Tag Archives: Vancouver

Predictive policing in Vancouver—the first jurisdiction in Canada to employ a machine learning system for property theft reduction

Predictive policing has come to Canada, specifically, Vancouver. A July 22, 2017 article by Matt Meuse for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online describes the new policing tool,

The Vancouver Police Department is implementing a city-wide “predictive policing” system that uses machine learning to prevent break-ins by predicting where they will occur before they happen — the first of its kind in Canada.

Police chief Adam Palmer said that, after a six-month pilot project in 2016, the system is now accessible to all officers via their cruisers’ onboard computers, covering the entire city.

“Instead of officers just patrolling randomly throughout the neighbourhood, this will give them targeted areas it makes more sense to patrol in because there’s a higher likelihood of crime to occur,” Palmer said.

 

Things got off to a slow start as the system familiarized itself [during a 2016 pilot project] with the data, and floundered in the fall due to unexpected data corruption.

But Special Const. Ryan Prox said the system reduced property crime by as much as 27 per cent in areas where it was tested, compared to the previous four years.

The accuracy of the system was also tested by having it generate predictions for a given day, and then watching to see what happened that day without acting on the predictions.

Palmer said the system was getting accuracy rates between 70 and 80 per cent.

When a location is identified by the system, Palmer said officers can be deployed to patrol that location. …

“Quite often … that visible presence will deter people from committing crimes [altogether],” Palmer said.

Though similar systems are used in the United States, Palmer said the system is the first of its kind in Canada, and was developed specifically for the VPD.

While the current focus is on residential break-ins, Palmer said the system could also be tweaked for use with car theft — though likely not with violent crime, which is far less predictable.

Palmer dismissed the inevitable comparison to the 2002 Tom Cruise film Minority Report, in which people are arrested to prevent them from committing crimes in the future.

“We’re not targeting people, we’re targeting locations,” Palmer said. “There’s nothing dark here.”

If you want to get a sense of just how dismissive Chief Palmer was, there’s a July 21, 2017 press conference (run time: approx. 21 mins.) embedded with a media release of the same date. The media release offered these details,

The new model is being implemented after the VPD ran a six-month pilot study in 2016 that contributed to a substantial decrease in residential break-and-enters.

The pilot ran from April 1 to September 30, 2016. The number of residential break-and enters during the test period was compared to the monthly average over the same period for the previous four years (2012 to 2015). The highest drop in property crime – 27 per cent – was measured in June.

The new model provides data in two-hour intervals for locations where residential and commercial break-and-enters are anticipated. The information is for 100-metre and 500-metre zones. Police resources can be dispatched to that area on foot or in patrol cars, to provide a visible presence to deter thieves.

The VPD’s new predictive policing model is built on GEODASH – an advanced machine-learning technology that was implemented by the VPD in 2015. A public version of GEODASH was introduced in December 2015 and is publicly available on vpd.ca. It retroactively plots the location of crimes on a map to provide a general idea of crime trends to the public.

I wish Chief Palmer had been a bit more open to discussion about the implications of ‘predictive policing’. In the US where these systems have been employed in various jurisdictions, there’s some concern arising after an almost euphoric initial response as a Nov. 21, 2016 article by Logan Koepke for the slate.com notes (Note: Links have been removed),

When predictive policing systems began rolling out nationwide about five years ago, coverage was often uncritical and overly reliant on references to Minority Report’s precog system. The coverage made predictive policing—the computer systems that attempt to use data to forecast where crime will happen or who will be involved—seem almost magical.

Typically, though, articles glossed over Minority Report’s moral about how such systems can go awry. Even Slate wasn’t immune, running a piece in 2011 called “Time Cops” that said, when it came to these systems, “Civil libertarians can rest easy.”

This soothsaying language extended beyond just media outlets. According to former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, predictive policing is the “wave of the future.” Microsoft agrees. One vendor even markets its system as “better than a crystal ball.” More recent coverage has rightfully been more balanced, skeptical, and critical. But many still seem to miss an important point: When it comes to predictive policing, what matters most isn’t the future—it’s the past.

Some predictive policing systems incorporate information like the weather, a location’s proximity to a liquor store, or even commercial data brokerage information. But at their core, they rely either mostly or entirely on historical crime data held by the police. Typically, these are records of reported crimes—911 calls or “calls for service”—and other crimes the police detect. Software automatically looks for historical patterns in the data, and uses those patterns to make its forecasts—a process known as machine learning.

Intuitively, it makes sense that predictive policing systems would base their forecasts on historical crime data. But historical crime data has limits. Criminologists have long emphasized that crime reports—and other statistics gathered by the police—do not necessarily offer an accurate picture of crime in a community. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that from 2006 to 2010, 52 percent of violent crime went unreported to police, as did 60 percent of household property crime. Essentially: Historical crime data is a direct record of how law enforcement responds to particular crimes, rather than the true rate of crime. Rather than predicting actual criminal activity, then, the current systems are probably better at predicting future police enforcement.

