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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Joy of Helping a Teacher Bounce Back

When we drove the streets hardest hit by the Minot flood we entered a wasteland of abandoned homes, abandoned belongings, and - in many cases - abandoned dreams.

No one washing their cars, weeding their gardens, blasting their stereos or heading for the convenience store. No families out for bike rides, no one walking their dogs - not a pet in sight. No kids playing hop-scotch or running through sprinklers.

No usual Saturday hustle - just quiet desolation.

We were confronted with street after street of empty homes, all bearing outdoor scars of where the badly behaved Souris River ravaged their contents and turned Home Sweet Home into financial headaches for thousands.

Answering the call
We were all answering the call of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to clean out these houses - rip out every wet sofa, tear down every soaked wall, remove every carpet, every bloated hardwood floor, every heavy appliance, literally anything that had been touched and tainted by the water. It all had to go, right down to the studs, and be piled on the front property along the street so the owners could rebuild.

Everything touched by the Souris flood waters had to to be piled out front.
You couldn't help but feel for the owners, most of whom were advised against getting flood insurance, and who were now taking shelter with family and relatives anywhere but in the homes on which they were still paying mortgages.

So, when we and 300 other Mormons rolled into the parking lot of the Latter-day Saint Chapel - from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana - we were amazed.

The Church turned the chapel into a command centre that operated for weeks, filled with food, equipment, generators and everything needed to tackle the mess. We supplied the labour.

I'm a lot more comfortable writing press releases than wielding a hammer.
Shouldn't wrecking things be easier?
The Church is big on organization. Our organizers, Brother and Sister Ludlow from Thousand Oaks, California, had just finished wrapping up a similar project in Joplin, Missouri, and didn't have time to go home before being called to do the same work in Minot.

They put us into groups of 10 and we fanned out to clean or "gut" as we called it, the homes.

Usually, this could be done in one back-breaking day. Ours took the weekend. Many of us had office jobs - a few were handy, and the work we would do would be valued at anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 depending on the home. But we wouldn't have taken a dime for our work.

The first day's shift was 10.5 hrs. I was whipped after the first two - or thought so at least. It was a hot day and the masks we wore because of the possibility of inhaling mould felt were like breathing through a scarf. I was surprised at how hard it was to "destroy" a home. Shouldn't wrecking things be a lot easier?

But like most things in life, you don't know what you can do until you push yourself. My second and third wind came. By the end of the day, I was whipped but very satisfied. The coolest part of the whole project - the thing that made it even more worthwhile than I knew it would be was this... 

Meeting Kelly and Sarah
Kelly Warren is a K-12 special ed teacher who lives with her two-year-old son and her mother Sarah. Coming face to face with Kelly and Sarah was such a wonderful feeling. The fact that Kelly was a teacher was especially gratifying to me since I work for a teachers' union and they always have my respect.

Kelly and Sarah filled us in on the flood, the evacuation - all the details surrounding this major trauma in her life as a first-year teacher. We were so relieved to know that she had signed a contract in a neighbouring town 40 miles away and that it came complete with teacher accommodations.

Both Kelly and Sarah expressed heartfelt appreciation for the work we did and followed it up with this warm and thoughtful email.

"Sending out a heartfelt thank-you from Minot from Sarah and Kelly Warren! When left with only words to try to convey our gratitude, I am left feeling inadequate to say the least. Your group and their cheerful and giving attitude doing such "dirty" work was very uplifting and helpful at this glitch in our road. Your help gave us a much-needed surge of energy to take steps forward instead of feeling paralyzed by this overwhelming situation. Thanks again and I have no doubt that your impact on us and Minot will be felt for years to come."

But the folks in Minot, including Kelly and Sarah, aren't out of the woods yet. They have so much work to do. We imagine the pressures at this point are intense. That's why we were so happy to have had a small part in opening up the possibility that they can rebuild their home.

Three hundred volunteers in 99 tents camped around the LDS Chapel.
Happy to serve
We left Minot Sunday afternoon with some minor aches and pains, but our hearts were definitely full. We had definitely pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We had helped a wonderful family do what they couldn't do for themselves - in a very small way, like what our Saviour did for us.

We felt blessed to provide service to people who needed it badly. Of 4,100 homes affected, the Church cleaned out 570.

I love Sarah's closing comments in the short interview I grabbed above. "If anything comes out of this whole flood, maybe it's just a realization that we're all connected and that to work together is a wonderful thing - and to just stay positive."

That's a wonderful message to take away from this project.

Stay positive, Kelly and Sarah. It was a privilege to meet you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Human Rights Video Wickedly Clever

I stumbled on a video yesterday that is worth discussion on so many levels. Click it and you'll come away smiling. Research it and you'll be concerned.

1)  At first blush it's a fresh, inspiring reminder that we are all so much more than the labels others assign us. The message is positive, life-affirming, one that lifts the spirits - a powerful attention grabber for a keynote or conversation starter for a workshop.

2)  It's also anti-psychiatry which I have problems with. We all know people who both need and have been helped by mental health professionals. This to me is a dangerous extrapolation from the "you are much bigger than a label" message.

3)  If you think about it, it's also an indirect shot at Big Pharma which has a drug for most of the psychiatric conditions showcased in the video. Bashing Big Pharma is beyond my ability because I simply don't know enough other than the fact there are gigantic amounts of cash involved in treating psychiatric conditions with chemicals.

