July 2009 Archives

Teaching creativity

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Creativity is so often seen as an innate and unteachable skill. You either have it or you don't. The hydro reader once walked into my house and decided I must be an artist, seeing the flow charts on the walls and paint splattered door mat. I said anyone could do it. He begged to differ. So, creativity is rarefied. If there's one thing I'm convinced of, though, it's that creativity can indeed be taught. But how?

How do you teach creativity? There aren't specific hard skills that go along with it. It's largely about process and mindset. Teaching someone to draw doesn't give them creativity, simply a set of skills that help creativity be actualized. What, then, do we put in the creativity toolkit? Which mental processes go into creativity?

Quartier Concordia map

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I'm working on a map detailing the amenities around Concordia's downtown campus. Here's a version with the whole neighbourhood broken into usage. Burgundy is a Concordia building, turquoise is commercial, orange is residential and green is some sort of civic use or museum. The blue boxes with arrows represent the entrances to metro stations.

Didactic romance novels

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Romance novels make up the largest portion of the American book market (source). They're incredibly popular, but no one can argue that they're great literature. They tend to be 150 pages of escapism and wishful thinking, not to mention the implausible plots. Nevertheless, a large group of women read an awful lot of these books.

Can we get women to improve themselves by reading romance novels? Is it possible to use the common elements of these books (international travel, sex, relationships, and so on) to expand the horizons of their readers? For example, can we use a story with a jet setting heroine to teach world geography? Could there be some slightly more in depth (and accurate) details about the creative careers so popular in the genre? Can we use the constant chatter about relationships to teach basic elements of psychological theory? In short, is there a way to sneak a little extra education and knowledge into the fluff of romance novels?

Political awareness alphabet book

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I'm working on an alphabet picture book that explains some abstract concepts of slightly higher difficulty than "A is for Apple." Here's the text. Next, I need to get on with the illustration.

A is for Anachronism, history out of time
B is for Budget, accounting for every dime
C is for Concept, an idea not concrete
D is for Diaspora, relocated in retreat
E is for English, colonial language of kings
F is for Future, not the present state of things
G is for God, a personification of morals
H is for Habitual, resting on your laurels
I is for Iconoclast, who fights against the norm
J is for Judiciary, those who keep the bench warm
K is for Karat, measure of golden worth
L is for Legacy, what's left when we leave Earth
M is for Management, who would organize all
N is for Neophyte, hoping to walk after the crawl
O is for Origin, where you got your start
P is for Power, influence over mind and heart
Q is for Quiet, the absence of sound
R is for Reconnaissance, seeing what's around
S is for Secrets, words no one will tell
T is for Truth, which claimants preach at a yell
U is for Utopia, not as perfect as you'd think
V is for Vermin, one you dislike or a mink
W is for Waste, leftovers after use
X is for Xenophobe, reacts to strangers with abuse
Y is for Youth, both fetishized and hated
Z is for Zeal, passion not yet abated

Lawbot: not done yet

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A few days ago, I said that Lawbot and the Case of the Missing Copyright Infringers was done. That wasn't entirely true. There's more going on. I'm (hopefully) working on a version that includes an audio track to go with each page of text. Aside from that, you'll soon be able to find Lawbot out in the wild attached to another project. I'll give details on that when the time comes. I'm also trying to figure out how to get Lawbot into the real world as an alternate reality game. For now, here's a cartoon Lawbot and a less arty, more engaging synopsis of the project.

You may be infringing copyright without even knowing it. Lawbot can help. Lawbot and the Case of the Missing Copyright Infringers is a text adventure game created to teach the basics of Canadian copyright law. It drops you into a futuristic world where copyright enforcement has gone mad. On your quest to rescue your partner and set things right, you'll learn about things like fair dealing, infringement and alternatives to traditional copyright. Why would you want to learn about all that? Because you're probably infringing already and it's nice to know exactly what it is you're doing that bothers so many industries so much.

Boxfood: Popcorn

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A few weeks back, I mentioned my plan to create homemade explanations of food normally found in boxes on supermarket shelves. Below, I present part one, the most basic of all boxfoods: popcorn.

To make popcorn (or anything, for that matter), the first step is a visit to the store. You'll need two items: oil and popcorn. Oil type is a personal decision. I tend to go for olive oil, but sunflower and other sorts of vegetable oil also work well. Just make sure it isn't an oil with a strong flavour. If you do go with olive oil, look for an extra virgin or even an oil labeled as light tasting. Whichever sort of oil you get, it's fairly basic: look for the oil section and pick a small bottle of your preferred type. The popcorn itself is where things get interesting. Most people are used to buying popcorn in a box. This is not what you want. Look for popcorn in a plastic bag or jar. Make sure you're getting kernels, not the microwave-ready stuff that comes in pouches. Another good option for popcorn purchasing is your local bulk food store. They'll have large bins full of it and you can buy as much or as little as you want.

Once you've gotten your ingredients, it's time to cook. You'll need two pieces of equipment for this: a stove and a pot with a tight-fitting lid. For preference, the pot should be stainless steel and a medium size. Put the pot on the stove. Don't put the lid on yet. Put about a teaspoon of oil into the pot. If you don't have a proper teaspoon, a normal soup or dessert spoon will do. Now you can turn on the stove. Make sure you're sending heat to the burner that your pot is actually sitting on. Turn the dial to maximum heat. Take one small handful of your popcorn and put it in the pot. Now you can put the lid on.

Let the pot sit. When you start to hear popping noises, you can lift the pot a little bit off of the burner and shake it from time to time. The point of this action is to move the unpopped kernels to the bottom of the pot and the popped ones to the top. Continue to alternate sitting and shaking. At the height of it, you'll hear popping constantly. As cooking slows down, there will be longer intervals between pops. When you can count to ten between pops, it's time to turn off the stove and remove the pot from heat. Removing the pot from heat is important if you're using an electric stove as there will still be residual heat in the coil. Most stoves are electric. A good rule of thumb is that if there's no visible fire, it's probably electric.

Once you've removed the pot from the burner, you'll want to put on an oven mitt (or even just use a tea towel) and remove the lid from the pot. Pour the popcorn from the pot into a large bowl. If using a plastic bowl, be sure not to let the pot touch it, since the metal may still be hot enough to cause melting.

Once the popcorn is in the bowl, you can think about garnishes. If you want butter or margarine, you can quickly put a tablespoon or two of it into your pot. The metal will hold heat for some time and should still be hot enough to melt your butter/margarine. Once the butter/margarine is melted, you can pour it over your popcorn and then carefully shake the bowl to distribute your topping more evenly. Popcorn toppings can be varied. While most people prefer butter/margarine and a little salt, you can experiment with cinnamon, brewer's yeast, or even a little cayenne pepper. You've got options.

Once your popcorn is in the bowl and topped, all that's left to do is eat. You can now enjoy the economic (far less expensive than microwave) and environmental (no bags to throw away) benefits of stovetop popcorn.