Democratization Can Be Dark… And Other Lessons from WordCamp US

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Among other things, I am a blogger. This thing that you’re reading right now is in fact a blog post…on a real-life blog! Mind blown, right?

To create this mind-blowing blog, I use WordPress, free and easy-to-use software that powers about a quarter of the websites online. WordPress has a great community that gets together all over the world. Last year, I attended and wrote about their first annual U.S. conference, WordCamp US, in my hometown of Philadelphia. WordCamp US was back in Philly this year, attracting about 1,800 attendees and a gang of dinosaurs to the party.

#WCUS Party Crasher Rex
#WCUS Party Crasher Rex at the wordcamp after party

WordCamp was a blast, obviously. I only got to attend the second day (Day 1 was Friday and would have interfered with my day job), but I listened to a few great talks.

Dennis Hong did a hilarious and yet scary (hil-scare-ious?) talk on the dark side of democratization. The idea is that while the internet has enabled anyone to publish, this may not always be a good thing. The sheer amount of content now produced promotes skimming over thoughtful reading, he said. Also, thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis often loses out to cat pictures and emotion-based pieces that get us all riled up — and may not even be true.

While there are no easy answers, Dennis had some advice to make the internet a more friendly place. When something online angers you, take a deep breath before you share it to your friends. Be stoic like Yoda, he said, and decide if it’s worth sharing — because all you’re doing is helping the video go viral. If someone is being ridiculous online, don’t engage in a shouting match. It’s better to be patient, empathetic and take the conversation offline. If you’re creating content, it’s okay to grab a reader’s attention with a flashy headline, but make sure the content that follows is thoughtful and accurate. You can read more about all this on Dennis’s website.

I also learned a bunch of interesting facts from Maile Ohye from Google. Did you know that 65% of India — or about 864 million people — are not yet online? That’s a lot of people still to join the internet! Not only that, but 60% of the world’s traffic is still 2G. It’s important to keep these facts in mind when building a website, Maile said. Also, here’s something to look forward to next year — she said Google will be demoting mobile website that display pop-up ads blocking your view of the content! Woo! Those sites are way annoying!

Which brings me to another fun fact from Maile — 53% of visitors abandon mobile sites that take more than three seconds to load. Sounds a little impatient, but thinking about my own behavior I probably do this as well. I guess with all that democratization of content, we just don’t have time to wait around.

For more possible dark directions for society, read my novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall.

Video: What does the 2016 election mean for telecom?

That was some election, huh? Last week at the NARUC annual meeting in La Quinta, California, I attempted to break down what President-elect Donald Trump means for telecom and broadband issues, at least from my perspective as as a reporter for Communications Daily. Spoiler alert: there’s still a lot of uncertainty!

Special thanks to my Comm Daily colleagues, who put together an excellent election issue… from which I stole liberally for the purposes of this panel! Also, thanks to Montana PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla for skillful moderating and to my fellow panelists Ray Gifford, Bill Ritter and Devin Hartman for the great insights about what Trump means for energy issues.

Haunting ‘Secret Path’ Tells Tragic Indigenous History Through Art and Music

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

In 1966, an indigenous Canadian boy named Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He attempted a 400-mile walk home along the railroad through freezing weather, without knowing if he was even going the right way.

Through Chanie’s journey, Secret Path — an innovative combination of music and graphic novel available on Amazon as a paperback/MP3 download —  illuminates a darker part of North American twentieth-century history. Gord Downie of Ontario band The Tragically Hip wrote the words and music, while fellow Canadian and breakout comic book star Jeff Lemire drew the sequential art.

The first time I experienced Secret Path, I read the graphic novel with the music on in the background. The book is short enough to read within the album’s 41-minute running time, and is split into sections by song, so it’s easy enough to take this approach. Taken together, the music and art flow together well, with the images enhancing the words sung by Downie and the mostly acoustic folk rock bringing out the emotions in Lemire’s expressive character-work.

Since then, I have listened to the album quite a few times on its own. The music definitely can stand on its own. With the additional talent of Dave Hamelin from The Stills (another Canadian favorite of mine), Downie’s album carries the listener through the emotional highs and lows of Chanie’s walk, effortlessly evoking images of the boy’s tragic walk.

And as I listened, I found myself flashing back to the beautiful artwork by Lemire. I’ve been a fan of Jeff for some time — especially his more indie work like The Underwater Welder and Essex County, but also some of his writing credits for DC Comics including Animal Man. Lemire has a unique art style that I recall actually put me off the first time I laid eyes on it. But when I pushed ahead anyway, Lemire’s haunting compositions transported me to another world. From the first page of Secret Path, Lemire makes readers feel instantly sympathetic to Chanie’s plight. And he leaves us angry with the country that let such tragedies occur.

