Category Archives: Vancouver

The Canada Council for the Arts, a digital strategy research report on blockchains and culture, and Vancouver (Canada)

Is the May 17, 2021 “Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks (BACP) Digital Strategy Research Report” discussing a hoped for future transformative experience? Given the report’s subtitle: “Towards a Digitally Cooperative Culture: Recommoning Land, Data and Objects,” and the various essays included in the 200 pp document, I say the answer is ‘yes’.

The report was launched by 221 A, a Vancouver (Canada)-based arts and culture organization and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts through their Digital Strategy Fund. Here’s more from the BACP report in the voice of its research leader, Jesse McKee,

… The blockchain is the openly readable and unalterable ledger technology, which is most broadly known for supporting such applications as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This report documents the first research phase in a three-phased approach to establishing our digital strategy [emphasis mine], as we [emphasis mine] learn from the blockchain development communities. This initiative’s approach is an institutional one, not one that is interpreting the technology for individuals, artists and designers alone. The central concept of the blockchain is that exchanges of value need not rely on centralized authentication from institutions such as banks, credit cards or the state, and that this exchange of value is better programmed and tracked with metadata to support the virtues, goals and values of a particular network. This concept relies on a shared, decentralized and trustless ledger. “Trustless” in the blockchain community is an evolution of the term trust, shifting its signification as a contract usually held between individuals, managed and upheld by a centralized social institution, and redistributing it amongst the actors in a blockchain network who uphold the platform’s technical operational codes and can access ledgers of exchange. All parties involved in the system are then able to reach a consensus on what the canonical truth is regarding the holding and exchange of value within the system.

… [from page 6 of the report]

McKee manages to keep the report from floating away in a sea of utopian bliss with some cautionary notes. Still, as a writer I’m surprised he didn’t notice that ‘blockchain‘ which (in English) is supposed to ‘unlock padlocks’ poses a linguistic conundrum if nothing else.

This looks like an interesting report but it’s helpful to have some ‘critical theory’ jargon. That said, the bulk of the report is relatively accessible reading although some of the essays (at the end) from the artist-researchers are tough going.

One more thought, the report does present many exciting and transformative possibilities and I would dearly love to see much of this come to pass. I am more hesitant than McKee and his colleagues and that hesitation is beautifully described in an essay (The Vampire Problem: Illustrating the Paradox of Transformative Experience) first published September 3, 2017 by Maria Popova (originally published on Brain Pickings),

To be human is to suffer from a peculiar congenital blindness: On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them. …

Arts and blockchain events in Vancouver

The 221 A launch event for the report kicked off a series of related events, here’s more from a 221 A May 17, 2021 news release (Note: the first and second events have already taken place),

Events Series

Please join us for a live stream events series bringing together key contributors of the Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Research Report alongside a host of leading figures across academic, urbanism, media and blockchain development communities.

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy Launch

May 25, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7 CEST

With Jesse McKee, BACP Lead Investigator and 221A Head of Strategy; Rosemary Heather, BACP Editorial Director and Principal Researcher; moderated by Svitlana Matviyenko, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Simon Fraser University’s Digital Democracies Institute.

The Valuation of Necessity: A Cosmological View of our Technologies and Culture

June 4, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With BACP researcher, artist and theorist Patricia Reed; critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia, and Wassim Alsindi of 0x Salon, Berlin, who conducts research on the legal and ecological externalities of blockchain networks.

Recommoning Territory: Diversifying Housing Tenure Through Platform Cooperatives

June 18, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With 221A Fellows Maksym Rokmaniko and Francis Tseng (DOMA [a nonprofit organization developing a distributed housing platform]); Andy Yan (Simon Fraser University); and BACP researcher and critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia.

Roundtable: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) & Social Tokens

Released June 25, Pre-recorded

Roundtable co-organized with Daniel Keller of newmodels.io, with participation from development teams and researchers from @albiverse, trust.support, Circles UBI, folia.app, SayDAO, and Blockchain@UBC

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks is supported by the Digital Strategy Fund of the Canada Council for the Arts.

For more, contact us hello@221a.ca

Coming up: Vancouver’s Voxel Bridge

The Vancouver Biennale folks first sent me information about Voxel Bridge in 2018 but this new material is the most substantive description yet, even without an opening date. From a June 6, 2021 article by Kevin Griffin for the Vancouver Sun (Note: Links have been removed),

The underside of the Cambie Bridge is about to be transformed into the unique digital world of Voxel Bridge. Part of the Vancouver Biennale, Voxel Bridge will exist both as a physical analogue art work and an online digital one.

The public art installation is by Jessica Angel. When it’s fully operational, Voxel Bridge will have several non-fungible tokens called NFTs that exist in an interactive 3-D world that uses blockchain technology. The intention is to create a fully immersive installation. Voxel Bridge is being described as the largest digital public art installation of its kind.

“To my knowledge, nothing has been done at this scale outdoors that’s fully interactive,” said Sammi Wei, the Vancouver Biennale‘s operations director. “Once the digital world is built in your phone, you’ll be able to walk around objects. When you touch one, it kind of vibrates.”

Just as a pixel refers to a point in a two-dimensional world, voxel refers to a similar unit in a 3-D world.

