The Death of Facts

The other day, The Chicago Tribune featured a satiric story about the death of Facts. A sad story, but possibly true.

When I was a teenager, I'd often call the downtown Vancouver Public Library where the staff there would look up facts for me. Although it's hard to believe now, they'd put me on hold and rummage through the appropriate reference books until they found the answers to the questions I'd asked. The librarians always seemed happy, and maybe even a little proud, to be able to help me in this way.

Later in life, a large part of my fascination with the computer revolution hinged on the very real possibility that facts would someday become easily and instantly available without the necessity of those phone calls. The internet tied all the computers together and it soon seemed as though we would presently have access to a worldwide library wherein all truth could be found.

I signed on with more passion and conviction than anyone I knew, and sure enough, the internet eventually became my personal and dependable fact repository. Then a strange thing began happening ...

As the internet began to become *everyone's* personal library and access to facts became ubiquitous, those same facts began to lose their lustre. As they became less rare - they seemed to become less valuable.

And as the internet democratized the collection and storage of facts, institutions formerly trusted to caretake them - The Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New York Times, the Vancouver Public Library for instance - were eroded and undermined. The conflicting agendas of the online masses and the new media they aligned with began to create, re-purpose or spin facts to support whatever opinions they felt required supporting.

For a while there, I thought I was losing my mind. My searches for dependable information became less and less fruitful. Reputable and supposedly trustworthy experts delivered black-and-white opposite versions of what should have been the simple truth. Trying to identify definitive facts became next to impossible for me. I yearned for the nice ladies at the Vancouver Public Library.

If my Dad was still around, he'd be reminding me now that the press and media - and anyone else trusted with the power of information (or simply "the power") - has always lied - twisting or inventing the facts as they pleased for their own purposes. He was right, I know, but this is different.

I didn't become a news junkie until September 11th 2001. Before that I'd check the news in the morning the way our parents quickly scanned the front pages of the morning paper. On that Tuesday morning the news page I frequented was simply a white background with black headlines, saying only that New York City was "under attack".

After 911, I was addicted to unfolding history. I was drunk with the power the internet gave me to parse every molecule of information at the moment it became available. I kept a bottle of Visine beside my computer screen.

Soon, questions arose. A theory was advanced that controlled demolitions had brought down the World Trade Centre buildings. A YouTube clip demonstrated that a 757 couldn't fit into the hole in the Pentagon wall. If these citizen journalists were actually on to something, the ramifications were almost impossible to consider.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars just added important questions that demanded answers. I waited for those answers to emerge, but the people and institutions now in control of the information simply continued to generate more facts, or statements with the appearance of facts, without ever taking responsibility for their veracity. Fair and balanced now seemed to mean that flat-earth believers still had viable facts to contribute to the news cycle.

While Obama restored my hope, his presidency has since become the focal point of some of the most egregious misuse of the f-word. Ridiculous assertions now stand as fact - unchallenged. Opinion is all that remains.

The Chicago Tribune story, while satirical, contains quotes from Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of "A History of the Modern Fact." Both the professor and her book are, in fact, real. She says:

"There was an erosion of any kind of collective sense of what's true or how you would go about verifying any truth claims," Poovey said. "Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the 'news' an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact."

The world wide web has brought people together in a way that has never before been possible and helped us accumulate a shared treasury of knowledge that's unsurpassed in history, and yet it's become a free-for-all in which the truth is threatened by dogma, superstition and politics.

I mourn the passing of Facts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for truth and wisdom.


"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
~ Steve Jobs - From his 2005 commencement address at Stanford

Rogers Canada iPad Data Charges

When you buy gas for your car, you purchase as much as you need and use it till it runs out. The same is true of electricity, in the sense that you pay for what you use. When I buy data for my iPhone, though, I pay $30.00 for access to 6 gigabytes of data per month. Although I generally use only a third of that, Rogers Canada denies me the use of the remaining 4GB, despite the fact that I've paid them for access to it. When the next month begins, I'm billed again for 6GB. This is not Rogers' only iPhone data plan, but it was, regrettably, the best option for me.

Then I bought a 3G iPad.

I signed up for the less expensive of Rogers' two iPad data plans: $15 for 250MB. This, incidentally, is 1/24th the amount of data that comes with my iPhone plan for 1/2 the price. I used all 250MB in a day or two.

Rogers has only one other option for iPad data access advertised on their web site: $35 a month for 5GB.

