Tag Archives: Observations

Facial Recognition

I’ve got terrible facial recognition. I might know if I have seen a face before, but when seen out of context I just assume they are from the bus or a former workplace. I actually did a facial recognition test and got the exact average score, so all I can assume is lots of other people are terrible with faces too.

Last weekend I discovered that my next door neighbour works in my office. There are only about 50 people in my office, and I’ve been there for over six months. I think that gives you some idea of how bad my facial recognition is. (No wonder he never waved at me when I spotted him from my driveway – I must always be blanking him at work).

This got me thinking about my writing. I rarely, if ever, describe what my characters look like. I have an idea, but unless it is necessary to the story, I’ll let you fill in their height, weight, hair and eye colour. Obviously these things are just not that important to me. I would love to know if writers who do describe their characters in lots of detail (to the point where we even know what clothes they are wearing) what are they like with facial recognition?

Oddly, I see ‘faces’ where there are none. Below are two recent examples of faces I managed to capture, but I see them in trees, stones on the footpath, and in clouds. The one thing all these faces have in common is that they are non-human. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that in my writing I love to describe my monsters.

StudyJoeySmall

User pays

The other day I did a Google search for something and found my old novel, Paragon, offered for free download. My novel hasn’t been available for purchase for about six years, so I have no idea how long it had been on this site. The reason I took the novel down was because I thought it had too many things that needed fixing, it wasn’t the best it could be. It bugged me that the choice to hold it back had been taken away from me.

It also got me wondering; how have people’s attitudes to other’s hard work gotten so callous that someone would feel justified putting up the work of a (let’s be honest) unheard of author for free? Is what they gain really worth what they take?

I’m against all forms illegal downloading, whether it is books, movies, software, TV shows, music etc. So often I hear people saying things like “Katy Perry is so rich, it doesn’t matter” –but it does matter. Katy Perry, or any other artist/developer are not doing this on their own. They support a whole network of people who depend on sales to make a living. A movie is not made by several actors and a director. There are writers, camera people, caterers, props people, make-up artists, hair stylists etc. It is an industry, and when you steal, you steal from all of them.

But back to my experience… I am not supporting an industry, just me and those closest to me. In over 20 years of sending off my work for publication I’ve earned less than $500. That’s why I’ve still got the day job. There are lots of people like me out there who haven’t yet made it, and if people keep stealing from us, then we’ll never earn enough money to quit the day job so we can keep making the art that others want to steal.

Imagine if Buffy had been downloaded to the point where no networks wanted to buy the ongoing series. We might never have had Firefly, or Serenity, or Cabin in the woods. I do not want to think about a world with no Joss Whedon! Is that the price we want to pay to be able to save a few dollars?

Freedom of speech?

Cass* goes to a fancy-dress party and wins the best costume prize. She is awarded a bottle of champagne, which she pops and shares with her friends. She poses for a photo of her drinking from the bottle. Should she post this on her personal Facebook page?

Now, I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of equal opportunity, bullying and whatever-else is required training over the years, but this week a friend of mine did social media training. She took a photo of the above question and showed it to me. What do you think the answer is?

According to the training Cass should NOT post the photo. The reason; because others can share the photo, so she has no control over it and it might damage Cass or her employer’s reputation. Let me remind you; Cass was not vomiting on herself. She hadn’t pulled her top down or her skirt up. Her ‘reputationally damaging behaviour’ was swigged out of a champagne bottle.

This training alarmed me. If workplaces are now going to get antsy about someone drinking directly from a champagne bottle (would it have been okay from a glass?) what would they think about some of the stories I write? In future will my writing potentially impact my employment prospects? And where does that fit with the equal opportunity rules they all claim to abide by?

I think what they were trying to say was; be sure that whatever you post online you are happy for the world to see. I’m sure Cass, her work colleagues and her clients wouldn’t care that she was swigging from a bottle. If Cass is okay with that, then Cass can be the judge of what goes out to the world on her own Facebook page.

Some of my writing is confronting, some is stupid, and some is opinionated. Writing asks you to push the boundaries sometimes, and I think we all want to live in a world where you have the freedom to do that.

To pay your bills, most of us need to work. I think it will be spectacularly unfair if we move into world where those who want to earn a living are expected to turn into little yes-big-brother robots and stop living our lives how we want to outside of work hours. Cass, you should be able to drink your champagne any way you want to!

