Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Mr. Picasso Head

Too preoccupied with new baby to keep blog current, though that should change once my grades are in later this week. In the meantime, check this out, courtesy of Holly Gunn: Mr. Picasso Head

Friday, November 14, 2003

Kasia's Birthday

Kasia Alexis Gina Runté was born 16:17 November 13, 2003.



Being weighed at birth: 6lbs 4 onces.




Friday morning.

Mary is doing well.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

New House: Month Three

This week is the third month anniversary in the new house, and we have discovered another drawback: the custom-made, under-floor heating intermittently sounds like a series of American attack helicopters coming through our bedroom. This is not a particularly soothing sound at 3AM. Although the noise seems continuous while we are holding the pillows over our heads in a futile attempt to dampen the noise and get back to sleep, it is sufficiently intermittent that it never performs in front of the repairman. "Now I've bleed out all the air, it should be perfectly quiet." But that night, it's another showing of Apocalypse Now


So I am at the doctor's with complaint about pain in my feet, and his diagnosis is bone spurs. "It is a common problem for people who have to stand or walk on cement all day. Did you change your work patterns so that you are suddenly walking on cement more?" "No, no! Nothing has changed at work. It is a complete mystery to me." Then I go home and look at the 3600 square feet of tile in my house (well, my house isn't that big, but the tile is also on walls and ceiling in a lot of places) and realize, "Doh!". ? *Sigh*


But I still love this house….

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Shape of Things to Come

Got to see my new daughter again - - via the miracle of ultrasound - - this time at 34 weeks.


(Face is on the upper left, looking right.)


In some ways, this picture is less clear than the ones we got at 22 weeks, because the baby is now taking up so much room, the ultrasound equipment has less opportunity for a clear shot without shadows, etc., but the technician did a pretty good job of capturing a recognizable image here.


Mary is scheduled for a C-section in approximately three weeks, so I am pretty excited by the prospect of holding my daughter so soon; it has crept up on me pretty fast. (It has, I concede, seemed somewhat longer to Mary!)

Monday, October 06, 2003

New House: Month Two

Today is the two month anniversary of our move into the new house. We are still not completely unpacked, and we are still discovering new things about our new home, most of them pleasant surprises.

One minor problem is that we still haven't figured out which light switches are for which lights. There are a lot of lights in this house with two and three switches each, so one can, for example, switch on or off the main stairwell light from upstairs, downstairs and the landing. Potentially quite convenient, but it makes it a bit confusing. And it is a big house with lots of lights, so I am still learning which ones are which. I actually stopped to count them today, and there are 71 light switches in our house. Is that normal? I don't think that's normal....

Monday, September 29, 2003

Death in the '50s

This last two weeks has seen a rash of deaths in the media and among our colleagues: Ritter, Palmer, a prominent CTV anchorman, the principal of a local school, the former Dean of fine arts; and three out of four of the finance professors on our campus have been sent to hospital for massive heart surgery or cancer treatments or etc. It has been a most distressing time. And most of the men have been in their mid-fifties.


The recurrent theme of men in their fifties keeling over has, naturally enough, led Mary to renewed expressions of concern for the state of my own health. The thought of me departing at age 55 and leaving Mary with a new-born and a five year old to bring up is not a happy one. So Mary has once again begun pointing out that I had promised to lose my excess weight by age 50 and I am now in considerable arrears on that target. There was even, as I dipped into the current tin of two-bite brownies, a 'look' that appeared to suggest that I ought to put said brownie back.


There is, of course an alternative view here, to which I happen to subscribe. The way I see it, if I am destined to check out at age 55, then I only have a couple of years left in which to consume my full quota of brownies. Far from going on a diet, I am going to have to redouble my efforts to live life to the fullest in the time left to me, and that necessarily includes a bin of two-bite brownies a week. Preferably with a side dish of really good vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Great Movie

Here is a movie trailer (passed on to me by Kevin Kozoriz) well worth viewing:
http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/lost_skeleton/
Somehow, I think this might be a movie that might not make it to Lethbridge -- though in this case, because Lethbridge is too cosmopolitian....

Saturday, September 20, 2003

World SF Convention

A report on the World science fiction convention, held this year in Toronto, from CBC radio (starts at minute 15) for those with RealRadio software: http://tinyurl.com/o0x8

Friday, September 19, 2003

Unsolicited Manuscripts

Interesting editorial that compares reading unsolicited manuscripts for a magazine with American Idol at http://nakedbootleg.blogspot.com/ (under "Wednesday, Sept 17").

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Proofreading

Internet tidbit came across my desk today -- I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but it is of passing interest:


Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy,
it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are,
the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.
Initsereg!!


I forwarded this to a couple of colleagues who responded that it took them a minute to recognize that there was even a problem. So the question arises, is this response sufficient to verify the content, or does it indicate that my colleagues have spent too many years grading undergraduate papers?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Still Moving

Following ten days of frantic packing, the movers arrived, took one look at our house, and phoned into the boss that they were quiting. He responded by sending a fourth man out to help with the move, but even so, it took them nine hours and two truckloads to move us, and that was after I had designated a bunch of stuff to be left for me to take myself. Consequently, I have spent the last 7 days moving all the things the movers missed. I finally brought over the last load last night. Of course, we still left 4 desks, 2 office chairs, a couch, a hide a bed, a kitchen table, a work table, an amoire, 3 paintings, garden furniture and a stack of dishes for the new owner. (I sold the house to a colleague who only had enough furniture to furnish one room of his two room appartment, so he was glad to get some left over furniture, and we were glad not to have to move or dump it.) And we threw out even more garbage than my earlier estimates. In the end, we produced 85 67-litre bags of garbage; 24 92-litre bags of donations to Diabetes Association's charity drive. It has all been kind of mind-numbing how much stuff we had crammed into our house.


Of course, we now have the challenge of unpacking. Currently, two thirds of our three door garage is filled floor to ceiling with boxes waiting to be sorted and correctly placed in the new house. I estimate another 20 days labour....


We have officially voted never to move again; or at least until we retire to Victoria in 23 years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Ultrasound confirms...

...that we are expecting a girl.


Of course, I was confident from the beginning in my feeling that this one was a girl, but it is nice to have this actually confirmed. Mary has had a couple of previous ultrasounds, but our daughter was apparently shy about showing the relevant region, so the technicians couldn't tell us what she was until yesterday's ultrasound.


I'm glad our daughter is a girl, because (a) I justed moved 47 cartons of girl baby and toddler clothes from our old house to our new house, and would have been royally ticked off if we then had to dump it (contengency plan called for this ad in local classifieds: "It's a Boy! Infant girl clothes available cheap!); and (b) we were having a terrible time coming up with suitable boy names. We wanted something as original as Tigana, but all the boy names we thought of were either too common or too effeminate. We couldn't find one we liked at all. Mary proposed "Kerrison", my mother's maiden name, but it abbreviates as "Kerry", which Mary did not like at all. I suggested "General" or "Sir" to give the child a leg up in their future career, but Mary vetoed that. Mary suggested "Grayson", but I figured out that was a shot at my age, so I vetoed that one! And everything else just seemed, well unsuitable for one reason or another.


But then, we were not really trying because we both knew boy names were a mere intellectual exercise. We knew it was a girl, and we know what her name is. Well, more accurately, we know two out of three of her names -- we've told Tigana she may choose one (middle) name for her baby sister, so that has been subject to change -- we've had "Grace" and "Rose" (neither of which Mary and I like much, but which do oddly fit with the names we've chosen, so we would have been okay) but which this week is Pocahontas. We may have to exercise a parental veto....

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Moving

I have spent the last ten days, 10 to 14 hours a day, packing for our move to a larger house. Mary's expecting, and so can no longer bend or lift, so all the packing comes down to me. The movers come tomorrow to move the heavy stuff and as many boxes (about 200 at this point) as they can do in one day; I'll move the remainder myself for the week or so we still have the house afterwards. But the packing has been interesting.


We were living in a three story house, but had essentially abandoned the basement to storage. I had a house full of furniture when Mary moved in with her house full of furniture six years ago, so we moved all of the junkier stuff (which, as it turned out, meant all my stuff apparently) into the basement. Then Mary inherited most of a house of furniture from her Aunt. So we had three houses of furniture in one small house, and we kept buying new stuff. (Mary is one of those people who has to go out at least once a day and there is often no where to go in the Winter in Lethbridge except the Mall, so we end up buying a lot of stuff. Which meant, more stuff shuffled into basement storage.)


Sorting through the basement took a long time. Much of what I discovered down there we hadn't seen for years. There were boxes of stuff the movers had brought from Mary's former home which had never been unpacked and examined. (Mary had been away at grad school when she sold her house and had the furniture sent to my place, so she never got to do the usual pre-move purge.) There was an entire backroom devoted to Gestetner printing equipment (four machines so I could run four different colors to produce the equivalent of a four color press) and supplies, which I had lovingly purchased second hand just after the process had become completely obsolete with color photocopying/computer printers. I had a complete photography darkroom set up which I was sure to get around to using again any day now, except I have tossed all my film cameras and gone completely digital. There were the bookshelves of Social Studies reference materials in case I ever wanted to teach social studies again (yeah, that could happen!) and the ten years supply of food, purchased at significant savings in bulk from Costco etc., which had stale dated sometime in the late 1990s. There were the two Osborne computers, both broken, which I intended to fix by cannibalizing the one to fix the other so that I could read the 700 diskes of obsolete research data piled next to them. And so on. Given the impending move, I had no difficulty throwing all this stuff out, and had to wonder why much of it had ever seemed worth saving. But without the deadline imposed by movers, there is always something more pressing then cleaning out the basement, and always some good reason why this or that might come in handy at some indefinite time in the future.

