Tag Archives: Facebook

You Have Memories To Look Back On Today

Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge. Write a story in five sentences and fewer than 100 words. Seeing as I write a little something to commemorate the passing of my brother-in-law, Ryan, on my birthday (March 13) I decided I’d use this flash fiction challenge as a means to do that.

Here’s what I came up with:

Seven years ago we lost him. Recently, Facebook introduced a memories feature that recaps your day from years past. I’ve been wondering what those memories would look like from the day he died and how I would deal with them. Turning memories off altogether, or for a specific day, is an option but that day is also my birthday. I will leave the feature on and try to create more good memories so I will be reminded of how much I am loved as I scroll … scroll … scroll towards the bottom and remember how much he is missed.

~ Andrew

That’s Why I’m On This Oil Rig

(c)  Agência Brasil – Reprinted under the creative commons license

Last week I wrote about karma. Some people think it’s bunk and others are all on board with it. I’m a baptized Anglican who gave religion an honest-to-goodness chance, more than once at different points in my life I might add, only to land on Atheism as the thing (or lack of a thing) that makes the most sense. At the same time, I am drawn to the notion of there being a balance to the Universe as well as some sort of Order of Things. Or maybe it’s simply my mind playing tricks and if I stare long enough at the randomness maybe patterns will appear?

Karmic principles can be boiled down to the most basic of concepts: Balance. Put good out, get good in return; put bad out, get bad in return. Finding (and explaining) the order among the chaos, however, can’t be reduced to anything as simple. At least I haven’t been able to do it, and on a few occasions I’ve tried.

Does everything happen for a reason?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? My brain tells me, “Nope. It’s all random shit. If it’s working out for you then it’s just dumb luck, and if it isn’t then deal with it,” but my gut tells me something else. Maybe it’s as simple as making as many good decisions as possible in an effort to obtain the best possible result. Then again, I’ve certainly made my fair share of bad decisions and things have come up roses more often than not so maybe it doesn’t matter.

What does it all mean?

Ugh, these conversations annoy me. I don’t know. I’m fairly convinced it doesn’t mean anything; it just is, and when it’s done there is nothing. But then stuff like this happens:

Back in 2013 I was gearing up to participate in NaNoWriMo and decided that I would start a Facebook support group for the month long event. I had been a member of one such group a year earlier and it was a big success. Having befriended many writers on Twitter and Facebook I felt that there would be good uptake, and there was. A good sixty or seventy people joined and many of us went on to make our 50,000-word goals.

When NaNo finished I kept getting asked if I would keep the group alive as a writers’ group. It seemed like a great idea so we conducted a poll and “Writers Without Borders” was formed. The group became private shortly thereafter (too many non-participants and riff-raff selling stuff) and now members add friends and acquaintances as they feel is appropriate.

Leap ahead (from then, but about a month before now) and a friend of a friend of mine makes a comment about Chuck Wendig. I can’t remember where, but I think it was on Facebook. Anyway, since I have a big man crush on Chuck and this person was mutual Facebook friends with something like 39 people I had to friend her. I’m not sure why, but I just felt compelled to click the “Add Friend” button. So I did, she accepted, and shortly thereafter I invited her to WWB.

Turns out she was in the process of starting the OCH Literary Society and she put out a call for writers. So, I submitted the first 1,000 words of the novel I’m currently editing for consideration. A few days later I got an email saying I was accepted. The site needed fiction writers, but I could blog if I wanted. I said I would do both and we landed on once a month blog post and some serial fiction with installments every couple weeks.

This reminds me of the show Connections, in which the host James Burke would walk you through a whack of seemingly unrelated events only for you to end up learning that a poem written in the dark ages is the reason we have indoor plumbing today.

