Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Five years after the Tsunami

Boxing Day was the fifth anniversary of the Christmas Tsunami of 2004. With the fuss we're experiencing over increased airline security and difficulties caused by it for travelers, it's worth remembering that there are more serious things out there.

The Big Picture, one of my favourite photo blogs, looked back at the Tsuname, five years on, and had pictures of what is happening now in the countries where it caused such devastation.

Here's the link.

Update: I had the wrong date originally. It was Boxing Day 2004, not Dec. 29.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kim Peek, Inspiration for ‘Rain Man,’ Dies at 58

In the wake of Christmas fun, you might have missed this story that appeared on Boxing Day.

Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for the character Dustin Hoffman made famous in Rain Man, died at the age of 58.

Peek's story is fascinating and this obituary in the New York Times does a good job of telling it:
Almost all documented savants — people with an extraordinary depth of knowledge and the ability to recall it — have been restricted in their expertise to specific fields like mathematics, chess, art or music. But Mr. Peek had a wide range of interests and could instantly answer the most arcane questions on subjects as diverse as history, sports, music, geography and movies.

“He was the Mount Everest of memory,” Dr. Darold A. Treffert, an expert on savants who knew Mr. Peek for 20 years, said in an interview.

Mr. Peek had memorized so many Shakespearean plays and musical compositions and was such a stickler for accuracy, his father said, that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors or the musicians.

“He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute! The trombone is two notes off,’ ” Fran Peek said.

Mr. Peek had an uncanny facility with the calendar.

“When an interviewer offered that he had been born on March 31, 1956, Peek noted, in less than a second, that it was a Saturday on Easter weekend,” Dr. Treffert and Dr. Daniel D. Christensen wrote about Mr. Peek in Scientific American in 2006.

They added: “He knows all the area codes and ZIP codes in the U.S., together with the television stations serving those locales. He learns the maps in the front of phone books and can provide MapQuest-like travel directions within any major U.S. city or between any pair of them. He can identify hundreds of classical compositions, tell when and where each was composed and first performed, give the name of the composer and many biographical details, and even discuss the formal and tonal components of the music. Most intriguing of all, he appears to be developing a new skill in middle life. Whereas before he could merely talk about music, for the past two years he has been learning to play it.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Distilling the debate on climate change

If you're like me, you might be a bit confused about what exactly is everyone arguing about when it comes to climate change?

If you watch Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, things look pretty clear. But then you read a story demanding that Gore's Academy Award should be revoked because the film is all smoke and mirrors.

For most of us, the debate becomes the story - not the facts or allegations themselves. Fortunately, there are people who like to get at the facts of the argument and present them in a way that we can understand.

Here then, from the Information is Beautiful website are the arguments for and against global warming, presented in a straightforward, well-researched and easily understood format.

UPDATE - has looked closely at the "Climategate" issue in this article. Same conclusions.

- via Daring Fireball

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The book is not going away but it will change

stacks-711918.jpgThe days just after Christmas are a traditional reading time around our house. Most of us get one or more books in our stocking and it's nice to curl up and read.

This year, the e-book is the talk of the town and there are lots of predictions that the book as we know it is doomed. I don't buy it. It's way too efficient and pleasurable to ever go away. But there's no denying that the dollars and sense of the publishing business are dictating changes to come.

So it was a pleasure to find this article at about what the book might become:
The first movie cameras were used to film theater productions. It took early cinematic geniuses like Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin and Abel Gance to untether the camera from what was and transform it into what it would become: a new art form. I believe that this dynamic will soon be replayed, except it will star the book in the role of the theater production, with authors acting more like directors and production companies than straight wordsmiths. Like early filmmakers, some of us will seek new ways to express ourselves through multimedia. Instead of stagnant words on a page we will layer video throughout the text, add photos, hyperlink material, engage social networks of readers who will add their own videos, photos, and wikified information so that these multimedia books become living, breathing, works of art. They will exist on the Web and be ported over to any and all mobil devices that can handle multimedia, laptops, netbooks, and beyond. (Hey, Apple, are you listening?)
Sounds good, doesn't it?

While I still plan to be curling up with pages and ink, I am looking forward to what's to come. I've got an iPhone and I love it. And I can see the possibilities for that platform. And with all the buzz about the new tablets, etc. that are on the way, the future for readers looks very, very good.

Happy reading.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Regret the error

I am fond of warning clients that we're entering a new era - you can't lie! If you do, you will be caught - if not now then later.

I argue that rather than "spinning" an issue, just tell the truth. Getting the true story out in your own words is always better than admitting it after someone else calls you out.

That's one of the reasons I like this time of year when people start compiling their year-end lists of things. One of my favourites is Regret the Error which tracks the media's screw-ups over the past year.

See which ones you remember and think about how things could have been handled differently.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The spam attraction

What is it about spam that keeps it coming back, time after time?

"Do people really fall for the stuff that comes across their computer screen" is a question I'm asked a lot. Anyone who uses a computer will end up seeing a lot of crap that they didn't ask for and often have no idea why they're getting it.

The simple answer is that no, the people that sent those messages don't really expect anyone to buy their organ enhancer, or the pills that will do miraculous things. They just want to grab your attention for a split second - just long enough to slip a mailicious bit of software into your machine, so they can use it without your knowledge to send other people the same messages.

Those programs are called Trojan Horses (see this Wikipedia article for an explanation) and they're the computer hackers basic building blocks.

But I didn't start this post to tell you about how malicious software might end up on your computer, although it's a fascinating area for study. What I was wondering was whether any of you are starting to see more and more spam appearing on your Skype connections?

I've been using Skype for many years and I rarely had problems with receiving unexpected contacts from people I didn't know. I'd leave the program running in the background on my computer and pretty much forget about it.

But just lately, it seems that I've been spending a lot of time blocking meaningless contact messages from companies and people that I know nothing about. Many of these messages offer to sell me something, or invite me to visit their website to register for something.

I'm not sure what's going on. I suspect that following up on any of these offers would be a bad thing, as it always is in these cases. But every so often, it seems that a spammer somewhere figures out a way to get past the usual filters and starts flooding the Internet with junk. Sooner or later, the blocking software will catch up with them and we won't see any more of that particular piece of spam. But more will take its place.

I'm noticing this increase today because I so rarely see much spam anymore. I run all of my email, both incoming and outgoing, through Google Mail, which seem to have the most efficient spam filters I've ever had the pleasure of using.

I've been using Google as a route for my email for several years now and I've gotten used to never seeing a piece of spam for weeks on end. That doesn't mean I'm not receiving them. It's just that Google's filters are good at weeding them out of my inbox. Just today, I went and checked my Spam folder. I've received over 4100 items in the last 30 days. Today, I appear to have received almost 100 new ones, many of them two or three times.

But here's what's even more impressive. I've been checking my spam folder every day for about a week and I have yet to find a single piece of legitimate mail in there. Whatever kind of magic algorithms Google has cooked up to separate the good from the bad, it's working. And I continue to be impressed.

If you're getting more spam than you'd like, you should give serious consideration to routing your mail through Google's servers. It's a good way to stop spam. And as a bonus, you always have a complete backup copy of every email you've received, sent and deleted for as long as you've been sending that mail through Google. And you can find anything in seconds by using their tremendous search function.

If you'd like to set up your own version of spam-free email but you don't know how to use Gmail, drop me a line. I'd be happy to show you how easy it is to set yourself up.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The story behind the story

If you're like me, you like to read the details about news stories after the initial fuss has died down. Walking through the whole thing with a talented guide is always interesting and usually ends up helping with your own writing.

