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Challenge in 2010: Project 52

Today, I visited Liz Hover's blog and saw that she had found another amazing online challenge. As you may remember, Liz was my blog buddy when I took ProBlogger's 31-Days-to-a-Better-Blog course, and she gave me some much appreciated input. The challenge involves making the commitment to post new content every week for the next 52. The initiative is aptly called Project 52. It starts tomorrow, January 1, 2010, and ends January 1, 2011.

I was the 469th person to sign up and become a member of the Project-52 Google group, where forums will be held. Project organizers will be using RSS feeds to see who is towing the line and posting new weekly content.

In recent months, I have given up some responsibilities at work because I wanted to spend more time at home. Well, now I'll be home, but I may not be that available. My husband did give me the old eye-roll when I mentioned the new undertaking, but 1 post a week is not excessive. After all, I already told the blogosphere on my anniversary that I would be posting twice a week.... So what's the problem then? Well, I have also committed to doing a book review a month next year. I may need a helping hand or a guest blogger from time to time. Anyone interested?

Secretly, I'm anxious and excited about getting started. I hope that Project 52 will be as beneficial as Problogger's course. BTW, it's free, so if you're interested click on the above link and sign up. If you're lacking just some motivation, then imagine how motivated you'll feel with over 500 bloggers giving you encouragement and visiting your blog.

I hope that I will be able to honour this resolution in 2010.
Happy New Year!

Related post:
The Blog Makeover: Some Helpful Tips from the Pros
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A Special Anniversary

I can hardly believe that a year has already gone by since I wrote my first post. And what an enjoyable experience this first year has been.

My blog has been instrumental in getting me involved in my surroundings, meeting new people, and raising new questions that would have been unimaginable just 18 months ago. I've investigated pasta packaging, guerrilla gardening, the role of Twitter in the uprisings in Iran, composting and a still unresolved Mile End cat caper. But one of the greatest gifts my blog has given me is a growing interest in photography. In fact, now I take pictures first and think of the blog post second, and I got one cool camera for Christmas (Lumix, 12.1 megapixel) so that I can further explore this interest.

My blog was also featured in the Syracuse Post-Standard and in Linda Lowen's Women's Issues blog.

In addition to this being a stimulating year, it has also been a difficult one. As many of you know, I lost my mother unexpectedly, and I have spent the last five months dealing with my grief, that strange brew of sorrow, anger and nostalgia. Although I haven't left the area, my journey has been full of unexpected twists and turns and has required that I fully acknowledge a troubling fact--I'm a mortal with limited time and a family. It is for this reason that I will only be posting twice a week in the coming year. But I promise to make those posts as riveting as a blog post can be.

Just in case you missed one. Here are my 10 most popular posts in the last year.

1. Persiankiwi's Twitter
2. Persiankiwi disappears...
3. Persiankiwi et al.
4. What if Bill Gates had been born a poor black girl?
5. Ranting Twitter Style Not Your Parents' Rant
6. Environmental Working Group Updates Its Dirty Dozen
7. Iranian Bloggers: The World's Only Eyes and Ears
8. Momactivism: A Reply from O'Sole Mio
9. Photovoice: Girl Behind the Camera
10. Trespassers in St Henri Win City Gardening Award

Now tell me reader...Which was your favourite post?
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Twitter Pre"X"mas Rants

The holiday season is a time to get together with loved ones, exchange gifts, show our good will and partake in a cup, or two, of good cheer. We put our best foot forward and try to avoid unresolved issues with those loved ones who almost immediately get up our noses. We anticipate some of the statements that we will have to deflect, ie, "I see we've put on a few pounds" when the "we" obviously refers to you, or the in-law who thinks that climate change is a "load of crap" and shows you his new Hummer. The mere thought of getting together makes some of us anxious, and our emotions build. What better way to blow off some pre-holiday steam than with a 140-character rant on Twitter.

The following are a few of my favourite pre"X"mas rants:

BTW, why is Xmas the abbreviation for Christmas?

The tension is building:

Blasted snow:

In his Tumblr post, pieman decides it's too dangerous to drive to the pub and takes the bus. Rats, he forgets his bus pass, pays $4 dollars to get two blocks, only to have the driver pull over and say "End of the line. Everyone off." So much for Monday night's pint!

Here's Rob trying to get a flight from San Francisco to somewhere in the Midwest:

Children's sizing, and children and Christmas decorations:

Anything you don't want pointed out invariably arises when you can't be excused from the table, usually some time between grace and "Please pass the stuffing." Plus the mere thought of spending a lot of "quality time" with the family may make some of us...well thirsty.

