Thursday, 5 December 2013

Gutenenberg Press is a Machine that Produces Nation-States

On the argument that the Gutenberg printing press (circa 1450) was a primary cause of the creation of nation states, the following paragraph succinctly, informatively, and with effective prose presents the idea:

Nation states are the inevitable result of the Gutenberg printing press. The press facilitated the spread and equality of ideas in a consistent and economically viable manner. This enabled uniformity and standardization of culture, language and customs. This harmonization led to the spread of printed news and ideas between groups of like-minded people resulting in common identities. These identities are what became nation states.

Monday, 21 October 2013

On the Relativity of Time & Literary Representation

The idea of Time as an efficient cause -- common in works of literary imagination--is not simply a fictional conceit. In contemporary Western society, Time is assumed thoughtlessly to be what a clock does: a rigid linear series of equal units. This was not the experience or understanding of time, certainly, in the pre-modern West, and likely not either in non-Western cultures.

As I read literary treatments in sympathy with Albert Einstein's relativity theory (again, as far as this layman understands it!) they conceive as follows.

e = mc2 (energy equals mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light) is an equation that represents matter as being energy at a particular speed. For students of fiction this has as one important implication that the thoughts and actions of characters -- i.e. forms of energy -- have real and significant effects on the material world and on the movement of history, making the writing, reading and academic study of fictional representations of life a worthy enterprise.

Of interest to our understanding certain imaginative works of fiction is the fact that Einstein's famous equation also defines Time as being Matter and Energy in a certain relation. Reformulate e = mc2 as c = [root] e/m.

Reading this formula in a fictional way, then, the circumstances of the world (marriages, emigrations, etc.) as matter (using "matter" in the colloquial British sense) then the depictions of Time that authors weave through narrative are to be read as having the same reality as matter and energy do in our ordinary understanding

To continue with the exercise, to help understand how the "c" - speed of light - in Einstein's relativity equation relates to Time, just look at it this way. ("This way" means "a literary more than a physicist way"....)

Think of distance ("D") as being a change in place ("ΔP"). And Speed in general is represented as velocity ("V"). And of course Time is "T". You'll remember from High-School that the formula for velocity is V = ΔP / T. (Recall that we're saying that "D" is the same as "ΔP"). If we recast this equation for Time "T", then T = ΔP / V
So, if our velocity "V" is a particular value - using Einstein's speed of light "c" - then c = ΔP / T and T = ΔP /c.

Let's return to fiction! This last formulation lets us read a work such as Ethel Wilson's Innocent Traveller (the traveller is the one ΔP'ing!) as showing us that the protagonist Topaz Edgeworth's travels - to Vancouver, then to ... where? - and her velocity (Wilson depicts Topaz explicitly as being nothing more than non-stop rapidity of speech!) are a form of Time. Or in other words, Topaz did have an effect on Time-with-a-capital-T: or, in the word the text uses at important points, on Eternity.
This, then, is what Rose (Wilson's own fictional double) sets out to achieve through her narrative fiction - an eternal life for her Aunt Topaz.

Physics, Mathematics, &c. experts more than encouraged to correct the forumlae.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

On the "Great Chain of Being"

From Alexander Pope: "Essay on Man" (1734),

IV. Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of sense
Weigh thy Opinion against Providence;
Call Imperfection what thou fancy'st such,
Say, here he gives too little, there too much;
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,(9)
Yet cry, If Man's unhappy, God's unjust;
If Man alone ingross not Heav'n's high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there:
Snatch from his hand the balance(10) and the rod,
Re-judge his justice, be the GOD of GOD!
In Pride, in reas'ning Pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.
Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes,
Men would be Angels, Angels would be Gods.
Aspiring to be Gods, if Angels fell,
Aspiring to be Angels, Men rebel;
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of ORDER, sins against th' Eternal Cause.
V. Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies shine,
Earth for whose use? Pride answers, "Tis for mine:
For me kind Nature wakes her genial pow'r,
Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev'ry flow'r;
Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew
The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew;
For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings;
For me, health gushes from a thousand springs;
Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise;
My foot-stool earth, my canopy the skies."
But errs not Nature from this gracious end,
From burning suns when livid deaths descend,
When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep
Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?
"No ('tis reply'd) the first Almighty Cause
Acts not by partial, but by gen'ral laws;
Th' exceptions few; some change since all began,
And what created perfect?" -- Why then Man?
If the great end be human Happiness,
Then Nature deviates; and can Man do less?
As much that end a constant course requires
Of show'rs and sun-shine, as of Man's desires;
As much eternal springs and cloudless skies,
As Men for ever temp'rate, calm, and wise.
If plagues or earthquakes break not Heav'n's design,
Why then a Borgia,(11) or a Catiline?(12)
Who knows but he, whose hand the light'ning forms,
Who heaves old Ocean, and who wings the storms,
Pours fierce Ambition in a Caesar's(13) mind,
Or turns young Ammon(14) loose to scourge mankind?
From pride, from pride, our very reas'ning springs;
Account for moral as for nat'ral things:
Why charge we Heav'n in those, in these acquit?
In both, to reason right is to submit.
Better for Us, perhaps, it might appear,
Were there all harmony, all virtue here;
That never air or ocean felt the wind;
That never passion discompos'd the mind:
But ALL subsists by elemental strife;
and Passions are the elements of Life.
The gen'ral ORDER, since the whole began,
Is kept in Nature, and is kept in Man.

