Friday, 31 August 2018

PD: Task Problems

On August 29th, 2017, the week before school resumed, there was a Professional Development workshop run by Peter Taylor. It concerned Math9-12, a research based study, which has as its objective: Developing sophisticated classroom activities that relate to the expectations of the Ontario secondary mathematics curriculum. (Along with the Ottawa workshop were others in Kingston and Toronto.) Seemed a good thing for me to attend after a year of not teaching before my return... now, a year later, a recap, as September looms again. For more information you can check their website,

Grade 9-12 Tasking

There’s a bit of a revolution going on - “we’ve talked about change in the math education for a hundred years, but I think the time has come for a new kind of curriculum”. What gets the kids involved, what gets them to come in. The model is the arts, an aesthetic being, a global response to structure rather than a local one. So choose things from the curriculum based on structural artistic merit. Literature is an important model too, but perhaps English class doesn’t quite get it right either.

All of this is preliminary, with examples on the website. “If you decide to use any of these problems in a class, I’ll send you a form to sign, ethics approval, then I can use comments you make in my research.” We’re interested to hear what teachers think. Funded most recently by Mathematics Knowledge Network.

Old model: There’s a control class here, and the experimental class here, we’ll test them both before, you do your thing, then we’ll test afterwards and compare. Problem is, “there’s no test I want to give them both”. Peter said he thinks teachers know if students are learning, and have a view about whether there will be a long term effect, about if students are engaged.

We need to change the curriculum. This is more of an organic process, a different kind of philosophy; we’ll go through some types of problems and then we’ll talk. They’re set up as Grade 9-10 and Grade 11-12 instead of a single grade, a different kind of cycling and to know what the next grade would do with it. All of these are available on the website.

GRADE 9-10

“Missteaks”: Something wrong, yet there’s some meat/protein here. Example: 4 4/3 = 4 times 4/3. Can you find another example where the mixed number equals the multiplication?

The mistake is the idea that there’s a plus sign missing, not multiplication. Can we get to “a + b = a x b”? Turns out there is a family of things that work. (b = a/(a-1).) Peter did this with his grandson.
Him: “Have you ever done algebra before?”
Grandsom: “Yeah, sure grandpa,” but he hadn’t.

Another “missteak”: root(a+b) = a(root(b)). Find more examples. Or 64/16, cancel the 6’s and you get 4, which is correct. Here there’s exactly 3 fractions total where this trickery works. A more high octane example: 2^4 = 4^2. Can get to (9/4)^(27/8) = (27/8)^(9/4). Many won’t get that because they don’t do fractions, they do decimals. Need the square root of one is the cube root of the other, and there is only one solution, s = 3/2. Try the trick with 3 and 4 (from 2 and 3), and of course there’s a whole family.
“It’s a lot in Grade 9...” (audience laughs) “But I do want kids to see big things, like how in English they may read books beyond their capability.”

There are two kinds of quotes: “Mom, guess what I saw today” versus “I don’t get it, what was he doing”. Hopefully the students who didn’t “get it”, they’ll get some technical stuff and saw something real about mathematics. Who knows how that will work. Had one guy saying “my brain isn’t wired for this”, he said “I want to be in an art school” and so that’s where he should be.

On to Lines and Curves: Max Profit P = R - C. In grade 9 you’re supposed to work with lines, but the ministry says they want “some non-linear too”. Often piecewise linear graphs are used, “but I think you need real curves, rate of change is a big deal”. Kids are ready to understand, they’re not good at determining information from graphs.

Consider that a microwave graph for warming an egg is a straight line, heat transfer in a straight line, while with boiling water, heat transfer to an egg is proportional, curved. “There’s a lot going on with this problem. It’s pretty sophisticated for Grade 9.” But no formulas, that’s right, we’re just working with the graphs. (In Grade 12, there is a formula you can derive, in fact the problem is in a Calculus textbook.)

For the “lineup” question, an audience member asked, “Would they use a ruler to solve that?”. Yeah! You could also use Desmos.

On to Neutrinos: Follow a straight line from the origin through a grid. At x = 3, work out the value, it’s 1.091. For radius 1/10, it’s in there, it does intersect. “The is the one thing I’ve never done in class before.” You have to make a construction and “this is hard even for grade 10.” Maybe you want to stick to the 10 by 10 grid.

Peter didn’t speak to “Transformations”, takes 2-3 weeks, it was their first one done with classes. The students like it, they thought the algebra was cool, every transformation has a matrix. (S is sine and C is cosine.) They almost always choose the algebra (over the graph) because it’s an algorithm. They don’t do square roots very much, they do decimals, even after doing Pythagorus for three years. “So I’m thinking this is more of a Grade 11.”

GRADE 11-12

On to Parabolas and lines: Secants centred at x=1 are all parallel for the parabola (not for cubic). “The d’s drop out.” Then, translating a line parallel to itself, how many parabola intersections? They need to keep track of a family of lines now. Family of curves is so important in University. “My first year students can’t do this,” they have trouble with it. They should have seen it in grade 11 [U level].

On to Water tank: Bring a soda bottle, lines on the side, hole at the base. “I converted these into heights, right.” We talk a bit about why it should be a parabola. “You need a bit of physics, I can do it with a Grade 12 calculus class. If they have physics, we can argue why it’s a parabola. Because of the potential and kinetic energy, when something falls from a certain height, when it hits the bottom the energy at the top is proportional to the square. That’s where it comes in.” (If you want an exponential curve, “Tire” activity below.) Being a parabola, it actually touches down, flow rate is zero. Plot square root of z and it’s a straight line, that’s your proof.

Problem - “This point is pulling the line down.” Clearly an outlier. There should be no water in the hole, but that’s the phenomenon of surface tension. So we take that point out, because that’s what statisticians do. (What did I grade this, grade 11? Who knows about grades.)

On to Trains: In Grade 11, there’s a small discrete section. “When I’ve talked to teachers, it’s short changed, mostly financial math, but this is too good to miss.” Recursive thinking, which is a huge part of a first year university linear algebra course. How many trains of length “n” can you build with those two kinds of cars? (Train has a front and back.) 8 trains of length 5. 13 trains of length 6. Many have seen Fibonacci, is it? Can you convince me there’s 21 trains of length 7?

You have to think about the structure of trains. “What’s in the front of the train.” The ones that start with 1 car are T6, that start with 2 cars are T5. (There’s a shift of the indexing, the fifth Fibonacci number is 5, but the 4th train number is 5.) The Fibonacci Quarterly is a whole journal devoted to these things. It’s sums of Squares property (proof turns out to be double induction), but we can think about it with trains. (“If your trains have this property, drive it over there, if not, drive it over here.” T4^2 + T5^2 = T10.) “This is not well known. ... Which amazes me.”

You’ve got to think about half a train. Can you cut all the trains in half? It’s the 2 car causing the issues. (4-2-4 no, two four trains, 5-5 yes, two five trains.) Pascal’s triangle, left justified, means the diagonals are Fibonacci numbers. “That’s very hard to prove, but you can prove it with trains.” An exercise for my first year university class. A great problem, not an easy proof otherwise. [See also Gr 12 Data Management.]

Moving on to Jacqueline and the Beanstalk. (“Grade 12 IB class, I think it belongs in Grade 12”.) Done in a calculus class, so did the separation of discrete from continuous. She climbs linearly, it grows exponentially. Put them together into a recursive formula, as she’s climbing, the beanstalk not only grows but lifts her up. “Forget the growth for the time she’s climbing, then she rests.” Distance between her and the top is a little easier to work with (it’s minus 5).

This is called the “Scholarship” problem, and you did it in Gr 11 financial math! It’s an annuity problem. You get some funding that grows at 5%, keep taking out $500 for scholarships. How much to start with, to fund “n” scholarships? Present Value. That formula’s in the ministry guidelines. P = d/(1+i) + d/(1+i)^2 + ... + d/(1+i)^n . (This Grade 12 class had forgotten whether they’d seen it or not.) Jacqueline’s climb is a withdrawal of 5 metres, seen in a new context.

(It had been over an hour and a half by now, with three problems left to look at.)


On to Optimal Driving Speed: Drive how fast to minimize fuel costs over fixed distance? “A calculus problem in my book, but we’re doing it totally graphically.” Minimize gas/km, not gas/hr, which is what’s on this axis. Slope of secant, from origin to point on graph, 50 km/hr. But when you go to Toronto, you also put a value on your time... say $6/hour, don’t give yourself too much. Now minimize (z+6)/v, intersect below. “The higher wage you want to pay yourself, the faster you’re going to drive, which makes sense.” So if you pay yourself minimum wage? (“This is a cubic curve, it goes up pretty fast.”)

On to Tire Pressure: How does pressure decrease with a slow leak? Note 400 kPa (kiloPascals) is high for a car tire, but it’s what a bicycle tire would be. This IS an exponential curve. Why? “They think that pressure is somehow pushing molecules out,” they’re thinking of a balloon. But a tire has a fixed volume, there’s no pushing. Molecules are flying around, when they hit the inside of the tire, they bounce off, when some of them hit a hole, they go out. Just the imprint of molecules that happen to be moving and happen to go through the hole.

The rate at which they leave is proportional to the number that are in the tire. “Rate is proportional to number, so it’s exponential.” The water tank [above] isn’t, something else is happening, gravity. If you took the water tank, put a cap on it and took it to outer space, would water still come out? Yes, but it would be exponential. “I’m thinking of my first year students, and what they’re weak at, and what they can’t do.”

Could use this tire pressure system to develop the logarithm. “I want to get a straight line out of this graph to check.” If you write all your data as a power of ten, then it converts, your index is linear. Multiplicative change becomes additive change. “I don’t use the word logarithm yet, I use the word index.”

On to the last task, Exponential Dice. They generate their own decay process. 50 dice, roll and take out 6s, keep going, see how the population of dice decreases over time. There’s ten experiments, all start at 50. (Get a big bag of dice online.) There’s a lot of variation in this data, we plot these. Here’s the theoretical curve I’m expecting. 50(5/6)^n. Best fit line. (I bring up the discrete/continuous issue here - where is the asymptote.)


After a brief break, Peter asked how we felt about the kinds of problems, would they work in your class, what do you need, that sort of thing. Responses included:

“I like the idea, it touches on something that’s relatively new but shouldn’t be new, called spiralling. ... we’re still using textbooks, once we start using these problems there’s a lot of potential here.”

“Students can be more engaged with some of these, there’s more thinking involved.”

“Also hinted at, for a later grade where those ideas are used and developed further, they’re great opening exercises to refresh the ideas. Wiring them up for the next step.”

“The one that resonated with was the line and the curve for Grade 9, they’ll see it again later. Reinforces a continuum.”

“Fits with the idea of low floor, high ceiling.” [Easy to explain, lots of depth.]

To bring it back to the model of the arts, in the art curriculum you start with powerful works of art that are conceptually beyond the student’s understanding. Also, “There hasn’t been nearly enough work on assessment. Christine Suurtaam is probably leading in the world on this, I definitely need help in figuring this one out.” (For the Transformations exercises, there was huge variation. Some students took it seriously, others did nothing.)

But “kids love stories. We all love stories. I’m hoping there’s a story behind all of these units.”

I stuck around for over half an hour afterwards, chatting with other teachers and the like. It’s worth noting that the 9-12 website now has additional projects on it not referenced here.

Did any of this strike a chord with you? Feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 30 August 2018

CanCon 2017: Main Post

I attended the CanCon (Canadian Content) Literature Conference in 2017... as well as in 2016, in 2015, in 2014, and in 2013. This post will chronicle my path through the 2017 convention, with a particular focus on the panels about NaNoWriMo, Magic Systems, Star Trek, and Bribery; other panels will be their own posts. Yes, as per usual, it seems to take me close to a year to have time to edit the Con files. Largely because being a teacher, it tends to be a summer affair.

First, a note about the setup this year. Con badges were Roleplay centred, much like last year, but unlike last year they were card sized, geared for Str, Dex, Int, Wis, Cha and Con only. I was Level 5 (see previous attendance) and chose to be a Bard (+1 Dex, +1 Cha). (I was a Wood Elf bard named Rolen Amastacia in a recent D&D 5th ed game, plus I have the whole math/music parody songs thing going for me.) There were still experience points based on what you did, as well as random Quests in various places around the Con (the reg desk, con suite, etc.) I’ll touch on a lot of that again at the end.

I aimed to get to the convention around 8pm Friday, after doing the usual day of teaching. My first encounter after registration was actually with the cousin of one of my students, so apparently I’m recognizable now? Go figure. Then I headed to “Countdown to NaNoWriMo”, having participated in 2016 (the year when I was off work).


There were maybe 10 other people there, plus the panelists: Kaitlin Caul, Kim McCarthy, Angela S. Stone, Helena Verdier, and Chris Kelworth as moderator. The first four are the MLs (Municipal Liaisons) for Ottawa, Chris having been an ML for Hamilton in 2012. Apparently in Hamilton they do waffles on November 30th, which was seen as being a good idea.

I don’t have a lot of notes here, but it was remarked on that Ottawa is the fourth most active NaNoWriMo in the world, behind only Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York - putting us ahead of London, England. Last year 15.3% of people reached 50,000 words. But the overall goal is really to enjoy the experience. In fact goals could be individual - like “write every day, regardless of the amount”. And if the goal isn’t motivating you, change it. The website was written up, and the forums were mentioned.

Also, 75-100k words is seen as novel length (60-75k for romance novels). I’ve written “stampede of creativity”, but am not sure if that meant the panel, or the NaNo experience. (Or both.) Helena addressed some of “how do you find time”, as she’s a full time student working part time with the government. Kaitlin has a book coming out (Black Squirrel Books, October 28th) which had a genesis in NaNo. For Angela, I’ve written “Mr. Van der Van”, which was possibly a tip for increasing word count, but I’m not certain. Kim spearheads Camp NaNos, which take place in months other than Novembers.

At the end, they had little keychains, engraved with “you fail only if you stop writing”. (For the record, I was motivated to try NaNo 2017 despite working. I put a dent in my time travel story, even though I didn’t reach the 50k.)

From there (after talking to Filk people in the hall) I went to the panel, “No, You Can’t Actually Do That With a Computer”; I semi-transcribed that one, and put it out in it’s own post. When that ended at 10pm, I went to the ConSuite, where I ended up talking some time travel with Joe Mahoney. Also saw Kari with some people, beer was spilt, I left about 10:20pm. Total for Friday, 40 XP.

On Saturday, I had to deal with some school related things (though I might have been busy with other things too, yet I recall having marking with me), arriving a little before 2pm to check the Exhibitor’s Room, then going to the 2pm panel, “They’re More Like Guidelines: Rules of Magic.” The room was full! The panelists were Kari Sperring, Gregory A. Wilson, James Alan Gardner, Amal el-Mohtar, and Violette Malan as moderator.


Violette: Should there be rules?
Amal: It depends. Need a philosophy, not “coin in the slot and magic comes out”. Versus very strict rules of contracts and exchange. “I love asking questions of your magic system?” Do you want it coherent or incoherent.
James: Do what serves the story best. Putting magic up against weird science, I have to have different characters for both. Practicing one is different, with emotional resonances.
Gregory: Agreed. The main thing you’ll hear is consistency. If the consistency is that it’s inconsistent, you need internal consistency. What system would develop from that world, or if you have the magic system first, what would be built up around one that type. Fireballs and explosions don’t work for being inconspicuous. There’s also sound based. One organically proceeds from the other.
Violette: There’s different systems in different books for Kari.
Kari: I’m the outlier here, using the early medieval period. Magic is part of how people define and explain the world. Some have to do with faith, repeatability, fear, geography... so consistency does matter, but what matters for me is that it’s coherent within the context of that character. “The right blood”, “not fully human”, “it’s the ether” depending on the character. Same weight as what people eat, or kinship systems. Ritual or willing something, it has to work in that context.
Violette: Not magic to the characters themselves, it’s their world.
Kari: Exactly.

Violette: Any issues with later books, should have done something differently earlier?
James: If it’s established, either you are consistent, or you have the holy s**t moment and the people who can “use system two” show up.
Violette: So you deal with it when it comes up.
Gregory: If you’ve developed enough weight around the system, then when it’s altered, it should have a big impact. The concern is when you are unintentionally doing that. The term coherency is a good one, dealing with circumstances when they are altered. The danger is when those shifts happen too many times. Know a bit about book two and book three to not run into this. I’m not sure you can get away with radical shifts one or two times - sure there’s some exceptions - as it begins to undercut the foundations of the world you established.
Kari: If I say “okay reader, let’s take a step and say this is not reality”, it’s an alternative, lets us suspend disbelief. If you’re a really good writer, you can step outside those rules. “We can’t fly today, because the winds are too strong.” The will to fly is undermined (British writer mentioned). Telling you about YOUR magic, not the character’s.
Gregory: I don’t know that I could go along with shifting about that rapidly.
Kari: Oh, exactly.
Gregory: But the idea of not having the will [to fly] can be built in from the beginning. It’s a character moment.
 (Some talk of things like losing strength when the sun goes down.)

Violette: Slight change of subject. Any magical systems you feel are “used up”? As in “Oh, here we go again”.
Amal: No, because I think sometimes we get a little caught up in the idea of something being played out or used up. I’m more interested in seeing the “played out thing” done super well. As far back as Terry Pratchett, we had Women’s Magic and Men’s Magic, and that to me is played out... yet reading “Uprooted” it made so much sense. It was also computer programming, resonances of code. It should have been cliche, but it wasn’t. The same things that make it “played out” is what makes it affect us when it’s done well. It takes a deliberateness and an awareness.
James: Amal mentioned “Starlight Wood”(?), and there’s fairy tales we’ve heard for hundreds of years. But we have different takes on them and on the characters.
Violette: Craft trumps cliche.
Amal: Yeah. Unfamiliar with the “Craft Sequence” series? It’s amazing. Max Gladstone, start with “Three Parts Dead”, all the titles have a number in them to show their place in chronology. But they’re all great. Premise is, a world where there were Gods, then sorcerers challenged them over the ability to do magic. And the sorcerers won, and now they’re literally lawyers. All magic is done with contracts. There’s a book where the villain is student debt, but with magic, connecting contracts to capitalism.
Violette: It’s taxing, kind of.
James: Contrast with a divine based system, and those who want to hold onto it.
Gregory: Yes, Gods are literally socialism.
Kari: And the Calvinist attitude to money.
Gregory: That is such a good point, never thought about that before.

Kari: About your basic D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) magic? If I have to read another book where wizards have to read all the spells in the morning [and forget]... you can do it if you’re David Eddings, the first, and it’s of his time. But I think it’s mechanical magic, it doesn’t have a coherence in rooted culture. The origin is Gary Gygax, and thinking what if Napoleon had magic.
Violette: It isn’t organic.
Amal: I agree with your saying it being frustrating, but there is a place where magic can be an intrusion [into the world].
Kari: Precisely, yes.
Amal: Where you have to carry the books around with you. And magic manifesting in moments of grace. I grew up with “World of Darkness”.
Kari: The many worlds hypothesis, high energy physics goes beyond comprehension. Again, it’s an intrusion, suddenly the world is overrun with elves and demons.
Amal: I was intimidated by the idea of writing SF until I read a bit of quantum physics and realized it’s basically magic.
James: Physicists, calm down.
Amal: I’m familiar with these from philosophies of magic and sympathy. It has a logic to it, at the borders of what we know. Epistemologies, systems of knowledge, how we know what we know.
At 2:25pm, the panel was opened to questions.

(About games, and game balance. Things that work well for a game, less well for storytelling?)
Gregory: Book 1 of “A Wizard of Earthsea”. Things are mundane, send rain somewhere else. Over time there is an impact, the lack of understanding of consequences and gradual growing awareness. (Ged, a teen with more or less a tactical nuke on an island.) When in fact the *greater knowledge you have, the LESS you can do, because there’s a greater impact on the world*.

(Magic as intrusion again, Council of Wizards effect.)
James: That’s something we haven’t talked about. Magic sometimes creates the Mages College, and social structures. Itself a source of story or commentary.
Gregory: It goes back to asking those questions. Rules that exist of magic, versus rules we impose to control magic we already possess. Cultural requirements.
Kari: Wizards trying to get rid of environmental protection laws.
Amal: Dislocating, consider new technologies before we took them for granted. Treating the act of reading as magical and disruptive. People who could inscribe runes - it was magic because it was writing, not because it was runes. Been reading articles written about the internet in the early 1990s. Some utopian views, some dystopian, who got it right, who didn’t, leads to alternate histories.
James: Real life magic as psychological technologies. You have a funeral, and now you’re confident that granddad will go to heaven.
Kari: Witch wars, and hexes, and curses, and she says “oh stop it”. We have this terrible tendency if we’re white and western to think it’s something we’ve grown out of.

(Thinking of power structures. Who gets to control magic may not be the wizards.)
Kari: Mages enslaved by elves, and controlled because of their power, and tied to vampirism.
Amal: People who rescue the world over and over are enslaved.
Violette: And pariahs.
Amal: The “Broken Earth” Trilogy by Jemisin.
James: They sit at the sweet spot between Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Amal: Starts out with magic working a certain way, and you change it, she does it brilliantly. It’s thermodynamics and then something they call “magic” comes out instead.
Gregory: For broken Gods, “The House of Shattered Wings” is an example. Angels fallen, and power is used by gangs in Paris.
Kari: And there are dragons.

(Larry Niven’s “The Magic Goes Away”, magic as a non renewable resource.)
Amal: Kind of a spoiler, Mishell Baker’s “Borderline”. The second book’s even better. Very drawn out of “Changeling: The Dreaming”, gorgeous prose, there’s reveals about magic in the first book that brings in an ethical question of using magic at all. Deftly done. Protagonist is a bisexual women with borderline personality disorder, having lost her legs, who uses prosthetics.
Kari: A book where the cost of magic is blood, it’s old. Mages have to bleed themselves dry to do magic. It’s a scary world.
Amal: Or magic done by taking yourself as close to death as possible.
Gregory: Costs of magic and collateral damage - and ethical systems. That’s also important. At it’s worst, D&D doesn’t do enough of that, not enough of a cost. More is needed to give it weight, to have it matter when people do something.

(Seeing magic is tech, or as a nebulous thing - versus thinking of magic as craft or art, a creative making process?)
Amal: Brings to mind Mary Robinette books, “Glamourist Histories”. There’s an overlap there between tech and craft, they’re more connected than we say. Playing pianoforte is important. Manipulating shadows and light, it’s a gendered thing, pretty when a woman does it but art and tech when a man does it.
Gregory: Two things come to mind. First, being able to break it down by strings of notes, “Swann’s Way”(?). Marcel Cruz for pages, sense of music is indistinguishable from magic. Second, we talked about “Shadowshaper”, using street art and graffiti one can draw spirits from the walls. The better artist you are, the more capable you are of controlling them and understanding what you’re looking it. White male industrialists challenge something like this.
James: The second book starts to bring in other systems.
Gregory: Haven’t read it, sorry.
James: The shadow shaping latino community, and other ways of approaching magic.
Amal: I think at the end of the first, she starts recruiting, and her friends find other ways, and it’s all connected to art. Channeling the spirits is an act of resistance to dominant paradigms.
Gregory: I would make the argument, as I do with my students, that freestyle rap for them is magical. Not hyperbole, it’s a challenging that draws on strengths from classical music.
Kari: The British graphic novelist Terry Gilliam. Every 90 years, a group of Gods reincarnate in young people aged 12-20, and after 3 years they will all be dead. They’re a part of the subculture and counterculture, very gender fluid.

Violette: We are technically out of time. Last observations?
James: I will say that resonance is important. Archetypes and rap, what it means to practitioners, some sort of passion.
Kari: If it feels comfortable when you’re writing, you’re probably on the right track. So you’re not going “hang on a minute, where did he get this from”.
Gregory: Also as an act of will.


When that panel ended, I went to “What Makes Romantic Chemistry Between Characters?”. It was even more full (a couple people on the floor). I transcribed that one a bit better, and have separated it into its own post. Following that, at 4pm, I went to a Reading. It was Robert J. Sawyer, followed by Eric Choi.

Robert has published 23 novels since 1990, and was reading from his 24th. It’s in progress, the working title is “Tube Alloys”, the code name of the British/Canada programme to develop nuclear weapons during World War II. Robert’s applied 12 times for a Canada Council Grant, always mentioning Science Fiction. All - or most - characters are real people, the premise of the novel being an extrapolation from a pivot point. When people left the Manhattan Project to teach in September, there were issues like the fundamental instability of fusion in the sun, destroying us in 100 years. He’s researched, knowing things like the term “luminaries” for physicists, considerations when the Germany target became Japan, and Oppenheimer losing security clearance. He read three sample passages.

Eric (“how about that for an opening act”) spoke a bit about quantum computing and encryption, as background for his short story. There’s the idea that someone tomorrow could crack security (even without quantum computing), and then everything would be known stretching back into the past. D-Day was Decryption Day. His story (“Decrypted”, which appeared in Analog Science) looks at the effects on one individual, and includes some subtle details, like the restoration of the postal service (can’t trust online anymore).

At 5pm, I went to Trek Out with Robert J Sawyer & Steven Erikson.

Early on in the panel, it was mentioned that “If you only gave us more we’d watch” is not true, as “Star Trek Continues” (web series) has professional actors and episodes that are free. On the 18th of October, the first of the two-hour long finale episodes debut, which Robert J. Sayer wrote. Robert mentioned the first episode of Trek he saw wasn’t first run, it was “Devil in the Dark”, the Horta. When they went off the air, it was syndicated 5 times a week.

What do you love about it? The presentation of humanity in the future, being better than we are now. Which is something the series has moved away from; watching “The Orville” these days is more respectful and reminiscent of the original series than Discovery, or even the penultimate movie (Star Trek: Into Darkness). A mistake, letting the cynicism of modern age infuse Trek. (Robert thinks Yes.)

Robert mentioned how he had the dual identity of Spock in the 60s, American and Canadian, feminist mother and father who believed in inclusivity. “I did love Lost in Space when I was young but have come to appreciate how truth to power the show was.” Kirk has become a parody of a womanizer, he was never that. Fourth episode, “Naked Time”, start of women’s liberation and civil rights. Riley is going “one more time” on the comm, Kirk goes to Uhura, “Try to shut him off!”. Captain in position of rank, superior as a white man and physically bigger and looming over her. She yells back at him, “If you think I could do something...”. What they’d would dismiss as uppity, and Kirk’s next line is “Sorry”. He was in the wrong. Forget what you thought were the power dynamics. What matters is, if you’ve been a dick, you apologize for being a dick. In 30 seconds, aspirational.

Steven asks, so what happened to Star Trek? Robert feels it lost it’s way, the motion picture was the last time Roddenberry had any real say. But, Steven points out, Roddenberry insisted on no real conflict on the Enterprise, which unplugged dramatic potential. The outsider became the threat, and that notion of the outside threat begins to permeate everything else. No Kirk and McCoy, or McCoy and Spock having different world views clashing. Robert remarks that Roddenberry did have Alzheimer’s.

Steven’s favourite episode of the original series was the one with Balok, “Corbomite Maneuver”. (First one actually filmed after pilots.) Robert’s was the one with Flint, “Requiem for Methuselah”. He thinks the single best scene was at the end, Kirk is demoralized, destroyed emotionally, and has summed himself up with enormous candour to Flint. He’s not a womanizer, he’s a lonely sad man, and he admits it in front of the only person he could, Spock. And the scene continues, McCoy comes in, eternal triangle, then Spock performs the ultimate act of love, leans in and says ‘Forget’. Taking on, or relieving his friend’s pain. Great scene for all characters, including McCoy with the soliloquy about love. (Written by Jerome Bixby.)

Steven adds that “Corbomite” embodied everything that Star Trek would become, an outside force that was threatening, and when you meet it, it’s a benign alien entity. Friendly first contact, that’s fantastic. Original series optimism. “That’s what I regret the loss of.” At least we’re getting the Klingon point of view now, but it is the great enemy, the unknown. They talk a bit about William Shatner, and how he was the only cast member to win an Emmy, for “Boston Legal”.

Steven asks for Robert’s thoughts on “Star Trek: Discovery”?
Robert: “I love it. There are enough little nods to the original series that make me think they know what they’re doing. I think Michael Burnham will turn out to be Pike’s “Number One”, and from DS9, when Kor, Kang and Koloth show up they were seeking the Albino - Voq?
Steven: “You know about the spores? We’ve already got holographic communication, my suspicion is those spores are going to force a retrograde of technology, to return things [to TOS]. I may be wrong.”
Robert: “The clue you’re right, is [in the intro] they show you the blueprints of the ship, and a phaser from Pike’s era which had three turrets at the front, and a communicator. We’re heading in the right direction. I’m trusting these guys, I’ll be furious if they don’t.”

From the audience, thoughts about the controversy on “Voyager”.
Robert: “I love Kate Mulgrew, I loved her from Mrs. Columbo before. But Voyager did not work for me. Ultimately I loved Robert Picardo, a little one note in the first season, and Jeri Ryan. The rest of the cast actively irritated me, particularly Paris.”
Steven: “Oh yeah.”
Robert: “I’m sure it’s the writing. Robert Beltran famously would curse out the writers on the sound stage. And Neelix, I would have let him off at the first airlock. I liked every character on DS9, sometimes good scripts, sometimes not, but formula got established - seven main characters.”
Steven: “I liked Voyager, but it frustrated the hell out of me. You set out these two groups, with Maquis, that’s where drama comes from. But no, it became the usual group hug of command. But the potentials of it, and some eps were phenomenal - the Saurian species.”
Robert: “Stolen from my novel ‘Fossil Hunter’. I love Brannon Braga, we worked on Flashforward, but man, when I saw that... I got fewer emails when I won the Hugo than “Did you see Voyager that night?”.”
Steven: “Not an uncommon story, the amount of theft. Like Kes and Ocampa. One person noticed a pile of scripts, looked at the first, top page was ripped off. Realized it was one of his clients, they’re stealing the entire script... calling them out on it to pay the writer. It was appalling.”
Robert: “Appalling. But Voyager had it’s merits, even if it’s the least attractive ship.”
(Kaitlin in audience remarks that “The Orville” ship was based on it.)

From the audience, a remark on Starfleet in DS9’s “In the Pale Moonlight” to the new “Discovery”.
Robert: There’s a real ambiguity about whether Star Trek is military or not. Sometimes Kirk says he’s a solider, other times it’s not a military ship. So, wars, Xindi war in Enterprise, and now this one in Discovery. What would Trek be like in wartime, not peace time? Reason I’m keen on it in Discovery is, Burnside has stood up and said she’s lived by Starfleet principles and will die by them. She’s fighting the battles the whole ship used to fight.

From the audience, about the new reboot movies.
Steven: I liked the first reboot movie. I thought Karl Urban [McCoy] was fantastic. Less so the Spock character.
Robert: I like Quinto.
Steven: “They wrote Spock out of Spock. He’s a treacherous guy who puts bombs on shuttles when Khan is not actually... everything about that second film is infuriating. Hollywood seemed utterly obsessed with creating echoes of the twin towers coming down, now superhero films and Trek involve massive destruction of landscape and cities where you don’t see the bodies. Almost a whitewashing of the image that repeats, perhaps to desensitize the viewers. ... And where did the science go, it’s just disappeared.”
Robert: I’m not averse to recasting, was done on “Star Trek Continues”. And who’s your favourite Sherlock Holmes, mine is Jeremy Brett. Why should Star Trek be the one where you can’t recast it? ... [and] of course we want better [bridge] screens, we can build them now.
Steven: I love the notion of rebooting.

There was more back and forth with audience members about JJ Abrams wanting to make Star Wars not Trek, and that the new movies hadn’t earned the Kirk-Spock relationship. Robert agreed with that.
Robert: The question people always ask is “what’s the tone of the show”. Define it in one or two words. “Dark, cynical, edgy, romantic” ... Trek is sometimes dark and edgy, sometimes light and funny, sometimes an action adventure, sometimes a moral story. An anthology. You can recognize an episode title because each is so different from the other. With Battlestar Galactica, they’re all so unrelentingly similar.
Steven: It’s true, it allows the writers to have room to do stuff. If everything’s being channelled into a particular tone or atmosphere, it limits writers. Networks thought they had the power, but didn’t, Roddenberry was often winning his arguments. And paying for it later.

Robert brings up Stan Robinson, in first generation of African American executives. As the network exec for the first two years, Stan “got” Star Trek and wouldn’t let them be lazy about it. “The disconnect the audience had with The Motion Picture is that Roddenberry spent 10 years telling people his version of the future, and lack of conflict, and when he made it, where’s the space battles.” Roddenberry had convinced himself of his own truth.

It’s like Brian Williams’s tale from Vietnam, every time you tell a story, you reinvent it, that’s how memory works, and twenty years later, Brian was in the helicopter shot down, not in the one watching it get shot down. “Roddenberry forgot all the things he didn’t want to remember.”

I chimed in here! I asked about their opinions on the Trek Animated Series.
Steven: Here’s the thing wrong with that. 16 episodes in the first series and 8 in the second. Eliminate the ones that are direct sequels or direct remakes - “How Sharper” is a remake of “Requiem” - and you have very little that’s new and fresh. The bit that was, was significant... in Star Trek Discovery, they’re still playing off of DC Fontana’s “Yesteryear”, Spock being young. Though there’s a third kind that you kind of have to dismiss - “An episode where someone becomes a giant/everyone becomes old/becomes tiny/young/a monster”, these are are things we can do cheaply in animation, but this is not justification for a story. Should have said “what should season four look like”, not “how can we nostalgically look back”.

From the audience, Star Trek as propaganda machine?
Steven: Efficacious.
Robert mentions the Tricorder XPRIZE, a contest for a device that had to identify three specific medical conditions plus one more from a list, without breaking the skin. No blood samples, etc. The prize was a million dollars, the winners, it cost more than that to make.
Steven: Many things were production solutions to things we couldn’t afford to do.
Robert: You could not show a hypodermic needle breaking the skin in the 60s. Rigid code, people were squeamish. So air-spray hypo came from that.

An audience member adds, people at NASA who were recruited by Nichelle Nichols.
Robert: Absolutely. Minority recruiter. Soviets had the first woman in 1965, but never in United States, not even someone who was not Christian. By 1980s, everyone realized what a mistake that was. Nichelle was hired with a mandate for reaching out, come be part of the journey.
Mae Jemison mentioned, first African American woman in space, had a TNG cameo as a transporter officer.

Steven: So if you’re 9-10 years old now, and watching Trek now, is that going to have the same effect? I wonder. I wonder if that dark vision [of Discovery] is too nihilistic or dystopian. As opposed to inspiring a sense of wonder. I think “The Orville” will do it more.
Robert: “Orville” does have that spirit. Seth MacFarlane is the star but Brannon Braga runs the room.
An audience member says they see the new Discovery series as hopeful.
Robert: You and I were separated at birth, my friend, I will gladly take on your katra when you die. Here it is: 15 episodes of Discovery, we’ve had 4. If it’s the “Doomsday Machine” writ large, we’re at the point where Kirk says to Decker, “There is no fourth planet.” & “Don’t you think I know that? There was!”. It’s dark as hell half of the way through that episode. At the end, Kirk is saying it’s the first time a nuclear device has been used for peaceful purposes. If they don’t, I’m falsely predicting an ending, but I think that’s what we’re going to get.

A final question about favourite captain had Robert say “James Tiberius Kirk”. Steven adding that Scott Bakula is a really cool guy, and given a chance, “Enterprise” could have done amazing things.

I ran briefly into my friend Scott as I headed out; the ConSuite was closed for an appointment, Exhibitor’s Room was closed too, so I did a couple more Quests in the entryway and left a bit after 6pm. One quest gave me +5 XP, to go along with the +20 I’d amassed from two other quests. Total XP on Saturday of 155.


Sunday I got there as things were starting up at 10am, partly for the panels, partly because I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself in the afternoon worrying about things that needed to get done. (Were progress reports due for the first time since I returned to work maybe?)

I went to “Snakes and Ladders of Self-Publishing” at 10am, which was a panel of four, and then “The Writing Life: Past, Present and Future” at 11am, which was a panel of one, that being Robert J. Sawyer. I’ve put both of those panels into a separate post.

The last panel I attended was “Anatomy of bribe: What every writer needs to know about bribery and corruption”, a presentation by Sergeant Pat Poitevin. One of those things that might be useful to know to keep up with Scott Delahunt’s serial story “Unruly”, featuring a school that caters to those sorts of people.

Pat Poitevin noted that he was a sergeant as of 2 weeks ago, with 35 years of experience, the last six years specializing in anti-corruption. It’s a “passion of mine”, subject matter. Everyone here has seen a lot of headlines, can’t read a paper, see Donald Trump, without thinking of lack of ethics. So corruption is rampant. When we think about corruption, we think of what?

Can start with grand corruption. In Russia and Turkey, it’s embedded from the political sphere, it’s systemic. “Grand Corruption” involves everything that transpires within an organization/country. And Canada is not immune to this. Transparency International (TI) have a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) every year, rating countries on how likely it is for a person going to that country to be asked for a bribe. Businesses, people, and organizations look at these metrics to determine the risk. (Holds up page) This map is too small, but is basically red everywhere except a few places, which is high corruption. Shows it’s incipient everywhere. Sometimes very overt, sometimes very hidden. How do you define it? What would you define it as?
(Audience offers some answers)

Someone profiting from not doing their job, that’s one. Bending rules everyone else has to follow, influencing outcomes for benefit of one or both parties... There’s institutions, politicians, public servants who have authority over a process. There’s rules, corruption is for a business to get a personal benefit that others would not get in a fair and balanced, level playing field. It’s to force a person of authority to do something or NOT to do something to benefit an organization/company.

An executive wants to get a contract, they go to a public official, and depending on amount (could be minister if it’s millions, or lower functionary if less), they pay or give benefits to obtain that contract against all other bidders. When best quality and price should win. I’m not saying he’s corrupt, but he wants a contract, I’m a public official, I’ve got a wife, three girlfriends, you think I’ll do it for $20? The other two contractors had better services, but he gets it, and the product sucks. Other companies lose, he stole it, but who pays the price? If it’s building a bridge or a high-rise, to make up money [from low bid] what does he have to do? Inferior materials, pays vendors or pays engineer to look away from stuff he’s not putting in.

Corruption is theft of business opportunity. Is that just in money? What is a bribe to you? That’s what I’m looking for. It’s not just about exchange of money, dark glasses and a bag. You still have that, yes, but a lot of the time now, electronics through cyberspace and bitcoin, it’s not just about money. An example, you come to me as a contractor, you got a great service that my country wants. I need the bridge to be built, but what happens is it’s supposed to be a million, it costs ten million, so now a hospital isn’t being built. You come to me, you’re from Canada, and I have a son/daughter who are university age, and you have good universities there. Through your company, you’re sponsoring me, I still get a benefit.

An interesting case, Griffiths Energy, is public domain. Was in oil and gas. They went to the Chad ambassador in Washington, can you help me, I want a concession there. They sit down, you’re going to have to help us help you. Started a consulting firm, the President happens to be my cousin, don’t worry about that, I want the contract. Chad ambassador says he will set up the company, pay me 2 million up front and 20 million shares of the company. Is this illegal? He’s the ambassador. Lawyer from the company said he can’t do that, so within 24 hours, changed it to the Ambassador’s wife. Now it’s indirect, so the owner of the company said good. Then company owner dies.

Griffiths Energy now under new management, they want an IPO (Initial Public Offering), need to open the books, what do they find? A bribe. They call us, providing all the information, want the market to know that WE’RE clear, we’re ethical. (Company giving us the info usually doesn’t happen because of lawyers declaring privilege. Lasts 5-7 years, an international corruption investigation, versus this one that came to us on a silver platter.) Issue: Payer is dead, do have Chad ambassador. There was an agreement. Under Corruption Foreign Officials Act, all I have to prove is that you as an owner have a “success fee” (a bribe). That is the offence, we don’t have to prove the money was exchanged, just that you agreed it would be paid.

When we do a search, we take everything. Maybe not your dog, but your computers, phones, records, interviews. If there’s unethical executives and you’re employees, and you see the RCMP come in, you’re afraid. I just say “you going down for them?”. They’ll talk to you. We don’t know the lay of the land yet, have no bias against the company. They need to be clean for an IPO or the market will tank them.

Here, they pled guilty, and because they cooperated, it was a 10 million dollar fine and they show implementing controls. Griffiths Energy Company was bought out, worth billions now, so it paid off to come forwards. Dead owner was under the bus. The Chad Ambassador we went after for proceeds of crime. For 5 years, your fancy cars and trips, we assess all this - 20 million or 50 million on top of the initial bribe. So, is it worth it for them? No, but it’s a risk management, it takes time for us. I can tell you that a very large number (a majority) of people want to make things right. They’re employees like you, looking at consequences and cost, and at night want to tell their kids about making things right. But, still a high number focussed on money, those are ones we’re after.

In a marketplace where competition is twisted due to corruption, the ones that lose call the RCMP. Because of internet, and social media, and the millennial generation, for young people there’s a sense of justice out there. It’s more in public eye. Civil society’s pushing back on it. It’s easier for us to get information, harder for corrupt officials to hide, because Twitter and Facebook are amazing. They’re more and more under the light.

But the ones holding the light are getting shot, like in Turkey. ... So it’s dangerous to speak out. Difficult. But in terms of authors? Think of the sense of drama. The storyline coming from there, it’s organized crime with a $5000 Armani suit.


Question: The case with the Ambassador, still in that position - what if he wasn’t. Protected position?
Response: It doesn’t matter, no. The only thing to change would be our ability to get information from that country. A high level public official sitting in a government that’s in place, it’s hard for us to get info from authorities, they’re protecting their own. We have to vette certain things - we can’t trust it, must be confirmed. If opposition now in place, we get the information the next day. Ambassador, I think he’s in London now, and all assets are frozen. Asset recovery is a big problem still. Canada is backwards in terms of transparency, shell company and shelf companies.

Clarification: Shell company, you can go online right now and start one within 15 minutes to hide your money. Is there a valid reason to have an anonymous company? Yes, in terms of negotiations, to buy out someone else. If you know you’re dealing with a big conglomerate like IBM, money goes up. A shelf company is different, it’s established by same law firm, but has directors and meeting minutes. All bogus. Can seem six years old, can demonstrate to regulators that there’s board meetings, give a sense of legitimacy if I do a limited background check. This is where the drama comes in, the plot or twist. It is the technique used to hide the money, and sophistication in approaching someone for a bribe. It’s not, I want $4000 every week. (Same account? Thank you.)

The approach now is more sophisticated. To say it overtly, it’s illegal, and it is surreptitious too, they don’t want to be seen. “There’s three other companies that want this, that guy brought me a coffee.” We have fees, it’s very complex, I’m very very busy, but might help you - success fee, or I have this great charity that helps build schools and hospitals, if you want to contribute. What is the name of that charity? My Vacation Fund. They hide, they don’t usually come in and say “give me money”, very seldom there’s an email “we want a bribe”. The vast majority of the time you never use that word, it’s a business transaction, “It’s just the way we do business”.

(Audience member asks about splitting a company into two to get away from corruption, Pat says he’ll come back to that.)

Question: How often is it dealing with corruption where it’s more a private citizen? Someone wants into a hospital.
Response: Those are “Facilitation payments”, it’s “B to B” or “business to business” corruption, as what you’re talking is still called commissions. No country in the world has bribery being legal. Now, is it acceptable, a part of daily life? Yes. Small “petty corruption”, versus political corruption, which is a minister or middle level people who can circumvent laws. Or bigger is rewriting laws. Petty is more the lower level, functionaries who give out licenses.

Licenses cost $50 or $200, but what does it say about the institution? If you have to do this whenever you want a permit? In India, $50 is months of salary. It’s not acceptable, it perpetuates, and it’s changing very, very slowly. The domino effect, if you start here, with a culture of corruption, a school can’t be built. The funds are going to the pockets of the elite, or it’s no longer in the budget, or you’re spending 10 times what it’s supposed to cost.

I go to other countries because their population is sick and tired of it. To get a job in India, you need to pay a bribe just to enter the building. The pay is so low that they can’t feed their kids. It’s easy to blame them for being corrupt, but the system is such that they don’t have a choice. I don’t blame them, they’re tired of living in that environment. Buying yourself into the police or a judge, then going to a sergeant and paying him to get choice spot on the highway where you can stop people to ask for bribes, that’s the reality. How can we help you? We’re not perfect, but we are more transparent. With US in the dumps, now Canada is being asked to help other countries. There’s many that do want to change.

In terms of stories, whether it’s in Canada or outside, business is now global, a global economy. Must accommodate for this, to send services or goods, via Amazon or other ways, we need to have a more level playing field. It’s a collective effort, not just by police. To investigate we need information, and if you’re not trained to recognize it, you won’t be able to tell us. Starts with education. “This is what it is, and this is what it does.”

Money sent to acquire baby monitors or other items that save lives, they checked it, it was in reality for a table like this, and a lamp. Where did the money go, raised by people like you? That’s what happens with corruption. There’s even genocide related to corruption. In Congo, called “Democratic”, there’s nothing democratic there. It’s a clan that gets the money, the pockets of the elite, and when a Canadian company goes in with a contract, paying a bribe, they perpetuate that. I have a problem with it, and so do you.

Canada controls 70% of the mining in the world. Along with Australia, we’re the best. In the past, a lot was unethical, mom and pop shops whose dream it was to be bought out by big guys. Need more transparency, money from the government has to be published, so at least the population is aware. And all G20 companies except China and Russia do this. I work with companies, health and safety is becoming daily lingo. We need to build trust for sustainability, and when we leave, you have a benefit for education.

Question: Is that coming out of Canada or society?
Response: Both. Companies understand that they need a corporate license to operate, a CSR license (Corporate Social Responsibility). At the PDAC (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada) conference every year, I go in a red RCMP outfit with a stetson and ask CEOs, “What do you do to mitigate corruption?”. Most of them say this and that, or if they don’t, I say here’s what we can do. “We can’t afford —“ “No, you can’t afford not to. You don’t want me knocking on your door.”

There’s still a couple people, like operating in Congo, who say it’s just the way we do things. I’m a mountie, they don’t take it seriously! Still have work to do. But the companies will never be bought out or have a merger. Big ones won’t want to touch them, they’re stupid, and I tell them so. We’re trying to change things. [Connection to splitting a company above?]

Question: People with instant tickets. More your department, or up to the top?
Response: No, in the past we had units with no transparency or accountability. Unit was successful, so many arrests, can’t do that any more. Do we have crooked cops? Yes, like any country. If I find one, he or she will have huge trouble with everyone else. The acts of one reflect on everyone else, I hate it with a passion. Does it happen? Can’t eradicate it, same with murders, child molestation. But more checks and balances.

And why threaten my career because you’re greedy and stupid? If I see it, you’re going down. So in our country versus Indonesia, somewhere I’m well paid with good pension compensation, there’s no motivation to do this. But gambling problems or greed comes in, so from a story perspective, you can consider that. Mental health issues, PTSDs with first responders... my wife [Linda], an award winning writer, was a dispatcher of the RCMP. First two years, I was street undercover, I wasn’t there. But she understood, having had experience.

Question: What about money for a foundation?
Response: There’s a difference between lobbying, which is open, and corruption. In Canada, it’s much better controlled than in the US. Still, there’s problems, look at BC. But lobbying is okay, you can lobby me, anyone can lobby their MP... if it makes sense, lobby. It’s if it’s in a back room, not transparent, and this decision would not have been made unless this person/MP received a benefit, it’s corrupt. “Citizens United” in the USA [a nonprofit seeking limited government] say any company can give money in secrecy, don’t need to be accountable. It’s legalized political corruption.

Question: Didn’t you say bribery wasn’t legal anywhere?
Response: Because it’s part of the system, it’s not considered in the same vein. We see it as corrupting, but it is a political decision, an institutional decision. Once a senator is elected, the next week they’re on phone to get money for their next campaign. There’s rooms where senators are supposed to spend 3 hrs a day getting money for campaigns.

Question: On the nature of humanity?
Response: I should be the biggest pessimist, but I’m not. I also work with young people, at universities, a program called Global Anti-Corruption. I talk to millennials, I lecture, ask who wants to work with SNC (when in media), and no one raised their hand. I look at the change in mentality around the world, with our young people demanding things to be ethical. Because I have friends on social media in Congo. Be careful with millennials, they’re smart. I say, if you’re you’re not ethical, and there’s no ways to report unethical behaviour, they call me. If they do, you’ve failed. When I go to Columbia, Indonesia, I see the change.

But it’s not linear. It’s up and down. And shit happens. But civil society is creating momentum, raising awareness and consciousness. We don’t want to be messed up because our Brand gets mixed up. Collapsed building in Bangladesh, 1400 people died. No one paid a bribe, but they didn’t do due diligence on the supply chain, someone looked away when they added two stories. Boom, when it came out, Loblaws stock tanked, they were boycotted, paid millions of dollars to deal, all despite never paying a bribe. Hit their Brand.

