Category Archives: Technology, not quite tout

3600 secondes d'extase is all over Marc Labrèche will show his face anywhere.

In case you hadn’t noticed from coverage by La Presse, Canoe, Rue Frontenac, Branchez-Vous, MSN, Radio-Canada and, like, every other news media in Quebec, Radio-Canada last week launched, a video portal with content from Radio-Canada but also some other television networks like Télé-Québec, TV5, ARTV, TFO and others, including some European francophone channels. (The inevitable comparisons to Hulu followed quickly, even though Canadians can’t use Hulu and therefore don’t have much basis for comparison).

Notably absent from that list are V, the former TQS network that already puts all its content online on its own website, and anything owned by Quebecor, including TVA. Quebecor’s strategy is to leverage its video content to improve the bottom line for its Videotron cable service. So the only way to get TVA shows on demand is to use Videotron’s Illico video-on-demand service (which has most TVA content for free).

Still, even if it was just Radio-Canada stuff, it would be pretty cool. I’d finally get a chance to see two of my favourite shows – Tout le monde en parle and Infoman – on demand (I usually miss the initial airings of both).

Oh but wait, neither show is part of’s vast repertoire.

How can that be? They’re both Radio-Canada series. And because they’re both about the news, you’d think they’d have a short shelf life. Wouldn’t you want them to get maximum exposure in a short period of time? Are people going to buy DVDs of these shows in three years? (Well, maybe…)

Despite being on Facebook and Twitter, hasn’t been communicating very well with users. Its first response on Twitter came a week after it launched, in which it reassured me (don’t I feel special) that it’s just getting started. I can understand that, though there’s still a lot of viewer inquiries and stuff that’s not being responded to, making it seem like it’s being ignored.

There’s also technical problems, like videos freezing halfway through, or (as I experienced) not being able to resume after a long pause. But I can understand that too, assuming they eventually fix it.

So what’s up with TLMEP and Infoman? I sought out to inquire. I sent messages to Radio-Canada (for both shows), and to the production houses behind those shows: Avanti Ciné Video and Les productions Jacques K Primeau (TLMEP) and Zone 3 (Infoman). The only response I got was from Radio-Canada’s Marie Tetreault, who said that they couldn’t include these programs because of rights issues. (One of those annoying problems that even forced them to temporarily pull their own launch video).

“Il n’est pas prévu d’offrir la version intégrale en différé de Tout le monde en parle” was the final word.

So those hoping that these shows would soon be added to, don’t hold your breath. They’ll have the entire series of Et Dieu créa … Laflaque!, Virginie, Tout sur moi, and the RBO Bye-Byes, but two of its biggest shows won’t be added because Radio-Canada doesn’t want to go through whatever trouble is necessary to secure the appropriate rights.

I could understand if this was a 20-year-old TV show, conceived long before the Internet existed, and which has some rights holders who can’t be reached or something, but surely RadCan can come to some arrangement with its own shows to clear online on-demand rights for new episodes.


UPDATE (Feb. 16): La Presse explores producers’ worries about eating into their revenue.

Rogers’s half-assed quality control

Last fall, I was asked to participate in a beta test of Rogers On Demand Online, a video streaming website for Rogers customers only. It has since launched and anyone who subscribes to Rogers Cable or Rogers Wireless can watch videos on the site. My review pointed out the disappointing video library, which included mostly Rogers-owned stuff like Citytv and a few specialty networks that didn’t really excite me (and are also unavailable unless you subscribe to the channel with Rogers Cable).

A couple of weeks ago I was on the site watching the one series that’s worth my attention – the West Wing through its Warner Brothers channel – when I noticed the video was a bit dark.

Make that very dark. I could barely make out what was going on in many scenes. Adjustments to my screen’s brightness were futile. So I clicked on the “feedback” link on the video and said that it was too dark.

This is the email I got back:

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TV listings: they all suck

Steve Hatton, another follower of local television, has an article at Suite 101 looking at printed television guides from The Gazette and La Presse, and commenting on how both have shrunk in size in recent years and their editorial quality has diminished. He takes particular notice to errors that come up when an assumption is made that two stations on the same network have the exact same programming.

