Review: Inateck USB 3 Enclosure & Wireless Presenter Stick

From time to time I get invited to review various things here on my blog. I usually turn those invitations down, but sometimes I’m intrigued and agree. That’s what happened back in December, not long after I purchased the Inateck PCI-E to USB 3.0 Expansion Card that I wrote about yesterday. Someone from Inateck emailed asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of their other products. I hadn’t ever come across the brand until I started looking for that USB 3 expansion card, and I was surprised that they reached out so quickly after my purchase. I was happy enough with the expansion card, so I figured, why not? Let’s see what else they’ve got!

They invited me to pick a couple of items off their website to review (and they sent me one of each for free). I decided on the Tool Free USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure (FEU3NS-1E) and the Perfect Laser Pointer Pen for Presentation (WP1002).

Tool Free USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure

An enclosure might seem like a strange thing to want to try, but I have used quite a few over the years. It seems I always have a hard drive that needs attention. Currently I’ve got a few Vantec NexStar enclosures, but nothing with USB 3, and I liked the idea of a smaller one for 2.5″ drives.

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

The Inateck USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure comes with the HDD case, a short USB 3 cable, and a user manual (which is completely unnecessary). The enclosure is made of plastic and is really light at just 70 grams. It supports 2.5″ SATA HDDs and SSDs, as long as they are 9.5mm thick or less. For 7mm drives, there’s an extra foam pad that you can use to stabilize the drive.

The main problem with most enclosures is the time it takes to get them open, screw the drive in, and then close them back up again (for temporary jobs, I have started using the NewerTech USB 3.0 Universal Drive Adapter, which is awesome). That’s why the “tool free” nature of the Inateck enclosure really appealed to me.

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

To open the enclosure, all you need to do is slide the top forward. Then you can lift it up, revealing the connector for the drive. To close it, you simply reverse the action. Even though it’s plastic, the build feels solid enough that I wouldn’t worry about it breaking with use (as opposed to say, the plastic releases on the QNAP TS-451 that I recently got). To get the drive itself in, you just need to align it with the connector, and then push. There are two small screws that you could remove if you had trouble with this for any reason (they are the only thing holding the connector to the case…I see that Inateck is now selling the connector as a standalone product basically too).

After the drive is in and the enclosure is plugged in, you simply flip the power switch. There’s a handy LED that comes on too. I have seen a few criticisms of the USB cable, as the enclosure uses the Type-A cable, as opposed to an A to Micro-B that you likely use for a mobile phone. Just don’t lose the cable that comes with it I guess!

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

I tested the drive with both an HDD and an SSD. I’m a Windows 8.1 user and had no problem with plugging the drive in – it was recognized right away with no reboot or driver install required. I didn’t measure the transfer speeds, but it was as quick as expected. The enclosure does support UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) if your controller supports it and you’re using an SSD.

The Inateck enclosure is currently just $23.99 at Amazon, which is very affordable. So would I buy one? If I needed a basic 2.5″ enclosure, yes. The main selling feature to me is the ability to swap drives in and out very quickly. If that’s important, then the Inateck enclosure would work very well. If I was looking for an enclosure for one drive that I didn’t anticipate changing very often, I might look for something sturdier.

Wireless Presenter Stick

The second item I chose was the “Inateck Perfect Laser Pointer Pen for presentation”, which is a mouthful, so I’ll call it the Wireless Presenter Stick. It’s one of those devices you hold when you’re running through a PowerPoint presentations to switch the slides without having to walk over to the laptop to do it. I’ve never had one of my own, though I have used tons of them over the years.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

The Wireless Presenter Stick requires one AAA battery, which is not included. It’s made of plastic and is really light at just 24 grams. Inateck says it has a range of 20m. It requires a little USB dongle that is conveniently stored in the base of the stick itself with a magnet for good measure. Bluetooth would have been nice, especially if the MacBook-led trend of fewer ports continues, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The stick also features a laser pointer, which is handy for pointing to thinks on the screen/wall.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

I feel like a wizard wielding a wand when I hold the stick! It’s about 5 inches long, so it’s certainly going to be noticeable when you hold it. Most of the edges are rounded, except for the top edge which is straight. While it does help you orient the stick in your hand, it does make it a little less comfortable to hold. There are five buttons and a power switch on the stick. The three buttons along the top are the forward and back buttons, plus the laser pointer button. Along the right side are the Tab and Enter buttons. The left side is where you’ll find the power switch (the stick will automatically enter sleep mode if you don’t press anything for a while to save battery power).