Question: And the VW (Volkswagen) emissions scandal?
Response: Corrupt conduct, corruption is at the source of all human ills. It feeds and fuels terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, everything is based on corruption. So if we don’t deal with that conduct, we won’t be able to change. It’ll take time. In Canada we don’t have the ability to have info on shell companies. Huge problem, we’re criticized, we can’t just criticize other people.

Question: What of the plight of whistleblower? Blackballed?
Response: It’s a problem that exists everywhere right now. It’s getting better slowly and slowly. In Canada, we have protection for federal public services, but nothing specific. There’s a criminal code offence, so if you’re a CEO of a company who threatens an employee, I can charge you. Never seen a charge laid, but we have it. The life of the whistleblower is destroyed, we don’t have legislation for proaction, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has criticized us for it. How can we criticize someone with ethics, when they have a mortgage, and will never be working in their field again.

The best companies have the best whistleblowing programs. Ninety percent of the calls is human relations issues, but it means people trust the system. By dealing with things openly and quickly to give trust to employees on small things, like culture or racism, can then trust on bigger issues. It’s not just about control and laws and politics. If you incentivize, “I want that contract”, get someone like me coming in and saying ethics. If sales manager says “we suck because we didn’t meet profit, I don’t care how you make the next contract”, the talk is out the window. If that same manager says “we’re going to do better this month, remember who we are and what we stand for”, it changes the mindset a bit.

We can have the best controls, but if not the proper culture, it’s zero. That’s basically it. Could talk for hours, I’m passionate, but look to storylines of individuals. Death, murder, mayhem it’s all connected, people want to protect their interest. “Thank you. I’ll take your payments before you leave.”

With that having wrapped up just after 12:50, I dashed up to the Consuite for one more adventure before the doors closed for an event. Then a last one by the elevators (failed that one too) before my 1:05pm departure. Sunday XP was only 45.

So, final total of 240 XP. Points that came from passing quests were #1 (Hurricane Marie), #9 (Murderer), #12 (It’s a Trap) and #16 (Wounded). Quests I failed were #2 (Storm the Castle), #5 (Sicilian vs Poison - but after failing I was OK), #6 (Excalibur, both fails), #7 (Sing for Supper), #10 (Wretched Hive), #13 (Snakes), #14 (Grimoire), #15 (Zombies), #18 (Story Pitch, lost charisma), #19 (Crippled God) and #20 (Windigo, lost HP). I never tracked down #3, #4, #8, #11 or #17. I must say, I do like that some quests involved multiple paths (else I’d have failed #16) or a second outcome (like #5), but you really had to roll high. (It’s about attrition.)

And that was my CanCon 2017 experience. For more reading, you can have a look at my previous years of CanCon posts, or the serial I update twice per month, or my webcomic archive. A reminder that attributions/quotations may have errors due to my typing speed, so don’t take them as fact, and mind the context. If you have something to add, do leave a comment for me! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

CanCon 2017: Romantic Tension

This is a recap of the popular panel “What Makes Romantic Chemistry Between Characters?”, which took place during CanCon 2017 (Oct 13-15) at 3pm on Saturday. The description (as read again by Kelly) says “Most writers, no matter the genre, at some time need to create romantic chemistry between two characters, whether this will be consummated or remain as ships passing in the night. The panel of writers will use examples from their own published works, as well as positive and negative examples from TV and movies, to analyze romantic chemistry.”

A reminder that while I may have missed my calling as a courtroom stenographer, I have no recording to double check here, and mistakes happen. The panelists were Jessica Ripley, Julie E. Czerneda, Jamieson Wolf, Jennifer Carole Lewis, and Kelly Robson (as moderator). We begin with introductions. (Sorry, I have no good picture of the panelists this time.)


Jessica: Jessica, member of Ottawa Romance Writers Association (ORWA), recommends joining. Reads contemporary and historical, some paranormal, doesn’t write it so well.
Julie: Julie, who writes SciFi/Fantasy, and there’s a lot of tension making life interesting. Procreation is a good thing, surprised to be on this panel.
Jamieson: Jamieson, author of 45 other romance novels. Has dealt with characters finding love and in different ways, men who flee but can’t help but succumb.
Julie: Your very first panel?
Jamieson: Yes it is.
Jennifer: Jennifer, who writes a series about a secret society of superheroes among us. Has goodie bags.
Kelly: Kelly Robson, from Toronto, as the moderator, read out the description.

Kelly: First question, your first ship? Acknowledging it’s non-gender, in work or in life.
Jessica: My first was, I don’t recall their names, the two Fraggles in Fraggle Rock. Red and the main one.
Julie: I think Tarzan and Jane. The ones where they get away. In the first book, Tarzan meets Jane, he’s heir to a fortune, the cousin gets it all and Jane leaves him. But, desperately missed opportunity! I wrote my own story, then my dad got me the second book, where of course they do get together.
Jamieson: Buttercup and Wesley from Princess Bride. I love their story. But as a young gay boy, I kept wishing for Indigo Montoya with him.
Jennifer: Mine involves the X-Men, because I despised Jean Grey and thought she wasn’t worthy of Wolverine. Created my own character, that’s how I started writing, doing fanfic. Getting further and further from the initial universe, and a friend said “This is almost an original book now”.

Kelly: Tell us your best love story. Pairing, and what gives it romantic tension.
Jennifer: Can I weasel a bit and say I have a tie in my work? First book and third book. A deliberate role reversal, where heroine is the dark, brooding, protective one, and hero is more emotionally connected, as a therapist and comic book geek. Then in the third, another ship issue - I will date myself right now, Jem and the Holograms. One thing that pissed me off is “Rio loves me, he can tell who I am” - no, he’s cheating on you, honey. So I have a shapeshifter who falls in love, but feels tortured about it.
Jamieson: Blaine and Justin in “Lust and Lemonade”. Male-Male romance was traditionally a broken man finding love, not wanting it, but eventually welcoming it. This was where a character was terrified of love but went for it, saying “I’m worthy of it”. Little to no drama, not running for their lives, it’s just men falling in love and being wise enough.
Julie: I wish more books would do that. Mine’s from “In the Company of Others”, a scientist from Earth arrives from a space station, society’s on hold. With an alien form of life, he cannot bear to touch, due to nerve pain. I wanted a scene, they fall in love, want to have sex, and this is the problem - they can’t physically touch. Best sex scene I’ve written, and nothing happens, because that’s tension. The longing is there. I look back on it and I’m proud of it.
Jessica: Best in mine is unpublished. Background characters in my small town, they’re finally together, and not sure if it’ll turn into anything, but it took a while. Both kinda weird and nerdy, there were barriers, parents, location, and they worked and worked. The chemistry never fell away. Overcoming so much. Now, they’re background, people can look and say that’s what I want eventually.

Kelly: So there’s a barrier or a distance. Physical or psychological.
Jennifer: Friction creates chemistry.
Julie: I’m shaking my head simply because I finished the 9 book series. [Ed- Clan Chronicles, possibly?] Romantic tension is part is part of 3 books, maybe, then it’s a happy couple doing their best. Not enough deep friendships and normal pairings. It’s sensuous as all get out, but it’s a cornerstone, a bastion of strength, and I think that can work in good fiction.
Kelly: Is there still tension at that point, after they get together?
Jessica: The JD Robb series, detective cop in the near future. Not primarily romance, it’s a sub genre, can still have tension because she’s having a bad case or he’s off planet. Romance itself, since no barriers, isn’t the main genre.
Jamieson: All have romantic tension at the beginning, some characters are not truthful, but then I’m driven to focus on what two characters together will be like. Romantic chemistry is good to a point, then explore it in a deeper way.
Jennifer: I think there’s a difference between romantic passion and deeper chemistry. Can transmute one into the passion and loving, but not the same formula, it’s something different. From mixing flour and eggs, to having a cake. To tell a story, you still need tension. You’ve gotta earn that happy ending.

