Q&A #3 – Citizens, Superheroes, Books and Antarctica

  • When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

There were a few things. I remember when I was 8 and had just seen Jurassic Park that I wanted to be a paleontologist and was quite serious about it – I’m still very interested in archeology and paleontology and in another life I might well have done something like that. I also wanted to be a tennis player and an actor for a while.

The main thing I remember saying consistently, though, was that I wanted to be a writer. I was writing stories from when I was six and I remember the school librarian asking my class one day if any of us wanted to be writers and my hand going up right away. I loved writing and it just seemed natural.

When I went to high school I started thinking seriously about a career in journalism or possibly teaching English and writing novels on the side. Neither worked out unfortunately but the novel side continued. Which is where I am today. 🙂

  • What do you think it means to be a good citizen?

I’ve discussed this with a few people recently, particularly with all the recent talk about whether people have a moral duty to donate part of their income to help the poor. It’s an interesting topic but I think some people tend to confuse the idea of being a good person with being a good citizen and that’s where I make a bit of a distinction.

I think being a good person is trying to live a good life without needlessly hurting other people. That doesn’t mean living a selfless life, or a life without conflict, because generally speaking I believe that goes against human nature. But someone who works hard, loves their family, tries to stay true to their morals and tries to help other people where they can, I think that is a fair way to describe a good person.

Being a good citizen, though, is not the same thing. You can obviously be both but I think being a good citizen is much more about nationality than personal identity. It’s about how you relate to where you live, about being a good neighbour to people and a good member of your community and potentially about doing what you think is best for your country or community even if that might prove unpopular. I also think it requires a willingness to be aware of what is going on and to stay informed so that you understand what is happening in your country and community.

So I guess I would describe a good citizen as someone who stays informed, votes, tries to be a good neighbour when they can, respects the rights of people and is prepared to stand up when they think something is wrong, even if (perhaps especially if) it is not the popular thing to do.

In that way I would say the person looking after their next door neighbour’s cat or carpooling to help with peak hour traffic is a good citizen, as are many bloggers and journalists who draw attention to issues that the public deserves to know about, and whistleblowers, etc, too for opposing corruption. They may or may not also happen to be good people but I think that’s separate from them being a good citizen.

Personally I’d consider myself more of an informed citizen to be honest, which is somewhere inbetween. Which is probably true for a lot of people, I’d imagine.

  • Do you think there are too many superhero films being made?

It does seem like there are a lot of superhero films being released, doesn’t it? In fact, by the time 2016 is over, there will have been seven all up!

I tend to think of superhero movies as being their own genre now though and if you think of how many dramas or romantic comedies are released every year, seven actually doesn’t sound like that many. I think the problem is more that they need to feel different and distinct and to be spaced out more to help reduce viewer fatigue.

I think eventually superhero films will lose some of their popularity, a bit like Westerns did, but with such large fanbases I think they’ll always be popular. Personally I’d like to see more as series on Netflix – I think that format suits them better and would help to reduce oversaturation too.

  • You’re about to go to Antarctica for a year and can only bring five non-essential items with you. What would you bring?

I’m going to say that a phone, computer and wifi are included as essentials in this day and age, so I won’t include those. So I’d choose a camera with an all-in-one zoom lens, a kindle with a good selection of books, a photograph of my family, peppermint teabags and lots of chocolate. Because I don’t think I could last a year without tea and chocolate.

  • What are you reading at the moment?

Most of my books are in storage but I brought a few with me when I moved. I’m reading The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin  at the moment, which won the Hugo Award last year. It’s very good. I plan to read Lock In by John Scalzi after that.

  • iOS or Android?

I’ve never really got the fuss about comparing iOS and Android… I know a lot of people are very passionate about one being better than the other and debate it endlessly but I’ve used both over the years and think they’re both great.

Personally I use iOS these days but I don’t think it’s ‘better’ than Android or any other operating system, it just suits the way I use my mobile devices a little better overall.

I do like the Android cameras though – I’d love to see an SLR running it one day.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask for a future post, feel free to leave them in a comment. 🙂

Q&A #1 – Trump, Atheism, Love and Guns

So this is the first in a new series of posts I thought I’d start. I’ve always liked the idea of having a random q&a section on the blog; I thought it’d be a fun way to talk about some extra topics and help people to get to know me a little better. So that’s what this is.

