Thursday, 30 July 2015

Recreational Math and Contests

It’s time for another “Good Professional Development but No Time To Blog Before Summer” post. Today’s topic: The COMA Ron C. Bender Memorial Conference, from Saturday, November 29, 2014. Featuring Ron Lancaster, who has been featured in previous OAME posts, and Barry Ferguson, Associate Dean of Mathematics from the University of Waterloo.


His introductory remarks included mention of how there is a huge emphasis lately on applications. But many aspects of mathematics are beautiful and curious - which can help students “fall in love with mathematics”. To that end, here is a movie (x+y) and a play (The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night - adapted from a novel) and a book (The Mathematician’s Shiva). And for the musically inclined, a math teacher in Toronto is composing music using math (aleatoric or “chance” music).

Ron’s first encounter with recreational mathematics was magic squares. He said you could do this physically by giving students numbers from 1-9 and having them stand to make a square. There is logic behind this, eg. discovering “5” has to be in the middle since you need to make 15 four different ways through the centre. But while that’s true for 3x3, there are 880 magic square types which are 4x4. Ron also showed an 8x8 magic square which has both SUM (840) and PRODUCT (2,058,068,231,856,000) magic! (Made with help of factoring. See image below.)

He moved on to ambigrams (a symbolic representation that retains meaning when viewed in another orientation), like ZoonooZ, the San Diego zoo newsletter. This happens with numbers/dates like 1961. Scott Kim is a puzzle master who can turn ‘Ignorance’ upside-down to spell ‘Knowledge’. Also Geomagic Squares by Lee Sallows, which don’t use numbers, but shapes or words.

From there, a look at sequences. Pick any number. Count how many letters exist in the English representation. Write that number out, continue. You get deadlocked at FOUR, and you get there REALLY fast - in English. In Spanish, it’s a different cycle. Ron also spoke about “The Kruskal Count” in connection to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, hitting the word YOU. Also, the more words you have on a page, the higher the probability it will work to land on a particular word by the end of the page.

There are LOTS of possible rules when you have only three numbers! Ron illustrated with 8, 3, 1/2, using the rule: a, b, (b+1)/a. (Hence 1/2 comes from (3+1)/8, which then becomes the new ‘b’.) That CYCLES after 6 terms. You can plot this using six points (a, b). If a=7 and b=6, you get a right angle! When else does this happen? Consider more extensions: To have the 4th number be 17, what “a” and “b” should he start with?

Then there’s the “Hailstone Sequence”, “another one that is classic recreational mathematics”. Start with a number, x. If even, divide it by 2 (x/2). If odd, multiply by 3 and add 1 (3x+1). Mathematicians believe that the number 1 always makes an appearance, no matter, what you start with (leading to a 1, 4, 2 cycle)... but no one has proved this yet! (An audience member remarked on rounding the logarithm of numbers, to play musical notes.) And poems made using Fibonacci Numbers for syllables are called FIBS. See Greg Pincus for more of those.

Ron then spoke about “Interactive Magic Tricks” which have mathematics as their basis. This can be done in a prerecorded ‘YouTube’ way, and goes back to David Copperfield, “The Orient Express”, inviting people to move fingers on their TV screens. (Before that, Tony Spina and “Room for Doubt”, on a cassette tape in 1950s, and before THAT, Martin Gardner.) Other curiosities include hexa-hexaflexagons (a strip of paper with six sides), the “Four Bug Problem” (with shoutout to Mary Bourassa), and geometrical vanishes (an 8x8 square that seems to become 5x13). This last has a connection to Fibonacci.

He finished with a few puzzles. Make this sentence numerically true: “This sentence has _____ letters.” (has at least 3 solutions). Peter Reveen “The Impossibilist” who used a Knight’s Tour in his stage show. (A knight moves to every square on a chessboard once and only once.) Still with chess, the “Eight Queens Problem”, and rotational symmetry. All leading into “Latin Squares” and “KenKen Puzzles”. (Better than Sudokus.) He concluded showing there’s even Kenkens with complex numbers!

