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Spark from CBC Radio

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Spark on CBC Radio One Nora Young helps you navigate your digital life by connecting you to fresh ideas in surprising ways.
111 Episodes
Failure. It's romanticized in tech startup culture, but what does it actually have to teach us? Corporate culture has certainly shifted a long way from the days of "failure is not an option." Farhan Thawar is the VP of engineering at Shopify. He says it's not so much failure but a willingness to look stupid that really counts. Juliana Castro thinks we need to renegotiate our relationship with failure. She's come up with some tactics to embrace our mistakes without romanticizing failure. Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, believes we all need a CV of Failures. She explains how a failure resume can be part of our success story. This episode originally aired December 1st, 2019.
A stair-climbing wheelchair might seem like a cool innovation. But for Liz Jackson, it's another example of what she calls a "disability dongle," a well-intended, but ultimately useless solution to a problem people disabled people never knew they had. Liz Jackson is a disability advocate, design strategist, and the founder of The Disabled List. She says people with disabilities need to be on the front lines of innovation and not just the recipients of design. Accessibility for people with disabilities didn't just happen. Its history includes do-it-yourself ingenuity, activism, and shifts in how we think about the politics of design. Bess Williamson explores this evolution in her book Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design. Empathy is considered to be good quality for designers thinking about truly inclusive design. But User Experience designer Amelia Abreu believes the trend of "trying on" a disability to build empathy into accessible design actually exclude disabled people from the design process. This episode originally aired November 10, 2019.
This week on Spark, how algorithms and digital technologies try to predict, or even influence, our behaviour on scales both large and small. Amazon, Google and Facebook all have an image of us. John Cheney-Lippold suggests that doesn't truly reflect how we are in real life and that the profiles that algorithms build of us reflect how companies want to see us, in ways that give value to them. And Abeba Birhane suggests that the —"I think, therefore I am" notion of the self — isn't the only way to view the individual. This episode originally aired on November 3, 2019.
Has technology altered the way we remember things? What does knowledge mean when we use our phones to store facts instead of our brain? Evan Risko, a psychologist and the Canada Research Chair in Embodied and Embedded Cognition at the University of Waterloo, digs into these questions. Henning Beck's latest book, Scatterbrain, argues that our brains aren't anything like computers. Instead our brains are constantly dumping and rearranging information. The neuroscience of memory in the digital age. And how does the internet change the way we know and share information? Kenyatta Cheese, (ken-YATT-ah) co-creator of Know Your Meme, explores memes as images densely packed with meaning. This episode originally aired October 27, 2019.
We rely on complex, global technological systems for our economy and society. But those systems are often hidden from us. This week, a look at two hidden systems we rely on every day. Andrew Blum, author of The Weather Machine, takes us inside the complex world of weather forecasting. And then we do a deep, deep dive to the bottom of the ocean, where Nicole Starosielski, the author of The Undersea Network, explains the dizzying array of undersea cables that make up the backbone of the internet. This episode originally aired September 15, 2019.
Innovation, in its purest form, comes from unfettered imagination. The simple decision to try. To be flexible. To think outside the box. But there will always be someone who says that the box is "just how it's always been." And so most of the time, we stick with the status quo. Change, after all, is tough. But then came COVID-19, and world protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality. Suddenly all of the reasons why certain processes, systems, and operations couldn't be flexible evaporated. The idea of going "back to normal" is now off the table. We saw that most office workers could work from home, or with staggered hours. We saw that cities could open up streets for pedestrians and bicycles. We've seen what's possible. In all aspects of our social, economic and political lives, people are advocating for a NEW "new normal". This week: how we design a more flexible future together. + Michael Longfield, the interim Executive Director of Cycle Toronto, on how the city has built kilometres of new bike lanes, created car-free zones, and what might be needed to ensure they stay in place after the pandemic threat subsides. + The pandemic rapidly switched education to an emergency, remote-teaching model. But does that temporary change mark a bigger shift towards online learning? And could that make university and college a more flexible experience? Tony Bates, the author of a dozen books on online learning and distance education, weighs in on how higher education is changing.
