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Liberal Arts Blog

SFU Continuing Studies

Galapagos–a tourist destination of a different kind

January 23rd, 2015

A Blue-Footed Booby

Sue Robinson writes: “If you can survive the 24 hour flying trip, you can go at pretty much any time of the year as it is on the equator.”

A previous stop for Jesuit missionaries, privateers, and buccaneers, it is home to 25,000 people and some of the most unique wild life on earth. Today, the main area has some modern buildings, streets are clean, and most people ride bicycles. There is no begging and little theft. The home and business owners are trying to control foreign ownership. Saturday is the city market where food and handicrafts are sold. Darwin Station is run by the Galapagos Conservancy. Some volunteers do research but they are careful that local people are paid as much as possible to help the local economy.

These islands have 200,000 visitors per year in, usually, very small boats. You cannot live here unless you have a job or family on one of the islands. Fishermen, farmers, scientists, and conservationists all try to protect this land. Fishermen are only allowed lines/hooks- NO nets. Poaching is controlled by patrol boats so the largest problem has become invasive plants hitching a ride from Equador (which has endangered the cotton crop). Volcanoes were still active as recently as 2 years ago, and lava tubes/tunnels abound underneath the hard black surface.

A solar farm has been established by South Korean development in order to minimize gasoline use. The airport is eco-friendly, using solar panels and recycling. In the 1980s, garbage was taken out into the ocean but today it is dealt with better. Walks are very controlled- some places a tourist cannot go without a scientist as a guide.

Cacti grow on the lower arid zones while fungi/mushrooms are seen at 900 metres. Butterflies and grasshoppers are less in number today. In an El Nino year, many fish die so there is no food for the seals. Decades ago, there were 4000 flamingoes. Now only 1000 exist. In bird populations, including the blue footed booby, climate change is causing less food to be found which, in turn, doesn’t trigger the hormones for mating so less babies are born.

The mangrove finch, one of the 13 species Darwin found, is banded with GPS–only 60 are left. Eggs are laid at the top of the mangrove branches. Conservationists collect the eggs now at the beginning of breeding season to help the chicks live. It is a noisy place where they hand feed the babies! Mangrove finch calls are played to them daily. At 6 weeks, they are released back to the mangroves, and followed for 4 more weeks. Nearly all have survived to breed themselves in 3-4 years. The scientists are careful NOT to imprint (show babies a human or they will identify with the human as a future mate).

Tortoises follow the food (which is higher up now due to global warming) and lay their eggs in crumbly soil (harder to find higher up). There is a tortoise reserve today on private land. Tortoise eggs hatch and the babies (at age 5) are released back to the islands where they came so as not to alter the populations. Tortoises live a long life but do not reproduce until age 30-40. They will not nest successfully if the plants and soil are not right. Lonesome George, the last of his species of tortoise, died in 2012 at age 150.

Check out the internet for some beautiful pictures of these unique species. Google “Galapagos National Park”. Our instructor, Marylee Stephenson, a naturalist, has been to the Galapagos Islands 10 times. It has been wonderful listening to her share her experiences with us in class.

Sue Robinson–Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.

Nanotechnology-theory or reality?

