How the Sacred Movie-watching Experience Survived the First Round of Extinction

When I graduated from film school in 2008, the landscape of the entertainment industry was changing, morphing with the technology and trying to catch up to new innovations.

Young filmmakers, like myself, anticipated the expiration of television and were just starting to accept all that YouTube had to offer. Meanwhile, grand cinematic spectacles were calling attention, i.e. Avatar in 3D. Yes, it seems as though there was going to be a whole spectrum of viewing habits.

But will movie watching experience be as sacred as church? Or was it going to be a secular pastime, one we try to catch up on like talking to an old friend at a party or a novel on our nightstand?

Inspired by the recent Oscars, I give you the five nominated movie-watching experiences as voted by me—nope, not movies, but movie watching experiences.

NETFLIX

For a while Canadians were reluctant to subscribe to Netflix, mostly out of envy—subscribers from the States were getting more than three times the content—but the on-demand-movie-and-television service suggested that if more people join Netflix, the more content it can generate, both by hammering out legalities through traditional licensing models and by producing their own shows.

House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Arrested Development won many viewers over, and once they got hooked to the binge watching lure of Netflix—it’s not so easy to quit.

TORRENT/STREAMING

The pirated movie and television distribution market is competitive market, albeit an illegal and risky market. With memories of Megaupload still fresh in many downloaders and streamers’ mind, this well-known paradigm is still one that most are treading lightly on.

While many consider this method to be a hassle, others consider it the most reasonable. Viewers are paying by sending traffic to the hosting sites, dealing with pop-up ads and the occasional glitches in download and streams. “Just let it buffer!”

The “no honour among thieves” mentality lives on in this movie watching experience that have existed since the dawn of the digital era. As long as the leaches and seeders continue feeding off of each other, this category will not disappear anytime soon to the chagrin of the big media companies.

APPLE TV and WEB-ENABLED TELEVISION

Bridging the gap from your phone and computer to the television—this relatively new all-in-one model is bringing viewers back to the couch. At least that was the plan.

Unfortunately I don’t know many people who use Apple TV, or even consider getting it. The living room battleground is a tough one to win, even for a trusted brand like Apple. After all, just look at all the different boxes and consoles you have under the television. Needless to say, there is still a lot of convincing needed to prove that cable is obsolete and that the video game consoles won’t suffice. But I think that is just a matter of time.

REDBOX

Since the closure of many video rental stores, Redbox have been the alternative. Standing tall, proud and unobtrusively at a grocery store, the video vending machine offers hot new DVD releases the same way ol’ Blockbuster used to. Comforting to many and laughable to some, Redbox fulfills a service that is still in demand.

As a result of having a secret Santa that no longer cared for the physical medium, I received an arm full of DVDs and BluRay last Christmas. I still relish the nostalgia of DVDs. Seems like just yesterday my family was arguing whether to buy a HD DVD player or a BluRay player, I’m still not sure if we made the right decision. Unlike VHS, DVDs have a bit more to offer in terms of bonus features. And they are compatible enough to remain an impulse buy. But being compared to VHS is never a good thing.

MOBILE

We watch movies everywhere: in bed, at work, on the bus, at a coffee shop, on the john and even in the movie theatre waiting for the movie to start. Personally, I can’t watch a three-hour movie the same way I check my Tweets. But content on the go is what the public wants.

Last year’s study by Motorola Mobility’s Fourth Annual Media Engagement Barometer showed that 55% of smartphone or tablet owners have downloaded and stored movies and TV shows onto their devices. There is so much content in the world that if we were to spend every living moment watching something new, we would not do anything else. Mobile devices are fostering that challenge and allowing people to consume on the go, in addition to hoarding content.

As much as filmmakers want to get people into the theatre, they must also consider the other audiences, and choose to whether nurture the new platforms or not. We’ve come a long way in five years—who knows where we’ll be in another.

