Month: May 2014

What a Career! This Guy Knows the Codes, both Machine and Human.

Alan Winter

“The issue in genomics is that we’re at about 1983 on the IT side. The applications in genomics today are much like spreadsheets and Windows 3.0, in that it hasn’t permeated everything yet. But it will.” – Dr. Alan Winter

He has a lens on Canada’s technology history like few others. Starting with postgraduate work in solid state physics during ‘70s, the career of Dr. Alan Winter has influenced the key communications systems we rely on today. Now he’s overseeing technology that stands to make our lives better in so many ways tomorrow.

Winter is President and CEO of Genome British Columbia. Since 2001 he’s been leading this Vancouver based not-for-profit research organization that’s enabling British Columbia to become a world leader in selected areas of genomics R&D and to develop a vibrant life sciences cluster in the province.

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It’s fascinating to hear him talk about analog computers. “They consisted of components like valves, memory drums, but you could see the beginning of change through solid state physics. Most of this was being driven by the space program and the military. It was all about getting electronics into smaller, lighter and more compact form.”

Seeing these changes piqued his interest, leading him to join the Federal government’s space program. He became responsible for what is today’s search and rescue SarSat satellite system. Canada was the third nation in space, the first to have a domestic satellite system in the world, and Winter was an influence early on.

Winter shared “the Canadian government said this has to be a priority because of how vital communications is to such a geographically vast country.” This also seems to illustrate how government communication priorities have not necessarily changed for the better over the years.

At the time, and being a national priority Winter was given to opportunity to travel the country and meet with companies potentially interested in satellite, remote sensing or other related technology. One of those interested companies in the 1970s was Vancouver’s Macdonald Dettwiler, “‘who’d done a great job of attracting very entrepreneurial people,” according to Winter.

It was this group of people who were essentially some of our early software pioneers. He said, “they were looking at the processing of sensing data. In those days people understood hardware, software was basically FORTRAN cards, and embedded software was barely even embryonic. But, this team proved to be early leaders in developing this important marriage of software with hardware.”

His communication career is also highlighted in his role as President and CEO of MPR Teltech during which time he saw the spin out of six companies including PMC-Sierra and Sierra Wireless. The next eureka moment came while visiting his son at Queens University, who “excitedly talked about the Human Genome Project coming to a conclusion in 2001. I got very interested in the project and what DNA was because to me it looked like a software problem.”

He added “it’s interesting because I think biology is becoming an information science. Any significant enabling technology has gone through a long process of developing and testing different applications to really see where it takes root. In genomics we’ve only been going for ten years, and already sequencing costs have come down from the first project being $3 billion to now being about $1000. It’s actually moving faster than Moore’s Law.”

Winter touched on how fast this technology is moving in healthcare. Procedures like newborn screening now being genomics based, cancer cells being sequenced to deliver precision targeted treatments, and how detecting an infectious disease like SARS is done by sequencing the virus is becoming more routine.

watershed sampling

Beyond the impact genomics technology will have in healthcare in terms of potentially bringing down costs, making it more effective and personalized, he talked about it’s role in our natural world. For instance in forestry, “the mountain pine beetle was a huge disaster, so the issue is what do you plant next that’s more resistant to pests and the changing climate? In fisheries, the challenge is dealing with the tracking of pathogens both in the farmed and natural environment. Or take the mining industry where we’re looking at the microbial breakdown of toxins from tailing ponds.”

Thinking about the progression of IT this last 30 years and applying an exponential growth curve to genomic technology, Winter’s lens looks to a future of amazing and meaningful scientific discoveries.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Solid Thinking: Reflections on Solid Conference 2014

Jon & Joi

“Software is eating the world…. Hardware gives it teeth.”Renee DiResta (Principle, OATV)

With one look at what the O’Reilly Media team, Jon Bruner and Joi Ito had planned for the first Solid Conference, there was never a question of me not going. It was only a question of getting there. Having the deep pocketed editor helping jet-set me around in the pursuit of a story is the unicorn in my freelancing magical world. Between the support of the Vancouver technology community, and the generosity of many others the trip came true because of a successful crowd-funding initiative. The 21st and 22nd of May at Fort Mason revealed a treasure trove of thoughts, conversations, and visions of the connected self and connected society. I’m grateful to have earned the experience. This is only the start of a story that will keep on giving.

