately, when Western governments stopped their wars against the “reds under the bed” they left the door open to the great peril. Since that time, China has been buying up everything it can get its hands upon. So it isn’t a matter of if Australia and the rest of the world become a Chinese state, but when.

Let’s look at some facts. So much of Australian land is being bought up by the Chinese. Of the 134,000 farm businesses in Australia, only 99% of them are family owned and operated.

Aussie farms – after providing 93% of the domestic food requirement – export a massive 14% of produce to China. Australian Social Trends, Dec 2012

You also have to look at the huge influx of non-Aussie farmers. It won’t be long before we’ll be overrun with non-Aussies. It may be 11% of farmers being born overseas, and most of those being from the UK or Europe, but won’t somebody think of the Aussie Children!!

More broadly the immigration of Chinese people to Australia threatens to displace all those good white Aussies. Including second, third, fourth and fifth generation Chinese-Australians, they make up a whopping 4% of the population. They don’t integrate at all, since only 3.4% are Catholic, with most of them (63.2%) practicing the heathenish No Religion. Clearly they can’t integrate if they don’t follow the traditional religions of this nation.

And it is just like those socialist commies to prefer profits above all else!!

We should live in deep fear of China. Definitely don’t worry about real issues, like climate change.

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This post originally appeared on Quora.

*NB: The question and quote are verbatim.

When bands become popular

I have no idea who this is a picture of...

I have no idea who this is a picture of…

What is term for when you like a band and then they become popular and more people like their music and you become jealous because it’s “your band”?

It’s called being a wanker.

Wankers only really think of themselves. They love everything about themselves and hate to think that someone else could intrude on them. So when a wanker becomes fixated on something, they hate the idea that someone else might intrude or interrupt their joyful moment alone.

The reality is that most wankers are so self-absorbed that they fail to realise just how precious they are being about sharing the love. Say a wanker goes to a gig and listens to a new band, and thinks to themselves, “This is mine.” Except they fail to remember that they were standing in a room full of people, some enjoying the show, some cringing, and some utterly disgusted. So when that band starts playing bigger and bigger gigs, the wanker is now surrounded by more and more people, many of whom aren’t the sort of people the wanker likes being around. They start getting performance anxiety because they will be surrounded by people that “don’t get it” like the wanker does. They are afraid of being judged, because they are so judgemental.

Music is meant to be a shared experience and wankers don’t generally like to share. Don’t be a wanker.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

See also: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/15_most_hated_bands_of_last_30_years/

What are some great mind-blowing books for a fiction fantasy lover?

There are so many great fantasy fiction novels out there, I’m just going to list a few of my favourites.

Deepak Chopra: Quantum Healing

Let’s face it, Chopra has been a bestselling fantasy author for decades now, so I could have named any of his books. He never fails to churn out the most epic of fictional nonsense, but Quantum Healing has to be his most mind-boggling work.

Various: Climate Change: The Facts

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here, as this treads into science fiction territory, but as a work of fantasy, it also holds its own. This collection of short stories is by a who’s who of fantasy authors on the theme of an alternate reality where climate change isn’t real.

Jeffrey Smith: Seeds of Deception

From everyone’s favourite flying yogi comes his groundbreaking fantasy novel about conspiracies, genetics, food, and how to ignore several fields of science and scientists by shouting la-la-la-la. Also qualifies as a comedy due to being so laughable.

Stephanie Messenger: Melanie’s Marvelous (sic) Measles

An homage to Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, this piece of fantasy is notable for being written as though the author were a child who never learnt English. Such an amazing piece that is sure to have you queueing for the iron lung.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Why are Aussies so well mannered, helpful, and nice?

Let me help you with that...

Let me help you with that…

The main reason Aussies are so helpful and nice is that it is really hard to pick someone’s pocket if they are suspicious of you. By distracting the mark with a greeting, smile, an offer to hold your bag while you fumble with your car keys, it gives the crook more time to smoothly lift your wallet and other valuables.

Generations of breeding among convict settlers has perfected the balance required to be the perfect thief. A large part of being the perfect thief is charm.

Thanks for reading this answer, and ignore the strange purchases on your credit card.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Why did Australia abolish the White Australia Policy?

The White Australia Policy was a fantastic piece of legislation that was brought in just after Australia’s federation in 1901. Back then it was popular to think that Aboriginals didn’t exist, or weren’t worthy of acknowledgement, and women were still a year away from full voting rights nationwide. Great time to be alive.

