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Monday, January 24, 2011

From Dead Reckoning to GPS

The Hudson Bay Company, formerly the Hudson Bay fur trading company, is one of the most salient examples we have in Canada, possibly even the world, of an organization on the edge. From its conception it utilized the most modern of technologies, and sometimes re-purposed traditional methods for new uses. As an organization it defied the odds, performing feats many deemed impossible, and in the process defined a nation.

From the beginning the Hudson Bay Company was on the cutting edge. Even before its conception Henry Hudson, a British national sailing a stolen Danish jacht of the most modern and intelligent design, sought out the Northwest Passage, eventually attaining the bay which bears his name after several failed attempts and with the aid of the most modern navigational mathematical theories and technologies. In fact his navigator utilized new sets of formulae to create more accurate longitudinal and latitudinal measurements which corrected the errors of 'dead reckoning', a process of using the North Star as a guide which could be off as much as 6° or 660km.

Along with the largely French backed Northwest Company, the HBC also utilized the newest ideas in social media, or rather mediums, by actually cooperating with local indigenous peoples and utilizing their expertise in map-making, navigation, trapping, and hauling. Not to say these relationships weren't without their deep flaws, but compared to other examples from Colonization in the West Indies, India, Africa, the Caribbean, and not to forget the stunningly failure of diplomacy in United States and their genocide of many indigenous cultures. In Canada we had companies creating active partnerships with tribal groups, offering 'fair' trades for furs and bringing a new idea of 'civilization' to the populated 'wilderness'.

Moving forward in history, we saw a more settled nation in the Canadian wilds, and great engineering feats were performed not by the HBC, but for it as one of the premier business adventures in this budding colony. The St. Lawrence Seaway, begun by a leader of a Catholic seminary in 1680 is one of the longest seaways in the world, and today raises ships from the Atlantic to the ports of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and eventually Thunder Bay, a vertical movement of over 100m over the Niagara Escarpment.

Railway was also a major development, and with the backing of many major players in the Canadian economy, notable the HBC and John Molson, the first commercial railway line opened in Quebec in 1836. With the British North America act proclaiming Canada a country in 1867, one condition written in to the act was for the building of the Intercontinental Railway, which linked Eastern Canada. The reason for this bill was the circuitous route taken by the railway which ignored all economic considerations, and therefore was not backed by major businesses. The largest feat of railway engineering happened several years later with the incorporation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880, and its completion 5 years later with the driving of the last spike. This drove from a need to get personnel and goods quickly from the Pacific to the Atlantic, as well as to expedite the economic needs of the HBC as it had been forced to expand its hunting and trapping territory into the far less populated west.

Fast forward to the modern era, we see the HBC as no more than a mere relic of its past. Yet, the company has kept abreast of the modern developments and exists in the technological climate of its day. Today it manages many historical and highly lucrative properties in many of the urban settings of Canada, as well as being the premier department store in the country. They offer everything from furs to computers, and until recently sold automobiles and performed automotive repair. Like many competitors, they provide customers the opportunity to shop in store or online, and have maintained a competitive edge in the cutthroat world of modern retail.

For a company who history predates the creation of the empires of North America, and who was vital in the creation of our country, it has not only maintained but fostered the technological revolutions that make our society what it is today. While this did not come without missteps, there are few who could argue the influence the HBC has had on the west.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What were we supposed to do again?

I'd like to thank Liz for quoting the syllabus as to the actual content expected for these blogs. I went tangential on the last post, and should reign it in to the current course content.

Many of you have posted, stating your 'shock and awe' as to the use and possible abuse of technology by the generation next (or the Millenials as I recently heard them described). I too was disgusted by the seemingly apathetic parenting that allowed countless hours of 'screen time' and almost constant digital communication the subjects engaged in, while trying to multitask in a way that makes Superman look like Franklin the Turtle. I too am ready with the Luddite mobs to banish cell phones from classes and get children playing street hockey, building snow forts, and (Heaven forbid) walk to school again. Yet, I want to play the devil's advocate and look at this societal issue in another way, to see if maybe it isn't just the Millenials that have a problem.

