On sample sizes and the absence of a mandatory census

Posted by & filed under Canada, Learning is fun!, News, Politics.

With the 2011 Canadian federal election a week away, voter turnout looking to thankfully exceed 2008’s embarrassingly dismal 58.8%,  the polls are starting to look extremely interesting. While earlier polls indicated we could expect very nearly an identical Parliament to the one that existed before the election, an apparent surge in support for the NDP has put the party within theoretical reach of becoming Canada’s Official Opposition.

So if the New Democrats took an unprecedentedly huge share of the votes–for once in their history, actually benefiting from first-past-the-post, rather than consistently taking a far smaller share of seats relative to the popular vote cast…

And if the Conservatives managed not to benefit from this at all either, winning another minority government…

And if the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted for a motion of non-confidence…

And if Governor General David Johnston doesn’t dissolve Parliament, forcing another election–which, as viceroy, (stupid monarchy) he’s perfectly entitled to do…

…then Johnston would have to turn to the newly anointed leader of the Official Opposition and ask him if he was up for giving it a go. And if the answer was yes, as it almost certainly would be, then with a third of the seats, a quarter of the popular vote, and the leadership of the Liberal and Conservative parties more appalled than ever imagined possible…

Then this guy would become Canada’s next prime minister:

Credit: Scott Rogers

As entertaining as that would be, and while it’d be great for galvanizing Liberal and Conservative support for abolishing first-past-the-post, an important question remains: can we actually trust those polls?


The CBC posted an article on the issues facing pollsters today: chiefly, that the average Canadian has neither time nor desire to talk to pollsters on the phone. This, of course, is countered somewhat by the typically Canadian instinct to not actually hang up when asked if we can spare a half hour of our time, but still, the fact is:

But for the purposes of their polling, researchers are obliged to assume that the 15 per cent of callers who agree to spend 20 minutes talking to them are representative of the 85 per cent who are too busy or whatever to participate or who never pick up at all because they can identify a pollster through Caller ID.

(Emphasis added for my own amusement.)

Still, editorial snafu that may be, it’s pretty accurate given what I presume about these folks who do not under any circumstances want to respond. A Freudian slip of the word processor?

One thing is certain: the typical respondent is not the typical Canadian. How different they may be is another matter.

PS: Vote. Seriously.

CSI Vancouver: Chad & Larry

Posted by & filed under Events, Vancouver.

Did you know? There’s been a string of robberies at Emily Carr University. The culprits: Chad & Larry, a duo of expert thieves living high off the spoils of their crime spree, hiding out in Larry’s mom’s basement in Surrey.

To assist the police in their ongoing search, Emily Carr MAA students Vanessa + Kristina have assembled a detailed and undoubtedly true-to-life reconstruction of Chad & Larry’s subterranean hideaway, accurate to the smallest detail. The opening reception is this Wednesday, January 26th. I, for one, will definitely be attending–and I urge concerned members of the public to attend as well.

From the event description:

Chad & Larry is an exhibit of new work from the collaborative duo of MAA students Vanessa + Kristina (Vanessa Arnold and Kristina Fiedrich).

At the core of the exhibition is a published work: an open edition book. The narrative deals with issues of identity, community, safety, ownership and media coercion. The books, supported by interactive portraiture and an immersive environment, contain detailed anthropological aspects of these two characters, and allow for multiple entry points into the dialogue. This narrative is loosely based on recent events at the Granville Island campus of Emily Carr.

As a humorous personalization, the artists have created fictional, detailed, and considered identities for suspected thieves featured on posters around Emily Carr. Rather than making light of recent thefts and the serious allegation thereof, this collaborative duo has created a humanized, fictional portrait of the lives of two men, Chad & Larry, known around campus only in surveillance photo form.

Please join us on January 26th, at 6pm for the opening of this exciting new exhibition by an up-and-coming collaborative duo!

