SPARCK PARK: Steel Plant Area Renewal for the Community and Kids

by Mike

The Sydney Tar Ponds cleanup is almost complete. In its place will be a new park, with walking trail, creek-side boardwalk, dog park, bike park, sports field, playground, outdoor skating, and amphitheatre.

Since the tar ponds are no more, the area needs a new name. A contest to name the park received over 200 submissions from school-age kids. Here are the 5 finalists: SydneyParkProject.ca

One of the finalists is my daughter’s grade primary class (she’s front-row right in the video above). They suggested the name SPARCK PARK, which stands for Steel Plant Area Renewal for the Community and Kids.

Voting is open to the public. You can vote daily. Voting closes midnight June 3rd. VOTE HERE.

Zadie’s grandfather worked at the steel plant for 40-odd years, around the time he returned from the war until his retirement.

For more info about the future use of the former tar ponds site, check out tarpondscleanup.ca/futureuse.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Cape Breton’s First Hackathon

by Mike

raspberry-pi

Cape Breton’s first what??

A hackathon is a place for programmers, developers, designers, as well as anyone interested in meeting and learning from them, to get together and collaborate.

The event takes place Saturday, May 18th from 10am ’til 9pm (hence the “marathon” metaphor). The location is TBA once total attendance is known, but it’ll be somewhere in downtown Sydney.

And it’s all free, you just have to register.

The day starts with 30 minutes dedicated to people pitching their project development ideas. Others vote on the ideas, teams get formed, and everyone sets to work building the projects or apps.

Rather than being centred around a particular programming language (which is normally the case), this hackathon will focus on the platform: anything you can build on a Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming. (Raspberry Pi FAQ)

Let me emphasize that last part: “we want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.” There’s no age limit (in either direction) to participate in Cape Breton’s First Hackathon.

The day will end with demos of the projects and winners will be crowned. Food and beverages are provided all day, you get a t-shirt, and it’s all free! Don’t forget to register.

For more info, check out the Facebook page.

Programming a sustainable future

For anyone convinced that programming is just about wasting people’s time with Angry Birds and invading their privacy with Facebook ads…

Coding and design can be about so much more — even a new form of civic engagement. Just check out the National Day of Civic Hacking, taking place June 1st in the US.

A national event that will bring together citizens, software developers, and entrepreneurs to collaboratively create, build and invent, using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to our neighbourhoods, our cities, our states and our country.

The White House is even hosting an event!

Coders and designers can help open up government, improve and increase community engagement, empower citizens to solve problems together, facilitate learning, and so much more. (Check out “10 Ways Civic Hacking is Good for Cities”.)

It can also spur economic growth. Check out this infographic of Canadian high-tech companies acquired over the past five years [pdf]. Including hundreds of millions of dollars worth of activity in the Maritimes from the sale of just three companies!

The new “superpower” that isn’t being taught in most schools

Despite its economic impact and potential for massive growth, programming is absent from most school curricula. Instead, websites, online courses, and hackathons have stepped up to fill the gap. You might have seen this video that went viral a few months ago, showing the workplace utopia awaiting those who learn to code:

Some have criticized the video for equating programming with the paycheque, rather than with its transformative power to change the world. But it can be both. (It can also be neither). As the founder of Dropbox says at the 4-minute mark:

“Whether you’re trying to make a lot of money, or whether you just want to change the world, computer programming is an incredibly empowering skill to learn.”

Afterward:

“I think that if someone had told me that software is really about humanity, that it’s really about helping people, by using computer technology, it would have changed my outlook a lot earlier.”

If you have a young person in your life who wants to change the world, encourage them to register for Cape Breton’s First Hackathon.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Collapse

by Mike

A factory building collapses in Bangladesh, killing a thousand garment workers, many of them young girls. “What a tragedy,” we all say.

A woman is found alive, 17 days later, in the rubble. She’s rescued just moments before heavy machinery was due to move in and clear away the wreckage. “What a miracle,” we all say.

