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Canadian Opera Company Talk: Wagner's Die Walküre

January 16, 2015 | Muriel | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...


Canadian Opera Company Talk: Wagner's Die Walküre

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 7:00 p.m.

North York Central Library Auditorium

Please call 416-395-5639 to register for this free program.

  Die Walkure CD   Die Walkure CD 2   Die Walkure Complete Vocal and Orchestral Score

Wayne Gooding, editor of Opera Canada magazine, examines the different ways Wagner's matchless epic has been translated to the stage from its premiere in 1870 up to the present day.  Special attention will be given to the winter 2015 revival of Atom Egoyan's COC production, starring "internationally celebrated opera diva," Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde.  

The Valkyrie Die Walkure        Die Walkure DVD 2        Die Walkure DVD

Richard Wagner A Life in Music       Wagner & Me       Wagner & Cinema

Be sure to visit NAXOS, the online music library available through Toronto Public Library, and listen to great music spanning medieval to modern - classical, jazz, electronic, world music and more, and find expert educational content.   

Learn more about the scientists in "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything"

January 9, 2015 | Carolyn | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Holiday movie releases usually range from action-packed to family-friendly. Two of the movies I saw over this holiday season didn't fit into the usual categories; instead, they're based on the lives of two of the twentieth century's most intriguing scientists.

The Imitation Game tells the story of the British intelligence officers who cracked the German Enigma machine code during the Second World War. It focuses on the contribution of mathematician Alan Turing - in particular the machine he developed to decrypt the coded German messages. According to a BBC web page published to mark the recent centenary of Turing's birth, historians estimate the codebreakers' achievements shortened the war in Europe by two to four years and saved millions of lives.

In the movie, Turing uses a crossword challenge to recruit staff for the Enigma project. The reality was somewhat different, but crossword puzzles did play a part in the recruitment of wartime codebreakers. Try your hand at the original puzzle from January, 1942; if you can solve it in fewer than 12 minutes, you might have been a candidate.

Recontstruction of the Bombe codebreaking machine at Bletchley ParkBy Antoine Taveneaux (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The efforts to break enemy codes remained secret for decades after the War, but the information has been declassified in recent years and Bletchley Park, site of the codebreaking work, has been opened to visitors who can see a recontruction of the decryption machine built under Turing's direction.

Alan Turing's other claim to fame is that he is considered to be one of the fathers of computing and artifical intelligence. In fact, the name of the movie, The Imitation Game, comes from his famous 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence (PDF). Turing proposed the game as a test to determine whether machines could think. The Turing Test is still used as one measure of artificial intelligence.

The Theory of Everything is based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: my life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, and tells the story of her marriage to renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking. It depicts the period from Hawking's arrival at Cambridge as a graduate physics student in 1962 until their divorce in 1995.

The film focuses more on Hawking's personal life than his work, but there are several scenes in which he discusses his theories about singularities and black holes. There was a physics advisor on set to ensure that the explanations, while simplified for the benefit of the audience, were also accurate. If, like me, you're a bit intimidated by Hawking's ideas, check out this video from The Guardian's Made Simple series. It's Stephen Hawking's big idea in 150 seconds:


The film depicts the early symptoms of Hawking's illness and his diagnosis with ALS, a motor-neuron disease, at the age of 21. Voice and movement coaches worked with Eddie Redmayne to ensure that his portrayal of Hawking as the illness progressed was as realistic as possible. There's a fascinating video in the movie's website that describes how he prepared for the role.

