Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Few More Russell Peters

Jamie Weinman, Macleans TV Critic, and a writer I often read and agree with, has me shaking my head in disagreement this morning, in a post where he roots for the demise of NBC's Outsourced, which is set to premiere this fall.

I really enjoyed the movie, and when I heard it was being turned into a TV show, I thought it was about time that we got a few South Asians on a show in North America. There have been sprinkles so far, with Anil Kapoor on the last season of 24, Kal Penn on House before he was hit by the politics bug, Reshma Shetty on Royal Pains, Aziz Ansari on P&R, and Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife, but the roles like that are few and far between for South Asian actors in North America, and especially in Canada.

At least in the UK there have been shows like Goodness Gracious Me, and The Kumars at No. 42. Toronto itself has a huge Bollywood scene (next year one of the major Indian movie awards shows will take place in Toronto), and yet when it comes to TV, as my South Asian actor friends tell me, it is a desert out there.

Personally I would like to see something like Outsourced turn that ship around and start to click. Amy Pohler is just fine and dandy, but I think I'd prefer to see more Russell Peters out there.

Exercising Prudence is a Lost Art

I came across this excerpt from the Toronto Star, via Macleans.

Toronto office administrator Sherry Good is now the face of a G20 class-action lawsuit filed Thursday against the Toronto Police Services Board and the federal attorney general, who represents the RCMP... Good said she was walking home from work on the evening of June 27 when she decided to join an informal demonstration. She was caught by a police technique known as “kettling” when about 250 people were encircled by a wall of police officers at the intersection of Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave. Good was released without charge, but said she suffered from stress and panic attacks as a result of the incident.

Stress and panic attacks? Too bad this wasn't prevented earlier by an attack of common sense.

Jump into a demonstration, on a whim, I can see. But during the G20, with the downtown full of police officers, and trouble makers, and after the press spent weeks obsessing over the possibility of violence, and the how the police were set to engage protesters, and you'd think that perhaps this woman might have, just for the tiniest moment, decided that prudence may be the better part of valor in this situation.

And yes, being arrested may be traumatic, but she was quickly cleared and let go, as any innocent person rounded up in a group engagement would be. You'd think she'd count herself lucky, having learned a lesson.

But no, that's not how things go, I guess.

Hopefully the courts won't reward her stupidity.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Undercover Boss

I've found myself, against my better judgment, becoming addicted to CBS's new show Undercover Boss. Even though there are so many points that diverge from my usual viewing standards, in that each episode is exactly the same as the last, the stories come across as self-congratulatory as far as the companies are concerned, and the undercover bosses stand at the end of every episode to enact their noblesse oblige for the bien peasants gathered before them, still, I can't stop watching.

Every story of hardship battled with hard work and determination gets to me. I start balling like a little girl. The everyday struggles of everyday people, what they go through and how their determination to battle back against all the misfortunes cast their way - what can I say? I find myself seeing myself in them, and them in me.

Though it irritates me to see multi-millionaire CEO's dish out tiny rewards and little trinkets like they are Santa Claus reborn, if you leave out the bosses, and focus on the ordinary working men and women in each episode, there really is a powerful and uplifting core to this show. Perhaps that is what keeps me watching.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Royal Flush

What can I say?

I was so busy with a project that I only got there in time to see Theron get the boot.

The Kings XI Punjab were all out, short by 31 runs at 19.1 overs. Rajasthan didn't just beat them. They crushed them. Knocked them down and stomped all over them like they were cockroaches in the kitchen.

The best part?

That look of utter despair and frustration on Yuvraj Singh's face.

Christmas done come early!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chennai Super Weenies

It's as the old saying goes, they pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Chennai Super Kings put on a master class tonight, in how to squander a brilliant defense that had resulted in the Kings XI Punjab squeaking out a bare 136 runs.

About 10 overs into Chennai's innings, it wasn't just that you sensed that the Kings XI had lost, but that this was going to be an absolutely crushing defeat, a defeat that would have been the crown jewel in their winless record.

Yet somehow, that defeat didn't materialize. Dot ball after dot ball, that niggling sense that Chennai might not be able to pull it off, began to grow.

And that sense was right. Somehow, someway, the Doni-less Super Kings lost the plot and forgot they were playing cricket. They managed to tie the Kings XI, forcing a super innings, but as Matthew Hayden walked onto the field with his Mongoose in hand, the match was a foregone conclusion.

While I don't feel too bad about the whole affair, as Rajathastan was, is, and always will be my team in the IPL, Chennai, like the Deccan Chargers, are a secondary team for me, one I cheer when there is no blue and gold out on the pitch.

What I do feel bad about, and absolutely curse Chennai for, is the sight of that legendary fathead Yuvraj Singh winning the game in the Super Over, with a sweeping hit that seemed to just nudge Muralidaran's spinner gently into the boundary. As the camera closed in on Yuvi's open mouthed, spittle expelling, celebrating face (Complete with non-stop fist pump action), I was mighty tempted to throw my remote right through the screen. But only tempted, mind you, as I had wisely put the remotes up on the shelf earlier, just to forestall that very possibility.

That, and I'm a bit broke, and not up for TV shopping at the moment.

Thanks Chennai. Now it's not just Madrasi food that gives me indigestion.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yes, But is it Attested?

Just in the Gulf News this morning, out of that den of tolerance and wisdom known as Ras Al Khamiah, a couple has been arrested for having sex in their car. A Bangladeshi man and an Indian woman have been sentenced to a year in jail followed by deportation.

So far, so normal for the UAE, but there are a few niggling details that should give pause.

The first is that the car was covered, as in, you could not see into it at all.

The "witness" never actually saw the offense, but claims to have "heard some noises" coming from the car. At first blush that sounds plausible, except that unless the windows were open, how could anything be heard at all? Once I close the door to my car, I can't hear a peep from anyone inside, so unless this "concerned citizen" had their ear pressed right up the glass, I can't see how they would have heard anything at all.

So our concerned citizen did what "anyone" would do, they ran to the nearest police officer, flagged him down, and led him to the scene of the crime, where the illicit pair was caught "red-handed."

So far, so normal. It is the UAE, and illicit affairs are a no, no... Except that this was not an illicit affair.

The man and woman were married. They even produced a marriage certificate for the courts.

So to recap, a married man and woman have sex in a covered car, completely hidden from public view (Something I very much doubt is unheard of, if only going by the number of Landcruisers and Patrols with midnight-black tinted windows I see parked in the unlit sections of various beaches at night). Then they are arrested, go to court, prove the relationship was not illicit, only to have the judge notice that the couple hadn't paid the 150 AED to have their marriage certificate attested. So the judge ruled them unmarried, and sentenced them.

That's it. They didn't have the right stamp.

In the UAE no birth, no marriage, no education is officially recognized unless you fork over a handful of cash and get a wee little stamp recognizing the validity of the certificate.

The problem this case poses is for potential tourists.

It is doubtful that any tourist couple would line up to get a stamp on their marriage certificates after coming to the UAE, if they even brought them. And while it is RAK we are talking about here, and not Dubai, it is a distinction without a difference for most of the world.

After the spate of recent, tourist unfriendly incidents in the past little while, you have to wonder if we are seeing the beginnings of a real trend.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What is Stephen Harper Reading

In case you haven't heard (and chances are you haven't), there has been a pretty popular meme in the CanLit world for the past couple years regarding Stephen Harper. One day, Booker Prize winning author Yann Martel decided that the Prime Minister of Canada was not a sufficiently educated man, and endeavoured to correct that deficiency. To that end, he started mailing a book a week to the Prime Minister, accompanied by a long winded letter about how that book would help correct some or other fault Martel felt the Prime Minister possessed.

I was never a fan of Martel's stunt. It reeked of arrogance and condescension when he started it, and now that he has a book out detailing his years long bibliostalking, it just seems sad and tired.

Just to pick a book selection at random, take Martel's choice of Christian Bok's Eunoia. The opening of the letter says it all.

Dear Mr. Harper,

Have you ever felt limited by language? I’m sure you have....

And it gets better.

Look, Bok is a nice guy. I had him for a professor, and when we plied him with enough beer, he told us all about reading the dictionary from cover to cover numerous times, and spending eight years building a database that allowed him to separate words by vowel usage. It was an admirable feat, and Eunoia will certainly long have a place in the canon of language poetry, but what it has to do with running a country?... Sorry, but I just don't buy Martel's arguments.

I think John Ivison said it best back in 2007....

Can't judge a reader by his books
John Ivison , National Post
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007

OTTAWA -Yann Martel is outraged. The Life of Pi author has been sending classic novels to Prime Minister Stephen Harper every two weeks since April, in an act of guerrilla arts advocacy aimed at securing more funding for the world of letters, and has been getting no response.

Mr. Martel would have us believe that by working his way through the prescribed reading list, Mr. Harper would undergo a New Testament-style conversion and boost public arts spending overnight.

Quite how the author thinks reading Animal Farm by George Orwell, a savage attack on statism, would induce anyone to increase state subsidies for the book industry is beyond me. But never mind. In reality, Mr. Martell knows this won't happen, so he is happy to convey to Canadians the impression that the barbarians have breached the gates of 24 Sussex Drive and are now using Pierre Trudeau's old swimming pool. Mr. Harper is left looking like someone who thinks Mr. Martel's excellent Man Booker Prize-winning opus is a study of either mathematics or Greek linguistics.

"I got a feel for a man who has no sense of the arts," Mr. Martel told the Carleton University student newspaper.

But it is Mr. Harper who should be outraged. Provided you take a pretty broad definition of "the arts," the Prime Minister is an avid patron. He is a keen movie-goer, a competent pianist and is currently learning a third language (Spanish). If further culture vulture credentials are required, he once named AC/DC's lilting ballad, Thunderstruck, as his favourite rock song.

That is being facetious -- but no more so than Mr. Martel's public relations campaign. Mr. Martel says he is trying to make suggestions to Mr. Harper's "stillness -- those quiet moments of reflecting on daily struggles and the purpose of life." I don't know about Mr. Martel, but after a day reading fiscal reference tables until my brain ached, I think I'd forgo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych (the reflections of a man dying a slow, agonizing death) or Francoise Sagan's tale of rich French people who have lots of sex but still aren't very happy, Bonjour Tristesse.

Small wonder that when the Prime Minister ditches his briefing books, he picks up Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl to read to the kids (which he does every night, apparently, regardless of workload), in preference to Mr. Martel's recommended reading. Other Harper favourites are said to include mystery novels, thrillers by such writers as Robert Ludlum and Total Hockey -- the Ultimate Hockey Encyclopedia by Dan Diamond. The Prime Ministerial nightstand is also said to contain the obligatory political biographies, such as Alan Greenspan's Air of Turbulence and Peter C. Newman's Secret Mulroney Tapes.

The Prime Minister is probably like a lot of us when confronted with a novel by August Strindberg or Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- we admire it, lay it aside making a mental note to read it at some point in the future and then never pick it up again (though I did labour through Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is about how long it took to read the damn thing).
Do we know Harper doesn't read that many books? Or a sizeable amount? He is an educated fellow, after all.

The issue here is Martel's hubris in prescribing a canon, with the unspoken corollary that only a philistine would read something other than these approved books.

What are Martel's thoughts on the "Great Books" canon, or the push to force students to study those relics white male-dom? It's the same arrogance.

If, say, Harper had agreed to a challenge, and they shared and compared reading lists, that would be one thing. But here, Martel unilaterally decided that Harper was a stupid man who needed some proper education, and he was going to provide it.

Would Martel have done the same for Le petit gars de Shawinigan? He had far less education, and far less of a reputation as a scholar. In fact, old Jean-ny boy had a real reputation as one who preferred to settle disputes with knuckle and skin rather than pen and ink.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unintentional Poetry

From time to time a student hands over something that, unintentionally, is mindblowingly awesome. in this case, while practicing an IELTS Task Type 2 essay, a paragraph stood out, not as an example of incredible prose, but of, if not incredible, at least notable poetry. What follows is what was handed to me today, written by the student, with my input solely being limited to breaking up the lines and organizing the paragraph into stanzas.

The Internet
(There are a people how use it)

There are a people how
use the internet
in a bad way
like a hackers
and a virus made

There are a people how
use the internet
want to be famous
so they do a bad virus
that destroy a computer

There are a people how
use the internet
want to destroy
police security
to be famous

There are a people how
use the internet
to get bad things
from the internet
to steal the program
from the internet

There are a people how
use the internet
in a bad way

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Data Transfer in the Classroom

One interesting issue that has arisen, which was never an issue in a traditional classroom, is the issue of data transfer. As educators shift more and more towards a true 1:1 eLearning model, there will be an ever increasing need to transfer large amounts of data to each and every student. We're not just talking sending e-mails with .docs or .pdfs, or the odd You Tube .flv. We're talking bandwidth hogging HD videos, lengthy audio files, and picture libraries used for creating presentations. Even 100 MB of data, which is a trivial amount for an individual, poses significant logistical problems for the educator.

Do you transfer via USB key? That's slow and cumbersome, and unless you buy multiple keys, creates a significant bottleneck.

Do you burn the data onto DVDs? If it is a one off activity, this method is time consuming and expensive. To make it worthwhile, you would need to burn a term or a semester worth of material onto disks to give your students. But the amount of data you might use over that length of time could easily outstrip the capacity of a DVD, requiring you to burn two, or even three per student. Again, cumbersome and expensive.

Do you upload it and have students download the file? That bypasses the one-at-a-time issue faced by USB keys, but then you and your students are dependent on the vagaries of network performance. Is the network busy that day? At what rate can that file be downloaded from where you are hosting it. Do you have to pay to have the file hosted online? Are there bandwidth limits on your account? Throw in the odd 1GB file, and over the course of a month, you could be facing a large bill.

What about the Public Folder system? Macbooks come equipped with Public Folders which your students can access at any time over the network. In theory this system is perfect for the classroom. The problem is that only 10 students can connect to your Public Folder at one time, and if any forget to properly disconnect, others will be blocked out. In addition, even a file as small as 100 MB will suddenly create a classroom management situation, as during busy network periods, the average download time could top 20 to 30 minutes. What do the students do while they are downloading? How do you keep track of who has fully downloaded the file, and who's downloads were interrupted?

Personally, I prefer using an adapted Public Folder method, where I go to one students at each table, directly connect my Macbook to theirs with a regular ethernet cable, and transfer the data. With the direct connection, transfer speeds are blazing fast, and a 100 MB file takes a few seconds to transfer. To over come the bottleneck issue, I have my students in groups of three, and I employ the Give and Get system. After I "Give" the file to one student, the other two direct connect to the first, and they "Get" the file from them. In practice, when done right, I have found that you can transfer 500 MB to 1 GB of data to each student in your classroom in between 5 to 7 minutes.

It's not a perfect system, and requires both technical knowledge, and specific tools (6+ small ethernet cables for student use), but I have found it to be the most efficient system to date.

Each method brings certain upsides and downsides. Which method works best for you?