Marvel Unlimited & digital media ownership: some thoughts

I’ve been buying comics weekly since I’ve had an allowance – about 30 years or so. 98% of them are Marvel comics – and in particular the X-men and the “street heroes” (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spiderman). About 4 years ago, I more or less stopped buying physical comics and switched to buying Digital Comics – this coincided, not at all incidentally, with my buying my first retina iPad. But I was still spending a fair amount of money each week on comics, and, while physical comics come with definite ownership, the built-in DRM of the Comics apps (Marvel, Image, Comixology) meant that I didn’t really feel like I was buying comics any more so much as I was  licensing them. I have a similar experience with other digital media.

And because I wasn’t really buying them anymore…the thrill, the urgency was gone. When I stopped buying physical music, I stopped caring so much about “owning” the music. And so I got an Rdio subscription – which suits me fine. More or less unlimited music, great discovery tools, for a small monthly fee. I kind of feel like I’m renting the world’s greatest music library.

When I stopped buying physical movies, I likewise stopped caring. I still will buy some movies on iTunes, but you know what? 90% of the time I’m perfectly content to wait for the movie to show up on Netflix: again – I’m happy to pay to rent access to a large library.

Books…I haven’t found my Netflix for books, mostly because the digital reading experience for me is much more intimately tied to the device I consume it on. I read only Amazon-purchased books when I had a kindle. Now I have a Kobo (almost entirely because of, at least publicly, how poorly Amazon seems to treat Authors/Publishers), and I buy Kobo books. Also: I *really* like the Kobo hardware. Much more than either Kindle I owned prior. If there was an on-device “Netflix for books”, I’d likely stop buying & immediately sign up for that. But I don’t like reading books on my tablets, so the existing services might as well not exist for me.

So we come back to Comics. About 2 months ago, I decided I no longer needed to be buying digital comics weekly. The pull of some 18,000 back issues available for rent in the Marvel Unlimited app was such a great draw. And so I downloaded it, and it’s been…ok. On to the original point of this, here’s some good and bad things on the Marvel Unlimited app:

  • Good: The experience of reading an individual issue. The pages/images are crisp, and really reward a high DPI screen. I can zoom in to see detail I often couldn’t with physical media. It’s just like the purchased digital issues.
  • Fantastic: Content. Seriously. If you’re a fan of Marvel comics, there’s almost no excuse to not have this app just to get access to all that content.
  • Meh: How the app handles rotation. Some pages/panels are better landscape, some portrait. As you rotate back and forth, it sometimes gets lost and you end up zoomed, or more oddly, back a page. Likewise, it sometimes has issues loading in the issue. Consistently, for me, every 3rd issue in a session, I need to exit, restart the download, before I can finish the issue
  • Good: consuming “official” events. You can just keep reading the next issues.
  • Missed Opportunity: Search. The Marvel Wiki is an amazing resource for discovery. It seems terrible that I can’t leverage that knowledge base, directly in the app, for discovery.
  • Bad: Inter-issue linking. If a comic says “as seen in [title]” in one of those little editor notes, the meta-data for that issue should always link me to that.  This, to me, is an almost unconscionable omission in this app. It’s a rabbit-hole app, and should take every opportunity to send me further down the rabbit hole. Same goes for Cross overs. If an X-Factor story links to a She-Hulk issue, when I finish that X-factor issue, show me the She-Hulk title! Cross overs are nearly impossible to read in the Marvel Unlimited App.
  • Bad: No wish-list. Seriously. Even if it was limited to, say, a dozen titles. let me wishlist items to read later. I can’t keep 18K comics in my head, but I might come across a title while browsing that I want to read later, but not right now. Why can’t I store that desire somewhere? Again. This is a rabbit-hole app. So help go further down that hole.
  • Potential: Sharing/social reviews. I’ve got friends who’re using this app. But I have no way to learn what they’re reading, what they liked, etc. Sharing what comics I’m reading has always been part of my comic culture. So why I can’t I share my reading list with my friends? Or publish quick reviews of issues/titles/storylines to Social Media? Seems a really easy missed marketing opportunity for Marvel

So what’s my overall? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Marvel Unlimited is the worst of all Comic Reading apps – except for all the others. The content is so great that it absolutely trumps the varied experience of consuming the content. But, there’s so much opportunity to grow this app into something amazing, that I’m actually a little sad how poorly executed it currently is.

