I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.
~ Peter De Vries
Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer. And long after you’ve become a writer, reading books others write — and rereading the beloved books of the past — constitutes an irresistible distraction from writing. Distraction. Consolation. Torment. And, yes, inspiration.
~ Susan Sontag
Back in January, as part of our subscription series for the Ottawa Little Theatre, we went to see “An Inspector Calls”, written by J.B. Priestly. I didn’t get around to reviewing it at the time, partly as it didn’t contribute to my “#50by50” series since I’d already counted a play for that, but I kept the playbill lingering around my desk. The play was first performed back in 1946, and set just prior to the First World War.
Much of the play revolves around noblesse oblige of the wealthy and the fate of the working class, and the gap between the two. The cast is made up generally of a family of five people plus an inspector who calls on them while conducting an enquiry into the death of a young woman by the name of Eva Smith. She appears in shadows as a ghost, but has no lines.
It’s near impossible to review the play without spoilers, and so I won’t try. Essentially, as the night unfolds and the family members individually answer the Inspector’s questions, it moves through Eva’s life (although she was known by different names). All of the events were interconnected by happenstance, not design, and no one was aware of it all, even the girl herself. Over the course of the interrogation, you realize the man of the house, a businessman, used to employ her; the daughter ran into her in a shop; the fiancé of the daughter and the son both interacted with her romantically; and the wife/mother met her through charitable work. In essence, they all treated her badly, partly because they could, and when the girl had nothing left, she committed suicide.
While the plot sounds fantastical, it is the Inspector who sells the story. He is imperious when dealing with them all, insisting on treating them as potential criminals to be interrogated, not aristocrats to be handled nicely. The daughter has lots of angst-filled scenes where she debates the role of women, their collective conscience as a society, the plight of the working class, the out-of-touch nature of her parents, the shame of her fiancé having cheated on her. And ultimately her own guilt. Each member of the family initially denies any responsibility, until in the end, the Inspector verbally leads them to indict themselves. It was very well done.
Then there is a twist, where for a short time, all the guilt appears for nought. They are returning to their regular lives and views of the world, until they get one last shock at the end of the night that’s a bit spooky for them. Twilight Zone almost.
The father, Arthur Birling, was played by Roy Van Hooydonk, and he affected an old English-gentlemen-style of pontification that was mildly endearing and easy to watch, although a trifle slow in the delivery. His wife, Sheila, was played by Katherine Williams and the character was difficult to watch. It was hard to tell if it was the actress or the character, but they were both heavily repressed, and there was little emotional resonance in the performance. There was an okay performance for the fiancé Gerald Croft (played by Guy Newsham), with a bit of a sheepish “boys will be boys” vibe, if only the women would understand. He did a decent job of trying to act/feel like a victim in some places. The character of Eric Birling (played by Jamie Hegland) was relatively minor, and consisted mainly of being surly, drunk and/or childish. Nothing much to watch. I found the role of Sybil Birling, the daughter played by Janet Rice, was a bit too much over-the-top for her angst. Emotionally, she was all over the map as both a character and the actress…it was hard to get a read on her, and some of the dialogue for her went on and on as over-moralizing. Subtlety was not part of the script, apparently.
So you might think I didn’t like the play. Instead, it is all made up for because the role of Inspector Goole (ghoul, get it?) was filled expertly by John Collins. Admittedly he flubbed a line or two in the first half, but considering the number he has, that’s not too surprising. But he had awesome presence. Brutal, foreboding, lurking, dark, imperious, harsh. He’d start off soft in some parts, and then rip the individual to shreds in the interrogation. Digging and digging, poking and prodding until they broke and told him everything, which he already seemed to know anyway (but not in a Columbo sort of way, more like supernaturally). He was fantastic to watch.
I checked out the Internet Movie Database to see if there is a movie version, and there are multiple ones over the years. Including an all-Chinese one a few years ago. Same plot, just different names, and a few small tweaks to the setting, but otherwise the same movie.
