My Opinion WordPress

Who owns WordPress? or How to Make Money in a GPL Universe.

In the last few days a war has been raging on the internet over WordPress and its GPL license. It is not the first time this issue has come to the forefront, nor will it be the last. And in all likelihood, when the whole thing blows over there will be casualties.

If you want to get a glimpse of what has happened and how it is progressing, the good people over at have been covering the story very well from both sides. I urge you to read through the comments as well as the articles themselves.

Rather than summarize the events thus far unfolded I will ask some questions and propose some answers surrounding the underlying issues on which this battle is founded:

The first: Who owns WordPress? and by by inference Who controls WordPress? The second: How do you make money in a GPL universe?

Who owns WordPress?

It’s a valid question and an important one to know the answer to. If we are talking strictly about the copyright to WordPress the answer can be found in the licence that ships with the application in the file called “license.txt” found in the root folder. The first two lines read as follows:

WordPress – Web publishing software

Copyright 2011 by the contributors

In other words WordPress’ copyright is held by all the people who have contributed to it. There is a discussion in here about who the word “contributors” refers to, whether it is restricted to those that have identifiable code or graphic assets in WordPress or if it also includes those that have had input on its development, but that is a topic for another day. What is interesting is that unlike many other Open Source projects, no single person or corporation holds the copyright apart from the original b2 code for which Michel Valdrighi holds the copyright. Instead each contributor’s copyright is upheld. That in turn means the copyright to WordPress is held by thousands of individuals.

This will come into play later.

When you continue reading WordPress’ license you learn that the application is released under the General Public License (or GPL) version 2 “or any later version”[1]. The GPL is the licence under which the copyright holders lets you use the software. And it is the GPL that makes WordPress free. The GPL was created to protect Open Source software from being patented and made proprietary by individuals or corporations. At its heart lies a simple principle, paraphrased (by me) for brevity (for a full understanding I urge you to read the GPL and its preamble.):

You have the freedom to obtain the free software, you have the freedom to distribute copies of the free software, (and charge for this service if you wish), you have the freedom to change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs, and anything you build based on software released under this license automatically inherits this license.

If WordPress was not released under the GPL we would not be where we are today. It’s openness, freeness, and collaborativeness are all a direct result of its license. And for that we have to thank its originators.

What then is the answer to the question “Who owns WordPress?” The copyright is held by those that have contributed to WordPress, and because of the GPL, you are granted a license by the copyright holders to own, copy, distribute, change, and use the application in any way you want as long as you adhere to the GPL.

But then who calls the shots?

This begs an obvious question: If WordPress is not owned outright by any one entity or even a definable group of entities, and anyone can get a copy, modify it and add to it any way they want, and pretty much treat it as their own, who calls the shots? The answer: The contributors. And chief amongst them Matt Mullenweg. Matt is by an large the originator of WordPress and the driving force behind the application, and he is also one of the chief contributors to its code. Around Matt sit several concentric rings of developers, separated by their level of contribution. The first ring containing the lead developers is heavily populated by employees in Matt’s company Automattic and/or appointees of the WordPress Foundation[2] which holds the WordPress name and logo trademarks and other entities controlled by Matt [4]. Though it is unclear what role exactly the WordPress Foundation plays, it is hard to argue it has no influence[5]. Next sit more developers and around them even more developers. These are the people that by committee call the shots through a democratic-ish process (For an inside look at the process, see Andrew Nacin’s comment below). Remember how I said “the copyright to WordPress is held by thousands of individuals”? This is the result.

What’s cool about this is that you can be part of the decision making and application building process. And if you’re good, you might end up at the very top of the pyramid. What’s disturbing is that because of this structure you can easily get infighting, clique building, branching, and there is even room for of something resembling a coup or hostile takeover. Think politics and you’ll see what I mean.

At present the evolution of WordPress is very much influenced by Automattic and Matt himself, and there is no reason to think this will change any time soon. As the owner and operator of Automattic has a vested interest in WordPress, and by investing heavily in contributions to the core of the application the company is in essence controlling its evolution and future development.

Conflicting Interests

This brings us to the aforementioned battle that has been raging this week: On the outside it is a battle over interpretation of the GPL and the consequences of a breach of the license. But underneath there is much unspoken questioning over who controls the WordPress universe.

Matt has taken a hard stance on the GPL and is through the WordPress Foundation striking down hard on those that are in breach of it. The rules of the Foundation clearly state that you cannot contribute to WordPress and associated entities like WordCamp in any meaningful way if you are in breach of the Trademark policies or the GPL, and when someone is found in breach, they are promptly locked out. But the interpretation of what exactly constitutes a ‘breach of the GPL’ can be debated, and while Matt and the Foundation land squarely on one side, there are many who would have preferred to see a more moderate approach.

Had the power structure of WordPress been clearly defined with Matt at the top and the Foundation as second in command, this would not be an issue. But because of the distributed nature of the ownership of WordPress, that is simply not the case and it is only by the goodwill of the community that extreme action of the sort executed this week can be taken. And the result of extreme action, like in any democratic entity, is dissent and murmurs of fractioning, departures and takeovers.

Scary thought, isn’t it. I’m going to leave that line of reasoning for you to complete.

How to make money in a GPL universe

Let me preface this with the standard preamble: The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual company, person or event. Now consider an example:

A theme foundry is selling Premium WordPress themes with a split license thereby restricting the redistribution of sold themes. This is done so that once a theme is sold, the purchaser can’t simply share the theme with the world robbing the originator of potential future profits.  The WordPress Foundation finds that in their interpretation this is either a breach of the GPL or a breach of the additional restrictions and[3] decides that theme foundry and its contributors are cut off from contributions to community events. The foundry responds by saying they can’t continue doing business if they adhere to the most strict interpretation of the GPL. A war (of words) breaks out.

This situation begs a question everyone who works with WordPress or any other open source and/or GPL software needs to ask themselves: How do you make money in a GPL universe? If you can’t prevent the redistribution, alteration, and building upon your code or designs, how do you protect the value of your creation?

Let me give you my answer and then you can draw your own conclusions.

First off, let’s look at the GPL itself to see how you can create a work related to WordPress without at the same time inheriting its licence. Part 2, paragraph 5:

If identifiable sections of that work are not derived from the Program, and can be reasonably considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you distribute them as separate works.

In other words if your theme or plugin has segments of code that does not in any way use components of WordPress itself (ie no WordPress functions or references to elements within WordPress) then you can distribute these segments under a separate license if they are distributed separately. The license continues:

But when you distribute the same sections as part of a whole which is a work based on the Program, the distribution of the whole must be on the terms of this License, whose permissions for other licensees extend to the entire whole, and thus to each and every part regardless of who wrote it.

So if you package your proprietary non-WordPress referential or derivative code along with code that does derive or refer to WordPress (ie a piece of code that uses a WordPress function), the entire package, including your proprietary code, inherits the GPL license in perpetuity. A license inheritance by association if you will.

