Monday, December 31, 2012

For The People Who Make The Soul Bigger

Weber Brothers at Great Hall, Toronto
Shai Peer, Ryan Weber, Sam Weber, Marcus Browne

For the people who make the soul bigger, who invite wall-to-wall exuberant people. For the people who give you so much more faith to drive further and farther. How cool is going into the Arctic with a band. 

Near Bowmanville 7am after leaving Peterborough 

For the ones who make your year every year.  For the CafĂ© in the Greenwich Village that has been family for so many years. Marcus Mumford agrees (this is home). For the music that leaves no questions asked. We believe. 

Kate Sland - Lamb's Club, NYC
Eric Frandsen - Caffe Vivaldi, NYC

For people who are still here after so many miles.

Jason Skiendziel at Scarlett Jane Home 
(Cindy Doire, Andrea Ramolo) 

Andrea Ramolo, Not My Dog, Toronto

For the new friend who’d I’d end up shovelin’ snow for before year-end. A friend is someone you can lose a bet to. 

Cameron House - Devin Cuddy Band
(Nichol Robertson, Devon James, Devin Cuddy) 

For the music she made so startling and the man who needed running shoes to tour with Neil Young and the Sadies. For the woman who didn’t know she’d be at the North Pole with a band in a few weeks…and some total stranger who sat in the picture who felt like we were his friends. That’s what music does.

Maia Davies, Bryan Boake, Anna Ruddick (top)
Loft 404 after party  in Toronto (bottom)

A dedication to all the good people out there and my late brother. Always. My Dad passed away. Ya I've had some downs with the ups. You helped me out.

Trish Robb Band at Pig's Ear (Peterborough), Peterborough Home, & Horseshoe Tavern
Chris Culgin (mandolin), Mike Duffield (drums), Travis Blodgett (upright)

"I could go east, I could go west, It was all up to me to decide." Here's to the new noise, the creatively exciting, the friendships that keep it rollin'.

Paul Reddick and Weber Brothers, Not MyDog, Toronto 

Stone Sparrows, Horseshoe Tavern
Oliver Ward, Meghan Patrick

Kayla Howran, Cameron House 
This year I saw friends both in the North Pole and the South Pole. A woman who meant so much, who lost half her family, even planted a flag for me far from anywhere I'd ever been. 

That was a tough 572 full-time days and only the inspiration of the stories kept me going.

For the names that are like magic words who can play 3 more shows after the show is over. What did he put in that guitar?

Sam Weber, Great Hall , Toronto

Melissa Payne and Trish Robb 
4am, Peterborough home

 That must have been  something, she had a lot of joy…and it keeps us waiting for the next show.

Sarah Burton, The Press Club, Toronto 

Melissa Payne (fiddle) at Pig's Ear (Peterborough) and Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto)
Trish Robb arms waving (2x)

You are home, I see it every night.

The many great moments. The people who make me turn to bigger chapters. 

For the East Village woman who made magic happen every Tuesday for many years in a basement theater.  For the voice who stopped a room and held great potlucks. For the man who brought me to Bruce Springsteen. You're not Going Down...For the woman who sung about going up the Elevator.  

And I still follow you Piano Player as you stretch your wings around the world.  For the one with the vibe, to see where the magic can go. 

For the woman who disappeared, leaving loved ones behind. We still search for you. 

For the Irish woman who wrote 3250 miles and the family that shows courage to be who you are. For the one who called everyday when everyday counted. For the Facetimer, who saw more, just to get it right.  For the ones who helped the harvest. And to the woman who lined up with me. You are dear.  Happy New Year.

Anna Ruddick (bass) with Joshua Cockerill and Greg Cockerill 
Dakota Tavern, Toronto 

Melissa Payne 
Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto 

This speech was inspired by people and photos auto-picked by Facebook's “See Your 2012 Year in Review.” There was an original status report with names that came with these lines. I added a few more, and I'm sure I could add more. And thanks K and D for understandin'. There's bigger in the world. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Howl

Who were “yo-yo-ed” around by people who didn't really know
But got paid to tell you

Who were taught  to believe as if you’d go along
Like it was an accepted medicine

Whose bad ideas achieved no goals
A placebo for you in the meantime

Who was diagnosed with TB for six months
And died of cancer

Who kept on saying yes, just to please you
But kept on doing no

Who took 7 months to open a bank account
Listening to a policy never made

Who made more rules everyday, new rules, unfinished 
To punish the minority, to punish the majority

Who took leave, but told no one
Just to keep in the loop

Who asked you to validate, validate – show us
With theories that have never come true

