Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vudu Casts Its Spell on Hollywood - New York Times

Have you seen Apple TV? This new way to get audio and video from your computer to your TV has been taking off since its introduction a few weeks ago. I don't have one...yet. But I admit I'm sorely tempted. Especially since my Ipod died last week and I don't have the resources to buy another one yet. I'm suffering some severe gadget withdrawal at the moment.

But as good as Apple TV seems to be working, it still doesn't deliver something that I've long hoped for -- instant access to every movie ever made. The holy grail, in other words, for movie buffs. Think about it. All these movies, in digital form, just waiting on a server somewhere for me to order them up and watch it on my TV. That's a good thing to think about. Unfortunately, it's only a dream, right?

Well, it looks like it could come true sooner than I thought. At least, the concept is getting closer. This weekend, The NY Times has a very interesting piece on Vudu, a Silicon-valley start-up that looks like it might take the world by storm this summer. It's a good read and it gives dreamers like me a bit of hope that we might reach movie nirvana yet.

Here's the link to the story.         

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Woman who lost teaching degree over MySpace photo sues university

There have been warnings about pictures and comments people leave on social media sites coming back to haunt them. But this is one of the more severe that I've heard of:

Woman who lost teaching degree over MySpace photo sues university:

Here's the story:
MILLERSVILLE, Pa. — A woman denied a teaching degree on the eve of graduation because of a MySpace photo has sued the university.

Millersville University instead granted Stacy Snyder a degree in English last year after learning of her Web-published picture, which bore the caption "Drunken Pirate."

"I dreamed about being a teacher for a long time," said Snyder, 27, who now works as a nanny.

The photo, taken at a 2005 Halloween party, shows Snyder wearing a pirate hat while drinking from a plastic "Mr. Goodbar" cup. It was posted on her own MySpace site.

Although Snyder apologized, she learned the day before graduation that she would not be awarded an education degree or teaching certificate.

Jane S. Bray, dean of the School of Education, accused Snyder of promoting underage drinking, the suit states.

The federal lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages. Millersville spokeswoman Janet Kacskos referred questions to a state System of Higher Education spokesman, who declined comment.

Link via Digg

UPDATE -- Here's another story, via TechDirt, about a Canadian man denied entrance to US after a Google search turned up a story he'd written about his LSD use 30 years earlier.

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Stumbling on Happiness: why we suck at being happy

When Cory Doctorow recommends a book with this much enthusiasm, it's usually worth checking out. Here's his review from Boing Boing:

Stumbling on Happiness: why we suck at being happy:

"Cory Doctorow:

Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness is one of those pop-science books that delivers a serious a-ha punch at least once a chapter, a little insight into the way that the world works that stops you right where you are and makes you go back and reevaluate how you got there.

Gilbert is a Harvard Psych prof, and in this book, he doesn't seek to explain how to be happy -- in fact, the introduction specifically disclaims this intention -- but rather, how happiness happens. And why happiness is so elusive.

Happiness is certainly elusive. How many times have we chased some goal, some purchase, some strategy, sure that we needed it to be complete, only to discover later that we're no happier than we were when the whole steeplechase started? This is the crux of Gilbert's thesis: why are we so consistently bad at estimating how happy some course of action will make us?

For Gilbert, the answer lies in our faulty perceptions. We misremember how happy we've been in the past, we mispredict how happy we'll be in the future (his section on futurism should be mandatory reading for every science fiction writer and tech journalist). Citing study after study, Gilbert lays out the lucid and funny case for the idea that our brains aren't very good at measuring what's going on in our brains.

Gilbert's funny, conversational style reminds me of Freakonomics, as does his subject-matter. For happiness is at the core of more than psychology -- it's also at the heart of justice, economics, political science, ethics, and many other key organizing disciplines that set the Earth in motion. This was the kind of book that made me reexamine more than my life's goals -- it made me re-think my politics and economic activity, too.

I listened to an unabridged edition read by the author, and it was very fine. Gilbert has the timing of a stand-up comic, and the book itself is just so funny to begin with. Highly recommended.

