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Archive for the ‘Toronto’ Category

Monday, November 14, 2011 @ 08:11 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

Lately public libraries have been taking a shit kicking from debt-ravaged politicians. Here in Toronto, our right-wing mayor Rob Ford had to back down from his more extreme proposals because of push back from Margaret Atwood and other well-known local authors and taxpayer petitions.

librairies should rock more

While I agree with the library fans, I also think that libraries need to do more to rethink their role as information filling stations,book lovers’ social hubs and knowledge curators. For guidance, they should look to the banks, bookstores and museums.

And they should think about how book lovers like me have changed. I haven’t updated my library card in years, partly because I share books I love with friends. I rarely go to bookstores either. For years, I ordered exactly what I wanted online. This year, I started downloading to my e-reader instead.

But I still love the concept of public libraries, as fonts of knowledge shared by all. My favorite is the main reference library, where my daughter goes for sheet music  she can’t find on the internet. On my last visit, to hear a speaker rather than conduct research, I was struck by all the computers.

My local branch, which I used to frequent with my kids, is full of computers too, mostly used by students, often playing games. Many are new Canadians who don’t have computers at home, the digitally divided.

Instant lenders

I would probably renew my library card if libraries made books as easy to acquire as money from the bank. For a long time, I’ve loved the convenience of 24/7 instant teller machines and, more recently, online banking services. I can pay bills or withdraw money in minutes. But if I order a library book online, it can take days to reach  my local branch.  I can download it to my Kobo in seconds and I don’t have to worry about late fines.

Libraries could be as easy as banks if they lent e-readers or laptops to the people who can’t afford them. It’s lovely that the library is letting people download digital books, but little help to those who don’t own the hardware. And think of the money the school boards could save if everyone could download their texts.

People who want more than a quick info fill  could hang out in the 24/7 book lovers’ social hubs. Like automated banking machines, these would take up a fraction of the branch’s floor space and be monitored by remote cameras or librarian/security guards.

Social clubs for bookworms

Or maybe the baristas would keep an eye on things, and add revenue, if these hubs added Starbucks, like the large bookstores have. I would love to socialize more with people who read the same books as me, so much better than the emails from Amazon about the buying habits of people who have bought the same books.

Of course there will still be a place for hardcover books.  But with fewer people borrowing physical books, shorter branch hours or fewer full-service branches won’t be as much of an issue.

Collect and select

In addition to becoming 24/7 information filling stations for families who can’t afford the technology and money-making social hubs for people who love to read, libraries should expand their role as information curators. With coming onslaught of e-books, the reading public will desperately need someone to sort through the new titles and curate those that are worthwhile.

With so much information out there, we already need trained experts to help us prioritize and organize. While searches are extremely helpful, algorithms cannot judge quality and relevance the way smart. objective people can.

I visit my city’s Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario mostly when there’s a specially curated exhibit.  I wouldn’t enjoy the exhibits if knowledgeable people hadn’t picked out the best examples to display. Can you imagine wandering through their storage areas? That’s exactly how I feel on the internet some days.

So please, librarians, become knowledge curators as well as information filling stations and book lovers’ social hubs. We still need you—but in a changing way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 @ 07:07 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

When I took LSD in my teens. I first realized we are all one. In my Facebook update after this Monday’s U2 concert, I wondered when the acid flashback would end.

writing connects While hallucinogens may have first opened this spiritual short cut for me, many people have reached the same insight through religion and other spiritual paths. Or from listening to U2.

Through song and sight,  Bono built our awareness that we are all one while urging us to give money toward AIDS kids in Africa, sign petitions to release political prisoners and put inspiration into action in other ways.

With the dome open  to the sky and the lake breeze, the Rogers Centre was our cathedral. Bono was our preacher, the music our hymns, the dazzling graphics our vision.

