Healthy food that tastes good enough to be bad for you

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A dash of nom courtesty of the Gallagher test kitchen. These recipes are deceptively good for you and will knock back a range of cravings whether  you’re gunning after something sweet, clean or a family meal.

Mango Blueberry Maple Vanilla Overnight Oats

This breakfast is a simple luxury. Satisfying and powers up your morning. We can’t get enough of this flavour combination. No specified quantities in the recipe because this is down to personal preference but if it’s your first time making overnight oats I’d guesstimate: 1 cup of oats, 1/4 cup chia seeds, 3/4 cup of milk, and  between 1/3 – 1/4 cup yoghurt as a base. When I first started making these I’d fuss with a funnel and follow the proportions in recipes online to a T. Now, I just chuck it all in and top up with a bit more milk when I eat it if required. The whole point of this breakfast is to keep it painless to prepare, a joy to eat, and that it packs a nutritional punch. IMG_9327

Ingredients

  • Rolled oats
  • Chia seeds
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Mango, cubed
  • Handful of blueberries
  • a Sprinkle of nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, pine nuts etc.)
  • a Drop or two of pure vanilla essence
  • a Drizzle of good quality maple syrup

Method

Place the dry ingredients in a jar (between 8oz-10oz) topped up with the wet ones. Stir, place the lid back on and shake. Leave it in the fridge overnight. Good for up to three days in the fridge. Out of all the recipes I’ve toyed with this one the most. Whether it was adjusting the consistency or being baffled by the fact that slow-digesting oats had little effect on me and I was still hungry by lunch. Thanks to the brilliant suggestion of adding nuts  by Louise from Loula Natural this recipe is now complete. Check out her website for a treasure trove of clean eating and healthy living recipes and articles.

Protein Party Salad

Filling and scrumptious – perfect for a post workout dinner.

Processed with Moldiv

Ingredients

  • Indian lettuce (crunchier than many other varieties, packed with iron and tastes very pleasant)
  • Spring onion
  • Edamame
  • Avocado
  • Half a soft boiled egg
  • Chunks of roast chicken breast
  • Sunflower seeds

Dressed with Salt, extra virgin olive oil, and a spritz of balsamic vinegar. The edamame and roast chicken were pre-cooked and sitting pretty in the fridge. To make our salads and sandwiches during the week, we typically roast and store some fish or meat, and always have legumes on hand – edamame, black beans, chick peas etc.

Lemon Parsley Yoghurt Chicken with 1/2 and 1/2 cous cous cauliflower rice

This is hearty, satisfying and makes a great family meal in colder weather. It’s low-carb as the cous cous is mixed with grated cauliflower and relatively low-fat depending on how much yoghurt you use. Processed with Moldiv

Ingredients for the Chicken

  • Chicken legs and thigh (6 pieces)
  • 1/2  to  3/4 cup greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus grated rind
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper for seasoning
  • 1 tbs Olive oil, for cooking

for the 1/2 and 1/2 grains

  • 1 head of cauliflower blitzed in the food processor into a fine grain
  • 1/2 a box of cous cous (150g or so)
  • 1 tbs. Coconut oil
  • Shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • Red pepper, diced
  • A sprig of fresh coriander, chopped
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper for seasoning

Method

Combine the chicken, yoghurt, lemon, and tomato paste in a glass bowl. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for half an hour. Heat up the olive oil in a pan, add the chicken with it’s marinade, including the lemon peel for flavour, and cook until the chicken has browned. Remove peel, add the lemon rind and parsley and cover until fully cooked. Whilst the chicken is cooking, prepare the cous cous by following instructions on the box (usually pour boiling water over the grains and leave it to stand for five minutes). Once done, fluff, and set aside. In a skillet  heat the coconut oil, add the shallot and turmeric and cook for 30 seconds. Add the red pepper and cook for a minute before adding the cauliflower cooking until it begins to soften. Add the cous cous and season with salt and pepper. In the final 5-8 minutes of cooking, incorporate the coriander. Serve hot, as is or with a side of steamed veg. I sometimes add almonds to the grain too.

