Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ottawhat #15: Damien Broomes

Check out this week's episode of the Ottawhat? podcast. New every Thursday!
Ottawhat #15: Damien Broomes

Attrell Update - This is not about ALS

Here's my +Attrell Update for the week. I talk about my nomination for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and why it's not the only cause we should all do more about. That doesn't mean I don't get cold and wet though, so don't miss it!

If you want to keep up with these videos, click on the "i" in the top right of the video and subscribe!

On Tuesday, Steph gave us all a taste of her road trip to Montana! Yes, the video was a little late, but I guess we'll forgive her! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I'm going to talk to you today about self-improvement. As somebody who makes a lot of stuff and then puts it on the Internet, it is very easy for me to look through my "back catalogue" and see that the thing I did two months ago is just TERRIBLE. I can't even bother comparing my 8-week old project to the one I just finished, because they are on completely different levels. Take, for instance, a recent episode of Future Tech Chat:

Now, compare that live video to one from April:

I "accidentally" listened to the older one last night, and it is absolutely painful for me to compare the first minute of the two shows. Now, don't even bother comparing the two title cards, as I have recently redesigned them to look consistent and clean, but not in a boring way. I'm just talking about my tone, my purposefulness, and my preparedness in starting the two episodes. I was actually probably a little more excited to talk about wearable devices than I was about bicycles, but it's no contest if you ask me which is the better introduction to a show.

Honestly, what comparing my present self to past versions of me has shown time and again is that if I keep putting effort into improving myself, eventually the bicycles episode will seem just as terrible as the wearables episode does now. I can only improve by continuing to try. The guys over at +AsapSCIENCE, (a GREAT YouTube channel in case you were wondering) made a little video about their first upload this week, and they felt exactly the same way I do.

So, where does that leave me? Basically, I will keep working every single day to get better and to feel more comfortable doing the work I do.

I know I'm kind of burying the lede on this one, but frankly I'm a little nervous about asking people to help me out and to continue to improve. I've created a profile on a creative support (aka crowdfunding) platform called Patreon, with absolutely no expectations as to where it will go or how much it will help me. I will continue in earnest with all the projects I've already been working on (I'm so lucky that basically everything I do on the Google platform is effectively free), but having some funds available will enable the technology I work with to improve, and I've tried to include some perks that will encourage you to help me out. The Patreon funding model is either on a per-project, or per-month basis, but I'm told that you can make a donation for a month and then simply cancel your subscription and support me in a small, lump sum kind of way. Honestly, any positives the use of this platform gets me are more than I'm expecting. You can find me on Patreon at the link below, and thank you to all of you who are already supporting me by sharing my work and chatting about important or mundane things with me on a regular basis, it means more than I can possibly tell you. I would also welcome other methods of support, financial or otherwise, if you're skeptical about crowdfunding but would still like to help. I just really want to keep making stuff.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rob's Listening Club - Week 0

Sometimes, you find yourself wanting to recommend cool things to friends and acquaintances. At times like these, I like to blog about them. My music and podcast recommendations of the week are:
Ed Sheeran: x (Deluxe Edition) - Music on Google Play Episode 98: Underwear (with Thomas Middleditch)

10 Things You Should Try Right Now (In 50 Words or Less)

1. Listen to a podcast
Everybody has quiet times during the day when you might listen to music. Do yourself a favour and have a look through the catalogues at There are so many great podcasts to enjoy, and they don't have to take you away from driving, cooking, or your favourite online activities.

2. Drink a glass of water
Honestly, no beverage holds a candle to simple, clean water. In addition to keeping your joints and blood vessels properly hydrated, drinking water regularly reduces feelings of hunger, goes a long way towards preventing kidney stones, and even though it doesn't have sugar or caffeine, it tastes amazing!

3. Get and use Twitter
Listen, I know you've heard Twitter's elevator pitch. But what I'm trying to tell you now is that even if you think you won't use it, you should make an account and at least see what it's like. You can follow celebrities, sports icons, news outlets, friends, acquaintances, there is never any shortage of reasons to try it.

4. Go for a walk
Seriously, walks are the easiest physical activity you can do, and they've been scientifically proven to increase creativity, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and give you the chance to get some much needed Vitamin D. You'll thank me.

5. Share something
Humans are very community oriented by nature, something that we tend to forget when we are online a lot of the time. Take some time during your day to share something you've enjoyed online. It's also been shown that giving somebody something makes you feel better than getting something you want from them, or for yourself.

6. Allow people to follow you on Facebook
I don't think I've ever written about something as much as I've written about allowing people to follow your public updates on Facebook. Going to this link and letting "Everybody" follow you won't make anything you do on Facebook more public, it just gives you more social clout. And that's all anybody wants...

7. Have sex
You seriously want me to explain this one? Sex has been shown to boost your immune system, floods your body with painkilling endorphins, and has been Earth's most popular leisure activity for billions of years. Go have sex right now and then come back and tell me it wasn't awesome...I rest my case.

