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Right What You No

Right What You No: May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Books you should read: Climate change

I couldn't even begin to count the number of peer reviewed journal papers I've read. According to my Endnote archive I'm a nerd. It also indicates that I read 800 odd papers for my postgrad thesis. Suffice to say, when it comes to science I tend to read journal papers and not books.

Well I have three science books that I think people should read. You know what I love about science books? Well, it is refreshing to read science written in a way that isn't so boring! Trust me, I'm a scientist and even I get bored with journal papers.

Climate change science is a funny topic. Since anthropogenic climate change was first proposed in 1824 there has been a lot of research done on climate systems and climate change.
  • 2425 peer reviewed papers on climate change
  • 2042 peer reviewed papers that are neutral (i.e. about climate systems)
  • 186 peer reviewed papers that are sceptical of climate change

So how could this even be a topic of debate? The science is well understood by 97.5% of climate scientists. Even the most sceptical group in society - scientists (who have a default position of "prove it to me") - are between 82 and 91% convinced. Who forgot to tell the rest of the world? And how do we break the news to them about the Easter Bunny?
More doctors recommend Camel cigarettes.

Naomi Oreskes talks about why there is doubt, and it isn't because of the science. What do you get when you cross a lobbyist with a pile of cash? You get a doubtmongerer. After reading this book I'm heartened to know that with enough cash I could successfully convince people that there is doubt about the Earth being flat and that gravity doesn't really affect us. Newton wouldn't know an apple if it hit him on the head.

How do you spot a denialist?
Calling someone a climate sceptic is actually incorrect. When the weight of evidence proves climate change is happening, and we have been presented with that evidence, it means that not accepting it is about denial.
Hansen climate predictions, actual observed temperatures, Lindzen "sceptic" claims.
Haydn and John cover two aspects in their book: denial and common climate denial arguments. As such this is a great book for understanding why the message has been lost on some, and also points out the actual science debunking the denial arguments.

This book makes me feel a lot younger.
Paleoclimatologists are interesting. They don't think of things in terms of years, or election cycles, or even decades; they think in terms of millennia. I heard Curt speak at the Sydney Writers' Festival and he made some very interesting points. My favourite was that we didn't have to worry about the next ice age due in 50,000 years time, because our climate impacts have upset the Earth enough to negate that little eventuality. His book has even more of these insights.

Edit: I've managed to find a short version of Curt's talk on YouTube that is worth watching. It is from a seminar he gave in Perth, Australia.
Full version is here.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Books You Should Own

The avid reader, like myself, is always on the lookout for a good book to read. I have compiled a list of books that you should add to your downloads, wishlists or next order.
A must for DIYers.

For all you dog lovers.
One of Ben Franklin's lesser known works.
Another history text.
The slightly less popular sequel to the Kama Sutra
I just have to include part of the sales description for the "Farts: A Spotter's Guide"
The attached battery powered fart machine reproduces each emanation in accurate sound.
An absolute godsend of a book.
 Hope these books make it onto your buying lists!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Experiences at the Sydney Writers' Festival 2011

Yesterday I posted a few observations that I made over a beer between sessions. Today I'm going to go through the highlights and lowlights of the festival. It really was a good event so I feel the need to mention some of the writers and sessions and what I got out of them. Besides, I didn't take my note pad and netbook in a backpack to every session just for my health - although it could be argued I carried the backpack around to seem more important and to knock drinks out of peoples' hands in the bookstore.
Some of my signed books from the festival.

Thursday 18th

This is Thriller
The first session I attended was a discussion between LA Larkin and John M. Green about how to make a thrill filled thrilling thriller. Surprisingly this was more a discussion about plot and character rather than explosions and body counts. LA Larkin also seems to go the extra mile for research, having just arrived back from a journey to the end of the earth - 6 months in Antarctica - for her latest book. Worth a look.

Climate Whiplash
Curt Stager is a paleoclimatologist, reformed climate sceptic, and a very interesting and engaging speaker. He described what the two scenarios for our next 100,000 years on planet Earth will be like. It was fascinating to hear how much we have disturbed our natural climate cycles and how big and long ranging our impacts upon the atmosphere are. Seeing the response curve of greenhouse gases, temperature and rectification having impacts out to half a million years really opens the eyes to the staggering the affect we are having upon climate. On the plus side, we've eliminated the next ice age due in 50,000 years (Sarcasm warning: it isn't such a good thing).

