Things I learned by leaving social media

On 8 November 2016, Americans elected their new president, whom I hope to never have to publicly acknowledge. That night, I came to a rather painful conclusion: I needed to abandon social media for a while.

In this particular election, the media had (unwittingly, foolishly, stupidly, or all of the above) enabled a level of insipid, unchecked banter that intelligence and logic were utterly cast aside in favour of whomever had the best catchphrase. Basically, a Hollywood political satire come to life. Very real, very painful life.

It hurt so bad that I had to turn it off.

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20 Years a Web Developer

Twenty years ago this month — and very possibly this week, though I’m not 100% certain of that — I entered into the very nascent industry of digital marketing. At the time, the project had been little more than a simple idea, something to possibly prove my own abilities, a problem that sort of needed solving. And yet, little did I know at the time, it would send me down a long and sometimes disturbingly windy path.

It’s also a milestone where one does need to consider … well, everything. Honestly, a bit of reflection and introspection is needed from time to time, but the decade markers seem to have a certain extra amount of importance. Though to be honest, that’s just a perceived thing; there’s no legal or social reason that I’m aware of. It’s more about having a well-defined chunk of time to really take that step back and say:

“Ye gods I’m getting old…”

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How to be a Technical Writer

It’s surprising how often I’ve been asked this question over the last few months. Once upon a time — some dozen years ago — I was a technical writer. I wrote manuals, technical documentation, and various forms of other literature for a living. And, to be quite honest, I hated it.

Well, hate is a strong word. I got bored of doing it. (Long story, suffice to say, I ended up making websites for a living.) But certainly the skill has never left me (I still write documentation to this day as part of my job), and I do know a few things about writing clearly and effectively.

Sadly, it’s not something that is done particularly well…

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TV is dead. Long live the internet!

I feel like an old man. I can now look at my kids, and say with far too much vigour: “When I was your age…” I refer to, of course, having to get off my ass, walking over to the cathode ray tube-based television set, change the dial to UHF, and move the oversized dial that changed the direction of the UHF antenna…

I’ve lost you, haven’t I? I shudder to think how few of you have an inkling of what I’m talking about. Yeah, that’s how old I am. I remember when there were only a handful of channels, when almost all of the content was on ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, CTV, Global, and a few independent stations (such as the awesome CityTV and the the extremely nacent Fox). I remember the introduction of cable. I remember having to wait for the summer reruns because I missed that crucial episode of The A Team that everyone was talking about in class the next morning. I remember when the season debuts were a big thing. I remember when missing a live televised event was significant, because it was gone forever.

It seems somehow just as bizarre a concept as the Spanish Inquisition.

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Canada: You’re about to lose your freedom

I’ll keep this one short folks, I promise.

Do you use the internet (even watching videos on YouTube and Facebook counts)? Do you use an iPod/iPhone/iWhatever? Do you watch downloaded movies? Are you a student (or thinking of going back to school)? Then you’d better pay very close attention, because your beloved Federal Government under Stephen Harper is about to pull the rug out from under you.

If you somehow missed the bruhaha over the United States’ failed SOPA bill, you cannot afford to miss Canada’s attempt at the same thing. We’re very close to passing bill C-11, a bill sponsored by big media (notably movie studios, the music industry, and publishing giants) who want to control the way you access your music, TV, and books. They want this control because they are unable to cope with the digital economy, and want the Government to create laws that heavily restrict your actions, and impose ridiculous punishment.

Now I am no expert on these things, but I read someone who is: Professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law. (I mean, really, could you possibly get anyone better?) He has written some excellent articles on just how bad C-11 is — and has been very clear on how it could be improved so it’s not so terrible. (The Government, to no surprise, is not listening.)

I offer you the following from Geist’s blog. The intros here are my paraphrased summaries of the articles.

And he also visited with Strombo on the CBC to talk about C-11. It’s less than two minutes, and it explains just about everything. Even if you don’t read the above articles, you really should watch this video.

In short, our beloved Government is refusing to adopt the perspective that they represent the Canadian people. They are preferring to listen to corporations and corporate associations, and worse still — foreign corporations who have no business dictating our laws.

Okay, so what do you do?

First, sign up with OpenMedia’s petition. It only takes a moment, and every single little bit helps. (SOPA died in the United States because the vocal backlash was loud enough.)

Then, can I suggest sending the following text to the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper (stephen.harper@parl.gc.ca), the  Minister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture) Hon. Christian Paradis (christian.paradis@parl.gc.ca) (he’s the Minister putting C-11 forth, and hence is responsible for our impending nightmare), Nycole Turmel (nycole.turmel@parl.gc.ca) (she’s our official, albeit interim, Leader of the Opposition), Hon. Bob Rae (bob.rae@parl.gc.ca) (our most experienced elder statesman in Parliament), and your Canadian Member of Parliament.

Dear Gentlemen and Madams,

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding Bill C-11, now put forth in our Parliament.

While I am very much aware of the need to address copyright laws within Canada to ensure that they meet international agreements, the terms and conditions being put forth in C-11 appear to be overlooking the needs of the Canadian people, both in the present and in the future. These terms go far past those required by international agreement, and introduce unnecessary restriction and overly  punitive  damages.

The proposed conditions are being driven primarily by corporations, and are also heavily influenced by foreign governments and foreign corporations who have no right to comment on Canada’s laws. The Canadian Federal Government is supposed to stand for its people, yet we are being considered last in this process.

Please stop the blind approval of this damaging legislation and reopen it to Canadian legal experts who have offered wise and just opinion on how C-11 could still address the needs of Canadian law while not imposing unnecessary (and unfair) restrictions on law-abiding Canadians.

Most sincerely,

[Your name here. Please use a real one.]

Why SOPA will (and must) fail

Across the internet, the letters S-O-P-A have inspired a particular level of hatred and vitriol. Beyond the internet, the Stop Online Piracy Act has barely registered any significant presence within mainstream media. The reasons for this are … well, circumspect, especially given the damage that SOPA would bring to the internet. And this, my dear reader, is something that you do need to be aware of, as it may very well affect this very website.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill before the Government of the United States of America that proposes — in a general sense — a series of rules and penalties in an effort to eradicate online piracy. At a high level, it certainly seems like a reasonable request. In fact, so reasonable that anyone not spending time reviewing the details of the bill might very well have missed some of the more draconian measures being implemented, allowing — in effect — individual companies to disable outright any website they believe to be infringing on copyright without right of trial, so long as said website has some dependency on US-based services (which a tremendous percentage of websites have).

In effect, a US company can shut down your otherwise legal operation because they’ve told their government that you’re the bad guy.

Sound unfair? It should. But this, dear reader, is also where things get more sinister.

The authors of this bill are members of the American government, but that’s not who is really driving it. The backers? Big media. Notably, the same companies who have been engaging in a futile, misguided, and often grossly misdirecting effort to have laws enacted to protect their business models. Companies represented by the RIAA and MPAA, and a host of old companies who don’t want to change.

They’re flailing, and failing. They’re unable to grasp the concept of digital media. They’re used to their physical world — one book to one person, one CD in one CD player, one VHS tape showing on one tube-based television set. The new world allows a single copy to be copied, cut, remixed, and displayed on millions of devices simultaneously. The media companies chime: “Show me the money.”

But instead of adapting, they cry foul. They cry piracy. They claim that they’re losing money hand-over-fist, and they will expire without the assistance of new laws. Yet, they’re not losing money. In fact, many of the music labels are making more than ever, largely in part to Apple, who strong-armed them into making music cheap, and — to absolutely no surprise to any armchair economist — removed the barrier to entry, and sold music in such quantities that the music industry was very likely saved from imminent death.

Hence, SOPA. And while the White House chosen to not sign the bill, there is no reason to believe it won’t be back in some other odious form.

Beyond the American government, I have reason to also fear this bill because of the efforts of my own government. The Canadian government has thrice shown to be spineless in its resistance to these same groups lobbying for ridiculous legislation in Canada that would put our own culture and identity as unwarranted in terms of content ownership. Our politicians, who had in decades previous been those who stand only for its own people, now show to be bowing to massive foreign conglomerates, leaving its own people to suffer as a result.

SOPA, and bills like it must fail. Because they are flawed in their consideration of evolution, because they fail to take digital commerce into account, and because they will unnecessarily bind our children into false agreements and behaviours that will haunt them their entire lives.

If you are an American, please write your congressperson. If you are Canadian, please write your MP. In either case, don’t let your government become party to Big Media’s insanity, don’t let our future be dictated by corporations. Learn more at AmericanCensorship.org.

Content yearns to be free. Not free as in ownership, but free as in freedom, free as in life. Let content live.

Switching from Shaw to Telus

For those of you not already following the story, I’ve sworn off Shaw. As much as I am tied — nay, symbiotically attached — to the internet, I would have been quite willing to end the service at home with the continued lack of service I was receiving from Shaw. It was past “infuriating”, past “mind-bendingly torturous”, and I was way passed “pissed off”. We had to move, or I could have possibly killed someone. Consider that move a public service, folks.

We moved to Telus. Not solely because they’re really the only other option in town, but partly because the new Optik service had proved highly appealing (nicer interface, and free PVR with long-term contract), and a very lucrative introductory offer combined with Shaw’s epic failure really cinched the deal.

Not that it’s gone completely flawlessly…

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From the frying pan…

Before we returned to Calgary last December, we did a fair amount of investigation into what services we would get at home. In particular consideration were television, internet, and phone service. (In my ideal world, it would have also included cellphones, but no-one does the full bundle in Calgary … yet.) After an extensive amount of investigation, cost comparison, and service review, the only real option (at the time) was Shaw Communications.

Some nine months later, I’m ready to heave Shaw out the door like a long-overstayed houseguest, and welcome in a new tenant: Telus. Since our last major investigation, Telus has rolled out a new television service (which, at least from reports, is quite good) and is taking on Shaw toe-to-toe to steal and cajole whatever marketshare they can. In theory, it’s a buyer’s market.

There’s only one problem: both of them have serious service issues.

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The end of the individual experience

A few years from now, my kids will be old enough to ask me questions that will require a lot of explanation. Like, for example, what the internet was like when I was their age, how I survived without a mobile data device, did I watch TV in black and white (interestingly enough, I did, but only because the TV was black and white), and what did I name my pet dinosaur (‘cuz, you know, every kid makes that joke of their parents).

One question I also expect them to ask is how I watched TV without having my computer in front of me, firing off notes through Twitter, Facebook, or whatever social media network will be in vogue in 5-8 years from now. I’ll look at their cute, adorable little faces, and tell them as seriously as I can: There was a time when we watched TV on our own. We went to sporting events in small groups, we went shopping without telling everyone what we were doing, and we could vanish for hours on end without anyone knowing where we were.

The idea that we exist solely as individuals is rapidly becoming extinct.

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Make April 1 “IE6 Dies” Day

At the moment, IE6 still holds about 20% of the market (according to today’s metrics from NetMarketShare). That’s far too large a share for a 8.5 year old browser, especially one that has been  superseded  by successive releases of its own code by two versions. It’s far too much for a browser that costs too much to support, and despite several service packs still bears significant security issues. It continues to haunt the internet, acting like a lazy bouncer allowing the seediest of activities to go on unchecked.

I propose April 1st be “IE6 Dies” Day.  It’s time that IE6 be shown the door. But we’ll need help.

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