Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hyperthinking: a different way to think

Philip Weiss at MacEwan University.

What allowed Google to come out of nowhere and become one of the biggest companies in the world? 
According to Philip Weiss, chief hyperthinker of ZN Consulting, hyperthinking is to thank.
Weiss conducted a lecture on Nov. 20 as part of Corus Entertainment’s Distinguished Lecturer series. He spoke to a crowd of over 200 students, faculty and entrepreneurs at the Kule Lecture Hall at the City Centre Campus.
“Hyperthinking” is Weiss’s term for the new way people need to approach problems and business models. He points out that the traditional education system does not prepare students to work with new social media realities and internet communications, which are revolutionizing society.
“What we’re experiencing today is an increasing number of black swans,” he explains. ”Let’s look at the Arab Spring – right until it happened, people had no clue this would happen. They didn’t know it was even possible. Lots of experts in Washington and Europe, all over the world, they didn’t predict this. Because we don’t understand the new rules of the game.”
To begin the lecture, Weiss showed the crowd the introduction to the Kony 2012 video, released by the organization Invisible Children. Following the video, he points out the ability of viral phenomena to come out of nowhere. He suggests that this is because people do not inherently trust governments or institutions, but they do trust other people. They presume people would be willing to tell the truth.
“There’s two sides to this,” he points out, referencing the H1N1 vaccine scare. “On the web, scary stories spread like wildfire.”
Hyperthinking, Weiss explains, is a set of skills to allow a person to navigate and thrive in this new information maelstrom.
Hyperthinking consists of four parts – hypershifting, hyperlearning, hyperlinking and hyperacting.
Hypershifting looks at changing our reality tunnel. Everyone has a different way of looking at the world and to be able to understand problems and communicate with vast audiences through the internet. We need to be able to shift our worldview into another person’s perspective. This can help avoid pitfalls like accidentally offending someone.
Hyperlearning argues that to function in the information age we need to be able to teach ourselves, because “we cannot depend on education to keep up.”
Weiss suggests a daily regimen of at least 10 minutes devoted to learning something new a day. He also stresses creativity and argues that it can be developed by drawing up mind maps and using “thinking hats.”
He also suggests taking free online classes through institutions like MIT to continue polishing your skill set.
Hyperlinking is the concept of using your digital networks. Weiss pointed out that today we are connected to people all around the world. These people can be useful sources of information, fact checking or possibly even work. 
Lastly, hyperacting is the actual process of putting your idea into practice through trial and error. Weiss emphasises that ideas need to be adaptable and that mistakes have to be made.
“The internet is now the ultimate source of power. It’s not just the post to overthrow governments; it’s the power to shape perception, because if you can change perception, you can change behaviour. If you change behaviour, you change the world. This is the new world we live in, and it’s changing everything.”

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Rosetta: most badass thing to happen since the moon landing

For the griff

Someday, we will all look back to these past few weeks and say, “I was there.”
A few of us will actually be telling the truth. The rest will only wish they had been paying attention to what, simply put, is the most bad-ass and amazing thing our collective species has achieved since Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon.
I’m talking about the Rosetta mission, the greatest mission most of you had not heard about until last week, when it launched a lander called Philae that  managed to survive a landing on the surface of the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The comet is orbiting the sun at an average speed of 135,000 kilometres per hour. 
At that speed,  the comet could circle the Earth three times in one hour. 
Philae survived its landing and was able to conduct almost all of its scientific experiments in spite of having several of its landing systems fail, and bouncing off the surface of the comet up over one kilometre into the sky, only to land again and bounce a second time and land on the side of a cliff.
It powered down because it was unable to get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries – the comet itself is as black as coal.
When Churyumov-Gerasimenko makes its turn around the sun, the lander may in fact get a second burst of energy, resulting in more delicious, juicy science. According to the European Space Agency, we already know that the very thin atmosphere surrounding the nucleus of the comet contains organic compounds, which could mean anything from methane gas to amino acids: the building blocks of the proteins we are made of. 
This may strengthen the theory that the building blocks for life came from somewhere other than Earth.
This is the latest feat in a long history of historic firsts in space exploration that has marked the Rosetta mission. This is a good ship. The Rosetta is built with ten rockets: six for propulsion and four to slow down, and was clocked by the ESA at 48,024 km/h at one point. 
To reach Churyumov-Gerasimenko is to cover a mind-blowing distance of over 6.4 billion kilometres over almost 10 years. I’m not even going to attempt to come up with a metaphor for that. Let’s just say it’s a bloody long drive. 
To achieve this, the Rosetta combined its six rocket thrusters with a classic trick of the space robot trade, known as the slingshot effect – made famous by saving the Apollo 13 mission. The slingshot effect is buzzing close to a large body and using its gravitational pull to throw oneself out of orbit. Chances are in the future we will be using this as the main means to get around the solar system.
Rosetta did this not once, not twice, but seven times.
Three times with large asteroids, three times around the earth, during one of which a group of primitive hominids mistook the ship for a meteor in danger of striking the Earth maneuver and a kobayashi-maru around Mars where Rosetta was unable to use its solar panels to power its internal systems while it was in a very low orbit. 
In the end, Rosetta had to power itself  using the lander’s battery, something it was not supposed to be able to do, and flew blind.
It made it through, and even took some photos of Mars while it was at it.
Rosetta is a beast.
Not only that, but according to the ESA, the payoff for the $1.8 billion mission is huge. Rosetta has employed over 2,000 people in 10 years. Not a huge number until you remember these are 2,000 engineers. Now that’s economic growth.
We should also consider Rosetta’s solar panels. New ESA solar panel technology, called Low-intensity Low Temperature Cells, enabled Rosetta to be the first spacecraft to travel past the asteroid belt using solar power alone. 
This thing is several hundred million miles away from the sun, and it’s drawing a charge off its light. Imagine what that could do on Earth?
Hell, if we can keep building hardcore spacecraft like this, it won’t be much longer until we’re walking on Mars.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Timbersports: Log rolling and axe throwing

For the griff

Are you growing bored with those ho-hum extreme sports where the worst thing you can do to yourself is a sprained ankle or a concussion? Does the idea of running up a steep log at top speed with a modified chainsaw excite you? Have you had “The Log Driver’s Waltz” stuck in your head your entire maddening life? Well, your chance has finally come.
Katherine Spencer is bringing timbersports back to Alberta.
The 5’4,”115-pound Fort Saskatchewan resident has been practicing timbersports for over 10 years. She first got into timbersports while attending the University of New Brunswick, when she joined her local team.
She was hooked.
“I love it. It’s my passion,” she says.
Timbersports is the name given to a series of sport competitions based on traditional logging work and activities.
Competitive events include the standing log chop (chopping a block of wood that is standing up straight), underhand chopping (chopping a block of wood while standing on it by swinging an axe between the legs — while wearing chainmail), obstacle poll bucking (running up a log with a chainsaw, cutting a piece of said log off with the chainsaw, then running back down the log and touching the spot you just cut), as well as the self-explanatory log rolling and axe throwing.
Yes, axe throwing. Spencer actually has a side business teaching axe throwing. For $60 a head your group can learn how to throw an axe at a target over 20 feet away. It’s quite easy, or so she says.
While Alberta used to have a number of timbersports competitions, including the “King of the Klondike” held during Klondike Days, they had all died out by the time Spencer first moved to Alberta. The nearest competition was almost 10 hours away. Her average trip was a 13-16 hour drive each way.
“I got tired of my butt hurting,” she jokes, “and spending so much on gas.”
So in 2014, she organized the STIHL Western Canadian Qualifier, where she literally did everything.
“I did everything from porta-potties to cutting and selecting every single piece of wood,” she explains.
“When you’re looking at bringing back a sport into a community where it’s died out, you have to start from square one.”
As you can imagine, not a lot of lumberjacking happens in the cold dark winter months of Alberta. So during the off-season, Spencer chiefly does cardio.
“Timbersports are about 20 to 30 seconds of everything you’ve got.”
One good thing about the sport is that age is not a big factor in competitiveness. Unlike sports like hockey or football, timbersports are often dominated by men in their 40s.
“This is a sport that anybody can get involved in. There’s an event for everybody — there’s strength events, there’s endurance events, there’s finesse events.”
Spencer hopes to get a hold of some training logs so she can add log rolling lessons to her axe throwing business.
You know you want to learn how to log roll and throw axes. Don’t try to deny it.
If you want to contact Spencer about timbersports or axe throwing lessons, you can email her at katherine.j.spencer@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The improvised world of Viking lore

