Writing the threads of my reality

New site

Right then - I've integrated my blog into my own website, and ported everything over with a minimum of fuss. Taleweaving has now become a part of Threads-of-Aether, my own website with all kinds of shiny stuff.

The blogspot feed is probably not going to work anymore. I'll try to get it to accept my posts from the new site, but chances are anyone currently subscribed needs to go and pick up the new feed.

Yay new site! Go see!

Top Ten Reasons to go read The Rejectionist

10. Frequent, unapologetic swearing

9. Posts which are written using the royal 'we'

8. Dramatic capslock use

7. Intense, vocal hatred of bad writing, the like of which may never be seen again by mortal man, usually parsed into mocking, humourous commentary

6. Continuing love of aspiring authors, no matter what utter waste-of-paper manuscripts appear in the slush pile

5. Random lessons on grammar and spelling

4. Posts that highlight cool feminist things or call out racism, sexism, and other prejudice for the shit that it is

3. Lola Pants

2. The funny. Oh dear god, the funny

1. This post. Specifically this quote: "THERE'S NO CRYING IN PUBLISHING. Go out there with your fabulous selves, and own that shit. OWN IT. LOVE YOURSELF. Own how awesome you are, and how brave, every last one of you. Fuck a bunch of form letters. You're a fucking WRITER." [edited to add] AND THIS POST about Stieg Larsson. "Most of us will never be abducted by a sadistic serial killer, thankfully. But all of us will, at some point, be told we are less because we are female. The worst thing about this book is that it seems to be saying the only violence against women that counts is the kind that ends up with us dead. The rest of us, I guess, are just complaining."

Just let me get my cheerleading outfit and pom-poms, and give me a minute to change.


Opening Lines

Kevin Sheridan over at Optimism Abounds has a post up about getting started with a story. Everyone says that you need something that will instantly grab the reader and get them into the story; something pithy, memorable, interesting, whatever. Nothing like "It was a dark and stormy night" anyway.

Yes, children, starting off your fantasy epic with a description of the weather is not exactly quality prose. Famous first lines usually have something better going on that instantly makes the reader want to look at the second line, then the third one, and so on in that fashion until they've got to the last page. Is this easy? Good grief, no - but if you're really getting serious about this writing thing, you really should make an effort to, y'know, write something that people will want to read.

Anyway. Memorable or interesting first lines:
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." - Harry Potter, of course. The tone captures the characters perfectly; just a little snide, a little petulent, very stuck up. You'd read on simply because it's a fantastic piece of prose.
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." - Pride and Prejudice. One of my personal favourites, and one of the most well known opening lines in the world. Interesting, quirky, almost playful writing.
  • "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - 1984. All at once familiar and strange. George Orwell's publisher must have known he was on to a winner here.
  • "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ah, Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently Fear and Loathing was partly based on his own weird experiences. You'd read on if only to find out what happens when you get hammered on drugs in a desert.
  • "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen." - Northern Lights. The line might be ordinary if not for the mention of the daemon.
  • "To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman." - A Scandal in Bohemia. Watson is talking about Irene Adler, you discover later. But wow, what a hook there - it hangs on the reader knowing who Sherlock Holmes is, and you continue to find out who is the mysterious woman that has such an effect on him.
I have a problem with first lines, I think. I read over the opening of the Novel again last week, and winced at how pedestrian it sounded to me. I've already decided that the story has to start there, where the main characters suddenly come into contact with each other, and if I can't make a scene full of danger and excitement and death-defying madness sound interesting, then there's really no hope for me.

...Actually, I have an opening to another story I wrote a while back. I was talking to another writer-type friend, and we got chatting about the most overused opening lines. So I took the clichéd "It was a dark and story night" and tried to make something of it that didn't sound boring.


"It was a dark and stormy night.

Except it wasn't. I wanted it to be, though. I needed lightning, and thunder, and rolling clouds foretelling doom on the horizon. I wanted tree-falling crashes, and wind, and the kind of rain that'd soak you as soon as you stepped into it. I would have given anything for the weather to listen to me, when I was crying in that cafe in Paris, but the sky's a bitch in the middle of a French summer.

So it was actually the middle of a sunny afternoon, with a lovely warm breeze pulling my hair over my face, when that bastard broke my heart.

Yes, I can write things other than fantasy. Who knew?

Flying with the Phoenix

Today, I got my copy of Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. Got home, did my usual speed reading thing and finished it in two hours flat.

Ai Ling is a young woman in the Kingdom of Xia - an oriental setting that kept bringing to mind images of the Avatar: Last Airbender artistic style - where women are constrained by social norms and generally expected to be seen and not heard. Everything starts going south when her father is called away to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams to do something mysterious with the Emperor, and after being threatened with a little blackmail and other shennanigans, Ai Ling runs away to bring her father home.

The dung then seriously hits the fan as she becomes hunted by demons, and in the course of things she falls in with a young man called Chen Yong, who is trying to find out what happened to his parents. Hijinks ensue, as they say.

Ok, gotta be honest here: I'm a terrible analyst of actual prose, so I'm just going to leave that to one side. I read so fast that single phrases or sentences get blurred into the overall narrative. I'm not all that aware of tone sometimes, and this might affect the stuff I pick up on in a book.

Anyway. Review time!

What I liked most about Silver Phoenix was the setting. It's a colourful, rich world, with little quirks and nuances that jumped out here and there. I always got the sense that there was much more to all of it than I was being told. Of course, this being a fantasy book, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Cindy Pon has reams of backstory hidden somewhere that we'll never be privy to. The demons are shockingly scary and horrible, too - maybe a little reminiscent of the oriental ghosts and monsters I've read about elsewhere, such as in the Legend of the Five Rings RPG or 3x3 Eyes.

Characters I had a problem with. I kept trying to resolve Ai Ling and Chen Yong and others in my head as I read, but they never truly gelled for me until the second half of the book. It started well enough with Ai Ling, but my vision of her fragmented early on and I couldn't seem to pull it all back together. Chen Yong was almost a non-entity for a long time there. I found myself asking at one stage, where's the emotional connection between them? Why are they together? Why do their interactions seem... unreal?

Plot, as well, remained hazy for me. It juddered at the start, going from here to there and although I could see the reasons that this needed to be here or that needed to be there, I couldn't get into it emotionally. I wasn't invested in what the characters were doing. Sometimes I wondered what exactly was going on, or I skipped back a page or two to try to get a clear picture of events. Not a good sign, unfortunately.

However, once Ai Ling and Chen Yong learn what's going on in the second half of the book, everything suddenly comes back into focus. Their characters become more real, the plot falls into place, and the story starts to come into its own. I still found a few hints of haziness, a moment or two where someone would do or say something that didn't seem right, but the overall quality leaped upwards and continued to climb up to the grand finale in the Palace and onwards. The showdown scene (no spoilers allowed, go get a copy if you want to know!) was not what I expected; powerful, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

...I always feel just a little bit bad when I write a review of a book and I have to say something bad about it. It seems like I'm betraying the author, or something. Hollywood get no such pass, of course, when I review movies - they like to inflict their crap on me, so I don't feel so guilty about flinging it right back at them. But yeah, authors, I feel kinda bad. Especially when I know my taste is flat out weird.

So - Silver Phoenix? There's a lot to like about it. The fantastical oriental setting is weird, strange and wonderful. Plot and characterisation are strong when they really come together. But for me, the first half of the book just let everything else down. I think of stories as having a flow, or a rhythm; Silver Phoenix spent far too long being out of time with itself.

The ending was... not unsatisfying, but somehow empty. Like I wanted more, and it wasn't there. It felt like Chen Yong had gone out of focus again as a character, and this had somehow washed out part of the emotion of the scene. I think if I didn't know there was a sequel, I would probably have been more than a little disappointed.

Now for the million dollar question: will I buy the next one in the series? I think I will. It's got a lot of promise, a lot of power as a story, for all that I think it has its faults. Fury of the Phoenix is out sometime in 2011, apparently.

As an aside: good grief, the cover? Changing the obviously Asian girl to an obviously Caucasian one for the paperback?! And that design! I'm a graphic designer and I could do better in my sleep! The original cover was a much stronger effort and far more faithful to the story. God, but it irritates me like nothing on earth to see an author short-changed by a publisher who won't do justice to a book cover.

