President Samarasekera's Message

Post ImageOn Monday an email from University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera made its way into my inbox. The email contained her Spring Break message to students. I have mirrored the PDF here. A few things stuck out for me from the message:

  • She definitely likes her quotes, using three in the message – one at the start, one in the middle, and one at the end.
  • The message sounds very big and forward-looking.
  • To my knowledge this is the first time she has communicated her “Dare to Discover” vision directly to students, though she didn’t get into any detail.

At the end of the message she invites students to get in touch with her at president@ualberta.ca and on the undergraduate page of her website. I’m going to have to read her vision and think about it for a while. Too bad she doesn’t have a blog – there, that’s my first bit of feedback, be one of the world’s first university presidents to keep a blog!

Podcasting at the University of Regina

Post ImageThis is just too cool for words! Via Tod Maffin’s wonderful blog I came across what might become the world’s first university course on podcasting! It seems that Michael Bell from the University of Regina’s School of Journalism really likes podcasting and wants to take such a course:

When I first made the decision to come to j-school, I was excited about the possibility of combining my interest in practicing podcasting with my studies of journalism. Especially enticing was the impression I got from j-school instructors that it would indeed be possible to podcast within the j-school’s program of study. But it has to start somewhere, right?

Via this proposal, I hope to outline a way to continue to study journalism and combine my study with the practice of podcasting.

Michael is a full time student, not a teacher, so the idea uses something called “directed study”, which he explains is a way for a student to gain credit for learning something of interest. There is an instructor to suggest readings, assignments, etc. His entire proposal is pretty interesting and worth a read.

I think a course on podcasting (and blogging for that matter) would be a really unique offering at my own school. I admire Michael for taking the initiative to get something started. I’m definitely going to have to look into this “directed study” thing – I wonder if we have something similar at the UofA?

Read: Podcaster Canadiense

Upside Software

Post ImageThis afternoon the Faculty of Science hosted the first ever Executive Business Seminar for Computing Sciences. These seminars bring real executives from the computer industry to talk to students and faculty about their business, the challenges they have faced, and of course the technology they use. The Faculty of Science has been hosting similar seminars for other disciplines, like Chemistry, and they have apparently been quite successful prompting the start of seminars for CS. The seminars are around an hour in length, and include free pizza and pop.

Today’s speaker was Ashif Mawji, founder, president and CEO of Upside Software Inc., a very successful Edmonton-based software firm. They create software tools that help companies manage contracts. Ashif also brought Rob Brown along for the talk, who is the company’s Director of Team Development. The presentation was really quite interesting, and the success that Upside Software has had is quite impressive. Indeed one look at their customer list will give you an indication of how successful they have been!

After the presentation there was time for Q&A which was probably the most beneficial part of the seminar. Upside Software is looking to hire around 40 people in the coming year, so that was the pitch to students. All of their development is done on the .NET platform using C# – technologies which as you probably know are what I use and promote.

At the end of the session I introduced myself to Ashif and Rob, and invited their developers to attend the .NET Wizards upcoming events. It would be great to have their experience and leadership in our user group! I’d say today’s session was worthwhile, so I am planning to attend the next one too when it is announced.

UofA Heads Downtown

Post ImageWell it’s official! The proposal from the University of Alberta to purchase the aging Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Edmonton was unanimously approved by the University’s Board of Governors today. From today’s Edmonton Journal:

Gary Kachanoski, the U of A’s vice-president of research, said the deal would harnesses the intellectual and research power of the university to establish Edmonton and the surrounding area as the next knowledge-based sector in North America. The total cost of buying the building and refurbishing it will be about $62 million.

Of the city’s money, $7.5 million will go towards renovating the former Hudson’s Bay building to house the TEC Centre – which will give affordable space on the building’s third floor, and eventually its second floor, to fledgling technology-based companies. The University of Alberta will match that amount.

Sounds like they want to get things moving quickly too. If the purchase goes through successfully, construction will begin this fall with the first tenants moving in sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

As I have said before, I think the deal is excellent for the University and for Edmonton’s downtown. I’m really glad the deal is going go through!

Read: Edmonton Journal

TEC Connector

Post ImageI attended TEC Edmonton’s TEC Connector event this afternoon with Dickson. TEC Edmonton is a joint venture of the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. Here’s what the event was all about:

This TEC Connector event will showcase companies created from the results of University of Alberta inventions and technologies. In addition, the event is an active connector which will provide networking tools and tips, plus generate opportunities to connect with useful representatives in our community, including: university researchers, start-up company leaders, professional service firms, financial support organizations, government agency representatives, media representatives, inventors and entrepreneurs.

