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2008 New Year's Intentions

Three years ago, I posted my resolutions for New Years 2005, and updated two months in with my progress. This year, instead of resolving to do something, that is, committing to a change or continuation of something, I'll simply declare my intentions. That way I can be honest and won't feel bad about breaking a promise to myself. Regrettably, this isn't as clever as I thought it was before looking up the phrase 'new years intentions' in Google.

  • Start a savings and/or investment account and make regular deposits. Unexpected income used to go to debt. Now it will go to savings. I took a step towards this in December, and now with a real job, I can think more clearly about my retirement.
  • Fix Urban Vancouver.
  • Go on a real vacation where I don't check work email. At all. I even intend to write one of those very boring "I'm on vacation" autoresponder that everybody hates. I'm thinking a few days in Portland, then a few days on the Oregon Coast, with a day or two to document my adventure when I get back. I haven't decided when, but May or July look right.
  • Continue bookshelf sustainability. So far so good, though with Christmas came 4 books, meaning I must now give 4 away.
  • As a belated yet environmentally-friendly protest of TransLink's fare increase, I intend to bike to and from work each weekday for a month. I would buy a one zone pack of tickets and a two zone pack of tickets for trips elsewhere. How does buying fare tickets send a message to TransLink that fares are too high? It would save me—i.e. they would forgo—$50 (which would go straight to my savings account), and make me more fit. And I would save the tickets for later if I don't use them during the month. I'm thinking of doing this in March, and maybe make a meme out of it, that is, see how many people I can get joining me.
  • Take a full weekend and get rid of stuff in my closets. Spring cleaning, hoorah!
  • Write Christmas cards to my friends. I've set a reminder in November to do this.
  • Rediscover my sense of wonder.
  • More GlobalSat GPS logger tomfoolery. Richard Akerman reminded me in a comment to a photo of mine about his article GPS on a Plane and his subsequent article GPS on a Plane II. Transferring position data from the GlobalSat DG-100 unit is still more cumbersome than it needs to, involving a trip to Windows.
  • Dance again.
  • Learn to sing, mostly to harmonize with Radiohead songs. The only karaoke song I'll sing, however, is Eurythmics "Here Comes the Rain Again". Any others and you'll have to get me even more drunk.
  • "Accidentally" break the kit lens on my camera and replace it with something decent. Also: power through my frustration with this expensive hobby of mine, photography.

That's not an exhaustive list. Lists are rarely exhaustive. What do you intend to do in 2008?

Vancouver Transit Camp Recap

The Saturday before last, I attended Vancouver's first Transit Camp, the following sessions I spent the most time at:

  1. Ask the Gurus, attended by Stephen Rees and others, where we discussed what we liked about transit systems around the world (emphasis on places we've visited or lived) and how they might apply to Vancouver.
  2. Transit connecting neighbourhoods, attended by the Safe Route Tsawwassen. I transcribed the flyer Carol Vignale handed out at Rebecca's photo of said flyer. Carol's group, along with a Tsawwassen Band elder, are promoting alternate transportation methods in Tsawwassen and the Delta area, such as bike valets at public events and making 56 Street a boulevard and town centre. Carol mentioned something about being between permanent full-time jobs and I wish I blurted out what I thought, which was "how do can we make what you're doing now your permanent full-time job?" She and her initiative are mentioned in The Delta Optimist with regards to cycling routes. No notes on the wiki, but there's a link to video (50 minutes in, apparently).
  3. Route numbers and nomenclature, which was easily the most esoteric session at the unconference. That's not a complaint as far as I'm concerned: I participate in finding multiples of 37 on buses and elsewhere. Numerology is highly unscientific to me, but I do appreciate the ability of assigning meaning to otherwise meaningless icons and interacting a little more with the built environment.
  4. Art and creativity in Transit, attended by the authors of True Loves, a great graphic novel about a young vintage clothing store owner who finds the boy of her dreams in Vancouver, with cameos by the mountains and the SeaBus. We talked about ways we can stay "productive" and "creative" during the hour in which transit riders like me usually use to zone out. I'll watch the video of the Cycling session.
  5. Social media and games for transit. I regret choosing that over the Advocacy session because the latter would have been a little more practical for me and would have been more of a learning experience. There aren't much notes about the Advocacy session on the wiki, at least not yet.

