Category Archives: Life

Life, love and the pursuit of +9 Slotted Ice Picks

A Fourth Mode in Anime?

I completed an essay for my “Manga and Anime in Japanese Popular Culture” class (I love that I can do a class on this!) as part of my Graduate Diploma in Humanities. It was a great essay topic that helped give me a deeper insight into the anime and manga I love…but something bugged me. The essay was based on Susan Napier’s excellent book Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke:  Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (this is the 2001 edition; there is an updated 2005 edition too). In it, Napier said that apocalypse, festival and elegy are – in her opinion – the three most significant modes in anime. The essay asked to discuss three anime or manga that showed aspects of these three modes.

Now, I don’t doubt that apocalypse, festival and elegy are incredibly significant modes in anime and manga. Napier gave very convincing historical background and examples to show this. She also states immediately that

“…anime is an immensely wide-ranging popular cultural form. Anime mines all aspects of society and culture for its material, not only the most contemporary and transient of trends but also the deeper levels of history, philosophy, and politics.”

(Napier 2001, p. 32)

So Napier never suggests that apocalypse, festival and elegy are the only three significant modes in anime – far from it. Her main argument in the book is that anime is an art form, and can offer great insights into Japanese culture:

At its best, anime can be highly creative,  intellectually challenging, and aesthetically memorable. But even at its most pedestrian, the incredible variety of animated works can offer rich insights into a complicated and sometimes agonized culture.

(Napier 2001, pp. 32-33)

Yes, yes and yes. I agree with all these points. Anime can be incredibly varied – as varied as the human imagination. I often say that there is an anime (or manga) for everyone (now if only I could convince my dad to sit down and try some…).

So after reading Napier’s description of the apocalypse, festival and elegy modes – and from where they derive in Japanese culture – I started thinking about the anime and manga I wanted to analyse  for the essay. And this is where I hit a stumbling block.

My pavlovian choice when selecting an anime to analyse is One Piece. It’s my favourite (at the moment, at least) and has so much material after over 15 years of being serialised that it should be easy to use as reference material. But…it didn’t seem to fit quite well in any of Napier’s three modes. It’s certainly not an apocalyptic series. It has elements of elegy – particularly nostalgia – but these are mainly in the background stories of each character. Seriously – nearly every background story of the Strawhat Pirates made me cry. But these are just background stories and – while adding plenty of depth to the story – they’re probably not critical to the plot. There was certainly mourning and some nostalgia, but not much lyricism. The idea of transience isn’t strong within One Piece; the nature of the world it’s set in doesn’t mean that you watch the seasons change – at least not in order! Rather, everything changes in too short a space of time to appreciate its impermanence. Mono no aware does not come to mind when watching One Piece.

One Piece
© Funimation.
Used here for review and educational purposes.

So, I couldn’t really write about the elegy of One Piece. That leaves festival. While some One Piece fans can immediately equate the series with a festival, I felt uncertain. Because, yes, sure, there is plenty of humour: bizarre, pun-based, juvenile and sophisticated. There are also elements of sexual themes – scantily dressed women and the perverts that chase them. One Piece is a battle genre series, so there is also violence (even though, for the longest time, no one ever seemed to die – I won’t give any more spoilers than that). But…Napier’s three modes were all compared with elements of Japanese culture. And when it comes to festivals, or matsuri in Japanese, One Piece didn’t feel very Japanese at all.

It’s a pirate series. There are characters named after famous historical pirate figures, like Blackbeard. The ships and weaponry used are reminiscent of those in the 17th and 18th centuries. While Japanese pirates did exist, One Piece‘s pirates show a very European/Western influence – similar to those depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island franchises. Furthermore, the One Piece universe is very different to our own. Japanese-like characters have appeared, but they were noted as being very unique, and none of them are major characters (yet). Overall, the One Piece world is not a Japanese world.

I could have perhaps shoe-horned my analysis of One Piece into the festival mode but it really didn’t ring true with me. Yes, there is humour and violence and overtly sexy characters. Yes, these characters are doing something unique – not something that everyday people would do. But it’s not because of matsuri; it’s because they are pirates. Mangaka Eiichiro Oda’s research on pirates is very thorough, and the freedom theme found throughout the series feels much more Western than Japanese to me.