Alright. The cat is attacking my feet, so I must go play with her before she turns her attention to my laptop.

T-Shirt Design: You Complete Me

Yes, I am on a roll with designs right now. Still waiting for my first sale. I live in hope, though. It's all for a good cause - that is, me and my better half packing up all our stuff and leaving Ireland in search of more geek-friendly shores.

Speaking of which, this design is just for him. Behold, the amazing Chibi-Man! With the power of his suspiciously familiar red suit, he can rescue cats from trees and help little old ladies across the road!

T-Shirt Design: Epic Win

The latest design: a gamer special! I used to play D&D a lot, then 4th Ed came out and it just wasn't the same anymore. Yes, I have my own dice that no one may touch on pain of pain.

I'm sure this would work better if it was white on black, but Skreened don't print white. Shame, really. I'm guessing it's to make it easier for people who are not graphic designers - white in any Skreened design becomes transparent, rather than allowing the shop owner to specify their own transparency settings. Efficient, yes - but annoying for the professionals.

This design's been added to a new shop for funnies - the Bizarrium. I chose the name because the other option, "The Happy Joy Shop of Happy", sounded a bit silly.

T-Shirt Design: Fly vs. Cobra

This is my latest design. It's been added to a new Skreened shop called the Bizarrium.

...I like funny names. Don't judge me!

In case you can't read it, it says "Do not taunt me Mr. Fly, I have a swatter and the reflexes of a disgruntled cobra". This design was inspired by a fly who got into my office today, and wound up splattered across the back of one of my notepads after it buzzed around my head one too many times.

Still haven't sold any shirts. Must... do... more... designs...

Jason Robert Brown, and the Sound of (Copyrighted) Music

I write a lot about copyright, and licencing, and the situations arising from filesharing, so the shennanigans with Jason Robert Brown were of particular interest to me. In short - JRB is a famous composer, and he was slightly and understandably miffed that some sites allow his sheet music to be accessed for free.

So he opened up a dialogue with one of the users of such a site, and the resulting exchange is enlightening and informative. His opponent is a teenager, a young aspiring singer who sees nothing wrong with filesharing.

What I found most interesting is that her attitude towards sharing online was very different to his, and she had a remarkably good grasp of how it could benefit him in a promotional way. JRB didn't agree, and directed her to buy his music at four dollars a pop - not much, of course, but without a credit card, she couldn't pay it. He did come off as rather heartless in that respect.

Several things struck me about all this. The first was that the teenager's attitude is certainly not unique. Her generation is completely comfortable with sharing files online, both technologically and morally, and JRB seems rather blinkered to this fact. That's a little dangerous when you consider that her generation will grow into the consumers with money that he will be playing to in a few years. Public perceptions shift and evolve over time, and hanging your future earnings on the idea that you can prevent the attitudes of the younger generation from merging into the mainstream is not a good business decision.

The second was that he just didn't seem to realise that it's not about him. This teenager likes his music. She has access to sheet music that she wouldn't normally have available, because her parents won't pay for it. She takes the time to learn it, sing it, make it a part of her life - and she tells him this, and explains that she loves his music so much that she wants to promote it and share it with others.

He, of course, is of the opinion that she could just as easily promote it with paid sheet music instead of free copies. But - and this is very important - it's not about him. He's not the only composer in the world. For a teenager who can't afford to buy sheet music, it's easier to download than to find a way to pay, so if he succeeds in having his music removed from this site, it won't somehow convince her and her peers to buy it instead. They'll just look for another free song that's been left online by another composer who isn't concerned about filesharing. Bottom line here, he's wilfully restricting the market for his work because he can't stand the idea that someone is getting his work for free.

The third thing, and I am tired of saying this, is that he repeatedly refers to it as 'illegal'. Anyone who's done any research into this area should know that filesharing is not illegal.


It's actually a civil case, as opposed to a criminal one. That's why you should be calling it infringing behaviour, not illegal behaviour. Small distinction, I'm sure, but it's an important one.

The fourth thing is that he uses incorrect analogies. The screwdriver, for example - he compares giving away a finite good (end result: he does not have a screwdriver anymore) with an infinite good (end result: he still has his own copies of his music). It's irritating when people make these comparisons and don't think them through.

Imagine if you had a screwdriver, and your friend wants one, and you have the technology to make an exact copy of it in about a minute at zero cost. Maybe it's an exceptionally well-made screwdriver, with variable size and type and whatnot, and it took you a year to craft it. So you tell your friend, "Sorry - you need to give me four dollars before I'll make you a copy". Maybe he'd give you the money, but that's a bit of a stretch if there are a hundred other screwdriver craftsmen who'd be happy to make him a copy for free, and all of them are clamouring for his attention.

It's all market forces, kids. If people know that it effectively cost nothing to produce the goods they are buying, they expect to get it for free or for close to free. Asking them to pay when your competitors are giving it away for promotional purposes is a colossal mistake. Maybe their goods are not as well-made, and maybe you'll get some sales out of the people who prefer quality over price, but at the end of the day it's not you who'll be getting the attention (and thus the money) of the majority of consumers - and unless your goods are significantly better and differentianted from the competition, you will go out of business.

(But wait, I hear you cry, how can they make money if they're giving away their goods? In response to this, I can only suggest that if an entrepreneur can't figure out how to take consumer attention and turn it into sales and income, then perhaps they should get a different job.)

In summary, I really feel for Jason Robert Brown. I'm not callous enough to ignore his point of view that he should be paid for the sweat and blood he put into his music, but the simple fact remains that his work is going to be shared whether he likes it or not, whether he rails against it or not, whether it's copyright infringement or not. He says himself that the recording industry is in freefall right now, and he's not wrong - but the music industry is booming, and musicians are finding new ways to make a living by reaching out to their fans directly, and by not relying on the sale of the infinitely and easily copied streams of data that make up their music. See the latest report from the UK, if I remember right - people are spending more money on music than ever before, but it's all in live acts and not plastic discs.

I feel bad for him because all he can see is how he's not being paid his share of four dollars. He's so focused on how the Internet is losing him a little bit of money that he doesn't recognise how he could be using it to make a huge pile of money. It's like Harry Potter all over again - up to May this year, the series was not allowed to be released as ebooks due to the fear of piracy. The result, of course, is that there was no other way to get it as an ebook except through illicit channels, which means it was heavily pirated anyway and both Rowling and Bloomsbury have lost out on potential ebook sales of the most popular children's series in the last decade!

I often wonder who was ultimately responsible for that particular business decision. Was it Rowling, perhaps? Did Bloomsbury buy into the media panic over filesharing and nudge her into it?

Anyway, back to JRB. People are fond of saying that there's no easy answer to filesharing, but I disagree. There is one answer that counts: Evolve or die, gentlemen. If your business model can't survive in the age of the Internet, you have a stark choice - develop a better one, or accept that you will fail.

There is no in-between, no happy medium. You are not a special snowflake that the digital age will treat gently and make exceptions for.

Evolve or die.

T-Shirt Design - Canadian Dream

Yes, Canada. My better half and I are making arrangements to leave for the land of forests and socialised medicine in the New Year. This particular design is called the Canadian Dream, in honour of the fact that any profits I get from the shirts will go towards our immigration fund.

Next up is a commissioned design for a friend of mine.

T-Shirt Design - Razor Angel

This is the latest design up on my store, called Razor Angel. This is the back of the shirt.

I'm thinking about modifying it slightly to move the wings farther apart. Hopefully I'll be adding more designs and getting more interest. I also have this mad idea to print up a run of shirts and take them to Gaelcon, but that'll depend on the cost of travel, accomodation, and the trade stands in the con.

That reminds me, I need to email the mysterious entities who run Gaelcon.

Anyway - I want feedback and suggestions! Comment here or tweet at me to get my attention.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

A very odd thought struck me today. I am a writer, and I am a graphic designer. I can come up with (reasonably) pithy commentary on the modern world, and I have a basic grasp of good design. I've been looking for other sources of revenue, especially considering my plans to leave the country at some point, and so I've been thinking about where I can apply my skills in my spare time to earn extra cash.

In retrospect, this should have been bloody obvious.

Cafepress style sites! T-shirt designs! It's perfect!

