More notes on Brandon Rosario, school reaction, and media fall-out

April 27, 2008 at 12:06 pm | In education, media, newspapers, victoria | 7 Comments

Doc Searls added to the threads on Brandon Rosario’s performance with the wonderfully titled entry, Think softly and punish a big schtick. We know where the soft thinking is…

Doc found a bonus link, Meet Brandon Rosario by Red Tory, a local blogger I hadn’t seen before. (His profile picture is of Francis Urquhart, or “FU,” as he was known to staffers, of House of Cards — a very funny BBC series worth watching.)

Red Tory’s comments board includes an extended discussion of the effect of Brandon’s remark about the physical attributes of a particular teacher. I added a comment to my own April 24 Brandon Rosario entry, partly in response to some of the Belmont students who expressed ambivalence about the “rack” remark. The teacher could use any fall-out that might occur as a teaching opportunity (teachable moment).

There have been a couple of follow-up reports — if one can call them that — in the mainstream media. They’re really laughable — except for the fact that the pot they’re stirring is the pot of stupidity. To see them all, please go to the Facebook group page, Support Brandon Rosario’s fight for Free Speech. There you’ll find not only all the relevant media items (including tv clips), but also the voice of the students and other youth themselves.

The main thing that comes through in those voices is this: Fuck the media.

Every single person on the Facebook comments board is upset by the way the mainstream media are blowing this thing up, and turning it every which way, to create a sensation. Of course the media always manage to find fools to do their bidding — case in point, the class-A fool (a professor of rhetoric) featured on A-Channel’s second report who calls Brandon’s performance totally inappropriate. Professor?

The really “totally inappropriate” thing here is just how incredibly stupid the media assume people are.

They’re digging their own grave, and as far as I’m concerned they can’t fall into it quickly enough.

File under: Shameless reposting of a locally reported story

April 24, 2008 at 10:16 pm | In authenticity, education, local_not_global, times_colonist, victoria | 13 Comments

An article in our local paper just caught my eye: Belmont student’s edgy speech sparks complaints, by Louise Dickson. Now we all know that the official paper never does what the bloggers do (ow!, where’s my tongue? heck, I think I dislodged it!), and naturally all headlines are to be taken at face value …sure. But as the Times-Colonist is not the National Enquirer, I had to click through on this one because there had to be some kind of story there.

Apparently, a smart, creative 17-year old named Brandon Rosario, full of all the usual energy that comes with that age, competed at one of our area schools, Belmont High School, for the post of class valedictorian. A day later, Brandon Rosario was called to the vice-principal’s office — and yowza, one has to wonder if VPs don’t have enough to do these days.

His speech had become an object of inquiry: was the boy giving offense? Could someone — anyone? — be offended …by his humour?

Thank gods for Youtube, because of course his speech is viewable here: Valedictorian Nominee — Brandon Rosario, so you can decide for yourself.

(An aside: I went to see a play called The Violet Hour at the Belfry Theatre last week; one of its many facets is that it’s about an early 20th century publisher who, together with his assistant, is given books from the future to read — courtesy of a strange machine that arrives uninvited. At some point in the play, the publisher and his assistant begin to “assume” the manners and speech of the future, often stopping themselves self-consciously to wonder, “where did that come from?” The best example is when the assistant gives a little speech about being “offended,” which he announces is the highest form of late 20th-century moral outrage…)

So Brandon Rosario was called to the vice-principal’s office because …why?

“As I understand it, [his speech] had racial slurs and some homophobic type of conversation,” Warder said. “And the school is investigating whether or not there needs to be discipline.”

“Some of it is biting. It’s attacking,” Brandon said. “I don’t think people understand satire these days. But investigating? Like I’m a serial killer or something?”

In his speech, Brandon tells his classmates he doesn’t have much going for him in pursuit of the valedictorian nomination. [Times-Colonist article]

I’m guessing the paper printed this good story to stir the pot — there are more people out there than not who will side with Brandon. The question is whether the conversation will do anything to rein in the sort of over-cautiousness exemplified by “managers” or “rulers” of voices-within-the-box.

