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26th March 2011

How The Federal Election Will Impact The Canada Media Fund

Canada Media FundGiven that the federal budget tabled on March 22 was not adopted, the Canada Media Fund (CMF) announced today that it will shortly be releasing a preliminary program budget for the upcoming year which will not include the 100M$ program funding allocation that was proposed in the budget, as it cannot be confirmed at this time.

The CMF can only release a program budget based on confirmed sources of revenue. Therefore at this juncture, the program budget will include the projected monthly contributions from broadcast distribution undertakings, as well as the allocation of funding of 34.6M$ included in the budget of the Department of Canadian Heritage which is allocated to the CMF.

In the event that the CMF receives a further allocation of funding as a result of the adoption of a federal budget later this year, the CMF will release a supplementary program budget shortly thereafter.

Performance Envelopes will be calculated on the basis of the anticipated full program budget that was approved by the CMF Board including the $100 million funding allocation announced by the Government, in order to assist the industry with licensing and production planning. However, the contractually confirmed amounts of the Performance Envelopes will be based solely on the preliminary program budget described above.


I for one am very concerned about what this election could mean to our Digital Media industry and all of the hard work so many of us have been doing to work towards a Digital Economy in this country. What ever your political affiliation, please, if you do nothing else leading up to this election, ask your candidates the hard questions – don’t let them wallow about with non-answers. Make them move beyond the finger-pointing and talk about the issues at hand. Do not let our industry fall back down between the cracks of the political landscape. Most of all, exercise your privilege – get out and vote on election day!

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22nd March 2011

3D Printing Technology Helped Identify Canadian WW1 Soldier

CanadaI am including this story in today’s news because I feel that it shows important ways in which the advancement of technology can aid humanity not only in learning about ourselves and our history, but in seeing our potential with the responsible use of said technology.

A Canadian First World War soldier killed in action nearly a century ago can finally rest in peace following the identification of his remains and his burial last week in France. This resolution was possible due to a novel combination of identification disciplines, including that of Burlington, MA company Z Corporation’s 3D printing technology.

Private Thomas Lawless of Calgary, Alberta, were discovered in 2003 at a construction site near Avion, France. He was killed in action on June 8, 1917, a few months after the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He was 28.

Two sets of remains were found at the site. The first soldier was identified using DNA analysis in 2007. A combination of historical research, forensic anthropology (the study of the human skeleton), facial reconstruction and isotopic analysis yielded Lawless’ identification, as announced on February 24, 2011.

“Although it’s sad to contemplate the loss of young lives in war, it’s rewarding to account for the missing, both for the sake of the deceased and for long-grieving family members,” said Andrew J. Nelson, a key researcher on the project and Associate Dean of Research for the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Western Ontario.Private Thomas Lawless

The identification team created 3D computer models of Lawless’s skull, derived from CT scan data of several large skull fragments, in order to narrow the list of possible matches for the remains. Physical models of the skull were produced using a Z Corporation 3D printer, which creates physical composite models from scan data much as a document printer produces a business letter from a word-processing file.

Using muscle markings on the skull model, scientific tissue-depth tables and plastilina modeling clay, the team worked with noted Canadian artist Christian Corbet to construct a face on the model. They then photographed that face, and superimposed images of it on photographs of soldiers who were potential matches. By seeing how the images lined up – by face height, width and features such as jaw shape – the team was able to narrow the list of potential matches to two. An isotopic analysis of teeth and the jaw bone indicated that the recovered soldier grew up in Dublin – a direct biographical match with Lawless. To see photos of the rebuilding process, please visit Military Historian Jeremy Banning’s site, where he has posted the images with full permission of Christian Corbet.

“Anthropological analysis and mitochondrial DNA testing are standard approaches for identification,” Nelson explained. “However, mtDNA requires material from living family members on the maternal side to make a connection. In this case, we had none of that at our disposal. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first instance in which facial reconstruction and isotopic analysis were added to the mix. It may result in a new protocol, or certainly new tools, for the identification of the missing.”

Private Thomas Lawless, born April 11, 1889, was a member of the 49th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and was buried March 15, 2011, at La Chaudiere Military Cemetery in Vimy, France, with his family in attendance. La Chaudiere, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, currently has 907 servicemen from the First World War buried or commemorated there, including Canadian Private Herbert Peterson, the soldier found in 2003 with Private Lawless.

Private Herbert Peterson was born on February 28, 1895, in Scranton, Kansas. He and his five brothers were the offspring of Charles and Julia Peterson from Rose Lynn, Alberta. On February 22, 1916, just shy of his 21st birthday, Private Peterson joined Private Herbert Peterson burialthe 137th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in Calgary as a private.

On his attestation form, Private Peterson listed his (1916) address as Berry Creek, Alberta, and recorded that he was a farmer, single, Presbyterian, with no current or previous military service. During Private Peterson’s medical examination, he was noted as being five feet, nine inches tall, with a fully expanded chest measurement of thirty-nine inches, a fair complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. He arrived in England with the 137th Battalion on August 30, 1916, and was formally transferred to the 49th Battalion, CEF, on December 7, 1916. A few weeks later, on January 20, 1917, he joined the 49th Battalion in France as a reinforcement soldier. He was declared missing after action on June 9, 1917.

Until the recent discovery of his remains, Private Peterson was one of the more than 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France during the First World War and who have no known grave. Private Herbert Peterson burial photo credit: from the blog of military historian Jeremy Banning.

Nelson sees a variety of applications for 3D printing in anthropology beyond the identification of soldiers’ remains. For example, his team used Z Corporation 3D printing in the 2003 facial reconstruction of the Sulman Egyptian mummy housed at the Chatham-Kent Museum in Chatham, Ontario. The facial reconstruction of the mummy was also done by Christian Corbet.

“Societies who wish to move forward must know their past to better understand who they are now and where they might be going,” he said. “The high variability of cultures of the past – before the internet – tells us a lot about the interplay of traits like gender, status, health and wealth in different settings. It’s the bones that help us associate those cultural traits with a particular set of human remains. And though CT scans enable us to a look inside a mummy, for example, without disturbing the bones, wrappings and so on, 3D printing lets us extract these pieces, figuratively speaking, by creating a physical model from CT scan data. We can thus examine the bones more closely and learn more from them.”

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19th March 2011

Government of Canada Invests in Arts Culture and Heritage in Vancouver

Via Canadian Heritage & Official Languages:  Youth, artists, festivals, and arts training organizations are thriving in Government of CanadaVancouver, thanks to an investment by the Government of Canada. Support for a total of 40 projects was announced today by the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. Minister Moore made the announcement at the Vancouver Playhouse in downtown Vancouver alongside leaders of Vancouver’s arts and cultural community.

“With Canada’s economic recovery still fragile, we are focused on creating jobs and economic growth throughout British Columbia,” said Minister Moore. Supporting Canadian culture means supporting Canada’s economy. Arts and culture bring communities together and contribute to the economic strength of cities. We are proud to The Honourable James Moore MP, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Lanuagessupport our artists and arts organizations, because investing in the arts is central to strengthening communities in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia.”

