2010 Northern Voice - Elitist Mushrooms
Saturday, May 08, 2010
The first day of 2010 Northern Voice was a day of unexpected adjacencies, or to put it in another way it was a day of randomness. There was good and there was some bad. The trade off is that I went home enlightened.
Saturday, the second day of 2010 Northern Voice was a day with longer sessions with the result that I found more substance. It all began with an on the button (he said everything he wanted to say in the allotted time with precision) by Chris Messina
. He is another of those startling American young men (where are you women?) who somehow amass a lot of money through an “aw shucks” kind of intellectual power. What Messina said we will read, perhaps, in the New York Times a year’s hence. In particular he predicted that unless we champion the usage of URL searching we will lose it to a TV-turned computer in which we will eventually “channel” surf to locations that will be pre-determined. Choice will be limited.
Our little, but not so little, Northern Voice always manages to reveal stuff that the average person on the street has no idea of or how it will affect their life in a radical way. No matter how much the folks at the 2010 Northern Voice argued about getting together, the idea of the open network and the sharing of ideas, I still think (and I approve as I am a snob) that this yearly gathering is one of the elite.
If anything 2010 this year was a showing off of the talent of the those who work as UBC professors (women where are you? Was CBC's and UBC School of Journalism, Kathryn Grestinger the sole exception?) I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of David Ng and his Phylogame Project
. In this project he attempts to disseminate a better understanding of science.
Not so impressive to most in the room was Professor Jon Beasley-Murray’s attempt to defend the elitist stance of universities as a repository of knowledge. His concise and ordered treatise on the subject had been preceded by a more human and warmer presentation by David Cormier (whose eyes reflect enthusiasm and brilliance - a potato diet perhaps? ) His side of “If Machiavelli and Montaigne Grew Mushrooms” attempted to defend (seen successful my most present) the heretical view that the world no longer needs accredited repositories of knowledge (with the ancillary accredited imparters of that knowledge). The world needs a sort of bee-like social network of people who will share knowledge while being wired and with the eventual discard of the unchanging and static book. The book and the university are obsolete.
I felt sorry for Professor Jon Beasley-Murray because I too, like him, feel that a good school education is important and that the accredited professor is part of that milieu. There was no time for a two-sided look at the radical ideas that were discussed in what was the last session of the day.
I have no idea if Professor Jon Beasley-Murray has read two recent and most important books. One is called In Defense of Elitism
by William A. Henry III and the other The Cult of the Amateur – How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture
by Andrew Keen.
I got into a pleasant argument with the Russian Cook (AKA Boris) about the subject. He is pro elimination of the concept of accreditation and suggested if he had the choice of either doing away with newspapers or universities he would opt for the latter. When I confronted him with the idea of going to see an unaccredited brain surgeon (a non PHD brain surgeon) he replied that if a young student of medicine were trained by robot with expertise in dissection knowledge would still be transferred efficiently.
In our world of the amateur I would suspect that we would still need accredited engineers to build our bridges, accredited pilots to fly our airplanes, etc. There is no way that facing a computer will ever be the same than getting the human contact of the teacher.
Paradoxically Cormier’s defense of the social network and his declaration that the book is dead had all to do with Socrates never having written down anything. I can now see a modern-day Socrates communicating with his followers with a purely visual and aural Skype as Socrates would look at a computer keyboard with disdain.
If there is anything that makes Northern Voice a delight is the fact that communication is (as Chris Messina so aptly put it) IRL (in real location). Like the expert in computer language that Messina is he speaks in a digital forked tongue. What he means is that in Northern Voice we meet, face to face. A social network of the kinds championed for two days at Northern Voice will never replace that. Professor Jon Beasley-Murray, take heart, you and the book will still be around IRL.
2010 Northern Voice - Unexpected Adjacencies
Friday, May 07, 2010
Last year I waited too long before I tried to sign up for 2009 Northern Voice. Tickets had sold out. I was not able to go. In the interim I came to the conclusion that as far as my blog was concerned it was what it was supposed to be. I didn't need to learn anything more. I could now skip blogging conferences. I have never been interested in SEO (search engine optimization) nor have I ever wanted to deal with the acceptance of comments and the hassles that would involve. In short my blog goes out into cyberspace and I don’t give a damn who reads it, or, if anybody reads it.
