A Voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians

1 August 2022

The Australian government has undertaken to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Australian constitution. While it is unclear at this stage exactly what form a Voice to Parliament would take, the purpose is clear:

A Voice to Parliament is a body enshrined in the Constitution that would enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to the Parliament on policies and projects that impact their lives.

A referendum, a necessary step in the process of altering the constitution, has been proposed for 2023, giving the Australian people the opportunity to have their say in the matter.

An Indigenous Voice to Parliament is seen as an important step in Australia’s ongoing reconciliation with its First Nations people.

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Ann Mossop new Sydney Writers Festival artistic director

1 August 2022

Ann Mossop has been appointed as the new artistic director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Mossop, who has been behind a string of events in Sydney, has a long association with the writers’ festival:

Festival Chair Mark Scott said, “Ann Mossop comes to Sydney Writers’ Festival with a career programing cutting-edge public conversations at the Sydney Opera House for the Ideas at the House series, Festival of Dangerous Ideas, All About Women and recently as the Director of the Centre for Ideas at UNSW Sydney. Ann also has a long association with the Festival, sitting on the board from 1995–2000 and was part of the committee that established Sydney Writers’ Festival as an independent entity in 1998.”

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Vale Nichelle Nichols AKA Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek

1 August 2022

American actor Nichelle Nichols, perhaps best known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications office of the USS Enterprise, in the original Star Trek TV series and later movies, died aged 89 over the weekend.

Star Trek fans doubtless have many favourite Uhura moments and lines, but this isn’t reality, this is fantasy, from The Search for Spock, the third Star Trek film starring the original cast, has to be up there with the best of them. See also this IMDb photo gallery honouring Nichols’ life and work.

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Alternatives to Instagram: what about Flickr?

1 August 2022
Smartphone filming, photo by Pexels

Image courtesy of Pexels.

Has Instagram (IG) jumped the shark? You’d be forgiven for thinking as much, following the stir-up caused by the latest (in a long of line of) changes to the popular Facebook owned photo and video sharing service. Long story short, IG wants to become more like TikTok. Whether their users like it or not. If you’re a content creator, this might be good news. If you’re a user, maybe not so much, especially perhaps if you’ve been using IG since the early days.

The IG of 2011, when I joined, and the IG of 2022, are worlds apart. Checking my IG feed the other week, I couldn’t see a single photo from the people — many of whom I know personally — I follow. Instead the feed was littered with “recommendations”, content IG seems to think I “might like”. But reposted memes? Footage of some influencer I’ve never heard of walking into an elevator? Cats and dogs doing funny things? I wouldn’t mind, if I wanted to see that sort of “content”. Otherwise, no thanks.

After pressing many x buttons, and silencing one recommendation after another, some normality was restored to my IG feed. But to keep up with the people I choose to follow, I often need to go directly to their IG page to see their latest posts. In doing this, I’ve found photos I’d not seen earlier, when previously they’d appeared in the main feed.

But recommendations, intended to “help you discover new and interesting things on Instagram that you may not know exist”, are here to stay, says Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, at Facebook/Meta. Recommendations “help creators reach more people”, and making them part of the IG feed, rather than lurking behind the explore tab, is necessary as IG “needs to evolve because the world is changing quickly.”

Mosseri is correct. The world is changing quickly. Video sharing app TikTok is encroaching on IG’s market share. Quickly, I might add. And this calls for drastic action. The solution appears to be, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Even if that means dragging a whole heap of IG users with no interest in TikTok, into a TikTok-like realm.

Accordingly, more video can be expected to feature in IG feeds, and precedence is now being given to creators, over users who just want to share photos with their friends. Like it or not, more content, in the form of recommendations, and other “interesting things”, you neither know nor care about, are coming your way.

That’s all well and good for the creators. Strictly speaking, I’m a creator. You wouldn’t be reading this if I wasn’t. But if you’re not an IG creator, and not interested in content from people you don’t know, what options do you have? If you’re looking elsewhere for an alternative free-of-cost, ease of use, IG copy, you’ll be disappointed. Even if an IG clone rose to prominence, it would likely follow IG’s path sooner or later. We might find a desert oasis far from the dark shadow IG casts, but not for long, alas.

Smartphone taking photo, by Yuliya Harbachova

Image courtesy of Yuliya Harbachova.

One possibility though may be Flickr, but there are a number of caveats.

