Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Braving the frontiers of technology...sort of

There's a story today on Salon.com called Don't be afraid of the big bad Gmail. If you haven't heard of G-mail, don't worry. You will. It's a new web-based e-mail service from Google that offers 1 GB of free storage to users. The trade-off is that your e-mails will show "contextual ads" from Google, similar to when you use their search engine. The idea that machines are scanning your e-mail to decide what kinds of ads to show you has some privacy advocates worried. The Salon article takes a look at what the service offers, how it works and what it means for you and me, the user.

Since The Daily Upload is hosted by Blogger.com (which is owned by Google) I received one of the invitations to be a beta tester of the new service. So I've signed up for an account and I'll let you know what I think about it after I've used it for awhile. By the way, if you want to send me an e-mail to help me test it, my new Gmail address is dave.traynor@gmail.com.

Back to blogging...

It's remarkable how fast time can slip by. I realize it's been a few days since my last "daily upload." Either I need to get more discipline, or I'm going to have to change the name of this blog.

This posting has a couple of messages. I received a note over the weekend from my brother in law in Vancouver. His sister has breast cancer and so he and his other sister have formed a team to particiapate in The Weekend Walk to End Breast Cancer. If you live in Toronto or Vancouver, you might want to consider participating, or perhaps sponsoring someone who is. My brother-in-law's name is Darryl Condon, and he's walking in Vancouver, if you want to sponsor him.

But the other reason I've highlighted this site is for all of you who are interested in cool applications of web technology. The site is elegant, and it effortlessly lets you find the person you want to sponsor and sign up for a donation with just a few keystrokes. It's very well done. There are a lot of non-profits and companies who could benefit by getting user-friendly technology like this working for them.

So check out the site, and support a great cause.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

More election stuff...

Yesterday, I was wondering when, if ever, there was going to be a federal election. Now, it looks like the betting is on again for a June election, at least according to the Globe's John Ibbitson. To whit:

Mr. Martin is campaigning across the country, endlessly reannouncing his election platform. Caucus members are being told to rent campaign offices. In Winnipeg, rumours are rife that Mayor Glen Murray is getting ready to announce his candidacy, something he is not prepared to do unless and until an election is imminent.

But Ibbitson warns that the Martinites appear determined to move forward with their election plans without healing the rift between the Martin and Chretien supporters, which could prove a significant problem down the road. Still, given the size of the mandate that Martin won from his own party at the convention, it's hard to see this rift being more than just something the media is perpetuating. If the Liberals do manage to pull out a fourth majority, you can be sure that all will be forgiven. And if Martin does end up going down, he'll pay the price for that as well.

If the country is going to go to the polls in June, as stories from the weekend are suggesting, it will be interesting to see how the campign develops, given that Canada will be in the grip of Stanley Cup fever for most of that time. That means the CBC newscasts will be running at odd times for most of it. This story could get interesting really fast.

Give credit where credit is due

OK...maybe I was a little harsh in linking Paul Martin's meeting with aboriginal leaders as just another pre-campaign event. At least, Roy McGregor seems willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And there's plenty more from all the major papers, see here and here. Time will tell whether this is a significant moment in history or not. The Liberals would certainly like to have us think so.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Making politics fun to watch

As a Canadian political junkie, I can't help but feel a little envious at what's happening with our neighbours. There's something kind of refreshing about the way that the Bushies and the Kerryites are hammering away at each other, even thought the election is a long ways off. It's just not the same up here, where we see our Prime Minister (not) campaigning every day at some event or another (Today, it's a speech to aboriginals) across the country. Tomorrow, it will be another. Meanwhile, our MPs are back in Ottawa without any idea of what they're going to be doing to earn their money. Will there be a spring election? Or will it be in the fall? Or will it be next year? Does anyone really care?