My connections went like this:

  • 2011 – NaNoWriMo (failed writing No Known Cure with WAY less than 50,000 words)
  • 2012 – joined random NaNoWriMo Facebook group (won with No Fixed Address – the prequel to No Known Cure)
  • 2013 – started my own NaNoWriMo Facebook group (won with The Book of Good“)
  • 2014 – NaNoWriMo group becomes Writers Without Borders
  • 2015 – Andrew invites Allie into WWB
  • 2015 – Allie founds the OCH Literary Society
  • 2015 – Andrew submits 1,000 words to Allie for consideration
  • 2015 – Andrew becomes a staff writer (serial fiction) and occasional blogger for OCH
You can read more about my first OCH blog post, We Are Writers, over at their website. It focuses on “community” origins of my connections as opposed to the existentialist beginnings of this post. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veaJCc0Z41w]

Oh, and remember those 1,000 words I sent my new friend, Allie, that got me into OCH? They were the first thousand words of my first (and first failed) NaNoWriMo in 2011. 
And the serial novel I’ll be contributing to OCH? Well, it’s none other than my successful NaNoWriMo after the creation of what would become WWB in 2013, which I had shelved after 56,000 words because I didn’t know what to do with the second half of the story.

How about one more…

Allie’s last name is Burke. Same as the host of the show Connections. 

Strange things are afoot, Ted. Strange things indeed. 
~ Andrew

P.S. You might be wondering about the title I chose for this post. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that little inside joke, which I’ll let you all in on now:

Back in the winter of 1994 I was wrapping up my first year a the University of Waterloo and a bunch of us were in Kirby’s room (because he had cable – stolen from the study room across the hall, but he had it nonetheless). Someone was flipping through the channels (a practice which drives me completely nuts. Just choose something to watch already!). Flip – something stupid. Flip – something uninteresting. Flip – some British dude standing in the middle of the ocean saying, “That’s why I’m on this oil rig!” Flip. By the time we flipped to the next channel everyone had processed the absurdity of what we had just heard and started laughing out loud. None of us knew what the show it was or who the dude on the oil rig was and that phrase would be forever used whenever any one of us encountered a  non-sequitur.

Jump ahead to the summer of 1996 and my pot smoking, guitar playing, physics genius (but socially awkward) roommate and I were on the couch watching re-runs of the show Connections, with the aforementioned James Burke. He was doing what he does and jumping us through time and leading us toward the ultimate connection when the scene cuts to him in the middle of the ocean and he says, “That’s why I’m on this oil rig!”

Well if I didn’t just jump off the couch and point at the TV and scream, “Ah ha!”, like I had just caught someone in the act of a heinous crime. My roommate just sat there completely confused, guitar in one hand, joint in the other. He’ll never know how awesome I felt at that moment.

After two years of waiting, the connection was made.   

Consequences of Freedom

I wasn’t going to use her name because I didn’t want her to get any more attention, but I feel quite strongly that if I sit here twiddling my thumbs and complaining to the couch cushions that that’s the same as condoning what she’s doing.

So here we go…

Until two days ago I had never heard of Jenny Trout. That’s actually a lie. I had heard of her but only in the context of a blog post by Chuck Wendig a couple months ago. He mentioned how he liked her blog (but didn’t agree with one of her positions). Aside from that, I couldn’t have told you two things about her.

Then, two days ago Anne Rice posted a comment on Facebook and Twitter about her support for the website Stop the GR Bullies (GR refers to Goodreads). It’s a website dedicated to calling out authors who bully other authors (for reasons other than a negative review, which I’ll take up in a future post). Anne’s comment was this:

If you click the image it will take you to Anne’s original Facebook post

Attached to this post was a link to an article on STGRB on Jenny Trout, who has taken it upon herself to become the self-appointed literary moral compass of the Internet.

The summary: a (once) best selling author is actively encouraging the banning and/or pirating of another author’s work.

STGRB does not link directly to Jenny’s website but there is a screen grab in their post that contains the URL. I typed it in manually and read Jenny’s article and two things happened:

  1. I felt sick for giving her the site traffic
  2. I gave her a very unflattering nickname. One I’ve been talked out of using for a variety of good reasons (as an aside, I have wonderful writer friends)

In her rant Jenny freely admits that she hasn’t even read this highly-offensive-it-must-be-banned book. She claims it is about the glorification of racism and rape and how this subject matter has no business on the shelves of your local bookstore or on the hard drives of your personal e-readers. It contains BDSM erotica (because that’s all the rage now, with Ms. Trout even penning titles under a pseudonym). It’s also about an actual President of the United States and his actual slave mistress. Oh, and in the book the characters are vampires and/or werewolves. And one more thing: this story is just one in a series with the same underlying characteristics: #BDSM, #erotica, #POTUS, #mistress, #vampires, #werewolves. (hashtag: not my thing).