Ed Note: Marvel – I’d love to help make this app better. Want to hire me?

2nd Ed Note: The cover image has very little to do with the post. But I like coffee and comics. They go well together.

O Vancouver, City that I love

Vancouver has a hard, brittle beauty.

Walk down any street in Vancouver. We are a city of nondescript streets, where very few blocks possess a beauty of their own. But cunningly, cross a boulevard, or turn a corner, and there it is: a sharp beauty that cuts hard; that takes your breath away. Looking across the sea of slender glass towers from a Fairview street (was there ever such an understated name for a neighbourhood? Fair doesn’t begin to cover it. Whenever I see those spires as I cross the town east to west, our collective British origins are unmistakable, that understatement of the obvious such a particularly British sensibility), it can suddenly take your breath – such a startling beauty that it cuts deep. I’ve lived here for 20 years and it still happens with alarming regularity. And like a jeweller appraising a shiny bauble, we can do that here too. Our views change depending on where we are, but there are very few that do not reward the faithful.

Look east from the West Side, back across the downtown peninsula and see the slope of towers crest and fall, echoing sublimely the mountains that loom behind and to the left.

Look west from the east side, cycling along Adanac and see the echoes of our industrial past laid bare, waiting to be claimed by creeping modernity: our tracks towards destiny, the gleaming towers echoed by the shiny waters of false creek, slender sails echoing slender buildings.

Look south from the north shore, and feel the abrupt ending of where Capitalist dreams meet the water which is both a psychological and very physical divide between Vancouver and the North Shore, which conjures up not the sleepy, spreading suburb that it is, but rather the wild, untamed promise of all those mountains it is nestled up against. Look south from high enough and the beauty changes. The downtown no longer dominates, but rather seems a small bastion against a sea of squat structures clinging to the edge of the world.

Look north from anywhere and the city disappears: the mountains are ever-present, and the city simply pales against their terrible promise of inevitable collapse: They are stark reminders that we live on borrowed time. And when the mountains are no longer there it is somehow worse, hidden somewhere in the fog bank or clouds. At night, when the lights on Mt Seymour & Grouse float in the sky there is an assurance, and one when I travel I have come to miss greatly.

Vancouver does not love her children

Vancouver is a city that does not respect her past. She doesn’t care for her own children.  It is a city of immigrants, for immigrants – whether from across the Rockies or across the ocean. We tear down old buildings – where someone we knew grew up, or spent their free time, in favour of the new over and over again. Like cells, old houses subdivide into duplexes, fourplexes. Or two or 3 houses combine then divide into a squat complex of condos, all of which are heavily advertised elsewhere, or sold by the promise of the Vancouver lifestyle, which only the non-Vancouverite can still be sold by, because everyone who grew up here knows that they’ve been priced out. Or the lucky, have ridden that wave and now own a house worth vastly more than they could ever have imagined and think only of selling, and leaving.

No  one I know who sells a house in Vancouver they’ve lived in for 20, 30 years sells to move elsewhere in Vancouver. They go away. And those  in our 20s and 30s and 40s who grew up here. Their salaries don’t match the prices, and so we leave. And only if they return, having earned more elsewhere, and are no longer subject to the low-wage trap of Vancouver, are happy to return to Vancouver as newly-minted foreigners, ready to re-embrace the promise of Vancouverism, leaden with money earned elsewhere to buy, to invest, to pay for the ski passes and boat mooring and cars.

Vancouver is hard

Much like we are physically a thin band of people nestled between mountain  and ocean, this echoes deeply in our relationship. Our business dream smaller, and sleepier than those elsewhere. We temper our dreams of success with our dreams of “lifestyle”. My friends who work here, collectively, work vastly less than my friends in Toronto or New York or Montreal or San Fransisco.

We are the Spain of North America: we all cut out early to get 2 hours of biking or skiing or drinking on patios. And how could we not? We give up so much to live here, so we need to make it worth our while. And we continue to sell this lifestyle abroad and everyone abroad continues to buy into it and then they move here and some can reconcile their old habits with the demands of this lifestyle and some cannot and leave.

