Problem-solving products and beer at IoTW

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On Thursday I hit the latest iteration of the Internet of Things Waterloo meetup at Descendants, specifically to hear my pal George Tsintzouras talk about about his startup Alert Labs. Regular readers know I geek out on hardware and in the course of my travels I get to see bits of electronics in varying states of functionality and finish. Having listened to hardware product pitches near and far and carrying a passing familiarity with a soldering iron, I feel reasonably well-equipped to assess said pitches on two counts: #1 Does it solve a real problem and #2 Is it likely to actually work?

Happily, at this meetup I got the scoop from both Alert Labs and another hardware play, Pitstop, that check both those boxes. While Kickstarter is full of aspirational and fantastic-as-in-not-quite-credible products, these two companies are turning out very pragmatic telemetry plays across rental properties and cars, respectively. That’s the TL;DR for this one. Oh wait, let me also add that the new JAMHacks high school hackathon by Ethan Guo was announced by his dad, Eddy. That’s coming April 9, free-no-pay, open to Ontario high school students and like all good things they need sponsors, mentors, volunteers and for you to spread the word.

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Found myself back at Descendants again. It’s like a community centre…

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Kick-ass photog Suzy Lake at Art Gallery of Guelph

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“I still have something to say”, said top-shelf photog/performance artist/professor Suzy Lake on Thursday night at the Art Gallery of Guelph, and she had my rapt attention for her whole talk spanning nearly 50 years of work.

I landed at this talk (along with Brohemus) for two reasons: seeing some of Suzy’s work at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa last June made me wicked-curious to know more about her. And secondly, my brother took a photography class with Suzy in his undergrad at the U of G. Just last year, Suzy won the Scotiabank Photography Award which is a big deal. Something that I deeply respect is that she is a long-time meta-maker of the arts, working beyond her practice to increase the capacity of the Canadian art-o-sphere and to share her knowledge through teaching.

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The full scope of Suzy’s work is beyond this small blog post. My first encounter was with her costumed self-portraits, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beginning her fine art studies at Wayne State University in Michigan back in the ‘60’s, she was intrigued by the tools of photography and film, but formal study in those mediums was only possible for Communications majors.  Nevertheless, she adopted them as the “ordinances at hand”. She mashed that up with performance work and constructed installations. She has and continues to have strong concepts that are well-realized and that hit me directly in my makerly breadbasket.

The TL;DR: Suzy Lake is massively talented. If you missed this talk, tune in to the street. Big thanks to Suzy, AGG, CAFKA and Musagetes for makin’ it happen.

Click through for a moderately-reasonable number of photos…

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Making music where beer was made: WTMC


Nobody has ever mistakenly identified me as an improvisational musician. I am not that. I am, however, a fan of new things, tech+music things, DIY things and things that bring people together for whatever reason. Waterloo Tape Music Club is all that and I suppose that’s why I keep touching back with this group. I shot a few photos of their first meetup in Kitchener a year ago and caught up with them in March at Felt Lab in St Jacobs. Just last month, in the waning days of 2016, I was a fly on the wall for their most recent jam session inside the former Brick Brewery building on King Street in uptown Waterloo.

The group was looking for an industrial site, a large space offering lots of reverb, so I connected them with Josh at Distillery Labs (where I co-work), leading to a night of improvised electronic music, a blizzard and –22C temps notwithstanding.

The TL;DR: has nothing to do with music. Instead, it’s a suggestion that if you have an interest and a desire to connect with other of similar interests, then you can just start your own group. Whether you connect with 4, 40 or 400 people, the point is that anything you *do* is way better than watching youtube videos of other people doing stuff.


Here’s first-timer Jamie Miller. He’s got a PhD in environmental engineering. He does lectures and gives workshops on biomimicry at OCAD. He connected through Jordan at a conference in Toronto.

Click through for a borderline-unreasonable number of photos from the evening…

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Drinking with artists


My good friends, painter Melissa Doherty and blacksmith Sandra Dunn joined in the inaugural 2Tue monthly meetup that Art$Pay kicked off in December. The second Tuesday of January is next week, so I’m looking forward to chattin’ and chillin’ with this most interesting bunch of people again. Installation artists, sculptors, painters, photographers and a whack of people practising in other mediums showed up, too. We’ll be back at Descendants brewery on Victoria at Weber again Jan 10, so feel free to jump in. At this point, there’s no agenda, no pitches, no writing stuff on post-it notes: just hanging out and meeting other artists. And beer.


There is a surprising amount of value in regular, unstructured meetups and what’s even more surprising is that something like this doesn’t already exist for artists. Because I inhabit multiple spheres in WR, I know the tech community has embraced the recurring heart beat of connecting people in real life. HackerNest, UX Waterloo, DevHouse and Startups & Beer have all developed their followings. So we’re doing that in the arts.


Sculptor/painter Pamela Rojas and painter/maker/visualizations dude nik harron, a couple more of my very favourite people. Lots of laughs and catching up with each other.

You know the drill: leave yer sofa and get a 2017 start with art.

On Victoria Street in Kitchener, this is us.


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More beer from here


I stopped by Abe Erb’s new (additional) digs at the Tannery today. A social media post noted they had beer “up for grabs” which I completely misinterpreted as “free beer”, but that’s another story.


I rolled in just as Tony was bringing pizza lunch back for the hungry canning crew. Click through for a few more pics…

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Tech teen: maker in the house

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This is Calder White. My son. Grade 9 at SJAM in Waterloo. He loves to write code.

Started with Scratch, then moved on to Javascript, Python and now into Android-based Java. Nowhere in the parenting manual do they tell you that you’ll be having long discussions about machine instruction sets, the benefits of strongly typed languages and code portability with your kid. Back when he was 10 years old, I was hit with the existential question: “Ok, but how did they make the *first* compiler?” Now, four years later, he’s an accomplished autodidact and my software dev advice has been largely supplanted by the collective wisdom of Stack Overflow.

Where I *am* still able to exert some marginal influence is in supporting a mashup of hardware skills to go along with the software-fu. There’s a lot of practical utility in being multi-disciplined. And it has never before been easier/cheaper/more fun to explore this space.

The TL;DR: there are ever-increasing opportunities for your kids (and you) to make stuff out of bytes and solder. Schools, libraries, makerspaces and museums have all sorts of meetups in this domain. You just need to dig a bit to find them.


Here’s me back in the ‘70’s working on my 150-in-1 Electronics Project box with my grandfather, George Foster. My nine-year-old self delighted in making these wire-by-number circuits. Back then, when the internet was still an experiment, my projects were seriously jammed on two counts:

1. Nobody in my small world could fully explain how these circuits worked.
2. The parts to make (and *not* dismantle) these circuits were too expensive.

Fast forward several decades and these challenges are mostly solved, though the solutions are perhaps not uniformly distributed.

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Art$Pay: where artists + [biz|tech|community] meet

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I’ve been helping Cathy Farwell on a project called Art$Pay. The idea is to connect artists with paying work and to connect the community with great local artists.
The TL;DR: we’re all meeting up at Descendants brewery tonight at 7pm. Yer invited (and disregard the “sold-out” on eventbrite, tell ‘em I sent you).

A big part of starting anything new is getting the word out. To that end, Cathy enlisted help creating a video and assembled artists, curators, property developers, community activators and… me to introduce Art$Pay and kick off the experiment. I hung around the studio during the shoot and did some shooting of my own. Oh hey, if you’re looking for more info, the web site launches tonight and you’ll find it here: and on facebook and twitter and instagram

My friend Pamela Rojas (above) is about the nicest person you’ll ever meet and she’s a helluva great artist, working out of her digs at Globe Studios (you’re going to their open house Fri/Sat, right?) You might have seen her giant community mural projects around WR. The latest one was painted on a business at University Ave and Regina.

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Got a bunch of pics for you on the other side, but ya know, the best way to find out about this is to just show up tonight. Descendants is on Victoria near Lancaster in Kitchener. If you haven’t been, well now you’ve got another reason to get out tonight because Leigh and Robin run a great joint and they completely get community.

More pics…

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Nader: it takes less than 1% of the people to make change

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I drove to Brantford last night on a solo trip to hear consumer advocate legend Ralph Nader speak about corporate corruption. Shout out to Laurier for making that happen and making it freely available to the community.

The TL;DR: it takes less than 1% of the people, getting organized, to make significant positive change that may initially seem impossible.

Nader noted that in all of his endeavours, from improving automotive safety to fighting for safer workplaces, all of these were achieved with a relative handful of people who exercised concentration, imagination and curiosity. It was an encouraging call to action. Quoting Cicero, he noted that “Freedom is participation in power.”

I particularly liked Nader’s range between the philosophical and practical. He observed that we have become an increasingly distracted society. But he suggested it was changeable.  “Many people have a hobby, and I’m told they spend about 500 hours and $500 every year on that hobby. Now what if some of those people took up the hobby of preserving democracy?” Nader asked, eliciting chuckles from the audience. With diligent organization, he said, those people might pay attention to what’s happening in their community and country and then formulate their own platform. Then that group could invite their elected government representative to hear that platform and take it forward.

Nader also ranged between the troubling and the humorous. He described the high levels of sophistication employed by trans-national corporations to increase profit and eliminate accountability. I thought I was pretty well-versed in that domain, but I learned of some practices that I’ll need to read up on. In the I-don’t-think-he’s-joking department: Nader suggested that any well-heeled philanthropists in the audience could substantially help the United States by sending busloads of Canadians to tour the US and impart Canadian values. In fact, he wrote a book titled “Canada Firsts”, which details among other things our universal healthcare system. Myself, a proud Canadian, I think I’ll keep staving off any post-US-election smugness by carefully studying the history of my own country.

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Earlier in the week, I met for coffee with my good friend Jack Jackowetz, a Brantford local, and he promised my first-time visit to this venue, the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, would impress me. He was correct. Thanks to Jack and Anne for saving me a seat. I also need to thank my friend Gord for connecting me with one of the free tickets, necessitated by my procrastination in seeking out the U-Desk at Laurier’s Waterloo campus.

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After the talk…

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Mr Nader was signing books…

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and posing for fan photos.

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I wandered out into the night…

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leaving the long line of signature seekers, and heading toward home, my head crackling with ideas.

On Dalhousie Street, this is Brantford.


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My happy 7-hour weekend wandering: Night\Shift

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My friend Eric Rumble runs Night\Shift, which for the uninitiated is a (now) multi-day installation/expression/performance of art/music/food/theatre. That went off Saturday night in downtown Kitchener. Between feet-on-the-street at 7pm and my delightfully exhausted collapse back into the car at 2am, I had a lot of interesting experiences quite unlike anything else that happens here. And even more important were the many serendipitous meetings and chats with the characters of WR. So the TL;DR here is simply: thanks a lot, Rumble & Co.

I lugged my gear around with me the whole night because, ya know: photography-as-community-building-tool. And maybe if I show you something, you’ll go next year. Or sponsor. Or high-five Rumble on King Street.

Interlude: if you dig my community-building work through these stories, please support it with your pocket change. Shout out to my new patrons Glenn Wurster and Donna Litt, who get what I’m doing. And heartfelt thanks to all my patrons: while we are small in number (19 out of 500000), we are big on vision. On with the story!

Above, in the Kitchener City Hall rotunda, was Dylan Reibling’s installation 24 Hour Dolly. (There’s Dylan, top left, in plaid) I spent more than 2 hours hovering on the fringes of this piece, just fascinated. Such a simple construct. I didn’t really get it until I saw it in action. You could just hop up on the plinth and the circling camera operator would film you in a most delightfully cinematic way with an enviable rig. There was this resonance with my own approach, reflecting back to the community images of everyday folks, so genuine. This is us.

Click through for not-the-most-outrageous-number of pics I’ve ever posted…

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Waldo found: the man beneath the tuque

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Last Friday after an early-evening coffee, Brohemus and I wandered into the public square uptown as we’ve been known to do. Here we found my friend and City of Waterloo’s Festival and Events Specialist, Mr. Josh Bean. Josh programs the square and regular readers may remember him inviting passers-by to play board games back in the spring.

To follow along with this costumed character of civic engagement you should check out the Create Waterloo fb page, which seems to offer the most current info.

Josh cooked up this Waldo costume to *live* the job for his/our pre-Halloween Scare in the Square event, highlighting the first of three things I really like about him: a well-developed sense of humour

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