Finding zen on ice

So, just to follow-up on my last post, I’m ok.

The symptoms I described to my Dr. are pretty classic stress and anxiety, so we’re going with that. We’re still awaiting a final diagnosis on my Dad’s dementia, but once we have that then my Dr. and I will get together and come up with a game plan in case there are preventative measures I can take now that could help mitigate me developing whatever it is he has in the future.

This is not my first dance with anxiety to the point where it negatively impacts my life. I had a wake up call about 5 years ago when I mistook a panic attack for a heart attack and ended up in the Emergency department. Thinking it’s a heart attack didn’t help. Still, I now know what a panic attack feels like and, because of that, I can recognize when it starts and often breath and talk myself through the episode.

Anyway, after that incident, I made some changes. Regular exercise, better diet. Mindfulness. I’m adding a new one this time around. Curling.

It has been a long time since I curled. 1984 to be exact when I curled in a high school bonspiel. Yeah, I grew up in a part of the world where the social highlight of the high school year was a 48 hour all-weekend curling bonspiel. Of course, for a rowdy bunch of 17 year olds in Northern Alberta, the curling took a backseat to the underage binge-drinking at 2am Saturday.

All in all, it’s been great fun. The other guys I am curling with have either never played, or, like me, haven’t curled in years. So we are all playing and learning together. And the opposing teams we have played have been great giving us advice and helping us learn the finer points of the game.

Yeah, there are other things I am doing to get back on track. I’m saying no to a lot of stuff right now, as those of you who subscribed to my recently launched newsletter have likely discovered. And I am trying hard to get back into a normal routine, including back on my bike(s) which have been gathering dust in the garage since I rode the Tour de Victoria in August. And yeah that newsletter thing. But right now the thing that has been most effective in snapping me out of my anxiety induced funk is curling.

Ok, Ok. The post-game beer helps, too.


In a world completely possessed by the human mind

My Dad spent 20 years teaching math for trades prep at a community college. So when the geriatric neurologist asked, “what is 100 minus 7?” and he answered “97”, I knew something was not right.

My Dad loves math. As a mason, he lived and breathed applied math constructing and building impressive stone and brick structures to within a fraction of an inch.

I wasn’t at the appointment. My sister relayed the results of the cognitive quiz to close family members via Facebook Messenger. That in itself was its own source of cognitive dissonance for me. What fresh hell was going to await me in my Facebook feed when the algorithms mined this trove of personal information?

“Where are you?”

“At the doctor.”

“In what city?”


“In what province?”


A week later I am driving my father and his girlfriend through the scrubby brushland of northern Saskatchewan. The part of the province where the prairies give way to the trees. The liminal forest. We drive past the remains of a small prairie hamlet; a single lonely grain elevator surrounded by a handful of mostly abandoned pre-war houses. Like most small prairie outposts in Saskatchewan, a cemetery marks the past of what was a once vibrant farming community. It is the cemetery where my grandfather is buried.

“Dad, do you mind if we stop at Grandpa’s grave?”


I pull the truck over and get out at the small cemetery containing a few dozen markers memorials and headstones. The grasshoppers pop like popcorn around my feet as I walk to where my grandfathers grave is. I look at the headstone.

I have one incredibly vivid memory of my grandfather passing away in 1974. I am sitting in my Dad’s lap in a chair in the living room of our house in Regina. I am snuggled into my Dad, his arms wrapped around me. He is crying. It is the first time I recall seeing my Dad cry. The next time I would have that vivid a memory of my Dad crying would be almost 40 years later when my Mom passed away.

“Dad, when did grandpa die?”

“Oh, must be 14 or 15 years ago now”

I think I misheard. He must have said 40 or 50 years ago, right?


“I think it was 14 years ago.”

14. I heard it that time, clear as a bell.

His dementia has yet to be diagnosed. We’re in the stages of that now. There is clearly something happening.

I saw signs he was slipping when I was visiting him in Thunder Bay in the spring, but my Dad, like most Dads I suspect, has his share of odd and idiosyncratic behaviors and I, playing the antagonists part in a Harry Chapin song, glossed over what should have not been glossed over. I got irritated when I should have been concerned by his repeated questions of when I was coming and when I was going.

My sister saw it earlier. She raised a warning last fall. “He’s not the same,” she said. “He’s vacant. Not really here.” But I dismissed it as Dad being Dad.

But this is not about my sister, or even my Dad really. Those stories are theirs to tell and I have likely probably told too much. You get the wider context. What I need to do here is tell my story and how this is affecting me. Because the events of this summer have been affecting me and I need a way to process what I am feeling. The way I have done that in the past is through blogging. Writing. To find support. To commiserate. To connect. To process. To document.

To remember.

I have always blogged as a way to remember. My mind is a tricky place. Memories get hazy fast.

Which is the psychological mind-fuck going on in my head right now.

Is this my future?

Speaking to relatives, there is some evidence that my grandfather also suffered from some form of dementia in a time when it was silent and unknown. It was just called getting old. And now my Dad. It’s hard to ignore the fact that a family history increases your risks.

Already I question whether what I sense in myself is psychosomatic or real. I forget things. My grasp of language, especially speaking to people, is halting. Hesitant. I sometimes blank and struggle to find the right word. My writing has become….less clear. I find myself withdrawing more, hesitant to take on things that are new or messy or complicated. I have felt my work slip, often feeling overwhelmed and stuck with where to start. Caught in the inertia of disorganization.

Is this happening to me?

Maybe it is the zeitgeist as I witness the minds of heroes of my generation conspire against them. I don’t know. I am sure that has something to do with it. What I do know for sure is that I have an appointment to see my own doctor in hopes of quelling the voices inside my own head. Hopefully to calm my own sense of anxiety.

In the meantime, the hard work begins with my father to ensure that he gets the care and support he needs. It feels like the start of a new chapter.

Photo by darkday CC-BY


A decade of EdTech blogging

On May 30th, 2017 this blog turned 10. A decade of blogging about education technology, open education and assorted bric a brac. This ol’ blog has hung out with me over the course of 3 jobs and a Masters degree.

It wasn’t my first. Geez, I had completely forgotten about that Make Your Own Media blog, from back in a time when the online alt-media label was a leftie commie hippie pinko thing. This hasn’t been my only one. At one time I had a regular little blog network up and running, talking about bikes, being a Dad and Canadian soccer. But this is the one that has stuck through the years and has professionally defined me.

WordPress was at version 1.2, although I think the first instance of the blog might have actually been on b2 or b2evolution.

Things looked a bit different then. Circa 2007.

Actually, not bad. But I was like a kid in a candy store, trying on different themes each day. This one I landed on for a long time (2008-2012).

And then had some fun switching again in 2012. Pretty sure that is Scott Baio.

My first post? Remember that viral video sensation A Fair(y) Use Tale? The subject of post #1 on May 30, 2007. If you go to that blog post, the DotSub video embedded there no longer works (this one does, though).

I imagine there are more than a few broken links in and among the 392 published posts. That’s 39.2 post per year. 3.26 post per month. About one per week for 10 years. That makes me feel good, although the one per week metric is likely skewed by the prolific output early on. Things have slowed over the years.

There are also 119 draft posts.

