Category Archives: Ideas

Say Hello to Eye Phone

On January 15, a new app called Be My Eyes launched around the world. This is an app whose success depends entirely upon the goodwill of total strangers.

According to Forbes, for an app to do well, it’s got to be a great product. (Well, duh.) You also need a solid marketing plan. It shouldn’t overlook niche markets. And ideally, the app should work best when users rope in their entire social networks (which explains those endless streams of requests I get to play Candy Crush Saga). For the most part, I found this Forbes article illuminating (although ultimately not worth the seeping wound I sustained on my brain after learning there are apps called Zit Picker, Yo Mama and iFart).

The article failed to mention the bit about goodwill and strangers.

Thelle Kristensen, co-founder and CEO of Be My Eyes in Denmark, is not at all worried.

Be My Eyes is an innovative way for sighted people to loan their vision to blind people –anywhere in the world. It works like this: If you happens to be blind and want to know the expiry date on a yogurt container, or the contents of a soup can – small tasks if you can see, impossible tasks if you can’t – you can use the app to signal thousands of sighted volunteers. When someone responds, the two of you are connected by live video. Now all you have to do is show the volunteer what you want to see, and the volunteer answers your questions. Thank you and goodbye. (Both helper and user can rate each other afterwards, for everyone’s protection.)

It’s brilliant. Obviously, a lot of other people agree. Over 7,800 blind users and close to 100,000 sighted helpers have joined the Be My Eyes community, and those numbers are rising steadily. More than 20,000 acts of kindness have been performed in the twelve days since the app launched.

In other words, goodwill not a problem. “When we started Be My Eyes, our immediate response was that people were willing to help,” Thelle told me, “especially when they experienced how easy it was, and how big a difference they could make in a short period of time.” Bingo. I’m a huge fan of lazy good deeds. Making an impact without much effort? It only means you’re more likely to go out and do it, again and again. Thelle is surely onto something.

And it is making an impact. “We knew that the relief of not being a ‘burden’ to a specific person was a great value proposition to the blind users,” Thelle added. In other words, most blind people would really like to not have to knock on their neighbour’s door for the fifth time today just to ask for help. (Hear more about this from inventor and co-founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who himself has a vision disability, at this TED Talk presentation in Copenhagen.)

Thelle noted: “The feedback has been tremendous since the launch, and people are pitching in with ideas and developing further on the app from all around the world.”

So it’s not much of a gamble after all, is it? If you want to be part of this world community, you can download the app here. (If, like me, you’re not part of the iPhone tribe, you can sign up to wait for the Android version, here.)

Now there’s really no excuse for ignoring those calorie counts on the product labels. (Photo courtesy of Be My Eyes)

Now there’s really no excuse for ignoring those calorie counts on the product labels. (Photo courtesy of Be My Eyes)

Many Happy Returns

“I wondered if you could help please?” This is the message that a young English woman posted on 50 Good Deeds last week.

Vikki George recently turned 30 years old. Just two days ago, in fact. But although 30 is a milestone birthday, I’m guessing she’s not all that hung over. Her birthday celebration will have been pretty tame. That’s because instead of chugging beers in a bar somewhere, Vikki was opening greeting cards… in bed.

Vikki has had a severe form of chronic fatigue syndrome for 13 years. Most of the time, she feels unwell and stays in her bedroom. But Vikki, who lives an hour outside of London, is an innovator. This young woman who rarely leaves home has found a unique way to make a difference to others.

In the months leading up to her big birthday, Vikki has been working on a blog called My 30 Wishes. It’s a list of 30 wishes for her 30 years. Most of her so-called “wishes” are actually good deeds, like donating blood, giving away flowers or supporting disadvantaged children. And Vikki figures since she’s too ill to do these herself, perhaps other people will do them – sort of as her stand-ins. Hence the message posted to 50 Good Deeds, asking for help to spread the word.

Vikki’s been a busy birthday gal. She’s even started a charitable service, Post Pals, to collect mail for children with chronic illnesses. (She loved getting mail when she was feeling miserable, and wants to help put smiles on other kids’ faces.)

Happy birthday, Vikki! Thanks for passing on the love. And because we aim to be fair here, we’re giving a shout out to this Deck of Good Deeds Cards initiative, also posted recently on 50 Good Deeds (I’m such a sucker for “please spread the word” entreaties). This set of cards is preprinted with good deed ideas for kids to complete. As the creators declare on their Kickstarter page, “Will this deck solve every problem there is? No, but it’s a damn good start!” Folks, it’s all about keeping it in perspective – yet keeping it positive.

