Posted by: Alvin | April 1, 2010

The Library 2.0

So the entire western world seems to be in the midst of iPad mania, well almost. There is no denying that the new Tablet computer/ebook reader is going to change a lot about what we think about technology. Now, I love Apple’s tech. I’m typing this post right now on my Macbook and my iPhone is sitting next to me. But I won’t be one of the hoards of early adopters mostly because I don’t think I’ll truly get the most out of it until more sites transition their video to HTML 5 (an open standard that’s coming in the next version of HTML and won’t need plug-ins like Flash, Windows Media, or DivX). Already, CBS, ABC, Reuters, CNN, the New York Times, and even the White House have all announced iPad friendly versions of their sites built with HTML 5, and no doubt more are in the pipeline. For me though, once the CBC and the Globe and Mail make the switch, and there is better support for streaming primetime in Canada (like Hulu in the States), I might shell out the cash.

But let’s get back to the point of this post. I’m an avid reader, and I also am an avid user of the Vancouver Public Library system. Book publishers don’t like readers like me. I don’t really care for the latest Dan Brown novel, and I also don’t care to be the first to read the new releases. I can wait, and because the VPL does such a great job stocking new books in a lot of different genres, the wait isn’t usually that long.

So what happens to readers like me in the world of Kindle and iPad? As a young person who is very much tech inclined, I can see the appeal of reading from these devices but wonder if that appeal means the Library as we know it is dead? Let’s look ahead 25 years when more and more books are digital. And not just novels, but magazines, textbooks, and manuals. It just makes sense. Imagine being able to get your Biology textbook on the iPad and seeing a video of how DNA works as opposed to just reading about it? But now also imagine being a poor student and not being able to buy used text books anymore? Or snap back to a person like me and not being able to borrow a book from my library any more? That’s not a world I want to live in. Content publishers are no doubt salivating over a future where used text books don’t exist, or people like me can’t read for free. But for me, the ability to do just these kinds of things is a basic tenant of human knowledge and learning. Writing and reading books has been key to the explosion of knowledge and advancement the human race has seen in the past 1000 years. And the more accessible this knowledge got over the course of those 1000 years, the faster the human race plowed forward. Read More…

Posted by: Alvin | March 4, 2010

A Vision for a New Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Art GalleryToday it was announced that the Vancouver Art Gallery has abandoned plans to relocate to a new waterfront site on False Creek (the current site of the Plaza of Nations). That plan was announced with much fanfare in May of 2008 by the provincial Liberal government, and backed up with $50 million in initial funding. So what changed? It turns out the False Creek site was complicated for a number of reasons.

First, it’s a privately owned site and that requires a great deal of negotiation between the developer, the city zoning department, and council in terms of density swapping (which formed the entire basis of the VAG being able to use the site at no cost to the developer).

Second, the site itself doesn’t work well for a gallery. According to the VAG’s board chair David Aisenstat, the underground storage needed would be impossible due to the high tides and water table making the “potential architectural glamour” of the prime waterfront location too high a price to pay.

Finally, while a waterfront site would be quite striking visually, it would be located in a somewhat out-of-the-way part of downtown. Anyone who has gone to the Plaza of Nations knows that it isn’t the most centrally located part of the downtown peninsula. During the Olympics, we saw what a prime downtown location in the heart of the city can do for a tourist destination like the VAG where it currently stands. Unfortunately, due to either a lack of planning or a deliberate decision to pack visitors all together, crowds during the Olympics didn’t seem to really leave the core area of downtown (just ask Gastown business owners). So if we’re serious as a city of having a showcase high arts venue, it needs to be in a core part of downtown. Read More…

Posted by: Alvin | January 23, 2010

Vancouver Prorogation Rally

Today was the national coordinated day of protest against Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament. According to estimates there were over 25,000 Canadians that took part in the protests and about 2,000 in Vancouver alone. While I won’t get into a lot of detail or analysis tonight, one very significant take away is already apparent. That facebook can (and did) represent a serious and potent class of public opinion – something that should give pause to politicians and pundits alike who dismissed the facebook group out of turn.

