Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Writing”

A Place To Write

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

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

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

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

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

Portable writing tools

This list includes:

  • Pen and notebook
  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • Tablet

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

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

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

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

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

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The writing desk and computer

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

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

These articles cover some of the options:

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

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

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

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Writing Software**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope NaNoWriMo is going well

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I haven’t done NaNoWriMo since 2011. It can be a great experience and can teach you how to set and achieve writing goals. But mainly it is worth doing so you can fully appreciate Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s cartoons.

Conflict in fiction

 

10 Worst Types of Writers

Combating Writer's Block: Advice by Genre

From Jenna Moreci

The Hero’s Journey

Ever thought that Harry Potter’s adventures shared a lot in common with Luke Skywalker’s? Ever thought that Simba and Neo were soul mates? Can you believe I just used the term soul mates?

The reason so many of the stories we know and love feel familiar is because of one of the most popular narrative structures writers like to use. The Hero’s Journey is explained below using Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, Spiderman, The Lion King, and The Lord of the Rings. Worth also seeing how this structure fits into the 6 Story Arcs.

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Source: https://venngage.com/blog/heros-journey/

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.

Writer’s Block Solved

EPSON MFP image

More from Grant at his site: http://www.incidentalcomics.com/

More on Writer’s Block.

That isn’t literature

When I think of literature I think of an older guy sporting a greying moustache, sipping a sherry, wearing a smoking jacket, seated in a library of leather-bound books in front of a simmering log fire. The guy speaks with an aristocratic English accent and expounds on the greatness of some book that other older men dressed like him, sitting in similar log-fire warmed libraries, also like to read when not shagging the maid.

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Aspiring literary snob reader

Now clearly not everyone who reads literature fits this image. Some probably can’t even afford a maid to shag. But it does appear to be an image that people aspire toward, an image that informs what they deem literature, and thus what they deem worthy of reading. Rather than judging any written work based upon its lasting artistic merit – although that definition is so subjective as to be useless and ideal for starting pointless arguments…. (cough) – people seem intent on creating boundaries before a work is allowed to be judged. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works.

Normally I’d launch into a whinge about how speculative fiction is unfairly maligned, or how I’ve read crime fiction that has more artistic merit than most literary works. But instead I’m going to talk about graphic novels. In an article on The Conversation, Catherine Beavis explained how the graphic novel Maus came to be part of the literature curriculum.

Despite this explanation there was always going to be someone in the comments telling us how a graphic novel can’t be literature. I assume they wrote their comments whilst wearing a smoking jacket and taking a break from shagging the maid.

Well well……..so it’s art as literature.

Why not a more well-known comic (sorry graphic novel).

Not saying this isn’t a worthy addition to any curriculum, but more as social comment rather than literature.

Surely the novels of great Australian writers should be preferable – Winton, Malouf, Carey etc.

Let’s break these points apart one by one. As will be seen from further comments, the argument primarily revolves around the feelpinion that because graphic novels contain pictures they are art and thus not literature. A similar argument could be made for movies being TV shows and thus we could abolish the Oscars… actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Anyway, I guess we’d better break the news to the literature professors that Shakespeare’s plays need to be taken off of the curriculum.

The argument then moves to the “I haven’t heard of it, so it can’t be good” assertion. Maybe because they realise this isn’t a great argument, they immediately distance themselves from it. But we start to see the worthy argument being formed. I’ve argued many times that worthy is a great subjective argument put forward by people who think they are worthy.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a literary argument if someone didn’t cite some authors they deem worthy. For those unfamiliar with Winton, Malouf, and Carey, they are award-winning Aussie authors who write “interior histories” and about “people rebuilding their lives after catastrophe” and “people who experience death and will never be the same again”. None of those statements could be applied to a graphic novel about someone who survived the holocaust…. No sir.

