Would I rather be a Jedi or a Sith Lord?

My colleague Jonathan just posed this challenge to me: Write an in-depth analysis of whether you would be a Jedi or a Sith lord (minimum 500 words).

Quite frankly, I’m insulted that he even had to ask.

No-one in their right mind wants to be a Jedi. Jedi life eats it raw. You’re supposed to worship Yoda, a grammar-mangling piece of green snot who alternates between being a Muppet, a messy piece of CGI and a crappy cartoon. Strong in him the shittiness is.

You know you’re probably going to have to spend your teenage years stuck on some featureless desert planet hoping someone interesting eventually shows up. Or you have to pretend that Jar-Jar Binks would make a good senator, when the truth is that his hide wouldn’t even make a good suitcase. Or you have to incestuously kiss your sister and then never mention it again.

Plus you end up with some ludicrous name like Qui-Gon, and your side completely loses whatever tenuous grip it has on galactic power every three movies or so, if not sooner. Also, you’re likely to be a brain-dead idiot: before trying to hide yourself away so no-one can find you, you figure it would be a good idea to leave behind a map of your exact location. Bitch, please.

Being a Sith Lord beats that hands down. You frequently get to wear black, which is a better fashion choice and also more slimming. Your family name is Darth, which seems cool. Rather than focusing on bringing balance to the force, you can think about your bank balance instead. It’s all good, even when it’s about being as bad as possible.

As well, embracing the Dark Side gives you absolute licence to murder Harrison Ford, thereby reducing the possibility of any more abysmal Indiana Jones sequels. (I refuse to consider this a spoiler, by the way: the damn movie has been out for months and taken billions. And also, adopting tyranny means spoilers are the least of my villainous plans.)

Sure, as a Sith Lord you’ll eventually end up slaughtered by some Jedi jerk to satisfy the apparent sub-conscious demand for a conclusive “happy ending” every three instalments. But we’re all going to die anyway. Years of absolute power in a black robe beats handing out in a swamp or on an island for decades before having to pass on your skills to some little prick upstart and then meeting your doom at the end of a disco-themed lightsaber, let me tell you.

Finally, there’s an important issue to consider which is often overlooked. There has been one constant amongst the ridiculous flip-flopping over what does or doesn’t constitute Star Wars canon: everyone seems happy to agree that the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 never happened. I reject this stance as a crime against nature, against history, and — most importantly of all — against Bea Arthur.

As Darth McIvor, I pledge that once I am in full control of the universe, which is merely a formality, the Holiday Special will immediately be restored to its rightful place as the most important Star Wars creation of all. Yes, I’m really that evil.

Time to kill? Like ABBA? Read Chapter 1 of my 2015 #NaNoWriMo novel

I’ve tried to complete NaNoWriMo, which challenges you to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days, on five separate occasions. For the last three years, I’ve tried and failed (for reasons I’ll discuss another time). But this year, I dug my heels in and crossed the finish line, with 50,133 words, right on the final day of November.

If you’re curious, you can read the blurb and part of the first chapter below. I’ll publish the whole thing on Kindle eventually, hopefully early 2016, but it needs a lot of editing first!


Hey, Hey Helen: A Novel Inspired By ABBA

ABBA’s vast catalogue of catchy pop songs mentions 17 people by name. In Hey, Hey Helen, Angus Kidman reimagines and connects the lives of those characters.

Whatever happened to Fernando? How has rejection shaped Suzy’s life? Will Alice Whiting ever find true love? Who is Nina, pretty ballerina? Did Carrie ever marry? Does Rikky have any groupies left? Where has Joe been? And what of Harry — and Helen? Over three generations and multiple mistaken identities, from Kent State to the Rio Grande to Skegness, from Top of the Pops to Fake Name Night to MTV Unplugged, there’s a sense of expectation hanging in the air . . .


Prologue: Fernando (1970)

The bullet went directly into his brain. I hope that’s what happened. Death would be instantaneous then. A projectile hitting a crucial nerve, a leaky blackness, then nothing.

TV news won’t show us any of that yet. There is footage of protestors and rioting, but not of the actual killings. Four students have died and many more have been wounded. I feel sad for them and horrified for their parents. A tiny part of me even feels bad for the National Guardsmen. It’s the swampy part of myself I despise and cherish at the same time.

