Monday 16 December 2013

The fuss over Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is a terrific sci-fi book.

It's about ultra-intelligent children being trained to defend the earth in a space war against alien invaders. That could be the plot of a really empty action story, but there's a lot of meat in Ender's story.

The ethics of war, the treatment of children, the brutal realities of a highly competitive childhood, the importance of friendship and leadership.

I read it and loved it. I also enjoyed the sequel Speaker for the Dead, which is an utterly different book but equally clever.

Ender's Game was always destined to become a movie. Unfortunately, between the book coming out (1985) and the movie being made (2013), Orson Scott Card has made many anti-gay statements.

To be fair to Card, he's basically reflecting the views of his church. He's a Mormon, so we can understand where he got his ideas and who he shares them with.

To be fair to the rest of us, who cares? In a pluralistic world, if you can't justify something without reference to your god, then you can't justify it at all.

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Friday 29 November 2013


Around us is an invisible ecosystem of spirit creatures.

Tom Corloni is one of the few people who can see them. But this gift means that they notice him in return - and he looks delicious.

In order to protect himself from magical predators, Tom becomes the apprentice of a black magician.

While other kids are at cricket practice, Tom is learning to deal with demons, trading pieces of himself for safety and power.

But how much will be left by the time he's ready to graduate? And what will he do if his mum finds out?

Discipline is a gripping fantasy tale, taking you from a small country town to the gates of Hell.

If you're in Australia, I can send you a copy for $25 including postage - just message me through Facebook.

If you're elsewhere in the world or you prefer an ebook, you can get Discipline from:
Still not sure? Here's a little sample for you. At this stage of the story, Tom is nine years old and his ancient master is showing him how a magician enforces his borders.

At least once a month Kevin would patrol the perimeter and I usually accompanied him. It was a car trip of some twelve hours. We’d drive from town out to the edge of our territory, then do a long loop around it. He had a map with the agreed boundaries on it, hand-drawn in meticulous detail, and we followed it very carefully.

The windows were always wound down, even in the coldest weather. I didn’t know why until the first time we found something.

“Can you smell that?” Kevin said.

I sniffed deeply. There was something rank in the air, a musky miasma that heated my nose like chilli.

“It’s pretty yucky, Master. What is it?”

“It’s not a demon, and it’s nothing holy. What do you think?”

“Something undead? A zombie?”

“Good guess, but no. The spells that generate them generally keep the odour contained. So what else could it be? I know you know it, it’s in the basic texts.”

I sniffed again. It was like really bad breath, with a coppery tang to it. And as I breathed out, there was a hint of wet fur.

“Is it something cursed, like a wendigo or a were?”

“I believe so. We won’t know which until we find it, but it will be something of that sort. A predator, certainly, it stinks of old blood.”

He pulled the car over to the verge and slowed down to a crawl, taking us between the trees until we were completely hidden from the road. Reaching down behind the seat, he extracted a long leather satchel.

“Wait here,” he said, “don’t leave the car for any reason.”

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Sunday 8 September 2013

Koh Samui

The Big Buddha

"Thailand stinks," says Barry, an English ex-pat who's lived here and loved it for six years.

"You'll walk down the street and go fwooar, what's that pong? It's the sewers leaking or someone's taken a dump in a bucket behind the shops."

"But the next step, it's frangipani on the breeze, or sizzling prawns over hot coals, fantastic!"

Barry is trying to sell my wife and I on a holiday club, but soon realises we're immune to his pitch and is just having a good natter about Koh Samui with us.

He describes the enterprising nature of the locals.

"There's a place I pass by regularly which has a sign - genuine antiques, made to order - sums it all up, really."

This is where the first world comes to holiday in the third world, taking advantage of the cheap local currency to vacation in relative luxury.

And why wouldn't you? It's warm and exotic, the food is fabulous, and everyone speaks English.

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Why Germans are airtight

Some final random thoughts about Germany, from a German-descended Australian who's visiting his German wife's family.


Every German home I've visited is essentially airtight.

The doors aren't just a rectangular slab like ours, they have a proper lip around the edge and they seal very well against the frame.

The windows are the same. They also have two ways of opening, depending on how you turn the handle.

If it points up, the window hinges on the bottom, opening along the top - this allows some air through without allowing rain or thieves into the house.

If the handle points down, the window hinges along one side, opening like a door.

It gives you total control of the airflow through the house. And in the cold winter, it keeps the warm air trapped very effectively inside.

Germans also make better use of their suburban space, as virtually every house is multi-storey with a basement underneath.

There's just something very cool about having a basement!  It's the shed you don't have to leave the house for.

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Wednesday 28 August 2013

Fun parks and recreation

We have spent the last fortnight in Celle, Germany, visiting with my wife's family.

It's a town of around 80,000 people in Lower Saxony, in the north of the country.

When we're not visiting with family, we're looking for "family entertainment", which in this part of the country means zoos.

First up was the Tier Park, which is where they train animals for media performance. If you see a lion on German TV, it probably came from here.