Lessons for the Next Transit Camp Vancouver

  • Workspace is an amazing venue for this kind of thing. I nominate it for the next time we have Transit Camp!
  • The unconference possibly lasted one session too many for most brains. That said, we could only find that out the hard way. Next time I imagine it will end closer to 3:30 than 4:30.
  • Lunch went well. Not too short, not too long, and everybody except those that first arrived as lunch was ending got something to eat.
  • Unconferences still need loud people to wrangle everybody to go to the next session. Roland and Dave stepped up and filled that role admirably.
  • There was no keynote at Transit Camp as scheduled on the wiki. Maybe we didn't need to schedule one? People didn't seem to mind that there was no Important Speaker to get the attendees warmed up.

Lessons For Me (for the Next Unconference)

  • Don't chicken out next time and instead go with your gut instinct and hold a session. My idea was to discuss the Vancouver Transit Group on Flickr and to take suggestions on how I could improve my administration of the group. I have extensive notes on that, enough for a separate post.
  • Business cards! Or, Moo cards. I handed out exactly zero to people I wanted to talk to again.
  • Don't sign up to be the wiki gardener or Skype backchannel inviter. Put the computer down, take a notepad and only take brief notes as reminders to look up stuff later. It's about participating and letting others document the event well, which they'll do.
  • Wear a cute t-shirt. That was one thing I did right, so this is just a reminder to do exactly the same thing next time. I wore the awesome subway map of the heart t-shirt Karen got me for Christmas, and it was a hit.

There are links to other blog posts on the front page of the wiki and I'm also keeping track in the announcement I made in the Vancouver Transit Flickr group. Next time I'll announce it here a little earlier. I know there were people who read this blog who might have been able to attend if they knew about it a few more days beforehand.

Weird Segues Into Stanley Kubrick and Baseball

Today I celebrate the 7th anniversary of my starting blogging, first with Blogger, then with Movable Type, then with WordPress, and now with Drupal. This year I've struggled more than any year to write something compelling, and today is no different. Today is also the 7th of the month, meaning it's time to update you on my podcast listening habits.

I unsubscribed from The Talk Show with John Gruber and Dan Benjamin, primarily because their smug nitpicking of Apple's offerings, seemingly endless discussions of the show's format (in at least one show they discuss it for a third of the episode!), the several minutes long paid commercials in the middle, weird segues into Stanley Kubrick and baseball, and my inability to tell either man's voice apart wasn't for me. 12 episodes was enough for me to get the point.

I also unsubscribed from the ChalkedUp podcast not over content, but rather because their feed was broken or missing. As far as I can tell, they're still pumping them out, I just can't get them into my iTunes directly via subscription, and when I sync it up, my iPod. I emailed them and everything. I'll re-subscribe if anybody knows how.

I added two podcasts to my list: recommended by Mason on my Facebook wall, Sound Opinions, offering record reviews and band interviews (the former remind me of Wilson & Alroy, who also sometimes disagree publicly on how good some albums are) and the Sex is Fun Radio Show. It may make me blush a little, but I'm open to the idea that I can improve in many areas and enjoy learning with my partner girlfriend.

(Mason noticed I was playing a lot of Book's Music episodes and wondered why. It's diverse and great, that's why. He knew that I'd been listening to it because he looked at my last.fm playlist. Only one other guy I know cares enough about my playlist to remark about it. Something tells me that, as cool as I think Last.fm is and how useful I find it to know what people in my circle of friends are listening to, that it's not really a big phenomenon. As, say, Facebook.)

Despite yet another hiphop recession for CBC Radio 3, it's the only way I discover great Canadian music. Like Akufen, straight outta Montreal with the chip-chop house sample-based house music. I've been playing the My Way album on repeat for pretty much the last 48 hours straight.

Vancouver Transit Camp This Saturday (December 8th)

This Saturday at Workspace in at 400-21 Water St. in Gastown from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, transit enthusiasts, planners, stakeholders and others are getting together for Vancouver Transit Camp, “a full-day event for Metro Vancouver to bring people using, loving and geeking over transit together with staff from TransLink, to work together on how we can make our public transit system better, easier and more enjoyable for everyone.” List yourself as attending on the attendees wiki page. Many are choosing to list themselves on the Facebook event instead, and that's OK too. Those that can't attend, the event will be very well documented in blogs and Flickr and elsewhere.

