Thursday, July 28, 2005

Are English Canadians more violent?

So, I have to ask...are English Canadian children brought up in a more violent popular culture than French Canadian kids? Because my 7 year old's Dairyland "extreme shake" (part of the 'milk to go' single serving line) bills itself as "vicious vanilla" in English, but the Frappé à L'extrême" on the other side is "Vanille sublime".

Real Androids

Japanese scientist makes robot that can pass for human. So my question is, hasn't this guy read any SF? Star Trek reruns?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Glenbow Museum

I had originally intended to return to Lethbridge Monday afternoon, but got the bus schedule wrong and missed the afternoon bus. Consequently, I ended up with a couple of hours to kill in Calgary so went to the Glenbow.

The museum has several excellent permanent exhibits, but I've seen those several times before, so was primarily interested in seeing what was new. I thus divided my time between an exhibit of West African symbols, one on modern Vietnam, and one on the life stories of seven immigrants to Calgary. One of the stories featured the bhuddist inspired art of Loatian immigrant Thep Thavonsouk. Thep Thavonsoukpaintings are among the most pleasing and thought provoking I've seen in recent years. He paints tiny human figures dwarfed by the landscapes confronting them. In my favorite, a party of bhuddist monks can just be made out in the bottom middle-left of the painting, strolling along a beach with traditional Loatian orange
and red umbrella's unfurled, while the majority of the canvas is dominated by a vast storm brewing overhead. Thep Thavonsouk asks, are the umbrella’s really going to help? It is a great bhuddist moment!

I was very pleased with the West African exhibit, partly because I can only take so much cowboy art and prefer to see a variety of exhibits, and partly because West Africa is one of the 'holes' in my knowledge. Even today, school history tends to focus on European history and leave Africa and Asia largely untouched. As an undergraduate I chose to fill as much of that vacuum as I could, taking courses in the history of Southeast Asia, for example, even becoming something of an armchair expert on the politics of Indonesia, but I could not cover everything and West Africa was one of those blanks. The exhibit was small (just as well given my limited time frame) but of fairly high caliber. The majority of exhibited items were collected by the Glenbow's founder back in the 1930s, and have never been exhibited until now. Well worth the trip.

The Viennese exhibit was also interesting, though I didn't have much time left by the point I got to it. I particularly appreciated the video segments, which showed scenes from daily life, because I'm afraid I had not updated my mental picture since the Vietnam war, at which point the Americans had pretty much bombed the northern half of the country into a Saskatween lookalike -- i.e., unpaved parking lot. So it was reassuring and life affirming to see modern (kind of) city scenes and to be reminded that that was 30 years ago, and life goes on.

My favorite exhibit was the story of Calgary immigrants, since we are all natural voyeurs interested in the lives of other people. The exhibit was nicely balanced between those who had 'made it' (the artist, __, mentioned above, and two successful businessmen) and those who were doing just okay (e.g., a janitor, a housewife); and between those who had come as refugees, come for love (woman who married a tourist), and who made a conscious choice to emigrate to Canada. I also liked that although several of the statements talked about the opportunities and freedoms in Canada, it was not as if once they got here their lives were perfect...the refugee family still lost one of their son's in a car accident, another had a sister who dreamed of having her own restaurant, but was working in Wal-Mart, etc. Being so balanced, it seemed pretty real.

The local bhuddist group had set up a bhuddist altar as part of this exhibit, and asked people to leave something of themselves -- the result was a highly electric collection of Eastern spirituality and Western materialism. Many of the kids who had taken advantage of the crafts room next door had left their art on the multi-platformed altar; other visitors had left postcards, a comb, sunglasses, etc. Pretty nifty piece of conceptual art.

The museum closed at 4:45, but the giftshop stayed open until 5:30 so I spent the next 45 minutes browsing it shelves and particularly its extensive bookshelves. In the end, I had to forego any of the books, several of which appeared very tempting, because I was already carrying too great a weight of books in my bag from the convention, but I noted some titles for later reference. I did buy a tie and a couple of handmade bookmarks. But the giftshop is highly recommended for its own sake as a decent bookstore and art jewelry etc.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Thinking Outside the Box

sorter toy

So I take out the sorter toy and place it in front of Kasia. I demonstrate how the red cube goes in the red square opening, the green triangle goes in the green triangular opening, the yellow cylinder goes in the yellow circle opening, and so on. I repeat the demonstration, open the sorter up and dump the blocks out on the floor, close it up, and hand it over for her to do.

Kasia gives me one of those "You're an idiot, Dad" looks, reaches over, opens the back of the sorter, and stuffs all the blocks in all at once, closes the toy, and hands it back to me.

What can I say? Apparently there was an easier way to do it....

This kind of thing happens a lot. We buy toys for kids that make sense to us as adults, but mean something completely different to the kids. Take Kasia's pirate ship bath toy. To me, it is a cool pirate ship. To Kasia, it is a convenient holder for her bathwater drinking cup. Now, I hadn't actually wanted Kasia to drink from the bath tub, and was pretty sure that was a rowboat attached to the pirate ship, but apparently it is the perfect drinking cup. The only other thing she uses the pirate ship for is to step on to help her climb out of the tub while I am trying to wash her hair.
But, when I stop to think of it, what experience of pirates does the typical toddler have? I mean, if they had met pirates, they probably would not subsequently want to be reminded of the experience by bath toys.

So why do we choose the themes we do for toys? Why is it we fill toddler's rooms with toys of farm animals and teach them the words for 'cow' and 'pig' and teach them to go 'moo' and 'oink' as four of the first twenty words they learn? This might have been essential vocabulary for kids a hundred years ago, but the closest my urban kids are likely to come to cows or pigs these days are the styrofoam packages in the Safeway meat counter. You know?

So who decided that Kasia's pjs should have ducks on them? "Quack" was literally her first 'word' after 'mama'. Is this essential learning?
Or is that the whole point, to pick easy and comfortably irrelevant content? I guess ducks are less political than having, say, pictures of Marx.
Okay, Marx wasn't all that cuddly, but you take my point.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You Read It Here First

In my current article/book chapter on the research implications of blogs and blogging, I make the point that since blogs automatically date stamp and archive each post, researchers can establish who had a particular idea first by simply mentioning it in their blog. So, let me take my own advice and mention a couple of neologisms regarding blogging and data collection that I coin in my article:

The sustained asynchronous focus group': researchers initiate their own topical blog to solicit postings or comments; the researchers direct the resulting 'conversation' as they would a focus group.

directed journal entries: researchers identify a sample population and request that they keep a topical on-line diary. (Getting people to keep diaries is a fairly common research technique, but only a couple of done this on line so far, but online provides all sorts of logistical advantages....)

Found data: pre-existing material created for other purposes that the researcher is able to access and analyze as data (in this case, blogs) The spontaneous commentary of a blogger is 'found data', in contrast to the 'created data' of the survey or interview where the subject's responses exist only because they were asked the question. We cannot know whether the issues we are asking the respondent about would be sufficiently salient in their lives that they would have spontaneously raised them outside the interview context; with found data, the subjects are more likely to write about issues that are salient to them -ie., less leading of the witness because there is no question asked....

Okay, those are mine now! Oh, feel free to use them. In fact, I'd appreciate you dropping those phrases into conversation whereever you can, so that they spread and come widely into use. Then once everyone is using my terms, I can prove that I said them first, and everyone will have to cite me whenever they want to use them in an article.

Okay, it lacks the money making potential of Trump copywriting "You're Fired", but same basic principle.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Feminist Mystique for the 21th Century


Mary had submitted her draft dissertation to her advisor last month, and been waiting on pins and needles to see how extensive the revisions required by her advisor would be. To her (and my) great relief, his suggestions have been very very minor clarifications. Instead, he has been exceedingly positive about the work, saying in part:

"This is wonderful stuff. I think that you have a book on your hands (post defence). It reads so well. I laughed my way through chapter 3 -- black comedy, but funny nonetheless. You tell a great (and intellectually sharp) story. ... What you have done with anecdotes was sheer poetry as well inspired."

And again on another chapter: "Simply brilliant."

Re, methodology chapter: "You should be teaching critical methods, you are so good at it. "

"I really enjoyed this. I see it as ready."

And my personal favorite:

"When the book is published and, hopefully, they ask me for a comment (or anyone else for that matter) I/they will call it the feminist mystique for the 21th century."

I knew the dissertation was great when she sent it off, but it is really validating to have her advisor be so enthusastic too. Considering how fast Mary did this work, and that she did it while having a baby and teaching full time and that she did it entirely on her own (with the exception of one chapter that was the basis for an article in Human Relations, this is the first time her advisor has seen any of it.)

And, she is still a major babe!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Fire Me Please

Actually, I'm pretty happy where I work, so the title here refers to the new CBS show, Fire Me Please which I saw for the first time last night. I had in fact wanted to crawl into bed early to deal with the terrible cold from which I am currently suffering, but my Business Prof wife insisted that I watch this with her. And it is hilarious....I literally fell off the couch laughing at one point.

