Tag Archives: British Columbia

An Archaeologist “Digs” My Teaching Style

Earth ImageI love learning things. I can’t help it – I was born with a boundless curiousity streak. Something grabs my attention, and I just have to know more about it. When I was little, I often went to the beach, which sparked a lifelong interest in the oceans and marine life.  My fascination with astronomy and space exploration was ‘launched’ by the manned space missions that happened during my childhood in the 1960’s. My family used to go to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa to see official NASA Apollo mission films. I love learning about culture, geography, history, music, politics, science, travel. Just don’t ask me about sports; it’s one of the few topics I’m not really interested in. However, I do love swimming; it’s probably the one Olympic sports event that I’ll happily watch.

Another talent I was born with is an ability to explain things to people in a clear, simple way. I don’t know why – it’s just something I can do. When I was seven years old, I wrote a paper about tornadoes that ‘blew away’ my second grade teacher because of the way I described how they happen. She promptly had it printed in the next edition of the school newspaper! I’ve always had a way with words – verbally, in writing, and online. I once thought that maybe I’d become a newspaper journalist or radio station host (quite a few people thought I’d make a great CBC radio host, including some actual CBC radio people). But that’s not what happened. I ended up going into the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.

Now that I’m older,  I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I made the right choice all those years ago in studying for an Education degree. Should  I have earned a degree in Geography instead? I loved the subject in university. I even had a chance to apply for a co-op position, which I didn’t pursue (and I kick myself about it now). The thing is – if I hadn’t studied to become a teacher, I would never have taken an introductory course in microcomputers at the then Uvic Apple II+ computer lab. That course was my ‘seminal event’, which launched me into learning about how computers could be used for creative purposes like drawing, music, writing, and games. Learning about computers led to taking courses about how to use them for educational purposes, which led to me teaching people about how to use computers at the Oak Bay Recreation Community Computing Centre. Eventually I went to BCIT in Vancouver, earned a diploma in Information Systems, and worked part-time for Apple Computer in Vancouver, right at the moment when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched the Macintosh on the world. The Apple motto ‘computers for the rest of us‘, and the creative software applications for the Mac, reinforced my wish to do creative things with the technology, which eventually led me into the world of videogames and my rollercoaster career as a game designer.

Yeah, yeah. Get to the point. What does an archaeologist have to do with your epic auto-biography?

 Right now, I’m living at the Ocean Island Backpackers Inn, a veritable human train station of world travellers trekking to Victoria from all points around the globe. Where else do you find an establishment where the front desk staff are German, the cooks are Japanese, the housecleaners are Australian, and the bartenders are Dutch? It’s a fascinating crossroads of people covering all ages and different walks of life. Recently, a delightful elderly couple named Annie and John arrived at the Inn for a few days after spending some months in Mexico. John has family on Vancouver Island, and they were planning a trip to Nanaimo. They were wrestling with Greyhound’s online reservation system (not a very user-friendly interface), and John was getting frustrated. I kindly offered to help them, which they gratefully accepted. I quickly did a Google search for buses going to Nanaimo, tracked down the bus fares, and found some phone numbers they could call. I explained to them what I did online, and what their options were.

Sorbonne

The Sorbonne, Paris

 

Annie stood up, leaned over me, and said ‘ You know what? You’re a hell of a great teacher!” She explained to me that she was a professional field archaeologist of many decades experience, with a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Cultural Anthropology from the Sorbonne in Paris! Not only that, she’d earned Bachelor degrees in Greek and Middle Eastern Art and Anthropology from there as well. Annie had known and worked with prominent academics over the years, so she was keenly attuned to how professors teach. Needless to say, I was very humbled to receive a compliment from someone of her background and life experience. When I told her that I had a Masters degree in Education, but was unsuccessful in finding a faculty or teaching position in BC, she looked aghast and said ‘Well, that’s their loss!

One more amazing fact about Annie that I learned: As a young woman, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean using only a sextant for navigation. The voyage took three months. Oh, and she was made an honourary member of the American Navajo Indian nation because of her work in exhuming and burying their ancient ancestors from archaeological sites in New Mexico.