The reason for this is explained in the next paragraph:

Thus, it is not the intent of this section to claim rights or contest your rights to work written entirely by you; rather, the intent is to exercise the right to control the distribution of derivative or collective works based on the Program.

The way I interpret this (keep in mind I’m not a lawyer) you can’t really build a theme or plugin for WordPress without that theme or plugin inheriting the GPL unless you physically split the GPL and non-GPL code into separate packages and then adhere separate licenses to each package. As a result once you release a theme or plugin into the wild you effectively lose control. You can sell it, but you can’t control what the buyer does with it.

This is fundamentally different from general commerce and normal software licenses. And when you try to apply general commerce principles to GPL products, things get messed up in a hurry. The whole revenue model and philosophy of cost-per-item simply doesn’t work under GPL because the product itself is free. In place of the product being the commodity, it is the service that is sold. This is clearly stipulated in the GPL preamble:

(…) you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish) (…)

This is why you can charge whatever you want to install WordPress for a client or build themes or plugins for a client. Because you are selling the service, not the product. It is a fundamental shift in reasoning, and it requires a fundamental shift in the way many people do business. It’s not impossible – in fact it can be extremely profitable – but it is different than how it is done now.

Updates and changes.

To keep this article as accurate and up-to-date as possible I am making changes whenever unclarities are pointed out that can be more precisely explained. Below is a list of those changes:

See comments below for further discussion.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 28.01.2013: Added “or any later version” to the GPLv2 reference.
  2. 28.01.2013: Changed “employees of the WordPress Foundation” to “appointees of the WordPress Foundation”.
  3. 01.02.2013: Added “and other entities controlled by Matt” to further specify. See Andrew Nacin’s comment below for details.
  4. 01.02.2013: Added “Though it is unclear what role exactly the WordPress Foundation plays, it is hard to argue it has no influence” for clarification.
  5. 28.01.2013: Changed “The powers that be sees this as a breach of the GPL license and” to “The WordPress Foundation finds that in their interpretation this is either a breach of the GPL or a breach of the additional restrictions”.
Internet My Opinion News

What the Instagram advertising model could look like

As a follow up to my previous piece on the hyperbole surrounding the Instagram Terms of Service I thought I’d put forward a suggestion on how an advertising model for Instagram might theoretically work. This is purely speculative and designed to work within the TOS as published on Monday and with the intent to a) make money for Instagram, b) use your name, likeness, and photos for advertising purposes for a 3rd party, and c) be of value to you as the photographer even without you receiving compensation for the use of your photos.

In other words, if I were in charge of the Instagram Advertising Scheme, this is how it would work.

Consider the following hypothetical:

Julie, a 21 year old Instagram user in Oslo, goes to a local cafe called Kaffekakao to hang out with friends over a warm cup of cocoa on a particularly snowy December evening. She takes a somewhat artistic photo of her cocoa, applies a filter and posts it to Instagram alongside a remark “Cocoa with friends at Kaffekakao”.

Meanwhile the marketing department at Kaffekakao wants to get their name on the map for potential tourists visiting the city. Locals know that this is the place to be if you want a good cup of cocoa but tourists may not be aware. They approach Instagram asking if the service has any advertising opportunities.

Instagram picks Julie’s photo of the cocoa as a great candidate and proposes to use it for a flash promotion for Kaffekakao, targeted at english speaking people in and around Oslo.

The cafe says yes and the promotion kicks in.

Hours later Instagram users in Oslo start seeing Julie’s picture in their Instagram feeds. There is no blatant advertising or call to action, just the picture along with Julie’s comment, the name of the cafe hyperlinked. Because it’s a good photo, a nice comment, and Julie is a well trusted trend setter in the community, people feel inclined to go get a cup of cocoa at Kaffekakao. If the cool kids hang there, so should we!

From this several things happen: Instagram gets paid for the promotion, Kaffekakao gets some much deserved exposure for their excellent cocoa, and Julie gets a lot of new followers. Everybody wins.

Like I said this is pure speculation on my part, but as you can see it is not hard to come up with an advertising model for Instagram that doesn’t involve ripping you off and throwing you to the wolves.

Instagram should totally pay me for this.

Internet My Opinion

The Hyperbole and the Damage Done

There are many lessons to be learned from the Instagram TOS (Terms of Service) debacle that has been playing out on social media over the last two days. Chief among them is this:

The social web is not a good source of legal interpretation and factual information.

For all the greatness of the social web it has some very big flaws, one of which is that we are still wearing our newspaper goggles. What I mean by that is that we are still treating information provided to us from seemingly reliable sources as if that information is in fact reliable. This is a historical artefact from a time when news and information came to us from large news and publishing conglomerates with tight editorial guidelines and requirements for fact checking and source research. This is no longer the reality we live in. Most of the information you’ll find on the web is the exact opposite: Poorly researched, often incorrect, and largely based on non-expert opinion and wild speculation.

Such is the case of the interpretation of the new Instagram TOS. And the damage might be irreparable.

If you are not familiar with what happened, here is the gist of it:

The Hyperbole, a.k.a. “Instagram wants to steal your photos!!!!!!!!”

On Monday December 17 Instagram released their new Terms of Service agreement. Among the changes was a new sentence:

“To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

This was widely interpreted as “Instagram reserves the right to take your photos, sell them for large piles of cash to a company you disapprove of, and have that company use them along with your name on billboard posters thereby robbing you of your copyright and earning money on your creativity.

Completely ridiculous. And incorrect.

The social web responded with hundreds of articles on how to bail from Instagram, what other services you can use instead of Instagram to post photos of your feet and food and friends, and how to delete your Instagram account forever so that they can never exploit you. And judging from reaction on the web, many people followed that advice.

The Reality, a.k.a. You Don’t Understand Legalese

Of course this interpretation was total rubbish. But it was also great fodder for the social web. Every gadget/tech/web blog wrote extensive articles on it, and everyone and their mother voiced their outrage over this vile injustice on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and yes, on Instagram.

Then the people at The Verge took a step back and said “Hm. This doesn’t really make any sense. Why would Instagram commit social suicide like this? Maybe someone got something wrong.” (I’m assuming that’s the type of conversation that takes place at The Verge. I could be wrong.) They read the TOS again and found that not surprisingly the hyperbole was just that: Hyperbole. The reality was widely different. For that take read the excellent article aptly titled “No, Instagram can’t sell your photos: what the new terms of service really mean“. This was soon followed by “Instagram says ‘it’s not our intention to sell your photos’” which referred to this statement directly from Instagram.

For those of us who voiced caution about the hyperbole this comes as a vindication. For the many who instantly jumped on the band wagon and deleted their Instagram accounts, it is a sobering wake up call. For Instagram and all other online services with murky revenue models it is a rude awakening: Faced with complicated legalese, people trust anyone with a cool logo to be a legal expert and act on information obtained from said cool-logo-owning entity without checking the facts.

