Wednesday, 30 October 2013

MAT: Language of Stats

Three points in this post, all related to statistics, aka Data Management. Partly posting it for me, to remember this stuff next year. Which I could do offline, so it's partly for you too - if it's helpful, and because I'm curious to know if anyone else has experienced these effects.


First point. I have been teaching statistics for a number of years. Something I've noticed is that students tend to use the term "survey" almost interchangeably with "sample". For instance, "I will survey the population randomly" or "I will survey by grouping".

In our data collection unit, I often have a word contrast element as part of my quizzes and tests. So last year I put up 'sample' and 'survey' as a pair of terms to compare. It threw some of them off, we discussed, I think things worked out.

This year I kept it on my quiz - and also put it on a quiz to my Grade 12 college level students in their statistics unit. I saw a LOT of this:
Example from 4C class

To be clear, I had defined census previously, so was a bit confused as to where this new "survey"="census" belief came from. Is it that you give a survey to all the people in your sample? Yet I also got the impression that some were simply going for the opposite of 'sample'.

When taking it up, I pointed out that 'survey' is the QUESTIONS, with no direct link to who in the population you end up asking. In general, I find student use of the term "survey" curious. Anyone else run into this?


Second point. When I ask the students to generate a question with bias (eg- it's leading, it's double barreled, it's unclear), the first reaction for a number of them this year has been to offer up what I might call a probing question. For instance, "Do you use drugs?" is offered up as a biased question.

"It's just a question! Answer me!!"
I explain that such a question is not inherently biased. For instance, this could be for a pharmaceutical company which needs that kind of data. If I said "Drugs are bad! Do you use them?", that would be biased. If a guy dressed like a cop give you a suspicious look as he asked the question, that would be biased. The question itself is not biased. And it's not merely the topic, "Do you eat fast food?" was a similar suggestion.

This could, of course, be a misunderstanding as to the nature of bias. But I can't help but wonder if some of this comes from thinking that things which are bad for us have bias by default. Or from the urge we have to dodge questions we don't like!! (Gee, when have I seen that lately? *cough*Stephen Harper*cough*) It concerns me, because if society starts shooting down probing questions by citing "liberal bias" or "conservative bias", we could all be in real trouble.


Third point is more a point of awesome. There's a lot of definitions in this data collection unit, from sampling, to bias, to classification of data and types of studies. One student prepared index cards, with terms on the front and their explanations on the back! Nice! I asked her if I could have them when she was done with the course. She said sure.

Then she simply made me my own set!
There's 25 of these

Today, the day of the test, I also saw two other sets that other students had made. Very nice! Must remember to suggest this next semester, possibly even incorporate them into a review somehow.

Final Unrelated Bonus:
 My Animated GIF Twittereen avatar (adapted from nik_d_maths) isn't displaying properly through twitter. So here it is, as a reward for reading to the end.

It's related to FRAKKED in my web serial

Sunday, 27 October 2013

ETC: Collaboration Conundrum

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the third post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission comes from Tina Cardone (@crstn85). It asked us to visit one of twelve different collaborative sites, join in, then write about it. This turned out to be something of a problem.


Warning: This post may come off as whiny and annoying. Apologies.

I don't like doing things in half measures. I'm either all in, or all out. I think part of it is a streak of perfectionism. One which I've been able to curb somewhat as my life goes on, but I'm still disinclined to take on a task unless I can see it through. "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well," and all that.

That's probably the only reason you're getting a post here - I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", so I'm seeing it through.

Related: I previously signed up for Triangleman's Decimal Institute. (Something else you might want to look into?) Yet my last couple weeks have felt brutal, I haven't made it back to TDI since Week 2. I still intend to go back and read each post, largely because it's valuable, but also because I signed on dammit, and it bothers me that I haven't been able to make the time for it.

Here's the first thing. If I haven't made the time for THAT, how can I even justify jumping on board somewhere ELSE? The second thing is that, despite twelve options, nothing clicked. With that in mind, I'm going to post up why I apparently don't play well with others, call it an Unproductive Struggle, and move on. Links to all the sites are here though, so that if you aren't part of Explore MTBoS, and see something you want to follow up on.

Dammit Jim, I'm a facilitator, and a web serial writer, not a collaborator.


For some reason, I've been abusing the phrase "rabbit hole" lately. Connected to "Alice in Wonderland", the idea is once you jump down the rabbit hole, you'll get swept away by everything happening there. Which in some sense is good, but not if you have other stuff you need to get done! Here is what I consider to be the "TV Tropes" of the math world:

DAILY DESMOS: I've used the Desmos website, and it's currently connected to one of my class summatives. I write and draw for a web serial with intimate connections to graphs. This is exactly why I'd probably kill too much time there, and why I haven't jumped down that rabbit hole. Just GLANCING at it now, I see @CmonMattTHINK has posted up a Cantor graph (#223b)! 

Candice Torrent aka Can-Tor
Likely part of your Daily Desmos
ESTIMATION 180 and VISUAL PATTERNS are similar rabbit holes. I've previously linked to them from episodes of my web serial, and mentioned them to others, that's as far as I dare go.


We all have things that, for whatever reason, don't work for us. Here's where I strike a few more options off the collaboration list:

ANY VIDEO: I do not have a video setup. I do make videos... but they're done completely online (with a four year old laptop) and take me forever. And while there was no need to do video for the following sites, NOT doing it feels like a half measure, and I already said I'm not down with that. So Collaborative Mathematics and Mathagogy are out.

101 QUESTIONS: Already have an account there, and I've posted up the occasional response. But I don't tend to question math everywhere, and again, video option tugs at me, so struck this from the list.

ONE GOOD THING: There's something about reading posts about wonderful events that just makes me feel miserable. Because I have trouble seeing that wonder in my life. (I'm not saying it's not there, but if it is, it's different.) Then I feel more miserable over the fact that something good makes me miserable. Moving on.