I suppose the soldiers were only doing their job. Yet if it’s obvious that what you’re asked to do is wrong, you must stop. I say that so casually. Actually saying no is often the hardest thing, I know.

One soldier on the TV screen frightened me. His hair was cropped short, his face was a blank. Not angry, not purposeful, not distressed about being asked to shoot a contemporary. You’d think nothing in the world was wrong.

I could imagine him as the one who shot Jeffrey Miller and the others. It’s not at all clear how many guardsmen actually fired their guns. But when I see that face, I feel sure that he was one of those who aimed their weapons, almost without thought.

Before today I had never heard of Kent State University. I fear we have become accustomed to disturbances at college campuses, and America seems such a long way away now. It’s often easy to just skip past the headlines in the paper. Not this time.

There have been incidents at the local university here in Manchester, but nothing like this. I can’t imagine British soldiers willingly lining up for the same task. Student protest seems very civilised in Britain, certainly compared to the US or France. I suppose it helps that we aren’t sending soldiers to Vietnam.

Low-key though they were, Fernando used to grumble about the protests here if they appeared on the TV news. Students were there to study, he would say, and what were they messing around with all these demonstrations for?

Because of what they believe, I would say to him quietly. And then he would go silent and I knew that he was remembering, as I was. Standing up for your beliefs matters, even if the consequences are dire. I don’t have to remind Fernando of the details.

We encountered death together, its chill breath licked our faces, but we were spared. We were spared then. But death isn’t always dramatic. It can sneak up on you. I’m not sure if that’s not worse than it lurching dramatically into view. Then again, I can’t imagine being at Kent State and trying to deal with what is happening there right now.

I understand why the students were protesting. My heart beats in the same way. They want a better world, an end to cruelty. Don’t we all? Some values really are worth fighting for. Liberty, love, equality. Those are worth standing up for — even if you find yourself on the losing side and end up moving to Manchester, as we did.

 

In the hospital waiting room, I look at more photographs of the Kent State students in the newspaper. Several show young people playing guitars around the Commons, the area where the shootings happened. That makes me smile despite knowing the dreadful fate that was waiting for so many of them.

Music gives you hope, it bonds you. This generation of youngsters sometimes acts as if they are the first to discover that. It is not so, of course. Music was all we had on that night long ago by the river.

When you feel powerless, music becomes the best and only weapon. It brings you together, it unites you. It fills your heart with hope. You want to sing your words to everyone. And then you hear the drumbeats in the distance, and then the gunfire, and you have to keep singing so that you can stop the fear from rising up and paralysing you.

At least, that’s how it was for me. I think it was simpler for Fernando. He enjoyed playing the guitar, but it wasn’t to keep away the fear. It was simply something he liked to do. He isn’t troubled by imagination as I sometimes am. He isn’t troubled by anything much anymore.

Sadly, Fernando’s guitar never made it to Manchester. At some point, when every item you carry is precious, you have to focus on the essentials. We left the guitar behind, but Fernando kept the pick. It always hung on a chain around his neck.

It’s not there now. When Fernando went into the hospital, the nurse gently took me aside. “We suggest that you take any of his jewellery home for safe keeping,” she said. “Unfortunately, with so many people coming through, we can’t promise that it won’t go missing.” He was in a ward with five other beds.

What an awful thing! I thought at first. Why would someone steal from a sick man? But I try to see the positive side in everything when I can. And so I firmly told myself: It was kind of her to warn me. Hospital work is exhausting, and I can see the lines of tiredness under her eyes. I grasp her hands warmly and thank her. She smiles absently.

Following her advice, I lifted the chain gently from around his neck. He grunted but I don’t think he really knew what was happening. The chain and his watch went into my handbag. I had to leave soon after that because visiting hours were over.

At first, I thought I would wear the pick myself, as a sort of tribute. Yet as soon as I put it on, it felt awkward and wrong. Yes, I was there, I sang along, but the guitar was played by Fernando. That part is his story. I was only a witness, a vocalist, a frightened girl. So I put it in the bedside drawer at home, wrapped in a piece of shiny blue cloth I found.