The questions below are fairly random and are a mix of questions I’m often asked either online or in real life and others I’ve created to cover a few topics I’ve been wanting to write about. Like most bloggers I have a lot of ideas for posts that I end up not writing about for one reason or another and I thought this would be a good way to cover some of those topics too.

I’m looking to do this semi-regularly and I’d love it if, as I do more of these posts, people started to suggest questions and topics as well. So if you’ve got anything you’d like to ask, feel free to leave it in a comment or use my contact page.

I’m game for most questions, so go wild. 🙂

  • Do you believe in true love?

Yes and no. Do I believe there is just one person out there in the whole world we are destined to be with? No. I find that idea rather insipid to be honest and I dislike the idea of “The One’.

Actually I hate the idea of ’The One’. I think it’s unhealthy and spreads an unrealistic expectation of what we should be looking for in relationships. Basically it gives us permission to be extremely picky over partners and to turn down people who we could potentially be happy with simply because they don’t seem ‘perfect’. And then we wonder why we are alone.

So I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘The One’. I do however believe in love and think there are many people we can be compatible with throughout the course of our lives. We just have to be in the right place and frame of mind to be able to recognise them, and that usually means being willing to compromise and to recognise when our standards are unrealistic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are destined to meet them though. They may live in another country or we may simply not be in the space to recognise them, etc. Whatever the reason sometimes people never meet and that’s sad but it’s okay. It’s life.

Personally I think the best thing is to try to be happy with your own company. If you’re happy with yourself then finding love and companionship is a bonus. And love often comes along when you’re not expecting it too.

  • Can an atheist be a moral person?

This is something that often comes up when people first realise I’m an atheist. Which surprised and insulted me at first but I think it’s because a lot of people relate morality to religious teachings and are curious what keeps someone’s moral compass in check if they don’t believe in God.

The truth is that morality isn’t about religion and I consider myself a very moral person despite no longer being of faith. Morality is something that is perceived to be closely tied to religion because that’s the way for thousands of years people were taught about good and evil, right and wrong, but when you actually think about it morality itself is a concept, a framework for how we should live our lives, that comes from being part of an evolved society.

I believe basic ideas of right and wrong are intrinsic to modern civilisation and are taught in many ways; through religion, yes, but also through school, books, movies, the media, our parents, elders, etc, and our modern world and laws are based on the same ideas. In other words I believe morality is a universal constant and just removing somebody from the religious world doesn’t suddenly make them more likely to commit a terrible act.

For instance, you could say that a devout religious person who is a convicted murderer would actually be a far less moral person than a peaceful atheist. Whether someone is a ‘good’ person or not has more to do with their upbringing and things like potential mental illness than whether they believe in God or not in my opinion.

  • What do you think will happen to Donald Trump? Could he really be President?

At this stage you’d have to say that yes, it’s a real possibility Trump could become President. My gut feeling however is that Trump won’t be President. I also don’t think he will win the Republican nomination either, although I am less sure about that as he has already lasted longer than I thought he would and his momentum seems to be growing.

The main reason I think he won’t get the nomination is that as the race goes on and more candidates drop out, eventually an anti-Trump challenger is going to galvanise support behind them. While Trump is definitely popular, he has relied a lot on his anti-immigration, anti-establishment demographic and you’d think as the process moves into other less conservative states that votes will start to solidify behind Trump’s main challenger. And eventually I think that will be too much for him.

Who that challenger will end up being though is another matter. Rubio seems to have shot himself in the foot recently with his debate performances and Cruz doesn’t seem well liked enough to rally enough people behind him. And Carson has never really recovered from some of his foreign policy comments earlier in the campaign. My guess is that Rubio will finally emerge but there is a real possibility that Trump could ride the wave right to the nomination.

Which, if that ends up happening, would have seemed inconceivable a year ago. But the thing is that Trump is not simply the anti-establishment fluke people have been taking him for. What Trump actually is is a very shrewd political opportunist; the Republican Party has largely been about obstruction for the last ten years and add to that many conservative radio and tv hosts popularising immigration and minorities and all Trump has done is taken the opportunity to personify that. You can’t blame Trump for playing to a demographic that has largely been created for him.

I still think that in the end there are far more people in the Republican Party who disagree with Trump and that eventually they will rally around someone like Rubio. The problem for the Republicans though is that most of the candidates seem fairly bland and taking someone bland into the main election cycle against Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, could be a huge problem. But that’s the reality they are left with.

