Thursday, March 5, 2015

CHIditarod: Chicago's Own Philanthropic Costume Contest, Bar Crawl and Shopping Cart Race

Saturday, March 7, Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park will be overrun by grown adults wearing costumes, pushing shopping carts full of non-perishable foods racing to and from different bars. This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of CHIditarod, Chicago’s urban Iditarod and the world’s larges mobile food drive: a food drive, team race, costume contest and bar crawl, all wrapped up in one chaotic and entirely unique fundraising party.

Racers costume themselves (and their cart!) as characters from Up.
Photo Credit: 
Participating teams of five racers each dress in outlandish costumes and deck out their shopping carts before the race, hoping to snag such prizes as “Best in Show,” “Best Art Cart” and “Best Use of Duct Tape.” In past years, teams have dressed as everything from Soviet military officials to characters from Space Jam.

Meagan Mueller, CHIditarod’s media liaison, describes the costumes as part of what makes CHIditarod such an innovative take on philanthropic events. Her personal favorite group costume incorporated local horror TV legend Svengoolie, rubber chickens and a shopping cart decorated to look like a casket. “I was so tickled!” Mueller laughed.

Inspired by Iditarods in New York City and Boston, CHIditarod is not the first to substitute a sled and huskies with a shopping cart and people. But what differentiates CHIditarod from other urban Iditarods is its philanthropic angle.

Each team of racers is required to donate at least 65 pounds of non-perishable food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Last year, CHIditarod donated over 21,000 pounds of food. In addition, racers and supporters can donate to the CHIditarod Foundation, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to supporting local nonprofits that alleviate hunger and promote sustainable, healthy food. Last year, the CHIditarod Foundation donated funds to seven local nonprofits including the Garfield Park Community Council and Centro Sin Fronteras.

Mueller views the combination of a shopping cart race and a food drive as a no-brainer: “Urban Iditarods already have grocery carts. It’s just natural that you put groceries in the carts. Grocery carts, groceries. It goes hand in hand.”

Although registration to race in the event is now closed, interested parties can watch the race from the sidelines and bring cans of food for donation. The race begins Saturday at 12:30pm at the corner of Wolcott Avenue and Hubbard Street. According to the CHIditarod website, “YES, the starting line is EPIC.”    

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

From Ask Jeeves to Siri, Data Platform comScore Has Evolved with the Internet

In 1999, when web data analysis service comScore first started collecting stats on Internet users, 150 million people worldwide were surfing the web. America’s “need for speed,” as CNN put it, created a rapid increase in high-speed Internet use—from 2 million lines in 1999 to 2.8 million mid-2000—but the dial-up jingle could still be heard in most U.S. households. MySpace’s creators were just beginning to fine-tune their online playground for angsty teenagers, Napster threatened to take down the music industry and e-commerce was a buzzword, if not a full-blown reality. It was also the end of an era for Ask Jeeves, even as the jaunty butler became the first “Net character” to grace a Macy’s Day parade float: Google officially transitioned from the beta stage it had been operating in since 1998, and the soon-to-be giant’s cannibalization of the Internet had begun.

ComScore Co-Founder Gian Fulgoni spoke on the ever-changing
state of the Internet at CIW 2011.
Through all of these Internet twists and turns, comScore has been there, tracking trends and usage via its panel of over two million users worldwide. Since 1999, comScore Co-Founder and CIW speaker Gian Fulgoni, alongside Co-Founder Magid M. Abraham, have steadily grown the data network into the Nielsen of web data, a treasure trove of information for content providers, digital ad services and—yes—e-commerce. Now, comScore has set its sights on becoming Nielsen, period.

“The big thrust for us now [is] to measure cross-platform behavior including TV,” Fulgoni said in a recent phone interview, adding, “If you want to watch Saturday Night Live, you can go to Hulu and watch it. The content owners need to know: How big is the audience beyond television?”  

The availability of streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube represent one arm of the Internet’s evolution over the past 15 years. The continued rise of online shopping represents another. But perhaps the biggest change is the migration to mobile: Over 60 percent of Internet usage is via mobile—and most of that via mobile apps—a number that was unthinkable even four years ago when Fulgoni spoke at Chicago Ideas Week.

