Monday, December 24, 2012

The End of Growth, Jeff Rubin

Mayan predicted December 21, 2012 to be the end of the world.  They were not the first to herald apocalypse.  According to wikipedia there are 150 predictions of the end of the world prior to the Mayan's. Some predict a clash of Earth with obscure objects in the milky-way will end it all others predict that there will be a nuclear war.  Despite radically different ways each predict the world will end, there is one common theme: life on Earth as we know it today will dramatically change. Thankfully none of these predictions have rung true. 
But, we cannot deny the gradual shift that has been happening over the past two decades in the world.  The world reached its 7 billionth inhabitant in 2011.  How can the definite resources sustain the indefinite growth?
Jeff Rubin's The End of Growth explains the changes in the context of oil possession, consumption and acquisition.  The appetite for oil has been on the rise and so has its price, from $20 a barrel to $120, the oil price have been steadily rising.  Rubin argues the world's dependency on oil is at the root of most political unrest, long term wars and foreign interventions in domestic politics of oil rich countries. While we can control the amount of energy we consume or conserve, we tend to see, most governments shift towards consumption of energy.  But, reducing the oil consumption is not an impossible tasks.  Rubin talks about how Danes curbed their appetite for oil and the consequence of that is "rosy-cheeked, good-looking Danes peddling around he city".  What Danes have done is: they have shown to the world that it is possible to reduce the dependency on oil and still have a healthy, prosper society.
Although the book looks at issues concerning energy and economic growth at the macro level, it also provokes readers to think about their own energy footprint.  I know that I will be buying more local food, use more public transportation, and ride my bike more often.
The only thing I wish the book had more of is Canadian content.  There is only one chapter, "Keystone Conundrum", on the situation of connecting the oil in Alberta to refineries.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jean-Dominique Bauby - Le scaphandre et le papillon

I have read and heard a dozen stories about the strength of human spirit but Jean-Dominique Bauby's, (23 April 1952 – 9 March 1997)), story trumped them all.
The movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", (Le scaphandre et le papillion), masterfully directed by Julian Schnabel is based on Jean-do's, as he was called by his close friends and family, life after he was diagnosed by a very rare condition of locked-in syndrome.  The illness took away all sense and mobility and left him with one motion, a blink of one eye.  His fully functional brain grasped all the stimulus in his surrounding but was unable to react to it.
His life pre-stroke, masterfully shown by image flash backs through out the movie, is one filled with richness, and glamor of an editor of the famous French fashion magazine, Elle.  The movie is artfully showing the life of an artist whose imagination is strong enough to create despite his inertia!

His nurse, a gorgeous looking woman full of life and compassion, so ironic and appropriate for a man who has been surrounded and involved with beautiful women day in day out, is his last muse.  Through her, he writes a book in the most unconventional way, using partner assisted scanning or listener assisted scanning, a technique used for a person with severe speech impairment to communicate.
The movie became a favorite in the award circles the year it was released, 2007.  It was nominated for 4 Oscars, and won the award for best director at Cannes and best foreign movie at Golden Globes.
C'est magnifique!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

In the pages between one cover to the other nothing much happens but everything that can happen in life, birth, death, graduation, wedding, and so much more.  The book is meticulously detailed; it's 500 pages!  The language is simple and empty of metaphors.  The story is crowded with people; events in the lives of two families, Rommely and Nolan occupies most of the pages; and there are a bunch of other people, like Sissy's Johns, teachers, visitors, neighbors who enter and exit the story. 