One Piece recently overtook Dragonball to be the highest selling manga of all time in Japan. Merchandising of the franchise has run rampant too, with everything from candies to underwear to eyeglasses being sold. The series has a huge and varied audience, with more people over the age of 60 reading it than under the age of eighteen. That’s right: even though it is theoretically a shounen (boys) series, One Piece has a huge adult following. I would rate it with The Simpsons as an animated series that made huge cultural impacts in their respective countries.

That was the start of my stumbling block. If a massive manga and anime series like One Piece didn’t really fit into the three modes that Napier called the “most significant”, then what did that say about One Piece? Or the three modes? I moved on and thought about some other series I knew well enough to analyse and compare with Napier’s modes. But I seemed to hit the same wall again and again. Admittedly, my choices were restricted to those that had not already been analysed by Napier in her book – otherwise I could have easily written about Cowboy Bebop, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, or Neon Genesis Evangelion.

But thinking about the series I had read recently, I couldn’t really put them into one of those three categories. Silver Spoon is a wonderful series by Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fame, and may overtake One Piece as my new favourite. It’s about a teenage boy from the city moving to rural Hokkaido to attend agricultural school. There really isn’t anything in there that I would identify as particularly apocalyptic, elegiac or festive. It’s a slice-of-life series with an educational bent.

Skip Beat! is a shoujo (girls) series about a teenaged girl spurned by her lifelong love after he enters the music industry. She becomes determined to be more famous and successful than him in the entertainment world as revenge. Moyasimon is another agricultural-themed series where the protagonist can see and communicate with micro-organisms in the world around him. Fairy Tail is basically a mages-as-opposed-to-pirates version of One Piece. Even the hugely popular Naruto and Bleach seemed to not quite fit into Napier’s three modes. Sure, I could find small elements of Napier’s modes in each of them, but they all felt like I was grasping at straws.

In the end, I analysed Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou for apocalypse, Gin Tama for festival (which felt much more fitting than One Piece) and Pom Poko – one of the few Studio Ghibli films not analysed by Napier – for elegy. Interestingly, all three of those anime showed very strong elements of at least two of Napier’s three modes. Gin Tama arguably shows all three. And yet I couldn’t really comfortably tag One Piece or any of the other series I mentioned with even one mode.

While I still agree that Napier’s chosen modes of apocalypse, festival and elegy are incredibly significant in anime – and certainly have deep roots in Japanese culture – it feels like one more significant mode is missing. So I’d like to propose a fourth significant mode in anime: growth.

One Piece, Fairy Tail, Bleach and Naruto – pretty much any battle genre anime – have huge plot points revolving around characters getting stronger or better skilled so that they can reach their goals. The educational series like Silver Spoon, Moyasimon and Yakitate!! Japan aim to teach their readers something, even if the plot does not actually depict the characters learning too. Shoujo series like Skip Beat! and Cousin show their protagonists coming-of-age and learning about how to better themselves to meet their goals. These all either depict their characters growing in some way, or allow the reader to grow with new knowledge.

The motto of Japan’s highest-selling manga magazine, Weekly Shounen Jump, can translate to “Friendship! Endeavour! Success!”. The “Endeavour” element of the motto – and perhaps “Success” too – certainly lend themselves to a growth mode in anime – and boy, do the Jump series show it! One Piece, Naruto and Bleach – sometimes referred to the Big Three series of today – were all serialised as manga in Jump before becoming anime, as was Gin Tama and Dragon Ball. This motto was created after asking readers what the three most important things were in life – so it’s easy to link this aspect of growth in anime to Japanese culture.

But beyond Jump‘s motto, there is more evidence of a growth mode evolving from Japanese culture. The most obvious example is Japan’s spectacular economic growth after World War II, when Japanese goods became known worldwide as superior, and the economy became one of the world’s largest. The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games is often referred to as a coming-of-age point in the history of modern Japan; that it had rebuilt successfully after the ravages of war and was part of the world stage again. Even after that, Japan held high economic esteem for decades, although the economic troubles starting in the 1980s reduced that somewhat.

