Hugh McGuire

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

Our RFID World

For a while I was leery of RFID technology, with worries about everyone & everything being trackable at all times. I guess I still worry about it in some sense, but it doesn’t matter. RFID is already everywhere, and will become even everywherer. The overwhelming pressure of the usefulness of RFID (and its successors) means that my worries or anyone else’s won’t make a shred of difference. Want to know what all that RFID looks like?

Immaterials: the ghost in the field from timo on Vimeo.

[via Warren Ellis].

Getting Things Done Again

A friend just asked if I was GTDing again, and here was my answer:

First: a warning: in my experience, GTD (and other time management techniques) is world-changing for a while when you first introduce it – it really clears everything out and increases productivity, reduce stress, and helps … get things done. GTD can feel like it will revolutionize your life.

But it won’t, unfortunately, or at least not completely. Often after a few of months, as the pile of undone things on your list start lingering, you start getting what my friend Maurizio calls the “black cloud of GTD oppression” … where (if you are using GTD software) you start feeling fear of opening up the software because of how guilty you feel about all the undone things.

I think part of this problem comes from trying to get a system to combat your personality and failings; whereas what you really need to do is find a system you like, and shape it so that it works well with your personality and failings.

So: GTD is great, but don’t rely on it to solve everything, you need to adapt it to yourself. I have been fairly successful with this recently – I’ll get back to you in six months. I am using Things, a very nice mac app/iphone that syncs between devices. I’m liking it very much.

One of the important things you have to do is figure out your “contexts” – in the end I didn’t like the suggested way that GTD likes you to organize things, by “project” and by context = “how you get that work done.”

So typically, you would have a set of projects, for me:

  • LibriVox
  • Book Oven – Product
  • Book Oven – Business
  • Book Oven – Community
  • Atwater Library
  • Personal
  • Business – Other
  • Rugby
  • etc.

You can label your projects however you like of course.

Then there is the “contexts” sorting … which could be, if I understand orthodox GTD procedure:

  • email
  • telephone
  • online
  • writing
  • etc…

But I found that I really do not like sorting contexts that way at all – not sure why. My need is more time-based – making sure I get stuff done on time.

So my contexts are:

  • today
  • thisweek
  • thismonth
  • eventually
  • oppressive

And every morning I resort my Things list – adding new things to the today, and bumping things off that I realize I won’t have time to do.

The “oppressive” context was a real revelation for me – that’s where I put things that are nagging at me that I just can’t seem to get done for whatever reason. They are the great drivers of the black cloud of GTD oppression, so quarantining them is helpful. It lets you acknowledge to yourself that you won’t get those things done, because you just can’t get at them, and that they are increasing stress levels enormously. So stop thinking about them. The surprising result is that by acknowledging that you won’t get those oppressive things done, it gets much easier to get them done.

GTD is always a great way to declutter the brain, and break work down into component bits. But the challenge is integrating it into a long-term workflow that suits your personality – and acknowledges your faults rather than trying to defeat them.

Canadian Health Care

I have not been paying much attention to the US health care debates, but I gather those opposed to Obama’s health plan have been portraying Canada as some kind of healthcare disaster. “We don’t want to be like Canada,” they say, “where the government has ruined healthcare.”

My wife Christine is an emergency doctor, so I know a bit about the problems in Quebec, which is probably as “bad” as anywhere in Canada.

The concise description of Canada’s health system is the following: critical health issues are dealt with quickly, and well. Less critical health issues mean longer wait times. And generally health outcomes in Canada are equivalent to outcomes in other industrial countries, and often better than those in the US.

Plus, we have universal coverage: for most healthcare, you don’t pay a cent, except through taxes (which turns out to be a much cheaper way to do it than thru insurance).

There is an excellent article in Bloomberg, Canadian Health Care Even with Queues, Beats US looking at the studies done in the past five years, including a recent one done by the OECD:

Opponents of overhauling U.S. health care argue that Canada shows what happens when government gets involved in medicine, saying the country is plagued by inferior treatment, rationing and months-long queues.