Dear Francie Nolan,
   It was nice meeting you.  I am also an avid reader.  But, Francie, how could you read one book a day?  In all these years I have read, the fastest I was able to finish was to read this book in two and half days.  You are right though, librarians should show more interest in us.  They have a grand opportunity to spend their day amongst books and know so much about them.  So sharing a bit of their happiness and knowledge with others is seriously not too much to ask.
I admire your perseverance Francie.  Your school was a scary place.  How could a teacher possibly ignore your request to let you go to the washroom?  That's just plain wrong and mean too.  And to let those other girls and boys to go out during the class is just favorism.  Good for you to find yourself a different place, a nicer place to get your education.
You are a lucky kid, Francie.  Your dad, despite his dependencies, was a gentle, kind man.  Oh how he tried to be a good dad.  I laughed with you when he fell in the water.  You kids must have found it hilarious.  Good for you not to laugh in his face.  He was a proud man.  He never wanted to drink so much.  But he was not strong to face life.  All the while he was hurting and hurting badly.  He thought he was not a good father for you and Neeley.  That's why when he heard of the third being on its way he solemnly decided to change.  Pity, his attempt to change ended so badly.  I wish I had known him for a bit longer.  I wish he had stayed.  I just loved his character so much.  You know Francie I think you have so much of your Dad in you; your imagination for one.  You would have become the biggest liar if you had not listened to your English teacher's advice to write. :) 
All the strength your dad lacked your mom had.  She was the woman of steel.  She had the courage to pull the trigger on that pervert.  And you know what, don't blame her for knowing everything --being a wise one.  You are becoming one too.  And you don't want your child, cause I am sure you will be a mother one day, to hate you for it.  Most women have this trait.  It's called intuition.  Embrace it, Francie!
Having two charismatic aunts, Sissy and Evy, is a blessing.  I never had one.  Thanks for sharing their stories, Francie.  But, in all honesty, did Sissy's "John", Steve, really believed that the little baby was his?  It was a bit too much to believe that she was pregnant, despite showing no physical sign of it.
You had a good life. And I had a good time reading about your life.  As you turn around to depart Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by the way your love for Brooklyn inspires me to visit it, and as you say good bye to your old self, I believe so much of what you will become in the future will be because of the Francie you are saying good-bye to.  I want to know the rest of your story; I want to know what happened to Laurie.  Did she become a spoiled brat?!  Yes, you and Neeley had a good life.  I, too, feel sorry for Laurie who cannot take in the pleasures of having a hot chocolate with marshmallow, a special treat, in life.
Good-bye Francie!  Have a good life!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Can't connect to WiFi?!

The other day at the gym, the T.V. was on BNN channel and they were discussing Apple's iphone 5.  The two news reporters were impressed by the gadget's features; while expressing their fondness for various features of the phone they kept incorrectly interchanging Internet with WiFi.  
Internet is not the same as WiFi!
It is incorrect to say we [cannot] connect to WiFi.  We can connect to Internet, a group of computers connected together, via WiFi, technology that allows any computer with wireless network interface controller to connect to another through radio frequency and without using any wire.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Digital History

I am having second thoughts.  I am still interested in learning about the discoveries and inventions of the 21st century and relating them to those of the past two centuries.  But I am afraid it may require spending many hours sitting in front of the computer.  And I already exceed the healthy limit of  using a computer. 
History as I know it, written in books and shelved in libraries, doesn't exist any more.  In my local library, which has a large collection of books covering many areas of science and technology, I could only find two books relevant to the invention I wanted to write about, the World Wide Web, one of which was written for kids.

I dread googling.  I anticipate more than 100+ pages of information and no matter how much I narrow the search, I still will have many pages to go through to find authentic information.  A few years back I heard encyclopedia stopped publishing the hard copy of version of the book.  That's a pity!  I wonder if I can find what I am looking for in the digital version of encyclopedia, and I wonder if accessing this information is free of charge.  Wikipedia is another place.  Unfortunately, my list ends here.  I guess as I look for information I will develop a knack for searching for information in the 21st century.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Observation: Are we better or worse off in the 21 century

Look at all we have accomplished, it is incredible when we look back at how far we have come along. 
We have managed to discover and name diseases such as cancer, and aids that didn't exist in the past centuries.  We have welcomed variety of electronic devices into our lives and as a result we have managed to have less time to spend with each other.  We now use "smart" as an adjective to describe objects, e.g. smart grid and as a result see the need for smart person diminish, use "big" as an adjective to describe data, e.g. big data.  Being in the cloud is no longer considered to be removed from reality, instead doing business in the cloud has become a trend.

