Building a globally competitive & innovative Edmonton Region

With our new mayor now officially in office, it’s time to learn some new vocabulary. Forget “world class”, “creative”, and “Capital Region”; start getting used to “globally competitive”, “innovative”, and “Edmonton Region”. All three featured prominently in Mayor Iveson’s swearing in address on Tuesday afternoon. The new words may not seem important on the surface, but I think they signal a shift in the way Iveson will lead Edmonton over the next four years.

City Council Swearing In 2013

When I interviewed EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson just over a year ago he was still settling into his new role but had already started using some consistent language in meetings and interviews. “We need to change to a culture of competitiveness,” Brad told me. “We need to have a hunger to compete.” He sees that culture of competitiveness as the best way to combat our biggest threat: complacency.

If his speech is any indication, Mayor Iveson is going to get along just fine with Brad. Iveson used the phrase “globally competitive” six times. You could probably have substituted the phase “world class” into each of those sentences, but that phrase carries baggage. Even Mayor Mandel generally stayed away from it (until he got upset about the arena, that is). But for all the distaste that many of us have with “world class” there hasn’t been a strong alternative. It would seem that “globally competitive” could be just that.

I like the approach that “globally competitive” suggests. Instead of just attaining a certain status and then potentially becoming complacent, you need to keep working hard to remain competitive. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think it also opens the door to greater collaboration with Calgary. We absolutely can be globally competitive together, but can we both be world class? Here’s what Iveson said about the relationship with Calgary:

We have a lot of work ahead of us with the provincial government on a big city charter that must recognize our special challenges, and that ensures we have the tools and resources we need to realize our full potential as globally competitive Alberta cities.

So “world class” is out, “globally competitive” is in.

One of Mayor Mandel’s favorite words was “creative”. He used it a lot in speeches and in response to questions. He was always talking about finding “creative solutions” to problems. There’s nothing wrong with the word creative, but Mayor Iveson seems to prefer the word “innovative”. He used it a lot during the election, and in his speech on Tuesday he used it at least half a dozen times.

Iveson likes to mention Startup Edmonton and TEC Edmonton when he talks about innovation, and he frequently highlights the role that post-secondary institutions play as well. Maybe a creative solution could save us some money, but Iveson seems to suggest that an innovative one could make us money. Here’s what he said in the innovation section of his speech:

As problem solvers, we can do our business cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster and safer – and sell those solutions to the world. This is how we will ensure that Edmonton will compete globally, and endure long into the future, no matter the price of oil.

So “creative” is out, “innovative” is in.

Mayoral Forum #3

Paula Simons wrote about the shift from “Capital Region” to “Edmonton Region” yesterday:

“I do not live in the capital region. You don’t either. There is no such place. It’s a bureaucratic invention, a mythical, mealy mouthed way of describing the cities, towns, villages and counties that surround Edmonton.”

She goes on to make some excellent points about the “weasel-word label” and includes some great quotes from both Mayor Iveson and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse (“Atta boy!” he said in response to Iveson marketing Edmonton). I particularly like that Iveson understands the importance of using Edmonton when we talk about our city. That was one of the key points I tried to make at PKN7. “Capital Region” could be anywhere, but “Edmonton Region” is specific (yes I know there are two other much smaller towns named Edmonton). That’s another reason that Make Something Edmonton is compelling as a brand for our city.

The other interesting news this week related to the Capital Region Board (CRB) is new legislation introduced by the Province. The Modernizing Regional Governance Act would give the Province the ability to create “regional growth boards” much like the CRB itself. If the new legislation is adopted, it’ll make the CRB an official body under the Municipal Government Act. It would be great if we could rename the organization alongside those changes, something Mayor Iveson has indicated he’d like to pursue.

So “Capital Region” is out, “Edmonton Region” is in.

Wordsmithing, you say? I can see how one might reach that conclusion. But Mayor Iveson doesn’t choose his words lightly; he’s purposeful about what he says. I think he’s saying the right things, and that’s an important first step toward making change happen.