I suppose I hope that one day soon Fernando will come home to wear it. But then I think of how sick he looks. I find it impossible to let that hope flourish. It’s hard to see the positive side of your husband dying.


If you’re curious, you can also check out the beginnings for my two previous successful attempts below. I really should e-publish these suckers, shouldn’t I?

Goodbye Lifehacker, hello finder.com.au

Last week marked seven years since I become editor of Lifehacker Australia. So it seems an auspicious moment to announce the next big step in my career: I’m leaving Lifehacker to take on the newly-created role of editor-in-chief at finder.com.au.

I’m really excited about this job. I’ll still get to write a lot, and concentrate on the kind of data-driven insight that’s increasingly been my focus in recent years. (I’m one of the few journalists I know who is happy to be keyboard-deep in a spreadsheet.) I’ll also have the chance to pass on some of my experience to the rapidly-expanding team of writers in the finder.com.au posse, help shape the ongoing editorial strategy and expand the site into new areas.

With that said, I’m incredibly proud of what Lifehacker Australia has achieved over those seven years, and it’s going to be a huge wrench to leave everyone at Allure Media. Back when I started, we were a scrappy gang of less than 10 people. Today, we’re a team of 50+ with sites — Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Kotaku, POPSUGAR, Business Insider and Shopstyle — which absolutely dominate their respective categories in Australia. Over that time, I’ve written more than 11,000 posts for Lifehacker. Woah, that’s a lot of words.

I’m sure I’ll write more about my Lifehacker experience and what lies ahead before I finish up and begin the new role — I’ll start at finder.com.au in early July. It’s thrilling and scary and it’s surely going to be interesting. Wish me luck!

Update: Here’s the official press release and a story from Influencing.

Here’s my personal ranking of the 27 Eurovision Song Contest 2015 finalists

  1. Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw, “Heroes”
  2. Latvia: Aminata, “Love Injected”
  3. Israel: Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”
  4. Australia: Guy Sebastian, “Tonight Again”
  5. Norway: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”
  6. United Kingdom: Electro Velvet, “Still in Love with You”
  7. Serbia: Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”
  8. Cyprus: John Karayiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”
  9. Belgium: Loïc Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”
  10. Azerbaijan: Elnur Hüseynov, “Hour of the Wolf”
  11. Austria: The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”
  12. Montenegro: Knez, “Adio”
  13. Russia: Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”
  14. Italy: Il Volo, “Grande amore”
  15. Slovenia: Maraaya, “Here for You”
  16. Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa, “Goodbye to Yesterday”
  17. Germany: Ann Sophie, “Black Smoke”
  18. Lithuania: Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila, “This Time”
  19. Georgia: Nina Sublatti, “Warrior”
  20. Romania: Voltaj, “De la capăt (All over Again)”
  21. Albania: Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”
  22. France: Lisa Angell, “N’oubliez pas”
  23. Spain: Edurne, “Amanecer”
  24. Greece: Maria Elena Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”
  25. Poland: Monika Kuszyńska, “In the Name of Love”
  26. Hungary: Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”
  27. Armenia: Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”

A big night at the #Lizzies 2015

Great night all around at the Lizzies (you can see the full results right here, direct from my smartphone), especially for myself and my Allure Media colleagues. The big winner was Mark Serrels from Kotaku, who won Best Gaming Journalist and the “Gold Lizzie” for Best Journalist, while Kotaku scored Best Gaming Coverage. I could not think of a more deserving recipient, and I was flattered that Mark singled me out by name in his first acceptance speech for my occasional sub-editing contributions to his work.

That said, I did pretty well myself. Lifehacker scored the Best Personal Technology Coverage gong for the third year running, and I picked up a highly commended for Best Consumer Technology Journalist. But the award I was ridiculously chuffed to win was Best Columnist — simply because I was really proud of the three pieces I submitted for that award. Here they are:

#Lizzies: All The 2015 IT Journalism Awards Winners (Updating Live)

    The Lizzies are here! I’ll be updating this post from 7pm this evening to note the winners and highly commended recipients at the 2015 Optus IT Journalism Awards. (Apologies in advance if I miss any of the highly commended winners, they fly past pretty quickly). You can check out a quick summary of writers with multiple nominations here.