Some argue that the medieval period during which Japan closed its border to foreigners created a boom growth in unique Japanese cultural elements, such as kabuki theatre and the geisha tradition. Even after its borders were opened again in 1854, the Edo period heralded a new age and immense growth and modernisation. Perhaps the mode of growth could extend to regrowth, considering Japan’s history of rebuilding from natural disasters like the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. It would seem that perhaps the growth mode we see in Japanese culture is often tied to the apocalypse mode. But that is fine. After all, as I wrote in my essay, apocalypse, festival and elegy were often tied together. I feel that elegy and growth also link together, particularly nostalgia, while festival is linked to growth in celebrations like the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

These examples of growth in Japan’s history are all off the top of my head (and not referenced!), so it can’t be considered as well-researched as Napier’s explanation of apocalypse, elegy and festival and their roots in Japanese culture, but I don’t believe it would be hard to make an argument for growth as a fourth “most significant” mode in anime and point out its influences. Furthermore, the addition of this fourth mode would cover some of the most significant anime series that didn’t fit before, like Dragon Ball and One Piece, as well as entire genres like educational or coming-of-age.

Plus, it would’ve made my essay much easier to write!

A “6:50 p.m. Photo” Project Retropective

When I left for my secondment to the U.S. in May of 2012, I decided I wanted to try a little photography project. Every day, I would take a photo at 6:50 p.m. of whatever was around me at that time. This isn’t a new idea. I had first heard about it back when I was a LiveJournal user (so you know it was a long time ago!) and had actually done something similar on a 2007 backpacking trip around Japan (sadly, those photos seem to have gone missing). I wanted to keep this daily log of my life in the U.S. because I knew I wasn’t going to be very good at making daily blog posts.

I picked 6:50 p.m. as the designated time because I felt confident that I would be doing something interesting then. I would have finished any work for the day and would be exploring New York or whatever city I was in. I may just be eating dinner, but given how amazing the food scene is in New York, it was bound to be something interesting and memorable.

Well, I just spent the weekend cleaning up image links on this blog after reinstalling it (more on that in another blog post), so I ended up going through every 6:50 p.m. post I made. It was a little depressing to look at them, especially considering my assumption that I would be doing something “interesting” at that time. The main thing that struck me was that I was actually still in the office quite often, or commuting to or from work.

There were quite a few days without any logged photo too. I know that a few of them were because my phone battery had gone flat, but most were missing because I was on a plane and my phone was switched off.

Another recurring theme was just the view from my apartment or hotel room. I wasn’t out and about, I was lurking in my room. Even some pictures that look like I was out exploring were really just coincidentally taken on my walk home for the day. Now, I’m not worried about staying at home to get out of the heat or to exercise or to study Japanese, but I did still spend a large amount of time not doing any interesting.

It’s disappointing for me because before I arrived in New York, I had found a number of sites with lists of events happening each day. There were also friends to catch up with and food to try, so I’d have a choice of at least two or three things to do every evening. But I rarely did even one.

I think a lot of this was due to the travel exhaustion I mentioned in my last blog post. Long weekly commutes and long hours at work left me with little energy at the end of the day. Some of the missing posts were also due to me being asleep by 6:50 p.m.! I noticed there weren’t any posts from my time in Atlanta either. I’m sure I was either at work or at home by 6:50 p.m. though, since I didn’t have a car and Atlanta is not a city you can enjoy without one.

It wasn’t all completely uneventful though. I’m pretty pleased with the adventures I did actually have. All the posts from Burning Man and Japan are missing, but that was because I had no internet connection. I’m pretty sure I was having an interesting time though 🙂

Despite the negative tone of this post, I think the 6:50 p.m. project was a worthwhile one. I did manage to log quite a lot during my six months in the U.S. and these photos coupled with my social media posts are my memories of the trip that might otherwise be forgotten. It was also a project that garnered a lot of interest from those that witnessed me randomly taking a photo when an alarm sounded, heh.

Additionally, this retrospective of the project has taught me something – namely, I need to better manage my energy levels if I’m going to make the most of my time. I know now that I burn out if I travel too often, or work too late. I need to make sure that my work pace is sustainable, and my commuting minimised. It’s something that I had thought about for a while but has just been confirmed over the last few weeks, and with this little post.

Time is the only resource you can’t get back after wasting it. I’m going to try and utilise all of it from now on.

Time Off

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I blogged here. And so much has happened since then too.

I’m on the verge of a one-month break from work. I can’t lie: I’m really looking forward to it. I won’t be going anywhere – that’s the whole point.

