Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday thoughts about our pale blue dot

It's Christmas day here in Victoria and it was a glorious, sunny day. I was glad to be safe and sound here at home, surrounded by our family. I hope your day was a good one as well.

According to a story in yesterday's paper, Victoria has the distinction of being the "snow capital" of Canada, thanks to the 41 cm of white stuff that's accumulated here this month. That's even more snow than the North Pole! Not a position this city is used to at this time of the year - or any time, for that matter.

It's just the latest in a string of weird weather events that have hit this winter. And the season has just begun. Holiday travel has been a nightmare across Canada -- my sister-in-law and her family are hung up tonight in Calgary, trying to get to Regina from their home in Vancouver. But like thousands of others, they couldn't make their air connections.

It's enough to make you wonder just what the heck is happening? Is this extreme weather a sign of climate change or just a blip in the long-term? It sure seems like weather patterns are changing and that extreme weather is more common than it used to be.

While I was mulling over thoughts like that, I came across an article about Carl Sagan's famous photo of our planet, called "Pale Blue Dot." I remember reading about it at the time, but I'd forgotten the story. Here's a short excerpt from a Wikipedia article about it:
The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken by Voyager 1 from a record distance, showing it against the vastness of space. Both the idea for taking the distant photo, and the title came from scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan, who also wrote the 1994 book of the same name. In 2001, it was selected by as one of the top ten space science photos.

On February 14, 1990, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission, to turn around to photograph the planets of the Solar System. One image Voyager returned was of Earth, showing up as a "pale blue dot" in the grainy photo.
Sagan elaborated on his thoughts about our world in a commencement speech in 1996. In the video I've linked to below, you can hear his address, while images from decades of Hollywood movies flash by. It's an intriguing mix and a clever way of presenting some of Sagan's profound comments.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of us on this pale blue dot.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Let's squash corporate jargon, shall we?

ewww.jpgIf you like words and cringe when people start abusing them, you're going to love this list of least favourite corporate jargon that communications guru Shel Holtz has compiled. The list is also a pretty cool demonstration of the power of Twitter.
Last week, after seeing some particularly egregious corporate jargon, I queried my Twitter followers about their least favorite jargon. Here are the responses I got:

  • Leveraging low-cost locations (as a euphemism for moving US jobs overseas)
  • Class-leading
  • Value-added (One of Dave Fleet’s 10 most irritating PR phrases)
  • A value-add proposition
  • Impact (used as a verb)
  • Synergy
  • Leveraging synergies
  • Working as designed
  • Bandwidth (as in ‘I don’t have the bandwidth to help out)
  • Cutting edge (this is another one that made Dave Fleet’s list)
  • Leading edge
  • Industry leader (see Diana Huff’s comment below)
  • Good PR (as in ‘get me some good PR')
  • Best practices
  • Strategic
And the list goes on...

To see the whole list, as well as some pretty hilarious videos featuring a new word - Buffling - read the whole post.

(Via a shel of my former self.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Let's follow another solo sailor

Remember Glenn Wakefield and his attempt to become the first sailor to circumnavigate alone the wrong way aound?

While Glenn wasn't racing anybody, it was certainly exciting to follow his progress - until his adventure came to its premature end with the loss of his beloved Kim Chow. (If you're in Vancouver in January, you can hear Glenn tell his tale in person.)

spirit-of-canada.jpgThere's a solo round-the-world race happening right now, called the Vendee Globe:
In theory, the Vendée Globe is an utterly simple affair. Its fundamental principles come down to a few sentences, compared to which even the roughest logbook would seem sophisticated. A sailing race around the world, for singlehanders, without any stopover. That’s it. In theory at least, because beyond these words start great stories.
There's a Canadian in this race that you might want to follow. His name is Derek Hatfield. Here's an excerpt from his bio:
This former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who became Manager of the Compliance Department at the Toronto Stock Exchange, came to sailing thanks to a neighbour and is already a round the world yachtsman. He in fact became the 126th sailor in the world to have sailed alone around the planet. That was in 2002 at the age of fifty on board a 40-footer christened Spirit of Canada. He finished Around Alone in third place in his class, in spite of a very long stopover for repairs having dismasted off Cape Horn. Named Rolex sailor of the year in 2003 for Canada, he also won the trophy in that same year that bears the name of the late Gerry Roufs.
Finally, and it is far from being the least of his qualities, Derek Hatfield is a keen defender of nature. With the Earth Rangers, a charitable organisation, he has launched a partnership to bring to the attention of children the importance of sustainable development and environmental protection. He will be setting sail with the fully justified pride of taking the first Canadian built Open 60 boat around the world.
I've been watching what's been happening in the Vendee Globe (it started Nov 8) but I hadn't blogged about it until I read a recent update Derek posted on his website about what he'd heard about our recent political shenanigans in Ottawa.
Word from back in Canada is that the government is in a bit of turmoil and the economy is at scary levels. I’m sure more than one of our sponsors are feeling the pinch of the recession. Hang in there and never give up on your goals. I feel a little guilty that I’m out here away from all of these woes but maybe some of you following the race can at least find it a motivating diversion from the financial situation.
That sounded like a great idea to me. So let's all follow along with Derek and let his adventures keep us in a positive frame of mind.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A new view of the House of Commons

Has anyone else noticed that we're seeing some new views of the inside of the House of Commons in Ottawa? This photo of Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion, shot by Chris Wattie of Reuters, is a remarkable shot, no question.

But it's also a view that I don't remember seeing before. It looks like the photographer was sitting in the back benches behind Harper. How did they get that shot?

When I was a reporter, photographers were only allowed on the floor of the chamber on special occasions like a Throne Speech, not during Question Period. I wonder if the rules have changed when I wasn't watching.

Anybody know the answer? Leave a comment with your ideas.

Photo credit: Chris Wattie, Reuters

Monday, December 01, 2008

How Dan Kaminsky broke and fixed DNS

This is one of the most interesting (and frightening) stories of the year, without question. If you're a geek, you probably know the basics of the story. But if you haven't heard about the DNS flaw - or you don't even know what DNS is -- you'll still find this a fascinating tale.

- Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

"Wired's Joshua A Davis has a great profile of my pal Dan Kaminsky's work on discovering and then helping to fix a net-crashing DNS bug earlier this year. Davis really captures the excitement of discovering a major security flaw and the complex web of personal, professional and technical complications that come to bear when you're trying to disclose the research in a way that minimizes harm to the net.

Dan does a lot of fun security-related stuff that doesn't get talked about in public. There's this one thing he does --

But that would be telling.

The next morning, Kaminsky strode to the front of the conference room at Microsoft headquarters before Vixie could introduce him or even welcome the assembled heavy hitters. The 16 people in the room represented Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and the most important designers of modern DNS software.

Vixie was prepared to say a few words, but Kaminsky assumed that everyone was there to hear what he had to say. After all, he'd earned the spotlight. He hadn't sold the discovery to the Russian mob. He hadn't used it to take over banks. He hadn't destroyed the Internet. He was actually losing money on the whole thing: As a freelance computer consultant, he had taken time off work to save the world. In return, he deserved to bask in the glory of discovery. Maybe his name would be heralded around the world.

