Tag Archives: Twitter

When Make Believe Is All That Remains

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
– Richard Feynman

I’ve mentioned in a previous post the one of the benefits of being a writer is you get to make stuff up. There is a serious problem, however, when wordsmiths of a different kind resort to making stuff up a tad more often than they should. I’m speaking of the scientists, the government, and the media – the ones who synthesize, distill, and report findings; who direct funding for research and make policies; and who relay information to the masses.

When Canada voted against science I was right there standing up and crying foul. Like many others my initial impulses had me all a Twitter (and a G+ and a Facebook). This is an outrage! Will no one come to the defence of science? At the very root of my anger is my belief that objectivity and truth still exist and not enough people are fighting for them.

I turned almost immediately to Gordon Bonnet, who, along with being a science teacher down in the States, also writes a great blog called Skeptophilia. In a matter of hours he turned around a much less knee-jerk response with the message that data, in of itself, cannot have an agenda. The problem is politicians and media outlets do, and I would assert that out of self-preservation (and the fact that they are human) scientists have one as well. However, the scientific agenda is normally kept in check through critique and review by one’s peers. When that process gets handcuffed, well, all bets are off.
“The only thing worse than a blind believer is a seeing denier.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
A friend with whom I like to debate such matters pointed out that “the human soul is corruptible.” Indeed it is, but that’s a sociopolitical discussion for another day. He also pointed me to this Maclean’s article which happens to be a a very level-headed take on things. The author, Julia Belluz, sums it up by suggesting that scientists raising a stink in the form of 60’s style protest aren’t doing themselves any favours, and on this I have to agree. 
Everybody involved appears to be approaching it all wrong. I am left to wonder though, if that’s the wrong way, what the hell is the right one? As the maxim goes, if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then what happens when you’ve tried every approach you can think of and still nothing changes?

It seems that people on both sides of any argument go though this eclectic transition of approaches. The precise order and length of each one is impossible to determine, but the following popped into my head as a plausible chain of events: 
  • Start with the presentation of pure facts. 
  • If that doesn’t work, involve your peers to provide supporting information and try to open a dialog. 
  • If that doesn’t work, then compare and contrast opposing ideas in the form of debate. 
  • If that doesn’t work, then start removing facts and bring in “expert opinion” and hype. 
  • Finally, if that doesn’t work, resort to pure, unadulterated propaganda and rhetoric. 
  • If all else fails simply resort to sarcasm and ridicule (enter social media).  

This is pretty much where we’re at right now, and quite frankly I think this tailspin makes a complete mockery of it all and just ends up dragging everyone down to the same subhuman level, leaving slander and lies as the only pieces left on the board.

“The great thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Maybe I’m naive to expect more out of professional conveyors of information, but when it’s all reduced down to a contest over who can out crazy who it makes you wonder if the people who make stuff up for a living aren’t the sanest group in the whole lot.
Next election I’m voting for a writer.
~ Andrew

Making a List…

If you’re like me you’re on Twitter. If you’re one of the few dozen million Twitter users following more than a few dozen people you may have noticed your Twitter feed fills up pretty quickly. One thing I have discovered is that Twitter is all about interactions. It’s not about how many people follow you, it’s about who you follow, and most importantly the people with whom you choose to engage.

Twitter = Engagement.

How some people following thousands and thousands of accounts can keep up and actually engage is beyond me. I love seeing celebs or “experts” following 50,000 people. There’s absolutely no way that’s practical for anything and I suspect that those accounts are at best a person (or team of people) just scanning the @ mentions for something worth replying to or at worst just self promoting pseudo spam churning out links or 140 character insight in a robotic “look at me!” sort of way.

As someone who is reasonably compulsive about keeping things in order, as soon as I started following more than a couple hundred people I knew I needed a system. Maybe you don’t need a system, maybe you have one of your own, but in order for me to maximize my Twitter interactions and engage as effectively as I can I have come up with something that plays out like this:

First things first – I almost always use the Twitter app for my iPhone when I’m mobile and just want to check something quickly (mentions, direct messages, trends, searches, etc…). At home, I’m almost always on my laptop and I’m using Hootsuite (free). I have a system for how and what I tweet as well, but that’s a separate post altogether, for now we’ll focus on organizing the 486 people I’m following.