As we are closing in on the second decade of twenty first century, I am interested in high lighting the significant inventions that are differentiate setters for the future generation similar to advent of penicillin in the 20th century.  I'd be posting them here interleaved with the usual content of book reviews. If you stop by and are reading this and have a favorite 21st century invention you can leave me a note here. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I've Got Your Number

How can one ever be sure if the other is the right person for her?  Persumably no one wants to intentionally hurt the other person.  No one wants to live a miserable time. Yet it happens often.  Is it because we chicken out and suppress our true feelings, and instead try to learn to live with them; or we try to become a different person; or we are convinced to make compromises?  When should it set the alarm bells ringing?

Luckily in Kinsella's latest novel, I've Got Your Number, such story is narrated with such lightheartedness and hilarious tone with best possible ending one could hope for.  Kinsella is a believer of good heart no matter how stupid, foolish and naive it will make the protagonist look.

Poppy Wyatt is a perky physiotherapist who is faced with the unthinkable.   Weeks before her wedding she looses her engagement ring.  An emerald ring surrounded with 4 carat diamonds, taken out of family safe and presented to her by her fiance Magnus Tavish.  She cannot seem to bring herself to tell the truth to Magnus and his family and this brings about the most creative and hilarious ways of hiding and diverting the attention of all while she is frantically looking for the ring.  (Un)Luckily her cell phone is stolen and she cannot seem to find or think of a better way other than grabbing a cell-phone out of a bin --after all what is in the bin is considered "unwanted" trash and considered public property.  Therefore no need to worry about turning it in or trying to find its owner.  And even in the likely event of its owner, Sam Roxton, locating her; she convinces him that the cell should stay with her, at least for a while _PLEASE_ until her ring turns up.  And she promises Sam Roxton to forward all company e-mail, voice mail and other correspondences to him on time and in orderly fashion. Needless to say this sharing of information sets the story for a very interesting turn of events. 

Like when Poppy is visiting the in-laws, Antony and Wanda Tavish, the genius people, completely in a different league than her, and she feels inferior, and intimidated by them; not being able to say anything clever.  But, when it is scrabble time and Poppy after a disappointing start, PIG, is able to play 70 points words, thanks to words Sam texts her. 

These two keep helping each other out, or they think that they do.  I laughed my socks off when Poppy tries to mend Sam's aloof image with his colleagues by sending Lindsay a bouquet of flowers and signing her birthday card with zillion 'x'-s.  Or sends an eulogy poem to Chloe who is grieving for her dog.  Sam in return help Poppy to face up the challenge and not to avoid confrontation all the time.  Really good lesson that I needed.  Poppy and I share this attribute.  I hate confronting people and avoid it like a plague.

Read the book.  It won't be a let down.

Characters in the order of appearance:
Poppy Wyatt     ......  The bride-to-be
Sam Roxton    .......   The other guy
Magnus Tavish  ......  The groom-to-be
Felix     Tavish   ......  Magnus' brother, the guy who saves the day
Wanda Tavish   ......   Magnus' mother
Antony Tavish   ......  Magnus' father

Friday, June 29, 2012

The House I Loved

I like a book that presents a challenge to the reader, a challenge to understand the protagonist, the scheme and the story. This book is a super easy read. You can still read it and know what the story is about even if you are multi-tasking.

"[wikipedia] Haussmann's renovation of Paris commissioned by Napoleon III and led by Saine prefect Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann between 1853 - 1870 comprised of modernizing all aspects of life in the city and the surroundings, sewers, water works, public parks, building facades, and etc. Haussmann's vision of Paris was widely criticized during his time. He restructured Paris from a city of irregular, narrow, and medieval alleys to wide avenues and more open spaces. His restructuring of Paris gave the city its present form; its long, straight, wide boulevards with their caf├ęs and shops determined a new type of urban scenario and have had a profound influence on the everyday lives of Parisians. In order to give Paris its present shape many houses, shops, and even churches had to be destroyed to make way for the boulevards and open spaces. [wikipedia]"

