23 July, 2012

Private Sanctuary

My paternal grandfather lived out with my grandmother in a beautiful white full-terraced house in the countryside outside of Ottawa. He had many occupations to keep his days busy; reading, gardening and woodworking being the central ones. He was a quiet man with quiet pursuits.

His woodworking shop was at the back of the house. We could access it through the kitchen. It was his private sanctuary. A place he could go to to smoke his pipe. To design and build his masterful woodwork. And, most likely, to escape the noise of visiting family.

We had to wait to be invited into the his shop, which didn't happen very often. When we were allowed to sit on one of the benches and watch him work, we did so quietly. Hoping he would forget us and let us stay forever.

Alas, we were just normal kids with persistent questions that constantly escaped out our mouths from inside our overactive brains, and our legs took to swinging and kicking the stool legs rhythmically, and we couldn't just look with our eyes, but also did so with our fingertips... eventually, grandpa would ask us quietly and gently to go outdoors to play. Which we did, but never without s slight feeling of regret.

21 July, 2012

Things to come?

There are probably very few people out there in the blogsphere that haven't at sometime, or regularly, ordered something from Amazon. Maybe you will find this video strangely plausible.

I remember when Amazon was a budding online bookstore. A site where I could, amazingly, order English books. This was the most marvelous innovation for an ex-pat living in Germany. In those years, it would take up to four weeks to get an ordered book delivered to a local bookstore and the book would cost up to three the regular price. You can well imagine my delight to be able to order books directly online.

Part of me wishes Amazon had continued being a bookstore. You are right... nostalgia.

19 July, 2012

Baaba Maal telling stories in a boat

A Room For London

Many warm summers ago, my family sailed with another family, the Rantis, over some weeks on Lake Champlain in the States. They were in their boat. We in ours. It was a very loose arrangement. Each boat would sail around during the day as we so wished in whatever direction the wind took us. We met up at some per-arranged destination in late afternoon. We spent the evenings together watching bats fly, swatting mosquitoes, squishing black flies, talking about sailing, and laughing at silly jokes. The parents teasing the children. The children nudging our parents stories into forbidden areas according to the consumption of rum they were imbibing in.

When our boat was anchored on those late afternoons, it meant my siblings and I had an hour or two to go off in the dingy and explore the coastline or island we were anchored near before dinner was served. When the Rantis put down anchor, it was time for the family to play music. The parents were professional musicians and had to practice the pieces for the next symphony season. The two children (flute and oboe) also had their practice sessions.

So off my sisters and brother and I would go out in our dingy accompanied by their music bouncing over the water right to the corners of beaches and rooks and wooded areas we explored. It was an magic experience.

Boats, dusk into night, family, friends,  stories, music... magic... Baaba Maal, Jim Palmer and Mamadou Sarr performance in A Room for London is all that and more.

14 July, 2012

A matter of intent

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

"Ken Burns: on Story" is a very compelling short film about storytelling. He argues all of storytelling is manipulation. It is just a matter of deciding whether what you are doing when you tell a story is an acceptable form of manipulation or not.

It is difficult to get my mind around this idea. If you look at the definition of the word,

"Shrewd or devious management, especially for one's own advantage"

or of psychological manipulation,

"a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics",

then obviously storytelling being a form of manipulation can't be good, right?

What if we separate the intent (a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others) from the means (through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics). What if the means we use arise out of a genuine honest wish to share or explore our ideas with others? Is that just splitting hairs? Is it just another form of manipulation?

11 July, 2012

Slowing down and speeding up

April, May, and June were crazy months... lots of contracts to fulfill, lots of people to talk to, lots of ideas turning around in my head. As of two and a half weeks ago, most of the busy-ness came to a standstill. Now, I will have time to slow down.

Sleep in a bit later if I wish. Got to be a bit earlier... And, this did happen. I felt the tension leave my shoulders. I watched rather too much meaningless television series. Read some light lit. Went out for some walks late in the evening with my daughter.

The whole time I was picking up project work I had put aside and managed to finish the last details. Even the pile of tax stuff is ultra thin. Nice to get those off the list. Tick.

Slowing down was doing the trick. Then I sat down on Saturday morning to type in some dialogs for a series of podcasts I am producing for a client and wham... seven hours later my brain was steaming and my fingers were typing away and I was speeding along with ideas. This state of creativity hasn't stopped since.

I know you can not force creativity, when it happens, it happens. Yet, I think slowing down does help to speed things up...

05 July, 2012

Making old men cry


On the surface of things, it might be hard to imagine why the words, "They combine to give us a combined significance of five standard deviations." were important. Yet, once the speaker speaks them, there is a momentary pause, a deep felt wonder, and then the audience explodes in clapping and laughter and a few old men cry. It does seem odd, doesn't it?

Not so, if you realise that what the speaker is saying, unequivocally stating is, "You were right. You aren't insane." And, more importantly, "Our knowledge of how the universe works is now forever changed by a combined significance of five standard deviations." The seats in the auditorium were filled with people whose lives were spent realising that significance. I imagine this new finding gives their lives new meaning.

Whether this finding is/was worth the cazillion dollars it took to find, we will probably not know in our lifetime. Presumably, hopefully, this was not purely done out of intellectual curiosity. Presumably, hopefully, this new-found knowledge can be used toward finding a new form of energy, a cure to cancer, a way to supply clean water to all beings on this earth. It has got to have some far-reaching significance, right?

If you want to know more about what the Higgs boson is, this video does well to give a simple explanation.


Just as an afterthought... It is odd, in Newton's time it took a falling apple to figure out how gravity worked...