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Observations on Everything

Critiquing Crowdfunding: Introducing “What the Fund?”

What the Fund? I love the crowdfunding concept. I’ve backed two Kickstarter projects so far, and I’ve been happy with the results. I really like the product launch model: what better way to know your product is going to be a hit than to have your crowdfunded project blow right past its goals? What a great way to both lower the amount of investment you need to launch a business and to prove that you’ve got a valid concept to investors.

But that’s the ideal case. A crowdfunded project is also an acid test for your idea. If it sucks, nobody’s going to buy in. The sad fact is that a lot of ideas suck, and failure to meet your funding goal can be a harsh reality check. Read more

Everyone is Broken

I’ve just spent some time looking for a quote I think I’ve read somewhere. Historically this means I either have the quote badly mangled, or it’s something that’s been rebounding through my neurons for so long I think I picked it up from somewhere else. Either way, the version I post here will invariably be less eloquent.

“Everyone is broken in some deep, fundamental way. The trick is to never let it become visible, especially to yourself.”

The problem is that the breakage can’t be masked, only managed. Sometimes slathering a cover upon it just gives it a nice comfy place to fester and come back, bigger, uglier, and harder to contain. The last thing you want is a hole that can never be filled, no matter how much booze or drugs you pour into it.

No matter how broken you think you are, know that there are others who are just as broken, often in almost exactly the same ways. There are people who are very capable of helping broken people deal with the broken bits. They’ll never be fixed, just as an addict is never cured — only managed.

The real trick is to do the opposite of the quote above. Let it become visible, to people close to you, to professionals capable of helping. Opening up is the only way to stick the pieces together, and it’s always going to be a tough road.

You’re not alone. We’re all broken. It’s just that few of us have the courage to talk about it openly.

Ain’t Nothin’ Free

I’m at the point where if you want me to sign up for your free service, your website better have a main menu titled “Revenue Model”. Ain’t nuthin’ for free, so just come clean and tell me which piece of me you’re trying to get a slice of — or I’m likely to assume you aren’t going to last anyway.

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.