Investment here will continue to struggle. What’s a 10 million dollar round in the face of a 200km bike ride with your buddies every sunny day of the year? What’s an extra 25K a year in your pocket when – christ, did you see the mountains today? See you at Whistler on Saturday? And these things that are sold to us as goods; they are indeed goods but they are also a tax on us.These are the taxes we pay to celebrate living here. Because if you don’t participate in the Vancouver lifestyle, why are you here? These are steep taxes we pay, whether or not you take advantage of what they offer you.

And all this living, all this participating, the unspoken problem is that it creates a massive underclass of people barely making it. When those who can are sipping their pour-over coffees at the third-wave coffee-house, the people working there are barely making it, living in shitty apartments with friends in East Van or New West and likely going directly from pouring coffee to band practice, or more likely another job, their dreams “on hold” as they make rent and buy food and drink and live, but live a very different life of loud music and Hastings st and the Drive and not the Sea Wall, and while they too have been sold Vancouverism it is a very different one.

Vancouver has my heart

And yet. And yet. And yet I say all the above like these are bad things and they are not. They are the very reason I love this land like nowhere else I’ve been.

Just-in-time disk

I feel like this is an ongoing complaint from me – but it’s really time for someone – some combination of corporations and likely-existing technologies – to solve the issue of mobile computing + storage.

Here’s my standard problem:

I have, currently on a Drobo in a corner of my home office, my Lightroom catalog. It’s just over 2.5 TB in size – I take a lot of photos. But! I’m not often at my home office. Most of the time, when I’m taking photos, I’ve got my phone, my iPad, my laptop. & I want to edit photos. Lightroom Mobile syncs mobile photos through the cloud to my main Lightroom catalog (on said Drobo).

But – my primary computer is my laptop. It’s got a pretty beefy 500GB drive. And, because it’s a laptop, it’s not always in the same place as my Drobo (it’s actually never plugged into my home Drobo – but it is plugged in sometimes to one at my office). an because my laptop has a retina screen, and the home iMac does not the laptop is an infinitely superior experience when editing photos.

  • So how can I access all those photos, that catalog, on my laptop, when I’m editing?
  • How can I import photos, while travelling somewhere, and have those sync back to my primary photo repository?

When Adobe announced Lightroom Mobile‘s Sync feature, I was pretty excited – this felt like exactly what I wanted. I take photos on my phone, and, magically, they get pushed to my primary catalog. I can also selectively pull photos from that catalog for editing on my iPad (which is also a lovely editing experience). But!

  1. I have to be on my primary catalog computer to indicate which photos I want to push back
  2. You can only sync to 1 primary catalog
  3. You can only use this to push from mobile devices to a computer, not from 1 computer to another.

I also use Dropbox, and pay for 1TB of storage. This is great! I long ago set up the automatic back up of photos to DropBox – however, as I discovered today, this only works if the camera uploads folder is synced to my computer(s). Which means all those photos are also taking up precious space on my laptop. It turns out I have just over 60GB of photos in my camera uploads folder – which, at 1/5 of the total storage on my laptop, was a nice gain to NOT sync. But now the automatic photo-upload feature doesn’t work. Which is dumb – because I don’t want ALL of my camera-upload photos to be synced locally. The last, say, 5GB? sure. but not all forever in history.

So Dropbox doesn’t really solve this problem either.

 

So, here’s what I’m thinking should be possible:

The Adobe Solution

With Creative Cloud, I already am bought into their ecosystem. & Clearly, with how Lightroom Mobile works, they have a way of sending me “pointers” to a photo, without the actual file. So, let’s complete this circle, Adobe. Let me say where I want to keep my photos – this might be in your cloud, this might be a cloud service, this might be a drive attached to a particular device. Then let me open Lightroom anywhere – one of several computers (I currently regularly use 4 different traditional computing devices), mobile devices (where I regularly use 3 different devices). Let me plug in a camera or card, and add photos to my catalog, but edit where I am. If this means some back-and-forth syncing, so be it. Show be small “previews” of recent photos, perhaps a simple text-catalog of older ones until I request more. But stop making me think of how/where I’m adding photos and just let me work. For bonus points, let me easily/selectively share access to my catalog with friends & family.

The Apple Solution

Any third-party solution could be made easier if Apple let me configure and reserve a certain portion of my hard drive as a sort of cloud-storage scratch disk – so that when Adobe needed to download photos, it knew it could safely remove anything else in that drive to give me access to what I need – sort of how memory management currently works. By default, maybe take 10% of the computer’s hard drive – but again, let the user tweak these preferences.