Almond ‘nom’ balls

Inspired by a faux coco-roon recipe from Pinterest. These health(ier) snacks hit the sweet spot and are super quick and easy to make. Processed with Moldiv

When I say easy, I mean throw into a bowl, mix until it sticks and shape into little balls easy. Play with the flavours, using as little or as lot as you like and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • Almond flour
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple syrup ( a dash, let’s not go nuts – these are meant to be a healthier alternative to my usual snacking vices)
  • Cacao nibs
  • Coconut flakes
  • Sea salt

Almond balls Recipe

There you have it. Four recipes that have become  fast favourites in our household. If you make any of them, let me know how you go in the comments below.

Beyond Bill Nye: Science, Media and Pop culture

Professor Brian Cox is a rare egg.  A physicist, educator and presenter who can harness a sense of wide eyed wonder of Attenborough proportions. So when I was sent a link of his appearance on the Joe Rogan experience I was excited to listen to it, despite the worryingly long 3 hour bloc.

This ended up being a sort of gateway episode  to the stream of consciousness set-up that Joe Rogan champions on his show, transforming the listener into a passive conversationalist, making you wonder why internet radio is more of a niche than mass media channel.

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Professor Cox is unsurprisingly an advocate for a government-funded broadcast system such as BBC vs the constant cable TV wars across the pond in America motivated by ratings and the value of eyeballs. Here in Asia, where western media is at the mercy of a different sort of licensing war passes the choice of content to the consumer – but given changing, shorter, more snackable appetites across a range of devices, it is fair to question – for how much longer?

Joe Rogan argues that the cable TV paradigm is at its end, with increasingly vapid, sugar-loaded cereal type shows (Here comes Honey Boo Boo anyone?) he believes that personal interest leads to self-curated content with pockets of its own loyal followers. Rogan has an interesting background, the former host of TV’s Fear Factor and self-proclaimed ‘part of the problem’ he is far removed to where he is today, contributing to a micro-economy of content and choice that play into the dynamics of supply and demand across the web.

Professor Cox takes the opposing view, suggesting that viewing on demand could be cannibalizing the exposure to a wider breadth of content such as the sciences which is important to keep relevant at a cultural level.

The strongest case for the Kardashians yet                                                          

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IMAGE VIA FLICKR, SOOKIE

It’s by no means a new argument, and they both raise interesting perspectives. Professor Cox comes from a BBC background, an arrangement funded by tax payers to siphon interest in a range of topics. Whilst Rogan asks why wait for the BBC to spoon feed you? Rogen does not believe that this is mutually exclusive – raising a valid point, albeit jokingly, that boredom leads to stimulation. An episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians should in theory send us all kicking and screaming to the history channel.

Professor Cox counters that a programming mix, a ying and yang of public intere – the X-factor aired at primetime deliberately followed by a science programme is an easy way to cast your net wider. He talks about education not being the only place for ideas – for it to have resonance to a newer generation it must be filtered into culture.

It’s a noble enough sentiment, but is leaving the programming strategy to the professionals a mono-device perspective? As beloved as the TV is in the modern household and may never be replaced – we’re all still two-timing it.

The internet is not just an incubator but a sort of lattice-work for ideas. My seven year old watches MineCraft tutorial videos on  YouTube with  gusto, and then uses what he learns in the game. These are positive engagements that trump his experience of passive watching. After all, the idea of introducing science into popular culture should lead to inspiration not inundation. Could it be that interaction or the ability to turn content into utility on the internet, and therefore get more out of it, is why our eyeballs are straying? We can’t definitively say, of course – but it is something to consider certainly when looking at the user behaviour of the  next gen.

A free lunch for whom?              

 Full disclosure – I look at paying to access media online as an open gamble, placing my bets by funding the content I like which plays in a system that would theoretically benefit me in the long run.  Isn’t this the same theory Facebook newsfeed applies with sponsored placements for brands to gain visibility or for users to determine preferences? These content algorithms are beasts at this point, and ads can be a way to control them, provided they are not abused. We are already playing by the rules of a new media economy. Also, here I am listening to a podcast on Stitcher – with seven minutes of advertising before the show starts. So what does this mean?  My hunch is a matrix system of both, the behavioural trend that Rogan touches on – ease of access, content creators across the world working alongside the big guns of the entertainment industry, provided they continue to evolve within a platform agnostic mentality. Let them choose not just what, and when they want to watch it, but how. The customer is still always right.