On the other hand, the gloves are off in the US presidential election. It's happening and no one is arguing about when or where. George and John (and Ralph, don't forget) are waging war with each other. The latest shots (beyond the usual rhetoric) is happening on the Internet. Bush's supporters have launched a new, online video game called "John Kerry: The Tax Invader Web Game." People who log on get to shoot down tax proposals using a little animated George Bush head that fires the bullets. Cute...

Not to be outdone, the Democrats put together an Internet Ad of their own, called Mistakes Were Made. It features video footage from last week's televised press conference of the President struggling to come up with an answer to a question on what his biggest mistake was since Sept. 11. While he hems and haws, several suggestions come up on the screen, such as "We found the weapons of mass destruction," and "Mission accomplished." The ad ends with the message "Credibility is on the ballot this November." More good stuff.

I like this stuff. But in Canada, we see self-serving ads from our political leaders that don't really address much. They're really soft, and they don't give much credit to us as voters...then again, since more and more of us don't vote, perhaps we're getting just what we deserve...What I'd prefer is to know that we're in a campaign and just be done with all this "timing" nonsense.

As George might say..."Bring 'em on."

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The eternal lament of Alexander Pope

Last night, I went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the latest Charlie Kaufman movie starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. I liked it a lot. It challenges the viewer and entertains. But the title refers to a poem by Alexander Pope and I wanted to know more about it. This is a good feature from the Chicago Tribune about "the eternal lament of Alexander Pope." I wish I had read it before I saw the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd recommend it, although I had a hard time finding a theatre around here that was showing it.

Here's a link to the entire poem courtesy of the University of Toronto.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Getting a grip on the blogging business

If you're interested in this blogging phenomenon, but you're not sure what it might mean in the larger picture, you'll be interested in this interesting series posted by Amy Gahran, who hosts the Contentious weblog. Amy is a pioneer in the online content business and is a tireless evangelist. Last week, she hosted a panel discussion on blogging for a conference in Colorado and then went home and turned the whole discussion into a very interesting online report. This is the kind of effort that all of us benefit from and it speaks to why the blogging phenomenon is so interesting to watch.

There are some interesting views expressed here, some I agree with and some I don't, as with most things. But overall, the level of discussion is top-notch and well worth investing some time in.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I'd like to keep my cell phone number, please

OK, so I used to work in the telecom sector, and maybe that's why this story is more interesting for me than it might be for you...but it galls me to think that the US, which usually lags behind Canada's telecom industry, has embraced the idea that consumers should be able to keep their phone numbers when they switch providers. Doesn't that seem like a no-brainer to you? But according to this story in the Globe and Mail, it's not going to happen any time soon.

It turns out that we have regulators in this country who will only consider mandating something like this if the companies want it...Right now, the companies are fighting for new customers, not existing ones. And if they start poaching from each other, number portability will be important. But for now, since the companies don't want it, the CRTC won't do anything about it. Yet in the States and Britain, it's a reality already. Why? Because their regulators think that consumers' interests should be driving issues like this...

Makes sense to me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

An idea whose time has come?

Is Canada ready to move to proportional representation? An article in today's Globe and Mail looks at the fuss that is building around the country on this front. Not so long ago, I confidently (and probably naively) proposed that Prime Minister Martin would be looking for a legacy. At that time, I didn't think of the sponsorship scandal and the subsequent plummet in the polls that it brought with it. I had hoped that Martin would embrace the idea of "fair voting" and be the force that caused it to happen. But I'm not so sure. Still, as this article points out, it may be an idea whose time has come and there might be no way to stop it. It will be fun to watch.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

On being a writer...

We buried Brent yesterday…

OK, actually, it was several weeks ago. But I wrote that line at the time. I thought it was going to be a catalyst for me to pull together my thoughts. In my mind, they were all coming clear as I drove home from Toronto. It all seemed so real and ready to come out.

Brent’s funeral was tough. When someone dies, it’s inevitable that you start to question the worth of your own life. And when someone is young and vital and seems to have their best years ahead of them, (don’t they always?) it’s even tougher. And for me, the loss of Brent was also wrapped up with conflicted feelings about seeing all my old colleagues, most of whom I haven’t seen since I parted company with Advocis.