They say this wolf is the world's best at playing dead. A totally chilled animal.

The keeper spent three years visiting the cage daily - even on weekends and sick days - in order to be accepted as a member of the pack.

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Thursday 22 August 2013

Erse Park

(VIDEO)  We just went to Erse Park in Uetze, Germany.

This is a fun place with rides, life sized model dinosaurs, and a whole lot of truly weird shit.

German fairy tales are clearly meant to frighten children into silence at night...
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Sunday 18 August 2013

German observations

Thoughts on Germany and Germans, from an Australian bloke with a German name and a German wife.

The Roads

The Germans are much smarter than us about speed limits, which are slower in town and faster on the freeways.

Australians, myself included, get frustrated and angry in suburban 50km/h zones. But here everyone is totally cool about doing 30, and I have found that it encourages me to be relaxed about it as well.

Often in the middle of town the roads are made of old fashioned flagstones, which are indestructible but a wee bit bumpy and slippery. So you go very slowly indeed.

At this low speed, people just have more patience with local conditions.  We rode around Celle in a horse and cart today, causing about forty cars to slow down and wait for 5 minutes on a particular one-way road. There was nary a beep. They all just waited until we were out of the way.

Everyone double-parks if they need to pick up a passenger or drop off a package, and no-one else cares. You just go around them.

Here's a neato idea.

When you park in a time-limit zone, you put this little cardboard thing on your dash with the current time on it - how many minutes past the hour it was when you arrived. Then the inspectors know when you got there. (And if you don't have one of these things displayed, they book you.)

There are lots of people on bikes. The kids are legally required to wear helmets but virtually nobody else bothers.

There are dedicated bike lanes everywhere, sometimes on the road and sometimes marked out on the footpath.

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Wednesday 14 August 2013

Roaming across Europe

Well, a little bit of it, anyway.

Five of us - three adults and two children - have stuffed our gear into a VW wagon and made our way from France to Germany, via Italy and Austria.

The highway system that links these countries is consistently excellent, though expensive in places.

At one of the toll stops, where we had pulled over to assemble the correct change for the booth, another car pulled up behind us and the driver got out to tap on our window.

He told our driver (who shall remain anonymous) that they had been wandering too close to the middle of the road, and perhaps we would all die in a fireball if this continued.

He politely made his point and went back to his vehicle. A far cry from the extended middle finger and cry of "get off the road ya fuckwit!" that I'd expect from Australians in similar circumstances.

Along the coast, Italy is mountainous and beautiful. There are endless villages strung out along the mountain ridges, with farms perched precariously on the slopes and huge greenhouses on every flat surface.

Then we turned inland, where it becomes rather monotonous. Flat and full of corn.

Our overnight stop was at the Garda Lake, which happens to be next to Italy's answer to Disneyland - Gardaland.

We didn't go there, but our hotel was clearly set up to cater for families that do. It had a massive buffet and some language-free entertainment for kids (magic and mime) after dinner.

The next day we continued towards Germany. The landscape became gorgeously mountainous again as we drifted through Austria.

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Thursday 1 August 2013

The old master

Today we walked up the hill, rising from our seedy city neighbourhood through several social strata to the Musee Matisse.

Between the museum building itself and the little cafe outside, there's an absolute rarity - empty space.

This part of the world has been civilised for so long that parklands just don't seem to exist any more, long ago built over with apartment blocks.

So naturally some people were in this little park playing the French national sport, pétanque.

I think it's a sport in much the same way that Thumb War is a sport.

A game, yes. A thing to keep children amused at a picnic, definitely. But not a sport.

I suspect that the drugs in cycling (the other French national sport) actually drifted over from pétanque, as it would take some serious mind alteration to make me buy a special shirt for tossing metal balls in random outdoor venues.

But the people playing were taking it very seriously indeed, putting on that grim face known amongst aficionados as the "total pétanquer".

I digress.

So the Matisse Museum is full of the old master's work, mainly donated by his family, as they were clearing wall space for plasma TVs.

(Below is the sculpture series: The Many Faces of Margaret Thatcher.)

If the museum was your only exposure to Matisse, you might think he was a bit crap, because it's full of his practice works - the stuff he created on the way to being sublime.

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Wednesday 31 July 2013

Viva la di'France

A French road and a French footpath are more or less the same thing.

One has mainly cars and the other mainly pedestrians, but that's mostly a matter of convenience and relative sizes.

After less than a week here, it's no longer a surprise when a Vespa jumps the curb beside me to overtake some jammed cars. And cars will also use the footpaths with aplomb, should the driver need to pick up some dry cleaning, or just stop for a chat about the cigar stink that clings to his jackets.

(This is true: today I watched the local dry cleaner enjoying a stogie in his doorway, smoke drifting back to hang around inside his shop.)

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Saturday 27 July 2013

Hobart to Nice

I'm on holiday. A long break overseas - landing in France, driving into Germany, then flying home via Thailand.

