A sad contrast

The Toronto Fringe Festival is a fun and low-key theatre festival with many shows by indie theatre troops. I’ve been volunteering with the Fringe (on and off) for a number of years and this year I decided to take on a few shifts as well. Because of a very heavy workload last week, I wasn’t able to take on many shifts (one of them got cancelled because the theatre was flooded 😦 ) but I eventually went to see a fun show tonight called “Death married my daughter“. It was a feminist alternative take on Shakespeare and his male personalities (mainly Hamlet and Othello). I can’t say it was a favourite, as it was disconnected and tried to use shock too much, but I had fun and met some volunteer friends afterwards. 

A few days ago, I saw a very raw and emotional film called “Arna’s Children” about a Palenstinian children’s theatre group in the Jenin refugee camp. It is an absolutely heart breaking film as all the children who are actors grow up to die in the conflict and their footage are beautiful and painful to watch. 

I love theatre and hope that someday I can write a play. Perhaps one for the Fringe Festival? I already have a title, “Dali meets Khatchaturian” and a story that’s about 10 mins long. I will work on the rest and maybe, hopefully, something might come out of it!

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Where the wild (electronic) things are!

It was my first time at the Interaction Design and Children (IDC’13) conference and I didn’t know what to expect. But how can you go wrong when some of the presentations look like this:

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Or when this is part of the conference?

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But, seriously, I was absolutely blown away by the raw energy and joy of the first session where three kids from Sierra Leone talked about how they made amazing designs out of found objects. This was followed by a series of amazing talks that showed the efforts that were being made to make programming and digital design accessible to youth and children as young as 5! (Check out Scratch Jr.)

There was a strong contingency from MIT and I got to meet one of the creators of Makey Makey who was happy to hear I had experimented with his invention in Bhutan. Other amazing projects included tangible musical instruments for children with severe disabilities:

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And glasses that superimpose text and images and video for children with hearing impairment (it was my first try of something Google glass like!):

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The talks were so inspiring that I had trouble sleeping when I went to my residence in the evening and kept dreaming of starting an NGP, an NPO, a startup, whatever!!! to work with creative children and youth (especially in developing countries and disenfranchised part of society).

I really like this community as they are passionate about what they do and are believers in the Maker/Hacker movement, something I am very interested in. I met a developer who gave me a copy of his iPad application saying “do something great with it!”

I also became aware of an important figure in this area: Seymour Papert was an MIT researcher who linked the work of Jean Piaget to computational and programmable material. Thus, bridging the world of child psychology with the maker/tinker world.

We finished the conference in style by dancing till the morning at the Bulgarian Bar in the Lower East Side 🙂

City Resilient

PopTech is an amazing series of conferences held in Camden, Maine, that I had a chance to volunteer at a few years ago. When I received an email about a short conference that they will hold in Brooklyn and that it coincides unobtrusively with another conference I was planning to attend, I was very happy! BAM or the Brooklyn Academy of Music is a large institution with several buildings but the conference was held in an amazing “restored” run down theatre. The style of restoration is very interesting: wires and parts of the structure are exposed and it looks like the building is crumbling, this gives the building a historical sense and it’s as if you are seeing a performance in an American version of a Roman theatre!

New York’s metro system is confusing to say the list. Some lines are express and don’t stop at some stops and some are local taking much longer to go from point A to point B. As I was trying to figure out what was what, my guidebook told me that, by the way, all bets are off during weekends and holidays and some local trains become express and there are unexpected route changes. I left my residence early and by chance got on an express train that brought me to the venue an hour early! So I walked around and had a breakfast at a nice diner with the best server who was an old black gentleman who looked like he had served many a local New Yorkean with perfect timing.

At the conference, I saw some friends from the previous event and also met a very interesting guy who had the most amazing hitch hiking stories that he shared with me from the time he was going around the country in the 80s. During our breaks, we also discussed many other topics such as JS Mill’s critique of Utilitarianism, Hungarian gypsy music, the perils and potentials of 3D printing and the joy of working on organic farms in Turkey!

The conference was very good as always with a nice range of presentations and a focus on resilience and how to handle crisis. My two favourite talks were a talk given by …. on how to foster caring and empathy through technology. He had an interesting experiment that showed when people are in synch with each other and have the same rhythm, they are more likely to help each other. Another favourite talk was by a group of young Yoga and meditation instructors who brought these techniques to the troubled streets of Maryland. The talk was given by a tough looking large black man who was saying that the hardest and best part of the job was creating genuine relationships with the kids. He mentioned the kids had to trust him and initially they were irritated by how he was always happy and asked him “What’s your problem, why are you happy all the time?” to which he always responded “what’s your problem, why are you unhappy all the time?” This theme of young men and women inspiring children was something that was repeated many time in presentations at IDC too.

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After the conference, I walked more about town. listening to a couple of addictive songs by How to Destroy Angles called “A Drowning” and “Keep it Together“. It was the time of the “super moon” and the moon was larger and brighter than usual. The music and the sight of many people sleeping in cardboard boxes among tall buildings was a beautiful sad combination.