Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book Review: Snow Angel by Badger Jones

Snow AngelSnow Angel by Badger Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What if your Guardian Angel is watching you right now? Yeah, better close that other browser tab. You know the one.

Alex is a bum. His daily adventures revolve around stomping through the snow to buy the best “bang for buck” beverages after begging for money. And then he meets his Guardian Angel who is a huge fan of his lifestyle. Oh, and apocalypse. Gotta avoid another one of those.

In the interests of full disclosure, my friend Badger wrote this novel. He didn’t offer me financial, reciprocal, nor sexual favours for a favourable review: the bastard.

There is a lot to like about this novel. There is a hard reality to the main character’s life as the supernatural intrudes upon the tale. There is humour combined with a grittiness throughout. But I also found myself wanting the novel to advance a little faster. It wasn’t laboured, it’s actually quite fast paced, but it felt like I was having to sit still for too long as Alex wrapped his head around what was happening. Although, this is often the risk with the loser anti-hero; you can get annoyed at them.

In other words, give it a read.

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Book Review: The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03 by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What did the one eyed monster say to the art thief….. Wait, this isn’t that sort of novel.

Gideon Crew has been tasked with stealing a page out of a rare and valuable Book of Kells in order to uncover a map. Like any good map, it leads to a treasure worth killing for; something Google Maps really needs to work on. To follow the map Gideon needs a sidekick who knows ancient Greek and the tale of Odysseus. Off Gideon and Ami romp to find the McGuffin.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child rank somewhere on my favourite author list, since I’m a fan of their individual novels and their joint Pendergast series. So I was somewhat disappointed in my first outing with the Gideon Crew series. This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t good either.

Normally the usual “historical artefact can save/doom the world” trope is deftly handled by Preston and Child. They wrap enough interesting characters and plotting around the improbable to make it all work. But the minor characters weren’t that interesting and Gideon was not a character I connected with. You could probably replace Gideon with an amorphous blob of sentient putty and I’d have been more engaged. And you need this engagement because you have to ignore how ludicrous a race of cyclops are – seriously, just wouldn’t have evolved: not plausible at all.

I doubt I’ll return to the Gideon Crew series and will instead stick with Preston and Child’s other (superior) works.

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Some more “kids these days”

I’m not a fan of the “kids these days” arguments and memes that make their way through social media via the express head shaking admonishment brigade. I’ve written previously how the arguments are recycled garbage, as old people have been complaining about young people since the invention of youths.

You may have seen this image:

kids on their phones

That’s right: self involved kids looking at their phones instead of the amazing work of art behind them. How dare they! Shake your fist at the sky.

Of course, they aren’t self involved narcissists, at least not any more so than other people in society. That is actually a group of students that have just finished admiring the artwork and receiving a lecture on the Rembrandt and are now using the museum guided tour app to learn more. To quote:

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

I would like to think that all those who liked, posted, shared and tweeted the picture of children on smartphones by Rembrandt’s masterpiece in the erroneous belief that it illustrated everything that is wrong with society feel a tiny bit silly and a little more humble as a consequence. But it won’t happen. The tragic thing is that this — the truth — will never go viral. So, I wonder, what is more likely to bring about the death of civilisation, children using smartphones to learn about art or the wilful ignorance of adults who are too quick to make assumptions?

Whether it be art, technology, manners, or just plain old fashioned respect for elders, people seem far too quick to complain about kids these days. It always seems to have been better in the good old days, as long as you ignore the wars, child death rate, education levels, work and social rights, equality, food…. actually I’ll stop that list now before I run the point into the ground. So take any of these arguments, images, and claims with huge pinches of salt, as there is probably a parallel version from a previous generation.

tech making us antisocial

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.

Too funny! And true!

I saw Susie shiv Sam, sitting in a shoe shine shop.
Where she sits she shines and stabs, and where she shines she sits sinfully.

booksandopinions.com

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Book to Movie: Winter Solider – What’s the Difference?

This month’s CineFix edition of What’s the Difference cover the Ed Brubaker comic that inspired the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie.

Unlike Civil War, I managed to read the Ed Brubaker series of comics before watching the Winter Solider movie. Obviously there are a lot of differences, especially in terms of the expanded universe and “realism” of the movie world. The comics have decades of plots, sideplots, overlapping arcs from other parts of the Marvel Universe, characters, and general junk that is impossible to pack into a 2 hour movie. I actually find the way Marvel and DC have their stables of comics overlap and exist in the same universe to be annoying. The movies are starting to head that way as well, what with Age of Ultron essentially spending a third of its run time building the associated Thor, Ironman, Captain America, etc, movies.

