Spark

 
 

Spark

Spark brings you the latest in technology and culture. With an eye on the future, host Nora Young guides you through this dynamic era of technology-led change, and connects your life to the big ideas changing our world right now.

Updated: Fridays
Download episodes from this podcast for: 6 months
Visit Show Site: http://www.cbc.ca/spark

All podcast episodes

Use the links below to download a file.

418: Deciphering ancient text, finding birds on Street View, and more.

On social media, finding out who exactly who is responsible for targeted ads for political causes, parties, or social movements isn't easy. Jeremy Merrill is one of the people behind Propublica's Political Ad Collector. Jeremy and his colleagues at Propublica have continued to monitor how political ads thrive on Facebook - who's behind them, and why regular users should care. ------ What do you think the greatest films of all time are? And how would you go about defending your choices? Traditionally, movies are ranked by by how well they did at the box office, and by how they were critically reviewed -- which leaves many influential films out. Now, Livio Bioglio, an Italian computer scientist has developed a new algorithm that yields some surprising results. ------ Cuneiform is the oldest known form of writing, and was used to tell the story of the rise and fall of Assyria and Babylonia some 5,000 years ago. And although half a million of the etched stone tablets have been unearthed, 90 percent of them remain untranslated. Émilie Pagé-Perron hopes to change that, by enlisting the aid of AI to look for patterns and reveal the stories the cuneiform texts tell. ------ Google's Street View has yielded a trove of information, from illicit activities to acts of great kindness. And it turns out the service is really good for an activity usually done offline: birding. Nick Lund, a writer for the National Audubon Society and creator of the website, The Birdist, explains his latest avian adventure: Google Street View Birding. ------ We've all gone through breakups. That's why Ridwan Madon, a student at the TISCH school for the arts, created Breakup Aid. It's a chatbot created to be a substitute for those who need a listening ear but think they may actually feel more comfortable talking to a chatbot about the trials of breaking up.

Download 418: Deciphering ancient text, finding birds on Street View, and more.
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417: Getting ready for smart cities, Google's return to china, and more.

Google has come under fire for exploring the idea of bringing a version of it search engine back to China. This has led some Google employees to condemn the company for considering the idea. We asked Scott Romaniuk of the University of Alberta's China Institute to examine some of the issues. ----- There's been a lot of attention on Sidewalk Toronto's Quayside project, but many are having trouble imagining what a smart city might actually look like. Quayside is a smart city test-bed project by Sidewalk Labs, Google's sister company. Nabeel Ahmed is a tech consultant and smart cities researcher. He discusses what the project could mean for Canadian tech innovation. ----- Are tech giants doing enough for workers' rights? That's one of the issues tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar spoke about in a recent talk in Ottawa last week. Muzaffar is a tech-entrepreneur and founder of Tech Girls Can, and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada. She talks about why we need to consider the human labour behind tech conveniences. ----- Faxes seemed so magical back in the old days. But don't drop off your fax machine at the museum just yet. They're far from obsolete yet many industries still rely on the daily use of fax machines including medicine and the legal profession. Some young faxers take inside the curious persistence of the fax.

Download 417: Getting ready for smart cities, Google's return to china, and more.
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416: Questions about an app to screen babysitters, making space for non-white people in tech, hiring your own boss, and people in Sweden putting microchips in their hands.

A startup called Predictim wants to use AI to help parents and guardians find the best babysitter. With the potential caregivers' consent, the company analyzes social media files to deliver a risk assessment. But does this actually work? And what are the ethics of digging through people's social media files? We put these questions to Avi Goldfarb. He's one of the author's of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence. ========== Intersect To is what the intersection of tech and local activism looks like in Toronto. They are a group of artists, academics, and tech professionals who aim to build a tech community by and for people who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People Of Colour. They describe it as space to learn, make, and have critical discussions on technology. ========== Being self-employed can be great, but it can also be easy to procrastinate, especially if you work at home. The solution? Pay a fee for a boss to make sure you stick to deadlines! Manasvini Krishna is a software developer. She designed Boss as a Service to help people get more done in a day. ==========In Sweden, electronic devices implanted under the skin are becoming more common and useful for everyday things. The microchip devices have been implanted into 4,000 Swedes. Per Söderström is a consultant and biohacker in Sweden, who uses his device for everything from to entering his Stockholm office office to buying snacks at vending machines.

