Virtuality

The first time I ever tried virtual reality ended with a bruised leg.

I put on the Samsung VR and was instantly in a new world— a virtual one. I was on a suspended rope bridge over a canyon of some sort. I turned my head from side to side, and the view was so convincing that I lost balance and tripped, hitting my knee on the edge of a nearby table.
Tip: clear the space around you before you put on a VR headset.

Anyways, I was able to walk the length of the bridge, and then tried a different game set in a jungle. It amazed me how realistic the experience was since I was in a 360 game where I can see and move in any direction.

Which leaves the question: Can virtual reality ever replace actual reality?

Public domain via Pixabay

Virtual reality can be useful for several reasons. It can be used for entertaining purposes, like watching a movie or playing a game in a virtual world. Or, to try out new things that you wouldn’t normally get a chance to, like skydiving or swimming with sharks.

It can also be useful for economic reasons, like in the real estate business. Imagine you’re moving to a new city and you want to purchase a house. I’m sure everyone knows that pictures can be deceiving, and you wouldn’t want to buy a house just based on pictures you saw of it. This is where VR comes in. A real estate company could create a virtual house that mirrors a real house a customer is interested in. The customer would then be able to ‘explore’ that house and decide whether it suits them or not.

Most importantly, virtual reality can help in job training. Last year, my class went on a field trip to a Career Day exhibition, and one of the activities included putting on a VR headset and virtually welding.

An intern of any kind can get a realistic experience of what a specific job will be like, and it can help prepare them. A surgeon can complete a surgery, a teacher can practice teaching or public speaking, and a firefighter can face a ‘real’ emergency. Another cool way to use virtual reality would be to help a lawyer explore a crime scene to help him in his or her job.

“Virtual reality is the ‘ultimate empathy machine.’ These experiences are more than documentaries. They’re opportunities to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
~ Chris Milk, CEO of Within

Although virtual reality can be useful, I don’t think it can ever replace actual reality. There are some things that need to be done in real life, like eating or sleeping. If someone is sick, they would need a real doctor to treat them; if someone is in danger, they will need a real person to save them.

Virtual reality won’t be able to completely take over our world because people with jobs will still be needed. Even communication needs to be done in real time. Virtually talking to someone isn’t the same as a face- to- face conversation— you have to actually be there to feel their emotions and see their expressions.

If we were to depend on virtual reality, everyone would just sit at home all day and no one would have the skills for communication anymore. It’s kind of like the movie Wall-E, if you’ve watched it.

So is virtual reality cool? Definitely. But I don’t think its cool enough for us to completely depend on it and forget our real world.

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An Unforgettable History

I don’t know about you, but I don’t own any orange shirts.

September 30th has been declared Orange Shirt Day in Canada— a day where people wear, or should wear, orange shirts to show support and understanding of the residential schools’ problem Canada had not so long ago.

Residential schools were a way for the Europeans to assimilate young Aboriginal children. Their goal was to “kill the Indian out of the children and severe their ties with family and culture.” To do this, children were taken away from their homes at young ages and sent to schools far from home, separate from their siblings.

Photo Credit: William Topley via Flickr

Once there, they were at the mercy of the European staff and the government. Their hair was cut, their names changed to European ones, and they weren’t allowed to speak their language anymore. They spent most of their day doing chores, with harsh punishments if they broke any rules.

The result of spending several years at these schools? The children didn’t fit in with their families once they returned. Most of them no longer spoke the language of their ancestors and were white-washed.

“When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.” ~Chief Dan George

You might be saying: this happened long ago so why should I care? First of all, the last residential school closed 21 years ago, which isn’t that long ago. Second of all, it’s an ongoing cycle.

More than 150 000 children went to residential schools. These children eventually started families. However, they spent most of their childhood away from their parents, so how would they know how to raise children?

Personally, whenever I heard about residential schools I would think: “Well why didn’t the Aboriginals fight back?” I had recently found out the answer to that and it shocked me: they didn’t know. The parents were under the impression that their children were receiving a good education. Only the government and the school staff really knew what was going on, and they both remained quiet.

Many First Nations turn to drugs and alcohol to help them deal with the mistreatment and discrimination they face. It’s not really their fault; there aren’t rehabilitation programs or anything else they can turn to instead. There are also many stereotypes regarding them that only ruins their reputations further.

