What type of writer should you be?

You Should Be A Poet

You craft words well, in creative and unexpected ways.
And you have a great talent for evoking beautiful imagery…
Or describing the most intense heartbreak ever.
You’re already naturally a poet, even if you’ve never written a poem.

What Type of Writer Should You Be?

Another fun quiz over at Blogthings. I must admit, I was expecting more of an SF or slipstream response… but ah well, who am I to argue? I’m a poet as well. 😉

Site of the Week: Faqqly

faqqly.jpg

Site of the Week (17/9/07)
Faqqly

Rating: star4.jpg

Faqqly is a social networking site with a difference. Unlike other sites which focus more on how you present yourself than getting to know other users, Faqqly is all about creating your own questions page (FAQ) that people can comment on. Set up a list of topics and other users can drop by to ask questions about anything they want – your life, interests, what you’re reading, etc. It’s a bit like the reverse of Twitter; instead of you saying what you’re doing now, other people ask you, and the subjects are much broader. You can even strike up an ongoing dialogue about various issues and topics, exploring them in great depth.

Faqqly was founded by then 20-year-old UCLA senior David Liu, whose goal was to build a collaborative website based on real life community interaction. The social dynamic is definitely the strongest part of Faqqly, but its ease of use is also impressive. Setting up your questions page is as simple as editing your profile and adding the topics you’re interested in. People ask questions by typing in the ask box, and there are hourly questions of the moment to ensure updates are frequent.

Faqqly’s main drawback is the flipside of its being a community site; the level of interaction depends on the kinds of questions people ask. Questions like what are you doing? or what movie did you see? are a good introduction but won’t lead to much of an ongoing dialogue; questions revolving around social issues or specialist knowledge are more likely to form a dialogue but aren’t the kinds of questions most people are going to ask. Like anything, the conversation is only as interesting as what the users bring to it.

Whether Faqqly will be a long-term success is difficult to know, but it’s an interesting social experiment and one that’s definitely worth checking out.

Timescape by Gregory Benford

TimescapeGregory Benford’s Timescape was an important novel when it was published in 1980 as it was one of the first science fiction novels to accurately depict scientists as people. Praised by critics for its accessibility and mix of character development, interpersonal drama and SF themes, it received the 1980 Nebula and 1981 John W. Campbell Memorial awards. Benford has written some of my favourite novels in the past – notably Great Sky River -, so I’ve always felt a little guilty that I’ve not read Timescape. Well, I finally got round to it, and while it’s still a good read, it’s dated more than I thought it would have.

Timescape‘s story is an interesting one, topical in 1980 and it still is today. It’s told from two different viewpoints, both 18 years distant from the novel’s publication in 1980. The first storyline takes place in 1998, at a time when the Earth is falling apart due to human waste; ravaged by ecological experimentation, the climate has changed drastically, giving rise to algal blooms and threatening numerous species. In England a team of scientists connected to the University of Cambridge, headed by John Renfrew, begins a project to try and contact the past to warn them of the effects their experimentations shall have in the future. The second thread of the story involves Gordon Bernstein, a young scientist at the University of California, La Jolla, who in 1962 begins to notice interference in one of his experiments – a message he tries to unravel…

As the critics noted Timescape‘s strongest aspect is Benford’s depiction of his characters. They’re scientists and often deal with complicated equations, but the story rarely becomes bogged down by details because it’s about much more than science. The characters are complicated, textured; the intricacies of their scientific worlds are well sketched out, but likewise are their private lives portrayed with careful detail. Ian Peterson, who oversees Renfrew’s project, is a womanizing member of the World Council who becomes infatuated with Renfrew’s wife Marjorie; Renfrew’s reserved insecurities are played out throughout much of the novel; Bernstein’s growing obsession with deciphering the message begins to impact his relationship with girlfriend Penny. It’s a balance of science and believable drama that few writers achieve in SF.

The characterisations serve another purpose in the novel as well: they draw a parallel with Benford’s scientific worlds. There’s no way around the science in Timescape; it’s detailed and to make his ideas accessible, Benford uses the characters as a bridge. Bernstein’s storyline, for instance, revolves just as much around his interactions with Penny, showing a distinct collision between their different ideologies: the worlds of a Democrat and a Republican, a New York Jew and a Californian Gentile. If the reader can accept the collision of their worlds as reality, then accepting the collision between 1962 and 1998 seems more believable. Likewise with each metaphysical jump in the novel, a physical equivalent is created to reflect it; the shelves in Marjorie’s and Renfrew’s kitchen shift each time a new scientific idea is introduced, starting crooked, before straightening, and becoming aslant again. The literary elements work to support the scientific concepts, forming a rather unique hybrid where no element can exist without the other.

