The Fugitives were awesome! and other recaps…

So, last night I went to the much anticipated The Fugitives concert (featuring Kinnie Starr) at the Artery. I had won tickets earlier this week from Artery Noiselab on Facebook (I was quite honestly shocked that no one had beat me to it, afterall, I've been such a huge fan based on what little I had been able to find of their work online in the past months since Edmonton Poetry Festival). Next to no one I knew knew of The Fugitives, but I was so excited — espressing ridiculous fan-girl tendancies almost. Poetry set to music rocks, as does well-done spoken word, so how could I not like this??! Besides what with the fab acordion music, balalaika, banjo, harmonica, and steel guitar, in addition to the absolutely great acoustics of the Artery, the small but enthusiastic crowd and yes, The Fugitives.

Anyway, as much as my concert tickets (for two) were free, I spent quite a lot on 7 CDs from band members: essentially all of The Fugitives already released works, and one individual CD from each of the artists. Not a bad deal considering just how rarely I buy CDs, and the fact that I *know* I'll get a tonne of listening pleasure out of them. So yeah, best Concert Ever is a great way of describing my experience.

In other news, Friday and Saturday was the Kiwanis club of Edmonton Young Professionals 2nd Annual Buy Nothing Day Free Market. This year we moved to a new venue, and expanded it to a two day event. The second day was actually the most successful of the two, however I was very pleased to see the people who did attend: given our poor advertising (this is an area where we definitely need some improvement), we still got an entire class of newcomers to Edmonton, some formerly homeless Edmontonians, young families, many professionals, quite a few of my friends (and other friends of members), members of the Jane Austen Society, people who worked in the library, and many others from all walks of life! I really appreciated the cross-section that came out. I also rid my apartment of many items that I didn't need/want anymore which was pretty awesome (and I picked up two CDs, and five books to read — one book was one I had read before but wanted to own anyway, Rich Dad, Poor Dad).

On Friday evening, I went and saw Polytechnique at the Metro. While I ended up crying through much of the film (based on the Montreal Massacre) I think it was definitely one of the best films I have had a chance to view this year. Very traumatic, and I'm very glad at the choice to release the film in black and white, but it was well worth my watching it. I would recommend it to others with the caveat that it is quite disturbing/violent and elicits a very strong emotional response.

After the film was some commentary from a Drama prof from Campus St. Jean. She made some interesting comments, like the fact that of a class of 90 students this semester only 4 knew of the Montreal Massacre at all. This disturbs me: after all, it is said that if we do not know of our past, we are doomed to repeat it. Other disturbing comments came from the audience: one person remarked that he had never been in a theatre without cup holders before. Another believed that Columbine happened BEFORE the Montreal Massacre — even after watching the film, which clearly indicated the date as December, 1989 [the actual massacre happened on December 6, 1989, and the film is a fictional account, but was approved for release by the families of and the survivors of the massacre]. Honestly, people need to have an awareness of this country's history, and have a context for their opinions.

After that, Anick and I watched Late Spring (Banshun). It's a 1949 movie, and while it's highly rated and well-regarded, both Anick and I thought that it was very long, and repetitive. The acting included a lot of over-acting, and the subtitles were quite mediocre. Basically neither of us were at all impressed, and we could understand why there were only 3 of us in the audience. I do not recommend this film unless you're a film student or otherwise ready to sit through a film that could well be less long and drawn out. As much as some aspects reminded me of my grandmother, and I liked the scenery, and the cultural references, I did not find the film to be that great, so wonder at the high IMDB rating.

Kiwanis Meeting Speaker talks about Data mining

Normally I don't blog about some of the better Kiwanis meetings I attend. Of course normally they're not as engaging or relevant as Peter's talk was in September. And tonight's talk was certainly relevant. In fact not only did it relate to what I learned at GIS Day on the 17th, but it related to what I learned in school today: we were learning about databases.

The Future of Crime Fighting: Using Crime Data to Tell You About the Future was presented by Stephane Contré B. Eng. C. D.

Stephane Contré has received several awards for his work in the field of data mining. Specifically his work on the Daily Crime Forecast, a tool used by ETS (along with their partnership with the EPS and other organizations) to help predict the incidence of crime such as to prevent it from happening. One such award was the 2008 novaNAIT challenge.