January 13th, 2015
For me, who knew nothing of nanotechnology, it sounded like an interesting trek into the unknown. Nano, meaning a billionth, is becoming more familiar to people each day. Many companies are carrying out research in nanotechnology to enhance/assist in areas such as fashion, health, and the environment.
  • Estee Lauder, Christian Dior and others add nanoparticles to their cosmetic products. L’Oreal’s Revitalift uses nanosomes to transport vitamins into the skin’s outer layer.
  • In Ancient Greece, water was poured into sliver vases. What did they know that we have only recently discovered?? Silver nanoparticles destroy bacteria so can be used in socks.
  • Both malaria repellant clothing and bullet proof suits are now being made with nanoparticles in the cloth.
  • Emory University in Georgia is involved in trials with humans, injecting nanoparticles into people before surgery so surgeons can see lung and breast tumours before they operate.
  • Dr. Lal, of the Australian National University has discovered that nano-sized versions of Buddhist singing bowls resonate not only with sound but light as well. Applying this principle to solar cells increases their ability to capture more light producing more electricity.
  • In Mexico, water cleaning technology, using branches of dendrimers (molecules with a shape similar to a tree), totally removes heavy metal ions by adhering to a micro filtration membrane.
  • The University of Calgary is experimenting with nanotechnology, hoping to extract oil from the tar sands with less environmental impact.
  • At Trinity, nanoscientists have infused rubber bands with grapheme (derived from pencil lead- 10,000 times smaller than the width of a single hair), then attached them to clothing.  The bands sense breath and pulse in the person wearing them.
  • Scientists at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are working on a flexible sensor that could be integrated one day into electronic skin so people with amputations could feel changes in their environments.
  • At least once a week, some company is in the news discussing its research and product development at the “nano” level. Stay tuned for more exciting applications.

Sue Robinson–Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.

    Three Good Reasons To Take Our Classes…(One involves food)

    January 2nd, 2015

    Three purely personal (and therefore, possibly politically incorrect) reasons I’m taking cool classes in the 55+ program at SFU.

    So, the other day, a friend asked me why I was taking so many of what she called “weird” classes in the 55+ program at SFU, classes in subjects that have no obvious connection with my life. Like underwater archaeology, Soviet propaganda films, and the evolution of South Africa.

    Must admit, I was a little taken aback. And kinda miffed. Just because I’m now (mostly) retired, doesn’t mean I’ve also shut down my brain; staked out a permanent spot in front of the tv, channel clicker within easy reach, and am sitting, waiting for brain rot to set in.

    First, I gave her the predictable – and therefore politically correct – answer.

    One:  Staying active

    I told her these classes are keeping me ‘engaged’, mentally and physically active,  off the couch and out of the apartment. And all the experts on aging (especially my kids: they’re experts on me!) agree: this is a Good Thing.

    Yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Okay, she’d heard that argument a million times, but she wasn’t convinced that learning the truth of Christopher Columbus’ lost ship, for example, would help keep me ‘in the game’.

    So I got a little less predictable, and a little more personal.

    Two:  Guilt-free learning

    I pointed out that, at my stage in life, I am finally free to indulge myself – without feeling the least bit guilty – free to take classes in ‘just because I want to’ subjects. Things I’ve always been interested in, but because such subjects were not even remotely connected to my busy career-focussed life, I didn’t have the luxury of time to indulge my interest.

    Like underwater archaeology, for example. I admit it:  I won’t even venture into water that’s over my head, so exploring shipwrecks in the Mediterranean doesn’t really have much to do with my reality. But I’ve already taken two 55+ classes from Dr. Robin Woodward, an underwater archaeologist of international renown, and will definitely sign up for any future class she teaches.

    Uh huh, said my friend.  She sort of got it, but not really. Okay, time for the ‘convincer’, the most compelling reason to take the 55+ classes.

    Three:  What matters most


    Yep, lunch. Often with a glass or two of wine or beer, much discussion, and a whole lot of laughs.

    It’s all very casual, un-scheduled, and as today’s odious pop-psych buzzword says, “organic”. Someone decides we should go for lunch after class and invites everyone, including the instructor. Get a head count, then make a reservation at a somewhere near by. Easy peasy.

    It’s a getting-to-know-each-other thing, and it’s catching on.

    (Sometimes, the lunch can have surprising outcomes. Many of us in Marina Sonkina’s Anna Karenina class went for lunch together and, about halfway through the meal and a few bottles of wine, we decided to go to Russia, with her as our guide.  And we did.)

    I know it sounds hokey, but these lunches are leading to new friendships, and that’s great.  After all, who can say they have too many friends?

