regtiangha’s blog

A Tribute to Lori Stewart, An Awesome Calgarian

Every so often, I’ll spout positive things to anyone who’ll listen such as 80% of life is about just choosing to show up and that “there are many paths up the mountain of success (some faster, some slower), so all that matters is that you keep moving forward and don’t be afraid to switch paths if you’re not happy with the one you’re on,” etc., etc., but the bottom line is that I wouldn’t believe in any of that bullshit myself if not for Lori Stewart.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you a little bit about how she changed my life.

But first, who was Lori Stewart? Her LinkedIn profile or bio written in her own words does it better than I can, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Helped launch eBay Canada and eBay International after founding her own robotic and automation company in the mid-90s .
  • Part of the core strategy team for Naheed Nenshi during the 2010 Calgary mayoral campaign .
  • Consultant and investor in various start-ups in California, Toronto, Israel and Calgary.
  • A patent holder.
  • Just a super-awesome person all around!

How did she come into my life? Honestly, I can’t remember the first time I met her. It might have been somewhere during the 2010 mayoral campaign as I had a lot of friends (and soon-to-become friends!) who worked on the campaigns for the various candidates at that time (especially Naheed’s).

Or, it might have been at a social media meetup or three as those were super popular in the city around that time (because if you go to enough things, eventually you’ll run into the same people and at that point, you have a choice to make: Either become friends or settle for being awkward acquaintances for the rest of your lives.).

But for me, I really got to know her when she invited me over for a coffee at the Good Earth Cafe on 11th Street SW in town and asked me to become a Founding Trustee for Awesome Foundation – Calgary in 2011, which she famously decided to start after hearing about the work and creation of Toronto’s chapter during a radio interview on CBC Radio in her car during the middle of her commute (I say “famously” because the official origin story is that she literally performed an illegal U-turn to go back home so that she could immediately file the paperwork to start a chapter in Calgary as soon as she had finished listening to that interview).

Lori showed me in how she lived and what she had managed to accomplish in her life that it doesn’t matter what kind of adversity comes your way; if it isn’t surmountable, then it’s at least bearable, and as long as you keep moving forward, then that’s all that you really need to do and she did that every day of her life.

Just seeing her keep going after beating cancer once is what really hit it home for me:

If she wasn’t going to let a stupid thing like cancer get in her way of doing good things in this city with her life, then what was my excuse for doing nothing with mine?

Through her and the people she had helped over the years, I was able to meet heroes, both big and small. From the community advocate who’s trying to right an injustice, to the young mom trying to raise awareness of how something simple like clean diapers should be a resource that every mother regardless of background should have a right to have access to, to artists of all ages aspiring to make their mark on the world, to movers and shakers like politicians, celebrities and people with more money than they know what to do with trying to affect positive change in their lives and their communities (many of whom may have come from humble backgrounds themselves such as said community advocate, young mother or artist), I’ve been able to meet with and learn from some of the 10-20% of the people who do 80-90% of the cool shit of note in this city and be inspired to try and do the same for myself and others.

Because of her, I’ve also seen first-hand how small actions can add up to big impact and learned that you don’t need much (or to do much!) to be able to affect the world around you in a positive way. It’s a lesson I’ve always kept in mind in everything I’ve done since.

My first time ever making the front page of the Calgary Herald (and not as a writer for it). And as someone at the time pointed out the morning it came out: Above the fold, too!

Just by being in my life, she inspired me to do more with it and with my time, giving me the encouragement and some of the opportunities I needed to act on whatever it was that I wanted to do. If I’ve managed to find any kind of success in my life up to this point (debatable, lol), a good majority of it I have to attribute to her and her influence on it.

Directly or indirectly, it’s undeniable that she touched the lives of many in this city, and it’s a shame that more people don’t know what kind of an impact she made on Calgary, the city that she adopted as her home. In fact, I’m sure there’s more hidden/anonymous stuff out there that she’s done that I’m not even aware of too.

She was always good with the snappy quotes (that incidentally, always sounded great in a media interview or an investment pitch), but one of my favorites is one of her more understated ones that she would whip out from time to time and it went something like this:

“When you believe in someone, it’s the biggest support you can give them.”

And through things like starting Awesome Calgary or by investing her own money in things like early stage startups to show her support to the people behind them, she practiced what she preached.

Like with many of the people I met back in those days when I used to be more active in the community, I lost contact towards the end, but if I had one more chance to speak with her in person, this is what I would say:

Thanks for believing in me and for giving me a chance to do something meaningful with my life, Lori. You have no idea how much you changed my life for the better and even though it was for far too short a time, I am so, so grateful that you were in it. RIP.

As for me, I’d like to pull up another quote of hers, this time from her Facebook page, which is yet another thing she advocated for in her life, both in her words, but most importantly, with her actions:

“Cherish life and do all you can to help others.”

For however much time I have left in this world myself, I’ll try my best to pay it forward too, Lori. And thanks again for everything you’ve done for me; I really appreciate it.

Lori Stewart (née Bell) of Calgary, Alberta passed away on Friday, August 30, 2019 at the age of 56 years.

Lori is survived by her mother, Marion Bell; her brothers, Rick, Michael (Cara Ong), and Robert (Kelli) Bell; nieces, Emily and Caitlyn Bell; and nephews, Mitchell, Joshua, and Devin Bell.

Lori was predeceased by her father William Bell.

She will be dearly missed by her family and friends.

Lori Stewart, 1963-2019

Experimenting with eBook Creation

If you’re going to go down the self-publishing route, it’s useful to get familiar with the software that’s available.

In preparation of eventually publishing something one day, I’ve been playing around with authoring eBooks (ePub 3.0 format, mainly) through a combination of Scrivener, Calibre and Sigil.