The recipe for wellness

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Traditional Chinese medicine and the balance of life

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

I grew up with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). My mother has always been an advocate of it. On various occasions, my house would reek of a bitter, yet familiar odour. On the kitchen stove would be a large pot of miscellaneous herbs, while my mom hovered over it performing Chinese alchemy. Hours later, after the dark tea had stewed for long enough, she would insist that I drink it because (1) it would help me see better, 2) it would give me energy, 3) it would improve my joints, or (4) because she said so. The concoction tasted awful—always—like the Orient’s version of Buckley’s. I’d be coaxed a few more times before I either downed it all or abandoned it.

Many years later I still wonder if it did me any good. Did it make me healthier? Did it really work?

The history of traditional medicine

Over 2,000 years ago, before Advil and Pepto-Bismol were available to combat headaches and upset stomachs, ancient Chinese doctors found remedies in a practice that continues to this day. To call them doctors would be incorrect, though: during the Shang Dynasty (14th–11th century BC), there weren’t any doctors, only those seeking solutions to ailments.

The Chinese saw illness as disharmony between the human form and the world around it. Instead of approaching sickness as a chemical imbalance the way Western medicine does, TCM seeks cures by looking at the functionality of the body. Inspection, auscultation, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation are the five main methods used to diagnose patients. The practitioner does not hone in on one area of the body, but rather attends to the failing functionality in relation to external elements (wind, cold, fire/heat, dampness, dryness). The human form is one entity and any deficiency pertains to the whole body, not just the stomach or the arm or the brain.

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Sweet, sweet herbs

You’ve probably passed by Chinese herbal stores at malls and China Town promenades. Odds are you haven’t had a reason to enter any of them, except to alleviate your curiosity. You’ve peered inside and seen their shelving units and jars upon jars of mystery herbs, extracts, containers of macerated remedies, and fossilized animal carcasses. Such an establishment seems pulled out of the middle ages, just leasing real estate in modern society. Although the effectiveness of herbal therapy is still relatively unproven in 2014, many people live by it.

“People choose traditional medicine because it’s the natural solution,” said Kitty Tsin, employee at the Wah Fung Medicine Company. “You can never be sure how much of what is in pills or capsules. You can’t even be sure what it is. The capsules themselves are made out of gelatine, which isn’t healthy either. The Chinese tradition is that we boil medicine every day and drink the soup as a whole family to improve health. Capsules, tablets, and pills are only meant for individuals.”

TCM comes in a wide variety. Some have little effect, and function only as delicacies. Others are rare and exotic, and have been known to enhance the immune system, in addition to aiding the sickly.

Some common medicines are ginseng (used in many forms to provide energy, reduce the risk of cancer, and even treat erectile dysfunction), sea cucumber (has a property that helps treat arthritis and high blood pressure), and fritillary bulb (can be brewed as a tea to remedy coughs).

Rarer medicine can often cost hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, and they may be more obscure. Examples include hasma, the fallopian tubes of frogs (known to revitalize internal organs, as well as enhance complexion); and cordyceps, a highly sought-after fungus, also known as the caterpillar fungus (can reduce the effects of asthma, reduce the risk of cancer, and balance out a person’s yin and yang).

The Chinese notion regarding health is based upon the importance of illness mitigation and prevention. While Western medicine tends to focus on treatment, TCM approaches well-being as a life-long pursuit.

Hokey-Pokey

In 2010 I sprained my MCL playing hockey. It took me off the ice for six weeks and the recovery process was agonizing. I re-aggravated the injury a few more times and thought it would never heal. I went to doctors and chiropractors, and when I exhausted all my options I consulted an acupuncture therapist. I’m not going to lie, I was quite skeptical—and perhaps a bit fearful—of the process. After all, lying down in a strange room with needles and cups sticking out and sucking on me was not my ideal day.

My acupuncture practitioner, Dr. Duzy Duyong Lee, punctured a hole in my injured knee, then warmed up a glass cup and placed it over the open wound. The objective (from what I remember) was to suck the blood clot out of my knee so that the healing process could start over again. At first the procedure seemed a bit farfetched—after all, the family doctors and chiropractors merely told me to wear a brace and stay off my leg. It’s hard to say which solution cured me in the end, but now I’m walking and skating just fine.

“The skin acts as a meridian to our organs,” said Bonalife Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Clinic’s Dr. David Kuo. “I don’t touch the organ, but I touch the meridian; I use this meridian to adjust the organ.”