The allegations are wrong by almost every measure, according to research by the O and other independent studies published during the past five years. While delays do occur for non-emergency procedures, data indicate that Canada’s system of universal health coverage provides care as good as in the U.S., at a cost 47 percent less for each person.

“There is an image of Canadians flooding across the border to get care,” said Donald Berwick, a Harvard University health- policy specialist and pediatrician who heads the Boston-based nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement. “That’s just not the case. The public in Canada is far more satisfied with the system than they are in the U.S. and health care is at least as good, with much more contained costs.” [more…]

Billion Dollar Gram

From Information Is Beautiful: Infographic on various billions spent, or planned, or earned:

billion dollar gram

In L’Actualité

actualiteIl y’a une petite article dans L’Actualité (Sept 09) sur Book Oven et LibriVox:

« Le numérique ne tuera pas l’édition traditionnelle, mais il va la changer », dit Hugh McGuire. Cet ancien ingénieur en mécanique âgé de 35 ans lançait en 2007 un autre collectif, Earideas, qui recense les balados (podcasts) de l’heure sur le Web. Et voilà qu’il vient de créer The Book Oven, un nouveau type de maison d’édition. « The Book Oven offrira une plateforme d’autoédition, qui permettra à un auteur de collaborer avec des rédacteurs, des réviseurs, des recherchistes, des photographes, des maquettistes », dit Hugh McGuire. [more…]

Copyright Consultations – Hurry!

There are five days left in the federal government’s copyright consultations. Go make your voices heard!

For more info, see Michael Geist’s info page: Speak Out on Copyright.

Open Dinosaur Project

This, I love:

The Open Dinosaur Project was founded to involve scientists and the public alike in developing a comprehensive database of dinosaur limb bone measurements, to investigate questions of dinosaur function and evolution. We have three major goals:1) do good science; 2) do this science in the most open way possible; and 3) allow anyone who is interested to participate. And by anyone, we mean anyone! We do not care about your education, geographic location, age, or previous background with paleontology. The only requirement for joining us is that you share the goals of our project and are willing to help out in the efforts.

Want to sign up? Email project head Andy Farke (, and welcome aboard!

[via datalibre]

Six Pixels of Clarity

Here’s a bit of a confession, in the world of the web that I have been exploring with great excitement since 2004, the thing that has interested me least is marketing. Blogging, podcasting, wikis, Twitter,, community filtering and big online datasets, and many other things have been thrilling to me because of the sorts of things they allow individuals and groups to do that they never could do before. Any artist with a tiny tiny bit of tech savvy can now get their work out to the whole world. Anyone with a message has nothing standing in their way. Even more exciting, groups of individuals scattered across the globe can collaborate on massive projects in ways never before possible. You always wanted to write novels? Well nothing is stopping you now. What about exploring your world of bespoke tailoring? Turns out there are people who want to read about it. Host your own radio show? About music, or about health problems in Africa, or interviewing old timers in rural areas – all of this can be done, at almost no cost.

What has been called Web 2.0 has changed the dynamics of the universe. While there are some who think that Web 2.0 is just a marketing term, it was very real to me. I set up my first blog in July 2004 (using blogger – then I migrated to WordPress); and made my first Wikipedia edit in September 2004. Uploaded my first Flickr photo in October 2004. Made my first podcast in September 2005. These were my 1.0 to 2.0 events, when I went from being a consumer of the web to a creator as well. It was a thrilling change, and I am still awed by the great possibility that comes with the web.

But something funny happened with all this wonderfulness. The marketers got hold of Web 2.0 – or what some call social media. (Note: I should admit that some of my best friends are marketers). And frankly, the thing which has interested me least about the new web is marketing. Or at least, the only thing about the new tools of marketing that excites me is that it is now so easy for one person or a small group with good ideas to find people who want those good ideas. But the marketing side of social media, well, it’s just never been my thing.

Six Pixels of Separation

So it was very puzzling to me when I started developing a friendship with Mitch Joel. He is, after all, Canada’s digital marketing rockstar, a world recognized thought-leader in how new digital channels change our relationship to brands, and how companies and people need to adapt.