Koepke goes on to cover other potential issues with ‘predicitive policing’ in this thoughtful piece. He also co-authored an August 2016 report, Stuck in a Pattern; Early evidence on “predictive” policing and civil rights.

There seems to be increasing attention on machine learning and bias as noted in my May 24, 2017 posting where I provide links to other FrogHeart postings on the topic and there’s this Feb. 28, 2017 posting about a new regional big data sharing project, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative where I mention Cathy O’Neil (author of the book, Weapons of Math Destruction) and her critique in a subsection titled: Algorithms and big data.

I would like to see some oversight and some discussion in Canada about this brave new world of big data.

One final comment, it is possible to get access to the Vancouver Police Department’s data through the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue (home page).

Art/science events in Vancouver, Canada (Nov. 22, 2017) and Toronto (Dec. 1, 2017)

The first event I’m highlighting is the Curiosity Collider Cafe’s Nov. 22, 2017 event in Vancouver (Canada), from a November 14, 2017 announcement received via email,

Art, science, & neuroscience. Visualizing/sonifying particle collisions. Colors from nature. Sci-art career adventure. Our #ColliderCafe is a space for artists, scientists, makers, and anyone interested in art+science.

Meet, discover, connect, create. Are you curious?

Join us at “Collider Cafe: Art. Science. Interwoven.” to explore how art and science intersect in the exploration of curiosity.

When: 8:00pm on Wednesday, November 22, 2017.

Doors open at 7:30pm.

Where: Café Deux Soleils.. 2096 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC (Google Map).

Cost: $5-10 (sliding scale) cover at the door.

Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events.

With speakers:

Caitlin Ffrench (painter, writer, and textile artist) – Colours from Nature

Claudia Krebs (neuroanatomy professor) – Does the brain really differentiate between science and art?

Derek Tan (photographer, illustrator, and multimedia designer) – Design for Science: How I Got My Job E

Eli York (neuroscience researcher) – Imaging the brain’s immune system

Leó Stefánsson (multimedia artist) – Experiencing Data: Visualizing and Sonifying Particle Collisions

Follow updates on twitter via @ccollider or #ColliderCafe.

Head to the Facebook event page – let us know you are coming and share this event with others!

Then in Toronto, there’s the ArtSci Salon with an event about what they claim is one of the hottest topics today: STEAM. For the uninitiated, the acronym is for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics which some hope will supersede STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Regardless, here’s more from a November 13, 2017 Art/Sci Salon announcement received via email,

The ArtSci Salon presents:

What does A stand for in STEAM?

Date: December 1, 2017

Time: 5:30-7:30 pm

Location: The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
222 College Street, Toronto, ON

Please, RSVP here
http://bit.ly/2zH8nrN

Grouping four broadly defined disciplinary clusters –– Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics –– STEM has come to stand for governments’ and institutions’ attempt to champion ambitious programs geared towards excellence and innovation while providing hopeful students with “useful” education leading to “real jobs”. But in recent years education advocates have reiterated the crucial role of the arts in achieving such excellence. A has been added to STEM…

But what does A stand for in STEAM? What is its role? and how is it interpreted by those involved in STEM education, by arts practitioners and educators and by science communicators? It turns out that A has different roles, meanings, applications, interpretations…

Please, join us for an intriguing discussion on STEAM education and STEAM approaches. Our guests represent different experiences, backgrounds and areas of research. Your participation will make their contributions even richer

With:

Linda Duvall (Visual and Media Artist)

Richard Lachman (Associate Professor, RTA School of Media, Ryerson University)

Jan McMillin (Teacher/Librarian, Queen Victoria P.S.)

Jenn Stroud Rossmann (Professor, Mechanical Engineering – Lafayette College)

Lauren Williams (Special Collections Librarian – Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Bios

Linda Duvall is a Saskatoon-based visual artist whose work exists at the intersection of collaboration, performance and conversation. Her hybrid practice addresses recurring themes of connection to place, grief and loss, and the many meanings of exclusion and absence.

Richard Lachman directs the Zone Learning network of incubators for Ryerson University, Research Development for the Faculty of Communication and Design, and the Experiential Media Institute. His research interests include transmedia storytelling, digital documentaries, augmented/locative/VR experiences, mixed realities, and collaborative design thinking.

Jan McMillin is a Teacher Librarian at the TDSB. Over the last 3 years she has led a team to organize a S.T.E.A.M. Conference for approximately 180 Intermediate students from Queen Victoria P.S. and Parkdale Public. The purpose of the conference is to inspire these young people and to show them what they can also aspire to. Queen Victoria has a history of promoting the Arts in Education and so the conference was also partly to expand the notion of STEM to incorporate the Arts and creativity

Jenn Stroud Rossmann is a professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. Her research interests include cardiovascular and respiratory fluid mechanics and interdiscplinary pedagogies. She co-authored an innovative textbook, Introduction to Engineering Mechanics: A Continuum Approach (CRC Press, Second Edition, 2015), and writes the essay series “An Engineer Reads a Novel” for Public Books. She is also a fiction writer whose work (in such journals as Cheap Pop, Literary Orphans, Tahoma Literary Review) has earned several Pushcart Prize nominations and other honors; her first novel is forthcoming in Fall 2018 from 7.13 Books.