Seeing this iPad data price of five dollars more for 1GB less data than my iPhone plan got me thinking. I realized that not only was their iPad data pricing higher for access to the same data, they also appeared, in my case, to be selling access to that data twice, just because I owned two devices that could access it.

I navigated to their customer support page and wrote a quick email:

"I have a 6GB data plan for my iPhone. I recently purchased a 3G iPad and added your $15 data package for a month. Using the iPad less than my phone I ran that out in a few days. I have not used any 3G data on my iPad since.
I usually use no more than 2GB of data on my phone, despite the fact that I pay for 6GB. I think it's usurious of Rogers to not allow me to access the data that I'm already paying for on a second device - and instead insist that I pay AGAIN for that data.
Think about this. I'm somewhere with my iPad and my iPhone. If I need to access the web I have to go from my iPad to my phone to use the data I pay for. What's the difference?? It's *my account* logging in to use the product I purchased from you. It's like an electric company saying I can plug in a toaster, but if I want to plug in a microwave I have to pay them again for access to the electricity I buy from them.
Please pass this complaint on to the appropriate department."

Rogers' customer service responded. After assuring me they take my concerns very seriously and appreciate the feedback, they informed me that for an additional sum (less than the advertised $35/5GB), my iPhone and iPad could share the 6GB of data on my account. The offer they made me is not advertised anywhere on their web site (and in fact, they state here (2nd page) that "Currently, there are no sharing plans for iPad available to Rogers customers"). The specific details of their offer might be covered under the "any review, dissemination, distribution or copying of this e-mail or any of its content is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful" boilerplate included at the bottom of their email, so I can't include them here.

Since this plan offered me the ability to share data between two devices through my single account, they had confirmed that there is no technical or administrative problem with doing so. Nonetheless, for simply turning on that ability, they wanted me to pay hundreds of dollars per year. I wrote back:

"Thanks for your response,
Could you ask someone closer to the issue to please break down for me what exactly that additional [amount] is purchasing? I can see how there might be an initial set-up charge to acknowledge the existence of a second device using the account, but after that point it's the same 6GB of data and the same account.
Although the [amount] you mention is less than the $35 you charge for iPad access without a smartphone, it seems to me you're still charging your smartphone data customers twice to access, on their iPad, *the same 6 GB of data* they have already purchased from you.
Please pass this on to someone who can address the concerns expressed in this, and my original, email …"

Sometimes I get this picture of myself as a small dog that has bit into someone's pant leg and will not let go. Sometimes that small dog is rabid.

On the one hand ... in our not too distant future, digital data could become as important as gasoline and electricity. The companies that currently control that data are now testing the waters to see what the market can bear. Unfortunately, we are their real-time test-market, and our responses to the policies and pricing they propose today will shape those of the future.

On the other, I'm just curious to see if someone has a justification for this policy - other than the fact that they seem to be getting away with it.

My Rogers story gets a little silly from this point. I'll try to encapsulate the subsequent email runaround in an upcoming post. In the meantime I am still waiting for a response that confirms that someone at Rogers takes my question seriously.

On Tour With My iPad

I've finished my first two book on my iPad - "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan and "Wild Years - The Music and Myth of Tom Waits" by Jay S. Jacobs. "Goon Squad" is a truly contemporary book that wanders shamelessly through time, observing the tumultuous lives of a cast of characters all vaguely associated with the music industry. I liked it a lot. The Tom Waits book is a pretty straightforward chronicle of a very private man's career. I would have liked to see more detail, but appreciate what I learned.

I really enjoy reading on the iPad. On the whole, I like it better than reading traditional books.

At first I missed not being able to gauge, by the amount of pages shifted from the right hand to the left, how far along in the story I was, but it's not so much a loss as a change of habit. My iPad has helped be break that habit and realize that reading, like life, is all about the journey. The distance yet to be travelled should not be a distracting consideration. At any rate, a quick touch of the screen will show me.

I've read my iPad in airports, on planes, in vans, in restaurants, in hotel rooms, in beds in hotel rooms and in all circumstances, except bright sunlight, the experience has been more comfortable and all-round more rewarding. Part of this is due to the excellent Marware Eco-Vue case I bought while waiting for my iPad to arrive. Thanks to the multiple configurations of the case, I rarely have to hold the iPad with my hands. Even while sitting with my legs crossed the micro-fibre lining grips my jeans and holds the screen in place.