For the griff

Fjellsa Malm glares angrily at her ex-husband, Olaf Abread, from across the stage.
“You look dirty,” she snarls through her teeth.
Olaf looks back at her and rolls his eyes, barely visible above his massive, greyish beard.
“You are dirty,” he barks back.
The crowd erupts in howls of laughter. Fjellsa (played by Sheri Somerville) winces back, and then raises her sword at him. 
“I will castrate you.”
Olaf (Donovan Workun) snorts. “You did.”
The lights drop, the crowd erupts in laughter again, and Die-Nasty’s 24th season is underway.
Die-Nasty! is a live improvised soap opera operating out of the New Varscona theatre, playing every Monday at 7:30 p.m. from Oct. 20 to June 1, 2015.
“What makes Die-Nasty a little bit different from other improv shows is we’re long-form improv –— in that we start the season and continue the storyline with the same characters until the end of May,” explains Davina Stewart, who plays Ruvita Neddrickson in the show.
“For a season, we pick a genre, like the Vikings. [In the past] we’ve done Tennessee Williams, Medieval England, 1920s gangsters, the Old West, a 1970s hockey team called the Die-Hards. We did a bike gang roaming across North America.”
The show differs from your standard improv show in that most improv shows rely on audience participation, either a word or series of words to put together a base to work with. 
Using the theme and a base set of characters, Die-Nasty takes things in a totally different direction, completing a compelling episode in the lives and deaths of characters completely on the fly.
The results are an absolute riot.
From Fartsak Meatballs (Dana Anderson) and his deep Newfoundlander accent to Bjorn Wulfgarrson (Matt Alden) combining the fine arts of wordsmithing, river dancing, sword fighting and talking like Luigi from Super Mario Bros., there wasn’t a moment where I was not in pain from laughing so hard.
“It’s a lot of fun. Storylines continue through episodes, but people shouldn’t feel that they’ll be lost if they haven’t seen all the episodes coming up,” says Paul Morgan Donald, who produces the music for the show — in this case as a Viking playing a mandolin in the background. 
“We always make clear what the story situations are so it’s easy to jump right in and get caught up on what’s happening.”
The beauty of improv is the fact it can go just about anywhere. At one point, we were witnesses to a debate between Neddrick the Plate (Jeff Haslam) and his wife Jysk (Stephanie Wolfe) over whether they should be teaching their children about the gods. Neddrick, you see, is an atheist and is worried that introducing his kids to the ways of Thor, Odin, Loki and the nefarious Parsnip could harm them in the long run.
By the end of the show, we have learned of the Norse gods Parsnip, Dopey, Sleepy and Happy.
The brilliant madness of this seems to have no end.
“I wonder how many gods will be in the Norse pantheon in a few months?” asks Jarl Wulfgar Stormbringer (Mark Meer) aloud to his wife, Freya Thordottir (Shannon Blanchet) as the first act comes to a close.
Good question, Wulfgar. We can’t wait to find out.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Marching against GMOs

For the griff

 Monsanto protestors took to the Edmonton streets
Photo by Eric Bowling

“Buzz, buzz, for the bees — bring Monsanto to its knees! Buzz, buzz, for the bees — bring Monsanto to its knees!”
A crowd of concerned citizens took to the streets on Oct. 18 for Occupy Edmonton’s March Against Monsanto, the second of this year.
“The chief concern is the control of our food supply,” explained David Laing of Occupy Edmonton. “In a very short period of time, in a couple generations, food has been taken out of the hands of communities and local farmers.”
“Food is something we need to take back in our hands.”
The march began with a rally at End of Steel Park where a number of speakers voiced their concerns for the lack of clarity in food labeling.
According to Health Canada’s website, current labeling of genetically modified (GM) food is on a voluntary basis. To place a GM food product on the market is a 7- to 10-year process.
During this time, the product is subjected to a series of scientific assessments, including a review of the organism’s development, a comparison of the GM food to a non-GM equivalent, an assessment of the potential for new toxins to be created in the food or for the development of new allergies as a result of the chemical changes, key nutrients and toxicants, and major constituents like fats and proteins, as well as minor constituents like minerals and vitamins.
Following this process, a decision document is published on Health Canada’s website with a complete safety review.
However, many experts are not convinced that Health Canada’s regulations do enough.
“Our bodies are like an equation,” said John Shamchuk, a glycobiologist with over 30 years of experience. “Everything is based on a sequence of events; it’s like 1-2-3-4-5. If that gets out of balance, your body starts stuttering. When you introduce something that is alien to the body, the body has trouble breaking it down.”
While speakers informed the crowd of their plight, a group of police officers arrived to control the crowd. After a brief discussion with David Laing, the officers politely asked the crowd to keep the rally to the sidewalk, which the organizers gracefully agreed to.
The rally proceeded down Gateway Boulevard and then down Whyte Avenue, moving towards 99 Street before finally turning towards Trinity Lutheran Church for a feast of organic food.
While the main focus of the rally was to demand labelling of genetically modified food products, another large concern was pesticide use in the province.
“We have no bylaws in Alberta except for the hamlet of Grandview on Pigeon Lake,” said Sheryl McCumsey, head of Pesticide Free Alberta. “Meanwhile, beekeepers are taking [pesticides] so seriously they’ve launched a $450 million lawsuit against Bayer and Syngenta.”
The Alberta government’s Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development website states that anyone using pesticides requires a pesticide applicator certificate. Using pesticides within 30 metres of a body of water also needs a Pesticide Special Use Approval, unless they are listed as a “certified applicator,” at which point they are exempt from the 30-metre rule.
While the rally itself was to raise awareness of these various issues and to compel citizens to lobby city hall and the legislature for better regulation, people wanting to improve the quality of their food don’t need to wait for the government to start making changes.
“I advise people to start gardening,” concluded David Laing. “Grow your own food, educate yourself. Stop depending on the system.”