Top 10 posts (although, I only enabled the WordPress stats package 6 years ago, so likely skewed a bit to newer articles)

1. Remix, Mashups, Aggregation, Plagiarism oh my Nov 2012
2. Open is a noun, verb, adjective…and an attitude Oct 2012
3. The pedagogical features of a textbook March 2014
4. So, here’s the thing about the video in my Coursera course Sept 2012
5. Embedding Interactive Excel Spreadsheets in WordPress using OneDrive May 2015
6. View documents in the browser with Google Docs Viewer Sept 2009
7. The business of textbooks or why do students prefer print? Aug 2013
8. Zoom and Pan large images with Google map interface Jan 2009
9. Love and hate are beasts and the one you feed is the one that grows Oct 2012
10. On using OpenEd: an opportunity June 2015

You have left 1058 comments (thank you). Spammers have left 13,930 (thanks Akismet).

I could keep going on and on with numbers and screenshots. But those are only the tip of the iceberg about this blog.

Yes. Onto the qualitative.

It is pretty hard to fully grasp how important this blog has been in my professional life.

It began as a way to keep my technical skills up. As a web developer, I was interested in the technology and getting that to work. Setting up my own sites gave me a playground to test, try and learn. Having my own blog, maintaining my own digital identity and taking on the technical maintenance of a domain of my own helped me understand how the web works. I not only played with WordPress, but also cPanel, WHM, DNS settings and a whole host of other technologies that go into maintaining your own site. Yes, it has been frustrating and maddening at times, but I am a better technologist because of it. I gained numerous technical and digital literacy skills by being a participant and not merely a consumer of the web.

It also forced me to learn how to learn using the web as my primary resource. Google problems, find solutions, post in forums. When I had blog questions, you have often been the source of many of the answers.

It was thanks to my first stint at BCcampus from 2004-2006 where I worked with the fantastic Scott Leslie that I was introduced to the EdTech blogsphere inhabited by people like Scott, Brian Lamb, Sylvia Currie, Martin Weller, and D’arcy Norman. Here was a community that I wanted to join & I wanted to participate in. These people were talking and (more importantly) doing really interesting stuff, and blogging seemed to be the natural way to connect with them. This was still very early social media days. Twitter wasn’t really a thing yet. Blogs were where people connected.

In those early days, there weren’t many people reading this blog. There were few comments. Little traffic. But it felt good to have an outlet. To develop a voice. To feel connected to a wider edtech community.

In the fall of 2007, I had my first big a-ha blogging moment. I wrote a post about using Yahoo Pipes to create a D2L widget that pulled in numerous RSS feeds. That is when I discovered the (predominantly Canadian) D2L community as that post got shared and passed around. D2L noticed, and asked me to write an article in their newsletter. Professional win. In the years I was at Camosun, I wrote a few posts about D2L, including some on the infamous Blackboard lawsuit. It was those D2L posts that connected me to the D2L community.

When I started working at Royal Roads, I started writing quite a bit about Moodle and connected with the larger Moodle community.

In 2008, I got a first notice from Stephen Downes (via a blog post from Alan Levine). I was like – whaaaaa? I mean. It’s Stephen friggin Downes who has written a thing or two about blogging.  I had articles from my other blogs go viral (as viral as things could go in pre-social media days), but having your work noticed by someone you respect is a validating feeling, especially for someone who felt imposter syndrome at not having the same level of academic credentials as some of my peers. And that was a really fun Lamb mash to make.

It wasn’t my only encounter with EdTech mentors and thought leaders. A real network learning moment happened in 2009 as I was beginning my Masters program. I wrote a post fishing the network for ideas about what essential readings should be on my edtech reading list. I mentioned that one of our assigned books was Tony Bates & Gary Poole and was looking for more suggestions. Who responded? None other than the author of the textbook I was using, Tony Bates. Having someone who literally wrote the book about the field I was a student in respond to my blog post…well, that was pretty special. And illustrated what I still think is one of the most powerful reasons to have learners engage in open networked learning activities. Even though that first interaction was rather transactional, it did make me feel like I was becoming part of the profession – that I was beginning to connect with the peers in my field.

Things have changed in the blogging world in the decade since I began. In the early days, traffic came mostly from referral links – people commenting on their blog about something I had written on my blog. Even today, there is something extra special about writing something that moves someone else to respond and write their own post. To either validate, or push your thinking. It still happens, but not as often as it did a few years ago. Today, most traffic comes from Twitter or LinkedIn.

The act of blogging is also an act of meaning-making. To be able to take these disparate strands of ideas rolling around in your head and create something cohesive is an exercise in the creation of knowledge. Writing forces you to think. And writing in public forces you to think differently. Forces you to be clearer. There are times when a post may take me days even weeks to write. The topics can be a reason to research something deeper. I make a statement, then question myself – is what I wrote true, or just an assumption I have? I often get pulled into research, or down a rabbit hole and blog posts that may have started as one thing morph and take on a different life.

Responding to comments is also a meaning-making activity. While the affirmative validation is nice, I’ve found the ones that gently nudge and push back often help me dig deeper into what I’ve written, either questioning my own perspectives or working hard to validate and defend. You have helped clarify my thinking, probably more than you realize.

Writing this blog has helped me think long and hard about audience. Sometimes I write for a general audience, sometimes for an edtech audience, sometimes for the MOOC audience. Sometimes for the open education audience, and sometimes specifically for friends. Sometimes I write to show gratitude, give thanks and recognize good work and good people. Sometime I write for an audience interested in copyright and Creative Commons. And sometimes I just write for myself. Ok, I write a lot for myself. But rarely do I write something without someone in mind.

This blog has allowed me to promote ideas that are important to me, like the idea of supporting what you use and helping youth develop media and digital literacy skills. And has allowed me to be a bit silly and have some fun (somehow it usually involves something Alan is involved in).

I’m pretty sure this blog has gotten me hired at least once. And I used it as evidence of my work in EdTech for my application into a Masters program.

I guess the wider grand narrative is that this blog has been a central component to my professional digital identity for the past decade. But more importantly, this blog has connected me to a network and to numerous different communities with people who have progressed from commentators to collaborators, mentors to peers, from colleagues to friends. It has been my living proof that the internet is more than Perez Hilton and snark, bad YouTube comments and angry spew. This blog has connected me to much of the good of the internet. It has connected me to you.

Thanks for 10 years.

Note: This’ll be the last EdTech’ish post here. I’ll be moving much of my professional life to EdTech Factotum. This site will have more of some of the other stuff I used to blog about mentioned above. Likely some politics, a lot of soccer, parenting, media criticism and bikes. So, stick around if that is up your alley.  Still like to have you here. But if it is mostly EdTech, OpenEd, online learning and that stuff, EdTech Factotum is the spot to be. On Twitter, Facebook, weekly newsletter and, yes, blog.


Email is the new RSS (or a factotum is born)

My ongoing project this year is to establish a new professional digital identity for myself. will become the hub of my professional life.  I’ve also set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page where I’ll be writing and posting about EdTech, open education, online & blended learning, and the like.

While this site will remain, it will begin to morph over the next while to become a more personal space and a place to talk about things not necessarily related to educational technology, open education or teaching & learning.

I like that word – factotum – as it is an apt description of how I see myself. A generalist & a jack of all trades. The word makes me smile, too, because it reminds me of a real Jack – Jack Black. Yeah, that Jack Black, star of one of the most underrated movies about education ever made School of Rock.

No seriously. School of Rock has some great messages about education. Project-based learning, passion-based learning, collaboration, teamwork, authentic learning & assessment – it’s all there in School of Rock. It is no coincidence that Black’s characters name is Dewey, a smart nod from a scriptwriter in the know. The grade grubber in the movie, Summer, referred to herself as the class factotum and that term has stuck with me. So, while I admit that the term factotum does have an air about it, know that I got it from a Jack Black movie.