Growing up I loved video games. I still love video games. In fact, I sometimes catch myself at 3am still playing a game I may have began five hours before. Am I an addict... yes. In fact studies have shown that the endorphine kick we get from gaming is similar to using heroine or extasy. There is a picture of my brother and I playing games on a Commodore 64 Vic 20 when I was still in one-piece pajamas. So needless to say, video gaming and a digital lifestyle has been a major part of who I am as a person. So can I blame my parents for my digital lifestyle? They always imposed healthy limits to my computer time, and encouraged me to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Looking back even further, their vice was the budding television culture. My father's family got their first T.V. when he was in his teens, and so could we say they were addicts because they watched much more T.V. than the generation before them? To take it even further, our grandparents were radio addicts, absorbing hours of radio dramas that changed the fact of entertainment.

That may have seemed like a senseless ramble, but what I am striking at is the fact that we look with disgust on a youth culture that eats and breathes a digital life, and yet if we look back through time, every generation looked at its youth as if they had lost the plot. We may not understand how youth can multitask, and text, and tweet, and blog, and surf, and watch, and play; but our parents probably didn't understand why making a pixelated Italian plumber in a red suit jump on mushrooms and slide down pipes was entertaining.

I worry about the youth of today. I worry about their health, their sedentary lifestyle, their overindulgence in the digital world, and their completely distracted and over-stimulated environment. However, I think we need to take a hard look at ourselves as a generation, and see if maybe we had some part in it, and if so, how we can help to make change.

Too Much Television

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Age of Copyright

We now live in a copyrighted world. From cells, to seeds, to the 'E' chord, to information limited to certain bits of plastic and metal; almost everything we touch and contact comes copyrighted and contractually to us. What kind of effect does this have on our world, and the way we interact with the information and technology around us?

There are many interesting and murky areas of copyright that many users of technology either purposely ignore, or are completely unaware of that challenge our very ideas of individuality, choice, and the right of ownership. Do you realize that when you buy software, you are only given a temporary license to utilize the software, and at anytime this right can be rescinded by those with the rights of ownership? Media purchased through iTunes must be viewed in iTunes proprietary formats which contain DRM (digital rights man
agement) protocols which can be used to track and monitor your media usage. In fact transferring these into formats more suitable for your various technological devices can place you, the user, into the hotseat as liable for charges of copyright violation.

Apple Computers does not limit this proprietary monopolization backed by copyright just to their digital media software. In fact, running OS X on any hardware that is not specifically sanctioned by Apple corporation is liable to prosecution as a violation of copyright, and in fact sued a small business in California which was installing Mac OSX on generic PC components.

This is why the debate over open source is as hot as ever. Many computer users believe that monopolies and control of information is a violation of rights, and advocate for user-controlled and created software which is protected under the GNU public license (and open-source license for public usage and manipulation of software and media). In this age where everything can seemingly be dominated by those wealthy and powerful enough to convince a judge that they have a right to place the name as the sole owner intellectual property, we need to come to a social consensus about where to draw the line. I believe people should get paid for what they create, and that our time and talent is worth financial compensation. However I don't believe in companies that, through their vast legal operations, are able to control and monopolize the entire industry while purposefully seeking the destruction of companies who may in the future threaten this foothold on the financial sector of technology. To scare you even more, these companies not only use the legal arena, but are actively seeking laws and political backing to support their technological regimes.

Be aware, and be afraid, be very afraid...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Bionic Commando

<bgsound src="">Well, here it begins...

I guess this is the a new beginning of our blogging career for this course. I believe this is how it all falls off the rails. All human communications cease, and we become the digitized avatars of our once biological selves. I am now digital, the bionic me who will mold your very mind to do my bidding. Nothing is safe any longer. I am on your phone, in your computer, and have access to every part of your digital soul.

Be Afraid, be very afraid...