For the more than 1400 attendees at times the choices had to be overwhelming. With key note speakers like Rethink Robotics (CTO & Chairman) Rodney Brooks, Google X’s Astro Teller,  Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, Hiroshi Ishii from MIT’s Media Lab and many more, plus five different session tracts with over 100 talks fuelling the imagination. There was so much on display the senses had moments of being overloaded.

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Jon Bruner started everyone thinking by simply asking “what’s a tech company, anyway?” It’s more than the 0’s and 1’s, the circuits, sensors, the materials, the connectivity, and the transcending science fiction into science fact. As the digital experience continues merging with the physical experience, there’s no shortage of why’s to ask. Asking why some of this technology needs to exist is a good place to start. Is it solving big problems? Is it making us more capable? Is it making us smarter? Cool wasn’t making the grade for me.

Astro Teller“Hardware is hard” seemed almost understated coming from someone who’s all about moonshots. Visions of what could be aside, Google’s Astro Teller gave advice more entrepreneurs need to seriously consider saying “get more oil on your hands or mud on your boots to take down the really big problems.” Take the time to learn more about Google X and Astro Teller in the great Fast Company feature.

Envisioning relations in terms of both the potentiality and the tension between our digital, spacial, and physical worlds, Hiroshi Ishii was brilliant.  His talk, “Vision Driven: Beyond Tangible Bits, Towards Radical Atoms” left me breathless.

Hiroshi IshiiIshii leads The Tangible Media Group at the MIT Lab, where the TRANSFORM project is described as one that “fuses technology and design to celebrate its transformation from a piece of still furniture to a dynamic machine driven by the stream of data and energy. 

The motion design is inspired by the dynamic interactions among wind, water and sand in nature. Escher’s representations of perpetual motion, and the attributes of sand castles built at the seashore. TRANSFORM tells the story of the conflict between nature and machine, and its reconciliation, through the ever-changing tabletop landscape.” Watch for yourself.


SphereIn the category of science fiction meeting science fact, the SPHERES program was on my radar before the conference. Seeing the partnership between NASA and Google first hand was a highlight. NASA says the project “aims to develop zero-gravity autonomous platforms that could act as robotic assistants for astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station. The 3D-tracking and mapping capabilities of Project Tango would allow SPHERES to reconstruct a 3D-map of the space station and, for the first time in history, enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform 230 miles above the surface of the earth.”

This video is quite the ride – 

Richard IsaacsQuite possibly it was Richard Isaacs (Mechanical Designer and Organ-builder with C.B. Fisk)  who best wrapped a unique context around Jon Bruner’s opening question. His talk, “Musical Counterpoint in Wood, Bone, Metal, and Carbon Fibre” introduced us to the history and the complexity of pipe organs. It’s worth noting (courtesy of Wikipedia) that “beginning in the 12th century, the organ began to evolve into a complex instrument capable of producing different timbres. By the 17th century, most of the sounds available on the modern classical organ had been developed. From that time, the pipe organ was the most complex man-made device, a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century.” It’s both a history and a future of craftsmanship and musicianship that’s capable of taking us closer to the heavens than any spaceship can. He also shared an impressive visual collection of “pipe-organ porn” too.

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Most encouraging throughout the two days was the talk of design centred thinking, and how crucial user experience and the user interface is. It’s about putting the human experience at the centre of  our hardware and software experiments. We can talk about the industrial internet and the internet of things, yet there is no industry and there are no things without us at the heart of the equation.

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O’Reilly summed up the spirit of solid thinking best, saying “we need to think about the people… not just about things.” He also extended all of us a challenge, one we need to collectively endeavour towards delivering on everyday – “work on what is hard.”

Many of the pictures are courtesy the O’Reilly Flickr collection.



A River of Data Flows Through Vancouver’s Aquatic Informatics


Having the “up to my neck” in it feeling is common place for many CEOs. For Aquatic Informatics‘ CEO Ed Quilty, his story starts with water being up to his hips (literally).

