Category Archives: Rants

Selling the awful to the angry

Yesterday evening, my family trucked down to 96th Ave SW, invited by the Calgary Board of Education (along with the other families in the Westgate School Bilingual Spanish program) to view the “new” school, Eugene Coste Elementary. It was supposed to be a chance to see the new location, and ask questions of the CBE Area IV director, as well as the Planning & Transportation folks.

I emphasize the word “supposed” — that was the CBE’s perspective. They thought they would get a lot of interest, and a lot of people who were genuinely happy that a solution had been found for the accommodation woes at Westgate School, which is at over 90% of its rated capacity.

But, funny thing, there weren’t many happy people.

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Calgary Board of Education: we need a decision on Westgate Elementary

Hi, CBE? I’m a concerned parent. Yeah, I know you’ve heard from a lot of us in the last year regarding what you want to do with Westgate Elementary. You’ve heard so much, you’re not listening to us anymore, which I can understand — there’s only so much you can hear before you’ve heard enough.

But we — that’s you as the Board, and us as parents — have a problem: there’s no decision. The school is still over-populated, and despite having pulled another grade out, there’s going to be too many students for next year.

So … what’s going on? We need an answer. And preferably now, and not at the end of this school year.

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Marketing Red Herring: QR Codes

I’m in digital marketing. I spend a lot of time dealing with ways of people visit websites to get them to spend money. (That’s the short version. The really short, and moderately soul-suckingly depressing version. The long version is … an entire career.) So I deal with a lot of different ideas, tools, methodologies, and directions that — in theory — make everyone’s lives easier.

Every so often, we get hit with buzzwords. Sometimes, they’re tech-related, like DHTML, AJAX, and HTML5 (remember, I deal with these things every day — I know what they really mean). Sometimes, they’re things like “progressive enhancement” or “responsive design” (yes, buzzwords — they can grossly over-simplify reality). And then there’s the Big Shiny™ stuff that distracts from simplicity.

Let me tell you a few things about QR Codes

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Thoughts on Microsoft Surface

Okay, you know my opinions on Microsoft. They’re not exactly private. So yes, I definitely went into yesterday’s announcement with low expectations.

Microsoft has really only done one thing really well in the last decade, in my opinion: Xbox. That was a helluva gamble — I was in the gaming industry still when the first rumours surfaced — and Microsoft could have gone down hard. But the gamble paid off — they invested heavily in content, and (in the end) content helped win their position in the video game battlefield.

But on their software end — their traditional business — it’s a very different story. It’s been a long wait for something “better”. Windows XP has been around for a decade; it finally goes away in 2014. Windows Vista was an utter mess. Windows 7 appears to be decent, but the adoption seems to be more about having to leave XP than “oh, this is so much better than X”. Windows 8? Haven’t played with it yet, admittedly, but I just don’t hear the buzz about it. Office is an ancient standby that’s in need of a serious overhaul (really, a word processor shouldn’t occupy so much RAM). Internet Information Server (IIS) is so overcomplicated as to make me wonder if someone wrote it on a dare. Don’t even get me started on IE.

Microsoft has rested on its corporate laurels for most of its life, continuing along without any real serious change. (Debate me, please! I would love to be proven wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.) We’ve not seen anything truly new.

That includes the Microsoft Surface tablet. It’s a mobile device that runs Windows. It’s been done before — the Microsoft phones, for example. (Windows RT, CE, 8, etc. It’s still Windows, regardless of the flavour.) They’ve not exactly taken off with the popularity of the iPhone or Android-based phones. The platform seems solid, but the overall environment (media integration, for example) is absent.

The tablet itself is … well, just another tablet. There was not one innovative thing announced yesterday. Oh, the keyboard? That’s not part of the tablet — that’s an accessory, and it’s already been done. It’s a smarter implementation, yes, but nothing truly new. The Surface tablet, in fact, reminds me much more of the RIM Playbook than anything else — too complicated to be a simple device, which is what makes the iPad so brilliant.

