Canada, censorship, community, startups

Local startups! Protect our shared resource!

The internet is like the sea, a vast and shared resource that we all depend on. Unfortunately we do not have anything like UNCLOS to help protect that resource from the countries and companies that threaten it. So much of the innovation and content on the internet is the result of individual users like us. Well, so is the responsibility to protect it.

Luckily we have some grassroots organizations to help coordinate individual efforts. Here in Canada we have OpenMedia, which I have mentioned before and you have probably seen me tweet about. I’ve been a member for a couple of years.

This month they are reaching out to fellow tech companies, whose businesses are all enabled by a free and open internet, to step up and contribute to the protection of that precious resource. The amazing thing they have done is got together a bunch of tech organizations to match all donations. This is the best time to get the most bang for your buck.

The campaign is called #StepUp4Net.


This is a grassroots campaign, led by local tech leaders. My pal Boris Mann has been working hard with cool people like Michael Tippet and Tim Bray to activate the YVR community, and I hear from OpenMedia that donations are coming in from Toronto. I would love to see some of our community members in the Okanagan and Thompson regions also contribute to this campaign.

For each one of you in your respective geographic areas, please reach out to find companies around you that are able to help. We are trying to get a couple hundred businesses to step up. Connect them directly to Open Media or even to me if they have questions. The campaign link is:

2015 is going to be a big year with all kinds of legislation on the table regarding net neutrality, the TPP, surveillance, and lots of other issues. We need orgs like OpenMedia to augment our voice in Ottawa and elsewhere both as businesses and citizens. There is no better time to step up!

And don’t forget, you can still donate individually. Check out OpenMedia’s Donate page.


Podcast devolution


This is my current roster of podcasts. It has been pared down severely from what it was a few years ago. It is a mix of Canadian news, tech law and philosophy, actual philosophy, movies and pop culture. I highly recommend them all.

With all the talk about a podcasting renaissance recently, I thought I would try out a few of the old tech podcasts I used to listen to years ago… What inanity! I ranted on Twitter that I am:

No longer interested in how internet-famous people are layering the windows in their workspaces or if their [sp] gonna buy the new iMac…

Nothing had changed! They are still talking about the same stuff they were 3 years ago, and none of it important (to me at least). I thought this was supposed to be a renaissance!

Then I saw this excellent video from Dave Wiskus about having a “podcast intervention.” The money quote:

Two or more white males talk into their microphones for two or more hours sharing their unscripted thoughts about their phones and their computers… sponsored by Squarespace!

Nailed it.

Podcasting is a great medium and there are a lot of innovative and interesting shows out there. Just don’t stray into the “consumer tech fanboy” genre.

Bye bye library!

Bye bye physical library!

I don’t read physical books anymore. I don’t like it (see How I read). But I still have a ton of physical books. So I am getting rid of them. I have scanned them into Goodreads and made a few lists. Have a browse, and if you want one, email me, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter. Any books I have left are going to my local libraries as a donation.

History and politics (63 books)

Lots of hardcovers, text books, atlases and books on other countries and cultures.

Travel (8 books)

Guidebooks, phrasebooks and photography.

Design creativity and programming (16 books)

Basically, what is on the tin.

Grab-bag (18 books)

Fiction, business, comics, parenting and a bunch of other weird stuff.

Also, I have a handful of Japanese language books on the military, and a shoebox full of Japanese manga if anyone is interested.


New look, old platform

My first blogging experience was on Xanga. For years I blogged on WordPress for Coming Anarchy. This personal blog started in 2009 on Tumblr before moving it to Octopress a few years ago when I set out to learn Ruby on Rails. These days, I am not as motivated to be dealing with environments, dependencies and generators. It has been getting in the way of producing written pieces.

I set out to find an alternative. I experimented with Ghost, Silvrback, Roon,,, and even seriously considered Posthaven.

There is something I have noticed about the new generation of blogging platforms. They have taken inspiration from the streams in our lives. By streams, I mean things like Twitter, Facebook’s Newsfeed and the like. Content on these platforms is ephemeral — in the moment. That is a really cool feature, but I don’t think a blog should follow that model.

The new blog platforms do not have satisfactory retrieval systems for older posts. Easy to navigate archives, tag/category clouds, or even embedded search on the site were all missing. I have 5 years worth of 411 posts. Accessibility to the back catalogue is important to me both as a writer and a reader of blogs. When I find a new writer online the first thing I do is check out their categories/tags to see what topics are generally covered. I might do a search for terms related to the post that brought me to the site. None of the new blog platforms have matured to having these features yet. So I decided to choose a mature platform: WordPress.

It offers the most flexibility and convenience, and since I am using the hosted version I think security and traffic will not be a problem. That and one other thing: most of the new blog platforms assume WordPress, and have good migration capabilities. So in a sense, I am future-proofing my content as well.

Most important, the platform will no longer be an obstacle for writing — an activity I am far more passionate about than maintaining dev environments for static site generators.

books, movies, review

Quarterly review: FY14Q3

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and off-the-cuff to be included with the more indepth reviews I do on this site.