Lauren Williams is Special Collections Librarian in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Toronto iSchool, where she specialized in Library and Information Science and participated in the Book History and Print Culture Collaborative Program.

Enjoy!

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 4 of 4)

Cultural heritage and the importance of pigments and databases

Unlike Thom (Ian Thom, curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery), I believe that the testing was important. Knowing the spectra emitted by the pigments in Hurdy Gurdy and Autumn Harbour could help to set benchmarks for establishing the authenticity of the pigments used by artists (Harris and others) in the early part of Canada’s 20th century.

Europeans and Americans are more advanced in their use of technology as a tool in the process of authenticating, restoring, or conserving a piece of art. At the Chicago Institute of Art they identified the red pigment used in a Renoir painting as per my March 24, 2014 posting,

… The first item concerns research by Richard Van Duyne into the nature of the red paint used in one of Renoir’s paintings. A February 14, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some of the art conservation work that Van Duyne’s (nanoish) technology has made possible along with details about this most recent work,

Scientists are using powerful analytical and imaging tools to study artworks from all ages, delving deep below the surface to reveal the process and materials used by some of the world’s greatest artists.

Northwestern University chemist Richard P. Van Duyne, in collaboration with conservation scientists at the Art Institute of Chicago, has been using a scientific method he discovered nearly four decades ago to investigate masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt.

Van Duyne recently identified the chemical components of paint, now partially faded, used by Renoir in his oil painting “Madame Léon Clapisson.” Van Duyne discovered the artist used carmine lake, a brilliant but light-sensitive red pigment, on this colorful canvas. The scientific investigation is the cornerstone of a new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.

There are some similarities between the worlds of science (in this case, chemistry) and art (collectors,  institutions, curators, etc.). They are worlds where one must be very careful.

The scientists/chemists choose their words with precision while offering no certainties. Even the announcement for the discovery (by physicists) of the Higgs Boson is not described in absolute terms as I noted in my July 4, 2012 posting titled: Tears of joy as physicists announce they’re pretty sure they found the Higgs Boson. As the folks from ProsPect Scientific noted,

This is why the science must be tightly coupled with art expertise for an effective analysis.  We cannot do all of that for David [Robertson]. [He] wished to show a match between several pigments to support an interpretation that the ‘same’ paints were used. The availability of Hurdy Gurdy made this plausible because it offered a known benchmark that lessened our dependency on the databases and art-expertise. This is why Raman spectroscopy more often disproves authenticity (through pigment anachronisms). Even if all of the pigments analysed showed the same spectra we don’t know that many different painters didn’t buy the same brand of paint or that some other person didn’t take those same paints and use them for a different painting. Even if all pigments were different, that doesn’t mean Lawren Harris didn’t paint it, it just means different paints were used.

In short they proved that one of the pigments used in Autumn Harbour was also used in the authenticated Harris, Hurdy Gurdy, and the other pigment was in use at that time (early 20th century) in Canada. It doesn’t prove it’s a Harris painting but, unlike the Pollock painting where they found an anachronistic pigment, it doesn’t disprove Robertson’s contention.

To contrast the two worlds, the art world seems to revel in secrecy for its own sake while the world of science (chemistry) will suggest, hint, or hedge but never state certainties. The ProSpect* Scientific representative commented on authentication, art institutions, and databases,

We know that some art institutions are extremely cautious about any claims towards authentication, and they decline to be cited in anything other than the work they directly undertake. (One director of a well known US art institution said to me that they pointedly do not authenticate works, she offered advice on how to conduct the analysis but declined any reference to her institution.) We cannot comment on any of the business plans of any of our customers but the customers we have that use Raman spectroscopy on paintings generally build databases from their collected studies as a vital tool to their own ongoing work collecting and preserving works of art.

We don’t know of anyone with a database particular to pigments used by Canadian artists and neither did David R. We don’t know that any organization is developing such a database.The database we used is a mineral database (as pigments in the early 20th century were pre-synthetic this database contains some of the things commonly used in pigments at that time) There are databases available for many things:  many are for sale, some are protected intellectual property. We don’t have immediate access to a pigments database. Some of our art institution/museum customers are developing their own but often these are not publicly available. Raman spectroscopy is new on the scene relative to other techniques like IR and X-Ray analysis and the databases of Raman spectra are less mature.

ProSpect Scientific provided two papers which illustrate either the chemists’ approach to testing and art (RAMAN VIBRATIONAL STUDY OF PIGMENTS WITH PATRIMONIAL INTEREST FOR THE CHILEAN CULTURAL HERITAGE) and/or the art world’s approach (GENUINE OR FAKE: A MICRO-RAMAN SPECTROSCOPY STUDY OF AN ABSTRACT PAINTING ATTRIBUTED TO VASILY KANDINSKY [PDF]).

