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Observations on Everything

Dear Rob and Doug: Get the Hell Out

On Thursday, Doug Ford said this to the Toronto Sun: “This is not normal in democracy… It is a full out jihad against us right now.”

Yes Doug, you have that partly right, because what’s “normal” in democracy is that when you get caught engaging in criminal behaviour, you resign. Because what’s “normal” is to be accountable to your taxpayers by communicating to them through the media. All media. Because what’s “normal” is to represent all the people, not just the ones who voted for you. Because what’s “normal” is to have some integrity and not do backroom deals to help your buddies.

So you ignore all that and what you get is angry voters. Sooner or later you get enough voters sufficiently angry that they’re not going to take it anymore and you get a battle, mislabel it “full out jihad” if you want, but you brought it upon yourselves and it is NOT going away with a wave of your usual bully tactics, so get used to it or do the right thing and get the hell out.

D-Day

In January of 2000 I went to the south of France to celebrate the start of the last year of the millennium with friends. After the celebrations, I took the TGV high speed train to Paris for a week. 1999 was a good year, and I booked a first class seat, which meant I got seated in a cabin of about 8 seats at the front of the car.

There were three people besides me in the cabin. A rather strange fellow who both offered up scrawled, broken samples of poetry and kept on trying to convince me that I should be involved in Nigerian oil and diamonds (needless to say my comprehension of his French and broken English was surprisingly low that day) and an older couple who seemed to be rather disapproving of the both of us.

Eventually the hustler managed to pry from me the fact that I was Canadian. This had little effect on him, but the change in the older couple was profound. Suddenly they were fluent in English and more than willing to talk. What they had to say first stuck me: they thanked me for my country’s help in the war, for Juno beach. The man shook my hand, his gratitude some 55 years later surprised me.

Growing up not so long after the war, the contribution of Canada to the battle was something we knew well. We were taught to never forget  (although I mistakenly thought what we should not forget was to be intolerant of human rights violations, something we’d forgotten by the time Rwanda happened, but that’s another matter).

What we never really learned was how much our efforts were appreciated by those we liberated. By how much respect we gained by punching well above our weight in WW2, and to the extent that those we liberated would never forget our sacrifices.

I salute the amazing men and women who went to such extraordinary lengths to achieve such a great feat.

How You Can Fix Facebook Right Now

Facebook like. Credit Sean MacEntee (Flickr) CC-SAMany people have noticed that they’re missing the posts they’d like to see on Facebook. This is because Facebook has implemented an algorithm for “Top Stories” that uses their version of what you want to see instead of yours.

This algorithm is heavily influenced by “likes” from people in your social network, but it’s also biased toward content that you are more likely to interact with, favouring Pages updates with images over text-only ones (see Socialmedia Today).

There are several problems with this. Most critically the algorithm can bury the human interactions that attracted people to Facebook in the first place; a closed cycle of “likes” can cause a news feed to become more and more focused on a single viewpoint by not displaying information that challenges “liked” content; and pages you are interested in may never show up if your network doesn’t share the same interest.

Facebook offers a “most recent” sort order that looks like it will address this, but that too is broken. First, it’s most recent activity on a post, so if someone adds a comment to something originally posted in 2010, there it is at the top of your feed. Second, it’s still filtered for things you’re likely to interact with!

Why is this the case? Revenue. If a brand (or even a person) wants to ensure they show up in their feed, they can just pay to have it bumped. There’s an excellent explanation of this on YouTube.

But the good news is it can be fixed, at least until the folks at Facebook determine that too many of us are using it and find a rationale for turning it off: Interest Lists. This is how you set it up:

Facebook InterestsOn the left hand side of the web interface you’ll see a little-noticed heading for “Interests”. click on “Add Interests”.

This will take you to a page that lists a number of preset interests. But up in the upper right of the centre column, there’s a “Create list” button:

Create list button

Click on everything you want to actually see. Each selected page will be highlighted with a box and a check mark. Tip: this is a great time to not select all those pages that you have no interest in but felt compelled to like because a friend sent you an invite; they’ll never know.

Pages selection in interest list

Do the same with the Following and Friends lists, then press Next. There’s no way to do a select all, so this can take some time. This gives you the save panel. Give your list a name, set the visibility to “only me” (unless you want to see which friends/pages you ignored; probably not a good thing).

Interests save panel

Now your new list shows up in the “Interests” section. Click on it, and voila! You now have a Facebook that reflects your interests, not the posts that make them the most money.

Props to my long time friend Mark Leenders for discovering this technique!

Information Era

Holy crap. I just discovered that in a digital era, relying on gatekeepers of reproduction to earn a living is impossible. People told me that being an independent writer / artist / musician / developer was going to be a tough way to earn a living, but still I held to my parent’s paradigm and somehow believed I’d get paid for every single physical copy of my work ever made. Now it turns out that I don’t stand a hope of being as rich as Stephen King / Picasso / Paul McCartney / Bill Gates, and that even to earn a subsistence living I need to find a new model for delivering value. But instead of dealing with this I will demand that you pay me for using recordable media for your own creative works, I’ll demand that we revert to an impossible outmoded system, while still begging you to send me money and whining that it’s not fair. I refuse to take responsibility for following my dreams / muse / passion instead of getting a job like everyone else. My failure to adapt is your problem, not mine!

Capital Punishment and the Delhi Gang Rape

A nooseWith very few exceptions, I’m opposed to capital punishment. In my book, murder is murder, whether it’s committed by individuals or the state.

In this case, the convicted are being used as an example, in hopes that the severity of the punishment will change the behaviour of others, and shift the culture of violence. That’s a good thing. It will very likely save more innocent lives than the cost of the four convicted. This makes it not a moral decision, not an issue of justice for the victims, but an issue of body count mathematics and of cultural shock therapy.

Throughout the world, women don’t have anything resembling equality with men, be it violent rape in India or malicious Internet based harassment in North America. Numerous more gentle efforts seem to improve the situation in one aspect, but not prevent the development of new avenues for discrimination and harassment. We fix mechanisms but changing the culture remains an elusive, distant goal.

In this context, the decision to execute these four young men may very well be the right one. That doesn’t mean it isn’t troubling in many ways. Not only is the use of state sanctioned murder difficult to accept, it is more that this blunt instrument appears to be the only effective tool. This above all demonstrates our inadequacy when it comes to making women an equal part of society. More than sixty years after the wave of post-WWII feminism, and we’re still not past this.

On Government Communications Surveillance

There’s no lack of evidence to show that there are people in the world who think that an appropriate response to the misdeeds of the West is to bring the death and destruction back and throw it in our faces. I fail to understand this logic of revenge, but unfortunately there are many who embrace it. Humanity has a long history on the failure of using evil to counter evil, but we never seem to convert this knowledge into wisdom.

This might be surprising, but because of this I’m not entirely opposed to governments communications surveillance for security reasons, even the communications of their own citizens – after all most acts of terror come from hateful people within our culture, not from the stereotypes the media is so enamoured with. Read more

On Content Marketing: It’s about Content, Stupid

gold_flickr_digitalmoneyworld_180x180For the past few years, the leading edge of online marketing has been “content marketing”. As advertising becomes increasingly ineffective at driving sales, and as most lead generation tends to come via search engines, marketers have figured out how to produce content that ranks well in search, which brings traffic, which converts to sales/revenue/whatever.

The problem is that as more and more people buy into this, there has been a subtle change. Now the industry is engaging in “marketing content” rather than “content marketing”. The result is a flood of low quality content. Ten thousand blogs, all rehashing the same information in slightly different ways. So much duplication and plagiarism that it’s impossible to tell who had an original idea, if anyone. Read more