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We saw Joss Whedon give the Keynote Address at the Melbourne Writers Festival last night.

He was interveiwed by Dr Sue Turnbull, an Associate Professor in Media Studies at La Trobe Uni, and apparently a respected Buffyologist.

Whedon was charming and witty and self-deprecating, as usual. But he seemed a bit jet-lagged, vagueing out half way through an answer. And Dr. Turnbull seemed a bit star-struck. Her questions were like fan questions often are: nervous, rambling statements with a question mark tacked on the end. The two never seemed to quite click.

Whedon perked up, though, for the audience Q&A.

"Audience Q&A" is a phrase that makes my bowels clench in dread. The one at Bret Easton Ellis was cringeworthy - "Which of your characters would win in a fight?" "Do you want to do drugs with me?" "Can I have your Grindr nick?".

But the Q&A at Joss Whedon was the highlight of the night. The questions were succinct and interesting. There was minimal fawning. And Whedon's answers were both funny and insightful. One thing I learnt: Whedon was in talks with Ronald D. Moore to direct an episode of Battlestar Galactica. He pulled out, he said, because he didn't want to have the plot spoiled for him.

More quotes from the night can be found in this Gizmodo article.

Overall? It was good, but it lacked depth. I would have much preferred to hear Whedon give an actual speech. He's witty and charming, and he has interesting things to say.

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SLR at Ilk Bar. They started off loud. The owner told them to turn it down. That seemed to throw the band for a bit, but they perked up towards the end. First time I've heard them. Reminded me a bit of early NIN (although I'm sure they'd claim much cooler bands as influences).

Then Cabaret Nocture at La Di Da. There was open doorway between the goth section and the "mainstream" bar. It kind of felt like a Tim Burton film - normal town on one side of the wall, monster town on the other. Only instead of a waif-like Winona Ryder crossing over, we had drunk guys leering at the goth chicks.

Not awesome.

On the plus side, my new tie was a hit. Who doesn't love a cephalopod with gigantic brains?

Up at 8:30 for two hours of karate. New belt means new syllabus, which means feeling confused all over again. But that's good. That's exciting. It means I'm learning things.

Lunch. Guitar. A quick grandpa nap.

Then we went to Ben McKenzie's Science Week show, "A Brief History of a Brief History of Time". Basically, it was a comedy talk about the Stephen Hawking book. Lots of fun. My review is here.

Shopping in town. Played with phones at the new Telstra superstore. Bought a rashie shirt so that I don't get hideously sunburnt on our trip to Heron Island. As I came out of the change room, the attendant asked how well it fitted.

"Good," I said. "Although now I know how a penis feels when the condom rolls on."

I don't think he appreciated my joke.

Yummy Japanese dinner at Ito. Then Josh Earl's musical librarian stand-up comedy at the Writers Festival club.

Home now, watching the Communist Party Propoganda Olympics Closing Ceremony on TV.

How was your weekend?
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I'm writing up my Melbourne Writer's Festival sessions out of order. Forgive me.

SAT 25th: Free and Easy -- Cory Doctorow and Charles Firth

This was a debate, of sorts. The topic was can creators survive by giving their works away for free on the Internet?

I say "of sorts" because Doctorow was smart and articulate and knew his subject backwards, while Firth was vague and beligerant and never clearly expressed what it was he was trying to say.

Doctorow's argument: any business that depends restricting consumers' ability to copy information is going to fail, because copying information is just going to get easier.

Hard drives will get bigger, downloads will get faster, and search engines will get better at helping you find the pirate copies. As an author, Doctorow has decided to embrace that. He gives away digital copies of all of his novels for free from his website, essentially as samplers for the paper versions. And his books keeps selling.

Firth's arguments (as I understood them) were as follows:

1. The Doctorow Business Model's days are numbered. Devices like the Sony Reader will give a paperback-quality reading experience for digital files, and there goes the market for physical books.

2. Without sales of physical objects, creators will have to move to an advertising-driven business model. Advertisers will demand creators compromise their work so as not to offend (Firth cited examples from his time on Triple M and with his new newspaper, Maniac Times).

3. Increased bandwidth will produce a demand for internet content with higher production values, as happened with television and computer games. Higher production qualities cost money, so large media corporations will dominate the internet, driving out the indie creators.

At least, I think those were Firth's arguments. As I said, he didn't express his ideas and criticisms clearly, which meant the debate never really tackled the complexities of the topic.  And I suspect Firth's heart wasn't really in his arguments anyway: he admitted that DVD sales of The Chaser have shot up once they started putting the videos on the ABC website for free.

Frankly, the whole "debate" aspect of this talk felt like a poorly thought out last minute addition. There was even a moderator, whose name I've deliberately forgotten, whose only contribution was to make an extremely long and gratingly unfunny introduction, thus robbing us of time with the person we had actually paid money to see.

I got to chart briefly with Doctorow at his book signing afterwards. He's not just smart and future-savvy, he's also really friendly.


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February 2019

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