Ms. Trout rightly points out that since the offensive work is protected under the First Amendment there is no legal recourse for removing the book from shelves (digital or otherwise) so she’s taken it upon herself to start a crusade.

She’s demanding her fans and readers demand Amazon, B&N, Kobo and the like remove this content immediately. If that doesn’t work, and you feel you absolutely must read this book, then go pirate it so at least the author and publisher don’t get any money. 

Um…. excuse me?

I wonder, what would Jenny Trout’s publisher think if another author from another house took issue with one of her books and started a campaign to pirate them?

Let’s be perfectly clear: racism and rape are bad. Together they comprise the Daily Double of humans at their absolute worst. However, in a free society, no one person / group / organization / government gets to take away the right for someone else to write about it – and by my assessment that’s exactly what Jenny is trying to do.

Express your displeasure with the book to your heart’s content. Tell people it’s not worth reading, that it’s a glorification of All Things Terrible, that they are bad people for even reading the synopsis. But don’t you dare go down the road of book banning. Book banning is half a step removed from book burning, and we all know what history (and Ray Bradbury) has to say about that, now don’t we?

Free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences of saying or writing things to which others object. For the book and author Jenny Trout saw fit to attack, the consequences will be determined by the reviews it receives, the number of sales, the number of future sales or publishing deals for the author (or lack thereof), and so on… The system is already set up to self-regulate in this regard. Time and reader response will tell.

As for Jenny Trout, her consequences appear to be the ostracizing of  a whole swath of readers (and probably publishers) that aren’t going to touch her books or her blog with a ten foot fishing pole – myself included.

~ Andrew

Happily Ever After

I love it when my muse just shows up unexpectedly. No call beforehand. No knock on the door. No need to pick up that pile of clothes in the corner or sweep the floor. It’s like having the best house guest in the world, and they come bearing gifts!

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and the urge to do any writing or editing has been at an all-time low. I finished a short novel for NaNoWriMo and took a couple weeks off in December and then found out that the date for my daughter’s scoliosis surgery would be January 20. Suffice it to say I have been a bit distracted ever since.

A funny thing happens when I’m doing nothing but trying to take my mind off something. I think of the strangest and most wonderful things. I suppose it’s a byproduct of an active imagination going into overdrive in an effort to shield itself from the scary, unknown, things that are keeping me up at night. That being said, I hadn’t had any new ideas worthy of pursuing for quite some time and it was starting to get on my nerves.

Then she showed up. My muse. And she was wonderful.

I had just finished seeing the movies The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I had also just read the book Fahrenheit 451 and was working my way through Slaughterhouse Five when it hit me: the best idea for a novel I’ve ever had. In my mind it’s destined to be one of the best novels ever written, but for now let’s just say that it’s a good idea, and I am thrilled that it popped into my head when it did.

I quickly scratched out some notes and sent them along to a couple writer friends whose opinions I trust and asked them what they thought. I was pleased to hear that this would be a book they would read – and they weren’t just saying that because they were my friends. They’ve both given me direct feedback on excerpts that didn’t only contain praise. I gave my notes to a third person to look over and they verdict came back the same. Yay me! I had an idea that I was passionate about that, at least at first glance, had some from people living outside my head.

I figure I’ll start writing it when my daughter is in the hospital this week. I won’t have much else to do and while I’ll be contributing to the family scoliosis blog those posts won’t take me hours upon hours to write – and we’ll be spending full days and nights at the hospital for about a week! I figure I’ll get 10,000 words done if I keep off the damn Facebook and Twitter. The only obstacle I can see in front of me is the fact that I have absolutely no idea how the book is going to end.

