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My 18 Reads of 2018

For those of you who were keeping abreast of this blog throughout the past calendar year, you will remember that I set myself the challenge of reading 12 books over the course of the past 12 months. As we have reached the year-end, (drumroll please), let’s review the final count…

…well the title is likely a giveaway isn’t it? D’oh!

Eighteen reads throughout the year is something that I am quite proud of to be honest. What started out as something of a challenge become an engrossing adventure with many, many engrossing tales en route (don’t get me wrong, there were some duffs along the way too – more on the book reviews later).

The 18 Books of 2018

An eclectic mix no doubt. Some were read in a very small number of sittings, while some went on and on and on. Of course that is as much mood and workload dependent as it is to do with the publication itself. And now, getting to the publications – I’ve included a short review for each of the books below in the chronological order in which they were read:

1. Song of Solomon

The first book of the year for me was an all-time classic that explores racism, gender, and power. A meandering tale, it wasn’t the easiest to get through but don’t let that put you off.

2. Animal Farm

From one classic to another, George Orwell’s satirical, social commentary on corruption and hypocrisy in government, is metaphorically told by our furry friends.  

3. Tarry Flynn

A throwback, albeit perhaps not that too far back, to yesteryear rural Ireland, and the perils of a bachelor man, and his relationships with the women in his life, and his yearning for a life in poem.

4. The Kite Runner

If Tarry Flynn was a throwback to a different time, this too was another, taking the reader through time and space, as Khaled Hosseini’s emotional tale follows the lives of Amir and his friend Hassan in Kabul. Page turner.

5. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

One of those books that was read in a very small number of sittings, TPOBAW is a coming-of-age novel told through the eyes of introverted Charlie, a freshman in high school with themes such as suicide, molestation, abuse, homosexuality, drug use, mental illness and abortion.

6. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story

It’s not – the title is very misleading! The central motif follows on from the precursor (blame Amazon and its recommended reading for this one). That being said, it offers real insight into the conflict in one’s mind.

7. A Short Story Of Nearly Everything*

‘Oh asterix?’, I hear you say. Well yes, let me explain – after the relative ease of the previous two novels, I ventured into the world of science with Bill Bryson’s view of the world or galaxy as he may say. One section read, my head hurt, and it was on something less taxing.

8. Conversations With Friends

And less taxing it sure was, Sally Rooney’s novel was a speed read in truth. In truth, I wasn’t too keen on any of the characters and their overlapping, interwoven storylines.

9. Everything Everything

A bland story of requited teenage love with a good dollop of life-altering illness thrown on top, this would prove to be the end of this genre for me for the year, and saw a return to something more familiar.

10. A Thousand Splendid Suns

A second novel by Hosseini but could be better The Kite Runner? Yes, indeed he could. The novel is a split narrative and centres on two main female characters: Mariam, an illegitimate child who suffers from both the stigma surrounding her birth along with the abuse she faces throughout her marriage, and Laila, born into a somewhat privileged upbringing a generation later. As the story develops, their lives intersect and Laila is forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. Fantastic read.

11. The Secret Race

A complete step away from Afghanistan, this read was timely, in hand during the summer’s Tour de France. As a novice cyclist, I was particularly interested in the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that Hamilton and his cohorts got up to were put up to.

12. The Book Thief

Coming recommended (thanks Mr D’Arcy) and it did not disappoint. Wow! A real page turner. I was really struck by the way in which this novel was told (no spoilers) and it’s central theme of relationships, the Holocaust and a quest to keep-safe a family friend who happens to be a Jew. Outstanding.

13. Wuthering Heights

Certainly not unlucky – an all-time classic, but it probably suffered in that it came after the engrossing tale of its predecesor. I wasn’t particularly bothered about any of the characters including Heathcliff (soz!).

14. The Gospel According To Blindboy

If Wuthering Heights is deemed an all-time classic, who knows in years to come Blindboy’s may too keep the same company as Emily Bronte. An incredible collection of off-the-wall short stories that somehow start off believable and then take dramatic twists and turns down meandering and dimly-lit avenues of WTFery.

15. Here Are The Young Men

If this is what society has produced we’re in for a rough time. Rob Doyle creates a wonderfully constructed narrative that focuses on different characters and their different takes on life.

16. The Glorious Heresies

A really enjoyable look at the lives of five misfit characters following the hapless murder of a low-level criminal in recession-hit Cork city. The characters are really well-developed and you will grow emotionally attached to them and the outcome of this sorry tale.

17. All The Light We Cannot See

Another recommendation from Mr D’Arcy and once again he comes up trumps. ATLWCS is a masterpiece. Set in WWII in France, the story revolves around on a blind French girl, and a clever German boy, who’s lives interweave in the war-torn era. Spectacular.

18. Prisoners Of Geography

…and now to finish with something completely different, Tim Marshall’s informative piece on global geopolitics was very insightful in terms of past wars and conflicts, and offers intrigue for the future make-up of regions around the world.

Top Reads…

As for the top reads, in no particular order, Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are both incredible, while the WWII duo of The Book Thief and All The Light We Cannot See are outstanding reads.

Here’s to 2019 – 19 reads? Now that’s an entirely new challenge.

