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14th September 2011

Those Are My Friends You Are Insulting, Mr. Brown

Yesterday MacLean’s published an article titled Grand Theft Tax Break, written by Jesse Brown. This article, as you can guess by the title, was a disparaging piece about the tax credits and incentives received by the video game industry in certain regions of Canada.

I am going to overlook for a moment the entire tax incentives debate, mainly because I am not a developer or studio owner and I’m not a policy wonk – there are simply too many areas of the incentives program that I don’t entirely understand, so it’s best to skirt around that issue for now and get to what really got my dander up in that article. I will also overlook the inherent problems within the industry itself, because like any other industry in this country, there are work-life balance issues that need to be dealt with, but they don’t really come fully into play here.

I have to wonder what Mr. Brown has against the game industry, or if he has any friends who work in game development. If that article had been about an ethnic group or any type of visible minority, it never would have been published containing the insults and general slurs it does. It is one thing to be angry about something the industry receives, it is another to wipe a wide brush of insult across those who work in the industry. If the article was in any way meant to be a satirical rebuttal of the New York Times article Mr. Brown uses as reference, in my opinion the author fell far short of his mark. Read the rest of this entry »

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12th September 2011

Gears of War 3 Launch Event

Saturday night Scott and I wandered down to the Vancouver port area to check out the Launch event for Gears of Gears of War 3 The Barge EventWar 3 – which will also have a special Midnight Release event at the Best Buy on Cambie Street. The launch event actually began a number of weeks ago, when gamers were asked to partake in some training demos. In those demos were codes to be deciphered, which resulted in a phone number to be texted and a name to be followed and interacted with on Twitter, which led to more deciphering, which somehow ended up with participants receiving a very unappetizing packet of “Locust Meat” from Save On Meats on East Hastings and a VIP ticket with a QR code. The QR Code led to a web site which revealed the location of The Barge, where the Launch Camp was located. Vancouver was chosen as a Launch Event location due to the strong gamer market in the Lower Mainland. Read the rest of this entry »

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21st August 2011

EndGame Fans Voice Their Passion For The Show

endgameThis weekend has seen a coming together of the fans of Endgame, a TV series produced by Vancouver’s Thunderbird Films for Showcase, a Shaw Media television station. This ragtag group of people, who hail from all over the globe have been chatting up their love for the show and its actors on Twitter, FaceBook, through hangouts on Google+ and on IRC, hoping beyond hope that there will be at least a Season Two for the show – especially now that the show has been nominated in five categories by the Gemini Awards, including one for the interactive episode that puts you behind the eight ball with a challenge to solve the crime.

The fans of the TV show banded together when it was learned that Showcase had cancelled the quirky crime drama after its inaugural season. Prior to the nomination announcements, Showcase had removed Endgame from its show list, but it was hastily re-added to the site shortly after the Gemini Awards press conference.

For those not familiar with the show, Endgame is set and filmed in Vancouver, with the Westin Bayshore taking on the central role as The Huxley, a hotel in which Russian chess master Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle) has unwittingly become imprisoned. At the start of the season, and in small clues doled out as the weekly drama unfolded, viewers would learn that Arkady’s beloved fiancee Rosemary (Lisa Ray) had been the victim of a violent and lethal attack in front of the hotel. Witness to the attack and her death, Arkady has become an agoraphobic unable to walk out the front door of The Huxley.

As a chess master, Arkady has become adept at solving very difficult puzzles with his mind, and it is through this talent that he is able to remain the sole tenant in one of The Huxley’s penthouse suites – much to the chagrin of endgame casthotel security chief Hugo (Patrick Gallagher) and hotel manager Barbara Stillwell (Veena Sood), who would much rather see the self-absorbed and world-renowned barefoot genius vacate the hotel. Arkady works his way through each episode’s puzzle – everything from a kidnapped boy to saving a polar bear from ending up as bear steaks – with logic and visualization. With his inability to leave the hotel, Arkady depends on hotel staff members to assist him in finding the missing pieces to bring each case to the right conclusion.

Arkady’s right hand man is college student Sam (Torrance Coombs), who is studying to become a game designer. As a fan of the chess great, Sam willingly runs errands and gathers information in exchange for chess matches with Arkady. Also aiding Arkady are bartender Danni (Katharine Isabelle) and chamber maid Alcina (Carmen Aguirre). Added to the mix are security assistant Gurjit (Gary Gill), and Rosemary’s sister Pippa (Melanie Papalia).

As the season unfolds, viewers are brought deeper into the lives of each of these central characters, catching glimpses of their pasts and personal mysteries. The central plot to the show is of course who killed Rosemary, and web journalist Pippa is determined to solve the crime, often butting heads with the grieving Arkady, who alternates between wanting to solve the one puzzle whose solution eludes him and wanting to let go. Pippa continues to overturn rocks, often disturbing what lies beneath, and the first season ended with a cliffhanger that saw a staff member dead and Arkady bound with duct tape, driven around the city, threatened,  before being dumped on The Huxley’s front drive.

