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September 24 2014 |

graffiti free

There’s a new program in Prince George that hopes to eradicate all graffiti in the downtown area. It views graffiti in pretty black-and-white terms:

“Graffiti markings suggest that a neighborhood is unsafe, does not care or cannot cope with the problem. Studies have shown that when graffiti markings are left unattended for as little as one week there is almost a 100% chance that additional graffiti markings will be placed at the original site or in the nearby community.

“When left unattended, graffiti may contribute to an escalation to more serious vandalism and other crimes in the community. Graffiti plays a role in increased resident anxiety and the economic decline of neighbourhoods.”

There’s graffiti in my neighbourhood. Here’s what it looks like:

garbage listen

It’s been sitting there for at least four years, and so far no additional markings have been placed on this garbage can. It has not increased my anxiety, and house prices here have been on a steady climb.

I’m not trying to minimize the damaging effects that graffiti can have, particularly the tagging and the cuss words, but I think there’s room for a slightly more nuanced discussion than “graffiti = bad”. For example, here are two walls next to an empty lot downtown (click for larger versions):


Which would you rather see while walking around a neighbourhood? Which shows more pride of place, sense of character? Will visitors to the downtown come away with a better impression of the city if they encounter a blank grey wall versus a cheeky slogan surrounded by fluffy sheep?

Do you think coming across this mailbox is more likely to cause you to smile or get scared about the bad neighbourhood you’ve wandered into?

listen mailbox

I’ve had visitors to Prince George ask me about Listen Bird and even go on walks to find other examples that are sprinkled throughout the downtown core. It’s also been a source of inspiration for me. Here’s a thing I wrote about it a while ago:

“The Listen Bird… serves as a reminder that there’s always a story left untold. The people and the things you can find in this city are as interesting and enlightening as anywhere else in the world… This is open to everyone. We can all find it. All we have to do is listen.”

The Listen Bird is my personal favourite, but I’ve come across plenty of hidden messages that make me pause. One of my favourite things to do when visiting a different city is to find the graffiti. I feel like it showcases the unique voice of the area- if the graffiti is fun and creative, imagine how good everything else is? By the same token, if it’s rude and threatening, I totally understand the idea that it sends out bad vibes and can aid in the decline of an area. I’m not arguing that.

nyaan smithers

But my point isn’t that all graffiti is good, it’s just that I don’t necessarily agree that all graffiti is bad. Blank walls, untouched electrical boxes, back alleys devoid of any signs of human life… I mean, yeah, I guess they can signal there’s no crime. But they can also signal there’s no anything. No creativity, no pedestrians, nobody with any interest in adding some fun and creativity to the neighbourhood. Speaking solely as an explorer of urban areas, I’ll take a clever doodle or colourful picture over a blank concrete wall anytime. It’s much more inviting.

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

Banksy, Wall and Piece

Filed under: cities, Prince George | Discuss

“There’s going to be more of this type of thing”: questions and lessons after Legebokoff

September 17 2014 |

I’m not a fan of covering crime for its own sake.  I understand people are interested in the details, but there’s a lot of crime and it would be easy to fill our days with gory details of shootings and murders from around the world. Not much public value in that.

At the same time, there is a real public value in understanding what leads to crimes and seeing what lessons can be learned to prevent future ones. Which brings me to the trial of Cody Legebokoff.

 “Make no mistake, it was luck.”

Such was the assessment of Justice Glen Parrett, the judge who sentenced Cody Legebokoff to life in prison for the murder of four women in northern B.C. He was speaking about the night that RCMP officer Aaron Kehler stopped Legebokoff after he saw him speeding off a logging road.

The justice praised Kehler for employing good instincts, and the work of RCMP that uncovered the four killings and ultimately led to the conviction. But at the same time he made it clear that had Kehler not happened to be on that road that night, Legebokoff could still be out there, and could have killed again.

So what lessons to be learned from this that help prevent future crimes?

Justice Parrett raised a few issues in his sentencing. One was the fact the RCMP unit tasked with investigating missing and murdered women along Highway 16, aka the Highway of Tears, has had its budget cut by 84% over the last two years.


*   *   *



The night the jury found Legebokoff guilty, I was on the steps of the court house. About two dozen people were outside, drumming and holding a poster of other women who have been lost in B.C.’s north. I spoke with Brenda Wilson, who lost her sister in Smithers about twenty years ago.

“I hope that some day I’ll be able to go through the same process,” she told me. “My sister was murdered twenty years ago… and we have no closure.”

Brenda Wilson

After the guilty verdict, families spoke. Judy Maas’ sister Cynthia was among the four who were killed. She used the moment to address the issues vulnerable people in our society face.

“They were more than just a sex trade worker or a drug addict or a mental health issues,” she said of the women, including her sister. “They were truly human beings who lost their way. And without the services and programs, there’s going to be more of this type of thing.”



