Oscars 2008

Argh! This is the only time I actually wish I had a TV set… What am I going to do???


I’m watching at Massey! They have a nice big TV with every channel available… so I’m switching at the moment between the Canadian and the American red carpet coverage. Yay!

Some of my favourite moments:

and Marion Cotillard won the Oscar, the BAFTA (British award) and the Cesar for her role as Edith Piaf. Even if you don’t like Piaf, you must watch La Vie en Rose (La Môme).



Nothing frustrates me more than technology being wasted. My latest pet-peeve is the inability to scan documents – either by using a photocopying machine with scanning capability or microfilm scanner.

Many of those large Xerox machines that we use in libraries or photocopying places have the ability to scan as easily as it photocopy. Actually, the photocopying is nothing but a scan image that is printed onto paper. So, it would read the book page and instead of sending it to a blank page, it could send it to a computer attached to the machine. It would save me a lot of hassle – and space – if I could scan articles instead of photocopying them. But no, we have to own your own personal scanner even though you are making photocopies on machines quite capable of providing that service.

The same thing is possible with a microfilm scanner. As historians, many of the sources my friends and I use are in microfilm format. That means spending hours looking at a microfim reader’s screen and since it is so hard to stare at those screens for too long (trust me, I did it for a year and my eyes paid a heavy price), our solution is to print the pages we have to use frequently. That in itself might not be that inconvenient. Unfortunately, when you have to work with medieval manuscript sources, the quality of the photocopies are very iffy and often requires several wasted prints before you can figure out which ones work best. At U of T it often costs me almost a dollar for every page I need to print, because I need to waste 3-4 prints before I get one that is legible.

The frustrating thing is that my life would be way easier if I could scan the image as opposed to print it. That way I could play with contrast and view better the images that don’t look so good on screen. It is, after all, a microfilm scanner. So I asked the man working at the media department at the library where I view my microfilms why the scanner wasn’t attached to a computer so we could scan instead of print. He mumbled something about copyright, which is really a silly answer. I mean, if I can print, why can’t I scan? It really is the same thing! Besides, most content on microfilm predates copyright laws anyway.

My other pet-peeve is not being able to watch TV, all the regular channels available, on the internet, live. But that’s a topic for another rant.

Conference in Segovia

Woohoo! I got a paper accepted for a conference in Segovia, Spain, at the beginning of June. I don’t know Segovia but from the bit I saw on the internet, it looks just as nice as Toledo. Plus, it’s not so far from Salamanca, a place I’ve been wanting to go for ages to meet a friend from the blogosphere.

I attended this conference when it was held in Madrid last time (2006) and it was fun. This time it will be a bit more stressful though, since I’ll be presenting a paper. The conference allows presenters to read their papers in either English or Spanish and one of my mentors thinks I should take the opportunity to do it in Spanish. We’ll see…

Let’s just hope it’s not as hot as when we went to Madrid for the last time this conference was held…

Alan’s account of our trip to Toledo:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Sigh. It always happens when we are in a good mood and the sun is shining. It’s a beautiful, sunny day here in Toronto today and, as usual, we went to Kensington bright and early for our breakfast at Shai’s and coffee at Louie’s. On our way home, since the weather was so nice, we decided to drop by the U of T Bookstore for a browse. Bad idea. We left over $300 poorer. What did we get? Oh, things you can’t live without, I’m sure, like a Hebrew from scratch book with accompanying audio CDs, Adobe Lightroom, another Photoshop CS3 book for Alan’s growing collection, a 4 GB USB drive because you can never have too many of them, and a U of T bag… All urgently needed of course. Not that we can afford any of that but I guess it could be worse – we could have spent the money on shoes… or gambling…

Universal health care

I’ve recently got into a discussion with my brother on the issue of universal health care. It’s a big debate and one which we may be far from agreeing on. It boiled down to two basic issues – freedom of choice and trust.

My brother doesn’t believe in the welfare state because he doesn’t think the state is better than its population and we shouldn’t depend on it. According to him, the state shouldn’t abandon education and health care but should focus on providing it to those who need it as opposed to those who want it. He was very alarmed when I mentioned there’s no private health care in Canada. He felt that the lack of alternative hurts his individual rights to choose the kind of health care he wants.

In theory, I have nothing against the co-existence of public & private education and health care. In practice, I don’t think it works. Take universal health care for instance. I think it only works when an influential segment of our population, the educated middle class, the opinion-makers, rely on the system and therefore demand a certain basic quality. If you have a private alternative, the minute the first glitch on the public system appears, this influential group moves on the private option, which is easier than demanding change on the public side. Soon all the ones left using the public system are only those who need it – those on the margins of society, who can often be ignored by the policy makers. The pressure to keep the system working well disappears and soon only those with money can receive quality care.

That, to me, limits my freedom of choice as an individual. If my choice of hospital or treatment is limited by the amount of money I have in the bank or the kinds of benefits I get from my employer, it hurts my individual rights much more than not having the choice to pay for private health care. Full individual freedom is illusory. Our freedom ends when it interferes with the freedom of our neighbour. We all have the right to quality health care irrespective of our previous health history, job, class, or financial conditions. If to have that I need to wait a bit more for a non-urgent test because someone else who has a life-threatening condition needs to be taken care of first, I’m happy to oblige. I don’t want to be able to do whatever medical test I want the next day just because I have enough money to pay a private clinic when there are other people who are denied that choice. That, to me, is no freedom.

Update: Interesting article debunking some commonly-held myths about the Canadian healthcare system

Part 2 of article here.

Cultures in Contact – 4th AGHS

AGHS4Graduate students from the history department here at U of T have organized a two-day conference for the past 4 years. I’ve always wanted to be involved in it as I believe it is a great experience to organize a conference and create a place where people can connect and exchange ideas.

In 2005 I was part of a huge committee that organized a seven-day gathering of people interested on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.So this year I finally joined the organizing committee of our Annual Graduate History Symposium. The theme of the conference was one dear to my heart (“Cultures in Contact”) and there were six of us in the committee. We began meeting regularly and planning the conference last summer and the day has finally come and gone. We received over 80 papers, selected about 48, 41 of whom confirmed and presented papers in the past two days.Those of us in the organizing committee were there at 7:30 AM both days to get everything ready for opening at 8:30.

It was an exhausting two days, but I’m pleased to say everything went extremely well. Everyone who had to show up did so in time. All the panels went according to schedule and our guests from out of town felt welcomed. The only major problem was the excess of food, but I guess nobody really complained about that. And it was very good food! It was exhausting but worth every minute. 

Pictures to come…

Now it’s time to move on to the dissertation. No more excuses.