New technologies aren't neutral. They're designed by us, and they can be an expression of our values... and our biases. That doesn't necessarily mean a technologist or a tech company consciously sets out to skew technology in a particular way. But the questions we ask, or don't, about a new technology shape how it can be used. So this time: questions. About technology, power, protest, and democracy. + The now-cancelled Sidewalk Labs project aimed to create the most measurable community in the world. But would that have turned into a form of high tech surveillance embedded in the built environment? Richard Lachman, the director of Zone Learning and the Experiential Media Institute at Ryerson University, believes the project helped reveal some needed repairs to our privacy and data protections. + Technology is often claimed to be neutral. Sure, it can be used for good or ill, but the technology itself doesn't have politics. Not so, argues Ruha Benjamin in Race After Technology. Discriminatory design can perpetuate inequality, reinforcing systemic racism, all while under a cloak of neutrality or even progressivism. In this conversation she discusses the current climate of surveillance and how race itself is used as a kind of technology.
Do you "trust the experts"? Or rather, in what circumstances do you trust the experts? In a complex world like ours, expertise is important, but specialization and hyper-focus can also get in the way of seeing the big picture. On the other hand, in rapidly evolving situations where the stakes are high and information is thin on the ground, measured expertise can easily be trumped by rumour and misinformation. + Among the challenges facing the world today is an "unprecedented crisis in public understanding," says sociologist Fuyuki Kurasawa. The Director of York University's Global Digital Citizenship Lab says there's an understandable delay between the public's need for knowledge and the response of experts, who are often cautious and concerned that they offer correct information. Into that gap slides social media, where rumors, innuendo, untruth and disinformation run rampant. So how do we address this? + We live in an era of extreme specialization, and have come to rely on human experts, protocols, and technology to help us navigate our complex world. In his book, Think for Yourself, author Vikram Mansharamani argues that while consulting expertise is essential, mindlessly following narrow specialization blinds us to the big picture.
If you live in a city, the way we used to get around--at least before March--has changed dramatically. Public transit use is way down. You can't buy a bicycle for demand. People who previously took the bus or ridesharing services have gone back to the safe isolation of their car. Of course, that's if they have a car, or live close enough to their work to ride a bike. For many, public transit is the only option. So how will urban transportation look after the pandemic? + David Cooper is one of Canada's most respected urban transportation consultants, and he offers some ideas. He's the principal of a consulting firm called Leading Mobility in Vancouver. + According to Matthew Crawford, we are both separate and together in our cars which makes it unlike any other shared space. In his new book Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road he explores why driving is still a great way to exercise one's skill at being free.
It's been a long time since many of us have stepped inside an actual, physical retail store for anything other than essentials. Across Canada, we're in different stages of reopening in a staggered, uncertain way. Many businesses have shuttered permanently. Some have filed for bankruptcy protection. Others are open, but with restrictions. As e-commerce takes off amid the pandemic, how will smaller vendors compete against the online behemoths? What will the in-store experience look like down the road? Will it change forever? + Craig Patterson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider, Canada's leading online retail industry publication. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta + Darryl Julott is the senior manager of Digital Main Street, a volunteer-driven group that wants to help independent businesses and artists build online stores free of charge. It's partnered with The City of Toronto and several tech companies to launch the "DMS ShopHERE" initiative. + Melissa Gonzalez is the CEO and founder of retail strategist group The Lion'esque Group, and also a principal and shareholder of global architecture firm MG2.
These days, we're living with a lot of uncertainty. And that can be scary. So we turn to science, to mathematical models and policy makers, all to try to understand where things are going. But fiction can also offer us insights into not what's going to happen, but who we are. Novels can remind us that no matter how scary or uncertain things are, others have dealt with similar feelings. Over the years at Spark, we've spoken to many authors who have imagined the future, and where our strengths and weaknesses could lead us. And while none of them predicted what we're going through now, they still offer insights on being human in strange times. And for where we may be headed. + Gary Shteyngart is an American author, and we'll have part of a 2010 interview about his book Super Sad True Love Story. + David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, from 2015 about his novel Slade House, which began as a story called "The Right Sort," which he released on Twitter. + William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, in a 2015 interview about how our sense of history is changing. + Ian McEwan, who won the Booker Prize for his book, Amsterdam, in a 2019 interview about his most recent novel, Machines Like Us, which explores a romantic relationship with a robot. + Margaret Atwood, Booker-Prize winning author of The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments, and the MaddAddam trilogy, in a 2014 conversation about robots and our relationships with them.
In the midst of a global health crisis, how's the health...of the internet? Being online has clearly emerged as a necessity. But with online tools like video chat exploding in popularity, a look at whether they have the safety and security we need. And whether the current crisis will force a change in how tech giants operate. And in the midst of so much bad pandemic news, maybe there's a bright spot: a return to the positive, open values of the early internet. + Lawyer Njeri Damali Sojourner Campbell has a YouTube channel and a Facebook group where she focuses on Afrofuturist fiction. But when the pandemic hit and so many of us were suddenly alone in our homes, she decided to start Quarantined Pages: daily video conferences where you read -- silently -- with others. + Many hoped that the World Wide Web would lead to the betterment of human knowledge but it hasn't always lived up to that idealistic vision. Angela Misri is digital director at The Walrus. During this pandemic she's seeing evidence of a more supportive digital community that finally lives up to the web's promise. + The pandemic has underscored the importance of internet connectivity in an unprecedented way. Most of us are now using it as our primary means of communicating with friends, family, colleagues and even our healthcare providers. What has this meant for privacy and internet traffic generally? The Mozilla Foundation, which makes the Firefox browser, has been tracking this. Mark Surman, the foundation's executive director, talks to Nora.
Remember the olden days—like 2 months ago—when you could just head out the door and wander wherever you felt like it, exploring the world around you? We humans are deeply spatial creatures. Our sense of space is tied to how we know the world around us, and how we remember it. Nora talks to the author of a new book on the neuroscience of wayfinding, and what it means when we find our way by GPS—and our physical terrain becomes increasingly virtual. And, if you go to the heart of a city or town, you find its cultural hubs: museums, theatres, sports stadiums, which are anchor spaces that tie the community together. Now those spaces are shuttered by the pandemic, how are arts and culture adapting? + Kit Chokly, curator of Ottawa's Isolation Museum + Sara Diamond, president and vice-chancellor of OCAD University + Michael Bond, science writer and the author of Wayfinding: The Art and Science of How We Find and Lose Our Way.
How can we design for resilience and privacy? From shortages of flour on grocery store shelves to a lack of personal protective equipment, we've seen how lean global supply chains can be surprisingly brittle. This week, we'll hear the case for more resilient manufacturing. And sure, tech companies may not have always had our privacy in mind when designing the apps and services we use. But with so much at stake in resolving the pandemic lockdown, is it time for Privacy By Design. + Contact tracing has long been used to slow the spread of infectious diseases, from smallpox to STIs. In the midst of COVID-19 people are encouraged to put apps on their phones that track when they've had exposure to someone with the virus. Critics worry about giving governments bodies access to potentially sensitive data, and about a future surveillance state. Law professor Richard Janda is part of a Canadian team developing an app that puts privacy first. + Mukesh Kumar is a University of Cambridge researcher in the areas of risk and resilience in international manufacturing and supply networks. He looks at the broader issues with resilience in a global trade environment, and how self-reliant we should be. + As Kenya prepares for a possible spike in COVID-19 cases, they're facing a potential shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers. So a group of 3D printing companies are banding together to use open source plans for face shields to print out the protective gear. Mehul Shah is co-founder of Nairobi-based 3D printing company, Ultra Red Technologies. He explains what they're doing, and the role of 3D printing in a more resilient Kenyan economy.
In software design, people talk about stress testing. Pushing things to the limit, to see how it performs at the extreme end. And it's pretty clear that right now, we're in a period of stress testing the current design of our cities. And our homes. Over the past few months, the inequalities that some individuals are typically meant to just attend to themselves, have suddenly, starkly, been shown for the structural problems they are. There are many examples, ranging from the trivial to life-threatening. Today, we're going to explore some of the things this global stress test has brought to the surface. And what we can do about it. Because whether there's another pandemic or not, there are important lessons for us about designing for resilience and responsiveness. + Professor Patrick Condon, the James Taylor chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the founding chair of the UBC urban design program. He speaks to Nora about the lessons urban designers might learn from managing the pandemic. + As so many people are now working from home, and adapting to life during a pandemic, what issues in home design are being revealed? And how can those design issues be resolved for a future of flexible and safe homes and workspaces? Architect Noam Hazan explores what lessons might come from COVID.
As physical distancing and isolation continues, we're saturated with information and interaction on screens big and small, often several screens at once, and All. Day. Long. We've become desperate for tactile, analogue things: Witness the breadmaking phenomenon on social media. Or how so many of us are really, really into caring for our plants.People are sewing. Or doing physical, old-fashioned puzzles. For the first few weeks there was a different energy of connecting in a new way. Much of our day was spent in video conferences with colleagues, and then our evenings were spent on even more video conferencing platforms! Chatting with family, having virtual parties with friends, or joining hard-to-hear trivia games with glitchy hosts. Now into the second month, some of us look at our laptops and phones with exhaustion. So this week, we're looking at ways to help us survive in an world where everything has become virtual, but so many of us are craving touch. + Neuroscientist Victoria Abraira explains why touch is so important to us as social beings and how our relationship to it might change because of the coronavirus pandemic. + Professor of Ophthalmology Christine Law talks about the impact of screen time on eye health, and offers tips for managing eye strain in this screen-intensive time. + Behavioural scientist Juliana Schroeder shares research into staying online in a healthy way. She also explains how we build trust in online communication.
What do ham radios, 18th-century British roadways and the 1990 film "Pump Up The Volume" all have in common? They all foreshadowed internet culture! This week on Spark: a fun and illuminating look at how early moments in Western culture hinted at our digital lives today. Featuring guests Jordan Hermant, Jo Guldi, Colin Newell, Kristin Haring, and Anais Saint-Jude.
When new technology comes along—or we use it in new ways—it raises questions of etiquette and ethics. With so many of us opening a digital window into our homes in an unprecedented way, are we reimagining our relationship with our technologies—and each other? And what risks are involved with so many of us repurposing our home technology for work, or using apps and tools that haven't been tested at the kind of scale that which people are now using them? + Ainissa Ramirez is a materials scientist and the author of the new book, The Alchemy of Us. In it, she chronicles eight life-changing inventions, and the inventors behind them. + Hannah Sung explores how to connect with our friends and loved ones while being mindful of their privacy—and what privacy looks like in today's pandemic circumstances. + John Scott-Railton of the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab describes how repurposing often-older home computers and using unsecure apps create privacy and security risks—that could be exploited by hackers and other bad actors.
As the pandemic continues to keep a lot of us at home, today we look at access and technology: Social access to each other as we physically isolate. Access to the devices and data that keep us connected. And securing access to the internet when networks are under strain. Even in your own home, with people working and learning remotely It's easy to see why we often think of the internet as something intangible. We talk about being 'virtual' and storing things in the cloud. It's not until something goes wrong that we're reminded the internet actually does have a physical form: routers, cables, wires. Now that we're in the midst of a global pandemic, how much of a strain is there on that infrastructure? What can we do to keep the internet working well? How can we ensure that everyone who needs access gets it? + Mark Wolff is the CTO of CANARIE, which maintains the network that connects Canada's academic and scientific research institutions. He talks about how internet infrastructure is faring under the load presented by the pandemic. + Laura Tribe is the executive director of OpenMedia, an organization that advocates for internet freedom. She says the current public health crisis is bringing the digital divide in the country to the forefront. She shares some advice on how to make the most of unlimited internet access in one's household and community now, and what needs to be done to make the internet a basic service in the future. + Aimée Morrison researches how people represent themselves online. She explores the delightful, complicated, troubling, and goofy ways we're responding online to physical distance.
469: Remote

469: Remote


This week, Spark is coming to you from five different locations across Toronto, none of which is the CBC building! Like many people all over the world this week, we're working from home. Remote work is something we've talked about a lot on Spark over the past decade, but we've never done anything like this! We recognize that many people aren't able to work remotely, and we'll be addressing that too. But for people who can—and should—be working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we're going to explore the best ways to do this, using current technology. + Natalie Nagele is the co-founder and CEO of Wildbit, a Philadelphia-based software company, whose employees have been working remotely for 20 years, and which recently switched to a four-day workweek. Natalie explains how this works for Wildbit, and what other managers can learn from her experience. + Shawn D. Long, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Communication at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, U.S. He's an expert in organizational communications, and he's studied how office politics plays out in virtual offices.
Comments (1)

Yaser Izadinia

So amazing topic...I need the can I have transcripts?

Oct 13th
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