Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Dream And A Space = And A Candid Conversation With Dr. Andrew Nelson

Years ago I watched the Never Ending Story. The premise of the film was about keeping our dreams and stories alive and that without stories and dreams our world would be a not so pretty place. This was back in the 80s jump to today and we have the internet and there are lots of places on the net where people tell stories espouse ideas and showcase achievements. Social networking has and continues to create vast amounts of data and brings out some of the most creative ideas imaginable. One site authored by Dr. Andrew Nelson is being built with the idea to become a focal point for bringing together ideas dreams and stories together and then putting them into action. is set to launch at the end of this month and to talk more about the idea behind the project I contacted it's creator Dr. Andrew Nelson.

Cliff T.: Dr. Nelson thank you for writing back to Candid Conversations. Can you explain what Brainspace is about?

Dr. Nelson: Hi Cliff, thanks for your interest in the project. is essentially aimed at providing a personal space for people to think and create and record their own thoughts, ideas, life stories and dreams. It occurred to us that many of the social networking spaces rely heavily on people interacting with others in short twitter like grabs, rather than providing a space just for yourself to play and think and develop your ideas. As you say, story telling and the ability to share stories is a core part of how we all learn from each other. The site seeks to provide a unique and private place to develop and record your thoughts and then to make some of them available to other members or even the general public. Combined with some really unique tools to help you link and explore your own musings and make connections to other peoples thoughts, it will provide a way to connect with other people based on a thought or idea rather than just an overly used and often abused friends list! has two distinct parts, the Personal Journal space mentioned above and the World Compendia of thoughts, ideas, stories and dreams. The Compendia provides a space to store the best of the information you have developed in the personal space. It is designed to provide a central database where we can record and share our personal stories, ideas and thoughts. A registry if you like, a central place where we can all share the benefits of each others knowledge and ideas. It is not a blog space, or a forum, rather it is a place for people to store their knowledge and ideas for others to explore interactively online or for research or educational or news bodies to have access to information in a database format. Of course we have designed it to strictly protect the privacy of contributors while giving them a place to record date, location and contact details. it’s a free space, but a secure place.

Cliff T.: there are many outlets for people to go to to express ideas dreams and stories, what are you going to do with this portal to get your head above the crowd, so to speak?

Dr. Nelson: Yes, it’s a crowded space already. The major difference with the project is that it is all about you! We provide the space to play and explore your own mind and then to choose what you wish to share with others. We see it as a place where you visit every day, like a diary or personal journal, a place where you can make direct links to all your other web activities. It is designed to act like a hub which provides space to add notes and links to other sites like Facebook, or Twitter or YouTube or your favorite blogs. We provide the tools like an online word processor where you can add pictures or video clips or text.

You can essentially make and post your own web pages with its own URL link if you like and show them off to others using all the rich media available today on the net. We think we have simplified the process of putting information together in a form that uses the best of the web tools.

Apart from the many writing tools on you can also use it to record a series of bookmarks on a topic, make notes on them and store them for later use. You can make links between one thought or idea and another and then explore them interactively, thereby creating over time a personal web of connections that can consist of just text or media and links to other sites or other peoples thoughts. We found that most of the other blog site software and social networking sites make you conform to their way of interacting.

On you are fully in control of the space, of what you record on whatever topic and what you choose to share. You can turn the public view on or off at any time. It is a private personal space just for you, but it is also a powerful public space that allows you to control what you share.

Cliff T.: Do you anticipate or want to find the next Albert Einstein or someone akin to that or is this site designed to bring out the extraordinary in the ordinary?

Dr. Nelson: Well, rather than the next Einstein, I think we hope to find or uncover unique possible solutions to problems or issues that we all face, whether they be social, community, personal, political or technological. To use our catch phrase “We believe, every person has at least one idea, story, wish or dream that could change the world” Too many good ideas or valuable personal stories are lost in the great web void, buried in a blog or forum post never to be seen again and often buried with comment threads that go way off topic. We know we will get a lot of junk, that’s the nature of the web, but we also know that true gems and pearls are waiting to be revealed and shared. That is our mission, that is the core reason for providing this space.

