Don’t vote


Okay, if you’re reading this, you — you — can vote. Reading a strange bloggy rant about an election probably means you’re an engaged citizen, and you can make an informed and considered choice.

But exhorting the masses to go out and vote leads to poor choices made with bad information.

I’m tired of people wrapping themselves up in the self-satisfaction of a “Go vote” message, without actually putting themselves out there to explain why or how.

Garbage in, garbage out, as any old programmer will tell you. And telling people to “vote” without any direction or context as to why or how they should vote is giving them only garbage information. What do you think they’ll produce in the ballot box?

A poorly-informed voter, urged at every corner to “just vote, it doesn’t matter how” is likely to make their choice based on a gut feeling, or emotion, or habit, and not on a carefully thought-through conclusion.

That leads to some of the worst practices of current electioneering: pandering to voters’ base instincts by playing on their fears, micro-targeting their greed, and cultivating a general us-vs-them attitude.

All of these are proven to work — and they work better the less one pays attention. So, they work great in today’s busy society, where we are bombarded by snippets of information throughout the day, and never have time for much drawn-out investigation or debate.

The result? Many people will head to the ballot box exhausted by the election, yet still without having thought about their choice all that much. They’ll make a snap decision and vote for a candidate or a party that makes them feel good, or against a candidate or party that worries them, or just mark an X beside the party of candidate that they voted for last time.

The myth of the informed voter is as deeply ingrained as is Homo economicus. But it’s just not true.

Like in economics, people make political choices all the time that are irrational, delusional, emotional and just plain ill-informed. Telling them to “Just vote” and pretending that when they get behind the cardboard screen, they’ll make perfect choices is just as irrational, delusional, emotional and ill-informed.

So no, if you don’t feel like it, feel free to not vote.

Oh, that old chestnut: “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain”? Screw your sanctimony. Complaining is an excellent way of getting decision-makers to listen to you. Complaint — whether through writing letters, petitions, protests or just plain bitching on Twitter — is possibly a better method of producing change than voting.

In fact, complaining is one of the prime ways for political parties to pick which planks they’ll put in their platform, so by complaining, you get to help decide the choices those schmucks who vote have to pick from.

Don’t vote. Do complain.

And if you are telling people to get out and vote, then at least have the courage of your convictions to tell them how and why to pick a candidate.

I could write a whole ‘nuther post on that — there are clear choices between parties and candidates in this election, but those choices are a matter of degree, rather than anything else. We’re choosing between Coke and Pepsi, not between Coke and a lightbulb.

And if you’re in the dark, being guilted into a choice between Coke or Pepsi won’t help you one bit.

Decades of Drinks

Check out this video of different cocktails through the ages — a veritable who’s who of popular drinks.

It’s fun to see the types of cocktails that have been in vogue, and I like the way in which the video tunes you in to the different eras, by incorporating colour, and the bartender’s changing wardrobe.

Speaking of the bartender, look at the way he handles those jiggers! Such skill! And it’s interesting to see how many cocktails are stirred and then poured, instead of shaken.

Now I want a cocktail.

Happy Friday!

Microsoft is Guessing Ages and Being a Total Dick About It

You may have seen How-Old.net being talked about today. A lot.

That would be Microsoft’s new website, claiming to be able to gauge how old you are based on a photo. It’s got all sorts of techy science behind it.

From the CBC:

It’s powered by Face APIs, a new tool that launched at this week’s Build Developer Conference. The program’s page describes it as “a cloud-based API that provides the most advanced algorithms for face detection and recognition.” Proposed uses include verifying whether two faces in separate photos belong to the same person, or using one person’s photos to find him or her in multiple other photos.

It’s also a total dick.

Nine times out of ten the algorithm guessed my age as being 35 and over.



To their credit, they do apologize if they didn’t get the age or gender right. My wounded ego might need more than apologies though.

Amy Schumer is a Treasure

Season 3 of Inside Amy Schumer just began, and she doesn’t waste any time doling out the satire.

I particularly enjoy the Last Fuckable Day skit, which is excellent because JLD is so fuckable still, I mean come on.

Schumer points out sexist and misogynist tropes in such a clever way. She’s not being reductionist, and has obviously taken a careful look at the topics she skewers.

The comedy network apparently doesn’t let me embed, so check out the full episode here.


Music on a Tuesday, Again

Here we are again, on a Tuesday, without a Music Monday. I should just re-name it Tuesday Tunes or something. You guys won’t mind.

Anyway, over the weekend I read an interesting article in the Guardian about the Australian singer Sia, and her decision to hide her face in public and during performances.

