What inspires me to write?

I’ve never understood this question.

Do people not get inspired to write? Are there people out there who wander around all day with no ideas, daydreams, random thoughts, or little voices whispering in their ears? Do they have those little ideas and then shrug their shoulders, deciding they aren’t worth writing down? Does the little voice whisper and people don’t think to document it for a potential future criminal defence case?

Maybe I’m just not understanding the question.

It was only last year that I was disabused of my hatred for the question “Where do you get your ideas?” Obviously, I buy them in bulk from Ideas ‘R’ Us in the Creative Mall in the Artist District. They aren’t cheap, but it’s where Dan Brown shops for his, so have to be good quality.

My friend and author Kaaron Warren did a seminar on where her ideas came from. It was a lightbulb moment for me. People weren’t asking where the ideas come from, they were asking what was inspiring the ideas in the book. How were those ideas being linked together and turned into a story? Essentially, walking the (potential) audience through being creative.

So maybe this question is more about the process of noticing something in your day to day life and how you reckon it could be improved with the addition of dragons – let’s be honest, everything could be improved with dragons… and ninjas. Now you’re thinking about how much fun it would be for your protagonist to ride a dragon over a city and genocidally burn it to the ground because you’re annoyed at… hang on, that’s terrible. What sort of hack would come up with that scene? Scrap that rubbish. I’ll wait for the next idea.

Maybe ninjas. Monkey ninjas. With wings. Who whispers in your ear, telling you to blow up the houses of parliament. Honest, your honour, it was the ninja monkeys who told me to do it. Right before they flew away.

NB: This post was originally written as part of a short story submission. Instead of a cover letter, they wanted a blog post answering one of the common author questions.

How To Be An Internet Tough Guy

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an internet tough guy?

Well, I’ve created a simple DO and DON’T list that should start you on your path to winning at the internet.

DO

  1. Claim to do MMA
  2. “SAY THAT TO MY FACE!!”
  3. “I’LL KICK YOUR ASS!!”
  4. Claim to be the strongest in gym
  5. Claim to be an ex-Marine
  6. Claim to get laid a lot
  7. Claim they were all models
  8. “Do you even lift, bro?”
  9. Subscribe to Guns & Ammo and Blackbelt Magazine

DON’T

  1. Claim to do Taekwondo
  2. Appear in person to talk
  3. Post shirtless pictures
  4. Post lifting video
  5. Claim to be ex-Airforce
  6. Claim they live in another town
  7. Claim they were foot models*
  8. Provide numbers
  9. Subscribe to House & Garden

*Not kink shaming, but this is the internet tough guy wars that only a certain type of guy – always a guy – engages in.

Barbie My Birthday Party – Too Serious

Somehow, we have managed to acquire a Barbie storybook which our daughter inexplicably enjoys. While I privately suspect that the interest level is driven purely by the immoderate amount of pink the book is composed of, she is still fascinated by having us read it to her at bedtime.

For those who aren’t aware, Barbie is a feminist icon early childhood reinforcement of patriarchal beauty standards much-beloved kids’ toy. It has expanded from a tool of societal indoctrination line of fashion toys into a multimedia empire of animated films, television shows, video games, music, and books; and I’m left with some very important questions.

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The eponymous protagonist’s story starts with her need to celebrate her birthday by buying lots of stuff and having her friends do the same. There are decorations, cake, sparkly jewellery, and dresses to buy. And lots of butterflies for some reason. I’m not sure if the butterflies are attracted to the inordinate amount of sparkly jewels Barbie and her friends adorn themselves in, or if they are a hallucination due to overconsumption of shrooms, or if the butterflies are actually Death’s Head moths and Barbie’s Fun House is in need of an FBI raid.

This brings me to my first question: how is Barbie funding this lavish lifestyle. I know that Barbie has had many jobs during her life but she never seems to hold them down for any length of time. A lot of those jobs weren’t particularly well paid, and given the number of technical and professional degrees she would have had to obtain, her student debt levels would have to be crippling.*

To my mind, there are three possible explanations for this lavish lifestyle. Barbie is either:

  1. A trust-fund baby living a life of vapid luxury;
  2. A white-collar drug dealer supplying her rich friends with cocaine and party drugs;
  3. Or she is a consumerist wracking up mountains of credit card debt to finance a lavish lifestyle to impress her equally facile friends.**

The drug dealer explanation would certainly explain her impossible body proportions; the amphetamines and cocaine keeping her thin, and with plastic surgery padding the other areas. But another career? That seems a bit far fetched. The credit card funding similarly doesn’t seem likely due to her 30-jobs-a-decade career habit.