Perhaps you came across a recent story that got a bit of buzz in the mainstream media. The story was called Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages, by Julia Angwin and Geoffrey A. Fowler. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal. The bulk of the story is behind the paywall.

The gist of the story is that according to some research done as part of a doctoral thesis, Wikipedia is losing editors at a tremendous rate. That's how the story played out in most papers that carried some version of the story.

Doc Searls is one of those media guides I mentioned. In a blog post yesterday, he looked at the initial story and then dug deeper. He also went through a lengthy analysis prepared by Wikipedia itself that put the findings into context.

He winds up his piece with a bit of a personal note by telling us about his own experience as a Wikipedia editor.

It's a great read and by the end of it, I feel like I have a better idea of how the story developed and what it really means. I like that.

Who are the people who help you find the story behind the story?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On-the-ground in Honduras

The election in Honduras is going ahead on Sunday, Nov 29, although what it will accomplish is very much up for debate.

For background on the vote from the mainstream media, here's a report from Reuters.

For a more opinionated piece, read Rick Arnold's comments. Rick is the coordinator of Common Frontiers Canada, which is one of my long-time web clients.

Over the years, I've marveled at the hard-working folk who donate their energy and time to educate the rest of us about North (and now South) American Free Trade.

Common Frontiers is part of a delegation of observers that are on the ground in Honduras right now, filing reports back to Canada. It's a scary and exciting place to be and their reports are good reading.

You can find the daily reports in a special section I've created at

Let me know what you think.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Peter McKay should be ashamed of himself

mackay.jpgCanada's Minister of Defense has a serious credibility problem. If ever there was a time to keep your lip zipped, it's when a senior government official has just testified to a parliamentary committee that Canada might have been involved in war crimes.

Ironically, I spent today helping prepare for a seminar on crisis communication. My advice? Stick to the facts. Say what you know and don't speculate. It didn't occur to me that anyone needs to be told that you also don't start shooting the messenger - I thought that was a given. But apparently, Peter McKay didn't get the memo.

For those of you who missed it, here's an excerpt from a story about Richard Colvin's testimony to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
All detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured by Afghan officials and many of the prisoners were innocent, says a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Appearing before a House of Commons committee Wednesday, Richard Colvin blasted the detainees policies of Canada and compared them with the policies of the British and the Netherlands.

The detainees were captured by Canadian soldiers then handed over to the Afghan intelligence service, called the NDS.

Colvin said Canada was taking six times as many detainees as British troops and 20 times as many as the Dutch.

He said unlike the British and Dutch, Canada did not monitor their conditions; took days, weeks or months to notify the Red Cross; kept poor records; and to prevent scrutiny, the Canadian Forces leadership concealed this behind "walls of secrecy."

"As I learned more about our detainee practices, I came to a conclusion they were contrary to Canada's values, contrary to Canada's interests, contrary to Canada's official policies and also contrary to international law. That is, they were un-Canadian, counterproductive and probably illegal.

"According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was a standard operating procedure," Colvin said.

He said the most common forms of torture were beatings, whipping with power cables, the use of electricity, knives, open flames and rape.

Colvin worked in Kandahar for the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2006. He later moved to Kabul, where he was second-in-command at the Canadian Embassy. In both jobs, Colvin visited detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers to Afghan prisons. He wrote reports about those visits and sent them to Ottawa.
That seems like the kind of event that calls out for a neutral response from the Canadian government. Something like, "These are serious allegations and we want to find out everything we can before we make any further comment." You don't want to prejudice anything. And you can't prove a negative.

But instead of a reasoned response, the government immediately set out to smear Colvin and pain him as "a suspect source" and a "Taliban dupe." This is what Peter McKay said in the House of Commons the next day:
“What we’re talking about here is not only hearsay, we’re talking about basing much of his evidence on what the Taliban have been specifically instructed to lie about if captured," he said (via the Toronto Sun)
And this from the Canadian Press:
MacKay said Colvin had not provided "one scintilla of evidence" that wasn't second-or third-hand information.

He painted Colvin as a Taliban dupe and said Canadians are being asked to accept the word of prisoners "who throw acid in the face of school children, who blow up buses of civilians in their own country."
Nor was MacKay alone. According to the Ottawa Citizen,
A government that really wanted to change the way business was done would want nothing more than to look into this kind of allegation and see whether there's any truth to it. Instead:

Ontario Tory MP Cheryl Gallant said that Colvin’s allegations “would not hold up in a court of law” and British Columbian MP Jim Abbott accused Colvin of having no first-hand verification that soldiers handed anyone over to torture, given that the supposedly abused detainees he interviewed did not implicate Canada.
I don't know why the Tories let this issue derail them so completely from a fairly standard crisis response. But they've handled it badly. And what was obviously not a good situation is going to become a lot worse.

There are serious allegations being made against specific people. An inquiry is probably necessary to put the issue to rest - especially when the first response has given more credence to the allegations instead of less.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The elusive goal - death with dignity

Since I've moved to Victoria, I've had the good fortune to get to know David Cubberly. Although he was my local MLA for a couple of years, I got to know him through mutual friends and pot lucks we've been at.

After several years covering politics at the Saskatchewan legislature in the latter part of the last century - boy does that make me sound old! - I've become a bit cynical about politics and politicians. But David is what I would call one of the good ones.

He didn't run in our last provincial election and he's turned his attention to local community work. He's also become a blogger and I recommend his writings. He's a well informed, thoughtful writer with a lot of interesting things to say.

His most recent post is called simply "Dignified Goodbyes." It's an eloquent essay about why the time has come for society to seriously consider euthanasia as an option for terminally ill people.

He writes about his aunt, who died peacefully, in her sleep, and how everyone who knew her was pleased by such a gentle death. But his mother, wasting away with cancer, suffered through a long, painful decline that was a misery for her and her caregivers.
If to be unaware of passing away is deemed by most a good death, next best would be choosing the moment in a manner that mimicked, so far as possible, a gentle way of passing. That’s a scenario not currently available to most of us, a situation many feel we need to change.
Here in Victoria, I've become involved with the Victoria Hospice as a Board member. If ever there was a group whose members understand the importance of dying with dignity, the hospice workers are it. Death is a subject that most people avoid, yet it is as natural and as wondrous as birth - and as inevitable. All of us will die. We just don't know when.

David says the time has come for society to reconsider the question of a death with dignity.
I think we're coming to a time of decision with regard to personal choice for a dignified ending of life. There are signs of an emerging resolve on the public's part to see the issue addressed, especially in defined situations like terminal illness. Here on the west coast, where Sue Rodriguez was a public figure, where neighouring Oregon's Dying with Dignity Law demonstrates how safeguards can work, there's strong sentiment in favour of change.

Many believe it's ethically wrong to force someone dying slowly in great pain to simply tough it out. Yes palliative care should always be available and still isn't, as should hospice, to enable those who can to hang on until disease runs its full course. But we must face what most doctors recognize: palliation of suffering may be ineffectual at the higher reaches of pain, and the agony of lost autonomy and dignity can lead people to want to go.

