All posts in Observations

Catch-up

Catenacci - Old Bolt Latch

I feel that

I’ve been around the blo(g)ck long enough to be able to pull off long absences without needing to do the usual ‘Hey, so, been a while, eh?’ schtick, so consider all that done and dusted. I’m here to talk about things I am doing, rather than those things that I’ve let fall along the wayside. So what’s the go? Given it’s Monday and all the lack of awake that comes with that weekly territory, I’ma summarise in dot-point form some of the stuff that’s been happening around here:

  • The Podcast:

As if everyone who reads this doesn’t know already, but myself and Tim have been putting together a gaming podcast for the last, what, 20 weeks or so? Damn, when you put it like that. Anyway, it’s about games and gaming and topics in gaming and what we’ve been playing lately, and we think it’s pretty good! It’s been getting easier and easier to set up and talk into a microphone for an hour without too many interruptions (except for all those fucking planes). It’s a good way to catch up with Tim, whom I’m very happy to have as a friend, and we get to talk about something we both love. It’s my main ‘creative’ output at the moment, so go listen to it!

  • Weddings. And 30ths:

These two go fairly obviously hand-in-hand. Everyone that I know is either approaching 30 soon, turning 30 this year, or has done so in recent memory. And that not only means a shit-tonne of dress-up parties and correspondingly large amounts of booze, but also that all the couples that I/we know that got together at university are hitting their stride when it comes to getting hitched. This is not a bad thing! Not in the slightest. There are no buts to that statement; I love people and I feel happy when people make each other happy. And that’s something that has been happening, and I’ve nearly cried every single time the aisle is trod. Because god damn do our friends scrub up nice.

  • Fretting about life:

Fairly inevitable this one, for any nearly 30-year-old. And it kind of goes hand-in-hand with point above. Lots of our friends who are couples are making big decisions about where to head with their lives, and the majority of them are trundling down that fairly well-trod garden path towards marriage, babies, etc. Louise and I are so very much not ready for that, but we do have to start making plans for what we’re going to do for the next 5 years. Beats to hit, goals to attain, that sort of thing. Otherwise we won’t really get anywhere. So we’ve been wondering what the heck we’re going to do, and the list seems pretty much endless (der). Stay in Perth and buy a house;  buy an apartment and rent it out then move states, or countries; move countries and screw real estate; stay in this job, move to that job; start a business, and so on and so on and so on. At the moment we’ve settled on some investment, with the distinct possibility of moving around a bit in the next few years. But we’ll see how that goes.

  • Not writing:

I haven’t written a thing in forever. This post is the most I’ve written, besides the occasional science article for my peeps over at Refraction Media, in about 6 months. Meanwhile, all my writer friends are amazing and have been winning prizes and getting published. This is awesome, but I feel like I’ve let myself down a little bit. But not really? I mean, I got a bit sick and tired of the old ‘write/submit/pray the right person reads my work at the right time’ thing. It just seemed so arbitrary and unrewarding to smash my brain trying to write these stories and not have any reward for them. Which I know, I know (now) isn’t the way to go about things; writing should be its own reward and all that. But still, it was true to me at the time. Anyway, at the moment I’m kind of looking to try out new media, hence the podcast thing and exploring the process of making a point-and-click adventure game. It’s fun to try new stuff, but there’s a lot to take on and learn again. Still, keeps the ol’ brain ticking away.

  • Working:

Well, how could I forget about this. I’m still at my job and still really enjoying it. It has its ups and downs–mostly in the workload department–but there’s always something to think about or do, so it keeps me occupied. And the stability! Oh! How I love the stability. I know what I need to do and where I need to be to do it. I know that my skills are required, and the people I work with are awesome. Couldn’t have hoped for a better first workplace.

Alright, nothing much more to say. I’m considering cross-posting some of my posts from TAPTAG here, particularly with respect to the game-making. So keep an eye out for those if you’re interested. hope y’all are doing O.K.