4)  But here's the rub. As brilliant as the video is, it was produced by the Citizens' Council for Human Rights, an organization entirely controlled and funded by the Church of Scientology which takes a rabid anti-medication position on psychiatric illness.

So while the video may remind us to see the people we teach, love, play and work with as much bigger than any label which may have been given them, its ultimate goal is to serve as a public relations campaign for an organization that itself has issues with control and manipulation.

Clever when you think about it. But wickedly so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BYU Professor Defends Gaming, Flips Cyber-Safety Interview

I love this interview with BYU professor Charles Knutson because it could have gone the direction of so many other alarmist cyber-safety interviews that only concentrate on the perils of kids going online. Knutson gives a genuine upfront nod to the dangers, but doesn't believe "technology is the problem" and flips the entire premise of the interview for the rest of the segment.

Scrub past the opening banter to the 7:05 mark to watch the good professor affably lay out his argument for why video-games - especially MMORPGs like World of Warcraft - have value and why online games meet the same fundamental needs real world games have always met.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hemingway Was 'Completely Ashamed' When He Read Her Book

Owen Wilson's character meets Hemingway in Woody Allen's new flick.

Recently, while watching Midnight in Paris - Woody Allan's new smart and satisfying rom-com - I was reminded of Hemingway's spare and forceful style of prose.

Every evening, Owen Wilson's character is transported from modern day wanderings with his fiance in Paris, to the 1920's nightlife of the city, meeting a succession of artists and writers from that era.

Thinking about the scene where Owen Wilson meets Hemingway, I was reminded that as great as Papa was, there was a book he read by female pilot Beryl Markham that made him feel "completely inadequate."

Those words are never uttered in the movie, but he did admit as much in a letter to Maxwell Perkins - and the words speak for themselves.

"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would have put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people's stories, are absolutely true....I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book."

I had the good fortune to read West with the Night years ago. If you're looking for a good summer read, download it from Amazon or find it at your local bookstore. And if you're looking for a clever romantic comedy that pleases the eyes and intellect, check out Midnight in Paris.

As you know, the smart movies often don't last long.

Friday, July 1, 2011

5 Moments of Gratitude for Canada

1) I remember wiping tears away when I played Dan Hill's Canada in the house of a Chilean friend.

2) I remember being surprised to see a Canadian flag outside a museum in the Southern U.S. and instantly choking up with love and pride looking up at that Maple Leaf. It had been a half year since I left home. I wouldn't be back for another year. I was a mess for about five minutes.

3) I remember being in Texas and proudly keeping my arms at my side one hot July 4, while a community club full of Americans recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We were all grateful for who we were. None more than I.

4) I remember talking with a friend's wife from Detroit, who said her sense of personal safety increases the minute she crosses into Canadian airspace.

5) I remember being embarrassed taking two Cuban refugees to a hockey game in the Winnipeg Arena. They courageously hopped the plane at Gander, Newfoundland, weeks earlier and asked for political asylum. That night, half the crowd didn't know the new words to O Canada and the other half were too Canadian to sing it with any passion. They look puzzled at the half-hearted delivery and I apologized for us.

So, I feel a deep love for this breathtaking, largely empty country of only 34.5 million. It's a love not borne out of adversity or testing - or even anything as dramatic as military service in some far-away land.

Rather, it's a deep recognition that I have been truly blessed to live in a tolerant, caring, safe, democratic country. One that cares enough for its citizens to provide them a safety net when they're down and opportunities to get ahead with hard work.

I'm fortunate to have every nationality and ethnicity under the sun standing beside me. To be born in a place with natural resources other countries would give their eye teeth for. To share my life with family and friends who enjoy the same blessings as I do because of our geography.

We're living the world's dream up here - but I'm not sure enough of us know it.

So, happy birthday Canada. Enjoy your 144th.

We all owe you big time.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to Digitally Preserve Your Family's History

Ever heard of PDF-A files? How about JPG 2000 lossless? Know what an M.DISC is?

Well neither did I until I attend the Preserving Your Roots, a family history conference held the weekend of June 4th in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The event, organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, centered on how to archive - not simply backup - family history (genealogical) records from hard copy to digital formats.

Knockout keynote
There were sessions on how to use Google for family history work, choosing the best software downloads for genealogy work, how to retouch family photos and more - including a knockout keynote by Gary W. Wright who works for the Church and is Senior Product Manager for Digital Preservation.

Wright gave a powerful presentation on how to digitize all the tangible stuff that binds you to your family members who have already passed; photos, vital records, journals, music, artwork, oral histories, newspaper clippings, family videos, books, maps, etc.

He's written a 16-page document called Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally that details the hardware and software you'll need, offers solutions to problems in archiving this special information.

Clear picture
He paints a clear picture of the challenges involved in digital preservation:

"It is NOT merely backing up your data! Rather it is a process that involves storing digital records (i) with descriptive information (ii) for a very long time (iii) in multiple locations (iv) at the highest resolution you can afford; (v) periodically migrating the records to new storage media in order to prevent data loss or the inability to read the data; also to take advantage of new storage technology; (vi) changing file formats before they become obsolete; and (vii) providing access to your digital collection now and in the future."

Free download
If you're at all interested in the subject, Wright's paper is worth the free download. There's also a wealth of other tech tip resources on the site. And if you've never had the pleasure of starting to research and preserve your family's history, why not check out the free FamilySearch website and see where your family line takes you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Aren't Restaurants Smarter About Free Wi-Fi?

