Hard choices – book club or public reading?

It’s a scheduling nightmare! The book club that I frequent is meeting at the same time this week as a free public reading by three well-regarded authors. How to decide?

The book in question is Alison Pick’s Far to Go, which I have very much enjoyed reading despite the heart-wrenching subject matter. I am keen to hear what the other readers in the club think about this book, not least a certain “discerning and widely read guy”. No doubt lively repartee shall ensue (I hope). The public reading involves Sandra Birdsell, Annabel Lyon, and Alissa York. I could learn more than a thing or two about writing from any one of these authors.

If only there were two of me. Not much chance of that. But I do have a secret plan. My secret plan is that I will go the book club and my partner will go to the public reading. Almost the best of both worlds.


Municipal elections

Tomorrow is polling day for our city and region. I am fairly certain that nearly everyone I intend to vote for (for city council, mayor, regional council, and regional chair) will not in fact get elected. I still intend to cast my ballot. I think that’s important.

It has been enlightening going through this election. After 3 years back in Canada, I sometimes forget that there are still many differences between here and the UK on which I have not yet had a chance to refresh myself. For example, municipal and regional politics here is not party political. In my ward, there are a large number of candidates for a single council seat. All I have to go on is what the candidates have said in their election materials or at the various of organised debates which have been well-reported in the local media.

There are also a couple of local plebiscites that will be on this ballot, both of which have been divisive in the campaign.

However, without party allegiances to fall back on I have found myself casting about in my own pool of thoughts, principles, and preferences.  That has been useful because it has given me a useful matrix against which to test the opinions of those who would seek my support. Some things stand out for me. It turns out I don’t really mind paying taxes, or even more taxes, so long as those funds are going to develop and enhance my community. So if your whole reason for being in politics is to ensure that I have an extra 50 cents in my pocket at the end of the year, you really need to look elsewhere. If the first thing you want to do once you get in office is to remove a piece of anodyne public site art, then look elsewhere. If you sign up to an aggressive campaign of fear-mongering pseudo-science, I’m sorry you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you confuse public health issues with personal rights issues, again elsewhere.

That’s just a sampling of what I’ve found in my personal selection criteria. It’s surprising that there is anyone at all I’m willing to vote for. But I found enough candidates to make the short walk over to the polling station worth the effort. Sure, none of the candidates that I’ll be voting for is likely to win. But they still need my vote. And I need it too.

Elections – they can be a useful tool for the personal as well as the political.

Blog use and first thoughts about Drupal

Still no tweets from me, but I do now have 3 followers. Soon. The anticipation must be killing them. Meanwhile I have been busy sharpening up my various foci of identity online. For example, this blog has returned to its predominant themes of openness, free and open source software, and reflections on such software and the communities that grow and sustain it. Gone is the fun widget from LibraryThing displaying books that I have recently added to my catalog there (if you are reading this via an rss feed you may never have seen that). I have moved that over to my other blog, Transformative Explications, which focusses on books and writing. There is a link here in my blogroll. My thinking is that it is better to give these two passions a separate and distinct location on the web without trying to disguise that they are both a growing part of me.

My other blog is located on a domain I set up back in 2007: www.randymetcalfe.com. I hadn’t done much with that domain or with the web hosting package that lies behind it, but I am now actively developing it.

You will notice, if you visit it, that the blog is a WordPress installation. WordPress is just one of an array of software packages available via the Fantastico De Luxe installer that comes with my web hosting package. Since my skills do not lie in system administration, this turns out to be a great way for me to experiment with and commit to using some FOSS. I’m happy with the WordPress install that I have but it doesn’t prevent me from also living in the cloud over here at Blogger. Of course my needs are simple; more complex requirements might have necessitated a clear choice.

The other FOSS that I have been exploring of late is Drupal, which is also available to me via Fantastico. After a couple of test installs at different domains, I have committed to exploring Drupal more fully. To that end I have been patiently documenting my learning curve (more on that later) as well as looking for opportunities to engage with the Drupal community.