A Cast of Pods

US Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe

Every now and then

I get asked about podcasts that I can recommend, usually on Twitter, and most recently by James Tierney. Unfortunately, linking reams of podcasts on Twitter isn’t practical so I thought to make a post that I can update and give to people whenever I’m asked. I’ve split them into rough categories, so you can skip to ones you think might interest you. And of course if you have any recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Sports/Games:

The Guardian Football Weekly

Much thanks to my friend Dino for putting me onto this one. No-one does sports commentary like James Richardson and his crew of fairly ladsy pundits. Half the enjoyment of the Premier League every year is listening to these guys talk about it without the bias and hyperbole that sports blogs usually possess. They also do really well to cover the other leagues and tackle (hurr) issues outside just the goals and results of the leagues, e.g. there was a lot of talk about the Spanish economic crisis and how that influenced/was reflected in the sport.

Gamers With Jobs

I don’t watch a lot of video game streams or review channels on YouTube because invariably the streamer is a) trying so very hard to be funny or quirky or whatever it is that the mostly-13-year-old demographic that video game streams cater to, or b) just not very good at communicating the information I want to know about the game. Anyway, the best thing about GWJ is that they are literally gamers with jobs; they’re in the roughly the same space as me and have much the same attitude to games that I have. For example, when one of the GWJ guys says they’ve been hammering a game, it’s usually followed by “I’ve put, like, eight hours into it this week!”. They don’t just talk about games though, with commentary about gaming issues, etc. also making the cut.

 

Reportage:

99% Invisible

Roman Mars has not only one of the coolest names in the business, but also one of the most relaxing speaking voices in podcast land. He also produces this awesome podcast about design and design choices that we take for granted as consumers. Hence the 99% invisible part; these things are generally mostly ignored, but once pointed out by the adroit reporters, become so obvious and so interesting that they can make a simple commute down the highway a lesson in how design decisions affect all of us.

This American Life

If I need to tell you about this, maybe you should just start with them and go from there. You’ve got around 500 episodes to catch up on and they won’t listen to themselves. Truly some of the best and most powerful radio that has ever been produced. And of course, Ira Glass, what a dude.

WNYC’s Radiolab

They went a little bit off the rails recently, but the last couple of episodes have been back to their best. And there’s still a back catalogue of really top-shelf, interesting episodes in the first three seasons that combine scientific discoveries, philsophical conundrums, and an interesting audio style thanks to Jad Abumrad’s musical background. Radiolab kept me enthusiastic and sane on so many walks down Parramatta Road while interning at COSMOS magazine.

Freakonomics Radio

If you’ve read the Freakonomics books, then you’ll know what to expect from the Stephen/Steven duo. Dubner and Levitt present interesting problems or questions and then tackle them (with help from other researchers and professionals) with an economists eye. This often means bringing in metrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of being influential, especially when it comes to emotional issues such as parenting and behavioural psychology, or broader, more global issues. Again they’ve got an awesome back-catalogue, so there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

Start the Week

Start the Week with Andrew Marr soon to return after having suffered a stroke. The subject matter varies, but ranges from art to science to politics, depending on what’s going on in the world. The guests are chosen to suit and are almost invariably incredibly well spoken and knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Plus it’s British! Not sure why this is, but the rest of the podcasts in this section are all American. Weird.

 

People:

JOMAD

Two of the coolest, most enthusiastic book lovers in Melbourne talk books and bookish things with a variety of guests. There’s a focus, mostly incidental, towards younger guests (‘emerging guests’, perhaps?) which gives this podcast a really fresh sound. Plus both JoJo and Maddy are really great friends, and it comes across in their banter. I <3 these guys so damn much. P.S. You can even find me as a guest in the archives a couple years back!

Necessary & Sufficient

The premise is an intriguing one: host Evan Forman sends a guest an envelope with two index cards. On those index cards are written two words. The guest opens the envelope live, and the discussion starts. O.K. full disclosure here: I only started listening to N&S because Tim had been on the show, and he went ahead and recommended that I be a guest. But when I started listening, I mainlined about 50 episodes in two weeks. It’s supremely interesting stuff, seeing what connections people make between two words.

Podmentum

Momentum is an all-digital imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, and Podmentum is their (slightly-awkwardly-named) podcast. While you might anticipate that a book publisher’s podcast would be all about pushing books, it’s really not. They tackle different questions in the publishing industry, pop culture, and of course, sexy politicians. It’s irreverent, awesome fun. Put it this way, when I want to digitally publish anything, I’m going to shoot these guys my manuscript.

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage is the be-all and end-all of sex advice columnists. This is his podcast. Probably not to be listened to if you are homophobic/most-things-o-phobic, or a little squeamish with anything more than vanilla sex.

