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The Informer

Features

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Jesse Brown: Why local tech wizards are taking their big brains and bright ideas elsewhere

When a University of Waterloo grad used crowdfunding to raise $10 million for his smart watch company, the tech industry took notice. Is this the future of venture capitalism?

Jesse Brown: The Smart Money

On the day I speak to Eric Migicovsky, he has been a millionaire for less than two months. The 26-year-old is the inventor of the Pebble, a clever watch that wirelessly syncs with your smart phone, pushing emails and texts to your wrist and controlling things like music so you needn’t pull out your phone while jogging or biking. When he couldn’t interest venture capitalists in Pebble, Migicovsky asked the Internet. He crowdfunded the project on Kickstarter, a site that lets creators gather seed money from the masses. “The night before we launched,” he remembers, “I was thinking how cool it would be to hit our $100,000 mark.” Pebble blew past that target in a few hours. When the campaign ended five weeks later, Migicovsky had made Kickstarter history, raising a record $10,266,845 from
68,929 backers.

His story has already become part of start-up lore. Got a great idea? No need to go hat in hand to banks or venture capitalists. Just do what Migicovsky did and pitch it online. More than any other project, Pebble has introduced the concept of crowd­funding to the public, and nowhere has the news been covered more enthusiastically than in Canada. That’s because Migicovsky is Canadian, raised in Vancouver and educated at the University of Waterloo. But he doesn’t live here anymore. He and his company have moved to Silicon Valley. They had to, or Pebble might never have happened.

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The Dish

Random Stuff

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VIDEO: watch a hot dog fly into space and then land and then get eaten

These are wondrous times to be alive. Behold: the proprietors of San Francisco’s Zog’s Dogs launched a humble hot dog, bun and all, into near orbit recently, and watched as it came crashing down to earth. They then ate it. Wondrous times indeed. [h/t Eater]

The Dish

Drinks

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Spirit of the West: David Lawrason picks nine bottles from California’s booming crop

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Last year, for the first time in history, the United States consumed more wine than any other country (even out-tippling France and Italy), and most of it came from California. Golden State wine is booming beyond U.S. borders, too. Global exports totalled a record-breaking $1.25 billion last year, and in Canada, sales of California wines were up 21 per cent over 2010 as our loonie hit parity with the U.S. dollar. There are some great new Rhône-inspired syrahs and grenaches from the rapidly growing Paso Robles region, but by and large California is sticking to what it does best—chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, zinfandel and pinot noir—but with more refinement. Winemakers are matching grapes to their ideal micro-climates, using sustainable growing practices to ensure healthier soils and correcting the over-oaking and excess alcohol heat that has marred the state’s signature wines. Many of these sophisticated standards are now hitting LCBO shelves. Here, nine of my favourites.

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The Dish

Food Events

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Foodie film alert: Trattoria, a gentle satire of the restaurant biz


Here in Toronto, Chef Grant Soto has been gleefully skewering the pretensions of the restaurant scene for some time now. In San Francisco, it seems they’ve opted for a kinder, gentler mode of satire. Indie flick Trattoria, which screened at the Sonoma International Film Festival, follows the trials of a couple opening a new restaurant, dealing with critics and connecting with their culinary roots (or something). No word yet on a Toronto screening. [Eater]

The Informer

Politics

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Smart phone app hails luxury cars for rich people frustrated by Toronto’s transit options

With Torontonians annoyed by a troubled taxi industry and public transit mayhem, San Francisco start-up Uber Technologies thought it’d profit off the city’s transportation woes. Today marks the Toronto launch of Uber’s app, which can hail a sedan or luxury car, track its location, calculate the fare based on time and distance and bill the user’s credit card. Naturally, it’s pricier than taking the TTC (though it lacks the flashy washrooms) or a regular cab: a quick ride from Yorkville to Union Station would cost about $21, a trip that a taxi can do for under $15. Still, we’ve got to admire Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for wading into Toronto’s transit wars. He told the National Post, “What is there, like two and a half subway lines here? It’s a good time to roll out transportation alternatives in Toronto.” Read the entire story [National Post] »

