09 November, 2011

Air Traffic Chief game

Insanely addictive. Guide each plane to the runway without causing any mid-air collisions.

31 October, 2011

Tower Blaster

Not really a blasting-type game. More a strategy game where you and the Vikings try to be the fastest to stack blocks in order.

Probably one of my favourite flash-type games :)

05 September, 2011

Adventures in MS Word

There is something rather surreal about "learning" MS Word in a language you don't understand.
I'm sitting in class and bored. In our first computer lesson (in which several students were unable to locate and open the application from the Start menu) we're mastering "customising the menus". What the.
55 minutes into the lesson, the guy who understands Finnish the best finally asked the teacher to slow down because he didn't understand. The rest of the class laughed. I don’t think anyone has really heard a word today. Get it, word. I crack myself up.
For the "learning to configure tab stops" demonstration, I'm staging my own personal rebellion by pasting Lorem Ipsum instead of typing rubbish text. Rawr. It's an educated rebellion, or something.
Incidentally, I'm typing this at the end of more Lorem Ipsum so that any time he comes to check what I'm doing, I just scroll up.
Random thought: surely, when people can't operate the Start menu, it might be good to start with "how to open and save a document".

20 August, 2011


Today I started at a new school. I was terrified and really didn't want to go. Everyone else has been there for six months and are great friends, so I'm the outsider and feeling really self-conscious and new. We play games involving remembering names (which I suck at). They get them all right. I get EVERY name wrong. For the rest of the lesson, I don't understand much of what the teacher says, so I'm also feeling really dumb by this point. At break time, I'm feeling dumb, confused, tired, lonely, self-conscious, and I also notice half of them have yummy-looking takeaway lunches, so I'm jealous, and embarrassed by my boring apple and dorky thermos of home-made coffee. So I slink off to the kitchen, pour myself a cup, then come back, and the only spot to sit is on a sofa, in the middle of the group. I sit down. Did I mention I've lost the cup from my thermos... so I have this really embarrassing plastic yellow cup instead? Anyway, they are all discussing going to buy fancy coffees from the machine. I'm wishing I could buy a latté or a double mocha or whatever fancy coffee is available. I'm sitting there blowing the steam from my cheapo coffee, trying to be invisible and feeling sorry for myself and my crappy coffee from home, hoping nobody laughs at my ridiculous smiley-face plastic cup. And then one of them announces that the coffee machine is broken. They complain. They wail. They're very unhappy at missing out on their caffiene fix.

I sit there with my awesome home-made coffee in the hilarious cup, blowing it and feeling smug and quietly grinning to myself.


07 May, 2011

I Dared.

I've finally released my manuscript on Authonomy.

This is a pretty light read (definitely not the most fabulous literary work I am capable of). It's simply the retelling of life working in aged care, and hopefully has a few chuckles now and then.

You can read it here: http://www.authonomy.com/books/33488/the-lifestyle-village/ (this is the version I will continue to edit for eventual publication)

or the original manuscript is at my blog http://lifestylevillage.blogspot.com/ .

27 April, 2011

Sima (Mead, Finnish-Style)

(I posted this a year ago - but it's worth posting again!)

Sima (pronounced like Sim-ah) is traditionally made in Finland for May Day celebrations, called Vappu. It's rather different to the traditional honey-mead known throughout the world and associated with the Middle Ages or Ye Olde England. In Finland, the mead is prepared using lemons and ordinary bread yeast, it's a lot easier to make, and it's ready to drink in about four days, not four months!

When it's first prepared Sima is almost alcohol-free, but it can be left to ferment for up to two weeks, which makes it around 6%. Most people prefer to drink it at the 5-7 days stage. It's refreshing any time of year.

Finnish Sima

500g brown sugar plus 500g white sugar (or just 1kg brown, if you prefer the flavour and colour)
8 litres water
Juice of 2-3 lemons (around 40mL)
Few teaspoons extra white sugar
1/4 cup sultanas/raisins
1/4 teaspoon breadmaker's yeast
Optional: the shredded pulp and zest of the lemons

Boil 2-3 litres of the water and put the sugar into a large clean bucket. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and pulp/zest.

Once the sugar is dissolved, add the rest of the water and allow it to cool until it's just above body temperature, no hotter than 45 degrees celsius.

(If you don't have a thermometer, 45 degrees is a very hot bath. 50 degrees is too hot to put your finger into without yelling. If in doubt, let it cool down for longer. Third-degree burns do not make the drink taste better.)

Add the yeast and stir, then leave the bucket unsealed for 24 hours at room temperature. Keep the dust out with a clean cloth.

The next day, you should see some small bubbles at the edge. Stir again and then pour into your clean soft drink bottles. (Photo posed by models.) Make sure the lids are only just barely screwed on. Check the mead after a few hours, and if the bottle is obviously pressurised, the lids are on too tight (loosen them so that gas can escape).

On day 3, add a teaspoon of white sugar plus few sultanas to each bottle. The mead should be kept at room temperature (anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees will work - the temperature will only affect how quickly the mead ferments.) Check the pressure of the bottles every day and release any gas from bottles that are too tight.

The sultanas normally begin to float on day 5 or 6, and this is when you know it's ready. A warmer room will be faster, a colder room slower. You can leave it to ferment longer if you wish. It will be more alcoholic the longer you wait, less sweet and more dry-tasting. Don't leave it longer than 2 weeks.

Once it's ready, tighten the lids and put it into the fridge. Enjoy nice and cold.

I promise it tastes good. Nothing like boiling urine, either.

12 April, 2011

Eleni's Stumbling Block

I think, when you write a book, you're supposed to have an outline of the plot done in a certain formulaic way. You have your beginning, where the characters are built, and then something happens to change things, and then tension builds up and up and up until something dramatic happens, and then you write a conclusion. Right?