After the second world war – commonly referred to as WW2 and the go-to source of movie badguys (Nazis: hate those guys) for the next 50 years – the Menzies and Holt governments started rolling back pieces of the legislation. In 1975 Gough signed in the Racial Discrimination Act to stop any further problems. Totally worked.

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After the war there was a lot of people wanting to immigrate, preferably to countries that hadn’t been turned into massive craters by years of bombing. There were also a lot of ex-servicemen who were stationed overseas and had discovered the local non-white women. They’d also made friends with non-white people in general. Suddenly there were Aussies who wanted their non-white wives, friends, and associated families to come to Australia. In 1949 Harold Holt allowed Japanese war brides into the country. Ten years later legislation was passed so that they were able to be sponsored for citizenship. Holt later introduced the Migration Act in 1966, effectively dismantling the White Australia Policy. Holt was so pleased he went swimming a year later, he’s due back any day now.

So what ended the White Australia Policy was the military in action.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

If a charismatic Aboriginal Australian with an attractive political agenda ran for office, would he ever get elected as Prime Minister?

Sure why not. We’ve elected people who can’t swim, people whose claim to fame was drinking beer fast, and people who think it is appropriate to wear these in public:

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So it isn’t unreasonable to think that there are better qualified people who could rise to the top despite our casual racism. We still can’t get sexism right, but we managed to have a female Prime Minister.

It should be pointed out that while Australia has a proud history of treating Aboriginals like fauna, Indigenous Australians have been elected to state and federal seats. The big problem would be getting the support of one of the major parties to be leader, and that major party holding the balance of power.

I notice that the question implies Aussies elect the Prime Minister directly. We’re not silly here in Australia. The last thing you want in a democracy is the people getting to decide important decisions like who is preselected to run for a political seat, how their elected representative should represent them, or who is Prime Minister. Best to keep these decisions out of the hands of the people they impact and make sure only the political insiders get to make those calls.

Our Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that holds the balance of power. Thus, the party decides who is Prime Minister, and is not directly elected. For an Indigenous Aussie to become leader of the party would be no small feat, and they’d have to watch out for knives to the back.

Hopefully we will see an Indigenous Australian Prime Minister. Hell, they might even be non-male just to shake things up a bit. Just hard to tell how many old white guys we’ll see before that happens.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

If there was only one piece of equipment you could have in your gym, what would it be and why?

It’s great to see that when asked what one piece of equipment people would have that they would equip a full gym. I’d love to do that too, but I’ll answer the question by naming one piece of equipment.

Of course, the one piece of equipment for me is not the same one piece that someone else would want, nor would it be what a younger or older version of me would want. A younger version of me would have vastly different needs than me now, and we’d both have much different requirements than the older version, whose idea of a workout would be shuffling from the lounge to the dinner queue at the retirement home.

Gymnastic rings

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Right now my ideal piece of gym equipment would be a set of gymnastic rings. Not only can you train most of your body with them, but you get to look really cool doing exercises on them.

Alternative: Chinup bar

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This is an alternative to the gymnastic rings if for some reason I couldn’t afford the rings at the current exorbitant prices. Again, you can train most of your body with a chinup bar (dips, chins, levers, muscleups, hammy curls, etc), plus all the cool kids on Youtube are doing bar training these days.

Younger me

Barbell set

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Yeah, I know, a set is not a single piece of equipment. A barbell on its own isn’t much use without a bunch of weight plates, but at least I’m not listing barbell, plates, rack, and bench. A decent olympic barbell with a set of weights would cover just about everything you could think of. Ideally you’d have a solid floor (or lifting platform) to lift on with quality bumper plates so that clean & jerk and snatches are in the lifting program. But even a standard barbell – which is what I had when I first started training – can be decent.

Alternative: Sandbag or Keg

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Before barbells were a thing, people lifted anything that was around: rocks, trees, bulls. The problem with those sorts of objects is that they are set weights, so progressive training is hard to accomplish, unless you start with a bull calf. So a rock might be a challenge now, but not after a few months or years of training. Sandbags and Kegs can be adjusted in weight and can be utilised for most exercises you would use a barbell for. Plus it sounds really hardcore.

Older me

Pilates sled machine thingy

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Let’s face it, older me will probably be happy to not have arthritis in every joint, so the idea of doing muscle-ups, deadlifts, and that thing with the kettle-bell that looks like you’re trying to hump someone whilst throwing something in the air, is not particularly plausible at 70. As lame as this sort of workout would be for a fit and healthy younger person, it would cover all the muscles for the older more decrepit version of me.