Fans of the show, ourselves included, were extremely disappointed by Showcase’s decision to drop the show, and began a public-awareness campaign to reach Endgame fans around the world, calling them to action in a last-ditch effort to save the show. A web site was launched, followed by a petition, which led to the Facebook page and a growing community of viewers who did not want to see Endgame fade to black forever. The petition currently has 6137 signatures, with more added every day. Next came an auction of Endgame memorabilia, which is open for bids until September 21st, 2011. The community members held a vote, and decided that proceeds raised through the auction would be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association in honour of Arkady Balagan and to draw attention to the very real conditon of agoraphobia.

What is perhaps most surprising is the number of international fans Endgame has won over – considering the show has only aired on Showcase Canada. Finding the show through various online channels, these people have come together to fight to keep Endgame in production. Over the course of this weekend, the fans have gotten to know each other on a more personal basis, talking together on irc – where they have been treated to conversations with some of the show’s stars – Shawn Doyle, Torrance Coombs, Patrick Gallagher, Melanie Papalia  and Gary Gill have all been present throughout yesterday and today, discussing Endgame’s plots as well as their careers – and expressing their thanks for the effort to get Endgame on the air with a new season. As I was writing this, efforts were being made to get Veena and Carmen to pop by for a visit as well.

They have all been real troopers, answering many, many questions (when they could) about life behind-the-scenes at The Huxley, what they’re working on now, as well as general chat. The actors have shown another reason why they, and Endgame, are fan favourites – their chemistry and camaraderie both on and off the set, their approachability, excellent humour and all-around human-ness. Also stopping in for a brief chat was Alyssa Campanella – the reigning Miss America, Canucks fan and significant other of Torrance Coombs. She came in for a visit while awaiting her flight to the Miss Universe Pageant taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The chat room has also seen a few Vancouver actors stopping by to express their support for Endgame.

Since the Gemini nominations, Endgame has been getting more and more attention, being listed as the Number 1 show to watch by the Globe and Mail in its daily “5 Shows to Watch Tonight” feature on August 9th, and several publications, including The Vancouver Sun, have taken note of the efforts to keep Endgame going. It is the group’s  firm belief that with proper promotion and an appropriate time slot, possibly on another network such as Global, Endgame and its story will flourish, and it is this belief that fuels the support of the show’s global fan force.

This weekend has proven the power of social media in bringing together a group of strangers from around the world, uniting them in a common cause to save not only a high-quality television show, but in putting their passion towards helping the well-being of those inflicted with mental health challenges.

Are you listening, Showcase? We’d like our show back. Thank you.

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18th July 2011

Orby Is Going To SIGGRAPH 2011

Orby Is Going To SIGGRAPHVillage Gamer will be at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver, and in keeping with our mandate of promoting Canadian digital interactive media, technology, film and TV to the masses we invite you to take part. We will be situated in Booth 1018, please see the map below to see where Orby is camping his spot.

We are looking for sizzle pieces and trailers that we can show in the booth, along with products and swag to put in gift baskets that we’ll be offering as prizes in business card draws. If you have postcards promoting your “Made In Canada” game, software, product, studio, association or services we are offering our booth as a point of distribution. If you would like to provide bags, pens or other swag to hand out, that is welcome too.

Ideally we would like to put together promo packs to give out encouraging businesses to Outsource to Canada. Please contact me with this special event address if you would like to help us help you. Your trailers must be available for us to download in the highest playable quality possible, preferably in 1080p – our screen is a 42″ HDTV, and we want to show your trailers in their best possible light.

For Vancouver area companies – if any of you have trade show equipment such as collapsible chairs,  TV stand, portable tables (like those tall, round, bar style), etc. that we could borrow for SIGGRAPH, we would be most grateful and of course acknowledge your contribution with promotional considerations. All equipment must be easily movable, as we have to move everything in by hand without the benefit of type of dolly cart unless we hire convention centre staff to move everything in from the loading dock, which we don’t have a budget for.

In keeping with our community theme, we’re trying for a “fireside chat” type of feel to the booth, so that our “on the spot at SIGGRAPH” interviewees can site comfortably while being interviewed on camera. If you are feeling generous and would like to help us purchase our own trade show equipment, we would also be eternally grateful – at the least we  will place your logo on our site as a supporter.

As mentioned above, we will be conducting in-booth interviews with Canadian attendees, so if you would like to represent, stop by and take a seat in front of the camera. Of course, we will also be covering as much of SIGGRAPH as we possibly can, and will have a roving video camera or two so don’t be surprised if you get recognized and hi-jacked while wandering the convention hall.

