World Password Day 2018

There really is a day for everything and today it’s World Password Day! With the beautiful weather we’ve been having lately you’re probably thinking about cleaning, gardening, and all of the other renewal-driven projects that this time of year brings. Though we’d rather be outside, spending a few minutes to “spring clean” your digital security is well worth it.

This is also a good time to remind yourself to be on the lookout for fraud – I’ve received email scams recently related to the Canada Revenue Agency and tax time. Stay alert, and don’t fall for it!

According to the annual fraud survey commissioned by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, “more than seven-in-ten (71 per cent) of those surveyed agreed that they are concerned about identity theft.” Almost four in ten respondents fear their personal information has already been compromised! Protecting your personal information is important, but with so much of our lives online now, it can be difficult.


Having strong passwords (and password hints, security questions, etc.) and good password management practices are critical for protecting yourself. Unfortunately, too many people simply don’t pay enough attention to this. It doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming to make some simple changes that will really make a difference.

Here are my tips!

Use strong passwords and change them semi-regularly

According to Troy Hunt, a security expert who built and operates Have I Been Pwned (more on that in a minute), most passwords are terrible. “In other words, 86% of subscribers were using passwords already leaked in other data breaches and available to attackers in plain text.” The top ten includes passwords like “123456”, “qwerty”, and the ever-popular “password”.

Don’t use those passwords! Instead, generate a unique, strong password for every account you use. There are plenty of tools to help you generate passwords that are strong and that match the varied requirements that different sites have (like length, special characters, etc.). Here’s the one I use from LastPass.

It’s important to use a different password for each account. That way, if one site is compromised, your credentials can’t be used to get into other sites too. It’s also a good idea to change your passwords once or twice a year, to decrease the likelihood of a compromise. Of course, if you know a service you use has been hacked, you should change your password there right away.

Get a password manager

With a different, randomly generated password for each account, how do you remember them all? You can’t. This is where a password manager comes in! Think of it like a digital vault in which you store all of your account credentials. Then instead of remembering each one, you only need to remember the master key that you use to get into the vault.

There are a number of good password managers out there like 1Password, Dashlane, and Passpack. I use and recommend LastPass. All of them provide tools to generate strong passwords, encrypt and store them, offer browser extensions and mobile apps to make logging in easier, and typically provide ways to securely share passwords with others. One of the cool features LastPass offers is Security Challenge, which analyzes your passwords and gives you a score along with step-by-step instructions on how to improve your passwords.

While there are pros and cons to each service and their various philosophical approaches to storing your data, I don’t think you should spend too much time worrying about that. You can get a more secure solution if you’re willing to do some work and give up some convenience, but if it becomes too cumbersome to use, then what’s the point?

Use a passphrase for your password manager

With a password manager you only need to remember one password – the one to get into the password manager! So you should make it as strong as you can. One way to do that, while still ensuring it is memorable and easy to type, is to use a passphrase instead. Whereas a password is a random list of letters, numbers, and symbols combined, a passphrase is more like a sentence, though it can still have those elements.

password strength

So a passphrase might look like: “trusted walrus shows off 500 petty limes”. I generated that using this Passphrase Generator, but there are plenty of other tools you can use. The key is to not use a phrase or sentence that is common or easily guessable. It should be nonsense! You can also consider running it through the Pwned Passwords tool to see if it has ever been exposed in a data breach.

Don’t use real answers for security questions

So now you have strong passwords and a password manager to help you organize them. The front door to your digital home is secure, but what about the back door or the side doors? Many sites will require you to set some security questions in case you forget your password or sometimes to confirm you are who you say you are when logging in from a new location. Don’t answer them!

Well, don’t answer them factually. Instead, generate a new random response for each question and store them in your password manager! This way, if an attacker figures out your mother’s maiden name or your favorite school teacher or your first car, the information won’t help them break into your accounts.

Turn on multi-factor authentication

Another thing you can do to improve your online security is to use multi-factor or two-factor authentication wherever possible. This means that in addition to your username and password you need another piece of information to login, usually a generated code of some kind. Most of the big sites like Facebook and Google support this, and it only takes a few minutes to enable. If you have the option of using SMS or an app, go with the app. I recommend the Microsoft Authenticator app which you can download for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

You can see a full list of websites that support two-factor authentication here. If nothing else, turn this on for your email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) and Facebook or any other site you often use to login to other sites. Of course, you should also enable this for your password manager!