I have a problem. I have the character - and I think she is worth writing about. I'd like to think people will like her, and want to know her story, and maybe even cry over her if I do a good job. I know certain things that will happen to her. I have her life shaped out, and the way she will grow up in the book, mapped out in my head.

But I am missing the great, dramatic, tension-builder event.

This kinda sucks. I've built other characters before and had far more interesting events for them, but for poor Eleni, it seems as if her day-to-day life is (will be) so awful, that it's difficult to imagine the dramatic "big bang" I should need to make a proper plot.

Is there such thing as a gripping book which hasn't got that? Is it possible to ignore the correct formula? I hope so...

11 April, 2011

Life Lessons (Fiction Challenge)

cross-posted to Her Beauty And Her Terror - the week's challenge was a piece of fiction, any length, genre or form, which had to contain the words 'vessel', 'extinguish' and 'market'.

Emma wasn't even supposed to be in the wedding party. I'd chosen my sister as my one-and-only bridesmaid right when Jeff proposed, but by the time the big day rolled around she was only weeks away from giving birth, so Emma graciously stepped into the role.

Jeff had always mumbled about not liking Emma. I couldn't even figure out why: Emma was a kindhearted soul who never raised her voice and was forever worrying about other people and doing nice things for them. If it's possible for someone you never want to be romantic with, Emma was my soul mate. We never got invited somewhere on our own: invitations always read "To Emma and Alicia". And Jeff didn't like her and never said why. But whatever. I was the glowing bride-to-be and nothing was going to spoil my day.

Money was tight so the whole affair was going to be on a shoestring. Both the wedding and the reception would be in a hall and we were going to drive to the honeymoon, a week on the lake in a cedar cabin. No flight to Hawaii for me, but I'd reasoned it didn't matter, after all, I would be with the man of my dreams! My dress was a family heirloom and it fit me perfectly. The gorgeous blue shoes had been on sale at the market. I was going to look and feel like a princess, no matter how stretched our budget. This was going to be my day and I was determined to shine.

Before we could blink there was only a week to go. A week! The girls took me out for my hens' night; we partied all evening long from one club to the next and had a fantastic time. We must have taken a hundred photos of Emma and I; flirting with the bouncer, chatting to the bartender, dancing on the tables and hugging for almost every shot. I adored Emma. I still had the tiny handkerchief she gave me in Kindergarten, with the ducks on it. I'd thought it so lovely that she had just given it to me. Emma meant the world to me and I was just ecstatic that she would be beside me on my special day.

I can remember Jeff's outburst when he saw the photos. He was disgusted. He made some sloppy remark about Emma being a slut and then wondered aloud if we were lesbians. Honestly, I was surprised, I know he'd always expressed dislike of her, but this was a lot even for him. I guess I was just disappointed in the end. I put the photos sadly in an old shoebox at the back of a cupboard; I wasn't going to show him them again, since it just seemed like a recipe for an argument.

With just one day to go I was a bundle of nerves. We were going to play traditional and spend our last night apart, so Jeff packed an overnight bag and took himself off to his brother's house on Friday morning before work.

The evening rolled around and we had to attend the hall with the wedding celebrant, for our wedding rehearsal. I stood where I was directed, and Jeff and I exchanged lots of thrilled glances. Everyone else looked bored stiff. We were a strange-looking bunch in our casual clothing but the celebrant was lovely. We finished the practice and said our goodnights; I kissed my man goodnight and promised that I would turn up at the hall in the morning. Actually I was starved, so I was the first one into my car to leave.

It wasn't until I'd walked in the front door of our tiny apartment ten minutes later that I realised I'd left my phone behind at the hall. Cursing, I climbed back into the car. God, the traffic was horrendous. I sat there at the traffic lights and wished it would all just disappear. Grabbing my handbag I foraged around for mints; and then I spotted the lottery ticket for yesterday's draw. And I had today's newspaper in the back of the car with the results.

I always hated those people who dashed out of the driver's seat while stopped at the lights! But screw them all, I'm getting married tomorrow, I want to know if I just got rich! I laughed to myself and decided that now I'd said that, I deserved to get nothing at all. Slamming the lid of the boot back down I clutched the newspaper to my chest and ran back to the driver's door as the lights turned green and horns started blaring behind me.

Have you ever been driving, but wanted to do something else instead, and so you actually wish the lights would go red?

I started comparing numbers. I've been playing for years with the same six numbers.

Five matches! My brain wrestled with the mental arithmetic and my heart ran overtime. I probably just won a few hundred dollars. My hand grabbed for my phone to call Jeff and tell him the good news, but then I remembered where my phone was. I stopped for a moment to compose myself and breathe. I had better check that I hadn't made a mistake.

Four, eight, sixteen, thirty-one, twenty-four, forty-three.

My heart had been hammering but I swear it stopped dead right at that moment. I didn't have five matches. I had all six.

Sweat beaded on my forehead and I checked again. Then I checked again. Six numbers. Six numbers. What if the paper made a mistake? I could barely work my mouth open to breathe. Six numbers. I somehow found some coins, parked the car and ran to a payphone, dialling the lottery information line and pressing
each button to hear the result, and then the prize amounts. Four million dollars and there was only one winner, according to a robotic voice. I was holding that winning ticket in my wildly shaking hand. I replaced the phone handset and moved like a zombie whose very life-force had been extinguished.

