Author Archives: Bill Wren

About Bill Wren

Writer, editor, social media practitioner and observer of how and where people connect and engage online.

Lukewarm Response to Travis McGee

I read the The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald. This is less a review than a general gut response:

The Deep Blue Good-ByeThe Deep Blue Good-Bye by John D. MacDonald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d give this 2.5 out of 5 but since that’s not possible I gave it the benefit of the doubt and went with 3. Generally, I found this book sporadically engaging. It had rather more about boats than I needed and I also had a feeling it was trying a bit too hard to snag that tough “look at me, I’m an individual” style. I might have liked this more had the story been more involved. It struck me this could have been pared down to a novella.

Or maybe I’ve just been spoiled by too many Ross MacDonald Lew Archer books. :-)

View all my reviews

Beta Testing an Election

I heard a lot of whining about technology last night with the New Brunswick election “fiasco” but the only real problems that I can see (other than a delay that made people cranky) were communication ones. It was a beta test but no one described it as such prior to the vote; rather, they touted its ease and speed with few if any cautions about it being untried. On election night as the problems became manifest, communication from Elections New Brunswick was far too slow.

Even when you have no answer it is better to say so but that you’re working on the issue than to be silent.

New Brunswick is small and as a result it’s often a testing ground. A few years ago (2008) when Leonard Cohen was returning to touring after many years and at the unusual age of 74, he began it in New Brunswick. This was because it was small and he wasn’t sure he was up to what he was planning — a world tour. He also wanted to work out the kinks. In other words, it was a beta test.

So here in New Brunswick our election was a beta test of a new, digital voting system. We discovered that it had its problems — the point of a beta test.

Unfortunately, there was not a great deal (if any) talk about this aspect. And there was also little talk about redundant systems, or back-ups. I’d like to hear more about that because from what I heard last night the data was never at risk. It was on memory cards (some of which were AWOL for a while) as well as on a server. So it was accessible if not on one of them than on the other. And then there were the physical ballots that were in the machines – never lost and always available for a manual count in a worst case scenario. The data, then, was available from at least three sources.

This was actually a great election from the technical point of view because it highlighted where problems exist and presumably, now identified, improvements can be made. It sounds as if one problem, at least, was in the over-writing of manual data by the uploaded memory cards. The cards that went “missing” for a while, well that sounds like human error which also should be easily identified and fixed.

Whatever the case, it was a worthwhile exercise because of the fact it highlighted problems – all fixable, I suspect. I’d really like to see some kind of review or report on what issues happened last night and how they can be corrected.

One correction they need to make has to do with processes. When there is a glitch, how long do you wait to go to the backup? When do you initiate a manual count? What and when do you communicate? I think this is one element that may have led to the muddle. I don’t think there was a plan or process to cover this contingency. Put another way, there was a lack of risk management. In my experience, blind faith in technology is always a mistake.

You should always assume problems either from the technology itself or from the way it is being used. If there are no problems, everything’s peachy. If there are, you’re prepared with a plan of action.

During the election coverage I heard a few commentators complaining as they asked the Luddite question, “What was wrong with the old way of manually counting the ballots? Why did we have to change to this mess?”

Well, if those people had been listening to their own coverage they would have heard why. It is increasingly difficult to find reliable people willing to volunteer their time to help run all the polling stations and vote counting.

We may not have liked the delay and it may have been somewhat embarrassing but the use of the tabulation machines in the election was great for every future election because it identified issues, ones that can be addressed and avoided down the road. Other jurisdictions were watching this election and you can be sure that when they go to the machines (as they eventually will) these problems won’t occur because any latent problems have been identified and corrected.

And the next election in New Brunswick that uses the machines – municipal, federal, provincial – will be much quicker and smoother.

(By the way, the machines were used previously in municipal elections with no problems.)

8 Ways to Write for Social Media

It’s all about the headline. Try these:

  1. You will never look at (fill-in-blank) the same way again!
  2. You have to see this! You won’t believe what (fill-in-blank) does to (fill-in-blank)!
  3. 10 (fill-in-blank) you must do to (fill-in-blank).
  4. How to (fill-in-blank) in 3 quick steps.
  5. 10 (fill-in-the-blank) that will change how you see (fill-in-blank).
  6. 5 (fill-in-blank) successful people do to (fill-in-blank).
  7. 5 (fill-in-blank) smart people do to (fill-in-blank).
  8. 5 (fill-in-blank) beautiful people do to (fill-in-blank).

Did I mention you should put precede whatever you are embedding in your website with about four or more boring paragraphs of blathering as you pad your site with someone else’s content, summarizing the material that is to follow because it is social media and ergo nobody is capable of thinking for him or herself, although you could save everyone, including yourself, a lot of time by just bloody posting it?

Another rule-of-thumb … excuse me, heuristic … to keep in mind: The phrase “You won’t believe” must always be accompanied by an exclamation mark.

And that’s today’s exasperated, cranky moment. :-)

Summer Canticle (July 18, 1971)

Ragweed and yarrow,
Byzantine tall grass thrumming
with the acolytes of pollen.
A single shoe from a half-shod man
missing the laces.
Rusted railway tracks last used in 1958.
Procession tightrope-walking.
Anywhere but church.
Squatted and smoking cigarettes
on greyed and sunbaked ties.
Somewhere a priest drones sermons
my cousins and I don’t want to hear.
Abandoned station, weathered
and exorcised of ghosts
by the morning’s sun.
Sacellum bright as discovery;
as open as sky.
Sun above, faces tilting upward,
we swallow a Eucharist of light.

August 3, 2014

Creativity Can Obscure Your Message

In an age of digital this and that, when many of us live large parts of our lives online, creativity often obfuscates our message.

Obfuscate means to “render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible,” as my dictionary defines it.

It’s not that the creativity we bring to something isn’t imaginative.

It’s often very imaginative; very clever and artistic. We may have a wonderful headline and presentation, one full of witty wordplay and inventive images.

But when people are scanning, it can mean your message is missed.

Online (and more often than not, offline too), we tend to have such a short attention span that it is all but non-existent. We glance here and we glance there. Understanding the meaning of something, given these conditions, usually requires that it be obvious. So obvious that it can’t be missed.

The creative presentation of a message puts a layer over top of the meaning. It’s a cognitive barrier. To get and understand the message, we first have to get and understand the creative element.

In most cases, this occurs in a nanosecond. But even that nanosecond can interfere with delivering your message because, given online behaviour, a nanosecond is all the time you have to communicate your meaning.

I’m not saying don’t be creative. Be creative. It’s necessary, online more than ever. But be careful. Sometimes being creative isn’t about cleverness or imagination. Sometimes it’s about finding ways to make something simple and obvious. It often means leaving the paint brushes at home.

(Originally posted April 11, 2011.)

Bots Mean Change

I grew tired of the comments telling me, in awkwardly worded fashion, how wonderful my posts were and how I had really nailed it (the subject matter rarely specified). With over 4,000 comments labelled spam in the last few days, I decided to make a change.

No more comments.


Comments have been disabled on Writelife. I’d rather not do that but I don’t update often, most of the interaction with comments occurs on Facebook and Twitter, and I no longer have patience with the stream of nothing going into my Inbox and appearing as comments on the site.  So, at least for now, no more comments.

Alas, thus goes the Internet. :-(