So what was I doing enjoying spending time with Mitch so much? At first I chalked it down to Mitch’s history as a music reporter in Montreal – marketing guru or not, you gotta like someone who made a living for years interviewing Gene Simmons and the guys from Whitesnake. But that didn’t seem to be enough; after all, unless someone told you about Mitch’s background, you’d never know that his youth was spent attending metal concerts for a Montreal newspaper.

A couple of years ago, Mitch and I, and fellow-Montrealer Julien Smith started having lunches together once in a while, then it became a regular thing. And these lunches were always the highlight of my week. We would pontificate about the future, about what technology changes meant, and rage on about things that were changing too slowly or companies that just didn’t get it. These lunches were thought-provoking and engaging and inspiring. They were great, even if Mitch was a marketer.

One time, Mitch and I drove back to Montreal from a conference in NYC. And in the car Mitch said something that made it click for me, made me understand why I liked Mitch the marketer so much. He said: “I want to totally change the way marketing is done. I want marketing to be about getting people who love something together with the people who have it.” (I am paraphrasing my memory of the quote). And in a flash, it all made sense to me. I understood why I like Mitch so much.

My greatest interest in the web is the ability it gives to people to create wonderful things. And Mitch’s real interest is helping connect wonderful things with the people who want them.

Having been knee deep in the web for a few years now, I am always surprised that what seems so obvious to we webby echo chamberists is not necessarily so obvious to the rest of the world. And I’ve long thought that someone needed to pen a book that would explain to people – primarily to businesses – what the hell all this stuff means.

Mitch has a new book out today that does just that: Six Pixels of Separation. What’s so refreshing though is that he has written it as a business owner and entreprenneur, and not as a pundit. As a webby person, I found his insights about business to be deeply satisfying; as an entrepreneur, I found his take on the web to be extremely useful. He talks not so much about specific tools or channels (though he does that too), but instead about people who have used these new channels to do wonderful things (disclosure: my project gets a mention).

The world has changed, and will continue to change. That has implications for anyone with an idea they want people to hear about, a thing they want to sell, a cause that is important to them, a group of people who depend on them. It has implications for individuals, and multinationals. Six Pixels of Separation is a great guide to the changing world.

SXSW Panel: When Every Book Is Connected

My colleague, co-founder, and the chief architect and getter-doner at Book Oven, Stephanie Troeth has proposed a moderated panel at SXSW this year called:

Beyond Publishing: When Every Book is Connected to Everyone

We have an all-star line-up who have agreed to join us (if SXSW agrees to give us some space to talk):

The description of the panel is as follows:

What happens when every book is online, linkable, and connected to every writer and every reader? What happens when the book is liberated from being words on paper, unbound from a format that’s two thousand years old? What happens to how we read and how we write?

For more info, or to comment on or vote for the panel (please do!), see here.

Babbling about Twitter & Microblogging

danah boyd points to a study of Twitter usage by PearAnalytics, that concludes:

40.55% of the tweets they coded are pointless babble; 37.55% are conversational; 8.7% have “pass along value”; 5.85% are self-promotional; 3.75% are spam; and ::gasp:: only 3.6% are news.”

As danah boyd suggests in her first sentence, studies like this are irritating. Every time someone complains about Twitter, or microblogging, blogging, or the web or anything else being overrun with “useless” information, I always have the same reaction: you could say the same thing about talking, but no one ever questions whether talking is useful or not.

These are means of communication, used by humans to communicate, each with their own idiosyncrasies, but all driven by the same impulses that have always driven humans to communicate: the urge to connect, to find, to babble, to sell, to buy, to share, to romance, to complain, etc etc etc…

Twitter, or microblogging in general, will bring profound changes to some of its users (it has for me) in how they find/consume/interact with information and other people. As did the printing press, ballpoint pen, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, email, blogs, youtube, mobile phone .. etc.

The interesting question is how these things change our informational & social interactions; but the question of whether or not these “new” tools are “good” or “valuable” are moot: if people use them, they use them because they find them good & valuable for whatever reason.

Humans have been pretty consistent in flaws and virtues over the past few thousand years; amazingly we still seem to be surprised when new tools of communication come along and display, in a new way, those same old flaws and virtues.