Alberta Party Leadership Forum 2011 Calgary

Alberta Party’s leadership convention in Calgary featured 4 obviously competent candidates. Chelsea Pratchett was already streaming this event for OpenFile Calgary.

However, I had a specific question to ask. I was there taping anyway, so here’s my coverage!

My question, which was not presented (probably due to its length):

Alberta wastes valuable natural gas in process of adding hydrogen to bitumen, resulting in oil that can be then processed into gasoline etc.
 
Deploying LFTRs (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) would supply us with heat and electricity which would (using copper-chlorine cycle) let us stop wasting our natural gas in this process.
 
China is racing ahead of everyone in LFTR development, and have stated their intention to control the intellectual property.
 
LFTR promises inexpensive electricity, reduce our CO2 output when processing oil sands, and offers vast improvements over every other commercial form of fission, including our widely respected CANDU.
 
LFTR enables local inexpensive energy production. Can we invest in LFTR research instead of soon-to-be-redundant transmission line capacity? Or will we be paying licensing fees to China when we inevitably build these things?

Not having this question answered during the forum, here are the candidates discussing thorium afterwards…

Lee Easton on Thorium

Randy Royer on Thorium

Glenn Taylor on Thorium

Glenn Taylor left before I had a chance to approach him at the forum (he happened to be the last person I could have gotten to). Glenn has since spoken with me via recorded video Skype about Thorium.

Tammy Maloney on Thorium

I briefly spoke to Tammy after the debate, and she suggested we discuss the topic by phone before she go on the record discussing the subject. She’d seen TEDxYYC Kirk Sorensen video “Can Thorium End Our Energy Crisis?” already, but wasn’t ready yet to speak on the topic.

We have since had a decent phone conversation, and Tammy is aware of the many Albertan industries which can benefit from our use of LFTR. She agrees it is important, but does not see where funds for research can be found, asking where does one cut to find the money.

Tammy won’t be able to participate in a recorded Skype call before the leadership election.

Alberta Party – Good for LFTR?

My sense at this point, from the candidates I’ve spoken to, is that they’re open to new technology, and appreciate that this is indeed a different type of nuclear power.

They all deserve credit for having some knowledge of the subject before our conversations: I’d tweeted them in advance I’d like to discus LFTR, so our discussion was less “what is LFTR?” and more about their approach to new technologies.

The most promising aspect of the Alberta Party in this matter: their policy can be influenced by a grassroots movement to promote this clean energy technology. Certainly I don’t have answers for how research can be funded. But if enough Alberta Party members from industries demanding cheap electricity (or enough Alberta Party environmentalists understand what is being offered), it is quite feasible LFTR will soon have political allies at the provincial level.

What is LFTR?

And just in case you were only looking for debate coverage of Alberta Party leadership candidates, and you have no clue what this “LFTR” thing is of which I speak… Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

It is the most practical & essential technology I’ve ever heard of, since some guy decided mice needed lasers instead of balls.

10 Minute TEDx video – “Can Thorium End Our Energy Crisis?

16 Minute (more technical) video – “LFTR in 16 Minutes

If you’ve watched those 2 videos, then the most important piece of information you need to know is this: China is already researching thorium powered molten salt reactors, and they’re seeking to file patents on the technology.

2011-10-21 Update:

THORIUM REMIX 2011 is now complete. This is my recommended video resource for learning about the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (a type of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor). It begins with a brief summary comparing LFTR to Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR).

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2011 Calgary-Centre-North all candidate forum at Wild Rose United Church

A potted plant no more, Conservative Michelle Rempel joined (Green) Heather Macintosh, (Marxist-Leninist), Peggy Askin, (Liberal) Stephen Randall & (NDP) Paul Vargis for a very lively debate.

I don’t live in Calgary-Centre-North, but @harpsinyyc and @Oryxzen suggested this was an important event. Based on the audience intensity, it seemed pretty important.

  Green
Heather MacIntosh
Liberal
Stephen Randall
NDP
Paul Vargis
Conservative
Michelle Rempel
Marxist-Leninist
Peggy Askin
         

This video is released under Creative Commons share-alike 3.0 license. If you remix it, link to my original. If you post a remix to YouTube, be sure to also use an annotation hyperlink.

I don’t want anyone complaining that the applause levels don’t reflect reality. I’m having trouble with my video editing software SONY VEGAS, which crashes when I perform a copy/paste operation, so I’m stuck with a single audio track for this video. The single audio track is board audio, so the candidates certainly sound good. But the sound person wasn’t worried about accurately passing the crowd’s cheering and booing to the speakers, since everyone in the room could hear that quite clearly anyway.

Hey, you ask, SONY… Isn’t that the same company that just lost all their Playstation customer info to a hacker? And sent out CDs infected with Trojans back in 2005? They kill puppies don’t they?

I can’t speak to the puppy question, all I know is their video editing software as-of version 10.0c won’t let me copy/paste reliably. Copy/paste! (Final Cut X is coming out in July for $300. Good to hear.)

Anyway…

15 Minute Highlight Reel

If you don’t have 92 minutes to spend watching the entire debate, there’s a Calgary-Centre-North Forum 15 minute highlight reel you should check out. It may not cover everything, but what it does cover is pretty interesting.