*Fictional name changed to another fictional name so my friend doesn’t get the sack!

Where don’t you get your ideas?

My friend and I have dared each other to ask every author at Adelaide Writers’ Week where they get their ideas – just so we can watch them roll their eyes. The truth is neither of us will have the guts to do this because it is just such an embarrassing question. Writers get ideas from everywhere! Usually the problem is deciding which ones you will let in and which you will ignore.

But it has made me wonder about the rest of the population. Do non-writers really not get ideas for stories? Do all their fantasies revolve only around them and other people they know? Or (and I refuse to believe this assertion) do some people actually not make up any stories in their head about anyone?

I watch a news story and I start imagining the fallout of events, I read a book and I think about where I would have taken the story, I listen to a song which might ostensibly be about the basic boy and girl falling in or out of love and I can turn it into a dark paranormal novel, maybe even a trilogy. Doesn’t this happen to everyone on some level???

If I was to list my top five favourite things about being alive, making up stories would be on there. If, and I hope I’m talking to no-one here, you have never made up a story after you left school, try it now. Even if you need to fan-fiction it and lift someone else’s characters and setting, try it (there are no copyright breaches when it stays in your head). You may just find you like it.

Hopes for a New Year

My roof got speared by the branch of a pine tree on Tuesday night, and my 40+ year old Golden Elm got snapped in half. We had a storm, a big storm. It was the fourth such storm in Adelaide in 2016. At least they have stopped calling them hundred-year storms, it started sounding silly after the second one.  

While the loss of internet and a few days without power is really annoying, it is also starting to feel too familiar. Yesterday I was talking about going halvsies with my parents on a generator so our food doesn’t keep spoiling after these ‘events’. The idea makes me cringe, it is just another hideous Band-Aid over the reality of climate change.  

I like to think of myself as being environmentally aware, yet I buy my milk in plastic bottles, I have multiple beauty products which promise (and fail) to deliver straight hair, and I’ve had 5 laptops which have never been passed on to anyone else after I finish with them. There is only so much that recycling can pick up the slack on. I often come in at half the rate on my water, electricity and gas use for equivalent sized households, yet I think I still use too much, far too much.  

I want the babies of today to see a live Barrier Reef when they grow up, I want them to live in a world where tigers and orang-utans and elephants are wild animals living in wild places. I want there to be trees that have grown in the same place for hundreds, if not thousands of years. A life full of plastic bottles, needless chemicals and high-turnover electricals won’t help to deliver that.  

I know it can seem overwhelming and there is a belief that we are too far gone to make a difference, but that isn’t true. There are actually a million things you can do. Something I saw this week which really inspired me was The Minimalists (see TED talk below). This is something so easy to do, you can do as much or as little as you like, and it addresses one of the big problems I see in Western society of consumerism (even if economists don’t agree with me).  Please think about it, I know not all of us can have 5 minute showers, but I’m sure you can find something to cut back on. Every little bit helps.

Happy New Year!

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Futurist

One of my work colleagues (yes, I’ve snuck back into the machine and am once again a cog) was telling me about his dream job; a futurist. As a spec fiction writer I felt more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t know such a job existed. Yes, people are getting paid lots of money to identify the micro/macro trends that are shaping our world to see where we will be in five, ten or even 100 years in the future.

Something that one of the futurists suggested was that by 2030 artificial intelligence will have evolved to the point where computers will have real personalities that will be able to hold meaningful conversations with humans. They suggested these personalities will be put into androids that people will have around the house.

I find the idea horrific, it would be the death of relationships. Imagine if you could order a ‘bot that looked like Keanu, with the intelligence of Brian Cox, the humour of Joss Whedon and you could program it to love you unconditionally. Better still, when you are busy (you know, maybe writing or something) you could just pop it in the cupboard and it wouldn’t bug you about when dinner was going to be ready.

Of course this is just a general what if, not something I would get, but really, what hope would a real person have against that? And as the person in the relationship with the robot how would you grow and learn to be a better you? Fitting in with others is what keeps us human.

In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think just relationships would be at risk, I think our pets should watch out too. I can’t see this technology stopping at people. Even I have to admit it would be nice for the cat to reply sometimes, I’d feel a little less crazy-cat-lady-ish.