The funding announced today will support a range of projects that create cultural experiences, strengthen communities, and bring people together. Projects benefitting from today’s announcement include the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, the DanceHouse performance series, Vancouver Takes the Stage, the Vancouver Early Music Festival, and the Bard On The Beach Theatre Society.

“We are very excited about the opportunity that the Government of Canada has provided to the youth of Vancouver,” said Lucille Pacey, President of Arts Umbrella. The Act One: Youth project will provide the opportunity for youth to work with seasoned Canadian artists in the community and to take those lessons into the classrooms in a leadership role.”

The Government of Canada has provided total funding of $4,779,527 under six programs of the Department of Canadian Heritage: the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage program, the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, the Canada Cultural Investment Fund, the Canada Arts Training Fund and theYouth Take Charge program.

Today’s announcement includes the following Vancouver-area projects:

Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage

The Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program provides Canadians with more opportunities to take part in activities that present local arts and culture and celebrate local history and heritage.

  • A.I.A. Arts In Action Society – In the House Festival; $5,500
  • Celebrate Vancouver’s 125th Advisory Committee – Vancouver Takes the Stage (Vancouver Celebrates 125); $109,200
  • Collingwood Neighbourhood House Society – Collingwood Days Festival; $24,500
  • First United Church – First United Church 125th Anniversary; $8,400
  • Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver – Festival Ha’Rikud 2011 Celebrating Love/Ahava; $12,500
  • Hellenic Community of Vancouver – Greek Heritage Month/Greek Day; $16,400
  • New Westminster Hyack Festival Association – Hyack Festival; $31,100
  • North Vancouver Community Arts Council – Art in the Garden Tour; $2,600
  • Richmond Arts Coalition – 8th Annual Richmond Maritime Festival; $92,000
  • Richmond Museum Society – Doors Open Richmond 2011; $6,700
  • Scandinavian Community Centre Society – Midsummer Festival; $9,000
  • Seabird Island Band – 42nd Annual First Nations Festival; $18,900
  • Think City Society – Think City Tours; $7,900
  • Valerie Dudoward Foundation – Teach Me the Ways / Vancouver Aboriginal Heritage and Arts Festival; $4,300
  • Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration – City of Bhangra 2011; $16,200
  • Vancouver Korean Dance Society – Soaring: The 15th Annual Korean Dance Festival; $6,500

Canada Arts Presentation Fund

The Canada Arts Presentation Fund gives Canadians increased access to the variety and richness of Canada’s culture through professional arts festivals, presentations of live professional performances, and other artistic experiences.

  • Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver – 22nd Festival d’été francophone de Vancouver and 2011–2012 season; $40,000 (2011–2012)
  • Coastal Jazz and Blues Society – Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Winterruption, and Concert Season; $300,000 (2011–2012)
  • Rosario Ancer Flamenco Arts Society – Vancouver International Flamenco Festival; $18,000 (2011–2012)
  • Seismic Shift Arts Society – DanceHouse; $80,000 (2011–2012)
  • Powell Street Festival Society – 2011 and 2012 Festival and Season; $28,000 (2011–2012) and $28,000 (2012–2013)
  • PuSh International Performing Arts Festival Society – PuSh International Performing Arts Festival; $220,000 (2011–2012) and $220,000 (2012–2013)
  • Vancouver Society for Early Music – Vancouver Early Music Festival 2011 and 2012 and The Early Music Vancouver Winter Concert Season 2010–2011 and 2011–2012; $93,000 (2011–2012) and $93,000 (2012–2013)
  • Western Front Society – Western Front New Music 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 programs; $20,000 (2011–2012) and $20,000 (2012–2013)

Canada Cultural Spaces Fund

The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund seeks to improve physical conditions for artistic creativity and innovation. It is also designed to increase access for Canadians to performing arts, visual arts, media arts, and to museum collections and heritage displays.

  • Presentation House Cultural Society – Theatre lighting equipment upgrade; $48,170
  • Bard On The Beach Theatre Society – New Mainstage and Studio Stage Theatres; $1,050,337 (2011–2012) and $149,663 (2012–2013)

Canada Arts Training Fund

The Canada Arts Training Fund supports non-profit organizations that offer training to Canadians aspiring to a national or international professional career in the arts.

  • Mandala Arts and Culture Society – Training in the Arts; $40,000 (2011–2012)
  • Full Circle: First Nations Performance Society – Training in the Arts; $155,000 (2011–2012) and $155,000 (2012–2013)

Canada Cultural Investment Fund (Strategic Initiatives Component)

The Canada Cultural Investment Fund’s Strategic Initiatives component provides funding for initiatives supported by multiple partners and impacting multiple organizations. Supported projects help arts and heritage organizations build and diversify their revenue streams, and strengthen their management capacities/business competencies.

  • Assembly of Bristish Columbia Arts Councils – Development, delivery, and expansion of a special projects program in capacity and sustainability; $157,200 (2010–2011)
  • The Playhouse Theatre Centre of British Columbia – Next Generation Arts Leadership; $28,000 (2010–2011)

Canada Cultural Investment Fund (Endowment Incentives Component)

The Endowment Incentives component of the Canada Cultural Investment Fund provides funding to match donations from the private sector to arts organizations’ endowment fund. This year, the Government of Canada is providing 71 cents for every dollar donated by the private sector.

  • Arts Club of Vancouver Theatre Foundation – Arts Club of Vancouver Theatre Society; $388,961
  • Vancouver Foundation – Chor Leoni Men’s Choir; $21,883
  • Vancouver Foundation –Vancouver International Dance Festival Society; $4,258
  • Vancouver Foundation – Vancouver Society for Early Music; $7,182
  • Vancouver Foundation – VDC Dance Centre Society; $46,291
  • Vancouver Foundation – West Vancouver Arts Centre Trust; $71,108
  • Vancouver Foundation – Théâtre la Seizième; $9,091
  • Vancouver Opera Foundation – Vancouver Opera Association; $342,888
  • Vancouver Symphony Foundation – Vancouver Symphony Society; $434,899

Youth Take Charge Program

The Youth Take Charge program supports youth-led projects and is getting young Canadians involved in a range of activities designed to strengthen their knowledge and attachment to Canada.

  • Children’s Arts Umbrella Association – Act One:Youth; $137,896
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17th March 2011

And The Whole Town Showed Up

Well, not quite, but it was a very full house for a town meeting at our local high school last night. I know, you’re asking what this has to do with digital media. Well, nothing, really – but it has everything to do with Canadian content, and not just on this site, either.

Vancouver production company Force Four is looking for a town to be the focus of a show the studio currently has in development. The premise of the show is to find a Canadian town and assist that town and its residents to force fourovercome challenges faced by the community in regards to economy, community, crime and more. The producers will bring in a variety of high-profile experts to work with the town’s residents to help them meet specific goals – not just on a town level but also on a personal level. They will provide guidance for financial challenges, business dreams and community pride. The premise of the show is to bring a whole town together to inspire other communities, to show others what can be accomplished when a town works together.