If you're interested in learning more about the lives of these two remarkable scientists - whether you've seen the movies or not - why not have a look at any of these books, available at many Toronto Public Library branches:


Alan Turing: the enigma by Andrew Hodges The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the invention of the computer by David Leavitt The Essential Turing: seminal writings in computing, logic, philosophy, artificial intelligence, artificial life, plus the secrets of enigma
book, eBook book, eAudiobook  


Travelling to Infinity: my life with Stephen My Brief History The Illustrated Theory of Everything
 book, eBook book, audiobook, talking book, eBook, eAudiobook  


Sports Highlights of 2014

January 5, 2015 | Aleks | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Super Bowl XLVIII

Super Bowl XLVIII

On February 2, 2014, the American football game between the American Football Conference champion and the National Football Conference champion was played. The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks met on the field for a complete knock out game of 43-8 for the Seahawks. This became the first Super Bowl victory for the Seahawks with a 13-3 record. Super Bowl XLVII was held in an open-air stadium in a "cold-weather" city; the first in Super Bowl history. 


NFL Playoffs
2013-14 NFL Playoffs - Wikipedia


Also available on Zinio.

Sports illustrated football's greatest You can't make this up - miracles, memories, and the perfect marriage of sports and television  Parcells: a football life 

The blind side League of denial - the NFL, concussions, and the battle for truth 


 Sochi winterSochi Olympics 2014

In the third largest region in Russia, the games were organised between two clusters: a coastal area for ice events in Sochi and a mountain area located in the Krasnaya Polyana Mountains.  The month of February was eclipsed with spotlights of spectacular events, historic performances and numerous records. 


Top 10 medals
Top 10 Countries Medal Table - Wikipedia

The Best Of Sochi 2014 Olympics - Olympics


Ski  International Figure Skating  Snowboarder 

             Also available on Zinio.                                   Also available on Zinio.

 Unbroken  The boys in the boat - nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Olympics  Foxcatcher - the true story of my brother's murder, John du Pont's madness, and the quest for Olympic gold 


  2014 Stanley Cup Finals
Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014

The National Hockey League (NHL) began the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs on April 16, 2014. With a display of heart, athleticism and skill, 16 teams opened the round of playoffs with the most leads changing hands than any other year. The finals saw the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings competing for the top spot and a chance at the cup. A best of seven series awarded the Kings with the cup with a 4-1 series. 



 NHL playoff bracket

2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Bracket - Wikipedia

 The Hockey News

Also available on Zinio.

Mr Hockey  ORR  Cornered- Hijinks, Highlights, Late Night and Insights  Crazy Game - How I Survived the Crease and Beyond



2014 National Basketball Association Playoffs 

The tournament took place on June 5th to the 15th as the East took on the West in the battle of basketball supremacy. The National Basketball Association's 2013-14 season ended with the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs defeating the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat 4 games to 1 in the Finals. The Toronto Raptors made their first playoff appearance since 2008. 


 NBA tournament

2014 NBA Playoff Bracket - Wikipedia


Also available on Zinio.

The Book of Basketball - The NBA According to The Sports Guy  Dream Team- How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever Michael Jordon - The life The hoop whisperer

FIFA World Cup


FIFA World Cup 2014

From June 12 to July 13 the world vibrate to the sounds on the soccer field as the top teams across the globe travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. As the first European team to triumph in the Americas, Germany claimed the title dethroning Spain's domination of the last 4 years. 



 FIFA World Cup 2014 - Best Moments Highlights HD - James Rodriguez

World Soccer

Also available on Zinio.

The mammoth book of the World Cup  Messi  Eight world cups - my journey through the beauty and dark side of soccer  How soccer explains the world - an unlikely theory of globalization


Major League Baseball 2014 World Series

Two giants hit the stage as the National League champion San Francisco Giants and the American League champion Kansas City Royals faced off for a best-of-seven playoff from October 21-29. The postseason saw a fierce competition of team from both the American and National League fight for a chance at the title. The games were traded back and forth between the two teams (4-3) with ultimately the San Francisco Giants taking home the victory. Both teams ended their season with marginal differences; San Francisco Giants (88-74) and Kansas City Royals (89-73). 

MLB postseason
2014 Major League Baseball Postseason - Wikipedia

  Sports Illustrated baseball's greatest  Derek Jeter - Jeter unfiltered  The Art of Fielding   

 The Closer  Moneyball - the art of winning an unfair game   

Congratuations to our Canadian World Juniors team on their win yesterday in the gold medal match at the Air Canada Center against Russia!

