Edmonton in 2008

What do you remember most about the past year in Edmonton? I think I’ll look back on 2008 as the year that I started to fully appreciate everything that our city has to offer. I learned a lot about Edmonton this year, and I look forward to learning even more in the years to come. Hopefully I can have a positive impact on the city as well!

Edmonton Skyline

Obviously a topic as large as an entire city is impossible to recap, but that doesn’t stop everyone from trying. Makes for interesting reading, right?

Here are some Edmonton-related year in review articles from around the web:

Know of another list or article that I missed? Leave a comment or email me and I’ll add it.

Now for a list of my own! Here are the 5 most popular Edmonton-related posts on my blog from the past year:

  1. Big Earl 96.3 is now Capital FM
  2. The Apple Store opens in West Edmonton Mall
  3. Edmonton is home to the future of Future Shop, and very close behind that, A look at Edmonton’s new Future Shop
  4. Use Google Maps to find Edmonton Transit schedules and trip plans
  5. New Concept for Edmonton Arena in The Quarters Downtown

All of those posts were written in 2008. If I had included the popular ones written in 2007 and earlier, four of the five would be related to Edmonton radio stations. Work at a radio station, particularly a NewCap radio station? You need to improve your web presence!

These three were close to making the list also:

Finally, here are some facts and figures from 2008 that I’ll likely want to refer to again at some point:

  • Population of Edmonton: 752,412 (source)
  • Edmonton Oilers record (calendar year): 42-31-5
  • Capital EX attendance: 743,374 (source)
  • Homeless Count: 3079 (source)
  • Number of homicides: 35 (source)

If you have another fact or figure for the list, leave a comment or email me.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2009, thanks for reading!

Edmonton Tech in 2008

Now that 2008 has come to a close, I think it’s safe to say that the Edmonton tech scene has had a fantastic year. It feels like the community grew tenfold, but I know that’s probably not true. Instead, I think the community just became more integrated and public. We had far more events than ever before, which resulted in lots of opportunities for everyone to meet one another.

DemoCampEdmonton2DemoCampEdmonton3Cam LinkeEdmontonTweetup2Lined up outside the Apple StoreNAIT Digital Media ExpoNew Future Shop in Edmonton

Geoff Hayward, DataGardensnovaNAIT Challenge 2008Local Twitterers!Lift Interactive OfficeReg assembles the agendaFree Wifi @ DemoCampEdmonton3EdmontonTweetup

There were many tech groups active in Edmonton this year. We held four DemoCamp events (one, two, three, four), and one BarCamp. It was great to see attendance increase with each one. In November, we held the 3rd annual Code Camp event for developers. We also held three Tweetup events (one, two, three) this year. The Edmonton .NET User Group, Edmonton Microsoft User Group, and Edmonton Flash User Group all held fairly regular meetings throughout the year. The Agile Edmonton User Group was established this year and held a few meetings. A few other meetup groups got started toward the end of the year, and should be quite active in 2009 – Edmonton Web Design Meetup, Edmonton Social Web Meetup. There were a number of other tech events that took place throughout the year as well, such as the ICE Technology Conference, Moonlight in the Meadows, and the NAIT Digital Media Expo.

Here are some of the year’s most interesting Edmonton tech stories from my blog, Techvibes, and elsewhere:

And here’s the collection of Edmonton Startup Index posts at Techvibes (prior to September all of Alberta was grouped together – yet another sign Edmonton is getting stronger):

I’m really impressed with the way Edmonton’s tech scene grew both larger and stronger this year, and I think 2009 can be even better. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen.

Ups and Downs for Podcast Hosting in 2008

podcasting Back in October, Dickson and I announced that we were shutting down our hosting service Podcast Spot. At the end of November, we disabled uploading and are now in the final transition phase for downloads and RSS feeds. In February 2009, the site will be taken offline completely.