(Images: Commerce Court, Daniel Sahlberg; town car, Alden Jewell)

The Dish

Food Events

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Year in Review: 2011 was the year street food finally took off in Toronto


After living through decades of delicious but pretty much uniform street meat, followed by a city-backed pilot program that ended up a complete fiasco, Torontonians finally got a glimpse of the street food promised land in 2011, thanks mostly to a clutch of feisty entrepreneurs. A selective and entirely arbitrary roundup of the highs and lows of Toronto ephemeral eating in 2011, after the jump.

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The Informer

Business

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Tech world less than charmed by BlackBerry’s new OS and app tools

Blackberry versus iPhone? No contest (Image: Andy Mihail)

Yesterday’s big BlackBerry announcements failed to shock and delight the world, despite Jim Balsillies grand promises earlier this week. The twin innovations touted at the San Francisco conference were BBX, a new operating system shared by all future BlackBerry devices, and an easy-to-use toolkit for app developers. According to RIM executive Alec Saunders in the Globe and Mail, “applications sell platforms,” and getting creators on board is critical to their success. But most industry sources quoted in the article are, shall we say, unimpressed. Check out some telling reactions from analysts and app makers after the jump.

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The Informer

Business

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RIM to salvage reputation, apparently, by “intercepting” the future

Jim Balsillie has bold words for investors (Image: Nan Palmero)

Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie appears to be brimming with confidence that investors will be blown away by a series of announcements at today’s developer conference in San Francisco. “It is really, really powerful how we’ve intercepted the future,” he informed the Globe and Mail (he then plans to run the future back for a touchdown). Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis takes the stage at 11:30 a.m. and is expected to announce next year’s line of BlackBerrys, which run on a new operating system called QNX. Cautious investors will remember last year’s conference where RIM launched the Blackberry Playbook, which is still missing many simple features like native email and is languishing on store shelves. So unless the CEO literally entered a time portal, returned with the iPhone 7 and backwards engineered it, we remain somewhat skeptical that today’s announcement will fix the company’s woes. Read the entire story [Globe and Mail] »

The Dish

Food Events

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Following in the footsteps of Ottawa and Saratoga, Toronto gets its first Dishcrawl

Dishcrawlers in San Mateo ended their meal with an haute pop (Image: sjsharktank)

Now that the inaugural run of the Toronto Underground Market is behind us, it’s time for Toronto to hop onto the next hot foodie trend out of San Francisco. That’s right: Dishcrawl—think a pub crawl for food—will make its first excursion in Queen West on October 5. And just like TUM, Dishcrawl Toronto sold out well in advance.

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The Dish

Food Events

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At last weekend’s Toronto Underground Market, 25 food vendors got creative with the rules

Toronto Underground Market’s big debut (Image: Caroline Aksich)

After much anticipation, 1,500 of Toronto’s keenest foodies filled the Evergreen Brick Works this Saturday for the inaugural edition of the Toronto Underground Market. As the sun set, they snacked on crisps and dumplings, sipped local wines, gorged on beef and pork sliders and downed wholesome Ontario microbrews and locally roasted coffee. Some TUMers even shimmied to the music, all while 25 vendors cooked their faces off trying to keep up with the demand (it was an honourable defeat). The vibe was decidedly amusement park, with smiles all around and lineups snaking around corners.

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The Informer

Real Estate

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House of the Week: $1 million for a home in The Beach with a San Francisco-esque façade

ADDRESS: 1832 Lake Shore Boulevard East

NEIGHBOURHOOD: The Beach

AGENT: Jeffrey Lyons, Sage Real Estate Limited, Brokerage.

PRICE: $999,000

THE PLACE: Situated on a unique stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard East, near Woodbine, and looking out onto Ashbridges Bay Park, this home is the ideal setting for a young family.