And finally the do-gooder things that we are supposed to cherish but instead have the absolute opposite effect.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone.

Related post:
Ranting Twitter Style Not Your Parents' Rant
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The Uncomfortably Strange

When I was 21 and on my first trip to Europe, I stayed at an expensive hotel in Paris close to the Arc du Triomphe. I stayed up late listening to the sounds of the city anxiously awaiting the next morning to go out and do some sight-seeing. I had set an ambitious agenda that required getting up very early.

The next morning, instead of taking the prehistoric elevator down four floors, I opted for the staircase with what looked like a ceiling to floor window with opaque glass. As I ran down the stairs, I noticed that the landing was dark; the window ostensibly did not go all the way to the ground floor. Nevertheless, I continued down the stairs, just a little more slowly. A scenario flashed through my mind: "21-year-old with questionable French found unconscious in eerie stairwell in expensive Paris hotel." However, my ambitious sight-seeing agenda quickly got the upper hand. I stepped up my pace down the long circular staircase, but there seemed to be an interminable number of stairs, which made me feel as though I was dancing and not really getting anywhere....I eventually soft-shoed my way to the first floor and noticed that the window did in fact stop there, but cast enough light for me to see the wall at the foot of the stairs, but little else. As I arrived at the landing with my hand on the newel of the staircase, I turned in the general direction of what I assumed was an exit, although there was no illuminated sign (Doesn't this country have a building code!?). Then I saw something from the corner of my eye. I turned and looked up to see a very tall woman with her hand raised as though she were about to hit me. I brought up my arm to shield my face from the blow and screamed. I heard several people laugh in the next room. I maintained my pose for a few seconds and then reached up and felt the evil lady's hand. It was hard and didn't move. My would-be attacker was a statue. Too embarrassed to walk into the lobby, I lingered in the semi-darkness and had a good look at how the first floor window cast just enough light onto the statue to trick my eye into believing that this woman was real.

Although red in the face when I entered the lobby, the hotel concierge assured me that I was one of many people who screamed at the sight of the statue. The hotel owner had stowed the (evil) lady under the staircase until he figured out a better place for her.

Besides this memory, I have had similar though not quite as vocal reactions to retail mannequins. For some reason, a double-take has always been necessary. What is this inherent eeriness of human replicas that Alfred Hitchcock used to such terrifying effect?

At the 3December Autodesk presentation, I learned that in 3D animation circles this effect is known as the "uncanny valley." In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahori Mori hypothesized that as a robot becomes more human like in appearance, our reaction towards the robot is increasingly positive and empathetic. That is... up to a certain point. Then our reaction quickly turns to repulsion. In other words, this is when we get that creepy feeling. Mannequins, bad plastic surgery, and ah...statues fall into the uncanny valley category (See the graphic courtesy of Wikipedia for other examples.).

Ryan Lesser and Josh Randall of Harmonix, the developer of the video game the Beatles: the Rock Band, spoke at the Autodesk conference on the importance of recreating the Fab Four to make them seem real but avoiding any uncanny valley pitfalls. Lesser and Randall's show-and-tell session demonstrated how important it was to capture the essence of the Beatles by studying their every movement and even their interaction in their onstage performances. I was stunned by how much of Harmonix's facsimile of the Beatles actually coincided with my memories of their individual characteristics without creeping me out. And yes, John, Paul, George and Ringo appeared to be just as lovable as they did in real life....I guess.

The picture of this woman in the upper right-hand corner is CGI Flash Creepy Girl (Just click on the link and watch Creepy's eyes follow your cursor.) She's a pretty believable computer-generated image except for something in the eye movement, the redness of her eyes and the fact that her hair on her shoulders doesn't move. Try for yourself and let me know if you have noticed anything else that seems unhuman like.

In addition, if you're interested, on this same site you can send a picture of yourself, and they can make a creepy computer-generated image of you too.

If you like what you're reading please subscribe by the RSS feed at the top of the screen or by e-mail subscription in the box on the sidebar. Thanks Heather
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Bixi: High On Lifer

As some of you may recall, I parked my noisy, rusty, ugly bike and subscribed to Bixi two months ago. As you can see from my statistics below, I have made the most of the $78 annual subscription, and in just two months, it has cost me less than a dollar a trip. I also found it extremely motivating to see my personal stats. I liked knowing how many kilometres I'd traveled, and I must admit that trying to get to my destination within the first free 30 minutes added a little more fun to the experience. But the best part was not having to find a place to lock up my bike, and it was the perfect way to run multiple errands on the Plateau, where there was no shortage of stations.

In these two months, I also had the chance to try the 7-speed Bixi on two occasions. They were faster and more fun. I also had the chance to use the nearly completed bike path on University between Milton and De Maisonneuve. It was certainly welcome and made my daily trek downtown all the more safe.

Although there were a few drawbacks, such as arriving at a station with no free docks, the company was relatively quick in finding solutions (In this case, you just reinsert your credit card and you get an additional 15 minutes, enough time to get to the next station without incurring any additional charges.). Towards the end of the season when portions of stations were dismantled for winter, bikes were hard to come by, and checking online beforehand for bike availability was a good way to prevent disappointment. But the best solution is to access the Bixi station map web page with your cell phone, which leads to my next point. You will enjoy Bixi much more if you have a cell phone. In the event you do have a problem, it makes calling customer service much easier. I dealt with customer service on several occasions, and the service was excellent.

If the organization had one thing to work on, it would be a better basket. Not only was it less than ideal if you had a cloth bag, but it also required Herculean strength to stretch the bungee cord around the basket to keep your bag in place....The organization has been great with coming up with solutions so far.

I didn't realize how much I enjoyed my morning ride until I took the metro on December 1, the day after the Bixi season officially ended. It was hot and crowded with horrific lighting, and people looked sick, tired and generally grumpy all around. I wanted off.

A few years ago, I actually enjoyed taking the metro. It sure beat driving. But now I miss my morning endorphin rush, the fresh air and the view of the mountain (especially in the fall). I wish that Bixi would start a winter pilot project on the main cycling paths.

A friend told me a few months ago that her quality of life went down in the winter because she couldn't ride her bike. I couldn't agree more. I guess I've become older, wiser and a high-on-lifer.

Related Posts:
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike
3 Compelling Reasons for a Bike-Share Program in Your City
Fun Way to Track Bike Use and Carbon Footprint
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
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The Joy of Crafts

Last week, Betty Bose, a Twitter star who uses recycled materials in kids crafts, posted a wonderful Christmas wreath made with puzzle pieces. It simply involved finding an old puzzle missing a few pieces, painting them green, gluing them to the rim of a paper plate and adding a red bow. It was something I could even imagine getting my two-year-old involved in. But oh drats, I didn't save the link. On Betty's site, this grandmother to nine had posted a Christmas tree made from puzzle pieces. I pitched the idea to my seven-year-old, but "no," she was decided. It had to be the wreath.

I discovered this morning that we didn't have any puzzles with missing pieces, so I decided to go to the Chaînon, a charity store whose proceeds finance a series of women's shelters. It's a great place to get cheap, preloved materials for crafts, but as I discovered today, it's no longer a well-kept secret. In fact, the three of us had to line up at the door this morning with the most seasoned of thrift shoppers--seniors. On our list: a few Christmas ornaments, a puzzle or two, and something red to make a bow.

Much to my chagrin, the puzzles were upstairs and took a while to find. I sensed my two-year-old might experience overload, as the second floor is also where all the toys are. I would have kept him secured in the stroller, but there was no elevator, so we had to take the stairs. I realized that I might have my hands full. My son is a runner and dodger, and for him, trying to get away from me is part of the fun. I kindly asked my daughter to watch her brother and keep him within eye shot. I estimated that the puzzle segment of our trip would only take a few minutes.

There were many puzzles, but most of them had between 500 and 2,000 pieces, which meant that the pieces were too small. In the meantime, my daughter had reported back. My son was being uncooperative, and when she finally caught him, he threw himself on the floor and refused to move. I told her that I would only be another second and to bring him back to me. Then, I found the perfect sized puzzle of an angry pink dog smoking a cigar and talking on the phone. And not a second too soon. My son suddenly voiced his reluctance to obey his sister in the form of a piercing screech, a highly effective attention-seeking ploy. Everyone turned and looked in his general direction. I saw an old man adjust his hearing-aid, as I rushed by. My daughter was dragging my son across the floor much to the visible disapproval of several elderly shoppers. I quickly took my giggling, sweaty children downstairs.

Has your child ever thrown a fit in a busy store? Please tell me about it.

We had the puzzle and a few Christmas decorations for my daughter's school tree. We just needed something red to make a bow. With my children more or less in tow, I checked ladies' scarves and men's ties, but found nothing red. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that my son had reassumed his position on the floor with his arms crossed over his chest. I knew that I had about 60 seconds before he would start screaming. As my daughter tugged at him to stand up, I grabbed a red fleece shirt and got in line at the cash. As I was paying, my son screeched. The two elderly ladies behind me put their hands over their ears, while a third woman grimaced and muttered something. I got my son in his stroller, and we left as quickly as possible.

Although embarrassing, our trip was well worth it. Both my kids helped me paint and glue the puzzle pieces. The fleece was the perfect material for making a bow because it didn't fray, and we had enough puzzle pieces to make two wreaths and a Christmas tree.

Final verdict: this was a great craft. Both my children were able to take part, and they were very pleased with the results. The next time, however, I'll visit the Chaînon sans enfants.

Related post:
Some Not So "Crafty" Undertakings
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National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

I couldn't rightfully call myself a feminist if I didn't devote a post to the 20th anniversary of the Montreal massacre. As you may recall 25-year-old Marc Lépine walked into the École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989, and shot 28 women, killing 14 for the simple reason that they were women. I can recall this incident very clearly. I was living in a Canadian university residence in Paris with many students from Montreal. Word traveled quickly through the lounges, kitchens and lobby, but it took a few days to get all the details. I will never forget the horror of learning that Lépine had gone into a classroom and actually asked the male portion of the class to leave. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for his failures in life.

As a result of this tragic event, the federal government made December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It also implemented a gun registry, which according to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has reduced spousal homicide by 50%. As you may also be aware, our Conservative government is currently trying to abolish the gun registry in the form of Bill C-391.

The CLC has spearheaded a campaign entitled 20 Days and 20 Ways to End Violence Against Women. It is asking people to send the Prime Minister a postcard a day for 20 days asking him to keep the gun registry. The CLC has created a user-friendly electronic postcard that you can send directly to the PM (Click here your for postcard.). Now unfortunately, I am behind in my postcards, so I will be sending 10 today and 10 tomorrow, and I invite you to do the same.

The Canadian Labour Congress believes that ending violence against women cannot be done through a law and order agenda and instead advocates comprehensive social and economic policies, which include:
  • maintaining the long gun registry
  • access to affordable, safe housing
  • a living minimum wage
  • effective pay equity laws
  • a national publicly-funded child care program
  • equal access to Employment Insurance
  • access to justice, including the resources to challenge discriminatory government action and legal aid
  • increased governmental support for women’s centres, rape crisis centres and women’s shelters
  • legal protection and support for women who report sexual assault
The Canadian Labour Congress accuses the current government of "severely limiting women’s capacity to organize, advocate and lobby," and is calling for "the government to drop its law and order agenda and instead, develop an effective women’s equality agenda."

Tomorrow, candlelight vigils will be held across Canada to remember these 14 women and all of the other women who have been the victims of violence. If you can't attend a vigil, then just fire off a postcard or two and help stop Bill C-391. I'm already on postcard number 5.

Canadian Labour Congress
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Doc Review: Finding Dawn by Christine Welsh

A few weeks ago, I received info from the NFB on Finding Dawn. Métis Director Christine Welsh endeavours to put a human face on Dawn, a native woman who lived in Vancouver's downtown eastside. Sadly, Dawn was murdered, as were many other women, by the notorious serial murderer, Robert Picton. Upon hearing this name, many of you will want to look away; however, Welsh successfully manages to shift the focus from the sordid details to the more human face of the victims, giving the viewer an idea about what it might be like to walk in another woman's shoes. In this documentary, Welsh gives us valuable insight into the daily realities of many native women in Western Canada, from Vancouver to the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia (BC) to Saskatchewan and then back to Vancouver Island.

Through Dawn's brother, a BC Aboriginal rights activist, we learn of Dawn's early years. An otherwise happy family is torn apart by the untimely death of the father. As the mother is unable to provide for the entire family, Dawn and her older sister are taken away and put in a foster home, an event which marks them both for life.

Welsh also takes us to northern B.C. to the Highway of Tears, a road between Prince George and Prince Rupert, where nine native women have disappeared. This ominous highway winds its way through the mountains, and for many, it is the only means to get to the outside world. We also visit Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where another native woman has gone missing. It is here that the filmmaker introduces us to an Aboriginal rights activist who has overcome tremendous adversity to become a teacher. The activist gives us a peek into what is like to be a woman growing up native and explains the profound significance of the word "squaw."

Welsh has created a film that is surprisingly easy to watch, given the subject matter. There is a lot to be learned from our most vulnerable.

I must add that I'm well acquainted with the beauty of British Columbia, but I was taken aback by the stunning countryside of Saskatchewan.

The documentary is only 73 minutes long. I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to leave a comment...

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