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The bear went up the mountain April 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, explore, language, life, world.
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After two-and-a-half hours of hiking, the top of Roy\'s Peak looked as far away as ever...

I regret to announce: “Exploratorium” will be no more.

But don’t worry, I’m not giving up my blog. You see, I’ve recently received a letter from the legal owners of the copyrighted name “Exploratorium”, and they don’t want to share. Apparently, people can own words these days. So, I will be changing my blog name shortly to something new.

The trouble is, I’m having difficulty imagining a new name, so I’m hoping you can help me. I’d like it to have something to do with exploring, seeing, and adventuring. I want to see what I can see.

I remember my grandmother singing that song, “The bear went up the mountain”, and to me it expresses something essential about exploring. I think that bear went up the mountain, not because he needed to conquer or own the mountain, but just because he wanted to have a good view.

Yes, I made it to the top of Roy\'s Peak, and here\'s the proof!

And I’ve been lucky enough to not only see some gorgeous mountains, but I’ve actually climbed to the top of a few (small) ones. I’ve stood on the second-highest peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine, and crossed the alpine zone at the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont (and, no, I didn’t take the ski lift from the Stowe resort on the other side).

One of the most difficult climbs — to the top of Roy’s Peak in New Zealand — looked the easiest, but that long winding track took hours of hard slogging! In the first photo I’ve posted, we’re already half-a-day into the hike, and the peak looks no closer than when we started… (You can see a tiny pole, high over our heads? Well, that’s the one I’m standing beside in the photo to the left.)

Roy's Peak path

Anyway, that’s all to say that I’ve got to have a reason to climb the mountain, and not just because it’s there. I knew that the view would be incredible; I wanted to see the snow covered peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park and the deep blue bays of Lake Wanaka from the best vantage point around, and I wanted that view enough to work hard (and almost quit several times) in order to get there. I think it was worth it… although I have to admit that if I knew how hard it would be, I might not have attempted it!

Mount Aspiring view

So, now I’m beginning to see this loss of my initial blog title as a chance to really describe my feeling of “wanting to know, wanting to see, wanting to describe the world”. And how on earth do I express all that in a blog title?


Just browsing: on books & the internet April 10, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in books, communication, consumer, internet, language, learn, life, technology.
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booklover's dream

My visit to a bookstore yesterday has me questioning one of my assumptions about myself: that I love books.

Well, I do genuinely love the idea of books, the musty smell of a three-story used bookstore, the crisp riffle of freshly printed pages, the way that soft-shelled penguin paperback opens at random when you drape it over your hand… One of my fantasy rooms is a library with tall windows, a comfy chair, and walls lined with books on every subject (I’m undecided as to whether there should be a butler carrying in a glass of sherry in the mid-afternoon).

I’ve read quite a few books — besides the required school textbooks, I’ve read lots of science fiction, mysteries, biographies, short stories and Canadiana, along with classics such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Homer’s The Odyssey. But, increasingly, I tend to pick up books that look intriguing, but then I don’t get around reading them, or I start and don’t finish (with the exception of mysteries, where sometimes I’ll skip the middle part and rush through to the end so I can get to sleep before 2 a.m.).

So there I was yesterday, leafing through a sale copy of John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World — and thinking, oh, how interesting — when suddenly I stopped and said sternly to myself, “Myself, you are not going to read that book. You are going to leaf through it, dip into a few chapters, then put it aside until you have more time, which will likely be never.”

Alas, another fantasy smashed on the cold tile floor in the kitchen of logic. I felt a sense of loss, then wondered if the internet is to blame.

Because I do read more than ever if you count the internet. I read constantly online, or perhaps I should say I mostly “scan”, because I only stop to read more than a few words when I find something that truly catches my imagination. And, all too often, I even put off that reading to “another time”, bookmarking the page for more leisurely digestion when I can give it my full attention.

Except it appears that I have no, uh… what was I saying? Oh yes, no attention span; it seems to have evaporated. Yet can I legitimately blame the internet for its ability to provide instant information and make me too impatient to bother reading a book?

The surveyors of society are currently claiming that the reading of books is increasing, not decreasing, notwithstanding the naysayers and Steve Jobs’ recent comment (“the fact is that people don’t read anymore”). I would say that about half the people I see riding the subway or in waiting rooms are reading.

So what do you think: are you reading less? Or are you just reading differently?

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Related Links:
Newsweek: “The Future of Reading”
Guardian UK: “Dawn of the Digital Natives”
New York Times: “Book Lust”

Earth Hour: a drop or a sea change? March 28, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, energy, environment, language, nature, technology, world.
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Lights around the world - image from Inhabitat

Lights out for Earth Hour. That’s the message circling around the globe as we speak, as the clock ticks down to the action hour: 8 p.m. on March 29. Organizers are hoping that millions of people around the world will participate, turning off lights and other electrical appliances not in use.

This worldwide light-switch flipping won’t be as dramatic as it sounds — even from the vantage of the International Space Station — since 8 p.m. arrives at a different time in each time zone. (And in case you were wondering about the image above that I gleaned from Inhabitat, it’s obviously not a satellite image, because only half the world should be in darkness at one time. But I digress…)

Earth Hour logoParticipating cities will include: Bangkok, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Fiji, Halifax, Manila, Montreal, San Juan, Scott Base (Antarctica), Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. With a couple of exceptions, these cities ring the centre of the planet, representing the most densely populated and richest countries.

