The Game Is Afoot!

A Study in SherlockA personal invite goes out to you all for a special sneak preview of my new blog, A Study in Sherlock, set to launch tomorrow. This site is devoted to the life, times and influence of the Great Detective himself, perhaps the most famous fictional character in history.

There’s a tonne of material already in the queue, and so it’s my intention that there will be something new every weekday, and occasionally on weekends. That includes original pieces (many of which are written for newcomers to the Canon), photographs, teasers for the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrations, news stories, book reviews, audio snippets, “workshop” projects (such as do-it-yourself reference cards or CDs), radio plays, and featured sites. Most of these entries are selected to offer something for neophytes, but –hopefully– also provide ample occasion for discourse amongst the more experienced.

I appreciate any and all feedback from you fine folks — a contact form can be accessed from the top menu, and the comment forms are ready to go, so please don’t be shy. I hope you enjoy!

Three Seconds

There’s a well-known maxim in advertising circles that you have approximately three seconds to hook your viewing audience with an ad. Within that time, a lot has to happen. Your viewer has to see the ad, assess the overall image, be influenced by the colours, drift to the area of main importance (the “heat”), zero in on the central visual or text message, absorb that, identify the significance of that with one’s own experience in some way, and then make a decision to carry on investigating the message or text. Now, no one tells you how to do this. The human mind is an astonishing contraption, capable of incredibly complex procedures and analysis within milliseconds, and it does all this automatically. The patience so advocated just a half-century ago is a rare commodity, and our little grey cells have been trained, as by a crack military drill, to disregard those advertisements that require more than three seconds’ investment.

Harken back to novels written in Victorian times and compare them to those today, and you’ll get a similar appreciation of how our minds are beginning to change when faced with a rapid-fire deluge of information. Way back when snuff was fashionable and the glimpse of a woman’s ankles was grounds for marriage, novels and stories often began with long and arduous descriptions of setting, delving into the intricacies of weather, tree branches, rock formations, the collapsing of a farmer’s wall down the road, and the progressive deterioration of several generations of day lilies. Today, we tend to favour in media res, beginning in the middle of things. The first paragraph of the first chapter, and we are already on the roller-coaster, holding tight. (Yes, literary pundits will think of a million exceptions here — I’m speaking in generalities.)

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Who Would You Phone?

Back in 1986, during my last year of high school, there was a radio trivia contest to win tickets to a concert. I didn’t have much money, but I really wanted to go see this particular group, so I sat myself beside the radio one Monday morning, phone in hand, and waited. Now, my head has always been overflowing with completely useless information –probably more so at that time in my life– so I knew I stood just as good a chance as anybody else. Finally, they asked the question: “What was David Bowie’s theatrical rock-star persona backed by the Spiders from Mars?” I dialed as quickly as I could, but (hampered by my old rotary phone, no doubt) I was not the first, and so didn’t win the tickets. For three more mornings, I did the same, each time knowing the answer, but failing to be the first to call. On that Friday, however, the question was much harder: “Whose band did Canadian singer Gowan borrow for the recording of his Strange Animal LP?” This time I won the tickets. (The answer, by the way, is Peter Gabriel, who was recording in the same studio around the same time.)

I was proud of my accomplishment, elated by that vindication of the sheer width and breadth of the mostly impractical data stogged tight into my brain. It seems a little foolish in retrospect, but the accumulation of knowledge was –for me– the most distinguishing facet of my self-identity.

Back then, information was far less transitory. I remember reading and studying endlessly, trying to retain every nugget of information I could, whether it was useful or not. Now, I have become lazy. When a question is asked and I don’t know the response, a quick search on the Net will generally take me directly to the right information. The question answered, the details then drop away from my mind, and I usually forget it completely. I suspect most people do this nowadays, relying upon the Net far more than memory. When someone dials a friend from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, are they really choosing their most knowledgeable friend, or simply the fastest with Google? Who would you phone?

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Call for D*I*Y Education Pack Ideas

There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel with regard to my workload, so I’m taking this time to mention the status of the D*I*Y Planner.

First, there is still no version 2.0 of OpenOffice.org yet, so my template kit is still pending its “any day now” release. I am quite encouraged by the drawing tools in the beta, but the program still rather buggy at this time.

Second, my focus for the next while will be on “add-on” packages for the D*I*Y Planner which would be targeted towards more specialised users. The first two will be Education and Creativity. I’m still very much in the embryonic stages of what’s to be included, and how they will be structured.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: are there any students and teachers out there who have ideas about what you’d like to see in the D*I*Y Education Package? Currently, I only have the following templates in process:

  • Lesson Plan
  • Unit Plan
  • Course Overview
  • Materials
  • Bibliography (MLA), including an index card variant
  • HowTo: MLA Citations
  • Timetable, both five-day and blank versions
  • A marking template or two
  • Attendance
  • Perhaps some new brainstorming charts?

I lean towards the arts, not the sciences, so MLA is my first choice for documenting sources. That being said, I can see no reason why I couldn’t create other styles while I’m at it. I would like a few pros to double-check my work, though.

If you have any suggestions for additional templates, I’d love to hear from you: please leave a comment below or send me an email. (My address is found at the bottom of the menu at right.) Scholars, educators, students and educational methodologies being what they are, I sincerely doubt that these templates will suit everybody’s needs, but I’m trying to ensure that I take into account as many as possible. Your feedback is thus very important to me.