Aldergrove has made the short list of roughly a half dozen Lower Mainland communities, and tonight’s town hall meeting built on this area’s reputation of rising to a challenge, of people coming together to build, to support and improve. Speaking from their experience with other documentaries, the producers have found that the best ideas often come from the communities themselves, and to this end has requested that residents and business people

Now I know that some of you are thinking “wait a minute, you just lambasted the Township in the local paper last week.” Yes, yes I did – but that was not my community or my town – that was a portion of the local government who have trouble thinking outside the box – and incidentally, none of those members of Council were at the meeting – or if they were, I didn’t see them, which means they didn’t stand up and take part in the conversation.  To the Council members whom I know were there (and not part of the problem I have with local government), thank you for taking the time to support our town.

Force Four Productions is known for such productions as Village On A Diet, Cupcake Girls and Murder She Solved, to name but a few. The studio produces scripted, documentary, factual scripted and children’s programming. This new show will be presented to the Oprah Winfrey Network with the hopes of getting a greenlight for full production.

What did surprise me was the number of relatively new residents who came forward to share their views of our town. One 16 year resident – yes, that qualifies as “relatively new” for me, my family has lived here since 1873, homesteading a quarter section farm just west of the town proper – spoke of her first experiences after moving here with her family, and how a little rain didn’t dampen spirits during our Festival Days parade. People still lined the street to watch the procession and community groups still gave out strawberry shortcake. Another resident who moved here 6 months ago related a similar experience with the annual Christmas parade, except with the dispensing of hot chocolate. Read the rest of this entry »

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9th March 2011

Revealing History With Museum Secrets

kensingtonBeginning this article has been somewhat like the production staff at Kensington Communications deciding which museums to feature in their first six episode run of Museum Secrets. As Series Producer Steve Gamester told me in a recent interview “choosing the museums was really like an embarrassment of riches, there Steve Gamesterwere so many to choose from.” The team knew that they wanted to include at least one Canadian museum along with other well-known historic icons. Like Kensington, I have a wealth of information for this article, and the challenge has not been in writing it, but in putting it all in context and conveying my impressions of the series without sounding like the avid series fan that I really am.

When I was granted an interview with Steve Gamester, I almost went into panic mode because there were so many things I wanted to ask, but one important lesson from journalism class all those years ago is always front and centre in my mind – be respectful of your interviewee’s time. So came the task of narrowing down the kazillion possible questions to a dozen or so that would result in uncovering the most information. What I wasn’t prepared for was re-enacting the jousting match of King Henry II that led to his deathSteve’s passion about not only the show, but about history in general, and if you are not already aware of this, people who have a passion talk really fast. My notes looked like hieroglyphic rabble once the telephone interview was done.

Steve completed his post-secondary education with a major in history, and he said that there as there were not many career options open to him at that time, he opted for film, where he has worked since graduation. I understand his passion for times past, as I spend a good portion of my free time either watching shows about ancient history on the  History TV Canada channel or surfing around the web visiting museums and historic sites – the internet, to me, is one enormous research facility.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I asked Steve where the show’s concept originated. He told me that History Television (Canada) had put out a call for proposals on shows about museums, and Kensington came up with the idea for Museum Secrets, a show that would be driven by the objects and characters one finds in a museum, following the thought that behind every object is a great story to tell – and “the objects on display in a museum are usually just a drop in the bucket of what the museum actually possesses.”

One of the most important considerations when choosing the museum locations was accessibility, as many museums are constantly undergoing some type of renovation, and there are some which do not allow camera crews at all. Also examined were the individual museum collections – which objects would offer not only a great story but also a new and interesting way to look at the artifacts, making them more than just a static object. It took six months to gain access to the archives in Vatican City, an area which is usually opened only to those who are Mummies inside Cairo's Egyptian Museumsponsored by a member of The Vatican, and only for “serious” research purposes. Other considerations which also dictate where the crews will go for future filming of episodes include language barriers, current events and of course, cost.

It was eerily ironic when the episode about the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities aired, as History Television (Canada) carried commercials from Tourism Egypt, with the tag line “Where It All Begins” – and the episode aired just as the recent civic uprisings began. I asked Steve what thoughts went through his head as news about the riots and protests was coming out of Egypt, and he said that first and foremost was “the safety of the people they had met and worked with.” He continued on, stating that “What many viewers may not have realized is that the street where protesters were throwing molotov cocktails was the most vulnerable part of the building, as the museum’s wall is so close to the street, and behind that wall is the Royal Mummy Room.”

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The Egyptian Museum was also Steve’s favourite site to visit. He said that the people who worked there were very charming and helpful, and the museum itself is an historic experience all on its own. The architecture of the Zahi Hawass and Ramesses IIcurrent building is original, complete with antique display cases and peeling paint on the walls. The artifacts have inhabited this site on Tahrir Square since 1902, in a building which was designed in 1896 by the French Architect Marcel Dourgnon.

In deciding which artifacts would be featured in the six episodes, Steve said that there was an intensive amount of research done which preceded any decisions. Their teams looked at museum backgrounds and consulted with individual curators. They started with a huge slate of possible features, and then began the process of narrowing down their focus, looking for a balance between those items which were famous and those which were not. Of central importance, as he said earlier, was the story behind the artifact, and any emotional connection the item may have with people still living.

This is something I could relate to, as my family has lived in this area for over thresher in the museuma century and has many historic ties to the town, including an old thresher which is in the BC Farm Machinery and Agricultural Museum in Fort Langley. The thresher belonged to my great-great-grandfather, and was involved in some cross-border shenanigans with farmers and the sheriff’s department just across the border in Washington state. I wasn’t aware of the story until our historic society included it in one of their published area histories, and we’ve since been down to visit the thresher at the museum.

As a first example,  Ernie La Pointe, great-grandson of Sioux chief Sitting Bull, was interviewed about his famous ancestor and the beautiful antique headdress in possession of the Royal Ontario Museum. The Royal Ontario Museum episode was the first of the series to be filmed, and it was here that the crew fully realized the personal attachments curators can develop with the artifacts. Egyptologist Gayle Gibson is emphatically passionate about headdressher work with the ROM’s Egyptian Collection, and it is obvious in the segments examining the Egyptian mummy babies that every artifact carries with it some essence of humanity, and the curators echo that humanity in their treatment and care of the artifacts.

Every episode of this first series has thus far succeeded in showing how these moments in our history still have some type of impact on those living in modern times. One such interview was with Charles Napoleon, descendant of the youngest brother of that famous little tyrant, Napoleon Bonaparte. A new level of interest was definitely added to the Louvre episode when the story of the propagandic Jacques-Louis David painting of Napoleon’s coronation is told by the man who could have been the current monarch of France, had history played out differently.

