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Woman of the Week: Jennifer Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit Actua, was exposed to science and technology at a young age, more so than other young girls in her class. Her father and uncle were both engineers, and as she says, “kids that grow up with engineers or scientists as parents are typically the ones that pursue it themselves.”

Flanagan’s plan was to go to medical school, combine her love of science and her affinity for helping people into one career. But, all that changed when she saw a poster on the wall asking the following question: Do you want to start a science or engineering camp? Her answer was a resounding yes.

That small group of students started up a few camps locally, but soon the model spread nationally among engineering programs at different universities. As of 1994, the camps had a policy for gender parity, with an equal 50 per cent divide between girl and boy participants. “That was unheard of,” Flanagan said.  “It was controversial, amazing, and it worked.”

The programs became more popular, and eventually the students started to receive funding from university chairs and Industry Canada. And that’s how Actua was formed — a national charitable organization that engages young kids and marginalized communities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We [engage] about 225,000 youth a year – that includes a huge focus on those underrepresented audiences, or the hardest to reach audience in Canada,” Flanagan explained. This includes a program called InSTEM, a customized, community-based educational program that engages First Nations, Metis, and Inuit youth, as well as a digital literacy program that transforms young people from passive consumers into real innovators capable of using and creating future technology.

Twenty-five years later, Flanagan is just as excited about her role in Actua as she was when she saw that poster on the wall. She says she has seen progress since the program went national.

“Big evidence of that progress is Actua,” she said. “When I first started doing this work, we had to convince people it was important. A summer camp was one thing, but no one saw the link to the future work force or economic development.”

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Flanagan is working with a team on a special project meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. Actua is building a “Maker Mobile”, a mobile workshop that will travel from one end of the country to the other in just over 18 months, stopping at schools and community centres along the way. “A maker space is a workshop that is filled with technology tools that allow you to build prototypes or allow you to build products,” Flanagan said. “We are celebrating past innovation by building skills for future innovation.”

The idea is to inspire young people to not only learn more about science and technology, but also to inspire them to innovate. The maker mobile will empower these young people and shift their attitudes. Too often, people tell kids to pay attention to math and science so they can do great things in the future, Flanagan explained. Instead, why not encourage them to do great things now?

“Today’s youth are incredible innovators already. They are amazing problem solvers and have natural abilities with science and technology.”

Flanagan’s passion often follows her outside of her work with Actua. She sits on the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that has a wide mandate, which includes empowering women, helping them escape violent situations, and ending poverty.

“The work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation is so fundamental — doing work that is creating the first generation of women free of violence requires more passion. The work that we do, engage girls in science and technology goes far beyond knowing there is enough female participation in these subjects. It’s about raising confidence.”

Flanagan is also a finalist for the Social Change Award for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She is reading a newly released book called “Girl Positive”, which tells the story of hundreds of girls across North America and finds out what they need, something Flanagan says is critical reading for parents and policy makers.

 

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Where can Pokemon Go from here?

I got into a rather heated argument with my family last weekend over Pokemon Go. They had been reading the headlines about the terrible consequences of the app — the stampedes around Central Park, the guy who accidentally shot at two kids who were hanging out near his car, and the theft sprees that have occurred throughout the United States.

All I could say was that despite all of the glitches, I thought the app was a work of genius. And I haven’t even played it yet.

There are a number of reasons why I haven’t downloaded the app yet — a) I think it will take up more data than I can muster and b) I don’t think I’ll sleep for a week if I get it — but, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the technology is absolutely brilliant.

Pokemon Go inserts the game into the real-world, allowing players to walk around neighbourhoods and “catch” or “battle” Pokemon on the streets. Pokestops can be found at public art installations, tourist attractions and historical markers. Players will be allowed to join teams, battle other players, and train their Pokemon based on physical challenges. Eggs can only be hatched if a certain distance or number of steps is achieved. This has spurred a number of hilarious digs on social media about a sedentary generation finally having to move in order to play the game.

Sure, there are a few glitches — some of the Pokemon are hidden on private property and in commercial buildings — but it encourages people of all ages to explore neighbourhoods, play outdoors, and get nerdy. Is this really that terrible?

This fascinating mixture of augmented reality, geocached data of objects and locations, and Google Maps has the potential to revolutionize the way apps are developed in the future. Not only that, but it has the potential to change the way society as a whole uses this technology.

First of all, it’s a great marketing tool. Already, institutions like Toronto Tourism are asking residents to tweet pictures of Pokemon at historical sites for promotion. Imagine you are hosting an event and you want attendees to really engage with your company. Simply create an app that encourages participants to visit each table, station, or area of the event and collect points for a draw. Already, businesses can purchase a “lure” or “incense”,which attracts Pokemon to their area.