Link to book,

Link to audiobook

Update: Louis sends in this video of the author speaking at the TED Conference

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Congress May Save Net Radio

There may be some good news on the Internet Radio front, which is facing potentially catastrophic increases in royalties fees. (See this earlier post for more on how services like Pandora are affected). But on Thursday, a bill was introduced in the US Congress that seeks to reverse the earlier decision.

From PC World:
U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) filed the legislation Thursday. The bill reverses a recent decision of the federal Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) to nearly triple the amount of royalties Internet radio broadcasters pay to copyright holders for playing a song.

The Copyright Royalty Board earlier this month approved a rule that would force commercial Internet radio stations, regardless of their size, to pay a new, higher flat fee to the record labels each time a song is played. Royalty rates for Web-casters - starting retroactively at $0.0008 per song in 2006 will climb to $0.0019 per song in 2010. As it stands now, the rates will go into effect May 15.

Here's the link to the story.:

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Friday fun for Apr 27, 2007

I've got a mixed bag of entertainment this Friday. There's an interactive segment involving a dog and typing; a bit of a how-to (although I doubt you can); an imaginative video using Flash; and a quiz to test your intellect. Oh...and a gratuitous guitar video (just because).

Like I said, it's a mixed bag, but hey -- it's almost the weekend, right?

Here we go...

I do dog tricks

This is the interactive part. Click this link and you'll figure out what's required. Can anyone say "precious?"

How to create a 3-D sidewalk image

I've linked to some previous videos about 3-D sidewalk artists (here's one of my posts) and I think I've seen the one that's the subject of this video before. But this is a video about how the piece was made. It's fascinating to see the care that goes into creating the illusion of depth using a 2-D picture. It's kind of long, but interesting.

Here's the link to the video.

Get the beat

It's not a guitar video, but it goes well with one. An imaginative use of Flash animation and a catchy beat.

Watch the video here.

Did I mention there would be a quiz?

Do you like challenges? I found another on-line science quiz from the BBC. This is a hard one -- at least I didn't do that well. Surprising how often the right answer is not what you expected.

Take the quiz yourself here.

And finally, the gratuitous Guitar Video

It's been awhile since I've put up a guitar video. Here's one from the Sydney Opera House. This guy is a 12-string virtuoso.

Here's the link to the video.


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Wired Magazine: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran

If, like me, you're old enough to remember the Iranian revolution, you've probably already heard the story about how six Americans who dodged the initial hostage-taking in Tehran were sheltered by the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor, and then smuggled out of the country. It was quite a story.

I can't remember whether I knew all the details included in this article Wired Magazine: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran, but it is a fascinating story.

My own connection to the Iranian revolution came the year before, in the fall of 1978. I was travelling in Europe and I'd arrived in Greece, with the intention of heading overland through the middle East all the way to India. But trouble was brewing in Iran and the word coming back from others who had been there was to avoid the area.

I was travelling with some Australian chaps who were on the last leg of their around-the-world tour and they were determined to continue through to India in their VW minibus. They decided to continue on, but I lost my nerve and stayed in Greece, ending up in a small village called Agia Galini on the south coast of Crete.

I heard that they did make it through but not without incident. If you want to get the flavour of that era, try and track down a copy of Craig Grant's The Last India Overland, published by Coteau Books. I'm sure it's out of print by now but worth reading if you can find it. Craig was in Europe that same fall (although we didn't know each other then) and he ended up on the last Magic Bus (a popular tour bus line) that travelled from Europe through to India. I did find another book about the era, called Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India by Rory MacLean. Here's a link to an excerpt.

Hard to believe all that was nearly 30 years ago, isn't it?

CheeseTV - hard to believe, but true

For everyone who has nothing to do in their life -- there's a new website made just for you.

It's called and it's -- a picture of a cheddar cheese aging.

That's right. It's sort of an update on that old standard - watching paint dry.

Try it yourself. Who knows? If you're lucky, maybe something will run across the screen. And for those of you who get impatient after a month or two of nothing happening, there's a time-lapse video of the big event up on YouTube.

It kind of makes you wonder what else is possible with today's technology. Anybody want to see garden produce ripening?

