Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday fun for Dec 29, 2006

By now, I'm sure you've realized that I like to find funny and interesting videos on the Web. But there are a lot of videos out there, and you can end up burning a lot of time trying to find the good ones. So this week, I'm going to point you to a cool application I "stumbled" upon recently.

It's called, appropriately, StumbleUpon.

It works in a couple of ways. First, it's yet another online social network, which lets you register a profile and search for like-minded friends. But the site uses a unique way of presenting interesting sites, videos, etc. to you that it thinks you will like, based on the preferences you've put in.

Note that if you don't want to give the site a lot of your personal info, it still works just fine. You can either open the site's webpage, or for real convenience, you can download a toolbar for your browser that makes stumbling as easy as one click.

And while you stumble through the choices offered, you can tell the site whether you like the selections or not, so it learns what kind of content you like.

To be honest, I haven't used that part of the site very much, although it seems to work just fine.

But its the second option, called Stumble Video, that I've been using and really enjoying.

You just sign up and start clicking. Once you've entered a list of topics you're interested in, the site will start serving up video clips from all over the Web that it thinks you might like. Again, you rate them while you watch and if you don't like it, just click again to serve up a new one.

It's very addictive and a lot of fun.

For example, here are three sites that I Stumbled Upon in one sitting:

-- How to Reach 100,000 People for $1 - Highway Blogger

-- Internet from the old days -- This is a fascinating report by the CBC's Bill Cameron about the Internet phenomenon, from the 1980's, I'd guess.

-- Pumpcast News -- People pumping gas at a self-serve suddenly realize the video monitor they're watching is talking directly to them.

And, of course, no collection of video clips would be complete without at least one cool guitar video...

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rick Mercer is a funny guy and well worth reading

Rick Mercer has a blog. And while he doesn't post that often, it's usually worth reading.

During the Christmas season, he's been in Afghanistan and his most recent post has quite a bit of detail about his visit.

If you're not signed up to get his blog feed, consider doing so. I recommend it.

Mercer has been one of my favourite comics for years, thanks to such great stunts as his on-line petition to have Stockwell Day change his name to Doris and his hilarious "Talking to Americans" segments for the This Hour has 22 Minutes comedy show on CBC TV.

More Best of 2006 lists

Courtesy of PC World, here's a couple of 2006 best of's to add to our list:

The 20 Most Innovative Products of the Year

The 13 Most Embarrassing Web Moments

And from

Best mobile products of 2006

And for something different, check out for:

Best of 2006 in videos

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The top 10 Google searches for 2006

Here's a real end-of-year list. The top 10 Google searches for 2006, put together by the Google Zeitgeist.

The #1 search? bebo...what the ...?

The Globe and Mail has some analysis of the list.

12 steps to the Perfect Human

OK. This isn't exactly an end-of-year list. But I couldn't resist letting you know about this article in Wired Magazine.

I first read about Dean Karnazes a while ago, when he was in the middle of running 50 marathons in 50 days!

He's got quite a story to tell, as you might expect.

In this Wired Magazine profile, they outline 12 tips on what you need to do to become an ultramarathon junkie as well. (OK, they're not really practical, but they're interesting.)

Interesting reading the day after that giant Christmas dinner and just before the New Year's resolutions to lose weight!


Let the list season continue

Since I've started down this road before Christmas, we'll just keep going now that the big day is past. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, doing whatever it is you like to do on that day. Me? I ate too much, played a bunch of new board games with my kids and enjoyed myself immensely.

So, as we continue digesting, here's today's year-end list:

Link to Wired's 2006 Foot in Mouth Awards.

What are your favourite lists? Send them in via the comments and I'll make sure that everyone sees them.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Friday fun for Dec 23, 2006

Political Gaffes are always fun
It's almost Christmas and that means that we'll be seeing plenty of lists of best of's, worst of's, most liked, most disliked, etc.

While I'm a big fan of technology, there is a flip side. With the growth of hand-held tech toys that take photos and videos, and the explosive growth of places like YouTube, where anyone can post a video for the world, there are plenty of privacy issues that have yet to be worked out.

But there is one group that has already had to adjust to this new reality -- politicians. And if they haven't, they'd better watch out.

CNET has posted an interesting list of the Top 10 political gaffes of the past year, captured for all the world to see.

Check out CNET's "2006's worst political mishaps"

And for your enjoyment, a few links to some quirky videos and sites.

- Amateur. This guy's got serious rhythm. You'll see what I mean.

- A guitar video. I love guitar videos

- Special effects. A link to a website that shows how the special effects for Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Men's Chest, were created.

- Expanding tables. Ever wanted to make your 6-seater become a 12-seater? If you're rich, you'll love this idea.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Team N2i Antarctic Expedition

If Christmas is starting to feel a bit stale already (and there's still 5 days to go before the BIG DAY!) you might want to check out this tale about Team N2i (Novo to Inaccessibility) Antarctic Expedition. It's a fascinating story from way, way, down under.

These guys are on an amazing adventure, and it's going to be fun to follow their progress, via web postings, in real time, thanks to the wonders of the Internet.

Here's a quote from their home page, which gives a sense of what they're up to:
Our Mission

This coming November, Rory Sweet, Henry Cookson and Rupert Longsdon will be attempting an ambitious and unique expedition. The team will depart from Cape Town on a 2600mile flight south to the Russian scientific base, Novolazarevskaya, situated at the edge of the coldest, windiest, highest, most inhospitable continent on earth – Antarctica. From here the expedition will spend the next 50 days dragging 19stone(120kg) pulks over 1100 miles(1800km) across the Antarctic wasteland in temperatures as low as -50°C (it never gets warmer than -30°C at their destination and thats during high summer!!).

The team is in the Antarctic right now, and there are a number of posts already. It's a fascinating expedition and who knows how it will turn out.

You can sign up for regular emails that will let you know every time there's a new post. And you can send them a note of encouragement as well, right from their website.

I'm always fascinated by these tales of exploration.

Last year, Dee Caffari became the first woman to complete a solo circumnavigation of the world the "wrong way." It was a remarkable achievement and she shared her trials and tribulations with us all every step of the way.

This most recent trek looks to be every bit as riveting.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday fun

Before we start the weekend fun edition, a personal update.

I'm in Regina this week to visit with my Mom, who's getting ready for another one of those major life transitions that we all have to deal with at some point.

She's been living in Qu'Appelle House for several years now. The people there are wonderful and it's like being part of a wonderful, caring family. Unfortunately, to live there, you have to be able to get up on your own and get down to the dining room for meals.