Download 416: Questions about an app to screen babysitters, making space for non-white people in tech, hiring your own boss, and people in Sweden putting microchips in their hands.
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415: The sounds of old tech, crying on Instagram, laser shoes and more.

Conserve The Sound preserves the sound: Daniel Chun and Jan Derksen run a film design and communication firm, based in Germany. But they're also interested in preserving vanishing and endangered sounds. They created Conserve the Sound, an online museum of vintage sounds. From a rotary dial phones to a Polaroid cameras, the site documents sounds from the past before they completely disappear from our daily life. ========== It's okay to cry on Instagram: On Instagram, it can often seem like people are displaying an art directed, perfectly lit, ideal version of their lives. But now some see it as a place to reveal their full selves -- tears, warts and all. Aimee Morrison, an associate professor of English and Literature at the University of Waterloo, talks about what she thinks is behind this trend. ========== Using 'shoe lasers' to help people with Parkinson's take the next step: Freezing of gait is a common symptom for people with Parkinson's disease and causes a temporary inability to move. This freezing made walking difficult for Lise Pape's father. So she designed Path Finder to help. It's a shoe attachment that projects a laser in front of the user. The visual cue helps people with Parkinson's get moving again. ========== Productivity is Counterproductive: The focus on workplace efficiency and systemized time management goes back to the turn of the last century, but in today's tech-driven world, it has become a badge of honour, an obsession that prioritizes individual mastery of activity over the actual meaning of work. In her new book, Counterproductive, Melissa Gregg argues it isolates us and takes the politics out of work

Download 415: The sounds of old tech, crying on Instagram, laser shoes and more.
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414: Smart cities, serendipitous discovery, whale songs, and more.

---------- Last year, Toronto introduced plans for a smart neighbourhood at the waterfront. The plan is to make city living "smarter", but it's also raised questions about data privacy, public space, and the relationship between governments and private companies. Nasma Ahmed weighs in on these issues. She's the founding director of the Digital Justice Lab and is among a new group of community activists in Toronto pushing for youth to practice and learn about their digital rights. ---------- The city of Belleville, Ontario is bringing an on-demand approach to their transit system. It will allow transit users to hail a bus and meet it at their nearest bus stop using an app on their phones. A similar program has been proposed in Calgary. These programs are part of a broader trend described as Mobility as a Service. Sampo Hietanen is the founder and CEO of MaaS Global. His company lets people connect with different modes of transportation on a single platform. ---------- From fake news to trolling, there are many examples of harmful speech online. But legislation in Canada hasn't kept pace with technological change-and existing laws don't fully cover the myriad ways of promoting hate on the internet. UBC assistant professor Heidi Tworek is the co-author of a new report on how we should be dealing with harmful speech online. ---------- Oceanographic researchers collected hundreds-of-thousands of hours of underwater recordings to study humpback whales in the South Pacific. But sifting through it to isolate whale calls would take about 19 years. That's why Google comes teamed up with the N.O.A.A. to help out. Research Oceanographer Ann Allen, describes how machine learning is now helping researchers sift through this sea of audio data to help them track whale populations. ---------- The U.S. Library of Congress has an enormous collection of online material available for anyone to explore, download and use. But how to get people interested? Canadian artist and Innovator-in-Residence, Jer Thorp, created Serendipity Run, a tag-like game that ran on Twitter, to encourage serendipitous discovery. It's an example of how he uses art to empower people to take control of data.

