Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

Presentation at MontrealStartUpCamp

montreal startupI was asked to join a panel discussion at Montreal StartUpCamp3 about lessons learned in pitching successfully for financing. Seb Provencher of Praized and John Stokes of MSU (our financiers) were my partners in crime on the stage.

My advice is:

  • Do some practice pitches to a small group of the smartest friends you can gather
  • Be sure about the core of your product, and be excited about it
  • Don’t sell to yourself, sell to the funders

I made a bit of a hash of my presentation, though it turned out fine (I wasn’t really pitching) … violating another important rule:

  • be prepared

The other attendees/presenters included:

The Meat Sink

One in a while I get together with some friends and make home made sausage. An important phase in the process is what we like to call the “Meat Sink.”

meat sink

Here is a pic of the links. And the drying sausages.

UPDATE: The meat sink is the key to all good start-up pitches.

Why Academics Should Blog (Redux)

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article suggesting academics should blog, and it generated some intense debate and discussion, both on Huffington Post, and on my own weblog. I had nine points, which you can read, but the first two points were, er, indelicate critiques of academic writing, born of some recent encounters with the form. I attacked both the quality of prose and the tenuousness of some ideas, and my generalizations might have been a wee bit on the sweeping side, though the scalpel-wielding semanticist in me thinks I might have carved out a little escape route. No matter: I got lambasted from several directions, and deserved a good lot of the heckles.

After much back and forth, I retreated somewhat on both counts, though I won’t give up the fight entirely. I still think there is a certain strain of flabby academic writing that serves mainly to fill out pages in journal articles, and I believe that strain of writing is pernicious. I also think there is something about the academic method that makes it hard to kill off bad ideas. But this post is not meant to pick more quarrels, but rather to make a more convincing case about why academics should blog.

So, with much thanks to those who called me out (especially academics Alexandre, and Huffpo commenter endoxos), and forced me to realign my positions, let me try that again. Here are some revised reasons I think that academics should blog.

1. Academia Is Important
Academia should be a vanguard of our understanding of the world. It’s a place where people have the time and space to think about the shape of the world, the source of some of the ideas that transform us. If something is important it should be more visible to the world. Blogging is a simple platform to make important ideas more visible to the world.

2. Blogging Releases the Constraints
Academic writing is hamstrung by the conventions of the academic method. Caution, references, sources. That all makes sense in the context of academia, where each bit of knowledge must be made to fit snugly within the existing ecosystem of Knowledge. But this kind of writing ties your hands, you can’t write on hunches, or outside your area of expertise, without doing your back-up work. Blogging has none of these constraints, and can be used however you wish to use it. You are free to make sweeping generalizations and explore ideas beyond your usual area of study. You are free to write what you like, which is both liberating, and can also help you sketch out and explore ideas in ways you can’t in your professional writing. You can also write about your cats if you feel like it.

3. Important Ideas Should Circulate Outside Academia
The work academics do should be made more open and accessible to the world at large. Academics should blog in the same way that academics should give public lectures, write articles in popular press, and give interviews on the radio and television. If you believe your ideas are important, then you should consider more ways of making them accessible (at the very least available) to the world at large.

4. Writing for the Public Will Help Clarify Ideas
In my last article, I was accused of being unfair or naive or wrong about the character of academic writing. Let me rephrase (or change) what I mean: writing for the general public, even for a selected group of the general public, is different than writing for academia. A premium is placed on clarity, where in academic writing the premium is on robustness of argument. So by writing for a public audience, you might be forced to clarify the language of your ideas, which, I would argue, could be a useful way to clarify the ideas themselves.

5. Cross-Pollination of Ideas Is Good
Ideas from academia should circulate more freely in the population at large. When ideas circulate more freely, there is more interaction among them, more challenges, more negotiation among positions. This strengthens the value of ideas. Opening up ideas to a public outside academia will mean that a wider range of ideas from a wider range of disciplines and points-of-view interact, and individual academics, academia, and society as a whole should benefit.

6. Blogging Will Help You Engage with Students
There was a recent article about the web and juries in the UK. Young jurors, the inquiry suggested, were not used to listening to people talk for long periods of time: their first instinct is to check facts on the web. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but your students (the serious ones, anyway) will appreciate having an online space where they can find you, and read more about your ideas.