Bits and Bytes
This talk should have absolutely fascinated me. It was all about technology, where we have come from and where we are going, and how our view of life/sentience has changed from memory to creativity. Ultimately, though, I found James Gleick boring. The only interesting part for me was the discussion of Ada Lovelace, a mind centuries before its time. Who'd have thought a talk about computers could put you to sleep?

Cracking the Code: The Art of Editing
This session on editing was proof that budding writers - like myself - are hungry for information and are willing to queue for a half hour to attend. Bill Scott-Kerr (he edited the DaVinci Code) and Tom Mayer (thankfully not related to John Mayer, or any other pop musicians) were there to lay out the importance and role of an editor. I liked the summary:
Author = speaks to the audience
Editor = helps to sell the book (to sales directors, industry, etc)
It was great to have two professionals stand up and say that editing wasn't just about typos and grammar, but about crafting a story. This is a point that I think a lot of people miss. Although as a newsletter editor myself, I really would appreciate if authors actually ran a spell check and read their work before submitting it, as it helps to remove the purple monkey dishwasher.

An aside to this section: apparently professional editors have the same reading cut-off points that I do for reading. Bill stated that his cut-offs for a bad manuscript/novel are page 10 (foreboding) and page 100 (dread).

Criminal Agency
Sydney has an interesting public transport system. Replace the word interesting with rubbish. On the surface it looks decent: plenty of buses and trains departing regularly; plenty of stops; bus lanes; etc. Of course once I was on a bus travelling to this session at Ashfield Library, I realised that it would have been easier to harness up some Husky's to a sled and find some icy tundra in our Aussie deserts. A 15 minute trip was turned into an hour of watching bored people texting and listening to their iPods. On the plus side, once I arrived Shamini Flint and Garry Disher were into their discussions about crime fiction. Garry served up sex and violence, Shamini pointed out that her mother edits out her books' sex and violence and we would have to make do with humour.

Friday 19th

Book Design Uncovered
It is really hard to sum up a session that revolved around looking at various covers the designers and artists had produced. So here is the session described in interpretive dance:

But What I Really Want to do is Write Fiction
For some reason most people think they have a novel in them. Personally I blame shoddy surgery practices. It was interesting to hear from former journalists, academics and advertising executives (guess which one was able to plug their book the most) on how they had this career thing interrupt their dream of writing a novel or two. The take home point for me was that spending all day writing for your job helps when you want to take fiction writing seriously. Something about being used to hours of rewriting, editing, and tetris.

Merchants of Doubt
Naomi Oreskes is reasonably well known amongst the scientific and wider community, especially since her book, Merchants of Doubt, hit the promotional circuit. I'm a big fan of her work as she shines a light on the dirty little secret that is media misinformation (Hint: climate change is happening and is our fault; smoking does increase the risk of cancer; a duck's quack does echo). As a scientist I am always amazed at the nonsense that is thrown around in the media. While this book discussed climate change, it was just the latest example in a long line of doubt-mongering by interest groups that she discusses. Her interview in this session covered a lot of points, so I just advise reading her book.

Daddy, Daddy, I.........
Finally a session about being a stay at home writer and Dad.

You've Been Warned
Curt Stager and Naomi Oreskes were back for another session on climate change, this time joined by Paul Gilding. I really enjoyed this discussion panel, which primarily revolved around the "where to from here" in regards to climate change and dealing with it. Curt pointed out that this next decade is probably the most important decade in the next 100,000 years. Right now we can decide the future of the Earth's climate by either listening to science and doing something or sitting in the corner with fingers in our ears yelling "la-la-la-la". Naomi pointed out that scientists have been their own worst enemy, they publish journal papers that only scientists read, so the rest of the world can make stuff up with impunity. Paul pointed out that the free market is terrible at doing anything until the last possible second, and climate change is an issue that requires action much sooner due to its complexity and impact. As Naomi quoted:
Scientist in 1970s "Climate change is a real problem we need to deal with."
Politician "When will it start having an impact?"
Scientist "Oh, in about 40 years."
Politician "Get back to me in 39 years."

Saturday 21st

Sex Up Your Writing
Linda Jaivin's workshop was a completely different kind of session at the festival. I would really have liked to have had her on the Porn Wars panel later in the day. Linda had a very simple message, write so that you get hot and steamy. If it works for you then it will work for someone else. That's a good sex scene or erotica. Due to the topics discussed we were sworn to secrecy so I'll let you imagine what the 14 women and two men did in the session.