Scrivener, I think, would be great for fiction books or non-fiction with minimal graphics or pictures, mainly because there aren’t many options when it comes to manipulating layout when compiling an ePub; in order to do that, you’d have to drill into the XHTML and CSS and Scrivener doesn’t give you a view into that. It also doesn’t allow you to set any fonts, which sucks if you’re big on typography and have your own ideas on how to make things look.

What does allow you to manipulate the innards of an ePub file (including setting fonts) is Sigil and Calibre. They both have great XHTML editors, although Sigil has a slightly more powerful editor than Calibre. That said, Calibre’s automated features when it comes to format conversions is pretty good; in some cases, its Heuristic Processing functionality does a better job of importing or converting a file that was scanned by OCR than Sigil does through its related plugins.

The way I practiced was by converting some of my old computer programming PDFs into ePub files, as well as converting static HTML files (mostly GNU reference manuals) into ePub files (which are just glorified zipped bundles of HTML files anyway; you can verify this by changing the .epub extension to .zip and unzipping the file).

Manipulating the PDFs were a pain; basically, you export OCR’d text into a Word .docx file (using something like Adobe Acrobat or the Tesseract OCR project), and then import that into either Sigil or Calibre. The Sigil .docx import plugin does its best to try to create as clean an HTML file as it can, but it does so by stripping out a lot of extraneous tags that are MS Word specific, many of them affecting formatting. Calibre does a better job of keeping formatting intact, but the outputted HTML isn’t as clean as it could be (and it still might have artifacts in the formatting regardless).

That said, if there’s fancy text formatting or graphics like tables or figures in that PDF file, Calibre had a better chance of preserving that stuff. With Sigil, a lot of that layout information would be lost when importing the .docx file, and you’d need to use a combination of HTML and CSS to migrate and approximate that information to look like it does in the PDF, which is a very manual process.

Either way though, with OCR’d text from a PDF, the result was substandard as there were extraneous newlines everywhere. While the Sigil .docx import plugin tries to account for weird newlines, Calibre’s Heuristic Processing does a better job of unwrapping lines and stripping those away using the default settings (and you can tweak the settings to make things more accurate too, although it isn’t perfect and will still need some massaging afterwards). There is an MS Word plugin called ePUBTools that can do some OCR post processing in trying to recover that original formatting, but it isn’t as good as Calibre (although it doesn’t hurt running it on the file first before importing it into Calibre as a type of first pass).

However, regardless of what route you go, everything still needs to be eyeballed after conversion to make sure the algorithm wasn’t too aggressive in taking out newlines and that the outputted text looks like the original source material, especially when it comes to the content of paragraphs.

So, at least when it comes to PDFs that are primarily text based, a decent workflow when it comes to converting OCR’d PDFs to epub files is:

PDF -> Adobe Acrobat (save as .docx) -> MS Word (import .docx via ePUBTools’ Post Process OCR functionality) -> Calibre (convert .docx to ePub with Heuristic Processing enabled) -> Sigil (manually edit ePub file to ensure output is sane).

With PDFs that contain a lot of custom graphics or more complicated text layouts, you may have a better time with importing the file straight into Calibre (i.e. without converting it to a .docx file first) and making Calibre convert it to an ePub directly. You might very well end up with an ePub full of images (if that was what the PDF file was made of in the first place), but for a quick-and-dirty result with minimal finessing later, it’ll get the job done.

Converting static HTML files to ePub format was a lot easier, but ensuring that the resulting ePub files passed validation was the most time consuming part. There is a tool called epubcheck, which is the standard program that is used to ensure that ePub files adhere to the various ePub standards. Most online bookstores won’t take an ePub file unless it passes validation first, which is why it’s important to ensure your files make the cut before uploading.

That said, the HTML2Epub Sigil plugin chokes if there are any tables in the HTML file, so if that’s the case (which was the case with the GNU manuals I was playing with), you’re better off importing those to Calibre instead and using that to convert the HTML files into ePubs that you can then use Sigil to put the finishing touches on. Or, I suppose you could just add the HTML file to Sigil directly without running it through a conversion plugin, but that’s something I didn’t try.

In the case of ePub 3.0 (which uses HTML5 and CSS3), replacing deprecated HTML tags with HTML5 compliant ones was what took me the longest, mainly because I’m not a web programmer at all so I had to do a lot of web searching to learn what the new way of doing things with CSS was. The file was still readable by my Kobo if I did nothing, but if I ever wanted to post these on the Kobo or Google Play stores or what not, I’d need to make sure they passed validation first. If I stuck with ePub 2.0, I think I could have gotten away with doing nothing, but this is 2019 and so why publish to a format that’s almost a decade old (other than for compatibility with older eReaders, although to be fair, ePub3s are supposed to be somewhat backwards compatible)?

Anyway, all of the GNU manuals that I experimented with are open source and are allowed to be modified, so I figured I’d post my work in case people wanted ePub copies of these things for offline access later, rather than the PDF copies that the various projects already provide. I even embedded a set of IBM Plex fonts, which really gives them that “these are computer books!” feeling, at least when viewing on an eReader device.

They are:

  • GNU C Library Manual, glibc 2.29 ( epub | mobi )
  • GNU C Reference Manual, v0.2.5 ( epub | mobi )
  • GNU Emacs 26.2 Manual ( epub | mobi )
  • The Org Mode 9.2 Reference Manual ( epub | mobi )

I chose these ones to work with because they were all documents that I had first encountered when I started my Computer Science degree a long time ago, and I had either printed them out via the department’s old school LPR line printers (two pages per sheet, double sided to save on paper) and/or either bought a printed set of (or had wanted to in the past but couldn’t because they had limited print runs and were always out-of-stock), mainly for my own reference. Plus, I figured it’d be nice to have reference copies of programs or languages that I used to be very proficient in back in the day again (not that I ever anticipate coding in C again using EMACS anytime soon; I’m a Vi guy now and I’ve given up on most types of programming these days, lol).