After Ron’s keynote, we split off into three breakouts (primary, intermediate, senior). I attended the Intermediate one.


Barry started by building off Ron’s work, showing an “Anti-Magic Square”. One where all the totals are not the same, but rather form a sequence of ten CONSECUTIVE numbers, in some order. (So instead of all eight sums being 15, they might be 7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 in some order.) One of the CEMC (Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing) problems he had featured one, where to finish a particular square, you needed to determine all the other unknowns first.

The rest of the session was mainly looking at a handout package of sample problems and past contests. Within that, Barry first looked at a problem about distances between pairs of cities. Like the magic square, at what point is the problem “under defined”? (Too many gaps, leading to multiple right answers.) Do you WANT a unique solution? Sequences in particular are very, very dangerous for this. Don’t be afraid to stray from “what the textbook says” if it still makes sense.

Contest-wise, Barry stated that to come up with the multiple choice options, you need to identify the misconceptions. Only one answer there is right, the other solutions (known as “distractors”) come from those misconceptions. How do they decide on which distractors to use? Well, all committee members for a contest submit possible questions in May/June (knowing the correct answer). So when the committee meets in November to come up with first drafts, they may use incorrect answers from other committee members.

That said, if it’s an obvious error that a LOT of the students may make, they DON’T want to use that distractor. They want the student to realize their answer isn’t there (termed the “sucker answer”), think a bit more, and fix the common misconception. I was reminded a bit of Nik Doran’s “Hinge Questions”, where each answer pinpoints a particular misconception to be addressed - and can even allow for partial credit. So this has applications in the regular classroom and/or in creating tests.

Also addressed was what question is better as an open question, as opposed to a multiple choice? Generally, if you could take out the answers, and it would still be good. (So not mere arithmetic.) Also, if there’s a struggle for good “distractors” (without giving things away), then it’s better open. And if it’s possible to get the right answer the wrong way, the question shouldn’t be used at all. It was noted that there are different committees for the different contests.

Consider even a simple question: In a 3x8 grid, how many rectangles are there? This is approached differently depending on grade level. Consider this approach: There are 9 vertical lines, and any unique pair will define a rectangle. Now include the top and bottom, and we can take the product of our two numbers to figure out total rectangles. Noted that in a 4x4 grid there are 30 squares (students answer everything from 17-40), but actually 100 rectangles (and students back off from that, thinking that’s too much).

For solving averages, a +/- approach is possible rather than algebra. Many questions can be done with prime factors. Taking things apart can “simplify” things (a way to discuss what simplify means), for instance, seeing (a+b)/ab as [a/ab + b/ab]. Include context examples as needed - students don’t even remember phone numbers now! (They’re auto programmed.) Be careful with language, “the shortest side is 5” could still allow for TWO sides that are 5. Do you want that as a possibility?

An interesting gender observation that “by and large is true”, from talking to students who have done well on contests: If a male can narrow multiple choice options down to 2 (or even 3) they will take a guess. A female will keep trying to work it out, and if they cannot, they will not guess. There’s a definite taste for problem types, some will engage where others won’t. (Me, I said I might stop once I realize I CAN get to a solution. Got some funny looks for that.)

Pictured: Infinity
Also mentioned by Barry was the short lived Dubai campus for UWaterloo (didn’t draw students as anticipated), a takeoff of an old Euclid problem (“The average of 25 odd numbers is *this*. What is the average of the top 12 numbers?”), an array problem, and the remark: “Infinite series aren’t a problem, it just takes a night of work and a bottle of scotch.”


I finished the morning by chatting with Bruce McLaurin and Jimmy Pai at lunch. One particular item that came up was how many (formerly) good questions can be “googled” now. Ten years ago, you could ask “how many folded sheets does it take to reach the moon”, and not get an answer via a search engine. Now that you can, try to ask question variants that cannot be “googled”, such as “how many folded sheets does it take to reach the roof of the school”.