Canterbury Anifest Symposium

This recent CFP caught my eye, so much that we (myself and several colleagues) have put together an abstract for the symposium. Here’s hoping that we get the opportunity to speak of our experiences teaching the 3D Computing Animation programme in a blended learning mode.

https://www.canterburyanifest.com/

Keynote Speaker: Professor Aylish Wood (University of Kent)

Symposium co-organisers: Dr. Christopher Holliday (King’s College London), Joanna Samuel (Canterbury Christ Church University)

What is Anifest?

Canterbury Anifest is an award-winning animation festival and the largest annual event of this kind in the South East. It’s a great community event that invites people of all ages to come and experience the magic of animation; allowing them to get involved with something out of the ordinary. With its range of workshops, masterclasses, talks and films, it has something for everyone. Anifest also caters for specialists and those in the industry, featuring national and international awards, and guest speakers from some of the biggest names in animation.

Images Credit: https://www.canterburyanifest.com/

Animatic Animagic

As part of the Moving Image module, I am rounding up the semester with introducing the concept of animatics on the 3D Computer Animation programme – the students have recently completed tutorials on scriptwriting and storyboarding. The video below is an animatic from Toy Story and encapsulates the concept alongside the finished version of the animation:

Three Weeks Down

…and a happy new academic year to you too!

Three weeks into the new academic year and to borrow a 90s album title, So Far So Good. This semester has brought with it some of the regular modules that I have taught previously including Introduction to Web Development, and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries, while the year-long, Moving Image continues into the shorter days and longer evenings. I do have one new module, Creative Media Group Project, a final-year, shared teaching experience alongside some colleagues.

To date, the Introduction to Web Development module has brought with it the basics of HTML5 tags and CSS3 styling, while the learners have been exposed to exercises in marking up text, creating links, inserting images, developing lists and tables, and this week, integrating multimedia elements. Teaching CSS alongside HTML, as opposed to separately, brings with it its own opportunities and challenges. The complexities of integrating both formed the basis for The Muddiest Point, a Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT) that I rolled out to last year’s students and which proved to be a really insightful exercise in formulating formative feedback on my teaching practices. This exercise led to some action-based teaching this semester (more on this over the coming weeks), which I ‘assume’ will lead to better learning experiences for the students.

Both the Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries and Moving Image modules are taught as part-time, Springboard, evening courses where the former introduces theoretical and practical paradigms to the students (I’m particularly interested in how the students perform with their Paperclip Challenge (detailed below)), while the latter builds on theory and practice from the previous semester with a shift in focus this time to narrative and character that ultimately leads to the development of a story, script, and animatic. Students on the Creative Media Group Project module have been assigned the task of developing a substantial, research-based project on the theme of ‘Evolution’. At present, we are introducing the students to potential technological avenues they may wish to pursue, while the focus will shift to forming and developing groups in the coming weeks.

The Muddiest Point is one of the simplest CATs to help assess where students are having difficulties. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing.” (Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, 2018)

The Reading Challenge

At the turn of the year, the one that we’re a full gestation period into, I set myself a challenge to read one book per month. I enjoy reading, though one of the side effects of a PhD is that reading becomes something akin to an enduring experience as opposed to an enjoyable one. Endurance test aside, I took to the challenge with gusto, and an armful of books that had been gathering dust to some degree.

12 in 12.

…and to be fair, it has been enjoyable and not at all endurable, though some of the reads I have found tough going at times. At the minute, I’m at book number 16 for the year, which I’m quite chuffed with to be honest. The target is to reach 20 by year end, which is another challenge considering the academic year is soon upon us.

I’ll leave my ‘Top 5’ reads list until the festive season. Suffice to say, there are some really great reads in this pile. There’s another pile of similar size awaiting, but if you want to recommend a read, do get in touch. Book club anyone?

Last read: ‘Here Are The Young Men’

Current read: ‘The Glorious Heresies’

Hangman & Javascript

Hangman eh? Days of yore…

So the past number of weeks has seen me become one with JavaScript. Namasté.

OK, that’s stretching it a tad but the programming vocabulary has grown recently with objects, arrays, and boolean operators becoming part of everyday parlance. The accompanying text of ‘Javascript For Kids’ has become a good source for all things programming-wise, and whilst I can’t say that I am completely au fait with the code (the same can be said of my current read ‘Wuthering Heights’ – more on that at a later point), I am getting there. Where there is, is actually just one more chapter (Functions) before I’ll reverse and go back over the content one final time.

JavaScript for Kids

I’m learning JavaScript.

It’s a language I’ve never coded before although I have used/manipulated it on numerous occasions. I’m following Nick Morgan’s (skilldrick.co.uk) JavaScript for Kids as a learning guide and so far, so good.

The above (^) is my first piece of written JavaScript. Woohoo!

While I’m at it check out these impressive JavaScript creations:

http://fantasynth.com/

https://patatap.com/

https://cubeslam.com/

Check back again in a few weeks to see how me and my JS code are progressing…

 

VS Games 2018

Good news! We (Dr Bride Mallon, Dr Cornelia Connolly, and my-good-self) have had our research paper accepted for VS-GAMES 2018. Our paper focuses on the role of Assessment in Serious Alternate Reality Games.

The 10th International Conference on Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications takes place from September 5th-7th in Würzburg, Germany.

The community of the VS-GAMES covers a broad variety of facets of virtual worlds and games including game design, software engineering, computer graphics, human-computer interaction techniques, pedagogical and psychological models and evaluations. The common denominator of the conference is that all of these different efforts and perspectives target serous application domains – from museum exhibitions over deep sea robotics interfaces to training and rehabilitation.

VS-GAMES 2018