I was most looking forward to reading comic books and graphic novels on the bright, colourful and nearly comic-book-shaped iPad screen, and that experience has been everything I hoped for. I've been re-reading some favourites and discovering new titles (like Ed Brubaker's amazing "Criminal").

Although the time difference probably measures in miliseconds, the iPad is quicker in and out of the backpack and, as a result, more likely to be deployed. There is a general feel of convenience to it that my heavier, hinged, MacBook Pro seems, more and more, to lack.

For the moment though, and until I'm more used to the iPads glass keyboard, anything longer than a few paragraphs gets written on this trusty laptop.

I Bet There Are Now Thousands of "First iPad Post"s

That's why I didn't call this one that. My birthday present has arrived a few days early. Thank you Debbie. Typing on it is so far no more difficult than on a regular keyboard. I'm not a touch typist but I can usually go pretty fast with my advanced hunt and peck method. I don't notice an appreciable difference. The iPad also has the advantage of Apple's predictive spell checking and of generating an automatic period when you hit the space bar twice. Cool. Next I'll try using Dragon Dictation to dictate a post ...

I'm not embarrassed to say that this is my kind of fun!

The iPad

I spent Wednesday morning glued to my computer screen, alternating between three live-blogs while simultaneously trying to make sense of a mostly unlistenable uStream feed beamed directly from the Yerbe Buena Centre in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs and his Apple compatriots were unveiling their new tablet computing device; the iPad. I'm a fan of both Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs. I've been to MacWorld three times. I haven't missed a Keynote or product announcement for years. I've owned Apple gear since 1996 when I bought my Quadra 650, and I've been the Mac tech, tutor and evangelist for friends and family since then.

I will buy at least one iPad. And I'll take a lot of pleasure from watching what David Pogue calls "a 1.5 lb sack of potential" fill-up with as-yet unimagined applications and fill-out with next year's (or next month's) software and hardware updates. Just like the iPhone did.

In the meantime, the internet and twitter-verse is aswarm with those whose expectations were not met. Apple's inability to fulfill all of the rumour-mill's rampant and often unrealistic predictions is seen by some as a fundamental failure of a company that should know better. And, dammit, should have done better.

A friend posted on Facebook that "It's really an oversized iTouch being heralded as new technology for the future!" and goes on to say that he's "had a fully functioning tablet for 3 years now!". The PC he's referring to isn't the iPad, or anything like it, and it wouldn't take long to confirm that, but his characterization is already dishearteningly familiar and confirms how rewarding it can be to pass judgment ... even when that judgment is sometimes based on a minimum of related information.

Bob Lefsetz, a pop culture commentator, wrote something yesterday so ill-informed that it made me laugh out loud when I read it:

"The iPad is almost like a computer without software". He said.

A computer without software is exactly what it is at the moment! A powerful, beautifully designed computer that you operate by moving your fingers over a screen. The iPhone had  no software to speak of when it was announced. As of Wednesday there are 140,000 apps in the App Store. But Bob, my friend on Facebook, and many others, are unimpressed.

I will continue to be excited, optimistic and hopeful about what I see as a whole new way to interact with the ever-growing digital data-stream and a new vessel into which we can pour our collective imagination. And I'll leave you with this:

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.” ~ Steve Jobs

If you do have some interest in the iPad and want to take a few minutes to learn about it, I recommend the article posted yesterday by British actor, writer, comedian, television presenter, film director and genius Stephen Fry who was at the Yerbe Buena presentation and held one in his hands. I also recommend David Pogue's "The Apple iPad, First Impressions" in the New York Times, and John Gruber's dependably incisive and clear-headed observations on his blog, Daring Fireball.

Pack Mentality

Connor performed his first Indie/Dance/Mash-Up set last night at a downtown hole-in-the-wall called the Soundlab. It was a guest-list only event featuring three DJs. Unlike the two turntablists, Connor did an Ableton Live set - a seat-of-the-pants high-wire act where all the musical pieces are prepped on the computer and then selected, beat-matched and spat out in real time – the all important groove totally dependant on split second jabs at a bewildering collection of knobs, buttons and faders. He's been creating mash-ups (digital re-mixes wherein one or more popular songs are mashed together) for fun for months, but started working on his set in earnest when he learned there might be an opportunity to try it out live on a room full of drunk and dancing twenty-somethings.

He's posted three early mash-ups and an original electro/club/pop track on his "Pack Mentality" MySpace page - where he has quietly but steadily been building his Nu Disco persona.