 

Culture:

Slate’s Culture Gabfest

Pretty much the be-all and end-all of culture podcasts. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner talk about anything and everything that has been happening in pop culture that week. Movies, music, film, books, world events, twerking, you name it, they talk about it. The best part of their analysis is that it never comes off as condescending, and they’ll offer the same level of discernment when discussing Woody Allen’s latest movie as they do Miley Cyrus’ incident or organic chicken farming. It’s fairly U.S.-centric, although they do reach out every now and again. Very much a must-add.

NHR Pop Culture Happy Hour

I haven’t listened to this one as much as Slate’s, but there definitely seems to be a slightly more upbeat vibe to their discussion. There’s usually one more person — quartet to Slate’s trio — and for some reason this gives it a more raucous feel. Which, I should add, doesn’t mean that they can’t debate and deride with the best of them, it’s just a little bit more fun.

 

Entertainment:

My Brother, My Brother, and Me

I have yet to make it through an episode of this podcast without laughing out loud, sometimes to the point of embarrassment in front of my colleagues at work. The premise of the show is that the three Mackelroy brothers do their very best to dispense advice to Yahoo Answers questions. But the real joy is that these brothers just love making each other laugh. Slightly NSFW sometimes, and it can take a few episodes to fall into the rhythm of their humour, but this is one of those podcasts I listen to when I need a break from the more serious ones on my playlist.

Downloadable Content

The Penny Arcade podcast that gets recorded when the creators of the comic are, well, creating the comic. Just like PA TV, itt’s a glimpse into the work process of two guys that know each other and their workflow incredibly well–as they should, they’ve been doing it for over a decade. I just really love listening to the process they go through of tossing ideas around, and spitballing until they get a comic idea that they can go for.

 

Fiction/Stories:

Taleteller Podcast

Clarkesworld Magazine

New Yorker Fiction

Other People

Selected Shorts

The Moth

These are all getting the same description because they all do basically the same thing: tell stories. The New Yorker Fiction podcast is the giant amongst them, and Deborah Treisman is always an amazing host. Clarkesworld is read by a breathy Kate Baker so if you find that kind of delivery annoying (which I sometimes do) then maybe steer clear. Selected Shorts is read by actors and actresses and so the deliveries can really make the stories pop. But they’re all worth a listen, for sure.

 

Recommendations:

Here are recommendations that people have given me, but I haven’t listened to yet/enough to list properly. I’ll move them up once I can recommend them myself. (:

From James Tierney: Guardian Australia Politics Weekly, Crikey Calling, 360Docs, All in The Mind, Cherchez La Femme, Download This Show, Killing Your Darlings, Meanjin, Notes for Coode Street, Off Track and Paper Radio.

From Bronwyn Mehan: Bound Off, Paper Radio, Little Raven, and her upcoming podcast Earworms.

 

 And of course…

mine. The Toothsoup Science Pod aims to take recent scientific discoveries in various fields and make them understandable for the lay person. Have a listen!

 

photo by: brewbooks

An Ode to Mushroom Bag Man

MBM

 

 

You’ve seen him

in the shops, hanging about in the vegetable aisles, dressed in brown and blue and etched with creases. His face is perpetually half-hidden by shadow, a top-teeth smile beckoning you forward to see what’s on his tray. Crouched between his arms, just in front of a striped butcher’s apron, are an assortment of domes that might be shrunken heads, might be the dish plate eyeballs of prehistoric lizards. He is The Mushroom Bag Man.

I’m not sure if the MBM is endemic to Western Australia, but if you haven’t been exposed to his creepy grin there’s a picture just up the top there. The stencil-cut design is—at least to myself and Louise—both hilariously baffling and slightly disturbing. Because if you were to choose one image for selling mushrooms, it probably wouldn’t be this one. I might have taken some liberties in the description in the opening paragraph, but it’s not far off. I think the reason the lighting is so off-putting is that in the process of accurately recreating the shadows, they’ve almost completely blanked out his eyes. So when I try and look for the eyes and don’t find them, my gaze is taken straight to that eerie fucking smile. His smile lines conspire to give him the look of someone who, despite the text’s assurance that mushrooms contain vitaman B12, has just chowed down on a juicy bit of steak and forgotten to wipe his chin. Even his posture is a bit off; a half-lean forward, as if offering some seductively evil object to the hero of a fantasy story.