Cliff T.: What kinds of things are you looking for from people or to put it another way what do you expect to find as you compile data in the compendiums on

Dr. Nelson: The personal journal space is private and protected, so what you choose to store there or how you choose to use it is entirely up to the individual. What you choose to share with others is also entirely up to the users. But, using our unique interactive key links you will be able to explore, both your own minds thoughts and others too if they link with you. I expect to see and read and explore some exciting journeys and thought threads that will lead to many ideas I would not normally associate together. If used on mass it has the potential to create a completely new way of searching on the web, a search by connected association, not a replacement to traditional searches but a powerful extra tool that simply does not exist today.

The World Compendia is rather more easy to predict. The 4 databases suggest the type of material we will accept in each category. Thoughts, Ideas, Stories, Dreams. The last one being quite unique, in that it will only accept actual dreams you have had. Why? We found there is no place that forms a human dream record, no place where people can record the content, symbols, date and locations associated with a dream experience. You may think, who cares? But it occurred to us that without such a database, it is impossible to see commonalities or connections or synchronicities between what each person dreams and when. A dream map of the human subconscious if you like. It may hold only limited value to a few dream researchers, but, when you think that every person dreams and that some dreams leave a lasting impact, it seemed obvious to us that this part of the human subconscious and imagination needed a place to be recorded.

In regard to the other areas. Thoughts is a place to express yourself, a place to have your say on almost any topic. Ideas, is a section to place more well thought out concepts, a new plan or method or invention that solves or addresses a problem or issue, a better way of doing something.

Stories, is a place to record your own personal experiences that you think may be of benefit to others. This is my favorite, as I think, in this modern age of controlled and filtered media fed to us in short bites, we too often miss out on hearing so many personal accounts. Sure there are blogs, but many people have just one of two stories to share and making their own blog is too much time and effort. Passing on information in the form of personal experiences or short accounts is fundamental to human society and personal development. Mass media has to some extent robbed us of personal diversity, tending to put everything into its own box.. like the news stations, ‘the good news story for the day’ ‘the sports section’ the ‘local’ or ‘world’ news sections as if that is all there is. Many stories do not fit to mould, or cross several categories and never make it to our eyes. This part of the Compendia will thrive by its diversity. It will provide a place for journalists to seek new stories and for users to read others accounts and post their own. A very powerful space indeed and of great benefit to us all.

Cliff T.: Dr. Nelson some might say you are searching for utopia in a world that is not so utopian, what is your thoughts about that?

Dr. Nelson: Hahaha, yes I’m a utopian to the core! I do not stand back from that label, save with one caveat. The Only ideas that succeed are the ones which have at least one foot planted firmly in common understanding, acceptance and practicality. may seem utopian, but it has a highly practical base. A personal journal is a well and long understood concept, the desire to record and share information is core to our nature, witness all the forums and blogs etc… is about making that process easier, more accessible. Once you see the simplicity and power of having your own space, with virtually no learning curve, a place where within seconds you can start recording or exploring an idea. A place that doesn’t take away from your usual activities, a place that actually adds to and enhances them, then you will see that Utopian ideas can have pragmatic outcomes, they can be a goal with practical results, not just an ultimate illusory destination.

Cliff T.: Overall what kind of reaction have you been getting to the project?

Dr. Nelson: Well, I can’t say we have had anything but good feedback so far. I think some of the positive reasons we have heard about are because it is providing a ‘cloud’ space accessible from any web capable device that is available 24/7 ie that you don’t need to be on your own computer to access all your personal information. Also that it is designed as a personal space first and foremost, and ironically, many people have said they are tired of being thrust into people’s ‘friends lists’, that they would prefer to have a private space where they could interact on their own and not expose themselves to everyone on their friends list but still have the options of sharing parts of their Brainspace with others.

Cliff T.: What prompted you to build the site?

Dr. Nelson: I have worked in the industry since it began way back in the late eighties, I developed 3d media and interactive techniques and when the web came online and was accepted by the public, like many people, my consultancy requests also changed. I spent a lot of my time writing course structures and lecturing at Universities in interactive digital media and effects, through all that time I saw many sites like Live Journal, MySpace and Facebook develop. While interested in the phenomenal growth of these type of social networking sites, I was always left thinking that the friends aspect tended to dominate, rather than the actual content. Of course this can have many positive benefits, but there are many negative ones too, rather than be a personal space, it becomes a very public and exposed space. I wanted to create the reverse, a safe place, where information could be shared or not and a place that didn’t rely on you having hundreds of so called ‘friends’ to make it seem successful or worthy of your time and efforts.

On top of this, being a medical doctor, having also been involved in media and teaching, having made documentaries and been involved with the film and tv business, I saw that so many ideas and stories never see the light of day. I wanted to change that, I wanted to create a way to make the story or idea the core to why people connected or interacted with each other rather than an often superficial ‘friends list’. We thrive by our ideas and thought and stories. I thought it was time to create a more intelligent space for social networking and interaction on the net.

Cliff T.: Besides adding to the data base what other things will users be able to do on

Dr. Nelson: Ah, we have fantastic plans! The new key linking search and explore facility is prime to the tools currently being developed. The beta release is set for the end of this month. We will be allowing users to come in and try out the basic facilities and features and to give us feedback on what they like and what they don’t etc…. These sort of sites are always ‘a work in progress’ . The key linking will allow you to link one aspect or record to another and provide an easy navigation facility to explore those connections, a bit like a browser for your mind! It will also allow you to link to other peoples records(minds), if they chose to make them viewable to members or the public.

Another exciting part of the project is a 3D virtual reality simulator space, that will allow members to log in and get access to their own records in a 3D space, to meet with others there and share their material. I’m hoping this space will provide a 3D world island where the World Compendia could be accessible as if being in a real world library. We have this currently under development and it will only be available to members. This may not appeal to everyone but, it adds a unique aspect and way of people interacting around the world in a common environment. We are hoping this will form the core to the social networking aspects of the project. Rather than meeting friends through text boxes, you will be able to meet up in full 3D with full voice and text chat facilities.

Cliff T.: Dr. Nelson can you give us a bit of a history behind this project?

Dr. Nelson: The project started in 2009. It is privately funded at this stage. I took off time from my lecturing and media consultancy business to devote to getting this project off the ground. We are aiming to keep it free for users if we can and have spent a lot of our time looking for potential funding sources to complete the build and keep it going. This is not at all easy and costs can escalate very quickly when traffic and use gets high. We are at the point now where we need investors, partners and supporters to become involved to allow it to proceed in the way it deserves. The project is designed as a true benefit to the world community and as such it will only succeed if it gains popular support.

My own involvement will continue as long as I can afford to spend the time. The project has actually been in very slow development since I wrote some personal journal software back in the early nineties that uses the key linking system. I designed that package called ‘The Seed’ for my patients to use, as a means of them recording their symptoms, thoughts, feelings and even dreams. The idea being to provide a record that could be shared with the doctor. The rise of the internet kind of superseded the old interactive CD concept and I had long wanted to re invent a new version for the web. Due to other work commitments it was only possible to find the time in the past year.

Cliff T.:I noticed that you also have a book called the Nelson Dream Base, is the project an extension of this work?

Dr. Nelson: Direct links: (if you want to link them to the sites mentioned below)

Facebook app page

Yes, the ebook available on Amazon or through Smashwords has the current compilation of dream words and meanings assembled for use in the online interactive dreamers dictionary on the site. I compiled the dictionary over the last 10 or 15 years and it is updated every so often. It is not designed to tell the direct meaning of people’s dreams, rather it is designed to show common interpretations for certain actions and symbols in dreams. Dream dictionaries have gone out of favor in general psychology but, I felt a need to at least publish some of the commonly used terms and possible associations, its aim is simply to provoke thought in order to help you to find your own meanings rather than to give one distinct meaning. It’s entries are taken from widely diverse views from Jung, Freud, Pagan, etc… We have published it simply to provide some small financial support for the site and its operations.

Cliff T.: Dr. Nelson I appreciate the fact that you took the time to speak with me today. I wish you the best as you continue to build on the project, when do you plan to have the site fully launched?

Dr. Nelson: Thanks for your interest Cliff, we greatly appreciate it. The beta release is due end of October. We will be accepting people to join as members and to start using the facilities while we upgrade the site over the next 6 months. We welcome people to come and get involved and to help us improve it, also to help us get the word out. The net is a very big place these days and it’s hard without massive funding to get a site noticed by the masses. There is a Facebook app and page too, Every bit helps. I hope that your excellent personal interview blog will begin to find many people from worthy of interview too in the future. We all have a story to tell for anyone with ears to listen. The world is not made of leaders and stars, it’s made of all the experiences of people with a story to tell. Let’s share our Brainspace!

Cliff T.: Excellent again best of success to you and the site and again thank you for stopping in to chat on Candid Conversations.