Originally a river ecologist as he put it, “not a software guy, not a business guy, but a guy wearing rubber boots, working in rivers, scrapping slime off rocks and collecting bugs and water samples.” Since then he’s led Aquatic Informatics for the past 11 years, growing it to the point where thousands of scientists and over 400 agencies in 28 countries are using the software.

The software is addressing critical water data management and analysis challenges for the environmental monitoring industry. They work with a variety of customers including federal, state/provincial or local government departments, hydropower operators, mining companies, academic groups and consulting organizations, who collect, manage and process large volumes of water quality or quantity data. Located in Vancouver, they’ve also been recently named as a BC company that’s “Ready to Rocket.”


Quilty traces the genesis of the company back to the early 90’s while on a UVic co-op work term for the BC Ministry of the Environment. “They had this cutting edge sensor for continuous water quality measurement. This was a big leap forward from putting samples in a bottle, and shipping them off to a lab for analysis. The lab could tell you the amount of nutrients, organics, or heavy metals. This was only a small snapshot, and the odds of missing some major event were always significant. With this sensor technology we were getting information every minute or fifteen minutes. It was a big change in the industry. We went from never having enough data to being overwhelmed with data ”

With a Forest Renewal BC project, he saw the value of sensing technology and data collection, that focused on water quality inventory. He was seeing the impact of the forestry industry on water.

With an overwhelming volume of the data, Quilty realized that using spreadsheets wasn’t cutting it. “That’s when we starting working on scripts to automate the data processing. It was trying to figure out how we’d manage all this data that really got things started. I was a biologist used to dealing with 30 or 40 samples a year, not per hour.”

They built a very lightweight version of the initial application, one good enough to sell into his professional network in BC. The real break came when they caught the attention of the US Geological Survey.


At that time it wouldn’t scale to meet the needs of the largest water monitoring agency in the world, but they were invited to respond to a RFP calling to model the water flow of water in rivers. Quilty said “we bid, not thinking we’d win it, but to get the exposure and learning experience. Much to our surprise we won the $500,000 contract. We had six months to build it, and were only going to get paid at the end if we successfully delivered. Our chief scientist knocked it out of the park.”

In 2006 all of the USGS hydrologists and flow specialists across the US were introduced to Aquarius.

The AI application allows for the conversion of water level to water flow. This information is important in terms of water allocations for irrigation, dam operations, for drinking water, industry, and for fisheries. “You have all of these competing interests, farmers, fisherman, environmentalists, cities, fighting over water particularly in places like the Colorado River, other arid regions, and then you have issues around flooding,” Quilty told BetaKit. “It’s kind of like Goldilocks trying to right just the right balance.”

Think about the considerations of dam operators, where an inch of water can mean millions of dollars. “They’re constantly trying to do optimization of their reservoirs,” Quilty said. “They want to keep them as high as they can, but they have legal obligations to release water to people below, like fishermen and farmers. At the same time they’re trying to balance Mother Nature, throwing different scenarios at them like flood or drought conditions.”

Without data, without good science and quality information, good policy decisions can’t be made. For AI, it’s about breaking down the information silos. They’re focused on facilitating better communication and creating more efficient networks. Quilty said that “often you see organizations collecting information from the same watersheds and not knowing it. You end up with dense networks in some areas, and very sparse in others.

The value of sharing this data easily is at the core of good environmental management. And without the data there’s no chance of managing our resources well. The opportunity to have a positive global impact is massive: imagine helping prevent resource abuses, like giant lakes and aquifers being drained, as highlighted in this New York Times article about Iran’s Lake Urmia.

Quilty isn’t reserved in sharing the company big hairy audacious goal, “it’s about hosting and managing all of the planets environmental data. We’ll be bringing discrete water quality and groundwater information into the system, and moving into atmospheric, ocean, and soil data too.  It’s critical to be getting the right data from the right places, at the right time. I think about all of these sensors like EKG’s measuring the heartbeat of the whole planet, and we want to be part of optimizing it.”

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Jacqueline Novogratz Leads Conversation of Audacious Action

Jacqueline Novagratz

“The humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.” — Jacqueline Novogratz

That’s the mission statement that drives Acumen’s CEO Jacqueline Novogratz every day. She’s the founder and CEO of Acumen, a non-profit group that raises donations to invest in entrepreneurial projects that tackle poverty around the world.

A Vancouver audience had the opportunity to hear Novogratz’s thoughts on impact investing as part of a conversation organized by the Vancouver Acumen chapter and the Simon Fraser University Radius program.

“Bright Spots & What’s Missing,” focused on what’s working and what’s missing from social enterprise.

Sharon Duguid, (director and family enterprise advisor, Center for Entrepreneurs and Family Enterprise at PwC) moderated the discussion with Novogratz and Kevin Royes, serial soulcial-preneur and youth entrepreneurship educator.

Entrepreneurship is about going over, around, under or right through obstacles. It’s not for the faint of heart. Duguid asked, “How do you approach the naysayers, the tight-fisted, the policy people, how do you keep the momentum going?”

“Start and let the work teach you,” said Novogratz. “It’s too easy to wait until everything is set up perfectly before you try to move.” She shared the story of four guys wanting to change the ambulance industry in India: “We thought they were crazy. It was such a big, broken, corrupt, bloated industry, but still said why not give it a try. Over time, very quickly we saw how a tiny, no-name, ethical, entrepreneurial organization could navigate this morass.”

Ziqitza Healthcare has grown to the second largest ambulance company in Asia. She shares more of the story in her winter 2014 letter.


She offered that if “you’re entrepreneurs, you can’t wake up in this morning thinking you can anticipate everything that’s going to happen. The standing on the shoulders of others, learning from it, and the willingness to move from a place of moral authority with fearlessness, to take on challenges, sometimes with soft power, and sometimes by playing hardball. It’s about not being afraid of either side.”


In terms of priorities, and doing what’s right, Novogratz isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses. While offering that in many regards it’s a great time to be alive, she also cautioned, “I think there’s a risk that with so much wealth being concentrated in one tiny, tiny, tiny pinprick of a corner, we’re actually at risk of losing empathy.”

“I don’t know if we’re only going to get it through this one-to-one relationship model,” she added. “I think we have opportunities as social entrepreneurs to be thinking about the kinds of solutions that can really humanize great innovation.

“We’re seeing the next coolest app getting ridiculous multiples, but we’re not seeing the kind of innovation we need to get water to the right places. The more we can somehow make that sexy, and celebrate entrepreneurs who are using innovation to create change the more things will change for the better.”

She talked about building ethics, by citing a story about a Ziqitza employee who found a wallet on the Indian roadside with about $50 in it. He took the wallet to the hospital and personally gave it to the patient once out of surgery. He trusted no one to do the same, and was held up as a public hero.

“We have to consider another metric for success,” Novogratz suggested. “It’s not just the one who has the most money wins. It’s how much are you giving? How much dignity are you giving? How much are you enabling others to gain?”


Duguid asked Novogratz and Royes what the most compelling issue they face in their daily mission.

“We have be careful when looking at a tree with some diseased leaves for instance,” said Royes. “Our tendency is to go to the leaves and try to fix them. I’m constantly driven by this idea of creating the biggest amount of change with the least amount of effort.”

Novogratz answered, “At the heart of it, is how do you navigate these complex and interlinking systems of finance, venture capital, philanthropy and the very poorest people on the planet in a way that moves from respect for everybody. And, that can really tear at you in a lot of different ways. How do you keep that core, so that everybody will have a place to play in this growing ecosystem.”


Entrepreneurship was at the heart of the conversation. “How do you cut past the distractions, and focus on what needs to be done right now?” asked Duguid.

Royes talked about reading “Mastery” and suggested, “There’s a period of apprenticeship before we start to settle in, start to make sense and see the bigger picture. We have to appreciate that we’re going to be making mistakes in business that I’m going to learn from. That’s part of it, and I even have to accept the possibility of failure. That’s OK because it’s part of becoming an apprentice. We have to get in the game, we have to start taking some action, we have to start somewhere.”

He touched on the fact that by 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce: “That’s a good future to look forward to.”

As well, he pointed to the recent Deloitte Millennial survey saying he’s excited by the prospect that “70 per cent see themselves working independently.” This could be a good trend, because clearly there are no shortage of employers feeling unprepared for this new generation of leaders.

In terms of key social trends like collaboration, sharing, and a growing global connectivity, that are reshaping our markets, Royes talked about this being “a people to people time. Big institutions are moving very slowly, and people are creating so much change outside of it.

“People are caring way more about where things are coming from. Part of our jobs as creators is to consider how we’re connecting with the people in this world and how they’re spending their money. It doesn’t matter what the initiative is, if we don’t connect why the person is buying something in the first place.”

The story originally appeared in the Huffington Post BC

Photos by Thompson Chan and Nikki Koutsochilis

“It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.”

OpenMedia (11 of 17) invited a group of people from Vancouver’s technology, philanthropy, and social enterprise community to join an evening conversation entitled, “Propelling our Connected Future Forward.”

The community-based organization is focused on safeguarding the possibilities of the open Internet. They’re creating informed and participatory digital policy by engaging hundreds of thousands of people in protecting our online rights. They support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy based on five basic principles set out in the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

Read Also: Canadian Indentity-Privacy Pioneer Austin Hill Has a Message for the Founders of Whisper and Secret

Michael Tippett (co-founder of NowPublic, now director of new product for HootSuite) and Tim Bray (former developer advocate for Google, cofounder of Open Text Corporation and Antarctica Systems) lead the conversation.

Tippett was very clear about his reasoning for being part of the evening. Thinking back to the late ‘90’s and being part of one of Canada’s first digital agencies Tippett said, “I’m part of this GenX malaise, thinking life is gloomy and we’re going to be worse off than our parents. A real bummer. And then the internet came, and it was like we’re saved!”

OpenMedia (9 of 17) (1)

The early internet days were seen as a kind of utopian vision. It represented an open, free, democratic, and revolutionary force. Tippett added, “it changed a lot of lives, my life, and is now changing my kids’ lives. The reality is that those heady days are behind us, and that original vision is under threat. A great internet is more than just having fast download speeds for a better Netflix experience, it’s about ensuring we have an open, free, and democratic society.”

Bray said “there’s a lot of things we need to do to make sure the internet stays open. We have to worry a lot about things like net neutrality, pricing, and bandwidth. The one thing that worries me most of all is privacy. You can’t have an open internet unless you can close down parts of it, namely the parts you don’t want to share with everyone else in the world.

Having private by default internet, one which can be truly open and people can be themselves without fear doesn’t have to be a utopian vision. Ultimately, there needs to be a counter position to those who think, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you need privacy anyhow.” Wanting privacy isn’t about having nefarious intentions.

According to Bray, “it’s ok to be pro-privacy without being a crook, pervert, or terrorist.”

The people who are spying on us on behalf of your government are just people. Most are well-meaning, underpaid, dedicated public servants who passionately believe they are protecting you and me from bad guys who want to do terrible things. However, a small proportion of them are inevitably stupid, insane, corrupt or just crazy. People who are in that position with that much access to information can wreak havoc on your life in a lot of different ways. Thus it needs to be regulated, watched, and the amount of snooping needs to be minimized. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for that.”

With the proliferation of mass surveillance and an emergence of an accompanying sense of police statism, Bray suggested that “while we have to cherish and protect the members of our law enforcement community, we also have to watch them like a hawk. We have to limit their actions, and preserve our privacy, because by default there’s nothing wrong with being private. Most of us are not terrorists.”

Read Also: BetaKit at #SXSW: Kiwi Wearables Does Not Want to Perform Science Experiments On Your Personal Data

The supposed goal of all of this pervasive surveillance is to protect us, and prevent bad things from happening to us. Yet as Bray said, “if you look at all of the bad things that could happen to us and the amount of money, resources, and technology being put into pervasive surveillance, it’s ridiculously out of balance. This record and watch, read, or listen to everything later is profoundly not cost effective no matter how you look at it.”

“Privacy is not a means to an end. Privacy is an end itself. It is a virtue of civilization, as opposed to living in a primitive culture,” Bray concluded. “We should cherish and protect it, and we shouldn’t ever have to explain why.”

