Tough Mudder: the hardest thing you’ll ever do

Tough mudder

Whistler hosts the world’s toughest obstacle course

Formerly published in The Other Press. June 4 2013

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

On June 22 and June 23, participants in Whistler Village will have an opportunity to show just what they’re made of in the annual Tough Mudder event. Modeled after the British Special Forces training camps, the 10-12 mile long obstacle course tests mental and physical strength and stamina, and challenges people with common fears, such as fire, water, and heights.

“It’s a great, well-organized event,” said former participant Ryan Mair. “It forces you to challenge yourself and more so, inspires you to help others overcome their challenges. As soon as you think you’re almost done, you’re not. Tons of fun and would recommend it to all levels of athletes or people looking to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

The obstacles include everything from climbing walls, running through fire, to minor electrocution. What some might consider torturous, others see as an opportunity to create lasting memories and build camaraderie to achieve a sole goal of completing the course.

“Out of all the obstacles I’ve heard about in Tough Mudder the ice dunk is the one that concerns me the most,” said Tough Mudder newcomer Cody Beatch. “It’s going to take some big cojones to submerge yourself into near-freezing water.”

While most wise participants will have spent many months preparing for the grueling event, most would agree that there are certain parts of the obstacle course that cannot be anticipated. “I’m in above-average shape,” said first-time participant, Michael Ramos, “but there are some stuff you can’t train for. The mental side worries me a little, because that is mind over matter stuff. You think you are prepared for anything driving up to Whistler, but we’ll see how I react once I get there.”

Registration for the event is going until June 17, so if you want to grab a team, join an existing one, or run the course as an individual, you better pick up the pace. Then again, preregistration for 2014 Tough Mudder is already open. If you feel like you need more training and want to commit to something next summer, log onto their website at http://toughmudder.com.

The event will also include a post-party and award show with live music, contests, and the carnival of tough. If you are unprepared for such a trying event, but still want to witness it, spectators may buy tickets for $20 online or $40 onsite.

Whether you have something to prove or you’re just seeking a quality way to past the time, Tough Mudder is a growing event that is attracting and inspiring people across 20 nations.

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Canadian App ‘Get to Know’ Puts Outdoor Adventures in Palm of Your Hand

In 1999, famous Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman introduced an annual art contest dedicated to getting youth out into nature and experiencing the wonders of the wild.

Six years later, the Get to Know program took what Bateman started and transformed it into a digital format that is more accessible to the public. The new “experiential program” blends the environmental with technological creating a platform that engages and educates the public.

Joining forces with organization such as Parks Canada, US Forest Service, Canadian Wildlife Federation and others, Get to Know has developed a game for iOS and Android that puts the users in scenarios where they have to physically explore and connect with the environment. Targeted for an audience ages nine to 14, Get to Know plays like a scavenger hunt where answering trivia and uncovering clues earns experience points that advances the players in rank and progress them through national parks, zoos and other natural sites.

The first test drive of the app took place in the Calgary Zoo, using QR codes to trigger clues and achievements at various areas. “We are finding that kids enjoy the context of pretending to be spies when seeking for QR codes,” said Andrew Munroe, program coordinator of Get to Know. “Because the storyline of the app is about joining a spy agency, they feel it is little more of a spy-like activity.”

“In national parks you cannot install anything new,” Munroe told Techvibes. “You have to use what is already there. Eventually we like to do away with QR codes altogether, because there is the issue of maintenance and vandalism, and getting permission to install a small post can be a huge undertaking.”

Although QR codes are effective in the game play, Get to Know is hoping to move forward into using Bluetooth low energy beacons that can be buried in the ground and has battery life to last years.

Get to Know is consistently adding new features into their game and expanding to different natural locations. Currently the team is planning to introduce the game to Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument in Washington in September. Other sites they are aiming to include in the near future are Vancouver, Kelowna, Los Angeles, and even Cumberland, Wisconsin.

“We want to create a value-added proposition for people who are already at the site,” Munroe explained. “With this app we are more focused on bio-diversity so it is really about the species we are profiling. So we plant a code in front of known grove of red cedar in Stanley Park and then we can get people to engage with the red cedar in a way that is other than just looking at it.”

Get to Know is currently a work in progress, but with the strong goal of focusing on app and game development specifically targeted for socially conscious, active living-based clients, the possibility is infinite. Currently Get to Know is working in collaboration with Taking it Global and Heritage Canada to develop an app celebrating the 150 anniversary of Canada, which is coming up in 2017.