Also to be officially unveiled at SIGGRAPH will be our new project. We don’t want to reveal too many details just yet, but we can tell you that it will involve community, marketing and the creative Canadian spirit that has made this industry great. We will also be introducing our new collaborative partner, Code-name Alex  – and devs, Alex has an iPad – so, if you would like people to be able to play your game or try your app while visiting our booth and have a download code to spare, please send it via the contact link above, along with the game title, studio name and info page link, with the subject line SIGGRAPH iPad. Please note – this is only for games and iPad apps  made in Canada. Each of the games or apps loaded for SIGGRAPH will be included in our table-top info catalogue for attendees to browse through.
We also have need of two or three more volunteers to work alongside Alex and our lovely booth hostess Megan and the infamous CaveChild and assist in promoting the Canadian interactive industry. Ideally, we are looking for students, recent graduates or those already working in the creative development sector – this would include game designers, entertainment business managers, project management, marketing, or film students (a stationary video cam with an external mic for the in-booth interviews would be most awesome too).  You would need to be available for expo floor hours, which are as follows:

Tuesday, 9 August 9:30 am – 6 pm
Wednesday, 10 August 9:30 am – 6 pm
Thursday, 11 August 9:30 am – 3:30 pm

If you are interested in this volunteer position, which will include a SIGGRAPH expo pass, please contact me with your information and reason for wanting to help out with the show, with SIGGRAPH volunteer as the subject line.

Orby Marks The Spot

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2nd July 2011

CrowdFanatic Looks At Both Sides of Every Coin

crowd fanaticVancouver-based CrowdFanatic is a relatively new web site with a strong and diverse team behind its development. This somewhat unique venture is full of trolls, but unlike other sites, trolls are (mostly) welcome here, provided they follow the protocol of being a troll with some honest debating skills. One of my first concerns was about those users who often like to take their opinions too far, falling into the nasty side of trolling, but CrowdFanatics does have its own moderation system and terms of use in place.crowdfanatic map

Unlike other debate-based sites, CrowdFanatic is far more lenient than many “traditional” debate communities and as such does not have a page (or pages) full of rules. To be honest, I really don’t feel that it needs formal debate rules. As I mentioned above, there are moderators, and a well-respected community tends to police itself quite efficiently. Like the majority of societal groups, CrowdFanatic members tend to keep the debates somewhat respectful without overly quelling the passions many people feel for their topics.

Here is a full description of what CrowdFanatic is, from the company’s blog:

“We’re bringing something new to the table in social media. Have you ever wanted to stand as a Democrat and take on a group of Republicans? Have you ever wanted to fight with a group of Yankees fans and tell off a group of Red Sox supporters over a social media battlefield? Now you have the opportunity to do that.  CrowdFanatic is that arena for you to stand tall as a group and confront your opposition. Do you want to be an opinion leader? CrowdFanatic is the perfect place to promote your group’s agenda and stand out from the crowd. All the tools that you need to be heard in the online world are at your disposal on CrowdFanatic.”

The topics (known as Confrontations) open for debate are wide and varied, from the predictable sports team rivalries to the hotness (or not) of stars and celebrities. There are political and religious debates, and of course the age-old Canada vs the USA debates. Each topic has supporters and detractors (a.k.a. rivals), as does each user. There is a rating scale for said support or non-support, and it’s easy to see who are the top debaters, you just need to look at the LeaderBoard. Every debater’s profile has a plethora of information in regards to Confrontations, Groups, posts and comments. The whole idea of the site, like any debate club competition, is to use logic, common sense, facts and a smattering of passion to support your argument, thereby winning support for your opinions.Crowd Fanatics Hot Arenas

For many, such debates are a way to educate themselves (or the masses) or to expand their own understandings of any given topic – and this is particularly true for many of the topic areas on CrowdFanatic. In fact it’s very difficult to look through the site without wanting to enter into many of the arenas open for participation and put thoughts to keyboard. If you can’t find a topic that quite fits what you want to discuss, members can open new topics (or Confrontations, as they are called on CrowdFanatic) and invite debate. Every Confrontation is a sub-category of an Arena, and of course the top Arena today is full of Google+ vs Facebook discussions.

The Hot Arenas and Hot Confrontations are constantly in flux – since I took the screenshot to the right about 45 minutes ago, the top four topics have changed, with the screenshot to the left showing the current Hot Arenas. Note that the Canucks Group is still in the top four – it is the over-all top ranked group on the site. Such a passionate group, Canucks Nation. By the time you read this, the rankings will again be CrowdFanatics Hot Arenas 2different – there is never a dull moment on CrowdFanatics.

On each Arena page are listed the top discussions for the subject matter, along with the top supporter and top rival. Each Arena page also shows related topics of discussion, in case you want to branch out into other areas. Confrontations can also be found through Groups, which are another top-level category feature, and again, if you can’t find a Group that fits your area of interest, you can create a new one.

Users can even find Confrontations based on geographic location. According to the map feature on the home page (as shown in the top right image in this article), BC is an area full of Hot Confrontations. This is not surprising with many Vancouver Canucks discussions remaining consistently near the top of the popularity scale, even two weeks after the season’s final game. Oh, and yes, there are Confrontation topics in regards to the Game Seven Riot.

The CrowdFanatic team holds no topic sacred, and even took on the CBC Dragon’s Den team earlier in May, but with the network remaining mum on what transpired during the taping of Season Six, we’ll most likely have to wait until the Fall to learn more of what occurred on that Confrontational day.Crowd Fanatic Canucks Group

CrowdFanatic is not for the timid and faint of heart – if you are not able to handle criticisms of your logic, are easily offended or can’t debate in an intelligent – albeit passionate – manner, then CrowdFanatic may not be the site for you. Personally I find the site quite intriguing, although I have not taken part in any of the debates myself, I believe the CaveChild hangs out there sometimes. That boy loves to argue.