Physically getting rid of all this trash was a different matter. Half of it went during Lethbridge's annual spring cleaning day, when the garbage collectors carry away anything, including stoves, fridges and printing presses, that people want to get rid of. I don't know of any other city that does this, but it is a great service. The other half I had to put in green garbage bags and throw out with the weekly trash. As the deadline for the move came closer, I had to up my output from a couple of extra bags a week, to a mountain of trash. Which was a problem, because normally the crew only collects two or three bags per house. So, faced with a stack of 26 bags of garbage last week, I was at a bit of a loss what to do. I piled the garbage into two different stacks, one on the far right of my property line, the other on the far left. Since we lived on a cresent and our pie shaped lots met at the street, it wasn't always clear which pile of garbage belonged to which house, and with my two piles, I hoped to make it looked like they were collecting from two houses rather than one. Then, still faced with a gigantic surplus I moved up and down the block adding a bag or two to each of my neighbours piles filling up their quotas.

Garbage collectors were not that easily fooled, though. One has to acknowledge that they are professionals in their own right. They took about 10 of my bags, and left everything else, including all the bags smuggled into neighbour's piles. (Mine were a slightly different shade of green, and had tie tops, which apparently are less popular with my neighbours, so the garbage staff just ignored my bags.) I had to quickly collect back my bags into my pile before my neighbours got wise. So I just left the pile lying out front for the next round of collection, but the next week, the garbage guys only took one bag, and started to drive off. A neighbour who was out there started to argue with them, and by the time I had run out to join him, the garbage guys had called into their foreman to complain about how much there was. But my neighbour kept at them and eventually they took everything, including a number of new bags I hadn't had the nerve to put out on the street. I told my neighourbour he should have been a lawyer, he was talking so fast.

Of course now I still have another twenty bags or so to go, but dare not put out more than three or four a week. I still have the house for another two weeks, so that accounts for say 12 bags....but being too cheap to rent a bin or pay the dump fees, I'm going to have to take my garbage with me and put it out at the new house at three bags a week until it is all gone.

Well, back to packing. One day to go to movers. They are going to freak when they see how much stuff is still to be moved.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Matrix Reloaded

Saw Matrix Reloaded last night. What a disappointment.


First, the theater screwed up the projection, so the top 20% of the movie was projecting off the screen and so was invisible. Then they stopped the film 8 or 9 times trying to get it right, each time losing two or three minutes of plot, so the confused writing became even harder to follow. They finally got it down to 5% off screen before they gave up, so we watched the rest of the movie with everyone missing top inch of their hair. Everyone could have been bald, I would never know.

Second, the movie itself was badly directed and cut. The pacing was all wrong -- some of the fight scenes were intolerably and pointless long, for example. Why have a fight scene drag on for 20 minutes when the hero can, apparently, simply choose to fly off at any moment? It is illogical! And the writing made no sense. One speech by M, and the entire populace goes from frantic worry to sex orgy. Yeah, that could happen. And how come there were no old people or children at that meeting/party? It was just very dumb.

And there were a number of logical flaws in the basic writing. I admit that the premise of the first movie was weak, an old SF cliche from way back, but on the whole I really enjoyed the original. The writing made sense within its own logic, it was consistent and the mayhem was original. The sequel, by contrast, was confused and derivitive, repetitive.

The two things that annoyed me the most, however, were (1) references to things that hadn't happened in the original, but in the video games, so non-gamers like myself were left hanging, and (2) the explicit "to be continued..." ending. If it says "to be continued next episode", it television, not movies. Even Star Wars draws to some kind of self-contained conclusion at the end of each episode, but this was just lame -- tune in next $30 to find out what is happening? And even then, not really know unless you've seen the intervening video games?

Bite me.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Shubenacadie Photos

Following our trip to Disneyland, we went out to Halifax for a conference. While there, we went out to Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, and I snapped a few wildlife pictures. I also got a couple of good shots of squirrels in Point Pleasant Park. Nothing exceptional, but I was impressed that my little pocket digital (a Minolta Dimage X) was able to get even half way decent shots (the originals are much crisper than seen here, since I obviously had to compress the images fairly severely for posting on the web) and am quite pleased we we doled out the money for it. Since the camera slides easily into my shirt pocket or Mary's clutch purse (it is 3.25" x 2.75" x .75"), it is always with us. The convenience, combined with the instant feedback and the elimination of film costs, means that we are takiing way more (and generally better) pictures than a year ago.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Disneyland Part I

Disneyland Adventure


We went to Disneyland this year for a number of reasons: At five, my daughter Tigana was old enough to fully enjoy it, young enough to still believe in the magic (though on the flight down, she turned to us and asked, "So the princesses that live in Disney, are they the real ones or only pretend ones?" Quick-thinking Mom forestalled the crisis by shouting, "Hey, what's that over there!" thus allowing us to dodge that bullet for the nonce); with another baby on the way, this was Tigana's last chance for a vacation as a single child; Mary needed something concrete to celebrate passing her Ph.D. comprehensive examinations. The actual timing of the trip kept changing in response to Mary's Ph.D. program constantly shifting the timing of her comprehensives; advice we were getting from informants on weather and crowd conditions at Disneyland; and the necessities of our day jobs. In the end, Mary booked our Disneyland trip immediately after her comps, and immediately before a conference in Halifax.


When I say, "immediately after comps" I mean that literally: After two 8 hour days of examinations, she got in a car and drove with us the seven hours to Edmonton (we booked our flights out of Edmonton so Mary's parents could look after our dogs while we were away), and having thus arrived in Edmonton after midnight, went immediately to bed so we could get up the next morning for a 7AM flight to Vancouver, and hence to California. Considering that Mary was exhausted from months of holding down a full time teaching position, writing papers for her Ph.D. courses, prepping for the comprehensive exams, and then actually writing the exams, all while suffering the myriad symptoms of first-trimester pregnancy, well, this may not have been the most auspicious beginning for our trip.


Indeed, a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to leave for California, Mary's leg gave out. Mary has chronic back pain, but the pregnancy began pushing on the sciatic nerve, crippling her left leg completely. Mary was in tears to think her trip ruined, but it must be said that this complication turned out to provide an unexpected benefit for Tigana and I. Turns out, if one is in a wheelchair, one's family uses a separate wheel chair entrance to the rides, which completely bypass the regular line-ups. We had planned our trip before school lets out in the States, so we arrived during low season when lineups were still only 45 minutes to an hour per ride, but I don't think we ever waited more than five minutes. (Some rides have special easy-to-board wheelchair cars, so we would have to wait for the ride to cycle through to that car, or wait while another wheelchair party ahead of us took their turn, but compared to the regular lineups, this was as nothing.) Thus, it was not uncommon for us to do five or six rides in an hour, compared to others completing only a single ride in the same period.


This was not entirely appreciated by Mary, who was, of course, still stuck in a stupid wheel chair for much of the trip and in considerable discomfort. Whenever Tigana and I would go into one of the kid's performances, for example, Mary would have to sit in the back of the theater while Tigana moved as close to the performers as possible. Mary became quite frustrated being parked in front of blank walls while Tigana and I went off to climb a jungle gym or poke around some exhibit. And we discovered that well meaning staff and tour guides would sometimes relocate Mary three or four times before pronouncing themselves satisfied she was not in the way, which sometimes left Mary feeling more like luggage than a person. Being pregnant, in pain and nauseous no doubt contributed to feelings of abandonment, so the wheel chair was definitely a mixed blessing from Mary's perspective.


But Tigana and I reveled in the absence of lineups, our ability to pile up our souvenirs and packages on Mary's lap, and even short cuts through customs and various airport lineups. Thus, Tigana's first experience of Disneyland was very different than most kids facing the typical four-hour line-ups.


And I must say that Mary and I enjoyed the trip much more than we had expected. Not only did we have the satisfaction of observing Tigana caught up in the magic of meeting her various princess idols, but many of the older rides turned out to be extremely nostalgic for us, and we even enjoyed the new rides. We were particularly impressed by Aladdin, a full-scale Broadway-style, live musical spectacular , complete with the Caves of Doom elephant, the city of Akkaba, an elephant processional, and a flying carpet that zooms out over the audience. I thought it one of the best theater productions I've seen in years, though only 43 minutes long, the perfect length to keep the attention of kids like Tigana. We had great front row seats, so one of the camels actually came close enough for Tigana to pet during the procession scene. Pretty cool!

Disneyland Trip Part II

(Apparently, the trip report was too long to put into one post, so I have split it into two parts here.)


The other aspect of the trip Mary and I particularly enjoyed was meeting up with Adrian Fischer, former buddy of mine and currently Director of Entertainment Operations at Disneyland. I remember 20 years ago asking Adrian what he wanted to be when he graduated, and he talked at length about his interest in being a theater producer, perhaps on Broadway, and then pausing and saying, "either that, or maybe running Disneyland." Well, 20 years later darned if he isn't indeed running all the theater at Disneyland. He oversees approximately 1500 productions a week, including the aforementioned Alladin.




Posing with Adrian Fischer, Director of Entertainment Operations, Disneyland, in his Long Beach, California home.



Talking to Adrian was amazing because within five minutes it was like old times again; and Mary and Tigana took an instant liking to him. Adrian was full of amazing anecdotes about his experiences as a producer and executive, which Mary (being a management professor) found as fascinating as I did; and since we introduced Adrian as "The Boss of Disneyland" to Tigana, he was pretty much guaranteed a place on her list of favorite people! I got to spend three evenings with Adrian, which I felt a bit guilty about because he was of course working during the week and had house guests on the weekend, but it was the first time we'd seen each other in person in nearly 15 years, so what the heck. I was surprised at how easily we found picking up the conversation from where we last left off, and how comfortable it felt; or to put it another way, just how much I had missed Adrian.


It was also great seeing Adrian's home. He has an astounding place, with the kind of furniture and décor one usually only sees in magazines. I was particularly impressed by some of the pieces that Adrian had designed himself. (I asked, "Where do you find a carpenter to do this kind of craftsmanship for you?" To which he made the obvious reply, "One of the guys from Dinsey in his off hours." Well, duh!) I often wonder what happened to that old gang of mine, and Adrian is certainly one of the success stories.

On the Cheap



We did the flights down on airline points, so airfare was essentially free. We had originally intended to stay for free with Adrian in Long Beach (his home includes a guest suite complete with separate entrance), but in the event, Mary's first trimester condition required frequent naps, so we needed to be within walking (wheelchair) distance of Disneyland, so we opted to stay in one of the three Disneyland hotels instead. We decided to splurge and go for concierge service which gives you free breakfast, videos, and so on, and had a great 14th floor view of California Adventure (the Disney theme park adjoining Disneyland.)



The view from our Paradise Pier Hotel Room



Fortunately Adrian was able to give us one of his employee vouchers so we paid about half what the room normally goes for. And Adrian was able to sign us in to Disneyland for free each day, so that was another huge savings! But we still managed to spend a bundle. I don't know how most families manage it, but I must say I thought Disneyland provided value for the money, and was a much better experience than I had expected.


Trip Photo Gallery

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Middle of the night...

... I startled awake. I quickly replayed the last 30 seconds of short term memory to see what had awakened me. (The same mechanism that allows students to answer questions when teachers call on them mid-daydream. They may not have heard the question until their name was appended at the end, but with luck, they captured enough on tape that they can rewind, replay, and answer before it becomes too obvious they weren't paying attention.) All I could find, however, was a quiet "Robert" from my wife. But my startle response had included a loud (okay, screamed) "What? What is it? What's wrong?" so Mary was already answering that "There's something…could you check?"

So I check on Tigana, and she is sleeping soundly. The dogs have followed me out of the bedroom, and checked out the rest of the house, come back and report everything is fine. I return to the bedroom.

"Tigana's fine, and if there were anything wrong the dogs would be barking."

"You're right," said Mary, obviously much relieved. "Thanks."

"What did you hear?"

"I felt a presence."

We'd been through this before with our previous pregnancy. "It's probably just the baby," I said.

"You're right, I'm sure that's it."


And then I thought about it for a minute. Mary had been feeling the baby move for a couple of weeks already, so it wasn't just that the baby moved for the first time, like last time. And, when I reran the tape again, I thought that perhaps something did kind of brush past me there in the ether. So, as I climbed back into bed I raised the possibility, "What if this is the precise moment in the pregnancy where the baby becomes a person? What if you suddenly felt a presence because the baby had suddenly become one?"


"Interesting…" was the only response I got before Mary drifted off back to sleep. Well, 3AM is not the best time for a deep theological discussion. But, I can't help wondering.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Phone Booth (movie)

Saw Phone Booth last night. Recommend it if you're in the mood of a tense little thriller. Would make an interesting stage play. Has a certain something... Decent writing, I guess.


I'm off to Disneyland tomorrow. Then a conference in Halifax. Assuming Air Canada is still flying. So not likely to have any entries until late June.

Have a good summer.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Everything I Learned in Grade School is False


I have been noting for some years now that everything my grade 3 teacher taught us was wrong: For example, I clearly remember her laughing at me when I pointed out that the bump on Africa seemed to fit into the corner of South America and telling me that, "the continents don't move, silly!" Then along came plate techtonics. Or the time she explained atoms were the smallest things and laughing when I asked what they were made out of. She had apparently never heard of quarks, though she really should have been. And etc. But I must confess that as the list of things I was taught and have always believed true but now turn out to be wrong, grows longer, it is starting to bug me.


Here the latest brain hurting discovery: A team of researchers headed by Lene Hau has found a way to slow the speed of light to a complete stop, and then restart it. Previously, Lau and her colleagues reduced the speed of light to 38 miles per hour (the speed of suburban traffic) -- Nature 397: 594 (1999).


    NASA-funded research at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., that literally stops light in its tracks, may someday lead to breakneck-speed computers that shelter enormous amounts of data from hackers. ..."This could open up a whole new way to use light, doing things we could only imagine before," Hau said. "Until now, many technologies have been limited by the speed at which light travels." The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second (670 million miles per hour). ... Hau's team accomplished "light magic" by laser-cooling a cigar-shaped cloud of sodium atoms to one-billionth of a degree above absolute zero, the point where scientists believe no further cooling can occur. Using a powerful electromagnet, the researchers suspended the cloud in an ultra-high vacuum chamber, until it formed a frigid, swamp-like goop of atoms.When they shot a light pulse into the cloud, it bogged down, slowed dramatically, eventually stopped, and turned off. The scientists later revived the light pulse and restored its normal speed by shooting an additional laser beam into the cloud.


As a long time science fiction reader, the news release immediately brought to mind the Bob Shaw "slow glass" stories, in which windows made of slow glass show scenes that were on the other side of them years before. See, for example, Light of Other Days.


And to think my elementary school teachers did not approve of SF. In the long run, SF has proved more often right than they were!


I wasn't sure how I felt about the "frozen light" news release, though, until I read Dennis Valdron's reaction:


    Bugger this. Whatever happened to the good old days when the Universe was
    not accelerating, there were only four fundamental forces and you damned
    well knew where you stood with the speed of light. Goddamn kids, mucking
    around with universal constants like the gain on their stereo system. Mark
    my words, no good will come of this physics hooliganism!

Seems to about capture it for me!

Friday, May 16, 2003

New House

So Sunday, Mother's Day, I'm out in the Park with Tigana while Mary takes a nap. In the Park Tigana runs into Evyn, a friend from school. I end up talking to the Mom who I have not met before because Evyn's drop off and pickup times are different than Tigana's so our paths have not passed until now. We have a typical parents' conversation, and 2437 hides and seeks later, go home.


Monday, our real estate agent phones to say she has found the perfect house for us. Mary is at work, but I go with the agent to see it. (The agent says "no" when I suggest waiting until the next day -- the house has come on the market at noon today, and she needs us to see it today while it is still on the market.) Ten minutes into the tour I am saying, "How do I sell Mary on this house, because I have to have this house!" The agent drives me home just as Mary arrives. Back we go to the house as I try to constrain myself from prejudicing Mary. Five minutes into her tour, she is saying, "I have to have this house." We go home and write up an offer with the agent. Tuesday they accept the offer pending inspection. Wednesday we join the Inspector going through the house and the news is mostly good.

Half way through the tour I pass the kitchen fridge and happen to notice a piece of kid's art identitical to one of Tigana's. I do a double take, and a moment later realize that this is Evyn's house. I meet the Mom Sunday, buy her house Monday. Weird small world sometimes. (And of course can't help thinking that had the conversation turned to houses, we could have saved ourselves a sales commission, but hey, it's okday to keep things professional.)


By Thursday we have signed the final papers. We take possession August 1. We can hardly take it all in, but suddenly we're moving.

For those interested, here are pictures of the house. Patience, I've loaded way too many photos on this page.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Census Data

This just in (forwarded by John Herbert) Census data What I love about this item is the demonstration that a lot of the statistics we rely on are dependent on the accuracy of self-report information.


More big news brewing, but once again have to wait to see if the deal goes through before announcing it here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Mary has a little lamb

Hmm, Monday's post did not include the picture I had hoped, and the same glitch has zapped the editing button so I cannot go back and edit that entry. So I will try again, somewhat inelegantly, by repeating the entry here:


In the Year of the Ram...

Mary is having a little Lamb.




In honour of this announcement, I have been spending my normal blogging time uploading the Tigana baby essays to my website. I'm only about half done, but there is enough there to remind me what it was like being an expectant father before. It was interesting reading where I had written that I would never have put Mary through what it cost her to have the pregnancy had I but known how hard pregnancy is on women, but I obviously cannot make that claim again this time. We went into this knowing exactly how rough things can get.



But I am sooo excited. Almost as excited as Tigana was to learn that she is going to become a big sister. November seems a very long time away to Tigana, who is already hugging mommy's tummy half a dozen times a day, whispering to it, "Be a girl!"



I think it is a girl, but based on nothing more than our "sense" of these things, but we are careful to tell Tigana "your baby brother or sister" so as not to set up any expectations.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Okay, let's see who is reading this blog by posting this simple rhyme:


In the year of the Ram...
Mary is having a little lamb.




Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Important safety note to self: Do not use a rotary toothbrush at any time mustache exceeds 1/4 inch below edge of upper lip.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Here (courtesy of Holly Gunn) is a fasinating site:

Museum of Unworkable Devices
http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/museum/unwork.htm

Monday, April 14, 2003

Chicago (Movie)

Went, somewhat reluctantly, to see Chicago Saturday night. Niether my wife nor I are very big fans of the American musical, but living in Lethbridge, we had run out of other evening-out options. To my great surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I think there were three elements that elevated Chicago above the usual run of musicals.

First, the music was carefully separated from the 'action'. The integration of these two elements through cutting and thematic matching was not only highly effective, but very different from the usual musical where the characters go about their business until suddenly bursting into song mid-scene. I have never felt comfortable with this former approach, which lacks for verismilitude. If I were walking through a mall and various retailers suddenly burst into a big musical number, or a factory floor or an office or where ever, I don't think I would join in so much as freak. So I much prefered Chicago's careful distinction between staged musical numbers and movie clips.

Second, this sharp division allowed each format to work to its own best advantage without worrying about creating impossible seques between one and the other. The result was the staged musical numbers came across as just that -- I can't remember when I last had the same sense of being at a live performance while in a movie theatre. The staged numbers (perhaps thanks to the improved sound systems of recent years) felt very much like I was in the second row of a live musical and could have reached out and touched the performers. Live musicals of course score several points over a recording, but in this case the performances were a lot better than one could ever expect from a live caste. The immediacy of a live performance with the advantage of the multi-take, top star caste, was fairly unique in my experience.

Third, and what brought it all together for me, was that there was a compelling logic for the music. Unlike the typical Hollywood (or even more so, the typical Bollywood) movie where characters often appear to sing for no reason other than it is expected, here the musical number was the key metaphor of the art. The lead character being a chorus girl saw her life story portrayed as a series of musical numbers, so the numbers when they occured come across as the heroine's interior dialog rather than as some artificial construct. As a metaphor for the heroine's self-image, her perceptions of events (the tapdancing lawyer in the production of the court scene, for example) the music was great, high art. This contrasts every sharply with the pointless ness of most musical numbers in most American musicals, and made the whole exercise intellecually respectable for me. That the music itself carried a great deal of social commentary was an added bonus.

And, I must say, I really loved some of the music.

So, I highly recommend the movie to anyone who has not seen it yet. And you won't hear me recommending many musicals.

Quote of the day:

A list serve member commenting on an odd email he had received:
"It seems to be Hare Krishna spam. Now there's a sentence that
would have meant nothing to our grandparents."


Friday, April 11, 2003

Rising Expectations

Today was end of term. I can still look forward to a couple of weeks of marking, wrap up meetings, committee work, and other end of term tasks, but today was the last day of classes.


My wife (who teaches in the Management Faculty) came in looking a little down.


"What's wrong?" I asked, having expected to see the usual satisfaction that comes from having concluded yet another successful semester.


"Oh, well, you know that test I said the morning class bombed? Well, I had to hand it back last thing, so they left on kind of a grumpy note."


"Oh, that's too bad," I said. "But you said over half the class failed that test, so you can't really expect them to be overjoyed."


"I know, but it means I only got applause from two of the classes this year."


"Applause?"


"Yeah, both of the other classes applauded, but it was, you know, a bit disappointing that it wasn't all three classes."


"Applause?" I asked, a bit incredulous.


"And only one of those was a standing ovation. The other class just kind of sat there when they clapped, you know, and it was quite short. And then they just left."


"Applauded?" Definitely incredulous.


"The MERGE class was good though. That was a standing ovation and it went on quite a long time, and they all came up after and shook my hand and thank me. That felt good. But it was only the one class out of the three."


"A sustained, standing ovation?"


"I must be slipping. I think it was because I was sick so much this term. It put me off my stride, even though I only missed a couple of actual classes. I just didn't have the energy this term."


"You're disappointed because you only got one standing ovation and one other applause?"


"Well, yeah? Don't they applaud for you?"


I didn't know where to begin to answer that one. NO, they don't, doesn't seem to cover it. I not only have never gotten an ovation, I've never met anyone else who has gotten one either, or even heard of such a thing before. And my wife has come to see this as a routine expectation.


And I didn't get nominated for a teaching award in my first and second years of teaching either.


And she has published more than I did this last couple of years, and has received more critical acclaim for her theorizing this year than I ever have in the past decade. (Indeed, the latest edition of Steven L. McShane's Canadian Organizational Behaviour is already citing her work, whereas I haven't made it into any of the big name textbooks yet.)


And she is one fabulous babe.




All this before she has even officially finished her Ph.D.


Must be time for me to retire.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Weekly World News (Review)

A frenzied couple of weeks as I try desperately to get everything done before end of term. But I wanted to comment on something here before it is off the shelves and too late:


I was in Safeway couple of days ago, standing in the checkout line when I spotted the Weekly World News headlines for the April 8, 2003 edition:


"WWN Uncovers

Top Secret North Korean Plan to INVADE AMERICA: Thousands already on West Coast posing as insurance salesmen!"


Followed by: U.S. Troops protecting Garden of Eden From Saddam!” and accompanied by "Is this the shrunken head of Osama Bin Laden?"


weekly world news cover april 8 2003


I often smirk at Weekly World News headlines and marvel, but this issue was so over the top that I erupted into uncontrollable laughter, attracting an embarrassing amount of attention from other customers. But it was soooo funny.


Or, not, depending on one's viewpoint. I was sorry that my students were out in their teaching practicums this week, because I wanted to take this paper into my classroom and throw it down at the feet of my Social Studies majors. That this paper sells any copies in Alberta is an indictment of every Social Studies teacher in the province. How dare we claim to be teaching critical thinking skills, or a knowledge of current events, or even of geography, if headlines like these continue to sell copies of the WWN It might please me to believe that everyone buying the WWN does so for the implicit satire, but I strongly suggest that most of those picking it up are taking it seriously. And…this is the scary part … many of these individuals have the right to vote, though thankfully, we can assume that anyone stupid enough to credit such a publication would be too stupid to actually find their polling station or be inclined to exercise their vote.


But really, one has to imagine the writers (one cannot call them reporters) for these publications sitting in their offices, bent over with laughter, brainstorming headlines. They at least must know that what they are writing is nonsense, so office conversation must surely revolve around how far one can push the credibility of its moronic readers before finally crossing over into the "nobody dumb enough to credit this" territory. Do they make bets with each other on how far they can push this line before the editor or the public balks?


I find their current event headlines the most annoying. It doesn't bother me so much when the WWN carries stories about Elvis or UFO sightings or, as this month, "Smelly co-worker can't be Fired" or "John Belushi's Ghost Terrorizes Frat House", but the 'political propaganda for idiots' is deeply offensive. Have moral reservations about the US invasion of Iraq? Well, turns out they were there to protect the Garden of Eden and other important biblical sites (p 11). Too stupid to think through the issues? Well, American troops protecting the bible, how much simpler do you need it? About the only way to top that one would be to show photos of Christ shaking Bush's hand, and the only reason they haven't gone there yet is the fear it might alienate some readers who figure they would be in front row for any second coming….


My previous favorite WWN headline was during the last Gulf War, which had a picture of Hitler standing in front of a ship with a caption to the effect that Hitler was coming out of retirement in South America to sail to Iraq so he could advise Saddam. Never mind the ludicrous suggestion that Hitler had been hiding out in Argentina all these years, or that he would be a 120 years old by now, or that he and Saddam are ideologically opposed on very issue, the thing is to equate Saddam and Hitler in the public mind, even when there is no possible connection.


On the other hand, how different is this than the mainstream American media's attempts to link Saddam with Osama Bin Laben? The fact that Saddam has persecuted religious minorities throughout his reign logically places him high on Bin Laben's hit llist, and vice versa, but somehow, they are suddenly all members of the same International Terroist Movement. Like they were both guest speakers at the ITM's annual convention or something.


At least the McCarthy era propagandists could sound bite actual communists giving lip service to Internationalism as the basis for its paranoia over International Communist Conspiracy, but what educated American could believe that Osama and Saddam have anything in common? (Well, aside from both being initially installed and funded by the Americans, I mean.) No one with an hour of reading on any topic related to Saddam or Bin Laben could possibly confuse the two. And yet….


I find watching or listening to any of the media cover over the war embarrassing, and have therefore started to avoid it altogether. Not so much a boycott as an act of self-preservation. One can only take in so much garbage before one can feel the neurons eroding….


Take for example this article on CNN coverage (as usual forwarded by UTOH editor John Herbert), or this depressing article by Robert Fisk (most respected journalist on the area) on the continuing coincidence of independent journalist dying from not so friendly fire.


It saddens me that I can feel our national IQ deteriorating as this constant barrage of American propaganda slops over the border.


So, might as well subscribe to Weekly World News and get the real measure of the American public.


I see, for example, on page 31 of the current issue is a picture of Saddam shaking hands with – wait for it! – Satan. Okay, apparently that whole Hitler thing was too subtle. Headline reads "Saddam breaks his pact with Satan!" "Sneaky Saddam will soon find that breaking a promise to the prince of lies has harsher consequences than doing so to the U.N." and "A spokesperson for the worlds' leading Satanist church claims that the double-dealing dictator reneged on a bargain he made with Lucifer to hand over the first 12 male children born in Baghdad in 2003 – in exchange for a guarantee of 'absolute victory' over the U.S. military in any military conflict." I have to stop, my brain is shrinking! Oh but, speaking of shrinking, how about the two page spread on "Osama's shrunken head found in south American"…. I wonder what these guys used to do before Photoshop software came along?