It's time we recognized individual choice in the matter and ensured a humane and compassionate way to exercise it.
David's post is a lengthy look at a lot of the issues around physician-assisted death. He also talks about MP Francine Lalonde's private member's bill that is working its way through the House of Commons and he urges readers who would like to see parliament deal with the issue seriously to contact their MP and make their views known. (Judging by the volume of Google results when I searched under "bill c-384 canada news" I'd say that the anti-euthanasia lobby is very, very active and formidable, so I'm not sure that the bill has any chance of moving forward.)

Still, I urge you to read David's entire essay, and, if you agree, consider adding your voice to those who believe that the time has come to ensure that all Canadians have the right to live - and die - in dignity.

Online bookstores reveal our future

There are a lot of people that like to predict doom. It's an easy thing to do. After all, if you're wrong, that's a good thing, right?

In my lifetime, as in yours, a lot has changed. And the pace of change appears to be picking up speed. Or maybe that's another part of ageing. The more we can remember, the more items we have to compare with what we have now and it seems that more things are different. And they are.

Our information revolution has made it easier for doomsayers to operate. No matter what they're talking about, the Internet makes it easy to find evidence that just might prove their prediction. The online arguments against H1N1 vaccination stand up as evidence of that.

What's more interesting however, are online discussions that cut through the doomsayers arguments, exposing them as self-serving nonsense and opening up a more reasoned look at the issue and perhaps stimulating some honest discussion about the relative merits for and against. OK, I admit it. Deep down, I'm still an idealist.

That kind of confusing, round-about opening brings me to Clay Shirky. He's an interesting guy. He's not a glass half empty or a glass half full type. He's more of the "Hey, look at that glass," sort. He doesn't post to his blog that frequently, but when he does, people pay attention. He's one of those thinkers who people pay attention to because what he says always seems to make so much sense.

His most recent post is called Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization. Unlike my struggles with clarity in the opening to this post, Shirky grabs the reader's attention right from the start. Here's the first two paragraphs:
Last month, the American Booksellers Association published an open letter to the Justice Department, asking Justice to investigate Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon after they lowered prices of best-selling books to under $10. The threat, the ABA says, is dire: “If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.”

Got that? Lower prices will lead to higher prices, and cheap books threaten to reduce the range of ideas in circulation. And don’t just take the ABA’s word for it. They also quote John Grisham’s agent and the owner of a book store, who both agree that cheap books are a horrible no-good very bad thing. So bad, in fact, that the Department of Justice must get involved, to shield the public from the scourge of affordable reading. (Just for the record, the ABA is also foursquare against ebooks being sold more cheaply than paper books, and thinks maybe Justice should look into that too.)
He goes on to effectively sever the arguments of the ABA, among others, that lower prices for books are a threat to knowledge. Which is the same conclusion most people will come to if they think about it for very long. From there, he speculates on the future of bookstores in the Internet age.

If you've never read Shirky's stuff, go ahead and check out this post and grab the RSS feed. I think you'll like it. He has a disconcerting habit of taking issues that I've been mulling over and talking about them in such a clear and straightforward manner that I can't remember why I was puzzled by them in the first place. And I like writing that does that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Further notes on the Age of Twitter

Following up on my longish post about Stephen Fry's noodlings about Twitter, here are some pointers to interesting takes on Twitter and social media that I came across.

This is how Twitter will die. And, thus, live forever
Todd Maffin speculates that Twitter has reached the technology tipping point, "the moment when a fad evolves into being a secure part of our lives — and it is the point at which a technology becomes invisible. Not literally invisible, of course, but practically invisible in our day-to-day lives.

Beyond Social Media
Doc Searls, one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto (now coming up on its 10th anniversary) has a thoughtful post on social media. And he starts by wondering whether the whole thing is a crock. What bugs him is that essential elements of social media - like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace - are private platforms, not public. Like the early days of Instant Messaging, we have a series of private companies competing for users with different platforms. Computers and what we use them for should be personal - and these new social media tools are proprietary. They need to evolve, as has email, blogging, instant messaging.

Nine Things Social Media Can Do
Mark Evans has a list of ways that Social Media can work for business. He says he came up with the list "in response to B.L. Ochman’s post in AdAge about the 10 things social media can’t do."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stephen Fry considers the Age of Twitter

I've been a fan of Stephen Fry for several years but I've only recently been following his blog. He's been journaling his thoughts for years, as it turns out, and the Web has given him a great platform.

He is a thoughtful, funny, introspective and wide-ranging writer. His prose is always entertaining, usually self-deprecating but also very pointed. He is a man of sharp opinions and someone who has little time for those who aren't prepared to defend the logic of their arguments.

He doesn't publish regularly but when he does, his posts are usually thoughtful and lengthy. So unlike my previous tongue-in-cheek (or perhaps just cheeky) post about listening to podcasts at double speed to save time, I need to set aside a block of time to digest his essays.

Although I took three weeks to get to it, his latest work was worth the wait.

In Poles, Politeness and Politics in the Age of Twitter Fry chooses a recent media controversy (over 1600 comments!) in England as a jumping-off point for a discussion on what the instant transmission nature of the Internet means for writers - especially some, like him, who are prone to expressing an opinion without fully thinking it through.

But he doesn't just state his opinion and leave it there. He is a story-teller. First, we hear about his latest misadventures in Poland, where he appeared on a local television program and ended up offending a lot of people:
Only a week and a half ago I was asked to appear on Channel 4 news to comment on the Conservative Party and their decision to ally themselves in the European Parliament with the Polish Law and Justice Party, a nationalist grouping whose members have made statements of the most unpleasantly homophobic and antisemitic nature. I usually decline such invitations, and how I wish I had done so on this occasion. I think I accepted for the achingly dumb reason that I happened to be in the Holborn area all that day and the ITN news studios were just round the corner, so it seemed like an easy gig. The more probable explanation is that, as my father and squadrons of school teachers correctly reminded me throughout my childhood and youth, “Stephen just doesn’t think.” Anyway. Words tumbled from my lips during that interview that were as idiotic, ignorant and offensive as you could imagine. It had all been proceeding along perfectly acceptable lines until I said something like “let’s not forget which side of the border Auschwitz was on.”

I mean, what was I thinking? Well, as I say, I wasn’t. The words just formed themselves in a line in my head, as words will, and marched out of the mouth. I offer no excuse. I seemed to imply that the Polish people had been responsible for the most infamous of all the death factories of the Third Reich. I didn’t even really at the time notice the import of what I had said, so gave myself no opportunity instantly to retract the statement. It was a rubbishy, cheap and offensive remark that I have been regretting ever since.
That story then moves us to a reflective section on how politics is evolving in the age of Twitter. Along the way, we find out about the traditional Three Estates (I had never really known that), how the Press became the Fourth Estate, and now we are entering, perhaps the age of the Fifth Estate.
Well, then. All in the same week the Fourth Estate has been rescued by Twitter and shamed by Twitter. Has the twinternet now become the Fifth Estate? And if so is it safe in the hands of people like you and me? Especially me.

Without, I hope, too much self-pity, I do seem to have made myself a target. Journalists who don’t understand what Twitter really is (the overwhelming majority) will use my name as a kind of shorthand for the service. The fact that I have been on it for a whole year (ie a decade, see second paragraph above) and have in that time accumulated a fairly large number of followers allows them lazily to go straight to my “Twitter feed” (as they insist on calling it) and either crediting me with being a kind of a Citizen Smith of the Twitting Popular Front, or blaming me for hypocritically claiming to strike blows for press freedom with one hand while trying to censor journalism with the other.
What are we to make of this new-found power of Twitter to wield public opinion? Are the superstars of Twitter (like Fry, with 840,000 followers) ushering in a new way of influencing? Will their tweets change the course of events? Should they? And what does it mean to be charged with this kind of responsibility? Will it become a force for increased democratization of opinion, as many believe it now is?
Twitter may seem to some to be dominated by bien pensant, liberal spirits at the moment. Will I be so optimistic about it when these spirits are matched by forces of religiosity and nationalism that might not accord with my chattering-class, liberal elite preferences? When the political machines march in and start recruiting and acquiring millions of followers, giving them the power to close sites with DDOS slashdotting campaigns, what will I say then?