MADE4MATH: Make something! ... Yeah, my perfectionism kind of kills this too. Sorry.

MS SUNDAY FUNDAY: The MS is for middle school. So this is either not my style, or so much my style that it will be a rabbit hole. Yes, everything in life is black and white.


There's Math Mistakes. I've commented there on occasion, and submitted one or two things. But students make mistakes all the time, so something has to stand out for me here, and I didn't have that happen this week.

There's #matheme. Honestly, I feel like there's too much on that one site, without a clear idea of what fits into a category. (For instance, why is there only one post in Makeover Monday? Wasn't it a thing in the summer? Is that still going on?)

Finally, there's Productive Struggle. But that doesn't fit either, because while I struggled this week, it wasn't related to what was happening in the classroom. My lessons were (I think) passable. It was my own personal motivation to get things done that suffered.

Possible Context: Every week, I make two postings for my web serial, including writing, images and links - for the first time in 150 entries, I did not have a link this past Wednesday. Every week, I also run two clubs at lunch, but this week math club pretty much had to be self sufficient. This past week I also had two off site meetings, but in total they only stole about 8 hours of my time.


Maybe it's the little things? The student who's been away and who's coming back, the extra Cappies stuff I had to take care of, trying to get my head around Halloween events next week, the fact that Yoga got cancelled, the way it keeps raining when I have time to mow my lawn, I don't know. I am trying to revamp one course, while simultaneously teach two others, one of them completely new to me. But I was doing that last year too. (This time, I do feel like I'm botching statistics. That REALLY bugs me, but even that doesn't seem to be sparking me to action.)

So here's the thing. Why has this entire post turned into what I'd deem an Unproductive Struggle?? Ugh. Let me know if you see something. Assuming I hit publish... well, okay, that was never in doubt. Apologies again.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

ETC: Art of the Unfollow

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the second post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission comes from Justin Lanier (@j_lanier). It asked us to complete some "mini-missions" and then blog about a tweet, or reflect on one's use of Twitter.


Quick history! I already wrote a post about Why I Am On Twitter - initially, it was more personal than professional. In that post, you can read my first tweet (June 27/12) about BTTF, as well as see how invisible I was for two months of 200+ tweets. I've also previously spawned blog posts off a tweet (usually by @mpershan) - here's one on Pattern Sequencing.

This post isn't going
according to plan at all...
So, since that's already been done, I'm going to use this post (and Twitter) to explain the following phrase: Your plans will not always be successful. But first, the mini-missions I selected...

I kind of introduced myself through my serial link on Wednesday. I've retweeted MTBoS stuff before, hit the char limit, and make up many hashtags (just started a new one for my #AMVFridays). I responded to a Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) tweet about #WhyMTBoS, and she was giving a Friday talk, so I claim she's a guru. On Saturday, I replied to a couple tweets on #MTBoS. Something outside my comfort zone? Tweeting at three people who follow me. I rarely, if EVER, initiate... only respond. (Anyone noticed that?)

Okay, back to the above phrase, as well as the title of this post. Back in my post about cliques, I said 280 was my upper limit on twitter follows. I didn't think I could handle a larger volume, the way some people cut off around 100. Yet I still added people - merely dropped others. Let's delve deeper.


As I've found new people to follow, I've unfollowed more than 20 others since August. They've probably been unaware, because I've generally been adhering to two criteria:
1) They weren't following me.
2) I was still following someone who was following them.

The first criteria sounds petty, but it was more like it's easier to "break contact" with someone who had never really been aware of my presence. More to the point, it wasn't a full break thanks to the second criteria. What this meant was:
1) I'd still get to see any key tweets, because they'd likely be retweeted by those other people.
2) My feed wouldn't be as bogged down by @-conversations between two people I follow, because I wasn't following one of them.

In terms of dropping people who are in another "circle", I think there's an additional connection with my post about cliques. Not sure I can articulate it. Suffice to say, I've even unfollowed some "Twitter Math Camp" tweeps in favour of people I've never met. In my mind, a couple questions would naturally follow on your part:

1) What was the criteria for adding someone new?
Sometimes, the fact that they added me, and I noticed similar interests (but I'm notoriously bad for checking who's following me). More often, a comment directed at me, or a #FF from someone I knew. More rarely, if I caught a RT, checked, and thought they were really cool.

Had to remove the corkscrew to get that in there.

In all cases, I would first check THEIR following: Only a couple hundred followers? I'm in. More than that, and I'm scrolling through the feed to see if it's really worth being "2,047" onto the bandwagon. Too many tweets per day, and I'm reticent. I'll probably see their key RTs again, after all.

2) That seems really haphazard, doesn't it?
Yeah, that's kind of me. But I like that's it's personal choice. There's things out there that auto-unfollow - I'm not on board with that. Some of my best friends are eggs. My wife is an egg. This way I can make exceptions - I even admit that I gave Dan Meyer a free pass on unfollows, because he was my first math follow, and on some level I don't want to pluck out the root. Friends who don't follow back also get a free pass. (Uh, don't think too hard about that one.) No computer algorithm can predict me!

3) But you went over 280 today. Why have you stopped balancing follow and unfollow?
To be blunt, I ran out of people who met both criteria. So if I STILL want to add people, I either have to unfollow followers... or go over 280. I chose the latter. Which returns me to the above phrase in bold:

Your plans will not always be successful.

Be it online or in the class, what works for you one year may not work the next year. What DIDN'T work last month might work this time. People change. People are different. People can be annoying that way.

In conclusion, if you find you're getting overwhelmed by Twitter, maybe unfollowing a few people will help. In that vein, maybe my system will even help. Ironically, this means some of you might unfollow me, because I'm not following you! (You'll miss my web serial that way though. I'm serious, no one retweets that stuff except @MorganBallantin. Sigh.) Alternatively, go to the comments and poke holes in my theory, that works too!