Another segment aired during the episode on England’s Natural History Museum. Who doesn’t love a story about a Cursed amethyst in the Natural History Museum's collectioncursed, priceless gem? Apparently the descendants of Edward Heron-Allen don’t. The Blasted Amethyst was gifted to the museum after decades of mysterious and nefarious events seemed to surround anyone who owned or touched the gem, which had been looted from the Temple of Indra during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Most interesting during this segment was the skepticism of Mineralogist Alan Hart, who does not believe in the curse, and the opposite opinion of Curator Richard Savin, who firmly believes the gem has exerted it cursatory power on his life. Ira Jones, the son of Edward Heron-Allen, was offered the opportunity to handle the purple treasure before it was replaced in its display case. He declined. While he did have the opportunity to handle some of the Chris Warrilow and Corey Keeble discuss crossbowsartifacts at the Egyptian Museum, series producer Steve Gamester did not lay hands on the gem either, but he did note that one of the show’s cameramen fell ill the day after the segment on the gem was shot. Coincidence or Curse?

Museum Secrets also takes the science behind some of the artifacts out of the museum and into the real world. Two segments which immediately stand out are the ones where the crossbow and musket go shot for shot in power comparisons and the top secret weaponry employed by Britain’s Special Operations Executive. Who knew that rats could be so explosively deadly?

What made the crossbow segment of the ROM episode so special was the opportunity for Curator Cory Keeble to actually shoot a replica crossbow which had been built to medieval specifications by prop master Chris Warrilow – and his delight in doing so.

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During World War II, there was a very real threat that many of the treasures housed in the Natural History Museum could be forever lost should any German bombs fall on the building, so the building was emptied of its treasure hoard, and the spies moved in. The Special Operations Executive, of which author Ian Flemming was a member, were responsible for gathering intelligence on the Nazis and coming up with ways to put serious dents in their activities. The Museum Secrets team and explosives engineer Sidney Alford took a closer look at some of the blueprints for explosive devices used by the SOE to combat Hitler’s armies. Thankfully they took their experiments outside.

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I have purposely left two episodes of the Museum Secrets series until last, because the Vatican Museum is one archive I would love be to turned loose in, and The Met has ties to secrets the Vatican would like to keep. No, I’m not a Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons fanatic – I’ve spent decades wondering what secrets are hidden away behind the thick walls of the Vatican. The Met was recently featured as a backdrop location to another Inside the Vatican Museumconspiracy-based movie, The Last Templar, so I found some of the artifact choices by the Museum Secrets team intriguing simply because of the tie-ins to the whole Templar-Vatican story.

During my interview with Steve Gamester, he said that even with all of the preparatory research done before going on location, there is still the possibility of stumbling upon one special gem, the impact of which you don’t fully realize until you are on location. As he noted elsewhere in our conversation, many of today’s museums did not start life as a museum, and thus have additional stories aside from the ones on display. One of Steve’s favourite segments was the graffiti left behind in the Vatican by the looting army of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, when it sacked Rome in 1527. The graffiti was particularly intriguing, because members of the army had actually taken the time to scratch in the name of their leader, defacing frescoes which had been created by master artist Raphael.

antioch chaliceConspiracy theories and tall tales aside, I have always felt that history and its artifacts belong to the people, and we as members of the human race should have right of access if not to the real thing (in protective cases and covers, of course), then as digitized files – and this doesn’t go for just the Vatican’s treasures, but for all museums. I think that what Kensington and History Television (Canada) are doing, and promoting, with the Museum Secrets series is very commendable – they give viewers a taste of the real history behind the objects, and through the series website, invite you to learn more.

When we were discussing the Vatican Museum, I asked Steve which museum he would like to have unfettered access to, and he replied that one of his top choices would be The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, which is another museum I would love to visit one day, as part of my family came from Russia, escaping soon after the deaths of the Romanovs. Steve mentioned that he has also been researching Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, as he also has an A display of armour at the Metropolitan Museum of Artinterest in the Ottoman Empire.  This conversational line led to my asking Steve which period in history was his favourite, to which he replied Ancient Greek, and lucky for him, the crew is currently filming a new Museum Secrets episode at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. I asked him if they would be filming any segments at Santorini, and to my disappointment, he didn’t think so – but they would be taking a look at the legend of the Minotaur and the mysterious labyrinth.

If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to visit the Museum Secrets web site, because it is full of interesting things to learn and things to do. The interactive designers at Kensington have given viewers the chance to play with digitized versions of crossbows. There is also a feature called the Object Navigator, which allows you to look at the museum objects in detail and learn more about them. There are also non-featured artifacts sprinkled among them, and you can even save the objects to be looked at later. While the Object Navigator and My Discoveries features do require that you register on the site (if you want Archival photo of the Special Operation Executives Galleries inside the Natural History Museumto save your lists), once you do, you can also make notes to go with the objects, and you can share them with others. There are many interactive components to be found on the web site, and while I could tell you where they all are, I think it would be more engaging for you to explore the site and find them as you go along.

Every segment also has its own short feature video to also give you a closer look at areas of interest to you, complete with the distinct animated segments used to describe historical events. I asked Steve about those segments, because to me they look reminiscent of the Monty Python shows, and I wondered if this was a kind of homage to those comedic creators of other …historic films. Steve answered that the team wanted a graphic novel feel, somewhat “Frank Miller-ish” to the animations, and that they were simply trying to find a signature way to portray historic episodes without using full CG, as well as stay within the budget. There was no resemblance to Monty Python intended in either the crossbow game or the show’s animated segments.

The Museum Secrets blog offers a behind-the-scenes looks at every episode, and a chance to hear from that episode’s director about the various locations. Speaking for myself, whose interest in history is probably only Shooting Museum Secrets: Inside the ROMequaled by my interest in video games, Museum Secrets is one of the most original and educational series to grace the airwaves, and I enjoy it all the more because it’s made in Canada. These are the types of programs I am happy to see my tax dollars support, and I hope that we are given the opportunity to see many more episodes  in the future.

Museum Secrets, produced by KensingtonTV with the participation and support of the Bell Fund, History Television, and the Canada Media Fund, currently airs on History Television (Canada), and will be airing in the near future in both the United States and Europe. The Museum Secrets team also welcomes input and feedback from fans on both its Facebook page and Twitter. Aside from the video on the site, you can also check out video on the Museum Secrets’ YouTube channel and see location stills on Flickr.

In addition,  Kensington’s founder Robert Lang and Interactive Producer, David Oppenheim, will be presenting a talk on creating films for multiple-platforms, including mobile devices at NXNE’s Interactive Festival.

All images and film in this article are used with the permission of KensingtonTV.

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8th March 2011

Our Playdate with Shaw

Shaw CableLast evening Scott and I went to the Shaw Client Consultation meeting that was held in Langley (BC, for those who don’t know which province we live in). Sandwiches and refreshments were provided, which was appreciated by those of us whose “to do list” prevented the consumption of a proper dinner.

As I admitted last evening, I am a Shaw fangirl, and I don’t have a problem admitting that. I’ve had the Telus experience, and Shaw is heads above them for service. That said, when Shaw quietly removed 25gb from my internet plan, without telling me while still charging me the same money, the Corporation lost pretty well all of the trust I had for it, and Shaw is going to have to work very hard to get that trust level back.