In the end, the play was enjoyable, if a little bit heavy-handed on the moralizing in some places, but that is more a reflection of the style of dramas written in the mid-century, and particularly so when set at the turn of the century. The “we know better now” can work quite well by making even one character seem more forward-thinking than the time, but that is not the way the play was designed. Goole plays that role to some extent, but is far too dark to be inspiring. Now, if I can only find it in book form…
Jane Friedman has a great personal site at JaneFriedman.com, but she also publishes articles frequently at WritersWrite. One of the more popular ones is her annual “what paths are there to publishing”. The chart and text goes through six different publishing models:
- Traditional publishing
- Big five
- Mid-size and large
- Small presses
- Alternatives to traditional publishing
- Hybrid publishing
- Assisted self-publishing
Her intro to the chart spells out the approach more clearly:
Since 2013, I have been annually updating this informational chart about the key publishing paths. […] One of the biggest questions I hear from authors today: Should I traditionally publish or self-publish? This is an increasingly complicated question to answer because:
- There are now many varieties of traditional publishing and self-publishing—with evolving models and varying contracts.
- You won’t find a universal, agreed-upon definition of what it means to “traditionally publish” or “self-publish.”
- It’s not an either/or proposition. You can do both.
There is no one path or service that’s right for everyone; you must understand and study the changing landscape and make a choice based on long-term career goals, as well as the unique qualities of your work. Your choice should also be guided by your own personality (are you an entrepreneurial sort?) and experience as an author (do you have the slightest idea what you’re doing?).
My chart divides the field into traditional publishing and self-publishing.
It’s a great chart, in my view, although I would tend to think of it as four (I’d combine the big 5 with the mid & large, keep small presses apart, keep hybrid as “indie”, ditch the assisted (too many vanity press scammers in there) and rename DIY as self). But that’s just me quibbling. It’s a great chart for people to understand the models available to them, the risks involved, and where they want to invest their time and energy.
I like writing book reviews and sharing them, and so it was a no-brainer to add book reviews to my #50by50 list. I toyed with writing 50 of them, or making it a reading goal for 50 books, but then I realized it was simpler that I focus on writing and posting the reviews in a more manageable goal. I have a bunch of other books to review, but I’m going to declare this one “done” since I’m already at 13 book reviews since my birthday, with two of them non-fiction (yay me!):
- Seven Up by Janet Evanovich (BR00103)
- Hard Eight by Janet Evanovich (BR00104)
- To the Nines by Janet Evanovich (BR00105)
- Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich (BR00106)
- Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich (BR00107)
- Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich (BR00108)
- Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich (BR00109)
- Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich (BR00110)
- Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich (BR00111)
- Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich (BR00112)
- Smoking Seventeen by Janet Evanovich (BR00113)
- RASC Observer’s Handbook, 2018 edited by James S. Edgar (BR00114)
- Big Box Reuse by Julia Christensen (BR00115)
Okay, sure, Evanovich is kind of light reading, and I’ve gone further with her and other writers, but those are the ones I’ve written so far.
In recent years, many educators have ratcheted up their attacks on the idea of people having “learning styles”. While it was in vogue for awhile, more and more research is suggesting it isn’t as compelling a theory as it once was thought to be. To me, it is more about a theory that resonates instinctively with people, and more a metaphor for approaches to learning – a descriptive paradigm, if you will – then a hard and fast “rule” or law, let alone a theory. So when I saw an Atlantic article aiming to debunk it further, I couldn’t help but click.
In the early ‘90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently? Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you?
Today, 16 questions like this comprise the VARK questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” VARK, which stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic,” sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences.
Basically the idea that everyone is relatively unique, but if you break them into sub-types for learning, you can reach them better by using techniques that target that sub-type. Yet the scientific evidence, i.e. the “testing” of the sub-types is less indicative:
…a lot of evidence suggests that people aren’t really one certain kind of learner or another. In a study published last month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Husmann and her colleagues had hundreds of students take the VARK questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they supposedly were. The survey then gave them some study strategies that seem like they would correlate with that learning style. Husmann found that not only did students not study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, those who did tailor their studying to suit their style didn’t do any better on their tests.
Another study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they actually remembered better later on—words or pictures. Essentially, all the “learning style” meant, in this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories.