A house! We could have a house! No more tiny rented apartment, we could have a grand huge mansion in the countryside! No more rusty old cars, we could have new convertibles! And a proper honeymoon! A grand holiday overseas on a tropical island. In a five star luxury resort being pampered, and oh, we can fly first class! Oh the money I could spend buying gifts for my wonderful Jeff. We would never have to worry about money again. Oh, I was just so excited, nothing could have made my wedding more perfect than to know I had the perfect man beside me, and we would have the happiest times together for the rest of our lives!

A sudden artificial calm came over me and I realised I had to tell Jeff this in person. It was too important for over the phone. I considered going direct to Jeff's brother's house, but then remembered my missing phone still at the hall. I don't know how I managed to start the car or move into the traffic but the next thing I remember is pulling into the carpark across the road from the hall.

I placed the ticket carefully into my handbag and walked quickly to the hall with the back door key in hand. I tried to compose myself and work out how I would announce it once I got to Jeff's brother's house. I imagined the looks his face. He would be thrilled! Before I reached the door, though, an open window high above my head got my attention. Emma's voice, saying, "It's not a good idea." I stopped. A quick calculation, and I realised it was the kitchen. Then Jeff's voice. "Yeah. It's a great idea."

I could tell them both at once! This was great, it would be such great excitement! Knowing how much he disliked her, he was probably horribly bored and irritated to be still in the hall with her right now. He'd be so glad that I had come back. I smoothed my dress and tried to stop my hands from shaking. But then I stopped and decided to listen for a while, hoping to hear whether he was being polite to Emma, at least.

Emma again, after a pause. "Jeff, you are CRAZY." And she seemed irritated. I wondered what was going on here. They'd stopped shouting so I couldn't hear what they said next, but I was intrigued and wanted to know whether they were actually being civil to each other. After a while I could hear her again. "That is fantastic." I waited more than five minutes, but I heard nothing else. I figured they'd moved out of the kitchen, so I rounded the corner to the stairs and went up, wondering what they'd been discussing. I clutched my precious handbag, full of my special ticket and my wonderful news, and I sought them out to share the excitement. My heart was running so fast it was hurting my chest and I grinned to myself wildly.

I picked my phone up from the seat near the door, shoving it into my handbag. From there I realised they must still be in the kitchen after all; murmurs were coming from that half-closed door. Crossing the carpet and pushing the door quietly open, I couldn't believe my eyes. My heart stopped for the second time that day. Emma was bent forwards over the stainless steel bench, underpants around her ankles, her dress bunched up high around her back, and Jeff was wildly thrusting into her from behind, his own trousers around his feet and both of them with eyes screwed shut in ecstasy, oblivious to the fact I stood in the doorway.

What made me freeze right there on the spot? I don't know. I do remember watching in a dream, as Jeff's bare backside moved while he hammered into her, and I remember her voice rising above the mumbles, turning into clear encouragement for Jeff to continue. I'm thankful I don't remember her words, because I'm sure they'd haunt me more than that image of the two of them, which seared itself into my brain.

At some point I must have backed away. The lottery news was long forgotten. I had to go back to the car; I had to call someone, I had to do something, I had to cancel the wedding, oh god what do I do? Stumbling down the back stairs, I could hear her screaming now. And as I walked under the kitchen window I heard Jeff and the three words I knew oh-so-well from our own bedroom. YES, BABY, YES at the top of his voice, that phrase always marked his climax, and here he was, using it with her.

There was vomit in front of me in the grass, just inches from my face where I was bent over. I think it must have been mine. I've no idea how I wasn't run over as I made my way back to the car. But there was a water bottle there and I washed out my mouth, replacing the lid to the vessel in a daze. I clutched the phone and wondered what to do next. And the next thing I remembered was closing the door of our apartment behind me at 5am, shoving the last of my belongings into the car and starting the engine.

I didn't bother to call a soul. My phone rang all morning with people looking for me. Text messages began appearing, asking why I wasn't picking up the phone. As the day wore on they realised that I still hadn't made it to Emma's place to get dressed, and my hairdressing appointment must be lasting so long that I'd soon be late for my own wedding. Messages changed from alarm to realisation, once they found my ransacked apartment and all my things gone.

And I still didn't want to speak to anyone. I didn't cancel a thing. All that money wasted and I couldn't care less. I looked at my lottery ticket and just let all the wedding plans fall apart as the hours ticked by.

Should I have told everyone why I didn't show up? Should I have shamed the two of them in public? I had thought about how that would pan out. I pictured the guests waiting for me to walk the aisle. I imagined their horrified faces as I announced their affair, recounted what I had witnessed, and proclaimed their duplicity. I knew the ridicule and hatred Emma and Jeff would feel from everyone in that hall. But then I realised the feelings the guests would direct at me. Pity. Pure, disgusting and filthy pity, gained only because those two revolting people treated me this way. And so I stared at the phone, and finally at midnight, with everything long over, I sent a text message to my mother.

"I'm sorry Mum, and I can't talk about it just now. I just couldn't marry him. There's someone else."

I switched off the phone. Let them think it's me who was seeing someone else. I didn't care.

I was collecting four million dollars on Monday, and Jeff wasn't getting a cent.

03 April, 2011

Dear Amazon: You're a Let-Down.

This weeks' research has led me to discover a few things. Firstly, I don't do enough Finnish study. But secondly, Amazon is a big, fat, outdated disappointment. Kindle, you too.

Let's imagine I had something worth publishing in my hot little hands right now. I could e-book it (yes it will be a lot of fiddly formatting, but I'm capable if I spend enough time, effort and energy swearing sweating). Now what would I do with it? Let's suppose for a moment I stick with electronic - we can save the annoyance of handling physical books for later.