I have used the Wireless Presenter Stick for maybe half a dozen presentations now, on a few different computers. No drivers or installation is required, you simply plug in the USB dongle and you’re good to go. I didn’t test the range but in a big conference room it never failed to work as I moved around. I am a little surprised to see some wear on the buttons already, maybe from dirty hands? Nothing functionally wrong, just some markings on the plastic.

I have also used it in a group presentation during which we passed the stick around to a few different presenters. Pressing the buttons always works, there’s never a stutter or pause, and you never have to press it more than once. But, the one problem we did run into, is that everyone kept pressing the wrong button! When you hold the stick properly (the way that feels comfortable), the “previous” button is at the top and the “next” button is at the bottom. But invariably people try to press the top button for forward/next! It’s a minor annoyance I suppose, but I was surprised at how consistently the issue came up with new people. Because there’s no software to install, there’s no way to remap these buttons, but that would have been one way to solve the problem.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

You can use the stick for more than just presentations. If you’re inside a browser, you can use the up and down arrows to scroll the page. You can also use the tab button to move from link to link, and enter to select one. This is a lot slower than the mouse or touch of course, but it can be done. It would probably make most sense as part of a presentation.

Inateck’s Wireless Presenter Stick is currently $26.99 at Amazon. The most direct competitor is probably the Logitech Wireless Presenter R400, which is nearly double the price. The Logitech one is about the same length but is wider and thicker and slightly heavier. The Inateck stick is decidedly less ergonomic, but compared to most of the other options out there, it’s slim and light. It gets the job done for a great price.

Keeping my desktop computer fresh with recent upgrades

Yes, I still have and use a desktop computer. This post might be a little geeky for some of you, but I wanted to document this!

I bought my current desktop computer back in June 2010. It’s a Dell Studio XPS 9000 and I paid just over $1,500 for it at the time. I ordered it with a Core i7-920 processor (it’s a quad-core) and 12 GB of DDR3 SDRAM, so it was pretty powerful right from the start. I also included an NVIDIA GeForce GTS 240 video card and 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive.

Dell Studio XPS 9000

I have upgraded it over the years, which is one of the great capabilities that a desktop offers. I’ve added additional hard drives for data, I updated my dual monitors to 23″ displays, and I’ve added lots of peripherals like webcams, and various mice and keyboards. I have also upgraded the OS of course, from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, and I plan to upgrade it again to Windows 10 when it is available later this year.

My desktop will be five years old this summer, and I have thought about replacing it. But I have also thought, as a I do more with mobile devices, that perhaps I don’t need a new desktop. Maybe I could extend the life of this one instead?

The main limitation to further upgrades is the motherboard, which only supports the LGA 1366 socket for processors. That limits me to Core processors built back in 2011, as it has now been replaced by LGA 2011 and LGA 1150. I think the best processor I could get to replace my existing one is the Core i7-990X, released in February 2011, but availability is limited and prices are high. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

So after I eliminated the processor as a potential upgrade, I started to think about what else might give me a performance boost. The first thing I decided to do was add a USB 3 controller to make importing photos and video quicker.

inateck usb 3.0 expansion card

I did a bit of research and landed on the Inateck Superspeed 4-port PCI-E to USB 3.0 Expansion Card, which I got for $26.99 CDN on Amazon. I wasn’t familiar with Inateck, but their stuff seemed to have a ton of positive reviews. Installation was quick and straightforward, and Windows 8.1 recognized the card right away. I did experiment with a couple different driver versions, and found the best performance using the latest driver (unsurprisingly).

I have both an external USB 3 hard drive and a USB 3 hub hooked up to the card now, and everything has been working great. Even though it is hidden away under my desk, I like that the card has a dark face; it’s interesting and different. This was definitely a worthwhile and pretty inexpensive upgrade.

Speeding along with an SSD

After I had the USB 3.0 upgrade working, it didn’t take long to land on the hard drive as a possibility for the next improvement. I had been reading about solid-state drives and I knew that having an SSD could make a big difference with start and load times. I’ve always marvelled at how quick my Surface Pro starts up and I’m sure the SSD plays a big role in that.

