New Hobbies

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So I've started writing a little. Not just blog posts, but honest writing. Fiction, but what of it? I can't help but feel I've had the urge to write for a long time, but I never actually entertained the thought of actually doing it. I did a short story unit in University, and as much as I enjoyed it, I took it for the easy course credit more than anything else.
I've got three "projects" I want to get out of my system. Good or bad, public or on a USB drive locked in a safe on the bottom of the ocean, they need to get out. There is certainly not anything overly original about their content, and they will certainly help solidify my credence as a nerd of the highest order.

The most traditional story is a sci-fi tale set in the not too distant future. Robotics and AI will feature heavily, but I think ultimately they will be a backdrop for human nature, relationships, and our inherent fear of being knocked off the top of the food chain. What was initially going to be a medium-length story has spun into at least a core trilogy with potential spinoffs, similar I think to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, only without the hyper-sexuality and inconsistent movies. Asimov will be an obvious inspiration, and I believe Jeph Jacques will be too. His work on AI fiction is an incredible read, even if it only has a relatively small audience at present, and a minor subplot at that.

The second project is a superhero universe. This actually originated in uni, and I was able to map out a half decent set up for it. This will have its own issues, namely that I lack art skills and superhero content will require some sort of visual component, hence why I said universe. The short story in uni was text only and I have to admit, I did rather well grades-wise with it, but it certainly lacked a punch that would only get worse the longer it got. Should this come together, there will be plenty of inspiration around, hoping to get a Kevin Smith vibe to it, because crassness aside, there are some great stories in what he does, and be rather dialogue heavy.

Finally, and this is where it gets really bad, is a script. I've got an idea for a D&D (or license-free equivalent) show that would be funny, clever, and potentially reach an audience greater than what the concept implies. Shortest I could possibly make it is 180 pages, and that is blowing my mind. Between that and not knowing how to write a script, I'm pretty intimidated by this one. It's the idea that's been in my head for the longest, and I feel it deserves the chance to be free. I can tell you what won't be my muse for this one, the D&D movies. Call it a cheap shot, but they weren't great.

Each of these are only in the note stage or earlier, so don't expect anything on them soon. Just thought I'd give an update so if I drop some in here you're not totally confused by it.

Weightlessness

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I understand why people hate flying. "If God had wanted man to fly we would have been given wings," is an adage that probably would have been uttered to Daedalus as he stood over Icarus' corpse when his wax and feathers flying suit melted from the heat of the sun and he fell to his doom.

All mythology and theism aside, the human race was not one that was blessed with wings and hollow bones, and the act of flight should be as foreign to us as spending hours underwater. Gosh, we're a jealous bunch, aren't we?

I have spent more time than I'd care to think about debating on the style of wings I'd have, given the option. Assuming they sprouted from my back and were functional, I really only saw two valid options for myself: feathered, angel style wings; or fleshy stretched bat style wings. The other alternatives never spoke true with me: insect wings weren't flashy enough and required twice the co-ordination than the others, and every mythological wingset I could come up with was similar to the other groups in some way. I'd also rule out a jetpack because those things are just not cost effective.

The angel wings certainly have a lot of advantages: wing damage/feather loss can be cured naturally over time; visually it works better, giving the impression of an angellic nature; and potentially sell excess feathers as pillow stuffing. On the flip side, malting, take up more space, and could really only be used in the air.

Bat wings, obviously, have the opposite of those pros and cons, I'm not going to spell it out for you like you're an idiot. I know you're smarter than that.

Ultimately I think I'd go with the bat wings. Yes, they'd look scarier, but from a practical standpoint I think they'd just be the better option.

This is, of course, all moot. I'm not going to get wings, let alone ones with the strength to actually make me airborne. There is a strong urge to fly within me though. I get to fly with work, and although it doesn't always line up to let it happen, I love watching the shadow of the plane get smaller as we take off into the air. I tend to miss the bumpiness of takeoff as we shrink away, like the Earth is forgetting everyone on board as we cheat gravity and get away.

There's no way to describe the view of the clouds from above, the way they seem to know just how low to sit in the air. The way they look so soft and fluffy, like you could just curl up asleep on them instead of plummeting to your doom. The way some just sit above others, or flying above the storm.

I don't know how aeroplanes fly. I mean, I comprehend the theory behind it, but I don't get it. How could poor Daedalus fly too close to the sun, but this hundred-tonne tin can get me across the country in 3 hours? The majesty and wonder of it all doesn't escape me... unlike the twat sitting in front of me who won't stop fidgeting in his chair and smacking it against my knees who probably can't appreciate all the fucking beauty going on outside the window.

