Cards Against Humanity for women in STEM

31 03 2015

BuzzFeed tells me that the sly wits over at Cards Against Humanity are producing a new add-on pack to help them generate funds for a new scholarship.

If you’ve never played CAH, you really should. It’s a great way to break down barriers between parents and teenagers. Or random strangers at a party. They even do different packs to cater for cultural differences – UK and Canadian variants are available as well as the US one. The insults are the same, but you get a different selection of political and TV personalities to aim them at.

This new scholarship will help fund women in STEM courses. A good thing in itself, but personally I’m not convinced funding is the major reason women are under-represented in the sciences.

Cards Against Humanity’s New Pack Will Pay For Women To Study Science – BuzzFeed News.

Art meets… well, art!

24 03 2015

This Richard Wilson piece was inspired by the last line of “The Italian Job” (The 1969 original, not the travesty of a remake.) Installation Art Sees A Bus Precariously Hanging Off The Edge Of A Building –

I guess Kowloon is probably relieved it wasn’t inspired by that other great quote from the film…

Don’t regret regret

24 03 2015

Personally, I find TED talks a bit hit and miss. That’s not to say they’re not a great vehicle for spreading ideas. Not all ideas are great in any case. Others depend on your perspective as a recipient of that idea.

This one came to me via a LinkedIn page. I’m not familiar with Kathryn Schulz as a writer, but I found her presentation style a little staid. All that said, I thought her piece was quite thought-provoking. Her message, ultimately is this:

Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly; it reminds us that we could do better.

I can buy that.

Kathryn Schulz: Don’t regret regret | Talk Video |


19 03 2015

The best thing about parenthood (apart from all the practice beforehand) is that you get to boast about all the achievements your kids have. They’re not your own, for sure. Though biologically the children are “half you”, the input they receive from education, society in general and who knows what other stimuli more than outweighs the input you have into who they become. The achievements are theirs alone. Their mistakes you can take blame for though. 😉

I am very proud of all three of our offspring. They’re all very different, and way more rounded individuals than I could possibly have hoped for. They’re each very broad-minded, caring, sensitive and thoughtful. In short – all the things I am not.

Number one offspring is just finishing off her Life Sciences degree at Waterloo University out in still-frigid Ontario.

Wikipedia: University of Waterloo


It is a co-op course which meant it ran long, but she will graduate with some real-world work experience as well as a degree. (Useful things like dissecting rats and quality testing factory made pasta. Not at the same job, I hasten to say.) Plus a string of Dean’s Roll certificates to-boot. She’d skipped a grade when we moved from the UK, so the course running long was kind of absorbed in that. To say she’s focused would be like calling the sun “a bit bright”. She’s the type of personality that is gutted by a 99% mark… for getting one wrong. Again, nothing like me.

Anyway, today’s a great day. She’s finally heard that she’s been accepted into Waterloo’s school of optometry. They have an inhuman application process that culminates in announcing the results “some time in March”. This forces all the candidates to fret all day every day in March until the school deigns to publish the results online. Couple that with “the system” being down for hours on end here and there. Stress on a stick, I think you’d agree. And normal studies are still on-going during this. You’ve still not quite finished your degree.

Today she finally breathed again. And I get to be even more proud of the achievements she’s attained. Oh, and my promised fishing lodge – when she makes her first million – is one step closer…

Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science

Grouse Ascent 2015 No. 1

18 03 2015

Route: BCMC Trail

Time: 1:25 (unofficial – GG timer not available)

Bunked off work a bit early and got there dead on 5pm. Car-park was empty. So much so, they’d fenced off the overflow car-park altogether. The resort must really be hurting by insisting that the Grouse Grind remain closed “due to current conditions”. For Pete’s sake…

Some community-minded soul had wedged open the gate and a couple with the obligatory large dog were warming up and stretching as I arrived. I’ve suffered a lot less leg cramp on runs since a great friend had recommended this stretching nonsense, so I too began my cursory regime of calf stretches – more for show and to fool myself into thinking it helps. At this point a red-coated Grouse Mountain Resort employee stomped over to the gate and slammed it shut. The lady with the hound asked why, and he grumpily pointed at the many yellow placards loudly declaring that the Grouse Grind is still shut due to “current conditions”. Completely unruffled, the couple descended the steps over the little bridge and began to walk the 15m to the end of the fence to enter via the completely un-gated alternative route. Assuming I would also take this route, I continued my stretching as a couple of Asian ladies approached the gate and called to a bloke on the inside who was still performing his own elaborate pre-Grind regime. He happily opened the gate from the inside and all three of us began our hikes. The ladies were indeed doing the Grouse Grind, but I set off on the BCMC Trail via the BP Trail. After about 20 minutes I was over-taken by the couple with the Cerberus wannabe, so I guess they went a really long way around the fence!

