• [German Giant. Not!]

    I studied four semesters of German at university and then I lived in Switzerland for three years. I almost didn’t learn any German at all while living in Switzerland, because I was too shy to speak German with people I’d see more than once and people always wanted to practice their English on me. I never really lost my intention to improve my grasp of the language, though. To facilitate being successful at improving and retaining my German, I purchased the CD versions of beginning/intermediate German using the Rosetta Stone. This software presents everything in the target language, using audio, video, and text. It’s supposed to simulate the way people learned their first language. I actually quite like it, even though it’s a little on the expensive side.
    I’ve had “improving my German” on my list of goals in LifeBalance for over a year. My goal was to do at least an hour a week. Since purchasing Rosetta Stone in November of 2003, I’ve completed two entire units at level one, comprising 22 total lessons, and I’m a quarter of the way through a third unit. Given that each lesson takes about an hour and I’ve had at least 54 weeks, I obviously haven’t been very successful at doing the hour a week. I’d like to improve my consistency at working on my German and then expand my skills to being able to read things at a Reader’s Digest level.
    See more progress on: improve my German

  • [Powerbook Power!]

    I love my PowerBook. I have a 17″ 1-GHz G4 AlBook. This isn’t my first PowerBook either. I have an old 333-MHz G3 “Lombard” in a bookshelf acting as a file server and remote connection box. There’s an even older PowerBook 1400 also floating around. As you might guess, I’ve been laptop-empowered for a number of years now (it’s almost ten!) where I don’t have a desktop computer. It’s very convenient being able to take your life with you on the go, especially when your life involves multiple areas: web development, university-level teaching, and Ph.D. research.
    My only complaint about PowerBooks is the chips in them are usually well behind the desktop in terms of power. Apple’s just released a speedbumped PowerBook, but it’s still only a G4 chip and 1.6 GHz at that (OK, it’s faster than mine, but still!). Compare that with the desktop G5 offerings or even the dual G4 towers. My two-year-old PowerBook is only a little above the minimum specification for playing World of Warcraft. (-: So, as you might gather, this isn’t much of a complaint. My Lombard stood me in good stead for all three of my spheres in life for just over three years. This one will probably go that long too. I’m not sorry about the investment in the least, even though laptops are more expensive. Go for it!
    Do strongly consider buying AppleCare for your laptop. The only things you can cheaply replace in them are memory and hard drives. Everything else costs big bucks if it has a problem. AppleCare is expensive, but it’s worldwide coverage and good peace of mind. I’ve never been sorry about AppleCare on a portable product.

  • [Fifty Fabulous Book Binges]

    I’ve seen many people profess a goal this year to read at least 50 books. Given that I read incessantly, I don’t think I should have any trouble reading 50 books in 2005. Even discounting juvenile literature, which tends to be shorter and easier to digest, I still believe I’ll be able to make 50 books in the first six months.
    “How do I do it?”, you ask. I usually read an hour or so before going to sleep. Combining this with a high reading speed, you can knock through books at a good clip. I also like to read in the bathtub. I often take a book with me there and read for an hour, at least once a week. Finally, I have many books in electronic form, courtesy of Project Gutenberg and Baen’s WebScriptions project. This means I can carry many books easily with me on my handheld to read on planes, trains, and buses, and while waiting in line.
    Oh yes, I also listen to unabridged audio books. I belong to Audible and I download two unabridged books a month to listen to on my iPod. I find it very soothing to have someone read me to sleep (remember that from when you were very young?). I set the iPod to “sleep” in 30 minutes and pick up in an audio book at the point I last remember hearing. This is usually a very slow way to get through a book as I often fall asleep within five or ten minutes of starting.
    I plough through more of an audiobook while working on my 10 000 steps goal. I do 4- and 6-kilometre walks along the Brighton seaside. To do the 6-kilometre walk and return home gives me about 8500 steps and takes just over an hour. Many unabridged audio books I choose will fit into 8-12 hours. If I’m walking every day, like I should, in theory I can listen to one audiobook in under two weeks.
    Step up to the plate. See if you can make 50 books this year or match my list.

  • [Whoah! Water! Migraine Madness Mopped!]

    There’s a book called Running On Empty: Meditations for Indispensable Women. I know all about “running on empty.” At one point in my life, I was working fulltime plus for a small, struggling web development agency, teaching part-time to supplement the poor income from the first job, and trying to work part-time on a Ph.D. That’s a lot of time. I was running so far below empty on the gauge that, not only was I on the verge of total burnout, I had stressed and over-worked myself into frequent migraines. Migraines and I were no strangers, as I first met them in my early 20s. This, however, was on a mammoth scale. I was regularly enduring migraines resistant to painkillers up to fifteen days a month. While the magnitude of the pain and frequency fit in well my personal philosophy of, “If you’re going to do it, do it 250%”, I was in a constant spiral of trying to catch up and then working myself into a migraine. Add stress and repeat, as required.
    I am not going to say that by simply drinking 8 glasses (2 litres) of water a day I miraculously cured my migraines and other ills of my life. That would not be the honest truth. However, I had read many articles on migraines and more than one suggested that, for many people, migraines were often induced by a combination of co-occurring factors. Stress, implicated in so many things, was obviously one factor. Another one was dehydration. Most people simply do not drink enough or drink things, like coffee, which are actually diuretics, causing a loss of water.

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  • [Happy Holidays]

  • [Songs from a Big Place]

    Front cover of Songs from Big Place CD

    As part of a “Secret Santa” project in my research group, we were asked to purchase generic gifts for people. As I’m the only Canadian amongst mostly Mexican and British researchers, I opted to make a Canadian mix collection expressing some things quintessionally Canadian and Ein. The actual CD features an artistically produced booklet on peach banana-fiber paper with original artwork. I’ve included the liner notes accompanying the songs below the list.

    Back cover of Songs from Big Place CD

    1. Ride Forever by Paul Gross on the album Due South
    2. The Last Saskachewan Pirate by The Arrogant Worms on the album Semi-Conducted
    3. River Valley by Moxy Früvous on the album Bargainville
    4. North Country by The Rankin Family on the album Collection
    5. Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot on the album Complete Greatest Hits
    6. Song For A Winter’s Night by Sarah McLachlan on the album Women & Songs: Christmas
    7. Go Go Round by Blue Rodeo on the album Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot
    8. Go For Soda by Kim Mitchell on the album Oh What A Feeling 2 (Disc 3)
    9. Fly at Night by Chilliwack on the album Greatest Hits
    10. We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time) by Trooper on the album Oh What A Feeling 2 (Disc 2)
    11. Hina Na Ho (Celebration) by Susan Aglukark on the album This Child
    12. I Can See Clearly Now by Holly Cole Trio on the album Don’t Smoke in Bed
    13. Raised on Robbery by Joni Mitchell on the album Court and Spark
    14. Moorlough Shore by Caroline Lavelle on the album Spirit
    15. Boston and St. John’s by Great Big Sea on the album Road Rage
    16. Water From the Moon by Corey Hart on the album Boy in the Box
    17. Be As by Prozzäk on the album Saturday People
    18. Thin Red Line by Glass Tiger on the album The Thin Red Line
    19. Lovers in a Dangerous Time (remix) by Barenaked Ladies on the album Time 100 – Volume 2 (Disc 2)

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  • [Time Travel Title]

    I’ve been participating in a discussion of The Time Traveler’s Wife at Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms community. If you have read the book, you know that Henry always travels through time naked involuntarily. That reminded me of a time travelling story I read in the 1980s where the protaganist travelled naked on purpose. He explained a naked man was less startling in any time than a person in clothes wildly out of sync with the time in which the traveller finds himself. Imagine, for example, how remarkable it would be to find a traveller on the road in front of your house fully clothed in full Elizabethan regalia or some whacky futuristic clothing. While naked people are unusual on the road, at least they’re not anachronistic.

    In addition to time travelling, I believe the story may have involved some kind of barrier which trapped time travellers and broke their machines, if they used a mechanical method of time travelling. The protagonist hit this barrier and ended up in a society heavily controlled with an active police presence. When he interacted with the locals, they thought he might might have been “Slandutch” or “Slandeutsch” because he spoke still in complete sentences with a traditional English word order and verb conjugation. For example, where he would say, “Are you Slandutch?”, the temporal natives said things like “Be you Slandutch?”. The local police eventually caught up with the protagnist and he’s jailed with a variety of other humans and aliens who have also been time travelling.

    I’m guessing this story was written between 1950 and 1970, although I read it in the early 1980s. What is the name of this story and who wrote it?

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  • [Feynman Is Fine]

    Apple Computer's Think Different Poster Featuring Richard Feynman1
    Although I’m terrible at mathematics and physics, after I read books about the physicist Richard P. Feynman, I wished I could be more like him if I didn’t exactly aspire to be Richard Feynman. Feynman came to public light for many people as he was very much involved in the investigation of the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, eventually solving the riddle of what went wrong. Unfortunately, NASA will have to solve their own mysteries in future as Feynman died of abdominal cancer in 1988.

    What I found most intriguing about Feynman was how he looked at the world and problems in it. Somehow he had a completely different approach from most people, which enabled him to solve problems. Once you understood how he looked at a particular problem, often the solution was also very evident to you, or so recollections seemed to say in the various books and articles I’ve read previously about Feynman. I, too, fervently wish to “Think Different” and I am envious of his highly superior problem solving abilities.

    In addition to being able to solve problems, Feynman was also quite well known for his ability to teach. I’m not sure if he truly loved teaching or if it was just something he felt strongly compelled to do. He did do a fair bit of it, which is something I share in common with him. The following quotation, on a web page with excerpts of Feynman’s thoughts on teaching, illustrates his dedication:

    “I don’t believe I can really do without teaching. The reason is, I have to have something so that when I don’t have any ideas and I’m not getting anywhere I can say to myself, “At least I’m living; at least I’m doing something; I am making some contribution” — it’s just psychological.”

    – Richard Feynman (as quoted in Druzdel 1995).2

    As I later discovered, this is classic Feynman in rhythm and philosophy. Nowhere is his down-to-earth manner of thinking and communicating more apparent than in his various collections of anecdotes, such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. The first two I read years ago and are very approachable recollections mostly in his own words of events and people in Feynman’s life. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is my latest Audible audio book (unabridged) and it is very much like Feynman sitting across the table from me, recounting his adventures in science and teaching.

    He thought different, he was a curious character, and he thought he should teach: Feynman’s my hero!


    1. Photo is of Apple’s Think Different Feynman poster. Original poster is copyrighted by Apple Computers, Inc.

    2. Druzdel, Marek (1995) “Richard Feynman on Teaching” [online]. Available from: http://www.pitt.edu/~druzdzel/feynman.html [Accessed 2 October 2004].

    Further Information

    • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman, Edward Hutchings, and Ralph Leighton: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
    • What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman and Ralph Leighton: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
    • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

    Disclosure: Amazon links have a referrrer program link in them that generates revenue for an international discussion-based virtual community to which I belong. Your cost is not affected.

  • [Insect Intonation]

    Today I’ve learned that, if you get enough insect life flying above your head in clouds thick enough to cut with your hands like a knife, the insects make a sound together not too dissimilar to that of high-voltage electrical lines. That’s the way it was on the Waskahegan Trail around Miquelon Lake on Sunday, August 29th. And, with that sound, I was home.

  • [Housing, Heating, & Happiness]

    S&M Files, Episode 3: December 2, 1999
    English Life: Housing, Heating, and Happiness

    Now that I’ve been in England more than one week, intending on
    being a permanent resident, I feel I have the right to make
    cryptic, cynical pronouncements about life in England. Enjoy this
    humorous and somewhat barbed rebuttal to Stephen’s earlier

    We were fortunate that Stephen’s cousin Julian offered to
    put us up for the first two weeks after our arrival here in
    Brighton. Of course, if one is to believe Stephen’s account of
    Julian’s apartment, perhaps the offer wasn’t all that fortunate
    after all. :-P Myself, however, being made of far sterner stuff than
    Stephen, I found Julian’s apartment to be perfectly fine for a
    cheap place to live. Now, you might not think that a £600/month
    place is a “cheap” place to live but, given the housing situation
    here in Brighton at the moment, and the fact that Julian has a
    3-bedroom, 3-storey house, £600/month is almost reasonable. Cheap is
    what enables us (and Julian!) to save so splendidly on heating.
    After all, if the heating doesn’t actually function, then you can’t
    spend a fortune on electricity attempting to use it, right? Cheap
    is also what enables us to almost never have to vacuum. When the
    carpet throughout the house is the colour of dirty sand, you just
    don’t easily notice the dirt on it. Ahhhh! The luxuries of
    the bachelor apartment!

    For a cheap place, though, it has large windows everywhere,
    single-paned to be sure, but large windows nonetheless. The walls
    and ceiling even bear evidence of recent painting too. What more could a
    bachelor ask for? Cable, mobile phones, PlayStations, VCRs,
    stereo equipment, and sound editing equipment apparently. The
    sandy floor in the living room (or lounge, as the locals
    refer to it) is festooned with high-tech music equipment, two
    televisions, a PlayStation, and a digital equipment cordless
    telephone (DECT phone). This is very amusing when you consider
    that the actual inhabitants of this flat spend far less time
    here than we do. Maybe they’ve figured out how to use this
    stuff remotely?

    I hope that the picture I paint of Julian’s flat is neither too
    contemptuous nor unflattering. I rather like it except for the heating and
    the carpet. I had secret plans to sell all of Julian’s stuff and just take
    over the place in order to solve our housing problem. I figure that any
    place that is not home to more than 20 species of bugs (unlike some other
    places in which I lived) is a fine place to stay. Any place where the roof
    doesn’t leak into the walls is also a fine place to stay. Any place where
    turning on the microwave doesn’t interfere with television reception
    because of ‘noisy power’ is a fine place to stay. If you manage to not
    have all these problems in one place then you’ve found a fantastic place to
    stay, even if it doesn’t back onto a ravine!

    For some reason, completely unfathomable to me, Stephen decided that
    finding a place of our own in which to live wasn’t that high of a
    priority. After all, what can you do with your own personal place:
    open a bank account, have proof of address to get cell phones, have a
    place to forward your business calls to, have a place to put all
    of your stuff coming by container from Canada, have a place to
    sleep after your relatives boot you out on the street? Those don’t
    sound all that important, right? Well, apparently they weren’t
    to Stephen but luckily I convinced him that we absolutely needed to
    find our own place to stay as we could only stay with Julian for
    two weeks and then with Anna, a friend from Sussex University, for
    the month of December.

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