My Mom has suffered a series of small strokes, called TIA's over the years and while she's been able to come back from each of them, this last one seems to have hurt her ability to control her legs. So now, at unexpected moments, her legs just give out on her. And it's not getting better.

So, I'm here to help get her organized for a move to another home where she can get the level of care she needs now. But it will be sad for her to leave her "family" and start over again at a new facility.

My story is certainly not unique. Since I've arrived here, I've run into several people who are either going through or have gone through or are expecting to go through something similar. I guess it's all a part of living, isn't it? Something else for my kids to look forward to.

OK, this is supposed to be fun, right?


So as you know, I've been busy the last couple of days, so I've only got one video for you this week. But it's a good one.

Here's a very clever look back at the year 2006, through the eyes of some kids in a school holiday concert. It was put together by the comedy site JibJab. It's funny, but be warned -- you need a sense of humour to enjoy it!

Thanks to TechCrunch for pointing me here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How to act in an airport

First of all, don't be that person who insists that while everyone in the line is dealing with the fact our flight has been cancelled, his (or her) situation is unique.

"I can't wait. I have to be in Calgary this morning!"

What a tool.

Fortunately, I was far enough away from that guy that I could just ignore him. But I felt for the staff that had to deal with him.

As I write this, I'm sitting in the departure lounge at the airport, twiddling my thumbs (virtually) and waiting for another flight. The early-morning flight I had booked was cancelled when some wimpy pilots couldn't land their plane during the hurricane we have happening here right now. The announcement said something about wind gusts and the fact that they had tried to land twice and been blown off the runway, or something like that. Sounds like a feeble excuse to me -- and the obnoxious guy who just has to get to Calgary agreed with me.

Anway, kudos to the Westjet staff, who handled the cancellation with their usual good humour and whisked us through a fairly complicated rescheduling fiasco with a lot of class. I don't know who's in charge of their crisis training but it certainly paid off today. Oh, did I mention that while all this was happening, the power was completely out here in the terminal?

At any rate, I've got the better part of day to kill out here. I'm supposed to be on a later flight but so far, the wind is still playing havoc with the schedule here. The smaller planes seem to be able to land, but the larger Boeing 737's, like Westjet uses, are still not able to make it in.

Oh, I almost forgot -- today's incident gave me the perfect chance to practice my new best thing. It's just two words that go a long way to keeping us sane in situations just like this one -- "Hmmmm...that's interesting."

To see what I'm talking about, read Kathy Sierra's great post on Creating Passionate Users.

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"Spread your tiny wings and fly away...

...And make your way back home again...

For some reason, the song Snowbird is rattling around in my mind today. But I'm certainly not heading off to the deep South!

I'm flying back to Regina (my hometown) for a few days, so blogging may be light for a few days. (That's what all the A-list bloggers say when they travel.)

Of course, despite the title of this publication, blogging is often light around here, as regular readers will have noticed. But since I have an excuse this time, I thought I'd let you know.

Now, if I can just find my long underwear and mittens, I'll be on my way...

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More ways to use Google Search

Now that we've worked our way through Tod Maffin's video series on how to get more our of Google, I thought I'd point you to a few more tips.

Exploring Google's Hidden Features, over at, lists 15 things that Google knows how to do.

Some of the 15 things were covered by Tod, but there's a few new ones here as well.

Plus, it's nice to have a list of things that Google does, so that you can print it out and keep it handy by your keyboard.

Thanks to Lifehacker, where I found this pointer.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Handy way to create and edit lists (and check them twice)

It's Christmas time again and that means lots of list-making is happening all over the place. So I thought it would be a good time to point you to one of my favourite little on-line apps,

This little gem is exactly what it says it is.

You just sign up, and presto! You'll be creating lists, checking things off and feeling very up-to-date and plugged in, to boot!

It's easy, fast and free. And you can print out your lists, send them to other people and even share the list with others, including letting them add to it. Want to see my list?

It's a handy little utility. I use it all the time.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Friday fun

Since the weekend is almost here, I've got some fun things for today, which I really need, after the tragic news about CNET editor James Kim. There's a wonderful video tribute to him posted on the CNET site. What a sad story.

I wasn't sure whether a Friday fun post was appropriate this week, given the preceding paragraph. But then I figured that laughter really is the best medicine. So here's hoping we'll all feel better soon.

Weird Al Yankovich - White & Nerdy

First up -- a music video. Over the years, you've always been able to count on Weird Al Yankovich to make you smile. This clever rap is sheer genius. A master at work.

What if Microsoft acquired Firefox?

We've seen marketing spoofs like this before (remember the Microsoft Ipod packaging video?) but rarely have I seen a gag taken to this extreme level of detail. Check out the website, all the links and especially some of the videos. I've no idea who is behind it, but they've gone to a lot of effort to make it very, very funny. Almost makes me want to order it!

Here's the link.

Chris Prillo compares video sites

Chris Prillo is the driving force behind Lockergnome. And if you don't know what that is, don't worry about it. Today, he's an experimental video blogger who's trying to figure out which of the three top video services -- YouTube, Google or Revver -- offer the best features.

The way this works is you need to scroll until you can see all three screens in your browser. Then hit the play button on all of them one after the other, so all three feeds are playing at once. You'll see what I mean as soon as it starts. I'm not sure it proves anything, but it is kind of fun. And it is Friday, after all.

(If this doesn't work properly from this page, here's the link to Chris's blog, where you can try it too.)


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Series on books from Forbes well worth reading

If you like reading and especially if you like reading about reading, and writing and books and booksellers, then you're going to love this series. has published a special report on books. And what a treat it is.

But a word of warning. You could end up spending a lot of time working your way through this, so make sure you've carved some time out of your hectic schedule first. I've only begun to work my way through the many articles in this great series, but it's something worth bookmarking and returning to at your leisure.

Here's a snippet from the introduction:
Are books in danger?

The conventional wisdom would say yes. After all, more and more media--the Internet, cable television, satellite radio, videogames--compete for our time. And the Web in particular, with its emphasis on textual snippets, skimming and collaborative creation, seems ill-suited to nurture the sustained, authoritative transmission of complex ideas that has been the historical purview of the printed page.

But surprise--the conventional wisdom is wrong. Our special report on books and the future of publishing is brim-full of reasons to be optimistic. People are reading more, not less. The Internet is fueling literacy. Giving books away online increases off-line readership. New forms of expression--wikis, networked books--are blossoming in a digital hothouse.

People still burn books. But that only means that books are still dangerous enough to destroy. And if people want to destroy them, they are valuable enough that they will endure.