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2011 Calgary-Centre all candidate forum at Killarney-​Glengarry Community Hall

On April 23th, the 2011 federal candidates for Calgary-Centre attended (another) forum at Killarney-​Glengarry Community Hall. Although the audio in this video starts off poor, it gets better and ultimately is easier to follow than the Knox United Church forum.

  Green
William Hamilton
Liberal
Jennifer Pollock
Conservative
Lee Richardson
         

This video is released under Creative Commons share-alike 3.0 license. If you remix it, link to my original. If you post a remix to YouTube, be sure to also use an annotation hyperlink.

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TEDxYYC Video – Kirk Sorensen on Thorium

On April 1st, Kirk Sorensen spoke to a Calgary TEDxYYC audience about the potential of Thorium as an energy source. Kirk’s TEDxYYC video is now available.

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0:50 0:50 10 years working at NASA, designing sustainable lunar colonies.
1:38 1:38 Almost all nuclear power on Earth uses water as a coolant. Some use water at 150 atmospheres of pressure, as needed to generate electricity effectively.
2:24 2:24 Liquid water at 300 degrees Celsius will flash into steam (taking up 1000x more volume) if a leak occurs. This is why today’s nuclear plants need large, expensive concrete containment structures.
3:04 3:04 Today’s reactors extract less than 1% of the energy stored in their uranium oxide fuel, and must be constructed next to large bodies of water.
3:54 3:54 Why not use molten salt instead of water? Liquid fuel instead of solid fuel?
5:11 5:11 Molten salt reactor feature: The freeze plug. Would have been handy in Japan.
6:01 6:01 And then Kirk heard about thorium, and things got even more interesting…
7:34 7:34 LFTR vs conventional nuclear power. 200x more efficient. Enough power to pull CO2 from atmosphere and create new “fossil fuels” from it.
8:18 8:18 Do we have enough thorium? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Holy crap, yes.

If you find the LFTR concept to be as exciting as I do, then there is something you can do right now, to help accelerate investigation and implementation of this technology. You can help promote this video.

You see, this isn’t just any old YouTube video. It is a TEDx video. That it was shot at Calgary’s TEDxYYC event, and uploaded to the TEDxTalks YouTube channel means it has the potential be a TED Talk video. If this YouTube video you see before you has good viewing stats, then it may one day be seen by everyone who visits TED.com.

So please consider doing any of the following:

  • LIKE the video on YouTube.
  • Add the video to your FAVORITES on YouTube.
  • Tweet about the video. Suggested URL: http://youtu.be/N2vzotsvvkw
  • Share the video on Facebook.
  • Blog about it, with the video embedded.
  • Email the video. Consider people outside your circle of family and friends. (Federal representative?)

And if you’ve never done so, be sure to check out EnergyFromThorium.com, where other folks from all walks of life interested in this technology can learn more, monitor it’s progress, and see how they can help out.

2011-10-21 Update:

THORIUM REMIX 2011 is finally complete. This is my recommended video resource for learning about the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (a type of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor). It begins with a brief summary comparing LFTR to Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR).

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2011 Calgary-Centre all candidate forum at Knox United Church

On April 13th, the 2011 federal candidates for Calgary-Centre attended a forum at Knox United Church. (A second Calgary-Centre debate took place at Killarney-Glengarry Community Centre, with better audio quality.)

  NDP
Marc Power for
Donna Montgomery
Liberal
Jennifer Pollock
Conservative
Lee Richardson
Green
William Hamilton
         

This video is released under Creative Commons share-alike 3.0 license. If you remix it, link to my original. If you post a remix to YouTube, be sure to also use an annotation hyperlink.

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Kirk Sorensen in Calgary to speak about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR)

Kirk Sorensen is coming to Calgary to speak about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, on March 31st 2011 at Protospace and April 1st at TEDxYYC!

In a nutshell, I believe of all Canadian provinces, Alberta has the most to gain by investigating this technology: In the future our oil exports will be less attractive as carbon trading markets mature, and currently we burn (waste) natural gas as a source of heat used in oil sands extraction. The faster we can improve oil sands extraction efficiency, the faster we stop haemorrhaging carbon credits.

Bill Dickie (Alberta Minister of Mines and Minerals 1971-1975) has observed the Stelmach government polled 1024 Albertans and found only 25% object to new nuclear projects.

The Stelmach government opened the door Monday to nuclear power in Alberta — rejecting a moratorium and saying it will consider the controversial energy option on a case-by-case basis — but vowed no public dollars will be invested in any project.
 
The province announced its nuclear power policy the same day Energy Minister Mel Knight rolled out the results of the province’s public consultation on the issue. A telephone survey of 1,024 Albertans, which incorporated input from stakeholder groups, found about one-quarter of people want the government to refuse projects. Two in 10 said the province should encourage proposals and 45 per cent of people polled want nuclear power plants considered on a case-by-case basis.
 
With those numbers in hand, Knight said Monday that Alberta is open for business on nuclear power. But he stressed the province won’t cough up a penny and hinted the lack of subsidies might dissuade companies from proceeding in Alberta. “We’re not putting a moratorium on nuclear,” Knight told reporters. “We are not proponents of nuclear energy,” he added. “We need power and proponents that want to build (nuclear) in the system in Alberta are welcome to do so.”

Of course without the United State’s (wartime) government spending, there’s no telling how long it would have taken for nuclear power to be adopted as a power source. Then again, without the wartime priority for bomb-making material it could have been LFTR which dominated the nuclear power industry, rather than relatively inefficient light water reactors.

As everyone following LFTR technology knows, China is taking the lead on this. I wonder why the Chinese aren’t not leaving such an initiative to the private sector?

Calgary tally of Kirk Sorensen events

TEDxYYC April 1, which is sold-out, but an after-party is open to everyone, at Velvet Lounge 6:30pm. The TEDxYYC speakers will all be live-streamed on the TEDxYYC website.

MRU (Mount Royal University) will host a talk by Kirk at 3:30pm March 31 in Lincoln Park Room (J-301).

2011-03-12 UPDATE

Japan! Nuclear power plants! This…

…Kirk may just touch on these events, and I’ll be asking him how LFTR would have behaved under similar circumstances.

2011-04-16 UPDATE

He came. He spoke. It was awesome.

His TEDx video is in the hands of TEDxYYC, I’ll certainly be sharing it here once it is available to the public.

Kirk also spoke at Protospace and MRU, both lectures also recorded. So that’s 3 very different talks, plus random banter driving between locations and waiting for a flight at the airport.

Something very good will come of this footage.

2011-10-21 Update:

THORIUM REMIX 2011 is now complete. This is my recommended video resource for learning about the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (a type of Thorium Molten Salt Reactor). It begins with a brief summary comparing LFTR to Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR).

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YYCCC 2010-12-13 Calgary City Council

I’m creating a simple index of Calgary City Council archives & live audio stream. And Christopher Harper is also independently indexing City Council sessions. My own blog entries are not meant to be a complete index of council sessions, they only represent workflow improvements.

New Workflow – Accurate Transcription!

Before I tested this new workflow, Trevor Howell of FFWD wrote a piece detailing citizen’s efforts to make City Hall discussions more accessible. In it, Gregory Pastirik of City Clerk’s Office notes “the video archiving feature (of Electronic Legislative Management Solution) is still on hold, awaiting council’s nod”.

Mayor Nenshi ballparks Closed Captioning data as 85% accurate, and requiring a “big disclaimer”. I’ve added such a disclaimer in the start of YYCCC 2010-12-13′s captions.

The following represents a “Web 2.0 friendly” approach to archiving Council sessions. And as of this archive, finally includes a reasonably accurate transcript.

Calgary City Council on December 13, 2010 – The Video

Open Dec 13th City Council minutes as documented on Calgary.ca, to help understand and navigate the Council meeting. To examine the interactive transcript, bypass this embedded video index entirely and use the video’s YouTube landing page.

h:mm:ss item summary
0:00:47 02 PRESENTATIONS & RECOGNITIONS
0:10:04 04 CONFIRMATION OF AGENDA
0:13:27 05 TABLED REPORTS
0:29:40 06.1.1 E2010-28, CALGARY PLANNING COMMISSION BYLAW
0:31:36 06.1.2 C2010-73, ASSESSMENT REVIEW BOARD BUDGETED VERSUS ACTUAL COSTS
0:34:02 06.1.3 C2010-74, AIRPORT TRAIL EASEMENT AGREEMENT – DEFERRAL REQUEST
0:47:40 07.1 NM2010-45, RECYCLING NEXT STEPS (ALDERMAN FARRELL)
1:32:39 07.1 NM2010-46, COUNCILLOR AS TITLE FOR CALGARY’S ELECTED OFFICIALS
2:21:06 07.1 LAS2010-81, EAST VILLAGE WARD 07 PROPOSED DISPOSITION OF CLOSED ROADS TO CALGARY MUNICIPAL LAND CORPORATION
2:26:50 08.1 BYLAW 60M2010, AMEND BYLAW 35M2008 AUTHORIZING LOANS TO THE CALGARY MUNICIPAL LAND CORPORATION, 1st READING ONLY
2:27:30 08.2 BYLAW 61M2010, AMEND BYLAW 25M97, POLICE COMMISSION BYLAW, 1st, 2nd & 3rd READING
2:30:45 09.1 VERBAL, CITY AUDITOR APPOINTMENT
2:34:04 09.2 C2010-75, FURTHER REDUCTIONS TO THE 2011 OPERATING BUDGET
3:23:48 09.3 C2010-76, MOTIONS ARISING FROM THE 2011 BUDGET– SCOPE OF WORK
3:28:53 09.4/5/6 FCS2010-27, FCS2010-28, FCS2010-29
3:34:21 10.1 AC2010-86, 2010 CITY MANAGER’S CORPORATE RISK REPORT
3:34:36 10.2 LAS2010-82, PROPOSED ACQUISITION WARD 02 SUB AREA 2A FILE NO: 11300 ROCKY RIDGE RD NW
3:35:16 10.3 N2010-23, APPOINTMENT TO AIRPORT AUTHORITY
3:36:56 10.6 N2010-26, APPOINTMENT TO COUNCIL COMPENSATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
3:39:29 10.9 N2010-21, CITIZEN APPOINTMENTS TO 2011 SUBDIVISION & DEVELOPMENT APPEAL BOARD

Open Data – Council Transcripts are Data Too!

This embed isn’t just pertinent to my blog post, it illustrates how YouTube embedded on a web page can start at a precise moment in the video. Simply add the following parameter to the HTML: &start=18320 (That’s the # of seconds to start at.)

(The start parameter currently has no impact on iPhones, hopefully that is on Steve Jobs’ to-do list.)

DJ Kelly had been a strong proponent of Open Data at city hall. Some datasets have obvious value (realtime location of busses, budget details). I’d like to add City Council audio, video & transcripts to that list. Of particular interest to me is Closed Captioning data.

The workflow I’m now using to upload video archives to YouTube does not parse Closed Captioning in realtime… the video is captured as a single large (1GB/hour) MPEG-2 file, which can be processed once council session ends.

Currently that is due to a file-locking issue with CapDVHS. But CCExtractor was created to parse files in realtime… in theory it would be possible to transmit Closed Captioning data to an RSS feed or Twitter as it is received.

Open Data requires both a friendly license (so that people can re-purpose the data without worry about being sued), and data in an easy to parse format.

Pulling Closed Captioning off SHAW Digital 89 is anything but easy (in realtime anyway). But it is possible. If the City of Calgary had to justify disallowing re-use of each dataset, instead of Calgarians having to argue why a given dataset should be made public and re-useable, I believe we’d see a lot of interesting applications appear.

Calgary.ca – Sample Integration

When City of Calgary rolls out ELMS video, it will offer appropriate video playback for the minute/item being reviewed by the user. Here I illustrate that YouTube could also be integrated in a similar fashion to the City of Calgary’s website.

Why this is Important

While I would be happy to see the addition of any video archives to Calgary.ca, there is a reason the majority of embedded internet video is hosted on YouTube. They’re backed by Google, therefore YouTube technology receives more R&D than any other vendor can afford. YouTube has a public API. YouTube facilitates access for the hearing impaired. YouTube has a bit of the Web 2.0 going on.

In short, if it says YouTube, YouTube, YouTube on the label, label, label, you will like it, like it, like it on your table, table, table.

Offering up video archives (with a Microsoft video server) represents meeting what needs to be done city employees, but does not facilitate discovery of what could be done by Calgarians.

My sample Calgary.ca integration is a hack, and is only intended to show the end-result of integration (it does not represent a sane workflow). However, up to the point of ELMS integration, this process is quite efficient. If ELMS (as Gregory of City Clerk’s office indicates) records a time-stamp for every motion put forward, then it should be easy to calculate (in .NET or JavaScript) the needed start parameter to play the appropriate portion of a YouTube video.

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YYCCC 2010-11-29 Calgary City Council

Calgary City Council live audio stream. Will be active from 9:30 AM onward on November 29, 2010.

This is an experiment to illustrate how an audio stream can be offered up to smartphone users.

Previous experiment was delivered directly from City Hall. This time the city’s Window Media stream is being relayed remotely (well… from my house) to an IceCast2 server.

Also, instead of videotaping City Council myself, I’ll be focusing on capturing the Windows Media stream, and reviewing a neighbor’s recording off cable to try retrieve Close Captioning data.

This post will be updated/replaced with a post-mortem after a day’s relay and capture. The ultimate goal is to offer not just live audio, but a complete transcript of the day’s session based on Close Caption work already being paid for by the city (but not yet fully leveraged).

UPDATE:

The audio relay worked fine, once I was playing the stream with VLC. Windows Media Player embedded in the city’s website kept timing out (deliberately I assume), so audio kept dropping out every 30 minutes. VLC addressed that, but couldn’t address the city’s Windows Media video feed disappearing. I was told that means their server is crashing.

Neighbor’s DVD Recording of SHAW did not include close captions. And (me never having used a DVD recorder before) the resolution was only 352×240. Guess that is what happens when use the “8 hours on a 4.7GB disc” setting.

My brother was taping on his PVR, but some Googling shows best-case the video content can only be copied off it in 1x playback speed… despite all the data ports at the back of his SHAW PVR, there’s no file copy off of it.

I will post Nov 29th footage here once I’ve collected it all from my neighbor. But the quality will be poor.

I’ve ordered SHAW Digital TV. Too hard to organize decent City Council recordings otherwise. And it is the only practical way to reliably provide an audio stream (until the city starts doing so).

UPDATE 2:

Have created a dedicated page for Calgary City Council streaming audio.

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YYCCC 2010-11-08 Calgary City Council

Monday November 8th’s City Council meeting is the first regular City Council meeting of Mayor Nenshi’s term (earlier meetings in his term being of a more organizational nature), and as such is an excellent candidate to illustrate how improved municipal government transparency (one of Mayor Nenshi’s policy platforms) can be achieved.

Brief Video Summary (Who reads any more?)

Calgary City Council on November 8, 2010 – The Video

I recommend simultaneously opening City Council minutes as documented on Calgary.ca, to fully understand and navigate the Council meeting.

hh:mm:ss item summary
00:03:16 02 QUESTION PERIOD: Street Lights (Alderman Jones), Traffic Study (Alderman Chabot)
00:15:05 05 LAND USE ITEMS: CPC2010-114, CPC2010-115, CPC2010-116, CPC2010-117, CPC2010-118, CPC2010-119, CPC2010-120
00:51:00 06 DISPOSTIONS OF PUBLIC RESERVE LANDS: CPC2010-119, CPC2010-120
01:01:53 08.1 CPC2010-121, TEXTUAL AMENDMENTS TO THE LAND USE BYLAW 1P2007 AND BYLAW 39P2010
01:42:11 08.2 CPC2010-122, DOWNTOWN UNDERPASS URBAN DESIGN GUIDELINES NON-STATUTORY
02:35:24 08.5 CPC2010-125, PROPOSED COMMUNITY BOUNDARY CHANGE (SHEPARD INDUSTRIAL) NON-STATUTORY
02:37:07 09.1.1 C2010-68, ASSESSMENT REVIEW BOARD BILL 23 IMPLEMENTATION BUDGET REPORT – DEFERRAL REQUEST
02:40:50 09.1.2 C2010-69, SOUTHEAST LRT GREEN TRIP PROPOSAL
03:48:20 10.1.2 NM2010-42, AIRPORT TRAIL UNDERPASS, (ALDERMAN STEVENSON)
05:10:43 10.1.3 NM2010-43, 2011 BUDGET PROJECTIONS, (MAYOR NENSHI)
05:23:47 10.2.1 M2010-09, COUNCIL’S STRATEGIC PLANNING SESSION 2010 NOVEMBER 16 AND 17
05:33:08 12.3 GREEN SHEET (ALDERMAN COLLEY-URQUHART), AUDIT SUB-COMMITTEE ON SNOW AND ICE CONTROL

(This video is released by Gordon McDowell into the Public Domain. If you need to recycle any components of it, use a plug-in for your browser which enables downloading MPEG-4 data from YouTube.)

Now (if you’re using a computer and not just a smart-phone or iPad), you’ll see that clicking on my indexed time-codes above jumps to the corresponding part of the video. That’s the best I can do for my own web page, but check out the YouTube video landing page, where you’ll see an Interactive Transcript button to the right of the video description. Click on various lines of transcription. Use your browser’s page-search (probably CTRL-F) to search for words or phrases. That’s Machine Transcription text, so it is pretty inaccurate, but it is still quite useful. (And as I describe later, there’s no need to settle for Machine Transcription.)

Transparency Expectations

I believe my video illustrates what citizens are hoping from City Council when improved transparency is called for.

  • The complete council session (minus “in-camera” moments meaning periods of private-discussion) is archived for later review.
  • Items (a portion for this example) from the session’s minutes are provided as a time-code so the appropriate portion of the video can be quickly found.
  • Dialog (a portion for this example) has been transcribed using Machine Transcription so that:
    • Any given phrase spoken during the session can be searched for.
    • The use of any particular word through out the time line can be searched for.
    • These searches can take place on YouTube’s video landing page, right within the browser.
    • Close Captioning is available on the YouTube video.
    • The transcript can be read as a faster alternative to watching the video (with or without Closed Captioning).
    • Machine Translation can then, in turn, offer up alternative language Closed Captions, for non-English speaking Calgarians.
  • YouTube does not require Windows Media plug-ins to be watched (as the live stream currently requires). This is probably why The City of Calgary has been using YouTube to share videos with citizens for the past 2 years.

Convenience Expectations

While such a video archive (including transcription) would meet transparency expectations, YouTube does nothing to help citizens who are trying to monitor City Council activity in real-time.

Most Calgarians with broadband and a PC can tap into the live Windows Media stream for the purpose of watching at home, or at the office. But citizens who are trying to interact with City Council (say, to speak when a particular item is being put forth) need portable updates.

For November 8th, I offered this in the form of an MP3 audio stream. This audio came from City Council’s XSL audio board, into my MacBook, to an IceCast2 server. The IceCast2 host serviced 45 unique listeners, most of which who tuned in during discussion of the airport tunnel, when the Windows Media Server crashed.

Server logs show the IceCast2 audio stream serviced computers running Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OSX.

iPhones and/or iPod Touches were also used to listen to the stream, illustrating that some Calgarians (given the opportunity) will choose to monitor City Council on their portable device.

Updates on portable devices could also be offered in text, via a distinct Twitter feed. The hardest part of such a solution has already been taken care of…

h02 m32 s11 f02 - closed captioning

…by the city’s Closed Captioning service! I’ve been told by a city employee Closed Captioning data is only available for live broadcast, and that City Council must approve its use for other purposes.

My Video Work-Flow

As I discovered during my first visit to City Council, all video cameras must be placed in one small area to the side of the chamber. I wasn’t prepared to have other camera crews show up and place their cameras in front of mine, so the start of my coverage is visually useless as I was occupied moving all of my gear to an unobstructed location. Audio was provided by an XLR output board, which provided audio at a level acceptable to my SONY HDR-SR1.

Having all the cameras forced into one location in the chamber sometimes resulted in shots like this…

back of head

…so I began recording Calgary.ca’s live Windows Media video stream (captured with VLC, and trans-coded with Super) to capture additional camera angles I otherwise did not have access to…

h04 m31 s00 f16 - 3 way

…and occasionally access to a live feed of the documents being edited…

h04 m36 s47 f10 - 3 way

After the council session, once I had compiled all the footage on my computer, I rendered out a 1-frame-per-second version with high quality audio for immediate upload to YouTube as an unlisted video. This was so YouTube could begin Machine Transcription of the audio early, to later provide Close Captioning and an Interactive Transcript. (The audio was rendered in advance because YouTube’s Machine Transcription is finicky, and I didn’t want to wait for a full video render & upload to complete before I learned how it fared with City Council audio.)

Then I “edited” the footage, being careful not to compress or expand the time-line so that my 1-fps-audio-render uploading to YouTube would match up with my 30-fps-video-render. The resulting 720p video took about 12 hours to render on a quad-core 2GHz Windows-64 machine. The 10 GB video was uploaded to YouTube in 2 hours using a library computer at Mount Royal University.

YouTube’s Machine Transcription was barely able to understand any of the City Council audio, so the available Closed Captioning on the video is incomplete and inaccurate. However, it does still illustrate how Closed Captions can be presented, and how the Interactive Transcript allows for easy searching of key words right within anyone’s desktop browser.

My Live Streaming Audio Work-Flow

I was unable to use the XLR output board audio directly with my MacBook’s mic/line input jack (not that I had any free time to trouble-shoot), but it was perfectly suited to my Sennheiser wireless transmitter/receiver which then ran into my MacBook line-in.

NiceCast ($40 USD) ran on my MacBook, relaying the audio from line-in to an IceCast2 server hosted by HMC for $10/month.

HMC then provided content for the following links, which currently lack City Council content, but do illustrate compatibility options:

  • Winamp (Verified works with iPhone iOS4, VLC, QuickTime.)
  • QuickTime (Verified works with QuickTime on Mac and Windows. Does not work with iPhone!)
  • windows Media Player (Oddly I can not get this one to work with my Windows 7 box.)
  • Real Player (Works with VLC but I’m not installing Real Media on my laptop.)

Proposed Live Video Solution for Calgary

Calgary’s need for a streaming video solution are mostly met by their current Windows Media Server approach. Which is to say, something exists which is working for most citizens.

Keep that running and focus on adding additional services for now, not upgrading existing ones.

Proposed Live Audio Solution for Calgary

There can’t be an easier and/or cheaper service City of Calgary can offer to citizens wanting to monitor City Council, than offering a live audio stream because:

  • There are multiple broadcast apps (such as NiceCast) to choose from. Many are open source / free.
  • Bandwidth use is minimal. I was able to stream from my MacBook to IceCast2 server over a tethered 3G connection.
  • Setting up a ShoutCast or IceCast2 host on a city server might take effort and debate, but paying $10 per month to an internet radio hosting provider would probably cover all of the City Council’s audio stream hosting needs.
  • If there is any challenge getting the line audio to a computer running client broadcast software (such as NiceCast), then the Windows Media stream could always be audio-hijacked, and routed back to an IceCast2 server. (Any Calgarian could do this from home, if the city isn’t interested in offering streaming audio.)

 
So to do this, all that City of Calgary needs is:

Proposed Video Archival Solution

As city employees know, Council Chambers are already wired to capture audio and video. Multiple video cameras are positioned around the room, and are already being controlled for the sake of streaming to television, and Windows Media clients…

Calgary City Council Video Camera

…either the edited video signal already being used for TV can be compressed and uploaded to YouTube as-is, or the multiple camera signals can be received onto a single computer, put in sync, edited into a split-screen view, and uploaded to YouTube as a 720p or 1080p video (if the multiple cameras are not HDV, thus allowing City of Calgary to make use of YouTube’s higher-than-NTSC resolution).

“But YouTube” only allows uploads up to 15 minutes in length!”YouTube Partner Account

Yes, unless you have a YouTube Partner account. I have one, and know for a fact that uploads 8 hours in length can be successfully processed by YouTube servers. Maybe longer ones work too, 8 hours is as long as I have ever uploaded. YouTube doesn’t say specifically how long an uploaded video can be for partner accounts.

I’ve contacted 2 City of Calgary employees, and both said that the City of Calgary is not interested in a YouTube Partner account.

Has anyone at City of Calgary ever actually seen a YouTube Partner account? Logged in to one?

Sure, there are monetization options, allowing advertising to be run over your YouTube videos. I expect (and hope) City of Calgary does not want to do that. Simply choose not to run ads.

But what else do you get?

Well, you can upload your own thumbnails, instead of being forced to choose between 3 pseudo-randomly generated ones. Have you ever uploaded a video, and all 3 thumbnails feature someone looking funny? Never again.

You also have the option of uploading videos of any length. Perfect for, say, hosting a City Council session.

This is free. Free in the way YouTube is free. If the City of Calgary can get one, there is no reason not to.

If you are a City of Calgary employee, and you control the YouTube account, there is no reason not to at least try. If I can get one, the City of Calgary should surely be able to get one.

Once a City Council session is uploaded to YouTube as a video, the Close Caption transcription can be uploaded as a caption track. YouTube can automatically determine when a piece of transcription is spoken, so it may not be necessary to recalculate all the time-codes created for the sake of TV Close Captioning. Now YouTube will not only feature Closed Captioning itself, and Machine Translated alternate language captions, but an Interactive Transcript on the video’s YouTube landing page.

You got all that, just from uploading the video to YouTube, then uploading the Closed Captioning transcription!

And don’t worry about “polluting” your YouTube channel which currently features short civic-minded videos, with sausage factory wonk. Any video uploaded as “unlisted” will not appear in your channel’s playlist, nor be discoverable via YouTube search. Embed the unlisted City Council archive videos on an appropriate Calgary.ca page, and if people want to fine those videos, they can find them via your archive web page.

Proposed Improvement to City Council Minutes

You’ll notice my own video indexes have links to time-codes which makes the video skip to the appropriate moment. What would also be handy, is if the “Item” (such as 10.2.1) could link to Calgary.ca’s minutes at just the right location.

This would be possible if Calgary.ca used anchor tag names for each minute item.

