Rita Orji grew up in a remote village without electricity or pipe-borne water in Enugu State in southeastern Nigeria. Her curiosity and technical skills were evident from a young age. She loved to take things like bicycles or radios apart, then put them back together. She excelled at mathematics in grade school, then was admitted to study computer sciences at Nnamdi Azikiwe University without ever having used a computer.
She soared to the top of her class, staying there until graduation, while engaging in student politics and other extra-curricular activities. The upward trajectory continued, as she attained a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan as a Vanier Scholar, followed by post-doc fellowships at McGill, Waterloo (where she was also a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow) and Yale universities.
Dr. Orji is now an associate professor in the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University, Canada Research Chair in Persuasive Technology and a researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction, Visualization and Graphics group and director of the Persuasive Computing Lab.
With equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), she explores how to design persuasive technologies such as personalized mobile apps and games that motivate positive behaviours in users to support health and wellness. We talked to her to find out how working at the intersection of human behaviour and computer science motivates her.
CFI: What motivated you to pursue research into persuasive technology?
Orji: I am naturally passionate about finding solutions to problems in my environment and helping people. My research in persuasive technology provides me the opportunity to do just that — design technologies that empower people and contribute to solving a myriad of problems in society.
CFI: Are you developing apps or games to help people cope with COVID-19?
Orji: With my Dalhousie psychiatric collaborator, Sandra Meier, I’m monitoring the mental health effects of COVID-19 isolation and lockdown using a mobile application we designed.
We are asking questions like: How is the lock down and social isolation affecting people’s mental health? You can’t meet your friends, but are you able to do other things? Through their mobile phone, the app senses what people are doing and how they’re coping, including their physical activity and social interaction with others.
Eventually, this data can be used to predict peoples’ mental states and mental health outcomes. We can then recommend things people can do to compensate.
We also designed games that simulate how COVID-19 spreads and teaches people about precautionary measures for COVID-19, such as hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask, which helps them understand the danger of breaking one of those protocols.
CFI: Having a motivational app that reminds us to breathe or exercise has become familiar to many of us. What is unique about the kinds of persuasive computing you’re working on?
Orji: We employ the human-centred design approach to personalize these technologies. For example, we can program an app to understand what triggers your anxiety. Maybe it’s a call from a particular friend, maybe it’s news from somewhere, maybe it’s social anxiety. The app knows that if the heart rate has increased or blood pressure is high or body temperature has gone up, that something is wrong. Using the power of artificial intelligence, it learns about each individual and creates a profile for each person that includes the possible remedies that work for each individual. For some people, listening to music, exercising, meditating, or dancing may work for them while it may not work for others. There’s no one solution that works for everybody. The app might suggest something as small as getting up for a walk, taking a deep breath or calling a friend. But it’s not random. It’s based on what the app has learned over time about what works for that individual. It also takes into account unique characteristics such as personality type, culture and age.
CFI: Tell us about the persuasive tech you’ve developed to promote sexual health in Africa.
Orji: In Africa, talking about sex in public is still considered a taboo. You don’t learn about it in school, so young people don’t have adequate knowledge on how to be safe or avoid risky sexual behaviour. We designed a free online app for discouraging risky sexual behaviour. Many people in Africa have mobile phones and youth, who we’re targeting, play online games. The game we designed has different levels that teach them about different sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, how it’s contracted, how to avoid it, the symptoms and how to get tested. They’re having fun while learning. It’s also private, which is very important to avoid stigmatization. Subscribe
CFI: In your native country, you created the Education for Women and the Less Privileged to motivate youths to pursue higher education. What led you to undertake this kind of project?
Orji: Education is an equalizer. Being the first woman to earn a PhD from my native town of over 50,000 people, I want to remove barriers against women education and empower them to pursue higher education as opposed to just doing menial jobs, getting married, and that’s the extent of life, using myself as an example. I am the type that wants to get involved in my community to help people and make society better. My story changed the negative narratives against women’s education in my native home. Educated women are now celebrated and everybody uses me as an example to motivate their kids.
CFI: Aside from developing new technologies, what else are you working toward?
Orji: I want to mentor more young people to make an impact in the world. I’m passionate about training diversity in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. I want to see underrepresented women, Indigenous peoples and those of colour get involved in developing our world through computing and other STEM careers. I want to show them that they can climb, grow and contribute meaningfully.