January 26 –- February 6, 2011
Opening Reception | Wednesday, January 26, 6pm
Emily Carr University | Concourse Gallery

I hope to see you there!

LastPass acquires Xmarks!

Posted by & filed under Catherine Uses..., Web 2.0.

So it’s official: my bookmark synchronization platform and plugin of choice, Xmarks, will be taken over by password-storing service LastPass. Creepy in theory, but actually fairly secure, LastPass offers a series of browser plugins that allow users to manage passwords for a variety of services and then sync them to other platforms. You know, like Xmarks, only for passwords.

As I already use LastPass, I think this is a good fit.

Xmarks has also rolled out their freemium pricing scheme: $12 USD per year, or $20 when bundled with LastPass Premium. Makes sense to me.

Catherine needs an office!

Posted by & filed under Catherine, Usability, Vancouver.

I’m a freelance web designer and developer. This means I don’t–yet–have an office, a staff, personal driver, nor any of the other luxuries one expects in the glamorous world of making websites.

Having tried it on-and-off for much of my career, I’ve concluded that it’s extremely difficult for me to work from home, and that coffee shops are even more difficult to work in simply because their furniture tends to be too small for me.

Consequently, I’m looking to either sign up with a coworking space or to share an office in downtown Vancouver. A space located in Gastown, Yaletown, the Downtown Eastside, or the regions between would be great.

The now-defunct Workspace would’ve been ideal: a naturally-lit, open-plan coworking space with other people around, and a coffee bar? Nice. Sadly, they’ve shuttered their doors and their successors, while numerous, don’t quite meet my requirements regarding lighting.

Simply put, I can’t work under fluorescent lights, not even high-frequency “natural” fluorescent lights, nor compact fluorescents. Even in an office with natural or incandescent lighting supplemented by fluorescent bulbs, I suffer migraines, nausea, and–I’m told–absence seizures.

I can work under halogen or incandescent bulbs–though I realize the impending ban on incandescent bulbs may make finding this dream office ever more difficult.

Second to lighting, an issue of physical scale: I’m quite tall and have a tendency to develop back and knee problems when wedging my outsize frame into smaller furniture.

This isn’t a huge problem, as most desks’ heights tend to be well within my margin of error, and most office chairs can be extended high enough that my knees don’t develop any problems. Seat depth and lumbar height are frequently inadequate, however.

Furniture aside, my torso height means that I do still need an external monitor that can be extended high enough to work comfortably for more than an hour or so. As such, I’d need a space where I could securely leave a monitor and keyboard, and, in the event that the office’s available chairs were insufficient, bring in one of my own.

To sum up, my must-haves:

  1. Close to downtown Vancouver.
  2. No fluorescent lights.
  3. Secure enough that I could leave a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment stashed somewhere–or more ideally, on my desk itself.

Nice-to-haves include:

  1. Other freelancers and independent workers in the same space. It’d be handy to have someone with whom to have a ‘water-cooler’ conversation.
  2. An open-plan layout rather than a private office.
  3. Close proximity to coffee.

I don’t need a meeting room, space for my employees, foosball table, gym, land line, or fax machine, though these would certainly not dissuade me from renting. Maybe the foosball table, were it next to my desk.

Ideas? Contact me.

Update: Mission Accomplished! Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions!

XMarks deathwatch cancelled — but will Freemium be enough?

Posted by & filed under Catherine Uses..., Web 2.0.

So this happened. My personal bookmark syncing tool of choice, Xmarks, won’t be disappearing after all. Xmarks CEO James Joaquin writes:

The Xmarks service will evolve to have both a free component and a premium component – we’ll share all the details once the deal is done.


But this raises a good point: Xmarks got to this point not by any lack of popularity, but by never managing to come up with a way to become profitable. Consequently, they’re now forced to either close up shop, or sell Xmarks to a new owner – one who is not guaranteed to be able to turn a profit either.

Web users have come to expect free services to remain free and many such services can’t always make the move to a “premium” subscription model. When there is an opportunity for a formerly-free service to move to a paid model–any paid model–they should expect to lose a significant number of users.

