November 22, 2010

A Clash of Interests

I’m always interested in how all these new ways we have of taking in information are affecting how we behave and how we think. Here’s a five minute talk by a guy named Bruce Schneier, who is an authority on online security and a regular commentator on these kinds of issues. In this clip, he talks about how we’re moving from social means of communication to technological ones, and how we must become more specific about how we control the terms of this kind of communication for our own sake. A lack of control is resulting in a thing he refers to as information pollution, and puts our private information in the hands of big business. He’s one of the most informed and articulate people I’ve heard discuss this stuff.

With the release of ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, naturally comes a re-release of the book, previewed in its ebook form by Wired.com. The features the publishers have added are worth noting, but my attention was caught by another point mentioned in the article. There’s a blatant clash of legal/financial interests once you start taking text into other media. It’s obvious – at least for anyone who’s ever seen a publishing contract, but just shows the need for a more comprehensive view of what publishing is, and how far it can reach.

The Dawn Treader in the above picture is not the ship from the movie, by the way – it’s a boat we saw when were on holiday in Scotland a while back. Made me wonder how many boats bear the same name, and was it a name for boats before CS Lewis made it famous?

This photo, on the other hand, was taken outside a DIY store in Navan.  As you can see from the picture there is a roof-height extension ladder on the roof of this van, which is parked in a disabled parking space. No, he didn’t have a disabled symbol in the windscreen. And I mean, come on . . . Whatever about being a trog, but the ladder’s not exactly subtle, is it? Yes, these spaces are often empty, and they are nearest the shops, and in these big car parks there can seem to be a lot of them. But it’s the principle of the matter. Still, it made a good picture. The space next to this one, a normal one, was empty. And don’t get me started on people who park in parent and toddler spaces without a child in tow. That gets right up my middle-class, suburban, estate-car-driving nose, that does. And as for people who drive in normal conditions with their fog-lights on . . . ! Ahh, maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead here.

Just as an example of some very subtle communication, my brother pointed this out to me: a sweet little trick Hans Zimmer pulled in the soundtrack to ‘Inception’ (still my favourite film of the year – and I don’t often do ‘favourites’).

November 18, 2010

Back in the World

Okay, so you know how they say never have a new baby and move house at the same time? Well, I’d go one further than that. Absolutely never move house to a place that needs a thorough renovation, when your nation’s banks are in financial meltdown and have gone completely schizo, when you’ve just had a new baby and you’ve already got a hyperactive toddler.

That said, we are delighted with our new home. And I finally have a decent-sized garage I can eventually fit out as a studio! I don’t even have to shift other people’s furniture out of it (I just chucked all the junk in a skip)! I do need some time, and some money, and a little energy boost would help . . . The last couple of months have been a bit of a struggle (to put it lightly). Yes, by outfitting this house from scratch, we’re ‘putting our stamp on it’, and some have suggested that it must be our dream house.

Dream house? I would have to say . . . not quite.

My dream house would be somewhere in the Wicklow Mountains, with one door out to a London street, a second door somewhere in the south of France and a third into the the Austrian Alps and a fourth to New York. And it would have a window looking out into the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. And it would have a landing pad for my jet-copter. But that’s the house I’ve been planning since I was eight. I don’t dream small.

I can wait a little longer, but some day . . . Some day . . .

In the meantime, I’ll happily settle for our new central heating system and working toilets. I revel in a house with no exposed electrical wires or protruding pipes, and yet still daydream wistfully of a studio where my box of software discs doesn’t sit beside my laundry basket. And where I don’t have to step over a stack of art folders to reach my underwear drawer. We left the major installation work to professionals (no, nothing to do with my laundry or underwear), but there are still plenty of things to be assembled, hung, cleaned, repaired, screwed into walls, nailed down, drilled, cut, wired up, cleared out, stripped down, sanded, painted, varnished, carved or shoved up into the attic – all of which we’ll have to do ourselves.

I’m not complaining or anything, but at the moment, my studio door is a stair-gate. And my toddler has almost figured out the latch. She looks over the top at me, smiling. Soon I’ll find a way in, Da-da. Very soon.

