Rest in Peace, dear Ardessa

The first time we met was a challenge. Not a metaphorical challenge, or some kind of intellectual test with no ultimate meaning, it was an actual test. It was September 1994 and her downstairs neighbour and former roommate had had the temerity to return to Montreal with some kind of lover. To Ardessa, this was permitted – but would nevertheless require her approval.

So I was sitting in a strange apartment one street over from my new place wearing unfortunate khaki pants (which were never worn again) and a plaid button-down shirt (which was), sitting on a student-style futon that had been folded into its “couch” position. There was a big bottle of Chilean screwcap wine on the floor in front of me and I was holding a water tumbler full of the wine, looking up at this person standing before me, with blonde hair everywhere, and whose face alternated between nervous laughter and eyebrow-knitted interrogation as she tried to figure out who was this boy that N had brought home.

I passed the test, I suppose, and thus began a friendship with one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Whose friendship changed my life in ways that I didn’t understand then and never got the chance to tell her later. Who, I found out this morning at 6am, has passed away far too young.

We were never lovers – we never even made out (which is kind of surprising, if you knew Ardessa), and her friend N and I didn’t last very long as a couple (though we remained friends for a time). But for the next couple of years Ardessa became a great friend and, for a time, a constant companion. I was about 5 years older than everyone (at an age when 5 years was significant) so I was always a bit of an outsider with the group, but never with Ardessa.

Among the amazing group of artists and poets and singers who orbited her, Ardessa was always the brightest star. And she made sure that was the case, though not in an obnoxious way. Once she decided someone was a friend, that was that… at least until it wasn’t. Because when she broke with people, she broke with them completely – though to her credit she never (to my knowledge) used this as a weapon of manipulation.

She gave me a lot, this strange friend of mine. I look back and I was so naive and unsure of myself, just a young adult muddle of urges who was trying to succeed while slipping free of some of the expectations that had been placed upon him, with only a vague understanding of who I was or what I wanted. I carried myself with a lot more confidence than that – but that someone so completely given over to her art not only accepted me but liked me and sought me out… well, it gave me a confidence that I really needed.

Really, Ardessa had a kind of magic inside of her, and nurtured all of the magic around her – and if she couldn’t see the magic in a person, she either brought it out of them or… well there was no second option. I was always worried for her, this magical friend, because what happens to a person when there just isn’t any magic around? As far as I know, she never found that out. I hope she never did.

And so I have lived differently because Ardessa was in my life, because she helped me to see how awesome a life with a little magic could be. To a small extent I still measure up new experiences and people by asking “What would Ardessa think?” Not because I need her approval – it’s more subtle than that. It’s just that things just seem brighter and better when the Ardessas of the world (few as they are) are enthusiastic about them. And so if you’ve had the privilege of calling a woman named Ardessa “friend” that brightness and joy is something to be sought, or to feel guilty for not having sought when you lapse into the mundane or the typical.

So… be at peace, dear Ardessa. I’ll always miss you.

It’s not a conspiracy of any kind!

My friend Peter Wheeland is right on target here: Moving Day is not an anti-anglo conspiracy. We need more voices like his and fewer cranks and paranoiacs in the discussion in Quebec these days.

Incidentally, I’m not moving on Moving Day and haven’t moved on that day in years.

10 Years

Whoa. This month this is mikel.org turns ten (though the archives only go back to Feb 2000). I haven’t been very active on this blog in about a year, but it’s still alive and I am definitely coming back to it in the near future. Now that my company is entering a new, more mature/less startup phase, I’ll have more time for blogging.

Ten years is a long time for anything on the web to have existed, and in the blog world, it’s almost an eternity. There were already lots of blogs in existence when I started here – and those pioneers really inspired me (as well as proto-bloggers like Justin Hall) to start a blog in the first place. But it was nevertheless the very early days of the blogosphere when I got this going, and I remember those early days of blogging very fondly.

Back then, blogging was a lot closer to what Twitter is today, which is probably the most striking difference in the form between now and the early days. Remember there were no (or very few) inline commenting systems in the early blogosphere – so to comment on another blog, you had to write your own post on your own site and link back to the original post hoping that its author would notice. So – essentially the @username and RT functions in Twitter were then the state of the art in blogs as well.

Almost coincident with the tenth anniversary of mikel.org was the news (via Metafilter, where I’ve been a member for almost a decade as well) that another early blogger, Brad Graham, has died. I remember The Bradlands very very well, and although Brad and I never met (& I never have gone to SXSW, where many of the early bloggers first met), his passing brings a profound sense of loss. It’s the loss of a friend to many – but even to those of us who didn’t know him but were active in that era, he was a key member of the early community of bloggers, when it was possible to still discuss a “community of bloggers”.

Found while moving!

Tonight when moving the last of my stuff I came across my old copy of Millennium Cabaret (and yes it’s amazing to me that the site is still up). It’s a CD that (now) doubles as an important cultural record of a scene that thrived in Montreal throughout the 90s – and stretched backwards to the early 80s, as I recall the history.