As a student, there might not be much that I can do to help with the residential school problem. It’s not like I can speak to government officials or personally apologize to all the Aboriginals affected. But that’s not an excuse to do nothing. I can still raise awareness by educating people about what happened and taking part in protests or movements. It is important to understand that everyone can help. Yes, we can’t change the past, but we can make sure nothing like it happens in the future.

As a Muslim, residential schools have a different meaning. Culture and religion play a big role in my life. I wear a head scarf everyday and it’s part of my identity. I speak Arabic —  it’s the language I grew up hearing and I use it everyday at home. I’m a proud Syrian- Canadian. I can’t imagine having to let go of these things— they make me who I am.

Unreadable

A few weeks ago, I came across a book called, “What If?” by Randall Munroe. It was sort of like a science textbook, with a bunch of absurd questions and scientific answers. When I first saw it, I thought, hey, this would be a great source of knowledge and would probably help me understand the nature of things better.

With that in mind, I started to read through it. Thing is, I really enjoy reading but only fiction, and therefore reading this book was almost an impossible task. After around 15 minutes of reading, I started to lose interest and decided to ditch the book. I still look back on it with regret; the information the book contained would be great to know— if only there was a way to get it into my head without actually having to spend hours reading.

Via Pixabay

And that’s how I got an idea of an invention. If I were to invent a piece of technology that would change the world, I would invent a machine that transfers knowledge from a book straight to a person’s brain.

It would look like a helmet with electrodes on the inside and something like a barcode scanner connected to it. Now, I’m neither an engineer nor a doctor, but here’s how I visualized it would work: the scanner would be used to fully scan a book, and using the high-tech in the helmet, it would summarize the information in it and convey it to the wearer’s mind. Just pretend we actually have the technology necessary to do that.

This would be helpful to a wide variety of people. People like me, who are unable to focus while reading a book but need the knowledge. Students who don’t want to read their whole textbooks but require the information to understand and pass the class. My non-Arabic speaking classmates would definitely benefit from this invention when they’re trying to study Arabic or memorize Quran. And finally, it would help people with certain disabilities. They would be able to gain the same knowledge that students their age are gaining, without a problem.

Like any invention, my ‘helmet’ would have some limitations. I imagine it would be costly to get access to it, and it would also take some time to scan a book and do the whole transferring process.  While this invention does transport a book’s knowledge into a person’s mind, it doesn’t give them photographic memory and therefore they probably won’t be able to remember all of it for very long.

All in all, I seriously hope someone comes up with an invention like this sometime in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, I’ll have to somehow finish my book without dying of boredom. 

A Summer to Remember

This summer, my family and I decided to go on a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. So, on August 8th, we took a flight to Calgary then Richmond. Since I’m not one to sleep on planes, I brought a book along to read.

Upon arrival in Richmond, six hours after leaving Regina, we rented a car and took off to Vancouver. Coming from a small city, everything seemed different–tall buildings, crowded streets, four- lane highways, and huge parks. Just watching out the window as we drove was interesting.

After a 40 minute drive, we arrived in Vancouver’s downtown. We walked around the area, entered different shops, and ate at a nearby restaurant. No longer hungry and excited to see the city, we purchased tickets to Vancouver Lookout. There, we mounted a glass elevator to an observation deck with a 360° view of the city.

To be completely honest, I was slightly disappointed by the view. Vancouver is a beautiful city and all, but due to the wildfires that were occurring in parts of BC at the time, a layer of smog was present over Vancouver and therefore made it hard to see very much.

Taken by me

 

Next, we went to Stanley Park,  a 405- hectare public park that’s surrounded by waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. There is more than 27 km of forest trails, centuries-old trees, and a path to walk right by the water. I got to see the Hollow Tree, a red cedar tree that’s more than 800 years-old, as well as the famous Totem Poles.

Vancouver Aquarium, also located in Stanely Park, had many beautiful sea creatures. I won’t talk about every living thing I saw there since that will take forever, but I will talk about my top two favorite parts– the dolphin show and the jellyfish exhibit. The 30- minute show consisted of two dolphins doing many jumps and tricks, as well as a quick lesson on how dolphins are trained. The jellyfish exhibit contained around 150 tiny jellyfish that were each doing their own thing and were absolutely cute.