Roger Ebert: I ain't a pretty boy no more and so what?

An inspirational story about Roger Ebert, the film critic.

His cancer has spread and he's had part of his lower mandible removed. He can't talk, but he can still type.

Last week, (UPDATE - the festival actually opened Wednesday) he hosted the film festival that bears his name, despite his health issues. It's an inspiring story. The festival is over, but the story still stands up as a great example of how to live your life - no matter what.

Click here to see the story.

(Via Signal vs. Noise.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reflecting on Virginia Tech

If the tragedy at Virginia Tech has done anything this week, it's at least caused a lot of people to question the role of our popular media in contributing to what happened.

- Does the instant fame these killers get push others to step over the line as well, seeking the glory that comes with infamy?

- Does the wall-to-wall media coverage, which seems shockingly similar each time one of these events happen, desensitize us to the real horror of what has happened?

- Are we able to more easily accept what's happened (and push back against attempts to stop it from happening again) because we see stuff like this all the time in books and movies and video games?

There has been a lot of stuff written about what's happened in the last few days (see the results of this Technorati search on Virginia Tech) and I'm not sure I even want to add to what's out there. But I have a few observations and some links to some other people's comments that I want to share with you.

From the mouths of babes

The day after the shootings, I was driving three boys home from school - two 11-year olds and one nine-year old. I asked them if they had heard about what happened.

"Oh yeah. Thirty-three people dead. A bunch injured. Pretty bad," one boy piped up immediately. The other two were less sure about what had happened.

All three are avid players of video games and are familiar with shoot-em-up games, so I asked whether they thought games like that might affect someone to the point that they could do something in real life.

"That's just so stupid," they all piped up. "Sure, some guy somewhere is going to claim that there's a link, but I play those games all the time and I've never killed anybody."

"Me either," the other two chimed in.

"Sure, it won't affect you guys," I suggested. "But what about someone who is maybe not completely stable? Do you think someone like that might be affected by a game that lets you kill anyone you want indiscriminately?"

They thought about that one for about five seconds - an eternity really, given how fast they usually talk.

"I suppose that could be true. But I doubt it. These games are just fun. Nobody thinks they're real. That would be dumb."

And that summed up the conversation. They then went on to talk about their all-time favourite, most gory shoot-em-up game, called Manhunt and how disappointed they were that it wasn't easily available. But luckily, a new version of the controversial game is supposed to be out this year. And just like that, we were off the topic of real-life shootings and safely back in the make-believe world of video games.

I hope these three never come face to face with the kind of horror that emerged this week at Virginia Tech. Kids shouldn't have to worry about things like that. And neither should adults.

The journalist's view

In the last few days, I've read a lot of stuff about the shootings. But I wanted to point you to three items in particular that you may not have seen. They are all by journalists and they look at what's happened from a journalist's point of view.

(Click on the titles to see the whole article)

In praise of reporters who go too far

In this provocative piece, Jack Shafer of Slate Magazine argues that as much as we might say we don't want the media to go nuts on a story -- we consume everything they give us. And in fact:
...immeasurable sorrow breeds immeasurable interest—not just from journalists, but from news consumers as well.

There's a thin line between responsible journalism and outrageous sensationalism, and bloodfests like the one in Blacksburg tend to erase it. If the networks weren't pinging Facebook for leads, if the New York Times weren't compiling a "Portraits of Grief" for the Blacksburg kids right now—as I bet they are—and if the story came to a close tonight on Anderson Cooper's show, readers and viewers would riot. As reporters intrude into the lives of the grieving to mine the story, they should be guided more by a sense of etiquette than ethics. If they don't risk going too far, they'll never go far enough.

Letters from the Editor in Chief: A story of victims and issues, not only the killer

The CBC's Tony Burman explains why his corporation has decided to hold back on details of the shooter and his motives in favour of giving the victims their due.
So what will be the iconic image that will forever recall the massacre at Virginia Tech?

Will it be the grandfatherly face of Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu? Or the glowing smile of Canadian Jocelyne Couture-Nowak? Or some sort of composite photo of the more than 30 innocent victims of this awful event?