    Not me.

    So, I’ll keep taking 55+ classes.  I’ll continue going for lunch, for coffee, or for drinks with other 55+-ers I’ve just met. And hopefully, my friend will join us.

    She says she’s thinking about it.

    Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

    Personal Reflections on: “Reading Shakespeare: The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale”

    December 18th, 2014
    Perdita from Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale”

    A picture is worth a thousand words but there are some names worth a thousand pictures.  Even though I’ve experienced limited contact with Shakespeare, just reading his name conjures up a whole world of images and expectations.  Expectations of wonderful characters immersed in fantastic stories of high adventure, political intrigue, deception, and slap stick comedy.  Expectations of colourful costumes and fanciful sets.  Expectations of brilliantly delivered lines of amazing complexity and rhythm flying by at a pace that leaves me simultaneously scratching my head and grinning in foolish delight.  All of this without an actor or decorated stage in sight.  So when SFU offered a course on reading Shakespeare, the opportunity of spending six weeks capturing some of these wonderful characters and stories in my head, without the possibility of them escaping offstage, was irresistible.

    The reading journey through passages of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale is nearing its destination and the time has arrived to reflect on this experience.  How am I now connected with Shakespeare?  Do I understand Shakespeare any better?   Do I understand myself any better?  What possible relevance could two diverse assortments of 16th century characters and their power struggles have for me living in 21st century modernity?  Is there a kernel that joins our stories together?  Well, perhaps there is an impulse for all activity to draw into a central place.  My own activity is reading.   The plays’ activities are the interactions of stories and characters.  And we all meet up, occupying an imaginary circle within my consciousness.

    So what is reading all about anyway?   The only activity is sitting in a chair (probably) looking at words in a book.  Assuming that I’m paying attention, there is a budding relationship unfolding between the author (let’s say Shakespeare for this example) and myself; there are one or more characters introducing themselves to me; there are events occurring that are pleasing or troubling these characters.  The interesting part of the story is: none of it is real.  Somehow the imagination of the author has jumped from his mind into my consciousness.  And it was all premeditated.  Of course, in picking up the book, I agreed to this transfer.  What I’m trying to say is the author and I have entered into a real and imaginary place where our minds blend into oneness.  A stage has been erected and Shakespeare and I are center stage acting out an imaginary life.  So now, what possible relevance could this have to the two plays we have been reading over these past six weeks?

    Along with the complete and secret fantasy I’m privately enjoying with Shakespeare, there has been a meeting of minds in the physical world actually reading and interpreting The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale together and out loud.  We have come together in a circle for the purpose of understanding what the plays are saying to each and all of us.

    In Shakespeare’s The Tempest there is also a circle that draws all the characters into its center.  It’s a magic circle.   All of the The Tempest is magic and illusion.  Prospero is a magician.  The tempest is a storm in the characters’ imaginations, and almost everything else is either a concoction of spells or, at least, a significant break from realism.  If we were each personally following the procedures outlined in the play, we would find them completely ineffective in our daily interactions.  Yet there is definitely a purpose or a problem demanding resolution.  And that problem is: on this unknown magic island there are four groups of self absorbed and lost people who must somehow transcend their limited vision so they might know the truth and return home.  Being human, they are unable to think their way out of their predicaments which, in this case, make no sense at all.  It is only through the coercion of spirits summoned by Prospero with magic spells and threats that the veil is lifted and all four disparate groups meet in the harmony of the magic circle from which they can all peacefully return home as a functional unit of civilization.  The circle is, once again, whole.

    In The Winter’s Tale there is another storm.  A storm perhaps even more sinister than the magical gale in The Tempest.  It’s a storm of raging jealousy, viciously blowing to shreds all remnants of reason in the mind of Leontes, King of Sicilia.  This storm has also displaced members of Leontes’ once peaceful kingdom.  Losing control of his reason has, in effect, fragmented the identities of his daughter, his wife, his best friend, and his trusted advisor.  It has also left Leontes and Sicilia without a legitimate heir to the throne and the prospect of a stable future.  They all must return to the circle of a harmonious kingdom to regain their personal and cultural legitimacy.