Taken by Me

We spent half a day at Grouse Mountain, where we rode the Skyride up 3,600 ft and got to enjoy the breathtaking view of the city below us. A bird-in-flight show took place at the top, as well as other entertainment. The second half of the day was spent at Lynn Canyon Park, where we hiked in the forest for an hour and crossed a suspension bridge to reach two waterfalls, the Twin Falls.

An hour long ferry at 8 am got us to Victoria, where we spent all of the next day. There, we visited a butterfly garden, the Butchart Garden, the city’s harbor, and the Fisherman’s Wharf, which was basically an area of floating houses, shops, and restaurants where tourists can rest. An hour before our ferry back to Vancouver, we stopped at a town called Sidney that overlooked the English Bay and was surrounded by mountains to take pictures.

Taken by me

A visit to Playland the following day meant riding many roller coasters and crazy rides that left me too tired to do anything after, besides eat. So, we went to an Italian restaurant where I tasted the best cheese pizza in my life.

Shopping at the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Mall was a unique experience because it wasn’t like regular malls. It was basically an outdoor plaza with lots of designer brands and every store that would normally be located in a mall. The nice weather also helped make our experience great.

A pool of dancing fountains, large areas of trees, beautiful picnic areas, and a view of the mountains made Queen Elizabeth Park an especially popular tourist attraction. Also located inside the park, we visited the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, which is home to many stunning species of plants, butterflies, and birds.

The seventh and last day of our trip was spent at English Bay Beach. With a cold sea breeze, soft sand, Vancouver’s skyline visible to the right, mountains in the distance, and cargo ships heading to the harbor, this beach was my favorite out of all the others that I have ever visited.

Taken by Me

And that concludes my trip to Vancouver since five hours later I was back at home in Regina. I made many great memories in that one week, and I hope to see more of British Columbia in the future.

WordPress Verification

After blogging for several months, I’ve decided to analyze my blog and make an audit of it.

In total, I’ve published 11 posts on my blog. Eight of them were school based and set by the blogging challenge, and the remaining three were free posts. I find it difficult most of the time to find an appropriate topic to write about, so I enjoyed writing the school-based posts.

Although most of my comments were from my classmates, I did get a few comments from other students who were also part of the student blogging challenge. It was cool to have people that I didn’t know comment on my posts and share their thoughts, and in a way, it connected us.

I may not have gotten a ton of legitimate comments, but I did get, like, a billion spam comments. In total, my site has been protected from 4,416 spam comments. Every time I log into my WordPress, I have to delete between 10-200 spam comments from my spam queue. This got pretty annoying and I eventually had to change some settings to help prevent spam, but it hasn’t made much of a difference.

Public Domain

The post I got the most comments on was “Syria: What it Was and What it Became.” I think it’s because it was about a pressing issue that was currently going on, and because a lot of people didn’t know about the situation in Syria and were surprised after they read my post.

The post I enjoyed ‘writing’ the most from the Student Blogging Challenge was “A Sentence Using Images” because it was a creative challenge and it was fun to formulate a sentence from pictures and have people guess it. From the free posts I did on my own, I enjoyed writing “The Phenomena of Dreams“. It was fun and interesting to research about dreams, and most of the information I had in my post were facts that I did not know prior to writing the post, so I educated myself by writing it.

I switched from the default theme to “Plane”, and I customized the colors and the formatting. I like this theme because the header image isn’t that large, and I feel like it would distract the reader if it was. I also liked the color and background options and was able to customize the site till I was satisfied.

To personalize my blog, I added six widgets on my sidebar–recent posts, tags, categories, blog statistics, flag counter, and a blog roll. I put the tags, categories, and recent posts widgets to make it easier for my readers to navigate their way through my blog and find my posts. The blogroll is a way to connect with other bloggers and give them sort of a shout-out. And finally, the flag counter and the blog stats are just a way for my visitors to see how many other people visit my blog and where they come from.

I think that having six widgets is just right: not too many and not too little. The widgets I picked don’t take up a lot of space, and I don’t think they distract the reader or take away from the posts. But then again, that’s just my opinion, so if you think otherwise, let me know.

On my blog roll, I only have one overseas student, and that would be Alina. We’ve exchanged a couple of comments, and she was the first overseas student to connect with me so I decided to add her blog onto to my blogroll.

Finally, I’ve only used simple web tools like images, videos, and block quotes, all of which were introduced to us by our teacher. The only web tool that I ‘discovered’ and used on my own was a slideshow, but that’s not that creative. I may need to explore WordPress and look for creative web tools to use in my future posts, but for now, I’ll stick to the basic ones.