I've started up already with some feminist designs on Skreened. I have plans for some new sections on geeks, computers, gaming, and other stuff, and I'm considering setting up a second store on Zazzle or Printfection for stuff other than T-shirts. Skreened just happened to come highly recommended in quality vs. price.

If anyone has suggestions about what kind of T-shirts or merchandise they'd like to see, let me know! This is cash that's going to get me and my better half to Canada, by the way. Even if it's something silly, I want to know about it and do the design and sell it to you.

Promotion will have to be through the blog, Twitter, my site, and word of mouth. The challenge is how to do it without being tacky... ah, the joys of the sole trader business. Anyway - I added a few non-feminist designs to do some practice with branding and graphic styles. Enjoy!

The Nature of Online Gaming

The things you read at 4am...

What with the debacle of RealID, I've cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft again. I was thinking of returning once I know for sure that the system will not expose my private information or connect my WoW characters with my real life name, but after doing some research, I think this may be the time I drop the game for good.

I read a few articles on RealID and the commentary from various WoW players, and eventually I came across this one that talks about the methods that games use to sucker players in and keep them paying. It's a huge shock to read that and compare what they're saying to my experience of World of Warcraft - and I will tell you 100% that it's all true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it's terrifying to me.

Leaving aside the thought of games designers using psychological tinkering to keep people playing instead of actual innovation, it took me a while to learn that the RealID thing is a result of Blizzard doing a deal with Facebook. That alone threw up some major red flags for me; they might have the best of intentions and plans for a new social gaming network, but going through Mark Zuckerberg? The man who doesn't believe in privacy, and whose company is constantly getting slammed over selling user data, and who thinks people who give him their information are dumb?

If Blizz think for one second that I'm getting involved with that, they're barking mad. Everything is saved on the Internet, and I can't risk something in WoW getting attached to my real life name - especially when I'm planning on being a published author, and I need to control my online image. I played it for stress relief, for goodness sake; that implies a certain freedom in what I say and do in that it has no consequences because I remain anonymous. I don't want to play a game where my virtual actions might come back to bite me later in real life.

That's to say nothing of the people who really, really want to be anonymous. Celebrities, for example. They have hobbies too, and it's common knowledge that some of them play WoW. If everyone knows who they are, how can they play the game normally? Female gamers, as well, have a trend of hiding their true gender to avoid harrassment - and I should know, because I've been there. I spent a year playing a male character and pretending to be a guy after a few bad experiences. Are we supposed to just suck it up and accept that our identities will be exposed?

They might have backpedalled now and decided to hold off on forcing people to use their real names on the game forums, but it's not good enough. They're still implementing it in-game in the next expansion, and allowing friends of friends (i.e. complete strangers) to see a person's real name. There's apparently an addon bug that exposes your name to anyone.

I forsee a situation where Blizzard and Facebook will exchange user information in order to build an even bigger social profile of a person. Facebook already has their real life info, and Blizz can supply their WoW or Starcraft habits and their in-game chatter; Facebook gets even more user info out of the deal, and Blizz gets access to Facebook's 400 million users through their friends who already play their games. Needless to say, I didn't sign up for that, and the new Terms of Use I had to agree to in order to access my account and cancel my subscription didn't exactly fill me with confidence.

End of an era, I guess. I'm sure some people will be celebrating.

Body Shapes

I have realised something deeply profound, and largely personal. Granted, this may make it uninteresting, but nevertheless, I feel the need to share.

I now know that I'm not, in fact, overweight.

Does that sound silly? Modern women carry around some amount of hatred of their bodies from the moment their mothers tell them that they shouldn't have that extra bar of chocolate. 'A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips', they say. I've always largely disliked my hips for having too much fat on them, and deep down, I tend to blame myself for it.

But not today. I looked in the mirror, and I noticed that my shoulders are actually just a little bit wider than my hips, despite the fleshiness of said body parts. And it was something of a revelation to look at myself and see (instead of an average woman with a few pounds to lose) a woman who is bigger and heavier by design because I take after my father in my body shape. So I have very broad shoulders and hips because my dad is broad; I weigh more than 180 pounds even though I look much lighter because I have very dense bones, like he does; I have huge feet for which heels are generally not an option because my grandfather had feet like that.

The point of it all, really, is that it's not my fault.

It's not my fault, if fashion designers don't care or don't know how to make clothes that look good on women with broad shoulders. It's not my fault if I can never look like a model in a magazine. And because it's not my fault, suddenly all the guilt and hatred just falls away.

Even when I know that mainstream media presents an unrealistic view of the ideal woman, and that this view is callously abused to push beauty and enhancement products on the female population, it's still viciously hard to escape the nagging feeling that by not caring about being thin, or not caring about what I eat, I am somehow letting myself down. The feeling is just another facet of the media's pervasive influence - but rationalising it isn't the same as being completely free from it. So it's a powerful thing, to tell yourself that:
  • You will never reach this unrealistic ideal, but
  • It's not your fault, and
  • You can stop beating yourself up about it now and start concentrating on how to stay healthy and happy.
If you can truly convince yourself of this, then all the ads trying to convince you to buy makeup, or lose some weight with a new diet, or get this season's newest fashions don't matter anymore. You'll never look like Angelina Jolie, or have Reneé Zellweger's body, because you are not them and having the trappings of their lives will not change that - so trying to take on the veneer of a celebrity is pointless, and every little thing that says 'you are not worthy' because of your body becomes meaningless. Instead, it becomes a matter of difference; different genetics, different riches. You buy clothes for yourself. You exercise for your own health. You eat according to your own taste.

And in a myriad of small ways, you are suddenly free.

Comic Books and the Male Gaze

I like comic books, really I do. They're remarkably underrated as a medium. Alan Moore in particular is a storyteller of consummate skill; V for Vendetta, Top Ten, and others are among some of the most in-depth and emotionally involved works I've ever come across.

The problem, of course, is that comic books are rarely written for me.

Comics as a medium are, like the rest of mainstream media, entirely dominated by and created for men. I would probably be more interested in comics if they didn't constantly pander to the male gaze - that is, comics display women-as-objects, there to be eye candy for heterosexual men, even if the women are characters in their own right. The Most Common Superpower is aptly named; although male characters run the gamut of size, age, shape and what have you, female characters are overwhelmingly tall, skinny, young, attractive, and have breasts that apparently defy gravity.

Michael Turner was terrible for it, actually. See here for a classic example of his work. I don't recall ever seeing an adult female by him that didn't have an F cup at least.

Yes, it irritates me like nothing on earth. All comics have started to look the same to me now. Like movies, they have become variations on a theme of 'white hetersexual male plus assorted other white males and maybe some minorities get into shennanigans'. This just isn't all that interesting to me anymore, especially when women - yes, half of the goddamn human race - is considered a minority. The Losers? Five men, one woman. I didn't even look at the comic book. The Expendables? Nine men, most of whom are white.

That's just two films this year that my better half was getting excited about that I really, really couldn't care less about and will not be spending any money on. But I'm not bitter. Totally.

Anyway, I have to give credit where it's due, and much as I have a problem with a lot of comics, some of them stand head and shoulders over the rest. And the one that I elevate above all others is the Authority.

I prefer the Ellis/Hitch early stuff. I can remember faffing around, looking at the giant boobs brigade and getting a little disgusted, before someone shoved a copy of the first issue of the Authority into my hands. I started to read about Jenny Sparks (pictured above) and it just blew my mind that Bryan Hitch was drawing her so... normal. She smokes, drinks, wears tank tops and comfortable pants, and dresses like a businesswoman with a grudge when she goes out to kick villain ass. Jenny was an immensely powerful character, a leader, and a saviour. She had history, and depth, and experience. She was real to me in a way that, say, Power Girl could never be.

Jenny wasn't a sex symbol. Bryan Hitch didn't draw her like that. I met him at San Diego Comic Con once, and spent a silly amount of money on an original Authority comic page because of it.

Jenny Sparks became another thread that inspired one of my main characters in the Novel, and I would have given anything to have more of her in mainstream media. It hasn't happened yet, unfortunately, even though Wonder Woman is finally wearing pants after all these years. (Someone had to actually point out to me that WW's usual outfit is classic dominatrix - seriously, hot pants, corset, knee-high boots, and a whip? How did I miss that?)