As I've mentioned in past posts my phone's camera won't work, otherwise I'd share what I'm seeing, it actually looks quite beautiful. Full cloud cover, sun is setting, this is the kind of things that the renaissance artists dreamed of for their works; or that Lucas dreamed for his ice-moons.

I don't know if I believe that old saying about how it's not where you're going that matters but how you get there. Travelling can be great, but if you're not really going anywhere you're without purpose. I need that, without purpose I imagine I'd not get out of bed most days. Motivation is important, and knowing I'll get to look down on clouds gives me that.

And airline food, that stuff is way better than people give it credit for.

Taking a risk: Religion

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So I guess this is a new feature, the "Taking a Risk" segment, where I talk about things that may potentially piss people off. Not sure if this is going to be a regular thing or not, let's just see how it goes.

Now there are two topics that you generally want to avoid in polite company: politics and religion. I'm going to talk about the latter today, so if this is the kind of thing that gets you worked up, you know where the close browser button is, have at it. For those of you who are still around, how brave of you. We're browsing Catholicism today.

In short, I think Pope Francis is the best thing that could happen to the church in a very long time. Here we have a man who not only practices what he preaches, but who is willing to go against church teachings to do what is right. Less than a month in he's already got a lot of the traditionalists up in arms about what he's been doing. In my opinion, if you're pissing off the traditional/right-wing Christians, you're doing something right.

I'm not going to lie, if I was the Pope (admit it, you've thought about it too) I'd wear the big hat, wave the staff around, and go a little bit crazy with power.This guy doesn't even want the hat, what's up with that? Not content to hiding in the tower, PF is actually living the message that the church has been failing to deliver for years: go out, help people, don't be a dick about it, and don't go wasting resources on shit we don't need. Any rules that contradict doing good can be ignored, because honestly, who (especially in the church) is going to say no to the friggin pope?

There are some big things coming up for the Holy See, and some of them even have me excited. Here are my top 3:
• By his action, he is showing a generation of Catholics that there is no difference between men and women, and they should not be discriminating against the ladies among the flock. Not fixing everything, but he is taking steps
• By his order, people are looking at ending the celibacy ruling. Priests may soon be getting laid! I saw the joke here, I didn't take it on purpose. Grow up people.
• The entire Vatican library is being moved online, and accessible by everyone for free.

OMGs.

There are still some things that have yet to be addressed, namely the whole priest abuse cases and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the persecution of homosexuality. I see this, and I acknowledge this... not that I'm trying to defend their actions or anything. I'm just saying steps are starting to be taken to move the church in the direction of the rest of society.

Now the thing with the attitudes towards women is... tricky. Certainly trickier than it needs to be. Up until about 50-60 years society did all the work about suppressing women, after that the church was on its own. Before any progress was made, Pope JP2 made some sort of announcement about how women can't become priests. This is where the trickiness comes in. Not everything that the Pope says is infallible. There are specific conditions that need to be met for a special proclamation that makes it infallible in the eyes of the church, and the last time a Pope did that was actually back in 1950. Officially.

See, some people decided to retroactively make JP2's comment one of the infallible ones, so thanks to some religious legal mumbo-jumbo, anyone (yes, even the pope) who declares that women can become priests (which would be the ultimate outcome of this scenario) would be excommunicated. Good-bye ranks, good-bye hats, hello unemployment line. So yeah, tricky.

Priests and marriage is an interesting issue. Priest equivalents in other faiths are allowed to get married. If one of those holy men were to convert to Catholicism they would remain priests and they get to keep their family. So really, you only get shafted if you're brought up in the faith. Kind of harsh, really. I am all for this, I think that kind of companionship is one of the best things in the world, but I can see why the church has had some oppositions to this in the past. If a priest is forced to choose between their flock and their family, it could cause some trouble for a lot of people. More importantly, can you imagine what mass would be like right after your priest got dumped? Breaking down during the sermon, crying into the wine. Better yet if it was someone from that church, can you remember the scandal?

Ha! Even better, the partner is hiding under the altar during mass and gets handsy under those robes. Make for some entertaining church times!

Now I've gotta say this library thing actually has me excited. I like my art, and the archives locked away there have some *phenomenal* pieces that probably haven't seen the light of day in centuries. I doubt I'm going to be the first to see the stuff as it goes online, and I doubt I'll get as much out of it as other might, but I can't wait to see it. Some of the great secrets of the world may finally be revealed. This is the kind of thing everyone should be getting behind.