Who wanted numbers, numbers, number
Projections that show no map

Who gave bad instructions to fill in the space
When there was no map

Who took 2 years of our lives telling us what to do
When it takes 4 years to make something great

Who mostly had no answers 
But had a template 

Who was going along with a number in line
Unwaited, waiting to be served

Who took 16 hours, or 10 days, to get a refund
Spending more on gas

Who took 10 hours, after 10 years of loyalty,
To redeem  points for loyalty

Whose 3000 days of groceries, 80 days around the world, 
And drives going the distance, across the country, 20 times,
Got “clawed back” for loyallty

Who took 1 million dollars that was not theirs
But told themselves it was true

I slept in today and decided to write in pencil

I Howl

You turned me into something else 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

World’s Largest Book?

This felt like a Great American Novel.

After writing more than 2.2 million words, I looked up what  was the world's longest book.

To my surprise, I had already surpassed Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (~ 1.2 million words) and nearly doubled it in length.

I didn’t plan on writing so much, it just took on a life of its own. 

The idea was planted at Union Square in New York  City when an angel investor suggested we demo a new geo-tagging concept to make check-ins more interesting.

He left his wallet behind! 

He suggested we geo-tag stories around Union Square. “I wonder if Fred Wilson would mind if we called it Union Square, ” I quipped.  Wilson's company Union Square Ventures had funded Foursquare (as well as Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy and Kickstarter).  

I had already mocked up the format in HTML with stories at Caffe Vivaldi in Greenwich Village featuring Bob Dylan, Al Pacino, Larry David, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky, Woody Allen and Andy Warhol.   The design was later altered to look like this:

So one day, though it felt daunting, I wrote stories about nearly every address around Union Square and stitched them together on a writing platform as it was being built by my partner. We had to create an experimental geo-tagging tool and style guide. One in which pieces of the whole story could be viewed individually (and later viewed with GPS or searched by street address). 

It seemed painstaking –  100 pictures around Union Square with 6000 words took 12 hours  to geo-tag and post – but suddenly I was in a rhythm.  So I expanded, writing stories down Broadway, the spine of New York City.  Coincidentally, Broadway is also where most of New York City’s tweets originate.

Annotations on Broadway such as notable lyrics 
were also geo-tagged  @Broadway 

They say there's always magic in the air
But when you're walkin' down that street
And you ain't got enough to eat
The glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere
~ George Benson

Seeing my face in lights
Or my name in marquees
Found down on Broadway
Even if it ain't all it seems
I got a pocket full of dreams 
~ Alicia Keys 

Undaunted, I kept on going. I wrote stories about places on New York’s un-numbered streets. It seemed an achievable goal with a finite number of mostly small streets.  When finished, I decided to write stories at New York’s dozen or so north-south avenues.  And finally numbered streets up to 59th St.

To continue in this rhythm, I started writing “geo-stories” on topics of interest…where Beat Poets hung out, where movie or tv scenes were shot. For each story, I had to find an address, often matching historical artifacts with current street views to pinpoint an address. Soon nearly every street in Manhattan had a story in this Great American Novel.  Sometimes within a radius of  3 buildings there would be a dozen stories.

Bleecker Street story vein in Greenwich Village 

I layered stories trying to sequence them by historical times. Older stories became the bedrock of New York City. This book was chaptered by place and time, now with 25,350 places chronicled at 44,000 different times. Stories were original or curated, but always visually interesting or with an intriguing geo-narrative. 

In recent years, I had also curated contemporary visual stories daily and taken 100,000+ photos by phone (nearly 27,000+ posted on Facebook). I added the notable archives  to this atlas. Included was a  chronicle of  one Artist's journey across 480+ venues right from her birth as an Artist. Now, any musician could find cool music venues following her story trail. 

Soon I wrote about notable work  from around the world, including leading-edge  street art. It felt like a tone poem. 

This would be the world’s largest GPS atlas mapping stories. We called it Jump2Spot - you could jump to any spot and see stories nearby. Not just any stories, but stories worthy of sharing. 

Embedded were movie, music, writing, art and technology history atlases full of iconic stories. Every notable scene from all Godfather movies and the Bourne trilogy were even included.

An official high up on the Apple food chain one day attended a Robert Johnson tribute where I started writing this 2-million-word atlas. 

The venue owner said Steve Jobs email address could be looking at some of the work we’d been doing. This book started with a video of stories there,  helping to generate nearly $50,000 in donations for the venue. 

Steve Jobs was about doing the “insanely great.” 