“That will be another location-based, educational app that we are pretty excited about,” added Munroe.

Voices.com Links Professional Voice Talents With Exciting Projects

Our voice, although it might often just be a reverberation in our throat conveying opinionated nonsense, still makes up a significant part of us. Like our face and body, a tone of voice can say a lot about a person and that’s why it is vital to find the right one for any marketing or artistic projects.

Since 2004, London, Ontario-based Voices.com has been connecting voice talents with exciting projects. The website caters to two groups: professionals looking for jobs as voice actors and those seeking talented voice actors. From advertising agencies to video producers, a quality voice actor can do wonders for the end product. But with a shift in the industry and advancement in technology, both parties are discovering new avenues of finding jobs and talents. Voices.com has been one of the first to pioneer the new way of doing business online.

“It’s vastly superior to the traditional model,” explains David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of Voices.com. “It is kind of like travel. In my experience, I don’t know anybody who goes into a travel agency anymore. They would rather use Travelocity or Expedia or Hotel Tonight or anything. It is the same kind of business model, but we are recreating it and putting it online.”

SEE ALSO: Voices.com Raises $500,000

Voice acting is a luxurious profession that allows both audition and deliverable to be accessible electronically. Although some actors thrive on stage or in front of a camera, voice actors tend to work exclusively in a postproduction environment. Even though talent agencies still exist representing actors via paper-based formats, Voices.com recognized that in order to keep pace with modern technology, they must embrace the digital format.

“We are here to support the talent,” Ciccarelli told Techvibes. “If they start at Voices.com and graduate on to having an agent in New York or LA, then that is wonderful. But I think they will remember where they started. We operate in a very open and inclusive manner.”

Clients seeking voice talents with Voices.com can easily access the self-service posting that allows them to highlight the talents they are looking for. By stating key details such as language, gender, age range and some artistic direction (cowboy, teacher, accent, etc.), Voices.com will be able to take the gathered information and match it with a thousand of profiles on the website. And then using an algorithm, Voices.com’s software will select the perfect candidates for the job. From there the selected actors can audition for the role.

“Our software are only as good as people filling out the profile,” noted Ciccarelli. “The more information they put in their profile and the more helpful it would be for finding a job for you.”

Voices.com uses a quoting process to charge clients depending on the scope of their project. By allowing the market to dictate the appropriate pricing for the job, both the client and the 100,000 voice actors in the system will get the most effective result for their efforts.

With a new responsive design and mobile app, Voices.com is now expanding to different languages. This new advancement will allow actors and clients in different countries to access the page in their translated tongue.

“We have a hundred different languages represented,” Ciccarelli added. “There are people all around the world who have these credentials and skill sets. It truly is one of those global markets that are built in, it’s just not efficiently run, and so that is our task.”

Distraction or Entertainment? Either Way, Second Screens are Changing the Way We Watch TV

Whether it is because of our shortened attention span or our heightened interest, second screens are becoming a common television viewing habit. Mobile devices are changing the way people watch and interact with TV.

Engaging with a show and other viewers can now be as simple as using a smartphone or a tablet. The latest Nielsen survey shows that 46% of smartphone owners and 43% of tablet owners are choosing to be connected with their devices while watching TV. During the first quarter of 2013 two-thirds of tablet and smartphone owners said they were using the second screens multiple times a week.

But what are viewers really doing on their devices while watching television? Well, everything really. Majority of tablet owners are simply making general web searches and browsing.

But the survey shows that people are also using the second screens for contents that are related to what they are viewing, 13% of tablet and smartphone owners use the device to interact with the show or post about it on social networking sites. About 15% of users admit to watching a show because of something they have read on social media. And 20% of viewers with tablets are shopping on their devices during advertisement on television.

According to the Q1 2013 Cross-Platform Report, smartphone users can spend up to nine hours each month using social media on their phone. Tablet users average around four hours each month.

Multi-screen entertainment is a product that both television producers and digital device marketers are expecting to grow. Whether we are using it out of boredom or curiosity, the fact is that more often than not we are engaging in the second screen experience. And as social networks sites such as Twitter and broadcast companies such as Bell and Shaw develop more avenues for second screen, viewers and device users alike will continue adapting to the changing world of entertainment.

One App Scholarship Makes the Monotonous Task Of Applying For Scholarships Easier

The future for high school graduates is incredibly daunting. Uncertainty lingers at every corner and competition is intimidating and fierce, especially in the world of scholarships.