I'll be there, and I'll post links to anybody who's liveblogging the event (essentially so you can refresh a page to get the very latest). I'm looking forward to seeing some of the Vancouver Transit Flickr group members in person and if you do attend, please do add your photos to the group's pool!

[Cross-posted from the Vancouver Transit Flickr group]

Raincity Studios Acquires Bryght, And With It, A "Support Cowboy"

The press release announces it and the announcement over at my company's website confirms it: starting January 1st, I'm going to be an employee of Raincity Studios. On Tuesday RCS acquired Bryght, the Vancouver-based Drupal-based hosting and hosted service company I've been working for since 2004. My role, currently as community support guy, will change slightly, details we'll work out in the following days and weeks. I'm excited and nervous at the same time, both usual for me when change like this happens. To say this came at the right time for me, however, is an understatement.

It maybe took a little longer than it needed to, but it really hit me how impressive their design chops were when Mark Yuasa's offered to redesign my blog back in 2005. 2005? Seems longer ago. I remember meeting him at BCIT and going through what theme I wanted for the look. Since it was around March, cherry blossom trees started losing their petals and the smell and sight of pink leaves all over the streets of the Lower Mainland filled my senses. With a little trepidation—pink not being the manliest colour—that I asked him use that as the concept, and his two original concepts floored me. One, while beautiful, was a little too white for what I thought of, but the other, overwhelmingly pink design made the choice obvious. I was impressed with his holistic approach (he asked me to write down what music I liked as part of the design consideration) and his attention to detail and his flexibility in the changes I requested. I've since reverted back to a default theme for the site (changing the colours to match the previous look), and I've committed to releasing the theme to the Drupal community.

Raincity is cataloging the social web's reaction to their announcement, and if you visit that link, you'll get to see me a little more than halfway down at the Cambie Pub, during my first week officially working for Bryght, in September 2004. That's a fairly iconic photo of me, so much so that Karen has taken to calling me a "support cowboy". Think I can get away with calling myself that? Probably not: I'm the strong, silent type, and besides, I don't like horses that much. I'm still going to celebrate by buying another cowboy shirt.

Never-Got-Around-To-Responding Linkdump

It's been a while since I've done an old-fashioned linkdump. All of these are articles or posts that I wanted to respond to but never found the time to, and yet had stuck in my bookmarks.

Behind On Podcasts, As With Everything

The list of podcast episodes as yet not listened to has swollen to 70 thanks in due to spending most of last week in Windows as well as having lost my iPod earphones on the plane. (WestJet didn't have them in the lost & found, which surprised me a little, their having raised my hopes by being otherwise generally awesome.) Not to mention I didn't write an update last month. No earphones meant no listening to podcasts while in transit, which is no excuse, since I still have ironing and bill-paying.

I added no podcasts since last time, and even unsubscribed from one, ChinesePod. It was time to admit that despite intentions to do so, I was never going to get around to listening to them. Too much going on in my life to pretend to even have the time to continue learning Mandarin.

It pains me to say this, not having anywhere else to listen to great Canadian music, and knowing people who work in production for the show, but it must be said: I skip the talking bits of the still excellent CBC Radio 3. At least they put those in chapters within podcasts to make it possible: KEXP, can you please do the same? The latter has no talking for their awesome song-of-the-day podcast, so I've moved a few to my regular iTunes Library. "Convert Selection to MP3", despite the podcast already being in MP3 format, is your friend.

More than a day's worth of CITR's The Jazz Show, an afternoon's worth of KEXP's Sonarchy Radio, 6 hours (!) of The Crazy Canucks and a half hour of Planetizen Podcast wait for me to work through. But to Dave, who knows my usual response to his notification of a new podcast is to tell him how behind on podcasts, as with everything, I am completely up-to-date on The Canucks Outsider.