Kaminsky started by laying out the timeline. He had discovered a devastating flaw in DNS and would explain the details in a moment. But first he wanted the group to know that they didn't have much time. On August 6, he was going to a hacker convention in Las Vegas, where he would stand before the world and unveil his amazing discovery. If there was a solution, they'd better figure it out by then.

But did Kaminsky have the goods? DNS attacks were nothing new and were considered difficult to execute. The most practical attack—widely known as cache poisoning—required a hacker to submit data to a DNS server at the exact moment that it updated its records. If he succeeded, he could change the records. But, like sperm swimming toward an egg, whichever packet got there first—legitimate or malicious—locked everything else out. If the attacker lost the race, he would have to wait until the server updated again, a moment that might not come for days. And even if he timed it just right, the server required a 16-bit ID number. The hacker had a 1-in-65,536 chance of guessing it correctly. It could take years to successfully compromise just one domain.

The experts watched as Kaminsky opened his laptop and connected the overhead projector. He had created a 'weaponized' version of his attack on this vulnerability to demonstrate its power. A mass of data flashed onscreen and told the story. In less than 10 seconds, Kaminsky had compromised a server running BIND 9, Vixie's DNS routing software, which controls 80 percent of Internet traffic. It was undeniable proof that Kaminsky had the power to take down large swaths of the Internet.
Secret Geek A-Team Hacks Back, Defends Worldwide Web

(Photo: John Keatley)

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Make the BC gov't keep their promise on the Great Bear Rainforest

Here's a cause that I can really get behind. And I hope that you can too. You don't have live in BC -- the more people that pitch in and sign the petition, the better.

My fellow Victorian, Darren Barefoot wrote about this campaign in his blog recently:
The Great Bear Rainforest is a huge swath of the land–the size of Austria–on BC’s central coast. It’s home to three kinds of bears, six million migratory birds, 3000 genetically distinct salmon stocks and many species of plants unique to the region. Most importantly, it’s the largest tract of intact coastal temperate rainforest left on Earth.

As you may recall, there was a landmark agreement in 2006 among various stakeholders–the provincial government, logging companies, First Nations and environmentalists. They agreed to a new approach to resource planning developed by an independent team of scientists, and committed to its implementation by March 31, 2009. But we’re not (ahem) out of the woods yet.
There's more in his original post, including a link to a Facebook group, a video about the campaign and more information, so head over and take a look.

Darren is urging all of us to sign an online petition urging the government to live up to its promise to protect the forest. If you do, you'll get a nice little auto-responder from the environment minister, which will make you feel special. I urge all of you to go ahead and take a few seconds to add your voice to this cause.

Merry Christmas...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First photos from our new house

Looks like we're back in the game...

We've been renting in Victoria for nearly two and a half years now, which is the longest Heather and I have gone without owning a home. But all that's about to change.

We've decided to take the plunge and buy a house. We've been looking for awhile and now that the market has softened, there are some good deals to be had. Our deal is still in the works, but we should be moving in at the end of December, which is a great way to celebrate the New Year!

We'll be looking for help moving on New Year's eve, so if you're not busy...drop me a line. I'll even supply pizza!

I've got some pictures up on Flickr of the inside of the house and I'll add some outside shots soon. Tonight was the first time I brought my camera along.

You can view the set (with cutlines of the photos) by using this link to go to Flickr.

You can also see the slideshow below.

And now for something completely different...

If you're of a similar vintage (and getting better with age, I'm sure) you'll appreciate how stupendous today's news really is.

The Monty Python gang have finally launched their own channel on YouTube. (Let the bells ring and the banners fly!)

This is very, very good news for those of us who can never get enough of the funny walks, the parrot jokes and philosopher footballers.

Here's the link to the site that introduces the new channel. You'll be able to watch their introduction, as well as choose from an amazing line-up of famous clips - most also available in the high-quality format that I wrote about the other day.

Here's one of my very favourite segments...Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google adds 10 million photos from Life archives

Now this is big news.

Google has announced that they are putting all 10 million pictures from the archival collection of Time-Life on line and available for searching via Image Search. There are some amazing photos included -- many of them never before published.

According to the announcement on the Google Blog, the archives date back to 1750 -- or to a time before photography even existed! It's an amazing resource. Full marks to Google for pursuing a project like this.

Here's an excerpt from the announcement:
One of our favorites is this classic Eisenstaedt image of children watching a puppet show.

Alfred snapped this in 1963, at the climax of Guignol's "Saint George and the Dragon" in the Tuileries Garden in Paris. Just as the dragon is slain, some children cry out in a combination of horror and delight, while others are taken aback in shock. Every child is consumed with emotion, masterfully captured by Eisenstaedt's camera. These amazing photos are now blended into our Image Search results along with other images from across the web.
Whether you're looking for a particular image, or just browsing, I know you'll enjoy looking through this collection.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Where the hell is Matt? - in high def

Have you heard about Matt, the guy who filmed himself dancing with people all over the world? It's a good story, and if you haven't heard about it, you can find out more at his website, or just watch the video. (Note -- The website seems to be down)

Even if you've seen the video, here's an update to the story that I just found out about.

The original videos on YouTube were the usual, low-quality types. But when you go to the YouTube site, there's a link below the video that lets you watch them in high quality. The difference is astounding and shows what kind of quality is possible with online video.

Here's the original (low-res) version of the video:

And to see the high-quality video, use this link.

It appears that a lot of videos on the YouTube site are now available as high-quality versions...just look for the link at the bottom of the viewer. It's worth it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What a concept - making a good video

Here's some breaking news. The Onion News Network says that YouTube is going to launch a groundbreaking contest. Check it out below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sometimes writers find just the right image

Just one week until the US election. Can there really be any doubt about the outcome? Apparently, there are still some undecided voters out there.

David Sedaris, writing in the New Yorker, draws a vivid picture of undecided voters:

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?
Good stuff. You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

John Cleese shares his thoughts on Sarah Palin

Now that the Canadian election is over, we can get back to watching commentary about the upcoming presidential election in the US. And for something completely different (OK, it's not really that much different) listen to John's Cleese's reaction when he's asked about what he thinks about Sarah Palin.

Via seesmiccafe: 'The former Monty Python star shares his unsparing thoughts and views about GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.' Video Link.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Snow in October

The patioI'm back from Regina, where I spent the Thanksgiving weekend. It was nice to be home for a few days, but the weather was not what I was expecting.

Sunday night, Regina got 17 cm of snow. Call it a Prairie October surprise!

I posted some pics from the snowfall on my Flickr account, if you're interested.

One of the things I noticed was that come morning, the streets were filled with people with shovels, winter boots, coats, toques and mitts, calmly cleaning up the mess. There were even a few guys with snowblowers out getting a little pre-season training in.

