Posted in Sydney sparks

A day at the Fair

On Wednesday, I went to the opening day of the Craft & Quilt Fair here in Sydney. I met up with my sister-in-law and her super-talented friend (who, in between running a family with four kids and baking, quilting, photographing, cooking, sewing also writes a blog: Bea Spoke Quilts). For the record, my sister-in-law is also super-talented, but doesn’t have a blog. In fact, she doesn’t even read this blog on a regular basis, but let’s not get in to that now…


So, back to the Fair. A huge queue to get tickets, where the demographic meant that the ‘Seniors’ special was the best seller by about 50:1, I would estimate. It was very crowded and the Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour was packed with all kinds of crafty and quilty wares. There were the many different versions of the expected stalls: sewing, fabrics, quilting, cards, scrapbooking etc. And then there were the niche stalls: doll making, sock monkeys, teddy bear making and my favourite stall, selling kimono fabrics. Its name? KimoYES. Genius.


I stocked up on some cool card making things and was enjoying a tutorial on glitter butterflies (yes, really) when the stall holders uncovered a crime: the $77 hot glue gun had been stolen. Brazen as you like, some old biddy had walked in to the stall & swiped it – the boss man said he had seen her, but when his wife asked if he could identify her, he just shook his head and looked around helplessly at the scene: hundreds of almost identical white-haired ladies in grey cardis and sensible shoes. It was the perfect crime.

Other than that drama and the shock of incredible quilts made by 11 year olds, it’s well worth a visit if you’re looking for crafty inspiration this weekend. The website is here. Just hold on to your valuables (and your glue guns) – the world of craft & quilts is not for sissies.

Posted in Sydney sparks

Rubber Duck goes to the Festival

Yesterday, my friend B and I went to check out Rubber Duck at Darling Harbour here in Sydney. Rubber Duck is pretty much what you’d imagine him to be – if you have ever imagined a giant yellow duck that is five stories high and five stories wide. He is here for the Sydney Festival and has really brightened up the place. Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, Rubber Duck is part of a collection of larger-than-life urban sculptures, which Hofman hopes will “astonish audiences and give them a new perspective on public spaces”.

Pic taken by my friend Jane as Rubber Duck arrived in style through the open bridge at Darling Harbour on Saturday.
Pic taken by my friend Jane as Rubber Duck arrived in style (with a little help from a tug boat), swimming through the open bridge at Darling Harbour on Saturday.
Good afternoon, Rubber Duck.
Rubber Duck, at home in Sydney.

Mission accomplished with your Rubber Duck, Mr Hofman. You’ve said that his purpose is “to do no more than amaze” and while he amazes, he also puts goofy smiles on visitors’ faces as they enjoy his sunshine-bright yellowness and the memories he stirs – mostly of Ernie from Sesame Street. Rubber Duck has toured the world, but am sure he’s enjoying his current home in the very public bath tub of Darling Harbour.

Brightening up the view for some city office workers.
Brightening up the view for some city office workers.

If you like ducks, sunshine, photo opportunities or smiles, this Festival event is well worth a visit. Rubber Duck is in town until January 23 – you can read more about the Sydney Festival and Rubber Duck here.

The end.
The end.

And if you can’t make it, or even if you can, here’s an old favourite – I’m sure Ernie would be awfully fond of the giant Rubber Duck too…

Posted in Sydney sparks, WWWhat?

Imagine Cup 2012: Pillows and Peanuts

If you read my blog yesterday, you’ll know that I was lucky enough to attend the last day of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012 worldwide finals on Tuesday here in Sydney. And because I’m not ready to forget about it yet – and since everyone I speak to about it seems keen to hear more – I’ve picked two amazing teams to tell you about today. I know I can be a bit superficial, and both of these teams do have very cool names, but I assure you that their appeal is deeper than that – here are two brilliant ideas from Jordan and Korea.

Imagine Cup 2012: Dancing Pillows from Jordan. [EverydaySparks]
When I walked past the Jordanian team’s booth and saw some pillows tossed on to an inflatable matress, I was confused. A dancing pillow? In a software design competition? But the team was made up of three good looking Jordanian chaps (with dimples), so I thought it was only fair to hear them out. Abdallah S pointed out that conventional home alarm systems (those used to detect burglars and fires, or even baby monitors or door bells) aren’t much use to deaf people. So the Dancing Pillowwas developed as an ‘electronic alerting device’ containing three sensors to detect smoke, motion and sound. When a sensor is activated, it sends a signal to the Dancing Pillow app on your Windows Phone and activates your chosen stimulus: flashing lights, the release of a perfume through one of those air freshener type things, or a vibrating device placed in your pillowcase (that’s the ‘dancing pillow’ function). When you’re not on your pillow, you can carry the small device in your pocket with the same functionality, alerting you to any issues in your home. Seems like such a simple idea, but it’s a goodie!

