Tag Archives: Jim Flaherty

Reading media

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted an analysis of media coverage but the appearance of these two articles at roughly the same time inspired me.  Nature has a Mar. 22, 2013 article by Brian Owens titled, Canada puts commercialization ahead of blue-sky research; Federal budget boosts clean-energy research and university infrastructure. It’s not an unusual response to the 2013 budget and there has been a great deal of discussion about the trend towards commercialization (e.g. Ivan Semeniuk’s Mar. 25, 2013 Globe and Mail article, Federal budget ignites debate over what science is for).

Particularly striking with regard to the Nature article about the Canadian federal budget is the picture which accompanies it, the least flattering image I have ever seen of Canada’s Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. Shot from the side and below, it emphasizes his girth and receding hairline. Interestingly, this shot is used in a British publication which is taking the Canadian government to task. I have not seen any comparable images in Canadian media pieces where Flaherty is usually shown full face and from mid-chest up.

The second piece I’m highlighting is about a technology application (thanks to @BoraZ for the tweet link) which features fascinating insight into the politics of selling technology, from an Open note to tech press/bloggers (Note: Links have been removed),

We just did a great rollout, the product is fantastic. This is going to move tech in a new direction. It’ll create new standards. I’m absolutely sure of it.

Yet, even with my track record as one who leads change in technology, the release of this software has gotten almost no note from leading tech bloggers and reporters.

That’s okay, because it’ll happen without them. Last time I pushed something through, it didn’t get support from the press either. And the time before that. We can make it happen without their help.

I think they’re comfortable with big software ideas coming from big companies. But I can’t make change happen within the context of a big corporation. Too much second-guessing, too many strategy taxes, too many phony business models. So I choose to do it as an independent.

These are early days, the product is very simple, and well-documented. We went to great lengths to make it easy to understand.

Helping users understand new relevant technology is what you do, after all.

PS: I did not include comments on this post because this is the kind of thing that attracts a lot of trolls.

PPS: To users, this is why you haven’t heard much about Little Outliner in the tech press. There’s nothing wrong with the product.

Curious yet? The product is called Little Outliner, from the home page (Note: A link has been removed),

Little Outliner is a powerful and easy editor that automatically saves text locally, a new feature in HTML5.

Here’s more information from the Little Outliner press guide,

You do not have to register or create an account. Just visit the site, and start typing.

It stores text in local storage on your own computer.

The user’s outline is not transmitted to our servers.

There is no charge to use Little Outliner. Use it to become familiar with outliners. For some people the features of Little Outliner will be exactly what they need.

Little Outliner is our entry-level product.

It’s where we start. We will release deeper, more specialized, technical and sophisticated products built on outlining. Little Outliner will remain simple, general, easy and approachable. It’s where we expect new users to start.

All of our products will be focused on outliners and communication.

As for who is behind Little Outliner, the company is called Small Picture (from the press guide),

Small Picture, Inc is a Delaware corporation, founded on December 19, 2012 by Dave Winer and Kyle Shank.

Dave Winer, 57, has a long history in the tech industry. He is the founder of Living Videotext, founded in 1981, created the first personal computer outliners, ThinkTank, Ready and MORE. UserLand Software, founded in 1988, created Frontier, integrated development tools and web content management software for desktop computers. UserLand developed the first blogging software, Manila and Radio, and pioneered the development of RSS aggregator and interapplication protocols. Winer was the first blogger, and pioneered the development of podcasting, in 1994 and 2001 respectively. He has been a researcher at Harvard and NYU and has a MS in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, and a BA in Mathematics from Tulane University.

Kyle Shank, 28, has worked as a consultant to Silicon Valley tech companies. He has worked within the software group at IBM in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Zurich, Switzerland. In 2005 he co-founded the first open source Ruby on Rails specific IDE RadRails based on Eclipse. Kyle graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2007 with a BS in Software Engineering.

Dave works in New York City, Kyle in the Boston area and collaborate via Instant Outline and Skype.