In conclusion, recreational mathematics still has a place, be it in the classroom or in playing around with math for contests. If not easily incorporated, it could still be a warm up or a bonus, to get students doing (and liking) math. Also, there’s a big link between math mistakes, and how math contests are created. Hope you found this post of use!

I also have a prior COMA conference post featuring Marian Small which you could check out.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Year of Help

This is kind of a follow-up to “Year of Hell”, posted last July (2014). That was the year I decided I needed to fund a leave of absence (which will be coming up in 2016). I went through a bunch of reasons as to why 2013-14 might have driven me to that. What did that lead to this past year?

I hit a low in 2014-15 that was even lower. But on average, things were better. I’ve also been seeing a social worker. This after a short term counsellor. (Hence, “Year of Help”.) I might as well break this down further. Have an AMV with relevant music, as I like to do.


Grading is still killing me. Tasks are still killing me. Reducing the size of tests to a more manageable level, given how it takes me a week to mark... was successful. Which is good, since it was part of my “Annual Learning Plan”.

I didn’t feel completely beaten up at the end of the year. I believe a break from “Data Management” projects, which was more happenstance than anything, was also beneficial (I forget how many years in a row I’ve had there without a break). I traded it off to give someone else an increase in status.

The new electronic grading system also proved to be helpful, in terms of cutting down on paper tracking. Even when we started reducing paper trails due to striking efforts, I was able to print off a bunch of placements and keep things together. So, progress is occurring, in terms of less suicidal thoughts... even as I hate hate hate that it still takes me 8 times as long to grade as it did in the points system.

I managed Extra Curriculars better. Math Club went under, and I didn’t let it get to me. Anime Club was mostly self governing. I did even less with drama than usual in Semester One (coming off “Pygmalion” in Scotland), and helped with the musical in Semester Two with an eye to my mental state. I may have ended up doing more extra math help, as an alternative, but I don’t think I hit a breaking point.


December, apparently. In 2013, I cried. In 2014, I lost myself. I scared myself. And I was already seeing a counsellor at that point, after a breakdown in mid-October. This December coming (2015) may even be worse, because with Labour Day being late, the Board has moved the usual November PD Day back to early September, removing any semblance of a break. (As opposed to moving the October PD Day.) Yay. So I should watch myself.

I still can’t seem to mark other than doing all page 1, all page 2... despite logical arguments towards doing all student 1, all student 2, in order to avoid having to make an extra pass that still takes about two hours. My brain works better with the constant repetition. Late work/tests is also still a pain, because of tracking. Maybe I need a sheet for students to self track?

Ugh, then there’s how we’ll be a year without a contract soon, because the province (and school boards) want to remove class size caps, and increase their control over our prep time. Because, I don’t know, they think we spend it making paper airplanes or something. The Union’s resisting, which is good, but politics is a new problem going forwards.


Important to note this side of things too. The Christmas Math Song still went over well. And while I took a complete step BACK from online math conversations and PD (as compared to last year), I hooked in a lot more with Web Fiction Guide, and was writing 2,000 words per week from September through March. Which I enjoyed, so that’s good. I think I really am a writer first, a teacher second.

I also achieved the stuff in my “Annual Learning Plan”, including my attempt to find a seating system that would work out (which I’ve previously blogged about). In the end, 40 signatures in the yearbook last year, 48 this year. Granted, over half of them were me going up to people and saying PUT YOUR NAME IN HERE PLEASE, but most were happy to do it. I think I even signed 2 or 3 in return.


So, another year to get through on 2/3rds salary, then time away. Once this is all dealt with, I should probably give serious consideration to a part-time workload. (I spoke about this with a coworker; there’s a few in our department who are morning or afternoon only.) That’s the sort of thing that not only gives you more time to prepare, but less classes to prepare for.