Someday, though. Fifty years ago, there would never have been a Jenny Sparks to inspire me. I wonder will they ever do an Authority movie?


I am 100% sure that I will someday become the overlord of all crazy cat ladies, but in the meantime... there was a little kitten in need of a home.

This is Ashka.

From Drop Box

She is in need of some TLC, and for the time being, she is ours. I'm watching my better half call her by name, as if she'll suddenly start obeying. He is not a big cat person.

I'm happy enough to watch her get used to our apartment. And watch my better half crawling under the couch after her.

Copyright Law

Something that I've been thinking about lately is the nature of the music licensing bodies in Ireland. I've talked before about IMRO, and no, I am still not impressed by their efforts to extract license fees from hobbyist music blogs. Promotion of up and coming artists is important, and those blogs are only going to become more prevalent.

Anyway. I've been pondering something tangentally related.

IMRO are licensed to collect fees from venues like shops, restaurants, clubs. The PPI collect as well, for performing rights. They collect regardless of whether the venue in question actually plays any of their music; their attitude is such that they assume that the musicians in the venues will, without a shadow of a doubt, eventually play something that they have the rights to.

Now, this worries me.

Let's say a restaurant doesn't want to pay the fees, and decides to play only non-IMRO, non-
PPI music. Such music does exist - Creative Commons music, perhaps? Jonathan Coulton releases all his music as CC-Attribution-Non-commercial; it wouldn't be much of a stretch to make a deal with him, or artists like him, to use their music.

Here's the thing: his songs are specifically registered to him. He owns the copyright and he licenses them as he sees fit. "Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work..." so sayeth Wikipedia, which seems quite straightforward. Copyright lets the creator profit from their work in exchange for sharing that work with the world. The keyword there is profit, of course.

If you own the copyright on a work, no one else has the right to profit from that work. That would be in breach of the most basic elements of copyright law. So, consider for a second what happens in this scenario:

Restaurant contacts local musician and does a deal, such that the musician provides or performs their own original work (or their own original arrangements of public domain works) to the restaurant in exchange for a set fee, which is presumeably lower than the licensing bodies' fees. Restaurant begins to use this background music normally. Both parties profit in that the venue gets music, and the musician gets promotion plus money; very straightforward, as the musician owns the songwriting and performing rights, and may profit from them in whatever way they see fit.

Enter the IMRO, as they like to do, and they demand licensing fees from the restaurant, because the venue is playing music. In short, they demand payment for the use of music to which they do not own ANY RIGHTS.

See the problem there? See what is just a little bit bothersome? The licensing bodies are essentially asking for money on the offchance a venue uses their music, even when the venue specifically restricts itself to music they don't cover. If Jonathan Coulton owns the copyright on a work, and owns the exclusive right to profit from it... what exactly happens if the IMRO profits from it?

Breach of copyright law, perhaps?

Finding Naomi

In continuing with the random theme of social interaction I have going right now, I just had some good news today - I think I've finally found an old college friend that I've been looking for.

It was her second name I just couldn't remember. I trawled Facebook, and got nowhere. Then a post on the UCC Alumni group on LinkedIn gave me her full name, and I've spotted her on another site that puts her in Hamburg! And she hasn't changed a bit in six years, if the photo is anything to go by.

Now I just have to figure out how to contact her... Naomi, if you get to read this, email me at claireryan@threads-of-aether.net. :)

Levels of Closeness

I was talking to a man close to me the other day, and he said something that made me... well, very angry. Angry enough to shut down the conversation and walk away.

He was asking why we didn't talk more, and in a way, he was right to ask. He is, after all, very close to me - though the specifics are not all that important. We've argued in the past, and I withdrew somewhat because I tire of arguments where no consensus can be reached. We all choose the boundaries to our lives, and no one has a right to breach them arbitrarily - not even the people we love.

Things change, of course. I've already noticed that I'm introverted, in many ways, and like I said before, I'm not really all that comfortable with the language of social interaction. I don't know when I give offence, or if I should call someone to see how they are, or if this particular thing is appropriate or not. My better half had to remind me that we needed to buy a wedding present for a couple we know, which I can safely say would not have occurred to me in a hundred years.

So. I thought, perhaps, I could make an effort. Reach out a little. I sent him a link to this article, because we had been talking about feminist issues before. I want this person who is close to me to see the things I'm passionate about, and understand a bit of how I see the world.

If you don't want to click through, it's about Schroedinger's Rapist; the concept that women cannot know in advance whether the man that tries to talk to them or get close to them in a public setting actually means them any harm or not until something actually happens, at which point it's a bit late to do anything about it. So the natural reaction is to view unknown men with caution above all else, even when the man in question is a nice guy who only wants to say hello.

Men might get insulted about being viewed this way, but quite frankly, the statistics are not on their side. The reporting and conviction rate for rape is pitifully low, and in Ireland the victims of rape can expect to be victimised all over again by the friends and family of the man (it is overwhelmingly men who rape, of course). No one has the right to be insulted by the actions that women choose to take to protect themselves from that.

This gesture, however, wasn't enough. I sent the article, and I did hope a little bit that this could open up a new dialogue, with a new understanding of my worldview. Odd as it may seem, the article describes my old habits very accurately; that strange way of being hyper-aware of everyone around me, and the fear of doing or saying something wrong in response to their actions, that I still fall back on every now and then. Never in a hostile way, you understand - I didn't view other people as a threat - but I did view them as not-like-me, and getting over that and learning how to be comfortable around strangers still takes something of an effort of will for me.

To this, he replied that he didn't want to know. He didn't like being reminded of how rotten the world is, and he thought my effort was pretty poor as a gesture of closeness.

So, I failed in a social interaction. Nothing new there, even if I'm still trying to calculate the interpersonal arithmetic and inevitable fallout. But... he didn't want to know that bad things happen? I don't have words to describe how angry this makes me. How contemptibly arrogant, how utterly heartless! It's so easy, isn't it, to say that when the things that are happening will probably never happen to you!

I'm not sure how to parse this. Should I remain angry? Should I reach out again, but with what? I don't have many levels of closeness to offer; there is the one who shares my bed at night, and there is everyone else in the world, and those are the only two I know with absolute certainty. I'm still working out how to subdivide everyone else, and I know I don't always get it right.

I can't see how this will play out. All I know is I don't want to lose another friendship because of another social mistake, but if I do... is it his fault, or is it mine?

News and things

News. Yes. Things have happened in the last week; strange, amazing things.

I wrote a screenplay for a short film, having never even touched the medium before. I do believe that telling a story is much the same regardless of the format, so it didn't seem all that strange to me - although the collaboration that occurs between the director, editor, actors, and what have you was certainly intimidating.

It was a story about a photo booth.

We entered it in the 2010 Mutant Shorts Competition after three days of desperate set-building and filming on the part of the director and the producer. I'm still waiting for it to be uploaded to their Vimeo page so I can embed it here, but the incredible result is that it came second overall. The revelation that something I wrote was liked enough to get runner-up in any competition is still a shock to me.

Being a creative artist of any kind is something of a battle between your self-confidence and self doubt, and I'm constantly wrestling with thoughts of whether my writing really is good enough. This kind of thing is a reassurance, I suppose, that I'm not as bad as I think I am in my gloomier moments. So I'm delighted, for myself and for everyone else involved in making Photo Booth - it was great to work with a talented team, and it was a great initial foray into writing for film.

Thing the second - I finally got around to setting up my own website to showcase the various creative work I get up to. It's here. I decided to call it Threads-of-Aether, for no real reason. I still have a chunk of work to do to get it set up properly, and keep it all up to date. What I really like about it is that I did the vast majority of the work myself; I drew the graphics, coded the CSS, built the webpages, all over an evening and the following morning and afternoon. The Twitter widget came from Twitter, obviously, with a few minor changes to match my colour scheme, and the Javascript for the photo page was borrowed from elsewhere.

I do enjoy web design. Now if I could only convince my boss to let me redesign the company website...

Talking about Morality

The Civil Partnership Bill is on the way, or so it seems. I have to say, it makes me very pleased to know that non-heterosexual couples (such as a very close friend of mine) will finally have some rights and protections under the law. It's been a long time coming.