Obviously Paramagnus is not a spin-off company, nor we do use any University research or innovations, but we though the event might be a great opportunity to do some networking anyway. We met some interesting people and found out more about many of the local companies we had only just heard of in the past. I also learned some interesting statistics about University of Alberta spin-off companies:

  • As of March 31st, 2005 there were 69 active UofA spin-off companies
  • There have been 84 such companies formed since 1963, including those that have merged, been acquired, or discontinued
  • These companies employ more than 1000 high-skilled workers
  • More than 80% of the spin-offs are based in Alberta
  • Seven are publicly traded

One of the speakers at the event also mentioned the pending offer to purchase to the Hudson’s Bay building downtown, which if approved is where TEC Edmonton’s new headquarters would be. University administration presents the proposal to the Board of Governors on Friday, so we should know either this week or next whether or not the deal will go through.

Networking events are always lots of fun! This one was especially good because there was free food and drinks 🙂

Read: TEC Connector

Thoughts on the Neoliberal Globalism Conference

Post ImageNow that the Globalism Conference is over and I’ve had a day or so to digest what I took in, I came up with some thoughts and observations. Megan also posted some post-conference thoughts. Here are mine, in no particular order:

  • I wonder how we get young people interested and involved in this type of content. Most people my age don’t even know what NAFTA really is, much less can they form an opinion on whether it is good or bad for Canada.
  • At a conference talking about challenges to American power, it was quite interesting that there were no sessions on China, India, or other up and coming countries. The lack of anything on China surprised me most of all. They are going to be the next superpower, and they are almost completely opposite of the United States. Surely there’s valuable information to be learned from examining the country.
  • I think I have altered my opinion on Alberta’s oil and gas industry. While I remain opposed to sharing everything with the other provinces and getting basically nothing in return, I understand the need for a national energy policy. As long as Alberta is given a very important position in such a policy’s creation and execution, I think it would be wise to pursue.
  • I think education and awareness is the biggest problem we face. Yes there were thousands of people protesting Iraq in front of the Whitehouse the other day, but how many of them have a good understanding of the causes and desires and ideals that resulted in the Iraq war? There is more to the story than just bringing the soldiers home.

I probably took more notes at this conference than I did at school all last week. I figure it’s the kind of thing that you have to take advantage of while you still can. It’s just too bad more people my age didn’t attend, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – most of them don’t vote either.

Read: Globalism Conference

Alternatives to Integration

Post ImageThe final session of the day was titled Alternatives to Integration with Bush’s America, and included Lori Wallach, David Schneiderman, and Gordon Laxer as panelists. Mr. Laxer spoke last, being the man behind the Globalism Project, and this talk was more a wrap up of the last five years of work than an alternative to Bush’s America. Ms. Wallach, from the United States, spoke first, but definitely stole the show. She was captivating, and had an excellent message to share. I found myself doing far more listening in this final session than writing, so my notes are not nearly as extensive as for other sessions:

  • The bottom line: it’s a power issue.
  • We need to get past the “inevitability” issue. There are alternatives – the status quo is not inevitable as many assume!
  • He or she who writes the rules, rules.
  • In order to effect change, a mass of people is usually required – something revolutionary. And that mass of people needs to first rally around a national issue, so that there is political accountability when taking on an international issue.
  • TATA: There Are Thousands of Alternatives!
  • Neoliberal Globalism is a forcefield.

Read: Globalism Conference

Energy and Security

Post ImageThere were concurrent sessions right after lunch today, and I chose to attend the one entitled Energy and Security. Of all the sessions I attended, this one had the most discussion and was probably the most engaging from start to finish. All three topics presented by the panelists were tightly integrated and related, so the following notes are from all three. Marjorie Cohen talked about Public Electricity in Canada, Hugh McCullum talked about the End of the Oil Boom, and Duncan Cameron talked about The Chamber of Commerce and Energy Security.

  • The main theme of the session was that Canada does not have a national energy strategy or policy of any kind, and that in order to move forward in a sustainable fashion, we need to come up with one.
  • Resource nationalism is common around the world, but not in Canada.
  • There is no Canadian counterpart to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) in the US.
  • The idea for Electricity Policy is to create Regional Transmission Organizations, so that privatization can occur. Canada has voluntarily gone with this plan, though some utilities in the US have opposed the idea.
  • Global demand for oil has for the first time eclipsed global supply – we are entering the last few decades of the oil era.
  • The oil that is left will be the oil which is hardest to extract, and which has the greatest impact on the environment.
  • More than half of all Canadians heat their homes using natural gas.
  • There was lots of discussion about Alberta’s oilsands. It was said that oil is a national security issue for the US, and Canada and it’s oilsands are the most secure source of oil.
  • American investment controls at least 40% of Alberta’s oil.
  • NAFTA is an international treaty as far as Canada is concerned, and so it supercedes domestic law. This is not the case in the United States.
  • A scheme for nationalization of Alberta’s oil was proposed: 1/3 ownership to the federal government, 1/3 to the other provinces, and 1/3 to Alberta (actually 34%, so they have a veto).
  • The main political question of the next five to ten years: how do we as Canadians share our resources?