    In order for all the characters to return to the circle of the harmonious kingdom they must enter their own individual inner circles of self knowledge and harmony.  Leontes must understand the nature of his jealousy, moving from his Hyper Zone of Arousal into his balanced center or Window of Tolerance where he can transcend his pride and rule from a place of wisdom and compassion.  He must trust the oracle and live from a place that encompasses the combined wisdom of his kingdom.  Hermione must leave her Hypo Zone of Arousal breaking free of her numbing statue to join her husband.  Perdita must discover her true identity as Leontes legitimate heir.  The split in the alliance between Sicilia and Bohemia must be mended through the unblemished and legitimate union of Perdita and Florizel.  Camillo must regain his homeland and rightful place as wise royal advisor.  Through the passage of time and the endurance and power of love and forgiveness, all this is accomplished and the factions are able to return to their home circle and all is once again whole.

    Now, as the curtain falls and the actors are taking their final bows, our Shakespearean reading circle is about to break and become a memory.  A memory of Shakespeare`s meditation on humanity; his era; his artistry; his ability to reach through the fabric of time and touch each one of us in combined and personal ways; and, most of all, a memory of another circle that will never dissolve.  A circle that is always intact and lively with the voices of Shakespeare and his marvellous cast of characters alive and interacting with me any time I snuggle into my favourite wing backed chair, open the pages, and begin, once again, reading Shakespeare.

    Andrea Bourne

    Andrea is a passionate life long learner with a particular dedication to the humanities.  When not traveling in the geography of ideas, she’s out exploring and revelling in the world of nature.

    Fun With Song and Dance

    December 2nd, 2014

    Take 3 friends who love song and dance routines, old movies, and famous singers. Add Neil Richie’s classes and what have you got- fun, fun, fun! From Dancin’:Choreographers (2014) to Divos and Divas (2015), there’s always something new to learn. One friend, a Lions and Canucks fan, saw Bob Fosse in New York. The second friend lived through the geometrically designed dance numbers of the early 20th century, and saw Ella Fitzgerald at The Cave. The third friend has Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” on her phone, and watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Vancouver. All 3 love Broadway musicals, opera, jazz and the Big Band sound. Come join us on Fri. Jan. 9, 2015 for an enchanting 6 weeks of jazz, opera, and pop music.

    Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.

    How to impress your impossible-to-impress kids

    November 25th, 2014

    Let me be very clear:  my grown kids – two daughters, one son-in-law, two golden retrievers  – and I are this close.

    But because I spent most of my working career in the advertising business, they take everything I say with a grain of salt.  They often accuse me of ‘confabulation’, or ‘exaggeration’, or even ‘creating a commercial’ with just about every story I tell.

    And they roll their eyes.

    But I got ‘em, thanks to an Underwater Archaeology class given by Robyn Woodward, an adjunct professor in SFU’s archaeology department, who spends a whole lot of time exploring shipwrecks.

    Here’s the Coles Notes version:

    Sometime in the First Century AD, Emperor Caligula, one of the most debauched rulers of a debauched Rome, ordered himself a pair of luxurious pleasure barges, to float on sacred volcanic Lake Nemi, just 30 km south of the city. He had the barges fitted with the best mosaics, marble, and even on-board Roman baths. But something went wrong, the barges sank to the bottom, preserved for centuries in the cold, clear water of Lake Nemi.

    Benito’s bathtub: unplugged.

    Then, some 1900 years later, along came Benito Mussolini, who had the chutzpah to order Lake Nemi drained, just like a giant bathtub, dropping the water level some 20 metres (66 feet) until Caligula’s floating palaces were exposed. Restoration work on the barges went on even during the war. Reports are that the Americans very carefully avoided bombing the site, but on May 31, 1944, about two hours after the retreating Germans had left the area, a mysterious fire destroyed the entire site.