That's the way it is on the Prairies. They're used to snow and when it arrives, they're not put out by it. Quite the opposite of the chaos that erupts here in Victoria when those occasional blizzards show up (like this one.)

Even with the snow, there's no place quite as nice as our cottage in the fall. My son and I were out there the day before the snowfall, cleaning up the yard and closing up the cottage for another year. I'm glad it's still in our family, even if it is a few thousand kms from where we're living now.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Another overlooked story

As a follow-up to my post yesterday about the Top 10 censored stories of the year, comes this story about photojournalist James Nachtwey.

7B32F309-8321-434D-9C0C-8E1A6E7DE9DB.jpgHe was a recipient in March 2007 of the TED prize (see my earlier post) and his wish was for help in breaking a news story in a way that demonstrates the power of news photography in the digital age.

As it turns out (I'm late to this story, I guess) today, Oct. 3, is the day that bloggers and news sites around the world are going to help him get his wish. I'm happy to take part in spreading the word, even if I missed the whole build-up and suspense part of things.

Nachtwey's story is the growing threat of XDRTB - Extreme Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Not that long ago, we thought TB was all-but-extinct. But it is making a terrifying comeback. Nachtwey used the $100,000 from the TED prize to build a website and document the ravages of this new pandemic. He deserves an audience and I'm hoping his wish comes true.

Here are few links to follow to find out what this is about:

Link to, where you can see Natchtwey's video, learn more about the photographer and view the photographs he's made.

Link to Nachtwey's original acceptance speech of the TED Prize from March 2007.

Brain exercise

Those of us who have reached a "certain age" are paying attention to stories that claim that exercising our brains will pay off in our golden years. So we're working on crosswords (which I still can't do worth a darn), trying out Sudoko (works better for me) and staying married (at least according to this article from the Globe and Mail.)

But today, a post from Boing Boing caught my eye. Seems the Japanese have taken the idea of brain exercise to new, unheard-of heights:


Pink Tentacle has photos and a video of the "Reversible Destiny Lofts" in Japan, designed to physically and mentally challenge people in order to keep them healthy.

To NY-based architect-poets and “reversible destiny” philosophers Arakawa & Gins, comfort deserves only a limited role in the home. In their vision, a home that keeps its inhabitants young and healthy should provide perpetual challenges. A tentative relationship with your environment, they argue, is key to “reversing the downhill course of human life.”
Designed to stimulate the senses and force inhabitants to use balance, physical strength and imagination, the lofts feature uneven floors, oddly positioned power switches and outlets, walls and surfaces painted a dizzying array of colors, a tiny exit to the balcony, a transparent shower room, irregularly shaped curtainless windows, and more.

For rent: Reversible Destiny Lofts (w/ video)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Top 10 censored news stories

It's time for the Project Censored annual report on the stories that mainstream media is ignoring.

Since 1976, Sonoma State University has released an annual survey of the top 25 stories the mainstream media failed to report or reported poorly. Culled from worldwide alternative news sources, vetted by students and faculty, and ranked by judges, the stories were not necessarily overtly censored. But their controversial subjects, challenges to the status quo, or general under-the-radar subject matter might have kept them from the front pages. Project Censored recounts them, accompanied by media analysis, in a book of the same name published annually by Seven Stories Press.

"This year, war and civil liberties stood out," Peter Phillips, project director since 1996, said of the top stories. "They're closely related and part of the War on Terror that has been the dominant theme of Project Censored for seven years, since 9/11."

Whether it's preventing what one piece of legislation calls "homegrown terrorism" by federally funding the study of radicalism, using vague concerns about security to quietly expand NAFTA, or refusing to count the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war, the threat of terrorism is being used to silence people and expand power.
Here's the Top 10 stories:


And here's the link to the complete story.

Monday, September 29, 2008

This is an impressive commercial

I don't generally like TV commercials while I'm watching TV. But that doesn't mean I don't like commercials. I like to watch the good ones, especially when they're not interrupting a movie or a good show.

With an election campaign on in both the US and Canada, there's been a lot of pretty awful ads lately. But this one is a great ad.

It's for a product that I don't think is available here in Canada. But after watching this ad, I wish it were. I like a company that things this is a good use of their advertising dollars.

As someone who spends a lot of time talking about the importance of reputation and image and high-quality tools -- I love this example.

Here's the link to the ad.

Going car-free not as easy as it sounds

I've managed to take my bike to work a few times since my last post. It takes me about 35 minutes and I wander along some nice trails, largely skipping busy streets. I've also picked up a monthly bus pass for those trips downtown or other places where I don't want to take my bike and have to find a secure place to lock it up.

This weekend, I went out and bought a nice set of pannier bags, so I can make short trips to the grocery store or the library and be able to carry stuff home easily. They're also great for carrying rain gear on my commute. That's definitely required here in Victoria - especially in the winter.

So the pieces for my switch to a more carbon-friendly approach to my life are coming together. But you know, it's still tough to consider giving up my car.

It's not because my car is unique or high-end or anything like that. In fact, it needs expensive brake work and it leaks when it rains. But I still find it nice to have. Whether it's taking the dogs to the park for an extended outing or a quick trip up to Langford, where our storage locker is located, or even running Jaime and her bike back home after supper, when it's too dark to ride - it sure is handy to have a car.

So for now, I've decided to keep the car around. I'm using it a lot less and that's a good thing. But I'm not ready to sell it just yet. I am really enjoying my bike and although the hills in this city make biking a challenge, the abundance of bike lanes and trails keep me happy. I'll see how it goes when the wet, cool weather arrives in a month or so.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Time to do my part

So today the federal election campaign starts in earnest. But while I used to live and breathe politics, today my reaction is more like the little guy on the right. Sure, there are important differences between the parties and candidates, etc., but I can't help feeling that whoever wins the election doesn't have that much relevance to what happens in my life. Call me cynical but that's the way it is.

However, that doesn't mean I'm not interested in things. In fact, I've decided that my goal for the next while is to figure out ways to reduce my own carbon footprint. And I figured that since I've been having trouble coming up with reasons to update this blog recently, I'll share my journey with you all.

The first thing I've done is to make a commitment to using public transit to get around instead of driving. I was a pretty dedicated user of public transit when we lived in Hamilton and I worked in Toronto - I spent a lot of time on Go Trains and buses. But since we moved to Victoria, I've tended to drive when I needed to go downtown or more recently, get to the office.

So for the last few weeks, I've been buying bus tokens and travelling to work by bus. Last week, I upgraded to a monthly bus pass. Travelling by bus is longer (about 50 minutes one way, as opposed to 10 minutes by car) but it gives me a chance to catch up on podcasts on my Ipod. So I don't mind the extra time. However, when I go to work by bus, I can't get home at noon to walk the dogs -- that could be a problem.

I haven't decided whether to get rid of my car for good yet. It's a 1994 VW Jetta that needs a brake job but is otherwise still a good car for around town. I'm tempted to keep it around to have for taking the dogs places and picking up groceries, etc. But I may get rid of it too, depending on how well my second major carbon footprint idea works out.