The writer questions why people seem to be obsessed with Sia hiding her face, when we don’t really care about male artists who do the same. Essentially it’s your standard music industry/Hollywood double standard stuff.

Sia has steadily growing in popularity over the last couple of years. I think I first became acquainted with her music when the song Breath Me was featured in the final episode of Six Feet Under.  She seems to be rejecting the level of fame she’s reaching, by using actors and dancers in her stead — she got a lot of press when her video for Chandelier came out, featuring former reality tv star Maddie Ziegler as a Sia miniature, dancing around a dilapidated house.

Personally, I feel like Sia is using her desire for anonymity as kind of an art project. She is using Maddie and others to represent different parts her personality. That’s also why Shia Labeouf appeared in her video for Elastic Heart. Sia said in response to outcry from the video that the two are representing two parts of her self that are at war with each other.

I’ve also heard the argument that if Sia is uncomfortable with her level of fame, and wants to remain anonymous, how is it right that she’s using a child to be her public face. I’m sure there’s no intentional ill-will, but it’s a fair argument for sure.

Anyway, all this talk and conjecture really detracts from the fact that she makes great music. In the end we shouldn’t feel like we’re owed anything from her, or any other musician.


14 perfectly secret hiding places around your home



I kind of love this Family Handyman list of hiding places that you probably already have in your own home (or can easily install) despite the fact that it’s presented in unfriendly slideshow format.

Probably the cleverest easy one is the vacuum cleaner bag trick, above (note: I shouldn’t have bought that Dyson, I guess) but some of the other ones are also great, including installing some fake PVC pipe in your basement (No. 11) or a dummy electrical fitting outside (No. 12).

Also, the captions can be amusing. Can your floorboards hold the weight of millions in gold bullion that they suggest hiding in your kitchen?

Some thoughts on the Winnipeg Free Press’ new paywall

You must register (albeit at no charge) before you can read details of the Winnipeg Free Press’ new paywall, or their rationale for it.

I confess that I don’t know all the details of the Winnipeg Free Press’ upcoming new paywall.

I understand that it’s pay-as-you-go, with individual articles running about a quarter (27¢ is the rate I’ve seen quoted) or that you can get a monthly subscription for about $16.

Micropayments have been the Holy Grail for news since as long as I’ve been paying attention, but the problem has always been that processing fees erode too much of it to make them worthwhile. The Freep is apparently solving this problem by charging your credit card information only once a month, so they’ll only pay the processing fee on one transaction rather than maybe 30 times for each of the articles you’ve read that month.

Having only fairly recently left the Brandon Sun, a stalwart paywall newspaper for lo these many years, I’m favourably inclined to a) pay for news; and b) to find a way to make it easy for others to pay for news.

But paying for news is a hurdle that many newspapers have failed to clear. And while the Freep is trying something quirky and different, I’m still not sure how they’re going to clear the hurdle themselves.

Here are some of the issues I’m curious to see how they’ll address:

1. This is a hard paywall.

Well, it’s a hard registration wall, that’s for sure. As my screenshot above shows, you have to register before you can even read their rationale for the paywall. I’m not sure if they’ll make you pay for every article, or only some of them, or maybe even most of them.

Maybe they’ll only make you pay for their really good, hard-hitting enterprise stuff.

But unless I can “try before I buy,” I think they may end up being more successful in turning would-be readers away than they are capturing and converting casual visitors to subscribers.

They may want to consider some flexibility in their registration, particularly for breaking public interest news — a major flood, for example.

2. The price is steep

At 27¢ an article, newshounds will find their bills climbing quickly. The Freep might find themselves in the not-enviable position of cell phone carriers whose customers go overseas and leave the data on.

I can easily open 10 or so tabs from any middling-to-large newspaper that attract my interest, but I’m seldom going to read more than two or three of them all the way through.

Or, if I’m searching for a particular story, I might click through and discard dozens of stories that aren’t quite what I’m looking for. To a subscriber, that’s no big deal, but to a pay-as-you-go reader, that’s risky.

And I’m seeing some chatter on Twitter that the $16/month price is … ambitious in the Winnipeg market. The Freep, after all, has a popular recurring feature called “Winnipeg Cheapskate.”

3. They risk the temptation of clickbait

When you’re paid by the click, you’re motivated to generate more clicks. That means “curiosity gap” headlines, listicles, and quick “hot takes” on the subject de jour.

That would be a sea change for the Freep, which I think is currently known for its rather more in-depth, thoughtful and time-intensive projects and coverage.

It’s not just the obvious “11 Ways the City Done Messed Up, Number 8 Made Me Cry” style that you see polluting Facebook already. Clickbait could take a subtler approach, like perhaps re-headlining a wire service story so that readers are more likely to click on it.