My life has been lived out of a suitcase for over a year now. In February 2012, I moved out of my rental apartment as the landlord had sold it. I couch-surfed for a few months (visiting Margaret River and Uluru in the interim) until leaving Australia for my secondment in New York. While I was based in New York, I didn’t actually work there, so I was travelling weekly – first to Philadelphia, then to Atlanta. And, of course, while I was in the States I did some touristy travel – to Chicago and the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Then there was my 30th birthday holiday extravaganza in Japan via Singapore…

My U.S. secondment was meant to be for a year, but I heard news that my off-the-plan apartment was going to be completed before I was due to return – and being unable to pay for rent in New York as well as a mortgage, I came home to Australia in November 2012. But my apartment wouldn’t be ready until February 2013 – so again I couch-surfed, this time with my sister in Geelong (which, as you can imagine, meant long commutes to work in Melbourne every day).

My time in Geelong was broken up a little with a 2-week long project in Singapore and then three months in Bangalore, India where I was a trainer for ThoughtWorks University graduates. India brought its own travels – to Hampi, Bandipur and Mysore. I was also meant to take another trip to the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, but I was asked to cancel my leave and go to another project in Singapore.

My mortgage and settlement were finalised while I was in India- so I had an empty apartment in Melbourne waiting for me! I asked if I could have a week in Melbourne between my projects in India and Singapore, just so I could move in and sign papers. While I was in Melbourne though, I heard that the Singapore project was canned (so I lost my holiday in Madhya Pradesh for nothing, oh well). But! Now this meant that I could now stay in my apartment in Melbourne! So for a few nice weeks, I lived in my new apartment, that had a bed and…not much else. I had sold all my furniture a year earlier, so while I was living in my new home, it wasn’t really that comfortable until I started getting a few basics: fridge, table, sofa…

Unfortunately I didn’t even have a chance to finish doing all that until my next project sent me off again – this time to Sydney. I’ve been travelling back and forth every week for a few months now. Weekends in Melbourne have been spent scrambling to buy more furniture, appliances – even basics like a toilet brush.

I’m getting to a point now that the basics for living comfortably are now in place in my apartment. I’m nowhere near done unpacking though: I still need to install bookshelves for my library, bring out my various game consoles and set up a work desk for crafting. But those things can live in my storage cage for now. The fact that I have an armchair and I can curl up with a blanket to read while eating something I cooked in my own kitchen – this has been bliss for me. And it makes it very hard to pull myself away to catch another flight to Sydney.

I’m typing this at the airport while waiting for my penultimate flight to Sydney. From the end of next week, I’ll be taking a month off work. I won’t be travelling anywhere. I want to stay at home and just enjoy it. I love travelling but the last 18-odd months have really ground me down – especially the time in India, where my health took a dive and hasn’t fully recovered since. I think it’s the living-out-of-a-suitcase aspect that caused that.

That, and not really having a place to call my home. Filled with my things. I sold a lot of my belongings when I moved out of my rental – and placed the rest in long-term storage. I took a lot with me to the U.S. – then back home again. And, since I never really got the hang of packing lightly, I took a lot with me to India too. Carrying the things that were important to me around the world doesn’t make life easier. I know I should pack lighter, but when there’s nowhere to keep the leftovers – what choice do I have?

I do have a home now. All my things are safely in my new apartment in the middle of Melbourne. From a packing point-of-view, it’s helped a lot; I never have more than carry-on luggage for Sydney. It’s also just a nice, settled feeling: this is my home.

So I’m going to be spending my month off enjoying my new home. Repainting it. Adding bookshelves. Making it truly my own. I’ll also spend time getting healthier – getting more sleep and enjoying the apartment’s pool facilities. I want to spend time reading, coding, writing, studying…It’s so hard to do any of these things when you get home from work and just fall straight into bed from exhaustion.

I haven’t lost the travel bug completely, mind you. I’m planning to spend the New Year break in Tokyo, and an opportunity just came up to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway next year. But for the rest of this year, I’d really just like to stay in Melbourne. This city has changed so much while I’ve been gone. I want to reacquaint myself with my hometown.

30 Before 30 DONE: NaNoWriMo

I’ve been meaning to write a wrap-up on my NaNoWriMo effort for a while now but life has been pretty busy. In fact, I’ve since complete another 30 Before 30 goal, namely: seeing Singapore, a country I hadn’t visited before. But that post is for another time. Right now, I’m in Bangalore, India, recovering from the awesome Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, and the slightly less awesome stomach bug I had. I have a few hours to kill before my flight home, so I’m going to try catching up on blog posts.