I find CrowdFanatic to be a somewhat in-depth, cross-measuring look at the global modern society, and I also find it interesting to see what lengths people will go to in order to win – or refute – an argument. At the end of the day, I do encourage you to at least visit the site and take a look around; you never know, you may just find a topic that you’ve been itching for a good argument on, and CrowdFanatic is definitely the place to do it.

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18th June 2011

Hey Showcase – We Want Endgame Back

showcaseThe short answer about why we want Endgame back is because it’s Canadian and we like it, but in greater detail, here’s the long answer. Earlier this television season, Scott and I began watching the brand-new Canadian TV drama Endgame from Thunderbird Films, and it rapidly became one of our favourites. We enjoyed the writing, the acting, the story-lines, the fact that it was made in Vancouver – and for once wasn’t pretending to be somewhere else like Seattle,  San Francisco or even Switzerland. The show’s premise is somewhat original – Russian chess master Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle) witnesses the murder of his fiancee Rosemary (Lisa Ray) outside The Huxley Hotel (The Westin Bayshore), and the resulting trauma turns him into an agoraphobic who experiences panic attacks if he even thinks about leaving the hotel.

From his hotel room and with the assistance of chess groupie Sam (Torrance Coombs), bartender Danni (Katharine Isabelle), hotel maid Alcina (Carmen Aguirre) and hotel security chief Hugo (Patrick Gallagher), the lovably naive yet egotistical endgamegenius Arkady helps people solve problems – from being accused of murder to getting hostages released to finding a missing child. While the crimes themselves may not be original, the methods used to solve them certainly are. While other crime shows have used “detective visualization” to look at solution possibilities, none of them puts the characters on a chess board and interacts with them, or constantly rewinds the image of someone pushed from the hotel roof to ask the victim questions or to see what minute clue was missed.

Of course, Arkady does have a motive for helping these people – it usually involves the payment of a fee or the winning of favours so that he doesn’t get evicted from his penthouse suite by hotel manager Barbara (Veena Sood). Added into the mix is Rosemary’s younger sister Pippa (Melanie Papalia), a blogger and freelance documentary maker. She is obsessed with solving Rosemary’s murder, and often butts heads with Arkady over the clues and possibilities she uncovers.

Endgame is lighthearted entertainment that makes the viewer think a little bit and chuckle often, so you can imagine our disappointment when we heard that Showcase had put the show on the chopping block. We’d already lost Human Target, which was another lighthearted and made in Vancouver television show which we enjoyed – even though it had the city being portrayed as locations around the world – I bet you didn’t know that  the new convention centre was really a Swiss bank, did you.

There are already far too many reality shows on the airwaves that we have absolutely no interest in watching – we don’t care who will be Canada’s next idol or who can dance and who can’t. We rarely watch to see who is the worst handyman or the worst endgame castdriver, and we certainly have no interest in The Glee Project. Chances are if we’re watching a reality-based show, it’s shows like Electric Playground, Reviews on the Run, Museum Secrets, Daily Planet, Disaster DIY, Sarah’s House, Holmes on Homes or Income Property – and HGTV Canada viewing would not be complete without Colin & Justin, who will apparently be returning with a new Canadian show soon. Our one guilty-pleasure reality show is Gene Simmons Family Jewels, which technically has Canadian content. 😉

While we are proponents of Canadian content, as anyone who is familiar with this site knows, we are particular fans of quality Canadian content, and Endgame is in that category, along with one of our other favourite crime dramas, FlashPoint (no killing off Ed or breaking up the team, CTV!). We also like Breakout Kings – and while it’s technically an American production, it is filmed in Toronto and has two Canadian actresses in the lead cast. Yes, we like a little humour mixed in with our murder and mayhem.

Shows often get pulled because a network says it has low ratings, yet time and again we see large and active fan bases fighting to keep their shows on the air while less-than-worthy shows get renewed season after season. This happened most recently with The Event (NBC), and while it’s not a Canadian show, we did watch it. Untimely demises also met CBS shows The Unit and Jericho, with the fan backlash at CBS over the cancellation of Jericho coming through loud and clear.

In my opinion, I think it’s fair to say that the Nielsen rating system, which seems to have much power in what shows stay or go, is in no way an accurate indicator of what people are watching, in part because their sampling is so small when compared to the population at large. Again in my opinion, the Nielsen Ratings System is archaic and has been the subject of much criticism. The ratings do not appear to accurately measure what people are watching online, whether it’s on their PC or their mobile device, and even time-shifting or PVRing a show can skew ratings.

The ratings certainly don’t count what we’re watching in our house – although I’d like to know how the networks know just how many people watched the Stanley Cup Finals – and was that just on TV or did they include those who watched it online like The CaveChild did because he prefers to watch his shows (like Pure Pwnage) online in his cave, while we tend to watch them on the TV. How do they know how many people in each house are watching a particular show? We have more than one TV in this house – sometimes we’re both watching the same show on one TV, sometimes we’re watching different shows on different TVs in different rooms, so how does Nielsen really know, and how can their count be an accurate reflection of what people are or want to watch? Do the Conspiracy Theorists out there have an answer for this?