Rose Bazalet's receives a letter from Prefect's office informing her of imminent destruction of her house to make way for the St-Germain Boulevard. Her very short, 4/5 pages==one chapter, quest to save her house falls flat and she resorts to writing her memories to her beloved husband who has died years ago. Unfortunately, except for maybe one, there are NOT many events in her life that would keep the reader anxious to read on. There are interesting characters: Rose's exotic mother, the ragpicker: Gilbert, and the flower girl Alexandrin but they all stay in safe and confined chapters of the book and never get to play a role in shaping the story.
There are very abrupt, unstructured and not well researched references to Paris during that historic time but just not enough to make it memorable in the readers mind.

I saw this book in the top ten National Bestsellers list and given that I absolutely LOVED de Rosnay's past book, Sarah's Key, I dashed to read it. It is far from what I expected.
By the way today the St-Germain-de-Pres is one of the most beautiful parts, as seen by Parisians and visitors alike, of the city. So, I can't even identify with the protagonist's motive to save her house.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moonwalking With Einstein

Have we reached the end of remembering? Looks like with all the memory applications and tools available, remembering stuff is beginning to feel like a thing of the past. We barely need to memorize anything anymore; information that we would have had otherwise remembered is indexed and available on-line. To retrieve we need to type keywords. Sometimes we don't need to spend much time to think the right keywords because the auto-fill function of the search engine suggests those to us, and nine out of ten the suggested words are and work better than the ones we would have spent ~10-15 minutes thinking up!
As we rely more on such techniques we loose the ability to think and remember. Pretty much everyone I talked to, while reading this book, was not happy with his or her memory. One person called her memory, ephemeral! :)
Some think this is due to information overload. That we have too much to remember, so we have to learn how to be selective and remember the important things.
I really don't care how much overloaded my brain is, I just want it to keep vital information safely and make it available to me when I need it. I jump out of my chair numerous times on a daily basis searching my bag frantically to ensure that I still have my bus pass, or my house key is where I "think" I have last seen it, or my cell phone is still around. I am lost without the contact list stored on my phone.
Does this book help? Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer, the title is certainly confusing and I would be very interested to know what does moon walking with Einstein have to do with the science of memory.) is an interesting read. Mr. Foer's curiosity of memory athletes prompts him to take on the challenge to become one. In this book he shares his story of going from having an average memory to an exceptional one that awards him the title of the US Memory Champion. He interviews those who have made a name and fortune training people mind mapping and mental literacy, e.g. Tony Buzan. He meets with the man who can't forget and a man who can't remember and out of each discussion a couple of chapters filled with fun and informative facts about the evolution of science of memory comes about.
When I turned the last page, did I feel I have now learned techniques that help me to remember better? Yes! Simple and probably one that you, who have not read this book yet, may know already. And that is our brain remembers when in full cognitive consciousness, the techniques such as: memory palace, one the author talks about and uses to win the title of US Championship, is just one way of forcing the brain into the state of full cognitive consciousness.
Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Second Look at Regent Park - Jane's Walk 2012

It's Regent Park; one of the neighborhoods in old Toronto. It's got Canada's largest and oldest social housing project.  And it's now in its fifth year of fifteen year journey to be revitalized to a mixed income neighborhood. The profit from sale of 3000 condo units will pay to re-build the 2083 social housing units.

Regent Park was our destination on this years Jane's walk.  It was a bitter sweet walk. We witnessed the impact the revitalization has had on a community that up until recently was mainly concerned on how to stay afloat and alive.  In every building we stopped to listen to a resident or a group of residents anecdote. We heard stories of what Regent Park was and what it has become.  One thing has not changed: the love of the residents for their neighborhood.

The walk started at Daniels Corporation presentation center, 505 Dundas East.  Our first stop was 40 Oaks, one of the newly and renovated social housing buildings. The residents of 40 Oaks told us about the building amenities.  "It's when people come together, sit face to face, break bread, that the social stigmas are eliminated."  With these words by one of the executives of the 40 Oaks we started learning about many features of the building; the volunteer run kitchen, the Rogers dinning room, that many of the furniture was made from reclaimed material.  Take the beautifully designed ceiling lamps in the buildings peace, meditation and prayer chamber.  The glass in the chandeliers were collected from Harbourfront, washed, and polished.  The chamber will see its first wedding in June!