Porn Wars
It was odd to leave a workshop on writing erotica to enter a panel discussion on porn in society. Catherine Lumby, a social scientist, Kate Holden, a former sex worker turned author, and Gail Dines, a fan of talking over the top of everyone including the moderator, were the experts called upon to discuss what should have been a fascinating topic. Unfortunately Gail decided to throw out unsubstantiated claims as facts, reject any other opinions and evidence, and provide scant evidence of her own. I especially liked her claim that the best selling porn movies were all misogynistic gonzo DVDs. Odd. I could have sworn that the big budget porn movies were couples erotica and that they dominated the market. This session was a waste of time. I have to say that as a male I love being blamed for all societal faults by sexists. Catherine and Kate needed a session without Gail, and, as one audience member pointed out, a male panellist.

Cities of the Dead
This was the session that I had come for. Crime fiction authors discussing their work and how the location of their novels influences them. Shamini Flint was the 'contributing' chair for the panel of Michael Connelly, Garry Disher and Michael Duffy. Shamini proved to be a great chair - maybe she could have chaired the Porn Wars session..... - and had everyone interested, discussing and laughing. Connelly could be described as taciturn, but Shamini had him telling jokes before long. I think all four authors sold a lot of books from this session, especially Shamini. At the book signing after she had a lot of people queued with her first Inspector Singh novel under their arms. Also Connelly revealed to me that he didn't write the dialogue he utters on Castle, yet he loved doing the show and the stuff they give him to say.

The Chaser
I was in the queue for the queue to see The Chaser. Needless to say, I didn't get in. Pity. They are always funny, despite what the BBC, Channel 7, Channel 9, and the Queen of England think.

Sunday 22nd

Growing Pains
When I was an undergraduate I picked a lot of economics units to pad out my science degree - yes I am a nerd, no I will not let you kick sand in my face. I remember very clearly the day that my economics professor explained the market model to us and my resulting question:
Me "If we have a finite resource base, how can we have infinite growth?"
Professor "Technology will be invented to change the resource base."
Since then I have had this cartoon on my office wall:

Ross Gittins and Paul Gilding were the first economics commentators to say what I have been saying for, literally, decades: the current economic model is fatally flawed. Yes technology could save us, but how long are you willing to wait for it to save you?

As an aside: don't you think it fitting/ironic that the stock exchange was founded by a chronic gambler?

Lawyers, Guns and Money
I finished my Sydney Writers' Festival as I began it, with genre. Michael Connelly was back to discuss his books, his writing, his film adaptations and how much his daughter influences Harry Bosch's daughter. This was a really interesting session and very well attended. I think this session underlined Connelly as one of the modern masters of crime fiction.

I'd also like to say "Hi" to all of the lovely people who I had a chat with in the queues for various sessions. We had some great discussions and were definitely a big part of what made this festival great.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Observations from the Sydney Writers' Festival 2011