The BCMC is always a lot quieter than the rat race up the Grind, but out of season and close to dusk it was delightfully empty.

Around the 3/4 mark there was a definite shift in the temperature and though there was no low cloud and lovely glimpses of the sun reflecting off Howe Sound through the trees, it was definitely a lot cooler. I was glad I had my MEC fleece jumper in my rucksack, though I didn’t need it until I’d actually got to the top. The “current conditions” were absolutely fine. Admittedly the top 1/4 was still pretty wet from snow melt, but it was perfectly safe, and I imagine the Grind was just the same. I totally support areas being closed off for safety concerns, but this seemed to be nothing more than an economic decision. A bad one at that. Closing the main entrance to the Grouse hikes was dissuading people from hiking up and spending cash at the top. Presumably in the mistaken belief that they’d be forced to pay to ride the gondola instead. Nope – they just stay home.

At the top, I had the best laugh yet. Though the impressive looking chain-linked fence and gate at the bottom seem to deter most people from hiking up (those that can’t be bothered to walk the 15m or so to circumvent this stupidity), at the top, they relied on a particularly large yellow “closed” placard and a single hurdle – like the kind you’d use for crowd control at a public event.

Eastern Fence: Barrier

Yup – that should work! No attempt at all to fence off the myriad of other trails that go down the Grouse though. Bizarre. Sadly, its apparent effectiveness goes to show just how unimaginative most Grouse Grinders really are. They do it for “the time” or whatever, not for the joy of hiking the mountain. Let’s face it, if they did… they’d never choose the Grind. It’s got to be the least scenic hike in BC!

The chalet was empty. Probably no more than 20 people in it. They’d even closed off the main restaurant part. It was a bad ski season this last winter, but by unnecessarily keeping the Grouse hikes closed they must be haemorrhaging money. There was no snow anywhere at the top, except bizarrely for a little bit around the ice rink – presumably shipped in from elsewhere for effect. There were puddles on the rink. Temperature was ~12C today.

I was the only one waiting for the gondola down, and they were making the one girl do everything – check people in and ride shotgun up/down. I asked her if it was individual limousine service this evening, but a handful of others arrived before we actually descended. There was even a couple of kids with their mum – they’d apparently just had a skiing lesson, so I guess the snow blowers installed for the 2010 Winter Olympics are being put to good use on at least one of the runs.

I quite enjoyed pretty much having the mountain to myself. It’ll be in contrast to the merciless pounding it’ll receive when the Grind officially opens and the hoi palloi descend in droves.


The thing about unconscious bias…

16 03 2015

… is that you don’t know you’re doing it!

Google chairman gets called out for cutting off a woman while talking about diversity.

Mashable: Eric Schmidt

Kudos to Judith Williams, who heads up Google’s unconscious bias program for calling out her own boss Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt as well as Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson for continually interrupting the United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith in a SXSW Interactive panel discussion.

The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

15 03 2015

What ever happened to Roger Waters?

Years ago, a great friend of mine asked if I wanted a CD of an album that he just couldn’t “get on with”. We were both Pink Floyd fans (indeed he even got to see them live), and this was a solo album by Roger Waters – The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking.

Wikipedia: The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

I’ve learnt over the intervening three decades that it is definitely a divisive album. Even those that love The Floyd and even Waters generally can have polarised views on this particular album. He sketched it out alongside The Wall in the late 70s and offered the band one, the other was to be a solo project. It took him until 1984 to finish it.

Even the cover is controversial. The more keen observers will note that the naked woman has been relieved of her face, and arguably then further objectified. The really keen observers will note she’s on the right of the road making her likely a hitcher in the UK, facing traffic driving on the left.