According to Nielsen’s Canadian site, Nielsen TV Audience Analysis software offerings are built for today’s most pressing TV campaign and programming issues – but I could not find how many households are actually measured. Perhaps you have to be a client to get that information, or I just didn’t look in the right spot on their site.

Borealis enables detailed audience characteristics to be queried while accessing a national respondent-level database through a server based application. This powerful and easy to use analysis tool allows detailed analysis of Canadian television audiences.

SpotWatch offers the most in-depth advertising intelligence available for television in Canada.  A monthly commercial spot database available by product class, company, brand and/or creative theme.

Ad*Views provides the most comprehensive source of competitive advertising intelligence available with access to current and historical advertising data across 13 markets and 5 media types.  Ad*Views can be used to analyze occurrences, GRPs, dollars and television creatives in a single, easy-to-use system.

Why do networks not look at the overall engagement of a show’s audience? Isn’t each and every show a brand property? Or are brand properties measured differently in TV and film from how they are measured in the game development industry? Do they take into account internet activity surrounding a show such as fan sites, discussions, social media participation and brand mentions? Do they take into account how many people have experienced the Endgame interactive features and games? It wouldn’t seem so, because as I mentioned earlier, shows with an actively engaged fan base are repeatedly getting pulled off the air and replaced with drivel. Would not the measuring of total engagement be a major part of a brand’s influence? I thought it was – at least that’s what all of the marketing and branding experts have been saying.

Thus far I have not seen any announced new shows that will hold any interest for me the way Endgame has.  Will King? It’s too early to tell. Will XIII? I’ll get back to you on that.  I can safely say that I have absolutely no interest based on the advertising I’ve seen in Single White Spenny, Kenny Hotz and his Triumph Over Will or Almost Heroes. I have never been a fan of Trailer Park Boys and never will be – I prefer entertaining shows that have some modicum of class and intelligence. That said, and before you go thinking that I have little to no sense of humour, I completely enjoyed Kids In The Hall, The Royal Canadian Air Farce, Wayne & Shuster – and even that other guy, Rick Mercer. I liked The Beachcombers and loved Due South. Being a proper geeky type, I also like Big Bang Theory.

But getting back to Endgame, which ended its first season with a cliff-hanger. It seems that the leads Pippa has been following as she tries to solve her sister’s murder have caused ripples among those who reside on the underbelly of society, and a brutal warning was delivered to Arkady, making it appear that Pippa’s line of investigation has hit a few nerves. How can the network be that uncaring about its viewers to leave Endgame fans hanging with absolutely no sense of the whys or wherefores?

For all intents and purposes, it would appear that Showcase has a total disregard for what Endgame’s engaged fans want from the network. If I’d been able to attend the Banff World Media Festival this year, I would have been front and centre with their representatives, telling them exactly how I feel about the axing of Endgame. Then I would have let Thunderbird’s creative staff know that I want Endgame to continue and will gladly support any movement to keep Endgame on the air. There is hope that perhaps Global, as part of the same Shaw Media family as ShowCase, could possibly pick the show up. This would make us happy viewers. If they don’t, it will cause our Shaw Satisfaction metre to dip – and while you may think that the majority of people at Shaw don’t care how the public feels, trust me, they do.

Do you want to show your support for Endgame? Check out (and Like) the Endgame and  Save Endgame Facebook fan pages or sign the petition (yes, we did). You can also follow Endgame on Twitter – along with Shawn Doyle, Torrance Coombs, Patrick Gallagher, Melanie Papalia, Thunderbird Films, Showcase and Shaw Media TV.

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26th May 2011

Another Playdate With Shaw

Shaw CableWay back on March 8th we went to a Customer Consultation evening hosted by Shaw, our ISP. The reason for this desire to meet face to face with customers was the backlash Shaw experienced from customers like us in response to the User Based Billing issue. The corporation hosted over 30 such meetings across its service area during the first consultation, and judging from the meeting we attended tonight, Shaw listened.

As with the first consultation evening, this one was led by Chris Kucharski, VP Operations, and one of the first points he made was that Shaw heard the message, loud and clear. He stated that at times it was hard to hear people who (like us) had been long term customers, and who, because of the way Shaw initially handled the UBB issue, had lost trust and faith in the company. Throughout each of the original consultation sessions, there was a commonality of thinking that Shaw needed to become transparent in its communication with its customers, who wanted more options when it came to the speed and data usage of their internet access – and the company freely admitted that it learned some very hard lessons throughout that process.

Over the past three months, the teams at Shaw went over all of the feedback they had received both in person and via the internet, and they came to the decision that Shaw’s future involved unleashing their internet customers, not reigning them in. This was followed by a collective mind shift on the company’s focus as it began to really explore what it could accomplish in the way of service provision and pricing to support the ever-growing usage of the internet in our daily lives. None of these considerations would have been possible without the exchanges that went on between the corporation and its customers, and this was a dialogue that Shaw wanted to keep open as it moves into the future.

