Category Archives: Websites

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)

And It Won’t Even Show Up On Your Credit Card

Over the holiday break, I had some free time in front of the computer. (Who didn’t? This was our opportunity to watch trailers for all the movies we want to see, figure out that song lyric that’s been driving us crazy (we’re still not sure just what Bon Iver is singing in “Holocene,” but we’ve established that it’s NOT “shake and bake and stick with herbs”), and get reacquainted with that video dog who loves the maple-flavoured bacon.

I’m also on a mission to find a reasonably priced dining table for a friend in our national capital region. So there I was, nosing around Craigslist Ottawa, when I came across a special giveaway under the “Free” section titled: “Good Karma.” I clicked on it, and apparently in so doing, affirmed my faith in positive vibes:

GOOD KARMA.. You opened it so you believe in it too.
Something good will happen to you between 12:00pm to 9 am tomorrow. No could happen anywhere , anytime. To spread the positive Karma, repost this in another city in the next 10minutes.
you will get the shock of your life tomorrow. i believe . i hope you do too.
what do you have to lose??? just do it. just believ.

Okay, so it’s riddled with typos and reads like a chain letter. It’s kinda cute nonetheless. Spreading positivity? What could be wrong with that?

Apparently, something is. Because when I checked the listing later, I found a one-line message instead: This posting has been flagged for removal. What that means is that several Ottawa residents decided free karma is a violation of the Craigslist terms of use. I’m not sure which portions of the agreement were specifically breached (was it considered offensive? Threatening? Stolen property? Non-local content? A pyramid scheme?). But, sadly, this positive giveaway has had the kibosh put on it.

No matter. On this blog, you can be as positive as you want and no one will flag you. I promise. Happy, happy, joy, joy. Say it like you mean it!

Even this smiley-faced tree kangaroo is brimming over with good vibes.

Even this smiley-faced tree kangaroo is brimming over with good vibes.

Fun is More Than Just a Theory

Can self-improvement be fun? Sure it can – especially if you take low-carb diets and aerobic exercise out of the equation. The Fun Theory website posits that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.” Through the ideas on this website, people can apparently learn to litter less, recycle more, drive safely, and take more stairs. Especially when a garbage bin gives you awesome sound effects every time you use it, a speed camera enters your name into a lottery whenever you obey traffic laws, and a staircase is transformed into a hugely amusing piano keyboard that plays tunes as you step.

To check out the Fun Theory website (corporately overseen by Volkswagen, whose vehicles may or may not have a connection to fun), visit

Spread Too Thin

I’m not above highlighting a company motto that generates goodwill. I’ve written about Maxwell House’s “optimism breaks” (think kindness with coffee), and about Druxy’s “Be Good Today” messages, stamped on their sandwich wrappers like so many little notes from Mom.

When I opened a jar of peanut butter the other day, I was somewhat tickled to see a cheery message planted especially where the nut-tolerant types would see it. On the foil seal, I was advised to “” Some affectionate X’s and O’s were thrown in for good measure.

Well, I like talking about spreading feelings as much as the next person – maybe just slightly more – so I eagerly logged onto the website, expecting some optimistic messages or good deed ideas or, at the very least, a laughing baby.

Imagine my indignation when instead I was automatically shunted to the main site for Kraft peanut butter – hey, I came for inspiration, not a recipe for peanut-butter cones with jam, gummy bears and mini marshmallows (no, not kidding). Where were the X’s and O’s I was promised?

I’d hate to leave you for the weekend without detailing an actual good deed. For the record, while I was in a coffee shop writing this, the guy at the next table borrowed my spare pen. I didn’t exactly spread the feeling. But at least I didn’t force him to eat a peanut-butter cone.

Photo of the foil seal on a jar of peanut butter

All was not lost – my toast was pretty good.

Shot Through the Heart, And You’re to Blame (Hopefully)

What if someone dropped, right in front of you, of cardiac arrest? Naturally you’d want to save them if you could.

The increased numbers of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places are making that easier. If used quickly, these mini-machines can improve the odds of someone’s surviving cardiac arrest by up to 30%.

But for many of us, the idea of operating a sophisticated, two-thousand-dollar high-tech lifesaving device – without a medical degree – is kind of intimidating. Could you do it? Would you freeze? Me, I’d worry that instead of bringing the person back from the brink of death, I’d end up electrocuting all rubberneckers within a ten-foot radius.

Here’s where a bit of role-playing comes in handy.

Check out the HeartRescue Project. With this interactive website, you become the passerby who calls 911 and applies electrified pads to an unresponsive stranger’s chest. And guess what? Your quick thinking ends up reviving the guy. I tried it, and found it helpful. And a comfort. I could probably do this.

In Canada, it’s recommended that defibrillators be used only by folks who have both the training and the authorization to use the machines. A few individual provinces go so far as to regulate the use of AEDs. So make sure you know what’s allowed in your jurisdiction, before you pick up the paddles. Better yet, take a CPR course, where you’ll be taught how to use an AED in case of emergency.

As they say, have a heart.

I Want to Believe

I’m a sucker for corporate-engineered schmaltz, I guess. After all, I relished the “optimism breaks” broadcast by Maxwell House. Now I find myself drawn in by the Coca-Cola ad that points out all the reasons to believe in a better world. Here are a few: “For every corrupt person, 8,000 people are donating blood.” “For every wall that is put up, 200,000 welcome mats are put down.” “While one scientist is creating a new weapon, 1 million moms are baking chocolate cakes.” (Side note to my kid: Sorry, today I’m not one of them.) And, hoping against hope that porn sites have been excluded, I savoured this fact about online searches: “Love has more results than fear.”

If that isn’t enough to lift your spirits, the whole ad is spun out to a tune about freedom of speech and choice, sung by magical woodland elves – no, actually it’s a cute group of schoolchildren. Also, watch for a quick and senseless cameo by the Dramatic Chipmunk.

Of course there’s product placement – this is a commercial, after all. But we can still like the message, and all these zany statistics. (Want more? Here’s the (rather poorly edited) India version.) For those of you who still weren’t convinced that most people are fundamentally good, let’s hope this has tipped you over the edge.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend… and just remember, we survived February! From here, it’s a cake walk to spring. Namaste.

Hello Kitty

Better than a teddy bear: It’s Stewie the comfort cat, a beautiful black-haired, hazel-eyed feline who apparently doubles as a babysitter for his household’s latest – and tiny – addition.

Ever wonder if animals are capable of performing acts of kindness? Practically any pet owner will tell you there’s no doubt about it. If you need proof, Stewie’s family caught it on video. In this YouTube moment, new baby Connar fusses grumpily in his seat and Stewie reaches out a paw in response – not to scratch his teary infant eyes out, but rather to stroke his cheek and pat the baby’s head. Really. A cat.

It seems to work magic. Connar – who knows? Maybe by now he’s used to kitty care – settles down, closing his eyes and calmly slurping his lower lip in preparation for, well, a catnap.

Keep watching. Stewie leans over to kiss Connar’s bald spot – I kid you not – and even licks his chops afterwards, because we all know babies smell and taste good. Stewie’s proprietary paw stays on Connar’s head until he’s fully asleep, at which point the cat finally looks up at the camera: “Did I do good?” he’s clearly asking in petspeak.

Stewie, you did great. You are obviously a beast of great benevolence, not to mention an expert baby handler. Although one can’t help but wonder if things will go as smoothly through the potty training stage.

Cat patting baby's head

Hush little baby, don’t you cry, Stewie’s gonna purr you a lullaby…