Alternative: Comfy bed

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Let’s be realistic, older me is probably going to be popping viagra and taking full advantage of all the facilities the nursing home has to offer. The bed will probably keep me in great shape to my dying days.

This post original appeared on Quora.

Totally Cereal

It only feels like three weeks ago when I last posted about Quora being Super Cereal about answers on its site. Now they are Totally Cereal!

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Less than 9 hours after I posted an answer on why not everyone buys into the Crossfit cult, my answer was flagged as breaching policy. In that short window of time the post managed to become the second most viewed and third most upvoted despite being the newest answer. I mean, how dare someone criticise Crossfit, like every other answer given. How dare they use images to enhance the points being made, a common practice on the site. And once again, how dare anyone not answer the question without being completely cereal.

My working hypothesis is that my two banned answers were flagged as a result of being a trending answer. That meant the answers raised the ire of the Totally Cereal members. Quick, hit the complaint button and troll through to find something to make sure no-one else is ever offended. This will remain only a hypothesis, as I think it wouldn’t be appropriate to find other answers to flag that use images in their answers as I have done, as a means to test the system. I’d need to find other answers that were a mix of Super Cereal and Non-Cereal answers, as well as highlighted (trending) and random answers, to round out the testing.

Either way, check out my Totally Cereal answer on why not everyone wants to compete in the Washed Up Loser Olympics until they herniate their spines.

Why do people choose to NOT do Crossfit?

Crossfit is terrific, as long as you hate good technique, want a massive injury, and feel the need to strut around without a shirt on (guys) or in booty shorts (girls and guys).
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I’ve been lifting long enough to remember when WODs were called circuit classes, so when a new fad comes along it is a little easier to maintain some perspective. Others have already highlighted some issues that I agree with, I’ll cover some of my own reasons.

Form

The idea that high intensity and high skill exercises are done for high reps is stupid. Nothing says broken back like skill breakdown.

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So much for those gainz.

The video below is of the head of Crossfit programming, Dave Castro, doing a deadlift. It is laughably bad, but in the community this video is seen as hardcore rather than stupid.

I’m all for intensity and pushing yourself to new highs, but Crossfit all too often encourages people to utilise bad form or techniques like kipping to complete a workout. That is not smart.

It’s a bit of a cult

How can you tell if someone does Crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

If someone is a Vegan Crossfitter, what do they tell you about first?

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Regular exercisers are bad enough, but Crossfitters take it to the next level. It’s great that people are enthused about getting fit, strong, and healthy, but there is a difference between encouragement and community and drinking Kool-aid.

Lack of progression/Too much variety

If you want to get good at something you need to practice it regularly. Crossfit throws that rule out the window and encourages a randomness to the programming that guarantees you get good at exercising but not at any of the exercises. Even the top level Crossfit athletes train specificity into their programs and then practice events (WODs).

main-qimg-fd267f787804e167a217137ddc66b93eBad exercises or good exercises done badly

Let me just ask what this is meant to be and whether they have a surgeon on standby:

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There is video of this event at the Crossfit games. I was cringing the entire way through. There were some athletes that managed to keep a relatively neutral spine throughout, but that sacrificed them speed and reps. Events are done for speed and reps….

Others have already mentioned the high rep clean and jerks, snatches, kipping pullups and muscleups, but that only scratches the surface. Even handstand pushups are done with kipping. Overhead presses are often turned into push-presses. Instead of doing a solid set of 10 reps on a pullup they insist that people do 30… and do several rounds of that with other exercises in between. It’s like someone looked up what the most reps ever done in one clean set for an exercise was and that became the WOD number. Take the kipping like a fish flapping around on a boat deck out and they wouldn’t get half the reps, let alone rounds.

Paleo

If the WOD is Crossfit’s cult program, then paleo is their cult diet. If you thought that kipping pullups were dumb, then you want to look away from the paleo diet. Not only is paleo largely ignorant of what our Palaeolithic ancestors ate, it also likes to pretend agriculture is bad. Without agriculture there would be no society, no gyms, no Crossfit, no people bragging about Crossfit…. Wait, I take it back, agriculture might be the root of all evil.

Actual dietary experts have nothing but disdain for the cult diet of paleo.