New year's bucket list

January 2, 2015 | Maureen | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...

Three years ago, while having a chat about books, a colleague told me that she'd been keeping a list of the books she'd read for many years. I was fascinated! I’ve been reading for pleasure since I discovered Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle series as a child, and in all these many years of happy engagement, it never occurred to me to keep a record. I've flitted from book to book like a bumblebee flitting from flower to flower. If only I'd recorded everything I've read since falling for Doctor Dolittle so many years ago! I would have had a travelogue of where I've wandered in the vast fields of human invention.

Better late than never, as they say. I started my own list three years ago. If you love reading, I suggest you do the same. It could be an easy to keep new year’s resolution  (no self denial involved.) Not only will it help you to avoid picking up a book you’ve already read (my colleague's reason for keeping a list), but when you draw a blank trying to recall the title of a book you’ve read, your list will remind you. And as your list grows, you'll have a snapshot of where your head was at during any given year. Over time, you might see interesting things emerge in this bookish mirror of yourself: passions flare up and burn out, growth or stagnation, maybe even obsession.

Ripley under groundOn the last day of 2014, I finished Ripley under ground, by Patricia Highsmith, the second in a series of five books (known as the "Ripliad") about cultured serial killer Tom Ripley. As I added the title to my list I counted the books I’d read in 2014. I compared this number to my totals for 2012 and 2013. Suddenly, a new use for the list occurred to me. Maybe the idea of mortality was suggested by Mr. Ripley’s murderous doings, or maybe it was the turning of the year – just for fun, I calculated how many books I’d be likely to read in the time remaining to me.

Here's my simple forumla: The average amount of books you read in a year multiplied by estimated years remaining in your life  =  number of books you will read in the future (if you’re lucky enough to live as long as actuarial tables say you will.) Try it yourself!

I averaged my totals for the last three years, then consulted a life expectancy calculator online to get an idea of how much time I have left to read. I will not divulge the results of my calculations here, except to say that I was shocked and appalled when I put the number beside the 130 million books published over the course of modern history. (This figure comes from an article by a Google software engineer published in 2010, called Books of the world, stand up and be counted! All 129,864,880 of you. I rounded up a bit. The total must be well past 130 million by now.)

The paltry number of books I have left to read considered against the book production of just one country in one year (309,957 by the United States in 2012) was rather deflating. Talk about a wake up call! It inspired me to start a reading "bucket list."

Excellent Women

Number 1 on my reading bucket list is the book I requested for Christmas this year: Excellent women, by Barbara Pym. I absolutely refuse to kick the bucket without reading this book, which author Alexander McCall Smith called, "one of the 20th century's most endearing and amusing novels." Pym, says Mcall Smith, covered much the same territory as Jane Austen, "the details of smallish lives led."

I only just heard of Pym in 2014 while listening to the delightful documentary Barbara Pym – an excellent woman, which aired on CBC radio's The Sunday edition. Pym started publishing in Britain, in the early 1950s, but by the 1960s her work had fallen out of fashion. Publishers (including her own) rejected her manuscripts. In 1977 The Times Literary Supplement published an article in which Pym was nominated “the most underrated writer of the 20th century." The article triggered a surge of interest in the author; she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and found a new audience.

Commenting on Pym's sudden spectacular rise in popularity, Mcall Smith wrote, "What wonderful embarrassment for those who believed that an unmitigated diet of gritty social realism, graphically described sexual couplings and sadistic violence was what readers really wanted. The entire time the reading public, or quite a large section of it, was really yearning for the small-scale delights, the beautiful self-deprecating humour and the brilliant miniaturisation of Pym's novels." Sadly, Pym had only a few years to enjoy her success: she died of breast cancer in 1980, at the age of 66.

Consider creating your own reading bucket list. It might help you take any health related new year’s resolutions more seriously. Stay healthy, live as long as you can – you have a lot to read!