This is where Timescape started to date for me, though. At times it felt like Benford created his characters purely to draw those parallels; he reinforces them frequently and at times the characters slow the story more than the science. Perhaps that shows how much has changed since 1980, that we’re more accepting and understanding of hard science in a story now, not needing it to be meshed with endless characterization to be accessible. Still, given the amount of detail in the characters, it’s strange that several just disappear toward the end of the novel. Marjorie, after her affair, barely appears again; neither does Penny. It feels like they served their purpose and were just discarded at the end. Timescape has also dated with its technology; limited computers, no mobile phones… having lived through the differences, the 1998 storyline feels more foreign than 1962 (which is the point, in the end).

Putting those details aside, though, Timescape holds up well. Its story is interesting, the science is still current, and its mix of science and characterisation is rare in a genre not often recognized for its depth. It remains accessible to people who might not normally read SF, as well as to fans of the genre, and is well worth reading for anyone interested in visiting (or revisiting) Benford’s worlds.

5 free programs for your PC

Everyone loves a free program; I know I do. Free software’s fun, but just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not useful as well. Just think about Firefox or AVG; they’re just as capable as their commercial rivals and in many cases, better. Every few weeks I’ll be listing some of the best freeware on the web, but today I thought we’d start with some basics everyone will find useful. 😉

5) Pidgin
Developer: Pidgin Community
Pidgin is an IM client that can log into AIM, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo simultaneously, allowing users to chat to friends on different networks without having multiple windows open. It fully supports file transfer and away status between networks and is similar to the better-known Trillian, but with better functionality.

4) DeleteOnClick
Developer: 2BrightSparks
When you delete a file in Trash, you don’t actually erase the file from your computer; it just allows the data to be overwritten. DeleteOnClick completely removes files in one click, rendering the data unrecoverable. It’s simple to use and highly recommended for people wanting to protect their credit card and security details.

3) Foxit Reader
Developer: Foxit Software
Foxit Reader is an alternative PDF reader. It’s a small file, launches quickly and doesn’t connect online without the users’ permission. It also has annotation tools and a text converter to convert a PDF into simple text.

2) OpenOffice
Developer: Sun Microsystems
OpenOffice is an alternative office suite to Microsoft Office with much the same functionality and appearance. In release since 2001, it’s fully compatible with Microsoft file formats and is available across all major platforms. It features the key office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager and drawing program) and is a great alternative for anyone looking to update their office software or wanting to try out other options.

1) Google Desktop
Developer: Google

Google Desktop lets you search your computer like you search the web. Search for email, files, music, photos and web history with just a few clicks. The Quick Search Box adds even more functionality; double-click ctrl and type just a few letters to find and launch anything you could want on your computer. You can also add Google Gadgets to customize your desktop, letting you see the latest weather, email, photos and news at a glance.

Remembering September 11

I’ve been wanting to write a poem to mark the 6th anniversary of September 11 but I wasn’t able to finish it in time to post it today. I couldn’t get it to sound the way I wanted it to… to say everything… and then today I came across this video and I think I understand why. I remember 9/11 as such a visual moment; the images are burned into my mind and I don’t think words can capture the tragedy of that day the way images can. This video is one of the most moving memorials I’ve seen… I pass it on, in the hope that you will too.

It seems incredible that it’s been 6 years. I still remember it so clearly. I’d just come out of the shower and the TV was on; it was the first time I can remember our stations crossing live to join a US network’s coverage. I remember seeing the smoke… and a minute later saw the second plane crash into the South Tower. It felt surreal, like I was watching it happen but was somewhere else. When the towers collapsed I remember trying to speak, to shout… but couldn’t. It was the first time I’d cried in a long time.

You often hear about moments that changed the world and in many ways it’s something of a misnomer. No one moment really changes the world because there’s much more which goes into making it; it’s our reaction that gives a “moment” its power. And yet 9/11 is really an example where it’s true. On a beautiful day, concrete buildings were brought crashing to the ground and a country was brought to its knees. And thousands of families experienced a hurt that will never go away.

I remember being angry, but with time’s passing it’s more a sadness now. One thing I remember clearly is the next day, September 12, my mother coming back from the doctor and telling me about a conversation she had overhead in the waiting room. 6 people had been talking about the attacks and saying how America had brought them on itself. I still don’t understand that. 3,000 innocents died that day, people who woke up that morning not knowing they would never see another day. Disagree with foreign policy, but please don’t diminish their memory.

I’ll be lighting a candle tonight in memory and I offer my thoughts to every American, one friend to another. May we never forget. And to everyone who lost someone that day, and to everyone that survived, I hope you find peace.

Indy 4 title revealed

Just been looking over at IndianaJones.com and was admiring their new look (and John Williams’ theme) when I saw that the title of the new Indy movie has been revealed. Shia LaBeouf announced it during the MTV Video Music Awards last night, which the official site has now confirmed.

The title is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Sounds like a mouthful but I actually quite like it. It’s got a bit of the feel of Raiders of the Lost Ark (my favourite Indy movie) and with Karen Allen back, maybe that’s the feel they’re going for. I did like the rumoured working title, though, Indiana Jones and the City of Gods. Either would have worked for me.

