Monthly Archives: December 2010

Open source salmon?

Mama Grizzly and 3 cubs - Babine River counting fence: Open Source Salmon


How about this for 2011…? The Pacific Salmon Commission opens their ‘science’ to anyone that’s interested. They put a call out for a contest to anyone to devise a better system of in-season salmon management.

They base this system on initiatives such as Proctor and Gamble’s “Connect and Develop” initiative, which is tagged as an “open innovation strategy”. Rather than relying only on internal research and development, P&G has opened up their product development to any outsider that’s interested.

Also in 2011, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) starts an initiative called: WikiSalmon.

What is it?

Well… in an incredible turn of events, DFO opens their process of “managing” salmon and in turn reduces the financial sucking noise emanating from their overly inflated ‘senior manager’ salaried workforce based in Ottawa (that real hotbed of salmon spawning and migration).

Throughout the range of Pacific salmon, impassioned folks (referred to as the Gumboot Army) are setting out across thousands of cricks, creeks, streams, and lakes looking at salmon habitat, counting salmon, evaluating inputs and outputs from salmon ecosystems — and entering all of this information onto their computer, and in turn onto the worldwide web — similar to Wikipedia (one of the more impressive open source projects online).

As opposed to a $15 million+, legal-heavy, DFO-heavy, paper-producing, ‘fisheries science’-heavy, preeminent expert-laden process of an ‘inquiry’ — the B.C. and Canadian government, the states of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and the US federal government fund a: Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon.

The Assembly utilizes technology as much as possible cutting down on travel (teleconference, etc.) and has dedicated teams in each state and province that travel to as many small communities as possible to let people know about the Assembly and get information from average everyday folks about salmon in their area. (citizen science at work)

This info-gathering process utilizes a ‘wiki’-like format, rarely utilizes “panel-like” processes where public speaking and presentations is a must. (did you know that public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death for the majority of folks in the western world?).

Instead, more encouraging formats such as World Cafe, or Open Space, or my absolute favorite: sitting at the kitchen table… are the most-relied upon for gathering info.

About this point, some folks reading this may be wondering what was in my Christmas shortbread cookies or holiday brownies…

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If you haven’t heard the term “open source” or aren’t too sure what it means — it doesn’t really matter… What I can guarantee you though, is that this term will continue to become much more familiar to many in the near future.

Many already are — especially with the current fuss over WikiLeaks.

If you’ve been reading any of the multitude of books emanating from the ‘business’ section at the bookstore, or Amazon, or the library — “open source” is probably quite a familiar term, as are success stories of this approach.

Open source

Furthermore, if you’re reading this blog post you are benefiting — well… utilizing — open source software. WordPress has been an immensely successful open source project. As has Wikipedia.


If you’re using Firefox as your web browser: open source.

Pretty good chance that when you’re at work the computer servers are running on Linux: more open source. (Linux is the poster child for open source).

Or, web servers running on Apache: it’s been developed open source.

If you don’t want to get sucked into buying Microsoft crap, go with OpenOffice. It’s been out for ten years now.

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mass collaboration

Think it’s just a technology thing then read about Canadian gold miner Goldcorp (or companies like Proctor & Gamble and others). These stories are told at length in the very successful book: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

There’s a shorter version from a 2007 BusinessWeek article by the authors of the book:

A few years back, Toronto-based gold mining company Goldcorp was in trouble. Besieged by strikes, lingering debts, and an exceedingly high cost of production, the company had terminated mining operations.

Conditions in the marketplace were hardly favorable. The gold market was contracting, and most analysts assumed that the company’s fifty-year old mine in Red Lake, Ontario, was dying. Without evidence of substantial new gold deposits, Goldcorp was likely to fold.

Chief Executive Officer Rob McEwen needed a miracle. Frustrated that his in-house geologists couldn’t reliably estimate the value and location of the gold on his property, McEwen did something unheard of in his industry: He published his geological data on the Web for all to see and challenged the world to do the prospecting.

The “Goldcorp Challenge” made a total of $575,000 in prize money available to participants who submitted the best methods and estimates.

Every scrap of information (some 400 megabytes worth) about the 55,000 acre property was revealed on Goldcorp’s Web site. News of the contest spread quickly around the Internet and more than 1,000 virtual prospectors from 50 countries got busy crunching the data.


But Goldcorp isn’t a dot-com kind of company. Mining is one of the world’s oldest industries, and it’s governed by some pretty conventional thinking. Take Industry Rule No. 1: Don’t share your proprietary data. The fact that McEwen went open-source was a stunning gamble. And even McEwen was surprised by how handsomely the gamble paid off.


The contestants identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property, more than 80% of which yielded substantial quantities of gold. In fact, since the challenge was initiated, an astounding 8 million ounces of gold have been found—worth well over $3 billion. Not a bad return on a half million dollar investment.