So I decided to purchase an SSD. I went with a Samsung 250 GB 840 EVO, which I got at Memory Express for $149.99. It seemed like pretty good price for a reasonable amount of space and solid performance. It’s not the biggest or fastest SSD, but it’s definitely not the smallest or slowest either.

samsung evo 840 ssd

I already had one drive for the OS and applications and one for data, so I just replaced the OS drive with the SSD. I decided to do a fresh install of Windows 8.1 and all my apps, because I had read some negative things about trying to do a migration or backup/restore. Now clearly a fresh install of Windows 8.1 will make a difference when it comes to performance, but not this much!

Before the upgrade it took:

  • 43 seconds to get to the login screen
  • 23 seconds to get from the login screen to the desktop being visible
  • 2 minutes, 46 seconds until startup was done

After the upgrade (and after installing all updates and all the usual software I use) the times are:

  • 23 seconds to get to the login screen
  • 4 seconds to get from the login screen to the desktop being visible
  • 23 seconds until startup was done

That’s a big, very noticeable improvement (and yes the stuff running on startup is comparable if not identical). Application launch times are also noticeably quicker now that they are running from the SSD. Overall I’m really happy with the upgrade. It was definitely worth the money!

Will I have a desktop computer in the future?

This may be the last desktop I’ll ever own, actually. The performance and capability of mobile devices has come so far, there’s less and less need for standalone desktop machine. I can already use my Surface Pro for pretty much everything. Combined with external displays and input devices, it could definitely serve as my one and only computer.

On the other hand, the cloud is (for me at least) dramatically changing how I think about my devices. The days of “that’s on my desktop” or “that’s on my laptop” are long gone. So are the days of “that’s on my USB key”. Now my stuff is available on every device all the time, and the definition of “my stuff” is expanding too. With OneDrive, my files are accessible no matter where I am. When I log into Windows with my Microsoft account, my settings and apps are also available. When I sit down at my desktop computer, it looks pretty much the same as when I am working on my Surface. In other words, there’s no need or advantage to having just one computer.

So maybe it does make sense to have a computer that just sits at my desk, permanently hooked up to large displays and the ergonomic mouse and keyboard that I love. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the my current desktop is the last “tower” that I’ll ever own. I have been looking at is Intel’s “Next Unit of Computing” or NUC form factor. The idea is basically to shrink the desktop down into something that fits in your hand. I can imagine having a powerful, tiny box on the corner of my desk to drive a few large displays. They’re relatively inexpensive too. One day maybe.

Until then, I’ll make the most of these recent upgrades to my desktop!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #145

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 3/8/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Edmonton Skyline
Edmonton Skyline (41 image composite) by Dave Sutherland

Upcoming Events

Icy Snakes
Icy Snakes (Crashed Ice) by Kurt Bauschardt

Edmonton wants to tap into local creativity with labs

The City of Edmonton is hoping to tap into the creative ideas and energy of Edmontonians with two new lab initiatives. Open Lab aims to “create unique technological solutions for municipal challenges” while CITYlab will “advance conversations around urban planning.” Both initiatives, if successful, will change the way the City does business. The hope is that a healthy dose of innovation will be injected into the organization to ultimately result in better, more efficient outcomes for citizens.

Open Lab

The program room at Startup Edmonton was packed yesterday for the launch of Open Lab. Mayor Don Iveson, Startup Edmonton’s Ken Bautista, a few other speakers shared an overview of what the program is and what they’re hoping to achieve with it.

Open Lab Launch

So, what is Open Lab?

“A physical and virtual space where City employees and Startup communities can work together to create innovative solutions to municipal challenges. It is a unique continuous innovation program that combines local government, open data, smart creatives, and lean startup culture to build new products that improve the citizen experience.”

Open Lab is part of the Open City Initiative, which launched back in June. It’s also a partnership with Startup Edmonton, and that’s what makes it different from previous attempts at this same idea.

Startup Edmonton believes there are three main ingredients for a thriving entrepreneurial community: people & innovation, community & collision, and leadership & growth. They believe in the importance of thinking bigger, valuing community, and building to scale.

  • “Smart creatives solve big problems.”
  • “Entrepreneurship is a team sport.”
  • “Entrepreneurial leaders grow & scale companies.”

One of the ways Startup tries to implement these principles is via the lean startup approach. The goal with Open Lab is to add some of that lean startup culture into the City. There are three main components to the initiative:

  • Collision Days – Deep dive events where startups and SMEs discuss technologies, tools, and issues impacting a particular industry or community.
  • Open Lab Accelerator – Helping teams learn how to use lean startup methodologies, customer development, and validate what products to build in the first place.
  • Leadership Program – Developing product managers and leaders inside the city who build and test ideas like startups, using prototyping, behaviour science, and design thinking.