And that idea is a new bike, which I finally picked up last week. It's a hybrid, a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike, which has some of the features of both. It's a great commuting option and since I live in Victoria - where bike commuting is a realistic alternative year-round - I'm looking forward to making that option work.

I'll tell you more about how that's going in my next post.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Why I didn't make the Olympics

I've been away. If you were wondering what I was up to, check out the video below. One thing I wasn't doing was attending the Olympic Games.

Ever wonder what it takes to get to the Olympics? Well, here are some examples of performances that won't win you a spot on the team.

The video is called Why I didn't make the Olympics.


(Note: I'm not sure why there appear to be two images of the video appearing here...but clicking on the top one seems to work.)

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Last Lecture

I'm back from our vacation to Haida Gwaii (what used to be the Queen Charlotte Islands) and it was everything we had hoped it would be. The weather was amazing -- we had no rain at all, which is a rare event in that area. It's a pristine wilderness that has to be seen to be appreciated.

I'll write more about our trip and show you some pictures in another post. I still haven't made the move from living the adventure to writing about it. I went back to work the day we arrived back and it's taking awhile to get my head back into an organized life.

When I returned, I noticed that Professor Randy Paush, of The Last Lecture fame, (video here) had passed away on July 25.

Those of you who have heard of him will already be familiar with this video of "The Last Lecture," but for those who haven't heard of it (I guess it was a year or more ago that it became such a sensation) will be interested in watching this. There's also a book version available.

I don't know much more about Pausch than what I've seen from the video and Wikipedia, but it's a powerful statement about what it means to live, especially when your future is a short one.

I find that vacations do a great job of reducing my thinking down to paying more attention to what I like and not worrying so much about things that are beyond my control. I'm not sure if that's what the point of Pausch's lecture was, but it resonates with me. As someone else put it, we should live each day like we're on holiday.

Howa, Randy Pausch.

Here's the link to the video.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Off to Haida Gwaii

anvilCove.jpgI haven't been blogging up a storm lately, but this is to let you know that it will be even lighter than usual for the next few weeks. Heather and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a kayak adventure in Haida Gwaii, or the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it used to be called.

We'll be joining a tour where we stay on board the Anvil Cove at night (that's it on the right) and spend the days kayaking around the inlets and islands of Moresby Island in the Gwaii Haanas Park/Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. If you want to know more about this amazing place, check out the Parks Canada site.

It's the trip of a lifetime and we're very, very excited.

So we'll be back here in Victoria towards the end of the month and I'll be posting lots of pics to Flickr and writing about some of the adventures we're going to have.

Talk to you then...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How to organize the room

I was working at a conference last week, putting together a daily newsletter of what was going on.

The concept was a good one. Each night, we'd put the issue together, featuring highlights of the day's events and profiles on what was happening the next day, as well as helpful tips about conference stuff, where things were happening, etc.

Once we had things written and approved, we added pictures from the day, then shipped it off to the printer. It was delivered to the hotel around midnight, then a copy was slid under each delegate's door so they'd have it when they woke up. It was a fun project and well received.

So when I came across this post from Seth Godin, I had some recent context to process it with. And, as usual, his advice about how to physically control the room for a presentation, whether at a meeting or a conference, is based on common sense and his own experience. But no matter how practical the idea, I'm always amazed how often people don't think about stuff like this.

Here's an excerpt:
"What does this remind me of?"

That's the subliminal question that people ask themselves as soon as they walk into a room. If it reminds us of a high school cafeteria, we know how to act. If it's a bunch of round tables set for a chicken dinner, we know how to act. And if there are row upon row of hotel-type chairs in straight lines, we know how to sit and act glazed.

If it's a place where we're used to saying 'no', we're likely to say no. If it's a place where we're used to good news or important news or just paying attention, we'll do that.
You can use this Pavlovian reaction to your advantage, or you can be a victim of it. A non-traditional arrangement can make people sit up and take notice. A rock concert feel is going to raise the energy level of even the skeptics. A circle with no tables makes people feel naked. These are tools, and you get to choose.

If you have to serve lunch, serve lunch. Big round tables, lots of talking. Then have people stand up and go hear the speaker. In a different room, with a different setting, one that works. No one ever heard a speech that changed their lives when sitting around a round table having just eaten a lousy lunch. Mixing the settings serves no purpose, wastes time in the long run and saves very little money.

Do you see that this is just more marketing? You tell a story with where you put the chairs.
Here's the link to the story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How do you read stuff online?

There's a good article over on Slate that I'm recommending you read.

Here's how it starts:
You're probably going to read this.

It's a short paragraph at the top of the page. It's surrounded by white space. It's in small type.

To really get your attention, I should write like this:

- Bulleted list

- Occasional use of bold to prevent skimming

- Short sentence fragments

- Explanatory subheads

- No puns

- Did I mention lists?
The article examines the theories of usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who I've referred to often in terms of designing good web pages and general net etiquette from a user point of view.

It's well done and fun to read. And if you're interested in getting your message across to your readers in the best way possible, you'll want to read this.

Here's the link.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A new definition for trailer trash

I've been too busy to blog much lately, but I realized that I'd let things go a little too far. Sorry about that. I've got a new full-time gig and it's taking a while to transition from working in a home office to moving back into the 9 to 5 world. Once I settle in, I should get back to the more regular review of all the things that are interesting around me again.

For now, I'm going to keep pointing you to stories I notice that are worth talking about - whether for serious reasons or not.

Today's pointer is to a delightful story about US First Lady Laura Bush, who has taken to travelling abroad in her own Airstream trailer, conveniently loaded into the back of a military transport plane.

I'm sure that there is probably a rational explanation for this (security, convenience, etc.) but on the face of it, it's just too silly for words.

Here's the link.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Take the time to read this story

Someone told me to read this story awhile ago, but as I so often do, I found something else that I considered more important and didn't get around to it.

This morning, weeks later, I sat down and finally read "The Things That Carried Him," Chris Jones' incredible, true story in the May, 2008 issue of Esquire, about an American soldier's journey home from Iraq - one of nearly 4,000 young soldiers who have been killed since that conflict began.

It's a remarkable tale. And it's one of the best pieces of writing I've ever read anywhere.

Take the time right now to read it.

Here's the link.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Creative ways to take care of people

Any of us that have friends or loved ones battling with memory issues (and it seems like all of us are) will appreciate this story.

Rules are one thing - but all too often they're used as a crutch to get around having to come up with meaningful and workable solutions to problems with caring for people. The rules often overlook the fact that people are "people" - not just items to be catalogued and inventoried.

Here's the story, which I found on Boing Boing.

A nursing home in Germany built an exact replica of a bus stop in front of the facility. The only difference is that buses never stop there.
“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.

“We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later today and invite them in to the home for a coffee,” said Mr Neureither. “Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave.”


