21.3.14

Math 30-1 Diploma Exam



In January, my grade 12 math students wrote their diploma exam, a provincial requirement and a university placement helper. They did superbly! I have to brag a little since I had a class of 24 with wide ranging skills and because of a schoolwide scheduling change 15% less instructional time to deliver the course than what was previously allotted (and recommended, and possibly required...).

The course is very demanding with nine pre-calculus units:

  • Functions  and  Relations   
  • Transformations on Functions 
  • Exponential  and  Logarithmic  Functions
  • Applications   of   Exponential   and   Logarithmic  Functions
  • Polynomial  Functions  and  Equations
  • Permutations  and  Combinations
  • Analyzing  Radical  and  Rational  Functions
  • Trigonometry  –  Functions  and  Graphs
  • Trigonometry  –  Equations  and  Identities
My students scored on average 10% higher than the province (which had a 24% failure rate). We also had a tight standard deviation of 15.5 whereas the province had a spread of 20.1.

So! Congratulations to my stellar students!

Thoughts on Community Development



It's been 1 year since I boarded a plane to visit two African countries and a community development organization in each one. Since that time, I've really let the ideas and realities of what is happening in these successful enterprises percolate. Here are the thoughts that have persisted.

SOUTH AFRICA
My first stop was Bhekulwandle, Malagazi*, South Africa. I blogged about Seed of Hope when I returned from Africa and the things they are focusing on and the leadership they have in Carl Waldron - a very good friend of mine. What remains with me is slow going. I think of the hospice like service they have in providing supportive care for those dying of AIDS and those coping with HIV. Much of their clientele in this field is not in a position to respond and begin doing in the place of those that do in the present - not exactly a sustainable program - necessary and life giving, but not self-sustaining.

But, let's discuss something that does have the possibility of self-sustainability: Equipping Young Leaders. Seed of Hope has several programs targeting kids of all ages with support in areas of health, spiritual growth, educational tutoring, sports programs, and community building. Let's imagine that 50% of these kids who are equipped remain in the community long term. Then, let's imagine that half of those actually use the skills and support they have received for the betterment of their community. This is probably optimistic, but it is simply to underscore two points:
  • The harvest of this investment is largely expected to emerge 10-20 years from now (of course there are immediate results, but they will likely pale in comparison with future results). So, all of the resources spent today are done with a view for a couple decades down the road. 
  • The other point is the relational aspect of the initiative. With the long view in mind, less is made of current results than is made of strengthening relationships between the staff and the young people coming by Seed of Hope. I think this is a clear indicator of success.
MALAWI


Kamanzi, Malawi was my second stop. My church has been in partnership with the communities in Kamanzi, a rural collection of 5 dominant villages. World Renew has been applying principals of community development on our behalf for the past 4 years and just over a year ago, Peter Timmerman took the helm. I was really struck by Peter's dissatisfaction. From the perspective of me and my fellow church member, some real progress had been made through seed loans, ecosan latrines and goat/pig husbandry. But Peter could see the relatively low economic and probably low espousing of real change by the greater community of some of the principals. His questions: Will what we are doing have a lasting and real impact on food security in these communities? Do the dollars (or kwacha in this case) and sweat equity in these projects really pay off?

His dissatisfaction helped me see the value of the big picture view, the years of experience and training he brought to the organization. In many ways, I'm stuck in the camp of "if I can take a picture of a result, be it great or small, we have succeeded!" [I shudder as I write this, but I'm being honest.] The admission that we can do better is probably the most humble thing we can do and ultimately better for working with a community who already has a hard time dreaming of a bright, less hungry future.

Shortly after we left, Peter blogged about the second thing that has stuck with me: This is a slow, slow process. And that is a good thing. Africans understand this. Sadly, westerners have a difficult time learning the value of slowing down. Ultimately, the slower, the better long term and the more buy in from the community.

*Just realized that this community is in a different province than neighbouring Amanzimtoti and Durban which are in KwaZulu-Natal. You can see the difference on either side of the road running between the two communities.

1.1.14

Brian Townsend



My friend Brian was murdered in his home on Christmas Eve in Belize.

My father was among the early mission workers to work with Brian in the Valley of Peace, a refugee settlement. I knew Brian first as the father of my good friends Mandy, Robbie and Kory. I knew Brian second as an always smiling leader in the SDA Alberta Men's Ministry. I worked with him on a couple events and had supper in his home a couple times too.

Having witnessed first hand the kind of violence that is so prolific in Guatemala, I am crushed to hear how he was murdered. Nothing is certain, but the police have been piecing stories together. From accounts, he was attacked in his home by two people, stabbed, dragged to his vehicle, thrown into a river where he was discovered in Guatemala a couple days later. His body has been positively identified.



This is the last time I saw Brian. We were on a return trip from Mexico to Guatemala and we stopped in south of Valley of Peace to have supper with Brian and a team from Alberta - it was the night of the Superbowl when the Giants made that huge comeback, January 2008. It was great to catch up with him, even though emotionally he wasn't himself.

My favourite memory of Brian is at a Men's Retreat he led in Bowden. I was there to lead worship for the weekend and despite the fact that I had a different song picked out as the theme song, he had me lead "Shout to the Lord" a dozen times. His brother Charlie was leading worship with me. I saw tears in his eyes many times that weekend as he sang that song. In fact I think of him everytime I hear "Shout to the Lord." He had a big heart, but more, he wasn't satisfied with the status quo so he was always doing something to try and change things.

Just a note on the perpetrators of the crime. I don't have any love in my heart for them right now, but I think it's important to note how justice works in Central America. There is very little judicial satisfaction. Despite high murder rates, there are very few investigations and even fewer convictions. The nationals know this and often take matters into their own hands. Mob killings/beatings are common. If the suspects ever return to Valley of Peace, there is a chance the community would seek retribution. We can pray that justice comes, but that it does not further spiritually impoverish the community Brian worked to enrich.

Rest in Peace, Brian. I look forward to seeing you tell the angel choirs to sing the songs he wants.



A fund is being collected to support Brian's son's trip to Belize to search for his father. Donations can be made here.

Brian will be missed by countless people, especially those with whom he was living in Belize.

31.12.13

Zaakistan 2013



January
Sick Day. Snow Day. Gaming weekend in Canmore. Concerts: Living with Lions, Whitehorse. Semester 1 ends: Math 10C, Math 20-2, Multi-Media
February
Dragonfly Cohousing Social Media Blitz. Man Scouts Beer Tasting. Demitor Visit in Edmonton. Peter turned 80 in High River. Semester 2 begins: Calculus, Math 30-2, Multi-Media. 
March
Mother-in-law visit. Turned 37. Fundraising Beer Tasting. Visit to South Africa: Waldrons, Seed of Hope, Game Reserve.
April
Visit to Malawi: World Renew, Kamanzi, Lake Malawi, Participatory Rural Apraisal. Morning stroll in Amsterdam. Daughter turned 6. Sister-in-law visit. Weekend in Radium with friends. Budget cuts at work.
May
Son learns to ride a bicycle. Dragonfly Cohousing Groundbreaking. Minhas Brewery Tour. Book Sale. Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Mumford and Sons. Graduation. 
June
Calgary is flooded/Exams cancelled. Dragonfly Cohousing grinds to a halt due to construction bids coming in way over budget. Ultimate Frisbee (go Vicious Circles). Allan Family Reunion in Canmore. Bladder Infection.
July
Despicable Me 2 with kids. Son turns 8. Camping and hiking in Banff with friends (sickness). Anniversary Ride to Rocky Mtn House with sister. Montreal: Sister/Brother-in-law, Shakespeare in the Park, Biodôme/Botanical Gardens/Insectarium/Planetarium, Microbrew visits, Alouettes, BBQ.
August
VIA Rail NB: Papa/Step-Mother, Memere, Fern/Gail, Beach, Pugwash Campmeeting, Canoeing, 13th Anniversary, Dieppe Kite Festival, Plovers, Building a Geodesic Dome, Visit to Sackville, Mémere turns 87. Camping at Little Bow with Friends. Visit to Vulcan. Meadery tour.
September
Semester 1 begins: Math 10C, Math 30-1, Math 30-2. Camping in Rocky Mtn House with family and friends. Tennis with friends. Dragonfly Cohousing hires a new project manager. FallCon 26. Peter's Memorial Service. Kids begin homeschool. Beer Tasting.
October
Corn Maze with Dragonfly. Re-Design Workshops. Mom's Birthday. Reflektor is Released. Family Visit to Red Deer. Beer Tasting. Cystoscopy. Nenshi Re-Elected. Teachers Conference.
November
Glenbow Museum. Sleeping Beauty Ballet. Banff Mtn Film Fest. Wife turns 35. First Batch of Beer. K-12 Unsolved Conference in Banff. Visit Demitors in Westlock. Old Fashioned Family Portrait. Grey Cup Party.
 December
Son gets his Yellow Belt in karate. Re-Design Workshop. Hobbit 2 Premiere showing. Snow Day and a half. Power Out Day. Beer Tasting. Second Batch of Beer. Friend goes missing in Belize. Christmas in Calgary. Nutcracker. New Years Eve Fondue with Family in Red Deer.

21.12.13

10th Anniversary Ride



In July, my sister Saison and I celebrated the 10th anniversary of our cycling trip from coast to coast across Canada with a two day, 170 km trip on Highway 22 (the Cowboy Trail) from Cochrane to Rocky Mountain House, AB. While both of us have continued to cycle recreationally since our epic trip, neither had done over night trips in the last 10 years. Our families joined us and we camped half way in Sundre.

Our first day, we got dropped off in Cochrane, just west of Calgary by around 10 am. We cycled to Cremona where we lunched on the benches outside the Rotary Club. We also took a coffee break (and a bathroom break) at the little chinese restaurant there. I think every little Alberta town has a chinese restaurant. This day was cut 10 km short by some sudden and heavy (and very cold) rain which we rode 7 km through. We pulled into a gas station and called my brother-in-law to ask for a pick-up.





The second day was lovely and we covered more than 100 km and rejoined our kids and spouses at the Wilderness Village RV Park. Amber and I attempted to camp at the provincial campground, but the first night was awful (filthy site, noisy grounds) so we joined Dean and Saison at their site.

It was great to ride again and feel the wind, sun, rain, and leg burn.

20.12.13

I, Brewer.



I'm on the eve of creating my third and fourth batches of beer after successfully brewing batches one and two in November and December. I have a few buddies who brew beer and until I had access to a couple of carboys, I've been reluctant to move forward in brewing my own.

In November, Dwayne from Yellowknife visited and he's been making beer for years so I asked him if he would guide me through my first batches. He happily agreed. I picked up a little bit of equipment from Wine Kitz, just down the road from me, and 2 beer kits: Brew House India Pale Ale and Brew House Stout.

We cleaned the equipment by sterilizing in boiling water, mixed the malty water with more water for a total of 19 L (supposed to be 23, but we wanted to make stronger beer) and then yeast. Easy!

To make the beer a little more personal, I added a bit of ingredients. The IPA was already hopped, but I boiled a 1/2 oz of cascade hops and added the water to the beer. I also added the peels of one small orange thinking it wouldn't make much of an impact, but maybe a little complex note. A week later I added a little mesh bag of another 1/2 oz of hops to add aroma (this is called dry hopping).

To the stout I added a bunch of spice: 1/8 cup of allspice, 1/8 cup of cardamom, 1/16 coup of cloves.



We set up the airlock by running the tubes from the stoppers into a bucket 1/4 full of water. For the next week a steady stream of bubbles and foam poured through the tubes - what a racket and mess. Fortunately, it wasn't too loud and no one complained about it being in our crowded little kitchen, though Lukas dropped a stuffed animal in the soup and Amber dropped toast into it. The mess was contained too.

When the main fermentation was done - about a week - I moved the 2 carboys into our cooler storage area and put little airlocks into the stoppers and cleaned out the stinky bucket. 2 more weeks of slow secondary fermentation and the beer was ready to bottle.



Though we collected bottles for 2 months, we still didn't have enough, so I had to spring for a dozen self corking bottles to make sure we had enough. Wine Kitz even lent me their bench capper for the night. I spent the evening putting 35 litres of beer into bottles and spent the next 5 days cleaning up as much as I could after work.



My assessment? Well, I'm certainly just starting, so I never expected to make an award winning brew.

The stout is too spicy, but I am enjoying it. I find it is mellowing out day by day, so in a couple weeks it will probably be as mellow as it's going to get. Great dark colour though.

I really like the IPA. It could be hoppier, but the orange peel adds another kind of bitterness which I like too. I have plenty to last me a long while. The best part is the pride I can take in producing it myself.



"Zaakistan Peel IPA"



"Riches Spiced Stout"

K-12 Unsolved Math Conference



In November, I attended a math conference with another 24 people at the Banff International Research Station for a weekend. The conference was organized by my friend Dr. Gordon Hamilton of MathPickle.com fame (visit his site for more info on the conference). It was meant to discuss and identify 13 unsolvable math problems that could be introduced at each grade level from kindergarten to grade 12 as puzzles or games that have curricular connections. Among the attendees were math educators, education consultants, puzzle pros, and mathematicians, each bringing expertise to the table.



