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Posts from the ‘canadiana’ Category

Usage Based Billing – The Elephant in the Muddy Waters in the Middle Ground

Oh Wikimedia Commons, is there any topic you don't have the perfect image for?

I got an e-mail from a friend (on his way to a Useage Based Billing consultation) yesterday curious as to what my thoughts were on the whole thing. I haven’t written anything about it at length (other than the odd tweet, mostly because my position generally falls outside both of the established “camps”, and when I have talked about it I generally found the discussion quickly deteriorated to me being asked to defend “the other side” and tenants I didn’t actually agree with.

Actually my biggest problem with the “debate” so far is that the two sides usually distill down to the arguments that “UBB is necessary” vs. “UBB is bad” and given that those aren’t actually mutually exclusive positions it’s frustrating to try and even define what the core issues are.

But in yesterdays exchange, I realized that I do have some thoughts which are a different viewpoint from most of what I’ve been seeing written – so if nothing else it might provide a different angle for people to contextualize their own positions – whatever they may be. Read more

72 Hours to TCAF

Toronto Comic Arts Festival Poster 2010

I’ll admit it, I’m torn. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival used to be this cool little bi-annual secret of the city. I was there at the beginning in 2003 and it was like hanging out at the worlds coolest indie comic shop book-signing; Fast forward six years and I’m sitting in a sold-out Harborfront Center listening to Adrian Tomine, Seth, and freaking Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Scott McCloud is sitting in front of me and a veritable horde of girls keep chattering behind me because they are trying to surreptitiously photograph a guy they assumed was Jeph Jacques. I don’t actually remember if it was Jeph Jaques or not… (although it’s pretty funny if they just assumed some random guy was Jeph Jacques) but that’s not the point. My point is that this memory is the diametric opposite of a “tiny well kept secret”. </preamble>

This years line-up is ridiculous, and there’s a truly staggering amount of info available on-line to plan an assault on the ‘fest – given that it’s free – there’s not a single reason to not at least drop by the Toronto Reference Library. The size actually is now well into dangerous territory. In the past I could always wander around the exhibitors and pick up some random mini-comic stuff just for the heck of it. Those on twitter know I’ve been devouring The Comics Journals exhibitor preview and, I kid you not, my first draft “have to pick up” list would literally run seven hundred dollars. May need a re-think on that one. But there is a bounty of riches.

Just in case you need something cool to check out at TCAF – here’s a really quick list of five Toronto-based projects I’m totally stoked about – and you should be too:

sword_of_my_mouth SWORD OF MY MOUTH – I’m 100% jonesing for Jim Munroe and Shannon Gerard’s stand-alone follow up to the post-rapture adventure THEREFORE REPENT! I unfortunately can’t make their launch party tomorrow (so no free seeds for me… but it’s stop number one on Saturday before you all buy up all the copies. Well maybe stop number two. Depends on who’s closest to the front door between them and my other Toronto art-crush… Read more

The Crusade


I don’t know what else to do people. You can come over and borrow my copy of Never Learn Anything From History, you can flip through her exceptional National Post work (which probably plays a larger part than I’d like to admit in why I subscribe to a daily newspaper where I disagree with a significant portion of the editorials). Heck it’ll cost you nothing (but some well spent time) to just go read the Hark a Vagrant archives.

The important thing is that we immediately start the movement to get Kate Beaton officially appointed Canada’s Cartoonist Laureate.

Medium Close-Up

Howard Bernstein is a Canadian news and television über-producer who has worked for pretty much every major network in the country.

Now retired, his hard hitting, no b.s. blog Medium Close Up is compelling, thought-provoking reading.

Good, good, stuff – and I hope he keeps it up.

I didn’t speak up when they came for Napster…

Graphic Concept 3

Very interesting day in Ottawa yesterday preparing for the CFTPA presentation to the CRTC today. Lots of involved conversation with extremely intelligent individuals… I’m coming to the startling realization that this “government” of ours actually entails a lot of hard work. Who knew?

Having probably read, spoke, and thought more about the myriad aspects of this net neutrality hearing in the last week than I ever have in my life (and likely, more than is probably healthy) I thought it would be an interesting time to do a little follow up to the series of posts I’ve written following this issue, primarily on why the average end-user, with little interest in public policy should care.