Kelly: Techniques for planning? How to make it happen, alchemy?
Jessica: Can’t recall the author but “Romancing the Beat” [Gwen Hayes], the “beat cue”. Something memorable, kinda quirky, kinda funny... telling grandkids how we met. Can’t be walking down the street, then need an alien out of a wormhole to make it memorable.
Julie: Mine is other stories where romance is what makes it more human - or less, depending on what I want.
Kelly: B-story?
Julie: No, about SF, there were women as victims, sex as a weapon, things I didn’t enjoy. I go to a dance, I look around, people look for connections to make, I see it as part of my world building. Not that everyone pairs, but the potential is there.
Jamieson: I look for the spark in the characters. I can’t plot as I write, or I get writers block. This one surprised me with characters saying “I’m going to do this”. I want a connection to be there almost right away. Timing, there were sex scenes that had to be in the book.
Jennifer: I start with a character sandwich. Look at the beginning and end. What will allow them to transform from point A to point B? Someone who needs to learn to trust? To ask for help? I’d do a bit of foreshadowing in the initial meeting, like dealing with the fallout from not asking for help.

Kelly: Is there always a happily every after?
Jessica: Depends if you’re writing it as a genre.
Jennifer: Yes, otherwise readers will track you down and hurt you. With a romantic subplot, you are free to finish it in tears.
Jamieson: Some relationships are good and work, some are not and part ways. But I do have a happy ending, just not for all characters.
Julie: I always want to go for a satisfying ending. Sometimes, that’s not where they’re together. A lot of my stuff is driven by biological imperative, to populate, but at what cost. The consequences of sex. That being said, it’s fun to read and write.
Jessica: Definitely examine audience, romance or science fiction. I’d be careful labelling your stuff.
Kelly: The ending of “The English Patient”.
Julie: Or “Doctor Zhivago”, missing each other on the train. Tragedies are an important thing of life.
Jennifer: Category romance has a sub genre.
Julie: Romance is so organized.
Jessica: Very defined about reader expectations.

Kelly: Romance tied to a time and place? Culturally specific? In SF/F/Horror it’s different worlds, with different rules - can that seem romantic?
Jennifer: You have a human reader. Passion is universal, but how it’s expressed is very time specific. Victorian Age might have the reaction of a kiss on the hand with touch of tongue as if it’s a full sex scene in modern age.
Julie: For SF/F, dealing with non-human, there’s certain signs where we know we’re sexually aroused. Feeling flutters or moist, you’ve got the reader halfway there, we can be subtle and draw in readers. One thing I got feedback on that I wrote was a biochemistry piece. (Elaborates) Person goes to an old friend after and talks about the chocolate, he touches her hand, I hadn’t realized that it was that subtle.
Kelly: We leave them wanting more.
Jessica: The second part is, you’re never going to please everybody. “50 Shades” as an example. Can you sell something problematic in our culture, maybe or maybe not.
Jamieson: For me, romance and chemistry doesn’t have anything to do with culture or world. We’re all human, or whoever we are, our need to be with other people is a chemical reaction. Two bodies coming to be one. It doesn’t have to do with whatever, it’s just fiction, no fantasy elements.


At the halfway point, Kelly suggested that before taking audience questions, they brainstorm barriers. Those things that help create romantic tension or distance.

Julie: Age, guilt.
Jessica: I have from the tropes panel, Alpha Hero, the guy’s kind of a jerk.
Kelly: Mr. Darcy [of “Pride and Prejudice”], right.
Jessica: Amnesia.
Julie: Lack of self awareness.
Jennifer: Can divide it into internal and external. Physical is external, jerk is internal.
 (more talk, finger break)
Kelly: Love triangle.
Jessica: Class warfare. Cougar or May/December romance. Friends to lovers. Fish out of water. Forbidden love. Jilted bride. Law enforcement.
Julie: What? Oh, wrong sides of the law, I got it.
Jessica: A bounty hunter going after someone.
Jennifer: Just don’t resolve it in a five second conversation. “Did you ask him?” Have a reason they can’t talk.
Kelly: Elizabeth and Darcy could have had that conversation, but culturally they couldn’t. We’ll open up to questions now.

Audience: Something you find done better, or more often? Enemies to lovers?
Julie: Lois McMaster’s series.
Jessica: My Love/Hate relationship is the Alpha Hero. I like kickass heroines, so it’s hard to deal with, but it’s really popular now in paranormal. But when Alpha Hero’s done right, I like it more, it’s delving deeper into personality. First chapter, he’s kind of a jerk, second chapter, oh he’s layered (like took care of family when dad died).
Jamieson: For me, Mafia. Alpha Hero is fine, but the women have no backbone. They go along and do what the guy says. Really? I wish that was done better, with women as strong as the guys.
Jennifer: Similar issue with Protector one. Love it, but then you realize you’re crossing the line from romance to felony. Classic “done wrong” was there’s a rapist in a building targeting her. So he beats up the rapist, then runs to her apartment, takes her to his car while she’s sleeping, and whisks her away. That’s kidnapping!

Audience: If focus is more platonic love, not romance, how to prevent the romantic from overwhelming. (There’s a species living so long.)
Jessica: It comes down to two things. In “Save the Cat”, things have to be primal. Romantic can be primal, so for platonic, raise the stakes. We can relate to procreation for evolution, that’s why we understand it. So why is the platonic important? If they live so long, that if they don’t have any, they die out?
Jennifer: There is a growing awareness of the asexual and aromatic identification. Some are trying to do platonic with those who aren’t sexually interested, but want a deep emotional connection with someone. Someone you can call when you’ve had a bad day. And with a long lived situation, grudges would build up.
Julie: Relevant story. I wanted a platonic relationship. My first editor said “I cannot believe these people have been together 3 days and nothing’s happened”. That was 20 years ago. That’s why we first meet the person coming out of a brothel, showing this is what that person thinks of sex, now let’s get on with the actual story. To separate things, make them both happen.

Audience: This has been implicitly or explicitly couples. How to expand to polyamourous?
Jennifer: I don’t write polyamourous, but I do read a fair amount. What I find effective is everyone needs to have something unique in the pairing, or connection. There is something specific, like: This person understands why I listen to music with my eyes closed. This one understands why I squee over office supplies, and not shoes. Build it up so everyone has something unique.
Jamieson: It’s all about a connection. Different depending on the people.
Jennifer: You don’t want the same relationship with different names.
Jessica: I look at astrological charts, how do these three signs relate, or challenge in a different way from this one. Or compliment.
Kelly: And could do with Myers-Briggs.
Jessica: Exactly.
Audience Follow-Up: You describe a triad or quad, a lot aren’t structured that way. I have a primary and then a secondary, and the secondary has another. Obviously a triad would be more challenging, those dynamics, but it’s a broad spectrum.
Jennifer: If you are not polyamourous and you wish to write it, get some polyamorous beta readers and talk to them. It’s sad, if you think there’s something you’re represented in, and you’re not.
Jamieson: Do your research.
Jennifer: Not just google, but people.

Audience: The person who falls in love but doesn’t know it’s happening. How to show so that the reader sees, but the main character doesn’t?
Jennifer: In depth research into how attraction associates physiologically. Sensations mean falling in love, the hitch in the stomach.
Julie: There’s a character who ended up with drawer of pens and things, she didn’t know why. Kleptomaniac.

Kelly: Best, favourite romance on your way out?
Julie: 42 years ago, in Calculus, front row. Two gentlemen came down from the corner, sat behind us, that was my husband of 42 years. Continues to be my best romance.
Jessica: I could follow Julie. I met my husband because I gave him 100 gold, he was a mage, I needed a mage.
Jamieson: My husband, when we started dating. I was rude, said I have cerebral palsy and Multiple Sclerosis. He said, it’s a shame these things are seen as weaknesses instead of strengths.
Jennifer: Not to malign my husband, but mine is my grandparents. They met while my grandfather was trying to break into the principal’s office to get an exam he thought he’d fail. Grandma caught him, marched him down to the cafeteria, where they spent hours going through an intense tutorial. He still failed the test. “It’s not my fault you’re stupid.” Apparently they sniped through high school, he went to the RCMP, she was a nurse. Ran into each other a year later, and they were married for 51 years when he died.

And that concludes “What Makes Romantic Chemistry Between Characters?”.

For more reading, you can have a look at my main CanCon 2017 post when it goes live (I’ll link it). A reminder that attributions/quotations may have errors due to my typing speed, so don’t take them as fact, and mind the context. If you have something to add, do leave a comment for me! Thanks for reading.