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Last week I sent a bunch of photographs to my publisher for inclusion in my memoir, Ugly.
Many, like this one, probably won’t cut it quality-wise. But for six months while I wrote the book I had all the sundry papers of my life – report cards, old exercise books containing untidy writing and drawing of spaceships, school magazines and photographs – sitting beside me. It was a strange experience having it all there – being able to dip in and out when the writing got hard – and some of it is worth sharing.
This is a photo of me and my sister Paula, in our backyard. In this photo I’m two-and-a-half. It was before my big operation that amputated my deformed legs and reconstructed my face.
I’ll share a few more pics every now and then. Be warned though – no amount of medical brilliance can fix big ears and bad haircuts.Read More »
In this week’s back and forth about the PM’s speech and the mainstream media’s reporting of it, there hasn’t been much reference to available data.
On one side, many in the press gallery reported the most important aspect of the events was Gillard’s decision to back Slipper after his grubby text messages were revealed. On the other side was a more diffuse group of commentators (and many argue the broader public) who believed the PM’s decision to call out Tony Abbott’s behaviour was much more significant.
Well, we’re several days in now and we’ve got a few sources of data that are worth having a quick look at. While it’s not decisive, it’s informative, and worth taking a quick look at.
First, Google Trends.
Google Trends is a service the lets you examine the comparative rate of search queries in a particular region, over a particular time. It doesn’t provide raw numbers but expresses the highest rate of search over the given time period as 100, and the other data points as a factor of that.
So what does it show?
It shows that rates of search in Australia for “Peter Slipper” rose sharply on the Tuesday (though Google Trends shows dates in American time) and falling off over the next few days. Similarly, rates for “Julia Gillard” or “Gillard speech” rose sharply after she spoke in Parliament and fell off over the next few days.
It gets interesting when you start to dig into specifics, though. Searches for “misogynist” in Australia over the last seven days were pretty non-existent before the speech. After the speech they increased 50-fold, peaking that day and remaining high the next day. Two days after the speech searched for misogynist had dropped off somewhat but were still about 20 times at the start of the week. Searches for “sexist” in Australia returned similar rates of results over the first two days, dropped but then started rising again.
The rate of searches for “Tony Abbott” experienced a small bump over the period too but nowhere near as pronounced.
When you look over a longer period, Google Trends also reveals that searches for Julia Gillard are at their highest rate since she became the Prime Minister and won the 2010 election.
Perhaps the most informative result though is when you ask Google Trends for the data on “Peter Slipper resignation” or “Peter Slipper sacking” or “Peter Slipper removal as speaker.” When you ask for that Google returns the simple message: “Not enough search volume to show graphs”
Second, You Tube.
You Tube provides good statistics for each video posted, including views over time with references to the Google search terms that brought people to the video and when, websites where it’s hosted, and views from mobile devices. Unfortunately the ABC has disabled public statistics on the copy of its copy of the video. It would do a great service if it reported the data or simply let people see it for themselves (the national broadcaster should probably leave the data unlocked by default).
But there’s another copy of the speech here that has (as of Oct 14) more than 100,000 views. As of Friday (the most recent data available) views were still rising. For every one “dislike” it has gotten so far, the video has received 19 “likes.”
It shows search terms that people used to reach the video, including “Julia Gillard misogynist” – about 1.5% and views from mobile devices – about 11.6% and views from Facebook – about 7.3%. I doubt many of the one-in-five people viewing the video on Facebook or on their smart-phone are Alan Jones listeners. But you never know.
I cannot find a copy of Tony Abbott’s speech to compare results.
The numbers don’t prove any politician was wrong or any politician was right. They do suggest, however, that much of what the mainstream media told us about what the public should be interested in, does not appear to be connected with what the public was actually interested in searching for and viewing.
It’s a wonderful world where overpaid, over-exposed radio personalities can ridicule a disabled baby for fun, fame and profit.
That’s what a number of radio personalities did recently when commenting on a baby born in Pakistan with six legs. On this occassion the almost-always-vile Kyle Sandilands was actually outshone in his awfulness by his Sydney colleagues Ryan Fitzgerald and Michael Wipfli. You can read about the investigation – into Sandilands at least – and hear the comments (I’m not going to repeat them but trust me when I say they were awful) here.
I can’t boycott the Sydney stations but I can boycott their sister stations in Brisbane – Nova, B105 and Triple M.
Significantly, I doubt if either station would have gotten away with the comments – and probably not even attempted them – if the baby was from Australia (or probably any other western country for that matter). So as well as ill-considered comments about disability I think there’s a healthy dose of racism in there too.
It’s time to start switiching these idiots off.Read More »
Pic of the week is here because the blog needs a bit more colour.Read More »
On Sunday night the Australian National Science Fiction convention held the annual Ditmar Award ceremony. In almost every way, the committee put on a fine awards ceremony during a really good convention.
However, the venue staging was awful, in terms of its accessibility. High, and only accessible by temporary stairs, the stage was off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, anyone in an electric scooter and anyone with a significant mobility impairment. This included one recipient in a mobility scooter who – ironically – won an award celebrating how much she’d given to the local community through her participation over decades.
This should not be acceptable to us as a community in the twenty-first century.
People with a disability should have the same opportunities to participate on-stage as everyone else. I’ve seen it several times in the last few years, so it’s not a problem confined to Western Australia. Far from it. These sort of things are primarily controlled by the venue, not the convention committee, and can’t be fixed unless addressed a long way out. That’s why we need to talk about it as a community now.
We wouldn’t for a second tolerate a sign saying: “No red-heads or women allowed on stage” and we shouldn’t tolerate staging that says exactly same thing to people with a disability.
Ultimately, it’s sensible on many levels. Proper access for people with a disability is also better access for older members of our community who also face mobility challenges too.
I raised the issue with Damien Warman and Dave Cake after the ceremony, both of whom are on a sub-committee that helps run the awards process. They understood my concerns and gave a commitment to undertake steps to help address the issue. But ultimately they can’t fix it. They can’t force a convention committee to do it, and they shouldn’t have to. We should insist upon it as a community.
If it means staging the awards differently – we should do that.
If it means committees asking someone with a disability to walk the space with them before setup – we should do that.
If it means tougher negotiations with hotels – we should do that.
If it means everyone pays $5 extra on their membership to allow for improved staging – we should do that.
These things are important to us as a community, and we should fix them.Read More »
Pic of the week is of my daughter waiting in LA Airport ahead of a flight to New York. Oh, to be eight again and lost in the power of an interesting ceiling.Read More »
Many wonderful things came out of the USSR and the USA space-racing their way through almost half of the Twentieth Century – Sputnik, the Kennedy Speech, the Armstrong haiku, Apollo 13 – but cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first to recite the poetry of space from up there – rocketing around the place where stars are made. 50 years ago the 5000kg Vostok 1 blasted into space fuelled by liquid oxygen and kerosene. About 70kg of the payload carried by the rocket belonged to Gagarin.
I’ve writtern about space before but the section below from this piece I did after the death of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew in 2003 still captures well my thoughts about the grandest of achievements.
I believe there are myriad reasons for people to meet the continued challenge of exploration in space: scientific, technological, economic and finally, perhaps, simply because it is there. The same reason we climb mountains and sail seas. It enriches our spirit.
That is not the only reason. But for mine, it is the best. Look at the names of the shuttles: Enterprise, Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, Challenger and Columbia. These are not just names of historic sea-going vessels; they are also the names of some of the strongest elements of the human spirit.
That spirit did not die when Columbia broke up. Even if the public had become complacent about the hazards of travel into space, the Columbia crew had not. They knew the risks, and they accepted them. Throughout their training, during the mission and on their way home, they embraced the contradictions. As should we.
Yuri Gagarin died before we conquered the Moon. But he took a small step and a giant leap too.Read More »
Yesterday I saw my first roller derby match. The rules of the game are pretty simple. Two teams of five players skate around a small circuit with one attacking “jammer” from each team trying to score points by lapping opposing defenders. It took me a while to follow the intricacies of the game but as I got a handle on it I started to realise the game had a lot to teach me about writing.
Go hard or go home
I expected the skaters to ease into the match; maybe take a few laps to warm up and find their wheels. No. As soon as the whistle blew the jammers were speeding ahead pushing their way past defenders from the opposing team and scoring points.
And so it should be with your writing. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, if you wait to grab the reader’s attention, you’re gone. Get in there early and deploy whatever tools you have at your disposal to engage the reader. Early points on the board matter.
Speed-skating around a circuit not much bigger than a tennis court with nine other people just waiting to bump into you, means you’re going to fall down. The roller-derby girls know this and practice falling onto their knee guards instead of their hands. They fall to their knees and slide for a little bit as they slow down. It’s kind of poetic after a while.
Safe writing is boring writing. Everyone knows safe writing when they see it. It’s the sort of stuff you see on the social pages of newspapers and in government reports. It might be competent and occasionally, might even border on engaging. But how much did the writer learn along the way? Think about the last time you stretched your writing muscles and aimed a bit too high or went a bit too fast. Even when you were shovelling up the crap left behind, didn’t it feel kinda good going fast then falling down?
Get up again and keep on skating
After sliding on their knee guards for a while the roller derby girls get back up and keep on skating. I even saw one jammer fall to her knees, slide for a bit then get back up and keep scoring points.
Once you’ve monumentally stuffed up a piece of your writing so badly even your cat refuses to have shredded bits of the manuscript in its litter box get back up again. Too often writing suffers from an author’s failure to stretch their skills or their refusal to keep on pushing the boundaries when they stuff up. Push your writing hard, fall down, learn, get up. Repeat.
It’s okay to have nice things
What I wasn’t expecting at the roller derby were the costumes, the almost compulsory fish-net stockings, the mad hair-cuts and the dance routines. The whole evening was full of spectacle. Whether it was Amber “Eva Brawl” Lee tearing up the track, girls in outrageously short shorts or team managers in bright yellow suits, there was no shortage of entertaining things to engage with.
Cultivate some spectacle in your writing. Make it sing for you. Know your writing style and don’t be afraid to show off some of its best elements.
Stay close to your audience
There were about 2500 people watching the two matches with me. The farthest was probably 30m from the circuit but the closest “suicide” seats were right beside the skaters. The skaters sped by lap after lap only metres from the spectators. And after the games finishes they mingled with the audience, chatting and posing for photos. During the game the announcer declared a nearby pub as the official after-game venue for any audience members who wanted to join in the after-derby drinking.
A writer’s job is to be read. More and more, writers need to engage directly with their audience to help achieve that. Whether it’s through blogs or social media writers need to develop a platform to market themselves and their writing and increase their chance of being read and being published. But you’ve got to love the people you’re hanging around with. Authenticity is key.
Top picture: GomisanRead More »