The job-hopping would, however, fit with the trust-fund baby explanation. Bored rich kid decides to change careers for the third time this year: not a problem. It would also explain many of the other story inconsistencies. Which brings me to the next issue.

In the story, Barbie is throwing a party for herself. She could have been throwing a surprise party for her friends, or she could have been holding a fundraiser for impoverished people who can’t afford to eat let alone accessorise for their catered birthday party. Instead, we are treated to pages of exposition detailing her choice of dress, make-up, jewellery, hairstyle, and matching her shoes and handbag. Then to top it all off, we see her matching presents to the friends who gave them, as though she is judging the friendship upon the quality of the gifts received.

I’m concerned that in a world of growing inequality that Barbie’s message is one of vapid selfishness that seeks to teach young girls a nasty and mean lesson. This trust-fund image-obsessed wealth flaunter is not an ideal that young girls should be exposed to. The very least Barbie could have done is host a charity fundraiser, although even that is somewhat problematic. Has she learnt nothing from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s examples?

Maybe I’m judging Barbie too harshly. This was, after all, a short Barbie story. It is quite possible that in further adventures many of my above concerns and questions will be addressed. I only hope that those stories have satisfactory explanations and answers.

* I’m also not convinced that she has actually had all of the jobs she has claimed. There is a sense that she is padding her resume for some unknown reason. I mean, how do you manage to be a paratrooper and the US President in the same year and then throw the towel in to become a Spanish teacher the next year?

** There is a fourth option that I don’t wish to include in the main list as I hope it is untrue. Pretty girls like Barbie can make good money escorting and that would certainly explain her expansive wardrobe; her sugar daddies making sure she is always looking pretty. This is a very poor message to send to young girls. Encouraging such a dual-exploitative career as a means to accrue meaningless objects of vanity normalises everything wrong with the sex-industry whilst marginalising its positive aspects.

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Word limits: or how to learn to stop writing and love the full stop

 

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Source

Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.

What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.

Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.

One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in 140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.

** Obviously not the authors I follow.

Kids and Sport

A couple of years ago, I made the very popular argument that sports are not actually that popular and that we should be funding more recreational physical activities. I was particularly critical of the way funding goes to team sports as populist pork-barrelling.

Recently I stumbled across an American survey of children’s sports participation that suggested kids are playing less sports, less regularly, and that Armageddon must surely be upon us if this isn’t immediately addressed*. Obviously, I was terribly concerned and immediately emailed my local senator, before realising I’m Australian and think they are concerned about the wrong thing.

While sports, particularly team sports, make up a significant proportion of the organised physical activity of kids, this rapidly declines with age. The two biggest reasons for this change are people having a lack of time to be involved in organised activities, and injury and health issues (from people’s mid-thirties onward Source). Almost as if contact sports might result in injuries. Amazing.

I think the obvious solution is to stop placing such an emphasis on sports and instead focus on the activities we are much more likely to be able to do throughout our lives. But since kids are too young for sex, best to encourage them to go to the gym, go walking, riding, or running.

Now, being Aussie, I’m more interested in Aussie stats: call me a patriot. Our stats are slightly different from the US, showing that there has actually been an increase in kids playing sports, lead by increased participation in soccer and dance. Eight times as many girls doing dance, but boys are starting to get the hint about how to meet girls.

Here is a similar Australian sports survey to the US one was done by AusPlay which looked at what people were doing for physical activity, and it matches with other data from the ABS and Roy Morgan.

top 20 activities
Source

This table hasn’t changed much, particularly when it comes to the top 3. Sometimes these tables are presented with jogging, athletics, running, and track and field separated, such that swimming comes out higher. But that’s just to confuse people or make swimmers feel like that aren’t painfully alone, staring at an endless black strip at the bottom of a pool, chlorine itching their skin, as they struggle toward their next breath. Regardless, it shows that the vast majority of interest is in fitness activities, not sports.