Days or weeks or months from now, she returns to work in some other garment factory, with some other child labourers, earning the same exploitative wages from some other garment producer. “What a tragedy,” we won’t say, because we’ll all have moved on to the next thing.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Mi’kmaq Economic Benefits Office of Nova Scotia

by Mike

The new Nova Scotia Aboriginal Employment Partnership (NSAEP) Mi’kmaq Economic Benefits Office of Nova Scotia is a unique project providing training and work experience in the shipbuilding industry, the spin-off economy, and other growth sectors.

The new website (and accompanying Facebook, Twitter, and email newsletter) is their answer to the question:

“How do we communicate in a timely manner with 13 First Nation communities that are spread out from one end of the province to the other, from Acadia to Membertou, from Bear River to Indian Brook, more than 20,000 Mi’kmaq across Nova Scotia,” says Owen Fitzgerald, executive director of NSAEP and Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office in Membertou.

The Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office (UEBO) was established in 2007 in Membertou. It negotiated a Tar Ponds set-aside agreement worth $19 million, and has since helped create 200 full time jobs and $72 million of dollars in contracts. The process has evolved into a unique First Nations model for economic development, delivering valuable experience, building capacity, expertise and confidence for local Aboriginal businesses and individuals.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Happy Earth Day

by Mike

Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent Infographic by CustomMade

buying_local_infograph

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

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The Score on Canadian Student Journalists

by Mike

canadian-university-press

During my undergrad, I worked at the Caper Times, CBU’s student-run campus newspaper. I wrote a column called The Bike Lane, which was published every two weeks between 2002-2006, and was editor of first the Arts & Culture section and later the Features section.

One of the perks of being on staff was getting to attend a national Canadian University Press (CUP) conference in Montreal, and two Atlantic Regional (ARCUP) conferences: one in New Brunswick, and one at CBU, hosted by the Caper Times.

The Caper-Times-hosted conference was, I think, during the 2005-2006 school year. That was of course in the dark ages of the Internet, when most campus newspapers didn’t even have a website, so Google isn’t much help jogging my memory. But whenever it was, 2013 isn’t the first time the conference has been held in Cape Breton, despite what the current Caper Times staff seems to think about the ARCUP conference they recently hosted.

Not that it matters. It just made me chuckle. After the first-first CBU-hosted conference, I wrote in my column that Canadian student journalists are getting it all wrong. (Not my exact words — my tone back then was at least 100x more caustic.) It was after a panel billed as “The role of campus newspapers.” The question that ended up being discussed was more like, “What even is news? And how should student journalists cover it?”

Opinion was divided. Between one wrong and another.

The first (wrong) argument goes like this: Every news story is made of facts and nothing but. The student reporter’s job is to observe and report these facts. According to this argument, news exists as if in a vacuum, the objective reporter need only reach in and pull it out — and then get it to press as fast as possible before it gets contaminated with bias or opinion!

If this were true, robots would be reporting the news, and all journalists (student or otherwise) would be out of a job. All except opinion columnists. But opinionated robots wouldn’t be far behind.

Thankfully, news stories are not like this. Instead, news stories are a reporter’s interpretation of an event. The reporter is, hopefully, more authoritative than any old joe. But that authority, like all authority, is not absolute; it is open to challenge and criticism from other perspectives.

If you’re a student journalist reading this, and this idea of news makes you uncomfortable, get yourself reassigned to the sports or business desk (or the college equivalent). You can report game scores or stock market stats or whatever…

These are facts. They are observable, verifiable, simple and static, i.e., if the score of last night’s game was 51-49, it will forever have been 51-49. Just don’t interview the players and coaches. They might tell you why the game was 51-49, and chances are their stories will differ from those of the players and coaches on the other team.

And while that might not be a particularly interesting example of a news story, it’s what the news fundamentally is: slippery, debatable, complex and dynamic.

Consider another example given by one of the conference participants back in 2005/2006:

Two public figures, Person A and Person B, dispute a budget expense. Was it X or not-X? The intrepid student reporter must look critically at the claims of both sides, and tease out the truth of the matter.

Bored!

Just as the score of last night’s game can’t be both 51-49 and not-51-49 at the same, there can only exist one correct number here. It will be observable, verifiable, simple and static. So first, find that number. And where will you look for it? Not with either of the “Persons”, dummy!