This is another musical left turn for Connor - but probably a welcome and rewarding antidote to the frustration of trying to assemble a band of great players and then keep them together for more than one or two cash-challenged shows. His MacBook Pro, Reason, ProTools and Ableton Live allow him to create and perform solo - not with an acoustic guitar like Rev. 1, but with the power and the glory (and the block-rockin' beats) that only an infinite collection of digital samples can deliver. Add to that the undeniable ear-candy of layered iconic pop slices and you can begin to see the appeal - both for him and the dance floor.

And all his gear fits in a backpack.

Stay tuned.

My End of the Decade Story

Just before New Years, I began writing an ‘end of the decade’ piece chronicling my frustration with the general lack of trustworthy sources of legitimate and reliable information in this digital age. I researched carefully, in order to accurately present both sides of conflicting arguments championed by intelligent and convincing spokespersons. I sweated the details so that my dilemma would be clear. Both sides can not be right, and finding the truth of a thing seems to be growing harder and harder as more and more information becomes available.

I wrote the post using a beautiful and innovative new word processor that fills the computer screen with a peaceful white snowscape, eliminating all distractions. It truly seemed to help me focus exclusively on the writing. The essay grew long, but I was happy with the way it was coming along.

On New Years day, I opened the file to finish it up.

The serene white winter scene filled the screen, the program’s pleasantly unobtrusive music began to play quietly and my story appeared before me. In Chinese.

Or Mandarin. Or Chinese (Simplified) or Chinese (Traditional) - other options I learned about from Google Translator where I later vainly attempted to return my writing to my mother tongue.

The software’s website did have a reference to this problem. “If you get gibberish (oops)” they offered glibly, you could “try” their “workaround”. It didn’t work. I’ve contacted tech support but I am not hopeful.

Creating a Three-Minute Film

My Dad, a brilliant sculptor, used to tell people that he simply carved away everything that didn't look like what he’d set out to create. Watching him work, you'd swear he did just that - uncovering animals and people that had been waiting in the wood for his chisel to free them. I joked with Monty on Saturday night that I was hoping to use Dad’s approach to finish my submission for this year’s Three-Minute Film Festival. My rough cut had timed in at over an hour. I simply needed to carve away all but three minutes of that.

Monty laughed, but I could see the look of concern in his eyes.

Last year my film “Three Random Minutes” was exactly the correct length. As luck would have it – and it was dumb luck – my script had timed out perfectly. Possibly because of my rigid adherence to the festival’s format, I had wrestled the coveted Delores Award from my 3-minute film-making arch-enemy and two-time Delores winner Scott Milligan.

I had no script this year. My bold plan was to film reality unfolding in real-time, in the hopes that I could glean three entertaining edited minutes. The filming resulted in over two hours of uninterrupted and extremely engaging material.

Once I had logged the collected good bits, depression began to settle in. On Twitter, I wrote: “In any creative endeavour, exhilarating hopefulness begins to diminish near the ceiling of imagination and expertise”. I pretended for a day that I wasn’t making a film.

I hacked and slashed all the next day. I prayed that the heart of the film was not lost somewhere in the digital blood covering the virtual cutting room floor. When I reached the twelve minute mark I stopped to brag about it on Twitter. It took another full day to attain the six minute mark. It took another to admit that the film was as short as it could be.

Cindy and Monty’s Three Minute Film Festival is the best party of the year. We dress up, we organize into ‘magazine’ reviewer groups and post our reviews and votes on a big board on the living room wall. If you don’t bring a film you have to bring an appetizer. Most of the films are surprisingly awesome, but some are less than stellar. Sometimes they’re silly or in questionable taste and sometimes … like my film this year … they’re over three minutes long.

I’m sure Cindy and Monty will forgive me.

Here’s a link to my film from last year: “Three Random Minutes”

Here’s a link to the "Cindy & Monty's Three Minute Film Festival" web site. (Please notice that the actual festival is by invitation, and for friends and family only)

I’ll post my new 6 minute film here after it’s had its debut next week.

Artists That I Love - Episode 2 - Jonah Smith

I might never have known about Jonah Smith if we hadn't walked into that square behind the church in Barcelona in September 2007. We assumed, not unreasonably, that the band sound-checking on the large outdoor stage was from Spain, and it took some time to realize that the words being sung were in English. The band was tight and the singer, playing a groovin' Rhodes piano, was great. Before we left I asked the sound guy who it was. "Jonah Smith from Brooklyn New York" he said.