The Sweet Dove Died Some Tame Gazelle Quartet in Autumn
An Academic Question Jane and Prudence Civil to Strangers

Season's Greetings, Glacial Readings

December 22, 2014 | Ann | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...


Biography of Roald Amundsen on
Photograph of Amundsen's successful voyage to Antarctica in 1911.  (This image has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.)

Winter Arrives

Last night at 6:03 pm, the Winter Solstice swept across Toronto to officially jumpstart the winter season. The dwindling daylight endured these past three months will return stronger and stay longer.

This week ramps up with several festive celebrations manifesting in spectacular events across the city.  Even with the gladdening news of fun-filled activities and increasing daylight hours ahead, winter holds center stage.  The season accompanies face-freezing temperatures, frost-covered roads, incessant sleet, blowing snow, and blazing winds.  Past temperatures have easily dipped down to -25 degrees Celsius or lower and this does not include the wind chill factor.

Despite the frosty welcome, this arctic-like weather compares little with the winter temperatures at the bottom of the world.  The December 10, 2013 Guardian article, Coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth in Antarctica: -94.7C (-135.8F), provides an eye-opening account of how people sustain themselves in such severe biting conditions.

Canada sits in the northern hemisphere and the Nunavut, Yukon, and Northwest Territories are the land masses nearest to the North Pole.  In contrast, the North Magnetic Pole currently lurks near the upper western corner of Nunavut.  Both the geographic north and south poles have corresponding north and south magnetic poles that shift in location over time.  

For more information on the Earth's magnetic poles, please read Gillian M. Turner's (2011) title, North Pole, South Pole : the epic quest to solve the great mystery of Earth's magnetism:

North Pole, South Pole: the epic quest to solve the great mystery of Earth's magnetism by Gillian M. Turner

The Geographic North and South Poles in Early Maps

One could become fascinated with the interpretations of things and events in earlier times.  The Toronto Public Library Digital Archive and The Toronto Public Library on Pinterest offer amazing digital artifacts to entertain, enlighten, and enrich our understanding of past accomplishments.

Early maps provide an intriguing view of the world.  Featured below is a map of the North Pole in 1732. As you can see, the region where the country of Canada currently resides was, "Part of America," and the area above the Arctic Circle was named, "Parts Unknown."  Clearly, little was understood on the various aspects of this northern terrain, but geographers such as Herman Moll provided the North Pole with a definitive point in space.

More digital images pertaining to the North Pole on
1732 Map of the North Pole by Herman Moll and courtesy of the Toronto Public Library


The map below was printed forty years later and sketched an outline of the South Pole.  This depiction seemed as mysterious as its polar counterpart.

A Southern or Antarctic Hemisphere map by Robert Sayer in 1732 on
Map of the Southern or Antarctic Hemisphere by Robert Sayer in 1773 courtesy of The Toronto Public Library

There was no indication of any land structure at the South Pole.  This visualization is a chilling reminder of the limits of human endurance in early global exploration.  The Polar Regions remained shrouded in secrecy for the next century.

Recorded for Posterity

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, travelers have endeavoured to reach the poles. The need to know was of paramount significance.  The unfinished maps of that period in time compelled explorers to fill in the gaps with new knowledge.  Other aspects included competition to reach that place first and the challenge to test their own physical, mental, and emotional limits against the harshest conditions imaginable.  Even so, some explorers paid the ultimate price for this opportunity.  These stories, too, are preserved in the historical body of knowledge as a part of that particular landscape.

In today's world, current technology in the form of satellite imagery digitally maps out these forbidden landscapes.  This information is easily accessible through print and online resources.  Explorers who want to travel to these regions (particularly the South Pole) will require the latest tech gear to arm themselves against these harsh terrains.  