Related, but different, would be a built-in Apple-y way of mapping cloud storage as a local folder or drive – indeed, I hope this is really the promise of iCloud – but it’s certainly not there yet. It works this way, for the most part, with Apple apps – Pages, Numbers, etc – where things are just stored there and we no longer care about “where” it is locally – but this needs to “just work” with other services, and needs to not be completely closed off (so that I could make “my” cloud be a device I control, like in the scenario above) (Also: this is never going to happen. Apple likes walled gardens). But in the same way Mail supports built-in Gmail configuration, I should be able to configure *any* cloud storage as just a place I can drag & drop to like any other folder – a little like how Dropbox works, but without the local copy of *everything*.

The Dropbox solution

This, to me, feels like it should be the easiest, but I could well be wrong. Dropbox, and all sorts of storage tiers, now offers vastly more storage than most computers have (on the assumption that most computers are laptops, and new laptops in general seem to have <1TB storage – particularly if you’ve gone solid state). And Dropbox helpfully offers “Selective Sync”, which prevents this silly duplication of files locally and on their servers for particular folders. But if you turn off Sync for a folder, it can break useful Dropbox features, like automated Camera Uploads & the screen shot sharing service. Which is dumb. Because I really do want all my photos backed up to drop box – but I don’t want to have to keep every last photo locally too in order to do that.

& again, I often don’t need, in order to find what I want, the actual files. Some kind of index of files, that integrates with services like Spotlight, are all I need, so that when I do need a particular file that exists only on Dropbox, I can find it easily, download it and do what I want, before returning it back to Dropbox, removing itself from my local drive again.

Wrap up

I realize as I write this that what I am describing in many ways is a thin-client. But, because connectivity is not ubiquitous, thin clients aren’t totally a fit – I need some local storage/access, but not all the time – for most common scenarios, I can predict when I need to download things locally, and when I can rely on the cloud to store things. And that’s really what I mean by “just-in-time” disks – It feels like there’s very little need for any content-files to exist only locally, but they might need to occasionally. When cloud storage is so cheap as to be essentially free, and laptop hard drives are still so expensive, why do we keep pushing things there? And when multi-device computing is so common, why is sync across them, user-controlled, still so broken?

The Bone Clocks

I’m a big fan of David Mitchell – I devoured Cloud Atlas – although, perhaps oddly, I’ve not read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which I suppose is a precursor to this book, so maybe I should have. But, it it’s not necessary to have done so.

Mitchell’s way with prose is second-to-none. He can create a world in a paragraph and destroy all your remaining hopes and dreams in another. He’s also really mastered the multiple-narrator trick. Each sounds distinct in a way that isn’t cloying, but natural.

Holly Sykes, the principal protagonist of this book is, well – she’s one of the best characters I’ve read in ages. She’s inspirational, she’s tough, she’s smart. She’s only the narrator in 2 sections, but features prominently in all.

Here’s an odd thing – with the exception of the epilogue (more in a moment), the narrators are universally dislikable. The other characters get to shine when someone else is narrating them, but the narrators themselves do not. When we first meet Holly she’s a bratty teenager – not horrible, but not exactly nice or good. But, tellingly, you already see the signs of worthiness that the latter narrators will expose. But Hugo, Ed, Crispin & Marinus are all quite unlikable as narrators, though each gets varying degrees of remediation in the eyes of other narrators.

The primary sci-fi element running through the book is forgettable, oddly. Indeed, my least favourite section is the primary dénouement, which is straight-up super-hero-immortal vs super-villain-immortal and not terribly well thought through, I thought. I found its own internal rules inconsistent, which is a cardinal sin for sci-fi/fantasy. But, the book is so good this is easily pardoned. And Holly. Holly’s so damn great to read that she makes this section worth it.

Finally. The epilogue: A post-internet, near-future (30-years-from-now) post-apocalyptic world that is so horrifyingly plausible that it left me fairly shattered after reading. Honestly, the first 500-odd pages are worth it just to read this – but DO read the first 3 sections at least to give this the real weight it deserves.

Lastly, there’s a nice (I’m assuming) hat-tip in the book to Vancouver’s own Douglas Coupland.

The restaurant-drink conundrum

I’m working on myself. My fitness, my health, my size. I’m running, I’m cycling & walking more. I’m watching what I eat. Part of this, and a hard one for me, is eliminating pop. Well, Coke – I don’t drink any other kind of pop.