It makes one question our current government priorities, when they’re in the process of building a new spy palace. By some estimates elevating the role of our surveillance state will cost the Canadian taxpayer somewhere between $1.2 billion, and $4.2 billion dollars. Curious what kind of investment is being made to help close our growing digital divide, and improve our national productivity and competitiveness?

It’s not the Orwellian Big Brother vision that’s worrisome. With government invading our privacy it’s the Kafkaesque version of this story that raises the biggest concern. When I close the door to my home I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Yet, when I open my laptop or turn on my phone, that expectation is completely violated. While corporatism isn’t necessarily making the world a better place, at least Google, Facebook or Twitter can’t audit, indict, prosecute, jail or break me.

He realized at once that he shouldn’t have spoken aloud, and that by doing so he had, in a sense, acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions.” Kafka – The Trial

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Photos by Tyson Dziedzic (

Kiip’s Brian Wong is Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life

250px-Brian_WongVancouver’s tech “child prodigy” and Kiip (Founder & CEO) Brian Wong swung through town on his way to SXSW, when Startup Grind Vancouver hosted him for a fireside chat.

Wong isn’t one needing much of an introduction. He has the distinction of graduating from high school at 14, and then graduating from UBC’s Sauder School of Business at 18.

Since founding Kiip in 2010, he and the company have received no shortage of attention. It goes with securing over $15 million in venture funding and making numerous lists like Forbes 30 under 30. He also lent commentary to Frontlines recent documentary “Generation Like”.

Even without free beer and snacks he would have packed the house. True to form, Wong was high energy, entertaining, brutally honest and shared some great startup up stories and lessons. Actually, he shared more than just business insights. There’s the unique and very little known fact behind his onetime childhood visit to Albuquerque, NM, as he shared that “I was in a boys choir. Before my voice changed, I sounded like an angel.”

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Talking about his days as the “lowliest business development associate possible” at Digg, he highlighted living an example of the org chart from hell. “The reporting structure was most bizarre. I

eported to a dude, who reported to a dude, who reported to a dude, and the dude at the top with those three people below him each had only one person reporting to them.” Don’t do this kids.

The Digg experience lasted five months. The layoff meant losing his H1B Visa, and having to fly back to Vancouver.  “It was in May, and I told my Mom what happened. She told me it was the worst Mothers Day present she’d ever got. Every Mother’s Day since I try making it up to her with some kind of nice surprise.”

It proved to be a minor setback, as he grabbed a business tourist visa figuring he’d easily hook up with a new company in that six month window. Wong turned conversations about working for others, into validation for starting Kiip. He said, “after telling Scott Kveton the founder of Urban Airship in Portland my idea, his job offer turned into an introduction to True Ventures.

The genesis for Kiip came from Wong observing people’s mobile game play and “trying to recognize when people are happy, and reward them. But reward them serendipitously.” He credit’s reading the book “Predictably Rational” with building his business around the idea that there’s value in “surprising and delighting people.”

In terms of winning those first customers, Wong noted how important it is to pick your initial investors wisely. “They can help you with a lot of nepotism, and finding relationships where they can just help seed the business. Having investors who were part of the Popchips, and Vitamin Water teams helped with them becoming our first customers. It also helped with bringing other big brands on board.”

He’s also a big believer in always telling people what you’re doing all the time. “It’s awesome, and not about having a big ego, over-sharing, or boasting. It’s about sharing your stream of activity and consciousness so that people will know how to help you. You need to figure out how to generate serendipity in your life. You never know who will help you. You’ll never get any help if you’re not constantly communicating what you’re doing.”

In terms of succeeding as a startup outside of “The Valley” Wong was adamant saying, “the world’s a different place today. There’s Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Angel List, and so many organizations like Startup Grind, and the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars there to help you. You can start something anywhere. There’s a thing called a plane. If you really want to find your customers you’ll find them. Using location as an excuse is lame”

There’s no shortage of evidence that points to Wong knowing the value of PR. “Those people who shit-talk PR don’t understand it’s a tactical tool. It’s great for validation, customer acquisition, for information. Why send someone a slide-deck, when you can send them an article that tells them your story?”

I asked Wong what’s nobody talking about today, that they’ll be talking about in a year from now.