And this morning, I realised the other thing Microsoft has failed upon — releasing it. They’re taunting people with the next-nearest thing to vapourware: an unfinished product. It was so bad at the launch yesterday, that demo devices were snatched away before anyone could get any significant details on them. By comparison, Apple — the very company Microsoft is attempting to emulate, here — announces hardware by saying you can buy it today. There’s a lot to be said for immediacy. Microsoft’s announcement was the marketing equivalent of premature ejaculation.

Okay, now in Microsoft’s defence — because, yes, I do see where they’re coming from. Although Microsoft has never released a real computer of its own (they’ve done some excellent peripherals; my favourite keyboard next to the original heavy-click IBM PC keyboard was a Microsoft split keyboard), they have heavily influenced PC manufacturers for years. But that influence has … well … if you’ve gone around and looked at the recent PCs, you really have to wonder if anyone has thought outside the beige box. PC designs have changed little, and, frankly, they just ain’t sexy. They’re even more boring now than the old towers of old.

So this is Microsoft telling all their vendors that “enough is enough” — if you’re going to do something right, do it yourself. So kudos to Microsoft to stepping up to that plate, and driving it hard. This is where Microsoft could potentially change the game again — as they did with the Xbox (yes, pun intended) — and revitalise an industry that is sagging like … um … see my above comment about “premature” and draw your own conclusion.

As for my conclusion on the Surface — it changes nothing at this point. The announcement was too early, the environment undefined, and until someone antes up with a real-world demo of how awesome everything together can be, I’ll remain wanting.

Wanting Microsoft to be awesome again. I’ve been waiting a long time.

 

How to really succeed in (any) business

Recently, if you’ve been following this blog, you know my family has been going through a kitchen renovation. It’s not quite done, but it’s turning out very nicely, and we really, really, really cannot wait for it to be all over and done. It’s not that it’s been particularly frustrating — inconvenient for day-to-day life, maybe — it’s just that it’s extra stress that I really do not want.

The entire process has really reinforced my belief that if you want to succeed in business, you need to do two things well: Communicate, and set expectations. If you do nothing else right, these two will save your ass, not to mention help you get out of the mess you got yourself into.

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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.

Canada’s Two Political Parties: Conservative, and Other

It’s Federal election time here in Canada. Which means it’s a fast-and-furious stream of incoherent messaging all tantamount to white noise as the various political figures attempt to sway Canadian passions (which are, at best, as politically frigid as Winnipeg in February).

Adding to all of this are, new to this run, a number of social media-style services all helping to add “information” (and likely being more like more noise to the signal) to help people align themselves with the political party of choice. I came across one, recently, and suddenly realised that despite the fact we have five major political parties vying for seats, they’re really only divided two ways.

Which means you either vote Conservative, or you don’t.

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Suggestions to our political “leaders”

We’re barely a week into the 2011 Canadian Federal election, and it already feels like a month. I suppose if there’s one good thing about elections up here, it’s that they’re short — none of this near-two year campaigning that goes on south of the border.

Already, the various political parties are … well, failing. I’m rather stunned how fast that happened, actually. You’d think they’d actually try to get out a message first, but they stooped to mud-slinging pretty much out of the gate. Yeah, real positive way to foster respect and attract voters, folks…

So I feel that, as a Canadian with some significant sense of civic duty (and certainly more than enough know-it-all-ism), I need to offer up some suggestions to our so-called “leaders” (read: I choose not to lay insults as they are neither interesting nor constructive) if they have any hope of inspiring Canadians to vote for them … if at all.

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Dear Canada, grow a backbone!

Well, Canada, we’re in another pickle. The on-going “me, too!” power struggle that has dogged us for five years is now going into Round 3, thanks to a non-confidence (read: get enough people to whine the ruling party out of power) vote. In just over a month, we’re back at the polls, likely to do what we did last time, and the time before that: Make no decision whatsoever.

I dunno what it is, but we Canadians seem to really love to not rock the boat. We don’t want heavy-handed politics, but we also want our cake and eat it, too. We want our health care, dammit, but we don’t want to pay for it. We want to leave our lights on 24/7, but please don’t raise our energy bills. And above all, we still want to be the “Nice” people in North America.

Let’s face it, folks, we’re a bunch of pansies.

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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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