All in all, this was a fun exercise, and if I’m ever bored, I’ll probably attempt to convert more documents to ePubs just so I can have them on my eReader (it really gave me an opportunity to indulge my OCD, which I can really appreciate on days where I’m not feeling productive). However, I don’t think I’ll try and keep pace by creating new versions of the above files whenever upstream updates the documentation; it takes more time than I want to spend to make sure everything looks good (it’s usually a day or two worth of work) and things don’t change much between minor versions anyway.

However, I do feel more confident that when I’m ready to publish whatever it is I end up writing (whether that be fiction or nonfiction; at this stage, it’s 50/50 on which concept I ultimately go with), that I’ll be able to author and typeset various book files on my own, rather than relying on a third-party source or having to pay another person to do it (assuming I improve my (non-existent) skills in HTML and CSS, of course). I think that’ll make going the digital self-publishing route much, much easier for me. Print layout for a traditional paperback is a different story though; my friends that have self-published say that sometimes, the platform or service you publish on will take care of that stuff for you automatically if you want it to, although my preference would be to publish things directly to various services myself in order to maximize my earnings. For everything else in regards to layout in print, I suppose there is Scribus to learn.

As for the Kindle formats (mobi/azw3/KFX), I haven’t forgotten. However, I’ll leave figuring out how to directly author into those file formats for another day (it’s pretty easy using kindlegen from what I’ve read; just need to remember about adding media queries to images first. Or maybe just use Kindle Previewer to convert them? Not sure.). But if you have a Kindle device and wish you could sideload the above reference manuals into it, just use Calibre to convert them to .mobi files first and you should be fine.

Edit:  .mobi versions now available. I just used Kindle Previewer to convert them from the original .epub files, although I have no idea why the file sizes ended up so big compared to the .epub versions. If you have a Kindle device, let me know how they turned out!

(Photo Credit:  mac42 via Flickr/CC)

Adventures in Late Night (Part X of Y)

INT: Late Night Neighbourhood Coffee Shop, 3 a.m.

Rando Guy: "Hey, do you do tech?"

Me: "Uh…" (I'm a bit distracted working on my laptop and was not expecting the question)

Rando Guy: "Sorry; did I ask you that question earlier?" (the guy was blabbering on and on prior and I just nodded politely while sipping my coffee and working on my laptop)

Me: "No, but I guess I suppose it depends on the tech. I do mostly server administration."

Rando Guy: ???

Me: "You know, IT stuff. Make your Internet work?"

Rando Guy: "I mean Speed. Do you do Speed?"

Me: "Err…"

And thus, I learned something new that night.

Photo Credit: “Calgary Downtown at Night Saturated Slide Film” by Calgary Reviews / Flickr Creative Commons / Via Flickr: calgaryreviews

Words of Wisdom

Words are powerful. The right set of words at just the right moment can alter someone’s life tremendously, for good or for ill. At a low moment in our lives, an inspirational passage from someone we respect can give us the strength we need to push on. Conversely, the wrong message at a point where we’re the most vulnerable can be enough to shatter us, twisting us into something we had never intended to become, nor desired to be.

Words matter.

Continue reading “Words of Wisdom”

I survived WordPress 5.0!


“Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem.”

Translation:   “The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety.”

If you haven’t been following the latest WordPress developments lately (and to be honest:  I haven’t), you may not have known that WordPress 5.0 was officially released on Thursday, December 6, 2018.

The big thing about this milestone release:  A new editor named Gutenberg was to be officially debuted, after being in beta testing for many years.

Why the need for a new WordPress editor? In a nutshell, the current editor based on TinyMCE is severely limited when compared to today’s standards. To do anything advanced, you have to code directly in HTML (or PHP or JavaScript or whatever). Contrast this with page builders such as Squarespace and Weebly that allow you to craft a decently looking website quickly through their visual page editor tools, without having to shell out a fortune to hire a dedicated web developer, and you can see why some people who want to set up their first websites may not consider WordPress as their first option given the competition that exists today.

In theory, Gutenberg levels the playing field (or at least, sets the stage for one later on as it matures), allowing WordPress users to better craft blogs and web pages visually through the concept of “blocks” of certain types of content (ex. You write one block of text, post a new block after that’s just a photo, then another block of text followed by a block that’s an embedded Tweet or YouTube video, etc.), without having to delve too deeply into short codes, markup or other kinds of web programming in order to do so. Eventually, you’ll be able to click and drag those blocks all around the Block Editor wherever you like and once you hit Publish, that’s how they’ll appear to your reader.

This new way of composing is a good thing for the platform and the community, as it’ll make things more accessible to those who want to get down to the business of creating great web content without having to enroll in a course to learn basic web development first. That can only help in growth and adoption of the platform in the long run.

Stern finger pointing Granny:  “…BUT!”

In general, major releases with new functionality are a cause for celebration, but not in this case. This release filled many WordPress developers with dread or mixed feelings, even to the point where some people were begging to delay the release.

And understandably so. For example, there are still some major assistive technology issues with Gutenberg in its current state, and developers are recommending that if you need those features, to either wait on upgrading or to preemptively install the Classic Editor plugin to ensure the old interface is used after the upgrade. There are also around 185 bugs still left to be fixed as of this writing, which for some people is simply too many to consider a software product as “stable” or ready for the general public.

As the editor is the core feature that all things such as themes and plugins is built around,  the concern in the community was that things would break all over the place, especially with the sheer number of unmaintained themes and plugins still in use. And considering that WordPress now powers at least 30% of all websites on the planet, some people were concerned about doomsday or apocalyptic scenarios where almost one-third of the Internet would disappear due to botched updates (should have called the new editor Thanos instead, ha!).

All of these concerns and more made people feel that WordPress 5.0 is not ready, or at least, not ready for the general public.

Do what you gotta do, I suppose.