But all of this pales to insignificance compared to the main headline. Forget Hitler or Satan, linking North Korean invaders with insurance salesmen is clearly pushing the slander envelope! (I love the photo, if you can make it out here, that shows the Korean infiltrators dressed as insurance salesmen, but still wearing their Air Force hats!) And I love this paragraph: "Life in Korean-occupied Western America won't change completely. But expect some noticeable shifts right away if Kim Jong II's diabolical war plans succeed. 'Hollywood will continue to churn out movies for the world to enjoy, but you'll probably seen more of an Oriental flavor,' says a D.C.-based expert on North Korean affairs who was shown a copy of the plan."


Cigarette cartons carry the warning that if you smoke these your lungs will clog and you'll die a horrible death from lung cancer. Can't we slap the equivalent warnings on the WWN? "Warning: Reading this could lower your education" or "Warning: Reading this without laughing will cause those around you to believe you are an idiot"


But then, we'd have to put the same labels on CNN…and at least one can laugh at World Weekly News.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Kaleidoscope

Still ignoring the war. Never pay attention to the Oscars (though glad to hear Bowling for Columbine won for best Documentary).

Watched Insomnia last night on Mike Hall's recommendation. Excellent, taunt thriller, kept us on the edge of our seats (and distracted from the real world) for a couple of hours.

But main point of today's blog entry is to bring this Kaleidoscope to everyone's attention. Holly Gunn, librarian extraordinarie, sent me this one. It's a hoot!

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Old Glory Insurance

I don't want to talk about the war.

So I will instead reference this streaming video for "Old Glory" insurance [brought to my attention in happier times (last week) by Randy Reichardt] that nicely illustrates how marketers create and encourage an atmosphere of (groundless) fears with which to manipulate consumers. (Parallel with how the American leadership can manipulate the public with irrational fears I leave to the reader to draw.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Liechtenstein prince wins powers

So here's a news item from Sunday that might have escaped your notice (especially with all the war news coverage): "Liechtenstein prince wins powers" The BBC news story describes a national referendum in which Hans-Adam II was voted absolute powers by a 2/3 majority. It makes him an absolute monarch with the power to hire and fire the government.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Canada's Response to the War

I have been frustrated by my home server connection, which has essentially cut me off for the last three weeks, making updates to this blog essentially impossible. (My day job has been full day meetings all day everyday, so no chance for even a quick update at work recently.) Hopefully the problem will be addressed in the next few days.


In the meantime, just a quick comment about the impending war: I, as many other Canadians, am horribly afraid that Canada will be dragged into this conflict and our reputation irrepairably damanged by association with the Bush Administration's irrational and immoral actions. The Bush administration has clearly failed to make the case for war, and is simply bulldozing ahead on the basis of 'might makes right', in spite of the advice and urging not only of the majority of international community, but its own experts as well. Yet the "you're either with us or against us" approach of the Bush administration has terrorized many into compliance. As Canadians, we are terribly aware of our own vulnerabilities to American arm twisting, the sudden and lengthy delays at the border crossings costing us billions a day in trade being but one of the not too subtle hints of what could happen if we don't defer to Bush and his cronies. Certainly, watching the example of the American reaction to the French ("freedom fries"? How sad is that?) must be frightening to any Canadian official considering arguing for Canada maintaining its own foreign policy.


In typical Canadian fashion (one recalls McKenzie King's "Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription" speech in WWII) we have been trying to stall our commitment, saying maybe yes, maybe no...trying desparately not to piss off the Americans too much or antagonize potential terrorists -- trying to make enough of a commitment to satisfy Bush without actually committing to anything this stupid and immoral. Such fence sitting often serves us well, but in this case it is clear bush is about to call our bluff by starting the war without the UN, and we're either going to have to pony up or spend the next five years sitting in our semi-trailers waiting at the border for customs to clear our next batch of exports.


So, I have a modest proposal. There is one other typical Canadian response that we haven't tried yet that seems to me to promise a real out here. We phone in sick.


Hey, we've all done it! I mean, when faced with either crossing the picket line or standing with the workers, we just phone in with a doctor's note, and then tell each side we were totally on with them and deeply disappointed we had to miss out because of the flu thing. Works every time! So, I say what we should do is tell the Americans we're on board, that we back them all the way, and we'll be there as soon as the doctor says it's okay to get out of bed. We even have the disease to hand. It's right there waiting for us: Blame it on the Sea Kings. We say, "look, we'd have our ships there in a minute, but we had to ground all the Sea Kings! There was this crash thing, and we can't figure out why, and we had to recall all the ships. We're really sorry we missed it! " That would so work for us!

And hey, it would be the first time in a long time the Sea Kings REALLY helped keep our nation secure!




Thursday, February 27, 2003

A number of unrelated sightings today:


An amusing video by an exAmerican on moving to Canada


A couple of interesting items on blogging forwarded by Randy Reichardt
Blogs and Research

Blogging Comes to Harvard


Here is an item that fits in well with discussion with my Social Studies Majors re the difference between information, entertainment, and propaganda, forwarded to me by colleague Rick Hesch, from the global village maillist:

"..."Profiles From the
Front Line," the latest in a long string of reality shows. The show, which
airs Thursday, will feature footage of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and other
locales. There are at least two other such shows in the works on other
networks. Read the text at the links below to get a sense of the disturbing
nature of the collaboration between the entertainment producers and the
Pentagon. There is some overlap but you'll find a bit of new, disturbing
information in each article.

http://www.thepowerhour.com/postings/propaganda.htm

http://film.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4418509,00.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A4
7502-2002Mar18¬Found=true


http://www.busybusybusy.com/b3_arc_02_0218.shtml

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/1991885.stm

Tanya Barber
Global Village School
http://www.globalvillageschool.org

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Here is an interesting alternative view on the USA and "old Europe:"

http://www.upi.com/print.cfm?StoryID=20030221-120858-6705r

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Joke

My wife nominates this one as the best emailled joke of the month:

A guy asks an American, "What proof do you have that Iraq has
Weapons of Mass Destruction?" and the American replies "We kept the receipts."

++++++++++

Great Examples of Bad Test Questions

As an evaluation instructor, alumni often send me examples of atrocious examinations they encounter in their subsequent courses. (Most of our alumni go on to a second undergraduate degree or graduate work.) Graduates of my exam-making course generally do very well on other people's exams, because once one knows how to write good examination questions oneself, it is easy to spot the errors in poorly written questions, and so be able to work out the answers. (See http://www.edu.uleth.ca/courses/ed3604/take/mc/how.html#Tricks for examples of what I mean.) On the other hand, my graduates also become hypercritical of sloppy exam-writing, and are often offended by the poor evaluation technique of otherwise excellent instructors. And thus my collection of really bad examinations continues to grow as alumni mail me the poor examples they encounter in other programs.

This week a former student sent me a wonderfully awful test from which I have drawn the following examples. (I won't, for obvious reasons, identify the campus that that student is now on, but suffice to say, this is from an experienced instructor at a legitimate North American university of some little repute, and not in any way an exceptional or unusual case.)

Mummification is first mentioned in 2nd Dynasty texts.
A) True
B) False
C) Maybe

Okay, ignore for the moment the embarrassment of a university instructor using true and false questions, how can one have a "maybe" category in a true/false items?! The whole point of true/false is that they address absolutes. The maybe category is invalid because a case can always be made for 'maybe' -- in this case, that there may well be other texts that have yet to be discovered. Since some questions on this test are true/false and others true/false/maybes, I would suspect "maybe" as the correct alternative anyway, since the instructor probably used it in those cases where there is some existing debate in the field (say an ambiguous reference in some earlier text that may or may not refer to mumification) but it doesn't really matter -- given a "maybe" in a true false question, I can always justify it as the correct answer. It will always win any formal grade appeal.

Old Kingdom Kings did no trade with Asiatics.
a) Not True
b) Not False

The classic double negative question! I have been looking for one of these for years! All the test construction textbooks warn against the use of a double negative (negative in both stem and alternatives) but I have never actually seen a real example of one of these before. Evaluation nstructors have always had to make up our own examples, and students always say, "Oh, nobody would really do that, would they?" and now at last I have a real example.

"Despite his reputation as a tomb robber, Belzoni was nevertheless a fine archaeologist".
A) True
B) False

The archetypal "opinion" question, the ultimate taboo in true/false item writing. Again, I have been looking for an example like this for quite a while. True/false questions can only be used for testing absolutes, not opinions, since one can always make the case for the other side (however tenuously) and we do not score people on their opinions in a democracy. In a formal grade appeal, the student will always win.

The rest of the test is of similarly disappointing quality. Every campus has some kind of Teaching Development Center (or at least a Teaching Development Committee, if the campus is too small to afford dedicated staff) that sponsors 'how to' workshops on instruction and assessment techniques, but of course those that need the workshops are never the ones who attend.

The sad thing is that the former student who sent me this test had been absolutely raving to me about what a wonderful professor this was and what a great course and how much the student was enjoying the class, prior to the test. Afterwards, the student was so disappointed with being robbed of the opportunity to demonstrate the deep learning achieved in that class, that their enthusiasm was considerably eroded. The student still considers that professor an all time favorite, but then this is a student motivated by a thirst for knowledge rather than grades, and so perhaps more willing then most to forgive such tragic flaws.

