Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Books Have Gone Digital

Growing up I disliked reading. I remember in grade six my teacher set up a construction paper road around the classroom with a little cut out car with numbers on them for each student. My car was a baby blue speedster with the number 27 written on it. To move your car along the track you had to read a chapter in a book. As you progressed further on the road the track would change colour (from blue to green for example) and you would need to read an extra chapter to progress further on the new track. While a lot of my classmates enjoyed speeding their cars around the “reading road” I had a tough time getting number 27 along the track.

A lot of time has passed since grade six and I am pleased to announce that over the years reading has become one of my favourite pleasures. But, my joy of reading has come at a cost and like any addiction the first step is admitting you have a problem – I have a habit of buying too many books.

I purchase books faster then I can read them. I love waking up on weekends and traveling to my favourite bookstores where I walk up and down the aisles searching for literary treasures. For some people it’s shoes and for others clothes, but for me it’s books.

A couple of weeks ago I walked into the bookstore and noticed a rather large group of people gathered around a table in the center of store. At first I thought the crowd might have been attracted to one of the latest releases by a big name author, but as I grew closer to the table I realized what the commotion was all about – digital readers.

Just as television, magazines and newspapers are giving way to the Internet and going digital – so to is the case with books. No longer “hard to read”, the new generation of digital readers are supposedly so good that some describe their experience with digital readers as “perfect”.

Now I don’t want to sound like the guy who would rather use a typewriter instead of a computer, but I am not sure if I am ready to trade in my book for a digital upgrade. There is something to be said about “physically” owning and holding a book. I can take it with me wherever I go, I can drop it, throw it in my bag, lend it to a friend and most importantly if the book goes missing I don’t get too upset because hopefully the person who finds it will enjoy it as much as I did.

The average cost of an E-Reader ranges anywhere from $199.99 to $600 depending on what company you go with and how big you want your screen to be. The big benefit of owning an E-Reader means that you will be paying less per book. A new book that would have cost you $26 will come out to $9.99 if you download it. In my opinion, this is where the benefits end. You might be paying less for a book, but can you lend it to a friend once you are done? What happens if your screen cracks? How much will a charge chord cost if you misplace your original? What happens when technology changes again? We know Amazon, one of the leaders in online book sales, has already upgraded from their original product the Amazon Kindle to the Kindle 2. At the current pace of technology are we going to be paying another $200 dollars to replace our digital readers in two years?

I hate to sound skeptical, but I know a cash grab when I see one. Market researchers in the US are already predicting that the Ebook market will jump from their current $1.3 billion revenue totals this year to $2.5 billion by 2013.

While E-Readers may be the natural progression we need to head toward to save our planet and our trees - I would hope that after 2000 years of books that mankind could find a route that didn’t involve removing the actual book altogether.

I came across an interesting saying that reads, “When money talks, nobody notices what grammar it uses.” At the end of the day forces greater than me will decide the fate of the book industry. The posters in future grade 6 classrooms may read, “Curl up with a good E-Reader.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Has it been Four Years Already?

I received this in an email and I found it pretty funny. Below are the 12 things the man in your life/family wants you to remember during the World Cup 2010:

1. From June 11th to July 11th, 2010, you should read the sports section of the newspaper so that you are aware of what is going on regarding the World Cup, and that way you will be able to join in the conversations. If you fail to do this, then you will be looked at in a bad way, or you will be totally ignored. DO NOT complain about not receiving any attention.

2. During the World Cup, the television is mine, at all times, without any exceptions. If you even take a glimpse of the remote control, you will lose it (your eye).

3. If you have to pass by in front of the TV during a game, I don't mind, as long as you do it crawling on the floor and without distracting me. If you decide to stand nude in front of the TV, make sure you put clothes on right after because if you catch a cold, I won’t have time to take you to the doctor or look after you during the World Cup month.

4. During the games I will be blind, deaf and mute, unless I require a refill of my drink or something to eat. You are out of your mind if you expect me to listen to you, open the door, answer the telephone, or pick up the baby that just fell on the floor....It won’t happen.

5. It would be a good idea for you to keep at least 2 six packs in the fridge at all times, as well as plenty of things to nibble on, and please do not make any funny faces to my friends when they come over to watch the games. In return, you will be allowed to use the TV between 12am and 6am, unless they replay a good game that I missed during the day.