But, WordCamp US 2018 was this weekend, and the more cynical of us out there figured that they’d need something to announce at that thing. Thus, only a few days notice was given before it was released to the masses. And whether or not you agree that the release was rushed for the wrong reasons or question the motivations behind all of this stuff, the bottom line is that WordPress 5.0 and the new Gutenberg editor are now out and we’re all stuck with them.

This is part of the reason why I put tweaking this blog of mine on hold for a bit; I wanted to wait and see what the fallout from the new release might be.

My initial plan was to wait until January or so for a point release or two to come out, fixing some of the major bugs that were missed. In the meantime, I’d clone this site and others onto a local dev VM and play around with the new code.

The problem was, as soon as I enabled the Gutenberg editor on my dev VM, everything broke. While I could still access my dashboard, I couldn’t edit existing posts or create new ones because the editor would throw an error anytime it tried to save.

Suffice to say I was ready to throw in the towel; no need to waste my life trying to figure out where the problem was or who was at fault when there was every likelihood that things might fix themselves if left alone for long enough. Having the Classic Editor enabled worked just fine, so I could just stick with that until this whole thing blew over.

However, I was bored yesterday and on a whim, I decided to update a live WP instance that I had running on a server that I had yet to do anything with (rebuilding that one from scratch would have been quick because there was literally nothing on that site), and lo-and-behold, everything worked fine. Which was strange to me because the exact same set up on my local dev VM did not work properly.

So at this point, I had things working perfectly fine on my production instances, but absolutely horribly on my development instances. Usually, it’s the other way around!

And because I was feeling bored and just a bit adventurous, I shrugged and said to myself “Una Salus Victis” while taking another backup of the live version of this blog before clicking on the “Update” button on the production dashboard.

The inspiration for today’s blog post.

And everything still works just fine! All the old posts still render correctly, and I’m even writing this post using the new Block Editor rather than the old Classic Editor.

Of course, I didn’t do so without preparation. I made sure to switch to a theme that was still maintained and guaranteed tested to be compatible with Gutenberg, purged stale and unmaintained plugins and/or found more current alternatives, etc. So that certainly helped things. And yes, I did make sure to have the Classic Editor plugin installed prior to upgrading, just in case.

My impressions?

I don’t mind it. I can see where they’re going with this, and I can see the potential once they develop and add in more block concepts. I’m a visual person too, and the main reason why I’ve struggled so hard in wrapping my head around web programming is that using markup language to lay things out visually was never intuitive to me (I mean, seriously I’ve had to resort to using tools such as Netscape Composer in order to build websites in the past!). But a Block Editor that lets you click and drag things around until you’re satisfied while still offering you the functionality needed to offer your guests the rich new media experiences that they expect? Sign me up!

A friend of mine who’s a pro with WordPress said that it feels like he has to click five times now to get anything done compared to the old editor, but a) No one’s stopping him from using the Classic Editor or coding directly in HTML, and b) he is probably not the intended audience with this new editor.

Personally, I’m glad that I don’t have to switch to something like Squarespace anymore, just to get a website looking the way I see it in my head without having to spend a ridiculous amount of hours coding and testing and coding again. I actually like WordPress and think the new Gutenberg editor is exactly what the platform needs. The Classic Editor will continue to be maintained until at least 2022, so those who prefer the old way of doing things have nothing to worry about. And the great thing about the Classic Editor plugin is that it allows you to switch between it and the new Block Editor  as many times as you want. That’s what I’m doing at the moment as I start to modernize bits and pieces of this site over the next few days and weeks, but honestly, I’m tempted on making the new Block Editor my default editor (while leaving the Classic Editor plugin still installed and active).

Granted, I’m probably one of the more lucky ones as my WordPress needs are very basic (as in, I only use it for a personal blog). Others who’ve put in a lot more custom development work into their sites (or their clients’ sites) will need to be more cautious.

Time will tell if this was a wise move for WordPress. In the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more, here is a collection of Gutenberg Conversations, Resources, and Videos, and a good discussion on all the various viewpoints that make Gutenberg’s inclusion so divisive among the WordPress developer community.

And if you’re super pissed at how all of this went down to the point that you’re looking to do something about it in protest, check out ClassicPress, which is a fork of WordPress without Gutenberg, aiming to modernize the codebase through community input. In fact, you can switch right from WordPress 4.9.8 directly to ClassicPress almost seamlessly!

Back from the Dead!

Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash

Hello, World! Long time, no see.

You may have noticed that my blog disappeared for a couple of years, to the point where it even got blown off of Google (goodbye hard-earned SEO, lol!). You would have had to hit up the Wayback Machine to read anything I had previously written here. But like any good undead creature, this guy is back, although whether or not resurrecting this thing is a good idea remains to be seen.

When my hosting contract expired back in 2016, I didn’t really have it in me to go out and find a new web host and to migrate the site. I was swamped with a bunch of projects, and was essentially burned out too. I hadn’t blogged personally since 2012, didn’t see myself doing so again any time soon, and I just wanted to take a break from the public spotlight for a while. So I made sure to take a backup of the site, and then as with many of my old houseplants and/or human relationships, let the whole thing die of neglect.

That isn’t to say that I wasn’t busy doing other things. Just Google me and you’ll see that I’ve still been up to various hijinks and shenanigans and have left my mark in various places, both publicly and privately.

But I had a few spare moments these last few days as I wait for various things to settle, so I decided to get off my butt and bring back the old blog. Luckily, my backups were still good! However, I have to be honest:  It’s taken me a while to get back into the WordPress way of doing things. Lots of the plugins I used to use are no longer maintained, so just tracking down replacements took a lot of time. And I’m still not done:  There’s lots of old copy that has yet to be updated, and so many dead links that I need to figure out what to do about.