I'm safely home again after my trip to this year's Sydney Writers' Festival. I really enjoyed the event and the people I spoke to also enjoyed it. While I was at the event I had an hour between sessions to have a beer and do a bit of writing. I made a few notes on the event that I thought I would share:
  • Writers' festivals are predominately attended by middle aged women who dream of being an author.
  • Everyone fancies themselves as an intellectual (me included).
  • Actors have to dress eccentrically.
  • Publishers are continually being pitched books, especially by writers who haven't actually finished a first draft. Publishers refer to random pitches from strangers as “another one”.
  • Writers are always being asked the same 3 questions.
  • Some writers love the crowds, others would clearly prefer to be at home writing. It sucks being a famous/successful introvert.
  • Sessions about writing are very popular, especially amongst those still working on their first book.
  • Sydney has an obsession with coffee culture.
  • Due to the coffee culture they have no idea what a cup of tea is meant to taste like.
  • The smallest population at the event is the male under 40 crowd. I'm sure I was meant to have a minority discount token as a result.
  • Apparently you have to be a feminist to be a female author, even if you write romantic fiction about finding the right man to take care of you.
  • Judging by the Sydney Dance Company's posters I need to see more productions: all the female dancers are hot and naked.
  • Handing out promotional bottle openers at a writers' festival is a poorly thought out strategy. It should have been a coffee mug, book mark, or cork screw.
  • Handing out promotional pens is a great idea, the lovely people at Pilot pens gave me a Frixion Clicker that isn't even on the market yet.
  • Politics at the writers' festival tends to be a more neutral topic than you would think. The older population and the education level tend to lean towards rational rather than partisan divisions.
  • Most people in the publishing industry are passionate about books, just like the readers. The least passionate people seem to be the ones who make the marketing and buying decisions.
  • People who like dead trees are a largely unaware of what is happening in e-books and the progressions they have made.
  • Readers at the festival were spotted reading on their phones, tablets, e-readers and of course DTB. DTB are still the most popular, but even e-readers are taking off among the older readers.
  • The sales of Michael Connelly's latest book are apparently 45% e-books.
  • Julian Morrow (The Chaser) and his wife Lisa are really nice.
  • The Chaser, despite the best efforts of Channel 7, 9, BBC and the Queen, are still hugely popular.
  • Shamini Flint probably sold more books and garnered more fans from chairing a crime writers' session than her advertising for the past year. Witty + Funny + Getting Michael Connelly telling jokes = Sales!
  • Gail Dines probably alienated more people with her polemic vitriol than she intended. Then again she is blind to facts and probably doesn't care.
  • The people of Sydney were very friendly. They were just like Western Australian's, except for their constant IV drip of coffee and lack of familiarity with sunny days.
More on the Sydney Writers' Festival tomorrow; my dog - fur-kid, who am I kidding - needs more attention.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

May, the Zombie Awareness Month

It is time for everyone to buy their gray ribbon for Zombie Awareness.

Every year we are asked to support worthy causes and this May is the time to recognise those who have been bitten or those who have been chased when their chainsaw ran out of fuel. The awareness campaign also funds vigilance towards the impending doom of the Zombie Pandemic.
Remember to keep your shotgun at hand and chainsaw sharp and fuelled this May!
Be prepared!
 Zombie killer of the month:
Alice. Because I'm male.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Claim status


Warning about e-books

I made a startling discovery earlier today that I think everyone needs to be aware of: e-books and dead trees can interbreed!

This isn't just alarmist rhetoric, this is a real concern.
Despite many pundits claiming that e-books are not real books, this is photographic proof that e-books are becoming real books.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: Unleashed - Emily Kimelman

I had some feedback from my sister about how all the books I read have the same covers. I am blessed with siblings, a sister and brother, who are both smart and are not afraid to speak the truth. I think it comes from being raised upon a farm. Farmers and their families tend to be a bullshit free zone because you see life all around you. We all still laugh when we hear someone talk about how they became vegetarian when they realised that animals were made out of food: naive much?

Hopefully my sister will see this book cover and see something different, mainly because while this book sat safely in my favourite categories of reading, it also was something outside the box. I mean, look at the cover: no guns, no macabre hints, no violently stylized text. Read the blurb: how can a dog walker be the hero in a mystery thriller? Which is exactly why you should read Unleashed and enjoy.

I wasn't surprised to learn that Emily, the author, was a dog walker when she was studying English at university. Dog owners will understand what I mean when they read this book. All of those little things that all dogs do, like proudly displaying the couch they have just chewed to pieces - Iz dones good, huh! - when you come home. For readers who like well written and well constructed novels, Emily's degree clearly didn't go to waste, including the ending that caught me off-guard (something that rarely happens).

This was a well paced and involving novel. I literally read it in one sitting today (well if you ignore the break to make lunch), so if it wasn't an e-book you would call it "a real page turner". Plus the book has a dog on the cover. A dog!
My dog is cute and helps me read by laying on my feet.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some light reading

My 'To Read' dead tree pile.
I had a few books arrive today. If you don't have regular arrivals then the pile pictured above dwindles suddenly and before you know it you don't have anything to read. Suddenly you are desperate for another hit and turn towards the cereal box and the DVD instructions booklet. Fortunately I have 120 or so books to read on my e-reader as well. But after the books pictured above, and the books on my e-reader, I'll have no books left to read!

Yes, despite being a fan of e-books, I am still a fan of dead trees. I have many fond memories of dead trees. The time I used one to level a table with an uneven leg. The time I threw one at the TV for showing "CSI: Miami" instead of "Burn Notice". The time I used a bag full of them to prop open a door with a hydraulic hinge. Good times. For the people that haven't gotten on board of the e-book I thought that I would run through the pros and cons of each.