For the rest of us who prefer to reside in warmer climates but want to read up on these fascinating explorations, here are some suggested cool titles:

Race to the top of the world: Richard Byrd and the first flight to the North Pole by Sheldon Bart To the end of the earth: our epic journey to the North Pole and the legend of Peary and Henson by Tom Avery Polar attack: from Canada to the North Pole, and back by Richard Weber Into the cold (2011, DVD) by Copeland, Sebastian and Heger, Keith
South with the sun: Roald Amundsen, his polar explorations, and the quest for discovery by Lynne Cox Return to Antarctica: the amazing adventure of Sir Charles Wright on Robert Scott's journey to the South Pole by Adrian Raeside 1912: the year the world discovered Antarctica by Chris Turney Photographs of Captain Scott by David M. Wilson

Enjoy the cheery warmth of the festive season while Old Man Winter pounds the Northern Hemisphere with blistering icy conditions.  The early travelers on their polar expeditions will solemnly wait until the reader chooses to pick up and continue along with them on their epic journeys.

Downton Abbey Returns!

December 19, 2014 | Muriel | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

Dedicated Downton Abbey fans, like me, are especially looking forward to the new
year, since on January 4 PBS will start broadcasting season five! Familiar faces will be
returning to this phenomenally popular series, including my favourite actress on the
show, Dame Maggie Smith.  She plays the inimitable, always witty Violet Crawley,
Dowager Countess of Grantham.  An extraordinarily versatile actor who will be new
to the show will be Richard E. Grant, who came to fame starring in the cult film,
Withnail and I.  He will play art expert Simon Bricker, who is invited to Downton
Abbey by the Granthams.  You can catch a glimpse of him in the trailer below, with
Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora Crawley.


Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, based the setting for his
award-winning drama on Highclere Castle.  He is a friend of the Carnarvon
family, who make Highclere Castle their home.  Highclere Castle has become
such a popular tourist destination, that tickets for tours for their Easter and
Spring openings are already sold out.  The Telegraph reports that Lord and
Lady Carnarvon have restored two buildings, where for £350 and up per night,
visitors can stay.  "Called London Lodge, the accommodation is set in two
newly-restored buildings, joined by a path, that originally date from 1840
but had fallen into disrepair. They are set on either side of the estate’s grand
Georgian gatehouse, built in 1793...The owners have opted for a modern,
Cotswolds-cottage feel as opposed to trying to recreate anything you might
see in Julian Fellowes’s series." 

However, if you would like to save yourself the cost of accommodation, airfare
(and the ensuing jet lag), you can go, for free, to "Toronto's Downton Abbey,"
Spadina Museum.  Just pick up a Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass
for the City of Toronto Historic Museums.

  A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey      Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey      Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey

I find the real history of Highclere Castle and its inhabitants to be actually quite
fascinating.  George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (referred to as Lord Carnarvon),
was the financial backer of the search for and excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb. 
Along with archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon opened
the tomb in 1922.  When Lord Carnarvon died in 1923 after a severe mosquito bite,
it led to the story of the "Curse of Tutankhamun."  Lord Carnarvon was survived
by his wife, Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred
de Rothschild.  The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was also survived by his son Henry
George Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon, as well as by his daughter Lady Evelyn Leonora
Almina Herbert.  The 6th Earl of Carnarvon married a beautiful young American,
Anne Catherine Tredick Wendell.  When her father-in-law died less than a year
after her marriage, Lady Catherine suddenly found herself chatelaine of the
castle and in charge of a large household staff.

Sometimes the facts are even more extraordinary than the fiction... This book tells the story of Lady Catherine, a beautiful American girl who became the chatelaine of Highclere Castle, the setting for Julian Fellowes' award-winning drama Downton Abbey. Charming and charismatic, Catherine caught the eye of Lord Porchester (or 'Porchey', as he was known) when she was just 20 years old, and wearing a pale yellow dress at a ball. She had already turned down 14 proposals before she eventually married Porchey in 1922. But less than a year later Porchey's father died suddenly, and he  ( more)

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey         Downton Abbey Rules For Household Staff        Edwardian Cooking    

While you are waiting for the start of season five, you might like to try the
Maggie Smith trivia quiz, or even figure out which Downton Abbey bachelor
is right for you
!  If you are really enthusiastic, you might like to try cooking
a meal reminiscent of Downton Abbey.  The recipes in Edwardian Cooking make
me appreciate that it must have taken a lot of time and effort, on the part of
the downstairs staff, to produce the elaborate meals which were consumed so
delicately upstairs.  For total atmosphere, you could listen to a CD of Downton Abbey
music while you cook and dine.