Anything that makes the world a little happier is something to be celebrated. And let's face it - this can only make the world a little happier, because it's a little step closer to finally breaking that constitutional lock out on marraige that isn't between one man and one woman; that archaic concept needs to be returned to where it belongs - the last century.

But the Catholic bishops just can't let it go, can they? The sanctity of marraige, non-hetero relationships are a sin, all that kind of thing. They're talking about morality, their morality, as dictated by their distant pontiff in Rome. And they can't let this happen; they can't let one tiny foothold of equality take root here, in the heartland of Catholicism. If they can't stop it here, in a country that has willingly grovelled at their feet for decades...

But that battle has already been fought, and lost.

The world has moved on, and Ireland moves with it. America is already moving that way, despite the efforts of the right-wing fundamentalists. Various European countries have moved on, and the EU will undoubtedly pull Ireland onwards if it begins to stall. And there is no morality among the clergy now - how can they preach to a population that knows the crimes of the Church? How do they stay relevant in an era where the Internet has opened the entirety of human culture to their flock, including all those other, more liberal religions?

It's so easy to talk about morality when passing judgement on a bill of law that can never, ever affect you. It's so easy to deny, when it isn't you that suffers as a result. That is Catholic morality, dear reader, according to the bishops of Ireland... and this is the sound of its death-knell.


Someone said something rather interesting to me the other day. They accused me of being a 'militant feminist', and all that that entails.

Feminazi. Radical feminist. Man-hater. One who, I suppose, wants to tear men down and elevate women in their place. I confess I'm not sure how to respond to such an accusation. Perhaps it's time to set the record straight, once and for all?

There are men in the western world who have a kind of cognitive dissonance; they view women as equals, think sexism is gone and done with, and declare to anyone who asks that they support equal rights, but it's all talk. It's all bluster; sound and fury, with nothing to back it up. They don't walk the walk. They were brought up a particular way, with particular views, and shaking all that off and reaching out towards the goal of true equality is... too much effort? Maybe. I would think it more likely that they just don't realise the truth of it.

It's not something you can really know, unless you live through it every day. If you've never once had something denied to you because of what you are, then you don't see the world like someone who has.

When I was young, I wanted to be a Premier League football player. I think I was only six or seven at the time. I liked soccer a lot, and I liked seeing the ads on television for Premiership matches. But it could never happen - I realised no matter how good I ever became, women were not allowed to play. Not even if I was better, or could run faster, or was more skilled. I would never be given the chance. That, I think, was the first hard truth I had to face about my biology and how the world saw it. I could be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen, but as long as my reproductive organs were on the inside, I'd never be worthy.

I railed at the unfairness, as I saw it, of being a woman. I wanted to do metalwork or woodwork in school - I desperately wanted to make things, big things, that would stand up on their own and be impressive and... arty, or something. I wasn't allowed. I wanted to play hurling with the boys, being bored to insensibility by knitting. I wasn't allowed. I wanted to do things that were not 'lady-like' simply because they interested me, wear clothes that were comfortable, live without these ridiculous restrictions and to hell with what anyone thought, and that probably annoyed my mother no end - but she and my father always let me be whatever I thought I wanted to be, for the most part.

So I grew up to be unusual. I knew that there were expectations of a woman in normal society, and I also knew that I didn't care to fulfil them when they were arbitrary and wasteful. I was long since past the stage of not caring what people thought of me.

I wore makeup, once or twice, mostly for my mother. I don't, nowadays, because I hate the feel of it. I have never bought women's magazines, or taken them seriously, or been tempted by the random fashion accessories they advertise. I don't dress up to go out, unless you count Halloween costumes, and I've never felt the need to show off my cleavage to attract a man.

I suppose I was atypical to begin with, but it took a lot of watching and reading to solidify my opinions. What I saw around me was that it was mostly men in control, and even the men closest to me couldn't see that tiny, constant things were endlessly telling me that being a woman made me less than them. That I'd lament about how many women were disadvantaged, and the only way they could internalise and process what I said was by assuring me that they weren't like that... But they still told me I was overreacting, that that's just how the world was, when I pointed out that something was sexist and it wasn't right. They still told jokes about rape.

All the threads play into each other. All the stories and narratives are woven together, from jokes to newspaper articules to Hollywood movies, and in most of them... it's not men who are used, abused, and weak. I don't blame the men I know for acting like they do, if at all - the vast majority, including my own better half, are decent, honourable people - but they swim in this culture every day, as do I. They just don't see it like I do, unless I point it out.

The funny thing about thinking in feminist terms is that you can never really switch it off again. I routinely judge movies and games on their portrayal of women now; it's almost my own personal benchmark for well-written media, as the likelyhood of my enjoying a movie in which [insert generic white caucasian twenty-something straight male here] gets into random hijinks/action, with a supporting cast of assorted mostly white men, is somewhere around nil. It takes a lot more than flashy special effects to impress me, and it takes a huge amount more when the film in question portrays women as 'bad' girls to be used, or 'good' girls to be protected.

Example of a movie that broke the mould? Prince of Persia, no less - I didn't mention it at the time, but Princess Tamina did a lot of things that would make any feminist proud. She's the ruler of a country; she alternatively fools and manipulates the Prince for her sacred mission; she can and indeed does use a sword when she has to. In short: she has some serious power and agency, and she's not afraid to use either to protect the world even at the expense of her own life.

So. Getting back to the point, I guess - I read a lot. Apart from seeing the world a particular way, I also learned about feminists who had changed it, and whose actions had given me the life I lead now. I learned how they fought for the right to vote, to control their own bodies, to live independently, to keep their children, to work and love and exist on their own terms and according to their own wishes. It was a culmination of years and years of work, of gaining a little ground here and there and bleeding raw to keep it. They are the reason I have a voice at all, why I'm not simply cast into a corner and dismissed because I was unfortunate enough to have been born female.

It enrages me that a few women today dismiss all that and disown the word 'feminist', as if it's a slur on their character. Some immediately connect it with the so-called feminazis. Some latch onto one little thing that some feminists have brought about that they don't like, and use it as an excuse to attack and disown all feminists. Such is life, I guess. The most I can do is argue with them.

I'm unapologetically feminist. That is my label and part of my identity, and for me it means that I am interested in equality for all, even when it doesn't work out in my favour. It means I can't shut up and be silent about sexism whether it happens to women or men, that I am well-read on feminist discourse, and I'm very largely in favour of reproductive rights, LGBTQI rights, and human rights in general. I want the world to be better than it is, and if that means I make some people uncomfortable or I have to take some insults, then so be it.

Hmm, wall of text indeed. But I had to say it sometime.

My life, it is being consumed

What they don't tell you when you decide to start writing a book is that your life will be swiftly devoured, cast into the literary pit of doom that is your manuscript, and you will be bereft of blogging, tweeting, and all the other sundry diversions that usually fill your life in between working, eating and sleeping.

I'm reaching for the end of the second draft of the Novel. It's like having the end of a race in sight; you push yourself just that little bit harder to get there and get it over with. Am I getting burnt out? Oh yes, but I've long since accepted that that's the way it rolls when you're an author-in-training.

Anyway. To maintain my current sanity level, I've finally decided to do a review of the HTC Desire I bought a few weeks ago.

There it is. I haven't bothered changing the background, so mine looks much the same.

The Desire is a nerd's phone. It's made for tinkering and breaking and fixing, despite all that HTC have done to make its interface all nice and shiny. And oh, how shiny it is - the screen is a bright AMOLED thing that could blind the unwary.

The good: the Sense UI is elegant and usable, and the whole thing is so snappy fast it makes the iPhone look like a turtle on tranquilisers. It comes with a 4GB micro-SD card, which I will upgrade as soon as I can be bothered and provides enough space for a chunk of music. It has one standard micro-USB port, through which you can do ANYTHING to the phone - up to and including turning it into a fancy paperweight.

The bad: HTC are very, very fond of their UI. I can't uninstall certain bits of it without rooting the phone, such as Peep (their Twitter thingy) or their Facebook widget, or - good grief - their Stocks app. Multitasking will eat the battery like nothing else, so you need to be careful what you do with it - a solid task manager app is a must.

The other downside is the same for all Android phones - Ireland has no access to Android paid apps, because of some crazy shennanigans that Google are not talking about.