    Dr. Woodward told us this story. And I told it to the kids over Sunday family dinner. At first, they were all ears. After all, it’s a helluva story.

    But when I got to the part about the fire, that was too much. They just didn’t buy it.

    “Go ahead,”, I said, a little smugly,  “Google it, and see for yourself.”

    Out came the laptop. Click, click, open Google. And there it was:  the story of the Lake Nemi barges.

    “Wow”, said hard-to-impress daughter number two, “It really happened.  Google says so.”

    My believability stock shot up.  Thanks, Dr. Woodward.

    Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

    The Lifelong Brain

    November 21st, 2014

    Evidence about the capacity of the brain to keep learning and growing across the ages keeps growing. Research from Cambridge University in England adds to the growing weight of evidence that age is no barrier to continued learning.

    Second Careers and Lifelong Learning

    November 10th, 2014

    Today’s Globe and Mail in its “Second Careers” section provides a profile of Ulrike Rodriguez, 53, who recently completed a trip around southern B.C. on a motorbike. She’s off to India soon to write a book. This intrepid woman lives simply, has no intention of retiring, and is confident that whatever her professional situation she can retrain for a new career. Her advice for others: “Be curious. Be passionate. Keep Learning.”

    Chuffed about Chocolate!

    October 27th, 2014

    Wouldn’t it be great if things that tasted great were also good for you? Well it turns out that that chocolate you’ve guiltily been nibbling isn’t just delicious, it can also improve your memory, according to a scientist at Columbia University–Scott A. Small. While the study contains certain caveats–going out and buying lots of Mars bars may do more to expand your waist than your memory–it is nonetheless a new bit of evidence that not everything that tastes delicious is also bad for you. So next time you feel a craving for that 85% real chocolate bar, go right ahead. You might begin to remember how delicious it tastes! For the full story, see the story in The New York Times here.

    Cool & Weird: South Africa

    October 17th, 2014

    Tricia Sirrs writes about her experience in one of our fall 2014 classes: South Africa: From Colony to Rainbow Nation, taught by Richard Harvey.

    The evolution of South Africa: through the eyes of someone who was there.

    Those of us registered in Richard Harvey’s From Colony to Rainbow Nation, the story of South Africa, really won the instructor lottery. He (along with his parents and his grandparents) lived through it all.

    He’s seen the wild animal preserves, the grasslands, the diamond mines, and the townships. He’s experienced the tensions between the white (European) farmers and the black (African) labourers. And he’s heard the music.

    He knows how the Dutch and British settlers took ruthless advantage of the unsophisticated indigenous people living in what is now the Union of South Africa.

    And he’s seen the societal breakdown that comes from poverty and joblessness, even in a country blessed with some of the richest diamond and gold resources on the planet.

    Now he’s here, making the history of that faraway country come alive to those of us fortunate enough to be listening to him in a classroom in downtown Vancouver.

    Professor Harvey grew up in South Africa under apartheid – brutally-enforced separation and stratification of the races. The Europeans (whites) owned the land, owned the mines, and governed the country as they pleased. The blacks owned nothing, not even a vote.

    Basically, to be a black African, was to be invisible. A pair of hands and a strong back: a wage slave. That’s all.

    (When Professor Harvey came to Canada in 1997, he said he was “astonished” to see white men actually working as labourers on road and construction crews.)

    Most of us remember the day in 1994 that Nelson Mandela walked free. And most of us shared the hope that what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the ‘Rainbow Nation’- where so many peoples would live in peace – would flourish.

    It hasn’t happened. In fact, Dr. Tutu reportedly has wondered aloud if the name he gave his country is still valid.

    Without another Mandela miracle, more tensions and troubles undoubtedly lie ahead.

    Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.