Tutankhamun – His Tomb and Treasures

It has been a while already that I visited the exposition “Tutankhamun – His Tomb and Treasures”, which resided in Berlin for about 6 months in 2013 (from March til September). I went there last August, and to be honest, I didn’t expect much.

When I first learned that there would be an exposition of Tutankhamun’s treasures, I was excited, because ever since I studied Egyptology for two semesters, that was the one thing I knew I wanted to see. So I bought the ticket hurriedly, worried that it would be sold out quick.

It was only later that I learned that the exposition wouldn’t actually feature the real treasures and mummy. It featured replica. So there went my excitement, because I thought: “Really? Cheap plastic copies?” Therefore, on the day of the exposition I was only mildly excited – still curious, but not as thrilled anymore.

Boy, was I wrong (and I am not above admitting it). The creators of the exposition had put together a program around it! after a rather short introduction in the waiting hall, where visitors could read up on everything surrounding ancient Egypt and its history, the group of visitor’s was led into a small theater room where a movies was shown on a screen. The movie explained the life of Tutanchamun, and his parents Echnaton and Nefertiti, and then went on to detail how the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in the beginning of the 20th century. Continue reading

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COSMOS – A Spacetime Odyssey (starring Neil deGrasse Tyson)

I don’t make it a secret, that I am a huge fan of television shows, especially American television shows of the 1990s and early 2000s (before everything was tainted by the frequent illusion of terrorist threats). And one show in particular has caught my eye ever since it started airing: COSMOS – A Spacetime Odyssey, which is a remake of the original COSMOS – A Personal Voyage (starring Carl Sagan) which aired in the 1980s.

I would have probably never even heard of this show if it wasn’t for social media (Facebook), or rather one Facebook page in particular: Hashem AL-ghaili’s SciTech page on facebook, which is dedicated to posting weekly news on science and technology.
It is a shame really, that shows like this one receive so little attention – because I found it truly spectacular and inspirational. If it was up to me, I would even make it required viewing for every child at school, maybe even for every adult in our Western societies.

“Stars die […] They get so hot that the nuclei of the atoms fuse together deep within them to make the oxygen we breathe, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood. All was cooked in the fiery hearts of long vanished stars. … The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

COSMOS tackles the very basics of science and cosmology without being simplistic. It doesn’t teach how the world works, and while it does give answers to a few of the common questions that might arise, it teaches something a lot more important: critical thinking! COSMOS wants to inspire people of all ages, all educational backgrounds and all classes to get immersed in science – or even more basic: to question the world around you. For asking questions is the starting point with which all science begins… Continue reading

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Writing – Stuck Between Guidelines and Creativity

Writing… sometimes it’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you are an author, writer or storyteller yourself, you probably know the dilemma that I am talking about. You have your story all set in your mind, and you sit down and write your heart out – but then you come across some writer’s guidelines that tell you, you’re doing it wrong.

cc by wikimedia / Leonid Pasternak

cc by wikimedia / Leonid Pasternak

It happened recently to myself (actually, it happens often, but the recent event was particularly extreme). I identify as a romance writer first and foremost – maybe even a writer of erotica in parts, because let’s face it, some of my chapters or stories can be rather explicit. And as said romance writer, I have always used language to the fullest: bloomy descriptions, dialogue tags and so on and so forth.

About two weeks ago, however, I came across a number of style guides who give the advice (or rather, put up the explicit rule!) that you should never use other dialogue tags than ‘say’ or ‘ask’. What does that mean in practice?

Take this scene from an unpublished chapter of my story ‘Stargate Aschen’ for example:

“Sam, we were just talking…” Jack emphasized softly, and that made both women turn around to look at him – even though Sam’s movements were a lot more hesitant.
“Sir, you don’t have to…” Sam started in embarrassment, when Kerry interrupted her.
“Actually I thought that we were doing more than just talking – or at least about to do that,” she said enticingly and smiled, but Jack looked at her firmly.
“I wasn’t,” he said, and looked at her apologetically, “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. I didn’t have any intention to leave with you.”
“Oh.” She looked at him, mildly bemused for a moment, before she regained her composure. “Well, that’s too bad, but I guess it can’t be helped.” She gave him a radiant smile. “If you change your mind let me know…”