You can listen to this post here:

JihadOnYou: Declare holy war!

Post ImageI was reading Mashable today, and came across this post on a new website called JihadOnYou. Apparently the site was built over a single weekend – no word on how long it took them to come up with the name. Here’s the description from Mashable:

No matter what it is that has made your day a little bit more miserable, simply go to this site, rant about it, and “declare holy war” on it. Whether it be your annoying co-worker, an ex-girlfriend, the loaner car from the dealership, whatever it is, this is your place to rant. Other users then can rate your Jihad to decide if it’s worthy ala-Digg style.

Most of the comments at Mashable discuss the name, which could be described as offensive. To that I say bollocks!

If a word is “politically incorrect” or otherwise offensive, should you avoid it at all costs? My opinion is no. The word “jihad” will continue to carry the connotations it currently does only if we restrict its use. I don’t expect JihadOnYou to change the meaning of the word by itself, but every little bit helps. And yes, I realize that jihad is a word with a lot of history.

As for the site itself – it’s kinda neat! The about page says “we’re here to entertain, not educate” and to that end I think they have succeeded. It’s pretty hard to visit the site and not laugh!

Read: Mashable

Why teach cursive handwriting? A response

Post ImageBack in April I wondered why we still teach cursive handwriting in elementary school. The post generated lots of discussion at the time, and it definitely gave me much to think about. On Friday, I started thinking about it again after receiving a response via email from a reader known only as "The Bluebell Wood." It’s obvious a lot of thought was put into it, so I asked for permission to publish the response and received it. Here it is:

Being able to write a legible and pleasant longhand is an essential part of rational life. “Word Processing” (an abominable phrase) is no substitute. Marshall McLuhan wrote The Medium is the Message and there is a lot of truth in that. The flow of a pen in the hand over paper while composing sentences is a completely different experience from keyboarding and looking at a screen; physically, and in the tools used, and in the mind as well. There is an effect on the content of what is written; in the same way that seasoned craftsmen in the guilds of Renaissance Italy would say, “It is the trade entering his body” when an apprentice bruised his thumb or some such hurt while learning the use of his tools. Writing with ink on paper is an act by which our peerless English language enters us – through hand, eye, posture, and senses, into our thoughts, affecting the sentence structure and choice of words. Forming well-made letters with the hand while forming thoughts in the mind is not the same as tapping little plastic squares while mechanical fonts appear on a screen and the cursor blinks like a tap that won’t stop dripping.

The practice of handwriting also infuses many desirable character qualities. Regard for the reader in the striving for maximum legibility is foremost; the training and development of the aesthetic sense in the letters, spacing, and overall texture; discrimination in avoiding poor proportions; rectitude in avoiding excessive flourishes; in general the application of what Edward Johnston called “sweet reason” in his classic Writing, Illuminating & Lettering of 1906.

This applies to the slant as well, which ideally is not more than about ten degrees from the vertical.

The clarity and precision needed for good legibility schools us in our thoughts and the sentences which incarnate them.

Why would anyone use cursive handwriting in this digital age? The answers are many: pleasure; rational and aesthetic maturity; participation in a historical stream reaching far, to the very dawn of man; its warmth in personal letters; to improve our thinking; and, as one of your own respondents has commented, “Just because everything can be done by computer doesn’t mean that it should be.” (shermie, May 2/07) (Emphasis added). It is premature to call this a digital “age”; it is barely three decades old, and the common use of fonts and p.c.s has been with us for less than one on hundredths of the ages in which cursive writing has been used, in various alphabets and languages.

The very typeset from which the font in which the question was posed is founded on the Humanist Bookhand and its Italic derivatives, which has been in continuous use for six hundred years, and is still vigorous. It is not possible to participate in the “Great Conversation” without learning cursive handwriting and using it well. In postulating that it no longer be taught, one finds oneself in the position of the man sawing off the limb of the great oak on which he himself resides. It is of the utmost importance to retain this skill. We owe it to children and youth to pass on this priceless heritage.


