Friday, February 7, 2014

Adventures with Grad Studies

"Back to school, Back to school, To prove to my Dad that I'm not a fool"
~Billy Madison                

While I have different reasons than Billy Madison, I am nonetheless back in school.  Specifically, a M.Sc. program at the U of A.  I have been there for just over a month now, and am finally getting used to it. I was working for a consulting company over the last 4.5 years, and the switch back to academia has been a little strange.

First off, I had to move to Edmonton which is a big change on its own.  But I found a nice place, in a quiet neighbourhood that is conveniently close to the LRT (train system).  So I can get to an from without driving, and paying for parking, and all that hassle.  I am also close to most other essentials (grocery store, bank, coffee shops, etc.).

School itself has been mostly good.  It is weird going back to classes, and lab work, and lab reports, and tutorials.  Normally I would probably be on or around a drill rig, logging samples, in rougher, colder conditions.  Don't get me wrong, field work can be fun, it is just very different than being in a classroom.  

It is also a different experience from my undergrad.  In undergrad there was a lot more structure.  You had x number of classes; for each one the prof would show up an talk about one specific thing, and at the end of the week you would have an assignment about that stuff; crunch the numbers and hand in.  And there were labs thrown in there too.  

In the grad program it feels more open.  You have less classes, but a heavier workload, as you are responsible for more.  Professors do still lecture about specific stuff, but I find that there is a lot more from them just talking about experiences and how stuff really works and all the fun, cool, little things in between. And there is also discussion.  And there are papers!  So when it comes time to do a tutorial, or lab report, you need to do some research and really think about stuff.  Information is rarely spoon fed to you.  Part of this is probably also due to the fact that I have been out of school for years, and a lot of the theory is not fresh in my mind.  

Classes are generally interesting, and I have actually had eureka moments, and whispered things like "woah", and "that's cool".  To clarify, this never happened in undergrad (or at least I don't remember it).  I do have one class that I am still unsure about, as it is very heavy on theory, and I don't have a strong background in it.  But I think I am slowly putting it all together, and it actually is interesting, just very heavy (as in writing equations for 1.5 hours during class).  

So to summarize, grad school so far is mostly good.  It is busy, but mostly interesting.  I am sure there is more to tell, and probably a clearer way to tell it, but, I have school work to do, and no time to revise this.
          

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Topic!

Hi everybody!

To wrap up the year, we're doing second chances month. The idea here is that you can write either specifically about second chances OR you can write about any of the topics we've previously covered. Maybe pay special attention to the topics that we completely ignored, listed here for your convenience:

Contributors: You can interpret this any way you want, and you can write as many posts as you want (within reason, obviously, not like 200 posts over the course of the month, but I don't think any of us have that kind of time on our hands). When you write your post, make sure you tag it with the topic ("second chances" and, if necessary, the old topic you're writing about) and your name/blog identifier, so that if any potential readers like you and hate the rest of us, they can find your posts easily.

Everyone: I am scheduling this post a month in advance and have no idea whether I'll be able to create a poll between now and then or not. Stay tuned, I guess?!

Comment on this post or the topic ideas post if there's anything you'd like to see added to the poll. As far as I'm concerned, any topic is fair game, so suggest away!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

November Topic!

Hi everybody!

I hope you can forgive me for the late post, it's been a very busy week/month.

It's NaNoWriMo this month, so let's make our topic creative writing.

Contributors: You can interpret this topics any way you want (but mainly the intent is to post some of your own creative writing, if it exists), and you can write as many posts as you want (within reason, obviously, not like 200 posts over the course of the month, but I don't think any of us have that kind of time on our hands). When you write your post, make sure you tag it with the topic and your name/blog identifier, so that if any potential readers like you and hate the rest of us, they can find your posts easily.

Everyone: We might as well do something creative in December again. Woo!

Comment on this post or the topic ideas post if there's anything you'd like to see added to the poll in September. As far as I'm concerned, any topic is fair game, so suggest away!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Topic!

Hi everybody!

The September poll closed with the following breakdown of votes:
  • 0 votes: cacti, colours
  • 1 vote: reunions, the sea, body mods

Once again I'm going to just decide what we'll write about in that case. I'd like to save "reunions" for a few months from now, so this month, we'll have two topics: the sea and body mods. These don't have much in common besides the popularity of octopus tattoos.