VI. What would this Man? Now upward will he soar,
And little less than Angel,(15) would be more;
Now looking downwards, just as griev'd appears
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.
Made for his use all creatures if he call,
Say what their use, had he the pow'rs of all?
Nature to these, without profusion kind,
The proper organs, proper pow'rs assign'd;
Each seeming want compensated of course,
Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force;
All in exact proportion to the state;
Nothing to add, and nothing to abate.
Each beast, each insect, happy in its own;
Is Heav'n unkind to Man, and Man alone?
Shall he alone, whom rational we call,
Be pleas'd with nothing, if not bless'd with all?
The bliss of Man (could Pride that blessing find)
Is not to act or think beyond mankind;
No pow'rs of body or of soul to share,
But what his nature and his state can bear.
Why has not Man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly.
Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n,
T' inspect a mite,(16) not comprehend the heav'n?
Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o'er,
To smart and agonize at ev'ry pore?
Or quick effluvia(17) darting thro' the brain,
Die of a rose in aromatic pain?
If nature thunder'd in his op'ning ears,
And stunn'd him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that Heav'n had left him still
The whisp'ring Zephyr,(18) and the purling rill?(19)

Who finds not Providence all good and wise,
Alike in what it gives, and what denies?

VII. Far as Creation's ample range extends,
The scale of sensual, mental pow'rs ascends:
Mark how it mounts, to Man's imperial race,
From the green myriads in the people grass:
What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,
The mole's dim curtain, and the lynx's beam:
Of smell, the headlong lioness between,
And hound sagacious(20) on the tainted(21) green:
Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood,(22)
To that which warbles thro' the vernal(23) wood:
The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line:
In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true
From pois'nous herbs extracts the healing dew:(24)
How Instinct varies in the grov'ling swine,
Compar'd, half-reas'ning elephant, with thine:
'Twixt that, and Reason, what a nice barrier;
For ever sep'rate, yet for ever near!
Remembrance and Reflection how ally'd;
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide:
And Middle natures,(25) how they long to join,
Yet never pass th' insuperable line!
Without this just gradation, could they be
Subjected these to those, or all to thee?
The pow'rs of all subdu'd by thee alone,
Is not thy Reason all these pow'rs in one?

VIII. See, thro' this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of being, which from God began,
Natures ethereal,(26) human, angel, man
Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
From thee to Nothing! -- On superior pow'rs
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destoy'd:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
And if each system in gradation roll,
Alike essential to th' amazing whole;
The least confusion but in one, not all
That system only, but the whole must fall.
Let Earth unbalanc'd from her orbit fly,
Planets and Suns run lawless thro' the sky,
Let ruling Angels from their spheres be hurl'd,
Being on being wreck'd, and world on world,
Heav'n's whole foundations to their centre nod,
And Nature tremble to the throne of God:
All this dread ORDER break -- for whom? for thee?
Vile worm! -- oh, Madness, Pride, Impiety!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Marshall McLuhan

We learn in lecture that Canadian technology theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) is our grounding in a scientific approach to technology: one half of the titular subject of LIBS 7007.

