Tag Archives: Culture

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.


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


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!)




Am I Really Talented? Or Am I Fooling Myself?

Shakespeare blogger

copyright coxandforkum.com

I haven’t posted on this blog for the past few months because I’ve been going through a crisis of faith, if I can put it that way. I’ve been wondering if I’m really all that talented as a writer. Since I started The Grumpy Ferret one year ago (has it really been a year?), I’ve written over 40 posts about anything and everything. In some of my previous posts, I said that I felt writing was something I knew I could do innately. I felt validated by some of the positive responses given by readers. But something changed in the last three months. Maybe it’s the weather, or perhaps I’m feeling tired and dejected about my continuing hunt for meaningful full time employment (I landed a small part time teaching position in December that barely covers the monthly expenses). I’m two months into 2014; I’ve applied for 22 positions, and nothing has happened. I have the nagging feeling that somehow I’ve become redundant; my best years are behind me, and no one is really all that interested in hiring an experienced, well-educated, middle aged man. Never mind that I’m computer savvy, or that I’m totally comfortable blogging and using social media. Hey! I can Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter with the best of them. But does anyone care? Really, does anyone care?

Maybe I’m wallowing in a mudpit of gloom, but when it comes to looking for full-time work, it really feels like there’s a giant wall of indifference out there.

Perhaps I’m not really very talented after all. There’s just so many people publishing and writing these days. Do I have anything meaningful to contribute? Is anyone really all that interested in what I have to say? There have been times in these past few months when I just don’t know. Some people tell me I should write short stories. One or two are certain I could write a successful fantasy series like Harry Potter (thanks for the thought, Mum). But it’s hard to focus on writing when the landlord is knocking on the door, asking for the rent, let alone keeping the lights on and the internet connection active. I need a stable income, hence the continuing job search. At this stage of life, I’d probably feel less anxious and more hopeful about my writing talents if I could spend my time focused on that and not have to worry about where the money is coming from. I’d love to have a benefactor or patron who could help me to devote more of my time to writing. Like any craft, it takes practice, practice, and more practice. It’s still early in the year. All I can do is try to be more disciplined and keep writing regularly.

If you know any wealthy benefactors who are looking to support an aspiring, earnest writer, please send them my way 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (who maybe, just maybe, has a smidgen of talent)

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


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!)

The Right to Senseless Slaughter – Shall Not be Infringed

Gun CartoonLike everyone else on this planet, yesterday we witnessed yet another mass shooting happen in the United States. Once again, another tormented individual exercised his Second Amendment rights and slaughtered innocent men and women serving their country in a blaze of bullets, confusion, and horror. Once more the world’s media dutifully recorded the flood of anguish, bewilderment, and unspeakable sadness as paramedics, police, and security forces rushed to the scene. Once more we witnessed the hastily arranged press conferences that tried to explain the unexplainable. Once more, the massive vortex of ambiguity and speculation  swirled about who was responsible and what were the motivations. Was it a lone wolf? Was it a terrorist? Was it a co-ordinated attack?

Once more the President of the United States appeared on television to console Americans and assure them that everything would be done to get to the bottom of this. Barack Obama looked like a sad, weary figure at the podium as the press clamoured for details and clarifications. I thought to myself ‘how many times has he had to do this?

There have been six mass shootings in the last nine months,and 20 during the Obama presidency.

I lived in the United States for a total of 6 1/2 years, from 1994 to 2001. I have many good friends there who are decent, intelligent, wonderful people. I miss them very much and I wish I could see them again. Many Americans are decent people who are not extremists, fascists, neo-nazi’s, or overzealous fundmentalist religious types. But for the life of me, I can’t understand how Americans condone the level of gun violence that happens every year in their country. Consider this chilling piece of information. Since the hideous slaughter at Newtown in late 2012, 8, 250 Americans have died from firearms.  It’s shocking beyond all belief. 8,250 dead men, women, and children since Newtown.

There are over 300 MILLION GUNS in circulation in the United States. On September 13th, the largest study done on gun violence in the United States was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the study, every year 31,000 people die from gun violence and 74,000 suffer nonlethal injuries.

How many more innocent people have to die or suffer gruesome injuries in the United States for the convenience of owning a gun? How many more babies in strollers have to be shot in the head point blank? How many more little children have to die accidentally because their parents didn’t put the weapons away? How many more people need to be murdered by bored American teenagers looking for something to do? How many more concealed weapons do Americans need to carry around to make criminals think twice about using a gun? How many more vigilantes do they need to prowl the halls of elementary schools to scare off mass shooters? When a society reaches the point where it actually condones weapons being carried around in elementary schools, I submit that it’s in a state of civil war with itself.

I give my deepest condolences to my American friends, and offer up this meditation from Peter, Paul, and Mary:

How many deaths will it take til’ he knows, that too many people have died?

The Grumpy Ferret (The answer is blowing in the wind)

Sunday Afternoon Rainy Day Matinee’

Simon's Cat copyright Simon Tolfield UK

Simon’s Cat copyright Simon Tolfield UK

It’s a rainy September Sunday afternoon in Vancouver. The skies are a weird colour combination of lead grey and dull white clouds. The breeze is noticeably chilly, and the rain is hissing down loudly. There was even some thunder earlier today. We don’t get too many thunderstorms in southwestern BC; it’s a bit of a spectacle when they actually happen here.  I debated with myself about what kind of post I should write today. God knows there’s plenty of serious stuff I could comment about, but I’m always thinking about the balance I try to keep between serious topics and humourous ones. I don’t want to ignore the things that I think might matter to people. On the other hand, I want the blog to be enjoyable for my readers (Hi Mum!)

Today I’m going to keep things light. I was mucking about on Youtube recently, when I discovered an animated cat video.

Don’t run away! It’s not THAT kind of Youtube cat video!

There’s a British cartoonist named Simon Tolfield who has created some wonderfully clever animated videos called Simon’s Cat. How have I missed this guy? His videos are hilarious and spot-on. He absolutely nails the attitude and behaviours of cats I’m sure we all have known in our lives.

Our next feature for today’s rainy day matinee’ is a delightfully whimsical cartoon created in France by students from the Gobelins School of Graphic Arts. It’s called Pandore, and it’s based on the famous Greek myth of Pandora’s box.

The next feature is Disney’s beautifully poignant telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale The Little Match Girl that he wrote in 1845. It’s such a sad, yet sweet story that I sort of remember from my childhood. It strikes a strong chord in me today because the message in Andersen’s story is still very relevant to all of us in the 21st century. It reminds us all that ‘there but for the Grace of God go I‘. We must all do what we can for those who are desperately in need.

Speaking of the 21st century, our final feature for today’s matinee’ is a very clever cartoon called ‘Glued‘, created in 2012 by Israeli animation students from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. I think this piece speaks volumes about our obsession with technology.

I hope you enjoyed today’s Sunday afternoon matinee’. I thought it might be appropriate on a rainy September weekend 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Hey! Who ate all the popcorn?)