Now, let’s take this to the next step. How about using it for public good? Maybe a municipality can use it to encourage residents to pick up garbage or use public transportation? How great would it be to use this technology to host a neighbourhood-or city-wide scavenger hunt, highlighting government buildings, public monuments, and community centres?

There is so much potential with Pokemon Go and I can’t wait to see how it’s used next. Who knows, maybe this will be the week I give in to the Pokemon Go crave? I’ll let you know if I catch em’ all!

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The world of tomorrow, today

A former professional life brought me to New York City every couple of weeks. Routinely flying into LaGaurdia Airport in Queens, (no, this article is not about the horrendous state of the terminal Air Canada is located in) I was afforded a wonderful view of the New York World’s Fair location as we approached the runway. The skeleton globe, the monolithic structures, and the tree-lined paths remain an iconic reminder of a time when the world would gather with pilgrimage fashion to be awe-struck by the grand possibilities of the future.

During its heyday, the fair held a sense of wonder and aspiration for its visitors. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, in 1893 the world was introduced to the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, and in 1939, broadcast television was inaugurated in New York. Expo ’67 held in Montreal left the city with iconic architecture and, for a time, a Major League Baseball team named after it. Themes such as “The World of Tomorrow”, “Dawn of a New Day”, and “Peace Through Understanding” captivated the world with the promise of unimaginable spectacle. But today, with the proliferation of the Internet, there is less need for the Expo. Our present inundation of information about new technologies, new designs, theories, advances, and plans for the future are readily available in an endless stream of images, articles, tweets, websites, and data.

Today our pilgrimage has been reduced to a drooling stare into an LCD screen. And so, I wonder whether there is still value for cities to host the World’s Fair?

Held every five years, the World’s Fair (or World’s Expo as it’s also known) is a six-month long showcase of trade, innovation, and products from around the world. The Expo was held in Milan last year and the next one will be hosted by Dubai in 2020. Lately, and most likely in part because of the success of the Pan-Am Games, there have been rumblings about Toronto bidding on the 2025 World Expo. It is a chance to once again showcase our city on the world stage while continuing to push our mandate as a place rich in innovation, financial stability, and livability.

But still, is it worth the cost? Toronto Mayor John Tory, while not opposed to the idea, has intelligently taken a cautious approach; there are many unanswered questions related to cost and effort – questions that must be ironed out before any sort of decision is made.

Now, cost and effort aside, the other question that must considered revolves around theme. What grand proposition will be used to inspire the world to once again care about the World’s Fair? How are we going to put our stamp on an event that’s become largely irrelevant? How can we harken back to a time when the world of tomorrow was not so easily available through a few clicks? And most importantly, how do we balance the need for commercial capital without an overly branded marketing experience for the companies that foot the bill?

Here are a few areas of inspiration that may help:

  • Apple and Tesla Product Launch Format: the ability to keep new product designs and details under wraps from the media, while driving excitement and anticipation, is the fuel that powers both company’s marketing-driven sales. If the Expo could showcase things that were truly ground-breaking with a hotly-anticipated reveal, it would certainly help drive buzz.
  • Influencer Participation: gathering the best of the best in all fields to not just showcase their ideas, products, and plans, but to buy-in to the World’s Fair concept will help spread the word by association. If the most influential people in their fields participate, the rest will follow.
  • Integrated Projects: gather experts and leaders from a variety of industries to create conceptual works that fit into their unique visions of the future. Don’t worry about feasibility, worry only about inspiring people’s imaginations.
  • What Happens After: when the Expo is complete, what will be left? What types of architecture will remain permanently that future generations will look at with awe and wonder. Let’s build something that lasts.

Regardless of whether or not we bid on the Expo, the process of discussion should provide a valuable template for how we aim to push Toronto into the future as it relates to innovation. The notion of the world of tomorrow is still very much alive today.

How to lose a guy in ten days: the tech version

Dating has become more accessible since the invention of the Internet and the cell phone, but it comes with it’s challenges. There are potential land mines everywhere — and so many ways to mess up a potential relationship.

How soon should you text him or her back? When should you add the prospective person on Facebook? When should you call instead of text? Here are a few ways this technology can leave your potential partner running for the hills, with their cell phone in tow.

  1. Text five minutes after your first date

Your date has gone well, it had good conversation and you were left wanting more. This is GREAT news! So what do you do next? You text them after you leave, just a little note to remind them that you had a great time. To this, I say no! DO NOT PROCEED, turn the car around. Always wait to text your prospective partner back. It shows that you are confident and in it for the long-run. Texting large blocks of text is another no-no. Basically, wait until the following day and send a casual text that lets the person know you are still interested and otherwise refrain from contact.