However, in the same article, it basically says it isn’t about “styles”, it is about skills. Some people are better at certain tasks than others, so they may think they’re a visual learner because they happen to be good at things that are visual. My problem though is that I’m not sold the idea fails with their “tests”.
All of them have the same methodological problem that the studies about “digital reading” vs. “paper-based reading” exercises and measures of retention. Basically, the studies conclude that if two students read the same text, one on paper and one electronically, the one who read paper will remember better. Which I can practically guarantee will happen with the test they’re running…they’re taking a text that was designed for paper reading, converted it to e-format, and then ran the test.
But what is the more appropriate test? Well, how about optimizing the text electronically first? Taking advantage of the e-format to embed other info or even use a font that looks better on e-format? There’s a reason why so much money and attention is paid to web design — layout and format matter, and it isn’t simply a matter of converting from paper to electronic. And did they first gauge how comfortable the person is with reading an e-text? The assumption is that the texts are the same, so the reader experiences no difference. Yet we all know modern day Luddites who might be adept at email, surfing, or texting, but they find the idea of e-readers abhorrent. They just don’t want them. Almost NONE of the tests asked what the student preferred to use. If you start off blocked and negative, would you expect the outcome to be different? People are used to paper, they don’t often “balk” at a paper text (except in purchase decisions).
To use the VARK idea, and downgrading it from a learning style to a communications style, we all know that personality types are generally accurate in groups but not so much individuals (all stereotypes, negative or positive, break down when you go from a group to an individual — the standard of deviation is enormous). So let’s look at the personality-type model that resonates the most with me — the axis of introverts/extroverts vs. analytical/intuitive.
Analytical introverts (the blues) have a very clear preferred communications style — they want details. They analyse, they nuance, they want to get their fingers dirty poking the content so they understand it. Preferably, they get paper and read it on their own and they have it before they discuss it together.
Reds, i.e. analytical extroverts, are action-oriented and while they want details, what they really want are the KEY details — they prefer high-level summaries and overviews with minimal back-ground noise. Be brief, be bright, be gone. Don’t waste their time.
Yellows, i.e. intuitive extroverts, want interaction, team work, FUN. They want to discuss the information. Sitting quietly and reading the book by themself is tantamount to torture.
Greens, i.e. intuitive introverts, also want to be “involved” in small-group discussions. A bit quieter than the yellows, and preferably with some say in how they decide what to study or how to proceed.
Those personality studies have been studied to death and for about 60% of the population, they have pretty strong validity. Another 20% end up straddling types. Which leaves 20% where, in my view, they suffer from two measurement problems — about half don’t know themselves well enough to answer the questions reliably (they’re following scripts of what they THINK they should say, not describing what they actually do) and half who are balanced across multiple categories. It doesn’t mean the theory of personality types is wrong, it just means it isn’t universal when you apply to individuals. Quelle surprise.
So what might that look like in terms of learning styles? Well, if the four groups have differences in their preferred communications styles, would it be surprising that they have a different way of learning? Not really, it should be expected. So the test would have to be optimised first for EACH learning style.
But even then, it’s not going to be 1:1 for every person on every item for every subject. Not unlike the phrase that talking about love is like dancing about architecture, reading about art isn’t very useful without pictures of the actual artwork. Equally, if a picture is worth a thousand words, historical video footage of events is far more compelling and easy to “understand” as the students witness.
Is that true for everyone? Nope. Some are going to respond to the text more than the pictures, pictures over video, and video over text, or the reverse such as text over video.
Ultimately the benefit of the theory is not in saying everyone has a different style and targeting the individual, although some day we may be able to do that better. Instead, the benefit of the theory is recognizing what everyone has already known. Mixed teaching techniques, judiciously applied, work better than a single technique of one-size fits all.
But that’s just my view. What do YOU think? Do you learn differently from a friend or sibling? Or do you believe one can find a perfect way to deliver info for a topic or subject area that is applicable to all?
The Guardian published a review of an interesting-sounding book, and I thought I would share. The review itself isn’t anything special, I confess, but the book sounds good. It’s not available on Amazon Canada yet, but it appears to be an overview of the history of atheism and all its different forms.