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Must read: China's All-Seeing Eye

There's been a lot of talk about China in recent weeks, especially after the Tibetan protest and crackdown, the subsequent chaotic Torch Relay and the relentless march towards this fall's Olympic Games. China and everything to do with it is a hot topic.

If you've got a few minutes to spare, I highly recommend you sit back and read this fascinating report from Rolling Stone magazine on China's booming technology industry - especially the parts that are helping to track the movements of every citizen.

Canadian journalist Naomi Klein is a master storyteller and her tale moves from the factories in China right through to the corridors of power in the US and other western countries.

Her message is simple: "With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export."

Here's the intro:
Thirty years ago, the city of Shenzhen didn't exist. Back in those days, it was a string of small fishing villages and collectively run rice paddies, a place of rutted dirt roads and traditional temples. That was before the Communist Party chose it — thanks to its location close to Hong Kong's port — to be China's first "special economic zone," one of only four areas where capitalism would be permitted on a trial basis. The theory behind the experiment was that the "real" China would keep its socialist soul intact while profiting from the private-sector jobs and industrial development created in Shenzhen. The result was a city of pure commerce, undiluted by history or rooted culture — the crack cocaine of capitalism. It was a force so addictive to investors that the Shenzhen experiment quickly expanded, swallowing not just the surrounding Pearl River Delta, which now houses roughly 100,000 factories, but much of the rest of the country as well. Today, Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people, and there is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer. Hundreds of luxury condominiums tower over the city; many are more than 40 stories high, topped with three-story penthouses. Newer neighborhoods like Keji Yuan are packed with ostentatiously modern corporate campuses and decadent shopping malls. Rem Koolhaas, Prada's favorite architect, is building a stock exchange in Shenzhen that looks like it floats — a design intended, he says, to "suggest and illustrate the process of the market." A still-under-construction superlight subway will soon connect it all at high speed; every car has multiple TV screens broadcasting over a Wi-Fi network. At night, the entire city lights up like a pimped-out Hummer, with each five-star hotel and office tower competing over who can put on the best light show.

Here's the link to the story.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Glenn Wakefield is home in Victoria

Glenn Wakefield, the Victoria Sailor whose solo circumnavigation was cut short by bad weather near the Falkland Islands, arrived home last weekend, safe at last in the arms of his family.

He's posted a note of thanks on his website.


Previous Posts about Glenn and the voyage of the Kim Chow:

APRIL 27, 2008
Kim Chow Update
APRIL 27, 2008
Glenn Wakesfield continues his journey despite rollover
FEB 19, 2008
Halfway around the world
JAN 10, 2008
Around the world update
OCT 17, 2007
The voyage of the Kim Chow

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Monday, May 05, 2008 is sorry that the wait was so long

In fact...they were so sorry, the folks at waited about seven months or so to finally get back to me with an apology.

That seems a tad long, given the nature of my original complaint.

First, a little background. Back in October, 2007, I wrote about my issues with Expedia's call centre. The gist of it was that I was on hold for hours over the course of a few days without ever getting through to anyone who could help me.

You can read the original post here.

In the days that followed the original post, I added a couple of updates to the story, but the end result was that I never did hear back from anyone at the company.

Until today.

Here's what showed up in my inbox this morning:
Dear Traveller,

At, we value your business and want you to know we're committed to providing you with quality service. We are contacting you because our records show that you contacted our customer support centre and may have experienced a longer than acceptable wait time.

We sincerely regret any inconvenience you experienced. A number of events contributed to long wait times including administrative and system changes compounded by much higher than expected call volumes.

While we know the reasons for the issues will be of little comfort to you, we hope you will accept our apologies. Please be assured that our customer support centre is once again operating to the standards you require and have come to expect from

As a way of showing our appreciation for your business, we are offering you a $50.00 electronic voucher to be used for a future travel booking. This voucher can be used on any flight, Expedia Special Rate hotel, or Build Your Own Package on The voucher is valid until March 31, 2009 and can be used for travel completed by December 31, 2009. Full Voucher Rules can be viewed by clicking here.

To deposit this electronic voucher into your account, click on the link below; you may need to sign in before you can save the voucher to your account.

We look forward to helping you with your future travel plans.


Sean Shannon
Managing Director
Note the "Dear Traveller" opening. I suppose it's a step up from "To Whom It May Concern" but I can't say it makes me all warm and fuzzy. You know there must have been a big problem (although they haven't mentioned it to me) when you have to send out form letters to disgruntled customers.

Sorry Sean. I appreciate that you're a fellow traveller, and the original problem was probably not your fault, but lost this customer quite awhile ago.

Since the fiasco last year, I've used several times, with no problems. I haven't had to call them with a problem, since everything has worked fine. But just for fun, I called their customer service centre and my call was picked up right away. Just like it should be.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rebutting the lobbyists for US-style copyrights in Canada

U of Ottawa professor Michael Geist takes on (and rebuts) some of the most prevalent myths about copyright in Canada in this video presentation of one of his speeches.

The five myths he rebuts are:

The Importance of Copyright - copyright is important, but investment decisions, creativity and new business models are products of much more than just an IP framework as venture capital, tax structures, talent, competitive communications, and government support are all part of the decision making process.

Consultations and Reforms - while some argue that Canada has engaged in lengthy consultations with little action, I argue that the opposite is true

Canada in the World - lobby groups and the U.S. have been vocal in criticizing Canadian copyright law, yet a closer look reveals that Canadian law stands up impressively by world (and U.S.) standards

Copyright in the World - the U.S. would have you believe that all countries must mirror the DMCA, however, the truth is that there is great flexibility in how any country can move forward with digital copyright reform

Copyright Consensus - most seem to believe that copyright is too divisive to achieve consensus, but I argue that there is already a broad consensus on an approach that rejects the DMCA and emphasizes balance

Geist deserves a lot of credit for making the issue of copyright worth thinking about in Canada. We are in danger of being sucked into the vortex of US legislation (like the DMCA) unless we speak up.

This issue is worth following and paying attention to what Geist has to say is a good way to do that.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

John Cleese visits Laughing Club in India

Via Boing Boing comes this delightful video...

John Cleese visits Laughing Club in India: "

Actor John Cleese went to India to visit a doctor who has started a laughing club. The people meet each morning and do silly things to make each other laugh. Laughter has many health benefits, says the doctor. I believe it.