7. Public Interest Will Be Helpful for Your Career
Or at least, public interest will be helpful to the public. Again, assuming that your ideas are interesting and valuable, don’t you want more people to have access to them? If so, then blogging is a good way to let your thinking spread to the world. Note that you could publishing sketches, thoughts, or full articles, depending on what your preference is. And, assuming you have many people from the outside world, well, is that going to hurt your career?

8. Do You Want People to Know about Your Ideas?
See above. This is the most fundamental reason I think academics should blog: your ideas are important, and more people should be able to see them, read them, hear about them, criticize them, discuss them, not just within academia, but in the wider world.

The 7.4 Trillion Bailout

Remember when you thought $700 Billion was a lot of money for the US government to chip in to the economy? Now multiply by 10. From Bloomberg:

The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

The unprecedented pledge of funds includes $2.8 trillion already tapped by financial institutions in the biggest response to an economic emergency since the New Deal of the 1930s, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The commitment dwarfs the only plan approved by lawmakers, the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the crisis. [more…]

[via Mike Cane]

Question

What happens if (or, rather, when) China decides to stop financing US debt to create export demand for its manufactured goods, and instead starts to spend that money on creating consumer demand in China?

STM’s New Dumb Card: Opus

I wrote to the STM, about their new Opus Card:

Hello,
Why can I only put 6 rides/tickets at a time onto my OPUS card? I don’t want a weekly or monthly card, but I want to load up with many rides, not just 6. This does not make any sense at all. Are you planning to change this? Because if not, you will have very many very unhappy clients.
Thanks …

They responded:

Hello,

It is currently possible to load up to two six-ticket booklets on an Opus card. However, should you have 7 tickets left on your card, it would not be possible to load another booklet, as the total would be 13 instead of 12 tickets.
These limits have been set mostly to avoid mistakes during the new system’s deployment. It is planned that these limits will eventually be reconsidered.

A new STM product will however be available as of January 2009: the ten-ticket booklet to be loaded on an Opus card.

Your comment will be forwarded to the authorities in charge to be taken into account.

Thank you and have a nice day,

QQF??

Avoid mistakes? Like: oh, I am too stupid to know how many tickets I want? … Maybe a screen that says: “How many tickets do you want? 6, 12, 24, 48, etc…” Or: “How much money would you like to add to your card? $5, $10, $25, $50?”

Goddammit. Smart card, my ass.

Send your emails to: SAC.Commentaires AT stm.info

My Map of San Francisco

I had a great evening with Aaron while I was in San Francisco, talking books, reading, maps, photos, geo, politics, CBC, beer, Selagh Rogers, Yahoo, Mexican food, hand-waving, museums, and all sorts of other things. I had just got my iPod Touch a couple of days before, but after trying to rely on inferior technology to help me get around, I went back to my old navigation standard: drawing a map of the parts of the city I planned to be in.

Aaron took a photo:

map of san fran

Why Don’t We Ask Why?

david simonDavid Simon is a former journalist who quit his job because he could no longer do it the way he wanted to do it: the companies that run papers these days don’t want their journalists to ask the most important question out of the famous five Ws + H (who what where when why how) … That is: Why? … It’s the tough one, that takes time and attention and doggedness, and it just doesn’t seem to work well with the “bottom line” (which, for those counting, is looking pretty grim).

Eventually Simon, along with a former cop, and former teacher, created the TV show the Wire,

In this talk at Berkeley, he explains why he is not (or maybe is) the most angry man in television, how the decline of journalism is paired with our disfunctional democracy, how a barge, not a hurricane, caused the floods in New Orleans, lies, damn lies and statistics, systematic corruption, and how we should all pick something to give a shit about and, absurd or not, fight for it.

Here is the video. Watch it. It’s the most compelling bit of web content I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Schiff Calls It Right

Peter Schiff gets it right in 2006/07 about the US economy, and gets howled off the stage by the other “experts.” What’s funny is how sensible his arguments are (there is no real wealth in the US, no production, no savings; just foreign & consumer debt), and how they are totally dismissed by the rest of the panelists.

(Mind you he got his gold call wrong).

[via Derek Sivers]

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae.

Read by Gord, Kristen, Kara, Mike, Randomdad, Mark, and me, for LibriVox. I believe it was our first “weekly poem,” and was Mike’s idea. These were all recorded around November 11, 2005.