First of all, I was blown away by the Banff Centre where BIRS is just one of the many buildings used to promote scientific research, artistic residencies, and host internationally acclaimed cultural events. The facilities are state of the art and staff are wonderful (I took the Greyhound to and from Banff for the event. When I was checking out, the door man asked where I had parked my car and when he discovered I was walking to the bus station (2 km away), he locked up the storage room and shuttled me to the station, insisting this was necessary and that me walking there would be absolutely tragic.). The food is also stellar and I must thank my school for covering the food costs.



The weekend was full and we spent a lot of time debating the merits of various problems, how they should be presented, their relevance, and especially how we could go about promoting the concept of teachers using unsolved problems in their classrooms (no easy task in this age). One of the ideas we tossed around for a long time was the offering of a $1 Million award for anyone who solved one of the problems. The trick here isn't so much the money, which insurance could cover, but the vetting of the solutions - who would do it?

In the evenings we played games and talked math. One of the lead guys attending was James Tanton, currently the visiting scholar of the Mathematical Association of America. He had some really innovative ideas that I can't pretend to explain here. Check out his website for some mini courses - especially the one on disappearing dots.

My hunch though is that Gord did all of this so that we could find a way to introduce every living student to Pick's Theorem - which I have to say, is pretty cool, and fun to play with.

19.12.13

Noteworthy Apps



Since having my life greatly altered with an iPhone 18 months ago, I have come to appreciate the impact certain apps have had in my daily life. A few noteworthy ones:

DAY ONE: This is a journaling app that allows you to make entries that get backed up to DropBox, include photos, automatically notes the weather, location, etc. As one of my life goals is to keep a daily journal for 5 years, this one has proved invaluable because it is so fun to use and review with photos. I make a point of taking a unique photo each day to keep it fresh and so far I have journaled for 161 straight days. I love that I can publish the entire thing as a PDF in the end too. It's existence is also the main reason I have neglected my blog the last 6 months.

FOG OF WORLD: This is madness for a map fan like me. I love turning on the app when I travel new places to clear the fog from the map.

THIS AMERICAN LIFE: I got hooked on this NPR program this past spring and so the app has been a mainstay on morning and afternoon commutes (and long distance drives with the family). Since the only way to listen to archives is online through a flash based program, I had to buy the $2 app and it's worth it being able to access the 500 episodes. I'm working my way back, so I'm on episode 438 (2011).

GUITUNE: $1. Cheapest and most convenient guitar tuner I have ever bought.

BEER BUDDY: A perfect way to track the brews you've tasted. It can scan beer barcodes, access the ratebeer.com database for ratings and reviews, allows you to add your own ratings, etc.

4.7.13

Allan Family Reunion 2013



Mid-June saw the first full reunion for my mother's siblings, their mother, their spouses, most of the cousins, and all the grandkids. Altogether there were 24 of us on Friday evening. It was the first time I had seen any of my maternal extended family since 1999/2000. In fact it was the first time I met one of my uncles. We gathered in Canmore for a weekend.



Pink: Women
Blue: Men
Grey: Absent

The only people missing were my grandfather (he and my grandmother divorced in the 1970s), my father (he and my mom divorced in the 1990s), my sister's partner, and two adult cousins (one of whom I have never met).



We hung out in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise. Hanging out is a weak way of saying we strolled through shops, climbed Sulfur Mountain, walked along Lake Louise, skipped rocks on Lake Minnewanka, played games, ate food, and caught up a lot. It was a great visit and made it clear that we have to stay in touch better and make greater efforts to visit one another.







Here are our four generations:
Woodford > Allan > Robichaud > Robichaud/Demitor/Toijanen

3.7.13

Playlist: Summer 2013

Some new. Some not. I could listen to each of these on Repeat One for an hour. Probably longer, but I don't want to wreck my favourites.

  • Sufjan Stevens: The Transfiguration
  • The New Pornographers: Adventures in Solitude
  • The National: Pink Rabbits
  • Feist: A Commotion
  • Atoms for Peace: Ingenue
  • Band of Horses: Dumpster World
  • Calexico: Writer's Minor Holiday
  • City and Colour: The Grand Optimist
  • Mumford & Sons: Hopeless Wanderer
  • Wilco: The Art of Almost

Reflections: Seed of Hope in South Africa



My first week in Africa was spent with the wonderful Waldon family who have been in the Amanzimtoti / Bhekulwandle area of South Africa for the last six years. I knew them in Saint Albert when I was working my first job out of university at their church. Amber and I have been supporting their work which is running The Seed of Hope.

I was able to spend 4 days at the centre where I think I got a good sense of what the community is like, what the needs are, and how Seed of Hope is seeking to bring new life to the area. I should add that school was on holidays, so things probably weren't running exactly the same as they usually are.



First, the staff. Carl shared lots of stories with me about the staff who I saw working in their various areas. Most of those with hands on work were either from Bhekulwandle or nearby. They grew up in poverty and didn't have the same opportunities for education and employment (unemployment in the area is around 80%). I listened to them sing and share during staff devotions. They are both grateful for the opportunity to work and to serve God and their people. They are passionate about their work and they are not above having disputes among themselves - though they are willing to resolve matters too.

Those in positions of leadership or in volunteer positions come from the wealthier areas or from other countries. Equally passionate and seeking restoration in this very depressed area, these folks drive vehicles, generate funding, plan events, connect with the media, and help manage the centre.



In speaking to Carl Waldron, the CEO, I learned that Seed of Hope has had numerous short term mission teams visit. Some of those visiting have told him that they have seen far worse poverty and that the efforts here would probably be better used elsewhere in the world. While it's true that there are more destitute regions in the world (South Sudan or Haiti come to mind immediately), what is truly unique is the level of brokenness in the community. In Bhekulwandle there are certainly deficits in nutrition, work, educational opportunities, access to healthcare, etc. but not to the some of levels I saw in Guatemala or Malawi. What is different is the staggering level of violence against women and girls and the incredibly high incidence of HIV (this South African province alone has 13% of the world's HIV infected). On top of all this, while South Africa has emerged as a leader on the continent economically, this is one of the very forgotten regions so there is little by way of local government support.

While I was there I heard stories that still haunt me today. I won't share them online, but I have no qualms expressing that this part of the world is one of the darkest, most needing of our and God's love.



So, what are they doing to reach out to the people in Bhekulwandle? Three different spheres of influence, all of which are applied with a deeply personal touch which builds relationships:

  • skills training for adults (sewing and gardening mainly)
  • teaching life skills to children (after school programs, tutoring, counseling, leadership)
  • HIV/AIDS outreach (testing, counseling, support groups, home visits)

This is all done with a very healthy view of sustainable development: take it slow, empower the population, and build on the strengths of people you work with.

Overall, I was very impressed with Seed of Hope. I encourage you to support the organization, you can give to Hope Shares or RESCU International.

2.7.13

Lake Malawi



The third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi forms an aquatic political divide between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is also one of the deepest lakes in the world. In the middle of our 11 day stay in Malawi, we spent 2 nights in Cape MacLear which lies in the UNESCO protected Lake Malawi National Park. To get there, we had to cross the Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve which straddles a pretty decent mountain range. We descended the very windy road to a glorious view of the lake.

I'll start with the worst part as it wasn't too bad. The dozens of guys hawking trinkets on the beach were almost intolerable. I stepped out of our resort gate onto the beach and within five seconds I had 10 guys around me. I guess I stink of money.

One of the first guys to approach me though was Flamingo. He ran a little lake tour boat (albeit expensive) that takes people to West Thumbi Island to see the fish and birds. He hired him to take us just after lunch.



Lake Malawi is home to the largest variety of cichlids, one of the most popular fresh water aquarium fish. There isn't an exact figure for the number of genus in the world, but Lake Malawi holds somewhere in the vicinity of 900 to 1000 of these little colourful fish.



Ken and I snorkelled for about an hour amont the rocky shore of West Thumbi Island. It was great to be in the water again - I hadn't done serious snorkelling since '95-96 when I was in the Marshall Islands. Wendy lent me her underwater camera.



















The second half of the trip took us to the east side of the Thumbi where Flamingo let out a few long whistles, flung a fish high into the air and told us to have our camera's ready. Seven or eight times we watched as large fish eagles circled above us then careened over the water snatching the floating fish  of the surface of the water just a few meters away from our launch.











Later in our stay in Malawi I enjoyed some of the lake's fish: chambo (a variety of tilapia). It was decent, but I think mine was too small.

Our last morning, Ken and I took out a rough looking double kayak with very short paddles. We got pretty wet, but it was good to stretch our arms and get out onto the quiet lake. We headed along the cape towards Domwe Island, but ran out of steam about 3/4 of the way there. Plus we were hungry for breakfast.





The sunset over the lake provided a great opportunity for silhouette shots of the locals finishing up their work day.