(Not, I hasten to add, that any of us are flawless. My exams may be good, but I could no doubt learn a thing or two about lecturing and motivating students from this instructor, judging by my graduate's enthusiasm for an otherwise arcane subject. But wouldn't it be great if professors could learn from each other, and build on each other's strengths, rather than merely perpetuate the poor teaching and assessment techniques they themselves endured as undergraduates?)

=================================================================
A news bite from John Herbert (current Editor of Under the Ozone Hole):

Here's a little Columbia disaster news blip that came and went under the radar....

I just happened to be watching NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe testifying in front of Congress last week. An American Congressman (whose name I didn't catch but it was no one you've heard of) began questioning O'Keefe by laying out a string of events.

He said (and I paraphrase) that the contract for the glue (or "urea") that held the heat protection tiles in place was originally awarded to a Canadian company in "Fort Sasketchwhichwan, Alberta, Canada."

No company in the United States could meet the specs that NASA required for this urea -- in fact, only one manufacturer in the world could, and it was located in Fort Saskatchewan. Up until five years, this was the only source of shuttle glue tile.
What changed five years ago? This company was bought out by a larger Canadian company that does business in Cuba.

American government agencies cannot deal with companies that do business in Cuba, so NASA could no longer buy tile glue from the only source in the world that could meet its specs.

He then asked O'Keefe to comment and O'Keefe offered none, saying that he was unfamiliar with these events (O'Keefe has only been with NASA a year.)

So it may turn out that the American policy of sanctions against foreign companies operating in Cuba might have played a large role in the death of seven American astronauts.

Bet you won't see this on CNN.
================================end quote============================

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Political Dissent and the Internet

I find it fascinating how much political dissention in the United States is expressed via the Internet. The regular media are obviously the dominate source of information/interpretation for most Americans, but it must be a least a bit harder for the government to put their particular spin on things when one opens one's office email each morning to discover four or five messages debunking the mainstream media's interpretation. Political humor and satire is particularly effective, since people are more likely to forward something funny to their lists of friends than a heavy essay. But compared to the old days when the only anonymous medium for protest was political graffiti scrawled on washroom walls, the internet disseminates these dissenting voices both more quickly and more widely than ever before. This must be frustrating for Bush and company trying to convince the public of increasingly ludicrous threats to American security.

The recent announcement that North Korea may have a missile that could reach the United States is an excellent case in point. Even if one accepted that North Korea had the know how and was prepared to divert the resources necessary to produce such weapons, the more fundamental question is WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO? What would be the point of, say, bombing New York and being labeled the worst mass murderers in history when an hour and a half later North Korea would be reduced to a sheet of volcanic glass? I could certainly understand if the American announced that they viewed the development of North Korean nuclear weapons as a threat to regional stability or a threat to American interests in Asia, but emphasizing that they now have a missile "capable of reaching the United States" is clearly intended to play on 9/11 paranoia. It is strictly laughable. Even if the North Koreans were able to develop one or two such weapons, this threat pales into insignificance to the thousands of missiles aimed at the USA over the last 30 years from the former Soviet Union etc., but no one seems particularly concerned with what happened to all of those warheads.

American allies are having an increasingly difficult time supporting Bush's war initiatives given the increasing public skepticism regarding any of the official White House line on Iraq's connection to external terrorism, and I cannot help but wonder how much of that skepticism has been fueled via Internet humour.

Here, then, a couple of recent examples:

George W. Bush was speaking to a class in Texas when one student put up
his hand to ask a few questions.

"Mr. President, my name is Billy."
"Yes, Billy...."
"I have a few questions for you."
"Go ahead Billy"?

Billy clears his throat, raises a sheet of paper with his questions listed and begins....

"First: Why are you pursuing a war that nobody wants?
"Second question: Wasn't the bombing of Hiroshima the worst war crime ever?
"Third question: Why did you instruct the FBI and CIA to not arrest
Muslim extremists prior to 911, despite warnings from foreign governments?"

Bush's face drained of colour, he gulped, and there was complete silence in the classroom. Just then the bell rang for recess.

After recess the class came back to continue their talk with the president.
This time another kid put up his hand.

"Mr. President, I'm Bobby and I have a few questions."
"Go ahead, Bobby."

Bobby stands, raises a sheet of paper with his questions and begins....

"First: Why are you ignoring world public-opinion and starting a war with Iraq?
"Second: Why have you abandoned international treaties on nuclear weapons?
"Third: If contravening the Geneva Convention is a war crime, doesn't this mean
you, your father and Colin Powell are war criminals?
"And one last question: Where's Billy?"

===========================================


What follows is an [abridged] transcription of some of the best signs in Washington
> >during the peace march January 18th, 2003.
> >----------------------------------------------------------
> >
> >Drunken frat boy drives country into ditch.
> >Who would Jesus bomb?
> >Bush is proof that empty warheads can be dangerous.
> >Let's bomb Texas, they have oil, too.
> >How did our oil get under their sand?
>>If you can't pronounce it, don't bomb it.
> >Daddy, can I start the war now?
> >1000 points of light and one dim bulb.
> >Sacrifice our SUV's, not our children.
> >Preemptive impeachment.
> >No George, I said Mac Attack.
> >Frodo has failed, Bush has the ring.
> >Look, I'll pay more for gas!
> >He is a moron and a bully.
> >Draft dodgers shouldn't start wars.
> >War is sweet to those who haven't tasted it (Erasmus).
> >Our grief [over 9/11] is not a cry for war.
> >Different Bush, same shit.
> >Stop the Bushit.
> >You don't have to like Bush to love America.
> >Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld: the asses of evil.
> >Stop the excess of evil [gives figures for the multibillion dollar defense budget].
> >$1 billion a day to kill people -- what a bargain.
> >Consume --> Consume --> Bomb --> Bomb --> Consume -->Consume
> >What's the difference between me & God? He might forgive Bush, but I won't.
> >America, get out of the Bushes.
> >Pro-lifers: Wake from Bush's propaganda spell war kills innocent children.
> >Big brother isn't coming -- he's already here.
> >An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind (Gandhi).
> >Mainstream white guys for peace. (Sign held by three mainstream-looking white guys)
> >Hans Blix -- look over here.
> >Let Exxon send their own troops.
> >There's a terrorist behind every Bush.
> >How many bodies per mile?
> >We can't afford to rule the world.
> >War is so 20th century!
> >9-11-01: 15 Saudis, 0 Iraqis.
> >While you were watching the war, Bush was raping America.
> >Don't waive your rights while waving your flag.
> >Sacrifice our SUVs, not our children.
> >Bush is to Christianity as Osama is to Islam.
> >I asked for universal health care and all I got was this lousy stealth bomber.
> >America's problems won't be solved in Iraq.
> >War is not a family value.
> >Picture of the peace symbol: back by popular demand.
> >A picture of Bush saying "Why should I care what the American people think? They didn't vote for me."
> Silver Donald Cameron
> Home page: http://www.islemadame.com/sdc/


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Check out this onion satire on Blix inspections of weapons of mass destruction.

work/family

Much of my time in January went to preparing my PAR -- the Professional Activities Report that is the key to a professor's salary and career. Every professor has to document all of their teaching, research, and service activities for the previous two years for review by the Dean. A strong PAR means one or more merit increments, a below average PAR means no salary increase and no promotions. Since there are only so many merit increments to go around, the reports are fairly competitive. To be successful, each professor has to demonstrate they have published more books and refereed articles, given more workshops, presented at more conferences than one peer's. They have to demonstrate they are more loved by and more successful with their students than the faculty average (which in Education Faculty has been running at 4.5 out of 5) and that they have taught more courses, or taught out of town classes or done something to dinstinguish themselves in teaching. And excellent service means serving on more committees, tasks forces, and community Boards than anyone else.

Whenever I fill in my PAR, I always feel terribly inadequate that I haven't done much more, and I always resolve to do more for next time, no matter how much I have actually done this time. Filling in a PAR always puts a lot of pressure on us to do more work. And as I resolved to do another book and more articles and develop new courses for next time, I had to stop myself and ask where the time for all this would come from. I already work more hours than is entirely fair to my family.

And it occured to me, why are we only accountable for work activities? Where is the family equivalent of a PAR? If we had to complete a Family Activities Report (FAR) maybe we would feel equivalent pressure to do more for our families. If I had to record how many times I took my daughter to Ballet or gym class or how many times I remembered to buy my wife flowers or took the family out to dinner or etc., then maybe we would realize we needed to put more time into our families than our careers. When I look around at the top performers in our Faculty, I can't help but notice that a higher than average percentage are divorced. At least one of my colleagues explicitly confessed that his wife left him over his "workaholism". My wife's area of research is work/life balance, so I am perhaps more aware of these issues than most, but even so it is hard to deprogram myself. But really, who cares if I contribute an extra article to a journal no one actually reads. If I really want to contribute to the advancement of civilization, being a better father will probably produce more demonstratable results.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Culling Books

I have, I admit, a serious problem with my books: I cannot bring myself to throw them out. My office is filled to overflowing with various texts, manuals, references, and monographs. In recent months the number of books per square foot of office space has reached crisis proportions, such that it has become increasingly difficult to find space for students to sit when they come to consult with me (all three chairs are piled high with books) or to find clear patches of desk on which to work. The turning point came, however, when I realized I was running out of places on which to pile new books.