Do I believe that Shaw understands it has made a huge mistake? Yes, I felt that Chris Kucharski, Vice President, Operations, who led the meeting, was sincere when he stated such. Do I believe that Shaw wants to work with its customers to find a viable solution? Yes, I feel they do. Do I believe that everyone will be happy with the solutions? No, because you can’t please all of the people all of the time. As Scott said last night on the prospect of follow-up customer sessions – yes, we are interested in participating, but Shaw should do more of these sessions – don’t wait until there is a big problem – commit to holding more of these sessions to avoid the big problems.

The first test for those at the meeting last night will come with their promised follow-up today of the congestion problem we are having. Yes, we are a super-user household, we have the Extreme internet package with three IP addresses, and we pay extra for that third IP. While I feel that $10.00 for that third IP is just a tad high when we get three extra IP addresses for our webserver down at SoftLayer for only $5.00, we need that third IP so we have to pay the piper for it. Periodic speed tests of our bandwidth, done at different times of day on varying days of the week are incredibly inconsistent, and rarely do we approach the advertised 15Mbps download speed, even at the off-peak hours between 4 – 6am. Yes, there are people awake in our house at those hours.

There was some good dialogue at last night’s meeting, with some viable ideas on what to do about the data transfer and bandwidth speed issues. Except for the people who suggested throttling. That is a terrible idea, and is akin to locking a gamer in a dungeon with the golden key inches out of reach. We, like many others in the room last night, are willing to pay for speed IF there are either no caps, or caps that are better applicable to our plan – we have speed (when we’re not congested), and we want to use it. We do a lot of gaming in this house, and along with activities related to running this web site, we need a lot of transfer room. Three PCs, two laptops, two Xbox 360s, a Nintendo DS, a Wii, an iPhone and an iPod Touch need room roam. One day we’ll be able to afford a PS3, then what? More transfer usage.

The current cap of 100gb simply is not enough. As I explained last night, two game packages downloaded and 1/3 of our monthly transfer allowance was gone. Gaming-related downloads in the billing cycle just ended resulted in just over 55gb of data, over half of our plan – and that’s just files, not game play. Who knows how much transfer we used up with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or web-series watching, never mind emails and regular surfing around that big research facility known as the internet.

Already this morning we’ve burned up 4gb just downloading the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood expansion Da Vinci’s Disappearance for two 360s. Later today I will be picking up 2 copies of Dragon Age 2 for those same 360s, and then we will get to download all of the extra content we’ve qualified for, along with any game build updates. Burn burn burn…

People have asked me why we don’t switch to Telus. Well, let me tell you why. I refuse to sign a contract for telecommunications services of any kind. It’s bad enough I had to sign one for the cell phone service at work. Shaw’s customer service centres are located in Canada. Shaw does not out-source to countries halfway around the globe. They hire people who live in Canada. They support Canadian communities and Canadian enterprise with offerings such as the Shaw Rocket Fund – and yes, Telus supports projects like this too, in fact they are supporting this weekend’s Great Canadian Appathon – but they out-source and trying to get any customer support or technical service is very difficult, so Telus loses many points in the standings. Mr. Kucharksi asked if I thought Shaw was doing a good enough job letting Canadians know just how Canadian Shaw is, and frankly, no, you’re not.

As I said last night, I’d like to see Shaw involved in local creative industry events like the Canadian Games Conference, the Canadian Video Game Awards and SIGGRAPH 2011, all being held in Vancouver – in fact this is the first time SIGGRAPH is being held outside the USA, and is a great opportunity for Shaw to do some good PR work. I know there are other creative industry events in your other markets that would offer similar opportunities for Shaw. Some of you last night were surprised to learn that Canada stands in third spot on the global scale as a digital media producer. Do not implement these horribly low caps and stifle that creativity. Canada is well on its way to taking top spot, let us innovate, create and educate without having to worry about monthly caps or throttling.

We also learned last night about a new Shaw program, which was unveiled as I was writing this editorial. Called The Personalizer, I believe this new idea is meant to give Shaw users more of what they want, and as I said on Twitter earlier, it’s a step in the right direction, but I still have to buy a ton of channel bundles to get the few channels I want, along with many more I do not want. Also, if all Shaw users have to use this, including existing customers, it’s going to confuse the hell out of my parents, who are among the least tech-savvy people I know, and yes, they are Shaw Cable customers. We’re trying to get them to switch to digital phone and get internet at home, but that’s still a little ways off. My Mom doesn’t feel she needs home internet because she can look stuff up when she’s at the office, even though she’s retired and not supposed to be there.

I took a look at this new Personalizer, and on the surface it’s great, we might even save money. Then you look at the channel bundles. We are going to lose the Book and Bio channels, because they are bundled with all of the music channels we don’t watch, and I’m not paying $10.00 for a bundle to get two channels. Thankfully we can get rid of all the sports channels we don’t watch. CBC and TSN are good enough for us. Wait a minute…is regular plain old TSN included in the basics? It’s hard to tell from this:

Personal TV includes over 40 of the most popular channels including 12 HD channels: CTV HD, ABC HD, CBC HD, Global HD, CBS HD, PBS HD, NBC HD, Fox HD, HGTV HD, CityTV HD, History, The Frame, MuchMusic, OMNI, Shaw TV, The Weather Network, YTV, The Shopping Channel, The Food Network, Game TV, Galaxie Music Channels, and more!

What’s the “and more” is it TSN? A&E? Don’t give me “and more” I want to know what the “and more” is, thanks. A careful look at the two sports bundles does not show regular, plain old non-HD TSN. We don’t have an HD TV, so we don’t particularly care about HD channels. Where is APTN? Read the rest of this entry »

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7th March 2011

Telus Recycles Press Releases With Swapped Out Locations

I might be more inclined to believe Telus was doing wonderful things for our infrastructure if this press release wasn’t almost identical to one the company sent out last week, except that one touted the work they were doing in Alberta and they’re spending an million more in BC than they did in Alberta. I’m sure that Telus isn’t the only corporation that recycles press releases for different areas, this is just the first time I’ve noticed it – maybe because of the UBB and price-gouging practices of the Telecos and the fact that I am not a Telus fan…or maybe I’m just cranky today.

TelusTELUS is investing $670 million across British Columbia this year to further expand and enhance its wireless and wireline networks. This year’s network investment builds upon the $24 billion TELUS has invested in its operations and technology in the province in the last 10 years. (versus 23 billion in Alberta)

In 2011, TELUS will continue to invest in its Optik TV and high-speed Internet services as it lays thousands of kilometres of fibre optic lines to support the growing demand in the province. The company will also deliver British Columbians access to even better and faster wireless broadband services by installing 76 new cell sites and introducing HSPA+ Dual Cell technology, one of the most advanced wireless technologies in the world.