The introduction of smart phones is a change to the very fabric of the Internet—the “biggest change since the creation of the Internet,” Fulgoni underlines—and woven into all of this is the increasing relevance of digital advertising. Retailers, content providers and publishers are scrambling to catch up, “whereas for the big social network companies, it seems to be creating nothing but opportunity.” After all, it’s not as easy, or mindless, to read The New Yorker on your phone, as it is to go through a Facebook album featuring your high school classmate’s newborn.

“If you look at the ad revenue for those [social network] companies, the majority is coming from mobile apps,” Fulgoni noted.

ComScore’s endurance points to its platform’s amazing flexibility in a tech industry that has gone from MySpace to Facebook and Instagram, Ask Jeeves to Google and Siri over the span of just 15 years. A recently announced partnership with London-based Kantar will help it continue to evolve with the increasingly global Internet. The partnership gives comScore’s access to a panel of users across Europe: “You have to be global today. That’s another reality that we had no idea of when we started,” Fulgoni said.

“It’s interesting as I look back,” Fulgoni continued. “All of these things came about because either Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook or a client called us up and said, ‘We’re concerned whether we’re getting what we bought with a digital ad.’ Or Apple created the iPhone…. That’s the way [comScore] evolved...not with us in ’99, sitting there knowing what was going to be needed.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday Trivia: Chicago's Variously Potent Potables

Welcome to Tuesday Trivia! Each week, we tackle this big, bizarre, wonderful city through a different lens, asking you to answer the tough questions. This week, we’re looking at our fair metropolitan through its drinks from specialty sodas to bars that survived Prohibition.
To learn more about the contents of these bottles, check out question 7.
Photo credit
1. What tagline appears on the bottle of local liquor Jeppson’s Malort?
a. “Tastes like pencil shavings and heartbreak.”
b. Its bitter taste is favored by two-fisted drinkers.
c. Bask in Sweden’s finest bäsk.
d. Are you man enough?

Answer: B. Malort advertises itself as being the kind of drink only a serious drinker could love. The others are true statements, but didn’t quite make the marketing cut for the current bottle. John Hodgman did describe the wormwood liqueur as a mixture of pencil shavings and heartbreak. Malort is a Swedish bäsk brännvin liqueur that you might never forget (or, perhaps, never quite remember). Finally, “Are You Man Enough?” was printed on tags attached to Malort bottles during the mid-20th century.

2. Which local distillery is the oldest?
a. CH Distillery
b. Leatherbee Distillers
c. Koval Distillery
d. Few Spirits

Answer: C. Koval opened in 2008 and prides itself on being the first distillery opened in Chicago since the mid-1800s. Few opened in 2010, Leatherbee in 2012 and CH Distillery in 2013.

3. How many Starbucks locations are there at O’Hare International Airport?
a. 25
b. 17
c. 10
d. 8

Answer: B. O’Hare is home to 17 Starbucks locations. Pro tip: If you finish the Venti Caramel Frappuccino you purchased at the Terminal 1 Concourse B Gate 5 location, you can always pick up a Grande White Chocolate Mocha at the Terminal 1 Concourse B Gate 9 location.

4. Goose Island Brewery produces several different kinds of Urban Ales for Chicago beer enthusiasts. Which of these beers is not among them?
a. 312 Urban Pale Ale
b. 312 Urban Wheat Ale
c. Green Line Pale Ale
d. Green Line Wheat Ale

Answer: D. The first three beers are widely available at Chicago drinking establishments. Should Goose Island choose to make Green Line Wheat Ale, we are certain it would be delicious.

5. Green River, Chicago’s own bright green lime soda, originated in response to which historical event?
a. WWII and its attendant sugar rations
b. WWI and its attendant sugar rations
c. The first time the Chicago River was dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day
d. Prohibition

Answer: D. Green River was introduced in 1919 just as Prohibition was passing and as companies were scrambling to figure out new potable products to sell to midwestern palates.

6. The 2013 film, Drinking Buddies, is set in the craft beer world of Chicago. Which brewery did the film use as a set for filming?
a. Revolution
b. Goose Island
c. Two Brothers
d. Half Acre

Answer: A. Revolution Brewery functioned as the set for the film. As they improvised lines, the actors drank real beer.

