Sunday, September 14, 2014

Political narratives: Toronto edition

As anyone with a Twitter account is aware, many things happened very quickly in Toronto on Friday September 12.

I was doing client work on Friday afternoon and took a Twitter break every hour or so. And I kept waiting for a response to Doug Ford running for mayor that was narrative-based. John Tory was quick to point out that Doug is an angry man who is rude to those with autism (and therefore is unfit for office). It took until Saturday for Olivia Chow to point out that Doug and Rob are one and the same (minus the drug problems).

But because I have no love for Doug, what I really want is someone to spin a story that links together his actions over the past four years. A negative story that will stick to him over the next six weeks. Angry Doug and Doug-equals-Rob are both character-based attacks. Neither of them tell much of a story about Doug.

The federal Conservatives did a good job of leveraging narrative with the “just visiting” ads aimed at Ignatieff. They told a story about a man who left Canada and returned only because of political ambitions. That narrative seemed to stick.

It might be a coincidence, but the “in over his head” attacks on Justin Trudeau are character based. (This man doesn’t have the experience and depth required to govern Canada). And they’re not working.

I’m sure there’s a subtle difference about framing versus narrative to be had, but I’ll leave that to someone more versed in politics than myself. I also have every confidence that there are plenty of examples of successful character-based political attacks.

Narrative have been top of mind for me lately, so this could just be a story hammer seeing everything as a story nail problem. But I would love to listen to a brainstorming session where Doug narratives are tossed around:

- Doug only cares about power, not Torontonians
- Doug wanted to leave city politics for good – until Rob forced him to run for mayor
- In four years, Doug’s only attempt at city building involved a monorail. Now he wants the keys to the mayor’s office.
- As campaign manager, Doug couldn’t keep track of his brother’s substance abuse. How is Doug going to keep track of important issues at city hall?
- The only reason Doug was elected to council was because he hung onto the coattails of his little brother.

Sunday, August 17, 2014 is the new BiggeWorld

Hey everyone. I totally screwed up and failed to renew So after 14 years, it is dead. Or, to be more accurate, it has been replaced:

I could point out that I didn't receive a renewal notice from Dotster, but this isn't the time to quibble. The old site was pretty terrible and this is the nudge I was waiting for. In the next few weeks I'm going to work on

Look for more SEO inspired blog posts in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm on the radio as part of Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Do you have a radio? Want to hear me embarrass myself? Then tomorrow is your lucky day. On Wednesday August 13 at 9:30am eastern time listen to CBC radio. I’ll be reading from my grade 5 diary as part of Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK)

Here’s a teaser:

April 18
Today I got seven wrong on a decimals exercise sheet. I got some speeches from mom.

There’s also a podcast version of GRTTWaK. Not sure when the animated series is set to debut.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Speculation Fiction

Last weekend I read the Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill in three or four sittings. A good book. A difficult book. Those two qualities aren't mutually exclusive:

For years, I kept a Post-it note above my desk. WORK NOT LOVE! was what it said. It seemed a sturdier kind of happiness.
We had told people. We had to untell them.
If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won't just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.
He is ten years younger than we are, alert to any sign of compromise or dead-ending within us. "You are not allowed to compare your imagined accomplishments to our actual ones," someone says after the boy who is pure of heart leaves.
Some women make it look so easy, the way they cast ambition off like an expensive coat that no longer fits.
But my agent has a theory. She says every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.
There is nowhere to cry in this city.
These are the sorts of things they talk about in the Little Theatre of Hurt Feelings.
People keep flirting with the wife. Has this been happening all along and she never noticed? Or is it new? She's like a taxi whose light just went on. All these men standing in the street, waving her over.
She would not have let one of her students write the scene this way. Not with the pouring rain and the wife's broken umbrella and the girl in her long black coat.
Even if the husband leaves her in this awful craven way, she will still have to count it as a miracle, all of those happy years she spent with him.
The wife has a little room now, one that looks out over the garden. She makes a note to herself about the book she is writing. Too many crying scenes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Triple Play: Fall 2014 Toronto content strategy meetup schedule

I’m overjoyed to announce that I’ve found three amazing guest speakers for the fall 2014 Toronto content strategy meetup:

On Thursday, September 18, Maggie Greyson unlocks interactive narrative and how it can help you develop new content ideas, collect customer data, engage untapped audiences and turn existing customers into fans or advocates.

