Monday, February 22, 2010

To Facebook or Not to Facebook: What’s the Right Social Network For You?

“You have to join Facebook, Margaret,” Heather insisted to my other fifty-year old friend after she lamented that she couldn’t keep up with what her kids or other friends were doing. According to iStrategyLabs in Washington, D.C., “the fastest-growing segments on Facebook are Gen Xers nearing age 40 and baby boomers pushing 60” (Scientific American Mind, Jan/Feb 2010).

Since its launch at Harvard University in 2004, Facebook’s memebership has swollen to over 250 million people in 170 countries and territories, beating out MySpace (with 125 million users), LinkedIn (a site for professionals), and Twitter.

The millions of social-network users are engaged in the largest experiment in social interaction ever conducted, says David Disalvo of Scientific American Mind (Jan/Feb 2010).

I started my Facebook account two years ago, in 2007, and confess I was initially on there daily, trying out all the applications, and I mean ALL of them, even the silly ones. I was trading messages, pokes, virtual gifts, insults, and all kinds of stuff with old and new friends. Back then, most of my existing close friends weren’t on Facebook yet—didn’t even know it existed—and I networked mostly with business colleagues and blogging friends from all over the world, many who I had never met. I had also joined three blogging communities, MyBlogLog and Blog Catalog and StumbleUpon. All three provided me with access to other like-minded people who also authored blogs. It was, in fact this community of bloggers who I later met again on Facebook, after we’d already established a good friendship through our blogs and associated networking community.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Falling in Love…

Last fall I drove across America with Toulouse to make a new home in Nova Scotia. I’d left behind a marriage of twenty years, a son in university and some wonderful friends to make a new life as an artist on the east coast: I didn’t realize it but I was really travelling in search of love.

While my mind was prepared for the unfettered and uncompromising—though at times lonely—life of an artist, my soul was seeking something far more elusive. I’d picked the Maritimes as a home-base, based solely on what I’d heard of their simple genuine nature and their celebration of art and a vision I’d had of living there; I didn’t know a soul.

Toulouse and I made our way across the northern states and Canada, over mountains and dusty plains, revisiting old haunts like Murdo, South Dakota; Louisville, Kentucky; Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. As I got closer to the east, a strange thing happened…

First, let me tell you that my roots are in the east. I grew up in the French Canadian town of Granby, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, a landscape dominated by the four seasons. Where the wind is like a fist. My favorite season is the autumn, when Nature bursts with the brilliance of a diva on stage. She scatters flaming colors across the road. They soar like flocks of exotic birds, vaulting to a chaotic chorus, and cover the earth in a mantle of russet warm tones that smell of home.

…As Toulouse and I crested the mountain range into Wisconsin, tears of awestruck joy welled in my eyes. The most breathtaking and welcoming view unfolded before me: a vast carpet of rolling hills, quilted in the warm and brilliant reds, yellows and oranges of autumn. I knew I was home.

I ended my sojourn in the charming fishing port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a UNESCO designated World Heritage site, known for its ship-building, particularly the Bluenose II, and its fine dining, art and culture. Toulouse and I settled there and very quickly made some good friends.

But it was on my solo journeys through the South Shore area of Nova Scotia that I fell in love.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Calling all Canadians: Nominate Literacy

You have until February 15th to nominate Nina’s writing guide, “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” for the 2009 Aurora Award, the Canadian Science Fiction/Fantasy annual award in the “Publications in English: Other Works” Category

Let me tell you a story… When I began to teach college and university biology courses (some years ago…) I was struck by a major observation: many of my students were borderline literate. Many couldn’t spell (I’m one to talk. But even I could see the glaring errors). Many used poor grammar, fragmented and scattered language, and ineffective construction. They didn’t know what a paragraph was. Others couldn’t string a sentence together or make convincing arguments, let alone provide clarity of thought. Their ability to communicate in the written form was downright lacking. Convinced that their knowledge of science was severely compromised by their inability to communicate it, I dedicated myself to include literacy in the science courses I taught. As my students applied themselves to relevant tasks with feedback from me, their writing skills eventually improved.

Simply put, literacy is the ability to read and write (in all its facets) and essentially comes down to the ability to effectively communicate. Here are some startling facts:
  • Four out of 10 adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 -- representing 9 million Canadians -- struggle with low literacy (Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005). This means that they can’t work well with words. They fall below level 3 on the prose literacy scale (of 1 to 5), which is equivalent to high school completion, and the desired threshold for coping with the rapidly changing skill demands of a knowledge-based economy and society (International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS), 2005).

Now, some twenty years later, I have written a guide to writing that is not only fun and entertaining but enjoyed by youth and adult alike. It celebrates effective writing (in all its forms) and the power of literacy.

Students, young and old enjoy The Fiction Writer:

We use this book weekly in my Writer's Workshop class, and it gives us
all the right tips to write like a professional author. It is written with
a direct, clear style that enhances our understanding and helps us to truly
grasp the concepts presented. The chapters are brief and concise, and really
help us write both fiction and nonfiction. We have learned how to properly
use dialogue, create characters, and find our "muse." I would highly
recommend this book for anyone hoping to enhance their writing
J. Bujold, high school English student

I have six book shelves at home (and about as many at work) devoted to books on writing and the teaching of writing covering all the writing genres. Before
Nina's book, I was getting rather bored with them
.” D. Merchant, English

If you’re a Canadian, you have the chance to “vote for literacy”. Nominate “The Fiction Writer” for an Aurora. The Aurora is a prestigious award and provides good exposure for works recognized. If you think that the world can benefit from this entertaining and easy to use (and youth-friendly) literary aid, you have up to February 15th to submit your nominations for the Aurora online.

ANY CANADIAN or permanent resident of Canada can nominate a work for the Aurora Awards. You don’t have to be part of some organization or pay any fee; you just have to be a Canadian. The top five works in each category with the most nominations will be short listed on the final ballot.

A full list of all eligible works for the Aurora can be found here:

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Real Women Don’t Botox

North American women’s obsession with outward beauty has scuttled a daring and creative plan to pay for health care in the United States.

I don’t get it…When U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid proposed a five per cent levy on elective cosmetic surgeries and procedures to help pay for U.S. Health Care, the loudest outcry came from America’s largest feminist lobby group, NOW (National Organization for Women).

I don’t get it…This represents a clear contradiction from that organization’s initial “burn your bra” stance of the late 60s, when the organization got huge media coverage as they burned a trash can full of bras, girdles and cosmetics outside the Miss America beauty pageant—making a clear statement for the unfettering of women to the slavery of “outer beauty”.

I still don’t get it…NOW argued that the tax unfairly targets women, who comprise 90 percent of cosmetic surgery recipients—especially middle-aged women, facing workplace discrimination. NOW’s president Terry O’Neill insisted that older women’s aged appearance was holding them back. “I know a lot of women whose earning power stalled out or kicked down as they entered into their 50s, unlike their male counterparts, whose really went up,” O’Neill told the New York Times.