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Chronicle 17-18 Issue 06

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18 The Chronicle February 13 - 19, 2018 Community Mark Zillman tunes the piano at the Lambton Country Club in Toronto. Photograph by John Cook Just call him the piano man This is one story in a series profiling people who have made an impact in Durham Blind piano tuner started his training in Uxbridge John Cook The Chronicle Mark Zillman tunes pianos by sound alone For more than 30 years, Durham-born Mark Zillman has been tuning pianos in the Toronto area. Blind since he was a young child, Zillman’s attention to detail and refined ears are the result of years of experience with music. Zillman spent his early years on his parent’s farm in Zephyr, a small community of about 500 people near Uxbridge. As a child, he often helped around the farm. He learned how to get around on his own, handle tools, and developed an interest in mechanics. He also loved listening to music, sometimes from the radio, sometimes from relatives who played harmonicas or accordions. “I’ve been listening to music all my life and I still am,” he said. On the farm, he listened to German folk music and country songs. Today, Zillman’s musical taste ranges from AC/DC, to Madonna, to the Oak Ridge Boys. At six-years-old, Zillman began attending the W. Ross Macdonald school in Brantford. At that time, the school was known as the Ontario Institution for the Education of the Blind. He didn’t feel comfortable at the school at first. “I was very upset,” said Zillman on first arriving. “It was scary. I’m sure my parents were a bit apprehensive too.” Eventually, he came to enjoy his studies and his time at the school. “I wouldn’t be here, doing what I do now, if it wasn’t for the school,” he said. Zillman, like many others at the institute, became heavily interested in music. Although they are his specialty, pianos aren’t the only instrument Zillman learned to play. “I took piano for five years,” he said. “Later, I took guitar lessons for one or two Having experience with the instruments gives me a deeper understanding of music. years. Then I decided to try the drums for one semester, and the upright bass for one semester.” “Having experience with the instruments gives me a deeper understanding of music in general,” he said. After leaving the institute, he enrolled in a piano technology program at George Brown College, graduating with honours. Shortly after graduating in the mid-90s, Zillman got a job with Robert Lowrey Piano Experts as a professional tuner. He still works for the same company, providing expert tuning for a range of clients— from bars and nightclubs, to churches and country clubs. Many of Zillman’s clients know him personally, and request his services several times a year. Aside from music, Zillman has a passion for the outdoors and athletics. In 1988, he represented Canada in the men’s 1,500-metre and 5,000-metre at the Summer Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea. Although he lost both events to a Briton, who would go on to win double gold medals that year, Zillman says the “whole Uxbridge community” was behind him. “At the time, Mayor Gerri Lynn O’Connor promoted a huge amount of support for me,” he said. “The Lions Club also added their support too. It was great.” But it’s pianos that have had the biggest impact on his life. “As a blind person it has allowed me to integrate with society as an equal,” he said. “I feel equal to anyone else in society.”

Community February 13 - 19, 2018 The Chronicle 19 Photograph by Shana Fillatrau Isaac Wanzama, founder of Whitby's geekspeak, which helps clients find success in their own businesses through technology. Geekspeak: Whitby’s very own Silicon Valley This is one story in a series profiling people who have made an impact in Durham By Shana Fillatrau The Chronicle Walking along the sidewalk of downtown Whitby, you may never think that in one of those buildings lies a scene straight out of the HBO show, Silicon Valley. The office of geekspeak looks just like you might imagine a techbased company’s office to look. The office is open concept with high ceilings and lights hanging from above. Two separate meetings take place at opposite ends of the building. Off to the side, the concept of cubicles has been reinvented. Each person’s work place is separated by backless bookshelves, with everyone being able to see each other. And of course, everyone has a computer. Isaac Wanzama is the founder of geekspeak, a company that helps its clients succeed with their own businesses. His team supports them with things such as online stores, product photography, writing content for their sites, and more. Geekspeak’s clients include Walmart, Rona and Best Buy. “I started with one employee. Myself,” he says. Geekspeak now has twenty fulltime employees and more than sixty contractors. In the company’s first year, it made less than $40,000. This year’s annual sales were in the $1-5 million range. Wanzama came to Canada from Uganda as a child in 1984. He settled in Toronto, where he went to high school and eventually studied Land Use Planning at Ryerson University. Before starting geekspeak, he worked in advertising and software. He later moved to Whitby, where geekspeak is now located. From an early age, Wanzama recognized his skill in communications and paired that with his interest in technology to create geekspeak. Wanzama says starting a new business is all about risk-taking. “But when it comes to business and starting your own company and doing the things I do today, I think it’s always finding the courage to do it, and saying, ‘you know what? I’m going to go out on my own. I’m going to start a company.’” His company aims to be conscious about community impact. Wanzama and his team did the #150 for #150, a project aiming to complete 150 community service hours in honour of Canada’s 150 birthday. The team volunteered at Habitat for Humanity Durham and St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen. Wanzama’s inspirations include Bob Marley, Muhammed Ali and Nelson Mandela. Around his office you see differently styled portraits of these icons. His tech-based inspirations are Michael Dell (the founder of Dell computers), Mark Zuckerberg (the co-founder of Facebook), and Bill Gates (the cofounder of Microsoft). Geekspeak also launched an app called SKIPT. The app allows users to buy a place in line or to sell their place in line to others. He said some people have called it an “elitist idea.” What does he think of the critics? “Haters gonna hate.” Lately, Wanzama has been working on an A.I. technology. He’s working on software that, by giving it data, will be able to learn and make content based around that data. He is collaborating with eBay on this project. Wanzama says geekspeak is about innovation. “Whether it’s a retail challenge or an e-commerce challenge, [the clients] want a group of smart people to come in and figure things out – I want them to think about geekspeak and, really, what it means to me and what I want our clients to think of is exactly that. A group of smart people.” Wanzama’s most important life lesson? “Ultimately, life doesn’t stay the same.”

Durham Chronicle 17-18 Issue 12
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It's easy being green in Whitby - Digilog at UOIT and DC - Durham ...