I can envision a prologue and epilogue that bookend the story nicely but I can’t seem to dream up that last page. This is a strange feeling for me as I normally start with the end and then create all the things that needed to happen to get the reader to that last point. I thought I had the perfect ending and told one of my idea sounding board friends and she didn’t like it. Her husband did because it wasn’t a “standard” ending, and that’s probably why I liked it too – at least initially. Happily ever after endings drive me crazy. Sometimes people die, sometimes the bad guys get away with it, sometimes the boy doesn’t get the girl. The more I thought about it though, the more I was worried about what kind of message my ending would be sending.

This was also a strange feeling because to this point nothing I’ve written had any sort of message. At least nothing that I would consider profound or noteworthy. They are just bits of entertaining fiction meant to be enjoyed. Move along please, nothing to learn here. This new idea however has a message and one that I feel is rather important. How the main character ultimately relays that message to the reader, I think, will make a substantial difference in how that message is digested. Get it wrong and risk the reader becoming too focused on the actions of the main character instead of on the message she is carrying.

Maybe I’m over thinking it? Maybe I should just start writing and see where the story takes me? I’ve got a couple hundred pages to churn out before I hit the third act climax and have the MC realize their dramatic need (or not). Still, it doesn’t quite feel right. Not knowing how that last page unfolds is disconcerting. I guess I’ll spend some time thinking about the possibilities and jot them down with my other notes and see which one feels right.

One thing is certain, it won’t end with “and they all lived happily ever after”.

~ Andrew


Welcome to NaNoWriMo Week #2!

At this point you’re either way ahead of the game and feeling good, on pace and still clinging to a sliver of hope that you can keep it up for 20 more days, or you’re behind schedule and looking at the chart on the NaNo website that reads: At this rate you will finish on March 13, 2016.

Regardless of which category you find yourself in I have something that can help.


No, not the show with Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. Actual communities. It turns out these things are everywhere, and they’re all kinds of awesome. Communities, and more specifically the people that are a part of them, are worth their weight in gold, or diamonds, or even in some cases platinum-190.

These are the people, when you say, “I’m depressed” they mean it when whey ask, “Why are you depressed?” and when you respond, “I don’t know” they’re completely okay with that answer. They give you a hug and then ask you if you want to go get a slice of pizza. They’re not trying to fix you. They’re not trying to solve All The Problems. They are people who, when they see that you have the courage to ask for help, they help. They show up on your doorstep, or wherever else you need them to, simply because you asked.

Writing, which is largely a solitary exercise, can wreak havoc on a person mentally. No one else is going to get those words out of your head and onto the page. You’re on your own for that, I’m afraid. But that doesn’t mean you are alone.


Twitter has dozens and dozens of hashtags you can search to find thousands of people, just like you, churning out words or looking for nuggets of encouragement, support, or distraction. During the month of November the number of hashtags and the number of people using them in tweets increases dramatically. Here’s a sampling of some I keep in mind whenever I need to feel less alone:


There are also a whack of Facebook groups out there for you to join. Just search NaNoWriMo or just about any search term related to writing. You’ll find groups aplenty, and then some. Join ’em all or just join one, but join something – and then participate. The number of people you will find for support and encouragement will blow your mind. 
I took it a step further and once I found a bunch of wonderfully diverse and supportive people on Twitter and Facebook and I invited them to a Facebook group of my own creation. We’re almost at 50 members now and it’s one of the best places there is to be when I’m working on my writing. 
You won’t find any of it unless you look up from your keyboard every now and then and ask. As with most things in life, if you don’t ask you won’t get. So buck up, swallow your pride, find your ouside voice, put up your hand… do whatever it takes to ask. Just ask. Ask. State it categorically: I need a friend. I need some help. I need some encouragement. I need some pizza!

Ask and ye shall receive.
(pizza delivery times may vary)

~ Andrew

Dumbing it Down

I’m having a hard time deciding if humanity is getting dumber. There are too many moments in the day where it looks like we know more but actually seem capable of less.

I can remember standing in front of the mirror. The old dual sided metal razor in my shaking hand. My father stood behind me and reached over my shoulder to help guide the blade around my chin.

“Remember to us long, smooth strokes…” he said. His voice cut through the silence and I flinched, sending the blade deeper into my skin. I watched as a brilliant red drop of blood trickled its way down. It fell into the sink, which was half filled with hot water, and the red splash dissipated into a cloud of brown wisps.

Image taken from my Andrew’s Alphabet collection

I also remember sitting in the backseat of a Dodge Omni. My mother was in the front passenger seat and my 16 year old sister was sitting behind the wheel.  My big sister, five years my senior, was learning to drive. Given the typical relationship struggles that occur between teenage girls and their parents, with the added bonus of a car crash on top of that, I was along for what I thought was going to be the best ride of my life.

“Ease up on the accelerator. Good. Indicate your turn. Good. Start to brake… slowly… there you go. Good.” My mother was a primary school teacher and had been doing yoga for about as long as I could remember. She had this patience and calmness in her voice that was made for situations like this. Everything my sister did amazed me and I vowed that I would learn to drive as well as she did. At least that was the plan until some years later a car accident tore the dependable little Omni in half. It wasn’t her fault, but sibling awe is fickle.

Image courtesy Bamman at en.wikipedia

We humans used to know how to do so many things. These little life nuggets would be passed down from generation to generation and there was a real sense of knowledge; of accomplishment; of pride in learning how to do something the way Mom or Dad taught us.

It seems that as our technology advances the information sharing across generations decreases. Just look up from your desk for a few minutes, or better yet conduct a job interview with a Millennial or a kid from Generation Y. It won’t take long to notice the sense of entitlement. It won’t take long before you receive a scornful glance that says, I’ve got more technology in the palm of my hand than there was in the entire hospital you were born in.

Fight the urge to verbalize your internal Churchillesque monologue that will be screaming In which I was born!, before thinking to yourself, And I was learning how to write code before you were even a glint in your parents eye. Before they got high and had three to many drinks while watching X-Files one Friday night, forgot the condom, and had an arrogant little shithead of a child pop out with a smart phone in his hand nine months later.

The copyright of this image belongs to 20th Century Fox.

It’s a Me Me Me, now now now world. Are Google and a collection of “how to” YouTube videos suitable replacements for passing down actual knowledge? What will become of us when there are no more “So-and-So & Sons” scattered down Main Street?

Even still, for every case where I see knowledge unnecessarily bleeding away I find a case where the world we live in is getting better. Racism, bigotry, hate… these are all things that are heading the right direction. The Me Me Me, now now now culture allows virtually instantaneous activism – globally. You tell two friends and they tell two friends, topics start trending, people start talking, and before you know it behaviours are changing.

I’ve seen bills proposed by the government of my country quashed before they were even tabled due to public outcry. Outcry that would not have been heard had it not been for the Me Me Me, now now now crowd and all their fancy new technologies, Twitters, and Facebooks. I don’t think I need to tell the people of Egypt what kind of impact this can have.

My parents never passed down any hatred while they were passing down tips on how to drive, shave, level a patio stone, cut the grass, hit a curve ball, block a shot, carry the 1, avoid splitting an infinitive, or turn the pot handle in – but – many other parents and leaders did, and continue to do so today. It reminds me of the “cut the ends off the roast” legend:

A young woman is making a roast for dinner and before putting the meat in the pan she dutifully cuts the ends off. Her husband, having seen her do this time and time again, finally asks, “Why do you cut the ends off like that?”

She replies, “That’s the way Mom taught me. Must have something to do with the way it cooks.”

The next time the couple was at the woman’s parent’s house for supper the husband asks of his mother-in-law, “Why do you cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?” She replies, “That the way my mother taught me. It must have something to do with how it cooks.”

A short time later, Grandma arrives for supper and the man asks, “Why do you cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan? Does it have to do with how the roast cooks?”

“Heaven’s no,” she replied. “We often had to feed so many people the darn thing would never fit in the pan.”

Not everything that is known is worth sharing.

~ Andrew

Crushing Dreams of Candy

Oh Internet, you’ve been providing us with ridiculousness for quite some time. I remember back when it was a really big deal to check on the hockey scores without having to wait for the top of the hour on the radio or the highlights on TV. We have apps for that now (thank goodness).

I remember back when, if you had to research something, you had to get up off your butt and go all the way to the library to look it up and then come all the way back home (uphill, again!) to type it up. How the local transit system and Liquid Paper are still in use is beyond me. Keep citing your sources though, and make sure they’re not all Wikipedia.

I remember when you were out at the bar and an argument broke out the result was often hours of yelling and debate sometimes followed by someone getting punched in the face. Those arguments seem to have tapered off with cries of “TO THE INTERNETS!” replacing violence. I think face punching still occurs, but it’s probably for old fashioned violations like hitting on someone’s girl or getting mind blowingly wasted.

Finally, I remember when the Internet was pure, and innocent, and wasn’t the easiest way for money sucking lawyers to bulk up on billable hours. Yesterday’s ambulance chasers are today’s trademark miners – and the Internet is the reason it’s so much easier than hopping in your car and hanging out near the busiest intersection in town waiting for the latest saga about the car that gets crushed in front of the candy store.

See what I did there?

Yes? Very good! Please keep reading.
No? It’s okay, it was subtle. Please keep reading.

As a content provider I am more in tune with copyright and intellectual property than I every thought I would be. Honestly, had I known I would be a photographer, blogger, and writer back in my youth I probably would not have spent so much time staring at my classmates test papers and assignments. In spite of those transgressions I do have a healthy respect for the creators of content and for the most part it’s a black-and-white discussion. I also understand that in some cases there are at least fifty shades of grey.

I’d like to think that the insanity started with Facebook and it’s ultimate desire to own every piece of information on the Internet. The day they filed for a trademark on the word “like” was a dark day for the Internet and a field day for lawyers. I’m sure other companies have marked singular, common words found in dictionaries everywhere but Facebook went the extra mile and added “face” and “book” to the list as well.

You know, I get it. I really do. Facebook doesn’t want people taking advantage of their popularity or sullying the brand, but to what extent do they have to go to ensure this doesn’t happen?

The answer to that apparently lies with the company King.com Limited, who on February 6, 2013 filed a trademark application for the word “candy”. Special thanks to the CBC for bringing this to our attention and digging up the application status (that would have been a chore for a person much more patient than me). In case you didn’t know, King.com makes the wildly popular app “Candy Crush Saga”.

If you read the filing you’ll see a laundry list of goods and services to which the trademark applies. To say that King.com Limited has cast a wide net would be the understatement of the year.

Some highlights:

  • “Calculating machines, Data processing equipment, namely, couplers”
  • “Microphones; Baby monitors; Battery performance monitors”
  • “Clothing… tights, trousers, under garments, underpants, underwear…”

And my personal favourite:

  • “Non-downloadable electronic publications in the nature of websites, e-books, online magazines, online newspapers, electronic journals, blogs, podcasts and mobile applications in the field of computer and video games” [emphasis mine]

What I can’t figure out is whether or not the bit “in the field of computer and video games” only applies to podcasts and mobile applications or if it applies to everything in that sentence. I suppose one way to find out is to just leave this post up and wait for my cease and desist letter to arrive in the mail. 

The good news is that while the application was approved on January 22 competitors still have until February 25 to oppose the trademark. Here’s hoping someone tips off the members of the 60’s band The Strangeloves before things get out of hand.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiiD8KeAFew]

~ Andrew

Once Upon a Hashtag


Between text messaging, social media, and dictionaries adding the most absurd “words” it is clear that the English language is changing at a torrid pace. If I’m being honest, I can say that I purposefully avoid anything to do with all this gosh darned newfangled hogwash poppycock. My text messages contain full words only interrupted by the occasional smiley face or ampersand (to convey a specific emotion or provide a more logical grouping of words) and the same goes for my social media posts.

Listen up: I’m a writer. If I can’t say it using Oxford English Dictionary words from before the year 2000 then I am failing miserably at my craft and should feel embarrassment and shame.

Keep in mind that I am also human, which means I am also imperfect. A quick search of my Twitter feed for the two most common non-words that are now words (LOL and OMG) came up with the following:

(The tweet at the top links to this particularly funny cartoon, the second tweet from the top is a conversation between myself and Christine Reid – that makes absolutely no sense to me today, the second from the bottom links to this old blog post of mine with a shout out to Wren Emerson, and the bottom tweet links to an old Hockey News article I dug up in my archives)

I think that’s a pretty damn good track record. Out of more than 7,600 tweets there are exactly 4 that use stupid acronyms (none in the last 18 months when, arguably, I started to get more serious about writing). If you’re into percentages, that’s somewhere around 0.05% I think I’m going to start creating badges to put on blogs and profile pictures:

Like anyone else I have my vices and whether it’s on Twitter or on Facebook I have a habit, an addiction really, to all things hashtag. Hashtags, as they kids are saying, are all the #rage.

For those not so well versed on the nuances of social media here is the definition from our friends over at Wikipedia:


hashtag is a word or a phrase prefixed with the symbol #.[1][2] It is a form of metadata tag
Short messages on microblogging and social networking services such as Twitter, Tout
identi.ca, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Google+ or Facebook may be tagged by putting “#” 
before important words, as in: 

#Wikipedia is an #encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Hashtags provide a means of grouping such messages, since one can search for the hashtag
and get the set of messages that contain it.

Well that clears that up.

It’s probably best to look at a few examples of what the hashtag provides in terms of added value. I took the liberty of doing a hashtag search on the most popular site for hashtags (Twitter) and one of the newest sites to start incorporating the hashtag (Facebook). Naturally the hashtag I chose to use as my search was #hashtag:

If you take even a cursory glance at the results you’ll be able to see that some people are using the hashtag #hashtag in their posts for no other reason than to have a hashtag in their post. I wonder if they think they’re being clever? #lame

So what’s wrong with just searching for any old word? Context. Not that there is a lack of context, but plain text searches tend to give you more of it than you need. The hashtag acts as a consolidator to group similarly contextual posts together so that not every one that contains that word shows up in your results (though Twitter will often return search results from all the other text in the tweet as well. #sigh)

For a while, Facebook refused to get on board the hashtag train. In fact, some people would get downright angry if you happened to drop a hashtag into a status update or comment. When it was introduced a few months ago there was a flood of hashtag use and I have to admit, even this hashtag lover was mildly #annoyed. What’s more, I did a quick check on searches for hashtags of a questionable nature on Twitter and Facebook and the latter is censoring their search results to a much higher degree (not cool, Facebook. Not cool at all.)

That aside, in my tweets and Facebook statuses, and yes even in the occasional text message (this is how you know you have a hashtag problem) I will continue to use, and advocate the use of, hashtags. Right or wrong, for better or worse, it’s the path I have chosen. #YOLO

As far as this post is concerned I just can’t take it any more, so I make this promise to you now: you won’t see any hashtags in future posts or formal writing of mine ever again. Never mind the fact that I won’t feel at all bad if someone catches me breaking my promise. That just means someone is actually reading my stuff, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Cleverness #FTW!

~ Andrew


Every once and a while a TV show comes along that you really enjoy watching. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where, week after week, you can’t wait for the next episode. The one where your anxiety levels climb in the weeks leading up the final episode of the season because you know that it will be the last of the show for months. The one that you faithfully record so you can watch it uninterrupted, free from commercials or other distractions, and just enjoy as everything unfolds in front of you for the first time.

And then there are the inconsiderate jerkwads on the Internet – specifically Facebook and especially Twitter – who see fit to watch the show in real time, crappy commercials and all, and live-stream every plot twist and “oh my gosh” moment that happens. They will claim it’s all part of the new media experience and this allows them to enjoy the show at a whole new level with other inconsiderate jerkwads. Networks will encourage this with various “follow us on Facebook” and “follow this #hashtag” gimmicks in an effort to entice more people to watch as they try to pump more advertising at the audience.

For me, there have been a few shows where the former has been true. Sopranos was one, as was The West Wing. Lately, it’s a show called The Newsroom – which fortunately for me not a lot of people watch, so there’s not a tonne of chatter around it – yet. As for the latter, there’s only one show I took to this level and it was Survivor (please, don’t judge), and even then I was very careful about not revealing key moments or twists in my Internet commentary. You see, if you want to follow a show in real time and experience the complete new media experience there are rules to follow so you don’t end up being a jerkwad. Actually, there’s really just one:

Let the people who aren’t watching at that very second know that you’re about to ruin something for them.

It’s affectionately known as a spoiler alert, and it’s an easy rule to follow. It really is. The problem is that some people either can’t figure it out or don’t give a damn. Granted, it’s harder for someone on Twitter to comply than it is for someone on Facebook. Twitter is set up in such an instant gratification kind of way that if you want to express an emotion about what just happened on your favourite show you’re much more inclined to type “OMG I can’t believe they just killed What’s-His-Name! #FaveShow” than you are “OMG, I can’t believe what just happened! #FaveShow“. Even if you are more likely to lean toward the second statement I can guarantee that someone somewhere will reply within seconds “@YourUserName I know! What’s-His-Name was my favourite character! #FaveShow“.

Unfollowing someone on Twitter is a bit of a pain just so their spoiler tweets don’t show up in your timeline. Setting up lists and filters is also quite a cumbersome exercise. Fortunately, a teenage girl in the U.S. came up with a way to redact your Twitter feed to avoid those unsightly plot twists – and she’s going to release the app for free.

Things are a little easier on Facebook and as such I have less patience for those who refuse to show a little courtesy. You see, Facebook won’t show a whole post if it’s more than 420 characters long. Anything more than that and you read a “read more” link at the bottom. So, just prefix your post with


Tell your spoiler-prone friends to do this. Tell them they can just cut and paste the example above and then proceed to type whatever the hell they want.

[Editor’s Note: 2015-12-22 – this app is no longer available]
Naturally, someone has taken the idea from our teenage hero from above and made it just a bit better. This is what happens with technology, especially apps, and the consumer is the ultimate winner. In this case, you can take matters into your own hands with Silencer. A Chrome extension that lets you “Take back the internet, on your terms”. Even better you can tell your friends to not be jerkwads in the first place and if they’re true friends you won’t need the link to Silencer. But just in case, here it is:


~ Andrew

The Power of the Internet

I am fortunate enough to have experienced the creation of one of the greatest inventions of all time: the Internet. Granted, there were a whole lot of events that had to transpire over several decades before it became accessible outside of military or academic circles, but when it did… it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have a major impact on society.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Much like anything else it didn’t take long for the Internet to become commercialized. Rest assured (and if you read my last post this won’t come as a surprise) if there’s a newer/better/faster/easier way to sell you something then the people selling it are going take advantage.

Then something interesting happened. People started using the Internet for something that wasn’t commerce. Of course, traditional media outlets began (and continue) to use the Internet as a cheap and easy way to get your attention, driving you to their paid services and racking up page views to satisfy deep-pocketed advertisers, but ordinary people also started to use it to share their message. They quickly realized that there was the potential to reach a tremendous audience and in less than a decade the Internet became the greatest resource the world has ever seen.

As with anything that’s publicly available and unregulated you’re going to get quite a wide collection of individuals involved. The Internet user community is, unsurprisingly, just a reflection of society as a whole. One quick peak and you’ll find:

  • the innovators; 
  • the salespeople; 
  • the socially conscience; 
  • the clueless; 
  • the intellectual (and the intellectually deficient); 
  • the radicals; and of course, 
  • the liars and the cheats. 
If you need to put “fair & balanced” in your logo
I have news for you…

It’s not just corporations like FOX News that are in on the game either. Sometimes our cravings for attention and the insatiable need for our 15 minutes of fame take control, and sometimes the less honourable see an opportunity to take advantage of the good nature of others. If you’re on Facebook you have most certainly seen the posts. The ones where some tear-jerking picture is accompanied by some text that reads “If I get a million ‘likes’ then…” or “So and so or this and that needs your help!”

Some of these are undoubtedly true… and some most certainly are not. I choose to focus on the good. It takes a bit more energy but the end result is worth it (my favourite sources of truth are currently Snopes and Skeptophilia). With just a little bit of research and minimal digging the same Internet that brings you the lie also brings the lie and the people behind it to light. Just as easily, the Internet can be used to affect positive change, and as it turns out there are more people out there using their powers for good instead of evil.

I firmly believe in the power of the Internet and all of its social media sub-components. Aside from allowing everyday folks like myself to have a voice, it can bring people together and affect change like never before.

Just ask Egypt.

~ Andrew