Category Archives: technology

Spin City

The old City of Saskatoon website had reached the end of it’s practical life.  It was designed by Zu back before these new fangled things called CMS’s existed and when hand coding HTML was a way of life and while they did a great job of it when it was launched, it was coded in part by Microsoft Frontpage 97 (having used Frontpage 97, you can’t imagine how painful that must have been).  The City of Saskatoon decided last year to get a new one.  After ridiculous comments by city councillors (looking at you Councillor Hill who suggested once that we get a website like Calgary’s for cheap once the prices came down), RFPs, consultations, leaked screen shots, a website promoting the new website, and much hype. it finally launched.

It looks okay outside of some truly horrible font choices.  When I say, “okay” I sadly mean that it looks like it was powered by Joomla (which is was).  It is a lot faster then the old one but there were some problems.  The search feature doesn’t work because someone forgot to upload a new site map to Google Webmaster Tools so all of the old results are there.  Instead of forwarding all of those results to the matching pages on the new site, they left them there as dead links.

Most troubling is that not all of the old content made it over from one site to the other.  Trimming content from a website is nothing new.  Companies do it all of the time.  Governments on the other hand rarely do it, even when they change parties.  I can find press releases and reports on the Government of Saskatchewan or even Government of Canada website going back to the launch of the internet.  Some governments have been aggressive in getting even older stuff online in a variety of searchable formats.  It takes time but in some jurisdictions you have access to an incredible amount of historical information and not all of it flattering.  Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg are all great examples of cities who have large expansive archives that share the good and the bad.

With the launch of Saskatoon’s new website, we have lost a lot of that information.  The City Clerk’s portion of the website used to hold the reports, papers, and even articles related to Saskatoon’s history that were accessible nowhere else.  The City Clerk doesn’t even have a section on the new site.  Old archived videos and council agenda minutes and reports are gone.  They are supposed to be uploaded “soon” but why launch without the content that used to be there?

After I wrote Councillor Darren Hill about this. Within a day of that, there was a note say that if you were looking for that information, you could ask the city for it. So I did.  I asked for all of it.  So far I have been promised that someone will be in touch.

I could ask for it, because I knew about it but if you don’t know about those reports (last year I was sitting down with a City Councillor who had no idea that the City of Saskatoon had benchmark reports comparing us with other western Canadian cities), you won’t even know to get them.  That is why you have a city website with all sorts of information on it, so people can browse.  It is something that we have lost now and unless City Council puts their feet down, we won’t get it back.

Why does this matter?  The City says that people rarely access those reports.  They could be right.  Maybe it was only Hilary and myself who poured through them (I know there were others) but they were there and gave anyone who cared enough to access them some insight into how the City of Saskatoon was run and the data, rules, and regulations that drove decisions (or in most cases, were ignored by councillors.  

That information was commissioned by the City and now isn’t available to be browsed for really no reason.  It isn’t 1995.  The City of Saskatoon isn’t being hosted on the Saskatoon Free-Net or GeoCities.  They have more than a megabyte of storage to work with.  Actually if storage is a factor, then the City of Saskatoon has the most incompetent IT people in the world.

Apparently us wanting to look at that information is part of the problem.  For long time readers of my blog and my column, I have used that information many times to praise or call out the city and their statements as being inaccurate.  I have written many times that I tend to cover Saskatoon City Council as I would a sports team.  I want them to do very well but when they don’t, we talk about that as well.  If council wants better coverage, do better things.  Instead of doing better things, the city is doing more and more to hide what it does.  I have said this many times but it is easier to find out what other cities are doing across Western Canada than it is to find out what Saskatoon is doing.  So what are we doing that is so secretive?

The reason is that Saskatoon doesn’t care about transparency anymore.  It is all spin.  The City comes out and spins Standard and Poor’s financial rating report and at the same time tries to refute Phil Tank’s fair summary of it.  They do this without publishing the actual report.  This is the same City that had attack ads of its own Transit Union after it locked them out.  It is the same City Admin that underfunded roads for over a decade and then spent thousands on new decals for pylons that said, Building Better Roads.  Press releases went from informative to almost partisan sounding complete with meaningless quotes from politicians and city managers.

Now we have a website that is the continuation of the same thing.  It is another tool in spin.  It may look good but everything is presented with City Hall’s slant on it.  As far as I can tell, everyone on council is fine with it.  Why wouldn’t they be fine with it, it communicates one thing and that is that everything is fine in the City of Saskatoon.  For those that used data or facts to disagree or point out inconsistencies, well that data is all gone.  To get it, you need to go through the city or file a costly Freedom of Information Act.

This is the new Saskatoon.  Hope you like it.

Get DxO Optics Pro 8 Free until January 31, 2015

Between now and January 31st of 2015, those interested in switching up your post-processing workflow and experimenting with software outside of the Adobe ecosystem have a great incentive to do so: DxO has partnered with Digital Photographer to offer free, no strings attached licenses of DxO Optics Pro 8 to anybody who wants one.

Of course, DxO Optics Pro is currently well into Version 9, but if you’ve never played around with the software and you’re not keen on downloading a 31-day free trial of 9, this is a great way to add a piece of software to your workflow free of charge.

Dxogiveaway

Blog hacked

My blog was hacked today.  Luckily I back up my database recently and was able to regain access to the site through Wendy’s account on the site.

I actually regularly back up my database so I was fortunate that I didn’t lose anything.  They never touched my images (as far as I can tell) which means that that not a lot of damage was done.

Some plugins aren’t working correctly after the database backup but I will uninstall and reinstall that.  I also found that it published some drafts, including the one that talked about my birthday.  It was an old draft that I forgot about.  So don’t worry, my birthday isn’t until March.

I self-host WordPress.  I am not fanatical about security but I don’t think I had anything unsafe.  I think if anything, they just got my username and password.  While my mission critical stuff was changed and upgraded a few years ago, I am sad to say that my WordPress password was pretty simple.  It wasn’t “password” but wasn’t fantastic.  I also realized that my WordPress.com password was the same username and password so I changed that as well.

So basically you take one jerk, add in someone lazy with a password and you get your blog hacked.

How the mighty are falling

Declining sales on phones lead Samsung to smart appliances

The controlling Lee family is trying to reinvent Samsung as a purveyor of Internet-connected appliances to grab share of a market that may be worth $7.1-trillion (U.S.) by 2020. Samsung wants to generate revenue from Tizen applications and services just as Apple Inc. and Google do from their operating systems, and the Suwon, South Korea-based company is emphasizing TVs and consumer electronics after falling a year behind schedule on a Tizen-based phone.

“In smartphones, there’s no chance that Samsung’s Tizen can edge out the two dominant operating systems,” said Claire Kim, a Seoul-based analyst at Daishin Securities Co. “But in TVs, Samsung may have a chance.”

Samsung’s rise to No. 1 in global phone sales depended on Google’s Android. Nearly all of the 243 million smartphones Samsung shipped through Sept. 30 ran the software, which Google typically gives away in return for mobile advertising revenue and a share of app sales.

Samsung faces the strongest challenge to its phone supremacy after posting the smallest quarterly earnings in more than two years. Operating profit at the mobile-phone unit, the company’s biggest cash generator, slumped 74 per cent in the September quarter and sales fell about 33 per cent.

I own an Apple TV and I just can’t get excited about paying extra for a smart TV when I can plug one of those or a Google Chomecast (or Amazon Kindle, Roku….) for under $100 (or under $40 for the Google Chromecast) into the TV and have a smart TV.

The smart appliance market may become huge but I can’t see the smart TV one being that big of deal at all, not when I can get my apps on my tablet and stream to my television.