Love it or hate it, it’s a clever concept album. Each track is titled with a time (in realtime if you’re an insomniac) as the narrator spends a sleepless night having various dreams and recollecting his fears, memories and thoughts of adultery.

There are really strong saxophone and guitar elements from  David Sanborn and Eric Clapton. That said, I was personally drawn by the typically clever Waters lyrics. The guy can be provocative for sure, but he can tell a story and wields words with the grace and precision of any master painter.

And she smiled as she finished her sandwich
And her cold eyes fixed me to my dark history
As she brushed the remains
Of our love from the bed


Fixed on the front of her Fassbinder face
Was the kind of a smile
That only a rather dull child could have drawn


You adopted a fox cub
Whose mother was somebody’s coat


Hamish the Hooligan and other Gen. Zers

15 03 2015

I’m a regular listener to CBC’s Radio 1. It’s broadly similar to the UK’s Radio 4, though I listen to it much more than I ever did to Radio 4. Perhaps it’s a sign of old age. Extensive research on my part has confirmed that the calendar does seem to inexorably advance a whole day every 24 hours or so. The waistband on my trousers seems to shrink too, I’ve noticed. You’d think these days they’d have figured out a way to stop that happening…

Of course my listening to Radio 1 it could also be a testament to the low quality of alternatives on the airwaves. The CBC, like the BBC is advert free and therefore owed much tolerance for that blessing alone. Depending whether I have early morning con-calls with Europe, my drive to work can begin at quite  a variable time each day. Often though, I catch a current affairs programme called “The Current”. Despite the annoying assumption that the vast country of Canada is irrelevant once you’re outside the Greater Toronto Area, it does have some thought-provoking issues discussed.

This last week there was an episode dedicated to “Generation Z”. This is the current batch of late teenagers, also known as “post-millennials”. To be honest, I could only listen to part of it before I arrived at work, but click on the photo below to stream the entire episode if you’re interested.

CBC: Generation Z on The Current

Despite only hearing a portion of the piece, I’d heard enough to confirm my opinion. No matter how much the marketing engine would like us to believe otherwise, teenagers of any generation are not unique. They are in fact just the same as teenagers of any other generation. Sure “times, they are a-changin’” and the opportunities to monumentally screw up are arguably wider with every generation, but then so are the opportunities to do profound good.

Teenagers have felt misunderstood and alienated since well before the word “teenager” was coined in the 40’s by Reader’s Digest. Go watch Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet if you doubt me. Or West Side Story or even China Girl if you prefer a more modern rendition. In fact Shakespeare was something of an expert on teenagers. Check out Twelfth Night (She’s the Man) or Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You). In fact who’s to say the invention of the wheel wasn’t due to some prehistoric caveteen trying to leave home (again) because his parents just didn’t get him/her?

So anyway, convenient though it is to believe each generation is somehow unique, I’m afraid my own opinion is that each generation is simply a reflection of its time. Not surprisingly I’m often annoyed at my teenage son’s love affair with video games. I suspect it’s actually more envy on my part that he has way more choice than the single “Pong” option I had at his age… though Space Invaders was around by the time I was in my gap year, with Galaxian being widely available by the time I graduated. He’s also a caring, considerate individual when it suits him, and on balance I think he turned out quite well considering he was stuck with me as half of his parenting team.

He’s just spent a week or so of Spring Break with one of his sisters in Montreal, and by all accounts they’ve had a great time snow-tubing (it’s still well below zero out east), hanging out and being “Generation Z”. More interestingly, they visited the anthropology museum and much to my student daughter’s chagrin, he was loathe to leave until he’d thoroughly digested each and every fact on the notice boards. Yup, my video game playing 16 year old son was more interested in the anthropology museum than my anthropology-studying daughter. Don’t go making assumptions I think is the lesson.

Which brings me to Friday evening. Having just got back from the gym, I harnessed up the dog to take her for a spin around the estate. I was still in my running gear, with a lightweight rain jacket. Mrs E had decided to join us, and off we set around the environs. Approaching on the other side of the road was a group of 3 late teenage boys. Laughing and in good spirits, they were a tad rowdy, but nothing offensive or bothersome. The leading lad started to jump up in an attempt to grab one of the low-hanging branches of the crescent’s many cherry blossom trees. In itself, this wasn’t anything of particular note. I remember seeing how high up I could reach on lamp posts as a kid. However, on the third or fourth attempt, he succeeded in grabbing the branch. At this point, he grabbed it with both hands and started very deliberately pulling and twisting it with the obvious intent of snapping off the limb.