Anyway, the title of this post. Maybe it is because RSS isn’t a mainstream thing anymore , but I have been noticing a big increase in the use of good old fashioned email newsletters. While I still rock the RSS, some of the best content seems to be coming to me from email newsletters, so I am going to give a weekly newsletter a go.

I think what I like about the email newsletters is that they offer curated links with commentary. This last part is important as it provides a view and context around why the content is important. People like Stephen Downes and Doug Belshaw do this really well, and it is a skill that I want to work on. I read a lot, but don’t often take the time to explicitly summarize and contextualize what I am reading. So, I am hoping that a weekly curated newsletter may be the way to help me better understand the content I read.

To help constrain the newsletter, I am limiting the newsletter to 3 articles each week. I am not sure what day of the week to publish. For now, I am going to start with Friday mornings and see how that goes. I am using TinyLetter as the mail client. (changed this. it’s now self-hosted) You can sign up at EdTech Factotum.

I’ll likely set up a blog there as well. I had been experimenting with GRAV, but think I was trying to force GRAV to do something that it wasn’t really made to do, so have put that on hold for now, opting instead for a simple HTML5UP CC licensed landing page that I mucked around with. Good for now.

I also had some fun playing with Canva, coming up with a logo design. It’s a fun tool for quickly creating interesting images and graphics.

While I was at CC Global, there was a photographer named Sebastiaan ter Burg who captured a nice shot of me that I will likely be using as my avatar (I’ll reserve little Clint for my personal stuff).

I don’t know if I’ll stick with all of these, but it has been fun playing around with some new tools as I continue to work on developing a separate professional digital identity.

Okay, off to set up issue #1 of the EdTech Factotum newsletter, on the way Friday.


It’s not only data I am shuffling

It feels like a long overdue digital spring cleaning. About a month ago, I made the decision to migrate a bunch of websites that I host (including this one) off of US servers and onto Canadian servers.

Overall, the move went well but not without a few hiccups, as you might expect as you move from a platform that you have used for over a dozen years.

I had a reseller account with Hostgator, which meant I had access to WHM, which is a step above cPanel (for those of you who have worked at reclaiming or hosting your own sites). At one time, I had a stable of about 30 web properties that I managed, including sites for external clients, so a reseller account made sense.

This isn’t the case anymore. The sites I still have are either my own, or pro bono ones I host and maintain for side projects I am involved in, like my kids school PAC’s or sports teams they are involved in. So, a reseller account was overkill and expensive, especially with the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars being what it is. Economically, it made sense to move.

But it also made sense just for my own digital comfort. Hosting in the US has always made me feel uncomfortable, although (as has been proven many times over) it doesn’t matter where you post digital data – those with power and know how can find, get and use any piece of information that they want.

Hosting data on a Canadian server vs a US server in a post-Snowden world almost feels more like a symbolic act than one that offers any real protection of data. Still, there are laws in my province and country that have been put in place to ostensibly protect our security and privacy. Not that I have sensitive data that I am trying to hide, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Privacy and Free Speech by Clint Lalonde is a modified image released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. The original image is SnowdenDAY - Brasília (DF) by Mídia NINJA CC-BY-NC-SA. This modified version has been cropped and the quote box and quote has been added.

Privacy and Free Speech by Clint Lalonde is a modified image released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. The original image is SnowdenDAY – Brasília (DF) by Mídia NINJA CC-BY-NC-SA. This modified version has been cropped and the quote box and quote has been added.

The other nice thing about repatriating my sites is that I can actually support a local business in my hometown. After being with Hostgator in the US for a dozen years, I have now moved back to a local company called Islandhosting. Before moving to Hostgator in 2004, I had hosted a number of sites with Islandhosting and was a happy customer. The only reason I left in 2004 for Hostgator was because, at that time, Islandhosting didn’t have options available for me to effectively manage numerous domains. Hostgator did and so I moved. But things have changed and I now have access to tools like Installatron and add-on domain management with Islandhosting that they did not have in 2004.

Context Collapse

In addition to the technical migration, I have also been feeling this need to attempt to detangle my digital personal and professional lives. Context collapse (PDF) is real and I am increasingly feeling the need to carve out more private, personal spaces on social media, as I hinted at back in January and (I realize as I re-read my own post with subtext) September.

Closing up when you have operated openly for most of your career is a difficult thing to even think about. For over a decade now, I have tried to present myself as a real person online in all the different SM I inhabit. Those of you who follow me in multiple spaces hopefully get the same view of me on Twitter, Facebook, and here on this blog.

But choosing to attach my name to everything I do means something different in 2017 than it did in 2007. So many contexts have changed, from where I am in my career, to my family, to social media in general. I have had instances where the things I do in my personal life affect my professional life to the point where people have felt it appropriate to threaten my employer over my actions as a private citizen. I realize this is far from the abuse I have seen hurled at others I know who have public profiles closely tied to their private life. But still, not easy to deal with.

At this point, I don’t know if I can even detangle my personal and professional digital identities, but I want to try. Context collapse, while real, can be managed. This year, you’ll likely hear about these detangling attempts as I put some walls up around some gardens.

The biggest walled garden: Facebook

Facebook seems like the best place to start as that is where I seem to experience the most context collapse.

I have started by setting up a public Facebook page that will be nothing but content associated with my professional life. This is where I will be sharing my work related stuff – open education, education technology, my work with BCcampus or teaching with Royal Roads. That stuff all goes here.

To go along with that, I’ll begin tightening up my Facebook profile. Some of you whom I am connected with professionally I will likely suggest connecting via that page. I am going to be fairly ruthless with Facebook and limit it to family and very close friends. Please don’t be offended if you and I are no longer connected via my personal FB account. It’s me, not you.

There will likely be other changes in the future. This blog. I expect there will be changes here, but not sure what those will be yet. Likely another site. Twitter? Geez, who knows.

But I don’t know if it will make a difference. Can I ever take this space back and post stuff as me without there being context collapse? Can I have a public open voice online that doesn’t bleed over into my professional life? Do I even want that?

I always have to remind people that I am not an academic. Really, I am support staff. I don’t have the same reasons for participating in public spaces that academics and researchers do. The benefits and constraints are different. The context is different.

So maybe this is where I start. Why do I participate on social media as me? Why do I blog as me?  The answer these days isn’t as obvious as it used to be.


Making a virtual move

I am working on moving this site (and a number of others) to a new Canadian web host. The cost of maintaining an expensive reseller account with a crazy US-CAN exchange rate combined with the ever increasing ick factor at having so much of my digital identity located on servers in the US is prompting me to move.

Hopefully the move will be smooth, but I do have about 10 years of assorted experiments, mucking around-ness and half ass hackery living deep within the code of these virtual walls. So if there is funkiness on the site over the next few days, the move will likely be the reason.

Image:  Patent Drawing for J. O. Lose’s One Wheeled Vehicle by Darren Cole CC-BY

Done Feb 17/17


Supporting what I use 2016 edition

Ok, time for my annual supporting what I use post. For those of you who have followed my blog for the past few years, you’ll know this is an annual event around the holiday season where I encourage you to financially support the free and open tools & services you use to help keep them free & open.

This whole annual supporting what I use series of posts goes back to a blog post that George Siemens wrote in 2012 where he singled out the important work that Audrey Watters brings to the EdTech community; work that, unlike many of us, is not underwritten or supported by an institution or company. Audrey is an independent agent, making a living off her writing, speaking and related events. This year, I’ve gone back to supporting Audrey with an ongoing monthly contribution that can hopefully help her concentrate on publishing important pieces, like her annual top EdTech Trends of the Year posts (essential EdTech reading). I encourage you to do the same.

