I’ve Started a Facebook Page

Just a quick note. I’ve just started a Facebook page for my photography and writing in case anyone would like to follow it.

I’ve mainly started it as I tend to get quite a few friend requests from people who have just found my blog and want to see more of my photos. While I’m usually happy to accept, I also get a lot of spam and I thought it would be easier to have an actual page to direct people to instead.

I also only share a fairly small selection of photos on the blog due to time and other content and I thought having an area to share some of my other photos and to tell some of the stories that go with them would be fun.

I’ll be using it to share some of my writing and poetry from time to time too, as well as thoughts on life and politics and things like that.

So it’s really a bit of an extension of this blog, just with more random content.

If you’d be interested in following, you can follow it here or by clicking on the badge below. Will have a new blog post finished later tonight as well. 🙂

You've got to be kidding me

Update: If you’re searching for images of the Montauk Monster, please see this post. If you are seeing ads with this post, I apologise; it is WordPress who have put them here, not me.

You’ve got to love eBay, don’t you? Between finding a sweater for a bargain in just the right colour or a copy of an old favourite book, it seems like you can find just about anything if you look hard enough. And then there are the bizarre auctions. I’m never quite sure what to make of those. Some are fun… others are so dumb they make your head hurt.

Why would people want to bid on some of these things? I can understand that a time machine has novelty value but buying someone’s used tissue? Or a hairball? Ew. I don’t need the tissue, the thought of it is enough to make me sick. And then today I saw Nana the Banana octopus. “Nana” is a used banana skin which has been dressed up as Nana Walker Bobana, a fake President… it’s so stupid I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

But it gets worse. Just after Nana I saw this: the body of an alien found on a beach in Florida. It’s possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. And it went for $53! Are they out of their minds? If you’ve got too much money, give it to a charity, don’t waste it.

I don’t even see how it’s supposed to resemble an alien. It looks fake to me or like a turtle without its shell… and why are its arms in a superhero pose? I guess it just proves that there’s always someone who’ll buy anything… especially if it’s dried and preserved with “little otherworldly scents”. 😕

It’s interesting seeing everything that’s been created in the wake of eBay’s success. Most of these bizarre auctions are silly but they’ve become so popular that they’re an entire industry now. Without eBay PayPal wouldn’t have become as widely used as it is now and eBay’s support of Skype has helped it to become successful. It’s spun off a number of online auction tools – and that’s not even mentioning the sniping websites that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Sniping’s the main thing I dislike about eBay. Perhaps it’s the kind of items I bid on (usually CDs and DVDs) but I end up getting sniped in most of my auctions. I don’t mind being outbid but I hate being sniped at the last moment; it doesn’t break any of eBay’s rules but it’s infuriating and if I were a seller I’d be tempted to leave negative feedback; annoying as it is for bidders, the sniped bid is usually much lower for sellers, so they don’t like it much either.

We do have maximum bids, which in theory should protect bidders, but most people prefer incremental bids and it’s really up to eBay to level the field. But they won’t as sniping is part of the experience. And maybe it is… I’m just bitter as I’ve been sniped four times this week and two came in the last five seconds. But more people will do it if it seems like it’s the only way they can win.

I think the truth is that eBay needs a competitor. At the moment other auction sites can’t match its size and eBay’s dominance has allowed its auction services to stagnate even while branching out into other areas. It needs to become relevant again and perhaps competition is the best way to do that, which would benefit the consumer. Whether there’s a legitimate competitor out there, though, I don’t know… eBay might have too much of a monopoly already.

Anyway, I’ve just been frustrated; I hate being sniped and then I saw those bizarre auctions and it reminded me of how bloated eBay has become. I wonder what you think? Do you like eBay? Do you think a new competitor would be good for eBay? Does bid sniping bother you? Is it an alien, a turtle or something else? Let me know what you think. 😉

Some people shouldn't have children

Do you think we value children enough in our society? I’ve been thinking about that lately and I’m not sure we do. Children should be our most precious resource, but a lot of the time we’re quick to criticise children and their shortcomings without recognising the role we play in their problems. As a society we seem to be fascinated by youth and beauty, but children are a burden, and one we still think should be seen and not heard.

I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t love their children, but I find it hard to believe that we’re doing all we can as a society to protect them. You only need to open a newspaper to see another story about child abuse and neglect. If there’s one thing I hate it’s seeing a child hurt, particularly a defenceless one, and the people who do speak for children’s rights seem to be silenced all too easily.