He began his talk by relating data mining to the television show NUMB3RS. Basically data mining allows one to do similar things to what Charlie Eppes can do on the show: use relevant data variables to predict things. Essentially data mining is a process of extracting hidden patterns from data for predictive purposes. Contré emphasized that using more than one relevant predictor variable is important. The steps to data mining are: identify the problem, acquire data, prepare data, model and then interpret results.

Contré also provided us a link to the data mining software package that he uses. It's open source, so anyone could use Orange Workbench. Then he went into more detail with three projects that he was involved with. The first was the Yough Violence Prevention Initiative with the Edmonton Transit Peace Officer Unit. He went into great detail on how one could use a database of information to find appropriate predictor variables for a certain response variable. Each Dataset is located in a column in a table, while each example is in a row. This lecture helped further concretize what I am learning about databases in class. What data mining is used for in this instance is to help determine which individual's actions will escalate to crime or to non-crime in the future.

The two other projects that he has worked on involve Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in order to determine which attacks are related and form a series most likely created by a single individual, and the Daily Crime Forecast itself which works to help develop an appropriate pro-active patrol rather than just responding to calls for aid. Indeed the work with ETS, while on perhaps too small of a scale to have huge impact, has returned some tangible results which will lead to more projects and probably more results for the crime fighting of the future. I was incredibly happy to have had the opportunity to attend this talk!

Procrastination, a student's best friend?

Long ago… over 15 years ago in fact, I coined the term 'productive procrastination' to refer to my particular approach to work-avoidance. In fact, I don't avoid work, what I do avoid is whatever I ostensibly need to be doing at any given moment by being productive in other areas. What saves me here is that I am very deadline oriented, and so this work avoidance isn't so problematic that it prevents me from getting the essential done, but it does often result in my having for example gotten ahead of the curve in one class while postponing starting another essay, or having dusted the top shelf of my closet when I really should be doing laundry or working on an article for publication or something. Regardless, this is often what I spend a rather lot of my time doing.

On Sandra Gabriele's HuCo Colloquium talk

On November 20, 2009, Sandra Gabriele presented a talk entitled Visual Differentiation in Look-alike Medication Names: Evaluating Design in Context.

With regards to errors in a hospital setting, Sandra Gabriele's design background has allowed her to look into how the design of medication labels may affect the frequency of errors. The paper on which the majority of her talk is based can be located here. A link to another related paper can be found here. Since the paper can be easily found above, I will type about some specific aspects of her talk rather than summarizing her paper.

When looking at hospital medicine storage, a simple visual audit shows a number of areas for potential confusion. Gabriele's work does not eliminate all possible problems, certainly with other improvements further change could be implemented, however. During the talk, I asked how she came across this area of study. She explained that she had taken a human factors psychology elective which had opened her eyes to this area of research. I found this particularly salient as human factors has intrigued me as an area of study since taking a social psychology course that covered that subject area.

All of her designs used black and white to differentiate different types of medicines rather than using colour. Her explaination for why this was the case was four-fold. Firstly many hospitals still do not have the technology necessary to print in all colours. Secondly, one would want to avoid branding when placing medicine names on packaging. Thirdly, there are individuals who have a wide variety of colour perception differences. For examples of how people with different types of colour blindness perceive images, this website can be used. Lastly, Gabriele explained that you don't actually remember colour visually. This means that one person might remember that an object was blue, but they would not necessarily be able to replicate that precise blue later.

I found this area of research highly intriguing: it is somehow satisfying to see someone from a superficially unrelated discipline attempt to find avenues for change that could result in improvements in the health care field.

In the coming months and years, Gabriele and others will continue to investigate this phenomenon, determining exactly what the best practices for medicine labeling could be to decrease mistakes.

On Paula Simons's talk

On November 19, at noon in the Senate Chamber in the historic Arts building at the UofA, Paula Simons spoke about one of her most influential Comparative Literature professors, Henry Kriesel. I was fascinated by her telling of his story: I never really knew much about him before, though I had attended several lectures named after him, some of which among the best non-class lectures I have ever had the pleasure to attend. His story is the type of story that really makes one realize just how important it is to take advantage of all the opportunities one has.