After a decade of focused investment in leading-edge technology TELUS has:

* Extended TELUS wireless service to 99 per cent of B.C.’s (Alberta’s) population. With the introduction of a world-leading 4G wireless network offering manufacturer rated peak download speeds of up to 21 megabits per second – and soon up to 42 megabits per second* – British Columbians (and Albertans) have access to extremely fast wireless high-speed Internet anywhere within TELUS’ vast network coverage area. (does this include mountainous areas like the Fraser Canyon & the Coquihalla?)
* Made wireline broadband available to 95 per cent of B.C. (Alberta) households, including a selection of Internet plans with speeds up to 25 megabits per second. The company also expanded availability of TELUS’ Optik TV to more than 1 million households across the province. (same number in Alberta)
* By the end of last year, 314,000 customers in British Columbia, Alberta and Eastern Quebec had switched their TV service to TELUS. (last week they implied 314 000 Albertans had switched)
* Enabled healthcare institutions to improve the flow of information across the continuum of care through electronic health records accessible on both wireless and wireline networks. Recently, 2000 TELUS team members and their families began a pilot of TELUS Health Space; paving the way for millions of Canadians to take control of their own health records with the ultimate goal of shifting the focus from remediation to prevention of illness.

“Our planned $670 million investment this year in advanced communications technology continues TELUS’ track record of providing British Columbians (Albertans) with access to telecommunications and entertainment services that are the envy of the world,” said Darren Entwistle, TELUS President and CEO (last week he said that Telus had a proud history of providing service to Albertans. I guess that pride does not extend to the west coast). “This year, TELUS will continue to bring the innovations of Optik TV and faster Internet speeds to even more British Columbians (and Albertans). We will continue to bring citizens faster wireless broadband services as we introduce HSPA+ Dual Cell technology, one of the most advanced wireless technologies in the world, to more B.C. (Alberta) communities. TELUS is also committed to working with all levels of government in B.C. (and Alberta) to advance the provision of life-changing healthcare and education services over our networks.”

By the end of 2010, TELUS had installed the infrastructure necessary to bring wireline broadband Internet speeds of up to 25 megabits per second and Optik TV to more than 1 million households in the Vancouver Lower Mainland, Victoria, Campbell River, Whistler, Kelowna, Vernon and Prince George (and more than 1 million households in Alberta communities including Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, to name a few). Optik TV runs over a high-speed Internet connection, providing customers with game-changing services and features as well as more than 480 channels, including 85 in High Definition (HD). Read the rest of this entry »

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20th February 2011

My Own Disjointed Look At The BC Liberal Leadership Candidates

I don’t often use this site for political rants and comments, but as BC draws closer to the date where those of us who are BC Liberal party members will choose a new leader – and the next Premier of our fine province, the choice has not gotten any easier, at least for me. I say this is a disjointed look at the leadership race because there are many issues which concern me, policies that I stand for and change I want to see in all levels of government. It’s not easy for me to hold one line of thinking, but hopefully my disjointed thoughts will get some of you thinking, and perhaps we can then have a conversation and form even more thoughts, and there are probably lots of areas that I meant to comment on but missed due to seeing something shiny on another web site.

I sent an email to each of the candidates over a week ago – all were copied on the same email so that they had an equal opportunity at the same questions and points I was raising. Not one replied. Someone named Corrie did reply from Kevin Falcon’s team – to say that this was not a “normal election” and as such the candidates were not answering “questionnaires” as they didn’t have the time or resources to do so.

All of the candidates can take the time to send an almost constant flow of emails, they can speak with the main-stream press, and they can have their teams constantly call our house – but they can’t use travel time between rallies to express their thoughts on my points and questions. I even stated they didn’t have to answer all of the questions, just provide some idea of where they stand, and in that they failed, because they do not adequately address all of the issues on their respective web sites. I had the hardest time with Mike de Jong’s web site, as it was very difficult to find and compare his proposed policies with those of the other candidates, whereas the sites for both Christy Clark and George Abbott are nicely done.

The reply from Kevin Falcon’s team and a complete lack of reply from the others implies that the issues aren’t important enough, my one vote is not important enough. I may only have one vote, but I have my own platform from which to speak, and speak I will. The invitation to reply to my email is still open to the four remaining candidates.

I have many areas that I want to cover, and I imagine that this will turn into an expression of all the frustrations I have with several levels of government, not only pertinent to the digital media sector, but to many sectors which all tie-in to the issues we as voters from all walks of life will be taking into consideration not only for the two leadership races underway in BC, but also in the inevitably approaching next provincial election – and possibly even the next federal election. Hopefully politicos are paying attention, because I know I’m not the only one with an opinion on the state of things in this municipality, province and country. I’m quite sure that these issues also apply to those who are NDP supporters, what with the leadership of that party also being decided in the coming months. Maybe I will send my questions to those candidates as well and see what kind of replies I get.

Where do the candidates stand on improving our education system, because quite frankly it’s not the Industrial Revolution age any more – in case you hadn’t noticed. There are currently two high schools that I am immediately aware of in BC who are taking the steps to offer students the opportunity to learn skills that will give them a head start on a post-secondary education for the digital media sector. I want to know where our candidates stand on educating our children for the future instead of for a world that no longer exists.

All of the candidates have pointed out how important family is, and how government needs to put in place the tools and opportunities for families to get ahead. They all raise the issue of affordable daycare. I find this incredibly ironic, because one of the first things the Liberals did when they won back the Legislature from the NDP, was to axe the NDP’s excellent daycare programme, immediately causing daycare to be unaffordable for low income wage earners and single parent families like my own.

While I no longer require the services of a daycare, I did experience first hand trying to talk to the Premier early in his tenure at a fundraiser event for MLA Rich Coleman. He politely nodded and smiled as I expressed my concerns to him about the daycare situation created by his party’s desire to stamp out anything done by the NDP. He made empty promises to have someone from the appropriate ministry contact me to discuss the issue further, as he felt that my arguments at the time had merit – and that time the daycare issue was front and centre for me. No one contacted me, it was an empty promise. There were no improvements forthcoming for the affordability and availability of daycare at that time. For the record, I am not an NDP supporter, but every so often they do come up with some really good programmes, and the daycare subsidy programme was very well done.

You may be wondering why I am bringing up the issue of daycare – unless you are a woman working in the creative industry sector. In making it easier for parents to find employment, daycare is a huge issue.
I did put out the call to a few women who work in various Vancouver area studios, but being a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, I am not expecting speedy replies. I found out via Google that Electronic Arts, one of the biggest creative employers in our area, does support daycare as a matter of corporate policy, but offerings differ by studio and apparently this is one area that is under discussion at the EA Canada campus. On their employment benefits page, this is what Electronic Arts has to say:

“Some designated EA offices offer child daycare onsite. Also varying from location to location, EA supports childcare through other channels as well, such as childcare vouchers and the Back-Up Child Care program (USA). In addition, and likewise depending on location, EA provides financial assistance for adoption. This program provides assistance towards agency placement fees, court costs, and legal fees associated with adoption.”

In searching out information about Canadian tech companies and daycare, I came across an extremely informative site that may be of help to many involved with child care on both sides of the 49th parallel, and is well worth reading through. ChildCare.net is rich with resources for both parents searching out childcare and those who would like to start a childcare facility. A particularly excellent page is the one that lists the many corporate programmes available which assist daycare centres across the continent.