The Open Lab Accelerator is not unlike Preflight, the successful Startup Edmonton program that has helped local success stories like Poppy Barley.

Open Lab Launch

Michael Strong, a planner with the City of Edmonton, was one of the speakers at yesterday’s launch events. He was sort of the guinea pig for Open Lab, and he described how the approach helped his team think about new ways of achieving one of their objectives, which is to get people using and thinking about LRT in a different way. They have mocked up an app that would combine the “get me from A to B” and “what’s around me” approaches to help people more effectively use the LRT.

As I indicated above, this isn’t the first time the City has tried to tap into the local startup community. I am reminded somewhat of the lackluster Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally program, for instance. I think what’s different this time is that everyone involved recognizes the biggest hurdle is culture. And certainly Startup Edmonton has demonstrated success with getting people to think differently in a way that gets results.

Another big difference from the past is that the City has continue to embrace open data and there’s a lot more to work with now than there was six years ago. There’s a greater understanding of what open data is, what the benefits are, and how the City can work together with citizens to get things done. Indeed the news release highlights the recently launched 311 Explorer as one example of “how City data can be useful to everyone.”

So I am optimistic about Open Lab. If you want to find out more in person, Startup Edmonton is hosting a series of Open Lab Meetups on the last Thursday of the month from 2pm to 5pm. Open Lab representatives will be there to hear your ideas and visions and to help guide you.

CITYlab

I have been hearing about CITYlab for months now, but no one could give me a clear description of what it was. In retrospect, that’s probably because no one knew! They had an idea but weren’t sure where to take it. Now CITYlab has found an anchor, in the Open City Initiative, and the City is ready to start experimenting with a new approach to placemaking.

citylab

From the news release:

“CITYlab will partner with groups and individuals on projects and events that test or support the City’s urban planning goals. CityLab will serve as a resource for Edmontonians with creative and new urban planning ideas.”

The aim is to be a “laboratory to support and create small, temporary projects, activities and events to advance conversations around urban planning.” They want to make urban planning fun, as difficult as that might sound!

You might expect a project like this to rely heavily on techology, but CITYlab’s first experiment is decidedly analog. Starting on March 7, CITYlab will be distributing self-addressed stamped postcards across the city. If you get one, they want you to write down your urban planning ideas or projects and send it back. All of the returned postcards will be used to make a temporary art installation, and CITYlab is committing to undertaking at least one of the ideas or projects suggested. If you’re so inclined, you can also submit a project idea online.

citylab

One of the folks behind CITYlab is Jeff Chase, a senior planner who you might know from Edmonton’s NextGen or #yegsnowfight. He is a big supporter of Make Something Edmonton and understands the value of a different way to engage citizens on urban planning. “These creative new approaches to planning will help us meet the challenges that our city faces as it grows,” he said in the news release.

CITYlab still feels a little nebulous to me, but at least it’s out in the open now. If citizens are willing to get involved, it feels like there’s an opportunity to help shape and define the initiative further.

You can follow @PlanEdmonton on Twitter for updates, or check out the #yegcitylab hashtag. You can also email citylab@edmonton.ca if you want more information or two request a postcard.

Taking steps to become an Open City

Here’s what I wrote about the Open City Initiative back in June:

“I like the direction outlined in the Open City Initiative, unfortunately I just don’t have much confidence that it’ll go beyond a report and lots of talk.”

I questioned whether the report would sit on a shelf or if its goals and objectives would be resourced and actioned. With the launch of Open Lab and CITYlab, I’m now a bit more confident that the Open City Initiative will have a real impact. These are tangible projects that I think will make a difference.

I’m excited to see how this unfolds!

Coming up at City Council: March 9-13, 2015

It’s Committee week again!