Or will it be the sullen image of the dark, demented killer?

And finally, The Tragedy at Virginia Tech, Viewed From Abroad

While we in North America are debating the merits of the coverage of the shooting, there is no debate in other parts of the world. It's the gun culture and America's passionate defense of the right to bear arms that's the problem. The Atlantic Magazine's Scott Horton has compiled a snapshot of reaction from around the globe.
Around the world, America is being portrayed as a land of wanton violence, obsessed with firearms—as the locus of a bizarre death cult. The grounds for this are not simply what happened at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School, but the way the American public has reacted to these tragedies.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dan gives us a nice history of Internet browsing

I've posted before about the evolution of web interfaces and how it's brought us to new eras, like the Dawn of Second Life (sounds like a movie title, doesn't it?). I'm always in the market for a good concise history listen and today I came across a post from Dan York at Disruptive Conversations that is just that. It also ends with some provocative questions about where all this evolution stuff might be going.

Here's a snippet. I recommend you head over to Dan's blog to read the whole thing.

Last week Chris Brogan wrote a post asking basically 'What the Hell is Up with Second Life?' where he talks about his own uncertainty about the value of Second Life.' It's a good post to read, and has some great comments as well.' I wound up posting my own comment to Chris -'and then decided that it was'a long enough commet that I should also just post it here.' So here it is:' (comments are of course welcome)

Nice post... I think that, like you, many of us are trying to figure out what exactly Second Life means 'in the big picture' of online communication.

To me the interesting aspect is that the combination of increasingly faster CPUs and increasingly ubiquitous broadband access has brought us to a space where we can actually interact with people in a '3-D' virtual world in something close to real time - and so Second Life represents to me an attempt at a newer interface for online communication and collaboration.

If you go back to the late 1980s, the dominant interface on computer networks was text 'terminal window' (vt100, telnet, whatever) and all the interfaces were entirely text-based. Going into the early 1990s probably the leading interface at the time was the menu-based (and text) gopher. I still remember one of the first versions of my 'Introduction to the Internet' courseware I wrote then that had a final chapter on new and upcoming technologies which talked about this thing called 'World Wide Web' which was access by telnetting to and logging in as 'www'. To follow a hypertext link you pressed the number on your keyboard that was after each link (see the image to the left).

Then came 1993 and the introduction of NCSA's Mosaic browser which fundamentally changed the user interface paradigm. Suddenly you could use your mouse! (Gasp!) And.... you could have *images* on the same page as text! Of course network connections (and PCs) were far slower then, so image-laden pages sometimes took forever to load, but it was a huge improvement over the text-only world....

(Via Disruptive Conversations.)

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday fun for April 13, 2006

Do you have paraskavedekatriaphobia?

Don't know? Well, if you have ever heard of the word, then you probably know it's a fear of Friday the 13th. So, in honour of today, here's a link to an article on Wikipedia that explains just what all the fuss is about this day.

Before the 19th century, though the number 13 was considered unlucky, and Friday was considered unlucky, there was no link between them. The first documented mention of a "Friday the 13th" is generally listed as occurring in the early 1900s.

However, documentation aside, many popular stories exist about the origin of the concept:

* The Last Supper, with stories that Judas was the thirteenth guest, and that the Crucifixion of Jesus occurred Friday.
* That the biblical Eve offered the fruit to Adam on a Friday, and that the slaying of Abel happened on a Friday (though the Bible does not identify the days of the week when these events occurred).
* That it started on Friday, October 13, 1307, the date that many Knights Templar were simultaneously arrested in France, by agents of King Philip IV.

However, historically, there is no true date that the Friday the 13th superstition can be linked to.

There's lots more interesting stuff in the article, such as that there are more traffic accidents on a Friday the 13th (at least in Britain) and of course, there's the regular biker run to Port Dover, ON, that occurs every time a Friday the 13th rolls around.

There are also links to other sites and articles about the day. So if you're interested, give it a read.

One more thing

Since this day is a bit spooky, I've got a little exercise for you that seems a bit spooky as well. Just go ahead and follow the directions when you get to this site and you'll see what I mean.

