Current Affairs

Surrey Fusion Festival 2009

Heading in to Fusion Fest

By all accounts, Surrey’s Fusion Festival was a huge success. Apparently more than 60,000 people showed up for the party on July 18-19. It was an amazing blend of food, music, arts and crafts all in Surrey City Centre’s Holland Park.

Over the two days, the party was hot and crowded, and the air was filled with wonderful smells and sounds that included everything from the Beatles to regge (sp?) and ballet.

It’s hard to fit it all in, with constantly changing performances and at least 3 stages to choose from. Some musicians even performed in their country’s tent.

Every tent had samples of food native to the country at hand. There was way to much to appreciate a taste of everything. So sad.

The timing was the same as the Vancouver Folk Festival, so there might have been even more people if the dates were separate. Just the same, living south of the Fraser, it’s nice not to have to cross a river to enjoy this type of thing.

I was there on Saturday, but living close by, I could hear the party through my open windows all the next day. Not sure I’d want to live next door, but from a half mile away, it was quite a treat.

I met a few current friends, some old friends, and made some new friends. Wish I was better with names though. They go in one ear and out the other, but I seldom forget a face. I’m better than I was, but it’s still embarrassing some times.

StiltwalkerThe stilt walkers were popular, as always. They seem to be at every outdoor party I go to. Goes with the territory, I guess. Hard to stilt walk in an auditorium or club, eh 😉

They sure are good at entertaining the kids. Wish I knew what their business was called, so I could give them credit. After all, this one was nice enough to pose for me and give me one of the best pictures all day. If anyone knows who they are, send me a note and let me know, please.

Here’s lookin’ at next year. This festival seems to be growing, and as Surrey’s ethnic communities become more diverse, we need to exposure to the positive parts of every culture. We hear too much about the troubling stuff every day in the news. Positive stuff is nice for a change.

Bodies and books

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve explored a couple of events in our town. It started with Body Worlds 3 at Science World-Telus sphere. I got there around 3 pm, so the entrance fee was $25.00. Apparently it’s cheaper later in the evening, because admission doesn’t include all of Science World at that time of day.

It was quite the graphic science/art show. Anatomist, Dr. Gunther von Hagens has plasticized donated bodies so that every bit is preserved. He’s placed several bodies in sporting positions and opened up areas of each so that  key muscles and organs are visible. Some parts are identified with accompanying labels to help you navigate. That’s good, but I wish there were a few more labels. Usually it was just the muscles on the posed bodies being named.

Other displays contain separate dissected systems, like the male and female reproductive systems, the digestive system, and the nervous system. It reminded me of biology 101, but much better than pictures in a book. Hard to believe it’s all crammed in the little sack we call a body.

Even as a biologist, I found the show somewhere between grotesque and grand. It was weird thinking of all the time and energy put into the plastination process. Find a few donors and go from there, I guess. At the same time, it opened up my eyes again to the wonders of the human body. Not for everyone, but good stuff overall.

Word on the Street happened on Sunday Sept 24. I travelled down with a neighbour via Skytrain and arrived about noon. Surprisingly, the book bags were all sold out by the time we got there. I usually enjoy purchasing one and collecting all of the swag that comes with it. Just as well they were all gone this year, I guess. There is still a bunch of stuff sitting around my apartment from last year.

We went to a couple of lectures in the Word Under the Street section. That was the last I saw of her. She stuck around for one more early lecture than I did, and we never did connect again. Probably followed one another clockwise around the library (heh). I stuck around for one final talk on storytelling at 5 pm and got home around seven.

What I like about WOTS is the free-for-all atmosphere of the event. There are talks, displays, and performances going on everywhere. As you stroll around, you can stop for a minute or thirty to enjoy on-going sessions of poetry, book readings, comedy, music, and serious discussion about books and magazines. Most of the book and magazine publishers of BC are there, so there is ample opportunity to sample products you might not normally see.

Time permitting, the next events are the SOHO conference to celebrate Small Business Week, and the Surrey International Writers Conference. They’re both in October, so there is still time to get some work done before that.