Annie made my day.

The Grumpy Ferret

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Hello Victoria! I’m Home – For Good

oakbayLife is terribly odd. It’s truly a game of craps – you roll the dice and either win big or lose horribly. It’s fair to say that I’ve had my share of winning and losing rolls. Two months ago, my 13 year odyssey in Vancouver ended. I was faced with the stark reality of being unable to afford living there anymore. I couldn’t find any additional jobs to supplement the one good part-time teaching position I had. Once more, good ol’ Fate decided to present me with a very, very difficult choice:

Should I stay, or should I go?

There’s nothing like facing the imminent loss of your apartment because you can’t pay the rent to galvanize you into making a major life decision.  I didn’t want to stay in Vancouver. I never really liked living there; it was time to end our stale, unsatisfying long-term relationship.  I needed to leave. I wanted to go home to Vancouver Island and the one place I’ve always loved – my hometown of Victoria. Immediately, the banshees of doubt awoke and started screaming into my consciousness:

Return to Victoria? The home of the newly wed and the nearly dead? Are you mad? You know how tough it is to find a job in Victoria! Where are you going to live? How are you going to survive? You’re a middle aged guy, for crissakes!

Of all the places on the planet to call home, I lucked out. Southern Vancouver Island is so fantastically beautiful, situated on Juan De Fuca Strait, across from the majestic Olympic Mountain range in Washington State. Victoria is an odd duck of a town. If I had to describe the city’s personality, it’s like having a favourite aunt you love for her slightly eccentric, quirky character.  Victoria is part of Canada, the capital of British Columbia, but it’s unique – a strange blend of British colonial history, 19th century gold rush frenzy, and elegant Canadian Pacific steamships that plied between the city and Japan. It’s a green, pedestrian place that values its heritage.  Compared to the winner-take-all, commuter road rage, real estate house demolition, condo-micro loft frenzy that is Vancouver, Victoria is positively sedate. The big thing you notice right away is the sense of community. People are more approachable and willing to strike up a conversation. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but there is a distinct sense of neighbourliness here than what you’ll find in the manic Lower Mainland.

I escaped from Vancouver. I gave away everything I owned in my apartment – furniture included – to the Ryerson United Church annual spring thrift sale. And I mean everything;  all my geeky gadgets and gewgaws, my games, my art, my computer and videogame equipment, my movie posters. All gone. I felt like a gypsy when I boarded the ferry to Swartz Bay, carrying nothing but two bags of clothes, a hiking stick, and my best hat. My eminently wise younger brother very kindly delivered my bicycle to Victoria, so I’m completely mobile, too. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom that comes from not being burdened by appliances, furniture, and boxes of stuff. For now, I’m completely unattached from the day-to-day material goods.

Did I make the right decision? Will I find love, happiness, and full employment on Vancouver Island? Well, so far I don’t regret the choice in coming back. It just feels right. My best friends of many years all agree I made the right choice. It’s great to have lunch with my parents regularly and catch up with old acquaintances I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Riding along the Dallas Road waterfront, sitting in a quiet cove on Ten Mile Point, enjoying real fish and chips again at a genuine neighbourhood fish and chip shop, not to mention taking in the famous Victoria Day parade in front of City Hall – I think I made the right choice.

And hey – the Oak Bay Tea Party starts on June 5!

The Grumpy Ferret (Happiness is freshly caught seafood!)

 

 

 

Dear Vancouver – Please Hire Me!

