Hot Day, Minor Thoughts.

It’s another hot, 30 degree day in Vancouver, and it reminded me of the early morning heat of South America.

These kids would be in their mid-twenties by now. Taken early one morning, after a late night of Polar beer and loads of food. I stumbled out of my hammock in La Puerta, Venezuela. A lovely town, with warm and wonderful people. I wish I had stayed for weeks instead of two days. It was 1987 and three days earlier I had been on assignment in Yellowknife, North West Territories, so it was a bit surreal


two kids in a doorway in La Puerta

Today’s minor thought about the CBC lock-out.

Those clever CBC folks.

It’s too bad the CMG, the union that represents those locked out employees at CBC, don’t get the web or the Internet. With the lockout at CBC, it would be the perfect opportunity to use the power of the ‘Net.

Lots of their members do – but most of them have found themselves without email, since they’ve relied on their free corporate email accounts. CBC has a very good web interface to their mail system and one of the perks of working there is web mail. Understandably, most treat it like a personal account, so much so that some were surprised when it was shut down. Doh. If the union was thinking, they’d adopt the same naming conventions used by CBC, (firstname_lastname@cbc.ca) and give all their members email accounts with a cmg.ca domain instead of their cbc.ca domain.

Meanwhile, CBC’s heft in the media world shows up in the most interesting ways. In today’s Vancouver Sun online edition, a long story about the union complaints about BBC material on CBC, and how they’re rallying their union brothers/sisters in the UK to pressure the BBC. Down at the bottom of the page, as part of a Google Ad buy – there’s the link to the CBC corporate pages , giving their side of the story on the labour dispute. Smart. This is the first of these I’ve seen, but I’m sure they are all over, since CBC has tons of ads in the blogosphere. Chalk one up for good use of the ‘Net.


cbc ad

Meanwhile, there is lots of hoopla over locked out CBC staffers taking up the podCast as one way of flexing their might. It sounds grand – all those talented radio folks especially, out there, quite capable of launching their own alternate service on the web. Five days into the lockout, and so far they’ve only been able to come up 7 minutes of material. Ouch. With luck they’ll make me eat my words.

So far most of the locked out member blogs have been about how hard it is to spend 4 hours on picket duty. Tod Maffin has a list of the union members’ blogs on his site.

Oh, and just for the record, the OUIMET blog from Toronto is no relation to me. This is me here.

Oh x 2. The At Large Media newsletter is out today – you can get a copy at www.atlargemedia.com/news.html

CBC is not 404 – it just looks that way

We’re Not 404 – We’re Just Experiencing Labour Difficulties
cbc web problems

The lock-out at CBC is sparking lots of discussion in our family and with acquaintances.

I don’t rely on CBC for my news, information or entertainment, so the lockout is really just on my periphery. But my business partner Emma Payne was supposed to be a guest on the local call-in show here in Vancouver today, so we’re a bit bummed about things being shut down.

I should be clear about my past experience at CBC: I worked at CBC on contract for over 20 years, and in the last few years was involved in labour negotiations, not as a labour specialist but as a content specialist. I chose not to renew my contract last year, and have since gone into partnership with Emma Payne at At Large Media in Vancouver BC

You’d think that in this day and age there would be better ways to settle things. You’d think that a company that is considered one of Canada’s top 100 employers could find a better way to deal with their employees.


top employer

I wonder how long they get to keep the title given that most of their staff
are locked out. Maybe it’s like world wrestling and they have to
defend their ‘top employers’ belt in a no-holds-barred grudge match.


I realize that labour agreements are complex, but when you get right down to it, these are among the most creative and interesting jobs around. Before Canada’s video game industry grew to the size it is today, jobs in radio and TV were THEY dream job for a lot of young creative Canadians. Even though I disagree with some of their direction, and regardless of what you think of the CBC in general, it has a long history of creating some awesome stuff.

The main issues, at least according to what both sides are saying publicly, are life-work balance and contracting out. 70 percent of CBC’s employees are vested staffers who essentially have a job for as long as they choose to stay there, or extreme bumping rights if they get laid-off, or as has been done in the past, extremely lucrative buy-out packages for early retirement. Any way you look at it, this is a tremendous luxury in this day and age, and you can understand why the union is fighting to hang on to it. But at what cost ?