7. Owen+Alchemy is one of Logan Square’s newest beverage purveyors. What kinds of beverages do they sell?
a. Biodynamically harvested herbal teas
b. Plant-based digestive tonics mixed for individual patrons
c. Cold-pressed juices
d. Locally made honey-based artisanal sodas

Answer: C. Owen+Alchemy is Logan Square’s own fresh juice apothecary. At Owen+Alchemy you can treat yourself to concoctions made with ingredients like hazelnut milk, napa cabbage and lychee. We think the #21 juice with blueberry, basil, grapefruit and lime sounds delightful.

8. Opened in 1907, the iconic Chicago bar The Green Mill was once operated under a different name. What name was this former speakeasy known as?
a. The Uptown
b. The Lawrence Lounge
c. Jazz Hands
d. Pop Morse’s Roadhouse

Answer: D. Before the Green Mill was the Green Mill, it was the Green Mill Gardens, a nod to the red mill of the Moulin Rouge. But before it was either of those, it was Pop Morse’s Roadhouse, a beer garden designed for mourners leaving nearby cemeteries to drown their sorrows and raise a glass.

9. Bridgeport’s Schaller’s Pub is reported to be Chicago’s oldest operating tavern. When was it first opened?
a. 1905
b. 1881
c. 1919
d. 1899

Answer: B. Schaller’s Pub opened in 1881. It allegedly survived Prohibition by pumping beer from an illegal brewery next door.

Stay tuned for next week's trivia featuring facts about Chicago's streets!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Chicago Ideas Consumables: This Week on the Internet

Here at Chicago Ideas, we’re constantly reading, researching and consuming—all as we work to put together a stellar lineup of programming. In Consumables, we share a few of our favorite places on the Internet each week. 

Think we’ve left something out? Share the news, think pieces and trivia that most interested you this week in the comments.

Break the Internet
We can hear Kim Kardashian now: All it takes is a picture of a dress?!? And, yes, Kim, this one little picture reminded us of the power of a blue (yes, blue!) dress. Now, we're just sitting back and watching the scientific think pieces roll in.
That dress.

Dreams of Yesterday
Vulture translated and compiled the best of Haruki Murakami's online advice column, and the results are as singular and affecting as his novels. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sing along with him to Ray Charles...

Identity Politics
CIW speaker Zoe Dolan talked to us about her outspoken Huffington Post series on transgender identity, sex change surgery and the overlap between the personal and professional.

What Makes a Person?
Tommy the chimpanzee would certainly like to know. As researchers continue to identify remarkable similarities between animal and human brains, how do we need to rethink our relationship to our furry friends?

GMOs to the Rescue?
We've long heard that the solution to hunger around the world could  be the very thing we blame for the degradation of our food system in the US. But the considerations for solving our global food shortage go far beyond this, as Bill Gates explores in his continued February guest spot on The Verge. 

This list was compiled by Brooke Scheyer, Director of Programming, and Erin Robertson, Managing Editor.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Transgender Defender" Zoe Dolan Transforms CIW Talk into Multimedia Project

Zoe Dolan is no stranger to controversial topics. She’s a trial lawyer who has made her living defending, among others, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. But at the 2014 Chicago Ideas Week Edison Talks, she addressed a topic she had previously shied away from.

“I had sex reassignment surgery in Thailand,” she said on stage. “If you’re thinking about it, I can recommend a doctor. See me afterward.”
Zoe Dolan discussed "edges," both personal
and professional, at the 2014 Edison Talks.
To many, if not most, in the audience, this was a simple, direct statement, followed by an equally forthright offer to help. But the statement comes in the context of journalistic and societal standards that de-emphasize the role that surgery may play in gender transition. GLAAD instructs reporters to “avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.” A recent Washington Post blog post on “transgender etiquette 101” advises against inquiring into a person’s “pre-op or post-op” status: “If a transgender person wants to talk to you about such matters, let them bring it up.”

Dolan does want to talk about such matters. Emboldened by her experience at CIW, she started writing more about the topic on The Huffington Post. She titled her first post “Let’s Talk about Sex (Change),” leaning once again on a phrase that GLAAD counsels against. She calls her operation “life-saving,” and while her writing by no means evangelizes the surgery, she wants everyone—perhaps especially those considering the surgery themselves—to understand the “actual logistics and reality of the gender transition and what happens afterward.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to be myself without that surgery,” she stressed in a recent phone interview.