I had to consider for a long time as to whether I would actually get an iPhone, instead of waiting for a decent Android phone to be released here in the land of lepreachauns. In the end, I had to choose an Android because for all the advantages of the iPhone, I wanted a device over which I had 100% control - and Apple don't allow that with their shiny toys. There's a few things that annoy me about the Desire, but there's far more that would drive me completely batty if I had an iPhone. Music, for example - there is no version of iTunes for Linux, and trying to make it run through Wine is slow torture. I did manage to get an iPod Touch hooked up through a few packages written expressly for the purpose of bypassing Apple's inane restrictions, but I had to keep asking myself why I should have to do it at all; this is my device, and I will use it however I bloody well want!

The Desire plays nice with Ubuntu, in case you're wondering. I plug it in, fire up Banshee, and it automatically syncs to a playlist I've designated for it. Contacts and email sync up through Gmail, plus the other contacts from my SIM card; half of them linked together straight away, so now I have one coherent contacts list. The phone itself can be mounted as an external drive, so I can copy just about anything off it or onto it.

It is absolute control. I can do anything to my phone, even fill it full of porn apps, and Google just don't care. It is 100% mine, to use, abuse, break, and customise as I see fit. Such power is not for the faint of heart or those who are not tech savvy, but that is the power and promise of open source and I love it so.

Anyway. Back to the Novel with me...

Query me this, Batman

So yeah. Queries. The bane of my existence.

As I get to the end of the second draft of the Novel, I realise I have to start thinking about queries. At some point I'll have to get an agent interested in selling it if I'm ever going to see it in print. So it follows that I must start practicing my query-writing, and try to put together a decent one in order to pitch my book.

It's like trying to think of a title all over again. Ever wonder why I call it 'the Novel' and not by its actual name? It's because it hasn't got one at all; anything I've ever thought of has sounded daft or just plain inappropriate. May the gods help me when the time comes to get it into dead tree form, because I'll need someone else around to help me come up with a good title.

The irony of having a vast imagination, full of story ideas and scenes and characters, but being completely unable to think of one good name for a book is not lost on me.

Queries are much the same. I have to step away for a minute, and try to see the Novel from the outside. What makes it interesting? What makes it gripping? What would make an agent leap off their chair and scream for the manuscript? I spend so much time inside it, so many hours with my characters and plot, that it's a lot more difficult that you'd think. They live because I give them life, and a world to play in; my creations, my joy, my pain, my soul. Authors hold on so tightly to their own threads that letting them go, even for an instant, is almost unthinkable. It's as if we're afraid that the woven tale will unravel the moment someone else holds it, and all our work will be undone.

I suppose the greatest test of a book is whether it survives in someone else's grasp. If the story falls apart under another gaze, then it's a sign that the author hasn't really done a very good job. But riddle me this, Batman - what can the author do when their story is torn apart by an outsider, such as an editor? How do you feel when your creation lies broken before you?

I'm getting a bit too metaphorical. Blame it on my lower-than-normal tea consumption today.

People were asking me a while ago what the Novel is about. I realised that I really couldn't answer that question at the time. There was so much in it, so many things I was too close to. Nowadays I can describe it a little; it's about danger, and excitement, and daring feats of courage, and the power of desperate friendships and alliances made under fire. And other things. And maybe ninjas. And there's a scene with a pirate ship.

Not much of a query letter, no? Let me get to the end of the draft, and then we'll see if I can step away long enough to write a query that makes sense.

Fight Music

Writing fantasy usually means writing a certain amount of fight scenes, it seems. Writing fantasy action adventure means that times ten.

I love it, really. If I could write action movies for a living, I would in a heartbeat. I love epic fights, and huge odds, and danger and excitement. Every time I send my characters into the firing line, I can visualise it all - every strike and leap, every random act of badassery. I'm not sure if it works on paper, and I'm not even sure what I'm aiming for, but I do know that it is awesome inside my head.

When I write action, I need a soundtrack.

The right music sets my mind racing. Different songs for different things, different themes and scenes and feelings, but each one will light up my imagination and turn a flat fist fight into rip-roaring chaos. It's part of my creative process; I believe without a doubt that I couldn't have even come up with the initial idea for the Novel if I didn't have a particular song, even a particular riff, to listen to. Here's a few of my favourites:

Foo Fighters' The Pretender. There's something raw about it, something desperate and angry and perfect for vicious, bloody, last stand fights.

What if I say I'm not like the others
What if I say I'm not just another one of your plays
You're the pretender
What if I say that I'll never surrender

The whole song is wailing, screaming pain. I love it.

Nightwish's Ghost Love Score. One of the original theme songs for the Novel, in fact; I always envisioned making a trailer using this, and some of the best scenes - well, the ones I like, whether they're good or not is up for debate - were at least a little bit inspired by it. It's probably the most epic song Nightwish have ever done.

My fall will be for you
My love will be in you
If you be the one to cut me
I will bleed forever

It's a blend of soaring orchestra and thumping rock; blood-roaring, uplifting, head-rushing.

Ok Go's Here It Goes Again. No, really. Strange at it may seem, this song is the perfect blend of fast, trippy beats to play over my bar room brawls and chase scenes! It's got the right amount of happy, comical bouncing, like Benny Hill but less ridiculous and more chaotic.

Just when you think that you're in control
Just when you think that you've got a hold
Just when you get on a roll
Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again

I can't help liking it a lot. It's got treadmills, remember, making it doubly awesome.

Someday, if I'm excessively bored, I think I might put together a top ten list of the soundtrack to the Novel. Then people can read the book, and listen to the songs at the same time - and get an insight into my frequently deranged way of thinking.

Prince of Persia: Assassin's Creed

Or so my better half calls it. He's not far wrong; the movie is full of the kind of crazy acrobatics that Altair got up to in the game, but in fairness, Prince of Persia did it first.

I personally like to call it Prince of Persia: Look at Jake Gyllenhaal, Isn't He Sexy.

I saw it over the weekend. It's the usual Hollywood fare. The script and dialogue is mostly predictable, and mostly brain-dead. There's this dagger, see, and if you have it and this sand stuff, you can turn back time for about a minute. You can use it to destroy the world. The bad guys want it so they can conquer everything, and the good guys want to stop them.

Yes, yes, seen it a hundred times before. If you didn't figure out that Ben Kingsley plays the bad guy within the first ten minutes, you probably need help getting dressed in the morning. Hijinks ensue as the dagger gets stolen, repeatedly, by everyone who comes into contact with it. The hero and heroine don't trust each other to begin with, but form a bond through crazy life-threatening antics that eventually blossoms into kissing at the worst possible moment, as the bad guy is about to rip reality a new one and maybe you should get over there and kick his ass because it's not like you have anything else to do.

Did I like it? Eh, yes, I did. It was watchable, and didn't do anything to really trigger the deep and unrelenting rage I harbour for most Hollywood films. It was action-filled blandness for the most part.

Ah, but I wouldn't be writing here if it was just another action flick. Oh no, dear reader. A movie has to have something really special - or really rageworthy - for me to elevate it to must-blog-about status. And the reason I have decided to bestow such an honour on Prince of Persia is this: Jake Gyllenhaal is really, really hot.

I don't see enough really good looking Hollywood stars. Look what else is out at the moment - Robin Hood? Russell Crowe, no offense to the man, is no male model. He's an actor, and a good one, but he's not there to be eye candy. Will Smith is not attractive and never has been (no, really, and you're not fooling anyone by saying he is). Other notable top earners are Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Willis, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler... Orlando Bloom, maybe? Again, not really male models - Ben Stiller in Zoolander doesn't count, as I've seen enough male models to know that he doesn't look like them.

Oh, but Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. Oh my.

He's playing a rugged, stubbly, muscled warrior. He is very attractive. He is a good actor. And, if I may say so, he has the kind of raw sex appeal in this movie that's so unbelieveably hot it could set things on fire from a great distance. I'm stunned that there weren't more women in the theatre when I saw it, but more than a little relieved as well because otherwise I'd probably have to wade through a river of drool to get out.

I don't know of many other actors who could really pull that off. It's expected for actresses, of course; how many plain female stars are there? Pitifully few, compared to the men, because a leading lady is supposed to set the screen alight in Hollywood Land. Actors seem to do it by accident more than anything else.

