Wednesday, April 30, 2014

METACOGNITION



                                                   



There's a word I love.   Metacognition.   At first blush it appears to be one of those edu-speak words.   In others words . . . jargon.  But I've come to attribute metacognition to much I consider to be successful in my life.   To describe this marvel further, it has sometimes been explained as 'thinking about your thinking'; how you learn and process information.    

It is necessary to consider person variables and task variables.  Knowledge of person variables refers to general knowledge about how human beings learn and process information.   For example, you may be aware that your study session will be more productive if you work in the quiet library rather than at home where there are many distractions.    You may have come to realize that you are more productive in the mornings than evenings.  Knowledge of task variables include knowledge about the nature of the task as well as the type of processing demands that it will place upon the individual. For example, you may be aware that it will take more time for you to read and comprehend a science text than it would for you to read and comprehend a novel.

Many aspects of life and work involve problem solving.   What are the steps involved?   You have to generate possible solutions, one after the other.   You have to weigh the options, explore sub-sets of those options.   You need to step back and--this part can be difficult--appraise the likely success of those options.   This can mean giving up a pet theory or potentially offending someone if this is a group project.

In your life, metacognition veers into being alert and aware of people, projects and challenges that generate a positive or negative reaction.   Metacognition in this situation could involve making changes in your life; This can be difficult but necessary and ultimately rewarding  Here's where I get to quote Shakespeare again:


". .  there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. . ." 
(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

FOOL



                                                                     



From a prompt from my Writers' Group prompt:  'Fool'



"I've been such a fool, Sue . . . going on a trip to Maui with Tom . . . "   Fran laughed a little sheepishly, one hand pleating the fabric of her skirt.   " . . . and you know Tom.   Always goes overboard;  wants to treat me when we're away.  Says he wants to make up for our poor student days when we were first married."

I made a sympathetic sound, remembering  those days myself.   As Fran paused, I looked around our modest home, consoling myself that at least it was now paid off.   We'd made do with potluck suppers and camping trips to the National Parks.  My Jack trying to start charcoal briquets on a second hand grill with lighter fluid.   There had been lots of fun times  just the same.  I felt my attention to Fran wavering as something was twigging my memory.

Fran seemed to sense this and her voice became little louder, her expression a bit more agitated.  "And now, Sue,"   she continued, emphasizing my name ever so slightly,  " we come home to this massive tax bill."   She shook her head.   "That's Tom for you;  never had a head for figures."  She gave another nervous laugh.

That turn of phrase about Tom not having a head for figures finally made it click.  I'd heard that from Fran before.   My invigorated memory travelled down mental pathways and paused before the file folder labelled Fran's Divorce.  That was it!   Fran had described herself the same way some twenty years earlier when she was trying to extricate herself from a marriage that had ended with a six figure debt between the parties.  I'd lent her $10,000 for the divorce lawyer but, now that I thought about things, it seemed to me that the amount hadn't all been paid back, maybe not even half of it.  Jack and I could have used that money more than a few times, raising our brood.

What was that old saying?   Fool me once, shame on you;   fool me twice, shame on me.


I gave Fran another sympathetic smile.  "Well, it's a good thing you have those Maui memories, Sue.   Sounds like you'll have to go back to work for a while, anyway.   Never mind, weren't you saying just last month that you were feeling a little bored?"   I looked at my watch.   "Look at the time;   I have to run along.  You can see yourself out, right?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parenting Advice

Pithy parenting advice is interesting to read but more difficult to put into practice . . .   except when you can direct the advice at other parents.


                                                                     




This homily is cute and concise and sounds helpful.   It reminds me of the one about packing half the clothes and twice the money when you travel.    Parenting is a difficult job;  I think most would agree with that . . . all parents, surely.   Advice abounds, but is it always welcome?

Some parenting experts will counsel that it is unwise to be a 'pal' to your children.   There should be boundaries and your children should respect you.   What then does 'spending time' mean exactly?   Being in the same room while they play video games?   Driving them to and from part time jobs, music lessons, football practice?    What exactly does 'twice as much' mean?   Twice as much as your parents spent or as the neighbours devote or the father who's a regular at the local watering hole?   Should a parent decide how much time they will spend with their children and then double it?   No cheating now.   You can't commence your calculations with a  number that is fifty percent.