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SFU opens up in Surrey

Yes, SFU now has a campus in Surrey. In Whalley, er…City Center as a matter of fact. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve watched the city try to bring this area to life for over 10 years now, and an institution like SFU might just be one of the catalysts they need to pull it off. Especially when you combine the new campus with close to 5000 more people coming to live in the area, once some of the new housing developments are completed.

The opening ceremonies on Friday were nice. After an inspirational introduction from SFU President Michael Stevenson, we had a letter from Stephen H, read out by one of the local MPs. The Premier was there, and so was our Mayor, Diane Watts. They all had positive things to say – natch.

The one frustration with Friday’s event was that the Bing Thom lecture -the reason I went in the first place- got restricted to those that registered ahead of time. Wish I’d seen that note. I did register and say I was coming to the open house and ceremony, but there was nothing that I remember about exclusive lectures. Sigh. Perhaps some other time.

On Saturday, they held an open house to show off some of the new digs and let people know what students and faculty are working on. As usual, it was quite inspiring. There was everything from high-tech computer imagery and interaction, to clothes that reacted to your environment. There just wasn’t enough time to get around and give the displays the attention they deserved.

There were a number of lectures during the day, but because of time constraints, I only fit one in. Gail Anderson was talking about Murder and Maggots. As a bug guy in the past, I just had to hear what she had to say. Surprisingly, there are very few forensic entomologists around. Well, I guess that really doesn’t surprise me. The last entomology meeting I went to consisted of multiple iterations of ‘how we identified the pheromone for (insert your favorite pest insect here)’. That’s important work, but it’s nice to see that there are other reasons to be interested in bugs.

Good job, folks. We’ll look forward to hearing more next year.

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Tatoosh crosses the border


(Update: Sorry, many of the lovely links I had in this post went dead.) Well someone’s tatoosh has crossed the border, and it could cause real problems in Manning Park.

Mountain Pine Beetle has been in the park for many years. While they’ve been working hard to keep the beetle under control, there is a lot of beetle damage.

Just picture it: large areas with clumps of dead trees, standing red or grey, or down on the ground. All drying up in the summer heat. And now with an approaching fire, all that dead, dry material could act like kindling.

The BC Forest Service, Canadian Forest Service, and some other partners did some testing a couple of weeks ago with fire in MPB damaged stands near Prince George. They wanted to study how fire behaviour might differ from that in normal forests. I hope they learned something they can use to help get this fire under control quickly.

I guess the other option would be to let nature take it’s course. After all, fire is a natural part of the lodgepole pine ecosystem. My fear is that we’re not dealing with a ‘natural ecosystem’ any more. Fire protection has changed that. And so has warmer temperatures over the last many years.

What we’re left with is large areas littered with dead trees. Sure, not *all* the trees are dead, but we’ve got a lot of standing kindling. That will probably result in fires that are more intense than normal, making it harder for anything to survive.

That’s scary.

The good news today is that North winds are in the forecast. Those should push the fire back into itself and give those firefighters a chance.


Happy Birthday, Blog

You’re one year old, dear blog. As of July, that is. Hard to believe, but congratulations.

So, what have I learned?

I havent posted much: 60 some odd posts; around one a week for the most part, and that was in spurts.

I’ve gone from 0 to around 434 visits. I doubt many of those are regular readers, given the frequency of posting. Might help if I selected a niche instead of just posting what I’m thinking about. But I don’t seem to be there yet.

Through the comments, I’ve run across a couple of blogs that I wouldn’t have experenced. Thanks guys. theBizofknowlege and dragonspeed.

The visitor count jumped over the last 6 months or so. Not sure why.

I have lots of work to do if blogging is going to be a part of my life. Less time reading, and more time participating. At least that’s what I’ve heard from too many bloggers to link to. But here’s a popular one anyway. It’s a good place to learn.

Onward and upward as they say.

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Emblings in our forests?

According to Business in Vancouver (pay wall link) last week (August 22-28, 2006), a BC seedling producer is in the news (link is dead). The company is talking about using their biotech product to help BC’s forests recover from the losses caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle. We’ll need lots of trees to do that, and the company could ramp up production pretty fast.

Still, I expect they’ll get some pushback from the very foresters they hope to help. And unless they’re careful, the company will run into lots of opposition from the public – can’t be helped with a production process with the unfortunate name of somatic embryogenesis.