Voxel Bridge will be about itself: it will tell the story of what it means to use new decentralized technology called blockchain to create Voxel Bridge.

There are a few more Voxel Bridge details in a June 7, 2021 article by Vincent Plana for the Daily Hive,

Voxel Bridge draws parallels between blockchain technology and the structural integrity of the underpass itself. The installation will be created by using adhesive vinyl and augmented reality technology.

Gfiffin’s description in his June 6, 2021 article gives you a sense of what it will be like to become immersed in Voxel Bridge,

Starting Monday [June 14, 2021], a crew will begin installing a vinyl overlay directly on the architecture on the underside of the bridge deck, around the columns, and underfoot on the sidewalk from West 2nd to the parking-lot road. Enclosing a space of about 18,000 square feet, the vinyl layer will be visible without any digital enhancement. It will look like an off-kilter circuit board.

“It’ll be like you’re standing in the middle of a circuit board,” [emphasis mine] she said. “At the same time, the visual perception will be slightly off. It’s like an optical illusion. You feel the ground is not quite where it’s supposed to be.”

Griffin’s June 6, 2021 article offers good detail and a glossary.

So, Vancouver is offering more than one opportunity to learn about and/or experience blockchain.

Art, sound, AI, & the Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter

The Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter (received via email) features a number of events either currently taking place or about to take place.

2021 AI Song Contest

2021 marks the 2nd year for this international event, an artificial intelligence/AI Song Contest 2021. The folks at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Metacreation Lab have an entry for the 2021 event, A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want). Should you click on the song entry, you will find an audio file, a survey/vote consisting of four questions and, if you keep scrolling down, more information about the creative, team, the song and more,

Driven by collaborations involving scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, designers, and artists, the Metacreation Lab for Creative AI is at the forefront of the development of generative systems, whether these are embedded in interactive experiences or automating workflows integrated into cutting-edge creative software.

Team:

Cale Plut (Composer and musician) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation lab, researching AI music applications in video games.

Philippe Pasquier (Producer and supervisor) is an Associate Professor, and leads the Metacreation Lab. 

Jeff Ens (AI programmer) is a PhD Candidate in the Metacreation lab, researching AI models for music generation.

Renaud Tchemeube (Producer and interaction designer) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation Lab, researching interaction software design for creativity.

Tara Jadidi (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at FUM, Iran, working with the Metacreation lab.

Dimiter Zlatkov (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at UBC, working with the Metacreation lab.

ABOUT THE SONG

A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want) explores the relationships between AI, humans, labour, and creation in a lighthearted and fun song. It is co-created with the Multi-track Music Machine (MMM)

Through the history of automation and industrialization, the relationship between the labour magnification power of automation and the recipients of the benefits of that magnification have been in contention. While increasing levels of automation are often accompanied by promises of future leisure increases, this rarely materializes for the workers whose labour is multiplied. By primarily using automated methods to create a “fun” song about leisure, we highlight both the promise of AI-human cooperation as well as the disparities in its real-world deployment. 

As for the competition itself, here’s more from the FAQs (frequently asked questions),

What is the AI Song Contest?

AI Song Contest is an international creative AI contest. Teams from all over the world try to create a 4-minute pop song with the help of artificial intelligence.

When and where does it take place?

Between June 1, 2021 and July 1, 2021 voting is open for the international public. On July 6 there will be multiple online panel sessions, and the winner of the AI Song Contest 2021 will be announced in an online award ceremony. All sessions on July 6 are organised in collaboration with Wallifornia MusicTech.

How is the winner determined?

Each participating team will be awarded two sets of points: one a public vote by the contest’s international audience, the other the determination of an expert jury.

Anyone can evaluate as many songs as they like: from one, up to all thirty-eight. Every song can be evaluated only once. Even though it won’t count in the grand total, lyrics can be evaluated too; we do like to determine which team wrote the best accoring to the audience.

Can I vote multiple times for the same team?

No, votes are controlled by IP address. So only one of your votes will count.

Is this the first time the contest is organised?

This is the second time the AI Song Contest is organised. The contest was first initiated in 2020 by Dutch public broadcaster VPRO together with NPO Innovation and NPO 3FM. Teams from Europe and Australia tried to create a Eurovision kind of song with the help of AI. Team Uncanny Valley from Australia won the first edition with their song Beautiful the World. The 2021 edition is organised independently.

What is the definition of artificial intelligence in this contest?

Artificial intelligence is a very broad concept. For this contest it will mean that teams can use techniques such as -but not limited to- machine learning, such as deep learning, natural language processing, algorithmic composition or combining rule-based approaches with neural networks for the creation of their songs. Teams can create their own AI tools, or use existing models and algorithms.  

What are possible challenges?

Read here about the challenges teams from last year’s contest faced.

As an AI researcher, can I collaborate with musicians?

Yes – this is strongly encouraged!

For the 2020 edition, all songs had to be Eurovision-style. Is that also the intention for 2021 entries?

Last year, the first year the contest was organized, it was indeed all about Eurovision. For this year’s competition, we are trying to expand geographically, culturally, and musically. Teams from all over the world can compete, and songs in all genres can be submitted.