Dr. Andrew Nelson is the creator of a comprehensive data base and free site where people can share stories dreams and ideas. The site will launch at the end of October. Dr. Nelson has also authored the Nelson Dream Base. He wrote to Candid Conversations from somewhere in cyberspace.

C. T.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Serious Candid Conversation With Howard Sapers

For 35 years the Office of the Correctional Investigator Canada has been the voice if you will for those seeking to file complaints within the correctional system in Canada. The voice is of the offender and besides dealing with this the Ombudsman also looks at the processes that Correctional Service Canada uses to handle inmates and makes recommendations on them to improve the service.

In recent times the office has garnered media attention especially in the light of the death of Ashley Smith in 2007. Howard Sapers is the Correctional Investigator for Canada a role that puts him in the middle of what could be considered a tug of war between the inmates and the jailers. Mr Sapers welcome to Candid Conversations.

H Sapers: “Thank you very much for the invitation. It is indeed a pleasure.”

Cliff T.: I characterize what you do as being in the middle of a tug of war between the inmates and the jailers, would that be an accurate lay description?

H Sapers: “My Office is independent of the Correctional Service and my mandate is to conduct investigations into the problems of offenders related to decisions, acts or omissions of the CSC that affect offenders either individually or as a group.

I would not necessarily characterize the relationship between my Office and the Correctional Service of Canada as a ‘tug of war.’ In fact, we both share a common and mutual goal – safe, secure and humane custody of federally sentenced offenders.

We may not always agree on certain points, but ultimately the relationship between an Ombudsman’s office and the agency it oversees must be built on professionalism, integrity and trust. Both organizations have an interest in assisting offenders to lead a responsible and law-abiding life.

Our investigations promote the safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders in accordance with the law. As a partner in the criminal justice system we help to ensure the safe and effective reintegration of offenders into the community, contributing to public safety.”

Cliff T.: What is the range of complaints that you receive from inmates?

H Sapers: On an annual basis, my Office receives anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 offender complaints. In FY 2009-10, the top 10 areas of concern most frequently identified by offenders were:

Health Care 766 14.68%
Cell Effects 397 7.61%
Administrative Segregation 394 7.55%
Transfer 393 7.53%
Staff 379 7.26%
Grievance 244 4.68%
Visits 220 4.22%
Telephone 168 3.22%
Case Preparation 157 3.01%
Information 154 2.95%

Cliff T.: Besides complaints from the inmates, do you ever get any from the families of inmates and or the general public and what about corrections staff can they file a complaint to you?

H Sapers: “Yes, we frequently have family members of offenders contact our Office. Often the nature of a family member contact with my Office is to seek information or clarification about an issue, event or concern affecting their son or daughter or loved one. A family member may ask our Office to intervene on their behalf, but in order to do so we must have the consent of the offender in order to pursue the matter further.

Correctional Service of Canada personnel do not file a complaint with my Office. The CSC and the unions representing its staff deal with employee issues.”

Cliff T.: How are complaints prioritized and do any just get sent back without any investigation at all?

H Sapers: “Our goal is to ensure that all offender complaints are objectively and fairly addressed in a timely manner. Like most Ombudsman, we encourage complainants to resolve their matters informally, at the lowest levels possible. In the case of federal offenders, we encourage them to attempt to resolve their concerns through the inmate complaints and grievance process, although this is not a prerequisite to our initiating an investigation. The vast majority of the concerns raised on complaints by inmates are addressed by this Office at the institutional level through discussion and negotiation.

Offenders can contact my Office by toll-free phone, by letter or by meeting one of my Investigators assigned to federal facilities. Calls of an urgent or emergency nature – e.g. life-threatening situation, involuntary segregation, medical emergency or involuntary transfer – are responded to on a priority basis.

Not all complaints proceed to an investigation. We are not advocates for offenders or the prison system. We investigate from an impartial perspective and, if we decide a complaint has merit, we will support the offender in achieving resolution of the problem. In other words, my Office has full discretion as to whether an investigation will be conducted in relation to any particular complaint or request and how that investigation will be carried out.”

Cliff T.:Mr. Sapers I have to imagine that some prisoners are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals by staff, how does your team deal with that fear?

H Sapers: “The law is very clear on this point – ‘every offender shall have complete access to the offender grievance procedure without negative consequences.’