At the next stop our walking tour, Sima welcomed us to the Regent Park Arts Cultural Centre.  Ground has been broken and the structures of this three stories building has been put in place.  A couple of youth, members of the center, read us a poetry and sing us a rap song, both of them show off talents in context of their roots in the neighborhood.  Though the building is not complete but the pictures encourage us to dream big. The new center will be nothing but perfect.  It will cultivate art, and bring like minded people together, e.g. the Centre for Social Innovation Regent Park will occupy 10,000 square feet on the third floor of the new Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre. CSI Regent Park will become home to a diverse cross-section of social mission organizations and individuals who are coming together to share ideas, resources, advice and inspiration.

We continue our walk through the streets, and any moment we get, we stop to capture memories on photo.  I am excited, and filled with hope and wonder.  I wish all the behind-the-scenes hand and brains of this project the success they deserve.  Not only, I hope success for this fifteen years journey, but I hope the revitalized community is going to sustain itself after all the helping hands and external support, builders, leaders, and project managers, leave the community.  Meanwhile, I have been wearing "I <3 Regent Park" button since the walk to show my affinity to what could be the end of stigma stricken core downtown T.O.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Girls Fall Down

A group of young girls ride the train, having just left the park. They were having a conversation: "No, but I think monkeys are more morally superior than people, because monkeys don't use landmines and stuff, do they?" Zoe was saying, when they see the man; dirty, skinny sitting on the bench and talking to himself. Later, on the subway, they fall. And this is followed by a series of falling across town. Parents showing up at hospitals with sick kids. Middle-aged men with cases of cardiac episodes. But, the girls are aware of their unique position. They were the first who fell. They know more than anyone else.

Alex is on the same train. He gets off the train, pushes through people and gets to the street level quickly. He looses himself in the closest convenience store to pick up a disposable camera. He feels better with a camera in his hand. That's when he runs into Adrian, a friend/colleague from over a decade ago. Adrian tells him Susie-Paul is back in Toronto. "He would come when she called. Watch when she left. Lose her, lose his eyes. Lost the winter light, and end up with nothing." That's how Alex is when Susie-Paul is around.

Many things happen in this book. There is past, Susie and Chris while Alex watches their destructive relationship. There is present Alex fighting a sever case of diabetes, Susie-Paul looking for her schizophrenic brother, Derek, the fallen girls and a city shrouded in FEAR. And there is future, undecided, uncertain, and unclear.

Nouns and adjectives are well chosen. The book is well written. The streets are familiar. But the book falls short of telling a story. It is poetry written in prose with no definitive beginning no definitive end, but many middles.

Chosen as "Toronto One Book --Community Read of 2012", this book sets in Toronto subway. Ironically, I read most of the book on the subway.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A closet organization system: DIY or not?

Around this time of the year, Spring, I clean the entire house, top to bottom. It's a long standing tradition going from generation to generation in our family who believe to celebrate the Spring, and the Iranian New Year, No Rooz, one got to clean the house. Every year as a result of Spring cleaning an idea for improving the space I live in springs in my head. This year's idea is to get my closet organized!

Currently, I have a plastic, hanging, shoe organizer, to separate my shoes, and an IKEA hanging accessory, socks and belt organizer to separate smaller things. There is wall to wall wire rack that is uncomfortably out of reach, and because of this I often, when in a rush, toss sweaters, and T-Shirts up there without proper folding. There is only one rod that spans from one end of the closet to the other. I have boxes, an old computer, and suit cases stored in the closet along side clothes.

It's not optimal.

I watched a couple of youtube videos on how-to organize and how to install an organization system.

I learned from the first video that there are things I can do that doesn't require a lot of money, and time and will make my closet look more organized.

