Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: This Perfect Day

Over the weekend I finished all the books I had set out to read in July, so this month instead of digging into my collected comics and magazines, I decided to hit the books I’ve borrowed from others.  A few months ago, a friend of mine from one of my book clubs lent me Ira Levin’s 1971 novel This Perfect Day.  Although I have a few Levin books on my “To Be Read” shelf at home, the only one I’ve read so far is his superb Rosemary’s Baby.
Drawing obvious comparison with both 1984 and Brave New World, This Perfect Day is the story of Li RM35M4419 (nicknamed, “Chip”) and his journey through his terrifying society.  In Chip’s world, Unicomp is a worldwide computer system which manages the everyday lives of its citizens.  Each citizen is given a bracelet at birth and they scan their bracelet each time they enter or leave a room, ask for food, and receive their monthly treatments – which gets rid of all sorts of disagreeable issues like aggression, free will, and generally being disagreeable.
In this world everyone looks the same – the monthly treatments all citizens receive ensure men don’t grow facial hair and no one develops very much during puberty.  The main character, Chip, is a bit of a throwback as he has two different coloured eyes, which makes him stand out, but he is quickly forgiven regarding his appearance because Unicomp wants all of its citizens to be forgiving.  Obviously Chip has an interesting future ahead of him, although in Unicomp’s world, all choices are simply assigned to him (job, marriage, whether or not he will have kids, etc.).
It’s kind of funny, this book came out in 71, and excusing the few graphic sex scenes, it really felt like a modern day young adult fiction novel (I’m thinking of Uglies, Matched, Divergent, etc.), in fact, so much so that many of the plot points virtually telegraphed themselves to me as I went along, which I’m quite sure wasn’t’ the case when the book first came out, but as we are getting more and more used to dystopian stories in our teen fiction these days, it seems pretty straight forward to the modern reader.
The book was a lot of fun, a quick read (and even though I liked Rosemary’s Baby better), definitely recommended reading.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Vision for Librarianship in the 21st Century

As someone moving towards my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Studies, I would say I’m asked two questions with disturbing regularity:

1) You’re going to be a librarian, but I thought all librarians are women.

Not really a question, more of an observation really, but I suppose the answer is that although the vast majority of librarians are women, there are an awful lot of men in the field as well. If you’re interested there is an excellent infographic about the demographics of librarians available here.

2) Why are you getting a degree in library work - don’t you know that you can find everything on Google now?

I’m going to focus the rest of my post on answering question number three. Over the course of the last month I’ve read books talking about the changes the Internet is making to our brains, our societies focus on self-tracking online and its implications for the future, how games can be a positive force for change and finally, how we can use the new resources in our connected world to learn better, faster and more effectively, and how we should be helping our children learn these skills while in school to help ensure their success as adults in a connected world.  I’ve also spoken with a great group of Teachers and Teacher Librarians on how they think the ideas presented by these books will change the way education works, and the way schools will work.

In the end, I think two of the key elements of librarianship over the next century are going to be: 1) Increased use of reference in terms of self-directed learning strategies, 2) A larger focus on Libraries and Library services in distance learning and online capacities


Having worked in the library field for most of my adult life, I am constantly met with people who are shocked at what reference services actually do for people. 

At it's simplest level, reference services help you find the answers you need.  As things stand, many libraries are opening all sorts of online counterparts for their reference desks, through webpages, apps, and even reference by text. As more and more of the World's knowlege is being complied online “…We are living at a time of unprecedented change, and the web is driving much of it…the implications for learning…is profound” (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011, p.15), and my personal feeling is that libraries, and especially reference are going to be a huge part of that, whether in traditional reference services or in helping patron get better at doing their own research.

In my mind, as people get more comfortable online, they are going to start taking more and more advantage of the massive learning opportunities available there; whether through things like iTunes Univeristy or through online courses offerred through traditional universities and libraries.  In my mind all libraries have an amazing opportunity to get involved in helping their patrons learn whatever will help them do their jobs better.  Whether academic or special librarians offering courses on reseraching specific schools of research literature or school and public librarians offering courses on how to really understand the origins of Batman, these types of learning opportunites, wherein users come to libraries to help learn whatever they are interested in will both be a continuation of what libraries already do, and a way to connect with other patrons equally interested in the same topics, only those other patrons could be coming from anywhere around the world.