    BEST DRESSED : Alex Heber, Nic Healey

    BEST AUDIO PROGRAM
    Winner: Download This Show
    Highly commended: A Short History Of Video Games

    Nominees
    2GB Tech Guide with Stephen Fenech, A Short History of Video Games – ABC Radio National, Download This Show – ABC Radio National, Gadget Grill, Geeks Interrupted, Girt by CNET – the Australian CNET podcast, Reckoner Podcast, Risky Business, TechGuide Podcast, Tech Tuesday@RN Drive, Two Blokes Talking Tech

    BEST VIDEO PROGRAM
    Winner: Good Game
    Highly commended: Player Attack

    Nominees
    CNET Australia, CX Network, Fat Duck Tech, Gizmodo Australia, Good Game – ABC TV, Good Game Spawn Point – ABC TV, Government Technology Review, Josh Taylor and Oscar Partridge, Lifehacker Video, Player Attack, Rae Johnston, The Feed – SBS TV, Vertical Hold

    BEST GAMING JOURNALIST
    Winner: Mark Serrels
    Highly commended: Daniel Hindes, Lucy O’Brien

    Finalists
    Brenna Hillier
    Chris Jager
    Daniel Hindes
    David Hollingworth
    David Milner
    James O’Connor
    Lucy O’Brien
    Luke Reilly
    Mark Serrels
    Nic Healey
    Seamus Byrne
    Tim Colwill
    Toby McCasker

    BEST GAMING COVERAGE
    Winner: Kotaku Australia
    Highly commended: Good Game

    Nominees
    ABC Technology & Games, Digitally Downloaded, Game Informer, games.on.net, GameSpot (CBS Interactive), Good Game – ABC TV, IGN Australia, Kotaku Australia, Player Attack, TechGee

    BEST COLUMNIST
    Winner: Angus Kidman
    Highly commended: Chris Duckett

    Finalists
    Adam Turner
    Alex Kidman
    Angus Kidman
    Ben Grubb
    Chris Duckett
    David Braue
    David Milner
    Josh Taylor
    Juha Saarinen
    Mark Serrels
    Simon Sharwood

    BEST TECH INDUSTRY JOURNALIST
    Winner: Caitlin Fitzsimmons
    Highly commended: Steven Kiernan

    Finalists
    Alex Heber
    Angus Kidman
    Caitlin Fitzsimmons
    Campbell Simpson
    Carl Smith
    Krishan Sharma
    Liz Tay
    Patrick Avenell
    Paul Smith
    Simon Sharwood
    Steven Kiernan
    William Maher

    BEST BUSINESS TECH JOURNALIST
    Winner: Allie Coyne
    Highly commended: Hannah Francis, Paul Smith

    Finalists
    Allie Coyne
    Byron Connolly
    Chris Pash
    Claire Porter
    David Swan
    Hannah Francis
    Josh Taylor
    Kate McDonald
    Krishan Sharma
    Paris Cowan
    Paul Smith
    Simon Sharwood

    BEST TECHNICAL JOURNALIST
    Winner: Darren Yates
    Highly commended: Petroc Wilton

    Finalists
    Adam Turner
    Alex Walker
    Angus Kidman
    Campbell Simpson
    Darren Yates
    Krishan Sharma
    Lexy Savvides
    Mark Gregory
    Peter Zaluzny
    Petroc Wilton
    Richard Chirgwin

    BEST PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY COVERAGE
    Winner: Lifehacker
    Highly commended: CNET

    Nominees
    CNET Australia, Fairfax Media/SMH.com.au, GadgetGuy.com.au, Lifehacker, Switched On, TechGeek, TechGuide, Women Love Tech

    BEST REVIEWER
    Winner: Darren Yates
    Highly commended: Alex Kidman,David Braue

    Finalists
    Adam Turner
    Alex Kidman
    Angus Kidman
    Campbell Simpson
    Chris Jager
    Darren Yates
    David Braue
    Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
    Matthew Sainsbury
    Nic Healey
    Nick Ross
    Peter Zaluzny

    BEST MAGAZINE
    Winner: CRN
    Highly commended: CHOICE

    Nominees
    CHOICE Computer Magazine, CRN, Game Informer, HYPER, PC & Tech Authority, PC Powerplay