Their list of worthy authors is as subjective as their comments about graphic novels and Maus. I could similarly ask why the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy isn’t on the curriculum. It has a lot to say about society and has entered the lexicon, which is more than can be said for any of the other authors mentioned nor the graphic novels being shunned. I could say the same again about Superman or Spiderman, which have implanted ideals and phrases of morality into society, regardless of whether people have read those graphic novels or not.

*Steps on soapbox*
I personally welcome any work into the class that will encourage kids to read, think and learn. And to anyone who derides graphic novels, they are clearly saying they don’t or haven’t read any.
*Steps down from soapbox*

The commenter responded to criticism of their subjective opinion:

That may be so, but my bigger point was that literature = words.

This is art with captions.

Not disputing that it may be hugely popular or good (even great)…
but literature it ain’t.

I think the appropriate response to this is a head shake. The problem is the black and white definition of what literature is, whilst ignoring the fact that the graphic novels fit the definition of literature. Pointing out the flaws in these opinions is as easy as saying that graphic novels, with very few exceptions, are composed of words. They also use graphics, but that is often a collaboration between the writer and the artists they work with. Thus, by the definition of “literature = words”, graphic novels are eligible to be classified as literature.

But anything to keep only the “worthy” books in contention as literature. Can’t have that kids stuff being called literary!

So I named three contemporary Australian writers – call me subjective.

I am not knocking the (art) form…just that it (to ME) is not literature.

Your opinion is obviously as valid as mine……don’t get huffy.

The last point here is one that irks me more than irksome irkers on an international irking junket. Opinions are not equally valid. That sort of subjectivism nonsense eats away at reality and suggests we “just don’t know, man”.

The commenter made a subjective list, so I put together some examples that were superior in quantifiable ways (impact on society, entering the lexicon, referenced by society) to show that the subjective claims were more worthless than a $9 note because clearly not much knowledge or thought was put into the claims.

There is also the idea of literary critique and argument, rather than stating feelpinions. I’ve stated an opinion and argued it, offering reasoning. The examples I countered with aren’t necessarily the best choices, but I have justified and quantified my argument, something you learn in high school literature class. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer, so clearly someone in the literati agrees. And surely a Pulitzer prize winner is worthy of being on the curriculum. But of course all opinions are equally valid and “I’m entitled to my opinion”, dammit!

Surely the whole point of literature is that the reader has to imagine the scene described, the way words are spoken, the implications of what is said and much more. It’s all in the mind, which develops through reading.

A graphic novel presents the words and pictures with almost no imagining required. The number of words is hugely reduced to give way to often wasted space. In the example above there are 21 words, which if in normal lowercase type could be written in 10% of the space.

Sorry I’m not convinced graphic novels have any merit for senior students.

Shakespeare’s plays give stage directions and poetry is often deliberately obscure. So how do those examples fit this exclusionary definition of literature? I’m sure some artists would object to the idea that they aren’t conjuring a scene that develops in people’s minds. And is the idea to only allow readers to imagine a scene? Isn’t it about conveying ideas and emotions too? Isn’t this some great mental gymnastics to try to maintain Fort Literature from invasion by the Lesser Works?

The second paragraph is also exemplary of someone who hasn’t read many, if any, graphic novels. So of course this commenter wouldn’t be convinced that graphic novels are of any merit. First they’d have to know something. But that doesn’t hold them back from commenting.

While I’m in the mood for alienating folks, let me also say that this is a good example of dumbing down literature.

Give the kids a picture with limited words and maybe they’ll get the idea.

Don’t kids these days have the attention span to read a novel?

The last graphic novel I read was 480 pages long and took many hours to read. It covered sexual identity, morality, the greater good argument, do evil deeds make us evil, etc, as issues. The last “literature” novel I read was about a woman who manipulated people to get what she wanted. It was ~300 pages long and took many hours to read.*

This argument is typical of people who have a snobbish attitude to something based upon pure ignorance of the topic. Similar statements have been made throughout time, decrying the dumbing down or declining standards of today’s youth. Oddly enough it has been proven false again and again only to be spouted once more.