But those figures are for all Aussies. Kids have a different emphasis. Caring parents are desperate to turn out well-rounded offspring with plenty of torn ligaments, broken bones, and early stages of CTE by having them play sports. As a result, kids tend to ignore going for walks in favour of bouncing a ball off of their foreheads. But this quickly declines as kids enter their teen years, continues to drop into their twenties, then levels off until another rapid decline after 40.

child participation by age
Source
sport with age
Source

This isn’t the whole story, of course. As I noted in my previous article, participation is usually measured annually. Regular participation tells a slightly different story. Most kids are physically active at least weekly**, while adults are trying for three times a week. Or put another way, kids get dragged to sport on a Saturday morning (and maybe once after school depending on how mum is feeling after cocktail hour) and adults manage to go for a walk three times a week when the dog starts bouncing off the walls with energy.

adult frequency
Source
child frequency
Source

Likewise, the motivations for physical activity are also tied to what people actually do – namely health and fitness. The differences come in with enjoyment and socialising being higher for sports versus activity. Obviously, everyone loves having their ribs mashed into their lungs as they are tackled to the ground during a friendly game of football***, so it is completely understandable that people would rank these highly for sports. But I would argue that non-sports activity is potentially fun/enjoyable and can be very sociable. If you don’t believe me, go to any university gym and see how much fun the gang of dudes pretending to look swole in stringer singlets are having hogging the bench press.

reasons
Source

Attitudes are changing.

“If you go back in the old days, competition was probably the key driver of the sports,” Mr Fairweather said. “Now it is all about health and fitness, whether you are playing sport or physical activity.” Source

So with that change in attitude and lifetime participation, I think it is time to change our focus away from sports. Whenever these surveys are reported it is always couched in terms of how we need to encourage people back into sports – with pictures/videos of football players and fat kids lying on a couch gaming. But that is missing the point entirely. People are shifting away from sports for a reason. People actually prefer physical activity. We’re pushing kids to be involved in sports instead of setting up good physical activity behaviours for life.

Trying to increase sports participation isn’t the solution, it is the problem. Setting up kids to be physically active for life is the solution, and that requires a rethink and a reallocation of resources. We could start by not calling these sports surveys “sport” surveys. Unless we want to keep pretending walking is a sport.

*As opposed to the very concerning rise in the pastime of shooting US kids.

**Kids are generally more active than adults, though. This is something lost in these surveys due to the way activity is defined. An adult might go to the gym and have an intense 30 minutes of telling other gym goers about their new diet, but kids will spend several hours chasing each other around the playground in an attempt to ruin yet another pair of sneakers. The former will be counted as physical activity, the latter won’t.

***The type of tackle and how many ribs that end up broken will greatly depend on the most popular code in your area. Not every football code is wimpy enough to wear padding and not every code allows proper tackling instead of tripping.

Update: Physical education people are starting to come around to my POV.

More stats: https://www.clearinghouseforsport.gov.au/research/smi/ausplay/results/sport

Scarface Claw – Too Serious

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Scarface Claw: The Toughest Tom In Town.

This time last year (2017) my family and I attended the book launch of the latest instalment in the Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Dairy) series by Lynley Dodd. Hairy Maclary and his friends have been entertaining people, particularly younger people with an as yet undeveloped world-weariness, for 30 years. The latest book in the series is titled Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! and I’m left with some very important questions.

For those who aren’t aware, Scarface Claw is the toughest tomcat in the town where Hairy Maclary and his friends live. Which town this happens to be and the relative toughness of the other tomcats living there is not explored in any detail in the series, which could be regarded as an oversight. Scarface Claw has, on more than one occasion, threatened or utilised violence against the cats and dogs in town. This has seen scatters of paws and clatters of claws from Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum, Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony, Muffin McClay like a bundle of hay, Bottomley Potts covered in spots, Hercules Morse as big as a horse, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy.

Obviously, this nasty, violent, and abusive cat makes for an ideal protagonist in a children’s book. Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! marks the tomcat’s second outing as the hero.

