Why?

This month I started an online course in Artificial Intelligence. I also recently met, quite randomly at a bar, a gentleman much more technically minded than myself, who is also taking the course. He asked me recently:

I’m curious, what’s gotten you interested in following this class? Is it your apparent love of scifi, or something else?


To which I replied:

Hmmm….what’s gotten me interested? You realise my answer to this question is going to become a blog post…

Last night I went to see Daniel Clowes and Seth, two comic book illustrators, speak at their joint book launch. My daughter asked me: “Why are you going?” and I had to actually think for a moment: why, indeed? I had one of Daniel Clowes earlier books, and knew little of Seth, yet I was still making an effort to go to this reading. I’m a casual illustrated book reader, hardly hardcore, and then I realised, simply, that I enjoy immersing myself in things I know nothing about.

The most often asked question to me is: “Who is your favourite band/musician?” or “What are you listening to?” And my answer is invariably: “I don’t listen to music.” I don’t. And I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or pretentious or holier-than-thou, but being immersed in the music industry for the past decade has made me a non-believer in music. Only a tiny margin of music is real anymore, the rest are just feeble attempts at fame, fortune, or worse, relevancy. I rarely listen to new music because all I hear is…dishonesty.

But it *would* be pretentious so live a life without culture, so I’ve turned my focus elsewhere. I’ve started reading books again, and writing fiction. And I enjoy these two tasks immensely. As I write, especially, I learn: my choice to write “genre” fiction is no accident. In speculative and science fictions I see open space, pure freedom, a world without restraint. I fold in to my work things I read about technology, computing, medical advances, space exploration and robotics. I feel that in researching this stuff and reading about it, a new frame of mind is being revealed. A fresh perspective of the world spurts forth, a new community of people working and thinking… not to be “cool” but to be, essentially, creative.

I miss that about music, which is why I’ve taken this step in the opposite direction. It doesn’t mean I’m done with being in a band or making records at all. If anything I will only return with resolve and a fervent dedication that should be feared by the entire hipster set.

So….does this answer the question? Kind of. I’m really digging the way my brain is being pulled by being in the ai-class, forced to think pragmatically and logically. Embracing new terminology and honing mathematical and deductive skills. My past will reveal that I was a big nerd. My dad is an electrical engineer. I was in “Gifted” in grade school. I took Computer Science class in grade 11. I took enriched math and wrote nation-wide math competitions. I was never the “cool” kid, and I never felt threatened by the “in” crowd. I made friends from strangers through BBS‘ and the first computer I bought was the first generation clamshell iBook…dare I say…before it was cool. If I hadn’t decided to move to Montreal at the age of 18, I would have been in “New Media” at Ryerson. A technical school. One of my favourite movies OF ALL TIME is Terminator 2.

I guess with this free, online course from a reputable university came up I just said to myself: “Why not?”

GeekMom: Focus on Maths

This morning I came up with the ultimate parenting strategy: instill the force (of nerdiness) within your child. I’ve always wanted to get my daughter into science and math, engaging the everychild’s wonderment of the world. Literally everything that surrounds us contains science content. Everything. I defy you to come up with something (action, item, emotion, thought, colour, food, etc.) that cannot be informed by even a simple nugget of scientific or mathematical knowledge.

Lately around here, our daughter has been obsessed with colours and mixing them to create new colours. I get asked about four times a day: “What does….red and…purple make?” It’s been a serious Pantone challenge, let me tell you. Especially when she gets nuanced, asking for the result of three or four colours combined. Constellations and galaxies are a new one, and bath time has become an exercise in bouyancy vs. surface tension.

As my child enters the public school system this fall, I can’t help think maniacally about all the variables she will encounter, all the things totally beyond my control that will shape her into an inevitably pain-filled teenager: friends, bullies, frenemies, teachers, and the stuffs of learning itself.

I found the catch-all: mathematics. People who are capable at math are like the Vulcans of the Earth. Wikipedia describes Vuclans as a “humanoid species” who “live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion.” And I think: YES. What better interpersonal coping skills than pure logic? Math and even basic principles of physics both lay this groundwork down, with the idea that there are fundamentals that cannot be questioned. You just don’t mess with logic.

CHILD: “Should I start smoking?”
VULCAN REASONING : “No, that would be harmful to my physical well-being, and thus survival.”

CHILD: “Should I skip class?”
VULCAN REASONING: “That would be against protocol.”

CHILD: “Should I partake in spitballing the bathroom ceiling? All the other kids are doing it and it looks like lots of fun.”
VULCAN REASONING: “This activity poses a scheduling conflict with computer science class.”

Etc, etc. In my schooling years, I had no interest in being cool. I was not cool, though kept a handful of close friends. We would be not cool together. I was in Gifted class in grade school, a place where we went to play Below the Root and solve Logic Problems. In high school I wrote national math competitions (I didn’t stand a change against Ko-Hua Chu, a peer who, rumour has it, stormed out of class for only scoring 99% on a math test). My parents had a Commodore 64 at home, and me and my sister would get with those books that had the pages of BASIC programs you could type in to make your computer do stupid shit. Like repeat a word on the screen until you hit a button, or do math, or load a game on casette tape. That was such a discovery, beyond just spending hours trying to finish that Bruce Lee game.

I’m trying not to make this about me, but about how my childhood could relate to my daughter’s. The other day Murray, Neptune and I were watching our first David Tennant episode of Dr. Who. And even though Neptune said she didn’t like it, she could not take her eyes off the TV for the duration of the episode. I recall my dad watching Dr. Who, and have kept in my memory the quirkiness of the Tom Baker (the best, IMHO), Peter Davison and Colin Baker-era doctors. I must have been around 10 when this was going on. Why did I love it so much? Because it was simply around? What was going on in other people’s houses that made me so predisposed to geekery, and other kids so into, well, clothing?

Therein lay the mysteries of western parenting. Now ask yourself: do you want to raise a Mischa Barton or Bill Gates? There is no wrong answer.