Free wi-fi means I'll drop more cash at your fast food outlet or eatery.
So why don't more restaurants and merchants offer it?
Why do most restaurants want to sell me wi-fi access over lunch?

When I go to my local Perkins or Salisbury House, or visit a good number of eateries, one of the first things I do is fire up my iPhone or iPad to see if I can surf on their dime.

So often I can't.

Instead they want to make money from me by sending me through a big service provider.

Yet, I can sit down at a McDonalds, stroll through a Safeway or wait for my sons at the orthodontist and get free access.

Those who do give me a chance to enjoy a little digital respite at no charge make me feel valued. It's an unexpected perk that cements my loyalty.

While those who hope to make a buck from selling me access come off as marketing dinosaurs. The fact that free access will increase the frequency of my visits and leave me pre-disposed to dropping more money in their establishments is lost on them.

But maybe it's not about the money. Could it be that it's a filter to discourage youths from sucking up bandwidth by filling up the booths while tethering their iPod Touches to the house router?

Whatever the case, the kids aren't there. And neither are the business customers that would appreciate a smart 21st-Century marketing gesture.

The bottom line is that more traffic equals more dollars - and those who won't serve me wi-fi gratis get fewer of mine.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Majestic Mountains of Winnipeg

What better to go with Winnipeg's NHL franchise, Bomber stadium and Canada's largest IKEA than a set of majestic mountains. Someone I know did this won-der-ful mash-up. And even though I love Winnipeg just the way it is, I think these peaks look good on us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

QR and the Seabirds in my Globe and Mail

Coming "from away" and having once taken in the breathtaking beauty of Newfoundland during a PR conference, I was delighted to see this insert tucked into my Globe today.

The headline "give your senses a trip to remember" is so appropriate and I was really intrigued by the QR and words "get the soundtrack."

When I scanned it with my I-nigma app, I was shocked when it resolved to a YouTube video. Did they really want users to rack up charges streaming their over-produced travel vid?

Mericifully, the video is only 21 seconds (smart move, guys) and it's a blowy, windy, visual soundtrack of the birds on the rock pictured in the bumf with a final tag of "Seabird Capital of North America."

Calm. Understated. Nice.

Got your smartphone ready? Go!

Monday, June 13, 2011

5 Ways Wearable PVRs Will Change Your Life

Wearable personal video recorders, like this one advertised in a London Drug flyer, could go from simple gimmick to part of everyday life - for better and worse. Scan the QR code above for an eye-opening video on how this gadget works or click on the embedded video below.
The gates to the future can turn on small hinges. I spotted one of those hinges in a recent London Drugs flyer.

The Looxcie Bluetooth Video Camera is essentially a personal video recorder you wear on your ear. The camera looks like a typical bluetooth device. Press record once and you begin keeping a running video log of the last five hours of your day in real time. After five hours, it begins recording over the last unsaved portion of video. You manage your settings from an app on your Android or iPhone.

Gimmick or brainwave?
So what exactly does this mean? Well, if your daughter scores that winning goal or your son decides today is the day he'll take his first steps, you've got it on video - without ever pulling out your camcorder or smartphone or putting your eye to a viewfinder.

In fact, you can capture the last 30 seconds of any sudden event you witness and turn it into a separate video with just one on-the-fly click.

Gimmick, right? I mean who would really want to stockpile videos of everything they do throughout the day? You'd likely use this for short periods of time at family events and outings, your kids' games, and maybe to keep your hands free while you pull that fish out of the lake.

But here's why I think this little toy has the potential to dramatically affect our lives - maybe not right now, but as resolution and recording time expand - and attitudes toward privacy become even more liberal.

1) Many people - especially the young - are living their lives more transparently because of the social media that form such a huge part of their identity. As strange as it seems now, the idea of an always-on video journal would not be narcissistic, but simply a convenient way to record and ferret out daily gems from an otherwise unremarkable day. That means we will be in proximity to more video-obsessed folks around us and more opportunities to have our personal interactions captured close-up.

2) People will grow increasingly used to being videotaped in public. It already happens through closed circuit TV, municipal video cameras, built in cameras at bank machines, red-light cameras, and by hundreds of smartphones brandished at concerts, festivals and other public events - none of which we consent to be recorded by. Wide-spread adoption of wearable PVRs could mean that resistance to the idea of being recorded in public will at some point become, know.

3) Traffic cops, parking commissioners, bank tellers and the kid handing you your order at the McDonald's drive-thru might all have bosses who would like to record their interactions with people - up close and personal - for training purposes, evaluation or legal use. Initially, there could be posted or verbal warnings about being recorded on video, but these would likely give way as wearable PVRs make more inroads into the public.

4) It could reach the point where wearable PVRs may be so widespread that the mere act of stepping out of your home will put you on the video record - not of some huge centralized agency, but by the dozens of people you interact with every day. This could push the boundaries of what's public and private into extremely uncomfortable territory. Would there be safe sanctuary for those who want to be free from the prying eyes of mobile videocams?

Already, we have to contend with the double-edged sword of citizen journalism. It can document and even foment revolution; chronicle the human and material devastation of a tornado, flood, nuclear incident; or even bring scene of a local car wreck onto our iPads. But this proliferation of video devices can also be extremely invasive. Ask anyone who's had to fight to remove their images from social networking sites like YouTube.

Also, video recording by private citizens has largely been a deliberate act until now. It involves making a decision to video, pulling your smartphone or Flip out, and recording the action. Because there's usually a viewfinder between you and your subject, it's usually obvious to onlookers that you are videotaping. Theoretically, at least they can remove themselves from your camera's immediate view.

