The Oasis’s Last Stand

So I thought I would ask ChatGPT to get its authorship on.

This was my prompt:

write a science fiction story of 2000 words length that considers the battle for a water well in a dessert planet where the protagonist is called Al’dain and his enemy Iytyar leads a group of desperate rebels that are defending the well. Al’dain eventually loses the battle.

This was the the result… I am a little distressed that it’s reasonably good.

The scorching sun hung high in the pale blue sky, casting an unforgiving glare over the desolate desert planet of Aridius. Amidst the endless dunes, a solitary oasis shimmered like a mirage—a precious refuge in a barren world. Al’dain, a seasoned warrior with weathered features and determined eyes, had been tasked with leading a contingent to secure the oasis, the only source of water for countless settlements across the desolate wasteland.

Al’dain’s rival, Iytyar, a charismatic rebel leader, had rallied a group of desperate rebels to defend the oasis. They saw it as their lifeline, their last hope for survival. With each passing day, the tensions escalated, and the looming battle for control of the water well became inevitable.

As the sun began its descent, Al’dain’s forces approached the oasis, their armor glinting in the fading light. They formed a battle formation, shielded from the gusts of sand by the ancient stone walls surrounding the oasis.

Iytyar’s rebels stood defiantly atop the walls, their weapons at the ready. Sweat dripped down Al’dain’s forehead as he peered up at his nemesis. The intense heat was almost suffocating, but there was no room for weakness. Al’dain took a deep breath, drawing strength from the cause he fought for.

With a resounding battle cry, Al’dain’s forces charged forward, their determination fueling their every step. Arrows and energy bolts whizzed through the air, a deadly symphony echoing across the oasis.

Al’dain fought with unwavering resolve, parrying blows and striking back with calculated precision. His sword sliced through the ranks of Iytyar’s rebels, but they fought back with equal ferocity. The battle raged on, the sand beneath their feet turning crimson with blood.

Iytyar, a formidable adversary, emerged from the chaos, his eyes burning with defiance. He locked gazes with Al’dain, their mutual enmity palpable. A surge of adrenaline coursed through Al’dain’s veins as he lunged at his opponent, their blades clashing in a dance of deadly elegance.

Their duel continued, each combatant displaying unmatched skill. Al’dain fought with honor and purpose, fueled by the knowledge that victory meant the survival of countless lives. But Iytyar’s rebels, driven by desperation, seemed inexhaustible.

As the battle raged on, Al’dain’s forces began to waver, their fatigue becoming a heavy burden. The relentless heat had taken its toll, sapping their strength. Iytyar seized this opportunity, rallying his rebels with renewed vigor. They pressed forward, pushing Al’dain’s forces back.

Despite his valiant efforts, Al’dain found himself overwhelmed. One by one, his allies fell, and the enemy closed in. His heart heavy with the weight of impending defeat, Al’dain made a fateful decision.

“Cease the fighting!” Al’dain’s voice rang out, cutting through the chaos. “We cannot allow more lives to be lost. Surrender!”

His words hung in the air, the silence punctuated only by the faint whistling of the desert wind. Slowly, the rebels lowered their weapons, uncertainty etched across their faces. Al’dain’s heart sank, for he knew that his defeat meant a grim future for the parched settlements across Aridius.

Iytyar, his face etched with weariness, descended from the walls and approached Al’dain. There was a flicker of respect in his eyes, acknowledging the bravery and determination of his adversary.

“You fought valiantly,” Iytyar admitted, his voice laced with fatigue. “But understand, we too fought for survival. The oasis is our lifeline.”

Al’dain nodded, his gaze shifting towards the oasis, shimmering like a diamond amidst the barrenness. He couldn’t help but wonder if there was another way, another path to coexistence in this parched world.

“In the spirit of unity,” Al’dain began, his voice filled with earnestness, “let us find a way to share this oasis. Our people need water, and our battles only deepen the wounds.”

Iytyar regarded Al’dain for a moment, contemplating his words. The two leaders stood at the precipice of a new possibility, a chance to rewrite the narrative of conflict that had plagued their world for far too long.

After a long silence, Iytyar extended his hand toward Al’dain, a gesture of unexpected alliance. Al’dain hesitated only briefly before clasping Iytyar’s hand in a solemn pledge.

And so, on the scorched plains of Aridius, the battle for the water well ended, replaced by a fragile truce. Al’dain and Iytyar, once fierce adversaries, became unlikely partners in forging a new future—a future where the oasis would quench the thirst of all who called the desert planet home.

