Monthly Archives: July 2012

Olympics 2020

One day, as we sat in a cafe half-way through a road-trip, my Dad, my sister and I started discussing where the 2020 Olympics should be held. I’m not sure how we got started on that topic — I was almost certainly the culprit — but in the pent-up expectation that precedes an Olympics, it is not surprising that we discussed such things.

Choosing a location for the 2020 games, you must understand, is no small responsibility, because it is the first Olympics that I might have acquaintances competing in! I know it is far too early to predict anything with any confidence, but I think fellow Canberra resident, Joshua Torley, runs as good a chance as any (look out for him in the 10 000 metres or the Marathon). And a girl I used to train with, if she improves significantly, might have a chance in the Pentathlon or Heptathlon. Once we get to 2024, of course, there will be more potential candidates.

As I discussed with family members, it was impressed upon me that Rio De Janeiro in 2016 will be the first Olympics in South America. In fact even Asia, despite its massive population, has hosted only 3 Olympics (Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing) — and Africa has not hosted any Olympics at all!

So it seemed to me that the 2020 Olympics should be held in Asia or Africa. Naturally, my thoughts went to cities near where I live. My first thought was Bangkok, and my second was Ho Chi Minh City. Neither would be a stellar location, but they are possibilities. Cambodia is clearly not suitable. Even if the country was developed enough, a good chunk of the games’ budget would inevitably go towards a new Lexus for the son of the Minister for Sport’s third cousin. This might not be helpful.

Not having thought of any great locations close to home, my thoughts wondered to Africa. But the only real candidate there is Johannesburg: most of the countries in Africa are rather too poor to host an Olympics. The other big cities I could think of (Cairo, Lagos, Addis Ababa…) probably won’t be up to the challenge.

Then I thought of Kuala Lumpur! This city fits most of the boxes: it’s in Asia, it is reasonably well developed, it has a decent population (although it isn’t super big like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh), and it is fairly close to home. Of course Malaysia is not much of a sporting nation (which could be a slight drawback), but I think it is a legitimate option.

This is all just my speculation, and I don’t know what countries are looking to bid for the 2020 Olympics. Indeed, genuine enlightenment was not the purpose — the speculation was an end in itself. We humans (or perhaps I should speak for myself) enjoy speculating on topics about which we have little knowledge, even though it would be wiser to check Wikipedia (although I probably will in the end — after posting this).

I was thinking of putting in a poll here to see what city my readers would choose, but there are far too many potential cities to make a poll practical. So please merely leave a comment (unless you have no opinion).

Advertisements

Christopher Paolini and the Balloon Man

I was sitting with my feet up, reading a school book and trying to shut out the sound of children’s programs on the TV we have borrowed to watch the Olympics on, when I heard something that caused me to scoot round in front of the TV. I caught the name “Christopher Paolini”. What was Paolini doing on ABC3? And if he was on TV, I definitely wanted to catch a glimpse of him. Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle might not be my all-time favourite series, but the fact that he started it when he was fifteen – my age – means that I have a lot of respect for that guy.

I soon saw that the show would not be one to command my respect, however. There were two hosts. One was a man with so many balloons stuck on to him that although he wasn’t a fat man, if he had a red cloak covering the balloons, he could pass for Father Christmas. The other was a goofy, excitable young lady. She was interviewing Christopher Paolini, who was trying to look at home with these strange people in their strange studio.

At first they were questioning him in a fairly conventional interview style. They asked him for a summary of Eragon, and he gave it in three or four sentences. Then they asked him what it was like having his book turned into a film, which was a good question actually: if it was me, I don’t know whether the glory of having a movie made of my book, or the shame of having my book so blatantly mutilated, would be greater. He may have been merely trying to be polite, but Paolini seemed to find the glory greater. He did say it was “really weird”, but that was because it was mind-blowing having professional actors act out his 15 year old day-dreams.

That was when the interview started to go wonky. They made Paolini take a quiz on his own book (?!). This was probably just to acquaint viewers with the Inheritance Cycle, but it seemed a bit weird.

“Eragon’s dragon’s name was Sapphira.” said the lady.

“True!” proclaimed Paolini.

“Correct!” And in her excitement at this profound response, she proceeded to pop two of the balloons on the wonkily dressed man. One ballon was merely full of air, but the other contained some slimy liquid which splattered all over him.

“Was the landscape in Alagaesia inspired by where you grew up in Montana?” (or something like that, I forget the details)

“True!”

“Correct!” More splattered balloons.

“Eragon was going to be called Justin Bieber, but then the real one came along, so you were forced to change his name to Eragon.”

