Sunday, September 14, 2008

Setting goals

My son Lucas has a school project that stretches over a full year. He had to come up with a meaningful personal goal and work on it over the course of the year. He chose to write a sports blog. You can see it at -- in fact, he'd be delighted if you would leave some comments.

When Lucas brought this project home, Beth and I decided that we would also establish year-long goals so we would all being doing something together. Beth decided to take piano lessons. That worked well until the (electronic) piano stopped working properly (hey, Duncan, want to buy a used piano?). She's into photography now.

My goal was to run a marathon. I've been a runner for a number years; my first participation in an organized run must have been 20 years ago or so -- the Run, Wall and Roll in Calgary, as I recall, and I ran in a number of others during those early years, especially in Banff --Melissa's, Winter Start etc. When I moved to Victoria I kept it up but starting in about 2005 I seem to have stopped. I had many excuses (pressures of work, you know, that sort of thing) but they all disappeared with my new goal.

Today I ran my second half-marathon. I thought I might run in the Royal Victoria Marathon next month but after running the Land's End half today, I realize that I'm not ready for it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't finish. (Beth and Lucas seem willing to accept that two halves equal a whole.) It was a great run today but it was blisteringly hot especially towards the end and, as in my first (ever) half (the Oak Bay one), I started to fade badly at the 18k mark. My time today was about the same as my previous attempt: 2:02, 2:03. I may be getting older but at least I'm not getting any slower! True, there are lots of runners my age who do it much faster though, so age is not really an excuse. Okay, so at least I finished.

I'm too exhausted right now to contemplate signing up for another run. Probably in a week's time I'll gain some motivating perspective. We'll see. But I do like setting goals.


I was reading a short article in the most recent issue of Wired that surveyed the slew of books and articles which have appeared recently on the negative impact of the Internet and all associated technology (as in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future and "Is Google Making us Stupid?"). One author suggests that the Web makes us "both moronic and narcissistic."

Writing a blog is a perfect example of what is meant. Blogs are used for jottings of random pieces of information which those who post them presumably think are important and worth others reading. Blogs are, when you come down to it, the contemporary form of a diary, something that always used to be private and often kept under lock and key. Today, blogs reveal all to the world; things which in the past would have been between myself and my pen are now between the world and my keyboard. Blogs suggest we think ourselves to be of such individual significance that we should share our thoughts and lives. Moronic and narcissistic.

But there's another view: blogs, and things like Facebook, personal domain names (I own three names:, and and all those other manifestations of the Internet, are a part of an emerging arena for the construction of social relations. Facebook, it strikes me, is like going to a party except it's online: it's an opportunity to meet new people through other people you already know. Our personal networks are expanding tremendously. Blogs are a way to provide communciation to friends and colleagues, and perhaps gain some new friends in the process.

I've always said that if I had to do my career over again I would choose to be a rock star (sometimes I even say that's what I'll do when I retire -- not that I have any musical talent though). I've been thinking about that. While that fantasy aspiration would be fine if I could be a rock star of the late sixties/early seventies and stay in the that time period for ever, I fear the reality would be that I'd have to keep up with the musical times or sell myself as an aging rocker, Mick Jagger style. Both of those seem pretty dismal outcomes that I don't think I'm up for. So, I think I'll change what I would have liked to have been: I'd be an academic but I would have taken up cultural studies so that I could really understand things like blogs and what they mean.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Weighty Tome

I recently found a weighty tome in my mailbox-- a most impressive book by John Lutz of the History department with the title Makuk: A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations, published by UBC Press in 2008. The topic is one none of us can ignore, living where we do, and a quick glance at the table of contents reveals that this will be a work that will reward a close reading -- something I hope to do before too long (although I won't be taking it backpacking with me, given its dimensions!).

But what really attracted my attention to John's book were the physical qualities of the book. It's more than simply asserting that UBC Press did a nice job of the binding and the paper. This is a book with design features that we don't often see in scholarly works (I should point out that the book stems from John's dissertation from a number of years back and that it has over 55 pages of notes and a bibliography of over 20 pages). First impressions are those of thinking that it is something of a textbook, even for high school classes maybe, and it could well be that it will find an audience there. But overall, I think that a misleading characterization and a reflection of my (and I suspect other people's) low expectations of the design of academic books these days. It's more than just the presence of illustrations (I have finally published an edited work that contains some pictures so I know what impact they alone can have) but it's to be seen in the use of multiple typefaces and font sizes, the use of quotes in outside margins, of boxed-text extracts, of detailed maps, of tables and charts -- things that simply makes this book a delight to contemplate and provide so many places to dip into the subject matter. O that all publishers would take such pride in their work and that we as authors would not feel the pressures of needing to publish quickly and the publisher's need to recap their investment in us ever sooner so that the joys of the physical properties of the book could be experienced more often!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Dean's First Blog

It all seems so easy -- sign up on and start blogging. I'm going to give it a try for a bit to see if I can really find the time to write things with regularity. It will, at least, serve as an alternative to the longish emails I send once in a while telling a story.

A colleague -- Judith Mitchell in English to be precise -- gave me a book just before Lucas (my son) and I went off backpacking this past week. The Academic Community: A Manual for Change by Donald Hall looked to be just what I needed: a book to invigorate me and make sure that the less-than-two-years I have left as Dean are a period in which I can really say I accomplished some things. I quickly read the first chapter and saw that this was going to valuable: the basis of Hall's book is found in Gadamer's ideas on dialogue and hermeneutics, a perspective I find appealing. So, into the backpack it went.

Unfortunately things did not work out quite they way I hoped. The hike in to Circlet Lake in Strathcona Park was easy and pleasant but it got cold and started to rain shortly after we arrived. For the next three days the weather was not such as to encourage sitting around reading (my ability to read lying in my sleeping bag is limited these days, I find, given the difficulties of determining just the right "spot" in my glasses to focus on a book while holding it in front of my nose).

What made it worse was that I took a second book with me and I just happened to start reading that too (always a bad idea): Mieke Bal's Loving Yusuf: Conceptual Travels from Present to Past. This work develops the notions of "cultural memory" as related to the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife in the Bible, the Qur'an, Rembrandt and Thomas Mann, as well as through the author's autobiographical memories of a Dutch Catholic education. I was enthralled again for the first chapter but made little progress beyond that. Those of you who know Bal's work will realize that while she shares some theoretical perspectives found in Hall's frame of reference, she writes in a more theoretical way and I found that the two works together did not necessarily make good companions -- and that didn't encourage me to endure the cold and read on.

O well. My summer reading adventure won't result in a full report to the Faculty this year as I was hoping (and as I managed last year with Williams' Stoner, read while hiking Nootka Island). But at least I have a picture to share. Here's me on Mt. Frink with Moat Lake and Mt Washington in the background. Gorgeous weather, you'll note: two hours later, it started to rain, hail and snow (lightly).