31 December, 2013

My Discoveries 2013

2013 was a year of discoveries. I wanted to write a list of some of the good stuff I discovered, without explanation or order of preference. Just thought you might not know of them and would like to give them a try.

MOOCs

Books
The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt

Movies
(sorry, I can't think of any)

TV Series

Podcasts

Apps

RSS reader

If you have some suggestions of your own, please feel free to put them in a comment.

I wish you and your families all the veryvery best in 2014! A friend of mine is just celebrating it in Shanghai and she says all will be well in the Prosperous Year of the Horse!


30 December, 2013

Something small, every day


I'm not sure when it is that I "found" Austin Kleon. It probably was years ago when I discovered a group of people talking about the necessity for each of us to develop our own "visual language".

Austin is a writer and artist. In his lastest post, he writes about his practice of writing a poem each day. I created the poem below in the way he so often creates his own. Try it. It's a lot of fun.
my poem today

He says the only New Year's resolution should be "something small, every day". Think I might give this a try.



True Stories

Working as a trainer and coach has its perks. One of them is the collection of stories I get to hear from my clients. No matter what topic we are discussing, from “multilingual development of immigrant children” to “user-centered usability processes” to “information and communication communities”… all we really do beyond establishing some basic guidelines is share stories.

It is my belief the moment someone starts telling a story is the moment they become completely engaged. It is that “Did I ever tell you about…” which presents endless possibilities for surprise, delight, connection, and just maybe a change in perspective. A good story can gives us insight into past events or into the storyteller’s soul.

Most of the stories I hear are told in confidence, but the one I wish to tell now I have been given permission to pass on.

A very settled and staid manager told it, while we discussed different aspects about how to hire young professionals. We started with the question, “If you were giving a job interview to your younger self, would you hire him?” To which he answered, “Absolutely not!”  This led to several twists and turns in our conversation and somewhere along the way, he told this wonderful story:

Did I ever tell you about the night I spent in a Glasgow prison? Well, my girlfriend and I decided to hitchhike around Scotland for a few weeks during our school vacation. We started on the east coast and made our way up north and then west to the Orkney Islands and finally down to Glasgow.

We didn’t have much money to start with and what little we had ran out at the city border. We wre completely broke. Our backup plan was to take an overnight train to London, where my girlfriend’s uncle lived and he said he would be willing to lend us enough money to ferry back to Germany.
When we got to the train station we discovered there was a train strike on. There we were without a cent to pay for room and board.

At that time, I don’t know if it is still so now, but if you were caught sleeping in the parks you would be arrested for public loitering. Since the only option we had was to sleep in the park, I decided to go to the police station and give ourselves up right up front. We walked into the station and I told the officer at the front desk about our predicament and asked him what we should do.

He talked on the telephone with his superior and then made another few calls with other colleagues. He then asked us whether we wouldn’t mind spending the night in jail. Their holding cells were full, but the local prison had two cells we could use for the night. Seemed good to me…

So, an officer transported us to the prison in a police car where we spent a pleasant night in jail and he kindly came back and picked us up the next day and brought us to the train station to catch our train to London.


After note: The storyteller tried the same thing a few years later during a trip to Norway. He and his (new) girlfriend were turned away from the police station. They said they didn’t mind the occasional person sleeping in the park.

29 December, 2013

Your next boss

Dear Obnoxious Teenager,

Hello. We have not be formally introduced, so let me do so now. I am the woman sitting next to you in the cinema yesterday. The middle aged woman looking forward to watching the movie in peace and quiet. You might remember... the person you kept on hitting your elbow with every few minutes while you noisily ate your nachos. Then you decided it would be fun to shine your cell phone screen in my face while you texted your friends.

You might have thought it an act of cowardness when I moved my seat to the row infront but, was it neccessary to act upon this by continually kicking the back of the seat so we in the row all felt your spitefulness?

As a pretty teenage girl, you might believe such obnoxious behaviour inspires awe amongst your peers. You also might feel as if there would not be any consequences for your actions. It is perhaps important for you to know I chose not to make a fuss over the matter since I didn't want to disturb the other people in the cinema. To you though, I can only say, "I am not your mother, but I might be your next boss. So, beware!"

Your sincerely,

Still Somewhat Miffed  

23 December, 2013

Sorry, couldn't resist


Even though I do not want to be so and try not to give in to this flaw, I am terribly sentimental. Well this is the season...

A girl with passion, wit and dreams...


My son sent me this jewel as a present. The author, performer, teacher, poet, Mark Grist's words hit directly into my heart. As someone who loves reading no matter under the covers on a winter night or in broad daylight in a café down the street, I am one of those millioins of girls with passion, wit, and dreams...  

15 December, 2013

Ironic Twists

If there is one thing you can say about the French, they understand ironic twists. Take a look at the different prices for a cup of coffee at the Petit Syrah café in Nice. The more curteous you are as a customer, the less you have to pay. 

14 December, 2013

Clap Along...


There was that moment in Peter Pan. You know it, "Clap if you believe in faries!" Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” brings back all those memories.

At this time of year, when the days are short (and where I’m living I mean short!) and the darkness of the long nights and the grey blandness of the days close in, it is important to fill our hearts with light. Music does just that.


29 October, 2013

Simplicity Itself


"Richard is the fascinating story of a travelling piano tuner who chooses to live outdoors. Shot in London, the film takes analternative look at someone who treats the entire city as a home."

Perhaps it is the simplicty of his story, but I found this film wonderful in may different ways. Certainly, it can lead to much thought and discussion at any dinner table.

