Categories
Opinion

What you can do

Small businesses in Vernon, BC have been devastated by the COVID19 outbreak. To reduce the spread of the disease, many closed their doors.

“The decision to close has been a difficult one. But we want to do our part to protect our staff and customers and all members of our community.”

Carousel Consignments

Businesses are reducing hours, moving to takeout only, and closing down in accordance with provincial guidelines.

But they’re hurting. They still have to pay rent, utilities, staff, and invoices. Many can’t afford to be off work for a day, much less weeks.

Here’s another way you can help Vernon businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak

Yesterday, we talked about buying gift certificates, online, and takeout. These put immediate cash in business owners pockets! (So keep doing it)

But here’s something else you can do: write your elected officials.

Here’s a sample letter I just wrote to Mel Arnold (MP) and Eric Foster (MLA):

Can you take a few minutes and write your MP and MLA now? Feel free to use this text as a template for your email:


Hi Mel,

I’m glad the government has announced funding to help Canadian businesses in the midst of the COVID19 outbreak.

However, here in Vernon BC, small businesses have already closed their doors and are haemorrhaging cash. The new wage subsidy helps a bit, but most have already had to lay off staff.

The immediate problem is they need access to capital, just to keep the lights on.

The announcements about “saving the airline industry” and “helping the big banks” worry me.

The first people to receive assistance should be main street businesses: restaurants, cafes, pubs, main street shops.

They’ve been hit the hardest: many don’t have shareholders, investment accounts, or cash reserves.

They’re dying right now. They needed help yesterday.

Here’s what business owners need right now: grants and loans. They need operating capital.

Also: I’d like to see rent subsidies/forgiveness for shops who have had to shut down.

Sincerely,
Your name

PS: I’m not in favour of an airline bailout unless there are lots of strings attached:

  1. We (the taxpayers) become the majority shareholders
    regular airline employees get assistance first (before execs)
  2. There’s a ban on share buybacks
  3. CEOs have their salaries and bonuses frozen

Contact information for elected officials in Vernon, BC:

Let’s make sure that government aid doesn’t just go to megacorps. Let’s advocate for our friends and neighbors who own businesses on main street.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson

More reading on this:

Categories
Opinion

Coronavirus: BC & Canada are not moving fast enough

Today is Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Today, in Italy, total deaths from COVID-19 rose from 1,441 to 1,809.

I echo Dr Bitton’s concerns here:

“We are only about 11 days behind Italy and generally on track to repeat what is unfortunately happening there and throughout much of the rest of Europe very soon.”

BC’s provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry made some good initial recommendations. These included “wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.” She’s also issued a public health order restricting events over 250 50 people. But these guidelines aren’t enough.

She, and the federal officials, need to issue stricter health orders: they need to tell people to stay home.

The AP has reported that the recent rise in deaths in Italy is because they did not implement strict enough restrictions, soon enough:

“The death toll rose by 175. Authorities had predicted that Italy would still see a jump in cases despite a national lockdown. They cited irresponsible behavior by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or ski resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.”

Just two days ago, Dr Bonnie Henry was encouraging people to go skiing:

“This virus does not transmit when people are outdoors, so go outside and play with your family, go up to our ski hills, go up to Whistler.”

Yesterday, Whistler wisely suspended operations (Silverstar followed suit).

If we don’t want to replicate Italy’s mistakes, our leaders need to be swift and severe. Dr Bitton’s recommendation is:

“We must move to pandemic mitigation through widespread, uncomfortable, and comprehensive social distancing. That means not only shutting down schools, work (as much as possible), group gatherings, and public events, but also making daily choices to stay away from each other as much as possible.”

We need to realize that two weeks ago, Italians were sanguine like us. They were thinking and acting like the coronavirus was no big deal:

All those people “just chilling” and not taking the threat seriously is what’s lead to the death rates we see today:

Again, Canada is only about 11 days behind Italy:

Spain’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by over 1,500 in the past day (source). In response, health officials immediately imposed a lockdown, as reported by the AP:

“People will be allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and medicine, commute to work, go to hospitals and banks, or take trips related to the care of the young and the elderly. All schools and universities were closed, along with restaurants, bars, hotels and other non-essential retail businesses.”

