Raffi Hotter

The students at McGill NeuroTech challenge themselves to do big things.

Like build a brain-controlled wheelchair in 30 days as an extracurricular activity.

Say what?

That’s the ambitious goal and tight deadline the student group faced this winter to submit their project to the NeuroTechX Student Clubs Competition. (Which they won by the way, but more on that later.)

The wheelchair operates via EEG signal – a user has four electrodes attached to their head – and uses imagined movement.

“It’s almost science fiction-y,” says Raffi Hotter, a first year honours math and computer science student and Schulich Leader scholar who led the software team.

“The person who’s using the wheelchair will just imagine moving to the left and the wheelchair will take them to the left. Or imagine moving to the right, the wheelchair will take them to the right,” Hotter explains.

“They imagine these motions and the wheelchair takes them in those directions. That’s the simple stuff.”

The students also added self-driving features, enabling the wheelchair to move by itself and go around small obstacles.

Getting the wheelchair to do all that required teamwork, self-teaching, and a ton of work.

Marley Xiong and fellow McGill student Jenisha Patel kicked things off by starting to assemble a student team. Among the ideas proposed, the wheelchair was the runaway choice.

Nearly three dozen students worked on the wheelchair they dubbed Milo, for mind-controlled locomotive. They split into teams – data collection, signal processing, machine learning, software and hardware – each saddled with a key piece of the puzzle. They also had a research team.

“We created a pipeline starting with the brain and ending with the wheelchair itself,” Xiong explains in the polished video the students created for the online NeuroTechX competition in February.

“The whole reason for the data collection is that we had to train our algorithms to properly identify what imagining moving to the left means and what imagining moving to the right means, what stopping means,” Hotter says.

The students took an old wheelchair and made it functional again, adding different sensors and a footrest.

There were hiccups along the way, including the technical challenges posed by their inexpensive EEG system with low fidelity.

How much time was involved in creating Milo in 30 days?

“A lot of sleepless nights,” laughs Hotter.

“This was during school. So we were working all the time on it. Many, many hours.”

The effort involved Arts, Engineering and Science students. McGill NeuroTech received funding from the Dean’s Fund in the Faculty of Science that is supported by annual giving to McGill, as well as funding from the other faculties involved. They worked out of Building 21, a research and community space at McGill.

McGill NeuroTech describes itself as a “group of students that builds devices that interface with the brain. We live at the intersection of neuroscience, computer science, engineering, and the human imagination.” Every year, they develop a brain-controlled application.

Their wheelchair won first place – and a $1,000 prize – at the NeuroTechX Student Clubs Competition, beating teams from the University of Toronto, UCLA, and Polytechnique Montréal, among others.

Their feat attracted media attention, and this spring the students presented Milo at Google DeepMind’s office in Montreal.

The students are exploring how to improve the wheelchair and hope to work with patients to test it.

McGill NeuroTech recently launched a gofundme campaign to raise money for materials for new projects and events to attract students to neurotech.

Hotter says the group will either continue with the wheelchair for next year’s project or do something completely different. They also need to find a new space.

Were people surprised that a group of students could building something like this?

“Depends on who you ask, I guess. For a lot of people it’s really surprising,” Hotter says. “This is usually work done by much older people with much more experience. We were teaching ourselves.…Many people hadn’t worked with these signal-processing techniques. There’s a whole course at McGill to teach signal processing. We had to learn it in a couple of days.”

Projects are one of the best ways to learn – “Certainly this one was,” Hotter says, noting the thrill and high motivation level.

“I learned so much from all the other people on the team. People from all different backgrounds. It was really amazing.”

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Via Marcello Revisited

Via Marcello Restaurant Revisited

1790, Cote-Vertu

St-Laurent QC+

I have been there on two previous occasions so it was an easy decision to return there this evening. There was a close call on arrival because the weather outside has been windy and raining for what seems to be forever, and the restaurant was uncomfortably air conditioned. However when we complained without hesitation the hostess proceeded to turn off the cold air. The meal and the service were impeccable.