Canadian cultural heritage

Whether or not Autumn Harbour is a Lawren Harris painting may turn out to be less important than establishing a means for better authenticating, restoring, and conserving Canadian cultural heritage. (In a June 13, 2014 telephone conversation, David Robertson claims he will forward the summary version of the data from the tests to the Canadian Conservation Institute once it is received.)

If you think about it, Canadians are defined by the arts and by research. While our neighbours to the south went through a revolutionary war to declare independence, Canadians have declared independence through the visual and literary arts and the scientific research and implementation of technology (transportation and communication in the 19th and 20th centuries).

Thank you to both Tony Ma and David Robertson.

Finally, Happy Canada Day on July 1, 2014!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 3 of 4)

Dramatic headlines (again)

Ignoring the results entirely, Metro News Vancouver, which favours the use of the word ‘fraud’, featured it in the headline of a second article about the testing, “Alleged Group of Seven work a fraud: VAG curator” by Thandi Fletcher (June 5, 2014 print issue); happily the online version of Fletcher’s story has had its headline changed to the more accurate: “Alleged Group of Seven painting not an authentic Lawren Harris, says Vancouver Art Gallery curator.” Fletcher’s article was updated after its initial publication with some additional text (it is worth checking out the online version even if you’re already seen the print version). There had been a second Vancouver Metro article on the testing of the authenticated painting by Nick Wells but that in common, with his June 4, 2014 article about the first test, “A fraud or a find?” is no longer available online. Note: Standard mainstream media practice is that the writer with the byline for the article is not usually the author of the article’s headline.

There are two points to be made here. First, Robertson has not attempted to represent ‘Autumn Harbour’ as an authentic Lawren Harris painting other than in a misguided headline for his 2011 news release.  From Robertson’s July 26, 2011 news release (published by Reuters and published by Market Wired) where he crossed a line by stating that Autumn Harbour is a Harris in his headline (to my knowledge the only time he’s done so),

Lost Lawren Harris Found in Bala, Ontario

Unknown 24×36 in. Canvas Piques a Storm of Controversy

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – July 26, 2011) –
Was Autumn Harbour painted by Lawren Harris in the fall of 1912? That summer Lawren Harris was 26 years old and had proven himself as an accomplished and professional painter. He had met J.E.H. MacDonald in November of 1911. They became fast friends and would go on to form the Group of Seven in 1920 but now in the summer of 1912 they were off on a sketching expedition to Mattawa and Temiscaming along the Quebec-Ontario border. Harris had seen the wilderness of the northern United States and Europe but this was potentially his first trip outside the confines of an urban Toronto environment into the Canadian wilderness.

By all accounts he was overwhelmed by what he saw and struggled to find new meaning in his talents that would capture these scenes in oil and canvas. There are only two small works credited to this period, archived in the McMichael gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. Dennis Reid, Assistant Curator of the National Gallery of Canada stated in 1970 about this period: “Both Harris and (J.E.H.) MacDonald explored new approaches to handling of colour and overall design in these canvases. Harris in particular was experimenting with new methods of paint handling, and Jackson pointed out the interest of the other painters in these efforts, referring to the technique affectionately as ‘Tomato Soup’.” For most authorities the summer and fall of 1912 are simply called his ‘lost period’ because it was common for Harris to destroy, abandon or give away works that did not meet his standards. The other trait common to Harris works, is the lack of a signature and some that are signed were signed on his behalf. The most common proxy signatory was Betsy Harris, his second wife who signed canvases on his behalf when he could no longer do so.

So the question remains. Can an unsigned 24×36 in. canvas dated to 1900-1920 that was found in a curio shop in Bala, Ontario be a long lost Lawren Harris? When pictures were shown to Charles C. Hill, Curator of Canadian Art, National Gallery of Canada, he replied: “The canvas looks like no Harris I have ever seen…” A similar reply also came from Ian Thom, Head Curator for the Vancouver Art Gallery: “I do not believe that your work can be connected with Harris in any way.” [emphases mine] Yet the evidence still persists. The best example resides within the National Art Gallery. A 1919, 50.5 X 42.5 in. oil on rough canvas shows Harris’s style of under painting, broad brush strokes and stilled composition. Shacks, painted in 1919 and acquired the Gallery in 1920 is an exact technique clone of Autumn Harbour. For a list of comparisons styles with known Harris works and a full list of the collected evidence please consult www.1912lawrenharris.ca/ and see for yourself.

If Robertson was intent on perpetrating a fraud, why would he include the negative opinions from the curators or attempt to authenticate his purported Harris? The 2011 website is no longer available but Robertson has established another website, http://autumnharbour.ca/.