Google Transit Vancouver Announcement Recap

Google Transit and TransLink announced last week that they are collaborating in displaying Vancouver's transit routes and times overlayed on Google Maps, and I was there to watch as Headway Blog writer and Google software engineer Joe Hughes demonstrate its features. He presented it very well, framing the service around stories of people hearing about an event and figuring out how to get there. One example was of a UBC student hearing that M.I.A. was coming to town playing at the Commodore Ballroom. She (the student) would locate the Commodore Ballroom on a map, click on the more info link to see that it was the right venue, then get directions from her campus, first for driving but then, a click away, transit information. Gordon Price documented Joe's story about the Giant Crab of Doom, which illustrated how Google Maps users have added value to the service. Paul has photos from the launch, and Karen (pictured below with me and our cool Google/TransLink swag) has noted that Google Transit may not incorporate the subtleties people learn from experience.

Karen and I Wearing Our TransLink/Google Transit Hats

I talked to Joe afterwards and asked him the most technical questions I could think of, like: will there be an API? (sort of, it happens through the feed, which individual transit agencies decide to release); what format is the feed in? (I mistakenly believed it was XML, but it's CSV, designed to make it easier for transit agencies to produce); what about a microformat? (there's nothing stopping anybody from starting one on the wiki); and how about Google Bike maps? (I might be getting his answer wrong, but he said it was good idea if a little more difficult, since many bike routes are on low-traffic streets and trails). Those who stuck around got some hats, slightly too small for my extremely large head, and I managed to convince the communications rep to let me have her lanyard. JMV took some photos—but hasn't posted them yet?—including the one you see to the right, and I finally got to meet Paul Hillsdon, he who created the excellent South of Fraser transit and Surrey cycling initiative documents.

Patterson Explorer

Yesterday afternoon, needing some exercise and fresh air having spent Saturday indoors, I walked around the neighbourhood surrounding Patterson Station in Burnaby as part of the recommended walks in SkyTrain Explorer by John Atkin. Getting there by bike instead of SkyTrain was the main difference from the others I've taken, cycling down Gilmore, the Sea-to-River Bikeway leading along Patterson, it turns out, right to my destination. I locked my bike up at the station and proceeded on foot, with my GlobalSat DG-100 GPS logger in hand, taking photos with my RebelXTi. You can see the set in Flickr, as well as the map made out in Yahoo! Maps (zoom in a couple of times to see in more detail where I took the photos). I also mapped the walk out in Google Maps, since Atkin's directions were a little confusing initially.

Patterson

A couple of other notes: the switch to daylight savings time made for some mislocated photos. I'm not sure if it was the camera or the GPS unit which had the hour ahead, and luckily GPSPhotoLinker has a button to view where individual photos fit on the map, aiding in discovering this fact. God may strike me down for this, but I manually edited the GPX file that the DG-100 exports via its Windows-only utility, moving all the hours (all in GMT) back one hour. The map on Flickr is a fairly good representation of the houses in the neighbourhood appear.

Some discoveries: Patterson has two entrances, which I didn't know until visiting it. One closer to Burnaby's Central Park, and one above the bus loop. Also, I'm pretty sure that the house 5575 Jersey I photographed is not the same 5575 Jersey that Atkin mentions in his book. He says it's “a fabulous house which is almost lost from view because of the overgrowth of vegetation around it.” Either someone removed the vegetation or someone removed the house.

Needing a short break biking back home, and to make it officially an exploration worthy of the book's name, I hopped on a SkyTrain for one stop from Gilmore Station to Brentwood Town Centre Station.

Google Transit for Vancouver's TransLink Launches Officially Tomorrow

The other day, Paul Hillsdon tantalized us combination transit geeks and web geeks with a graphic showing Google Transit and TransLink together, implying that Vancouver's transportation authority was going to have their routes and time schedule included in Google's maps. TransLink sent me an invitation (to an email address that I don't even use), and I posted an event listing on Urban Vancouver for the official launch, which happens tomorrow (Thursday, November 1st) at 10:30 AM at SFU's Harbour Centre Fletcher Challenge Theatre. I'll be there along with my citizen journalism and transit fan buddies documenting the event.