Contributors: You can interpret these topics any way you want, and you can write as many posts about one, both, or none of them as you want (within reason, obviously, not like 200 posts over the course of the month, but I don't think any of us have that kind of time on our hands). When you write your post, make sure you tag it with the topic and your name/blog identifier, so that if any potential readers like you and hate the rest of us, they can find your posts easily.

Everyone: We might as well do something creative in November again. Woo!

Comment on this post or the topic ideas post if there's anything you'd like to see added to the poll in September. As far as I'm concerned, any topic is fair game, so suggest away!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The World's End Discussion, Part 4

On September 8, Dave, Jeff, and Megan got together to talk about the latest Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost venture, The World's End, based on some notes from Cat. (So far she hasn't given permission to publish those notes, so for now you'll have to reconstruct them for yourself based on our references to them and deductive reasoning.) This is the thrilling conclusion of that discussion.

Beware, though: absolutely no effort was made to avoid spoilers.



MR
Ok, so finally, the ending!

Dave
Loved it.

MR
I also loved it, except for the very very end where they show what Gary is doing.
What actually is he doing? Straight up murdering people? I didn't get that.

JK
Yeah, I agree with you Megan.
I loved that he had a sword though.

Dave
I loved that there wasn't a magic "win" button that made everything okay again.

MR
I agree. Like Peter and Oliver are still blanks in the end, they don't magically come back to themselves.

Dave
And the world is messed up.

JK
Did either of you wonder for a bit if Gary was simply high and was imagining the blue bloods? Then I was wondering if he had drugged all of his friends too and they were seeing it.

MR
I don't think I ever doubted that what they were seeing was real.

Dave
Yeah the movie becomes a whole lot darker if they are all mass murderers.

MR
Another side note: I looooooved the creepy lights coming out of the blanks' faces. omg so good.

JK
That made for some cool scenes.

Dave
Yep, great effect.
In the end Gary got his friends back. He gets his glory days back, but also finally gets to grow up as a person and move onto new things. And the ending also shows the duality of humanity. You have the bigoted assholes, and the compassionate folks who believe in equality.

MR
But he isn't with his friends, is he? And I'm not sure that killing bigots is ... a great route to take.
Everything about the ending worked for me except him.

Dave
Without the network, the blanks have the opportunity to become real humans. So Gary and his group are on a quest to make the world a better place.
Yeah it was a bit of a stretch.

JK
Did Gary move on to new things? Weren't those other four guys he was with the kids that they beat up at the beginning? If they were, then he was fitting himself into another group in a similar role.

Dave
No it was the young version of their crew.
Andy, Oliver, Peter, and Steve.

MR
I think it made sense that he would still not really be doing what everyone else is, in terms of survival, but to have him just wandering around killing dudes seems.. so weird.

Dave
Yeah it was a little heavy handed.

MR
It seems like a sort of wish fulfillment thing (does he tell the guidance counsellor at the beginning that he just wants to "have fun" or something? I can't remember exactly what he says), except that it's presented in a strange way.

Dave
I like that he is roaming around with his old crew, but the extreme violence aspect is a bit much.

JK
It seemed like they had to end off on some kind of explosive high note and Gary was the best one to do that. But yes, it did seem somewhat out of place.

MR
Like going in and trashing the place? I'd take that.
Even like burning it down or something, which would be more theatrical.

Dave
Well I guess they were expecting the audience to buy into the violent post apocalyptic world that we all know from so many other sources.
But it wasn't really set up in this film.

MR
He just didn't really seem like a killer to me, I think?

Dave
Yeah, it took a pretty big jump, expecting the audience to fill in the gaps.

JK
Yeah, he was there for a good time, not to slay people. Unless he considered that a good time.

Dave
Well if you look at the end as if it was set in Mad Max, then it makes more sense.
I am guessing they wanted the audience to make that sort of jump.

JK
Everyone else seemed to be trying to rebuild, but Gary was out there being wild.

Dave
It’s what Gary does.

MR
I suppose. It does have some cues to that effect, like these guys in the bar he goes into are like neoneo Nazis.

JK
He seemed to have found a purpose in life again.