For dessert, it really would be hard to top Martha Stewart's gingerbread abbey,
her tribute to Downton Abbey.  Here she is, seen with actress Lesley Nicol,
who plays the hardworking and charismatic cook, Mrs. Patmore, on the series:

Best wishes for happy holidays, and enjoy season five!

The Neuroscience of Willpower

December 18, 2014 | Cathy | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

  Yes you can clouds
Image courtesy of

With 2014 drawing to a close, I have been thinking about New Year's resolutions, not that I make them, officially.  I think about what I would like to change, improve and accomplish for the next year, (yes, I know--resolutions).  I recently realized that I have been thinking about making the same changes ever since I was a teen.  It's strange that I accomplish everything I want and need to for work, but cannot do the same for my personal life.  

I am hoping to change that by going to a presentation, The Neuroscience of Willpower at North York Central Library at 7 p.m. on January 6, 2015.  Uri Galimidi will share simple, yet effective, neuroscience-based interventions that will help strengthen willpower, conquer undesirable habits, adopt new beneficial habits, increase the rate of success of meeting your goals, and help you become the best possible version of yourself.  In a nutshell: boost your willpower, change your life.

In the meantime, I might do some reading on increasing my willpower... or I might not.



  Neuroscience of everyday life
Willpower: rediscovering the greatest human strength by Roy F. Baumeister The willpower instinct: how self-control works, why it matters and what you can do to get more of it by Kelly McGonigal The neuroscience of everyday life by Sam Wang (DVD)
On second thought: outsmarting your mind's hard-wired habits by Wray Herbert This will make you smarter: new scientific concepts to improve your thinking by John Brockman Beyond IQ by Garth Sundem (eBook)


Calling all amateur scientists

December 12, 2014 | Carolyn | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Traité de la sphère
Public domain image. From Nicole Oresme's "Traité de la sphère".

For most of human history, all scientists were amateurs...

Are you among the many people who attend our science programs or pick up our monthly Free Science Events (PDF) calendars? If so, why not take your interest in science to the next level by becoming a citizen scientist?

What is citizen science, you ask? Here's a simple definition from " Lab Coats for All! A Layperson's Guide to Citizen Science ":

Citizen Science (CS) is a data-gathering technique that allows anyone to volunteer their time in support of scientific research projects.       

In other words, citizen science projects harness the power of the internet to allow non-scientists to participate in research. You can think of it as crowd-sourced science.

The Zooniverse, sponsored by the Citizen Science Alliance, is one of the largest and most popular web portals for research projects. Over 1.2 million people have registered to participate in projects such as:

  • Moon Zoo participants will use images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study the lunar surface
  • Planet Hunters monitor light curves recorded by the Kepler spacecraft to search for exoplanets
  • Penguin Watch volunteers study images of penguins  taken in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to help scientists understand their lives and environment
  • Cell Slider participants contribute to cancer research by analyzing slides and classifying cancer cells

NOVA Labs is another citizen science portal. It's projects include:

  • Cloud Lab, in which participants classify clouds and investigate their role in tropical storms
  • RNA VirtuaLab volunteers start by practicing RNA folding and can go on to design RNA molecules that could potentially be used in future therapies


Would you like to learn more about the citizen science movement? 

The Incidental Steward: reflections on citizen science Citizen Science: public participation in environmental research   
Inspired by her involvement in environmental studies, the author celebrates the volunteerism that fuels the citizen science movement and urges others to become involved. This highly recommended book describes several popular citizen science projects and their impact both on research and on the general public.  

Would you like to learn more about the contributions made by amateur scientists?