One of the differences not really covered in the CineFix video is the other Captain Americas. That’s right, several other Caps wore the…. cap. Anyway, while Steve Rogers was chilling (Bucky too, but in a separate location) America didn’t want to lose its figurehead so they had some other people fill the role. From memory, at least one of them was integral to the plot, despite being no longer all there. This part of the plot also fed into the series that came immediately after Winter Soldier, with Bucky donning the costume and hefting the shield. For anyone about to complain about spoilers with that last sentence, try not to think about what could have happened to Steve Rogers to require Bucky to become Captain America.

In my original review for the Winter Soldier movie I commented that the writers had managed to capture Brubaker’s cold war spy story feel. They did this with very little similarities between the comic and movie. In some ways I think the movie is better, certainly I like the Steve Rogers of the film more, and they hadn’t quite gone overboard with the expanded universe stuff at that time, but in others the usual restrictions of the shorter format lessens the possible storytelling (Crossbones, the other Captain Americas, the relationships). Two very different stories were told but I still think this was a good adaptation.

Book Club Problems!

Sometimes the movie is better.

Come at me bro!

booksandopinions.com

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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.

Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When most people die in space from sudden deceleration you’d think they’d install some airbags in spaceships. Safety first!

The third Expanse novel by James Corey sees Holden and his crew being manipulated into starting an interplanetary war. Since they now have a Stargate – I assume that name isn’t trademarked, or at least the Goa’uld won’t blast me for using it – the interplanetary war threatens to become an intergalactic war. Although war isn’t the correct term for advanced intelligences fighting people, the correct term would be genocide. Let’s see Holden talk his way out of this one.

Abaddon’s Gate was another great instalment in the Expanse series. The core characters are back and continuing to be grown and layered. The new viewpoint characters are also interesting, although they aren’t anywhere near as cool as Avasarala, a character that won’t be topped any time soon. The story also went in directions I wasn’t expecting, mainly due to the complex layering of plots. I’m tempted to call this the most ambitious of the Expanse novels so far, but my memory could just be on the fritz.

I’ve seen a few other reviews that suggested events and characters were a little too conveniently manoeuvred into place. I’d say the opposite is true and indicates that people will have to pay attention to the story and character developments. Some people clearly got a little lost.

Cibola Burn should be interesting now that they have the Stargate system to explore. I’m sure humans will try to make a mess of that somehow.

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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.

Book Review: The Promise by Robert Crais

The Promise (Elvis Cole, #16; Joe Pike, #5; Scott James & Maggie #2)The Promise by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a professional thief pretends to be a terrorist does that mean they blow all of their money in a public place?

Well, Elvis Cole would have found that funny. Bite me.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back and this time they have been hired to investigate a missing person. Somehow that missing person leads to black market arms deals, murder investigations, Homeland Security mole hunts, thieves and terrorists. We also get to see some more of Scott James and his dog Maggie. Narration from the POV of the dog: go on, buy the book right now.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a Robert Crais novel. I loved his early Elvis Cole novels but when he moved away from the humorous tone later in the series I lost interest. Fortunately I decided to check back in to see what was happening with Cole and Pike. This was a terrific read, with plenty of twists and turns, and is crammed full of interesting characters. The only negative I have is that the humour of the early novels is still taking a back seat. There are some Cole moments, but that aspect has been dialled right back, something I continue to miss with Crais’ writing.

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Book Review: Hell’s Super by Mark Cain

Hell's Super (Circles In Hell, #1)Hell’s Super by Mark Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hell is being surrounded by famous people, apparently.

Hell’s Super follows Steve Minion, the only non-famous person in hell as far as I can tell, as he tries to fix all the problems that come up in hell. Whether it be replacing a broken light bulb on the sign leading into hell (Abandon all hope ye who enter here), or stopping a civil uprising, Steve is tasked with fixing the problem because he sucks at fixing things: it’s hell, it’s his punishment. His sidekick is Orson Welles and he is dating Florence Nightingale: enough said.

I picked up Mark Cain’s Hell’s Super as it promised to be a novel in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Good Omens: some satire, some straight laughs, some silly fun. It had those elements but for me it rarely rose above mildly entertaining. Having recently re-read Good Omens, a book Hell’s Super is compared to in the back cover blurb, I can safely say that the Pratchett and Gaiman novel is not being knocked off the Best Novel of All Time podium any time soon. Too much of the humour and plot relies on utilising famous people and irony (especially in the punishments) to be classed as Pratchett-esque satire and humour. It also didn’t help that the plot twists were obvious given the setting.

That said, this is an entertaining novel with enough humour to amuse. I think the comparisons drawn to Good Omens, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams in the blurb set up too-high an expectation for me. Knowing that, you may enjoy it more as a result.

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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.

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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.

 

Book Review: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes in a novel when you go down the well you have to put the lotion on your skin, other times you’re travelling back to Earth. The latter; this one is the latter.

James Holden and his crew of the Rocinante are back again serving as an ad hoc belter law enforcement when they are sent to investigate an incident on Ganymede. Things quickly circle the drain from there as the war between Earth, Mars, and The Belt threatens to start again at any moment. Oh, and Venus is now under alien control. Fun times.

This is the second novel in The Expanse series by James SA Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and as a sequel to Leviathan Wakes it delivers. I thoroughly enjoyed the further adventures of the Rocinante crew, but the new characters of Bobbie, Prax and Avasarala only added to fuel to the fire. Avasarala in particular is a great character to follow, making the political side to the story palatable (Avasarala is portrayed by Shohreh Aghdashloo in the TV series, and I’m sure the writers had her in mind when the character was created).

I guess that means it is time to start reading the third novel in this series. Tough job but someone has to do it.

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Book Review: Storm Front by Richard Castle *nod*wink*

Storm Front (Derrick Storm, #4)Storm Front by Richard Castle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a fictional bestselling author writes a bestselling book that refers to a fictionalised version of his fictional character, at what point does reality start gurgling down the drain?

Derek Storm and Xiangbang have uncovered a plot by a hedge-fund manager to ruin the world economy for financial gain. The hedge-fund manager has hired Storm’s presumed dead nemesis, Gregor Volkov, to aid his plans, i.e. Volkov is hired to kill the right people. Can Storm and Xiangbang stop the carnage and global economic meltdown?

Derek Storm is the super id and hero of the Richard Castle novels. Richard is the fictional author and lead character in the Castle TV show. Rather than have a novel tie-in for the show, Tom Straw has written a series of novels as though he was Richard Castle writing them. This entire series – of which I’ve only read a couple of instalments of – is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Case in point: there is one scene in this novel that has a crossover between the Nikki Heat and Derek Storm characters that then references the fictionalised versions of the Castle TV show. The exchange of “ruggedly handsome” compliments that flows between the various representations of Richard Castle is something Nathan Fillion’s character would definitely do.

It is hard to recommend this novel or any of the Richard Castle books without the caveat that they are meant to be cheesy to fit with the meta-humour and references to the TV show. If you aren’t a fan of Castle, or aren’t prepared for the style, this book and series would come off as hackneyed; I’ve seen other reviews suggest as much. So make sure you have your life-sized poster of Captain Mal (or is that Captain Hammer?) next to your reading chair to remind you that this is meant to be stupid-fun.

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Book review: The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling

The Only Pirate at the PartyThe Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The music industry has always run on Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll!! But not for Lindsey Stirling.

The Only Pirate at the Party is Lindsey Stirling’s autobiography…. Okay, is it still an autobiography when you co-write it with your sister? That’s not like having a ghost writer, right? Anyway, this is Lindsey’s story about carving out a career in music her own way.

I’m not exactly someone who follows TV “talent” shows and their stream of supposedly talented winners, let alone the people who lose those “talent” shows. I guess you could say I prefer a different kind of music, one that isn’t aimed at generating money off of teenagers voting and selling them insipid cover versions of songs. So it is odd that I would stumble across a crazily good dubstep/electronica dancing violinist who was one of the failed contestants on America’s Got Talent (now there’s an oxymoron title). It was the incongruous appeal of Lindsey’s music that had me interested in her background and thus, this book.

Lindsey’s story of success is not only interesting, but deeply personal. She discusses all sorts of personal issues, such as her love of Jesus – as defined by a 19th century con man – and her battle with anorexia. The starkest moments come in the audiobook version when Lindsey talks about her longtime bandmate/friend Jason Gaviati. Between the time when the book was written and when the audiobook was recorded, Jason died of cancer. Like I said: deeply personal.

Even if you aren’t a fan of her music, there is a lot to be taken away from this story. Lindsey’s tale of success comes from hard work and making her own opportunities. And how can you not enjoy the music?

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Book to Movie: The Martian – What’s The Difference?

This instalment of CineFix’s What’s The Difference? covers one of my favourite books: The Martian by Andy Weir.

As you can see from the breakdown, the film was a very faithful adaptation of the book. I thought the casting was spot on – can you believe some people didn’t think Matt Damon could get Watney’s tone right? – and they didn’t dumb anything down. Probably why I enjoyed both the book and the movie so much.

For me the main difference I noticed was the curtailing of some struggles in order to serve the larger plot and not have a 3 hour run-time. The continuous stream of problems that Watney had to McGyver his way out of really brought the “science the shit out of this” aspect to the fore. Most notable was the rover crash after the sandstorm. But for the movie you can see why they would cut that scene: it would have taken a fair bit of screen time, it would have detracted/distracted from the build-up to the big finish, and they’d probably have been tempted to go all Michael Bay with the crash. Car crashes have to explode: movie rule.

So if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, do both ASAP.

Science-the-shit-out-of-this

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