Hmm... Jude Law, possibly. He could pull it off in the right role. Elvis Presley, because he's the King and nothing will ever change that. James Dean. Robert Downey Jr., but I'm not sure he's all about the raw sex appeal - Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding. There are icons of the screen going back a while that do come to mind, but not in the same volume as actresses.

Could I even begin to hope that this is a turning point? That Hollywood has finally decided to intentionally add elements to its action flicks to attract female film-goers? On one hand, it's pretty unimaginative ("Hey, we should add something to get women into the cinema... let's cast a sexy man in the lead role! It works the other way around, doesn't it?"), but on the other hand, they're actually making an effort, even if it's pathetically cynical. Baby steps, don'cher'know. It isn't much, but it is progress.

So, in summary: go see this movie. If you like hot sexy men, REALLY go see this movie. If you prefer hot sexy women, Gemma Arterton has a fair chunk of screen time and (like the vast, vast majority of female Hollywood stars) she is both hot and sexy. For everyone else, it's a watchable action flick and it'll entertain you pretty well for a few hours.

Late night or early morning?

Damn, I'm tired.

Having insomnia naturally means that I have nothing better to do other than blog about it, tweet about it, and then putz around on the Internet rather than actually getting some tea or something and getting back to bed. I'm yawning, so I must be tired, but it doesn't feel like a you're-exhausted-go-to-bed yawn; more like a just-woken-up, shaking-off-sleep kind of yawn.

I know I should really be back in bed and trying to get some rest, though, because I'm starting to talk nonsense.

I got a new phone yesterday. (Today? If it's this early, does it still count as Saturday? What if I go back to bed? Does it count then?) Right. I'm babbling. Stop it and focus for a second. I got the phone on Saturday, ok? It's a HTC Desire, and my first smartphone.

It is very, very shiny. I have already used it for Twitter and email and all the other fun things you can do with a little device that's at least as powerful as my netbook.

From Photos

That's a picture of the box. I took the photo with the phone itself. This may be far too meta for civilised company, but sleep deprivation has long since washed away my manners.

Word to the wise if you're thinking of getting this phone: the very first app you need to download is the Task Manager. Any task manager, in fact, but I use this one. You want it because there are a number of apps that run in the background that eat battery life, and if you never touch those apps (or view them with deep and unrelenting suspicion), having a task manager like that one will let you shut them down automatically. This equals more battery power, which equals more time for insomnia-fuelled Twitter haikus.

The second app I got was Twidroid, obviously. I now have the power to post 140-character annoyances anywhere I have a mobile phone signal, as opposed to anywhere with a wireless network. And I can tweet photos I take from my phone, if the mobile network allows it - but it probably won't, because the Irish networks can only be charitably called '3G' and more accurately called 'a series of plastic cups connected with string and wishful thinking'.

I'm sure it can do other things. It is, after all, very very shiny.

Yawn. Tired. I must now have tea, least I fall over and sleep on the kitchen floor.

Roll for Initiative

So, my hardback copy of Into the Wild Nerd Yonder arrived and I started to read it when I got home from work today. I did my usual speed reading thing and finished it in just shy of two and a half hours.

The first thing I'm asking myself right now is whether I'm even any good at reviewing books. I read so fast that it becomes less like 'I am now reading each sentance in a logical and continuous manner' and more like 'I have plugged this text directly into my brain, and I am assimilating it Borg-style'. (The second thing I'm asking myself is who should I lend this to first?)

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern (or ITWNY, as I will call it for the sake of brevity) is a story about the making of a nerd. It's not as rare as you'd think; nerds were not always born to parents who could teach them the ways of nerd-dom, especially way back when D&D hadn't been invented yet. The other accepted method of finding one's path to nerdhood is by falling into it, largely by accident, and that is the path that Jessie takes in ITWNY after the dreaded drama envelops her soon-to-be-ex best friends.

I suppose I could talk about good writing and all that, but let's be honest here - if it wasn't well written, I wouldn't have gotten this far without at least warning you that there was a rant incoming. So yes, it's well written. It's also funny, and quirky, and amazingly light-hearted considering some of the issues it touches on. The characterisations are rock solid. The plot skips along merrily, never leaving you sitting on a dull moment, never letting the teenage angst take hold. It's all told from Jessie's first person perspective, and the highlight of the whole story for me was watching her discover D&D.

Yes, that's pretty much what D&D games are like. And that's what you'll probably think of them the first time you play. FYI: table-top roleplaying games are that damn awesome and then some, and if you turn down a game out of fear of being labelled a freak, that's just too bad.

(If you do decide to join a game, do not touch the other players' dice unless you know it's ok. You think gamblers are paranoid about luck? Just watch the meltdown that happens when some clueless noob touches a D&D player's favourite dice.)

So yeah. ITWNY is not high literature. It is, however, simple, happy, and enjoyable. It's one girl's diary of her journey into the unfamiliar and sometimes unsettling world of nerd-dom, and her discovery that it's really not so bad on the other side.

*pauses to put on reviewer hat*

Blah blah blah coming of age, teenage self-esteem, blah blah blah high school is tough.

Right, that's that done. Here's the Amazon link. Go buy it.

My eyes, the goggles do nothing!

So, I was curious today to learn what jobs there are for graphic designers around Ireland. Now that I've had a chance to play around with CS5, I'm itching to do some design work - maybe do a little more with the blog, or just play around with illustration tutorials.

I love good design. I could be sold on something completely impractical if it has style. I've been subscribed to Yanko Design ever since I got my current job, and I have to say, I would happily throw whatever money they asked at some of their featured tea sets.

Anyway, back to the jobs. Employment in design seems to be thin on the ground all over; people balk at paying €30 an hour for a professional when one of their mates can knock something up for free. But the reality is that you get what you pay for, and amateur, inferior design is worthless to a business. The real shame is that I can work very quickly, and if I had some guidelines or ideas to work from, I can do a basic design in a matter of an hour or two. A friend paid me to design some stickers for his business, using the logo he supplied and a brief outline of what he wanted, and a mere €60 bought him exactly what he needed. Not so expensive, is it?

A bad design is forgettable, which is lethal in advertising. I see it all the time, and wonder how much they paid for it. But of course, a truly rotten design can go above and beyond that and reach agonising heights. Today, dear reader, I would like to introduce you to a terrible design that also happens to be terribly ironic.

Take a look at Prosperity.ie. It's a site that lists employment opportunities in Ireland in marketing, sales, design, and media. I happened across it by accident, and immediately regretted it. The colour was probably chosen to be striking, and might I say, it struck me so hard I got eye strain trying to read the listings.

The links at the top are not obviously links. The job headers are links, and are identical to the site links except in black instead of white, in defiance of the usual convention. The job listings are unformatted walls of text with no space between paragraphs. The search system doesn't allow basic keyword searches while browsing the listings, and the index page doesn't show categories.

Jobs.ie, by comparison, is a triumph of clean, usable design.

It's a shame, to be honest. I read a little about the company, and they seem to have a good philosophy. Their blog is up to date and interesting. The jobs are mostly for Dublin, but there's a wide range on offer and a few I'd be examining more closely if I were seeking gainful employment. But their site, good grief - all I can do is hope it's a work in progress, or something, and pray that they'll be changing the colour scheme.

I read blogs

Many, many blogs. Blogs with interesting articles. Articles that point to other interesting articles, and videos, and photos, and tweets, and comics, and all kinds of stuff. This is how I get the news.

It's actually pretty efficient.

Today I was pointed at an article that made me wonder what, in fact, the staff of dating.uk.msn.com are smoking, and how I can get some at the earliest opportunity. I frequently maintain that men and women are not from different planets (shock and indeed horror!) and therefore should not be such a mystery to each other, and really, if we all just sat down and talked a bit more, I'm sure we could work out our differences and come to a equal and satisfying compromise. But, dear reader, the article above might as well be called, "Women: The Alien Spotter's Definitive Guide", and should you venture to read it, I would postulate that you will be either baffled (if you are a male with female acquaintances) or insulted (if you are an actual real-life female with a working brain, and not a figment of someone's overactive imagination).