Paula Simons took a comparative literature class from Kreisel in the very room in which she spoke to us, a small group, mostly consisting of Comp. Lit. graduate students and faculty. She told us that to only study English literature in isolation robs you of the valuable context that comparative literature and film studies (etc.) provides. This experience of taking comparative literature courses gave her a huge boost when she began her journalism career. Indeed, she explained that the capacity to read was the best tool in her arsenal as a journalist.

Writing skills are of course also very useful, learning to write in a different voice was important. Academic writing is its own foreign language, and one cannot write in this language when writing for a non-academic audience. Comp. Lit. also taught her much about appreciating different people's world views and perspectives.

Interestingly, Simons says that she never thinks of herself as a writer or author, but rather as a journalist who happens to work in words. I found that especially intriguing as I have always treated even bloggers as writers, and was rather taken aback when someone whom I had never met referred to me as a poet (more for surprise than anything, actually).

I also felt that it was gratifying to hear that she dealt with similar admonitions not to over-participate in class as I have (in particular this term, oups!). I know why I over-participate in class, but it's also good to know that others with this particular problem are able to have wildly successful careers in an area that I find so admirable.

I really enjoyed learning about how she includes literature in her writing wherever possible, and the fact that she read from two of my favorite articles during her talk (they may be my favorites because they include references to two stories I'm particularly fond of: Ursula K. LeGuin's The Ones that Walk Away from Omelas, and Voltaire's Candide).

I only wish I could have stayed longer, instead of running off to another manditory engagement.

(all comments paraphrased from Paula Simons' talk at the UofA Nov 19, 2009)

GIS Day summary

If you hadn't noticed, I have begun to blog about various academic and semi-academic talks that I have had the pleasure of attending. While, yes this began as a course assignment, I have determined that I enjoy doing so, therefore I think I'll continue as a practice — though I likely won't blog every single talk I attend (I attend a lot of these).

On November 17th, 2009, the UofA Celebrated GIS Day, an International Celebration of GIS. It was a half-day conference where various individuals talked about their GIS-related projects. GIS Day began with a catered lunch (by Classic Fare, which I'm not entirely too pleased with as a caterer by the way — though some of my issue with that caterer is because they didn't show up in October when catering a Linguistics Grad Student special event when the speaker from Google was there). Then, the event was introduced and GIS's various definitions were explained. One of the more common definitions is as Geographic Information Systems (or Science or Systems Science etc.). Different layers of information can be overlaid a landscape. For more information on GIS Day check out GIS Day website, or the UofA GIS Day website.

Some applications of GIS to improve access to Arctic data and understanding of biophysical processes during International Polar Year by David Hik & Scott Williamson, Biological Sciences

This is a time of rapid change in our circumpolar neighbourhood. David Hik and Scott Williamson presented on the use of GIS during the International Polar Year (IPY) which was from 2007-2008. The International Polar Year looked at the different issues including sovereignty & security, economic development, environment, climate and contaminants. Involving over 60 countries, over 60% of the projects included Canadian involvement.

GIS was even used to help identify colleagues to develop proposals for funding, and made its way to Google Earth. Other projects included the Polar Data Catalogue which involved metadata entry and geospatial data, International Tools including the Arctic Council and the University of the Arctic, the Arctic Stat Socioeconomic Circumpolar Database, the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic, the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program, and many many more.

Coordination of all of these many projects is key but very difficult. There is a possible solution in the Polar Information Commons, but there is still a lot of varied information to accomodate and coordinate.

One of the projects that David Hik and Scott Williamson were involved with was the MoDIS Time Series Analysis. They used arcGIS to look at snow cover over the course of the year. Using an algorithm they worked to take error in composite snow cover information into account, to assess the differences in season length over time.

Using GIS to interact with EMS data by Daniel Haight, Centre for Excellence in Operations, School of Business

Daniel Haight spoke of the many projects where the Centre for Excellence in Operations has worked. They have worked with everything from the St. Albert Fire Dept to Bell Canada, and from forcasting cremation demand to helicopters, Edmonton Ward Boundaries to the Alberta Supernet. In the case of the Calgary EMS, they were looking to determine where to add EMS crews and/or stations in order to improve the EMS's performance with regards to response times. They had to determine why performance would be going down and in looking at all the different reasons for this, including structural, strategic and operational issues; they were able to use algorithms to help determine where to add such crews and/or stations which could be displayed using GIS techonology. Many pieces of information were overlaid including road conjestion, hospital problems, and speeds of travel on different roads.