Most printed TV guides are shadows of what they once were. TV Guide no longer exists as a print publication in Canada, and weekly listings in newspapers have been cut back severely to save space. Now they consist only of grids, with little information inside. (The Gazette’s TV Times doesn’t even include staples anymore, a simple changed that caused some inconvenience but saved a lot of money.)

There are exceptions, though even Le Devoir’s weekly TV section doesn’t have complete descriptions of programs.

Besides the general downfall of the print industry due to the Internet, this death spiral is also being blamed on the convenience of on-screen guides for digital cable and satellite subscribers, even though sometimes those are less than helpful.

Online sucks too

Most media have encouraged people to go online to get their TV listings, pointing to websites that serve it automatically. Unfortunately most of these websites are poorly designed and poorly maintained, with little or no editorial oversight. Most fall under the set-it-and-forget-it philosophy.

For example:

Even the ones you’d expect to get it right aren’t perfect, though they’re still better than what the newspapers offer:

  • TV Guide makes use of Zap2It, which has proper listings, but limits people to 100 channels and has minor but persistent errors, especially when it comes to network logos.
  • Yahoo uses its own system, which has proper listings and doesn’t limit the number of channels. But it was created for the United States, defaults to U.S. channels until you figure out how to change it, and doesn’t include logos for most Canadian channels. (Minor issues compared to the rest, but still an indication that the listings aren’t checked at all by humans.)

Part of the problem also lies with the broadcasters themselves. Many of them have given up trying to provide individual episode information outside of their hit primetime series. Many shows get generic descriptions or no description at all. And because all the TV listings are done by computer now, nobody checks with the broadcasters to fill in the gaps in their schedules.

It’s an indication of how little the media in general care about the quality of information they distribute to the public.

Journal de Montréal launches website, nobody notices

I came across it in a search – an article the Journal de Montréal wrote that was entirely based off an article from La Presse. I was surprised to find a new website for the Journal, one that looks just about identical to the one for the Journal de Québec and similar to the one for 24H, not to mention the Toronto Sun and the rest of Sun Media.

The fact that the Journal is producing little journalism of note (what with their journalists being locked out and all) is probably a big reason. The fact that the website is so forgettable is another (I’m not even going to bother with a review), as is public support for Rue Frontenac, the website setup by those locked-out workers.

Nevertheless, this is significant. The Journal had been prevented from launching a proper website because of clauses in its labour contract that gave the union some say in it. Employees started Rue Frontenac in part to show that they’re not opposed to having an online presence and a website – they just want one unique to the Journal and not some cookie-cutter site that gets lost in the giant Canoe web.

So much for that.

The Journal also setup a Twitter account (@LeJournaldeMtl), which apparently quickly followed and then unfollowed a bunch of people, resulting in it getting suspended for spammy-like activity.

CFQR adds to website screengrab

Only eight months after they rebranded themselves from “Q92” to “The Q”, CFQR has opened up its website to more interesting content.

New features include:

There’s also a schedule, which has scrubbed the name of Tammy Moyer from her late-morning show. She hasn’t been fired, says Program Director Brian DePoe. Rather, she’s “taken a leave from the Q to deal with some personal life issues.”

As they await more “clarity” on the situation, the show is being hosted temporarily by Chris Reiser.

Gazette, Devoir newspaper archives online

Gazette Stanley Cup 1986

The Gazette, May 26, 1986

Mike Rivest points out that archives of The Gazette, from 1878 to 1986, are now available for searching on Google News’s newspaper archive.

For those unfamiliar with the archive, it scans countless newspaper pages, subjects them to optical character recognition, and encodes it all in a vast database. From there, you can search for stuff and it’ll take you right to the newspaper page in question, highlighting the appropriate text.

The system isn’t perfect. Some dates are wrong, some newspapers mislabelled. And the text you’re looking for might have gotten garbled up in the OCR machine.