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Get more out of Google

If you use Google for research (and who doesn't?) you should check out Secret Google Tips for Researchers.

It's a series of 10-minute videos that CBC Technology reporter Tod Maffin is running this week on, the CBC's official blog.

The videos are full of great tips about how to use Google more effectively. I guarantee you'll find something that you'll start using right away.

The series started on Dec 3, and continues for the rest of this week.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday fun

It's the weekend again...and time for something to make us smile.

This week, I've got a couple of video clips that should get you in the right mood for the holidays.

First up is a video, and a website, dedicated to "That Phone Guy," that annoying person we've all run into in a restaurant, or on the train or in a movie house. They just can't believe that everyone isn't as interested in hearing their voice as they are.

(Just for fun, take a close look at what kind of a phone he's using.)

That Phone Guy

If you like that one, check out the rest on his website. It gets better when you watch more than one.

And for those of you who aren't GTD geeks, and might not recognize him, the phone guy is really Merlin Mann, who runs the 43 Folders website.

Friday Fun #2

For our second smile of the week, check out this demonstration of what happens when you mix a popular candy with a soft drink. These guys have come up with a winning formula for viral marketing. They apparently shopped around this video to get the best deal. I apologize for the quality. (Video is something that Google just can't seem to get right, isn't it?)

Also, there's a commercial at the end, which you can skip. But it's worth it, in my mind, to see the video.

The Mentos guys are back

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, November 30, 2006 is now up and running

Where do you get your news from?

If you're like me, there are a whole bunch of ways to get hold of what's happening in the world. There's on-line, newspapers, print magazines, TV, word-of-mouth, news releases, the company newsletter -- the list goes on and on.

The scale can be intimidating. And it's hard to figure out whether you're reading a balanced, fair perspective, or a one-sided rant based on questionable assumptions or even outright falsehoods.

Lately, I've been participating in an experiment that combines the higher ideals of the new citizen journalist movement with traditional news outlets. It's called and the public beta of the website launched a couple of days ago.

The premise is simple. compiles stories from around the world on a variety of topics and posts them on their site. Then members review the stories and rate them, adding comments, if they like. Ideally, the result will clarify the neutrality of a piece, based on accepted standards of ethical journalism.

Here's how the site describes the process:

In recent years, the consolidation of mainstream media, combined with the rise of opinion news and the explosion of new media outlets, have created a serious problem for democracy: many people feel they can no longer trust the news media to deliver the information they need as citizens.

To address this critical issue, NewsTrust is developing an online news rating service to help people identify quality journalism - or "news you can trust." Our members rate the news online, based on journalistic quality, not just popularity. Our beta website and news feed feature the best and the worst news of the day, picked from hundreds of alternative and mainstream news sources.

This non-profit community effort tracks news media nationwide and helps citizens make informed decisions about democracy. Submitted stories and news sources are carefully researched and rated for balance, fairness and originality by panels of citizen reviewers, students and journalists. Their collective ratings, reviews and tags are then featured in our news feed, for online distribution by our members and partners.

Note that the ratings are supposed to be based on "journalistic quality," not just popularity. That's been one of my complaints about some of the similar news sites, where people can vote for stories they like. In theory, NewsTrust has different standards.

It's an interesting idea and if it works it will add some clarity to some pretty large issues facing the world. And while the focus of the site may be U.S.-based, the more Canadians and others that participate, the more influence we'll have.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Internet and the death of anonymity

So I'm sitting here in my office (with my thinking cap on), working on a post about some aspect of the world around me, or even my world. And I upload it to TheDailyUpload, and then you notice I've done that and you read it. It seems fairly straightforward, doesn't it?

But as normal as it seems now, it wasn't that long ago that the world looked a lot different. From the way we got our news, to the way we communicated, and the way we acted towards each other. In fact, when you stop to think about it, the changes are profound and they haven't stopped. We're in the midst of an info revolution and we can only guess at the ultimate effect it will have.

So I was intrigued by Michael Kinsley's new article on Slate, the online magazine where he used to hang out (and co-founded). It's called Like I Care: On The Internet Everybody Knows You're A Dog.

The title comes, of course, from the famous New Yorker cartoon of a dog sitting at a keyboard, with the tagline "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

While anonymity was once touted as the strength of the medium, today's Internet has turned that concept on its head. As Kinsley points out:
But anonymity does not actually seem to interest many of the Web's most devoted users. They are the ones who start their own sites, or sign up for MySpace, or submit videos to YouTube. Quite the opposite: The most successful Web sites seem to be those where people can abandon anonymity and use the Internet to stake their claims as unique individuals. Here is a list of my friends. Here are all the CDs in my collection. Here is a picture of my dog. On the Internet, not only does everybody know that you're a dog. Everybody knows what kind of dog, how old, your taste in collars, your favorite dog food recipe, and so on.

As Kinsley wanders through his article, he seems worried about what's happening. But he doesn't claim to have any answers. Just a lot of questions. And a niggling concern that what's happening might not be all good.

I share his concern. While I'm an unabashed supporter of new technology, I worry about the way our society is evolving. The online freedom we enjoy has a dark side. People say things online they'd never mention face-to-face. And the world seems like a darker place, thanks to how much we know about all the bad things going on around us.

I love melodramas and the other night I watched How Green Was My Valley. It's the story of a Welsh coal mining village's evolution from idyllic to ruined wasteland, thanks to the success of the Industrial Revolution.

OK, I'm stretching things, I admit. But the Internet has changed our world, just as the Industrial Revolution changed that Welsh valley. But the people in that village packed up and moved to other places. Life went on. Some of it was good and some was bad.

Like Kinsley, I don't know whether all this is good or bad. Of course, I have plenty of opinions. And as a good citizen of the Web, I'll keep posting them and pointing to other people's thoughts and suggesting that you do the same.

And in another 30 years, I'll probably regret some of them just as much as I regret wearing that plaid suit and those tinted glasses.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Storm-stayed in Victoria - go figure

We woke up this morning to a ton of white stuff all over Victoria and the rest of the lower mainland of BC. What a surprise!

This wasn't the kind of winter weather I had in mind when we decided to come out here, that's for sure. I know...I can hear all of you people in other parts of Canada saying "Give us a break. A little snow! Big deal!"

I used to say that too. But regardless of whether you figure we're all wimps because the city is shut down by a major snowfall -- I can tell you that the problems are many.

Yesterday, Heather got stranded when her new Mazda just couldn't cut the heavy snow. We're not sure whether it was because the large, oversized sport tires that didn't leave enough room for snow in the wheelwells, or whether the tires are just a bad compound. The end result was that she couldn't get up some of the hills around here - like a lot of other people. The heavy snow got really slippery, really fast.