Be merry, be joyful, be with friends and family. It’s what these special times are all about. See you in 2015.

Be merry, be joyful, be with friends and family. It’s what these special times are all about. See you in 2015.

I Thought Every Day was Giving Day

First there was Black Friday. Then came Cyber Monday. If you’re not clean out of cash yet, today is Giving Tuesday.

Never heard of it? This charity-driven concept was only launched two years ago. It seems to be catching on. Ostensibly, it’s a day to kick off the so-called giving season. (And that’s giving as in a goat to a third-world village, not as in cashmere-lined gloves to your fitness instructor.)

Then there’s the kind of giving that’s priceless. I was moved by a recent news item about a heart donation. The family of a 21-year-old American man who had lost his life in a fire decided to give his heart to a sick Vietnam war veteran. (They also donated organs and tissues to 59 other patients. Staggering.)

The war vet in question, who’s no spring chicken, had already been turned down for a transplant by five hospitals. So I don’t imagine there are words for what this gift meant to him.

Who needs words? Eight months after the transplant, the recipient gave an unforgettable gift back to the donor family. He allowed them to listen to their loved one’s heart, fully alive and beating, inside his chest.

Furthermore, the transplant patient and donor family all said yes to the exchange being videotaped and broadcast, just so they could spread awareness about the critical importance of organ donation.

With all that giving, I can only guess how many more lives they have saved.

Grab the tissues and watch the video here.

Nerves of Steel

What’s your biggest, strongest, deep-rooted, visceral fear? What makes you tremble, or scream and run away, trampling any and all seniors and small children in your path? Maybe you’re afraid of hairy spiders, or great heights. Perhaps it’s the idea of singing in front of an audience, or taking a dip in a dark lake. (Please don’t tell me it’s an ice bucket.)

Would you face your fear to raise money for cancer? That’s the basis of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Fearless Challenge campaign. Celebrities and commoners alike are crowdfunding for cancer while promising to take on whatever makes them shake in their boots. Some of them will eat gross stuff. Others vow to make various radical grooming choices such as head-shaving and hair-dyeing. The bravest ones (yep, guess what my fear is) are skydiving, bungee jumping and, gulp, leaning over the edge of the CN Tower, apparently secured by nothing more than a filament that could surely snap in the breeze of a passing pigeon’s wingbeat.

I will pause here while my palpitations return to normal (thanks, vivid imagination). The fascinating thing about the Fearless Challenge campaign is that everyone’s particular constellations of fear are unique. One guy doing the challenge is so shy that, to him, high-fiving a stranger is terrifying. Another man is leery of confrontation. His idea of facing fear is fighting a sumo wrestler. One woman doing the challenge says she’s prepared to accept her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Um. We won’t even. We just won’t.

Whatever your fears are, you’ll probably find something on the campaign website that resonates with you. And maybe inspires you. In fact, perhaps yours will be the next face we see posted on the Fearless Challenge page, promising to play with snakes, or tuck into a fresh piece of uni sushi, or finally tell your boss what you really think of her. Hey, we won’t judge. It’s your journey.

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

Ice Ice Baby

I have just three words for you: ice bucket challenge. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you live either under a rock, or someplace where they don’t make ice. Tahiti, perhaps. So for all those Tahitians out there who are reading this, I’ll sum up. You get nominated by a friend. You take a video of yourself pouring a container of ice-infused water over your head. Almost universally, you react with a shriek, or a shocked gasp at the very least. Then you challenge two or three friends (or frenemies) to do the same.

The main rule of the game is that anyone who doesn’t accept the ice bucket challenge within 24 hours must donate money to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) research instead. Some people choose to do both. Patrick Stewart won my heart all over again by writing a cheque and using his bucket of ice to freshen his scotch.

Is this latest viral phenomenon a good thing? Debatable, say some, who criticize the use of guilt and threats of dire consequences. But then again, you can’t argue with 80 million dollars, which is the amount that’s poured into the ALS Association in the U.S. in the past four weeks and is 30 times what the charity received last year in the same time period. An ALS Canada spokesperson admitted she’s been blown away by the donations the ice bucket challenge has brought in for her organization. “I have never seen such funds and level of awareness coming in such short period of time,” she told a reporter.