In addition to supporting Audrey’s independent work, I am renewing my commitment to Open Media for their work in advocating for internet rights and freedoms in Canada. And, as this past year has shown us so clearly, more work needs to be done in the area of critical digital and media literacy, which is why MediaSmarts is also getting a donation from me.

Which brings me to my last choice, which is a bit different this year in that it is a business.

I’ve subscribed to a daily newspaper.

I have done this for a couple of reasons. First, in reaction to the recent election in the US (built on the back of Brexit in the UK) and the war on truth we are facing. Propaganda and misinforamtion have always been a staples in politics, but these recent results have shown that now, more than ever, I need to step up and support organizations committed to fair and accurate journalism, and (for me) that means a daily newspaper.

And I am getting a physical copy delivered to my home. This is part of the second (and perhaps less obvious) reason I am subscribing to a daily paper. For my kids. I want to have newspapers in the house that they can pick up and read.

As my kids get older, I am finding I have increasingly less control over their digital environments, and have to rely on the critical media and digital literacy skills they are developing to make good decisions about the media they consume. In a digital household where our media choices are often highly individual based on the devices we each have in front of us, there is little chance for serendipitous happenstance for my kids to discover information outside of their mediated filter bubble. It is something I worry about with digital books, too. As much as I love reading books electronically, there is something about not having my collection public on the bookshelf within my own home that reduces the random discoverability of topics and subjects to the other people in my house. Sure, there are plenty of ways for me to make my digital collections known, but my kids aren’t really cruising past my Goodreads account on a daily basis on the way to the breakfast table like they do our family bookshelf.

When I was a kid living in northern Alberta, the daily Edmonton Journal subscription was a critical part of my media diet for the simple fact that it was just left lying around in the house. Same goes for the books on my family bookshelf. I often read things that were outside of my normal areas of interest simply because I had proximity to books that I would not have picked myself. So, I want to have a general daily newspaper lying around the house that they can just pick up and read to both widen their horizons, and to help understand what good journalism looks like.

If you are interested in seeing what I have supported in the past (to perhaps give you some ideas of your own), you can read my previous posts here, here and here.

Image: Newspapers by Alan Foster CC-BY-NC-ND



My #ETUG Tale of Fail

ETUG is coming up in a few weeks; the twice yearly gathering of BC post-secondary educators, learning technologists & instructional designers.

I’m more than a bit bummed that the timing of ETUG this year coincides with the annual EDUCAUSE conference which I am going to be at. So, despite being on the steering committee for ETUG, I’ll actually be missing this one.

And it will be a good one. The steering committee (co-led this year by the excellent Janine Hirtz and wonderfully creative Jason Toal aka Dr. Jones) has taken full advantage of the fact that ETUG happens just a few days before Halloween and are calling the workshop the Little (work)Shop of Horrors.

Completely en pointe  will be Audrey Watters keynote riffing off her recent book the Monsters of Educational Technology.

Also keeping with the frightening theme is the call for proposals, looking for stories about things that went wrong. Tales of the fail. I am a big fan of failure, having failed at many things in my life. And I do believe that, while success gives us confidence, it is in failure that we do some of our deepest learning. And as educators, we need to be mindful that there are valuable lessons within failure.

Leading up to ETUG, a few of us are creating some videos with our own tales of failure. Here is my contribution – my tale of fail is my academic career, partial inspired by Johannes Haushofer’s CV of Failures. The running narrative throughout my academic life going back to high school is that I never finish. Even high school, although I did manage to get that last course and technically finish high school a few years after I was supposed to graduate. My first distance learning experience was taking a Biology 12 correspondence course that finally gave me enough credits to finish high school.

Watch the #etug hashtag on Twitter over the coming days for more Tales of Fail.

And if you are reading this and I have applied to be in your PhD program…I will complete it.



Disjointed, fractured and somewhat pointless

3 months.

I’ve gone through long dry spells on my blog in the past, but this one feels especially long.

I’m struggling a bit to figure out why this writing stuff has suddenly become so difficult. It wasn’t that long ago when I was in the habit of writing weekly post of what I was working on. But lately I can’t seem to pull all the disjointed and fractured thoughts together to even accomplish that each week.

It’s not like there are not interesting conversations happening that I want to participate in or respond to. I feel like I owe both Audrey and Martin some considered and thoughtful words about EdTech as academic discipline as I think I was the one who likely spurred the subject after posting a piece on Facebook that they both responded to…and then took one step further and wrote great posts on (here’s Audrey’s and Martin’s). My take doesn’t go much beyond the annoyance I felt when I read the original article and thought here are elite institutions “discovering” something that many of us thought already existed. Like MOOC’s, suddenly discovered when the, ahem, right institutions started doing them. It’s not echolalia, it’s moocolalia.

There is also Martin’s excellent take (and ensuing comments) on a societal shift to a dark place where expertise is dismissed and the facts don’t matter. How does education fight a culture that is increasingly anti-learning?

I feel like I should comment with something, especially since I was quick to jump into the great Twitter maple syrup debate, which prompted an observation from Martin.

But maple syrup is easy. The role of education in the helping to solve the decline of western civilization? Not so much. I feel inadequate to respond, especially in light of the incredibly thoughtful responses by a lot of very smart people each weighing in with their views.

And here is where I get to everytime. What is it I am trying to say? It has to be more than just….this.

I feel like I’m wasting time. Mine, because here I have sat for 45 minutes trying to figure out what it is I want to say, or whether I even have anything else to say.  And yours because, well, I haven’t really said all that much.

Maybe I am just going thru a drought, but it feels like something has changed. Writing used to be the way that I would connect the thoughts and make meaning out of this stuff. But lately…not so much. It feels like an awful lot of work with little reward. And work that is dissatisfying because I keep going, and feel I get nowhere. Get stuck. Have a thousand strands in my head that I can’t quite pull together, elusively out of reach to make a coherent narrative.

Hell, never mind coherent narrative. At this stage, I’d be happy with a point.

So I am just going to keep on writing. I am hoping I can write my way out of this and get back to where I feel like I actually have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation. It’ll likely mean a few go nowhere posts, but I’m going to publish them anyway so please bear with me. I feel like I need to get this blogging thing under control again.

Photo: Temporary Pointless Sign by Cory Doctrow, CC-BY -SA


Facebook has an identity crisis – and it's messing with democracy

I’ve followed the long standing Facebook identity battles that both Alec Couros and Alan Levine have had to endure, and the abject failure on the part of Facebook to deal with fake account after fake account expropriating their identities to do all manner of nasty things. Today comes news that the mayor of Victoria, Lisa Helps, was locked out of her own Facebook account because….well, because Facebook doesn’t believe that a person in politics could actually have the last name of Helps.

While what has happened to Alec and Alan is serious and has caused a great deal of pain to people who have been duped and manipulated by one form of catfish con after another (to say nothing of the huge amount of effort both Alec and Alan have expended fighting Facebook), it is another level of icky when Facebook starts messing with the identity of publicly elected officials.

Regardless of your political opinions of the mayor (and just for the record, I live in Saanich, a different municipality with a different mayor) it is clear that Helps considers Facebook an important tool to engage with her constituents on all manners of public policy. Which is how it should be. The internet should enable more direct interaction with our public officials.

