Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Pan Am Velodrome: Boon or Bust for Milton?

This morning's Toronto Star had an article casting doubt on the wisdom of building a velodrome in Milton.


The hills of Halton are crawling with cyclists. The last time I went to the Forest City Velodrome, there was a healthy audience.

What else do we need to do to make sure the Milton velodrome is successful?

(With tongue in cheek, here's one way to grow future cycling fans:)

Lions and Tigers and....Oh my!


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Virtual Self

The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around UsThe Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us by Nora Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you are reading this review via Twitter or Goodreads, you may understand what it feels like to be at least a little bit addicted to the virtual world. Existing without a physical place means ideas can be exchanged at the speed of light and participation is democratic.

We are compelled to compulsively record ourselves online. Nora Young comments that the “pattern of our data seems to carry an explanatory power, a sense that life isn’t random...that, over time, the trivial acts of our mundane daily life shape a picture of who we are” (48).

The Virtual Self treats the creation of data as pleasure, art and philosophy (48). I had been expecting from this book a doomsday scenario akin to the one described in Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Instead, The Virtual Self gives practical information on our digital culture. The book describes how we generate personal data on-line and how this data can be used for positive means, such as self-improvement, and creating better societies and cities. The book also flags areas where this data can be misused: disengagement from the body, lack of privacy, skewed stats, bias, and profit.

By reading this book, I gained a better understanding of how the digital world works and have found the book to be prescient: When I listen to the news, I often hear the issues identified in this book being raised as concerns in the media. The book is peppered with modern-day interviews and the ideas of McLuhan, Foucault and Clay Shirky, among others.

The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World around Us contains topics that we all should be interested in, but I’m not sure how much people are concerned with the “digital doppelgänger” they are creating. In fact, I expect circumstances and technology to change so quickly that the ideas in this book may soon become dated. As well, Young seemed to repeat herself at times. I felt that I didn’t learn anything radically new, but perhaps that’s the point: We so enjoy using digital tools that we tend to not pay attention to what is being done with the data we produce. In this book, there is no apocalyptic prophesy—which would probably attract more readers—but realistic, rational fact that’s mostly positive in nature.

As I was reading, I often asked myself, how can the ideas from this book be applied to my life, especially in terms of education? After reading the line, “[w]hen information is no longer scarce, institutions change and social norms change with them” (135), I instantly thought of how quickly we’ve accepted people speaking in public on their cell phones. We used to ban electronic devices from school, for goodness sake. Now my school board has launched a BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) policy to be able to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

After finishing the book, I started to wonder, what subtle changes will the future bring that will radically change the way we live?

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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen KellerAnnie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young girl, I loved to read about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, so maybe there's a bit of nostalgia in this graphic novel for me. Still, I learned new things about Annie and Helen, and the story is plotted in a new and original way.

The book nicely highlights the key points in both Annie's and Helen's lives, as well as gives some historical context to this era. It's a great introduction to these two people and can operate as a launching pad for further investigation and discussion.

The cover illustration makes the book appear as if it were for younger readers, but Helen's queries about the birds and the bees, and Annie's life in the poor house make it clear that the book is not for young children. As well, it is sometimes difficult to read the accompanying text: it's small and occasionally cursive.

That said, using the medium of a graphic novel allows the author to tell the story from both Annie's and Helen's points of view. Most of the book is shown as if the audience were watching Annie's life, but what makes the book so emotive is that is has some cells which show how Helen felt and perceived things. In addition, the book shows its readers the loneliness, intelligence and sheer will of both protagonists. They were two of a kind and by some miracle, they found each other.

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller is a moving and enjoyable book to read and I recommend it highly.

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Hooker & Brown

Hooker & BrownHooker & Brown by Jerry Auld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 and 1/2 stars

Rumi, the protagonist of Hooker & Brown, states early in the book that his “favourite professor at university made classes interesting by telling the material in the form of stories” (35). Jerry Auld also succeeds at using the joy of storytelling to transform a novel that may, at first, seem to be just about people who like to climb mountains.

This book is that and more. Combine an adventure story, a mystery, a hint of romance with philosophy, Canadian history, and geology, and you’ll have Hooker & Brown.

Rumi is a recent university graduate who is spending his summer working on the Kananaskis Park trail crew, trying to decide whether or not to continue his geology studies, or to get a job downtown. A third option appears to him while climbing with Lion, another former student who “has climbed and improved while [Rumi’s] hands have softened on the edges of library racks” (3). At one point, Rumi is alone on the trail and about to be overtaken by a storm. He knows that he needs to get off the crest as soon as possible. But just as he is about to turn around, “something appears across the valley in the clouds and rivets [him]: a smudge that remains immobile when all else is swirling. It expands into a ridge, shredding the clouds. It’s straight and steep, impossibly close, rising hundred of metres above [him]. It seems like a battleship prow surging above an icy swell” (17). As quickly as the mountain peak reveals itself, it disappears into the rolling mists.

Rumi consults maps, but no mountain should be where he thinks he saw it. Initially, he believes that he simply saw Mt. Assiniboine, but after discussing history with the other members of the park crew, Rumi is set on the path of finding the legendary mountains, Hooker & Brown. An early explorer had noted and named the two massive peaks, but when other men subsequently tried to find them, it was without success. Rumi becomes obsessed.

The novel begins with strong descriptions of climbing, particularly Rumi and Lion making a nail-biting ascent of a rock face. The feeling of immediacy, danger and only existing in the present are conveyed with such intensity that I was willing to ignore my dislike of heights and give climbing a go. What a thrill. There’s poetry in Auld’s sentences. I read many of them out loud to my husband as I made my way through the novel. Auld had me at the lines: “His hips shimmy with a hula of climbing gear” (2) and “I‘ve always had an affinity for carbon” (16).

However, the action, while strong in parts one and four, and lags in part two.

As well, the characters are given stock names: Lion, the Interpreter, the Ranger, the Fire Lookout. I’m not sure if I like this. These names have a distancing effect and, for me, the characters are faceless.

The novel ends with drama, insight, and a surprise. As well, the reader gains an understanding of how the mountains affect the people who encounter them.

I loved reading this novel for its language, mystery, and elucidation of early Canadian exploration. As well, in the tradition of sports literature, the protagonist struggles in a variety of ways: physically during his climbs, mentally when trying to make the right life decision, and emotionally in dealing with his colleagues and relationships. Long after the reading is done, I continue to think about the book and wonder, what are my two peaks, my “most meaningful aspects of life” (113)?

For more about this book check out Jerry Auld’s cool website: http://www.jerryauld.com/

As well, read Angie Abdou’s take on the ideal reader for this book: http://www.abdou.ca/litpicks/litpicks...

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