And all of this is precisely why we love him. It’s rare to see an image, that might just as readily be stencilled by a Banksy wannabe on the side of a warehouse, making inroads into the grocery store. He’s instantly recognised from across a dairy section and once the initial oddness has worn off, there’s an almost-apologetic helpfulness that can be detected in that smile. Sadly, he’s slowly been disappearing from wax strings all over the place, replaced by more palatable designs or, worse, blank brown bags. But every now and again we’ll run into the Mushroom Bag Man in discount markets and delis, and–following the advice not pictured–pick up another handful of mushrooms today.

 

SciencePod — Don’t Panic

don't panic

On the menu

this week is some research that delves into the way the human mind deals with fear and panic in survival situations. Probably the most interesting thing was learning how there exist folks who don’t have the capacity to interpret things as fearful! As always, links to articles and the transcript follow the jump.

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photo by: alex_kuehni

2012 In Review Questionnaire

Diwali / Deepavali

(Stealing these questions somewhat randomly from author Lee Battersby, whom I met very briefly at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Awards, and whose 2012 in review entry was linked by monsieur Dan. Thanks Lee!)

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Shot a gun. That was a pretty cool experience, having grown up on more than a few first-person shooter video games. Holding something in your hands that can so easily kill has given me a whole lot more respect for weapons. The kickback, the punch of it into your palms; it’s a lot different to the idea of guns I had from pop culture.

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?

Not really, and yes. I suppose I’ll list them here:

Read 30 books – I didn’t hit my target last year, so bad me. I want to review each one in the same style as my previous podreviews as well.

Write 3 short stories OR a novel – I only really got one short story complete and submitted this year. Pretty bad! This year I’d like to increase that count of short stories, or write a novel. I have ideas for both options, so it’s just a matter of whether I think now’s the time to have a crack at my first novel.

Get out more – Louise and I didn’t really get out a whole lot in 2012. Compared to 2011, when we went to a bunch of gigs and explored quite a few restaurants, we’ve done sweet bugger all. Pending more money at my disposal, I’d love to get out and get more cultural.

Plus keeping up exercise.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yeap! My brother and his wife rounded out their family with young Hendrik (to whom I am a Godfather), while my good friends Debbie and Paul brought little Evie into the world. My sister is expecting her second as well, so our clan is growing rather quickly.

It’s interesting to see the changes in dynamic in my family as this happens. My family has never been real buddy-buddy close like you see in the movies, etc. but there’s always been a silent strength there. It’s nice to see it come into the open with the arrival of all these wee bubs.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Unfortunately so. My Tante Cas (Great Aunt, or close enough; she wasn’t really our relative from what I understand, but she was, if you get what I mean) from The Netherlands died this year. Thankfully Louise and I saw her when we visited Europe in 2008, so I have all the amazing memories from then to remember her by.

Her and my surviving Great Aunt, Tante Jope, while not partners, had been living together for ages and actually had a civil union recently in order to ensure that they could include each other in their wills. The picture of them from that day is amazing, one that I really want to get printed and framed. They always supported our family by sending money to Mum after my parents split up, wouldn’t have a bar of stopping. I’ll always be grateful to them.

5. What countries did you visit?

None this year, unfortunately. Next year is provisionally Spain again, although it’s looking less and less likely with each passing day, due to my lack of funds and inadequate time to build up leave if I do get a job.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

To get the obvious out of the way: financial security.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

I honestly can’t think of any that strike me as really memorable, one way or the other. To be honest I’m terrible with dates, so I probably wouldn’t remember any important ones anyway.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably getting off my arse and doing some proper exercise. I found a joy in riding my bike to UWA (whether meeting up with Laurie or not) that made me feel like I was achieving something better than just sitting at home fucking about on the computer.