Well, all kinds of bleak scenarios are possible. But for the moment let me believe in democracy and the good sense and good intentions of the commons. We commons have long treasured our ancient liberties. They stretch back in time, marked by Magna Carta, Milton’s Areopagitica, 1688 and the Bill of Rights, Wilkes and Liberty, the Peterloo Massacre, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, the Reform Bill, the Jarrow marches and innumerable other milestones that have led us to this point. The ancient liberties of the common people have found expression in plays, poems, ballads, essays, journalism, cinema, television and now they find a voice in Twitter and the internet. One medium has never replaced the other, but complemented and enhanced it. Let there not be war between Twitter and the press. Let them both be agents for freedom of speech and a better way of governing ourselves.
So at the end of this lengthy post about the nature of discourse and the evolution of social change (my description - not Fry's) we come back to what Twitter is. It is a 140 character slice of time. Individually, tweets are just that. But collectively, they have the power to influence and affect events. But that power cuts more than one way. Good things and bad things can result.

Unlike previous communications revolutions (like the printing press, the telephone, radio, etc) I don't expect this Internet-revolution to settle down into a settling-out period. We aren't going to become comfortable with this technology and agree on some standards of use. Internet-time, as Fry put it, moves far too fast for that. As quickly as we master one technology, we are behind the curve on the next.

But I think that will be a good thing. Because no matter what means we use to spread our message, it is ultimately the message that matters. Content is king. That has always been the case, but with each new exciting technology, we forget that.

For most of us, mastering the medium will remain a never-ending struggle to keep up. Or as Fry concludes:
The best I can do is hope for a quiet week ahead…

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Why didn't I think of this before?

I used to listen to a lot of podcasts. Lots and lots of podcasts. But it was easy - even enjoyable - to do when I was commuting 3 or 4 hours each day. That was what I was often doing when I lived in Hamilton but was working in Toronto.

But now I'm living in Victoria and either working at home or at an office just 10 minutes away. That cuts down on the time for listening to podcasts considerably.

I like to listen to them while walking the dogs and if I ever ride the bus (which I occasionally take to work.) But that still only works out to a fraction of what I used to have available.

But here's today's insight. I use an iPhone for my listening. This morning I looked at the podcast page and noticed the option to listen at double speed. Using it turns a 30 minute podcast into a 15-minute one. But it doesn't change the pitch (where speakers sound like the Chipmunks) so it is quite normal sounding. It's a great alternative for spoken word items, like podcasts or audio books.

I don't recommend it for everything but it's a great alternative for those of us who don't want to spend so much time catching up on our podcasts.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, October 30, 2009

This could be useful.

One of the problems I've had lately is that I spend a lot of time on Twitter or Facebook and less time writing blog posts. So I've downloaded an app for my phone that will let me post to The Daily Upload. I can also upload pics.

This one was taken on my walk with the dogs the other day. I used autostitch to create a panorama.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, October 16, 2009

Parkour on a bicycle

Via, we have a terrific way to start a Friday.

Danny MacAskill's creativity on a bicycle is without peer. Sure, it may be dangerous, and you might not recommend it to your kids, but you've got to admire the skill level.


Monday, October 12, 2009

YouTube's Greatest Hits in 4 minutes

This first appeared a few weeks ago. But I hadn't seen it before. I was surprised at how many of the clips I recognized.

Have a look for yourself. And if you want to see a list, go to the YouTube page, where they've got a link to all the clips.

The story of TPN - it saved my life

I had a series of medical problems in 1996, which cascaded into a full-blown crisis that ended with me sacrificing a few of my inner organs in order to stay alive. Thankfully, it all worked out fine and I'm still here today.

The one thing that may have been the most important reason I'm still around to talk about this was something called TPN - (Total Parenteral Nutrition.) It's a way of getting nutrition without using your digestive system. I still have a cool scar on my jugular that I can show you sometime.

I was on TPN until after my surgery, about 4 or 5 weeks in total, I think. It was literally a life-saver, but I never bothered to find out much more about it.

Today, I ran across this interesting post, about the story of TPN and the woman who was the human test subject of it. It's called "Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story." Judy Taylor lived for 20 years without eating, thanks to TPN. The book is written by Shireen Jeejeebhoy.

Here's the blurb about it:
Thirty-four-year-old Judy Ellis Taylor relished her simple, happy life. She had a loving husband, three young daughters, and a beautiful home. But Judy’s life changed dramatically in 1970 when intestinal blood clots annihilated her digestive system, leaving her with the certainty of starving to death in a cold Toronto hospital.

Back in 1970, most doctors still considered long-term intravenous feeding, then called alimentation or hyperalimentation, to be science fiction. A radical young immigrant doctor sought to change that through his groundbreaking research on what is now known as TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition). Judy’s surgeons heard of Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy’s work and sent her to him; together Judy and Jeejeebhoy agreed that Judy’s only hope was to become a human test subject for TPN, and even more radically Home TPN.

Judy became the first lifeliner, the first person to live without ever eating one morsel of food. And Jeejeebhoy was the Canadian physician who made it happen. Like Banting and Best before them, this pioneering duo made medical history. For the next twenty years, Judy and Jeejeebhoy, or “Jeej” as Judy called him, worked to develop and hone TPN.

Judy willingly lived with the possibility of death every day, learned to love her TPN lifeline, learned medical terms, and endured medical tests and strange symptoms in spite of her fears so that she could live. But she didn’t just live on TPN, she served as a guinea pig for nutritional research and inspired others to accept TPN into their lives. Fellow lifeliners relied on Judy to give them the courage to live on TPN, to show them that normal life was possible on TPN. Her neighbours and community enjoyed her zest for life, her baking, her singing, and her willingness to help out wherever needed. She did that while raising three girls, cooking dinner for her family nightly, even though she could not touch a bite.
It looks interesting, especially for someone like me, who has a personal connection to the story.

Link to a video about the book
Link to info about the book

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Free speech lawsuit against Vancouver Olympic rules

This is something I haven't heard anything about in the media around here. Interesting. I'm re-posting this blog post from Boing Boing. Looks like it could be an interesting issue. I expect we're going to start hearing a lot more of these kinds of stories as Olympic hype gets into high gear around here.

"Shawn sez, 'The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is aiding two activists in suing the City of Vancouver over a 2010 Olympic bylaw which may encroach on free speech and violate Canada's Charter of Rights.'

With David Eby of The B.C. Civil Liberties Association representing them, Chris Shaw, a UBC professor of ophthalmology, neuroscientist (and Vancouver Observer blogger), and The Olympic Resistance Network's Alissa Westergard-Thorp,announced this morning that they have filed a statement of claim against the City of Vancouver in the Supreme Court of BC. Their lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of an Olympic bylaw limiting free speech during the 2010 Winter Games that was passed by council in July, Eby told reporters this morning.