I’ve done that on metered paywalled newspapers before, thinking that I’m going to get unique reporting and all I get is a reworded headline. That’s annoying when it uses up one of my 10 free articles in a month. It’ll be more annoying if it takes cash out of my pocket.

There’s also the issue of URL shorteners that mask the original link. I might be frugal with my shar.es or wfp.to links but still end up paying after inadvertently clicking on a bit.ly link.

4. News is somewhat fungible

Who will be the first digital subscribers to the Free Press? Competing news sources.

Radio has long been known for its “rip and read” approach to news, but every reporter worth his or her salt has been assigned to chase a competitor’s scoop.

In the old days, maybe that meant finding an original source of your own for their news. These days it suffices to say “There are reports that…” before launching into a paraphrase. Gotta get those clicks. Gotta get those eyeballs.

Will you pay top dollar to read the original an hour early? Or will getting the second-hand version of the facts be enough? I know a lot of people who are currently more than happy with third- or fourth-hand news, so betting on the value of first-hand seems risky.

5. Not all news is worth the same

I understand that you kind of have to set a price point, but 27¢ seems like too much for some news, and too little for others.

For some of the Freep’s coverage — say, a firehall land-swap feature that includes an interactive map or a Key of Bart in the article — even $1 would be a bargain.

But for quick-hits like a government press release rewrite, 27¢ is a ripoff.

Apparently, the 27¢ is supposed to buy you “all updates” to any particular story, but I’ll bet that doesn’t mean you get to pay for a story about a car chase and then read all the way through to the conclusion of the court case.

In fact, you might pay to read a story one day only to have to pay again to read largely the same story the next day, topped with something fresh that was held back for the print edition.

News is also worth different amounts to different people. Business folk who can get their office to buy a subscription won’t even notice. But some people — especially those without regular internet access or a credit card — are going to have more trouble.

6. Customized news leads to a bubble

One of the big selling features of the new Freep site is apparently their ability to track what I read, to learn what I’m interested in, and to feed me more of that every time I return.

That way lies madness.

First of all, I’m not a sports fan. But I might be interested in the odd story. Will they never show me a sports story because I so seldom read them? Or will they show me too many because I occasionally do?

And what about editorial judgment? I read news partly because I want to learn what I don’t know. I might never be interested in city politics — but it might still be important for me to know it.

So, what’s my solution?

I hope this is Free Press Paywall v.1 and that v.2 is coming soon. And, frankly, I hope that this technology trickles down to little sister paper the Brandon Sun, too.

Here are some things I’d like to see in v.2:

  • More price flexibility. Maybe some stories are free, others are a dime, and premium stories are a quarter. Feature packages, which could include links to explainers, background and related interactives could be $1 or so. Really intense special projects could even go $2 to $4 and I would support e-book packages of $5 or so. Monthly subscriptions could be tiered along those lines as well.
  • Upgradablity. Maybe I don’t want to subscribe for $16 right now, but if it’s the middle of the month and I’m closing in on having spent that much in pay-per-article, let me roll-up to a monthly subscription. Better yet, let me top out my 27¢ charges when I reach $16 and tell me that I’ve “unlocked the rest of the month for free.”
  • Pay-per-day or -week. I’m sure you can get a yearly subscription (although maybe it’s just billed monthly anyway). But I’d like the option to buy, say, just the day’s paper. Or maybe I’m really interested in an ongoing story — perhaps an election — and I’d like to read for a week. Maybe I’m even just passing through town and only want to read it for a week. Call it the “Tourist edition” and you could even sell special ads around it.
  • Pick Up Print. Not sure exactly how this technology would work, but if I were an online-only subscriber, it would be a neat perk to just be able to walk up to a vendor and grab a print edition for free, maybe once a week or a couple of times a month. Maybe each subscriber gets a bar code in their Freep app that vendors can scan.
  • Payment flexibility. Some people will prefer to sign up anonymously — why not let them pay with bitcoin or something. Wouldn’t it be neat if people could unlock a month free if they had enough good comments? Or a couple of letters to the editor published? Or if they submitted a breaking news video?
  • News algorithm options. There needs to be a way to turn off the news personalization feature. Many newspapers have a “top news” and a “news we think you’ll like” section. Maybe a toggle between Most Recent, Most Important, Most Popular, and Most Like What You’ve Read Before.
  • Less Logging In. If the story’s free, don’t make me log in to read it. Make me log in to comment, to share it, maybe even to read the comments. But not just to peruse it. If everything’s payment required, then maybe, but not if the story’s not even behind the paywall.

