Monday, May 30, 2016

Toronto team “Kid On The Moon” Wins at Global NASA Space Apps Challenge

I have been working with Tanya Oleksuik, who works for a local arts organization in my neighbourhood, on my PhD dissertation research on mobile, locative media. Tanya was part of a team at East End Arts that developed an online, participatory oral history and arts project for Toronto's East End (read more about the project on my blog post Inspired By...Map) .

While working with Tanya, I learned about an exciting project she did as part of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) global challenge "to create mobile apps and technologies that aid in space exploration and help improve life here on Earth". I was thrilled to learn recently that her team had won for their category. It's an amazing accomplishment and showcases the innovation and talent happening in mobile media here in Toronto.

Here is the press release for this project announcing their NASA win:


May 28, 2016, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto team Kid On The Moon is on a mission – to inspire the next generation of space explorers. They were announced this week as the global winner of the NASA Space Apps Challenge for Most Inspirational project.

Over the weekend of April 22–24, 2016, developers, makers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs took on NASA-designed challenges, creating a diverse range of solutions. Over 15,000 people worldwide took part in the 5th annual NASA Space Apps Challenge, with over 1,200 projects developed.

A part of NASA's International Space Apps Challenge, the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon challenged participants to think critically about technology and its effect on the world around us. The NASA Space Apps Toronto challenge took place at Symbility Intersect, at which the judges awarded Kid On The Moon as one of the winning projects, propelling them into the global competition.

"This event brings together the STEM community in a unique way to collaboratively tackle complex problems," said James Costa, lead organizer of NASA's Space Apps Toronto. "With SpaceX's recent Falcon 9 tests and NASA's ongoing achievement in space exploration, this is a great time to get kids excited and thinking about careers in space again."

Kid On The Moon is an interactive app that is dedicated to inspire children 4-8 years old become passionate about space travel through self-guided exploration of the moon both on and offline.
The Kid On The Moon team members and app creators are: Tanya Oleksuik, Huanning Wang, Allard Schipper, Katrina Shiu, Mohammad Zubayer, Nippun Goyal, James Chiu, and Sophia He. This diverse group brought together their ideas, wide range of skills, and imaginations to create the Kid On The Moon project at the NASA Space Apps Toronto hackathon in response to NASA's "Book It To The Moon" challenge.

"Toronto is a city full of creative people actively contributing to science, technology, and innovations around the world," stated City of Toronto Mayor John Tory. "I'm proud to see a Toronto team recognized by NASA and representing Toronto-made innovation on the global stage."
The winning team members will be invited to attend an upcoming NASA launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The NASA Space Apps Toronto event was supported by Lead Sponsors: City of Toronto, StartUp HERE Toronto, and XE; Host Sponsors: Phuse, Symbility Intersect, and HackerYou; and Community Supporter: Ace Hill.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Inspired By...Map

As part of my research into how people are using geoweb technologies, I've been interviewing users and developers of digital media applications related to place. While searching for innovative projects along this line, I found out about an arts association near where I live who had created an amazing online community mapping project.

The project, Inspired By...Map, was created by East End Arts as a way to capture the arts and oral histories of the people living and visiting in Toronto's east end. Soliciting contributions from people connected to the neighbourhood, they have created an online, interactive map of people's meaningful places. Through a variety of modalities (images, text, and videos) people's stories and creations are put on the map of Toronto.

A map of Toronto's east end, with icons indicating areas where content has been geotagged. A caption reads Inspired By, how does the space we travel through inspire us? These are stories from the east end of Toronto, start exploring.

I had the chance to ask Tanya Oleksuik and Cindy Rozeboom some questions about their impressive project.

Glen: What motivated you to develop the Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
In 2014, East End Arts was only a year old and developing our organizational sense of self. As a Local Arts Service Organization, we are mandated to provide support for a specific geographic area of Toronto.

We were wondering what, if anything, actually unifies the people within this area, given that the communities are, as with all of Toronto, diverse and constantly changing. Unable to come to any conclusions about who east-enders were, we decided to examine where.  If the people are different, but the place is the same – what then? Inspired By was sparked by wondering how the actual physical spaces that we share impact and/or inspire those who pass through them.

Inspired By was made possible by a grant from the Ontario Cultural Development Fund.

Glen: What efforts have you taken to get community involvement in creating the content for Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
We have held both facilitated workshops with community groups, as well as have an ongoing open-call for submissions online.