Brent had become a major influence in my life, as he was with many others. He was like that. I only knew him through work, but he had a big impact. And those that spoke at his funeral made it clear that he had a major influence on most of the people around him. When I heard he was dead, I started remembering some of the times we spent together and some of the things we talked about. I wish it were more. But there are some things that come to my mind, or at least they did on that lonely drive back from Toronto and in the days just after. But now it’s several weeks later, and I never did sit down to write those words of wisdom. No reason either. I just didn’t get around to it.

No matter how hard I try to be profound, I’m not. Perhaps I’m trying too hard. I’ve got my eyes closed right now. I don’t really want to read what I’m typing. I’d like for the words to just roll off my fingertips, like rain off the edge of the roof. I want to feel like my writing is a force of nature. Like there’s something inside of me struggling to get out and all I have to do is sit down at the keyboard and it flows out. I’ve been there occasionally…sometimes it’s when I’m writing a story about something on deadline. I’ve thought about it for so long that the words just flow. I’ve gone over what I want to say so many times in my mind that writing is just a formality. And occasionally I get typing so fast that the thoughts don’t seem to be slowed down at all. As if there were something else controlling my fingers.

But that doesn’t happen very often. I tend to self edit as I go along. I’m always looking at what I’ve just written and thinking that it needs to be changed. Or perhaps I’ll go back to work on the punctuation or the spelling. I get lost in stuff like that. Sometimes, it’s like the words don’t come to me, but when I put them down on paper, they’re there. I don’t feel right about changing them. I’ve always said that I’m the kind of person who writes a first draft and then never worries about a second. I do a lot of editing in my head before I put pen to paper (so to speak). But once it’s down there, it takes on a life of its own. And I feel like maybe I’m killing something if I start to edit it too much. I know that sounds stupid, but what the heck.

The other problem I have is that I’m always writing as though someone were going to read what I’ve written. I’m not much for putting my thoughts down in some haphazard way. I’m always considering what their impact will be. Does that come from a newspaper background? I’m not sure. But for me, writing is not the private experience that it is for some. It’s a very public thing. I figure that someone is going to read this stuff and then they’re going to look up from the paper and smile at me…with one of those “Oh, I see the way it is with you” kind of smirks. I think that everyone knows more about most things than I do but they humour me and say “This is good. No, really, it is” I know better. That’s a pretty insecure thing to say, isn’t it? Just while I’m sitting here typing it out, I’m starting to think, what the hell is this all about? Why is all this stuff about me?

I fancy myself a storyteller. I’ve read scores of books by a wide variety of authors – suspense, comedy, historical fiction, non-fiction, romance – I’ve read those stories and I know that I could create them too. I’m sure of it…but the sad truth is that even when I’m given the chance to show the world what I can do, I haven’t come through. I’ve talked about being a writer for years, especially when I was working as a reporter. But still, I still didn’t quite get around to writing those stories.

The only time I really tried was in university and I had a schedule that left my mornings open. I spent them sitting at an old IBM Selectric on the second floor of our house on Rae St. in Regina. We had a metal typing table, the kind with metal extension wings that you could fold down or up on either side, depending on where you liked your manuscript pages to sit. I’d sit at that little table with a fresh sheet of paper rolled in, and look out the window at whatever was going on outside. I used to sit there a lot. My goals were modest. I really hoped to create about 1000 words a day, or about 4 double-spaced pages. But I rarely made it. A full page of copy at the end of the morning was a pretty good day. More common was a few crumpled-up pages in the garbage can, with nonsense typed on them…like warm-up exercises. “Thequickbrownfoxjumpedoverthelazydog.”