[Now that the competition is over, I think it’s safe to share my proposed add-on to capture an untapped market: I’m thinking of mothers everywhere when I suggest a blast from a fire hose, accompanied by the delicate aroma of frying chips, to rouse teenage boys from their deep slumber…]

Hapeanuts from Korea’s team TokTok. [EverydaySparks]
Team TokTok from Korea won the crowd over with their marketing pitch – within seconds, I had been attacked by a giant peanut (at least, they said he was a peanut – check out the photo and see why I was at first reluctant to pose for a pic), given badges, bags of peanuts and a Korean flag. Following the ol’ principle of brand awareness first, actual product detail later, it wasn’t until I’d stowed away my goodies that I got to learn more about their idea. In a nutshell (sorry), Hapeanut is an app designed to help people grow peanuts – a ‘relief food’ that will help to support people around the world suffering from malnutrition and starvation. Participants in the Hapeanut virtual community are encouraged to keep a ‘peanut diary’ and they’ll receive tips and guidance on peanut cultivation as they progress. The team plans to help users grow peanuts and actually donate them to the people in need, providing ways for users to donate their peanuts to social welfare companies and NGOs.

Ah yes, the Hapeanut mascot. [EverydaySparks]
Now, a confession. I was sucked in by Team TokTok’s clever gimmicks and when I got to the substance of their idea, I thought it was a little bit too wacky to be true. But then I did some research into the humble peanut and found out many amazing things that I never knew: it’s actually A LEGUME, not a nut, for starters. Oh yeah, and peanuts provide over 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients. And they’re a good source of niacin, folate, fibre, magnesium, vitamin E, manganese and phosphorus. Uh huh. Naturally free of trans fats and sodium, they contain about 25% protein. And all that peanut-talk is from Wikipedia, so it must be true. So, Hapeanut is a great combo of making it fun to cultivate a valuable food source – and if they can realise their dream of actually supplying peanuts to the areas in greatest need of assistance, this team will definitely live up to its own hype!

Congratulations to these two teams for their fantastic ideas. I mentioned it yesterday, but I’ll say it again – I have run out of adjectives to describe the awesome-ness of this Imagine Cup competition and its competitors. Geeks are indeed good.

You can check out Hapeanut on Facebook here and the Dancing Pillow team are on Facebook here. You can read more about the incredible Imagine Cup here. And if this post has sparked your interest in peanuts – you’re not alone – all the info you could want is here.

Posted in Sydney sparks, WWWhat?

The Imagine Cup (runneth over with amazing ideas)

Last week, EverydaySparks received an invitation to attend the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012, here in Sydney. I must confess that I’d never heard of the Imagine Cup before this, but the very name appealed to my fondness for both competition and creative geekery. I was hooked. Turns out, the Imagine Cup is A REALLY BIG DEAL. This year saw its 10th anniversary as the world’s premier student technology competition, aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems. Uh huh.

Sydney flies the flag(s) for Imagine Cup 2012. [pic by EverydaySparks]
A truly global competition – since 2003, more than 1.4 million students have participated in the Cup. And it’s HUGE – last year, 358,000 students represented 183 countries in the competition. Just think of all of that brain power focussed on the key theme: Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. And yesterday, as I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the last day of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals as a guest of Microsoft, I got a glimpse of that world. And let me tell you friends, it is freakin’ amazing.

French team ‘Ecosia’ chillaxing with a game of giant chess. [pic by EverydaySparks]
At the Imagine Cup, they’re University students – with a difference. They have all had to compete in intense knockout competitions in their home countries before making it to the worldwide finals. Not for them the student traditions of waking up after midday, trying to scrape together enough coins for the beer & pizza special at the local pub, and frittering away countless hours staring at the cracks on the share-house wall. Or maybe they do get to do all those things, it’s just that with the rest of their time (in addition to studying to pass the killer exams for their demanding technology courses), these kids do other stuff. You know, like DEVELOP A MOBILE APP THAT TURNS YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTOR (way to go, Poland’s team ‘Armed’). Or, a fun game on your phone that teaches you all about RECYCLING AND ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION (nice work, France’s team ‘Ecosia’). Then there’s the Australian team ‘StethoCloud’, with the clear goal of REDUCING CHILD MORTALITY FROM PNEUMONIA.

Were they expecting me? [pic by EverydaySparks]
I mean, seriously. Did you ever know of any students who thought about such things, let alone students who dedicated months and years of their lives to developing technology to address these world problems? I am in awe and left feeling a little guilty about spending my early 20s worried about utter nonsense. Instead of Alzheimers Disease, clean water, blindness and dyslexia, to name just a few of the Imagine Cup projects.

I’m going to save the detail of some of my favourite teams for other posts, but wanted to share the overall experience with you today – I’m still buzzing after an incredible day celebrating some amazing geeks of the world. And, not only are they super bright with brilliant, innovative ideas, but they are all required to present their projects to the tough panel of judges, running live demos and answering serious technical questions. IN ENGLISH. Which for the vast majority of the contestants is their second (or third or fourth) language. Unbelievable.

Matthew Doyle opens the Award Ceremony. [pic by EverydaySparks]
We were invited to the Award Ceremony, where the atmosphere was electric. Better than a concert, there were flags and inflatables and crazy chants as the students enjoyed the last hours of their magical Imagine Cup experience. As the backdrop to the stage changed from the Sydney cityscape to an outback sunset, a lone didgeridoo and the fabulous Bangarra Dance company gave the crowd an unforgettable traditional Australian experience. And then there were inspirational speeches (including Jessica Watson, round-the-world sailor and another amazing young person), awards, tears, hugs and lots of laughs. I tell you – if these kids are responsible for the future of our planet, I’ve never felt safer.

You can read all about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup here. And I’ll be posting more about some of the sparks I saw there in the coming days.