Point to Point: The Book From the Ground

The Book From the GroundA few years back, during one of our Toronto mini-vacations, I was browsing in the shop of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I came across a small book that had no words, just pictures. No, it wasn’t a book with pictures of artworks or photographs: it was a story, told entirely through common icons, symbols, and emoticons. Pictograms, looking not unlike a modernized version of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

There wasn’t even a book title on the cover. There were no instructions, no guides, no hints, no translations. The reader had to figure out what the story was about by him- or herself. Translating it is not based on any particular culture or language; the “language” in it is globally understandable. On Xu Bing’s own website, it notes:

The book is written in a way that any reader, regardless of his or her cultural or educational background, can understand. As long as one lives within the contemporary society, he or she will be able to interpret the book.

It was Xu Bing’s Point to Point, part of his Book From the Ground project (created between 2003 and 2012; a project that is much more complex than just a book). As you might expect from an avid reader, I bought a copy. I was intrigued by the premise and took it as a challenge to “read” it myself. But I was also awed by both the audacity of the idea, and, as an aficionado of language, by the brilliance of it.

I was also struck by how ubiquitous were these symbols he uses; so much so that ‘translating’ the lines into prose was not particularly difficult; merely time-consuming. And that was mostly because we are used to seeing these symbols and emoticons as single-function graphics; not in verbal form or in the syntax we expect for sentences. The symbols lend themselves to prosaic, even dull reading, not abstract concepts, so the ‘story’ is rather unexciting by modern novel standards. It’s more like a diary: 24 hours in the life of the generic Mr. Black.

Mr. Black is Dilbert, without the cynical/sarcastic banter, without the jokes on cube life, without the cast of wacky characters, yet trapped within the same day-to-day corporate life.

ArtReview wrote of the book:

From Point to Point, part of Xu Bing’s wider project Book from the Ground, is a 112-page novel depicting 24 hours in the life of an ordinary office worker, Mr Black, from seven one morning to seven the next, as he wakes, eats breakfast, goes to work, meets friends, looks for love online and goes out on a date. The book has punctuation marks, but no text; in place of words there are pictograms, logos, illustrative signs and emoticons, all taken from real symbols in use around the world. The artist has collated these over a period of seven years and used them to devise a universal ideographic language, in theory understandable by anyone engaged with modern life.

Page from The Book From the GroundAt the same time I bought the book, I wanted to learn more about the artist who created it, how he accomplished it, and what he was trying to say about language and symbols. So I bought a second book to help me understand: Mathieu Borysevicz’s The Book about Xu Bing’s Book from the Ground. This explained the project and Xu’s processes, his computer work, and explored responses to his work.

In 2015 and 2016, Xu Bing created separate day and night (respectively) pop-up versions of his book, described on his website as “making this universally readable book more playful and amusing.” I have yet to get either, but I’m tempted.

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Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra


We recently watched the Darmok episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my third time seeing it, and I was struck again at how brilliant and quirky it was. Possibly the best of all the ST:NG’s 178 episodes. And, apparently, a lot of other fans agree with my assessment. Wikipedia describes it:

The alien species introduced in this episode is noted for speaking in metaphors, such as “Temba, his arms wide”, which are indecipherable to the universal translator normally used in the television series to allow communication across different languages. Captain Picard is abducted by these aliens and marooned with one other of them on the surface of a planet, and must try to communicate.


You can read the episode’s transcript here. Here’s a sample:

TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Kadir beneath Mo Moteh.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: The river Temarc! In winter.
(that wipes the smiles off their faces)
PICARD: Impressions, Number One?
RIKER: It appears they’re trying their best.
PICARD: As are we. For what it’s worth.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Shaka, when the walls fell. (to his officer) Darmok.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: (aghast) Darmok? Rai and Jiri at Lungha!
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Shaka. When the walls fell.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Zima at Anzo. Zima and Bakor.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok at Tanagra.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Shaka! Mirab, his sails unfurled.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok.
TAMARIAN [on viewscreen]: Mirab.
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Temarc! The river Temarc.
(Dathon takes his aides dagger, and his own, and holds them out)
DATHON [on viewscreen]: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

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What would $9 Million Buy Our Town?

Back a few years ago, the 2010-14 council led by Mayor Cooper approved building for the community several important structures and buying for public ownership several properties, any of which — indeed, several of which — could have been built for less than the $9 million cost we taxpayers are burdened with paying for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) this term.