Well, I completed my my 2014 Goodreads reading challenge a bit earlier than usual. I suppose I should bump it to 50 books next year. That is almost a book a week!

Just a note that the Literary Review of Canada put my review of The People’s Platform outside of it’s paywall. It is a worthwile read, even if I had problems with it. See Occupy the Internet! at the LRC.

This quarter’s mini-reviews include:

★★★★★ The Handmaid’s Tale

★★★☆☆ The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

★★★★☆ The Magician’s Land

★★★☆☆ No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State

★★★☆☆ The Ocean at the End of the Lane

★★★★☆ Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield

★★★★☆ The Tombs of Atuan Tombs of Atuan

★★★☆☆ Ready Player One


I finally watched the entire Luther series, something that was recommended to me long ago. It was great fun. I have also been turned onto Homeland, and am on the third season now. I still have a bunch of series queued up, not to mention the latest Doctor Who, Agents of SHIELD and Arrow seasons that are back this fall. I have been engrossed in television and my film-watching this quarter lagged. I only watched 13 films, and offer only 3 mini-reviews:

★★½☆☆ The Amazing Spiderman 2

★★★½☆ Dirty Wars (see my review of the book as well. Spoiler: the book is better.)

★★★★☆ The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz 2014

Make sure you see that last one.

books, review

On the contrary — A review of Zero to One

Cover - Zero to One

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

This book is incomplete and thus unsatisfying. It is a condensed version of Peter Thiel’s Stanford class. It takes less than 4 hours to read, compared to 19 meetings in the classroom. Without context, footnotes, and evidence, the book often comes off as the rambling pontifications of a rich uncle with unpopular views. Thiel espouses a framework that seems more prescriptive than descriptive. The wide range of seemingly disparate topics is fitting for the founder of Palantir.

Thiel certainly does bring up some interesting points, (eg. capitalism and competition are opposites) and I sympathize with his paean for startups to tackle “real” problems. He criticizes the incrementalism of Lean startup methodology, a common point and well taken. Thiel’s view on monopoly is just a provocative repackaging of what we have heard before (ie. define your market). Not all of this is as contrarian as he would have you beleive.

One exercise I did enjoy was tackling “the 7 questions that every business must answer:”

  1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology, instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create, but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible, ten and twenty years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Not having answers to these questions, Thiel advises, your business will run into all sorts of “bad luck.” However, “If you nail all seven, you’ll master fortune, and succeed.”


Nobody has the map to entrepreneurship, not even Peter Thiel. The conditions are so variable that the journey is different every time. But exercises like these, to get us thinking about our businesses in different ways, are always welcome to the engaged entrepreneur.

There are better books out there to help entrepreneurs with lots of these little exercises. The interesting thing about this book is its (ostensible) author. Between the lines of his philosophic and political meanderings, one gets the sense that Peter Thiel’s political views are more nuanced than his image of Stalwart of Silicon Valley Libertarianism. He even goes so far as to criticize Ayn Rand! However the book only hints at Thiel’s true beleifs, and falls well short of a political manifesto.

This book is only partly about politics, and only partly about entrepreneurship. Such lack of focus lessens its impact overall, making it only partly good. Zero to One‘s shortness is as much a blessing as it is a curse.

Canada, privacy and surveillance

Bell’s 56 categories for ad targeting

BACKGROUND: On May 5th I sent Shaw Communications and Bell Mobility each a request for the personal information they have on me as per the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). I used Citizen Lab research Chris Parson’s form letter which made it easy. You can read about the weird results from Shaw at the links below:

It was easy, and I learned a lot. You should do it too!

Reply from Bell

On July 10th I received my privacy report from Bell Mobility. The report was expected within 30 days but I received an email extending the deadline, and then adjusting that extension. I am unsure if a claim can be made here.

Bell replies on May 8th, May 27th and Jun 12th.

I have been a subscriber for just 2 years, and only subscribe to their mobile services — no television or internet. The package was about 40 pages with a 2 page intro letter and a 2 page glossary of technical terms. The glossary is pretty necessary since the rest of the package was all screen caps of Bell’s customer management application. That’s right, they showed me exactly what their reps see, going through every menu and tab, redacting only the names and other identifiers of the agents I have dealt with. It was all pretty routine and as expected. The only interesting thing about these screencaps is it looks like Bell is still using Win 95. ;-)

There was one omission: there were no references to Bell’s controversial Relevant Ads program. So I emailed the Privacy Officer who promptly replied with the following:

My apologies, it was an oversight on my part, I inadvertently did not include the information related to the Relevant Ad Program in your information package. I have attached it for your information.

Excellent and timely response! Especially considering how long it took to get the first package. The only thing I have to complain about is she uses double spaces after her periods. ;-)

On to the interesting bits: as soon as the Relevant Ads Program was announced, I opted out right away. I understood that what I was opting out of was being shown relevant ads, not being collected against. Thus it is not surprising the extent of the profile that Bell has on me, even though I only use just one of their services.

Below are all 56 categories they submitted to me and how they classified me. There are 3 main categories with a series of subcats each with various options. I have no idea how many potential options there are. I have reorganized them by topical category at the very bottom of this post. Since some of them repeat, it seems like they have 56 slots to put in an interest for an individual. We need more reports to reverse-engineer this!

The picture of me it paints is pretty accurate. I am interested in tech, movies and football (soccer). But, it also makes me think I should be using Tor on my phone more.

Anyways, take a gander at my preferences, and my all means, submit your own request and find out what they are recording about you!

Raw data


  1. Technology=Cell Phones
  2. Technology=Network Security
  3. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  4. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  5. Technology=Antivirus Software
  6. Technology=Web Design/HTML


  1. Arts & Entertainment=Television
  2. Technology=Cell Phones
  3. Sports=General
  4. Shopping=Online
  5. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  6. Technology=Network Security
  7. Science=Weather
  8. Technology=Antivirus Software
  9. Arts & Entertainment=Books & Literature
  10. News=Local News
  11. Arts & Entertainment=Music
  12. Style & Fashion=Beauty
  13. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  14. Hobbies & Interests=Photography
  15. Travel=Budget Travel
  16. Automotive=Road-Side Assistance
  17. Business=Government
  18. Technology=Web Design/HTML
  19. Technology=Shareware/Freeware
  20. Technology=Computer Peripherals
  21. Hobbies & Interests=Freelance Writing
  22. Business=Business Software
  23. Education=College Life
  24. Home & Garden=Entertaining
  25. Home & Garden=Entertaining


  1. Arts & Entertainment=Television
  2. News=Local News
  3. Technology=Computer Peripherals
  4. Hobbies & Interests=Photography
  5. Technology=Cell Phones
  6. Science=Weather
  7. Sports=General
  8. Technology=Network Security
  9. Arts & Entertainment=Movies
  10. Arts & Entertainment=Music
  11. Shopping=Online
  12. Technology=Shareware/Freeware
  13. Technology=Antivirus Software
  14. Technology=Web Design/HTML
  15. Hobbies & Interests=Video & Computer Games
  16. Arts & Entertainment=Books & Literature
  17. Technology=Data Centers
  18. Style & Fashion=Beauty
  19. Automotive=Road-Side Assistance
  20. Personal Finance=Investing
  21. Technology=Email
  22. Hobbies & Interests=Freelance Writing
  23. Home & Garden=Entertaining
  24. Hobbies & Interests=Radio
  25. Sports=Soccer

Options by Category


  • Cell Phones
  • Network Security
  • Antivirus Software
  • Web Design/HTML
  • Shareware/Freeware
  • Computer Peripherals
  • Data Centers
  • Email

Arts & Entertainment

  • Movies
  • Television
  • Music
  • Books & Literature

Hobbies & Interests

  • Video & Computer Games
  • Photography
  • Freelance Writing
  • Photography
  • Radio


  • General
  • Soccer


  • Online


  • Weather


  • Local News

Style & Fashion

  • Beauty


  • Budget Travel


  • Road-Side Assistance


  • Government
  • Business Software


  • College Life

Home & Garden

  • Entertaining

Personal Finance

  • Investing
big data, privacy and surveillance


The US PCAST report puts forward the following scenario to illustrate how privacy mores change over time, and what the future could be like if digital natives fully trust in the cloud. They admit that “Taylor’s world seems creepy to us”, but they want to demonstrate that “In such a world, major improvements in the convenience and security of everyday life become possible.”

Taylor Rodriguez prepares for a short business trip. She packed a bag the night before and put it outside the front door of her home for pickup. No worries that it will be stolen: The camera on the streetlight was watching it; and, in any case, almost every item in it has a tiny RFID tag. Any would‐be thief would be tracked and arrested within minutes. Nor is there any need to give explicit instructions to the delivery company, because the cloud knows Taylor’s itinerary and plans; the bag is picked up overnight and will be in Taylor’s destination hotel room by the time of her arrival.

Taylor finishes breakfast and steps out the front door. Knowing the schedule, the cloud has provided a self‐ driving car, waiting at the curb. At the airport, Taylor walks directly to the gate – no need to go through any security. Nor are there any formalities at the gate: A twenty‐minute “open door” interval is provided for passengers to stroll onto the plane and take their seats (which each sees individually highlighted in his or her wearable optical device). There are no boarding passes and no organized lines. Why bother, when Taylor’s identity (as for everyone else who enters the airport) has been tracked and is known absolutely? When her known information emanations (phone, RFID tags in clothes, facial recognition, gait, emotional state) are known to the cloud, vetted, and essentially unforgeable? When, in the unlikely event that Taylor has become deranged and dangerous, many detectable signs would already have been tracked, detected, and acted on?

Indeed, everything that Taylor carries has been screened far more effectively than any rushed airport search today. Friendly cameras in every LED lighting fixture in Taylor’s house have watched her dress and pack, as they do every day. Normally these data would be used only by Taylor’s personal digital assistants, perhaps to offer reminders or fashion advice. As a condition of using the airport transit system, however, Taylor has authorized the use of the data for ensuring airport security and public safety.