For the last, let’s say, 6 years or so, I’ve drunk roughly a can of pop (or larger) every work day. That’s a LOT of Coke. It goes a long way to explain why I’m as large as I am. But, coming back from my bike trip, I resolved to no longer drink an afternoon coke, as what has been my habit. And, funny enough, it was hard. I “snuck” a pop for the first 2 weeks a couple of days. But – none since the start of September (aside – that has produced a 5-pound drop in 2 & a bit weeks … so … yeah).

But here’s where I’m failing – eating out, lunchtimes. I don’t just want water forever – boring! But I don’t like other pop, I don’t like iced tea (unless it’s “real” unsweetened ice tea, but it never is). I don’t like most juice that isn’t fresh-squeezed.

But I want to drink something flavourful, interesting when I’m out. Sushi places are great because I really enjoy green tea. But what else is there? What do you drink when you’re out for lunch, say, and don’t want more coffee, alcohol isn’t an option & you’re not drinking pop. Do restaurants (particularly quick-stop or fast-food places) even offer an alternative?

Cycling the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

In mid-August, we strapped the bikes on the back of the car, the kids in their seats and drove out to Kelowna. There, we picked my parents up from the airport, then headed south down highway 33 to Idabel Lake. They dropped Leah and I off, and took the car & the kids to a house they’d rented near Oliver. It was just us, our bikes & 5 days.

Despite the “circuit” being from Midway to Penticton, we had decided that we’d like to start at the top of the climb, and so skipped the Midway-Idabel stretch. This turned out to have been a particularly good decision for 2 reasons:

  1. Leah was recovering from pneumonia, and still has nothing like full lung capacity: indeed, on our very first climb, she was breathing hard & needed to use her puffer. Fortunately, that turned out to be the hardest climb of the trip.
  2. We ran into a group of 4 riders who had ridden that stretch, and told horror stories of how difficult it had been: steep, technically challenging and in a bad state, maintenance-wise .

& so we set off from Idabel lake, with our destination for Day 1 being Chute Lake, some 74km away.

Idabel Lake – Myra Canyon

Setting OffThis first part of the trail was gorgeous, easy riding. The trail was pretty smooth, with only a few muddy sections or a few super-rocky sections. Really a great into, riding  through pine forests & around lakes, emerging with fantastic views down towards Kelowna as we neared Myra-Bellevue Provincial park. It was also blissfully quiet – we didn’t see a single other rider the whole time – only 1 man in a fishing boat & some horses.

Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park

Creeper on a TrestleThis is the raison d’être of the trip: the trestle-bridges of the park. It certainly is gorgeous – and will only get more so as the region recovers more from the 2006 fire that destroyed most of the original bridges. The restoration is impressive, and it is well worth the trip to ride or walk this stretch: it’s about 12km in length, and you’ll cross 18 trestle bridges and go through 2 tunnels in that stretch. For better or for worse, this part of the trail is crowded. There are several tour groups running daily trips out from Kelowna, and so yes it’s busy. But it also lives up to all the hype – and can easily be walked or biked at really any level of experience.

Myra-Chute Lake

Chute Lake ResortThis part kind of sucked. For the most part, this stretch follows an old forestry services road that is in serious need of maintenance. If you’re not on a fat-tired bike with suspension, it’s not a lot of fun. You also end up going through a bunch not scrubland without a view. On the flipside, you also get some spectacular views of Kelowna and one last trestle bridge that is truly stunning. But boy were we glad when we finally reached Chute Lake Resort. Which is almost worth a post itself. It’s a charmingly kitschy old hunting lodge, with a very limited menu, but it has cold beer & dank showers, and what more do you want after a long, hot ride? Fun side fact: with a wood/clapboard construction, you can hear everything going on in every other room. Through the gaps in the floorboards of our room, I could see the dining room below. But, a fun place.

Chute Lake – Penticton

Looking SouthThis stretch contains both the roughest stretch of the trail, from Chute Lake to ‘the little tunnel’, and the most stunning, from the tunnel to Penticton. Again, a fat-tired suspension bike strongly recommended due to thick, loose sand and lots of rocks along this stretch. But then you go through the tunnel and it becomes perhaps the most amazing, beautiful trail I’ve ever ridden, through down along the lake through vineyards and orchards right into the Penticton lakefront. This was the stretch that one of my tires finally blew out, somewhere just after the Adra Tunnel. It was also relentlessly hot, as there’s virtually no cover. On the flip-side, this section is 58km, almost entirely downhill.

Penticton – Okanagan Falls

Bridge into Okanagan FallsWe spent an extra in Penticton, staying at a lovely B&B right on the lake, and spent the day lazing down the Penticton channel in inner tubes, and eating dinner at a newly opened Brewery there, Bad Tattoo Brewing (brief review: excellent pizza, their darker beers are their better beers, all good). We then rode on to Oliver, taking the KVR route along Skaha Lake through Okanagan Falls. Signage here was an issue, as getting from Penticton on to the KVR along Skaha was not at all signed – it ends up you ride through a trailer-park campsite with a sign saying “no public access” – just ignore that and keep the lake on your left. The Skaha lake trail is very sandy – I had to walk my bike a fair bit, although Leah, with fatter tires, was fine, but really, really lovely. I could imagine really enjoying spending more time either in OK Falls or Kaleden. The bridge into Okanagan Falls, pictured above, contains a gate midway through, through which kids were jumping into the lake then climbing back out. Well worth a stop, I would think.

Okanagan Falls – Oliver

End of the RoadThis stretch is true “wine country”, and there’s little need to follow the official KVR trail – what little of it exists & is signed, particularly if you want to ride from winery to winery tasting things. The only downside is a 15km stretch alongside the highway – one with a nice, wide shoulder to ride in, but after been so far from traffic for so long, a bit of a let-down. This stretch also is quite hilly if you want to ride up to the wineries. Trust me – you want to ride to the wineries. We stayed our last night at 6 Road B&B just south of Oliver – again, spectacular, nestled into a working Orchard, and conveniently only a few-minute ride up to Tinhorn Creek Winery and Miradoro restaurant, where we ate dinner our last night out.

Final Notes:

  • Don’t ride this trail without a fat-tired bike. Tires & suspension are much  more important than gears – I barely changed gears the whole trip outside of the climbs around Oliver, as it really is mostly a 2% grade.
  • Take more water. We had 2 water bottles + a spare each, and it wasn’t enough. It gets damn hot in the Okanagan, and you’re exposed most of the time.
  • I regret not having a GoPro to take some video of the route – my makeshift camera-on-a-gorilla-pod didn’t cut it.
  • I bought a handleband to hold my phone for this trip, which was awesome. I totally recommend it. I’d also recommend extra battery packs for long rides, which I didn’t have.
  • I wish we’d had another day to ride further south down to Osoyoos and explore that last stretch.
  • Definitely add this to your bucket list. Apart from our first 74-km day, I could imagine Liam doing this trip without too much trouble, so consider it kid-friendly, if you’re willing to take it slower.

Jack White at Deer Lake

I finally saw Jack White last night! Fourth time’s the charm (I failed 2 times during the White Stripes era, once since – a mixture of weather problems and my own incompetence).

Note 1: I did not take the photo this post. That photo is by David James Swanson, whom I understand to be the “Tour Photographer”, and, if I heard the announcement right, both he and Jack White are totally cool with us using his photos. great!

I went with Iva & Leah. Not really Leah’s thing, but Iva was excited, and Leah’s a good sport & I think still enjoyed herself.

This is the sort of live show that I live for: Full of improvisation, different treatments on well-trodden songs, mistakes, and, above all, a showcase of musicianship that only occasionally veered into wankery.

The best: I’m guessing that Jack White & the band make up (or alter) the set-list on the fly. Before each song, there’s this hurried conversation between Jack and one or more band members – whomever has to bring in the song with him, while the others catch up. When they start to improvise mid-song, bringing in snippets of other songs, this requires more conversation. Watching the drummer & bassist intently watching & listening to that musical lead was a highlight.

The mediocre: This band is not quite tight enough for this to work. At least once, the band got confused as to where the song was going, and there were some audible mis-cues.

The bad: With Jack White, I’m beginning to think “less is more”..the songs where he lets his band really stretch out worked the best. His solo & lead guitar work definitely veered into wanking showmanship too often, Ball & Biscuit being the song that really stands out in my mind as Jack White wanking off musically, rather than working the song. But letting his bandmates run – even a gorgeous theramin solo! was truly remarkable.

The inexplicable: Why was the sound so bad? I’ve been to several shows at Deer Lake now, and this was by far the worst. Everything was off. Why was the side-of-stage-piano mic better levelled than the lead? What was wrong with the acoustic guitar pickup? Why was there a distinct right-to-left echo going on? Why the muddy? I was wondering if perhaps they were aiming for some “old school” muddy, mono-mix blues sound…but it didn’t work.

The acceptable: That was a short set…just under 2 hours. I partially blame the rules for playing at Deer Lake…hard to have a long show when you’ve got to finish at 10pm. But boy did they pack a lot into that short set.

The everything-is-alright-in-the-world: Singing the guitar riff to Seven Nation Army with 100s of other humans with the band backing you and Jack White singing over it was a beautiful collective-joy moment, and a great send-off for the night.

So yeah, A good night

Thinking about Payments

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how awkward, broken and balkanized payments are of late – I went as far as to build a few prototypes of slightly different takes…but time & money were a concern and left them alone. But a few recent things made me revisit this:

  • A few articles about the new, smaller credit-card skimmers now appearing.
  • A frustrating experience waiting for an available debit machine to pay at a restaurant
  • A frustrating experience waiting for a debit machine to dial backup lines and failing multiple times.
  • Experience setting up a Stripe account, a Square account & a Beanstream account for clients & friends.

There’s a common thread through many of these experiences which were:

  • overly dependent on potentially unknown third-parties & intermediaries
  • Handing control to an unknown person
  • slowness
  • physical machines that aren’t mine.
  • trust issues.

And so, here’s my point about payments, and where we should aim to move to (at least in the connected, western world – where my experience is. Call it my “manifesto for modern payments“, to be grandiose:

  1. Physical cards are dangerous. All hardware is on a slower upgrade cycle than software. This means that security breaches are slower to be resolved. Also, a physical card must be read by a physical device, which opens it to tampering. Physical payment mechanisms (apart from cash), should be avoided.
  2. Payment should be on my terms. The act of waiting for a machine, paying while the server hovers over you, and then handing it back is awkward and slow: It slows table turn over at restaurants, you’re touching something 100s of others have, it creates tension if around money availability, it doesn’t always work. Also, why always only pay at the end of a meal? Why not upfront? Or During? Or, even, a few hours later to make sure my decision to eat those funky-smelling oysters didn’t cause a hospital visit? Or to prevent dine-and-dashers because they’ve already “registered”
  3. I should choose who I want to pay with. Every different store uses a different merchant provider, with different hardware. None are identical. All, in my experience, are poorly designed, UI-wise (part of this is simply the numerous minor variants, which is detrimental to all the others by their “nearness”, which can lead to muscle-memory errors). We should reverse this relationship to merchant providers. I should pay via my merchant provider of choice. Paypal is already nearly an example of this – I create a Paypal account as a customer, hook it up to my personal banking info, and use it where I can. Where the problem lies is that the merchant ALSO needs a Paypal account. & this needs to change. WHO I pay with should be my choice, who you get paid by should be yours. Like your bank vs my bank.
  4. I should be able to automate this. For many things, payments are standard, predictable: I’m going to get a coffee every day. My lunch at the same restaurant is going to be similar. There should be a way for how I pay to learn what I pay, and offer to automate that as I go. So next time, I don’t even need to pull out my phone to pay. It just happens in the background – perhaps when I order, or when I leave, or batched, later on. An invisible transaction, but trackable through reporting.
  5. I should be able to geo-fence/technology-fence rules & limits. I use 1 card online. Another at “questionable” places, another is my “normal” card. But if I had a system that knew an online payment from an offline one, knew that I shop here regularly, or this place is new, that could ask for an immediate confirmation when I’m somewhere new, or suddenly travelled 2000 km in 10 minutes, or whatnot – that adds security. And this fencing should be simple, and again, personalized.

There’s likely others. I’ve spent a fair bit of time toiling away on items 1,3 & 4. Item 3 occurred to me only after I got nervous when a local convenience store got a new debit machine from a company I didn’t recognize, with a merchant provider listed in a language I didn’t read, and the payment took 3 (load) dial-attempts before it connected. & likely I haven’t thought this all through. But – here’s the thing. With current technology & connectivity, all of this is already possible. I should be able to have this right now. So where is it? Let’s build it.

I can’t take a compliment

Tonight, Steve complimented me on twitter:

And I replied:

Which is true – he really is a super-great guy. But here’s the thing. When someone pays me a compliment, I have 2 conflicting immediate reactions:

  1. I joke it away, denying it, essentially.
  2. I respond immediately with a compliment of my own.

Both of these things feel like their diminishing the original sentiment. If I joke it away, perhaps with self-deprecation, then I’m not really letting that nice vibe linger in any way. I’m just swatting it away because I’m uncomfortable.

But if I just respond with one of my own, does that lessen both? Particularly if I don’t really mean it? or mean it as much? (This is sort of like automatically saying “I love you too” when someone says they love you – without considering your truth of that emotion there).

So – and let’s be clear. Steve is a swell guy. But I maybe, instead of responding immediately, should I have just said “thank you?” – which does two things itself:

  1. makes me uncomfortable, because apparently at some level I just don’t believe that this could be true.
  2. Makes me feel like I “owe” Steve a compliment at a later date.

What’s completely ridiculous is that when I compliment someone, I’m never (ok, rarely – I will admit I have done this on occasion) “fishing” for a return compliment. I try very hard to be genuine in my praise of others – I don’t do it often, and I want it to be meaningful when I do (see, above, why a knee-jerk response is not so good).

What is the proper etiquette to receive a compliment? In a way that makes both the complimenter & complimentee feel good? I think perhaps I should try just letting it linger a while. Acknowledge, thank the person, move on. Maybe blush & bat my eyelids shyly?

Who knows. This human interaction. It’s hard I tell ya!

Raising an Emotionally-aware child

Kellan is most definitely in the throws of The Terrible Threes. I don’t know where this “terrible twos” business came from – because, for both my kids, age two was pretty wonderful. And speaking to other parents, two-year-olds are ok, but three-year-olds are hideous monsters who should all be locked up.

With Liam, I think Leah and I both thought that we were amazing parents because we never had any troubles – I’m not sure he ever had a time-out – maybe one or two, tops. And he was kind, and soft-spoken, and had great concentration. And hey, that’s totally because we’re awesome, right? No. It turns out, like we always thought, that Liam was an exceptional child. Kellan, whom I love dearly, is more like a textbook child. Those monthly “your child at this age” newsletters? yeah, he hits every one of those notes, both good and bad.

And right now, I have to say, is really hard. I’m sure that somewhere in the law is a rule that says murder most foul is completely justified after the 437,000th “why?” of the day, right? And along with the “why”s, there is a lot of yelling, shrieking, crying, laughing, running, babbling, talking, throwing, hitting, hugging, jumping, etc, etc, etc.

And these emotional outbursts are what are troubling me, and I’m not sure what is best to do.

  • I don’t want to teach my child to bottle up his emotions and not share what he’s feeling, BUT
  • I don’t want my child to scream and yell every time he’s angry AND
  • I don’t want my child to sob inconsolably every time he doesn’t get his way BUT
  • I do want my child to express his feelings AND
  • I do want to provide a safe, nurturing space for him to feel this feelings.

So. I do things like say “boys who yell don’t get what they want” and “I can’t understand you when you’re crying like that. Can you tell me with words what you want?” and “are you feeling sad/frustrated/angry/scared/etc?” and so on. And on one hand, I feel like this is good – because I’m trying to teach him to find other avenues to express his emotions, and give him the vocabulary to do this with. But on the other hand, every time I ask him to stop crying or yelling or whatever, or tell him that he doesn’t need to be scared, I worry that I’m just teaching him to be a stereotypical male who bottles up his emotions. And that if I say “dont’ X”, I’m invalidating his experience of feeling X, which, I really don’t want to do because it’s OK that he is feeling X – I just want to teach him to express that feeling more “appropriately”. And I quote that word because, really? more appropriately? Who am I to say what’s a more appropriate way? Because am I ever one of those males who doesn’t express emotion well. I’ve worked SO hard as an adult to be much more in tune with what I’m feeling, and how to express it because I didn’t know how as a child. And I want better for my kids. But…hard.

So, yeah – there’s no resolution to this post – mostly just a voicing of my concerns – putting out into the world what I’m feeling as a way of exploring it. Or, as Kellan might say “WHY is this hard? WHY don’t I know? WHY?”

Looking for a place to happen