Get educated and stay informed

Once you have done the above, stay informed. It doesn’t have to be all boring technical stuff, a lot of great information has been made available that is much more accessible. Here are some suggestions:

That’s it! Happy World Password Day – stay safe!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #294

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Slave Lake 91982Premier Rachel Notley at boom 92.7 in Slave Lake, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Thanks for reading! Want to support my blog? Buy me a coffee!

Edmonton Notes for April 29, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:


Downtown Edmonton
Downtown Edmonton

Upcoming Events

Urban Barn
Urban Barn, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

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Edmonton is a world leader in the science of artificial intelligence

Though he works in perhaps the most hyped field of science there is, Dr. Richard Sutton comes across as remarkably grounded. I heard him described at the 2018 AccelerateAB conference on Tuesday as “the Wayne Gretzky of artificial intelligence” and he’s often called a global pioneer in the field of AI. Sutton has spent 40 years researching AI and literally wrote the textbook on Reinforcement Learning. But he spent the first part of his closing keynote discussing the tension between ambition and humility. “It’s good to be ambitious,” he told the audience tentatively. “I’m keen on the idea of Alberta being a pioneer in AI.” But he tempered that by discussing the risk of ambition turning to arrogance and affecting the work of a scientist.


“I think you should say whatever strong thing is true,” he said. Then: “Edmonton is a world leader in the science of AI.”

Sutton made sure to highlight the word “science” and noted that we fall behind when it comes to the application of AI. And of course, he backed up his claim with sources, citing DeepMind’s decision to open an international AI research office here at the University of Alberta, and pointing to the site which ranks the U of A at #2 in the world for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

So how did Edmonton come to be such a leader?

It started with Jonathan Schaeffer’s work in the 1990s on Chinook, the first computer program to win the world champion title in checkers. The U of A’s growing expertise in game AI helped to attract a number of AI/ML professors and funding from the provincial and federal governments throughout the early 2000s. Edmonton’s rise to AI prominence was cemented with DeepMind’s recent decision to locate here.

Sutton showed the following timeline to help illustrate Edmonton’s path to AI-science leadership:


Sutton then outlined some of the key advances that have happened in the field of artificial intelligence over the last seven years:

  • IBM’s Watson beats the best human plays of Jeopardy! (2011)
  • Deep neural networks greatly improve the state of the art in speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing (2012-)
  • Self-driving cars becomes a plausible reality (2013-)
  • DeepMind’s DQN learns to play Atari games at the human level, from pixels, with no game-specific knowledge (~2014)
  • University of Alberta program solves Limit Poker (2015) and then defeats professional players at No-limit Poker (2017)
  • DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeats legendary Go player Lee Sedol (2016) and world champion Ke Jie (2017), vastly improving over all previous programs
  • DeepMind’s AlphaZero decisively defeats the world’s best programs in Go, chess, and shogi (Chinese chess), with no prior knowledge other than the rules of each game

Though the research taking place here in Edmonton and elsewhere has helped to make all of that possible, “the deep learning algorithms are essentially unchanged since the 1980s,” Sutton told the audience. The difference, is cheaper computation and larger datasets (which are enabled by cheaper computation). He showed a chart illustrating Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns to make the point that it is the relentless decrease in the price of computing that has really made AI practical.

“AI is the core of a second industrial revolution,” Sutton told the crowd. If the first industrial revolution was about physical power, this one is all about computational power. As it gets cheaper, we use more of it. “AI is not like other sciences,” he explained. That’s because of Moore’s Law, the doubling of transistors in integrated circuits every two years or so. “It feels slow,” he remarked, and I found myself thinking that only in a room of tech entrepreneurs would you see so many nodding heads. “But it is inevitable.”

Given this context, Sutton had some things to say about the future of the field:

  • “Methods that scale with computation are the future of AI,” he said. That means learning and search, and he specifically called out prediction learning as being scalable.
  • “Current models are learned, but they don’t learn.” He cited speech recognition as an example of this.
  • “General purpose methods are better than those that rely on human insight.”
  • “Planning with a learned model of a limited domain” is a key challenge he sounded excited about.
  • “The next big frontier is learning how the world works, truly understanding the world.”
  • He spoke positively about “intelligence augmentation”, perhaps as a way to allay fears about strong AI.

Recognizing the room was largely full of entrepreneurs, Sutton finished his talk by declaring that “every company needs an AI strategy.”

I really enjoyed the talk and was happy to hear Sutton’s take on Edmonton and AI. It’s a story that more people should know about. You can find out more about Edmonton’s AI pedigree at Edmonton.AI, a community-driven group with the goal of creating 100 AI and ML companies and projects.

If you’re looking for more on AI to read, I recommend Wait But Why’s series: here is part 1 and part 2.

Amazon Echo Dot vs. Google Home Mini

Virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, and the Google Assistant are at times frustratingly limited, but I also think they are the future. It still feels a bit magical when they work well, and they’re improving every day. In fact, as I have been working on this post over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had to update it a number of times as both Google and Amazon have made improvements that conflicted with what I had previously written! So that’s the first thing to know – the device you buy today won’t be the device you have tomorrow.

I’ve had the Amazon Echo Dot since December and the Google Home Mini since February. To be honest, I am surprised at how quickly they’ve become a regular part of our home. Why do we have both? So I can experiment and compare, of course!

Amazon Echo Dot & Google Home Mini

Here’s a category-by-category comparison of each, based on our experience thus far. I’ll generally just refer to “Echo Dot” or “Alexa” and “Home Mini” or “Google Assistant” to make this less verbose.

Wake Word

The “wake word” is the thing you say to trigger the device to start listening. Amazon wins here. Saying “Alexa” is infinitely better than “Hey Google” or “OK Google”. Try saying it a few times, and I think you’ll agree that the latter gets old really fast. You can change the wake word for the Echo Dot, but you can’t obviously do that on the Home Mini (though I’ve read that some people have been able to do this by training the way you say “Hey Google”).

For this reason, I would say the Echo Dot is our go-to device.


I like the overall look of the Home Mini better, with its fabric cover and overall sloped shape. Both devices are about the same size, and the Echo Dot really does look like a hockey puck! For usability though, I’d say the Echo Dot wins, for two reasons. First, the lights on the Home Mini are so much harder to see than the light ring on the Echo Dot. The light ring reminds me a little of the Cortana circle with the way it lights up differently depending on what is happening. Second, the physical buttons on the Echo Dot are nice when you want to adjust the volume quickly. You can do it on the touch-sensitive Home Mini, but I never seem to tap in the right place.

I think the audio quality of the Home Mini is better than the Echo Dot, but neither of them are great (you’ll need to go with the larger versions if you want a really good speaker). Both devices support connecting an external speaker via Bluetooth, and the Echo Dot even has an audio out port if you’d rather go with a cable.


This is probably the task we use our devices for the most. We have a small Bluetooth speaker that we move around the house but in the past we’d have to pair it to my phone, or Sharon’s tablet, or whatever device we wanted to use as a source. Now we just leave it paired to the Echo Dot, and ask Alexa to play music that way. There’s a bit of a delay sometimes when powering on the speaker though, so you miss a few seconds of whatever audio the Echo Dot is playing. I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the Echo Dot or with our speaker, but it’s a minor annoyance.

As Amazon Prime members we get access to Prime Music, so that’s pretty great. You can just ask Alexa to play a song, or an artist, or a genre, and it just works. The selection isn’t always as good as Spotify though, so sometimes we’ll specifically ask to play it “on Spotify”. The playlists on Amazon Prime seem fairly limited by comparison.

The great thing about Spotify is how they’ve implemented device management. I can ask Alexa to play something on Spotify, and then I can see and control it on my phone. Or I can be on my computer and play something on Spotify and tell it to play on the Echo Dot. That flexibility just makes the experience so much better.

Music works just fine on the Home Mini too, with either Google Play Music or Spotify. The ability to ask the Google Assistant to “play that hipster song with whistling” is pretty much just a gimmick though, it’s not something I’d ever use in practice.

