Thursday, 4 April 2013

Starbucks is apparently good for something

I was doing uni research, and read this article by the guy who first coined the term 'disruptive innovation', Clayton Christenson. He wrote this in an article called "Disruptive Innovation" from the journal Leadership Excellence (2007), and I thought it was interesting:

"...Starbucks came into the middle of the market and disrupted sit-down restaurants. The job people hire Starbucks to do is to help them to sit and have a conversation or informal meeting without spending much time or money."

I was really interested in the thought process Christenson would have gone through to get to that. What he's done is go, "Okay, restaurants are selling food service, duh. But that's not the end of it. What other service might they be selling?"

Then you look at the demographics, etc, what people use it for. He's right. They don't just go there for food.

It's like somebody said, people don't always buy your product for what you think you're selling it, and that's possibly why you need to make sure that your business doesn't depend on one principle (source: I am not a business student).

The trick is to apply this concept successfully before somebody else does.

Not really planning to write an essay on this or anything, but I think it's an interesting exercise in thought. The idea that the product itself which is being sold and bringing in the revenue might not really be the reason why people are buying it is definitely an odd one which appeals to my sense of irony.

Obviously there are a lot of people who HAVE to have their specific DoubleDeath Syrup Latte (I've never been to a Starbucks, but Gloria Jeans works on the same principle), and that's the more obvious market. But my point is, it's interesting to try and examine things you see in every day life with the specific thought that 'what I see might not be actually what is happening'.

I'm sure this is common business school knowledge to do with analysing demographics, etc etc, but to me it's a relatively new concept and one I think could be interestingly applied as a writerly thinking exercise.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

So I'm about 7 years too late but... I just discovered this video. I never realised P!nk was this dorky. I love her :)

The strangled "I will be skinny" retching act made me snort in a most unladylike fashion.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

"I Want to Write You" doesn't sound TOO creepy, does it?

It's 12:15 am and I need to go to bed. But someone on the interwebs was being adorable, and in my quest to blog more, I decided to tell people about it. Behold: 1st World Problems at Forever 21.

Now, at first glance, she is obviously wearing some slightly odd makeup (making the static pic for the video kinda look like it's meant to be a parody) and has a lot of extra money to burn. But don't be prejudiced. Like I said, she's adorable. And she does have problems--they just aren't money-related.

It must be a sign of my writerly thinking that the first thing I thought when I finished watching was that this is how you write a down-to-earth rich girl, and I think really that's why I'm posting this. I feel bad for her, the way the staff at Forever 21 treated her was horrible, and she's obviously pretty upset, but the thing is that she as a character (person! I mean person!) is also very very interesting. She's doing a haul vid, she's one of those people who literally says literally, like, 6 times in one video. Both of these are typical traits of people I don't normally watch. But at the same time she makes off-hand references and wry little comments on what she's talking about, she's interesting when she talks... and, basically, she's a down-to-earth rich girl. And did I mention she was adorable?

It must be true, what they say about all writers being vampires. Now I want to write a character like her into my next story, and then give the real girl a hug, because in terms of awful customer service, that's right up (down?) there. Yeah, first world problems are still problems. grav3yardgirl and I are aware.

Afterthought: Ironically, John 3:16 is on the bottom of that  shopping bag.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Just Plain Awesome: Honor Harrington #1: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

It's time to start a new series that I may or may not continue, given the state of my blog so far. I'm calling it: Just Plain Awesome. I will review stuff that I think is awesome. There you go.

First on my list is the first book in the Honor Harrington series: On Basilisk Station, written by David Weber.

Commander Honor Harrington of the Royal Manticorean Navy (Manticore being a kingdom spanning several planets) is assigned to command the HMS Fearless. It's small and old, but she's excited about it. But then it turns out this ship is getting the majority of its long-range weapons stripped out to be replaced with a weapon that, while devastating, is only good for short range. This is the fault of a certain group of powerful people, who hold a theory they want Honor and Fearless to prove. Honor does her damndest in tactical exercises, and succeeds at first, until her opposition catches on and simply stays out of harm's way.