13 October, 2013


Wild Rose Scepter

I am a wood spirit serving all.
Three, plants, animals and man alike.
To those who thirst, I bring water.
To those in need of nourishment,
Sunlight. I shelter the meek,  who
Borrow in my nooks and crannies.
I honour the strong on their travels;
Boldly being as they were meant and made.

For those of you not sure of who
You are, but nevertheless exploring;
I gift you a glimpse of a deer at dawn,
The beauty of wildflowers growing
Next to a fallen tree.  I fill your imagination
And senses. So you may become reborn,
Renewed and return home
Knowing with certainty what is
Art-filled, mysterious and eternal.

02 October, 2013

Days of Silence

How I dream of days spent in silence.
That is where I am heading off to...
Where I can revel in the lack of internet:
Connection to the "outside"
And in compensation, a strong
Reconnection to my inner self.

See you guys soon!

22 September, 2013

Off to sit on a cushion


I'm off  in a few days time to sit on a cushion away from the day-to-day distractions and all online contact. Sometime people ask why anyone would do such a thing. Louis C.K's story of sitting in his car at the side of the road and allowing himself to experience sadness and happiness, is as good an explanation as possible.

By the way, his explanation about smartphone use and children, is also quite brilliant.

16 September, 2013

You are what you eat, but you can be what you wear

I've been following David McRaney's blog, You're Not SoSmart, for a few years now. Any blog with the byline “a celebration of self-delusion” is a good blog to read. Secondly, I really like his interest in exploring and demythisizing common beliefs.
Even it he sets out to cure us of our false beliefs, he does not appear to be doing it out of a wish to rub our noses in our ignorance.

“I, David McRaney, am not a psychologist or an economist. I am a journalist and fan writing about what those super-smart and hard-working people are discovering on these topics. Sometimes, I get it wrong. I’m doing my best to translate it all and make it fun, but If I’m wrong and you know it, please let me know. These things can be edited and corrected. I welcome assistance in clarifying the concepts.”


In this world where everyone seems to consider themselves infallible experts, you got to like someone who is willing to be corrected.

15 September, 2013

The Innovation of Loneliness


Shimi Cohen wrote the script and created the design and animation of the video above. He based this piece on Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together. It poses the question, “What is the connection between Social Networks and Being Lonely?”

It is one of those visualisations that challenges the brain. Very quick successions of input, some subtle and others confusing; needing thought as the verbal message keeps roaring down the tracks.

I was having some difficulty following the script, so I clicked on the automatic annotations. Boy, was that ever amusing. It made little or no sense at all. Admittedly, Mr. Cohen does talk very quickly, but seriously:

“invention of language in gossip as hell sleep larger and more group just a logical research indicates that the maximum naturals I think group humans is roughly 150 members”  

Instead of,

“The invention of language and gossip has helped to shape larger and more stable groups. Sociological research indicates that the maximum natural size of groups for humans is roughly 150 members.”

The obvious discrepancies drove me to sit down this morning and write out the script as it is spoken (see below). Reading the text slowly, allowed me needed time to slowly ponder the ideas presented.

Generally, I find them interesting. Yet, I think they only apply when you restrict Social Networks to just a few, though admittedly powerful, platforms like FB and Twitter. There are many social media platforms, Wikipedia being the most notable, where Mr. Cohen’s and Ms. Turkle’s hypothesis probably wouldn’t hold.

Here’s the script. Not without errors, but at least a more approximate facsimile.

A simple fact, monkeys that a known to have a developed social life, organize in small groups with several dozen members. The size of each of these groups is limited. In order for them to function, all members of the group need to know each other well. The average size of the group changes from 20 to 50 members. When the number of monkeys in a group passes a certain threshold, the social order crumbles and the group tends to split into two separate groups. A similar situation can be found amongst humans as well.

The invention of language and gossip has helped to shape larger and more stable groups. Sociological research indicates that the maximum natural size of groups for humans is roughly 150 members. Most humans are just incapable of intimately knowing more than 150 people. So even today the threshold of human organizations around the number of 150 members.

Man is a social creature and the feeling of loneliness can drive them mad. Yet, the western and modern world sanctions individuality. The individual is measured by personal achievements, such as having a career, wealth, a self-image, and consumerism. In this course of action, many people lose their social and familial connections, in favor of a self-actualization ideal. As a social fabric in the western world weakens, it is not surprising that more and more people define themselves as lonely. And thus, loneliness has become the most common aliment of the modern world.

One of the possible reasons for the aliment is the online social network. In a world where time is money, in which our surroundings heavily pressure us to achieve more and more, our social life becomes tainted and more demanding than ever before.

And then there's technology. Simpler. Hopeful. Optimistic. Ever young. We become addicted to virtual romance disguised by The Social Network, which supplies an impressive platform that allows us to manage our social life most effectively. However, our fantasies about substitutions are starting to take a toll. We’re collecting friends like stamps, no distinction of quantity versus quality, and converting the deep meaning of intimacy in a friendship with exchanging photos and chat conversations.

By doing so, we are sacrificing conversation for mere connection. And so a paradoxical situation is created, in which we claim to have many friends while actually being lonely.

So what is the problem with having a conversation? Well, it takes place in real time and you can’t control what you're going to say. And that is the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the Self as you want it to be. We get to edit and that means, we get to delete.

Instead of building true friendships, we’re obsessed with endless personal promotion. Investing hours on end building our profile, pursuing the optimal order of words in our next message, choosing the pictures in which we look our best. All of which is meant to serve as a desirable image of who we are. We are expecting more from technology and less from each other. The social networks aren't just changing what we're doing, but also who we are. And that's because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable.