On Thursday, October 16, Ann Rockley shows us how to plan and create adaptive content that automatically adjusts to different environments and device capabilities to deliver the best possible customer experience.

And on Thursday, November 20, Marco Petkovski demonstrates how to use analytics to plan, create and track content. 
Erica Baum: Buzzard
Meetups are $8 each, and guest speakers share their wisdom at 6:35pm precisely. Although I am obviously biased in this regard, I think all three of these speakers are excellent, and I urge anyone interested in content strategy to attend.

In fact, you might want to treat these three talks like a miniature certificate course in content strategy. For the cost of a nice dinner, you’ll learn how to best structure your online narratives, how to make sure the content in that narrative is viewable on all devices, and what tools you’ll need to track your content once it goes live.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Top 10 riffs from New Tab by Guillaume Morissette

New Tab is a cross between Shoplifting from American Apparel and Lenny Bruce is Dead, combining the best elements of both. That means funny and poetic observations about Montreal delivered through the eyes of a detached and self-aware narrator. Thankfully Morissette, unlike Tao Lin, seems to tolerate the inclusion of human emotion from time to time. The result is a wisecracking cyborg take on the world, or what I like to call Oculus Riff:

Tab 1
“I am a terrible employee,” I typed. “Sometimes I think I can’t possibly care less but then it happens again. I care less than I was caring.”

“I know that feeling,” typed Shannon. “Two years ago I worked at Fabricland during the summer. It was so underwhelming that it was almost overwhelming.”

Tab 2
“My dad is a business guy,” typed Shannon. “It’s his entire personality. When I was home for Christmas, he lectured me about my romantic life. He said I was open for business but running that business to the ground.”

Tab 3
The entire time I had courted her, she hadn’t figured out that I was courting her. At some point, she had introduced me to her friend Mason, who wore polo shirts and was self-confident and cheerful and didn’t seem to view his own existence as some sort of perplexing burden.

Tab 4
But here’s the thing: Maybe I didn’t want to live in a city so much as observe one from a close distance, like in Sim City. Living in a city was like living multiple lives, each capable of crushing me. It meant forcing myself to meet people, impenetrable three-dimensional emotion factories, being nice to them because I never knew what being nice to them could lead to, parties to attend or job opportunities or collaborating on something or whatever else. The insane number of possibilities a city offered. Trying to compute that number in my head felt like a kind of string theory.

Tab 5
My approach with women was like stacking blocks really high in Tetris while waiting for a straight line that might never come.

Tab 6
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s like, there’s these people on Facebook I’ve never met, but then I see their profiles all the time attending things I want to go to, so I kind of know them from that, and if I see them in public, it’s always weird, like I don’t think of them as people, I think of them as characters, like characters from a sitcom.”

Tab 7
By setting the alarm on my phone for ten, I knew I would get to work late enough for people to notice but not late enough for them to complain. I had slept less than three hours, had a body that felt like a bag of oatmeal, didn’t want to exit the bed. I wanted my pillow to be a supercomputer, allowing me to complete work tasks by rolling my head around on it.

Tab 8
At night, I was either going to parties or hiding in my room. I felt as if my goal overall was to be invited to all the parties, but never go. I was starting to view parties as an infinitely renewable resource, like I could skip one and all that would do is make ten more appear. Still, it was comforting to know that parties were there if I needed them to be there, like a low-hanging fruit.

Tab 9
“I think some people secretly don’t want you to be productive, because if you are, it puts more pressure on them to accomplish something,” I said. “They want you to go out with them all the time so that everyone’s mediocre and no one has to try.”