Previously on Boing Boing:
Laughter yoga
Laughing yogi video

(Via Boing Boing.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Kim Chow Update

Update to my post below about Victoria sailor Glenn Wakefield. Looks like the damage to his boat was more severe than first thought...this was posted to the blog this afternoon by his wife, MaryLou:
Day 218 Sunday April 27, 2008 47.38S 49.41 W (05:00 PDT)
I spoke with Glenn at 05:00 on board the Argentina naval vessel Puerto Deseado. The vessel was dispatched to assist Glenn through a request from the Patagonian net of ham radio operators and a number of other sailing and fishing vessels in the area. Glenn has been seen by the physician on board and has been treated for injuries and is feeling well. He described in more detail the extent of the damage to Kim Chow including severely damaged self steering, inoperable engine and discharged batteries. In addition, Kim Chow was starting to take on water through the damaged hatches and companionway. After carefully considering the options Glenn felt he could not safely round Cape Horn and has made a very personal and difficult decision, and the only logical one under the circumstances, which is to end his circumnavigation. His decision was greatly influenced by the love for his family back home and he reassured us he is doing well. Glenn will be transferred to a Coast Guard vessel and taken to a port in Argentina and from there to Buenos Aires and home. The fate of Kim Chow is uncertain at this point. The Navy are considering the options. Words alone can't express his deep appreciation for the bravery and kindness of the captain and crew who stood by for 48 hours until weather and sea conditions would permit his safe transfer to their vessel. Glenn sends his heartfelt thanks to all those who played a part in seeing him safely through this difficult time. We will post further updates when available.
It's a less than satisfactory ending to Glenn's adventure, but you've got to be thankful that he's still in good shape. I'm looking forward to his return to Victoria. He deserves a tremendous homecoming.

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Glenn Wakesfield continues his journey despite rollover

Kim Chow.jpgVictoria sailor Glenn Wakefield, who is circling the globe alone in his boat Kim Chow, had a bit of a scare this week when his boat rolled over near the Falkland Islands. That's the Kim Chow in the picture, with a ship from the Argentine Navy nearby.

The photo was taken from an Argentine Navy plane that was sent to see what was happening.

Despite the mishap, Glenn is reporting that all is well and he's going to carry on.

You can see a report from Canadian Press here and check the latest reports from the blog about the voyage here.

And while you're on the blog, consider sending a note to Glenn, which his wife, MaryLou, who is here in Victoria, will make sure gets sent along to him, although not likely until after he sails around Cape Horn. But I know MaryLou will appreciate the contact.

Previous blog posts about Glenn:

FEB 19, 2008
Halfway around the world

JAN 10, 2008
Around the world update

OCT 17, 2007
The voyage of the Kim Chow

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The customer is always right

Seth Godin has an update on that old staple that the customer is always right.

In his blog, he writes about an experience he had as a customer after he complained about some bad service. And that leads to a thoughtful piece on how customers should be treated.

This is good advice for anyone who deals with clients or customers in their daily life (and who doesn't, in some way?)


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day -- Some stuff

It's Earth Day, so this seems like a good time to point you towards an interesting site that my brother-in-law, Darryl, sent along to me.

It's called The story of stuff with Annie Leonard. It's a 20 minute video, hosted by Annie, who takes us through the history of stuff -- extraction, production, distribution, consumption, disposal and ends up at "Another Way."

I don't know much more about it, but it looks interesting. And since this is Earth Day, maybe it's worth spending 20 minutes to find out a bit more about how all our modern stuff gets made and distributed.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

House Diary #1: The Questionnaire

In recent weeks, I've mentioned Darren Barefoot's blog on a few occasions.

Darren and his wife Julie Szabo recently settled in Victoria after a year living abroad. They've ended up in Victoria so they can easily get to Pender Island, where they're going to be building their home.

Darren is going to blog about the experience over the next couple of years and so I thought I'd point you to the first of these posts. If you're interested in following along, I recommend you add his RSS feed to your browser. (If you don't know what an RSS feed is, just Google how to add an rss feed.)

House Diary #1: The Questionnaire: "

Our Moss Covered PropertyThis is the first in a series of longish blog posts about the process of building our house on Pender Island. If I’m sufficiently dedicated, one of these should appear every couple of weeks for the next two years. These posts are likely to be longer and more contemplative than the other writing on this site. And, obviously, they’re concerned with the process of building a house on an island. If that doesn’t float your boat, skip ‘em.

Before we left for Malta, we had our first meeting with John Gower, our architect. He came highly recommended from a friend, and specializes in building ‘modestly-sized, comfortable homes, beautifully and simply designed’, often in remote locations. His company, after all, is called ‘BC Mountain Homes’. Additionally, we liked the aesthetic of a number of his modern house designs. Finally, he’d previously worked on Pender Island, and so was familiar with the local planning process and knew of some options for general contractors...

(For more, see

How the Pentagon spins the war on terror

As someone who is involved in the PR business, which often means working hard to get favourable coverage in the media for a client, this story from the NY Times strikes a nerve.

In a lengthy piece, published Sunday, reporter David Barstow details the complicated and close relationship between the Pentagon and the so-called "military analysts" that have become so familiar to TV viewers on American networks.
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
On one hand, I'm tempted to say "Holy crap! These guys (the Pentagon) are really good at what they do!"

But I'm not really serious (although they are obviously good.)

Instead, I'm dismayed at just how much the media is being played by influential interests. In this case, it's the US administration, making sure that the facts don't get in the way of telling the people what's happening with the war on terror. But similar examples (here and here, for instance) exist in other areas as well.

Kudos to the NY Times for writing about this and giving it the space they have. And note as well the other web-friendly features they've included to add to the story.

They have a multimdedia feature that offers clips from TV shows (many of which are included in the print story.) There's also a detailed document archive where you can see excerpts from the documents the Times received during their research.

As with more and more news features these days, we get the print version, enhanced with extras that take advantage of web features. It makes for a rich experience.

Still, we have to admit that its not like we don't know this sort of thing happens. I hope the TV networks who were so lenient in checking the credibility of their military analysts are going to clean up their act a bit in the future - but I'm not holding my breath.

The responsibility for figuring out what's really going on remains with us - the consumer of the news. After all, there are always at least two sides to every story.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Snow in April...go figure

The back deck.JPG
Originally uploaded by Dave Traynor
Since the date ticked over to be officially spring back in March, we seem to have been having an entire winters' worth of cold, rain and now snow. This is not what we would expect here on Vancouver Island.

Spring is supposed to be the best time of the year here, since we don't actually ever get all that warm. It's nice when the flowers are out here in February and March, while the rest of Canada is still digging out from winter.

Today, it's supposed to be in the mid-20s in Toronto...sigh. Looks like our little window of opportunity has slammed shut. If you want to see a couple of other pics from my window this morning, just click on the photo to go to my Flickr site.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Success for Boot and Blade

I posted a while ago about Julie Szabo's figure skating blog, which featured the eight nastiest figure skating falls. Looks like the blogosphere mojo is working. Darren reports:

Just a quick note to say thanks to everybody who linked to Julie’s figure skating blog. She’s now in the number one spot for the Google search ‘figure skating blog’. There’s obviously not a lot of stiff competition, because Brian, Richard and I all have results in the top ten (though that may just be Google favouring newer pages).


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The GoodBye Girl's daughter grows up

I can't remember how I ever came across The QC Report but I've been reading this blog off and on for awhile. Although my kids are grown now, there's a lot of stuff here that I can relate to. It's written by Quinn Cummings, who first came to the world's attention as Marsha Mason's little girl in the movie version of The Goodbye Girl.

Cummings is not in the movie business anymore. She's the inventor of the HipHugger, a handy sling for carrying babies around and is now the president of the company she founded.

So that's the backstory -- child actor, middling career, gives it up, has a kid, forms a company, starts a blog, etc. While all that is interesting, I wouldn't keep reading her stuff if it wasn't good writing. And it turns out that Ms Cummings is a heck of a writer.

In this post, called Shouting Across the Divide, she starts off with her breezy, conversational style, which is all about the trials and tribulations of a modern, 30-something Mom and her friends. In this case, it's all about the fun finding a parking space at the daughter's ballet lesson.
For five minutes at the top of every hour there is a frantic movement of women hustling their leotarded girls out of classes and into cars, using their stained Starbucks napkins as semaphore flags to indicate that they will be more than happy to surrender their parking space as soon as they find their sunglasses, adjust their seat belt and pop in a DVD for the kids. Otherwise, we all drive up to the front door, eject a child, and wander off into the neighborhood to trawl for a parking space. Sometimes after fifty futile minutes spent driving around the block we just drive back to the front entrance and pick the kid up. I don’t understand why more mothers aren't diagnosed with vehicular bedsores.
But soon the tone changes and this light account of a dance lesson becomes an exploration of the mystery of the Mother/child bond.
Every time we let our children walk away from us, we’re practicing for the time they do it for keeps. And every time we let them go out into the world, even for a short time, some part of our brain thinks “No! Not yet! There’s no way she knows enough. I know for certain I haven’t taught him enough. Did I teach her the eyeball-gouging trick if someone tries to kidnap her? Did I get him to tolerate citrus fruit enough so he won’t die of scurvy? Did I impress upon them how unspeakably fragile I feel when I think about them doing something self-destructive? Does she know how I have never loved anyone on earth the way that I love her? Come back. Come back."

But the thoughts flash by in less than a millisecond and all our brain registers is “Remind him that his book report is in the outer pocket of his backpack.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm not sure how I stumbled across The QC Report. That's one of the delights of the Internet - you never know what you'll find when you click on the next link. I like the blog and I like the backstory. I'll keep reading and now maybe you will too.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Interesting thing of the day

I admit that a lot of things about the online world are a bit hectic - maybe even chaotic. The more involved you get, the more you can get swept up by hype - Do this! Do that! Look at this!

Since I am easily distracted, I can have trouble getting my work done when there are a lot of other things going on. And as the web has grown to include so much more than just words on a screen, like music and video, the distraction factor has grown considerably.

So I'd like to step back, take a deep breath and tell you about a site that I visit often -- especially when things are getting a little hectic.

It's called Interesting Thing of the Day.

Almost every day (usually about 3 times a week, actually) Joe Kissell (author of Take Control of Mac OSX Backups - one of my favourites) or his partner Morgen Jahnke, (the well-known introvert) offers up a well-researched essay on something interesting. They're always well written, usually thought-provoking and always...well...interesting.

Like this one, for example. Although Silent Retreats: a different way of listening first appeared on July 4, 2004, it's still as refreshing to read and ponder today as it was then.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, one of the main characters is an alien named Ford Prefect from a planet near Betelgeuse. Although he looks, talks, and acts more or less human, there are many things about earthlings that puzzle him, such as the fact that they seem to talk all the time—even if only to repeat the obvious. Over the course of several months, he comes up with a number of theories for this behavior, one of which I found particularly insightful: “If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working” (p. 49). I’ve frequently noticed, on the one hand, that many people like to surround themselves with sound all the time (making their own if all else fails); and on the other hand, that contemplation is a foreign and uncomfortable concept to most of us. An increasingly popular way of overcoming the sound habit, at least briefly, is to go on a silent retreat.
How's that for an opening paragraph? I like the way it leads into the subject of the day, which is a bit about the history and the benefits of not talking.

The topics presented can be almost anything. Just recently, they've had a few stories with Canadian content, featuring the Alberta Tar Sands, Saturna Island here in BC and the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Saskatchewan.

They site doesn't have flashy videos, but they do have an audio option, so you can have the Interesting Thing of the Day read to you, if you prefer that. I recommend signing up for the RSS feed, so you can enjoy them whenever they're released.

I like the site and the stories and I admire the work that Joe and Morgen put into it. You can find out more about some of their other work right on the site. Be sure to check out the FAQs for a chuckle and lots more info about the blog.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Time lapse view of San Francisco

This is an intriguing site, featuring hi-def views of San Francisco's financial district, Fisherman's Wharf, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill and Nob Hill San Francisco as viewed from across the bay in Sausalito.

I've linked to the page that gives you the timelapse series from yesterday (it's a large file, so it might take awhile to load) but you can also choose from other views once you're there.

I love the way you see the tide come in and out and the fog rolling in near the end of the day is spectacular.


It's all about the content

I'm a firm believer that good content is the key to successful communications. Design and useability are important, but they can't overcome the limitations of good content.

The value of good content has always seemed self-evident to me but it often seems to come as a revelation to people with the advent of new technology.

publish.jpgWhen new, exciting technology comes along, like the rise of desktop publishing in the '80s (remember all the fun we had with those floppies?) or the growth of the Internet in the '90s, a lot of users get seduced by what they can do with their new tools. And at first, the excitement factor keeps everyone interested. But inevitably, if the content of a document or a website is not relevant to the person using it (the so-called "user") the thrill will wear off.

In his latest Alertbox article, Jakob Nielsen lists several examples of bad design examples where the website developers overlooked or downplayed the value of content.

What's useful about Nielsen's list is that he's not advocating wholesale redesigns. He just points out a few missing elements that seem obvious if you consider the site from the user's point of view.

And that's the key to ensuring that your website design stays relevant. Everything about the design has to enhance the experience for the user. They need to be able to find the information they need, presented in a way that let's them use it effectively and move ahead to their next destination.

It's all about the content.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's the little things that matter to customers

I've been a paid subscriber to Salon for many years. And all in all, I figure it was worth it. When they launched Salon Premium in 2001 to stave off bankruptcy, they were looking for supporters and I was happy to oblige. But over the past year or two, I've found that I'm not reading the site regularly and so paying the $30 yearly fee for Premium access just started to seem like an expense I could do without.

So when Salon recently sent me a reminder that my subscription was about to expire, I decided not to renew. At the bottom of their note to me, they have this line:
If you don't plan to renew, we're very interested in understanding why. Please take a minute to drop us a line -- we take your feedback seriously:

Best regards,

Sam Porter

Salon Premium
So, since they asked, I sent them this note.
Hi -- I've been a subscriber for many years, but I'm not going to
renew this year. I get my information from all over the web. I have
hundreds of RSS feeds in my newsreader and there is rarely enough time
to go through them all. While I have enjoyed Salon and appreciate the
good stuff it offers, it's just not worth it to me to continue paying
for something I'm not using any more.
Unfortunately, they don't seem to take the feedback they get quite as seriously as they claim. Because the emails have kept on coming, each one warning me that I'm about to lose out and also inviting me to tell them why I've decided not to renew because, after all "we take your feedback seriously."