 

 

Your Online Trail

Googling yourself can either be a nightmare or a relief. When you search up your name on a search engine- or worse, when others search it up- everything that is attached to your name shows up. Whether it’s a picture you posted five years ago and completely forgot about, or it’s social media accounts that you made then abandoned, everything that you do online can be found by others.

Public Domain from Pixabay

It’s called a digital footprint. In short, your digital footprint is a trace that you leave behind on the internet. When you post a picture, leave a comment, visit a website or text others (basically, anything that you do online), you leave ‘footprints’ behind that can be seen by others.

If you are unaware and careless of what you do online, it will eventually harm you. A picture you posted that you thought was harmless could be the reason your job application is denied three years later. An offensive comment that you left on someone’s post can cause you trouble later on. Publicly announcing that you’re going on vacation could lead to your house being robbed. Which is why we must be very careful about our online privacy.

A simple way to avoid having a negative footprint is to not overshare. Posting your age, your pet’s name, where you live, your interests, where you’re heading for the summer, or where you ate last night is irrelevant to others and can be avoided.

Fortunately for me, when I googled my name everything that came up I was aware of and there wasn’t anything that shocked me. It was mostly my social media accounts and a website or two that I had activity on. I make sure that all my social media accounts are private, and I try not to post too many pictures. Afterall, I wouldn’t want strangers knowing everything about me.

If you’re wondering what traces you’re leaving behind on the internet, you can try searching up your name on google and hope that what shows up doesn’t make you cringe. Unfortunately, everything that you do on the internet is permanent, so deleting a comment or a picture won’t completely destroy it. However, you can try making your digital footprint more positive by watching what you’re sharing online. Before you post something, think: will it affect me in the future? Would I mind if my teachers saw it? Am I going to be embarrassed about it later? If it’s a yes to any of these questions, then you’re better off not sharing that information.

 

Syria: What it Was & What it Became

public domain

Six years since the conflict in Syria started, close to 500,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, more than a million injured, and over 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes- out of a prewar population of 23 million.

How it All Started:

On March 15th, 2011, the year when the Arab Spring progressed, peaceful protests broke out in a couple of Syria’s cities. The citizens were protesting after 15 boys were arrested and tortured for writing graffiti supporting the Arab Spring. One of the boys, 13- year old Hamza Al-Khateeb, died after brutal torture.

Although the protests were peaceful, the Syrian government, led by dictator Bashar Al Assad, responded with violence. Hundreds of protesters were killed, many more imprisoned. More protests broke out, with the same response from the government. The Free Syrian Army, a group of fighters who had one purpose- to overthrow the government and give the people a chance at democracy, formed soon after.

Citizens continued to protest for they were unhappy with the dictator, and the government, wanting to silence its citizens, continued to respond with violence. However, the people weren’t about to give up.

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At first, the government punished its citizens for speaking out with tear gas and bullets; soon after, they turned to missiles and bombed civilian homes, schools, and hospitals.  According to Physicians for Human Rights, nearly 400 attacks on 269 different hospitals have been documented since the war in Syria began, 90% of them by the government and its allies.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the government; chlorine attacks and even chemical attacks soon became a common occurrence for people living in Syria.

“You have to get used to the sound of cannons and bombs. You have to hear the planes and bombs, and yet you have to continue. People go out even if there is a plane above. If you care, you will never go out of your home.”- Rami Zien, a 23-year-old freelance photographer in Syria.

**Warning: watch at your own risk**

Impacts of the War:

Six years later, and Syria is a completely different place. The war between the citizens and the government is still ongoing, with no end in sight. Pretty much all of Syria’s cities now consist of ruined homes, schools, and buildings. Those still living in Syria are barely surviving with next to no electricity, food, or safety.

Most children in Syria haven’t gone to school since the beginning of the war since going anywhere is too risky. Many parts of Syria, including Eastern Aleppo, are under siege, making life even harder.

“People were being isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee.”- Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Stephen O’Brien.

A city that has it especially bad is Aleppo; what many people remember as a beautiful busy city, is now almost completely wiped out.

What can you do? Educate yourself. Speak out. Raise awareness. Support Syrian refugees if you know any. For those on the verge of death in Syria, any type of help is appreciated.