5) None of this applies to wearable PVRs right now. They look like every other innocuous bluetooth device. There's not much to give away the fact that every movement of the wearer's head is grabbing whatever is in the field of vision - whether it's a prairie landscape or your personal interaction with the wearer.

Of course, these concerns could be overwrought. The wearable PVR could be a wash, a non-starting piece of technical ingenuity that doesn't find much use in daily life. But I remember seeing my first black and white video demonstration back in my twenties and wondering what kind of application it could ever have. Now I carry an iPhone for personal use, a Blackberry for work, and sometimes even my Flip - all of which I can use to record video.

If the idea of preserving large parts of your waking life on video does catch on, people will have to make peace with the fact that their lives may not be chronicled by Big Brother or any other surveillance-obsessed overseer. It could simply be captured by the dozens of people we come in contact with every day.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quick, Cheap FM Transmitter Tip for iPad

FM transmitters for iStuff can be pretty pricey, but they sure are handy for watching movies or listening to tunes from your iPad when you're on a road trip.

Since I wanted to pump some cool tunes through my car stereo yesterday, I ran into a London Drugs in Regina fully expecting to get hosed.

I skipped the usual $79 to $100+ name brands to see if I could find something reasonable.

I took a chance on a cheap off-brand transmitter for a miserly $35. It was meant for iPhone 3G/3Gs and older iPod Touches - and didn't say a word about iPad compatability. But it works brilliantly from almost any position in the car, doesn't need batteries and measures about 1" x 1.25".

Had we had one on our road trip to Edmonton in January, we could have untethered the iPad from the audio cord and spared the boys a lot of leaning forward from the backseats.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

4 Great Resources for Learning Japanese from My 14-Year-Old

My 14-year-old son spends hours every day meticulously composing Japanese phrases in his notebook for fun.

He scans Twitter's short pithy messages in Japanese for reading practice, views his Facebook profile entirely in Japanese, pesters me to go to oriental food markets to buy junk food, and has appropriated our discount bin DVD of Ramen Girl to capture glimpses of Japan and listen to the dialogue.

In the words of an 80's hit by The Vapors, I fear he is turning Japanese - I really think so. This is on the heels of his successful self-initiated push to learn Spanish, last year, and his assiduous following of language hacker Irish Polyglot (@irishpolyglot) and his blog.

So, I asked him about the resources he uses most often. This is what he recommends for beginners like him.

1) - Denshi Jisho is an awesome English-Japanese/Kanji dictionary. Kanji characters can be searched by radicals.

2) - Solid site for vocabulary, Kanji and grammar practice. Also has a library of useful grammar tips.

3) - Great blog written by Khatz (or Khatzumoto) an American who learned Japanese with digital flashcards, and by watching Japanese TV shows and listening to conversation.

4) Japanese My Way - An iPad app with flashcards, dictionary and tutorial videos.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meaghan Smith Hits the 'Peg - Junos' Best New Artist in Town June 9

Ok, you're in for a treat as Meaghan Smith, Halifax's young, retro-styled crooner comes to crush it at at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, June 9.

The London, Ontario native snagged "best new artist" at the Junos in March and "pop album of the year" at the East Coast Music Awards back in April.

Smith has launched a North-American tour to showcase what the National Post called her "swingy, nostalgia-tinged, soft-pop," and promote her album The Crickets Orchestra. She will hit the 'Peg a week after her Provo, Utah gig and before a string of Canadian and U.S. dates.

Career as animator
But, and here's the cool part of Smith's journey to rising star status, no one in North America would have ever heard her great pipes had it not been for a change of direction a few years ago. You see, Smith was set for a career in animation - and a promising one at that. She credits her family's modest budget for her love of illustration and music.

"We couldn’t afford cable, so to avoid doing homework, I occupied myself with other activities, like drawing and singing. And with three (mostly fuzzy) TV channels to choose from, I ended up watching a lot of animated movies and old musicals. Some of my favorites were Calamity Jane, My Fair Lady, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

You'll notice Smith's animation handiwork in some of her early videos, in her video biography, and by mousing over the banner on her website to conjure up what looks remarkably like a fluttering Twitter bird.

Eventually, Smith worked up the courage to put on "secret concerts for a few of my friends in the stairwell" of the animation building where she was studying. A sound engineer encouraged her to use the building's studios to record a demo and she began booking local gigs to gain confidence performing.

After graduating, Smith moved to Halifax, and worked for four years to raise $30,000 to cut a CD. She then spent two months on the streets of Toronto living on home-made vegetable soup and sleeping at Tim Horton's.

Finally, recognition
Smith's Omnichord-based remake of the Pixie's Here Comes Your Man for the soundtrack of the movie 500 Days of Summer got her the first big accolades and gave her some solid momentum.

She's still nowhere near a household name, but her recent awards are the foot in the door to North American consciousness. And with her clever writing, throwback rhythms, some stronger branding, and a few good tours, let's hope the Mormon girl with the velvet vocals can establish a big career for herself.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A 10-Point Flip Review for Beginners - As We Kiss It Goodbye

EXPERIMENTAL POP THAT ROCKS: I caught up with Matthew, Grant, Steven and Oliver of Behind Sapphire an hour or so before their March 29, 2011, gig at the Exchange Community Church in downtown Winnipeg. Missing is Lindsay. Video was taken with my Flip Ultra HD just before dusk, largely with available light through large windows.