But what could I do that Apple hadn't done? I decided to geo-tag an entire book to show the future of e-books. You could click links and see photos/maps as you read lines in a book. Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider came to mind because  it had 55,000 miles of places by motorcycle. I had planned to make this the world’s first geo-tagged book.  Anytime a place was mentioned by Neil Peart, I geo-tagged it, citing Peart’s writing there, and added a photo. Strangely, not one place he visited in 1997 from Quebec to Alaska had closed down since! Not even Penny’s Place, a roadside stand. 

Places are easier to remember to recall stories. A great way to index stories for recollection. Geo-annotating an entire book was very illuminating for archival methodologies. 

Steve Jobs passed away before I finished, so I switched gears. In tribute, I started to geo-tag the entire biography Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson. Passages from the book were typed, matched with a photo and map, anytime a place was mentioned.

I then moved onto writing about places in Daniel Lanois' Soul Mining which a friend had recommended.  Neil Peart, Steve Jobs and Daniel Lanois all had one thing in common. They all worked insanely hard. This pushed me to work even harder, harder than anything I'd ever done. 

I’d also been following data visualization artists intrigued by their "insane" work. I knew New York Times Data Artist in Residence  Jeremy Thorp from early Internet days and followed his work and then his peers.   Jeremy helped design the 9/11 Memorial  placement of names. His algorithm placed names in relation to where they last were – with “adjacencies” showing loved ones nearby. He was a poet with data. He's even been exhibited in New York's Museum of Modern Art. 

9/11 Memorial also allowed visitors
to post stories of where they were on 9/11 

In this data visualization movement was also Nicholas Felton who was behind Facebook Timeline. His Dad, like me, had been to Ali Shan. I experimented with his app Daytum to explore new geo-narrative structures - counting where inspiration happened most in my life. The stats actually surprised me. I had no idea until I counted my activities and mapped them. 

I liked Felton's idea of collecting data from scraps of his father's life (receipts, journals, photos etc) - collecting geo-artifacts - and generating a story.   This inspired Facebook Timeline. 

I knew I couldn’t visualize data to match the standards in this field or even work with someone who could. I had no rep in the field, and no skills for it yet.  So I asked myself, what could I do to create something special in data visualization? A line from my first computer science class came into my head: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”  It dawned on me that most of the genius work I saw in the data visualization world depended on 3rd party data - and mostly bulk stats. If I inputted higher quality geo-stories,  we could output higher quality visuals. But statistically, how many stories needed to be plotted on a map for a cool pattern to manifest? I had no idea.

So I continued typing, daily for 12 hours a day, for more than 5000 hours. For the first time, I saw how an artist like Michelangelo could keep on going at the Sistine Chapel. Soon this atlas could no longer be copied (not even by me). Retyping the whole project would be too difficult. You’d have to give up at least 2 years of your life.  I speed read and type fast. Slower speeds would need 4 years.

Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo four years to paint
July, 1508, to October, 1512

It helped that I was sequestered in a forest for a long journey of focus and rhythm. I saw more animals than people in my window.  This could not have been done in a city full of distractions.

Roger comes by daily.  This is today. 

Soon new findings started to emerge in the writing. I saw stories intersecting at the same address—connections not observed by any internet post out there.  Were they coincidences or not? I called them geo-patterns. Layers of stories at locations stitched together that arrived randomly but didn’t appear random.  Histories happened geographically in patterns. You can see this when plotting stories on a map. 

Andy Warhol's Factory moved  in a straight line. 

Charles Bukowski circled around Silver Lake in LA.  

This was the data visualization magic I had been looking for. It was unplanned and unforeseen. Something you could only see after geo-tagging thousands of stories. I was checking-in dead people to see what no one saw about their lives.  

I started to map stories chronicling the entire lives of various icons to look for more patterns: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sylvia Plath, Picasso, Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald , Joni Mitchell, Jack Kerouac (On The Road), Patti Smith (Just Kids), The Beatles (where every major song was written), Marilyn Monroe (photos), Julia Roberts   and more. I couldn't find any trace of Steve Jobs ever having been to Canada.  No US President in office had been to Canada for the first 147 years! 

I started to write about where notable works took place:  Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry buildings, photos of the most geo-tagged New Yorker (pre-1940)  Berenice Abbott, Monet paintings, every notable Al Pacino or RobertDeNiro movie scene, New York album covers, the world's most expensive photos and more

Many stories pointed to new story branches or cool factoids I never knew (even in stories I knew).  