What about time you owe your employer?  Even though a parent is advised to only spend half as much money, it must be assumed that the 'half' still includes clean and safe accommodation, healthy nutritious food, a minimal wardrobe and a modicum of entertainment.  A certain number of hours at paid employment will be necessarily for those not already independently wealthy.   Then there's your spouse.    What about 'happy wife, happy life' or 'happy parents have happy children'?   Some/many women prefer a life that includes activities/employment outside the home.    

Financially, it is difficult today to have one parent at home beyond standard paid maternity leave, even assuming that it the mutual wish of the parties.   Your children may do fine with half the money but your mortgage company and utility company will not.    Also, half the money may mean skipping music lessons or sports teams or family journeys to foreign lands.   

I suppose my analysis demonstrates that I could never be an advice columnist.





Saturday, April 19, 2014

PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON?


                              




I recently skimmed through  this post  on Slate, an on-line news magazine.  I must confess that I haven't seen the the television program which the article analyzes:   Girls.   IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base)  describes this series pithily as  'A comedy about the experiences of a group of girls in their early 20's.'  Not in my age group.   The series has won two Golden Globe awards so it has met with some critical acclaim.  

The main thrust of the writer's mostly tongue-in-cheek objection to increasing nudity in television shows, especially Girls, is the feeling of betrayal that he experiences when his television friends--that is how he describes the relationship he develops with the characters--remove their clothes and otherwise go 'beserk'.  He finds it uncomfortable when they insist on flinging off their clothes with unfortunate regularity.  TV friends are supposed to behave like his real friends, who presumably are paragons of virtue. 

Do you care?   Television has broken many boundaries, racial, religious and cultural.   Some may remember All in the Family, a weekly comedy program from the 1970's that entertained many even while dealing with matters that were controversial at the time but seem almost quaint today.

Pushing the envelope needs to be used judiciously and not just to get ratings or sales.   Some may wonder at the ultimate destination  of this trend but others might console themselves that viewers, like readers, can make choices.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RANT


                                                                       
     




FROM A WRITERS' GROUP PROMPT:


Dear Sir/Madam:


It's not that I wish to deny your airline the opportunity to make a profit.   Indeed, I do realize that in order for your company to continue to make flights to far-off destinations there must be a benefit to the owners and shareholders.  But I must protest the extent to which  you apparently deem it necessary to extract my meagre vacation funds before I have even arrived at my destination.  

I am charged a fee to choose a seat and the spectre of sitting in the last row next to the toilet motivates me to comply.   At the airport, I am punished for not printing my boarding pass at home.  Surely, $15 is a hefty charge for a single sheet of paper, albeit the price of printer ink is high.  My modest equipage attracts a $25 fee, raised to $40 because I didn't pay it 24 hours in advance.   Depriving your company of the fee for less than 24 hours cannot justify this usurious interest rate of almost a dollar an hour.   I suppose I should be grateful that by agreeing to a virtual ticket I saved myself your $50 charge.   My smugness turns out to be fleeting.

Once aboard, the flight attendant would be pleased to rent me a blanket to offset the chilly cabin atmosphere for a mere $5 fee.   The $2 charge for  headphones is admittedly modest--and I do get to keep them for future flights.  If I have any funds left by this time I can peruse your shopping catalog so handily tucked into the pocket in the back of the seat in front of me.   If I could just maneuver my knees sufficiently from their position pressed into the seat in front to insert a hand into the pocket and retrieve the magazine.  Now, it is decision time.   Should I forego purchasing a unique bauble for myself as a memory of this journey or should I skip eating for the next six hours?  

Maybe I can spend the rest of my vacation at the airport until it's time for the return flight.  That's all I'll be able to afford!   What happened to air travel like this:

                                                                              






Friday, April 11, 2014

Just No Time?



                                                                               




I've written previously (and recently) about a seeming trend towards shorter form reading material.   This post on The Passive Voice discusses what the writer considers an alarming trend towards shorter attention spans and a decline in human ability to focus on text for a longer period of time.   We've all become skimmers and scanners.   I have a theory that, for some, this behaviour originates in college and university when, dare I say, misguided professors and instructors inundate students with vast amounts of required reading.   It wasn't always useful, in my experience.  Multiple that by four or five courses and the student would need to give up sleep to comply and still stay current with actual assignments and essay papers that need to be handed in, midterms exams and finals.