Timers & Reminders

Setting a timer is the next most frequent task we use the Echo Dot for. I really like that you can name the timers, and it brings me endless joy to hear the way Alexa says “tea timer” (if it doesn’t know what name you’ve used, it just sets an unnamed timer). When the timer is up, Alexa says “your tea timer is done”. In contrast, the Google Assistant just plays a sound, though you can name your timers there too. Both devices let you query how much time is left, pause, resume, or cancel any timers.

Podcasts & News

I use Stitcher for podcasts, and it’s a bit frustrating how specific you need to be with the command for Alexa. I have a news playlist setup and I have to say “Alexa, ask Stitcher to play playlist news” exactly like that in order for it to work. But at least it works! I can’t ask the Home Mini to play playlists on Stitcher, as “voice actions are not available for that app.”

Amazon Echo Dot

That said, the Home Mini might still have the edge when it comes to podcasts. I can simply say “Hey Google, play the Daily podcast” and on comes Michael Barbaro from the New York Times. Or I can open Stitcher on my phone or tablet, and cast the audio to the Home Mini. That’s pretty powerful. I also get a notification on my phone if Sharon starts casting a podcast from her device.

Both devices handle news pretty well. I can simply say “what’s in the news” and both will give me the latest audio updates. Via both apps you can configure the sources and order of the news briefings, too. We use this first thing in the morning most often, while drinking coffee and browsing the newspaper.

We also use our devices to listen to the radio, and though we struggled at first to find the right commands, it turns out you can simply say “listen to CBC Radio One” and it’ll start playing. You can be more specific with Alexa and specify TuneIn.

Home Automation

I’ve experimented with some different brands and settled on TP-Link’s Kasa devices, as they were the least hassle and most reliable in my experience. In the living room, we have the LB120 Smart Wi-Fi A19 LED Bulb, which is dimmable and lets you adjust the color of the white light from 2700K to 6500K. In the nursery we have a Smart Plug Mini with just a normal lamp plugged into it. In the bedroom we have our humidifier plugged into a Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring.

Both the Echo Dot and Home Mini can control these devices – turning them on or off, adjusting settings like color or brightness, etc.

The Kasa devices support “scenes” which let you configure a bunch of settings into one command. For instance, we have one called “Feed Emily” that turns the living room light on to a really warm, dim white. Both Alexa and the Home Mini support this, so we can simply say “turn on Feed Emily” and the scene is executed. I’ll give the Home Mini the edge here, as it automatically discovers new scenes. With Alexa, you have to open the app and “Discover Scenes” in order for it to show up.

Before I had any of these devices, I mostly thought home automation was unnecessary, especially in a small condo like ours. What’s wrong with a simple LED bulb and good old light-switch? But now, carrying Emily into the nursery to change her diaper, it’s incredibly powerful to simply say “Alexa, turn on the nursery light” on the way, no hands required.

Information Lookup

Most of the time we’re asking about the weather or sports scores. Both devices are great at these kinds of queries. Alexa is probably a little better, because her answers are a little more complete. Ask about the temperature and you’ll get the current conditions plus a sentence about what to expect today. That’s two separate queries with the Google Assistant. Likewise, ask Alexa what the score is in the Blue Jay’s game and if it is over, you’ll get the score and when the next game is. Again, two queries with the Google Assistant.

Sometimes our questions are more trivia-like, things like how old someone is, or who was in a particular movie, how far it is between two places, that kind of thing. Generally speaking, the Home Mini wins here, because the Google Assistant is able to give much better answers thanks to Google Search. If it doesn’t know the answer definitively, it’ll give you a brief readout from the top search result. Alexa more often than not simply doesn’t have an answer. There are odd exceptions, of course. For some reason Alexa has no problem telling me how old Genie Bouchard is while the Google Assistant tells me it doesn’t know how to help with that yet. And I would say that Alexa tends to be better at Hollywood-related questions, presumably because Amazon owns IMDB.

Google Home Mini

Information lookup is even better if you have an Android smartphone (or maybe the Google app is enough). I can ask the Home Mini about travel times or bus routes and in addition to a verbal answer, the Google Assistant will popup a card with more information on my phone. Super handy. You can’t do that with Alexa.

Asking for general information is simultaneously the best and worst thing about these devices. When they have the answer, it feels like magic. When they don’t, even for something that seems simple, you can’t help but feel let down.