Look, I'm in love with my Flip Ultra HD. Can you blame me?

Sure, Cisco killed this little one-function wonder this week just a month after I got mine. Guess they figured 15% growth wasn't good enough - or maybe they just weren't cool enough, I'm not sure. But I'm definitely in hello mode: and nowhere near abandoning it yet.

I heard about these simple camcorders from following teachers and PR people on Twitter. Grabbing quick interviews seemed so easy: get in close, push the big red button, get your subject to speak up, and voilá - clean, no frills video for your blog, website or social networks.

So, thanks to some Air Miles points that had been languishing in my account, I took delivery of this magical little machine about a month ago and have been testing it ever since.

I'm so impressed.

Oh, the Flip is not perfect. Plenty of nits to pick at a time when just about everyone can shoot video with their smartphones. But for someone wanting to cut his teeth on video, it's perfect enough.

Here are my observations on this hard-working gadget whose untimely demise won't keep me from enjoying it:

1) The first thing that strikes you is how a little box with no moving parts can deliver such great video. When you first flip the USB out and attach the the Flip to your computer, you can instantly appreciate the quality.

2) Natural light is by far what you want to shoot in. The colours are great and the images are sharp and clear. Life is good - and good lighting makes it even better.

3) Results in hotel lighting are a mixed bag. In dimly-lit rooms, you'll get results that are less focussed, grainy, and complexions turn ruddy. Brighter lighting in lobbies and hallways will alleviate some of this, but nothing comes close to the beauty of natural light.

4) Use the modest zoom sparingly. Image crispness drops off sharply on maximum.

5) If you're shooting very close - desktop stuff for example - the Flip's fixed focus will give you fuzzy results. (How's that for alliteration?) If you want to shoot a demo of an app on your iPhone or iPad, the blurriness is frustrating. The solution is to simply hold a decent magnifying glass in front of the lens. Graceless yes, but it works.

6) There is no direct jack for an external mike, so you're stuck with the one on the camera. But if you're interviewing subjects up close, the Flip balances the sound in front of and behind the camera rather well - much better than the iPhone's biased mike.

7) There are two workarounds for sound, though. One is to buy an external stereo mike that plugs into the bottom of your Flip. You can plug an external mike into that. The other is to buy the FreedomMIC from Scosche. This little beast plugs into the bottom as well, but receives sound from up to 100 ft. from its wireless lapel mike. The Freedom Mike is a bit of a unicorn, though. There was plenty of talk about them during a Sept. 10 newser last year, but no one has yet seen the mythical mike instore. Hmm, did they get wind of the Flip's impending demise?

8) I love the fact that there is no DVD to pop in. The Flipshare software is uploaded from the camera to your computer through the unit's USB. No need to carry around a charger either. Just plug the USB into your laptop or desktop.

9) As for juice, The Flip comes with a rechargeable battery pack, but in a pinch you can snap in three lithium AAAs - so practical.

10) The editor that comes with the Flip Share software is simple and limited. The titles, for example, are big and dumpy and the editing features are primitive. But the software does make it easy for you to upload your videos to social networks and share them with family and friends.

Even though I sense a more sophisticated around the corner for me, I'm still in the honeymoon phase with this simple, single-function gadget. Prices have already dropped on the website making them a great buy for beginners like me. And to supplement my baby steps in video with the Flip, I'll be buying Sony Vegas Movie Maker HD or Final Cut Express to cut my teeth on editing.

Hey, you can still learn a lot without breaking the bank, right?

Check out Behind Sapphire on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and iTunes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why I Can't Be Faithful to One Twitter App

I can't be faithful to just one Twitter app. Sure I can point to a favorite depending on the platform, but I would never stick with just one.

I love Echofon on the iPad because of the way it displays the lists of people I'm following and who are following me. People I follow are listed in alpha order making it easy to scroll through and find exactly who I'm looking for. My followers are listed chronologically. No other app presents this info better - it's a must see.

The whole Echofon experience is simple, easy, a pleasure to use - and I love the bright theme.

But I rarely use Echofon on my iPhone, though, because I just can't bump up the font size big enough for my tastes (can you please fix that, guys?). A larger font feels like my visual home, and Echofon just can't take me there on the iPhone.

TweetDeck is awesome on my laptop and desktop, because I can run those great notifications in the background. It's the undisputed powerhouse when it comes to features and ideal for participating in #edchat and other education-related discussions. When you first graduate to TweetDeck it's pretty heady stuff seeing that flight deck with multiple columns and fancying yourself a power user.

On the iPad, though, TweetDeck takes much too long to load. I can't fit as many columns on it as on the desktop and I'm much more limited to the amount of tweets I can see at once.

TweetDeck for the iPhone is a complete wash for me. What it does so brilliantly on the laptop or desktop, just isn't possible on the smaller screen - so why bother?

I love Twitter on my iPhone, and use it almost exclusively. I can kick the font size up, I feel comfortable with the pull-down-to-reload feature and I love the translation option which lets me follow Japanese speaking astronauts or tweets from Arab countries and actually find out what they're saying.

On the iPad, I don't know if it's Twitter's dark theme, the horizontal swiping or what, but it just doesn't turn my crank. I know I'm not alone in feeling that the iPad iteration wasn't as brilliant as the one for the iPhone.

And the Twitter desktop app? Despite the new look and functionality, it still remains the least efficient way to tweet. Its only value, in my books, is when demo-ing Twitter at workshops. There is little point using anything else because it really is the entry point for newbies and the interface most will use to start tweeting.