I think these two stories demonstrate the political nature of choosing images (in this case, presenting an image that suggests Flaherty is big [an upward angle tends to make someone seem big and threatening] while emphasizing his weight and aging) and choosing stories (in this case, determining what technology consumers will hear about). We tend to think of our information flow as being free and unencumbered when it is not. There are any number of gatekeepers and choosers who decide what we will and won’t see.

There is a kind of paradox at work. In order to blog or write or communicate one needs to make choices but that means one is inevitably put in the position of becoming a gatekeeper/editor/censor.

I don’t believe there is a magic way to escape the paradox and the best we can hope for is that we be  vigilant about our own biases and that our readers or audiences remind us when we fail in our attempts.

Science policy, innovation and more on the Canadian 2010 federal budget; free access in the true north; no nano for Van Gogh’s The Bedroom; frogs, foam and biofuels

There are more comments about Canada’s 2010 federal budget on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website along with listings of relevant news articles which they update regularly. There’s also a federal budget topic in the forums section but it doesn’t seem have attracted much commentary yet.

The folks at The Black Hole blog offer some pointed commentary with regard to the budget’s treatment of post doctorate graduates. If I understand the comments correctly, the budget has clarified the matter of taxation, i. e., post doctoral grants are taxable income, which means that people who were getting a break on taxes are now losing part of their income. The government has also created a new class of $70,000 post doctoral grants but this will account for only 140 fellowships. With some 6000 post doctoral fellows this means only 2% of the current pool of applicants will receive these awards. Do read The Black Hole post as they clarify what this means in very practical terms.

There’s been another discussion outcome from the 2010 budget, a renewed interest in innovation. I’m kicking off my ‘innovation curation efforts’ with this from an editorial piece by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star,

Five Canadian finance ministers have tried to crack the productivity puzzle. All failed. Now Jim Flaherty is taking a stab at it.

Here is the conundrum: We don’t use our brainpower to create new wealth. We have a highly educated population, generous tax incentives for research and development and lower corporate tax rates than any leading economic power. Yet our businesses remain reluctant to invest in new products and technologies (with a few honourable exceptions such as Research in Motion, Bombardier and Magna). They don’t even capitalize on the exciting discoveries made in our universities and government laboratories.

Economists are starting to ask what’s wrong. Canada ranked 14th in business spending on research and development – behind all the world’s leading industrial powers and even smaller nations such as Belgium and Ireland – in the latest statistical roundup by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I believe she’s referring to the 2009 OECD scorecard in that last bit (you can find the Canada highlights here).

There are many parts to this puzzle about why Canadians and their companies are not innovative.  Getting back to Goar’s piece,

Kevin Lynch, who served as Stephen Harper’s top adviser from 2006 to 2009 [and is now the vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal Financial Group], has just written an article in Policy Options, an influential magazine, laying the blame squarely on corporate Canada. He argues that, unless business leaders do their part, it makes little sense to go on spending billions of dollars on research and development. “In an era of fiscal constraint, there has to be a compelling narrative to justify new public investments when other areas are being constrained,” he says.

Here’s a possible puzzle piece, in yesterday’s (March 15, 2010) posting I noted a study by academic, Mary J. Benner, where she pointed out that securities analysts do not reward/encourage established US companies such as Polaroid (now defunct) and Kodak to adopt new technologies. I would imagine that the same situation exists here in Canada.

For another puzzle piece: I’ve made mention of the mentality that a lot of entrepreneurs (especially in Canadian high tech) have and see confirmation  in a Globe and Mail article by Simon Avery about the continuing impact of the 2000 dot com meltdown where he investigates some of the issues with venture capital and investment as well as this,

“It’s a little bit about getting into the culture of winning, like the Olympics we just had,” says Ungad Chadda, senior vice-president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. “I don’t think the technology entrepreneurs around here are encouraged and supported to think beyond the $250-million cheque that a U.S. company can give them.”

One last comment from  Kevin Lynch (mentioned in the second of the Goar excerpts) about innovation and Canada from his recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail,

A broader public dialogue is essential. We need to make the question “What would it take for Canada to be an innovative economy for the 21st century?” part of our public narrative – partly because our innovation deficit is a threat to our competitiveness and living standards, and partly because we can be a world leader in innovation. We should aspire to be a nation of innovators. We should rebrand Canada as technologically savvy, entrepreneurial and creative.