As the first rays of dawn broke through the horizon, casting a golden hue over the oasis, a glimmer of hope emerged—a hope that, with cooperation, the arid world of Aridius would one day thrive once more.

Two awards with one blow…

Two University of Queensland Awards (Gold on Black) - a Discipline Award for Excellence in Developing the Business Information systems Discipline on the left, and a Teaching & Learning Award for Excellence in Innovation on the right.
Two awards side by side.

So it’s awards season as the dust settles on the hellscape that was 2022, and I was quite happy to receive these two awards from the UQ Business School this afternoon – one in the Teaching & Learning category for Excellence in Innovation and another in the Discipline category for Excellence in Developing the Business Information systems Discipline. The former is for authenticity in innovative authentic assessment across a number of courses, and the second is for mentoring and pitching in to help folks rather more than required (I guess?) The latter is a new award to encourage our positive culture. Maybe I’ll need to do more walking tours of UQ with staff…

Also really pleased to see teaching-focussed friends and colleagues such as Dr Niki Macionis and Ann Wallin be recognised for their work and my absolute-legend BIS colleagues including Andrew Burton-Jones (PhD Supervision), Sabine Matook (Research Excellence), Stan Karanasios (Innovation in Large Courses), and Ida Asadi Someh (as part of the Master of Business Analytics program development team). And Carrie Finn received the prestigious cultural improvement award – apparently for chatting and having coffees. Maybe :). Though I don’t recall all the awards, I do know that the professional staff recipients include the very worth Kate Cupples and Laura Armistead. We do need to expand that category. Anyway – a nice bookend to 2022…

And so after a bit of rearranging – I present my new Shelves of Shiny Things – it’s important to have a curated background when you are Zooming in 2022:

Three shelves with Chinese and African arton the top shelf, awards and three keyboards on the next, and typewriters and keyboards on the bottom shelf.
My Shelves of Shiny Things on 1 December 2022.

Adventures in Typewriting – in Australia

When the lockdown began here in Australia, I – like all of us – found myself with time on my hands. I learnt typing in school, in the old-fashioned way, and that was on big, heavy manual typewriters. They made a satisfying clunk noise when you typed, and frankly my Apple Magic keyboard wasn’t doing that for me. Even when I was writing my PhD I often lamented the lack of the rhythmic feedback as you typed.

I should point out that I learned on typewriters in the early 1980’s. By 1988 I had fully signed up to my XT computer, and I was an early adopter of computers (and the PhD is in Information Systems – so I am not a luddite and in fact my ’superpower’ is in the use of computers).

But that need for aural feedback is a strong thing. Mushy keyboards were not nice to type on. Let me describe the moment I found the mechanical keyboard scene as a revelation. But after acquiring my ‘end game’ keyboards – two IBM Model M keyboards – I turned my attention to typewriters.

I invented a new game – bidding on eBay to lose. That worked OK for a while – until I found to my dismay that I actually misjudged and bought a typewriter. My Olivetti Lettera 32. It is the typewriter I am writing on now and it has a nice, quick, light action and the typeface is clean, neat, and – with a new ribbon – black. It occasionally feels a little dinky, and it is missing a couple of features (a paper guide and a paper shield on the platen), and the carriage return is a little wonky. It came from the hoard of a 94 year old woman who moved into aged care, and I bought it from her niece out near Jimboomba (a small country town out near Beaudesert in Australia). I believe this model is from about 1974.

Now, when you are looking at typewriters in Australia there seems to be a premium to be paid. The Australia Tax is real. Typewriters in some sort of good condition cost a great deal more than they seem to overseas. The sellers are usually clueless. They really have no idea what a typewriter is other than that they think there is a ready supply of idiots prepared to buy them. They often advertise a rusty heap of junk for far more than it is worth.

For example, I purchased my Olivetti Lettera 32 for $117.50 ($2.50 less than my max bid). Admittedly, it is not ‘proper’ vintage and it is the model made in Mexico. But it is in good working order (the case too) and it has the cool Techno typeface. In comparison though there are other Letteras advertised for $300 or more. I do note that they don’t seem to sell quickly.

So yes, the Australia Tax is a thing.

A key issue is that the cost of shipping drives up the cost of these things. I have sourced these typewriters locally because even inter-state shipping costs a significant chunk of the cost of the typewriter. You can completely forget about international shipping on a 7 kilogram ‘portable’ typewriter!