    BEST CONSUMER TECH JOURNALIST
    Winner: Michelle Starr
    Highly commended: Angus Kidman

    Finalists
    Adam Turner
    Alex Kidman
    Angus Kidman
    Campbell Simpson
    Chris Jager
    Hannah Francis
    Luke Hopewell
    Michelle Starr
    Nick Ross
    Rae Johnston
    Rosalyn Page

    BEST NEWS JOURNALIST
    Winner: Claire Reilly
    Highly commended: –

    Finalists
    Angus Kidman
    Claire Porter
    Claire Reilly
    David Braue
    David Ramli
    Josh Taylor
    Mitchell Bingemann
    Paris Cowan
    Paul Smith
    Petroc Wilton
    Simon Sharwood

    BEST NEWS COVERAGE
    Winner: iTNews
    Highly commended: –

    Nominees
    Australian Financial Review, Communications Day, CRN, Gizmodo Australia, iTnews, Kotaku Australia, Lifehacker, SMH.com.au – Technology/Digital Life, TechGeek, The Register, ZDNet

    BEST BUSINESS TECH COVERAGE
    Winner: AFR
    Highly commended: Startup Daily, SMH

    Nominees
    Australian Financial Review, Business Insider, CIO NZ, Communications Day, CRN, iTnews, Lifehacker, SMH.com.au – IT Pro, Startup Daily, The Register, ZDNet

    BEST WEBSITE
    Winner: CNet
    Highly commended: Gizmodo, Startup Daily

    Nominees
    Business Insider Australia, CNET Australia, CRN, GadgetGuy, GE and Guardian Australia Powering People series, Gizmodo Australia, IGN Australia, iTnews, Kotaku Australia, Lifehacker, Player Attack, SMH.com.au – Technology/Digital Life, Startup Daily, TechGeek, TechGuide, Women Love Tech, ZDNet

    BEST NEW JOURNALIST
    Winner: Tony Yoo
    Highly commended: Rose Powell

    Finalists
    Dave Cheng
    Hannah Francis
    Harry Tucker
    Jessica Sier
    Richard van der Draay
    Rose Powell
    Tess Bennett
    Tony Yoo
    Vanessa Desloires
    Yolanda Redrup

    BEST MEDIA RELATIONS
    Winner: Matthew Wu
    Highly commended: Shuna Boyd, Bec Waddy

    Finalists
    Bec Waddy, Bethesda
    Ciaran Pillay, H&K
    Dan Chiappini, Blizzard
    David Bass, Bass PR
    Jen Crowcroft, Edelman
    Matthew Wu, Edelman
    Renato Catalan, GAP
    Rudolf Wagenaar, Howorth
    Shuna Boyd, Boyd PR
    Tom Hunter, Howorth

    BEST TELECOMMUNICATIONS JOURNALIST
    Winner: Petroc Wilton
    Highly commended: –

    Finalists
    Andrew Colley
    Angus Kidman
    Ben Grubb
    Campbell Simpson
    David Braue
    David Ramli
    Geoff Long
    Josh Taylor
    Mitchell Bingemann
    Petroc Wilton

    BEST INDEPENDENT MEDIA
    Winner: Ausdroid
    Highly commended: Reckoner

    Nominees
    Ausdroid Media, Live Tech Australia, Player Attack, Reckoner Australia, TechGeek, Women Love Tech

    BEST JOURNALIST (GOLD LIZZIE)
    Winner: Mark Serrels

    BEST TITLE (GOLD LIZZIE)
    Winner: Download This Show

A detailed guide to Ruth Rendell’s short stories

Ruth Rendell, my all-time favourite author, died last week after suffering a stroke in January. Judging from the account given by her friend Jeanette Winterson, there wouldn’t have been any meaningful chance of recovery.

Anyway, that inspired me to finally get around to updating the Rendell-related pages on this site. I’ve started with a detailed guide to Rendell’s short stories, which I assembled ages ago and never got around to uploading. Better late than never, hey?