There are approximately 366 000 Shaw customers still on analogue cable, and over the next 16 months, those customers will be converted to full digital cable. As those customers are moved off of analogue, there will be an increasing capacity of bandwidth available to improve internet services and options. These improvements will be a rolling capacity improvement as each of those analogue customers will have to be visited and their services converted. Those who need to be upgraded to digital will receive their digital boxes at no charge, and while this will cost the company a lot of money, and we know that those costs will be passed along to the consumer in the course of doing business, but to be honest I really don’t have a problem with that, simply because when all is said and done, everyone will benefit.

Some of those benefits have already been realized by those who subscribe to the Extreme internet package, with the bandwidth speed and data transfer allowance already receiving an upgrade that sees the transfer allowance more than double. The new, what I will call lower-tier, packages are shown in the image below – I will get into the higher-tiered packages later in this article.

Shaw Upgraded Plans

These transfer allowance improvements are evidence that Shaw was indeed listening to its customers – and are available with no price increase over the current plans. Those of us on the higher-tiered broadband packages will have to wait until June for new options, but I will come to that in a bit.

The topic of the Transfer Usage Tool used by Shaw to show its customers how much data transfer they’ve used, but as was shown in the first round of consultations, this tool does not reflect real-time usage and is in fact two days behind in its reporting. It was also shown to be inaccurate and unreliable. Shaw’s programming engineers will be revisiting the reporting tool and making several improvements in it over the coming months.

There was also the question of Shaw’s flexibility as customer usage of the internet will inevitably change over time as the internet and data transfers become more and more important to the average Canadian as well as to business. Mr. Kucharski stated that as with these new plans, Shaw would review the plans and options when usage changes became apparent. One of the most important issues that started the whole uprising among internet users was very conspicuous in its absence with these new plans. There are no per gigabyte charges. At all.

Should a customer consistently go over his or her transfer cap month after month (not that that has ever happened in our house), they will be contacted by Shaw to discuss plan options as the plan they are on obviously isn’t working for them. The corporation is still working on the best avenue to pursue in regards to those who are consistently over, but they promise to not be combative or punitive. Those customers on plans with transfer limits who go over will be automatically bumped up to the next plan level for the remainder of the month, but again, the company is looking at the best way to communicate this action to the consumer.

During the first round of consultations there had been discussion of educating people to do their downloading during off-peak hours, something that would not always be convenient for those with home offices or who telecommute. After taking the beating that it did during the consultation period, Shaw wanted to take the most open and customer-friendly approach to any changes they made with their internet offerings, and throttling or rewarding off-peak usage simply did not have a place in the new packages. While there will inevitably be a need for some education in regards to transfer usage, the company again felt it better to unleash its customers and give them the internet experience they expected than to leave them feeling sour and limited. Read the rest of this entry »

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26th April 2011

Queens U Study Says More Technology Time Means More Risky Behaviour

Queens UniversityResearchers at Queens University have found a strong association between computer and Internet use in adolescents and engagement in multiple-risk behaviours (MRB), including illicit drug use, drunkenness and unprotected sex.

“This research is based on social cognitive theory, which suggests that seeing people engaged in a behaviour is a way of learning that behaviour,” explains lead researcher Valerie Carson, a doctoral candidate in School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “Since adolescents are exposed to considerable screen time—over 4.5 hours on average each day—they’re constantly seeing images of behaviours they can then potentially adopt.”

The researchers found that high computer use was associated with approximately 50 per cent increased Valerie Carsonengagement with a cluster of six MRB, including smoking, drunkenness, non-use of seatbelts, cannabis and illicit drug use, and unprotected sex. High television use was also associated with a modestly increased engagement in these MRB.

One explanation behind this finding is that a considerable amount of advertising that used to be shown on TV is now being shown on the Internet. In addition, computer usage by adolescents has increased considerably in recent years.

“TV and video games have more established protocols in terms of censorship, but Internet protocols aren’t as established,” says Ms Carson. “Parents can make use of programs that control access to the Internet, but adolescents in this age group are quite savvy about technology and the Internet. It’s possible that these types of controls aren’t effective in blocking all undesirable websites.”

This research, recently published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, suggests that future studies should examine the specific content adolescents are being exposed to in order to help strengthen current screen time guidelines for youth.

While this study may have some merit in regards to adolescent behaviour, I find that I must add my own thoughts as a parent to its findings. Those of us who are intimately familiar with the video game industry know that this study will give those who blame video games and technology for many of society’s woes more fuel for their fires.

As a parent, I have never used parental controls to limit what my children saw on television, the internet or in video games when they were younger. Instead I used the oldest parental control of all time – conversation. I did not use spy ware to see where my children had gone while on the internet, and while I bought age-appropriate games for my kids when they of elementary school age, when they were nearing or in their teens, I was not quite as strict because I knew that through conversations with my children and in playing alongside them, they knew the difference of what was real and what was not.  My kids may at times shock my parents with the things they do or say, but they aren’t bad children and they aren’t out emulating the behaviours they saw portrayed in media.