9. What was your biggest failure?

The 100 or so job applications I’ve written and never heard back from.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully not. Other than the interesting sensation of experiencing the verb ‘slough’ as a result of fifty degree heat and manual labour out in Kalgoorlie, I’ve been pretty lucky.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Probably the best thing would have to be my new computer. I’d had my old one for around five years and it was starting to struggle a bit on a day-to-day basis. I used my tax return from the work I did in Kalgoorlie to fund it (tax returns are ‘me money’), although now that I’m down to my last pennies I can’t help but feel a bit shamed thinking about how much I spent on it. Still, as far as dollars-per-hour of entertainment goes, it’s been good value.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Definitely Louise’s folks. They put us up for almost a year at their place withotu asking all that much of us, all while experiencing their own stresses like moving jobs, and still parenting two teenagers. Can’t thank them enough.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The actions of governments with regards to banks and the ‘too big to indict’ debacle was pretty fucking dismal. Highlights the gap between the prosecution of those with money and those without in spectacularly sharp relief. Really gets a struggling peon down.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Groceries and rent. PARTY HARD.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Absolutely nothing. I fear that my personality has been permanently dampened by this year. Being in a constant state of stress over money and my career (such as it is) has left me unable to really get excited. There’s always this nagging feeling that if I’m enjoying myself, I’m not suffering enough. ‘Catholic guilt’, I think they call it.

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?

I can’t think of a single song that isn’t a snarky reference to my wallet, so instead I’m going to say that finally seeing Ben Folds Five live in concert was about as happy as I ever got this year.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:  happier or sadder? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer?

Sadder, thinner, poorer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing, or creativity in general. Having so much time on my hands means I really ought to be getting on with it and getting my tasks out of the way early so I can create guilt-free in the afternoons. But as with all things this year, my motivation has taken a big dive.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

I dunno. Video games. Masturbating. Not-working. Pick one.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

With my family and Louise’s family, over four stomach-bursting feasting engagements.

21. Who did you meet for the first time?

Oh, a bunch of people. Various luminaries from the Perth writing scene, a swag of new gamer mates in the form of the c.wizards clan, various friends of friends, and my new nephew.

22. Did you fall in love in 2012?

Yes, with Benedict Cumberbatch (thanks Em).

23. What was your favourite TV program?

It’s a close race between Adventure Time and the newish BBC series of Sherlock (thanks again, Em). The former made Louise and I happy when we were sad, and the latter restored my faith in witty television.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

In the immortal words of my high school buddy Kane, “Hate is a very strong word.” I don’t tend to hate on people individually, but generalised ideas of people can incite feelings of loathing. One such group that has done so is the unyielding, obtuse entities known as ‘human resources’ that populate the writhing, black-blooded vitality engines of corporations everywhere. On the individual level, they’re fine; I’m related to a couple and they’ve never slighted me in the least. But as the cause of my continued suffering they’ve earned a place next to kidney beans as primary instigators of bad tastes in my mouth.

25. What was the best book you read?

Hmm. War Dances by Sherman Alexie was really great. More recently The Last City by Nina D’Aleo. I didn’t read so much this year, although I did listen to a huge amount of podcasts with short stories and performances, political discussions and sex tips. So maybe I should list some of them instead.

Here’s a few of my favourites: Radiolab, This American Life, The Moth Podcast, Start The Week, The Guardian Football Weekly, Slate Culture Gabfest, Podmentum, Selected Shorts, Professor Blastoff, JOMAD, Sci Friday, and Savage Lovecast. Google the names or search any of those on the iTunes store and you should be able to find them.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz got a lot of play, as did the new Menomena album, Moms. War on Drugs, Moon Duo, Grimes, etc. etc. Getting back into making music a bit more regularly was fun as well.

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

I really didn’t get to the movies that much this year, but I really, really enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom. It just had the same kind of innocent optimism that Adventure Time has, and it made me happy. Honourable mentions go to Wreck-It Ralph, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, and The Avengers.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Twenty-seven, and Louise took me to shoot my very first gun (see Q1), and then on to Rockpool for an amazing dinner. Definitely one of the highlights of my year.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

One more time with feeling: financial security.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Pretty much this.

31. What kept you sane?

Louise, mainly.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

See Q13. Also, the political situation here in Australia (especially regarding the mining industry) continues to depress me. Short term vision of leaders just gets me down. History will side with those that support racial, sexual, and religious freedoms. It’s highly irritating that we must wait for the bigots to die out before we can push it through as law.

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Don’t take people at their word; get a mother flippin’ contract signed.

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“I’ve been drinking up all the sweet tea

It was made just for me

I’ve been ramblin’

I’m just driftin’”

Come To The City — War on Drugs.

photo by: Koshyk