So, I “won” NaNoWriMo this year! I wrote 50,005 words, meeting the 50k goal. My novel wasn’t actually finished at 50,005 words, but all the major plot points were covered, and there was only some filler left to write. Will I finish it? Well, maybe. It was plenty of fun to write and I learned a lot in the process – but quite frankly, it’s an awful novel. And even if I fixed it up, I couldn’t publish it, since it’s a fan-fiction and would be in breach of copyright.

The fan-fiction aspect makes me feel a little guilty. As some commentators have said, it’s lazy! And I’m inclined to agree: I had most of my characters and the universe they live in planned out for me. I did create some original characters and an island on which to play out the story, but the rest of it was Eiichiro Oda‘s work for One Piece.

I’m excusing myself on this occasion primarily because of my 30 Before 30 goal. I hadn’t written any fiction since high school and  none of the other story ideas I had were as well formed as my fan-fiction plot. Plus, this was the first and last chance I had to win NaNoWriMo before I turned thirty. Fan-fiction was the easiest way for me to write 50,000 words in thirty days – and it worked. Only 14% of the the approximately 250k participants achieved this goal in 2011, so it’s fair to say the odds were against me. It’s a little embarrassing, but fanfiction is what got me over the line.

2011 NaNoWriMo Progress Chart

Completing NaNoWriMo is hard – no doubt about it! My progress chart shows that it was touch-and-go for a while. Most of the writing was done on weekends, in 3000-4000 word chunks. There were also a number of interruptions, mainly in the form of medical treatment, that meant some days had no output at all. I also feel that I maintained a fairly normal social life, going out at least one night a week – although I’ve since been told things like “It’s nice to go out with you without you running away to finish your novel!”, so perhaps my social life wasn’t as full as I thought…

I wrote almost all of the novel in Google Docs on my iPad. This may seem painfully difficult to some readers but the trick is to write one-handed – the iPad on-screen keyboard is just the right size for one-handed typing. The way it handles Google Docs is still lacking, though. Word count features were disabled in mobile mode and desktop mode crashed frequently. But since I was reminded countless times that I should backup my novel, and because I wanted the freedom to write anywhere, writing on an iPad to a document backed up on the cloud worked well for me.

I’ve since heard a lot about software for novel writing (with useful features such as noting certain plot points to re-use later) which I might explore for future NaNoWriMos.

The Stats

Novel Title: Nijima Story
Genre: Adventure. One Piece fanfiction.
Writing software: Google Docs
Writing device: iPad (primarily)
Final word count (according to the NaNoWriMo validator): 50,005 words
Final word count (according to Google Docs): 50,803 words
Final page count (according to Google Docs): 97 A4 pages

 

The word count differences there are interesting. I learned that not all word counts were created equal. I’m just glad I picked up on this 4 days out from the end of November and not when I was finally submitting – thanks for the “procrastination tip” of testing your word count, NaNoWriMo team! Making up those extra 800 words in the last few days was crazy. I think the discrepancy happened because quite a few of my characters addressed others in the Japanese style, that is, adding a “-san” suffix to their names. My guess is that Google treated the hyphenated honorifics as extra words, while NaNoWriMo considered the name and honorific to be one word. The lesson there is to validate your word count against the NaNoWriMo counter every day.

Tips For First-Time Wrimos

Since NaNoWriMo ended, I’ve been told that I’m a rarity – a first-time participant that actually met the 50,000 word goal. There seem to be a few blog posts around about how to tackle NaNoWriMo (especially by the Office of Letters and Light, the organisation that runs NaNoWriMo every year), so I thought I’d describe what I think helped me win in 2011.

Have a well-formed plot before November
This is probably the number one reason for my success. The NaNoWriMo site says that while the novel should be written from scratch in November, prepared outlines and plot points are encouraged and can be written months before the event begins. I didn’t actually get around to writing down my outline before November, but I had been thinking about my plot for about six months. So I more-or-less had the complete story in my head, and it was just a matter of typing it out in thirty days. In hindsight, I wish I had written down a basic outline and some plot points, because I’m sure I had forgotten some of what I dreamt up before NaNoWriMo started. It wouldn’t have mattered for the word count, but I think my novel would have been a better story for some preparation.