1917 Littly Italy in Godfather 2 was on E 6th St
by Sidewalk Cafe between Ave A & Ave B in New York. 

As of today, 44,000  visuals are stitched together at 25,350 spots with 2.2 million words on 20,800 notable profiles.  In entries, it is already larger than the world’s first digital encyclopedia. I now wanted to create an “atlas of inspiration.” The more volume achieved, the more ambitious the goal could be. 

The most popular YouTube videos at nearly every notable New York venue were written about and geo-tagged. 

New scenes  (“new noise”) were written about: Stories of contemporary street artists, digital artists and musicians showcasing their leading-edge creative work. 

Jenny Holzer at Wawel Royal Castle. 

Soon the most notable photogenic internet photos around the world were geo-tagged with stories. Curations by photography enthusiasts were very helpful. I had to look up the addresses for each photo. 

In Manhattan, you can see in this atlas where every notable writer, painter, film-maker or musician was and the history made there. They defined their locations with their stories. 

Greenwich Village has been a city of writers. 

I started to see that those who become “legends” or "icons" made history at 400+ locations -- people like Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs or  Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill had been to more cities than any other person I could find. And his travel was far from easy, travelling with several hundred people, 8000 seats and a lot of horses by train. He even built a city (Cody, WY).  His journey was hard to map. Many of the countries he'd visited had changed names.  

I discovered that outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde robbed mostly small towns and put them on the map. Towns whose stories we no longer hear about since then. I saw how so many blues players made quiet pilgrimages along blues trails. Even people I knew, I had no idea had done it.

I started to see that San Francisco, LA, Chicago, New York and the Delta were hubs for American storytelling. London and Paris dominated European storytelling.  Toronto and Vancouver became movie/music landscapes in Canada.

Some places like Paris had stories frequently added non-stop.
Other places had dry spells. 

Recurring themes emerged usually in movie, music, art, writing or  technology. They created  “the scene” for a moment in time in history.  

I recently wrote of First Nation communities whose stories are less documented and more mystical. Every story added new texture and ambiance.

Soon in our experimental writing platform, we could search stories by address. Or just click once on a phone and find stories nearby.  I started to think of news outlets that could catalogue notable news stories by street address. Forget Google Streetview…See Movie Streetview, News Streetview, Book Streetview, Art Streetview, Music Streetview…views of stories augmenting your path.

Billy Joel at 142 Mercer, NY, 
for album cover An Innocent Man (1983) 

These stories gave Streetview a 3rd dimension.

So that is how this Great Novel kept on writing itself.

Editor's Note: Stayed tuned. See Mr. Wong dance on one tiny block with a lot of spirits of the past. We will be visually geo-collaging these stories. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Woman In Pink Hair Who Saved The Day

In the past month, I’ve spent 60 hours dealing with Customer Service as a Customer.

10 hours with a friend trying to get a $56.48 refund from a furniture store.  50 hours with a bank trying to get bank statements for my Dad's Estate (after 6 months of trying). 

The hotel charging my dead father 13 days posthumously was no saint too. No one was authorized to remove his bag, they said, so we had to pay for the room after he died. The vacant hotel didn't have to charge a dead person of course. But they did. 

This wasn’t the first time we’d been screwed.

* * *

A cell phone company charged my daughter nearly $500 (includes hidden fees) because of a download she didn’t order. Cell phone companies later got sued by the government $31 million for misleading advertising and  hidden fees.  The cell phone company  had the nerve to lecture me on being a bad parent for 1 hour and how I should supervise my daughter better after I told them they couldn’t sell an under-aged minor this 18+ product in the first place. 

When I called another number they gave me to get my refund finally, they too read the same company line! How I should be a better parent (ad verbatim). This is after I'd been a loyal customer for 13 years on record. 

The thing is…I’d been charged nearly $500 by the same company for things I didn’t order too – and suddenly $2/month for the paper the phone bill was printed on.  So I believed my daughter. I'd already received $1500 in credit for bad charges in my lifetime with this company.  And the $500 hidden-fee pricing for 1 download was so outrageous, it smacked of dishonesty.  

This was the ad.  Anyone could enter my kid's phone number. If she'd clicked link for "10 Bonus Ringtones," I get billed $10/month up front, plus $30 invisible carrier download fees/mo.  $10/mo fee was advertised in grey font, fine print. The $30/mo cost was not advertised. 

No one works for an honest living here! 

* * *

A home renovations company sold me 2 sinks they didn’t actually have, delivered a broken one of a different color and forgot to deliver two sinks. This is after they didn’t show up the first time leaving me to wait hours, elevator booked. No one on the delivery service phone would answer me.  I had to drive to the store to get service and they had no customers there and more than a dozen staff! 

The frequency of incidents and people waiting hours for Customer Service made me realize, they should really change their name to No Service.  