Founded in 2004 by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, Flickr shared a trajectory similar to IG, being bought by a much larger company, Yahoo!, about a year after launching. One of the earliest online photo-sharing services, Flickr’s been around so long it pre-dates smartphones (as we know them) and smartphone apps. Like IG, the photos and videos you post to Flickr appear in a feed, which friends and followers can like and comment on. Unlike IG, you only see content from the people you chose to follow.

After early success though, Flickr suffered a near death experience several years ago. They were saved, virtually at the last minute, when California based image sharing company, SmugMug, bought them. Since then Flickr’s fortunes have been on the up. But does that make Flickr right for you?

For one thing, Flickr comes at a cost. While a free, ad supported tier, is available, members can only post two hundred photos or videos. To take advantage of Flickr’s full features, including, among other things, unlimited media uploads, you need a paid membership. A one-year plan costs about US$80. If you buy a two-year membership, the annual cost comes in at about US$72 per year. This works out to about US$1.45 a week, not even the price of a decent cup of coffee.

It’s worth noting the membership fee is not as expensive as it might seem. In a way, paid subscriptions can protect members. Should the company take a direction that upsets subscribers, they risk many leaving, and taking their money with them. Subscription free IG users meanwhile have no such leverage. You’re unlikely then to hear Flickr declaring the world is changing quickly, and they therefore must push tacky memes, and surely scintillating video clips of some self-indulgent influencer, upon you.

In that sense, Flickr is less a social network, and, while everyone is of course welcome, more a community of professional, and semi-serious amateur, photographers. Another difference is the size of the Flickr community compared to Instagram’s. IG is said to boast over a billion users. Short wonder content creators have an interest in the platform, and IG wishes to aggressively promote their work. Flickr, meanwhile, according to Photutorial, presently has 112 million members.

Chances are many people you know won’t be existing Flickr members, so you’d need to get your friends onboard, if you want to escape IG’s clutches. But if you’re looking for a place where you’ll only see content from people you chose, then Flickr might be worth taking a closer look at. Another option to consider is 500px. Like Flickr, it offers a free membership plan, allowing seven photos a week to be uploaded, to a maximum of two-thousand per account.

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Restored colourised 100 year old film of well known cities

30 July 2022

Taking one hundred year old film footage found in the Prelinger Archives, YouTuber NASS has added colour and ambient sound to create an eight minute slice-of-life glimpse of cities across Europe and America, as it was in the 1920s.

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagan, Amsterdam, Nice, Geneva, Milan, and Venice, are featured, along with Paris, and some aerial footage of the French capital. Today that would be as simple as sending a drone up, but one hundred years ago the undertaking would have required a little more planning.

The novelty of being on camera, in an age when cameras were still something a novelty, is also apparent. In one segment a police officer appears to be amused at being filmed, as does a boy in another part of the clip. Today a film crew on the street would probably go virtually unnoticed.

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Fifty of the funniest, laugh out loud, books ever written

30 July 2022

Fifty of the funniest books of all time complied by Sarah McKenna, managing editor of Penguin Books in the UK. The list begins with Three Men in a Boat written by Jerome K. Jerome in 1889, and scrolls through to A Calling for Charlie Barnes, written by Joshua Ferris in 2021.

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A trailer for Not Okay a film by Quinn Shephard

30 July 2022

What’s a wanna-be writer who no one takes seriously, who also aspires to be an influencer, despite only having a handful of followers, to do? Fake it, of course. Fake it til she makes it. What else?

But.

Be careful what you wish for. Twenty-something New Yorker Danni (Zoey Deutch), finds she has bitten off more than she can chew when a faux trip to Paris goes horribly awry, in Not Okay, trailer, the second feature of American actor and filmmaker Quinn Shephard.

This is one I’ll be looking out for on streaming (no word to date of an Australian cinematic release).

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Infinite zoom in art and illustration by Lucas Vaskange

29 July 2022

The stunning infinite, zoom-in stories, of Paris based French artist and illustrator Lucas Vaskange will doubtless leave many of us wondering, damn, why didn’t I think of that?

More work by Vaskange can be found on Instagram and INPRNT.

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2022 Festival of Dangerous Ideas Sydney

29 July 2022

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) is on at Carriageworks in Sydney, on Saturday 17 September 2022, and Sunday 18 September. In an age where any idea seems dangerous, FODI is all about having uncomfortable conversations and being unafraid to question the status quo.

FODI holds uncomfortable ideas up to the light and challenges thinking on some of the most persevering and difficult issues of our time, questioning our deepest held beliefs and desires. It presents a lineup of international and local thinkers and culture creators, inviting us all to immerse ourselves in ideas and conversations that encourage debate and critical thinking.