With three decades of experience as a Scout Leader, dealing with teenagers and reasoning with their better nature, I of course interjected. Ha! Training be buggered – I yelled “Oi! Stop that,  you bloody hooligan!”

Mrs E was horrified at my interjection and tried to get me to disengage. Her fear was grounded in several reports of “older men” being set upon by youths both in the UK and here in BC. I justified myself by misquoting some old statement about “evil only needing good men to do nothing”, and thankfully the yobbo let go after one of his oppos yelled “leave it Hamish, leave it alone”. This avoided me having to decide whether to press my position any further.

I was a little taken aback by the aforementioned Hamish then spouting a load of bad English (though Mrs E claims Australian) stereotypes of the “gor blimey mate” variety. After 15 years here I consider myself Canadian and sometimes quite forget how I must sound to others. The joke of course being that I have a quite distinct Yorkshire accent that to those of a more cosmopolitan outlook than poor stoned Hamish would easily identify as being neither cockney nor antipodean. I suspect, given his name, his own parents or perhaps grandparents might even be recent immigrants from Scotland.

My forceful insistence that perhaps he might like to go forth and multiply (in the shortened Anglo-Saxon form) caused his lieutenant to even more urgently suggest he might like to call it a day and continue on their way, which thankfully he did. Number three shuffled along and didn’t seem to be engaged in anything at all. As we rounded the bend, a fourth member of the hop-head crew was stood in the gutter, long-board tilted under his foot, studiously messing with his iPod and blaring music to the neighbourhood. Hamish’s insistence that “Ivan” hurry up and join them provided his name also. Plainly this was not a hardened criminal gang by any measure. 🙂

I was angry at the wanton damage to the lovely tree, especially given that several young saplings have been completely destroyed in our local park. I felt it was not negotiable that I should intervene. Mrs E had a much more sanguine concern for our safety in the presence of four much younger lads of dubious intellect and reason. Oddly, I didn’t feel any fear. To me they weren’t being aggressive, despite the damage. They were bored.

They were Generation Z. And arguably they were representative of Generation Z. Not because they were causing damage – that has been the place of bored teenagers since before Roman times.

Wikipedia: Ancient Pompeii graffito caricature of a politician

No they were Generation Z purely because they were teenagers. Labelled not due to any particular trait but because of when they were born. They weren’t “bad lads” as my dad used to say. One made a brief bad choice. He was easily dissuaded by one of his friends. Who knows, he may go on to become a leading member of society. Or he could after all turn out really bad and become a lawyer. Either way, it has little to do with when he was born and what label demographers gave him.

An Embuggerance

12 03 2015

An Embuggerance indeed.

BBC News – Obituary: Sir Terry Pratchett.

Rest in Peace, you wonderful, creative man.

As quoted by Aunty Beeb:

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2009 he was sanguine about his prospects.

“I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod, the latter because Thomas’s music could lift even an atheist a little bit closer to Heaven.

Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’ “

Witticisms from his books would keep us here all night, so let’s just end with:

“Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you”; Terry Pratchett – Small Gods

Jean Vanier wins Templeton Prize

12 03 2015

Jean Vanier, Canadian advocate for mentally disabled people, wins $1.7M Templeton Prize – World – CBC News.

Jean Vanier, Canadian advocate for mentally disabled people, wins class=" " .7M Templeton Prize - World - CBC News


I caught this story on the news last night.
Vanier, founded the first L’Arche community in 1964 when he invited two mentally disabled men to leave their large institution and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, near Paris.
There are now well over 100 L’arche communities in tens of countries – all celebrating our shared humanity.


Coincidentally, I also saw this heart-warming news article yesterday.

Basketball players defend a bullied cheerleader with Down syndrome


The most promising thing about it was the age of the three basketball players. Their maturity and willingness to take a stance on the bullying of young cheerleader Desiree Andrews was most encouraging.