Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book or Movie?

The internet has spoken: the book is almost always better than the 
'Vocativ analyzed Goodreads and IMDb ratings for 800 books and their 
movie adaptations ranging from "Harry Potter" to "Hannibal" and 
discovered that the book had a higher rating 74 percent of the time. In 
fact, books are considered "much better" on our scale than their movie 
adaptations in 51.8 percent of cases.'

I recently watched "The Martian", and I agree that the book is much 
better than the movie. While I enjoyed the movie, time constraints meant 
a lot of the story had to be left out. For me, the major attraction of 
the book was all the geeking out on chemistry, botany, physics and 
orbital mechanics. The rescue story was a given. The movie did geek out 
at times, but I accept that the general public would prefer more visual 
effects. Another issue with movies is the baggage associated with major 
stars. Personally, I don't have a problem with Matt Damon playing the 
lead character. But when reading the book, I would not have had him in 
mind. So, should you read the book or watch the movie? I'm going to make 
an exception in this case and only recommend the book to readers who 
like plenty of scientific details and the process of problem solving. 
For everyone else, the movie is good enough.

For another movie, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", I saw the movie first 
and read the novelisation later. I would rate the movie much higher than 
the book. In such cases, where the movie is always intended to be the 
primary and canonical medium for a story, you would hope that the movie 
is better. If a novelisation turns out better, then the movie has 
clearly been botched. This is especially true if the director was also 
involved in writing the original screenplay. Knowing this, why would 
anyone bother reading the novelisation? In my case, as a long-time Star 
Wars tragic, I wanted to get additional background information, which 
the book successfully delivered.

Related Links:
* "6 Reasons The Book Is (Almost Always) Better Than The Movie"
* Love Reading: "Books Vs Films" infographic

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Adelaide Writers' Week 2016

Being a keen book reader, I've always been curious about Writers' Week. 
Unfortunately, work and other commitments have usually prevented me from 
attending. This year my schedule was clear and I was able to go to six 
sessions. This post provides a brief overview, with some notes and 
observations of the sessions I attended last week.

1. Overview

Writers' Week 2016 spanned six days, with fourteen hour-long sessions 
per day. It was held in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden, between 
Government House and Victoria Drive. All sessions were free and open to 
the public. Most of the sessions covered one or two books, with the 
authors on stage answering questions from an interviewer/facilitator. 
Authors gave a brief reading from their book. Some sessions were more 
general in nature, covering various aspects and styles of writing. 
Towards the end of each session, audience members were invited to ask 
questions. After the session, authors were available to sign books 
brought by attendees or purchased on site.

Attendance was high for most of the sessions. Despite its name, the vast 
majority of attendees were not writers at all. Personally, I think 
"Adelaide Book Week" better reflects the nature of the event.

Overall, I found all the sessions interesting and worthwhile. Lots of 
topics were covered, and all the panelists did a good job. I picked up 
suggestions for at least three books to read, and I reevaluated my 
opinion of a book I read last year.

2. Sessions Attended

Here are some observations and notes from the six sessions I attended. I 
didn't take any formal notes, so I'm relying on my memory when 
attributing the notes to the sessions.

"New Worlds"
The panel featured two overseas authors whose latest books were about 
20th Century migrants.
* Stories are often based on actual events, with one or more elements 
embellished/tweaked and taken from there.
* Extensive research can lead to comprehensive backstories, most of 
which never makes it to the finished novel (in one author's case, he 
ritualistically destroyed those original drafts).
* For marketing purposes, publishers want to start promoting a book long 
before it is finished; experienced writers learn how to manage info flow 
to hide lack of progress or prevent being locked into specifics too 

"Fairy Tale"
The panel featured two overseas authors whose latest books incorporate 
some elements of fairy tales.
* Authors don't always start out with a specific theme in mind, and nor 
do they always set out to preach.
* Novels can incorporate genre elements to connect characters and to 
help with storytelling.
* Can't rely on inspiration alone; in fact, most stories grow 

"The Making of a Writer"
The panel covered the general topic of how one becomes a writer.
* The panelists re-emphasised the point that writers are readers first, 
and should continue reading as widely as possible to get new 
perspectives and refine their own writing.
* Writers can be very superstitious, which is reflected in their work.
* Even successful authors fill in time by working "day jobs", such as 
editing or teaching creative writing.

"Undermajordomo Minor"
A Canadian author was interviewed about his third and latest book.
* A book can have multiple editors, in different regions or for 
different publishers.
* Editors of the featured book asked for ending to be rewritten, and the 
author agreed.
* The author finished writing, but didn't have a title; one of the 
editors ended up suggesting the title.
* Writing is often a very isolating endeavour.
* One audience question was about a controversial scene in the book, 
which the author knew could be divisive but he ultimately decided to 
leave it in.

"Telling Tales"
The panel featured two female Aussie authors discussing their recent 
collections of short stories.
* Authors can tire of their own characters; some characters can sustain 
author's interest for a short story, but not an entire novel.
* Some promising stories hit the wall, while others may start appear 
unpromising, but can grow steadily to novel-length.
* Reiterated that stories are not usually meticulously pre-planned in 
* Some creative writing courses, particularly in the US, churn out 
writers having the same unoriginal and formulaic styles.