For example, the new firehall we commissioned in 2012 cost $4.75 million. For roughly twice that amount, you know what you got from this council? Right: a report. And not just any report: we got a digital report, that, despite being full of vague, generic, and irrelevant recommendations, we’re told is as important as providing clean drinking water. Excuse me while I do a facepalm over that claim.

When we built the firehall, we also upgraded the OPP station — which the town owns — to meet the province’s operational standards. That cost another $800,000. A new firehall and a renovated police station: $5.55 million. Not even close to $9 million, and they’re still standing, still in use, still publicly owned. This term, you got a digital report.

For $5 million, the 2010-14 council upgraded and covered our swimming pool for year-round use, and added a warm-water therapy pool to it for our seniors, had the change rooms rebuilt, added a viewing area, seating, competition diving boards, upgraded HVAC and water systems, and paved the parking lot. That’s $4 million less than this council’s important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report.

And then for $8.5 million, we commissioned and built a new, publicly-owned hockey and skating arena and rink, with dressing rooms, a canteen, benches for spectators, and meeting rooms, all so local teams and clubs didn’t have to drive out of town to practice, and the community had a year-round space to skate and play.  The builder even threw in $500,000 of extras for free. Still cost us less than the $9 million digital, important-as-clean-drinking-water report and it’s there today for the whole town to use.

And we did both of these publicly-owned recreational facilities without costing taxpayers a penny. Two top-rated, environmentally-designed, publicly-owned recreational facilities for about $13 million that will be providing the whole community with service and enjoyment for many more decades. Compare these to the as-important-as-clean-drinking-water digital report you got this term that will be with us for… maybe a couple of months? If that.

In 2013, we also bought Fisher Field for about $500,000, which was then privately owned, securing the town’s soccer pitches for the community, and making future upgrades viable because the public now owned the land. And we also upgraded and rebuilt two public tennis courts to meet community demand, and built a new public park and playground called J.J. Cooper Park.

You got a report this term. A digital one at that.
More Dilbert

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The Cancer Diaries, Part 22

Three days off over Xmas from the daily drive felt like a longer holiday, although it wasn’t enough time for my bowels to heal properly. So far an irritable bowel, reduced urine stream, and my hot “flashes” (or surges) are the only side effects I’ve noticed. They are, however, enough to make me less than comfortable at times.

I was warned I might feel fatigued, too; not just the normal state of being tired from too little sleep (what with pets and hot “flashes”), but deep fatigue. Not yet, but I still have three weeks of treatment to go, so perhaps it will come in the future.

For anyone wishing a “white Christmas” this year, we certainly got it. Starting Friday, Dec. 25, it snowed continually for three days and I shovelled or blew snow from the front walk and driveway numerous times. The snow and cold curtailled our dogwalking somewhat since Bella is a small, shorthaired dog and gets cold feet easily. Most walks were a mere circle around two or three blocks (800-1,300 m). We did manage one nice, long walk through Harbourview Park on Sunday, the only real outing we had. But it was a pretty weekend: I spent my time indoors: blogging, and playing World of Tanks and some other computer games when not reading. Outside, I shovelled.

And while it’s not cancer-related, as my Xmas present to myself, I ordered an ASUS gaming monitor (on sale) for my laptop, in large part to be able to both play games and to watch movies (the former on my laptop, the later through a Blu-ray/DVD player). I like the B-films from my large collection of scifi and monster B-films. Susan doesn’t care to watch, so I have to see them by myself. The gaming monitor has a headphone jack that will let me watch them without disturbing her with the sounds of some rubber-suited monster stomping on papier mâché cities.

What worries me is the weather forecast for the coming week: snow, wind, and cold. That doesn’t bode well for traffic conditions. But perhaps the weather will be mild enough it doesn’t stay around for very long.

Radiation treatment, 21st session

Warmer temperatures brought rain that has begun to wash away the snow. The ski hills at Blue Mountain would be weeping over the warm weather, if it weren’t for the fact they are closed for the COVID lockdown. The drive to Barrie was quick, dry,  and painless. The treatment was quick, and painless, too.

The hospital coffee shops, gift shops, and a lot of the medical and social services were shut down for Boxing Day. The cancer care treatment centre remained open. No big lineup was at the entrance waiting to get in, today, and almost everyone ahead of me was headed for the cancer centre, as I was. The atrium was eerily empty of people.