You’ll also notice some additional content on here that didn’t exist before. Just because I stopped writing for myself personally back in 2012, it didn’t mean I had stopped writing altogether. I still wrote for various organisations that I was helping out with, but unfortunately, some of those websites no longer exist.

Because those were tens of thousands of words that I had written representing thousands of hours of work, I didn’t want those words to die and disappear. Neglect is something that I do to living things, not the things I create!

Thus, I’ve scoured the web and merged in various pieces that I’ve written for other outlets elsewhere into this blog, which kind of messes with the flow over here a bit since those were pieces written for different purposes or audiences in mind, but it’s still my work and no one ever made me sign away my copyright, so I as far as I can tell, I still have rights to publish my works and use them in any way I wish.

So what you’ll be able to find here now in addition to my random musings are:

There are still a few guest posts and other things that I had written for various organisations that I haven’t easily been able to track down yet, but if I do manage to find old copies, I’ll migrate those over here too.

Going forward, I would like to get back into the writing game again, even if it’s for simple things like a personal blog. I won’t make the same mistake in promising any sort of frequency or consistency though. I’m only doing this for fun, and will only do it if I have something fun to say. But I will admit that it’s nice to have my own little spot on the Internet again that I can call my own.

Plus there’s a bunch of maintenance work to do on this end as well; for example, making sure I’m following current best practices when it comes to WordPress security, in addition to finding a new blog theme that’s responsive on mobile devices. That’ll take a while to accomplish, so don’t be surprised if you see this thing change multiple times over the next few weeks. It just means I’m working on stuff!

So to sum up:  Nope, I’m not dead (yet anyway; or at least, as far as I can tell), but I have made a conscious decision to retreat from the public spotlight a little bit, and am enjoying the peace and quiet that comes with not being an influencer or a public figure. Thanks to everyone out there who respects that; sometimes we all need a little break.

2016 Best Food on the Midway winners: your eating guide for Final Sunday

Don’t forget to tag your food adventures with #Stampede2016 and #CSFoodie!

The Best BBQ on the Stampede Midway award went to Boss Hogs BBQ for their BBQ Pork Ribs. Perfect for sharing, they’ve won multiple awards across Canada for their take on this summer classic and now they’ve won in Calgary too. Check them out at the Triple B.

Best alternative eat for 2016: Crazy Cones for their Apple Pie Ice Cream Sandwich  Does vanilla ice cream smothered in apple pie filling and caramel sauce encased in a crispy cinnamon sugar crisp sound intriguing? Then you need to try the Apple Pie Ice Cream Sandwich by Crazy Cones. This cool, refreshing and lactose-free dish won Best Alternative Eat on the Stampede Midway. Find it just outside the Big Four Building.

Best Deep Fried 2016 goes to Canadian Beaver Balls Gourmet Doughnut Holes Stampede is a time to indulge and where the calories don’t count. That’s why you need to check out the Canadian Beaver Balls Gourmet Doughnut Holes booth which won Best Deep Fried on the Stampede Midway this year. Deep fried little dough balls are cooked to golden perfection with a variety of toppings, all for a reasonable price.

Best International Goes to Waffles & Chix for their Signature Dish: The Waffles & Chix! A fusion of Southern US tradition with some Canadian sophistication, Waffles & Chix’s signature dish combines southern fried chicken on a Belgian waffle with white gravy and maple syrup in a partnership that would make fans of the current bromance between the leaders of our two nations jealous (and hungry!). That’s why the “Waffles & Chix” won Best International on the Stampede Midway.

2016 Best food on a stick No Stampede Foodie adventure is complete without having something on a stick. From corn dogs to candy apples, foods on sticks are a Stampede staple. This year, the Frosted Flakes Chicken on a Stick by Chicken Tenders won Best Food on a Stick.

2016 Best sweet treat If you’re looking for something to wash down your Frosted Flakes chicken, try the Pineapple Whip Float from Summerland Soft Serve. This fat-free delight won Best Sweet Treat this year.

2016 Best pizza Ideas are like pizza dough: made to be tossed around. Know what else is a good idea? Hitting one of the Rick’s Pizza booths around Stampede Park and trying one of their slices. Derek Wiggan and Frank Beltre from the Calgary Stampeders helped our Midway food judges choose them as having the Best Pizza on the Stampede Midway.

Best Between Buns 2016 goes to R&R Bratwurst for their Bison Bratwurst R&R Bratwurst is a staple of the Stampede Midway. Located near the BMO Centre, all of their meat products are chemical and preservative free and are naturally smoked. Winner of Best International 2014, our Midway food judges for this year have awarded their Bison Bratwurst as the Best Between Buns 2016. Don’t forget the sauerkraut and onions!

Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse wins Best Fair Fusion Some foods are so far out there that they boggle the mind. Others take established ideas but implement them with a twist. Best Fair Fusion goes to Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse for their Smoked Chicken and Waffles dish, where instead of using the traditional Belgian-style waffle, their chicken is served in a freshly made waffle cone. With three choices of sauces, this is a savoury dish that you won’t want to miss.

Family Squeezed Lemonade is now a two-time Best Beverage winner! Winner of Best Beverage 2014 for their Mint Mojito, Family Squeezed does it again as they were voted as Best Beverage 2016, this time for their Cantaloupe Lemonade. A new food for Stampede 2016, this beverage features freshly pressed cantaloupe and lemons mixed with lemonade and a bit of sugar. It’s the perfect drink, period.

Best Value on the Stampede Midway goes to Wrap Daddy’s Winner of Best New Food in 2014 for their Spicy Thai Chicken Wrap, all of the wraps at Wrap Daddy’s are good value as they sport large portions that are ideal for sharing (or not, if you’re really hungry), and can all be made gluten free for a nominal fee. That’s why Wrap Daddy’s wraps were awarded Best Value on the Stampede Midway. Be sure to try their Vegetarian Wrap, which features a meatless protein that can fool any carnivores out there.