If you’re not familiar with Eurovision-style, you can find a compilation video with brief excerpts from the 26 finalists for Eurovision 2021 here (Bill Young’s May 23, 2021 posting on tellyspotting.kera.org; the video runs under 10 mins.). There’s also the “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” 2020 movie starring Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, and Dan Stevens. It’s intended as a gentle parody but the style is all there.

ART MACHINES 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning and Art 2021

The symposium, Art Machines 2, started yesterday (June 10, 2021 and runs to June 14, 2021) in Hong Kong and SFU’s Metacreation Lab will be represented (from the Spring 2021 newsletter received via email),

On Sunday, June 13 [2021] at 21:45 Hong Kong Standard Time (UTC +8) as part of the Sound Art Paper Session chaired by Ryo Ikeshiro, the Metacreation Lab’s Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier will present their paper, Exploiting Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art. We’ve included a more detailed preview of the paper in this newsletter below.

Concurrent with ART MACHINES 2 is the launch of two exhibitions – Constructing Contexts and System Dreams. Constructing Contexts, curated by Tobias Klein and Rodrigo Guzman-Serrano, will bring together 27 works with unique approaches to the question of contexts as applied by generative adversarial networks. System Dreams highlights work from the latest MFA talent from the School of Creative Media. While the exhibitions take place in Hong Kong, the participating artists and artwork are well documented online.

Liminal Tones: Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art

Applications of swarm aesthetics in music composition are not new and have already resulted in volumes of complex soundscapes and musical compositions. Using an experimental approach, Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier create a series of sound textures know as Liminal Tones (B/ Rain Dream) based on swarming behaviours

Findings of the Liminal Tones project will be presented in papers for the Art Machines 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning (June 10-14 [2021]) and the International Conference on Swarm Intelligence (July 17-21 [2021]).

Talk about Creative AI at the University of British Columbia

This is the last item I’m excerpting from the newsletter. (Should you be curious about what else is listed, you can go to the Metacreation Lab’s contact page and sign up for the newsletter there.) On June 22, 2021 at 2:00 PM PDT, there will be this event,

Creative AI: on the partial or complete automation of creative tasks @ CAIDA

Philippe Pasquier will be giving a talk on creative applications of AI at CAIDA: UBC ICICS Centre for Artificial Intelligence Decision-making and Action. Overviewing the state of the art of computer-assisted creativity and embedded systems and their various applications, the talk will survey the design, deployment, and evaluation of generative systems.

Free registration for the talk is available at the link below.

Register for Creative AI @ CAIDA

Remember, if you want to see the rest of the newsletter, you can sign up at the Metacreation Lab’s contact page.

Sublime—art or nature?

A March 17, 2021 PLOS [Public Library of Science] news release on EurekAlert announced research into people’s experiences of art and nature as represented in virtual reality and on video,

An immersive, 360° video of a painting versus a video of the actual location depicted in the painting elicit similar levels of “the sublime,” an experience closely associated with feelings of awe. Alice Chirico of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Italy, and colleagues present their findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on March 17, 2021.

For centuries, philosophers have debated the nature of the sublime, which can be thought of as an aesthetic experience evoked by stimuli that may be perceived as vast, powerful, or rare–such as a landscape or a storm. Psychologists often equate the sublime to awe, and to study it, many have used pictures or videos of natural scenes to induce the sublime in study participants.

Chirico and colleagues now report the first investigation into whether artistic and photorealistic representations of nature differ in evoking the sublime. They measured the emotional responses of 50 study participants before and after viewing immersive, 360° videos of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the natural location depicted in the painting.

Statistical analysis of the participants’ responses showed that both virtual-reality videos induced the sublime with similar intensity. However, they differed with regards to certain sub-dimensions of the sublime. For instance, the nature-based video evoked a greater sense of vastness and a greater perception of existential danger.

Moreover, while the videos elicited similar emotions, the nature-based video evoked feelings of fear and positive affect that were of significantly higher intensity than those elicited by the art-based video. Participants also reported a greater sense of being present in the nature-based video than in the art-based one.

These findings demonstrate the potential for virtual reality as a research tool to deepen understanding of the sublime and other complex phenomena. Because participants in this study were already familiar with The Starry Night, future work could explore how people’s prior acquaintance with stimuli might impact their experience of the sublime.

The authors add: “By using virtual reality, we provided the first empirical contribution to the enduring debate about whether nature or instead art is better at evoking the experience of the sublime. We found that both nature and art are effective elicitors, although they exhibit different nuances.”

Caption: Starry night Credit: Alice Chirico

Following on Starry night (the photo above), Vancouver’s Imagine Van Gogh opened on the weekend of March 20-21, 2021. Tickets have been selling quickly, they’ve attended hours and extended the show’s run to August 2021. You can find out more here in Vincent Plano’s March 17, 2021 article for the Daily Hive. His images are not particularly good but there are many of them, which gives you some idea about the show. Rebecca Bollwitt’s March 19, 2021 posting on Miss 604 offers fewer but better quality pictures.

Back to the sublime, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nature versus art as elicitors of the sublime: A virtual reality study by Alice Chirico, Robert R. Clewis, David B. Yaden, Andrea Gaggioli. PLOS [Public Library of Science] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0233628 Published: March 22, 2021

This is an open access paper.

