Visit healemru.com and register to your local registry today!

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Last week, I was invited to a meeting with Bill Buxton at Montreal’s Society for Arts and Technology. During that meeting, we informally discussed collaborative experience design. One of the questions raised was: why aren’t today’s content creation tools truly collaborative. One of the main reasons seems to be that modern society is built on Pillars of Ego. I’m still thinking about this, but the main point is: we all want to be heros.

Now, here’s a very tangible way for all of us to truly become super heros. And it’s really easy: fill up a form, and you could save a life.

Here’s a poor man’s screencast showing how to register to the local stem cell donor registry in Quebec, Canada. It’s so easy that you can even do it from your iPhone. For a slightly better encoding quality, visit http://blip.tv/file/786438 .

Emru is still looking for a matching donor. So are many other patients. Please visit healemru.com, visit your local registry’s web site, fill up the consent form and register, today. It’s really that easy.

GHOSTS

March 21, 2008

I have always admired Trent Reznor‘s artwork. I have also admired Marcel Achard‘s creations since I met him many years ago here in Montréal. While very different in style, they both produce multi-sensorial, viscerally emotional and personal content.

Tonight the moon is full, and my inbox is calming down — Easter weekend started. Yet, I just got a surprise: Marcel sent me a short video he’s producing in the context of the GHOSTS collaborative project. Get your hypothalamus ready, dim the lights down, raise the volume, then click play:

Heal Emru

March 12, 2008

Life is full of surprises — of all kinds.

Geeks and people passionate about technology sometimes choose to forget that there’s a real life out there, and prefer escaping reality by taking The Blue Pill. Choosing bliss over awareness. Yet, some surprises are particularly difficult to ignore.

Emru Townsend is well known in the Montreal animation and technology community. Emru is not only a fantastic writer and blogger, he’s an amazing brother and father. Along with his super-sister, Tamu, Emru has over the years organized several online charity auctions supporting non-for-profit organizations such as the Cancer Research Society. In case you don’t know it yet: Emru and Tamu’s generosity is not easily surpassed!

Last December, Emru was diagnosed with leukemia. He has gone through a couple of chemotherapy sessions, but leukemia keeps coming back because of a condition called monosomy 7. Emru needs help. Emru needs our help. My help. Your help. Now.

Emru needs a bone marrow transplant, very soon. But first, Emru needs to find a matching donor. The chances of finding a matching donor are very low. So here is what you and I have to do:

  1. Register to our Country’s bone marrow registry. It’s easy: fill up a form to be added to the registry, then provide a mouth swab or blood sample. That’s it. Log out of your facebook for a few minutes and do it.
  2. Spread the word: the international database of bone marrow donors isn’t diverse enough! Emru is the son of two African Carribean parents and blacks are underrepresented in bone marrow registries!

Anyone, anywhere can be a potential matching donor. I wish there was a coloured pill Emru could take to heal. But such pill doesn’t exist yet. It’s up to us to take The Red Pill and act, today.

Let’s Heal Emru.

Emru Townsend

Pitching ideas

February 15, 2008

Pitching your ideas to investors is exciting. You have a few minutes to share your ideas, prototype or product. Your goal is to get them to want to know more about yourself and your story, and to convince them that both your people and ideas are worth investing in.

Assuming that you have a good team, presenting people is the easiest part. Pitching ideas, on the other hand, is much more difficult.

After presenting our latest and greatest adventure in technology to a couple of VCs, I can openly say that we did not succeed in pitching the idea. On one side, I hear excited customers telling me every single day how much more fun their job is, how much time and money I save them, and how they just could never go back to their previous ways of working. On the other side, I don’t hear much from these groups of investors. Bad sign!

Trying to come up with a model to describe the situation, I bumped into an article by Bill Buxton. In his article, Bill Buxton introduces a law that he calls Gradual Granularity Refinement Law. This law states that the granularity at which we distinguish meaningful differences gets finer the more our familiarity with a subject grows.

The GGR Law is about familiarity with a subject. If you are pitching an idea, and you have both a gut feeling plus feedback telling you that the idea is good, it probably is. If you managed to come up with a clever product or idea, it’s because you have enough familiarity with the problem to model things in a different way. You probably felt the pain and were brave enough to do something about it.

The GGR Law is also about granularity. Different groups of people may have felt the pain. But the more familiar you are with the problem, the easiest it is for you to distinguish meaningful differences, and therefore come up with clever solutions.

What does this really mean? You are familiar with a problem space, you have felt the pain, you have a good idea, and developed a good solution. You are making some money out of it, and you have a great team. Now you find yourself in a conference room pitching your idea to investors. How can it go wrong?

Unless you apply the same level of innovation and creativity to your pitch as you did to your problem solving, your story will just not be interesting enough for the people across the table. Why? Because it’s unlikely that they are as familiar with the problem space as you are. Your explanations may be good, and they may understand the concept at an intellectual level, but unless they understand it at a visceral level, they will just not want to know more about your idea.

I have an appointment with a very interesting group of investors in a couple of days. This particular group seems to be quite familiar with the problem space, unlike the previous ones. Plus, I now know what to do, so it should be fun.

Wish me luck! 😉

Arrivederci Eolas!

February 9, 2008

In 2006, the folks at Micro$haft changed the way Internet Explorer embedded control objects, affecting in particular how web developers deal with Flash objects. The reason: the Eolas patent dispute. The outcome: web developers started growing considerably more gray hair than before. Yet, it contributed to the flourishing of Flash embedding Javascript libraries, and to endless discussions on how can you best embed flash content.

These discussions were not only about circumventing the side effects of the Eolas patent dispute. They were about providing alternative content, about simplicity of use, about standard compliance, about cross-browser support, and about graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. Still, now that Microsoft announced that an IE update scheduled for April, 2008 will remove the click to activate functionality, reverting the software to its original design, I am trying to figure out what it means in practical terms. After all, the click to activate message is probably the main reason why many web developers adopted embedding libraries in the past years.

From an embedding point of view, not much changes really. Web developers still have to embed the beast and provide graceful degradation. Apple’s iPhone still doesn’t support Flash, as far as I know. Plus, accessibility is being enforced by laws in many countries. There are no two sides to this story; we still cannot rely on markup-only methods.

From the simplicity of use side of things, using a Javascript library is IMO the best way of embedding an interactive beast in your web pages. Decoupling is good, we were told in school, remember? A clean, well tested Javascript library takes you right there in no time.

From a standards compliance point of view, Micro$haft is pushing very hard for people to upgrade their browser to IE7 while working on IE8. This means that web developers may finally start worrying much less about IE6, and start worrying more about IE8. Is that good news? I’m not sure about that yet. I am happy to see that IE8 passes the Acid2 test. I am even happier to hear that HasLayout is as good as gone in IE8. Yet, while I do agree that the DOCTYPE switch is broken, I still can’t manage to get my head around Micro$haft’s version targeting mechanism proposed for IE8. It seems to me that every time Micro$haft proposes a new way of solving a problem, web developers have to expect a new avalanche of issues to be on top of. I sincerely hope I’m wrong this time.

While EOLAS falls into history, object-embedding Javascript libraries are here to stay. Today, the authors of the two most compelling Flash embedding libraries have joined efforts into the SWFFix SWFObject project. In practical terms, adopting this library is probably the most forward-compatible action item in my list. For the rest, it seems to me that regardless of headaches and hours of suffering caused by IE6 and the EOLAS dispute, it will all fade into nostalgia like Polaroid’s film.

SAYONARA, EOLAS!

I’m back in Montreal recovering from DEMO 08, where I had the chance to meet super interesting people and to show Cozimo to the press, entrepreneurs and VCs. Now that Cozimo is officially out the door, I’m busier than ever. Luckily enough, it’s not just about answering I forgot my password support e-mails… some interesting developments are forming and there’s still energy left for midnight hacking, so I can’t complain.

Still, I can’t wipe out from my brain the vision of Monique Savoie menacing me: “Don’t you dare hiding for a year ever again, or else!“, so I decided to go to the very first Montreal Python event. And it was fun!

David Goodger, architect of DocUtils and renowned Python activist, entertained us with one of his old-time passions: polyform puzzles.

Dominoes, Pentominoes, Polyominoes, oh my!

David briefly described algorithms involved in solving these puzzles…

Algo-gogo!

… but I wished he focused a bit more on stuff like this:

Python! Python! Python!

It was an interesting presentation, and a good way to start Montreal Python’s series of events. Montreal is buzzing more than ever, and it feels really good to be part of such a vibrant community. Kudos to the organizers for a well organized event.

Setting up @ Demo 08

January 30, 2008

Yesterday was setup day at Demo 08.

Demo 08

While setting up the Cozimo station, I had the chance to meet Ben and Fred from standoutjobs.com, a great startup from Montreal. These guys really know how to generate buzz, and their product looks really promising. Congrats and best of lucks, StandoutJobs!

standoutjobs.com folks rock da house

And here’s Cozimo’s station.. number 69. That should be easy to remember 😉

Cozimo station #69

Kudos to the Demo 08 technical team: they are competent, friendly and get things done in no time. Setting up our pavilion station and the main stage was really easy. If they only allowed for more than one video feed to be projected on the big screens, it would make our collaborative life much easier… 😉

Getting ready for DEMO 08

January 28, 2008

After an exhausting flight, sprinkled with incidents all along the way from Montreal to Los Angeles (including a long delay in Toronto, an emergency landing in Las Vegas, plus two-hours driving under crazy rain on freeway 10 while avoiding upside-down crashed SUVs…) we finally made it to Palm Springs for Demo 08.

After sleeping a couple of hours, we woke up and rushed to The Desert Springs where the event takes place. The Cozimo team spent some time reviewing the demo script and getting ready for the on-stage rehearsal. The demo is far from being polished yet, but the event team seemed satisfied with it; plus, we have until Wednesday to rehearse, so I’m confident it’ll be OK. Demoing a real-time collaborative visual environment with only one on-screen video signal is a real challenge!

DEMO 08 will be rich in presentation styles. While waiting for Cozimo’s turn to go on stage, I had the chance to follow a few rehearsals. Among coconuts and guitar players, I witnessed the rehearsal of Montreal’s latest and greatest: Xtra-normal. Their technology is simply impressive. Congratulations to the team and good luck with your 6 minutes show.

best of demo 08?

Now I have to rest a bit. I’m looking forward to meeting other demo animals tomorrow. If you are in Palm Springs, drop by for a private Cozimo demo at station 69.

I wonder why everybody is so openly happy about Bill Gates letting go of Micro$haft… 😉

Assuming that it wasn’t all scripted by someone else… good sense of humor, Bill!