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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Interview with Raylene Whitford, Canative Energy. Innovators and Visionaries Series

Improving the lives of indigenous peoples, establishing economic development programs, linking native peoples across country boundaries, and launching environmental restoration efforts are just a few of the projects launched by Canative Energy's Proyecto Fenix in Ecuador. Welcome to an interview with Raylene Whitford, head of Canative Energy in Ecuador.

1.  What is your name and your background?  Raylene Whitford.  I am a Métis Canadian from Edmonton.  I am a Chartered Accountant and have an MBA in Oil and Gas Management.  I currently live in Ecuador and run Canative Energy, a social enterprise dedicated to economically empowering indigenous communities impacted by the energy industry.

2.  What is Proyecto Fenix?  Proyecto Fénix is the name of Canative Energy’s first proposal to the national oil company of Ecuador.  We proposed to work directly, hand-in-hand, with a number of communities who were given resources by the government in compensation for the activity in the area.  We are currently focused on communities in the Oriente.

3.  What motivated you to launch this visionary project?  I received a tonne of support from my community at home when I was going through university.  As I was the first in my family to go to university, and only 17, I found the transition very difficult.  I nearly failed out of the faculty of engineering when I received a bursary for my studies. It was a bursary set up by (now) one of my mentors – Herb Belcourt as part of a foundation called Canative Housing. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone would actually give money to a failure, but I took it anyways, changed my courseload and started studying subjects I actually liked: Business.  It was so important to me to know that my community believed in me, even when I felt like I was at my worst

 I carried that feeling long after I moved to London to train to be a Chartered Accountant, and by chance, I got to meet Herb as he was passing through London.  I couldn’t believe it. To be in the presence of someone who did so much in his life!  He told me one thing I would never forget; he said, “Go, see the world, get experience you couldn’t get at home, and then give back to the community”. That stayed with me.

 Fast forward to June 2017 – I had moved to Ecuador (for some “crazy” reason… I was actually following my gut) and I was searching for the reason I felt like I needed to be there.  I was heading back to Canada to speak at the Indigenous Energy Conference on the topic of Indigenous Women in the sector and I met someone for a coffee (who very shortly after that meeting took a powerful political position). I remember asking them about the indigenous peoples in Ecuador’s involvement in the sector, and he told me that it was very limited. They did have employment in the sector, they often worked as underpaid subcontractors and often without the appropriate PPE.  I was disappointed.

The conference was such a juxtaposition: over the two days I met so many successful and awe-inspiring indigenous people who were contributing to the sector and helping their communities. I was convinced that I could return to Ecuador and make a meaningful change.

 A few months later Canative Energy was born!  Over a period of six months we made for trips to the Amazon and met 11 communities were affected by the activities in the oil sector. Are the community has had similar issues they were given resources by the government but they didn’t have the business knowledge on how to monetise them.   That is where I saw the opportunity.

4.  Do you see similarities between the indigenous peoples of Canada and those of Ecuador?  What are they? First of all they look the same!  Every time I go to the Amazon am dumbstruck by how similar the people I need there look like my family at home.   The communities which we met and have worked with have the same values the same hopes for their children.  The same hopes that only the indigenous people of Canada halve but also any parents around the whole world.

Clean water is an issue unfortunately for both groups. As well as access to education. From what I’ve seen and from the communities that we are working with their 100% committed to developing businesses in order to secure their future income, and not rely on government handouts.   There is real wish to  live a prosperous life whilst respecting the traditional ways.

 5.  How will you provide education that will help indigenous businesses thrive?   In each project are can you give team have defined certain milestones which we will meet during the project. Some of these milestones relate directly to for example holding workshops where are we will educate their members of the community in areas such as strategy, planning, accounting etc.   However most of the education, as I expect, will be informal because we will spend up to 50% of our time working hand-in-hand with them in their communities.

6.  Please describe a few specific projects. We have two major projects at the moment.   One is and ecotourism hotel which the government gave to the community in compensation for a activity on their land.   Up to 90 families rely on the income from this hotel, however it served 20 tourists last year.   We are working closely with the community to identify the market segment that they wish to target, develop a marketing plan, input the appropriate processes and systems in place in order to execute that plan.

 The other community recently received a barge from the government in order to offer transport services on the river.   This community was only recently affected by the industry activities therefore the community is only beginning to understand what is going on around them. Our challenge is to not only build a sustainable river transport system but also to identify other opportunities for the community to provide services or sell products which are outside of the energy industry.