In the meantime, time travel story continues, personified math is coming back, I still want to blog about some PD over the past few months... and, oh right, course prep for the actual teaching. One more month!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Anime North 2015

If you’re interested in anime, writing, or drawing, this post may be of some use to you. Alternatively, you’ll at least learn what happened to me at Anime North, one of the largest anime conventions in Canada back in May 2015.


Friday never works these days. See my year 2013 post for why.

That said, this year I did end up in the Presidential Suite of the Holiday Inn Express; I’d ended up having to book a regular King room three weeks previous, because I mistakingly thought I’d booked months ago. They then upgraded me upon arrival, due to overflow - it may have helped that I’m a member of their rewards program. The room itself was actually three rooms (!).


As in 2014, lined up for registration after 8:30am. Marked papers. Had passes before 10am and left the Congress Centre to regroup. Ultimately decided that there was nothing immediate I was interested in, and went back to see about artwork commissions. I’d had four possible character images in mind (which I’d roughed out the previous night) and ended up requesting colour commissions for two of them. They're below.

Merchandise, in Presidential Suite Room 1
That done, I popped into the Dealer’s... City. I actually took the time to try and go around everywhere this year, in part because with “Magical Lyrical Nanoha Vivid” out in Japan, I thought there might be a resurgence of some Nanoha merchandise. Not really - though one dealer had shipped in a life-size ‘Raising Heart’ replica (not for sale)!! I did buy a Figma from him, even though I’ve never been huge on models. Still cute. I also picked up a Hatsune Miku book, because personification.

By this point it was afternoon. I wandered over to the Manga Library (running into Ashley Hakker en route), because I’d been meaning to find out a bit more about “Strike Witches”. I ended up reading a good chunk of one book, then left to line up for the 3pm panel “Paper to eBooks”, one of two writing panels I attended that day.


The panelists for this first one were Marie Bilodeau, Jen Frankel, and Shirley Meier. On COVERS: The cover art for an ebook is the thumbnail; they can’t do foldouts or wraparounds. Stock photos will look like stock photos, and people are more difficult to render (and not look like a 3D render) but going traditional you may not have a choice. Noted that cover artists get paid less than you - be nice to them. Also, beware of putting the main character on the cover, it can stifle the imagination.

from "Epsilon Project"
Commission by: Cherry Zong
On IDEAS: Can do a “writing party” online in GoogleDocs: every person has their own assigned character, have them interact. On MARKETING: It never stops, it’s the hardest thing (and trying to start over after a break is hard too). Charles Dickens had his books memorized, and he would perform them as a one man show with voices! One panelist says if you donate enough for a coffee, she’ll Skype with you for a bit. (Wordpress has a tinyCoffee plugin - what?) The benefits of the eBook is you can get more impulse buyers. On EDITS: Get someone professional; it’s a business. For file conversions, SmashWords has a guide.

In general, FIND OUT WHAT CONTRACTS ARE - what do others want to get away with? Fight to keep your eBook rights, they’ll often bundle it up with everything. A sobering tale: The author of “The Vampire Diaries” (L.J. Smith) sold the rights of her book series. It was picked up for TV. When she later wanted to continue the story she was told SHE COULD NOT, and she’s been reduced to writing fanfiction of her own books!

After that panel, I went to locate my wife, who had said she’d be at “Fresh From Japan”. I was there in time for some of “Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!”, the magical boy anime... which I ended up introducing to my school’s anime club in June. ^o^ There was also “Kantai Collection” (girls as naval fleets, simultaneously weird yet derivative), “Shiro Bako” (the making of an anime, that looked interesting) and “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?” (interesting enough, but not sure it’s for me). By then it was after 5pm, so we went for dinner.

Returned for the “Writing Sex” panel (which necessitated getting the 18+ sticker on my badge, for the first time in a few years). I will do my best to describe this in a PG way. You have to be comfortable with the terminology (only Harlequins constantly use flowery language). Read the scene out loud if you have to - and proofread. “She grabs his sock” may not be what you wanted to say. Better, hire a beta reader, until you get better.