Contrary to everything else that is on this list, the library thing isn't actually the work of Pope Francis, this is actually one of the last acts of Pope Benedict the... whichever one he was. And that's a whole different topic right there. Which I am going to discuss.

Now there were plenty of nicknames that Pope Benedict amassed in his few short years. Ratazinger, Palpatine, Pope Eggs, some obtuse reference to Nazism, take your pick. He tried to bring back fundamentalism, made some steps, then...retired? What the hell is that? And not only is he retiring, but is removing himself from society and living off some kind of pension in some beautiful location away from cameras. What, because he is exhausted? The new guy only has 1 lung, he is doing pretty well.

Obviously, the traditional method of ending your Popedom is by dying off. Benedict retired, and I have a theory as to why. He couldn't die off because he can't die.

That's right, Pope Benedict is a vampire.

He would have lived indefinitely causing all sorts of trouble by revealing the secrets of the underground vampire clans and proving they exist. Instead, he hides away from camera, and gets "killed off" when an appropriate amount of time has passed. My proof, you ask?

Well he's a real vampire, none of that "I get scared by holy water and crosses" thing. So he can survive in the church. As well as being bullet proof, it is also UV protected. So he doesn't get burnt on the road? No, so he doesn't BURST INTO FLAMES! Which I guess is still getting burnt, but you get my point.  Have you ever seen him take a stake to the heart? No? Maybe it's because that would kill him? Hmm?

Yeah, we all know I'm on to something about this. If I suddenly stop posting, you'll know I hit too close to the truth and had to be taken down for the continued hiding of the vampires that have invaded the Vatican.

That's it for now, keep watching for the proof that is out there.

Why I really don't like my new phone

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Forewarnings: I haven't worked out to link from this app yet, you'll need to do your own googling. Also, this is dealing with things I'm still frustrated about, I'll do my best to stay calm, but I can't promise it.

So, last year I was trying to update the OS my old phone (the greatly underappreciatd Samsung Galaxy Tab series 1) and accidentally made a brick. Not my finest nerd hour. I did like the conveniene of having a tablet and phone in one and started doing my research based on this. After a few long, phoneless days, it looked like my two best options were the Galaxy Tab 2, or this funky new thing from ASUS called the PadFone. Naturally, I made the mistake of going with the fancy new untested technology.

The premise behind the PadFone is pretty solid. You have your usual 5-inch Android smartphone, which does everything you'd expect. You want to show off something but the sceen is too small? No worry, just plug it inside the 10 inch tablet and you're good to go! Need to write an email? Don't break your fingers on that touchscreen keyboard, plug in this keyboard and trackpad and now your smartphone is a 10 inch touchscreen netbook!

Now don't get me wrong, the whole thing works, to a fashion. It does everything you expect it do adequetly. Most of the time. Ok, here are the cool features before I start the complaining:

Every component has it's own battery. Phone about to die? Plug it into the tablet and/or keyboard, more power!
Is an awesome tech toy. Impresses everyone
The stylus it comes packaged with is also a bluetooth headset
Get a phone, tablet, and netbook that you only need 1 data plan for
Overall cost was about $1k I think, keyboard was an optional extra. Most expensive phone I've ever owned, but certainly cheaper than buying a phone, tablet, and netbook seperately.
Android operating system is always a bonus in my books
The keyboard has a card reader and 2 USB slots, on top of the microSD slot in the phone itself
The phone came with cloud storage. Don't recall how much, I've never used it, but it wasn't a tiny amount.

It's important to point these out. They aren't pros or cons, just things to be aware of:
The tablet won't work without the phone plugged into it. You only get one device operable at a time. This wasn't a surprise to me, they advertise it well. Just wanted to point it out here.
They keyboard is physiccally connected, not via Bluetooth or anything like that. You can't use it just for the phone.