Every year, Grade 12 students across the country prepare for the next step in their lives. They take their photographs, rent their fancy dresses and suits, and apply for the most prestigious honours. Sadly the grueling process of filling out scholarship applications often leave students feeling demoralized.

Toronto-based startup One App Scholarship is opening a new avenue for students applying for scholarships. Now, one application is all it is going to take to be eligible in multiple scholarships, with a total of 300 scholarships in the program. For a submission fee of $29, winning students will have an opportunity to earn at least $1,000 in scholarship money.

“We are trying to figure out what people’s strengths are,” explains cofounder of One App Scholarship and recent high school graduate Jacob Catalano. “On the application there will be questions like, ‘tell me a time when you are at your best’ or something along those lines, and what that question will do is it will allow the person to really delve in. And they will repeat that process a few times. After that we’ll ask them to reflect of everything they wrote. We are going to be awarding scholarships based on people’s ability to leverage their skills.”

The application process may be easier, but that doesn’t mean One App Scholarship is a free for all. Only the top 100 students who can highlight their most positive attributes will be entered per scholarship with a potential of earning money for post-secondary. “People associate scholarships with competition,” said Catalano, “But we didn’t want to make it daunting with the feeling of ‘I’m not going to win.'”

One App Scholarship is planning to launch on September 5, but the idea of a convenient application process is quickly catching on in high school classrooms all across the country. The monotonous task of applying for scholarships has deterred students from even giving it a chance since the existence of scholarships. It is often not the best student who wins the award, but the students who put in the most time and actually apply.

“It’s really fragmented,” Catalano told Techvibes when describing other type of scholarships. “Each scholarship wants to award a specific individual. They really want to try to identify with that one person when they are creating the criteria for the scholarship. It makes it seem very very exclusive. And not very welcoming to general public.”

Although the prestigious scholarships might never change their process, One App Scholarship is creating opportunity for those without the ability to invest the time. But the theory for this young startup is that if a scholarship wants to award their money to the best student, then it only make sense to get the most amount of people to apply, instead of simply scrapping from the bottom of a barrel.

While One App Scholarship is currently focused on helping Grade 12 students get the most out of their post-secondary experience, they are also aiming to assist university and college students as well in the next step of their lives—finding a job. One App aims to be more than just an application website; they are striving to be a mentor for the next generation of vibrant learners and workers.

Canadian Startup Lazymeal Delivers Quality Meals to Your Door

A good meal is worth every penny. A good meal delivered to your door, well, that might just be the jackpot.

Vancouver-based Lazymeal is aiming to improve your odds of enjoying quality food in the comforts of your own home or office. The innovative food ordering website allows normal everyday people the luxury of dinning in without the hassle of cooking.

With deadlines and responsibilities clouding our judgments, determining what we want to eat is an absolute challenge. Yet nourishment is essential. So, Lazymeal does the heavy lifting for us by researching the highest rated restaurants in your area and assisting in the process of selecting dishes and placing order. All we have to do is sit back and wait for the knock on the door or the chime of your novelty doorbell.

“We are not trying to have any kind of restaurant,” Shervin Enayati, a cofounder of Lazymeal, told Techvibes. “We want to maintain a balance between service and quality. Our requirement is that they have to have delivery. Without delivery it is not going to work. We find the best delivery restaurants in town, get their menu digitized for our platforms and from there you can just order.”

Only the best restaurants make it onto the website. Using Yelp and Urbanspoon ratings, the crew at Lazymeal handpicks the top restaurants in different cuisine. Greek, Thai, Japanese, the possibility is vast, yet the process is concise.

The idea for Lazymeal came in 2011 during a rainy day in Vancouver, go figure. When the weather conditions caused phone lines to go out of service and ordering food became almost impossible since most restaurants operate with landlines.

“There has to be a better, more efficient way,” thought Enayati. “We moved from building software for clients to building software for ourselves. We evaluated the market, realized what is missing in the current food ordering market. It was a market space that has already seen traction, it wasn’t one with zero activity, but we realized there was a lot of improvement left to be done in the food ordering experience.”

By incorporating pictures and statistics, Lazymeal offers a sophisticated approach to what was once considered a tedious task. Although food delivery services is not as popular as other metropolitan cities, Lazymeal believes that as the city continues to grow, food delivery will inevitably improve.

“If you go to a bigger city, like New York,” explains Ryan Charmley, lead technologist at Lazymeal, “delivery is so ingrained into daily life of people there. There are bicycle couriers delivering food everywhere and all these little boutique shops offering their own little delivery. It is a very convenient way to access food when you are busy.”