  1. Stay glued to your phone while on your date

You have made it to your second date without blowing it via text overload and this is fantastic, but you remain glued to your phone the entire date, checking emails, Facebook, Instagram and maybe even a quick swipe on Tindr. This is another big N-O. Having your phone glued to you while on a date is rude and takes away from the authentic experience of getting to know the person sitting across from you. I take this rule so seriously that even having your phone on the table while on a date will set alarm bells off.

  1. Don’t use cute nicknames too quickly

I am a big fan of using nicknames for people such baby, hun, or darling. I think pet names are endearing though many would disagree. But using them right away is a sure fire way to scare the crap out of a potential boyfriend or girlfriend. Nicknames need to be avoided before a certain point in the dating game otherwise it will come off as clingy or rushed. Once you are sure of the person though, bring out the nicknames and create some of your own personalized versions. It can be quite fun, hunny buns.

  1. Deep and dark texting

Keeping it light and easy via text once you are dating is a good step forward to getting to know someone without being too intense. Asking deep and dark questions to your new lover can be terrifying and set a tone in the relationship that is unnecessarily intense. Certain questions can also denote a sense of insecurity or pessimism when a new relationship should be enjoyable and light-hearted to start. If you feel you have ask to ask serious questions, make sure to do it in person. On the other hand, avoid the excessive use of emojis to lighten the mood. Too many LOLs or smiley-wink faces can be a real turnoff and can make you come across as immature, needy, and just plain weird.

  1. Drunk texting

Breaking out your phone after a few drinks can seem like the best idea ever, but in reality, it is a recipe for disaster. When we text after a few cocktails, the message seems to be the most humorous and interesting thing we could ever say.  Oftentimes, the texts that are sent are less appealing. Keep your phone away from you when drinking so that you don’t feel inclined to send silly messages that you will regret in the morning along with your headache.

If you can avoid texting too quickly, using your phone too often, or breaking your phone out after a few drinks, you may find yourself a dating guru.

What are your funniest technology fuelled mess-ups while dating? Post in the comments below.

“Princesses don’t grow on trees” is a play for all-ages

“Princesses don’t grow on trees” is a princess story with a modern twist. The play takes children’s theatre to the next level with its discursive themes on technology and the importance of the imagination.

My daughter and I decided to put on our Sunday best and head to Solar Stage theatre’s princess production.

The play features an eight-year-old girl named Calliope (whose name means “storyteller” in Greek mythology). Calliope often feels ignored by her family because they are always on their phones and tablets.  She enters an imaginary world in her fairy-tale storybook where she meets a tree named Acer, a gnome named Morty and Queen Mab, a woman strikingly similar to her mother.

Calliope is invited to remain in the imaginary world forever and must decide if she should remain with her fairytale friends or return home to her tech-obsessed family.

The princess character is progressive in this play because Calliope deviates from the norm. She doesn’t want to be a princess, but her wishes are ignored by her distracted family. Her imaginary world gives her a sense of agency to explore who she really is, highlighting the power of the imagination.

The play touches on sophisticated themes about how phones and other gadgets are taking away from much-needed family time. “The company used to be in the practice of doing something light and simple. We don’t want to do that. We want to make an immersive theatrical experience for adults and children,” said co-artistic directors, Dahlia Katz and M. John Kennedy.

Solar Stage Theatre is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It is considered a “best kept secret” because of its location on the subway line at Sheppard-Yonge station, and the comfortable theatre space itself. Katz and Kennedy were recently contracted to direct the company in January 2015, and have exciting plans for the future of Solar Stage including fewer plays in the next season with more focus on individual themes in each production.

In addition to their public and school shows, a spring and summer camp, and birthday parties, the duo has recently added adults-only performances. The plays run almost identically to the version presented to children and encourages people to sing along and interact with the on-stage performers by singing along and responding to questions. “We think it is important that everyone gets to play like a child,” said Kennedy.

Solar Stage Theatre also boasts a large number of women running the show. This season, eight of the directors were female along with eight playwrights, 50 per cent of the cast, all of the designers aside from lighting, all the stage managers, and the artistic director.

“The vast majority of [Kennedy’s] students [at Randolph Academy] are female but the industry doesn’t represent that. It was important to us that this was not the case. We have an overwhelming network of strong female talent so why not put them to work?” Katz said.

The artistic directors are also open to gender-bending performances and changing typical storylines to include female or male roles. In “Alice in Wonderland”, they changed the storyline to “Alex in Wonderland” and in “Treasure Island”, Jack Hawkins became Jane Hawkins.