It’s not a crime (fraud) to have strong or fervent beliefs. After all, Robertson was the person who contacted ProSpect* Scientific to arrange for a test.

Second, Ian Thom, the VAG curator did not call ‘Autumn Harbour’ or David Robertson, a fraud. From the updated  June 5, 2014 article sporting a new headline by Thandi Fletcher,

“I do not believe that the painting … is in fact a Lawren Harris,” said Ian Thom, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “It’s that simple.”

It seems Thom feels as strongly as Robertson does; it’s just that Thom holds an opposing opinion.

Monetary value was mentioned earlier as an incentive for Robertson’s drive to prove the authenticity of his painting, from the updated June 5, 2014 article with the new headline by Thandi Fletcher,

Still, Robertson, who has carried out his own research on the painting, said he is convinced the piece is an authentic Harris. If it were, he said it would be worth at least $3 million. [emphasis mine]

“You don’t have to have a signature on the canvas to recognize brushstroke style,” he said.

Note: In a June 13, 2014 telephone conversation, Robertson used the figure of $1M to denote his valuation of Autumn Harbour and claimed a degree in Geography with a minor in Fine Arts from the University of Waterloo. He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to be a* Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.

As for the owner of Hurdy Gurdy and the drama that preceded its test on June 4, 2014, Fletcher had this in her updated and newly titled article,

Robertson said the painting’s owner, local Vancouver businessman Tony Ma, had promised to bring the Harris original to the chemistry conference but pulled out after art curator Thom told him not to participate.

While Thom acknowledged that Ma did ask for his advice, he said he didn’t tell him to pull out of the conference.

“It was more along the lines of, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t do it, because I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything,’” said Thom, adding that the final decision is up to Ma. [emphasis mine]

A request for comment from Ma was not returned Wednesday [June 5, 2014].

Thom, who already examined Robertson’s painting a year ago [in 2013? then, how is he quoted in a 2011 news release?], said he has no doubt Harris did not paint it.

“The subject matter is wrong, the handling of the paint is wrong, and the type of canvas is wrong,” he said, adding that many other art experts agree with him.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014. Minor grammatical change made to sentence: ‘He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to a be of Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.’ to ‘He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to be a* Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.’ on July 2, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

Tissue regeneration by injection

I’ve got two items: one from the University of Nottingham (UK) where they’re working on tissue regeneration for bones, muscles, and the heart.The second item is from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada)where the focus is on regenerating bones.

Here’s more about the work at the University of Nottingham from the [July 3, 2012] news item on Nanowerk,

The University of Nottingham has begun the search for a new class of injectable materials that will stimulate stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue in degenerative and age related disorders of the bone, muscle and heart.

The work, which is currently at the experimental stage, could lead to treatments for diseases that currently have no cure. The aim is to produce radical new treatments that will reduce the need for invasive surgery, optimise recovery and reduce the risk of undesirable scar tissue.

The research, which brings together expertise in The University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and UK campus, is part of the Rational Bioactive Materials Design for Tissue Generation project (Biodesign). This €11m EU funded research project which involves 21 research teams from across Europe is made up of leading experts in degenerative disease and regenerative medicine.

The original July 3, 2012 news release from the University of Nottingham includes a video which offers some additional insight (sadly ,it cannot be embedded here) and more information (Note: I have removed a link),

Kevin Shakesheff, Professor of Advanced Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering and Head of the School of Pharmacy, said: “This research heralds a step-change in approaches to tissue regeneration. Current biomaterials are poorly suited to the needs of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The aim of Biodesign is to develop new materials and medicines that will stimulate tissue regeneration rather than wait for the body to start the process itself. The aim is to fabricate advanced biomaterials that match the basic structure of each tissue so the cells can take over the recovery process themselves.”

The Canadian project at Simon Fraser University features a singular focus on bone regeneration, from the July 19, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

A Simon Fraser University researcher is leading a team of scientists working to create new drugs to stimulate bone regeneration – research that will be furthered by a $2.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Lead researcher Robert Young heads a team of internationally recognized experts in bone disease and drug development. The researchers are focusing on developing small molecule compounds and nano-medicines that stimulate bone regeneration, and hope to identify new therapeutic approaches by improving understanding of bone renewal biology.

Their objective is to develop new therapeutic agents that promote bone repair, regeneration and renewal, and prove their efficiency in reproducing or improving bone strength.

The research involves studying the “natural controls” that guide the development of cells in the bones toward either bone forming or bone resorbing cells, setting the stage for the next generation of bone regenerative therapies.

The grant is one of three announced today by the federal government targeting bone health research and totalling $7 million. The others focus on wrist fractures management and identifying bone loss in gum disease.

The funding is through the CIHR’s Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis and addresses priorities identified at a 2009 national Bone Health Consensus Conference.

I’ve decided to focus on tissues today so there will be something about tissue engineering and jellyfish (artificial) shortly.

Interview with Baba Brinkman who performs his Rap Guide to Evolution in Vancouver on Feb. 20, 2011

Peer-reviewed and rap music are terms that don’t usually go together unless you’re talking about Vancouver-based rapper, Baba Brinkman.  (ETA Feb.17.11 Baba’s website) The performer has developed a rap about evolution that’s been extensively toured in the UK. Sunday, February 20, 2011, Brinkman brings his evolution rap home to Vancouver (Canada) for a performance at the Railway Club presented by the Centre for Inquiry and others. From the event webpage,

The Centre for Inquiry Vancouver, Radio Freethinker and CiTR 101.9FM are proud to present Baba Brinkman and the Rap Guide to Evolution!

Baba brings his rationalist rap back to his home for a special show of his popular spoken word rationalist rap – The Rap Guide to Evolution! The New York Times has said that this is the only hip-hop show to talk of mitochondria, genetic drift, sexual selection or memes. For Brinkman has taken Da rwin’s exhortation seriously. He is a man on a mission to spread the word about evolution — how it works, what it means for our view of the world, and why it is something to be celebrated rather than feared.

Baba’s work has been called:

“Brilliantly conceived and effervescently performed…not only is it factually correct, it’s also dazzlingly intelligent…after seeing this show, you’ll never look at a hip-hop music video in the same way again!” – The Scotsman

Event details:

Sunday, February 20th 2011 at 9:00 pm – 12 am
The Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver BC
Tickets: $8 at the door
Special Guests: Aaron Nazrul & the Boom Booms

Prior to his Sunday performance, Baba very kindly answered some interview questions:

(a) Is this the first time you’ve given a performance of ‘The Rap Guide to Evolution’ in Vancouver? And how did this performance come about?

This won’t be the Vancouver première of the Rap Guide to Evolution since I was featured as part of the 2009 Vancouver Evolution Festival with performances at UBC, SFU, and at a club venue in Gastown, but the show has evolved considerably over the past two years and it is my first performance in Vancouver since achieving any recognition for the show.  In terms of the show’s origins, I was performing a rap adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales a few years back and encountered a geneticist named Dr. Mark Pallen at the University of Birmingham in the UK who challenged me to “do for Darwin what I did for Chaucer”. Dr. Pallen had a grant from the British Council to organize a Darwin Day celebration in 2009 and he commissioned me to write the show for his event, and then after that I brought it to the VanEvo festival, the Cambridge Darwin Festival, the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals, and numerous college campuses, plus an off-Broadway showcase in New York, so it’s been a busy couple of years.

(b) I understand this ‘evolution’ rap was commissioned and is the only ‘science peer-reviewed’ rap in existence. How much research did you do on evolution before you started rapping about it? What did you learn that you didn’t know?

I got the commission officially in September 2008 so I had approximately five months to read-up on evolutionary theory before I started rapping about it. I read books by E O Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Joseph Carroll, Dan Dennett, D S Wilson, Geoffrey Miller, and Mark Pallen’s own “Rough Guide to Evolution”. There were other books as well but those are the authors that significantly influenced the writing. What I learned is that the explanatory power of Darwin’s theory is far more vast that I had imagined when first accepting the challenge. I was familiar with evolution from taking biology and human origins courses at University, but I had never heard of Universal Darwinism or Evolutionary Psychology or Costly Signaling or any number of key concepts that ended up featuring heavily in the show.

(c) How has your rapping practice (scientific and otherwise) evolved?

My rapping practiced has evolved in the same way that everything else evolves, gradually and haphazardly in response to changing environmental circumstances. For instance, I would never have guessed when I started rapping at the age of 19 that I would end up in a science rapping niche, but each step seems to have followed effortlessly enough from the last along the way. I still attend to the same stylistic and musical concerns as before so that I keep improving my skills, but the content has taken some surprising turns. There’s an apt expression in hip-hop for this process (also the title of a Too-Short album): Get In Where You Fit In.

(d) Is there anything you’d like to add?

The Rap Guide to Evolution will be transferring to New York for an off-Broadway run in a couple of months, so come see the show while you can, since I might not be back for another two years at this rate!

I’m hoping to get there for Baba’s performance and his last comment definitely provides motivation in addition to the incentive provided by the sweet sounds of his special guests, Aaron Nazrul & the Boom Booms.

I have featured Baba and his work previously in these posts:

Smart windows in The Netherlands and in Vancouver

Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written a good primer on smart windows while discussing a specific project from The Netherlands. From Berger’s article,

‘Smart’ windows, or smart glass, refers to glass technology that includes electrochromic devices, suspended particle devices, micro-blinds and liquid crystal devices. Their major feature is that they can control the amount of light passing through the glass and increase energy efficiency of the room by reducing costs for heating or air-conditioning. In the case of self-powered smart windows the glass even generates the energy needed to electrically switch its transparency.

Smart windows can be electrochromic and/or photochromic. From an article by Alan Chen, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, titled, New Photochromic Material Could Advance Energy-Efficient Windows,

A photochromic material is one that changes from transparent to a color when it is exposed to light, and reverts to transparency when the light is dimmed or blocked. An electrochromic material changes color when a small electric charge is passed through it. Both photochromic and electrochromic materials have potential applications in many types of devices.

As for how both materials could have applications appropriate for windows, Berger’s article describes a smart window that sounds like it’s both electrochromic and photochromics and has the added benefit of being able to power itself,

A new type of smart window proposed by researchers in The Netherlands makes use of a luminescent dye-doped liquid-crystal solution sandwiched in between electrically conductive plates as an energy-generating window.

The dye absorbs a variable amount of light depending on its orientation, and re-emits this light, of which a significant fraction is trapped by total internal reflection at the glass/air interface.

(For more details about this specific project, please read Berger’s full article.)

A few months ago I chanced across a local (Vancouver, Canada-based) start-up company, SWITCH Materials, that features technology for smart windows. From the company website (Technology page),

SWITCH’s advanced materials are based on novel organic molecules that react to both solar and electrical stimulation. Smart windows and lenses are the first commercial application under development at SWITCH. They darken when exposed to the sun and rapidly bleach on command when stimulated by electricity.

While competitive technologies rely on either photochromism or electrochromism, SWITCH’s hybrid technology offers the advantages of both, providing enhanced control and lower cost manufacturing.

• SWITCH’s technology also operates without requiring a continuous charge, and as a result has great potential for significant cost savings in many applications.

• The organic compounds in SWITCH’s materials are thermally stable and remain in their coloured state until electricity reverses the chemical transformation.

As far as I can tell, one of the big differences between this Canadian company’s approach and the Dutch research team’s is the Canadian’s use of organic compounds. Also, one of the key advantages (in addition to the ability to generate electricity) to the Dutch team’s approach is that users can control the window’s transmission of light.

I don’t know how close either the Canadian company (SWITCH) or the Dutch research team is to a commercial application but there is this excerpt from the Jan. 14, 2010 news release (on the Pangaea Ventures website),

SWITCH Materials Inc., an advanced materials company developing energy saving SMART window solutions, has raised $7.5M in Series B financing. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC Venture Capital) led the investment, with participation from existing investors GrowthWorks, Pangaea Ventures and Ventures West. Proceeds will be used for continuing R&D and to complete product commercialization.

“I am excited that an up and coming Canadian clean tech company will be added to our portfolio,” said Geoff Catherwood, Director of Venture Capital at BDC. “The technology being developed at SWITCH carries tremendous potential to address the burgeoning demand for a new generation of window technology. Producing a SMART window solution that can meet the price point required for significant market penetration will enable SWITCH to gain a leadership position in a large untapped market.” In conjunction with the financing, Mr. Catherwood will join the company’s Board of Directors.

I notice the news release makes no mention of a timeline for possible commercial applications or of competitors for that matter. In addition to the Dutch research team (there’s a Dutch company [I blogged about them here {scroll down}] that is producing something remarkably similar [it too offers control for transmission of light] to the Dutch research team’s smart windows profiled by Berger), there’s competition from the Americans who, recently, through their federal Dept. of Energy invested $72M (a loan guarantee added to previous investments) in SAGE Electrochromics.

The market for windows that could conceivably eliminate or seriously minimize the use of air conditioning is huge. In this era of concern about energy use and climate change, air conditioning is a problem as it uses a tremendous amount of energy, has a significant carbon footprint, and most importantly for business, it is expensive. Think of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Nairobi,  Toronto, New York, Montréal, Chicago, Paris, London, Belgrade, Berlin, etc. during their respective hot seasons and the advantages of smart windows become quite apparent.

One last thing I’d like to mention about the Canadian company, it’s a Simon Fraser University (SFU), spinoff with Neil Branda, director of SFU’s nanotechnology centre, 4D Labs as their chief technical officer. Dr. Branda’s research work was last mentioned on this blog in a posting that featured, SFU scientists their phasers on stun as part of the title.

Mona Hatoum and the Rennie Collection

I’m not writing about nano today instead I’m focussing on the show of Mona Hatoum’s work at the new gallery in Vancouver, the Rennie Collection. A local developer/realtor, Bob Rennie, has amassed a substantive modern art collection which he’s showcasing in his own gallery in a restored heritage building in Chinatown. You can read more about the gallery and its opening here in an article by John Mackie in the Vancouver Sun (Oct. 24, 2009). There’s also an in-depth profile written by Matt O’Grady in Vancouver Magazine (April 2009 [corrected 12:50 pm PST, Dec.4.09]) here.

The gallery is a first for Vancouver in that you have to make an appointment to view the show. It’s open one day a week on Thursday and there are three guided showings. I went yesterday having booked almost 1 month ago. They say that they allow 10 people in a showing but we had 11 so I guess they do make exceptions which surprises me since the experience is highly controlled.