It turns out that Google Transit Vancouver is live: if you visit http://www.google.com/transit and type in directions for two points in Vancouver, you'll get reasonably good routes. Some are reasonable, like getting from Port Moody to Waterfront Station (it recommends the 160 in the afternoon, and the West Coast Express in the morning, though it shows it as a straight line hovering over Burnaby and Vancouver). Some aren't so great: getting from my work to UBC they recommend taking the #4 or the #8 all the way, when I would have suggested getting to Broadway and Granville via the multiple ways to do that, then take the #99 B-Line express bus to the university campus. But still, did you see that? I can now directly link to transit directions so that I can share it online. Also, you really have to force it to get a route that includes SkyTrain, which is usually faster from point to point along its route than a bus. I also found it difficult to get directions from one place name (without an address, e.g. GM Place or the various combinations of "Brentwood Station", "Brentwood Mall", and "Brentwood Town Centre"). I also hear it's hard to get a route that recommends the SeaBus. I still love you, SeaBus.

Walking indicator in Google Transit

There are nice touches, like little indications for walking, since taking transit means you're not walking from a parking spot but rather from wherever you're let off. I'd like the ability to change directions by dragging around or suggesting a route # that you might already know of, and having Google learn from what transit users contribute. Every day while riding SkyTrain I marvel at how many people take it and how much route knowledge they have based on information they get from TransLink coupled with trial and error. (There's nothing saying that the fast way to go is always the best way: I often go out of my way to walk farther and take a longer commute so that I can take both SkyTrain lines either to work or back home. In other words, I'd like a button called "optimize route for fun".) This has already been requested, but I'd also like Google Maps and its direction functionality to include bike maps for those whose commute involves that mode of transportation, and integrate it with driving and transit directions. Who says you can't bike to the SkyTrain station, lock your bike there—or take it with you—and take the train to your meeting?

This is something I've been wanting for almost two years since Google launched Transit for the Portland, Oregon area. At the time I even asked TransLink if they had plans to integrate with Google, and the answer was no. Now they have, and I commend both TransLink and Google for working together and getting this done. I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible with getting the information out of Google (e.g. a conference recommending routes from downtown and their airport and linking to them or including them inline on the conference website), and the increased ease of use over TransLink's own trip planner. Like TextBus, I anticipate using this at least twice a week.

Lessions From My Online News Association Panel on Citizen Media: Urban Vancouver

This is part 1 of the wrap-up for the Online News Association workshop on Citizen Media I spoke at last week in Toronto. See the introductory post for more information and links.


This will necessarily be a combination of what I said at the workshop and what I wanted to say. The principle lesson learned over the three years plus at Urban Vancouver is that we found it hard to convince people to post to Urban Vancouver if they already have their own blog. Some do it, like Dave Olson, Stewart Marshall, Roland, myself, and others (yes, I'm aware of the poetry and real estate posts), but for the most part, people figure if they already have a blog, then there's no point in publishing it elsewhere. We syndicate most Vancouver-based blogs anyway using their RSS feeds, so it doesn't matter too much. The other lesson from Urban Vancouver is that editing is a full-time job for at least one person done currently by 4 people who already have full-time jobs. The duties of Urban Vancouver include moderating comments and posts according to the terms of service; gardening the aggregator (adding, removing, updating feeds), responding to the emails we get, mostly mistakenly; and encouraging people to participate on the site. We've been happy with the high search engine ranking Urban Vancouver enjoys, and discussed SEO briefly during my session at the workshop. I suggested that writing for people, enabling comments, and having an RSS feed will get people to link to you (or even syndicate you) and therefore drive up your ranking.

An audience member suggested headlines as a determining factor: it's one thing to have a savvy and witty headline, but being briefly descriptive instead helps people get an immediate sense for the individual story's topic and helps people who are looking for such a thing in Google. I could have, but didn't, mention tags. At my session and as a follow-up to a comment in someone else's session, I tried to work in Urban Vancouver's aggregtor effectively being a new type of newswire (at least one blogger uses Urban Vancouver's RSS feed to end all RSS feeds as fodder for a regular column), but couldn't fit it in. I mentioned that it was okay to promote your wares (or others') on Urban Vancouver as long as it wasn't press release style, i.e. more conversational and less like a pitch. Also, copyright owned by the original author both encourages people to post their stuff and limits the work we have to do: since we can't sublicense any of the works, we don't.