I also like an analogy used by Sam Shah... just because you buy a magazine, doesn't mean you're obligated to read every article. So, just because you follow someone on Twitter, doesn't mean you're obligated to read everything they tweet. We all have lives. They'll understand.

Because people can also be awesome that way. Particularly in the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog O's Phere).

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

WRI: CanCon 2013, Day 3

CanCon is the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. For more information, see my Day 1 posting. You can also see what happened on Day 2.


Started at 10am, I went to the "Creativity in Fandom" panel featuring Errol Elumir, Debs Linden (both from Debs & Errol), and Chadwick Ginther. Chad's a novelist, but remarked on having soundtracks for his story as he wrote. Here's a chain I found interesting (if I interpreted it right): Errol met Debs through NaNoWriMo in 2006. Debs dragged him into FAWM, which is where people from this Con learned about them, and of course I learned about CanCon through Debs & Errol. Networking has scope.

A couple of the main points: "Creativity" is seen a a buzzword, something you shouldn't use, which is a shame. You should also try to be creative in different mediums - for example, Errol is part of a band, creates for a webcomic, and participates in Novel Writing month. One of the best ways to encourage creativity (he says) is to completely remove the filters, and if you've ever met Errol, this is certainly his philosophy. (He was even in a cast after jumping out of a tree.)

I think Errol spotted my camera

You should make sure you FINISH your creative projects. Otherwise you create a habit of NOT finishing. Perfectionism was raised (Debs and I can relate), an audience member pointing out that per- from the latin is "thoroughly" and -fect from the latin is "to make complete". So something is perfect when you feel it is thoroughly complete. To some extent, "Novels are never finished. They are abandoned", meaning you could keep tweaking forever. But they should at least be "finished" in the sense of being "complete".

There was a metaphor for driving at night. As you're doing something creative, you can only see so far ahead, the ending may not be known. Or it may be known, but you find you have to rewrite it, even alter your outline as you go. Goals can change (both in a story and in the act of writing). Sometimes posting goals (a Monthly blog post) can help make you accountable. The collaborative aspect was raised too, and whether you lose something in the chain of "first readers", "editors", "publishers" when you do self-publishing.

Aside: A parable of clay pots was mentioned from a book Errol had read (which Debs mentioned on Friday in "Song Writing 101", though Errol had a different answer this time). Two groups were created. One was told to make a single, perfect clay pot; the other to create as many pots as possible. In the end, the second group had many mediocre pots but some great ones, while the first group was still trying to design "perfection". (In Friday's version, the second group had included one pot which was deemed to be even more perfect than the single pot of the first group. Debs says Errol told the story that way once, and I don't disbelieve her.)

Books mentioned included "Creative Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and "Animation: From Script to Screen" by Shamus Culhane. A few additional remarks: People think they can't draw because they stopped in Grade 2, so their drawings are at that level. Pick up from there, and keep going. Quote from Debs: "The act of practicing may be more important than the final result." Notably, the audience for this panel seemed to be more of the younger attendees.

From there, at 11am I went to "Marketing for Writers 201" (the 101 panel was on Friday - I missed it), which was done by Linda Poitevin. She had a set of powerpoint slides describing "Blog Tours". Effectively a book tour online: traveling the internet, doing guest posts, getting your name and the name of your book out there prior to and during release. We're at the point where Virtual Tour Organizers are becoming a thing.

It's a tour using a serial bus

Linda said the first time she did 6 weeks at five posts per week and found that was too much. Second time, 4 weeks at 3-4 posts was more manageable. In terms of blogs to choose, ideally ones with similar books; research their policy and find out the NAME of the person running it. Numbers matter (check the followers widget) and Comments matter (actual readers versus just followers).

Make sure to keep each post ORIGINAL - people will follow you on your tour, and they don't want to keep reading the same thing. Talk about anything, inspiration for your ideas, character interviews, let your voice from the books shine through. Get these things done IN ADVANCE, and know the longer you drag a tour out, the less momentum you build.

Create an event page on your website, to make it easy to find you. You should have a static page in addition to your own blog. Create a banner/bumper, which can go on your tour sites before your post goes up. The name of your books may be a good tagline. Note mistakes happen, and people who run blogs may have unexpected emergencies, so send a reminder email at least a week before your "stop" there.

Make sure to read comments on those sites, not just for the couple days following, but check back on weekends. Follow up! Consider prize giveaways (like a copy of your book), either at each site, or a grand prize at the end. "" can help run this, and maybe you want to give extra tickets/entries to people who tweet/post about your book. Make sure you're following up here.

Alternatively, you can have an organizer do all of this - you lose some of the personal interaction with the bloggers, but it saves you time and stress. Know that a Pro marketing company isn't necessarily better, you want someone who is professional, and examples of past tours can show whether you'll be in synch. You may also not have "veto" power on sites that are chosen.

By the way, have you checked out my math web serial?

That was just the FIRST part of the session, Linda then continued with a discussion about Social Marketing. Again, a static website is needed, but maintaining a blog will keep you fresh in search engines. Choose your post TITLES carefully, that's how they find you (things like 'Characters' and 'World Building' are key terms). It doesn't all need to be about writing. The point is to draw people in through your interests; some will become readers, some won't, others may later. Be yourself, but don't overshare. Consider both a personal and professional Facebook page, for instance.

Social media itself is about networking and establishing relationships, NOT about selling books. You can use "" to manage your accounts, including scheduling up to 10 tweets for free. Thus you can tweet out posts even if you're at your day job - or writing. You can't write if you spend your entire day on social media! Things don't happen as fast on Facebook, in that you won't get buried as quickly, but similarly engagement is slower.

YouTube is bigger than blogs these days, but is a time investment. Making a book trailer might be a good idea. Instagram is huge with the younger crowd (they're looking to find a "Facebook" without adults) if that's your audience. Linda has a GoodReads page, but there's issues with trolls there; she recommends Google+ and Tumblr were also mentioned in passing.