6. Please, please, please!! If you see me upset because one of my teams is losing, DO NOT say "get over it, its only a game", or "don't worry, they'll win next time". If you say these things, you will only make me angrier and I will love you less. Remember, you will never ever know more about football than me and your so called "words of encouragement" will only lead to a break up or divorce.

7. You are welcome to sit with me to watch one game and you can talk to me during halftime but only when the commercials are on, and only if the half time scores is pleasing me. In addition, please note I am saying "one" game; hence do not use the World Cup as a nice cheesy excuse to "spend time together".

8. The replays of the goals are very important. I don't care if I have seen them or I haven't seen them, I want to see them again, many times.

9. Tell your friends NOT to have any babies, or any other child related parties or gatherings that requires my attendance because:
a) I will not go,
b) I will not go, and
c) I will not go.

10. But, if a friend of mine invites us to his house on a Sunday to watch a game, we will be there in a flash.

11. The daily World Cup highlights on Sportsnet, Sports Centre, The Score, or any other news channel every night is just as important as the games themselves. Do not even think about saying "but you have already seen this...why don't you change the channel to something we can all watch?" because, the reply will be, "Refer to Rule #2 of this list".

12. And finally, please save your expressions such as "Thank God the World Cup is only every 4 years". I am immune to these words, because after this comes the Champions League, Italian League, Spanish League, Premier League, FA Cup, etc.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Riddle of the Sphinx

I am a fan of riddles. I remember being a young child and being asked a riddle that went something like this:

In Greek mythology, the Sphinx sat outside of Thebes and asked this riddle of all travelers who passed by. If the traveler failed to solve the riddle, then the Sphinx killed him/her. And if the traveler answered the riddle correctly, then the Sphinx would destroy herself. The riddle: What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? Oedipus solved the riddle, and the Sphinx destroyed herself.

When I first heard this riddle I had no clue what the answer was, but as time went on the answer eventually became clear: human beings.

If you think about it we walk on four legs in our early childhood (the morning). As we grow older we have the strength to walk on two legs (the afternoon). Finally, in our old age some people are forced to walk with the assistance of a cane, which the riddle describes as a third leg.

A year ago today I was in a very dark place. I had strained my MCL in a soccer tournament in late February and two months later I was still having a hard time walking, bending and sitting. In August I was hoping to attend training camp for my school’s soccer team and this injury was beginning to make me worry.

After three months of rest and three weeks of physiotherapy I was finally able to start running again and I began my training to return to the field. The stage was set for my own personal version of the Rocky movies as I began working toward being ready for the upcoming season. Fortunately for me I had my good friend Odean working with me the whole way.

Let me tell you something about Odean – the guy is a physical BEHEMOTH! I struggle to do large sets of push-ups and Odean does upside down push-ups. I would often find myself saying, “Man, I can’t do that.” To which he would reply, “well, you gotta crawl before you walk and you gotta walk before you run.”

Odean could not have been more right. In due time I was running faster, longer, up hills, down hills, lunging, doing push-ups, sit-ups and by the end of it all I was in good form going into training camp.

Like the riddle, like my recovery from injury and like anything new in life we begin at the bottom in our best crawl position. Over time we slowly get better and with enough practice we eventually become really good at it. It makes the end reward sweeter when you reflect on the path you traveled.

When something new has you down just remember that there is a natural order in life. You have to keep telling yourself – Crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

Monday, May 10, 2010

That Post

In five years of University I have probably attended close to 600 classes. Like anything I have done in life I can usually remember the important bits of information, but a lot of the stuff I learned at school has fallen into the recesses of my mind – where I can hopefully find them when I need them.

Fortunately for me, I do remember two classes and they were my first and my last. Like any good journey the last class ended with a big show. It was a class where a group of pre-service teachers spent time talking about their greatest experiences with one another through video, slideshows, song, etc.

My first class, on the other hand, is another story altogether. The class was called Mass Communications and the professor, who we will call Prof. L, was the most experienced and decorated at the University. He came into the room with a rather large stack of papers and proceeded to hand them out to the class. After receiving his 20-page syllabus I was wondering if I had just walked into “Intimidation 101.”

We began the process of reading through the syllabus and we stopped on the word “vernacular” a word with many definitions, but roughly means the use of a wide variety of words and how they are understood by different people. I think he wanted us to understand this word because as we continued on our journey through our undergrad we would come across new words we would have to understand and adapt to our own writing if we wanted to be successful in Media Studies.

Upon leaving class he gave us our first assignment. We were asked, if I can remember correctly, to write a one-page assignment about who we were. To give you a small taste of our dear Prof. L when a student asked about the length of the assignment (and all assignments to come) he would answer, “as short as possible and as long as necessary.”

I went home and worked frivolously on my assignment and handed it in the following week and waited another week to receive my mark. I have self-titled Prof. L’s third class “The Bloodshed.” Seeing the faces of my fellow classmates looking at their marks made me think twice if I really deserved to be at University. When I finally received my paper I was relieved to see a great big seven at the bottom – not too high, not too low, right where I needed to be.

I decided to talk to Prof. L after class to ask what I needed to do to improve on my mark. At the time I thought it was the worst decision of my life, but as I grow older I realize even though I may have felt inferior at the time all learning is a process – good or bad.

What I found interesting about the corrections was his critique of the word “that.” It was the first word Prof. L picked out and he wrote down the comment, “does this really need to be here?”

Years later as I continue with my education and writing I realize I use the word “that” quite frequently, but couldn’t really explain to someone what it meant if they were to ask. Like any good student I turned to the dictionary and this is what I found:

There is widespread ignorance about how to use that as a relative pronoun, and two common that- errors are so severe that teachers, editors, and other high-end readers will make unkind judgments about you if you commit them. The first is to use which when you need that. Writers who do this usually think the two relative pronouns are interchangeable but that which makes you look smarter. They aren't, and it doesn't. For writers, the abstract rule that that introduces restrictive elements and which introduces nonrestrictive elements is probably less helpful than the following simple test: If there needs to be a comma before the relative pronoun, you need which; otherwise, you need that. *Examples: We have a massive SUV that we purchased on credit last month; The massive SUV, which we purchased on credit last month, seats us ten feet above any other driver on the road. The second error, even more common, is worse. It's using that when you really need who or whom. Examples: She is the girl that he's always dreamed of; Daddy promised the air rifle to the first one of us that cleaned out the hog pen. There's a basic rule: Who and whom are the relative pronouns for people; that and which are the relative pronouns for everything else. It's true that there's a progressive-type linguistic argument to be made for the thesis that the supposed "error" of using that with people is in fact the first phase of our language evolving past the who/that distinction, since a universal that is simpler and would allow English to dispense with the whole subject- who-vs.-object- whom thing. This sort of argument is interesting in theory; ignore it in practice. The truth is that, as of now, misusing that for who or whom, whether in writing or speech, functions as a kind of class marker—it's the grammatical equivalent of wearing NASCAR paraphernalia or liking pro wrestling. If you think this last assertion too snooty or extreme, please be informed that the hideous old PTL Club' s initials actually stood for "People That Love."

(I wonder how much this person got paid per word)

While there is much confusion about how to use “that” I started to realize I could write without using the word at all. I began to look back over all my sentences and would either omit or replace the word “that” with something else and found I didn’t loose the meaning of the sentence at all. After this big speech about our “vernacular” it turns out the most important lesson I learned from Prof. L was how to remove a specific word from my written work.

Try it out for yourself and see if you need to use that word “that.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fitting In

Through volunteering I have had the unique opportunity to work with a variety of youths ranging from 8 – 12 years of age. It’s refreshing to spend time talking with the youngsters as they bring new topics to my attention that I have never even thought of before.

Take today for example, I am in a class of 11 year olds and they call me over to show me what appears to be a stuffed hamster-like thing. “Mr. R” they say, “have you ever seen one of these before?” In all honesty – I hadn’t seen one of “these things” before, but they seemed excited to talk to me about it so I asked the next logical questions, “What is it and what does it do?”

Their little faces lit up as they exclaimed, “It’s a ZhuZhu!” (Pronounced Zoo Zoo)

Okay, it looks like a hamster and has funny name, but what does it do? The students put the ZhuZhu on the ground and told me to stand back. Within seconds it was rolling back and forth on the floor saying in-audible things that I couldn’t make out in the hysteria of laughter from the students.

What was ironic about the whole situation was that I spent a small portion of the morning talking to the class about the powers of the media and advertising. When I asked why the class why the media would work so hard to get their attention they all knew it was because of money. We even talked about how children use their parents to buy the products they see on television because children don’t earn their own money. It would appear that the consumer seed has already been planted, but I can only hope that my conversation today has left some sort of impression in their minds.

On my way home I started to think about the things that I used to buy and play with at school that were probably just as strange to adults looking at me back in the day. We all remember Pogs, devil sticks, tamagotchis, etc. The more I thought about it the more I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the number of commercials I saw on the TV about a product that made me want to buy it. All I needed to see was the fun that some other kid was having with it at school and I wanted in (except for Pogs I still believe to this day that I was the first kid to have those).

It was interesting because here I was spending time talking to them about not falling into -what I will call the “buying trap” – and here I am 15 years later realizing that I was the same way.

This past week I was reading a book by a famous Canadian businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich and in his book he touched on “following the crowd.” He said that in life he often found the most success when he went against the flow of common thought – when he was comfortable with doing his own thing.

While I think it may be hard to convince small children that it’s not important to fit in. I think it’s important to try and lead by example. Schulich suggests implementing the 48-hour rule. If you still feel like you absolutely need something after two days then go ahead and get it. In most situations you’ll find that after 48-hours has passed the “need” for the product will dissipate and the cash that was burning a hole in your pocket will stay in your pocket.

At the end of the day I don’t think any product truly defines who you are. You may find greater rewards when you go against the current and try to define your own image beyond what you see on TV.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


When I was in high school I had the opportunity to travel with my school drama club to the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. The festival was a gathering of membership schools from around the world where we could all meet, partake in special workshops and, the best part of all, watch the top ten plays/musicals as selected by the Festival Judges that year.

For those of you who don’t know about the state of Nebraska it is known as the flat state and the crop of choice is Corn. Their NCAA football team is known as the Corn Huskers and I bought my sister a cool t-shirt that said, “Not Everything is Flat in Nebraska.”

I think this is what made Lincoln so popular. It was a place where around 2000 or so teenagers could get together and there wasn’t really anything we could do to get ourselves in trouble.

Each night, after the final show was over, we were all free to mix and mingle around the Campus until our curfew time of 11 p.m. We lived for the Dances at night. Canadian Boys were a hot commodity and, being a drama geek, it was big news to finally be talking with girls.

It was interesting to talk with American Girls. I remember my plan of action was to ask a lot of questions and just listen. What I slowly began to find out was that even though these ladies were all American they had spent a good portion of their childhood moving from one section of the country to the next. Lived in Missouri, moved to Colorado, spent time in Utah, a year in Alabama, surfing in California and so on.

These experiences were so much unlike my own. I was born and raised in my hometown of Brampton, Ontario. The more people I spoke with the more I noticed the same story and I began to think of America as a country of movers.

Fast-forward five years and I am driving home over the winter holidays with my roommate and good friend and we are talking about our futures. He explained it like this, “we spend four years of undergraduate education, some of us 5 or more with graduate programs, and while we are there they teach us to think outside the box and think beyond where we came from. We spend all this time learning all these new things and then many of us return home forgetting a lot of the good stuff we learned.”

Why do we take a step back after we have achieved so much? Financial reasons? Comfort? Fear? One of my favourite author’s Paulo Coelho in his book The Alchemist talks about 4 reasons why people prevent themselves from achieving their dreams – what he describes as a “personal legend”. He says that often times we are too afraid to leave behind the ones we love or we keep telling ourselves that if we wait a little bit longer and save up that little bit of money then we will go.

Maybe it’s the quest for the American Dream or maybe it's the deep roots of Expansionism that has created this "movement" of Americans that I learned about back in high school. I don’t know if I will ever know the answer and perhaps maybe it was just a fluke that I met all these “flighty” Americans. But, the words of my friend and Coelho still ring in my ear to this very day. Coelho explains when your on the path of your personal legend anything is possible. If you follow your heart it will never lead you astray.

You just need to be willing to take that first step.