I continued off on my research tangent about family friendly companies – don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Liberal candidate race in a minute or two, and checked who was topping the lists of Family Friendly corporations across the country. On the Top 100 site, Next Level Games made the list in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In an article on Suite101 from last April, Next Level Games, Webnames.ca and the Microsoft Canada Development Centre were named as being among the Top 100 family friendly companies in 2009 by the Progressive Employers of Canada List. I did go to the Progressive site to see what other information was offered, but that site appears to be a link and ad farm now.

So, to tie in the Liberal candidate platform promises, it would be very easy for any of the four candidates to promise improvements to the daycare situation in this province, because right now the available services are expensive and there is a high demand for more spaces. Perhaps this is a part of the reason why younger couples are not starting families – because they would have to give up the income needed to survive in this province as daycare options are very limited. Not an easy choice – afford a home or have a child. Both are expensive choices in this province.

The next issue I would like to look at is education. I have one child who successfully completed high school, and even though it took her until Grade 12 to realize that high school was not a social event, she still got that all-important certificate. My youngest, however, is a different story. He is very talented creatively, but high school was a complete let-down for him. He wanted to study digital arts, but there was no digital arts programme at our high school. The digital lab at that time was very poor – using evaluation copies of software, offering the wrong types of software, and instructors were not well-versed in digital media.

If he had wanted to study a traditional trade like automotive mechanics, metal-working, wood-working or hairdressing, he’d have been fine. He would have also been okay if he was interested in a traditional science field – chemistry or biology. While he does have a strong interest in archaeology and history, he wanted to tie those in with digital media, and couldn’t. He ended his high school education at the Grade 10 level, giving up in frustration because being shut into a box all day listening to teachers talk was not conducive to his learning style. Yes, I know – many of you would’ve said “suck it up buttercup” but I too struggled through school, and the only classes I truly enjoyed when I was in high school were history, law and English – probably because I have an addiction to researching things and I am a voracious reader. But again, I digress.

As the Cavechild did not graduate, getting into a post-secondary environment is at best difficult. He does not qualify for scholarships, and we certainly can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to put him through a full digital media programme, whether it’s one at the University of the Fraser Valley, BCIT or Vancouver Film School. In fact, we really can’t afford any programme at any post-secondary institution, no matter the content. On top of the course expense, he’d have to remain living at home, because he doesn’t have a job, nor does he have a vehicle, and the transit service in our town is less than poor, even though we get to pay all of those transit levies imposed on us by Translink and Government. This is also a barrier to him being able to obtain employment, unless he wants to work at one of the fast food outlets within walking distance of our house.

The bus line does not service Gloucester Industrial Park, which is the biggest area of employment in our fine town. In fact, it barely offers a service in town at all. High school students can’t even make use of transit to get to the school because there is one route into town and a different route out, there is no two-way line until you get west of town, where the bus comes into and exits Aldergrove at the junction of Highways 13 and 1A. Oh, and it’s too far to walk to Gloucester, especially along poorly light rural roads with no sidewalks. I guess we could buy him a bike, I’m sure he would enjoy the 5+ mile ride in our fine west coast weather, providing he doesn’t get run off the road by irresponsible drivers.

So really, I’ve raised three issues in the previous few paragraphs – education, employment and transportation. Kevin Falcon has stated his position on education. He recognizes that our schools must move forward to prepare children for the changing employment landscape, and while he does address the issues of special needs education, additional options for learning foreign languages as well as mention our digital world, he does not speak to improving things like access to learning materials or taking advantage of the innovation available to the education system through the use of current and future technologies.
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8th February 2011

Shaw Delays User Based Billing

Shaw CableSo, in a press release earlier today, Shaw Communications announced that the corporation will “invite customers to participate in consultation sessions to share thoughts on Internet usage allowances and billing.”

Before I get into the crux of their official press release – I am a Shaw customer. Our household subscribes to the Extreme-I residential plan, and as I addressed on Sunday, we are not happy subscribers. When we signed up for Extreme-I, we were given a data transfer cap of 125gb. This was not a promotional offering, there was no special price other than the “bundled with other Shaw services” price of $47.00 per month plus $10.00 per month for our third IP address.

In mid December 2010, 25gb disappeared off of our plan. Without any advance notice or any communication whatsoever from Shaw – including any notification that our Terms and Conditions had changed, we were suddenly sitting at a 100gb data transfer limit – and still paying the same price. So, we have a decrease in service, but no decrease in price. We don’t want a decrease in price – we want our 25gb back. Decreasing the price is not going to win back the trust Shaw destroyed with that move.

We have been with Shaw for well over a decade. We have been loyal Shaw customers, we’ve even brought them new subscribers. I was poised to convert the company where I work over to Shaw Business Internet and Phone. Now I’m not so sure I want to do that – even though we’ll save a bundle on long distance calls – because I no longer trust the corporation. I’ve waded through the financial documents they are required by law to post publicly as they are a publicly traded company. I know what the Corporation has been telling its shareholders about how wonderful and speedy and redundant the service pipes are. I’ve seen the revenue and expenditure columns, and I know how to read them.

We do not have a lot of choice as to internet carriers where we live. We have Shaw, Telus or the reseller Uniserve, whom I would never sign up with to begin with, simply because of the way Uniserve conducted business way back in the day of it being a small internet start-up whose offices were a few blocks from where I live. I choose to not go back to Telus, because  their phone service is far more expensive compared to Shaw Digital Phone, and I do not want to sign a contract, nor is their customer service outstanding. At least Shaw does have that going for it – the CSRs I’ve dealt with over the years have always been polite and willing to assist in any way they could. Shaw has even been an ISP sponsor for LAN events we’ve run in the past – and they provided incredibly good service for the event, assigning us with a dedicated service representative to get the connections up and running smoothly – but now we fast-forward to today, and Shaw honey, we have trust issues.

“We have been listening to the discussion taking place and determined that we want to hear directly
from our own customers before we roll out any kind of program. Wherever we end up needs to work first and foremost for our customers,” said Peter Bissonnette, President of Shaw Communications.

Shaw will conduct customer discussion sessions in all its serving regions in addition to creating opportunities to contribute feedback online. Customers will be invited to share their ideas with senior Shaw leaders who will participate in the sessions throughout February and March.

Until this thorough consultation with customers has taken place, Shaw will not implement Internet usage billing. To date, no Shaw Internet customer has received a bill for any usage based charges.

“Bandwidth is not unlimited and that is the crux of the issue. There are many potential solutions to
this challenge and we’re asking for our customers’ help to build a solution that works for everyone,”
said Bissonnette.

“Our customers choose to use the Internet in different ways and it has become an essential part of
our daily lives,” continued Bissonnette. “We want to build pricing and packaging options that deliver
choice, quality and value to all our customers.”

Well – that press release started circulating the net around five hours ago. We still haven’t received a notice from Shaw giving us the link to find out how to request an invitation to one of their customer meetings. I found the link on the DSL Reports forum, and I dutifully sent off a request for an invitation, but there was no auto-responder saying “thank you for your request” so I hope it isn’t just floating around in our congested, over-used internet pipes.