Today, Goldcorp is reaping the fruits of its radical approach to exploration. McEwen’s willingness to open-source the prospecting process not only yielded copious quantities of gold, it introduced Goldcorp to state-of-the-art technologies and exploration methodologies, including new drilling techniques, and data collection procedures, and more advanced approaches to geological modeling.

This catapulted his under-performing $100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut while transforming a backwards mining site in Northern Ontario into one of the most innovative and profitable properties in the industry.

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Hmmm… open source, innovation, and citizen science fully utilized to better look after wild salmon? Quite a thought.

Thousands of people reading open scientific articles, newspaper articles, and the like and then sharing these through various open source and social media venues. (sidenote: Facebook just passed Google as the number one most visited site in the world).

These days if average joe and jill want to read scientific articles… forget it. They are protected behind their peer-reviewed electronic walls, remaining the domain of the preeminents and annual subscription paying folks with various letters behind their names.

Want to access Fisheries and Oceans science or decision-making rationale… the ‘science’ and ‘decisions’ paid for by citizens… gotta go through “Freedom of Information” legislation.

Want to look at data from salmon farmers on the BC Coast,  practices that potentially endanger wild salmon (as they have anywhere else open-pen salmon farms have been operated), and that utilize First Nations traditional territories and public lands and waters — nope, got to go through legal challenges.

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One of the biggest barriers?

In my humble opinion… demographics.

Much of the senior civil service is occupied by… well… more ‘senior’ individuals (many approaching retirement in coming months and years)

The demographics of Canadian politicians … well… more ‘senior’, with an average age of 55.

I recognize I dance a dangerous razor edge here… I don’t mean to be ‘age-ist’; more suggestive of diversity in looking to solutions.

At a “digital economy” conference in 2009, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore (part of the more ‘senior’ contingent) comments on this issue (in regards to digital copyright laws) and is a fitting conclusion to this post:

The average age of a Member of Parliament is 55…

And you’d be surprised the number of Members of Parliament who have never held an iPhone, who couldn’t tell you, functionally, how a Blackberry works and have no idea how these things integrate.

The old way of doing things is over. These things are all now one. And it’s great and it’s never been better and we need to be enthusiastic and embrace these things.

I point out the average age of a member of parliament because don’t assume that those who are making the decisions and who are driving the debate understand all the dynamics that are at play here. Don’t assume that everybody understands the opportunities that are at play here and how great this can be for Canada.

“B.C.’s salmon wars about ownership, not race”

Globe and Mail image

A decent article from the Globe and Mail today:

B.C.’s salmon wars about ownership, not race


Setting this story against the recent history of salmon declines (except for the unexplained cornucopia of 2010 along the Fraser) may illustrate what happens when over-generous licensing and ever-better fish predation technologies collide with climate change.

Whatever the source, we have a lot of unhappy people chasing generally fewer salmon each year. Even trickier, the largest and most aggrieved group, the non-native commercial fishers, adds the least value to the provincial economy per fish.

A fine salmon sliced, steamed and canned is worth a few dollars a pound at most. When caught by a sports angler, it may cost several hundred dollars a pound. Economic rationality would suggest that, beyond the needs of conservation and the constitutionally guaranteed Indian fishery, the entire commercial fishery should give way to serving those vast hordes of fellows who spend like sheikhs on boats, guides, lures, gear, accommodations, and even, it has been hinted, potable fluids – to the considerable enrichment of all in the province. An equitable buy-out could increase jobs and income for all.

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Certainly a curious conclusion — over and above the constitutionally guaranteed First Nation fishery, make everything else a sport fishery.

I’m not so sure that making everything a sport fishery would “increase jobs and income for all” — however it would certainly be a different picture. And… it may not be that far off. Some sport fishing outfits have been looking to buy commercial-type quotas so that they have more fish to catch with their clients.

Unfortunately, one of the issues with some of the sport fishing industry is places like Haida Gwaii where much of the industry is controlled by companies located a longgg ways from the islands. Many of the sport fishing clients never even see a local community or local person, as they’re flown straight to their west coast lodge or mothership.

Very little local benefit, and in some cases very little B.C. benefit.

Yet, salmon sport fisheries — no question — add much more value to fish caught then the commercial salmon fishery. In some ways the commercial salmon fishery seems a relic from the Industrial Age — as are the institutional arrangements that ‘manage’ it, and folks that continue to lobby government hard for its continued existence.

A similar story has been written in the B.C. logging industry. An industrial age relic had to undergo massive changes over the last two decades — add more value and be much more aware of ecological impacts. The age of turning 800 year old, 200 ft high old growth Sitka Spruce — into 2 x 4s which were then exported, has largely gone the way of the BC coast ship building industry.

Change is not such a bad thing — however, resistance to that change is inevitable.

Free proof pudding

a good family haul

Is the proof in the pudding? Or is it in the data?

Another fitting post over at Seth Godin’s blog:

Folk wisdom and proofiness

“Is it feed a cold, starve a fever, or the other way around, I can never remember?”

Does it matter if you get the rhyme wrong? A folk remedy that doesn’t work doesn’t work whether or not you say it right.

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about a baseball team on a losing streak. On the road for a doubleheader, the team visited a town that was home to a famous faith healer. While the guys were warming up, the manager disappeared. He came back an hour later with a big handful of bats. “Guys, these bats were blessed and healed by the guru. Our problems are over.”

According to the story, the team snapped out of their streak and won a bunch of games. Some people wonder, “did the faith healer really touch the bats, or was the manager making it up?” Huh? Does it matter?

Mass marketers have traditionally abhorred measurement, preferring rules of thumb, casting calls and alchohol instead. Yet, there’s no real correlation between how the ad was made and how well it works.

As the number of apparently significant digits in the data available to us goes up (traffic was up .1% yesterday!) we continually seek causation, even if we’re looking in the wrong places. As the amount of data we get continues to increase, we need people who can help us turn that data into information.

It’s important, I think, to understand when a placebo is helpful and when it’s not. We shouldn’t look to politicians to tell us whether or not the world is getting warmer (and what’s causing it). They’re not qualified or motivated to turn the data into information. We also shouldn’t look to a fortune teller on the corner to read our x-rays or our blood tests.

Proofiness is a tricky thing. Data is not information, and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions.

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how’s the old folk saying go: “give a man a fish feed him for a day; give him a net and watch him trawl the ocean bottom…”

or something like that…

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“Confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions”… ain’t that the truth, or a fact, or… ummm… set of data…

The curious thing with “data” is that it has a variety of definitions. Some definitions suggest that data is: “a collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn.”

However, a “fact” is defined in various ways as well, such as: “Knowledge or information based on real occurrences.”

So if we look at, for example, in-season forecasting of Fraser sockeye — there is no shortage of “data”/numbers collected (go visit the Pacific Salmon Commission website to see how many numbers and of what is collected); but, is it “facts”?

No… these are estimates of facts.

Unfortunately, it appears that many institutions have adopted the above definition of “data” — the one that suggests that data is a collection of facts from which conclusions can be drawn.

The big question is: are they the right conclusions?

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There is a better definition of “data” at the Business Dictionary, which suggests it means:

Information in raw or unorganized form (such as alphabets, numbers, or symbols) that refer to, or represent, conditions, ideas, or objects. Data is limitless and present everywhere in the universe.

Also at Wikipedia: “Data (plural of “datum”) are typically the results of measurements and can be the basis of graphs, images, or observations of a set of variables. Data are often viewed as the lowest level of abstraction from which information and then knowledge are derived.”

As such, “data” does not equal “fact” or truth — furthermore, graphs of data does not maketh the truth.

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If data (plural of datum) lies at the lowest level of abstraction from which knowledge is derived… and “knowledge” (a greatly debated term over the ages) might be suggested to mean: “The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.”

Does not a “range” of learning suggest confines?

Confines or borders that can grow over time. Just as any “sum” can grow if something else is added to it — resulting in a new sum.

And so we go back to Godin’s suggestion: “Proofiness is a tricky thing. Data is not information [it is raw and unorganized], and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions.”

I would have to say that the history of fisheries management over the last 50 years or so — is wracked with this.

And isn’t it a scary proposition that a politician — the Minister of Fisheries — has such discretionary decision-making power when it comes to fisheries management decisions? (I’m not so sure this has been guided by anything much different than the mass marketers in Godin’s post — nor is there much thought correlation between how the decision was made and how well it worked)

And really, is this much different than the fortune teller on the street corner interpreting our blood tests or x-rays?

from Langley Advance

A pretty decent editorial coming out of the South Delta Leader newspaper… nice to see a balanced perspective on this issue.

Also curious why a federal government MP thinks its OK to break the law — yet be a member of a governing party that is coming down “tough on crime”?

It’s a curious message really… as government MPs and MLAs often have little issue with standing on their soap box screaming about “illegal blockades” that First Nations often have to erect to get their point across. And government reps shouting about how “renegades” and “criminals” must be prosecuted…

EDITORIAL—Focus wrong on fisheries protest

Commercial fishermen who fished illegally to protest the rules governing separate aboriginal fisheries should pay their fines and move on.

More than 40 fishermen were fined $200, including Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins, for illegal fishing in 2001 and 2002, and B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition spokesperson Phil Eidsvik has said it’s a conviction they will appeal.

Yes, enforcement has been lax when it comes to policing aboriginal fisheries on the Fraser River, and that needs to change. Many contend First Nations’ food fish catches are sold on the black market (something many aboriginal fisherman would argue should not be illegal), and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to step up to help alleviate some of the friction.