Community workshops have been led by Community Story Strategies and, so far, have included a job-seeking club at Riverdale Hub, a recycled fashion collective at the Newcomer Women’s Service, a summer camp of children at Community Centre 55, and an open public session that toured the Winter Stations in 2015.

Local kids working on their creations for the Inspired By...Map
Each workshop starts with a group photo-taking walk around an area, followed by a writing session where participants choose one image and react to it – either in writing or verbally.

Glen: What has the response been to the project?

Tanya &; Cindy:
The response has been really positive and heartwarming. Everyone has a personal story behind their favourite spots in the city, and most love to share those stories with others. Each story shared adds a new layer to the map of inspired places.

We held an Inspired By viewing party in 2015 and a room full of people listened, watched, learned, and laughed along with the wide range of stops along the map. With a range of creative expressions in the submissions, the audience was taken through visual, written, and audio stories of reminiscence, longing, love, and joy, all inspired by East End places. The evening continued with the sharing of even more stories, including people adding their own layers of memory, history, and experience to the places marked on the map.

Glen: In terms of the content people have created has there been anything surprising?

Tanya & Cindy:
Interestingly, many of the submissions involve memories – the image of what IS brought back thoughts of what WAS. It is also interesting to see the differences in tone and interpretation of seemingly unrelated objects – an excited child remembering hockey practice with their dad looking at a fence, speculations on social change drawn from a crack in the pavement. It makes one wonder how much we “see” with our eyes, and how much is brought to any picture from our own individual storehouse of experiences and expectations.

People are inspired by so many different and unique things. The stories people share about what makes a place special to them reminds us that inspiration can be found in unexpected places and are beautifully unique in meaning to individuals.

Glen: How do you think this map will have people consider or reconsider Toronto's East End?

Tanya & Cindy:
The map is still a work-in-progress, so it will be interesting to see how neighbourhood changes will be reflected. Someone may have mapped a spot that in a couple years’ time may be transformed into something completely different. The map allows people to mark a place and time and capture a memory or moment.

Glen: Is there anything else you'd like to add or that people should know about this project?

Tanya & Cindy:
We'd love for the map to continue to expand. Anyone who lives, works, and moves through the east end is invited to contribute to the project and help it grow, one place at a time.

This project is not only a really interesting and imaginative glimpse into the places and stories of east end Toronto, but also a model for others regardless of their location. This project is a great example of how to use community mapping efforts and geoweb technologies to capture and share something meaningful to people.

Whether you live in Toronto or not, I highly recommend getting inspired by Inspired By...Map.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Transforming Concrete Jungles Into Rainforests Through Mobile Media

I just found out about an exciting mobile media project occurring this month in New York City in honour of Earth Day. The project, JUNGLE-IZED: A Conversation with Nature, encourages people to use their mobile device to experience the famous Time Square in a new way to encourage people to reflect on global environment issues.

Through audio pieces related to the Amazon rainforest, NYC's concrete jungle is transformed for users. Users walk around several blocks of Times Square with an Android or Apple mobile app and special headphones. Each street near Times Square represents a different time in the daily life of the Amazon.

Along the lines of a Guy Debord d├ętournement, the dramatic and interactive juxtaposition
seeks to help people reconsider their role and consider linkages in the global environment.

The project was developed using Vancouver company Motive's software platform. The Motive software was used to geolocate the audio tracks of the Amazon around Times Square and to indicate the radius that triggers audio files and for fade points.

I had the chance to meet a cofounder of Motive, Ryan Chapman, last year when I was in Vancouver. Motive provides a hosted platform to ease the development of mobile games and locative media apps. Find out more about Motive through my conversation with Ryan.

I'm excited to see this project as it demonstrate how powerful and innovative mobile media can be.

If you're in NYC check it out or read more about the project here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Locating Overlooked Histories: An Interview with Queerstory Founder

As part of my doctoral research on locative media and its role in our relationship to our places, I interviewed the founders of the locative media app, Queerstory.  Queerstory is Toronto's first LGBTQ geolocative history app and I would argue of the most effective geolocative history apps anywhere.

The Queerstory mobile app points users to nearby points of interest in a map or list based view. How Queerstory differs, however, that rather than just having text descriptions the app includes video oral histories, interviews, and artistic interpretations. Users can also refine the content based on various themes, such as activism, culture, and culture. The app is free and available on Apple, Android, or the mobile web.