Acupuncture stems from the meridian system, a technique that addresses the human’s functionality and the flow of “qi” or life-energy. Qi includes the body’s circulation, the capability of the limbs, the defence against pathogenic factors, the emission of bodily fluids (urine, sweat, blood, etc.), and the intake of nutrients (food, air, water, etc.). By recognizing the body’s stimulation points, the practitioner can effectively correct the imbalance and restore the flow.

“Every part of your body has a function,” said Dr. Kuo. “When someone coughs, it’s not a coughing problem. There is something inside that is making you uncomfortable that makes you cough. I ask my patients why they are tired. They say, ‘Oh, I’m sick,’ Why are you sick? ‘Because I have a stomachache so I cannot eat and so I’m tired.’ Western medicine hears stomachache, they give you antibiotics—sometimes it’s right—but it’s always wrong. What do antibiotics do? It makes stomachache go away, but when antibiotic goes away, the problem returns. We need to understand the problem, not just the cure.”

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The future of traditional medicine

As our technology advances, so do bacteria and viruses. Vaccines, immunizations, and hospital treatments are tackling health with science, but can they ever snuff out the holistic approach of TCM?

A recent report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that traditional medicine still has great potential in the Western world as well as the East, and it might be a solution for those with diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Tianqi, a Chinese herbal mixture that has been shown to improve glucose levels, was the TCM up for the test. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, a sample of 389 people suffering from impaired glucose tolerance participated, where 198 were offered Tianqi and 191 were offered a placebo. The study showed that Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent. Of those in the Tianqi sample, 63.1 per cent reached normal glucose tolerance, compared to 46.6 per cent of the placebo group.

Many are starting to buy into TCM, making it a profitable market. And the modern science and medicine communities are implementing more studies to identify quality methods of treatment in relation to their own practices.

We live in a world where we are on the edge of medical breakthroughs and global pandemics. Our conditions are getting better and worse—but there is no room to panic. Instead, we should all take the time and find the necessary balance; the recipe that TCM has been cooking up for millennia.

Google alert

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Will search engine censorship track criminals or create them?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Nov. 2013

The three titans of the Internet, Google, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo!, are developing an ethical way to ban perverse searches, most notably links to child pornography and abuse content. At one point, Google and Bing echoed one another in saying the regulation “couldn’t and shouldn’t be done.” They have finally given in with a little arm-twisting from David Cameron, the British prime minister, who threatened to bring in a new legislation if the search engines did not take steps towards the solution. Now with over 100,000 illegal search queries blocked, one must ask: are we in fact closer to solving the problem, or have we just closed the door and opened a window?

Google admits that “no algorithm is perfect” when seeking out sexual predators and abuse offenders; still, the search engine has selected 13,000 queries to include a warning, which states that what the user has searched for is illegal and offers suggestions for help. The problem is those users aren’t searching for help; they are seeking pleasure and release—and they’ll get it one way or another. As soon as these offenders recognize the trap doors of the Internet, they will find loopholes and alternatives, perhaps ones that are more dangerous and damaging.

There is a global consensus that child pornography and abuse is an abhorrent crime and that it should be banned, but the Internet should be a platform of unlimited information. The difficulty is finding the balance between blocking too much and too little. How do we let the researchers research, while creating restrictions for the perverts?

The search engines will have to decide how far they are willing to push the ban. If pedophiles start using unrelated keywords to communicate, does that mean innocuous words will be banned as well? Slang words are born every day, and to try to track each and every one is a lost cause. Dr. Joss Wright, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institution, made a valid point saying that users can start referring to abuse images as “cake”—you cannot block the word “cake” from searches.

It’s also important to remember that Google, Bing, and Yahoo! are just companies providing a service—they are not the Internet at large. The dirty images can still be uploaded and shared through peer-to-peer sites, and experts agree that that is the common interaction between Internet pedophiles.

This new firewall might stop a few perpetrators, but these big companies need to watch their step, because they’re headed towards a slippery slope. Consider all the illegal content in the world and then consider the depths of the Internet. Our freedom to search the web may be greatly hindered if authorities truly believe that blocking links is the key solution. You wouldn’t ban the use of cars if drug dealers were transporting contraband on wheels. The same goes for the Internet. This blockade is far from the solution—if anything, it’s a mere detour.