Exotic magnetism: a quantum simulation from D-Wave Sytems

Vancouver (Canada) area company, D-Wave Systems is trumpeting itself (with good reason) again. This 2021 ‘milestone’ achievement builds on work from 2018 (see my August 23, 2018 posting for the earlier work). For me, the big excitement was finding the best explanation for quantum annealing and D-Wave’s quantum computers that I’ve seen yet (that explanation and a link to more is at the end of this posting).

A February 18, 2021 news item on phys.org announces the latest achievement,

D-Wave Systems Inc. today [February 18, 2021] published a milestone study in collaboration with scientists at Google, demonstrating a computational performance advantage, increasing with both simulation size and problem hardness, to over 3 million times that of corresponding classical methods. Notably, this work was achieved on a practical application with real-world implications, simulating the topological phenomena behind the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. This performance advantage, exhibited in a complex quantum simulation of materials, is a meaningful step in the journey toward applications advantage in quantum computing.

A February 18, 2021 D-Wave Systems press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The work by scientists at D-Wave and Google also demonstrates that quantum effects can be harnessed to provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors, at problem scale that requires thousands of qubits. Recent experiments performed on multiple D-Wave processors represent by far the largest quantum simulations carried out by existing quantum computers to date.

The paper, entitled “Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets”, was published in the journal Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5, February 18, 2021). D-Wave researchers programmed the D-Wave 2000Q™ system to model a two-dimensional frustrated quantum magnet using artificial spins. The behavior of the magnet was described by the Nobel-prize winning work of theoretical physicists Vadim Berezinskii, J. Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless. They predicted a new state of matter in the 1970s characterized by nontrivial topological properties. This new research is a continuation of previous breakthrough work published by D-Wave’s team in a 2018 Nature paper entitled “Observation of topological phenomena in a programmable lattice of 1,800 qubits” (Vol. 560, Issue 7719, August 22, 2018). In this latest paper, researchers from D-Wave, alongside contributors from Google, utilize D-Wave’s lower noise processor to achieve superior performance and glean insights into the dynamics of the processor never observed before.

“This work is the clearest evidence yet that quantum effects provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors,” said Dr. Andrew King, principal investigator for this work at D-Wave. “Tying the magnet up into a topological knot and watching it escape has given us the first detailed look at dynamics that are normally too fast to observe. What we see is a huge benefit in absolute terms, with the scaling advantage in temperature and size that we would hope for. This simulation is a real problem that scientists have already attacked using the algorithms we compared against, marking a significant milestone and an important foundation for future development. This wouldn’t have been possible today without D-Wave’s lower noise processor.”

“The search for quantum advantage in computations is becoming increasingly lively because there are special problems where genuine progress is being made. These problems may appear somewhat contrived even to physicists, but in this paper from a collaboration between D-Wave Systems, Google, and Simon Fraser University [SFU], it appears that there is an advantage for quantum annealing using a special purpose processor over classical simulations for the more ‘practical’ problem of finding the equilibrium state of a particular quantum magnet,” said Prof. Dr. Gabriel Aeppli, professor of physics at ETH Zürich and EPF Lausanne, and head of the Photon Science Division of the Paul Scherrer Institute. “This comes as a surprise given the belief of many that quantum annealing has no intrinsic advantage over path integral Monte Carlo programs implemented on classical processors.”

“Nascent quantum technologies mature into practical tools only when they leave classical counterparts in the dust in solving real-world problems,” said Hidetoshi Nishimori, Professor, Institute of Innovative Research, Tokyo Institute of Technology. “A key step in this direction has been achieved in this paper by providing clear evidence of a scaling advantage of the quantum annealer over an impregnable classical computing competitor in simulating dynamical properties of a complex material. I send sincere applause to the team.”

“Successfully demonstrating such complex phenomena is, on its own, further proof of the programmability and flexibility of D-Wave’s quantum computer,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz. “But perhaps even more important is the fact that this was not demonstrated on a synthetic or ‘trick’ problem. This was achieved on a real problem in physics against an industry-standard tool for simulation–a demonstration of the practical value of the D-Wave processor. We must always be doing two things: furthering the science and increasing the performance of our systems and technologies to help customers develop applications with real-world business value. This kind of scientific breakthrough from our team is in line with that mission and speaks to the emerging value that it’s possible to derive from quantum computing today.”

The scientific achievements presented in Nature Communications further underpin D-Wave’s ongoing work with world-class customers to develop over 250 early quantum computing applications, with a number piloting in production applications, in diverse industries such as manufacturing, logistics, pharmaceutical, life sciences, retail and financial services. In September 2020, D-Wave brought its next-generation Advantage™ quantum system to market via the Leap™ quantum cloud service. The system includes more than 5,000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, as well as an expanded hybrid solver service capable of running business problems with up to one million variables. The combination of Advantage’s computing power and scale with the hybrid solver service gives businesses the ability to run performant, real-world quantum applications for the first time.