8. Talk to somebody
I spend a lot of my day working at a computer alone, speaking to nobody. Humans are social creatures who were not made to do that, so go and strike up a conversation with that friendly looking fellow/lady you see every day, you probably have something in common and didn't even realize it.

9. Cry it out
There is very little that can make me feel better when I'm down than having a good cry. Aside from the fact that it's not seen as the manliest of activities, it's a great way to let out a lot of stress we all build up in our increasingly complicated lives. You did your best, now go have a cry.

10. Dance
I don't care if you dance like nobody is watching, or if you are very conservative and shy about it. Dancing is great exercise and it's so easy to find good music these days, it's usually only a click or button press away. The best thing you can do on any given day is sing and/or dance!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Future Tech Chat #21: Bicycles

Check out this week's episode of Future Chat, where we talked about bicycles. Live every Saturday at 12:30 EDT!

Future Tech Chat #21: Bicycles

Friday, August 22, 2014

Things I Don't Like About Facebook

In no particular order...

1. When you posted a link to a video in previous iterations of Facebook, it would give you a big beautiful image of the thumbnail for the video, along with the title and a little text. NOW, when you post a video, you get a small, square thumbnail that crops out the sides of the image, and the post is mostly text.

This change was made to promote Facebook's own video service, which isn't even a video service, but now only videos uploaded directly to Facebook will get a nice, good-looking video player that will play on the site (automatically, by default). Facebook is not a video site, you don't need to make it one!

2. When you post something as a Facebook page, only about 10% of people who follow your page will actually see it via that post. You have the option to spend money to "promote" that post, but otherwise the vast majority of people who have subscribed to see updates from your page will not see anything you post.

This is actually true of regular people posting things as well. Facebook now curates your news feed so much (because people have so many Facebook friends this is the only way to do it and stay sane), but the result is that because people don't want to feel guilty about un-friending, we all have such massive friends lists that it's impossible for you to see all of those updates without being driven insane.

*I haven't tried this myself, but it seems to me that creating a Facebook group for your brand or product is the way to go, when people join a group, they get notified about every post by default, which I think is the behaviour most people would expect when following a thing on Facebook.

3. Facebook has a system in place where people can basically turn their accounts into Twitter accounts, allowing friends of friends, or strangers, to follow their public updates. Since 99+% of people don't know about this excellent feature, I'm unable to follow really interesting people I don't necessarily want to be "friends" with. If this feature were better advertised, Facebook would be a much better social network.
Go to to see what I'm talking about.

Attrell Update - You're Using Too Much of These 10 Things

Here's my +Attrell Update for the week. I talk about things you have around the house that you're probably using more of than you need to, for all kinds of interesting reasons.

If you want to keep up with these videos, click on the "i" in the top right of the video and subscribe!

On Monday, Steph did an AMAZING cover of Jar of Hearts, by Christina Perri. Check it out!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ottawhat? Podcast #14: Desirae Odjick

Check out this week's episode of the Ottawhat? podcast. New every Thursday!
Ottawhat #14: Desirae Odjick

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Push vs. Pull

For those of you who don't know, I have been sharing videos back and forth with my sister on YouTube since the end of March of this year. Our YouTube channel is called +Attrell Update, and I bring it up for two reasons, maybe even three (we'll see how far I get).

Point 1: Push vs. pull updating

First, and most importantly, I have found the experience of making videos with my sister as the intended audience REALLY makes it a lot easier to share cool stuff I learn or know on the internet. The videos are for everybody, and it has the added bonus of letting both of us share what we know with eachother even though we live 4000 km apart (and she was even further away in France until June). The crazy thing to me, though, is that I am learning what people like, and what people are interested in. I have taken to spreading news about my own life in these videos and only telling maybe 1-2 other people offline. The result is that I get a good view of who is paying attention to what I'm doing online. The fact that only a millionth of one percent of people on Earth apparently care what I have to talk about on a weekly basis doesn't surprise me, but I'm just getting started!

The bigger point of all of this is that our world (at least when I was growing up) was a pull-based society. What I mean by that is that when the internet first really started to take hold socially, if you wanted to see something online, you went to a website and looked at it. There were sites and RSS readers (like the now-defunct Google Reader) that would gather and sometimes organize your personal reading list, but for the most part you had to go to the internet and PULL things off to see/read/watch/listen to. Now, in 2014, with the world faces glued endlessly to their phone screens, we are being trained to wait for content to be PUSHed to us. As somebody who is trying various different media ventures to see what sticks (+Future Chat, Ottawhat? Podcast, the aforementioned +Attrell Update, working on web design and video production for +Sons of Pluto) just to name a few, this PUSHing is really annoying to deal with, because there are people in my life who are interested in what I'm working on who might not be as technologically savvy as me, and they actually have difficulty finding out when things I'm doing are available to be consumed.