XKCD on declining writing standards

See the full original here: https://xkcd.com/1227/

There is a similar article on The Spectator – a home for uninformed opinion – which argues that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. Maybe I’ll address that one at some stage when I’m feeling masochistic, but I’m going to leave it there. The maid has arrived.

*This comparison was true at the time of my original comments on The Conversation. I’ve read many graphic novels since, but no further literature novels.

Bring back the Percontation Point

Have you ever written something sarcastic only to have someone take you seriously?

Have you tried to be ironic but people are confused as to whether you are being serious, ironic, or satirical?

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Well, how about we try to bring back the Percontation Point.

The Percontation Point, or the Irony Mark, used to be a punctuation mark that indicated that the sentence had another layer of meaning to it. With spoken words we get to use tone of voice or facial expressions to make sure people are hearing the other layers. In writing we have to make our layers so obvious that we bash people over the head to make it clear. Even then people will inevitably ask:

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Seriously, there is an entire website devoted to this.

So it is clear that writers need to revive the use of the Percontation Point to indicate sarcasm, satire, and irony. It is an essential tool for smart people to use to make stupid people feel even stupider. Which makes it the best punctuation mark of all.

Also called the Percontation Point and the Irony Mark, this one's used to indicate that there's another layer of meaning in a sentence. Usually a sarcastic or ironic one. So it is essentially a tool for smart people to use to make stupid people feel even stupider. Which makes it the best punctuation mark of all.

 

Writer’s Block

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Writers are very special people. We are so special that we have to have our own special terms instead of using the ones everyone else uses. For example, what everyone else calls procrastination is what a writer would term Writer’s Block. And because writers are so special, their procrastination isn’t just a time suck, it is THE WORST THING EVA!!!

Terrible Writing Advice has a terrific video to help understand this affliction.

Suffer no more.

I live in Australia and want to study Creative writing?

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I am 48 years old and want to write this novel I KNOW I have in me …..has anyone any suggestion? Thanks

There are plenty of ways to learn to write, the primary way being to write.

Most writers’ festivals have short half-day courses on aspects of writing that are worth attending. Writer’s festivals | australia.gov.au

Most states also have writers’ centres that run events and courses. Writers’ Centres

Several universities run creative writing courses. My friend and author, David Whish-Wilson (read his books, they are great), teaches creative writing at Curtin University in Western Australia. There are plenty of courses available via Open Universities online.

Another option are centres like the Australia Writers’ Centre who run various courses year round. I’ve done a course with them myself. My friend and author, LA Larkin, also teaches a course at the AWC.

But when all said and done, the primary way to learn to write is by doing it. But before you do remember the above sage piece of advice from the late, great, Christopher Hitchens.

More advice from some of the most prolific authors in this article from The Atlantic.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

The header image quote is discussed in more detail here.

What are some great books that will teach me to be a creative writer?

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I love creative writing and I’m good at university dissertations, but when I try to write a story, I struggle and the writing is often awkward. Yet I love doing it. What pratical guides or reading list would you recommend for people who wish to masted the art of writing and creative writing?

Creative writing is as much about practice as it is about any advice you can read in a book. Part of that practice is writing, part of it is editing your own work, and part of it is reading to see how others construct their prose.

Essentially, if you already know the mechanics of how to write, then the part that is missing is the hours and hours of practice and analysis of that practice.

That said, there are plenty of manuals on style and grammar that would be helpful. E.g. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is regarded as a classic of writing.

I personally think Stephen King’s On Writing is a must read for any author.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

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.

 

Down with Reading?

An interesting table of statistics – yes I am assuming statistics are interesting, why yes, I am a huge nerd – crossed my feed today. The table, presented below, shows the household expenditure breakdowns over time (1990-2009). The highlighted lines show the amounts spent on entertainment and reading.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

For those of you who are blind or prefer reading my words rather than a table of numbers, the statistics show that since 1990 there has been a pretty steady increase in household expenditure on entertainment, but the amount spent on reading has been in steady decline. Clearly it is time to panic. Movies, TV and gaming have won. Time to give up reading and writing. No future in it.