Show how much you care about yourself

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E-commerce and lonesome shoppers celebrate Singles’ Day in China

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Nov. 2013

While Canadians spent November 11 paying respect to those who fought for our country’s freedom, China celebrated the joys of bachelorhood with Singles’ Day. The holiday targets those without boyfriends, girlfriends, or life partners. Even though it might sound like a hoax to those lonely individuals, Singles’ Day is becoming a very popular event in China—a country burdened by the bachelor generation, the direct cause of the one-child policy introduced in the late ‘70s.

Instead of pouting, whining, or crying, the Chinese singles have found a silver lining to their pathetic situation. Singles’ Day is now officially one of the largest shopping days of the year, and if there is a country that is able to buy happiness, it might as well be China. Although in previous years the holiday has slipped North American retailers’ radar, this year they jumped at the opportunity to reach out to a loveless audience. And what an audience it is: in a single day, the world’s largest populated country spent approximately $5.7-billion.

Dreamt up by some college students in the ‘90s, Singles Day is an upsetting concept to many Westerners, including myself. Materialism is, above all else, an addiction. Most shoppers will tell you that they often feel a high when they make a purchase, especially if it was something they really wanted. They pay for it, bring it home, and bask in the euphoric sensation until the product gets old, collects dust on a shelf, and is ultimately forgotten.

Sure, online shopping comes with a bit of novelty—the product you purchase arrives at your doorstep weeks after you order it, making it a surprise present to you from someone who cares. I think this very concept is poison, and the fact that the Chinese are promoting this cultural behaviour will be a devastating blow to their social morale. But if we know anything about our beloved friends to the east, they don’t care much about a healthy population as long as the economy is prospering.

The fact that Singles’ Day exists is fine with me. There should be a day to celebrate those living an independent life, the same way there’s a day to celebrate those in romantic relationships, i.e. Valentine’s Day.

But singles, why must it be a day to selfishly reward yourself for accomplishing nothing? Being alone is nothing to be proud of—anybody can be alone. Buying gifts for yourself might be a short-term solution, but I pity your life if Singles’ Day is the holiday you look forward to each year.

Celebrate and party with other single friends, and rejoice in the fact that you are not tied down, but don’t allow big e-commerce companies to take advantage of your egocentric nature. Have some control, my dear lonely hearts of China, and stay strong; your prince will one day come for you and your new PS4.

Sphero 2.0 rolls into retail

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Revolutionary new gaming platform

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Nov. 2013

Usually when a new gadget, game, or technological advancement appears on a retail shelf, I’m rather apathetic. To me, it seems as though innovation is leapfrogging itself everyday; today iPhones are better, tomorrow Androids are better—what’s the point? But once in awhile a new tech-toy catches my attention and sparks my imagination. I’m talking about Sphero 2.0, developed by the Colorado-based company, Orbotix.

At a glance, there is nothing fancy about Sphero 2.0. It looks like a cue ball with an adorable logo on the top. But when I plug the charging dock into the power outlet and place the Sphero on it, suddenly it illuminates, transitioning to different colours. I’m intrigued. I follow the instructions, downloading the app, connecting it to Bluetooth, and then loading up the game. I set Sphero 2.0 on my kitchen floor—suddenly it’s the most responsive radio-controlled (RC) toy I’ve ever had, and I control it with my iPhone.

In the beginning it was difficult to pilot that little rolling orb. Sphero 2.0’s dynamic engine allows the ball to travel up to two metres per second. It came out of the box with two small ramps, but catching any sick airtime was almost impossible. The game also allowed me to upgrade, making it faster, easier to handle, and offering a greater spectrum of colours. I navigated it around my furniture, crashed it into walls, and frightened my dog for a bit. Now, at this point you must be thinking, “Surely you can’t be excited about a rolling, glowing ball.”

No, Sphero 2.0 does something a little more than your average RC car or helicopter: it utilizes the functionality of smartphones and creates a new interactive experience. Augmented reality has been around for some time now, but few gaming platforms have been able to incorporate it. Sphero 2.0 does a decent job at it. It currently has over 25 apps in its library, and with a lot of attention from programmers and designers, there will be many more to come.