GoldenTicketIn case you were wondering what happened to the Ferret over the last seven weeks, I’ve been pre-occupied with trying to find a job. Let me tell you something – it’s no picnic, either. The employment scene is tough. I’ve been focusing my attention on revising the resume’, crafting cover letters, getting advice, and trying to find ways of paying the rent and utilities just to keep going. In the last three months, I applied for 77 positions, received three interviews, but no job offers. So many of today’s available positions are all about analysts, technicians, and managers. Lots of opportunities for linear thinking, left brain hemisphere types. But that’s not me. I’m a left-hand dominant, right hemisphere type. I’m a creative round peg that won’t fit in the analytical square hole. I’m from a family of artists, musicians, and writers. I love dealing with ideas and communicating information. I can imagine the big picture in detail and brainstorm like nobody’s business. When I come up with an idea, I can actually visualize and describe it. I’m a storyteller. I have a quick sense of humour. I love improvising.  I’m at a stage in life where I know my strength is in mentoring and supporting people, not managing them. I could never be a manager – I’m not about administering policy, processes, or procedures. I’m not a numbers guy, which puts me at odds with a world that increasingly evaluates individual performance by projected results. On the other hand, I’m one hell of a salesman when it comes to promoting products and services.

I have a good online presence with my LinkedIn profile and two WordPress blogs. I try to make use of my contacts to dig up new job leads. But it’s still not enough. To me, landing a meaningful full-time position is like discovering a Golden Ticket in a Willy Wonka Bar. It feels that rare. It shouldn’t be so hard to find a decent job, but it is. Not just for me, but for many, many other people. Several close friends of mine have worked in the same profession or company for years and years. I envy them because they have had the luxury of job stability and regular paycheques. Compared to them, my life has been a rollercoaster of work experiences.

I think the ways we make people look for employment needs to change. I don’t know how, but the way things are clearly isn’t productive for prospective employees, and for companies seeking productive staff. It just kills me when I read articles about companies bemoaning the fact that they can’t find skilled staff, and I’m trying to find meaningful employment. Yet, despite having a graduate degree, 23 years of experience with people and technology, 10 years of working in Japan and the United States, here I am earnestly trying to find work and coming up empty-handed.

I suppose this post is really like an ‘advertorial’ – if you do read this, and you know someone who needs a creative, experienced individual who is good with people and technology, please let them know I’m available 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Will work for – oh heck, I just want to work!)

I’m Infamous Today (And it Feels Good)

Inequality InfographicWhen I started this blog in January, I promised myself that I would make a serious effort to try and get my opinions published in a major Canadian newspaper at least once this year. It would be an important benchmark for my writing skills if I could actually achieve this goal. It’s not easy to get published in a major newspaper. They receive a lot of content, and have very tough editorial standards. So far, my opinions have appeared in The Globe & Mail four times this year, thanks to being selected as a participant on the 2013 BC Election panel. It certainly boosted my self-confidence when I saw my words appear in print. Like many writers, I sometimes wondered if anyone was really interested in what I had to say.

On Saturday, September 14th, Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume wrote a major one page feature entitled ‘Income Inequality Threatens Society‘. He interviewed Professor Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and former US secretary of Labour during the Clinton adminstration. Dr. Reich will be speaking at a Public Square event sponsored by Simon Fraser University on October 3 at the Orpheum Theatre here in Vancouver. As I read the column, I identified very much with what Dr. Reich was saying. I decided to write a letter to the editor and express my thoughts about Stephen Hume’s column. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot when you write a letter to the editor; you have absolutely no way of knowing if they’ll decide to publish it. I crafted my words carefully, hoping that perhaps I’d get their attention. On Sunday evening, September 15th, I crossed my fingers and sent the letter by e-mail.

This morning I picked up the Friday edition of the Vancouver Sun on the way to my favourite coffee shop. When I sat down and opened the editorial pages, I was in for a very pleasant surprise:

Widening economic disparity sows social discontent

Re: Income inequality threatens our society, Column, Sept. 14

Stephen Hume’s column on income inequality rings true when it comes to my own life’s circumstances.

I’m the stereotypical white 53-yearold male with a master’s degree in education.

In my working life I never even came close to earning the $91,000 a year that is average for my demographic according to a Statistics Canada report. I can only dream of how awesome it would be to have a salary like that.

My median income for the last five years is way below Statscan’s reported overall white male Canadian average of $49,351.

I went bankrupt in 2009 because I couldn’t find regular employment in the province. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. I applied for more than 230 positions. When you think about it, that’s an insane number of jobs to apply for.