*   *   *



There’s been more than enough of this type of thing already. RCMP have confirmed hundreds of cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women across the country over the past decades. The numbers stand out enough that leaders and thinkers have made the case for a national inquiry.

This past Sunday, an “Am I Next?” rally was held on the steps of the Prince George court house to raise awareness for the issue. “Am I Next?” is an online campaign, in which Aboriginal women take a picture of themselves along with the words “Am I Next?” It was started by Holly Jarrett of Hamilton, whose cousin Loretta Saunders was found dead earlier this year.

Am I Next

Jessi King is the UNBC PhD student who organized the Prince George rally.

“It hit me personally,” she says of the campaign. “They were indigenous sisters of mine.”


“Why are Aboriginal women so devalued in the society that we look at them as not just victims, but ‘oh, they were living a risky lifestyle.’… how do we live in a society where you explain it away like that?”


*   *   *



Justice Parrett addressed calls for a national inquiry in his sentencing. “It is a mistake to limit the seriousness of this issue,” he said. He pointed out that of the four women Legebokoff was found guilty of killing, two were Aboriginal and two were caucasian. He also pointed out that the women in these cases were in a high-risk lifestyle. He called it a sociological problem.

Outside, my colleague Wil Fundal spoke to a woman who said she knew Cynthia Maas from her life on the street. She took hope from the sentencing and the justice’s comments.

“It’s the beginning of people realizing that women do need help down here and everywhere else,” she said.

The trial is over. Four murders have been solved.

We’ll see what happens next.

Filed under: Aboriginal, British Columbia, Canada

“That’s It”: How to make a quick and dirty vocal mashup

September 9 2014 |

Yesterday afternoon, CBC Radio stations across the country experienced an audio glitch that caused a short audio loop to repeat… and repeat… and repeat. After establishing that our technical team was on it (they were) and answering phone calls from concerned listeners, I decided to have some fun with the error and create a little hip-hop mashup:

It’s gotten reasonably popular among the subset of people who are CBC listeners that share my absurd sense of humour, with retweets from no less than CBC Vancouver host Stephen Quinn and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, among others. A few people have commented on the quick turnaround time on this (I had it up with an hour), so I thought I’d share how I did it.

1. Record the samples

Fortunatley, I’m in a radio station so this was pretty easy, but you could do it with any computer with an internet feed. Audacity is a good, free, cross-platform audio editor, and Garageband comes standard on most Macs. Really, anything would work. Just figure out how to record off of the internet and you’re good to go.I grabbed feeds from Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, and Saskatoon, and would have gotten more but the problem was fixed by then (our techs were on it).

2. Figure out the beats-per-minute

I have a terrible ear for beats. Fortunately in this case I case I had a pretty clear delineater to work with- any time one of the vocal samples began, that was a new beat. There are a bunch of free beats-per-minute tools online that give you a calculation based on mouse clicks. So I started clicking here every time the “That’s it” vocal began and was told that I was working with 60 bpm.

3. Find a free-to-use song that is 60 bpm

The creative commons is a wonderful place. It’s a space where creators share their work in a way that others can use, update, and remix it. A number of websites like Flickr and Soundcloud actually have Creative Commons search engines built right into them. So I went to Soundcloud and searched for “60 bpm“. Then I filtered it down to items that were licenced to use and modify. Then I filtered it down to tracks that had been tagged for hip-hop. At this point I was left with just one track, “All” by eauxbleak. Fortunately, it was exactly what I was looking for.

A screenshot of my filtered search, with the relevant filters circled:

soundcloud search

4. Put it together

I’m going to assume that you have some knowledge of audio editing here. If not, and you’re interested, I encourage you to get the aformentioned Garageband or Audacity and start learning- the internet is full of tutorials, and YouTube is a vast resource of step-by-step guides to just about everything. Ultimately, I worked with eight tracks and just sort of drag-and-dropped things around until I liked what I heard. Listening this morning there’s things I would change, but how seriously can you possibly take something like this? From the time I started recording to the final upload took about forty minutes, not a bad use of a break.

5. Bonus step: create some sweet glitch art

A few people have commented on the cover photo for the track, a glitched-out CBC logo. Again, Google is your friend. I searched for “free glitch art creator” and found this website from German designer Georg Fischer. I uploaded the classic CBC logo and hit “random” until I found something I liked.

glitch cbc


What you’ll notice in all these steps is that I relied heavily on the tools and expertise of others. I had the idea, but there’s no way I could have pulled it off without the vast repository of creativity and generosity that you can find out there on the internet. That’s why I write posts like this- I benefit so much from people giving away ideas and information for free, and like to contribute where I can. This is a silly exercise, but it’s fun. I enjoyed it, and I’m glad some other people do, too.