OK…this has been an interesting sidebar to my musings about my reaction to Brent's death. It's been several months since I left full-time employment and a lot has happened to me. I've spent a lot of time healing my body and my mind. And I've spent a lot of time in my basement study, writing, designing my website, working on book proposals, writing up ideas for stories... I'd like to think that writing is my profession, but the bad news is that I’ve only been writing for a few minutes and my wrist and arm are starting to get sore. This repetitive stress syndrome is a real problem for me. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can't sit at the keyboard for more than a few minutes at a stretch. I need to get serious about my ergonomics here at the office. I need a keyboard tray, so I can experiment with different positions, etc. No point in putting this stuff off.

This has been interesting. Now I’m going to post this to The Daily Upload. Sure, no one except you will see it, but I feel good about what I’m doing. Perhaps confession is good for the soul.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

What comes after offshoring?

There's an interesting story today on FastCompany.com about the offshoring of technology jobs.

What does it mean? This is something I've been thinking about lately, since we're seeing some of the results of this here in Hamilton. This city is dependent on manufacturing jobs, which just don't make sense any more, now that a lot of this stuff can be done cheaper elsewhere. So we're seeing steel companies in big trouble, and just up the road from me, CAMCO has announced that they're closing their Hamilton operation, throwing 800 people out of work. Is this the future for North American workers? When a company can find people in other countries to work for just dollars a day, why would they pay Canadian workers to do the same thing? Shareholders demand the lowest costs, right?

This will be an interesting debate in the weeks ahead. The outsourcing of American jobs is a major campaign issue in the US right now, and it won't be long before Canadian politicians are talking about it too in a Canadian election. There are a lot of important issues here....is this what globalization is all about? for years, companies have been sending their product manufacturing to countries where labour costs are cheaper. Made in Japan (or China or Korea...etc) has meant cheaper costs for years. But the "brainy" part of the business has stayed home. The product development, or in the technology business, the software engineers, programmers and highly-skilled support types, were working on the home front. But that's changing, and it's happening fast. And suddenly, there are a lot more white collar types walking around without a job to move to...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I've got rhythm...

Sunday morning...read the paper, perhaps clean up the kitchen a bit. It's a good time to take it easy.

Of course, since I work at home, I tend to take it easy most mornings. So what makes Sunday any different? Well, it's different for the significant others who live with me. The kids don't need to rush off to rowing, or school. And while my wife usually works on the weekends, she can often get a slower start on a Sunday.

It makes me think about the rhythm of the week as we move from Monday to Friday, then Saturday and finally Sunday. Then we're back into it all over again. There is a rhythm to it all, as one week moves into another, then a month, then a season, then a year. Elton John wrote a song called "The Circle of Life" for an animated movie about a lion cub who doesn't want to take over his Dad's job. Then the movie became a Broadway show and a huge success. I'm sure you know the song and the story. It's easy to make fun of the stuff as sentimental, etc., but Elton (or whoever wrote the lyrics, if it wasn't him) hit the nail on the head.

There is a rhythm to our lives and the way time passes. I think about it every morning, when I sit at the table with my morning coffee. The birds which disappeared last summer are back in full force. The robins are bouncing around looking for worms, the cardinals are zipping past and everywhere I can hear the songs of nature getting back into the swing of things. It doesn't matter what I did yesterday, or what deadlines I'm facing today, this morning, the sun came up and the birds are out, the squirrels are zipping along the fence and the dogs are ready for their walk. And as I sit here, I realize that these are important things to me. And I'm glad I've got the chance to sit here and enjoy them. So maybe it doesn't seem like I'm doing much, but I've got rhythm, and it feels good.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Let's all get ready to party

The Final Four is down to two. What a pair of games they were...Georgia Tech and UConn on Monday...it should be great!
There's an interesting story here about the Spanish bombing.
Bomb Rocks Madrid Suburb (washingtonpost.com)

Hurray for March Madness

The NCAA Final Four is on. This is what basketball is all about. The skill level of the players and the coaches - heck, even the referees - is something to behold. I've played basketball or been involved with it for most of my life, and it's weekends like this that convince me that it's still the best sport out there.