That last paragraph seems more sales pitch than research oriented. It’s not unexpected in a company’s press release but I was surprised that the editors at EurekAlert didn’t remove it.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the latest paper,

Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets by Andrew D. King, Jack Raymond, Trevor Lanting, Sergei V. Isakov, Masoud Mohseni, Gabriel Poulin-Lamarre, Sara Ejtemaee, William Bernoudy, Isil Ozfidan, Anatoly Yu. Smirnov, Mauricio Reis, Fabio Altomare, Michael Babcock, Catia Baron, Andrew J. Berkley, Kelly Boothby, Paul I. Bunyk, Holly Christiani, Colin Enderud, Bram Evert, Richard Harris, Emile Hoskinson, Shuiyuan Huang, Kais Jooya, Ali Khodabandelou, Nicolas Ladizinsky, Ryan Li, P. Aaron Lott, Allison J. R. MacDonald, Danica Marsden, Gaelen Marsden, Teresa Medina, Reza Molavi, Richard Neufeld, Mana Norouzpour, Travis Oh, Igor Pavlov, Ilya Perminov, Thomas Prescott, Chris Rich, Yuki Sato, Benjamin Sheldan, George Sterling, Loren J. Swenson, Nicholas Tsai, Mark H. Volkmann, Jed D. Whittaker, Warren Wilkinson, Jason Yao, Hartmut Neven, Jeremy P. Hilton, Eric Ladizinsky, Mark W. Johnson, Mohammad H. Amin. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 1113 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5 Published: 18 February 2021

This paper is open access.

Quantum annealing and more

Dr. Andrew King, one of the D-Wave researchers, has written a February 18, 2021 article on Medium explaining some of the work. I’ve excerpted one of King’s points,

Insight #1: We observed what actually goes on under the hood in the processor for the first time

Quantum annealing — the approach adopted by D-Wave from the beginning — involves setting up a simple but purely quantum initial state, and gradually reducing the “quantumness” until the system is purely classical. This takes on the order of a microsecond. If you do it right, the classical system represents a hard (NP-complete) computational problem, and the state has evolved to an optimal, or at least near-optimal, solution to that problem.

What happens at the beginning and end of the computation are about as simple as quantum computing gets. But the action in the middle is hard to get a handle on, both theoretically and experimentally. That’s one reason these experiments are so important: they provide high-fidelity measurements of the physical processes at the core of quantum annealing. Our 2018 Nature article introduced the same simulation, but without measuring computation time. To benchmark the experiment this time around, we needed lower-noise hardware (in this case, we used the D-Wave 2000Q lower noise quantum computer), and we needed, strangely, to slow the simulation down. Since the quantum simulation happens so fast, we actually had to make things harder. And we had to find a way to slow down both quantum and classical simulation in an equitable way. The solution? Topological obstruction.

If you have time and the inclination, I encourage you to read King’s piece.

Girls Day (Feb. 25.21) during (US) Discover Engineers Week 2021

Discover Engineers Week is being held from February 21 -27, 2021 by the (US) National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Included in the schedule of events is a special day, February 25, 2021, dedicated to introducing engineering to girls.

There is a poster celebrating 10 female engineers on a February 18, 2021 blog posting at wetheparents.org. I’ve excerpted a few of the images and biographies,

#5 Henrietta Vansittart

Born Henrietta Lowe, a young Vansittart was raised in poverty. Her father, a machinist, studied ship propulsion and made efforts to obtain patents using connections and income from his wife’s wealthier family. His repeated failures to succeed at profiting from his patents nearly drove the family to bankruptcy, leading to a young Lowe’s marriage to Lieutenant Frederick Vansittart in 1855.

A self-taught engineer, Vansittart began the study of her father’s work shortly after marriage. The Lowe Propeller, her father’s most noteworthy invention, never successfully created income for the family due to infringement issues; after his death in 1866, Vansittart’s focus became perfecting the propeller. The Lowe-Vansittart propeller allowed ships to move faster while utilizing less fuel, earning her a patent in 1868; it was later used on many ships, including the S.S. Lusitania.

Both the inventor and her patent were awarded a number of awards for her engineering prowess, and Vansittart’s name was mentioned in The Times and other key newspapers of the era. She was the first female to read, write, and illustrate her diagrams for a scientific article, and is considered to be one of the first female engineers.

#7 Kimberly Bryant

A native of Memphis, Tennessee, electrical engineer Kimberly Bryant earned her EE degree with a minor in Computer Science at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. There, Bryant’s studies focused on high-voltage electronics, informing her early career with Westinghouse Electric and DuPont, two leading innovators in the industry. Bryant’s focus later shifted to biotech and pharmaceutical engineering, where she worked for Genentech, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer.

Bryant’s most recognizable achievement is the founding of the not-for-profit organization Black Girls Code. She created BGC after her daughter attended a tech summer camp, finding herself disappointed to be the only African American girl in the small handful of female attendees. Seeing a lack of coding and computing camps for underrepresented communities, Bryant encouraged Genentech colleagues to join her in the creation of a coding initiative for young girls of color.

As of late 2019, BGC has 15 chapters and is an internationally recognized not-for-profit organization. Bryant has been named a White House Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion, was the recipient of Smithsonian Magazine’s American Ingenuity Award for Social Projects, and was named one of 2013’s 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology by Business Insider.