Personally, I've done a significant percentage of my own learning online.  I took my first distance learning courses in high school, then a few more while I was getting my Library Technican diploma in the late 90s, and afterwards I earned my Bachelor's degree entirely through online and distance learning, moving at my own pace and focusing our topics I was interested in.  By the time I finish my Masters of Library and Information Studies Degree, I will have taken a full quarter of my Graduate studies courses online.  In my mind, onlne courses work is a pretty stratightforward game - I have a clearly defined goal (a number of classes), I'm there by choice, there are obvious rules to follow, and there is a working feedback system (my grades and instructor feedback), in McGonigal's excellent book Reality is Broken (where I got the list of basic game traits, btw), she says, "...No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness—by working hard at activities that provide their own reward." (McGonigal, 2011, p. 15), and for me that happiness comes from working my way through school.


One of the big things you can do right now is get involved in the conversation, and there are a number of places you can start, ISTE’s Special Interest Group for Media Specialists (SIGMS) provides a community for school library media specialists to gather and learn about technologies that improve the operation and programs of the school library media center, increase access to information, and create a more effective and efficient teaching and learning environment. (Perez, 2012, para. 5) You can also follow all sorts of exiting websites which are looking at technology and librarianship today, my current favourite is The Modern MLIS, which I use to keep on top of all sorts of library and related technology trends. Finally (for those of you in the field), you can get involved with the various Associations and groups who are looking to this very stuff, like LITA, RUSA, or the Various Networks pages at the Canadian Library Association website.  Changes are happening in how libraries are handling the new tech-heavy world our kids are growing up in, and you can either be a participant in those changes or watch from the sidelines.

Realize that tech is not the be all and end all of the future of libraries, but you’re only hurting yourself if you choose to ignore it, remember that “…children who grow up playing computer games and checking information online grow into the middle schoolers who find it more natural to communicate by texting and to find information through Twitter. (Fasick, 2011, p.7), These kids are growing up in a world where they can learn about pretty much anything they like, and if we’d like to be a part of that, we need to go where they are.

Finally, just breathe. There was probably pushback when the book was first introduced, and the move from card catalogues to computers has been a bumpy road. In the end, we’ll be doing a lot of the same things, it may just end up we’ll be doing them for patrons from around the globe.

Works Cited

Fasick, A. (2011) From Boardbook to Facebook: Children’s services in an interactive age. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
McGonigal, J. (2011) Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Books.

Richardson, W. & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education.Bloomongton, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Perez, L. (2012) Not your Grandmother’s Library. Learning and Leading with Technology. 38(6), Retrieved at http://www.iste.org/learn/publications/learning-leading/issues/march-april-2011/feature-article-not-your-grandmothers-library

Images Used
Monastic Library, Theological Hall, retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jametiks/3156014343/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Genre Characters of the week: Dr. Newton Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb

For my oldest daughter's birthday last week, we saw our first IMAX 3D film, Guillermo de Toro's Pacific Rim.

The film, which was a heck of a lot of fun, and will hopefully introduce a whole new generation of kids to the Mech vs. Giant Moster film genre, focuses largely on the story of a burnt-out hero, called in from retirement for one last job.

My favourite characters in the film however, were the two monster (called Kaijus in the film) focused scientists, Dr. Newt Geiszler and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman

Dr. Geiszler (pictured right), is the specialist in the Kaijus themselves, how they work, how their bodies function, and is sitting at the corner of being a scientist to almost being a fan of the creatures.  

Dr. Gottlieb (pictured left), is instead the scientist focused on the method by which these creatures have entered our world.  He's more introverted than Dr. Geiszler and definitely seems more at home in the lab than in the field.

Rather than simply playing the two characters as comic relief (which, to be fair, the do more than their share of), the story actually allows them to get into some pretty dark places in terms of their study of the creatures, and in the end their work does have a significant effect on the story.

In the end, they're not the main characters, but they were by far my favourites.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring

Last weekend a lot of people decided to skip the usual summer fare of action and animated films and instead decided to go see the new horror film The Conjuring, directed by filmmaker James Wan (famous in horror circles as the director of Saw and Insidious), which is pretty great news, as the film was a pretty great haunted house story, and definitely had me on the edge of my seat for most of the story.
The story is largely about the Perron family, who in 1971 moved into a house that started acting very strangely very quickly.  All the clocks stopped each night at the same time, strange smells and noises contantly woke the family, and eventually something started attacking the children.  At this point Ed and Lorrainne Warren are brought in, paranormal investigators who hope to solve the Perron's problem.
What I loved best about the film comes down to the strong story and acting, horror can often impress me with great scary concepts, but stories that are brought to life by actors who excel at their craft tend to stick with you.  The entire film had a vibe that felt like a horror film made in the early 70s, reflecting in everything from camera angles to the title card.