Seriously, at this point I think prison inmates have more rights to, and expectation of, free speech than school pupils do — perhaps because it’s at least publicly acknowledged that the former are in jail, while we pretend the latter are free.

Update: Be sure to view the Facebook Group, Support Brandon Rosario’s fight for Free Speech.

Follow me on Diigo, too

April 24, 2008 at 6:20 pm | In web | Comments Off on Follow me on Diigo, too

Aside from posting to Twitter (where there’s a certain art to making posts that stay under 160 characters in length — microblogging as haiku on steroids?), I also add frequently to my Diigo account, which you can see here.  When I have time, I annotate my bookmarks extensively, so there’s actually something to read.

It’s way better than, in my opinion.

Sometimes I bookmark items because they spark enough to make me comment at length (as Doc Searls’s April 19/08 article, Understanding Infrastructure, did), or else it’s part of my current effort to immerse in urbanism-related issues (if that’s of interest, please take a look at CEOs for Cities clip, Chicago’s Green Dividend: totally fascinating).  And sometimes it’s —  urgh! — nostalgia, as triggered for example by this Better Bad News clip.  Ha, innocent days, when whether or not “embedding” a brand name could be considered selling out…  Man, we were all such schmucks…

Follow me on Twitter

April 23, 2008 at 9:21 pm | In web | Comments Off on Follow me on Twitter

In the event that I do have some readers out there, just a heads-up that I’ll be very busy in the next little while, and therefore not able to write to this blog as often as I’d like …but: you can follow me on Twitter! Yup, I have a Twitter account and find that I like that “microblogging”function. If you use Twitter, give me a tweet, and I can tweet right back at ya.

Also check out Twitter Local for your area (punch in your zip or postal code), and see who’s tweeting in your neighbourhood. Lots of little microniche apps in the pipe for Twitter…

Suburbs, food deserts, and old-fashioned delivery trucks

April 21, 2008 at 11:27 pm | In cities, green, ideas, land_use, real_estate, urbanism | Comments Off on Suburbs, food deserts, and old-fashioned delivery trucks

As it happened, Christopher Hume’s follow-up story today in the Toronto Star on the Leslieville big-box debacle, Wal-Mart and the city an uneasy mix (which I blogged about here), made some points that coincided nicely with a story by Shannon Proudfoot, which appeared in yesterday’s Province (Vancouver), about food deserts in cities: Suburbs cause ‘food deserts’ in cities; People stranded in low-income neighbourhoods have little choice.

Let’s start with food deserts in cities. From Proudfoot’s article:

The migration of supermarkets to the suburbs has left some Canadian cities with “food deserts” in their most vulnerable neighbourhoods, according to new research that counters previous studies suggesting that phenomenon wasn’t happening in this country.

Residents marooned in these grocery wastelands — usually those who can least afford it — have no easy access to stores that stock fresh, affordable food, researchers say, forcing them to pay inflated convenience-store prices or eat junk food.

These conclusions are based on 40 years of data, and researchers found that the situation is getting worse, with “the poorest neighbourhoods …the most stranded.”

“If you think about a single mother with limited income without a vehicle — if you can’t hop in your car and drive to a supermarket, you must shop locally,” Gilliland says. “You’re going to be buying your groceries at local convenience stores.”

That forces people to pay an average of 1.6 times more for groceries, he says, perpetuating a financial “downward spiral” for those already in a precarious position.

Better-off urbanites are turning to Zipcar services (car sharing services), which they then use to make those big runs to the suburbs (and the big-box discount stores):

Now they use Zipcar for day trips out of the city or bulk-buying missions that are more convenient and budget-friendly.

“If you work during the day, get off and want to do a grocery run, the buses would be packed and I couldn’t imagine having to carry that many groceries on a bus for your entire family,” MacPhee says. “It really does come down to convenience.”

Proudfoot concludes with the researcher’s advice that city councils must boost population density in cities so that grocers will locate there, too.