The article is a list of 53 things that women apparently don't want men to know. The whole list... good grief, I'm trying to find just one thing that I can get behind, and really, I'm failing. I mean, some of the things I'm reading there would make me seriously question the sanity of anyone who agreed with them! Here are some of the highlights:

  • "We’d happily sleep with your best mate to make you jealous."
  • "If you don’t text or call within 24 hours we’ll feel so unhappy that no amount of chocolate and wine can cheer us up. Though we’ll give it a try."
  • "Here’s how to make us fall for you. One day, come on to us so strong that we’re a bit weirded out by it. Then totally fail to ring us. We’ll wonder what we did wrong, and we won’t be able to stop thinking about you."
  • "We want you to text us from your journey home to say how you can’t stop smiling."

Let's recap: the person or persons speaking here will prostitute themselves to get attention, will drink themselves into oblivion when they don't get that attention, can be casually manipulated because they crave attention, and are also control freaks about how that attention can be paid to them.

This does not describe your average everyday woman. This describes someone with enough mental health problems to keep a therapist in business for years! And the article seems to be somewhat semi-serious, if the opening paragraphs are anything to go by, which means that the possibility exists that some gullible menfolk will wander by and actually think that this is what women are really like.

The mind, it boggles.

I have a suggestion for men who are interested in meeting, dating, falling in love and living happily ever after with a woman. Now, I realise this is a bit radical, so brace yourselves: talk to her. Treat her like another human being, with her own preferences and opinions and habits. Respect her, and get the hell out if she doesn't respect you in return.

But most of all, and I say this for the sake of normal women everywhere, ignore dumbass lists like the one above.

Writing for a living

I've been looking around recently for a second, writing related job. It may surprise you to know, dear reader, that my daily grind does not include anything writing-related; I work for a very boring distribution company, and the kind of work I do involves anything from graphic design to database administration.

Writing has always been my first love, and I made a big mistake when I chose to do something other than writing in college. I did science, and then computer programming, and it got me nowhere. These days I think about returning to study journalism, but what can those courses teach me that I haven't already learned? The art of writing well is 10% talent and 90% practice and hard work, and little enough of either can be taught.

I like the idea of journalism as a career. There's skill in writing an interesting yet balanced article on current events, or conducting an interview and asking the questions you think your readers want answered. Unfortunately, I can't seem to turn up any information on writing for the local papers - for example, a quick google search for "writing for the Irish Times" lists a link to their contact page where people can send in letters to the paper as the first result. I can't find a single mention of careers for either the physical paper or the website.

I've been questioning the quality of Irish news media for a while now. Case in point: a friend of mine was interviewed by the Times over the phone, and his story (a day in the life style of thing) was written up and put on the site. If I remember right, it'll also go into the lifestyle section of the paper itself. But the article, good grief... I expect a journalist to be able to write without making obvious grammatical errors. It's clunky in places, the phrasing and word usage is in dire need of an editor, and it reads badly all over.

It reads like something that was thrown together without editorial oversight, in fact. I have read the Times on occasion, and its usual standard of writing is better than what I see there. I hope that the author will rewrite it for clarity and flow before the paper itself goes to print.

Anyway... I do know the interviewee in question here. Aidan had much to say about the story, and very little of it was flattering. There was a suggestion that some of the things in it were stretching the truth a lot, or - shall we say - there were certain liberties taken with the facts at hand. I have to wonder why, though. He works at a wildlife park filled with exotic animals; surely that's interesting enough without embellishment?

If anyone from the Irish Times is reading this: email me. Talk to me about journalism. I'll happily be a writer for hire, and I can guarantee I'll do a better job.

Tensions running high

So... a large number of Irish citizens march on Dáil Eireann, with the purpose of expressing their opposition to the way in which the Irish government has collectively thrown the country into a spiral of debt and economic decay. The video above is a sample of what happened as a result. It was a planned protest gone horribly wrong.

I've found some information from the Irish Times and the RTÉ website.

I can't embed it, but there's a video here where you can see the gardaí shoving people back, and hear the crowds shouting "No Fianna Fáil Crooks!"

Information about it seems very sketchy right now. I can't get a clear idea of what happened. Were there any arrests made? (added by edit: apparently not) The gardaí can claim what they like about numbers, but the videos show more than five hundred protesters.

Here's another Irish Times article that lists eight hundred people attended the protests.

My big fear is that this will be the start of more protesting, more violence. It ended peacefully this time, but will that last when the full effects of NAMA and the bank bailout start to hit home?

Even bad publicity is good?

The Hunky Dory ad campaign running lately has been getting a lot of attention in the news. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland and the Advertising Authority of Ireland, for example, have voiced their disapproval, and a storm of criticism has drifted around the Irish spheres of social networking and blogs.

Quoth the IRFU marketing director, Pádraig Power: “tasteless and base, and quite simply unacceptable”.

The ads, for those of you interested, were of scantily-clad, well-endowed young women holding rugby balls. And there was a "witty" tagline added, such as, "Are you staring at my crisps?"

Ho hum, I say. I recall seeing these ads around my area, and my immediate reaction was not to level a charge of sexism against them, but to yawn, loudly and at length. The mantra that 'sex sells' is already so old in advertising that it might as well be prehistoric; using sex to sell potato crisps is hardly the worst of what people can see in this modern age. From a marketing perspective, I call this lazy, at best. It's a cynical and rather unimaginative grab for people's attention - or should I say men's attention - with the presumption that the audience will be enticed into buying crisps because they have seen an image of an attractive woman next to said crisps.

Really, this is the best they can do? I honestly hope Largo Foods (makers of Hunky Dorys) didn't pay much for the campaign. If it wasn't for the outrage, this would be largely forgettable.

All other arguments aside, though, yes, this is a sexist ad campaign. (Forget for a moment that the images are objectifying women - some women feel empowered by such a thing, and so demonising it is a slap in the face to them. For that reason, the effects or lack thereof of objectification are not up for consideration here.) What makes it sexist is that there are only attractive women on display; are we to assume that Largo Foods are not interested in getting the female half of the population to buy their products? Where are the attractive men pandering to the female gaze, enticing them to part with their hard earned cash? If sex sells... why are they not using it to sell to women?

Raymond Coyle, the chief executive of Largo Foods, has already responded to the criticism with the usual non-apology: “I don’t think the ads are at all sexist but if people do think that then I apologise to them." If people do... There is no if, Mr. Coyle. People are complaining very loudly, and displaying what sounds like wilful ignorance of that may not be the best strategy.

The biggest problem that I can see here is that the criticism leveled at the campaign makes much of how it's sexist and objectifying and tasteless... but those images are quite tame in comparison to the American TV shows that are routinely piped into every home with a Skybox in Ireland. Has anyone called Sky to demand that they stop showing Desperate Housewifes, for example? How about America's Next Top Model, or Big Brother? How about the ads for Special K, where a woman is seen choosing what to wear and, gasp, the viewer sees her without any pants on? Hunky Dorys hardly have a monopoly on sexist images, and, for all the moral outrage that this is bad for the kiddies, I'm sure the vast majority of children and teenagers with Internet access have already seen this and more. So where are the howls and cries that Google Image Search needs to be banned?

This leads me to consider that the criticism isn't so much about sexism as it is about prudishness. The effects of Catholicism in Ireland die very hard, and the view that sex is taboo dies even harder. Sex sells, but sex is also forbidden; stepping over the constantly shifting line between merely risqué and outright tasteless is easier than you'd think. I believe people are complaining because Hunky Dorys are an easy target, and because they find any hint of sex to be verboten. It strikes me as being hypocritical - and the reinforcement of the idea that men and women should be ashamed of their natural desires is despicable.

Apparently, they've pulled the campaign entirely now. Largo Foods really didn't have a choice there. The campaign has had an impact, and by canceling it, they can play the role of the penitent and gain back some goodwill from the various bodies that have been complaining. It's a great shame, though. I would bet that they would never have gotten the same level of criticism if they had used both male and female models, and they might have generated a whole new debate on the disproportionate use of women vs. men as objects in advertising.

I've said before that ads need to be a lot more sophisticated nowadays - more than another tired iteration of 'sex sells', at least. But much as I didn't especially like this campaign, the fact that it has been pulled bothers me a lot more. It's a clear indication that we still have a ways to go to evolve as a healthy society.