And we are vulnerable. We are lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. While the social networks offers us three gratifying fantasies. One that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be. Two that we will always be heard. And three that we will never have to be alone. And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to change in our psyches.

It's shaping a new way of being. The best way to describe it is, “I share therefore I am”.

We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings, even as we're having them. Furthermore we’re faking experiences so we have something to share. So we can feel alive. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we are at risk because the opposite is true. If we are not able to be alone, we are only going to know… how to be lonely.


14 September, 2013

Growing old in 5 minutes

This gorgeous video was made by Anthony Cerniello who writes at the You Tube page: ”I attempted to create a person in order to emulate the aging process. The idea was that something is happening but you can't see it but you can feel it, like aging itself.” You can read about how it was made at Huffington Post.

Bards of Old


Do you wonder whether if any of the bards of old came to us in the future, whether their musical instrument of choice would be the ukulele?

13 September, 2013

Theresa's Angel


Allegro

Not just the crystal timbre
Drawn out by the violin bow;
But, the tang of spring moss
On the Laurentian moor /
The cinnamon accent singing
In the bite of Sunday’s apple cake /
The galloping laughter ricocheting
Around during the car ride
Home from the airport /
The joyous crazy cacophony
Of young children’s voices
Bundling up before going
Out to play in the snow/

I am not the slow and stately
Adagio. Rather, I am the bright
Quick piercing bliss of Allegro.

That is me.

01 September, 2013

Dave's Angel

I want to leave behind the heavy body,
With its fallen-arched leather-soled feet,
The knees and elbows spotted with
Various growths of undiscernible nature.
The big belly, the Buddha belly,
Getting in the way, having to be
Maneuvered around whenever
Flight of motion is called for. And,
The sounds: the stomping, stumbling,
Groaning, moaning, sighing, slurping
Sounds. And that special tuneless,
Toneless whistling between half-closed lips.
Not that any of this really bothers me,
But, given the choice…

I choose to be a sea sprite.
A delicate, willowy, semi-transparent,
Possible to see out of the corner of

Your eyes, beautiful Ethereal Being.

Taking flight, oh so briefly, off the wisps
Of sea spray twirling on the tops of
Angry roaring waves. Then blissfully,
I plunge into the depths of tidal surges.
Down. Down. Soaring along the seamount
Of volcanic crust. Deep. Deep. Under
Kick’em Jenny, across the strait of water
Between Grenada and Carriacou;
Where the boats are now heading
Before the sun goes down, and the
Green Flash can blind them with its
Mystic wonder.

Instead, I’m free to fly above and below.
There is neither. There are both. Except now
When there is only the cold of a ship’s grave,
The heat of escaping lava, the exhilaration
Of dancing along the breath of this seemingly
Endless expanse of sea landscape.

Ahead a storm looms… I turn and rush back,
Head on, into the turbulence. The chaos.

It's mine. It's me. It's what I'm meant to be.

Edna's Angel


An antique doll with a porcelain face
In white wedding garb with plenty of lace.
So much adored and kindly kept
By generations of girls
Believing in princes and kisses in vain;
Till they learn that needed lesson
That Real and Realistic are not the same.

31 August, 2013

Peter's Angel

A warrior. You asked. This is what
I want to be. Especially, in this place
Where weapons of mass destruction,
Gang wars, vast armies, lethal intent,
And, most discouragingly,
Moral Justification, doesn’t exist, there
Is nothing I would like better than to be
A warrior. For the good… not of mankind,
But with kindness for man. The ones
Who navigate blindly, without a glimmer
Of understanding. Suffering the many…
The endless indignities. Having been born
(Not out of choice) – into a countries ripped
Apart by political strife – into communities
Starved of any opportunities for betterment –
With diseases beyond the control of medicine
Or God’s mercy. I will stand next to them
In their moments of need. Still their fears
And offer them comfort. In their loneliness
They will not be alone.
A gentle warrior. Yes indeed, that is what
I choose to be.

Angel Project

I believe in reincarnation and angels. Though when it comes to reincarnation, I don’t believe it is in our powers to know what lives we actually lived in the past. There just seems too many Cleopatras and Viking slaves out there to be true. Yet, I do think intuitively endless cycles of corporal/spiritual change and transformation makes more sense than purgatory, heaven and hell, or even Nothing.

(In my belief system, the jury is out whether it is possible for Tibetan monks to find the new and next Dali Lama years after the last one died. For the sake of world peace, I really do hope they know what they are doing. That is the one and only exception I am not willing to weigh in upon.)

It’s another thing with angels.

They are true. They might not all be as godly and good as esoteric literature would have us believe, but they are there in our hearts and dreams.

The following series of collages and poems is a flight of fancy and I apologise up front if I am stepping upon anyone’s religious toes. I also want to apologise to any angels out there who might feel I am taking the mickey out of them. That is not my intent.

The idea behind this project is to imagine what would happen if we were given complete free choice as to what form of angel we wished to be. The angels in these poems are real people I have loved and whose spirits stay close to me even after they died.

The following series of collages and poems are dedicated to my children. They may not remember their family relatives or, in some cases, even had the opportunity to meet them, but the legacy of these people live on in some of my children’s personality traits and physical attributes. How marvelous is that?

25 August, 2013

Angel in the Sea

Going off this week on a writing retreat. This is something I have dreamed about for the lsat few years. Going off with a dear friend. She's writing her second novel. I am writing family stories. In between, we will hopefully be walking on the beach talking about writing or sharing a good curry lentil soup also talking about writing.