I don’t often use either device for calendar information, to be honest. Mainly because my calendar is always front and centre on my phone, tablet, or desktop. And unlike asking for the weather, listening to a bunch of calendar entries just isn’t as useful as a quick glance.

I use Office 365 and for my calendars. Sharon uses Google Calendar and We have shared all of our calendars with one another, so they open up just fine on whatever device or app we’re using. We have a shared Family calendar in, and that’s the main one we’d want to inquire about with the Echo Dot or Home Mini.

The Home Mini only supports Google calendars, so the feature is essentially useless for me. The Echo Dot supports Google Calendar, G Suite, Office 365,, and Apple iCloud. You can only link one Microsoft calendar currently though, so you have to choose between Office 365 and No problem, my has access to all of my calendars, so that’s the one I linked. It works really well, and I can easily ask Alexa about upcoming events. The only issue I ran into is that it only displays 10 of your calendars at a time, so any more than that and Alexa simply won’t see them.


Those are the main things for us thus far. Here are some other random thoughts:

  • While Alexa now supports “Follow-up Mode”, so that you can give multiple commands, it currently isn’t supported in Canada. The Home Mini handles this just fine – I can say “turn on the living room light and what’s the weather” and it does both actions.
  • The Home Mini has a feature to set the volume to a lower level at a certain time, and it would be great if the Echo Dot had this too. Loud responses during the day are fine, but at night, quieter is better, especially with a baby in the house!
  • Sharon and I are mindful that bossing these assistants around likely won’t set the best example for Emily, so we try to remember to say please when issuing a command and “Alexa, thank you” after she responds. It would be nice if this were a little more natural though (not having to use the wake word to say thanks). Amazon must agree, because they have just announced a Kids Edition of the Echo Dot that includes a “Magic Word” feature and other kid-friendly settings. It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada yet, however.
  • Both smartphone apps are pretty similar. They let you see previous commands or queries, configure some settings for the hardware, and set some defaults for the assistant, like your location, language, etc. The Google Home app is better integrated with Android though, of course.
  • We don’t have a Fire TV or Chromecast currently, so I can’t compare the ability to control the TV. We have an Xbox One and regularly use its voice commands. We have said like “Alexa, watch TV” a few times when we meant to say “Xbox, watch TV”.
  • Both “app stores” – Skills for Alexa and Actions on Google for the Google Assistant – seem to be filled with a lot of useless junk. That said, it is nice how the Google Assistant doesn’t require skills to be “installed”. They just work.
  • Both devices let you setup a voice profile. In theory this means Sharon and I could get personalized results. But in practice, we haven’t found a reason or need to take advantage of the feature.
  • As a Windows 10 user I have Cortana on my PC, but I don’t use it, because it’s just so slow. If you want to appreciate just how quickly and seamlessly both Alexa and the Google Assistant respond to your queries, try asking Cortana for something. And don’t even get me started on Siri…

Bottom Line

Amazon Echo Dot & Google Home Mini

So if I was shopping for one today, which device would I go with? The answer is not obvious as there are strengths and weaknesses with both. If you’re fairly invested in the Google ecosystem, go with the Home Mini. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, go with the Echo Dot. Or do what I did and get both! The arms race underway between the two is only going to make them both rapidly better.

Disclosure: This post includes Amazon Affiliate links.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #293

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

  • Bob Layton has been appointed to the Western Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. On its website, WAB describes the Hall of Fame award as the “most prestigious award given to a Canadian broadcaster.”
  • Catherine Griwkowsky has left Postmedia after 10 years and will be starting with The Star Edmonton on May 1. “Leaving was an excruciating decision,” she tweeted.
  • Kieran Leavitt is leaving The Star Halifax to join The Star Edmonton as a full-time reporter. “Thank you to everyone I’ve worked with and those that have let me tell their stories”, he tweeted.
  • The 2018 RTDNA Canada Award winners were announced yesterday. Global Edmonton took home seven RTDNA Awards, four of which were “for coverage of the chaotic attack that saw a police officer stabbed and pedestrians struck by a U-Haul in the downtown core.” CBC Edmonton won three, and CTV Edmonton won one.
  • Edmonton’s Geoff Stickle, who retired from Global Edmonton back in February, was honored with the RTDNA Lifetime Achievement Award in the Prairie Region.
  • CKUA’s Spring Fundraiser is on now and you can donate until April 29. So far they have raised 32% of the $700,000 goal.
  • From Stacey Brotzel, here are some memories from the 21st anniversary of the launch of A-Channel.
  • Edmonton’s newest publisher is StoryFix Media, from Christopher Webster, Gareth Higgins, Claire Tunney, and Arthur Lee. Christopher’s first book, called New Horizons, is now available. Later this summer, the company plans to release a mobile game called The Pulse: “In a dark town not on any map, a woman awakes in a strange motel. With no memory of who she is or how she got there, she will rely on YOUR judgement and quick-thinking to navigate untold dangers, learn the secret of her identity, and the truth behind a mysterious pulse that seems to be the cause of it all.”
  • Brittney is calling on local media folks to “give people a heads-up when you include their tweets on-air/in stories”.
  • After three years and 57 episodes, this is the final episode of The Expats Podcast. Host Adam Rozenhart will be sharing “in a few months what I’ll be doing next!”
  • Here is the latest Alberta Podcast Network Roundup.
  • Karen Unland spoke to David Papp at Mtek Digital about how “podcasts are very powerful way to intimately reach a captive audience.”
  • SCTV came to Edmonton in 1980. Comedian Dave Thomas spoke to CBC about the move to Edmonton. “It wasn’t so much that the cast wasn’t thrilled about going to Edmonton,” Thomas said when asked about the move from Toronto. “I think some of the people just didn’t take it that seriously at first.”
  • Janet French spoke about being a reporter on career day at Grandview Heights school! Start them young!
  • The deadline to apply for one of Postmedia’s summer internships is Wednesday, April 25 at midnight.
  • Representatives from the Canada Media Fund were in Edmonton today to encourage more applications from our city. The not-for-profit “delivers $352 million in funding annually to support the Canadian television and digital media industries.”

Standing up for Alberta jobs and Canada’s economy 88485
Standing up for Alberta jobs and Canada’s economy, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

  • BNN Bloomberg will launch on Monday, April 30. It’s a partnership between Bell Media and Bloomberg Media Group. “BNN Bloomberg will begin simulcasting with CTV from 5-5:30 a.m. MT in the Calgary and Edmonton markets.”
  • CBS All Access is now available in Canada for $5.99 per month. “The subscription offers access to more than 7,500 on-demand episodes, including full current seasons of CBS shows, entire past seasons of current shows and full seasons of some classic shows.”
  • From CANADALAND: What’s The New York Times Doing In Canada?
  • It seemed that James Comey was absolutely everywhere last week, from TV to radio to podcasts, promoting his new book. ABC News posted the full transcript of his 5 hour interview with George Stephanopoulos, then so did MSNBC. “But in the age of so-called fake news, is the release of full transcripts happening because journalists feel compelled to prove their credibility? Or to defend themselves from criticism for what did make it to air?”

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Thanks for reading! Want to support my blog? Buy me a coffee! Disclosure: This post includes Amazon Affiliate links.

Edmonton Notes for April 22, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:


105th, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

Funicular Elevator

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Recap: Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to help judge the City of Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition. Connected to Edmonton’s Smart Cities Challenge, the competition invited citizens to propose innovative approaches to improve the four health indicators of mental health, physical health, social health, and economic health. Nearly 40 proposals were submitted, and a previous round of judging (that I was not involved in) narrowed that down to the top 5, who were invited to spend a month working on a prototype which they demoed at the event yesterday.

HealthHack Competition

These were the top 5 teams who presented a prototype:

Buddy Benches
Submitted by Troy Pavlek

“The City of Edmonton started the work on reducing social isolation with our buddy bench program, now I propose to take that simple act of saying “hello” online as well and make it easier and more persistent to connect with those around you. By connecting physical locations in Edmonton to a persistent online community we can reduce social isolation, improve mental health and get people out in the community.”

Cannabis Ecosystem
Submitted by Joe Dang and Reed Sutton

“With the legalization of recreational cannabis throughout Canada rapidly approaching, there is a significant lack of data regarding its use and effect on various aspects of health. By leveraging blockchain technology, Edmonton has the opportunity to shape a new national ecosystem surrounding healthy cannabis consumption and regulation, while simultaneously generating open and transparent data that will have global implications.”

Fitness App for Non-Athletes
Submitted by Dr. PJ Rawlek, K. DeZutter, N. Twal, C. Nicole, E. Barbaric and B. Poetz

“The current problem with the thousands of fitness app technologies is they’re designed to compete for that market of those 15% of Canadians, the highly motivated, exercise-experienced. Alternatively, the GoGet.Fit solution is designed to specifically target that 85%, the under-serviced mostly apprehensive exercise-naïve population. This solution will provide solid evidence-based strategies early-on to support the pursuit of a healthier active lifestyle and will optimize success through providing valued support from a professional team – their healthcare provider networked with a community-based exercise specialist.”

Urban Design/Mental Health App
Submitted by Fahim Hassan, Rokib S A, Mohib Khan and Hamman Samuel

“Develop an interactive web application that will collect geo-coded Twitter data, analyze the text and link it with socio-economic data. The insight will help planners and policy makers to improve urban design and achieve mental health outcomes.”

Wheelchair Accessibility Tracker
Submitted by Martin Ferguson-Pell

“We wish to make significant modifications to a research prototype to enable us to improve accessibility and provide information to wheelchair users about the physical effort needed to propel a wheelchair in our built environments (summer and winter).”

Thoughts on the competition

Picking a winner from those proposals was not easy! We scored each prototype on three criteria: health impact, innovation, and completeness. After each presentation, we had a few minutes to ask questions of the presenters. Everyone did such a good job of describing their prototype and fielding our queries.

HealthHack Competition
Members of the winning teams

Congratulations to Martin Ferguson-Pell, who took home the grand prize of $5,000 for his “Fitbit for wheelchairs”. While there could be advantages to trip planning using the data that the device collects, I actually think it would be more impactful to map areas of the city and use that to improve infrastructure and design. Pushing around a stroller these past couple of months has made it clear just how difficult it can be to traverse our city sidewalks, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for wheelchair users. Apparently 75% of wheelchair users report shoulder issues, so anything we can do to make the ride smoother would have a big impact.

I love the premise behind GoGet.Fit: that most existing fitness apps and technologies are targeted toward people who are already active. The other 85% of the population needs some help, or we’re all going to pay for it via increased healthcare costs. Rather than just count steps using a Fitbit, GoGet.Fit connects you with professionals (doctors, nurses, fitness instructors, etc.) so that they can take a more active role in ensuring that you get active! They already have hundreds of users, and have conducted a successful pilot with a PCN.

Troy’s presentation for extending buddy benches into the digital realm was very engaging. Using NFC to quickly connect you to a community of people who have physically been where you are is a great idea. A little like checking in on Foursquare used to be, I guess.

The “Urban Design/Mental Health App” was a neat use of Twitter data, and is something I have often thought about. What can we learn from geotagged tweets that could help us improve the way we build our city?

I’ll admit that a bunch of red flags went up for me on the Cannabis Ecosystem prototype. Blockchain and cannabis? Talk about going after buzzwords! That said, the application of blockchain technology to safely collect and share data on cannabis use is intriguing, and the system they presented seems to be very well thought out. I look forward to seeing how they take it forward!

This being the first year that the City has held the HealthHack competition, they opened it to everyone, which means we ended up with an interesting mix of both existing and brand new projects. We struggled with that as judges. In future years, breaking proposals into two categories would be a good way to allow for both while making the judging a little more fair.

Well done to the finalists and indeed to everyone who submitted a proposal!

Health Innovation in Edmonton

Though they share a similar objective – innovation in healthcare – the HealthHack competition should not be confused with Hacking Health, an event that first happened in Edmonton back in 2013. That said, both events help bring the vision that Mayor Don Iveson first shared in 2016 of “positioning Edmonton as a world class health innovation city” to life. It’s exciting to see some real on-the-ground activity!

HealthHack Competition

Why Edmonton as a health city?

“The Edmonton ecosystem has a range of assets in the health innovation space. This includes Canada’s largest integrated health system and a readiness to diversify the economy; researchers and entrepreneurs who have created and will create new products, devices and system innovations; and a willingness to take risks in order to drive growth.”

You can learn more about the Health City Initiative here.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #292

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

  • As promised, Metro Edmonton became The Star Edmonton on Tuesday, April 10. I am a little surprised at how all-in they went with the Star branding!
  • The Edmonton Examiner has shifted its publication day from Wednesday to Thursday. As noted by Jeff Samsonow, the website hasn’t been updated in a few weeks, and the last tweet from the Examiner was sent on March 9. Managing Editor Dave Breakenridge told me that “due to staff changes our focus shifted solely to the print edition for the last couple of issues, but there will be a revived online presence in the coming weeks.”
  • This news is a month old now, but possibly related: Doug Johnson moved from Postmedia (specifically the Examiner) to take on the position of Front & Dish Editor at Vue Weekly.
  • Bryn Griffiths, who was with Newcap since December 2012, has been “downsized” out of the company. “Enjoyed my time at K97 but time to re-assess and re-invent,” he tweeted. “Done it before. Will do it again.”
  • K97’s new morning show debuted this morning. The all new Terry Evans Show features Pete Potipcoe, who spent the last four years in Fort MacMurray.
  • There’s an A Channel Edmonton Reunion scheduled for Saturday, April 21 at the Edmonton Public Library downtown.
  • Global Edmonton’s wardrobe sale over the weekend raised $12,000 for the Terra Centre, an increase of $3,000 over last year’s total.
  • Kenneth Whyte, former president of Rogers Publishing Ltd. and past editor of Maclean’s and the National Post, is launching a new publishing company called The Sutherland House. Ken started his journalism career at the Sherwood Park News and joined the Alberta Report in 1984.
  • The Journal has won a lot of fans online recently for its weather-related headlines. Headlines like “You’re cold, I’m cold, everything is cold” and “It’s snowing again. Here’s a picture of a dog.” Check them out here.
  • Here is the 20th Alberta Podcast Network Roundup! The next Edmonton Podcasting Meetup is scheduled for Saturday, April 21 at Variant Edition Comics & Culture.
  • For 3-4 weeks back in 1973, while the Edmonton Journal went through a newsprint shortage, 630 CHED kept the comics alive via the radio.
  • Hope to see you on May 5 at CKUA for PodSummit!

Premier Rachel Notley addresses cabinet 88223
Premier Rachel Notley addresses cabinet, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

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Edmonton Notes for April 15, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:


Two Second Headways
Two Second Headways, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

  • I hope to see you at City Hall on Monday afternoon for the City of Edmonton’s HealthHack Prototype event! It runs from 2-4pm.
  • The 110th Edmonton Kiwanis Music Festival kicks off on Monday and runs through the end of the month.
  • Head over to the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday from 10-4pm for the Edmonton Career Fair & Training Expo.
  • The families of four Edmonton-area Humboldt Broncos players will host a public Celebration of the lives of Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter, Parker Tobin and Stephen Wack at 1:00 PM MT on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at Rogers Place. You can get free tickets here.
  • The City is hosting two public engagement sessions this week on proposed grass and yard waste collection changes, on Wednesday at the Mill Woods Senior and Multicultural Centre and on Thursday at the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre.
  • The Sexual Exploitation Working Group is hosting a lunch & learn on Thursday at MacEwan University. Wear orange to support the 2018 Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness.
  • Rapid Fire Theatre’s Bonfire Festival continues on Thursday and Friday at the Citadel.
  • Friday is 4/20. One of the events taking place that day to celebrate is 420 FEST at Union Hall.
  • The Edmonton Cottage Life & Cabin Show takes place at the Edmonton Expo Centre from Friday to Sunday.
  • Chantal Kreviazuk is performing at the Winspear Centre on Saturday evening.
  • Saturday is Lay Day Edmonton, a free opportunity to “tour the Edmonton Law Courts, view mock trials featuring the Ghostbusters, the Cat in the Hat, Mario & friends, and Superman, and receive legal consultations and information from our volunteer lawyers.”
  • This year’s Spring Edmonton Woman’s Show takes place at the Edmonton Expo Centre on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Save the date! AccelerateAB is taking place at the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday, April 24.

Spring Thaw & Rocks
Spring Thaw

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