Getting Meta                                                                                                                

The entire first part of this segment was by fluke something I was interested in, and as a testament to what they were both saying – how science must become a part of culture – of our collective consciousness -I was slowly pulled into their conversation, nudging the elastic band around my interests just that bit further.

This podcast also contains one of the most succinct explanation of the Higgs Boson yet ( a new fundamental particle that gives mass to other particles). They talk about infinite possibilities and monkeys on typewriters, life outside of earth, the speed and distances of light, probability,  and how the science of Cosmology is a powerful aid to philosophical thought. That piece particularly struck a chord. We are arguably an indescribably special species, but we’re also kind of doing it all wrong. We manifest this uniqueness in some pretty crappy ways from segregation to destruction.

IMAGE VIA TWITTER, KID PRESIDENT

When we look at what the Higgs Boson has allowed for; from putting a man on the moon, to sliced bread, to Betty White – from electrons to life; a way to ensure survival, propagation and connectivity; it seems like a highly disingenuous way to go about this whole higher intelligent life thing. A thought which I suppose underscores the entire idea behind their talk – we could all benefit from a little bit of perspective. A little more science in our everyday lives.

Santa Tax

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Sounds Draconian, doesn’t it?

Every good lie (for the greater good, reasons of magic, and Christmas morning squeals) needs an element of the truth. We needed a story they could believe. Magic is reserved for Santa, so it begs a lot of questions in our household – how does it all work? Remembering that kids scope for time and distance is somewhat limited, that there’s a fine line between the idea of magic being digestible and impossible, and to them, expectations of human ingenuity are rather high.. I cooked up Santa tax.

We’re fairly straightforward with our kids on the monetary systems that we rely on – and as working parents it’s helped us to provide some concept of the economy and why mummy is always the last person running up the hill after work in heels to the school to more often than not, to be sang at. Literally, sang at, a bit like being shouted at, but in song. (See also: Black Sabbath concert.)

So how to explain Operation: Christmas Eve? By involving a global community of  kind grown-ups, pragmatic about the logistical strains on Santa and mindful of Elfish welfare.  Mind you, magic still plays a very important part in all of this.

Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo: fanpop.cpm
Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo credit: fanpop.cpm

Before I get ahead of myself. Let’s start with the main components of Operation: Christmas Eve.

The Naughty and Nice list

Sorry, Orwell. For the purposes of controlling small children and otherwise encouraging good behaviour only for personal gain  incentivizing good behaviour we’ve decided that big brother watching you is OK. When we’re out in public this is done through CCTV – very omnipresent in Hong Kong. Just to make sure there is no funny business, a panel of adults close to said child –  aunts, uncles, grown-up friends of mummy and daddy’s, teachers, doctors and the shopping mall Santa’s are asked for a review. The Elves ask us to do a survey, like the census people. This is what much of the 11 other months of the year are spent on, with a review close to Christmas time. Diabolical. This is all of course conducted on email (still a novel concept to my two). Email is ‘other’ and boring and probably best left to adults who know how to be boring and ‘other’ .  So now we have the incentive piece locked down – to the reward.

The History of Santa Tax

Before I explain this bit, it helps to imagine every government, toy shop, children’s brand licensee, and toy multinational as this guy. This will probably require a lot of imagination:

Movie:  Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.
Movie: Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.

Where do the toys come from?

You see back in the old days when mummy was young, The Elves made the toys for all the children in the world.

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Movie: Buddy the Elf. Photo credit: Google.

But with billions more people around the world today than 1 BM (Before Mummy), the elves were being overworked and the poor reindeer were under a lot of strain, the sleigh was getting slower and slower and Santa had to start using fuel towards the end of the journey, giving him, for the very first time – a carbon footprint. Enough was enough. This was starting to feel like a job. Santa needed help – big time. He went to the United Nations and all the countries passed a unanimous resolution (see, told you magic played an important role) for all the governments in the world to set up a Toy tax to support him. Now, Elves love to make toys. Next to their excellent organizational skills, this is their most favourite thing to do. Toy tax meant that they could have better working conditions, and now all the toys that the elves make go to charities around the world to children that may have otherwise not gotten anything for Christmas (which Amazon ship free from their North Pole office, of course.)  For all the other children, like you, who are lucky enough to have mummy’s and daddy’s that pay tax, a portion of this goes towards the Santa tax, alongside the other things that we enjoy like utilities, education, health care, and transportation. A little bit of this money goes to all the toy shop’s to help them cover their costs – because they, of course live in our world where they still need to pay rent.

Photo credit: 123rf.com
Photo credit: 123rf.com

So on Christmas eve, what Santa does is, he travels to the pick up point which is usually the biggest toy shop in the country and loads up all the presents and delivers them to all the children in that country. Because this is just one country’s worth, he and the reindeer do this in no time! Much faster than before when he had to lug a sack of the whole world’s toys to each and every country. He then goes to the next country and does the same thing, over and over again until all the countries in the world have houses with presents for the children. He of course, decides on the final naughty or nice list and chooses the present he thinks you should get beforehand. The rest is magic.

So this breaks tradition and it’s by no means a perfect explanation. Some would argue this is far too thought out and would all have been better left to be imagined on it’s own. Perhaps. For us though, it’s been a fun story to spin, and my kids listen to every word. It makes me feel like Danny’s dad in Danny the Champion of the World. And I know we’ll be laughing about it one day – always sooner than I think.

This also helped me answer some of the more obvious plot holes:

Why you see the same present under your tree as at the toy shop?
That’s where they toys are from.

Why do some kids not get presents? Their parent’s probably don’t pay Santa tax for their own reasons. These kids probably get presents at other times of the year. Or you know, coal.

And trickier ones I would have dug deeper with my famous shovel if I hadn’t thought of the response in advance:

Billy Snotface III at school said that Santa isn’t real and that his mummy and daddy buy all his presents. Well, this one is obvious isn’t it? Sharon Boogerbreath and Harvey Toejam probably do buy all of Billy’s presents. Everyone knows that all the people in the house needs to believe in Santa for his magic key to work. If even one person doesn’t believe in him, then it would be wrong for him to enter a house where he wouldn’t be expected or welcome wouldn’t it?

What about all the other Santa’s that we see in shopping malls and parties? They work with Santa on the ground – and they need to answer the survey about you too. Besides, don’t you like dressing up as your favourite super hero?

In our house, Santa only gets one present (we need some credit, right?) He doesn’t always get the kids what they want –  for practical reasons usually – (‘Santa, I want a magnetic telescope.’ You what?). He sometimes goes bigger, sometimes smaller. It usually ends up being just right.

And my final disclaimer, this is all just background, white noise, a story that comes out when a question is asked. Everything my kids still value about Santa are the magic bits. The flying reindeer, the cookies half eaten, the presents( ‘how did he know!), the deep Ho Ho Ho’s,  – in short the magic. Deceptive as it is, giving them some semblance of real world context to Santa folklore I hope helps it stay magic for just that bit longer.

Mothers Day, 2013.

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This photo came to mind tonight as mothers day comes to a close.We were walking around the lake and weren’t the only ones to notice this particular swan and her cygnet. There’s usually a weekend crowd that congregates with bread around the Fairview Park lake which surprisingly, estate management tend to turn a blind eye to. This particular weekend, there was also a huge net that was hoisted in the middle along the width of the lake for maintenance and quite a bit of rubbish was caught in it. The mother swan watched closely as the cygnet interacted with the bits and bobs in the water. Whenever she came across something potentially harmful like a cellophane bread bag or a leaf she would drag it out of the way, but only after the cygnet had a curious peck at it. She batted the more daring Koi out of the way, and snapped at any unsuspecting terrapins that came in for their share of the loot. She, or to be fair, it could have been a he – did this repeatedly as the the cygnet went for the same floating debris; fighting water, other animals and the gaggle of humans that kept attracting its young with more strips of bread. She watched, waited and asserted herself when she needed to and did it all from the backseat (so to speak.) Thanks for the lesson, mama swan.

To you, and to mama’s everywhere.