Dead Tree Pros:
  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • They make you look smart/nerdy when you have lots of shelves of them.

Dead Tree Cons:
  • Being a physical entity they have to be physically moved to your house.
  • Generally more expensive than an e-book.
  • Can't stop a .45 slug, despite claims to the contrary.

E-book Pros:
  • They are a book.
  • You can read them.
  • When you want another you just download it.
  • Everyone thinks you are reading the latest political biography when you are really engrossed in the love triangle between a teenage girl, a 100 year old pedophile, and a smelly dog (yes I got dragged to the Twilight films by my wife).
  • Text can be resized.

E-book Cons:
  • E-books can't be used to start a fire in a life threatening situation.
  • E-book files won't be forever, but the database will be, which means updating your collection.
  • E-readers cost money too.
  • E-readers are even less likely to stop a .45 slug.

What is my key point out of all of this? Well if you like reading you will like both ebooks and dead trees. I can see ebooks replacing a large proportion of the book market in the near future, quite simply because buying (or borrowing) another book is quicker using your ereader. No longer will you have to wait for parcels to arrive in the mail. No longer will you have to travel to a store. No longer will you have to smell the vagrants that camp at the local library. No longer will you have to pray that the store or library actually has the book you are looking for in stock.

The cost of the e-reader is a point which needs considering. Eventually this cost will come down as the technology advances. E-readers are also a great platform and I don't think that they can be a multi-task tool, unless the battery life and screens can provide a perfunctory reading experience. The marriage of the e-book and e-reader with e-stores may constitute polygamy, but it does result in a great convenience for readers all around the world.

Points to consider with ereaders:
  • LCD screens chew batteries and are just another computer screen.
  • E-ink is like normal dead tree text, has long battery life, even if page turns are a little slow.
  • Screen size has to be roughly book size, unless you enjoy squinting like Clint Eastwood.
  • Pdf's are not a good format for reading, they are only really made in one size, screens are not.
  • Do you read a lot and want to have a separate e-reader or an all-in-one toy like a tablet?
  • Weight is a big deal. Anything more than a few hundred grams is going to feel heavy if you read for more than 10-20 minutes.

The basic summary of all these points is that the more you read the more you will want an exclusive e-reader. This is true even if you like dead trees. In fact, every person I have met who has made the change has commented that they were unsure until they got one, then they love e-readers and will never go without one again.

I love books in all their forms, you should too.

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Book Review: The Deadman: Hell in Heaven - Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

I'm not a fan of gambling. I once watched a friend of mine place $1000 worth of $1 bets on roulette in the space of half-an-hour before heading to the ATM to get more money to throw away. I'm pretty sure I could have found more fun things to do with that grand, and not all of them would have been immoral. Since I'm not a fan of gambling I'm not a fan of horse racing, a sport that exists merely in order to gamble. In spite of that, I feel the need to use horse-racing vernacular.

Since I have begun receiving each Deadman novella prior to release, I feel like I've had the inside running on the Darby winner. Hell in Heaven is the third in the series and once again it is a winner! It will be on sale from tomorrow (4th May) so grab it. If you like a well written, pacy, horror thriller, this book, and series, is for you.

A quick recap is in order, but I'll try not to add any spoilers, the last time I did friends disowned me, even though I was saving them from The Crying Game. The hero of this series is Matt Cahill and his trusty axe. In the first book, Matt recovered from a mild case of death to discover that he could now see the evil eating away at people's souls. This lead him to discover he had picked up a nemesis he dubbed 'Mr Dark'. In the second book Matt has set out to track down Mr Dark and introduce him to his axe. To find answers he stops off at a mental hospital. Nothing bad ever happens in a mental hospital. Now in the third installment Matt has stumbled into Heaven, population 136, actually 137: they were expecting him. Matt may be able to see evil, but does it have to be evil that makes bad things happen?

This series has kept me rapt from the first page, quite an accomplishment considering that the authors have been running a baton relay of writing. Fortunately these authors are the Jamaican sprint team doing the 4x100m relay, each stage just gets better and better. A few thrills, a bit of mystery, a strong overarching storyline, a cool lead character and a few horrifying bad guys, should keep people glued to their e-reader (unless you prefer to read dead trees, in which case glued to the page). Also I should note the bonus chapters for the next installment of the Deadman series, The Dead Woman, will be by David McAfee and appear to promise the series will keep going strong.

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