#9 Judith Resnik

The daughter of Ukranian Jewish immigrants, Judy Resnik’s talents quickly became clear during childhood. Recognized for “intellectual brilliance” in kindergarten, Resnik entered elementary school a year early, remaining an outstanding student throughout high school. She graduated as high school valedictorian, and was one of only 16 women to have ever received a perfect store on the SAT at the time.

Resnik received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with honors from the University of Maryland. She worked as a design engineer on RCA’s missile and radar projects, built custom integrated circuitry for the Navy’s radar control systems, and developed software and electronics for NASA. She qualified as a professional aircraft pilot during the completion of her Ph.D. and was ultimately recruited into NASA’s Astronaut Corps at age 28.

Resnik’s first space flight was as a mission specialist on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery. There, she became the first Jewish woman, second Jewish person, and second American woman in space. While Resnik enjoyed a successful first mission, she tragically lost her life in the 1986 Challenger explosion. Her life and accomplishments have been posthumously recognized by Carnegie Mellon, the University of Maryland, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and the Society of Women Engineers, among many others.

While I encourage you to go see the other seven in the February 18, 2021 blog posting, I suggest you also double-check the information you find there and, for that matter, here on this blog, too, with other sources.

Finally, there’s an event being hosted by Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WWEST), which is the operating name for the 2015-2020 NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE), BC and Yukon Region. Complicated, yes? Thankfully the event description is much simpler from the What’s Happening webpage (on the WWest at Simon Fraser University webspace),

The Future of Tech (All Girls) – Grade 11

February 25, 2021

As technology continues to evolve in our daily lives, we are able to leverage new technologies for new applications. The Future of Tech creates the bridge and identifies the differences between electrical and computer engineering through hands-on workshops. Engineering students [from the University of British Columbia] share ideas and perceptions bringing you closer to this exciting domain.

This event is open to all girls in grade 11. We have an inclusive view of the word ‘girl’ and we welcome trans*, genderqueer and non-binary folks interested in these workshops.

Date: Thursday, February 25
Cost: Free
Location: Online
Register: Here

40th anniversary and a Visual Science Storytelling, a Jan. 29, 2021 workshop from 1 pm – 3 pm (PST)

As part of their 40th anniversary celebration, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) is offering a workshop series, which you can attend even if you don’t have a Zoom account or a camera on your computer system,

Here’s the next one in the series (from the Visual Science Storytelling event page),

Science Communication Workshop 3: Visual Science Storytelling
with Sara ElShafie

Learn how to create aesthetic and informative visuals, and take your slide decks, posters, and figures to a new level!

Take your slide decks, posters, and figures to a new level! Nothing makes a story more powerful than compelling images. Learn how to create aesthetic and informative visuals that support your science story using principles of graphic design and story art.

Key Skills:

  • Use color, tone, shape, and layout to both convey information and evoke emotion.
  • Balance precision with accessibility.
  • Develop a visual progression for any story requiring a series of images (e.g., for a slide deck).

Sara ElShafie is a global change biologist and science storytelling coach. She collaborates with artists in a wide range of industries to uncover the potential of storytelling to engage broad audiences with complex topics. ElShafie is the Founder and Principal of Science Through Story, LLC, dedicated to helping scientists and science educators connect with audiences through effective storytelling. She consults and runs workshops for groups ranging from graduate students to NASA scientists to theme park executives. She also organized a symposium, Science Through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences, with speakers from the scientific community as well as arts and entertainment industries, and curated a resulting published volume of open access papers. ElShafie holds a B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Chicago and a M.S. in Earth & Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She is completing her PhD in Integrative Biology with the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Also from the event page, here’s the time and cost,

Date and Time

Fri, January 29, 2021

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM PST

$16.93 – $27.54

Online Event

No Refunds

Tickets

For anyone who’s curious about SCWIST and this series, there are details on the event page,

Since 1981, SCWIST has made great strides in promoting and empowering women in STEM. When you register, please consider adding a small donation to support our programs so all interested women and girls can see where a future in STEM can take them.

This Science Communication Workshop Series is being hosted by SCWIST using SCALE Project funds from a federal grant by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE), and in partnership with the American Association for Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Anth Section’s Ad hoc committee on Outreach with generous funding by Dr. Marin Pilloud and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Our community partners for this series are: WISDOM-Manitoba, Island Women in Science & Technology (IWIST), Westcoast Women in Engineering (WWEST), Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Étudiants pour l’Exploration et le Développement Spatial (SEDS-ÉEDS Canada), Women in Tech World, and Immigrant & International Women in Science (IWS-Network).

Finally, for anyone who’d like to know more about the organization, here’s the SCWIST website.

Why is Precision Nanosystems Inc. in the local (Vancouver, Canada) newspaper?

Usually when a company is featured in a news item, there’s some reason why it’s considered newsworthy. Even after reading the article twice, I still don’t see what makes the Precision Nanosystems Inc. (PNI) newsworthy.

Kevin Griffin’s Jan. 17, 2021 article about Vancouver area Precision Nanosystems Inc. (PNI) for The Province is interesting for anyone who’s looking for information about members of the local biotechnology and/or nanomedicine community (Note: Links have been removed),

A Vancouver nanomedicine company is part of a team using new genetic technology to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Precision NanoSystems Incorporated is working on a vaccine in the same class the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada.

PNI’s vaccine is based on a new kind of technology called mRNA which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid. The mRNA class of vaccines carry genetic instructions to make proteins that trigger the body’s immune system. Once a body has antibodies, it can fight off a real infection when it comes in contact with SARS-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes COVID-19.

James Taylor, CEO of Precision NanoSystems, said the “revolutionary technology is having an impact not only on COVID-19 pandemic but also the treatment of other diseases.

The federal government has invested $18.2 million in PNI to carry its vaccine candidate through pre-clinical studies and clinical trails.

Ottawa has also invested another $173 million in Medicago, a Quebec-city based company which is developing a virus-like particle vaccine on a plant-based platform and building a large-scale vaccine and antibody production facility. The federal government has an agreement with Medicago to buy up to 76 million doses (enough for 38 million people) of its COVID-19 vaccine.

PNI’s vaccine, which the company is developing with other collaborators, is still at an early, pre-clinical stage.

Taylor is one of the co-founders of PNI along with Euan Ramsay, the company’s chief commercial officer.

The scientific co-founders of PNI are physicist Carl Hansen [emphasis mine] and Pieter Cullis. Cullis is also board chairman and scientific adviser at Acuitas Therapeutics [emphasis mine], the UBC biotechnology company that developed the delivery system for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

PNI, founded in 2010 as a spin-off from UBC [University of British Columbia], focuses on developing technology and expertise in genetic medicine to treat a wide range of infectious and rare diseases and cancers.

What has been described as PNI’s flagship product is a NanoAssemblr Benchtop Instrument, which allows scientists to develop nanomedicines for testing.

It’s informational but none of this is new, if you’ve been following developments in the COVID-19 vaccine story or local biotechnology scene. The $18.2 million federal government investment was announced in the company’s latest press release dated October 23, 2020. Not exactly fresh news.

One possibility is that the company is trying to generate publicity prior to a big announcement. As to why a reporter would produce this profile, perhaps he was promised an exclusive?

Acuitas Therapeutics, which I highlighted in the excerpt from Griffin’s story, has been featured here before in a November 12, 2020 posting about lipid nanoparticles and their role in the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Curiously (or not), Griffin didn’t mention Vancouver’s biggest ‘COVID-19 star’, AbCellera. You can find out more about that company in my December 30, 2020 posting titled, Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist, which features a link to a video about AbCellera’s work (scroll down about 60% of the way to the subsection titled: Avo Media, The Tyee, and Science Telephone, second paragraph).

The Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist? That would be Carl Hansen, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AbCellera and co-founder of PNI. it’s such a small world sometimes.

Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist

I’ll start off with the COVID-19 billionaire since I imagine that excites the most interest.

AbCellera billionaire

No less an authority than the business magazine Forbes has produced a list of COVID-19 billionaires in its December 23, 2020 article (Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020) by Giacomo Tognini (Note: Links have been removed),

Nearly a year after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the world could be nearing the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people. Vaccination for Covid-19 is underway in the United States and the United Kingdom, and promising antibody treatments could help doctors fight back against the disease more effectively. Tied to those breakthroughs: a host of new billionaires who have emerged in 2020, their fortunes propelled by a stock market surge as investors flocked to companies involved in the development of vaccines, treatments, medical devices and everything in between.

Altogether, Forbes found 50 new billionaires in the healthcare sector in 2020. …

Carl Hansen

Net worth: $2.9 billion

Citizenship: Canada

Source of wealth: AbCellera

Hansen is the CEO and cofounder of Vancouver-based AbCellera, a biotech firm that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the most promising antibody treatments for diseases. He founded the company in 2012. Until 2019 he also worked as a professor at the University of British Columbia, but shifted to focus full-time on AbCellera. That decision seems to have paid off, and Hansen’s 23% stake earned him a spot in the billionaire club after AbCellera’s successful listing on the Nasdaq on December 11. The U.S. government has ordered 300,000 doses of bamlanivimab, an antibody AbCellera discovered in partnership with Eli Lilly that received FDA approval as a Covid-19 treatment in November [2020].

Hansen was a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he founded AbCellera. From https://innovation.ubc.ca/about/news/spin-company-abcelleras-antibody-discovery-leads-covid-19-treatment (Note: A link has been removed),

AbCellera, a local biotechnology company founded at UBC, has developed a method that can search immune responses more deeply than any other technology. Using a microfluidic technology developed at the Michael Smith Laboratories, advanced immunology, protein chemistry, performance computing, and machine learning, AbCellera is changing the game for antibody therapeutics.

I believe a great deal of research that is commercialized was initially funded by taxpayers and I cannot recall any entrepreneurs here in Canada or elsewhere acknowledging that help in a big way. Should you be able to remember any comments of that type, please do let me know in the Comments.

Just prior to this financial bonanza, AbCellera was touting two new board members, John Montalbano on Nov. 18, 2020 and Peter Thiel on Nov. 19, 2020.

Here’s a bit about Mr. Montalbano from a Nov. 18, 2020 AbCellera news release (Note: A link has been removed),

November 18, 2020 – AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of John Montalbano to its Board of Directors. Mr. Montalbano will serve as the Chair of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.