My guess is that in the end it will be Rubio vs. Clinton and Clinton will win but of course Clinton comes with her own baggage which will pull her back. She would then face a real challenge in 2020 from a much stronger Republican candidate. As for Trump I don’t think he’d run as an independent – it would mean spending more money and I think he’s already got enough exposure out of this. But who knows? He is very hard to predict.

Of course this is all just guesswork from an outsider with an interest in US politics, so please take it all with a grain of salt. I’ll be curious to see exactly what happens and if I’m way off too.

  • Do you think countries would be safer if everyone owned a gun?

This is something that has come up a few times recently with the terrible shootings in the US and the way Australia’s gun laws are sometimes mentioned in the debate making people re-question them. Which is understandable I guess seeing as there is a lot of misinformation going on about our gun laws, most of which is not true.

Personally, and I’ll take this from the point of view of if Australia’s gun laws were potentially being loosened, I am not in any way in favour of more people potentially owning firearms, let alone everyone having access to one. I think the laws have made a big difference here and we have not had another Port Arthur style shooting since which is not a coincidence. More importantly they also do not stop people from being able to own a firearm, just that certain weapons are prohibited and overall it’s not been a big loss.

I think our gun laws are sensible and if the US was to try to do something about gun violence, ours wouldn’t be a bad model to look at. But obviously it is a very different country, with a very different gun culture, and I’m not sure it would work the same way there even if there was the appetite to try.

I’m not unsympathetic towards people who do think more guns are the answer though and I know some people still believe that here in Australia. I think it’s understandable that when people see violence they would want to look at ways of protecting and defending themselves.

I just think though that if you stop and actually consider gun violence as a whole, particularly in the West, you realise how while mass shootings are awful, they’re actually just a small part of a much larger problem. The number of accidental shootings in the West is actually far, far higher than the number of assaults and murders committed with firearms and so if you were to multiply that by adding a vast number of new guns into a country, well that is potentially a recipe for disaster. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and the more guns that are available, the more opportunities there are for people to be hurt and killed either accidentally or maliciously.

If everyone had access to a gun it might result in fewer mass shootings, yes, but if it also resulted in a much higher number of accidental shootings and deaths, in the end is that really a trade worth making? Not for me.

I think our gun laws were the best thing John Howard did while he was Prime Minister… I was often on the other side of politics from him but this was one of the good things he did for all Australians and I’ll always be thankful for that. However the US tackles the problem I hope that it is successful and that something happens sooner than later.

  • I’m looking to get my first SLR. Which camera and lens should I buy?

I’m asked this quite a lot and my first piece of advice is, before you buy an SLR, stop and think about if you really need one. Any camera can take good photos. The most important thing is learning about photography; owning a better camera won’t make you take better photos but learning about photographic technique will.

SLRs are great cameras and I highly recommend them but only if you have started to reach the limitations of the camera you are currently using. SLRs will help you to take better photos at night, for instance, and can give you more control over your exposure, but they will not help you to take better photos, just ones with more detail. This is a mistake a lot of people make and they often end up regretting their purchase.

Saying you are one of those people who does need an SLR I would recommend buying an entry level model and seeing how you go with it. A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on getting the best camera, like a Canon 5DS, but they don’t need it and never get the best out of it. Starting with an entry level camera allows you to work out exactly what you need and then if you need to you can upgrade once you find you are reaching its limitations.

For recommendations the Canon 760D is a very good camera, and with a twin lens kit (normal lens and telephoto) that’s pretty much all most people would ever need. I personally prefer Canon over Nikon but a camera like the Nikon D3300 is very good too and would suit the same purpose. I really like Olympus gear too and being mirrorless cameras, they’re much smaller and lighter which is a bonus. Something like the E-PL7 is a great little camera.

I also recommend getting something like Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, no matter what kind of camera you own. You can spend thousands of dollars on gear but a good editor will help you get more out of your photos than any camera or lens. I think Lightroom is the best photographic purchase I have ever made and it doesn’t take long to learn either.

  • Pepsi or Coke?

Can I say neither? I guess I’ve never been particularly into cola, the taste just doesn’t do much for me for some reason. If I had to choose I don’t mind Coke Zero every now and then so I would probably say Coke. I’d rather have a lemonade or lemon, lime and bitters any day though.