2007 ETS Community Conference

Post ImageI went to the Edmonton Transit System Community Conference this morning, and I have to admit it was rather interesting. I’m not a transit geek or anything like that, but I happened to come across the conference online last week, and a couple of sessions caught my eye. One was on new technology, and the other was on web technology. Other sessions included a tour of the LRT garage, an input session regarding the 100th anniversary of ETS (happens in 2008), and an information session about Edmonton’s Transportation Master Plan.

I recorded the welcome and keynote, which you can listen to here. Here are some notes from the two breakout sessions I attended. From new technology:

  • ETS has ordered six hybrid buses, two of which are already in service. Each one costs around $700,000.
  • They also recently finalized their largest single order of buses ever (over 200). The new fleet will replace all the old GM buses, and will allow some room for growth. The 2007 Clean Diesel buses cost about $400,000 each.
  • ETS is experimenting with GPS and other wireless technologies. Lots of buses now have a GPS transmitter on top. The only thing preventing them from doing cool things like an “arrivals & departures” board at transit centres is money.
  • Most buses will be outfitted with a camera system consisting of 5 cameras. The cameras record to a DVR on the bus that has around 1 TB of storage, and uses MPEG-4 compression.
  • They have new automatic people counters! Haha, kinda funny they mentioned this one, but it actually does make a big difference I guess. In the future it could be linked to some of the wireless technologies too so that ETS would know if a bus is full or not in real-time.

And from web technology:

  • The webmaster for ETS is the same lady who records the BusLink information, and the old station announcements on the LRT.
  • I came ready to complain about all the new windows that are spawned on the website. Apparently I’m not the only one with that concern! No word on when it will get fixed.
  • The ETS website is the busiest of all City of Edmonton websites, with over 900,000 visits in 2006.
  • They launched an online store four months ago, where you can buy tickets and passes. It has already done over $100,000 in sales.
  • An average of 89,000 plans per month were created in 2006 with the Trip Planner tool.
  • There is a lot of things they’d like to add to the website, but it sounds like they have to jump through hoops to be able to make any changes.
  • It was mentioned in passing, but it sounds like the City of Edmonton is gearing up to overhaul their entire web presence.

The new technology session was particularly interesting for me…I have long wondered if they were testing GPS and similar technologies. Turns out they are!

It was announced in the keynote that the recent U-Pass referendum at the University of Alberta passed with 84 percent voting yes. You can read more about the vote at The Gateway. The ETS staff seemed pretty excited about it.

I’m not sure I’d go to this conference every year, but it was definitely worth checking out. And hey, you can’t beat the price – free!

Ottawa to help Alberta energy go green

Post ImageHere’s something you don’t hear every day – the federal government wants to help Alberta with it’s oil and gas industry! I think it’s great, as long as the funding is actually used appropriately. From the CBC article:

Ottawa will spend $155.9 million to make Alberta’s oil and energy industry more environmentally friendly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday.

The money will also support a project in Edmonton designed to convert municipal waste into electricity. Efforts to design a coal-fired electricity plant that releases almost no emissions will also be funded.

Already the announcement has been criticized by The Sierra Club, and I’m sure many more critics will follow. Harper has good timing though, as the Alberta government today “introduced legislation requiring about 100 high-polluting companies to reduce their emissions output starting July 1.”

Maybe this is the Canadian government’s way of saying, “yes, we value the oilsands as a strategic Canadian asset.”

Read: CBC.ca

Edmonton Festival City

Post ImageI was looking around for event listings for Edmonton recently, and yesterday I stumbled upon the Edmonton Festival City website. My first reaction was – wow, this is great! – and my second reaction was – how did I not know about this site?! From the about page:

The people of Greater Edmonton are physically connected to each other by streets, sidewalks and bridges. We are also united culturally through our sports teams, the arts, local media and — uniquely to Edmonton — by the range, depth and variety of our festival scene.

The site has photos and some general information, but the real gem is the calendar. All of Edmonton’s many festivals are listed, with dates, contact information, and brief descriptions. There are events listed right up to November 2008.

It’s a pretty good resource. They really should have a blog/RSS feed with festival-related news though, then it would be really useful.

Read: Festival City

Are bloggers talking about Edmonton?

Post ImageIn my last post I was sort of wondering who Edmonton bloggers are and what they are talking about, but perhaps just as interesting is what bloggers are saying about Edmonton. If you do a quick search for Edmonton at any of the many blog search engines, you’ll find a large number of results. Here are some interesting ones I picked out:

And of course there’s a ton of discussion about the Smyth trade.

So I guess the answer is yes! Bloggers are talking about Edmonton.

Edmonton Bloggers

Post ImageThis is something I have been thinking about for a while. I got an email this week from Pete Quily, asking if Edmonton had anything like the kind of directory he is looking for in Vancouver. Here’s what he wants:

With the large number of techies/bloggers/web workers/geeks/wired folk/internet businesses/pick your preferred word in the Vancouver area, why isn’t there a comprehensive directory of such people and organizations/nonprofits/businesses?

I want that for Edmonton too!

So just like I have been doing with edmontontech, I have started tagging blogs at del.icio.us with the tag edmontonblogs. This is really more of an “in the meantime” kind of activity, because as Pete points out, an actual directory website would be much more useful. Maybe I’ll build it one of these days.

I actually have an excellent domain name for it – blogosphere.ca. As you can see, we haven’t touched it since 2004. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to throw together some kind of directory with OPML and feeds broken down by city. BlogsCanada had potential, but it seems to have died. Another similar site is the Canadian Tech Mob, but it’s tech only, and nearly impossible to navigate (seriously didn’t webrings die in 1999?).

Okay I better go before I start writing code. I’m off to Calgary in the morning for a meeting!

Read: Pete Quily

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?