Something Awesome: Happy Mothers and Healthy Babies

What’s Awesome? Happy mothers and healthy babies! What’s not awesome? Parents of all kinds struggling to provide a basic necessity such as clean diapers for their children.

A baby uses on average 60 diapers per week, 240 diapers per month, or 2,800 diapers in their first year alone, costing approximately $850 per year. That’s equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries for a family of four!

The bottom line is that 1 in 5 Canadian families struggle to provide clean diapers for their kids. Some parents in these circumstances try to make ends meet by prolonging the use of both cloth and disposable diapers for as long as possible before changing them, which unfortunately can expose the child to many health-related risks and complications.

That’s why Kristina Prins started the Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive in 2013 as a way to raise awareness about the plight that some families face when it comes to providing something simple as clean diapers for their babies, as well as to inform the public that the Calgary Food Bank collects donations of both new and opened unused diapers for inclusion in their hampers all year long. The Food Bank relies on diaper donations from the public because their mandate dictates that any funds they raise must go towards food purchases.

The inaugural Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive received Awesome Calgary’s $1,000 micro-grant for March 2013, which helped Kristina cover some of the promotional and marketing costs needed to raise awareness of the diaper drive, the first of its kind and scale in the city. In the end, over 62,000 diapers were collected from generous Calgarians and were distributed to families in need, and it inspired four additional community health clinics to start year-round diaper collections to add to the existing three clinics that already collected diapers on behalf of the food bank.

Kristina’s back at it with this year’s edition of the Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive, hoping that Calgarians will step up and help more families in need by beating last year’s total. The flagship diaper drive event will be held again on Mother’s Day Weekend this year in partnership with The Calgary Zoo.


  • What:  Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive 2014
  • Where:  The Calgary Zoo (1300 – Zoo Road NE, near the Penguin Plunge exhibit at the North end of the Zoo)
  • When:  May 10 and 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

New and opened packages of disposable diapers will be accepted, in addition to monetary donations. All sizes of diapers are welcome, with a particular need for sizes 5 and 6. If you drop by the Zoo this weekend with a diaper or dollar donation, you’ll also receive a 2 for 1 admission for a future visit!

If you can’t make it to the Zoo this weekend, diaper donations are being accepted until Sunday at:

Diapers are also accepted year-round at the Calgary Food Bank, various Food Bank donation boxes at grocery stores around town, and at all of the Calgary Community Health Centres, with the exception of the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre downtown.

If you’d like to know more about the Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive or would like to help volunteer, feel free to reach Kristina on Facebook, Twitter or by email.

We hope you can help Kristina out, either with a diaper donation or two this weekend, or by spreading the word about this great endeavour with all of your friends and family. Let’s make sure that as many parents as possible in this city won’t have to go without something simple such as clean diapers for their children!

In the meantime, here are some photos from last year’s flagship Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive event, courtesy of Saudah Chan:

Announcing our 3rd Anniversary Awesome Calgary Finalists!

Valentine’s Day Balloon Give-Aways, Speed Gaming 2.0, ‘Meat-Filled’ Zebra Piñata Parties and Cardboard Fort Days. It’s all been leading up to this: The re-launch of Awesome Calgary and our 3rd Anniversary Pitch ’n Party!

After an extended hiatus, we’re re-launching our Awesome Foundation chapter with a new mandate and vision:

We’ll continue to enable awesome in the community through our micro-granting program and facilitating connections within the community to help applicants execute their Awesome Ideas just as before, but we’re vowing to do more awesome in the community ourselves.

For those that’ve participated in our previous events this year as listed above (all inspired by projects that have received grants from AF chapters in other cities; yep, these are the sorts of things that we can also fund so if you feel that you can do better, submit your idea for consideration!), you will have already gotten a taste of the sort of awesomeness that we want to unleash on the city throughout 2014 and beyond, with the help of some fantastic community partners.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! From Awesome Workshops that’ll teach you how to do Awesome Things, to a Speaker Series that’ll inspire you to do Awesome Acts yourselves, to possibly even an Awesome Concert Series that’ll promote some wicked-cool grassroots talent or talent you may never have heard about, we have a full slate and variety of different events and activities planned and in the works for throughout the year that are designed to help build community, make the city more vibrant and to showcase some awesome things, but most importantly, geared to help YOU do awesome things yourselves.

Many things are brewing in the background right now programming wise, so stay tuned over the coming months (sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a thing!) as we get ready to announce them!

In the meantime, we still have our 3rd Anniversary Thousand Dollar Thursday to get through tonight. In keeping with the theme of ‘3’s’ today, we’ve decided to go with a Top3 instead of a Top4, just for this month to change things up. Will we ever emulate Awesome Edmonton and go with a Top5 one month? Maybe. Stay tuned! Variety is the spice of life, after all.

For now, here are your Top3 Finalists for April 2014:

  1. Rainbow Connection Dome by Stephanie Orr, Janelle Pansky and Lisa Sudeikat:  “Creating a beautiful dome to showcase the Rainbow Connections summer art show.”
  2. Mealshare by Jeremy Bryant:   “Help Mealshare equip our street teams with awesome materials to help spread the word this summer.”
  3. Acts of Fabulousness by Yiorgos Boudouris:  “Chronicle the individual stories of gender and sexual minority youth throughout Calgary.”

We recognize that our event coincides with Day 1 of the Calgary Expo, and as we’re big fans of that event ourselves, we’ll try our best to keep things short and sweet for this one so people can take off and participate in those other festivities. But don’t worry; we have plans to throw a BIG celebration in honour of our Third Anniversary at a future date, along with the help of some fantastic community partners and other like-minded individuals and groups. So stay tuned for that! (Hint: It too may involve a piñata, among some other things)

In the meantime, here’s a bit of a look back at some of the cool things we’ve been able to pull off in the city over the last few years:

This video was created in honour of the first-ever Awesome Day in Canada last year on June 21, where Canadian Awesome Foundation chapters from coast-to-coast (and even a handful of chapters from the US as part of a Worldwide Day of Awesome that Canada had hosted) were invited to participate by doing something public facing in their communities. Coordinated from right here in Calgary, we had various AF chapters awarding grants, holding ‘Unlimited’ Picnics, giving away balloons and throwing frisbees in a park, just to name a few of the things.