The latter logic is the same one I used when I was unable to progress from being an efficient chess player to a good one back in my youth. If you lose in chess it is because you are stupid. I did not want to admit that salient fact so I made up the excuse that chess made me restless and gave me insomnia to give up playing it.
I do care who reads my blog and I would wish many would read my blog. By not counting or checking Technorati ratings I will never know and I will never be disappointed. Like my Argentine avestruz
(as we call the rheas of our South American pampa) I would rather stick my head in the sand and the problem simply goes away.
So it was with that rhea-like (these big birds have small brains) attitude I came to the 2010 Northern Voice, Personal Blogging and Social Media Conference with the rotten attitude that I was not going to learn anything because I expected to learn nothing. All I ever wanted to know about blogs I already knew. I felt smug in my perceived superiority.
I was not even tempted to attend (in the end I succumbed) Alexandre Brabant’s The Nuts and Bolts of Search Engine Optimization because I thought I knew all about it. My friend Tim Bray
had already told me, “Your blog is popular is not popular because it happens to be a Blogger blog that is part of Google. Your blog is popular because you write about interesting things and most of all because you write every day.” After all he should know as his blog posts in ongoing
are fascinating even if some of them go over my head. And Bray does write just about every day. It was Brabant who taught me about baby food and, I guess now I must be spoon fed some more of that relevant info.
The new venue at the UBC Life Sciences Centre is certainly much bigger than the old (not so just in perceived age) Forest Sciences Building. But it lacks the intimacy, the lovely corners, the comfortable seating (sofas, no less) and all those glorious Parallam beams. There were some wrinkles because of the move that might have done in other conferences. Consider that the food at the 2008 Northern Voice was much better. There were various instances of equipment failure that shortened the already too short 30 minute 2010 sessions. Coffee (free coffee, that is) was hard to find and some small rooms were soon full beyond capacity while, for reasons that escape me, the very large room of Photo Camp had sparse attendance.
There is no way that such wrinkles could affect my perception that the real reason I go to Northern Voice is to share information with people who do not think mainstream. Here you do not talk about the latest Hollywood film or about rotten Provincial and Federal politics. If anything I can assert that my idea that what makes us human (and “better” than the “lower” orders) is our ability to associate similarities between disparate things, situations and events.
It was at an unplanned “Moose Camp” (a sort of un-conference) where I realized why it was I had come to 2010 Northern Voice. By some stroke of luck I became part of a little circle of people that included the keynote speaker Bryan Alexander (awesome in his pin-stripe suit and hirsute chin) and that peripatetic Road Runner-of-a-woman, Nancy White. It was during a discussion about bridging (getting those who blog and know about the technology involved to link with those who don’t) that White came up with the expression that for me sums up all of the Northern Voices I have attended (three with this one). She used the expression unexpected adjacencies
All those little things that I overheard here during a day that went past really fast, or wondering why my iPhone camera will not focus where I want to chose it to focus, while Cyprien Lomas’s could, watching the worried Darren Barefoot not smiling (Darren, don’t worry I would go to the Northern Voice conference, coffee or no coffee just to listen to your cow bell) and the many things I learned at Photo Camp, how to make a perfect woman look realistically less perfect, how to make a movie with the intervalometer of a cheap point and shoot and how to colour manage the relationship between my camera, my monitor and my printer so that I could make that glorious redhead (that I have spied in today’s conference with the unlikely but very nice name of Theodora) glow ( something that colour film was never able to do which was to accurately record redheads) as only redheads can glow.
In short it is all those little things that add up and make me look forward to a wonderful second day tomorrow at the 2010 Northern Voice. I know I will not be disappointed. So Darren, please smile.2008 Northern Voice2007 Northern VoiceWhy do I blog and Ursula Andress
The Woman In The Red Shoes
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Miss Sunrise, the woman in the red shoes, and I met at the Vancouver Public Library Blenz. We sipped tea. We discussed her confession to me about her obsession to wanting pose for a camera without her usually expensive designer clothing. I have written here
about my own obsession (on the taking side of the camera). Finally I have found a woman willing to admit that our twin obsessions may have some hidden and similar motivation. We are going to pursue it in a series of photographs. The theme will be the word obsession.