This article was originally published on the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s website.
Local art galleries get creative to emerge from 'hibernation' – OrilliaMatters
This week’s big news, of course, is that we have been sent back to the grey zone … with some modifications. So, small retail businesses are allowed to be open at 25 per cent capacity. This means your local art galleries are open!
Hibernation Arts at 17 Peter St. S. in the Orillia Arts District is one of those local art galleries, and this week I wanted to shed some light on it, and on the owner, Molly Farquharson.
Molly “retired” to Orillia about six years ago, after an eventful working life teaching English all over the United States, Japan, and Turkey. She also operated a café in Turkey! The stories from these times could fill a book, I have no doubt.
Molly had visited her sister in Orillia for years, so picking Orillia as her retirement home base made a lot of sense. She is also a fibre artist, and she knew about Orillia’s vibrant arts scene, and wanted to be part of it. In her art, Molly uses thread, yarn, buttons, and found items for their colours and texture.
Molly showed her work at several galleries in Orillia before opening Hibernation Arts in 2018. Why Hibernation Arts?
“I called the gallery Hibernation Arts because, after being out of Canadian winters for so long, the first couple of winters made me say, ‘Not going out today. Or next week. Or next month.’ Fortunately, I am more used to it now,” she says.
Currently, quite a few artists are showing at Hibernation Arts: Jon Oelrichs, Nicole Rulff, Tammy Henry, Cheryl Sartor, Terry McIntosh, Karen Hollinger, Gayle Schofield, Catherine Cadieux, Barbara Schmidt, and of course Molly herself.
There are also three group shows at the moment: Orillia Fine Arts Association, Zephyr Art Club, and the studio’s own group show in lieu of a guest artist (which will resume next month).
“The support of the artists has been crucial in keeping the gallery going, since the gallery does not qualify for government loans or grants,” says Farquharson. “In the past, Hibernation Arts hosted poetry readings and local music concerts and hopefully those will resume sooner than later. I also hope to host workshops and classes, once it is safe to do so.”
In the meantime, the gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is a cozy spot to enjoy a chat and view (and purchase) some beautiful works of art, locally and hand made, with care.
Molly adds, “The people in the Arts District hope to do the Art Walks again this summer (and hopefully the slogan is Meet Me Downtown to include other businesses). Last summer’s Art Walks were a wonderful opportunity for people to get out safely to enjoy the vibrant art scene.”
Don’t wait until summer, do stop by Hibernation Arts and the other galleries in the Arts District today!
Speaking of galleries, Peter Street Fine Arts Gallery and Studio at 23 Peter St. S., has a guest artist for the month of March, Tammy Robinson. Tammy uses oil paint and sand to infuse her large landscape work with rich colour and textures. Her work is on display for the whole month, so drop by and check it out!
In other arts news, the Orillia Opera House is partnering with The Oakville Centre and Ontario Presents to help keep music alive until everyone can safely gather once again. The trio is presenting five virtual concerts for your enjoyment, starting on Friday, March 5.
Each concert features a wonderful Canadian musician and is presented at a nominal cost. Friday, March 5, The Spoons will put on a great show for anyone who buys a $15 ticket. The concerts following are: Royal Wood on March 12, Men Behind the Music: The Beatles, on March 20, Molly Johnson on April 17, and finally, Whitehorse on May 8. All concerts start at 8 p.m.
Tickets prices range from $10 to $20 per household. Tickets can be scooped up here; the presale code is Orillia. Enjoy these wonderful events from the safety of your living room, and help keep the music alive!
In other fun virtual events, Lakehead University’s Office of Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning (yes that is a mouthful), is partnering with Mariposa Arts Theatre (MAT) and presenting Tea with the Dames!
As part of this hilarious event, you can watch some of the best dames around today, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright, in a wonderful British documentary, Tea with the Dames, before Sunday, March 14 at 4 p.m., when you will be zoomed in to a discussion and cuppa with some of MAT’s own dames and gents, talking about this amusing and quirky film.
You will also help celebrate one of Orillia’s own dames, Sue Mulcahy, on her 100th birthday, in this enjoyable afternoon. For $20 tickets and more information, click here.