Linda Poitevin has written a dark urban fantasy series, check out her website at that link, and find her on Twitter.


Pardon me as I autograph your face.
At noon, I went back to the Vendor's Room. This was not a large room, maybe a couple dozen tables. The "Alice hearts Welsh Zombies" folk talked to me, and you could get a Zombie artwork version of yourself... I'm not much of a zombie person, but if you are, check them out. There was also a table manned by a teacher in my board - Scott Barker - who had written "Shadows Over Sheradan". Another one featured a writer in a time travel anthology - Bruno Lombardi. And there was the interesting tale of "Galaxion", a webcomic that takes place in a parallel universe to it's first run in the 90s.

Those are the three tables that stuck with me, because they're the ones I went back to, to purchase from later. (I rarely like making snap decisions.) Incidentally, my procrastination shirt got some comments too. At this point, I took a half hour to get back to marking quizzes; I'd considered leaving, but Anne-Lise, my wife, was interested in seeing "The Mystery Plot Form" at 1pm.

Just before 1pm, an excited Debs came by my marking couch saying that "Kari won!!". It took a moment to process that this was the Aurora Award for Best Fan Filk (see the Concert portion of my post from yesterday). So yay! FYI, the Aurora Banquet had started at 11am. I'm now going to take a moment to highlight what might be my favourite of Kari Maaren's songs that I've heard: "Being Watson". It's clever! You should go listen to it now, it needs more views! I'll also give you: a list of the other Aurora Winners.

After this I swung by the Dealers to actually buy the books I referenced above, then met up with my wife at "The Mystery Plot Form", which featured Hayden Trenholm, Violette Malan, Tom Barlow, and (once the Awards were over) Robert J. Sawyer. One of the main differences in Mystery writing is that you have to write twice - once from the END back to the beginning, to create the "backbone", then again forwards. You "can't give red herrings unless you know the white herring".

Mystery Panel CanCon 2013

This doesn't mean you cannot change your mind, but if you don't know who committed the crime, you're making it harder on yourself. That said, you need to be careful not to unconsciously reveal clues through your dialogue choice, like referring to someone in a "sinister" way. The "Perfect Mystery" would be one where, just before the reveal, the reader realizes who it should be, and then they have those suspicions confirmed. You DON'T want the reader to "not understand" how it could be that person.

One of the best ways to do this is giving items "subtle weight" - a problem in film, where the camera has to keep pointing at things. The Jeremy Brett era of Sherlock Holmes had a neat trick of showing things in reflections or mirrors, so that a particular thing could then be seen indirectly. Agatha Christie books were also referenced.

The idea of a SERIES of mystery books was raised as an interesting problem. If you've read one Sue Grafton book, you've read them all - the main characters do not evolve much. This helps make mysteries a commercial success, as they can be read in any order (you see 'Read the NEWEST book by...' rather than 'Read the latest in the ongoing saga...') but it may sacrifice characterization. Some question of whether, now that you can download early volumes, this will change the genre. Travis McGee (by author John D. MacDonald) was mentioned as a set you can read out of order, but gets more nuanced when you go in order.

Ultimately, it can be tough to find adversaries that are as interesting as your main character. Columbo had an interesting way around that in starting with the adversary, showing how methodical and calculating they are, then bringing the protagonist in after the first act. There's also the question of the universe you're working in - what if the people have no notion of what a "serial killer" actually is? (The "necessity of the serial killer book" was also raised as an expectation for those in the genre.)

Regarding mixing science fiction and mystery - at it's heart, SciFi IS a mystery (what's going on? what caused it?) using scientific clues. If SciFi would solve things at the beginning, that can't be the core of the story. If you can do the mystery without the SciFi, you probably should. Make sure to follow the conventions you set out. It was jokingly said that CSI involves SciFi, because to get results that fast, they must have a time machine.

You only get the intersection. Union rules.
Robert J Sawyer had a good observation here. He said his first story was a Mystery/SciFi crossover, as he'd hoped to get the union of people who liked one genre or the other. Instead, he got the intersection - only people who liked both. He doesn't recommend starting out by writing in two genres; there's also the problem of people/publishers trying to decide where to file you. Robert also pointed out that you can't just do what the readers want - "If the audience had it's way, Bambi's mother would have lived".

At this point it was 2pm, and while there were still panels for a couple hours, I called it a day (yoga, plus a lot to do at home). I'm glad I went, I will probably return, it depends a bit on where my interests lie in a year's time. CanCon is certainly a good con if you don't like crowds, I think the most people that were ever in a room at once was 35 people. Maybe I'll even speak up and introduce myself more next time.

Thanks for getting this far! Spot anything particularly noteworthy, or want something expanded on? Drop me a note in the comments!

Monday, 14 October 2013

WRI: CanCon 2013, Day 2

CanCon is the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. For more information, see my Day 1 posting.


Panels started up at 10am, but I was barely awake at that point; to see an account of Saturday morning and beyond, I recommend this Review at The Chaos Beast.

I returned for 5pm, to see "Multiculturalism in Science Fiction". On the panel were Matthew Johnson, Yves Menard, Alice Black, David Hartweel and Jean-Louis Trudel. The first question addressed: Why pay attention to Multiculturalism? Answers included: India is the most populous country these days. Also, while the 19th and 20th centuries featured attempts to impose a single culture, the world is now "rebalancing itself". Plus not all cultures map to an ethnicity!

Here's the thing. To do it right, you need to translate books from other languages. This costs money. While there are some grants, generally literary fiction is translated, while genre fiction isn't. There isn't enough call for it. In the 19th century, "Jules Verne" didn't have his novels translated in their entirety. One panelist had some data to indicate that France and Germany were much better at translating works into their languages than we are at translating to English.