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2022 Melbourne Writers Festival program

29 July 2022

The 2022 Melbourne Writers Festival program was unveiled last Tuesday by MWF artistic director Michaela McGuire. Between Thursday 8 September 2022, and Sunday 11 September, over two-hundred-and-fifty storytellers from across the world will gather in Melbourne, Australia, and after several years of COVID imposed lockdowns, this year’s event is aptly themed ambition:

Reading is the ultimate act of ambition; the boundless ambition of the curious mind. Ambition to learn, to inhabit another person’s life and experience the world from their point of view. To grasp the limitless possibilities that literature affords us, the solace it has given, the joy it still has to offer.

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Rabies, a deadly virus from which few people recover

28 July 2022

According to Wikipedia, fifty-nine thousand people die from rabies annually. Once infected — commonly by way of a dog or bat bite — the prognosis is grim: death is a virtual certainty. There is some good news however, if you suspect you may have been infected somehow, you can still get the rabies vaccination which should halt the disease. But you need to act quickly.

Rabies, a word deriving from Latin word, means madness, and is the subject of this month’s Kurzgesagt video, which they describe as the deadliest virus on Earth. If you’re not a Kurzgesagt subscriber, I highly recommended following them. They have a knack for explaining complicated concepts in simple terms, while being engaging at the same time.

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Beat writer’s block and meet deadlines with AI writing apps

28 July 2022

Far from usurping writers of fiction, AI writing programs, such as Sudowrite, could aid authors, particularly those bogged down with writer’s block, and facing looming deadlines, says Josh Dzieza, writing for The Verge:

Lepp, who writes under the pen name Leanne Leeds in the “paranormal cozy mystery” subgenre, allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months. Writer’s block is a luxury she can’t afford, which is why as soon as she heard about an artificial intelligence tool designed to break through it, she started beseeching its developers on Twitter for access to the beta test.

In other words, AI writing programs could act as ghostwriters, of a sort, who are paid — in kind at least — but never acknowledged for their contribution.

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The 2022 Booker Prize longlist

27 July 2022

The 2022 Booker Prize longlist was announced overnight, Australian time. Thirteen authors including Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout, are among those included.

It includes the youngest and oldest authors ever to be nominated, as well as the shortest book, three debuts and two new publishers receiving their first ever nominations. Chair of the judges Neil MacGregor said ‘The list offers story, fable and parable, fantasy, mystery, meditation and thriller’.

The shortlist for the Booker Prize, which celebrates English language novels published in Ireland and the UK each year, will be unveiled on Tuesday 6 September 2022.

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A trailer for The Princess a documentary by Ed Perkins

27 July 2022

Directed by British documentary maker Ed Perkins, The Princess, trailer, which opens in Australian cinemas on Friday 12 August 2022, looks at the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Made up mostly of archival footage, in a similar style to Asif Kapadia’s 2010 documentary Senna, The Princess also examines the lasting influence Diana’s life, and death, had on the British monarchy.

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Dumpster diving, finding food when prices are rising

27 July 2022

Inflation is back. Prices are rising — sharply in some cases — adding to the cost of living. My go-to — highly anecdotal of course — inflation indicator is the price of a large sized takeaway cappuccino. While rises in the price of coffee have been on the cards for some time, I paid A$5.20 for a cup in Kogarah, a southern suburb of Sydney the other week, the first time I’ve seen the cost exceed five dollars.

But the price of household staples, not just coffee, have also been rising steadily in recent months, imposing financial hardship on many people. Despite this, some Australian supermarkets are engaging in what is surely the unconscionable practice of disposing of food products before their use by date, or fruit and vegetables that simply don’t look saleable, without even offering them at a reduced price beforehand.

But savvy consumers, including Sydneysider Brenden Rikihana, are countering this wasteful process by taking to dumpster diving. That is, going around to the dumpster bin area at a supermarket, and sifting through them for food that is still safe to eat. And if Rikihana’s Facebook page is anything to go by, dumpster divers are truly spoilt for choice at the moment. In fact Rikihana collects so much usable food, he gives a lot away to others.

Dumpster diving can’t be without its hazards. There’s obviously a danger to sifting through waste bins. Broken glass, other sharp objects, not to mention who knows exactly what’s been put in the dumpster. Then there’s the legalities. Some of the bins are probably on private property, so trespass may be a factor. I doubt few people rummage through dumpsters out of choice though. And that’s the problem at the moment. For many it’s not about choice, it’s about necessity.