If you can figure out what's going on, let us know in the comments, please. I suspect I've figured it out (actually, my daughter, Jaime, did) but I want to see whether others agree with her.

Here's the link.


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Thursday, April 05, 2007

A son's tribute to his Dad

My Dad died in June, 1995, nearly 12 years ago. Hard to believe.

When he died, I got a card from a friend that had a simple message. It said, "I never really felt grown-up until Dad died." How true.

I've never really written about my Dad's death or what he meant to me and the rest of our family. It's just been too hard. Even today, 12 years on, it's still "too soon."

So today, when I listened to the most recent edition of the Digital Flotsam podcast, the content really hit home.

Digital Flotsam is done by P.W. Fenton (or P-Dub, as he's called by everyone). It's best described as a story-telling podcast, teamed up with wonderful music. It's always one of my favourites.

This edition is called "Room at the Top" and it's a tribute to P-Dub's Dad, who passed away on March 15.

Take a listen. You can find it at

Let me know what you think.

Monday, April 02, 2007

"The Effort Effect"

Guy Kawasaki posted this item a couple of weeks ago, but I only recently came across it. The article he links to is as good as he says it is. I've also ordered the book. This kind of research strikes a chord with me. It's something we all need to consider, especially those who are managing people in our workplaces.

Here's the link to his original post: "The Effort Effect"Mindset.jpg

And here's a snippet from his post:

If you manage any people or if you are a parent (which is a form of managing people), drop everything and read The Effort Effect. This is an article about Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. It examines her thirty-year study of why some some people excel and others don’t. (Hint: the answer is not ‘God-given talent.’)

The article postulates that people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are ‘set’ as either good or bad. The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.

She recently released a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I have not yet read it, but I ordered it as soon as I read this article. I can’t imagine not liking it.

(Via How to Change the World.)

DRM appears to be on its way out

Good news on the music front today.

After weeks of speculation, EMI announced that they will begin selling DRM-free copies of their music. And the first place the new higher-resolution songs will be available will be the ITunes Store.

I suspect this is the beginning of the end for DRM'ed music, but it's probably going to take awhile to trickle through the industry. And it's worth noting that lower-resolution versions of EMI's music (through single downloads) on the ITunes store will have DRM.

There's lots more to come on this issue, but following up on Steve Job's letter about DRM, it's clear that this issue is starting to go the right way for those of us that enjoy digital music.

Update: Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing also has this story, along with the most amazing string of links to other posts about it that I've seen in a blog post. Take a look!

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Updates on the "disturbing day for bloggers" story

The firestorm that erupted last week over threats received by blogger Kathy Sierra has taken an interesting turn. Today, Sierra and Chris Locke (one of the people mentioned in her original post) published a joint statement (read it here) about the issue.

According to Sierra:
When I was first bombarded by the media about this story, I refused to answer questions. Having no media experience, I found that when you don't answer a reporter, they'll tell your story without you, so I agreed to speak with a few. When I was asked for a short CNN interview, I said that I would do it only if they would let me invite Chris Locke as well. Needless to say, everyone including Chris was stunned to hear this.

But these stories should not be about me... I am simply one of a gazillion examples about what's happening today both on and offline. Nor is it a simple Nice Vs. Bully story, and I thought having us come to an understanding would encourage others to stop fighting on either of our behalves and try to listen first, and then talk, and maybe something good and useful really will come of this.

They both appeared on CNN Monday morning to talk about what's happened, but they wanted to issue a statement to ensure that their story got out in full.

There has, of course, been a lot of stuff written on this issue. One that I'd recommend you read is a story from Salon editor Joan Walsh (which appeared before the news broke about the joint statement) that looks into the whole question of whether women are receiving more abuse online than men.

I had been considering letting my Salon membership expire, since I hadn't been reading it as often as I used to. But Walsh's post reminded me why I like the publication. It's feature-length stories are well-written and usually interesting. Worth the price, I figure, so I'm going to renew.

Update: Here's the CNN report from Monday morning. (You'll need Quicktime to view it.)

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