Getting here meant 30 hours in transit with a three year old. He did pretty well, though there's a certain level of exhausting paranoia necessary when you take an adventurous child through an international airport.

We spent a few hours in Dubai airport, which appears to be a massive duty free shop designed by someone with far too much money. 

This is a stone waterfall / fountain, next to the main elevator bank in the 'A' terminal. You can see the curving roof overhead - from outside, the whole building appears to be a tube lying in its side.

And outside it's over 40 degrees and muggy as hell. The minute it took to climb from the bus into the plane convinced me that I really didn't want to live there.

But we finally landed in Nice, which is a gorgeous French seaside city.

Nice used to be Italian and it still has that shabby-chic Italian feel to it. The buildings are all beautiful, painted in lovely colours, but perhaps they're about due for a new coat?

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Tuesday 18 June 2013

Commercial demos

I spent the first decade of my career in commercial radio, doing just about everything that a radio station has to offer.

But I spent most of it being a copywriter - writing ads as a part of each station's sales team.

I did this in Canberra at FM104.7 / 2CA and then at Canberra FM.

After that I moved to Sydney, becoming Creative Director at 2WS and then later at Triple-M.

It's a fun job! You talk to local businesses, get a feel for what they want to communicate, and try to write something memorable about them to go on the radio in 90 words or less.

If you're lucky (as I mostly was) you work with clever audio production bods and voice-over people, who help you bring the ideas to life.

I thought I'd share my copywriting demo with you. These ads aren't necessarily all award-winners or the most perfect sales tools, but they're probably the ones I had the most fun making.

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Sunday 16 June 2013

Dark Mofo beaming up

Let me lay this out for you...

MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art, a wacky new museum here in Hobart.

MONA FOMA is the MONA Festival of Old and New Art, an annual arts fest which happens here each January.  This is usually shortened to Mofo.

And Dark Mofo is the brand new mid-winter arts festival they've just launched last week.

Got that?

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Thursday 16 May 2013

Singing in the train

So I'm riding Queensland Rail when something odd starts to happen. I think my Twitter reaction captures it best.

3:21pm - Farting like that on a train ought to be a crime. I'm tempted to stand up and denounce the culprit

4:38pm - The woman behind me is singing "Devil in Disguise" along with Elvis on her headphones. I wonder if she's the mystery farter?

4:40pm - Hang on, now she's onto "Burning Love" and she's really going for it!

4:43pm - You know, both those songs are appropriate for someone farting quietly on public transport.

4:48pm - The singing is getting worse. I have recorded a sample for my blog.
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Sunday 17 March 2013

Queensland reporting

So the ABC has sent me to Queensland as a recovery reporter, talking to the people around the Wide Bay area about how they're getting on since the January floods.

It's an important part of Local Radio's work, so I've done plenty of radio and online stories about it for the ABC.

This post is about all the weird incidental stuff that's happened since I arrived in the sunshine state.

First up, as you can see, I had to buy a hat.  I've wanted an Akubra for donkey's years and now I've found one that I like. The man in the shop says it will be good in the rain too - let's hope so, as I go back to Hobart in a week.

On my first day, the local boss-man Ross gave us a tour and it was quite an eye-opener.

Look at this place in North Bundaberg. During the floods the water in this area was several metres deep and flowing at over 70 km/h, so it would just swirl around some houses and dig out the foundations, leaving them in a sink-hole.

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In defence of old fashioned shoe polish

Will you please polish your goddamned shoes? I am sick to death of looking at them.

Those devil-may-care scuff marks are like patches of ignorance spreading across the leather.

And don't use that pretend polish liquid shit that comes in a bottle with a sponge on the end. You may as well colour them in with a black pen. Or dip your boots in Vegemite.

It adds colour, but it doesn't nourish the leather like an old fashioned waxy polish does.

Pictured are my 6 year old Blundstone boots, which have mowed lawns, shifted rocks, trekked across the wilderness, hooked flathead, and kept me standing at many a music festival.

They have been used and abused like any outdoor boots. But they are still whole, still supple, still waterproof, and shiny enough to wear to church.

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Sunday 3 March 2013

Review - "A Memory of Light" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

A Memory of Light

I loved the first few books in this series - they were well written, well imagined, and populated with very distinct characters.

Like most fantasy readers, I love getting lost in another world, so I even appreciated their vast size.

But then I came to a terrible and boring one. I think it was number five or six? It seemed that the plot required all of the characters to move to new locations, so there was a whole book of people travelling around the landscape. All they did was ride horses, camp, and feel great angst. For 800 pages.

At that point, I gave up on them.

But when I was on a beach holiday a few years later, I saw the next volume at the second hand store. I had time to kill, so I grabbed it, and it was pleased to find the plot had gained momentum again.

I read the next half dozen volumes in much the same way, just casually. Then I heard that Robert Jordan had died, and his wife had picked another author to take up the reins.

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Friday 1 March 2013

Can I write to you?

I'd like to stay in touch. And if you join my mailing list, I will send you a bonus story!

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