 7.  What are your next steps?   The next step is to show that we can do what we said that we can do!  The Canative Team is fully committed and is working hard to make sure that we have everything that we need to succeed. The team is incredible and is the determining factor to success -  they have the energy, the commitment and heart to make meaningful change in these communities.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Interview with David Scherrer, Arcademics Multi-player Edu-Gaming. Innovators in E-Learning Series

Game-based e-learning continues to boom as students respond with true engagement and high scores. Welcome to an interview with David Scherrer, founder of Arcademics, a leader in multiplayer edu-gaming.

1.  What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
I’m David Scherrer, owner of – the leader in multiplayer edu-gaming. I’m passionate about using e-learning games as a powerful tool engage and motivate students.
David Scherrer
2.  What is Arcademics?  
Arcademics is a powerful approach to learning basic math, language arts, vocabulary, and thinking skills using research-based and standards-aligned games. Arcademics motivates students in grades K-6 to improve their skills in a friendly competitive environment, and teachers gain access to a database of critical insights into performance trends and measurable improvement in skills.

3.  What is your vision for the event and how are you developing games to improve math performance?
The annual Arcademics Cup is an international multiplication competition for traditional and homeschool students in grades K-6. More than 10,000 students are expected to compete during the two-day competition Feb. 1-2, 2018. Students will race against each other to solve math equations in Grand Prix Multiplication. The game’s multiplayer function allows students to race in groups of four as they answer basic multiplication problems for numbers one through 12.

The 2017 Arcademics Cup saw students play more than 325,000 games and correctly solve more than 10 million multiplication problems. Last year, teachers saw a 5 percent increase in accuracy and 10 percent increase in answer rate, or the number of correct answers per minute. In addition, students that began the Arcademics Cup with an 80 percent or lower accuracy experienced an average 19 percent accuracy increase and 34 percent increase in answer rate.

While participants progress through the Arcademics Cup, they are rewarded with power-ups and cosmetic items for their racecars, as well as a chance to win prizes – such as pizza parties and Arcademics Plus subscriptions – for their class, grade, or school. Students typically solve 30 multiplication equations per race and have unlimited access to Grand Prix Multiplication during the two-day competition.

By tracking data points such as accuracy, answer rate, and the number of correct answers per minute, we’re able to provide measurable ROI to teachers, parents, and students.

4.  Please describe three or four of your games. What do they do?  Who are they for? How do they work?
We have a range of free, research-based math and language arts games that help students improve skills such as multiplication, money, fractions, spelling, geography and more. The games challenge students to respond quickly over a series of short, timed trials. The student’s goal, and the goal of the game, is to increase their rate of correct responses and decrease error rate. The games help improve student performance through increased time on task, increased motivation and engagement, and increased corrective feedback.

We offer free, multiplayer games for grades K-6. Some of our most popular games include:
Grand Prix Multiplication (Multiplication)
  In this game, students race against each other in groups of four to solve basic multiplication problems for numbers one through 12.
Spelling Bees (Spelling)
 Four students aim to spell four-to-eight-letter vocabulary words correctly and quickly to build beehives. The game functions as both a spelling and typing game.
Capital Penguins (Geography)
 In this timed game, solo students guide their penguin to state-shaped ice floes based on the state capital prompt.
Puppy Chase (Decimals and Fractions)
 In groups of 12, students race as puppies around a track by correctly converting fractions to decimals.

5.  Please describe some of the winners of Arcademics. 
Roosevelt Elementary School Fifth Grade Teacher Christopher Lombardi participates in the Arcademics Cup each year, and his entire school is heavily involved. Students frequently practice various games in order to prepare for the Cup, and they have had multiple winners over the years.

Lombardi’s focus is on his students achieving their personal best time, and he has seen steady improvement month-to-month and year-to-year. For example, last year a student was ranked 98th in the school’s Arcademics Cup competition, and this year has improved to a third-place ranking! Lombardi especially enjoys the tangible results the students can see from their hard work, all of which he can track in the teacher’s dashboard.

6.  What are your plans for the future? 
In the near future, we are excited to host the 2018 Arcademics Cup and hope to help students and teachers alike start their year strong. Looking forward, we plan to add more games across multiple categories and look forward to continuously increasing participation in the Arcademics Cup.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Victorians’ Opioid Epidemic

The Victorians had an opioid epidemic at home. They caused an opium epidemic in China. And, they spawned destructive mono-economies in India and Afghanistan, corruption in the ports, and vast networks of shipping, financing, and service companies all founded on the medicinal properties, but above all, the miraculously addictive properties of opium.