Download 414: Smart cities, serendipitous discovery, whale songs, and more.
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413: The future of car ownership, a piano for everyone, and the decline of internet freedom

Human-rights organization Freedom House releases their annual Freedom on the Net report. Research Director Adrian Shahbaz explains how fake news, repeals of net neutrality, and reduced privacy protection have weakened the openness of the web -- especially in the United States. ---------- Chris Donahue studies machine learning and music at the University of California in San Diego. He started playing piano when he was a three years old and these days he wanted to find a way to marry his interests in music and computer science. He created Piano Genie, an AI musical tool he describes as the opposite of Guitar Hero. ---------- Even with everything from car subscriptions to scooter sharing, it seems like we're still stuck in traffic. Gabe Klein once headed up the transportation commissions of Chicago & Washington D.C. and was the VP of Zipcar. He believes our relationship with the car has to change - and that technology may be the driving force to change it. ---------- ShiftRide wants to enable people in need of a car for a short trip to essentially rent one from someone in their neighbourhood. Car owners can put an under-utilized vehicles and users without a car can get access to one. Founder and CEO Nima Tahami discusses what he calls on demand mobility. ---------- Innisfil, Ontario's transit and ride sharing partnership with Uber made headlines when it first began. A year and half later we check in with mayor-elect and former deputy mayor Lynn Dollin to find out how the collaboration is working for Innisfil and why she thinks it's good for her town.

Download 413: The future of car ownership, a piano for everyone, and the decline of internet freedom
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412: Digital redlining, election security, internet controlled humans, and more.

Digital redlining is when seemingly neutral algorithms inadvertently make decisions that lead to discrimination. Chris Gilliard teaches at Macomb Community College in Dearborn Michigan. He's studied digital redlining and uses it as a powerful metaphor to talk about the way class divisions and racial discrimination can be fostered by algorithmic decision making. ---------- It was a Hallowe'en-worthy experiment. On Halloween night Researchers at MIT let the internet and its users "control" an actor as he played an online game. How well can a hive mind work? Researcher Niccolo Pescatelli explains. ---------- How vulnerable are electronic voting machines? Well J. Alex Halderman once hacked into one in front of U.S. Congress to demonstrate their vulnerabilities. He's a cyber security expert and professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. He discusses how these voting security issues may be putting democracy at risk. ---------- Agbogbloshie, an area in Accra, Ghana. Every year, 250,000 tons of old phones, computers, and appliances are illegally brought here. About 6,000 people, including many children, live and work here. It's a polluted, blighted place. But it's also a place of community and culture. Florian Weigensamer is one of the filmmakers behind the documentary, Welcome to Sodom, which tells the stories of Agbogbloshie.

Download 412: Digital redlining, election security, internet controlled humans, and more.
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411: Instagram is becoming an advertising giant, the responsibilities of platforms, and 25 years of Wired magazine.

This fall saw the quiet departure of the co-creators of Instagram from the Facebook owned company. That's caused some to speculate that it may have something to do with the move towards more advertising. Over the last year more sponsored ads are showing up on Instagram which may not be what the founders were going for when they created the platform. Tech journalist and entrepreneur, Takara Small explains what this shift on Instagram means for the average consumer. ---------- Instagram has gone from pictures of people's food, to influencers encouraging you to drink special tea. Until now, the position of those influencers was held by people like the Kardashians with tens of millions of followers. Now, regular students with just a few thousand followers, like Jade White and Azita Peters, are advertising for brands on their own accounts. Donna Wertalik, Director of Marketing for the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, weighs in on the trend. ---------- Following Facebook's most recent data breach, many have suggested that tech giants like social media platforms should be regulated as 'information fiduciaries' and act in the best interests of their users. Jonathan Zittrain, Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, discusses what that would look like for platforms like Facebook. -----------In 1993, a new magazine launched with Canadian Marshall McLuhan as its "patron saint." Now Wired magazine is celebrating its 25th birthday as one of the world's leading technology and design journals. Clive Thompson, a Canadian who has been writing for Wired for many of those 25 years, joins Nora to talk about how the tech times have changed.

Download 411: Instagram is becoming an advertising giant, the responsibilities of platforms, and 25 years of Wired magazine.
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410: Music in your DNA, profiting off volunteer work, and the digital divide.

Music streaming giants are removing the curator and replacing it with data - and not just any data - your DNA. Spotify and Ancestry are teaming up to provide consumers with playlists curated by a users DNA and ethnic lineage. Deezer researchers used AI to curate playlists based on mood. But critics, like Toronto-based music journalists Eric Zaworski and Sajae Elder, think it might be kind of creepy and an invasion of privacy. ------------/////------------ When you ask Alexa a question, there's a good chance she gets the answer from Wikipedia, the volunteer-driven knowledge bank, which raises another question. Alexa, should Amazon be paying Wikipedia for that? Rachel Withers thinks so. ------------/////------------ Increasingly the digital divide is characterized by the inability to maintain access to smartphones, laptops and other technologies. Amy Gonzales is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at UC Santa Barbara. She discusses the difficulties of keeping devices connected and the inequalities that can create. ------------/////------------ Smartphones can offer life-changing accessibility for people who are blind but many people with sight loss still don't own one. Phone It Forward takes donated smartphones, refurbishes them and loads them with accessible apps to give to people with vision loss who need them. ------------/////------------ We used to talk about the digital divide as a sort of 'yes or no' issue. Is there broadband in your area or not? But the reality of internet access in Canada is more nuanced than that, and digital inequality has real consequences for individuals, for whole communities, and the overall Canadian economy. Researcher Nisa Malli talks to Nora about where we're at and how to improve.

Download 410: Music in your DNA, profiting off volunteer work, and the digital divide.
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409: AI and creativity, climate change and Fortnite, and a Twitter bot that curates FOI requests.

Ross Goodwin took an AI on a trip from New York to New Orleans. Along the way the AI used inputs from a camera, a clock, a GPS, and a microphone to make "observations" and write about the trip. The book and project is called 1 the Road and it's inspired by beat generation author Jack Kerouac's famous book On the Road. ---------- Montreal artist Adam Basanta's All We'd Ever Need is One Another works by getting a computer to randomly generate abstract images. A second computer compares the work to a database of human art. If it finds a close match, it names the computer-generated work after the human art. Cue the lawsuit for copyright and trademark infringement. Jeremy de Beer, who specializes in law and innovation, weighs in on what a case like this could mean for the idea intellectual property. ---------- Fortnite, is the most popular streaming game in history. More people watch gamers play Fortnite on the Twitch streaming service than watch NFL football. That gave oceanographer Henri Drake an idea. He created "ClimateFortnite," in which he and other climate scientists play the game and also answer questions about climate change using the in-game chat. ---------- Could this trojan-horse style of education in a gaming environment be an effective way to teach and reach people? MIT qualitative sociologist T.L. Taylor, who has focused on internet and game studies for over two decades, explains the interrelations between culture and technology in online leisure environments. ---------- Laurent Bastien is a Canadian journalist who's doing researchers a favour. His Twitter account shares nothing but cryptic links to Freedom of Information requests. The point is to avoid doubling-up on information requests by creating access to requests that have already been processed but have not been publicly released by the government.

Download 409: AI and creativity, climate change and Fortnite, and a Twitter bot that curates FOI requests.
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408: An that sees for you, tech and nature, and more.

Saqib Shaikh is a software engineer at Microsoft. He has also been blind since this age of seven, and has long dreamed of technology that could describe the world around him in real time. And now, he's made it. He explains how the Seeing AI voice assistant app describes the world around him. ----------What does a city have to do with obesity? New AI uses satellite imagery and Google Street View to show how urban design and obesity in US cities are related-without looking at a single person. Elaine Nsoesie, one of the researchers who designed the algorithm, explains how.----------Water is something that most of us take for granted. But the city of El Paso, Texas, is one of the most arid places on the planet-and water is a precious commodity. So Ed Archuleta designed a system to recycle most of the city's water-even sewage. And he says it's a protocol that many more cities are going to have to adopt as climate changes. ----------What started off as a school project became one of the world's most popular nature app - with a new observation recorded every 45 seconds. iNaturalist helps anyone identify plants and animals. Scott Loarie, the Co-Director of iNaturalist, discusses how iNaturalist combines the power of citizen science and big data. ----------Photographs can be more than just memories. The University of Victoria's Mountain Legacy Project holds the world's largest collection of current and historical mountain photos. And they return to those sites in the Canadian Rockies to retake those photos to track how the mountains are changing. Journalist Meg Wilcox joined the team as they photographed vistas that were first captured over a century ago.

Download 408: An that sees for you, tech and nature, and more.
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407: Trusting our virtual assistants, and opinions on Twitter

Our virtual assistants aren't ready to give advice Do you talk to your smart speaker? Heather Suzanne Woods is an assistant professor of rhetoric and technology at Kansas State University. She's studied how humans use language to make sense of technological change and why people seem to have a relationship with their devices. Move over Dr. Google, Dr. Siri will see you now. People are getting used to using conversational agents like Amazon Alexa around the house. But what happens when people get medical advice from Siri or Alexa? Timothy Bickmore is a professor of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. He's been studying how conversational agents respond to medical questions. A new opinion in the social media echo chamber could close it even tighter Disrupting our social media echo chambers with an opposing view may seem like the best way to reduce political polarization. But sociologist Christopher Bail from Duke University found it can actually entrench people's views and opinions even more. What if you could see a filter bubble on social media? Imagine if you could visualize what political polarization looks like on Twitter?based on when influential accounts tweet about politics, how often, and who they follow. Camille Francois and John Kelly have done just that. They work for Graphika, a social media intelligence firm.

Download 407: Trusting our virtual assistants, and opinions on Twitter
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406: Technology and Policing Special

This week on Spark we're devoting the entire episode to some of the technologies used by law enforcement. Some of the benefits of these tools and how they can improve police work, and also some of their limitations and the issues they raise. Josh Mitchell is a consultant with the security firm, Nuix. He tested five body cameras from five different companies and found that all of those cameras were vulnerable to hacking. Some of those vulnerabilities could allow a hacker to do location tracking, spread malware, download footage, and modify and re-upload that footage remotely. For many, Body Cams on police are one answer to police accountability. But while you'd think recording a police-civilian incident would make what happened clear, there are other issues at play. In July, a U.S. federal judge ruled that NYC officers wearing body cameras are required to turn their cams on for what's called "low level encounters". Darius Charney is a lawyer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York. RideAlong is a mobile app that provides police and first responders with information on the individuals who frequently use emergency services to help them de-escalate the situation and keep everyone safe. Technology has revolutionized police work. But what are the ethical guidelines of using tools like AI and big data for law enforcement? Can it lead to over policing? Ryan Prox is the Senior Constable in Charge of the Crime Analytics Advisory & Development Unit at the Vancouver Police Department. The Toronto Police Service is planning to implement an American technology called ShotSpotter that can pinpoint when and where a gun was fired. More than 90 cities in the U.S. use the technology. Rob Maher is a "forensic audiologist". He has extensively studied methods to detect and analyze acoustic gun signals. Saadia Muzaffar is a Toronto tech-entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada. She has some concerns about ShotSpotter including privacy and the neighbourhoods that will be monitored.

Download 406: Technology and Policing Special
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405: 'Ear Hustle' brings life inside -- to the outside

Ear Hustle is a podcast about daily life in San Quentin prison. The term ear hustle is prison slang for eavesdropping. Earlonne Woods is incarcerated in San Quentin and is the co-producer and co-host along with Nigel Poor, an artist who volunteers. They discuss how the podcast, made entirely inside the walls of the prison, builds bridges between the inside and the outside. Everyday seems to bring a new data breach. In his new book, Click Here To Kill Everybody famed cybersecurity expert, Bruce Schneier, says we ain't seen nothing yet. Security challenges are exploding in our hyper-connected era. Schneier explains why, and what we should do about it. Do you remember a time when there were no notifications? Today, most of us are buried in an avalanche of beeps, whistles and pings -which we probably try to ignore. Hence the rise of "anti-notifications", which tell us what we're missing out on. UX designer and writer Adrian Zumbrunnen explains why.

Download 405: 'Ear Hustle' brings life inside -- to the outside
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404: Ride sharing was supposed to make traffic better. It's making it worse.

Besides making it super-easy to get a ride somewhere, one of the great promises of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft was that they would reduce congestion on city streets. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened-and dramatically so. Also, the value of video-game emulators, the call for ethical computer engineering standards, and a new app that aims to use AI to help improve parenting.

Download 404: Ride sharing was supposed to make traffic better. It's making it worse.
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Spark Guide to Life: Google for Education Encore

On this special episode of Spark, we're looking at how Google for Education is being used in by students and teachers across Canada.

Download Spark Guide to Life: Google for Education Encore
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Spark Guide to Life: Big Picture Ideas

Reimagining the university for the 21st century. The future of trades in a changing world. Mapping the sounds of protest. How machines, platforms and the crowd are rearranging the world.

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Spark Guide to Life: Jobs Jobs Jobs

Time to get rid of the job interview. What romance writers can teach us about the digital economy.

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Spark Guide to Life: Being a Better Human in A Digital World

We need a survival guide for thinking because we're bad at it. What Confucius, The Buddha, and Aristotle can teach us about technology. Online is the loneliest number.

Download Spark Guide to Life: Being a Better Human in A Digital World
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Spark Guide to Life: Libraries and Museums

New technology allows Holocaust survivors to answer the questions of future generations. Breaking down the walls of the traditional museum. When it comes to books, size matters. Modern libraries innovate to better serve their communities.

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Spark Guide to Life: AI and our Freaky Future

Blade Runner and what it means to be human in the age of AI. AI's problem with disability and diversity. Exercise app shows why anonymous data can still be dangerous. Optical illusions for computers. Google's fun 'match your selfie with art' app points to the scary future of facial recognition.

Download Spark Guide to Life: AI and our Freaky Future
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Spark Guide to Life: Getting Better at Your Online Life

Want to look at this guy's website? Go offline. Would you let a robot answer your emails? Notifications stress me out. How I cut them down to improve my well-being. 'Loudly Crying Face': Your cute emojis are spoiling social media for blind users. Is podcast listening good for you?

Download Spark Guide to Life: Getting Better at Your Online Life
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Spark Guide to Life: Protecting Yourself in the Digital World

Your photos can be used in 'catfishing' romance scams. The real cost of our love of tech: the environment. Do you really "own" your smart devices? When moral outrage goes viral.

Download Spark Guide to Life: Protecting Yourself in the Digital World
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Spark Guide to Life: Social Media

If you're worried your social life is less exciting than others', it's not. Twitter isn't the voice of the people, and media shouldn't pretend it is. Your data plays a vital role in academic research. Social media beyond the numbers. How does your social media use stack up against other Canadians?

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Spark Guide to Life: Canadian Perspectives

Die With Me connects people before their phones die. Never mind Netflix, watch this live stream of a rock instead. Short story vending machine lands in Edmonton airport. Restaurants open doors during the day to become coworking spaces.

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403: The wave of media mergers signals a major shift in the TV landscape

Wave of media mergers signals major shift in TV landscape. Turning citizen science into a captivating video game. How you use your phone can tell Uber if you're drunk. Being a social media manager can be bad for mental health. How internet access to porn is helping women and sexual minorities in India.

Download 403: The wave of media mergers signals a major shift in the TV landscape
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