We’re not the only podcast hosting service that shutdown in 2008 – at least two other services also called it quits recently:

The most visible of these services was Podango, so news of its demise created some discussion over the holidays. From Podcasting News:

While Smith attributes Podango’s state to the effects of the financial market, Podango and other podcast hosting services have not demonstrated that there’s much of a need for podcast-specific Web hosting services.

Podcango’s situation raises the question: Is there a real need for podcast-specific hosting services?

It’s a good question, and one I have thought about quite a bit in the latter half of 2008. For the vast majority of people, YouTube, Flickr, and similar tools are good enough. If they want to share some audio or (more likely) video, these services make it easy to do so. Increasingly, video cameras come with built-in support for YouTube, so the user doesn’t really have to do anything but record. This was the curve we attempted to get ahead of with Podcast Spot.

For a smaller number of people, something more advanced is required. Maybe they want to sell advertising, or have more control over production quality, or gain access to better statistics. I think this group can be split into two – the DIY crowd, and the use-a-hosting-service crowd. So yes, there is a need for podcast-specific hosting services, but perhaps the market is a lot smaller than everyone thought.

It wasn’t all bad news for podcast hosting in 2008 though. Some familiar services still appear to be going strong: Libsyn, Podbean, and Podkive to name just a few. Back in July, RawVoice announced they were entering the market with Blubrry. In August, Wizzard Software announced increased revenues and decreased expenses and losses. And on October 21st, Blip.tv announced they had raised another round of investment.

I’d expect 2009 to be similar – a mix of ups and downs for podcast hosting services.

It’s important to realize that we’re talking about podcast hosting here. I don’t think the demise of Podango or any other service should be taken to mean that podcasting itself is in trouble. As Paul Colligan said:

Podango’s problems say as little about the future of Podcasting as GM’s problems say about the future of cars.

Podcasting is all about communication, and the need for that hasn’t gone away. Podcasting itself is doing just fine.

Tracking Santa in 2008

It’s that time of year again! Santa has started making deliveries around the world and will be coming down your chimney before you know it. He just arrived in Pinsk, Belarus according to the noradsanta account on Twitter! Santa is getting some help from Bitz the Twittering elf, who is keeping the account up-to-date. Very cool.

“Santa Claus is coming to town” by Zanastardust

There are a number of different ways to track Santa this year. Here are some of my favorites:

For a few more options, check out this post at Search Engine Land.

Happy Holidays!

Edmonton's 8th Homeless Count

blog action day 2008 poverty How many people are homeless in Edmonton? The last count, completed back in October 2006, found 2618 Edmontonians were homeless (the report is available in PDF). A lot has changed in the last two years however, so we need an updated number. Homeward Trust has scheduled Edmonton’s 8th Homeless Count for Tuesday, October 21st.

These counts provide information regarding our overall homeless population that organizations, agencies, and governments can use to determine best solutions for aiding the homeless and eventually ending homelessness.

The Wikipedia entry on Homelessness says that in 2005, an estimated 100 million people worldwide were homeless. The number in Canada is about 150,000, though the Government of Canada admits that “to date, no reliable method for counting the number of people who are homeless [has been] identified.” Even with less than accurate numbers, it’s clear that homelessness is a major problem.

Approximately 200 volunteers are required to conduct the Homeless Count here in Edmonton. Working in teams, some volunteers will participate in the street count, while others will work at drop-in centres, libraries, temporary employment agencies, and bottle depots. If you’d like to volunteer, you’ll need to attend a training session tomorrow:

A Volunteer Orientation Session will be held from 5:00 – 7:30 on Thursday, October 16, 2008, at the Stanley A. Milner Library theatre. A light supper will be provided and volunteers will receive all information necessary to complete their activities on the day of the count. Each volunteer will be asked to sign a waiver of liability form.

If you have any questions, contact Wendy Myshak at 780.944.5697 or via email.

I will be attending the session tomorrow and volunteering for the count on the 21st. Like most people who live or work downtown, my anecdotal experience suggests that homelessness has increased in Edmonton in recent years.

