Monthly Archives: September 2007

TVA’s Vlog: Not horrible, but not fantastic either

I just finished watching the last few minutes of the long-awaited first episode of Dominic Arpin‘s new show Vlog (auto-play video warning) on TVA. (Forgive me, I was watching a lot of Family Guy and American Dad on Fox and forgot all about it.)

The point of the show is simple: Arpin and co-host Geneviève Borne (who makes a rather unconvincing web geek if you ask me) present clips from videos they find online.

You’ll remember a few months back when ABC launched iCaught, a similar show which was supposed to find the “stories behind the videos“. I was highly critical of the show for various reasons (mainly because it sucked). Most of the mistakes are repeated in Vlog, but thankfully to a much lesser degree:

  • The inclusion of commercials, clips of network TV shows, or marketing experiments which seem to be the antithesis of the YouTube revolution of anybody-made videos. Fortunately in Vlog’s case, their only infraction so far in this area is a series of crazy Japanese game show videos, for which there appears to be an infinite supply. But if I wanted to see that, I’d switch the channel to Spike and watch MXC.
  • Showing only a few seconds of each video. iCaught would brag about how “this song will get stuck in your head”, but then show only three seconds of it. Showing only clips from these videos only serves to remind us of the time constraints of network television, combined with its frustrating lack of interactivity.
  • Being weeks or months behind the times. I’ll cut Vlog some slack for their first episode, but OK Go and Will it Blend are ancient.
  • Having the hosts stand in front of an all-white screen. What’s with this? Does nobody have a better idea for a set? At least Arpin and Borne don’t “click” things with their fingers which are obviously not there.

Website disappoints

As you can imagine, a show like this should have a very involved website. In visiting it, I got nothing but frustration (and since most people will visit the website right after the first show, first impressions are everything):

  • The URL is way too long: It took me quite a while to copy it down off the TV screen. “” or something similar would be much better (or even getting its own domain).
  • As mentioned above, the homepage automatically plays a video with sound. Arpin should know better. It replays every single time you go to the homepage.
  • There’s a “blog“. I’m not sure if it’s a community blog or something. Either way, it was blank half an hour after the show ended.
  • Navigation is very confusing. Clicking on the “blog” link (which isn’t actually a link but a Flash animation which interferes with my browsing habits) leads to a “community” page that has a big logo for the show up top but no link back to the show’s homepage. Instead, clicking on what looks like a “home” link brings you back to the Espace Canoë homepage and you’re lost forever.
  • Their page of videos interestingly links to YouTube pages and official websites (this is good). But clicking on those links forces these pages into pop-up windows. The prevalence of target=_blank is bad enough, but this is just stupid.
  • The big-media-website navigation:

Vlog website

Viewer-generated content

Like iCaught, Vlog isn’t content (pun!) taking its material from YouTube’s most viewed videos list. It also wants you, the viewer, to provide them with content. In their first episode, they ask viewers to submit their best lip-sync to Mes Aieux’s Dégenération (I’ll spare you the English subtitles). Is it just me, or is this the lamest type of video people can produce? On very rare occasions such videos can be downright entertaining, but most people make fun of it unless you put in a lot of effort.

But feel free to do so, send them your videos. Oh, according to their giant give-us-all-your-rights contract, they can then use the video, free of charge, in any media over and over again forever and ever throughout the universe. And if it’s shown that the video contains copyrighted material (say, including audio of a complete pop song without the artist’s permission first), then you agree to pay any damages.

You’ve been warned.

So that’s what I think of Vlog. What about you?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Westmount still hates us commoners

Apparently the City of Westmount has a policy against public transit bringing people to its lookout.

The Westmount Lookout, at the Westmount peak of Mount Royal, offers spectacular views of the southeast, and is a popular tourist destination.

Unfortunately, because it’s such prestigious real estate, insanely rich people live there and they don’t want no stinking commoner buses roaring up their streets.

This means that the only way to get there is to walk up from a few blocks away, along streets whose sidewalks should be broken up into stairs.

Westmount Lookout public transit

In this image, the yellow area is the higher part of the mountain’s peak, and crossing into it is painful on the feet.

Instead of having actual bus service to this lookout, Westmount is proposing building a pedestrian walkway connecting the top of Ridgewood to a neighbouring street. From there people could walk across the park and to the lookout.

Why wasn’t this done already? Politics. Ridgewood is in Côte-des-Neiges, where the peasants live. Connecting it with a neighbouring street in Westmount would bring violence, drug use, prostitution, theft, sodomy, corporate embezzlement, profanity and bad manners into their uber-rich-and-therefore-problem-free community. So instead, people who want to walk between adjacent streets must climb down a hill, walk along Côte-des-Neiges and then climb another hill.