For all my education and experience, I ended up selling retail consumer electronics in a shopping mall at an appallingly low wage that barely kept me going.

Four years later, I’m unemployed again and struggling to survive in this province where I was born.

I feel very resentful toward those who appear to have it all while I have gone without.

Anthony Gurr

Vancouver

Seeing my letter in the editorial section of today’s newspaper was another important validation of my writing skills. People really are interested in what I have to say.

The Grumpy Ferret (Extra! Extra! Read all about it!)

Stop Calling me a Baby Boomer!

Copyright DryBonesBlog.com

Copyright DryBonesBlog.com

Dear academics, corporate types, hipsters, marketers, media, politicians, sociologists, thought leaders, and other so-called latter day cultural experts:

Stop calling me a ‘Baby Boomer’.

Really, just cut it out. You’re starting to annoy me. What can I say? I’m entitled to be a curmudgeon. It goes with the territory of getting older. That, and being allowed to consider myself a tad eccentric 🙂

You know what I like about being 53 and not 23? Or 33? I actually feel that I’ve gained some wisdom about life, the universe, and everything. I feel comfortable in my own skin. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, or earn other people’s approval. Life is not a competition where you’re supposed to beat others to the finish line. There’s nothing wrong about being a ‘middle-aged’ man. I haven’t lost my love for life, the passion, or the vitality. I still have all my wits intact. I enjoy the simple things like a cold beer, a good meal, a thoughtful conversation, and a good looking hat 🙂

Wow – that’s such the antithesis of the stereotypical Baby Boomer. They’re the over-achieving, overly competitive, self-centred, vain, status-conscious folks, or so we’re supposed to believe. Even though they’re older now, it’s still supposed to be all about them. I know a few older Baby Boomers who seem to fit that stereotype, but I don’t necessarily believe they’re all like that.

You’re not doing me any favours by lumping me into a demographic group that was born approximately between 1946 and 1964. In fact, it’s really kind of ridiculous when you think about it. My parents were born in 1933 and 1936.  They lived through the Second World War in Britain. (Marketing people – you know there was something called World War Two, right?) They were nine and twelve years old on VE Day in 1945. They survived the air raids, the V1 and V2 rocket attacks. Heck, my father managed to accidentally end up in the middle of a D-Day training exercise on the coast of Dorset when he was eight years old in early 1944. A red-faced sergeant-major ‘frog marched’ my father back to my grandmother’s cottage and threatened her with forcible evacuation!

When you think about it, the generation of children born to parents who were children themselves at the time of the Second World War should have their own special marketing label – we should be called ‘Baby Blitzers!‘ Or ‘V-Kids‘.  Or perhaps we should have been called ‘Generation W‘.

You see how plain silly this labelling and segmenting gets? I think it’s entirely artificial with very little real substance. I was born in 1960; I can recall many historical events that happened during my childhood in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. At age two, I remember watching John Glenn’s cancelled launch on a black and white television. I saw the Beatles as TV cartoon characters at age five.  I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite when I was seven, and how he talked about some place called Vietnam and this mysterious line called the DMZ. I’ll never forget how my father shooed me out of the living room on the day they played the infamous footage of the captured Vietcong spy whose brains were blown out with a gun.  I saw the announcement of Martin Luther King being shot on TV when I was eight. I remember the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968. My family rented a colour TV to watch the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. I remember being woken up late at night to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I also remember the horror of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, wondering if the astronauts would make it home alive. I remember the huge protest over the underground five megaton hydrogen bomb test on Amchitka Island in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska in 1972. I watched the Watergate trials in 1973.

I never heard of Woodstock when I was a child in the 1960’s. I knew nothing of the anti-war movement, nuclear disarmament, or the Rolling Stones. All the major events that signified the cultural values of the ‘Baby Boomers’ were beyond me as a child. The closest I came to knowing about hippies were my babysitters who wore wide floppy hats and sang folksong lullabies with their guitars. I knew the music of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. I watched the Ed Sullivan Show, Flip Wilson, and Laugh-In on TV. I was just a small boy in the 1960’s who liked playing with metal Dinky and Matchbox cars, bike riding, building model NASA spaceships, chocolate chip ice cream, reading, and swimming. The ‘Age of Aquarius‘ was something my parents played on a record from some musical called ‘Hair‘. I think my first real cultural awakening was in 1973, when my parents attended Jesus Christ Superstar in Vancouver and brought back a record of the original Broadway recording. That fanned my interest in musicals and caused me to start thinking about the true nature of religion.

I don’t own a home. I don’t own an expensive car. I don’t take expensive trips. I own a few sticks of wood furniture. I don’t have any significant financial assets. I’m more liberal than conservative. I’m sick of North America’s obsession with conspicuous consumption and materialism. I’m an environmentalist. I hate the whole idea of working out in a gym. I swim two kilometres instead.

Stop calling me a Baby Boomer!

The Grumpy Ferret (Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in!)

Income Inequality in Canada is Real and it Bites

'Montana Max' from Tiny Toon Adventures

‘Montana Max’ from Tiny Toon Adventures

The other day, I learned that the average annual salary in Vancouver is approximately somewhere between $41,000 and $43,ooo. When I read this fact, I realized that I have earned less than this amount for the last five consecutive years. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living below this average for such a long time. I have a Masters degree in Education, 25 years of experience in games and entertainment technology, including stints working for several years in Japan and the United States. Like so many other Canadians, the great recession of 2008 ruined me financially. From 2008 to the summer of 2009, I applied for 225 jobs, was interviewed four times, and didn’t get a single offer of employment. I declared personal bankruptcy and spent the next three years barely making ends meet so I could meet the discharge requirements of the trustee.

As a result of this long financial hardship, I’m feeling very resentful towards the wealthier members of Canadian society. By wealthy, I mean those folks who are making six figure salaries and up. As I pointed out in my May 9th post, I was taught to work hard, be honest, and treat others fairly. I’ve done alot of dirty, unpleasant work in my life, but I always believed that one day I’d be able to carve out a good niche for myself here in my home province of BC. But it hasn’t happened for me – and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying very hard. So you can imagine how angry I get when I see what’s happening in Ottawa with the Senate, or the pay raises of provincial MLA’s and federal MP’s, or the extremely well-paid bureaucrats in crown corporations. It just doesn’t make sense to me why they deserve to receive so much money. Government officials claim it’s competitive, but they never openly present their evidence to the public. The compensation process isn’t transparent – and it should be.

Somebody please explain to me why the head of BC Ferries deserves a half million dollar annual salary, compared to the Prime Minister of Canada who earns 320,000?!

Let’s not forget the private sector, either. For all the talk about meritocracy, profit, and productivity, 25 years of working in software and technology has taught me that a few individuals do very well, while a great many others are used up and discarded when costs need to be reduced. I saw cronyism, nepotism, and sheer greed in some companies I worked for.  I still can’t believe how I was exploited (yes – exploited) by the Apple Store. In 3 1/2 years of working there, I sold $3.7 million of hardware, software, and value-added services, while making a wage of $16 an hour. That’s what they paid me. What did I get for being a top selling sales specialist? An e-mail saying ‘congratulations’, and a hamburger. No bonus, no profit sharing, nothing seriously meaningful. Meanwhile, the Apple executives cashed in their shares and made millions. I sold millions for them – and received nothing. I will never forget the day I sold $14,000 of product during a shift and ended up walking home in the evening because I didn’t have enough for bus fare.

Everything feels so bloody skewed and unequal these days. The irony for me is that I know people who make terribly good salaries, own really nice homes, take trips, and have plenty of cash tucked away. They can afford a nice life for themselves and their family. But it’s all out of my reach. Worse yet, for all the effort and work I’ve put in to build a life for myself here in BC, I feel like I’m going nowhere fast.

The Grumpy Ferret (Why do you deserve a bigger piece of the pie?)