I can (and have) sold e-books before on a website. Easy-peasy, person pays their (whatever) PayPal amount and in return gets a link to download my e-book. This isn't an ideal setup, because nothing really stops them sharing out the location of the file. I can remedy that somewhat by monitoring it and moving the link location now and then, or I can pay for a virtual store ($5 a month, protects the link location). But it would kinda work. Messily. I'd then have to do the entire amount of marketing myself, and nobody is ever going to stumble onto my e-book while looking at other people's e-books.

I could sell it via eBay, and also lose the eBay fees in the ride (plus the PayPal fees). Additionally, like the first option, very few people would find my book by accident while browsing books to buy.

Both have an added fun part - withdrawing the funds. I could spend the PayPal funds on something else that ships to Finland (almost never possible). Or, I still have an Aussie bank account, and could withdraw it to there. And then... not be able to really do much with that money. Perhaps spend it on Australian websites occasionally, for gifts to family.

So, Amazon's Kindle store should be the obvious choice right??? I can get seen all over the world. People trust Amazon. No messing with the link location and I could get great exposure. Buyers might take a chance on me if the price is right. Amazon handle all the money and just pay me a check.

Er - there's the problem. Check-only. Notice I did not write cheque but check, because they would ONLY pay out in US-currency. Or direct-deposit into a US-bank account.

And what (the fuck), pray tell, am I supposed to do with a bloody CHECK? Finnish banks will look at me like I've got two heads and suggest I use it as toilet paper - they phased them out here twenty-five years ago, back when Abraham Lincoln was a child. If I get it sent to my mother in Australia, she can go to the trouble to park, walk into a bank branch, cash it over the counter into my account, for a $25 currency-change fee each time. Twenty-Five-Freakin'-Bucks. That's quite a hit to take assuming I even sell enough books, and even after Kindle's cruel commission is bitten out.

What's doing, Amazon? You're quite happy to take my money from anywhere in the world, and sell me an e-book anywhere in the world. Why the hell are you conveniently unwilling pay me? I already have to prove my tax status to you... I have no problem proving nationalities and my registered address to you either, if you're just concerned I might cheat you out of US taxes. In fact, hell, take out the tax just in case. It's not that bloody hard to route money to an overseas bank. I know it, because I've sent money to Sweden from here. You know it too, because you can pay Canadians directly.

Thoroughly and utterly disgusted.

01 April, 2011


Feeling uncomfortable about the chapter draft below. I don't like the c-word (in fact I don't like gratuitous use of swear words in ANY novel when they don't serve a purpose). I'm feeling the need to try and explain myself. The words there are kinda necessary for this reason: the novel's initial setting is a small country town. I spent several years living in one and Eleni's home life is an amalgamation of several families I actually know. This kind of language used around children is normal. One young woman I know simply can't understand what's wrong with a toddler telling people to f*** off - or call people c***s. Maybe I'm just a square! But to me it's dirty and distasteful for those words to come out of a child's mouth.

So now I'm plagued with doubt. The first chapter is supposed to be shocking. But is it too shocking? Will it turn readers off and make them close the book? Ponder.

30 March, 2011

New Book Draft, Chapter 1

(random notes: this section is supposed to tell you the basics about Eleni's home life and something of the culture she lives in. I am *really* quite curious to hear from readers how effective that is. If you would be kind enough to leave comments and tell me what kind of girl you think Eleni is, what her life might be like and what her relationships with the others are like, and especially what Eleni might be thinking, *please* *please* *please* do tell. I could have simply written exactly what Eleni thought about different things, but I have tried to help readers imagine for themselves and it's hard to tell if works.

Also - Naughty Word Warning. Contains explicit language. If you think you might be offended, skip this post.

Thanks!   -- Elisa)

Chapter 1

Eleni was happy.

The girl sat in front of the blaring tv, feet splayed wide on the dirty carpet, eyes glazed over at the cartoon in the glass. Her mother was cooking something in the sweltering kitchen, slamming cupboards and swearing, the whoosh of water in the sink, the fisssk of another beer can opening. A bedraggled man was pawing his way through the debris heaped on the coffee table, looking for a cigarette lighter and angrily kicking each item that fell from a precarious pile. Ting, clonk, objects hit the opposite wall, leaving small marks on the grubby wallpaper. Finally giving up, he strode into the kitchen. On the tv, credits rolled and the ad-break began, breaking Eleni's hypnotic gaze and making her more aware of the adults nearby.

She listened as the man foolishly entered her mother's domain. Seconds later her mother was yelling.

"WELL! Don't eat it then, ya silly cunt! Get your own feed! That other slut will look after ya, fuck off back to her place, deadshit!" Thud, cupboards slamming again, the jank of a stirring spoon hitting the saucepan. Muttered conversation too low for Eleni to hear. And then more forcefully, "Get out. Don't come back."

His steel-capped boots clomped out the front screen door, which swung closed again in his angry wake.

Eleni's mother placed a pink plastic bowl in front of her. Sausages, mashed potato, and baked beans enticed her, and they smelled delicious. Fridays were always the best. Mum got paid and dinner was the best!

Eleni was happy.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Within minutes of her mother hanging up the phone, a small blonde woman had arrived, three children in tow. They bounced around the living room, screaming, while Eleni continued to shovel potato into her mouth with a teaspoon. The blonde's swollen belly stuck out from beneath a cropped t-shirt emblazoned 'Grab My Ass'.

Eleni's mother raised her voice over the melee. The bedraggled kids found floorspace and accepted their plastic bowls, finally quieting enough for the adults to carry a conversation at normal volume. "So yeah Jade, I told him to get the fuck out of my house..."

Jade blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke and rested a beer on her belly with her other hand. "Good girl. God, wish I could tell my dumbshit to fuck off, but it's his house. And I've only got three weeks to go anyway so I'm not moving now. What are you gonna do about yours? You gonna try and get rid of it?"

From the floor beside her, Eleni looked up at her mother, who was nodding agreement. "I don't need another kid. And that dickhead's bloody useless. Bastard reckons he hasn't got any money for the appointment. I got half the money now, next pay I'll have enough. But I'm fucked, hey. Too many weeks. Cunt doctor said they won't do it by then, it'll be too late."

Eleni took her bowl out to the kitchen, thinking about the cunt doctors, and the bastards who wouldn't pay for abortions, and the dumbshits who wouldn't fuck off.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

In the morning Eleni woke up to her bed-mate's giggling. Both girls were covered in sweat, while the hum of insects and the smell of mown grass wafted in through the open window. They sat up, squinting in the bright sunlight and chatting to each other about playing under the garden hose. As they entered the kitchen, the two boys were squabbling over cereal.

Eleni poured some into the blue plastic bowl, sloshed milk in, and bent her ear closer, in order to hear the crackling.

From across the table, the smallest kid watched in fascination, taking in Eleni's look of excitement and wondering what she could hear. He leaned his head too close and got cold, wet cereal all over his ear and cheek. 

Three kids laughing, one crying, and Jade shuffling in hungover, with knots in her hair and a bleary expression on her face. The water gurgled into the kettle and she tossed a damp dishcloth in her son's direction. "Wipe your head, and then you little shits can get outside and play."

Chocolate cereal, hot days and getting wet in the sprinkler. That's what great weekends were made of.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

On Monday afternoon Jade's kids tumbled into the house. Eleni's mother set out a few hours' supply of junk food and told the four kids to stay inside until the adults got back at dinnertime. HA! Eleni knew that 'dinnertime' might be tomorrow morning. Cool! Staying up late was the best!

But when Jade's car finally arrived back in the driveway at 2am, two police cars followed and Eleni's mother was nowhere to be seen. The slamming of car doors had woken the children and they peered out the bedroom window at the flashing red and blue lights. Officers huddled with Jade for a moment and they whispered together. Eleni tried studying Jade's face in the glow from the streetlight, trying to figure out what was going on. Normal normal, mouth and eyes smeared after an ordinary night at the pub. Eleni guessed that Jade would take them all to school in the morning, like the last time her mother got locked up. Normal normal.

But nothing was normal.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** 

typety type type type

I have another blog which has sat around for a while as nothing else but a placeholder. It was used a few times for editorials and ads, but I suppose it should now be put to some use. I've been reading some of the works on Authonomy, and feeling guilty that I haven't made a proper effort myself to put some words together. In particular I read a very harrowing piece that touched on child abuse - its story is so captivating, even though it needed a lot of work. I've had a novel outline floating around for some time and struggled to see how a delicate subject matter would actually *not* scare readers off, but if that author's story can attract so many positive reviews (and not in a polished form) than perhaps my own effort might succeed at it. Perhaps.

The difficulty I'll have won't be in the storytelling. The problem will be in building the characters. Anyone can retell an event. It's harder to describe feelings. Ponder.

I may just post a few bits here, see if anyone's interested... Authonomy requires 10,000 words before I can even post it (ew).

Four corners of a 60-minute current affair today, tonight, tomorrow and next week

Oh how the answer could be so simple... or so dreadfully complicated, depending on whom you ask.

Let's get one thing straight: When it comes to commerical channels, the main reason these programs exist is to make you watch them. Advertising's big dollars rule the world. The shows on government-funded channels at least have a different reason for being: mainly, because viewers are interested to see them. Sure, someone will cry altruism. All those senationalist journalists pretend they're in the business because they want to do the best thing, that most noble of jobs, telling the people. From the goodness of their hearts. Oh please. This here is for them - it's the world's tiniest violin.

Watching current affairs programs makes me think of car accidents. Most of us don't actually want to look at twisted metal, the Jaws of Life, ambulances and bodies/belongings strewn across a highway in the wake of an unidentifiable people-mover. Those things are all scary and nasty. But we still rubberneck and stare every single time, don't we? Don't we? And for what?

So, are we doing the same when we glue our butts to the sofa and stare at the idiot box to mindlessly absorb Today Corners and oooh-aaaah at that stupid woman/grandfather/teacher/shop doing dumb things? Or are we just satisfying a lust for becoming a regular busybody Mrs Mangel?


Occasionally they have some program for a "good" cause. That (school/hospital/home) which (disappeared/burned down/fell apart) and how the (owner/criminal/government) won't (fix/replace/buy) it. And here's how you can help by donating: just phone 1-800-MAKE-EVERYTHING-BETTERER. In theory, raising awareness gets action happening, and sometimes it does. The problem is that the journos have that same, exact, imitiation sympathetic "sad tv" look on their faces whether they're talking about the horrible three cent price increase on bubblegum, or the five hundred people maimed by a murderous-crayon-wielder on a rampage.

It leaves me with an empty feeling. What was on 60-affairs-current-line last week? Last month? Can't bloody remember? Sounds about right. Vapid, meaningless "entertainment" that still holds our attention with as much pull as Aqua's Barbie Girl played on the radio (but without the humour).

I heart the bus

I just spent a very relaxing 20 minutes travelling across town, on the metro from Helsinki's central train station. The metro was a two minute walk from my train. I used the same ticket at no extra charge. Metros arrive every four minutes; they're clean, safe, quiet and on time. When I got out, I was at a large shopping centre and bus interchange (I'm in the library next door now, and when I leave here I'll go straight to my class, because the high school is just on the other side of the public car park).

I love public transport. Did I love it in Sydney? Yes and no... and I can understand why a lot of people there just find it too inconvenient to bother. Unfortunately changing services in Sydney isn't quite so seamless. But there are also a LOT of people in Sydney for whom public transport is practical, timely, and easy. So why are there still so few people using it?