Just because I let my son watch Power Rangers when he was in elementary school did not mean that he was going to go out and beat on his class mates. He knew that what he saw on the screen were stunts, and that to try the same moves on a friend in real life would hurt his friend – and him, when his friend retaliated. Instead of banning him from watching the show like his school wanted all parents to do, I had a conversation with him and we compared Power Rangers with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We talked about how getting hit with big sticks or shot by a ray gun would hurt, and how pretend can be fun, but hitting with sticks, hands or feet will hurt – and now that he’s all grown up, he every once in awhile puts on armour and hits other grown adults with swords made of rattan and wrapped in duct tape – and he knows that it can hurt, even with the armour.

There are those parents who will use the “well we had parental controls in place” as a scapegoat for not taking responsibility for the basics of parenting – interaction with their children. There are those bleeding heart Liberals who will blame television, advertising and video games for the errant behaviour of teens. We all know that new media is not the base cause of bad behaviour. It may be a catalyst, and in rare occasions the trigger, but seldom is it the root cause.  Children need to know the difference between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, and as parents that is part of our contract with society, a responsibility we take on by becoming parents.

Children have been pushing the envelope of risky behaviour ever since the time when there was more than one child. It’s what children do, it’s what teenagers do, it’s what young adults do, and it’s even what some aged adults do when they check items off of their bucket lists.  There also people who, no matter what you do or say, will do bad things. The important part of the equation is that as parents we give our children the tools they need to know the difference between right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and how to live lawfully in a law and order society. Have we raised our children to have compassion for their fellow human beings and the other living things who share the planet with us? Have we raised them to have a social conscience? I can honestly answer yes to those questions, because I had and still have those conversations with my kids – and while I know they aren’t perfectly angelic examples of the modern child, we can at least talk about it.

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18th April 2011

Game Prototype Challenge Five Is On

Wordcamp Montreal, which is taking place this July 9th and 10th at Coeur des Sciences, Agora Hydro-Québec – UQAM has put out a call for speakers. Early Bird tickets are also on sale now for $30.00.

Game Prototype ChallengeGame Prototype Challenge has announced its development theme for April – Companion and Rising. Participants have until 11:59pm on April 25th, 2011 to submit their game prototypes. That’s one week away, with a preview event known as Screenshot Saturday taking place on – you guessed it – this coming Saturday. This is the fifth round of prototype challenges, and if the previous four are anything to go by, this one will also see some awesome entries. You can check out all of the previous entries on the challenge’s web site.INplay 2011

The Early Bird registration rate for Interactive Ontario’s INplay 2011 conference has been extended until April 27th. Get your tickets now for what promises to be a great event. If you are a Canadian digital media designer, don’t forget to send in your submission for the CMF Canadian Interactive OntarioInteractive Showcase, the deadline is May 2nd.

Interactive Ontario has also released the results of its recent eLearning survey. Designed to examine the challenges faced by the province’s eLearning and cultural industry sectors, the 63 page PDF report (which I am still working my way through) looks at opportunities for growth and cross-pollination among all industry genres, including books, gaming, film, television and music.

OMDCSticking with Ontario for the moment, OMDC is now accepting applications for 2011/12 cycle of the OMDC Export Fund – Interactive Digital Media. This program provides eligible Ontario interactive digital media content producers with funding to participate in export development activities that correspond to a strategy for company growth. Primary activities supported are market event attendance and targeted sales trips that relate to the strategy.

In order to be eligible, all applications must be submitted electronically through the Online Application Portal (OAP.) Interested applicants must register their company’s corporate information here prior to commencing an application.

For technical assistance with registration or the application process send an email to OMDC. Applicants are encouraged to commence the application process well in advance of the deadline in case technical support is required. Complete Guidelines and the link to the OAP are posted on the OMDC website.

In lieu of an information session, applicants will have the opportunity to receive feedback on a first draft of their OMDC Export Fund application through a one-on-one pre-application meeting with an OMDC Consultant. Participation in pre-application meetings is not a requirement and is offered as a courtesy for applicants who may be unfamiliar with the program and/or require additional assistance. Applicants are also encouraged to contact OMDC at any time with questions regarding this program.

Pre-application meetings will take place on May 9 and 10, 2011. Please send in an email to schedule a meeting please email programs@omdc.on.ca. Once your email request has been received, OMDC will contact you to schedule a time on one of these two days.

Here is a look at Part Two of the EA Sports video series on re-launching the SSX franchise with SSX: Deadly Descents:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

mts-allstreamManitoba’s MTS has joined the “PVR from Anywhere” movement with the the launch of its My PVR (Personal Video Recorder) service which enables MTS Ultimate TV customers to add, change or delete their Whole Home PVR recordings using any computer with an Internet connection or from select mobile devices. This service is available free of charge to all MTS Ultimate TV Whole Home PVR subscribers.

“My PVR is a great addition to our MTS Ultimate TV service and will give customers the freedom to manage their Whole Home PVR from outside their home,” said Stan Kurtas, Vice President, Marketing, MTS. “We are always working to bring our customers the latest in technology in order to enhance, what we consider to be, the most feature rich television service in Canada.”

