Remarkable Stupidity

The warnings around climate change continue to increase in volume and intensity, but with little effect on effecting change in our collective behaviour. Here’s that latest, as reported in the Globe and Mail:

If current temperature trends continue to the end of the century, the Earth’s climate will be warm enough to cause a massive melting of Greenland’s ice sheet and a partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet, resulting in a torrent of melt water that will raise global sea levels by up to six metres, according to a pair of new research papers….
…He said that if serious efforts to limit global warming are not taken soon, “we’re committed to four to six metres of sea-level rise in the future.”

Four to six metres by the end of this century. This is sobering, to say the least. Meanwhile, at our friendly global hegemon to the south of us, science and scientists are being suppressed. This is remarkable and puzzling. With so much scientific consensus, why is denial such a strong force among some, and why is denial strongest where power is most concentrated?

The challenges around the management of complex systems made more complex by past human intervention was a major topic in Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Ingenuity Gap, which was a big influence on my thinking. A call to action for increased creativity, innovation and ingenuity, Homer-Dixon highlighted the dangers of thinking that past performance will predict future results. Complex systems may appear long-run stable and then hit a tipping point that triggers a sudden change to a new stable equilibrium. Economic, political, ecological and social systems all display this kind of behaviour, and the adjustments can be very dangerous.

I have a profound respect for the power of human creativity to overcome most any challenge. But I also believe that as a society we need to cultivate, protect and grow that creative spark in order to create much better ideas to address some very serious collective action problems. Complexity and our inability to manage it is challenging our economic and political systems and straining our institutions’ capacity to adapt to a rapidly increasing rate of change. This is the challenge of our age, and one that needs to be articulated and discussed.

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Ontario Budget: Cities, Creativity & Innovation

The interesting times continue in the technology and creative industries in Ontario and the Toronto region. I thought I would post a summary of today’s Ontario provincial budget speech, as it relates to research and innovation, the technology and creative industries and creative communities.

The big theme here is that cities, creativity and innovation are becoming major areas of government attention and investment. This is necessary to help transform the Ontario economy from it’s industrial present to its knowledge and creativity-driven future. Livable cities, cultural vitality and social inclusion of disenfranchised communities are central to achieving these goals. (See Richard Florida)

Given the macroeconomic context and the nature of global competitiveness, I expect that future budgets and governments will continue to invest in these areas. This is not a momentary blip or flavour of the month, but the beginning of a steady march of change. This transition marks a historical opportunity for creative professionals, innovators, community builders and social entrepreneurs to step up and carve out a place for themselves in this future.

A long-ish overview of some key areas that won’t be extensively covered in mainstream media follows, along with my thoughts and perspective on the underlying issues. After the jump…

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Rick Segal: “Memo to BigCo, Shut Up”

Rick Segal posts a cautionary tale of Web 2.0 mania causing large companies to toy with the emotions of startups with visions of doing the acquisition dance in their heads, only to leave the wallflowers standing alone. Rick Segal is my kind of VC: he blogs, he questions the orthodoxy of his industry and he’s not afraid to go on a rant. Add Rick to your newsreader if you haven’t already.

Web 2.0 is important, a major shift appears to be underway. But something smells fishy. VC may be broken, the only exit is acquisition, BigCo’s are acquiring startups for “strategic reasons” or to acquire talent and then abandoning innovation, getting stuck with the hard work of building a business model only to be taken out by a new, more innovative startup seeking acquisition, and the cycle continues. Or BigCo sits on ass and plays kingmaker while eager young pups jostle for attention, wasting everyone’s talents, time and attention. This is a sucky and anti-innovative situation.

I’ve been exploring these themes a lot lately (here & here), but I sure don’t have it figured it out yet. It has something to do with the tension between network economics and the desire of capital to internalize the market. Web 2.0 and Capital may be a paradox, or they may present a new kind of arbitrage opportunity. More on this later…

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Toronto Hydro MuniFi Disruption redux

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about Toronto Hydro Telecom getting into the community wifi broadband business. I for one was surprised to find out that Toronto Hydro had a telecom subsidiary. It turns out, they’re not the only ones.

Here is a nice overview of community wifi projects around North America from the Globe & Mail. Hanna’s asking the right questions over at Wireless Toronto:

Also (curiously) absent from any coverage of this plan is mention of UTC Canada, “a trade association focused on addressing the critical telecommunications issues for utilities and energy companies in Canada and the providers of telecommunications infrastructure or information technology services.�

Remember, these are electrical utilities. A picture is presenting itself of a dormant fibre optic network that has the potential to access almost every telephone pole and/or lamp-post in Southern Ontario. Forgive me for getting myself excited over the prospect of clusters of municipal wifi mesh networks all over the place, but consultant-bloggers need to get out of the house more often.

Is it time to start thinking of broadband as a utility?

It is clear that it is in the public interest to have ubiquitous broadband, and wireless offers a low cost alternative for delivering that last mile. We are long overdue for a proper debate on the topic of the “digital divide”, and this development provides an opening. In disenfranchised communities both inside and outside the city people – kids – do not have access to the single most important technology that is the platform for the knowledge-based economy of the future. I would love to see a GIS map of the city showing the correlation between broadband penetration and average income. Any Regent Park bloggers out there? Arm kids with broadband, inexpensive laptops and provide them with access to video/audio gear and watch a flowering of creative and economic vitality in this city in the years that follow.

And don’t get me started on gun violence and its connection to social and economic exclusion.

Rogers, Telus & Bell may not like this idea, but where is the consensus in the public interest? Telecom is ripe for serious disruption, IMHO.
Thti Utel-8.5X11-2

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The conference with a name: mesh, May 15th & 16th

mesh - Canada's Web 2.0 Conference

Ok, now I understand what’s been keeping TorCamp Chief Instigator David Crow busy these days. Clearly, he’s been helping instigate the mesh conference, even got himself a speaking gig. Fantastic. What is mesh? Why it’s Canada’s Web 2.0 conference, of course. And seriously, just go to the site and checkout the lineup: Om Malik, Steve Rubel, Michael Geist, Jason Fried. This is exciting.

Combined with TorCamp2 BarCampToronto2.0 the weekend leading in, this is going to be a major happening and could just be Toronto web scene’s event of the year. This really puts Tdot on the map in this very exciting space at a very exciting time. Great to see.

Register now.

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Remarkable Ice Cream, Remarkable Illustration

Not everything worth mentioning happens in technology, and its good to call out some fantastic stuff when we see it. Good friend and illustrator Julia Breckenreid has just completed some beautiful labels for Brad’s Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream. Brad is based in Toronto’s Kensington Market, and he produces delectable and creative concoctions that will soon be coming to a Whole Foods near you.


I am a big fan of his Coffee Cardamom ice cream – spicy, sweet and creamy all at once. Oh, and I also love Vanilla Rose. I don’t know if those flavours are going into wide distribution. Remarkk! wishes Brad best of luck on his new venture. I hope he gets a domain setup soon with a url on those labels and starts blogging once he’s got things running. It worked really well for Stoneyfield Farm.

(Note: I will blog for ice cream.)

The Remarkable Leila Boujnane of Idée Inc.

Leila came to U of T to talk about her real-world startup war stories to Business of Software students. I coach 4 teams of these students, who are fantastic. They come up with technology product ideas, develop business plans and have the opportunity to pitch to a panel of experienced investors at semester’s end. They are bright, enthusiastic and asked Leila some great questions during Q&A.

My favourite moment was in answer to a question about disclosing your idea to prospective customers or partners who could decide to build it themselves. Leila’s point (to paraphrase) was that disclosure paranoia is B.S. because the idea is worthless without the team to execute it. If somebody can execute the idea better then you’re not the people who should do it, and you should get out of the way. Go all the way or go home. And if the idea isn’t remarkable, then don’t even bother. Loved it.

I saw Leila demo Idée’s visual search tool at TorCamp1 and was impressed with the power, the thoughtful execution and the beautiful user experience. A truly remarkable and successful product and company. Inspiring to the students, but also to me and others. In the context of the conversations we’ve been having about the community supporting each other and demanding bigger thinking and better ideas, I really believe we also need to highlight and celebrate our successes. We don’t brag enough about Idée and Bubbleshare and others in the community that are models of success. When Remarkk! sees something remarkable, we call it the way we see it.

So, DemoCampers, show us something worth talking about.

Power Lunch with Albert Lai of Bubbleshare

Ok, TorCamp über-startup meister (and host of DemoCamp1.0) Albert Lai of Bubbleshare has some ‘splaining to do. Via Robert Scoble, a report of a Power Lunch with Scoble, Michael Arrington, Lynda Weinman and Bill-freaking Gates!?

Holy crap. Does that mean the rest of us schmucks are two degrees of separation from the richest man in the world? If you had lunch with Bill, what’s the one question you would ask?

I love the Bubbleshare blog integration tool. Check it:

Blog Day 2: Shel says Hi

The amazing power of the social network, conversational and community aspects of blogging were made vividly clear to me with my second post on this brand new blog of mine, when I pinged a Shel Israel post and got a really nice welcome to the conversation mention on Shel’s blog.

Suddenly I am a participant in the conversation, which existed before my entry and will exist long after I’m gone. It’s validating and a reality check at the same time. Being open, transparent and prepared for criticism is one of the tenets of the social media world. And attention, while nice, is also fleeting.

I have often worked away on my ideas in isolation, collecting data, writing a paper or report, refining it before delivering the final product. I like that my ideas and point of view benefit from the scrutiny of a self-selected community of experts who can be anywhere. It is clarifying and I believe it will produce a better product.