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Social Media : A Piece of Cake

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Project: Do Stuff is ticking along nicely and I have reveled in the energy that comes from doing things that fall outside of the day-to-day. It’s also been nice to see how these external projects have actually enhanced my day-to day (Google might be onto something with their 20% rule). So how did two of my favourite things – Social Media, and Cake find themselves as bedfellows? Read on..

So there I was, a month to go before  Adara’s 3rd birthday party, furiously researching cakes and decorating tips that would meet her highness’s discerning standards (in other words purple and pretty) when I came across a whole new world of cake-design on social media. Apart from the fantastic YouTube tutorials and a bazillion links on Pinterest, a productive chunk of Zuckerberg’s 1 billion are obsessively passionate about all things pretty and cake. I was struck with how active these cake pages were, daily posts – daily responses, helpful, passionate and fun.

Their efforts are solid – a mixed bag showcasing stunning creations, sharing tips, tricks, tutorials, theming days,  encouraging opinion, dialogue and conversation. Royal Bakery, Planet Cake, Victorious Cupcakes and Peggy Does Cake have become fast favourites. In terms of numbers, they’re  all in the double-digit thousands which I find impressive given these are home-grown pages, and almost certainly an organically-grown audience. From a social media practitioners POV, it was nice to get up close and personal with an interest group –  observe and be a part of a new kind of conversation.

I was at a SM conference a couple of years ago and it was stressed even then, that the best social media case studies don’t always stem from the wizardry of a 4A’s digital agency. Sometimes you only have to look as far as your local corner shop, at the individuals and businesses with a real understanding of their customers and what it takes to foster brand advocacy. One post in particular, from Royal Bakery stood out for me and I wanted to share from it some terrific home truths and (perhaps inadvertently) some tips to engage users on Social Media. I also love that Royal Bakery has a Monday Moan:

1. “Grow pages by giving visitors a reason to be there, a reason to come back and tell their friends”                                                                                                                   Once a user lands on your page, they should be able to understand at first glance – who you are, what you are doing on Facebook and how you engage with your fans.

2. “..By when she found me, I’d already started writing tutorials and making YouTube videos”                                                                             In other words… content, content, content! Always have a content strategy in place. Whether you’re a media giant or a car repair shop – there’s always something to say, or a story to what you do. Sample your content, ideas, and champion your cause! Try a few things out – unless your post is offensive or spam-my your page will hardly suffer any unlikes for it. Would a behind the scenes look  resonate with your audience? Why not? We know that hard-sell doesn’t work on Social Media, and we know the cost of acquisition (getting a user to like a page) is higher than the cost of retention (keeping them there) so you’re already best placed to find out what works and what doesn’t – they’re already THERE.

3.”The way to grow a page, like any business, is by hard work, finding a niche and trying to be original.” This is a great one –  there are absolutely no shortcuts, the quicker you accept that, the quicker you can get going!

4. “Give a little bit extra” If you can, if it doesn’t take a lot of effort, and is related to your product or content, why not?

5.” Lots of likes does not equal lots of customers” And the number of people ‘talking about this’ also isn’t an accurate message of how engaged your users are either.

6. “I have my Free-for-all Friday so everyone can show off their work once a week”    Welcome user generated content, feature it, celebrate it –  this is content for you, and a way to foster loyalty with your audience.  Everyone wins.

7. “If I like a page and want to see its posts on my newsfeed — then I’ll like the page” …and there we have it, a truth that hasn’t changed from day one. We’re at the tail end of 2012, and I’ve seen some conversations floating around on LinkedIn on the value of a ‘like’ in 2012. What’s a like worth? What it’s always been worth. There is a small window from the minute a like button is clicked and the first few of your posts appearing on a user’s newsfeed. Whether you stay visible on that newsfeed relies on you. I’m afraid you can’t really have any ‘off’ days.  Does your brand consistently offer value to your audience and initiate meaningful conversation?