Dave
Yeah, killing Nazis!
Always a good cause, haha.

JK
Woot!

MR
I dunno if you guys have seen X-Men First Class, but I 100% believe and am on board with Magneto Nazi Hunter at the beginning of that movie, but putting Gary in that position at the end of this movie didn't work.

Dave
I know Cat didn't like the musketeer moment, but I got a kick out of it.
They played with the musketeer motif throughout the movie, and I thought it worked well at the end.
You have the three survivors meeting up, very drunk, surviving the end of the world, crazy with adrenaline. I think it was natural that they would laugh about that!

JK
Did anyone catch how Gary said that the five musketeers works because if two die, you still have three? That is precisely what happened with Oliver and Peter.

MR
Apparently I missed everything musketeer-related in the movie because I have no clue what you're talking about.
I do sort of remember the five musketeers comment because of that old Albert the Fifth Musketeer cartoon.
Other ending thoughts? I think I already went into mine above.
I just really like having my expectations subverted.
I was really hoping that Oliver and Peter would come back to life (mostly because I just love Martin Freeman and can't separate actors from their roles very well), but I was so happy when they didn't.

Dave
Yeah I like that they defeated the aliens but that there was a heavy cost to pay. I like that the blanks got a chance to be real people.

MR
And I loved that their actions brought on the end of the world (as we know it).. that never happens.

Dave
I like that Sam and Steve shacked up, in a rather nice shack.

MR
I wanted to know how they scored that shack. It was super nice.

Dave
Built it, Steve was a home builder, remember. Started his own business.

MR
Yeah, I was just about to say that I remembered him in a hard hat at some point. But building a shack with your own hands is a bit different!

Dave
He would still have the knowledge.

MR
I also liked Oliver's ball head.
And the eyes on it.

JK
Reminded me a bit of Wilson from Castaway.

MR
Me too.
Any other overall thoughts on the movie? What would you rate it on the letter grade scale?

Dave
A for awesome. It had good cinematography, good effects, good acting, good story, and was overall really fun to watch.

JK
A- , I think. It didn't totally blow my mind apart like Shawshank Redemption or The Sixth Sense, but it made me think and I laughed a lot.

MR
I'll go with A-.. the weirdness at the end didn't put a good button on things for me, and like Jeff I didn't have my mind completely blown.. but while not as jam-packed with amazing as Hot Fuzz, everything in this was well done, I laughed multiple times.
I wonder if maybe I'm just not familiar enough with the whole body-snatcher genre and ended up missing some of the jokes?
Good show all around in any case!

Dave
Yep. Solid, enjoyable entertainment!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The World's End Discussion, Part 3

On September 8, Dave, Jeff, and Megan got together to talk about the latest Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost venture, The World's End, based on some notes from Cat. (So far she hasn't given permission to publish those notes, so for now you'll have to reconstruct them for yourself based on our references to them and deductive reasoning.) This is the third part of that discussion. Keep your eyes peeled for Scott's cameo appearance.

Beware, though: absolutely no effort was made to avoid spoilers.



MR
Well let's jump over to the setting

JK
Sure!

MR
Creepy small town? A+

JK
Totally. I wonder if they are any places in Saskatchewan like that.
I thought it was interesting that the town was called Newton Haven. It sounded a lot like "New Haven," an idealized conformist utopia (that turns out to be a dystopia).

MR
I wanted to say it was called "Sleepy Hollow" cuz I couldn't remember the name of it but it certainly implied peacefulness.

MR
I love how this and Hot Fuzz completely lampoon the stereotype of the small town being somewhere where things are perfect.

JK
I liked how Newton Haven had "UK's First Traffic Circle." I wonder if this was intended to be one of the 'improvements' that the blanks had introduced (I wonder if there actually are any traffic circles in England). In the end, Sam actually makes a remark that the traffic circle confused her, an indication again that the 'improvements' introduced by the blanks aren't so great, aren't so 'human.'

MR
Hahaha I forgot that traffic circle joke.

Dave
Good observation Jeff.
I did like that line!

JK
Oh yeah, and Gary tells her to go right through it! Down with conformity!