Be honest, car users: you enjoy walking less than 20 metres in your day. Car in your driveway, and car at your workplace. Mmmm, car. Shiny car, shiny. Hey, it's fair enough. I loved driving when I owned a car in Australia. I loved the freedom it afforded - I could get in it, and I could go ANYWHERE. There are roads going everywhere. There's not a train station or a bus at every place that I wanted to go. Cars made it all easier.

But there's a cost. It's probably far more expensive than people realise. Have you heard this one before: "Well our family 'needs' two cars, and the train to work costs more than the petrol." Um yes... but you've left out a huge chunk of your car costs, honey. We could also add up the price of registration and insurance (now it's looking more like $70 a week, not $45). So every trip to work she drives is $15. Plus tolls. But wait, there's more. Oil, tyres, servicing, road service membership. Parking. Fines. And a car worth $25,000 is losing about $75 every week in value of the car itself.

Seriously? Did you ever think about it like that? Owning and driving your new car to work might be costing you $165 a week - or more. Now, does it still look more expensive than catching the train? If you had to physically pull thirty bucks out of your wallet every time you sat down in the driver's seat, would the train fare of $5.00 each way still seem like too much money?

But then there's the TIME. It takes too LONG. Waaaaah. Well yes. It might take a little longer to train it. But use your thinking caps: surely you've got something you could do. Use that hour to call your friends for your weekly phone catchup (instead of after dinner). Or use your smart phone to Facebook (instead of on the weekend). Or watch a movie on your iPad. Or read your work emails on your laptop (instead of staying late after work). Or write for our blog.

It takes organisation. Leaving on time; allowing enough time for connections; bringing your "homework" for the trip. Organisation clashes with our lazy instant lifestyles, doesn't it? But it's funny how fast you can adapt when you need to. You don't sit there and cry about the fact that you've run out of milk - you just do what needs to be done - you go get more. Now that I don't own car, I don't sit there and think, "I wish I had a car!" every time I need to go out somewhere. I just do what needs to be done. So these days when I go out, all I think about is what time the train or bus will arrive and what I need to take with me.

It's really not that hard. "Hard" isn't the reason more people don't use public transport. "Lazy" is.

I challenge you to try it for a week. Listen to your iPod, watch the scenery, or close your eyes and relax, and think about the extra coins in your wallet.

The Payment Rant...

In Australia I was "one of those" annoying smug bitches who didn't carry cash ANYWHERE. All my bills were paid online. AND I'll have you know they were scheduled IN ADVANCE whenever savings levels permitted. It was stupidly satisfying to log into my trusty Online Banking and see a nice tidy list of what was coming out next, how much, and when it would be automatically transferred. No stupid queues at the post office, no carrying around embarrassing phone bills or hideously high electricity accounts, no fiddling with cheques, stuffing of envelopes or traipsing to the post box, and definitely no licking of stamps (can you imagine if the stamp had someone disgustingly ugly on it? And you had to lick the backside? Ewwww....)

When it came time to pay my council rates in Australia, I was just furious. The stupid council was back in the dark ages and only allowed payment by cash in person, or by sending a cheque. Cheque - cheque - seriously? What is this, 1955? Who the hell uses such an antiquated system like handwriting and a signature, in this day and age? Isn't that just asking for forgery and emptying of bank account, via some enterprising thief with an eraser and a few extra zeroes?

I can't jam a 20 euro note into my disk drive to buy that new computer game that looks cool. I can't magic overnight presents to family in Australia via a few notes in my purse. There's no practical way to convert that huge jar of loose coins into becoming a mortgage repayment. But I can buy a drink from a machine, pay for a bus fare, grab a movie ticket, or check in for a flight, all using cards - indeed I could do all these things simply with an old and crappy mobile phone, if I wanted to. No smartphone required.

So why do so many of us still insist on whipping out cash, when we have had electronic payment systems a while now? The fact that some are so old shouldn't stop the newer ones from being used - if anything, the recent "skimming" events in Australia should serve to highlight just how many people, and businesses, have failed to keep up with new technologies like chip & pin, rather than the lame old magnetic swipe (now an ancient 51 years old!!!). We're consumers, people: stand up and demand these businesses give your money more respect. And I don't buy the "privacy" argument. They don't have the right to record your photo and personal details when you hand over cash. Why let them by card? There's a Privacy Act in Australia, people: apart from marketing trends such as how many hamburgers were sold in your suburb last Tuesday, they can't, and don't keep track of you without your permission. If you have objections to what they do track, then rather than switching to cash, stop handing over that "rewards" card before you pay. That's where they are recording personal info about your shopping habits.

These days, I really dislike it when I must carry cash for something. First I have to worry whether there's enough cash in my wallet. If there's enough, I worry it will be stolen or lost. I simply don't like carrying it - it feels "unsafe". If my wallet goes AWOL, I can cancel a card. I can't cancel a cash.

And my view has been strengthened by living amongst arguably the most tech-savvy population in the world (Finland). Finns of all ages learn do pay online as easily as sending email. Most of them pay by EFTPOS as the norm. I no longer find it amazing that cashless is normal, and I get a rude shock each time I remember that Australians often have no option. It's 2011. Almost every household in Australia has a computer; technology covers the entire globe. Isn't it time we moved away from silly old round tokens and bits of paper?

One last request: If public toilets here in Finland can't be made free, I'd like them to invent a fast and easy card system please. I don't wanna have to jangle just to jingle.

27 March, 2011

It's Sunday ALREADY.