Now here's where things start to turn bad...
Neither the phone nor the tablet will save their custom background. They are both changable, but they will revert back to the default one in a few days.
You cannot set default programs for the different devices. I have a phone-optimised browser and a tablet-optimised browser, I can only set one as default for everything.
It advertises that any open app will automatically adjust when you plug/unplug the phone and tablet. This is true for native apps, but not for ANY 3rd party that I have tried. I've even had apps close to desktop when I pluggd in the keyboard.
The phone is charged with the standard micro-USB, but the tablet and phone use the ASUS 40-pin plug that requires a voltage that is not provided by standard chargers. I left mine in a hotel room, the tablet and keyboard were useless until I was able to buy an absurdly expensive replacement on Amazon because they don't exist anywhere int he real world.
Speaking of replacement parts, need a replacement screen? Forget it. For nearly $300 once you factor in postage and 2 weeks without my phone? I'll deal with the cracks.
You can plug everything together and charge them all at once, which is nice. It's just a shame the touchscreen becomes almost non-responsive when it's charging through the keyboard.
The charging port in the keyboard has actully come loose, and the keyboard casing in general feels very flimsy.
You can only do data transfer with a computer via the phone, not when in tablet or netbook mode.
The tracking pad is a pain. I don't know whether it is sensitivity or placement or what, but it is. Fortunately, it can be turned off. When it's a touchscreen, it doesn't really seem necessary anyway.
The protective case it came with has a pen slot for the stylus, but the tabet takes up all the space, so the stylus isn't actully protected in any way. The netbook *just* fits, but it won't surprise my if it tears the fabric case after time.
The camera app and the Gmail app currently don't work. These are really pissing me off at the moment. The Gmail web interface still works, but replacement camera apps crash just like the native one.

Oh, and the phone tech people are nice, but it seems like all their answers are "Send it in and we'll see what we can do."

The technology definitely has potential, and I am eagerly awaiting the PadFone2 which is supposed to be being released later this year. I'm certainly not going to be an early adapter, but if they've fixed the issues of this device, it'll be worth buying. Just don't get this one unless you want to put up with a device that just will not do what you want it to do.

Eurovision & Rule Changes

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For my wild Saturday night, the lady and I are sitting around the table working on our respective  upcoming deadlines. We live wild lives, our Saturday nights are spent doing desk work, woo!

We both seem to work well under pressure, as progress has been made on both fronts, but we both know that this is a weekend that we won't get to spend much quality time together. It happens, it sucks, but we deal and move on.

We also both work well under the music, I guess that's one of the perks of being on the cusp of Generation X & Y, the term MTV generation applies to us either way it an apply to us either way. We don't necessarily have <i>conflicting</i> tastes in music, but study music isn't like normal music. She is plugged into Spotify listening to the best indie-pop* hits of our teenage years, and I am doing everything I can to not listening to this year's Eurovision playlist by plugging in to a YouTube channel of one of Eurovision's recent poster boys Alexander Rybak (Norway 2009 with Fairytale, if you can't remember).

Given the time of day, I'm not going to get much more work done, so I'm going to wonder about Eurovision instead.

I've been a fan of the lyrical grand prix for a decade now, and I have followed and watched every year with glee. It's certainly an odd thing to hear from a straight Australian male, but it's the truth. I love Eurovision with all my less than three.

I don't know what it is exactly. It's not my usual style of music to listen to (I frustratingly list my musical tastes as eclectic, but gosh darn it, I mean it). I'm on a real 90's British rock kick at the moment, so Oasis is getting a lot of play time, if that's any indication of what I listen to; however my tastes vary from the nu-metal of Korn to the lyrical stylings of Jay-Z. I'm not picky when it comes to music, but the sugar-coated pop stuff that seems to constantly dominate the top-40 charts just is not my thing. Don't know why, I just can't get behind it.

But then there's Eurovision. Nearly 60 years of some of the most cringe-inducing, stereotypical, absurd Euro-pop, and I can't get enough of it.

If you go to the Eurovision website right now, you'll find playlists of this year's competition. Looking through it, you'll realise a few things if you know what you're looking for. For instance, Armenia is back. They only had a year off, but it's good to see that their willing to give it another shot. What should be grabbing your attention more is the countries that <i>aren't</i> there. 11 countries have pulled out, citing various reasons for their decision.

Economic reasons have caused the withdrawal of Andorra, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, and Liechtenstein, whose financial issues have prevented them from joining the EBU, not just causing issues with Eurovision specifically (although if Greece can manage to send someone with all the money stuff they have going on, you have to wonder...). The Czech Republic, Monaco, Morocco and Slovakia have all decided not to participate in 2013 for "unspecified reasons." The one that really shocks me is Turkey, although they have only won one contest (Sertab Erener, 2003) they have always a country that has taken the contest seriously, and their results reflect that.  In December last year they announced that they would not participate this year because of the new rules introduced in the past few years. These rules have been met with much criticism, but this is the first time someone has actually decided to take such a strong stand on them. Could this be the kick we needed to finally get rid of the Big 5 and the 50/50 rule?

The semi-final was introduced in 2004, although the current system has only been in place since 2008. Given the large number of participating countries, it was decided that there were too many to fit into one night. As it is the final runs for about 4 hours, and that is only half the competitors. Initially it was decided that the group would be split into two groups: those who did well last year, and those who didn't. The top 10 from the previous year would get an automatic pass into the final, and everyone else would need to compete for the remaining 10 spots in the final using the same rules as the final, but without the drawn out suspense of it all. I can understand the logic behind this, but given that the competitors often change every year, this is not a fair representation of performance, and many great performances didn't get past the semi-finals and many poor performances got their time in the final undeservedly.

In 2008 a further reshuffle occurred with the still increasing number of competitors. Only a small, select group get the honour of an automatic pass, and everyone else gets to audition for the final over two nights. Yeah, it seems more fair, but the group that gets the pass is what Turkey has taken umbrage with. The UK, Germany, Spain, France and Italy (once they returned to the competition after this decision was made) get the pass, along with the host country. Now that last part I get, no-one wants the home town to miss out on their big night, but what about the other 5? They contribute the most money to the EU, so they get straight through. Does no-one realise how unfair that is?

In the 2003 show (no final, but the results counted for the 2004 series), Spain 8th, Germany 11th, France 18th, UK 26th. So there's 3 already.
In the 2004 final, Germany 8th, Spain 10th, France 15th, UK 16th. So that's 2 countries that got bumped.
In the 2005 final, Spain 21st, UK 22nd, France 23rd, Germany 24th. Between them they scored a measly 61 points, compared to the winner's 230. All 4 of them bumped a better performer of the next year.
In the 2006 final, Germany 14th, UK 19th, France 22, Spain 21st. That's another 4 performances bumped.
In the 2007 final, Germany 19th, Spain 20th, UK and France tied 22nd. 4 more performances bumped.

In 2008 the new voting  system came in, and only these 4 and the host country got through to the final automatically. Did this change their quality? Well...

In the 2008 final, Spain 16th, France 19th, UK and Germany tied last.
In the 2009 final, UK 5th, France 8th, Germany 20th, Spain 24th.
In the 2010 final, Germany 1st, France 12th, Spain 15th, UK last.

2011 saw the return of Italy, making the big 4 into the Big 5. In the final, Italy 2nd, Germany 10th, UK 11th, France 15th, Spain 23rd
And finally, in the 2012 final, Germany 8th, Italy 9th, Spain 10th, France 22nd, UK 25th.

There as originally a lot of number crunching, but here's the short, understandable version:
In the top-10 system, they should not have gotten through 17 times of the 20 they did.
In the top-5 system, they had 16 from 19 unfair passes.

In 10 years, the big 5 have gotten 33 free passes to the final between them, and only "earned" the spot 6 times. Can you understand why Turkey is kinda pissed about this? Although they've only won 1 competition in the past 10 years, Turkey has consistently delivered quality results, finishing top 10 in 7 of the last 10 competitions. While the certainly made the most of the early semi-finals, they've had to work for every participation since, and their frustration came to a peak in 2011, having come second the year before and not only having to attempt to clear the semi to make it into the final, but failing to do so. They more than doubled the points of France, nearly tripled Spain, and defeated the UK 17 times over. I don't even know what the word is for that! Yet they were not passed through automatically.

Now, the other thing they're up in arms about is the new voting system introduced in 2010. For the first 50ish years, the competition was a straight up people's choice. The "complaint" about this is a thing called "Block Voting," where people would just vote for neighbouring countries regardless of the quality of the performance. Notable perpetrators of this are Ireland/UK, Serbia/Montenegro (when they both competed separately), and Greece/Cyprus. The argument was that it was unfair for these people to get votes when they didn't deserve them, and fair enough. In 2010 a new system was introduced were the popular vote only counted for 50% of the country's points, and the remainder came from a "panel of industry experts." Know what it has changed?

Not a damn thing. Block voting still happens, but if your song isn't good enough to overcome the phenomenon, then it's not really good enough to win anyway. I'm with Turkey on principle on this one, I prefer the competition to be in the hands of the people, but there isn't enough evidence yet to prove that the new system has amounted to any actual changes in the way the competition is played out.

Eurovision 2013 isn't live for another 2 months, so that's it from me for now. I'f you're a twitterer you're about to get spammed by my first reviews of the songs in the next 24 hours. I'll try and # them, but this is the point where I'm overly critical of everyone, so this is going to be good viewing, you don't want to miss it!
It seems only fair to be extra critical of the Big 5 given the circumstances.

* It's probably not indie-pop, that's just how I refer to any music I don't really know.

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