Embarrassed, the party gets Honor and the crew of Fearless assigned to Basilisk Station and its attached planet Medusa. Basilisk System which has two different wormhole junctions leading towards it (making it vulnerable and useful at the same time) and an abundance of illegal trade.

Basilisk Station, for various idiotic political reasons, is also chronically understaffed and overlooked, and is where the Royal Manticorean Navy send their biggest dropkicks to get them out of the way. Honor is understandably upset, and meanwhile her crew also resent her for being posted out here. Then the only other ship in Basilisk leaves on pretence of badly needing maintenance, because the guy captaining it has a personal vendetta against Honor.

So she's got one ship and needs to police the entire Basilisk System. Meanwhile, the primitive natives of Medusa are getting up to some strange and worrying things...

Honor's response to this mess? She promptly decides to ignore the insult inherent in her posting, take these problems in stride, get herself and her respective crew into gear and do the best damn job she can. And it is glorious to read. (I like reading about people Getting Stuff Done Competently, hence I'm a huge fan of Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Choice duology.)

Also, treecats!

My overall impression: Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

I loved everything.

I loved the way that female and male people were treated equally. There were just as many, if not more, females in powerful roles, and it was really really refreshing to have it be set in a time when sexism isn't an issue and so we are free to have powerful women who suck and powerful men who suck. Human nature is human nature, after all.

I loved that Honor behaved like a captain, never let her guard down too much, did things the right way, stayed in control--and if that made her seem Mary Sue-ish at times, well--I don't care. I honestly don't. Being good at your job and being awesome is not a crime. It was exhilarating, reading about a captain (and a girl) who gets stuff right and gets stuff DONE. It was so cool to read about the reactions to her exploits by those in positions of power who supported her. They were actively talking about how awesome and effective she was and supporting her. Honor is damn good at her job and it is COOL. She is empowering to read about because I can identify with her and more than that, I love identifying with her.

Put it this way: I think if Kate Beaton were to draw a non-parodic version of Strong Female Characters (warning: link is hilarious but absolutely not worksafe), Honor Harrington is a likely candidate to appear.

Honor herself is likeable: she is not selfish, her goal is to do her duty by any means necessary, no matter how impossible it looks (and this mission was impossible), to get her crew to do their duty by any means necessary, and while she doesn't like having to take a hard approach, if she has to, she does.   Honor is forty years old, and she is mature and secure in herself, unafraid to ruffle a few feathers. It's nice to read. Her goal is not deciding which guy to choose between a werewolf and a vampire or some other nasty beastie. Her goal is not to master some kind of power lying latent inside her that she doesn't really understand. Her goal is not coming of age, or choosing between love and work--both genres of story that I hate. It's just to prove that she is committed to her duty and to her empire--and that due to sheer awesomeness (and a healthy dose of pigheadedness) she is not going to back down when someone sets her up to fail.

After the kind of first person YA garbage I haven't recently been able to escape reading, wherein the main characters don't come off too well, it's a bit sad to have to say that David Weber has a real talent for not making his main characters unlikeable when he writes from their viewpoint. That should be a given, but these days it isn't.

What is exceptional is that he's good at writing from the antagonists' viewpoints, giving every character a good chain of reasoning for why they are the way they are and why they think how they think. They act for their own personal reasons that may or may not be affected by politics or the economy, and their personal lives, irrelevant to the plot, are also discussed a little bit in-story. There's one conversation between two people about a man's sick wife, which has nothing to do with anything. It's just a little segue in amidst the new action. There's even a little bit of exposition in the narration thrown in, explaining that the woman used to be a famous singer. I like that. It acknowledges that the characters have lives beyond the decisions they make which affect the plot. It really builds up a sense of realism and fleshes the world out.

Also of note is that sometimes the bad guys are just the bad guys because they're not on the same side as Honor, which I think Weber notes and plays on. When he writes a ship's captain, frustrated  at the other side who just won't die, he writes exactly that, no matter whose side they're on. Yet, you still want Honor to win.

