Developer. Gamer. Yo-Yo Thrower.

Yearly Blog Post 2019 Edition

It's long overdue time for my once-per-year blog post! At this point I'm not sure if the actual design of will ever be updated again. Maybe it'll be doomed to this template for ever. I just have too much other great stuff on the go, it's largely the same as the last two years but I'm still jazzed on all of it. Also check out my Twitter for more updates.

Yearly Post 2018 Edition

It’s time for my once-per-year blog post! is still long overdue for an overhaul.

The stuff I’m working on this year is largely the same as last year:

Also check out my Twitter for more updates.

Yearly Blog Post

My last post here was over a year ago! is still long overdue for an overhaul.

Check out the stuff I’m working on now:

Also check out my Twitter for more (albeit smaller) updates.

I’m still here (2016 Edition) is long overdue for an overhaul. Over the last year I’ve been working on so many different exciting projects, both for companies, and personally. I rarely have time to flesh out a blog post, let alone update the design here.

My biggest personal project right now is a content aggregation and curation website called PummelBlitz. It uses curators, both real people and bots, to cull the internet for interesting links. Those links can then be voted and commented on by other PummelBlitz users. It started off as a cool way to try out RethinkDB, but as I watched Reddit melt down this summer, it became more an engine built around true user democracy and admin action transparency in mind. I wanted a Reddit-like site that allowed for safe spaces (and extremely unsafe spaces), and accountable/transparent admin actions. I’ve been maintaining a list of all the things that bugged me about Reddit and started fleshing out solutions to them to implement on PummelBlitz. I don’t know if PummelBlitz has a real future, or if it’s just a neat side project for me right now, but I have more great ideas I plan to build in.

I’ve also been freelance web contracting much more recently. I relaunched the Captain Dashing Web Works website with this in mind. Check it out, especially if you’re looking for some help on your web app, or mobile backend.

Check out my Twitter for more (albeit smaller) updates.

I’m still here

I’m still here, I just don’t have time to blog anymore. I could make time to write more posts (and I’ve really thought about it), however with things like Nifcee (and other still-stealth-mode startups) consuming most of my time it’s easy to forego posting here in favour of working more on prototypes (or taking a break with some KSP).

I do still post to Twitter and Instagram somewhat frequently (although that too has dropped off in recent months).

I’ve got plans to redo to be less focused on a blog and more focused on my Github and Twitter accounts… but again, time is the issue. Catch up with me there.

See you on the other side folks!

Control Tech or It Controls You

There are two types of people in the world today: People who control technology and people who let technology control them. Rarely is there a middle ground. The gap between the two is ever widening because there is a good amount of money out there for companies that want to control your whole computing experience. Sadly, the people who control technology are far fewer in number than the number of people who let technology control them.

The most prominent example of this phenomenon is with cell phones. The iPhone has such a dominant grasp on our culture so many things are glossed over in the name of marketing hype, peer pressure and nice aesthetics. It doesn’t even matter that the hardware powering the latest iteration of iPhone is roughly equivalent to last years Windows Mobile and Android devices – it’s already old technology! It’s using “new” features borrowed from the last version of Android, but yet continues to dominate the market. If you take a close look it’s not hard to ascertain why. It’s the same reason RIM has held on so long, a kind of technical ‘peer pressure’ (“Oh, you don’t have a BBM messenger PIN?”, “Oh, you can’t Facetime with me?”, “Why won’t you follow me on Instagram?”). Nevermind that all of these technical feats are available on every platform with different names – the fact that your friends have this particular flavour and you don’t is enough for 90% of people to go out and plunk down a whack of cash for out-of-date hardware bundled with secret police spies-on-you software (Claim it doesn’t all you want, but how can you ever really know what’s going on under the hood? Especially in light of recent NSA revelations).

The digital revolution is here (it has been for almost a decade), and it’s getting bigger – not just physically, but bigger parts of our whole lives in general. If people decide to remain technologically illiterate they will be left behind. Left behind not just in a “hard to find a job” sense, but things like: stuck paying (and re-paying) for videos/music locked with “Digital Rights Management” (DRM), forced to watch more ads, becoming a prisoner to whatever company you clicked “I Agree” with. Your ‘common’ hardware/software will be the ones most susceptible to attack (your wetware will also be more susceptible to phishing and other scams).

