Jun 232016

I’m pretty much an open book to my building manager. If I ever have to move into another rental, though, the services provided by a British data-mining company might unnerve me. Writes Stanley Q. Woodvine in Vancouver, BC’s Georgia Straight,

Tenant Assured is a web-based service first made available two weeks ago to landlords around the world. The service essentially forces people to open up their social media accounts to the prying eyes of landlords as part of the process of applying to rent an apartment. …

This is how Tenant Assured works:

A landlord who’s signed-up with Tenant Assured sends all of their rental applicants to a special link on the Tenant Assured website. They are then asked  to provide full access to up to four of their social media profiles—on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. These are then thoroughly crawled, scraped, and analyzed by Score Assured. The scrutiny includes conversation threads, private messages, and contact lists. …

Concerns that the service is a gross violation of personal privacy were brushed off by the company, which trotted out the oldest authoritarian assurance about surveillance in the book, namely, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear“. Or, as [the company’s] cofounder Steve Thornhill put it … “If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Thornhill further pointed out that people had to give their consent to the Tenant Assured process and that it was really not much different from a background check or credit rating.

Of course it’s very different … . There are long-standing laws governing credit and background checks and there are processes in place to allow people to see their credit reports and correct inaccuracies.

Although landlords anywhere in the world can sign up for the service—including right here in Vancouver—it’s is not clear what laws in any given jurisdiction could hold such an online service to account.

As a professional communicator, I take great pains not to post anything at all controversial online: very little politics or religion … or anger. (I always ask myself, “What would my students think? My future clients? My Mom?”) The persona I therefore project is a good deal sunnier and more welcoming than the real thing. Last year a girlfriend from high school wrote me, “Bob, I like you so much better online.” Good to know.

Feb 042014

A brilliant former student of mine highly recommends this organization, “a women-run not-for-profit working to empower and inspire more women and girls to become passionate builders – not just consumers – of the web and technology.” Ladies Learning Code is sponsoring a day-long session – an introduction to CSS and HTML – at Vancouver’s Hootsuite headquarters on February 22:

If you are looking to get your feet wet when it comes to programming, then this is the workshop for you. HTML and CSS are the backbone of all websites, and knowledge of them is a necessity if you are interested in things like web development, creating marketing emails, or even blogging! The web without HTML and CSS would be would be a world without colourful, pretty websites, not to mention the web applications we all use daily. It’s easy to learn, and was designed so that everyone – even non-programmers – can do it. No fancy programs are needed, just Notepad and a web browser!

The Ladies Learning Code Introduction to HTML & CSS workshop is designed to be a hands-on experience. During the session, you’ll build something like this and learn the following:

– Basic techniques and concepts that are translatable to other programming languages

– The building blocks of how HTML and CSS work together to create richer online experiences

– How to create a rich website with images, video, and a CSS-defined layout

– What resources are available if you’d like to continue learning at home (and we think you will)

… This workshop has been designed for absolute beginners. If you know absolutely nothing about coding or computer programming, you’ve come to the right place! Our only expectation is that you know how to open up a web browser and do something online like checking your email. (But if you’re reading this, we’re pretty sure you know how to do that.)

You can find out more about the organization on Twitter via the hashtag #ladieslearningcode.

Dec 202013

It’s hard for me to re-read KPMG‘s October report “BC Junior Mining at a Crossroads,” commissioned by the BC Securities Commission, without feeling not just loss but what will be lost. The report’s findings echo the lamentations of my friends and former colleagues who run or rely on public companies in the natural resources sector: This is the worst downturn ever; there is almost no money to be had; the senior mining firms have abandoned the junior companies, as have younger investors.


The report’s language is succinct:

– Less money is currently being put into exploration or the necessary studies needed to move a project forward (for financing or development). Much of the funding raised is survival capital, i.e., being used to keep the company operational until such times as the market returns.

– As stock prices have dropped significantly and the market appetite for Juniors has lessened, it has become increasingly difficult and less attractive to raise funds through public offerings. The dilution factor is a major concern of most of the Juniors, as they do not see the upside of
significant dilution of ownership.

– There was some sentiment amongst the Juniors that until the Seniors show consecutive quarters of profits without further write-downs of “toxic” assets on their balance sheets, junior mining company projects will not be of interest to the Seniors. Until stock prices rise and investment returns to the Seniors, Juniors will continue to have a problem raising money.

– The competition for investment capital has become more intense, and Juniors stand to be less competitive than many sectors because of their risky nature and the longer term required for return on investment, if any.

– As a result, many Juniors have chosen to go into a survival mode instead, until the markets become more favourable and interested in mineral exploration investments. However survival is still not cheap. Maintaining a listing and other administrative requirements can cost from $75,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on the circumstances of the company. Many Juniors only have $100,000 in cash available and will only be able to survive another year or so.

When these Juniors disappear, their management, geologists, geophysicists, and technicians will need to find new lines of work. So will their corporate communications and investor relations officers.

Indeed, these latter are often the first to go when funding’s gone. At least these people, though, have skills and experience that transfer relatively easily across sectors of service and commerce – from retail to not-for profits, from education to government – and across lines on a map.

Whither the geophysicists and their high-end colleagues?

I don’t fear for their economic survival; they are super-smart and resilient folk; they will make it, somehow, but elsewhere, away from Canada’s once exalted mining industry. My fear is that they won’t come back when the Junior market does, however many years that this will take.

And then who will mentor BCIT’s newly minted geotechnicians and UBC’s young geologists, guiding them in the field, fostering their laboratory acumen, keeping them safe, and supporting them with continual education and feedback? How will this new generation fare when their mentors are elsewhere?

(photo of Granville Street, Vancouver, by Bob Basil)

Dec 192013


In North America it is Canada’s decided, tenacious commonweal that sets it apart. We look after one another more often than not, and less out of zeal than out of habit and good sense.

A city’s public library is a testament to its commonweal.

I was delighted but not surprised, then, when I read that Vancouver’s public library had been named the world’s best city library (tied with the Bibliothèques Montréal), ranking very high in digital / social media resources as well as in physical spaces, collections, and services.

The library has a good twitter feed.