There was no mention of religion except for the native Medusans' so I would hazard a guess that nobody who matters to the story really has a religion and David Weber thinks that it's unscientific and so would have been wiped out by a race who have the science to travel the stars. But anyway. I'd rather there was no mention of religion at all than have the author just randomly insult Christianity for no reason (as is unbearably common), so Weber gets points and my sincere thanks for bucking that particular trend. And it's not like religion would actually have any bearing on the events of the story, so I suppose he saw no need to include it.

Weber's style of writing is really, really good. A minimum of unnecessary dialogue tags, good characterisation, a good plot, and insane depth in worldbuilding, especially in terms of political, economic and social relations. Interactions between characters were done realistically, given the types of people who were involved. I'm not really one to talk about pacing as I don't pay too much attention to that kind of thing in a novel and if Weber interrupted the story at a crucial moment to explain the development of space travel for a while, well, it was interesting enough to keep me absorbed, so he gets away with it!

A little detail that caught my eye was that these people still use paper at times. As I have written before, I doubt paper is going to go away because of its sheer handiness. I liked this inclusion a lot.

The very final pages are absolutely priceless. Such a brilliant way to end. Anyone who has read it will know what I am talking about. It definitely made me laugh.

As for ratings, I now officially give On Basilisk Station 5 stars because I know I am going to read it again and again, and it's making me hunt down anything else by David Weber. Trivia: On Basilisk Station is also the first book to interest me in space battles.

On Basilisk Station is free to download at Baen here. Try the Baen Free CD site for more free Honorverse titles (most of them are free. In fact, the second in the series isn't currently available to buy, which I find odd...).

Trigger warnings for swearing in heated situations and some non-graphic but not obscured references to  an attempted sexual assault (only mentioned once in the book so if that's a trigger for you, you can skip that part easily). Because of this, I can't honestly say that I think you should give this book to a fourteen year old, but I will note that I would really have enjoyed this book at about age thirteen or fourteen, and I think I'll still enjoy it when I'm thirty.

And now to say this to David Weber himself, because he did something awesome and he needs to know about it. His Twitter account, @davidweber1, looks like the best route to take. I'll let you know if he replies.

Another Day, Another Retool

Hi guys!

As you will note, I have moved from

Why? Because I don't like the lack of privacy provided by Gravatar (which you can't seem to get rid of in Wordpress) and I don't want to force the people who read my blog to have to use/attempt to circumvent a commenting system that I don't want to use myself. Gravatar is skeezy and has no privacy. (So, by the way, is Disqus.) Google, while less functional as a platform, has a 'don't be evil' policy which extends to the way they put their comments in place. I find that attractive.

Why is my name now Liz Craye? Because it is, that's why. ;) I want a fresh start. I know it pretty much goes without saying, but please don't use my real names/other fake names here.

Unfortunately all comments were lost in the import, so I guess your brilliant insights will be lost forever (it is a shame about the 2012 Australia Day post because there were some real winners in that one.I might make the effort to manually put those comments up).

Anyway, welcome to the new version of my blog. I'm working on some good content for it.

Lots of love and cookies,


Friday, 20 July 2012

Pies and Paper

So my local deli/lunchbar/50s diner throwback now has an e-feature. There's a sign right in the window detailing it. You can order from them via apps available from the Android marketplace or the Apple store.

I'm still kind of reeling from it. I mean, this is your local deli. It's a family operated business. It's the kind of place you go to if you want a sandwich on the fly, ready-made and settled nicely into one of those fiddly hard-to-open plastic containers. Or a good old Aussie meat pie (made out of real Australians, folks!).

I guess what I'm trying to say is, who is going to download this app? Who needs to order a pie with that level of precaution in case the shop doesn't have any left by 12 noon? Generally they're already sitting there in the pie warmer when you come in for one. And if that shop has run out, there's a bakery next door, and another bakery five or six doors down.

Are these people trying to guarantee their own localised monopolistic pie economy by making sure they supply pies at a level equal with the town's demand?