So thank you, Royal Bakery for this delicious post and of course, for the fabulous and inspiring cake updates. Birthday party season (Oct – Dec)  is also my annual excuse to load up on baking love like piping nozzles (‘HONEY, There is ONLY one grass tip. How pedestrian do you want this cake to look?’)  Arcane gel colours I won’t ever use, specialty cake pans and more fiddly bits and pieces.  And if you’re wondering.. here’s the cake I made on Sunday for Adara’s 3rd Birthday Princesses and Knights party. It passed the 3 year old approval process with flying colours (she wanted to dip a finger into it as soon as she saw it) although she was a bit fixated on cutting the doll’s hair off. Last year of toddlerhood..here goes..

 

#TagPotpourri On Beaches, Art, Connectivity and Innovation

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We’re back in the swing of things with back to school, something that my colleagues could have attested to at the beginning of this week to those that watched me scream obscenities – albeit telepathically – at the fax machine.

We ended summer with a final happy day at the beach. The littler of the two wee Gallaghers, on several occasions attempted to walk into the ocean. I tried to get her to help me collect shells but she was more interested in standing at the shoreline and taking it all in. I can’t say I blame her. Her older brother dug a hole, mostly – not wholly unexpected behaviour for your average four year old. As we’re technically in China, I was looking forward to see where the hole would lead to before remembering that we were on a man-made beach and the prospect of more concrete wasn’t very exciting at all – to either of us.

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We’ll definitely be going back soon, for more shells and sand and walks across water and holes to the other side of the world. I did end up with a few choice shells and as I was checking them to make sure there weren’t any sea squishes I was about to accidentally re-home it struck me that mother nature’s been recycling well before we ever identified a need to. Nature innovates. (More on that later)

I was surprised with the below drawings in my inbox from my friend Keon Lee.  I had a vague desire to get the Gallagher family cartoon-i-fied which I casually  mentioned on Facebook only to be surprised with these caricatures of Me, Angus, and the kids. Which do you think captures us best?

The Gallaghers - Simpsons Style
The Gallaghers – Simpsons Style By Keon Lee
The Gallaghers - Muppet Style
The Gallaghers – Muppet Style By Keon Lee

I should start using Facebook like a magic lamp more often.

The only thing better than having awesome friends is having multi-talented awesome friends like the same Mr. Keon Lee who is also in My Big Gay Italian Wedding From 25-29 September @ The Fringe Club. Angus and I will be going – Tickets sold at HK Ticketing.

I’ve decided to give the WordPress iPhone app a go in an attempt to get this post out before the weekend, so thanks to rapidly changing user expectations, I am finishing this post via my commute home. The pollution has thinned thankfully after Tuesday’s midnight thundering (responsible in part for the fun hump-day exhaustion) and it hangs over Tsing Ma bridge  for the first time this week like gauze. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I am no stranger to poor air quality given the pros and cons of living here, this issue is of tater-tot proportions within the small potato category —  (#FirstWorldProblems anyone?) and it’s pretty easy to forget that we all share a part in the bigger, spuddy issues of modern living . Hasn’t pollution always been a negative externality on the road to development?

Tsing Ma Bridge on one of her better days

I was at a fascinating talk a couple of months ago by Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Global correspondent to The Economist and author of Need, Speed and Greed –How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems.

This interview goes into some aspects of his talk: Innovation in the age of Globalization and Googlization.To paraphrase poorly, Vijay defines innovation as an action that addresses a need that goes on to create good, he gave some great examples from the Industrial Revolution to Kiva.  He argues that in the wake of a population crisis, a failing global economy and climate change that the conditions are primed for the next big revolution, or at least to create innovation ‘clusters’ (think Silicon Valley). Of the many interesting points he made during his talk, I liked what he had to say about mobile and how mobile technology enables disruptive innovations from the bottom up. To quote the article; ‘a school child in Africa with a cell phone has more information at her fingertips than an American President did in 1970.’

After the talk and the Q&A I asked him how would he condense his talk (aimed at a room full of entrepreneurs which I was crashing) so my four year old would understand it. This was his advice:

  • Look for information and ask questions
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Sound advice. I’m getting his book.

I’ve always been a big believer that when it comes to connectivity on the web, that the platform doesn’t matter. Platforms are the product of innovation in their own way. Innovation in the digital age has a lot to do with higher levels of connectivity and fresh ground to collaborate on. So platforms that respond to  user behaviour are the ones that tend to make an impact. In my late teens DeviantART answered the need I had to create, consume and share poetry which eventually lead me  to (c0)set up Poetry on Peel Street at Joyce is Not Here Artist Bar and Cafe  And how without Joyce is Not Here I would not have met my husband or know many of the incredible people we do.

