30 April, 2010

Ray of Hope

I had a job interview just before Easter. The position is as a teacher in a industry and trade school. I've been invited back for a second interview next Monday. Please keep your fingers crossed.

25 April, 2010

Personality of Things


A while ago, I saw a photograph exhibition in a café in Berlin that was a series of images of the contents of women’s purses. The contents were either neatly positioned in a sort of collage, or just randomly dumped out onto the surface of a table or sidewalk. The images were rather provocative as well as informative. They did seem to speak of the personality of the owner.


I’ve always wondered whether the same thing could be said for what you find on pin boards or how you arrange your office desktop. What do you think?

22 April, 2010

Audience Experience versus Musical Participation

I know a couple that is very active in a charity organisation that brings classical music into people’s everyday lives. They arrange for very talented musicians, mostly master students from the local music conservatory, to play music in concert halls, churches, school auditoriums, hospital wards, prison cafeterias, senior citizen homes, women centers… anywhere people gather, they try to bring music to them.

One of the perks of this couple’s volunteer work, is they get to know many of the musicians personally. A few years ago, three musicians mentioned how they were preparing some pieces for an international music competition. They were concerned that they had only practiced the pieces, but not actually preformed them. So, began a series of home concerts in my friends’ living room.

The next concert is just around the corner (piano and violin) and I am very much looking forward to going. It is hard to describe how magical it is to hear music of such beauty in the intimacy of a living room. There is something visceral, physical, and emotional about the experience. It cannot be compared to recorded music, and not even music performed in a concert hall.

I watched this video today with much interest:

On the TED site, the video is explained as follows:

185 voices from 12 countries join a choir that spans the globe: "Lux Aurumque," composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre, merges hundreds of tracks individually recorded and posted to YouTube. It's an astonishing illustration of how technology can connect us.”

Initially, I was very intrigued by the idea and even the realisation. Then it started to remind me of some science fiction film, a little eerie, if not unsettling. Then I realised that, from an audience point of view, it just doesn’t work for me.  It couldn’t be further from the experience of sitting in the living room with a group of friends and hearing every nuance of a musician’s genius.

The merit of Eric Whitacre’s idea is perhaps in the experience the people performing the piece felt. The opportunity to sing in the comfort of your home and still participate in a virtual concert.

What do you think, would you rather be in that living room as the audience, or in your bedroom as a participator? 

20 April, 2010

Impressive Images and Good Graphics

The Big Picture has another series of spectacular photos of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano outbreak.

My son has been stuck in southern Italy these last days due to the reduced air traffic in Europe. The gods willing, he is making his way home today.

One of the reasons I so enjoy the Information is Beautiful blog is that the author asks the right question and finds the clever answer so often.

David the creator of the graphic above just posted the following information:

"We got our figures wrong on the CO2 emissions of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajoekull. Badly wrong.

So we want to apologise.

We pride ourselves on good data and solid information. Despite detailed research and feedback from Icelandic vulcanologists, our figures were out by a magnitude of ten

The volcano is emitting 150,000 tons of CO2 per day, not 15,000 tons."

Even though David made an initial mistake, I still think the corrected image shows how graphics are good for presenting both the big picture and the small details of a situation.

19 April, 2010

Media Production in the Warmth and Comfort of Home

(making of film of a Belgium natural gas advert, the advert is shown at the end of the film)

Stop-motion animation is one of my favourite forms of filmmaking. When I was working in schools, it was the sort of project that children “get” right away. It doesn’t matter whether they are grade 2 students or grade 13 students, you explain the basics and off they go. What is so transparently unique about stop-motion is how a simple idea (e.g. warmth means wool) can be translated into a charming story.

Many children tell extremely complex stories that are often unintelligible to their listeners or readers if they are given free reign of their imagination. Stop-motion storytelling is most effective way of slicing the storyline down.

Take a look at the video above if you want to see how making a very simple stop-motion film allowed this young fellow, Pep, start creating media rather than just consuming it. This is the sort of media production educators (principals, teachers, and parents alike) should be encouraging their students to do.

For a detailed and interesting analysis of what Pep is saying in the film, please go to this post of Henry Jenkin’s Confessions of an Aca-Fan blog.

I’ve published numerous stop-motion animations in the past, so I won’t bore you with any more. If you want to know more about how to make your own stop-motion, please go to this post at makeuseof.com.

17 April, 2010

Everyday Heroes V

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Ruth
Profession: corporate law
Marital Status: married
Children: a daughter
Place of Origin: Cameroon

How we met:

Ruth came to live in Germany with her young daughter a year and a half ago. She came in the dead of winter. Ruth knew how to speak German and she had conscientiously studied all the facts and figures of this new country she was marrying into. What she couldn’t learn in the warm and wonderful climate of Douala, was what winter cold feels like. How deep damp winter weather can hurt you teeth and bones.

How the winter darkness can sap all the residues of sunny joy stored from childhood memories from the marrow of those bones.

How impenetrable are the blank facades in the faces of her German neighbours.

How confusing is the bureaucratic machinery that every citizen and resident must comply to.

Yet, Ruth proves to have more resilience and resourcefulness and quiet charm than all those dour beings and circumstances that are scattering stones in her way. She has forged loving relationships with her new extended family. She has become mightily efficient at navigating herself around the labyrinth called German bureaucracy. She’s helped her daughter find a place in her new neighbourhood. She has become a wise and kind friend.

What she has shown me:

She has shown an ability to move with assurance in a strange culture. She has show me that even if you are confused and at times desperate, you can’t stop moving in the general direction you see as forward. Whether it is forward or not, is almost irrelevant, just take purposeful steps as best you can.

14 April, 2010

The Moipei Quartet

Photo of The Moipei Quartet

Rafiki Kenya blog post a few days ago included some information about the Moipei Quartet,

“The Moipei triplets Mary, Martha and Magdalene and their younger sister Seraphine form the all girl music group, Moipei Quartet. These talented Maasai girls have very beautiful voices (well trained by their father Nicholas ole Moipei who is also their teacher) and often perform 'a capella' or accompanied by piano only, mostly in classical styles. Some of their songs also bring us a message, like Mbiu ya Mgambo, which highlights the plight of girls in the Maasai community.”

They have just brought out a new CD. Can imagine some of you (that means you, Fee) might like to order it.

I loved this song way back when, when my family and I used to watch John Denver sing it on his television show.

07 April, 2010

Everyday Heroes IV

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Karen
Profession: librarian
Marital Status: married
Children: two daughters
Place of Origin: Ohio, USA

How we met:

When I first came to live in Germany, all those years ago, it was winter. It was dark and dismal outdoors. Indoors it was lonely. I felt lamed.

Not knowing how to speak German was a barrier. As the only woman in a large department of socially inept engineers, it wasn’t easy getting to know people. When I met an American woman, Karen, whose husband was an officer in the US Army Base down the road from where I worked, my world changed.

Karen was actively immersed in the social and cultural life of the city; unlike many of the officers’ wives who lived very isolated lives on base. She was a member of the Bach Choir, part of the women’s literary society, and active in the neighbourhood community where she and her husband lived on the outskirts of the city.

What made her special was her willingness to (learn and) speak German, as well as her willingness to (learn and) respect the various social norms prevalent to the area. Up until the time I met Karen, I had been struggling unsuccessfully to learn German. And, my attitude towards the mountain of social norms I was being buried under was, “If you could just leave me alone, I’d love to leave you alone.” Karen, in her infinitely gracious and gentle manner helped me to surrender myself to my lot. Through example, she taught me more about how to be happy living as a foreigner in a foreign land than anyone I have met before or since.

What she taught me:

The first way to get to know someone is through language, then shared interests and experiences, and finally, through shared sense of humour and value system. She also showed me that there wasn’t any short cut to get there.

06 April, 2010

Story Missing II

About a half of a kilometer away from the last photo there was a pair of shoes on the sidewalk next to a bank.
When I saw the shoes, I instantly imagined that they were the pair I took a photo of a few days ago. They could have wandered to their new abode in the dawn hours. I had to laugh at the thought. 

Then I realised that this is the time when many proper housewives do spring cleaning (I'm not one of those). So these random pair of shoes could well be what Tine and Ian are talking about in their comments of the last post, just one of many items left out for people to take.

05 April, 2010

Story Missing

The other morning I work up very early, probably about 5 o'clock, and looked out our living room window. I saw two large shoes placed neatly on top of our electrical connection box. It gave me pause: how did the shoes get there, who did they belong to, what would happen to them now?

A few hours later, this is what I saw,
The shoes were gone! What happened? Surely a story that has gone missing. Have you any idea?

03 April, 2010

In the Pines

For her 15th birthday, my daughter requested a gift of an ukulele. She plays the piano and saxs, but this is her first string instrument. I really hope that she can in the future be a part of a group as fun and fantastic as the one above. Do enjoy.

01 April, 2010

April Fools

This is an April Fool hoax BBC broadcasted in 1957 on Switzerland’s magnificent spaghetti harvest. Apparently, it is legendary, but it is the first time I saw it and wanted to share it with you. I excuse myself if you have seen it every year since then.

Happy birthday, Tine!