I have gotten to the stage now where I have five typewriters. Four portable typewriters (three Remington Monarchs and the Lettera) and – gasp – an Olympia SG3 which is the same model typewriter that I had at High School. The ‘G’ stands for the German word ‘Grosse’, and that is a very fair description. These standard typewriters are BIG. I only think I have room for one or two of them in my life.

And of course that begs the question of whether a typewriter is of any practical use in the 21st century. Certainly, at least, that is the question that my wife has asked at least five times now, and each time with her eyebrows quizzically arched.

The answer to that is, of course, a definitive ‘no’.

Typewriters are obsolete. They are slow. They are unforgiving of mistakes. And, frankly, editing the analogue, typed, page of text is a right proper pain in the proverbial.

I cannot google a question that comes to me while writing, so fact checking my work is something that has to be left until later. I cannot quickly alt-tab to my Twitter feed with the Olivetti, my Olympia, or any of my three Remington Monarchs. But, I do wonder how it might compare to something like the Freewrite, which famously only allows you to backspace. No editing allowed. Rather like – ooh, I don’t know? – a typewriter. Both force you to keep moving forward – you can correct an error when you make it on the typewriter using whiteout tape, but you are not going to white-out an entire paragraph and re-type it. And you can definitely forget about good old cut-and-paste – except of course for the literal version of that.

But I guess those limitations are the things that are actually features, not bugs. Typing on the typewriter forces you to concentrate on what you are writing. It is inherently distraction-free (except of course for the copious use of white-out tape). Eventually, your writing should be turned into an electronic version, but you could write the first draft and then use an OCR tool to scan it into text.

If you want to do serious writing with a typewriter, you will want to return to the old-fashioned discipline of the first, second and third drafts. Write it once, all the way through (or, if it is a long piece, in sections). And then mark that up with a pencil and then re-type (and re-write) a second draft. And possibly a third. You will by necessity become more disciplined and structured in your writing since you won’t be spending all that time hacking and pulling apart your writing as you go.

That may or may not be a good thing.

I think it is important that you don’t get too wedded to pages as you type them. Be prepared to start again, or put a line through whole paragraphs. Or simply use an *x* in those early drafts to remove the words that are not wanted.
I have simple white-out tape that I use to correct errors as I go, though you don’t want to be too precious really about that first messy draft. I have a stylus for use on a tablet with the rubber tip that I use to tamp down any wayward bits of tape. It is far easier than old fashioned liquid paper.

You probably want the draft that you are going to scan to be the cleanest draft, but you can also edit the final result and you will very likely want to review your OCR’d text when you scan it. It will never be 100% correct in my experience. Again – this is a feature, not a bug, as it forces you to engage with your text. Your focus keeps the relationship between you and your text, nothing else. I use ABBY FineReader OCR as part of DevonThink. Handily, that gives me a good, searchable, PDF at the end of the process. There are actually some interesting-looking tools that you can use as an app on your smartphone now too to perform OCR as you type it there and then, though I think it might be interesting to compare the accuracy of such tools.

Ultimately, whether the typewriter is of any use to you will depend on whether it frustrates you or not, and whether your writing improves as a result. Typing is unforgiving; I learnt on typewriters so I have latent skills in getting it right the first time (or at least, I seem able to type without a large number of errors creeping in). To make it easier on yourself, I suggest using the lightest typewriter you can find, and the most reliable. I would stick to a portable, as it’s easy to hide your mistakes in the cupboard. A standard typewriter has a heavier action and really requires a commitment of desk space!

So that re-typing pages is less of a chore for you, I suggest double-spacing your typing. That also allows you to more easily mark up your second draft. Have the white-out tape at your side – errors are OK but it might be a bit demotivating to see all those typos (though, again, this is a feature, not a bug). Remember, the only draft that you will get a real benefit where there are no typos is the draft that you are going to OCR into your computer. With that in mind, aim to have a dark, fresh ribbon in the typewriter. Otherwise, OCR might be quite a bit less accurate.

Overall, for me this has been a bit of a rediscovered hobby during lockdown, and I do not know that I would expect to do an awful lot of writing in this way. It is a good circuit-breaker from simply hacking away and copy-pasting together a document, and it is good to write without distraction. I could achieve that, though, with my laptop if I simply turned off the wi-fi. But these machines can be a Thing of Beauty in their own right, and it is nice to have them working away and giving you the feeling that you are banging, and clacking, and slamming words onto the paper productively. That is a feeling I have missed.

Though, to be fair, I am not at all convinced that my family feels the same way.