Yes, Mr. Lynch a broader dialogue would be delightful but there does seem to be an extraordinary indifference to the notion from many quarters. Do I seem jaundiced? Well, maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to get some interest in having a Canadian science policy debate and not getting very far with it. In principle, people call for more dialogue but that requires some effort to organize and a willingness to actually participate.

(As for “rebranding”, is anyone else tired of hearing that word or its cousin branding?)

On a completely other note, the University of Ottawa has announced that it is supporting open access to its faculty’s papers with institutional funding. From the news release,

According to Leslie Weir, U of Ottawa’s chief librarian, the program encompasses several elements, including a new Open Access (or OA) repository for peer-reviewed papers and other “learning objects”; an “author fund” for U of Ottawa researchers to help them cover open-access fees charged by journal publishers; a $50,000-a-year budget to digitize course materials and make them available to anyone through the repository; and support for the University of Ottawa Press’s OA journals.

But the university stopped short of requiring faculty members to deposit their papers with the new repository. “We all agreed that incentives and encouragement was the best way to go,” said Ms. Weir, who worked on the program with an internal group of backers, including Michael Geist, professor of intellectual property law, and Claire Kendall, a professor in the faculty of medicine who has been active in OA medical journals.

There is some criticism of the decision to make the programme voluntary. Having noticed the lack of success that voluntary reporting of nanomaterials has had, I’m inclined to agree with the critics. (Thanks to Pasco Phronesis for pointing me to the item.)

If you’ve ever been interested in art restoration (how do they clean and return the colours of an old painting to its original hues?, then the Van Gogh blog is for you. A member of the restoration team is blogging each step of The Bedroom’s (a famous Van Gogh painting) restoration. I was a little surprised that they don’t seem to be using any of the new nano-enabled techniques for examining the painting or doing the restoration work.

Given the name for this website, I have to mention the work done with frogs in pursuit of developing new biofuels by scientists at the University of Cincinnati. From the news item on Nanotechnology Now,

In natural photosynthesis, plants take in solar energy and carbon dioxide and then convert it to oxygen and sugars. The oxygen is released to the air and the sugars are dispersed throughout the plant — like that sweet corn we look for in the summer. Unfortunately, the allocation of light energy into products we use is not as efficient as we would like. Now engineering researchers at the University of Cincinnati are doing something about that.

The researchers are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species [Tungara frog].

Their work focused on making a new artificial photosynthetic material which uses plant, bacterial, frog and fungal enzymes, trapped within a foam housing, to produce sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Here’s an illustration of the frog by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student (I tried find out what DAAP stands for but was unsuccessful, ETA: Mar.31.10, it is the Design, art, and architecture program at the University of Cincinnati),

illustration by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student

Thank you to the University of Cincinnati for making the image available.

Water molecules are made up of water clusters!?! and Academic Pride

Kudos to Michael Berger at Nanowerk News for picking up on a very funny (and sad) piece of copywriting. It’s advertising for a nutritional supplement which makes use of nanotechnology (supposedly). According to the copywriter, water molecules are made up of water clusters which adhere to a particle in the middle. It’s funny because it’s so wrong (and if you read the article here, because of Berger’s colour commentary). It’s sad because I suspect there’s a fairly sizable portion of the population that doesn’t realize how very wrong the science is.

There’s an interesting interview with Jim Flaherty, [Canada] Minister of Finance in MacLean’s Magazine here. (Thanks Rob Annan, Researcher Forum, Don’t Leave Canada Behind). Here’s a quote that Annan singled out from the article,

Q. If Canada’s fiscal fundamentals are strong, these are still unsettling times. For instance, R  &  D by Canadian companies is perennially weak. And now the future of two of the very biggest research spenders, Nortel and AECL, are in doubt. Should we be worried about our innovative capacity shrinking?