In her hands, her initial Huffington Post piece has developed into a multi-post, thoughtful study on identity politics that she's titled "Being Transgender—Naked". Where guidelines caution against asking questions, Dolan invites them. Recently she wrote, in a post that was itself a question (“Am I Transgender Anymore?”), “Considering the mercuriality of transgender terminology these days, who can blame anyone for asking what they want to know, beginning with what the terms mean?”

That type of openness has started a dialogue that, Dolan is pleased to report, has included both praise and criticism, with an ever “greater diversity of perspective.” Even more touching are the stories she’s received—an “e-mail from a mother of a four-year-old transgender girl who wrote to me at length about her daughter’s transition,” a heartfelt “response from a 74-year-old” and many more.

Since the Huffington Post, she’s participated in StyleLikeU’s “What’s Underneath,” a video series that asks participants to strip, both emotionally and physically. And she plans to open up the conversation to encompass ever more universal themes of identity. As hinted at in her online tagline—the clever and characteristically honest “Transgender Defender”—Dolan is interested in the interplay between personal identity and an individual’s day-to-day professional life.

“I believe that our personal experiences inform, and sometimes even control, our decisions and our actions as professional people,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s the question that really interests me, more than just how my identity as a transgender person impacts me within society.”

Throughout this process of inquiry, she returns, again and again, to the responses she’s received as her project has unfolded. That e-mail from the 74-year-old carries a particular impact. It ends, simply: “Stay true to yourself, Zoe. I wish I had.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Trivia: Chicago's Animal Kingdom

Welcome to Tuesday Trivia! Each week, we tackle this big, bizarre, wonderful city through a different lens, asking you to answer the tough questions. This week, we’re looking at our fair metropolitan through its non-human residents—everyone from orphaned otters to police dogs included.
To learn more about this charming critter, check out question six.
Photo credit: Shedd Aquarium

1. As of summer 2014, which animal did not call O’Hare International Airport home?
   a. Bees
   b. Llamas
   c. Goats
   d. Alpacas

Answer: Trick Question! They all live at O’Hare. The quadrupeds get rid of unwanted vegetation that in turn keeps away birds that might pose a safety threat to planes. The bees live in an apiary belonging to Sweet Beginnings, a business based in North Lawndale that provides full-time, green employment to formerly incarcerated individuals while producing local, artisanal honey and honey-based products. (Bonus fact: Sweet Beginnings also gave some lucky Chicago Ideas attendees an inside look into their hives at their 2014 Lab!)

2. How many different species of animals live at Brookfield Zoo?
   a. 350
   b. 450
   c. 550
   d. 650

Answer: B. There are around 450 different species that call Brookfield Zoo home, ranging from southern hairy-nosed wombats to clouded leopards.

3. In 1938, the International Kennel Club of Chicago held its first show. The winner was an Old English Sheepdog. What was its name?
   a. Ideal Weather
   b. Mighty Sweet Regardless
   c. Shamrock Acres Light Brigade
   d. Cummings Gold-Rush Charlie

Answer: A. The 1938 winner was named Ideal Weather. We didn’t make up the other names though (we aspire to that level of creativity!). Mighty Sweet Regardless took home the title in 1946, Shamrock Acres Light Brigade in 1968 and Cummings Gold-Rush Charlie in 1975.
4. Which was not a category in the 2014 Chicago Botanic Garden Spooky Pooch Parade Contest?
   a. Best Dog/Owner Lookalike
   b. Best Horticultural Interpretation
   c. Ms./Mr. Congeniality
   d. Best Senior

Answer: C. The Botanic Garden gave no points for personality. Best dog/owner lookalike went to a family of humans and dogs who all dressed as tigers. Best horticultural interpretation went to Mookie the “Corndog”, a Yorkie-Pom mix who was dyed and trimmed to resemble an ear of corn (no dogs were harmed!). Best senior went to a nine-year-old pug-terrier mix dressed as a “Kissing Booth Dracula.” We’ll just let you imagine that.

