Archive for December, 2009

Mike Dover
by Mike Dover
Mon Dec 7th 2009 at 9:36pm UTC

Does Your Blog Community Have Your Back?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Blog Script

My friend Neil is one of the best bloggers in the business. 1000awesomethings.com is a bright, positive light among millions of angst-filled rantfests littering the blogosphere. One of the site’s reviewer’s summarizes the project nicely:

“There’s something riveting about 1000 Awesome Things that makes you want to keep coming back. Aside from the great humor, it reminds you of the little things in life, and how awesome they can be.”

The blog is a sensation. It has received more than eight million hits, won a Webby, and earned the author a book deal. The fact that it is so positive makes last week’s incident even more unusual. In November, there was an entry for “really, really, tall people” that was well-received. A follow-up post on “really, really short people” was not. It offended people.

Some of the comments (note: some are gently edited for typos) were nasty…

What’s next, a post about how awesome disabled people are because they get to ride around in wheelchairs all day long, or a post about how cool retarded kids are because they get to wear those bitching helmets? You, my friend, are a mental MIDGET; your humor is SMALL-minded; and your capacity for empathy is STUNTED. In sum, you need to GROW up.

Others were thoughtful …

I’m agreeing with the people who have a bit of a qualm with this post. While it doesn’t offend me, it really doesn’t leave me feeling good either, as it seems like you just point out all the negatives about being short. What’s awesome about that? I really think this could’ve been written a bit differently in order to actually seem positive. Right now, it’s just a serious bummer.

I wondered if the author was going to respond with an apology, a clarification, or an entry about “people that don’t get the joke are still awesome.” Instead, he let the community speak. Some of the readers that came to his defense:

  • Wow. I think it’s funny that people are offended by this so much more than the Tall People post, which is almost exactly the same format. Napoleon Syndrome much, guys?
  • 5′ here and in total agreement with this post: I am awesome! Not reaching stuff, failed volleyball dreams and the concerts are all problems, but the pros outweight the cons! Being short is a great way to meet people since we’re constantly asking strangers to grab stuff off the top shelf. Also at airports some kindly person will always volunteer to grab my luggage off the tram thing when they see me struggling to reach! Basically being short is a lifetime of people not expecting much of you physical-labour wise, awesome!
  • It’s human nature to classify ourselves using extremes. If we’re not one, then our mind tells us that we’re the other.  With that in mind, if you’re not hitting your head on the doorframe every time you enter a building, then chances are you were thinking of yourself when you read this post. If that’s true, and you haven’t read the really, really tall people post (which was written to be identical to this one), then you might have thought Neil was nineteen feet tall, and an insensitive jerkwad to boot. If we think for about three seconds, all of us can come up with something that we’d like to change about ourselves that we can’t. For some people, being really, really short, or really, really tall is their thing. We all have our own crosses to bear. The message here is that we all have things that make us unique, and while we may wish we could change some of those things, sometimes we can’t. We are who we are, and life gives us the privilege of embracing our individuality and having our own go at the world.  That’s pretty awesome in my book.

If someone doesn’t get your joke on the blogosphere, is it better to explain or let the readers speak for you?

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Sun Dec 6th 2009 at 3:10am UTC

What’s a Knowledge Worker?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

EyeDigitalComputer

In the last few weeks I have been building a tremendous amount of what we in government call “human resource capacity,” which is just to say that I’ve been going to a lot of conferences. I don’t know if it’s just that the year is ending and things seem faster the closer you get to the bottom of the hill, but it has certainly felt like one thing after the other since the last post. And beyond these conferences, there’s been a lot going on – not the least of which being that I’ve moved. And TEDxOttawa is happening in the morning + I’ve got a gig at night! I thought there was a lot going on in this city when I was relatively broke and self-employed, but now that I can pay for stuff and work for the city I can barely keep up. While I’m sure I’ll forget something, let’s blast quickly through these past few weeks and see if we can’t make some meaning out of them:

  • November 18 – 21:  I was privileged enough to join some of Canada’s best and brightest at the Trudeau Foundation’s conference on Rethinking the Urban Commons. I’ll admit, I sorta snuck in through having participated in a pre-conference put on by two of the Trudeau Scholars,  but what a time that was. Truly it felt as if I had somehow gained access to the secret society that is improving the world with their intelligence, even as we sleep. In conversation I was sure to preface everything I said by clearly stating that I was NOT a Trudeau Scholar just so that people could set their expectations appropriately. Other than Creative Spaces + Places, this felt like the conference to be at this year if you’re interested in cities and live in the east of Canada. The list of speakers was epic, it was at the Chatueau Laurier so atmosphere was far from an issue, the discourse was at a delightfully dizzying high level, and folks at the Trudeau Foundation treat conference crashers as nicely as some places that I’ve been to treat conference-goers. Highlights were honestly too numerous to mention.  In the question period after his keynote I surprised Witold Rybczynski with a question about the connection between North American  urban morphology and Hiphop that people seemed to respond well to, and Ilmar Reepalu of Malmö, Sweden seemed to inspire everyone to new heights. The main thing to take away from this is that everyone there was so smart.
  • November 20: Time Kode celebrated it’s four-year aniversary! Wow, wow, wow, what a party. We had support from TK originators Bonjay who turned our already hot and sweaty dance party into a melting pot of soul. It was truly epic. Good lookin’ out to Phil Jenkins from the Ottawa Citizen who passed by to take it in! Sadly though, few-to-no Trudeau Scholars came through despite my persistent prophesying and inviting over the days of the conference. While a mind is a terrible thing to waste, I maintain that the same is true for a good party. In fact if one was to waste one’s mind, a good party would be the place to do it. I would have liked to see how our future leaders shake it down, but alas. Another time I suppose.
  • November 23: After a full 24 hours of sleep it’s over to Algonquin College for the Corporate and Community Responsibility Conference. This was a cool opportunity to get a sense of what’s going on in Ottawa’s business community particularly with respect to social innovation and entrepreneurship. I learned more about Causeway who seem to leaders in Ottawa with respect to the practice, and I got to catch up with Allyson Hewitt again who was there presenting. We both made jokes about conference fatigue, but after the respective punchlines neither of us laughed.
  • November 25:  Our head of state is pretty cool. Not only does she invite me over to DJ sometimes, but she and her husband have held great forums that commiserate with the presentation of national awards called Art Matters. Over 40 done in the last four years! Well, on that Wednesday literature was the theme, and I was in the house… or hall, rather. As one who writes, this was a great conversation to be a part of. Once again, more amazing comments were extolled than I can try to recall for you here. Great food too.
  • November 27:  Alert and at city hall for 7:00 a.m. to participate in the Mayor’s Breakfast series put on by the Ottawa Business Journal. The “new” head of OCRI Claude Haw was presenting his innovation strategy for Ottawa. It was early, but I’m glad I was there. They seem to be taking their lead from this guy I know…
  • November 30: The Social Planning Council of Ottawa held their annual Research in Action conference which was great and thankfully a bit more low-key than the rest of my month. I learned about an amazing collaborative tool that SPC Ottawa has piloted called CIMS – Community Information Mapping Systems. It was a huge boon to discover and I’m looking forward to getting into it more deeply. Kudos to the SPC for initiating it’s realization!

On the first of December I moved and that came with its own set of bullet points, but that’s neither here nor there. What did I LEARN from all of this hob-nobbing is the question: What are the deliverables? Well, that’s not so easy to say. As one of these newly termed “knowledge-workers,” I’ve certainly come in contact with a lot of knowledge over the past month that is for sure. But how do we value knowledge and network connectivity anyways?

Thankfully people much smarter than me at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya have thought about that and written a paper. Give it a read and think on that. I wish that I could be more profound, but I’ve gotta keep going  at TED when that sun comes up. I’m going to bed.