Well technically we're only a few hours in, but anyway - as usual, my piece in the group blog is due in a day's time and I haven't a clue what to write. Funny, I had no problem putting together three fiction pieces for another blog today, just no dice having to write an essay.

Which brings me to another point. I was merrily reading this piece from Cracked.com and briefly, at the end of the article, it mentioned an author named Amanda Hocking. No need to look her up - she has sold several million dollars' worth of fiction as ebooks on Amazon, and now picked up a publisher deal.

I don't want a million dollars, particularly - I wouldn't turn it down, mind you, but I don't need it. I'd be happy just to make some sort of decent money out of what I write. I've said before that I occasionally turn out some vaguely good material, stuff that I conceitedly feel is good enough to publish (and in fact, the editors of several magazines have agreed with me, and not just on the Letters page of the Sydney Morning Herald, either). My writings earnings are currently well into the three figures in total, but the largest sum I have ever earned from a single piece was thirty-six bucks.

Is it greedy to wish that one day I'd crack the hundred dollar mark for a short story? I don't think so. Or the thousand mark, if I one day get the patience to finish a book? My current record holder is only an article, and only a few hours' work, but still fairly poorly paid, if we compare it with working on a checkout.

I have three-quarters of a book completed. It probably has enough content already, with some polish and editing required to finish the product. I wonder if anyone would buy it. I wonder how much self-promotion I'd need to do... I wonder if I could do justice to cover artwork, and formatting, and all manner of self-publishing minutiae. There must be a thousand web pages out there with step-by-step guides. But there also must be a thousand other writers who've learned about Amanda Hocking and want to get rich.


16 March, 2011

Wouldn't it be nice...

...to have a MEMORY, that is? I just *know* I used something very effective to force this page to dance with Google to get pages indexed (quickly, and effectively, I might add, since it's appearing third when I search for a whole sentence from this blog, without quotes). But for the life of me I can't remember how I did that. And it would be a very very handy thing to use on the group blog, since it doesn't seem to be appearing in Google searches.


13 March, 2011

Group Blogging

So it's my turn to choose the topic this week... and I'm absolutely flummoxed. There are things to write about (of course), but I'd quite like to come up with an idea that might elicit contributions on both sides of a debate. The first week was a brilliant subject - and I'm over the moon with the contributions we got, much to my surprise. However, they were all rather much on the same side of the fence, so to speak. Nobody actually thinks attraction is a choice akin to selecting the colour of your new iPod case in the dollar store.

Never mind that, but there's another deadline 24 hours earlier. Namely, I haven't written my piece for the cash vs card topic. My first reaction was only to approach it as a convenience thing; but there are security issues and privacy issues and argh. I'm in danger of turning it into a massively boring piece. Where's the fun in reading a massively long piece of facts?

I need to discover some sort of humour in the subject. Fast.

07 March, 2011

Sexuality - Choice or Hardwired?

One or the other. Is it actually this simple? I'm not so sure. There's evidence for both sides of the debate, and that's even if we think sexuality is that black and white.

Natural selection would seem to prove that it can't be hardwired. After all, wouldn't the homosexual "genes" have bred themselves out of existence? Gay couples don't produce children by natural means.

But what about bisexual people? And what about women and their careers? In many cultures, the only real work available for an unmarried woman was to become a prostitute. Perhaps then, bisexual people and lesbian prostitutes have passed down some "gay" gene.

If this were true, wouldn't it be a difficult gene to avoid? Yet most children of gay parents aren't gay. Nor the grandchildren... scientists surely would have identified a pattern of inheritance by now, if it existed. They have traced far more elusive "conditions".

There is another kind of hardwire to consider. Perhaps all gay people have a gene mutation. I'm sure a lot of gay people would get a good laugh out of that - but our knowledge of genes so far seems to suggest that being gay is far too common to be a mutation. And what of the people who bat for both teams? Are they just partial mutants? (And isn't that a "nice" concept...)

So, we're left with choice. But, really? Wouldn't we have somewhere along the way figured out why gay people choose to be gay? What sort of idiot would choose to be shunned by society, spat on, teased mercilessly, treated as an outcast, and so on? Gay people certainly aren't the dregs of the intelligence pool; I'm yet to see any evidence that they could all be so stupid.

Let's assume there are people who don't see any bad side to "choosing" homosexuality. Imagine you were walking down the street and saw the most perfect, attractive human being that ever graced this earth. Everything about them is exactly what you like; nothing is what you don't; a complete image of your wildest dreams come true. Do you think you could choose not to like them? To not find them attractive? Is there anything that anyone could say to you to change what you feel? Or does attraction usually just happen without much control? Who, seriously, can turn to the complete opposite, and convince themselves to drool? Anyone? If you hate anchovies, will they start to smell delicious if you sniff them long enough?

So maybe we're being too exact, and we should ask whether it's in the upbringing. Not so much a choice, but an influence. It's true that some gay people find it "easier" to embrace who they are, thanks to a supportive family. But it's a stretch to think that it could be upbringing alone. Especially considering there are twins in this world with different orientations. And there are enough of them out there to conclude that the parents probably aren't "turning" their kids gay.

What about morality? Well, morals change according to culture, too. There's nothing wrong with cannibalism in some cultures, after all. It's certainly true that the Christian bible denounces homosexuality, but it's also true that children raised Christian still sometimes turn out to be gay - did the parents fail in their teachings? Unlikely, when they usually have hetero children too.

It is such a complex discussion, and it branches in so many directions. Nobody can hope to cover every facet in one post, or we'd be here for a decade. And I've even left a glaring chunk completely out. There are some of us who wonder why anyone has to be defined by a gender in the first place. Who don't feel that any particular gender even matters. Inevitably we all have parts of us defined by our pants - since we all grew up in some kind of society - but why should we? I don't find people physically attractive based on gender. I married my husband because I love him, and I love him for his intellect. So what am I? I have to use the label "bisexual" because people understand it, but I daresay "omnisexual" is a better word - when it comes to whether people possess a Y chromosome, I simply don't care.