Write every day
To reach the 50,000 goal, the daily target is 1,667 words. I didn’t strictly follow this rule myself – two days had no output at all, while another three or four gave only about 200 words – but even those extra 200 words helped my word count, and perhaps more importantly, it kept me thinking about my novel and my goal. Finding myself thinking about fictional characters in almost all my spare time was an interesting experience. Usually, if a project is occupying my attention for a long period of time, it’s related to work or my studies, for example: preparing for an exam for several weeks. But that is the real world. In November, I was focused on pure creation and imagination. All my spare time was thinking about a story; fleshing out details, wondering what would happen next, searching for the best language to describe a building or an outfit and – because of the fanfiction nature of my novel – gaining a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the One Piece universe. It was amazingly fun and I want to make sure I spend much more time on creative efforts like this in the future.

Tell everyone you know about your goal
Like any other goal you might have, you’ll feel more motivated when those around you know what you’re trying to do. They can also encourage you, or try and take external pressures off you – my friends understood when I turned down invitations to parties, for example. With luck, you might have the added bonus of finding friends who’ll try NaNoWriMo themselves (and getting more people to try something creative like this is always a good thing). On the downside, now everyone knows that I’ve written a novel and they want to read it! Not going to happen, people! It’s too awful!

Quantity, not quality!
This is a pretty common message to Wrimos but for good reason – it’s true. Don’t get hung up on whether what you’ve written is any good. Don’t edit. Do not edit! It takes up far too much time and will more likely reduce than increase your word count. Just write, write, WRITE! Yes, your plot will have more holes than a busted colander but that’s what the rest of the year is for! I was pretty good at avoiding editing for a while but I was definitely guilty of spending hours reading and re-reading what I had written, rather than using that time to write more. As you can see on my chart – any more editing and it could have meant failing to meet the word count.

What next?

So, now that it’s all over, what’s next? Well, to be honest, I haven’t even read my novel since NaNoWriMo finished. I want to “forget” as much of it as possible before I read it again, so I can have fresh eyes. I will probably finish writing that remaining filler and tying up the loose ends eventually. But then it’ll be safely stored away on a backup drive somewhere and forgotten completely until I find it accidentally in a decade’s time and cringe while I read my terrible writing! 🙂

I plan to write a lot more. I’ve really enjoyed this chance to focus on pure creativity. I plan to take part in next year’s NaNoWriMo too – I actually thought up the basic plot for my next story just after I had “won” this year’s event, heh. And the good news is: it’s not fanfiction! Until then, I’m going to read more novels (I have been reading almost exclusively pop science and business books for the last few years) so I can learn how to be a better fiction writer. It’s weird to think of it, but thanks to NaNoWriMo, I am now a novellist. I’d like to get to the point where I become a published novellist one day.

NaNoWriMo 2011

I wrote previously that one of my 30 Before 30 list items is to “win” NaNoWriMo. It’s described as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” which was probably all I needed to read to be hooked by the idea. I’ve signed up and am now one of the Wrimos.

NaNoWriMo is a creative challenge: write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in the month of November. Anyone who meets the word limit is considered a “winner”. The idea is to force participants to churn out content – quantity over quality – and not get caught up in editing or over-thinking whether it’s any good. Quite simply: it won’t be. It’ll be absolute rubbish. But by the end of it, participants will actually be novellists! They can worry about editing afterwards.

This November is my first and last chance to win NaNoWriMo before my 30th birthday. I’ve heard that very few first-time NaNoWriMo participants make the winners list. In fact, it seems to be low numbers overall: in 2010, only about 19% of participants met the 50,000 word goal. It’s going to be tough but I’m feeling pretty confident about winning. I’ve had a plot forming in my head for several months now and I seem to be churn out 500+ word blog posts without too much trouble.

Really, when I add my daily blogs, emails, comments, tweets and other social media posts together, I’m sure I average the 1600-odd words required daily to meet the target 50,000 in 30 days 🙂

Plus, this is going to be fun! Melbourne seems to have a good NaNoWriMo culture – the endless cafés probably help – and I know a few bookshops (including Of Science and Swords run by my friend Avi) that will be holding NaNoWriMo events. I’m looking forward to spending sunny November afternoons in Melbourne’s laneways typing away.

I’m going in prepared though. I’ll be spending the next day or two writing down the plot outline I have floating around in my head, and perhaps I’ll get a basic timeline down too. I’ll need to do a bit of research for a few plot points and I think that my storyline will be able to accommodate a few side stories, so if I need to top up my word count, I should have plot outlines for the side stories ready too. Overall, though, I’m feeling good about NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Participant

You know, before I decided that I would study and work in IT, I thought about journalism as a career. I’m glad I didn’t go ahead with it, especially now that I can see the state of both journalism and IT today. IT is a career that lets you be creative (including writing) but I still appreciate events like NaNoWriMo. It will be concentrated creativity: intense, caffeine-fuelled, sleep-deprived, inspired and potentially euphoric.