He’s most excited about  “looking at data from connected devices. It’s not creating a brand version of something for FitBit. That’s useless. I think one of the biggest opportunities will be looking at moments that come from those devices. We create a currency that’s universally applicable beyond just apps. I envision an internet connected scale saying you’ve lost five pounds, and then having Special K reward you for that moment.”

The youthful exuberance combined with serious business experience left some of the audience needing to catch their breath. It’s evident that no matter what’s thrown at him, Wong’s someone who’s always looking on the bright side of life. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy so it’s worth keeping the life of Brian in mind.

How Wellness Can Save Health Care

Train wreck is a term used by medical professionals in both the literal and figurative sense. There’s literally treating the injured survivors of a real train wreck. Then there’s treating those people who are simply a walking train wreck of personal neglect. Inactivity, obesity, smoking, alcohol and drugs, poor diet are the health care system’s apocalypse.

The numbers (from 2010) don’t lie according the Public Health Agency of Canada: “More than half (58 per cent) of all annual health care spending in Canada is for chronic diseases, at a cost of $68 billion a year. Chronic diseases cost Canadians at least $190 billion annually (2010). More Canadian adults of working age (34-64) are living with chronic diseases which are affecting their health and wellbeing. Chronic diseases can increase income inequities, deplete household wealth, increase health spending and lower labour productivity.”

The founders and clinical directors of Vancouver’s Connect Health, Dr. Ashley Riskin and Dr. Lawrence Cheng have witnessed countless preventable train wrecks as ER physicians.

“By the time things reach me in the ER it’s already too late. I’m dealing with the end stages. Yes we could do some heroic things like save part of someone’s heart muscle from a massive heart attack. But the more I thought about it, if we could have intervened much earlier and much more upstream in the persons life, we could have changed the trajectory of how their life had been. They wouldn’t be in the ER department at 2 a.m.,” says Cheng. This experience is pushing them into forefront of practicing medicine in a new way.


This is not a two-man show, this is a team of professionals who have a new vision for health care. Wellness is leading the conversation. The seven-minute discussion along with a prescription in hand is replaced with the doctor and patient becoming equal partners. Healing is a very fine and delicate art form. Connect Health is delivering an integrative andfunctional medicine approach, that’s rationally combining western and non-western modes of healing.


The doors officially opened in June 2011. The journey hasn’t been easy. The regulatory environment was not an encouraging one for physicians to work with non-physicians. It’s proven to be a big jump for these two groups of professionals and practitioners to work together. Albeit slowly, the regulatory situation is improving, making for a more positive climate to operate this type of clinic.

It was an introduction to each other by Andrew Weil in 2008 that laid the foundation for Connect Health.

“We call it a health care system, but it’s really a disease care system. We know, that even by conservative estimates 50 per cent, maybe even 70 per cent of most chronic diseases, which are largely responsible for clogging our already overcrowded emergency departments everywhere, are largely preventable,” says Cheng. “I needed to think about how I was going to practice, and how I could be more effective in helping people.”


Connect Health is a non-profit clinic with a proactive approach to address complex chronic conditions. It’s comprehensive, holistic and empowering. This model represents the potential future of healthcare.

There’s an illusion that health care in Canada is free. It’s not. Just because there isn’t a bill for every visit or every treatment doesn’t mean it’s a free service. Every single treatment, procedure or prescription drug doesn’t come with guaranteed coverage. A visit to Connect Health does come with a bill. But maybe it’s time we start putting a value on our good health.

Riskin points out they spend at least a full hour with each patient. “Our intake form is 27 pages long. It goes through everything, and we actually get a chance to know the patient even before we meet them,” he says.

“These visits aren’t covered by MSP. Even though we charge for that hour, and the public perception may be that we’re making tons of money, the reality is that we’d be better off doing walk-in medicine. Ultimately the goal is to come up with a sustainable model where physicians aren’t having to take a pay cut to work in a clinic like this. That’s how it’s been up to now, but we’re all interested in making a model like this work.”


Think about the stuff we don’t hesitate to buy: toys, gadgets, devices, distracting experiences. We don’t hesitate investing in extended warranties for big ticket items, insurance or investments to secure our financial futures. Yet, investing in changing behaviours and investing in good health doesn’t resonate with many people.