The collage above is the first in an angel collage series. This one is for my father. Gazing into the vast surface of sea foam and seeing an angel appear.

14 August, 2013

Things you can never live down

Falling asleep in a workshop you are giving.

(Fortunately not me! And thankfully no one taking my trainings have either.)

09 August, 2013

Moscou Berlin Paris

No, I am not on this train. It is waiting on the track next to mine. Don't you love the visuals of the sign?

Plastic Palm Trees

Plastic palm trees, standing absurdly rigid at the corners of the café terrace. Who managed to convince the owners these monstrosities would add flair?

25 July, 2013

Beans Left


Do you remember way back when... when the idea of vblogs was new and crazy. That's when I discovered ZeFrank. I loved and was annoyed and sometimes I was even embarrassed watching his videos. There were times he was brilliant and other times he completely overstepped my inner boundary into the Land of the Tasteless. All these years later, he still has the ability to provoke and invoke.

Three of his statistics I found interesting:

  • 1,099 days commuting to work (I am so glad I have always been able to ride my bicycle or walk to work)
  • 3,202 days of work (which means the average person lives a ratio of 1 to 3 between commuting and working)
  • 2,676 days watching television (talk about massive cognitive surplus!)
Beans for thought...


09 July, 2013

Are you in // or // out?

ARE YOU IN // OR // OUT ? from 2 FACTORY on Vimeo.
"Motion animation which presents with humour what's IN or OUT in our daily life."

Other than preferring to drink coffee in the street rather in a café, our lives here seem to be dipped deeply into the "IN" side of the popularity pool. What a lark.

Yum Yum Yuck

Some people find the even the idea of eating snakes abhorrent. Others don't can’t stomach the idea of rats. Yet, there are countries that consider these delicacies.

Then there is catfish, a delicacy where I live. The photo above was in the news today. The fisherman, Wolfgang Richter, says he is not goint to eat it, but put ito on display.

As a long time vegetarian… it doesn’t matter snake, rat, or catfish… it’s all yuck to me.

17 June, 2013

Adoption

I came long ago from another century speaking another language feeling another life rhythm. And then after a few years of much stumbling and stuttering with my marshmallow tongue and smattering of cultural understanding, my children were born out of my body, tied thinly and ever so precariously to their forefathers from lands farfar away. There was no one there reminding me or teaching them of the sounds and rhythm of our ancestors. So, I raise my children as best I could, but conspicuously of my displacement in the clicking of my tongue and the beating of my heart. They are the flesh of my flesh; even though the words they use to explore and express their world will never be those I would have used before I Came Away.

16 June, 2013

Sometimes the questions are complicated

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ― Dr. Seuss

Life is sometimes complicated as well, though my methods of coping with the challenges is simple... baby steps. It has been two-and-half years since I started out as a freelance trainer and technical editor. There have been many ups-and-downs. Overall though, it has been a hugely rewarding journey so far.

I never wanted to be self-employed because essentially I like working in a team. I love being paid regularly at the end of the month. And, most importantly, the German social system is highly robust (medical, dental, unemployment, and pension) for employees of companies and not in the least for the self-employed. Being employed instead of self-employed is the path of least resistance: in a good way and not in the “lie back and think of England” way.

A friend of mine entered the corporate world after being self-employed at the same time as I did the opposite. I worked in large corporations for nearly 30 years. She worked successfully as a freelance writer for over ten. She is fifteen years younger than I am and still has a promising career ahead of her. It will be interesting to see what happens to us over the next 15 years. The rewards and challenges of our work are distinctly different.

What I notice the most in our talks is her clarity about her worth. She not only knows how to make herself useful in the company where she is working, but she know where it is she wants to go. This drive is fuelled by the healthy self-confidence of someone who has survived and succeeded on her own and not by pure ambition to climb the ladder for the sake of acquiring privilege.

Thirty years ago, when I finished my studies, most graduates stepped seamlessly into the corporate world. There were a wealth of opportunities. We could choose the field of our interests, in my case medical equipment, as well as the country we wished to work in. This is why I choose Germany, since they are strong leaders in manufacturing medical equipment. Other students in my graduating classes took a large variety of job positions all over the world.

This has changed. There is no guarantee a university graduate will find a job after graduation. Even though this is as an appalling situation, I think there are two aspects, which developed out of this hard reality that are worth considering. First, self-employment becomes far more attractive, even for persons with minimal professional experience. Secondly, if the system of building a sterling career at a major corporation is broken, than young people should be allowed to experiment, take risks, start again, and even mistakes in their job choices.

A former student I worked with asked me recently to meet, so we could talk about a job offer he had been given. We talked for an hour discussing all the various pros and cons of the job. “Should I take the job?” was a far more complicated question in his mind than it was in mine. I could have simply answered, “Yes!”, when he first asked the question, but then we wouldn’t have shared a cup of coffee and such an interesting conversation.

Enough said…

Finally found some time and redid the layout of this blog. Hope you like it. Also on the looonnnggg list of things to do, is returning to my once loved pastime of making collages. A wonderfully creative pursuit that has always brought me much joy.

05 June, 2013

Life of Contemplation

Summer has come. We are finally able to leave the home without fleece jackets and raincoats. Yet, here I am dreaming of frozen Siberean lakes and smokey cabins...

09 May, 2013

Tripping through inspirational works



"In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn't become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice we've ever come across, and perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education."

It is a holiday today in Germany (and other countries no doubt). We are off work and back home. I have spent the morning tripping through inspirational works like the "This is Water" speech and other essays of David Foster Wallace.

