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Sidewalk Labs launches research grants to study human behaviour




How can behaviour-based incentives encourage people to use green bins and recycle more?

Sidewalk Labs, the firm behind the proposed “city of the future” on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, wants to know.

In mid-September, 10 grants of between $10,000 and $15,000 each were awarded to research teams at several universities in Toronto and the surrounding area, including OCAD, the University of Toronto, McMaster, Waterloo and Ryerson, to explore these questions and others.

If the Sidewalk project gets the go-ahead, the “smart city” would include data-rich technology aimed at improving urban life, such as sensors that could measure air quality, traffic and noise.

According to Sidewalk Labs, the 10 research projects relate directly to the “six pillars” of the overall Sidewalk Toronto vision: mobility, sustainability, innovative building designs, a digital platform, affordability and a great public realm.

One team will review measurements used to evaluate neighbourhood quality of life; another will explore how messaging has influenced waste diversion rates.

A team will look into community governance models in Canada, such as ratepayers and neighbourhood safety groups. Another team will delve into how bicycle-counting technology is operating in some cities around the world, technology that’s used to tabulate the numbers of cyclists who use bike paths or pass through intersections.

Other topics being studied include the evolving neighbourhood retail landscape in Toronto, urban parks as habitat networks, and in-home health monitoring using internet technology.

The research reports are due in late November and the findings will feed into a master plan for the Sidewalk development, slated to be completed by the end of the year or early in 2019.

“Data is a phenomenal resource that can help us to make good decisions that support healthy communities and integrate people,” said OCAD president Sara Diamond, who is also director of the school’s visual analytics laboratory and co-lead on a research project that will explore how culture bonds individuals and communities.

Diamond is working with her co-lead Alia Weston, an assistant professor at the school, along with a group of graduate research assistants to define which influences, scenarios and conditions lead to natural human bonds, caring and compassion in neighbourhoods.

The topic will be explored through the lens of arts and cultural events happening at the “hyper-local” level, Diamond said.

“We’re looking more at day-to-day stuff — people getting together to play music, for example,” she said, adding another example might be library events that use books, internet access and even musical instruments in outreach activities.

Her team will also examine arts and cultural activities conducted with aging patients at Baycrest Health Sciences.

“We’re looking at good examples in Toronto, but also international examples of where arts and culture are used to build a sense of community and develop bonds within communities,” she added.

Diamond said her group’s research will draw from data analysis, as well as an extensive review of existing literature, both historical and contemporary.

Her team will also delve into the role technology can play in functional relationships between individuals. As part of this, her team will look at a digital device designed in Ontario that tweets reminders to plant owners or their neighbours about when it’s time to water a plant.

The “smart city” project has garnered widespread controversy over concerns that the data collection might violate the privacy rights of people who would one day move into the district, or individuals who may just be passing through it.

Worries have also been raised that all of this data could be monetized, but Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff has promised that these concerns are unfounded.

In the meantime, Sidewalk Labs is moving full steam ahead in its bid to understand the types of people it could house in the future and what their needs will be.

Sidewalk is spending $50 million in due diligence work prior to the master plan. That includes the money for the research grants and roundtable discussions on accessibility issues where Torontonians with various disabilities have been invited to provide input. (The actual project, if approved — Toronto city council will have a major say in that — would likely be completed some time in the next four or five years).

One of Sidewalk’s goals is to house a diverse group of residents of different ages, and economic and cultural backgrounds.

“Among the things we know are true about quality of life is that there must be a strong sense of community. We must be thinking about how do you make people feel comfortable as quickly as possible in a setting,” said Rit Aggarwala, chief policy officer for Sidewalk Labs.

Shauna Brail, a senior associate in the innovation policy lab at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said the research surrounding the Sidewalk plans shows the proposed development isn’t just about “physical infrastructure, but also social infrastructure.”

“We need to think about what kinds of social infrastructure we’re putting in place in all kinds of real estate and new developments in cities. I think developers are thinking more frequently about how their places connect with people and what people’s lives will be like in those spaces.”

Laura Anderson, assistant professor in McMaster’s department of health research methods, evidence and impact, will be working with three master’s of public health students at the school to research the best methods for measuring happiness and well-being at the neighbourhood level.

In a statement Anderson said she’s “excited” that this work will create the opportunity for the graduate students to gain experience answering “real-world public health problems using innovative technology.”

Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo team exploring messaging and garbage diversion will examine “barriers” that may prevent us from sorting waste properly.

Take textiles, for example.

Lead researcher Jennifer Lynes, associate professor at Waterloo’s school of environment, enterprise and development, said 5 to 7 per cent of household waste in landfills is textiles that could easily be recycled or reused.

“Right now, what do people do with them? They donate them to Value Village, etc. But you have to go there, and some people just say, ‘Oh I’m just going to throw it in the garbage.’”

She noted the city of Markham has textile diversion bins.

“It’s things like that. What kind of programs or strategies can we develop to reduce those barriers?” said Lynes, who will be working with a student researcher.

As the research teams work to complete their reports, and probably a long while after, the Sidewalk project will likely continue to face questions from detractors about data monetization and privacy protection.

Sidewalk will use the data and analysis the research teams obtain, but that information will remain “under the control” of those teams, Aggarwala said.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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