In our case, all communications between offenders and my Office is confidential. All correspondence to and from the Office is to be delivered unopened. A person or group cannot be disciplined or punished because they have contacted my Office.”

Cliff T.: It can also be said that staff at an institution or an inmate may not be completely honest about what really happened, are there tools you have to aid you and your team to sort it out and figure out what really went on?

H Sapers: “My team of Investigators has access to all information and documents that are in the possession of the Correctional Service for the purpose of carrying out an investigation. My staff can interview or communicate with any member of the CSC. We have full and unfettered access to CSC facilities. Through corroborating interviews, accessing and reviewing pertinent information, evidence and documentation, we can usually make a determination based on the facts and merits of the case before us.”

Cliff T.: There many in our society who feel and voice the opinion that prisoners don't matter in our society some just want to have Corrections Canada lock the cell door and toss the key away, what is your take on this mentality?

H Sapers: “We have to remember that the vast majority of offenders will eventually be released from prison back to the community. We have a better chance of releasing a responsible and law-abiding person if s/he is treated fairly, with dignity and respect while serving their sentence. Corrections involves balancing the interests and rights of all members of society, including those of offenders.

I happen to believe that how we treat those in prison can tell us a lot about the kind of society we are, or aspire to be. Offenders often come from vulnerable, distressed and disadvantaged elements of our society. Their life histories are not an excuse for their criminality, but they do help us understand why they may end up in prison and how we might positively intervene. As has often been observed, offenders are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. None of our sanctions for criminal behaviour includes the abandonment of human rights. This is what defines our correctional system and our democracy – or at least it should.

Cliff T.: What got you interested in doing this job?

H Sapers: “In my professional life, I have held various positions in the criminal justice field through employment and community service. Immediately prior to my appointment as Correctional Investigator of Canada in February 2004, I was Vice-Chairperson, National Parole Board of Canada in the Prairie Region. Between 2001-2003, I held the position of Director of the Crime Prevention Investment Fund at the National Crime Prevention Centre, Department of Justice Canada. My post secondary education and training is in Criminology. Overall, I have nearly 30 years of work and volunteer experience in the criminal justice sector.”

Cliff T.: There are a lot of bad things one can say about inmates and the prison system and there are a lot of bad things that happen to inmates in the system. However do you ever have a good day or should I ask what is a good day in your job?

H Sapers: “I have mostly good days in my job. I have a terrific and committed staff. I come to work everyday feeling quite privileged to serve Canadians. It is not a perfect job, but I believe it is an important one. By their nature, prisons can be inhospitable environments, for both prisoners and staff. I am struck by the fact that my Office serves an important and necessary oversight function. To be effective and to maintain public trust and confidence, our criminal justice system must operate within, not outside, the rule of law. I cannot think of a better or more rewarding mandate than that.”

Cliff T.: I noted that on the site that the services you provide have been in place for a short time 35 years. Why was the agency formed or a better question is what caused the need to create The Office of The Correctional Investigator?

H Sapers: “The Office of the Correctional Investigator was created as a direct result of a prison riot at Kingston Penitentiary in 1971. The riot, a response to harsh conditions of confinement and punitive disciplinary sanctions, resulted in five correctional officers being taken hostage and a group of prisoners brutally tortured. Two of the prisoners died, 13 were seriously injured, and part of Kingston Penitentiary was destroyed. In the aftermath of the riot, many of the inmates involved in the disturbance were transferred to nearby Millhaven Institution where they were assaulted by correctional staff at that institution.

The resulting Commission of Inquiry into the Kingston riot and subsequent events recommended the establishment of an external avenue of redress. The Office of the Correctional Investigator was established June 1, 1973. It was not, however, until 1992 that that my Office was formally established in statute with the enactment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.”

Cliff T.: Well it is obvious that due to events of the past and in recent light of a report on 130 cases of in custody deaths 9 of which had eerie similarities to the death of Ashley Smith in 2007 that there is much to do to change the system and the attitudes about it and towards inmates. Mr Sapers thank you for spending time with me and my readers today it was a pleasure to speak with you via email.

H Sapers: “Thank you again for your interest in my Office.”

Howard Sapers is the Correction Investigator for Canada and works out of the Office of the Correctional Investigator. To learn more about the role of the agency and Mr. Sapers you can visit the website at . Mr. Sapers wrote to us from his office in Ottawa.