But if the grocer is also a retailer like Wal-Mart, that can be a real problem for urban cores, as Hume’s article makes clear. This is where Hume’s common-sense suggestion to bring back the delivery truck comes into play. As he points out, it used to be the case that no self-respecting city person lugged home tonnage from a shopping trip …because the delivery guy would deliver your goods to your home within hours.

So, if you’re going to put a big-box store into a downtown, get rid of the acres of surface parking for individual cars, get public transportation in, get people to walk or bike in, and let the delivery trucks do the delivering again. The money saved on all that parking would surely pay for a small fleet of vans that ferry goods to their purchasers.

In Toronto, the opposition to this suburban monstrosity with an ocean of parking lapping up prime urban real estate is fierce. But Hume then adds:

One wonders how different the response would have been had SmartCentres announced that it intended to build the city’s first no-parking mall. Sounds ridiculous, but maybe not, on second thought. Already there’s a mall in San Francisco that has no parking. Why not Toronto?

From here it’s a short hop (’cause you’re not driving, see) to the idea of the delivery truck:

Then there’s that revolutionary concept known as the delivery truck. Remember that? There was a time when the big stores – Eaton’s and Simpsons – all had their own fleets. In those days, few shoppers even considered schlepping home anything larger than a breadbasket. And let’s not forget the IGA on Danforth at Pape, which to this day has no parking on its premises.

Clearly, the time has come to bring back the delivery truck, and Eastern Ave. could be a perfect place to start. Of course, the Wal-Marts would have nothing to do with such a concept, but being Toronto’s first green shopping centre, Wal-Mart wouldn’t be wanted anyway.

Shoppers would walk or cycle to the centre, make their purchases, then walk or cycle home. The goods would show up later. Now that’s convenience.

“We think delivery is a great idea,” says Smith, who also points out that, “this is a huge evolution for us. None of us has a lot of urban experience.”

The return of the delivery truck could also address the problem of “food deserts” in urban cores. There is enough density already if you include the people who can’t afford to drive to the store.

Here in Victoria, several of our core and downtown grocers deliver for free, same day, if you shop before noon or 2pm and your order is over $25. The liquor stores (non-government, that is) figured this one out, too: right below Market on Yates (“Your uptown downtown grocery store” is, I believe, their slogan) on View Street there’s Harris Green Liquors, which not only delivers, but takes orders for home delivery over the phone. Cheers, eh?

Harris Green Liquors truck

Market on Yates delivery plug
Above: Market on Yates delivery ad as seen on the website.

Left: Harris Green Liquor Merchants delivery truck.  They also use a regular       car…

Reading Fred Wilson on the hyperlocal

April 19, 2008 at 11:57 pm | In innovation, local_not_global, ubiquity, urbanism, victoria, virtually, web | Comments Off on Reading Fred Wilson on the hyperlocal

I started reading Fred Wilson back in January when one of’s blog posts referenced Wilson’s entry, Rethinking The Local Paper. Wilson is a NYC-based venture capitalist/ investor who funds start-ups related to new media, social networking, online technologies, …that sort of thing. He’s also quite brilliant, blogs (A VC – Musings of a VC in NYC) regularly, and has all the relevant “social media” accounts (and uses them to learn things).

In his January post on Rethinking The Local Paper, he wrote about his passion for the hyperlocal, which immediately hooked me. My interests in urbanism, architecture, mobile media, locative media, social media — all that stuff — collide at the local level. I love how these things are creating whole ecosystems, webs of interrelated dependencies: economies. In that entry he wrote:

In fact, the first thing we all need to understand about “hyperlocal” is that this is going to be a long slog. It’s simple enough to put up a search field and ask for a neighborhood name or zip code and return a result. has been doing that for over a year now. (…) …the results are not that compelling. YET.

The thing that has to happen and will happen, I just don’t know when, is that we are going to program our community newspapers ourselves. (…)

But there just aren’t that many people producing hyperlocal content in a form that is organizable into a new version of a community newspaper. Sure there are many people posting photos and more and more of them will get a geotag as we get gps cameras and better web/camera integration. (…) [but:] Where is the relevance?

