Making Change

My previous blog entry was intended to lead into a discussion around a platform for open government but in doing so I would have missed a critical step. 

Before this platform can be useful we need to start a conversation – a conversation about apathy and disillusionment – about feeling powerless and voiceless. 

Most of us feel very insignificant where our city and its politics is concerned. We turn out every few years and vote – some of us vote for a person or party based on perceived ideologies, some vote out of habit, a few take the time to really learn about the issues but a very large proportion of us just don’t vote at all. 

There are a number of initiatives out there to try to reverse the tide of declining participation in our democracy – the most notable Canadian effort being the youth-focused Apathy Is Boring. While technology can play a key role in tackling voter apathy I think we need to start by establishing personal connections. After my experience at SMarts London I’m convinced that an unconference type of event is the way to go.
By way of co-incidence I was at a conference in Toronto recently and had an opportunity to meet Mark Kuznicki (website + Twitter). He’s a very inspiring guy and has been involved with a number of really great initiatives but it’s his role as the founder and organizer of ChangeCamp that captured my attention. 

“ChangeCamp addresses the demand for a renewed relationship among citizens and between citizens and our civic institutions. We seek to create connections between people and their civic passions by using new tools of communication.” 

When I read that the first time I thought: we need all of that. We need it in London. Nobody is going to do this for us, we have to do this for ourselves. Apathy and disillusionment can be vanquished with positive, actionable ideas

So let’s have a ChangeCamp here in London. 

We need a diverse group of people who will check their egos at the door, throw their very best ideas on the table and then merge/edit until we have a shortlist of attainable goals; then we need to go beyond the talk – start building teams, plans and taking real action. 

That will just be the start of the conversation – the first step in building a culture of involvement and empowerment.


What do you think? Does London need a ChangeCamp?


The Devil Makes Work For Idle Hands

Apparently, with only two days left here,  our short-timer has run out of things to do …

———- Begin message ———-
From: Chris McInnis <>
Date: Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 8:37 AM
Subject: Cookies!
To: rtraction <>

Please help yourself to some home-made cookies (on Noah’s desk).

Please note: While completely safe for most of you, the cookies do contain traces of a rare pharmaceutical compound, Vaxator. This compound, while completely harmless on its own, may react violently and unpredictably when taken in combination with Vaxadrin, which I have been carefully slipping into Shawn’s water over the past three weeks.

Side effects of combining the two may include any or all of the following:

  • Dry Mouth
  • Severe Weight Loss
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Restless Arm Syndrome
  • Restless Torso syndrome
  • Massive weight gain
  • Phantom Hand Syndrome
  • Vivid dreams of self-cannibalism
  • Scruffula
  • Bad humors
  • Late onset albinoism
  • Spontaneous pregnancy
  • Increased risk of vampire attack
  • Hairy Uvula
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Increased appetite
  • Permanent blindness
  • Mild kidney explosions
  • Testicular cranberrying
  • Rectal hallucinations
  • Pulminary weevils
  • Brain tooth
  • Reemergence of the umbilical cord
  • Vein seizures
  • Aortal collapse
  • Monkey-lung
  • Lactose addiction
  • X-ray hearing
  • Prolonged erections, but… not where you’d hope
  • Lung-fire
  • Eye-curdling
  • Abdominal migration
  • Urethral nodding
  • Honus Wagner’s disease
  • Carcassing
  • Gopherism
  • Multi-brow
  • Tracheal meerkat colonies
  • Involuntary Narnia adventures
  • Testicular myopia
  • Warlock hump
  • Scrappy Doo-ism
  • Rocky Mountain oysterism
  • Grover Norquist syndrome
  • Rectal buffalo wings
  • Thoracic geysers
  • Nostril inversion
  • Inability to breathe on weekends
  • Rectal frosting
  • Arby’s Mouth
  • Tennis Scrotum
  • Pituitary ferns
  • Skeletal Xylophoning
  • Lung Teriyaki



London’s Green Bin Pilot Program – Update

The vote at city council on Monday is going to be very close. If we want to make this happen we need to make some calls and write some e-mails. While most Councillors appear to have made up their minds here are a few swing votes that have an open mind: 

Bernie MacDonald – ward 3
Harold Usher – ward 12
Mayor Anne Marie DiCicco-Best 

A couple of Councillors and members of the Environment and Transportation Committee who initially voted for the pilot seem to have flip-flopped on the issue:
Roger Caranci (ward 1)
Cheryl Miller (ward 14)
Please ask them why they’ve had a change of heart. 