One aspect I really liked of his presentation was the fact that he showed through our audience participation just how much of a difference adding crews and stations in particular areas would make using GIS. This made the issues seem much more real and truly helped in communicating his message.

Essential tools of the trade: GIS is critical for investigating the mechanisms of white-tailed deer range expansion by Kim Dawe, Biological Sciences

Kimberly Dawe presented on the range expansion of white tailed deer in recent years. This is an issue because more deer mean more wolves. Wolves eat deer, but they also eat caribou. Caribou are endangered so this becomes a problem that needs to be addressed, as the deer are moving further and further into the caribou's range.

Python scripting was used in this project. There are two hypotheses that are looked at: the land use hypothesis and the climate change hypothesis. This project is still in progress, but other questions that are being assessed are whether or not deer spread into the boreal forest from agriculture and how forestry affects this spread. Aerial surveys are used to assess where the deer can be found.

Designing our future by Natalie Fisher, ESRI Canada – Edmonton

I missed the beginning of this lecture as I was running a couple of errands across campus, but I found it one of the most interesting lectures all day, perhaps because I am so new to the field of GIS research. Regardless, Natalie Fisher from ESRI Canada talked about the many applications of GIS across disciplines and for various end users. Python scripting has become a standard(?) for GIS uses. Now the focus is on bringing together complex data and knowledge and making it accessible. Tools have become essential for collaborative computing, service integration (mashups), user contributed content, and distributed data management.

While she talked about many specifics, what I found most interesting is how the use of GIS is shifting due to the growing prevalence of mapping technology in the daily lives of the public. For example Google Maps, MapQuest, and Microsoft Bing Maps are all becoming more common and creating a set of expectations that differ from how GIS looks up until this point. So as use of these other mapping tools increases, so do expectations that advanced GIS tools will emulate this functionality. So people are now desiring hover tools, applications, feature attribute popups on maps and less layer based mapping. Users want to use these tools on their portable technology (eg. cellphones or PDAs etc.) and want the interface to be similar to the other mapping tools they are familiar with. They want information retrieval to be seamless, and easy. This creates challenges for GIS professionals.

Exploring Canada's past: Using census data to reconstitute population historical geographies by Marc St-Hilaire, Université Laval

This last lecture of the day featured the guest who had travelled the furthest to attend this event. Marc St-Hilaire spoke with a strong French accent, and occasionally asked the audience for the proper English words, however his talk was still highly interesting. I like how he did some additional research to prepare to talk to residents of a prairie province, looking up data from Alberta in the process.

Using census data from 1911-1951 (and some older data from Quebec), even with the oversampling of large dwellings, certain trends can be determined. For example the sex ratio in Alberta in 1921 is vastly different from that of Quebec. One needs to control for the changing census districts when comparing census statistics over time, and historical data struggles with a certain level of inaccuracy, but census data can provide a lot of social geography information. Understanding historical geography can enhance understanding of current day situations. For example, currently there are a lot of worries regarding the lack of French spoken at home in Montreal, and the possible loss of Montreal and Quebec culture, however this was also the case in 1871, and yet this culture was not lost.

Addresses please?

So I'm about to start the annual Christmas card tradition, and it strikes me, yet again that I don't necessarily have accurate address information for everyone to whom I want to write. Indeed, a number of people have moved into new abodes, some in new cities, provinces, states and countries. Others, I have no idea whether they've moved or are in the same place as ever. Regardless, I really want cards to be received by the appropriate recipients rather than being returned to me, the sender, yet again. [every year a certain number, less than 10 but still a significant amount, arrive back at my home, unopened] So if your details have changed (or even if they haven't but you're interested in receiving a card), could I please get an email or personal message from you?
Thanks a bundle as always.

My time is more valuable than this, really it is.