I have highlighted the dialogue tags in bold. You can see that in the last two cases, I did use ‘say’ – however, according to that style-guide rule, I should have used ‘say’ throughout all of the dialogue – which would make it look somewhat like this:

“Sam, we were just talking…” Jack said softly, and that made both women turn around to look at him – even though Sam’s movements were a lot more hesitant.
“Sir, you don’t have to…” Sam said in embarrassment, when Kerry interrupted her.
“Actually I thought that we were doing more than just talking – or at least about to do that,” she said enticingly and smiled, but Jack looked at her firmly.
“I wasn’t,” he said, and looked at her apologetically, “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. I didn’t have any intention to leave with you.”
“Oh.” She looked at him, mildly bemused for a moment, before she regained her composure. “Well, that’s too bad, but I guess it can’t be helped.” She gave him a radiant smile. “If you change your mind let me know…”

Not much of a difference, actually – after all I only changed two words. However, I feel that ‘say’ in this case is a lot more neutral than ‘emphasize’ for example. Therefore, by replacing ‘he emphasized softly’ with ‘he said softly’ don’t I lose a very subtle notion here? Same with ‘Sam started in embarrassment’, the verb ‘start’ implying that she trails off and doesn’t finish – which fits the dialogue and the ‘when Kerry interrupted her’ afterwards. Replacing ‘start’ by ‘said’ feels a lot weaker to me. Continue reading

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Behind the Story: Stargate SG-1 – Something Real

Something Real is my newest story for Stargate SG-1, which is just published a few hours ago on my homepage. It is different from what I usually do in more than one regard: narrative voice, literary devices and most of all general tone.

Now, what’s the purpose of this story? I am not a Sam/Pete shipper, obviously. I am a 100% Sam/Jack shipper. However, despite my Sam/Jack story-count, my friend and beta-reader Channach also pointed out that this story might alienate some of my Jack/Sam readership – so let me clarify something real quick:

I don’t hate Pete. I never quite understood Sam’s attraction to him (which is probably mainly because I don’t find him attractive really), and I personally never found him intriguing as a character or even a match for her. He always came over a bit creepy and controlling. However, stamping him as a bad person just because I’d rather see Sam with Jack is a bit too black/white for me. Continue reading

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International Frozen – “Let It Go” (Film Version) Top 10

It cannot be debated, that “Frozen” is one of the biggest Disney hits ever since the company’s golden 90s, where they landed smash hits with “Aladdin”, “The Lion Kind” and “The Little Mermaid”. And, for the first time in forever (forgive the pun), they have finally managed to include a title theme song again that is not only worthy of numerous award nominations, but also played to no end by radio stations and television boardcasts.

flickr-Jorge Figueroa

cc by flickr / Jorge Figueroa

Whoever has not head the song “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel (or at least in the version of Demi Lovato) really has not lived on Earth for the past five months. What most of you have not heard yet, though, are the numerous wonderful international versions.

I myself am a passionate song collector. Even in 1990s, when I was still in my teens, I collected Disney records from all the coutnries that I visited (which weren’t many, but I managed to aquire some French, Italian, Polish and even Danish music tapes for the 1990s movies). Ever since the rise of the internet, Youtube, iTunes and of course amazon, it has become increasingly easy to buy Walt Disney cds from differen countries.

So here is my personal selection of the top 10 international film versions:

#1 – Japanese

This one I love because of the fresh, young voice (as much as I love Idina’s version, she does sound rather old for a girl around 18-20 years of age). But more importantly, I love the Japanese translation of the lyrics! It seems to fit the dilemma of Elsa so much better than the English one does, and the metaphors are simply used beautifully!

#2 – French

The lyrics in the French version are just wonderful. I love the use of the word libertated (‘liberée’), because that’s essentially what the movie is about. Elsa’s curse is that she is imprisoned by her own fears, and she needs to liverate herself from them.

Continue reading

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Traci Hines… better than the Walt Disney Company itself?