Today, it seemed the waiting rooms held mostly people in poor condition, suffering, and perhaps in pain. It felt more like a place where people wait to die rather than come to get treatment. Compared to most of the people I saw in my short time there, I am very much alive. Still, it is somewhat depressing to again be reminded that everyone in this room is here for one reason: we all have cancer.

I didn’t have too long to wait for my treatment, but I did manage to get a few pages further into Edward Humes’ Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. it’s a fascinating book that gives me a whole new insight into shipping, consumer goods, transportation, cargo containers, and all things related. Got my schedule for next week, and spoke to the nurse to briefly review my treatment, as we usually do every Monday.

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The $9 Million Dollar Mayor

Throwing money awayMore than eight million of your dollars have been spent to date on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), and it may top $9 million if you add in the costs the town doesn’t include in its calculations, as well as the proposed $700,000 report-about-the-report. And that should stick to our $9 million-dollar mayor.

There is a breakdown of the SVJI costs as of Dec. 18, 2020, on the town’s website. Sort of. The $8,098,547.40 total doesn’t include two key components: first, the salary and expenses of the inquiry’s judge. While that was paid for by the province, not simply by local taxpayers, it’s still a cost we all have to bear in our annual income tax paid to the province. Even the lowest provincial judges make at least $250,000 a year, so the true SVJI costs should be another $500,000 or even higher.

Then there are the unreported costs for town staff, too, and we do pay these: including overtime, time and paperwork to respond to and accommodate the SVJI requests, travel, time and paperwork to respond to residents’ questions and requests about the inquiry, time to set up rooms and hearing space, to provide water, electricity, and advice, to move departments out of town hall, then back again, for any incidental costs to accommodate the inquiry. How much that was I cannot estimate, but because so many senior staff were involved, I’d guess it easily tops $250,000 spread over the inquiry’s time here.

On top of that, there’s that $700,000 additional to be spent for staff to write a report about the report — a task we’re told is as important as ensuring our drinking water is safe. I’m sure you’ve already read my comments about that expensive, bureaucratic codswallop.

And we’re not sure if that’s the final tally or there are still bills to be paid. The town hall cash register keeps singing to the Nine-Million-Dollar Mayor’s tune.

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The Cancer Diaries, Part 21

Solar flareHot flashes are becoming more frequent, but I was warned they would be thus in the latter part of the treatment. I’m about halfway through the first stage of the hormone therapy process. My next hormone treatment (Lupron shot) will be given in about six weeks, shortly after my next blood test. I won’t know if I need more treatment (like chemotherapy or more hormones), however, for several more months after that.

I’m not sure why they’re called hot “flashes” as if they were lightning — they’re more like swelling eruptions from within; at least for me they arrive not abruptly but like a wave that builds as it reaches shore, then breaks and dissipates as the next wave is forming in the water behind it. I would have called them flares or surges, not flashes.

Susan and I took a long walk with our dog, Bella, into the downtown and back on Saturday, and on Sunday we walked to and through Harbourview Park; three to four kilometres each time. During those walks, I had hot “flares” several times, making me uncomfortably warm despite the winter weather. And, of course, I wake up with them at night. (If not them, then the cats and dog jockeying for a position to lie beside me will waken me.) And then they’re gone, leaving me cold and dragging the covers back over my exposed flesh (we keep our house cool at night, the thermostat set to 61F/16C).

This weekend, I suffered a tad more from an irritable bowel than earlier, if that’s the proper description. The radiation is affecting my intestines, and I am expressing mucous when I excrete or urinate. Not sure if this will get better and my body will recover when the treatment stops, but I suspect my bowels will never fully recover. Radiation kills cells. And possibly my gut flora won’t recover, either. Damn, but I need to ask about it’ find out if there’s anything I can or should do to help my intestinal fauna. I hate to think the cure is worse than the disease.

Meanwhile, I’ve started reading (among the many books on the go) the first of the second of Len Deighton’s spy thriller trilogies: Hook, Line, and Sinker. I first read it back in the 1980s, but wanted to re-read it as I had re-read the first trilogy (Game, Set, and Match, finished this fall) and plan to go on to the final trilogy, Faith, Hope, and Charity (which I have not read) when done. As Prospero says, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “My library/Was dukedom large enough.”

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