I have therefore resolved to go through my office book collection (not to be confused with the much more massive home collection which holds all those books not currently "in use" in my teaching or research activities) and purge all the outdated, redundant or useless volumes that inevitably accumulate over the years. To this end, I decided to assign myself the quota of eliminating one book per working day, so that I could reduce the collection by 50 or sixty volumes by the end of term, which seemed a reasonable initial target. Unfortunately, this has proved a lot tougher than I had anticipated.

First, once I started the task I quickly realized that I had already conducted a major purge about 18 months ago, and that all those books I had pictured as easy choices for the dustbin had already been tossed. I had forgotten about that earlier purge (I believe the phenomenon is referred to as 'repressed memory') when I had staved off the last crisis by throwing everything I could bear to part with. Consequently, I was now down to those books I still wanted to keep. Hard choices had to be made.

The second problem is, I love books. I do not mean merely that I love to read, but that I fall in love with the actual book. Where other people appear content with having cheap affairs with books, returning them to the library after reading their way through them and never borrowing them again, or abandoning them into a used bookstore with never a thought as to their fate, I wish to keep all my books forever. True, books, particularly textbooks, date rapidly and there may not appear to be any point in keeping some text that I read in my own undergraduate days 30-some years ago. But these volumes have tremendous sentimental value for me. Well, okay, not the statistic texts -- those were shown the door as soon as I had graduated the course, but my old humanities and social science texts! Ah, the romance that I had with those! How can I now discard these merely because they are old and their bindings faded? Call that love, would you?

Nevertheless, there comes a time for all of us when we have outlived a loved one and must get on with the burial. I couldn't actually bring myself to simply throw out my old sociology texts, but I did have to recoup the space, so I compromised by throwing most of them out. I took out my trusty exacto knife and cut out all the potentially useful photos (e.g., of the great sociologists) and cartoons, and trashed the rest. That was fairly traumatic, not unlike cutting up a body, but I managed it. By the end of January I had processed about 30 books, well over my daily quota, reducing a couple of boxes of books to a couple of file folders of photos and clippings.

I am currently working on my technical manuals. I have three shelves of Word and HTML and Powerpoint manuals and such like to process, throwing out the versions for older software to make room for the new, but even this is difficult for me. I cannot actually throw the books out, so I have been leaving them in a reading area (Section A 7th floor next to the women's washroom for any students reading this that want free but somewhat dated computer manuals) Today, I think I may have identified and tossed the last of the obviously outdated manuals. And so am faced with the horrible question, what next?

It's like choosing which of one's children to send packing!

Robert

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Decided to take out the Backblog comments feature (no one was using it anyway) and simply go with a "comments" button on the menu on the left. Seems simpler and gives me more control over what gets published.

New Technology and Education

You can't win in this technology race. I introduced a new weblog assignment this term, thinking that I was, if not cutting edge, at least near the front of the pack. Yesterday Holly Gunn, frontline correspondent of the technology wars, sent me an alert on the NEW BIG THING, swikis:
Swiki Swiki
and
Seiki/Coweb

Trying to predict the long term consequences of these emergent technologies on education, learning, and schooling is challenging. But one thing is clear. The Internet has now entered the second phase of technological innovation: in the first stage of any new technology, the new form tries to fill the existing niches; in the second phase it stops trying to pretend that it was another version of some existing technology, and comes into its own. For example, when metalurgy first appeared, people tried to make metal pots look like pottery ones or faked wood finishes etc. It took awhile for people to value metal AS unapologetically metal. Same thing for plastic. Early plastic stuff had to pretend to be metal or wood paneling -- no one wanted a plastic dashboard in their car, they wanted the wood paneling so we get plastic wood. Eventually, plastic stops trying to pretend to be wood or metal and we get the IMac.

Same thing with new communication technology. Up until now, all the on-line courses I have seen have tried to duplicate classroom conditions as closely as possible. There has been a lot of nonsense spouted about creating virtual classrooms, about how listserves and chat rooms can recreate classroom discussion for on-line courses, how using video conferencing can create classroom like conditions for distance learners and so on. This was largely wrong-headed. The technology never REALLY recreated the classroom, because touching a screen is NOT like touching a person. But more importantly, one has to ask what was so great about classrooms we'd want to recreate them? Classrooms weren't doing the job for large segments of the population. There is not a lot of concrete evidence that people learned best in classrooms. classrooms were the industrial era's response to the need for mass education, and as a factory, classrooms worked adequately but may not be the best format for post industrial age. So why all this energy expended to recreate classrooms? I have argued (not that many technology in education conferences wanted to listen) that by trying to recreate the old forms in the new, we were limiting the real potential of these technologies, though I admit I wasn't clear on what that potential might be. But we begin to see in Blogs, and even more with Swikis, how students could work collaboratively to create a community of learners without the need for classrooms, classroom teachers, or schools. What that means for our world in the long run is something for my SF writer colleagues to digest, but it is pretty obvious that the world is changing.

Monday, February 03, 2003

A mildly amusing site on the Iraq situation provides a satirical gaming simulation. Good for a few nervous laughts....

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Iraq

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has put together a 72 page briefing book on Iraq, containing several shorter pieces on specific issues pertaining to the situation. David Krieger, Richard Falk and Phyllis Bennis feature prominently in the compilation. If you are interested in taking a look, the PDF file can be found at:
http://www.napf.org/pdfs/iraq_reader.pdf
(Forwarded from Mark Sandilands, local NDP candidate)

Weblogs and Class Discussion

So, I screwed up in class Monday. I told students I would be looking for more original commentary in their weblogs, and less recap of class discussion. It seemed a reasonable thing to say at the time, since quite a few students were merely summarizing class discussion and sticking an "agree" or "disagree" label at the end of each summary. Kind of boring to read and too focused on the class -- the idea was that these would be public documents that might attract a larger audience then just me (the marker) or at least spark interchange between students, but that wasn't really happening. Many of the blogs would not make sense to anyone not already privy to class discussion. So what I should have said was something about being free to talk about stuff outside of class content if they wanted to. But they way I said it nearly killed the class.

Luckily a couple of students tipped me to what I had REALLY said. "If you are looking for original insight in our blogs," they told me, "We'll reserve our best ideas for when we go to write, and not make those points in class discussion." Well, duh! I would too, if that's were the marks are. Consequently, I very nearly killed class discussion in my discussion course! Ouch!How dumb was that!

I will try to backpeddle in class today, and hope it works and that I don't just make things worse. But I've got to try or the rest of this semester could be a disaster!
Well, I found myself distracted from work yesterday by following a thread on Iraq on one of the writer lists I belong to. Reading the highly articulate arguments of these keen observers of life, politics and the world was fascinating, if often quite depressing given current trends. At first I felt a bit guilty for not spending more time on work, since as usual I am behind, but then decided that staying up on what is happening in the world, and more importantly thinking seriously about its implications, is probably a useful way to spend my day. In the long run, whether or not I deliver a paper at a particular conference this summer is important only to myself and perhaps the 30 or so potential audience members, whereas the world is headed in a dangerous direction that may mean the death of hundreds of thousands, and the collapse of democratic ideals.... Perhaps the world would be less likely to fall into troubled times if more of us were paying attention, and were less caught up in the day to day trivia of our own personal careers and lives.

I am reminded of a story of the Hollywood writer who attended a meeting of producers during the Berlin crisis and was shocked that no one there was paying the least attention to the news. The world appeared on the brink of war, probably nuclear war, between the US and Russia and all these producers could think about was whether some frivolous movie was on schedule or not. After listening to the discussion for an hour he couldn't stand it any more, and stood up and said "What's the matter with you people?! Don't you know what's happening in the world?! Have none of you been following the news from Berlin?!" To which the head of the studio turned white, and said, "My God, you're right! Why didn't I see this before? Felix is filming in Berlin!This Berlin thing could put him WEEKS behind schedule!"

The following has been circulating for weeks on the internet, and I do not know the author, but for those who haven't seen it before, I offer the following:

it gets a little tired after the first few verses, but what the hey....



(to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands"...)

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think someone has dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let's look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It's "pre-emptive non-aggression", bomb Iraq.
Let's prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They've got weapons we can't see,
And that's good enough for me
'Cos it's all the proof I need
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam's gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
(And he tried to kill your dad),
Bomb Iraq.

If your corporate fraud is growin', bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin', bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain't easy,
And your manhood's getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We'll call it treason,
Let's make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

Okay, not exactly profound analysis, but I find it interesting that at least a portion of the American public is not taken in by the media and is prepared to be quite critical of its own foreign policy. Though I am often surprised that anyone could find Bush arguments credible. I find the repeated attempts to link Saddam to Al Quadia absolutely astounding. That's like accusing the Black Panthers of having links to the KKK. Saddam has to be almost as high on their hit list as America itself. Saddam spent years suppressing his own sunni minority, murdering fundamentalists, and waged a ten year war against Iran's fundamentalist government. He is a technocrat and represents everything Bin Laden is opposed to. Saddam is a nasty piece of work, but invading Iraq on the pretext that it is part of the fight against terrorism is just plain ludicrous. Looks pretty much like another incubator story to me -- the only way to motivate American voters into intervening in the internal affairs of a nation halfway around the world that most Americans would have trouble finding on a map is to tell them that it had something to do with 9/11. Because otherwise, why would anyone care?

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Alternate news sources

Okay, since class discussion last week concerned mainstream media and the manufacture of consensus, here are a couple of counter examples.