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This adventure sees our cranky and crotchety hero sunning himself on top of Tom’s car. Somehow, Tom manages to not see the rather large black tomcat sprawled on the roof of his red car and hurries off to somewhere very important – another detail unexplored by the narrative. Since this is the inciting incident of the story, you would expect it to be more believable. Are we to seriously believe that Tom doesn’t notice old Scarface? As we soon discover, literally everyone else in the town notices Scarface Claw clinging to the roof of the car, so either Tom should be required to acquire prescription lenses for driving or he knew Scarface Claw was there all along.

That Tom knowingly drove around town with a cat on his roof is not inconceivable. Scarface Claw has a long and infamous history, particularly amongst the resident town pets, so mistreatment of the tomcat may be a common occurrence. It may be that this mistreatment is what makes Scarface Claw the nasty cat he is. Maybe with extensive therapy, Scarface Claw could become a lovable and friendly cat who would be invited to Slinky Malinky’s house in a tail waving line. We can only hope.

We also have to question why everyone in town noticed Scarface Claw clinging to the roof and wanted to “rescue that cat”. Presumably, the townfolk recognised Scarface Claw, so either they are more kind and caring than Tom – plausible given my previous points about potential mistreatment – or they are starved for excitement such that waving a sock at a driver with a cat on his car roof would make it into a lifetime highlights list. But that doesn’t excuse the next issue.

I know that many animal lovers would support the use of police and fire and rescue for animal emergencies, but you have to question Constable Chrissie’s response. Did the Constable honestly have nothing better to do with her time than pull Tom over? What laws has he broken? If Tom has broken some laws, why wasn’t he charged with an offence? And why didn’t she call for a licensed animal controller, such as the Ranger, instead of relying on the ever conveniently helpful Miss Plum?* Does Constable Chrissie suspect that Tom is an abusive pet owner and is wanting to compile a list for a potential animal welfare case?**

There are so many questions left unanswered, so many details not covered, that I am left at a loose end. I can only hope that future books in the series will address these issues in some way.

*Miss Plum has a long habit of helping the town pets out of their adventurous mishaps. She seems to always conveniently arrive in the nick of time. A more suspicious person would suspect that something more sinister is at play here. Is Miss Plum stalking the town pets? Is she behind the pets’ misadventures? Hopefully, these questions will be addressed in later instalments in the series.

**Or at least intervene where possible to stop animal abuse events.***

***And it is possible that Constable Chrissie keeps an eye on Tom and his activities – possibly Miss Plum does as well – because she suspects Tom’s animal abuse may morph into something more serious. Best to catch a killer early.

Paw Patrol – Too Serious

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Recently my family went to the Paw Patrol movie. My youngest is a (relatively) big fan and as a result, I found myself finally sitting down and watching a complete Paw Patrol adventure. And I’m left with some very important questions.

For those who aren’t aware, Paw Patrol is a rescue team that spans police, fire, construction, recycling, aquatic, and aviation – with later seasons adding snow and forest services and a robotic helper. This rescue team are based in the aptly named Adventure Bay and run by Ryder and his team of puppies.

Oh, was that not clear? The rescue team are composed of puppies with a series of catchphrases and dog houses that convert into vehicles. These catchphrases are very important to the show as they comprise roughly 60% of each episode; there is very little new content in any given adventure.

Ryder
“No job is too big, no pup is too small!”
Chase
“Chase is on the case!”
Marshall
“I’m fired up!”
Skye
“Let’s take to the sky!”
Rocky
“Don’t lose it, Reuse it!”
Rubble
“Rubble on the double!”
Zuma
“Let’s dive in!”
Everest
“Ice or snow, I’m ready to go!”
Tracker
“I’m all ears!”/”Todo Oidos!”

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This brings me to the crux of the issue with Paw Patrol. Adventure Bay is riddled with people in need of rescue, and in later seasons there are even nefarious plots by royalty and rival mayors to cause havoc. So it is odd that this bustling town has decided to entrust major rescue efforts, law enforcement, and fire management to a 10-year-old and his team of puppies.

I’m not sure it is wise to allow Ryder to operate with such autonomy given his age. And as much as the pups have proved themselves capable, surely they are also too young and inexperienced for such important roles.* You have to question who allowed Ryder to establish the Paw Patrol and why he is allowed to continue.