I don't quite know. But it's making me think--we're getting to that stage of modern life (I hate that phrase, and look at me using it) where you're a little bit odd if you don't have some kind of electronic presence. Even if you just sell Mrs Mac's for a living.

In other words, the internet is bleeding into anything and everything. I'm imagining what sort of world we're going to live in when we're finally fully integrated--and I can't really imagine it.

For starters, there's obviously a limit to how 'e' we can go. Let me illustrate:

Currently, I work in a law firm, and while you'd think something like that would be all high-tech and everything, it's not really. We have a main electronic database, but we still send and receive letters by post. A lot of communication happens by email, but a lot of those emails need to get printed out so it can be referred to in Court. There are handwritten drafts of documents flying around <i>everywhere</i>. When you file documents in Court, you file three physical copies, which are then sealed and written on by hand. You keep copies of letters you send out to the client so you can keep track of what was just generated by computer and saved to disk, and what was actually sent. You keep copies of every document that ever comes into your hands, and whilst you can scan these copies to a server, you're also keeping a copy on the physical file. Photocopies of all sorts of things are made so that lawyers can annotate them.

We still walk around to Court, get documents sealed, and walk back. We don't email the document, or upload it to a Court database. It gets done by paper, and when you ask for a listing, they write it in a physical diary with blue biro. (It's always blue biro; I don't know why.)

Lawyers are anal, anal thinkers (for good reason!) and are thus very pro-paper. Since part of my job is to keep track of all this paper, I'm not quite so pro-paper. But my point is, you tend not to believe in The Death of Physical Material (especially paper!) when you work somewhere like that.

And thus, physical material is just not going away, because we're physical beings. Even discounting that, we are born physically, we sit in physical chairs, and we exist in physical space.

I tend to think that the Google glasses will probably be our last step into the virtual world, because it's the grand link between what's happening in real life and what the internet can say about it. After that, how much further can you go? People aren't going to want to stay inside a little bubble all the time and interact with the entire world via mouseclicks (okay, some will, but that's a minority). At the very least, you'd get cramp. There are some things you can only do face-to-face.

I quite like the Ghost in the Shell TV series for this reason. There are a lot of reasons I like it, but I also really enjoy seeing a gritty version of how technology and people interplay. Ghost in the Shell takes place in a setting that's all about being linked up to a network and having technology and people become almost interchangeable in terms of level of sentience. But at the same time, it is for the most part a very physical show.

Side note - I tend not to take the common sci-fi futuristic portrayal of one Net with one internet community in which each person has only one avatar (their real-life name) and they do and experience everything through that, because it's so different to the way things are now. Right now I know a lot of people with different handles on different sites, and even those who are mostly consistent and keep one handle for everything are still not using their real name. How could a mass group (i.e. everyone who uses the internet) turn away from the freedom of anonymity like this?

Answer: it ain't happening. Thank goodness.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Birds and the Internet (without mentioning Twitter once)

The internet is a frightening place.

You have your world, right? Your normal, every day world. You have work, study, friends you see a lot, friends you see once in a blue moon, people you try to avoid. You have books and movies and sport and music. You have hobbies--you might even have dreams you work on fulfilling in the background.

Then you have the internet, a vast, time-sucking black hole of mostly useless information, peopled with freaks and kindred spirits (and with sites like Facebook, people you know! So, both...), and it's just constant streams of information and non-information and stimuli and noise noise noise.

Back in the early noughties, when you first hit the internet, you build a little nest for yourself in the first tree you come across. You craft it with care, line it with the finest in scraps, and snuggle down, happy. You have your own little presence. You've built a little place for yourself. Sooner or later, you venture out, pecking your way forward little bit by little bit, going a little further each time, until--lo and behold! What is this? It's another bird! You went for the same worm! (Don't ask what a worm is doing in a tree; this is an analogy. We're looking at the bigger picture here.) What a lot you have in common!

And this bird likes other things you do? Even better! What good fortune!

This bird introduces you to another bird or three, and you all have a few things in common! You happily chat away for days, logging on at odd hours of the morning because they're all in different time zones, having keyboard smashes of lols at the funny things you all say, and generally having a whale of a time. There should be a birdy metaphor here, not a fishy reference, but I can't think of one.