Be like a philosopher to avoid looking like an idiot …

One of the things you learn when you study philosophy is that before you make any judgement or take any action you should take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. That means questioning whether your understanding is the correct one or even if you are equipped to understand what you are seeing. It means questioning the sources of your information. And most importantly it means stepping in the other party’s shoes and looking at it from their perspective. Few actions are committed without forethought, and before you make any final judgements or act on any apparent fact it is vital that you understand the reasoning behind what you see.

In the Instagram case the widespread interpretation of the TOS – the one that claimed Instagram would steal your photos and sell them to the highest bidder – only makes sense from the perspective of a paranoid person thinking everyone is out to get him. From a rational cool headed vantage point a few steps back there is obviously more to the story. But that isn’t what brings readers to the blogs and clicks on ads, so the hyperbole wins every time.

… or be like both Mulder and Scully

(Pardon the ridiculous and old pop culture reference here. I’m watching The X-Files on Netflix.) When it comes to information you read on the web you need to be both like Fox Mulder and like Dana Scully. Like Mulder you should trust no one, and like Scully you should assume there is always a logical explanation. That way you might avoid deleting your accounts only to realize you did it for no good reason and now you can’t get them back.

For an alternate take on the story, check out fellow Vancouverite Rob Cottingham’s piece
Terms of service changes deserve more than just a shrug and a click.

My Opinion

Take a Stand Against Bullying – Amanda’s Legacy

[Update 12/10/2012: Read Amanda’s story as told by her mother portraying the dark reality of cyberbullying and pedophile predators: Amanda’s Story: In Her Mother’s Words.]

This morning during my regular Facebook morning scan I came across the video posted above. It was shared by a friend. The video shows a girl holding up cue cards telling a horrifying story of bullying and harassment at the hands of peers at several different schools. Even though I have seen several of these videos before this one left me stunned. Then I found out that some time yesterday the girl in the video, Amanda Todd, ended her own life. She was 15 years old.

I have myself been scarred by bullying, and this story has ripped up more scars than I knew I had.

Bullying is a serious problem and it is one we need to address right now. This simply cannot stand. I have no simple solutions, but we owe it to Amanda and all the others like her to do something, and do it now.

To the bullies:

You are better than this. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Show some compassion. Be the better person.

To the bullied:

You are not defined by what other people say about you. And though it seems like an empty phrase, things do get better.

To us all:

If you see someone being bullied, do something about it.

You are not alone

If you feel bullied, shunned, discarded, mocked, ridiculed, or alone, know that you are not alone. There are millions of us who have shared your pain, and we are all here to talk to you and help you through it. You deserve a great life. Don’t let anyone convince you to take it away.

I am here if you need me.

[The original Vancouver Sun story by Gillian Shaw: RIP Amanda: Social media networks tell story of Vancouver area teen who committed suicide over cyberbullying]

My Opinion

Apple vs. Samsung: Welcome to Monopoly

I’ve been watching the Apple vs. Samsung trial with a constant frown on my face, but decided not to say much until the jury came back with a verdict. I guess I was hoping the 9 people in the jury box would see reason and do something extraordinary. I was wrong. Apple won the case, Samsung got a slap in the face with as piked iron glove, and everyone except the lawyers will be worse off for it.

The Prime Objective

Let’s get one thing straight here: As I see it this trial was never about patent infringement. It was about competition. Apple is suing Samsung and has already or is going to sue every other manufacturer of Android handsets for some form of patent infringement in every country where these handsets are being sold because Apple sees any handset powered by the little green robot as a genuine threat to its self-defined rightful and uncontested seat on the throne of the Smart Phone Kingdom. In many countries these court cases have already been slapped down for being what they are – badly disguised attempts at monopolizing a market – but in this landmark case in the US, they walked away with a decisive victory, one that will define the future of the smart phone market and stands a good chance of ruining everything for everyone, Apple included. This was never about intellectual property rights; It was about Lust, Greed, Envy and Pride.

Innovation thrives on competition

Apple set out to quash the competition, and they did so with force. No matter how you slice it Samsung is eating away at Apple’s dominance in the market in a very big way and will likely continue to do so. In many countries Samsung handsets already outsell iPhones, and the numbers are getting closer in North America as well. Except now Apple has a carte blanche to try to knock down every new handset Samsung rolls out because it looks like a smart phone. And while religious Apple fanatics see this as a victory and are likely already skipping to the comments section to write a vitriolic retort, this is in reality a huge blow to everyone including Apple fans because this verdict puts a severe damper on innovation.

The smart phone market is thriving and evolving at a break neck pace. If you want to stay on the forefront you pretty much have to trade in your handset every 6 – 8 months now, and every new step in the smart phone evolution is enormous. The phone I have today makes the phone I had two years ago seem like a toaster. And that’s good. But if the competition lessens there is little reason for Apple or anyone else to keep the evolution moving at this break neck speed. Research, design, and manufacturing is expensive, and slowing things down when there is no threat of losing market share makes financial sense.

Now I know what you’re going to say crazy Apple Dogmatics: “Apple will continue to innovate, competition or not, because Apple is the pinnacle of technology and the reason why we are no longer in the iron age.” You are so wrong my friend. So. Wrong. The reason why Apple has done so well is because they used to do so badly. And the reason they did so badly was because they were not trying to beat the competition. For a while they rested on their laurels, and as a result the competition buried them. And that will happen again, except this time, because of all these idiotic lawsuits, there will be no one there to bury them, and we will be left with old and crappy hardware and little innovation. It may not happen right now, but we’re only one backwards thinking CEO away from dystopia.

Seven Deadly Sins

If I were a religious man I’d say Apple is making a valiant effort at perpetrating as many of the Seven Deadly Sins as possible. The trial started because of their Lust, Greed, and Envy: They lusted for complete dominance of the market, their greed drove them to want to take all the profits not sharing the space with anyone, and the lusted envied anyone who got in their way with something new and interesting. Like petulant children they looked out at the world and noticed not everyone was eating from their orchard. And rather seeing this as a challenge and reason to excel, they set out to burn down the robot factories.

Now that they won they have moved on to another sin, the original, and most deadly of them all: Pride. In true Apple fashion the win was immediately touted as proof that Apple are the only true innovators in the space and that they have every right to beat down the completion on legal grounds rather than in the marketplace. Which is amusing because when Microsoft pulled the same stunt back in the 1980s and 90s, Apple painted the rival as the new Big Brother.

Imagine that. Apple is now Old Microsoft. Congratulations.

Welcome to Monopoly

Monopoly is a fun game but a horrible reality. Apple wants a monopoly on everything, and for some bizarre reason I can’t wrap my head around Apple fans, especially North American fans, want this to happen. Never mind monopolies are pretty much the antithesis of free market capitalism and the American Dream: Monopolies are one of the things that defined communist dictatorships! And that is the path we are now headed down.