Even if your councillor isn’t listed above it wouldn’t hurt to call and let them know how you feel. Their contact info can be found here and most have cell or home phone numbers and I’m told they all have blackberries. 

It’s easy to be apathetic or disillusioned about politics but this is a close one and we can all make a difference with just a few phone calls and e-mails. Let’s remind them that we’re paying attention to important issues like this especially in an election year. 

Thank you for taking the time to help change our city for the better.

Let’s Get Some Light in Here

Some guys get a red sports car, some guys climb Everest and some guys get a new job – it looks like I’m going to experience my mid-life crisis a bit differently.

I joined rtraction a little over 8 years ago. We decided early on to get involved with the community and develop make CSR (corporate social responsibility) the very heart of our operation. We did this with no expectation of any business benefit, but it turned out to be the thing that defines us as an organization. We’ve met the most wonderful dedicated people working in the trenches to make this community a better place.

From a personal standpoint, my work with local non-profits has also given me a lens into the inner workings of this community.

While I see some pretty amazing things happening in places I never imagined I also see some things that are preventing our community from taking the next big step forward – politics and silos.

How does a silo get built? I’ve seen two types:

  1. silos of self-interest – organizations now that are either led or heavily influenced by individuals who are either resumé building or kingdom building
  2. silos of protectionism – organizations that protect their “turf” for fear of losing funding, constituency or influence

Both of these hold our community back – the first type doesn’t bring enough dedication to have any long term impact and the second squanders too much time and effort on efforts that are all about maintaining the status quo.

Silos inhibit progress and London has a lot of silos.

Politics is the fertile soil in which silos grow. However, unlike fruitful organisms politics and silos often thrive in dark places.

After talking with a number of intelligent people, I’d like to put forward an idea that could throw open some windows. This is going to be a completely open project in every sense possible and the product that comes out the other end will be available for anybody/anywhere to help make their community a better place.

An outline of the project will be available here later this week and everyone’s input is welcome and encouraged. The plan is to have it available mid-summer for the fall election cycle – but it’s utility is designed to go far beyond October 25th, 2010.  Stay tuned.


Blackberry Tour vs Apple iPhone 3Gs

I’ve had a few months with the Blackberry Tour and less than a day with the iPhone. The picture below sums up my feeling nicely.

The iPhone inspires an enthusiasm in me that all of the Microsoft and Blackberry smartphones in the world could ever muster.



Defining “Brand”

Brand is a difficult thing to get my head around sometimes. It seems like every marketing firm has their own take on it – sometimes it’s lifted from a book, sometimes it’s formulated entirely to play to their own strengths and sometimes it’s constructed around a central personality at the company.

None of these work for me – they all seem to start from the wrong place.

To my thinking brand first and foremost about your perception and relationship with the company and product. That said, I could never quite crystallize all of my various thoughts on the matter. So I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that Seth Godin’s latest post spelled it out quite nicely:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. 

Our team held a day long strategy session recently and we’re taking a long, hard look at our own brand in the coming days and weeks.


Brand isn’t something that we invested a lot of energy on in our infancy but, like everyone, we’re maturing day by day. In that maturation we’ve developed key characteristics that set our team apart. How do we make that part of our (forgive me for using this term) value proposition?


But perhaps the toughest part of this whole exercise will be – how do we make it so that we (a company founded by bunch of humble geeks) can present our brand with pride and without feeling like we’re somehow bragging?


This may be easy or it may be difficult but I can’t wait to take the next steps with these guys.