One thing Twitter has done that’s a great idea is lists. Their implementation of lists is clumsy and getting at them from the web or iPhone app takes too many clicks but fortunately there are other apps out there that help with this. Now on to the system…

It’s really quite simple. Everyone I follow goes into a list. Heck, even if I don’t want to follow someone I can add them into a list (they won’t clog up my main feed and they’ll still show up when I look at my list). One follow, one list. How many lists do I have? Good question. I have 13, and here they are (along with what each one is):

  1. Friends (self explanatory)
  2. Tweeps (these people interact with me on Twitter most often)
  3. Tweeple (I like what these people have to say)
  4. Community (people in my community or other local communities)
  5. Writing (people who write)
  6. Personalities (famous people, celebs, and personas)
  7. Sports (athletes and sports journalists)
  8. News (traffic, weather, headlines)
  9. Music (musicians, music journalists)
  10. Visual Arts (photography, painting, other forms of visual art)
  11. Geek Stuff (social media “experts”, science, geeks and nerds)
  12. Businesses (twitter accounts for businesses I support/recommend)
  13. Causes (charitable organizations I support or generally agree with)

Now, this is where Hootsuite comes in really handy. I can display dozens of tabs at once and up to 4 streams on a single tab. A stream can be anything I want, including searches, hashtags, and lists. I order my lists in terms of how much I want to see those tweets and put them on tabs, and voila!

Yes, it means I’m effectively putting the people I follow on Twitter into a hierarchy, but that’s just the way it is. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to listen to what my writer friends are up to. Many times I’m not concerned with what a celebrity is doing. Quite often I want to know what’s going on with my friends and in my community. Here’s how my tabs are broken down:

  • Tab 0 – mentions, direct messages, my re-tweeted (yes, I’m narcissistic so that’s why it’s first)
  • Tab 1 – friends, tweeps, tweeple, community
  • Tab 2 – writing, personalities, sports, news
  • Tab 3 – music, visual arts, geek stuff
  • Tab 4 – businesses, causes
  • Tab 5 – hashtags (trends and topics I like to follow)

Here’s what it looks like on my laptop and on my phone (click to enlarge):

But what about maintenance? Another good question. There are a bunch of non-Twitter apps and websites that will help you manage your lists but the one I like to use is found at http://tweetbe.at. It’s free and does a pretty good job of managing lists, list members, and other twitter followers/following. The only downside is it will only load 500 of the people you’re following on any given screen. Once a month or so I go through my followers/following and start to clean things up. I get rid of the spam-bots and unfollow people and shuffle the list participants based on recent interactions.

So there you have it. My Twitter system in 1000 words or less. I’d be interested in knowing what you’re doing to manage your Twitter environment. Use the comments below to share or post links to other systems that work.

Think Before You Tweet

(How Twitter is Making Me a Better Person)

Anyone who has spent a few minutes scanning my Twitter feed knows I have a tendency to over share. Granted, there are many out there who share much more and are more vulgar with their language, but I tend to just blurt out the first thing on my mind anyway and if I happen to have my iPhone on me or be near the computer, it goes out to the world.

Make no mistake though, I am fully aware that every tweet sent is out there for the world to see, and as such there’s a certain amount of self-editing that occurs before I hit send. Most of the time it’s a self serving exercise, but regardless of the motivation behind the censorship, it still occurs, and that’s probably a good thing.

However, on Sunday night I got a glimpse into my inner self that indicated there was something more going on than just Internet self-preservation. I was watching the Oscars, sitting with my laptop, and waiting for just the right moment to toss out a zinger and hopefully snag a few re-tweets. My initial attempt at mocking the “Who are you wearing?” red carpet question was a bit of a dud (“I’m not wearing any pants. Underwear by Joe Boxer“) so I was getting worried that maybe I just didn’t have my A-game that night.

Then just as I finished typing something else I thought twice. I cleared the text and refreshed my screen, and immediately read a tweet just sent out by Neil Hedley (“Turning off the Twitter machine for now. The hypocrisy is becoming intolerable. #bullying #Oscars“). Apparently he was taking exception to some of the remarks being put out into the Twitterverse and was fed up. He went on to blog about it here.

Apparently my think twice moment came at the same time as the straw was breaking Neil’s back. Right before I hit send I thought to myself, how would I explain this to my 9 year old daughter?, and I couldn’t think of anything I could say to her that would justify what I was about to tweet. Experience and conscience tells me that in cases like that it’s probably not something that should be done. So I didn’t tweet it.

Granted, that is a far cry from not even thinking it in the first place, but it’s a really important first step. As my personal mission statement for 2012 goes…

Be better, not perfect.

Neil blogged about how he’s lost respect for some of his friends and colleagues who partook in the Twitter celebrity slam fest Sunday night, and though I only know him through a few Twitter interactions and one meeting a few nights ago at his book launch, I can say quite honestly that I hope I’m not one of the people he was talking about.

Twitter is more than just what someone had for lunch or what they did at 4:20 that afternoon. If you’re paying attention it can change the way you think. It certainly has for me, on more than one occasion.

I’m glad I didn’t send out that tweet, and I’m glad Twitter has people like Neil.

Kev Makes Good

If you read this blog you know about  my history with the writer/director Kevin Smith. It’s been a hot & cold, up & down, tumultuous & tenuious “relationship” that has been going on for more than a year. Well, last night in Toronto, in front of 500 die-hard fans and countless thousands of others on the big screen in over 500 theaters across North America, Kevin and his organization did what they do best, and in the process provided me with some much needed closure.

Upon hearing of his live show in Toronto I sent Jordan Monsanto and Meghan Quinlan an email asking if my art swap deal could be realized. In what can only be described as “lightning fast” reply Jordan indicated she’d put the request in to the venue to have myself  +1 put on the guest list. That was Monday. I was assured a response by Friday. It came and a friend and I were off to the show.

Trying something different, Kevin was doing a live podcast with Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Get Old) at a movie theater and simulcasting it to theaters all over North America (I’m told over 500 screens). After the hour long podcast Kev and Jay would do a Q&A taking questions from Twitter as well as the live audience.

A few weeks before the show I received an email from Jordan indicating that the venue had oversold the show and were eliminating everyone’s +1’s from the guest list. At first I was a little miffed, but I still had a ticket and I had a friend who was already going (more on that in a second) so I wouldn’t be flying solo. Arriving at the theater I realized something: the venue has control. The bag check, pat down, electronic wand treatment they were giving people was ridiculous. According to Jordan, they weren’t even allowed a merchandise table, which is unfortunate as I was going to leave Kev a gift that I made from my alphabet photography:

“SMOD” by Andrew F. Butters

I lied and said I was only in the possession of a cell phone, and no camera and took my seat. Front row, just to the right of center:

Row AA is good, right? Why yes it is!

Kev doing his thing. Mewes lounging on the couch.

I decided in advance that I would not go to extraordinary lengths to get Kevin and Jay my photography, or to get to the mic to ask a question. I was going to just sit and enjoy the event, and am I ever glad I did. I had a front row seat to a one of a kind event surrounded by TV cameras and hundreds of other great fans. My friend, who recently quit his job and is now writing full time had other plans.

Robert Chute wrote a book, Self-help for Stoners, and really wanted to get to the mic and give Kevin the book (to whom he had dedicated it, along with Joe Rogan). Well Robert had his moment, and he didn’t make a giant douche of himself (which is easy to do when your host does a lot of poop jokes). I completely failed Robert when I didn’t get a picture or video of it! For this I completely apologize and can only say that Kevin was completely gracious upon receiving the book. I was so close to the stage that when Robert handed the book to him I could see Kev off point to the cover and then hear him say, “Oh yeah, I know you!”. So, go read this book (I’m talking to you too Kevin!) Don’t let the title fool you, even if you’re not into smoking pot, the book is great.

So one thing Kevin wanted to do with the show was get in a lot of questions. This would probably be the only downside I saw to the event. Personally, when I go see Kevin Smith I go because he often answers a question with a 45 minute anecdote that leaves you gasping for air, holding your sides, peeing your pants laughing. Because he was answering rapid fire questions in an effort to get as many in as possible (presumably to ensure interaction and continued interest from the remote theaters watching) the responses, while well put together, genuine and honest, just weren’t the type that are in Kevin’s wheelhouse. As such, moments felt rushed, which is hard to do for a 3 hour event, and he didn’t get the chance to really work up the audience and deliver many “hit ’em out of the park” punch lines.

All in all though, it was a remarkably enjoyable experience, and Kevin’s love for Toronto and Canada in general comes through quite naturally, even when he’s not plugging his final movie, a Canadian tale about hockey titled “Hit Somebody”. I can say for sure I’ll go see it, and so will at least a few thousand other Canadians who watched Kevin and Jay rock the stage at the Scotiabank Theater last night.


Looking Ahead

Don’t look back, but don’t miss an opportunity to learn from the past.

This is not a year in review. This is a year in preview. Although, having been through quite a bit over the last year I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t learn something from the past 12 months. So with that in mind here’s what’s on tap for 2012, with a lesson or two thrown in to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes I made in the previous year.

Let’s start with goals. I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I do think setting a target is important. That’s what I learned last year with my big singing surprise for my wife. Put a date in the calendar. Set it. Make it permanent. Then do incremental things between now and then that bring you closer to that goal. 

A friend of mine uses the technique of working backwards. It’s basically what I described above but works from the end back to the now. Establish your end. Example: By November 6th I want to be able to sing a capella on stage for my wife. Then, go to the step just before that. Between November 1 and 5 I will need to perform in front of a small group of friends. Then go one step before that, and so on. I will need to have taken lessons. How many? With whom? The key is to figure out what you will need to do to get yourself to that step. When you’re done planning backwards, if you’ve end up back in 2011, then you have to re-work your plan so that you can get from A to B in the time you want (practice more, rehearse more, whatever…)

I’ve done this with my writing goals for the year. I’ve started with when I want each of my pieces to be done and worked backwards. The result is a writing schedule where I know how many words I need to write by which days and for what topic. My writing goals for 2012 are as follows:

  • Finish writing and editing 1 novel (100,000 words)
  • Finish and e-publish 3 short stories (10,000-20,000 words each)
  • Write 1 screenplay based on my finished novel (approx. 90 pages)
  • Write 25 blog posts – this one counts 🙂

Another thing I learned from last year is that I must leverage some key P’s: 


Being off work for more than two months with a concussion taught me this one the hard way. Things won’t happen overnight. There will be setbacks. 

You must work within your limits but always know that it’s in you to do more

With that in mind I’ve also set some other goals for the year. All achievable, even with the above goals in play:

Finally, one thing I have learned over the past year is that nothing can be accomplished alone. No man is an island. Everyone needs a little help from their friends. I’ve drawn up three goals that supersede all of the above, and there’s no special formula or methodology to accomplishing them. The road to success with these starts now and continues every day for the next year, and every one that follows:

  • Be a better father to my kids;
  • a  better husband to my wife;
  • and a better friend to all the people in my life.

Here’s to a great 2012!

Sum of all Parts

This is the third post in a series about Twitter, and it’s impact (or potential impact) on today’s technologically engaged society.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, at least with respect to writing. I’ve had a couple of half ideas but nothing really worth mentioning. It’s was very frustrating, and I decided to turn to Twitter. Did it help? Not especially. Well, at least not at first…  I went to Start Up Drinks Waterloo (#SDWat) and just chatted about start ups and new technologies and usual good-to-see-you stuff. 

Remember my post about how Twitter changed my life? Remember the one about proximity to greatness being effective? Well a conversation started about my lack of ideas for another blog post and a mini brain storming session broke out. How Twitter changed our collective sense of humour, turned into a commentary about how Twitter just generates more headline writers. Eureka! I argued that to write well you needed to edit. You don’t write, you RE-write. Twitter forces that on you 140 characters at a time.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but with that kind of word count anything’s possible. The challenge is doing more with less. Screenwriters do it all the time. For screenplays less is more and it’s the writer’s job to be as descriptive AND concise as possible. So can a writer use Twitter to break a complete thought down to its purest form and use it as building blocks for a larger story?

I say yes.

Twitter, with its “restrictions” and “limits”, can force the succinctness out of even the most verbose scribes. You just have to allow it. There are cheaters or hacks that use leet speak or abbreviations, and there are those who simply won’t ever conform to 140 (Kevin Smith). There are also writers like myself that will accept this as a worthy challenge and use that to sum-it-the hell-up (for a change).

Embrace the limitations of Twitter and use it to improve quality and challenge others to do the same. Don’t dilute the imagery – perfect it. Be careful though, we don’t want to lose the art. I want recreate each of Shakespeare’s works in a single tweet.  I fear this is a bad idea.

Hamlet: If you’re a king watch your back. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take one for the team. Be true to yourself or die like everyone else.

Then again, if Homer had a smart phone high school English might have not seemed so bad after all.

Stealing slightly from MasterCard:

Writing = 3 hours
Words = 416
Characters = 2383
19 Tweets

Priceless? You tell me.

Proximity to Greatness = Effective!

I was fortunate enough to attend a Social Media Breakfast at which the wonderful Julia Rosien spoke about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and general social media presence for businesses. Even though I’m
not a start-up, or a business, or even a small business, there was one point in her talk where a light bulb went off in my head. It was not so much a “Eureka!” as it was an “Ah ha!” (there’s a difference).  It was the moment where I finally realized exactly what problem I was trying to solve.

Part of my recent foray into the social media world is to network,  be more involved, and better enjoy and appreciate my community and the people within it.  In addition to that, I’ve been trying to establish (for lack of a better phrase) a fan base. A readership, if you will.

You see, there are stories I want to tell, and as much as I say I would get all the satisfaction I require out of simply writing them down, I know that’s not true. I want people to read them, and the best way I can come up with for getting someone to read something you’ve written is write something that they actually want to read.

My “Ah ha!” moment came during Julia’s talk when she said the easiest thing to do for a small business with a website was to add a search bar and keep track of what people were searching for.

That statement, along with the feedback from my last post, convinced me that I would continue to blog about anything and everything I wanted to, but I would hereinafter do it with my senses more aware of what was going on around me.  Further to that, it brought be back to a conversation I had with a good friend of mine about a screenplay I was writing.

He asked me why I wasn’t writing it as a book and I didn’t have a good answer. It’s just always been a movie to me. Every story I have ever told has been a movie (in my mind at least). Any story I would ever want to tell would be a movie.  Only it’s not a movie. That’s not what the search box in my brain is telling me. It’s a book. And now that I know that much, so much more is becoming clear. Ideas and character development and plot points are pouring out of me like some literary keg with a broken tap.

So what does this have to do with proximity to greatness? Well, I know I am writing quite the love story about Twitter lately, but it was once again the jumping off point for me (and now I’m starting to recognize a trend).

Twitter allows me to completely immerse myself with wonderfully interesting and amazing people who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas and feedback candidly and honestly.  Twitter can be remarkably useful, if you choose to use it to accomplish something useful.

In order for me to do this I have uncovered some very important rules:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Go outside your comfort zone
  3. Allow yourself to be wrong
  4. Allow others to be right
  5. Allow yourself to be heard
  6. Allow others to be heard first

When I got to sit in a room with a hundred people from Twitter you could just sense that there were more ideas than people sitting there with you. It was as if just being around awesome people allowed all kinds of ideas to form. Ideas aren’t just born out of the ether though, not even the ones accompanied by a “Eureka!”

I would argue that there are very few ideas that live within a single mind that ever make it out into the world. Certainly the ones that do are memorable – the heliocentric model of the solar system and E=MC² are two that immediately come to mind – but even both of those needed a little help from others before making their impact. They needed to be challenged and shared with a larger community before they would realize their full potential.

The seeds for a good many ideas – the good ones at least – are often planted deep within the mind, and then cultivated as their host explores and interacts with the world and people around them. It can hardly be considered a surprise when really great ideas come from people who not only are great or aspire to be great, but who also surround themselves with greatness.

Twitter isn’t just mindless chatter. Facebook isn’t just birthday reminders and noticing how you’ve aged way better than many of your high school friends. Active listening on social media might just be the most important skill you can acquire. Your phones aren’t smart – you are. So plant your idea and let it take root. Give it food and nurturing to help it evolve. Keep a close eye on it, pay attention, and stay engaged.

If all else fails hunt it down ruthlessly and don’t give up. Greatness will be yours.

More Than Tweets the Eye

Some people don’t “get” Twitter, which is understandable if you’ve only ever scratched the surface. I have been on Twitter since sometime in 2009, and it wasn’t until recently that I started becoming more active, and it wasn’t until very recently that I started to see its real value.  I can honestly say I this point that Twitter is improving the quality of my life, and I can point to two key moments that opened my eyes to this.

I’m not being overly dramatic just to appease my readership (all 7 of you!) either. Read this short article on ways Twitter can change your life. It may over state some of the claims but the key message behind each one is true. What it fails to outline however is that if you are planning on using Twitter for more than just random updates about friends’ lunches or celebrity gossip then you’ve got to use Twitter just like you would any other tool.

The wonderful Julia Rosien of Social North put together this quick read. It begins, “Whether it’s a hammer or Twitter, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it.” I’ll take this a step further and suggest that any tool, used for its intended purpose, has the potential to be a very valuable tool. Sure, a pocket knife can open a can of beans, but it’s a much less useful pocket knife if the blade is all dull and bent and you’re sporting a 2 inch gash because the bean juice got on your hand and the knife slipped and now the helpful nurse in the ER is asking you, “Why not just use a can opener?“.  Why not indeed.

More to the point (and hopefully getting us closer to those two eye opening Twitter moments) Twitter users are now using the tool in remarkable ways, 140 characters at a time, FOR FREE. That’s right. Free. Twitter does not charge you to advertise, promote, share, recommend, endorse, or spam, though that last one will get you kicked off (and rightfully so). I don’t know too many other services out there that have the potential to capture such a globally diverse audience, in real time, with no charge.

Celebrities such as Kevin Smith have actually started using Twitter to promote their brand and business. Hell, Kev’s gone a step further and is practically pinning the hopes of his latest movie on word of mouth  advertising, and Twitter was his jumping off point. With over 1.8 million followers on Twitter and a flick that’s looking like it will be in the black before it’s even released it’s hard to argue against the value of the tweet.

It is really just a question of knowing what problem you’re trying to solve:

  • How can I reach a larger, more diverse audience?
  • How can I get immediate feedback on an idea?
  • How can I become more involved with my community?
  • How do I get more than 7 people reading my blog?

My coming out party on Twitter started when I saw this tweet.  It was from a friend of mine that I haven’t been seeing enough of. He works hard and has a family, I’m lazy and have a family. Life just gets in the way sometimes, but after reading about his awesome news I ran straight out and joined the celebration, and you know what? I met some truly amazing people. Friends of friends, and interesting and remarkable people right in my own backyard: Mike, Ben, Melanie, just to name a few.

That led to me hearing about a scotch tasting at the KW Art Gallery where I got to meet Robb, Mark, and Dave, which was followed up by an invite (sent out via Twitter) to Start Up Drinks Waterloo where I had some great conversations with Matt “Dennick” about Twitter as well as good talks with Craig and Tera (who shares my crazy obsession with getting a Twitter @ mention. It’s like crack, I tells ya).  Soon I’ll be off to the Social Media Breakfast and then Ignite Waterloo.

To think this all started with one Tweet.

The other defining moment for me came when I spent a couple weeks putting together a song using some online music creating software. I wrote a 54 second instrumental in the hopes that Kevin Smith would “buy” it and use it for one of his podcast introductions. I tweeted him this, and all he did was tweet this a few minutes later, and within a half hour of me posting the blog entry I 500 hits and the song had over 200 plays. Next thing I knew I was exchanging emails with Jordan Monsanto. Awesomely surreal.  The whole experience showed me that Twitter in the hands of the right people can be a powerful tool indeed.

So whatever problem you’re trying to solve, or whatever it is you’re looking for, all I can say is that Twitter can help. Identify the problem you want to solve, read up on how other people are using Twitter to solve similar problems, and get on there and start getting engaged.  Well, not necessarily THIS type of engaged.  I can think of much better ways to propose, though I do highly recommend sharing the good news on Twitter afterwards.