Jonah hits on pretty much all of the qualities that I think a great songwriter and singer needs. And his band is one of the most empathetic I've seen - leaving lots of space for the best parts.

Here's a live vid of Jonah playing my current favourite song, "Little Black Angels". This is not the original arrangement, which I also recommend. I couldn't find a vid of "Stay a While", which is another favourite, but your instructions for today are to go and buy both of these tracks, now, on iTunes.



Why I Like Twitter Better Than Facebook

I have been trying to explain Twitter to friends - especially regarding its differences with Facebook - and have not been particularly successful. I think this article covers it pretty well (while also predicting that Facebook plans further changes to become more “Twitter-Like”.)

Clipped from

In general, there are two ways to model human relationships in software. An “asymmetric” model is how Twitter currently works. You can “follow” someone else without them following you back. It’s a one-way relationship that may or may not be mutual.

Facebook, on the other hand, has always used a “symmetric” model, where each time you add someone as a friend they have to add you as a friend as well. This is a two-way relationship, and it is required to have any relationship at all. So as a Facebook user there is always a 1-1 relationship among your friends. Everyone who you have claimed as a friend has also claimed you as a friend.

Andrew Chen recently described one advantage of the Twitter model. It allows 4 types of relationships, while Facebook only allows for two. The two relationships of Facebook are “friend and Not Friend”. The four relationships of Twitter are:

People who follow you, but you don’t follow back

People who don’t follow you, but you follow them

You both follow each other (Friends!)

Neither of you follow each other

Full article HERE.

(You can follow me on Twitter, if you want, here.)


Shauna Mac invited me to join Facebook three years ago. Subway Steve friended me the day I signed up, noting that I had finally succumbed to Facebook’s evils. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant. Shortly thereafter I shut my new Facebook page down.


Newsweek’s Steve Tuttle just did the same because, he said: “In the end, Facebook is really the emptiest, loneliest place on the whole World Wide Web”, but my leaving had less to do with it’s inherent evils and more to do with my state of mind at the time.

In 2006 I had painted myself into a very public corner and Facebook just became the digital last straw. The release of my own, non-digital, book - a paper and ink version of my blog musings - had nudged my personal life out into the public world in a way that became surprisingly uncomfortable for me. During one of my first book promotion interviews, an Alberta newspaper writer asked me;

“What is it about blogs, that makes you think that we want to read your innermost thoughts from your personal diary?”

Despite my references to him in a subsequent blog post as “Asshat” and “Dickface”, his question added to my discomfort. What is it, indeed?

(I like to believe that “it” is my innate need for a creative outlet and the subsequent opportunity to interact with those that support that creativity. As they say, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

In February of last year I wrote here about the “exciting but often overwhelming concentration of attention on me and my personal life that has only just lately died down” - an assertion which, in retrospect, was at least a year premature. Regardless, it seems to have died down enough, at this point, that I no longer feel so burdened by the weight of that attention.

So much so, in fact, that I’ve signed up for Twitter

As you can see I’ve added a real-time feed from my new Twitter account to the sidebar of Technically speaking, those are “tweets” - the 140-character-maximum posts that I send to my “followers”. I can create the tweets on my phone or on my computer and they can be “followed” in the same way. My followers follow me and I, in turn, follow my followers. Twitter is a huge phenomenon. It’s free, easy to set up and use and, because of the size limitation, kinda fun. And maintaining Twitter is somehow much less onerous a task than traditional blogging or Facebook maintenance.

It may be foolish of me to make this commitment to a new social network, but I’ve decided that I’m unwilling to opt-out of the ongoing transmogrification of the internet and our interaction with it. I love the bleeding edge of technology - I owned a Radio Shack Model 100, the first portable computer and I wrestled html for the pre-amazon, pre-ebay internet in 1996. Far from bleeding edge, Twitter is already taken for granted by the bulk of the net’s denizens. How hard can it be?

I proceed on the belief that Twitter will be stimulating, useful, and, most of all, fun for me. I’ll shut it down if it fails to live up to that promise.

A good friend passed away last week and an email alerted me to a Facebook group created to commemorate him. Unable to log on without membership I tried my 2006 Facebook log-in and it worked. There was Shauna & Steve (now with photos of his new baby boy) and my other seven “friends”, waiting where I had left them. It turns out I can send my Twitter tweets to Facebook where they will appear as status updates.

I would now like to shamelessly request that you follow me on Twitter.

Thanks in advance for doing so!