A cursive script was used 3,500 years ago in Egypt, where the priests had a hieratic script with the same relationship to hieroglyphics as our longhand has to printing. Cursive Hebrew dates back to Moses (c. 1400 B.C.) and there are also examples from the times of Jeremiah and Jeroboam II (c. 760 – 570 B.C.).

The pleasure of handwriting has always been with us and it is not going to go away. It represents the distillation of human effort to record images of the mind and heart.

It’s a very good response, I think. The font-face I use on this blog is Lucida Sans Unicode, in case anyone was wondering.

SSDD – Podcasting is just a word!

Post ImageI don’t know how many times this is going to come up, but I’ll keep posting about it until I don’t have to anymore. Podcasting is just a word. It means different things to different people. All that matters is the idea or technology or process that we use the word podcasting to refer to.

PodZinger recently renamed themselves to EveryZing, prompting Ivan at Vecosys to proclaim that podcasting is dead (via Podonomics):

You know that Podcasting is over as a bankable concept when companies start rebranding themselves to escape the word.

Absolutely incorrect. The concept is alive and well. The word podcasting – well maybe it is starting to fall out of favor. The two should not be confused, however! We can use any word we like to refer to the concept, and it remains as valid today as it was three years ago.

(By the way, if you’re unsure of what SSDD means, here’s the definition.)

Read: Vecosys

Powerset secures rights to search tech

Post ImagePowerset is back in the news again (you may recall they were ‘discovered’ back in October), this time for winning the exclusive rights to search technology developed at the famed Palo Alto Research Center in Silicon Valley. The technology essentially allows Powerset to understand the meaning of your search query (you know, “natural language” as they call it). Apparently Google is developing something similar. Here’s what VentureBeat says:

Clearly, Powerset faces challenges. Even if its technology does prove to be useful, it isn’t clear how long it will keep any lead (in natural language) in the face of an onslaught from Google. Another challenge is changing peoples’ search behavior, which is used to keyword searches.

Maybe I am being naïve, but I don’t think changing peoples’ search behavior will be all that hard. We still think in natural language before deciding what keywords to enter into the box. And some people don’t even bother to pick out keywords, they just type a sentence or question.

I think their biggest problem will be proving that their technology works and is useful. For now I’ve got Powerset filed under the “believe it when I see it” category. And assuming they really can do natural language search, will it be that useful? The keyword based search we use today works fairly well for general queries. I think natural language search definitely has value, but I don’t think it will replace Google overnight, if ever. There are certain types of queries that are probably better suited to keyword-based search.

And let’s not forget that millions of people (myself included) use Google and other search engines as navigational tools almost as much as information-finding tools. A quick glance at the 2006 year end Google Zeitgeist will show you that – half of the top ten queries were the names of websites.

Read: VentureBeat

Podcast enters the dictionary

Post ImageHow can you tell if a technology has made it? Sales figures, media buzz, pop culture references (like mentions in a movie or song or something), lots of different ways. Another way is when a word enters the regular lexicon, and eventually, the dictionary:

The Oxford English Dictionary added new words including “podcast” and “phishing,” saying they are now part of the English language, as it published its second edition today.

The words, which refer to music downloading and Internet fraud respectively, are part of a list of new additions that reflect the growing influence of technology on daily life. Oxford Dictionaries uses databases of words compiled from books, television programs and Internet chat rooms. There are 355,000 words in the new dictionary.

I’m still waiting for all the evidence that podcasting is just a fad. Might sound good in an article or two or three, but it doesn’t add up in real life! Not when the number of new podcasters continues to grow exponentially and the word itself makes it into the dictionary.

Read: Bloomberg

Updating the dictionary

Dave Pell posts about a recent Merriam-Webster survey to determine which popular words are not yet in the dictionary. Of the words in the top ten, the first four definitely have to be added, IMHO:

1. ginormous (adj): bigger than gigantic and bigger than enormous

2. confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time

3. woot (interj): an exclamation of joy or excitement

4. chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends

Only problem with those is that number four is spelled incorrectly. It should be “w00t” 😉

Read: Merriam-Webster