Victorians of the British Empire had their own opioid epidemic and opium trading of truly global extent, with repercussions that persist even into our own times.

The Victorians wrote about their own addictions, and there is surprisingly little glamorization. There is no “heroin chic” – instead, there is an awareness of the fleeting relief that opium (mainly laudanum, liquid containing 10% opium). The most famous (or infamous) is probably Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” supposedly written about an opium dream, which was written in 1797, but not published until 1816. Coleridge alludes to his addiction and suggests a dialectic between vice and virtue in his Biographia Literaria  (1817).

There is also Thomas DeQuincey’s autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). In one famous passage, “The Pains of Opium,” DeQuincey describes the horrors of withdrawals and the desperate need for more laudanum, a temporary relief, followed by self-loathing.

Some poets focused opium in the domestic sphere, and using opium poppies for medicinal uses for the family. In “To Opium,” Henrietta O’Neill’s “Ode to the Poppy,” Anna Seward’s “To the Poppy,” and Sara Coleridge’s “Poppies,” incorporate opium use into the domestic hearth, its medicinal effects aiding in their wifely and motherly duties" (Freeman, 2012, p. 1). Within Victorian women poets who used opium, there was a longing for romantic escape. "Even though the women opium poets seek escape, they are, nonetheless,  concerned with their duties to their children and their place within the  household, making the opium poems an amalgam of escapist and familial  impulses” (Freeman, 2012, p. 1).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning suffered from pain in her neck and spine, and started with laudanum, but ultimately became addicted to pure morphine. Due to her frail health, Browning was reclusive and stayed at home where she had an extensive library. Quite fortunate in that she had independently inherited money and property from her grandmother and her uncle, she was able to live in a comfortable home and devote herself to reading and writing in French and English. Her work did not directly relate to addiction to morphine, but the desire that is so tacit in Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), relates to the love that Browning felt for her husband, and also to a darker longing, even a craving, that is never permanently satisfied.

Wilkie Collins, of The Moonstone (1868) and The Woman in White (1860) wrote novels that were shot through with laudanum dreams, addictions, and hints. Collins was, like his friend, Charles Dickens, regularly used laudanum, supposedly to ease the pain of gout, but more probably as the addiction took hold, to ease the pain of withdrawals.

In Armadale (1866), the murderous anti-heroine, Lydia Gwilt, is a charming and deeply damaged femme fatale, who maintains a diary in which she opens up her heart and writes frankly of her passions, her rage, her obsessions, her calculating progress toward her ultimate goal (seducing and then killing for money, which is intermixed with self-loathing, jealousy, desire, and a weirdly pure love). The is one of the rawest, most honest voices in Victorian fiction, and it’s fascinating to read her diaries. What is more remarkable is that her voice was written by a man, Wilkie Collins. Perhaps the only other conniving femme fatales who approach Miss Gwilt’s melodramatic voice are the heroines (anti-heroines) of another sensation novel writer, Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

In Armadale, Lydia Gwilt mesmerizes with her self-awareness, and her intentionality when she reflects on how she impacts people upon first sight. Lydia is Machiavellian, but in her cold calculations are rage and despair; revenge and craving for love. The idea that she must regularly rebuild her own essence reminds one of Lacan’s notion of the looking glass self; a sense of identity built on what one sees reflected in another’s eyes). She uses her understanding for evil, of course, and very quickly learns how to skillfully apply makeup to appear much younger, and also how to preserve her angelic face and slim, youthful figure.  Her plan is to lure a man she has hated since childhood to his death. In the meantime, she wrestles with herself as she addresses her own doubts and misgivings, framed in her addiction to laudanum, which she uses to assuage pain – her psychic, soul-hurt pain. p. 272

Opium addiction did not confine itself to the literary world. Victorian England was awash with not just laudanum, but all kinds of remedies and drinks meant for all age groups (including fussy or colicky babies). There was a significant mortality rate, but there was little public alarm or outcry. England was much less regulated than today, and there were many vested interests in the opium trade.

Opium came to England primarily from Turkey, where it was considered the highest quality.  Other opium sources were Afghanistan and India, which supplied raw materials to Anglo-Indian companies, mainly trading companies, who wished to export it to the enormous market of eager potential consumers, China.