It is such a good way to while away the day.

05 May, 2013

Regal Beauty

The young spring grass
Grows up through the brown grey
Remnants of the long dark winter.
On the corner wooden fence post
Rests a hawk. Standing guard...
Completely still, except for a few
Feathers lifting in the sweet breeze.

I heart DB

My daughter and I are going on a long train journey for a ridiculously short period of time. In my heart there is this happy trippy dip sitting in the first of three train we will be riding in today.

After living so many years here, the delight in the Bundesbahn doesn't diminish. My friends and family find this both silly and endearing.


03 May, 2013

Poetry of Observation

A homeless woman huddles
In a seat at the back of the bus
Bags, not many, her friends,
Her only worldly possessions,
Keeping her and the seats
Both left and right of her occupied.
She shifts her weight in the direction
Of leaving, exit here,  exit now...
Her warm winter coat slips open
Exposing a rag doll wrapped in a
Blanket who she coos over as if...
Her baby. Real. For one moment I
Choke on the rawness of her madness
As well as on the stench of unwashed 
Humanity she leaves behind on the bus. 
Making it hard to breathe deeply
For a long time after she is gone.

11 April, 2013

Times change

Times change and so does technology. Not only the fiber optic speedways, but also the low tech stuff as well.

I am on my way south on my favorite Bundesbahn and I noticed something. The railway tracks are built on cement pilings and not wood ones, as they once were. Gone are the days of my childhood in Canada when we would wander down railway tracks in the countryside, heading to the next village store.

I imagine the cement used now is some super duper bionic material that is completely impervious to weather conditions, all the while being amazingly strong and flexible at the same time. Strange to think of some engineer spending their time inventing such a material. Not media worthy news. Yet it is used over thousands of miles of tracks.

06 April, 2013

Another day, another cafe

One of the reasons I decided life in Germany is a fine thing, is its long standing tradition of cafes. In every town and city there are a wealth of cafes to explore.

The cafe in the photo is fantastic in its simplicity of decor, excellent lunch, and proximity to one of my favorite museums in Berlin, the Berggruen.

It is also the first place where I met with my new-found blogging friend, Charlotte, for the first time in person. So, if you are reading this, Char, in your home far away, greetings from Charlottenburg.


05 April, 2013

Grey day with sunny pursuits

The day rose grey and cold. We sat long over breakfast and got caught up with all those familiar topics friends talk about, who haven't seen each other in a year's time.

To outsiders it might appear we are serving ourselves to a smorgasbord of random thoughts and happenings, but to connoisseurs there is a method underlying our conversational meanderings. We taste certain sweet bits first and save the sadder, lovely bits for later. It doesn't matter what we are discussing, there is such a sense of good will, a fine tingling lightness lingers as I go and brush my teeth and get ready to go into the city.

We travel by bus, train, streetcar, bus, walk along long ugly streets whichwas once Eastern Germany. The endless uniform apartment blocks were built sixty years ago under the communist /socialist regime.

The last twenty, since the wall came down, there has been a lot of effort and money spent to create change. The only thing a stranger like I can see is in the diverse looks of the people' s faces populating the sidewalks and the fantastic organic food served in a nearby cafe.

The greyness permeates my outer winter self. The only warmth is in our laughter.


04 April, 2013

Underway

I am on my way to my favorite yearly outing to Berlin.

A long weekend of chatting over endless cups of tea, good food, lot's of laughter and exciting exhibits to see...

Will try and keep you updated. I'm trying to go mobile.


01 April, 2013

Guardian Goggles



Had a good laugh this morning. Don't know if you guys have been following the hype about augmented reality glasses. It started a year or so (maybe two!) when Google announced Google Glass.

And this is sort of where things are today...

When I was working at the local university a few years ago, I did some research in augmented reality application and pervasive gaming. It was a really interesting time in my life. The work showed there are some very silly, as well as very useful ways of using augmented information.

For instance, the ability for technicians to receive augmented information for the repair of machinery in dangerous and critical situations. This would allow someone in a seperate location to look at the present installation and then send relevant instructions to the technicians in exactly the form they need it.

Whether we, the normal folk, will ever need augmented reality glasses is doubtful. Our lives are often overloaded with information as it is!

16 March, 2013

Winter wonders

Oh, the wonders of this sparse northern German winter landscape / traveling back on a train after being away on a two-day business trip / anxious to be back in the warmth and safety of my home / the sun sets orange over the grey, brown, tired land/ swarms of fowl populate the bristled fields / this is their brief stop over on their way to Sweden from Africa / all the while I listen to the brilliant author Tarun Tejpal talk about his childhood spent in India on the Canadian podcast, Writers and Company / so many complain about our life here being provincial / what do they know!

10 March, 2013

Barking up the wrong tree




This video shows the results of Harvard business economist's study about the wealth distribution in the States. The study asked 5,000 Americans what they think would be the ideal distribution curve and secondly, what they think the reality is. The video uses smart infographics to show these results and then with a twist painful twist, what is the cruel reality.  

I tried to find out what the actual reality of wealth distribution in Germany is. Germany is not a social state to the extent the Scandinavians are considered to be, but it is a social state nevertheless. Since we have social medicine and social assistance, I hoped the wealth distribution would be fairer.

After a briefly researching the internet, I found these figures:
  • 0.5% of Germans own 25% of private wealth (in comparison, 1% of American's own 40% of their nation's wealth)
  • 5%  own 46%
  • 10% own  67%
Sitting on the side of the chart which the video above describes as, "just scraping by" these German figures appear to me to be similarly appalling, even if they are admittedly mathematically not equal with the States.