She ended up leaving her car near the hospital, after taking almost an hour to do the 10-minute drive over there. Later, when the snowfall let up, we picked it up and brought it home.

But this morning, after snowing all night, the entire city is pretty much shut down. Schools are closed, offices, roads - everything is at a standstill. The cold weather has arrived now and the city just doesn't have the resources to clear this stuff away in a hurry. We'll have to wait for some warmer weather and a BC snowplow (ie Rain) to clear it.

Meantime, it is pretty, as you can see from the pictures. And of course, our dogs are loving it. It's not your typical West Coast weather, but for a prairie boy, it's not so bad. But that's enough for now. We can return to normal programming any time now.

UPDATE -- You can see more pictures at my Flickr site.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stretch your mind and peer into the future

So this morning I put up a post about how the Internet is the "big thing" right now. And I do believe that.

But if history has taught us anything, it's that the biggest things in the future probably aren't even on our radar yet.

So what will our world look like in the future? What kind of breakthroughs are on the horizon? Will we even be around in 50 years?

As part of it's 50th anniversary celebration, the good folks at the New Scientist magazine asked a bunch of leading scientists to peer into the future and talk about what's to come in the next 50 years:

What will be the biggest breakthrough of the next 50 years? As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations we asked over 70 of the world's most brilliant scientists for their ideas.

In coming decades will we: discover that we are not alone in the universe? Unravel the physiological basis for consciousness? Routinely have false memories implanted in our minds? Begin to evolve in new directions? And will physicists finally hit upon a universal theory of everything? In fact, if the revelations of the last 50 years are anything to go on - the internet and the human genome for example - we probably have not even thought up the exciting advances that lay ahead of us.
Delve into those visions of the future by author in the story list of this special report...

There's some fascinating articles in here from a lot of brilliant minds that I've never heard of. They cover topics all over the map and the scope is breathtaking. Set aside some time this weekend and curl up with your computer. Or, if you're so inclined, pick up a copy of the Special Report at your favourite magazine stand.

Thanks to the folks at Boing, Boing for pointing me to this story.

Don't bet against the Internet, says Google's CEO

So Google's share price has now gone above $500. Wow. According to the New York Times, there are only 13 American companies that are worth more. As the story points out, that's not bad for a company that was forced to lower it's initial public share offering price to $85 from $95 when it first went public two years ago.

And if you were listening to me, and bought their stock, you're in pretty good shape, aren't you? Same with Apple. I told people to buy that stock and it's worked out pretty well too.

Unfortunately, I didn't follow my own advice. So instead of being rich now, I own a few pretty boring mutual funds, which might contain a tiny bit of those two, but probably don't. But they do fit my investment risk profile...

Of course, when I was telling people to buy, I didn't have any money. And I still don't. But if I had bought then, I'd have a lot of money now...there's some kind of a lesson there, but I'm still not sure what it is.

At any rate, Google's success has given it a certain clout in the market and it makes sense to pay attention to advice that comes from that company.

In the Economist magazine's The World in 2007 edition, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt advises us not to bet against the Internet. And he outlines his reasons why the exciting stuff we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg that's to come.

He's right. We're living through a revolution every bit as world-changing as anything else that's come before. The Web is changing our world - it has changed our world - and the effects are only just starting to be noticed.

In another two years, I predict we'll be looking back and wondering why we didn't see things more clearly. It all seems so obvious in hindsight. Of course Google would succeed. Why didn't everyone realize that? Sigh...too bad some of us didn't believe our own hype.

What about you? What's in your future? What are you getting into now so that you can look back and say "boy, that was a smart thing to do?" Real estate comes to mind, given the way the market has gone lately. I wish I owned a lot in Uculet, like some people I know!

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for the land boom in Buena Vista to take off...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Look beyond gas mileage when evaluating cars

Saving the environment is a hot topic these days. Or perhaps "saving" is not the right word. Talking about how bad things are might be a more accurate description.

Balance is a big problem with the kind of news we get when an issue captures the publics' attention as has happened with climate change.

There are some serious works out right now that I want to read, like Thomas Homer-Dixon's new book, The Upside of Down.

But in the meantime, I was intrigued by this post about some surprising statistics on which cars are the most "climate friendly," in terms of how much energy has gone into making, delivering and using them. The answers are not necessarily what you think.

The post I've copied here is from the Signals vs Noise blog, which is put together by the good folks at 37 Signals, the makers of Basecamp and Tada Lists. And if you don't know what those are, check them out and take a tour. It could change your life forever.

Look beyond gas mileage when making an environmental choice

It’s easy to focus exclusively on gas mileage when making an environmentally conscious car choice. But there’s more to the story.

CNW Marketing Research Inc., an Oregon-based auto research spent two years collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a vehicle from initial concept to scrappage. They call it a dust-to-dust analysis of the environmental impact of a car.

You may be surprised if you thought hybrids were the obvious winners.

The Honda Accord Hybrid has an Energy Cost per Mile of $3.29 while the conventional Honda Accord is $2.18. Put simply, over the “Dust to Dust” lifetime of the Accord Hybrid, it will require about 50 percent more energy than the non-hybrid version, CNW claims.

And you may do a doubletake after reading this:

For example, while the industry average of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2005 was $2.28 cents per mile, the Hummer H3 (among most SUVs) was only $1.949 cents per mile. That figure is also lower than all currently offered hybrids and Honda Civics at $2.42 per mile.

Basically, when considering all relevant variables such as materials, fabrication, plastics, carpets, chemicals, shipping, and transportation, gas mileage turns out to be significantly less relevant than many people assume.What I like about this study – and of course it’s just one study – is that it looks at the total cost/impact of creation, ownership, and disposal. It’s easy for the media, the public, car dealers, and car manufactures to focus almost exclusively on miles per gallon. However, as is usually the case, reality points in a different direction than what’s convenient.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a hybrid to save on fuel costs, but maybe it’s time to put down the “I’m doing it for the environment” flag and put up the “I’m doing it to save money on gas” one. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

If you’re interested in the details, check out the full 450-page report.

My brother Ken used this kind of an index to make his own decision about what to buy a couple of years ago. He had thought that buying a hybrid would be the most environmentally responsible thing to do. But his car is mostly driven on the highway, since he rides his bike to work. And hybrids don't use their electric motors on the highway - just in stop and go stuff.

The bottom line is he decided to buy a cheaper car and consider how to use the money he saved towards other energy-saving uses, like new windows or insulating the basement. That way, the total energy impact is lower.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Everyone sing along...