It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist: great amateurs of science Bunch of Amateurs: a search for the American character The Species Seekers: heroes, fools and the mad pursuit of life on Earth
Be inspired by these tales of ordinary people who were responsible for some of our greatest scientific discoveries.    

available as a book, eBook and eAudiobook

Hitt examines the American love of innovation through the stories of contemporary amateur scientists.

The story of the amateur naturalists who discovered, collected and classified much of the Earth's biodiversity.

More Proof Extroverts Rule the World

December 5, 2014 | Maureen | Comments (10) Facebook Twitter More...

MistletoeNetworking as a path to success, open concept offices, the emphasis on group work at all levels of education – need more proof that extroverts rule the world? The restaurant chain TGI Friday’s in the UK has unleashed an introvert’s nightmare: mistletoe drones with cameras. The noisy drone zips around like a giant bug clutching a bedraggled bit of greenery, on a mission to make people kiss under the mistletoe, an age old Christmas tradition. Once a target couple is selected, the drone hovers over them, blasting them with a mighty, hair disheveling wind, while restaurant customers gawk and yell, bullying the couple into smooching. The whole thing is recorded on a "kiss cam" which is attached to the drone. I won’t be at all surprised if someone (possibly an inebriated introvert) knocks one of these snoops out of the air with their dinner plate before the end of the holiday season!

Kudos to comedienne Elvira Kurt for inducting these festive pests into her Cultural Hall of Shame (a segment on the CBC arts and culture radio program, Q). In light of recent events surrounding the former host of Q, Jian Ghomeshi, Elvira made the darkly comic suggestion that diners should be provided with an "air horn of consent" to blow, in order to fend off this high tech holiday harassment.

In the good old days, introverts could reconnoiter the territory at seasonal parties and plot mistletoe-free routes to the holiday eats, but thanks to an idea floated, no doubt, by an extrovert, mistletoe drones may become the must-have holiday party ice breaker. Imagine all the ways novelty drones can give grief to introverts in the brave new world of the future. What’s a poor introvert to do?

Quiet - the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talkingOne answer to that question: fake it. Many introverts mimic extroversion, putting on their party face when the situation calls for it. In her popular book Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain argues that modern western culture prizes the extrovert ideal, and sees introversion as pathology, something that needs to be fixed. No wonder introverts fake it! Psychologist Brian Little calls this coping mechanism “pseudo extroversion” in his new book, Me, myself and us: the science of personality and the art of well-being. Little, who calls himself an “off the charts” introvert, delivers highly engaging lectures to his students in full-on pseudo extrovert mode.

If you liked Susan Cain's book, you’ll find much to interest you in Me, myself and us. (Little's focus is wider than the introvert/ambivert/extrovert spectrum.) Especially intriguing is his discussion of “neocortical arousal.” Introverts sometimes get a bad rap for being antisocial, but Little points to a theory that could explain their behaviour. According to the theory, introverts experience high levels of arousal in the neocortex zone of their brains when they are in certain situations. An environment in which an extrovert would thrive – let’s say a crowded restaurant where the air space is patrolled by pesky drones that peer pressure diners into seasonal snogging -- could send the introvert’s neocortical arousal levels through the roof.  

Me, myself, and usIntroverts can play at being extroverts, but it’s only a matter of time before the strain of acting out of character sends them running for cover. Faking extroversion too often can have a negative impact on an introvert’s health, Professor Little warns. To cope, he retreats to what he calls “a restorative niche.” He describes using the last stall in the men’s room as a “restorative niche” in between lectures at a military college in Quebec. He was quietly engaged in “arousal reduction” when the “loudest hummer” he'd ever heard burst into the men’s room, took the stall next to his, and started a conversation: “Hey, is that Dr. Little?” After the chatty extrovert discovered him, an extended “interstall” conversation followed, and the professor’s afternoon lecture suffered in quality because he was deprived of his quiet recovery time. Now Professor Little makes sure to pull his feet up when he uses a bathroom stall as restorative niche.