One of Sphero 2.0’s most notable games is called The Rolling Dead, where the objective is that the user must maneuver Sphero against a zombie attack, while shooting fireballs to destroy them. And it’s all happening in your kitchen, your bedroom, or you backyard.

The ball is also shockproof and waterproof, so imagine taking Sphero 2.0 to the pool and having the glowing ball chase you in a game of Marco Polo.

Perhaps Sphero 2.0’s number one quality is its versatility. It can play the centre-piece in a party game or as a controller for tilt-based games. Pass the Sphero, another popular app in the collection, is a hot potato game that requires a group of players to toss the orb around until it vibrates, simulating an explosion, thus eliminating that player. Exile is a game where Sphero is a spaceship travelling through a war-torn galaxy. The user operates the spaceship by controlling Sphero like a steering wheel.

Like most games, Sphero 2.0 comes with a bit of a learning curve. It’s not a simple robot vacuum cleaner—it’s a toy. Although Orbotix realized the many demographics for their product, they aren’t trying to target a specific audience. Children love the interactive game play, parents and adults love the educational factors, and programmers and developers love the hack-ability of the device, enabling them to create more games.

At approximately $130, it’s hard to justify Sphero 2.0 as the Christmas gift of choice, but like investing in a big name console like PlayStation or Xbox, Sphero might just be mobile users’ console of choice in the not too distant future.

Conquer Mobile the First Company to Join Health Tech Connexx Incubator

Formerly published by Techvibes. 

Earlier this month, the city of Surrey announced the start of the Innovation Boulevard and Health Tech Connexx (HTC), an incubator that will provide lab spaces and services to those in the tech industry seeking solutions for real-world problems.

The first company to join this innovative collective is Vancouver-based Conquer Mobile, best known for their collaboration with GenomeDX and NGRAIN.

Upon joining HTC, Conquer Mobile’s goal is to develop virtual reality simulation for medical experts practicing their craft of lifesaving. Conquer Mobile and other companies that will join HTC will work with Kwantlan Polytechnic University to help advance the technology and education in the medical field.

“Innovation Boulevard offers a space for high-technology companies to get together, to create a critical mass—of over a hundred,” Aaron Hilton, CTO and co-founder of Conquer Mobile told Techvibes. “This critical mass is really important because it allows meet-ups, group activities and anything else like that to be convenient for everybody. We can all start trading ideas with each other and have a rich mix of surgeons, nurses, trainers and the whole structure of health care plugged in with the high-tech people.”

 

RELATED: Canadian iPad App Helps Physicians Diagnose Prostate Diseases

 

Conquer Mobile and the other companies that will join HTC are projected to be moving into the newly built office and lab spaces in the spring of 2014. Until then Conquer Mobile continues to develop innovative solutions to problems in the medical field and the most pertinent one is applying virtual reality to help and educate doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals as they prepare for high-risk procedures.

“We are trying to avoid the bubble-think phenomenon,” said Hilton. “If you search for the same stuff, you’ll only know a certain amount—you don’t really get a broad understanding of it. Our objective with the simulation and training is to test your limit. We need to know the broad stuff. You can’t just think about the ordinary. When things go smoothly, that’s great. That’s basic training. But what happens if you knick a vain and the patient is bleeding? What do you do—right away? You need to get everyone on the same page.”

An overwhelming amount of medical professionals are now relying on technology to improve their practice. Hilton suggested that all doctors and surgeons today are using iPads to perform their duties. Of course iPads are a consumer product, nothing too special. With technology more accessible to patients than ever, many of those with ailments are diagnosing themselves or meeting the doctors with great knowledge—but with untrained errors.

“[Educated patients] is just a reality doctors have to deal with,” said Hilton. “Not all your patients are idiots and you’ll have to keep up. It’s kind of interesting, the next generations of doctors are going to start leveraging tools.”

As HTC and Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard prepares for accommodation, Hilton is welcoming innovators and virtual reality enthusiast to Vancouver VR, an event showcasing new virtual reality gears and opening dialogue about the future of digital health.