So, what conclusions can I draw? Maybe, that from the perspective of us normal folk, the wealth distribution is stupendously askew in all so-called industrial countries. Could we even be barking up the wrong tree, always comparing wealth distribution with costs of socialism? 



17 February, 2013

Meaningful Coincidences

 They say there two types of people: Freudian or Jungian. I’m a Jungian type of gal. Ever since I heard his thoughts on “meaningful coincidences”, he had me hooked. My understanding of what Jung was saying is, “Hey, you there. The universe is aligning its stars and there is going to be a series of events you will find freakishly random, but that isn’t to say they aren’t of great importance. So pay close attention!”  As a teenager, I experienced such a series of freakish events. They propelled me kicking-and-screaming directly into a friendship with a ghostly nemesis called Nerida.

In 1970, when I was thirteen years old, I transferred from a large suburban public high school to a small private girls boarding school in the center of Montreal. The only reason I enrolled in the school was because I needed to live downtown, so I could attend ballet lessons for several hours every afternoon and on Saturdays. Boarding school seemed a pragmatic solution for overcoming commuting hassles. What I wasn’t prepared for was the strict Anglo-Saxon school regime they enforced. Hogwarts hadn’t been invented yet. I found school uniforms, houses, prefects, matrons, demerit points, detention, and bad school food difficult to adjust to.

The teachers and matrons quickly became exasperated by my rebellious behavior. They could not comprehend why I found their Anglo-Saxon ways so restrictive. Particularly because they had had a boarder the previous year from Newfoundland, who was also a dance student, and she’d caused them no difficulty whatsoever. Her name was Nerida. What a dear child. So sweet-natured. So obedient. Such lovely angelic curly hair. Did I know her?

Right then and there I decided I hated Nerida even though I had never met her. Not because she was obviously a wimp, but mainly for her lovely angelic curly hair.

Nerida’s perfect behavior was held against me at every twist and turn. Then another freakish event happened. I had to get braces and it was an excruciatingly painful procedure. Every month I would go and get my braces tightened. The orthodontist would hover above with his instruments of torture and sternly reprimand me for having not worn the elastic bands he prescribed.

As luck would have it, he had had a patient who was also a dance student and she ALWAYS wore her elastics. Did I know her? Her name was Nerida.

Fast-forward two years … I moved from Montreal to Cannes, France as a student of the Rosella Hightower’s International School of Dance. I was ecstatic having blissfully escaped the restrictions of the boarding school regime. What a carefree existence; the type a sixteen-year-old lives when completely free of parental care or adult supervision.

A few months after I moved to Cannes, I received a letter from my mother back in Montreal. She wrote about how she’d gone into the city for a dentist appointment and decided to stay in town and eat lunch before heading back to the suburbs. The maitre d' of the restaurant she chose approached her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing her table with someone. She said yes, and a charming elder Torontonian businessman came and sat at her table.

“You won’t believe it. He’s originally from Newfoundland and one of his daughters is also studying dance in Cannes. Her name is Nerida. Have you met her?”

Sure enough, a few days later, Nerida came into the girls’ changing room and searched me out. Her father had written her about this Canadian girl who attended Trafalgar (the boarding school in Montreal) and was now in Cannes.

In bursts this bubbly, curly-haired girl and runs over to me and says, “Hi. Did you go to Trafalgar?” My response, “You must be fucking Nerida.”

After note: this all happened over forty years ago.  Nerida and I became best of friends and our friendship remains deep and loving and riddled with meaningful coincidences.

15 February, 2013

Along my walk today

The bracing wind churns
Up the grey ice water and
The winter debris either slaps
Back and forth, ineffectively,
On the beach front, or it bobs
Up and down just below the
Foaming surface. It all looks
So cold and dejected, rejected,
Depressed. My boot toe loosens
The corner of a torn luggage tag...
GUA to FRA... Guatemala to
Frankfurt on a grey spit of a beach
On the Alster lakefront. What a
Story it tells. My ears are closed
Muffled by my blue wool hat. 
My heart flips though in excitement.