Along with Lisa, I don't think Urban Vancouver competes with sites like Metroblogging Vancouver, Beyond Robson, and neighbourhood-specific blogs like Kitsilano and Carrall Street, since we syndicate and directly link to their sites often. An audience member suggested that we don't "compete" because Urban Vancouver doesn't sell advertising—at least not yet—and therefore doesn't compete for the pool of ad dollars.

See also: "What If You Created A Community Site and Nobody Came?", my November 2006 article in which I talk about Urban Vancouver and community sites in general.

Online News Association Panel on Citizen Media

Last week, at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto, I spoke for a few minutes on at the Online News Association's pre-conference workshop on citizen media. With Lisa Williams, proprietor of H2otown.info, a community site for residents of Watertown, Massachusetts, we were scheduled to talk about what's missing from local news coverage, but both chose to talk about the lessons we learned as outsiders in developing sites designed to get people talking about their respective cities in conversational ways that big press outlets can't seem to be able to. I will discuss, in future posts, the lessons I talked about for Urban Vancouver, a community site run by myself and three others (Roland Tanglao, Kris Krug, and Boris Mann, whose name came up later in the workshop); the lessons the workshop had for citizen/participatory journalism in general, if such a thing exists; and finally what I learned about my presenting.

Before I do tackle Urban Vancouver, I want to point out some bloggers who took notes and posted them to the web, some instantaneously. Omar took brief notes of each session; Barbara Iverson added more detail, continued covering Lisa's portion of the talk, and then when I talked about Drupal. Most of the websites presented at the Citizen Media workshop are powered by Drupal, which I pointed out during my portion of the talk. Although I didn't see him at the workshop, Travis Smith's thoughts on the ONA conference and citizen/participatory journalism are a must-read.

I found those two from Google Alerts for my full name. If you have notes, commentary, photos, etc., please point them out in the comments and I'll link to them here.

Second Visit by the Airbus A380 to Vancouver International Airport

Earlier this year, in a cynical (and successful) attempt to increase my traffic, I linked to a bunch of photos of the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet landing at Vancouver International Airport, and even had the keywords in my tagline, just in case. After getting back from Toronto last week, I read that the airplane made another visit to YVR (in fact, it was the increased search activity to my site which tipped me off), which Vancouver-area planespotters documented on Flickr. Below are the Creative Commons licensed photos that I found so far:

A380 at first light

A380 at first light. by John M (2007)

A380 Gear Up

A380 Gear Up by John M (2007)

A380 Ready for sunrise

A380 Ready for sunrise by John M (2007)

A380 Taking Off

A380 Taking Off by John M (2007)

The following images are full copyright, so therefore don't appear in this blog post, but they're worth checking out:

I did a simple search for 'yvr' and a380' in Flickr tags, so if there are more I've missed, I'll add them here.

Leaving Toronto

After spending most of this week's weekdays in Toronto, I'm ready to leave. This city, while a hell of a town, is just too big for me. Vancouver is Richard-sized.

I got to finally meet Sameer Vasta over lunch, and visited with Sacha Chua over peanut butter cookies, and spoke with Lisa Williams (whom I also finally met!) at the Online News Association Citizen Media workshop. I came away with a lot of great ideas for and talked about the lessons of Urban Vancouver, and I'm looking forward to finding time to report those ideas and lessons here.

I regret not making a better effort to get in touch with Joey deVilla, James Walker, and Will Pate, not to mention my other Toronto homeys and homegirls. I ended up spending most of my time on Thursday on rail adventures, like taking streetcars, subway, and just for the hell of it, commuter rail. Next trip out here, likely early next year, I'd like the help organize the Vancouver-Toronto blogger summit I've long been threatening to hold. And take way more photos.

Bookshelf Sustainability

A few days before my vacation Toronto, I went through the library of books in my apartment, and organized them into two shelves, one for the books I've read and another for the books I haven't read. My situation isn't as bad as Ealasaid's, with a bookshelf of unread books that at least doubles the size of mine, but at least until I read them all, a new rule: for every book that I buy, regardless of whether I've read that newly bought book or not, I will give away one book. No rules around size or whether I've already read it, or who gets it (a friend, a stranger, the used bookstore, or the library). This is just my way of keeping the number of things in my apartment to a minimum, and ensuring bookshelf sustainability, while at the same time knowing that I'll never have to worry about running out of things to read.

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