Two people start jobs at two different stores/pizza/coffee shops/ etc and the one to get fired closest to 3PM wins $25,000. The trick of course is to lay the groundwork for getting fired by 3 without being so obnoxious as to get fired before the other guy; or to build so slowly that 3PM comes and goes without getting fired.

Watching bosses and coworkers react to the wrong behaviours of the new hire is totally absorbing; and fascinating to see how much it takes to actually get fired on your first day. Bosses and coworkers are willing to give the new person an awful lot of chances, even when it becomes painfully evident that they are not going to "fit in". The four bosses we watched last night were really decent -- I was particularly impressed by the very young boss of a pizza store who not only gave our insane new worker every opportunity to get it right (always talking to her in private rather than in front of the other workers, always with a fairly positive tone, even being polite as he fires her, though obviously very frustrated) he was fanatic about cleanliness and maintaining proper standards for the customer. That's what I like to see! I'd eat there now!

Indeed, the weakest boss was the one in the sporting goods store who didn't want to fire the lunatic even though the rest of his staff had come to hate the new hire. The boss kept telling our contestant that he "still had a good chance at the job", which perhaps shows a certain weakness, since getting rid of the dysfunctional worker is clearly a management responsibility and something he owed his other workers.

Considering that these people were all being filmed with hidden cameras, it is amazing that we didn't see worse behaviour. We've all had terrible bosses, at one time or another, so how come none of them showed up on camera?

But it is a great show! I highly recommend it. Forget reality TV, this is an extended Candid Camera episode, but with quite interesting insights for business and sociology... I love how it is often the little things -- the breaking of tiny tiny unwritten rules -- that convince people you're crazy. (Like, when you get into an elevator, face the wrong way. No law against it, nothing overtly scary, but the elevator will empty out rather than travel another couple of floors with you.)

I'm very tempted to try to figure out how to use this in my next class... I'd love to show my student teachers excerpts, and then ask them what it would take to 'get fired' from the practicum. I think it would help a lot of them relax to see how crazy you have to get before you actually get canned -- and I think it is important for them to see there is more to doing the job then just the job. I'll have to give this some thought....

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Aurora Awards (2005)

Robert Sawyer
My initial reactions walking into the auditorium was a concern that the awards ceremony was slipping a bit: the room was not crowded and everyone there was just sitting around in their day clothes - in contrast to the gala setting of some other years.

I needn't have worried. MC was Robert J. Sawyer, a consummate showman if there ever was one. Sawyer quickly established just the right balance of fannish informality and award night energy, delivering an upbeat line of patter that kept everyone interested and involved throughout. I particularly appreciated the way he broke up the necessary discussion of the history of the awards, balloting procedures, category descriptions, eligibilities, and so on into brief segments smoothly delivered between the introduction of presenters. Most impressive of all was the way Sawyer smoothly filled the gaps when there was no one present to accept an award, as happened several times: in such cases he just stepped forward and ad libbed a brief biography of the winner which felt like an acceptance speech.
Edo acceptance speech

Highlights of the Awards were: Edo van Belkom's acceptance speech (for Wolf Pack, Tundra Books, 2004), which began by thanking Sawyer for not having an entry in the Long Form category this year, and Sawyer looking genuinely surprised to win in the English Other category for Relativity: Essays and Stories (I subsequently found and purchased a copy in the dealer's room at the convention. I've seen most of this stuff before, but Sawyer's is a significant voice in Canadian SF criticism, so it was convenient to have all this bundled in one package.)

2005 Award Winners (Abridged):

Long-form English: Wolf Pack, Edo van Belkom

Short-form English: When the Morning Stars Sang Together, Isaac Szpindel

English other: Relativity: Essays and Stories, Robert J. Sawyer

Artistic achievement: Martin Springett

Fan publication: Opuntia, Dale Speirs

Friday, July 01, 2005

Canada Day Celebrations

Drove up to Calgary yesterday (June 30) to attend WesterCon 58 conference, and for family to take in Canada Day celebrations in Calgary.

The Canada Day festivities were a bit of a disappointment. We arrived at Noon, but were ready to pack it in around 1:30, having seen everything there was to see.

Kasia eats ice cream       Tigana has face painted
I'm not sure whether the problem was that the celebrations had had to be moved from Prince's Island (closed due to the flooding the previous week) or because there just wasn't enough funding provided, but there was little indication that this was Alberta's Centennial. A local arts paper headline complained that "The Party's next door", arguing that Saskatewan had budgeted much more for centennial celebrations than had Alberta.

So we basically wandered around downtown Calgary...going down Stephan Mall, swimming in the hotel pool, and having supper at Old Spaghetti Factory. Then Mary put the kids to bed while I went to the Aurora Awards ceremony…