  • Use the right type of hanger for slacks, suits and shirts
  • Hang the clothes from dark to light color and from solid to pattern
  • Hang the long sleeved shirts first then the short and then the slacks

The second video: was fun to watch! Installing a laminate closet organization system is however a job for the pros. And I am not sure, the material, time requirements, and learning curve justifies the fun and saving realized from DIY.

Monday, January 02, 2012

I amsterdam

Four days is probably all you need to see Amsterdam, the capital city of The Netherland. Also, Amsterdam is a good place to start an European tour, as many European cities, Brussels, Frankfurt, are accessible via train from Amsterdam.
I arrived in Amsterdam on December 31, remember buses and trains run until 20:00 on the last day of the year; the service resumes at 2:00 on January 1.
As I had to catch a flight to my final destination, I decided to avoid dragging my luggage to the city center; so I booked a room at the Sheraton Hotel, easily accessible from the arrival halls of the Amsterdam city airport, Schiphol. As a Starwood Preferred Guest, the two bed room cost me 127 euro per night.

Not only transportation to city center was easy and cheap, 3.70 euro + .50 handling charges, but also I could get to Amsterdam Metropolitan or anywhere in Netherlands from the airport hotel. I visited Haarlem, 4.80 + .50, a serene city with a beautiful train station. Obtaining the ticket is possible from the ticket machines as well as ticket offices. Either way there is an extra charge of .50 added to the price. It's important to know the final destination of the train, for example trains traveling to Hoofdrop stop in Schiphol, so on the train Hoofdrop is displayed. Also, it is good to pay attention to the station names, as some trains don't have stop announcements! The ticket operators usually issue a second class ticket, by default if you want a first class train ticket, better seats, ask! The class written in big letters in the train box.

How to get around Amsterdam? There are many fun and exciting options to explore this city: bike-boat (you pedal your way around the canals, seats max four people), canal-buses, on foot/public transit, with a bicycle or hop-on-hop-off buses. Prices vary. I tried on-foot/public transit and the canal-buses. The Tourist Office across from the Amsterdam Central Train station is the one-stop shop to get information about transportation, obtain a map for 2.50 euro, purchase canal bus tickets, and/or iamsterdam city card.

Touring Amsterdam: Perfect starting point as a Tourist Information Center is located right across the station. I got my free map from the hotel; at the tourist center the city maps cost 2.50 euro.

To make the best out of the four-days-stay prioritizing was key. I like walking the streets of the city the first day to get a feel of the city streets and sights whereabouts. I walked along the best-known shopping streets: Leidsestraat, Hiligeweg, Klaverstraat, and Nieuwendijk. I stopped at Dam Square to take pictures, and visit the Royal Palace. I also ventured in Bijankorf (which means the beehive) and is Netherland's most famous department store. My final station and the goal of this walking tour was Van Gogh Museum.

The museum was home to many of the artist's early days work, works of his collaborators, as well as works of those artists that Ted Van Gogh, Vincent's brother purchased and added to the family collection. In the "Potato Eaters" Vincent depicts a family of five sitting at table in a very dark room eating. The artist, according to the caption made a mistake in showing both the side and back of the chair.

The Van Gogh Museum is situated in the Amsterdam's Museum District. In the vicinity you can find treasures of the Golden Age at the Rijksmuseum, the master pieces of the 19th-century artists at the , the arts of the 20th century and beyond at the Stedelijk Museum, and one of the most famous concert halls of the world, Concertgebouw. [January 2012 The Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk are under renovation - Grand re-opening is scheduled for 2013]

You can find the history of bags and purses from the three era of old, recent and contemporary on the three-levels of The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. The museum is on the way to Anne Frank House. There are bags from Louis Vouiton 1960 and Chanel 1980 as well as the history of why bags came to existence and how the small sachets to hold trinkets have evolved over the years and influenced our lives.

I took a one-day canal tour. Although, it was an interesting, and different experience but I prefer walking the city streets or taking the tram, as I got better view of the city and for taking pictures.

Here are some pictures I took during my trip: