Engaged. Kids Love Augmented Reality.

C-3PO and Chewbacca play Dejarik in Star Wars IV: A New Hope
R2-D2 and Chewbacca play Dejarik while C-3PO looks on, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope

One the strongest cinematic memories from my childhood is from Star Wars (surprise surprise). C-3Po R2-D2 and Chewbacca are playing a type of holographic chess on the Millennium Falcon, passing the time as they speed through space. The game pieces move and interact with each other and— even cooler— they fight! I wanted one of these Dejarik sets, and dreamed of a time when holographic games and toys became a reality.

Judging by the last few months on the internet, that time is well on its way. Augmented Reality is set to bring those holographic moments to anyone with a computer and a webcam, or even a mobile phone. Last night I gave my kids a printout of the newest Star Trek poster and told them to hold it up to the computer screen (at Experience the Enterprise). I watched their surprised faces when, on screen, they were suddenly holding a diminutive replica of a three-dimensional spaceship. Both of them loved the experience, and immediately started testing it’s boundaries: how much could they bend the paper, how far away could they stand, how close could they bring the paper into the camera. It was amazing to watch them instinctively push the limits of the technology. My son kept looking at the computer and then back at the paper he was holding, trying to figure out why it was invisible in real life.

Sebastian, Age 4, Experiences Augmented Reality for the First Time

They would have played with the USS-Enterprise for hours if I had let them, just like a brand new toy. This particular AR could fire torpedoes and phasers, and simulate flying at warp speed. How many other toys have that ability? It’s still a bit clunky and you really tire of holding a piece of paper up to a screen for a long time, but for a technology that is just begining to come out of its shell, it’s a wonderous experience.

I’m looking forward to the LucaArts AR gameboard that let’s me play Dejarik on my coffee table. Are you listening George?

Update: Here are a few more bonus pictures:

Tweetie for Twitter is the New Zippo

Twitter Zippo

When I was in University, I didn’t have a mobile phone, email, or internet access. Most people didn’t. There was no TXTing, no IMing, no poking people on Facebook, and certainly no twittering. The way you met new and interesting people was by smoking. I’m serious. If you wanted to become friends with random cool people, you’d make sure you had a well-fueled Zippo and you’d practice opening it SHINK, lighing it KTCHSH, and closing it KHLUP.


That sound was an advertisement to people within earshot that 1) you were a fellow smoker, 2) that you had fire, and 3) that you might even have an extra cigarette. “Hey, got a light?” was the opening line to many friendships and relationships.

How you lit your Zippo was part of your personality. Some people did it one handed, some people liked to snap their fingers over the flint to create the fire magically, and others could open and light their Zippos off their jeans in one fluid motion. The crazy ones would pour a bit of lighter fluid in the palm of their hands and let it go up in a short burst.

The design of the Zippo was another expression. There were lighters from headshops with skulls and pot leaves and Harley logos. Some were monogrammed, some were gold and ornate, and most were just plain stainless steel. But they all did the job of lighting a cigarette for a fellow addict in need and sparking conversation.

Today I don’t smoke. I have an iPhone with ubiquitous internet access, email, and unlimited texting. There’s a program for every flavour of instant messaging service. There’s a decent Facebook application. And then there’s the Twitter app Tweetie: the new Zippo lighter.

Let me explain: So today, instead of wanting to be friends with social malcontents who are trying to start grunge bands, I want to be friends with geeks. Geeks know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, so there’s always something to learn or to talk about. And how do you break the ice with a cool geek? Easy. Get Tweetie for iPhone. Instead of walking up to a total stranger and asking “Got a light?” you say “Hey, aren’t you @[insert Twitter username here] who just tweeted about [insert topic here]? That was hillarious. I’m @jted.” Then you shake hands and the rest is history.

For example, at a recent Chuck Palahniuk reading in Toronto I was using Twitter to broadcast a few choice quotes from the author. Out of curiosity I used Tweetie to do a search for users also talking about Chuck. I was surprised to find 5 or 6 people in the audience broadcasting snippets of what Palahniuk was saying and what was happening in the room. A few of them had photographic avatars , and by tapping on them I could see a full-screen picture of their faces. After the show I recognized one of them talking to a group of friends. I thought it was crazy that Tweetie could transform a random stranger into someone I not only recognized, but shared a sense of humour with. I never did talk to the guy. But the point is that I could have. I was in a bit of a hurry that day…