But Eidsvik and others argue the separate fishery for aboriginal people is, basically, racist.

“A number of them (fishermen) have come to me and said, ‘I’m not going to pay a fine because I’m the wrong race,'” Eidsvik said earlier this week. “We have here a prosecution and enforcement policy based on race.”

Yes, First Nations fishermen who participate in a separate fishery are a different race than other fishermen, but that is not why First Nations have been granted the constitutionally protected right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes ahead of other users.

The purpose is to restore something which had been stolen or, at least, severely curtailed for more than a century.

First Nations’ pre-existing right to fish the river was curbed by colonialism. A fishery they’d enjoyed for hundreds—or thousands—of years was restricted through policies of assimilation and subordination. Access to fish was cut as far back as the 1860s, and tightened further in the early 1900s. At one point aboriginal people were not classified as Canadian citizens and therefore not allowed to have commercial fishing licences unless they gave up aboriginal status.

Today, the limitation of access—an historic wrong—is corrected, to some extent, through legislation and treaty.

Having said that, each First Nation has its own history. Not all aboriginal people can be lumped together as a group. As treaties are negotiated, fishing rights are determined on a case-by-case basis based on each nation’s claim to a place.

Because of today’s shortage of salmon and the difficulty making a living as a commercial fisherman, the tensions are understandable.

But it’s simplistic to put the spotlight on race when we talk about aboriginal fisheries.

When we talk about separate openings for First Nations on the river, let’s keep some context and history in mind.

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It’s also important to consider the numbers on this issue. For the last 50+ years (with the exception of the last few years of severe dwindling of runs), the commercial salmon fishery has accounted for well over 90% of the total salmon catch in BC — closer to 95% most years.

The First Nation or aboriginal fishery has rarely been over 5%, probably closer to 3% with sport fisheries making up the other percentage.

So… really… if we’re going to talk about “policing” or at least monitoring the fisheries — maybe we should distribute the limited (and constantly dwindling) ‘compliance and enforcement’ budgets based on concentration/percentage of catch.

(Side note: the sport fishery is the least monitored of all the fisheries, with a growing percentage of the catch)

marketing is everything; everything is marketing… Part II

Hong Kong skyline nightly laser light show

In yesterday’s post I mentioned my trip to Hong Kong and Pianxiang, China — as well as the preponderance of large advertisements on Hong Kong buildings, and marketing efforts attempting to put glistening spit shines on a variety of things and issues.

The picture above is the impressive nightly laser light show that dances along Hong Kong’s skyline buildings. Some of the irony here is that poor air quality can make the show even more impressive.

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Returning to the many large ads plastered on buildings in the Kowloon area:

what time is it?


it's 22 C... but I feel like I need a jacket, all of a sudden


very nice...


As in so many cities, however, the glossy fronts — e.g. the marketing to the masses — glosses over what’s going on behind the ‘scenes’.

The ‘scenes’ in this case are the fancy, shiny opulence of consumer culture — all must be fine… look at how great those models look in those clothes and watches.

So damn good that they’re assess and faces take up a couple of stories on a building…





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Take a short wander up a few back alleys of these buildings and a little more reality wafts into the nose as well as sights to behold:

behind the 'scenes'


"no climbing"... yah, I guess not.

The little sign in the right hand corner says “no climbing”. I was worried just walking by that I was going to get a shock…

still "no climbing"...


notice bamboo scaffolding?






Impressive bamboo scaffolding up the entire side of this building and more curious wiring. In the centre left of this photo is a good collection of clothes hanging to dry. This is a very common sight in the Hong Kong area — not much need for clothes dryers.

I’d be curious to know the energy savings on that alone — especially in an area of the world that burns a lot of coal to produce electricity…


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Now, none of this is meant as criticism or otherwise — simply to highlight the old cliche about book covers; and that buildings with glossy, pretty fronts can be hiding much.

Maybe a significant portion of the budget went into applying glossy fronts, nicely worded ads, pretty faces — and, yet, behind the scenes; behind the false fronts; is a mass of wiring, short cuts, planning shortfalls, and so on.

What does this hark of?

Tar Sands oil producers marketing ads

This sort of marketing from the Canadian Oil Sands Producers — an initiative recently set up to counter spin much of the negative marketing by enviro groups, US politicians, and otherwise.

If things are so great in the Tar Sands, then why are even the Canadian Conservatives coming down with hard new regulations?

Governments vow to overhaul environmental monitoring of oil sands development

This after: “a federally appointed Oil Sands Advisory Panel, …noted “significant shortcomings” in the federal-provincial system” of environmental monitoring.

Of course, one probably needs to read this carefully — marketing is everything and everything is marketing — what Enviro Minister Baird is suggesting in the article and overall is that the feds will be involved in setting up a “gold standard” of ‘environmental monitoring’.