The technology they have is not all that new. It was developed late last century as a way to reproduce trees. While it *is* biotechnology, it doesn’t change the genetic structure of plants. It involves chopping up very young seed embryos and treating the pieces with various lab and chemical tricks to form undifferentiated masses of cells, or calluses. You can harvest plantlets off those calluses for years and make trees. (As a very loose metaphor, just imagine a sourdough culture in the fridge that you use periodically for pancakes or bread.)

Of course, if you introduce genetically engineered material, that’s what you get in the callus. Many scientists hail the process as being a great way to beef up numbers in transgenic tests. But most of us won’t like that for forestry use. The thought of engineered trees from labs lends itself to all kinds of imaginative meanderings. I’m sure there would be a big push back on the idea, and not just from environmentalists. I think the producer knows that.

I suspect the Ministry of Forests wouldn’t like it either. Their own excellent geneticists argue that because of the diverse BC ecology, our forests contain a lot of genetic variation. We can breed trees to suit and keep a lot of the natural variation intact. Why alter the tree’s genetics. It might make some sense in private timberlands down south; it doesn’t make sense in BC’s public forest. I think the producer knows that too.

Actually, back in the 1990s I had a hand in developing nursery practices for somatic seedlings of interior spruce. The material came from regular seed, from normal trees. We affectionately called the plantlets ’emblings’ (from embryos), rather than seedlings (from seed). Actually, we went as far as trying to take rooted cuttings from older emblings too. Heh, we called them stumblings (aka stuck emblings, ’cause you had to stick the cuttings in peat to get them rooted). That term didn’t (ahem) stick.

I also helped set up some of the initial plots to test the growth of emblings in the forest. There was a lot of concern about long term performance, as well as with maintaining genetic diversity in the resulting crop. After all, the research lab had only selected a few original seeds from a few original trees. All the technology the young plantlets were subject to, from callus formation, through lab extraction, through nursery, could easily result in some selection too. Those plants that could endure all the manipulation survived. Those that couldn’t endure didn’t last.

Was there enough diversity in those that were left? How were we to deal with that? Were the original trees the ones we wanted to be using as ‘parents’ for these new trees? Did the original seeds represent the ‘parents’ good traits, or were they going to produce the sickly runts of the family? So many questions were being asked that the Ministry of Forests decided to wait. They wanted the answers from field testing before allowing emblings for reforestation programs. And of course, any genetic trickery was out of the question.

The cost was also an issue. I expect it’s has come down with time, but back then a finished embling cost 60 cents to $1.00, depending who you talked to. That was expensive when most seedling costs were below 40 cents. The cost will have to be comparable if foresters are going to consider planting them over large areas. Buying and planting seedlings is a big cost consideration in reforestation.

Those were some of the issues early on, and I expect things haven’t changed too much since then. Transgenics aside, the technology has some niche uses, but the research results are not in for wide scale forestry use. Most of the test plots are not even 15 years old yet. The trees are just getting started. Without those test results, I doubt we’ll see any large scale production of emblings for reforestation in BC anytime soon.

Tails within the tail

Just reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. It’s easy to read, and there is lots of excellent, detailed content – the sign of a good writer/editor. Even though I’m not quite finished it yet, I highly recommend reading it.

I’ve followed some of the book content and the discussion about it through his Long Tail blog, but today I was really struck by his description of the microstructure of the tail – actually a series of tails within the tail. For me, it added some clarity to the definition of niche, and I hadn’t seen that discussed before, or at least I wasn’t receptive to it when I did.

Good stuff. I have a feeling that this is one book I’ll have to read a couple of times to absorb all the ideas and what they mean to me.

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Warm fuzzy feelings for Canon Canada today

Kudos to Canon Canada. They’ve exceeded this customer expectations by fixing a camera that was well out of warranty – for free. Turns out it was a manufacturers defect, and they’ve been resolutely dealing with it for quite some time.

And kudos for JS Electronics of Surrey for being part of that ( sorry, they don’t have a website that I can find. Try 202-12899 76th Ave). Sure, they were probably as skeptical about it as I was, so they charged me an ‘inspection fee’ before taking a look. But, in the end, the camera is fixed, the charges were reversed, and I’m happy.

Here’s the story.

Back in November 2003 I purchased a Canon ZR70MC video cam. I managed to use it a couple of times before life just got in the way.  I had to put it aside, and it sat in the case in a cabinet until about December 2006, when I had more time to play.

When I pulled it out around Christmas to try again: dead. Well, not completely dead. Everything seemed to work except the view finder and  LCD screen. Fine, I could take my video (I think), but not know exactly what I was taking a video of.

I ended up putting it back in the cabinet until a week ago, when I pulled it out again, bent on seeing what I could do to get it working for the summer.

First step: google “canon  ZR70MC”, of course. At that point I ran across a few reviews mentioning a similar problem. It sounded like Canon was offering to fix that model, no matter what the warranty situation. Apparently it was a manufacturer’s defect in the CCD that came to light soon after the camera was released. However, there didn’t seem to be any dates on the reviews.

OK, off to Canon’s website, where I found a technical note. Sure enough, it was true. They were offering to fix the problem. But what about now; after 3 years, and no extended warranty?

I phoned the help line mentioned on the website. Yikes. I got someone on the line in a matter of seconds. After explaining what I was looking at (or rather, not looking at) the rep just said to take it into a repair center. They would repair it at no charge. He provided the local address for JS Electronics without a beat.

Off to JS Electronics, just a few minutes way. The fellow there that I talked to explained that yes, the repairs could be made for free, as long as the CCD was the root of the problem. Other things could also be at fault. It would cost me $50+tax for them to have a look and be sure. I’d know in a week.

I dutifully made a note to my skeptical self to give them a call a week later. Today, before I could call them, they called me. My camera was ready, there would be no charge, and they would be refunding the deposit I’d made.

All’s well. Talk about a warm fuzzy feeling. Today I’m a raving fan of Canon Cameras and JS Electronics in Surrey. So there.

Well done folks!

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How to win the newspaper war?

I see in the Vancouver Sun today (p. D6) that Sun Media Corp. in Toronto is cutting 120 jobs. (Sorry, the story seems to be behind the firewall).

Most of the lost jobs will be those of  “journalists, editors, photographers, librarians, freelancers and some management.” According to the report, the company wants to introduce some new technology, shore up it’s online business, and expand its free local papers – like 24 hours. I suppose in the future they’ll be using some (more) centralized newsroom to create their news.

You’ve got to wonder…a media company…and the first thing to go when they want to save a few bucks are the content producers. Is there some logic in that? It sounds like a manufacturer saying “Oh my, we’re not doing that well. Let’s shut down the production line while we think about it.”

It seems to be the way things are moving though. CanWest does it now. As I sit on the couch in the morning, reading the Vancouver Sun newspaper and listening to Global news on TV, I’m amazed at how often I’m reading the exact same story that I’m hearing. And when I pick up the local community newspaper, half the same news is in there too. Sigh.

I wonder what new model for content will grow as more and more bored people start leaving mainstream media. I see blog posts about services like Scoopt Words and BlogBurst that offer to link bloggers with the mainstream press. Perhaps that’s the next model for fresh content in independent community newspapers, or on community websites – content from local bloggers commenting on their communities, i.e. citizen journalism. There’s been lots of talk about that too, but there’s still not much of a model for linking content producers with payment. That’s a stumbling block for all but the most dedicated.

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Northern Voice to unfortunate silence

The Northern Voice conference in Vancouver last weekend was the first blogging conference I’ve been to. What an interesting collection of topics and speakers – everything from extreme geek, to storytelling and community building. I left excited, and with full intensions of creating a blog post fury. I may still, but…

When I got home, I got a phone call from a friend in Search and Rescue – Surrey Search and Rescue, that is. He asked if I had some time to come and participate in a search.

I hummed and hawed a bit, but had a bite to eat and went down to the search base at the Tsawassen ferry terminal. Searchers scouered through the mud and darkness until about 02:00 or so for a fellow that had gone missing a few days earlier. They had found some of his belongings along the causeway, but there’s been no sign of him.  If you can help, please give the Delta Police a call.

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