Angry, perhaps. But also glad that these fine creators have exposed this hidden history through such accessible storytelling. It’s beyond cool to see a project with such important purpose come together into an artistic masterpiece. What’s more, proceeds from the project will be donated to The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

So don’t wait — take the Secret Path. It’s a road worth traveling.

Time keeps pushing me on now

So here’s an end-of-summer jam you may not have heard. It’s “El Matador” by the band Semisonic. Yeah, those guys who did “Closing Time” and “Secret Smile.” This one is off their severely underrated follow-up, which was their final LP as a group.

It’s hard to believe summer is coming to an end. Also hard to believe this was my first full American summer since 2011. My wife and I moved to Australia at the start of summer 2012, which meant that it was winter there. We came back at the end of (American) summer 2015, got a lick of the sun, then dove straight into the autumn leaves.

I’ve had a productive year since returning to Philadelphia. After regaining my bearings (I can order a “coffee,” and no one asks what kind!), I spent the first few months doing freelance work for Technical.ly Philly and a few other places. I made a brief sojourn to India (and wrote a tech story about it). In March, I got a full-time gig at Communications Daily as their Philly-based states reporter.

On the creative side, I finished writing my third novel, had it analyzed by a Bat-editor and started pitching it to agents. I’m really excited to have you read it and hope to have a better idea of the release date by the end of this year. In the meantime, I wrapped up a screenplay of We, The Watched and a few new short stories. Speaking of my debut novel, you may have seen that I received an excellent review from Kirkus. And then an even better review of the sequel, Divided We Fall. That was pretty cool.

Lately, I’ve been looking with anxiety at my long-sleeve shirts. Soon I will get/have to wear them. We’re racing toward winter and the year 2017. I don’t know exactly what the new year will hold, but my aim is to make it a big one. As Semisonic sings in their end-of-summer classic: “Time keeps pushing me on now, and I’ll ride this wave to the end.”

P.S. If you like my novels, check out the show Mr. Robot. It’s a tech-fueled dystopian rush.

Adam Bender reads… Totally Messed-Up Possible Futures for the Human Race!

My reviews of Pines, DMZ and Injection

He also reads other people's books.
ADAM ALSO READS BOOKS BY OTHER AUTHORS

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time!

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, here are three books about totally messed-up possible futures for the human race! Thanks for the nightmares, Blake Crouch, Brian Wood and Warren Ellis.


Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pines, book one of the Wayward Pines trilogy, is a fast-paced thriller with a dystopian twist. The writing is lean with short paragraphs and descriptions that wouldn’t look out of place in a screenplay (Come to think of it, that probably made the story very easy to adapt for TV). And while not totally original, it’s undeniably fun.

Crouch acknowledges the influence of Twin Peaks on his novel, saying that he wished to recreate the feelings experienced when he watched the David Lynch show as a boy. It’s obviously a big influence (right down to the name of the town — whoever named “Twin Peaks” could have easily named “Wayward Pines,” too). But I was also reminded a lot of the Wool series, particularly the explanation for what’s going on. There’s also some elements that seemed ripped from Tarantino, like the Kill Bill-esque nurse in old-fashioned uniform wielding big syringe (of course, Tarantino probably ripped this off of something else). But even if Crouch is taking elements from other creators, I must admit that I admire his taste in influences.

Look, this book isn’t going to be on a list of best American literature, but I can’t deny I had a lot of fun reading it. It’s not overly time-demanding, and I even read it free through Amazon Prime. Next time you need a quick dose of Twin Peaks-y dystopia, you could do worse than the Wayward Pines series.


DMZ, Vol. 1: On the GroundDMZ, Vol. 1: On the Ground by Brian Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fast-paced introduction to an exciting dystopian future where America has entered a second civil war. As epic as that sounds, Wood keeps the focus on character to hook the reader in this graphic novel from Vertigo. It all feels very current, too, in light of today’s splintered politics.

Volume 1 just gives a taste of the overall story and feels very much like the introduction. It’s gripping all the same and left me excited to read more. I’ll definitely be continuing this series.


Injection, Vol. 1Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d tell you what it’s about, but I think the author would rather you find out for yourself. This is one of those graphic novels where you don’t quite know what’s going on until the end, and even then you’re kind of like, “Well that’s messed up.”

I do have to give the creators credit for this — I read this in one sitting. Despite all the technical jargon coming out of the characters’ mouths, Injection never gets bogged down with a lot of exposition. And the artwork kept my eyes moving from panel to panel. But would I read Volume 2? I don’t know. Maybe if I saw it at the library.

It might be that none of the characters are that likable. They certainly have distinct voices, but … I found it difficult to really sympathize with or get behind anyone.

A warning for those sensitive to violence/gore: this book probably isn’t for you. It’s not that there’s a lot of action, really, but when the knives come out, they REALLY find their target, if you see what I’m saying.

If you’re a fan of Ellis and Shalvey’s excellent Moon Knight run, you might want to give this a go. But you may end up wishing you were reading a new volume of Moon Knight.


Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my reviews in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!