On the contrary, a study from the Rideau Institute indicated earlier this week that those in the 200,000+ strong group are older, engaged politically and – most importantly – voters. I think Michael Geist summed it up best when he wrote that no one can continue to doubt “the importance and effectiveness of digital advocacy.”

So with that said, below you will find my collection of photos from the Vancouver rally which was centred at Victory Square after marching through downtown from the Vancouver Art Gallery. There is also my video of the closing speech from the fiery George Heyman, Executive Director of Sierra Club BC.

I should also quickly thank all the people who have asked me to keep writing here. It’s really quite amazing to get asked “why have you stopped?” or “when’s the next post?” so often because it means people really do read this stuff and look forward to it. So thanks for the gentle nudge!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Posted by: Alvin | September 19, 2009

Op-Ed: The Attack on Civil Society in BC


(A version of this article appeared on the

It should be clear by now that the provincial budget update released by the BC Liberals on September 1st is nothing short of an attack on civil society. The cutbacks unveiled in the days leading up to the budget announcement, and within the budget itself, signals the beginning of a potentially devastating era for the City of Vancouver. Only the active cooperation between City Council, the Board of Education, and the Parks Board working alongside a broad coalition of civil society stakeholders can stop it.

In quick succession, we have seen cuts and service reductions to arts and culture, education, health, and the environment in a way that jeopardizes the very fabric of our society and the viability of our city. These cuts include:

  • $110 million cut in annual facilities grants for schools, almost guaranteeing classroom cutbacks to cover basic maintenance of buildings.
  • A provincial budget freeze meaning MSP premium hikes as well as contracted pay increases for teachers, nurses, and seniors support workers will not be covered by the province and will instead mean more frontline service cutbacks.
  • The cancellation of $130,000 in funding to support competitive sports competitions for all K-12 students in BC, leaving over 100,000 young BC athletes on the sidelines while the BC Liberals continue to invest heavily in the Olympics.
  • Funding for the arts reduced from $47.8 million in 2008-09 to just about $3.7 million in 2010-2011, representing a cut of about 90%. This is a return to 1971 funding levels for a sector that represents more annual revenue generation than the forestry and fishing industries combined and returns $1.38 in taxes alone for every $1 invested.

Sunrise MarketThe connection between an individual’s health outcomes and their ability to access fresh fruits and vegetables are a no brainer. The easier it is to buy affordable healthy foods, the more likely people will do so, and the healthier they will be as a result. What is less of a no brainer is how to insure a city’s entire population has access to fresh groceries that are affordable. Chances are, if you are the average city dweller, you think nothing of where you get your fruits and veggies. It may be the Superstore or Safeway a 10 minute drive away, it could be the green grocer down the street, or even the weekly farmer’s market at your local park or community centre. But chances are also that you would scoff at the suggestion of buying groceries at the corner store, 7-Eleven, or gas station. Imagine how much extra it would cost if you had to buy your bananas, juice, milk, cheese, and deli meats at a Mac’s. But that’s exactly the situation that many people living in the inner city are faced with, and many of these people are low income with no access to personal transportation to easily get them to a cheaper source of good food. Read More…

Posted by: Alvin | July 6, 2009

The Invisible Canada Day

CanadaDaySo another Canada Day has come and gone. For those that have experienced Canada Day in our nation’s capital, you’ll know the folks running the Capital Commission know how to throw a wicked party. Sharing a little square of grass on the Hill with your friends and passing around a bottle of wine is a common sight, and the police turn a blind eye as folks flood the streets after the fireworks to parties that last for the rest of the night all over downtown. Here in the Terminal City, many people have started to notice how we’re doing Canada Day a bit better every year. The fireworks are better, the parties more plentiful, live music is easier to find, and there are more street parties. In fact, the one comment I heard more than any other this Canada Day was how many things there was going on compared to just a few years ago. This is good news for Vancouver. The one thing I always wished we were more like the Americans on was the way we celebrated our National Birthday. We’re nowhere near what they do for the 4th of July, but hey, it’s getting better.

So what’s the problem then? Nothing really, unless you’re outside of the country (or Quebec!) and then Canada Day becomes invisible. There are only two main non-Canadian celebrations. The first is in London at our High Commission at Trafalgar Square which is a massive party outside Canada House. The website for the event proudly states: “We want to tell the world about the real Canada. Our Canada…It’s vibrant, colorful [sic] and filled with progressive people.” The other main party in in Washington DC, although it’s less public and more geared towards diplomats and other ‘insiders’. Read More…

A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009 (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

A supporter of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shouts slogans during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009 (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

In the last 48 hours or so, something amazing has happened. In fact, a few amazing things have happened, and they all have to do with Iran’s presidential elections, social and mainstream media, and people all over the world. I have many friends that don’t understand Twitter, much less understand my love for it. But since this last Saturday, anyone who thought Twitter was a passing fad has a whole new reason to take pause and think again.

Following the massive social response to the quite obviously fraudulent election results in Iran, millions of Iranians all over the country rose up and defied official edicts preventing them from demonstrating. They gathered in major cities, the biggest demonstrations obviously being in Tehran, and marched. On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the overwhelming winner in the presidential election, leading many supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to take to the streets. Ahmadinejad for his part equated what the protesters were feeling to “the passions after a football match.” This prompted even more people to join the crowds rallying against Ahmadinejad.

In it of itself, this was amazing. Iran is a nation where protests must be planned and asked permission for. A country where challenging authority rarely ends well and where thousands of political prisoners have been locked away for doing much less. Many commentators have claimed that the last time such outrage was openly voiced on the streets was just before the revolution that toppled the Western-backed Shah. In response to the protesters, Iranian officials began to clamp down on non-state media. Cell phone towers were disabled blocking calls and SMS, BBC and other international broadcasts were jammed, and facebook and other social networking sites were blocked. The only problem was that they forgot about Twitter. Read More…

Posted by: Alvin | June 11, 2009

More on the CBC: Thinking like the Web

Hockey NightTwo more interesting posts to share with everyone about the CBC as a follow up to yesterday’s post. I suppose in light of declining revenues, the CBC being put under asset review by the Conservatives, and the ongoing battle over local TV fees with the CRTC and cable companies (like Shaw), the future of the CBC has become the topic du jour.

The first piece is a viewpoint article on the CBC from Jeremy Kinsman called “Rethinking the CBC.” It’s an interesting article that brings up many good points. Among them includes the debate over funding (the CBC gets $34 per Canadian, while the BBC gets about four times that amount). This in turn provokes questions about what the CBC should broadcast. Because of stagnant funding from parliament (declining when you take into account inflation) advertising now makes up more than half of the ceeb’s source of funds. This means the network has been forced to broadcast more “mainstream” programming that’s cheap to buy and easy to sell ads to. Kinsman then goes on to point out that advertising need not be a huge part of a mainstream CBC by stating how on the Island, CBC Radio (without ads) is the number one station (same goes for Vancouver in the last two months). Now CBC TV will always have ads, but the point is that they shouldn’t be so reliant on them that it dictates programming. Finally, Kinsman mentions the web, and that brings me to my second interesting point. Read More…

Posted by: Alvin | June 10, 2009

Short Takes: CBC Cuts


One of my favourite blogs, but oddly one that I seem to visit infrequently, is “Inside the CBC“. It’s a great blog that is a perfect tool for communication given that the CBC is owned by everyone. Lately, many of the stories have focused on the financial challenges facing the ‘ceeb’ driven by a sector-wide revenue crunch and also by chronic underfunding of the corporation by the government. A couple of stories grabbed my attention, both having to do with what CBC brass are calling the “news renewal process.” (Read: cutbacks).

The first is the cancellation of CBC News Sunday (read about it here and here). Avid followers of that program will already know that it will be eaten up by the National in an attempt to cut costs. For me, this is awful news. Evan Solomon and Carole MacNeil were amazing together and their reports were very often far more indepth and far more insightful than anything else (CBC or elsewhere). The show had a real sense of thoughtfulness about the stories it covered, not simply reporting what was going on, but questioning what was going on. Asking why is becoming more and more of a throw-away in journalism, especially on TV and Radio. Sunday kept the tradition of “why” and I can only hope the National’s new sunday broadcast will keep some of that charm. Even better would be to bring in the talented producers and reseachers that made CBC News Sunday so good into the National’s fold.

The second thing to grab my attention were the comments from Don Newman of the show Politics. Again, for avid followers, you’ll already know that Don Newman is retireing after 20 years with CBC Newsworld (there since its inception). Newman cautioned CBC executives from changing the winning formula of the show too much, saying “if it’s not broke don’t fix it.” He pointed out that it’s the highest rated show in it’s slot (the 5pm pre dinner hour slot for the Toronto market) beating Mike Duffy and then Tom Clark from CTV by a wide margin. According to the linked Hill Times story possible replacements for Newman include CBC News Sunday’s Evan Solomon, CBC Parliament Hill reporter Susan Bonner, and CBC Radio’s National Affairs Editor Chris Hall. Here’s hoping for Solomon!

Posted by: Alvin | June 3, 2009

Turns out the BC Liberals Make Fudge Too!

Gordon's Fudge!If people haven’t read Bill Tieleman’s post in the Tyee yesterday, check it out. While much of it is based on numbers that are estimates from fiscal commentators and economists, the overall message is bleak but not shocking: Gordon Campbell’s promise that the budget would be no more than $495 million is fudge, pure and simple.

It’s funny that Campbell was simply taken at his word though, given that many doubted Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty when he said in October: “We’re sure not going to run a deficit,” or when he said in November: “[We] may…run a deficit next year,” or when he said in December as the deficit hit $30 billion that the “deficit is temporary.” Now we know we’re going to see the federal deficit exceed $50 billion, and even now there are still doubts as to whether there needs to be more revision. So why is it that no one bothered to wonder if Campbell was also holding back, or at the very least woefully underestimating how big the provincial deficit would be?

Wouldn’t one expect that the news media, given the Flaherty example and given we were in the middle of an election, would do some more follow up, maybe let the Premier know the estimate seemed a bit low? Nah. It’s only now, as the global crisis gets even worse and BC employment figures continue to decline (the increase reported for April is due to more people reporting themselves as self employed, which is a traditional response to a prolonged downturn and doesn’t necessarily mean people are making enough to survive, the real test will be the numbers for May that will be shortly released) does the mainstream media start to ask these questions.

So what’s going to happen when Colin Hansen announces the actual numbers? Well, before we talk about that, it should be noted that actual numbers might not be presented until the fall because all signs point to yet another summer without a sitting of the Legislature. But whenever the Leg does resume, we’re going to see a deficit that is much, much larger than $495 million. What will happen then? My guess is nothing. The mainstream media, led by Canwest (unless they go bankrupt like a lot of people who care about journalism are hoping for) and CKNW (now trailing CBC Radio One in Vancouver for two straight months), won’t make this an issue. They will position the story as something the BC Liberals could never have guessed, that it’s the global financial crisis’ fault, and that in the grand scheme of things, BC is still better off with the Liberals.

This is exactly what happened when the NDP forecast a surplus during the election, only to revise downwards afterwards right? Uhh, no. If you remember the mainstream media, along with right wing think tanks and pro-business groups, were clamouring for criminal investigations citing electoral and financial fraud. So how is this any different? It isn’t.

Well, wait, I guess it kind of is. This time, it’s going to be a way, way larger number.

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