Monday, April 18, 2011

To write or not to write - that is the question

Earlier today as I was collecting a caffeine refill, I overheard what appeared to be a more senior student. He was complaining about the fact that as a computer science student, he was still expected to write essays. This was, to him, unfair and a waste of time.

What really concerned me though was the fact that he was saying this to a member of the academic staff - who was agreeing with him!

Now hold on a moment. I have worked with a lot of graduates over the years including IT graduates. Ever so many of them were frankly hopeless at expressing themselves, especially in writing. But the IT graduate does need to be able to write. They have specifications to work out with clients, reports to file and technical documentation to author. How good is any of that going to be if the IT graduate cannot write well? In my experience, IT people have been worse than average in this respect, which probably explains some of the messed up specifications and documentation that I have come across over the years.

Our education system in Australia has been letting people down for decades in this whole area. The 'authorities' decided long ago that things like grammar were no longer needed in the English curriculum. In my case, it was replaced with things like studying 'cause and effect' (useful but not exactly teaching me how to avoid dangling participles or even what the perishers are) and a rather fanciful description of the 'typical Australian' (a complete load of bollocks and thorough waste of time).

The complaint from students about not needing to do essays etc due to their specific field of study not requiring it, is hardly a new one. And it is still just as invalid an argument now as it ever was. But what hope do these students have when even their teaching staff seem to think that their students do not need to be able to write well?

Not happy, Jan.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey
Little Brown

Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true. And now, here is her story.


OK the first and frankly rather obvious question is why am I reviewing Tina Fey's autobiography when my more usual gig is speculative fiction?

Well, firstly, only ten copies were being made available to blog-based reviewers in Australia. I put my hand up for a copy, not expecting to get one. It was a rather delightful surprise to receive an email a few days ago that a copy had been tossed into the post for me. Next, Fey is a writer and I believe in learning what we can from those who have gone ahead of us on the writing journey. Finally, I think Tina Fey is very funny and talented. And cute. There. I said it, OK?

When I first elevated myself to the luxury of pay television here in Australia, The Comedy Channel was running old episodes of the long-running US comedic icon, Saturday Night Live. The humour did not always do a lot for me but it must be incredibly difficult to keep turning out comedy sketches year after year. My favourite part of the show was easily the Weekend Update piece featuring a quirky, bespectacled lady who was not above throwing the occasional comment to the audience.

To many people, Tina Fey is “that” woman who did the impersonations of Sarah Palin even though this was just one small part of her story, albeit one that brought her a much wider audience and attention.

This was a very entertaining book. While some cultural references are naturally US-centric and I did not necessarily always get them, it is fast-paced and very easy to get right into. It is a confession, the story of a journey, an account of life in the entertainment business, genuine admiration of others, biting sarcasm, self-deprecating humour and some lovely lunacy.

With all the many people Fey has worked with, particularly the special hosts on Saturday Night Live, there must have been a temptation to do a 'tell-all' about some of the 'd-bags' (Palin's expression) but she has resisted that. But some people from earlier in her life come in for some biting sarcasm and ridicule but are generally kept anonymous.

I am left with the impression that Fey is a bit puzzled by the attention she has received in more recent years as an attractive woman. Her list of self-perceived body flaws includes her feet.

“My Father's feet. Flat. Bony. Pale. I don't know how he even gets around, because his feet are in my shoes.”

I was also a little puzzled by Fey's references to the alleged low popularity of her current creation, 30 Rock. That is easily one of my favourite programs.

As a biography, Bossypants will appeal to more than just Tina Fey's fans. It is a delightful reflection by a very entertaining and perceptive person and keen observer of life, not to mention giving an insight into life working in comedy and television.

I have also reviewed this at