That all said, Crossfit isn’t all bad. Since they came along the fitness industry has had to try for the same level of appeal to appease the former cult members and those who can’t afford Box fees. I can walk into most gyms and find a lifting platform, something that was a rarity just a decade ago. I can actually buy weightlifting shoes without mail-order. And no one looks at me funny when I do muscleups anymore. Let’s just hope people don’t assume I’m a Crossfitter and are avoiding talking to me.

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I’m no longer going to bother with Quora and will gradually migrate my answers there to this site. Click this tag to see them.

Why do Australians have some of the longest lifespans despite their level of obesity according to recent statistics?

Aussies have discovered the fountain of youth in the heart of the outback. From a very rare location in the heart of the Gibson Desert flows a natural spring that wells up from deep within the Earth’s mantle. This spring has regenerative properties that helps with many common diseases and ailments. main-qimg-2b7f1abebe8e2dee09a80d82c3d879f4

This spring water is used to brew beverages that are part of the Aussie staple diet. As a result, the increases in food abundance and greater sedentary lifestyles of the populous have not resulted in the normal health impacts due to obesity. So if you see any of these three beverages in your country, it is worth buying them in bulk in order to ward off disease.

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Of course, it could just be that life expectancy has been growing in first world nations due to improved health care (child mortality, vaccinations, disease treatment, etc) and that steady increase hasn’t been impacted by the relatively recent surge in obesity rates. I.e. too soon to have obesity impacting life expectancy.

Originally published on Quora.

Super Cereal!

Regular readers here will have noticed I’ve not been blogging as much lately as I’ve taken to answering the occasional question on Quora. I feel it is important to help others understand topics. We all start by asking questions, and someone needs to answer them.

Today I received a disheartening email.

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I’m shocked, SHOCKED I say. It is hard to believe that my answer would be found to be unhelpful. Read for yourself and see if you don’t find my answer helpful.

Is the New Zealand accent the same as Australia’s?

The New Zealand accent is almost exactly the same as an Aussie accent. This is mainly because, like Tasmania, New Zealand is actually a state within Australia. So any differences are essentially regional dialects of the same accent, much like the difference between a Texan drawl and whatever the hell that New Jersey thing is called.

This little fact isn’t really understood outside of the ANZAC nation; the ANZACs being our military arm. So here is a little list of evidence:

  • Russell Crowe – renowned Aussie actor from New Zealand.
  • Sam Neil – renowned Aussie actor from New Zealand.
  • Tim and Neil Finn – renowned Aussie musicians (Crowded House) from New Zealand.
  • Pavlova – renowned Aussie dessert from New Zealand.
  • Sheep shagging – renowned Aussie practice from New Zealand.

The easiest way to explain the slight regional dialects between the mainland Aussie accent and the island versions is to imagine a less evil version of the Aussie accent. That’s what the state of New Zealand inhabitants sound like. And before you ask, yes, Maoris and Aborigines are exactly the same peoples.

https://dailymotion.com/video/x2o4mfe

Clearly I was being helpful and giving the question the answer it deserved. When my answer was removed it had the second most views and had been upvoted several times. So it boggles my mind that anyone would flag the answer as unhelpful.

It is with outrage at the ignominy that I share this with you all here. My answer addressed all the points that were required. The explanation could not be any more clear as to the similarities of Aussie and New Zealander accents. Unless of course the person asking the question (and Quora) expected not to be mocked and to be treated super cereal.

Pen vs Keyboard: FIGHT!!

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For some reason the world of writers is filled with technophobic troglodytes intent on proving that their old-fashioned way of doing things is better. I’ve written previously about how older people’s favourite hobby since the dawn of time has been complaining about kids these days. This is also true of changes in technology, with people intent on justifying not learning to use a computer or e-reader. Because cutting down trees is the future of communication!

Once again I’ve stumbled across another article that misrepresents scientific studies to try and convince people that we need to clear forests, pulp them, flatten them into paper, cover them in ink, and act as snooty as possible. This time they – the nebulous they: my nemesis!! – are trying to pretend that taking notes with a pen is better than using a keyboard.

Ugh.

When will people learn that paper isn’t the medium we should be promoting? We need to be going back to scratching on rocks and cave walls. When was the last time a paper book lasted more than a hundred years out in the rain, snow, and blazing sun? That doesn’t even begin to compete with the longevity of the 50,000 year old cave paintings. Data retention for rock far surpasses the much inferior paper.

This isn’t the first article I’ve seen on The Literacy Site misrepresenting science. Hopefully they will acquire come scientific literacy soon and overcome their biases. If I turn blue and pass-out, try to act concerned. Let’s dive in.