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, March 9, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are just four reports on the agenda, and one response to an inquiry from Councillor Oshry. Here’s what caught my eye:

Highway Entrance Signs (Councillor Oshry)

Councillor Oshry made an inquiry back in October about the Highway Entrance Signs that you see as you enter the city. He wanted to know what the process was for removing and replacing them, what the options were for determining the design and contents, how such a project might be funded, and what the public engagement process might look like. Here’s what the report says:

  • There are currently seven such signs, which isn’t really that many when you think about it. There are some key entry points that currently lack a sign, such as Highway 28 or St. Albert Trail.
  • The City says there are three basic options for designing new signs: Standard Architectural Proposal Call, Anonymous Open Design Competition, or a Closed Design Competition.
  • As for funding, options include a fundraising campaign like the “Light the Bridge” effort, private funding “through sponsorship or advertising opportunities,” or a standard Capital Budget profile.
  • The City says the signs are functional and not in need of replacement, so any project to replace them would “need to be assessed against other unfunded growth profiles.”
  • Public engagement options run the gamut from online surveys to workshops and interviews.

I would be surprised to see this report go anywhere beyond Committee – I don’t think there’s an appetite to fund such a project.

LEED Silver Exemption for the Varscona Theatre

The Varscona Theatre is being rehabilitated at a cost of $7.5 million. The City’s contribution is $2 million and Policy C532 says that all new buildings and major renovations to City-owned buildings must achieve LEED Silver certification. Exemptions can be made however, where achieving that certification is deemed impractical.

In the case of the Varscona Theatre, which was built as a fire hall in 1957 and converted into a theatre in 1982, building to LEED Silver would increase total project costs by 11-15%. The report states that the project “is still adopting sustainable design and construction practices where feasible.”

Entering Varscona
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

The reconstructed Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton Park was also granted an exemption back in 2011.

Other

Here’s what the other reports are about:

  • Every six months or as directed by Council, the Edmonton Police Commission is required to submit a report of all agreements entered into for expenditures greater than $100,000. There are three such agreements in this report, totaling $660,944, for helicopter parts, 911 dispatch software, and snow removal services.
  • There’s an update on the new Africa Centre and the corresponding strategy for the involvement of the African community. Council has already approved $838,000 for the schematic design for the building. The estimate for the total project budget is $39,808,100, the City’s portion of which will be considered during the 2019-2022 Capital Budget.
  • There’s also an update on the activities of Aksis, Edmonton’s Aboriginal Business and Professional Association. Last year was the organization’s second year of operation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Tuesday, the next Executive Committee meeting is scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are eleven reports on the agenda, six of which deal with requests for tax cancellation, deferral, or refunds. Here’s what caught my eye:

Pictometry

Pictometry Canada Corp. provides high-resolution digital imagery of the city through aerial photography. They use fly-bys to create high resolution images of the ground that can be used for many City processes. These images are not unlike what you’d see in a tool like Google Earth, but they are more frequently updated, are higher resolution, and integrate into existing City software.

In 2013, more than 100,000 images were viewed by City staff. That number grew to over 500,000 last year. The City expects usage to grow and is looking to enter into a five-year contract with Pictometry for about $1.1 million.

“Having reviewed several options, Pictometry has proven itself to be the best tool for the City of Edmonton’s purposes. It is the only service provider that is able to integrate its technology directly with other City enterprise priority systems, allowing for seamless interface between them.”

St. Albert, Calgary, Wood Buffalo, and Fort Saskatchewan are some of the other municipalities that use Pictometry.

Impact of the Alberta Wetlands Policy on City Wetlands

The Government of Alberta will be implementing the Alberta Wetland Policy in June 2015, and this report attempts to provide some insight on the impact it will have on City wetlands. About 1,100 hectares of wetlands remain with in Edmonton’s corporate limits, which is 1.6% of the City’s land base. As you might expect, most of those wetlands are in the undeveloped parts of the city.

If an organization wants to do something with wetlands in Edmonton, they currently need to pay a compensation rate of $19,000/hectare. The report notes this isn’t very much:

“When working within a large urban context where property values are higher (in many cases over $300,000/ hectares), it is financially more attractive for most applicants to pay compensation at a rate of $19,000 hectares to fill in a wetland than to protect it.”

The impact of the new policy isn’t fully understood yet. It will increase the area of regulated wetlands in Edmonton from about 600 hectares to 1000 hectares, but the financial impacts “cannot be evaluated until implementation details are released later in 2015.” The City has started a Wetland Task Force to work to understand the potential impacts of the policy.

Delegation of Authoring – Semi Annual Report

Bylaw 12005 requires that the City Manager provide Council with a semi-annual report summarizing all contracts, agreements, settlments, etc. which involved a revenue or expenditure of $100,000 or greater. Tendered agreements of less than $20 million and un-tendered agreements of less than $500,000 can be approved by Administration, otherwise they must be approved by Council.

“For the period of July 1 to December 31, 2014, Administration approved 150 tendered agreements with a total value of $128,865,510 and 1 9 un-tendered agreements with a total value of $3,310,610.”

The report attachment outlines the agreements greater than $100,000 for the reporting period.

Tax Stuff

Four organizations (Edmonton Chevra Kadisha, South Shore Country Club Inc., Habitat for Humanity, and CASA Child Adolescent and Family Mental Health) requested special Council consideration for their taxes to be cancelled, but all four are recommended to be denied. Wellspring Edmonton, which was granted a tax deferral last year, is requesting a further deferral. The recommendation is to approve that, and to bring a new report to Executive Committee in 2016.

Finally, there’s a recommendation to approve tax refunds totalling $74,061.48 as well as any associated penalties. These refunds are for non-profit organizations for the period of time during which their facilities were under construction and not in use.

Other

There’s a report pending on the pedway to the Galleria and Royal Alberta Museum, but it’s not ready yet. It’ll provide an update on the Sole Source Agreement (which basically means there’s one vendor in particular that the City has solicited and negotiated with).

There’s a status update on the Cornerstones Inclusionary Affordable Housing program. “The City has paid, on average, $200,000 per unit using Cornerstones I funds for a total investment of $4.2 million. The market value of this portfolio at the time it was acquired was $4.9 million.” Administration is planning to bring an official policy forward for consideration in the second quarter of 2015.

A bunch of reports have been delayed until March 24, including at least three that deal with the zoning bylaw. An update on the Open City Initiative has also been delayed until March 24.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting takes place on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There is one report on the agenda as well as two responses to Councillor inquiries.

ETS Fare Policy Draft Revision – U-Pass

The ETS Fare Policy was last updated in 2013 to increase the U-Pass fare by $7.50 per year for the next four years (ending in 2016). Since then, Council has also adopted a new Multi-year Budgeting Policy (in September 2014). As a result, Administration is bringing forward a revised policy that brings it in line with that new process. But don’t worry, the public will still get a say: “Citizens will be able to provide feedback on a proposed multi-year fare policy as part of the submitted Transit Branch Business Plan.”

Potholes in Back Alleys (Councillor Knack)

Councillor Knack inquired back in October about the process for repairing potholes in back alleys, about the general condition of back alleys, and if there were any plan to address the long-term sustainability of those alleys.

Back Alley
Photo by Bill Burris

The report responds as follows:

  • Repairing potholes in alleys is similar to repairing potholes on other roads, except that it takes longer. As opposed to two working days for arterials and five working days for collector roadways, potholes in alleys are given the lowest priority and are “generally completed in that same construction season” but could be carried over to the following year.
  • “The general condition of the back alley network is poor (Condition D).” The report says that 30% of the total pothole repair budget is spent in back alleys, yet alleys represent just 9% of the total road inventory.
  • The current Neighbourhood Renewal Program “does not include any funding for alleys”.

Streetlight Pole Maintenance & Replacement Program (Councillor Anderson)

Back in September Councillor Anderson made an inquiry about the streetlight pole maintenance and replacement program. Here are the highlights from the response:

  • The City assumed responsibility for the street light system from EPCOR in 1997.
  • Prior to 2004 the City painted street poles, but that practice was discontinued because replacement was more cost effective over the life of the pole.
  • The City currently has approximately 75,000 street light poles, 10% of which are recommended for replacement. The rest are in fair to good condition.
  • The City replaces approximately 1,500 poles per year.

Other

  • Three reports were delayed. Both the report on Scona Road Traffic Safety & Speed Mitigation Strategies and a report on Bike Lanes on Utility Corridors have a revised due date of April 22. The Enhanced Coliseum LRT Station and Pedway to Northlands Expo Centre report has “to be determined” as its due date, presumably to allow the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee recommendation to be considered by the Northlands board first.
  • There’s also a private report: Civic Agencies Recruitment Interviews & Short Listing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Executive Committee is meeting again on Thursday afternoon. There’s just one item on the agenda, and it’s a private report: Civic Agencies Recruitment Interviews & Short Listing.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #144

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

CKUA's Ken Regan
CKUA’s CEO Ken Regan

CKUA Media Library
CKUA Media Library

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 3/1/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

2015-03-01 Hyatt
Hyatt Hotel Construction in The Quarters, photo by Darren Kirby

Upcoming Events

2015-03-01 Crashed Ice
Crashed Ice winds through the Shaw, photo by Darren Kirby

Coming up at City Council: March 2-6, 2015

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, March 2, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Public Hearing scheduled to last all day. There are 9 bylaws on the agenda:

  • Bylaw 17098 – To allow for business, service, and light industrial uses, Wilson Industrial
  • Bylaw 17152 – To allow for the development of business employment uses, Ambleside
  • Bylaws 17085, 17086, 17087 – Amendments to The Orchards NSP and Ellerslie ASP to allow for more housing
  • Bylaws 17093, 17094 – Amendment to the Oliver ARP to allow for a 14 storey building on Jasper Avenue west of 123 Street
  • Bylaws 17096, 17097 – Amendment to the Strathcona ARP to restrict the size of select uses in Strathcona, Queen Alexandra, and Strathcona Junction

The one I’m most interested in is 17094, which is to rezone the property at 12302 and 12308 Jasper Avenue from CB1 to CB3. The proposed opportunity is a mixed-use development up to 14 storeys in height. Currently at that location you’ll find the Peter Robertson, Agnes Bugera, and Front art galleries.

Also on March 2 is the City Manager and City Auditor Performance Evaluation Committee meeting. There are two private items on the agenda – 2014 Evaluation Results and 2015 Evaluation Process Update. The meeting is scheduled to take place over the lunch break.

There’s also an LRT Governance Board meeting taking place on Monday in the River Valley Room. The board will be receiving a verbal update on the Valley Line LRT Project, and the board’s Semi Annual Report will be discussed (it’ll need Council approval). There’s also a report outlining the results of the Public Input on Request for Proposals for Stage 1 of the Valley Line LRT.

Tuesday & Wednesday, March 3/4, 2015

Next up for Council is a regular City Council Meeting that starts Tuesday and may run into Wednesday. There are 19 reports on the agenda, 13 of which are committee reports. There are also 18 bylaws on the agenda for consideration.

Edmonton’s Economic Forecast Update

This item is all about dealing with the price of oil. “To better understand the implications of lower oil prices on the economic prospects for the City of Edmonton and the surrounding region, a series of simulations were run in late January using the City’s economic forecasting models.” Based on those simulations, the City has updated its forecasted economic indicators as follows:

Indicator 2014 2015
(Spring 2014 Forecast)
2015
(Current Forecast)
Real GDP 3.3% 3.7% 2.8%
Inflation (CPI) 2.1% 1.5% 1.8%
Population 3.6% 2.1% 1.9%
Unemployment Rate 5.0% 4.2% 5.2%
Housing Starts 9,798 10,175 10,600

The highlight? “Economic growth will continue in Edmonton and out perform the rest of the province due to its relatively low direct dependence of the energy sector.” Longer term, Edmonton’s economic growth should recover to levels slightly above 3%, which will still be higher than most of the Province and Canada as a whole.

Another round of forecasting is being planned for mid-April to take the Provincial budget into account, among other data updates.

December 2014 Preliminary Year End Financial Results

There’s a lot of information available with this report, including a dozen attachments. A few highlights:

  • Preliminary results for 2014 tax-supported operations identify a net favourable year-end variance of $9.9 million or 0.5% of the overall expenditure budget.
  • Based on borrowing and repayments to December 31, 2014, the City has $2.823 billion in total debt, which is 61.1% of the MGA allowed debt limit.
  • Based on that amount, the City utilized 39.5% of the maximum debt service limit for 2014 as defined by the MGA. “Debt servicing will increase significantly in 2016 and 2018 due to the repayment of $60 million of short-term borrowing in each of the years.”
  • The Quarters CRL ended 2014 with a deficit of $3.6 million and a cumulative deficit balance since inception of $9 million.
  • The Belvedere CRL ended 2014 with a deficit of $1.6 million and a cumulative deficit balance since inception of $5.4 million.
  • The Downtown CRL has incurred $3.6 million in debt servicing costs for 2014, the first year of operation. “From 2019 onwards this program is projected to have an annual positive net position, which will be transferred to the CRL reserve.”

There’s also a recommendation for Council to approve three things:

  • An increase of $3.6 million to the 2015 Operating Budget, with the funds to come from the Financial Stabilization Reserve.
  • An increase of $5.1 million to the 2015 Operating Budget, offset by an equivalent transfer from amounts currently appropriated in the Financial Stabilization Reserve.
  • An increase of $39.5 million to the 2015 Operating Budget, offset by an equivalent amount in revenue, to address the cash flow of expenditures for the 41st Avenue/QEII interchange.

The financial results outlined in the report are based on information available to February 23, 2015 and are unaudited and subject to change.

Capital Finance Update

Last year was the final year of the 2012-2014 Capital Budget that was approved back on December 8, 2011. “As of December 31, 2014, the three year spend was $3,151.4.4 million against the 2012 to 2014 adjusted capital budget of $4,280.4 million representing 73.6% of the total budget.” Some of the things we spent money on include:

  • The Downtown Arena
  • The Clareview & Meadows Recreation Centres
  • The Walterdale Bridge
  • The Southeast to West LRT/Valley Line
  • Neighbourhood Renewal Program

The unused capital budget will be carried forward, a process that is expected to be finalized in the spring.

Implementation Plan for the Way Ahead (2015-2018)

This report, along with the associated Department and Branch 3-Year Business Plan Process report, outlines the Implementation Project for The Way Ahead. Last year Council reaffirmed the strategic plan with 12 revised corporate outcomes and 26 outcome measures. The scope of the project is to identify and prioritize actions and tactics to achieve or make substantial progress toward the outcomes by December 31, 2018.

Branches are currently developing their 2016-2018 business plans now, which will include actions that contribute to the Implementation Project. By April, the public will have been consulted through the Edmonton Insight Community, and by May the Corporate Leadership Team will have reviewed the Branch business plans and approved the Implementation Plan document. We can expect a public release of everything on November 3, in time for the 2016 budget cycle.

Appointments to Civic Agencies for 2015-2016

Council needs to appoint members to a few different civic agencies for the 2015-2016 term. The appointments are as follows:

  • Councillor Caterina to the Edmonton Northlands Board and Edmonton Northlands Executive Committee
  • Councillor Oshry to the Edmonton Northlands Board
  • Councillor Henderson & Councillor Walters to the River Valley Alliance Board
  • Councillor Esslinger to the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway Association Board

This item will likely be just a rubber stamping exercise.

Committee Reports

The Committee reports were all recently discussed at one of the four committees and have been referred to Council with a recommendation for approval. A few that I wanted to highlight include:

  • Designation, Preservation and Restoration of McDougall United Church – A recommendation that the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, approach the relevant provincial ministers to explore partnership opportunities around heritage, arts and post-secondary uses as part of a repair and long-term operational sustainability strategy for McDougall United Church as a public building.
  • Online Voting – That the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, write a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs requesting that consideration be given to amending the Local Authorities Election Act, to permit alternative forms of voting.
  • ParkPlus Software Licensing & Maintenance Agreement – That the name “EPark” and the EPark design contained in the February 25 Transportation Services report be approved for use to distinguish parking solutions provided by the City of Edmonton.
  • Funding Strategies for Future LRT Expansion – That Administration work with the Mayor, to develop a communication plan to inform citizens about the impact of other orders of government on funding the City’s future LRT Network Plan, in light of the upcoming Provincial and Federal elections, and return to City Council.

Bylaws

As mentioned, there are 18 bylaws on the agenda. Here are a few that I wanted to highlight:

  • Bylaw 17003 would designate the Mountfield House, built in 1905, as a Municipal Historic Resource. This is ready for third reading.
  • Bylaw 17092 will amend the Quarters CRL bylaw to increase borrowing by $44,345,000, to pay for the phase II projects. That’ll bring the total for projects in the Quarters CRL to $95,345,000. This is ready for second and third readings.
  • Bylaw 17075 will increase borrowing authorization for the Great Neighbourhoods Initiative by $60 million. This is ready for second and third readings.
  • Bylaw 17102 will authorize the City to borrow $304,186,000 to undertake, construct, and finance Sanitary and Stormwater Drainage projects. This is ready for first reading only.
  • Bylaw 17100 will authorize the City to undertake, construct, and finance the Downtown CRL projects by increasing borrowing authorization by $78,178,839. This is ready for first reading only.
  • Bylaw 17004 will amend the Public Places Bylaw to provide the necessary legislative authority to prohibit smoking in Churchill Square. This is ready for third reading.

Other

There is one notice of motion pending which is Councillor Henderson’s motion regarding the planned elimination of the use of herbicides on public land. There will also be one private verbal update, on the purchase and sale of land in The Quarters.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.