TED Talks – Ayah Bdeir: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach

The human race is so innovative and ever-curious. I wish we could better harness the creativity flourishing around the world.

Here is the web bio:

Imagine a set of electronics as easy to play with as Legos. TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir introduces littleBits, a set of simple, interchangeable blocks that make programming as simple and important a part of creativity as snapping blocks together.

Ayah Bdeir is an engineer and artist, and is the founder of littleBits and karaj, an experimental art, architecture and technology lab in Beirut.

The next ‘New Thing’ – book trailers

I heard this author read a few months ago at a Writers’ Community of Durham Region event at the Ontario Writers’ Conference in Ajax.

Here’s a bit of her bio from the bookreporter website.

Eva Stachniak was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by The Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, NECESSARY LIES, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. She is also the author of GARDEN OF VENUS, which has been translated into seven languages. Stachniak lives in TorontoA very interesting speaker.

Snazzy trailer for her book. Yes, I bought it. Got it signed, too. I enjoy well-written historical fiction.

Aurora Chamber Street Festival

The Writers’ Community of York Region had a booth at the Aurora Chamber of Commerce Street Festival today. It seems that every alternate year, the weather is crappy. Today was windy, cool and overcast, with low sullen clouds chasing each other across the sky. But hey, we’re Canadian. So the dress code included tank-tops, furry moccasins, parkas, flip-flops, riding boots, short shorts, t-shirts and raincoats. Bring it on, Mother Nature, you grumpy old gal.

Malcolm, Janis and I (what a great team) had to resort to the instructions to get the numbered poles assembled into a tidy peaked structure. The wind almost tore the cover out of our hands as we wrestled it over the frame and tied it down. But at least we didn’t have to drive metal spikes into the pavement to secure the whole thing. We finished just before 11 and folks were already cruising the street.

We were pretty bold – calling out to ask passersby if they were writers. Few looked our way; even fewer were prepared to admit that they were writers. People – it’s not a vice to write down what you’ve imagined, or what you feel or what you’ve overheard on the bus, as poetry, fiction or song. Continue reading Aurora Chamber Street Festival

Rankin Run raises $725,000 in St. Catharines

Just over 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s Rankin Cancer Run, raising a record-breaking $725,000. My friend, Dave’s wife Mary Ann, is the amazing organizer behind this event. Shows you the power of community and people who pitch in to achieve great things!

Rankin Run raises $725,000 | Local | News | St. Catharines Standard.

TED: Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), on Writing

In this engaging talk, she speaks about the writing craft and fear (seaweed?) that’s peculiar to writing.

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Portland – delayed observations II

Portland has done a fantastic job of revitalizing what used to be an industrial area – The Pearl District. They’ve done a fair bit of infill – no towering high rises, though – and they’ve retained the architectural integrity of existing heritage structures. A lot of ground floor commercial with apartments above. Makes perfect sense.

And the street food trucks! Toronto is just cluing in to the fact that they need more street-level attractions downtown. We saw food trucks parked around the perimeters of several lots (they pay a fee annually, they get health inspections and have to be licenced). You name the country or style of food and you’d find it in Portland. Clever names, great food. We had a Belgian (Liege) waffle and yes, it reminded us of the street food we had in Brussels, too.

Of course we spent more time in Powell's Books. It was overwhelming to be in the presence of so many words! Of course, I assisted the local economy by purchasing as many knitting books as I thought I could carry. What was really nice – there were lots of seats and benches for folks to peruse books from the shelves. A great public washroom and a cafe on the ground floor. Best of all, there was no hassling of the many street people who, it seems, spend their days inside, reading and not bothering anyone. Progressive. Plus, they get to enjoy the magic of words and worlds they may not get to see.

The next best thing, though, is Portland's public transit. Light rail runs quietly on a system of one-way streets, with the tracks closer to the sidewalks. There's an extensive bus system, too. Toronto is so behind the times. Instead of fighting, just get on with it – what a big difference a high quality rapid transit system makes to the livability of an urban area. Have seen few traffic jams, no horn honking – for a city centre, it just feels so civilized. In fact, I'm reminded of Amsterdam, and the square at Rembrandtsplat, and the cafe where we had coffee and pastry.

I feel so discouraged that TO is dragging so far behind, and losing ground. Approaching 'world class' will take more creativity and willingness to trust that I think Council is capable of. Seems like every new initiative is fair game for partisanship without considering the greater good.

Portland – delayed observations I

NOTE: this post was written several weeks ago, but because the wi-fi at the hotel was so weak, it didn’t leave my tablet and appear here.

Portland, Oregon. 10.28 a.m. Toronto time. I haven’t changed the times on my tablet because there’s no point, and my watch still reads EST because the instructions for changing the digital buttons are at home. I’m going to go to the drug store and buy a cheap analog one, I think. Hub left early for a breakfast meeting and I have the day to myself.

We’re lodging at The Nines, a boutique hotel created from a retrofit project of the top nine floors of a Macys department store. There are still five floors of Macy’s underneath the hotel. The exterior has been maintained in the Art Deco style (I think). The retail levels remind me of the Bay store on Queen Street in downtown Toronto, but with more open display areas. The sales people are excruciatingly friendly – every single one greeted me as as I wandered through the five floors. It got to the point where I stopped making eye contact because talking to everyone as slowing me down. Browsing as a conversational sport – interesting. And they were genuine, too – not a fake ‘hihowareyew’. I think the shock came from the contrast between how service oriented they are here compared to the usual absence or general surliness at home. And the folks here get paid less, too. What I found really interesting here and in places like Nordstroms which I thought was a high-end store, was that so many of the goods come from Asia – primarily Vietnam. Having been to Thailand, where a lot of this stuff is also sold, I know what the markups are in the US – steep.

I love Portland. It is a gorgeous city.


I have walked for hours and hours every day with my fraying street map tightly in hand along with the lists I prepared before we left home (love Evernote) and suggestions from the hotel concierge. Continue reading Portland – delayed observations I