This Washington Post article provides the best visualization I’ve found for explaining how #covid19 infection spreads, and why extreme social distancing works:

(It’s worth reading the whole thing)

If BC and Canadian health officials don’t act quickly, with extreme measures, we will find ourselves exactly where Italy is today. Our epidemic trajectory is on the same track as every other country, except for South Korea’s.

I’ll leave with these words from Professor Scott Galloway:

“[Leaders] hesitate to overcorrect because at the time of the decision it seems excessive. It doesn’t in retrospect. You MUST overcorrect.”

Stay safe, stay healthy, and whenever possible, stay home. These next few weeks (before we know how many are actually infected) are key.

Categories
Opinion

The story so far: the tech community in Vernon

Deciding to move to a new town, even a place as beautiful as Vernon, BC, isn’t easy!

Before I moved, my biggest concern was that there wouldn’t be a local tech community.

I’d been working as a Product Manager in Edmonton’s burgeoning startup scene. Right before I’d left, Startup Edmonton a “community hub for hackers, artists + entrepreneurs” established itself. Edmonton, especially 104th Street, was an exciting place to be as a tech worker.

I was worried that a move to Vernon meant giving up that sense of community.

vernon sky

I was wrong!

Early in 2012, I emailed Kevin Poole. Kevin works for Vernon Economic Development. He did a great job of welcoming me to the city and introduced me to Kazia Mullin.

Kazia and I were interested in trying to build the local tech community. We wondered if there were other people like us.

We started emailing anyone we could find that seemed connected to tech. What we found surprised us: world-class software developers, designers, creatives, and business people living right in Vernon (most of whom were working remotely, from their homes).

Since then, I’ve met folks who have worked with Tumblr, WordPress (Automattic), Apple, SAP, Yahoo, and Oracle.

Forming the community

In the beginning, the biggest need wasn’t a building, programs, or funding. We just needed a regular place to meet. Everyone was working from home but didn’t know each other.

Startup Vernon was really a response to that: we started putting on local events (Geek Beers, a Remote Work panel, and a series of programming workshops), blogging and even did a TV appearance.

Geek Beers, in particular, became a central meeting place for local tech people. Our first meetings attracted 5-10 people. Now, in 2019, we regularly see groups as big as 30!

14117582390470

Effects on the community

Over the years, this momentum has begun to bear fruit. Now, I regularly receive emails like this, from tech people in the UK, USA, and Canada. They want to move to Vernon!

Email from people moving to Vernon BC
People in tech started hearing that Vernon was a good place to be!

We’ve also started to see projects, companies, and partnerships birthed out of the Startup Vernon community. For example, Cowork Vernon is a private coworking space for tech consultants, located on 3000-30th Street. They started as a group of four and now have over 12 members.

This increase in economic activity is encouraging. We’re proving that our focus on building community in Vernon is having an effect. People are hearing that Vernon is a good place to live and that it also has a core tech community. Plus, folks are starting businesses that will benefit the local economy.

Vernon is unique

Kelowna’s focus has been to encourage traditional venture-backed startups. Accelerate Okanagan is guiding local startups, and helping them to be investment ready. Steve Wandler created an excellent conference called Metabridge that brings investors from Silicon Valley to Kelowna every year. Traditionally, they also had a big anchor (Club Penguin) which is helped draw talent to the city.

But Vernon is different than Kelowna.

If you look at Vernon’s history, culture, and the demographics of the people who move here, it’s clear we need to forge a different path.

Historic Kal Tire Vernon location

Vernon is a city of do-it-yourselfers, bootstrappers, and makers.

We’re home to global companies (Kal-Tire, Tekmar, and Tolko). They all started as small businesses and were built from the ground up.

Big acquisitions

While Club Penguin gets a lot of attention, we’ve seen some big tech acquisitions come out of Vernon:

  • Immersive Technologies built the first 360˚ full digital camera system (the driving technology behind Google street view). This technology came about by tinkering, experimenting, and building. In 2016, they were acquired for $100 million dollars.
  • At the end of 2017, AVS Systems, also headquartered in Vernon, was acquired for $45 million.

Local startups

Vernon is also home to lifelong tech entrepreneurs, and new startups:

How Vernon, BC can attract more tech

Based on this history, there are two ways the community can encourage a tech culture and economy:

  1. Invest in community: should we build an innovation center? What about a makers space? Another coworking location? These are all good ideas, but they should never distract us from the core: people building relationships with people.
  2. Support the makers: There are individuals in Vernon creating really cool technology, products, and projects in their spare time. These folks need to be encouraged, supported and celebrated.
  3. Attract remote workers: I’ve been here since 2012, and almost all of the new tech talent that’s moving here is working remotely for companies elsewhere: San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Portland, Boulder, etc… The community needs to target this group, and then do a great job of welcoming them when they arrive.

There is a tech community in Vernon, BC, and it’s awesome.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

Categories
Opinion

Fact sheet: skateboarding as green transportation in Vernon, BC

Note: you can download this fact sheet as a PDF.

Fact #1: The City of Vernon currently promotes skateboarding as “green transportation” on their website.

In 2015 the city’s Long Range Planner, Cleo Corbett, made this comment on the vernon.ca website:

“[We] want to help people get to destinations… self-propelled, like biking or skateboarding.”

Fact #2: Vernon’s Master Transportation Plan has goals to increase alternative transportation usage

Under the new slogan “Activate life” Vernon, like many other municipalities, wants to encourage more people to take green modes of transportation. Their 2013-2038 Master Transportation plan identifies these goals:

  • Increase community awareness of the benefits of using alternative transportation.
  • Increase travel options through improvements to public transit and providing fully connected walking,
    cycling and trail networks.

Fact #3: Vernon’s bylaws currently allows roller skating, rollerblading, Segways, hover boards, and mobility scooters on sidewalks. But not skateboards.

Bylaws currently prohibit skateboard use on both sidewalks and roadways. Section 309 disallows skateboards and roller-skates on roadways (which makes sense).

But Section 801 goes on to prohibit skateboards on sidewalks (while allowing roller skates, rollerblades, Segways, and mobility scooters):

Section 801: No person shall operate a bicycle or a skateboard upon any sidewalk unless so authorized by the Manager, Bylaw Enforcement.

Fact #4: There are no stats that show that skateboarding as transportation is any more dangerous to pedestrians than rollerskates, rollerblades, Segways, or mobility scooters

There are no reliable statistics that show that skateboarding is inherently more dangerous than other forms of wheeled transportation. As mentioned in Tess Walker’s masters dissertation, “skating tends to incur moral and literal policing,” despite the lack of facts to back it up.

“If the data on the safety of bicycle riding on sidewalks is sparse, then it is non-existent for skateboarding.
From the Downtown Ambassadors’ observations, bicycles on sidewalks are a greater issue than skateboards.” 
- Olympia City Council

Fact #5: Progressive, green municipalities are moving to legalize skateboarding on sidewalks

Portland, Oregon has a particularly good policy:

It is legal to skate on any street or sidewalk in the city 24 hours a day.

Similarly, Seattle has a well-written bylaw:

Every person using a skateboard or roller-skates upon any sidewalk or public path shall use the same in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of pedestrian traffic, grade and width of sidewalk or public path, and condition of surface, and shall obey all traffic-control devices. Every person using a skateboard or rollerskates upon a sidewalk or public path shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian thereon.
(Ord. 113546 Section 1, 1987.)

Download this fact sheet here (PDF)

Categories
Opinion

The City of Vernon is discriminating against green transportation

In 2015, the City of Vernon posted this on their website:

[We] want to help people get to destinations… self-propelled, like biking or skateboarding,” said Cleo Corbett, Long Range Planner and project coordinator.

Under the new slogan “Activate life” Vernon, like many other municipalities, wants to encourage more people to take green modes of transportation. Their 2013-2038 Master Transportation plan identifies these goals:

  • Increase community awareness of the benefits of using alternative transportation.
  • Increase travel options through improvements to public transit and providing fully connected walking,
    cycling and trail networks.

They also identify a specific action that needs to be taken in terms of Bylaws:

  • Revise the Traffic Bylaw in terms of designating corridors and facility types as suitable for use by small wheeled modes of transport (e.g. children’s bikes, scooters, skateboards, rollerblades and longboards etc)

Discrimination against skateboards

It’s ironic that Cleo Corbett says that Vernon wants more people to travel by skateboard, when their bylaws prohibit skateboard use on both sidewalks and roadways. Section 309 states:

No person shall use roller skates, skateboards, sleighs, skates or other means of conveyance on any roadway.

Ok, that makes sense. You shouldn’t use skateboards, roller skates, etc… on roadways with cars around. Thankfully, you can still roller skate and skateboard on sidewalks, right?

Nope. Section 801 states:

No person shall operate a bicycle or a skateboard upon any sidewalk unless so authorized by the Manager, Bylaw Enforcement.

So roller skating on a sidewalk is fine, but skateboarding is not.

Why no bylaws for mobility scooters?

Even more puzzling: the bylaw does not mention the hundreds of motorized mobility scooters that are driven on Vernon’s sidewalks. I’ve been hit by electric scooters while walking down main street. They take up a lot of space, and can drive erraticly.

So a 200 lbs scooter that can go 16 km/h is fine on sidewalks, but skateboards are not.

The current bylaw is inconsistent, unclear, and discriminatory

There are no good stats on the relative danger to pedestrians on sidewalks caused by mobility scooters, roller blades, roller skates, or skateboards.

If the City wants to maintain a bylaw, they should have data to back it up with data (and not just anecdotal opinions).

Furthermore, if they’re going to address skateboarding, they should have clear bylaws for all other forms of transportation on sidewalks (scooters, roller skates, etc…).

As a side note: any current harassment or tickets given by bylaw officers for people riding skateboards should have no legal merit, as their technical definition of a skateboard is flawed. Section 223 states:

“Skateboard” means a narrow board approximately “ two (2) feet long, mounted on roller blades.

A skateboard is not a board mounted on roller blades. That would look like this:

Skateboard mounted on rollerblades

If you are not riding a object that looks like the above, I can’t see how the bylaw would apply to you.

If Vernon wants to be green, follow Toronto’s lead

To encourage skateboarding as an alternative transportation in one breath, and then have bylaw officers giving kids tickets is disgusting.

Vernon needs to revise their bylaws, and they should follow Toronto’s lead. I particularly like how they word it in Subsection E of 313 (Article IV)-27:

“Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on a sidewalk, and no person shall ride upon or operate a bicycle, roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, coaster, toy vehicle or similar device on a street or sidewalk on the Toronto Islands without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration for others using the street or sidewalk on the Toronto Islands. [Amended 1995-03-31 by Bylaw No. 1995-0263]”

Give pedestrians the right-of-way, and ask anyone using wheeled transportation to be careful. That seems reasonable.

People to contact

Want to chime in on this issue? Here’s the people you should contact:

Akbal Mund, Mayor – Facebook, 250-938-0022, mayor@vernon.ca

City Council – 250-550-3572, email here

Cleo Corbett, Long. Range Planner – 250.550.7830, parks@vernon.ca

Transportation Committee – web

Categories
Opinion

Dear Vernon City Council: don’t kill cycling

Dear Vernon City Council,

If Vernon’s economy is going to thrive, we need to attract young families, professionals, and skilled technology workers to our city.

People relocating to the Okanagan are coming from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. They’re moving here for the lifestyle: beautiful lakes and mountains, great weather, and outdoor activities.

However, they’re also looking for a city with a progressive outlook towards urban design.

Entrepreneur Jeff Judge just relocated his company’s HQ to Chicago because of their cycling paths:

Skilled technology workers [have] employment options in many parts of the country. World-class bicycle infrastructure can be a powerful lure.

Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops are already making concerted efforts to attract tech workers and professionals. For people moving to the Okanagan, how does Vernon stack up?

The City Council in Kelowna is investing significant resources into cycling infrastructure (most notably the Lakeshore Avenue Active Transportation Corridor, which will have separate bike paths between DeHart Road and McClure Road).