Anyway, with the title out the way, hopefully there won’t be too much more revealed before the teaser trailer. I can avoid spoiler sites easily enough, but it’s harder to avoid IndianaJones.com for 8 months! Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be released worldwide on May 22, 2008. Start the countdown. 🙂

Podcast of the Week: Net@Nite

Podcast of the Week (10/9/07)
Net@Nite
Rating:
5star.jpg

Net@Nite is a weekly podcast hosted by Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte featuring interesting links, guests and the latest news about the online world. It’s a podcast of the internet radio show which is recorded live and broadcast on video on ustream.tv each week.

Net@Nite was the first show on Laporte’s TWIT network to be broadcast live on the internet and its live nature gives it a dimension many other shows lack. It allows interviews with guests to have an extemporaneous feel and guests have included Kevin Rose (Digg), Mark Frauenfelder (Twitter, Blogger) and Steve Chen (YouTube). It also allows for a high level of interaction between the audience and the hosts, with listeners calling in to ask questions and make comments.

Net@Nite is a fun, irreverent hour and easily one of my favourite podcasts. It can be accessed via iTunes or TWIT. Highly recommended.

Alas, the world is full of idiots

Don’t you hate it when the perfect response comes to mind too late to be useful? I know I do. There’s even a French term to describe it: L’esprit de l’escalier (stairway wit). For me it’s less the stairway than the walk home; for some reason I always think of the right thing to say about an hour later, turning it over in my mind. I think coming up with the perfect response is something of a reactive skill you either have or you don’t; I tend to think about what I say first and maybe that’s the reason, I don’t just react. Either way, it’s a skill I don’t have.

I wish I’d had it the other day though. It was about 6pm and I’d gone down the road to pick up something for dinner. I’d just got to the end of the street when a car pulled up to turn the corner. One of the passengers leaned over, beer in hand, and said “jerk-off, get a fucking haircut”. The car took off a few seconds later.

What he said didn’t bother me, but looking back I think my reaction was strange. I know if I’d said something back I’d probably have needed stitches… but the first thing I thought was that “fucking” and “jerk-off” don’t belong in the same sentence. Seriously. I’m insulted and my first reaction is critique? I need my head examined.

As for what prompted it, nothing as far as I can tell. Probably the beer. Or sometimes you just have to wonder if the world is full of idiots.

Meanwhile APEC is supposed to be finishing today; I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s good for Sydney to be seen hosting a high profile event like APEC, but there’s just been chaos surrounding it. Transport, protests, disruptions… and then there was the incident with The Chaser, driving a fake motorcade through the Sydney CBD and breaching APEC security.

It was supposed to be a prank but I don’t think it was appropriate. To have comedians impersonate bodyguards and a motorcade at a time when there’s such a heightened level of security in Sydney seems irresponsible. They could have been injured and that they weren’t a serious threat shouldn’t excuse their actions; in my eyes, they crossed the line.

Yet a lot of people are excusing them; some found the stunt funny, others say they are typical Aussie larrikins taking people down a peg. That’s their opinion but I just don’t buy it. I don’t find it funny and while they exposed flaws in the security system and we were lucky it was The Chaser and not some group like al-Qaeda, I still think it doesn’t represent civil disobedience as much as inappropriate behaviour. If all they wanted was to test security, why have someone dress up like Osama bin Laden? Because they knew it would create a publicity shot. We have 21 world leaders in Sydney; security needs to be taken seriously, not made a mockery of. Are we so afraid of losing our Australian nature that we’ll excuse anything to preserve it, even something made in bad taste?

I’ll be the first person to say that I think the security during APEC has been excessive. Hell, it’s been a nightmare; for the last 7 days Sydney has become a police state and the authorities have been unnecessarily alarmist. Just take Stephen Cullen, the head of the NSW Police Riot Squad. He said that violent agitators were “well-drilled and disciplined… I have absolutely no doubt that minority groups will engage in a level of violence not previously experienced in Sydney. Never in my career have I held such serious concerns for public safety.” Yet the protests were mostly peaceful. By all means, challenge the level of security in Sydney, raise questions about the powers given to the police and our liberties. But I can’t help but think there’s a better way to do it than impersonating a motorcade and Osama bin Laden; it just brings their whole message into disrepute.

To me The Chaser team got publicity from an immature prank that crossed the line. I don’t think we should be celebrating it. I wonder what you think?

The Book Quiz

You’re The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner.
Strong-willed but deeply confused, you are trying to come to grips with a major crisis in your life. You can see many different perspectives on the issue, but you’re mostly overwhelmed with despair at what you’ve lost. People often have a hard time understanding you, but they have some vague sense that you must be brilliant anyway. Ultimately, you signify nothing.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

I found this quiz a few days ago. It’s a bit different to a lot of the ones you come across; it has 6 questions and 64 different outcomes, with each question taking you in a different direction. Seems to know me pretty well: strong-willed but deeply confused, I signify nothing… that’s me in a nutshell. 😉