Obviously, it helps that the mayor – one Mayor Goodway and her purse chicken Chickaletta – are often in need of assistance due to their own incompetence. This would certainly make Ryder and his pups endearing to Goodway. She seems willing to overlook Ryder’s repeated risk-taking and near catastrophic failures, even when it inspires others to wreak havoc. Would this fly in any other town?

Ryder also seems to have a suspiciously large amount of resources for a 10-year-old. The custom transforming dog houses are a marvel of technology that must have cost a fortune to make. Even if we are to believe that Ryder builds them all himself, this would require funds from somewhere, and knowledge that would have any tech company begging him to come and work for them. But new adventures see new technology introduced, seemingly overnight. Where does Ryder find time to design, engineer, and build aerial, submersible, etc, versions of equipment for his pups?** And when did he find time to be on the cutting edge of robotics and AI to create a robotic assistant dog?

I would contend that Ryder’s activities are not as altruistic as first appears. He seems to have infiltrated Adventure Bay and bribed his way to power using money and goodwill. The mayor looks the other way whilst he trains a team of puppies to do his bidding. His recklessness is all fun and games for the moment, but we will no doubt see Ryder’s true colours when one of the rescues fails and he has to show accountability.

Let us hope that on that day his puppies are able to be true heroes and save Ryder from himself.

*Sidenote: what happens when they are no longer puppies? Do they age out of the Paw Patrol team? Are they suddenly unemployed? Are there nearby towns/cities that take dogs with transforming dog houses, or are they abandoned to become strays? Will we one day see former Paw Patrol members return to Adventure Bay as bitter and twisted dogs bent on exacting revenge upon their former master who abandoned them?

**And I haven’t even touched on his ability to defy the laws of physics with some inventions. E.g. Marshall seems to have an unlimited supply of fire suppressant in a backpack that he can comfortably carry. Is it powered by as yet undiscovered physics, or does it tap into a well of magic? Why isn’t he sharing this technology with the world?

Update: According to reliable news sources, Chase has been in an officer-involved shooting. It has been confirmed that Zuma, the black Lab, was shot 17 times in the back after Chase mistook Zuma’s bone for a gun.

Update: The Misogyny and Authoritarianism of ‘Paw Patrol’.

Economics of medicine

Recently I was reading an article in Aeon Magazine about the challenges faced by the medicine industry – commonly referred to as Big Pharma or Big Pharma written in one of those fonts with blood dripping from it and a syringe being stabbed into a baby. One of the big changes in medicine development discussed was the patent period that allowed monopolies on new drugs, which in turn saw orphan drugs – not drugs for Oliver “please sir, can I have some more” Twist, but drugs for rarer conditions and illnesses – become more popular/profitable to develop.

It’s an interesting issue and the article is worth reading. But it got me to thinking about something a little tangential. No, not whether Oliver Twist needs a remake set in south-east Asian sweatshops. I wondered how much money is actually spent on things.

Take for example this:

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Source.

Drug development appears to take a backseat to marketing. But this depends on what section of the market, how big the company is, and other factors. Clearly, medicine development is still a big expense, but how much is spent on research and development overall?

Worldwide pharma R&D $
Total global pharmaceutical research and development spending from 2008 to 2022 (in billions of U.S. dollars) Source.

That global pharmaceutical research spending is quite large at $165 billion. Or is it?

Rank Country Spending
($ Bn.)
% of GDP % of World share
World total 1,739 2.2
1 United States United States 610.0 3.1 35.0
2 China People’s Republic of China 228.0 1.9 13.0
3 Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 69.4 10 4.0
4 Russia Russia 66.3 4.3 3.8
5 India India 63.9 2.5 3.7
6 France France 57.8 2.3 3.3
7 United Kingdom United Kingdom 47.2 1.8 2.7
8 Japan Japan 45.4 0.9 2.6
9 Germany Germany 44.3 1.2 2.5
10 South Korea South Korea 39.2 2.6 2.3
11 Brazil Brazil 29.3 1.4 1.7
12 Italy Italy 29.2 1.7 1.7
13 Australia Australia 27.5 2.0 1.6
14 Canada Canada 20.6 1.3 1.2
15 Turkey Turkey 18.2 2.2 1.0  sourceoriginal

Suddenly the amount spent on medicine research and development seems rather small. The USA government alone could easily cover the expense of medicine research if it decided to change priorities, since it spends 3.7 times that much on defence.*

Would it be a good idea for governments to have a Department of Pharmaceuticals that researched, developed, and sold medicines? Would that be money better spent than stockpiling tanks in a desert? Certainly, it would address several of the issues raised in the Aeon Magazine article around how the profitability of drugs, rather than the consumer needs, drives research and development.