When astronaut Mark Kelly spoke to us on the screen from the space shuttle, my eyes misted up. Looking at earth from his perspective, how could I not appreciate that we are all part of something bigger, not just earth but a universe. Like me, the cartoon aliens knew their feet would be killing them from all the dancing.

Not content to unite  the universe, Bono  told us to look at the stars and think of the people we had lost. I put my arm around Peggy, who I knew was thinking about her brother and father. I thought about Gary.

We are all one. Present. Past.  Future.

Two days later, I am thinking about  how I am a microcosm of the universe. I can’t stop global warming, poverty and injustice. But I can sort my trash, treat the triplets to ice cream and bug my member of parliament about getting more help for the homeless people languishing at the nearby shelter.

I am also thinking about how I can also help people connect and revel in our one-ness through the written word.

What a gift. Thank you, Bono and the mysterious force that’s powering our space ship.

And thanks for the photo, Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 @ 02:04 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

Because most people are so busy, I’ve pulled out the two most popular modules from my one-day workshop and turned each of them into  two-hour live workshop for employees in the Greater Toronto Area.  They address the two biggest priorities for most people who write at work: (1) how to say more in fewer words and (2) how to connect with their readers.

Write tight

Just as your favorite jeans have to fit perfectly, so does your writing need to show off your expertise in the most  flattering  and comfortable way.

writing that fits like your favorite jeansWith the character limits of Twitter and other social media, writing tightly is becoming more of a requirement and less of a choice.

What’s more, the vast volume of email most people read and write daily makes writing tightly a productivity priority. If your email, report or anything else is too long, people won’t read through it, let alone remember. They won’t click on links. They won’t engage.

But feed them a tasty information snack and they may well come back for the feast.

In the workshop, I’ll show you how to plan what you’re going to write so you can use just enough words to meet your objectives. I’ll show you how to trim the fat from what you’ve written. And we’ll put this into practice, tightening some examples until they fit like your favorite jeans.

For  groups up to 20 people. Cost: $500

For more information, contact me at barb@stickycommunication.ca.

From mouth to mouse

To  truly engage your readers, you need to write like you’re having a live conversation with them. This way, you’ll also attract like-minded people. Soon you’ll be building an enthusiatic tribe.

Before you start writing, you need to think about the person you most want to connect with, real or imagined, and figure out what gets them up in the morning and what keeps them up at night.

You should also think about how to convey in writing your personality or the personality of the person or organization you’re writing for. Then the conversation can begin.

In addition to walking you through this process, I’ll provide some tips on how to write in a more conversational style.  You’ll practice writing this way, with some participants sharing their work so everyone can  learn from each other.

For  groups up to 20 people. Cost: $500

For more information, contact me at barb@stickycommunication.ca.
Photo credit: Evil Erin

Friday, March 25, 2011 @ 08:03 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

I’m starting to think the green movement is a conspiracy against busy moms like me.

too busy plunging to writeTake my new low-flow toilet. Sure, it’s nice to save water, even though I live near a large lake. But nobody told me I would have to clean it daily. And don’t get me started about the plunging.

It’s not like we have a choice. I hear these toilets, obviously never tested with busy moms, are legally required here in Toronto. Had I known about the extra work, I would have stuck with my aqua bathroom fixtures. No sooner had I replaced them than I read about how hot mid-century décor now is.

Then there’s all the garbage sorting, especially in this city where we have to pay extra for more than about one plastic grocery bag full a week. By the way, we also pay the grocery stores an extra five cents for each plastic bag if we forget our gluten-free, not-tested-on-animals ones at home or in the car, as us busy moms often do.

So instead of reusing the plastic grocery store bags for garbage, we buy new ones. You heard me right.

Now that my kids are teens they at least remember to put most of their trash in the garbage, unlike the days when trails of food wrappers and broken toys from McDonald’s decorated our floors. The trouble is they haven’t figured out how to sort recycle from organic from plain old garbage.

In my daughter’s bathroom, right beside the toilet, sit two garbage containers, one for toilet paper rolls and such, the other for trash. Yet, this 17-year-old honor student can’t figure it out. One more unwelcome task for this busy mom. Let’s just hope I don’t have to replace her toilet.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being green. I believe that every person should do their part.

I tear old towels into cleaning rags instead of wasting paper towels. I scoop my dog’s poop into a biodegradable bag. I have insulated my house and my electrical sockets, replaced my light bulbs and my boiler and so much more.

In fact, one of the reasons I am such a busy mom is the need to pay for all the renovations and purchases demanded by the energy conservationists, mostly undomesticated men and child-free women I suspect.

Let’s tell them that if they want us to do more, they have to come up ways that don’t make us even busier moms. Mind you, I’m looking forward to spending Earth Hour in a candle-lit restaurant where those toilet-plunging, garbage-sorting stress lines will be less visible.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @ 07:11 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

While U.S. Thanksgiving may be the kick-off to the Christmas shopping frenzy, I think it should also launch the snail mail holiday card season.

Because of email and social media, you’re likely receiving fewer paper cards, so you appreciate what you receive all the more. Like me, you probably display them as part of your holiday décor. When you look at a particular card, you think about the person who took the time to send it to you.

write personal holiday messagesI don’t pay as much attention to the people who email me a Christmas card, even less if it’s a Merry Christmas update on Facebook or Twitter. The less effort people expend on holiday cheer to me personally, the less time I spend thinking of them.

I’m no Scrooge. That’s just human nature, which you need to consider before you decide how to send your holiday greetings.

Make it personal

A few years ago, motivational speaker Dave Howlett prompted me to go back to mailing cards. He insisted that everyone should send thank you cards every week. Inspired, I bought cards and sent them out for a while.

Life got busy and my enthusiasm flagged. Now I’m down to sending Christmas cards to the folks I should have been thanking throughout the year.

Even better is a card with a personal note, thanking individuals for something they did for you during the year. The note has to be individual, such as thanks for cheering me up when my father got sick or taking the time to help with research for an article.

Your thank you list

At a time of the year devoted to being grateful, you should have an easy time coming up with a list of the people you want to thank. Here in Canada, where Thanksgiving is but a burpy memory, I’m planning to buy mine today, before the best ones are sold out.

Of course the cards must be printed on recycled stock. It’s even better if the proceeds go to help a charity you like. And don’t forget the secular cards for people who won’t appreciate anything about Christmas.

Like me, many of you will be using the holiday season as an excuse to stay in touch with many people you can’t think of a special reason to thank. You’re just glad you met them. That’s where email cards and other mass communication come in handy.

Group communication

I’m an expert at these. Over the years, I have written many Christmas messages from executives to their employees, customers and other important people. So let me share what I’ve learned.

As with individual cards, these messages have to be personal. Because you can’t talk about other individuals, you have to write about your own experiences and emotions, especially those that you expect the people on your list will relate to.

For example, your dog’s fascination with the first flakes of snow, tracking down that sold-out toy your daughter is expecting from Santa or sinking your teeth into that luscious shortbread.

My point is: be grateful, personal, emotional, visual, sensual and authentic. People will not feel any closer if they think your assistant simply merged a mailing list and mass holiday greetings template.

I sent an earlier draft of this post as a guest submission to Copyblogger. Sonia Simone declined, explaining that most of their readers don’t have snail mail contact lists. What a shame. While new media gives us more choices, it should not displace the old, especially in cases when it works better.  Don’t forget that most of us still listen to radio. Besides, it’s so easy to find snail mail addresses online.

Get cracking

Many of you are probably why I’m writing about Christmas cards when it’s still more than a month away. It’s because every year I wish I had started my cards earlier. After all, people are more likely to notice the cards that arrive before the Christmas rush. And I’ll be pleased to have more time in December for all the shopping, decorating, partying and visiting that make the holiday season so special.

It’s too early to know what I’ll write on my blog. I know it will be more personal than my usual advice about writing and communication and my efforts to hype my ebook Write like you talk—only better.

When my kids were young, there was no end to the heart-warming and humorous tales. As teenagers, they’re embarrased if I write much about them, amazing though they are.

My aging parents are more likely to stir the gooey emotions that bubble at Christmas. For 10 years, I’ve tried to make the holiday special, knowing it could be my mother’s last one.

At our Thanksgiving dinner, for the first time,  she was unable to lift the wine glass to her mouth. I did it for her–many times. On the front porch after dinner, as  she struggled to hold onto her cigarette,  I teased her about being tipsy. She laughed.

She doesn’t laugh much any more, so those moments are precious. Almost like those increasingly rare Christmas cards. They will be treasured.

Thursday, July 1, 2010 @ 10:07 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

I know I should be quoting some great Canadian because it’s Canada Day. But all that comes to mind is John F. Kennedy, whose political views could have passed for Canadian, who said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

I find this quote fitting today because I have done something for my country  today. No, I have not enlisted for Afghanistan or bought fire works for children.

What’s scarier than taxes?

I have programmed my HST, the harmonized sales tax we in Ontario are now paying. I know I should blame Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. But I understand that the pressure came from Prime Minister Stephen Harper

It was so easy that I am embarrassed to admit how frightened I was. Much the same way I am terrified when asked to add up my monthly office costs for my income taxes. Much as I procrastinate over calculating the tax the HST replaces, the GST or goods and services tax.

Calculating them

My fear was compounded by the need to input amounts that vary by province into my Paypal account, a new and once-terrifying unknown beast who turned out to be a rather docile kitten.

I can’t blame childhood trauma or DNA deficiency for this irrational fear. I grew up watching my father, a  chartered accountant who was a silver medalist in his graduating year, and my brother, a  national math contest finalist, solving math puzzles. For fun. Seriously. Long-time Globe and Mail readers will recall Fun with Figures. Today, they are big on Sudoko.

Not from DNA

Even though I don’t share this interest, I am not totally without math skills. I am usually quick at roughly calculating individual shares when confronted with a multi-person restaurant bill. However, it’s not accurate to the penny, a math style that  irritates accountants, tax people and other anal types.

Math skills also came in handy when I paid for much of my university as a cocktail waitress back in the days when we had to figure out bills in our head.

I still wake up from nightmares of adding up three domestic beers, two Heinken (the only imported  then), one Singapore Sling (a sugary tall pink drink once popular with the ladies), one Harvey Wallbanger, two premium shots of Scotch and one regular rye. Fortunately, partyers don’t quibble over inconsequential arithmetic fumbles. As long as there’s enough for the next round, it all adds up.

Maybe this is where the math phobia began. At least I’m no longer  forced to perform  calculations while wearing hot pants, high heels and full makeup.

The propaganda machine

Like most people in Ontario, I’m pissed about having to charge and pay HST. Our government actually ran a taxpayer-supported propaganda campaign to explain why we would actually enjoy higher taxes.

Only the actors on the TV commercial seems to have bought it. But what could we do? The provincial opposition party is in the same camp as Stephen Harper, so its provincial members just mumbled a few words of discontent. We could have protested at the G20 summit, I suppose, but then we might have ended up in jail. No thanks.

I guess most of us passively accept higher taxes because we love having a healthcare system that turns no one away. And we are proud of having healthy banks and a relatively low government deficit.

Yes, we’re pissed about the cost of the G8 and G20 summits, government television commercials and much more. But not pissed enough to do much about it.

Oh, Canada. The only fireworks are in the sky.

Monday, June 28, 2010 @ 05:06 PM
posted by Barbsawyers

I spent much of my weekend glued to the television, watching the amazing coverage of the G20 summit protests in Toronto. With multiple cameras and reporters zipping between action sites, displayed on split screens, I felt as close to the action as I wanted to be.

City Pulse news (CP24), a feisty neighborhood channel, was backed by its relatively new owner CTV, a large Canadian network. The result was an in-your-face local perspective, partly directed and supported by citizen journalists, backed by big-time resources.

I switched to the competition a few times, but saw mostly CBC anchors safely ensconced in their studio or regular programming on Global. CP24 was the accident I did not want to keep watching, but couldn’t resist.

News as spectacle

Let me admit I’m one of those people who is mesmerized by TV news theater like CNN’s Shock and Awe light show. Thanks goodness, I’m not a soccer fan, or I would have had to toggle between protests and World Cup matches.

As soon as I saw the first scuffle of protesters and police on Friday evening, I was hooked. I worried about my twenty-something nieces, two of the thousands of people planning to peacefully march for worthwhile causes.

When all hell broke loose on Saturday, with those sinister, masked Black Bloc anarchists, I was bounced from Anne and Stephanie in the studio to Farrah, Omar, Craig, Naomi, Lisa, Austin and a huge cast of reporters on the scenes.

Strumming while Toronto burns

Probably the most dramatic was on Saturday evening when one live screen showed a police car blazing, with no cops in sight, while another displayed hundreds of armored police arresting protesters at Queen’s Park. As was suggested later, our provincial capital, the officially sanctioned site for the peaceful protests, had been infiltrated by the bad guys who were trying to deflect attention with their fiery antics.

On Sunday, one of the protests came to within a couple miles of my home. But seeing as they were directed at the temporary detention center, ironically the former filming site for a cop drama, I didn’t worry about the angry hordes coming closer.

The coverage became more about arrests than free speech zest. Commercials and replays replaced much of the live action. So I was relieved to pry myself away from the television, to prepare for my G20 barbecue summit (tag line: make food, not protest).

I don’t want to go into the big questions of good versus bad protesters, police, free speech, the role of the G20 or the ego and wisdom of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If I started writing about these, I probably would not stop until the Korean summit, where I will not have a ring-side seat.

How social media played

But I would like to add my two cents about social media. No doubt this was the most photographed and videoed summit ever. I saw more cameras than banners raised. Many of the participants were not even protesting. They came to witness and record history. Had it not been for the rain, citizen journalists might have outnumbered police.

Flickr is bursting with amateur photo and video, many better quality than the professional shots.

A police car burns while a protester plays at the Toronto G20 summit.A police car burns while a protester plays at the Toronto G20 summit.

If the police did, as some of the hundreds arrested insisted, use unnecessarily force, they will be held accountable. Think of how the world would have remembered Black Sunday or Kent State if citizen video-journalism had been alive. Think of the grilling World Cup officials will get with that bad ref call caught on countless cameras.

On the other hand, most of the Twitter coverage was banal. The Twitter feed displayed on CP24 was mostly solid citizens thanking the police for protecting our city. Not much more from the locals I follow on Twitter.

I’m sure many CP24 elves were busy behind the scenes, sifting through and verifying the social media tidal wave, which they selectively featured.

Herd protesters and media

Of course texting, Twitter, Facebook et al were critical means of herding protesters and media to the next action site. But beyond that, I couldn’t see a profound impact.

Then just before I sank into sleep Sunday night, I couldn’t resist one last look. A university student was talking via cell phone to CP24, while the screen displayed a Facebook photo of him shaking hands with the prime minister.

Sammy explained how he’d just come down to take photos, but ended up corralled into what he called “a human box” by police no doubt eager to end the weekend’s mayhem but unwilling or unable to cart more bystanders to the overflowing detention center. His camera and phone were damaged by the heavy rain. Wet, tired and cranky, he just wanted to go home.

Ah ha. The peaceful protesters and the violent anarchists were expected. Sammy and his friends were the new news story.

This morning I was glad to see no one was seriously injured and our city survived mostly intact.

And I’m glad that I got to watch, from the safety of my couch, such a spectacular, yet authentic unfolding of history. Our peaceful city will never see anything like this again. Neither will our media coverage.

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