{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

April 8th, 2011

A quick post to share this, which my pop-culture, literary and fiction-filled soul adores. ComputerSherpa posted this fantastic chart of some of the core storytelling tropes inspired by the periodic table and it’s fantastic.

Click through to see the full size chart and some of the sample “compounds” you can create with these tropes.

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Edmonton Startup Weekend 2

February 14th, 2011

Edmonton Startup Weekend, Team Victory Group ShotThis past weekend I participated in the second Startup Weekend Edmonton event. The previous Startup Weekend took place last June, which I was unable to participate in because I was in a friend’s wedding party, so I’ve been looking forward to the second one. The weekend did not disappoint: what a fantastic experience all around!

Over 50 people attended the event and helped build projects on seven different teams ranging in size and scope from a two people team to the supersized thirteen member team I was on. We had 54 hours to build a prototype, then all met up at Original Joe’s Varsity on Sunday night to demo our work for the rest of the groups and the extended community.

For those who aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, here’s how it works:

  • Friday Night: Register, pitch ideas, form teams, make a plan.
  • Saturday: Get up early and code, code, code all day long, from morning to late night. Then, after you can’t bear to stare at a computer screen any longer, go for beer until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Sunday: Get up early again. Panic: not enough hours! Code and commit changes like a fiend. Then celebrate your new prototype by demoing and drinking more beer in the evening.

My team (Team Victory) came out of two idea pitches that merged into one.

The first idea was to create a social interface that would let you rate developers you’ve worked with on different skill sets, allowing you to recommend them and indicate whether you’d like to work with them again. Sort of a reputation system for IT people.

The second idea was to create a system that let you post your development project and tag it with locations and technologies to let other devs and designers see what projects are happening based on certain tags: for instance, someone involved with Edmonton’s Ruby meetup group would be able to quickly search for ongoing projects in Edmonton tagged with Ruby.

So what did we build? Something that does both! The idea behind LaunchWith.Me is to provide developers, designers and other tech-folk with a place they can show who they’ve worked with, who they love to work with, and what projects they’ve worked on. The current prototype interface isn’t complete but the underlying API is incredibly robust for something built in 54 hours. A lot of the data isn’t yet exposed because we ran out of time, but the core is there. If you’re browsing around the demo we have up keep in mind the data you see is all test data and you can’t actually create an account at this point.

I had a great time, and I learned tons. I’m a designer, BA and PM, but one of the things I loved the most about this weekend was sitting in the midst of a development space: I love to soak up information and learn new things, and boy did I ever learn a lot just by listening to the conversations happening around me. I also had the chance to dive into CSS3 for the first time, and I love how fast you can prototype things without spending hours fiddling in Photoshop.

I’d also like to give a big shout-out to Team Victory: you were a standout group to work with. I got the chance to work with some long-time friends and new people who have now become new friends. The network of amazing, brilliant people Edmonton events like DemoCamp exposes is one of the Edmonton tech community’s biggest success stories. As always, I look forward to the next event.

And if you’re wondering whether or not LaunchWith.Me will keep going, the answer from our team seems to be a resounding yes. So stay tuned for more from Team Victory and LaunchWith.Me! In the meantime, check out Mack’s Startup Weekend Flickr set and catch up with the #SWEdmonton Twitter hashtag.

Read other recaps of Startup Weekend Edmonton:

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Open Letter to White Edmonton About White Privilege

November 8th, 2010

Dear White Edmontonians,

I am dismayed and disappointed by the overwhelmingly negative response to the Racisim Free Edmonton Campaign, most of which seems to be coming from white Edmontonians. That’s the first indication we have a problem.

Just to be clear, I’m talking to white folk in Edmonton in this post, as a white person who has in recent years started to come to terms with her own internalized racism and white privilege. I’m not an expert in any of this: I am at best an advanced beginner.

So I have some things to say, as a fellow white Edmontonian:

  1. You have white privilege. Not knowing you have it is part of how it works.
  2. It’s not your fault. Chance determined the colour of your skin which is a thing you can’t change just like someone of colour can’t change theirs.
  3. Because having white privilege is not your fault doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  4. Learning all this for this first time sucks. But so does racism and a world that privileges one group of people over another. Deal with it.

I also have a couple of things to say about the campaign:

  1. It’s not perfect. There are some legitimate complaints about the writing positioning “us” and “we” against “them”. This argument is not wrong.
  2. The campaign is over simplified in places. Probably in more places than I realize.
  3. In regards to items 1 and 2 above, the campaign has to be oversimplified in some respects because it’s targeted at a general overwhelmingly white public that probably has never heard of white privilege before and so it needs to be simple and short while still getting the main point across. Which I think it does fairly well.



Now that you’re all gnashing your teeth at me, before you wade knee deep into a conversation about race and whether or not the campaign is racist please educate yourself first. Google “white privilege”. Learn how racism works.

Here are some resources to get you started. Some of these links I found on my own, some of them have been pointed out to me as “Important, Read This” by various people in a position to know way more about this topic than me, and some of them are well-known resources for anyone who has dared to wade into racism on the internet.

Comment Policy: If things get out of control I will have to freeze comments on this post because I just don’t have time to moderate the type of conversation this post might generate in the way it needs to be moderated. I almost didn’t publish it for that reason.

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Linkspam: Feminism & Pop Culture

October 13th, 2010

Remember that time long, long ago when I started posting weekly linkspams? Y’know, that time before my already busy schedule leapt to new heights of insanity?

It may not be weekly, but it is linkspam.

Feminism & Women
  • The good people at Overthinking It created this fantastic Female Character Flowchart that captures a whole lot of pop culture female character cliches in one fell swoop. It’s massive in both size and awesome.
  • For the two hundredth and forty-second time, females and males have equal math skills before stereotyping. I don’t know how many more ways scientists can come up with to tell the rest of the world it isn’t that girls are bad at math, it’s that we keep telling and treating them as if they are bad at math.
  • Do accusations of sexism spur greater awareness of sexist language? This study thinks so. I had a conversation with a couple of male friends about this not too long ago.
  • Nice write up about what we’re really talking about when we measure pop culture with the Bechdel Test. It’s not about that women shouldn’t talk to or about men, it’s about how women presented in pop culture regularly only talk to or about men when they’re even there at all. It’s about the absence of women in our stories as anything other than romantic partners or two-dimensional tokens.
  • Linked to from the above, Pixiepalace has won me over with her explanation of the Reverse Jane Austen Principle: “It is a truth universally acknowledged by the entertainment industry that a female character in possession of a name and a ringless left hand must be in want of a boyfriend.” I think this often comes from a belief by the entertainment industry that women won’t want to watch female characters that aren’t somehow involved/tangled in romance, as if it’s central to our enjoyment. This is one of several reasons I love Emily Prentiss and Elle Greenaway from Criminal Minds, two fine female characters without romantic subplots.


Pop Culture
  • Another great post from Overthinking It, this time about Fixing Season 5 of Doctor Who. It’s a long post that only the most dedicated meta readers are likely to finish, but it covers most of my problems with the plot and themes of the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with all the proposed fixes, but I do mostly agree with the general through-line here. Season Five of Who left me firmly in a “meh” space, and this post articulates some of the reasons why.
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A Lesson in Language from Stephen Fry

October 12th, 2010

An essay on language from Stephen Fry has been turned into a completely lovely little Kinetic Typography video.

I love language. Most specifically I suppose I love English since it’s the only one I know how to use, but I do try to use it well. And when I say “well” what I mean isn’t always “correctly” or “properly”. Sometimes “well” means “creatively”. Or “uniquely”. Or even “colloquially”.

Not too long ago I inadvertently got into a bit of a Twitter argument with a surprisingly number of people on whether or not the Oxford comma was a necessity. Should it always be used? Is it necessary? And ultimately somewhere in that long, surprisingly passionate argument was a discussion about the merits of “proper” language as critical for the sake of communication. Stephen Fry’s comments on the nuance between “disinterested” and “uninterested” most perfectly embodies that argument: in particular my side of it.

The nuance of words is and can be important in the right context. In a political speech or poem the difference between disinterested and uninterested could be of great import. But that doesn’t mean it always has to be of great import. The great flexibility of language is that can stretch or shrink as we require it, and as the culture that uses it changes, so too can language.

I know some writers dislike the way texting, tweeting and online chatting has distorted language in ways that are leaking into the vernacular — both written and spoken — but I delight in it. I enjoy the eyerolling nuance writing “LOL” adds that the word “laugh” doesn’t in itself contain. I love how changing “the” to “teh” modifies the entire tone of a sentence, how emoticons clarify intent in two or three characters, and how Twitter hashtags can be functional, thematic and humorous all at the same time.

There is absolutely a place for proper language, just like there is a place for the Oxford comma. But the language we use today is as fluid as it has ever been, and in a world that changes as rapidly as ours I want a language free to adapt and change with it. Language can’t and shouldn’t remain static.

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