How do you even do it? World reduction. You cannot include every case of diversity, in every story. You sample and/or create a construct that can still map onto our world. Some question of whether "inventing a similar culture" is the coward's way out (it's not REALLY Greenland), and how we don't WANT to compare science fiction to our reality (it's the future, how can you say it's wrong). Noted the context of the story is what's important. Also you have to risk making mistakes, or you marginalize.

Being in a position of influence, it seems to be up to Western writers to draw attention to cultures, using respect and care. This sort of thing may already be happening in theatre. As to appropriation? It's an insoluble problem. The average reader (even editor) can't tell if it's happening. Notably, science fiction readers will point out how technical details are wrong ALL THE TIME, we need to listen to cultural details too.

"Researching Fantasy Stories" was at 6pm, with Matthew Johnson and Mike Rimar. Matthew himself does a lot more "front loading" (research first, sometimes drawing inspiration from it). Sometimes the book you need will be to the left or right of the book you're actually searching for. Natural question, if it's "Fantasy", are there really "rules" for making alien worlds?

The idea is to have frames of reference. Don't copy our world closely, but don't be incompatible. The "parking space problem" was mentioned... in the movies, people never have trouble finding a spot. A parody can use this - once. After that, it's not funny any more. If your setting has no cars, don't treat horses like cars! A horse can only go full out maybe 10-15 minutes, then they're done for the day. And what are you feeding your horse? Is that necessary information? Give enough so that things are believable, leave the rest to the reader. Letting them fill in gaps is important too.

No, no, I did the research! Really!
I raised a question - how do you know what sources to trust? If one place cites another which cites back in a circle (like with some quotations on the web), is that reliable at all? Response: Probably need a couple corroborating sources, likely one or two books (not web pages). Wikipedia is also a nice place to find OTHER sources. Another audience member remarked that you can find things that SEEM contradictory to general knowledge - for instance, simple eyeglasses were in use as far back as the 12th century. Historians will also disagree with each other.

Mostly, weave things into your story. If you'll have female archers, show them practicing early on. If a blue ringed octopus (!!) exists in your world, reference it before it's needed. It's okay to use coincidence to get heroes IN trouble, you can't use it to get them OUT of trouble. In passing, there was talk of 'Historical Fantasy' vs 'Secondary World Fantasy' vs 'Urban Fantasy' (which likely needs research on geography). Short stories will also have a higher research to word count ratio, as they likely need just as much research. Also, a small bibliography or 'thank you' may be in order.

7pm: I went by the Dealers Room, but they were just closing up. So I went to dinner with my wife. (There was a NaNoWriMo panel; I started this very blog by talking about how that event doesn't fit my style.) Returned at 8pm for the Aurora Nominees Concert. Incidentally, my wife went to the "Paper airplane trauma" event, but after twenty minutes of people singing in order to get paper, she still had no idea what the event was, so came to the concert too - does anyone out there know what the airplane thing was about??


The Aurora Nominees for Fan Filk were Peggi Warner-Lalonde, Kari Maaren, Morva Bowman and Alan Pollard, Debs & Errol, and Brooke Lunderville - which I listed in that order because they performed in that order, excepting Brooke who is in BC and could not attend. There were maybe two dozen people in the audience, by the way.

Peggi invites others for a "group filk" song

Peggi's music had more of an actual folk music feel, and she had a number of the others come up on stage at one point to perform together - something they had just tried out earlier that day! Kari was next, she also had Debs up at one point, and she concluded her set with "Everybody Hates Elves" which got stuck in my head periodically the rest of the week. (That link has the chords.) Morva and Alan had great chemistry, and I liked the remark at one point that a good parody could be connected to the fewer of the words you have to change. They performed a sendup of John Denver's "Follow Me" regarding social media. Debs and Errol wrapped it up, which was part of their comic here. They also brought everyone on stage to do "Narwhal Pet".

Everyone needs a Narwhal Song

At 9:30 there was a break before the Brendan Myers Concert, and I figured after the previous night I needed to get some sleeps. Before I left though, I bought one of Kari's CDs (to go with my D&E one) and dropped by the Kymeras Storytelling Show down the hall. I'd heard at the "First Con" panel on Day 1 that it had something to do with time travel.

That turned out to be incredibly interesting. I'd missed the first half, but there were four people dressed in period costume, reading a story. I learned this is basically a "Performance Piece", not an actual short that had been written, but rather something prepared (over about 5 weeks) expressly for the purpose of the reading.

The parts were separate; they did not interact directly

One particular part of the story I liked was when the time traveler figures he failed, because he isn't there at 8am to see himself, as would be his plan later that day. But rather than do something different, he continues his efforts, figuring "even a failure provides DATA". I like that. Never be afraid of failure. Of course, in this case, it actually works, he travels back to 8am to meet a younger him who is now more confident, while he is less so, having discovered an unexpected aspect of time travel.

I headed out after 10pm, in part because I wanted to be sure I was back for 10am, when there would be a "Creativity in Fandom" panel.

To be concluded!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

WRI: CanCon 2013, Day 1

CanCon is the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. It ran from 1992 through 1997, returned briefly in 2001, and then relaunched in 2010. In Ottawa. It's been here three years, and I had no idea.

The Aurora Awards are the "people's choice" awards, given annually for the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy literary works, artworks, and fan activities. Awards have been given since 1980, first called the Prix "Aurora Awards" in 1990. This year, they were presented at CanCon.

Spot the Canadian

I went last weekend. The only reason I was inclined to was because I ended up at a filk panel at Anime North 2013, and started following Kari, Debs and Errol on Twitter. I got to see them again here (they even remembered me!), along with a lot more. Being under 40, it felt like I was one of the younger attendees, and indeed students get a reduced rate on admission.

If you're thinking of going next year, hopefully this set of posts will convince you one way or the other. Oh, and for the record, I'd say that at least half of the panelists were either teachers, or former teachers.