So what do you think, am I off my rocker?

Like I said, 1600 words ago, I’m favourably inclined to pay for news, and I hope the Free Press succeeds, although yes, for the rest of those 1600 words, all I did was gripe.

It’s tough, getting people to pay for what they seem to believe is the natural right of a citizenry.

Good luck to the Freep. They’ve always been willing to experiment (see also: News Café) and I applaud them for that.

Now, send some of those big-city resources Brandon’s way.


New Movie Trailers To Get You All Jazzed Up

I love a good movie trailer. It really is an art form. There has to be just enough of the plot to get the viewer interested, but too much and there’s no sense in going to the actual film.

Pacing is really important too. Cutting the clips together perfectly, with the right music and sound-bites can really affect ticket sales*.

Here are a few recent trailers that I think meet the above criteria. I’m getting excited for the start of the “real” movie season, now that the studio dumping ground of January-March is over.

Arnold Schwarzenegger having to save his infected daughter from what looks like a zombie virus? Showing some acting range? Um, yes please.

The film also seems to show a more realistic (perhaps) view of how an infection like that would take place.

Michael Fassbender is usually excellent, and this looks like a more humorous take on a Western, which is always welcome. It also stars Kodi Smit-McPhee, who you may remember from The Road. Not me though. I can’t read that book AND watch a movie about it, what am I, a sadist?

I know, I know. Tom Cruise. All that baggage. This is like the 18th movie in the franchise. Plus, the title is so dumb.

But the last Mission: Impossible was actually really good. The Burj Khalifa scene alone is enough to recommend it. And this new trailer is BANANAS. I mean, LOOK AT THAT LAST SHOT. And apparently Cruise does, like, all of the stunts, so give the man some credit.

If you want to see more of that plane scene, and how Cruise did it, check out this link. But aye, be warned. There be spoilers afoot.

There you have it! Just a few films to look forward to this year. And I didn’t even bring up that whole comic book thing.

*I have absolutely no proof of this, it’s just something I believe in, like the Easter Bunny, or that the perfect pair of jeans exists.

Something great to read every month

Although I don’t even have a Spotify account, and we’re “borrowing” a Netflix account, I’m starting to come around to subscription services.

I first fell in love with Tonx coffee — great, fresh-roasted, small-farm coffee, sent directly to your door every two weeks — a couple of years ago, when I subscribed as a Valentine’s Day gift for Amy.

We haven’t looked back, even though Tonx has now been bought by and absorbed into Blue Bottle, and some of the quirky personality has been bled out of it. The coffee’s still great and freshly roasted, although it’s now coming from larger plantations instead of small single-growers. It’s grown, and with that success comes scale, and it loses something of the intimacy it once had.

It’s still a million times better than grocery store coffee, though, and it’s the reason we upped our coffee maker and our grinder. It’s still well worth signing up, even if the Canadian dollar makes it a wee bit more expensive that it once was.

But all that is just a roundabout way to tell you about the most recent subscription I’ve signed up for: The Atavist.

Founded a few years back as a home for long-form, well-researched, deep-dive journalism, it posts just one story a month.

But what stories! They say they range from 5,000 to 30,000 words, and they’re each riddled through with photos and multimedia elements that pull you into the tale.

You can buy any single story for a couple of bucks, but I took out a year’s subscription for $25. The back catalogue has grown to the point where it’s well worth it.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been extremely pleased to read a lengthy story about a former Canadian bank robber who led the Stopwatch Gang until he (mostly) went straight and an engrossing tale about the would-be literary author who instead introduced the pulp staple of zombies to Western audiences for the very first time.

Next up for me will be Company Eight, billed as “The true story of one man’s quest to reform firefighting in America.”

That breadth of content is reflected in the style and the writing — each story is designed completely differently, and has a personality to match the text.

But perhaps I’ve saved the best for last:

There are no comments.

Instead, you’re alone with the story, to read it, to absorb it, to think about it and perhaps to pass it on to a friend to also read, before you can discuss it.

It’s wonderful. Freeing in a way, to not have to come up with a pithy tweet or a hot take. To not be faced with a deluge of other people’s opinions — no matter how learned or not — colouring your own thoughts.

All of which turns out to be appropriate, if you know the definition of the word “atavist.”

Music Monday: Thief

Has a song so bitter ever been so damn catchy?

Thief (aka PJ Wolf) hails from Australia, the land of sunshine and Wallabies, so it’s no wonder his music is such a shimmery brand of electro-pop. Thief is reminiscent of 80s synth, with a decidedly modern approach — which is of course so au courant.

Check out this slow-jam cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” The steel drums are a nice touch.