Well, that would be the conclusion if you don’t go and look for the source data.

Now I am rather lazy, so I haven’t bothered to look up every year of data and tried to recreate the table. But what I have done is looked up the figures from a few of the years not included in the table: 2010, 20112012 and 2013. The spend on reading from those years is $100, $115, $109 (no 2013 data as yet) and entertainment spend of $2,504, $2,572, $2,605 and $2,482. Seems like that trend stopped, or something.

Actually, the trend has more to do with the household demographics and income than any change in book buying. Whilst in the early 2000’s there was a drop in reading for entertainment from ~0.4% of household expenditure to ~0.2%, this has been consistent since. So readers are still buying and reading books at roughly the same proportion as always.

And who are the readers? Well, from the demographics breakdown the readers tend to be middle-aged or older, higher income, educated households, or households without kids. Apparently having kids stops you reading, can’t think why. And clearly older and more affluent people are the ones who can afford the hardcover prices, or see the value in them, or just like having something on the bookshelf surrounding their money pile – rich people have money piles in their houses, right?

To me this doesn’t say reading is a dying industry, rather that there are groups being missed by the current industry. Of course I’m biased and probably daydreaming about a magical place where books hunt down DVDs for sport. The younger people tend to have less entertainment expenditure, with the average consumer spending 5% of their income on entertainment, whilst under 25s spend between 4 and 5%. Their book buying appears to have declined and is lower than the average consumer, at 0.14% (2012). This makes them a missed market (or possibly buying cheaper e-books). The other groups spending less on books are the less educated and lower income people, and again, not just in total expenditure but in the proportion of household expenditure.

Clearly these three groups could be reading just as much but instead of buying books they are borrowing them from friends or libraries, or they might be buying cheaper books. But something tells me this isn’t the case, what with the kids these days with their hippity hop music and haircuts. To my mind the fear that the market for books is shrinking, as suggested by the above table, is not borne out by the more recent data. We see more competition for entertainment dollars yet books don’t change that much ($150 to $110 over 22 years is 3 paperbacks in the US) suggesting that the problem is in who is reading. If reading is going to be only for richer, older and more educated people then we have a problem, especially if we aren’t creating the next generation of readers.

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

Sometimes my worlds collide and produce awesome stuff. Today I present science smashing into writing and producing a revision of the periodic table of elements (did you know that the periodic table should actually be seen as cylindrical?).

Apparently this gem has been doing the rounds of the internet for at least a year, which shows you how out of touch with reality kids makes you. But recently the Periodic Table of Storytelling has become interactive, with James Robert Harris taking his design of storytelling tropes to the next level. Serial killer name aside, James has created a fun tool that is worth checking out.

periodic_table_of_storytelling_by_computersherpa-d3d6rdj-817x1024

James has also developed a few other narrative media that are worth checking out, such as the hero’s journey using Star Trek. See the rest of his webpage here: http://www.designthroughstorytelling.com/design-through-storytelling

Exercise articles by non-exercisers

I’ve lifted weights for a couple of decades now. The challenge of lifting heavy stuff is cool and the added side effects of being stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier are awesome.

Fitness is sexy

Fitness is sexy

After being around gyms and fellow fitness junkies this long you start to realise that articles on how to get in shape are as numerous as new programs claiming to be the best program ever. There is nothing wrong with different programs with different ideals, they allow you to have some variety, or at least someone to laugh at.
functional-stupidThe biggest belly laughs come from the articles that are written by people who clearly don’t lift. They make statements that are naïve or ridiculous, they don’t understand what fit or strong are, and they don’t really remember past the last hot fitness fad. One article that caught my eye recently was this one on the “new” and “better than Crossfit” program that is all the rage. By all the rage, I’m sure it will be after enough of these promotional articles are paid for written.

The first thing that struck me about this exercise article written by a non-exerciser was just how many times this particular wheel has been reinvented. In the few decades I’ve been going to gyms I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a circuit class on offer, well, except for the powerlifting gyms whose idea of cardio is walking from the car to the gym. I don’t know what is so revolutionary about another circuit class, which is essentially what this new program is. Circuit classes just have you move from one exercise to the next at timed intervals with little rest in between, so variations on this are not new, so they can’t be revolutionary. But you have to love a good celebrity endorsement!

Okay, I’ll admit that the article is a promotional piece on a new exercise program, so I shouldn’t hate on it too much. Instead I’ll get to the statements that I wish would disappear from fitness articles, preferably by having authors who know something about exercise write the articles.

Derp 1: “This isn’t about lifting 90kg weights…..” You mean, a warm-up?
Many fitness articles, especially those with a female audience in mind, pick an arbitrary number and decide that this weight is heavy. In this article it is 90kg, which is not actually that heavy depending on which exercise that weight is being used with. This just shows how little lifting experience the author has, or how lame they are at it.

Derp 2: “New scientific research…..HIIT…..” 2005 is calling, they want to tell you about this new thing called Facebook.
The article is trying to lend some credibility to the new program by citing science and by pretending this is all brand new. The problem is that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been around as a method since the 1970s and modern science since the 1990s. So unless you are a time displaced quantum physicist, you can’t call this stuff new.

Derp 3: “Holistic, functional fitness….” So doing more than one exercise?
Advertising slogans are always funny. Holistic is all new-age-y and sounds comprehensive-y. Functional fitness is straight out of the Crossfit advertising material, so somebody thinks this term is meaningful. What the statement actually means is doing a bunch of things, but that isn’t as sexy or likely to impress the marketing department.

Derp 4: “We focus on strength, respiratory and flexibility….” By focus we mean unfocussed.
This sort of meaningless nonsense is rife in an industry represented by people who failed high school; you know, athletes. You either focus on one thing, or you aren’t focussing at all. The fact that using the term focus at the same time as holistic and functional fitness just shows how little the author understands exercise or writing a logical article.

Derp 5: “Chiropractors warn about…..” How chiropractic is pretty much a scam?
The fitness industry isn’t just filled with nonsense, it also likes to promote medical nonsense. Many of these fitness articles lend credence to quack medicine or use quack medicine to support their claims. The advantage of using quack claims is that it doesn’t require real evidence, which makes it easy to sell people on the new fitness fad.

Essentially there is nothing amazing or new about how you can get in shape, get stronger, or become sexier. Exercising in a progressive way (i.e. getting better) and eating healthily in amounts that match your energy needs/expenditure is how its done. So be wary of these marketing claims and articles written by non-exercisers.

Being a writer is like…

being a writer

Talent, ability and being awesome

born writer

Born to write? Born to be an athlete? Born to be a rocket scientist? People love to talk about “natural” ability or talent as the be all and end all of achievement. Since I actually own a genetics text book – it props up my DVD collection on the shelf – and once watched someone do manual labour, I feel qualified to comment on the talent vs. work debate.

Genetics is a big, complicated, topic, so I’m going to provide a facile overview of it. Genetics is that thing that means some people have higher baselines, are higher responders to training/learning, and are likely to achieve more (see this and read this for sports examples). For some the opposite is true, they have low baselines, don’t respond well to training/learning, and are likely to suck no matter what they do. There isn’t much you can do about your genetics, unless you happen to have a time machine and can play matchmaker to get better parents.

But that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to get good at stuff. Until you are tested and start training, you don’t really know what your “ability” is. And just because you might continue to suck, you will suck less than you did before, which means you will be better than those around you who didn’t even try. Take an example from sports – because people actually do science on athletes, the arts talk about their feelings too much – athletes tend to live longer than normal because they are more likely to be fitter, which lowers cardiovascular mortality. You don’t get fit sitting on a couch, watching TV, snacking on corn chips, in your underwear: you have to train.