Creative Nomad Studios (CNS) is fully embracing the virtual world we are all living in currently, and has several events online each week, while hitting pause on other, in-person events they were hoping to produce in March and April. If you bought a ticket for those events already, don’t worry, tickets will be honoured when it is safe and allowable to have in-person events again.
In the meantime, CNS is presenting Colour Theory for Artists Part 2 on Thurs. March 4 at 2:30 p.m., on YouTube. This is a free workshop, so don’t hesitate to jump in live, or enjoy later at your leisure, through this link.
On March 5 at 7 p.m. CNS presents another virtual paint night with Steph Whalen, Lone Pine. This workshop is only $10 plus materials, and you will have a beautiful and unique work of art at the end of the night! Click here to sign up for this workshop, and if you need supplies, there is a link there to purchase through curbside pick up at CNS.
Lastly, CNS presents Let’s Try Water Soluble Inks, a free workshop live on YouTube March 4 at 1 p.m. Check it out here, live or later. Way to go CNS, for working with what you have and presenting a great variety of fun and interactive workshops!
Finally, another shout out to the Orillia Public Library (OPL). Not only have they been presenting great virtual programming, pivoted quickly to do curbside pick up, supported our seniors, and been a great source of tech support, they are also addressing problems of systemic racism in our culture and in their history.
Check out this statement that OPL put out on Mar. 2:
“The Orillia Public Library recognizes that libraries are rooted in a history of colonialism, anti-Black racism, and white supremacy. While we have always strived to be welcoming and inclusive, we’re now examining our role within a system that creates and perpetuates inequality in our community. OPL will prioritize anti-racism work in our 2021-2024 Strategic Plan by working with Orillia’s BIPOC community to identify gaps and eliminate racial and social equity barriers in library programs, services, policies and practices. We look forward to better serving our entire community and we’re ready to put in the work to do so.”
Kudos to you, OPL!
And kudos, so much, to all of our small businesses, live music, culture, art, and more, who are suffering right now. We support you.
Send your arts news to firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesdays at noon to be included in this column.
Art Exposed begins Friday at the Old Courthouse – Kamloops This Week
Regional art exhibit Art Exposed will begin on Friday, March 5.
The annual event, run by the Kamloops Arts Council, features work from residents of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
Jurors this year include Kamloops-based artists Bill Frymire, Robin Hodgson and photographer Dave Snider.
COVID-19 safety precautions include a four-person limit inside the gallery and mandatory masks. Further details are available on the KAC website.
An opening reception will take place on Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old Courthouse, downtown at Seymour Street and First Avenue.
The art show will run until March 13 and artwork will also be viewable online at kamloopsarts.ca.
Bohemian Like You: Porsche auctions wild Taycan art car for charity – Driving
Porsche is keen to call the Taycan its first “all-electric sports car.” Tesla fans have been known to call it something quite different. Now, another moniker can be placed on the four-door electron-eater: philanthropist.
The company teamed up with American artist Richard Phillips to create an ‘art car’ that will be auctioned off next month in benefit of a non-profit association in Switzerland.
Officially called the Taycan Artcar, its unique livery was created live last December at a pop-up restaurant on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse. The full-size work was printed on vinyl and applied to the car with heat guns.
Speaking in a statement, the CEO of Porsche Schweiz AG, Michael Glinski, said Taycan “represents a new chapter in the company’s history,” referring to the car’s unique powertrain and styling choices.
As for the project, he explained that the company “wanted to capture this achievement by working together with a leading artist. The result is this creation, which reflects the guiding principles of sustainability and electromobility and of course also places a strong focus on nature in Switzerland.”
He went on to say that “by auctioning the work and donating the proceeds we want to help the Swiss cultural landscape, which has been hit especially hard by the pandemic.” Noble reasons, all. With the support of RM Sotheby’s, the single and unique piece will be auctioned globally from April 6 to 13, 2021. The lot includes an exclusive individually tailored tour of Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, the birthplace of Taycan, with Porsche AG’s head of the Taycan model range.
This isn’t the first time Porsche has worked with this particular artist. In 2019, Phillips worked with Porsche factory driver Jörg Bergmeister to design a Porsche art car, which then made history at the twenty-four-hour race in Le Mans.
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