But by locking her out of her own account, Facebook has essentially gagged a public official. In short, Facebook – a corporation that is no stranger to accusations that it manipulates political opinion and conducts ethically questionable research by manipulating what we see in Facebook – is messing with democracy.

Now, I don’t think that there is anything overtly political behind having the mayor’s account shut down by Facebook. I think this is a case of Facebook’s own algorithmic bumbling. But, intentional or not, there are socio-political implications to having a publicly elected official lose access to their own Facebook account. Imagine if this happened with just a few days left in a tight election campaign? Or during a crisis in the city where the mayor was trying to use Facebook as a way to communicate important information to the citizens of her community?

It would be dismissive to think that social media is trivial. That this is just Facebook and there are plenty of other avenues available to the mayor to communicate with constituents. Which is true. But the fact is that social media is driving much of the political discourse happening in North America. The recent Pew Research shows that most people get their news from social media, with 63% of respondents saying that they get their news directly from what they see in Facebook. Over 60% of us use Facebook and social media to engage in political discourse on social media. And Facebook, the company, has no qualms about adjusting our newsfeed to promote certain behaviours during an election.

Social media has become a vitally important mechanism in our political process and, by extension, our society.

I am becoming convinced that it is dangerous for us to leave something as crucial as our identity up to an unaccountable, corporate social media company. Facebook is messing up too bad and the stakes are just too high in a democratic society.

I think our civic institutions need to be playing a bigger role in digital identity. Our governments need to be doing more to help its citizens verify that who we are online is legit. It’s a role our government has always had a hand in, through the issuing of government identification documents like passports, health cards, and drivers licenses. It’s time for them to step up and provide some kind of mechanism that can help their citizens verify that they are who they are online.

I also think that we need some regulations on social media with regards to digital identity issues. When the mayor of a city – and that cities police force – are unable to convince Facebook that the mayor is who she says she is….that is a serious problem. Our digital identities are too important to be left to customer support who refuse to return messages and fix problems quickly. It begins to look like censorship – tacit or otherwise – when the mayor is cut off for 9 days, and gets NO response from the company that cut her off. With identity, Facebook is failing and it is time for our public officials to step in and ensure that there are effective and efficient identity dispute mechanisms in place that keep people from being locked out of their own accounts for days and weeks on end. And with Facebook single sign on accounting for over 60% of login credentials at third-party sites, getting the boot on Facebook likely means getting the boot of a whole host of other sites and services across the web that you use.

I am also becoming convinced that our governments need to be more proactive in providing citizens alternative public virtual spaces for citizens to engage. While it is great that civic engagement happens on Twitter and Facebook and other virtual spaces, it is still at the whim and control of that social media company.  Just like our communities have real public spaces like libraries, schools, recreation centres and other physical municipal institutions, we should also be pushing for more of these virtual public spaces provided by our civic institutions. Places where a mayor can virtually interact with a wide network of constituents that isn’t controlled by a corporation driven by their own best interests who seem to have little regard for the damage they are doing to our lives and communities.


Attribution and content theft in a new media world

A few weeks back I was contacted by Buzzfeed reporter Katie Notopolous interested in doing a story about my ongoing PayPal woes. Buzzfeed published Katie’s story yesterday. In the story, Katie included a link back to my original PayPal blog post.

Immediately after the story was published, I began receiving pingbacks on my blog and my comment section began to fill with stuff like this…


I decided to follow a few back thinking that they might be commenting on the story. Instead, what I found was content scrapped verbatim from Katie’s Buzzfeed story, including the link back to my original blog post.


Copied site #1


Copied site #2

Which explains why I was getting pingback after pingback from these content mills as they copied and pasted the story exactly as it appeared on the Buzzfeed site, right down to using the same Getty photo (that I suspect Buzzfeed had to pay for the rights to use) that Buzzfeed used in the original story.

photoEach of the links I follow (close to 20 now and they keep coming in) was the same. No additional context. No editorializing. No opinion on the story. Just a straight copy and paste of Katie’s story onto their site.

What was worse is that Katie – who did the original work – isn’t even attributed as the original author of the story. On most sites the content is posted by “admin” or “editor” or some other anonymous title. But in some cases, there are other people taking credit for Katie’s work, like Michael Blythe, if that is indeed your real name.

theftWhile I have had content from my own blog scrapped and farmed in the past, I haven’t seen it happen quite this quickly and at this scale.

For journalists, these must be both exciting and terrifying days. You now have a potential audience reach unheard of in human history. Exciting. But publish online and your work will be stolen and quickly capitalized on by others. Frustrating.

I don’t greet the disruption of journalism with glee. And I’m not justifying the theft of content, but in a digital world content will be copied, it is inevitable. If your business model is dependent on advertising revenue derived from driving traffic to your site with original content, you are in trouble.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that trying to stop this from happening is like whack a mole.


Dear EdTech Conferences. Try harder.

Got a notice today of an upcoming conference being put on by IMS Global called the Learning Impact Leadership Institute. I went to check out the website to find out more about the conference and saw the lineup of the eight confirmed plenary speakers.

CaptureNotice something?

Yep. All white. All male.

Now, just to be clear, this has nothing to do with who is on the panel. I don’t know any of these men personally, although there are names I certainly recognize and people whose work I follow. So, I don’t want this to come across as a criticism of the people in the photos or their work. It is definitely not that.

But it is a criticism of the event and the organizers who, in this day and age, cannot seem to find a single woman or person of colour to include.

In this case, I find the offense even more egregious because this event is being presented as a leadership event, and the message this sends is that the only people who are eligible to become members of the edtech leadership elite are white men.

That message gets reinforced even stronger when you scroll to the bottom of the page and see who the organizers have decided to include as representatives to provide testimonials about the conference.


Yep, three more white guys (again…this is not a criticism of these individuals).

This conference is a definite candidate for the All Male Panels Tumbler (thanks Tara for reminding me).

We need to do better.


Yeah, I know it’s 2016….



Bring on the festival

This year the BC post-secondary system is trying something new with conferences. Instead of multiple small conferences, there is going to be an uber-conference called the Festival of Learning, June 6-9 in Burnaby.

The Festival brings together a number of smaller events that BCcampus has supported over the years, including the Open Textbook Summit, ETUGSymposium on Scholarly Teaching & Learning, and the BC-TLN Spring Gathering. The Festival is being organized by the BC Teaching & Learning Council.

The idea behind the Festival was to bring all these different groups together in one place at the same time to provide some space for collaboration and co-mingling.

The challenge in doing this is to do it in a way so that the uniqueness of each singular event that made it important and special to that particular community isn’t lost in a larger event. So far, from the draft program schedule I have seen (being part of SCETUG this year and helping to coordinate some of the ETUG part of the conference), the Festival organizers have done a good job at pulling it together & maintaining space in the Festival for each of the different groups to flourish.You can see this reflected in both small ways (the way all groups are represented on the general call for proposal page, for example), and larger with each group having their own program committee.

I’m quite looking forward to the week in Burnaby, and think this is going to be a massive teaching and learning event for our system.

If you have attended any of these events in the past, then you’ll want to mark June 6-9 on the calendar. If you haven’t, then this year will be a great time to join BC post-secondary faculty, educational technologists, instructional designers, and others involved in EdTech &  SOTL in BC at the Festival. Calls for proposals are on now until March 16th. Keep an eye on the website for more information.

The Festival runs June 6-9, 2016 at both the Delta Villa Hotel and BCIT in Burnaby, BC.



PayPal no pal of mine

terroristPayPal has locked up money in my PayPal account for over a month, and they are not giving it back. All because I made the mistake of using the word “Syrian” in a PayPal transaction.

On December 15th my daughter came home and said that her class was raising money to support a Syrian refugee family resettling in Victoria. We sent the notice out to the people you usually hit up for these kind of kid classroom fundraising activities – our family, a few of who live out of town.

Last day of classes for school for Christmas break was December 18th, and my daughter needed to have all the money into the school by then. To expedite the process of getting their money to us quickly, I decided to set up a donation form on a private page on my blog and have family members send me the money & I would write a cheque to the school to make sure we met the deadline. On the form, I needed to have a description line for the PayPal transaction. I used the phrase “Maggie’s Syrian Fundraiser” (Maggie is my daughters name). Her aunt, 2 uncles, & grandfather made donations.

On Dec 17th I received the following notice from PayPal:

Dear Clint Lalonde,

As part of our security measures, we regularly screen activity in the PayPal system. During a recent screening, we noticed an issue regarding your account.

PayPal is committed to complying with and meeting its global regulatory obligations. One obligation is to ensure that our customers, merchants, and partners are also in compliance with applicable laws and regulations in their use of PayPal.

To ensure that activity and transactions comply with current regulations, PayPal is requesting that you provide the following information via email to

1. Purpose of payment ********* made to you on December 16, 2015 in the amount of $50.00 CAD, including a complete and detailed explanation of the goods or services you are providing. Please also explain the transaction message: “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.”

2. Please specify the Syrian Fundraiser will provide aid to the country of Syria, or if it will benefit those living outside of the country of Syria.

Please go to our Resolution Center to provide this information. To find the Resolution Center, log in to your account and click the Resolution Center subtab. Click Resolve under the Action column and follow the instructions.

If we don’t hear from you by January 01, 2016, we will limit what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Yours Sincerely,

Ok. So, obviously using the word “Syrian” raised a red flag. On December 18th, I emailed them my explanation.

Hi there,

My 11 year old daughter is doing a fundraiser at her school to help with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees in our city, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Recently, our federal government committed to accepting and resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees, and there are local fundraising efforts to help support refugee families resettling here in Victoria.

When we began fundraising, a few of our family members asked if there was a way to donate online. I have been a long time PayPal user so I told people to send me a PayPal payment and I would send the money on to the school. I created a PayPal button and stuck it on my personal blog. As of this morning, you should see 4 transactions in my PayPal account from our family members related to my daughters school fundraiser. These are from *****, *****, ***** and *****.

Specifically, to answer you questions.

1) “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.” Maggie is my daughters name. The school is collecting money to donate to the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee society to assist with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees here in Victoria.

2) The money does not go to Syria. It stays in Victoria BC and will be used by our local Victoria immigrant and Refugee centre to support the local resettlement of refugees from Syria in Victoria BC.

I hope this response helps to explain the transactions. There may be one or 2 more coming thru this weekend from another aunt and grandfather, but I don’t anticipate many more transactions.

Regards,Clint Lalonde

For good measure, I uploaded a copy of the letter to their dispute resolution center on the PayPal site, just to make sure that they had a copy on their files and that my response didn’t get buried in some spam folder at PayPal, like the notices from PayPal usually do :).

I figured the explanation would clear things up.


PayPal denied 2 of the transactions and tagged 2 others with “pending review”.  My account was restricted, and when I went in to try to figure out what to do to unrestrict the account, I was given no options.

On December 26th, I called PayPal and asked them why there were still 2 pending transactions in my account, why was there a restriction on my account, and what did I need to do beyond what they asked me to do to get these issues both cleared (credit PayPal – you CAN actually speak to a live person). I was put on hold. When the rep came back he said, “well, you have done what has needed to be done. I can’t see why this restriction is still in place and these transactions are still pending.” The call ended with him saying the restrictions and payments would be lifted in 72 hours.

January 4th. Still no resolution. I get a call from MacLeans Magazine after a reporter there spied a tweet of mine expressing my frustration with PayPal. He tells me I am not alone, and that other fundraising projects related to Syria have been blocked or rejected by PayPal. He writes an article in MacLeans about the problems many of us are having with PayPal.

January 10th I send an email to Compliance.

There are still 2 payments in my PayPal account that have been marked as “Pending” since December 17, 2015.

Could you please advise me of whether those payments will be cancelled or approved?

Either way, i would like to get this money out of the Pending limbo that it is in with you guys, and have no idea how to do that as I have received no further instructions as to what to do to clear up my account.

I believe I have sent you all the information you have asked for and, in a phone call I made to PayPal support on December 26, 2015, I was led to believe that this issue was cleared up and the holds would be removed from my account. That was over 2 weeks ago, and the 2 payments are still being held as “Pending” with you.

Can you please advise me if you need more information from me, or else release or deny these payments asap?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Clint Lalonde

No response.

January 18th – second call to PayPal. Again told that everything looked fine on their end and that the payments and restrictions would be lifted within 72 hours.

January 21 – It has been 72 hours. Payments still pending. Account still restricted. I call back. I am told that my issue is sitting in a back log with compliance because “it is tax season” and that they will get to it in 72 hours.

Excuse me if I sound skeptical.

This is where we are today.

What a gong show.

I’d like to tie this back into something wider – about some social commentary about how a big corporation reliant on data decision making has lost the ability to decipher well-intentioned actions from legitimate threats. I mean, hell, If I was going to launder money for some sort of subversive Syrian terrorist organization, the first thing I would do to hide my tracks is put the word “Syrian” in the description of a financial transaction. I mean, being  a money laundering international terrorist does not mean that I can forgo keeping well detailed and accurate books.

And part of me also wants to ruminate on what this might mean for me in the future. Not only what being flagged in PayPal for suspicious activity, but even writing this blog post and using the word “Syrian” in it as many times as I have has likely got me onto who knows what list.

What if I try to cross the border? Will this silly screw-up somehow get me moved to the special room? I *think* I am being facetious with this line thinking, but in my head I am both laughing at the ridiculousness of this, and feeling the chill of unease as a little part of me wonders, have I triggered something bigger? Have I now been added by some smart/dumb algorithm to a no-fly list based on some stupid PayPal flag? I mean, someone getting accidentally added to “the special list” through no real fault of their own…that doesn’t happen in real life, does it?

Update: January 25, 2016. It is Monday, the day PayPal told me that my account would be fixed. Well, my account is still restricted and PayPal has not released the payments pending in my account.


A slight shift in focus

Just over a year ago, BCcampus went through a significant change in leadership. Mary Burgess, who was the Director in charge of the BC Open Textbook Project, was named acting Executive Director for BCcampus. This change left a bit of a leadership gap for the OTB project. Mary asked that I take on a leadership role for the project. I agreed and became Acting Senior Manager for the open textbook project.  The initial term was to be for 6 months, but was extended to a year as we went through a ministerial mandate review before Mary was named permanent ED.

During this past year, I’ve done interesting and challenging work as the team leader. Coordinating a project like the open textbook project is massive, and I have been stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But I do feel stretched. And in the back of my mind I knew that I was getting farther and farther away from a significant piece of what I love doing, and that is working with educational technology.

While there is certainly a tech piece to the OTB project, it has been far from front and centre in my day to day work. This past year, you would be more likely to find me at Ministry meetings, preparing budget reports, and working with other provinces on tri-provincial MOU’s. All important and meaningful work. And while I think I am a competent and decent administrator and did achieve much in the role,  it’s not where my heart is. I am an educational technologist, and the work I have been doing has been taking me farther away from that.

So, this summer, I spoke with Mary about moving out of the open textbook leadership role, and back into a role with a deeper focus on educational technology. She agreed and posted the leadership job.

Helping to make the transition easier was the fact that there were extremely capable people working on the project. Earlier this week, one of those capable people, my colleague Amanda Coolidge, accepted the role as the new team leader for the open textbook project.

The timing is very good for me to step aside. We have exceeded the deliverables of the original project, and in the next few weeks, will release the final open textbooks in trades and skills training. Our original AVED project draws to a close, and it feels like we are shifting to a new phase of the project.

Amanda will take over the project for an exciting new phase where the emphasis will be, not on the creation of new material, but the deeper integration of the OTB material within new pedagogical models, like open pedagogy. While we can’t publicly talk about much yet, suffice to say that the next 3 years will see exciting new work in open textbooks in BC. And Amanda is much more capable in leading this next phase than I am. Her background in Instructional Design and deep history with open education going back to her work with TESSA make her a natural for the leadership role.

For me, I’ll still be involved in open textbooks. I’ll finish out a few projects I am committed to, like coordinating the OpenEd conference in November. I’ve got an Open Access week event to do, and am heading to Alberta in a few weeks to do a workshop with eCampus Alberta on OER. But my future role with OTB will see me return to my original focus for the project, which is on technology.

I am eager to get to work on PressBooks and work towards making a self-serve instance of PB available to BC faculty. I am also interested in seeing how we can extend the platform and begin to integrate other tools within an open textbook, and explore how we can deeply integrate open textbook content in other edtech systems.

I also have a couple of other projects that I want to work on. As Brian noted, the open education working group was recently cut by BCNet, and I think there is important and exciting work to be done here exploring the role that open source software can have in higher education. It feels like the state of edtech in higher ed these days starts and ends with negotiating the best procurement deal for vendor software. With the exception of Moodle (and I expect someday in Canada, Canvas), open source software rarely plays a significant role in teaching and learning. I hope that we can set up a group to explore this within the work that Brian, Tannis Morgan, Valerie Irvine and Grant Potter had been doing with BCNet.

There are exciting technology developments, like Sandstorm and Docker, that could provide interesting frameworks for delivering a more customizable and configurable suite of open source software tools to faculty and students. I hope we can explore this.

I feel very fortunate to work with people and an organization who allow me the freedom and ability to shift focus. And I do think that, for the open textbook project and where the project is going in the next 3 years, Amanda is the right choice to take this project even farther. I’m looking forward to working with her in her new role and doing more amazing open work.


Copyright, Privacy and the TPP

Sons and daughters, you ain’t getting much for free.
Chalk Circle, 1989

After 5 years of secret negotiations, and just a few short weeks before Canadians go to the poll, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has been finalized (although it still needs to be ratified in each of the member countries).

And still, no few details on the agreement have been released to Canadians.


Our Prime Minister has touted  this secret trade deal as being “in the best interests” of the Canadian economy. Because, you know, the economy is the only interest that matters to this particular government, never mind the other public interests a government is supposed to look out for.

Like the privacy of Canadians. Apparently, under the new TPP deal, Canada will lose some of the power it has to protect our personal data as the TPP will “prevent national governments from cutting off data flows, by limiting laws that require local storage of data.” Let that personal data flow!

They see gold in your trees and gold in your people
They’ll be panning for it in your water

It will also take longer for works to enter the public domain in Canada as the TPP will extend the term of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator. 20 more years for publishers to make a few more dollars off of the backs of people who have been dead for decades, and keep our own culture out of our collective hands. What is even worse is that this clause could be retroactive, meaning that works in Canada that are currently in the public domain could become locked up again. And, as the Society for American Archivists notes in their opposition to the TPP, a healthy public domain is, “…essential in fostering new creativity and advancing knowledge. It provides a storehouse of raw materials from which individuals can draw to learn and create new ideas or works.”

Then there are the other aspects of the deal that smell, like removing the ability of web browsers to copy websites – a necessary function of web browsers as this is fundamentally how a web browser works. When a browser visits a website, what you are seeing in the browser is actually a copy stored in your browsers cache of that website.

Or the controversial whistle-blower clause that would make it a crime to post leaked corporate documents on the internet (a clause that was, ironically, first leaked on the internet from the secret negotiations).

Of course, none of these are known because details of the deal have not been released. Just a high level overview.

Here in Canada, we go to the polls in less than 2 weeks, so this timing is critical. The deal will be touted by the current government as a boon for Canada without the Conservatives having to share the actual details of the deal in enough time to make it an actual election issue. Once again, as it has done so effectively in the past, this Stephen Harper government has shrouded their activities in secrecy.

Hold my beer


We destroy that which we love the most

Note: I wrote this in September of 2014 when the Minecraft sale to Microsoft was first announced. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it then. But I came across it today in my drafts and felt the need to hit publish despite it being old news and not at all about edtech, or open education.

It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.

It was with a deep sense of sadness that I read Markus Persson’s (aka Notch) personal blog post about why he is leaving Mojang and the game he created, Minecraft.

Minecraft was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion dollars, a move that has divided the Minecraft community. But after reading Notch’s post, the real conversation should be not about the sale, but about the blurred lines the internet creates between the private and public lives.

I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me.

As someone who is on the fringes of gaming, I know a little about the public perception of Minecraft and, more generally, of Notch as folk hero; someone and something that succeed from the margins, outside the established way of doing things. And, on occasion, someone who has thumbed their nose at “the establishment” for the way it was being done

Minecraft, from the start, was different than most games. It was open ended, full of possibilities, and it quickly became something that burst well beyond the gaming community to capture the interest of the general public. Even if you are not a gamer, chances are you have heard of Minecreaft. Which is why it is worth $2.5 billion dollars to Microsoft. It has transcended the gaming sub-culture and moved mainstream.

But this post isn’t about the business deal or the future of Minecraft (although interesting and an important discussion likely happening all over the web right now). But instead this post is about the culture of the internet, personal privacy and the fuzzy boundaries between public life and private life.

I’m also aware a lot of you were using me as a symbol of some perceived struggle. I’m not. I’m a person, and I’m right there struggling with you.

You can feel the conflict in Notch. Rarely have I read something so personal, honest and human that captures the struggle that, quite frankly, anyone who engages with social media at any level could have thrust upon us at a moments notice.

Reading Notch’s post, you can feel the conflict of having to be true to yourself, of having to live up to the public expectations of what “the audience” wants you to be. Notch had crossed this line between being a basement developer hacking away at code for fun, to suddenly having the thunderous weight of unachievable expectations thrust upon him. The public perception of the person and the private person were colliding.

I can relate to this as we all struggle, we are full of contradictions and are all trying hard to do the right thing. We get hurt by comments made about us by people who don’t know us about things that are often out of our control.

I don’t try to change the world. Minecraft certainly became a huge hit, and people are telling me it’s changed games. I never meant for it to do either.

As I said, I am on the fringes of the gaming community. But I do play Minecraft a lot with my son. I know of Notch because I have played the game. I feel I have a sense of who he is because of the game that he created. The reason why I felt this connection to the person is because I have a deep belief that technology is not neutral. I believe that the tools we create are imbued with the values and beliefs of those who create them. The way software works says something about the people who make it, whether that is conscious or not. And because I have this belief about the way our tools are developed, it was easy for me to transfer what I saw in the game to the person who created the game.

There are bits and pieces of Minecraft that made me think that I knew something of the developer and their values. The choice of music, for example. If you play Minecraft, you’ll notice the soundtrack. Subtle, ambient, gentle, peaceful. The decision to have that kind of music in the game signaled to me that the person who developed this game had a certain type of personality. It felt gentle. It felt kind. Even the scary bits were not that scary.

Maybe that transference is wrong, I don’t know. But I don’t think so. I think that there is a lot in Minecraft that is a reflection of its creator, just like there is a lot in other software that is a reflection of their creators. Software is designed by people and, consciously or unconsciously, the values, experiences, perceptions and beliefs of those people influence the way the software is designed.

You always had this sense that Notch was uneasy with being in the public. A few weeks ago my son and I watched the Minecraft documentary and, even in the doc, you got the sense that Notch truly felt like an outsider in this whole crazy world that was beginning to gather around him. He was no longer just this coder working on a game in his spare time. He was now the figurehead; the symbol, and you could sense the unease he had with this position. His happy little side project became something else. It became a business with Notch no longer as a developer, but as a figurehead with Mojang basking in the glow of the public perception of Notch.

And then the internet got it’s hate on. This summer, Notch, the person, bore the brunt of some corporate decisions at Mojang. The community came down hard on him. Hard enough that he has finally said “screw this, get me out“. And along came Microsoft.

All this is a long prelude to the real issue at play here. Not whether Notch somehow “sold out” (which, after reading his post, I don’t think he did), or what will happen to Minecraft now that Microsoft owns it (which is an interesting question). But the conversation to be had here is where do we draw the line between the private person and public personality?  How do we define “celebrity” in this internet age when any one of us can become a celebrity at a moments notice? Where being a “celebrity” means having every word you write scrutinized to the nth degree by “the audience”? Where the pressure of being someone in public causes such cognitive dissonance in a person that they begin to shut down and withdraw when the conversation needs their voice more than ever?

What role did we, “the audience” have to play in the growing disillusionment of Notch and, ultimately, his departure from Mojang and the sale of Microsoft? Because it is clear that the sale was not to make money – it was to escape. Escape us.

If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.

This is 20 minutes long. It was linked to from Notch’s post and it is a really well done mini-doc on the new phenomenon of internet celebrity, and the blurring of the lines between public and private life. It’s provocative and has some sharp analysis. Well worth the watch, even if you are not involved with the game community as it speaks to this new notion of celebrity in our culture. NSFW.

To Notch, a heartfelt thank you for Minecraft.


Necessary Illusions

I’m getting grumpier. It comes and goes, but I find myself yelling “get off my damn lawn!” more than the laid back 20 year old hackysack playing me would have ever even thought possible.

Is this really what today was all about? Is this how we sum up today?

The prominent discourse I saw on social media today. Tweets aplenty about blue dresses and llama chases.

Meanwhile, one of the most significant decisions about the future of the internet was made today; a decision that Open Media has called, “monumental, and historic” and “a historic victory for the Internet and for Internet users everywhere.” A victory in a battle that has been ongoing for 10 years. The FCC in the US has ruled in favour of Net Neutrality. Yet it seemed that every time I looked at my Twitter or Facebook feed today, or peeked into my Feedly account, all I saw was llamas and dresses (with the occasional much appreciated exception).

I know, I know. Grumpy. What is the harm in blowing off some steam and having some fun? I am guilty as charged of engaging in meme silliness. We all need to have some fun. And you can easily argue that it is the same internet that amplifies llamas and dresses that made possible today’s Net Neutrality win. Tweets, status updates, online petitions, grassroots democracy enabled by the internet making positive change happen. And you would be right. That does make me feel less grumpy.

But still…in the back of my mind, I know I am living in a world where llamas and dresses win. Perez Hilton and Buzzfeed. Necessary illusions. And the Net Neutrality victory today seems hollow when I know that tomorrow the zeitgeist will be populated with llamas in blue dresses.


Check your Telus contract

Telus has announced that they will begin charging users who go over their monthly cap. They also rolled out a new user website where people who use Telus can monitor their monthly data usage.

I am a Telus internet customer coming close to the end of my 3 year agreement with them, so I logged onto the new site to see how close I was to my 250GB monthly cap and was surprised to see this:


Wait a sec. Does that say my limit is 150 GB? But Telus, we have a 3 year agreement that says I get 250GB.


When I called Telus to ask them what was up, they said the plans were changed in October, and my plan was downgraded to the 150GB cap plan. The customer service rep on the other end of the phone said that she could upgrade me to the 250 GB plan for an extra $5 per month.

What? Wait a minute. You want me to pay an extra $5 a month to get something from you that we have already agreed to in a contract that you would provide? I mean, we have a contract! This is exactly the type of behaviour that contracts are supposed to avoid. I agree to pay you each month for a service, and you agree to give me what we paid for for the term of the contract which, in my case, runs until April.

But yet we have a situation here where it seems like Telus has arbitrarily changed the terms of the contract I have with them and downgraded my account by 100GB —– sh0rtly before they announce that they are going to charge extra for people who go over their cap? That is just….wrong.

My “contract” expires in April. Telus has given me a higher cap and increased bandwidth for lower price for the rest of my contract. But this is an appeasement (and even then the rep on the phone told me that they were able to offer this deal to me, not because they messed up, but because I was a good customer with an excellent payment record).  Customer service reps being customer service reps can only do so much. They can’t change corporate policy with a customer on the phone. The pisser is, I don’t know if I would get much better service or value if I take my business elsewhere, such is the state with ISP’s these days. But come April, I’ll be looking to switch.

Or maybe I should just switch now and drop Telus, despite having 2 months left on my contract? I mean, if they can arbitrarily change the terms of our contract, then why can’t I?

If you are like me and signed a long term contract with Telus many years ago that agreed to give you 250GB monthly usage, check your current usage cap and make sure you are still getting what Telus agreed to give you in your contract.

Poor form, Telus. Poor form.


Supporting what I use

For the past couple of years I’ve made it a point during this season to try to provide some financial support to the web tools and services I use that are open. And by open, I mean that are free to use, and who do not make money off of my data or advertising.

In 2012, I supported Wikipedia, Mozilla, Creative Commons and the work of Audrey Watters. Last year it was The Internet Archive, Bad Science Watch, MediaSmarts and OpenMedia. All these projects and organizations make a difference to my online life and I am appreciative of the work they do.

This year, I have returned to Wikipedia and Creative Commons. CC is becoming especially important in my professional life as it is a major component of the Open Textbook Project I am working on.

In addition to those two organizations,  I am also supporting three other open products and services that I use.

I have been spending a lot of time this year converting documents, and have come to rely on Pandoc, created by John McFarlane. This open source software package is the Swiss Army knife of document conversion, and has made my work life easier. So, a monetary nod goes to Pandoc.

Finally, there are two streaming music services that I use almost everyday. If you see me hunkered over a keyboard with my headphones on, then chances are I am plugged into either Radio Paradise  or Soma FM. Both are longtime streaming music service that are listener supported, ad free, and provide a great diverse soundtrack to my life.

I write and publish these posts because I want to encourage you to do the same, and support the open services and tools that you use. The open source software that makes your life a bit easier, the single person journalist or blogger trying to stay independent and free from the influence of chasing advertising dollars, the web service you use that isn’t mining your data as a business model. I know that, at this time of the year, there are many competing interests for your hard earned dollars. But if you have the means, I encourage you to put a few dollars to supporting the open sites, services and tools that you use.