Shirley chose the Caesars Salad ($9) and Eggplant Parmesan ($12) while I ordered from the Table D’hote menu Cream of Spinach soup and for my main course, Manicotti alla Florentine, pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella gratiné, with coffee ($18).  I had a hard time choosing the Cream of Spinach soup over the always great Minestrone, so I asked the server to surprise me. And speaking of the server, kudos to Dovina who not only was at the top of her game, but also able to tolerate my sense of humour.

We will return.

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Too Darn Hot!

The Lyric Theatre Singers

Musical Director Bob Bachelor

Directed by Bob Bachelor and Cathy Burns

June 13, 2019

Continuing thru June 14, 8:00 P.M. and June 15, 2:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M.

Despite the fact that Raptors Mania has all of Canada glued to their TV screens DB Clarke Theatre was filled to capacity for the opening performance. As usual I was blown away by the talent and the professionalism. From the opening number to the grand finale there was never a boring moment and much praise has to be given to Jonathan Patterson, guest choreographer who had the entire cast dancing with amazing synchronization. Koodos as well to Karen Pearce for costume coordination. It is difficult to focus on individuals when there was so much great talent on stage so I will mention some of my highlights at the risk of leaving out others. The Tenors and Basses were show-toppers as Men In Tights from the 1993 Mel Brooks film and the joy carried over to the next number when Richard Kallos sang Me, Who Am I? from the 2013 film, Cinderella.

The second act opens with a brilliantly produced, from all angles number, Welcome to the Rock. Shy Shalev, Charlotte Clement, and Sarah Caille are superb in I want It All, and the absolute laugh-out-loud number for me was Getting Married Today by Stephen Sondheim with Danielle Hoyt hilarious as as the reluctant bride and partnered with my personal favorite soloist, Katherine Fournier.

But don’t take my word for it. See this show while you can.

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Lyric Theatre


Musical Director BOB BACHELOR    Guest Choreographer JONATHAN PATTERSON    Pianist CHAD LINSLEY 

Lighting Designer JAMES KOKOL   Costume Designer KAREN PEARCE Sound Designer JOSEPH BROWNE

  Stage Manager ADRIAN SMITH 

Thursday, June 13 at 8PM

DB Clarke Theatre

1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West

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Burger de Ville

Thursday evening Shirley and I went there for supper, as we try to do at least once every couple of weeks, and we are never disappointed with the service or the food. The place operates like a well greased machine whether or not the owner is present. Shirley had the Salad de Ville with grilled chicken that was so good that even I, who am not a salad eater, have enjoyed on more than one occasion. I had the baby back ribs that are perfectly seasoned and accompanied by delicious fries. The ribs literally fall off the bone and can be eaten like a steak with knife and fork. The quantity and the quality of the ribs is second to none in the city and at $13.95 probably half the price. We frequent the Montreal West location which was the first one to open, but since then two more locations were opened. The second one was opened at 5282 St. Laurent, and the third at 7093 Jarry E. All three locations are owned and operated by the family. No franchises here. If you have never been there I promise you will not be disappointed.

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More and more I am beginning to notice many of the stories that made the National News at 11:00 P.M. are being used as filler for the Montreal Local news at 11:30 P.M. Is that because Bell Media is trying to trim the budget rather than hire reporters that would go out and find news of local interest to be added to the weather and sports and fill the 30 minutes properly. By 11:30 P.M. we have already seen most of the news on both telecasts. Supper hour presents the same problem. Please give the viewers a reason to watch local television.

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chewdiasm the event


Rialto Theatre

Sunday May 5, 2019

I have been posting about this evening periodically all week, so if you missed it you only have yourself to blame. As anticipated it was a hilarious evening viewing the full length documentary that has already entertained audiences internationally and won awards in the process. Having been filmed in, as well as being about Montreal, it was long awaited and attended by a capacity crowd that filled not only the complete main floor but also the balcony of this iconic theatre.

YidLife Crisis won the 2017 IAWTV Award for Best Non-English Series and has been nominated for 4 Canadian Screen Awards.

Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion the creators of Yidlife Crisis are no “new kids on the block” they are seasoned entertainers who have been producing and starring in this Jewish web series since 2014.

Eli Batalion is a writer, producer, actor, and composer for film, tv, and stage. He holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Brown University, and an M.B.A. from Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montreal, QC.

Jamie Elman, a native Montrealer, is a graduate of Mc Gill University and has appeared in many of television’s most acclaimed series, which includes one of my favourites, Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has also starred in a number of feature films since 2013 and done extensive voice work for video games and animated films including the blockbuster, Frozen. He is also an accomplished blues and jazz pianist and singer.

The duo is fun to watch because they come across as natural and unpretentious. Their comment, “We are probably related to most of the audience” is strangely possible. The team involved in the making of this film are to be congratulated.

Everything about this evening was done in style. The biggest problem I have experienced with events at the Rialto was where to park. The planners arranged to have a fleet of drivers for valet parking. The next biggest problem I had foreseen was that food was going to be served. I envisioned a buffet style meal and the need to get out of the way of the stampede to the buffet. The planners had prepared box lunches that we picked up on our way in. Each box contained a smoked meat sandwich, cole slaw, a karnatzel, and a potato knlsh. What about vegetarians? Different boxes with appropriate food.

The film was an interesting documentary on the history of Montreal, the landmarks, the restaurants, the changing demographics and the adjustment to life in the “new world” for immigrants arriving here at the turn of the century with no knowledge of either of the two spoken languages.

The show closed with the duo performing their own arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the Beatles’ Hey Jude.

If you weren’t there have no fear. My blog will post all future dates for showings of Chewdiasm.  For the best info on concerts, movies, or plays always look at www.lastcallwithsol.com

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Join Jamie Elman & Eli Batalion – aka Montreal’s homegrown “YidLife Crisis” – for a celebratory night of food, history and shtick at the highly anticipated PREMIERE of their hit documentary film “CHEWDAISM: A Taste of Montreal.”

Telling the story of the last 100 years of Jewish Montreal through six meals in one carbohydrational day, CHEWDAISM has already played over 20 international fests in a matter of months. Finally, it’s the HOMECOMING for the hometown crowd, and the only place where the people and the food in the documentary will be presented live…in the FLEISH!

There will be special guests, live MUSIC and, you guessed it, FOOD! (Admission comes with a deli-ish meal and dessert)

Tickets by Eventbrite

  • Regular (in Advance)Regular admission, including meal + dessert Sales end on May 4 at 11:59 PM C$25.00
  • Student (in Advance) C$18.00 Special discounted student price. Student ID must be presented at box office on the night. Sales end on May 4 at 11:59 PM

  • https://www.eventbrite.ca/d/canada–montreal/events/

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Ripped Off By The Oil Companies

Every day the price of gas goes up regardless of any factors. The government (which is supposed to protect us) doesn’t care because the higher the price the more tax collected for them. To most people a car is not a luxury, it is essential so that they can get back and forth from work. Any goods that we purchase are shipped by truck to the retailers so the price of merchandise must be raised to compensate. With Summer coming the petroleum industry is gearing up to rape us at the pump. Write to your member of parliament and tell them that enough is enough.

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Bad Love CD Launch

Dawn Tyler Watson

With the Ben Racine Band

Petit Café Campus

April 11, 2019

Tonight was magical as Dawn Tyler Watson hit the stage backed up by Ben Racine and his band. She not only launched the new album but also did songs from every genre from Gospel to blues, ballads, R&B, Rock and everything in between. She just keeps on getting better and better every time I see her. The energy is incredible as she starts off in high gear and just keeps on building like the Energizer rabbit. She makes hard work look like fun.

I have been a fan of Dawn Tyler Watson from the first time I saw her perform at a music festival on the West Island sometime in the 1990’s. I have watched her perform on the main stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival in front of 100 000 fans. I have seen her in a small intimate bar on St. Denis accompanied only by a pianist and she constantly delivers. Tonight she owned the stage. Her vocals were superb and her stage presence, as always, commands attention. She did a 70 minute opening set and followed up, after an intermission, with a 60 minute set. She came back on stage after the break by herself and performed one Gospel number A capella before bringing the band back on and doing a duet with Ben on guitar and vocals.

As always the room was full of friends aka fans some of whom came from New York and Vermont. It reminded me of another era more than fifty years ago when another entertainer could sell out a 3000 seat concert hall using only word of mouth to promote the event. It was a party and you had to be there. His name was Leonard Cohen.

Dawn, this is your party. Enjoy the ride.

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