Tag Archives: Education

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


If Wishes Were Horses, Then I’d Own a Stable!

West BoulevardWhen I think about my life, I’m actually a pretty darned lucky guy. I’m healthy, my faculties are all intact, I have an interesting, steady job that keeps food on the table and a roof over my head, I have friends and acquaintances, and I live in a nice neighbourhood here in Vancouver. Kerrisdale is one of Vancouver’s older neighbourhoods, located in the southwest corner near the University of British Columbia. The environment is very green; there’s beautiful gardens, plants, and trees all around. Living here, you’re not even aware of downtown Vancouver which is about 12 minutes north via the Canada line rapid transit system. The “village” of Kerrisdale has everything you need within walking distance. It’s very reminiscent of Oak Bay on southern Vancouver Island where I grew up.

stock upThere’s a coffee shop called Stock Up on West Boulevarde  and 45th Avenue where I go for breakfast and coffee on the weekends. It used to be an old general store dating back to the early 1900’s. Now it’s a really nice place for meals and where you can buy food and sauces to go. The place has a heritage character and the staff are very friendly. It’s here that I read the weekend edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper and take my time going through many of the excellent, well-written columns. But if there’s one thing about reading the Vancouver Sun that’s bittersweet, it’s that I’m reminded about the wishes for my life that still haven’t come true. Before I go any further, I want to repeat that I really do consider myself to be very fortunate in many respects compared to what’s happening in the world today. But at the same time, I do get wistful about a few things.

There’s an old saying, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride“. In my case, if this saying were true, then I’d own a stable 🙂

What are my wishes? In no particular order:

Visit the great universities of Europe as my overdue reward for completing my Master’s degree

There used to be an old tradition of graduate students from European universities taking a grand tour of study and travel when they completed their graduate degrees. It’s something I wanted to do when I completed my Master’s degree in 2011. I would just die to spend two months travelling and visiting places like Oxford, The Sorbonne, The University of Heidelberg, and other famous historic places of learning.

Own a little place on Vancouver Island near the ocean

oakbayI’m a Vancouver Island boy at heart. That’s where I was born and raised. At this stage of my life, I would rather be back on the Island near the ocean, where life isn’t as frenetic and erratic as Vancouver (an expensive, smug city that’s pre-occupied with competition, social status, and wealth). I’ve never owned real estate in my life, so I don’t have the financial means to even scrape up a down payment for something. When I was young, our family lived on waterfront property in Victoria. I so very much wanted to have my own small place by the sea when I grew up. All these years later, that wish is now out of the question.

Go back to Japan and become fluent in Japanese

mt-fuji-viewThe best thing I did in my life was take a chance and live in Japan for several years. I loved my life in Tokyo and the many Japanese friends I had there. Getting away from North American society taught me about self-reliance and experiencing other cultures. The history and geography of Japan intrigued me. I walked on the grounds of 2,500 year old temples, climbed the Japanese alps, bathed in live mountain hotsprings, took part in ritual festivals, attended sumo tournaments, and travelled around the country. Looking back, I think I should have toughed things out for a few more years, rather than run back to North America in 1994.

Own an Italian Piaggio Motor Scooter

piaggioI miss not driving a motor scooter – it’s been almost 30 years since I stopped using one. There’s something about travelling through the air and feeling it rushing past that I found invigourating. I loved how your bike responded to the slightest shift in bodyweight, like you’re flying. When you’re in a car, you’re confined. Automobiles never appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve never owned a car that I’m not keen on them, but I’d much rather prefer the feeling of travelling on two wheels instead of four.

There’s quite a few other wishes I have, but that’s for another time 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Who still hopes that wishes can come true)

The Four Plastic Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen by Alwyn T deviantart.com

The Four Horsemen by Alwyn T deviantart.com

Perhaps I think about things too much. When I stare up into the sky, I think about the incredibly thin layer of atmosphere that shields life on Earth from the vacuum of space. Simply put, we wouldn’t exist without it. I think about the fact that the air I breath comes from the photosynthesis of plants and phytoplankton in the oceans. These tiny creatures make it possible for us to be alive.  Did you know that the percentage of salinity in the human body is the same as the ocean? I believe it’s approximately 70%. This is what I don’t understand about human beings. How is it that so many of us are blind to our biological connection with this planet? The Earth is an incredibly complex system; we’re part of it.

Sometimes I wonder if the seven billion human beings that live on this tiny speck that drifts along in the vast cosmos really understand how bloody lucky we are to even be here at all. The odds of any one person being born are a whopping 25 MILLION TO ONE! That’s the number of sperm released during sex. To quote the epic line from the movie Highlander, “there can be only one‘. Everyone dreams about winning the lottery, but you already won the biggest jackpot of them all – existence!

What does all this philosophy have to with The Four Plastic Horsemen of the Apocalypse? I’m getting to that.

This morning I read an article in the Vancouver Sun entitled Plastic waste problem persists. This article points out that 280 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated globally every year. Less than half of it goes into a landfill or even gets recycled. What I find really alarming is how much of this is ending up in the oceans and how it’s affecting sea life. 45% of marine mammals (e.g. dolphins, seals, whales) and 21% of seabirds are either eating this stuff or becoming entangled in it. It’s getting into eel grasses and saltwater marshes. Plastic doesn’t dissolve away into oblivion; it breaks down into smaller and smaller chemical components that are absorbed into cells and tissues.  I already know that my own body probably carries around trace amounts of chemical compounds I’d rather not think about. After all, I lived in places like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Chicago, Hong Kong. To think that my favourite bit of smoked salmon might contain plastic compounds  is downright disconcerting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Four Plastic Horsemen of the Apocalypse:



Words can’t describe how gross and disgusting this situation is. But don’t take my word for it, look at this:

If you can’t wrap your head around the idea of baby sea birds eating plastic objects, this will come as a rude shock:

If what you have just viewed doesn’t turn your stomach or make you feel some pang of guilt, then you’re not human. This deplorable, hideous situation is humanity’s fault. This ecological disaster is the result of our belief in a mass consumer society that wants disposable throwaway things. It’s our ignorant, willful ‘out of sight, out of mind‘ mentality on full display. What are you prepared to do about it? I’ll make a suggestion. Stop using plastic bags. I mean it – stop asking for them. For over two years now, I’ve personally stopped using plastic bags almost 98% of the time. I use canvas bags for my shopping or to carry things. I’ll make another suggestion – think about the packaging of the item you buy. I look for things with minimal packaging. Yes, it’s a pain. But it’s a really tiny sacrifice to make for trying to make some sort of difference.

Earth is a finite place that we share with all these other species. We’re seeing the results of what has happened when we’ve put our own desires and interests ahead of other species. 99% of all the creatures that ever lived on this planet are now extinct.  If we don’t smarten up about how we treat this world, we could be just one more evolutionary footnote – encased in plastic!

The Grumpy Ferret