OK, it's another weekend. Whoo-hoo! So let's do something fun, OK?

I've heard this song many times over the last year, thanks to the podsafe music, but I just found this video clip on YouTube featuring a live, a Capella version of it. It's by a band called Da Vinci's Notebook and well...have a listen. You don't need to know more than that.

The video quality sucks, but the audio is great.

Oh, one final thing. This is not a "bad" song, but some might find it just a wee bit insensitive. So it might not be worksafe, although I'm sure everyone at work will be laughing along with the guys in the band.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dove's campaign for real beauty goes viral

I'm a little late to this story, so forgive me if you've already seen this video from Dove. It's part of their Campaign for Real Beauty. So far, the most notable thing I've noticed about the campaign were the series of real women modeling their underwear. Not the usual subway fare.

The video below was posted to YouTube on October 24, presumably by someone from Dove. The original video is also on the Web at the Dove site I linked to above.

It's a striking example of what goes into making a typical fashion ad and it's fascinating to watch. Sure, we know that the images we see on billboards and bus shelters aren't real, right? But still, to see them develop is pretty cool. I especially like the way they Photoshop the final image...I only wish I could that kind of control over my pictures.

Dove's campaign is interesting and it seems to be working. According to the stats on the YouTube posting, the video has had almost 300,000 views since it was posted on October 24. That's a lot of traffic. And even more impressive when you consider that posting a video to YouTube is free.

But is it more than just an attempt to sell soap? Or just a new way to do the same old stuff. I'd be interested to hear some of your comments.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld will be missed by comedians everywhere

While Democrats and plenty of others cheered at the news that Rumsfeld was gone, he was a great source of material for comedy shows, as a search of YouTube will show.

But here's a great clip from the Late, Late Show that really seems to sum up the Rumsfeld style...

Thanks to the OneGoodMove blog, where I found it.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Proud Papa - Jaime update

I've been a bit remiss in updating Jaime's results at the inaugural National Rowing Championships in Welland, Ontario, so here we go.

Jaime followed up her excellent showing from Sunday, (when she placed ninth overall - first in the Under 23 lightweight - time trials) with a strong showing in her first singles heat, then earning her way into the final events with a second strong result in the afternoon.

Tuesday, Jaime wrapped up the regatta with a fifth place in the lightweight "B" final and a first place in the lightweight doubles final. You can find the final results here (in a .pdf document.)

Jaime ended up second among the Under 23 lightweights and 11th overall out of all the lightweights. Her strong showing puts her in a great position to claim a spot on the National Under 23 team that will go to the world championships in Scotland this summer.

Jaime arrived home today, tired, but happy with the way the past week has gone.

She's got one final regatta with UVIC this weekend in Seattle, then she'll begin training with the National Team here in Victoria. While the final composition of the team won't be known for a while yet, we've got our fingers crossed that she'll be in the final boat.

Congratulations, Jaime. You've made your Papa proud!

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Monday, November 06, 2006

An easy way to speed up your browsing

Last night, I received an invitation to tour the New York Times website for a week during what is called Free Access week over at the newspaper. Since free is about the price I'm willing to pay for a lot of stuff, I zipped right over to their Technology section to see some of the latest stuff from David Pogue, their technology columnist.

I'm not sure whether his stuff is usually behind a firewall, but I took advantage of the chance to look through some of what he's been posting lately. He's one of those "names" that seem to carry a lot of weight in the technology community, so he's usually worth a read.

One of the items that jumped out at me was A faster Web - for free which told how anyone can speed up their web connection, using a service called OpenDNS. Pogue claims that just by starting to use it, his access times for getting web pages to load in his browser were dropping at an amazing rate.

Frankly, it sounded a little too good to be true. It's free, for one thing, and there's no software to install, and no sales people are going to call. You don't have to register, or give away your email address or anything...can this be for real?

Well, I got my router switched over to start using OpenDNS's servers and it really does seem to work. I can cruise around the Web a lot quicker (judging from my own non-scientific clicking), and it works for every computer in the house, just by switching a couple of options on the router.

Try it for yourself. It really works. And thanks, Mr. Pogue, for pointing it out to all of us.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Proud Papa - Canadian University Championships

Jaime is at the Canadian University Championships (CUR) this weekend in St. Catherines, Ontario. Her UVIC lightweight womens' four is the defending national champion.

But on Saturday, they had to give up their crown, as they finished third in the four, losing to perennial rival Queens and upstart Western. Western also won the overall title, the first time they'd done so.

While third in the nation is nothing to sneeze at, I know that Jaime and her team are disappointed not to have won for the third year in a row. The good news is that they're a young team, and they'll all be back for another year, so they should be even stronger next year.

UVIC's coach Rick Crawley wrote up the results of the regatta here for the UVIC website.

Jaime was also rowing her single for the first time at the CURs. She came fifth overall. UVIC was the only womens team to place a boat in every final race, but they only came away with one win, in the women's lightweight double. Jaime wasn't in that boat this time.

Now Jaime is off to Welland for the first-ever National Rowing Championships which is a new, invitation-only gathering of some of the best rowers in Canada, put on by Rowing Canada. She'll be rowing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday out there, before heading back to Victoria.

UPDATE -- Jaime recovered from the disappointment on Saturday with a huge effort in the time trials at the NRC's on Sunday. She finished ninth out of all the lightweight women, and first among the Under 23's. She's qualified for more racing on Monday and Tuesday.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

An Aztec with an iPOD?

My sister sent me this fascinating link.

Take a look for yourself.

Could Erich von Däniken have been right after all?

On CBC's As It Happens last night they talked about a fascinating, natural feature in southern Alberta (that may rival Mount Rushmore ??) that can be seen with Google Earth. One description of this rock face is titled AZTEC with an IPOD. If you want to see this image (and perhaps submit a name for the feature) just click on the image of the rock face at the following link and it will take you directly to the Google Earth view.

Spoilers-- The IPOD earpiece is a well-site and access road. Also what
appear as the raised areas are actual the shadows in the depression.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

An amazing Proud Papa

My daughter Jaime pointed me to this story from Sports Illustrated. It's over a year old now, but it's still an amazing read. I love to hear about stories like this...they inspire me. And I'm really just a big marshmallow, as most of you already know.

At the end of the story, there's a link to a video about the story from YouTube. It's best to read the story first.

Strongest Dad in the World
[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]
June 15, 2005

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots. But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son,Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. ``He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. ``No way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.

Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? ``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want to do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. ``Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. ``If you hadn't been in such great shape,'' one doctor told him, ``you probably would've died 15 years ago.''

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad would sit in the chair and I would push him once.''

Hand me a hankie, would you?

Here's the link to the video.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Proud Papa - Boston results

Great news for my daughters, Jaime and Kelly, from the Head of the Charles regatta held this past weekend in Boston.

On Sunday, Jaime's Lightweight Womens' Four boat from the University of Victoria (UVIC) just missed defending their crown from last year, coming in second in the Lightweight Womens' Fours to their perennial rival, the Undine Barge Club.

Saturday, Kelly, (on the right in the photo) rowing for the University of Louisville, in the Women's Club Fours, also earned a second place, but was still the fastest collegiate boat, as the winnng crew from Conneticut had all graduated.

When I talked to Kelly after her race on Saturday, she was ecstatic. "It was awesome," she gushed. The thrill for her came part-way through, when the University of Ottawa boat right behind them made up a 10 second deficit to pull nearly even with them.

But rather than give up, the Louisville girls dug down and pulled away from their rival, finally ending up five seconds ahead of them at the finish. It was a convincing display and left Kelly giddy with delight.

Unfortunately for Jaime, they didn't have any other boats pushing them in their race.

UVIC's coach, Ray Lonsdale, (in a news release on the UVIC website) said that the Undine boat (which should have started right behind UVIC) missed the start of the race and had to start at the back of the pack.

That turned out to be an advantage, because UVIC, at the front of the 16-boat race, pulled away from everyone and didn't have any other boats to push them and no one ahead to try and catch.

Jaime's boat ended up eight seconds behind Undine in the final results. The race was not without a bit of controversy, as Undine was briefly penalized 20 seconds for getting outside the course. That would have cost them the victory, but the penalty was apparently dropped after a protest, and the original result was restored.

The Head of the Charles regatta is a head race, a class of regattas that are usually about 5 km long, with the boats starting in 15-second intervals. Because UVIC and the Louisville boat were the champions from last year, they started first, and had to pace themselves without any visual cues from the other boats.

You can read a report about the Louisville boats on the Cardinal's womens' rowing homepage.

The fall rowing season is drawing to a close for both Jaime and Kelly.

In two weeks, Jaime and the rest of the UVIC team will be in St. Catherines, looking to defend their Canadian University Rowing Championship crown.

And Kelly wraps up her fall season next weekend with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia, Pa.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Proud Papa - Head of the Charles edition

This is a big weekend for me on the rowing front, although I'll only be participating from afar.

My two daughters, Jaime and Kelly are both rowing in Boston, at the Head of the Charles regatta, the largest 2-day regatta in the world.

Jaime is in the Lightweight Women's Championship 4 race, the same race she won last year (that's UVIC (in white) in last year's race in the photo above) as a member of the University of Victoria team. Last year's performance will be a tough one to match, but she's very confident and looking forward to this year's race.

Kelly will be rowing in the Womens' Collegiate 4, with the University of Louisville. She spent the fall working really hard to earn a place in the boat, and all the hard work paid off last week, when the final seat placements were announced. She's had a great freshman year and earning the right to go to Boston (especially with her sister being there) has been a real thrill.

And of course, I couldn't be more proud of these two. Last year, Heather and I were in Boston to watch the girls compete. (See the highlights here, here and here.) Jaime was in the Champ 4 race, while Kelly rowed her single. It was one of the highlights of my regatta-watching career, and I do wish I could be there this weekend.

Oh well. I'll have to be content with phone calls back from the girls, and perhaps watching some of the results come in live on the website. They're putting up a live feed on Saturday and Sunday. At least I can imagine what's going on, since I've been there before.

I'll have an update early next week to let you know how things went. I might even have a picture or two, if either of them remembers to send one along.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When keeping up starts to seem like too much

I've been falling behind lately when it comes to keeping up.

Whether it's keeping up with mainstream news, tech news, communication news, blog posts, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, researching web design, thinking, walking the dogs -- the list just keeps growing.

This past week, the blogosphere was abuzz over news that PR firm Edelman was behind a fake blog for WalMart. It seems that everyone has a take on this and they've all been posting about it. I couldn't imagine what else I could add to the debate. So I haven't posted until now.

The furor seems to be fading, now that Richard Edelman has blogged about it and admitted what they did was wrong. But as so often happens, the fact they took a few days to say anything has added to the problem. For more on this, see Shel Holtz's insightful comments.

All I will add is that this story reinforces my already negative opinion of WalMart, which has a deserved reputation for aggressive tactics in almost every area of business. Why should taking advantage of this new social media area be any different?

What does seem surprising is that Edelman (which is touted as a PR firm that "gets" social media and has been working hard to prove it) should be involved in this. The lack of transparency in not acknowledging that their client was sponsoring the tour was a mistake and one they are paying for now. They should have known better.

Is this a case of a firm letting a valuable client sway their judgement? Or did they overlook the negative impacts this thing would have if the truth got out (as it has and as it always does)?

An interesting note to this story. While it has caused a firestorm in the blogosphere, I can't find any stories in the traditional, mainstream media. I'm not sure what that signifies, beyond the obvious concern that bloggers might be guilty of a bit of navel gazing. In an age of paid product placement in movies, at grocery stores, billboard, etc., perhaps the larger public isn't that concerned about paid placement in blog posts either.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

In praise of tradition

Thanksgiving in Canada has always been one of my favourite holidays. The weather is nearly always wonderful. The bright fall skies, the fabulous colours in Ontario, the crisp, near-winter air in Saskatchewan, and now the sunny warmth of Vancouver Island. I love them all.

What they all have in common is a lot of tradition, the lack of pressure to buy the right gifts and everyones' desire to sit down, enjoy a great dinner and warm conversation. In our case, there's usually some mix of friends and family around and plenty of time to relive past dinners and toast the departed.

It's usually at holidays that we pay attention to traditions. But maybe we'd all be a bit better off if we started paying more attention in between holidays.

This weekend in the Globe and Mail, there was an article about how families that eat dinner together regularly are more likely to have well-adjusted teenagers with fewer eating and behavioural issues. It seems that sitting down and talking to each other every day is a good thing. Who knew?

For the past decade, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University looked for a common denominator for kids who didn't use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco; teens who did not become pregnant.

The researchers were surprised to find that, more significant than good grades at school or church attendance, the one thing that differentiated kids who "engaged in risky behaviours" from those who did not was eating family dinners.

(And kids who ate with their families five nights a week did better than kids who shared dinner on only two nights.)