As somebody who is trying to do a LOT with media, but who is so far without external funding (and doing as much as I can for free), this is pretty disheartening.

Point 2: Commitment

This brings me to the second point, which is about the nature of humans to look for patterns. Since starting the ventures I mentioned above, I have been doing everything in my power to work under a paradigm where people can EXPECT updates to arrive at a certain time. For instance:
  • Ottawhat: Released every week on Thursday AM.
  • Attrell Update: Steph (my sister) releases a video on Monday (previously Wednesday), I make one on Thursday (previously Friday).
  • Future Chat: New live episode every Saturday at 12:30 PM.
Now, there is no "punishment" or losing my job if any of these things don't happen, but since the inception of all of the above projects, I haven't missed a week yet. But even still, I haven't crossed the personal threshold of converting any of these to content I post because anybody expects them. While I say that people can expect episodes on the days described above, nobody has any stake in the successes of the projects, not even me. I have a job that I work 9-5 (actually 7-3), and so if all of these endeavors fizzle out, or never gain any audience, I won't really have lost anything. 

The unfortunate thing about THAT is that because the stakes are so low, it actually makes it easier to not take these projects seriously, even for myself. But I do want to take them seriously, but I actually find it very rewarding to put all of this effort into doing things I love, and what I love is writing, producing, and every aspect of the science and technology fields. It would be a dream come true if I could earn a living income learning about science and tech, and I would gladly put in more than 40 hours a week (and I do) to see these tasks through. 

I've considered the possibility of crowd-funding or seeking advertisers for some of these projects, but as of yet I've done everything I can to fund these goals either by learning how to do something myself for free, or by using my technical savvy to solve problems with the help of free online services. My ultimate "first-step" goal would be to purchase a camcorder, my combination of mid-range webcam and DSLR woefully under-deliver where I need them most for ongoing projects.

Please drop me a line if you think this is a good idea, I think having other people (and especially strangers) put a stake in my success would really light a fire under me to be sure I see my goals through. That being said, either way I do intend to get a camcorder once I can be assured my outstanding student debt can be paid off in a reasonable amount of time.

Point #3: My Ultimate Goal

I think that at the intersection of science and technology, there is something powerful that drives world progress, and that is why my work in those fields is so important to me personally. The self-correcting nature of science and the way rationality and logic prevail in the scientific domains really draw me to them as a way to solve the ills of the world. Through discussion of innovative technology and using science in new and creative ways, we can really make changing the world as easy as possible.

In essence, what I'm trying to do is get experience talking about science and technology, and creating opportunities for myself to get my name out there talking about what I love. In terms of the percentage of world population, it is a really great time to be alive. My role models are people who have broken through the barrier of only reaching a small audience, and who use their public platforms to fight inequality in the world. Issues like sex and gender discrimination, income inequality, infectious disease, institutional racism and a culture of glorified violence are just a few of the divisive topics whose handling by our culture will define those alive today in the history books. 

If I can play even a small part in bringing the world up to a minimum humane level of treatment of all the people on Earth, I will have accomplished my goals.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ass-U-Me Nothing!

Guys, I get that it's a normal human trait to make assumptions about things and people when they are unfamiliar and you basically make a snap judgment without even realizing it might not be true.

However, this trait starts to become dangerous if you start to use that assumption to make decisions without first checking if your assumption is even remotely based in fact. This happens in the 24-hour news cycle all the time and it's REALLY damaging. Most of what you hear being made fun of on the Daily Show is the media making these assumptions and reacting to them in basically the most harmful way ever.

The example of this that caused me to write this is an iTunes Store review I just read of the new Mac version of Shazam, the music tagging app. Somebody saw a countdown timer in the app the first time they launched it (it counts down from 4 hours. The reviewer made the assumption right away that this meant that the app was free to download, but that after the 4 hours, you would have to start paying for your songs to be tagged. This is ridiculous and not at all how Shazam makes money (they do it off advertising).

In a review, this in itself is pretty unhelpful. But on the next line, the reviewer goes on to say that they cannot believe a company would start charging for service like Shazam after a certain time, but that they wouldn't mention the timer in the app description, or that you had to start paying for the service after the timer expired. Keep in mind that NOWHERE in the app description does it say that this is happening. There are actually explicit signals when you are downloading an app as to whether the app has what are referred to as "in-app purchases", and this app doesn't have any.

The timer is presumably there just so that the Shazam service automatically turns off after 4 hours unless you restart it, so that it doesn't kill your whole battery just idling there indefinitely. It's a similar system to what they use on the phone or tablet version of the app.

These ridiculous and random assumptions from the reviewer are misinformed and ridiculous, and seeing things like this happen all the time to people and especially in the news media just makes me crazy every time I see it happening. Do your research or at least ask a question before assuming something is terrible. Enough things are terrible that you will be right sometimes, but if you're over-zealous in your assumptions you'll wind up condemning something that is perfectly harmless, which can be very damaging!