There now. Got it? Good. Great. Now that the boring “truth” part is over, let’s get down to the interesting part. The news here is not which number is correct. It’s that either someone is lying about budget numbers, or was misinformed by a subordinate, or is bad at math, or… or… Or maybe — shit — maybe both numbers are true(ish), depending on how one interprets the guiding policy!!

The intrepid student reporter may not have uncovered any secret truths about sinister motives, incompetent subordinates, or poor math skills. But he or she may have shined some light on the secret ideology of various public figures, given how they seem to interpret policy. So let the debate begin! (Oh and good for you, intrepid student reporter, for getting the debate going. Seriously.)

Speaking of ideology, this brings me to the second (wrong) argument, which goes like this: campus and community newspapers should seek out and cover stories that have been marginalized by the mainstream / corporate / Right-wing media. In a nutshell, push the Left’s agenda.

If the first position was about objectivity, this second position is about revealing the hidden conservative bias in the mainstream media’s so-called neutrality — its ostensible objectivity.

I’m all for uncovering bias disguised as truth, but it goes further. According to some, the role of campus newspapers is to provide something called counterbalance. But if you start with a deliberate agenda, how can this balance be anything other than ironic? It doesn’t straighten the slant of the Right-wing mainstream media; it merely creates a mirror-image slant in the opposite direction.

It doesn’t matter whether this pseudo-balance can be achieved in practice. We shouldn’t desire it even in theory. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore on a teeter-totter. Nuff said.

So what is news?? And how should student journalists cover it??

News is storytelling. It’s hermeneutics (the art of interpretation). It’s also facts, and plenty of them — but facts in context. Two plus two will always equal four, and the score of last night’s game will always have been 51-49. But if the context changes — if a steroids scandal is revealed, for example — then everything changes. Except the score, that stays the same. But now it means something new and different.

The facts aren’t the end of the debate, they’re just the beginning. The goal is to neither do away with bias (false objectivity) nor embrace bias with wholehearted irony (false balance). The goal is to negotiate bias — your own and others’. To hold it up in the light of your intuitive sense of fairness. And then negotiate your intuitions. Rinse. Repeat.

I know, it’s probably an infinite regress. But, as my wife says, just waking up in the morning is a slippery slope. No one said this would be easy. But you can deal with this slipperiness either by diving in or letting it trip you up like a banana peel. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor.)

Either way, your chances of getting a job in Canadian journalism are probably 51-49.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

A place is not a place until

by Mike

From A Sense of Place by Wallace Stegner:

“A place is not a place until people have been born in it, have grown up in it, lived in it, known it, died in it – have both experienced and shaped it, as individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities, over more than one generation. Some are born in their place, some find it, some realize after long searching that the place they left is the one they have been searching for. But whatever their relation to it, it is made a place only by slow accrual, like a coral reef.”

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

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Popes

by Mike

pope

When I was ten years old I met Pope John Paul II. It was during a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I was attending the mass with my dad during a trip to Rome together.

The woman directly to the left of me in the picture shoved past my dad the moment the pope arrived by us. Not that it mattered much to my dad. As choir director at St. Patrick’s Catholic church in Markham, Ontario, he had several occasions to meet Pope John Paul II.

My dad is current director of the Office of Formation for Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Toronto. His boss, the Archbishop of Toronto, is Cardinal Thomas Collins, whom Pope Benedict appointed Cardinal just last year, and who was therefore a member of the papal conclave that voted in the new pope. (Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was appointed Cardinal by John Paul II, in 2001.)

My grandfather also met a pope in his day.

I am fiercely proud of my dad, just as I am proud of my grandfather, despite not sharing their faith and belief system. Granted, I know that the kernel of my ethical system is the remnants of the culture of Christianity into which I was raised. And I’m fine with that. (There are fellow Left-leaning atheists whose moral and/or intellectual frameworks are less appealing to me than my conservative Catholic parents’.) But that’s all that’s left — remnants.

I’m neither god-fearing nor church-going anymore. In the almost twenty-five years (!) since that picture was taken I’ve gone from suit-wearing Jesus fanboy to what a friend once called “the only real atheist” she’d ever met, so thoroughgoing is my non-belief.

Over the past year it’s become more of a radical agnosticism, although  a more apt term would be profound ambivalence.