The question is whether that “monitoring” will actually change how the Oil Sands producers operate? And whether any charges will ever be laid for environmental pollution or damage?

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Or how about this brilliant piece of marketing?

great kids Christmas gift?


This sort of merchandise does a great job of masking the fact that we now have a Canadian society with a higher percentage of overweight people (61%) than healthy weight.

And that childhood obesity in Canada has more than tripled in the last 25 years.

Not to mention that obesity is one of most preventable of health issues.

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And… thus… coming back to salmon.

Canada's Wild Salmon Policy

Is this a glossy, false-front building with ugly wiring and poor planning around back in the alleys — meant to serve, simply as nice marketing?

— Or is this a functional, well-built, well-planned piece of infrastructure brilliance?

Sadly, the story coming out of the Ministry that released this glossy guide in 2005 — is that this glistening page-turner is frowningly under-funded, and immensely difficult to implement.

However, whenever pushed, many folks within this ministry will also tout this lustrous literature, as a showpiece… a multi-story model for ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecosystem values’…

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Particular government ministries are not necessarily in the game of profit… unlike some of the science that supports them. Although I suppose a “surplus” is like turning a profit.

Particular government ministries, however, can turn into boondoggles that cost votes. Losing votes, literally means losing money — and most dangerous: losing power.

As such, governments are in the game of marketing as much Rolex, or Tissot, or McDonalds.

Canada's Economic Action Plan: signs made in the U.S...

And, often, this marketing is meant to gloss over the reality of certain realities…

Like this great irony… One of the fantastic initiatives launched by the federal government as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan:

Helping Consumers with Credit Cards

Gee thanks guys…

Number one suggestion from federal government as part of this initiative:

Keep track of spending and make a budget. & Put needs before wants. & …

Wowsers… that’s helpful…

With any marketing — and remember marketing is everything; everything is marketing — one must wade through the bullshit to separate the truth from the gloss…

marketing is everything… everything is marketing – Can “objectivity” and “profit” sleep in the same bed without getting naughty?

Hong Kong skyline -- Dec. 2010

This past week I was in China — hence a quiet week on the post front. This was my second time to Hong Kong, unfortunately the first time I was only 1.

The trip was a bit of a mad dash, yet fascinating to no end. I traveled with some other folks from B.C. to go look at a bioenergy facility — a small power plant that burns wood (or other biological material such as rice husks or otherwise) to produce gases which are then utilized to power large engines — which in turn produce electricity.

The facility we looked at — manufactured by a combination of B.C.-based and Chinese/Hong Kong-based company — is quite remarkable. It packages up into 15-or so shipping containers and can be set up in less than a week once on-site. It produces enough electricity for a small-ish community (approx. 250-500 residents and maybe more).

The waste from this plant is minimal — and a potential mass improvement for the over 60 communities in B.C. that burn diesel to produce power…

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However, this post is about marketing.

First… what dominates the picture above? The large building in the centre is impressive – as is the Convention Centre on the water, however, I found the advertising on top of the other buildings more impressive. The one is so brightly lit, it’s reflecting off the water in the late afternoon. The entire skyline of Hong Kong is dominated by banners and ads — as are the main streets… and the ads… they are not subtle:

Kowloon... anyone know what time it is?

The great irony here, is I wonder how many drivers have rear-ended the bus in front of them because they were admiring “the driver’s watch”?… or reading the ads on the back of the bus, or the side of the bus, or the side of the red taxi, etc.

There’s a lot of full-building watch ads. Some people take out “full-page” ads… some take out “full-building” ads… I am also curious if maybe folks that stay in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong can’t tell time very well…

what time is it?


man... what time is it, anyway?


And you know… who better to sponsor a “swimming complex” then that good Scottish restaurant: McDonald’s:

good community corporatism


The part I really enjoyed was this excellent example of corporate-community partnerships in the Shenzen, China aiport:

"community service" (bottom of cans in yellow print)... at its best.

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What is this “Marketing” thing anyways?

Well… here’s a decent definition found online:

Management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer.

As a philosophy, it is based on thinking about the business in terms of customer needs and their satisfaction. As a practice, it consists in coordination of four elements called the 4P’s:

(1) identification, selection, and development of a product,

(2) determination of its price,

(3) selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer’s place, and

(4) development and implementation of a promotional strategy.

Marketing differs from selling because (in the words of Harvard Business School’s emeritus professor of marketing Theodore C. Levitt) “Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.”

“Satisfying customer needs…” hmmmm???

I wonder if emeritus Professor Levitt might have some serious confusion between “needs” and “wants”… As I am curious how McDonald’s satisfies customers “needs”?

Or, how a Rolex — as compared to a Timex from the local Canadian Superstore — satisfies customers “needs”?

Do we really “need” Nike apparel to make us: “unstoppable”?

Nike... 'be unstoppable'?


Guess... what?



















If I wear this company’s clothes, people won’t have to “Guess” how clever I am?

(Some more irony… the impressive bamboo scaffolding in the upper right of this picture is sheltering the Armani store.)









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One of my favorite ironies of this trip.

Here is the tag line of the city in China where we traveled to:

City's magazine tagline...

This is the like the tourist guide to the city of Pianxiang… and one thing that struck me about much of where I traveled in China, is the complete lack of evidence of: “low carbon.” (not to say that there might not be a move that way… it just isn’t showing)

The air quality was terrible anywhere we went. However, that does make for nice sunsets… as you can see here in this photo taken from my hotel room window.

Pianxiang sunset

And, it was explained to me that this particular day was almost unheard of. We could actually see blue sky in the morning and some of the hills around the city. Sadly, about the only thing that makes the city “ecological” is that it only has a population of about 1.8 million. A very small Chinese “city”.

(This isn’t to take away from the really fantastic people I met in both Hong Kong and China. Such great hosts.)

And then there’s signs like this — from an airport bathroom:

One "r"... reduce use

I took a guess at what this sign in the bathroom meant — and it was confirmed by our hosts. Reduce use of paper in the bathroom.

Fair enough… especially when one lives in a country of over 1 billion people.

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And the connection to salmon…? (one might ask)

Marketing is everything… everything is marketing…

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If Chinese cities feel safe marketing themselves as “ecological and low carbon” and McDonald’s expects folks to believe their ‘honest, community service’ intentions and Nike feels that we all believe that we are more “unstoppable” in their shoes then the ‘other guys’…

Well, then maybe we are all susceptible to marketing.

And really we are… just as the definition above suggests: in business marketing is the process of getting goods and services from concept to consumer… (I mean ‘customer’)… and, for any business to survive that process must entail profit.

This means that the main focus of business is profit… and the sole focus of marketing is profit. Sure, non-profits aren’t focused on profit per-se… however, they still need to convince someone that their product is best.

Satisfaction in business… well, that is no guarantee. (Air Canada’s service is a fine example of that… customer satisfaction is somewhat of an afterthought…)

And so marketing may be about the 4 P’s: product, price, placement, and promotion… but little of that is possible without the all important fifth P… Profit.

Everything in the business process, everything through the process of the 4 P’s must focus on profit, must result in profit.

And thus… what happens to science when it becomes a business?

Can businesses involved in scientific research still remain true to the almighty “objectivity” required of science?

Can “objectivity” and “profit” sleep in the same bed without getting naughty?

satisfying charts and graphs and equations and …

Salmon Think Tank -- Dec. 2010

This is a slide from the recent “Salmon Think Tank” gathering a few weeks ago in Vancouver at SFU’s downtown campus.

As mentioned in previous posts, I wasn’t all that struck by a group of scientists getting together and coming up with the tag line on this particular PPoint slide:

“where to direct future science efforts and how to conduct it?”

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There is quite a debate out there these days over “science” and “traditional knowledge” (whether that traditional knowledge is First Nations or non-First Nations — or maybe simply ‘community knowledge’).

Canada’s courts have had to grapple with this issue. For example, how does aboriginal oral history get treated within the confines of the colonial law system?

Court cases over the last few decades (in many colonized nations) have started to give this question, many varying answers…

And now, scientists are even paying more attention to traditional and community-based knowledge.

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Oddly enough, scientists must have paid some attention to this knowledge over the last century or so when it comes to “fisheries science”… the image above is the present-day salmon smolt (baby salmon) counting fence on the Chilko River out on the Chilcotin Plateau, west of Williams Lake in the territory of the Tsilqot’in people.

The flow of the river in this picture is from right to left. As baby sockeye begin migrating downstream to the ocean, they meet this weir and are directed into the central opening where the small buildings are located.

As the baby fish pool up in their instinctual downstream push, they are ‘counted’ through a system of various electronics and cameras. Data sets for portions of an hour are then used to predict how many fish are moving each hour, this is extrapolated to 24 hrs, etc.

The end result is an estimate of how many baby sockeye leave this particular river and head out to ocean each spring. This number can then be compared against returning adults 3-5 years later — most returning after 4 years.

This is not an “exact” science… and sadly, often many smolts can die in this counting process as fish gather in holding tanks and get squashed, etc.

But, it’s for the good of science…

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Seton Lake - Portage Fish Weir 1903


Fish weir -- Cowichan River 1900s



Fraser Lake fish weir 1908

With some irony, all of these fish weirs pictured above were for upstream migrating fish. Aboriginal people from northern Alaska to southern California used these types of structures to capture upstream migrating salmon — and harvest them selectively.

Often times, weirs like this would be located at various points along a stream or river — with Nations upstream depending on the nations downstream to allow fish past.

Most of these weirs — and looking after salmon (e.g. enter buzzword: stewardship) — were tended through elaborate rituals and traditional systems handed down for eons.

Simple principle really: catch too many fish and die a few years later due to starvation.

Or… catch too many fish downstream and suffer the wrath of starving nations upstream.

However, aboriginal fishing weirs and traps were outlawed by colonial laws in the mid to late 1800s — too much competition for the newly expanding salmon canneries.

And thus, very selective in-stream fisheries gave way to mixed stock, non-selective ocean fisheries…

And… elaborate systems of charts and graphs and equations and formulas and licensing and government bureaucracy and the Peter Principle and so on…

This isn’t to say that the traditional systems weren’t perfect and ripe for misuse — however, the checks and balances over thousands of years had allowed a pretty skookum system to entrench.

And thus now, what are we left with?

Stellaquo River 2010 -- Upper Fraser counting fence

“Counting” fences.

They provide some work for folks — however, function little according to their original intention: Food and selective harvest.

Now the counting fence is largely a tool to satisfy the charts and graphs and equations.

And to attempt to satisfy eco-bumpf suggestions of ecosystem-based management and sustainability and conservation… all terms that are entirely relative according to who is speaking them (or including them in their most recent annual report or greenwash campaign).

Upper Sustut 2010 -- Skeena River salmon counting fence

Of course, the original counting fences did serve a “management” function. In addition to serving as tools to facilitate food harvest and selectivity — they were used to gauge the strength and health of each particular salmon run, including looking at ratio of females to males.

Now though… these weirs (i.e. counting fences) largely serve to count the many dieing, dwindling, disappearing salmon runs. When a river’s salmon run becomes too small — it becomes “uneconomical” to continue operating the counting fence.

Not enough fish to count… no point in having a fence to try and count ghost fish.

Maybe someone could do a tally of the number of fish ‘counting’ fences that have disappeared, been de-fenced (you know…as in de-plane) over the last 2-3 decades?

That would probably be a pretty good indication of salmon run health coast-wide…

Sort of like the numerous other salmon “enumeration” programs that have gone the way of the Rivers Inlet sockeye (for example) or East Coast Vancouver Island Coho or Fraser River early-timed Chinook, etc. etc.

It’s not all doom and gloom — it just seems some priorities are sadly twisted, and that history and community knowledge are bounced out the back of the bus and run over by the logging truck rumbling behind….

Decline effect: “the truth wears off”… “nature often gives us different answers”

Great post at the Frontal Cortex blog:

I’ve got a new article in The New Yorker (subscription required) on a disturbing phenomenon that’s affecting the scientific process. It’s sometimes referred to as the decline effect, and it’s the tendency of scientific results (i.e., effect sizes) to shrink over time. Although the initial data might appear to be very robust – and it doesn’t matter if the data describes the therapeutic power of a drug or the strength of a biological observation or even a property of particle physics – it will often decay over time. Here is the opening of the story:

On September 18, 2007, a few dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and drug company executives gathered in a hotel conference room in Brussels to hear some startling news. It had to do with a class of drugs known as atypical or second-generation antipsychotics, which came on the market in the early nineties. The drugs, sold under brand names such as Abilify, Seroquel, and Zyprexa, had been tested on schizo- phrenics in several large clinical trials, all of which had demonstrated a dramatic decrease in the subjects’ psychiatric symptoms. As a result, second-generation antipsychotics had become one of the fastest-growing and most profitable pharmaceutical classes. By 2001, Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa was generating more revenue than Prozac. It remains the company’s top-selling drug.

But the data presented at the Brussels meeting made it clear that something strange was happening: the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to be steadily waning. A recent study showed an effect that was less than half of that documented in the first trials, in the early nineteen-nineties. Many researchers began to argue that the expensive pharmaceuticals weren’t any better than first-generation antipsychotics, which have been in use since the fifties. “In fact, sometimes they now look even worse,” John Davis, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me.

Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe?

Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.

Very curious… and so if many scientists believe in this:

a rather odd recent presentation by DFO to First Nations reps

How are ‘precision’ and ‘accuracy’ affected by the “decline effect”?

Does this mean that consumption of antidepressants in scientists might go up?

May be the case when crazy things like this year’s large Fraser sockeye return occur…

Salmon farmers… altruistic or claptrap?

Appears to be a pretty significant ruling yesterday coming out of the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser Sockeye. Justice Cohen made a ruling on the production of salmon farming – aquaculture health records.

As outlined in the Commission ruling, back in July the aquaculture and conservation coalitions (granted “standing” in the Commission) requested documents pertaining to fish health in relation to salmon farming operations from the Province, federal government, and BC Salmon Farmer’s Association (BCSFA). The request was for data going back as far as 1980.

Here is paragraph 3 from the  ruling:

The BCSFA wrote to commission counsel on July 30, 2010, advising that it found the Initial Request “overreaching in its scope, both in terms of the kinds of documents requested and the period of time which the request covers.” The BCSFA expressed concern about the temporal scope of the Initial Request:
“We are concerned that expanding the timeframe of the evidence placed before the Commission will detract from the Commission’s process and will place additional financial pressures on all participants. As a practical consideration, the Commission should seek to limit the scope of the investigation to material times, which based upon our understanding of the Terms of Reference, would be within the last five to ten years.”

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Hmmm… when I read this sort of stuff, I immediately have alarm bells going off (maybe it’s just me). Sure I have a bias towards “conservation first” when it comes to salmon… oh but wait… so does the federal department of fisheries and oceans… as a legislated mandate.

So my bias out in the open…

If BC Salmon farmers are so sure that open-pen salmon farming is not impacting BC’s wild salmon or the BC coast — then why not just be good ‘ol: “open & transparent”…?

You know, like the open-pen nets that they use to raise farmed salmon.

If the general public has “nothing to be concerned about” then why haven’t the fish health records been front and centre on the salmon farmers association website, or just openly shared?

See… the biggest salmon farmers on the coast are publicly traded companies — e.g. Marine Harvest. As a result they have to have an open book policy when it comes to finances.

These finances have to be shared quarterly and openly reported. Now, of course, most of us are well familiar with the ability of some companies to ‘cook’ the books, like a badly poached salmon — (remember Enron and Arthur Anderson?)

So why is it then… that when asked for fish health records, the BC Salmon Farmers Association took the altruistic approach:

‘oh gee… you know, we think that would just be too much work for the Commission, and the lawyers, and everyone involved. There’s much more important things to focus on, and we really don’t want to burden you with ALL that silly information…’

I call “Bullshit”… and I haven’t even filled out my bullshit bingo card yet.

I take this as akin to phoning Telus and getting the automated response: “your call is important to us, please stay on the line…”

If my call was so frigging important then why don’t you have more people (e.g. in some foreign country) to answer my fricking call!

Don’t patronize me… don’t even bother having some robotic voice bullshitting me… Just tell me the truth: “sorry, we’re really busy, we’ll be with you as soon as possible… and in the meantime we will pay you $1 per minute for your time on this call and credit your next bill… because your time is more important than our time”.

(of course they wouldn’t do this, because then Telus, or Bell, or Rogers, or [enter company name here] would be paying their customers more than the $5/day they’re paying the folks answering the phones.

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“Customer service” rant aside…

Should we really be led to believe that the simple reason for not sharing fish health data from salmon farms all along the BC south coast is because it would produce too much paper?

Better yet, the BC Salmon Farmers Association proposed:

In its letter, the BCSFA proposed providing the commission with “aggregated data for the years 2007 to 2009 from the Fish Health Documents with a report summarizing and explaining the raw data …”

Apologies BCSFA, but I take that to suggest in this day of public relations spin to suggest: “we will weed out the bad info and give you the good stuff.”

Why the hell would the BCSFA give anything to the Cohen Commission that might implicate them, or even raise questions? That’s akin to suicide.

Instead, it appears the BCSFA would like to practice their own form of “closed containment” rather than “O-Pen”…

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When I read this sort of stuff, it starts to hark of cigarette manufacturers denying the health consequences of smoking, (or the current PR spin being mounted by the Tarsands operators in Alberta suggesting their operations are rather benign…).

Rumors suggest that BC Salmon Farmers have hired PR and marketing firms that have, or do, work for cigarette sellers.

I must say, it starts to make sense when I read this sort of claptrap.

Does the BCSFA really think that the general public — and Commission lawyers, and others — would buy the fact that they have nothing to hide, yet would much rather just present “aggregate” data (that they choose) only from the last two years rather than just open the books for the last decade or so?

Come on… even the logging industry on coastal BC has openly come out over the last decade and said: “gee, we need to change our practices”…



I don’t know if it could be said much better than this morning’s post from Seth Godin:

The appearance of impropriety

Marketing is actually what other people are saying about you.

Like it or not, true or not, what other people say is what the public tends to believe. Hence an imperative to be intentional about how we’re seen.

It may be true that the effluent from your factory is organic, biodegradable and not harmful to the river. But if it is brown and smelly and coming out of an open pipe, your neighbors might draw their own conclusions.

I know you washed your hands just before you walked into the examination room, but if you wash them again, right here in front of me, all doubts go away.

Yes, Ms. Congressperson, I know that lobbyist is your good friend, but perhaps someone else should host you on vacation.

Your brother-in-law may very well be the most qualified person on the planet to do this project for us, but perhaps (unfair as it might be) it would be better marketing to hire the second-most-qualified person instead.

Sneaking around is a bad strategy. You will get caught. Ironically, it’s also a bad strategy to not sneak around but appear to be.

You will never keep people from talking. But you can take actions to influence the content of what they say.

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Yes… indeed.