Drupal is not as simple to use as WordPress, clearly, but its capabilities are vast (limitless?) and to take full advantage of it my learning curve will need to go on for some time. I’ve made some initial moves on participating in the Drupal community – joining email lists, sitting in on IRC, even attending my local Drupal user group meeting this past week. I was also lucky enough to go to one day of the nearby Toronto DrupalCamp, where I saw Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, give an inspiring talk. What have I learned so far, other than that I have a lot to learn? I’ve learned that the Drupal community is strong. It has a lot of small and mid-size web consultancy businesses actively participating within it. And there are a lot of people around with, it seems to me, a great deal of technical knowledge. Enough so that it will, I think, be a long time before I manage to find any way to contribute to this community other than by using the software and enthusing, where possible, about it.

If I have sharpened my use of my blogs in the past week, then I will have got somewhere. Still a lot more things to think about in this exploration of my PIO. But until then…

Public reading – clubbing it

Nearly a year ago I went to a small presses event at the Starlight which was excellent. Last night there was another evening of readings. It’s the kind of clubbing I like – book clubbing. The event was well organised and reasonably well attended (okay, I’m not sure why there weren’t people lined up outside banging on the doors trying to get in, but whatever, maybe reading books is an exclusive club thing). This year the presses were Coach House Books, ECW Press, and House of Anansi. Fab local bookstore Words Worth Books was also there in force. And there were also free cupcakes.

There were also 6 authors/poets reading; two sets of three with an intermission so that we could refresh our glasses at the bar or perhaps nab another cupcake. Did I mention the cupcakes? Each author read for between 5 to 10 minutes, so the whole thing wound up by shortly after 9, which is probably fine for a Monday night. I would have been just as happy (no, actually much happier) if each author had been given an hour or more, though I can see the logistics don’t really work if you do that.

The six readers were: Gary Barwin, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Natalee Caple, George Murray, Sheila Heti. Evie Christie was also advertised but seemed to have transformed (without mention) into Cordelia Strube, which was a delightful surprise.

All of the authors were excellent (even if I didn’t get to hear each of them for an hour). Cordelia Strube was at last year’s event so I won’t single her out for special praise other than to say that I have read Lemon and it is indeed a very good read. Everyone else was new to me. I especially liked Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s When Fenelon Falls, and Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? But I heard others near me enthusing about Natalee Caple’s poems from her The Semiconducting Dictionary.

The only downside is that I’ll probably have to wait another year to go clubbing again.

Project Camelia and Drumbeat

For a while now I’ve been hearing murmurs about a Mozilla Foundation effort entitled Drumbeat. I don’t fully grok what Drumbeat is or will be. It’s something about the open web, or keeping the web open, or telling people that the web is open or ought to be, and mostly it seems to be very open about what it is or isn’t to the point of openly inviting others to come along and help it be even more of what it is, i.e. open. So, clearly I haven’t got it yet. I’m not ready for the 3 floor elevator pitch. That’s one reason I want to head over to FSOSS 2010. Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, is going to be there speaking about Drumbeat. Mark will clear up my confusion in a trice, I’m sure. He’s good at that sort of thing.

Not that I haven’t been exploring the Drumbeat site myself (you should too!). In fact, a new project has shown up there, Camelia, which might be worth a look-see. The project page has a very useful 73 second video from Ross Gardler, the project lead, making his own elevator pitch about Camelia. There is also a 12 minute video for those of you who would like to take the lift to the top. In a nutshell, Camelia is about educating about the open web and enabling individuals to get involved with the hope of minimizing duplication between open web projects and maximising collaboration between same.

Frankly, once I saw that Ross was involved that pretty much sold me. What does Ross know about the open web? What doesn’t he know. He lives it. Go ahead and Google him (because you would anyway).  Then go back and watch his videos explaining what he, and those who join him, hope to achieve with the Camelia project. And finally, once you are convinced, take the half minute or so more to register on the Drumbeat site and vote for the project (yes, it’s important – it affects the likelihood of accruing seed funding from the Mozilla foundation).

Or better yet, just go get involved.