The CD is full of performance poetry – a recorded anthology put together by Ian Ferrier including a who’s who of what was once a really thriving community here. Check out the website for some clips – but the CD itself is a wonderful document. I won’t name everyone (again, check the site) but if you can find a copy (or convince Ian that it’s time to put the whole thing online), you’ll find early work by Heather O’Neill, now-Toronto-expats Buffy Bonanza, Julie Crysler, and David Jager. It also features the ever-wonderful Cat Kidd (on temporary – I hope – leave from Montreal), the dean of the Montreal scene, Fortner Anderson, and many, many more.

YULBlog.org relaunch tonight!

If you’re a blogger from Montreal, it would be a great idea to come to YULBlog tonight. Patrick and Eric Demay have done a great job developing a new (beautiful) YULBlog website that will give members much more direct control over both their personal profile and their blogs. The site is being launched tonight at First Wednesday at La Quincaillerie and you’ll (likely) be able to sign up for a profile and add your blog or blogs while having a beer or two with the YULBlog crew.

What’s going on

I just realized I haven’t talked much about what I’m up to lately. When we moved back to Montreal, I had what I thought was going to be a great job developing a new, should-have-been revolutionary web product… but that didn’t really work out very well (they didn’t share my vision of what the site could have and should have been and I didn’t think it was worth the investment to think small). Since then, I’ve been working really hard to get a new company off the ground. My great friend Claude moved back from Paris a few months before I came back to Montreal and he has been working like a maniac to establish Exvisu in Montreal. Almost immediately we talked about merging our forces, and after one aborted attempt last spring, in the fall I started devoting some time to it and based on my good experiences in the early going, this past winter I dove in head first.

At the moment, Exvisu is all about doing a very unique and advanced kind of research to help leaders with marketing, communications, and political opportunities (or problems). We have the ability to go out into existing but unstructured data sets and learn a great deal more about an issue than traditional approaches can provide. From there, we work very closely with our clients to develop appropriate web-based strategies to address the opportunity or problem. And, to round out the offering, if our clients lack the capacity to execute on the strategy themselves, we’ll work with them to do the job.

It’s a pretty broad offering, but we’re exceeding the goals we set for ourselves in January. We have several clients and partners we’re working with such as AGY Consulting, K3 Media, Gartner Lee Limited and several others I can’t really mention. As well, we’re working hard on a couple of different technology projects that will be the key to moving from a pure consultancy to a much more ambitious play down the road.

Tungle Launches in beta

Montreal’s Tungle has lauched into a public beta and has received good coverage from Montreal Tech Watch (as you’d expect – Heri does such a good job of covering the local scene) and TechCrunch, among others.

The online yellow pages sucks (not a surprise)

Just now I was trying to find a printing company near my house whose name I didn’t remember. So I did a search with the information I had and got a Pages Jaunes (i.e., Yellow Pages in French) listing: impression Montreal. It’s pretty obvious that these people are fighting like mad against the very nature of the web. First problem: though it was the only listing that in any way matched my search, what came up in Google was a terrible listing page, not their direct company page. So I searched the page for the street and finally found the listing and clicked through to it. And then it got worse.

The second problem? No web link. The company HAS a website (about which more later), but you’d never know that by looking at the Yellow Pages online listing. Third? They’ve disabled select-and-copy of text on the listing. Of course it was trivial to view source (though not via right-click) and get around this limitation, but c’mon, it’s 2008 isn’t it? Using silly javascript tricks to try and stay sticky is so 1997!

Unfortunately it got even worse once I had the name of the company and did another search in Google. The site only came up in the first page of listings when I searched for “Ipso-Facto Impression Numerique” rather than just the company name – and then when I finally got through to the link I found out why – their site is a craptastic flash-based site with background music and everything. Eek.

Standout Jobs has launched

Montreal’s own Standout Jobs has launched Reception this morning. Founders Ben Yoskovitz, Fred Ngo, and Austin Hill are in California for DEMO 2008, where they’re presenting on Wednesday morning.

Standout Jobs is all about providing companies with advanced tools to use for recruiting. Companies can use Standout Jobs to easily build customized recruiting micro-sites to publicize their openings and provide a rich experience for prospective employees, enhancing their ability to land the best candidates. As well, their backend gives companies enhanced tools to get their job postings out to a variety of different job sites. (More information at Mashable).

I think Standout Jobs is going to do very well both at DEMO and with customers. It addresses a real pain point for small and medium size businesses and I am sure it will pay for itself after one or two good hires. Congratulations to the whole team!

New World HQ for mikel.org

stationc.jpg

I haven’t mentioned it here yet but earlier this week I signed on to be an anchor member of Montreal’s own Station C co-working space. In the old days, there were desk-rental outfits where people could, for a small fee, go and work back when working at home was not respectable or even possible for most people.

Co-working is different than that. Co-working is explicitly about not only the facilities themselves but the community using the facilities as well. I’ve been discussing this idea with one the founders of Station C, Patrick Tanguay for several years now, and I’m really excited that he and and Daniel Mireault have managed to get Station C off the ground. And even more, that they have succeeded in landing a prime location and doing a top-notch job in terms of furnishings and recruiting. Judging by the list of people I know who will be joining us, it’s going to be a fantastic crew.