Literary abandon indeed.

30 Before 30

A colleague of mine recently mentioned that she had completed one of the items on her “30 Before 30” list. The idea of a 30 Before 30 list piqued my interest and I’ve spent the last few days putting mine together.

What constitutes a 30 Before 30 list seems to differ slightly from person to person. I’ve heard of lists that were thirty concerts or festivals to see before turning thirty years old, while another was thirty new things never tried before before reaching thirty. Yet another was thirty things to stop doing before the age of thirty.

My list is thirty things I’d like to achieve before turning thirty. These are a mix of new experiences, physical challenges, breaking bad habits or reaching a new level in something I’ve already done.

I won’t be sharing all of them, but here are some from my list:

#3 – Make all my meals for a month
I can cook and enjoy cooking, yet I almost always opt for a bought lunch over a homemade lunch while at work. So I’m aiming to cook every meal I eat for a month. No buying meals, especially lunches.

#5 – Get a motorcycle permit
I’ve wanted this since I was a teenager, but stuff always got in the way. I WILL MAKE THIS HAPPEN!

#6 – Sew myself an entire outfit
I’ve taken up sewing and crafting in the last few years. I want to see how good I am and try to make myself an entire outfit. It’ll give me the chance to have a more environmentally friendly wardrobe too, since I’ll be using organic fabrics.

#10 – Make a cheese
I eat so much of the stuff, I should try to make it sometime!

#14 – “Win” NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month is a fun exercise in creativity. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Because it’s such a large amount of text in such a small space of time, the focus is on quantity, not quality. It encourages people to write, write, write and not to get hung up on whether it’s any good. Anyone who can meet the 50,000 limit is considered a “winner”. I’m looking forward to it.

#19 – Make a five-course gourmet dinner for 6
Should be fun 🙂 Volunteers for the six spaces?

#21 – Visit a country I haven’t before
Completely selfish goal to find an excuse to travel some more!

#22 – Rollerblade across Singapore
I once heard about someone who did this. Apparently it only took them about 4 hours. Singapore is a small place! I also haven’t actually stepped foot outside the airport at Singapore, so this will probably tick off #21 as well, hehe.

#25 – Go skydiving
I used to think that I’d NEVER go skydiving, but now I want to try, heh. Never say never.

#28 – Climb Uluru
Pretty self-explanatory.

#30 – Visit Tokyo Tower
Despite the fact that I used to live in Yokohama, and have been back to Tokyo numerous times, I somehow never made it to the top of Tokyo Tower. But since I intend to spend my thirtieth birthday in Tokyo, I’ve decided to make this #30 on my list. Yay!

When I tick off any of the items, I’ll post about it here.

ThoughtWorks Australia is an Employer of Choice for Women

ThoughtWorks Australia is an Employer of Choice for WomenOn the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, ThoughtWorks Australia was named as one of just 98 organisations that are Employers of Choice for Women.

This list was compiled by EOWA – the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, which is an Australian Government statutory authority.

This is a great (and I might say, well-deserved) honour for ThoughtWorks but it also seems a little depressing that in all of Australia, just 98 organisations met the requirements to be considered for this recognition.

The full 2011 EOWA Employer of Choice for Women list can be read here.

Why did ThoughtWorks deserve this? Well, the official criteria can be seen on the EOWA website, but from my personal point of view, I feel like that “fairness” or “equal opportunity” aspect to women in the workforce is a no-brainer at ThoughtWorks. Of course people are remunerated and hired based on their skills, not their gender. Of course they should be free from harrassment. Of course, where possible, flexible working options should be available. And so on. But that’s not the most awesome part, because that should be the case everywhere anyway.

In my opinion, what makes ThoughtWorks stand out and deserving of this recognition is that – in an industry which was was never famous for its high female participation rates – Thoughtworks has genuinely and proactively tried to get more women involved in IT. We’re official and unofficial supporters of programs like Girl Geeks, Go Girl Go For IT and Digital Divas. We pay higher referral bonuses when women are hired. Our women are encouraged to network together and support each other. When I joined the company, I was one of two female recruits. We were chosen out of a shortlist that was 75% female.