For example, Calgary.ca’s current HTML for a minute item is…

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style=" font-size:11pt; font-family:'Arial','sans-serif';" lang="EN-US" >10.2.1</span></p>

…but if it was…

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size: 11pt; font-family: 'Arial','sans-serif';" lang="EN-US"><a name="10.2.1">10.2.1</a></span></p>

…then that specific item could be linked to with a hyperlink formatted like…

this link <a href="http://agendaminutes.calgary.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=71&doctype=MINUTES#10.2.1">to the exact item 10.2.1</a>

…and everyone linking to Calgary.ca’s website could be a little more specific if needed.

The End

Some of the low hanging fruit is hanging so low (free YouTube Partner account, IceCast2 hosts at $10/month) I’m hoping City of Calgary can implement something by the next session in Council Chamber (November 29th).

And if anyone’s read this far, email me and I’ll buy you a coffee. If you’ve found a new time-code in my video for a minute item I skipped, provide that time-code to me in your email, and the resulting coffee need not be a small one.

2010-11-15 Update

I’ve added a video summary to the start of this blog post, and I’d also like to thank Kirk Werklund for grabbing one of my cameras in City Council Chamber, and thus improving the quality of my Nov 8 coverage.

2010-11-20 Update

I submitted this blog post as a 3-1-1 comment to City of Calgary. Gregory Pastirik, a Strategic Legislative Analyst in the City Clerk’s office (as seen on YouTube) responded.

I do think our exchange would be of interest to anyone looking forward to easier access to City Council proceedings. With Gregory’s permission, here’s our exchange (minus the pleasantries)…

Gregory writes:

The ELMS project, which is the new system on which http://agendaminutes.calgary.ca is based, has been my focus for recent months. As the City Clerk’s lead on the project I can say that we looked to deliver an easier to navigate, easier to search experience when a visitor is exploring the Council record. Hopefully we have done so.

Legislative video is something we are very excited about.

The vendor from whom City Clerk’s purchased the solution on which ELMS is based was selected primarily because of their ability to easily add legislative video capabilities to a suite of other electronic legislative services.

Because the legislative video would be integrated with the agenda and minutes functionalities, the time-stamping process would be effectively immediate. Items already receive timestamps through in-meeting processes using ELMS and the video jump-to points are automatically created from that data. The time-stamps would be quite, as one is created for every substantive motion. Also, the video would appear directly in the same browser window as the meeting minutes and list of supporting documentation, so a viewer can easily access the record of decision, the information used in making that decision, and the video of the debate, all from one point.

Providing city-maintained legislative video has been a concern in the past due to the potential use of the recordings in legal proceedings. We hope these concerns can be allayed. Additionally, there is a significant hesitancy in using closed captioning data to create any kind of Hansard-like document. Closed-captioning is an inherently high-speed, high-error process that while useful for enhancing understanding, would not be a suitable base for any sort of contribution to the legislative record. As producing an accurate Hansard is prohibitively expensive, a video archive of meetings would likely be a much better solution.

If you would like to discuss or learn more about the proposed video solution, please contact me. I’d love to hear your feedback.

If you would like an example of the sort of functionality we hope to implement please visit the City of Las Vegas site at http://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/Find/Nov2010.asp and click on any of the Summary/Video links.

Gordon writes:

While I’m sure many Calgarians (including myself) would prefer a flawed transcript over no transcript, you are aware of legal implications of which I am not. Maybe a flawed transcript could be offered with a disclaimer? I mean the only way to offer Closed Captioning services on archival video in a cost-effective manner, is to recycle the flawed CC the city has already paid for, so by saying “no archival transcript” due to legal reasons, I expect you’re also saying “no Close Captioning on archives” for the same reason.

I’d really like to know when do you project such video archiving will be available to Calgarians?

If I can get a ballpark on that, then I can coordinate with other volunteers to ensure there’s no lapse in archival coverage. We’d really like to maintain a constant standard of coverage for the new council.

Also, if City of Calgary is interested in offering streaming audio for smartphone users to supplement the streaming video for desktop/laptop users, I can illustrate this during Nov 29 council session.

Gregory writes:

City Clerk’s recognizes the need for the Closed Captioning to be available on the archives from an accessibility perspective, but still needs to emphasize that it would not be an accurate record of legislative activity. A further complication is that currently only Council meetings are being Closed Captioned, not meetings of Council committees, of which we also hope to produce legislative video.

The audio stream idea is an idea that I have passed along to other staff in the organization. Illustrating your work in delivering a live-streaming audio may help raise awareness of the medium’s potential.

Council direction, including information regarding a retention period for legislative video is needed before the system could be implemented. Members of Council have been informed that the City Clerk’s office believes this functionality could be live within 120 days of Council’s direction and identification of budget monies to pursue the project. Until new Council direction and budget is received on this issue, no work can be performed. Any member of the public who would like to see Council’s policy altered, should contact their elected representative.

So on Nov 29, I’ll be using a different approach to achieve a similar result as Nov 8 coverage. Instead of videotaping at Council Chamber, I’ll be depending on the City of Calgary’s Windows Media Server to receive live audio/video coverage (and I’ll also be recording the proceedings on TV).

I will audio-hijack audio from the streaming video and relay it (via NiceCast on my Mac, and a cheap IceCast2 server) as a live audio stream. I’d appreciate not just City of Calgary staff reviewing it as a convenient way of monitoring council on-the-go, but Calgarians also evaluating it as being practical or redundant.

Video will be captured off Shaw Digital TV Channel 89 (onto a DVD-recorder), from which the Close Captioning data can be then retrieved.

This should be more reliable than the (incomplete) Nov 8 Machine Transcription, and help illustrate how the money our city spends on Close Captioning City Council sessions can be more fully utilized.

If anyone wants to help, I can still improve coverage by offering split-screen coverage… the city’s coverage only being 4×3 and YouTube supporting 16×9 means there’s unused space I can fill with anyone’s alternate angle. Please contact me if you’re keen on recording City Council all day. S’fun.

Also, I’d love to have someone else also recording council session onto a DVD recorder. Just in case anything goes wrong. I’ve never used one before. And I’ve never tried to record Close Captions from TV before. So some redundancy there would be nice. I mean even swapping DVD media will result in loss of coverage.

2010-11-30 Update

I’m consolidating Calgary City Council audio/video feeds, so that I’m not blogging every day I add more coverage.

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Calgary Mayoral 3 Candidate Debate

Here’s is the debate video most Calgarians have been waiting for. The top 3 candidates: Ric McIver, Naheed Nenshi and Barb Higgins.

Source material was culled from the 6 mayoral candidate debates I’ve posted to my own account. These debates can all be found by filtering my blog posts down to those categorized “POLITICS”.

I’ve seen a few comments on YouTube stating that I’m trying to make Barb Higgins look bad. While I certainly didn’t go out of my way to try make her look good, consider that there is a reason Higgins didn’t want a three candidate debate. The reason was not that she kicks ass discussing policy.

This 3 candidate debate consists almost entirely of questions that all 3 candidates had a chance to answer. Not every candidate answered every question! While the early debates consisted of very few questions being answered by every candidate, formats eventually shifted to token systems were candidates were given a limited number of opportunities to respond. This made for more intelligent debates, but meant many questions didn’t get responses from all 3 candidates.

I don’t apologize for showing Barb (IMHO) utterly failing to impress when asked how she’d cut red tape at CivicCamp, all 3 candidates fielded “how” questions, so that was guaranteed to be a keeper. But if you take the time to skip through some of the “complete” debates to monitor Higgin’s responses, you’ll probably find more jems like this one (18:32). Compare Higgins’ response to Jon Lord (who’s response follows Higgins).

Like you care what I think

The election is tomorrow, and I’m just about to share my thoughts now (before bed-time). I’ve waited this long because my opinion shouldn’t be important to anyone. Certainly not compared to facts. Facts are what I’ve been sharing when I shoot video. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts. So if you’ve consumed any one of my debates, I like to think you’re about to cast an informed vote.

So now that the important stuff is out of the way, what do I think?

Barb Higgins might make an OK mayor. There are certainly other candidates who performed worse than her in the debates …out of a field of 15. But if we had instant run-off voting, my preference for mayor would have to be:

  1. Naheed Nenshi
  2. Wayne Stewart (who has stepped down and endorsed Naheed Nenshi)
  3. Ric McIver
  4. Jon Lord
  5. Barb Higgins

I knew of Naheed Nenshi long before the election from his TEDxCalgary talk which I enjoyed (as one of my favorites from the event) and videotaped for the TEDx team. Because of this, early in his campaign he asked me to help create a platform video, which I was happy to help with. But I felt it was too early to decide who I’d be supporting (or if I would even get involved at all beyond voting).

Naheed Nenshi became my #1 choice shortly after the “We Should Know Naheed Nenshi” event on September 15, during which he fielded questions from a room full of not-yet-convinced voters. His answers conveyed a deep understanding of a bewildering array of civic (and bureaucratic) challenges, and he let me videotape every Q & A exchanged. He did this after I made it explicit to him, I was still undecided and was doing so for my own video blogging purposes, not for his campaign.

What did not happen after that day, was that other candidates did not emerge with detailed policy proposals. It seemed no one else was even trying to convince me they understood how to reform Calgary’s bureaucracy. That they understood precisely why Calgary Transit is essential, and any sub-par performance on its part puts Calgary at a competitive disadvantage. That while our budget must be balanced, the bang-per-buck spent is more important than now many bucks.

Waste is the enemy. Wasted tax dollars. Wasted man-hours. The wasted intellectual capacity of city employees who don’t have an opportunity to improve their own processes.

So I volunteered to help the campaign, not just a good-luck-with-that platform video, but actually get involved. I have to say, if Nenshi can run Calgary as well as his campaign team have run their campaign, our city has some exciting times ahead.

The Nenshi campaign is described in the press as one that “employs social media” to market itself effectively. That is wrong. The campaign uses the internet to get stuff done in the manner any start-up would. That which can be delegated is delegated. That which can be crowdsourced is crowdsourced. Communication channels are always open. Initiatives are taken. Results shared. Lessons learned.

I never saw anyone lose their cool.

I never saw an opportunity that was missed because of a communications bottleneck or someone unwilling to make a decision.

I never saw a campaign dollar spent foolishly.

I didn’t agree with every decision that was made, but I never felt my input was being ignored, or that the decision making process was a poor one. And ultimately I don’t see any opportunities we missed (except for obvious financial constraints). I was (and am) surprised to see perpetual innovation and volunteer initiative. The team was all about getting stuff done.

In short, this was how an organization should be run.

Monday, October 18 is election day. It is going to be a great day.

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