“False!”

“Correct!” By now the poor balloon man was fairly soaked with yellowy-green slime.

“Christopher!” she said, “Would you like to see an example of Australian television?”

“Sure” obliged Christopher diplomatically.

“Well look over there, ABC3!” she yelled, (the program which was screening this show).

How embarrassing. One of the great geniuses of the modern generation, and they had to go and force-feed him the opinion that Australians are a bunch of buffoons.

Having said that Paolini is a genius of the modern generation, his accent is not what I imagine for great fantasy writers and wise characters. People who have this accent include [professor] Diggory Kettleburn, Gandalf, and Albus Dumbledore…  but Paolini doesn’t have it at all. He has a thoroughly American accent and sounds more like a scientist.

But it doesn’t matter how someone talks! As I said before, even though the Inheritance Cycle isn’t my favourite series (I haven’t even read book 4, and I probably won’t, as so many people have said it was disappointing), it is still a great contribution to modern literature, and it came out of the mind of a 15 year old! So I have a lot of respect for Christopher Paolini. And now he will probably think Australia is a country-ful of buffoons. Ah well.

A Few Quick Words on The Lightning Thief

For a little while now, I have been wanting to read the Percy Jackson series and see if it is what it’s made out to be. Now that I’ve read The Lightning Thief, I should probably say a word about what I thought of it. I don’t feel like writing a full-blown review at the moment, but a few thoughts mightn’t go astray.

In some respects, the book actually reminded me of Harry Potter. Percy, like Harry, is not normal: one is a demigod, the other a wizard — but both spent their early years thinking they were normal and wondering why supernatural things always happened to them accidentally. Both were bullied in the normal world and were never really happy there. Both of them, while brave and kind-hearted, have a slight rebellious flair. Both of them are good fighters and seem to have good luck.

The book has other similarities to Harry Potter. There is another trio of friends: Harry, Ron and Hermione is replaced with Percy, Annabeth and Grover. The world of the gods is very much a modern world of the gods — it mirrors today’s society — in very much the same way as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. A major difference is that Harry Potter stays at Hogwarts (like Camp Half-Blood?) while Percy treks across America. The climax is also different to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in make up, but there are characters which remind me, in some ways, of Snape, Quirrel, and Voldemort. And then, of course, there is the ubiquitous element of the villain telling the protagonist all his secrets before he kills him…

I don’t know think I liked The Lightning Thief quite as much as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone though. The world of the Greek gods, while still brilliantly put together, doesn’t captivate me as much as the wizarding world, with Quidditch, interesting school subjects, and a Ministry for Magic. I think it is a very good idea, and reasonably well executed, but perhaps not as tremendous idea and as tremendously well executed as Harry Potter. There are a few little things that put me off very slightly as well. For example Percy’s mother works at a sweetshop: I am not a big fan of most candy (with the exception of chocolate) so to me doesn’t really seem to fit her personality (I mean such a lovely lady always comes home with a bag of sticky, tooth-rotting stuff for Percy?). Now if she worked in a bakery and came home with all manner of lovely baked goods, that would be different…

So, I liked The Lightning Thief; I liked the way humorous way Rick Riordan deals with Greek gods in modern times; I liked the exciting adventure — but it’s not quite my new favourite book. I’m definitely glad I read it though, and hopefully I’ll get to read a few more in the series in the next couple of months. It probably wasn’t helpful to compare it so much to Harry Potter because they are different series by different authors, but there were a few elements I thought I’d compare and as I wrote I kept thinking of more.

TCTW July Blog-Chain!

My Dad is colour-blind. His perception of the world (of colour at least) must be quite different to mine: it is hard for me to imagine red and green being almost indistinguishable rather than sharply contrasting. Dad’s colour-blindness has occasionally caused me to wonder whether other people perceive things the way I do. What if I see the world in a completely different light to everyone else? The topic for this month’s “Teens Can Write, Too!” blog-chain is: “How has writing affected your perception of the world?” I don’t actually think that most people perceive things in a completely different way to myself, but I’m sure we don’t all see everything exactly the same way. And even as individuals, we change; our perceptions change. How does writing change our perception?

My first thoughts on this topic were “golly, this is tough, maybe I’ll wait till next month to join the TCTW chain!” But I won’t get very far if I wimp out of anything difficult, so signed up anyway. My first half-serious thoughts were, “writing doesn’t really shape my perception of the world, reading does”. For me, writing is more of an outlet: it communicates what is already a part of me. Our perception of the world, rather, is moulded by what we read and what we are taught — what we take in.

