Tag Archives: Michael Geller

Vancouver political pundits puzzled by small business question; evolving theory about science, innovation, and business in Canada

They gave me ‘Bambi eyes’ in response to my question about Vancouver city council’s performance vis a vis supporting small business. It happened on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009, when I attended Michael Geller’s “That Was the Year That Was”  1st anniversary review of Vancouver’s city council performance since its election. (I will link this to my evolving theory about science, innovation, and business but first I have to tell the story.)

It was a very interesting and very civil discussion. I was particularly thankful for the civility since I have been to political meetings where people rant and scream at each other. It was also very much an insider’s meeting. Most people knew each other and the majority were from the NPA. As you’d expect with people who know each other a nicety or two was forgotten. The first speaker did not identify himself and he introduced the 1st panel’s moderator so quickly that I missed the name although I did remark that the moderator is an architect.

The first panel offered a good review of the projects and problems that have been addressed since the election and panel members (Michael Geller, Gordon Price, and Jim Green) provided contrasting insights into various situations. The presentation could have done with a little editing.  Too long and a bit repetitive.

The second panel was on Vancouver’s economic development and the green economy. The moderator was Peter Ladner and panel members were Gordon Price (again), John Tylee, and James Fletcher. I was a bit disappointed in this one. Fletcher’s comments were on the academic side and at times vague; Price was cogent although he didn’t have any big revelations; and Tylee was focused on attracting big business (technology industries, I think) and developing ‘sticky’ relationships. (sigh) Do the marketing types really want to reference Madonna and/or poor sanitation practices? Or are they more scientifically minded and going for a reference to particle physics? It’s beside the point anyway. Large businesses care about their bottom line and when times get tough they cut employee numbers and/or facilities regardless of ‘sticky’ relationships. Since many of the technology businesses in Vancouver have headquarters in the US where the newly elected Democratic administration has committed to a ‘Made in the USA’ policy/protectionism, you can assume that they will cut in Canada first and more deeply.

(For some insight into the new US protectionism check this story about the City of Sacramento digging up newly laid pipe that had Made in Canada stamped on it. The irony: the pipes were made of materials imported from Texas. Go here for more.)

There wasn’t much about the green economy and virtually no detail  was offered.

The third panel featured media pundits Miro Cernetig, Jonathan Ross, Monte Paulsen, and Mike Klassen as panelists and Frances Bula as the moderator. This was the panel that responded with ‘Bambi eyes’ when I asked a perfectly simple question which I have to paraphrase as I don’t recall the exact wording. “What is your take on city council’s support for small business?” In my preamble I referenced the previous panel’s focus on big business and noted that small business owners contribute hugely to neighbourhoods and their character.  Klassen was the only person who attempted a response or even seemed to grasp the nature of the question. While he didn’t have anything substantive, he did note some of the problems that come with a strong focus on hosting big business facilities (i.e. branch plants) mentioning Kodak. If y0u want more proof that there is no such thing as a ‘sticky’ relationship with larger enterprises, check out this blog entry from someone working at Kodak’s facility in Burnaby (before its purchase this was the local business,  Creo Products).

I was shocked. Quite frankly I expected more of this panel. If nothing else they could have noted that it’s not on the agenda at the moment or …  Although how they’ve missed the fact that a lot of small businesses are having problems (I’m seeing vacancies (Edie’s Hats, Big News, etc.), departures (Jackson’s Meats, McKinnon’s Bakery, etc.)  coupled with some very large US retailers (American Apparel, Williams and Sonoma,  etc.) moving into my neighbourhood).

On another matter, Bula’s moderation was problematic and I should note here that she had the most challenging panel of the morning. Back to the problems. First, she seated herself in the centre of the table with panelists on either side of her in contrast the other two moderators stood a little removed and to the side of their panels. (Sitting in the center of the panel makes it harder to establish eye contact with individual panelists and makes it harder to manage them.)  She had a difficult panel member with Klassen who highjacked the discussion a few times.

Another problem with sitting in the middle of the panel is that you tend to forget that you’re moderating and not a member of the panel and so,  Bula forgot a few times. However, my biggest disappointment was that she didn’t shut down questions and comments that really had nothing to do with the topic at hand, the pundits’ perspective on the current city council’s performance. Instead, there was a substantive period of time devoted to the state of journalism, newspapers and newspaper writing, the roles of bloggers vis a vis journalists, and the question of how one makes money by blogging. Then, she had to cut off questions at the end because there wasn’t enough time. (As for the two other moderators, the first one had a smoothly oiled machine as panels go and needed only to keep time [I think he could have been a little more aggressive about that] and the second one, Peter Ladner, gave a mediocre performance with a low energy panel. He could have dome more to provoke comments  and/or questions from the panel and the audience.)

This all got me to thinking about business, science, and innovation. I’ve discussed in the past my issues with Canadian businesses not having their own commercial research labs and their general reluctance to invest in innovation.

Until this meeting, I hadn’t realized how little interest there is in Canadian business of any size. The plan for Vancouver’s economic development is to attract big business which generally means a business from the US (or another country). How are we going to encourage innovation and risk taking if we don’t support business large and small? It seems to me that we need to create a kind of business ecosystem which supports businesses and we need to start with the small ones, those local retailers that add so much to the experience of a neighbourhood. I think we need to change the mindset about business at every level and that focusing on Canada’s larger businesses and asking how we can get them to take more risks and become more innovative misses the point. We need to develop a culture around all of our businesses.

For anyone who’s interested in more comments about Geller’s event or Vancouver politics, you can visit: civicscene.ca, citycaucus.com, Michael Geller’s blog, and Frances Bula’s blog. My reservations notwithstanding, it was a worthwhile event and as these things go, came off remarkably well, Bravo to the organizers!

Nano augments reality; PEN’s consumer nano products inventory goes mobile and interactive; Two Cultures; Michael Geller’s ‘Look at Vancouver’ event

There was a nanotechnology mention hidden in a recent article (Augmented Reality is Both a Fad and the Future — Here’s Why by Farhad Manjoo in Fast Company) about a new iPhone application by Yelp, Monocle. From the article,

Babak Parviz, a bio-nanotechnologist at the University of Washington, has been working on augmented-reality contact lenses that would layer computer graphics on everything around us — in other words, we’d have Terminator eyes. “We have a vast amount of data on the Web, but today we see it on a flat screen,” says Michael Zöllner, an augmented-reality researcher at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research. “It’s only a small step to see all of it superimposed on our lives.” Much of this sounds like a comic-book version of technology, and indeed, all of this buzz led the research firm Gartner to put AR on its “hype cycle” for emerging technologies — well on its way to the “peak of inflated expectations.”

Manjoo goes on to note that augmented reality is not new although he’s not able to go back to the 1890s as I did in yesterday’s (Nov. 11, 2009) posting about using clouds to display data.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has produced an exciting new iPhone application, findNano which allows users to access PEN’s consumer products inventory via their mobile phones. From the news item on Azonano,

findNano allows users to browse an inventory of more than 1,000 nanotechnology-enabled consumer products, from sporting goods to food products and electronics to toys, using the iPhone and iPod Touch. Using the built-in camera, iPhone users can even submit new nanotech products to be included in future inventory updates.

That bit about users submitting information for their database reminds me of a news item about scientists in the UK setting up a database that can be accessed by mobile phones allowing ordinary citizens to participate in gathering science information (I posted about it here). I wonder how PEN will track participation and if they will produce a report on the results (good and/or bad).

One thing I did notice is that PEN’s consumer products inventory has over 1000 items while the new European inventory I mentioned in my Nov. 10, 2009 posting has 151 items.

I finally finished reading The Two Cultures: and A Second Look (a publication of the text for the original talk along with an updated view) by C. P. Snow. This year is the 50th anniversary. My interest in Snow’s talk was reanimated  by Andrew Maynard’s postings about the anniversary and the talk in his 2020 Science blog. He has three commentaries starting here with a poll, and his May 5, 2009 and May 6, 2009 postings on the topic.

I had heard of The Two Cultures but understood it to be about the culture gap between the sciences and the arts/humanities. This is a profound misunderstanding of Snow’s talk/publication which was more concerned with raising the standard of living and health globally. Snow’s second look was a failed attempt to redress the misunderstanding.

From a writer’s perspective, his problem started with the title which sets the frame for his whole talk. He then opened with a discussion of literary intellectuals and scientists (bringing us back to the number two), their differences and the culture gap that ensues. Finally, over 1/2 of his talk was over by the time he started the serious discussion about extending the benefits of what he termed ‘the scientific revolution’ globally.

It’s an interesting read and some of it (the discussion about education) is still quite timely.

Michael Geller,  local architect, planner, real estate consultant, and developer in Vancouver (Canada), has organized an event to review the happenings in the city since the last election in 2008. From the news release (on Frances Bula’s blog),

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 14, 20009 marks the one year anniversary of the last election day in Vancouver; a day that resulted in a significant change in the political landscape and leadership of our city.  The purpose of this event is to mark this anniversary with a review of the highlights of the past year in Vancouver municipal politics, particularly in terms of the accomplishments of Council and staff in the areas of housing, planning and development; fiscal management and economic development; and leadership.

The event will be held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (lower level) at 515 West Hastings from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm. Admission by donation. Geller has arranged a pretty interesting lineup for his three panel discussions although one of the commenters on Bula’s blog is highly unimpressed with both the speakers and anyone who might foolishly attend.