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The extended trailer for House of the Dragon, a GoT prequel

27 July 2022

If you can’t do without Game of Thrones (GoT) in your life, then there’s good news. A ten episode prequel series, titled House of the Dragon is set to go to air on Sunday 21 August 2022.

Based in part on the 2018 novel Fire & Blood, by GoT creator George R. R. Martin, House of the Dragon is set two hundred years before events of Game of Thrones, and centres on the “Dance of the Dragons”, the name given to the war of succession within the House Targaryen of Dragonstone.

An extended trailer for House of the Dragon was screened at Comic-Con last week, too much excitement from GoT fans, but that’s probably no surprise.

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For short work breaks fast fun cross platform puzzle games

25 July 2022
Screen shot of Map, a game by Simon Tatham

Cambridge based British software engineer Simon Tatham, creator of PuTTY, which I once required the services of, has also made available a collection of puzzle-like games, designed to be played for two to three minutes at a time.

I wrote this collection because I thought there should be more small desktop toys available: little games you can pop up in a window and play for two or three minutes while you take a break from whatever else you were doing.

As Tatham notes, few of the games were actually invented by him, but he has made them playable across several computer platforms, notably Windows, Apple Mac, and Unix.

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A no hook-up city: Sydney not the place to Netflix and chill

25 July 2022

Out of fifty-three cities across the world, Sydney, Australia’s most populated city, ranks as just about the worst when it comes making friends — particularly if you were born outside of Australia — and hooking up, say the results of the Time Out 2022 Index.

When it comes to making friends, if you’re not born in Sydney, forget about befriending Sydneysiders. I’m sure that’s not the experience of every last new-comer, but somehow the finding doesn’t surprise me. Some years ago I read a guide for students coming from India — I think it was, I cannot track down the webpage right now — for degree courses in Australia. Long story short, they were told to expect the going to be tough when seeking out Australian born friends.

The guide explained Australians have “posses” of friends that seldom, it seems, mix. Old friends, school friends, uni friends, work friends, sports team friends, the list goes on. Aussies apparently go from one such group to another, but members of each group rarely meet anyone from other groups. Short wonder people from elsewhere have a hard time ingratiating themselves with the locals. If you work with an Australian, you might see them at Friday night drinks, but that’s about it.

The difficulty of befriending locally born Sydneysiders is something Kim Solomon, who moved to Sydney from South Africa in 2004, recently related to Sydney Morning Herald writer Michael Koziol:

A well-travelled 41-year-old who has also lived in London and spent time in the United States, Solomon finds Sydneysiders difficult to engage with on a personal level, whether they be strangers on the train or parents in her daughter’s school community. ‘It’s very hard to break into established groups of people who were born and raised in Sydney,” she says. “I’ve developed a good group of friends, but they’re all from South Africa and the UK.”

I don’t see too many people randomly striking up conversations on the trains in Sydney, so expecting to make friends on public transport might be hoping for a bit much. But the parents of her kids’ classmates? Sydney, what have you become?

When it comes to being more than friends though, people also felt frustrated, with seventy-one percent of Time Out 2022 Index respondents describing Sydney as a hard place to hook-up.

Sydneysiders are also starved for more intimate connections, it seems, with 71 per cent of those surveyed saying Sydney was a hard place to hook up, although Singapore, Stockholm and Porto, Portugal’s second city, all ranked lower when it came to Netflix but no chill.

Here’s a situation where place of birth doesn’t weigh so much I suspect though. If you click, you click. I get the feeling if people spent less time inside, and more time looking at what was going around them when outdoors, instead being focussed on the screen of their smartphone, they might not find hooking-up quite so difficult.

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The first year in the life of a mango tree time lapse video

25 July 2022

Incredible time lapse video footage of the growth of a mango tree, from being planted as a seed, to a year later, from the people at Boxlapse.

I once lived in house that had a mature mango tree in the back yard. It was sizeable, three metres, maybe a little higher, planted on the fence line. Now I know what I missed earlier on.

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Applications open for the 2022 Heyman Mentoring Award

25 July 2022

Sydney based author Kathryn Heyman is offering Australian writers aged twenty-six and over, from backgrounds of social and economic disadvantage, the opportunity to be mentored by her for a year, and have their manuscript appraised, and possibly published, by HarperCollins.

Heyman, who founded the Australian Writers Mentoring Program, has written seven books, including Keep Your Hands On the Wheel in 1999, Captain Starlight’s Apprentice in 2006, and Fury, a memoir, in 2020.

Applicants, who should also be writing a book with issues of class and economic disadvantage as themes, have until Tuesday 20 September 2022, to apply. Read more about the Heyman Mentoring Award here.

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