Yet more proof that extroverts rule the world: if introverts ruled, Dr. Little wouldn’t have to manage his neocortical arousal levels in bathroom stalls. Urban planners would make sure there were restorative niches available throughout the city.

To Professor Little and the one third to one half of the population who are introverts, may I offer this piece of advice: the next time you are pushed to the arousal brink, consider the library as a restorative niche -- it's one of the only indoor public spaces where you aren't pressured to buy, join in, or perform. Grab a book, magazine or newspaper, find a cozy corner, and let your neocortical arousal levels gently descend.

A final note: did you know the Norse god Baldr was killed with mistletoe? I'd avoid it, even if it isn't airborne. Take a look at these book titles and you'll see what I mean!


All books above except Blood and mistletoe: the history of the Druids in Britain are available in both ebook and book.

Me, myself and us: the science of personality and the art of well-being.

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking.

Mistletoe image: Creative Commons

An End to the Camelot Era

November 24, 2014 | Ann | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

John F. Kennedy at Dealey Plaza in Dallas Texas on November 22, 1963.
This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed.

On November 22, 1963, the 35th President of the United States was assassinated by long-range rifle shots originating from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. John F. Kennedy rode in an open-top limousine through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas and was struck in the neck and head by two shots at 12:30 pm. Texas Governor John Connally sat one seat ahead of JFK. He was also shot but survived. Jackie Kennedy was physically unhurt but was seen trying to save her husband's life. A lone sniper, Lee Harvey Oswald, was eventually captured and arrested for the crime.  

Two days later, on November 24, 1963, while Lee Harvey Oswald was escorted from the basement of the city jail at 11:20 am, a lone gunman stepped forward from the crowd and shot Oswald in close proximity much to the astonishment of the detective and officers accompanying Oswald. Jack Ruby was identified as the shooter. The front page of the Monday, November 25, 1963 issue of the New York Times reports both the State funeral of John F. Kennedy as well as the report of the public execution of Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.  

In January 1964, Jackie Kennedy requested a historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to meet with her to record her experiences during the JFK presidency. These tapes were recently released for publication in 2011.  

Historic conversations on life with John F. Kennedy: interviews with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1964  by Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929-1994. EAudiobook of Jacqueline Kennedy historic conversations on life with John F. Kennedy, interviews with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1964

Janny Scott's September 11, 2011 New York Times article, In Tapes, Candid Talk by Young Kennedy Widowprovides a glimpse into that conversation. During their recorded conversation, Jackie compared her husband's presidency period to that of Camelot.  

Jacqueline Kennedy's interpretation, though comforting, may contain questionable gaps. In The Guardian, Sarah-Jane Stratford's November 21, 2013 article, Referring to JFK's presidency as 'Camelot' doesn't do him justice, discusses how King Arthur's myth does not accurately capture Jackie Kennedy's romantic version of JFK's presidency. Stratford believes JFK deserves a more accurate historical interpretation of the events of that period.

Despite the different perspectives shared on that period in time, the events that unfolded in November over five decades ago remain instilled in current social media.  

The Society and Recreation Department has a wide selection of titles on American history in the 20th century including a well-stocked display on the Kennedy era.

Kennedy titles at the Society & Recreation Department
Photo courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

Below are more titles on this historical topic:

Four days in November: the original coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination by Robert B. Semple JFK assassination logic: how to think about claims of conspiracy by John McAdams Killing Kennedy: the end of Camelot by Bill O'Reilly The hidden history of the JFK assassination: the definitive account of the most controversial crime of the twentieth century by Lamar Waldron
The Kennedy detail: JFK's secret service agents break their silence by Gerald Blaine The Kennedy half-century: the presidency, assassination, and lasting legacy of John F. Kennedy by Larry Sabato Mrs. Paine's garage and the murder of John F. Kennedy by Thomas Mallon Kennedy assassinated!: the world mourns: a reporter's story by Wilborn Hampton

The month of November honours conflicts and battles through 20th century history. This month also observes an event that still unites people to share in its mourning. 

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