Shifting the conversation as Dr. Riskin offers is about offering positive reinforcements: “As Dr. Dean Ornish says, if someone with heart disease is sitting in their wheelchair and choking down a cigarette, telling them to stop smoking because they’ll die, quickly ends the conversation. They likely reply ‘I’d rather die than stop smoking.’ It’s much more powerful suggesting that they’ll be able to hold their grandkids, and walk again.”

 This story originally appeared in the Huffington Post BC

Can Technology Save Us From Ourselves?


Reality is not universal. Mix one man’s factual with another’s fictional, and somewhere in that ether is another person’s reality of the moment.

When Marc Andreessen penned “Why Software Is Eating The World” in 2011, he didn’t share a vision of machines or devices. Contrast Andreessen’s reality with the dystopian world envisioned by James Cameron in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, where a lot of stuff blew up. Here, man’s conflict with machine also serves as a cautionary tale.

For some people, the reality of this moment is found interacting with connected devices, or machines talking to machines. The internet is more than navigating web pages now: it’s a world of connected things. Bing’s Sr. Product Manager Duane Forrester sees this as a world of “using knowledge to empower objects – THAT is the internet of things.”

Forrester was one of many great speakers at the recent Wavefront Wireless Summit held in Vancouver. The event was three days of talk and thoughts about what is, and what could be. With over 500 attendees, a line-up of international thought leaders, and global business partners the event was true to it’s theme of “driving business transformation with wireless and mobility solutions.”


With two discussion tracks and so much content delivered it’s impossible to review every topic, conversation, and speaker. It’s also tough picking favourites. But on the heels of this year’s CES event that highlighted wearable technology, the connected home and vehicle, there was no shortage of “cool” consumer enabling technology discussion.

However, there was also serious conversations about significant issues relating to health care, transportation, energy, and agriculture. The entrepreneurs casting a lens beyond our first world problems, by taking a global perspective have enormous opportunities in front of them. There’s a huge part of the world that will never communicate through a strand of copper.

From Kenya, a Skype conversation with Jesse Moore, Managing Director at M-Kopa, illustrated this world of opportunity. Moore shared how machine-to-machine technology (M2M), mPayments and “old school” feature phones have lit up Kenya. While most of us take bank accounts and electricity for granted, that’s just not the case in much of the developing world.
Meanwhile, Gary Atkinson’s presentation challenged everyone to ponder the question, “Can Technology Save us from Ourselves?” Atkinson, the director of emerging technologies at Cambridge, UK’s ARM, offered that if technology is cheap enough, low-power enough and small enough, we need to better deploy it to solve big challenges. Atkinson is looking at how “little data” from sensors can help us make better decisions to improve crop yields, to detecting leaky water infrastructure, to better protecting people with chronic diseases.

We talked about how the use of technology can help better feed our world. He pointed out “we can barely feed and water ourselves today, and there will be two billion more people on the planet by 2050. We need to be able to scale up and increase the yields. Increasing the yields requires us to make better decisions, and be more intelligent about how we grow food on a hectare of land. To be more intelligent we need more measurement. We need a more granular understanding of one plot of land, not a general overview of 10,000 hectares. A couple of areas where technology will help, and precision agriculture and drip irrigation.”


In spite of having the technological potential, we still haven’t gotten to the point where end devices, that can sense, monitor, and communicate are cheap enough or are durable enough to last ten plus years. For many of the world’s farming operation, this technology is not yet economically worthwhile.

Silicon isn’t the constraint, being able to cheaply communicate data is. Atkinson said “we’re trying to use technology that was developed for humans to talk with humans. But, machines don’t need to be concerned about the whole availability of a network. This is where the design goals for Weightless SIG is about taking out everything that humans need (such as latency dependence, immediately available, relatively high bandwidth, clarity and cell-to-cell roaming). It’s about reducing base station and operational costs, as sensor technology for this type of application doesn’t need to be run on current cellular technology.”

It’s an interesting case of removing human-centred design considerations from the machine, and it will actually facilitate better human related outcomes. By creating a “dumber” network, and decreasing sensor costs by increasing the scale of adoption, the potential to better feed ourselves is an opportunity right in front us.

This article originally appeared in BetaKit