The people who need to produce the content are the ones who care about the content (the local events), but how do you make that production compelling to them? As Wilson wrote, “there isn’t enough of an incentive to produce hyperlocal content.”

What could help push an incentive along is …well, money. He gets into some detail in the rest of that entry (so click through to read). It could happen, basically, if the local producer could make some revenue from producing (tall order), but the way he describes it, it’s not impossible. His bet is on the local papers, provided they embrace the idea that they can be platforms for local content:

…this is a collaborative effort. We need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen. We need every newspaper in the country to embrace platforms like and everyblock and showcase their content on the newspaper’s pages. We need to find these local voices and amplify them. And we need to attract more of them. And we need to monetize them for their efforts.

I’m not holding my breath on the local papers here, and would like to pursue some other ideas myself. But that’s all cool, because as Wilson says, it’s going to be a multi-pronged and collaborative effort and “we need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen.”

The other day he posted another fascinating idea I’d like to see explored here in a hyperlocal way.  This one involves Twitter. Like about a bazillion other people, I have a Twitter account (I actually opened it just a couple of days before “discovering” Fred Wilson back in January) — but then I let it sit there, “following” no one and being “followed” by none and tweeting nary a note. Frankly, having a Twitter account felt like having some weird virtual Tamagotchi pest, er, I mean pet, that required my ministrations. And I was unwilling to give them. Twittering seemed like a really stupid idea, so I let the account sit idle.

However, after DemoCamp Victoria01, I saw that “tweets” could be interesting from a local perspective, in terms of strengthening connections (and conversations) with other people here. So I tentatively began “following” some Victoria-based folks, which soon expanded to some regional friends, and then naturally had to include a few far-flung geniuses I can’t resist.

But note: for now I’m still keeping my “following” list really really tiny — trying to resist the lure of reading an endless stream of conversation between and with people I feel I have something in common with.  Naturally [sic!], this pristine state won’t last. Promiscuity, linky love, and webbiness is all part and parcel of development online, including of course the development of co-developments, characterized by connections, and things differentiating out from previous …well, differentiations.

Which brings me back to Fred Wilson, who twitters here. (And no, I’m not following him yet, but who am I kidding? The seduction has already started anyway: He’s in my feed reader, so I may as well follow his tweets.) The other day he wrote an entry about Meetups:

I’ve gotten a bit tired of going to events populated by all the usual suspects. I am meeting lots of new people through this blog, tumblr, twitter, etc but I have not been able to say the same thing about the real world events I’ve been attending.

So I’ve decided to do something about that.

One of the things he did (and you’ll just have to click through to read about the other thing, because my blog entry is already too long) is to open a Twitter account for a place, which anyone can “follow” and to which anyone can tweet to say, “hey, I’m going there right now, meet up with me if you’re available.” The place in question is the Shake Shack, and it already has over 100 followers, all of whom will see updates to ShakeShack’s tweets in their Twitter accounts. So, if I were in NYC tomorrow, I could “follow” ShakeShack, send it an @ message that I’m going there for lunch, and then see if any of the other 100+ ShakeShack followers show up — maybe Fred Wilson himself would come!

Of course my question is, what could be the Shake Shack for Victoria? If we ever, ever see nice weather again, I suppose we could create a Twitter account for Red Fish Blue Fish? (Flash mob on the dock!)  Or Sticky Wicket? Or Cook Street Village? (One could easily detail in the @ message which of the 6 coffee shops you’re going to.)

In actual fact, it’s possible to create many places — not even necessarily attached to a specific venue. One could create a “Fort+Douglas” Twitter account, and then specify any favourite watering hole or coffee shop within a 2-3 block radius of that intersection. Or create “CookStreetVillage”; “Old Town”; “Harbour”; “VicWest” (that’d be a good one, with Abebooks and other tech-related companies clustering in the new developments there).

In other words, it’s quite easy to use “frivolous” platforms (which aren’t frivolous at all, really) to knit together actual places and actual people. For my money, that’s a fascinating and valuable thing.