 

The right to bear religious symbols

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Attire, accessory, and attitude don’t change your religion

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

How does one practice their religion? Do they practice in their house, church, temple, or cathedral—or could they do it while commuting to work? Surely they don’t practice at work, right? Of course I’m talking about Quebec’s charter of values and how, if it passes, civil servants will no longer be allowed to wear religious articles of clothing including turbans, kippas, and overt crucifixes.

Religion has played a large role in my life, and it’s not my intention to argue against it. I’m not against religion. In fact, I wish I had faith. Sadly, although I was brought up as a Buddhist, I cannot honestly call myself one.

What I do want to express is a social commonality. That doesn’t mean tolerance or intolerance, or being anti- or pro- anything; it simply means a culture we can all agree upon.

For example, my father is a smoker. When the regulation passed to have smoking banned in public areas, he became a monster and he’s not—he’s just a dude trying to relax. People who wear religious articles aren’t monsters either, they’re simply expressing their faith and practicing a tradition that they’ve known since they were young. It upsets some, but so does a bit of cigarette smoke.

“Suck it up,” some smokers said initially—the same thing those advocating religious symbols in public sectors are saying now. “It’s not harming anybody.”

Harm is not the point. Commonality is the point; a mutual understanding is the point. If you entered an Asian person’s home, you would graciously take off your shoes. That’s a custom and an understanding. Your shoes are clean and it doesn’t hurt anyone for you to keep them on, yet you do it out of respect.

Canada has an ambiguous culture. It’s more of a mosaic than a mixing pot, and different communities have different conventions. That’s great, that should be cherished, and people should be delighted that we have such diverse communities.

But we need commonality as well to help establish a general culture as our cities, provinces, and country continues to grow. The mindset of Quebec isn’t to alienate. Instead, they’re trying to develop a central place to bring everyone together, where everyone feels welcome, and where no animosity is displayed. This is a good thing. And this is the first step towards having a province that really understands itself. It might feel ruthless, but in generations to come, you’ll see that it’ll bring them closer together.

I worked at Starbucks for over a year and I had to wear a green apron. I wasn’t thrilled, because green isn’t my colour. But I was under Starbucks’ roof, I was being paid Starbucks’ money, and the Starbucks customers recognized the standards—that was how they knew I worked there. It didn’t make me who I was, it didn’t change my beliefs that capitalism is just another form of slavery, but I accepted it because that was the corporate culture.

We might think that commonality is harmful; that it will cause us to lose our heritage and roots, but I believe it’ll help us to understand our history better. Why do we do certain things “just because”? Commonality allows us to question our traditions, habits, ethics, and values and ask the ultimate question: are we doing the right thing? Am I actually less of a person—less myself—if I go without certain things? Does it benefit the hive and not just the honeybee?

All through life, I have mistaken my wants with my needs. I get my priorities mixed up, and I feel many others have as well in regards to this religious symbols debate. Your ideals don’t have to change, your personality doesn’t have to change, and if it helps the general population approach civil servants with ease, I don’t see why they shouldn’t appeal to them. After all, have a little faith.

Facebook Not Forever: The Social Media Giant is Over the Hill

Formerly published in Techvibes. 

I was late to start: I opened my Facebook account around 2007, when all my other high school friends were advocating it and praising about the innovative capability to make events, share pictures, and occasionally poke each other.

I remember feeling hesitant when signing up for the account—I knew I was opening a Pandora’s box. I would never be the same.

Over six years later I have shared a lot of good times on Facebook. But my attitude towards it has changed multiple times over the course of my active account. I began by simply using it as a social hangout. Then I used it as a professional networking platform to seek work and experiences. Today, it’s just a place for me to keep tidbits of my life and to check in with old friends that I don’t get to see in person.

So when news about the gradual decline of youth engagement in Facebook surfaced, I was far from surprised.

What does the word “decline” even mean in the Facebook world? After all, the social media platform has approximately 1.2 billion active users. It seems everybody we know have Facebook—and that is part of the problem. The younger generation will never feel the liberty of social networking if Mom and Dad are creeping about, commenting on pictures and liking posts.

It’s true; we, the mass, are in fact making Facebook lame. This proves that the life expectancy of social media only has the longevity of the generation that pioneered it.

Success is the best poison any company can hope for and Facebook is coping with the repercussions now. Competitors that were once dominated have changed their strategy from facing the giant head on to luring the aging youth away like the Pied Piper. In a survey measuring the most important social media platform for teens done by Piper Jaffray & Co., 26% said Twitter is the most important as of Fall 2013 and 23% said Instagram is most important, matching Facebook (also 23%), which dropped from 42% a year ago.

Twitter and Instagram can obviously celebrate their accomplishment, but they aren’t Facebook’s only competition today. Messaging apps, although are smaller, are as intimidating as any other competitors on the communication market. This case was proven when Facebook offered a generous $3-billion to buy the ephemeral picture and text messaging app Snapchat.

The startup founded in 2011 by a couple of Standford students turned down the offer. Many thought they were insane—but I don’t.

I believe mobile is the future and that is where Facebook will lose the youth. Sure, they have their own messaging app, but with so many different ways to chat, not even SMS is safe, let alone Facebook’s mediocre application. The rise of Whatsapp, the resurgence of BBM, and the novelty of Snapchat will all act as alternatives for a text-heavy world that can often get very boring, especially for generations with shorter attention spans.

In 2007, I imagined my relationship with Facebook in the future. I saw myself as this distracted creature with a habitual tendency to check up on my network of friends for no reason. I am now that being—and if the younger generation saw me, they would think I’m so not cool.

But while the coolness and popularity of Facebook has declined significantly since the early 2000s, that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Like phone numbers, emails and postal codes, Facebook accounts will just be another thing modern people use in their daily lives without acknowledgement.

It might not be hip or trendy, but it’s still necessary. And some might say that is the best accomplishment. And for the moment the Zuckerberg camp can breathe a sigh of relief: they’re not Myspace. Yet.

 

Fight for your right

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The pros and cons of peaceful protest

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

What began as a peaceful protest near Rexton, New Brunswick on October 17 turned violent as armed RCMP clashed with those opposing shale gas exploration and fracking. Led by the Mi’kmaq First Nations people, the protesters created a blockade and asserted they were “willing to die” for their position. Molotov cocktails and firearms don’t necessarily demonstrate peace or a willingness to negotiate, so when the smoke cleared, guns were holstered, and the roads were emptied, 40 protesters were arrested and five RCMP vehicles were torched.

This was a fine example of a peaceful protest gone wrong, but has a peaceful protest ever gone right? Has dissatisfaction ever been effectively communicated through defiance? Do rebels ever sway public opinion? Personally, I am a supporter of protest: when injustice is clearly displayed, it’s our duty as citizens to stand up and stand together. The history books are full of great examples of effective peaceful protests. Of course the results weren’t immediate, but those who banded together sparked changes and got the rolling wheel of revolution heading in the right direction.

What some consider mischief, others see as heroic. Hell, when put in a high pressure situation, I hope I have the guts to march out in front of a moving tank like the students did in Tiananmen Square during the June Fourth Incident in 1989. I like to think that I have the courage to stand up for my fellow man when the situation calls for it. We all like to believe we can take down Goliath, and we like to cheer for the underdogs, but often we simply bark—what happens when we bite?

More often than not, we consider protest to be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Just take a glance at the accomplishments—oops, I mean the consequences—of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. When done right, a protest will trigger debates, dialogue, and meaningful conversations. When done wrong, it becomes a spectacle and a shame on the city, country, and even mankind.

There is a lesson we need to learn from all of this: lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s hunger strike, Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-Ins for Peace. The strikes, boycotts, and protests garner attention, but all lead to tragic results. They effectively call attention to a problem, thus paving way for a solution, but we must recognize that there might not be such thing as a peaceful protest: all protest hurts in one way or another.

As disruptive as it is, protesting is our human right—or it should be. North Americans are accustomed to their safe little abodes and often only see the devastation of violent protests in other countries. Those people in Egypt and Turkey aren’t uneducated ruffians causing trouble for the establishment. They’re just like us, trying to find comfort and trying to defend something they truly believe in. Those people are “willing to die” for their cause, and to me that is something humanity needs. Protest is an amiable choice and a potentially horrible one—but when push comes to shove, only the cowards are passive.