“Princesses don’t grow on trees” is running from April 4 to the 22 and is worth checking out. Solar Stage Theatre also has some exciting future plans in store and as a lover of children’s theatre. I hope they can put the venue on the map for must-do’s in the city.

“The all-ages theatre just doesn’t exist yet. It is emotionally sophisticated which is what we are trying to do. We want to make new shows that are high-concept and still acceptable. We want to make good theatre,” said Kennedy.

5 ways to manage stress at work

It can happen to the best of us: you read an email and realize your boss isn’t happy with your work; you made a mistake that costs your company money; you get into an argument with a co-worker over something you know is right. It is enough to make you frustrated, stressed, anxious, and above all else, unhappy.

No matter the job, work can be stressful. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five ways to manage your stress in the workplace:

Don’t respond to your email right away: Businesses are operating in a nearly completely digital world and there is an expectation that everyone should be by their computers or phones 24/7. Just because your phone notifications are buzzing, doesn’t mean you should respond. This is especially true if the email is negative. The problem with email is that the tone of the author is unknown, so people start to imagine possible meanings behind the words written. An email may read negative, but it may be a mere observation or an idea. Take a moment to distract yourself and then return to the email. You may find the message less negative this time and you can craft your response accordingly. If you are really concerned, call or meet the sender in person to discuss their request. That way you can judge the tone for yourself.

Schedule breaks: Everyone does it — works through lunch, stays an hour longer in the evening, or offers to do extra assignments. The “I don’t leave work until my work is done” mentality may be good for productivity, but it isn’t good for your mental health, especially if your goals are set really high. There will always be work to do, so take 15 minutes and go for a walk. Get some coffee, read the news, talk with a friend, or just enjoy the sunshine for a bit. That way, you can return to work refreshed and ready to start your next project.

Breath deeply: Sometimes, you won’t be in a scenario where you can take a walk or wait 15 minutes before reacting to a situation. If you feel your breath getting shorter and your head getting lighter, this could be a sign of stress and/or anxiety. Take a step back (figuratively) and take five deep breaths. If anyone interrupts you, just say you need a minute to gather your thoughts. Then, speak calmly and confidently. Keep your tone neutral if possible. You’ve got this!

Train your body and mind: Exercise, both physical and mental, can help calm the nerves and maintain focus. Doing 20 minutes of yoga or starting your day with a mantra of gratitude can help focus your mind on the tasks you have to do that day, while going for a run or a walk after work (or on your lunch break) can help burn off steam. The body responds to stress in different ways — headaches, stomach aches, and sore muscles are some examples. By keeping your blood moving and dedicating half an hour a day to physical activity, it can help prevent those type of side effects. Not to mention it will keep you in shape.

Try to be more creative: Sometimes it’s not the job, but the job environment that causes stress. Try to make it your own and be more creative with your work. Don’t be afraid to approach your boss with a new idea or project. Most of the time, this gumption will be well received, even if your idea isn’t. When you aren’t at work, do something fun. Simply crashing in front of your television won’t help clear your mind of the activities of the day. Why not try your hand at painting or gardening, read a book, or play a new sport? All of these activities will increase your energy, confidence, and ability to problem solve.

Above all else, remember to be confident in your abilities. It’s okay to make mistakes and to stand up for yourself. It’s also okay to take some time for yourself to ensure you are less stressed and are able to be productive during the hours you do work.

Do you have any tips for relieving stress at work? Let us know in the comments below.

WATCH: This TIFF short about Facebook will make you hate your computer

This unique Canadian short film, Noah, explores something we don’t see in too many other movies: just how much our online lives have supplanted our real interactions.

“In a story that plays out entirely on a teenager’s computer screen, Noah follows its eponymous protagonist as his relationship takes a rapid turn for the worse in this fascinating study of behaviour (and romance) in the digital age.”

The film by Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg explores the concept of isolation in a world where we are so connected to everyone around us all the time and has the added benefit of making you want to disconnect from Facebook and throw your laptop out the window.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Is the strange girl on Chat Roulette right to think that Facebook is destroying our lives? Have you ever done the not-so-unthinkable and hacked your significant other’s Facebook account to get dirt on them?

 

Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

Smartwatch on the way from Sony

On June 21 the Twitter account for Sony’s smartphone branch, Sony Xperia, tweeted out a photo of a sleek looking digital watch, the long awaited smartwatch that has been tech industry buzz for the last year.

The idea of a James Bond style smart watch jumped from the realm of fiction into reality in the last year when rumours began that Apple was covertly working on an ‘iWatch’ running Apple’s iOS operating system. It seems as though competitor Sony has beaten them out of the gate with their product as the hashtag in the tweet, #MAE13, refers to the Mobile Asia Expo that is taking place June 25th in Shanghai, China.