I interviewed both of the Queerstory's founders, Michael Alstad and Janet Hethrington on their work with Queerstory and their ideas on the role generally of locative media. As a sneak peek from my research, here are some Q&As from my interview with Michael.

Glen: What motivated you to develop this application?
Michael: Year Zero One (YZO), a media arts organization that curates digital art projects both online and in public space,  has been producing locative media projects since 2003 beginning with the pioneering Teletaxi project. We produced a locative history app in 2012 in affiliation with the Textile Museum of Canada called TXTilecity. TXTilecity is a mobile app that leads users on a self-directed tour through sites relevant to Toronto’s garment and fashion industry history through a series of site-specific short video docs and a commissioned media artwork.

With the success of TXTilecity, I was keen of adapting the locative history concept to produce Queerstory – an app and website exploring over a century of Toronto’s LGBT history that was launched to coincide with World Pride in 2014. Toronto is a world leader in progressive LGBT policy and has a rich and diverse queer political, social, and cultural history that is somewhat understated and hidden in comparison to other international centres like New York City where sites like the Stonewall Inn are marked with plaques.

I see the Queerstory app as a digital placemarker that commemorates and preserves queer history. It allows for a more multidimensional and sensory-based experience of lived history as it relates to the urban environment.

Glen: What has the response been from users?
The response to Queerstory overall has been positive. App users have been impressed by scope and diversity of stories and histories. Some users were intrigued to discover several sites and neigbourhoods not traditionally associated with the gay community and its history.

It was noted the number of overall sites might be too ambitious for one continuous tour and also the amount of video content consumes a lot of data for limited cell plans.

With my personal user experience with Queerstory, I felt the media artworks by Keith Cole and Caitlin Fisher – where the artists led you on their unique individualized tours and interpretations of queer history – I explored and engaged with the physical surroundings and places more.

Glen: How is experiencing a place with your app different than without it?
Michael: I think the process of walking through the city and exploring these sites is an experiential and fun way of discovering and learning about queer history.

Most of the mapped sites in Queerstory could easily be overlooked. For example, the site of the Barracks Bathhouse, a heritage house on Widmer, a narrow street in the entertainment district lined with old Victorian row houses, is a key historic queer space linked to one of the most important events of Canada’s gay liberation movement - the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids and riots. The mass arrests and ensuing riot are considered to be the Canadian equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

Also an important place related aspect of Queerstory is the in-situ interviews. We noticed a pattern with our interviewees - that being situated in the sites where the histories occurred triggered their memory with renewed insights and reflection on the events.

I believe that the layering of hidden stories, rare archival material and on-site interviews creates a unique sensory experience of place.

Glen: Mobile media is criticized for distancing people from places. Can you comment on this?
Michael: On one hand, I see mobile media as physically distancing people from one another in public spaces and cafes where individuals are cloistered with their mobile devices, headphones, and laptops. On the other hand, I personally see the value in information layers, alternate narratives, and digital annotations on places are useful and beneficial as long as you’re objective and can filter the info to enhance your personal experience of place.


Queerstory was recently recognized for their innovative use of media to document and share Toronto's history by winning an award from Heritage Toronto.

Visit the Queerstory website for more information on the app and their content.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Posts of 2015

Every year I recount my favourite posts to this blog. I've done it as my favourite post by month or a top ten. This year I'll try something new and do the top ten posts as determined by you readers. I reviewed my site usage records to determine most viewed blog posts that I wrote in 2015.

So here in order of most viewed, are the Top 15 Posts of 2015
  1. Playing and Learning with Digital Media and Technology at digiPlaySpace - for the past couple years my daughter and I play hooky and visit TIFF's digital media playground, here's her review
  2. Digital Help for Visitors to Toronto - Toronto hosted the PanAm Games this summer, so to help out visitors to our city I comprised a list of apps (including LBS) and websites to help them find their way and our sites
  3. No App Required - a post on the virtues of the Mobile Web over mobile apps and how one company gets it
  4. List of Location Based Services - years in the making, an updated list of the top apps with geolocative functionality
  5. Digital Advent Calendar for Canadians - I was impressed by an interactive holiday present from Harrowsmith, so I talked to the maker on how he put it together
  6. Email Etiquette: Things We All Should Know by Now - after receiving some rude and annoying emails this summer, I retaliated by publishing a list of how to use email correctly
  7. Learning Appreciation for Graphic Literature - I delivered a workshop for kids at my local library on the elements on graphic literature and how kids can make it themselves
  8. Careers in Corporate Digital Media - a presentation for university graduates on possible careers and skills needed for jobs involving digital media
  9. Tracking the Trackers - exploring my Android smartphone's location tracking feature
  10. Reading Into the So-Called Decline of eBooks - will digital media replace print, it's not as simple as people originally thought as some predict print books will replace eBooks
  11. Building a Solid Information Architecture for a Website - an overview and tips on how to organize the content of a website for users
  12. The Hardest Thing About Social Media - angry at a local company with shoddy service, I resisted the urge to post a negative review online and instead I posted some advice on why not posting is sometimes the best decision
  13. You Can Locate Me at the Canadian Wireless Trade Show - this past October I spoke at this tradeshow on user issues mobile, locative applications
  14. Accessibility of Information Systems - my presentation on accessibility as related to digital media and Ontario's accessibility law
  15. Motive to Make Locative Media Better - my interview with a Canadian company, Motive, who have launched a DIY platform to make it easy to launch locative media apps