There shouldn’t be any discussion about the fact that the Walt Disney company has the reputation to produce only the highest-quality animation and entertainment programs. And even though in recent years the quality seemed to have declined a bit when it came to afternoon cartoon shows, Disney was still at the top when it came to the marketing of their movies and products.

But what now if an amateur, a fan does a better job at making a musicvideo for their flagship “The Little Mermaid”. And not just better… but rocks it all the way.

Traci Hines has managed to the the nearly impossible. In her freetime, she and three friends managed to create a musicvideo for “Part of Your World” that has no equal – not even among Disney’s own creations.

While one might disagree with the (rather fast, and sometimes full of beats) musical arrangement, the visual effects are simply stunning, and Hines does an excellent job at portraying the little mermaid. Have a look…

And as a comparison, here is the official Disney music video for the song – which was released in August 2013 in celebration of the Blu-Ray release of The Little Mermaid. I can’t believe the difference… maybe Disney should consider putting Hines under contract. She certainly manages to convey the old Disney magic that the new Disney productions and merchandise lack…

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An Open Letter to the Governments

Dear governments,

in the light of most recent events, I want to address this open letter to you.

It seems, during the past weeks, a lot of disturbing occurrences have happened throughout the Western world: first the media (and FBI) attack on KYAnonymous (otherwise known as Deric Lostutter), who, as you might remember was responsible for uncovering (or at least bringing it into the consciousness of the people) the rape culture that is present throughout the United States, and now the scandal about the NSA surveillance, that is being followed by a number of similar scandals from different countries. In other countries, like Germany, discussions about government overreach and privacy protection have been going on for a while.
To top it all, the person who leaked the information about the illegal activities of the U.S. government, Edward Snowden, now has to fear for his life and is hiding out in Hong Kong in order not to follow in the footsteps of people like Bradley Manning, who got arrested and severely mistreated for similar reasons.

As a citizen of Western civilization – more so, a citizen of the world – I have been deeply disturbed by not just the occurrences, but even more by the handling of them.

Let us face it, the rumor that governments are spying on us is an old one, and my generation, which grew up mostly in the 1990s, is probably especially familiar with it, due to television shows like “The X-Files” which (fictionally) portrayed just this version of the government that you are now proving to be real: democratically elected governments acting as the enemies of the people, spying on them and gathering information, secretly.  Granted, the internet was not even an issue yet in the 1990s unless you were a nerd – like I was. But back then it portrayed to us that one ray of hope, that positive potential, that humankind might actually live up to in the new millennium. An infinite database of knowledge, and unrestrained sharing of information, regardless of who you were, where you were, what your social status was and how wealthy you were. Projects like Khan Academy still work tirelessly to fulfill that promise that was inspired in millions in the 1970s and 1980s through shows like Star Trek.

But you governments are more and more trying to turn that positive potential of the internet into a negative one by transforming the device into a spy-machine of a size that even George Orwell did not come up with in his worst nightmares.

The German government is tirelessly working on a project known in Germany as the “Bundestrojaner” (federal Trojan), which would allow them to spy out all the stored data, passwords and cache of infected computer – even more, enabling the federal government of Germany to copy any file onto your computer, or vice versa, delete any file they please. The use of this program has been approved by the federal government – despite of the protest of millions.

The NSA’s spy program so eloquently named PRISM truly presents a prism of information about billions of people all over the world: connection data, caller IDs, call durations  and email content only scratch the surface of what PRISM is capable of. The so-called “gläserne Bürger” (see-through/glassy citizen) has long stopped to be the delusion of paranoid-ridden conspiracy theorists, and become real: Thank you, governments of the world.

Efforts like ACTA, CETA and IPRED hit the news (not the general news of course, because it would be too dangerous to inform the general public now, wouldn’t it?) on an almost weekly basis: efforts to limit the internet (evil tongues might call it “censor” – not officially, after all we are the FREE world, and not China, although at this point this is mere semantics) for the average user in order to protect corporate and government interests.

It is making me sick. And I am not the only one. And there is a very distinct reason for that.

Dear governments. You have been democratically elected by US, THE PEOPLE! You are no tyrants. You are no dictators. You are no people with interests. You are elected as representatives of US THE PEOPLE. You are not elected representatives of corporations, or of your party, or of your own schemes and interests.