But here's what's really interesting...and something I hadn't remembered until today.

One year ago, I went through the same process. Here's what I sent to them back in March, 2007:
Hi there -- I've been a Salon subscriber for a number of years but I've decided not to renew this year.

I work in the information business as a communications consultant and I spend most of my time online. To be honest, I go through so much information on a regular basis that I just don't make much use of my Salon subscription. In the past, I've paid for it because I really support the kind of quality work you do.

But this past year has been a tough one for me and my business. I've relocated across Canada and the costs of setting up a new location, and making new connections in a different city, mean that I need to reduce expenses wherever possible.

I currently have over 800 feeds in my RSS newsreader, as well as more than 50 podcasts that I listen to regularly. In a world of information, I simply don't "need" to pay for your content.

If things improve, I may re-subscribe, but for now, I'll get my news (even if not your unique vision) elsewhere.
I've checked my records, but I can't find any record of my having paid for my Premium subscription last year. But it appears that they didn't cut me off, as they were warning me they would.

So, we'll see whether my subscription finally does get cut off this year.

But there's a lesson to be learned here for companies. If you tell people you're listening to them and you put it in writing, then you should make sure that your systems are actually set up to receive comments and react to them. It appears that Salon hasn't really paid much attention to what I've been telling them for over a year now and if I were once inclined to support them, I'm less inclined to do so now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Time for a chuckle

While I'm sitting here hoping for some kind of divine revelation about the meaning of life, I came across this post from our good friend Lee Hopkins, in the "Adelaide Hills" of Australia. He posted this to his blog and I can't resist passing it along, just in case you don't read him regularly.

As someone who has been known to suffer technology envy on occasion, I certainly can identify with this:
Three naked women were sitting in a sauna, two were in their mid-twenties, one was in her forties.

Suddenly there was a beeping sound. One young woman pressed her forearm and the beep stopped.

The others looked at her questioningly.

“That was my pager” she said. “I have a microchip under the skin of my arm”

A few minutes later a phone rang.

The second young woman lifted her palm to her ear. When she finished she explained, “That was my mobile phone. I have a microchip in my hand.”

The older woman felt very low-tech, but not to be outdone she decided she had to do something equally as impressive.

She stepped out of the sauna and went to the bathroom.

She returned with a piece of toilet paper hanging from her derriere.

The others quite naturally raised their eyebrows and stared at her.

“Well, will you look at that!” the older woman exclaimed. “I’m getting a fax!”
Via Link

Monday, April 07, 2008

Nastiest Figure Skating Falls

A (virtual) friend, Darren Barefoot sent out a call to the blogosphere to help send his wife, Julie Szabo, to the Olympics, thanks to the power of SEO (search engine optimization.)
A couple of years ago my wife Julie started a figure skating blog. She’s got a particular purpose in mind for this project: she wants to get media accreditation for the skating events at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

One way to do this is to write the most popular figure skating blog in the world, according to Google. She currently sits in the #2 spot.

The goal is to get her up to the top spot, and I need your help. If you’re so inclined, please link to Julie’s blog with the phrase ‘figure skating blog‘. Collectively, we ought to be able to boost her up to the top spot, eh?
Darren and Julie have just moved to Victoria after spending a year living in Malta and Morocco.
So, to help the cause, I'm going to send you to her figure skating blog, Boot and Blade, where she's got a post called "Eight of the Worst Falls in Figure Skating."

It's sort of a "reality TV" meets "America's funniest home videos" sort of thing.

One caution though - not for the squeamish!

Here's the link to Julie's blog.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Weekend fun - copyright edition

OK campers, since the weekend is upon us (and especially for those who aren't interested in the Final Four) let's consider the question:

Is Copyright Cool?

Good question Dave, I can hear you thinking, nodding your head in approval.

So what's the answer?

Not to be coy, but the truth is -- I'm not sure.

I think it is, but I'm not sure it's crossed over to the mainstream yet. But it is getting closer to doing just that.

If you've got the time, I'm going to point you to a couple of videos of speeches by two very smart people - one American and one Canadian - talking about copyright issues in the US and here in Canada.

Larry Lessig

The first is by Larry Lessig, a professor at Stanford, credited with creating the Creative Commons license and a well-known advocate for copyright reform. (Although he's now turned his attention to corruption in US politics.)

He spoke at the TED conference in Monterey, California last March. Lessig is a terrific presenter, as this blurb from the TED website attests:
Larry Lessig gets TEDsters to their feet, whooping and whistling, following this elegant presentation of three stories and an argument. The Net's most adored lawyer brings together John Philip Sousa, celestial copyrights, and the "ASCAP cartel" to build a case for creative freedom. He pins down the key shortcomings of our dusty, pre-digital intellectual property laws, and reveals how bad laws beget bad code. Then, in an homage to cutting-edge artistry, he throws in some of the most hilarious remixes you've ever seen.

Watch the video here.

Michael Geist

The second video is by Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, who is probably Canada's best-known advocate of copyright reform. He's been waging a very public campaign to highlight some of the threats posed by possible changes to Canada's existing copyright rules.

He spoke at Toronto's Osgood Hall law school and they've posted a video of his presentation, which you can watch here.

While these two perspectives on copyright law may not answer the question of whether the issue is cool or not, they are definitely worth watching. They might even inspire you to consider getting more involved with the issue - or at least consider the implications of some of your own habits or those around you.

The issue of intellectual property rights, and their distribution and usage is critical to the future of our "information age." We should all be aware of what's going on so we can decide whether what is happening is correct.

These two guys are worth listening to.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The war through the eyes of the soldiers

p_logo.gifFrontline aired a powerful documentary this week about the war in Iraq, called Bad Voodoo's War. What made this show unique was that it was filmed entirely by the soldiers on the ground.

Filmmaker Deborah Scranton, who also made The War Tapes, a feature film documentary about Iraq that also featured footage shot by soldiers on the ground, tracked the progress of the Bad Voodoo platoon, National Guardsman who headed over to Iraq last June to provide escorts for supply convoys moving through the country. Before they left, she outfitted them with video cameras and they have been sending back tapes of their lives ever since.

The quality of the footage is remarkable, especially the use of multiple camera shots in single scenes. The did this by using a dashboard camera focussed on the soldiers in their trucks, another dashboard mounted camera facing forward and hand-held cameras carried by the soldiers.

You can watch the film and a lot of other features online here.

I'm very impressed by how PBS has integrated its programming with the Internet. This show, for example, is supplemented by a website with blog postings from the soldiers themselves, details about the people involved, maps of the country, interviews with the director and a very high-quality viewer where you can watch the film.

Compared to the low-quality video clips we've gotten used to on YouTube, this is startling. It makes you realize what's possible with web-based programming.

Once you've watched this film, you might be interested in some of the 72 other Frontline programs that are posted on the PBS site already, with more being added all the time.

The package is worth checking out. And kudos to PBS for the presentation.