On a related note, read The new oases; Nomadism changes buildings, cities and traffic, in the April 10, 2008 online edition of The Economist.

“Creepy treehouse”

April 18, 2008 at 11:35 pm | In authenticity, education, media | Comments Off on “Creepy treehouse”

I think the phrase “creepy treehouse” needs more traction, which is why I’m blogging it.

Read about it on Flexknowlogy.  Here’s a brief excerpt, but you must click through and read the whole entry by Jared Stein.  It’s excellent!

creepy treehouse
see also creepy treehouse effect
n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.

Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy treehouse] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creepy Treehouse?”

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.

n. Any system or environment that repulses a target user due to it’s [sic] closeness to or representation of an oppressive or overbearing institution.

n. A situation in which an authority figure or an institutional power forces those below him/her into social or quasi-social situations.

With respect to education, Utah Valley University student Tyrel Kelsey describes, “creepy treehouse is what a professor can create by requiring his students to interact with him on a medium other than the class room tools. [E.g.] requiring students to follow him/her on peer networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.”

adj. Repulsiveness arising from institutional mimicry or emulation of pre-existing community-driven environments or systems.

Example: “Blackboard Sync is soooo creepy treehouse.” Marc Hugentobler

In the field of educational technology a creepy treehouse is an institutionally controlled technology/tool that emulates or mimics pre-existing technologies or tools that may already be in use by the learners, or by learners’ peer groups. Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity. Some users may simply object to the influence of the institution.

I’ve been observing this phenomena increasingly, as instructors push down hot Web 2.0 technologies, while students push back with vocal objections or passive resistance. I call this the creepy treehouse effect.

Oh, this is very very good.  Do read the whole thing.  Hat-tip to Netwoman for “creepy treehouse” — thanks!

Suburbs and their replicating ways

April 18, 2008 at 11:11 pm | In cities, green, ideas, sprawl, urbanism | Comments Off on Suburbs and their replicating ways

Two items about suburbia came across my horizon recently.

One is a USA Today report on Chinese delegations coming to the US to study planned suburbs: Modern suburbia not just in America anymore by Haya El Nasser (today, April 18), which has an ominous (to my ears) conclusion, although there’s a lot of interesting stuff before that. More on that in a moment.

The other is another palpable hit from a couple of days ago by The Mobile City‘s Martijn de Waal, Video as suburban condition. This blog post references an installation by Martijn Hendriks, also entitled video as suburban condition. As de Waal writes, Hendriks has compiled a loop of YouTube video clips showing teens “performing” (as it were) their selves — on suburban parking lots or in “the fluorescently lit aisles of strip mall supermarkets.” What de Waals observes is fascinating: the clips, he writes, aren’t “loose incidents” unrelated to one another, but “part of an ecosystem”:

Teenagers perform their identity, video tape it with their mobile phone or handheld camera and put it on Youtube. Other teenagers watch those clips and in their own distant yet almost similar suburbs re-enact or remix the performance. Japanese teenagers copy funny dances and supermarket gags from their peers in the US and the other way around.

The performances are then copied by other teens around the world. De Waal quotes from Hendriks’ site to explain how suburban places are imagined in these clips: “The videos show people performing in places that would normally lack all interest, like back yards, parking lots, roof tops and malls. (…) Each place, as ordinary as it may be, is re-imagined as a place for doing extraordinary things.”

What’s fascinating is how de Waal thinks this through in terms of the technology: video allows for a replication — a reproduction, actually — of the performance of that identity, and in that sense, we are talking about an ecosystem. A cardinal clue whether something is animate or inanimate is whether it can reproduce. Humans are using technology to reproduce memes, lifestyles, …and identities. This means they are alive.

De Waal writes:

These videoclips show that performers at spaces like parking lots and strip malls now do have a way to find an audience – although the interaction is not in real time and in real space. These spaces declared dead do seem to come alive and work in a way that is comparable to traditional city squares. At least in terms of processes of performance and identification.

Now… what I really like about this approach to the topic is that it honours and recognizes the vitality in the thing.

I don’t feel the same friendly way toward master-planning. And that takes us back to the USA Today, where the author (Haya El Nasser) describes a certain flavour of “master planning” that overpowers whatever those teens might get up to in those videos.

El Nasser’s article starts as follows:

A Chinese delegation from Beijing arrived in Phoenix last month and headed west to the Sonoran Desert, deep into suburbia. Its destination: a quintessential American residential development in Buckeye, one of the many suburbs dotting the sprawling metropolitan area.

It goes on to describe Sun City Festival, a 3,000-acre planned community. Do young people dance or “perform” on parking lots there, I wondered? Nope, this is for folks 55+ of age. The Chinese delegation was there to study how they might “replicate” (El Nasser’s word) that “community” back home in China.

If the kids are having sex, the planners are in the lab doing in vitro “fertilization” it seems….

Ironically, this push to plan is done for reasons of sustainability:

The push is on to inspire developing countries to do what more American communities are doing: steer away from sprawling, cookie-cutter subdivisions popularized after World War II and create sustainable communities that will not deplete natural resources.

That includes developments built around mass-transit stations to reduce reliance on cars and projects that mix homes and businesses so that people can walk from home to stores and other services.

That sounds good, but what does it feel like? Will there be dancing (or miming or performing) in the streets (or parking lots or aisles)?

I’m not defending the existing suburban places that the kids documented by Hendriks are filming (not at all), but I’m just a bit skeptical about the “planning” described in Nasser’s article — irrespective of my basic sympathy with its goals (to have livability, sustainability, all that good stuff — oh, and good design, too…).

I’m wondering, when all is said and done (planned!), how do you plan for something like YouTube, for example? We’ll always be using technology to enhance our replicating ways, and often on unexpected platforms. From the backseats of cars to the digital virus via YouTube, life will find a way…

In the meantime, though, by all means plan better, cleaner, more sustainable communities. It makes sense — sort of like more comfortable plush in the backseat upholstery?

Writer’s block: coming or going?

April 14, 2008 at 6:31 pm | In just_so, writing | Comments Off on Writer’s block: coming or going?

I’ve managed to avoid blog posts that report on my own navel-gazing for a long time, but right now I’m ready to cave in and just write about belly-button lint.

In a nutshell: I feel stuck.

Call it writer’s block, call it cumulative frustration from constant interruption, call it an inability to visualize clearly… I don’t know.

Oh, let’s call it electrical gremlins, eh? I’ve written before about how there’s something weird about my Pentrelew house, how it’s sited, its naughty L-shape (missing corner!) — and how all things electrical inexplicably fritz up, that appliances go on and off mysteriously, seemingly with autonomy. (Naturally I can’t find the entry anymore …pixels seem equally afflicted.) Whenever you take two steps forward on Pentrelew, you’re obliged within moments to take one step back, too. “Pentrelew,” incidentally, is the name of the street I live on. I’m told it’s some sort of old Cornish word that means “land which slopes both ways.”


The street was named for the now-demolished estate of the Crease family. I guess they felt that with a name like “crease,” they could afford to live on a sloping piece of ground where you don’t know if you’re coming or going, and so called their estate “Pentrelew.” The acreage their property sat on is criss-crossed by underground streams (I once hired the dowser who re-found neighbouring Fernwood‘s public well, to map the underground streams in my postage-stamp backyard), and if one wanted to indulge in magical thinking (and let’s face it, who doesn’t when the moon is at a certain phase?), one could argue that there’s something fundamentally confused about the feng shui here.

Pen-tre-lew: going in opposite directions at the same time.

I have blog posts, plus project notes, plus correspondence, plus another article deadline up the proverbial yin-yang …and can’t write them out.

Oh, and about those gremlins? They’ve invaded my online programs, I think. Diigo bookmarks aren’t showing up as blog posts, even though they’re supposed to, which contributes to the bereft look of these pages of late. There are a couple of good ones, though. See my Diigo page here.

So that’s my navel-gazing complaining boo-hoo-hoo post — and I promise I won’t do it again …for a while, anyway.

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