Lazymeal allows us to fit a delicious meal into a hectic schedule, even though delivery food is often accompanied by a slight stigma.

“It’s usually the traditional pizza or Chinese food,” notes Charmley, “there is no real movement. I’m hoping that everything moves in the same way as the food carts that have happened over the past few years. It’s been popularized and ingrained in everyday lifestyle.”

Perhaps this is the beginning of a dinning revolution or maybe it is just an alternative to the hustle and bustle of eating out. Either way, Lazymeal is hungry for change and they are leading the charge.

Canadian Companies Using the Cloud are More Innovative and Outperform Their Peers: Study

This month, IDC released the second annual Enterprise Cloud Study. Focusing on large Canadian organizations’ businesses and IT leaders, the study showed that cloud technology is essential for businesses striving to improve their customer service, increase productivity and save money.

Companies who have adopted the cloud first mindset are 25% more likely to be opened to new technologies and are considered more innovative, progressive and better suited for outperforming their peers according to the study, which was commissioned by Telus.

“The survey indicates that the number one priority for Canadian businesses is improving customer service. IT leaders are realizing that moving IT functions to the cloud can have a real impact on their bottom line and can help them focus on their core business, including their customers,” says Tony Krueck, vice-president, Business Solutions Marketing at Telus. “Those who have made the move are now reaping the benefits of cloud. The IDC survey found that an impressive 81% of Canadian businesses reported lowering the cost of IT due to cloud adoption.”

Many IDC experts foresee cloud as being a conventional technology in the coming years, estimating in Canada, cloud service will increase by a third and surpass $1 billion by 2014. At this transitional juncture, IDC believes that businesses will only have a short amount of time to become knowledgeable and expand their strategy to include cloud. Otherwise they might not be able to keep up.

Currently 55% of large Canadian businesses have third-party hosting services with almost 31% of organizations with both cloud and hosting. Organizations that utilized these services are better equipped when overcoming data security, compliance and data residency concerns.

“If we look at the results from the 2012 Telus IDC cloud survey, the number one reason Canadian enterprises are fearful to step outside of their traditional IT comfort zone is risk,” says Mark Schrutt, IDC Canada’s director of services and enterprise applications. “The good news is that this year, the majority of users said they were able to easily overcome these challenges and that cloud actually was a catalyst for improving data security.”

A majority of Canadian businesses have relatable priorities: 23% said they wanted to provide better customer experience, 15% wanted to improve productivity, 13% wanted to be more cost efficient and 12% wanted to attract and retain skilled workers. By having a cloud first mentality companies are able to support these growing expectations by staying up to date with technology and functionality, by sourcing IT resources, skills and capabilities with greater ease and by allowing the business to be more agile.

“The future of cloud looks bright for Canadian business. The IDC white paper states that over the next four years cloud will grow by 25% and hosting by 9.6% compared to a growth rate of 3.5% for the rest of the Canadian IT market,” added Krueck. “Now is the time for businesses to develop expertise with these IT sourcing options to realize a competitive advantage.”

Canadian Videogame Industry Shows Great Presence at E3 Expo

The spotlight was on Canada during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 Expo) this month in Los Angeles.

Canadian video game companies are turning a lot of heads on the world stage by showcasing some of the industries most anticipated and critically acclaimed titles, such as: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (Ubisoft), Batman: Arkham Origins (Warner Bros. Games Montreal), Below (Capybara Games/ Microsoft Studios), Dragon Age: Inquisition (Bioware / Electonic Arts), Gangstar Vegas (Gameloft), The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot (Ubisoft), NHL 2014 (Electronic Arts), FIFA 2014 (Electronic Arts), Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Ubisoft) and Watch Dogs (Ubisoft).

“When you look at the most anticipated games at the Expo, a significant portion of them are made in Canada,” saysJayson Hilchie, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association Canada. “That’s a source of tremendous pride for all Canadians.”

SEE ALSO: The Great Canadian Videogame Industry

Currently 16,500 Canadians are employed in the video game industry. Despite some turmoil the employment rate is up 5% and is growing at a moderate pace. Through provincial strategies and housing some of the world’s most creative workers, Canadian gaming industry is contributing over $2.3 billion to the economy.

ESAC reports that Canadian gaming companies’ average budget is $8.7 million and is usually produced by a team of 65 people in about a year and a half. With 329 video game studios in the country, 48% devote some of their resources to console games, while 84% are focused mainly on mobile devices. Even though in 2012 only 16% of projects were developed specifically for consoles, those games account for 66.5% of revenues.