The story of Megan Meier’s death seems to have caught fire over the last few days, particularly among bloggers. If you haven’t heard the story, she committed suicide in October 2006 after receiving a flood of abuse from a 16 year old boy on MySpace. She was three weeks shy of her 14th birthday. What makes the story so despicable is that the boy never existed; instead “he” was a persona created by the parents of a girl who had been Megan’s best friend. Megan had received messages calling her “fat” and “a slut”, and the last, her father said, was this: “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself shortly afterwards.

The St. Charles Journal brought attention to the story earlier this month and I’ve been following it since then. It’s one of those stories that you can’t quite believe because it’s so horrible; we all recognise the cyber-bullying tropes in the story, but that adults would be responsible is stunning. I can’t even begin to imagine why they would do it… it’s incomprehensible.

But there’s something else about the story that’s been troubling me, the emotions surrounding it. The news article refused to name the family, which I agree with – but bloggers have. Dozens of blogs have not just named the family, but also their address. One comment was even inciting people to pursue the parents “over and over, until they too take their lives”. The outrage is fast becoming a public lynching.

I’m disgusted and outraged by what happened, but this anger is not helping; it’ll only make things worse. People taking the law into their own hands solves nothing and does not bring justice. What Megan’s death shows more is that there’s a hole in the law that needs to be filled. The parents didn’t tie the noose around Megan’s neck but surely they played a role in her death; there should be criminal consequences for that, consequences which do not exist under the current system.

A change to the law is what Ron and Tina Meier want, but once again it comes too late. That’s what really annoys me: the laws worldwide just don’t seem capable of keeping up with the new advances in technology, of protecting children in our world. It shouldn’t be acceptable that it takes a tragedy to bring about change… but of course, it’s the only thing that does.

It’s a sad fact of life that you need a licence to buy a car or a gun, but anyone can have a child. Perhaps that’s the real problem here. Just because you can have a child doesn’t make you a good parent. To me it isn’t creating a life that makes you a mother or a father, it’s that you care for and love your child, that you provide for them and would do anything to keep them safe. I would hope that’s what it means to most people.

That parents could do this to someone else’s child stuns me. You just have to think that some people shouldn’t have children, and they would be at the top of my list. I hope they come to realise what they’ve done, but more than anything I hope Megan’s family can find some closure, and that Megan can rest in peace.

5 ways you can help the environment

Today is Blog Action Day, a day encouraging bloggers to unite about the environment. Thousands of bloggers are taking up the challenge, including Lifehacker and Treehugger, writing about the environment in a way that suits their blogs. I’ve been torn between a couple of topics, so I thought I’d cheat a bit and do a couple of posts, one today and another tomorrow to follow up. This first one is about some simple ways we all can help the environment. I’m not going to claim I do all of these all of the time, but I try to be mindful of them, and they might give you some ideas on how you can help too. 😉

5) In your home
You’d be surprised by the amount of power appliances consume even in standby mode; just having half a dozen appliances on standby is the equivalent of a 60 watt bulb. If you turn appliances off at the power point and unplug them, it can save a lot of power. Turning off lights when you’re not in the room can also save a lot of power, as can washing clothes in warm or cold water instead of hot. Using the half-flush cycle on toilets, installing a low-flow showerhead and washing dishes when there’s a full load can save a lot of water as well.

4) While shopping
Making sure your tyres are well-inflated can make a big difference in preserving the life of your tyres and saving petrol, and bringing your own shopping bags for groceries is a simple way to cut down on plastics. Buying items in bulk also reduces the need for packaging and costs less. If you drink a lot of water, using a bottle and refilling it will help to stop wasting water and buying more bottles; likewise, buying rechargeable batteries saves you money and stops metals in batteries from leaking into the soil.

3) Changing your habits
It’s probably one of the hardest things to do but changing your habits can have a big impact on the amount of waste you produce. Showering for a minute less each day can save a lot of water, as can making sure the water doesn’t run while you’re cleaning your teeth. Walking, bicycling or carpooling to work also cuts down on the amount of cars on the roads and pollution. Many people still prefer CDs over MP3s, but downloading music from somewhere like iTunes is a very simple way to help the environment; manufacturing CDs uses oil and CDs are not biodegradable, whereas MP3s only use hard-drive space.

2) Being more responsible
Being aware of the impact we have on the environment makes a big difference. Understanding that our actions and habits have a consequence means we’re more aware of the ways we can avoid them as well. Doing something as simple as recycling is a great place to start and get children involved in the process. You can actively seek out materials which are recyclable or have a lesser impact on the environment; refill printer ink cartridges or take used ones to businesses to dispose of; use recycled wood chips in your garden; put leaves in a compost heap. You can be proactive and try to make sure your taps don’t leak and make sure you keep the oven door closed so the heat doesn’t escape. Using fluorescent lighting rather than incandescent bulbs will save you money and use 1/4 the amount of energy. They’re all simple things but being aware of them, being more responsible and taking notice, makes a huge difference.

1) Sending a message
The final and perhaps most important thing you can do is to let people know how you feel. The Australian electoral campaign has just started and there’ll be elections soon overseas; don’t underestimate the power of writing to your politicians and newspapers – every letter they receive speaks for more than just your voice and while they know it’s an issue, they’ll continue to support it. Ask what your school and workplace are doing to be more environmentally friendly, or make small changes yourself to set an example. If you feel especially passionate, join a local community organisation; volunteer some of your time to help clean up beaches and parks or to talk to other people about the environment. Join WWF Passport and join with people to speak about issues and conservation. There are so many things people can do; what matters is raising environmental consciousness. And that’s what Blog Action Day is all about.

Have you heard the Wilhelm Scream?

I found this video through Net@Nite, one of my favourite podcasts, though I had heard about the scream before. If you don’t know what the Wilhelm Scream is, it’s a distinctive scream that’s been used in Hollywood movies for over 50 years. For studios it’s easier (and cheaper) to recycle the stock scream than to pay voice extras to record new sound effects; it’s become something of an in-joke among sound designers and lots of movie fans try to keep track of where it’s been used. The current count is at over 130 films!

The list in the video only goes up to about 1999 and I know a few more since then; the Wilhelm Scream features in both LOTR: The Two Towers and The Return of the King, as well as King Kong, Sin City, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Hellboy. It’s been used prodigiously by Ben Burtt and Skywalker Sound as well, so it’s also in the other Star Wars prequels. Whether it will be in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or not will be interesting – Burtt has said he’s not going to use it as much now it’s so recognised, but it’s in the other Indy movies so he might go out with one last bang… or scream.

It’s just a fun piece of trivia, but I like it because it shows not so much a lack of originality as a respect for Hollywood’s past; it’s keeping some of the history alive 50 years later and in this digital age, that’s a nice touch. So have a listen the next time you play a DVD; chances are you might be listening to a little piece of movie history. 😉

What kind of blogger are you?

This quiz is continuing the Blog Action Day theme; the organisers’ created it for a bit of fun and to help people get the message out about the day on October 15. If you haven’t signed up yet it’s for a good cause, so no matter what kind of blogger you are, hurry up and join in! 😛

My result says that I’m a Purist Expert Socialite blogger… okay… I guess I agree with the purist bit; I got into blogging because I love writing and wanted a place to talk about issues online, and everything else has just been a bonus. I’m not so sure about the social bit, though; I’m into social sites and I enjoy reading a lot of blogs, but I know I’m not very good at commenting and such. It’s the time difference – by the time I’m able to read them, most posts are already hours old and I’m not contributing anything new.

Obviously it’s just a fun quiz but still, it’s made me think about what this blog’s about and how it’s changed. I mainly started it to write book reviews and editorial pieces, things which I didn’t expect to be that widely read. But after a few months I found I started to talk about more general things; nothing too personal as it’s not that kind of a blog, but thoughts on technology, entertainment, online culture, copyright… now it’s a mix of many different things. Generally that’s not such a good idea for a blog, but it seems to be working… and I like being eclectic. 😉

What’s surprised me the most, though, has been the conversation it’s created. I saw the blog as a way of showcasing my writing at first, but then people started commenting; they read my posts and went from there to look at my work… now I’ve received more feedback on my stories because of the blog than from all my publications combined. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised as that’s the whole idea behind Web 2.0, but for a writer it’s an incredibly valuable tool. Writing these days is really about marketing yourself and the best way to do that is through word of mouth; if someone says they read something on my blog that they liked, or if they liked a poem enough to reproduce it for others to read, that’s a big compliment and the best kind of marketing I can have. It’s something I didn’t consider at the beginning, so I’ve already gained more than I expected.

Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on blogging, brought about by Blog Action Day… I wonder what kind of blogger you are, how your blog has changed since you started it?

Podcast of the Week: WebbAlert

WebbAlert Logo

Podcast of the Week: (8/10/07)

WebbAlert with Morgan Webb takes an informative look at the latest in online, tech, gadgetry and gaming news. Morgan Webb is the host of X-Play on G4 in the US and a former web developer, so she’s well-suited to analysing the latest in digital trends and culture.

Webb is a confident host and one interesting aspect is that WebbAlert tends not to source content from traditional news outlets, instead focusing more on blogs that break news stories. It creates a different dynamic and Webb often shows snippets of the posts and articles she’s talking about as well, so you don’t have to go to the shownotes to get more detail.

Something people might consider a drawback is the advertising, usually plugs at the start of the show and halfway through. The ads don’t bother me that much; podcasts require significant bandwidth and I don’t find the ads that intrusive anyway, but what’s really interesting is that Webb has already received notable sponsorship (HP has been one sponsor), which is unusual for such a recent podcast. Perhaps sponsors anticipated Webb bringing some of her G4 audience with her.

WebbAlert presents a fun look at the online world and is probaly a podcast people will either love or hate based on Webb’s style, but one that’s definitely worth checking out. You can subscribe via iTunes or watch episodes at WebbAlert.Com.

Some important dates

There are a few important dates coming up over the next month, so I thought I’d do a quick post in case anyone didn’t know about them. One might be of interest to anyone looking to follow up on BlogCatalog‘s Blogging Against Abuse Day.

The Hunger Site

The first is that October is international Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign by the major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research. In Australia alone 36 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day and one in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 85.

Part of the campaign in Australia includes Pink Ribbon Day on Monday October 22nd where you can buy a Pink Ribbon or Wristband to support the cause. Something else you can do is to support The Breast Cancer Site. The site helps to provide free mammograms to women in need; every click from a user raises money from sponsors which goes toward the costs of mammograms. 11,000 mammograms have been provided since the year 2000.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

October 15th is BlogActionDay, a community project encouraging bloggers around the world to unite about an issue on everyone’s mind: the environment. BlogActionDay is in its inaugural year and is being supported by over 6,850 blogs and institutions including Greenpeace, Lifehacker, Treehugger, Web Worker Daily and Change.Org. Bloggers are being asked to publish a post relating to an issue of their choice about the environment and to donate any daily advertising revenue to an environmental charity. I haven’t decided what my topic will be yet but I’ll definitely be participating; if you want to find out more, check out BlogActionDay. And thanks to MusEditions and Sanjida for letting me know about it.

The third thing is more of a public service notice for anyone in the US. I heard about this from WC and couldn’t believe it; the laws in the US that keep Internet access tax-free are set to expire on November 1, 2007 and the houses of Congress are currently debating whether Internet access should be kept tax-free. I find the idea that you might have to pay whenever you go online bizarre and it really impacts people outside the US as well as US policy is often adopted as standard in other countries. It’s probably not going to happen but the coalition at MyWireless.Org has a form for people in the US to fill out urging politicians to pass the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007. You might like to have a look and find out more about keeping the Internet tax free.

Lastly is just a reminder that the next court sitting regarding the defamation case which led to the banning of WordPress in Turkey is also set to take place on November 1st. Hopefully more information about the ban will be available after the 1st, but if you’d like to send a letter to the Turkish authorities asking that the Turkish courts reconsider their position or sign MidEast Youth’s petition, it might help. Plus you’d be joining with other people in condemning censorship, something which seems particularly important now with the events in Burma.

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Site of the Week: GlobalGiving

Site of the Week (4/10/07)

Rating: 5star.jpg

With Christmas not that far away, here’s a website you might find useful. GlobalGiving connects users to over 450 independent charity projects around the world to make donations that can help to change and shape a community. You can help fund projects from orphanages and schools to health programs and all projects are approved by reputable organisations like the United Nations Foundation before being listed to ensure legitimacy.

What makes GlobalGiving different from other sites is that it connects donors directly to the projects, allowing donors to choose who they support. When you make a donation you can opt to remain anonymous or to let your contact information be known to the project leader, allowing you to stay updated on the project’s progress. There are also project reports every few months available through GlobalGiving.

Donations through GlobalGiving are tax-deductible and are a good option for people looking to make donations as a gift. You buy a gift certificate (an email or a card) and the recipient goes to the website and chooses the projects they want to give funds to, involving them in the process rather than simply making a donation in their name. Making a donation or buying a certificate is simple with payment accepted through credit cards, PayPal, cheques and bank transfers.

One thing of note is that GlobalGiving takes a fee of 10% from donations for administration, but that’s lower than the fees of similar sites. GlobalGiving was founded by two former heads of the World Bank and if you’re thinking of making a charitable donation, GlobalGiving is well worth a look.