The art of observation

Girl at Kitty Hawk statue
Grace at the statue of John Daniels at Kitty Hawk

Some of the most iconic photos in the world have been taken by amateur photographers.

Take for instance, the photo of first flight. When the Wright brothers decided they were going to take to the air in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, they needed someone to document their feat. They turned to John Daniels, who worked at the life-saving station in the coastal town.

Orville Wright set up the Gundlach Korona camera on his tripod and showed Daniels how to trigger the camera’s shutter by squeezing the release bulb. Daniels took the picture of the brothers ascending into the air, but it wasn’t until much later until they knew it had been captured on film.

Since those early days of photography, we have been intrigued with capturing moments in time through the glass of a 35 mm lens. Today, thanks to smart phones and digital technology, we all have the ability to share our view and observations of the world around us.

Elliott Erwitt once said, “Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a photo of something that intrigues or inspires you, then share it.

This blog post was inspired by the award winning photographs of my two daughters who entered their photography into the Kingston Fall Fair. Grace won two firsts and a third, and Clare won one first, second and third, with her winning photo being chosen Reserve Champion (second best of all photos submitted in all categories) for the junior category. Here are some of their award winning photos.

Photo of flowers

 

Photo of dog on couchPhoto of chickensPhoto of flower

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Imagine a different future

Museum exhibit of the apartment of the future

Imagine it’s the year 2050 and you’re sitting in your apartment. The low hum of fog machines drones in the background as you skim the morning headlines citing worldwide crop failures while munching on your breakfast of mealworms, kale and mushrooms.

This is a new world, a world of empty supermarket shelves where humans have learned to adapt to survive.

This is just one possible future a new hero of mine, futurist Anab Jain challenged us to imagine at the conference I was at last month in Montreal.

Anab works for an organization called Superflux, a UK design studio dedicated to translating future uncertainty into present day choices by imagining and creating different futures. They run experiments, build prototypes and simulate possible versions of the future so companies and governments can make bold decisions today.

Superflux has learned the most powerful way to change human behaviour is to help people directly, tangently and emotionally experience the change.

Anab told us about how the government of the United Arab Emirates commissioned them to shape their energy policy. Superflux created a prototype of a device that emits vapour simulating what the air quality would be like in the year 2050, then invited the UAE delgation to breathe in the air. The next day the government announced they would invest billions of dollars in renewable energy.

One fascinating insight Anab shared is that for every advancement or breakthrough we’ve seen in society, there are always expected and unexpected consequences.

For instance, facial recognition technology is being used by law enforcement agencies, governments, schools and companies under the auspices of keeping our society safe, but for every positive intended consequence, there can be negative, unintended consequences.

A university in China uses facial recognition technology in its classrooms. The technology registers if students are paying attention and assigns an emotional response. Students say they have learned to not register emotion to circumvent the technology.

Anab also shared a scary statistic: 95% of facial recognition software is inaccurate. Not only is big brother here to stay, he is basing his decisions on inaccurate data.

The ethical implications of this are enormous, and exploring both the intended and unintended consequences of possible futures is a key aspect of Superflux’s work.

Another project involved imagining if in the year 2050, we were living in a world of scarcity and there was not enough food to feed the billions of people on the planet. They simulated an urban apartment, which was made into a museum exhibit.

At first glance, the one side of the space looks like a normal kitchen with shelves, a coffee maker, appliances. On closer look, you see signs of the new reality—a newspaper headline that reads, “Worldwide crop failures in 2049”. A book on the bookshelf called “Pets as Protein”.

You notice the other side of the apartment is filled with industrial shelving and fluorescent lighting, where the residents are growing their own food using fog. Oyster mushrooms are being cultivated on the top shelf while smaller plastic containers are full of live mealworms.

Freaked out yet? You should be. The future is looking scary these days. Trump. The resurgence of nationalism and isolationism. Global warming.

We can’t let the future happen to us. We need to imagine and fight for the future we want.

Want to be a futurist? It’s not as far out there as you may think. Google, NASA, even Ikea, have a futures team.

Conquer the Savage question

HQ trivia screen

On Friday, my most awesome co-worker Jess invited us to a secret meeting at 3 p.m. The meeting was to play HQ Trivia.

HQ Trivia is a live trivia game that broadcasts each night at 9 p.m. and on weekdays at 3 p.m. You play along on your phone and the prize money is split between all the winners. The prize tonight, Sunday, February 18this an epic $25,000, their biggest prize ever.

I played twice on Friday and was hooked immediately.

There were six of us playing at 3…along with 668,000 other people. You read that right. Six hundred and sixty-eight thousand people! At 9 p.m., there was Clare and I….and just under a million other people playing.

Both times, we killed it on the first three or four questions, but here’s the skinny—they make the first questions really easy to hook you in. After each round, the questions get harder and harder. Just when you think you’ve got this, the host lays it on you–the Savage Question–the question that knocks out hundreds of thousands of people.

Not only is HQ Trivia fun and addictive, it’s a social and technological marvel. It boggled my mind to think I was online with hundreds of thousands of other people at the same time doing the same thing and watching the elimination numbers each round: from 998,000, to 924,000 to 762,000 to 682,000 then down to 324,000 (after the Savage Question) until the final round when only a handful of players claim victory to split the $2,500 jackpot.

This week’s #HappyAct is to download the HQ Trivia app and play along tonight. And whatever you do, don’t call our house at 9 p.m. We won’t answer the phone.

Ten cool apps for an appy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving—the time to give thanks, spend time with family with friends and download some new apps on your phone as you curl up into turkey-induced coma on the couch.

Here are some of my favourite apps to check out that are useful.

  1. TeamSnap—Have a child on a sports team? TeamSnap allows coaches and parents to see schedules, who’s available for practices and games and even allows you to upload photos from games to create an online team photo album.
  2. Carrot—Developed in partnership with Canadian Diabetes Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and different government agencies, Carrot rewards you with Aeroplan, Petro Points or other reward program points for making healthy choices, taking fun interactive quizzes and even for your daily steps.
  3. Slack—Tired of endless emails at work? Slack is quickly becoming the go-to app for teams and companies who are looking for simpler, easier ways to communicate and collaborate. Many teams at my company are using Slack.
  4. Calorie counter and diet tracker—A great post-Thanksgiving app for losing weight and getting healthy.
  5. Aura: Meditation and Mindfulness—it’s like having your own personalized mindfulness coach who will guide you for three minutes a day to better mental health and happiness.
  6. AroundMe—Handy app for finding restaurants, gas stations or businesses nearby.
  7. Find My iPhone—even if your iPhone isn’t missing, it’s fun to track yourself on the map; if it is missing, it’s a lifesaver.
  8. WeTransfer/WeDownload—you don’t even need to download the app for this one, just go to the website. Allows you to transfer files up to two gigabytes free—great for sending videos, large photo collections.
  9. Stubhub—buy or sell tickets to any sporting event or concert.
  10. Yonder Outdoor Adventures–Check out posts from fellow outdoor enthusiasts on the best hikes and paddles around the world.

And if downloading apps isn’t your preferred way to while away Thanksgiving Monday, Clare informs me there is a spongebob marathan today “Spongegiving”.

What’s your favourite app? Leave a comment. Appy thanksgiving, everyone!