And then one day one of these birds invites you back to its nest, and in its nest, you see a stick.

Baby, you've never seen anything like this stick before in your life. It looks really cool. It does cool stuff. It's a real talking point. It's spouting things you've never heard before, and you want more of it. Where can you get one?

The bird it belongs to agrees to link you to a new place. It's a new branch. It might even be a new tree. Whatever the case, there are tonnes of these sticks here, and even more birds flying around talking and interacting and doing birdy things together, and you realise--your sleepy little tree was nothing compared to this. This is where it's at. Stuff is going on here. Your birdy friend shows you its own nest in this place. It tells you it's not known as 'bird' here. Here, it's known as 'Shadowslayer'. It's nest isn't like the fluffy nest you knew, all colourful and decorated with the knitting patterns you both loved and bonded over. This nest is a different kettle of fish. There we go with the fish references again. This nest is decorated in the industrial style, with shards of metal and pieces of concrete. That might even be a little mouse skull in the corner. You wonder how it died, and take a closer look at your friend. 'Shadowslayer' is looking a little different round the edges. Does it have a mohawk? And a pierced wing?

Yeah, my little friend, Shadowslayer says. "This is another side of me." And that's when you realise: you don't have to just be one bird. You don't just have to have one nest. You can have two!

Baby, you've just stuck your teensy claw into this world. You ain't seen nothing yet.

On your own, you venture around the branches of the two trees that you're familiar with. You find out that there's a lot going on. You realise you need a couple of different nests and outfit changes so that you project what you want to project here. Knitting patterns just aren't appropriate in the goth metal nest you've also built. Your writerly postings don't quite match the beer-swilling sports branches. So you build a few more nests to match the different parts of you. (You shy away from the wing piercing, though. That's a little extreme.) All the while, you're making more birdy friends, inviting them over to your nest, and inviting a select few back to your other nests.

Pretty soon, you're intertwined irrevocably. What you've been doing here is making little nests for yourself on different branches of different trees in the internet forest, and gradually you get to know your neighbours or share a nest with a few other birds, and then you start to connect your different nests together, until eventually you're living in a chattering hive of birds and nests and newfangled sticks that do things you can't quite figure out and freeze mid-pulse for no reason at all sometimes, and there are those random bird feeders filled with honey and seeds and all these other birds shouting at you to try and buy their birdy wares and you're spending too much time there and it just gets too much.

So you retreat. You start taking down your nests, selling the parts for scrap, letting the birds you really liked know that they can find you at the first nest, and nowhere else. A few nests you just abandon altogether.

You might even fly away from the internet forest entirely and not come back for a while--migrate to South America, or the like, and enjoy not having any 'responsibility' to keep logging on.

But your old friends haunt you. The nests you made--the extra rooms you added on to them and the beauty of them--they haunt you. The gossip you're missing haunts you. In short, bird calls are taking over your dreams and you have no choice. You have to go back.

So you put it off for as long as possible, and then gradually come back. You start to refurbish your nests, one or two at first, and then the rest of them come back. You start setting up a couple of new ones here and there--until all the noise gets to you and you close up shop and migrate back to real life for some peace and quiet. It's safe there.

But the bird calls still echo in your mind, and so you fly off, back to the nests and the birdy friends you miss so much, and soon you're caught in an endless yoyo-y cycle of migration, and one day you wake up and realise that this whole extended metaphor passed the realm of the ridiculous a long time ago.

In summary, this is why I have a backlog of emails from friends I haven't connected with in months, why I shrink away from the forums I once frequented, and why I haven't posted on this blog since January.

In theory, I should love the internet. It's introduced me to some great people, some amazing ideas, and some helpful hints. It's just that instead of loving it, I get scared of it because it's so big and it seems impossible to do only one thing on there at once.

Trees weren't meant to be this complicated.

So my question is: How does everybody else cope with this? Am I alone in being so freaked out?

And does anybody know exactly why a cute little bird would find a pierced wing asethetically pleasing?