My advice to a family member, borne of my experience long ago, was to read the first and last paragraph and the abstract or summary, if any.   There's a point that the professor wants you to grasp; tease it out from the excess.  

Perhaps online readers are employing the same tactics to try to get through all the potentially fascinating and informative websites and blogs.   We've got to be quick about it.   If you've watched some older movies you'll notice the difference from current offerings.  Previously, the director was content to let us spend three minutes of screen time watching a character cook his breakfast or shave and comb his hair just so we could get a 'feel' for the character.   Today, entire galaxies would be wiped out during the same period of time.  But that's an idea.   Perhaps time travel could be used to give us more of what we need.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

LET IT GO




                                                                             



From a Writers' Group Prompt:


I was a city child, used to city swimming pools with watchful lifeguards.   There was no running, no pushing and no jumping off the sides.   Disobedience could mean instant expulsion from the pool but as a rule abiding ten year old I never tested them.

Now here I was at  summer camp where the main feature attraction was the rope swing that extended from the side of the water's edge and the adjacent enormous oak tree to the centre of the enlarged bend in the river.   I was an observer of my braver campmates who joyfully careened down the slope, grasped the large knot in the rope in passing and swung out to the middle of the meandering river in a graceful arc, dropping into the river with a gleeful splash.

Oh, I'd tried it on one of the first days of camp but found that once my hands encircled the knot, they were reluctant to release it.   In shame and humiliation I had traced ever smaller swings, back and forth, until a cabin mate, with a look of disgust, grabbed the rope on what was probably my sixth pass and hissed, "You  have to let it go, you ninny!"

                                                                    * * *

I've shared my writings from prompts before.    At my Writing Group, the facilitator gives a prompt in the form of a phrase (such as 'LET IT GO'), a picture or photograph or an object.   We then write for about 10 minutes and then share . . . or not.  What is interesting is how many different aspects and angles one prompt can produce.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dystopia getting close to reality?


                                                   



I was taken aback to hear a discussion on a radio program about government plans to place all identification related to government services on a single card.  For example, your medical card, your government vehicle insurance, your driver's license, your birth certificate, your social insurance card . . . I probably missed some as I was in the car at the time.

Callers to the program discussed the issues of privacy and security as the primary concerns.  What if someone  stole the card or if you carelessly lost or misplaced it.  Your personal information, your most intimate details, would be out there for anyone to read and exploit.   The main advantage would be convenience, which we are all very attached to.   Then I heard the guest speaker mention the possibility of  an implanted micro-chip.   WHAT??!!   Has the government been reading A New Premise?    If you've read my dystopic novel (or even read the blurb on-line)  you'll know that the plot involves terrorist attacks on the money supply leading most citizens to have a microchip implanted with their financial . . . and other . . . information encrypted. 

Oh, oh!  Maybe a tattooed barcode would work better.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cluttering up the world



                                                                              

This post by author Russell Blake on The Passive Voice describes books as another retail product which require considerable if not massive amounts of promotion and advertising to sell copies.   Blake goes as far as to state that "constant promotion"  is required.  That may be so, in fact, it probably is but  there is likely a breakthrough point at which time word of mouth and the desire to have what many/most others have takes over.   Interestingly, Blake doesn't consider quality as the main factor and opines that  it is not sufficient to write the best book you can.   It is still important and necessary, however.

I'm sure he's correct;  Russell Blake is known in the indie book world as a prolific seller.   My concern and objection is with the amount of promotion and advertising that already engulfs our world.   I can still recall when hockey boards were bare and devoid of advertising.   There was a time when dentists, doctors and lawyers relied on their reputation, not newspaper ads.  Once corporate sponsorship wasn't considered essential for every worthy cause and event from neighbourhood to national.  I've written in an earlier post about taking a media fast;   you could try an advertising fast but you'd have to wear blinders and earplugs.   I've noticed that television programs have started placing advertising logos and brief messages in the bottom quarter of the screen, randomly inserted during the show.   I suppose they know that too many of us PVR and then fast forward through  the commercials.

Many people use social media and sites like Tripadvisor to get real opinions from individuals who have no financial stake in the outcome.    But then I've read of writers and publishers who have either purchased reviews or entered into an elaborate arrangement that involves trading reviews.   Favourable, of course.    But is it possible for everyone to be satisfied with the same thing?