“With some of the world’s largest video game studios located in Canada,” said Hilchie, “our video game industry is considered the biggest in the world on a per capita basis. E3 is a great showcase not only for our biggest games, but for Canadian creativity as well.”

The Entertainment Software Association brings together developers, distributers and worldwide media to experience the newest trends, products and technologies at the annual video game conference and show. Over 200 developers display their games to the public at the three-day event. With such tight competition, Canadians are hoping that their strength and vitality will keep them at the forefront of this growing industry.

Beautiful women a hazard for male commuters

june_crash

Traffic accidents increase due to the sexy summer fashion

Formerly published in The Other Press. June 4 2013

By Elliot Chan, Traffic Hazard

Summer is a beautiful time of year, unless you’re a male commuter. Research released early last week by The Men’s Automobile Limitation Experts (MALE) has confirmed that during the summer months, men are 32 per cent more likely to be involved in an automobile accident.

Dr. Carson Donovan, head researcher at MALE, explains the breakthrough discovery: “It’s not that men are bad drivers when it is sunny. They are still far superior,” he chuckles, “It’s just that beautiful women become a greater disturbance. They hide themselves in the winter, and then bam! Summer arrives. Imagine having a stripper pole at every intersection. I won’t give any change to dirty panhandlers, but I’ll drop a dollar for the honey leaving the petrol station. You know what I mean.”

“It is unbelievable how some chicks dress at bus stops,” Dr. Donovan adds with a wink and a masculine elbow nudge. “If we want to protect the safety of our male drivers, they should not be allowed to wear such revealing clothes—even on a sunny day. Sorry boys, but it’s safety first.”

Close behind driving under the influence and excessive speeding, attractive girls at bus stops are the main cause of male-related traffic accidents. Every minute a man across the province is getting injured due to a hot girl sighting.

Benjamin M. Williams, loving husband and a father of two girls, wants the government to make a change. “I am a man that worries about his family,” says Williams, “just the idea of other guys getting distracted by women on the street frightens me. I often drive my daughters to school and I would hate for anyone to get distracted and hit my 2001 Subaru. Beautiful girls should not be allowed to dress so provocatively.”

Dakota Patrice, executive and founder of the Mind Your Own Business, I’m Not A Helpless Woman Foundation had this to say: “Women don’t dress for men to notice them. We dress because we need to wear clothes. Men should just watch where they are going. What? We should wear sweaters when it’s 30 degrees out? We’d get all hot and sweaty.”

When asked to introduce a new dress-code bylaw for female transit users, the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, replied, “Distraction is a natural part of driving. God knows how many times I’ve nearly ran into the car in front of me just because I was watching some dog poop. Stunning girls are just like pooping dogs; you can’t stop them.”

Malware in Canada Among Worst in World, Report Reveals

Like plumbing, heating and electricity, your computer is an important utility in your home and office. You depend on it for entertainment, communication and business, so it is vital to keep it healthy. But as our reliance on the Internet grows, sophisticated hackers and cyber thieves begin to prosper in their flourishing trade.

Websense this week released their third annual Canadian Cybercrime Report Card. In the report, Canada was ranked third in the top 10 countries for hosting advanced malware. The spine-chilling statistic will cause any computer user to consider the problem less as an annoyance and more of an epidemic.

“Canadian cyber-criminal activity is quickly evolving and taking on more nefarious forms,” says Carl Leonard, senior manager of security research for Websense. “Hackers are moving away from the broad ‘spam everyone’ approach because it only yields cents on the click. They’ve set their sights on much more targeted attacks where social engineering of the actual user can turn into millions of dollars in potential criminal profit.”

Canadian websites have an increase of 25% of malware hosting every year. The cause can range from compromised Internet service providers to vulnerable content management platforms such as WordPress. Regardless, Canada has become a safe haven for hackers and cyber thieves.

“ISPs really, should take a responsibility to monitor for malicious behaviour. ISPs really need to make it harder for the bad guys,” Leonard said. “Legislation can certainly help in that regard. When the public and private sector work together … that would make it more of a challenge.”

Websites hosting malware tend to stay up longer in Canada than in other countries, because security software often fail to flag them or has difficulty pinpointing who is responsible for an attack. Investigations can take years before police are allowed to take the infected website down. By that time most cyber-criminals have abandoned their post and have moved on to another part of the Internet.

“Ultimately it comes down to communication across boundaries,” Leonard said. “There is a good deal of information circulating in law enforcement globally. I don’t believe all of that is shared.”