Personally - and not particularly scientifically - I believe it's a combination of All Of The Above. I think it's far too simplistic to make a one-or-the-other call. I can appreciate that a person's experiences of the world influence their attractions. And I can also appreciate that all of us are individuals with different tastes and desires which (who knows) might simply be differences in how our brains are structured. After all, none of us thinks in exactly the same way as the next person.


Image: Nikki Kaye

06 March, 2011

Tough Crowd.

I just wrote my first piece for a new group blog. Gotta say, it was really quite a challenge! And not merely because of the controversial subject matter, either. This weeks' topic is "Sexuality - Choice or Hardwired - Discuss". 

What I found difficult was to temper what I had to say. In this blog here, I answer to nobody. If you don't like what I have to say, well, you just click and move on elsewhere, don't you? I have creative freedom of expression.

I have that in the group blog, to a certain degree. But I'm far more conscious of other peoples' feelings. Mostly, I worry about the other contributors' feelings. So the piece I just wrote lacks a certain... hmm... it lacks the passion I might put into a no-apologies piece. It's a little too careful and politically-correct.

But I still think it was worth writing, and I still think it's worthwhile to write "polite" pieces. It's an exercise, and it was more difficult, so it should stretch me, shouldn't it? Shouldn't it? I don't know... I hope so...

27 February, 2011

What in Good Gravy is a "KIVA" ???

Kiva is essentially a charity, but it doesn't work by donations. It took me a long time to get my head around how it works. I must say, the info on the website can be COMPLETELY confusing as well. Sooo... here's my simplified version.
People in developing countries need a hand. They ask for a loan - perhaps to buy seeds. Ordinary people like us lend the money. The needy people buy their seeds, grow them, then sell the grain for a profit. Then those people repay the money. Next, we cheer that we got to help someone - for FREE. Sound good?
Kiva, of course, is the site that manages all these loans and repayments, along with "field partners" who meet the borrowers and choose who needs the loans. It is *crazy* exciting to see it being paid back. It's a feelgood you don't get by donating to most charities - because with Kiva you actually get to see what the person did with the loan. And your money has helped someone for free, AND you can then loan it again, to someone else.
Here's a pic of who I loaned to.

This group of ladies is from Ecuador. They all have different reasons for wanting the loan, but here's a couple of examples: one is a single mother studying to become a surgeon, who sells Avon to help support herself. The loan money is helping with her university costs. Another one is a married mum of 4 who is using the money to buy pigs to raise. She hopes raising pigs will one day help her buy a car.

Along with another 106 people, I put in my $25 loan three months ago, and they group have paid back $15.50 so far in regular repayments. What's more, if any of these woman can't pay back their share, all the others in the group step in to pay it back. That's the part that made me confident to go ahead with my loan.

It really isn't a huge amount of money to those of us with a roof over our heads. Not much at all. It would be a lot to donate to a regular charity I suppose - but I would never see that cash again, and probably never know if it really helped anyone. And I certainly couldn't donate it over and over again either. This is why I love Kiva. It will only be a few more weeks until I have the entire $25 back and then I can choose another person to help. Or, if I didn't want that, I could even withdraw it back into my PayPal. it cost me nothing, right? *shrug* But... I am just ITCHING to see the rest come back so I can choose who to loan to next. It's more fun than shopping. Go and have a look.

PS. The Finnish word "kiva" means something's good or nice.

24 February, 2011

16 things in 16 minutes

1. In 1948, it took sixteen minutes for Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion to read the scroll of the Establishment of the State, declaring the country of Israel.

2. A 2010 study by the University of Southern California found that normal-weight children average sixteen minutes more physical activity per day than their obese peers.

3. The space shuttle Columbia was just sixteen minutes from touchdown 0n 1st Feburary, 2003, when it exploded.

4. A child is injured every sixteen minutes on UK roads.

5. Sixteen minutes is the time it took for fire to completely destroy Christchurch's Ballantyne Department Store in 1947.

6. Helsinki University's Finnish 2 course was completely full just sixteen minutes after enrolments opened on 4th January 2011.

7. Someone commits suicide in the USA every sixteen minutes.

8. A 2008 presidential debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton lasted ninety minutes, including sixteen minutes discussing health care.

9. During Detroit's 2009 Marathon, three people died, all within sixteen minutes.

10. The world's second-tallest of its kind, Tokyo's Giant Sky Wheel advertises its ride as "sixteen minute memories".

11. The International Debate Education Association allows sixteen minutes' preparation time per team, during debates.

12. The bus between Prague's Ruzyně airport and the Zličín metro station takes sixteen minutes.

13. A tsunami warning was issued sixteen minutes after a 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Samoa in 2009, leaving people just eight minutes to evacuate.

14. The Avatar Special Edition DVD includes sixteen minutes of additional footage.

15. An unpatched, unprotected Windows XP install will be compromised within sixteen minutes of connecting to the internet.

16. Michael Jackson's video clip for "Bad" runs for sixteen minutes and was directed by Martin Scorcese.

22 February, 2011

Poor Christchurch :(

I'm just sad for poor New Zealand right now - they were hit today by what's being termed an "aftershock" to September's earthquake. Unfortunately this one was closer to the surface and is therefore more destructive.

These pictures are courtesy of Finland's Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.


...that some of the elements of my blog (namely, small gifs) are now broken, leaving white chunks around the place. This means I have to redo the template completely. Grrrr.