Switching Between Apps
That having been said, I have switched and will continue to switch between these apps depending on the need and the mood.

All of which has me worried about Twitter's objective of buying up the universe of third-party apps with which to tweet.

I don't want one app, built by one group of people, however brilliant, to be THE Twitter experience for me and the only tool I will ever be able to tweet with. I love the variation in looks, purpose and function.

After letting the genie - and the genius - out of the bottle by initially making the Twitter API open to everyone, why would you want to lock up all of that power and diversity and shove it back into just one container?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mormon Mommy Blogs: Hip, Candid and Addictive?

Can you really get hooked on shiny, happy commentaries on Mormon motherhood and domestic bliss? Well, urban online mag Salon certainly thought so when it published Why I Can't Stop Reading Mormon Motherhood Blogs by Emily Matchar, a "young, feminist atheist" early this year.

As Matchar puts it, the appeal seems to go beyond the expected niche for these blogs.

"They're members of a large, close-knit network of Mormon lifestyle bloggers -- young stay-at-home-moms who blog about home and hearth, Latter-day Saint-style. From Rockstar Diaries (Naomi) to Underaged and Engaged (Stacie) to Nie Nie Dialogues (Stephanie) to Say Yes to Hoboken (Liz), Mormon lifestyle bloggers occupy their very own corner of the blogosphere.

"Their lives are nothing like mine -- I'm your standard-issue late-20-something childless over-educated atheist feminist -- yet I'm completely obsessed with their blogs. On an average day, I'll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects."

The creators of these blogs are Instagram-hip chroniclers of puking babies, doting husbands, harried shopping trips, forays into vintage fashions, and weekend DIY projects gone awry. But despite being a running log of domestic vicissitudes, these blogs are contemporary cool and some, like Nat the Fat Rat, are pretty darn candid.

And as one of Matchar's 464 commentors writes, "you are attracted to the positivity."

That positivity shines through even in the face of tremendous adversity, as in the case of Stephanie Nielson (below), who experienced a near-fatal plane crash and lived to blog about it and the struggles she faces raising her kids in the aftermath of severe burns. "I am Stephanie Nielson," she says. "And I am not my body."

Some may be uncomfortable with faith-based references mingling so casually in these posts. But as a blogger and a Mormon myself, I know that blogging is all about growth and personal development - and these women are writing what they know and blogging who they are.

It's been said that audience is essential for a blogger's growth. In that respect these women owe their audiences. And it's nice to know that their readers, even those that don't share their faith, are finding value in their work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Everybody Happy? Manitoba's New Media Gurus Say 'Yes'

NMM: Funding Announced for a New Media Strategy from Handcraft on Vimeo.

Yes, Manitoba's new media industry is $433,000 happy after this Monday's announcement of a whack of funds to boost the profile of the province's interactive digital media firms around the globe. The announcement was made by Lynne Yelich, federal minister of state for Western Economic Diversification.

This video has the smooth production values you'd expect, Kevin Hnatiuk, executive director of New Media Manitoba is positively effusive, and a buoyant atmosphere prevails. You can even see United Way Winnipeg's social media guru Erica Glasier grabbing some video with her iPhone.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Erica and Kevin Glasier were responsible for the inspired design and quick turnaround on the Pray for Japan t-shirts that local HOT 103 personality Ace Burpee is currently hawking.

The flash of inspiration here? The shirt's QR code takes you directly to the Red Cross mobile donation site. Brilliant concept, worthy cause and only $20.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Roots and Technology - Relatively Speaking

Something big has been happening to me lately.

The desire to learn my family history is exerting a substantial pull on me. I find I'm being moved to get moving on a project which previously held little interest.

Now, I'm starting to discover some very cool things. And I'm also noticing that genealogy - the detective work of getting to know your bigger family who have already passed - is starting to make inroads even in popular culture.

NBC's Friday night line-up boasts "Who Do You Think You Are?" a co-production with that traces the family history of one celebrity. Each week, the guest celeb sets out on an journey that gradually reveals astonishing nuggets about the lives of the folks that populate their family tree.

Now the show originated in Britain years ago and spawned knock-offs in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. But our family came to it late with the U.S. product now in its second season.

So last week, we propped up the iPad at the dinner table to take our first look. The guest, 80's pop star Lionel Richie, was often startled at the unfolding developments - especially when he learned his great-great-grandfather was a white plantation owner.

But the show focused on his great-grandfather and pursued the circuitous trail of a man who was divorced by his decades younger bride for suspicious reasons. He was the presumed renegade that no-one in the family knew or talked about.

Ultimately, the reason for his two-year period of travel away from his wife was revealed to be his commitment to building a national fraternal organization for African-American men long before the American civil rights movement found its legs. The work and sacrifice Richie's ancestor lived was often poignant.

Who knew that genealogy could make such great TV?

Another discovery that had my mind chewing on possibilities was the fact that this past February in Salt Lake City, the RootsTech 2011 conference made its debut.

Even though I have barely dipped my toes in this work, RootsTech, co-sponsored by the good folks at FamilySearch, seems like a pretty powerful draw - one that melds my budding interest in family history with a full-blown love for all things tech. You can YouTube RootsTech to get an idea of the scope of the event. The 2012 date is February 2-4.

Funny that the stars align themselves the way they do sometimes, but another smallish thing that will help me get get my feet fully immersed in genealogy is that I bought, or got rather, a Flip Video camera (thank you Air Miles), that makes it duh simple to shoot decent HD video.

