Telemachus, I am your father

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad — a retelling of the Trojan War from the point of view of Queen Penelope — is currently playing at the Buddies In Bad Times theatre. This run has been well cast and choreographed and I’m tempted to go watch it for a second time here. Of course, the whole point of this short blog post is as a vehicle for bad Star Wars references. Few other epic tales involve a princess whose face launched a thousand starships, a son who is told by others that his father is dead (and then unexpectedly having an interlocutor reveal himself to be said father), sirens, and visitations by spirits. Yes, that’s right. Go see the production and may the horse be with you.

Mystery at VL/HCC

First off…  Nicky, how about photographing some GI Joes for your assignment? They don’t move much! Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

Last week, at VL/HCC, there was someone that claimed to be a student that stayed in the Statesman’s Room at the Sheraton where the conference was being held. When asked by some fellow conference goers about grabbing a bite, she’d claim to be tired or in need of presentation practice. Since I figured out within a few minutes of meeting her that she wasn’t alone in Pittsburgh from her mannerisms and a few verbal clues without me having to so much as utter a word in conversation, I found it hilarious that others were surprised to learn that she had actually been spending her time with a “secret” companion. This was despite the numerous conversations others had had with her. And then there was the case of the false identities…

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Deputation Day and Night

I ended up going to City Hall yesterday, but decided not to make a fuss. There were 344 people signed up to do just that. Instead, I went to listen and (by being a body in a seat) show that people of Toronto do care about what happens to it. The main action began at 9:30 yesterday in Council Chamber 1 (CC1) but, owing to being at the Hot Yam! and running into/chatting with several people I hadn’t seen in ages on my walk over to City Hall (there was an accident, preventing streetcars from going along Spadina), I started observing municipal politics at about 4:20pm via projector in Council Chamber 2 (CC2), the overflow room. I kept some notes and posted them, mostly unedited, after the jump. Please bear with the lack of sleep.

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Stop filibustering yourself!

This Thursday, I’ll be heading down to City Hall to make myself heard over proposed cuts to city services. If you care about this city and have some time, you might want to come, too; the mayor has invited us! The way I see it, if no one shows up, the mayor has carte blanche over cuts because he can claim whatever he wants. But if even a handful of citizens show up, not only will city council hear us, but all of Toronto. Why? Well, let’s do the math (because someone has to): If just a hundred people show up ((that’s less than the number of people that come to the Hot Yam! in a week and a small fraction of the cyclists that showed up to city hall recently)), that’s a whole working day’s worth of citizens addressing Toronto City Council. If this drags on for a few days, you can be the media will pick up on this and if our voices fall on deaf ears, well, an election can’t come soon enough.

I’ll be trying to prepare a detailed speech, to be broken down into five minute segments; I’ve already got a structure in mind. If you would like to help contribute a section or more to this speech or would like to read one of these five minute segments (maybe because you lack the time to write one in advance), drop me a line!

Thoughts on programming for all: Part IIb — Downsides

Last week, I discussed one of the downsides of students being taught to think algorithmically, even if they absorb it all.  Unfortunately, just because students can pass an introduction to programming course doesn’t mean they have any understanding of code that they or anyone else has written.  Whenever I teach a course, I make a point to mention cargo cult programming and warn students not to fall into that trap.

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Thoughts on programming for all: Part IIa — Downsides

In my last post, I wrote about some of the benefits of teaching programming as part of a general liberal arts education.  However, I did express some new reservations about doing so which I explore further in this blog post.  Having let quite a bit of time elapse since writing the first post, I’ve unfortunately forgotten a number of points I had intended to make.  And now, I’m going to break up the downsides into multiple posts.

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Thoughts on programming for all: Part I — The Merits

I was reading Ira Basen’s article The algorithm method in the Globe and Mail and was reminded of the talk given last week by Professor Mark Guzdial of Georgia Tech as part of the DCS’ Distinguished Lecture Series. Guzdial argued that an introduction to programming, if not computer science, should be an essential part of a liberal arts education due to the way it reshapes the way one views computers, an increasing part of our everyday lives. While I agree with his position that being able to understand the algorithms that dictate whether one is approved for a mortgage or make predictions about climate change search could be useful and important, Basen’s article caused me to question and temper my own beliefs on the importance of introducing programming to undergraduates.

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Send in the terrorists!

I’ve spent numerous summers abroad and missed Canada Day (July 1st) probably close to a dozen times.  However, this year I felt particularly unpatriotic despite singing O Canada in the Union Oyster House with some random Canadians from Kingston who were in Boston for the weekend.  However, after spending a few days in Boston as a tourist, I couldn’t help but become ensconced in feelings of American patriotism, feeling proud of America and its accomplishments, and a deep sympathy for its fallen heros.

Part of a memorial for those killed in action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The memorial has one blank dog tag for each fallen American. They numbered 5400 when I visited.

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2nd International Conference on Computational Sustainability

At the end of June, I was in Boston for the 2nd International Conference on Computational Sustainability.  I think it had to be the most interesting conference I’ve attended to date; not only did I attend all but one session, I also managed to stay awake for each.  The one session I skipped was to compose myself before the poster session — I was cold from the over-airconditioned space and tired from having arrived at my Boston domicile at 2 am that morning, more than 15 hours after leaving Toronto by bus (the driver for the last segment of my trip got lost…  twice).  During this time, I did manage to update the HTML5 version of Inflo (more about this in another blog) and get a fully-working read-only demo running (or another demo graph).

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At the Sustainability Unconference

On Thursday, I attended the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Unconference put on by the Office of Student Life at the University of Toronto. At this “unconference”, individuals could set up shop in various parts of the venue and lead a conversation about different topics. I participated in two discussions: Which are the most energy intensive buildings on campus and why? and on Conservation and consumerism.  I thought I would share some highlights from these conversations.
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