I think my enjoyment of reading is what has made me want to contribute to the stocks of reading material. Thinking back to when I started to write may help me to understand how (if at all) it has changed my perception of the world. I learnt how to write in 2002, age 4 1/2, but it wasn’t any particular hobby of mine back then. A more relevant date might be 2007, when I wrote my first novel. It was all happening for me at that time, literary-wise: I had just started to use the Sonlight Curriculum; I was reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time; a 15 year old friend of mine was writing a novel — and reading it aloud to us every Saturday night. I was eager to join the literary community.

The first thing that changed was I perceived that writing a long novel is not easy. My first novel took me 8 months to write, but it finished up only 5000 words long. It only really had two scenes — plus a “prologue” (more of an introduction, really) and an epilogue. If you want to write a novel — as opposed to a short story — you really need to flesh out your tale and include a lot of twists and turns in the plot. My respect for authors of long books grew greatly when I wrote my first novel.

Another thing I perceived was that it is hard to write a purposeful novel. I’m not even talking about themes here, I’m talking about the fact that my characters act illogically. Why do they do stupid things? Not because they are meant to be duffer-heads (though some are, of course), but because I am one. Your novel can never be truly more amazing than yourself, because you create it. In one Sherlock Holmes episode, for example, Holmes deduces that a man is “an intellectual” (correctly in the story) because he has a big hat: not everything Holmes deduces makes perfect sense, because he is limited by Arthur Conan Doyle and Doyle’s perception of the world.

The ever-present limitations and similarities of my writing, across genres, has gradually caused me to think that each writer has their own trade-mark style. C.S Lewis is C.S Lewis: from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Space Trilogy to the Screwtape Letters. We may emulate the virtues of superior writers, but if we attempt to utterly forsake our personal touch, we will not succeed.

To move away from fiction, my opinions are shaped by the slant of what I read and hear (and also, I hope, my brain), but these opinions are defined more clearly when I put them into writing. When one writes, the facts must be ordered with some degree of logicality, or one’s arguments fall apart. Sometimes I can get away with believing something illogical — but trying to articulate what I think, and why I think it, is harder. When I put the words down on the computer screen, the keys act as a filter: they sift the fact from the fiction. They are not so effective a filter that all writing (much less all my writing) is unquestionably infallible, but it is easier to believe unexpressed untruths than stated ones.

In general I’ve ignored the stimulant questions given on the TCTW website, but there is one that I thought I’d answer: “do you find yourself to be more attentive or less?” Less. I’ve never been a terribly focussed person, but writing hasn’t helped. Lately when I start to think about some idea, instead of popping up with some non-sequitor statement (“You should sit on your clothes before you get dressed in the morning, it warms them up.”) I start planning out a blog-post in my mind. Usually these future blog-posts last about five minutes and are then abandoned, but every once in a while I persevere with one. I don’t think it has to be this way; I’m sure I don’t have to be thinking about criteria for good sequels while I’m (trying to be) reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, but that’s the way its been so far.

One last thing I’ve noticed recently: I’ve begun to analyse books as I read them. One of my aunts gave me The Deltora Quest 3 for my birthday, and as I picked it up and started reading a few pages I found myself thinking about the style of the writing. I’ve never thought much about Emily Rodda’s style before: I’ve just sat down with one of her books… and stood up again a several hours later!

Well, you’ve stuck it through to the end of this rambling, off-topic post from a novice teen-writer. Congratulations. I have even gone over the word-limit slightly; hopefully Allegra and John will forgive me. Now you can go and read something better on the same topic. Follow the blog-chain for more!

July 7–http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com–Miriam Joy Writes

July 8–http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com–Musings From Neville’s Navel

July 9–http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com–This Page Intentionally Left Blank

July 10–http://maybeteenauthor.blogspot.com–Blog of a (Maybe) Teen Author

July 11–http://scribblingbeyondthemargins.wordpress.com–Scribbling Beyond the Margins

July 12–http://lilyjenness.blogspot.com–Lily’s Notes In The Margins

July 13–http://correctingpenswelcome.wordpress.com–Comfy Sweaters, Writing and Fish

July 14–http://laughablog.wordpress.com–The Zebra Clan

July 15–http://realityisimaginary.blogspot.com–Reality Is Imaginary

July 16–http://a-myriad-of-colors.blogspot.com–A Myriad of Colors

July 17–https://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com–An MK’s Meandering Mind

July 18–http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

July 19–http://allegradavis.wordpress.com–All I Need Is A Keyboard

July 20–http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com--Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

How to Survive in Winter without Breaking the Bank

It is cold in Canberra in July. In the last couple of months, however, I have learnt a few tricks on how to survive outside the tropics. What is the point in keeping all this knowledge to myself? Here are a few tips for you to try!

Wear Socks. This is the cardinal rule of staying warm; it is amazing how much difference these dear little things make. If you are feeling cold, the first question you should ask is not “is the heater switched on?” but “am I wearing socks?”. If you’ve got short hair, beanies help a bit too, and gloves certainly make life more pleasant, but socks are the difference between comfort and squalor.

Keep Doors Shut. I’m a real pedant when it comes to doors. If one of my younger sisters leaves the door to the hall open for more than 5 seconds it gets on my nerves. Doors probably don’t make as much difference as I sometimes make out, but if you’re not in the habit of shutting doors behind you, you waste money on heating.

Live Communally. I never heat my bedroom. I do this partially to save money for my parents, partially to save electricity — because I don’t think we get all of our power from renewable sources — and mostly because I can’t be bothered. It never gets above 12 degrees (celsius) in my bedroom winter, but that doesn’t affect me except when I’m in the bedroom. I rarely spend more than an hour in my room at a time (except at night) and because of that I don’t heat my room, and because I don’t heat my room, I spend even less time there. The end result is that I am spending a lot of time in the warm living area, not much time in my frigid bedroom, and I’m probably saving (my parents) money. The draw-back, of course, is that my bedroom — a very nice place — is no longer very habitable.

Sit on your Clothes in the Morning. It is hard putting on clothes in the morning, because on July mornings, room temperature is about 8 degrees (celsius) — and so are the clothes one must put on. Some people put their clothes on oil heaters to warm them up, but… problem: I don’t use heaters. Recently I discovered an effective alternative: sit on my clothes while I read my Bible. This brings them up to skin temperature before I even put them on. Often I am too dopy when I get out of bed for my Bible to want to find clothes to sit on — especially on the days when I don’t want to wear the clothes dangling at the end of the bed and I need to forage in the wardrobe. This morning I discovered an alternative to sitting on clothes: after I finished reading my Bible, I put my clothes on my bed where I had been sitting and covered them with the quilts; I went to the toilet, washed my face, and returned — and my clothes were warm!

Exercise Regularly. Admittedly, exercising for say, three quarters of an hour, won’t keep you warm all day. But it will make a difference to a portion of the day, and it is a great spirits booster to get out of the house on a winters day, I find. (of course, venturing out in a T-shirt and shorts on a blustery July afternoon is foolhardy in itself, but hey! If you’re not that tough, wear track-pants and a jumper. DON’T exercise in a gym though, it’s boring and you’ll only waste money).

Don’t Skip Showers. Well, I suppose skipping showers might save you money, but it won’t keep you warm. Sometimes in winter I don’t feel like stripping down to get in the shower, but I find that after a (hot) shower I feel substantially warmer for about an hour. The hardest part, of course, is turning off the water. I confess my average shower length has gone from about 4  to about 8 minutes during the winter.

Know the Conditions Outside. This trick won’t help much in July, but it helps in May and early June: open the window when it’s warmer out than in. In July, even my frigid bedroom tends to stay above outside temperature, but in the less bitter months it can sometimes help to open the window around 12 and shut it around 3. But don’t if it’s windy, and REMEMBER to shut it before the great dusk temperature drop. I’ve made both mistakes before.

Think Tough. This is the final and probably most effective tip. Don’t be a sissy; allow yourself to venture out of your comfort zone a bit. In Cambodia, I put on a jumper at about 24 degrees. Here I let it get down to 17 — or even further. Once at (running) training on a very windy 8 degree day I took my jumper off before even the warm up and left it in the car with Mum where I couldn’t get it till she came to pick me up. It hurt, but if you punish your body a bit, it withstands things better in general. So think tough and don’t expect winter to be easy: it’s not.

This ended up longer than I meant it to be. I hope the tips help. With them, you should be able to stay a bit warmer in winter — cheaply. Another thing that has helped me is a woollen jumper that my Mum got in Cambodia for about $10 (usually they cost about $100). That could be another tip: look out for ridiculously cheap clothes when you travel in third world countries.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, I trust you are smart enough to adjust all dates.

Movie Review: Ice Age 4

I find it a slightly ominous sign when movies sport a “4” at the end of their title. It usually comes about when a company makes a half-successful movie: then, because they know that sequels will sell, they keep churning them out. Finally people realise that the entire series is running on the momentum of the first film. Occasionally — as in the case of Toy Story — the company manages to make each instalment very special. Usually they don’t.

As a result, I never expected to see Ice Age 4 on the big screen. Especially since I have only seen half a dozen films at the cinema in my life. It worked out that I did, however: we were staying with our grandparents for a week, and they wanted to take us to the cinema. They didn’t like the look of Brave (the latest Pixar film) — and in particular they thought it wouldn’t be appropriate for my youngest sisters. The only G-rated film that was showing was the Aristocats, but it wasn’t showing at a convenient time of day (my oldest younger sister and I breathed a guilty sigh of relief). So Ice Age 4 was really the only option. Since I don’t often see movies in the cinema, I thought I’d review it.

The movie starts with Scrat — the foolish sabre-toothed squirrel who spends eternity chasing his beloved acorn. Scrat has generated a lot of laughs over the years: my favourite was the time he died and went to heaven. He was making his way towards the paradisiacal chestnut, when suddenly, as he was about to reach it, a strong wind caught him up and he is blown back, back — out of the gates of heaven and down to earth. Sid had revived him through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Scrat wanted to kill Sid for that!

But by movie 4 — I must say I’m not thrilled to see Scrat chasing after his acorn again. So how do the producers respond? They play the trick of making the consequences BIGGER! It’s an old trick: you make a little thing the turning point for something massive. Countless movies — particularly animated ones — and probably even a few books have tried to outdo each other with more fantastic outcomes. Scale-wise, Ice Age 4 is hard to beat. Scrat’s Acorn gets lodged in the ground; as he tries to get it out, the ground splits. The crack grows at lightning speed, and soon Pangaea has crumbled into seven separate islands: all floating away from each other at break-neck speed. The stupid sabre-toothed squirrel has instigated the continental drift!

After this prologue, the story skips to our three protagonists: Manny, the mammoth; Diego, the sabre-toothed tiger; and Sid, the sloth. Diego and Sid are still baches, but Manny has a wife and daughter. Unfortunately he and his daughter do not get along very well. Among humans, teenagers were invented during the 1950s; among mammoths, apparently, they existed back in the days of Pangaea. Manny’s daughter, Peaches, likes a handsome, (or so she thinks) sporty mammoth — and wants him to like her too. But Manny won’t let her go far from home, or do anything cool. Does this sound slightly deja vu? Then, as Manny and Peaches are in the middle of a spirited altercation, the earth splits between them and the family is separated in the middle of a fight.

But, as usual, there is a goal: as the earth is torn asunder beneath their feet, Manny shouts to his family to make their way to the land bridge. So the two parties: Manny, Diego, Sid, and Sid’s insufferable grandmother on one side; Ellie (Manny’s wife), Peaches, and all the other animals on the other. The trio (well, not a trio any longer) end up on an iceberg in the ocean; the others march toward the land bridge, trying to outrun a cliff which is sliding towards them — it’s only a matter of time before they are pushed into the ocean.

Both parties press on enduring separation, pirates — and the weather. The usual sorts of things happen: grouches gradually become loveable — while remaining grouchy; enemies fall in love; lessons are learnt…. My favourite lesson was “if someone tries to turn you into somebody who you’re not, they probably aren’t worth it”. I’ll forgive Blue Sky Studios some cliche elements, however, because in the end it’s a whale that saves the day. Everybody loves a whale!

So Ice Age 4 was enjoyable, but not ground-breaking. It had similar themes to other films; the same kind of character development; the same Scrat. To cover up many unoriginal elements they scaled things up (I’m not sure if this is a plus or a minus). I would probably rate it 3/5: it was an afternoon’s good entertainment, but I’ve seen better.

Spoilers

We all hate spoilers. They are my pet peeve. Once I was at a dinner and an eight year old kid was trying to tell me about major events in Harry Potters 6 and 7 (I was reading 6 at the time). I try not to be rude, but I ended up muttering songs with my fingers in my ears until my sister could get him to be quiet (I feel sorry for her though — she’s only read the first 3, and now she probably knows the whole series).

Well the point is, I will be writing reviews on this blog, and reviews often contain minor spoilers. If you’re not sure if you want to read a post for fear of spoilers — don’t. Or you could comment on the post without actually reading it, to ask whether or not you should. Generally I will keep major spoilers out, but my reviews contain more spoilers than I would want to read myself. I’m the kind of guy who often doesn’t read the back of a book in case it gives away something (I know, it’s a bad habit… and I’m slowly changing), but I don’t expect that everyone else is like this. (otherwise why would they have stuff on the back of the book?) Which is why I write reviews.

And I realise I have been a bit quiet for the past week or so. I’ve been busy. A review should appear tomorrow.