"Under Cover"
A veteran editor provides some behind-the-scenes anecdotes about 
writers' festivals, authors and publishing.
* Publishers can be sloppy, with the interviewee describing how a whole 
chapter was left out of a novel by a popular author (Peter Carey) and 
nobody noticed until months after the book was published.
* Patience is required, as it can take many years to get a book written 
and published.
* Even experienced editors need to have their books and chapters 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

"'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver' is a half-hour satirical look at 
the week in news, politics and current events."

The show is hosted by a UK expat comedian/actor, now living in the US. 
HBO posts the shows to a YouTube channel after they're broadcast:

A recent show applied a blowtorch to Donald Drumpf/Trump. Unfortunately, 
for viewers outside the US, there is a delay before shows become 
available. You might be able to find unofficial uploads if you search 
for it on YouTube ;)

Here's a selection of videos from last year...

* Daylight Saving Time - How Is This Still A Thing?
I agree, it should be abolished.

* Nuclear Weapons
Cold War kids may have thought the collapse of Communism in the USSR and 
its satellite states made the world safer. Perhaps not so much. This 
piece is both funny and scary at the same time.

* Drones

* Miss America Pageant

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Piano Illuminato + Qatsi Trilogy

1. Piano Illuminato

Last week I went to see and hear "Piano Illuminato", an audio-visual 
concert featuring Adelaide-based pianist and composer, Rich Batsford:
"... a unique fusion of live music and dynamic, visual art exploring 
themes of peace, love, truth and beauty with take the stage on Thursday 
25 February. In collaboration with Zero, one of Illuminart's animators & 
visual artists 'Piano Illuminato' is a one off audio/visual experience 
featuring performances of original music along with selections of the 
wonderfully melodic music of perhaps the world's most famous pianist 
composer, Ludovico Einaudi."

The obvious attraction for me was the opportunity to listen to Einaudi's 
music, albeit performed by someone else. As it turned out, only three of 
the fifteen pieces played were Einaudi compositions, with the rest being 
original instrumental pieces written by the performer. Fortunately, I 
enjoyed those minimalist and jazz pieces as well. After the show I 
bought a copy of one of Batsford's CDs, "Valentine Court".

The other drawcard was the visual component. Images were projected 
behind the pianist onto the back wall of the room, pre-programmed by a 
member of Illuminart. This is the team responsible for lighting up the 
faces of various buildings on North Terrace during the Adelaide Fringe:

The imagery and lighting complemented the music quite well. This 
included kaleidoscopic elements, oversaturated photography, plus other 
pictures and effects in keeping with the themes and mood of the music.

2. Qatsi Trilogy

The combination of images with the minimalist style of the music in 
"Piano Illuminato" reminded me at times of the experimental documentary 
films of Godfrey Reggio, in particular, the "Qatsi" trilogy, which all 
featured soundtracks composed by Philip Glass.

Here's a selection of iconic clips from those documentaries:
* Koyaanisqatsi: The Grid (Part 3)
* Koyaanisqatsi: Finale
* Powaqqatsi: Video Dream
* Naqoyqatsi: Opening
* Naqoyqatsi: New World

Thursday, February 25, 2016

PSA - Google knows my phone number (and probably know yours as well)

TLDR: If you log into any Google service, but don't want Google to know 
your phone number, you're so out of luck.

I recently logged into my Google account and was presented with a web 
page showing my mobile phone number. I was being asked if I wanted to 
enable login verification using that number. The problem is, I don't 
ever remember giving Google my phone number. Initially I was puzzled and 
shocked: did I voluntarily give Google my phone number? I doubt it, 
given my general mistrust of Google. Then I got angry. How was it 
possible for Google get my phone number?

Turns out, there's a clause in Google's so-called "privacy" policy which 
boasts about the right to collect user information, without explicit 
consent. See:

Specifically, under "Device information":
"We collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, 
operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network 
information including phone number). Google may associate your device 
identifiers or phone number with your Google Account."

So, if you use a mobile phone to log into any Google service (including 
YouTube), Google has the ability to get your phone number and other 
identifying data from the mobile network. Maybe I should also thank 
Telstra for this breach of privacy? Then Google obviously did link this 
data with my Google Account, again without my permission.

Google makes its money from advertising, so its goals are aligned more 
closely with the advertising industry than with the users of its 
services. Free comes at a price. One of the reasons I've never 
considered using an Android phone is specifically to limit my exposure 
to the advertising industry. Here's a very recent article which confirms 
my concerns about Google, Android and advertisers:

"Georgia Tech Discovers How Mobile Ads Leak Personal Data"
"The personal information of millions of smartphone users is at risk due 
to in-app advertising that can leak potentially sensitive user 
information between ad networks and mobile app developers, according to 
a new study by the School of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute 
of Technology."

That's Android, but, given Google's vast reach, even using an iPhone 
cannot stop it from gathering private data from users. My trust in 
Google has reached a new all-time low.