Oilsands research at the U of A

Post ImageI have written in the past that I think more research and development should go towards extracting more value from the oilsands. This R&D would ideally lead to better “green” technologies, and the profits we gain from the oil in the oilsands could also go toward sustainable energy. I’m sure there is lots of this R&D already going on, but a story about a new University of Alberta research centre caught my eye:

The Imperial Oil-Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Oil Sands Innovation’s mandate is to find more efficient, economically viable, and environmentally responsible ways to develop Canada’s oilsands resources, one of the largest crude oil deposits in the world. The centre will be led by scientific director Dr. Murray Gray.

The centre will invest $15 million over the next five years, will recruit more than 50 faculty, graduate students, and researchers, and will “apply the emerging tools of nanotechnology” to the oilsands. I guess that’s appropriate considering the National Institute for Nanotechnology is also located here at the U of A.

One of the main research goals of the centre is to reduce the amount of water used in the oilsands projects.

Read: ExpressNews

The Downtown Rink Saga Continues

Post ImageThis is the story that just won’t go away! While perusing the headlines tonight I came across this article at CBC.ca that says Oilers President Patrick LaForge is looking for an upgrade. An upgraded hockey rink, that is. For a few seconds I considered looking for the previous articles to see what has changed, then I realized that Andy Grabia probably beat me to it. And indeed he did:

It’s no longer an anonymous plan, but one the Oilers and the Mayor both support. There is now a timeline, where before there was none. Cost has gone from $0 to $250 million to $300 or $400 million, to maybe even $1 billion if it includes hotels and such. Rexall has gone from functional to run down.

All that and more, as Andy explains, in the two short months since the original editorial ran in the Edmonton Journal. Andy’s lengthly post also includes some interesting discussion, so check it out.

I’m generally in favor of anything that could have a positive impact on Edmonton’s downtown, so I like the idea of a new complex that would include a state of the art hockey rink. Of course, I also like the idea of a high speed train to Calgary and an East-West addition to the LRT, but thus far those projects have been seen as too expensive to attempt. And that’s what it will come down to with the new rink. Who pays, and how much?

Read: Battle of Alberta

Bright Nights 2006

Post ImageLast night I went with Sharon to check out the Bright Nights festival in Hawrelak Park. The event is always described as an “Edmonton tradition” and since I had never been before, I figured I should check it out. I came away less than impressed.

In general I’m short on patience, and it definitely wore thin waiting in the line of cars to drive through. It seemed to take much longer than it should have to get to the toll booth. So that was my first problem with event. My second problem was the advertising! Everywhere you looked – advertising. They tell you turn the radio to 98.3 so you can hear about the displays, but they lied. All you hear is advertising…”thanks to our sponsors” and crap. With all that advertising one would think they could lower the entry price, but no! Fortunately Sharon had a coupon, so it only cost us $10 as opposed to $15. That doesn’t take into account the wasted gas, however.

And finally, the displays weren’t that spectacular. Maybe I just had unrealistic expectations or something, but I didn’t ooh and ahhh at any of them. I did like the penguins on a snowmobile though, because penguins rock! Overall, I’d have to say that Candy Cane Lane has better displays!

I could think of better ways to spend $10 and over an hour of my time. I can now say I’ve been to Bright Nights, but I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon.

Feds invest $15 million in TEC Centre

Post ImageWestern Economic Diversification Canada (WD) announced today that it has invested $15 million in the TEC Centre at the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Square (for more on Enterprise Square and the TEC Centre, see my October 11th post). It is unclear just what, exactly, the money will be spent on:

This $15-million investment in TEC Edmonton and Enterprise Square is just the latest example of the “spectacular” support the university has received from all levels of government, said U of A Vice-President (Research) Dr. Gary Kachanoski, who is also chair of TEC Edmonton’s board of directors. That money comes with expectations, he said.

“We are rightly asked to do more and we simply must do more to ensure this investment translates into economic and social benefits for our community.”

I wish he could have given an example of what “doing more” entails. I expect we’ll find out more over the course of the next year. The TEC Centre will open for business in the summer of 2007.

Read: ExpressNews

Edmonton Technology Startups

Post ImageWhen it comes to technology startups, it seems as though Edmonton can’t hold a candle to Toronto, Vancouver, or even Ottawa. Very rarely in my travels, physical or virtual, do I hear about really interesting tech things happening in Alberta’s capital city. Yet I know there must be. I mean, surely we aren’t the only ones, right? Nah, there’s others…we just need to help each other become more visible.