But one thing I do care about is who the new pope is.

I don’t care about the new pope any more than I care about the next president of Venezuela. But it matters who these people are. The Catholic church in particular exerts social, political, cultural, even economic influence on the world, not just the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. (Though that number is dubious: are folks like me still on the list?)

So who is Pope Francis? (Exciting time to be a Wikipedia page!)

He picked his pope name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment. He reportedly takes the bus rather than a limo, cooks his own meals, and thinks extreme poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth is a violation of human rights.

He’s also against birth control, abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

As the first pope chosen from outside of Europe in over a thousand years, perhaps he’ll make the elimination of exploitation and the alleviation of poverty and suffering in the global south a priority over banning condoms, banning married gays, banning married priests, banning women priests, and banning access to education, technology and medical services in Africa, etc.

To paraphrase former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the church has no place in the bedrooms of the world’s nations. (Do with that what you will.) Jesus, after all, was concerned with overturning moneychanging tables, not riffling through bedside tables. In other words, the work of the church should be to disrupt the exploitative socioeconomic order of capitalism. Period.

Of course, I have as much hope as I have faith.

But as this new pope struggles to connect the gospels to the lives of modern believers, perhaps a new generation of believers will exert a counter-pressure on the papacy to modernize. To find Christianity’s kernel — social justice, egalitarianism, peace — and discard the rest.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Silent Auction: Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing

by Mike

The Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians, Cape Breton Affiliate is holding a film-screening and Silent Auction fundraiser. The event is being held on Saturday, March 23, 2013, from 7-9pm at the Cape Breton University Art Gallery.

The silent auction will feature the work of local artists and businesses, including yours truly. Targett Design donated 5 hours of custom web design, which the lucky winner can put toward any website project of their choosing.

The film being shown is The Artist, a 2011 Academy Award-winner in the style of a black and white silent film.

The SDHHNS Cape Breton Affiliate is a United Way Member Agency. To learn more about what they do, check out this video (in sign with captions) from the organization’s director.

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.

Funding Innovation in Cape Breton

by Mike

Friday was the end of RRSP season, and the last day to invest in New Dawn’s CEDIF offering for 2013.

CEDIF stands for Community Economic Development Investment Fund. It’s a way for people to invest their RRSP savings in local economic development projects, rather than stocks and bonds elsewhere.

After all, what happens to the average RRSP dollar after it gets sent to a bank on Toronto’s Bay Street? It travels around the world — from Texas oil to Alberta tar sands, from pharmaceuticals to tobacco to weapons manufacturers — more or less leaving a path of environmental, social and world economic destruction.

Anyway, where was I.

This year New Dawn launched the New Dawn Innovation Fund. It gives RRSP-investors in Nova Scotia the opportunity to invest in local, export-oriented, innovation companies. The goal is $1.6 million. The money raised is being invested in three companies:

  • MediaSparkaward-winning educational software development and publishing company. Their soon-to-be-released “GoVenture World” educational global business game was recently selected as one of the 50 brightest new startups in the world.
  • Advanced Glazings: designer and manufacturer of state-of-the-art daylighting glass, including a product line which offers R18 insulation value — the best insulating commercially-available glass product in the world.
  • Marcato Digital: developer of web-based planning and logistics software for music festivals. Their products are currently in use by world-renowned events such as the Celtic Colours International Festival locally, JunoFest in Canada, Berlin Music Week in Germany, and the Life is Good Festival in the United States.

(In 2012, $1.5 million was raised through the New Dawn Community Investment Fund CEDIF. Those monies were invested in Protocase, a manufacturer of custom enclosures for electronic prototypes.)

All four tech companies are Cape Breton success stories. Their founders and CEO’s — Mathew Georghiou of MediaSpark, Doug Milburn of Advanced Glazings, Darren Gallop and Morgan Currie of Marcato, Steve Lilley of Protocase – choose to live and work in Cape Breton because of the quality of life. And while starting a business here is hard, they’ve managed, at times against all odds, to create stable incomes for themselves, and pay good wages to staffs of highly skilled workers. And now they’re growing.

Cheers and congrats to all!

By Mike Targett.

I do web communications at Cape Breton University.

This is my personal blog.