Here are some introductory links (reproduced here from the Course 'Reading & Resources' section) , and a list of the assigned chapters of his Understanding Media. (You will understand once you read the text that the word 'media' is a strictly precise and enlightening synonym for the word 'technology.')
  1. Read the brief web biography of Marshall McLuhan at
  2. Follow the avatar Marshall McLuhan on Twitter.
  3. Watch (and laugh with) McLuhan's legendary cameo appearance on Woody Allen's classic film "Annie Hall".
  4. Read the following sections on Marshall McLuhan's I "Understanding Media", (online .pdf):
    • All of Part I (Chapters 1-7)
    • In Part II, the following chapters:
      • Chapter 10, "Roads and Paper Routes"
      • Chapter 15, "Clocks: the Scent of Time"
      • Chapter 18, "The Printed Word: The Architect of Nationalism"
      • Chapter 19, "Wheel, Bicycle, and Airplane."
      • Chapter 22, "Motorcar: the Mechanical Bride"
McLuhan is a writer of significance, creativity, immense technological insight, and wide erudiction. Time spent reading him returns great value to the Engineering student.

How To Take Notes

"Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly.” Plutarch (AD 46-120) Greek Biographer & Philosopher.
The Student Learning Commons at the W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University has an exceptionally helpful on-line guide to effective note-taking at lecture. (It is a trifle disconcerting reading for the Lecturers themselves, because it implies--indeed, all-but declares--that many of us are dull, confused, inarticulate, habituated and otherwise deficient in our craft.)

The guide is available online in .pdf format at this hotlink.

The Student Learning Commons additionally has an entire page of links to on-line resources to improve the student's "Listening & Note-Taking" at this hotlink.

Note-taking in lecture is one of the skills that one learns at post-secondary institutions that has material applicability in life. Arguably, learning how to take written notes from oral delivery is one of the most practically valuable benefits of a post-Secondary education.

In professional, governmental, community appointments, inability to properly take notes in meetings is a significant handicap to success. Leaning now the art and skill of note-taking will position you to rise above the many and, in brute language, succeed.

Thaink about what proper note-taking actually is. It is the learned ability to listen and observe the speaker's body language and then recognise, record, and reorganise to your own requirements the truly valuable information, insight, and intelligence that the speaker is giving. This is money--free, found money-- simply picked up for nothing by those  who have taken the trouble to learn note-taking.

It is the wisdom beside the famous Shelrock Holmes rebuke to Watson: "you see, but you do not observe." Holmes has trained hmself in that skill and so takes for himself all the value that lesser others are unable to access. Be Holmes: raise yourself above the many

These resources linked here are immensely valuable: especially as it is increasingly common for undergraduates to confuse note-taking with copying down PowerPoint slides. It is rule worth learning that nowhere is PowerPoint the Lecture: lectures are what happen when you are distracted by copying down PowerPoint slides.

The Queen's English

Here is a Public Service Announcement on the Queen's English.

Instructor Contact Information

Instructor, Liberal Studies
BCIT, SW2, Room 108,
3700 Willingdon Ave.
Burnaby, B.C. V5G 3H2

Office Hours: Thursday 21:00-21:30 SW1 2590

I began my IT career in 1979 as a Computer Operator: by 1986, Mananger of Computer Operations, Western Region, for Geac Computers International, which was a great Canadian corporate success story 'back in the day'—the company effectively created on-line banking technology. In 1987 I moved to SFU to take my Ph.D., working also full-time as an IT technician.

From 2003 to 2011 I was full time Lecturer in the Department of English at SFU, teaching and publishing in scholarly fields relating to Victorian literature, 20th C. British literature, and Japanese literature, classical & modern. This year I moved here to Liberal Studies at BCIT.

I have a very great deal of practical and academic experience in two areas pertinent to IT, Business expectations, and digital Course delivery.
  • Professional writing and Technical writing. Example, from 1992 to 2002 I was Chairman of the Advisory Committe to the Professional Writing Program—"Print Futures"—at Douglas College.
  • Online course incorporation, and development of pedagogy that advances individual independence as a necessary faculty for higher professional excellence. I began writing online course at Geac for staff at our international banking clients as early as 1981, and I worked for several years on Distance Education modules at SFU.
My expertise is available to help your own professional development through LIBS 7007.

On Writing Well

From the Nota Bene section of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily is a useful article which encourages plain English by offering "some thoughts on writing well."
At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for words out of the bureaucrat’s style book, and chose the raised-pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled,” also a correct spelling, would have been clearer) and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many errors into two words of modern environmental prose?