In my final word on the matter for today, here is the latest screenshot of our data transfer for the month. Our billing cycle ends at midnight, so we’ll be back within our limit. Oh, wait – at 123gb we still are within the limit we signed up for. It’s Shaw sneaky new lower-capped 100gb plan that we’re over. If you want to take a step in the right direction, Mr. Bissonnette, give us back what your company took away.

Shaw Bandwidth Usage

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6th February 2011

The New Canadian Internet

I would like to say, before getting too deep into the raging pool that has become the User-Based Billing debate, I’m not a policy wonk, so am not as familiar with CRTC proceedings, guidelines and rules as I probably should be, and I am more than likely also lacking in knowledge when it comes to government policy as well. As the average consumer, however – I feel that the CRTC is not doing what it should to truly be making the Canadian market competitive, and I do feel that it’s time for Industry Canada to step in and write some new rules that would take effect sooner rather than later. I think that there is also more than just a little advantage-taking of those consumers who are even less telecom savvy than me.

We’ve been making use of the internet ever since it became available to outside consumers – you remember the days of placing your phone’s handset near the modem? Trying to play Doom and being killed before you could see the screen? Yes, since then. We advanced through those days of early dial-up, and snagged those first “unlimited” plans from Telus, evolving to Rogers’ cable service, migrating to Shaw when the two telecomms sliced up the country between them, basically with Rogers taking the east and Shaw taking the west – I know it’s more detailed than that, but I’m trying to keep things at least a bit simple.  Shaw Bandwidth Usage

In fact we have been with Shaw so long that the CSR I was speaking with at the company yesterday had to completely reformat our bill to bring it up to date, because it was still written the old way. Of course in the process of doing so, and changing a couple of our digital channels around, she removed our third IP address, knocking the Cavechild offline. So Scott had to call Shaw again (our third call of the day) to have the IP address restored. I had called them earlier to ask why we don’t have the option of subscribing to Investigation Discovery. We used to have CourtTV, until that was removed from the selection, and the Investigation Discovery web site states that the channel is available from cable and satellite providers in Canada. Unless you’re a Shaw customer. The CSR I spoke with on that call put in his own request for the channel as well, which was amusing in its own way.

I also used that phone call to pass along my unhappiness about losing 25gb off of our previous I-Extreme cap of 125gb per month, which with the bundle we have, costs $47.00 per month (plus $10.00 for the extra IP address). It’s really hard to not get mad at the CSRs who are on the front line of consumer angst – it’s not their fault that corporate made the choice to take away our 25gb and still charge the same price. It’s even harder to not get mad when they tell us about the extra data packages we can buy – why should we have to pay more money to get back the data limits we already had?

Let’s look at Shaw’s extra data plans, just for the fun of it. These are the options we have, with Shaw’s claims that “the more data you purchase, the more you save – data as low as 20 cents per GB.”

* 10 GB for $5.00 per month
* 60 GB for $20.00 per month
* 250 GB for $50.00 for month

So an extra $10.00 per month will almost put us back to where we were before the case of the disappearing 25gb, but again, I reiterate – why should we have to pay extra for what we already had. We received no advance notice of the cap decrease, and we certainly didn’t receive a decrease in fees. There has been much discussion of late on various community forums, most notably on Broadband Reports, and the discussion is not of a happy tone.

Yesterday afternoon we were sitting at 113.96gb transfer, 13.96gb over our cap. This morning we were at 116gb – that’s with the Cavechild not being home all day Saturday, light computer use, and about 6 hours of playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on the 360 (intense de-stressing treatment). It will be interesting to see what we use up today, with the Cavechild being home and gaming, on top of my using the ‘net to write this as well as uploading files to our server. Oh, and to clarify, we have three IP addresses because we have three heavy-use computers, all of which also have their own secured wireless for two laptops (three when my daughter is here), two Xbox 360s, a Wii, a DS, an iPod Touch and an all-in-one wireless printer.

Another option that Shaw suggests to its customers is upgrading to the next plan level. For us, that would mean going with Nitro, which is $97.00 per month for 175gb of transfer  and our upload/download speeds could increase. Between Extreme-I and Warp there is a difference of $50.00, which in reality we could just use to buy the 250gb data package – that makes sense, right? We certainly wouldn’t be purchasing the Nitro plan, which has a very attractive offering of 350gb transfer per month, a blazing 100 Mbps download speed and 5 Mbps upload speed – but we’d still have to pay for that third IP address. That is – we could have the Nitro option if it was available in our area with its low price point of $150.00, which it isn’t.

Going back to our phone calls with Shaw yesterday – the secondShaw Bandwidth Usage 1 phone call was a simple removal and realignment of some of our digital channels, because while we can add to our Digital TV channels through Shaw’s site, we can’t remove them. The CSR I spoke with on this call was also affected by the cap decrease, as she also suffered from 25gb of missing transfer allowance. It would be nice if we could just completely remove the channels we definitely never watch, like the French ones that our language laws require be offered in every home (sorry, Quebec), Speed, E!, Cosmopolitan TV and The Shopping Channel, along with a few others we simply don’t watch. About the only time we watch Spike is for the Video Game Awards, and if the quality of that show doesn’t improve, we won’t be watching that anymore either. If the cable companies can micro-manage what digital channels we do or don’t have, why can’t we have full choice for options on plans involving Digital TV? But I digress from the internet issue.

While searching around on Shaw’s web site for something – I can’t remember now what it was, but that happens when one gets older – I ended up skimming through some of Shaw’s previous Annual Reports from the long-past 1990’s, and it was interesting to see what the company’s outlook was at the end of the last century, when the report states that the company’s revenue increased almost four fold over the previous year:

Television – Industry Outlook: The cable industry is moving from a highly regulated environment to one based on fair and sustainable competition.

Internet – Industry Outlook: The Internet industry provides one of the most dynamic opportunities for growth in the new millennium. Internet analysts expect that the growth of the Internet and e-commerce is a global megatrend that will revolutionize the way we communicate, learn, gather information and conduct transactions – this is truly a paradigm shift of monumental proportions.

Goals and Strategies:

• To be a market leader by providing consumers with superior value through high-speed Internet access,
broadband content, exceptional service and affordable monthly cost
• Maintain market leadership including the launch of Web-enabled interactive TV and other Internet-protocol based communications services
• To leverage off the existing and future cablesystem infrastructureShaw Benefits

Also in 1999, Shaw “completed significant network upgrades to enable two-way cable transmission for the delivery of high-speed Internet access, impulse pay-per-view, Web-enabled interactive TV and bi-directional service.”

I just found out where our 25gb went. In looking at an old “Benefits” statement from Shaw – the original file name had “0607” in it, so it’s possibly from 2007, but the Nitro transfer limit is listed as 150gb, and in the current packages listing, it’s 175gb. There are no limits stated for the “lesser” packages, though – I find this somewhat telling, don’t you? Nitro got a cap increase while all of the other plans got data transfer limits lowered. Read the rest of this entry »

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