Mr. Montalbano is Principal of Tower Beach Capital Ltd. and serves on the boards of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Aritzia Inc., and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. His previous appointments include the former Vice Chair of RBC Wealth Management and CEO of RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM). When Mr. Montalbano retired as CEO of RBC GAM in 2015, it was among the largest 50 asset managers worldwide with $370 billion under management and offices in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong.

Montalbano has been on this blog before in a Nov. 4, 2015 posting. If you scroll down to the subsection “Justin Trudeau and his British Columbia connection,” you’ll see mention of Montalbano’s unexpected exit as member and chair of UBC’s board of governors.

The next board member to hop on the proverbial path to riches was announced in a Nov. 19, 2020 AbCellera news release,

AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of Peter Thiel to its Board of Directors.

“Peter has been a valued AbCellera investor and brings deep experience in scaling global technology companies,” said Carl Hansen, Ph.D., CEO of AbCellera. “We share his optimistic vision for the future, faith in technological progress, and long-term view on company building. We’re excited to have him join our board and look forward to working with him over the coming years.”

Mr. Thiel is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and author. He was a co-founder and CEO of PayPal, a company that he took public before it was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Mr. Thiel subsequently co-founded Palantir Technologies in 2004, where he continues to serve as Chairman. As a technology investor, Mr. Thiel made the first outside investment in Facebook, where he has served as a director since 2005, and provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of technology companies. He is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies including SpaceX and Airbnb.

“AbCellera is executing a long-term plan to make biotech move faster. I am proud to help them as they raise our expectations of what’s possible,” said Mr. Thiel.

Some Canadian business journalists got very excited over Thiel’s involvement in particular. Perhaps they were anticipating this December 10, 2020 AbCellera news release announcing an initial public offering. Much money seems to have been made not least for Mr. Montalbano, Mr. Thiel, and Mr. Hansen.

As for Mr. Thiel and taxes, I don’t know for certain but can infer that he’s not a big fan from this portion of his Wikipedia entry,

Thiel is an ideological libertarian,[108] though more recently he has espoused support for national conservatism[109] and criticized libertarian attitudes towards free trade[110] and big tech.[109]

My understanding is that libertarians object to taxes and prefer as little government structure as possible.

In any event, it seems that COVID-19 has been quite the bonanza for some people. If you’re curious you can find out more about AbCellera here.

Onto Avo Media and how it has contributed to the AbCellera story.

Avo Media, The Tyee, and Science Telephone

Vancouver (Canada)-based Avo Media describes itself this way on its homepage,

We make documentary, educational, and branded content.

We specialize in communicating science and other complex concepts in a clear, engaging way.

I think that description boils down to videos and podcasts. There’s no mention of AbCellera as one of their clients but they do list The Tyee, which in a July 1, 2020 posting (The Vancouver Company Turning Blood into a COVID Treatment: A Tyee Video) by Mashal Butt hosts a video about AbCellera,

The world anxiously awaits a vaccine to end the pandemic. But having a treatment could save countless lives in the meantime.

This Tyee video explains how Vancouver biotech company AbCellera, with funding from the federal government, is racing to develop an antibody-based therapy treatment as quickly as possible.

Experts — immunologist Ralph Pantophlet at Simon Fraser University, and co-founder and COO of AbCellera Véronique Lecault — explain what an antibody treatment is and how it can protect us from COVID-19.

It is not a cure, but it can help save lives as we wait for the cure.

This video was made in partnership with Vancouver’s Avo Media team of Jesse Lupini, Koby Michaels and Lucas Kavanagh.

It’s a video with a good explanation of AbCellera’s research. Interestingly, the script notes that the Canadian federal government gave the company over $175M for its COVID-19 work.

Why The Tyee?

While Avo Media is a local company, I notice that Jessica Yingling is listed in the final credits for the video. Yingling founded Little Dog Communications, which is based in both California and Utah. If you read the AbCellera news releases, you’ll see that she’s the media contact.

Is there a more unlikely media outlet to feature a stock market star, which probably will be making billions of dollars from this pandemic, than The Tyee? Politically, its ideology could be described as the polar opposite to libertarian ideology.

I wonder what the thought process was for the media placement and how someone based in San Diego (check out her self description on this Twitter feed @jyingling) came up with the idea?

Science Telephone

Avo Media’s latest project seems to be a podcast series, Science Telephone (this link is to the Spotify platform). Here’s more about the series and the various platforms where episodes can be found (from the Avo Media, Our Work, Science Telephone webpage) ,

Science Telephone is a new podcast that tests how well the science holds up when comedians get their hands onto it

Laugh while you learn, as the classic game of telephone is repurposed for scientific research. Each episode, one scientist explains their research to a comedian, who then has to explain it to the next comedian, and so on until it’s almost unrecognizable. See what sticks and what changes, with a rotating cast of brilliant scientists and hysterical comedians.

See a preview of the show below, or visit www.sciencetelephone.com to subscribe or listen to past episodes.

Science telephone is available on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts

I have included the Science Telephone preview here,

As we move towards the end of this year and this pandemic, it’s time to enjoy a little science comedy.