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Toronto Through the Eyes of Amber MacArthur

Dedicated fansites created by gushy admirers used to be the sole domain of musicians, porn stars, Hollywood starlets and their ilk. In short, a crowd that did not include usability experts and workaholic tech gurus; that is, not until Amber MacArthur came along.

You may know her as Citytv's new media specialist, filling you in on the latest in pop/tech culture and interactive trends every night. What you may not know, however, is that MacArthur's "just for fun" side projects include producing and hosting two other regular shows. There's commandN, a video podcast that covers technology trends online and offline; and net@nite, an audio podcast about web trends, with Leo Laporte. She also does business development for local design firm Arktyp. And did we mention that when the big boys (think: Globe and Mail, CBC, MTV et al) need a tech expert, they call on MacArthur?

The tech wiz claims on her website: "When I'm not working and surfing, I enjoy running, snowboarding, music recommendations engines, Malpeque oysters, and spontaneous road trips." blogTO suspects that MacArthur has never surfed, ran, snowboarded, used Pandora, eaten Malpeques, or taken a road trip. Frankly, with a schedule like hers, we wonder how she finds time to breathe.

Life for Now Magazine's favourite geek personality hasn't always been this hectic. MacArthur grew up in Charlottetown--"I have some serious roots in PEI. I even went to Lucy Maud Montgomery Elementary School!"--and it wasn't until she moved to San Francisco in 1999 that her career really took off.

After three years in Silicon Valley, she had earned enough (tech) street cred to be asked to judge the Webbies. "Moving to San Francisco during the dot-com boom was the best decision I ever made," she reflects today. "In order to really report about an industry, you need experience in that industry."

Being at the heart of the new technology revolution cemented MacArthur's passion of the field. "I love working in the tech space because it's always changing, and it's like a race to keep up," she gushes. "I also love the citizen community that is flourishing online; the web is the most amazing platform for conversation in the world."

Post San Francisco, MacArthur put in a year in Boston before deciding to return to Canada. This time, she chose Toronto as her home--"it's an easy place to live and work"--and Queen West as her 'hood. "I love the village-like feel that [the neighbourhood] has, all within a big city," she says. "There are great shops, restaurants, and parks, but most importantly it has lots of character...and characters."

After two years at Microsoft Home Magazine, and another two at G4TechTV, MacArthur caught the attention of Citytv's big wigs, who lured her to CHUM. One would think that having to generate new, engaging content nightly would be enough to busy the mind and fill the days. But for an irrepressibly curious geek--and blogTO uses the term with the utmost affection--there is no such thing as "enough". MacArthur still cheerfully ploughs on with the podcasts she started pre-Citytv. To her, such a medium represents the perfect avenue for citizen journalism and truly embraces the spirit of the web.

"I started podcasting a year and a half ago because it was finally so easy for anyone, with zero budget, to start up a show, audio or video, and communicate with people anywhere in the world," bubbles the media personality.

Indeed, MacArthur is the embodiment of the gung-ho, go-getter spirit of which many a successful techie is made. For such types, there is never enough discovery, never enough knowledge sharing, never enough experimentation. What's next, then?

"I'm working on a video blog at Citytv called Inside Popnology, which is really just an outlet to put things online that don't, and can't, make it to the evening news. [It is] an introduction to the types of stories I will cover on a new one-hour show I'll be hosting on CP24 starting early next year," motors the million-miles-per-minute media queen. "A lot of what I'm doing at Citytv is experimenting with news content, crossing in and out of conventional and unconventional styles and mediums."

In other words, expect a bigger, badder, more content-rich version of MacArthur's joy-to-poke-about blog. We're already ROFWE*.

*Rolling on the floor with excitement

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Amber MacArthur on Toronto.

My favourite place...

...for breakfast: Easy (1645 Queen W, 416.537.5893). I like to order the Toast Soldiers platter, mostly for the tiny army toy that surprises you among the eggs. Also, the classic smoothies are delicious.

...for lunch or dinner: The Liberty (25 Liberty, 416.533.8828). They have really good salmon and the atmosphere is ideal for a quiet dinner. And the best part? There is lots of parking everywhere!

...for drinks: Lot 16 (1136 Queen W, 416.531.6556). This small bar is a great spot to meet up with friends and listen to good music...or just watch the line up at The Drake get bigger and bigger while you stay warm inside.

...for dancing: I'm not a dancer ;-)

...to unwind: Anywhere with my MacBook. No Regrets (219 Dufferin, 416.535.0050), though, is one of my favourite lounges in Toronto. It is in the middle of Liberty Village in a very funky old building complex. The staff are amazing (Kerry, Mike, etc.) and, best of all, they have free Wi-Fi so you can eat and surf.

...to get inspired. To get inspired, I usually try to get out to my cottage in PEI...which is just a short flight from Toronto. Within the city, I love to check out some of the great exhibits at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas, 416.979.6660). I had a chance to interview Frank Gehry at the AGO in February and it was an amazing (and inspiring!) experience.

Everyone should know: that some of the key people behind the very awesome Firefox browser are Torontonians - Mike Shaver and Mike Beltzner, and the rest of their Toronto Mozilla team. Also, everyone should know about the best spot to get Mexican food in Toronto - Mariachi's (2084 Yonge, 416.481.7111) - which is just south of Yonge and Eglinton.

Biggest pet peeve about Toronto: They do a horrible job of lighting up the CN Tower at night.

An ideal day in Toronto would consist of: Logging on to my computer for some surfing, grabbing a delicious smoothie from Easy, going for a run on the Lakeshore, taking a short coffee break to catch up on web headlines, meeting friends for dinner at The Liberty, heading out to a concert at Massey Hall (178 Victoria, 416.593.4822), and then coming home for a final dose of web surfing.

Finish the sentence "Toronto is...": a physical mash-up of all things Canadian.

Catch Amber MacArthur on CityNews International Monday through Friday at 8:00 and 10:30pm EST. Her audio podcast, net@nite, can be found here. commandN, MacArthur's video podcast, is available here. MacArthur also maintains a personal blog and the CityNews Inside Popnology blog.


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