The problem that the Net Neutrality “movement” has is somewhat similar to the issue faced by the ubiquitous WTO protesters – everyone’s in it for a different reason and for completely different politics. For every libertarian who proposes Net Neutrality to guarantee their freedom of net access – another decries any non-market intervention in industry. For every network engineer desperate to keep blanket traffic shaping off their protocols – there’s another that could argue legislation would limit the ability to improve end-user service quality.

I think my viewpoint boils down to this: The majority of these hearings Globally (and the Canadian proceedings specifically) have centered around traffic management of BitTorrent. As a content producer I have a mixed relationship with BitTorrent. I have used it as a legal, valuable, distribution tool – and I have seen it used to pirate works that cost me money (that’s not an abstract “piracy costs the industry billions of dollars” which I still believe is mostly distracting nonsense, that’s a concrete comment at a torrent tracker that was essentially “thanks, I was just about to go buy this on-line”). But BitTorrent is nothing if not a giant red herring. Gopher, Usenet, zero-day websites, kazaa, napster, limewire, WinNY, Tor… all are, essentially, placeholders for “any technology”.

BitTorrent is only particularly interesting in this instance because it has two distinct characteristics:

  • It has certain “P2P” tendencies that make it difficult to manage on a network
  • It is popular

Everything else (for the purpose of Net Neutrality) is distracting chaff.

Well guess what? Pretty much any technology that gets introduced from this point forward will have “P2P tendencies that (will) make it difficult to manage on a network”. World of Warcraft has P2P tendencies now. New VoIP applications have P2P tendencies. Flash (one of the widest technologies in use worldwide) is starting to adopt P2P tendencies. So really the only thing that makes BitTorrent particularly unique at this point in time is that it’s popular. And is that the precedent that we are willing to set? When a technology is widely adopted at a level not conceived of in an original network design the optimum management technique is to strangle it? I heard a great line today (and I haven’t asked for permission so I won’t attribute it) that if we had judged YouTube’s potential on what it was in 2005 (crotch kicks and cat videos) it never would have become such a platform for independent content and political discourse (and, of course, high def crotch kicks, and cats playing piano).

Maybe I, personally, wouldn’t be entirely heartbroken if BitTorrent was throttled out of usefulness… but what about when the next “popular” but “difficult” application is YouTube, or iTunes, or Skype, or my independent video distribution service? How technologies are used change. What technologies we use change. If how we respond to those technologies is to be consistent, we need to make sure they will consistently foster a future we feel is worth working for – not kill that goose before it lays any egg – let alone a golden one.

I can’t see a future of exciting new development opportunities fostered on a network where content judgements of any stripe is allowed ISPs who have their own content interests. That’s not a slight on their character, nor a suggestion of impropriety; Rather it would be improper if they didn’t use that leverage to prioritize their own vision of the future. That’s how the future is built – battling self-interests. But I do think (or hope) that there are more people self-interested in a future with an even playing field that they can build on.

When people ask me why I get so revved up about technology – I generally talk about how I am now able to do things that I couldn’t have imagined when I first logged on to the “Internet” fifteen years ago. Not only things that, literally, would have seemed like magic – but I can tell different stories, to different people, in ways that would have, quite literally, seemed like science fiction. I would like to live in a world where the next fifteen years will be equally as vibrant, creative, and revolutionary to how we – as humanity – tell stories to each other.

Greetings from the Nation’s Capital!


I felt bad about not doing a Canada day-specific post last week so this feels pretty good.

I had an uneventful trip to Ottawa today (an aside – why is it that just knowing you have a flight to catch at some point in the day – no matter when – always makes the whole day seem extra-stressful?) but was relieved to finally get to the hotel so I could go through “my routine”. Whenever I’m travelling, and especially when I’m in a hotel I’ve never stayed at before, I’m always slightly uncomfortable until I can unpack, find a solid Internet connection, and walk a radius of a couple of blocks around the hotel itself. This little recon serves a number of purposes:

  • I can sort out what cardinal direction I’m facing in my room (I have no idea why this is important to me, but it is)
  • I can find out what’s within walking distance of the hotel (good to find out there’s a 7-11 across the street before you’ve emptied the mini-bar)
  • One of the best judges of a city (and the neighbourhood your hotel is located in) is the character of it’s street-meat vendors
  • By getting outside at least once you never have to come back from a trip with the dreaded “I never left my hotel” travelogue

All those points served me quite well when I determined on my post-arrival jaunt that I was only a block from Parliament and that the Summer sound and light show is in full swing. This is how I found myself eating an Italian sausage (covered in sauerkraut) (which I bought from an East Indian gentleman with a cart covered in hockey stickers), amidst a bunch of Irish tourists, sitting on Parliament hill, watching a video projection of Inuit dancing, narrated in French. I smiled and thought to myself that there was truly nothing else I could possibly do that evening that could add to my private personal celebration of the Canadian cultural mosaic, so I called it a night and turned to walk back to the hotel.

Then I saw the Tim Horton’s across the street.


Who knew there were Google image results for "NBC Fail"?

Who knew there were Google image results for "NBC Fail"?

Seriously NBC? There’s so much non-trivial stuff going on in the world and you’re going to make me comment on this? Fine. Let’s explore the myriad of ways you don’t understand how ratings work.

The Coles notes: Both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have hosted free public “viewing parties” for Stanley Cup games being held out of town (or in the Pen’s case, sometimes for games in-town). This way people can still gather to cheer on their local team when there’s no chance of attending in person. However NBC is putting the kibosh to that, by not allowing either team the rights to rebroadcast their video feed for these public events. This is ostensibly to protect the “value” of their broadcast. Suffice it to say most people think this is idiotic.

NBC – since you’re only a broadcast partner, your broadcast has “value” in only two areas:

  • The perceived value to advertisers
  • The actual value to advertisers

Ratings are only important for the former. You want the highest ratings numbers, not because it conveys a tangible benefit to you, but it makes the perceived value of you advertising slots higher. True, sometimes there are minimum targets or advertisers get their money back, or bonus’ if you reach a threshold… but for the most part there is no difference to you (positive or negative) for minor variances. If we presume that the maximum number of people who would watch a game simultaneously in Detroit and Pittsburgh could maybe top out at 30,000 (filling the Joe, and another 5-8 thousand outside in Pittsburgh – tops – that’s less than 0.03 of a ratings point (currently a single ratings point is around 1.1M viewers). This is not a statistically significant variance to influence the perceived value of your advertising.

One might argue that the real issue is “share” (the total of all TV watchers at a given time tuned to a specific program), especially when broken down by region… but this ignores the second part of the “value” to the network which is actual value to the advertisers. That is to say, the number of eyebals that actually recieve an advertiser’s message.

Although they certainly aren’t sharing this information with us, I have no doubt that the execs at NBC have filing cabinets full of ratios, studies, and formula to estimate how many viewers in a ratings point (or share) are actually exposed to an advertisers message. This lets them court advertisers with comparatives. “Well sure, America’s Got Talent doesn’t have the ratings of Idol… but as you can see our audience averages .5 fridges per household more than Fox’s, so our audience is 68% more likely to not miss your 30 second spot because of a beer run… that makes us a much better value per dollar”. It’s one of the reasons that so many broadcasters are getting back into live sports – viewers are far less likely to PVR/Tivo/VCR/Bittorrent live sports events and watch them later, fast-forwarding through the ads. In horrible ad-speak this is called “appointment viewing”.

In this light, these live parties should be encouraged – as they are demonstrable “appointment viewing”. Ad execs should be doing cartwheels and writing press releases about how they’re delivering an absolutely captive audience to their advertisers. An audience that can’t even change the channel. Those 30,000 aren’t just “potential” exposures to advertising (like most ratings and share are)… they’re “actual” exposures to advertising… and should be considerably more valuable to advertisters.

So congratulations NBC, you’ve taken a “no lose” value proposition (one that – for no effort on your part – is either neutral, or beneficial, to the value of your programming) – and managed to turn it into international ill will and consumer outrage.

And that’s terrible.

[Update – the Detroit Free Press article linked above is now suggesting that the blackout could actually be at the request of the NHL… and if that’s true, that’s absolutely mind-boggling. That’s, like eighty pies worth of mind-boggling.]

Just in case you’ve been in a cave

What, too subtle?

What, too subtle?

The big IP story in Canada this week has been the Conference Board of Canada publishing a report on the “Digital Economy” which read a lot like propaganda (from the US lobbyist “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, specifically). A little legwork by Michael Geist turned up the fact that it not only looked identical to US lobbyist propaganda, but ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda at that. It also turns out it’s ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda that the Canadian government paid top-dollar for. Lo and behold, it was indeed plagiarized ill-informed, US lobbyist propaganda.

Really this whole thing has been the Michael Geist show… so skip the middle man and enjoy the glorious shadenfreude directly. I don’t always agree with Mr. Geist, but I’ll toast a glass to his efforts tonight.