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Lorne Trottier’s Ever-Expanding Universe

] Listen to Unapologetically Episode 17: Lorne Trottier

If there’s anyone who knows how to use the study of science for the benefit of humans, it’s Lorne Trottier

Trottier’s childhood passion for electro-magnetic technology has him to create:

  • a multi-national company,
  • a building on the McGill campus,
  • two research chairs,
  • two institutes,
  • an observatory, and
  • a family foundation known for its philanthropy to science and health.

The Montreal native holds unfailing love for his city. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2006.  His nomination as an officer took place in 2017.

When I met him, he spoke honestly about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, the brilliant researchers he supports and the issues on which he’s changed his mind.

“When we started, there was no venture capital,” he says about Matrox, the 600-employee company he co-founded with partner Branko Matic in 1976. “What helped us is that we picked a product to develop that we were able to sell within six months. We kind of bootstrapped and grew slowly in the beginning, not necessarily by choice.”

Matrox

Matrox peaked in the late 1990s and 2000s with its graphics cards. Trottier says the company couldn’t sustain that level of leadership over time and “kind of flamed out.”  Still, he’s proud that the company has not only stayed in business through forty years of high technological change but remains flexible enough to continually develop new products that put the latest research into practical use.

“Today, we have three basic areas of strength,” he says. “With computer graphics, we’re strong in display walls and public information displays. With television production, when you watch any sports on the nightly news, sports or election results, our cards are in the bowels of what you see. We’re also strong in machine vision. The latest flavour there is deep learning and we’re getting into that via the algorithms we’re developing.”

Trottier says that he likes meeting the Matrox senior researchers to make sure that the company continues to benefit from significant technological breakthroughs.

Research Funding

That drive to keep current in basic science also has him funding researchers like René Doyon. Doyon runs the Director of the Institute for Research on exoplanets at the Université de Montréal.

“René Doyon is among the world’s top research in exoplanets,” says Trottier. “He’s developed a sensitive spectrometer to be able to read the biomarkers of atmospheres around planets, including water vapor, carbon dioxide and perhaps methane or oxygen. It’s one of the instruments on the $8 billion telescope called the James Webb Telescope that will launch in the fall of 2018. They want to find earth 2.0.”

Personal Growth

When asked about vulnerabilities, Trottier says that he’s “more of a geek and not very people-oriented.” He’s also “very stubborn and dogmatic.” He says his attitude sometimes prevents him from appreciating public trends.

When his youngest daughter was studying environmental studies, for example, he was less than enthusiastic about the issue of climate change.

“I probably said some things about those protesters that I would be ashamed of now,” he says. “Skeptic is too strong a word, but I was not convinced that there was anything beyond showmanship.”

After his daughters convinced him to take a closer look at the science behind climate change, he brought eminent scientists from around the world for a public symposium on the issue in the autumn of 2005.

Climate Change

What he learned turned him into one of the top funders in the field with a $15 million grant to McGill in 2011 to create two climate change research institutes. The Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design promotes engineering, architecture and urban planning research. The Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, which is run by soil-expert Tim Moore, was set up to expand the contribution of science to human welfare.

“If it hadn’t been for my daughters, I might still be on the sidelines with the climate change issue,” says Trottier. “If you have an open mind, you can change it about anything.”

The experience also wanted him to help change other peoples’ minds about science. Since 2007, Trottier has funded annual public symposiums at McGill. Many are webcast and permanently available at https://www.mcgill.ca/science/outreach/webcasts/trottier-symposium.

Canadian

Trottier likes Canada’s modern attitude and its cultural duality.

“Canada is a modern country,” he says. “I like the fact that we have two basic cultures here.”

In his private life, Trottier says he’s still the same boy who began exploring technology through a ham radio set with a buddy. Only today, he’s fooling around with radio-controlled airplanes instead.

Please note that this conversation took place in 2017.

This episode of Unapologetically Canadian is brought to you by Thrive Themes.

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Writers Grants Available in Canada

I am here to talk to you this week about grants.

Most provinces and the federal government have writer funding for individuals or groups of writers to complete projects.

They also have lots of funding for writers to visit schools or communities.

Governments also pay for writers to represent them in various places around the world.

This is the time when you need to figure out which grants you want to apply for.

Actually, the Northern Territories and Manitoba have deadlines this month, so you got to get on it right now for those provinces. New Brunswick is in mid-February.

Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island are in March.

In April, the federal government.

Saskatchewan, B.C. and also Alberta have March 1st publishing grant deadlines.

The Cultural Council cooperation grant allows creators in New Brunswick and Quebec to cooperate and that has a deadline this year of April 20th.

Indigenous artists can apply for grants any time as can Quebec artists

So basically I’m here to encourage you to go public doing really great work and get a grant.

I really hope that you have a wonderful week working as a creative in intended.

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What does researching our ancestors tell us?

The first ancestor I chose to research in detail lived in Quebec City two centuries ago. Her birth took place during a war. She married a carpenter at 18, bore 10 children, grieved the death of four children, and died at 38 years old.

Other than feeling grateful for an easier and longer life than hers, what did I gain by learning her story?

More importantly, why should you, my reader, care about her?

There are lots of answers to this, depending on who you are, what you’re doing and what you need. For me, all these reasons can be described in a single word: hope.

Hope

Why hope?

As I write about the lives of women who lived in Canada so long again, it’s impossible not to compare their lives to mine. They made fewer choices, bore more children and faced more illness, war, and turmoil than I have so far.

Yet the lives of my ancestors in a long-ago Canada match those of many women in countries around the world now. I can’t help but hope that we can share good food, technology, and resources to improve their lives too. Everyone should have infinitely easier, varied and more diverse lives than that of our ancestors.

Discover who we are

I also write to learn about myself. If you’re one of my relatives, perhaps you read my stories hoping to learn something about yourself too. We both want to know how the lives of our ancestors affected those of our grandparents and parents. At the very least, their choices affected where we grew up, our mentors as children and the culture we were borne into.

Our ancestors choices, their children’s survival, and their genetic health risks continue through us and our children.

Their stories, if we can discover them, might illuminate some of the personality quirks in our family. I suspect our long line of strong independent women began with the woman featured in my first story.

Connecting to Others

The more I research my ancestors, the more links I find to cousins and other people connected to my family either through blood, historic friendship or past quarrels. Anyone in the world might be related somehow.

Judy Russell wrote about discovering some of these lost family members via genealogical research and new DNA tools a few years ago in “Oh Charlie” at http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2014/02/02/oh-charlie/. Her article makes me consider genetic testing.

Researching our ancestors and sharing about the experience enables all of us to contribute to a wider understanding about who we are, what we’ve been and where we live in a bigger context too.

Learning about our World

Even if we aren’t related in any way, the stories genealogists tell have lessons for anyone interested in righting past wrongs, illuminating communities or exploring a particular place. Janice Hamilton’s research on one of her ancestors, for example, has provided helpful background to a group of locals who provide tours of the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. You can read her stories about the Baggs and the community they helped found at http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/.

Understanding Circumstances

So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Looking into the details of an actual person’s life reveals a series of events that are complicated, nuanced and full of foibles. Circumstances often carry people in different directions than what might have otherwise been expected.

By figuring out what actually happened to whom and sharing any surprises we discover widely, we all get closer to the truth. Getting closer to truth creates possibilities for beauty, understanding and diversity.

Then again, maybe you’re different? Why do you research your family history?

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