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The Dish

Food Events

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Toronto Underground Market a smash hit before it even starts: all 1,200 tickets already sold out

(Image: Jeremy Burgin)

Earlier this spring we despaired that Toronto might be too straitlaced to join the underground market fad (all-night foodie raves that have been gaining popularity in the U.S. and in Europe). Our lack of faith in Toronto’s street food culture spurred Hassel Aviles into action. Following our post, Aviles founded the Toronto Underground Market to try to allow home cooks to sell their food without having to rent a commercial kitchen. The good news: the first ever TUM will take place on September 24 at the Evergreen Brick Works. The bad? If you haven’t already bought your ticket, you’ll have to wait until October for the next go-round, as rabid street food–loving Torontonians snatched up all 1,200 $5 tickets within a week.

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The Informer

Features

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In the ’60s, Marshall McLuhan was Toronto’s most famous intellectual; now, the world has finally caught up with him

In the ’60s,  McLuhan was hobnobbing with celebrities, advising politicians and forever changing how we think about mass media. A hundred years after his birth, the world has finally caught up with his theories

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan. (Image: Robert Lansdale Photography/University of Toronto Archives)

Nineteen sixty-five was the turning point of Marshall McLuhan’s career—the Annus McLuhanis, the Year of Marshall Law, the heady, vertiginous breakout of McLuhan-mania. It was the year the irreverent journalist Tom Wolfe published a star-making profile of the Canadian media guru in the New York Herald Tribune that repeatedly asked, in Wolfe’s typically antic, hyperbolic way: what if he is right? “Suppose he is what he sounds like,” Wolfe wrote, “the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Pavlov, studs of the intelligentsia game—suppose he is the oracle of the modern times?”

In the 40-odd years since Wolfe first posed this question, many others have asked it again and again. McLuhan was right about so many things. Browse his books, dip into any of the interviews he gave, and almost every probing, aphoristic utterance feels preternaturally prescient. Decades before doomsayers decried the Internet’s negative rewiring of the brain, he dramatically outlined the psychic, physical and social consequences: “One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.” He predicted the slow death of magazines and newspapers: “The monarchy of print has ended and an oligarchy of new media has usurped most of the power of that 500-year-old monarchy.” And he foresaw the rise of crowd-sourced news: “If we pay careful attention to the fact that the press is a mosaic, participant kind of organization and a do-it-yourself kind of world, we can see why it is so necessary to democratic government.” McLuhan anticipated reality TV long before it was a glimmer in the Survivor producer Mark Burnett’s eye: “I used to talk about the global village; I now speak of it more properly as the global theatre. Every kid is now concerned with acting. Doing his thing outside and raising a ruckus in a quest for identity.” When, in his bestselling book The Medium is the Massage, he wrote, “Wars, revolutions, civil uprisings are interfaces within the new environments created by electric informational media,” he could have been writing about how Twitter and Facebook shaped the Arab Spring. The world that McLuhan conjured is a world that now looks an awful lot like ours.

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The Dish

Food Events

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Could a Toronto underground street food market force us to eat our words? We sure hope so

A couple weeks back, we told you about the San Francisco Underground Market, an all-night street food bacchanalia that we predicted could never happen in Toronto. Now Hassel Aviles wants us to eat our words, and frankly, we’d be glad to. If Aviles has her way, T.O. Underground Market will be set to delight Torontonian taste buds this fall.

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The Dish

Food Events

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All-night foodie raves are the latest street food trend unlikely to appear in Toronto

(Image: samthor)

It’s no secret that when it comes to street food, Torontonians are a little behind the curve. So when a new curbside craze sweeps across the U.S. and Europe, bypassing Toronto entirely, we’re not exactly surprised. This time around? Late night “food raves,” like San Francisco’s Underground Market, which started with eight vendors in a friend’s apartment and has ballooned into something much bigger.

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