IT/ICT is everywhere in our everyday lives. The user base for all these technologies is made up by every different kind of person imaginable. So it makes sense that the people developing these technologies are representative of those that use them. Women make up 50% of the world’s population. You can do the math to figure out what proportion of this industry should also be made up of women.

ThoughtWorks have cottoned onto that. It’s not an easy task – women often don’t consider IT as a career option. That’s why we’re trying to encourage particularly younger women to think about IT at school and university. But again, this is what makes ThoughtWorks stand out. They’re trying bloody hard.

Congratulations ThoughtWorks and well done to the staff that worked towards this amazing recognition.

This is another reason why I’m proud to be a ThoughtWorker 🙂

ThoughtWorks shenanigans

Twice a year, Thoughtworks Australia holds its Team Hug event – a weekend away for all ThoughtWorkers where we can present and discuss, network and have fun. Actually, there is a lot of focus on the ‘having fun’ part…and some of us are already getting in the spirit of silliness.

We were asked yesterday to fill out a spreadsheet and nominate who we’d like to share rooms with at the Hug, which this time is being held at Ettalong Beach in New South Wales.

But if you scrolled over to the right of the spreadsheet, suddenly, it was revealed….he who is always watching…

The Google Docs Batman!
THE BATMAN!

Actually, I think we should take some inspiration from this for the Team Hug party theme…

Only 4 weeks to go!

Farewell Foster’s

Unlike the post 6 months ago, this time it’s a more permanent farewell I’m bidding to Foster’s. I started my Industry-Based learning (IBL) placement there almost exactly a year ago. After the placement ended, I continued with my old team for one day a week while studying. Then, after the Deloitte vacation placement ended, I started full-time work with the Core Operations transformational project team, modelling their current processes.

But I’m starting my second IBL on Monday at Lonely Planet, so there isn’t any more time for Foster’s unfortunately.

Foster’s has such a nice and fairly relaxed atmosphere – it’s sad to go. The experience I gained there was so valuable and the friends I made are great! I’ll be keeping in touch, guys! Don’t forget me!

But for now it’s time to move on. I’m very excited about Lonely Planet next week! I only have that IBL placement and four more university subjects left before I graduate. I’m not entirely sure where I’ll be in 12 months time – maybe Foster’s is still an option! But for now I’m looking to see what else I can experience.

Thanks again Foster’s – I had a a blast.

Accenture Adventure 2009

Wow, that was exhausting! I’m going to be sore for days!

Just came home from the 2009 Accenture Adventure. It’s a graduate recruitment event run by Accenture that’s very vague when you apply. It doesn’t mention much except that it’s a “high-octane” event with a spy/secret operative theme.

Once I arrived, we had more details of what would actually happen! Friday was an Amazing Race event (another one! Just like the one I did at Deloitte!) which covered the “high octane” part of the event. It’s also the reason why I’m feeling very sore now! My team came third overall but were this close to coming first overall. Go Phoenix Delta 2001!

Speaking of phoenixes – our team was one of three who had the word “phoenix” in their name! Who says that there’s only ever one phoenix at a time? 🙂 It’s because the Accenture Adventure was held at The Sebel in the Yarra Valley – which is still covered in smoke from the nearby bushfires. The fires were obviously on everyone’s minds. A lot of the event was dedicated to it – for example, the Amazing Race helped to raise funds for the Bushfire Appeal. So many were thinking about “rising from the ashes”, I’m sure. A little cliché but oh well.

The second part of the event was high adrenaline even if it wasn’t quite as “high octane”. We had three hours to prepare a business case presentation to some of the executives at the company. That was tough in a very different way from the race, but very good. I enjoyed it.

Overall, the Accenture Adventure was great, but exhausting. One really nice surprise was finding two friends there – including one of the other Google Anita Borg scholars! We ended up being roommates too so it was a great catch-up. The Sebel is gorgeous and I loved the luxury it provided. The whole weekend went by so fast though that I didn’t even think to take photos!

Now I have to start thinking seriously about graduate jobs. Already in the last six months, some kind of opportunity has arisen with Google, Deloitte and now Accenture. None of them mean that I’m guaranteed a graduate job offer but I have to think about whether I would accept myself – which one would suit me best or should I start looking at other opportunities?

Time to start looking at graduate recruitment websites.