And not every issue is there, so you might get disappointed if you’re looking for a particular issue or article.

But considering the number of requests daily to The Gazette about accessing old newspaper archives, I’m sure this will come in handy to many. (Kristian Gravenor just creamed his pants, for one)

Some quick searching has found me the Habs’ 1986 Stanley Cup win (above), and these two below:

The Gazette, Oct. 15, 1966: Metro opens, but it's not the main story of the day.

The Gazette, July 21, 1969: Something about a ladder?

There’s also all 172 pages of the bicentennial edition in 1978.

Le Devoir’s archives are also online, though Google’s newspaper search algorithm seeks out block of what it considers legible text, so what comes out are those bits of English that have been published in the newspaper.

Also available are archives from:

Non-Quebec papers include the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen.

Happy hunting. (Just remember, if you’re searching for something significant, that newspapers are yesterday’s news, so you have to search for the day after.)

Gazette launches news widget

Gazette widget for Mac Dashboard in its default configuration

Gazette widget for Mac Dashboard in its default configuration

Gazette Mac Dashboard widget settings page

Gazette Mac Dashboard widget settings page

Today, The Gazette is launching a real 21st-century widget. I’ve tried it and am prepared to endorse it as “cool.” Not to mention convenient and helpful.

Those are the words of my boss, Gazette Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Alan Allnutt, welcoming the new Gazette widget for PC and Mac. And you know if he finds it cool, then …

It’s essentially a branded, customized RSS widget similar to what Cyberpresse launched a year ago. It just launched, so the features are very light – all you can do is choose which categories you want and then select between 1 and 4 headlines for each.

I’ll leave the reviews to people not currently employed by the paper: would you use this regularly?

Mapped getaways

Getaways map

In a sign that dinosaur media are starting to truly explore the power of semantic data, my employer The Gazette has put together a Google Map of regional getaways, those small-town country inns that people drive to for a weekend, based off its Short Hops and Country Roads travel series.

They’re colour-coded by type, include basic contact information and a photo, and most importantly a link to a Gazette review, which would drive targetted traffic to the website if it’s used by lots of people.

The map took weeks to put together (not full-time, mind you), and has a bit under 100 locations on it, from Ottawa to Quebec City and from the Laurentians to lower Maine.

As with any Google Map, you can download the KML file and use it in Google Earth or any other mapping program of your choice, or mash it up however you like.

Rogers On Demand Online: Meh.

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

Homepage of Rogers On Demand Online

A few days ago, I got an email from a social media marketing guy at Rogers, inviting me to participate in a sneak preview of the Rogers On Demand Online service being launched on Monday (see coverage of that at Digital Home, Paid Content, Mediacaster).

It’s being called a “Canadian Hulu”, which is like saying CTV’s video portal is a Canadian Hulu, except that CTV doesn’t charge to watch its content.

I can’t imagine why Rogers would want me participating in this. I guess they cast a wide net and don’t read this blog, because otherwise they’d know I don’t think very highly of Canada’s telecom companies, and most of my reviews are negative ones.

This one is no exception.

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My new, cheap remote control

My new remote, much like the old one

My new remote, much like the old one

Yesterday, I did something stupid.

Actually, I did many things stupid. First, I put my glass of orange juice on a table I knew perfectly well wasn’t stable. Then I wasn’t careful when I sat down, knocking the table and causing the glass to spill onto my remote controls.

Then, thinking I was brilliant, I decided to rinse the orange juice off my Videotron illico remote (taking the batteries out first to avoid short-circuits). It worked, in that the orange juice stickiness was gone. But being impatient, I put the batteries back in after only a couple of hours (the case was dry, but the internals were still soaked), and shortly thereafter started smelling the familiar scent of a blown capacitor.

So I was in the market for a new remote (I suppose I could have just tried to replace the capacitor, but I can’t open the remote without breaking it and I value my sanity). It had been hours, and not only is walking the six feet to the television a horrible idea to even ponder, but the thought of pressing the “CH+” button a hundred times to switch between CTV and the Comedy Network made me want to shoot myself in the head.

Since the Illico remote has special functions (that aren’t accessible on the box itself), I didn’t want to get a general universal remote, and lose something important like the on-screen guide navigation. Looking at Videotron’s website and that of electronics retailer Future Shop, I found both quoting a new Videotron-branded remote at $35. Thirty-five dollars for a plastic case, some buttons and an infrared transmitter. I’d blame Quebec union labour, but these things were made in South Korea.

Rather than pay that ridiculous price, I headed down to cheap electronics store Addison Electronique. They specialize in raw electronics. If you need a resistor, a switch or a breadboard, that’s where you go. They suggested a similar remote that they said was compatible with Illico boxes, and it only costs $8.

Left: Videotron-branded RT-U49C-15+. Right: Pioneer BR-360

Left: Videotron-branded RT-U49C-15+. Right: Pioneer BR-360

Though the Videotron remote is Videotron-branded, it’s hardly unique. Rogers, Time Warner and other digital cable providers use identical remote controls and boxes by the same manufacturers, with only the branding changed. The Pioneer remote is supposed to go with a Pioneer-made digital cable box, but has a similar design and uses the same codes as the one used by Videotron.

I took a chance (Addison has a no-refunds-no-exchanges-it-doesn’t-matter-if-it’s-an-empty-box-you-ain’t-getting-your-money-back policy), took the remote home and it worked perfectly once I got the AAs in.

The differences are minor. Missing on the knockoff remote are the “all” and “mode” buttons, the # button for HD zooming, the M1/M2 memory buttons and the favourite button, none of which I ever use. The device buttons don’t light up, and there are a few buttons (Menu, help, day +/-) that don’t do anything. But all the important stuff (guide, info, A/B/C, VCR-style controls for video on demand, and the usual remote functions) work fine.

In fact, I discovered the new remote had an extra feature the old one didn’t: it communicates properly with my television set, something the old one never could achieve despite hours of entering programming codes. I can now remotely turn on and off the TV (and control its volume) with the same remote I use to change the channel.

So, if this new remote does all the same functions and is essentially equivalent in every way that matters, why does Videotron’s remote cost more than four times as much?

UPDATE (Nov. 29): $8 too expensive for you? It’s only $5 at Acces Electronique on the West Island.

All your eggs in one Scribd

This blog post at the Globe and Mail is kind of funny.

It started off innocent enough: the Globe wanted to embed a part of the auditor-general’s report into a news article, so it posted a chapter to a website called Scribd, which converts PDFs into embeddable Flash applications.

The auditor-general, however, apparently took exception to that move. It wasn’t because of copyright infringement – the report is freely available on the AG’s website. It was because, the office said, “On the Scribd website, it appears, or it makes it appear, that anyone using the document or accessing the document has an ability to adapt the content and use it in different ways.”

Their concern was people altering the document, and potentially making others believe the alterations were genuine.

Setting aside for the moment the AG office’s apparent misinterpretation of technology and the power people have to alter other people’s Scribd documents, not to mention the fact that this in no way prevents people from forging AG reports (is this really a big issue? Is there a huge auditor-general-report counterfeiting industry out there I don’t know about?), I suppose such a concern makes sense. And besides, all they were asking was to link to the report on the AG’s website instead, a small accommodation.

The Globe initially relented, replacing their embedded Scribd document with a link to the PDF on the AG’s website. But after the public (well, okay, noted copyright activist Michael Geist) objected, the Globe changed its mind and reposted the Scribd document.

The auditor-general, determined to push its case, then filed a copyright infringement claim with Scribd itself, and Scribd took the document down. The Globe responded by hosting a copy of the PDF on its server and pointing to that.

As Geist says, this is a clear case of government exploiting crown copyright against the media (unlike in the United States, government publications and works in Canada are subject to copyright, though it is rarely enforced). It also brings up questions about the Globe’s editorial processes and the auditor-general’s office wanting to control information.

But the last part of this story makes me wonder: Are we relying a bit too much on fly-by-night third-party free-as-in-beer services?

It’s one thing to use Google Analytics or WordPress or Linux, but Scribd? Twitter? CoverItLive? These services are young, run mainly out of venture capital financing (instead of a sustainable business model), and there’s no guarantee they won’t just close up shop tomorrow, taking all our data with them. (And unlike Linux or WordPress, they’re not open source, which means they control their software and your data.)

As the Scribd case showed the Globe, the service can unilaterally delete your data, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Twitter has periodic outages that nobody can control, yet some have already turned Twitter into a mission-critical component of their business model.

Just because it’s free – even to big media companies – doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Polish woman wants to save local Canadian TV

Continuing my research into the origin of stock photos, I should point out that CTV’s Local TV Matters site makes generous use of microstock.

This woman with a bullhorn, which used to adorn its splash page, is from a stock photographer based in Poland.

And that giant “on air” sign is from a 3D animator. It even comes with an off-air version, or one that says “vacancy”. There’s no French version, though, which forced CTV to kind of awkwardly photoshop their own.

Save local TV!

Projet mobilizes the Internet mob

If you notice that online polls are biased heavily toward Projet Montréal, it’s partially because that party’s supporters are young and Internet-connected, and partially because Projet Montréal is pushing its members through Twitter and Facebook to tip the scales of those polls.

Because, in the grand scheme of things, this is where a political party should be focusing its efforts.

Hey, it worked for Ron Paul and Lyndon Larouche, didn’t it?

Star redesign: I don’t hate it

After inexplicably hyping it for weeks, the Toronto Star finally unveiled its website redesign last week. I took one look at it and was unimpressed, but figured I’d return for a closer look.

Toronto Star's

Toronto Star's

Colour me more impressed.

I’m still not crazy about the visual design, which is filled with rounded corners, blue-grey gradients and just about every other Web 2.0 cliché in the books, but some of the functionality is worth noting.

One is the topic pages. News organizations have to get used to the fact that the Internet provides them with a different way to present information. Background doesn’t have to be repeated in every newspaper article to re-educate the reader. Instead, you can simply link to a previous article in a series, or better yet to a summary of the topic so far (kind of like what you’d see on a Wikipedia page). Many topics have short introductions followed by a list of articles on that topic. It’s simple, but very useful. The best part is the “hot topics” banner at the top of the page, which allows quick links to the big issues of the day.

Another is the timeline view, which translates as “everything published on this website, in reverse chronological order.” If you don’t know what you want to read, go here and just read whatever is new. There are other views like the “visual news” view, which presents stories as a series of pictures, but that’s only useful if all stories lend themselves to good pictures. Many don’t and are illustrated with boring file art instead, lessening the usefulness of this page.

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

More from teehan+lax, Torontoist and the Star itself.

Ile Sans Fil in the park

Both Union Montreal and Vision Montreal have an element on their platforms that some technologically-inclined Montrealers might find interesting: free (or cheap) wireless Internet access in public parks and other public areas.

The idea isn’t new. The city first approached the volunteer group Ile Sans Fil more than two years ago to talk about setting up such a system. Ile Sans Fil provides free wireless Internet through more than 150 access points in the city, most through places like coffee shops who pay ISF a small fee.

The city has even conducted studies and hearings on the subject, and a presentation given in November 2007 resulted in only one comment, in support of the project. In a report, filed at the beginning of 2008 (PDF), the city’s commission on economic development recommended setting up a network with Ile Sans Fil.

For various reasons internal to the city’s operation, this issue has been sitting on a shelf since then. ISF even appealed to the public in August 2008, (perhaps prematurely), though specifying that the group wasn’t in danger if the deal fell through. ISF were expecting a call for tenders earlier this year on a free wifi project, which it would then bid on and be a clear favourite for, but it never came.

Both Tremblay and Harel should be somewhat embarrassed to have this on their platforms. Tremblay because the city hasn’t acted on this yet despite the preliminary work being done, and Harel because it was an idea of the Tremblay administration that her party has now stolen.