5. Hyde Park is home to some surprising avian residents. What kind of bird has famously inhabited Hyde Park for more than 40 years?
   a. Monk parakeet
   b. Quaker parrot
   c. Toucan
   d. Spix’s macaw

Answer: Trick Question! The correct answer is both A and B. Monk parakeets and Quaker parrots are the same species. These colorful and beloved birds have been surviving Chicago winters and charming South Siders for decades.

6. Beloved Chicago transplant and sea otter orphan Luna (the otter formerly known as Pup 681) is a playful critter. What toy can she be seen playing with on the Shedd Aquarium’s charming videos?
   a. A toy otter
   b. A slinky
   c. A little basketball
   d. A floating block

Answer: C. Already a Bulls fan, Luna has been known to float around hugging a little basketball on her belly. Dangerously adorable

7. What is the name of the popular Lincoln Park dog park located on N. Sheffield Ave.?
   a. Chicago Labs School
   b. Cubs and Pups
   c. Chicago Style Dogs
   d. Wiggly Field

Answer: D. Wiggly Field has its own Yelp and Wikipedia pages. The Wikipedia page reminds readers that the park is not, in fact, a field, just a very adorable pun.

8. At which cultural institution can you stand in a room full of more than 75 species of butterflies and exotic birds?
   a. The Morton Arboretum
   b. The Chicago Botanic Garden
   c. The Lincoln Park Zoo
   d. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Answer: D. You can visit the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at the Nature Museum and find yourself surrounded by more than 1,000 butterflies and other assorted flora and fauna.

9. Which of these names is not a name for the kind of rat found in Chicago?
   a. Norway Rat
   b. Wharf Rat
   c. Alley Rat
   d. Sewer Rat
Answer: C. While Chicago rats have seen neither Norway nor a wharf, they are properly called Norway rats, Rattus norvegicus, and colloquially named sewer rats or wharf rats.

10. Where do dogs in the Chicago Police Department’s Canine Unit stay when they are not on duty?
   a. With the police horses at a compound on the South Side
   b. With their handlers at their hoes
   c. At their police stations, overseen by various law enforcement officials
   d. Wiggly Field

Answer: B. Dogs in the Canine Unit stay at the homes of their handlers. When dogs retire, they often go to live with their handlers full-time.

Stay tuned for our next Tuesday Trivia about Chicago's potent potables! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Corporate Team Building with Zombies (Yes, Zombies)

Trapped in a Room with a Zombie, located in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, is perhaps the only corporate-bonding experience that forces you and your coworkers to face the ultimate question: Will you escape in time, or will you be eaten?

A part of the Room Escape Adventures series, Trapped in a Room with a Zombie is a 60-minute interactive theater experience in which groups—mostly of coworkers, although also, as one Yelp reviewer suggests, of friends, family, even couples—attempt to escape a ravenous zombie who is chained to a wall. Veering more towards comedy than horror, the exercise requires participants to work together to find clues and solve riddles—or risk being eaten. More succinctly, Bucket List Productions Founder and Trapped in a Room Creator Marty Parker summarizes: “You [pay] money to lock yourself in a room with a hungry zombie.”
Photo courtesy of Room Escape Adventures.

Parker describes participants in Trapped in a Room as “running around like Starbucks on fire”—a phrase that could also be used to describe the way Parker himself thinks, switching rapidly from any one of “four thoughts” at any given time. Room Escape Adventures is his brainchild, the current iteration of his desire to “inspire people to live passionate lives.” While currently Trapped in a Room with a Zombie and its sequel, Still Hungry, are the company’s central productions, Parker reports that others are in the works.

A former professional mascot who worked his way up the ladder from Ohio University to the San Francisco Giants, Parker founded Bucket List Productions in 2007 as a conduit for and generator of motivational and corporate workshops. In the past, the company has put on Mud Ninja (its version of a warrior dash), the Color Palooza (a color run) and other “mob events.”

But recently, Parker found himself wanting to bring his love for the improvisational and interactive, two skills he’d relied on as a mascot, to his events. With Room Escape Productions, he believes he’s seamlessly tied the theatrical with the corporate—and created an immersive experience to boot. Today, participants can seek out these experiences in 19 cities worldwide.

“They’re really with us when they’re with us,” Parker said of participants. “They’re not thinking about what they’ve got to buy for groceries, they’re not thinking about kids; they’re not thinking about work.” After all, it’s pretty hard to think of anything else when there’s that darn zombie coming after you.