Perhaps DeviantART or Joyce is Not Here isn’t everyone’s definition of ‘innovation’ but I think it’s made of the same stock as the big social hubs. They both addressed a need and with time transformed into their versions of an innovation cluster.

Much like the day those caricatures dropped in my inbox,  a few years ago I logged onto DeviantArt and was surprised  by this painting of a 17 year old me with words of a poem I wrote aged 17 by the artist Sam Raffa. This remains one of the best presents I’ve ever received by someone whose path I would have never crossed otherwise. I’ll say it again – it’s not about the platform. Places, real or virtual come and go, but their value lies in the connections they enable. So far, that’s whats changed my world, and forgive the pun – but it’s been a pretty great ride.

Back to School : The Write Stuff

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Summer is winding down, and I’ve been going through the back-to-school motions this weekend. Labels, packed lunch ideas, haircuts and internal monologues on how much finger-wiggle room there should be at the back of school shoes. So, with thanks and goodbye – here’s a pick’n’mix of our summer:

One thing that has stood out for me this summer is how K’s reading has started to gain momentum and it’s been pretty cool watching this transformation. I’ve watched his confidence grow with each word-shape memorized, and how his eyes flick to the picture for context less and less as he becomes more adept.  We were passing through the playground yesterday and he pointed out to me, his tone colouring with authority :

K:‘That girl’s t-shirt says she’s ‘mummy’s happy butterfly.’

Me: ‘Yes, it does, well done!’

K: ‘Well, she’s not.’

Didn’t really occur to me to ask why not.

Angus and I also cracked up after we spotted this note K left for us tonight after we told him off for various misdemeanors. :

‘Bee Nis Two Kian’

This learning to read lark is especially significant for me because reading and writing have always intertwined in my life. I started doing the one as soon as I learned the other. I’m actually working on a series of three poems (triage sounds pretentious – even to me)  on reading, writing and arithmetic which  fits nicely with the back-to-school feel of this post. The poems need some serious refining but admittedly, earlier versions have been read at Joyce’s Peel Street Poetry. (Every Wednesday from 8 onward / 49 Peel Street. COME!)  I find a voice can carry a poem a lot better than words on paper –  and you can generally disguise any flaws with intonation.

The purist in me wants to cry ‘wolf’ at this but half-finished, half-arsed writing is sometimes the compromise I have to make in order to keep the rhythm going. Failure to comply  results in a cyclical tirade of poems about poems, writing, or the lack thereof – and I really don’t want to go there again. The editing stage has now become the meat and potatoes of the writing process which has been good for me. Time constraints demand I have to be really clear about what I want to say in each poem. I can no longer entertain writer’s block. I  keep trying – consistently – a couple of times a week, and the best part is; even if nothing comes out of it I feel like my subconscious gets a little exercise and it never feels like a waste of time.

Back to K and his reading – here’s a part of that poem:

My four year old’s homework comes in dot-dot-dot’s, trace the letter,
Strokes one, two, three – ALWAYS, one, two, three.
Use a ruler to join the sound and the picture.
Colour her dress red. No, not blue – Red!
There are lines that he must stay in, NOT straddle,
His letters must sit,
And if his pencil is not sharp enough we get notes sent home.

See that, I still get notes sent home.

At bedtime he takes the book from me,
And we’re back there again – the  World about to get bigger,
The hover before a first step,

He reads the shape, his lips rhythmic, lashes flick
from print to glossy Oxford Reader pictures for a hint,
He finds cliffhangers in the sound of a suffix,
his voice mounting to hysteria, look at me, mummy!
Our grins playing Marco Polo,

My boy has already found a way outside the lines,
Eyes glistening with first dew of a new outside.

The first paragraph makes a reference to K and our experience of kindergarten homework in Hong Kong. It was also in part inspired by my friend Tanya Hart’s excellent Quintile Class Book Project. I think this series is brilliantly executed, candid, and for anyone from this region: this will strike a chord.