Music.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Dec 3rd 2009 at 10:49am UTC

Learning from Canada

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

BirdHouses

The differences between the U.S. and Canadian housing markets astound me on a day-to-day basis. In my neighborhood in Toronto, housing prices are up and homes sell in a few days, some with multiple bids. In Detroit, where we visited for Thanksgiving, you can’t sell – or in some cases, even give – houses away. Visiting Miami for Art Basel, the numbers of houses and condos on the market are staggering – stunning, brand new towers remain virtually empty.

The Cleveland Fed reports on the key differences between the U.S. and Canadian markets (pointer via Marginal Revolution).

Despite their many points of similarity, housing markets in the United States and Canada have fared quite differently since the onset of the financial crisis. Unlike the U.S., Canada has not experienced a dramatic increase in mortgage defaults, nor has any Canadian bank required a government bailout. As a result, observers such as The Economist have pointed to Canada as “a country that got things right.” …

The Canada and U.S. housing market comparison suggests that relaxed lending standards likely played a critical role in the U.S. housing bust. Monetary policy was very similar in both countries from 2000 to 2008, but housing prices rose much faster in the U.S. than in Canada. This suggests that some other factor both drove the more rapid appreciation in U.S. prices and set the stage for the housing bust. A likely candidate is cross-country differences in the structure and regulation of subprime lending markets …

But while subprime lending also increased in Canada, the subprime market remains much smaller than in the U.S. The most cited estimate is that subprime lenders had a market share of roughly 5 percent in 2006—compared to 22 percent in the U.S. (Mortgage Architects, 2007). Moreover, the Canadian subprime market never expanded significantly into newer products, such as interest-only or negative-amortization mortgages, whose popularity grew rapidly in the U.S. from 2003 to 2006. Instead, the Canadian subprime market mainly offered products popularized in the U.S. during the 1990s, such as longer amortization periods for loans (from 25 to 40 years), and mainly targeted near-prime borrowers.

Securitization has also been less common in Canada than in the United States, with roughly 25 percent of Canadian mortgages securitized in 2007 versus nearly 60 percent in the U.S. The Canadian securitization market has grown rapidly over the past decade, rising from roughly 5 percent of mortgages in 1998 to over 25 percent in 2008  …

Perhaps the simplest story is that Canada was “lucky” to be a late adopter of U.S. innovations rather than an innovator in mortgage finance. While the subprime share of the Canadian market was small, it was growing rapidly prior to the onset of the U.S. subprime crisis. In response to the U.S. crisis, some subprime lenders exited the Canadian market due to difficulties in securing funding. In addition, the Canadian government moved in July 2008 to tighten the standards for mortgage insurance required for high LTV loans originated by federally regulated financial institutions. This further limited the ability of Canadian banks to directly offer subprime-type products to borrowers.

There are also several institutional details that played a role. The Canadian market lacks a counterpart to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, both of which played a significant role in the growth of securitization in the U.S. In addition, bank capital regulation in Canada treats off-balance sheet vehicles more strictly than the U.S., and the stricter treatment reduces the incentive for Canadian banks to move mortgage loans to off-balance sheet vehicles. Finally, as noted above, the fact that the government-mandated mortgage insurance for high LTV loans issued by Canadian banks effectively made it impossible for banks to offer certain subprime products. This likely slowed the growth of the subprime market in Canada, as nonbank intermediaries had to organically grow origination networks.

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Tue Dec 1st 2009 at 4:06pm UTC

Bragging Rights in Academia

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

School and study on a laptop

This Thursday, the University of Oregon and Oregon State will play the “Civil War” game with the highest stakes ever – the winner goes to the Rose Bowl. But for non-jocks there’s a more interesting competition, which a story in last week’s Oregonian covered: the bragging rights in academia.

For 100 years until about 10-15 years ago, this was a settled question. The U of O was the academic flagship and OSU was the backwater agriculture school. But things have changed and now it depends on who you ask. U of O is still the state’s leading humanities, arts, and science institution. But OSU brought in twice the research funding that U of O did last year.

OSU got stronger in engineering, attracting high-tech companies like HP to Corvallis. OSU built the Hatfield Marine Science Center to do research in Newport on the Oregon Coast. Oregon State became a Sea Grant University to match its Land Grant status and hit the jackpot last summer when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it’s moving its Pacific Marine Operations Center to Newport – potentially making it “Woods Hole West.”

What makes this interesting is the shift that may be taking place in academia. While the “old school” schools like U of O rested on their laurels, other public institutions like OSU went off in new directions.

Or in my hometown, Portland State University was long held down by the rural-dominated legislature which, encouraged by U of O and OSU, set enrollment caps and forbid campus housing to keep PSU a commuter school. One of the results was that, in the 1960s, faced with state rules that no public university could duplicate programs offered by another, PSU launched its first Ph.D. programs in areas like Systems Science and Urban Studies. These were the dregs the other schools didn’t want at the time, but that are now hot.

Here’s a bit from the Oregonian story. Unfortunately they didn’t put the chart that was in the print version online:

While neither university is considered among the world’s best, they’re both good schools with plenty of bragging rights, says David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which works to improve college access and success in 15 states.

“In most states, the ‘university of’ school is considered the uppity institution, and the ’state university’ is considered the institution of the people,” Longanecker says. “It’s less clear in Oregon. They really seem to be head-to-head competitors.”

What sets OSU apart is its more than $250 million in research funding in 2008-09. It was No. 87 in the nation for research funding in 2006, according to the National Science Foundation. UO came in at No. 157.

Still, UO outranks OSU on the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings and has the edge on some other measures, such as fund-raising and graduation rate.

OSU is known for its marine science, agriculture, engineering and geoscience programs, among others. UO’s distinguishing programs include natural sciences, architecture, business and education.

Do others notice this happening elsewhere? Consider UC Davis, long the poor country cousin of Berkeley and UCLA but now gaining respect academically. Are the big traditional universities staying stodgy and losing out  to more nimble schools?

Peter Kageyama
by Peter Kageyama
Tue Dec 1st 2009 at 8:08am UTC

The Value of Iconic Architecture

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Crane and sunrise

I recently had the opportunity to visit Milwaukee, WI, for the first time (thank you FUEL Milwaukee!). And visiting cities for the first time, to me, is particularly exciting. Arriving for the first time is a pure and unadulterated experience. First impressions matter and how a city presents itself to a first-time visitor is very important. I learned this from my friend Charles Landry.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

I arrived via the airport with the typical location outside of city. My host takes the highway toward the city. As we approach the Hoan Bridge, we pass amid the Port of Milwaukee. On both sides, there are mountains of bulk materials and cranes. While not beautiful, there is the appearance of activity and a muscularity that says “we work here.” As we crest the bridge (with its own very strange design element) I am startled because the city presents itself there in panorama. The city in the hills to the left, the waters of Lake Michigan to the right. And to the right, near the lake, your eye is drawn to the white sails of the Santiago Calatrava masterpiece at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  It looks so different and unexpected in the tableau that one cannot help but to stare. Unexpected because this is the Midwest where modern iconic design is not the norm and that is not a shot; I am originally  from the Midwest!  More photos click here.

While many question the value of “starchitects” and iconic design, I have to say that my impression of Milwaukee was and is shaped in no small part because of that building. It is different and it says something about Milwaukee that no amount of advertising and marketing could equal. It says in a profound way “we are not what you expect” and that Milwaukee is looking to the future and beyond the beer brewery image of its past. The building says it in a visible and demonstrable way that one cannot deny.

Cities that are arguing over the cost/benefits of such iconic architecture should consider the context in which the new building will occur. In starchitect-rich Singapore, one more Calatrava or Libeskind is just keeping up with the crowd. In cities with a dearth of quality architecture (lots of those) or cities that need to redefine themselves in the 21st century, a new building can be a catalyst for new design and a whole host of other values.