A friend of mine works at a large media conglomerate retail store and we were having a discussion about just how many people upgrade cell phones without fully knowing or understanding what it is they’re getting (or even why they need it). Not even wilfully either, I think some people just feel overwhelmed and almost desperate to keep up, so in an attempt to do so just go out and get what their friends have (knowing they can get ‘support’ from them easier than manuals/call-centers if they need it). This also led to people coming in to the store and asking about “the iPhone with the most gee-bees” – having no idea what a gigabyte is, what it does, or what having more means – just that higher numbers are “better”. These are the people who let technology control them, and it’s about 80% of people (that statistical data provided by The Institute of My Own Meandering Experiences).

I feel stuck. On the one hand, I want nothing more than to show these people the other options, to teach them how to choose properly. On the other hand, no one is interested in learning, things are expected to “just work” (a euphemism for “don’t ask me to troubleshoot problems”). I understand; people have priorities other than learning what SSL is, or what open source is, or what meta-data is — but these things are creeping farther and farther into our lives, are you really OK with not knowing? Are you OK just throwing money at a problem until it “just works” again (regardless if it’s done right)?

A brief update to my long ignored blog

I don’t update as much as I should. I tweet far more than I blog, so if you want to get more of me, you should follow me on Twitter.

Since September for work I’ve been completely immersed in startup culture, it’s fantastic. To get an idea of what I’m working on there, checkout the video. Outside of work in my spare time I’ve been working on something great I can’t wait to show off very soon! 2013 looks good already!

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Being a digital frontier kind of guy it might surprise you to know my life has been fairly intertwined with newspapers. Way back in 1990, my parents decided the state of our little towns newspaper was insufficient (Bothwell Ontario, population 900, where I spent the first 16 years of my life). I remember them telling me that in our area, all the papers for the majority of tiny communities like ours were printed by one company. That often, aside from the front page, there was no actual content about our little town. If I remember correctly, because my Dad had just finished at FRAM engineering they decided they could do better and set out to make their new business a newspaper for our community. I don’t recall what the name of our actual first publication was, but it was intentionally something generic because we planned to hold a naming contest. A few weeks/editions into it, I clearly remember in our first temporary office (an old auto/welding shop in the middle of town), surrounded by the make shift layout table, hot wax roller, and scrap strips of paper from the cutting board was the voting cork-board and piles of peoples votes they had clipped from the paper themselves. “The Spirit of Bothwell”, was the name the town picked, I remember hoping for “Bothwell News and Views”, a close runner up.
From the beginning we were eager to get into the digital age. We did layouts on the computer in PageMaker, printed them out, carefully cut them out with Xacto knives or cutting boards, and waxed them up on to the proofs themselves. The proofs were laid out on this really awesome lightbox type thing my Dad built, it gave all the proofs this back-lighting that is reminiscent of LCD backlights today. We had a pretty awesome scanner because we developed black and white pictures in our own darkroom. We actually had one of the first digital cameras available in Canada, the Dycam 10C (AKA Kodak DC50). We used it, but with meager 640×480 resolution images, it had slightly noticeable digital distortions when printed.
We sold the paper in 1995 after my Dad passed away, and I thought that was the end of my relationship with printed newspapers.

Since January of this year I’ve been on contract at The Globe and Mail, working on a cool new product for their premium subscriber members (can’t say much more, but you should see sometime this year). It’s such an odd feeling being back at a newspaper. It doesn’t help that The Globe is about to get a new building, so their current digs are a little dated and rough around the edges. The feeling I got walking in each morning is a little like going into an old summer camp building you might have went to… the ones the adults stayed in, or the common area buildings that were air conditioned. I’m sure it’s an odd mix of my nostalgic youth and the age of the building.
My first sight every morning was desks and Globe employees awash in a sea of various kinds of papers. The age range is predominantly older than I’m used to working with, and every morning when I walked past I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a vague and general sense unease around the computers… perhaps rightfully so. The Globe is a state of flux and no one is quite sure what the final result is going to be. This is true for all traditional media companies, each seems to be trying their own thing in an attempt to maintain profitability. “Pay walls” are a big idea, they satisfy an idea that many people inside the business have, but those outside don’t: “Our content is the absolute best you can get, why wouldn’t someone want to pay for it?”. It’s a good opinion to hold about your own content, but obviously not everyone is going to agree and therein lies the problem.
These days “the best” information content you can get doesn’t come from one source. It can’t just come from one source, it doesn’t make sense to restrict yourself to just one source, even if that one source really is the absolute best journalism you can get. The simple reason is because the network, our internet, is the great publishing equalizer. Publishing something for everyone to see used to mean you put in a huge amount of time and effort into creating and distributing that content physically. Today you write, then literally push a button to publish it, and almost magically it’s everywhere anyone wants it to be. The ease of which information flows today means that it’s virtually impossible to limit yourself to a single source, so you train yourself to filter out sources you don’t like and or trust.
This flow of information is what’s important. If you intentionally put resistance up in front of people, be it pay walls, “Like/+1/Tweet Us To See This”, or “sign up for our newsletter”, it puts too much impedance on the flow of information from that source, people will automatically filter it out in favour of information sources that flow more freely. This is especially for content that is not exclusive and in demand. No one will pay for a re-written wire service story – those days are over. I don’t purport to have a solution (if I did, I think I’d be rich), but I do know the current strategies being tried out won’t work.

Today was my last day at The Globe and Mail, I just opted not to renew my contract, but to instead move on to a cool new start up (more details on this later). There were many reasons, but not the least of which was their digital strategy was not one I could get behind. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes of newspapers in the coming decade, we’re at a critical point, it’s make or break time for publications world-wide and I feel like I’ve had a front row seat for the whole thing.

Revenge of the New Design

It’s that time of the year, I overhauled the design of this website again! I’ve been maintaining since about 2002 and it’s seen countless redesigns over the years. This time I choose a more pixelated motif, the showpiece obviously being the stunning background image. There is so much detail and thought put into every pixel of this creation that, when I saw it, I knew I wanted to use it with my website.

The background is from an arcade fighting game called Garou: Mark of the Wolves, part of the Fatal Fury series. At only 320 x 224 pixels and 4096 colours, there is an impressive amount of detail packed into a small amount of data. You can still get this game for Xbox 360 on XBLA. While I love the backgrounds and the rest of the artwork in the game, I must admit: I am horrible at it.

If you’re on a current browser that supports newer 3D CSS stuff (Chrome, FireFox, Safari, Internet Explorer 10) you’ll be able to browse posts by scrolling over the alley way and watching as the posts fly in place. If you’re on a browser that doesn’t support newer 3D CSS stuff (IE9 and under, Opera, mobile browsers) you’ll see singular posts that you can scroll through one by one. I’ve also added a table of contents and a reader friendly mode (you mean there are people who don’t want to read pixelated text?!).

If you’re interested in more technical details check the rendered source of this page (CTRL+U).

My Life as an Android’ian

I use Android as my mobile platform because it gives me the most choice. That’s really what it all boils down to. This is because it features something special that is in no other major smart phone: the software is free, and open source. The specialness of this feature is marred by wireless carriers making their own decisions, demonstrating that this freedom is a two way street (like all true freedom). The mobile carriers (Bell, Rogers, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) tend implement a few ‘software locks’ that can make it harder to take advantage of the open source community – they feel that because you’re on their network that they should be able to dictate how your device works. The result of this is that your brand new phone gets updates from their carrier once or twice in their lifetime – if that. However, there is a thriving vibrant community of developers who all put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to provide software alternatives (IF you have the patience for it and in some cases the nerve to risk ‘bricking’ your device). If you take some time and read lots of somewhat technical stuff, learn how to obtain root access for your phone, install a new software image designed specifically for your phone (“ROMs”, but oh how I hate that antiquated term, it’s not ‘read only memory’ if you’re always writing it!) and VOILA: your 3 or 4 year old device is running the newest version of Android, obviously not as fast and perfect as a new phone, but it’s still a better experience and it feels like a new phone… for free.
No other mainstream phone can do this. Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Apple iOS are all closed-source. If you care enough to look you can’t see what’s really going on in the background. Which most people don’t (which is fine). The trade off, in my opinion, is that with a little more effort to learn about how your phone works you can literally treat your phone as if it were a mini-computer. A “computer”, as in a real desktop computer with: USB ports (so: floppy drives, flash drives, hard drives, keyboards, mice, Xbox controller … almost anything with Linux support is possible), and full HD video and sound over a mini-HDMI cable. All off of your phone!
I understand to some people the concept of their phone having even text messaging seems overkill, “I remember when a phone was just a phone” they say. They’re looking at their phone as if it was the big clunky phone they kept on their wall growing up. The problem is they’re not phones anymore, stop thinking like that. What they really are is miniature computers that happen to have a phone number attached to them. Even without cellular service a “smartphone” is still a very useful device: a music/movie player, GPS access, WiFi, e-reader, gaming, even payments. In fact, WiFi is becoming so ubiquitous it’s to the point where you could get away with having a $5 a month VOIP account, only use WiFi on your smart phone, and only not be reachable by phone while you’re in transit (and even then you could probably convince a friend to lend you WiFi hotspot access from their connection).

I’ve used the other devices, I know how they work. I prefer Android because I prefer to continue to learn, and I also enjoy being free as in freedom.


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