This sort of thinking could be applied to many industries. The reality is that there isn’t actually a shortage of money but a lack of incentive to invest money in some areas in favour of others. The solution doesn’t have to be the government taking over, nor does it have to be about private companies not being profitable. But maybe it does have to be about rethinking what we spend money on.

Richard Denniss made similar arguments in his Quarterly Essay Dead Right about the Australian economy.

So maybe it is time to stop accepting the argument “we can’t afford X” and start having the discussion about how we spend for the most good. Or not, I’m not your boss.

*To be clear, I’m not suggesting we stop all spending on something like defense, or that there aren’t reasons for spending money on things like tanks. But as Richard’s video suggests, we are making value judgments and assumptions without really questioning them.

Book review: Astrophyics for people in a hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a HurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oppose the gravitational force with your phalanges if you value science.

Science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson understands that most people don’t have time to read physics books – plus they are hard work to read. So he decided to package together some of his essays into a book that covers the major aspects of astrophysics in a way anyone could enjoy and learn from.

While reading this book I had a revelation. Could there be an explanation other than Dark Matter and Dark Energy for the gravity and expansion of the universe?

I’m going to propose Pratchett’s Theorem as an alternate hypothesis for the expansion of the universe and gravity. Since the universe is flat and there are unexplained gravity and expansion, I postulate that this flat universe is riding on the backs of four large elephants. This explains the gravity pulling everything down. These elephants are riding on the back of a large turtle who swims through the multiverse. The elephants are slowly moving away from one another – which explains the expansion – and walking down the curved shell of the turtle such that each step is larger than the last – which explains the increased speed of expansion.

This, of course, raises the questions of whether it was the elephants who were the prime movers behind the “Big Bang”, whether the elephants will keep walking down the shell until they fall off tearing the universe to shreds, or whether the elephants will eventually decide to walk back toward one another for a reunion? Do they also walk directly away from one another, or do they walk around the shell, such that the universe rotates? Given everything within the universe rotates, it would only make sense that this rotation is caused by the elephant’s motion.

Anyway, NDGT’s book was a good read. It doesn’t dumb things down, nor use too many lay terms, which was refreshing. But as a scientist, albeit in a completely different field, it felt like the book was aimed at a more general audience, particularly those who aren’t familiar with many of the topics discussed. Which made it only a good but not a great read for me.

View all my reviews

Writer Advice: Alcoholism

ice-tea
Ice Tea or Whisky? Your friends won’t know either, and after the first four, you won’t notice the lemon ruining the flavour.

Tip #1: Ice Tea looks just like whisky.

Do you need to hide just how much you are drinking from friends and family but can’t bring yourself to drink gin or vodka? Then “Ice Tea” might be your new preferred drink.

Tip #2: As long as you drink wine from a glass people will assume you are a connoisseur.

Wine is regarded as a classy drink, so as long as you drink it in a classy way, few will notice that some glasses can fit an entire bottle in them.

Tip #3: Don’t use crystal decanters.

Crystal decanters may look classy but they are expensive and are slowly giving you lead poisoning. Instead, just rub the label off of one of your bottles. A cheap and easy solution that won’t be poisoning you.

Tip #4: Wine and Whisky Clubs are your friends.

Even if no-one else loves you, subscription wine and whisky clubs love sending you a new supply of alcohol direct to your house. There is no longer a need to be reminded just how much you hate the rest of the world by having to venture out to the liquor store when home delivery is now a reality.

Tip #5: These lists always need to be five or ten items long.

Seriously, have you ever noticed that? Never four or seven, always five or ten. Sometimes if people are feeling keen, or have an auto-amalgamating post generator, they will stretch to twenty or thirty. Magazines used to do fifty and one hundred lists. Remember that? Of course, no one really cared to read the whole list. Usually, you’d just scan through for things that would catch your attention and then make note of the number one spot. And then write a comment arguing how the list was rubbish.

My Fellowship at KSP

 

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A room for writing.

It feels like only yesterday, but it’s actually just over a week since I finished my Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre. What’s a Fellowship? I hear you ask. Actually, I didn’t hear you, but I do hear voices in my head – no, I have an adequate sufficiency of matches, so be quiet. Anyway, I applied for a writing retreat to focus on (finishing….) my novel Evil Corp. Twelve-and-a-half days to do nothing but writing in a purpose built hut.

The writing huts are modeled after Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s own writing retreat and are very much focussed on having a room to write in. Your desk faces out onto the garden – I had a view of a gum tree with a beehive in its trunk – you have amenities for snacks and drinks, a chair for quiet contemplation, and a bed for… well, you know what beds can be used for.

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I had a whiteboard… which I didn’t end up using. And a giant pencil… which I also didn’t use.

The hut was quiet and felt ideally suited to writing. Or painting. Or reading. Or slowly going mad and deciding to live like a hermit. All good options.

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Yes, I brought a guitar.

The best feature was definitely the lack of adjoining accommodation for young children, who slowly steal your hopes and dreams as they consume more of your life than you’d ever imagine, such that you wake up at 40 wondering why you haven’t published a novel yet.

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Welcome Pack: Welcome letter, KSP sticker, KSP Fellow card, CHOCOLATE!

With the welcome letter in hand, my computer set up, I was ready to right write!

Getting my author on

Reading Anne's story at KSP Open day 2018
Not sure if I made this picture blurry by drinking too much caffeine, or if it was the wrong lighting for the camera to focus.

For my stay at KSP I had set a few hard and soft goals. Hard goals were things like: relax and enjoy being able to pursue my hobby uninterrupted for a fortnight; not wake up at 5am because my kids weren’t going to be there; refrain from buying a beret and neck-scarf; write more than 1,000 words per day. Soft goals were things like: wake up before noon; eat properly; get some exercise; try not to feel guilty about leaving my wife alone with our kids; write 20,000 words during my stay. Try to guess which goals I achieved.

I didn’t want to place too much pressure on myself to, say, “finish my novel” or “write 5,000 words a day”, because that would have sucked the fun out of the Fellowship. Having previously won NaNoWriMo, I knew I could write 2,000 words a day for a sustained period, but I was surprised at how having more time to write didn’t necessarily increase output. I’m going to claim that it was higher quality than NaNoWriMo writing though. A low bar I’m willing to jump over. But I did manage to write 20,000 words, do some plotting, create a few characters, outline several chapters for the future, review a couple of books, and come up with two plots for other projects, so it felt productive.

On the first weekend of my Fellowship the KSP Writers’ Centre held their open day. It was a fun event and well attended despite the threats of rain. As the above photo shows, I was asked to do a reading for the event on behalf of one of my writing groups. I read Werespoon by my fellow Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror group author Anne Forbes. Gillian Clarke read on behalf of my other author group, the Thursday Night group.

Another thing that made me feel authorly was mingling with other authors.

Surrounded by other authors

Me Kaaron Warren and Rachel Mead
Rachael Mead, Kaaron Warren, me being told to smile more.

Writing is generally regarded as a lonely occupation. Well, unless you take your laptop to a coffee shop so you can tell anyone who has the misfortune of coming too close that you’re an author and that sitting in a coffee shop telling people about your WIP counts as writing. The KSP cabins were decidedly setup for writing. On your own. Uninterrupted. I brought a guitar. But I still managed to hang out with other authors.

Kaaron Warren and Rachael Mead were also at KSP doing a Residency and Fellowship respectively. Kaaron has been publishing stories since before I’d figured out Coco-Pops didn’t need extra sugar. She was shortlisted for an Australian Shadow Award while she was in residence, and just last week released Tide Of Stone. One evening we were discussing awards (she is a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year) and she casually mentioned being beaten by luminaries Stephen King and KJ Parker… I’m not sure that counts as losing.

Rachael has a PhD in creative writing and, like Kaaron, an impressive list of awards to her name. She has published multiple poetry collections, including one that came out earlier this year, and regularly contributes arts reviews to magazines. She also writes short stories and was working on what appears to have become a collection themed around paramedics during her time at KSP.

Which made me the bumbling rookie trying not to sound like an amateur around the two pros.

It was invaluable to chat with them over dinner, or at drink-o-clock, or at procrastination time. For example, Rachael helped me with a chapter I was headed in the wrong direction with. But it was also good just to be able to have a chat and socialise, including catching up with an old friend who is a mutual friend of Kaaron’s. If that wasn’t enough wordsmiths to hang out with, we also had a lovely dinner out with some other KSP Fellows. See the blurry photo below that proves kids aren’t necessarily good with technology.

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Dinner with some other KSP Fellows.

Summary

It was great to have the opportunity to feel like a writer and make some progress on (one of) my works in progress. I met some lovely people, got some writing done, and didn’t get woken up by a toddler wanting to find the teddy that is lying right next to them in bed even once. I very much appreciate the board and staff at the KSP Writers’ Centre for awarding me the Fellowship.

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 US 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.

 

What is the name of a kangaroo’s child?

No_Problem_Mate

Kangaroo names really depends upon the mother kangaroo. Mother kangaroos (does or jills) are known to choose names for their joeys based upon:

  • traditional family names
  • popular movie character names
  • favourite fictional characters – typically from movies, but also books

Some of the less common ways jills will choose joey names are:

  • Pick up on joey’s cues (leads to a lot of joeys being called Kick and Jump)
  • Go to the bookshop and pick a random name from a random book (although kangaroos aren’t generally allowed in bookstores due to their habit of browsing and not buying anything)
  • Ask the joey (given kangaroos can’t talk I’m not sure this helps)
  • Name associations (for kangaroos who like word games)
  • Get your other joeys to decide (hard if this is the jills’ first joey)
  • Pull the name out of a hat (although kangaroos don’t wear hats)
  • Meaningful moments (which leads to names like Hop Away From Hunter, and Juicy Leaves).

Some rules jills generally abide by in naming:

  • no names of former girlfriends or boyfriends
  • no names used for pets (not that kangaroos have a lot of pets)
  • no names already used by friends or colleagues (they are often in mobs, so best not to double up on names).

Hope this helps.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Yep. Someone used Quora instead of Google for this. They are probably registered to vote too. Just think about that.

KSP Writer’s Fellowship

The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre have announced their Writers-in-Residence and Fellows for 2018. I’ve been awarded a Fellowship to work on a satirical novel titled Evil Corp.

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This will be a wonderful opportunity to have time and space to write. Here’s the blurb for the story:

Evil-Corp

Here at Evil Corp we have been successfully carving a path toward world domination for 15 years. With our dedicated staff we want to have you serve our every whim.

Your family deserves the security and friendly authoritarian rule that you could expect from an organisation like Evil Corp, but with the personal touches that only a caring and understanding community minded team can offer.

Have you bowed down to Evil Corp?

Update: The list of residencies and dates with author profiles are now available. I’m afraid it appears I’m the only one who didn’t take their profile seriously.

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 a 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!

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.

News: Short Story Shortlisted

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I don’t often post news here. Nothing worse than being seen as someone blowing their own trumpet – and is that now officially called a Steve Bannon?

This morning I received an email congratulating me on being shortlisted for a short story award.

Dear Tyson

The KSP Foundation is delighted to advise that your story ‘Flicker’ has been short listed in the Open category of this year’s Ghost Story competition. 

The winners will be announced on Saturday 26th August 2017 at the KSP Writers’ Centre. We would also like to invite you to read your story on the night, to share with our audience. 

With our best wishes and warmest congratulations,

Kind regards,

NB: I’ve edited the email. Unless you wanted the details and directions to the event.

A little background, at the writers’ group I’ve joined we have a monthly challenge. We take a random excerpt from an award-winning novel in the KSP (Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre) library and use it as inspiration for a short story. Knowing that the Ghost Story Competition was coming up, several of us used the monthly challenge as the basis for entries.

I haven’t heard from my writers’ group friends as to whether they were shortlisted as well. But I do know that the judges had huge piles of entries to read, so it will be interesting to see how many there were in total. I’m betting the judges appreciated the word limit.

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
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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
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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