Then there is “life-work balance”. There are no employees at CBC who work more than 37 1/4 hours a week without getting overtime or time off in lieu. Have a think on that. These aren’t heavy lifting hours pulling trash cans off the street or laying brick or even hauling mail from door door through sleet, snow, ice and canines. These are office hours, spent in pretty nice offices, with modern equipment, doing ultra cool work. They may be intellectually grueling hours, but still…

According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, the average employed American works a 46-hour work week; 38% of the respondents in their study worked more than 50 hours per week. In Canada, work weeks have been trending steadily downward, and those CBC folks are clocking about 4 more hours a week than is the average in Canada. By comparison, the average doctor in BC works a 50 hour work week – that’s before teaching or being on-call. Workers in Norway and the Netherlands work the least number of hours (according to the OECD) and you can see how relaxed they are.

But you don’t have to go too far afield to find some comparisons that are more salient. Take the video game industry. Here are some highlights:

• 34.3% of developers expect to leave the industry within 5 years, and 51.2% within 10 years.
• Only 3.4% said that their coworkers averaged 10 or more years of experience.
• Crunch time is omnipresent, during which respondents work 65 to 80 hours a week (35.2%). The average crunch work week exceeds 80 hours (13%). Overtime is often uncompensated (46.8%).
• 44% of developers claim they could use more people or special skills on their projects.
• Spouses are likely to respond that “You work too much…” (61.5%); “You are always stressed out.” (43.5%); “You don’t make enough money.” (35.6%).
• Contrary to expectations, more people said that games were only one of many career options for them (34%) than said games were their only choice (32%).
This is taken from a study by the IDGA – you can get your own copy at
http://www.igda.org/qol/whitepaper.php

The point is, work-life/life-work balance is relative – it means one thing if you’re at the CBC and another if you’re at game company and another if you’re picking berries in the Fraser Valley.

The folks who are outside the CBC buildings across the country are highly skilled workers. They do world class work, win countless awards every year, and make pretty good stuff in any given day. By all accounts they are plugged-in and up-to-date with what’s going on in the world. After all, they work for a Canadian media giant, and they got to where they are because they’re the best at what they do. They’re high acheivers, at the top of their game, with loads of options. I’d hope that they could figure out how to manage their own work-life balance issues. And I realize that no-one’s talking about salaries in this dispute, and don’t get me wrong, I think they should get paid really well for the work they do, but if you’re interesting, you can see how those 37 1/4 hours get compensated – the salary scales are here.

Oh, then there’s that permanent staff issue. But I’m the last person who should be commenting on that. I’m such a goof that in my 20-plus years at CBC, the last thing I wanted was to become permanent staff. I far prefered being on contract (which by the way comes with a salary premium at CBC, so you actually take home more money if you’re on contract) so I could decide my own fate rather than have one assigned to me.

if you’re wondering about the labour dispute and want to read what both sides have to say, visit www.cmg.ca and www.cbcnegotiations.ca . And Tod Maffin is been keeping a running commentary on his blog.

Short Shots

• These guys drive me crazy. Now the RIAA is complaining (again) about blank CD’s and how burning CD’s is one of the reasons record sales suck. We’re already paying a levy on blank media, so I’m not sure why they’re on this again. I’m thinking maybe they’re missing something – maybe record sales wouldn’t suck so bad if the records they were making didn’t suck so bad.

• Living next to the US tends to give us Canadians a bit of an inferiority complex. But when it comes to high speed connectivity, we’re miles ahead of our pals in America. In fact, Canada has the highest high speed connectivity of any country in the G7. However, when it comes to cell and other mobile services, both our countries suck. Great article Op Ed piece in the NY times on this very topic.

• People are going to think I’m picking on the CBC, but really, I’m not. After all, I worked there for over 20 years; I just can’t help it. The headline reads “Man Dies After Marathon Video Game Session”. I was surprised to see a headline reading “Man Dies After Marathon Video Game Session” on the front page, up there with real big stories. More surprise when I clicked through, and discovered this banner ad right next to the story.


play now

The Radio Bubble Starts to Burst

The radio bubble pops.

It’s no surprise to anyone, except maybe the very people who should be most aware of it. I’m talking about the research released in Canada by Ipsos-Reid showing that Internet use has now surpassed time spent listening to the radio.

This isn’t some statistical aberration; it is a clear trend, particularly among 18-34 year olds. Couple that with Adam Curry getting 8.5 million dollars (US) to fund Podshow Inc. and, well, it’s got to make even the most conservative traditional broadcasters take notice.

For years I’ve been suggesting that broadcast radio has been in a bubble that’s about to burst. What we’re seeing is the start of what will be a massive change to broadcast radio.

Nowhere in the world will this be more pronounced than in Canada, where we have the highest broadband penetration of any country in the G7, and a financially healthy radio industry. It is the public broadcaster here that faces the toughest challenges, and the biggest opportunities.

Public broadcasting goals are a terrific match for Internet content distribution. A much better match in fact than any private broadcaster. Public broadcasting puts ideas ahead of popularity, and specificity ahead of broad public appeal. Public broadcasting isn’t a channel per se, but rather a rich and vibrant collection of different types of programs, housed by a set of values. And that’s one of the Internet’s (many) great strengths. It is a viable and vibrant medium to serve not one ‘broadcast’ channel, but literally millions of specific ones.

The majority of the public broadcaster’s programs attract small but dedicated audiences. They’re high value with limited broad appeal. Yet in Internet terms, they have healthy resources – staffed by professionals who are at the top of their craft. Let loose with their budget on the Internet, any of these radio programs could be micro-stars on a global scale. And that’s good for public broadcasting in Canada, or public broadcasting anywhere in the world.

The challenges though are immense. The models on the Internet shift and change constantly, something that is not in the public broadcaster’s comfort zone. Internet metrics are in their infancy and aren’t well understood by executives accustomed to seeing traditional media metrics. Despite having a distributed work force, public broadcasting in Canada is hierarchical and centralized. But the biggest challenge is one of definition; what is public broadcasting programming online supposed to be? Putting programs created for radio on the Internet isn’t the answer. Applying talent, rich content, imagination, public broadcast values, and an understanding of the medium, is.

The challenges seem to be winning. Recent changes to critically acclaimed and innovative web properties indicate a move away from the web in favour of more traditional programming. The problem of course is that all the indicators point to audiences selecting other ways of getting their news, entertainment, comedy, drama and music.

Given the choice between an MP3 player stuffed with hours of material that I want, and listening to a channel that sometimes plays what I want, there’s no contest. Given the choice between ‘tuning in’ and cruising the web, there’s not contest. Not any more.

BigSnit Media Watch: Hero, Zero.

HeroClayton, a university student on a sailboat with his family, stops to help some folks out fishing who’ve run into fishermen in trouble. Their boat has capsized and is floating upside down, and a kid is trapped underneath. Clayton dives in, and plucks the kid out from under. No big deal he says, anyone would have done it. Actually, most people wouldn’t, and it’s a big deal to swim up under a capsized boat in open water. This guy deserves a medal.

Zero. Saskatoon should just roll up the streets and call it a day. While passing through town on his customized bike, a physically disabled man from Quebec gets his bike stolen, along with, camping gear, etc. While supposedly helping him look for his stuff, a local resident takes him into an alley and steals his wallet. Nice.


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How To Get To The Top Without Really Trying

How to get to the top without really trying:

1. get a spinnaker halyard.
2. tie a bowline on a bight to create 2 holes.
3. insert legs in the 2 holes.
4. ask lazy bones to put down beer and load the winch.
5. while beer bones cranks, walk up the mast like batman.
6. while you’re up there, check the halyard races.
7. look for wind, smell the sea air, and remember to focus.
8. sell your clothes, you’re going to heaven.


up the stick

Bowline on a Bight and up the Stick.
Trincomali Channel, Gulf Islands, Straight of Georgia, British Columbia
c. 1985. Get the postcard here.

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Under the Granville St. Bridge


granville street bridge

Sitting under the Granville Street bridge, on Granville Island, sipping a coffee today I was mesmerized by the bits of handicraft around me. The rivets & nuts and bolts never cease to amaze me, the bridge assembled like a big mechano set. Each piece designed and cut for this one bridge only, solid and real and nothing like what I do with bits and bytes. Then there’s the little cedar bench tucked away in a corner, with its clean lines and wood peg contruction. Its just as unique, and just as sturdy as the day it was built. On an island crawling with arts and crafts, these two get my nod today.



I shot both these frames without moving – one up, one down to the right (the telephoto lense helps).

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Desk Clutter

It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so today’s a chance to catch up on a few things. Happy BC Day!



Since it’s a holiday, I’m clearing the top off the desk. One item that I’m using as a paper weight is my old EDITall block. Back in the day, this was THE tool for audio editors, basically holding the audio tape in place while you sliced through it with a razor blade, lifted out the bit you wanted to get rid of, then literally taped it back together. I used to spend hours and hours cutting tape every week in my job as a producer, and most people who pick up the EDITall block have no idea what it’s for.

flask

Also on my desk is this flask from Alias software, picked up while at VidFest in Vancouver. The Alias gang got mobbed when they handed these out, but they let me have two, one for each of my grade school aged kids. I’m not sure what their teachers thought when they showed up at school sporting these nifty flasks…

Since it’s a holiday, I’m cleaning out piles of files. My satellite radio file has been quiet of late. Very quiet since the CRTC awarded licenses to Sirius and XM. CHUM’s also been given the green light for its terrestrial pay audio network over DAB. Maybe just summer holidays ? There are a number of appeals in the works by groups representing artists in Canada who think the Canadian content impositions are too low. Stay tuned for lots of hype when they roll these out, looking to convince Canadians to pay for broadcast.


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Old is OK.

I’ve got a few thousand negatives, both B&W and colour, from the mid 70’s when I got my first SLR while still in school. The negs are all in acetate sheets, which is good, and I keep hoping I’ll eventually be able to digitize them all. Not much chance of that happening any time soon, but I’m always really gratified when I do a few strips of negs.


click to get a bigger version

Taken while stopped at a light, downtown Dauphin, Manitoba, circa 1973. On the right is the Grange Cafe, the after-school hang out where you could get a vanilla coke (with real vanilla) and cop a smoke without anyone seeing you. Shot from the driver’s side of my 63 Ford Galaxy 500.

I’m not at all nostalgic about this time in my life, I couldn’t wait to get out of that town. But I do get a kick out of digging through the photos. The ones I enjoy the most are the ones that propel me back to a specific moment, or ones that capture the look & feel of the day.


click to get a bigger version

I turned 16 in the winter of 1972, and in the spring my dad bought me this car, saying “This is yours. You keep in running, pay for the gas and insurance, and whatever you do, don’t ask me for the keys to my car.” It was a 4 door standard with column shift – about as dorky as you could get. I stuck a huge ball on the end of the shifter, and discovered just how much you could do in the backseat of one of these babies.

This picture of a gas pump is from 1977 I think, on a road trip to California. Filled the tank with 11 US gallons for just under 7 bucks. Yep, that’s 60.9 cents a GALLON for regular gas.


click for the full picture

Below, a couple of shots of me spinning tunes in 1974 at CKDM in Dauphin. By then I was a seasoned pro, having started work there 3 years earlier, just before my 15th birthday. This must have been a country music shift, the 45 I’m looking at is House of Love, a remake by Dottie West.

click for a larger version click for a larger version

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Customer of the Week

Claim to fame – I was the “customer of the week” at my local Starbucks in Edgemont Village. Interestingly, my “week” lasted almost 15 days, and since then, they seem to have been unable to proclaim another COTW. Most of my friends figured I was getting free coffee the entire time – not so. The COTW gets 1, count ’em, ONE free coffee out of the deal.

One of the great things about living up here on the ravine – wildlife. Sure we’ve got the obvious black bears, racoons, skunks, etc. But I’m digging the woodpeckers these days. Lately we’ve got a pair of them hammering away at the top of the light standard across the street. It makes a great sound, you can hear it all over the neighbourhood (I’ll try to get it for a podcast). I thought they were just too stupid to know it wasn’t a tree they were hammering on, but apparently they’re just trying to get a date ! I have a cousin in Kamloops who’s house was a favourite target for local woodpeckers. This is apparently quite a common problem. Who knew ?

We’re moving larger and larger files all the time. Many of our clients run into issues with their internal systems, so we’ve started using yousendit.com. I’ve never been all that comfortable moving anything that’s sensitive over third-party servers, but for big graphic and audio files it’s awesome.


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We Be Blogging

Connected with some great folks this week at the SFU new media workshops. I’m always impressed (and humbled frankly) by the people who make time to give back to the community by agreeing to be a guest speaker or panelist.

Now am lighting a fire under the At Large podCast and PSPcast. Time is always the challenge – but there’s no good excuse for not doing it. In the words of Iain Ross, “Stand by to Stand by.”

More indie film work for Garnet. He had his screen debut earlier this year in 24/7 that was part of the Crazy 8’s festival in Vancouver. He’s booked another short that shoots over the next couple of weeks. Interesting “how I spent my summer vacation” story when he heads to grade 3 this fall.


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by Robert Ouimet