The BBCLA, with plaintiffs Shaw and Westergard-Thorp, claim their rights to free speech and freedom of movement will be denied once the Winter Games by-laws passed by city council take effect. They say the bylaws, commonly referred to as the omnibus bylaws, will infringe their Charter rights and are unconstitutional....

The bylaw includes a passage entitled 'prohibitions regarding city land,' which includes a clause that will almost surely trigger a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge. Clause 4B makes it illegal during the Winter Games without authorization to:

'(a) bring onto city land any
(i) weapon,
(ii) object, including any rock, stick, or glass or metal bottle useable as a weapon, except for crutches or a cane that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(iii) large object, including any bag, or luggage that exceeds 23 x 40 x 55 centimetres;
(iv) voice amplification equipment including any megaphone,
(v) motorized vehicle, except for a motorized wheel chair or scooter that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(vi) anything that makes noise that interferes with the enjoyment of entertainment on city land by other persons,
(vii) distribute any advertising material or install or carry any sign unless licensed to do so by the city.'

Protest signs usually are made using sticks, often are larger than subsection (iii) allows (as are puppets and other protest devices), demonstrations almost always employ megaphones or other voice amplification devices, and can well 'interfere with the enjoyment' of the Olympic spectacle by who chose to be so offended. Protesters often pass out leaflets as well. Thus, any of the dozens of protests I've attended over the last few years would easily be in violation of five of seven subsections.
BCCLA Files Lawsuit Against City For Violation of Charter Rights, VO Blogger Chris Shaw Key Plaintiff

(Thanks, Shawn!)

(Image: Support the 2010 Games, a Creative Commons Attribution image from Silly Gweilo's Flickr stream)

(Via Boing Boing.)

Disappearing in the Digital Age

Wired magazine ran a cover story in September about disappearing in the digital age, which profiled a guy who tried to fake his own death. It also went through a lot of the ins and outs of trying to erase your past - and how the people trying to find you do that.

But an interesting postscript to the story was a $5,000 reward to anyone who could track down Evan Ratliff, the author of the story. He had agreed to try to disappear after the article appeared. If he could stay hidden for 30 days, he'd earn an extra $3,000. The recap of the hunt for him is here.

Ratliff was eventually found but the story of how that happened is a worthy article itself. And that's what Wired will be publishing in their December issue. Ratliff is talking to everyone involved in hunting him down and it should make for interesting reading.

Who hasn't imagined just disappearing for good at times? It may be for romantic reasons, or just the urge to chuck it all and start over. But it appears that doing so is not as easy as it once was. As Google and other social media sites catalogue more and more of our digital lives, it's just going to get harder and harder to disappear.

Not that I was considering it of course...but still.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Over five years of words

This is interesting. There's a fun site called where you can type in the name of a blog site, or just a bunch of words, and it will create a Word Cloud, based on the text supplied.

So I put in The Daily Upload and this was the result. Not sure what to make of all this. Or should I say I don't SEE what the point is...


Try it yourself at

Thanks to Tris Hussey for the pointer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The speech Safire wrote for Nixon if Apollo 11 astronauts were stranded on the moon.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Columnist and conservative speechwriter William Safire died yesterday at age 79. Here is the speech he drafted for president Nixon to read in the event that Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong found themselves stranded to die on the moon. I am happy to note that Messrs. Aldrin and Armstrong are all still alive (as is Michael Collins, who orbited the moon while his colleagues walked on her surface). William Safire's Finest Speech. (Gawker, via Scott Beale)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Breathtaking sand animation

I don't know what to say about this - except to call it magic. I can see that Kseniya Simonova is creating the images on the stage but I can hardly believe it. It's hard to imagine but it might be even more powerful if I could understand the language. It's a very powerful piece of performance art.

Simonova's performance won her the Ukraine's version of "Britain's Got Talent" last June. The YouTube video has racked up 2.5 million views so far. Her winning performance was a moving recounting of Germany conquering Ukraine during World War II. From an article in the Guardian:
She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman's face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene "you are always near".
Watch it for yourself.

Link to YouTube

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Catching up with Roz

Roz Savage is a British rower who is on her way to becoming the first woman to row solo across the Pacific. I thought I'd linked to her blog her previously, but I can't find any previous posts. I may have posted about it on Twitter but not here. Anyway, I thought I'd close the loop by letting you know that she's finished stage 2 of her epic adventure by rowing from Hawaii to Tarawa. You'll have to use Google Earth to find that place.

Right now, Roz is back in New York, getting ready for a five-day ride through the countryside to raise awareness about global warming (some people just never quit impressing me) but she's posted some very nice retrospectives of her latest journey on her new web page.

Here's the link to one of them.

If you've got the time, I'd recommend going back and reading some of those posts made from the middle of the Pacific. It was a fascinating journey and fun to see how she's made such great use of new communication technology, like sat/phones that let her blog every day from the ocean. And Twitter, which she is active on. And a bunch of other social media tools. It is a great case study of how to build a community.

It's all on her website at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Warren Buffet on scheduling meetings

I found this gem on the Signal vs Noise blog from 37Signals.If true, it's another illustration of the value of not measuring up to preconceived ideas of how things are supposed to be done.
"I recently heard about Warren Buffet’s approach to scheduling meetings. I can’t confirm this is true (I’ve never met him), but I hear from a reputable source that he usually doesn’t set up meetings more than a day in advance.

If someone wants to see him, they are told to call and set up the meeting when they can see him tomorrow. So if you want to meet with him next Friday, you call on Thursday and say ‘Can I see Mr. Buffet tomorrow?’

I love the simplicity of the rule: I can see you today if you asked me yesterday, but I can’t fill up my schedule any further in advance. This way he can determine how he wants to spend his time within the context of the next 24 hours instead of booking things weeks or months in the future. Now his schedule is relevant instead of prescient.
(Via Signal vs. Noise.)

Fantastic photos of our solar system

There are some breathtaking shots in here, taken from space probes and the Hubble telescope. This excerpt is from an article at
We've been looking at other planets through telescopes for four centuries. But if you really want to get to know a place, there's no substitute for being there. And in the past decade, more than 20 spacecraft have ventured into the deepest reaches of our solar system. These probes, unlike the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories that merely orbit Earth, have actually traveled to other planets and approached the Sun, sending back pictures that humble or awe, even as they advance astronomers' understanding of our corner of the universe.
- Read the whole article
- Watch a slideshow of all the photos

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Alan Turing Finally Got a Posthumous Apology

This is an inspiring story about a long-ago wrong finally being made right. It's also a wonderful modern-day tale about a single person's efforts to make sure the right thing gets done. And it's a great story about just how valuable and powerful a tool social media can be for making change happen.

I tweeted a link to this story earlier this morning but I thought that it deserved a blog post too, especially for those of you that aren't using Twitter.

Alan Turing is a legend in the programming community, especially among cryptographers. But he was also gay and he paid a steep price for it, as the story notes:
Alan Turing did three amazing things in his working life: he laid the foundations of computer science by thinking up a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine, he worked through the Second World War breaking Nazi German codes, and after the war he worked on artificial intelligence and defined the Turing Test. His life was cut short at 41 when he had begun to work on morphogenesis in plants.

Alan Turing was also gay and he was prosecuted for "gross indecency" (essentially being gay) in 1952. To avoid prison he agreed to be injected with female hormones as a sort of 'cure' for homosexuality. Two years after his prosecution he was dead: he killed himself by eating an apple dipped in potassium cyanide.
In this post, John Graham-Cumming tells the story of how he used the British Government's online petition tool to generate enough public interest to end up with a formal apology from the Prime Minister.