Seriously though, a report like that points to a larger issue in our modern society - the cult of "doing more and more all the time." All too often, we seem willing to sacrifice things that used to be taken for granted only a generation ago.

For example, few of us expect to walk to work anymore. Nor do we expect to be able to come home for lunch. Children no longer come home at lunch either. Heck, they only have 30 or 40 minutes to eat and get back to the classroom.

And when they're done for the day, they're not on their own. A lot of kids have an adult waiting for them at the end of the school day. I don't think my Mom or Dad ever picked me up from school in all the 12 years I was there, except for a doctor's appointment or something like that.

And with people working longer hours and still trying to pack in all kinds of activities, a lot of families have given up on the idea of sitting down to a meal at the end of the day.

But maybe we should reconsider. If we are really getting our priorities right, we'd make time for some of those things. Again, to quote from the Globe article:

Researchers point to specific health benefits too. A recent study at Syracuse University found that, among kids who have asthma, those who eat dinner with their families miss fewer days of school and have fewer emergency-room visits. Other benefits include: better nutrition, more thoughtful manners, lower incidence of eating disorders of all sorts -- from anorexia to obesity.

So traditions are good for our kids. But we can push this idea a little further.

I also believe it's time that businesses starting paying attention to some of these trends. Too many companies expect employees to work long hours, be available during off-work hours (via email, cellphones or Blackberries) and skip lunch on a regular basis to cram in a few more minutes of work.

But just as families might discover that cramming more and more activities into their day at the expense of long-held traditions (like a reasonable lunch hour and a sit-down dinner) could end up hurting their child's development, so too companies should consider the long-term impacts of a modern workload on their employees' health.

In Nova Scotia, the government has mandated that all provincial employees must take a 60 minute lunch break, preferably outside of the office. It's been ordered and managers are expected to enforce the edict. And it's already having a positive impact on people's performance in the afternoon, when they report feeling energized and ready to work, instead of crashing.

It's a simple thing, but a lot of little things added together turn into big things.

We're coming out of a long cycle of business metrics that have rewarded short-term financial results at the expense of long-term stability, especially among employees. But as with all trends, the pendumlum eventually swings back.

I predict that soon progressive companies will realize that by ensuring their employees do "less" each day, they'll actually gain in productivity, as well as bulding a more effective work force and reducing their churn rate.

The days of "re-engineering" jobs out of existence while burdening remaining employees with even more work are going to disappear. Also disappearing will be the idea that it's cool to be over-worked, stressed out and a stranger to your kids. And I say good riddance.

Then we'll have something to really celebrate at Thanksgiving.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

A brand's worst (and next worst) enemies

What a wierd (and wonderful) coincidence.

While I was still in Ontario, I had planned to write a post about Marineland's jingle. Those of you in Ontario will know instantly what I'm talking about. The rest of you that aren't clued in can go here and listen for yourself.

In the tradition of the best jingles, it's a simple tune, but once you hear it, you don't forget it. And that's why it works. I had a few ideas for what I was going to say about the branding issues, but I hadn't gotten around to writing them up yet.

Today, I opened my mail and what do you know? I discovered that Ted Matthews (The Brand Coach) had stolen my ideas. At least, that what it seemed like when I read his most recent newsletter.

I worked with Ted when we were creating the brand awareness campaign for Advocis (formerly the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers) and I've been receiving his monthly Insight newsletter ever since.

His comments on branding are usually right on the money and never more so than this month, when he seems to have used my comments, although I hadn't actually told anyone yet. I guess that just shows how insightful we both are.

So rather than my having to write a blog post outlining my own words of wisdom, I can just send you over to Ted's place, and let him do the talking for me. Thanks, Ted.

At any rate, his advice about protecting your brand by keeping an eye on those who claim to be working in your best interests is good. Don't be seduced by "new" when what you're doing is already working just fine.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Why is saying "I'm sorry" so hard?

After all the things that were done wrong in the Maher Arar case, it was refreshing to hear the commissioner of the RCMP give such a complete apology to Arar when he appeared before a Parliamentary committee on Thursday.
"Mr. Arar, I wish to take this opportunity to express publicly to you, to your wife and to your children how truly sorry I am," he told the House national security committee.

It's such a simple thing to say and it means so much. So why is it so hard for people in authority to say they're sorry?

For example, later in the day, we had the unseemly spectacle of Public Security Minister Stockwell Day refusing to apologize to Arar, on the grounds that the government was still negotiating with him over how he should be compensated. What a shameful way to behave.

Why do we equate saying "I'm sorry" with "I admit complete responsibility for what happened and therefore you can sue me to the ends of the earth and take whatever you want"?

You can be sorry for what happened without taking liability. And if we don't believe that the courts will see it that way, our laws should be changed to make sure that an authority figure expressing an apology is not held liable because of it.

There are plenty of examples of how powerful an apology can be and a growing body of evidence that in some cases, such as medical mistakes, an apology from a doctor can reduce the likelihood of a malpractice suit.

I don't know why but I've always been annoyed by how difficult it is for authorities to apologize. In fact, it's one of the main reasons I got out of the daily journalism business back in the mid-1990's.

Two incidents in particular stand out for their silliness. The first occurred when it became clear that David Milgaard, the Saskatchewan man who served 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, was finally released from jail. I was part of a scrum of reporters chasing Saskatchewan's Minister of Justice, Bob Mitchell, for a reaction.

When we finally talked to him, he was asked whether he would apologize to Milgaard and he said no, because he didn't want to set a precedent. It seemed to me that setting a precedent that the government would apologize to every innocent person who served 23 years in prison for a murder they didn't commit would be a good idea.

The other incident that set my blood boiling (so to speak) involved the Saskatchewan government's refusal to extend compensation to people who had contracted Hepatitis C through tainted blood but were left out of the original compensation package worked out after the Krever Inquiry. (At the time, the commission report had not been received.)

Again, I was part of a scrum trying to get the Health Minister, Louise Simard to say why they weren't eligible and she steadfastly refused to say anything. Pressed to say whether she was sorry, she wouldn't. I'm not sure why her refusal to utter the words made me so angry but I was. And I still am.

In both cases, the authority figures felt that saying they were sorry would show weakness, or admit to liability, or something bad like that. But I would argue it would show they were human and sympathetic. And if the apology came up later in court, it would be to their advantage - not used against them.

Whether it comes from a government minister, a supervisor, a doctor or a personal friend, a sincere apology works wonders in helping someone through a difficult time. We should be far more willing to say "I'm sorry."

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Could WalMart become an environmental leader?

If I've learned anything over the decades, it's that one should never, ever, say never.

