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.


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 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, 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.

Improving at Floorball

Last night was the third night of floorball at Mulgrave School in West Vancouver, where as usual we had 20 minutes of drills and warmup and played what seemed like an unending game. I got one or two assists, depending on how you define assist. (Is it like hockey where if you set up the guy who gets the first assist, you also get an assist?) I didn't score, but came close 3 times, and was really happy about the chances, as I had just the right amount of patience and was open for just long enough to turn around and take a shot. The first shot went off the cross-bar (almost perfect placement!) and another sailed past the post. (Last week, just to keep track, I scored a goal and got one assist.) I'm liking the drills quite a bit, and can sense improvement in my game. I still have no idea where I'm supposed to be, that is, what position I should be in during each situation. I remembered the basketball practices in high school that would be only a short warmup and then purely strategy: where we were supposed to be in set plays for offense and defense. That is, no 3-on-2-2-on-1 drills (my absolute favorite basketball drill, where the 3 players run down the court against 2 defenders, then the shooter goes back on defense while the 2 former defenders switch to offense going the other way). I don't know if I'll get to have one of those strategy practices—no, the correct, European word is "training—but for this session I'm happy to work on skill development. I'm at the point where I can feel cool passing back and forth in warmup with players that have played for more than a decade, and I'm getting better at patience with the ball and shot accuracy. Defense is something I'm learning by watching the Swiss and Swedish players, then trying to copy what they do, with limited success. They haven't announced it yet on the BC Floorball blog, but with the strike over, floorball returns to the Roundhouse in Vancouver's Yaletown on Mondays. With dragon boating over, I'm looking forward to having that as my second weekly cardio workout, at least until it snows on the mountains enough for me to g snowshoeing on the weekend.

One Week Documenting My World With a Nokia N95

Along with Kris, Roland, Dave, and Rebecca, I'm participating in a week-long Simon Fraser University research project centered around social media and the Nokia N95, a feature-rich mobile phone that takes amazing photos, acts as a media (video and audio) player, and tracks my movements. After two days of playing around with it, I've walked around my neighbourhood, taken video of trains, mapped out my morning commute to work and the full length of the 101 bus from 22nd Street Station to Lougheed Station. Bus routes are boring, I know, since they're already well-documented by the people that operate them, but I endeavor to accurately map my bike route using satellite technology, rather than draw it imprecisely by hand based on memory.

Ideally I'd be using some of the location tools built for Drupal to map out my adventures on my site using external services like Google Maps or Google Earth. Using these tools, either Drupal or the external services, would then spit out RSS and other XML-based feeds so that others can take the information and remix it somehow. In fact exactly a year ago today I wrote (Re-)Documenting My World With Drupal and the Nokia N95, which laid out a rough recipe of how that might happen. The development of some of the tools have atrophied (e.g. Aggregator2), but others—especially the Drupal core CMS and map creation services—have matured and people are finally baking location into the web. A week isn't long enough to get these things humming, though.

Impressions of the "phone":

  • the S60 user interface is still non-obvious and therefore hard to use
  • beautiful photos from a camera with an autofocus that I can't get the hang of
  • I can't take photos at all while tracking my movements with Sports Tracker, though that application is cool, giving you graphs of speed and altitude over time, exporting into multiple formats so that you can, for example, display them on Google Earth
  • everything's faster and better than my regular luxury phone, the Nokia N70
  • absent a data plan, having wi-fi that works on my phone rocks compared to not being able to get instructions to share an internet connection with an N70 working
  • vibrating when turning the thing on scares the crap out of me

Rebecca started things off accurately calling the research project a 'taste test', and has been posting photos of her travels around the Vancouver area. If it wasn't for Roland, I'd be using about half of the functionality that I'm currently using. He has his first day Blink! reaction and sober second day thoughts. I'm looking forward to hearing from Kris and Dave, who are most likely to document with video.

We Are Traffic: My First Critical Mass

Last night I biked from work over to the lions side of the Vancouver Art Gallery and participated in my first Critical Mass. Billed as a decentralized large group bike ride with no pre-determined route featuring anybody with self-propelled commuting, Critical Mass enjoys a 15 year existence, starting in the streets of San Francisco. My bike, a few months old and newly tuned up, performed brilliantly, but I can't say the same for my girlfriend's. She lost a part somewhere along the way, and was unable to shift, making her fearless gearless, though thankfully with brakes. We biked down Robson, turning left on Jervis, making our way down Davie (I think), then crossing the Burrard Street Bridge, riding down much of Broadway, and finally turning onto Yukon where we got off at 11th, where we were jokingly called "splitters". Impressions? I liked not having to worry about cars, and felt like a big man when I rode ever so briefly on the wrong side of the road while coming off the Burrard Bridge. I also liked making lots of noise with my bell and hearing the honks in support from oncoming traffic. There were at least two unpleasant encounters: one guy sped dangerously around bikers planted in front of him, only to end up at a red light; and a lady driver honked angrily at the woman in the car in front of her, bikers mistakenly interpreting as a positive honk in their direction. One other dude taunted oncoming traffic by telling them cars suck. I've posted two videos, one heading down towards Burrard Bridge then halfway up it, and another heading down the bridge.