New Research Explains How The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard

It’s great when articles improve on the titles of science papers. I mean, who wants to read the science paper The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking? Pity that both titles misrepresent the actual findings. Also, is 2014 still regarded as new?

In her graduate assistant days, psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University used to take notes just like everyone else in the modern age: with a computer. One day, Mueller forgot her laptop and had to take notes the old-fashioned way. Rather than being held back by pen and paper, Mueller left class feeling as if she’d retained far more information than usual on that day. She decided to create a case study that could prove her hunch that writing longhand was actually better for comprehension than typing.

This is actually a good little story and illustrates how a lot of hypotheses are formed in science. This is the anecdote or observation that scientists want to turn into a hypothesis to create actual knowledge. But remember, this is an anecdote, which has as much value as used Easter egg wrappers that have been stuffed between the couch cushions. Putting anecdotal stories at the start of an article can set the audience up to not think too hard about the rest of the article, as you have given them the conclusion in a nice little story.

The study she created, published in Psychological Science, indicated that taking notes by hand is a more effective method than typing them on a laptop when it comes to processing information conceptually.

And here we jump straight off the rails, over the side of the bridge, and careen into the waiting river below. Sure, The Literacy Site is just quoting the press release, but that is lazy. The study itself has this line in the abstract that show how this claim is a misrepresentation of the findings:

We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.

In other words, the findings were that people spend all their time typing and no time actually listening and comprehending the lectures. Because the pen is an archaic device that is unwieldy and slow compared to the keyboard, students using a pen only write down notes after they have listened, picked out the key points, and conceptualised that information into a note. But don’t take my word for it, the press release on the University of Michigan website has a few recommendations including:

  • To interrupt verbatim note-taking on laptops, break up your lectures with short activities that encourage deeper processing of information.
  • Have students use laptops or other technologies to process–not just record–information.

Now it is time to discuss the study details a little bit, because someone might be interested in the methods section. I’m sure those people exist. Somewhere. Interested is probably the wrong word.

In the first of a series of studies led by Mueller, 65 college students watched various TED Talks in small groups, and were provided with either pens and paper or laptops for taking notes. When the students were tested afterward, the results were overwhelming. While the groups performed equally on questions that involved recalling facts, those who had taken longhand notes did significantly better when it came to answering conceptual questions.

Sorry, I need to catch my breath. I’m so shocked at the massive sample size. This is definitely enough people to represent the rest of society. Conclude away I say!

Anyway, these overwhelming results are just a tad whelming.

Whelming error bars.

Whelming error bars.

As you can see the performance on retaining facts was the same, with error bars that suggest 65 people is probably not enough to draw conclusions from. Not that anyone would be trying to claim this study is proof of anything, right? The next thing you see is the benefits of using a pen…. as long as you ignore those error bars and just accept the p-value tells us something of value. Given that those error bars overlap for the two groups, I wouldn’t be drawing conclusions from a p-value. Also, I’m not exactly sure why an ANOVA was used when there were only two groups to compare. KISS principle applies to statistics as well.

Now the study realised that 65 people wasn’t enough, so they repeated the study with a few variations twice more. In the second and third tests they had 151 and 109 people take notes. Each test had the typists writing between 250 and 550 words, whilst the pen wielders wrote roughly 150 to 400 words. Interestingly the note takers were writing verbatim 12-14% with their laptop but the pen users only managed 4-9% verbatim. This shows why the conclusions I’ve quoted above were drawn.

Out of interest, here are the results from the other two tests that were more convincing for that conceptual finding.

Okay, this is more like it.

Okay, this is more like it.

The second test with 151 people were tested with pen, laptop, and laptop with a lecture from the tester about how they really should pay attention. With 50 people per group you’d hardly jump up and down about the significance of this test, but clearly telling people to pay attention doesn’t… hey look a squirrel.

squirrel

Methinks possibly the greater number of treatments has lessened this test's results.

Methinks that possibly the greater number of treatments has lessened this test’s significance.

The third test with 109 people again tested for pen vs keyboard, but this time they allowed revision of notes before being questioned. This makes the groups even smaller, and again I’d question the significance of such a small sample. But the researchers summed up the results with this erudite paragraph:

However, a more nuanced story can be told; the indirect effects differ for conceptual and factual questions. For conceptual questions, there were significant indirect effects on performance via both word count and verbatim overlap. The indirect effect of word count for factual questions was similar, but there was no significant indirect effect of verbatim overlap. Indeed, for factual questions, there was no significant direct effect of overlap on performance. As in Studies 1 and 2, the detriments caused by verbatim overlap occurred primarily for conceptual rather than for factual information, which aligns with previous literature showing that verbatim note taking is more problematic for conceptual items.

In other words, doing lots of writing, particularly just copying what was said verbatim, makes you suck at understanding what the hell is going on. Oh, and study before the test. Apparently it helps too. Made that mistake at university.

So back at The Literacy Site they are skipping the other tests and just heading to the conclusions:

Mueller found that this was the result of laptop users trying too hard to transcribe the lecture rather than listening for the most important information and writing it down by hand. It may be an era where computers have made handwriting seem useless, but Mueller isn’t the only believer in the importance of longhand.

Notice the nuanced difference that seeing all three tests provides? We could be led to believe that there was overwhelming evidence for the pen, but what we see is that note takers need to readdress their methods of taking notes. Or they could just wing it.

An article in TIME discusses Karin James, an Indiana University psychologist, who published a 2012 study indicating writing is particularly important in the cognitive development of pre-literate children five and under. While using a computer for note-taking in some situations makes sense, it’s important not to overlook the longhand method.

It’s great that the article tries to incorporate some extra research. Citing one study with a small sample size is hardly compelling, certainly not worth writing an article about. But again the research is being misrepresented:

…the benefits of writing: increased creativity, better critical thinking, boosted self confidence, and a correlated improvement in reading capability with writing prowess.

But are these benefits real? The short answer: Mostly not. “There’s lot of caveats in handwriting research,” says Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University

Curse those damn caveats! Why can’t we have a control group of kids we don’t teach to read and write?!

Which brings me to a final point about these old technologies vs new technologies articles: stop jumping the gun! We’re in a transition phase. This isn’t 1970s velvet suits with platforms versus 2010s hipster atrocities. This is typewriter hipster texting on his phone. Technology is changing and we’re still learning how to use it properly. The studies that are cited in many of these articles have very limited scope, test very few people, and are comparing new and established things. Has anyone taught laptop users to take notes effectively for the new medium? Do you actually need to take written notes at all in this modern age? We need to see more science done on the changes taking place, and we need the articles discussing the science to do more than discuss (one study from) one paper, and highlight the limitations. Well, unless you have already made up your mind about a topic and just want some links to throw at people in an argument. Screw being right!

This blog post is being shared online, in print, and carved into a cave wall. Comment below which format you preferred receiving it in.

 

Do people in Australia ride kangaroos?

Yes and no.

Like most advanced countries, Australia has moved past antiquated methods of travel. Just as you don’t see horses and carts in major cities anymore, Aussies have moved away from riding kangaroos in much the same way. Let’s face it, kangaroos are smelly, need to eat lots of food, and are dangerous with a nasty kick – kinda like horses when you think about it. Cars really are much nicer to commute to work in.

But just like horses, there are diehard kangaroo riding enthusiasts who haven’t figured out that cars are so much better. As such there are riding schools, such as Alex Hayek’s Kangaroo Riding School, and clubs for people to learn to ride. Some children do prefer to ride kangaroos instead of bikes to school, but that is becoming less common with the advent of helicopter parents.

The sad thing about kangaroo riding is that it isn’t as popular as horse riding in Australia, despite kangaroos resulting in less deaths each year than horses. So it will be interesting to see if this proud tradition is continued in future generations.

Originally published on Quora and Medium.

Fan fiction is awesome

I’ve never understood authors, directors, or other creatives who have a problem with fan fiction (and other derivatives). What is wrong with fans showing their love for something you’ve created by creating something of their own? Sure, it won’t be canon, and they might not get the feel of your work right, but does it really matter?

With that, I give you a fan fiction short from Rocket Jump.*

*Yes, this post is just an excuse to share the above video, even if it is only for the Firefly reference.

One of the annoying things about movies

With the recent spate of superhero movies it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even the superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.

Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by his fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses his grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from his grasp.

We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own bodyweight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their bodyweight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.

The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.

So let’s just assume that our generic action movie has an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a sexy 55kg. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two normal sized adults are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.

Which brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the 55kg gravity lover isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy, not designed for easy lifting – no obvious knurled handles – and there isn’t a lot of leg drive happening when you’re dangling from the side of a building by your fingertips. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.

Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.

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