She said, “You see, I a work in this office cubicle. When I pose, there is a thrill that takes me away from it. It is exciting.” I pointed out that part of the thrill might be the danger of posing for a stranger. Can that stranger be trusted?
For me the project is an interesting one as Miss Sunrise is in her middle thirties. There is experience there, and intelligence, too. Will obsession, in the end be an exercise in intelligence and intellect or will it be one of artistic passion? Time will tell.
The Wired Gentleman In The Mexican Guayabera
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The 88-year-old-man let me into his house. He was wearing a pristine Mexican guayabera. Inside, a very large and dark desk had a modern computer with a large flat screen monitor. Directly behind the desk, between it and the large flat screen TV on the wall, there was a coffee table with a large panoramic sized laptop. Paul St. Pierre is seriously wired. He reads countless newspapers on line and has RSS feeds to other news magazines.
Over a very large (it seems that large is a common feature of Fort Langley) spicy ramen Paul St. Pierre
and I spoke about Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias El Chapo, a notorious Culiacán, Mexico drug lord. The man may be living near St. Pierre’s vacation home in Mexico. “I am not all that famous but I am beginning to fear for my life. I could be kidnapped.” If that were the case I am sure that the would-be kidnappers, in ignorance of O’Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief
, would live to regret such an action.
On our way back to St. Pierre’s home we stopped at the post office where I was relieved to find out that the wired man also indulges in the pleasures of the Atlantic Monthly. In this case it was a special fiction issue featuring a story by my favourite author Jerome Charyn.
After taking the snap with my iPhone I left St. Pierre thinking that I must find a new excuse to visit him again. I had asked him to pose so we could see his trademark Mexican silver bracelet. I am sure he was happy to accommodate as it gave him ample opportunity to hide the nasty stain an uncapped fountain pen left on his formerly pristine guayabera pocket.
The Unhappy Princess
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Noam Gagnon’s 10 THINGS you’ll HATE about ME
this evening at the Cultch, hit me hard but I was unable to cry as did the Cultch director, Heather Redfern after the performance. Perhaps I had to control myself as I was sitting next to the impervious (outside, who knows inside) Max Wyman.
As personal as this work was (even though there were, just in case, indications on the projected screen that some of the stuff we were watching could possibly not all be true) in the end when the 50 minute performance was almost over a name was given to the character performing on the stage. There was no escaping to the fact that the story was the sad story of Noam Gagnon himself.
It began with a burst of serendipity and with music (composed and or selected by Stefan Smulovitz
) that took me to my late 70s job with the gay publication Bi-line. I had to frequent places (now gone) like Faces, the Shaggy Horse and the Luv-A-Fair. Watching Noam Gagnon dressed (but topless) in a long and fluffy skirt ( costume design by Marina Szijarto) I was propelled to those high energy disco clubs. Gagnon looked more like the Happy Princess not like the Happy Prince
the work was supposed to conjure. But that happened later and most effectively. The story, by Oscar Wilde, is one of my favourite stories. Since I knew this, I knew that no matter how much sadder Gagnon's work became there would have to be some sort of salvation in the end. And there was. And I want to reveal here something that many may not know about the Happy Prince
. It was a 7-year-old boy, Jorge Luis Borges himself who first tranlasted the story into Spanish.
The initial happiness deteriorated and brutally hit my jugular every time Gagnon mimicked taking his pulse to see if he was alive. I will not reveal here the awful travails of the boy and young man, that eventually in partnership with Dana Gingras, brought us the internationally renowned dance company, the Holy Body Tattoo.
If this piece of choreographic pathos works it is because of the voices. There I was listening to Christopher Gaze’s voice while spying him with his Jennifer up in the balcony. The voice could have almost singlehandedly carried the show - maybe not. But I will never know because Gaze’s voice competed (and he for once got a run for his golden-voiced-money) with Noam Gagnon’s own. The work shifted back and forth between Gaze’s description of “the boy’s” misfortunes with Gagnon’s own, and just right, Frenchified English.
Those of us who were there last night may have suffered but we were also witness to a personal story, made that much more personal and intimate, by the human voice. It is ample proof that dance is sometimes not enough to portray emotion, particularly when the dancer is willing to bare all with his clothes on.
There are performances until Saturday May 8.
Paul St. Pierre & The Diminishing Ratio
Monday, May 03, 2010
In many respects this blog is a dishonest one. It is a Monday blog written on a Tuesday night about something that is going to happen (tomorrow) on Wednesday.
On Wednesday I am driving to Hope to lecture (with a 6x7 cm slide projection show) to the Hope Garden Club and the Hope Photography Club. They are going to dine me around 5 and on the way I am going to stop at Fort Langley to have lunch with Paul St. Pierre who is 88 years old. I wrote about him here
. He has been much in my thoughts today. I now make it a habit to Skype, once a week, my first cousin and godmother Inesita O’Reilly Kuker in Buenos Aires. She is 86 and like Paul St. Pierre she is completely here in every respect and probably even a bit more mobile than yours truly.
It was two years ago that while visiting my former religion teacher and St. Edward’s High School Band leader, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. that my granddaughter Rebecca (10) asked him, “Brother Edwin, why is it that you and my grandfather seem to get along so well?”
Brother Edwin answered (he has an Masters in mathematics) that it had all to do with ratios. “When your grandfather was 16 I was 26 and he and his classmates thought I was an old man. The ratio of 16/26 is equal to 0.61. When he was 36 I was 46 and the ratio is 0.78. Now that he is 65 I am 75 and the ratio is 0.86. As you can see the age difference between us is diminishing and at infinity it will be equal to 1 or, in other words the difference will be gone.” It took me a while to grasp what Brother Edwin was saying but Rebecca Immediately understood.
Brother Edwin has thus made it clear to me why I have suddenly so many friends who are much older than I am. I am looking forward to sitting down with Paul St. Pierre (he is ordering in Chinese food) on Wednesday. It will rapidly be evident that we will have so much in common, including an interest in blogging. St. Pierre wants to pick my brain as he wants to start one. I cannot think of a better thing to do than to discuss blogging over lunch with an old man who is not as old as he would have once seemed to be.
The picture you see here is a scan of a print (Ilford FB Warmtone) that I made in my darkroom, from the original negative, on Monday night. The scan cannot do justice nor could a desk top inkjet, to the beauty of this print. Perhaps it is the pleasure of having printed it. But there is more. It is like looking at a French-polished walnut Victorian table. There is a depth to it that an image on your monitor will never be able to get close to. Or it could simply be the magic of an old man to whom I am catching up awfully fast.
Lush Life At The Vancouver Public Library
Sunday, May 02, 2010
I used to visit all the very gay places
those come what may places
where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
to get the feel of life
from jazz and cocktails
the girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
with distant gay traces
that used to be there you could see where
they'd been washed away
by too many through the day
Rosemary and Lauren were sitting on the tiny chairs by the tiny tables that are in the children’s section of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. There was a pleasant woman also sitting there with two children, a little boy and a little girl.Then you came along with your siren's song
to tempt me to madness
I thought for a while that your pointed smile
was tinged with the sadness
of a great love for me
ah yes I was wrong
again I was wrong
I looked at the woman and recognized her but I decided to play coy. She stared at me and said, “You must want to sit here, too. Is that the case?” - “No, I have seen you before.” - “Where would that be?” - “At a posh party and you were wearing a beautiful dress.” - “I am not sure that would have been me.” - “You are a jazz singer.” - She smiled. “You are June Katz.” - I introduced my wife and granddaughter to her. She told us her grandson was called Shay and her daughter Ella. “Why are you called Ella?” - I am named for Ella Fitzgerald.” Life is lonely again
and only last year
everything seemed so assured
now life is awful again
and the thoughtful of heart
could only be a bore
Thinking about the ultimate version of that most difficult jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn, Lush Life
I told June Katz, “I divide jazz singers into two camps. In one camp I put the many that are unable to sing Lush Life
. Into the other I put those that can. On which side would you be?” - “I can, and I do sing Lush Life
and I have been told that my version, in my third CD, is the definitive Vancouver version."A week in Paris will ease the bite of it
all i care is to smile in spite of it
I'll forget you I will
and yet you are still
burning inside my brain
There was an announcement that the library was going to close in 35 minutes. We said our goodbyes with smiles on our faces and I went to look for Rebecca in the teen section. Romance is mush
stifling those who strive
I'll live a lush
life in some small dive
and there I'll be
while I rot with the rest
of those whose lives are lonely too