It's a great story. Here's the link.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

16 million views and counting

Ever wonder whether you're worrying too much about timing/ordering/organizing in your daily life?

The video I've posted below might make you pause - once you're done laughing. "Business Time" is hilarious...and so true...

But there are some other things you should notice about this too. Take a look at the statistics for this little ditty performed by Flight of the Conchords - two very funny guys from New Zealand who are a Grammy Award-winning comedy duo. Find out more about them in their Wikipedia entry.

Note that this video, one of many that are posted on YouTube, has been viewed over 16 million times. That's a big number - and it's just one of the videos. That kind of exposure is worth a lot of money. I'm sure it's also resulted in a lot of sales of the group's DVD's and CDs, as well as spurred interest in their TV show.

Now suppose that the people that filmed that TV performance had imposed a take-down order on YouTube. How likely is it that millions of people around the world would know about this comedy duo?

The incredible power of social media is that something as simple as posting a video to the site (something almost anyone can do) can be viewed by millions with no more resources required.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked whether I could package up four short videos for a client and create a DVD for a presentation. I was able to do that but I also offered to post the winning entry to YouTube - it didn't take any more effort on my part. (You can see it here.) So far, without any further attention, it's already been seen by over 500 people.

Creating and sharing content is not a new skill. We've always done it. But now, we can share it with far more people than ever before, in ways that we might not even have contemplated.

Here's the Flight of the Conchords video.


Monday, August 31, 2009

There's an app for that

Apple's iPhone commercials include the line "There's an app for that," which is a great slogan. But I figured it was just a bit of hype until I saw this post by Andy Ihnatko on his Celestial Waste of Bandwidth blog:
Okay. So you’re in a theater watching “Transformers 2″ and you desperately need to go to the bathroom. Yes, launching an iPhone app in the middle of a movie is not socially acceptable but neither is whizzing involuntarily right in your seat, so you go ahead and launch RunPee.

The app connects to a central site and sends you a list of all currently-playing movies. Tap “District 9″ and it displays a list of scene and line cues from that movie designating the start of a good moment to leave for the bathroom without missing anything important. A timer tells you how much time you have left before the movie starts getting interesting again and there’s a synopsis of any details you might have missed, to read on your walk back to the theater.

If this is an ongoing problem for you, and the phrase “Don’t buy the 72 ounce Dr. Pepper at the concession stand” never occurs to you, you can launch the app and tap a Start button when the movie begins. The app will tell you at a glance how many more minutes you’ll need to hold it until the next gap in the action.

This just might be the most brilliant thing ever.

I bet it won’t make it into one of Apple’s iPhone commercials, though.

(”Say you have a bladder-control problem that affects your ability to see a movie without wetting the seat. There’s an app for that.”)
See the full post here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock - 40 years on

Forty years ago this weekend, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was held at Max Yasgar's farm and the world has never forgotten.

Like most people of my generation, I'm sure I was there, (everyone else says they were, so I must have been, right?) Thanks to the album and the movie and Joni Mitchell's song, I have nice complete memories which seem like my own. If you don't remember it, you can find a pretty complete description of what happened on this Wikipedia entry.

Over at the Huffington Post this weekend, there are several articles about Woodstock and it's legacy. One I like was written by Paul Krassner who had a unique perspective for the event. Here's an excerpt:
While The Who were performing, [Abbie Hoffman] went up on stage with the intention of informing the audience that John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and leader of the White Panther Party, was serving ten years in prison for the possession of two joints; that this was really the politics behind the music.

Before Abbie could get his message across, Peter Townshend transformed his guitar into a tennis racket and smashed him on the head with a swift backhand. Townshend had assumed that Abbie was just another crazed fan. When The Who played at Fillmore East the previous week, a plainclothes cop rushed on stage and tried to grab the mike. He intended to warn the audience that there was a fire next door and the theater had to be cleared, but he was able to do so only after Townshend kneed him in the balls.
But there was more to what was going on than just the escapades on stage. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

Krassner wraps up his piece with a nice image:
But the seeds that were planted then continue to blossom now. And the spirit of Woodstock continues to be celebrated at such events as the Rainbow Gathering, Burning Man, Earthdance, the Oregon County Fair, the Starwood Neo-Pagan Festival, Pete Seeger's Clearwater Festival, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, and yes, the electronic magic montage of musicians and singers around the globe performing "Stand By Me" on YouTube.
By the way, if you haven't watched that Stand By Me video yet, do it right now. It will make you feel good all over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Behind the front cover

In an age where you just turn on your computer and everything is there, ready to be explored, it's easy to forget how much work goes into making things work.

Peter Belanger is a photographer who was asked to shoot a cover for MacWorld magazine.

In an inspired bit of "here's something cool" film-making, he documented the whole process, using time-lapse photography, from the initial photo shoot through to the final completion of the magazine cover.

It's a fascinating little video. I especially like watching while the images are worked on in Photoshop to become the final images on the cover. It's quite a process.

Here's the link to Peter's website, where you can watch the video. I'd have to crop the size to embed it in my blog, and I really want you to see it in its native format.


Cut back on cheating by encouraging learning

The premise of this article seems so sensible, it's hard to understand why anyone would have a problem with it.
Anderman said much of the reason student cheating is so extensive is that schools place an emphasis on testing, assessment and ultimately performance-based results focused on getting the best grades and scoring highly on tests, which causes a lot of anxiety and stress for students.

"Research that I have done and some of my colleagues (have done has) shown that if you focus in classrooms on intrinsic learning, on learning really for the sake of learning and really get kids involved in long-term projects, in-depth kinds of tasks, they’re going to learn the material, they’re going to learn it well," said Anderman, a former public school teacher.

"They’re going to maintain their interest and motivation for the material, and at the same time they’ll still do fine on the test, but they won’t get all stressed about the test."

When it comes to motivational predictors of cheating, Anderman said when students believe that the teacher’s goal is to have them learn and understand materials and appreciate what they’re learning, it’s proven consistently in research that cheating is much less likely to happen.
Call me a utopian, but I do believe that this premise should apply to our schools. And if it also applied to our workplace, we'd be a lot better off.

Substitute "employee" for "student" and "manager" for "teacher" and I can imagine a workplace that functions a lot better than the results-driven culture we have now. I don't mean that employees shouldn't be expected to deliver results. But I do think that they need to be encouraged to understand what and why they're being asked to do and supported in the process.

I'm not anti-competitive but when everything comes down to "the bottom line," the end result is a negative. The old saying "the end justifies the means" is, for me, wrong. Honesty, transparency, clarity - those are the values that should be driving what we do.

We know that "what" our children are learning is important. Now we need to become as concerned with "how" they're learning and how they'll benefit from it down the road. But we'll need to change a lot more than just our school system's testing methods to make it happen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When tactics drown out strategy

We've been struggling with a client who doesn't like spending time worrying about strategy. She's quite happy to get right down to tactics - and she wants to argue and debate the merits of them for hours.

We've been trying to get her to see that spending time on tactics without a clear strategy (or a strategic plan, as we call it) is not a good use of her time and will ultimately hurt her chances of meeting her overall communication goals.

As usual, while I was working through the problem, Internet marketing guru Seth Godin nailed it for me.
Most of us are afraid of strategy, because we don't feel confident outlining one unless we're sure it's going to work. And the 'work' part is all tactical, so we focus on that. (Tactics are easy to outline, because we say, "I'm going to post this." If we post it, we succeed. Strategy is scary to outline, because we describe results, not actions, and that means opportunity for failure.)
Here's the link to his article.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

House next door burns down

We came home Sunday to discover the house behind us in flames. It was frightening, especially because I thought it was our house that was on fire as we drove up. (Click on the photo to see a larger size)

Apparently, there was some kind of an explosion, then the flames started. Speculation is that a BBQ may have blown up. Fortunately the family of four got out safely and are uninjured. But the house is a write-off.

I've got some other photos that I'll add to this page later.

One thing this does is make you realize how fast these things happen. I think I should consider more insurance...and make sure I've got off-site back-ups.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Michael Collins: “Carrying The Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys”

Today is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Andy Ihnatko honoured the day by dragging out his copy of Michael Collins' "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys:" and crafting a very moving and timely blog post:

Last night I got down my copy of “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys,” Michael Collins’ first-person account of Apollo 11. It’s one of the most marvelous books about the space program ever written. It was published shortly after the landings and stays firmly in the orbit of the events of July 16-24 1969 (the training, the engineering, and the mission itself), but also provides important context and background.

As pilot of the command module, Collins was no idle spectator to the moment when Armstrong and Aldrin became the first to step foot on the Moon. Firstly, because his role was no less important than that of the two astronauts who undocked from the command module and set off for the Sea of Tranquility. Secondly…because he was on the wrong side of the Moon at the time. Ironically enough, he was closer to the event than any other man or woman…but he couldn’t even listen to the radio chatter, let alone watch it live on video.

Andy copied out some of the more memorable parts from Collins' book about the time when Aldrin and Armstrong were down on the surface. It's a great perspective. As Andy notes, after 40 years, we are tempted to take what happened for granted. Reading these first-person accounts make us realize just how gripping and risky it really was. No one knew what was going to happen - they just went ahead and did it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A day to remember

Forty years ago today, July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off into the heavens, bound for the moon and launching a new era in space travel. If you are going to draw up a list of events that re-shaped society, walking on the moon certainly rates as one of them.

To honour the occasion, NASA has launched a special commemorative website, featuring a collection of restored video clips from that historic trip. And "The Big Picture" blog has a great collection of photos culled from that magical trip. I'm amazed how many of those images have become icons that I instantly recognize. (Link to the story)

What were you doing back then? I have a memory of playing little league baseball during that time, although I can't be sure. But I also remember watching the first steps and those pictures from the moon, so I must have been at home when they were on the moon. Or maybe I just remember the pictures from all the times I've seen them over the years.

No matter. It was, and still is, a pivotal event.

Ironically, just yesterday, a Canadian, Julie Payette, headed into space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, bound for the International Space Station, where another Canadian, Robert Thirsk,
is waiting to greet her. Two Canadians in space at the same time. Another big moment in time worth remembering.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Web is Us/ing Us

An oldie but a goodie. This video is worth looking at again.

I've posted this video before. It was done by Michael Wesch from the University of Kansas and first appeared on YouTube Back in 2007.

Today, I came across a post by Scott Rosenberg that referred back to the video.

It's still worth watching, so I'm putting it up again.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

The time has come for an Iphone

I had planned to get an Iphone when they first came out. I knew they were going to be a good phone and I was ready.

But when they finally arrived, they weren't available in Canada. So while the tech press went wild over this new device, those of us in Canada just cooled our heels...waiting.

Last year, when the Iphone finally shipped in Canada, I was ready to buy. But when I saw the price and thought about what it would cost and compared that to how much I really needed one, I ended up talking myself out of it.

But I was able to convince my wife that she really needed one, and I got to set hers up and play with it and figure out how the thing worked. And as the year went along, I kept working at rationalizing why I could use one and how it would make my life a lot better.

E533524C-AAA7-445A-93C9-B0B2EEEFD5BC.jpgSo...last week was my birthday and guess what? Heather presented me with a brand new 16 GB Iphone 3G of my very own! Just one small glitch - two days before - something the folks at Rogers didn't mention to her - Apple had announced that they were going to start selling the new 3Gs phone on June 19.

So there I was, new (old) Iphone (still in the wrapping) in one hand, struggling to decide whether I should start using it or wait a week for the new one.

At first, I figured that the new stuff wasn't that big a deal and I'd just go ahead and use the one I had. But after looking around on the Web at the speculation - especially this comprehensive article from Macworld - I've decided to wait until the new one comes out.

As it turns out, it will only be another $20 to get the new phone. And it seems like it's worth at least that. So now I can start to get excited all over again.

Just one problem. We're leaving Victoria and heading back to our cottage in Saskatchewan on June 19th. So unless I can score one early in the morning on the day we leave, I'll be waiting another three weeks until we get back to get my hands on the new phone. Oh well...I've been waiting this long - another few days isn't going to kill me.

It just gives me that much more time to get excited all over again.

Google Search a powerful reference tool

That little Google search box at the top of most browser pages is a really powerful tool. But I often forget just how useful it can be.

For example, suppose you know something is 23 feet long and you're wondering what that is in metres. You could look up a metric conversion program or you can just type "23 feet =" (without the quotes) in the Google search box and voila.

But if you really want to find out how powerful and useful the search function can be, click on the "More about calculator" link that shows up beneath your results.

There's a whole lot of useful things that are worth noting, such as how to find weather for any city, sports scores, stock quotes, dictionary definitions, etc.

Here's the link to the Google reference page.

Thanks to Patrick Mead-Robbins from the Victoria Mac User Group for reminding me about this valuable tool.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Messenger project - some thoughts on building the perfect thing

If you've been reading The Daily Upload for awhile, you'll know that I have a soft spot for technology, which includes cool stuff that happens in space.

So that's why I'm pointing you to this cool collection of photos in The Big Picture about NASA's Messenger project, which is a mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun in our solar system.
It was visited by the Mariner 10 spacecraft twice in the 1970s, and about 45% of the surface was mapped. On August 3rd, 2004, NASA launched a new mission to Mercury, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging probe (or MESSENGER). MESSENGER is now in the last stages of multiple gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, en route to an insertion into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. In just two flyby encounters, MESSENGER has already greatly increased our knowledge about Mercury's surface features. As you look at Mercury in the new images below, keep in mind that it has minimal atmosphere, gravity about 1/3 of Earth's, and surface temperatures ranging from -183 C (-297 F) in some polar craters to 427 C (801 F) at high noon (Mercury's solar day lasting 176 Earth days)
Here's the link to the pictures:

As I was looking through this collection, I remembered a conversation I'd had about the inherent nature of creating computer code and whether you could build a bug-free program.

Bugs in software code are a fact of life. Think of all the security problems that we've had over the year with bugs in computer software being exploited by hackers. It's not surprising that people think that errors are inevitable.

But the truth is, if you have enough time, money and patience, you can create code without errors. And these space projects that NASA does are a good example. So are satellites that orbit the earth. They are built with amazing hardware, but the missions run with computer code. And there is no way that you can just fix the bugs that might pop up. They can't have any bugs - period. And they don't. When something has to be absolutely bullet-proof, they can build it. It just takes longer and it's really, really expensive.

The problem is that when you build something to be perfect, it is, by definition, only perfect when you build it. It may do exactly what it's supposed to, but it will not do anything else. So in a few months, or a few years, you will still have something that does exactly what it's supposed to do, but it will also be out-dated and unlikely to meet your current needs.

That's OK if you're a spacecraft floating through the galaxy, but it sucks if you're a business trying to keep your customers satisfied.

What technology companies have come to realize is that getting a product out to the customers, and letting them have a go at it (as with Google's BETA projects) is the way that things will work from here on out. No one really knows how a product will be used until people are out there using it. And the manufacturer needs to be able to adapt to those uses or face losing out to another product that can do it better.

That's the new mantra of the consumer economy. Companies will have to adapt and realize that their customers call the shots - not their engineers.

I still like things that were built to do one thing well - like typewriters. But I'm glad that we've got new toys to play with that can adapt to our needs, not force us to adapt to theirs.

I'm not sure how this line of thought links back to the Messenger project. But I'll work on it and if I come up with something, I'll let you know.

How long are your proposals?

If, like me, you often find yourself struggling over how much (or how little) information and time to put into a proposal, you might find this blog post by Jason Fried at 37 Signals interesting.

It's called "A reminder of how simple things can be when you don't make it complicated."

Jason finds a flyer for yard work in his mailbox and get some insights into preparing project proposals.

Read the whole post for yourself here. And check out the comment thread too. There's some interesting stuff in there as well.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Starting your own MBA program

As always, the straight-forward Seth Godin continues to knock my socks off.

This time, the guru of marketing gurus reports on the results of his MBA program. The twist is that because he didn't think most MBA programs were up to speed, he decided to put one on himself.
More than 48,000 people visited the page that described the program and 350 really cool, talented people applied. I picked 27 finalists and all of them flew out to New York to meet each other. This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a cocktail party (it helped that it was at eight o’clock in the morning).

The conversations that day were stunning. Motivated people, all with something to teach, something to learn and something to prove. I asked each person to interview as many other people as they could. After three hours, I asked everyone to privately rank their favorite choices... “who would you like to be in the program with you?”

After they left, I tallied up the results. It was just as you might predict: nine or ten people kept coming up over and over in the top picks. I had crowdsourced the selection, and the crowd agreed. (It turns out that the people they picked were also the people I would have picked).

On January 20th, the most selective (one in 40 got in) MBA program in the world got started. Since then, they’ve never failed to live up to my hopes.

It's a good story. I recommend you read the whole post and follow some of the links.

Here's the link to the post:

Friday, June 05, 2009

Let the sun shine in...

We had a little excitement here last weekend at the (new) old homestead in Victoria. The 40' cedars in our front yard started smoking, thanks to the branches getting all tangled up with the power lines running through them.

Fortunately, our tenant, who was (ironically) enjoying a cigarette beneath the trees, heard some funny noises up above and noticed the smoke rising. A call to BC Hydro brought a truck out to investigate and a tree pruning crew to clean up the mess.

But when they arrived, their advice was simple. The trees were badly overgrown and presented a very real danger during windy, wet weather. They make excellent conducters when they're wet and if you happened to put your hand on a tree that was carrying a charge during a rainstorm, you stood a good chance of becoming a conduit for the electricity to get to the ground.

We had already been considering getting the trees removed, so when they offered to take them out for no charge, we said yes. My wife, Heather, snapped a few pictures of the process, which I've posted below.

As luck would have it, the day they took the trees down, the temperature took off here in Victoria. We've had record-setting heat every day since, which the extra sunlight in the morning hasn't helped. But although the house is a bit warmer, we like the light and the way it looks from the street. Now we just need to get the front yard landscaped...and maybe take down the cedar beside the house...and...the list goes on and on.

The only real negative out of all this is that now we're "those neighbours that moved in and chopped down those big cedars!" We'll never live down that rep!


Here's the job half-complete. We had three trees like the one above.


We went from 3 trees to a lot of stumps.


Roxy didn't know what to make of the change. But there might be rabbits in those things!


These guys were great. Nice bit of product insertion in this shot. I expect a cheque in the mail.


You wouldn't believe how fast free firewood gets grabbed by people. It was amazing.


And now, for the first time in about 40 years, you can see the front of our house from the street.

A sober look at the Mexican drug trade

Linda Diebel, a former Latin America bureau chief for the Toronto Star, has a sobering article up today on her blog Political Decoder. It's the story of how she learned the facts about the Mexican drug trade - and why she has no hope that it's going to be cleaned up any time soon.

Reading her account about how the trade will thrive because its too lucrative for both the dealers and the corrupt officials who benefit from it, I can't help but wonder why we believe that we're immune from that kind of corruption here in Canada. As we're seeing daily in Vancouver, our misguided attempts to control drugs by making them illegal only fuels the attraction of the business for the bad guys.

And while I don't believe that Canadian public officials are corrupt, one can't help but wonder whether the huge profits flowing to the gangs that control the business aren't finding a home in the pockets of the people we have put in charge of catching the bad guys.

Here's the link

Mad Avenue Blues

A brilliant look at what's been happening over the past year in the advertising game.

If you work in this business, you'll be all-too-familiar with what's being talked about. And if you don't - well, just enjoy this brilliant re-working of Don McLean's famous "American Pie."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How charging for articles could hobble the future of journalism

Newspapers are gearing up for a last-ditch attempt to fight back against the Internet - which seems like a hopeless cause. Nonetheless, there are signs that big media is considering withdrawing from the Internet. This is a strategy that Scott Rosenberg says won't work, and I agree: In this blog post Scott lays out the situation and why he thinks publishers have it backwards:
"Apparently there was a big meeting of news executives today in Chicago under the auspices of the Newspaper Association of America. The de jure name for the topic at hand was ‘Models to Monetize Content’ but the de facto subject of the conclave seems to be building paywalls and ending what James Warren glibly calls ‘the age of content theft.’ Such conversation needed to take place under the watchful eye of a legal counsel to avoid antitrust problems; but who can doubt that some sort of collective action — simultaneous, if ostentatiously uncoordinated — is at hand?

We are, then, nearing a moment of real decision on the part of the beleaguered newspaper industry, a genuine fork in the road. The papers can decide to keep participating in the open Web, which would require accepting that their legacy business — the old paper bundle and the broadcast model — is going to change into something almost unrecognizable. Or they can decide to put up the walls and gates and behave as if it’s 1997 again, and the Web is just a better delivery truck rather than an intricately evolving social organism. Down one path, dissolve into the Web; down the other, secede from the Web.

These two paths map neatly onto the two camps into which you can group virtually everyone in the old argument about the news business and the Web. On one side, you have the people who feel that newspapers simply took a wrong turn on their journey to the Internet. They were seduced by the Web hypesters! They should have charged for their articles from day one! Because they didn’t, they’re in a bind now — but their only hope is to shut the door belatedly and salvage what can be salvaged. We heard this same cry back in 2000-2002, during the last Web-business ice age.
(Read the rest at Scott Rosenberg's Wordyard.)

How Chryslers are made: chipper stop-motion film from 1939 World's Fair

This is just fabulous. Via Boing Boing:

How Chryslers are made: chipper stop-motion film from 1939 World's Fair: "

Ben sez, 'A film from the 1939 World's Fair showing a Chrysler being built in Stop Action animation. Originally filmed in 'Three-Dimensional Polaroid Film.''

Man, this thing has got it all: golden age World's Fair, that fantastic chipper music, dancing brightly colored machine-parts... I want to crawl in and nestle among the sparkplugs.

Exclusive: Chrysler Builds a Car
(Thanks, Ben!)

(Via Boing Boing.)