Tab 10
Unscrew my penis and replace it with a take a penny, leave a penny tray.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A few things to ponder before watching They Live

I read Jonathan Lethem’s monograph on They Live last night in order to prep for a screening of said film at the Revue Cinema on May 29. Here are my favourite bits of insight and observation:

- “One of They Live’s eccentricities is that we know Nada’s name only because of the end credits. No one speaks it in the course of the film. Yet his name is hardly incidental – Nada’s name, with its implication that he’s something of a zero, or null-set, turns out to come directly from the Ray Nelson short story ‘Eight O’clock,’ They Live’s primary source.

- “The discourse of commerce is a kind of quicker-picker-upper, superabsorbent of what happens along, even (or especially) that which presents itself as oppositional to, or critical of, commercial culture. So, much of Barbara Kruger’s and Holzer’s impact was gently naturalized within advertising language. This awkward fact cuts against They Live’s central assertion: that the distance between the ‘lies’ of commercial-ideological speech and the coercive ‘truths’ smuggled inside it is an extreme one, and shattering to cross. Really, the two coexist and even mate with appalling ease … Kruger and Holzer’s non sequitur interventions briefly attained a gallant purity, but they’d always needed the gallery or museum context as a quarantine against recontamination.

- One of the mini-chapters is titled “Vertical City Inhospitable to Horizontal Man”

- “The film’s scenes of routine ghoul intermixing – the beauty shop, the bank, the grocery store, leading up to this pedestrian work environment – have migrated through horror, revulsion, and pointed satire to achieve a kind of drab inevitability: They Live, sure, and so do They schlep, file paperwork, get stuck on hold, and work fifty weeks for a two-week vacation.”

- “Long ago, I used to see Ray Nelson at science-fiction conventions in Berkeley. He was a droll and bright-eyed elf of a man, and known for wearing a propeller beanie, regarded as a high talisman of fannish identification, the equivalent of an IT’S A BLACK THING, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND T-shirt. I felt in awe of Nelson’s lingering traces of involvement with Philip K. Dick, my personal hero, and he, Nelson, always struck me as a figure of absurd dignity, brandishing his two or three secret accomplishments through an otherwise invisible life – in Berkeley in the 1980s, he didn’t even rate as eccentric, he was apparently too mild. I was terrified of becoming this man.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

How do you make an online-only store more human? Show customers some of the humans that work there

I love how this marketing approach puts a human face on an online-only store and at the same time makes a subtle and smart emotional appeal for Father's Day, instead of just offering 15% off "great ties for dad."

Friday, May 16, 2014

A cheap and attractive DIY standing desk option

About two months ago I looked into buying a wall cabinet standing desk like this:

But it was only available through and the shipping was going to be more than the GDP of Guam. Plus it was a bit too big for what I needed.

Then I realized I could build one, thanks in large part to some blueprints I had for a wall mounted bar cabinet from an ancient copy of Readymade magazine. I had to modify the plans somewhat, but it was pretty straightforward:

I designed the size of the work surface to match an image size offered by Posterjack for peel and stick photo posters (19 x 13 inches). I'm fairly proud of that brainwave. I was going to use magnetic clasps mounted inside the cabinet, but the hinges were too strong. Turns out I had a brand new cabinet clasp in a parts box in the basement that looks pretty darn good.

I remembered to drill a hole for the power cord.

Hinges courtesy of Lee Valley. To my surprise they weren't very expensive and are rated at over 50 pounds. Also bought a very nice and very reasonably priced piano hinge that I was able to cut to size with a hacksaw. The wood itself was cheap too -- Home Depot, less than $20.

I was going to paint the exterior of the cabinet white, but decided to leave it as is. The wood is nothing fancy but looks good, and there's a nice contrast between the shiny modern laptop and the grain of wood.

Not pictured here are the dozens of mistakes, large and small, that I made along the way. Thank goodness I have 100 grit sandpaper and a palm sander. But every time I open up the cabinet, I think to myself "I made this. I made this standing desk." And that's a pretty awesome feeling.

Readymade blueprint:

Writing for Canadian magazines - Bigge data edition

Screengrab from my Access Copyright report for this year: