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.

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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 extracting 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?

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.

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Writer Advice: Alcoholism

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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.