People I Really Wish I Could Share a Cup of Coffee

The other day I thought to myself, if you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, who would you want to meet?‘ I’m not big on celebrities or insanely famous people, but there are some folks who have influenced my life and I genuinely wish I could just sit down with them over a cup of coffee for a half hour and just have a chat.

In no particular order:

Douglas Coupland

The man who coined the term Generation X and wrote all those books like Microserfs and JPod about modern day technology that kind of mirror my own life. He’s an author, a designer, and an all around interesting guy I wish I could talk to. I’d probably ask him if he had any useful advice for how to discipline oneself when it comes to writing a book, since that’s something I want to do but I’m not sure I have the will to see it through. Any advice he might be able to share would be very much appreciated.

John Lasseter

This man founded Pixar back in the 1980’s. I remember watching one of his first computer generated films in 1987 at a conference in Vancouver and being blown away at how imaginative it was. John is now chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney Animation and a god to all those who worship at the altar of computer animation. What I particularly admire about him is his commitment to story development. Pixar spends alot of time fleshing out the story for its movies before they begin production. I would love to have coffee with him, if it were in any way possible.

Andrew Weaver

Andrew is a professor of climate science at the University of Victoria and the first elected MLA for the Green Party in British Columbia. He’s also a Nobel Laureate who was part of the United Nations InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I admire what he’s accomplished in his life – I would so very much like to talk with him about where he thinks humanity is heading as global climatic conditions continue accelerating ahead of what was originally estimated. In fact, the IPCC stated in its original 2007 report that its findings might be considered as ‘conservative’. Did anyone remember that?

JK Rowling

If there’s an author I really respect for sheer perseverance and not giving up on an idea for a fantasy novel, it’s JK Rowling. I watched a documentary on CBC News about her long journey on how she came up with the idea for Harry Potter, and what it took for her to create such a brilliantly fanciful series that re-ignited people’s imaginations. There are one or two people who feel I ought to be writing fantasy like JK Rowling. I’d love to just get some pointers from her about how to start the process and go from there, although I suspect she’d tell me that it all boils down to just getting on with it (I know, I know – it’s so blindingly obvious, but so hard to do).

Annie Lennox

I will never forget the first time I saw Annie Lennox. It was in the old Colony Motor Inn Tavern in Victoria, a known biker hangout. Me and my fresh-faced Uvic buddies arrived late on a Saturday night in 1983. I saw her performing in the music video Sweet Dreams are Made of These. I was smitten not only by her looks (oh God, those eyes), but her voice was incredible. I never saw her perform live (damn it!), but I’ve always loved her music, especially when she sang the haunting Into the West for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I saw Annie’s performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. She was still fiery and original. I would go anywhere, do anything, just to have a cup of coffee with my favourite diva.

Brian Greene

Brian Greene is a professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University. He produced a PBS special called The Fabric of the Cosmos, a brilliant layman’s introduction to the world of quantum mechanics and quantum physics. The series was absolutely mind-blowing – it changed my perspective about life, the universe, and everything. For example, when you look around, you see what your eyes tell you is empty space. But that space isn’t empty at all – it’s filled with particles that at the smallest levels of existence are popping in and out of what we perceive to be reality. Not wild enough for you? How about the concept of multiple universes existing right now? I really wish I could sit down and have a chat with Brian Greene.

Robin Williams

I wish I could be as funny as Robin Williams. His rapid-fire improvisation and satire have given me so many needed laughs over the years. There are still some times when I think I ought to give stand-up improvisational comedy a try (but I’m afraid I couldn’t be as profane and vulgar as what most audiences seem to prefer). Sure, Robin has had numerous ups and downs in his life with alcohol and drugs, but he’s a comedic force of nature that I really enjoy. I think one of his best stand-out performances was when he did voice-over for the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Sigh. I would so very much like to have coffee with this man, caffeine be damned 🙂

So there we go. I would truly like to share a cup of coffee with any one of these fine folks. Who knows? Maybe it might happen 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Hey! A ferret can dream, can’t I?)