I am no fan of WalMart, as some of you may know. While I don't deny how successful the company is from a financial point of view, I've always been uncomfortable with a business model that drives it's competitors out of business and creates a master/slave relationship with its suppliers.

So I've made a point of not shopping at WalMart. It's just a personal thing with me. I figure if I feel strongly about something, I should be prepared to put my money (or time, or whatever) where my mouth is. So I don't shop there.

So that's just me, right? And it's not like I'm going to have any effect whatsoever on a big company like WalMart. The actions of one person are not that big a deal. Or are they?

In fact, if enough people were to do one thing, it could have a tremendous effect. So while I think of WalMart as a bad corporate citizen, I've got to admit that their sheer size could also make them a powerful tool for doing good things.

What made me realize this is a recent story on the Fast Company website, called How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.. It talks about how a powerful tool in the battle to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases could be as a simple as changing the light bulbs you have in your house. That's right -- you. One person. Here's what I'm talking about.

We've all seen those compact fluorescent bulbs for sale at the store. But if you're like most people, you probably don't buy them. They're too expensive and you figure the light they give off is terrible, right? Well, times have changed and so have those bulbs -- in almost every way.
One thing hasn't changed: the energy savings. Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.

What that means is that if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

That's the law of large numbers--a small action, multiplied by 110 million.

Those are startling numbers. And there's a lot more startling stuff in the article. It's a fascinating look at how a company like WalMart makes decisions on how to do its business and how those decisions can have significant effects.

This fall, WalMart will launch a major offensive on its customers to convince them to buy those energy efficient bulbs. And they're dead serious about it. And if past actions are any indication, when WalMart decides to get serious about anything, it's likely to happen.

This is quite the story. It's startling to look at the implications. This could have a major effect on our world and I've got to admit I'm a bit stunned to think that a company like WalMart is about to lead such a significant revolution.

But perhaps I shouldn't be. Again, looking back over my own experiences, it's clear that significant change in our world has only come about when it's become good business. We often overlook that. And while it can sometimes take other factors to bring businesses on board, a good idea has to make business sense to become successful.

So, while I ever shop at WalMart again? I'm not planning to but I will certainly be watching what happens with interest. And while I might not be willing to give them my business, I'll certainly give them their due and congratulate them for such a significant socially responsible campaign.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm back to celebrate OneWebDay

It's OneWebDay today, when people around the world are being encouraged to talk about what the Web means to them.

It's been awhile since I've posted to TheDailyUpload, so writing about what the Web has meant to me over the past decade and more seemed like a great way to get back into the swing of things.

But first, just so we're all up-to-date, I am now settled in Victoria, BC. We have a lovely new home (rented) and most of our possessions that we brought with us from Ontario. (More on the mover's saga in a future post.)

Now, a few random thoughts on how the Web has become a major part of my life over the years.

I've been connecting with others using on-line connections since the early 1980s. The monthly newspaper I was editing had a computer column and the guy who wrote it sent me his copy using an old 300-baud modem. It seemed like a miracle at the time. Heck, at that point, I was still writing my stories on an old manual Underwood and sending the copy to a typesetter via the mail. How times have changed.

It wasn't long before I had a CompuServe account and was also learning about bulletin boards and FidoNet and later Gopher.

Eventually, services like CompuServe had to give in and open up to the Web and as browsers proliferated, how I used the web evolved. The newspaper I was working for wasn't much interested in Web access for its employees, although a few of us were doing on-line research with our own email addresses. At that point, we needed separate phone lines for our modems and companies were loath to ante up for access.

It's been interesting to be part of various companies during their unique adaptations to the power of the Internet. In 1984, I helped our accountant purchase the first computers we'd ever had -- a pair of AT&T 6300's, I think they were.

When I joined SaskTel in the mid-90s, they had a flourishing networked culture, but their Internet presence was still new. I helped to implement an Intranet, a form of user-driven distributed communication which many people used to the top-down hierarchy structure in SaskTel had a lot of trouble accepting.

In every company I've been in, I've become involved in advancing their use of electronic communications, with varying degrees of success.

This is what I love to do, no question, but there are time when I wonder about the ultimate price we're paying. All around me, I see colleagues suffering from the stress of today's modern workplace. The new tools which were supposed to make our life easier have instead created new pressures to perform.

Whatever happened to the idea that we "work to live?" and that we would all be enjoying 30-hour work weeks and 10 weeks of vacation each year? Right...

It seems the more we are able to do, the more we do. But are we accomplishing more? I used to put out an 80-page newspaper every month, filled with original articles, photographs and colour ads. It came out every month and I worked hard, but not crazy hours. Although today's editors have a lot more electronic options and near-instantaneous communications, they seem to work a lot more hours than we did 25 years ago. But the publications still come out once a month.

Today, I have a website, a blog, a Flickr page, email addresses galore, a cellphone, plenty of computers and a never-ending list of things to do. I wouldn't give any of them up at this point, but I do wonder about where we're going.

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're moving into a better place, but every so often, I wonder...What if we just turned everything off again?

That's my take on this, OneWebDay.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

My off-line time may be longer than expected

I had planned to be back blogging by now, but I've run into a few snags here in Victoria that will keep me off-line for a few more days.

The big one is that our household furnishings haven't arrived yet. So we're still struggling a bit, and I don't have any of my office equipment yet.

When we originally booked our move, we didn't have an address in Victoria, so we were going to have our stuff sent out in a container and stored for awhile. Containers travel slower than trucks, but that wouldn't have been a problem. But when we got our new house, we changed our order to get the stuff delivered quicker.

Unfortunately, the order didn't get processed properly at the head office of the moving company, so our stuff didn't even leave Hamilton until last week...then it got lost on the road, then the truck broke down -- it was quite a litany of problems. The end result is that we might get delivery tomorrow but if not, then it won't be until after Labour Day. Oh well...

In the meantime, the weather here has been outstanding. Nothing but sunshine the whole time. I've been having fun finding new places to walk the dogs and Roxy has discovered that there is nothing better in this world than swimming. We can't keep her out of the water!

So, until I can get my office set up, my chances to blog are not that good. Did I mention that my hard drive on my PowerBook died just before I left? I'm still waiting to see whether it can be fixed -- so I don't have a computer at the moment that's working.

Oh, and one more thing. Since every student out here is trying to get Internet access set up, we're on a long list to get that as well...another thing I over-looked in the run-up to the move. I should have booked a time before I left Hamilton. But they are supposed to come and get us hooked up at the end of next week. So, assuming that my stuff has all arrived, we should be back in business before too long.