This first link is to an anti-Bush photo essay depicting his family's link to Nazi Germany and drawing parallels between Bush and Hitler that won't be covered on evening TV news. Is it real or propaganda?

http://www.takebackthemedia.com/bushnonazi.html

And here are a list of some alternate news sources:

Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/
World Press Review: http://www.worldpress.org/
Eric Alterman's blog: http://www.msnbc.com/news/752664.asp#020724a
Michael Moore's site, but he doesn't update as often http://www.michaelmoore.com/

Monday, January 27, 2003

Montessori Success

I'm finding it hard to make time to keep my blog uptodate. I guess I have to be less ambitious about writing complete essays or providing profound insights and just be prepared to ramble from time to time. But I want to keep my blog up as I do not want to ask my students to do something I am not doing myself.

With my daughter in Montessori preschool, I have come to a deeper appreciation of Montessori as an approach to schooling. Our teacher preparation program really ought to feature more courses on such alternatives. I am always impressed by the school whenever drop off my daughter or pick her up at the end of the day, but the greatest impact is when I recognize how much my daughter is learning there. It is not even that at four and three-quarters (saying the 3/4 is important to my daughter) years old, my daughter and most of her school friends are already reading simple books. It is the unexpected comment that really drives the point home. For example, in the car yesterday my daughter points to a triangle and says, "I forget, which one is that again." And her mom says, "Tigana, you know your shapes."
Tigana replies, "Yes, but I just can't remember what its called."
So her mom says, "That's a triangle."
In response to which Tigana rolls her eyes heavenward and says, "Well, of course its a TRIANGLE! I MEANT, is it an equaliateral or an isosceles triangle? I can't remember which is which"
To which I can only reply, "How old are you again?"
It's not how much the school is teaching these kids, because I have seen other parents push this kind of academics with their children to the detriment of the child, but that the Montessori children seem to pick this stuff up without any sense of having worked at it. That they want to learn, are eager to learn, and just absorb this stuff by ossmosis. It's pretty impressive.

On another occassion I took Tigana to the movies and found a bunch of her classmates holding down a row in the middle of the theater, so we joined them. The supervising parent in this case was at the far end of the row, so one of Tigana's school friends, who by definition could not be older than 6, turns to me and asks politely "What was your name again."
"I'm Tigana's dad!"
"Oh, yes. Well, my name is ____ and beside me is ____ and next to her is _____, and the adult at the end is Mrs. ______. And we're so glad you and Tigana could join us." Okay, not earth shaking conversation exactly, but the poise and social grace this six year old was demonstrating blew me away. I know many adults who would not have handled the introductions as well. The self-confidence and consideration of others these kids show often provides solid evidence that Piaget had no clue what he was talking about. And when I contrast any of these students with others of the same age we encounter at, say, Tons of Fun, the difference is remarkable. I often embarrasses myself with parents by guessing the age of their children a year or two younger than they are because their kids are not remotely close to functioning at the level of Tigana and her Montessori classmates. Of course I am highly biased as a Montessori father, but even so....

So if the system works that well, we ought to be introducing some of Montessori's basic concepts to our own student teachers. Never mind that there is a significant and growing market for Montessori trained teachers, all elementary teachers could benefit from Montessori training. Setting up a suitable course is yet another item for my To Do list, I guess.

Friday, January 17, 2003

It took a little debugging to get backBlog to work for me (the apostrophy in the title was the problem I think) but it seems to be working now. I will email the class with directions. Alternatively, they may just want to use email as that would be the simplest for them to implement.

I am encouraged by this initial success to try other ways to modify my blog layout. But of course, this should be secondary to content.

One of the interesting things about Blogger and it's ilk is that they often list "the last ten updated logs" which represents a pretty random selection. I like looking at some of the titles that come up. My favorite so far was "An Alien Ate My Wallet" which sounds like something I might indeed want to read if I get a moment. Since starting this assignment, I have glanced around at some of my colleagues blogs and the blogs to whom their blogs referred me, and there are an awful lot of very interesting blogs out there. Any number of cartoonists, writers, scholars, etc. whose work I tend to follow have personal blogs up and running. The question is, do I want to know what these people are thinking and doing when 'off duty'? Some of these I have glanced at have been fascinating, foreshadowing no doubt the master works to come from these authors and scholars; watching these great works evolve in front of our eyes, perhaps even contributing to that process should we make a comment or two could be wonderful -- if one could find the time to read them all. I suspect some of us will get so caught up reading the blogs, we'll no longer have time to read the actual books, etc. I am also aware that many of my favorite authors, Philip K. Dick to take one example, led lives that might, how may I put it without being sued? -- may not entirely live up to the audiences' expectations. I remember one Canadian Dick scholar talking about his disillusionment when he finally met Dick in person and discovered him to be --well, kind of an ass. How often do we get to meet our idols and risk such disillusionment? But the personal blogs of our heroes puts as all at risk for this sort of thing!

Which in turn raises the issue, I suppose, of how students may react reading the blogs of their professors. Will it, as I once hoped for personal web pages, increase classroom rapport? Or potentially backfire terribly?


I have been investigating ways to add commenting function for free to blogger (since I do not want students to have to pay for a class assignment) but most of those recommended by colleagues are "temporarily closed" to new signups or so bogged down with too many subscribers per server that they are unworkable. But here's one that seems to work okay:
Feedback by blogBack

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Introduction

Okay, having assigned a course-related blog as one possible assignment
option in Education 3603, The Social Context of Schooling (Faculty of
Education, University of Lethbridge), I thought it would probably be a
good idea if I started one myself. I'm using Blogger as that seemed the
simplest and therefore most popular option for my students, but I may
switch to one of the other, more sophisticated packages once the course
is over, should I decide to keep doing this.

For those reading this who are not in Ed 3603, background information on
the course can be found at
http://www.edu.uleth.ca/runte/professional/Ed3603.htm

Background information on me, Dr. Robert Runte, can be found at
http://www.edu.uleth.ca/runte/

I became interested in trying out a weblog as a course assignment after
talking with academic librarian (University of Alberta) Randy Reichardt,
and reading his blog at http://www.podbaydoor.com/
Before that, however, I have long been interested in monitoring developments in
cyberculture (I have taught a graduate course on a sociological analysis
of cyberculture: http://www.edu.uleth.ca/~runte/educ5053.htm) and in
analyzing why people write (see my article from Broken Pencil Magazine
on the motivation for writing at
http://www.brokenpencil.com/features/feature.php?featureid=45)
Web logs obviously combine both interests, as I am interested in why people would
be motivated to maintain an on-line dirary. It was only through
conversations with Randy Reichardt that I realized that many others were
already using blogs to network with others in their fields of interest,
that blogs are fast becoming a key ingredient in the creation of online
communities. The potential to create an online community of learners in
association with a particular course became obvious to me, and I allowed
students to volunteer to take their course discussions on-line. I
choose to do this in Ed 3603 because the Social Context of learning
course is a discussion course and because several of my colleagues are
already using paper and pencil journal assignments in their sections, so
it seemed the obvious candidate.

So, first, to any of my students reading this, a suggestion: why not
write your entry in Word (or other word processing program) first, and
then cut and paste into your blog? That way, one (a) has a permanent
record of their assignment safely on disk in case something goes wrong
with their blog and (b) has a chance to spell check before uploading the
entry, and (c) can get a clearer picture of how many pages/words one is
contributing. Just a thought.

Having, said all that by way of necessary introduction, allow me to
throw out some bits I have found interesting this week:

As a analyst of popular culture, I have been following developments with
Lord of the Rings, and I found the discussion of a "synthespians"--
computer-generated actors -- in Ed Willett's weekly science column of more than passing
interest:

"The film's massive Battle of Helm's Deep, featuring
tens of thousands of combatants, is fought almost entirely by
synthespians. The synthespians ...completely computer-created, the
amazing output of a new computer program called Massive developed specifically for The Lord of the Rings movies."

"Massive's synthespians aren't simply particles; they're intelligent
"agents." Each agent has specific body and behavioral attributes:
i.e., short, fat, and aggressive, or tall, skinny, and cowardly. Each
has a host--up to 350--of short potential actions; i.e., raise sword,
swing sword, step forward, step back. Each agent's actions are governed
by its individual "brain," a web of behavioral logic nodes that tells it
how to perceive, interpret and respond to what's happening, all governed
by "fuzzy logic" rather than simple "yes-no" decision making, which
allows for a much more varied range of actions.

"This means that although the outcome of a filmed battle can be
pre-determined, the specific actions of the agents that make up the
battling armies are unpredictable. This can lead to effects that
surprise even the creators: in an early test, most of the agents in two
computerized armies fought each other ferociously--but in the
background, several members of each army could be seen running away,
their "brains" having decided that was the logical thing to do!"

Okay, that's food for thought!

And on an unrelated note, my favorite one-liner found in an email this
week was by a lawyer and SF writer (I will leave him unnamed to protect
myself from lawsuits) who mentioned in passing: "It's not like the old
days where, because I never drank, I was always the designated driver
when we were stealing cars." I always find it interesting how a single
sentence can tell a story, tell more about a person's background then
some entire biographies, and reveal a great deal about popular culture
-- I love the juxtaposition of responsible drinking and car theft.

Oh, incidentally, in case anyone was wondering, the title of my Blog is
the title of a print-based publication I used to do, some articles from
which are reprinted at
http://www.edu.uleth.ca/~runte/personal/essays/essays.htm.