Archive for July, 2013

July 30, 2013

POET Technologies says it has the world’s next great microchip

poet-technologies[As part of the Globe & Mail Report on Business articles I’ve recently written is one on an intriguing Canadian-owned company that says it has a microchip that can replace silicon and be 10 times more powerful. If the claims are true, POET Technologies has a very bright future. Its chief scientist, a Canadian, has spent close to 30 years devoted to this project, making this a potentially terrific human interest story as well. The excerpt of the article here is about POET’s attempt to sell itself to companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. The article was published on July 10, 2013. FULL DISCLOSURE: Since reporting on this company, I’ve taken a long position in its stock — listed as PTK on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s notorious Venture Index, not the place most people would opt to put their money :)]

Geoff Taylor has spent three decades building what he believes is a better microchip. Although silicon has powered an explosion in digital technology, Dr. Taylor is among the scientists who believe the chemical element is near the end of its shelf life. A native of Mississauga, Dr. Taylor has created a microchip at his laboratory at the University of Connecticut that is made of gallium arsenide (GaAs), a widely available chemical compound that the professor of electrical engineering and photonics says has shown a “10-to-1 advantage” in performance over silicon.

With his invention nearly complete, his hope now is to draw attention and dollars from companies whose wealth has derived from the production of silicon chips.

Dr. Taylor’s invention is owned by POET Technologies Inc., which changed its name from Opel Technologies Inc. in June. Based in Toronto and publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Venture Composite Index, POET was a multimillion-dollar solar company until last year, when it sold off its solar assets to focus on developing and selling Dr. Taylor’s chips. It has 15 employees, most of them at the Connecticut lab, and a market capitalization of $61-million.

Led by its co-founder, Dr. Taylor, POET is preparing to approach industry-leading chip manufacturers in Silicon Valley this summer, and its pitch will be centred on the demise of silicon.

“The only thing that would give them pause is the challenge of how do you mastermind it, and get your arms around it. It’s a challenge to have it move into place,” Dr. Taylor says of the technology, whose acronym stands for planar opto electronic technology, and which he sees as a successor to silicon microchips.

POET, the company, possesses more than 35 patents related to the technology, which makes it difficult for silicon behemoths Intel or IBM to duplicate. An aim for POET in the coming months is to find partners interested in purchasing or licensing Dr. Taylor’s semiconductor chips. However, persuading large businesses – let alone entire industries – to alter course is a gargantuan undertaking.

July 22, 2013

Justin Hines shows his cool and class


[This article and video were first published on Vacay.ca as part of its Rock n’ Roll Road Trips video series, where musicians discuss their travels. This interview was particularly delightful because Justin Hines is such a genuine person and an amazing talent.]

Justin Hines is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Not because he’s managed to achieve so much musically while tackling Larsen syndrome and life in a wheelchair. And not because he is an inspirational person for showing the world that humans are limited only by what we convince ourselves is impossible. Hines is a cool cat for the same reason you might think highly of anyone else. He’s got style, he’s got class, he’s confident, and dignified.

I spoke with Hines in May as he was about to embark on his Vehicle of Change tour, an uplifting jaunt around North America that is raising money to assist people with disabilities. He is articulate, humble, and clearly devoted to maximizing his musical talent. Hines has used his celebrity to make societies look anew at the power and positivity of the disabled, but his advocacy isn’t a political or an overwhelming part of his message. Instead, he’s considerate about how the world operates and is aware that accessibility isn’t always at the top of mind.

“It’s not that people don’t want to make things accessible, it’s just that they’ve never really been exposed to it, so they don’t have a lot of experience,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve developed an empathy for that, and an understanding that it is what it is.”

Like most musicians, Hines is focused on his career more than anything else. His latest album, “How We Fly,” was released this spring and showcases that extraordinary voice of his, a deeply human and expressive vocal gift that catches your ear before you notice the body from which it comes. There’s no denying that Hines’ disability makes people curious about him, but it’s also clear he’s long over being recognized for the challenge he’s overcome and we should move forward too, focusing on his talent and how that’s evolved. The latest single, “Lay My Burdens Down,” is a bluesy treat that breaks away from some of Hines’ more mellifluous songs, like “Please Stay” and “Say What You Will.” It displays maturation in his style and also some angst that makes the song dramatic. When Hines lets his voice loose it is riveting and songs like “Lay My Burdens Down” allow him to show off his chops.

July 13, 2013

James Hinchcliffe revs up for Honda Indy in Toronto

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James Hinchcliffe is ready to floor it on Lake Shore Boulevard during Honda Indy weekend. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on July 12, 2013.]

James Hinchcliffe grew up blocks away from Lake Shore Boulevard, the thoroughfare that runs for more than 100 kilometres in the Greater Toronto Area. Raised in Oakville, Hinchcliffe, like many civilians, would cruise down the road and itch to accelerate past the speed limit, which could be as low as 50 kilometres per hour in some stretches. This weekend, he’ll be paid to floor it on that same road — a turn of events that makes him chuckle.

“It’s funny blasting down Lake Shore Boulevard in an IndyCar at 250 kilometres an hour, rather than 50. It’s fun to say, ‘Take that, OPP,’” said the race-car driver, raising a fist playfully while thinking of the Ontario Provincial Police radar guns.

Hinchcliffe will be among 24 drivers zipping 1,900-pound race cars through the street course in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday. The Honda Indy is one of three events in 2013 to feature two races in one weekend on the Izod IndyCar Series. The race series has added second races in Detroit, Houston and Toronto to increase ticket sales and take advantage of the festival atmosphere in those cities.

Having dubbed the doubleheader “2 in TO,” race organizers were forced to hold their collective breath this past week as record rainfall flooded parts of the city, including Lake Shore Boulevard. But Honda Indy president Charlie Johnstone said the event was fortunate to see no damage to the venue. “Like everyone else, we were shocked by what happened and how fast it happened, but everything held up the way it was supposed to hold up,” Johnstone said of the course that blocks off one of the city’s most active commuter routes during Indy week each year. He pointed out that the event and the city were lucky that the rain occurred on Monday night, before any of the less-secure vendor and sponsor tents were put into place.

With the two races, he expects the Indy could top the $50 million in economic impact that it provided the city in 2012. There’s also the added benefit of more global media attention, with the races being broadcast in 200 countries. The race on Saturday will be the first time in the history of the racing series that a standing start will commence the chase for the checkered flag. Formula One races feature standing starts, where cars rev up before the green signal is given and then shift into drive. IndyCar races have traditionally begun with cars rolling forward to a start line, maintaining their pre-determined position until the green flag is waved. After changes were made to the manufacturing of cars used in the series last year, standing starts became possible for IndyCar and many race fans will be curious to see how the drivers adjust to the change. Sunday’s race will feature a rolling start.

For casual race fans, the 2 in TO format may seem confusing. If someone only wants to go to one race, which should they attend?

July 9, 2013

Why a Calgary Winter Stampede would be the Coolest Show on Earth

calgary-stampede-rodeo

A Calgary Winter Stampede may not have much of a rodeo presence, but it sure would be The Coolest Show on Earth. (Julia Pelish photo/Vacay.ca)

[This opinion piece was first published on Vacay.ca and then the Huffington Post earlier this week.]

As the Calgary Stampede completes its first weekend after a heroic effort by volunteers, organizers and workers to overcome the devastation of the June flood, there’s a heightened awareness of the importance of tourism to the city.

Had the flooding occurred a week later, the Stampede very likely would have been wiped out, jeopardizing one quarter of the city’s annual tourism income. Disasters reveal vulnerabilities, not just in infrastructure and urban planning, but in economics, as well. The flood in Alberta indicates a need for more significant tourism draws to the city.

The Stampede, now in its 101st year, created $340 million in economic impact last year, when it welcomed a record 1.5 million visitors. Tourism totals $1.4 billion and attracts 5.2 million visitors each year inCalgary. For a city of more than one million people, having one event account for 25% of tourism is far too high of a percentage. In contrast, the Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs comedy festival — which both bring in more than $100 million in spending to Quebec’s largest city — are each responsible for about 5% of the metropolitan area’s $2.4-billion annual tourism industry. Even if either one was as large as the Stampede, it still wouldn’t be responsible for a quarter of the share of tourism spending. Likewise, if either one was cancelled for whatever reason, the loss wouldn’t cut so deep because other international festivals exist in Montreal.

If there’s a lesson for the city and tourism operators in Calgary to take away from the flood it might be that now’s the time to dramatically diversify event offerings to have another giant festival that attracts global attention. In my mind, the surest way to make an immediate and sustained impact is through launching an annual Calgary Winter Stampede.

Such an event accomplishes several objectives for Tourism Calgary and mayor Naheed Nenshi.

  1. It adds another significant event to the annual calendar to entice visitors and generate revenue.
  2. It boosts employment in the tourism sector, which currently employs 10% of Calgarians.
  3. It allows for another way to demonstrate Calgary’s astounding community spirit.

A Calgary Winter Stampede takes advantage of the city’s best-known brand, “the Greatest Show on Earth” itself, and allows the city to capitalize on the winter sports traffic to its airport, where skiers and snowboarders land en route to the Canadian Rockies.

July 1, 2013

Montreal Jazz Fest keeps going strong

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Feist opened the 2013 Montreal Jazz Fest with a free show. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[First published in Vacay.ca on June 30, 2013]

MONTREAL, QUEBEC — In a city that very well may be the festival capital of North America, the annual event that started on Friday night stands above the rest. It’s not that the Montreal Jazz Fest’s lineup features the biggest names in music — the superb Osheaga festival that runs August 2-4 this year has a more star-studded roster — or the most unique venues and program.

The Jazz Fest remains worthy of reverence for the same reason any great event or attraction would. It has built up years, 34 of them, of credibility and notoriety. Its 25th anniversary edition in 2004 drew 250,000 people for its finale, a Cirque du Soleilperformance that celebrated that circus troupe’s 20th year, and earned the event a Guinness Book of World Records‘ mark for largest jazz festival on the planet. Since Ray Charles headlined the first edition in 1980, the Montreal Jazz Fest has grown into a calendar event, an annual occasion that your mind makes note of every June. You know the Montreal Jazz Fest means something, just like you know theToronto International Film Festival or Tour de France or Rio Carnival mean something, even if you’ve never been.

What the Jazz Fest means to Montreal is approximately $125 million in economic impact each year. It employs 2,500 people during its 10-day run and attracts more than 1 million people, roughly a third of them from outside of the metropolitan area. It is also traditionally considered the event that kicks off festival season in Montreal, a city that rolls out good times like no other North American centre other than New Orleans. Following the Jazz Fest is the Just for Laughs comedy festival, the delightful Circus Festival, Osheaga, the underrated Reggae Fest that’s in its 10th year, Pop Montreal, a world film festival, and on and on right into the new year when the 30-year-old Snow Fest and IglooFest, billed as “the world’s coldest rave,” serve as opening acts to the Montreal en Lumière Festival that fills the cold winter nights with dance, song, and plenty of cups of hot chocolate, many of them spiked.

While the likes of Charles and Stevie Wonder have opened the festival, the event for the past two years has featured Canadian talent on the first night. Rufus Wainwright kicked things off in 2012 and this year’s edition starred Feist, who played a free show for more than 100,000 people in Places des Festivals, a square outside of the Contemporary Museum of Art and the concert hall, Place des Arts.