The pedestrian path is way overdue, and the access is an acceptable compromise (especially since the 11 bus also connects to the other two lookouts). But it’s still making it awkward to get to a public place that we should be encouraging everyone to visit.

Oh the poor oppressed Quebec white man

Did you know we live in a plutocracy?

Michel Brûlé knows it. He knows the big Quebec media is out to get real Quebecers. La Presse is friends with Jean Charest, Radio-Canada is “radio propaganda”, CBC has Don Cherry.

And more importantly, English Canadians are in bed with U.S. Americans because we watch their TV shows and we’re pro-war or something.

Oh, and we’re under control of “U.S. feminists”, who have convinced Quebec’s women that they have to go after all men, when in fact it’s just the English-speaking ones who are oppressing them. (He insists, meanwhile, that objectifying women is OK because he finds them very pretty — but only in ads for sex shops, not beer.) He also says Quebec women are too stupid to realize the need for Quebec independence to free it from the English Canadians, because they only voted 45% yes in the 1995 referendum while men voted 55% yes.

This is what he explains, in his opening videos (which I can’t link to*) to Les Dents du Québec.TV, his new citizen media website.

His thesis: (French) Quebec men and women must band together and end the battle of the sexes so they can fight their real enemy: the English language.

I’m all for citizen media, and giving people the right to express the opinion that the French language is endangered in this province. And his point about how much American TV we watch concerns me as well.

But I’d take him a bit more seriously if most of his ideas didn’t make him look like the other side of the Reform Party coin.

* Seriously folks, what’s with all these video sites that don’t allow people to link directly to the videos? That’s not even Web 2.0, it’s the kind of bone-headedly simple hyperlink technology that gave birth to the Internet in the first place.

HPV vaccine, warts and all

This week I give you a Bluffer’s Guide on the HPV vaccine, which the Quebec government announced this week will be given to girls age 9 to 26.

Some resources with more information:

My take: There are some legitimate concerns about safety (no long-term studies, wasn’t tested thoroughly on young girls), but until we find evidence of some harm this could cause (which I find unlikely), I agree with the immunization plan.

That’s not to say that Merck, which sells Gardasil at a rate that makes it the most expensive vaccine ever, isn’t pushing this hard with a lot of self-interest and stands to make billions. But that’s capitalism.

Not much of an investigation

CanWest News Service’s Randy Boswell has a story about the man behind the mask of artist Ken Danby‘s famous painting of a hockey goalie, now that Danby has died.

What’s interesting about the story is how seriously it takes itself, compared to the amount of journalism behind it.

The lead:

“The goalie depicted in At the Crease, the iconic painting by late Canadian artist Ken Danby, has finally been unmasked.”

It seems groundbreaking. Like Woodward and Bernstein, an epic feat of investigative journalism.

“Now, with an assist from none other than hockey great Wayne Gretzky, CanWest News Service has unlocked the secret.”

This sentence is misleading: Gretzky didn’t assist, he told Boswell who it is:

This week, following Danby’s death, CanWest News Service asked Gretzky, now the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, if he would reveal the model’s identity.

“Dennis Kemp is the name of the goalie,” came the reply from a Coyotes spokesman.

In other words, now that Danby is dead, Boswell called Gretzky up (err… called his spokesperson up) and asked if he would reveal the name, and he did.

Is this supposed to be what investigative journalism is nowadays? Well, perhaps I’m being too tough. After all, identifying someone is the easy part. But getting his story is another matter entirely.

Oh wait:

“One mystery about the painting still lingers. Despite scores of phone calls to Kemp families across Ontario, CanWest News Service has been unable, so far, to locate Dennis Kemp.”

So much for that. The goalie has been unmasked, but nobody can find him.

UPDATE (Oct. 13): The Guelph Mercury tracked him down in Lethbridge. Meanwhile, Danby’s son insists there wasn’t a single model for the painting.

Impact player does home videos

Luis Aguilar, a Californian who was traded to the Montreal Impact this summer, is moonlighting as a content provider and marketer for badly-designed Web 2.0 startup The website seems to be Facebook meets WikiHow, but without the things that make those two sites so great.

Aguilar’s “lessons” are text entries sprinkled with photos and amateur video. Particularly interesting are his video on experiences in Montreal cooking a pizza (I’ve never understood “put the pizza directly on the oven rack” frozen pizza box instructions either) and his discussion of what it takes to get into professional soccer.

I’m unconvinced no-fault insurance has to go

The Gazette’s Max Harrold has an interesting feature today on Quebec’s no-fault driving insurance system. He asks whether or not we should consider eliminating it and allowing victims of vehicular injuries to sue in cases where negligence or recklessness directly leads to serious injury or death. It features three interviews with grieving family members (the third is the mother of Jessica Holman-Price, who was killed by a dump truck turning a corner). All three want the law changed so the guilty pay the innocent instead of getting compensation from the government. (See comment below)

The no-fault system is pretty simple: Everyone’s a part of it, drivers can’t sue each other even if one is clearly at fault, and anyone who sustains an injury gets compensated. In exchange, Quebec has Canada’s lowest insurance premium rates.

But the problem, as the article points out, is that even in cases of dangerous driving (speeding) and impaired driving (drunk driving), perpetrator and victim are treated the same, both compensated based on their level of injury. Only criminal charges can be brought, which then result in probation or light sentences.

Despite the opinions of the families (and really, it’s kind of hard to argue with a grieving widow or mother), I remain unconvinced. It’s not that there isn’t a problem of justice here, but I think other methods are more likely to solve it:

  1. Impose stiffer sentences for drunk driving and dangerous driving, especially when such actions result in death. Speed racing that causes death, for example, should be considered homicide. Make license suspensions longer or even permanent in extreme cases.
  2. Use Manitoba’s system where drivers convicted of criminal charges related to an accident have to pay back any compensation they’ve been given as a result.
  3. Increase the number of police cars on the road so these accidents don’t happen in the first place.
  4. Find some way of forcing those found guilty of criminal offenses to pay the innocent, either by imposing a fine or by allowing lawsuits only when serious convictions have taken place.

Nobody wants to get into a car accident. Even those who are insanely reckless don’t expect to crash. So nothing will seriously act as a deterrent to accidents causing injury (though there are ways to attack the causes of those accidents).
In the end, no-fault insurance isn’t always perfectly fair, but it’s a compromise that keeps lawyers from sucking out all our money after we’ve already been hurt.

Fabrikant makes serial killers look bad

Most school campus shoot-em-up maniacs have the decency to kill themselves before they’re arrested: Harris and Klebold, Cho, Gill. But Valery Fabrikant, the paranoid Concordia engineering professor who killed four of his colleagues in 1992, was arrested and tried for the murders and is in prison. His first chance for parole won’t come for another 10 years.
But jail (and a lack of access to computers) hasn’t stopped him from publishing articles, updating a website, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing, appealing and otherwise reminding his victims’ families that he’s sitting comfortably in jail while his victims are still dead.

So you can imagine the gall this guy has to sue his former colleagues for $600,000 for their actions that somehow forced him to go on a shooting rampage. He’s demanding access to his computer so he can pursue his case.

Considering he has a 0% success rate in court (mostly because he represents himself), I don’t think anyone has much to worry about. But it’s still annoying that we have to keep hearing from this guy.

No better than Canada’s first president, this duck

For the first time in 30 years, the Canadian dollar closed above the U.S. dollar in trading today.

Yeah, that’s more about the U.S. dollar being in freefall, but it gives me an excuse to re-post my graphic:

Suck it, Greenback!

For the weekend at least, Canadians can cross the border into the U.S. and demand “real money” instead of their silly green-coloured paper.

A Globe story about the dollar’s surge curiously linked to a Stephen Colbert video ranting about the dollar. I wanted to watch it, but the Globe’s video player “cannot be played on a Macintosh.” What is this, 1998?

For those interested, Comedy Central has the video (legally) online.

Big media mergers remind us of past mistakes

The CRTC has approved two big media ownership changes:

Astral Media, owners of The Movie Network, Teletoon, Astral Photo, and lots of radio stations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada including the Énergie (CKMF 94.3) and Rock Détente (CITE 107.3) networks, will take over Standard Broadcasting, which owns stations in Western Canada, but also three English Montreal stations — CHOM 97.7, CJAD-800 and CJFM Mix 96. Montreal is the only market where there’s any overlap, and even then they work in two different languages.

Rogers (telecom, Maclean’s, Rogers Sportsnet, OMNI and 51 radio stations) will buy Citytv (5 stations in Toronto and Western Canada) after CTVglobemedia (Globe and Mail, CTV, TSN/RDS, Discovery Channel Canada, Comedy Network, MuchMusic, Bravo! Canada, A-Channel, your first-born child) was ordered to divest itself of the competing TV network in its acquisition of CHUM Ltd.

More details in this Wikipedia article.