Sphero 2.0 Revolutionizes Mobile Gaming Platform with Introduction of Augmented Reality

Formerly published in Techvibes Media. 

Introducing Sphero 2.0 by Orbotix: if you haven’t heard of this unique gaming platform yet, you are in for a treat. On the surface, there is nothing particular about the ball, it’s round, white with a little cute blue logo, but inside there is definitely something going on—an engine.

I place it on the charging dock and plug it to the wall. A light inside flashes and glows, changing colour several times. I download one of many apps and connect it to Bluetooth. I still don’t know what to expect.

Sphero 2.0 is more than your average RC toy and I learn that right away. First off, how many RC toys can I control with my iPhone? How many RC toys will allow me to upgrade, thus increasing the speed, adjusting the handling and changing the colour spectrum of the LED light inside? How many RC toys have over 25 free apps associated with it? These apps transform it from a simple controllable rolling hamster-ball to multiplayer games and augmented reality controller.

At the moment there isn’t much like it.

“We have set the standard for devices that connect to your smartphone that you play with, but it has more than one use,” says Chuck Lepley, marketing manager at Orbotix. “We are ahead of the curve and that is what we want our company to be—we want to create robots and that is what Sphero is—it’s a robot that can do these different things. We want people to expect more from their toys and their gadgets.”

 

 

Colorado-based Orbotix is not aiming to push the Sphero in any one direction. From the onset, there is a lot of appeal from different demographics. Children love the interactive game play, hackers love the programmable aspect of the device, parents enjoy the educational factor and pet dogs—well maybe they don’t appreciate Sphero as much. But there is no current intention of targeting one audience and turning the gaming platform into a robot vacuum cleaner. Yet the new technology is definitely opening a lot of doors.

Sphero 2.0 is a different device to different people; the same way a smartphone has different usage to different people. We are considering more today when we are making a purchase for a mobile device. Game play is becoming the next desirable feature for smartphone and tablet owners.

“If you look at where we are now,” Lepley tells Techvibes, “we didn’t expect our phones to be our CD and MP3 players. Even with tablets, [users are] watching movies and tv shows. We didn’t expect our phone to be our camera.”

I parade the Sphero 2.0 around for a bit, navigating it into crevasses of my house that I never knew a little glowing orb could go. Although the game play is innovative the controlling is not easy in tight parameters. The game requires the users to over come a slight learning curve.

In addition, Orbotix included a couple of ramps. But getting it to launch and catch any real airtime is difficult. The most surprising element of Sphero is that it’s waterproof. There isn’t any spectacular practical reason for Sphero to be afloat, but there is something mesmerizing about an illusive glowing ball playing Marco Polo with you in a swimming pool. Just be careful with your iPhone.

As technology develops and more companies catch on to Orbotix’s creations, they will begin to see that they’re doing more than passing the time with zombie attacks (Rolling Dead) and space invasions (Exile). Augmented reality has been around for a while, but never used in any significant way. Even though Sphero 2.0 can be as simple as a hot-potato game between friends and families, it might also be the stepping-stone to many more advanced gaming.

As well as sparking user’s imagination, the platform had attracted the attention of many other tech-savvy programmers looking to explore new innovative avenues.

“We do something called Hack-Fridays at our office,” says Lepley. “Every afternoon on Friday developers and engineers can work on whatever they want. One of our developers made this basic thing where he used the Sphero to control a teapot on the screen by tilting the ball. We thought it was really cool so we decided to make an app for it and it ended up being Exile. We then made several other apps like it. But there are third-party developers who make tilt-based games, they’ve included the option to use Sphero as a controller into their games.”

Since Orbotix introduced Sphero to the public in December 2011, there have been many more advances. The company is intending to increase their product line, adding to the family of robotic toys, as well as heightening the experience of the current Sphero 2.0.

Whether you intend to drive it around furniture or showcase it at parties or develop inventive programming with the MacroLab app, Sphero is a new breed of gaming. And it is now available in retail stores across Canada.