tips for travelling to Japan

I love Japan. I first visited as a high school exchange student to Tokyo. I studied Japanese language in university as part of my International Studies degree. After my undergrad I lived in Hokkaido for 3 years teaching English on the JET program (or as I used to joke, snowboarding semi-professionally on the Ministry of Education team. One year I got about 100 days of boarding in!)

Through YVR deals I found some cheap tickets (~$625 from Vancouver to Tokyo, taxes in, on a reputable airline, ANA). This was my partner’s first time to Japan and my first time to Naoshima and Miyajima. It was a pretty busy trip, in two weeks we went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Naoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima and back to Tokyo.

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vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver


Beer battered haloumi at The Acorn. Photo by Heather Joan
Beer battered haloumi at The Acorn. Photo by Heather Joan

An out of town friend asked for vegetarian restaurant  recommendations. I asked my friends on Facebook, then checked their suggestions on Urban Spoon. Finally I filtered out some places I don’t like. Lots of people seemed to find the list useful, so I’m posting it here too. The best options are not downtown, so if you’re in town for DLF Forum or Open Education this is another reason to get out of downtown.

Last updated April 2016.

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discovering default settings

old light switch with 3 switches all in the down or "off" position
Old Light Switches by Paul Cross

I had a fantastic conversation with Dana Ayotte about some of the work she does as an interaction designer at OCAD’s Inclusive Research Design Centre. One of the projects she worked on was working with people to figure out their settings preferences on a computer and codify or summarize them, so that they are portable. It struck me that this is a little thing that can be really important in terms of access, but also in terms of letting people customize things to suit them. It allows them to decide for themselves what works best. I love the idea of people sharing their preference sets, because sometimes you don’t know that there are other options than the default you’re presented with.

This reminded me of a couple of other conversations and experiences over the past year.

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HUMAN: subtitles enhancing access and empathy

I came across this video on a friend’s Facebook feed. I’m a chronic multitasker, but by half a minute in I stopped doing whatever else I was doing and just watched and listened. This is the part that grabbed my heart:

This is my star. I had to wear it on my chest, of course, like all the Jews. It’s big, isn’t it? Especially for a child. That was when I was 8 years old.

Also Francine Christophe’s voice was very powerful and moved me. She annunciates each word so clearly. My French isn’t great, but she speaks slowly and clearly enough that I can understand her. Also, the subtitles confirm that I’m understanding correctly and reinforce what she’s saying.

I noticed that there was something different about the subtitles. The font is clear and elegant and the words are positioned in the blank space beside her face. I can watch her face and her eyes while I read the subtitles. My girlfriend reminded me of something I had said when I was reviewing my Queer ASL lesson at home. In ASL I learned that when fingerspelling you position your hand up by your face, as your face (especially your eyebrows) are part of the language. Even when we speak English our faces communicate so much.

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Inclusive is not a feature list

INCLUSIVE from Microsoft Design on Vimeo.

I love the video that Microsoft recently put out about Inclusive Design. It uses several design stories to illustrate how inclusive design needs to start with an individual and be user centered. I learned so much from many of the amazing people featured in this video. Also, it’s delightful to watch a video that presents such strong ideas and has such high production values.

This quote from interaction designer Mike Vanis at the 5 minute mark really stuck with me:

If you start with technology, then it just becomes a feature list.  But if you start with the person then this really amazing thing happens. They dictate the technology and you come to surprises. You arrive at a point where the technology and the person feel so close, so intimate, that you don’t actually see the technology at all anymore.

One of the stories in Inclusive is about Skype Translator (starts at 13:42). There are two threads to this story. First this video shows a school in Seattle and a school in Beijing that are using Skype Translator to bridge their linguistic differences and video chat with each other. Skype Translator is impressive, it uses speech to text, machine translation, and then text to speech to translate what someone is saying in one language into another. As part of this exchange the text of what is being said is included on the screen. The second thread is that this technology is useful in including Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in mainstreamed hearing classrooms.

Will Lewis, Principal Technical PM, Microsoft Research, says that for Deaf or Hard of Hearing students in a hearing classroom they “often require an interpreter, whether that’s a sign language interpreter, or closed captioning. The problem is that it doesn’t scale.” The underlying assumption is that there is a problem with people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and that there is a problem in making them fit in a hearing classroom.

This story doesn’t fit with the fundamental concept that it’s important to start with the individual and should have been left out of this video. This segment focuses on how amazing Skype Translator is as a technology (which it is) and then tacks on two Deaf or Hard of Hearing students as an afterthought. Also, presenting cochlear implants as an amazing value neutral technology is an example of audism, or “is the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears, or that life without hearing is futile and miserable, or an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear”.

Talking this through with a friend who is Hard of Hearing and a PhD candidate revealed some underlying privacy concerns. Assuming that the machine translation is occurring on Microsoft servers means that conversations are being saved temporarily, to translate their words, and also likely permanently saved in order to improve the technology. So if Deaf and Hard of Hearing people (and the people they are communicating with) are reliant on this technology they will be under more surveillance than hearing people. This is really problematic. If the design process had started with the individual who valued privacy and dictated the technology the amazing thing that Mike Vanis talked about might have happened. Instead the story of Skype Translator is just a software feature list.


Shako Club: how a box lunch made me cry

Here’s the lunch box I received today from Shako Club.

11743007_10153394032260734_6053153501424641400_nI applied to receive a bento box a couple of months ago. The application process was a slightly odd questionnaire that I had some trouble answering. I don’t often get songs stuck in my head and it’s hard to pick my absolute favourite story from my childhood. We were told that our bento contents would be determined by the answers to this questionnaire.

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Asshattery: a comparision between University of Guelph and LibLime

Image of Inigo Montoya with "OPEN, i DO NOT THINK THAT WORD MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS" in  bold white font on top

Recently there has been a kerfuffle over the University of Guelph trademarking “open ed”, and rightfully so. This is asshat behaviour. Clint LaLonde describes some of the changes that BCcampus will need to make.

First, it’s an ironic move as the open education movement, like many other open movements (open source, open access, open data, open government) seek to remove barriers to collaboration and sharing. Second, it doesn’t appear that University of Guelph actually does much open ed work. As Brian Lamb and others have mentioned there is no mention on their website of open education projects like open textbooks, open pedagogies, and open access. Third,  as Clint LaLonde writes BCcampus hosted the Open Ed conference in Vancouver in 2009, so there is documented use before University of Guelph started their trademark claim.

This reminds me of something that happened with an open source library software project. Koha, the first open source integrated library system, was developed in New Zealand. The word “koha” means gift in Māori. In 2009 LibLime, an American software vendor tried to obtain the trademark for Koha in New Zealand. Thankfully LibLime lost in 2013. The Koha free software community entrusted TE Horowhenua Trust (the home library that funded the initial development in 1999) with the trademark for New Zealand nd the European Union.  Unfortunately is owned by LibLime and is the free software website. This can be confusing for people who don’t know the backstory.

These legal battles are expensive, time consuming and on an individual level very stressful. Clint writes that BCcampus has been trying to resolve this for 6 months. The Koha case took 4 years. Dealing with these legal cases took time, money and emotional energy that was diverted from the open projects that are creating a new model of doing things.

I love working in open communities. I love the unlikely creative collaborations that happen. I love working with people with similar politics but completely different backgrounds towards making libraries, education and heck, society as a whole, a better place. I’d hate to see new initiatives be bogged down in creating foundations and ensuring protection of their shared intellectual property, instead of working together to make something new, innovative and beautiful.

There’s got to be a better way to do things.

Clint Lalonde’s post On Using OpenEd: An Opprotunity


This was posted on Clint’s blog on June 1, 2015. The original URL is:

For the past 6 months my organization BCcampus has been in a dispute with the University of Guelph over our use of this:

Current BCcampus Open Education logo
Current BCcampus Open Education logo

Like many of you, we have always used the term OpenEd as a short form way of saying Open Education. It’s a term that is familiar to anyone working in the field of open education. In our community, many of us host forums and events using the term OpenEd. Around the world, people write blog posts,create websites, and host conferences using the term OpenEd. Our global community uses the term OpenEd interchangeably with Open Education to mean a series of educational practices and processes built on a foundation of collaboration and sharing.

BCcampus has been working with higher education institutions in British Columbia for over a decade on open education initiatives, so when it came time to redesign our main open education website (, it was only natural that we would gravitate to the term that many people in BC and beyond associate with us: OpenEd. Our graphic designer, Barb Murphy, developed this logo in the fall of 2013 and, at the end of November, 2013, we launched our new website with our new OpenEd logo. We thought nothing of it and went along our merry way chugging along on the BC Open Textbook Project.

Little did we know that, on December 18, 2013, the University of Guelph trademarked OpenEd.

Continue reading Clint Lalonde’s post On Using OpenEd: An Opprotunity

May conferences

I’m a bit of a nervous public speaker. Most people assume that because of my personality or pink hair that I’m really comfortable presenting in front of a group of people. Those people also assume I like rollercoasters. This is not true.

Instead of feeling a sense of dread I’m feeling pretty excited about these upcoming presentations. I’m going to be talking about work that I feel really passionate about and co-presenting with some of my favourite colleagues means that there’s support and that I need to be prepared well ahead of time.

BCLA conference, May 20-22

  • I’ll be on a panel Small Changes, Big Impact: New and Affordable Solutions for Document Delivery where I’ll be talking about the process of figuring out what you need software to do and how to look beyond library software vendors to meet your needs. I will reference Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks and talk about workflows.
  • Co-presenting with Amanda Coolidge, Manager, Open Education at BCcampus Can I actually Use It? Testing Open Textbooks for Accessibility where we’ll be talking about the user testing we did with the open textbooks and the toolkit we wrote with Sue Doner, Instructional Designer at Camosun College.
  • I’ll be one of many on the Oh Glorious Failures! Lightning Talks on How to Succeed Through Failure. We know that valuable learning happens through failure but many librarians are reluctant to share our professional failures. I’m going to talk about something I messed up in the open textbooks user testing focus group.

CAUCUSS conference, May 24-27

This will be my first time attending CAUCUSS, the national conference for student services folks in post-secondary. I’m really looking forward to meeting disability service folks from across Canada as well as attending a session on universal design for learning.

  • I’m also looking forward to co-presenting Alternate Formats 101 with Heidi Nygard from UBC’s Access and Diversity, Crane Library. Both of our organizations have  a long history of producing alternate formats and we’re going to go through how the similarities and differences in how we produce various alternate formats: accessible PDF, e-text, mp3, DAISY, Large Print and how we deal with pesky things like tables, math formulas and image descriptions. We’re going to sneak in some stuff about core library values and protecting user rights.

Open Textbook Summit, May 28-29

  • This will be the first time Amanda, Sue and I will present together in person. We’re doing a 30 minute session on the user testing and we’ll be co-presenting with one of the students who did the testing, Shruti Shravah. This project was the highlight of my last year of work: collaborating with Amanda and Sue was the best thing, the students were amazing, and I’m proud of the process and outcome. I’m super excited about this talk.

BC open textbook Accessibility Toolkit: generosity as a process

cover of Accessibility Toolkit

Last week we published The BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit. I’m really excited and proud of the work that we did and am moved by how generous people have been with us.

Since last fall I’ve been working with Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus) and Sue Doner (Camosun College) to figure out how to make the open textbooks produced in BC accessible from the start.  This toolkit was published using Pressbooks, a publishing plugin for WordPress. It is licensed with the same Creative Commons license as the rest of the open textbooks (CC-BY). This whole project has been a fantastic learning experience and it’s been a complete joy to experience so much generosity from other colleagues.

We worked with students with print disabilities to user test some existing open textbooks for accessibility. I rarely get to work face-to-face with students. It was such a pleasure to work with this group of well-prepared, generous and hardworking students.

Initially we were stumped about how to  get faculty, who would be writing open textbooks, to care about print disabled students who may be using their books. Serendipitously  I came across this awesome excerpt from Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury’s book A Web For Everyone. User personas seemed like the way to explain some of the different types of user groups. A blind student is likely using different software, and possibly different hardware than a student with a learning disability. Personas seemed like a useful tool to create empathy and explain why faculty should write alt text descriptions for their images.

Instead of rethinking these from the beginning Amanda suggested contacting them to see if their work was licensed under a Creative Commons license that would allow us to reuse and remix their work. They emailed me back in 5 minutes and gave their permission for us to reuse and repurpose their work. They also gave us permission to use the illustrations that Tom Biby did for their book. These illustrations are up on Flickr and clearly licensed with a CC-BY license.

While I’ve worked on open source software projects this is the first time I worked on an open content project. It is deeply satisfying for me when people share their work and encourage others to build upon it. Not only did this save us time but their generosity and enthusiasm gave us a boost. We were complete novices: none of us had done any user testing before. Sarah and Whitney’s quick responses were really encouraging.

This is the first version and we intend to improve it. We already know that we’d like to add some screenshots of ZoomText and we need to provide better information on how to make formulas and equations accessible. It’s difficult for me to put work out that’s not 100% perfect and complete but other people’s generosity have helped me to relax.

I let our alternate format partners across Canada know about this toolkit. Within 24 hours of publishing this our partner organization in Ontario offered to translate it into French. They had also started working on a similar project and loved our approach. So instead of writing their own toolkit they will use use or adapt ours.  As it’s licensed under a CC-BY license they didn’t even need to ask us to use it or translate it.

Thank you to Mary Burgess at BCcampus who identified accessibility as a priority for the BC open textbook project.

Thank you to Bob Minnery at AERO for the offer of a French translation.

Thank you to Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury for your generosity and enthusiasm. I really feel like we got to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you to the students who we worked with. This was an awesome collaboration.

Thank you to Amanda Coolidge and Sue Doner for being such amazing collaborators. I love how we get stuff done together.