There should be a tonal difference between these experiences: “virgin”/“experienced”, “one night stand”/“start of relationship”. Don’t overdo descriptions of sound (moans, more moans), use other senses like taste and scent. Sex is not graceful. Always make sure you know where the limbs are, so no one is being hit in the face, and no third hand appears. Use lube for lube, not whatever’s handy in the scene, suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Consider the boundaries of your characters, where are their hard lines? (Do they like biting?) And yes, there is a difference between how men and women write porn.


At 8pm, I went to the “Fans in the Professional Workplace” Panel. What do you do when your fandom conflicts with work? It featured a banker, a librarian, a graphic designer, a grad student teacher, and a lawyer. One of the first things they dealt with was their use of “fan” rather than “otaku”, as much as a concession to how “otaku” can mean “to the extreme” as opening it up to more than anime. As one of them said, “It’s an important part of my life. It is not my life.”

from "Time & Tied"
Commission By: Gen Ishihara
If you want to see to what degree they had to remain “undercover”, I point you at my education column: TANDQ: Animated Discussion. Other things discussed were how television shows (like “Game of Thrones”) were easier to discuss than anime - there’s still that dichotomy of anime “is immature” or “is porn”, with no middle ground. Partly because anime is a small market comparatively (less than 2% of videos here), partly because it’s second tier entertainment even in Japan (Studio Ghibli being an exception), and then ones that break through tend to be for younger audiences.

Do they even put Anime North on their resume? It CAN be a way to be remembered. The teacher had “sanitized” his resume, morphing it into a reference to Japanese culture. Possibly check out the hiring manager for your company on LinkedIn, to see what is expected. An audience member (from the Rochester Institute of Technology, apparently a geek school) was particularly curious there. Also mentioned, while “How to maintain professionalism” is not taught in school, exercise restraint when correcting misconceptions. But fandom CAN be beneficial. There's manga guides to content, and the librarian noted how her knowledge of “Welcome to Night Vale” was useful when questions arose in her workplace.

That panel had (unfortunately) conflicted with Kari Maaren’s concert; I did get there for the last song (mic drop = kazoo drop). Then I stuck around for Peter Chiykowski’s concert. There seemed to be more people interested in the Filk than last year. I was running out of steam though - apparently I’m getting old. I left about 10pm, briefly swung by “Worst Anime Ever” (but it seemed to be closed up) so poked my head into “Old School Anime” instead. Some guy named “Ken” was offing people named “Spade” and “Club”. Okay. Headed back to my hotel before 11pm.


Sunday started with trying the jacuzzi in the Presidential Suite, because why not, I’ll likely never have a chance like this again. After checking out of the room, I swung by the artists (one commission was ready, the other was not yet), and (around 11am) went to poke my head into video rooms.

“Magical Sugar Buzz Theater” seemed to be playing “My Little Pony”. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Wait, what? Meanwhile, the “Sailor Moon Crystal” room was playing the episode with “Princess D”. Having seen that already I settled for the ponies, and when they ended there was “PriPara”, an anime featuring elementary student Laala becoming a singing idol. This is also when I ran into Karl Zaryski, which is good, I’d hate to have missed him.

After that, at noon, I spent three hours on drawing related panels and workshops - with Helen McCarthy and Kent Burles. They're in a separate post: Drawing Myths and Tips.

After all that, it being after 3:15pm, I made it to the AMV Replay - I’d wanted to see at least a few. I wasn’t actually keen on the winner, “Anime 404”, one of the type to splice together various animes & music. So I offer: “My Neighbour Figaro” (Momiji’s Challenge Winner),  “Notice Me” (Silver Medal Merit) and “Little Bit of Love” (I liked it, show it a little bit of love). When that wrapped up before 4pm, I poked my head into another couple rooms. “Sailor Moon” was showing a classic (undubbed) episode with Shingo and Mika. “Love Live! School Idol Project” - which I’d seen a bit of last year - apparently has the name “muse” as their singing group, spelled like the greek letter mu. This, I like.

