Canadian Politicians on Twitter

It seems that @BarackObama stopped using Twitter as of his inauguration, but really, he only has 2 tweets since the election back in November.  (Yes, I know he has taken over the @TheWhiteHouse account, but even that only has a couple of tweets since he has taken the reigns)

I’d love to say that Canadian politicians are making better use of the platform, but sadly, while many of the prominent ones have an account on Twitter, few are using them effectively.  It’s still pretty cool for a casual tweet from your Prime Minister, “Called Mexican President Calderon today”

Regardless, here are some of the big ones in the Twitterverse.

Federal Party Leaders:

Other Notable Federal Politicians and Groups:

Canadian Premiers:

Provincial Representatives:

Other Local Politicians:

Let me know if I’m missing anyone in the comments below, and I’ll add them to the list!

Toolbox – Twitter Apps

Twitter has become my primary way of getting news these days.  News sites require you to go and look for information.  With twitter, if the news is important, it will find me.

But what makes twitter so powerful is the cottage industry of tools that have popped up using the API to make your Tweeting life easier.  There is much debate about the best tools to use, but here’s my 5 tools I can’t live without.

twhirl1. Twhirl
Twhirl is a desktop client built on the Adobe Air platform so that you can tweet and monitor your friends tweets. Some would argue that Tweetdeck is better if you follow alot of people, but Twhirl gets my vote.


2. Twitterberrytwitterberry
Viewing and sending tweets on the Blackberry allows you to take Twitter on the road.  You could just go to in your browser, but loading up Twitterberry makes life so much easier!


3. Twitterific for iPhone 
Iconfactory has released their Mac-based Twitterific for the iPhone, and, of course, it also works on the iPod Touch.  Definately the prettiest way to keep up with your tweets.


4. Twitterfeed
Twitterfeed monitors the RSS feed for your blog (or whatever) and posts to your twitter account every time there is a new post.

5. Tweetlater
Cool Twitter toolset which allows you to schedule items to tweet at a scheduled time, as well as other cool tools, like autofollowing, or sending follow thank-you DMs.

What’s in your toolbox?

That was built with WordPress?

Yesterday, we at b5media launched the third of our unique look at the blogs within our channels.  Splendicity is a new portal which pulls content from over 70 Beauty & Style blogs within the network, and pulls it all into a customized WordPress instance.  This follows on the launch of Bizzia last week to highlight our Business content, and Starked which highlights our Entertainment and Music blogs.  Yes, it’s been a busy month on the team!

Adding in some custom plugins built by Mike Schinkel, and a slick theme created by Todd Henwood and Bill Erickson, we’ve created a really cool site with all of the features you would expect from a mainstream site.  The best part about it, is that it’s all built on top of a WordPress base.  Taking advantage of the ability to extend the WordPress code using plugins and custom themes, we’ve created the ability for the editors to pull the best content from the blogs within those channels and present it in a way that can drive traffic and create a more mainstream audience.

That is the next great frontier for WordPress.  In the coming weeks, WordPress 2.7 will be released which is a huge refinement of an already robust product.  With this release, WordPress graduates from the realm of the geeky blogger, into a mainstream content tool. 

When sites like these portals, or mainstream news and magazine sites like my last project, Green Living Online, have the tools the WordPress provides, anything is possible!  When I look back on some of the large media sites I have built in the past (like TSN and DiscoveryChannel), there aren’t many (any?) features needed that couldn’t be provided within WordPress. 

I’m not suggesting that the folks at CTV should be rebuilding their tools from scratch, but for people out there looking to create competing products, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tool that provides all of the functionality, and the support community that is found here.

The tech industry in a downturn

We’ve heard how todays economy affects Joe the Plumber and Joe Six-pack, but what about JoeTek? 🙂

This economic downturn has been compared to the Great Depression in the 1930’s, but the technology sector as we know it today wasn’t around at that time.  The dot-com bubble bursting 8 years ago was more of an indicator for how things will shape up for us in the coming months and years.

Economic cycles are to be expected.  They are typically a good thing for our industry – a filtering, a culling of the herd.  The weakest are taken out of the picture, so that the strong can thrive on the other side.  The problem is that some really good companies will not make it, and some really bad companies will. 

We are certainly not as vulnerable as we were in 2000.  We haven’t had the crazy IPOs and unrealistic valuations that plagued us in the 1990’s.  In fact, the big drivers of technology growth in the past 8 years were born out of the last recession – blogging, social media… The poster-children of tech today were all conceived during the last downturn, and grew through venture instead of going public.  We’ve learned from our mistakes in the 90’s and protected ourselves in advance.

The bottom line is that the technology industry depends on the health of the economy as a whole.  The hardware and software industries rely on the banks, manufacturers and big business to buy and upgrade thousands of PC’s on a regular basis.  The web industry depends on advertising dollars from traditional businesses to sustain itself. 

Without health in the overall economy, the tech industry will suffer.  When non-tech businesses are faced with tightening budgets, web marketing, advertising and capital expenditures for upgrades are among the most vulnerable for cuts.

So what should tech companies do in the face of decreasing budgets all around?  In the absence of client business, if you’ve got resources on the bench, now is the time to innovate. 

In the last downturn, web developers with too much time on their hands invented blogging, social networking, and ajax.  They turned static web pages into tools that have been used to connect people and change how we are productive.  YouTube launched.  Facebook connected people.  Even Google hit their stride and overturned the industry by launching AdSense and AdWords during the downturn. 

So, what will you invent as the economy crashes this time?

Canada’s Do Not Call Registry

Say No to Telemarketing!Those annoying telemarketing calls are almost a thing of the past! Canada has adopted a Do Not Call registry so that you can tell those companies that you don’t appreciate recieving random calls everyday!

The main registry
You can add your number to the registry at the Canadian Government National Do Not Call List website. It only takes a minute or so, but it will take up to 31 days for it to take effect.

The exceptions
It has some important exceptions though. First, any company you have done business with in the past 18 months are allowed to contact you. There’s not a lot you can do about those.

The other major exceptions are that Canadian Registered Charities, political parties, or candidates are still allowed to solicit donations, and Newspapers may call you to sell a subscription. (I get the charity angle, but why the exemption for newspapers?)

Michael Geist has found the solution here though. These organizations do not have to honour the national registry, but they do have to remove your name if you specifically ask them to do so. He’s created iOptOut which allows you to put your name in once, and mass mail all of the major organizations that are exempt from the national list in one go!

Combine these two sites, and you should be annoyance free!

Brand new server cluster at b5media

This past week, the technology team at b5media threw on the afterburners to get us moved onto an entirely new infrastructure.  After months of planning and investigating a dozen hosting providers, we have finally flipped the switch on the next phase of growth.

Having outgrown our previous datacenter and infrastructure, we have moved to brand new servers located at ServerBeach.  We have taken a different philosophical approach to our infrastructure than we have in the past to allow for future growth.  Rather than custom purpose-built servers we had in our old datacenter, we have moved to plain vanilla commodity servers, which are inexpensive and easily replicated as we grow. 

By moving to more vanilla servers, we are actually decreasing the power of each machine.  Although these machines use newer, faster processors, they are not the high-end quad core ones we had in our old infrastructure.  By sacrificing a bit of power, we save a lot in costs.  To compensate for this, we have employed more machines… almost twice as many.  Without touching anything else, this change alone would have a significant impact to our speed.

We are transitioning away from an NFS mounted shared filesystem to a local filesystem.  Now, our web pages are loaded from a local hard drive instead of a network mapped drive.   This change too, on its own, would give us a huge performance boost.

In order to remove NFS from the infrastructure, we needed a different solution for WordPress caching.  In the past, we were using a combination of WP-Cache and WP-SuperCache which create static files to be served.  We have now rolled out batcache to our sites, which uses memcached to store the blog information.  Again, this change has had a massive impact to our speed.  Initial tests show the performance of batcache to be phenomenal!

We have replaced our hardware-based load balancer to the software-based nginx load balancer.  This allows us to keep to our philosophy of using commodity hardware, while being ridiculously fast.

When you put all of it together, these changes will make our new infrastructure faster and much more robust.   It also lays the foundation to continue to scale out by adding additional machines as needed.  And this is only the first phase with more changes to come! 

Huge kudos to the team for pulling off an extremely complex migration in an unexpectedly short period of time.  The entire team contributed in some way, and especially Lee and Brian plowed through challenge after challenge during the move.  Awesome work!  You guys rock!

5 things every web developer should know about IE8

The next version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, version 8 went to Beta 2 yesterday, on its final path to release, probably this fall (although Microsoft hasn’t announced a final release date yet).  Although I almost exclusively use Firefox for my browser, anyone that is designing or developing sites needs to be aware of some of the changes coming in version 8. 

I got my hands on the beta at a preview demo on Tuesday, and there are definitely important changes from a users perspective, but from my view, we need to be aware of the changes under the hood.  After meeting with the folks from Microsoft Canada and chatting with Pete LePage, Product Manager for Internet Explorer from Redmond, here are some of the most important changes from a web development perspective:

1. It is coming

Latest estimates put Internet Explorer at over 70% of the browser market.  When IE8 is released, it will be pushed as part of Windows Update and all new computers will come with it pre-loaded.  It is your parents browser, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty big audience.  We need to be sure that both our existing sites and newly built ones look okay.

2. It is standards compliant

Or so they say.  According to LePage, Internet Explorer 8 is fully compliant with CSS 2.1.  In fact, he says that every developer had a printout of the W3C spec on their desk for quick reference, and that as the team went through and found areas of ambiguity, they submitted changes back to the W3C. 

The main problem is that the interpretation of the written spec is somewhat subjective, so we will still see areas where pages behave slightly different between browser types.  It is still encouraging that Microsoft has embraced the standards and are working to bring their browser closer to the industry standards.

3. It has a new rendering engine

Obviously, by default, pages are displayed using the IE8 rendering engine, but a new "Compatibility View" feature allows you to specify which engine to use in your HTML.  IE8 ships with the IE7 engine built in, so that you can view your pages in the older browser without having to have multiple computers.  The IE8 rendering engine does behave differently from IE7.  This means that even within the Internet Explorer family, pages could look different, not to mention the differences to Firefox, Opera, Safari and others. 

4. It has developers tools built in

For those of you that swear by Firebug, IE8 has built that functionality into the browser.  You can edit your HTML in a docked window just like Firebug and view your changes as you make them.  It also includes a Javascript debugger and page profiler so you can see which parts of your page take longest to load.

5. It has new features to promote your sites

In addition to RSS, IE8 introduces the concept of Web Slices that you can define on your pages to allow users to subscribe to a specific part of your site, perhaps a recent posts, or friends update box.  Deployment of Web Slices simply involves setting a specific CSS tag to the box you wish.  For the more ambitious, IE8 introduces Accelerators and visual search suggestions so that you can build applications that your users can use to interact with your information. 

Firefox still seems to be the browser of choice for web developers, but it’s always important to test your sites in the browser that most of your audience is using. 

Rogers modifies pricing for the iPhone

In Canada, Rogers is the only wireless provider that will be offering the iPhone.  They are the only ones with a GPRS network capable of 3G, so the monopoly is technological, not just contractual.  When they released their pricing, it certainly showed their monopolistic tendencies.  In fact, Rogers is known for charging ridiculous fees for the most basic of services.

After a national campaign and thousands of people joining the Facebook group, Rogers definitely felt the heat and eventually modified their pricing, allowing 6 Gb of transfer per month for $30.  While this is far from the unlimited plan that other providers offer, it is certainly a step in the right direction. 

For most users, making use of email and even web surfing won’t use that 6Gb per month. YouTube videos can have a tendency to use up your allotment, but you’re more likely to do that over wifi at home or work.  The problem is that, like their internet services, suddenly use of the product is always second-guessed.  It’s only natural that if you know there is a limit, you will be conscious of it and only use the device if you need to. This of course limits the use of the device. We’ll see if it limits the enjoyment!

Connected at the cottage

Looking up from the cottage deck
For us, sitting out on the cottage deck on a Sunday morning with a coffee and a newspaper has been the tradition for three generations. This weekend, we brought our son Jack, the fourth generation, up to the cottage for the first time. There was no coffee for him, and he didn’t read the newspaper (he can’t even talk), but something tells me that as he grows up, he won’t ever partake in this tradition.

In fact, with the immenent death of the newspaper, he may not even have the option. Between social networking, blogs and news sites, the print newspaper could be a thing of the past. Sitting on the deck reading his Laptop, iPod, Kindle or a device not yet concieved, connected to the world via wifi seems more likely.

We had a visit on Saturday morning from our friends at Rogers. We had them update the wiring and install high-speed internet for the cottage. Wifi? At the cottage? Outrageous!… Isn’t it? The purists would argue that the cottage should be an oasis away from the urban jungle, an escape from work and a sacred getaway. It doesn’t need to be.

The cottage is a change of scenery, a great place to get some needed perspective. I do some of my best work at the cottage, specifically because it is a change of scenery. The bottom line is that having an Internet connection up there simply means I’ll go up more often, and for longer periods, with the peace of mind knowing that I’m not going to miss an urgent issue, or an important email. Cellular coverage is spotty at best, so a high-speed line is more stable.

Summer weekends are far too precious, so anything that allows more trips up north is a good thing!