You are in power for but one reason: WE THE PEOPLE elected you and entrusted you to represent us and govern us with our wishes and interests in mind.

That does not include spying on us and treating us like your worst enemy. That does not include threatening us with drones. That does not include imprisoning the people who uncover wrongdoings in your midst.

We are not your enemy. WE ARE YOU! YOU ARE US! As representatives of the majority of the people, you have but one agenda: TO FOLLOW THE WISH OF THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN YOUR COUNTRY.

You are not in power to protect corporations – or their financial interests. You are not in power to protect your own position, or work tirelessly to stay in power. Money is not your foremost purpose. Power is not your foremost purpose. WE, THE PEOPLE, ARE.

On the afternoon of 9/11, when I was watching the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on live television, and saw both of the twin towers collapse, I was merely 19 years old.

I was always a rather naïve child, who believed in the good of all people, and that life would turn out to be like a Walt Disney fairy-tale for me, and the second star to the right would make all my dreams come true. It was not that I hadn’t experienced darkness in my life – but the world out there to which the door was only just opening to me, seemed like a vast field of explorations and possibilities – and endless positive potential.

Despite of being that person, the instant I saw the twin tower collapse on September 11, 2001, I intuitively knew that the world as I knew it had ended. I couldn’t pinpoint just what was different, but there was the distinct feeling that nothing would ever be as it had been before.

Now, 12 years later, I know that the rather childish intuition from back than was nothing less than an accurate vision of the future. I was born a free citizen, a free thinker, and I have turned into the prisoner of a media largely influenced by government interests; a suspect under constant surveillance of our governments.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a success. Not because of the horrible attacks which demanded thousands of victims of all races, religions and nations. Not because of the terrorist cells (supposedly) hiding out in all kinds of different Middle-Eastern countries.

It was a success, because it was meant to be an attack on Western democracy and Western freedom – an effort which you, governments, have worked tirelessly towards ever since. Since 9/11, numerous different laws have been put in place in almost all Western countries, which limit the freedoms of its citizens in order to secure their ‘freedom’. Even 10 years after the terrorist attacks, the patriot act in the U.S. was extended for another term – even more, it was expanded to allow the US government to even apply it to US citizens (albeit accompanied by a (non-binding) promise of the current president that he would never make use of it).

The terrorists dreamed of destroying our freedom and attacking our democracy. But you, dear governments, made their dreams come true.

It was Henry David Thoreau in his essay “Civil Disobedience” who stated that “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” That was in the 19th century when American democracy was still young and actually largely fulfilling its promise to be a government for the people by the people.

For the longest time, the act of civil disobedience was considered to be one of the most American acts possible. And the right – no, the duty – of civil disobedience is just what people like KYAnonymous and Edward Snowden are exerting. In government systems, where you hear phrases like “what he was doing was morally right, but illegal” or “it was a good cause, but we must arrest him”, something has gone horribly wrong. In a system, which essentially opposes good vs. laws so openly, what is there that can still be trusted?

If people like Edward Snowden and Deric Lostutter have to be sent to prison – should we not be right there next to them? In a government, in which breaking the law is morally right – does that not inevitably lead to the conclusion that following the law is morally wrong? When was the point, where a citizen started to be forced to decide between following the law and doing the right thing? In systems, where doing the right thing, and following the law has ceased to be one and the same thing, serious reconsideration needs to take place.

In a democratically elected government, that can no longer be trusted to act in the best interest of the people, an act of CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is the most democratic measure, that any truly democratic citizen can – no, has to – use in order to remind the government of its purpose.

In times, where our freedom, our privacy and our security are under attack – not by terrorists, but by our own governments, whom we entrusted with our most important matters – it is the duty of any upstanding citizen to face its government, protest on the streets, and resist any measure which is targeted against them.

For every attack, that a democratically elected government launches against its people (be it their privacy, their rights, or their life) is an attack against democracy itself.

And as a free citizen of a democratic country who believes in democratic values, I don’t want to accept any attack on this system of government which started out so promisingly – because democracy means government for the people by the people.

Our voices matter.

Sincerely,

- a citizen who still believes in democracy

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