Many of heard of the Opium Wars fought by the British on Chinese soil. Few, however, recognize that these wars were fought in order to force China to participate in free trade and to allow imports. The main product that the British wanted to be able to export to China was opium from India and Afghanistan. The Chinese rulers of the Qing Dynasty were resolutely opposed to allowing opium to enter the country, and issues many statements explaining their belief in the pernicious effects of opium on the people (Fay, 1977, p. 21). They resisted, and thus the First Opium War was fought from 1839 – 1842.

The Stacking Room: Opume Factory at Patna, India
Storage of opium at a British East India Company warehouse, c. 1850  

Unfortunately, the Chinese ruling elite could not overcome local corruption, particularly on the level of port authorities and customs officials (Havia, 2003, p. 215). Opium flowed into China through ports such as Shanghai, with terrible results.  According to some estimates, some 90 percent of men under the age 40 in the coastal area were in some degree addicted to opium.  The profits soared for the Anglo-Indian companies exporting to China. Corrupt officials lined their pockets.

[In an Opium Den, Shanghai:  Wikimedia Commons image:]

A second Opium War was fought with England and France uniting against China in order to open trade, of which opium was a very important (although not the only) piece. It lasted from 1856 – 1860, and in the middle of it, opium trade was officially legalized. Opium imports and addiction skyrocketed. By 1880, China was importing more than 6,500 tons of opium a year. Addiction continued, and opium trade-related crime made Shanghai notorious (Macauley, 2009, p. 12). People were kidnapped and transported as slave labor to the American West (railroads), to the point that “Being Shanghaied” became common parlance.

The addiction and attendant corruption and crime were so prevalent that they led to the collapse of the entire Qing Dynasty. When the Qing Dynasty fell in 1914, it was easy for the Japanese to occupy China and the continue the opium trade, continuing to enrich the traders while maintaining a weakened, humiliated populace of addicts, criminal gangs, and corrupt officials.  In fact, the degradation was so complete that it became one of the rallying cries and points of unity of the Communist Party, which pointed to “foreign devils” who were allowed to destroy China’s heritage, culture, and people (Macauley, 2009, p. 12).

In the meantime, back in England, opioids such as laudanum, along with other medicines were regulated, and the unofficial use of the drugs was criminalized.  Laudanum was no longer easily accessible, and the opiates were taken out of products intended for daily use.  In the 20th century, opium addiction flared up again, but opioid use was in no way so commonplace as it was in the 19th century, and further, the 20th century variants (heroin, prescription pain medication, powerful synthetic concentrates of opioids) were more likely to incapacitate and kill, rather than allow respite from pain and at least a level of creative productivity. The opium dens which were made illegal in China reemerged in the post WWI Paris described Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

French Opium Den

The Parisian opium dens became a place of self-abasement and degradation as in the case of Sophie, a woman traumatized after the loss of her husband and baby after being hit by a drunk driver who becomes an addict and prostitute in a Parisian opium den, and a symbol of post-WWI Lost Generation nihilistic self-destruction.

****ANNOUNCEMENT:  Texture Press will be issuing a Call for Submissions for an anthology of addiction, dealing with theory (theoretical foundations which include the commodification of addiction, consumer culture and addiction, short fiction, essays, poetry, black and white photography, sketches / cartoons). ***


Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. (1850) Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. (1817)  Biographia Literaria.

Coleridge, Sara (1855). “Poppies” PoetryExplorer

Collins, Wilkie.  (1866) Armadale.

DeQuincey, Thomas. (1821) Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Fay, Peter Ward. (1977) Was the Opium War of 1840-42 a Just War?  Ch'ing-shih wen-t'i, Volume 3, Supplement 1, 1977, pp. 17-31

Freeman, Hannah Cowles (2012) "Opium Use and Romantic Women's Poetry" South Central Review, Volume 29, Number 1 & 2, Spring & Summer 2012, pp. 1-20

Havia, James Louis. (2003) "Opium, Empire, and Modern History" China Review International, Volume 10, Number 2, Fall 2003, pp. 307-326.

Macauley, Melissa. (2009) "Small Time Crooks: Opium, Migrants, and the War on Drugs in China, 1819–1860" Late Imperial China, Volume 30, Number 1, June 2009, pp. 1-47

O’Neill, Henrietta. (1785) “Ode to the Poppy” All Poetry

 Seward, Anna. (1799) “Sonnet: To the Poppy” Poetry Foundation.

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