Regrets

I believe most of us aspire to live life without regrets, but what does that mean exactly? I think of it as being if you had your time again, what would you change? Probably a bit of a redundant question really because after the first change, thanks to the time travel paradox, you’d probably not get presented with the rest of the decisions you were hoping to fix and you’d end up a very different person with different regrets anyway.

It makes me wonder if perhaps what we really mean is that we are okay with regrets, but we don’t want to wallow in them. You can use a past regret to help with making better decisions now. A classic example for me is that I regret not doing more with my zoology degree. It’s not something I cry myself to sleep over, or get sick about each morning as I go to work, but if I watch a David Attenborough documentary, or an episode of The Supervet, I do wish I had tried harder.

So what can I do now? Well, instead of wallowing in regret I’ll take my current situation and try to bend it back toward something zoological. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my last two story sales have been animal-based. My recently finished novel had animals playing big roles. This is my passion and who knows, if I do it well, I might just make a living out of it one day.

So what do you regret? More importantly, how can you feel fulfilled in that area now? It is so important to live in the now, you only have control to change what you do next. I like to think that is enough.

Un-reality

I wanted to get a pasta maker. I eat a lot of pasta and I had seen the expensive machines on TV and they looked great, but I would have to eat about twenty years worth of pasta to justify the cost. Then suddenly the sales were on and it was reduced by 2/3rds of the price to make way for the new model. I got it, and for a month ate a lot of homemade pasta. Then I went back to the much easier store-bought variety. Then I wanted a Bokashi composter…

Even when we know we have been raised in a consumer society, and we know that historical purchases haven’t actually filled any gaps in our lives, many of us cannot resist the urge to acquire. It is hard to fight when around us consuming is encouraged on all levels. So it has struck me as odd that I can’t think of a single book where a character has been constantly purchasing crap.

The common factor in most books is that instead of filling their lives with more stuff (requiring, in turn, bigger houses with more storage) characters are chasing life. It might be love, survival, redemption, success, justice or any one of a million other life-changing things, but it is never a pasta maker.

Maybe when we write fiction we can drop the consumer glasses that have been fitted to our eyes at birth and we realise that all that meaningless junk is just junk. I wonder if we dropped our quest for consumables in real life we might turn our focus onto the bigger and more important things in life, like living? I think it is time to give it a try.

Material

I don’t normally go searching for material, it usually appears in my head as part of the story, but this week things have been different. I wanted to come up with a new story idea, so my eyes were open. It was amazing how many things were presented to me.

I watched a documentary on life in a desert, which created the perfect story location complete with geographical, geological and ecological set-up. I then did a tour of the state library and got a whole bunch of colourful stories about daily jobs that don’t exist anymore. Jobs I didn’t realise ever existed. Jobs I would never have been able to make up myself.

It makes me wonder how often I’m totally blind to these little pieces of seasoning that add that extra dimension to your work? I feel like I’m seeing a lot more things these days. I think spending so much time living in my head is good for me, or at least it is good for my writing.

 

Grammar

I’m reading a book on grammar at the moment. If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know it is not my strong point, but the book is starting to annoy me. I’m totally okay with people getting huffy about it’s vs its and there, their and they’re, but I’m learning that some of the things I was confused about have different rules in different places.

Take my surname for example, I don’t like having the ‘s’ on the end because should it be Potts’ or Potts’s for possessive? Well apparently that depends on if I’m American or English (of which I’m neither, I haven’t yet checked out the Aussie rule). To me, as ugly as it looks, Potts’s looks the most clear in terms of understanding.

Which has got me thinking, at what point do you say as long as you understand it is okay? This opens a whole can of worms in terms of spelling, semi-colons, colons and a raft of other written devices that I’m pretty attached to. I don’t want to see us adopt ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’ in Australia, but is that me just being a pedant? And if I give-in to dropping our beloved ‘u’ then where do I stand on ‘b4’ for before?

Maybe that’s why I never applied myself to grammar very well when I was younger? I feel okay with being at my point on the spectrum, but given I’m not a grammar nut, I can see that I have no right to get upset with people who think “Its gr8 two spewl bad” is an okay sentence.

Think I’ll just put my head in the sand again.