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day 2008, an effort to raise awareness and initiate action on the topic of poverty. I also participated last year, when the topic was the environment.

The CBC Olympic iPhone site rocks

We’re almost a week into the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and Canada still doesn’t have a medal. About a half an hour ago, swimmer Mike Brown finished fourth in what was probably our best shot at making the podium. Much to my surprise, the iPhone site at CBC was updated with the news almost immediately!

Swimming in Lane 5 at the National Aquatics Centre, the 24-year-old Brown touched the wall in a time of two minutes 9.03 seconds, missing the podium by just 9-100ths of a second.

Sad news, yes, but I’m really impressed with CBC. They have by far the best mobile site I’ve seen for following the Olympics.

Visit http://www.cbc.ca/iphone/olympics on your iPhone or iPod touch, and you’re presented with the screen to the right. Along the top is the menu bar which enables you to drill down into news related to your favorite sport. Underneath that are the overall medal standings with the three leaders and Canada. And underneath that are the latest Olympic headlines.

For me, the site is perfect. All I want to know at a glance are the medal standings and the headlines. I can quickly scan both, and if I want to, I can tap on a headline to read the entire story.

When I started looking for a good way to follow Olympic news on my iPod touch, I definitely didn’t think of CBC. The first thing I did was check the App Store, but there was nothing there that looked useful. So I started searching, and eventually came across the CBC site. I’m glad I did!

The only bad part about the site, of course, is that it’s getting tiring seeing the four red zeros beside Canada!

I haven’t watched too much of the Olympics on TV, pretty much just some of the major swimming finals. From what I’ve seen though, CBC has been doing a good job there too. I’ve read nothing but complaints about NBC online.

2008 ETS Community Conference

On Saturday I attended the annual Edmonton Transit System Community Conference. I went last year too. The free half-day conference, which started in 1999, is a way for ETS to share information with and gather feedback from the public. The event started with a keynote by Bob Boutilier, GM of the Transportation Department for Edmonton (not just transit, but all transportation). His remarks were really interesting, and his love for public transit was definitely on display (he came to us from Toronto, where he had a major impact on that city’s public transit systems). Here are my notes from the keynote:

  • This is the 10th anniversary for the Community Conference, and 2008 is the 100th anniversary for ETS.
  • There were 61.9 million trips in 2007, an increase of 7.8% over 2006. ETS is anticipating 63 million trips in 2008.
  • “Transit will never make you money.”
  • Due to poor planning in the past, ETS is having a hard time acquiring land for LRT expansion.
  • Another challenge is the “pickup truck and two car” mentality of many Albertans.
  • The current city council is viewed as very pro-transit, so there are two years to make serious in-roads before new members are elected.

Bob spent quite a bit of time talking about the “5 legged monster” that is the current LRT expansion plan. The idea is to try and capture riders outside the city, so they don’t need to drive in. This regional plan means working with 23 adjacent municipalities, something ETS is quite far along with.

100 Years of ETS

After the keynote, there were two breakout sessions. I attended the Manager’s Update with ETS Manager Charles Stolte, and a session Exploring New Technologies. Here are some notes:

  • ETS will be hiring 240 additional operators this year.
  • Clean diesel bus acquisitions: 231 in 2007/2008, 57 in 2009, 42 in 2010.
  • The cost of hybrid buses has fallen to about $600,000.
  • LRT car acquisitions: 37 in 2008/2009.
  • The first new LRT car will arrive in mid-May, and ETS will hold a public showcase.
  • ETS is working on a “bus of the future” with features like padded seats, color signs, Wi-Fi, GPS, and TVs.
  • The U-Pass created 700,000 new trips in 2007/2008. There was a 30% increase in ridership at both the U of A and MacEwan.
  • ETS is losing over $3 million per year due to the U-Pass.
  • Centennial week will take place September 12th to 20th, 2008.
  • ETS is testing a new information kiosk called “Info on the Go” at Churchill Station. It helps you with directions, routes, weather, and more.