We were originally supposed to do a big giveaway throughout the day downtown ending with a Pitch Night in partnership with the Calgary Public Library, but the floods last year threw those plans out the window. Instead, we held a Relaxation Station in support of the community of Mission where we offered amenities such as free cell phone charging, massages and a place to sit in the shade for flood evacuees and volunteers. It was a huge success and the inspiration for our new direction this year.

We hope you can join us tonight for our 3rd Anniversary event in support of three fantastic ideas, and even if you can’t, we definitely hope that you’ll join us at one of the many wacky events we have in store throughout the year. It’ll be…Awesome!

Deconstructing the Construction of a “Meat-Filled” Zebra Piñata – Part 2

Only a few days left until showtime and our Baby Zebra Piñata is virtually completed, save for a few final finishing touches and the stuffing of various meat-treats (generously provided by Big Chief Meat Snacks) and candies (for you non-meat eaters).

(And if you’re wondering why we’re hosting this crazy ‘Meat-Up’ event (get it?), read this.)

When last we left our Zebra Piñata, it was just about to be assembled. Piñata Experts Heather Ilsley and Derek Mah from have been working furiously over the last couple of months to complete it in time for our “Meat-Filled” Zebra Piñata party this Sunday, spending at least 100+ hours on this project. We’re so grateful for the thought, effort and most importantly time they’ve put into this project on our behalf, and we hope you’ll support their efforts by joining us this Sunday!

And now on to the photos.

Here is our fully assembled but yet-to-be-decorated Baby Zebra. The head has already been mounted to the body and the whole thing has had mâché applied as well as a layer of white tissue paper to give it some uniformity. The ears were constructed out of white cardboard and the ‘feet’ are styrofoam balls.

To give you an idea of the scale of this thing, here’s Heather as she presents our piñata to the world. As you can see, it’s half the size of Heather and twice as thick. Or in other words: This thing is HUGE! The black markings on its body are where the stripes will be applied.

Heather as she applies the Zebra striping. The stripes were created by taking black and white paper streamers and folding them in half, then feathering them by making quarter-inch cuts perpendicular to the folds. It results in a great effect as it gives the piñata a bit of texture. Simple to do, but very time consuming to create; converting an entire roll of paper streamer can literally take a few hours. The stripes are then applied to the piñata using white glue.

Derek as he applies the googly eyes to the Baby Zebra. They initially thought to create their own as they were uncertain that they’d be able to find eyes at the correct scale, but in the end, they were able to find something close. To make the eyes look bigger than they actually were, Derek added some black striping around the eye sockets.

The snout and the feet are decorated with black and white hockey tape, to give those parts of the Zebra a different texture and look. Much thought and consideration has been put towards the visuals as the piñata takes more and more damage throughout the night, and a conscious decision was made to use different materials for the feet as Heather and Derek want to see them fly off as it takes more and more damage from the evisceration by our ‘lions’ for the evening.

We wanted to give our Baby Zebra a bit of an attitude, so we decided to go with a multicoloured mane and tail rather than a plain black one. Heather shows off the mane she created by taking multiple pieces of different coloured tissue paper, folding them over and feathering them similar to the way the zebra stripes were feathered using the paper streamers. To hold it all together, she broke out her sewing kit and stitched the tissue paper similar to how a book is bound to its cover.

Heather and Derek apply the mane to the piñata using hot glue. We decided to give our Baby Zebra a bit of a mohawk as well by attaching it closer to the forehead. The tail was created by taking various pieces of tissue paper, twisting them together and splaying the ends. It was attached to the piñata by poking a hole in its backside and securing it with more hot glue.

And there you have it, our (mostly) finished Baby Zebra Piñata! Isn’t it cute? Just needs a few more finishing touches and to be stuffed with candies and jerky-treats and then it’ll be ready for showtime!

If you’re interested, more photos from our Baby Zebra’s construction can be found on our Facebook page.

In order to accommodate the interest that seems to be brewing in the public eye for this project, we’re extending the hours by opening the doors at 6 p.m. rather than 6:30 p.m. That way, if you want to have your picture taken with our piñata before the festivities start, you’ll have some extra time to do so. Make sure to take plenty; once the evisceration starts, there’ll be no going back!

So the final agenda for the evening now looks like this:


  • Doors and “Last Chance” Piñata Photo Ops at 6:00 p.m.
  • Eulogy at 8 p.m.
  • Zebra Evisceration at 8:20 p.m.
  • Lamentations, Reminiscing and After Party at 8:45 p.m.

A BIG THANK YOU to Heather and Derek from for helping us with this project and for generously sponsoring our piñata. They’ve spent over 100 hours of their free time on it, bankrolling everything from the materials to the candy stuffing themselves as an official piñata for their piñata project for this year. It’s a beautiful piece of art (the very nature of this event will highlight its transient nature) and we certainly couldn’t have created such a magnificent beast on our own.

And another shout out to Big Chief Meat Snacks for their generosity in providing the jerky-treats that will be stuffed into our Baby Zebra, as well as for the meat-treat platters that we’ll have on display that people can enjoy before and after the evisceration. Without the support of this local Calgary company, our event would not be “Meat-Filled” at all.

As always, all of our events are free and open to the public. Hope you can join us this Sunday evening at Endeavor Arts and feel free to bring your friends. It’s going to be AWESOME!