Zippos have engraved images; Tweetie shows your avatar. Zippos smell like lighter fluid; Tweetie smells like a cheap iPhone application. Zippos attract smokers; Tweetie uses the built in GPS to find fellow Twitterers via the Nearby button. Zippos can be used for flaming parlour tricks; Tweetie’s Trends button can be used to read the collective mind of human consciousness. Now if only Tweetie could make that SHINK KTCHSH KHLUP sound…

60 Reasons to Celebrate

Today is my Dad’s 60th birthday. Here are 60 reasons why I think he’s the greatest:
1-He’s generous.
2-He taught me how to ride a bike.
3-He let me shoot real film when I was 5.
4-He’s built more than one cedar-strip canoe.
5-He has plans to build a cedar-strip sea kayak.
6-He taught me how to drive stick in a 1980 Volvo.
7-Except for Grades 3, 4, and half of 5, Dad was a teacher at the school I attended.
8-He can fix anything.
9-He can do plumbing.
10-He can do electrical.
11-He can do woodworking.
12-He can do metal smithing.
13-He can do small engines.
14-Did I mention he’s going to help convert a pick-up truck into an electric vehicle this year?
15-He bought our family’s first Macintosh computer in 1984 and changed the course of my life.
16-He has never ever been too busy for me.
17-He has never ever been too tired for me.
18-He has always listened intently to everything I’ve had to say.
19-He has survived prostate cancer.
20-He has survived back surgery.
21-He has survived the jungles of Paraguay as a kid.
22-He has survived the jeers of kids calling him a DP (displaced person)
23-He worked on a farm to support his family from the age 5.
24-His first teaching gig was in Southern Manitoba in a 1-classroom school house teaching grades 1 thru 8 all by himself!
25-He can build a quincy.
26-He came from a family so poor they honestly wore underwear sewn from potato sacks.
27-He’s the best Grandpa any kid could ask for, and my kids are so happy to spend time with him.
28-He can make great coffee.
29-He can make good wine.
30-He’s a fantastic cook.
31-He beat his terrible allergies by changing to a mostly vegan diet.
32-He once drew the entire map of Canada on the chalk board from memory—backwards!
33-He taught shop for over 25 years without one serious student accident.
34-He draws hilarious horses because they don’t look like horses.
35-He can measure most things in his head, and think in three dimensions.
36-He owned a VW Bug for a while, the old one.
37-He owned a ’67 Chevy with a back seat over six feet wide.
38-He knows how to raise most animals including cows, goats, chickens, rabbits, geese, and horses.
39-The only movies he really likes are dramas about humanity.
40-He could always tell where a TV plot was going which really impressed me as a kid.
41-He loves gardening.
42-He’s into old heritage seed catalogues.
43-His favourite store is Lee Valley.
44-He built a shed in the backyard and then added a split-level playhouse addition complete with kitchen set, railings, windows, a slide, and then a 2-piece swing set just for my kids.
45-He never complains.
46-He’s a great mediator.
47-He has great fund-raising ideas, like letting the students shave his head and beard if they reach their targets.
48-He used to take me out for chocolate shakes at Grapes when I was sad as a kid.
49-He drove us safely through the Rocky Mountains many many times.
50-He has always been supportive of every endeavor I’ve taken on, or that my wife and kids have taken on.
51-Speaking of support for artistic endeavours, he has built my Mom an amazing studio in almost every place we ever lived.
52-He took me to see the Muppet Movie, Pete’s Dragon, and Superman II at the Drive-Inn.
53-He took me to E.T., Ghostbusters, Romancing the Stone, and Return of the Jedi, among others.
54-He always stood up for me when I used to get into trouble.
55-He showed me, by example, how to be a loving, giving, partner.
56-He knows how to make people feel special.
57-He tells great stories.
58-He’s humble.
59-He’s a certified canoeist, and loves outdoor camping.
60-He taught me how to love learning.

Happy Birthday Dad!

1st Grader Suspected of Distributing Bio-Hazardous Material

Imagine for a moment that you are a father. Now imagine that your 6 year old excitedly shows you a plastic tube that was given to her by a schoolyard friend. Now imagine examining the tube closely, which is filled with a textured, viscous beige-and-green goop, and seeing a medical waste warning label. Wouldn’t you be a little bit anxious at this point? Wouldn’t you immediately put it in a Ziploc bag, wash your hands, wash and quarantine your daughter, take pictures of the offending vial, and contact the principal of the school immediately to find out the source? Wouldn’t you also call Public Health to make sure you weren’t going to become the epicenter of the next SARS-like outbreak?

I would. But I wasn’t that father.

Biohazard Detail

Let’s imagine a separate scenario: Let’s say that over 2 years ago you worked at an ad agency that had a drug company client. Let’s say that the client sometimes had sample kits to give away to doctors. One of those kits ended up in your hands because it was extra, because it was free, and because it came with a cool bag. In this kit were a few ‘realistic’ looking items. One of them happened to be a plastic vial for disposing of insulin needles. You thought it would be cute to put them with the other items in your kid’s Fisher-Price doctor bag and forgot about it. For 2 years.

Then, one Friday on your commute home you received a strange text message from your wife. Your daughter had been caught with a vial of bio-hazardous material. Under interrogation, she told the principal that she got it from… you!

Having absolutely no memory of this vial from 2 years ago, you try desperately to figure out how your child would be in possession of bio-hazardous material. You gave blood a few months ago, but you weren’t allowed to take any of the vials home. You were in the hospital for a day last year, was it from then? Your wife was a practicing doula for a while, was it from her birthing kit? None of these options made any sense.

On your walk home, you pick up your daughter from a play date at a friend’s. You ask her if she got in trouble for bringing anything to school that day. She frowns and doesn’t want to talk about it. You press her gently. Finally she says, “It was YOUR thing! It was from YOU!”

“I know, I know,” you say. “It was entirely my fault. But it scared a few people.” Pausing, you finally ask, “What was in that thing anyway?”

“Cotton balls and hand soap, of course,” is her matter-of-fact reply.

“Of course,” you say, most relieved. Then you go home and write a long letter of explanation to the principal of the school so that everyone can relax for the weekend without visions of viral contamination.

Yup. I was that father.


Heart Transplant

Having a child has tweaked my perspective on myself. I can hardly remember what it was like NOT having a daughter. Who was I? I feel like those days were childhood, and these days are responsibility. I feel like a took my entire life for granted. All of life, for that matter. I really had no memory or concept of what it means to create life or even be life. Sometimes I look down at Madeleine’s calm little sleeping face and I think I must be an imposter, or dreaming, or perhaps tripped into an alternate universe. It’s so hard to fathom the depths of emotion and the awesome power of creating a REAL LIVE PERSON. In my mind the whole universe has been shifted, affected some way. It’s amazing. It’s like looking into an organic mirror that reflects the future and the past at the same time.


What I was going to say is that it’s so easy to take life for granted. I was out for a few minutes buying D some cucumbers and cheese for sandwiches and I caught a headline that said organ donations were way down this year. It made me feel sad. Obviously I’m on a life is precious kick right now. I’m thinking of my own mortality, and immortality– I may live forever through Madeleine just as my ancestor’s live through me.

One night, many moons ago, D and I were playing Pictionary with some friends (they know who they are). I had to draw a quick picture for heart transplant. D liked the picture so much that she made me scan it. I remembered the picture today, and thought I’d share it.

The Extraordinary & Dramatic Entrance of Madeleine Zoë

Dear friends,

Observe the extraordinary and dramatic entrance of Madeleine Zoë into this side of reality.
Born April 15th, 2002 at 3:33am, at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Blonde hair, blue eyes, big feet. 8lbs 2oz, 20.5 inches long.
Beautiful and fearless.

Madeleine has shifted all the family titles, creating:
7 Great-Grandparents (Jakob, Anna, Frank, Anne, Fran, Rod, Agnes)
1 Step-Great-Grandfather (Harold)
4 Grandparents (Ken, Val, Ted, Carol)
2 Uncles (Michael, Scott)
2 Aunts-in-waiting (Katherine, Justyna)
2 Siblings (Griffin the dog, Sabine the cat)
1 Dad (me)
1 Mom (Dayna)

“Madeleine Zoë”

Thank-you to midwives Patrice, Cat, Mel, doula Lisa, 2 superhero paramedics, and the staff of St. Mike’s.
We started it, but we couldn’t have done this without you.

Love Dayna & Jason and Madeleine.

For more pictures, click on Madeleine, left.

Wunderkind Scores 100% on First Test— before Birth!

(Toronto) On April 10th, 2002, in a stunning display of pure genius, fetal Baby McIsaac scored 8 out of a possible eight points in his/her first ultrasound exam. The Biophysical Profile, as it’s called, awards 2 full points in 4 different categories: AFV (amniotic fluid volume), Fetal movements (gross movements), Respiratory Movements (breathing), and Fetal Tone.

“Baby Passes First Test with 100%”
As demonstrated on the diagram (left) fetal Baby McIsaac scored perfect points in all areas. Also of note are the unmistakably life-like pencil illustrations of the placental and fetal positions, the age of the baby (40 weeks, 6 days), and it’s phenominal weight of 4549g (which equals 10.03lbs).