I haven’t been online for a while, and as I emerge into the world of the web once more, blinking in the dazzling daylight, I must reflect on all that has happened since I last posted.

With a complete disregard for my overloaded schedule, Children’s Book Festival in October went full steam ahead. And as usual, it started in September, and didn’t really stop when October came to an end. Over the last couple of months, I’ve done sessions in (deep breath): Dun Laoghaire; the Aspects Festival in Bangor; Tallaght; I put in a VERY brief appearance at Culture Night in the Ark, meeting Mary Hanifin; Castlepollard Library in Westmeath; Castletymon Library in Dublin; Dromineer Literary Festival; I ran art workshops in Rathcairn, Slane, Nobber and Athboy Libraries in Meath;  Strabane Library; Cootehill and Bailieborough Libraries in Cavan; Coolock and Donaghmede in Dublin; Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip Libraries in Kildare; Strangford College in Down; Rath NS in Offaly; Timahoe and Portlaoise for their Literary Festival; Billis NS in Cavan and St Paul’s in Ratoath.

That about brings me up to date on the sessions. I need to get my tired, filthy and roof-box-laden car in for a well-deserved service, and then get back to the writing. Next week I have one more school visit, and then I’m off to WexWorlds Festival in Wexford, which I’m well looking forward to – last year was a great laugh.

So what else happened while I was offline? Well, I was sorry to hear that Stephen J Cannell had died. Like most kids my age, I watched too much television growing up. The man responsible for a lot of that television was Mr Cannell, creator of shows such as: ‘The Rockford Files’, ‘The Greatest American Hero’ and, of course, ‘The A-Team’. My taste for this type of telly when I was young, prompted my parents’ response when they were asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. ‘An American’, they replied.

I got to see Sting in concert in the O2. Younger readers of my blog – such as those in, say, their twenties – might ask who Sting is. Google him, that’s all I can say. Check him out on iTunes. He was performing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and it was fantastic. Some pop music doesn’t translate well when given the classical treatment, but Sting’s stuff is ripe for it. His numbers from the Police were good, but I think his solo stuff came off better. Songs like ‘Englishman in New York’, ‘Moon Over Bourbon Street’ and ‘The Shape of My Heart’ were every bit as brilliant as when I first heard them, and ‘Russians’ had my hairs standing on end. And the man himself stood out in front of all that orchestration and carried the show like a guy who was just having a good time.

I got to have dinner with Tom Donegan, of CBI and Steve Cole, author of ‘Astrosaurs’, ‘Cows in Action’ (and about a thousand other books, it seems like). Steve was a sound guy, who had also had recent house renovation stories and was in Ireland to launch his latest collection of titles. In his blog, he gives the impression I’m some kind of adrenaline junkie. On the contrary, I would argue that taking part in thrilling experiences, but never doing them more than once would suggest definite scaredy-cat tendencies on my part. David Maybury showed up in time for dessert (doesn’t he always?) and lowered the tone with his talk of all things tech and showing off how many books he’s read.

‘The Dandy’ has recently gone through its own overhaul with a brand new look. Badly needed, I think, as it seemed to be getting confused as to what kind of comic/magazine it was. When I do my sessions, it’s one of the titles that kids often mention, and is definitely still one of the most popular comics out there, even up to the end of primary school. I’ve seen and heard mixed reactions to the revamp (mainly from adults) but my stepson has given it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, so that’s good enough for me.

One of the things I found interesting was the number of references in the stories to mainstream entertainment: Harry Hill, X-Factor, Top Gear – not stuff you’d normally count as entertainment for young kids. Presumably the comic refers to them because this is what the comic’s readership is watching. It makes a bit of a mockery of the occasionally-prudish concerns of publishers, and the book industry in general, over the content of young children’s books. If they can see it on the telly, which anyone can watch, why are we more worried about putting it in books, which you have to be able to read in order to consume their content?

Anyway, that’s enough to be getting on with for one post. There’ll be a slightly shorter wait for the next one.