Neither decision is particularly bad for competition in Canada. The radio deal involves two companies that weren’t really competing, and the TV deal gives Rogers a foot in the door to network television.

Of course, it’s the deals that preceded these that are cause for concern. The fact that CHOM and Mix 96, which should be highly-competitive stations, are owned by the same company is troublesome. And CTV’s takeover of CHUM was ushered through without any apparent concern that their mega cable channel powerhouse has only gotten bigger. It now includes, for example, two all-news stations: CTV NewsNet and City’s CP24, which for some insane reason they were not required to sell off as part of Citytv.

More xenophobia at the Bouchard-Taylor commission

The expressions of blatant xenophobia at the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accomodation is continuing with no end in sight:

  • The Quebec council on the status of women seeks to impose a dress code on all public employees, preventing them from wearing “visible religious symbols” like a scarf over their head or a little hat. Of course, it goes without saying that Catholics wearing crosses around their necks are specifically exempt. They get special treatment because they believe in the correct God.
  • The group also wants the Quebec charter amended to make sure that gender equality usurps religious freedom. This makes sense, but does that mean that women could sue for the right to become priests? If they’re for gender equality in all religions, then they must be in favour of that as well.
  • Pauline Marois is opining that the solution to reasonable accommodation is … wait for it … Quebec independence. In a statement that sounds almost Third Reich-ish, she suggests that independence would remove “ambiguity” concerning what Quebec is. Instead, immigrants would see it as the racist, intolerant, French-only haven of backwards ideas we all know and love. And if these ethnics want to join us, all they have to do is rid themselves of their religion, their culture, their language and anything else that makes them different.

Journalist blogs aren’t pointless

Alexandre points out this blog post saying that journalist blogs are pointless, mainly because they can’t offer anything new besides what they write in the paper, and they can’t be free to write whatever they want.

Allow me to disagree. Blogs come in all sorts of different types, but most can be broken down into two broad categories:

  • Personal blogs are focused on the author. They include LiveJournal pages, personal diaries, portfolios or this-is-what-I-found-online aggregators.
  • Subject-based blogs are focused on the subject. Some are group blogs, and most are impersonal.

Most journalist blogs (and, for that matter, this one) fall in between. Like newspaper columnists, they relate personal experiences to professional issues.

But not all journalist blogs are the same. Some have behind-the-stories stories, some are more personal, and some aggregate anything of interest to a particular niche. It’s the latter type that tends to be the most successful, creating a community for people interested in a particular subject. Blogs like Habs Inside/Out make use of journalists’ access to get the kinds of stories no non-journalist blog can provide.

In the end, there’s nothing inherent about blogs by journalists that make them more or less useful than the rest. In either case, interesting, frequently-updated blogs of high-quality will win out.

Newspapers don’t need to advertise in newspapers

The Canadian Newspaper Association is planning a media campaign to remind people who read newspapers that they should be reading newspapers.

Aside from the redundant stupidity of putting ads promoting newspapers in newspapers, is this really necessary? Newspapers aren’t like toilet paper, you don’t go into a grocery store and pick out a newspaper subscription because you recognize the brand. People subscribe or unsubscribe based on the quality over a long period of time.

Instead of spending money to advertise in your own papers, maybe you should spend it hiring journalists to find good stories and editors to collect them and present them without all those glaring typos.

UPDATE (Oct. 9): Transmission Marketing agrees with me that this is preaching to the converted.

Get drunk in Outremont

Parties at Outremont borough hall are about to become a lot less entertaining. The media had a field day today with revelations from a concerned citizen that the borough is spending thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on scotch and other booze for elected officials. The city is now investigating whether anything improper occurred.

The story hit the fan this morning as a result of an exclusive investigative scoop by La Presse … uhh, I mean an exclusive investigative scoop by Le Devoir. In reality, it was just some guy who bothered to read the borough’s financial documents where the booze money is clearly spelled out.

Outremont mayor Stéphane Harbour is, of course, taking full responsibility now that he’s realized the media thinks what he’s doing is wrong. And while he never worked very closely with the abused intern disgraced aide booze, he realizes that the buck stops with him and he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Somehow I doubt this will be the end of waste in spending by municipal governments.

UPDATE (Sept. 28): Outremont invites journalists to see the booze in question, though L’Express d’Outremont, the local community paper, is peeved that they weren’t invited.

UPDATE (Oct. 1): Looking at small-government budgets is really the gift that keeps on giving. RadCan has another “EXCLUSIVE” on expensive Christmas parties paid for by the borough.

UPDATE (Oct. 9): The Toronto Star has a story summarizing the situation.

UPDATE (Oct. 12): SEE YA!