Some of my favouite posts didn't make it to the top 15, so here are my missing favourites:
  • e-Postards Archives - my attempt to help preserve a communication form, e-Postcards, as it seems to be dying out
  • Images of Canada - for Canada Day 2015, I put together a slideshow of my favourite photos of Canada
  • Kids Doodle App - my kid just got her first smartphone in the summer and some apps, including a digital doodle app that she made an awesome image for me
  • National Girls Learning Code Day - November 7 was Girls Learning Code Day and my daughter and I spent the day at Telus headquarters building her first website
Judging from my posts for 2015, it was an eclectic year as I explored and wrote about a bunch of digital media topics. Plus, my usual posts on locative media (including a still active request for research participants on this topic). Hopefully, 2016 will be a similarly inspiring.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Art of Complaining - Or Try Some Sugar Instead of Just Vinegar

I know life is unfair and people can be miserable ass hats such that the injustice of life does make one want to complain. Believe me, I am a complainer. My complaining has gotten me some benefits such as rebates and various forms of compensation. So I can appreciate the desire in others to complain about their perceived injustices.

Lately, I've noticed people have no sense of the art and skill of how to complain effectively.

This is even more important as you consider that much of complaining, of a non-personal nature, is done via email.  Email is a thin medium, that doesn't have all the features of face-to-face interactions. Thanks to email, it's easier than ever to complain to companies, agencies, institutions, and governments.

Too many people, however, go in with their first message with all guns blaring and throwing vinegar in the eye of their intended target. Their emails are full of accusations blaming the receiver in the harshest terms of malevolent wrongdoing and instantly brandish threats that the sender will seek reprisal to the highest levels. This tactic is a form of intimidation. But when dealing with authority figure or a distant and unresponsive customer service agent, this tactic doesn't tend to get them on your side. Vinegar begets more vinegar. And your offending email can easily disappear or be given a low priority.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar is an age-old adage because it states a universal truth. Humans like sweetness. We like to feel appreciated and to be treated well. Threats and rants may work some time, but they cause damage to one's reputation (not to mention psyche) and may result in long-lasting damage. Once you go dark, it is next to impossible to reverse that.

Instead, the first tactic in complaining is to offer sugar.  It is surprising how effective a polite inquiry can go towards getting you what you want. So here are my steps to complaining effectively via email or other digital media.

#1 Cool off 
We all make mistakes. Most people don't intend to harm others. Don't assume that everyone is out to get you. Give people the benefit of the doubt. So the first step in an email complaint is to thank the person for their time and/or effort. You may not feel very thankful depending on the circumstances of your situation, but give it a try for your first communication. Give people decent human respect until they have proven conclusively that they don't deserve it - and even then sometimes its advantageous to ape respect for undeserving "superiors". Never insult people, directly or indirectly, as this will never help. Keep your communications non-personal and level-headed.

#2 Ask for clarification
Often things can be a misunderstanding or error that can be quickly rectified. A few weeks ago, I  purchased something online and when I received it was very poor quality. My first email was polite and expressed how disappointed I was. I was preparing in successive emails to mount an extensive case for why they should accept a return of the item, but upon receiving my first reply I received a full refund and they said for me to keep the item. This has happened to me before.

#3 Provide evidence
Facts sway opinion and get intended results. Your subjective opinion can backfire and come across as a scam or someone trying to get something they don't deserve. (There are people out there trying to pull things so distinguish yourself from them with evidence and logic). Photographs or screen-captures are great sources of evidence.