14 February, 2013

Treating Yourself or Others To A Treat


I want to post this English Lesson I wrote for one of my training groups. Hope you enjoy it!
It’s Valentine’s Day. Some people like to give gifts to their loved ones on this occasion. Others not. Molly Wizenberg, the author of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, wrote in her blog:
“I’m not a curmudgeon*, I swear. I’m not one of those bitter types who while away February by spitting on the displays of pink-and-red heart garlands in the grocery store. It’s just that Valentine’s Day doesn’t really excite me. It’s not like Thanksgiving or Christmas, those holidays that come with catchy tunes to hum under your breath, the holidays that invite all sorts of baking and splurging and beautiful, endless buffet tables. Valentine’s Day feels a little stilted, that’s all. Too often, it’s like an obstacle course or a big end-of-term exam, a test to prove how good you are, or how impossibly romantic you can be. I like my romance under less fraught circumstances. It just feels more romantic that way.”
*curmudgeon: grump, bellyacher, moaner
It is easy to understand why many Germans believe the whole Valentine’s Day hype is just a circus. Valentine’s Day is not a German tradition. 
I wanted to share with you a description of what Valentine’s Day used to be, way back in the Stone Ages, before commercial marketing went amok.
During my childhood in Canada, we used to make Valentine cards for our friends, siblings, and parents. The cards were made of coloured paper pasted with napkin doilies. On the inside of the cards, we wrote poems we composed ourselves. They went something like this:
Roses are red. / Violets are blue. / I am happy to be your friend. / I hope you are happy to be mine too.
Rose are red. / Violets are blue. / I like your freckles / and your curly hair too.
Roses are red. / Violets are blue / You are so pretty / and really nice too.
Okay. You get the idea. It was not great literature. But, the thing was, we all really enjoyed making and receiving the valentine cards. There weren’t any gifts of expensive flowers, Belgium chocolates, or romantic dinners at a chic restaurant. It was just giving the people you liked a small personal treat.
Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a treat, no matter how small and no matter how insignificant the occasion? And during my childhood, Valentine’s Day really was insignificant. It was a sunny blip in deadlining ECG curve of those long cold dark winter months.
Here are a few suggestions for how you can treat yourself or others on Valentine’s Day:
  •  Call your mom and wish her a Happy Valentine’s. You will get more gold stars for this than you will calling on Mother’s Day, since that is more or less a duty call.
  • Compose a poem and send it as an email to a friend living far away (feel free to use the samples mentioned above).
  • Anonymously place marzipan hearts on each of your officemates’ desks. Enjoy the secrecy of your generosity. (Don’t forget to put one on your desk too.)
  • Take your children out for an ice cream treat. It’s fun eating ice cream in the middle of winter.
Exercise 
Many people don’t give Valentine’s Day gifts because they do not; a) want to be pressured to buy something on this day and prefer to give when they spontaneously want to treat someone with a gift, b) want to be part of the commercial hype
Try and recall the last three times:
  •  you gave someone a gift spontaneously
  • someone gave you a gift without it being Christmas or your birthday
  • you treated yourself to something special
I don’t know if your memory is anything like my own is, but I remember best the gifts I received on special occasions. Maybe the special occasions act as thumbtacks to fix the gift to the person in my mind.

Sharing the Love


I saw the above video last year for the first time. Today, I watched it for a second time and liked it just as much, if not more.

A lot has happened in my life in the last 12 months and I just wanted to say thank-you to all my family and friends (and you online friends as well) for your support, generosity, kindness and... love.


11 February, 2013

You know you are tainted when...

You know you are tainted when this,


makes you more excited than the news that the Pope is stepping down in the next weeks.

09 February, 2013

Favourite Sites: Slew of Podcasts II


There is no place better to find stories and storytellers than in the Internet. There are countless podcasts out there to fill your life with good stories. I've have "gone through" many over the last 10-12 years and here are some of the podcasts that have stuck to my subscription list like Velcro and I listen to faithfully.

Eleanor Wachtel is a champion interviewer. She generously sets a stage for storytellers to tell their stories every week, in Writers And Company . Ms. Wachtel's questions writers about their work and their lives. Her interviews are well-prepared, probing, prodding, expansive journeys. The writers are give a large berth to explain and explore how their personal biographies or life experiences contextually influence their writing.

One of the interviews I have listened to countless times is titled the Irish Panel,

"This week, the magic of the Irish short story, then and now - with Roddy Doyle, Claire Keegan and Kevin Barry."

If you delight in lively banter and the discourse of master storytellers, this is a good place to start.

Michael Ondaatje interviews Eleanor Wachtel on the occasion of the show's 20 anniversary. It turns out that Eleanor Wachtel can give as good as she gets.

Next on the list of my Top 5 Favourites is, This American Life.

"The radio show and TV show follow the same format. There's a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It's mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There's lots more to the show, but it's sort of hard to describe. Probably the best way to understand the show is to start at our favorites page, though we do have longer guides to our radio show and our TV show. If you want to dive into the hundreds of episodes we've done over the years, there's an archive of all our old radio shows and listings for all our TV episodes, too."


This is the trailer to a fantatic show they did in NYC and live-streamed across the US, Canada, and Australia. Sure wish I had been there, but watching the video is also fun.

Last fall, my daughter and I met up with my mother (from Grenada), my sister (from Santa Cruz), in Toronto. Coincidentally, Ira Glass was giving a show on the future of radio during this time. My daughter and I not only got to attend this fabulous show, but we also got to meet Mr. Glass in person.

When we went to pick up our tickets at the box office, we followed a line of people into the theater, not knowing it was the back stage door. Once we were in the theater, we realised we had made a mistake and explained this to the next security guard we met. Somewhere in the explanation I said, "We are here to see Ira Glass...", and the security guard translated this to "meet Ira Glass". Subsequently, he escorted us into a closed bar area that turned out to be where all the CBC VIPs were taken to so they could chat with Mr. Glass before the show.

I did manage to gather the nerve and introduce my daughter and myself and thank him for producing such a wonderful show. The whole encounter was thrilling, awkward, and embarrassing all at the same time.

Here are three other podcasts telling great stories for you to explore as well:
Please leave the names of your favourites storytelling podcasts as a comment. So, there you go. Start listening.

20 January, 2013

Favourite Sites: A Slew of Podcasts (I)

I'm a great fan of podcasts. Even before they were called podcasts there were a few radio shows who would put some of their weekly programs online. (BBC was one of the forerunners.) I'd like to write a series of posts with short descriptions of My 10 Favourite Podcasts*. Today's post will be about This I Believe and On Being.

Here goes:

This I Believe

"This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives."

Listening to This I Believe podcasts is a guarantee to make me feel grateful for the gift of the day. They are moving, thoughtful reflections by people both famous and not. They write about their personal beliefs and not just their opinions. Even if some of the authors write about core values very different to my own, their essays give me insight into how they live their lives.