Also the music box shown in some of the trailers is much creepier when seen in detail.

This movie was great, and assuming it'll come with a commentary track when released on DVD, I'm pretty sure I'll be adding it to my collection.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Movie Review: R.I.P.D.

So last night my wife and I went out to see an advanced screening of the new film R.I.P.D., starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges.

First of all, yes - the film can largely be described as Men In Black, but with Supernatural, rather than Extra-Terrestrial beings in it.

Aside from that, however, the film was a whole lot of fun, had a really great sense of humour and had just about the perfect balance between horror and comedy.  I'm pretty sure both my kids will really enjoy it, and although I didn't really see the 3D as necessary, I don't think it drastically took away from the film either.

The film follows a recently deceased boston cop (Reynolds) who finds that he has been recruited into the Rest In Peace Department (RIPD), meaning it is now his job to return the unquiet dead back to where they belong when they escape to Earth.

Yes, a lot of the elements in the film were covered in the Television series Dead Like Me (which, if you haven't seen it is pretty amazing, by the way) and the short-lived Television series Brimstone (which actually used an awful lot of the same concepts).

In the end, the writing is sharp, the visuals are fun, and as it's based on a graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics (producers of my personal favourite series, Hellboy) so I'd say it is definitely worth the watch.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Game by Bookmonkey

After going through the book Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal back in April, I decided to create my own game, to help me find a fun way to deal with my unfortunate habit of overspending on work days (I work Downtown, so unchecked I can easily spend $20 or even $30 a day while at work, on lunches, coffees and snacks)

Bookmonkey's Money Saving Game
Basic Rule - Give yourself $10 each day – savings go in envelope and once they add up to a prize level, claim your prize!

Prize Level 1 – Game/Book/Movie ($15 total)

Prize Level 2 - Fancy lunch out ($25)

Prize Level 3 – Lunch out with my wife ($50)

Basically, each day I would start with $10 as a baseline, and after getting my snacks, coffee and/or lunch, I would put however much change I had into an envelope I kept in my desk.  If I didn’t spend anything, I’d put the whole $10 in the envelope and on Friday I would count up my change and put it towards one of my “prize levels.”  In this way I would both be giving myself permission to spend cash, but at the same time, I would have a clear and obvious reward for spending more wisely than I had in the past. 

As of last Friday (July 12) I’ve hit level all three levels, and am creating new ones for the summer (i.e. Movie Night with my family ($80)) which will be pretty cool, considering i feel like I’m paying for it all with change, and at the same time, I’m trying very hard each day to ensure I spend less than $10 so I have something to add to the pot.  In my own mind, for it’s target audience (me), this has been a pretty successful game and a great way I could apply the knowledge I had learned in the book to a real world situation.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

I thought I'd go back and watch the 2011 film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, in preparation to see his newest film Pacific Rim later today.

Based on a 1973 TV Movie of the same name, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, focuses on a young girl, Sally, who has just moved from her mother's home in California to her fathers home on the East Coast of the United States.  The house itself, basically your giant creepy/elegant haunted house is pretty amazing.  As with all movies of this type, something creepy is going on in the house, and it seems to want Sally.

Unlike a lot of other stories however, the "something" in the house is pretty unique and also pretty terrifying.  Much of the movie focuses on what Sally discovers in the house and then how her Father and his new girlfriend react.

Personally, I found the film to be a lot of fun, and in addition to the house, it features both a library and a male librarian!  Which as a male librarian in training is always nice to see.

There are definitely some terrifying scenes, and if you wanted to watch it with kids, I might recommend you pre-screen it first, to see if it's the kind of thing your kid would like.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Things I've Noticed: I just finished watching Sharknado

So my wife and I just finished watching the Shark-infested tornado film SHARKNADO about ten minutes ago and I'm still sort of processing it.

First of all - kudos to the actors who actually had to pretend to be terrified by a tornado filled with sharks - in most cases they appeared as serious as is humanly possible in such circumstances.

Secondly - my youngest daughter seems to hate the female lead of the film, a waitress who may have had a run-in with sharks in the past, mostly because she (the waitress, not my daughter) seems to have a bit of a crush on her boss.

Finally, I loved the fact that in the version of the film we saw, the end credits raced by, I mean in less than a minute, showing me exactly how much people wanted their names connected with the film.

Was it stupid?  Yes - but still a fun way to spend the afternoon, and now I feel much more prepared in case of.... Sharknado.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Ig Parrish

So I literally just finished Joe Hill's second novel, Horns about five minutes ago.  Although it was his second novel, and I'm usually quite big about readings an author's work in publishing order, I was introduced to the author with his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box (excellent, by the way), and then moved on to his comic book series, Locke & Key.

Horns follows our Genre Character of the week: Ig Parrish, a young man who has just woken up from a really bad drinking binge and finds he now has horns growing out of his head.

Ig has spent the last year of his life being a "person of interest" in the rape and murder of his long time girlfriend, so it's safe to say he is pretty much hit bottom at the point the novel begins.  The interesting thing about the horns, however, is that people seem to act differently around Ig now, telling him secrets they would never share with anyone else, and asking for his permission to act on their darkest impulses.

What I really like about Ig is that through this entire strange, hellish novel, he always comes across as a real person, a three dimensional human being doing his best to understand a world that no longer makes any sense at all.

A film adaptation of the novel will be coming out later this year, and I'm definitely interested in seeing how it turns out.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Game Review: Batman: Arkham City

A year ago I reviewed the game Batman: Arkham Asylum, and at the time I mentioned that the big game (this was in July of 2012 mind), the Batman game du jour was Batman: Arkham City.

Well, a year later and I've finally got around to playing the sequel, and you know what?  I really love what they've done with this game.  Expanding far beyond the island that Arkham Asylum sat on, this game takes place in a large area of Gotham City which has been walled off and left to the criminals - think Escape from New York: Batman Edition and you've got a good idea of what to expect.

Many of the same characters from the first game appear, but now almost the entire batman expanded universe is added as well, with everyone from Robin to a playable Catwoman appearing, not to mention any number of my favourite Batman baddies (including the under-appreciated Calendar Man).

As with the previous game, my sixteen-year-old daughter was playing around the same time as me, but unlike the first game, this time she finished first.  At the moment I'm about 53% of the way to completing the game, which involves a large number of side missions, Catwoman missions, and collecting almost 450 Riddler trophies hidden throughout the city.

A lot of fun, especially after you win and you get to run around this hyper-realistic world as the Batman from the animated series - think Who Framed Roger Rabbit,  but with more batarangs.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Things I've Noticed: Information Technology for Learning

On Tuesday I started my twelfth course on the road to my Master of Library and Information Studies - a graduate level education course call Information Technology for Learning.

For the course, which lasts for the month of July, we're reading four books: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives are Altering the World Around Us, Professional Learning Networks, and Reality is Broken: Why Games make us better and how they can change the world.

We'll spend the month discussing the texts and working out ways in which our digital world is affecting the ways people learn.  One unit in and I'm felling pretty good about it, and as I'm definitely interested in the topic personally, I'm thinking I'm really going to enjoy the work.

(Sorry in advance if my July posts get all introspective about the online world)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Alvin Maker

So here I am, not even fully through the first novel in the series, and I'm really loving the character of young Alvin Maker in Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son.

The series takes place in an alternate history version of America, in the early 1800s.  It follows the childhood of a young man called Alvin, who happens to be the seventh son of a seventh son, which in his world makes him pretty special indeed.

Unlike the author's other main protagonist (Andrew "Ender" Wiggins), Alvin comes across as a pretty great little kid (and later young man), he's honest, works to make the world around him a little better, and has the knack to make just about anything.

To be fair there are some pretty obvious parallels between Alvin and the real world historical figure Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (also known as the Mormons), but seeing that the author is a practicing member of that faith, parallels can be expected.

So far the story is pretty great, there's a great sense of both wonder and danger throughout, and even though I'm Canadian, stories set in the history of my continent (even an alternate history), are pretty fun for me to check out.

Although I can't recommend the series as I'm only on book one, the first book is pretty great and definitely worth a look if you enjoy fantasy fiction.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I'm Back!

Hi All,

I got back early Monday morning (Happy Canada Day - BTW), and spent all day yesterday with the family.

Chicago was pretty fun, and I'll post more on it tomorrow, but for today I'll simply say it's great to be back, and I'm sorry if my non-Canadian readers checked in yesterday and missed me!

Your pal,