MailChimp and Second Life are both good examples of freemium services where the necessary infrastructure simply falls outside the ability of the average user or organization to effectively duplicate, but Xmarks’ functionality falls dangerously close to the same problem that ultimately killed Netscape:

Four hours later, the Wall Street Journal was delivered, and it already contained an article describing what we had just done. “Clients aren’t where the money is anyway,” ran the quote from Marc.

jwz, 12 October 1994

By the end of the 90s, the idea that you’d pay money for a web browser was alien to all but the most devoted members of the Church of Opera. And today, many web professionals have never heard of Netscape’s early server software at all; it’s since been all but replaced by Free Software-licensed Linux and Apache.

So what’s the moral here? If something comes along and replaces Xmarks, and it manages to do so for free, isn’t that better? Maybe. I suspect most Xmarks users wouldn’t have been terribly inconvenienced by having to use the native Chrome or Mozilla syncing tools. Still, that’s not where Xmarks’ value is for me: I need to sync bookmarks between different browsers. There would have still been options available, but Xmarks shutting down would have been extremely inconvenient for me, to say the least.

Maybe the moral is that if there’s software or a service we use–particularly ones we can’t do without–we should buy the paid version when the opportunity and means present themselves. At the very least, it sends a message to the creators–and any potential investors–that the service is valuable enough to someone that they’ll shell out money for it.

Xmarks Shutdown Update!

Posted by & filed under Catherine Uses..., Web 2.0.

In a followup post to last Monday’s sad news about Xmarks’ impending shutdown, Xmarks CEO James Joaquin explains some of the overhead issues and funding requirements that have led to this situation.

In response to the cries of “noooo” from those of us who rely on Xmarks to sync our bookmarks cross-platform, Xmarks have opened a PledgeBank list asking users to pledge if they would pay $10 a year for a premium version of Xmarks–functionality to be decided later.

Currently, about 3000 users a day are pledging, which is significant, but not sustainable–so if any of this is news to you, and Xmarks is a service you rely on, sign up now.

Xmarks bookmark-syncing service shutting down January 10, 2011

Posted by & filed under Catherine Uses..., Complaint Department.

Beyond my operating system, there are a few utilities my workflow really can’t live without.

Google Calendar, Firebug, Simplenote, Notational Velocity, Google Reader, TextMate, Synergy. I’ve written about most of these. And then there’s Xmarks, the cross-platform, cross-browser, cloud-based bookmarks synchronization app we’ve all come to know and love. It’ll be discontinued as of January 10th, 2011. Awesome.

Citing budget issues and a lack of any viable business model in his blog post, Xmarks CTO Todd Agulnick cites the difficulty of competing with native sync features in Firefox and Google Chrome:

[W]ith the emergence of competent sync features built in to Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it’s hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free. For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs.

Which, you know, sounds understandable and all, but man

The really unfortunate thing for me is that their competition doesn’t compete all the way. There isn’t currently another good way for me to handle bookmarks synchronization between Chrome, Firefox, and my iPhone–and 90 days is not a lot of time to get one up and running.

But all may not totally be lost! From the Xmarks shutdown FAQ:

Q: What about open source? Would you consider releasing the client?
A: We are still considering this option and may release one or more clients as open source in the future if we can identify a maintainer.

Is that you? If so, please save my Xmarks. Seriously.

RSS: No, I didn’t notice your new website’s theme.

Posted by & filed under Blogosphere, Catherine Uses..., Productivity, Usability, Web 2.0.

Over at the Future Shop Tech Blog, I wrote about RSS feeds, and how I organize them to stay up to date with everything from blog posts to Craigslist searches.

If you’re like me and subscribe to hundreds of different feeds, it’s important to figure out a good workflow that helps you focus on what’s most important. Not all of us have three or four hours a day to read blogs!

Read the post: RSS: the quicker way to stay up to date