So the first step is to identify all the interesting tech startups (or established but relatively small companies) based in Edmonton. I’ve started tagging some, such as Zigtag, Nexopia, and ProExams, at del.icio.us using the tag edmontontech. I encourage you to do the same! Or, if you’re not into the social bookmarking/tagging thing, leave me a comment or email me with your Edmonton-based tech companies.

I suppose step two would be getting together with some of the companies to see what kind of interest there is in making our neck of the woods more visible to the rest of the world. I’d like to start changing Edmonton’s image with respect to tech startups. We have a great economy, relatively low living expenses, and lots of smart people. We’re just not regarded as all that great a place to start a tech company.

But first, step one. What Edmonton-based tech startups do you know about?

TEC Connector 2006

Post ImageThis afternoon was TEC Edmonton’s annual TEC Connector networking event, and for the second year in a row, Dickson and I decided to go. We were actually invited to setup a booth for Paramagnus, but we opted to just mingle instead. The TEC Connector is kind of an important event for me, because I consider it the start of our adventure with VenturePrize.

There seemed to be more people this year, and also unlike last year, we actually knew a few of them this time! It was nice to reconnect with some of the very smart and very interesting people we have met over the last year. These kinds of networking events are funny in a way, because you can meet some great people, but they also show just how small Edmonton can be. There are more familiar faces than unfamiliar ones.

There was some talk today about VenturePrize and the new student category that has been launched. I think it’s great that the program is expanding! Dickson and I will be one of the featured presenters in this year’s VenturePrize seminar series, an opportunity I am really looking forward to. We’ll be sharing our story with this year’s participants on November 1st.

Read: TEC Edmonton

Some details on Enterprise Square

Post ImageI attended an information session put on by TEC Edmonton today, where I learned some more details about the recently named Enterprise Square. TEC Edmonton will be the largest tenant in the new building, and while the session today was geared more towards their Research Transition Facility (RTF) clients, I still learned a lot. First and foremost, the name RTF will cease to exist when TEC Edmonton moves downtown in August of 2007. The new name will simply be “TEC Centre”.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation was that they shared artist drawings and some preliminary floorplans for the building. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of the floorplans, but I do have scans of the drawings – here’s the outside of the building, and here’s part of the inside. If you look really closely, you might notice the following:

  • They have added a lot of windows to the second and third floors to try and bring in some more daylight.
  • A completely new fourth floor is currently being added. It will be constructed of steel on top of the existing concrete structure, and the sides will be completely covered in glass.
  • Instead of a skylight on the roof, they are building 13-foot high glass structures to allow daylight to flow into the building.
  • New elevators will be completely enclosed in glass, and existing escalators are being refurbished.

You’ll note the number of times I mentioned daylight. The existing Bay building was meant to be a department store, and so the focus was entirely retail. As a result, very few windows were built. Actually, I learned some interesting things about the building itself too. It is entirely built of concrete, and was constructed in two parts. The southern half was built in 1939, and the northern half was added in 1952. The familiar “coat of arms” on the southeast corner of the building will be preserved, along with a number of other features in order to meet the City of Edmonton’s restrictions for historic buildings.

Enterprise Square will offer about 350,000 square feet of space when complete, which should free up at least 150,000 square feet of space on the main university campus (which is good considering more academic space is badly needed). Here is the tenant list:

  • TEC Centre tenants & TEC Edmonton
  • U of A Faculty of Extension (completely moving downtown)
  • U of A School of Business Executive Education Program and the Alberta Business Family Institute
  • U of A Design Gallery, Arts Faculty
  • U of A Advancement Services
  • Art Gallery of Alberta (temporary, until the new Art Gallery is complete)
  • CHUM (Citytv and The Bounce, which already occupy space in the building)

As you can guess from the list, there will be at least some classroom space in Enterprise Square, used by the Faculty of Extension and the School of Business. Whether it will be available for use like space on the main campus remains to be seen.

President Samarasekera fast-tracked the project a while ago, and has made a number of her own requests (such as open spaces for lots of “hustle and bustle” on the main floor). The construction schedule really is aggresive, with blueprints for the interior to be completed in November and construction to begin in January (Stantec is handling the project). Tenants will start moving in over the summer. Dr. Samarasekera sure knows how to crack the whip it seems!

At this stage of the game, nothing is perfectly set in stone, but it’s getting closer. I expect in January you’ll really start to notice a difference if you pass by the building. And hopefully by August we’ll be able to take a good look at one of the newest additions to the University of Alberta!

Edmonton Public Library "Adventure" Ads

Post ImageIf you live in Edmonton, and listen to the radio occasionally, you may have heard the new ads for the Edmonton Public Library. If you haven’t, fear not, because I am going to summarize them anyway:

There are two young guys trying to skateboard, when one says to the other “I am not cut out for this.” The two are then faced with a problem – what to do? One guy suggests the adventure of a lifetime with dragons and all sorts of other things. The other guy thinks hes crazy. Then the first guy says all of it is possible at the public library. And the two go on their merry way, to slay dragons in their imaginations no doubt.

Now when I heard the commercial, I couldn’t help but laugh. No one I know gets all excited about taking an “adventure” to the public library. I get what they are saying, but I can’t see it working with young people. Maybe I’m just “too cool” but I think their marketing team took the wrong approach with the latest ads.

The goal is clearly to try and bring young people into the library. Instead of some hokey ad about an adventure, why not highlight the aspects of the library that appeal to young people? Things like public computers, excellent study and workspaces, a Second Cup built right in (for the downtown location at least), power outlets for your laptop, and wireless Internet (do they have this?). Okay so I can’t think of as many characteristics that would appeal to young people as I thought, but I am sure they are there. Thing is, I haven’t been to the library in so long, I don’t know what they are.

Do you agree with me? What else about the library would you highlight?

Read: EPL

University of Alberta unveils Enterprise Square

Post ImageJust over a year ago, I posted that the University of Alberta had officially purchased the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Edmonton. At the time, officials said the first tenants would be able to move in within 12 to 18 months. It appears things are more or less on track:

At a downtown ceremony Thursday, the University of Alberta unveiled the new name for its downtown building with a flourish.

A large sign was lowered from the second level of Commerce Place above the rotunda, bearing the name “Enterprise Square.”

The name was chosen to reflect a bunch of things, including academic enterprise working alongside the private, and the enterprising spirit of Edmonton.

Renovations at the historic site continue, and are expected to be complete in the summer of 2007 with tenants moving in shortly thereafter. Once finished, roughly 430,000 square feet of space will have been renovated and made available in just 24 months. The project is definitely impressive.

On October 11th, TEC Edmonton (which will be the building’s largest tenant) is hosting an information session at their current location on the university campus. I am registered and planning to attend. For more information or to register for the event, click here.

Read: ExpressNews

Revealing The Hidden Terror: Snakes on a Plane!

Post ImageIf you haven’t had the pleasure of talking to me in person for a while, you might not know just how excited I am for the upcoming movie Snakes on a Plane, which opens Friday (though I have tickets for the Thursday screening). I mean there’s snakes, a plane, fear-stricken passengers, and one extremely badass FBI agent, better know as Samuel L. Jackson. Just check out the summary:

On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who’s a witness in protective custody, lets loose a crate full of deadly snakes.

And with much cussing and violence, I fully expect Samuel L. Jackson to save the day. You just can’t go wrong with a title like Snakes on a Plane!

Another interesting aspect of the movie is the huge community of fans who have created “fan media” for the movie – fake trailers, posters, websites, fake scripts, etc. There’s really an amazing amount of stuff available. You can find links to some of it as well as some good background on the movie and the community at Wikipedia.

Which brings me to the point of this post – to show you fan media created by myself and Andrew! We went to the Edmonton International Airport yesterday, to interview people about the hidden terror; the terror the media doesn’t want you to know about. Snakes on a Plane. What we found was shocking – no one was aware of this growing terror! Among those we talked to were a security screener and a baggage person, and it was clear from our conversations that there is no plan in place to fight the snakes. The ban on liquids is good, but what we really need is a ban on snakes!

Watch the video at YouTube!

The video turned out to be a little longer than I had hoped it would at seventeen minutes, but I wasn’t sure what else to cut. It has its funny moments, especially in the latter half, so if you have some time to spare, check it out! We find out if people are afraid of snakes, if they trust Samuel L. Jackson, and if they are planning to see the movie. It was fun to make!

Read: YouTube