Got there just after it started at 7pm then lined up for passes. If you pre-registered you got a free book, but I hadn't been sure about going. Line was fast, wasn't even 7:30, decided to drop by the "This Is Your First Con" panel (my first CanCon at least). Discussion reassured me that it's okay if you haven't read or don't recognize some of the "greats". In retrospect, maybe should have gone to "Marketing 101" - not that this panel was bad but I need to be better at marketing.

"Song Writing 101" was at 8pm; I'd wanted to be there for this one, because Kari Maaren and Debs Linden. Also Sue Jeffers (of Stone Dragons - they started with a song) and Alan Pollard moderating. February Album Writing Month (FAWM) came up - write 14 songs in 28 days - as did "50/90" - write 50 songs between July 4th and October 1st.

There was mention of whether lyrics or music come first (varies), the use of rebuttal songs (or spinoffs), clay pots (more on that later) and werewolf puppies (don't ask). I scribbled down "Archetype Cafe", which I assume refers to what's at that link, and Donald Swann. No copious notes, mostly thrilled that Kari and Debs actually remembered me from Anime North. (Both Kari and I had marking with us too.) People there were also hoping I'd be back that evening for Open Mic Filk.

"Humour in Science Fiction" was at 9pm, featuring Ira Nayman, Matthew Johnson and Mike Rimar. Arcing theme was basically the problem of Douglas Adams - he's still the main guy (despite his death), so major publishers are not wanting to pursue anyone else in this genre. An argument made for Terry Prachett, but he leans more to fantasy, and even then, that's two people making up the lion's share. It was pointed out that Adams' "Dirk Gently" books are actually much better planned in terms of a novel, seeing as "Hitchhiker's Guide" was adapted from the radio plays that he made up as he went along. (Like a serial!)

Excuses, excuses...

Some reasons put forward for why this is a problematic genre: People want science fiction to be taken seriously, and humour is seen as frivolous. There's a fine line between humour and parody - the latter requires you to be somewhat familiar with the source material. Humour is more likely to be misinterpreted as offensive or controversial, so publishers don't want to take the risk. And finally, science fiction writers tend to be older - youth these days trend to fantasy - and older people tend to be more conservative.

That said, to do well in this genre, you should combine humour and science fiction equally. Is it still funny if you take out the jokes? (Don't keep hitting the same humour nerve.) A few titles tossed around were "I, Phone" (written from point of view of a phone), "The Ardley Effect", and the author Robert Asprin.


"I'm holding out for a zero,
so the graph can look right!"
At 10pm I decided to check out the ConSuite, which was up on the top floor. They had some cookies and chips out. Chatted briefly with a guy who'd driven to a con in Texas after emergency car service. Good view. Came back down to catch the end of the Stone Dragons concert, then a break when I did some marking, then there was the Open Mic Filk.

I started it off, thanks to Debs who cued up a karaoke version of "I Need a Hero", and I sang "I Need a Zero" by memory. Then there was a song related to online content, and a few others... then I went back up to do "The New Companion's Lament", which was probably a mistake, but after lots of a capella stuff, I felt like I should do one, and that it shouldn't be math. This is the first time I've ever performed that one, incidentally - and I needed my wife's iPhone for the lyrics. Kari and Debs ended up performing too:

Example of Filking

I left just after midnight... drove home... got to bed after 1am because I'd wanted to tweet out my "AMV Friday" too. I wouldn't return to CanCon until 5pm Saturday, because I needed to finish preparing my web serial publicity posts like this one. I might be spending too much time doing stuff online...

To be continued!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

MAT: What are the Chances?

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the first post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission comes from Sam Shah (@samjshah). It asked us to write on one of two prompts: One of our favourite open-ended problems OR one thing that happens in our classrooms which make them distinctly ours.


I could mention the fact that I sing parody songs I've written, but that's the easy way out. Besides, while that may make me unique locally, I know for a fact it doesn't make me unique globally. So let's talk probability instead.

On second thought, let's give it some context first. I don't want people to think "open ended problems" are created out of nothing, or that I'm particularly good at them or anything. That said, you're welcome to skip down to the next subheader.

There's a course in the Ontario Curriculum called "Data Management" (Code MDM 4U). It's essentially advanced probability and statistics, and I've been teaching it now for... uh... five years? A while. One of its curriculum expectations is that:
 "Students will design and carry out a culminating investigation* that requires the integration and application of the knowledge and skills related to the expectations of the course."
*addressing a single problem on probability and statistics or two smaller problems, one on probability and the other on statistics

Education: If you can't measure it, it's probably not important.

I'm in the latter category, separating the probability and statistics. My stats project is in the form of coming up with a question, researching it, designing a survey to run in the school, doing so, and analyzing school results as compared to what their research turned up.

I feel like I'm not getting enough mileage out of that these days. If anyone has a better suggestion, toss it at me.

But that's not what I'm going to talk about.

The probability project is the warm-up to the statistics one. The probability project that I inherited when I started this course involved writing a story (or rewriting a fairy tale) to include probability concepts. This is actually a really good assignment, but after three years, I got tired of reading the same sorts of stories. So I switched it to creating (or investigating) a game.

That was a bad plan. I don't like games.

I feel bad when I lose, and I feel bad when I win because it means the other person lost. I can't see the patterns in Set, I don't have the coordination for video games, and I outthink myself to the point where I'm more stressed playing a game than I am teaching students. Seriously. So go figure, reading about games wasn't relaxing either.

Thus, here's the "open ended problem" aka "rich task". (Yes, finally!)


My task involves asking the students to investigate something that interests them, which is related to probability. They then create a list of assumptions necessary to actually do some math, and finish by writing a brief report.

There you have it. Post done!


Okay, I anticipate questions. Let's field some of them in advance.

"For my next trick, I will read your minds."
1) Isn't that a bit... broad?
Yes. That's why I start by having the whole class write down one or two questions each. I select from those, possibly making them a bit more or less challenging, and offer up a final list of ideas to choose from. Ultimately though, they can choose something else, as long as they clear it with me first.

2) What questions do you mean? Give me a "for instance".
What are the chances of winning in poker after you're dealt two aces. What are the chances of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime. What is the probability of damaging the screen of your iPhone.

3) Uh... okay... isn't that STILL a bit broad?
Yes. That's where the assumptions come in, which is effectively driven by the data. If they're finding data on US lightning strikes, they can narrow the project down to that region. If they're the only player against the dealer with a fresh deck, the probabilities are easier to calculate. Part of the point is to make them realize that such assumptions are necessary. There's a lot that goes into "your chance of winning the lottery".

4) How much class time do you devote to this?
About three periods, all in the computer lab. Not consecutive, over the span of up to three weeks. After the first week, they need to show me that they've started thinking about what their assumptions are. The expectation where I work is that they can continue out of class time - particularly given that "Gambling" websites are blocked in our board.

5) How exactly do you GRADE this?
Uh. Awkwardly. Next question?

6) You didn't really answer the previous one.

7) You know I can decide to never read your blog again, yes?
Point to you. Okay, so I'm one of those teachers who grades assignments on the "level" system, where "level 1-" is a pass (50%), "level 3" is provincial standard (75%), and the last 25% is showing real proficiency or going beyond. I don't have a formal rubric here yet, I'm still in trial runs, so I basically tell the students that as long as you are making an obvious effort, you can pass. If you are telling me things I already know or could easily find out, level 3. If you take the research and the math beyond that, level 4.

8) That's a terrible system.
Yes. Wait, was that you or me saying that? Either way, I do think it's kind of terrible. If I were grading my own task here, I wouldn't give myself above "level 2". That's partly why I'm blogging about it though. I'm hoping you can say something to make this better.

9) I don't even know where to start fixing this.
Hm, wait, that's definitely me talking to myself. Back to you then - I'm open to suggestion. Another teacher said I might have something here. What do you think?

You probably think I should stop talking to myself.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Time for a Superheroine

Welcome to MathieXPensive, post #100! Here's a short story of fiction.


"Stop right there!" Lisa called out. She put her hands on her hips, in what she hoped was a dramatic pose. It was, after all, only her second week on the job.

"Father Time!" the thief responded as he turned to meet her gaze.

Lisa winced.
Lisa winced. Any delight she might have obtained from catching the black-clad man completely off guard was pretty much quashed by the use of that moniker. Why did they all insist on calling her that? The evil doers, the media, not to mention the people she saw every day who didn't even know this was her secret identity... all with the 'Father Time'! She'd picked out a perfectly good name for herself! She simply hadn't managed to use it her first time out, and now no matter how often she repeated her actual name, the 'Father Time' thing wouldn't come unstuck.

The dark haired woman sighed. It was the beard, she supposed. She'd gone a little overboard by supplementing the robes of her costume with the white wig and beard. She'd have to do something about that. In the meantime... "That's 'Tempus' to y-- aw, hell."

The thief - vaguely decked out like a ninja - wasn't even bothering to wait for her to correct him. He had thrown the sack of stolen items over his shoulder and was now running away, towards the opening at the far end of the alley. Not for the first time, Lisa wished she had the power to actually freeze people in place. Or turn down the pocket of time where they were standing, so that they were hardly moving. Something else she'd have to work on. As things were right now, she only had the ability to adjust her own internal clock.

Oh well. Lisa sped herself up, and began to walk down the alleyway after Ninja Boy, who now appeared to be moving very slowly, relative to her. Of course, she'd pay for this act later tonight - the time had to be recovered somehow, so she'd be losing sleep again - but she simply didn't feel like running. She'd done it a couple times already this evening, plus the binding on her chest felt like it was getting to her more than usual, so best to avoid activity that would lead to heavy breathing. Not to mention how bits of beard tended to end up in her mouth whenever she drew in a long breath.

Momentarily, and not for the first time, Lisa wondered if this whole charade was worth it. Perhaps she should have simply dressed up in sparkly spandex and become the 'Time Fairy'. After all, 'Merry Maid' had gained a huge cult following in less than a week, and they never got HER name wrong.

Lisa grit her teeth. No. She was going to be a legitimate superhero, damn it. They'd laughed at Lisa's science, the science which had ultimately given her these abilities... she'd be damned before they looked down on the abilities themselves, simply because she was female. Or worse, tried to appropriate her powers, thinking she couldn't handle them. Besides, 'Merry Maid' was no one to look up to... she did more modeling than crime fighting.

Lisa could design a looser robe. That was it. One that would do a better job of concealing her curves, at which point a sports bra would probably suffice. The beard should be enough to throw the public off, after all. The damn beard. On second thought, maybe she should junk that instead. Except it also hid the mechanism which allowed her to disguise her voice.


Lisa looked past the thief and found her eyes rolling heavenward. Oh, COME ON. Could she not catch a break tonight? Not even a little one? It was late, so the streets were mostly deserted. Except for this exclaiming idiot who had appeared at the end of the alleyway, and was now, of course, pulling out his phone. But not to call the police, that would be SENSIBLE. No, from the way he was holding it, he was about to take a picture, or start video recording them. This posed a problem. Lisa's power had certain incompatibilities with video.

The mind was a peculiar place.
The problem, she had realized during her early tests, was not unlike the optical illusion that resulted from watching the rims on moving car tires. When they went just fast enough, the human brain would interpret them as rotating backwards. Because for whatever reason, it made more logical sense to the mind that they would have moved backwards by (say) 5 degrees, rather than forwards by 355. The mind was a peculiar place.

Lisa obviously wouldn't seem to be moving backwards. But to continue the analogy, slowing down a video of her "sped up" moments would allow people to see what was actually happening "between 0 degrees and 355". Which could be, to put it nicely, slightly disturbing. It certainly had been for her, when she'd seen footage. For while she might appear normal the majority of the time, occasionally, her body would look distorted instead. This might manifest itself in the manner of a time-lapse photo, or worse, as a picture where pieces of her body or clothing would seem to be missing altogether.

As such, before beginning this superhero crusade, Lisa had decided to do her very best to avoid using her power when in the presence of bystander recording equipment - if at all possible. At best, there was the chance it would freak people out (not what a superhero was supposed to do) and at worst, there was the chance that some detail of her person would be exposed, leading to the revelation of her true identity. For instance, if her beard appeared to be a few milliseconds out of step.

Here, it was possible here to act without her power. So Lisa shut it down and broke into a sprint.

She supposed she caught a bit of a break in that Ninja Boy now had to dodge around Camera Idiot. This threw the thief out of step, on account of the sack he was carrying, allowing Lisa to catch up. So credit Idiot with the assist - except it wouldn't have been needed at all if he hadn't shown up in the first place!

Lisa tackled Ninja Boy to the sidewalk. The sack went flying, and she quickly tried to crawl up to pin the thief to the ground, even as he turned his body to face her. Firing a quick glance over her shoulder revealed to Lisa that Idiot was still filming. "Call for help!" she snapped at him.

Idiot blinked. "Why? Can't you handle him, Father?"

For a moment, Lisa felt like tackling Idiot to the ground as well. Just because she COULD didn't mean she WANTED to. After all, just because you CAN make dinner for yourself doesn't mean you're not allowed to eat out on occasion! There was also the fact that she could disable the Ninja a lot easier by speeding up her own time again, to deliver a quick succession of targeted punches - except NOT while Idiot was still filming!

Though she supposed that what really pushed her buttons was that, in shortening her incorrect superhero name, it now sounded like she was his parent, or a priest or something. Why was she helping this city again?

"Erf!" was all Lisa managed to say in response, as the Ninja was struggling in earnest, and had just kneed at her thigh, in what she supposed was a failed attempt at nailing her groin. Which meant Lisa really didn't relish the prospects of a prolonged struggle. Ninja HAD dropped the items, maybe she could let him go with a stern warning? Except, again, Camera Idiot. So what were her options now??

"Got your back, Tempus," came a new voice.

Doctor Exacto.
Lisa looked over to see the figure running across the street, and felt a measure of relief. Doctor Exacto. Supposedly he could throw a scalpel with pinpoint precision, and with enough force to embed the blade into a solid wall. Not that such a power would be needed here, but at least a fellow superhero would have more of a clue as to the sort of help she required.

"Can we lose the bystander for five seconds?" she implored of Exacto, briefly throwing her weight back on Ninja Boy's legs, to prevent more kicks.

Exacto's eyes seemed to twinkle for a moment. Perhaps he grinned too, it was impossible to tell because most of his face was obscured by a surgical mask. With a flourish, as he completed his last few steps, Exacto pulled off his lab coat and tossed it over the head of Camera Idiot.

"Hey!" Idiot called out in annoyance, quickly moving to try to pull the garment off of him.

But this meant the camera was no longer pointed at Tempus. So Lisa sped herself up. A few swift jabs later, and it was all over. She stood, leaving the unconscious thief on the ground.

"Wow! Awesome!" Camera Idiot said, throwing the lab coat back towards Exacto as he looked at the man sprawled on the sidewalk, sidestepping to get a clear shot.

"Call. The. Police," Lisa repeated, barely containing her anger. As there was nothing much left to film, Idiot finally listened, starting to mess with the apps on his phone. The dark haired woman then turned her attention to Exacto. "Thanks for the assist here," she sighed. "You don't have to hang around though, I can handle the cleanup once the authorities arrive."

Exacto shrugged. "It's been a quiet night. I don't mind sticking around, unless that's a problem."

Lisa shook her head. "No problem." She fired off a smile of gratitude. Which was probably obscured by her beard. "Thanks," she added verbally. "It's nice to know that the more well known superheroes have my back."


Pat looked up as Ray walked into the room. "Any action tonight?" 

"Some," Ray responded as he pulled off his mask and rubbed his eyes. "Not on my part though. Our Mr. X got the night off."

"Oh? Who then?"

"Tempus caught a thief. With an assist from Exacto when some nosy onlooker seemed more interested in a scoop than actually being helpful."

Pat sat up, devoting full attention to Ray. "Whoa, Tempus? The newest one? How close were you? Did you get a chance to do the ol' X-Ray scan??"

Ray paused. "I was on the roof of a building across the street." Another pause. "Yeah, I was able to scan."


Ray rubbed his eyes again. "I owe you twenty bucks."


"I just... look, I doubt Tempus or Exacto THEMSELVES realized that they were both women! It's getting ridiculous. You would think the majority of the superheroes who resembled men would actually BE men. Right?"

Pat gave him a look. "Can you blame them after 'Merry Maid'?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Ray said, dropping into a chair. "Though in truth, it was bad even before her. 'ElectroShock Girl' was ripped to shreds by the press for being too 'unconventional'. Our society has a real image problem when it comes to women. Someone needs to do something about that."

"'Someone'? How about you?" Pat suggested.

Ray stared back. "What can I do?" He spread his arms out in a gesture of helplessness. "I'm just a superhero."

Points you can comment on below:
-Is Ray as helpless as he thinks?
-How predictable was any of that?
-Thoughts on my writing style?

If you DO like the style, consider checking out my math web serial, "Taylor's Polynomials", over at Shorter posts, longer plot. "Series 6" will begin in less than ten days.

Personally, I don't think I'm that good at short stories. They tend to want to turn into epics. Regular posts on this blog will resume with #101 later this week!