My PVR, which can be accessed through the customer’s MyAccount portal, offers customers the opportunity to browse through MTS’s online program guide to see what programs will be on in the next 12 days, search by title and create a shared login so anyone in the family can manage recordings over the Internet.

rabbleIndependent media site rabble.ca is celebrating its 10th anniversary by launching Media Watch, an initiative committed to dispelling myths perpetrated by ideologically driven reporters and sensationalist media. “We don’t want people to be blinded by SunTV,” said rabble.ca Publisher, Kim Elliott. “Our new media watch blog will feature a media consumer Twitter feed #sunwatch and the keen eye of Alheli Picazo.”

Coordinator of Media Watch and rabble.ca blogger, Alheli Picazo, wrote an expose in 2010 entitled “Ezra Levant vs Reality – A Prelude To Fox News North” in which she thoroughly challenged Levant’s characterization of George Soros. Following this piece Soros filed suit against Levant and Sun Media, resulting in a full retraction and apology printed in The Sun’s editorial section 13 short days after Levant’s original column ran.

“With the official launch of Sun TV News – featuring none other than Levant himself – there has never been a better time to establish a media accountability service,” said Picazo.

Though it’s starting off small, Media Watch aims to cover a wide range of media, from uninformed editorials and inaccurate reporting. rabble.ca’s team of dedicated spin decoders and lie detectors won’t just point out misinformation, but will provide readers with links to, and information about, the sources from which we cite accurate information. Be it scientific data, peer reviewed research, documented fact or expert analysis, we’ll share the tools you need to further investigate the issues.

Canadian voters are invited to tune in to rabbleTV on April 18 to watch special election coverage (“for the rest of us”) with the launch of the show Real Issues. Host Trish Hennessy (researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and author of the Hennessy Index) will be joined by guests Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford, Greg Elmer, Director, Infoscape Research Lab and Bell Globemedia Research Chair, and Atkinson Foundation’s Olivia Nuamah. This first panel responds to the leaders’ debates and the campaign so far, and will tackle the issue of strategic voting. 

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14th April 2011

Social Media Breakfast Being Served In Edmonton

social media breakfast edmontonThe Edmonton Social Media Breakfast (SMBYEG) is pleased to announce internet marketer extraordinaire, Jennifer Banks as this month’s guest speaker. This month’s topic is “What the heck? Why aren’t you doing SEO?”

Search engine optimization is probably the most effective, misunderstood, bad-mouthed, and ignored component of a high performing online presence- including blogs and social media. The idea is simple; create your content so that Google knows what you do and assists you with gaining visitors/followers and ultimately, making money from your website. Why is this so controversial? There are no secrets, and the basics are straightforward.

This session will cover:

What is Search Engine Optimization?
Why do I need SEO?
How do I integrate SEO into my blog/website/social media?
Live website audits (time permitting)

Stay after the discussion to network and share ideas within the realm of social media. Marketers, PR pros, entrepreneurs, bloggers, podcasters, new-media fanatics, and online social networkers are all welcome to attend. More seats will be released on April 15th at 12:00 p.m. Seating is limited and fills up quickly so hurry to book your place on Eventbrite.com. (Registration will be taken at the event.)

squirrel systemsNevada-based independent payment gateway organization Shift4 Corporation is pleased to announce a recent integration with Burnaby-based POS innovator Squirrel Systems. This integration pairs Squirrel’s state-of-the-art POS system with Shift4’s SaaS-based enterprise payment solution.

“I’m excited by the potential this relationship holds for both organizations,” said Bob Lowe, Shift4’s Director of Strategic Relationships. “It’s nice to see Squirrel building their POS with truly modern Microsoft SQL technology. Now with a certification to Shift4’s Dollars On The Net®, their offering just got that much better.”

Both companies are industry veterans, recognized as technological innovators in their respective spheres. Squirrel was the first vendor to introduce POS touch screen technology and continues to innovate today. Shift4 introduced tokenization to the credit card industry in 2005, and remains at the forefront of payment technology. Squirrel Systems integration of Shift4 payment solution is a next step in meeting the needs of their customers.

“With the integration of Shift4’s solution to Squirrel, we are able to provide our customers with a very flexible, proven, and secure payment processing platform. Our customers are thrilled with the capabilities and cost-effectiveness of Dollars On The Net,” said Joe Cortese, Squirrel’s Vice President of Product Development.

The integration premiered at the Fort Garry Hotel, Spa, and Conference Center in Winnipeg, Canada. Fort Garry also opted to install Shift4’s It’s Your Card® gift card solution, which enables gift card use across POS and PMS systems, and allows guests to use the same gift card throughout the property’s various revenue centers.

“Thus far, the Dollars On The Net feature most impressive to me is the back-of-house reporting functionality,” said Fort Garry Controller Mike Watson. “It’s all online, accessible from anywhere, and the lookups are flexible — so when I go to search for info, it’s right there at my fingertips.”

In addition to top-notch auditing features, this integration brings Shift4’s industry-leading security, speed, and reliability to Squirrel’s clientele while offering them enhanced flexibility and lower costs.

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