Bike friendliness can be a factor in where an individual decides to live and work. In Portland, Ore., where nine percent of downtown workers bike to work, the city surveyed recent transplants to the city who bike in 2009, and 62 percent of respondents said the city’s bike friendliness was a factor in their decision to move there.

If Vernon wants to attract world-class talent, what’s our plan?


I moved to Vernon 3 years ago (from Edmonton) so that I could ride my bicycle to work. I live in East Hill, and rent an office on 30th Ave downtown. When choosing Vernon, I was impressed by the initial investment you’d made into cycling paths. I was hoping to see continued investment in cycling and walking infrastructure.

Vernon could be a leader in good city planning. Let’s make it happen!

Justin Jackson, Vernon, BCRegards,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

PS: if you care about cycling in Vernon, there’s a meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 (at the Library). It’s being hosted by the Greater Vernon Cycling Advisory Committee.

Here is a statement by one of committee members regarding the purpose for this upcoming meeting:

Over the years we have been instrumental in bringing about some of the changes in bicycle infrastructure we have had in Vernon. The Committee has been more or less inactive for a couple of years now. However, there will be a meeting onNovember 4 to determine the level of interest in resurrecting the committee, or changing it to better fit our current needs. Should we continue to be an ad-hoc advisory committee? Should we strive for better integration with City staff? Should we take a more active advocacy role, perhaps as a cycling coalition, or as a member organization of the BC Cycling Coalition? How do we integrate with other groups such as Ribbons of Green and North Okanagan Cycling Society? We need your opinions!

Categories
Opinion

Dear Vernon City Council: about your website

There are a great number of people who don’t navigate a mobile device. Option A has a broader appeal.

Coun. Scott Anderson

The challenge with building a new website is that every stakeholder has an opinion. We all have ideas on what makes a website good.

Recently, the Vernon Morning Star reported on council’s review of the city’s new website: City uploads new design.

Naturally, each councillor had an opinion about the two design options.

I’d like to suggest a better way.

Look at the data

Those of us who design websites, web applications, and mobile apps have learned a truth about human behavior. There’s a big difference between what people say they want and how they actually act.

You have to be aware that people make confident but false predictions about their future behavior, especially when presented with a new and unfamiliar design. There’s a huge difference between imagining using something and actually using it. In addition, human preferences are rather unstable.

The only way to truly know what people want is to observe what they actually do. The great thing about the web is that we have tools to do this!

Google Analytics

Start with Google Analytics. It’s installed as a default by almost every web development firm. Viewing the source code on Vernon’s current website, I can see that it’s installed.

First, the city should see which pages are currently the most popular. You can do that by going to the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages menu. It will look something like this:

Google Analytics for a city website

In this example, we can see the homepage is the most popular (naturally). Next is the Employment page, followed by Pay a Fine. In this case, the city may want to highlight those pages on the homepage so that people can find them faster. This exactly what Chatanooga did with their website:

Chatanooga website: good municipal website design

Next, let’s address that statement made by Coun. Scott Anderson above. How many of Vernon’s residents are browsing the site on a mobile device?

To find out, go to Audience > Mobile > Overview in Google Analytics. Here’s an example:

How many people are browsing the city website on their phone?

Here, nearly 53% of website sessions happen on a mobile device (phone, iPod touch) or a tablet (iPad). I’m guessing that the City of Vernon’s stats are similar. PC sales are down, and smartphone usage continues to climb. For many people, their smartphone is their primary computing device.

How to test a design before you launch

There are also tools you can use to gather data on new website designs before you launch.

If the designs are in mockup stage (image files not yet turned into code) you can use a tool like Usability Hub to test how well each design helps users accomplish different tasks. Verify is another tool that does this well.

Another place to get data is to test how users interact with the current website. A tool like Peek User Testing will have anonymous users visit your site, and record their experience. This would allow the City to watch where people currently get stuck, or frustrated.

Test two variations

If there’s too much writing, you get discouraged.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal

Statements like this need data to back them up. This could be true, but we won’t know until we run a test.