#4 Declare the stakes for you
The goal is to generate sympathy not come across as a self-righteous ass hat. In a brief and somewhat emotional manner, state why this is an issue for you - what you lost as a result or are not able to do now.

Advanced tactic, if appropriate play the victim card and let them know how you have suffered. When a flight was cancelled at the airport for our trip to Disney World and none to be reschedule my wife was resigned to acceptance. I went up to the company agent without any anger or attitude (as it was most definitely not her fault) and explained how we had booked a special event at Disney World and we would now miss it. I told my daughter to come with me. In the end, the agent was incredibly helpful and really wanted to help us, she spent an hour of her time made numerous calls but got us on another carrier there (we were only 2 people to get a flight).

#5 Declare your desired recourse
At some point (and not too early), you will need to state what form of redress or action you woud like. Don't come across as too demanding or asking for things you aren't really entitled to (e.g full refund or completed overturning a decision as this isn't likely to ever happen). I like to begin by implying what I want. If the idea comes from them, there is a much better chance it will be implemented.

If these initial tactics don't work then try...

#6 state the stakes for the company or organization
Declare what a valuable customer you are, for example. Be careful to not threaten as no one likes to be threatened. Always be polite. But sometimes you have to be very clear at what you will do if the your problem is not addressed.

#7 Escalate with caution
Don't instantly go over someone's head or cc their boss. At some point and times, escalation is the only way to go, so don't be afraid to do this if and when it is necessary. Exhaust the previous tactics first though!

Be transparent when escalating to the people you were previously communicating with. Don't try to vilify the person to their boss as that person still works there and creating an enemy which is never helpful for your immediate or future needs.

Assuming some responsibility for the situation and being contrite can go a long way to avoid making the problem worse and can help you come across as a reasonable person with a just issue. At this point, ask to take your discussions offline (and instead proceed in-person or via telephone) is recommended.

Email has made complaining so much easier and effective than before. But it can definitely backfire if one sends out emotional and hasty emails.  I have followed these above steps for years, and I'm still surprised how frequently everything works out very well for me and surprisingly early and without emotional turmoil.  For the sake of everyone, give sugar a try!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Digital Advent Calendar for Canadians

Over the past three days on Facebook, I've noticed friends posting about Harrowsmith Now's online Advent Calendar. I finally had a moment to check it out today and was delighted!

I love the idea of taking the concept of an advent calendar, putting it online, and making it enjoyable for adults. For each day in December, one can click the date to see a new interactive experience with a focus on Canada's winters and the holidays. The online advent calendar is much better than waxy chocolate and is guilt-free and made in Canada.

I won't give away the digital treats that await you, but they are fun and reflect the Canadian pastoral culture that Harrowsmith has famously chronicled since the magazine began in 1976. Harrowsmith closed in 2011, but reformed in 2013 as quarterly magazine and website, Harrowsmith Now.

I wanted to share the calendar as I feel we all could use some holiday cheer right now. As a Canadian digital media aficionado, I wanted to find out more about this project, so I contacted the magazine.

Wayne MacPhail, the magazine's digital brand strategist, agreed to answer my questions. I asked him about their new website, Harrowsmith Now which launched last month. He noted that it "is aimed at millennials who share the same concerns we do about sustainability, a love of the country and an appreciation of handmadegoods." The website includes features, blog posts, and, of course, the advent calendar.

MacPhail says his team was motivated to launch the calendar as a way "to give folks a little taste of the season and the holidays (not just Christian ones) during the month. There's enough bad in the world right now, we need something a bit more uplifting and fun".

He describes the development process:
"I started with a rough mockup in Tumult Hype using an existing advent
calendar as a backdrop. I then shared it with Michelle Lydon, a graphic designer I work with. Michelle developed the circular number motif in Illustrator to match the dimensions of a landscape retina iPad Air 2. I brought those graphic elements into Affinity Designer and broke them into the constituent elements and then built the interactive piece in Tumult Hype (HTML 5). I sourced the content partly from Harrowsmith staff and partly from a call I made to my pals on Facebook."
I've seen the first 3 days of the calendar (December 2nd is particularly wonderful). I asked MacPhail what other types of digital treats await us. He notes, "We've created some little interactive amusements, more video links, recipes, and a few other easter eggs and surprises."

Give it the calendar a try. I can't wait to see what Harrowsmith has in store for the 25th!