It struck me just a few days ago that I should fire up the Flip to record my dad's stories about his youthful flight from the Russians during WWII and get some of the dates, times and places that were important in his life. Naturally, I'll plumb his memory for names and birthplaces of relatives I need to research.

I must hustle on this project. My dad is 72. I need to ferret out and record those stories while his memory and health are still relatively strong.

My family means the world to me. And the prospect of researching my ancestors is one that has me itching to start. I want them to be real for me - for my kids. And the question that gets bigger for me each day is quite simple.

Just who are they anyway?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

92 Crazy Good QR Slides that Will Blow Your Mind

I was floored when I discovered Erica Glasier: Oversocialized. This rich repository of posts on all things tech from the interactive/social media guru at United Way Winnipeg absolutely rocks. Check out this amazing slide deck on QR codes. Watch them full screen for maximum impact. Erica knows her stuff, I suspect, as few others do.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Going Viral - YouTube, Lip Dubs and Your School Spirit

Before we get to the heart of this viral matter, click play above, stop your twittering long enough to get sucked into this incredible video, then come back and we'll talk. Go ahead, I'll wait....

Glad you're back.

Feeling a little inspired right now? A nice break from flitting from one canapé of info to another, isn't it? That's where the power of a school lip dub comes in.

One seamless camera shot
Lib dubs are infectious video blasts of school spirit meant to inspire awe in viewers, pride in students and staff, and purposely designed to go viral via Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

They're bright, loud and chock full of turn-by-turn surprises requiring incredible timing, choreography, and coordination. And the absolute rule for lip dubs is they must be done in just one seamless camera shot.

The challenge is to bring viewers through the front doors of the school and immediately launch into a series of visual stunts while lip-syncing to the works of Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna - or any other Grammy-worthy icon.

Typically, the camera winds through the hallways, poking into classrooms, band rooms, science and computer labs, and voc-ed facilities, all the while making its way up and down staircases, shooting high and low and, in the case above, even being raised up by a cherry-picker.

Over-the-top action
The action has to culminate in an over-the-top rally in the gym or other cavernous venue and must pack a huge raucous punch before ending abruptly or setting up a denouement before the credits.

Pop the term "lip dub" into YouTube search and you'll find dozens of examples of school videos with various levels of talent, equipment and production values. They all have one thing in common, though. Everyone has a blast and school spirit rocks off the charts - and stays that way as the video's hit count escalates in the days and weeks ahead. The one you just watched was sitting at 350 hits yesterday afternoon. As I post this, 24 hours later, it is just breaking 6,000 views.

Think of it, every student and staff member gets to say "check out what our school did" and their relatives and Facebook friends get to say, "yeah, I saw you on the stairwell" or "that wig you had on was so random!"

What I love about the offering from Shaftesbury High School in Winnipeg is that it projects the school's enthusiasm so well, it can double as a marketing piece for the school. In fact, it was designed with that dual purpose in mind and now resides on their schools splash page. What I also find unique is that rather than opting for a hip-hop anthem, the song used was penned by a teacher.

'Complete and utter mayhem'
The other nice touch in this lip dub is the fact that the staff members are so very conspicuous as they ham it up with the students. At the 4:40 mark, Principal Riffel and Vice-principal Wiebe introduce the pep rally as "wild, insane" and "complete and utter mayhem." You know they're having fun, too.

And did you notice any bad behavior in the video - anyone making rude gestures or sulking in the corners? Of course not. Kids' love this stuff. It's not only a symbol of pride for them but will earn them social credit with their peers from other parts of the city - especially when they get some ink in the local newspaper.

I can't think of a healthier way to compete between schools. Downsides? I can't see any. But just how does a school put one of these together?

I don't have a clue. Maybe some of you do and can weigh in below with your comments. But my advice is to get the blessing and cooperation of your principal first. Then go to the most technologically savvy group of staff and students at your school, show them the Shaftesbury video and ask, "How can we make something like this happen?"

After the story boards, the logistics, the shooting, editing, and exhilaration are over, you and your students will have a video you'll be chuffed about and can distribute far and wide. More importantly, you will always remember the experience.

You may even treasure it more than your yearbook.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Powerful iPad Testimonial from Unlikely Source

Here's a testimonial for the iPad that comes from someone who isn't top of mind when it comes to iPad endorsements - that's why it's so effective. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a tragic assassination attempt on January 8, is shown waxing eloquent about the iPad in this video from The Daily.

It's so touching to hear of the progress of this remarkable woman. All of us know the things we cherish most in life are our spouses, children, families and friends - the people we love. From this video it seems Rep. Giffords has no shortage of those who love and cherish her.

We're pulling for you, Gabby.

Monday, January 31, 2011

'Superman' is Clearly Un-Canadian

President Barack Obama greets members of the cast at the White House.
Seeing Waiting for Superman
is like watching a World Vision commercial on television. You feel so much for the kids. Your heart melts when you hear their honesty and see their potential. You wonder if little Daisy will ever realize her dreams. And you have no doubt that they and their parents are struggling against great odds.

Are you moved to compassion? Absolutely.

But you have no doubt that their reality, their battle, takes place in a very different culture, in a foreign country.

You marvel at the level of seeming dysfunction in the system. Can it really be that bad? And you try to reassure yourself that this is not now, and can never be, representative of American education as a whole.