 I was forced to accept wrong color sink (or wait months for the sink we paid for to be in stock) and this in turn caused me to pay for a different color paint to match. They recommended I not use their unreliable delivery service. Without a trolley, I carried the sink many floors up.    

After they delivered a carpet that wouldn't fit the elevator and were also missing carpet for one room, management gave me $260 credit for my troubles. This is after waiting 6 weeks for the carpet to be ordered in. 

My Dad passed away before he could see his apartment finished. 

* * * 

You could write a book on why the Western economy is tanking.

When they sell you something, they are so fast – they even have hidden ways of charging you. They've automated technology to charge you instantly. 

But when you want your points redeemed for loyalty, they will be the first to be unloyal. Wait one hour. When you want a refund, you can wait hours. 

I have a few thousand dollars in car points and air miles they are clawing back.  This of course was not what they promised me for loyalty.  I had $500+ in cell phone points, but had to buy an iPhone full price. Apparently, I was locked in a contract for 2-years for a  $20/mo discount (credit) they gave me for bad service. Points can't be redeemed while under contract for iPhone. . 

"Never Again."  We've said that often.  Don't "Dear Customer" me. We are not "Dear" to you. 

When you want false charges removed, they will make you feel like a criminal. When you want a store credit for your troubles – well, good luck with that. 

The days of honest retail relationships are over.

Sure, Mr Customer Service you can worry about your what your boss says at the store, worry about your job. Sure, it’s not a legal obligation for you to be a hero. Sure, it’s not even a moral obligation for you to be a hero. Your company does not order you to be a hero.

But as my old boss once said in situations where people didn’t do the right thing to solve the problem and are only focused on blocking people or complaints, “you’re no hero.”

* * * 

I thought about writing about how this all happened, but there wouldn’t be enough space. So I thought I’d focus on the one hero we did meet yesterday.

I had driven my friend who didn't have a car to a furniture store and a refund was then needed.

Collectively, my friend and I had already spent 10 hrs unsuccessfully, and more than $50 in gas and transit, now on our 3rd trip just to get a $56.48 refund. The goods were already returned two trips ago to get a refund card (I didn't have my friend's credit card). A trip ago, the call-center spent 2 hrs trying to remove credit card charges (failed).   A trip ago, the store had refused to accept this gift/refund card with its receipt because she was missing a receipt for the original purchase (they didn’t tell anyone to bring).  Some gift card! This trip was a disaster – 1 hour line up, 87-year-old mother randomly injured and hospitalized, all on my friend’s birthday. Ya, it was a long day.

Gift card and this receipt were invalid without receipt of original store purchase for this refund. 

We almost gave up yesterday. I said, “one more try.”  This was no longer for the money. We’d already spent so much  time and more money than the refund to try and get it. It would be easy to say, “cut our losses.” To complicate matters, we now had the original store receipt, but one new problem. The gift card was lost in the chaos of the emergency room situation of my friend’s 87-year-old mother. We did have a picture of the gift card with all the numbers and its receipt (above). But in this world, there’s every excuse to say no.

We went in together – I had a car, my friend didn’t. This furniture store was only accessible by car. Ya, you know the one.  I saw a woman with pink hair. Like picking a border agent, I said, “She’s the one we want.”  By lucky draw, we managed to get her  (1 in 3 chance).

She knew how hard it was to get to the store by subway (which requires crossing train tracks and hopping  a 7-foot fence to get onto the property from the station). She knew the long line ups. 

She knew our problem. She listened. She didn’t talk down to us. She didn’t treat us as if every customer is wrong, so the company can keep our money. She didn’t make us wait one hour. She got the refund done.

Her kindness was payment enough for me to blurt, “We don’t want the store credit you offered (for our troubles).” We then went to my friend’s birthday dinner and had a wonderful time. Thank you Ace, and thank you Gabby’s. 

We appreciate.

It made me feel better after some nauseous mornings waking up after spending 6 months trying to get bank statements for my Dad’s estate from a bank where my Dad was a loyal customer all his life. We have had properties and charities financed through them. I am now at the stage where my lawyer is on standby with a legal notice just to get a bank statement and payment due dates. Why did it have to come down to this for something so simple. “You’re no hero.” 

If I hear the word, “policy” chanted by them, I don’t hear the words, “Customer Service.”

But the woman in pink hair, you just erased all of these fumes from my head. Because that’s what heroes do. You are Customer Service, just like I knew it when it was good.  You treated us like community citizens.

I wake up today, thinking of a hero.  The woman in pink hair who saved the day.