Plus it’s endless fun to follow all the videos. I’ve seen the challenge taken on by celebrities. I’ve seen it done by my friends, my friends’ kids, my kid, my kids’ friends. One chum of mine used her bucket of ice to cool down after completing her first-ever marathon. (Kudos, Shawne!) Another took a break from fighting her own cancer to do the challenge (she carefully removed her wig first to keep it dry). A university-pal-cum-church-reverend allowed himself to be fully and icily drenched in front of his congregation, and in full ministerial robes… while memorializing his mother, who died of the disease.

I can’t say I’m completely dry-eyed as I watch these.

But then I bring myself right back up by Googling “ice bucket challenge fails.” How can you not laugh at wardrobe malfunctions, ambushes by rooftop, and oh-so-many slippery grips and top-heavy containers? Then there’s the poor Irish lassie who can’t stand the icy shower and runs away – smack into a hard metal obstacle. She seriously bumps her head and injures her face and this is obviously NOT in the least bit funny… that is, until you hear her mother shout in an Irish lilt: “Quick-quick! The ice!” Now that’s fast thinking, mammy.

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

I’ll Drink to That

Certain organisms only flower in summertime. Like roses, or climbing honeysuckle. And then there’s the lemonade stand – a not-so-rare phenomenon that appears in driveways and on sidewalks during the summer months. This particular entrepreneurial venture is never old. Maybe that’s because of the incredible appeal of the über-cute proprietors – who can say no to a kid?

When you drop a dime (or, more likely these days, a tooney) on a paper cup of that trademark watery, lukewarm, semi-sweet beverage, do you ever wonder where your money goes? I imagine a lot of kids are hoping to splurge on a bike afterwards, or an ice cream cone or two.

But for some children, it’s much bigger. Quinn Callander, a seven-year-old boy in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, used the profits from his lemonade stand in July to raise money for an impressive cause: his friend’s surgery. Quinn’s buddy Brayden has cerebral palsy, and a U.S. operation to help him become more mobile was going to cost his family $20,000. Thanks to Quinn, the price tag is no longer a barrier. By selling lemonade – and crowdfunding online – Quinn pulled in $24,000 for his pal.

In my own neighbourhood, young Julian has organized five lemonade stands over the years (not to mention two hot chocolate stands during less balmy weather), starting from the tender age of five. So far he’s raised $2,419, which he’s donated to charities like Free the Children and the World Wildlife Foundation, as well as towards rebuilding a vandalized playground.

“It’s just a nice thing to do, because it helps other people in the world,” Julian says. “It’s a fabulous feeling knowing you’re helping people.”

And if that isn’t enough of a reason to do it, Julian notes: “Plus the lemonade and Rice Krispie squares taste good.” Nice to know that Julian’s business plan includes regular in-house food inspections. All for a good cause, of course.

Photo courtesy of dusky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of dusky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Colour Me Beautiful

So we’re back from summer vacation. I’m nicely tanned – okay, maybe not tanned exactly, but the tip of my nose certainly shows signs of sunburn. Even while on holidays, we encounter acts of kindness without trying.

One of my family’s shorter trips last week was to the Alton Mill Arts Centre, a breathtaking assembly of galleries and studios and gleaming original floorboards in a restored 1800s mill in Caledon, Ontario.

That’s where we met visual artist Lucille Weber, who takes creativity one step further by selling racks of splattered paint shirts alongside her colourful paintings. She does this to raise funds for dogs in the far north. Buyers of these bespeckled garments are asked to submit a photo of some activity while wearing their new purchase – be it walking, cooking, skydiving or whatever it is one generally does while wearing a painty shirt.

Lucille is donating all proceeds, plus the photos, to the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Northern Dogs Project, a group that provides veterinary care, medicines and foster homes to pooches. Our friend Lucille has collected over $2,000 from her shirts so far, and is still going strong (want to buy one? She’ll ship free of charge!).

Notwithstanding the fact that Lucille’s lovely shirts have the potential to take the fashion world by storm… I think the true beauty lies in this artist’s heart. Don’t you?

It would be like wearing a dropcloth, but with a considerably more flattering fit. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Weber)

It would be like wearing a dropcloth, but with a considerably more flattering fit. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Weber)