I found the session on new technologies really disappointing, since they only covered “Info on the Go” and nothing else. Apparently they are exploring the use of text messaging, wireless Internet, and email in addition to having a physical kiosk.

Attendees received a notepad, pen, and ride-guide, and a really cool 2008 ETS calendar. It’s really high quality, and is full of historical transit photos!

Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

International Week 2008 Tonight I attended a lecture as part of International Week 2008 on campus at the University of Alberta. The speaker was Jeffrey Sachs, who is probably best known as the Director of the UN Millennium Project. Unfortunately he was called away to a special meeting in Africa with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and so he sent a pre-recorded video message instead.

His talk was very high-level and lacking in specifics. I suppose the idea is that you attend the lecture to whet your appetite, then you buy his new book (which, btw, he mentioned at least a half dozen times). All joking aside, I probably will buy it. I read his book The End of Poverty and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think his message is really important, and he’s great at delivering it.

Because Sachs could not attend, the organizers invited two other guests to make remarks and answer questions. One was Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary-based journalist, and the other was Dr. Rick Hyndman, Senior Policy Advisor for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Nikiforuk presented after the Sachs video, and he delivered a great presentation with just some notes to refer to. Hyndman presented last, and he had a laptop with some PPT slides. There must be a law somewhere that if you’ve got two presenters and one uses slides, the person with the slides invariably has the crappier presentation! It just doesn’t flow as well, nor does it sound as convincing.

That said, Hyndman more than redeemed himself in the Q&A session, during which he was pretty much attacked. One guy who lined up to ask a question was wearing a bright green t-shirt with "Greenpeace" emblazoned on the front – how would you expect him to treat a representative of the oil companies!

The event tonight wasn’t long enough to delve into any details, but it definitely was an opportunity to think about some of the issues that Sachs is so passionate about.

Visit the U of A’s International Week 2008 website for more information.

Imagine Cup goes green in 2008

Post ImageThe winners of Imagine Cup 2007 were announced yesterday in South Korea. The winning team in the Software Design invitational was from Thailand. The team members are: Prachaya Phaisanwiphatpong, Vasan Chienmaneetaweesin, Jatupon Sukkasem, Pathompol Saeng-Uraiporn.

Yeah, I don’t know how to say their names either! Imagine Cup is truly an international event. Dickson and I participated a few times, winning in Canada the first year back in 2003. The competition is for students, so I can’t compete anymore, but I still like to read about it.

Next year’s event will take place in Paris, France, and the theme is hardly surprising. Yep, you guessed it, Imagine Cup is going to tackle the environment in 2008: “imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment.”

Actually, that’s probably a fairly difficult theme for software development. It’s easy to come up with ideas for healthcare or education related software, but much more difficult to build something that helps the environment. Here’s a decent article on the topic.

Congrats to all the 2007 winners!

Read: Imagine Cup

Get ready for a major Microsoft product launch in February

Post ImageNovember of 2005 was an important month for Microsoft developers as Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 were launched. Technically BizTalk Server 2006 was part of the launch too, but it kind of took a backseat to the other two products. I doubt that will happen with the next big launch, coming in February 2008:

Microsoft announced at its partner conference on July 10 that it will launch Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 together in a single launch on February 27, 2008, in Los Angeles.

Those are three incredibly important products for Microsoft itself, and for Microsoft developers around the world. Combined with Windows Vista SP1, expected to be released alongside Windows Server 2008, it’s going to be a very exciting time. I can almost see the free copies of Visual Studio 2008 now…

The above quote comes from Mary Jo Foley’s post, titled “Microsoft plans a triple-play”. I have to admit, for a moment I half expected to read about Microsoft jumping into competition with AT&T, Verizon, and others! In telecommunications, a triple play means a bundle of high-speed Internet, television, and telephone services.

Mark your calendars!

Read: ZDNet