Getting nominated for a lot of Lizzies

Next Friday (May 15) is the date for the 2015 Optus IT Journalism Awards, usually referred to as the Lizzies and the biggest thing you can win as a tech writer in Australia. I’m maintaining my tradition of being a finalist in a lot of categories: Best News Journalist, Best Tech Industry Journalist, Best Consumer Tech Journalist, Best Telecommunications Journalist, Best Columnist, Best Reviewer and Best Technical Journalist. You can see the full list of finalists here.

Lifehacker is also nominated for several Lizzies: Best Website, Best Video Program, Best News Coverage, Best Personal Technology Coverage and Best Business Tech Coverage. The Tech Tuesday segment I do regularly on RN Drive is also on the list for Best Audio Program. For site and title awards, only a long list is published — there’s no whittling.

Lifehacker did really well last year, picking up Best Personal Technology Coverage and Best Website, plus the ‘Gold Lizzie’ for Best Title. Annoyingly, I wasn’t there (I was in the US for work). I am going to be there this year, and I’m assuming that means neither myself nor Lifehacker will win anything.

It’s definitely a competitive space, especially for journalists. Here’s a summary of all the people who are finalists for more than one Lizzie in a writing category:

  • 7: Angus Kidman
  • 5: Campbell Simpson
  • 4: David Braue, Josh Taylor, Simon Sharwood, Adam Turner
  • 3: Chris Jager, Alex Kidman, Paul Smith, Petroc Wilton, Hannah Francis, Krishan Sharma
  • 2: Mark Serrels, Claire Porter, David Ramli, Mitchell Bingemann, Paris Cowan, Nick Ross, Ben Grubb, Nic Healey, David Milner, Darren Yates, Peter Zaluzny

Good luck everyone!

The Opening Sentence: Linda Who Died Of A Broken Heart

After a long break, a new post in my fiction project The Opening Sentence — read all about it here, check out previous posts here and share any thoughts/ideas/criticisms below. This one takes its title and opening line from a 1935 newspaper article about a police horse. But I can’t write convincingly about horses, so we’ll go in a different direction . . .

With the tumult and shouting of the showground behind her, death, sudden and without pain, came to Linda.

This was not the way I had planned it. Let’s make no bones about it; I wanted her dead. But I wanted her to suffer too. So far, she hadn’t suffered enough.

I wasn’t quite angry enough to risk a murder conviction. At least, I don’t think I was. If you asked me the same question again next Friday, my answer probably would be different. But dying the way she did — anyone would assume a heart attack from the way she crumpled to the ground — didn’t seem like a sufficient punishment for all the pain and chaos she had caused.

Inevitably, that kind of death caused its own version of chaos as well. It was a busy Friday afternoon, so the showground was packed, schoolkids and over-attentive mothers and people who had finished work early. Everywhere you looked there was movement. That was a promising sign for the day’s takings. Then Linda carked it in the middle of the main thoroughfare.

The woman standing right next to her screamed. That attracted even more of a crowd. Someone pulled out their mobile phone and called an ambulance, but it must have been at least 10 minutes before any medical personnel showed up. By then it was much too late. Judging by the speed of Linda’s collapse, it would have been too late if she’d collapsed next to the Red Cross tent.

Fortunately, no-one suggested shutting down the whole show. I’m only guessing, but I assume that it was so evident she had died from natural causes that there didn’t seem any need to treat the whole thing like a murder investigation. It’s still possible, I suppose, that the police will insist we stay around for a few days. I hope not. If it comes to that, I might have to show the local constabulary my copy of Linda’s medical history. It would be awkward to explain why I had a copy of it though.

On reflection, it surely won’t come to that. Her cow of a mother is bound to show up — she only lives a couple of hours’ drive away. And she’ll be eager to tell all. That family never missed an opportunity to talk about their health problems. Sometimes I wonder why I thought I needed those medical records. Most of their content was on Facebook anyway, if you knew where to look.

Steve doesn’t know yet. I’d agreed to take the Friday afternoon shift and he’ll be opening on Saturday. I should have called him as soon as it happened, I suppose. But what was I supposed to say? I know he was planning to catch up on sleep — I’ll tell him I didn’t see any point in disturbing him. Hopefully that way we’ll avoid a row. But perhaps not. Death so often leads to arguments.