Read: Globalism Conference

Canada and Continental Economic Integration

Post ImageFor the first of the concurrent sessions, I chose to attend the one about continental economic integration, because it caught my eye. Thus far, this has been the best session of the conference in my opinion, so it was a good choice.

Some notes from Paul Bowles’ talk on Canada and Dollarisation:

  • It was actually Quebec that first suggested dollarisation.
  • The fact that the value of the dollar fell, and that the Euro took off in Europe around the same time fueled discussion about adopting a common currency. The fact that it was on the agenda for other nations like Argentina also helped stir up interest.
  • While the Canadian and Mexican reasons for dollarisation are quite clear, the American reasons are not.
  • Reasons why there is hope for the future: what was sold as inevitable has not come to pass, the political right in Canada is itself split on the issue, and the fact that the US pretty much ignored the discussion makes it unlikely to happen.

From Stephen McBride’s talk on Privatizing the State:

  • For the first time this conference, it was suggested by Mr. McBride that perhaps neoliberal globalism has peaked. The reasons – there is no longer a sense of inevitability, while we have learned to admire entrepreneurs, events like Enron have shed light on corruption, and most importantly the term “globalization” has lately been replaced with “imperialism”, which conjures up much more discussion about security, and goals, and war, etc.
  • Anti-Americanism has never been as widespread or as deep as it is right now, as shown by American polling agencies.
  • The influence of “accidental” events should not be underestimated! Events like Hurricane Katrina have shed light on the US class system and the inablility of the government to act domestically.
  • People don’t change unless there is an alternative, and only recently have there been the underpinnings for an alternative course of action.

And finally from Erin Weir‘s presentation on the import content of Canadian exports. Of all the talks so far, Mr. Weir’s was by far the best. He is an excellent speaker and presented his argument very well. And, for the first time this conference I have an actual link to a speaker!

  • There is this notion that the Canadian economy depends a great deal on exports, and this idea significantly influences public policy.
  • Mr. Weir showed that by using a value-added approach to exports, as opposed to gross exports, our economy actually depends far less on exports than is commonly assumed.
  • There were three key points: gross exports have declined relative to GDP since the year 2000, even though our economy has continued to grow; exports contribue to GDP far less than is commonly assumed; the growth in exports that was observed following free trade agreements is as much a result of the explosion in import content as anything else.
  • TINA – could also mean “trapped in North America”. An argument used to suggest that we are entirely dependent on the United States for our exports.
  • The import content value-added approach shows this is untrue.

Read: Globalism Conference

The Semi-periphery and US Unilateralism

Post ImageThe first session this morning was on the topic of semi-periphery and US Unilateralism. Janine Brodie talked about North America as a community, Ray Broomhill gave an excellent overview of Australia in the era of Neoliberal Globalism, and Teresa Gutiérrez-Haces talked about the failure of the multilateral system. Again, visit the speakers page to learn more about them. Here are some notes I took, first on Ms. Brodie’s talk:

  • The current agenda for deeper integration consists of: reinventing the border, maximizing regulatory efficiency, establishing a North American energy strategy, a security alliance, and the creation of new institutions.
  • Much of the current agenda for deeper integration has come from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE).
  • The EU has served as an example for deeper integration. The next step after trade integration is political integration.
  • An argument against this is that Americans and Canadians are becoming and more and more different in terms of their values. I question that argument though, because it’s not like all of the countries in the EU have the exact same values either.
  • D’Aquino has said that the level of integration this far achieved is irreversible!
  • Popular culture of fear – just look at the new shows on TV this fall.

From Mr. Broomhill’s presentation:

  • Australia has historically been quite vulnerable to global fluctations, and this is still the case.
  • Since Howard became Prime Minister in 1996, there has been a more aggresive neoliberal agenda.
  • While Australia is still dependent on foreign capital for investment, it has become more indirect than in the past.
  • Australia’s foreign debt has grown, but the debt is now more private than public.
  • Globalization presents a challenge, but it should not be an excuse for government’s mistakes and failures.

I didn’t get nearly as much from the last talk:

  • The US employs a strategy of divide and conquer.
  • They have moved away from multilateral negotiations in favor of bilateral ones in which they can impose their economic, political, and military objectives.
  • It was pointed out that unilateralism is nothing new, but that replacing multilateralism with bilateralism is.

Read: Globalism Conference