A. As a government we are among the largest funders of R & D in the world. We’re low on the private-sector side, which has been a persistent concern. One of the things I’ve talked about with my Economic Advisory Council, which is important to me, is that in the IT sector we have a tremendous success. We have more than half a million people working in that sector and it has not gone into recession. It’s a tremendous source of research and development innovation. In the financial services sector we have sources of innovation. [this is not the full text for the answer, you can see the full text in Annan’s posting [and his take on the interview] or in the interview itself).

What I find puzzling in the answer is Flaherty’s claim that that the Canadian government is one of the largest funders of R&D spending in the world. (Unfortunately, Flaherty does not cite sources to support his claim.) According to Peter McKnight’s article, which I mentioned yesterday in another context,

…  Statistics Canada has estimated that federal funding for research and development will decline three per cent in 2008/2009 — a troubling prediction given that R & D funding as a percentage of gross domestic product decreased to 1.88 in 2007 from 2.08 in 2004.

Given that Canadian business has been historically weak in terms of its R & D spending, it seems to me that the big drop in R&D spending must be largely the consequence of decreased funding by the government.  By the way, I’d be interested to know if Obama’s declaration that science funding would grow to 3% of US gross domestic production includes business investment or only includes government funding. If someone knows offhand, please do let me know. Otherwise, I will try and track it down.

Meanwhile, there was a demonstration in France yesterday (Academic Pride, June 4, 2009) about the research situation there and in Europe generally. It was marked as a failure because only 800 researchers showed up. (By Canadian standards, that would be a success.) Rob Annan has a pre-event writeup here, but it’s in French so the event is referred to as, La Marche de tous les Savoirs. My French is rusty so I can’t offer a translation with any confidence but I can say that the situation in Europe cetainly bears some resemblance to the situation in Canada.

I found something amusing (to me) in Science Daily about soap sniffing. Apparently some doctors have created a device that can sniff hospital workers hands and determine if they’ve been washed recently. My favourite bits,

Call it a Breathalyzer for the hands. Using sensors capable of detecting drugs in breath, new technology developed at University of Florida monitors health-care workers’ hand hygiene by detecting sanitizer or soap fumes given off from their hands.

“This isn’t big brother, this is just another tool,” said Richard J. Melker, M.D., Ph.D., a UF College of Medicine anesthesiology professor who developed the technology along with professors Donn Dennis, M.D., and Nikolaus Gravenstein, M.D., of the anesthesiology department, and Christopher Batich, Ph.D., a materials science professor in the College of Engineering. [emphasis mine]

There’s more here.

Finally, poet Heather Haley is hosting a poetry event, June 9, 2009 at her home in Bowen Island.

VISITING POETS on Bowen Island Reading/Salon<!– blockquote, dl, ul, ol, li { padding-top: 0 ; padding-bottom: 0 } –>

POETRY READING/SALON with visiting poets Allan Briesmaster and Clara Blackwood

Please join us for a lovely evening of stellar verse with father and daughter poets Allan Briesmaster and Clara Blackwood from Ontario.

7:30 pm
Tuesday, June 9
At the home of Josef Roehrl and Heather Haley
Bowen Island, BC
Information: 778 861-4050

Allan Briesmaster is a freelance editor and publisher, and the author of ten
books of poetry, including Interstellar (Quattro Books, 2007). He was
centrally involved in the weekly Art Bar Poetry Reading Series in Toronto
from 1991 until 2002. As an editor Allan has been instrumental in producing
more than 70 books of poetry and non-fiction since 1998. Last year he
co-edited the 256-page anthology Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in
the Vietnam War Era for Seraphim Editions. Allan lives in Thornhill, Ontario
with his wife Holly, a visual artist with whom he has collaborated several

Clara Blackwood

Born and raised in Toronto, Clara Blackwood has been writing poetry for 15 years. Her first poetry collection, Subway Medusa (2007), is the inaugural book in Guernica Editions¹ First Poets Series, which showcases first books by poets thirty-five and under. From 1998 to 2004, Clara ran the monthly Syntactic Sunday Reading Series at the Free Times Café in Toronto. Her poetry has appeared in such magazines as the Hart House Review, Misunderstandings Magazine, Surface & Symbol and Carousel.