Mostly, you sympathize with American teachers, whose morale and reputation is being so dramatically dragged down by a movement this movie continues to feed. Because for all of Superman's purported truth and lies, only teachers and teacher unions, it seems, are to blame.

After the final credits, you realize that our education system bears about as much resemblance to that of our U.S. colleagues as our health care system bears to theirs. And you feel a certain guilty security in knowing that even though Canada's public schools aren't perfect, they certainly aren't broken.

Like watching that World Vision ad, you're touched and grateful, and glad to snap back into your own world, where you have never had to live the reality - nor bear the blame for the caricature - of Superman.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ditch your iPhone Calendar for Something Better

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I'm here to tell you there's a much better calendar app to use than the one that comes with it.

In fact, Calvetica puts the default calendar to shame with its elegance, common-sense navigation and ease of use.

The first thing you notice about Calvetica is that aesthetically it's light-years ahead of other calendar apps. Not clumsy like the app Steve gives you, yet not too dressy.

And the developers have a sense of humour. Its four original themes - including "romantic grey" and "knife fight pink" - have been trimmed back to two offerings, red and black.

In month view, there are dots in the days with entries. But each dot represents an different entry, unlike a single dot representing a day's worth of events as in the native iPhone app.

You can switch between the full day, just your working day, or a very handy collapsed view of your entries for a particular day.

In all of the day views, the current one is always highlighted in red. The others are grey. There's never any confusion about whether you're in "today" or not.

But what I like most of all about Calvetica is that you can enter a new event right in the hour slot for that day - and set the time to five minute increments - without having to flip a single ugly tumbler up or down. This simple feature is worth the $2.99 the developers are asking.

But there is a lot more. You are not limited to two alerts per event - add as many as you want with the common-sense interface. If you flip your orientation sideways, you'll even get a great overview of your week, or the week of the day you've been viewing depending on your settings.

In fact, there are loads of settings to customize. And Calvetica will sync with MobileMe, Google Calendars, and you guessed it, Steve's app. Don't get any ideas about syncing to more than one, though. Apple doesn't want anyone by-passing MobileMe to keep their iDevices in harmony.

I've lived with Calvetica for two-weeks now and have turned the page on the standard-issue calendar. My advice? Pay the three bucks for Calvetica, play with it, work in it. It won't be long before you'll fire your default calendar, too.

Pics above were done on the iPad so I wouldn't mess up my real entries for today. Borders are not as heavy on the iPhone.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kindle, Kobo, iBooks - A Tale of Three iPad Ebook Readers - Part 1, The Canadian Competitor

This is the first of a three-part review of the most popular ebook readers for the iPad. Rather than give an exhaustive blow-by-blow comparison of the Kindle, Kobo and iBooks apps, I've opted to describe the features I come in contact with daily.

Kobo Reader for iPad
If you've ever played with a Kobo ebook reader at a Chapters or Indigo store, you can appreciate the crisp, clear display and the fact that this Canadian competitor is trying its best to divert your gaze from the Amazon Kindle and other contenders for the e-reader throne.

It's hard, though, not to walk away from that experience without making a mental note of the Kobo's sluggish page changes and the big, dorky, navigation button.

But Kobo for the iPad is different.

Best Features
The Kobo app is colorful, functional - the most attractive of the three ebook readers. And it lets you control the look not only of your pages, but your bookmarks, and even your bookshelf.

The addition of a sepia wash like in the Kindle or iBooks app would be nice. But the rest of the esthetics are so good you can forgive the developers for the oversight.

The Kobo book store's presentation is much more eye-catching than Amazon's, even though the selection is naturally more limited. The app features the smartest table of contents presentation around. Unlike the Kindle app's postage stamp content and bookmarks list, the Kobo takes you to an entire contents page that incorporates all of your bookmarks and notes right beside each chapter heading. That feature alone means the Kobo trumps the Kindle for navigation.

Even though no one beats the Kindle for ebook selection, Kobo kills in terms of Canadian content. If you jump to Recommended Reading, you'll find over 50 lists including these:
  • The Globe 100 for 2010
  • Globe and Mail Bestsellers
  • Quill & Quire's Books of the Year
  • Heather's Picks
  • Made in Canada
  • Canada Reads
  • Hockey Night in Canada
  • You Can't Get These on Kindle
  • Can't Get it From iBooks
The biggest opportunity and liability with the Kobo lies with the debut of its new Reading Life social features. Content is always an opportunity to build community, and these new social features let you see the most popular bookmarks of other readers, tweet quotations and what you're reading to your Twitter followers and give similar updates to your Facebook friends.

It's collecting badges for things like starting and finishing books, bookmarking, making notes and even reading books during lunch hour or bed time that seems rather juvenile. Some of the badges are designed to get you to try new features. The shareable notifications for each of these seem a tad breathless, but can be turned off.

As with hard copy books, there is little point in reading them unless you mark them up. Kobo offers you one color of highlight, blue. Kindle for the iPad gives you only yellow. But iBooks offers a full five colors - handy when you're highlighting information for different purposes.

Kobo also doesn't have a search feature like the one on the Kindle app. This must be addressed in a future iteration.

The Bottom Line
Even with its drawbacks, the Kobo app makes the reading experience so pleasant and friendly that its shortcomings can easily be tolerated. The look and aesthetics are second to none - and who says you can't read on multiple platforms anyway?

The Kobo may not ever be at the top of the heap, but for ease of use, attractiveness, access to Canadian content, and delivering a really pleasant reading experience, it's definitely worth the download.