Just to clear a few things: (a) The decision of the jury was in fact the correct one in accordance with US patent laws. The problem here is that those laws make no sense. (b) I do see Apple as a driving innovator in the field. However, despite what they say Apple did not invent everything in the field – in fact most of what they claim to have invented is derivative work they patented. There is a huge difference. There were touch screen phones before the iPhone and tablets before the iPad. (c) I don’t have a problem with Apple products. I have a problem with their monopolistic anti-competition policies. To my eyes Apple is making every effort to be the only company to supply smart phones, tablets, and other devices. That is not good for anyone but Apple share holders. (d) I am not a legal expert, I am a technologist and logician. The opinions expressed here are based on my understanding of the marketplace and a logical breakdown of the arguments presented by both sides of the debate.

Further Reading

For a an alternate, but not all that different, view check out Apple Winning the Patent Wars Is Great for Innovation over at Gizmodo. While I take the glass-pretty-much-empty approach to this, Jesus Diaz sees the verdict as a demarcation line from which Apple’s competitors will go new ways and create new innovative solutions for the smart phone market. Jesus as I are pretty much in agreement, we just differ on the final outcome.

My Opinion

It is not true – reflections on terror in Norway one year later

{Hit this link to see the rose photo on Flickr}

I have not been back to Norway in the year since the attacks. Far removed from the scene of the crime both then and now I have been buffered from the blunt force of what happened. But that remoteness has left me adrift. It is hard to put into words how I feel except to say something has been irreparably broken. These are my thoughts on the one year anniversary of the terror attacks in Oslo and on Utøya.

“It is not true that we are like animals”

These, the opening words of the song “Det er ikke sant (It is not true)” by Norwegian lyricist Odd Børretzen (freely translated by yours truly), were the first words that came to mind when I saw a post by my friend Stig on Facebook: “Trying to find the words for tomorrow’s sermon”. Stig is a minister in the Norwegian State Church, and like all Norwegians he was bracing for the first anniversary of the terror attacks and massacre of the 22nd of July 2011. His job, to guide his congregation through grief, disbelief and frustration and help them make sense of what has happened, and what continues to happen, in our broken modern world. I don’t envy him.

In Colorado wounds have not yet begun to heal after a young man booby-trapped his apartment and opened fire on a crowd at a movie theatre. The police believe they have their man, but the reason for his attack remains a mystery. And even when it comes, if it comes at all, we will never fully understand it.

We want to write them off as crazy, these men; as animals out of control; as something distinctly other from ourselves. But they are not. They are us. And that is what scares me the most.

It is not true that we are like wild animals. So we need to stop acting like we are.

“It is not true”

Seeing the first pictures of a bombed out government square in Oslo on my cell phone that morning a year ago I was struck by a moment of disbelief. This can’t be true. Like most who have been in Oslo my first thought was that there are no gas lines or anything of that nature in the square, so something must have gone horribly wrong to cause such devastation. While that was processing I started counting the hours. Norway is nine hours ahead of Vancouver. That means this happened at between two and three in the afternoon. Which means my friends were likely at work. In those very buildings. Who works there now? Anders for sure. Jon. Karin. Torstein?
The urge to get on a plane right then and there was as uncontrollable as it was unfeasible. What has happened to everyone who was there?

The pictures kept pouring in through news reports and social media. I was struck by the relatively few people in the photos. Summer. Friday. Decent weather. People probably left work early. Maybe they are OK.

People start checking in. Anders shows up on Facebook saying he was halfway home when the explosion happened. Karin was at home. Torstein chimes in soon after. He crossed the plaza only minutes before the explosion and was just down the street when it happened. What about Jon? Do we know anyone else? A frantic effort begins, everyone reaching out through cell phones and social media. Hours later Anne checks in letting us know she and Jon are on vacation abroad. By that time things have gotten far worse.

“It is not true that we are driven by fear of all that is unknown”

Bizarre reports were coming in from Utøya. Of police shooting at kids. Of dead bodies in the water. Children tweeting from behind rocks and outcroppings, screaming for help over social media. Speculation rampant. CNN proclaimed Islamic terror in Norway, attributing the attacks to Norwegian military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. That made no sense. Utøya is AUF. It’s an island full of kids, members of the youth branch of the Labour Party. An unlikely target for terror. To me it was clear this was likely an act of a right wing extremist or nationalist, the bomb in Oslo an obvious diversion for the real attack.

I flashed back to my visits to Utøya. It’s small. You can walk its circumference in 30 minutes flat. It’s in a lake with ice cold water. It’s remote. It would be a shooting gallery.

I spent the day translating Norwegian news to English speaking followers on Twitter and Facebook, debunking conspiracies and speculations, contradicting North American media and their insistence that this must be an Islamic attack, making sure people understood the severity of what happened. Gillian from the Vancouver Sun called. CTV called. CBC called. CKNW called. I felt like the sole Norwegian in a world of chaos. I couldn’t eat. The island. The tent camp. The main house. The ice cold water. Nowhere to hide. What could I do? What would I have done?

“It is not true that we are like wild animals, blinded by instincts and fears”

Anders Behring Breivik. That was his name. A blonde, built, blue eyed Norwegian. Younger than me. Could be mistaken for one of my friends at a distance. Standard issue “ethnic Norwegian”. Loaded with explosives, guns, and a vision of the future divorced from reality. “The Lone Wolf” CNN decried. Not a terrorist: A “mass murderer”. Clearly deranged. Standard issue lunatic. If only the world was that simple. Breivik was neither the first nor the last of his kind. And though he left a longer list of victims than any single terrorist before him, he was not extraordinary. Breivik was our wake up call.

Too long has the Western world lulled itself in the delusion that terrorism is something enacted on us by others and that when it does come from the inside, it is still something foreign. The reality is sadly the reverse: Terrorism largely comes from the inside, is perpetrated by people like ourselves against us. The attack in Colorado just two days ago should be a stark reminder. But instead of calling it what it is we resolve the cognitive dissonance by applying labels to the perpetrators. “Insane”. “Mental health issues”. “Loner”. “Outsider”. “Radicalized”. These are not fitting labels for murderers. They are symptoms and diagnoses of societal defects.

People are not inherently evil. Even these people are not inherently evil. They are horribly misguided. They lash out at the world because they are not heard, because they want to change the world, because they believe that violence is a justifiable means of bringing the world in line with their beliefs. That’s not an excuse, and it does not justify their actions. It does however make it harder to write them off as anomalies and get on with business as usual.

“We are people”

A year has passed since a single man tore my world apart, and I’ve been trying to patch it up again ever since. Try as I might the tear will not heal fully, and I think that is a good thing. I have lived my life in the belief that provided enough information and a solid system of support, my fellow men and women will do the right thing and play their part in making this world a better place. I now realize we still have a long way to go for that to become a reality. Our connected and technologically evolved modern world has left humanity behind, replacing fact with fiction, science with doctrine and empathy with political dogma.

We have led ourselves astray leaving many to drift away from the group only to come back filled with hatred and contempt. But we can carve a new path for ourselves, one that can be followed by everyone. If we want to we can reclaim our humanity: reframe our conversations, our conventions, our religion and our politics to focus on what is best for all of us, not just for the individual.

We are not ants or wolves. But in some ways we are like them. In good ways. We are pack animals. We need each other. We work better as a group. And none of us should be left to wander alone.

It is not true. We are not ants or wolves.
We are people.
We want to whisper passionate words to each other
and search for each other
and caress each other in the darkness.

The wolves howl in the streets
later they stand in the broken glass and scream:
You are like us. You are wolves.
But it is not true.The last two verses of “Det er ikke sant” by Odd Børretzen

For another perspective check out the article Utøya and the love paradigm by my friend Michael Brønbo.

My Opinion Windows 8

I predict a Surface by Microsoft in your not-too-distant future
Last night Microsoft lifted the veil on one of their ultra secret projects of which there has been much theorizing and guessing but little actual information. At a Los Angeles event presented by the top brass of the company, a new product line was announced, and with it a new path was staked out for the company that has pretty much defined personal computing.

What was presented (and what is shown in the flashy but vague video above) was the Microsoft Surface: A tablet powered by either Windows RT or Windows 8. The name itself is confusing – the Surface used to be a gigantic touch screen table – and the two variants will leave the masses stumped, at least at first, but even so this is good news. And unless something strange happens in the next few months I see a Surface in your hands in the not-too-distant future.

Why Surface Matters

Almost ten years ago I drew a computer for Angela. It was a touch screen computer with a monitor that flipped vertically so it could be used as a tablet or as a stand-alone TV. It had multi-touch (unheard of at the time) and both touch and pen input, and in my mind it would revolutionize the computing industry. Unfortunately I don’t own a computer company so the drawings remained on a piece of paper.

What mattered though was how the computer was to be used: I envisioned myself on a plane, with the computer on my lap, recording music with a keyboard on the multi-touch screen, editing videos in Adobe Premiere using a pen and doing work in Photoshop. What I drew was a crude version of a full feature tablet computer. And no matter what the iPad fanatics say, that’s what everyone has always wanted.

With the launch of the iPad we saw a dramatic shift in personal computing – one that took the computer from a working tool to a playing and entertainment tool. And though the iPad and Android tablets do have lots of productivity tools, when the real work is to be done the “real” computer is the only option. Before the iPad announcement everyone and their grandmother assumed Apple would release a slate MacBook Pro with multi-touch. They didn’t. And they haven’t since. As a result there is still a gap in the market. What Microsoft has done with the Surface Pro is fill that gap. And that is bigger than you think.

Microsoft Surface
Promotional photo of the Microsoft Surface – from Wikipedia

Touch computing in primetime

The Surface comes in two versions, one of which I don’t care about. I’ll get to that in a second. What matters here is the Surface Pro running Windows 8. And here’s why: With this device, which for all intents and purposes is a keyboard-less ultrabook, you can do everything you can currently do with your laptop, just in a smaller and more convenient form factor. In the demo at last night’s event they showed off photo editing with a pen in Adobe Lightroom. This resulted in me commenting on a Facebook thread that “Any photographer with a brain will buy this thing”. What I saw was a device that fits perfectly into an existing workflow: With the Surface Pro you can tether your digital SLR to the Surface, control it in Lightroom, and edit with a pen on the fly. You can do the same now, but it’ll be with a laptop and a Wacom tablet. This is just easier. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

What I hate (yes, hate) about my Transformer Prime is that a) it doesn’t let me do web debugging, editing and publishing on the fly, and b) it doesn’t let me run a local server so I can demo websites for my clients. These functionalities are imperative to me and the reason you’ll often find me lugging around both my Transformer and my laptop. It is also the reason you’ll notice a lot of Apple users lugging around both their iPads and their MacBook Pros or MacBook Airs. What Microsoft has done here is combine the two devices. And it’s a stroke of genius.

On that note I would not be surprised if Apple will release a touch MacBook Air in the next 12 months or even sooner. And when they do all the Apple heads will yell from the rooftops that it is far superior to anything Microsoft could produce. We live in a time of religious dogma. Sad but true.

A tale of two versions: Windows 8 vs. Windows RT

It has long been known in tech circles that Windows 8 will ship in two main versions: Windows 8 (the new version of the Windows operating system as we know it) and Windows RT. Windows RT is a weird little hybrid OS that is targeted towards tablets and other touch screen devices (phones perhaps? I’m just guessing here). The differences between the two are striking and I hope Microsoft changes their naming conventions before the release to avoid confusing the hell out of people. Windows RT as it is right now does not run your Windows applications. Instead it is similar to what you see on the iPad and Android devices: It runs apps from the Microsoft App store. That means it is light weight, uses less space and battery, and requires less beefy hardware. As a result the Surface (Windows RT version) will be lighter, have longer battery life, less memory and be snappier. But it will also not run all the stuff you want it to run. In reality it will be Microsoft’s version of the iPad.

The Surface Pro on the other hand will run Windows 8 proper meaning you can run all your regular software on it. It also means it’ll be heavier, have beefier hardware, and most likely shorter battery life. And it’ll cost more.

So right now Microsoft is talking about two different but eerily similar operating systems and two different but eerily similar tablets. If their marketing people have their wits about them they will solve this issue with better naming or a deliberate demarcation, but based on past history I don’t think they will.

Much of the concern in the tech media today has been this very issue: Microsoft is creating a fragmented market within its own product lines and people will be damn confused. I’m not sure if this is true, but only time will tell. The bottom line is this: If you want a tablet that behaves like a tablet, you get the Surface. If you want a tablet that behaves like a computer, you get the Surface Pro. End of story.

Erm… aren’t there already Windows tablets out there?

For those of you who live at BestBuy this announcement is a bit weird. Because if you go to BestBuy right now you can buy at least two different Windows tablet computers (known as “slate” computers). Yes, it’s true. And come the October-ish release of Windows 8 the market will be flooded with similar tablet computers running both Windows 8 and Windows RT from all the major computer manufacturers. Which is why I wrote the article “Don’t buy a new laptop right now” a few months ago. With the release of Windows 8 the computer market is going to change dramatically, and all the computer manufacturers are lining up new devices; desktops, all-in-ones, laptops, ultrabooks, and tablets, to correspond with the release.

This explains the last somewhat perplexing news from last night’s event: While the Surface (the tablet tablet) will likely be released in conjunction with Windows 8, the Surface Pro (the tablet computer) will be released three months or so after the release. This is by all accounts a blatant move to ensure that the OEMs (Asus, Dell, Samsung, Acer, HP etc) have a chance to roll out their own products before Microsoft steps in and takes over the market. Because unless the Surface Pro is a piece of shit computer that sets fire to your furniture and makes your dog go bald, everyone will simply wait for the computer right from the mothership and buy that one. I know I will. And so, I predict, will you.

My Opinion Politics

Demon Coal – an open letter to CBC Ideas

I am a frequent listener to Ideas and I love the show for its factual base, non-biased approach and excellent coverage of issues. Therefore I was perplexed when I listened to the two part series Demon Coal. Whereas it purports to tell the story of coal, what it actually does is make a valiant effort to debunk all current climate science and make it sound like the consensus in climate science is now moving away from modeling and man made climate change towards what the far right has been touting for years: adaptation.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with the story being told from both sides. In fact, the story being told was an excellent one and a fair and balanced presentation of one side of the coin. The problem was that, in complete disregard of journalistic practice and integrity, only one side of the coin was presented. Not a single voice from the much larger other side was introduced and the two hours were dedicated to touting a line that is not widely supported among climate scientists world wide.

When I started listening and heard the presentations from climate scientists from the Senate panel, I was wondering when the counter arguments were going to be presented. After all, what these experts were presenting was a strongly skewed opinion that in no way matches what thousands of climate scientists all over the world and their science are saying. When no such response appeared in episode one I expected episode two to be a response. No such thing. In fact, episode two was dedicated to not only trying to debunk both climate science in general but also the IPCC, but it put Bjørn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Centre on a pedestal as the future of climate science and politics. This is hugely alarming as Lomborg is funded in large part by oil, coal, and natural gas lobbies and has been labeled by some as a false prophet. Though Lomborg’s views should be presented, the counter arguments must also be presented to give listeners the ability to perform a critical analysis of their own.

Demon Coal was a great program, but it was a program that only presented one side of the story. And it did it in such a way that it made it sound like the other side was not worth covering. By doing this, the show, and Ideas as a whole, went from being a trusted resource to becoming a propaganda platform for extreme ideas. That is both sad and unacceptable. How this happened I have no idea. The fact that it did makes me question all of Ideas’ programming. How am I to know that the rest of the information being put out by this show is not just as biased?

The airing of Demon Coal demands either a response or a retraction. Such biased content should not be aired simply because it is one sided and in breach of journalistic ethics. I am disappointed and also concerned about what this says about the internal politics in the show.

I would love to hear a response about this episode, in particular the reasoning behind the decision to air something this heavily biased without at the very least some form of byline commentary about said bias.

My Opinion Windows 8

Don’t buy a new laptop right now!

Though it is tempting to pick up a new laptop these days what with all the fancy new ultrabooks and other slim and powerful devices coming online I strongly recommend you hold off buying that new laptop. And here’s why:

Microsoft is working on their new operating system Windows 8. And with Windows 8 the way we interact with our computers will change forever. Windows 8 makes touch a 1st citizen of the computer environment and brings the so-called “post-pc” world back in line with PCs. However, if you buy a new laptop right now you’ll be stuck in the no-touch past. In other words, your shiny new laptop will become a relic of a bygone era. And it’ll happen as soon as October 2012 if the most recent reports about the Win8 launch are correct.

What the ordinary consumer doesn’t know is that right now there are tons of touch ready laptops and touch screen tablet computers on track to be released. But very few of them are currently available. The manufacturers are holding these next gen PCs back waiting for the release of Win8 (and no doubt trying to deplete their stash of non-touch PCs in the process). For this reason I predict you’ll see a landslide of discounted and “cheap” non-touch laptops in the next little while that will seem like great deals. But come October, one of these PCs will be what we Norwegians refer to as a “cat in the bag” – a deal that seemed great but was in fact a bad one.

So, if you can, hold off on buying a new laptop until Windows 8 is released in the fall. The new touch enabled laptops will flood the market and will likely be sold at the same price as the regular non-touch ones currently available. And if you don’t care about touch (you will, but just for argument’s sake) you’ll be able to get an old non-touch laptop way cheaper.

If you absolutely have to buy a laptop right now, get the cheapest one you can get your hands on and assume you’ll be dumping it for a new Win8 ready one in the fall.

Or don’t listen to me and do whatever you want. Your choice.


My Opinion

The value of women in tech

The video above shines a light on an important topic. It may seem like a purely lexical trick – referring to women as ‘women’ rather than ‘girls’ – but it is so much more. Considering females constitute more than half of the world population and that in the western world at least, the female work force is both better educated and more skilled than the male counterpart, referring to them in a manner that properly indicates their age and maturity is vital.

But the issue goes much deeper than that: Even though many consider womens’ lib to be a thing of the past and feminism to be dead, women are still not treated as equal to men. This manifests itself in lower wages, lower positions and lower overall value in the work force. And this is especially true in the tech sector.

Why it is so is a mystery to me, but it is likely rooted in two main predispositions:

  1. Men don’t see women as equal
  2. Women don’t see themselves as valuable

Both of these ideas are fatally flawed and rooted in biasses that belong in the 17th century, not 2011. And to rid ourselves of them we all need to start thinking differently about gender in the workplace.

Consider James Chartrand – famed writer for Copyblogger and other online publications. When he published the article “Why James Chartrand wears women’s underpants” in 2009 it created a furore. James announced he was actually a she and was writing under a male pseudonym to gain respect. Her (yes, it’s confusing) claim was that as a man she had an easier time finding work and was paid more than as a woman.

Panzer Feminists and women’s lib (and anti-lib) opinionators world wide went ballistic on James for a variety of reasons. That itself was not a surprise. However, there were a group of arguments coming usually from women that really stuck out to me. I like to call them the head-burried-in-the-sand arguments. They came in two varieties:

  1. James is doing the women of the world a disservice by pretending to be a man. In fact, she is furthering the gender bias and worsening the situation. James should have her woMan card revoked.
  2. James is delusional. There is no gender bias in tech. Her woes were caused by her inferior writing and obvious self-loathing.

Both of these claims are, in my opinion, ludicrous. James did not do women a disservice or damage womens’ lib or feminism by doing what she did. In fact, by pretending to be a man she proved beyond any doubt there is a severe gender bias in the tech world. And by going public she made it impossible to ignore. And to the claim that there is no gender bias in tech? Get real. Of course there is. And it’s worse than most other industries. Don’t believe me? Check out this piece from Redit posted some 5 months ago entitled “I regularly hire woman for 65% to 75% of what males make“. A sobering piece of hard reality right there.

This last piece also highlights that often overlooked women devaluing themselves issue I mentioned earlier: Women, through cultural bias and lack of inbred arrogance will often sell themselves short either because they think they’re not worth more or because they think they’re not skilled enough. Men on the other hand will almost invariably oversell both their value and their skills. As a result there is an artificial gap created by honesty vs bravado. The only way to get past that dear oestrogen enriched human entities, is to start demanding what you deserve. Otherwise you’re just playing weak cards in an attempt to be well liked. And just like in poker, that won’t work if you have any plans of winning.

So what do we do now?

Inequality for women or between the sexes is nothing new. The sad thing is it continues today. So we have to do something about it. And bizarre as it may sound, it starts with the language we use. Just like you would never refer to me as a ‘boy’, you should never refer to a female over the age of 18 as a ‘girl’. She is a ‘woman’. And that goes for all you other women out there. I know you think it’s cute to call yourselves ‘girls’, but you’re not girls, and by doing so you are selling yourselves short. Girls are females between the ages of 0 and about what… 14? 16?. Anything older than that and they are either ‘young women’ or ‘women’ proper.

Try applying this simple rule: When referring to a female, if she were a male, would you call her a “boy” or a “man”? If ‘boy’, go with ‘girl’. If ‘man’, go with ‘woman’. That’s what this linguistic differential is for: to distinguish based on age as well as gender.

Once that’s settled, let’s start talking about not referring to people based on their gender but rather their skill set. But that’s a whole different argument.

My Opinion Politics

Selling the Message: How to get from Occupation to Social Change

The world is facing both a financial collapse rivalling that of the Great Depression and political upheaval akin to the riots of 1968. In this turbulent environment it is imperative that those wanting to enact change upon the world learn from the past and adopt policies that move us forward, both in their actual policies and how they approach change.

The biggest danger facing a movement like #occupy or the many uprisings in the Arab world is that rather than changing the world for the better they are just replacing one oppressive system for another. Political change should never happen through force of one group against another but rather consensus and pragmatic discussion. We have an opportunity here to do something together to make a more viable future for everyone. But that requires that everyone participate, whether they are the 99%, the 1% or somewhere in between.

In an earlier part of my life I was a politician. I had ideas, ideals and a strong will to enact social change on my community, my country and the world. And to some small extent I like to think I did. But more importantly my time as a politician taught me some hard lessons about how the world works and how to go about enacting change in the world. And though frustrating, ideologically challenging and often counter-intuitive, these lessons should be the very corner stone of any social movement wanting to make a difference in the world.

They are:

  1. Work from Within
  2. Speak the Language of Your Oppressor
  3. Know that Your Views are Extreme
  4. Strong leadership is vital
  5. Create a political platform
  6. Be pragmatic and think long term

Just before I continue I must warn you what I am about to say will probably make you angry. That’s part of the problem, and can also be part of the solution.

Lesson 1: Work from within

The first and most important lesson is the one hardest to swallow: If you want to make a fundamental change to a system you have to work from within that system and make the changes using its own methods and procedures. This is usually contrary both to the agenda of social movements and also to their premise. Even so it is the hard and honest truth. Save for armed revolt or intentional widespread sabotage this is the only way of enacting large scale systemic change.

To use the #occupy movement as an example: If you want to change laws governing banks, corporations or even electoral systems you must first be in a position to make changes to those laws. This can be done either by electing officials who are willing and able to make these changes or by working your way into the system so you can make those changes yourself. Simply saying the system is flawed and demanding a change will do nothing unless you also have the power to enact this change. This is of course problematic if the root of your complaint is the political system itself, but the cure is the same: If you don’t like the current political system, you must either team up with current politicians or become a politician yourself so you can make the changes necessary.

Call to action: Vote in general elections, vote for the people who share your beliefs, join a political party, set the agenda for your political party.

Lesson 2: Speak the language of your oppressor

This lesson comes from basic marketing: If you want someone to change their mind about something they have to first understand what you’re saying. And I’m not talking about English here; I’m talking about ensuring you are actually talking about the same thing. One of the key problems of radical social movements is that they use language that either doesn’t resonate with or register at all in the minds of their target audience.

A good example of this (and one I get in trouble for bringing up) is feminism. I am a feminist myself (and yes, I’m a guy) but even I have a hard time accepting the vitriolic polemic presented by many in the feminist movement. The reason is much of what is said is rooted in anger, bitterness and all out attacks on “the other”. This creates a chasm between the oppressed (women) and their oppressor (men) and makes it hard for the oppressor to cross over and see the world from the oppressed point of view. The key to winning the war on gender inequality lies in making men see and understand the world from women’s perspective. Only when the oppressor empathises with the one he oppresses can he see his own faults. But this requires that the feminist movement speaks the language of their oppressors and meets them at their level. And that goes against the very nature of the movement, and most movements, which states that the oppressor should understand that they are in the wrong because they are in the wrong.

If you were selling a product this would be crystal clear: To make people feel they have to by the latest and greatest you have to speak their language. The same is true for social movements: Unless you communicate your message in a way your target audience – the people who are doing you wrong – understand, they won’t buy it and they’ll simply ignore you.

Call to Action: Learn the language of your oppressor, speak to them on their terms, use their own language, methods and data to make them empathise with your cause and see that they are the cause of your problems.

Lesson 3: Know that your views are extreme

Social movements almost always hold extreme ideals, largely because it is the people with the most extreme views that feel the most left out and thus feel the strongest need to be heard. This is why terms like “the lunatic fringe” and “the loudest voice in the room” are often attributed to social movements as a reason to ignore them. But even if the social movement itself is extreme, many people will sympathise with most of what the movement has to say, just in a less extreme way. Therein lies the problem:

If a social movement insists on being extreme and ignores more moderate views and approaches it will invariably alienate the large group of people who agree and sympathise with the overall message. As a result the movement will be marginalized because it is not willing to make concessions and the message is never taken seriously.

The only way to ensure wide spread support is to adopt a moderate version of the general ideals of the movement. By taking the moderate route you ensure that a larger group of people will want to join and you keep the overall goal of social change in focus. This usually results in the most extreme end of the spectrum cutting lose and starting its own group denouncing the main group as traitorous. Be that as it may: The end result will be a social movement with clout that people can actually identify with. The bottom line is simple: If you are too extreme, only people who are just as extreme as you will join. And most people are not extreme.

Call to Action: Imagine a scale from 1 (not extreme) to 100 (absolute extreme) and plant your policies somewhere between the 65 and 85 mark, ensure that the leadership of the group is not dominated by extreme elements on one end or the other, include the extreme elements but only as a minority, pursue a moderate message at all times.

Lesson 4: Strong leadership is vital

This is another difficult lesson, especially for left wing movements: Without strong and cohesive leadership your group is doomed to failure. The reasons are many:

  • The movement must have a clear voice – and that voice can only be communicated by a leadership group. If there is no leadership media and others will ask the general population of the group for information and that information will invariably be diluted and incorrect. A clear and concise message communicated by leaders is paramount.
  • Without leadership it will be impossible to formulate a goal and move towards it because fractions and individuals will adopt their own special version of the overall goal and pursue it instead.
  • People need someone to look up to. Without a charismatic leader that people trust and look up to the group will not have a focus and will start breaking into fractions.
  • Leaders are accountable. A group without a leader is hard to address, and internally it is impossible to decide who makes decisions and who is accountable when something doesn’t go according to plan. A democratically elected leader can both ensure that the movement as a whole moves towards their common objective and be held accountable when things don’t go the right way.

The problem with social movements, and left leaning social movements in particular, is that they tend to see leadership as a pathway to corruption. This is often a key part of their gripe as is the case with the #occupy movement. The goal of the group is therefore often a move towards absolute or direct democracy. Though this looks good on paper it is a recipe for disaster. Absolute democracy – where everyone votes on everything and there is no leadership – is doomed to failure even in small groups because not every member has the time, capacity nor knowledge to make an informed decision on everything. Furthermore the group will be faced with countless decisions that have to be made on the fly, something that is impossible to do if everyone is to be consulted.

The only way to ensure that the group remains cohesive and moves towards its stated goal is to create a democratically elected leadership committee that is left in charge. This committee has to have a platform on which to base its decisions (lesson 5) and must be held accountable to that platform. To ensure accountability remains the group should introduce set election periods at which time the entire committee is dissolved and re-elected.

Call to Action: Hold elections for a leadership committee, set down firm election periods, hold leadership accountable through elections.

Lesson 5: Create a political platform

For the movement to have an impact clear goals must be formulated and acted on. Only with clear goals in the form of a political platform can a plan be created on how to enact the change demanded by the group. Once a political platform is created outsiders can see what the group is about and decide to join and outside elements like other political organizations, the media and others can get a firm understanding of what the group wants and whether or not its goals are acceptable and something that should be supported. In addition, with a political platform as a base the movement can hold their leaders accountable and individual members of the movement can refer to the platform when in doubt about what to do next.

The creation of a political platform is generally done at a general assembly. The overall process is as follows:

  1. Everyone proposes policies
  2. Policies are grouped into defined sub-sections
  3. Committees are democratically elected to deal with defined sub-sections
  4. Committees look over all proposals in their section and conform them into a set of proposals
  5. All proposals are taken to a vote on an individual basis by the general assembly
  6. Political platform is defined based on proposals that are voted in

The movement can decide how often to revise their political platform. This should be done on a time basis (every 6 months, every year etc) to give the elected leadership committee time to enact the policies.

Call to Action: Hold general assembly, open the floor for policy proposals, create sub-committees to organize proposals, vote on individual proposals and political platform.

Lesson 6: Be pragmatic and think long term

The final lesson is both obvious and infuriating: If you want to enact large scale social change you need to be pragmatic and think long term. Unless you are planning an armed uprising things will not happen over night, nor should they. Rapidly implemented social restructuring always ends in chaos.

When I say “be pragmatic” I mean that you have to accept that the general population needs time to understand your demands, think about how they will affect their lives and decide whether or not they support them. You also have to take a step back and turn a critical eye to your own demands to see if they are reasonable or if you are demanding too much. Finally you have to seek consensus with your opponents and aim for acceptable compromises. This is hard to do when you have set ideas about how things should be, but getting 50% there is better than getting nowhere.

This links directly to the thinking long term part: If you have a pragmatic long term approach and seek consensus along the way you are more likely to succeed in implementing your goals. But more importantly you’ll have a chance to test out your policies and see if they are really as great as you firs envisioned. The irrevocable truth about political revolutions is that they never end up the way originally intended because our ideals do not correspond with reality. And due to our lack of a crystal ball and a working time machine we can’t actually see the future result of political change. Slow steady change gives us a method for constant course correction and a better chance of getting things right.

Call to Action: Be critical of your own ideals, seek consensus, set out long term goals and stick to them.


We are all in this mess together, and it is only together we can change it for the better. Together is our only option.

My Opinion News Politics

#Occupy posters for Canadian issues

#occupycanadaThe #Occupy movement is spreading, and with good reason. In the western world, and North America in particular, inequality is slowly becoming the norm. And nowhere more so than in the USA.

In my view the #Occupy movement is at its core about one thing: Democracy. And though the issues focused on may and should differ from country to country, the one persistent message is clear: Every man, woman and child has a voice and has an equal right to speak, be heard, and be part of society. The problem is that right now, especially in North America, only the rich and powerful get heard while the vast majority get overlooked or ignored.

Occupy Canada – issues for Canadians

One of the dangers of the #Occupy movement is that it may try to transplant issues from one country to another. This will not only erode the cause itself but make the movement seem ill informed. This is especially important as #Occupy events are ramping up in Canada. So if you plan on taking part in the events starting on October 15th in Canada, take up the cause of democratic issues we all face in Canada.

To help with this I’ve created three posters focusing on three important Canadian democratic issues: Electoral reform, control of telecommunications and cross-media ownership. I’ve also attached a short blurb about each of the issues so you can see why they matter and why you should make one of them (or all) your slogan as you #Occupy your city.

Proportional Representation Now!

Proportional representation nowCanada has an electoral system that has been referred to as a “sham democracy”. The first-past-the-post system does not reflect the popular vote but stacks parliament based on artificial electoral districts and simple majority rules. The result is that parliamentary composition rarely reflects the popular vote.

Case in point, the current Harper government. Whereas the Conservatives have a Parliamentary majority of 54.2% they only got 39.6% of the popular vote. In other words, based on popular vote the Canadian government would be a coalition of the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc with the Conservatives as official opposition. So when Harper claims he has a “strong majority mandate” he is really talking about an artificially inflated mandate based on an antiquated and undemocratic electoral system. Needless to say something must be done about this.

The solution is some form of proportional representation, employed by most western nations in the world. This would ensure that the popular vote is represented in parliament.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Reform the CRTC

Reform the CRTCThe CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ) is the government watchdog and regulatory body for all radio, television and telecommunications in Canada. In other words they are the ones that decide who and what can be aired or sent over the internet and by whom this information is carried. The CRTC regulates the four big Canadian telecoms (Shaw, Telus, Bell and Rogers) who collectively stand for nearly 100% of all broadcasting and telecommunications.

The problem with the CRTC is that unlike in other western countries (the USA excluded) their mandate does not include the Canadian people nor consumer rights. The job of the CRTC is to protect the big telecoms from each other. This becomes problematic when you learn that the board of the CRTC is stacked with former heads of the four big telecoms.

Because of the weird mandate of the CRTC the four big telecoms can agree among each other to ramp up prices, cut services and lock competition out as long as all of them agree. As a result you, the consumer, gets screwed ever time. Ever wonder why your cell phone bill or cable bill is so high or why you don’t have the same streaming video services they have in other countries? The CRTC is to blame.

To solve this and make the telecoms act fairly and treat consumers with respect the mandate of the CRTC must be reformed to include consumer rights.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Cross Media Ownership Kills the Free Word

Cross-media ownership kills the free wordOn the topic of the four big telecoms, did you know that almost all Canadian broadcasters are owned by the same telecoms that provide the cable signal in your house? Or that most Canadian news outlets are owned by the same big corporations? In Vancouver, both the major news papers The Vancouver Sun and The Vancouver Province are owned by the same company.

The result of such cross-media ownership is that the free word is quashed in favour of corporate interests. When one or a few corporations control the media entirely, the corporate philosophies and political views become the predominant voice in the media landscape. This is further complicated when the broadcasters are owned by the same companies that bring the broadcast signal to your home.

The bottom line is that cross-media ownership results in censorship of opinion and the free word. You see the result in the USA, especially with FOX News, but also in general with the media blackout over the #Occupy movement. And Canada is just inches away from being in that same situation unless the Government starts cracking down on cross-media ownership and passes legislation to prevent it from spreading.

Download the poster in PDF format. JPEG version on Flickr.

Final words

If you’re going to one of the #Occupy protests keep this in mind: If you want someone to change their mind you have to make them understand your case first. If you just shout at them, or try to force them, you will get nowhere. Communication is the key to everything.