I finally headed out, making a pass by the artists again for my second commission, and meeting my wife at “The 404s” show - another one of those things you want to at least catch a part of. Ah, the hilarity of invented superpowers. I left before the closing ceremonies, because it’s still a five hour drive home.


Nineteen consecutive years. Still more a tradition than anything else - but this time, the drawing tips were worth the trip. And their own post. I went to more panels and less anime this year, I wonder if that’s part of it? Maybe I’ll return for #20.

If you liked that post, feel free to read about 2014. Or check out my AMV Friday Roundups.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Drawing Myths and Tips

While recapping Anime North 2015, I decided the drawing panels needed their own post. Because it's more than anime drawing, and it's important. Why? Consider this a companion post to Draw Your Story (explaining why you should) and Drawing for a Webcomic (actually web serial, explaining my own process). This post pulls it back to basics.

The three panels I attended were "How to Draw Manga and Anime: The Artbook Industry" by Helen McCarthy, then "How to Draw a Head, Loomis Style" & "Comic Book Basic Training", both by Kent Burles. They took place on Sunday May 24th, at noon, 1pm and 2pm.


Helen started with “a brief history of manga”, as far back as 1861. A lot of earlier stuff was in Tokyo, and lost. She then shifted to her new book “How to Draw Manga Made Easy”.
MYTH: Only talented people can draw.
REALITY: It takes commitment and practice.
MYTH: It takes ages to learn to draw well.
REALITY: It’s not going to take years to make good drawings - but be unashamed of your bad drawings. “Work will not make you great. It will make you better.” Even 10 minutes per day will show improvement - write the dates, look back later.

Interesting story about her book too - the original guy walked and took his artists. Helen was approached by the company because she had a good reputation and was asked: Can you get this together in six weeks? “That’s the thing about being freelance. You don’t turn down work. But after you’ve said yes, you HAVE to deliver. The worst thing you can say about a freelancer is they didn’t deliver on time.” She had people she could call in favours from, and it was the professional debut for one of the artists in the book - the daughter of an artist she contacted.

A lot of the remaining time was looking at the various anime art styles; check out the link to her book. In Conclusion: Draw by REALLY LOOKING at something. As long as you can do real art, you can do fantasy art.

From there it was off to the “How to Draw a Head, Loomis Style” workshop. Kent Burles says he says he’s seen every grip under the sun - the trick is have a delicate touch. He should be able to pull the pencil out of your hand as you draw. “You can’t pull back from hard lines, probably can’t even erase it.” DON’T erase though! It’s guaranteed to create inhibitions - like going to a party but staying in the kitchen. “You want to make as many mistakes as you can possibly make. How else can you know where you’re going?”

I suppose I'm ahead of the game here, in that I've been doing that without really thinking about it. Not to the same degree, but I never press hard - that's what inking is for. I also learned about pencil types! The HB pencil is mid-range. 2H, 3H and so on are very hard pencils. 2B, 3B and so forth are lighter pencil... and you can always press harder with them once you have something you like.

One more general tip: Draw from the inside going out - don’t start with a silhouette and work in. Build the head, correct as you go, and if you want a person, don’t start with the head. Kent Burles then got into the style used by Andrew Loomis.


DON’T buy any book that says draw heads as an oval! (Unless you want drawing samples.) You can’t turn an oval. You're stuck. The 'Loomis' style comes from a series of books. Here's the idea: Begin with a sphere ("circle"). Draw a vertical midline, to know how things are turned, and a horizontal midline, which will be the browline (not the eyeline). Bring up two planes at a 45 degree angle, this creates the hairline, and slices off the sides of the sphere. Put in the chin. “Don’t start with eyes or nose. It’s like building a house and starting with the flowers on the fourth floor.”

I'm sure that's hard to visualize, but at this point we have something like the image in the upper left corner:

These are the sketches I made during the workshop itself.

At this point, the bridge of the nose is at the eyeline, so make a nose pyramid. Ears are roughly from the browline to the bottom of the nose. The mouthline is about 1/3 the way down, from bottom of nose to chin. Now, the edge of the nose pyramid should line up with the tear duct (corner) of the eye. (This gives the lower left image, above.) Eyebrows are a basic shape, avoid “field of grass syndrome”. Also avoid the “egyptian eye” when putting eyes in, an eye is a ball. Finally, put in a hairline.

Never overlook drawing from life, it gives a sense of structure. And if you draw with hesitation, it shows. “Don’t wait for confidence to come. Go get it.” Kent then showed a profile view; it's more or less the same, except the part of the sphere you slice off is facing you. (That's the circle you can see.) The neck should angle, and ears are tipped slightly to the back of the head. If you're drawing a full body, the spine should curve like an elongated S, and the head comes out of that.

I hadn’t intended to stay for his second workshop “Comic Book Basic Training”, but he was so engaging, plus I’ve been considering the four panel style for when personified math returns. Apparently he ran these workshops last year too, and there was less attendance - is this becoming a popular thing?


Start with a thumbnail sketch! Size 2-3 inches. “Leaping in is a good way to cut your own throat.” Avoid the “domino approach”, eg. five separate panels randomly scattered on your page. Have your overall page design from the beginning, be it 6 panel, 9 panel, whatever. Work as small as you comfortably can. It’s quicker, and you don’t get lost in detail. Your first conception is usually your worst, that’s standard fare. “Don’t draw. Design.”

Design from a dominant panel, which gives your page a visual focus. “If you have two characters in a room, you have three": there’s the room itself. There's Three Types of Shots: Long shot (where are we), Medium shot (who is here), and Closeup shot. Mix them up. Even if it’s people talking in a room for four pages, re-establish the scene from another perspective.

He then gave us a five panel "plot" to thumbnail, and circulated among people to provide feedback. More people were here for this one than his last, I ended up next to someone who drew more with silhouettes. I thought that was great - I couldn't turn off the part of me that wanted to put in facial features. Conversely, he said the detail I was doing would take him so much longer. Go figure.

I ended up drawing two pages in the half hour or so we had, just to contrast female/male and different locations. It's below. If you can't read Kent's scaffolding in the upper right, it was: (1) Closeup - person sleeping. (2) Medium - against a tree. (3) Medium - waking up. (4) Closeup - surprise. (5) Long/establishing shot - person is surrounded by hooded figures.

Again, this is scanned from the page I had that day.

I even stuck around an additional 15 minutes after that to listen to some other tips Kent gave people, and then talk to him personally. Other tips: Don’t let the types of shot be pulling in and out like a zoom, you can pivot to another angle. If you do a diagonal split, that implies both scenes are equally valuable - are they? Design speech balloons from the start, and NEVER put them between two people talking: that’s a mood breaker, the reader becomes aware that they’re reading. You can’t go wrong at the top of the panel. He also mentioned the rule of thirds, and inclusion of negative space.

When Kent looked at mine, he made the remarks I put into those little thought bubbles on my scan, above. (I fell victim to the zoom in and out trap: not varied enough.) He said I seemed to have a good ability to transmit my vision onto the page. Also noteworthy, Kent Burles is part of the “character a day” challenge, where you draw a person every day for a year. After several years, he now has over 1400 characters, and brought his sketchbook with him. Whoa.


There's not much more to say. I'm hoping to have time to practice drawing this month (and with this post cued a week in advance, hopefully I already have). I'm hoping YOU do some practice too! The main message through all this is that it's a process. Be patient. You'll get there.

The full recap of Anime North 2015 will be next week. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

There Are No Dumb Questions

For 15 months, I wrote an education column over at I didn't write a column for June 2015, as things are wrapping up there (instead you got the Ontario Education roundup posts on this blog). However, for the sake of completeness, and in case anyone was unaware of that venture, I now present a quick digest of all those posts - perhaps you'll find something of interest to read?

If there are still questions out there, feel free to fire them my way too - I can't promise I'll get to them, but I'll do what I can.

1. TANDQ: Bias Confirmed (March 2014)
How Can We Ask Good Questions?
In brief: If you can look up your answer with a search engine, that's a problem. Because Confirmation Bias means that the assumptions you have going in will be reinforced.

2. TANDQ: Getting Graphic (April 2014)
How is graphing technology changing in schools?
In brief: Don't market to a system that can't afford to upgrade. Let's see how the Desmos platform is working at replacing TI-83 calculators.

3. TANDQ: Popular Misconception (May 2014)
Why is my network below average, compared to all my friends?
In brief: Your friends experience the same thing. It's mathematics; a few big names skew the "average" for everyone - which is useful if we're talking diseases.

4. TANDQ: Riffing on Khan (June 2014)
How can you tell when criticism is justified?
In brief: Let's look at "Khan Academy" and "Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000". Is it a case of 'THEY don't understand'? Or of 'THEY might have a point'? Somewhere in between?

5. TANDQ: The Education Game (July 2014)
How is teaching like a role-play game?
In brief: "I notice your wizards/students aren't being successful. It must be because they're not casting cantrips/memorizing facts. Let me tell you how you're supposed to do gaming/your job."

6. TANDQ: Around the World: England (August 2014)
What is the education system like in... England?
In brief: A look at the school system in England (not all of the UK), from Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) to A-Levels.

7. TANDQ: Effect of Learning (September 2014)
Why is this activity harder than I anticipated?
In brief: When you don't know much, you tend to focus on what little you do know. As you learn more, your focus shifts, and we see the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

8. TANDQ: Average Expectations (October 2014)
Motivation through punishment, or reward?
In brief: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment are not the same. Meanwhile, regression to the mean will happen regardless of the feedback.

9. TANDQ: Price Points (November 2014)
Why don't more prices end in round numbers?
In brief: If you're planning to buy or sell something, consider the "Left Digit Effect", "Benford's Law" and percentages.

10. TANDQ: Around the World: France (December 2014)
What is the education system like in... France?
In brief: A look at the school system in France, from their 'count down' naming system to 'les grandeécoles'.

11. TANDQ: Rate This Post (January 2015)
Are rating systems skewed?
In brief: Yes; possibly for different reasons. Consider weighted averaging, the voting population, and the scale involved (Roger Ebert hated the four star scale).

12. TANDQ: Text Me Never (February 2015)
When will paper textbooks go away?
In brief: Never, but the industry still needs to adapt. Education is gradually shifting, current prices are unsustainable, and research about reading on electronic screens will be a factor.

13. TANDQ: Pass It On (March 2015)
Why must my password include a capital letter?
In brief: By forcing extra conditions, we actually decrease the total number of options. But humans are not good with random, or comprehending password entropy.

14. TANDQ: Vote of No Confidence (April 2015)
How can I influence a democratic election?
In brief: Vote. No system is perfect, but "First Past The Post" is particularly problematic when compared to both proportional representation, and plurality ranking (used at the Hugos).

15. TANDQ: Animated Discussion (May 2015)
What animation is acceptable at your workplace?
In brief: That's my question to you. I discuss my experience after seeing a convention panel, and remark on the latitude I have as the teacher advisor for my school's anime club.

16. TANDQ: You Decide (December 2016)
Why can't I decide on my dinner?
In brief: Decision fatigue seems to be a real thing, so what about ego depletion?

There's also posts on this very blog too!

Find something of particular interest? Wondering about a follow-up? Let me know in the comments below - or on the MuseHack site using the specific article! (But note I don't have any comment flags set offsite.)