I’ve never before had to sign a release to view art work. According to that piece of paper, I cannot sue them if I trip and fall and I’m not allowed to touch the artwork nor am I allowed to take pictures or videos. Oh, and I was given a sticker with the Rennie Collection brand to wear on my coat. I have no idea why we were given stickers. There was no need to identify us  as we were the only visitors in the gallery. I even had to check in and I’m not sure but I may have failed to check out when I left. (drat)

The only time I’ve gone through more security checks was when I visited a local high tech company that had contracts with the US Dept. of Defense.

Given Hatoum’s work, the Rennie Collection security experience was perfect. Before I launch off into my impressions, I don’t have an art history degree or an intimate knowledge of the art scene. Basically I look at stuff and then I describe it in standard English. I don’t use ‘art speak’ although I may use some of the same words. (e.g. When I was teaching I used to talk about ‘techno English’. Terms that are used in standard English but mean something different in the technology community.)

Mona Hatoum works conceptually. Most of her work seem to centre around concepts such as the fragility of life, pain, alienation, and rootlessness.

Thankfully, the guide helped to provide context (stories) for the pieces. There were a couple pieces that have me wondering how this stuff could possibly be described as art. For example, she hung a mirror up on a wall so you could see yourself in it. I don’t care how many times someone declares this to be art, I’m not buying it. (pun! Obviously Bob Rennie did as these pieces are from his collection)

The two pieces that were most exciting to me were Hot Spot and Projection. The first is a tilted 8-foot high (or more) globe with the continents outlined in red neon. The globe looks like a rounded cage or grid (you see a lot of cages in Hatoum’s work). The neon which outlines the continents is powered by electric outlets and cords which are plainly visible through the bands of metal that form the globe. As Hatoum sees it, the entire world is a hot spot.

Just across from the hot spot is a map of the world called Projection. The map is not the standard Mercator map that many of us know but the Peters map which is a more accurate representation of the landmasses and oceans on the planet Earth. The North American and European continents have been distorted on the Mercator map to seem larger than they are and the Peters map redresses that distortion.

Looking from ‘Hot Spot’ where she’s used the Mecator map and viewing it in relationship to ‘Projection’ with its Peters map, is disorienting. This state lends itself to new perceptions and ideas and it was for me the richest and most exciting part of the show. The rest ranged from laughable (the mirror) to somewhat intriguing.

There’s also some work on the roof but those are other artists and I’m running out of time today. Do visit the collection if you don’t mind signing releases, booking weeks ahead of time, and wearing the Rennie brand (I kept the unpeeled sticker in my hand).

Nanotechnology strategies everywhere except Canada; Visible Verse 2009; OECD workshops on nanotech in developing world

There’s an article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk titled, European strategy for nanotechnology and the nanotechnology Action Plan, where he outlines the European Union’s approach to creating a strategy, contrasts it in a few asides (launching potshots at the Europeans) with the US approach, and provides some handy links. Coincidentally there’s a news item on Nanowerk about RUSNANO (the Russian publicly funded nanotech investment agency) visiting Sweden. From the news item,

A RUSNANO delegation headed by CEO Anatoly Chubais will visit Sweden on November 19-20, 2009 to study the support that government offers for innovative developments, share with Sweden’s business and scientific communities the goals and principles that guide RUSNANO’s activities and discuss opportunities to collaborate in commercialization of nanotechnologies with their Swedish counterparts.

Canada hosted RUSNANO a few months back for similar purposes but interestingly there was no mention of studying “the support that government offers for innovative developments … ” and I’m not sure if it’s because there isn’t a support framework, official or otherwise, in Canada or if they failed to mention it in the news release. (I strongly suspect the former.) I blogged here about RUSNANO’s visit to Canada at the time.

Taking Sweden and the UK as examples, it would seem that European countries have both a European Union framework and an individual country framework for nanotechnology. The US has its National Nanotechnology Initiative (in place since 2000). China will provide some sort of insight into its nanotechnology plans via its road map series which I mentioned briefly here. Canada remains mute. You can view the National Institute of Nanotechnology’s website but you’d be hard pressed to find any details about an overall strategy for nanotechnology scientific research, public engagement, business support, education, social impact  etc. (Despite the institute’s name that’s probably not in their scope of responsibilities but I can’t find that information anywhere.) You will find a list of the institute’s research areas but you won’t find an overview of the Canadian nanotech research scene or much of anything else (to date they have distributed three news releases in 2009 and none in 2008 but 2007 was a banner year, there were four).

For a brief respite from the nano, Heather Haley’s See the Voice: Visible Verse 2009 (video poetry festival) is being held tonight (Thursday, November 19, 2009) at Pacific Cinematheque at 7:30 pm, 1131 Howe St. Vancouver, Canada. You can buy tickets or read more about it here.

Back to the international nanotechnology front: The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) are holding joint nanotechnology awareness workshops for transitional and developing countries. You can read more about them in the news item on Nanowerk.

Edited at 3:05 pm PST, Nov. 19.09 to change electronic poetry to video poetry.