So let’s take this into the writing field. You may have been born with a massive brain, nimble fingers, and an imagination that rivals college students tripping on acid, but that doesn’t mean much if you never learn to read, or write, or are too poor to have access to materials for writing, or the persistence to share that writing with the world. All that talent and ability counts for nothing if you don’t do something with it. You have to train. The difference between the talented individual and the untalented individual can often just be a lot of hard work by the untalented. I mean, who has sold more books: James Paterson or any of the Booker Prize winners?*

But let’s not get carried away. We have to acknowledge that any “talent” is a GxE interaction (genetics by environment interaction). Genetics, or that innate ability, is still a factor that we can’t dismiss, but so is the environment. So all of that skill development and training will come more easily, more quickly, and possibly progress further for some, but that isn’t an excuse for not doing the hard work.


See also: http://emilyjeanroche.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/WritingSkills.html

* Not that I’m insinuating that winning a Booker Prize actually makes you a talented or good writer. I actually use those prize lists to figure out what not to read.

How to be a good writer

being-a-good-writer-is-3-percent-talent-97-percent-not-being-distracted-by-the-internet-writing-meme-photo-kill-your-darlings-atl1

 

The other 4% is sucking at math.

TV shows airing in order

almost human

Recently I wrote about the TV shows that have been keeping me entertained, or at least giving my eyeballs some much-needed exercise. One of the TV shows I’d failed to get into was a little sci-fi on Fox called Almost Human. It appears that the reason I’d had trouble appreciating this new show is that Fox is up to its old tricks.

That’s right, Fox is airing the episodes of Almost Human out of order. And before you ask, I did check to see if Joss Whedon was in any way involved in the show: apparently not. So Fox can’t use the “we have to dick Joss’ show around” excuse, like they did with Firefly, Dollhouse, etc.

Obviously I’m not a highly paid TV executive, so my opinion on this topic is really inconsequential. Unless, of course, viewers of TV shows – that reason TV shows are made, aside from selling ad-space – are regarded as important in any way. Sure, I don’t have a degree in TV programming, but I would have thought airing a TV show in order would be the sensible thing to do. I’m not sure if the degree at MITV, the TV university located next to MIT, can be done online yet, but I would like to see their syllabus to get some idea of the inner workings of TV networks.

I know when I write a story I always like to start with the fifth chapter, then come back to the second chapter after I’ve written six or so chapters. I especially like to do this in a story which has a lot of new stuff in it, like sci-fi, and where there is any sort of story arc. This way you can really do your best to alienate readers and confuse them.

Not being privy to the inner workings of TV networks, it is hard to say exactly why they would do this, or how often they do this. With some TV shows you just wouldn’t notice. Take a formulaic story capsule like CSI Wherever. There isn’t usually an episode or season spanning story line; dead bodies show up, someone puts on glasses after making a pun, someone wears a lab coat near some magic ‘science’ boxes, they get the bad guy to confess during a flashback. So you would never know if they were aired out-of-order – which also raises the idea of them actually having an order to begin with. This is the sort of show you could just chop and change around to suit whatever excuse is used for butchering a show. But you can’t do this to a serialised TV show.

This isn’t just about annoying and confusing viewers. This isn’t about the disdain the TV executives are showing toward the show’s fanbase, you know, those people they need to sell stuff to. This is about a lack of respect for the creators of the show, especially the writers. Someone has gone to the trouble of crafting a story, an episodic story that needs to build upon previous instalments in order to continue to attract fans. Almost Human has enough of a “stand-alone” nature to the show to not be damaged too much by the lack of continuity (WTF is ‘the wall’??) but plenty of shows have been damaged or destroyed by these sorts of airing decisions.

Bring back Firefly!

Update: It appears that Fox has cancelled Almost Human, despite renewing The Following which had similar ratings. This shouldn’t be surprising since the network has essentially been trying to cancel the show since they first aired it. Fox didn’t make the show, so there is some chance a network like SyFy might pick it up.

Other articles on this:

http://seriable.com/almost-human-episodes-airing-order/

http://sciencefiction.com/2013/12/13/almost-human-airs-order-sign-cancellation/

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