04 April 2014

"I came there at noon. That is, I came somewhere at noon, but I wasn't sure where."

This version of the map of Gethen is copyright © 2009 by Milan Dubnicky, the cartographer. source

 Only two more weeks to go with my MOOC course. I'm still in there, I'm a survivor!  It's a great course -- hard work, reading and writing every week, but if you're at all interested in fantasy and sci fi check it out.  I'm getting a little tired of writing formulaic, 300-word "the significance of item X in  book Z" essays, but I can cope, I hope.  (Comment from last week's peer review: "The inclusion of your psychological state during the writing is engaging, but not exactly enlightening." Oh well - nothing like a shedding another layer of ego!)  Last week we read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles; this week the assigned test is Ursula K LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Having never read either previously, I feel the world has just opened up in whole new directions. We always must read broadly and this is why. I don't know why it took me so long to come to science fiction as an adult reader, but there you go. LeGuin is my new hero. There's a Paris Review "Art of Fiction" interview with her here.  The quote in this post's title is from Left Hand of Darkness. It pretty much sums up how I feel about 90% of the time....

12 March 2014

Butter Converter

This butter conversion calculator is my new best friend. And he's got a whole bunch of buddies, including a flour converter calculator, a yogurt converter calculator, and more. Wow. The perfect antidote to my number one pet peeve: US food bloggers who don't include metric ingredients measures in their recipes....

05 March 2014

Pancake Math

It's a puzzle... you have your perfect pancake batter. But it makes either too many or too few. What to do?

Well, a little higher mathmatics is all, apparently:
Students from Sheffield University's Maths Society (SUMS) developed, trialled and tested a formula which enables pancake-lovers to adjust for preferred thickness, griddle size, and number desired. Source.

And if that's too complex, the lovely students at Sheffield U have produced a handy-dandy calculator. It looks like this:

To use it you'll have to go to the university's website. Note, they're coming from the UK so when they say "pancake" they're thinking crepe-size, not the smaller American type. Bon appetit!

28 February 2014

The MOOC-olution

Personally, I'm loving my MOOC -- offered through Courersa, it's a 10 week course called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, taught by Eric Rabkin, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of English Language and Literature, and Professor of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. (I've agonized about it a little, here and here.*)

This MOOC is no push-over. It's a novel a week, plus an essay (300 words), plus peer reviews, plus video lectures. Plus the forums, although I don't have a lot of free time to hang around in them.

Overall, it's brilliant. My brain is positively pinging with ideas and connections. And even more, I like being part of a new kind of learning, I'm glad to be a guinea pig in this thoroughly open experiment with opening university-level education to whoever has an internet connection.

Other people have described the history and potential ramifications better than I.. if you're curious check out Thomas L Friedman on MOOCs in the New York Times.

*I got a "5" on my Dracula essay this week, by the way. Ouais!

21 February 2014

Event: The Time of the Author

What does it mean for an author to be contemporary or modern?
How do artistic relevance and current affairs relate to one another?
How can literature and imagination respond
to the challenges of our time?

the time of the author

wed 12.03 | flagey | 20:15 I en

Seven authors from as many different countries share reflections on what is the role and place of literature in today's world, and on how literature and news relate to one another.
With Céline Curiol (FRA), Joke Hermsen (NLD), Iman Humaydan (LBN), Jens Christian Grøndahl (DNK), Anne Provoost (BEL), Goce Smilevski (MKD) and Juan Gabriel Vásquez (COL). Host: Ortwin De Graef.
This special evening concludes the first Passa Porta Seminar, during which writers and thinkers will be spending three days together (from 10 to 12 of March) at Villa Hellebosch (Vollezele). They will be presenting keynotes and share ideas.

wed 12.03 | 20:15 | Flagey (Studio 1), place Sainte Croix, 1050 Bruxelles
EN | € 10 / 8
Booking advised: www.flagey.be or 02 641 10 20.

Presented by PassaPorta. For more information see here.

19 February 2014

A little horn tooting

I'm rather pleased at what I did in the Alice in Wonderland essay (approached it from the angle of the "three-trial narrative structure"). It's a little hard to keep a straight face while writing phrases like that, but there you go. It is a univeristy course.

In the meantime a little project I've been working on is now live on Eat This Poem.   Are you a bookworm who loves to eat? A literary-minded traveller?  Check out the Literary City Guide for Brussels, compiled by yours truly.

Peter Pan in the Parc d'Egmont (photo my own)

18 February 2014

Oh I've had such a curious dream..

Finished this week's essay on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... Time for some tea.

Victorian tea a la Alice in Wonderland (source)

13 February 2014

External validation

Clevel Grethel, the cook with a slight addiction issue...

I never thought I'd forget how it feels to wait for an expected grade, but guess what, I did. It's only because of the Coursera course (details) that I felt the sensation again: extreme impatience to know what someone else thought of my work -- in this case, a 300-word essay about the Grimm Brothers'  "Kinder- und Hausmärchen"/"Children's and Household Tales" (check out the Lucy Crane translation with her husband's illustrations).

The maximum grade on the essays is 6: they are scored either 1, 2 and 3 on both form and content (with 3 being the highest, rare, and 1 the lowest, also should be rare according to the professor).  My result was a 4 and included some spot-on critiques: yes, I didn't really have a conclusion,  can't fault you for noticing. I could have stated my thesis more bluntly? Well I could have, if I had understood better what is was. The peer reviewers should get points for their reviews! I don't blame anyone for not giving me a 3. Although someone would have given me 2.5s, which was great to hear.

My main interests in this course are: the way science fiction and fantasy use food (for example Harker, in Dracula, is a real little foodie), setting (city vs country, anyone?), and the influence of cultural/historical context on both text and the type of fantasies expressed (did you now, for example, that  the Grimm Brothers collected the stories as "folklore" at the time when the urge for German unification was at its peak? Well they did.).

Beyond these things, I'm also interested in what makes these stories and books so appealing and successful on the page. Why did the authors present their stories in the way that they did? Why did they chose a particular style or form? What can I steal learn from them?

Oh yeah, and I wouldn't mind getting a 5 or a 6 on one of these essays.

The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage... spoiler alert: it does not end well