Instead of being productive and actually getting started on my php homework like I was supposed to be doing, I got stuck. Why? Because my wampserver isn't operating properly. It's supposed to open a page at http://localhost (essentially opening its www directory) but it won't open this page. All the problems I can think of don't seem to be causing it — the program seems to be functioning fine, but it won't open pages in IE or Firefox out of the directory that it's supposed to be, and this is more than just frustrating. Particularly because I know that it should work. The best I can think of is that a firewall is blocking it, but this makes no sense given that when I deactivate the firewall completely (and/or change its settings) nothing changes. It still won't open the page properly. I've spent like 2 hours+ wasting my time trying to come up with some kind of solution — after all, I have no interest in coding without a way of determining if I have done something wrong. And this is the program I know how to use, it's just not operating correctly on my computer for whatever reason. Which doesn't make any sense to me, given that the icon claims that it's working fine.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how to help me? The help menus, the forum online and my peers don't seem to have any good answers, and honestly I'm wasting far too much time on this.

Just a brief personal update :)

I don't know how many of you caught my status updates from this past week/weekend. I spent most of my time lazing about sleeping about 12 hours a day, and eating very little. My appetite has pretty much returned, and I feel pretty much back to normal now, with the slight exception that I cough occasionally. All in all, I'm glad it was nothing more than my feeling ill for a few days, and that I still managed to be semi-productive thereafter. Of course I was less productive than I wanted to be, however it still wasn't bad. I picked a good week to feel less than 100% even if I may have been complaining that I didn't have time for it — since the two days of no school made for a good amount of time for catch up.

Anywho, now that I've pretty much recovered from feeling sick, I'm getting back on track with school stuff and whatnot. I'm actually pretty excited for the direction that things seem to be going!

On Michael Olsson's talk

Today, Michael Olsson gave an excellent talk about Shakespeare, or rather about a study that he completed through interviews of 36 participants from Canada, Finland and the UK, who were all involved as actors, directors, designers or dramaturages with Shakespeare productions. Each semi-structured interview lasted on average about two hours but ranged in length from one to three hours. Olsson described the interviewees as different respondents than an average group of respondents, because of their frequent involvement in interview experiences. Instead of having to encourage them to speak, he had to encourage them to speak in a different way than they were used to: instead of providing sound bytes for media, he had them talk beyond the sound byte and about the more personal aspects of their engagement with Shakespeare.

In his talk, Olsson stressed not remaining confined by Dervin's approach to sense-making from 1999. A listing of some of Dervin's online references can be found here. The article that I believe Olsson was referencing can be found here using the following doi if you have access to the UofA libraries databases: doi:10.1016/S0306-4573(99)00023-0 otherwise please find an abstract at the following site. Regardless, the article discusses Dervin's version of Sense-making ['Dervin's version, 10 March 1999'] which describes the bridges that are built, usually implicitly, between metatheory and method (Dervin, 1999, page 727), or in otherwords the connection between the act of seeking knowledge and the method of seeking it out.

Olsson argues that with reference to Shakespeare, and likely in most other matters, sense making is not so straight forward. Rather, research in this field should include social context, social/collective sense-making, power relations, less purposive information behaviour, affect, and embodiement among other areas. Making sense of Shakespeare is more than reading the plays in books. Instead it involves emotion, learning from the social environment of other actors, and the director, ongoing relationships with the text, the play and other individuals involved, and with the time period in which it is performed. In order to be appreciated, the performance needs to be relevant to the audience. Emotion is more crucial to sense-making than logic, and emotional truth of Shakespeare is key to appreciation. Add that to one's understanding of the conventions of the genre and one has several key aspects to how one makes sense of Shakespeare.

Two elements of Olsson's presentation style caught my attention. The first was the fact that he rewarded those who asked questions with little mini Koala toys, since he came from Australia (I asked him how he came up with his specific methodology and received a Koala, though his answer was by no means straightforward).
Another aspect of Olsson's presentation was the use of multimedia in his presentation to help engage his audience. Pictures and YouTube clips were used (one of which he planned to use but could not as it had been removed from YouTube). My favorite clip is this one where Peter Sellers performs A Hard Day's Night (a song by The Beatles), in the same style as Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Richard III, showing that context does indeed play a crucial role in the understanding of Shakepeare, even in such imitations! I highly recommend watching it!