And I’m not the only one to think of this. Here are a few other mixes courtesy Rafferty Baker, spry bry, Scott Lilwall, and Lee Roosevere.

Filed under: how to

Thinking In The Open

September 5 2014 |

I received a comment earlier this week from Grant Potter on my post about about delegation that included this line:

“Your thinking in the open here is really great – enjoying following along.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t have any fully-formed thoughts about delegation, and definitely didn’t have any solutions, but it was on my mind and I started writing about it. By the end I had come to something of a conclusion- or at least a greater understanding of my own barriers and a better attitude on how to idea them.

Lots of people recommend keeping a journal to help work through difficult problems. I’ve tried doing that but for whatever reason it never sticks. But looking back it seems like I do feel comfortable working through things here on my blog- out in the open.

I don’t know what that says about me, but I do know some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have come through reading the blogs of other people doing essentially the same thing. Successful people in high-level jobs sitting down and typing about their work, problems, and possible solutions. Fred Wilson is an obvious one, but also people like Buster Benson talking about productivity methods he’s tried and Cap Watkins chronicling his move from being a designer to a product manager.

So I think I’m going to give myself permission to think out loud around here a little more. I find it useful, and maybe other people will to.

“How many trees did you cut today?”

September 4 2014 |

Things have changed. They can again.


There’s a feeling of anticipation in the city as summer ends. The approach of winter means the approach of 2015 and the tripartite celebrations that will surround the city of Prince George’s 100th anniversary, the Canada Winter Games, and the 25th anniversary of the University of Northern British Columbia.

I’m just a few years older than UNBC so I don’t really have a memory of the city without its existence. Vague memories of touring the campus with my parents, and the knowledge that the Queen was in town are about it.

Given that it’s such recent history, I find it fascinating how foreign some of the attitudes are when learning about the push to create UNBC in the first place. Yesterday on CBC there was an interview with Edward John of the Tl’azt’en First Nation, one of the key people who helped establish the university. He recalled that the attitude- a negative one- of many was that the university would only be for “lesbians and Indians.” I haven’t been able to track down any quotes yet, but I’m told this is something that respected people could/did express in public. Tough to imagine today.


This morning I’m having a read through “UNBC, A Northern Crusade” by Charles J. McCaffray, one of the key person in the the creation of the university. In it he documents the many, many obstacles that had to be overcome by the “No-Name Group” of leaders and supporters who wanted to establish a university in the north. The famous one is the advanced education minister telling the Globe and Mail in 1989 that

“In the interior…people don’t think of education beyond grade twelve. The questions they ask at the end of the day are ‘How many trees did you cut today?’ or ‘How were things down in the mine?'”

It was a controversial statement, but certainly not the only attitude that had to be overcome. Throughout the book, the No-Name Group encounters people, both in the south and right in Prince George and other nearby communities, who don’t think that northerners will actually be interested in attending a university in the province’s north. UBC and Simon Fraser in Vancouver, ten-hours-plus away, do a good enough job at serving the small number of people in the north who would be interested in getting a BA.

It’s tough to list all the ways UNBC has impacted the region, but I can tell you how it’s impacted my own life. Even though it was only a fifteen minute drive from my home, I encountered so many new people and ideas as a result of the campus that shaped who I am today. I was able to walk into the campus newspaper office and get a writing job, and I was able to start a radio show on CFUR. I got to know my profs, and they gave me advice and pointed me towards opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. I met my future wife.

I would likely have had many similar experiences if I had gone to U of A or UBC or anywhere else in the world, but the key difference is that I went to UNBC and had these experiences in Prince George. Spending my early twenties here made me see the city in a new light- I started going to concerts, I learned about the local history. I fell in love with the city I had spent my whole life in. Had I had all these formative experiences somewhere else- well, I don’t know that I would have come back.

Also key is the number of people I know who are only in Prince George because of the university. My friend Reza springs to mind- he was an exchange student from Iran when I met him. Now he’s the owner of the first Persian restaurant in the north, and an even bigger advocate for the city than I am. He’s embraced the north and it’s embraced him.

So the university has helped create new attitudes. And it was created, in part, because of the leadership of people at northern colleges who saw that there was room for higher education options in the north to grow. And those colleges were created by people who had the vision to create higher education of any sort in cities where there had once only been high school. And so on. Growth begets growth begets growth.

Ultimately, this is one of the reasons I’m so interested in being here. Every day you can see people building the foundations for the next steps in northern B.C.’s future. There’s problems and bad attitutudes, for sure, but there always has been. It’s not inevitable that those will be overcome… but as recent history proves, it’s not impossible, either.

So if you ever wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about Prince George, this is it. I’m inspired by how much things have changed, so quickly, and excited by what that can mean for the future- along with the right attitude.

Filed under: Prince George | Discussion


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