This I Believe has been going since the 1950s, when it was a radio show hosted by Edward R. Murrow (one of my all time heroes). You can read the essays or hear them spoken. I love to hear the authors read their essays out loud. It lends a special dimension to their thoughts.

 On Being

I don't quite know where to begin singing the praises of On Being with Krista Tippett. Perhaps I should just start with two examples of marvelously interesting people conversing with Krista on her program:

A Wild Love for this World 
"Joanna Macy is a philosopher of ecology, a Buddhist scholar, and an exquisite translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. We take that poetry as a lens on her wisdom on spiritual life and its relevance for the political and ecological dramas of our time."

Words That Shimmer
"Elizabeth Alexander shares her sense of what poetry works in us — and in our children — and why it may become more relevant, not less so, in hard and complicated times."

It is possible to listen to the unedited and edited versions of the show. I nearly always start with the unedited version, then go onto the edited version, and then go to the site and look at the extra material. Crazy. I know. But the ideas shared are just that good!

In these times where everything is being whittled down into easily digestible bites, On Being is a pioneer in Slow Thoughtful Conversation. The program editors are masters in preparing savoury many-course meals for happy consumption.




If listening to podcasts is not one of your regular past times, I can only encourage you to give it a try. They are highly enjoyable, informative, contemplative and there are no commercials! Pure entertainment.

*As you may have noticed, the list includes public radio program podcasts. There are many excellent amateur** podcasts that are as good as the ones I mention.

For example, if you are interested in finding about news in the tech world, I'd venture to say the amateur podcasts are the places you should be going to.

**Amateur: not in the sense of lacking in quality or not being professional... rather... Amateur: filled with passion, zing, and commitment, but not under public radio contract.

18 January, 2013

Second Chances

There are safe harbours, instant successes, love at first sight, roller coaster rides, the Middle Way, the long tail, and the long road. You don't reach my age without having experienced nearly all of these phenomena. The one thing I don't think I've experienced is the Second Chance. That is until today.

Years and years ago, I wrote a three gaming scripts titled Talkshow Rivals, Sydney Soap, and London Live. (The forth, Atlanta Gold is just a rough sketch of a story.) The games are interactive soap operas: part video sequences, part mini games. There is a hellava lot (maybe 60%) of storytelling going, dispersed with gaming activity (40%). At the time I was trying to sell the script to a large Japanese publisher, video games consisted of 10% story and 90% game playing. (I'm being generous here!)

Still, it was a thrill to be given a chance to pitch my idea to their marketing and R&D departments. In the end, they turned down the scripts because they said production costs would be too high.

Their refusal made me put the work on the back shelf. Literally. I took all of the folders and stored them in one of our cupboards. There they stood for the last ten years.

Fast forward to today... an acquaintance of mine, who has known me from way back when, is going to introduce me to a new neighbour of hers. This said neighbour has worked in the gaming industry for many years. Can I be getting a second chance?

My goal... is to be able to sit down once again with someone in-the-know and have a serious talk about my vision of what gaming can be. I'd like to know whether my concept was just before it's time, or just way out of field.

Wish me luck.

13 January, 2013

Can't top that

One of my pet peeves is when an English word is introduced into the German language incorrectly. There are a lot of examples: handy for cell phone, walking for speed walking, mobbing for bullying... the list is long.
I went on a lovely long walk today and came across this sign at a bar. The bar was in the red light district. I wasn't so sure if it was an unembarrassed blatant advertisement for possible services from the women who live above the bar, but the price made me realise it was probably the price of a shot of cheap schnaps.   

07 January, 2013

Frozen Perfection

iced dome 
Returning to work today
After many days of living simply:
In the family, mostly indoors,
Occasionally in flights of fantasy.

Thanks to Lady Fi for allowing me to use her photo in this collage.

05 January, 2013

Favourite Sites: Letters of Note

You probably have to be of a certain age to even know what letter writing is all about. I'm in my mid-fifties and belong to one of the last generations of letter writers. We wrote party invitations, Valentine letters, thank you notes, pen pal letters, letters of complaint, letters of introduction, love letters, long epistles to dear friends living far away, and letters to family reminiscing good times long gone. Some of my closest relationships were formed and sustained almost solely through letter writing. It is/was considered an art form.

The website, Letter of Note, succeeds wonderfully in showing how delightful letter reading can be. Each letter opens a window of insight into the person's life, opinions, or history.


On the site's archive it is possible to browse through letters according to dates, categories, or author. If you prefer serendipity, there is a "random letter" generator on the right-hand sidebar.

I have subscribed to the blog for a few years now, so I've enjoyed whatever is published new. But, there are over 900 letters in the archive, so occasionally, I consciously seek out letter from some of my favourite persons. Here is a sample list:
  • Harper Lee describing touchingly how reading books was the only means she and other local children had during the Depression to discover worlds outside of their homes or village.   
  • David Bowie responding to his first fan mail from America
  • E.B. White patiently explaining the burden of having to answer fan mail
  • Frank Zappa appealing to his fans to rise up to action
  • Harold Pinter rendering whiplash upon someone of Little Brain
  • Spike Milligan doing the same...
Letters of Note also points you in the direction of other collections of letters. These two letters of Kurt Vonnegut inspired me to order his extraordinary collection. This letter written in 1824 by  Charles Lamb surprisingly illustrates how Man Colds have existed for centuries. The letter also made me remember the part Charles Lamb letters played in the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Delightfully, his letters are available for free at Google Play.

If you are a teacher, parent, grandparent, or just avid reader there is much wealth of knowledge to be discovered here.