There are two key objectives for Earth Hour. The first is to engage as many households, communities and business to turn off their lights for one hour on March 29. The second objective is to measure the change in our greenhouse gas emissions over the following 12 months, aiming for a reduction in the year following Earth Hour. The website estimates that if the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney during that hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.

Earth Hour is turning out to be a major public-relations coup for the organizers — it’s backed by the World Wildlife Fund — and provides a positive outlet for society’s current need to “do something” about the environment. What could be simpler than turning off your lights for an hour, on a weekend, in early evening?

I support this idea in principle, but I can’t help asking questions:

  • Will this action make a difference? In terms of the actual effect of turning off lights, the net environmental benefit will be a drop in the bucket compared to overall power usage. Still, when Earth Hour got its start (with participation of an estimated 2 million people plus businesses) last year in Sydney, Australia, power consumption dropped about 10 percent over the course of the hour. That may be small change in terms of power consumption, but that’s big change in terms of participation.
  • Are participants pawns in a play for government funding? The fact is, climate change affects everyone, but it is too big for us to act alone; we need governments as well as people to commit themselves to change. A collective action can be stronger than a vote, especially if a higher percentage of people participate in Earth Hour than voted in the last federal election. That should help move environmental issues to the top of the political agenda.
  • Why should I bother when my arrogant neighbours will be acting selfishly by [fill in the blank]? If you’ve ever had the experience of picking up trash only to find someone littering behind you, you will probably have asked yourself this question. Everyone has a different answer. All I can say is, any small thankless task that you do that makes the world — even momentarily — a better place inspires me to act for the greater good as well.
  • What will make this tiny drop in the ocean — environmentally speaking — into a sea change of behavioural difference? The act of turning off a light is largely symbolic, especially if people spend their Earth Hour by watching TV in the dark. But awareness is only the first step; Earth Hour participants are encouraged to take part in longer-term changes, and pledge to take actions to reduce their daily energy consumption. With all the eco-friendly information available now, there’s an action for everyone, no matter what your interests.

When I stop to think about it, there are lots of ways I can support the Earth Hour campaign. It will be a great time to take an extended walk with the dog, and if the city lights are dimmer, maybe we’ll see some stars.

In the end, Earth Hour is an opportunity for each of us to act, to educate ourselves, and to remember that we are not alone — that our consumer choices and energy spendthrift ways will eventually affect someone else, somewhere else. And for me, that’s the most compelling reason to take part.

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Related Links:
Earthhour homepage
Toronto Star: Earth Hour special section

Time: “Earth Hour ’08: Will it matter?”

Imagining the world March 19, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in art, communication, creativity, diversity, explore, language, learn, life, science, technology.
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Twisted Conditions, ©2007 by Cesar Hidalgo

New discoveries are always the top of my news reading. Every explorer, scientist, and researcher is out to discover something, whether it’s an archeological “find”, a new biological species, or a technological advance.

Discovery is what makes science interesting for me, because I can continue to “discover” so many new things for myself. I’m particularly fascinated how innovation and imagination work together in the realm of science, not only in generating a hypothesis but also in providing the means to prove or disprove it. My own theory is that little would be discovered at all without imagination and its cousin curiosity.

I have no doubt that factors such as knowledge, discipline, training, persistence and painstaking tracking of detail — and heaps of previous failed experiments — make up 99% of the work of science. But it’s the accidents, the leaps of imagination, the long-hoped-for but unexpected breakthroughs that will be remembered.

Please Listen To Me, ©2006 by Zach Vitale

As a trained musician who has given piano lessons to students from age 5 to age 75, I am intrigued by the human ability to make a leap from the known to the unknown.

The inter-related skills of playing a musical instrument — note-reading, coordination of eye and hands, strengthening fingers and learning fine motor control, developing tactile memory, practicing patterns of movement, using hearing to provide corrective feedback, learning the mechanical abilities and limitations of the instrument, reproducing written notation in terms of time and volume — these skills can be learned by almost anybody.

But the difficult point for many students, especially the older ones, is learning how to trust these skills, to step back, as it were, from the complex task and just play. When all these skills come together under their creative control, when the person playing the piano can listen to the whole sound and “feel” the notes forming under their fingers, then music is the result.

When I taught piano lessons, I tried to describe this leap of trust in terms of driving a car. I remember my early lessons, my nervousness, and how I was paralyzed in the middle of a road once because I couldn’t figure out how to flick on my turning signal, apply the brake, check the mirror and turn the steering wheel all at the same time. Yet now I can do all these (and many more complex) tasks at once without thinking about more than the single act of “turning the car”.

Circuit Board Butterfly #16, ©2006 by Laura Hewitt

Imagination is important for me in almost every area of learning. When someone at work asks for help with a computer problem I have never seen before, I can often use my imagination to “intuit” the solution. When I have a difficult task or conversation ahead of me, I depend on my imagination to “visualize” a successful outcome. And when I plan my holidays (or daydream about being on holiday), I use my imagination to “picture” being in a wonderful environment. And I’m trying to use my imagination to leap that gap between my French lessons and the ability to think and speak in French, but I haven’t succeeded… yet!

Innovative thinking and imagination — the ability to see beyond a complex problem to an exciting solution — this is where science and the arts meet.

All images from the Digital ’07 Art Exhibition “Pattern Finding” organized by Art and Science Collaborations, Inc (ASCI).

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Related Links:
The Seed: “The future of science… is it art?”
NewScientist: “The art of science”
Art and Imagination
Art and science