MR
I have so much trouble figuring out the actual size of towns and stuff in movies.
Because here in SK, when I think small town, I think pop. 2000 people or less.
But the rest of the world is usually talking about somewhere with like 50 000 people in it or something.

SSB
I remember learning in elementary school that the population requirement to be a city was 5000, but in Ontario and stuff it's 75 000.

Dave
Serious!?

JK
Holy crap!
That’s huge!
There were definitely some small towns when I was in the UK, but Newton Haven did seem quite large, though not 'developed.'

MR
But the area that they're navigating to go to the different pubs looks fairly small.

JK
Yes, it does. The pub map does illustrate a rather small area.

Dave
Downtown core, with cottages all around.

JK
Actually, most UK towns/cities have a very small, olden-times feel in the downtown. Often called the 'old town ' e.g. Old Canterbury.

MR
Yeah, you're totally right about that, Jeff.
Actually it just occurred to me that this is sort of similar to the way that The X-Files treats rural America i.e. weird shit happens out there.
There aren't as many people around to see it.

JK
Totally true Megan!

MR
Let’s jump into the plot, though.

JK
Cool

MR
Cat thought the plot didn't go anywhere, but I think it just sort of got a little mired in fighting blanks.
I really liked the fight choreography, by the way.

JK
Even throughout all of the fighting, Gary still tried to satisfy his unfinished dream of all 12 pints.

MR
I know, I loved that.

Dave
I think it progressed and was important to telling Gary's story. Even in the face of the invasion, losing friends, and being in mortal danger of being "mulched" he still had to complete the Golden Mile.

JK
I loved how he got pissed off when that blank made him drop his beer!

MR
I think the thing that really encapsulated his character for me was when they get kicked out of the one place without being able to have a drink (because he’s banned for life) and he drinks the ones that people left outside on the patio.

Dave
It really shows how that challenge was all he had. And helped illustrate how his friends fit into his life.

MR
Yes!

JK
I loved that scene Megan!

JK
Is the Golden Mile the course of our lives? Our dreams and ambitions?

MR
The plot definitely wasn't, like, extremely complicated or anything, but I think it's better that it wasn't.

Dave
Yeah, I think it had its story to tell, and it did that effectively.

JK
True, a heavy plot probably would have obfuscated the theme of the movie.

MR
I'm going to reveal my criticism nerdiness right now, but Film Critic Hulk just wrote an excellent article not too long ago about how many blockbusters are way too complicated these days, which I generally agree with so much.

JK
I agree! Any of the latter instalments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a prime example.

Dave
Yeah, it’s an alien invasion, in the end how much do all the motives and methods of the bad guys really matter to the everyman? They would have been mired down trying to tell that story too.

MR
In this case there could've stood to be more development of the characters besides Gary King, but his character arc (or lack thereof) alone makes the movie worth watching.

Dave
I think that some characters could have been developed more, but didn't really need to be.

MR
I think they might've been able to combine Oliver and Peter or something.
But then they couldn't've had Oliver turned into a blank and Peter get his revenge on his bully.
So maybe not

JK
I am glad that you wrote your article on Apocalypse and Armageddon Dave! Newton Haven was Armageddon and the Apocalypse was the revelation about what makes us human.
Sorry, getting ahead of myself again.

Dave
Haha thanks Jeff.

MR
I'm not good at finding plot holes, but did you see any?

JK
None were obvious to me.

Dave
I think the plot was pretty water tight.

JK
And it probably helped that they didn't have a convoluted plot either!

MR
The only thing I can think of is: do their families still live in the town? What’s going on with them?

JK
Do you mean their parents and siblings, Megan?

MR
Yes.
You'd just think that if they do still have family there, they would have visited them before now.

Dave
I think Oliver might have had parents in town, but since he was the first convert it makes sense that he wasn't worried about them.
And maybe they did, but you generally don't bring your five old friends along to visit your parents.

MR
No, I mean like haven't they been there in previous years to visit? This has been going on for a while.

Dave
Oh right...

MR
I actually don't think it's a big deal or anything, and you can probably explain it away... like they might have only been back for short visits and not noticed anything.

Dave
Yeah, they never really noticed anything until Gary pulled that first kid’s head off.

MR
Yeah, exactly.

JK
You’re right

Dave
So moot point, haha.


Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion!