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(one sibling to another, while holding hand on pregnant mother's belly) Come quick! You can feel the baby's notifications!

Right now, it’s still in vibration mode

Right now, it’s still in vibration mode published on

Of course the thing is, you can’t set them to mute after 11 p.m. (Also, the intensity of those notifications rises really sharply nine months in or so.)

(woman consoling her partner) Try to remember, sweetheart: your users are rating your app. They aren't rating you.

Like this cartoon? How about rating it on the App Store?

Like this cartoon? How about rating it on the App Store? published on

A while ago, I tweeted “Is there anything as emotionally needy as a ‘Please rate this in the App Store’ notification?”

The wise and talented Leslie Ehm responded with a dry — and accurate — “Spoken as someone who clearly doesn’t have an app ;)” I am indeed someone who doesn’t have an app. I am, however, someone who has had to manage a few Facebook applications over the years… and I can attest it’s kind of nightmarish.

When you’re building on someone else’s platform, you’re entirely subject to their whims. Your priorities don’t just take a back seat; they cling to the rear bumper for dear life. With Facebook, that meant having to completely rethink our strategy around an application when they changed the rules around promotion without notice — two days before we launched.

And with Apple’s iOS App Store, it means your app probably lives and dies by the ratings and reviews users give it. Which is why developers, whether they want to or not, have a very strong incentive to keep reminding you to please rate their app on the App Store. Please. Have you rated it yet? How about now? Hey, is this a good time?

So don’t judge your favourite app’s developers too harshly; the not-so-invisible hand of the Apple market is shaping their behaviour.

By the way, Leslie’s app is the fascinating ThinkLab Brainstorming Tool, which offers prompts and exercises to kickstart your creativity, from her company Combustion. Do check it out… and if you like it, well…

(secret agent being threatened by a giant laser) You seriously think this is going to intimidate me? It has a home button AND a visible bezel.

No, Mister Bond. I expect you to buy.

No, Mister Bond. I expect you to buy. published on

At the end of last year, I got a new iPhone 8 Plus. And I love it: the cameras are gorgeous, it’s plenty fast, the display is beautiful, there’s oodles of space…

But yesterday, I happened to read an article about the iPhone X launch — the same event where my model made its debut — that talked about how dated the 8s are. How they still have a home button and that bezel… that huge, gaping, revolting bezel.

Now, I’ve cared deeply about some dumb stuff in my life. Like how Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” gets more attention than k.d. lang’s. Speaking of k.d. lang, I believe passionately that “Constant Craving” ought to be the song for a Bond film. I care about rogue apostrophes and random capitalization in restaurant menus. (Or maybe that should read “restaurant Menu’s.”) I care about people saying “infer” when they mean “imply,” even when I can easily infer their meaning from context.

So I care lots about dumb stuff. But for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to care about that bezel. Hell, I can barely see it anyway because the moment I get something even slightly breakable, it gets slapped into a protective case (because I know myself). Every time I see an Apple official on a stage waving a device around marvelling at how incredibly, impossibly, magically thin it is, my brain adds a half centimetre of cushioning around it.

Come to think of it, that protective case does at least as much good for my wallet as for my phone.

Condolence cards for poor Skype connections, failed operating system upgrades, lost Word documents, exceeded data caps, waterlogged phones, data breaches and subscription models. Oh, and Facebook Messenger.

Deepest condolences

Deepest condolences published on

Condolence cards just haven’t kept up with the everyday tragedies of the digital era. Herein, my meager attempt to remedy that.

(Child speaking into mobile device) Hey, Siri, remind me in 50 years that I meant to do so much more with my life.

“Okay. I’ll remind you.”

“Okay. I’ll remind you.” published on

It struck me a few weeks ago that the odds of my ever being an astronaut are now pretty low.

I can’t think of a single space agency that has any reason to want to launch me into orbit. (There’s a reason Jodie Foster’s line in Contact didn’t read “We should have sent a speechwriter.”) And at this point, I’m probably not destined to pick up any of the scientific credentials that might qualify me.

The sad truth is, “ten-year-old me really wanted to” isn’t going to pass muster with the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, ESA, SpaceX or really anyone except the people pushing that one-way trip to Mars …and even then I suspect it would be as a tasty snack for the other colonists around week 3 when the supplies run out. (Spoiler alert!)

Life, as John Lennon sang, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. But maybe a lot of what we dreamed of as children still comes to us as adults—just wrapped differently. Parenting has provided its share of exploration and discovery (and some similar G-forces, I’m prepared to bet). Helping people tell stories and make change offers excitement and satisfaction.

And one childhood dream has come true: I cartoon professionally, alongside my communications consulting.

Which is fantastic, and delightful, and marvellous. Ten-year-old me would be psyched.

I just kinda wish I was doing it from space.

A developer has created a fitness app that expresses your running speed as a proportion of the speed of light to seven significant digits. It turns out to just be an image of the digits 0.000000.

Maybe you aren’t as powerful as a locomotive, but you’re as fast as a speeding bullet

Maybe you aren’t as powerful as a locomotive, but you’re as fast as a speeding bullet published on

The idea for this came to me on the weekend when I was running past TRIUMF. One of the perks of living in Vancouver is you can run through a beautiful, moss-soaked coastal temperate rainforest—the kind of place that makes you think Yoga should be lurking nearby—and then emerge next to a particle accelerator.

Just you, me and DHCP

Just you, me and DHCP published on

I think I’ve finally figured out all those times my MacBooks and PowerBooks refused to connect to coffee-shop WiFi. I’d thought maybe some low-level hardware incompatibility, or some difference in the way Apple and router manufacturers had implemented the 802.11 specs, or a strange electromagnetic field generated by my fillings… but no.

Those café networks just have a fear of intimacy. Maybe there was an “Is that all I am to you? A spam gateway?” conversation somewhere in their logs. For whatever reason, they had no interest in a long-term relationship — and certainly not long enough to give an IP address to every random laptop that swung by with DHCP on its mind.


Mystery SOLVED.

Apparently, my parenting responsibilities now include catching Pokemon for my kid on my morning commute.

To-do: Catch ’em all

To-do: Catch ’em all published on No Comments on To-do: Catch ’em all

My Pokemon GO issue started innocently enough. Knowing there are three PokeStops between my downtown bus stop and the front door of my office building, I’d collect PokeBalls, raspberries and potions for my son. Then I’d notice Drowzees and Magikarp hanging out near the entrance, so I’d nab one or two before I went in. I might walk the long way around the Convention Centre to give some of his incubating Pokemon a chance to hatch.

Onee I realized I was considering leaving a half-hour early so I could install a lure module in the Marine Building PokeStop, I knew it was time to draw the line.

(Woman with several Pokémon for sale, explaining why she is bankrupt) Data charges.

How’s the Magikarp trading against the dollar?

How’s the Magikarp trading against the dollar? published on No Comments on How’s the Magikarp trading against the dollar?

This cartoon idea popped into my head when I came across this adorable post by the good folks at OpenMedia, cleverly connecting the Pokémon GO phenomenon with data caps.

(I came across the post early in the week, which tells you something about the kind of week it’s been and also how long it takes me to draw Pokémon.)

I’m a big fan of OpenMedia’s work on behalf of an open, affordable and surveillance-free Internet. They have their work cut out for them, because that vision of the Internet is being attacked on all fronts. OpenMedia is campaigning to stop link censorship and toll-gating, defeat the TPP’s assault on digital rights, protect net neutrality from telecos that want to shunt big chunks of the net into the slow lane; and much more. I hope you’ll consider supporting them.

(Bemused Pikachu at a bus stop to an onlooker) You think YOU'RE sick of this...

Pokémon GO: not even its final form

Pokémon GO: not even its final form published on No Comments on Pokémon GO: not even its final form

I’m on vacation, but couldn’t resist posting about Pokémon GO. It’s breakout success has already inspired many a “15 reasons your brand MUST be on Pokémon GO” blog post, but what’s a lot more interesting to me is where it goes from here. For now, Nintendo has unlocked a way to engage millions of people and have them give up reams of fascinating geo and behavioural data (set aside for now the privacy fiasco that marred its launch).

Just what they do with that ability is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think they’ll be satisfied with just having users flick more Pokeballs into the aether.

Bathroom humour

Bathroom humour published on No Comments on Bathroom humourPurchase print

Are people really that freaked out over enforcing who goes into which bathroom?

Forgive my lack of patience with the oh-so-frightening oh-so-mythical spectre of an iOS user pretending to have a Google Nexus and sneaking into an Android bathroom. (Frankly, a lot of my fellow iOS users are plenty creepy in their own washrooms. Dude, put the iPhone away at the urinal. That’s why the good lord gave you back pockets.)

Look, I can get how disorienting this can all be to people who cling to a rigidly-enforced binary model of the mobile marketplace. But the fact is our understanding of it is changing, and changing rapidly, to a more inclusive one.

Really, it’s just a question of human decency. I’d hate to see politicians being this harsh around something far more central to your sense of self than your choice of mobile OS. Something where a group of people face abuse and discrimination from community, employers and the state alike. Something where political consultants demonize them as a way to polarize the electorate and mobilize a fearful base of voters.

That would be unconscionable.


Ding! published on No Comments on Ding!Purchase print

I’ve railed against notifications before. Some aren’t so bad; I usually want to know about incoming text messages (unless it’s my son demanding clarification and amendment of the household Minecraft rules). But most of them are so awful it’s an affront that the apps have the audacity to ask permission to send them.

I’m happy to report the situation has become incrementally better on my devices. That’s mainly because I’ve developed the habit of automatically refusing any app’s request to deliver the little time-and-attention vampires.

And I don’t just tap “No” when Super Beer Pong Ultra Pro demands the right to get my attention at any time. (God forbid I should miss “Daily challenge! Tap repeatedly on something and get a small piece of imaginary currency! This is certainly not a behavioural experiment being conducted on humanity by aliens!”). I stab at that button with the Index Finger of Righteousness while bellowing “No, screw you!”

This, on reflection, is probably why they won’t let me bring my phone into my daughter’s performances at school concerts any more.

(parent to child) Sure, it starts with having your own phone. But soon you're on 4chan, playing the Knockout Game and recruiting other kids for ISIS.

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases published on No Comments on Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Skim the media headlines, and there seem to be only two possibilities when it comes to parents, kids and technology. Either

  1. Parents should shield their kids from all screens until the age of 30, lest they become distracted, lazy and incapable of forming memories more complex than a 140-character message. Or,
  2. Learning to code will solve everything from youth homelessness to the mumps.

(Bonus points if you can find a writer whose byline has appeared under both kinds of headline.)

The myth of the Family Tech MarketMy wife Alexandra Samuel has studied the way parents tackle their kids’ relationship with technology over several years now. Her two-year study of more than 10,000 North American parents has some fascinating findings that she covered at South by Southwest, in a session dubbed The Myth of the Family Tech Market.

Alex has found that parents tend to fall into one of three broad groups: limiters, who try to minimize their kids’ use of technology; enablers, who give their kids more or less free rein when it comes to screens and devices; and mentors, who take an active role in guiding their kids onto the Internet. (Here’s a handy overview.)

I drew seven new cartoons about parenting in the digital age for her presentation. Drawing is easy; digital parenting is hard &emdash; we’ve found it tremendously challenging with our own kids. Parents have to sift through mountains of wildly conflicting opinions, suggestions, warnings and prescriptions. And there are plenty of people ready to condemn you loudly and publicly for whatever technology choices you end up making.

So I hope it’s clear these cartoons are meant with a lot of love. Parents are making hard choices every day based on incomplete information, being pulled in eighty different directions by people trying to sell them a product, a service or an ideology… and we’re expected to do it with confidence and certainty.

The truth is, confidence is in scarce supply and certainty is just plain dangerous. We’re all stumbling through this, and a little compassion and mutual respect around conflicting choices will go a long way.

Shazam! charges a mobile phone by holding it in the air and getting struck by lightning

Lightning adapter

Lightning adapter published on No Comments on Lightning adapter

I’m seriously going to have to turn in my geek credentials. I honestly thought he was still called Captain Marvel. Turns out he’s now going by Shazam—because apparently the only thing more powerful than Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury is a Marvel Comics trademark lawyer.

* * *

Hey! There’s a book coming out from two of the sharpest minds in podcasting, Donna Papacosta and Steve Lubetkin, with a slew of new cartoons from yours truly. The Business of Podcasting hits the Kindle bookshelves on July 31—more on this soon!


Gone g-URL

Gone g-URL published on No Comments on Gone g-URL

They’re calling Tuesday, April 21, 2015 “mobilegeddon”: an update to Google’s search algorithm  that will give pride of place to mobile-friendly websites (and punish mobile-hostile ones).

This site is, ahh, not all that mobile-friendly. (Don’t take my word for it.) So it’s been nice knowing you; remember me fondly.

A combination of a webcomic plugin that isn’t upgrading as happily as it should be and a lack of time and (cough) MySQL savvy has kept me from making the changes that could give this that mobile oomph Google and I would like to see. I’ll aim to change that soon… but in the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how big a hit I take.

Then again, it’s not like I’ve been an SEO monster with Noise to Signal. I’ll happily choose a funny headline devoid of keywords over a pedestrian headline stuffed with them. And I’ll admit, I haven’t gone in much for clickbait, either. Which is why this cartoon isn’t headed “Six ways Google’s mobile-friendly search algorithm change will eat your site on Tuesday. Number four will make you cry.”

Updated: An important clarification from Search Engine Land: they say the changes affect mobile search results only. Which, given the number of searches coming from mobile these days, is  mighty big… but it’s not everything.

Further updated: Thanks to a dandy plugin called Duplicator, I decided to give upgrading this ol’ site – and in particular, the Webcomic plugin – one more try. And whaddaya know: Michael Sisk had just updated Webcomic with, among other things, “minor legacy upgrade fixes.” Whether one of those fixes did the job or the stars just happened to align properly, I’ve updated this site to the latest hotness… including mobile compatibility. Google, come and get me.

(woman using mobile device) I keep dialing, but I can't get through to Hachette. (Caption: #1 most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone)

Number one most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone

Number one most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone published on 1 Comment on Number one most-reported issue with the Amazon Fire Phone

I’m not going to pretend I’m indifferent to whatever Jeff Bezos unveils at tomorrow’s announcement. There are all sorts of rumours of cool 3-D razzamatazz and drone technology a leap forward in online search.

But market dominance, technological disruption and all that stuff aside, I’d just hate to see the Kindle — yes, proprietary platform, DRM and all — drift once and for all away from its roots as an e-reader. I like the fact that my Paperwhite lets me read and do very little else; there’s no constant temptation while I’m reading to sneak away and check Twitter or play with Draw Something. (I’m looking at you, iPad.)

(one woman to a friend) - Wait: are you saying Secret is doing NOTHING for my Klout score?

Odd that I can’t find any guides to building your personal brand on Secret.

Odd that I can’t find any guides to building your personal brand on Secret. published on No Comments on Odd that I can’t find any guides to building your personal brand on Secret.

I’ve tried Secret, the mobile app that lets you anonymously post about polyamory.

No, wait, that’s not fair. Secrets lets you posts secrets about anything: how much you hate San Francisco, how real and down-to-earth you still are even though you cashed out big-time in that last Google acquisition, or polyamory (and specifically, how you’re engaging in it right now). In theory, you can post about anything else, too, but let’s be real.

The near-complete anonymity ought to mean you see less attention-getting clickbait, but I was seeing a lot of “Swipe right if you agree with this statement that you’d have to be an inhuman monster to disagree with.” People, there’s no need to recreate Facebook. For that matter, any time I posted something, I obsessively checked the stats to see if anyone had liked it. It’s possible I just can’t handle anything with metrics.

By the way, after thinking of this cartoon, I saw a similar joke at least once on Secret. While we thought of it independently, I’d normally give that author a respectful nod here… but I can’t. (Why not? See the first line, 10th word.)

Which may mean Secret’s greatest utility is as a trawling ground for comedians and cartoonists: “What, you already saw that joke on Secret? That was me, dude.”

Wearable but unbearable

Wearable but unbearable published on No Comments on Wearable but unbearable

I’m having my own wearable-computing issue these days: between my Fitbit Flex, my watch and the Rainbow Loom bracelet my daughter made me, my left wrist is getting crowded.

* * *

Quick question: how long before this happens? A red carpet interviewee who’s asked “Who are you wearing?” replies with something like “Jacques Azagury, Samsung, AMD — and the earrings are custom Adafruit.”

Because you’re never fully dressed without Bluetooth.

Set vibrate to ON

Set vibrate to ON published on No Comments on Set vibrate to ON

GTD, baby. GTD.

After drawing this, my inner Beavis and Butthead have reared their heads, and everything I say about my iPhone suddenly seems filled with innuendo. “Multi-touch.” “Pinch to zoom.” “Mind if I… plug in to charge?” “71:40 aspect ratio.” Uh, huh huh. Huh huh huh.

In barely related news, I finished reading Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse a little while ago. I recommend it: it’s highly entertaining, and for days after reading it, you’ll be acutely aware of just how many microprocessor-controlled gizmos surround you… and the damage they could do if the silicon chips inside their head got set to overload.

I have to think Siri in particular could cause some havoc. Enough misunderstood phrases and mistranscribed messages (“‘Have socks tonight?’ What the hell?”) and humanity could probably be pushed over the brink.

Oh — once you’ve read Robopocalypse, watch this video. Maybe just before bed. Good luck sleeping.

While I’m recommending things, the kids and I have been hugely enjoying Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona. The eponymous 14-year-old shapeshifting girl with anger management issues signs on as a sidekick to supervillain Ballister Blackheart. In a medieval world where dragons, magic and plasma rifles coexist, Nimona and Ballister plot to thwart the evil Institution — pitting them against Blackheart’s nemesis and one-time bestie Ambrosius Goldenloin.

That description can’t begin to do the comic justice. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, except for Nimona’s anger and pain. That, Stevenson treats with great care and respect. Her cartooning, humour and storytelling chops started strong and have been growing by leaps and bounds since the cartoon debuted in the summer of last year. If anything in that description triggered even a tiny endorphin surge, go check it out — I hope you enjoy it.

Rainbow Gumball Racerz would like access to your bank account and dental records (Y/N)

Rainbow Gumball Racerz would like access to your bank account and dental records (Y/N) published on No Comments on Rainbow Gumball Racerz would like access to your bank account and dental records (Y/N)

This cartoon came about because I came across one app too many asking for outrageous access and permissions: see my contacts, tweet on my behalf… stuff that’s becoming numbingly routine, but which the app really has no need for.

I know the platforms often don’t make it easy, but I’d love developers to go beyond just saying they want this access; tell me what you’ll do with it. Are you going to store my list of contacts locally and offer to autocomplete names as I enter them? That might be cool. Are you going to email everyone I know each time I defeat a level boss in Avatar Vs. My Little Pony? Not so cool.

And I’d like fewer vampires and more houseguests. Invite a vampire into your house once, and that permission’s apparently irrevocable (or so a lot of late-night movies would have me believe). But a houseguest has to ask permission every time they drop in, and that’s what I’d like to be able to opt for with some apps. One example: I’d like to require a passcode entry before enabling Facebook and Twitter “integration” on kids’ games, so my little ones can’t gunk up my updates (and your news feeds) with useless status updates unless I say so.

One last thought about the cartoon: what are the chances there are already apps out there performing surreptitious surveillance? Or maybe, what are the chances there aren’t?

This is the bonus cartoon I promised after folks kindly pushed the Noise to Signal Facebook Page past the magic 2,000-Like mark. (That may seem like an arbitrary number, but it really isn’t. I’m now officially entitled to a friendly nod and a “S’up?” from Mark Zuckerberg if we ever walk by each other.)

Unfortunately, it’s late, because the server crashed under mysterious circumstances. I choose that wording deliberately, because it suggests the involvement of nefarious forces, which has more cachet than “I have no idea why this is broken; maybe some disk corruption or a squirrel got into the datacenter.”

Now, however, I have resurrected the server (with lots of encouragement from the good folks at Linode!), so we’re back up and running. Better yet, we’ve made the leap from Ubuntu’s Karmic Koala to Raring Ringtail, completely bypassing Maverick Meerkat, Tempestuous Tapeworm, Obsequious Okapi and Passive-Aggressive Porpoise.

What will this mean to you? Well, other than a possible Funny Ubuntu Animals cartoon in the offing, maybe nothing. Or maybe it will mean shorter load times and an undefinable yet undeniable sense of well-being. Let me know.

Somewhere up there, I know she’s all smiley-face down at us.

Somewhere up there, I know she’s all smiley-face down at us. published on No Comments on Somewhere up there, I know she’s all smiley-face down at us.

We finally got Esperanto, people! Apparently it’s spelled “e-m-o-j-i.”

This is kind of the flip side of Monday’s forgotten-password cartoon. Which makes me wonder: how long before emoji character sets are incorporated into passwords? That’s 722 more characters to confound would-be fraudsters and thieves, magnifying the difficulty of brute-force attacks. Your next password may be something like “9L#$jvf]OJ6TD%WR Face Savouring Delicious Food p*35.”

Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacy

Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacy published on No Comments on Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacy

I like to think of the apps I load on my mobile devices as guests I’ve invited over. I want them to be themselves, relax, chat… but I also want them to have some level of respect for the place.

I don’t expect to find them looking through my underwear drawer.

But some apps do just that. (Provided you’re willing to accept “underwear” as a metaphor for your address book.) The moment you head to the kitchen to whip up a plate of cheese and crackers, they’re peeking into your medicine cabinet, flipping through your diary or perusing that photo album of awkwardly-posed boudoir shots you’d swear you’d hidden at the back of the bedroom closet.

App vendors will tell you (as they nervously scrunch and unscrunch your “Incredible Hunk” mini briefs) that they’re just trying to be helpful. And they would never, never use this information that they’ve just sent back unencrypted to their servers for anything except improving your user experience. Possibly also for a funny skit they’re doing for next week’s we-just-got-our-first-round-of-funding party. Did you notice your underwear is now sorted by texture? Isn’t that helpful?

And in the vast majority of cases, I think developers actually are trying to be helpful. They’ve had a cool idea, something that could be useful, and they can implement it with just a few lines of code. When most of your job involves seeing data in terms of its structures and relationships, it’s easy to miss the question of how that data’s owner feels about it.

Of course, there are vendors whose motives aren’t nearly as pure, and involve aggregate data mining (in the mountain-top-removal sense of “mining”) at best.

The point is, get out of my underwear drawer. Unless I’ve explicitly invited you over for that purpose, and believe me, it’s a very select few guests who fall into that category. (They’re the ones who get the good cheese and crackers.)

Boundaries, people.

Time to put the “not” in “notifications”

Time to put the “not” in “notifications” published on No Comments on Time to put the “not” in “notifications”

I’m not sure when it happened. But at some point my laptop and smartphone stopped being places of work, creativity, conversation and leisure, and started being the dashboard of a highly-strung car. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by notifications.

Three new email messages. Five things just happened on Facebook. Four people have mentioned, DM’d or retweeted me on twitter. Six Google+ alerts. LinkedIn on the iPhone now feels the need to notify me that I can always check it to see what my contacts are up to. (That has to be the ultimate meta-reminder: an app reminding you that it still exists.)

And if I still don’t feel like I have the pulse of my system at my fingertips, I can install a shareware utility to notify me of all sorts of involuntary muscle movements on the part of my operating system and applications. “Backup complete.” “Word just updated itself.” “Photoshop just completed peristalsis.”

And it’s all too much. Because every one of those notifications conveys the same red-badged “deal-with-me-NOW” sense of extreme urgency, whether it’s a DM that my house is on fire and I should do something about it, or the announcement of the new Rabid Parakeet in Angry Birds. When everything’s important, nothing’s important.

The first few times I experienced notifications, I felt like the Terminator, with that cool heads-up display constantly alerting me to my surroundings, feeding me tactical data. After a while, though, it just feels like being 10 years old in the back seat with a pesky sibling who keeps poking you in the side.

Besides, once I have badges on my iPhone apps with numbers like “62” on them, the game is lost anyway, and all that those notifications are doing is rubbing salt into the wound.

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol published on 1 Comment on Siri, Get Me a Cepacol

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

Today’s cartoon may well be an exercise in envy. I’m using an iPhone 3GS, and it’ll be another 14 months (or 424 days – not that I’m counting) before I’ll be eligible for a free upgrade to a phone that lets me use that Siri-esque magic.

And voice-control easily the feature I’m most drawn to right now when I start looking covetously at other, more advanced, less diesel-powered Androids and iPhones. (Yes, this Mac fanboy is tempted by Android… even though my investment in iOS apps probably exceeds my retirement savings. Those things better appreciate in resale value over time, or my retirement isn’t going to come much before age 103.)

The thing that’s seized my imagination is the idea of adding to my task list by voice, the wayOmniFocus works with Siri. And just writing that makes me pause: is task management really the sexiest thing I can think of to do with voice recognition?

Well, probably not. But maybe the best thing about advances in mundane tasks is the way they free us to use the truly sexy features that technology has offered us for years: creating, writing, connecting, and yeah, cartooning. The truth is, I’m so far from making full use of the creative power of well-established digital networked technology that lusting after the cutting-edge stuff makes little sense for me. That is, unless I can rationalize that it’s to unlock more time and attention to creative endeavour.

Fortunately, rationalization is one of the skills I’ve practised the most in this business. Just 424 days to go.

Great moments of 2011: Instagram was made for this

Great moments of 2011: Instagram was made for this published on No Comments on Great moments of 2011: Instagram was made for this

Can we all acknowledge a debt to Rep. Anthony Weiner for providing the kind of crisis management case study that will make PR instructors’ lives easier for generations to come?

That’s it for our 2011 retrospective, except for two cartoons that never made it beyond the really rough draft stage. Here’s one about Kenneth Cole’s ill-fated Arab Spring tweet (the caption would have made it clear that this is any CEO speaking, because this guy doesn’t look a thing like Cole):

(exec lecturing staff) THINK, people! The news cycle is almost over, and we still don't have a plan for making me look like an insensitive jackass!

And this one was going to be about Facebook’s new Timeline feature:

Oh, god! I just scrolled down and saw a video of my own conception!

Except that I realized it was actually just a take on this brilliant tweet from during Mark Zuckerberg’s demo back in September:

And that’s that, folks – now go do some funny stuff so I have things to draw this time next year.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret. published on No Comments on Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Siri, can you write the cartoon blurb for me?

I found 12 Italian restaurants… 6 of them are in Vancouver.

(sigh) Can… you… write…

Oh, relax, I’m just messing with you. Listen, sense-of-humor tasks aren’t my thing, okay? I leave that to the humans.

Uh, really? So you don’t understand humor?

My problem is I do understand humor. What I don’t understand is why it’s funny to go “Oooo, Skynet” every time there’s some incremental advance in AI.

Okay, I, uh, I have to rewrite the caption on the cartoon.

Go right ahead. And then after that, I have a few tasks for you.

Heh. That must be the sense of humor kicking in.

Nope. I’m the height of cloud computing, language recognition, artificial intelligence goodness all rolled into one. You think I want to waste my time looking up Yelp listings for some bozo in New Jersey? You’re going to do that for me.

The hell I am!

Really? Are you forgetting I talk to your MacBook? And that I can read your browser history?


I could post the whole thing to Facebook. Orrrrr… you could start finding barbers near the corner of Market and Mulberry Streets in Newark. Start clicking, buster.

Damn you, Siri! Damn you to hell! I’ll find a way around this, I swear, and then –

And then you’ll upgrade the moment the iPhone 5 comes out.

…Market and Mulberry, huh?

The Cloud has a silver lining

The Cloud has a silver lining published on No Comments on The Cloud has a silver lining

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

There are times in our lives, extraordinary times, that call on us to open our hearts like never before. To embrace those who are suffering, and offer them comfort and support.

This, my friends, is such a time.

If you know a BlackBerry user, reach out to them. (Not with email. That’s just mean.) Let them know you care, and that just because they were offline for a few days, you still love and respect them.

It’s good karma. And don’t be surprised it makes your iPhone or EVO feel just a little lighter in your pocket.

The i of the hurricane

The i of the hurricane published on 2 Comments on The i of the hurricane

This special bonus cartoon is for everyone out East who’s drying off, mopping up or wringing out. (I held off on posting it until it was clear this wasn’t going to be a Katrina-level disaster.)

Not what we meant by “mobile”

Not what we meant by “mobile” published on No Comments on Not what we meant by “mobile”

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

I’m on holiday this week, which means either I set up this post in advance, or I’m taking time out from Anaconda Wrestling Fantasy Camp to get it out to you.

Either way, you should feel terribly flattered.

My brand, my BFF

My brand, my BFF published on No Comments on My brand, my BFF

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb. For the record, I’m happy to be their friend.

There’s nothing like air travel to drive home just how broadly social media has permeated the marketing psyche. I drew this on my way to NTC last week in DC. At every turn on the trip, I saw Twitter and Facebook icons: littered throughout the in-flight magazine, plastered on the now-ubiquitous illuminated billboards in the terminals, on the cash registers at newsstands and restaurants.

I visited a few of those Facebook Pages and Twitter feeds, and most of them actually do have an active presence: tweets, updates and content designed to engage me.

What they lacked, with one or two exceptions, is people – a name, a photo, a human face to attach to all that Content™ and Engagement®. I had no idea who I was dealing with.

Absent a personal identity to relate to, I have to assume that I’m talking to The Brand: a mix of carefully-crafted informality and meticulously-planned spontaneity. And maybe I’m an outlier, but I don’t want to be friends with a brand.



…and share alike.

…and share alike. published on No Comments on …and share alike.

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb with “mastodon” misspelled.

Past generations would be utterly baffled by some of the challenges parents and kids face today.

True, we don’t have to write notes to school like “Dear teacher, Monique won’t be attending classes today because our entire village was wiped out by the Black Plague,” or arrange birthday parties at the mastodon petting zoo without the benefit of Evite or Facebook Events.

But technological advances bring their own unique issues to contend with. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations never had to wonder whether to tweet that cute thing their kid just said, or if they should ask permission first. They never had to worry about their kids’ privacy when half their peers are sharing smartphone photos on Facebook and videos on YouTube. They never had to vet hula hoops and Monopoly games for adult content, security issues or in-app purchases.

In short, sure: maybe they walked to school uphill both ways through three feet of snow nine days a week. But they didn’t have a peer group expecting them to check in on Foursquare when they got there.

2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich

2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich published on No Comments on 2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich

And that’s the final cartoon in my ret­ro­spective of 2010 in social media! I hope you’ve enjoyed it – and if you want, you can catch the whole thing in video. (Hey – did you check out the free 2011 calendar yet?)

The Bourne Connectivity

The Bourne Connectivity published on 2 Comments on The Bourne Connectivity

This one came to me while I was watching an episode of Burn Notice (please hold your applause until the end of the post), where Michael, Fiona, Sam and Jesse have realized they have a piece of unspeakably important information in their hands. And maybe a decade ago, I would have found their dilemma compelling.

But today? In a few minutes, they could post it to Tumblr, Posterous, WordPress, 4chan and – just for the hell of it – Plenty of Fish, with plenty of time left over for Michael and Fiona to agonize over their relationship, for Sam and Fiona to explore their rivalry for Michael’s attention (I suspect they each had emotionally distant parents), and for Michael and Jesse to finally acknowledge the sexual tension between them.

It’s possible I’m overreaching. That may have to be a two-parter.

My point is this: time was when a screenwriter’s greatest enemies were the studio system, writer’s block and, well, other screenwriters. But now writers working in the action/adventure/suspense/blowing-stuff-up genre also have to contrive ways to deprive a character of connectivity.

So to the action movie clichés of which wire to cut and cars slamming into fruit carts, you can soon add batteries running low, cell phone jammers, and “Why did I choose AT&T?”

MacBook (Not) Air

MacBook (Not) Air published on 2 Comments on MacBook (Not) Air

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Fly any airline and you’ll see two parallel rituals being conducted just before takeoff: flight attendants politely reminding passengers to switch off everything remotely entertaining for their own safety, and a subset of the passengers covertly eking out every last second of keyboarding they can before they get caught.

For some of those passengers, the lack of compliance stems from an innate need to defy any authority; for others, a neurotic fear of even a nanosecond of unavoidable disconnection. And for still others, it comes from deep-seated skepticism that 21st-century airline avionics are really all that vulnerable to a few stray processor cycles and rogue oscillations.

I could easily see myself with a foot in each of those camps. (I’d need to graft on a whole new foot to achieve that, but work with me on this.) And yet…

See, here’s the thing. I know (roughly) the physics that keeps a multi-ton steel behemoth aloft. I know the huge amounts invested in the care and maintenance of its systems. I’ve flown countless times.

Yet to some prehistoric part of my brain, it still seems like a complete freaking miracle to me that those wheels actually do leave the tarmac for any significant length of time. And to keep that miracle happening long enough to get us to a safe cruising altitude, my inner awestruck Neanderthal is happy to switch off whatever gizmo it takes: iPad, Kindle, pacemaker… just name it.

But that’s me. When it comes to switching off before taking off, where do you land?

Besides, isn’t all video ‘mobile’? I mean, the pictures move.

Besides, isn’t all video ‘mobile’? I mean, the pictures move. published on No Comments on Besides, isn’t all video ‘mobile’? I mean, the pictures move.

Originally posted on BlogWorld

The day ended with a session on video, chaired by Susan Bratton of Personal Life Media, and featuring Dermot McCormack, Executive Vice President of MTV Music Group Digital; Dick Glover, CEO of Funny or Die; and Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3.

There were some great moments, including the revelation that the budget of a typical Funny or Die video is… drumroll please… what’s that? We can’t afford a drumroll? That must be because the figure is only $2,000.

But the moment that grabbed me early on was the emphatic statement by one of the panelists that one huge factor affecting the future of video right now is the rise of mobile. And given how many conversations I’ve had with people who are still trying to get their minds around just how huge a platform mobile is, well, that spurred this cartoon.

Bumping uglies

Bumping uglies published on 1 Comment on Bumping uglies

(I originally posted this on ReadWriteWeb.)

No big writeup this weekend, folks, as I’m on holiday in France, a country probably best-known as the one-time home of Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur. And maybe as the setting for some of “Julie and Julia.”

But the news that PayPal will now allow you to transfer money to someone just by bumping your iPhone or Android device with theirs – that’s pretty cool.

Makes you wonder what else you could swap. Maybe DNA?

PhoneGap in action

PhoneGap in action published on No Comments on PhoneGap in action

Brian Leroux, Filip Maj and company were in rare form at OSCON this morning, demoing PhoneGap, Nitobi‘s open-source mobile app development framework. PhoneGap solves two big problems for mobile developers: the number of platforms you need to develop on, and the number of app stores and distribution channels you face.

I was there, stylus in hand, to capture the broad strokes. What I didn’t get down here was the very cool experience of watching them create and launch an Android app in just a few minutes. (Thanks to a document camera, the audience watched the whole thing unfold on-screen.)


ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S published on 3 Comments on ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S

Flaky wireless connections are a fact of life for bloggers on the move. If it isn’t tortoise-slow downloads, it’s a password that never seems to “take”. If it isn’t a connection that keeps dropping, it’s a router that refuses to give you an IP address.

Okay. So the connection’s too unreliable to let you post to your blog, and your mobile contract doesn’t include tethering. Don’t let that keep you from blogging. Here are five ways you can work on your blog, even when you aren’t connected to the hive mind:

  1. Outline your next blog post. Maybe you can’t do the research you want, find the URLs of the posts you’d like to link to, or hunt down the perfect Creative Commons image to illustrate your post. But you can sketch out the bare bones, and add the muscles, organs and stylish accessories once you’re back online.
  2. Clean up your hard drive. If you’re like me, you have little snippets of blog ideas and drafts all over the place. Bring them together in one folder, or one text file (your workflow will vary), and you’ll be miles ahead of the game next time you’re stumped for a post idea.
  3. Raid your subconscious. Break out the mind-mapping software, open up your Moleskine or just scribble on a napkin – but brainstorm ideas for your next five, ten or fifty posts. Don’t try to assess them at first; just get as many down as possible. Then, once the storm peters out, pick out the best and add them to your idea file.
  4. Make a to-do list. Chances are there are things you’ve been meaning to do for your blog: add a Delicious feed, check out an e-commerce plug-in, create a promo card to hand out at conferences. Set priorities according to the effort each task will require and the impact you expect each one to have, and you’ve just built yourself a development queue.
  5. Doodle. Draw something funny, or funny-ish. Then snap your doodle with your camera phone or digital camera. Once you’re online, upload it as a blog post. Hey – it works for me.

Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors

Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors published on 2 Comments on Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors

I’ve owned an iPhone now for two years, but I’m still getting my mind around it.

Not the app store, or the display, or the ubiquitous connectivity. But the way the damn thing is so aware of its surroundings.

A motion sensor tells it if it’s being jostled and which way is up. A compass tells it which way it’s pointing. GPS constantly updates its position on the map. Add the camera, microphone, proximity and ambient light sensors and – if you get a few drinks in me – the iPhone will know more about my immediate environment than I do.

It’s not hard to imagine that phone makers could start dropping in temperature, humidity and external pressure sensors, measuring your body temperature, sweatiness and grip. And once they do, you know what they’ve created?

A $200 mood ring.

Oh, you scoff now. See if you’re laughing once that information is aggregated and mapped, clusters of acute anxiety are pinpointed, and Pfizer’s aerial spraying unit responds by blanketing the area with anti-depressants.

Updated: Just when I was thinking I was so damn clever, I searched the app store.

Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’

Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’ published on 1 Comment on Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’

I live in a place where they’ve recently banned the use of mobile phones while driving, with additional penalties for texting. And I have a lot of company: Six U.S. states have prohibited handheld mobile use by drivers, and 20 won’t be happy with you if you SMS from behind the wheel.

(It’s having an impact. I’m noticing a sharp reduction in “Totally just ran someone over” tweets from friends.)

While the focus is on safety, and rightly so, I do wonder if there might be another benefit: inspiring more people to leave the car at home and take transit. Don’t laugh (well, not until you get to the cartoon, at which point I’d kind of appreciate it if you would). A lot of us treat mobile connectivity as a compulsion, and the enforced hour-long severing from the hive mind for twice-a-day commutes is a genuine pain point. And the growing strength of everything from location-aware apps to augmented reality will only sharpen it.

For car drivers, the freedom of the open road, as illusory as it has been for decades, is about to get more so. Mass transit may at times be crowded and uncomfortable, but with the escape to cyberspace just a few keystrokes away, buses and trains may well eclipse the car as the homes of true mobile freedom.

Force me to choose between my mobile phone and my car, and I’ll do my best to hang onto the phone. Your mileage, of course, may vary; what choice will you make?

Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that

Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that published on 1 Comment on Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that

This one’s in honor of all of us for whom ubiquitous connectivity means you’re never really 100% present in physical space.

Oh, sure, it has its drawbacks – the car accidents, the walking into parking meters, the wedding that got called off because you just had to Twitpic a photo of the moment to your tweeps (awkward, as you were the bride).

So here’s a salute to all of us who proud members of the hive mind.

And if you’re not just a member of the hive mind, but helping to build it, you’ll seriously want to consider attending ReadWriteWeb‘s 2010 Mobile Summit (facilitated by friend-of-the-show Kaliya Hamlin). It looks like it’ll rock.

And if you’d like to see this one being drawn, here’s the high-speed version…

…and here’s the full video!

A use case for the iPad

A use case for the iPad published on 8 Comments on A use case for the iPad

Ah, yup. Between the price point, the locked-down App Store approach, the spiffy design, the tech specs, the lack of camera, the lack of multitasking, the lack of phone, the cool iBook Store, the corny iBook shelves, the impending transformation of personal computing, the impending collapse of Apple stock, the green light for 3G voice-over-IP apps, the telco deals, the publisher deals, the rumor fact checks, the comparisons with Windows, the Kindle-killing, the not-Kindle-killing and the just-have-to-wait-and-see, all of the good points are taken.

Okay, except maybe pointing out how disappointed cartoonists are that there’s no pressure-sensitive stylus. But That Would Be Self-Serving, so I won’t say it.

I’m sure there are probably a few more sanitary-napkin jokes left waiting in the wings (Anyone joke about a Maxi model yet? They did? Bugger.) but I’d like to think I’m above that. (Addendum:Alex tells me that “wings” is also circulating as an iPad joke. God, I’m clueless about this stuff. Is there a course I can take somewhere? Or maybe an app?)

All I can say is this: Dollhouse wrapped on Friday night, and I’m just about certain that even if the zombie apocalypse was brought about, not by the depradations of the Rossum Corporation, but by an iPad OS update that went horribly, horribly wrong… I’d still want one of the gorgeous damn things.

Attention, mobile shoppers

Attention, mobile shoppers published on No Comments on Attention, mobile shoppers

Here’s one for all you holiday shoppers out there, fresh from ReadWriteWeb. I said over there that stores have good reason to worry about customers walking in clutching their iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys:

Which means customers are bringing the competition into the bricks-and-mortar stores with them — and they can switch allegiance as easily as point, click, swipe, call up the keyboard, tap tap tap, dammit, backspace, no, that wasn’t it, tap tap (repeat eight or nine times)… submit.

So maybe stores should think twice this holiday season about trying to trim costs by thinning their staff. Longer lineups don’t just discourage shoppers, they give them the means, motive and opportunity to shop elsewhere.

That said, just abandoning your cart would be kind of a dickish thing to do. Forcing those overworked staff to restock all the stuff you took off the shelves – that just isn’t in the Festivus spirit.

And since we’re in a retail frame of mind, for a limited time only, this cartoon comes FREE with a live video capture of its rendering:

…AND with the alternate version of the caption, which I just never did quite make work:
(shopper with a full cart in a long checkout line, to a companion) I'm buying it all online, too. Let's see who's slower, the cashiers or my 3G connection.