Deconstructing the Construction of a “Meat-Filled” Zebra Piñata

The original Meat-Filled Zebra Piñatas project funded by Awesome Foundation – Boston in January 2013 was the talk of the Global AF sphere for a solid three months. It had been a while since a zany project such as that one had been funded by a chapter anywhere in the world, and it was a callback to our roots of funding things that no other traditional granting organization would fund (i.e. Funding Awesome).

So when we here at Awesome Calgary were looking for programming ideas to host during the lead up to our chapter relaunch in April based on ideas of projects that have been funded by The Awesome Foundation elsewhere in the world, something to honour AF-Boston’s original Zebra Piñata project was always in the back of our minds.

When we learned that there was a group of individuals in Calgary (i.e. Heather Ilsley and Derek Mah at or TPP for short) that decided to make a piñata a month for fun (and this despite them never having built a piñata in their lives outside of their childhood), choosing to bankroll the whole thing themselves AND documenting the whole thing from construction to destruction (or deployment to destroyment, as they like to put it), we took it as a sign.

So we reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in working with us in some way this year and if we could commission them to create a zebra piñata for us. We were thrilled that they wanted to work with us on this project, and couldn’t be more grateful that they chose our AF-Calgary Zebra Piñata to become one of their official monthly piñatas for the year as part of their experimental Piñata Project. And that is the story of how our ‘Meat-Filled’ Zebra Piñata Party was born.

What follows are some behind-the-scenes photos from the early phases of the build; in fact, the actual piñata itself is much further along as we speak, and you can tune in to later on to learn more as we get closer to our event on Sunday, March 30.

These are some of the materials that will be used in the construction of the piñata. In addition to the paper mâché, there’s newspaper, white glue, black and white coloured streamers (to give the zebra its striped body), black tissue paper, balloons, some twine to suspend the piñata from the rafters of its final home at Endeavor Arts and a paint brush to apply the paper mâché and glue. All-in-all, it’s basic piñata construction fare. The pink item is a Japanese paper lantern, whose use will be described later on.


These are conceptual sketches of the Zebra Piñata that Heather and Derek envision creating. Most of the Zebra Piñatas used by zoos in real life are created almost to scale in order to increase their authenticity to the lions. Because we’re paying homage to the original project that AF-Boston funded rather than going with a strict reimplementation, they decided to have a little fun with their design, choosing to go with a caricature of a baby zebra with rounded limbs. The tricky bit was figuring out how to create the elongated body; up to this point, TPP’s piñatas have used balloons to create the majority of their structures, which in this case, would not have been able to give them the shape they envisioned the body should have at this scale. According to Derek, the team at this point had already spent 20+ hours on figuring out how not to build the body. The first prototype body was too weak and the second prototype wouldn’t even fit through the door. The piñata body we’re talking about here is their third attempt.

As you can see, they envision building it so it cracks open like an egg when broken, rather than it opening randomly with bits flying everywhere. This implies putting some thought into how the body is constructed and which parts of it are reinforced. Because we’ll be holding our event at an art gallery, they’re also putting in some thought to how the ‘guts’ of the piñata fall out, or in other words, what the visuals of the evisceration looks like. The ideal is that things fall straight down because a) that would look more visually pleasing as the zebra starts slowly leaking its guts all over the place as it accumulates more damage, b) it’ll make clean up easier later on and c) there’s less risk of damage from flying debris to the other art pieces in the gallery. TPP is trying to practice responsible destroyment and we couldn’t agree more.

In order to give our baby zebra an elongated body, the team ultimately decided to go with two Japanese paper lanterns. That way, they could approximate the desired egg-like behaviour as the piñata cracks open down the middle by making each lantern one-half of the body, while still giving them something hollow enough to work with when it came to stuffing it full of treats later on. Of course, with the lantern being made of paper itself, it would disintegrate as soon as the paper mâché was applied. They solved this issue by waterproofing it first by wrapping it in plastic and then applying the paper mâché overtop of it.

Here is what the two halves of the baby zebra body lo
ok like after the paper mâché is applied. There’s at least three layers in this photo, although they may have added more since then to reinforce the structure (we want to make sure as many people in attendance as possible get a whack). Again, you can see how the body will try to emulate the breaking of an egg when everything is fitted together.

This will form the basis of the head of our baby zebra. It was constructed using a traditional balloon, while the snout was shaped and constructed using regular cardboard.

Here’s another headshot, with a bottle of wine and Derek’s finger for scale, along with the initial application of the neck piece which will later be mounted on the body. As you can see, the head alone is larger than a bottle of wine. Ears and other decorations will be added later, and the team hopes to custom-create 3D googly eyes that will react each time the piñata is struck. They believe that they’ll have to build those eyes themselves as they have been unable to find any that have been pre-made to the scale that they need.

And that was a sneak-peek at some of the earlier aspects of our piñata build, courtesy of Heather and Derek. They started building our piñata back in February, and things have progressed greatly since then. Another update detailing more advanced phases of the build will soon be posted over at, so make sure to keep an eye on them over there, or follow them on Twitter at @PinataProject for all the latest details!

In the meantime, here again are the details on our “Meat-Filled” Zebra Piñata Party:


  • Doors and “Last Chance” Piñata Photo Ops at 6:00 p.m.
  • Eulogy at 8 p.m.
  • Zebra Evisceration at 8:20 p.m.
  • Lamentations, Reminiscing and After Party at 8:45 p.m.

Heather and Derek have spent an INSANE amount of hours on this project up to this point (not counting the 20+ hours on the failed prototypes), with many, many more hours to go until completion, so we hope you can make it out to our event on March 30 to show them your support for this massive undertaking!

And a BIG THANK YOU to our friends over at Big Chief Meat Snacks as they’ll be providing some meat-treats for us to make our Zebra Piñata truly “meat-filled” (and if you’re not a meat eater, don’t worry as we’ll also have traditional piñata fare like candies and toys). So make sure to come join us if you can; this event promises to be Awesome!