One way to test these assumptions is by using an A/B test. These tests split a website’s traffic into two groups, and allow you to compare the results. For example, you might find that more text on the page improves engagement, and helps people achieve their desired result.

For example, when 37signals ran a split test for Highrise, they found that the homepage with more text resulted in more people signing up for the service:

Highrise a/b test on homepage

A tool like Optimizely will help you run A/B tests.

Don’t make decisions based on assumptions

I hope the City of Vernon doesn’t make website decisions based on opinions, feelings, or assumptions.

My advice? Form a hypothesis and then test it. See how people are actually using the vernon.ca website, and make decisions based on that.

For more reading on this, check out Gizmodo’s article.

Justin Jackson is the author of Marketing for Developers, and writes at justinjackson.ca

Categories
Opinion

Vernon needs a place for food carts

Downtown Vernon doesn’t really have a take-out food scene. Want a slice of pizza? You’re out of luck. Gourmet hot dog? Sorry.

You can order “to go” from some of the local restaurants, but there’s nothing like the food cart culture that’s developed in Portland, Oregon.

The opportunity

Since March, the Vernon Art Gallery has been running a pop-up exhibition on the corner of 31st Avenue & 31st Street downtown Vernon, BC. It features large shipping containers for the gallery, and a little square in front with benches.

It’s a great corner. It’s on the plaza that links the downtown bus stop and City Hall, and has a great walking path that goes right by it.

My friend Andrew at Ratio Coffee has a specialty coffee cart set-up there, and he’s just starting to get traction.

The bad news? When the exhibition is done, the shipping containers are being given away, and Andrew will have to move.

But this site has tremendous potential. Once the gallery is gone, why couldn’t the City of Vernon convert it into a plaza for food carts? The shipping containers could remain, and provide vendors with night-time storage (or even seating when the weather gets bad).

Food carts have been an economic boost for Portland: tourists from around the world are attracted to the city because of it’s vibrant food culture.

Right now, there’s a great opportunity to do something similar in Vernon. Out for a walk downtown? Now you have a place where it’d be easy to grab a quick bite.

What do you think of a “Food Cart Square” in Vernon, BC?

Categories
Opinion

A makerspace for Vernon?

There’s a lot of interest in attracting tech talent and companies to Vernon. Truthfully, every municipality in the world is trying to do this right now. If Vernon wants to be successful, we have to focus on our uniqueness.

Vernon is a city of makers. We’re do-it-yourselfers, we’re people that create things from the ground up. We start small, and grow from there.

If we want to improve the local economy, we need to support the makers.

Here are some examples of the need:

  • There’s quite a few people who work in the film industry. This includes editors, voice-over talent, and videographers. I know a number of these people; they’re having a hard time finding studio space.
  • There are a number of local members interested in hardware technology, like the Raspberry Pi micro-computer. They’ve been looking for a meeting space, but haven’t found a venue.
  • Likewise, Startup Vernon has run a few programming workshops locally, but have always found the venues to be lacking. We need a regular “hack space” where we can meet every week.
  • 3D printing has become a global phenomena, with lots of local interest. But the equipment is expensive to purchase up-front.

Want to support makers? Give them a space.

I just came back from a visit to Edmonton. They have an awesome Makerspace that’s hosted by the downtown library. Here are some photos:

If Vernon wants to support the “maker economy” we could create a maker space. This would be a place where members could use a soldering iron, book a sound studio, rent equipment, or participate in a workshop.

It could become the central meeting place for people tech: software developers, hardware hackers, designers, and creatives.

The space would create economic activity by enabling members to bootstrap businesses, access equipment to make products, and empowering people to create partnerships.

What do you think? What would you like to see in a Vernon makerspace?

Categories
Opinion

Live where other people vacation

Great quote from Caleb Wojcik:

Where you live has a bigger impact on things then I ever thought it could. People you’re close to, things you go do, the speed of the locals, weather, food, and more. Don’t hate where you live. Love it.

Vernon, BC (and the Okanagan) is where Canadians vacation. It’s also a great place to live.

If you’re a remote worker, or a small startup, you should move here.