The argument against the first five forms of atheism discussed in this book will be familiar to readers of Gray’s excoriating reviews and the greatest interest for some will lie in his discussion of the two final forms. One is entitled “Atheism without progress”, that is, without any assumption that human beings can be changed for the better…The final chapter, “The atheism of silence”, contains a surprise. It includes a discussion of a nearly forgotten author of a four-volume history of atheism, Fritz Mauthner, who argued for what he called “a godless mysticism”. Gray argues that there is in the end an affinity between the mystical element in Christianity, which stresses that God is beyond words and incomprehensible, and this form of atheism. “A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity and the difference between the two may be less than you think.”
Phase IV: Killing my SmugMug account
My annual renewal date for my SmugMug account is in May, and I wanted everything done by then.
I did all the uploading. I added the captions. I tested the videos and replaced the ones that didn’t work with converted formats. I sorted and organized the order in each album. And then I re-linked everything to the blog articles that had photos in them. I also found some time in there to tweak the organization as I went, like moving cooking ones into a separate folder and doing virtual links back to the regular folders, adding in a lot of my humour and TV review photos even if they don’t need captions, etc.
It took a bit of time. Two months in fact. And it’s now DONE. Well at least that portion of it.
As I went, I got ideas for some blog entries. Plus some other ideas for uses of my photos. Found a few errors in other parts of the website. So I had to noted them on my update list, and some day I’ll get to them. Maybe now I can rest from the website work for a bit and then start on doing a few photobooks. 🙂
And just to close out the project? I closed and deleted my commercial account. RIP SmugMug, you served me well, but it’s time I saw other websites (like my own that is comparatively free).
The PandA gallery is up and live: https://polywogg.ca/pandafamily/.
Phase III: Fixing an embedding problem in WordPress
One of the things I do with my photos, besides having them in a gallery, is embed them in various posts in my WordPress blog. For example, I have a section on the site dealing with an HR student conference from back in 2002, and I have a small album of photos with the conference docs. Those photos are stored with my Piwigo gallery, and embedded as a hot link in the WordPress pages. Simple, right?. But here’s the problem. The link to each photo currently says:
http://thepandafamily.smugmug.com/yada yada yada
Now that I have the new gallery up and running, if I simply delete the old one, those links won’t work. I have to change ALL of them to say:
http://www.polywogg.ca/pandafamily/yada yada yada
It isn’t a huge challenge, just under 100 posts in total with maybe 400 photos linked. But each photo or video link has to have the SmugMug link deleted and the Piwigo link pasted BEFORE I delete the SmugMug account. If I don’t do it first, then my WordPress site will suddenly have a bunch of broken links all through it and no photos showing from my gallery.
But of course it isn’t as simple as just a search and replace of the opening domain info — the “yada yada yada” is completely different for each site. So they have to be done manually. Since it is easier to do while the two galleries are both running, i.e. so I can view them side-by-side on the screen and copy the links from the new to replace the old, it is still a pain in the patootie. With the uploading and captioning done, I’m about 50% done the re-linking process. But I got my account renewal reminder the other day … SmugMug renews in less than a month and I wanted to be done before then so I won’t get charged for another year.
I did the first few, and they were easy-peasy. So I thought the “rest” would be the same. Strange, but I feel like it was both less work and more work than I expected. How can that be?
Well, I feel like there were “only 98” posts with the cross-linked photos, which seemed like a manageable number. In addition, many of them only had one or two photos, so pretty quick. All in all, that meant I was initially feeling like it was less work than I expected and would go pretty fast.
Right up until I hit some of the photo-rich posts like stories about Being Jacob’s father or various trips we took. Some of them took a LONG time to update. But the weird part is I feel like the photos are somehow “brighter”? That’s weird. I wonder if the filters and themes at Smugmug that I was using were muted somehow. Anyway, I really like how it looks now.
And I’m finally done. It took a bit of time, maybe 6 or 7 hours in total to do the updating of the 98 posts, although in fairness, some of that was because I was sucked into reading my own posts again and editing a bit as I went. 🙂
But everything is re-linked. Whew.