for more information contact skot@penguinstorm.com

I Am Skooter  So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
I think that ghosts like / The cooler weather / When leaves turn colour / They get together
— Hawksley Workman, Autumn's Here
October 5, 2016
Apple's Calendar Inconsistency

In general, I quite like Apple’s Calendar. Compared to Outlook’s calendar it’s like a dream and don’t even get me started on Google…that’s a whole different thing.

Apple has a reputation for sweating the small details in interfaces, and while Calendar is pretty good there’s a couple of areas where it still comes up short. For one, the times of events can’t be entered in 24 hour time and there’s no indication of AM or PM when it pops up. This despite the fact that I have my time preferences set for 24 hour time and Calendar shows me the time of event in 24 hour time. Sigh.

There’s a more subtle problem when you select a date: I have my preferences set to start the week on Monday, which groups the weekend together at the end. This is actually an old habit from the days of carrying around a Filofax with week to two pages diary in it. The problem is when I select a date, the little tiny popup calendar doesn’t work that way—it runs from Sunday to Saturday.
Apple Calendar

This is a small thing, and it took me a very long time to notice it. It’s an interesting subtle miss though. If we were talking about a Microsoft product, I wouldn’t even be surprised but this is the kind of tiny detail that Apple has a reputation for catching, and they didn’t…and that’s interesting.

Posted by skooter at 6:15 PM
Tags: Apple, Mac

September 28, 2016
Is Pono Dead?

Pono Under Construction Notice Neil Young launched his Pono service about a year and a half ago to what seemed like a lot of…well, whatever the opposite of fanfare is. At the time reviews were pretty universally poor.

David Pogue (as usual) had one of the best reviews which concluded that “…the emperor had no clothes.” Neil promised us all a musical nirvana but, as it turns out, nobody could hear the difference (and if they could, they often thought the iPhone was better.) Go figure.

The Pono store’s been closed for a while online and the devices are nowhere to be found at retail. Neil Young’s most recent album can’t be bought for the Pono, and debuted on Tidal. Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much coverage of the demise of Pono as there was of its rise.

At the end of the day Pono seems to have failed for the same reasons that a lot of things fail: a focus on building technology that people didn’t want or need. Ignoring the science tthat suggests that Pono’s “high resolution audio” claims provided benefits well outside the range of human hearing is one thing; ignoring the reality that most people aren’t focused on an “audiophile quality” portable solution is quite another.

Portable music needs to be good enough. What that means can change from person to person but look around at a world where people are using Apple’s bundled headphones (or Beats, and don’t get me started on those) and it’s hard to see a world where enough people are looking for an audiophile portable experience.

Need more evidence? Compact Cassettes were never fantastic for audio quality but their portability, durability and size led to the development of the Walkmen and the entire concept of highly portable music was born. I had thousands of Maxell XLII’s in the 80s (and, according to my friends, almost as many Walkmen.)

Pono? To even hear the theoretical benefits I’d have to repurchase all of my music at twice the price.

Pono was a product looking for a market. Sometimes, that just doesn’t work

Posted by skooter at 6:39 AM
Tags: iPhone, Neil Young Maxell

September 21, 2016
Inbox Zero is Old News: Welcome to Inbox Negative One

(Inbox Negative One)
Apparently, I’ve read email messages I haven’t even gotten yet.

Posted by skooter at 7:08 AM

May 3, 2016
Electricity, Heights and Women

Every move that we make is thought of and rehearsed before, so it’s as safe as crossing the street.

Uh. Sure.

Posted by skooter at 12:56 PM
Tags: Electricity, Videos

March 18, 2016
Japan's Disposable Workers

Japan's Disposable Workers: Net Cafe Refugees from MediaStorm on Vimeo.

As a society, it seems like the west has been looking to the east for a glimpse of our future for a long time now—most specifically, Japan. With a housing crisis in Vancouver and salaries falling below where they do in much of the rest of Canada, it may not be long before we see the same type of situation as this video describes. There’s already a significantly outsized working poor population characterized by shared accommodations and lives lived in single room occupany hotels that are meant for, really, short term accomodations.

The future doesn’t always seem so bright, does it?

Posted by skooter at 6:55 PM
Tags: Japan, Vancouver

March 19, 2015
Via Rail's Online Advertising

Via Rail's Online Advertising Fail The Globe & Mail’s home page has been overrun with advertising from Via Rail lately. Two people have been on trial for a plan to bomb a Via Rail train. When those two meet, the only word that comes to mind is Oops.

Posted by skooter at 6:04 AM
Tags: Online Advertising, Via Rail

December 9, 2014
Jian & L'Ecole Polytechnique

I haven’t written much about the Jian Ghomeshi situation that’s been unfolding at the CBC. To some extent, that’s because I didn’t have much to add. No sooner had the story begun to spin in Jian’s favour with his now infamous (and removed) Facebook post than it quickly turned and pretty much every social media network’s Canadian contingent was overwhelmed with stories about Jian.

This had a somewhat in direct effect on me: I had run a hulkghomeshi twitter account for a while before it got both boring and time consuming. When Jian’s Facebook post went up I reactivated it with a few posts that were arguably funny but as it became clear that the situation was anything but funny I shut it down for good after tweeting out some rape crisis links. (That account sort of peaked for me with my imaginary live tweeting of the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche was sitting in the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver at the time. It was kind of genius.)

The Jian Ghomeshi story was on my mind a couple of days ago: December 6, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the death of 14 young and female engineering students at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. I was in school that day in Toronto—my last year of high school—and it was horrifying. It felt like it was happening just down the road. We knew what was happening to some extent: radio was a critical medium, tuned in on Walkmen. It was horrifying.

It’s not hard to draw a direct line from Jian Ghomeshi to the shootings. Both involve men who seemed to feel that they were entitled to women; that women weren’t the same as men in the workplace; that women were somehow meant to serve their needs, and not be equal. The specifics of the manifestation of that attitude may be different, the intent was not.

I work in tech, and it’s not an industry that’s known for welcoming women into the workplace. Google is fairly dominated by men, as is Microsoft. Those 14 women at L’Ecole Polytechnique were engineering students and they were entering a male dominated industry. It’s sad that 25 years later, not much has changed.

I think I’m respectful towards the women I work with—my last two employers have been women, and I’ve quite liked working for both of them on most levels. The Jian situation did make me realize that I’m not perfect though: jokes get told and comments are made, and I’m not immune from making them. More commonly I become a passive participant in the jokes that others make. That’s something that I need to stop, and I’m going to try even harder than I have in the past. Even jokes and comments that seem harmless have a sort of undertone that perpetuates the history of sexism in the workplace—I’m tempted to call my participation unwitting, but that wouldn’t be accurate.

Jian Ghomeshi created a workplace and a culture for himself that allowed him to, at the very least, exploit women. Whether some of his activity was consensual (The Guardian printed a particularly interesting article) it seems clear at this point that not all of it was. Jian Ghomeshi took advantage of women because he could.

Twenty-five years ago fourteen women died because they were pursuing an education, and because they were women. There was no other reason—there was no logic. The man who did this to them made that clear. It’s sad that twenty-five years later not that much has changed.

For my small part, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure the same thing isn’t happening in another twenty-five years. Here’s hoping.

Posted by skooter at 10:08 PM
Tags: Ecole Polytechnique, Feminism

May 18, 2014
IBM Email Disclaimer: Fail

IBM Email IBM does a pretty fantastic job of pushing information loaded email messages out. They’ve moved some communications to Twitter as a primary distribution channel, but email remains better for much of the stuff they do and they still do it well.

The most recent note I got from them made me chuckle though, especially after I verified what I suspected was the case: them email’s legal disclaimer was almost as long at the email content itself.

I’d find it funny, if it weren’t entirely unsurprising.

Posted by skooter at 8:14 PM
Tags: Email, IBM, Marketing

March 2, 2014
On Data, and Tearing a Hole in the Universe

Data is a funny thing. For a long time—essentially, as long as human beings have been creating things our ability to have stuff was limited by the practical realities of space. Things took up space, and when you ran out of space you essentially had two alternatives: get rid of some stuff, or get more space. The end result of this is a television show called Storage Wars that, frankly, makes me despair for humanity’s future but that’s a separate topic.

Stuff is different in a digital sense: there’s less of a relationship between the physical size of the stuff you have and the quantity of it. I had over 800 CDs at one point in my life, and stored them on two shelving units that took up about 12 cubic feet at best guess. I now have almost 3,000 albums that take up about 600 cubic millimeters. That’s an order of magnitude less.

Naturally, this ability to store huge quantities of things in small spaces led to its own kind of Storage Wars: digital hoarding is no different than physical hoarding except in its practical reality.

I used to hoard data, though I’d like to think I was selective about it. The video above is an example—it’s a great look inside Cern, and I liked it enough that when it was first released I downloaded a copy of it and stashed it on a hard drive because I wanted to keep it. Predictably, I’ve can’t recall ever having watched it since.

Things have changed in the last few years: where once the Internet was characterized by a somewhat transient nature, there are portions of it that are settling into a relative permanence. I thought about the other day when I deleted that copy of this video—as little as six years ago it seemed like it might disappear anytime while today it seems likely that the copy on YouTube will be around longer than I could possibly have kept my copy of it regardless of how well I backed it up.

This is a good thing on a lot of levels of course. It’s nice to be able to find these things but that permanence also seems like a lack of innovation. YouTube may be fun but its user interface is awful, and the service is limited to one way streaming media: there’s nothing remotely interactive or mentally engaging about it. In essence, years of innovative delivery and and development of a tool that promised an entirely new form of entertainment when compared to a five-hundred channel universe of television has led to the development of a service which renders the computer as nothing more than a television.

That’s kind of sad, and I rather hope that the era of innovation returns to the medium but it’s too important for it to disappear.

Posted by skooter at 8:36 AM
Tags: CERN, Interaction Design, Internet

January 8, 2013
Searching in the new iTunes (or: Where's Wilco?)

There’s a new iTunes in town, and it’s been the subject of much controversy in Apple circles. It’s a fairly radical redesign of the interface that, most notably, throws albums and their associated artwork into the forefront. Moving away from a list based metaphor, iTunes does a nice job of putting album covers into the foreground.

Visually, I like the new iTunes but the search interface I’ve found a bit frustrating. In at least once case, I find it absolutely puzzling. The screenshot below does a decent job of showing that case.
iTunes Wacky Search Results When I search for Wilco I get exactly one artist match: Billy Bragg & Wilco. Don’t get me wrong, the Mermaid Avenue albums are favourites of mine and I’m happy that the search finds them but it’s the absence of other Wilco results that I find surprising.

My Wilco collection is modest, admittedly, comprising of only 42 albums with 4.35GB of music and 502 songs. That’s not much.

This one’s a mystery. Here’s hoping the new iTunes goes in the right direction, because it’s too essential to daily life for millions of iPhone owners already.

Posted by skooter at 10:10 PM
Tags: Apple, iPhone, iTunes, Software, Wilco

June 21, 2012
Lego Turing Machine

LEGO Turing Machine from ecalpemos on Vimeo.

On a scale of one to ten, this ranks right up there at awesome.

Posted by skooter at 9:05 PM
Tags: Alan Turing, Lego, Videos

December 28, 2011
Mobile Site Interstitials

With a rapid rise in the user of mobile devices for browsing and a lot of sites publishing their own site specific apps there’s been a trend towards mobile site interstitial pages. Having your own app poses an interesting dilemma for some sites, but these interstitials are just part of a larger trend of problems with browser aware home pages that attempt to serve mobile content.

In the early days of mobile content, a lot of sites would redirect mobile browsers to a mobile specific home page. This may seem sound in theory, but in practice links that are sent out through Twitter and other social media posts were broken: clicking on a link for a specific article would, instead, take you to a home page and you’d have to find your article all over again—if you cared. The Georgia Straight did this for a long time, though I think they’ve since stopped.

Next was the interstitial pleading with you to download a site’s app. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked by IMDB to download their app. I refuse every time, but they keep asking. This is exactly what persistent cookies are for friends: stop pestering me into a form of behaviour I’m not interested in.

The other day I clicked a link and saw the interstitial pages above, with an app download button so large and a continue link so small I couldn’t actually select it. I’m not entirely sure what the point of this sneaky little trick is: downloading the app requires several more steps, so you’re not going to fool me into it. If I can’t click the link I can’t continue and you’ve just lost a page view, and a probably a bunch more from other people in similar situations.

Really though: are there that many people who need to check FailBlog every day that you should even be distributing an app?

Sometimes the land rush to the new mobile world demands a bit of careful consideration, and I don’t think it happened in this case.

Posted by skooter at 8:47 AM

December 20, 2011
Millions of Dollars of Usability Research...

…and the crazy kids at Google apparently didn’t think that they needed a selector list that displayed more than three lines when you add a video to your YouTube lists. Go figure.

In general, selector lists should have some relationship to the average length of the list that’s on them and I suspect that most YouTube users don’t even have playlists like this. Of course with a user list that runs in the tens of millions, it’s hard to imagine that most YouTube users share anything in common.

There’s a basic principal of lists like this that they should at the very least provide a reasonably sized view of the list so that it can be scrolled easily. The problem with a three item view is that a small scrolling movement shifts the list entirely and you lose the context of what you’re doing. It’s too easy to get lost.

Five items is a reasonable minimum—this is what Apple uses for the dials that show up when you choose a list like this on your iPhone. Shift the list by one on a five item list and you’ve still got some sense of context.
YouTube Playlist Selector List I’ve said before that I sort of think of Google’s interface design as non-design really. I think they spend so much time not thinking about things that they wind up just deploying a lot of user interface elements that are coded without much thought.

This is all kind of boring, so why don’t we watch the video in the screen shot above instead. It’s the latest from Kendel Carson’s Belle Star project, and it’s pretty awesome.

December 9, 2011
Radio Buttons that do Nothing

Designing interfaces for large software projects isn’t easy. As an interface designer you can paint the broad strokes of button placement, list layouts and the like but when push comes to shove and thousands of pages of code have to be written it comes down to software engineers to implement them consistently and well. This inevitably leads to mistakes and problems that crop up in spots. Many of these are minor and acceptable, others are just weird.

This one falls into the just weird category.

This is a pick list in Salesforce’s admin pages that allows you to select the data type for a new field when you create it. At the very top of the pick list is a radio button that allows you to choose the None Selected option. I was sort of curious what would happen if I chose it, so chose it I did.

An it turns out that—you guessed it—it throws an error every time.

Just weird.

Posted by skooter at 7:02 AM
Tags: Interaction Design, Salesforce, Usability

October 29, 2011
Why Google's Verification is a Privacy Fail

Google’s Gmail launched a few years ago, to quite a bit of fanfare. At the time it was definitely the best webmail client out there, though I think that playing field has levelled quite a bit. I’ve got a few Gmail addresses, though none of them are used in any meaningful way anymore. I prefer to keep my email private, and those little contextual ads that pop up started to creep me out, especially when they were combined with Google’s tracking of web activities.

This morning I was going to create a new email address with Google when I was surprised to see, for the first time, a verification box that asked for my phone number:
Google Signup Verification Given the flack that Google’s taken over privacy violations, it’s interesting that they’re asking for this. The system “verifies” users by asking you to enter an phone number to receive either a voice call or a text message.

This may seem harmless at first glance, but the ramifications are huge and far reaching. This is particularly true given that Google doesn’t make any written commitment that this phone number isn’t being stored permanently (not that I’d believe them if they said they weren’t anyway.) That’s privacy violation number one: it’s highly likely that your phone number is store on a server in the United States if you’re signing up on Google today, even if you live in a country that would prohibit storing that information locally.

Most people have limited numbers of phone numbers—two or three at most. By asking for this information, Google effectively creates a situation where anybody with multiple email addresses can no longer keep them discrete. There are perfectly legitimate reasons to have multiple email addresses—for business purposes, for intimate communication with close friends, for humourous purposes—but the new verification process means that Google has a database which can potentially connect all of these identities together. That’s privacy violation number two.

These two combine into a potentially troubling scenario.

If you’re using one of those Google email addresses as an online identity (anonymously or otherwise) anything you say that somebody doesn’t like could potentially result in your information being hauled into court in the United States. A single lawsuit could result in Google exposing not just one but all of your online activity.

A lawsuit could compel Google to provide the verification phone number in court, exposing the first identify. It’s a short logical leap from there to have Google reveal all of the email addresses and other services that used that verification number. Suddenly, all of your online identities are at risk and connected by that verification phone number, & if you’ve ever looked at material U.S. authorities would consider questionable online, it might now be exposed in court.

With reverse lookup phone number databases becoming increasingly common, it’s a fairly simple matter from there to attach a physical address to your name. Suddenly all of that questionable material is tracking back to where you live.

There was a time, incidentally, when you couldn’t do a reverse lookup. The phone company wouldn’t let you. I tried once when I was a teenager: a friend had moved out of town and I had her phone number but not an address. When there was no answer I called the phone company asking if I could get it and they refused: the rationale was, in part, to prevent stalker like activities. That was the 80s. Two or three decades later into the future and stalker like activity is apparently the new normal. Go figure.

Google uses advertising cookies to track where you’ve been. This information is in a huge database. By definition it has to be, since they’re using it to serve up ads. With the connection created between your two email addresses by that phone number, Google could potentially start serving you ads in one profile based on what you did in the other.

All those phone numbers in their database also make Google potentially the largest database of telemarketing information around. They may say they wouldn’t use it for that now, but there’s no reason to believe in the long term they won’t eventually.

Let’s not even consider the possibility that the database could be broken into and stolen. That’s too horrifying to imagine. I could happen and you wouldn’t even know: recent events at Sony. demonstrated that pretty clearly.

There’s a common argument here that “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” That’s a red herring, of course. You have a right to privacy. There’s another argument that _”You get what you pay for” and it applies here in spades: Gmail is free, and since nothing’s free in life it’s worth considering what you’re actually paying for it.

Google’s product is people: they’re packaging you up and selling you to advertisers around the world, and this verification step is just another part of that process. If they can make a profit from your phone number, they will.

Millions upon millions of people have obviously decided the trade off is worth it, right? More likely, they’ve decided to ignore the problem. More likely, they’re not giving a second thought to the potential for harm here.

Don’t give Google your phone number. Just don’t. They don’t need it, and there’s no reason to ask for it.

Posted by skooter at 10:15 AM
Tags: Databases, Evil, Google, Privacy, Stalker

October 12, 2011
A Tablet Keyboard for the Blind


Genius.

October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs: 1955 - 2011

Fifty-six. So young, but yesterday Steve Jobs passed away. At the end of August a few friends and I figured things were pretty dire but I didn’t expect this so soon.

As then, the Internet has been abuzz. I was pedaling across the Lions Gate Bridge when the news broke, and by the time I got home my twitter feed was overwhelmed with the news. I actually walked in to a radio that was on, and it took me about three minutes of listening to Stephen Quinn ‘s interview to figure out what had happened. It was shocking.

So much has been said and will be said over the next few days about this. I ‘m not sure I have much personally to add, so I’ll leave it up to the Onion, who totally nailed the headline on what could have been an awkward moment. I’ve often said I couldn’t imagine Silicon Valley without Steve: now I don’t have too.
Steve Jobs Obituary: The Onion

Posted by skooter at 8:34 PM
Tags: Apple, Obituaries, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs

Google Interface Design

I’ve written before about the fact that what some people see as Google’s interface design minimalism is I see as poor design but it struck me again today when I was in Google+.

Google+ itself has a very nicely designed Circles interface which was designed by Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Macintosh team and one of the finest interface designers in the industry. Andy’s General Magic tablets were ahead of their time, and it’s taken decades to catch up.

There are two main when you post to Google+. The first lets you choose the audience for your post (basically letting you choose which circles or members who will see it.) The second actually publishes your post. These two buttons directly adjacent vertically in the interface: there’s almost no space between them..

The buttons are also both the same colour.
Google Plus Interface Buttons The end result is two buttons that are visually indistinct and so close together that muscle memory alone doesn’t guarantee a correct click.

I’m not sure if someone intended to do this, or if it was just an oversight. it could have happened with two separate teams working in tandem, I suppose. Either way, it seems obvious that different colours should have been used here. I’m surprised it hasn’t been fixed yet.

September 27, 2011
Windows Interface Nightmares: FoxIT PDF Viewer

FoxIT PDF Viewer

These days I swap between a Mac and Windows fairly frequently. Windows applications never cease to surprise and amaze me with interfaces that are poorly thought out and sometimes just obviously poorly designed.

FoxIT Software makes a PDF reader that’s a popular alternative to Adobe’s own spectacularly bloated Acrobat Reader program. Up in the right hand corner of the window of the application there’s the standard three windows buttons—Maximize, Minimize and Close—but along with a fourth button for the Change Style preference.

This button, yes, lets you change the colour scheme of the program.

It’s ideally positioned for accidental input (which is how I noticed it) and introduces an unfamiliar element to a very standard location. The three standard buttons control window behaviour, while this has nothing to do with it. I’m wondering if any usability research was done to show that people needed to be able to change their window colour preferences so frequently that a dedicated button—I’d normally expect to find this in a preferences panel—needed to be added to a high traffic location.

This isn’t, of course, Windows’ fault: it’s FoxIT’s. They made the decision, though I’m surprised the Windows API allows for a button to be added here at all.

Posted by skooter at 6:55 AM
Tags: Foxit PDF, Interaction Design, Usability, Windows

August 24, 2011
Yo Steve. Thanks for Everything. Be well.

Well, I didn’t see this coming. Funnily enough it was a topic of conversation at a barbecue at a friend’s house on Monday night.

Steve Jobs’ announcement that he’s stepping as CEO of Apple had the world abuzz today. Not just the tech-world either, but the whole world. I could literally hear the rumour spreading across the floor at the software company I work at. It was amazing.

The Internet will be—who’s kidding who, already is—overwhelmed with content which means this little note will disappear under a swarm of bits that Google deems more important.

With that in mind all I’ll say is thanks for everything Steve. We are where we are today in the state of technology in large part thanks to you. Much of what I’ve done as a career was in some way inspired by or influenced by you. It’s been remarkable (though I’m still a little upset you killed the Newton so quickly, as I rather liked mine.)

On a personal note Steve: whatever the reason this happened today, and whatever you’re doing right now I hope you’re happy and healthy. You deserve nothing less.

I’ve posted this before, but let’s go with it again. It’s a fairly inspirational few minutes from a fairly remarkable guy.

And one my other favourite moments:

Posted by skooter at 7:25 PM
Tags: Apple, PBS, Steve Jobs, Triumph of the Nerds

August 23, 2011
Interface Design: Linked In

Linked In's email change interface Interface design is a little bit art, a little bit science, and a little bit personal opinion. The last part is one reason it’s not hard to find bad examples around the internet.

I recently had to add a new email address to my Linked In profile. It’s been a while since I had to do this, so I poked around trying to figure out how to get it done. Naturally I wound up on the site’s Profile page, but there was no sign of an option to add a new email address.

Eventually I noticed the link above, sitting beside my Primary email address. Linked In lets you add as many email addresses as you have to your profile in order to make it easier for people to find you. One of these addresses gets set as your primary address, and when I saw the Change link it seemed fairly clear that this was going to let me change my primary address.

Not so, as it turns out. This is just one of the things the link lets you do. It’s also the only way to add a new email address to your profile, or remove one that you’re no longer using.

A poor choice of language here on the part of an interface designer makes it hard to get a fairly basic job done, and shows the signs of an interface designed by someone who doesn’t use the system.

Posted by skooter at 7:00 AM

June 17, 2011
RIM's Beginning of the End

Research in Motion (RIM,) the inventor of the BlackBerry, is one of the Canadian tech industry’s favourite success stories. For years they’ve been held up by government and the media as an example of things done right.

This week, things aren’t quite as good at RIM. In fact, things are very very bad.

For the past couple of years I’ve been telling people that there would be no RIM in ten years. That ten years is a ballpark, really: I’m not picking an exact day. I’ve been fairly confident that RIM has been on a downward slide for those two years though.

I have an iPhone and people always assume that I think Apple’s going to kill RIM. Not so though: the iPhone’s impact on the BlackBerry was huge, to be sure, but the mistake was actually RIMs. The iPhone rewrote the expectations people had for their smartphones, and not in a small way. The landscape changed, seemingly overnight.

What did RIM do? Nothing. Well, that’s not fair: they did make derisive comments about the iPhone’s non-physical keyboard. I had a work supplied Blackberry Bold a couple of years ago when it was supposed to be RIMs iPhone killer. Naturally, I bought an iPod touch to go with it. Guess which one was more useful, despite the fact that it couldn’t connect to a cellular network. (Well, in fairness, the Blackberry seemed to have quite a bit of trouble connecting to cellular networks too, but that’s another story.)

Good plan RIM. Leave the technology behind, keep building the same thing you’ve been building, virtually ignore touch screens and cling to your legacy installed based.

No, it won’t be Apple who kills RIM. It will be Microsoft. RIMs ace in the hole for the last two years has been the BlackBerry Enterprise Server—the BES. BES is the software that companies install to create private BlackBerry networks. The iPhone has no comparison and shows no signs of getting one. It might happen, but it would be very non-Apple to do so. They just don’t have a history of building proprietary server software.

Microsoft, on the other hand, loves building user installable communications software. Windows Phone is getting a fairly decent response, and from a corporate perspective it’s “good enough” for most CIO and CTO types. Their clients—the managers and staff they give phones too—no longer care about carrying a BlackBerry as a status symbol, they just want to carry a phone.

So it’s Microsoft that’s going to put the final nail in the RIM coffin, by building a server that’s easier to configure and work with than the BES. If it’s easier to support, cheaper to operate, crashes less and offers essentially the same level of security, IT will switch to it eventually. RIM is a one note company with no diversity of products to help maintain it through tough times, and these are tough times indeed.

Sorry RIM. It’s been a great run, but you’ve rested on your laurels too long now. It was a good run for a while, but it’s coming to and end.

A shame Jim Balsille didn’t get that hockey team when he tried.

Posted by skooter at 6:35 AM
Tags: BES, Blackberry, Globe and Mail, iPhone, RIM

February 5, 2011
When The CRTC Failed Canadian Cell Phone Owners

Well, it’s been an interesting week for the CRTC. For starters, he controversy over usage based billing continues to develop without a firm resolution. The CRTC is facing down the Industry Minister over the issue to see who blinks first.

The courts stepped into another decision on Friday which might actually reinforce the CRTC’s decision on UBB and hurt the government. Late last year Canada’s cell phone market saw its first new entrant in some time after a spectrum auction which saw Globalive pick up a significant swath of spectrum. The problem is that Globalive has a substantial amount of foreign investment. The CRTC ruled that Globalive couldn’t operate, but the federal cabinet overruled the decision and Globalive started up.

Globalive’s arrival has been good for consumers. Though they serve only a few markets, they’ve introduced more competition and some innovative pricing ideas. For the first time in almost 10 years, Canada’s cell phone market is more than just a cabal run by Telus, Bell and Rogers—the big three.

This week’s court ruling is bad news for Canadian cell phone consumers. It sets us back several years. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s not the first time the CRTC has let us down. A few years ago they made a decision that handed the big three a monopoly, stifled competition and sent cell phone rate spiralling upwards after years of going down.

The CRTC allowed Rogers to buy Fido, and it never should have happened.

Fido was the little company that could, owned by Microcell and doing quite well for some time they launched City Fido which for $40 a month gave you truly unlimited local calling, making a cell phone a viable replacement for a home phone for the first time in Canada. It was great while it lasted. It was also—and I have this on good authority—_making money in Vancouver_, though the Ontario launch was more costly.

Fido was also the first Canadian company to launch a GSM based network. If Fido hadn’t done this, Rogers likely would have maintained their TDMA network thanks to a lack of competition. CDMA? Don’t even get me started. It’s the biggest mistake the industry’s made.

If the CRTC care about consumers they would have never allowed an existing player to absorb Fido. It stifled competition and allowed one company to solidify its market share without having to attract consumers. It effectively eliminated consumer choice, and the end result has been the situation we’re in now: Canada has amongst the highest cell phone rates in the world and a regulatory body that seems to be doing everything it can to reduce competition and make them higher.

Something needs to give here, or Canada’s truly going to be left behind in the new economy. I’m hoping its not too late already.

February 1, 2011
Usage Based Billing: How the CRTC Failed Us Once Again

Usage Based Billing is a term that millions of people probably never expected to know anything about, but thanks to a recent ruling on the part of the CRTC the words are entering the consciousness of the general public. Even the acronym UBB is starting to be used, though I suspect that this will end.

Essentially, the CRTC ruled a while ago that Bell Canada was able to impose caps on the bandwidth used by its customers. In a more recent ruling, the CRTC allowed Bell to impose those same caps on its wholesale customers as long as Bell provides a discount of “at least 15%” Bell is free to charge more for users who exceed these amounts.

Remember when the CRTC said they weren’t going to get involved in regulating Internet usage? I do. Oh for a return to those glorious days.

The CRTC operates under a mandate. You can read it online, if you haven’t exceeded your monthly cap. This mandate notes, in part, that “The CRTC regulates and supervises the Canadian broadcasting system to ensure the objectives of the Act are met.” The mandate goes on to note that “declares the broadcasting policy objectives for Canada. Canadian content, its development and availability to Canadians, is the underlying principle of the policy.”

While it’ s not explicitly stated, the CRTC is the public’s agency, and it’s supposed to act in the public’s best interest. There’s certainly nothing in the mandate that says that the CRTC is supposed to protect the commercial interests of the broadcasters.

With this decision, that’s exactly what the CRTC has done. They’ve defended Bell Canada’s interests instead of the public’s. I’ll summarize some of the many ways they’ve neglect the public interest.

The CRTC Has Ignored a Conflict of Interest

Bell Canada long ago stopped being “just a network” and entered the content distribution market. It did so when it started Sympatico as more than just an ISP but also as an Internet portal. The subsequent of a satellite TV network put bell firmly into the business of distributing content directly to customers.

Simply put: Bell has an active financial interest in you having more than just a single Internet connection. They want you to have a BellTV account, a land line and a cell phone in addition to your Internet connection. Every major Internet provider is in the same position.

More and more entertainment is being delivered by streaming media through your Internet connection. Allowing Bell to charge by usage effectively allows Bell to arbitrarily tax emerging streaming media services such as Netflix, iTunes movie rentals, and the live streams of sporting events that are beginning to become more common.

These services all need bandwidth, and in some cases quite a bit of it. Streaming an a two hour HD movie is uses about 2GB of data. A household that watches fifteen movies a month—not unlikely for a family with two children—would quickly eat through half of the 60GB cap that my high speed plan includes.

All the while, Bell is selling a competing service. This other service means they have no incentive to lower the price they charge for each GB downloaded. They actually have an incentive to increase it, in order to sell you an entire other service based on an old model of media distribution.

Skype, Google Talk and Apple’s iChat allow people to make Internet based long distance phone calls much cheaper than the traditional land lines that Bell and Telus sell, let alone the rates they charge on their cellular networks. Usage based billing makes using these services—which, again, compete with your Internet provider’s services—cost more.

Ignoring this conflict of interest is a major failing of the CRTC.

Usage Based Billing Stifles Innovation

Services like Netflix are just the tip of the iceberg for services delivered over IP. Every day, more and more services are being delivered over Internet based networks. These new services don’t always require large amounts of bandwidth—Twitter requires hardly any bandwidth, but has become a major communications medium in a short time—but when people’s usage is metered they’ll be less likely to explore these new services.

These new services happen because of the low cost of entry required to deliver them online to a large audience. Imposing usage based billing on Canadians effectively erects a a barrier against both building and accessing these services. Small and innovative companies wanting to enter the online space will be faced with higher bills for Internet connections than competitors in other countries. Similarly, Canadian consumers will be less likely to dip their toe into new services at the risk of ringing up bills.

It’s a lose lose situation.

Usage Based Billing Makes the Internet Less Democratic

The Internet has acted as a great leveler in many ways. The music industry has been rapidly transformed, and small independent bands have been able to use online tools to build large audiences that would have been impossible for them to gain in the traditional label system. (Of course it also gave us Justin Bieber…everything has its downside.)

By levelling the playing field, the Internet has allowed relatively unknown artists, filmmakers, writers and others to gain new audiences. In a world where it used to matter who you knew, the Internet gave people who didn’t know anybody the opportunity to get their work out and gain an audience.

Usage caps could change all that, and return us to a world where being popular begets more popularity and who you know matters as much as it used too. In a world where each download of a new movie, album or streaming music carries a potential cost it’s much more likely that people will simply keep listening to U2 than a streaming service such as Pandora, Last.fm or Spotify that helps them discover new music. Mainstream Hollywood movies will gain as much attention as they ever have, while new filmmakers struggle against the cost of the caps.

On the flipside, entrenched power structures will be reinforced as investors become less willing to take on risk. A free, open and flat marketplace for ideas indulges exploring new things. A marketplace where each idea incurs a cost drives investment to the familiar and the known—it’s how we got 11 Star Trek movies, at least 6 of which are shining examples of mediocrity.

The growing careers of artists like Said the Whale, Dan Mangan, The Decemberists, Kurt Vile and a host of other artists are owed to online media. In many cases these bands have built significant followings using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and outside of the traditional star system. In a usage based billing system, you can pretty much expect more Bryan Adams music as people explore more conservatively.

Usage Based Billing Doesn’t Pay Artists

If usage based billing resulted in funds going to artists and if you could trust that the money was being distributed well I could possibly see justification for it. Unfortunately it doesn’t, and you can’t.

The potential argument here is that the fees could offset the loss of revenue caused by illegal downloading. It’s a silly argument that implies that every Internet user is a media pirate.

Usage Based Billing will enrich only the Internet providers. No money will go to artists. Not a cent.

Even if the commitment to create an fund for artists were made, there’s no reason to trust that the money would get there. The legacy of Canada’s Blank Media Copyright Levy is as clear a demonstration of that as any. The levy has been collected in some form since 1997 with no clear evidence of the money going to artists whose work might have been pirated.

Revenue from Usage Based Billing will allow Bell and other large internet providers to further protect their virtual monopolies.

Usage Based Billing Makes Us Less Social

With increasing numbers of people working online, in small teams and as freelancers access to WiFi has become critical. For many people, this means a trip to the local coffee shop. Places that provide WiFi have becomes hubs of creativity, meeting places for independent business people and community centres of sorts. Starbucks used to describe their stores as the third place—when you’re not at home, or the office you wind up at a Starbucks.

For some freelancers these visits to local coffee shops offer essential time away from desks and home offices. The stimulation that can come from these pseudo public spaces can be an essential part of the work process.

These third places aren’t new either. Intellectuals and artists have gathered in them for years, stretching as far back as Paris’ Left Bank. What has changed is the expectations of them. Writers no longer take block pads and pens but instead work on laptops with Internet connections.

With no control over what their customers are doing, these third places may face crippling Internet bills in Canada and be forced to shut down their connections. Even robust traffic filtering and blocking won’t be a guarantee against overage charges.

Losing these third places is a blow to the people who need them, and a significant blow to the modern economy.

Bandwidth is a Public Resource

Bandwidth, like broadcast spectrum, is a public resource. It should be treated as such. Bell, Telus, Shaw and Rogers were all granted virtual monopolies that allowed them to become the dominant players in their regions. Without the benefit of those decades long monopolies, they wouldn’t have the bandwidth they do.

Those government granted monopolies effectively make bandwidth a public resource, built with public funds. While I wouldn’t argue against Bell’s right to make a profit, that profit should not come with unreasonable restrictions on the use of the public resource.

Bandwidth Usage Has Nothing to do with Monthly Allocations

The notion of capping my monthly usage—even virtually, in the form of a surplus charge—has nothing to do with the way bandwidth is allocated and used. The speed of my internet connection does, but the volume of data I consume is peripheral.

Like most systems, networks are designed to work optimally under a presumed load. In the case of most Internet type networks that load is about 50% of the theoretical maximum capacity at any given time. Go beyond that capacity and the network’s performance starts to degrade.

Here’s the thing: you’re not using all that bandwidth at once. Surprising, I know, but it’s not as if every goes online at the same time and slams the network.

Even if they did the network is designed to accommodate the rush by allocating available bandwidth fairly. Packets can be prioritized so that real time services such as phone calls and video are higher priority, but the network will not grind to a complete halt. It might slow down, and you might get less than the speed you want but that has nothing to do with your monthly usage.

Usage Based Billing based on the data you use is all about fear, uncertainty and doubt. It has nothing to do with quality of service.

Billing based on network speed relates to quality of service, but the providers already do that: Bell, Shaw and Telus all offer different speeds of service at different prices, and that’s completely fair. If people want T1 connections to their homes they can pay for them. For most of us, standard DSL or Cable connections are fine.

Don’t Underestimate Fear Uncertainty & Doubt

Bell, Telus, Shaw and Rogers are all out there saying “Nothing’s changed. You can keep doing that you’ve always gone.”

This, of course, ignores the point. If we kept doing what we’d always done everybody would be sitting at home in front of oak cabinet televisions making calls from landlines.

There’s a famous quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Your internet providers are telling you to ask for faster horses instead of looking towards the future.

Technology is supposed to be liberating, and by and large it has been. The media world has shifted online and new tools and services have been—and will continue to—emerge. Trying to anticipate the future is dodgy at best when things are moving at their current speed, and imposing limits on the bandwidth available to Canadians is going to leave us sitting on the sidelines.

If it seems like the CRTC isn’t doing its job very well, consider this: Canada has amongst the highest rates in the world for mobile phones, and one of the lowest rates of adoptions for what is an essential tool of the modern economy.

So yes, I’d say the CRTC isn’t doing its job. its job is to act in the public’s best interest, not Bell’s profits. It’s about time they remembered that.

January 23, 2011
An Aperture Workflow that Works for Me

A while ago, even before I finally made the jump to a Canon 5d Mark II camera, I bought Apple’s Aperture. I had iPhoto, of course, and while I think that application is a fine choice for managing family snapshots I felt like I needed more.

Aperture is a big program, with a lot to learn. This includes not only the tools to process your images but also the tools it provides to manage your images. There are quite a few books, tutorials and guides to the various functions of the program and they’re worth reading. You can probably find the answer to a lot of technical questions on Apple’s support site, which has an entire section dedicated to Aperture.

What I couldn’t find, however, was a general answer what I thought was a simple question: How should I use Aperture? One of the great advantages of shooting digitally—especially in low light situations as I often to—is the ability to shoot a lot of photos. Of course that means when you get home you need to deal with a lot of photos, and that’s where the tricky part starts.

Given that, I thought I’d share a workflow that works for me. It may not work for anybody who reads this, but you never know. I’d suggest only considering it as a starting point. You’ll develop your own over time and it may serve your purposes better. Feel free to pass along any suggestions.

Decide What Project You’re Importing Into

While this may sound obvious it’s not always. If you’re shooting a wedding, you probably want to create a new project for every wedding. This makes sense given that it’s not likely that you’ll be shooting the same wedding again…though you never know these days.

I shoot a lot of live music and in a situation like this it may make more sense to have a project for each artist with an album for each show. For multi-day festivals I usually create a project for the festival with an album for each day and each artist. Photos can be stored in multiple projects and albums, but your life will be a lot easier if you plan carefully and import them into the correct project first.

Stack’em.

Stacks are a great feature of Aperture. Basically they recognize the reality of modern digital shooting: you’re probably going to have more than one similar photo of any given magic moment. Whether it’s that first kiss or that perfect on stage moment, you probably pressed your shutter more than once. I typically take three shots when one of the special moments happens, though the moments can be fleeting enough the I often just take one.

You can put all of these similar photos in a Stack which is basically a collection of similar photos. You can choose one photo as the best and put it on “top” of the stack but you can still easily access the rest of them if you want too later.

Take a pass through your photos and create stacks of anything that looks the same by selecting them and pressing Command-K You’ll see the stack icon appear. Stacking photos can reduce the number you need to sort through by half somtimes.

Reject, Reject, Reject

For a typical concert I’ll shoot between 150 and 300 photos and send between 10 and 20 of them to an editor. Figuring out which 10 or 20 is the trickiest part.

Aperture has a photo rating system that includes an option of Rejected which you can assign by pressing 9 on the keyboard. Rejecting is your friend at this point. Flip through photos with a finger on the 9 key. If a photo has any blurring, a bad crop, anything at all that makes it obviously bad just reject it. Go with your gut. If there’s any doubt at this point, don’t reject it: you can always do that later.

Set Aperture to Show Photos that aren’t Rejected

In the upper right hand corner of your Aperture browser there’s a search panel. Click on the magnifying glass and you’ll see some pre-saved searches. Make sure it’s set to Unrated or Better. You should see all those rejected photos disappear. They’re still in your Aperture library, but you don’t have to worry about them for now.

Start Rating 2’s and 3’s

Aperture’s rating system allows you to rate photos on a scale of 1 to 5 by typing the number on the keyboard. There’s times when I wish it had a scale of ten, but generally the 1 to 5 system works fairly well.

Since three is the middle of the scale, I sort of treat is a fulcrum and work around it.

At this point I start working through the (now reduced) collection again and I rate. Any photo that I think I can use gets rated a 3. Anything that really stands out almost right away gets a 4. If it’s usable but I don’t like it I give it a 2.

Generally, I have very few photos rated as a 1 or a 5. If it’s 1, it probably should have been rejected in the first place. A 5? Well, that’s reserved for something pretty magical: an Ansel Adams moment, if you’d like. They happen, but you really want to save that 5 ranking.

Set Aperture to Show Photos Rated 3 or Better

Back to the search box and choose a new setting: you really want to look only at photos you’ve rated 3 and above at this point. In theory, this is the stuff you want to use.

From here the process is a bit more fluid: you have a sense of how many photos you have that are usable. Is it enough or do you need more? If you need more you can always reconsider some of those 2’s which might be fixable with a crop or some light processing. It’s best to avoid them, but they may be good enough depending on the context.

If you have enough photos change the search box to show photos rated 4 or better and see how many you see now. These photos should be your outstanding stuff. You may reconsider some of them at this point and drop them to a 3, or bump some 3’s to a 4.

If you need to do any post processing you can do it here on the subset of images that you actually like. This will save you a tonne of processing time.

Create an Album for your Editor

At this point I’d normally create an album for every editor and add the final choices you’ve made to that. You can create multiple albums if you’re using the photos for multiple purposes (e.g. Web Site or Brochure Photos) but you want to keep a record of which photos you sent to whom and an album is a great way of doing that.

You might also want to create smart albums showing the 3’s and 4’s. I find this a great way to keep get photos onto my iPad and my iPhone so I have the best of my work with me at all times. I certainly don’t want to carry around an iPhone full of the images I’ve rejected.

So that’s my basic routine. It’s not perfect: sometimes I reject before I stack though I prefer the order I’ve listed above. I’m not sure there’s a reason why, it just sort of happens that way. At the end of this process though I’m usually left with a nice, clean set of photos that makes everybody happy. I’m sort of a post processing minimalist so I don’t do much of it but if you are this workflow may not do the trick. I’d like to hear about alternatives if you have any suggestions.

I’ve never used Lightroom—largely due to the increasing perception of Adobe as a software villain and the extravagant cost of annual upgrades—so I’m not sure if a similar workflow would work there. From brief chats with a few friends it seems similar enough, but I’ll leave that up to others to outline.

If you find this helpful, let me know. If you don’t let me know where it fell short and I’ll try to improve or adjust it.

Posted by skooter at 7:37 PM
Tags: Aperture, Apple, Photography, Software

August 8, 2010
Is North Vancouver Part of Alaska? Google Says Yes.

Google Maps image of Burrard Inlet

I’m heading to the Under the Volcano festival today, so I checked out Cates Park on Google Maps to see what the walking distance is in North Vancouver from other destinations (most notably, Honey’s Doughnuts.) I was quite surprised to notice that while the waters of the Burrard Inlet are labeled correctly, the waters off of Cates Park—farther east, and surrounded on three sides by various areas of Vancouver—are not.

As it turns out, Google seems to think that North Vancouver might, in fact, be a part of Southeast Alaska.

There’s a shuttle running to the festival, and I think I’m going to take it over instead of cycling. It’ll make towing camera equipment around a whole lot easier.

The image is a composite of two Google Maps images. Click to see a larger view.

July 2, 2010
Private Cloud Computing

Twitter sent me in the direction of an article about companies setting up their own private cloud computing environments. It’s a rather short article with not much in the way of content, but the tweet got the concept rolling around in my mind.

Firstly, I need to say I’ve never been comfortable with the term cloud computing. It’s a marketing term without much definition. Having caught on it’s easier to embrace the term than to fight it at this point.

The major issue facing cloud computing providers is security: with data from multiple companies on shared servers, customers need to be sure that only they can access their data. Protection from business failure is equally important: if your cloud provider goes out of business, you want to make sure that your data doesn’t get lost with them. Backup is always a concern, but the entire theory of cloud computing is that smaller companies gain better more reliable backup by being in the cloud. The bigger issue around backup is restoring your data which could conceivably take forever.

All of these things mean that the notion of a “private cloud” is perfectly reasonable, and the problem might be with the language. To me the central idea of cloud computing has never been the “shared” aspect—though that can be a key advantage for small businesses—but the “access” aspect. A cloud strategy should give your employees the ability to access their data from wherever they are, using any reasonably modern computing device. Chances are if you’re not doing this now, your staff is working around the limits anyway: USB Thumb Drives are probably the single largest security hole in most organizations.

Private clouds are a good thing for companies that can afford it. Smaller companies should look at a shared solution as a way of increasing functionality with a lower cost of access.

Companies start talking about their private clouds
By Joe McKendrick | June 25, 2010, 7:55am PDT

It’s such a classic enterprise solution to the cloud computing phenomenon. Build one yourself.

That’s the approach being taken by some leading names in the corporate world, and a new article in Information Age discusses some of these initiatives, based on presentations at a recent Forrester confab.

For example, Charles Newhouse, chief IT strategist for BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace manufacturer, now operates its entire IT department as an internal cloud provider — managed from the outside by CSC. “We began seeing our infrastructure as a commodity service and not a strategic asset,” he is quoted as saying. BAE’s IT services are now provisioned through a web portal, and each department receives a bill for their usage at the end of the month.

June 26, 2010
Genetic Engineering Isn't the Solution for Troubled Salmon Stocks

Are we seriously considering releasing a genetically modified version of a crop that’s in trouble into the wild? Make no mistake: if these salmon are sold and raised on farms, they will escape into the wild. It’s inevitable. When that happens it’s effectively the same as introducing an invasive species, and we know how that goes.

There’s a legitimate question as well about whether all of the product of this salmon—and I refuse to call it meat—will be properly labeled in stores.

Salmon stocks are in trouble. Genetic engineering isn’t the solution to that trouble.

Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table
By ANDREW POLLACK, Published: June 25, 2010

The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate.
Enlarge This Image

The developer of the salmon has been trying to get approval for a decade. But the company now seems to have submitted most or all of the data the F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.

Posted by skooter at 4:52 PM
Tags: Genetic Engineering, GMO, Salmon

June 20, 2010
RDM Technology BV 105mm Howitzer Gun Serial #34293

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Posted by skooter at 3:31 PM
Tags: Artillery, Canadian Forces, Howitzer, Military

June 11, 2010
Objectified: The Film

Objectified title card Directed by Gary Hustwit Objectified could be seen as something of a follow up to the his earlier Helvetica., though that doesn’t really do the film justice.

Objectified delves a little deeper into the culture of consumption in numerous conversations with the people who make the things we consume. Notable designers interviewed include Dieter Rams of Braun(company), Marc Newson, Jonathan Ive of Apple, Chris Bangle of BMW and Karim Rashid (resplendent in purple sunglasses there aren’t words to describe.)
Karim Rashid

Rams opens the film, proclaiming Apple the only company to truly value design. Combine Braun’s history of design with the fact that North Americans traditionally view Europe as the home of good design and this comes as no small compliment.

Objectified explores a culture where the design of mass produced objects is increasingly important. During the 60s and 70s there wasn’t much focus on the shape of things we used. Function was important, and ergonomics were often overlooked. The classic example of the Good Grips swivel peeler is explored as an example of looking at the everyday objects we use in another way.

This leads to the exploration of the theme of the democratization of design. Our houses are increasingly filled with objects we think of as having been designed rather than simply manufactured. Mass retailers Ikea and Target are held up as examples of the process in action.

Ultimately, one of the points the film’s various interviewees reiterates is the fact good design is usually less design. Virtually every designer points out the contradiction of their profession: that good design should be timeless and last forever, but that they are paid to create the new thing that consumers want to replace the old with. Landfills are full of stuff that’s been discarded for no reason other than style and trends.

Dieter Rams sums up the future of design nicely in the film with his closing words:

The value, and especially the legitimization of design will be, in the future, measured more in terms of how it can enable us to survive—and I don’t think this is an exaggeration—to survive on this planet.
— Dieter Rams

Objectified is well worth seeing, and makes a nice companion piece for Helvetica. Hustwit also produced (but didn’t direct) the phenomenal Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and has rapidly become one of my favourite filmmakers.

June 7, 2010
Peter Bregman on How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking

Peter Bregman writes on the Harvard Business School blog about how and why you shouldn’t be trying to multitask.

It’s worth noting that there is a difference between multitasking and effective time and task management. Bregman’s article reads in such a way as to assume that the reader is aware of this distinction, an assumption that I don’t think its fair to make.

Bregman’s example of multitasking is a classic: trying to do something while having a phone conversation. The end result is that he makes a mistake in the task he’s trying to do and misses critical details of the phone conversation.

Nobody’s life consists of doing only one thing. The things that we need to get done—whether their personal, or for work—rarely come at us one at a time, and often overlap. This is where effective time and task management comes into play. It gives you the ability to get more than one thing done over a reasonable length of time.

Effective time and task management is a valuable skill, and sometimes means saying No or Please ask me later. Multitasking almost never works, as Bregman suggests:

You might think you’re different, that you’ve done it so much you’ve become good at it. Practice makes perfect and all that.

But you’d be wrong. Research shows that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. In other words, in contrast to almost everything else in your life, the more you multitask, the worse you are at it. Practice, in this case, works against you

I’ve worked with people who claimed to be good multitaskers, and rarely were. I’ve claimed to be a good multitasker in the past, and it took me a long time to realize that not only was I wrong but that I needed to stop trying and instead manage my time effectively.

Getting things done properly and on time is better than getting things done poorly and now just because its top of mind.

Most people are good at getting things done they’re told are important and have very short deadlines; most people are not nearly as good at getting things done’ that aren’t identified as important and have longer term deadlines.

This often leads to executives and management, when they’re assigning tasks, often just identify everything as important. This becomes self defeating, overloading staff with short term tasks.

Avoiding this means everybody—both staff and management—need to understand how to effectively manage time and tasks, and avoid the phrase ‘You need to be better at multitasking.’

June 5, 2010
A Halifax Principal Falls Prey to the Surveillance Society

We live in an era of unprecedented surveillance, and it continues to grow. While governments and private businesses alike assure us that the Big Brother of Orwell’s 1984 isn’t going to happen, the reality is that out lives are increasingly monitored and recorded. A school principal in Halifax, Nova Scotia is learning quite a bit about this these days, after a video of his interaction with a student was leaked to YouTube.

The Globe and Mail has an article on the topic. I’ve added emphasis to reflect some thoughts, which I’ll elaborate on:

Halifax principal wrestles student to ground, escapes dismissal
Oliver Moore, Published on Saturday, Jun. 05, 2010 9:26AM EDT

Video of a Halifax-area principal wrestling one of his students to the ground and manhandling him through the halls has sparked a furious debate here on school discipline and raised the _always-fraught issue of race relations.

The leaked surveillance tape shows Ken Fells, a black man with a military background, grappling with 14-year-old Josh Boutilier. The 74-second video on YouTube shows the white student trying to push past the principal before he is hurled to the floor and frog-marched to the office in a full-nelson.

“Everything just went blank and I didn’t know what do,” Josh said on Friday. “I wasn’t hurt at the time because I was in really bad shock, but after a couple of hours I started to hurt real bad.”

But Mr. Fells’s vocal supporters say surveillance videos rarely show the whole picture and school staff need the discretion to deal with students who pose a danger. The Black Educators Association rallied to his defence.

Some interesting things to consider here:

The Video Should Never Have Been Made Public

The video was leaked—stolen, in effect, by the husband of school board superintendent Carole Olsen. This video should never have been made public, and that is a pretty clear violation of both Principal Fells’ and the student’s rights. Fells is clearly the party suffering greater harm here, and its shocking that more hasn’t been made of the theft of the material.

This isn’t a small matter either: Carole Olsen has failed in her duty to protect private and privileged information by allowing her husband access to her computer whether unwittingly or otherwise. While this may seem benign, consider the possibility that the laptop may contain private information including addresses and phone numbers. The school board has a duty to protect that information, and in this case their agent has failed completely.

Why is Fells’ Race Relevant?

In the 21st century, I can’t understand how the fact that the principal is black is even relevant to the issue. Haven’t we moved past this? Is there actually an implication that Principal Fells would have treated a black student any differently? Are people actually raising the issue of the principal being black when they’re commenting on this?

What Happened Before the Camera Caught This?

As Fells’ supporters have pointed out, the surveillance camera shows only part of the picture. While it’s clear that something happened to lead up to this, there’s been little said (and less reported) about the prelude to the incident. With national media broadcasting the tape and 200,000 views on YouTube there’s effectively been a public trial here with no due process and no attempt to be balanced or fair.

Semi-anonymous comments on YouTube, the Globe and elsewhere will run rampant, with little relevance to the reality of the situation.

Teaching is a difficult job and teaching high school students is especially difficult. Teenagers talk back and ignore teachers, and are as capable of causing bodily harm as any full grown adult. I certainly wouldn’t argue that high school teachers don’t occasionally cross the line, but they also deserve respect and don’t often get it.

The Surveillance Society

Is this an example of the good or the bad of the surveillance society?

As in most cases, it’s a bit of both. Closed circuit cameras in schools—an environment where legal minors interact extensively with people who are not their legal guardians—are arguably reasonable. The major issue here is the leak of the public video, which has effectively created a public lynch mob and bypassed any reasonable attempt at respecting due process.

Privacy rights are a slippery slope, and the danger of the surveillance society is that they can increase the speed of descent quite quickly. Ken Fells’ life and career has probably been altered permanently by this violation of his privacy. While it might seem benign, put yourself in his shoes in a moment of tension…a moment of anger…a moment where your behaviour, anonymized and out of context might be perceived as hostile or damaging.

The danger of the surveillance society is that your moment is recorded and made public.

Forever.

Posted by skooter at 7:53 PM
Tags: Human Rights, Surveillance

June 3, 2010
Forget Laser Printers: Lego Printers


I’d trade mine for this in a heartbeat.

Posted by skooter at 5:44 AM
Tags: Lego, Technology, Videos

May 28, 2010
Steve Jobs' Commencement Address to Stanford


I’m not entirely sure how I’ve missed this for so long. You’d think it would have crossed my path before now. Having said that, the timing seems rather perfect right now.

May 27, 2010
Edward Tufte: Beautiful Evidence


Tufte is brilliant. Pay attention to this.

May 23, 2010
Abstract

iPhone Abstract

Posted by skooter at 2:36 AM
Tags: iPhone

May 11, 2010
Jakob Nielsen on the iPad

Jakob Nielsen reviews the iPad for usability and user interface. While the article is interesting, it plays a little fast and loose with details by criticizing specific applications user interfaces and then lumping them under the category of the iPad UI, effectively damning the entire platform for choices developers made.

iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing

Inconsistent Interaction Design

To exacerbate the problem, once they do figure out how something works, users can’t transfer their skills from one app to the next. Each application has a completely different UI for similar features.

In different apps, touching a picture could produce any of the following 5 results:

  • Nothing happens
  • Enlarging the picture
  • Hyperlinking to a more detailed page about that item
  • Flipping the image to reveal additional pictures in the same place (metaphorically, these new pictures are “on the back side” of the original picture)
  • Popping up a set of navigation choices

The latter design was used by USA Today: Touching the newspaper’s logo brought up a navigation menu listing the various sections. This was probably the most unexpected interaction we tested, and not one user discovered it.

An interesting read regardless. I suspect it will take three generations of operating system evolution for the image of the iPad as just a large iPhone to be shaken, and some of the real usability issues to be addressed.

May 6, 2010
Darth Vader's GPS Recording Session

Tom Tom has released a Darth Vader voice for turn by turn directions on its GPS units. The best part is the brilliant promotional video.

Posted by skooter at 3:15 PM
Tags: Darth Vader, GPS, Star Wars, Tom Tom

May 4, 2010
From Hipster to Hippie

From a Smashing Magazine article about that state of web design comes an article by Hanah Snavely in The Bold Italic about the rise and fall of San Francisco’s hippie hill.

The absolute design highlight is a series of illustrations called From Hipster to Hippie: A Cautionary Tale in 6 Steps. Worth reading.

From Hipster to Hippie: step one and two

Posted by skooter at 4:49 PM
Tags: Articles, Hipster, San Francisco

May 2, 2010
H.264 Wins the Video War

With Microsoft announcing its support of H.264 in IE9 and Steve Jobs as the format’s number one booster it seems that video war has been won.

FastCompany writes about the issue including noting controversies over licensing and the possibility that OGG Theora is a better option (linking to Hugo Roy’s argument here.)

My first encounter with OGG was in the early days of Panic software’s Audion which offered OGG encoding as an option. Royalty free and completely open OGG seemed like a good option…except that virtually no hardware supported it.

This is a classic chicken and egg argument, of course, except in this case, as the dominant player in portable media devices, Apple pretty much gets to choose who wins. If iTunes and iPods had supported OGG, I’ve no doubt that it’s usage would be much more common today.

At this point, at least for the short term, H.264 is the future, and future licensing issues will have to be dealt with when the time comes.

Posted by skooter at 5:29 AM
Tags: Apple, HTML, Microsoft, Videos

April 26, 2010
Kraftwerk: Musique Non Stop

Posted by skooter at 6:44 PM
Tags: computer animation, Kraftwerk

January 2, 2010
The Unintended Consequences of Advancement

LED lights are wonderful: bright, long lasting, even more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs (and they don’t require mercury.)

Of course they also don’t give off much heat, and that fact has apparently been causing a bit of trouble with traffic signals in snowier parts of the country.

LED Signal’s Seen as Environmental Boon and Potential Hazard - NYTimes.com
The new lighting is part of a fast-growing trend in environmentalism. LED bulbs use less energy, last longer and are more visible than their predecessors. They are also known to require less maintenance. But they do not emit nearly as much heat as conventional bulbs, allowing snow and ice to accumulate more easily in certain conditions.

It’s always interesting to see the unintended consequences of a new technology. I’m not sure that anybody could have thought this problem through enough to anticipate the problem.

Posted by skooter at 5:20 PM
Tags: Environmentalism, Transportation

January 1, 2010
"Apple is providing leadership in colors..."

From Business Week, in July of 2000, an article written a bit more than a year in advance of the iPod’s introduction on October of 2001. A priceless quote from Bill Gates.

Yes, Steve, you fixed it. Congrats! Now what’s Act Two?
“All told it’s hard to see how Apple can hold its innovation lead. ‘The big thing that Apple is providing now is leadership in colors. It won’t take us long to catch up with that,’ quipped Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III last year. Even Jef Raskin, the ex-Apple manager who conceived the original Mac, isn’t terribly optimistic about Apple returning to its glory, ‘I think they can remain what they are: a well-loved, influential bit player, the late Walter Matthau of the computer industry. But not the top star.”

Never count Steve Jobs out. I still can’t imagine Apple without him, though I suspect he’s put a successful culture in place.

Posted by skooter at 12:09 AM
Tags: Apple, Bill Gates, iPod, Steve Jobs

December 17, 2009
Intel's Recruiting Process

No actual Intel engineers were injured in the filming of this video.

Posted by skooter at 1:53 PM
Tags: Finland, Intel

December 9, 2009
The Economist: Shopping Around the Web

In February of 2000, The Economist published a study of the state of the e-commerce industry. If not exactly in its infancy at the time, it was certainly not yet a full grown child. Amazon was five years into its life, and the first wave of e-commerce pioneers was having its inevitable and unpredictable failures. The stock market was in the throes of its irrational exuberance

Some excerpts from the study. All citations are related to the Economist e-commerce survey found in issue of February 26th, 2000.

“Electronic commerce may not amount to much at the moment, but it is growing very fast…[business to business] transactions account for as much as 80% of all e-commerce which, according to Forrester Research, an Internet consulting firm, added up to over $150 billion last year.” pp. 5

“In many areas of retailing and commerce, the Internet is unlikely to capture more than a few percentage points of the market for several years to come. But even a small share can quickly start to have a big effect. In the travel business, for instance, margins are so thing that a loss of only 3-5% of the market to the Internet threatens to drive large numbers of traditional travel agents out of business.” pp. 5

“According to Forrester, online business-to-consumer transactions in America were worth some $20 billion last year. Forrester expects that figure to grow to some $184 billion by 2004.” pp. 5-6

“Could these forecasts prove wildly wrong? It is worth recalling that catalogue shopping once started almost as explosively as the Internet. Sears Roebuck published its first catalogue in 1888…for the next five years catalogue shopping grew by leaps and bounds, with the annual rate of increase never falling below 25%…yet after the novelty had worn off, the growth of catalogue shopping slowed sharply…Yet there are good arguments for expecting the net to make much greater inroads into retailing than catalogues have done.” pp. 6

The idea of the Internet as a primary channel was, and remains, controversial in some industries. I never understood how people didn’t get the broader possibilities, but many didn’t. Whether you were selling online or not, e-commerce was changing your business, even if your only distribution method for your product was physical product direct to consumers.

“One estimate suggests that only 2.7% of new-car sales in America last year took place over the Internet, as many as 40% involved the net at some point.” pp. 6

The 2.7% is a stretch in any case. Nobody sold and delivered a car over the Internet. Every one of those transactions ended in the physical world. Regardless, the business was completely transformed in part because of the following:

“John Hagel, a consultant at McKinsey in Palo Alto, points to ease of price comparison and greater choice as [the Internet’s] two biggest pus points compared with the physical world.” pp. 11

That pricing is flat is pretty much universally accepted these days. Companies that don’t realize it are living in a different world, and its not one that’s going to last.

Some things haven’t changed:

“…websites are not much good for replicating the social function of shopping, nor for browsing around, nor for producing the serendipity and impulse purchases that come from visits to a shopping centre.” pp. 11

Amazon.com does recommendations and related items better than anyone else, but I’ve yet to purchase based on them. This is despite the fact that I’ve told them a lot of information about things I own and don’t own. Despite all this, they still emailed me and recommended a Tim McGraw album. Sorry Amazon: epic fail. There’s no Alt in Tim McGraw’s Country.

So, physical shopping experiences remain the choice for many interactions. Nothing beats trying on a shirt with a pair of pants to see if they really go together.

Getting money is still a challenge sometimes, though it dwindles:

“Consumers are often advised against giving their credit-card numbers freely over the Internet, and this remains one of the most-cited reasons for not buying things online… the great credit-card fear has not, so far, proved well founded; there have been very few instances of theft of credit-card numbers..” pp. 11

This continues to this day. Relatively speaking, the risk is very very low. The article goes on to point out what has become the defining factor of mass adoption of Internet commerce:

“The biggest boost to e-commerce over the next few years will come not from snazzier websites or snappier marketing, but from the proliferation of broadband Internet connections to the home as more and more people acquire cable modems of DSL lines…” pp. 11

E-commerce is well established in countries where broadband adoption has been high. The flipside of this is that if you’re looking for growth opportunities, try starting where broadband is still rare. You can grow with the market.

Existing catalogue retailers were early leaders:

“… Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean suggest that the scope for web retailing may turn out to be a lot bigger than it seems at first sight. Clothes and shoes have both won a place in the catalogues, even though they are high-touch goods. An even more striking example is raw steaks: Omaha Steaks has a strong catalogue business selling steaks by post that it is transferring to the web.” pp. 12

At the time I made note of the fact these were high touch product retailers were established catalogue retailers effectively cannibalizing their existing channels. Eddie Bauer was of particular interest: while a noted catalogue retailer in the U.S., they have never established a significant catalogue business in Canada. Even today, Eddie Bauer doesn’t offer an online store in Canada. They have completely failed to establish the brand in this new retailing space.

Amazon seemed like a threat to everybody at the time, but by 2000 many felt that the threat had subsided.

“A popular line is that the pure [online only] plays have had their four years of fun, but now that the big boys, such as Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, Kmart and Wal-Mart are seriously moving on to the web they are likely to demolish their virtual rivals: Amazon.toast, in the vernacular.” pp. 15

Amazon has, of course, survived although its worth noting that they expanded into pretty much every product category imaginable but haven’t dominated them.While they still sell Black & Decker tools, Home Depot and Loews remain top of mind in those categories.

Barnes and Noble competed directly with Amazon then failed, then partnered with them, then sundered that partnership and now competes directly with them. This is undoubtedly a case of the online book retailing space growing big enough to accommodate more than one players coupled with a reduction in the cost of doing business as tools became easier to use. The book space has matured nicely online, and new niche players such as ABE Books continue to emerge on occasion.

It’s been a most interesting ten years, and it’s interesting to see how these changes have taken hold. Many of the same challenges and questions remain today, despite a rapid growth into adolescence for online retailing. Broadband penetration is extremely high, though there are still rural markets and areas that lack it. The rise of portable devices such as the iPhone has had a huge effect, as has the digitization of products that were once physical such as music (and movies, which are the natural next progression.) Some products can’t be digitized, and challenges remain for those.

The rising cost of fuel has had an effect on transportation costs. This effect has been modest until recently, but seems likely to increase as oil reserves diminish. By 2035 the cost of transporting goods may be prohibitive, leading to a restructuring of the entire economy.

With twenty-five years between now and then, its a fool’s game to guess what tools and technology we’ll be using. I’m personally willing to bet that the underlying issues presented by this ten year old study will be equally relevant, and provide valuable lessons to business owners.

Posted by skooter at 2:34 AM
Tags: E-commerce, Economics, iTunes, Online Marketing

December 3, 2009
Thirty Conversations on Design

If you only watch the interview with Richard Saul Wurman it will be worth it.

“”Our sense of style and aesthetics and what’s in changes. Our sense of understanding something is…less changeable”
- Richard Saul Wurman

Posted by skooter at 6:00 AM
Tags: Interaction Design, Usability

November 18, 2009
Microsoft's Ray Ozzie talks about Sidekicks and Data Loss

Amongst other things, Ozzie talks about the Sidekick crash. A good interview from an always interesting man.

Ray Ozzie’s view from the clouds

One of the fascinating things about the Sidekick recovery process was how wonderful it was that data is also on the devices, because when your confidence level drops in one copy of the data and you have another one, it’s really handy. So knowing to treat peer computing and centralized computing are both good, they’re both very, very good.

Posted by skooter at 12:32 PM
Tags: Cloud Computing, Microsoft, Ray Ozzie

October 26, 2009
U2's Live Webcast from The Rose Bowl

From a technical perspective my first reaction to U2’s live webcast from the Rose Bowl was that the video quality was astonishing, that I got an instant connection despite the fact that I’m only catching the last half hour of the event (and that as an afterthought) and the sheer number of people who must already be watching.

We’ve come a long way the first webcast I put up in 1997.

None of that matters as soon as I hear the Edge’s jangly electric guitar at the opening of Where the Streets Have No Name.
The Edge's guitar, Where the Streets Have No Name Bad is their best song, but that distinctive guitar opening gives Where the Streets Have No Name a unique place in the history of rock and roll.

I don’t listen to U2 that often these days. There was certainly a time when I did, but that time ended around 1995. It’s been a while. Whenever I’m in the California desert though, The Joshua Tree inevitably follows. It was the soundtrack of the first trip, and filled my headphones on a glorious long motorcycle ride in 2006 for who knows how many miles.

Despite what the pirates of Silicon Valley want you to believe, significant events are never about the technology. The technology is just a tool. Tonight was a significant event, and as in all such cases its significance will only become clear with time.

In the meantime, just enjoy.

Posted by skooter at 6:54 AM
Tags: U2, YouTube

October 6, 2009
Leadership Means a Strong Position Sometimes

Computers, as it turns out, are full of toxic substances and the byproduct of the manufacturing processes are legendarily bad. Silicon Valley is full of companies who have been fined the Environmental Protection Agency multiple times. Apple has, over the last few years, done much to change its practices and to Think Different about what to do with computers at the end of their life cycle. My iMac is completely recyclable.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in denial about climate change, and it’s nice to see Apple adopting a leadership position again.

Apple Resigns From Chamber Over Climate
October 5, 2009, 3:39 PM
By KATE GALBRAITH
Apple has become the latest company to resign from the United States Chamber of Commerce over climate policy.

“We strongly object to the chamber’s recent comments opposing the E.P.A.’s effort to limit greenhouse gases,” wrote Catherine A. Novelli, the vice president of worldwide government affairs at Apple, in a letter dated today and addressed to Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive of the chamber. Click here to read the letter.

“Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the chamber at odds with us in this effort,” Ms. Novelli continued.

Posted by skooter at 1:30 PM
Tags: Apple, Environmentalism

October 4, 2009
Dollhouse's Imminent End and the Future of Television

It should come as no surprise that the cancellation of Dollhouse is imminent.
The show’s ratings were miserable last year, and the new season has posted lower numbers than the first.

Dollhouse is a great show, although the first five episodes were so boring that I didn’t bother buying the DVD set. I figured I’d wait until it was cancelled in season two and then just buy a two season set. It looks like I might have that chance after all.

Dollhouse has a rabid fan base, and Joss Whedon a solid reputation as a writer. So why aren’t people tuning in? Why, in a world where almost 10 million people tune in to watch J.J. AbramsFringe are only 2.5 million of them watching Dollhouse?

I suspect that the answer lies with demographics, the Internet and the changing nature of the television game.

It’s important not to underestimate the impact of those first five episodes. While there may have been nothing inherently wrong with them, they were boring conventional television shows with nice clean plots that wrapped up. Dollhouse’s ratings slipped steadily from episode one. The studio had publicly tinkered with the pilot and forced a reshoot, and we’ll never know if the original pilot and its subsequent episodes would have hooked viewers for the long term. That’s unfortunate.

Fundamentally though, I suspect that Dollhouse’s problems lie with a young, Internet savvy audience. I suspect there’s quite a bit of crossover between The Guild’s audience and Dollhouse’s. This is an audience that’s accustomed to getting its entertainment when and how it wants it, not when a television network sees fit to air it. It’s also an audience that’s not going to spend the $2.49 per week to buy an episode at the iTunes store when alternatives exist (and those alternatives most definitely do exist.)

By contrast, Fringe probably has a broader and older audience of more conventional television viewers. Fringe is—and don’t get me wrong, I like the show quite a bit—basically the X-Files re-imagined by the mind of J.J. Abrams. It’s comfortable, familiar territory.

It’s interesting to note that Fringe appears in the list of recent bestsellers in iTunes while Dollhouse does not. It may be that that broader audience is more willing or able to spend money to download it: it may be that they’re not as aware of the alternatives.

Direct sales to consumers are emerging as a distribution channel, causing the cable and satellite companies a great deal of frustration. In Canada the broadcast networks are looking for direct payments from cable companies to make up for revenue they’ve lost. It’s a desperate move, and one that’s at best a stopgap. The cable companies are just a central distribution channel, and the Canadian networks have yet to create their own for some reason. Hulu is an obvious model, and one that would help them all maintain control over their products.

Either way, the broadcast television model is dying a fairly slow and painful death right now. The traditional funding model for a TV show has been a single use one: air it once and sell enough advertising to cover production costs. Sure you can hope for syndication and reruns do happen, but fundamentally that first airing has been the source of the greatest revenue: you wouldn’t produce a show if it could make money on the first airing. The rest was gravy. In the modern world of television there’s more opportunities for gravy—DVD sales, advertising supported streaming sites and iTunes sales are good examples—but I doubt the gravy is rich enough to support the production yet.

Dollhouse, as it turns out, isn’t even doing the gravy very well. Sales of the DVD were lower than expected iTunes episode sales aren’t great.

Ultimately with low ratings and (apparently) low residual sales, Dollhouse will die. It won’t be the last good show to do so. There’s no doubt that television is in a liminal period right now. The industry hasn’t yet figured out how to engage the first generation that was raised with the Internet as a primary, not a secondary, medium. They may yet, but I suspect that an old adage remains true:

The revolution will not be televised, but the proceedings will be available online.

That the revolution has already begun is certain, and Dollhouse is one of its early victims.

Posted by skooter at 10:17 PM
Tags: Dollhouse, Joss Whedon, Television

September 10, 2009
Alan Turing: Father of Modern Computer Science

“Alan Turing” is the father of modern computer science, and a pioneer in thinking on the concept of artificial intelligence. He was also famously gay, at a time when such a thing was not allowed.

Great Britan has finally chosen to apologize to one of its most notable citizens.

“Treatment of Alan Turing was “appalling” - PM”:http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page20571

Number 10 door: PA copyrightThe Prime Minister has released a statement on the Second World War code-breaker, Alan Turing, recognising the “appalling” way he was treated for being gay.

Alan Turing, a mathematician most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes, was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration.

July 14, 2009
Segways touted by B.C. town mayor

Ferrari Segway This article about Tumbler Ridge wanting Segway personal transports to be street legal reminded me about this article about how Segway sales have been rather less then underwhelming.

Not surprising, despite the existence of the Ferrari edition of the Segway which, of course, wouldn’t fit in the trunk of the Ferrari edition of your car.

Posted by skooter at 2:01 PM
Tags: Transportation

June 23, 2009
Autochromes from the George Eastman Collection

Early attempts at colour photography, preserved by Kodak as part of the George Eastman Collection. On the day of Kodachrome’s demise, it’s important to remember that technology makes it much easier to share these with the world.

Posted by skooter at 1:44 PM
Tags: Kodak, Photography

Kodachrome Officially Ends

It’s finally happened. Last year it was speculation but Kodachrome is now going out of production.

It was always weird film, wonderful and fine grained but it required a dedicated processing lab, not the “standard” E-6 slide processing that was much more readily available. Kodak is still making slide film, as is Fuji…but the loss of Kodachrome is a blow to those of us who still like film nonetheless.

I bought film today: 10 more rolls to last a while longer. It may be the last batch, but I’m not sure. Although my cost has gone up quite a bit, it’s still cheaper than a Canon 5D.

Expect to hear a lot of Paul Simon lyrics quoted.

If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know theyd never match
My sweet imagination
And everything looks worse in black and white

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama dont take my kodachrome away

Posted by skooter at 1:24 PM
Tags: Kodak, Photography, Technology

June 13, 2009
Post It Stop Motion Animation

Posted by skooter at 5:11 PM
Tags: Animation, Design, Post-It

May 20, 2009
Why I Miss My One Button Mouse

Apple shipped a single button mouse for years. I loved that mouse, and it’s replacement with the so called Mighty Mouse has been hard for me.

There’s a simple reason one button mice are nice: they force interaction designers to truly think about menu structures. Microsoft’s original two button mouse has blossomed into a mouse of many buttons, but a minimum of three. The right mouse button is, in the world of Windows, is responsible for contextual menus. The idea is sound: right click on an item and get a list of options specific to that item. The reality is different. Not only do a surprising number of people not understand the difference between Click and Right Click, contextual menus have also made interface designers lazy, with functionality being shoved into invisble menus.

I thought Microsoft’s own Office Suite was amongst the worst offenders…until I had to use a Blackberry Enterprise Server.

The Blackberry server administers all of your Blackberry users. The screen shot below shows the list of users, and in it I’ve right clicked on a user, and was presented with the, frankly, shocking list of options seen below that.

User Administration on the Blackberry Enterprise Server Contextual Menu for User Administration By my count there are 35 different options on that menu, not all of which are even clearly linked to a single user. With no hierarchy (aside from the occasional line break) and nothing to guide the eye, the menu is virtually useless. The use of technical terms in the menu (good examples include Peer-to-Peer Key and Configuration Check Status) makes it hoplessly confusing if you’re not intimately familiar with the functions. Items aren’t seemingly grouped by function, with Statistics Exporting sharing space with Purge Pending Data Packets.

As an example of how not to design a menu, you couldn’t dream of a better one. As an example of why hiding things behind a Right Click is a bad idea, I’ve never seen better either.

I hate my right mouse button, but I seem to be stuck with it…for now.

Posted by skooter at 1:59 PM
Tags: Blackberry, Interaction Design, RIM, Usability

May 8, 2009
Reducing Competition in Canada's Wireless Industry

Bell is buying Virgin Mobile.

BCE moved to further drive wireless-customer growth by fully acquiring discount carrier Virgin Mobile Canada on Thursday.
Virgin was launched in 2004 by its showy owner Richard Branson and with it came with flashy stunts, sexy nurse uniforms, an major indie music festival and a surprisingly strong beachhead in the youth prepaid market thanks to promotions that painted the company as everything the incumbent telcos weren’t.

Why the CRTC allows this to happen always shocks me. Cell phone costs in Canada are high and going up. There’s not enough competition in the market, and the big three lock their customers into extended contracts.

The National Post doesn’t seem to get it either, positioning Koodo and Fido as competitors to the big three although those companies are both owned by Telus and Rogers respectively.

Sigh. It’s back to a landline for me in the fall, I think.

Posted by skooter at 1:37 PM
Tags: Bell, Cellular Phones, Rogers, Telus

May 1, 2009
Regulating the Cable Companies

Canada’s national networks, the ones that broadcast over the air on public airwaves, has been lobbying the CRTC to, in essence, be treated as specialty channels. They want to collect a direct fee from cable subscribers, just as TSN and other cable only channels do.

The difference is that TSN doesn’t use the airwaves: they haven’t been given any spectrum. TSN and the other specialty channels aren’t available though an antenna. Traditional networks are.

That argument has been falling on largely deaf ears until now, and this seems to mark a shift in strategy, though it’s a bit unclear to me how regulating the amount that Shaw Cable charges customers is going to help the networks.

Television is dead. The revolution is over, and the proceedings can be found on this very internet. The networks haven’t figured out how to make money on it yet, and regulating your cable bill isn’t going to help.

CTVglobemedia wants CRTC to look at cable rates
Paul Vieira, Financial Post, Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009

Broadcasters need more funds to keep ‘status quo,’ CRTC told
Local programming has to be subsidized: Canwest’s CEO
Local-based TV at ‘tipping point’: CTV
Carriage fees called ‘a matter of survival’

GATINEAU, QUE. CTVglobemedia Inc.’s chief executive, Ivan Fecan, said Thursday it might be time for the CRTC to step in and start regulating cable rates again because cable and satellite operators are holding households “hostage” and threaten the livelihood of local TV programming.

Mr. Fecan’s comments were before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, as the Toronto broadcaster seeks the renewal of its TV licence on a special one-year basis, as opposed to the usual seven-year term, due to the financial crisis.

Posted by skooter at 1:28 PM
Tags: Telecommunications, Television

April 2, 2009
Surely They Saw This Coming?

I never really played around with Second Life, prefering this real world to any virtual facsimile. There is, to me, a difference between Second Life and even the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft or the Lord of the Rings. I can see the appeal of those, but spending my online time in a facsimile of the real world never seemed that interesting to me.

It was trendy for a while, and the marketing departments of real world corporations got very excited about setting up shop there. I’d be curious to know what a well run marketing department learned. A great experiment for some, it seems to be winding towards its inevitable close. I’ve added emphasis to my favourite quote.

Second Life’s span is virtually over as firms decide to get real
By Rupert Neate, Last Updated: 9:12AM BST 31 Mar 2009

While the site is still beloved by geeks and the socially awkward, Deloitte’s director of technology research, Paul Lee, says it has been “virtually abandoned” by “normal” people and businesses.

In 2006 multinational companies, including BT, Coca-Cola, Adidas and Toyota, were scrabbling to create “in world” presences to profit from what was expected to be the next great internet cash cow.
 
But today the Second Life high street is mostly deserted, as businesses have realised that despite management claims that the site has 15m members, far fewer people actually play the game. Research for The Daily Telegraph shows just 580,000 people logged on to the game last week.

Matthew Brotherton who runs BT’s presence on Second Life, says most major businesses “have gone cold” on the game as they “can’t see how it is possible to make any money out of it”.

Posted by skooter at 2:39 AM
Tags: Marketing, Online Marketing, Virtual Reality

March 18, 2009
Peering into the Dollhouse

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse airs episode six this Friday, and according to Joss it’s the hook: the one that once you watch, you won’t be able to stop watching.

Dollhouse’s premise is programmable memories: the actives have personalities that are downloaded for engagements and when they return to the Dollhouse their memories are wiped…erased…completely forgotten (although it appears that an imperfect wiping process is the central premise of the plot.)

Scientists now appear to be advancing research into the technology, making it seem like the future of Brave New World’s Soma is not so much ingested medicines, but applied treatments.

A world without painful memories is not a complete world.

Should painful memories be erased?
Toronto researchers have been able to do it in traumatized mice
Mar 13, 2009 04:30 AM, JOSEPH HALL, HEALTH REPORTER

Something horrible happens. A child is lost. A bomb goes off. A car goes out of control.

And deep in the brain, in the lateral amygdala region, a scattered set of neurons come to life and begin to vibrate with fear.

Through an ingenious set of experiments, a group of researchers at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children have not only located these terror-laden brain cells in mice, but erased them—along with the frightening memories they stored.

Posted by skooter at 1:14 AM
Tags: Articles, Joss Whedon, Science Fiction

March 14, 2009
Richard Florida in the Atlantic Monthly

The March 2009 cover of the Atlantic Monthly featured a series of “regional” covers highlighting an article by Richard Florida called How the Crash Will Reshape America. Apparently, the Atlantic considers Canada one region as the Vancouver area edition featured not Vancouver (mentioned in the article) and not even Seattle (the economic hub of our region) but Toronto. Yes…Toronto. 4000km away.

Although my feelings on Florida are mixed, the article isn’t bad. He addresses some good points and every time a hole in his logical circle poked up he managed to plug it like a good little dutch boy. Some excerpts.

How the Crash Will Reshape America
Richard Florida, The Atlantic Monthly, March 2009

“The world’s 40 largest mega-regions, which are home to some 18 percent of the world’s population, produce two-thirds of global economic output and nearly 9 in 10 new patented inventions…Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Raleigh, and Boston now have two or three times the concentration of college graduates of Akron or Buffalo…as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, created a snowball effect…successful cities, unlike biological organisms, actually get faster as they grow older.”

“Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure.”

“In Chicago, for instance, the country’s 50 biggest law firms grew by 2,130 lawyers from 1984 to 2006…Throughout the the rest of the Midwest, these firms added a total of just 169 attorneys.”

“Bank of America has taken to the banking like a shopaholic with a new credit card; it has been bargain-hunting and cutting some astonishing deals. Bank of America will come out the other side far better than in any fantasy it might have entertained previously.”

“To an uncommon degree, the economic boom in these cities was propelled by housing appreciation: as prices rose, more people moved in, seeking inexpensive lifestyles and the opportunity to get in on the real-estate market where it was rising…Local homeowners pumped more and more capital out of their houses as well, taking out home-equity loans and injecting money into the local economy in the form of home improvements and demand for retail goods and low-level services.”

Posted by skooter at 4:06 AM
Tags: Articles, Economics, Politics, Technology

March 13, 2009
Great Headlines

As with many aspects of life, journalism has gotten faster in the internet era. Publications that would have once been embarrassed to print a story with a typo barely notice them now, blaming the need to “publish quickly.”

In this speeding up the quality of journalism has changed as well. I can’t help but think that a headline like this one never would have appeared only a few years ago. The point of jail being to keep people in sort of implies that any escape (brazen, or otherwise) shouldn’t have happened.

Brazen escape from Regina Jail shouldn’t have happened: report
Last Updated: Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 6:21 PM
CBC News

A heavily censored report on a brazen escape by six inmates of the Regina Jail in August 2008 says it wouldn’t have happened if the managers and staff were doing a better job.

The report, released Thursday, said that it is possible to deceive corrections staff from time to time, but the nature of the August escape revealed serious operational concerns.

That first paragraph is pretty good too.

Posted by skooter at 1:16 PM
Tags: CBC, Journalism, Technology

February 25, 2009
The Long, Slow Death of the Newspaper

According to the New York Times, the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle are considering folding the paper. This won’t be the last, and it’s not surprising that San Francisco would be the epicentre of this quake as it has been for much of the revolution.

Posted by skooter at 1:38 PM
Tags: Articles, Newspapers

February 24, 2009
Bike Parking in Japan

Posted by skooter at 5:07 AM
Tags: Cycling, Technology

February 19, 2009
Faces of the Dead

The New York Times has created one of the most compelling memorials to American soldiers who have died in Iraq I can imagine. This is reminiscent of Life Magazine’s One Day Dead feature published in 1969, but the update uses current technology in an effective way.

Posted by skooter at 3:37 AM
Tags: Interaction Design, Iraq

February 18, 2009
If alien life does exist on Earth...

Mono Lake would be one of the more believable places to find it. A very cool place.

Posted by skooter at 1:40 PM
Tags: California, Science, Science Fiction

January 21, 2009
Obamicons

I’ve avoided Obamicon until now. I can’t see how. A great way to kill 15 minutes at the end of my day.

Posted by skooter at 6:41 AM
Tags: America, Barak Obama, Politics

January 14, 2009
Nortel Files for Bankruptcy

About damn time.

Nortel files for bankruptcy protection
ANDREW WILLIS and JACQUIE MCNISH AND MATTHEW HARTLEY, From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
January 14, 2009 at 8:35 AM EST

Former technology titan Nortel Networks Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday, a move that will likely see what was once Canada’s great corporate success story broken up and sold to foreign rivals.

Nortel’s board of directors was meeting last night to deal with a financial crisis, as the economic downturn translates into a sharp drop in orders from phone company clients. The telecom-hardware manufacturer failed to find buyers for a number of divisions that were put up for sale in September, and faces the prospect of paying $107-million (U.S.) of interest on its debts tomorrow.

Nortel files for Bankruptcy

Posted by skooter at 1:43 PM
Tags: Economics, Nortel, Telecommunications

January 3, 2009
Microsoft Zunes Die En Masse

A few days ago, thousands (you don’t really think they’ve sold millions do you?) or 30GB Microsoft Zune’s refused to start up. Slow to acknowledge the problem despite its seeming universality, Microsoft finally admitted that yes it was happening, and yes it had to do with the Zune’s clock not handling the leap year correctly.

What I find amazing about this is how cavalier people are being about the problem. With over 30 years of history behind them, the Y2K problem as fairly recent history and more code monkeys on staff than any other corporation, one would think that clock related problems would have been eliminated quite a while ago. It’s just a leap year, after all, and leap year’s happen every four years.

That this happened only a couple of weeks after the British navy announced they would be running their submarines on Microsoft Windows XP should be a reason for legitimate concern.

Posted by skooter at 4:14 PM
Tags: Microsoft, Zune

December 22, 2008
Where Not To Invest

Recession or not (or, as George W. Bush would say technical recession or note) companies that lay off percentages and not people are not where you want to be.

EA to shut Vancouver’s Black Box studio
…EA also announced Friday that it was upping the number of layoffs it expected to complete by the end of March from six per cent of the total workforce to 10 per cent, or about 1,000 employees.

Things may be bad, but these are people not just bodies. Regardless of how bad things are, when companies start talking in percentages its not a good thing.

Posted by skooter at 1:01 PM
Tags: Games, Technology, Vancouver

December 15, 2008
Herman Miller's Thoughtpoint

This is quite lovely, both in implementation and purpose.

Posted by skooter at 5:44 AM
Tags: Links, Technology

November 2, 2008
CBC Radio One on FM

With very little fanfare, CBC Radio One in Vancouver has launched its FM signal at 88.1 FM.

I’m a bit uncertain whether this is an unofficial launch or, perhaps, an early equipment test. I think I heard something about it on The Morning Edition on Monday, but that’s only a vague memory. It may be that they’re waiting to make a bit more of a splash about it (the web page still lists AM 690 as the frequency.)

Either way, I’m pretty happy. The FM signal is much higher fidelity in both the car and, most notably, at home where I often chose to stream NPR rather than listen to CBC’s AM signal.

By any measure, of course, this is ten years too late. Toronto switched almost that long ago, and I was shocked at the length of time it took to make this happen here.

Posted by skooter at 1:38 AM
Tags: CBC, Radio

October 10, 2008
If Your Were Printing a Newspaper...

would you splash an advertisement across the middle of the page, covering the content? Why would you do this online?
Globe and Mail Home Page, October 10, 2008

Posted by skooter at 1:53 PM
Tags: Globe and Mail, News, Online Marketing

October 5, 2008
MLS Canada's New Site

The new MLS site has a pretty slick map based tool for searching for housing. Specify your search criteria, then start drilling down and sliding around the map. Properties that fit your criteria are placed on the map like pins.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work in Safari on the Mac. A weird choice, especially when you consider the fact that Webkit is the rendering engine Safari uses, and Webkit is now shared by Google Chrome.

The problem? The mapping engine was developed by Microsoft. Of course.
MLS Canada Mapping Tool

Posted by skooter at 5:30 PM
Tags: Microsoft, Real Estate, Technology

August 10, 2008
Can't Stop the Wave

NBC just doesn’t get it. Still.

Tape Delay by NBC Faces End Run by Online Fans
By BRIAN STELTER
Published: August 8, 2008

NBC, which owns the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, spent most of Friday trying to keep it that way.

NBC’s decision to delay broadcasting the opening ceremonies by 12 hours sent people across the country to their computers to poke holes in NBC’s technological wall — by finding newsfeeds on foreign broadcasters’ Web sites and by watching clips of the ceremonies on YouTube and other sites.

In response, NBC sent frantic requests to Web sites, asking them to take down the illicit clips and restrict authorized video to host countries. As the four-hour ceremony progressed, a game of digital whack-a-mole took place. Network executives tried to regulate leaks on the Web and shut down unauthorized video, while viewers deftly traded new links on blogs and on the Twitter site, redirecting one another to coverage from, say, Germany, or a site with a grainy Spanish-language video stream.

As the first Summer Games of the broadband age commenced in China, old network habits have never seemed so archaic — or so irrelevant.

Posted by skooter at 12:44 AM
Tags: Copyright, Olympics, Television

August 2, 2008
Shimano Dura-Ace 7970 Electronic Shifting

Velonews has more details on the new Shimano Dura-Ace 7970 electronic shifters. There’s enough information there to convince me that this is definitely different. No cables, self adjusting derailleurs, potential for more than a single set of shifters.

I’m not going to be jumping on this bandwagon very quickly, but I’m intrigued at least.

This is a fundamental shift in cycling technology that hasn’t been seen before. The basic mechanics of shifting have been the same since the 50s and 60s. Shift levers have changed to be sure, but in evolutionary ways. Still cables pulling on springs at heart, with a chain to tie it all together.

Old technologies have a habit of sticking around the longest. The book has been remarkably resilient, and the bike ha been extremely persistent. I suppose we’ll see what happens now.

Posted by skooter at 5:03 AM
Tags: Cycling, Dura-Ace, Shimano

August 1, 2008
Battery Operated Bikes

I confess to not quite understanding the point of electronic shifting but Shimano is apparently hitting the market next year.

Cables stretch, but are cheap and easy to replace. Perhaps the electronic version will remain snappier for a longer period of time, or perhaps forever. This article provides a bit more detail, but I want to see what Velonews has to say first.

I just don’t want my batteries to die when I’m on my way up Cypress Bowl.

Posted by skooter at 5:02 AM
Tags: Cycling, Shimano

July 29, 2008
Apache Everywhere?

Microsoft has joined the Apache Foundation which is amongst the more interesting small developments in the tech industry in a while (and yes, I am aware of the recent launch of a Google competitor by former Google employees.)

My personal crystal ball would suggest that this will lead in two possible directions.

  1. Microsft replaces Internet Information Server, it’s proprietary web server platform, with Apache in future Windows server releases, or
  2. Microsoft integrates the ASP core of it’s .NET platform into the Apache core, allowing for the deployment of ASP on any web server.

Doing both would make the most sense. If I had to choose one, I’d choose the second because it would lead to more easily implementing the first. It’s also a good fit for the common Microsoft strategy of allowing its code to be deployed anywhere by creating common APIs. Allowing Microsoft code monkeys to deploy ASP applications on any server platform could be a step in a strategy intended to dethrone PHP.

it won’t work, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t consider it. It’s just far too late to work, but hubris knows no time limits.

In any case, an interesting development. Apache everyhwere!

Posted by skooter at 5:00 AM
Tags: Apache, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source

July 17, 2008
Vista vs. XP

The very fact that articles like this one exist, and are getting published in major computer magazines should give Microsoft some insight to the problem that is Windows Vista.

What does it take to get a PC with XP?

For what it’s worth, I’ve used Vista and find it generally OK, but dramatically different from XP which I also found generally OK. The differences were inconsequential to me, so I never switched full time.

Posted by skooter at 8:49 PM
Tags: Microsoft, Vista, Windows

May 30, 2008
Blame the Rider, not the Bike

Luc Bourdon had been riding for 10 days before this accident. Lack of rider training is the number one cause of motorcycle accidents.

Schneider wasn’t surprised Bourdon would ride a motorcycle.

“Something like this, buying a motorcycle, just fits right into his persona. Always fearless and doing whatever he felt would give him that rush or make him excited.”

I told someone awhile ago that I’d never get on the back of a bike with anyone who thought that riding motorcycles was cool. Kids who are looking for “a rush” are the ones who wind up dead.

Posted by skooter at 1:56 PM
Tags: Motorcycle, Obituaries

May 28, 2008
Tetra-Pak Recycling

The Toronto Star asks a very important question today.

How green is wine in a box?
Experts disagree on how much of a Tetra Pak can really be recycled
May 28, 2008 04:30 AM NANCY J. WHITE

While shoppers at Ontario’s liquor stores may soon be toting their own reusable bags, they still have an eco-dilemma: is it greener to buy wine in a glass bottle or in a Tetra Pak carton?

Most disappointingly, I also learned this;

Returned Tetra Pak cartons are sent by container ship to mills in China and Korea.
(A Michigan mill recently closed, and the Tetra Pak company is looking for recycling options in Canada, says Koel.)

That Michigan mill used to handle Vancouver’s recycling of Tetra-Paks, a fact that caused me to stop purchasing items when I had a choice. (Orange Juice and soup stocks are packed in little else these days.) That it’s now closed means, no doubt, that Vancouver’s Tetra-Paks now embark on the same worldwide journey.

It’s my view that the government should pass legislation requiring local recycling for manufacturers who choose packaging to provide a local recycling option where one is not available.

Refillable glass bottles. That’s a better way to go. Avalon Milk does it in Vancouver, and it’s the only milk I buy.

Tetra Paks are horrible, and I’m offended by the fact that wines like French Rabbit wrap themselves in an environmental flag without a second thought to the real impact of their products.

Posted by skooter at 1:46 PM
Tags: Environmentalism, Recycling

May 27, 2008
Maybe NOW You'll Believe Me

This isn’t a new story, but when I’ve mentioned it to people in the past they never seem to take me seriously. Bananas are going extinct, in large part because of a lack of varietal diversity.

Why bananas are a parable for our times
JOHANN HARI

Below the headlines about rocketing food prices and rocking governments, there lays a largely unnoticed fact: Bananas are dying. The foodstuff, more heavily consumed even than rice or potatoes, has its own form of cancer. It is a fungus called Panama Disease, and it turns bananas brick-red and inedible.

There is no cure. They all die as it spreads, and it spreads quickly. Soon — in five, 10 or 30 years — the yellow creamy fruit as we know it will not exist. The story of how the banana rose and fell can be seen a strange parable about the corporations that increasingly dominate the world — and where they are leading us.

Posted by skooter at 1:49 PM
Tags: Environmentalism, Food

May 26, 2008
Touchdown, the Red Planet

The Phoenix Lander has touched down on Mars, using a highly accurate jet based landing system. This is a change from earlier landing methods which essentially use air bags to soften a landing and allow rovers to bounce to a stop. Sufficient for robotics, but probably not for a human landing (it’s also a less accurate method.”

Wired has an article as does the New Scientist while Scientific American’s site hasn’t yet been updated, but I’m sure it will be.

Wired also has a link to mission control’s chatter line during the landing. Very cool.

This is the a key step in a hopefully renewed push for space exploration.

Posted by skooter at 5:37 AM
Tags: Mars, Science, Science Fiction, Space

May 22, 2008
Planet of Weeds: Tallying the Losses of Earth's Animals and Plants

Written by David Quammen and published in Harper’s Magazine in October of 1998 everybody should read this article in its fully.

It’s a reminder of our small place in the world, and the dangerous potential of the future—a future that’s already 10 years old.

“…why has the rate of extinction—low throughout most of Earth’s history—spiked upward cataclysmically on just a few occasion?…The Ordovician extinction, 439 million years ago, entailed the disappearance of roughly 85 percent of marine animal species…The Devonian extinction, 367 million years ago, seems to have been almost as severe. About 245 million years ago came the Permian extinction, the worst ever, claiming 95 percent of all known animal species.” pp. 58

“How long is the lag between a nadir of impoverishment and a recoverty to ecological fullness? That’s another of [David] Jablonski’s research interests. His rough estimates run to 5 or 10 million years.” pp. 58

“…The consensus among conscientious biologists is that we’re headed into another mass extinction, a vale or biological impoverishment commensurate with the big five. Many experts remain hopeful that we can brake that descent, but my own view is that we’re likely to go all the way down.” pp. 58-59

“When did someone first realize that the concept might apply to current events, not just to the Permian or the Cretaceous?
[Jablonksi] begins sorting through memory, back to the early 1970s when the full scope of the current extinction problem was barely recognized…In 1976, a Nairobi-based biologist named Norman Myers published a paper in Science on that subject: in passing, he also compared current extinctions with the rate during what he loosely called ‘the great dying of the dinosaurs.’…in 1979, Myers published The Sinking Ark, explaining the problem and offering some rough projections. Between the years 1600 and 1900 by his tally, humanity had caused the extinction of about 75 known species, almost all of them mammals and birds. Between 1900 and 1979, humans had extinguished about another 75 known species…Myers guessed that 25,000 plant species present stood jeopardized, and maybe hundreds of thousands of insects. ‘By the time human communities establish ecologically sound life-styles, the fallout of species could total several million.’” pp. 59

“…Most conspicuous of the naysayers was Julian Simon, an economist at the University of Maryland, who argued bullishly that human resourcefulness would solve all problems worth solving, of which a decline in diversity of tropical insects wasn’t one.
In a 1986 issue of New Scientist, Simon rebutted Norman Myers, arguing from his own construal of select data that there was ‘no obvious recent downward trend in world forests—no obvious losses at all, and certainly no near catastrophic loss.’” pp. 59-60

“…perhaps the truest sentence [Simon] left behind was, ‘We must also try to get more reliable information about the number of species that might be lost with various changes in the forests.’ No one could argue.
But it isn’t easy to get such information. Field biologists tend to avoid investing their precious research time in doomed tracts of forest.

W.V. Reid of the World Resources Institute, in 1992 gathered numbers on the average annual deforestation in each of sixty-three tropical countries during the 1980s…He chose a standard mathematical model of the relationship between decreasing habitat area and decreasing species diversity, made conservative assumptions about teh crucial constant, and ran his various deforestation estimates through the model. Reid’s calculations suggest that by the year 2040, between 17 and 35 percent of tropical forest species will be extinct or doomed to be.
Robert. M. May, an ecologist as Oxford, co-authored a similar effort in 1995. May and his colleagues noted the five causal factors that account for most extinctions: habitat destructions, habitat fragmentation, overkill, invasive, species, and secondary effects cascading through an ecosystem from other extinctions….’Much of the diversity we inerited,’ May and his co-authors wrote, ‘will be gone before humanity sorts itself out.’
Teh most recent estimate comes from Stuart L. Pimm and Thomas M. Brooks, ecologists at the University of Tennessee…Pimm and Brooks concluded that 50 percent of the world’s forest-bird species will be doomed to extinction by deforestation occurring over the next half century.

Jablonski, who started down this line of thought in 1978, offers me a reminder about the conceptual machinery behind such estimates. ‘All mathematical models,’ he says cheerily, ‘are wrong. They are approximations. And the question is: Are they usefully wrong, or are they meaninglessly wrong?’” pp. 60-61

“…According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the rate of teh deforestation in tropical countries has increased (contrary to Julian Simon’s claim) since the 1970s, when Myers made his estimates. During the 1980s, as the FAO reported in 1993, that rate reached 15.4 million hectares…annually. South America was losing 6.2 million hectares a year…the Atlantic coastal forest of Brazil is at least 95 percent gone. The Phillipines, once nearly covered with rain forest has lost 92 percent. Costa Rica has continued to lose forest, despite that country’s famous concern for its biological resources…By the middle of the next century, if those trends continue, tropical forest will exist virtually nowhere outside of protected areas—that is, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other official reserves.
How many protected areas will there be? The present worldwide total is about 9,800, encompassing 6.3 percent of the planet’s land area. Will those parks and reserves retain their full biological diversity? No. Species with large territorial needs will be unable to maintain viable population levels within small reserves.” pp. 62

“…world population is still increasing, and even if average fertility suddenly, magically, dropped to 2.0 children per female, population would continue to increase (on the momentum of birth rate exceeding death rate among a generally younger and healthier populace) for some time…According to the U.N.’s middle estimate…among seven fertility scenarios, human population will rise from the present 5.9 billion to 9.4 billion by the year 2050, then to 10.8 billion by 2150 before leveling off…about 9.7 billion people will inhabit the countries included within Africa, Latin America, the Carribean, and Asia.” pp. 62

“We also need to remember that the impact of Homo sapiens on the biosphere can’t be measured simply in population figures. As the population expert Paul Harrison pointed out in his book The Third Revolution that impact is a product of three variables: population size, consumption level, and technology….High consumption exacerbates the impact of a given population, whereas technological developments may either exacerbate it further…or mitigate it…
According to Harrison’s calculations, population growth accounted for 79 percent of the deforestation in less-developed countries between 1973 and 1988…figures point toward an undeniable reality: more total people will need more total land. By his estimate, the minimum land necessary for food growing and other human needs (such as water supply and waste dumping) amount to one fifth of a hectare per person….that comes to another billion hectares of human-claimed landscape, a billion hectares less forest—even without allowing for any further deforestation by the current human population…This raises the vision of a very exigent human population pressing snugly around whatever patches of natural landscape remain.” pp. 63

“…the world’s poor also number about 1.1 billion people—all from households with less than $700 annually per member. ‘They are mostly rural Africans, Indians and other South Asians,’ [Alan] Durning writes. ‘They eat almost exclusively grains, root crops, beans and other legumes, and they drink mostly unclean water. They live in huts and shanties, they travel by foot, and most of their possessions are constructed of stone, wood, and other substances available from the local environment.’…It’s only reasonable to assume that another billion people will be added to that class, mostly in what are now the less-developed countries, before population growth stabilizes….if all the bright ideas generate by a human population of 5.9 billion haven’t yet relieved the desperate needfulness of 1.1 billion absolute poor, why should we expect that human ingenuity will do any better for roughly 2 billion poor in the future.” pp. 63-64

“[Thomas] Homer-Dixon said it more vividly: ‘This of a stretch limo in the potholed streets of New York City, where homeless beggars live. Inside the limo are the air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the emerging Pacific Rim, and a few other isolated places, with their trade summitry and computer information highways. Outside is the rest of mankind, going in a completely different direction.” pp. 64

“We shouldn’t take comfort in assuming that at least Yellowstone National Park will still harbor grizzly bears in the year 2150, that at least Royal Chitwan in Nepal will still harbor tigers…Those predator populations, and other species down the cascade, are likely to disappear.” _pp. 65

“…The additional dire factor is invasive species, fifth of the five factors contributing to our current experiment in mass extinction.
…Maybe you havent’ heard much about invasive species, but in coming years you will. The ecologist Daniel Simberloff takes it so seriously that he recently committed himself to founding an institute on invasive biology at the University of Tennessee…
The problem dates back to when people began using ingenious new modes of conveyance (the horse, the camel, the canoe) to travel quickly across mountains, deserts, and oceans, bringing with them rats, lice, disease microbes, burrs, dogs, pigs, goats, cats, cows, and other forms of parasitic, commensal or domesticated creature. One immediate result of those travels was a wave of island-bird extinctions, claiming more than a thousand species,…Dutch sailors killed and ate dodos during the seventeenth century, but probably what guaranteed the extinction of Raphus cucullatus is that the European ships put ashore rats, pigs and Macaca fascicularis, an opportunistic species of Asian monkey. Although commonly known as the crab-eating macaque, M. fascicularis will eat almost anything…the dodo hasn’t been seen since 1662.” pp. 65

“…the same trend of far-flung human travel that gave biogeographers tehir data also began to muddle and nullify those data, by transplanting the most ready and roguish species to new places and thereby delivering misery unto death for many other species. Rats and cats went everywhere, causing havoc in what for millions of years had been sheltered, less competitive ecosystems. They Asiatic chestnut blight and the European starling came to America…Sometimes these human-mediated transfers were unintentional, sometimes merely shortsighted. Nostalgic sportsmen in New Zealand imported British red deer; European brown trout and Coastal rainbows were planted in disregard of the native cutthroats of Rocky Mountain rivers…the Atlantic sea lamprey found its own way up into Lake Erie, but only after the Welland Canal gave it a bypass around Niagara Falls.” pp. 66

“The problem is vastly amplified by modern shipping and air transport, which are quick and capacious enough to allow many more kinds of organism to get themselves transplanted into zones of habitat they never could have reached on their own. The brown tree snake, having hitchhiked aboard military planes from New Guinea region near the end of World War II, has eaten most of the native forest birds of Guam…One study…reports that in the United States 4,500 nonnative species have established free-living populations, of which about 15 percent cause severe harm…Michael Soulé, a biologist much respected for his work on landscape conversion and extinction, has said that invasive species may soon surpass habitat loss and fragmentation as the major cause of ‘ecological disintegration.’ Having exterminated Guam’s avifauna, the brown tree snake has lately been spotted in Hawaii.” pp. 66

“The city pigeon, a cosmopolitan creature derived from wild ancestrya s a Eurasian rock dove (_Columba livia_) by way of centuries of pigeon fanciers whose coop-bred birds occasionally when AWOL, is a weed. So are those species that, benefiting from human impacts upon landscape, have increased grossly in abundance or expanded their geographical scope without having to cross an ocean by plane or by boat…Biologists frequently talk of weedy species, meaning animals as well as plants.” pp. 67

“Now, as we sit in [Jablonksi’s] office, he repeats ‘It’s just a question of how much the world becomes enriched in these weedy species.’ Both in print and in talk he uses ‘enriched’ somewhat caustically, knowing that the actual direction of the trend is toward impoverishment
…the two converse trends I’ve described—partitioning the world’s landscape by global transport of weedy species—produce not converse results, but one redoubled result, the further loss of biological diversity…portending a near-term future in which Earth’s landscape is threadbare, leached of diversity, heavy with humans and ‘enriched’ in weedy species. That’s an ugly vision, but I find it vivid. Wildlife will consist of the pigeons and the coyotes and the white-tails, the black rats_(Rattus rattus)_ and the brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) … Forests will be tiny insular patches existing on bare sufferace, much of their biological diversity (the big predators, the migratory birds, the shy creatures that can’t tolerate edges, and many other species linked inextricably with those) long since decayed away.” pp. 67

“I see this world implicitly foretold in the U.N. population projections, the FAO report on deforestation, the northward advance into Texas of Africanized honeybees, the rhesus monkeys that haunt the parapets of public buildings in New Delhi, and every fat gray squirrel on a bird feeder in England.” pp. 68

“Now we come to the question of human survival, a matter of some interest to many…By seizing such a huge share of Earth’s landscape, by imposing so wantonly on its providence and presuming so recklessly on its forgivingness, by killing off so man species, they say, we will doom our own species to extinction. This is a commonplace among the environmentally exercised….
Jablonski also has his doubts. … ‘Oh, we’ve got to be one of the most bomb-proof species on the planet,’ he says. ‘We’re geogrphically widespread, we have a pretty remarkable reproductive rate, we’re incredibly good at co-opting and monopolizing resources. I think it would take really serious, concerted effort to wipe out the human species.’ … Homo sapiens itself is the consummate weed. … But there’s a wide range of possible circumstances, Jablonski reminds me, between the extinction of our species and the continued growth of human population, consumption and comfort. ‘I think we’ll be one of the survivors,’ he says, ‘sort of picking through the rubble.’” pp. 68

“‘A lot of things are going to happen that will make this a crummier place to live—a more stressful place to live, a more difficult place to live, a less resilient place to live—before the human species is at any risk at all.’ … Maybe we’ll pull back before our current episode matches the Triassic extinction or the K-T event. Maybe it will turn out to be no worse than the Eocene extinction, with a 35 percent loss of species.
…What will increase most dramatically as time proceeds, I suspect, won’t be generalized misery or futuristic modes of consumption but the gulf between two global classes experiencing those extremes. … So the world’s privileged class…will probably still manage to maintain themselves inside Homer-Dixon’s stretch limo, drinking bottled water and breathing bottled air and eating reasonably healthy food that has become incredibly precious, while the potholes on the road outside grow ever deeper.
…evolution never rests. It’s happening right now, in weed patches all over the planet. … What I’ve tried to describe here is not an absolute end but a very deep dip, a repeat point within a long, violent cycle. Species die, species arise. The relative pace of those two processes is what matters. … So we might reasonably imagine an Earth upon which, 10 million years after the extinction (or, alternatively, the drastic transformation) of Homo sapiens, wondrous forests are filled with wondrous beasts. That’s the good news.” pp. 69

May 14, 2008
Going Supernova

supernovaremnant_2.jpg Nasa has discovered the world’s youngest supernova. A needle in a haystack.

Posted by skooter at 7:44 PM
Tags: NASA, Science, Space, Starts

April 29, 2008
Microsoft Word's Close Document Buttons

2008-04-29_1000.pngI’m fond of Microsoft Word. I really am. As a word processing program, it won the battle fair and square: it’s the best all around application for moving large amounts of formatted words.

Running on Windows though, there’s an interface anachronism that drives me nuts.

A Windows application lines up three buttons along the top right edge of it’s main window. Those three in the top row on the right hand side. The red X button, as everybody knows, closes the application.

Below that, you can see another X. In most cases, that X would close an individual window (your document, in this case) leaving the application running.

Unless you have a single document open, as it turns out. In Word, if you have a single document open that second X closes the application as well as your open Application.

This would make sense if it were on a Mac, sort of, but on Windows it’s just the kind of inconsistent behaviour that drives me nuts.

Posted by skooter at 6:49 PM
Tags: Interaction Design, Microsoft Office

April 20, 2008
Cringely on IT Consultants

This week’s Pulpit column at Cringely paints the truest picture of the I.T. consulting world I’ve read in such a public forum in a long time.

One of its best points is this one:

Who does YOUR IT consultant really work for?

A question I’ve often advised people to ask. If the short and long term goals of a consultant aren’t aligned with your organization, it’s virtually impossible that any working arrangement is going to end with both parties happy. It, of course, takes two to tango and companies can be as much to blame as consultants are.

Posted by skooter at 6:22 PM
Tags: Articles, Business, Consulting

April 19, 2008
Out Here on the Raggedy Edge...with 3G EVDO Cellular Service

In Midway again, for a little visit. This time with my laptop from work, and a Telus Mobility Sierra Wireless EVDO Internet card.

Surprisingly, this little town (serviced by a single tower from Telus, and not at all by Rogers) has full speed 3G Internet on the cellular network. Fun.

Posted by skooter at 5:22 AM
Tags: 3G, Cellular Phones, Internet Access, Midway

March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke

Words cannot express how much of a loss this is. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous With Rama, Childhood’s End list could go on forever of influential works that Arthur C. Clarke was responsible for.

If you haven’t read his work, there will be no better time.

Arthur C. Clarke, 90, Science Fiction Writer, Dies
By GERALD JONAS
Published: March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.

Rohan de Silva, an aide, confirmed the death and said Mr. Clarke had been experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades.

Posted by skooter at 6:20 AM
Tags: Arthur C. Clarke, Authors, Books, Obituaries

March 5, 2008
Solid State Gorilla Detector

This article, of course, reminded me so much of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s Solid State Gorilla Detector I had to laugh. Especially that last paragraph. (The emphasis is mine.)

Shark Snacks on Supposed Shark-Repelling Gadget
By David Becker, March 04, 2008

Let’s say you were in the business of creating a new type of shark repellent, and it was time for product testing. What is about the worst thing that could happen? We’re guessing a shark swimming up to your gadget, taking an angry pass or two and then trying to eat it.

Which is precisely what happened when skeptics of the Shark Shield, which generates an electric field that supposedly repels the beasties, tested the device off the coast of South Africa. An 11-foot great white registered its opinion by chewing on the thing like it was a surfer’s femur.

The manufacturer says the researchers erred by not arranging to have a wave-free ocean to test it in and rejects any theory that electric currents might actually attract sharks.

Posted by skooter at 3:24 PM
Tags: Articles, Muppets, Science, Sharks

March 2, 2008
Cyber Circles

From the October 1998 edition of Report on Business Magazine

Cyber Circles
The Do’s and Dont’s of Creating “Virtual Communities on your Corporate Web Site
by George Emerson

…’What starts off being a group drawn together by common interests ends up being a group with a critical mass of purchasing power—based in part on the fact that in communities, members can exchange information with each other on such things as a products price and quality.’ Hagel and Armstrong say.

Building a vibrant on-line community doesn’t have to be difficult—it just takes a good idea and dedicated execution.

…the idea takes an odd twist when company try to bolt community-building tools onto their corporate Web sites. It’s no wonder many commentators have laughed at tampon-maker Tampax’s efforts to get people to hang around their “T Lounge” chatting about the relative merits of feminine hygiene products. It’s far better for companies to promote their brands at independent virtual communities…than to go to the trouble and expense of growing their own fake company towns around the corporate URL.

But using on-line community-building tools to improve business processes is quite another. Companies can use message boards or even live chat as a form of customer support…

Mailing lists are an underutilized community-building tool…A mass-market variation of a mailing list invites users to participate in contests or receive discounts such as coupons. A good example is Canadian Tire’s E-flyer program…(Canadian Tire E-flyer managers claim their list subscribers spend three times as much as other CT customers.

Intuit and Piracy

In general, finding someone to say anything good about Intuit’s relationships with its customers is difficult these days. They act like one would expect a virtual monopoly to act.

In 2003, they made a good decision:

Intuit’s lesson for MSFT and Hollywood
May 19, 2003: 11:00 AM EDT
By Eric Hellweg, CNN/Money Contributing Columnist


When Intuit launched the copy-control program, it predicted that revenue would increase, since customers who had previously purchased only one TurboTax program would have to buy a separate copy for each computer in the house. That assumption was dead wrong. Instead, the move triggered a consumer backlash the likes of which Intuit had never seen.

Dropping the activation feature from TurboTax was the right move for Intuit, and the company is lucky that the mistake didn’t do more damage to its financials. And therein lies a cautionary tale for investors: Keep your ears tuned to customer complaints about overly restrictive DRM policies.

Trying to activate a new copy of Microsoft Office these days teaches a great lesson in this, aggravated by the fact that Microsoft now likes to sell media free licences. No media means that when you move to a new computer it’s extremely difficult to take an existing copy of Office with you, despite the fact that it’s perfectly legal to do so.

Posted by skooter at 6:24 PM
Tags: Intuit, Microsoft, Microsoft Office, Piracy

Gnutella: Unstoppable By Design

Hollywood and the recording industry like to talk about the problems of piracy. An article from Wired “describes the now relatively benign Gnutella network as unstoppable”http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.10/architecture.html and also touches on the Napster phenomenon that started it all.

Napster is virtually dead (again) and Gnutella has faded, largely replaced by the faster, more widely distributed network of torrents, with no end in sight.

Posted by skooter at 6:04 PM
Tags: Bittorrent, Gnutella, Napster

Wired Schools: It Takes a Village

An old C|Net special report called Wired Schools: It Takes a Village offers insights that are still useful.

Computers are not a panacea for the modern education system, and the article makes an important point that teacher training is critical.

Worth reading. Originally published in 1997.

Posted by skooter at 5:58 PM
Tags: Education, Schools

February 21, 2008
My New Favourite Email

I regularly get email from a bunch of different places, one of which is Microsoft. Many of these messages get ignored, or filed, or sometimes just skimmed but I loved this particular message, which arrived today in my inbox.

Subject: Collaborate like it’s 2007 with Microsoft Office SharePoint
Server 2007
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2008 11:56:57 -0800
From: Microsoft Canada

The emphasis is mine.

It being 2008, the prospect of collaborating like it’s 2007 has a certain lack of appeal.

Posted by skooter at 8:10 PM
Tags: Editing, Marketing, Microsoft, Proofreading

February 17, 2008
Blame Canada

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: The hotter it gets, the larger the water crisis is going to become. When you ask people who are promoting development how we can go on, they think we’ll end up getting water from Canada, that these huge engineering projects are going to rescue us. That just isn’t realistic. If you had to go to Las Vegas and place a bet that we can rely on the Canadians to save us—well, it’s not a good bet.
—“Outside Magazine”:http://www.outsidemag.com/, March 2008, pp. 107

Kennedy’s right that there’s not going to be an engineered solution to the water problems of the American south (at least not one that involves transferring water, as opposed to preserving it) but at some point, sometime in the near future some senior American elected official will blame Canada for this, and push for a NAFTA related water transfer requirement.

Count on it.

Posted by skooter at 8:31 PM
Tags: Articles, Conservation, Environmentalism, Water

February 12, 2008
The World's First Web Server

Tim Berners-Lee’s old NeXT Cube, as shot by Robert Scoble.

Posted by skooter at 6:11 PM
Tags: NeXT, Steve Jobs

February 3, 2008
Web Sites are Getting to Know You

Web Sites are Getting to Know You
A wealth of e-customer data is being mined to aid custom marketing.
By Esther Stein, 11.20.1998

…companies such as CompareNet are augmenting their businesses to resell incoming customer data to Internet marketers looking to cash in on new prospects.

Generally, there are two ways companies leverage information collected from Web sites, according to Staff. The first is the personalize approach…information from the CompareNet site might alert a television manufacturer that 20 percent of all women who buy television sets want a 27-inch or larger screen.

Officials at heavily trafficked transaction-based sites such as Expedia, Microsoft’s online travel business, and package carriers United Parcel Service and DHL say they are leveraging incoming customer data for internal purposes only.

Alan Boehme, DHL’s director of business planning, in Redwood City, Calif., is studying leveraging information in the aggregate, since he believes it does not make sense to market to people on a one-to-one basis.

Posted by skooter at 7:36 PM
Tags: Databases, Marketing, Privacy

I Want My Smart Card!

The Smart car has made it’s way over from Europe, but the smart card has not. Given the highly centralized nature of Canada’s banking community, this is surprising.

From Edge magazine (bundled for a while with the Globe and Mail, as I recall) in May of 2004.

the [Royal Bank’s] Avion card with chip technology has been launched to an established client base that travels overseas where the technology to read the chips already exists, says Sean Amato-Gauci, director, card product development RBC Royal Bank.

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, in 2002 VISA and Mastercard wrote off more than $128 million in fraudulent credit card accounts and 136,500 cards were used fraudulently.

Studies show that in the first year chip cards were issued in France, card fraud was reduced by 50 percent.

This was five years ago, and not much has changed.

Posted by skooter at 4:50 PM
Tags: Financial Services, Privacy, Security

The Searchable Soul

From Harper’s Magazine, January 2000 issue. An interview with Mark Costello, Michael Moynihan, Ron Sege, Alan Westin and moderated by Colin Harrison

Michael Moynihan: …technology has miniaturized what’s needed to store immense amounts of information, and…linked up those repositories of information all around the world.. Now information can be pulled together from diverse sources very rapidly. Today, for example, the tax returns of the entire country could be placed on several CD-ROMs.
pp. 58

Westin: One of the questions we ask in survey research is this: When you think about threats to your privacy, which are you most concerned about—government or business? We found that 55 percent cite government, 43 percent cite business and a few people say both or neither.

Ron Sege: Like any good business, we survey our users to try to understand the aspects of our service they like the most and would like to us improve. Far and away the leading features our users are interested in are related to personalization….for me to give you MyLycos, you have to tell me something about yourself.
pp. 59

Moynihan: …to function in the information economy these days, you’re compelled to provide your personal information…At first I did not want to join the local supermarket, thinking, Why do I want to tell Safeway how much yogurt I’m buying? But I soon recognized that if I had the affinity card, I would get a 50 percent discount on a lot of items. It didn’t take me long to sign up.
*Westin:*All you’re saying is that you put an economic value on your privacy and that it mattered to you when you weighed getting the benefit.
pp. 60

Moynihan: The risk is that we could become a society in which your future is predestined at birth. When if you come, informationally, from a certain neighborhood, that information becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, defining the sort of offers that you receive, your credit opportunities, your school choices…
pp. 65

Westin: We should recognize, though, that there’s no information, no matter how personal or how sensitive, that some individuals will not disclose in what they think is the proper protective context….There’s no such thin as information per se that individuals will not disclose. It depends to whom they are disclosing it.
pp. 65

Frighteningly enough, this was published just a year and a half before September 11, 2001’s terrorist attacks.

Westin: If terrorism in the United States were to get really serious, the FBI directory could say: You know, we’re going to need the encryption keys, and we’ll set up a public key system. We’ll give it to courts, and we’ll give it to the Department of Commerce. He’d argue that the ability of Americans to walk down the street in peace will depend on it. That would be a very power argument. Wait until the first subway attack with gas.
Moynihan: It would totally turn the debate upside down. Scruples would vanish. We need to remember that we are living in an environment that is the most conducive to privacy in decades, yet privacy is decreasing.

Posted by skooter at 4:12 PM
Tags: Articles, Privacy

January 28, 2008
Lego Turns 50

January 28, 1958 marked the birth of the Lego brick. Gizmodo has a great timeline.

Business Week have a wonderful article that includes a slideshow on the making of the little bricks that created an entire chidhood.

Posted by skooter at 4:28 PM
Tags: Lego, Technical Communications, Technology, Toys

January 26, 2008
There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood has been nominated for innumerable awards and honours, among them Best Picture and Best Actor. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance certainly fills the screen, but is saddled by a script I found only somewhat engaging and other performances that are weak and lacklustre.

No Country for Old Men is a better movie than There Will Be Blood, although the latter may deserve the acting award: Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh is riveting, but may not be as virtuoso.

The story of oil reminded me of this, however, from 2001.

The New Old Economy: Oil, Computers and the Reinvention of the Earth
by Jonathan Rauch

“Knowledge, not petroleum, is becoming the critical resource in the oil business,” the author writes in this firsthand account of how technology is stretching the bounds of finitude

Posted by skooter at 4:42 PM
Tags: Articles, Atlantic Monthly, Oil

The Reinvention of Privacy, The Atlantic Monthly

From the March, 2001 issue of the Atlantic Monthly

The Reinvention of Privacy
It used to be that business and technology were considered the enemies of privacy. Not anymore

BY TOBY LESTER

A relatively unsung virtue of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is that its database can be viewed collectively as a sort of cultural seismograph, registering interesting spikes of entrepreneurial enthusiasm. A patent application files on January 10, 1995, is part of one such spike. Issued as U.S. Patent 5,629.678 (“Personal tracking and recovery system”), the patent is summed up in an abstract that begins,

Apparatus for tracking and recovering humans utilizes an implantable transceiver incorporating a power supply and actuation system allowing the unit to remain implanted and functional for years without maintenance…Power for the remote-activated receiver is generated electromechanically through the movement of body muscle.

A lot has changed since 2001, and not necessarily for the better. Worth reading.

There’s a general sense, too, that businesses in the modern free market are indifferent to the threats their new technologies pose to privacy. That sense seemed powerfully confirmed in early 1999, when Scott McNealy, the chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, was asked whether privacy safeguards had been built into a new computer-networking system that Sun had just released. McNealy responded that consumer-privacy issues were nothing but a “red herring,” and went on to make a remark that still resonates. “You have zero privacy anyway,” he snapped. “Get over it.”

Posted by skooter at 4:15 PM
Tags: Articles, Atlantic Monthly, Privacy, Technology

January 13, 2008
Striking it Rich circa 2002

Falling into the category of the more things change, the more things stay the same an article by John Cassidy from The New Yorker’s January 14, 2002 issue titled Striking it Rich: the rise and fall of popular capitalism..

It wasn’t until after the First World War that Americans returned to he stock market in large numbers…In 1927, Barron’s, the financial weekly, hailed a “new era without depressions.” (In September, 2000 the same publication would carry the front-page headline “CAN ANYTHING STOP THIS ECONOMY? DESPITE RECENT SIGNS OF A SLOWDOWN, EXPECT THE ECONOMY TO REMAIN ROBUST, WITH NO RECESSION IN SIGHT.”) The mood of optimism spread to the stock market, and millions of people bought shared for the first time—only to be caught out in the stock-market crash of October, 1929
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 63

One by one, most of the bears either changed their views or found themselves being shunted aside. Whenever the stock market took a tumble, as it did several times, it came back stronger than ever. Anybody who questioned the market’s ascent was seen as hopelessly antiquated…In April, 1996 Warren Buffet…warned that neither he nor his longtime partner, Charlie Munger, “would buy shares” in Berkshire Hathaway at prevailing prices, “nor would they recommend that their families or friends do so.”
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 65

A couple of years before, in early 1994 when [the Federal Reserve Bank] raised rates for the first time in several years, the Dow, which had been climbing sharply, fell back. At the next meeting of the F.O.M.C., [Alan] Greenspan congratulated his colleagues, saying, “I think we partially broke the back of an emerging speculation.”

But in the summer of 1996, Greensan was reluctant to repeat the trick. He was coming to believe that higher stock prices were justified by the economy’s sterling performance….He believed that, thanks to the application of new technology, American firms and American workers were becoming a lot more productive, even if the official statistics were failing to pick up on this.
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 66-67

CNBC didn’t create the stock-market boom, but it did perpetuate and amplify it…the network acted as a “propagation mechanism” for the investing epidemic…On all but the darkest of days, CNBC maintained an upbeat tone. its reporters were enthusiastic and well informed. It produced smart, entertaining television. What it didn’t produce was objective news….”Joe Kernen”:google, CNBC’s stocks editor, who was himself a former stock-broker, complained to a reporter “It would be like having sportscasters who hate sports. I love capitalism.”
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 68

In the spring of 1998, when the Dow topped 9,000, two prominent British publications called on Alan Greenspan to bring the stock market back to earth before it crashed of its own accord. “America is experiencing a serious asset-price bubble,” The Economist announced in an editorial…Several days later, the Financial Times compared the United States’ economy to Japan’s in the nineteen-eighties, saying “This is unquestionably a bubble.”
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 68

Not until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, did most Americans finally acknowledge that the nineteen-nineties were over, and that a darker more uncertain future had dawned.
— The New Yorker, January 14, 2002, pp. 73

Posted by skooter at 5:17 AM

January 6, 2008
Funny, HD-DVD is a Much Better Name

Seems like all those Playstation 3 sales might have paid off after all. I think I might skip this generation of tech and just embrace digital downloads, myself, but we’ll see. This could be an excuse to buy a PS3 when the price comes down a lot.

January 4, 2008 6:52 PM PST
The party for HD DVD is over, literally

The HD DVD Promotional Group had scheduled a cocktail party and a press conference this Sunday evening in Las Vegas to tout the “progress” it has made in high definition video and the ongoing format war with the Blu-ray consortium.

On Friday, however, the group sent out a note terminating the event because Warner Home Video earlier in the day said it would switch exclusively to the Blu-ray format.

Ironically, HD DVD players have outsold standalone Blu-ray players. At Ceatec last October, Blu-ray execs said that their group would become more aggressive in late 2007 in promoting the format and try to gain an advantage by the first quarter of 2008.

Posted by skooter at 1:57 AM
Tags: Digital Downloads, Digital Media, DVD, Technology

December 10, 2007
I'm Making My List, and Checking It Twice

It’s short this year with only one thing on it.

Posted by skooter at 7:39 PM
Tags: Motorcycle

December 3, 2007
Wiring the Planet: The Hacker Tourist Travels the World

Cleaning up. Discarding paper. The detritus of years of accumulated data. It’s the bits that matter now, not the atoms. The atoms just weigh a lot when you move. I like the tactile nature of them though.

A reminder of when Wired Magazine was mandatory reading, and even occasionally brilliant.

Mother Earth Mother Board
The hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, chronicling the laying of the longest wire on Earth.
By Neal Stephenson

In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of Wired.

The original article was 50 printed pages in the December 1996 issue, and I distributed several copies to friends who I thought should read it. It was an epic story.

A slide of the cable route is online

Posted by skooter at 12:47 AM
Tags: Articles, Cable, Globalization, Technology, Wired, Wires

November 14, 2007
Poking Holes in Lululemon

The New York Times pokes a few holes in Lululemon.

‘Seaweed’ Clothing Has None, Tests Show

One of its lines is called VitaSea, and the company says it is made with seaweed. The fabric, according to product tags, “releases marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into the skin upon contact with moisture.”

The New York Times commissioned a laboratory test of a Lululemon shirt made of VitaSea, and reviewed a similar test performed at another lab, and both came to the same conclusion: there was no significant difference in mineral levels between the VitaSea fabric and cotton T-shirts.

In other words, the labs found no evidence of seaweed in the Lululemon clothing.

“Seaweeds have known vitamins and minerals, and we searched specifically for those vitamins, and we didn’t see them,” said Carolyn J. Otten, director for specialized services at Chemir Analytical Services, a lab in Maryland Heights, Mo. that tested a sample of VitaSea.

When told about the findings, Lululemon’s founder said he could not dispute them.

“If you actually put it on and wear it, it is different from cotton,” said Dennis Wilson, Lululemon’s founder, chief product designer and board chairman. “That’s my only test of it,” said Mr. Wilson, known as Chip.

That last paragraph, the one where Chip (a very nice guy) says “That’s my only test” is not promising for the future of a company that’s known for making extravagant claims about the impact its products will have on your life.

Posted by skooter at 1:23 PM
Tags: Investing, Lululemon, Sportswear

November 8, 2007
Cameras Are Not Computers

I never could figure out why anyone would buy a camera from a computer manufacturer.

HP zooms out of the camera business
By Agam Shah, IDG News Service

Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday announced it will shift the focus of its digital camera business, jumping out of manufacturing, distribution and design, in order to concentrate more on its home photo printing and online photo services.

Posted by skooter at 8:52 PM
Tags: Cameras, Photography, Technology

November 6, 2007
Checking In on Radiohead's Experiment

The New York Times has a reality check on Radiohead’s experiment with giving away their new album In Rainbows.

…most decided against paying, with only 2 out of 5 people paying an average of $6 for the album, “In Rainbows.” Here are the statistics, from a news release:

WorldwideU.S.Non-U.S.
Paid Downloads:38%40%36%
Free Downloads:62%60%64%

“That’s a large group that can’t be ignored and its time to come up with new business models to serve the freeloader market,” Fred Wilson, managing director of Union Square Ventures in New York, told Canada’s Financial Post.

I fall into the category of downloaded and didn’t pay. I also fall into the category of being fairly ambivalent towards Radiohead: I wouldn’t have bought the album anyway. (I don’t know why…I liked the first album, and recognize the talent…it just doesn’t resonate with me. Maybe not enough twang.)

It’s worth pointing out though that this experiment doesn’t mean much to the future of the music industry: Radiohead’s reputation was built by the old music industry, by a record label that actively and aggressively promoted them. The band is well established.

For bands of the future, the first hit is going to be the hardest one to find, not the seventh.

Posted by skooter at 2:24 PM
Tags: Articles, Music, Online Marketing

October 29, 2007
The Times, They Are(n't) a Changing

Last year at this time, our clocks were falling back. According to my Filofax this would be the weekend to have done so.

There was, of course, the little matter of a little law that changed and delayed it by a week. As a result, computers everywhere were thrown into a state of confusion.

Or not.

My Mac is ticking along nicely, fully aware of the correct time. Older versions of Windows that update by network it seems, have not.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on my cell phone: I have a new one (it’s a Nokia N80) and for the first time in ages I set it to pick up the network time. Fido didn’t support network time, but now that we’re on Rogers it’s there as an option.

And it’s still off by an hour as of 18:40hrs.

Rogers is just that poorly managed that millions of Canadians are walking around with the wrong time on their phones, despite the fact that a simple patch to any modern version of Windows would have updated their servers.

Sigh. Who says we don’t need more competition in the Canadian cell phone industry.

Posted by skooter at 2:36 AM
Tags: Cellular Phones, Rogers, Windows

October 23, 2007
Nobody Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM

Uh huh. As noted on Macintouch

During after-hours trading, Apple’s market cap passed IBM’s: $162 billion versus $156 billion. What a long strange trip it’s been!

What a good time to own a Macintosh. Where were you all in the mid 90’s? Where were you all!

Posted by skooter at 4:44 AM
Tags: Apple, IBM, Investing

October 21, 2007
User Interfaces at the Globe and Mail

It’s been a couple of weeks since I complained about the Globe and Mail in this space, so it’s about time for a new one. This time I was doing some mutual fund research at Globefund

Confession: I built many sites the competed in some way with Globefund. You may take this as a bias if you choose.

I was using the Fund Filter, as part of considering adding a new mutual fund to my portfolio. This is the Fund Filter start page:
Globefund Fund Filter Home Page I never liked the name Fund Filter by the way. It has no style. I’m not sure if I ever told them that, but I always hated it. (That’s a biased opinion.)

I was presented with the interface I’ve been using for years…too many widgets, not very clean, and difficult to use to be sure. It’s grown familiar over the years though, so I ignore 90% of it.

For the first time, I noticed the items I’ve circled in the screenshot above.

In particular, I saw this warning in the upper right hand corner of the screen:

This feature is exclusive to GlobeinvestorGOLD members. Click here to find out more

I didn’t click here.

I scrunched up my nose at this, because I couldn’t figure out how a feature I was currently using could be restricted to a club to which I do not belong. It took me a while to notice the lock on the Advanced tab on the left hand side (I’ve circled it.) Obviously the warning in the upper right hand corner is intended to apply to the contents under that tab.

How anybody is ever supposed to make that connection, I’m not sure. Lest anybody write this off to be a Mac issue (that most derisive of terms used to dismiss poor coding,) it displays the same on Firefox on both platforms. (I refuse to use Internet Explorer, so you’ll have to test this yourself.) This isn’t any issue other than just bad design, plain and simple.

What about that research, btw? I’ve decided to stay the course for the time being, until I have a bit more money and need to diversify more. The RBC Balanced Growth Fund is a pretty solid long term performer and while it’s been outperformed over the last three year periods, these other stars have a quite a bit more risk involved.

As an aside (and yes, a biased one) I’ve never figured out why the Fund Filter’s Standard performance metrics include 1 month, 3 month and 6 month. These should only be on the short term tab, and most mutual fund investors should never be making investment decisions based on such short term periods.

October 13, 2007
Information R/evolution

Thanks to Donna Mauer for pointing this out.

Posted by skooter at 5:03 PM
Tags: Data, Information Architecture

October 11, 2007
Beautiful Things in Incredibly Small Packages

Wired presents a gallery of microscopic images chosen by Nikon.

October 5, 2007
My Name is Skot, and I've Never Played Halo 3

Bungie Studios developed Halo and Oni, and took over the world. When I first played Halo for a week, I didn’t do much else. I mean I cooked dinner, and cleaned the house, and walked the dog (I was house sitting) but that was all after Halo time.

Halo’s world debut was on PowerMac G4 tower. Steve Jobs introduced it. I’ve still go the video saved, if you don’t believe me. I downloaded it on dial up and it took A Very Long Time™ so it’s sort of precious to me.

When Microsoft bought Bungie I cried. I knew…I just knew…this meant Halo wasn’t going to come out for the Mac. It was horrible. It also meant Oni was massively delayed. We did get Halo eventually, but it took a while. When I bought my PowerBook G4, I bought Halo. It was awesome.

This means this is either very good news, or very bad news depending on your perspective on my game playing time. Perhaps we’ll see the return of good Mac games again.

Halo developer separates from Microsoft
REDMOND, Wash.

Software company Microsoft Corp. said Friday that Bungie Studios, developer of its blockbuster “Halo” video game franchise, plans to become an independent company.

I actually much prefer console games anyway, but I’ve been too cheap to buy one lately. Maybe next year…

Posted by skooter at 7:25 PM
Tags: Apple, Games, Halo, Microsoft

September 30, 2007
Spam, Wonderful Spam

While nosing around and figuring out how best to configure my new SpamAssasin settings, I happened to be watching PBS which was airing Episode 25 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This is, of course, the episode that contains the wonderful Spam skit from which most technology related references are derived.

What a pleasant surprise.

Posted by skooter at 4:28 AM
Tags: Email, Monty Python, Spam

September 20, 2007
Shocking. Unbelievable. The news of the century!

Ummm…or not, as the case may be. I wonder how many people read this article in the newspaper?

More Canadians getting their newspaper fix online
RICHARD BLACKWELL
Globe and Mail Update
September 20, 2007 at 9:02 AM EDT

An increasing number of Canadians are reading their newspapers online, according to the latest readership numbers released yesterday by the Newspaper Audience Databank Inc.

The figures, gleaned by NADbank from surveys conducted in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, show that for many newspapers Internet readership is growing faster than for their print versions.

Me? Daily news online, but I do still enjoy curling up with the Saturday Globe & Mail and doing the crossword puzzle in a coffee shop. It’s the tactile nature of it I like.

Posted by skooter at 8:42 PM
Tags: Globe and Mail, News

Typography

I recently went to see Helvetica and saw this as a prelude. A very nice lesson in the basics of typography from students of the Vancouver Film School based on words by Ellen Lupton

Posted by skooter at 8:03 AM
Tags: Design, Typography

September 17, 2007
Sea to Sky, in Style

I headed up the Sea to Sky Highway on Saturday morning, later than I’d intended (I apparently needed the sleep, and didn’t wake up until 9 a.m.) but eager to spend at least one more night in Garibaldi Provincial Park for the season. At 1,500 metres in altitude, it gets cold up there.
De Tomaso Pantera on the Sea to Sky Highway The Sea to Sky is a spectacularly twisty road, second only to Chukanut Drive on my list of favourite rides within an hour. The North Cascades Highway could be on that list, but it’s a bit too far away…at least the best parts.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that familiar rumble of an Italian engine on the highway when in a blur, I was passed by a half dozen Ferrari’s in the Lion’s Bay area. There was a Porsche as well…we shall not discuss Porsche’s. Lovely vehicles, to be sure, but they (alas) are not Italian. Their teutonic nature lacks the passion of those majestic beasts. The Lamborghini’s in the crowd are interlopers as well…mere imitations; Chrysler products with a roaring bull on their nose; roughly hewn machine of speed, less than works of art.

De Tomaso Pantera on the Sea to Sky Highway

A few minutes later, another passing lane opened up and I slid into the right hand lane: one must Show Respect for the Faster Machine™ when it’s appropriate. Had I been on two wheels, I would expect the same from others.

I had to merge between these finely crafted machines and wound up behind the rare De Tomaso Pantera which I followed almost all the way to Squamish, my windows open in order to enjoy the firm note of that exhaust. Tim Horton died in a Pantera; Elvis shot his.

Just before Squamish, the last of these engineering marvels passed me including, of course, a red 1980s Testarossa. I’ve always liked that car in its yellow colour, but fundamentally I’ve always just liked that car. A true masterpiece…a true work of art.

I find going fast on two wheels much more entertaining than four. I suspect that anyone of these machines could have changed my mind quite easily.

Garibaldi was, as always, spectacular with the little rain that fell overnight doing nothing to make it less worthwhile. Fall is here, with shorter days and the the ghosts that come out at night. Time still for a few nights perhaps, but if this is the last one it was well worth it.

Posted by skooter at 8:41 PM
Tags: Cars, Ferrari

September 12, 2007
The Sun Also Sets

Once, I lusted for a SparcStation more than for a PowerMac. It was a long time ago.

Sun Micrososystems had the best slogan ever for the the Internet age… The Network is the Computer. I remember days when my home computer wasn’t networked but I can’t remember what I did in those days, aside (of course) from the standard angst ridden teenage boy video game playing months.

Sun has been setting for some time, I fear this partnership with one of their greatest foes will mark their end. As Silicon Graphics went before, Sun seems likely to—at best—retreat to a server only space.

“Sun is now a single source for today’s leading operating systems - Solaris and Windows - on the industry’s most innovative x64 systems and storage products. Customers can now take advantage of the virtualization benefits of Windows and Solaris on Sun’s energy efficient x64 systems,” said John Fowler, executive vice president, Systems Group, Sun Microsystems. “Microsoft’s recognition of our x64 systems and storage systems is a testament to the superior system design at the heart of our product portfolio.”

Posted by skooter at 8:17 PM
Tags: Apple, Business, Microsoft, Sun

September 11, 2007
Public Companies Sell Stock, not Product

When companies go public, they very quickly transform from companies that make and manufacture products for consumers to companies that sell their stock in the interest of their investors. This is a necessity of the public market: if they don’t, investors flee and punish the stock. Stock price is the metric by which performance is measured.

Lululemon has gone public, and as a results it’s now selling its stock. This is a press release that will fuel a stock run, and not much else.

Lululemon stretched by demand
MARINA STRAUSS
September 10, 2007 at 9:10 PM EDT

Lululemon Athletica Inc., the Canadian yoga apparel retail phenomenon that went public in July, has run into what it calls a “class A problem”: Supply can’t keep up with demand, and its stores keep running out of products.

What is more, the 59-stores-and-growing chain doesn’t yet have the systems to keep track of just how much business it is losing by not stocking stores adequately.

It’s too soon to see the long term picture for Lululemon, but the company’s senior executives just got a bit richer today.

Posted by skooter at 5:44 AM
Tags: Business, Investing, Politics, Vancouver

September 9, 2007
iPod Touch's Killer App

iPod Touch has been hyped as the iPhone without the phone.

It’s also the iPhone without the camera.

That’s its killer app, and until it has one it’s not worth buying.

Posted by skooter at 8:41 PM
Tags: Apple, iPhone, iPod

September 4, 2007
From Announcement to Death in 4 Months

I think that Palm might have set some kind of record here. Announced in May, the Palm Foleo has been killed before it even shipped.

Foleo was a strange product. Palm’s products have been compliments to personal computers from day one—synchronization was their killer app. Why anybody would buy an add on product to an ad on product seemed a bit strange. With laptops plummeting in price anyway, and smart phones increasingly…smart…this is a product that didn’t make sense from day one.

Palm will die. It’s a floundering company at this point. The irony is that if the Palm Pilot killed the Apple Newton, it’s probably the Apple iPhone that will kill Palm.

Posted by skooter at 7:33 PM
Tags: Apple, Mobile Internet, Palm, Technology, Usability

September 2, 2007
Spook Country, William Gibson

I’ve just finished Spook Country, the new novel by William Gibson and the first on released since my daily life included passing in front of his house twice a day.

The man has an unhealthy Volkswagen obsession…both in the book, and in the rotation of three Jetta’s that are the only cars I’ve ever seen parked in front of his house. One green. One silver. One black…that one’s very rare, and older.

The Volkswagen obsession is a part of what makes Gibson’s writing riveting though: his ability to capture the seemingly meaningless details that make a scene memorable, while also shedding those that aren’t necessary.

Spook Country deals in the present, not the future. it also ends in Vancouver, quite significantly. Gibson has been slowly reverting to the present day since Neuromancer with one side trip to Victorian England in The Difference Engine, his collaboration with Bruce Sterling.

There are three storylines running through the novel, seemingly disconnected. These eventually intertwine and the connections are complex. The plot is unclear at first but reveals itself with patience, and the best thing about it is that it’s essentially about…nothing. A movie of this book would be interesting to watch…the climax lacks the splash that Hollywood would expect and I suspect they would have difficulty with it.

If the book has a message (and I’m not certain that all works of fiction need to) it seems to be a thesis on the similarities between art and terrorism: both are a matter of perspective, really…just as one man’s art is another man’s trash, so is one man’s terrorist another’s patriot.

This reminded me of a Don DeLillo quote that came my through Laurie Anderson. DeLillo, according to Anderson, claimed several years ago that:

Terrorists are the only true artists left in the world. They’re the only ones who can surpise us anymore.

Art and terrorism are intertwined in the world: both have the power to change it forever.
True art…art that moves the world forward…is inextricably intertwined with te

Posted by skooter at 4:57 PM
Tags: Books, William Gibson

August 26, 2007
Global Warming in the New York Times

From today’s New York Times

Suddenly, 1934 appeared to vault ahead of 1998 as the warmest year on record (by a statistically meaningless 0.036 degrees Fahrenheit). In NASA’s most recent data set, 1934 had followed 1998 by a statistically meaningless 0.018 degrees. Conservative bloggers, columnists and radio hosts pounced. “We have proof of man-made global warming,” Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience. “The man-made global warming is inside NASA.

Of course, it’s long been my opinion that the man-made global warming was inside Rush Limbaugh. Why people listen to these wind bags remains beyond my unerstanding.

Posted by skooter at 1:50 PM
Tags: Articles, Environmentalism, Republican

June 16, 2007
What's Wrong with This Picture

There’s a serious problem with this screenshot of the Globe and Mail’s home page and it highlights another one.
Globe and Mail Home Page: June 13, 2007

These shots were taken on June 13th, 2007 — three full days after Fernando Alonso had already failed to “do it again” at the 2007 edition of the Canadian Grand Prix. That’s Canada’s national newspaper failing to update its home page with respect to one of Canada’s greatest international sporting events.

Of course, you’d never know if from just looking at the screen shots. It was only while searching for one this time that I noticed that the Globe home page provides no indication of the current date. The word June doesn’t appear anywhere on today’s home page either.

Posted by skooter at 4:14 PM
Tags: Globe and Mail, News

May 30, 2007
Arial vs. Helvetica

Typography is a bit of a religion, and like religions the various proponents of different schools often make irrational arguments in favour of one choice or another.

There’s one argument that’s always winnable though: the fight against Arial.

Arial is simply hideous, and while I’m not personally a fan of Helvetica it may be that the pervasiveness of Arial has coloured my view: too many times the sans serif font of choice is Arial simply because people are using Windows.

A typical argument in favour of Arial is “it’s good enough” which is a bit like arguing in favour of a Ford Pinto. It’s hardly the standard by which greatness or good design should be judged. Good enough doesn’t make something right, or even adequate.

Use Helvetica instead of Arial: always. I personally prefer Frutiger in almost all its flavours, but I’m not going to argue the point.

Posted by skooter at 10:03 AM
Tags: Design, Fonts, Typography

Toronto's Sam the Record Man closing

Sam the Record Man was my home away from home for many years. I spent hours pouring through the stacks there and everything from Wagner to U2 to Miles Davis was bought there for a long time. I hardly bothered going anywhere else.

Toronto’s Sam the Record Man closing
UNNATI GANDHI
Globe and Mail Update
May 29, 2007 at 8:51 PM EDT
Toronto — Sam the Record Man, a Yonge Street staple since 1961 and once Canada’s top music retailer, will be closing its doors for good next month.

Citing ubiquitous music downloads, Jason and Bobby Sniderman, the sons of Sam Sniderman and present owners of the flagship Toronto store, said rarely does a day go by without a story about declining CD sales.

“We are making a responsible decision in recognizing the status of the record industry and the increasing impact of technology,” said Bobby Sniderman in a press release.

He would not elaborate when reached by telephone Tuesday.

Sam the Record Man has been a staple on Toronto’s Yonge Street since 1961 and was once Canada’s top music retailer. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

The store will close June 30.

When HMV opened, some predicted the death knell of Sam’s. Instead, it thrived and expanded. There was something very sterile about HMV’s retail environment. It presented better for parents, but it lacked that clubby feeling that good stores always have—the sense that if you just keep hunting, you’ll find something really truly special.

Technology, in the end, suffers from the same sterility. While I love downloaded music for the physical space it saves me, I’m less fond of the iTunes music store. It suffers from a lack of…browsability. I can easily find what I’m looking for, but I’m much less likely to stumble upon something at random.

Several years ago Sam’s made an initial foray into online retail and failed badly, closing after only a few months as I recall. The bricks and mortar business, it seemed, didn’t mix with the digital one. I suspecthe skillset to manage one was different than the skillset to mange the other, and there was difficulty in merging the two cultures.

I haven’t shopped at Sam’s in years—the Vancouver outlet closed quite a while ago—but I’ll miss it when it’s gone. All in the name of progress.

Posted by skooter at 6:11 AM
Tags: iPod, Music, Toronto

May 25, 2007
Why Stylesheets Are Cool

This is not only a good article about buidling community online, but before I even finished it I fell in love with a little feature on the stylesheet.
Fortuitous

Displaying long articles on a web site can be tough…they go off the bottom edge of the page and people sometimes don’t realize this. This page uses a layered effect to fade out the bottom of the page, bringing it back into focus as the content moves up.

Beautiful.

Posted by skooter at 8:00 AM
Tags: CSS, Design

April 10, 2007
Moving Targets in Interface Design

One of the fundamental differences between Windows and the Macintosh is the location of the menu bar. Put simply, the menus on your Mac will always be at the top of your primary screen in a white bar. They will always be in the same location.

Windows, by contrast, pins the menus to the top of the current window. The position, size and number of items displayed on the menus will move with the window’s position on the screen and depends on whether or not it’s maximized.

This is one example of the problem created by moving targets for user interfaces. The six little buttons on the right provide an even more dramatic one.

These screenshots are from Quotewerks, a quote building application that I use every day as one of two primary applications. To say I’m not fond of it is an understatement. It’s actually the better of the two though.

These six buttons are actually two rows of buttons which perform the same functions on different objects. The boxes in the top row will be familiar to most Windows users, and from left to right they minimize the window, swap between the maximized and non-maximized positions, and close the window.

The buttons in the second row perform the same functions in the same order but they are the document window controls. Quotewerks allows me to have five documents open at onnce, meaning that there could be up to five of these sets of buttons at any one time. Why they look different is an entirely separate issue from my main problem, which is where they are on the screen.

As an aside, I have yet to understand why Quotewerks limits me to five documents at once. It seems fairly arbitrary. On to the topic at hand though.

The Document Window

Each quote is a document contained in a window. The windows look like this:
Quotewerks Document, not maximized.

The orange circle superimposed on the image highlights the position of the document window controls—minimize, maximize and close. It’s worth noting here that not only do the boxes appear identical to the main application controls (visible in the upper right hand corner of the image.) Also worth noting is the order that key items appear from the top of the screen down: the main application menu, the icon based toolbar (offering various document controls) and the document window controls, then the document contents.

The Maximized Document Window

The next image shows the same document as a maximized window.
Quotewerks Document, maximized.

The orange circle indicates the same document window controls which have now moved to the far right hand side of the screen. This is perfectly normal behaviour for a Windows application, and while I personally find it disconcerting I recognize that millions of Windows users would not.

More critical is that two other things have happened. The document window controls have changed visually and more critically their relative position has changed on the screen. From top to bottom the key window elements are now the main application menu, the document window controls and the icon based toolbar, then the document contents.

Problems Created by the Document Window Controls

The document window controls now appear to belong to the entire application. This creates a vagueness of function that’s aggravated by the change in appearance. It also makes them very difficult to find.

I thrash around in the corner every day and at least once a day I click the application close box in the top right hand corner when I mean to only close a document window. Quotewerks is a particularly slow application to open and close (taking at least 3 minutes to do each), and as a result i lose a few minutes every day as a result of a poorly designed interface. This is despite the fact that I’m an extremely experienced user, and this is an application I work with every day to send at least ten quotes to our customers.

I find this particularly galling given that the behaviour is completely acceptable according to Windows standards.

This is just one example of how a poorly designed interface can create user confusion and lost productivity in a very real way.

March 30, 2007
Steve Jobs on Microsoft

Today’s Cringely column talks about YouTube and copyright, and references one of my favourite clips from Triumph of the Nerds:

Steve Jobs: The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste, they have absolutely no taste, and what that means is — I don’t mean that in a small way I mean that in a big way. In the sense that they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their products. And you say why is that important — well you know proportionally spaced fonts come from type setting and beautiful books, that’s where one gets the idea — if it weren’t for the Mac they would never have that in their products and so I guess I am saddened, not by Microsoft’s success — I have no problem with their success, they’ve earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third rate products.

Of course it’s available on YouTube.

Posted by skooter at 6:16 AM
Tags: Apple, Microsoft, Steve Jobs

March 29, 2007
On Humans

Leslie Kaelbing was at UBC as part of the Department of Computer Science’s distinguished lecturer series. She gave me my best quote of the day.

She was discussing the difference between computers and humans and how they approach tasks. Essentially the argument was that computers are excellent at performing simple, well defined tasks. They can, in fact, be better than humans on average—chess is an example where computers can excel, but the average human does not.

Humans, on the other hand, are competent at an astounding range of tasks and able to adapt to new ones as they come along. Stairs of various heights can be challenging for ambulatory robots, but for humans they’re quite simple.

This led to Leslie’s assertion that as a human being it was best to be:

“…aggressively suboptimal.”

I love this, and am going to strive for it as a goal.

Posted by skooter at 7:28 PM
Tags: Humans, MIT

March 17, 2007
My Name is Skot, and I use a Mac

My name is Skot, and I use a Mac. Because of this, I can’t switch my cell phone number to Bell Canada from my current service provider—at least not without reading a 200 word essay explaining why I shouldn’t be using Safari to surf the web.

Bell Canada Broswer Detect Splash Page

This is funny, because for the 10 years that I had a cell phone with Bell, my use of a Macintosh was never a problem.

Those broken images are fixed now. Thank god for small favours.

At least I know where I’m not going to get my iPhone if I decide to get that route. Probably not a Blackberry either, since the CDMA coverage only works in North America.

Posted by skooter at 9:00 AM
Tags: Apple, Bell, Information Architecture, Usability

March 15, 2007
Turing Police

In Neuromancer William Gibson envisions a future Turing Police. Minority Report had the Future Crimes division.

This is not a movie, or a book — this is how a good portion the world’s population suffers from censorship, oppression and a culture of fear when it gets its information.

Welcome to China. Our partners in commerce.

Wired News: ‘Yahoo Betrayed My Husband’
By Luke O’Brien
12:00 PM Mar, 15, 2007

FAIRFAX, Virginia — Early one Sunday morning in 2002, a phone rings in Yu Ling’s Beijing duplex. She’s cleaning upstairs; her son is asleep, while downstairs, her husband, Wang Xiaoning, is on the computer. Wang writes about politics, anonymously e-mailing his online e-journals to a group of Yahoo users. He’s been having problems with his Yahoo service recently. He thinks it’s a technical issue. This is the day he learns he’s wrong.

Wang picks up the phone: “Yes?”

“Are you home?” asks the unfamiliar voice on the other end.

“Yes.”

The line goes dead.

Moments later, government agents swarm through the front door — 10 of them, some in uniform, some not. They take Wang away. They take his computers and disks. They shove an official notice into Yu’s hands, tell her to keep quiet, and leave. This is how it’s done in China. This is how the internet police grab you.

Posted by skooter at 3:05 PM
Tags: Censorship, China, Privacy

March 12, 2007
Mobile TV

From Information Week:

The biggest loser is mobile content, such as games and ring tones. Another loser is mobile TV. Nokia still appeared to believe in it, with its new N77 handset and its partnership with YouTube, but others, such as Sony ericsson, went out of their way to skirt the hype.

Which leads to the questions: why is Bell Canada launching its mobile movie service now, when the poor history of mobile video content has already been demonstrated in Europe.

An equally relevant question: why are they doing it with movies that are over a year old? Is there anybody who wants to that hasn’t already seen Spider Man 2? If there is, are they really going to need to see it badly enough to download it on a two square inch screen?

Posted by skooter at 9:01 PM
Tags: Bell, Cellular Phones, Mobile Internet

March 11, 2007
Political Sleight of Hand

Slate has a great article about a bit of sleight of hand played the Edwards campaign.

John Edwards’ Bad Edit

…when Edwards sent out a campaign video to 70,000 Iowa voters earlier this week, something caught our eye—a bit of video-editing trickery that made Edwards appear to be talking about medical care when he was really talking about Iraq.

Posted by skooter at 8:16 AM
Tags: Advertising, America

March 8, 2007
This is Phenomenal

Posted by skooter at 10:49 AM
Tags: Interaction Design, TED, Usability

March 7, 2007
I Am So Out of Tune With You

After deciding to hold onto my somewhat aged PowerBook G4 for a while longer, I decided to invest in a wireless network upgrade. It’s been a while.

It has, in fact, been a while since I’ve paid for Internet access. When I moved to my current location, there was a Linksys Wireless router in place. Tragically, it was an 802.11b.

All was fine until I recently purchased an Airport Express in order to get music from my computer to my stereo. Keen memories may recall that I had a Squeezebox to do this, but I think a power outage or breaker switch blew it. Sadly, there will be no more Pope Gravely Ill days for me.

The Airport Express is different from the Squeezebox—all of its control and input is provided by the computer. I could have bought an (as yet unavailable) Apple TV unit but this would have meant having the TV on to control music. Since I don’t like my TV anyway, I chose to go this route. It was also quite a bit cheaper.

Unfortunately, 802.11b was just not enough to feed the Airport Express. My solution?

Yup. I bought a new Airport Extreme to replace the Linksys equipment. The last Airport base station I bought was one of the first in Canada, served only 802.11b and is still in use some 6 years later in Toronto.

So how did the upgrade go?

The Airport Extreme is a very nice unit with substantially better industrial design than its alternatives. It also, out of the box, provided only about the same range as the old 802.11b.

After some initial attempts at pairing the Airport Express to the Extreme using a 13 character WEP password in compatibility mode I switched to WPA instead. By “some initial attempts” I mean about 12, and an hour and a half of my time. It was kind of furstrating at first.

The switch to WPA solve those problems, and the Extreme joined the network well.

Next it was time to try WDS mode, allowing the Airport Express to expand the network (rather than just join it) and virtually guarantee me one hundred percent signal strength. Apple’s Airport Utility (revised for the fourth time) makes this very easy, and in a few more minutes the network was created, rebooted and my signal strength was one hundred percent.

Best of all, my tunes were now streaming directly into the stereo at full 802.11g speeds, with no more hiccups or interruptions.

I’m now an iTunes music store addict, adding Wilco’s Being There to Neon Bible to my collection and streaming KCRW World News through iTunes into both sets of speakers.

I’m not pushing the Airport Extreme envelope here, and there have been some complaints about it, but I would recommend it highly as a home networking tool. It’s price compares favourably to the Linksys and D-Link alternatives (those alternatives to, apparently, deliver more range but sacrifice a significant aesthetic value.) In homes where 802.11n could be deployed the range issue is significantly less of a concern — I am, unfortunately, stuck with one client using an 802.11b PC Card—does anybody remember those anymore?—and there’s no money being thrown at that laptop.

All in all, I’m pretty happy and remain impressed with these things.

Posted by skooter at 9:14 PM
Tags: Airport, Apple, Music, WiFi, Wilco

March 6, 2007
Email

An email from a customer:

The video of my birthday, fortune teller who e’ the person who me is to flank?

translated by Babelfish from the original Italian:

Il video del mio compleanno, indovina chi e’ la persona che mi sta a fianco?

Posted by skooter at 7:43 AM
Tags: Translation

March 4, 2007
Why Chapters is NOT Amazon

It’s a cliche to point out the dominance of Amazon. A few years ago, it was just as cliche to point out the dominance of Chapters in the Canadian book selling world. Small booksellers were doomed in the face of this behemoth.

What’s astonishing is how badly Chapters have failed the online war. I recently found an example of why.

I was considering, for the first time in ages, going out of my way to buy a book at Chapters — specifically Deborah Eisenberg’s Twilight of the Superheroes which I’ve been looking for every since hearing a review on Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers & Company The book has just recently been released in trade paperback.

I searched on locations and found this:
Chapters Store Locations

That last column, the one that lists the store hours, is what caught my eye. Vancouver is notorious for stores that close early — Friday night closings at 6 p.m. are not uncomon. It’s Sunday, and I’m not sure how late Chapters stays open.

The things is, every location said the same thing about its hours:

Our hours of operation are occasionally subject to change - please call the store to confirm store hours.

And if it says that about every location, why bother having the column in your search results at all?

Amazon has succeeded because they have consistently delivered an excellent shopping experience for their customers by focusing on the entire business relationship. It’s not just low prices, it’s a good shopping experience.

Chapters would do well to do the same. They fall far short.

I’m ordering the book from Amazon.

Posted by skooter at 6:20 PM
Tags: Information Architecture, Usability

February 21, 2007
First, Control The Distrbution of Media

One of the first rules of war is that you want to control the distribution of news and information. It’s not the content that matters, it’s the distribution channel.

The major American television networks are not going to give up their distribution channel very easily.

Report: CBS/YouTube Deal Goes Sour - News and Analysis by PC Magazine
02.21.07

By Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) — A deal between Google Inc. and CBS Corp. that would let YouTube users watch clips from CBS shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, has unraveled, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The two companies had been closing in on a multi-year deal, the paper said, citing people familiar with the matter. The companies also discussed ways to peddle CBS Radio advertising spots to Google advertisers, the paper said.

But the media company and the Internet search company could not agree on issues such as how long the deal would run, the paper said, citing a person knowledgeable about the talks.

Posted by skooter at 9:24 AM
Tags: Google, Television, Video on Demand

February 7, 2007
Thoughts on Digital Rights Management

Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Music have stirred up quite a bit of controversy.

Essentially, Steve is saying “let us sell unprotected music. it’s the right thing to do.”

There’s a major problem with “the music industry’s response.”

According to the Globe and Mail, the RIAA has suggested that Apple:

should open up its anti-piracy technology to its rivals instead of urging major record labels to strip copying restrictions from music sold online.

Now, let’s not forget that this is the same RIAA that was suing music fans not so long ago for using Napster and Limewire.

Jobs points out in his post:

Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD

The emphasis was added by me.

When the music industry invented digital music by creating the Compact Disc, the concept of encryption of data was not new. Despite this, the industry chose not to use any encryption. Contrast this with the encrypted content of DVDs — it’s been broken, and the movie industry could argue that the breaking of that encryption is illegal. If this is, in fact, true than by extension, sharing movies ripped from DVDs is illegal.

I’m not suggesting that’s a valid or good argument, I’m just saying that they put the effort into protecting their copyright so they could claim this.

Jobs also makes a number of points about opening up Apple’s DRM system — FairPlay. Keeping in mind that FairPlay has already been broken (a number of tools exist to strip the FairPlay restrictions from your purchased music) it stands to reason that the wider FairPlay is used the more likely that it will be consistently broken.

That’s the thrust of Jobs’ argument, and it’s a good way. Any technology that’s used to protect music it will eventually fall.

The industry has a choice of its own — abolish the Compact Disc and develop a new format, requiring customers to buy new players and (possibly) new copies of old albums. Yet another copy of Rush’s 2112 to be bought.

I’m siding with Steve Jobs on this one — the music industry is a racket trying to retain a monopoly. Monopolies rarely benefit consumers, and usually don’t end well in the long term for the monopolists.

Posted by skooter at 11:06 PM
Tags: Apple, iPod, Steve Jobs

February 2, 2007
TicketMaster

TicketMaster has long been the bane of complaints — ridiculous service charges, a silly policy enforced through legal threats in the late 90s of prohibiting links to areas of its site are but two of the things that have made them resented throughtout North America.

I bought tickets tonight for Neko Case at the Commodore Ballroom and nothing’s changed.

It’s still going to be a great show, but a $3.50 venue fee and $2.50 delivery fee for tickets by email (at no cost, of course) is money that isn’t going into an artist’s pocket.

$7.05 for a convenience charge is just ridiculous.

All told, my CDN$23 ticket comes close to CDN$40 with those additional seventeen dollars going into Ticketmaster’s pocket. That just seems exorbitant considering that they’re not even printing my ticket anymore.

Posted by skooter at 7:41 PM
Tags: AltCountry, Concerts, Neko Case

January 29, 2007
Mouse Party

A lesson in addiction science called Mouse Party provides a nice example of interaction design for educational purposes.

January 28, 2007
Business Reporting & Contradictions

The Globe and Mail offers a wonderful lesson in editing a newspaper in this weekend’s edition, with two articles from the business section that directly contradict each other.

The first advocates paying down debt instead of contributing to your RRSP, the second advocate increasing your debt load in order to contribute to your RRSP.

On page B1 of the Weekend 27.01.07 edition, this article appears:

Top up the RRSP or pay down debt? Most Canadians just don’t get it
John Heinzl

…instaed of making RRSP contributions, he uses extra cash to pay down his mortgage. RRSPs have their place, [David Trahair] says. But most Canadians — particularly those with mortgages, car loans and hefty credit card balances — are better off eliminating household debts before putting a penny into an RRSP.

The article concludes:

“The vast majority of Canadians just don’t get it,” Mr. Trahair says.

You don’t have be one of them.

On page B9, this article appears:

Got some RRSP room? A loan can mean a bigger pot in the golden years
Tim Cestnick

The article does point out, in fairness…

You can generally get an RRSP loan at prime rate — currently 6 per cent — if the term is a year or less and you’re a good customer.

Sophisticated investors understand that this stategy is effective if the interest rate is lower than your RRSP’s rate of return but the second article doesn’t point this out explicitly, nor does it point out the risk that an investor incurs by making a single larger contribution as opposed to a number of smaller contributions (dollar cost averaging is the only investment strategy that’s guaranteed to reduce risk.)

What a crazy time of year this is, RRSP season, with financial advisors and institutions falling all over themselves to put your money somewhere. I just wish the Globe wouldn’t provide this type of contradictory advice.

Posted by skooter at 8:53 PM
Tags: Articles, Globe and Mail, Personal Finances, RRSP

Google's Interface Single Mindedness

My Personalized Google Homepage

People praise Google for the simplicity of its interface, but in many cases this simplicity is taken to the extreme.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new features offered on Google’s personalized home page service.

Many people aren’t even aware that Google offers personalized home pages — yet another example of interface extremism. The standard Google home page does little to make visitors aware of the existence of the service.

In what I would suggest is a very good thing, Google offers the ability to add any standard RSS feed to your Google home page. This use of standards is something that needs to be supported.

There are a number of problems though.

Rearranging Items

Items can be moved around on your home page, but learning how can be difficult. The technology here is impressive — you simply grab the header bar (or title bar) of the content section you want to move and drag it.

The problem is that this is not how web applications have typically behaved…it’s dramatically different. Even with years of experience and an awareness that this type of thing could be done, it took me more than a few days to figure this one out.

There’s no help link either, which left me thrashing through the preferences section where I would have expected to find it.

Clicking on those titles to go to the souce sites’ home page is awkwards too. My mouse pointer changes to a move this item style of pointer, and I’m never sure if I’ve clicked.

No Information Hierarchy

With all those title bars scattered around the page, it’s virtually impossible to tell one from the other. There’s no way as a user that I can categorize or create an information hierarchy to the information.

Colour would be an easy one to implement — offering me a selection of colours (even a limited one such as those offered in Microsoft Word) would allow me to create a hierarchy. Being able to choose font sizes and styles would also be useful.

Tabs have been added (they’re very subtlely visible in the upper left hand corner) but this doesn’t create hierarchy it creates additional pages, resulting in multiple portals rather than a single, well organized portal.

Those Annoying Plus Signs

A recent addition to the page were those annoying plus signs beside each item in an RSS feed. Clicking the plus sign does exactly what I expect it too — expands the title to display a box containing the entry information (or whatever information is included in the RSS feed.) The plus sign converts to a minus, and clicking the minus closes the expanded information box.

The problem is that ths offers little value with some, and there’s no way to choose whether or not to have them active or not.

They don’t, for example, appear beside my gmail entries where they could be wonderfully useful. They do appear beside the RSS feed for SEED Magazine, where the magazine length articles are impossible to read.

Those annoying plus signs appeared one day, with no information. That’s bad user relationship.

Nine Items Maximum

Each section lists nine items max. No exceptions. When I was using my gmail address as my primary address, nine email messages just wasn’t enough to be useful.

Custom Widgets

Of course, there are a huge number of custom widgets provided that interrupt the monotony — these are equally inconsistent and offer little in the way of personalization. They’re existence doesn’t do much to solve the problem. As an experienced user, it just frustrates me more.

Personal Should Be Personal

Google is trying to do something noble here by offering a standards compliant personalization system. Unfortunately, their rigid adherence to interface minimalism has resulted in a personalized service that’s incredibly impersonal.

Posted by skooter at 6:58 PM
Tags: Google, Information Architecture

January 22, 2007
Toronto, Adelaide & York, December 27th, 2006

Software Development Services

Posted by skooter at 6:19 AM
Tags: Software, Work

January 16, 2007
Globe Home Page, January 16, 2006 0500hrs

Globe and Mail Home Page

Either technology coverage has increased quite dramatically at the Globe — the main headline says Application Error — or something is very very broken.

The page above is the main Globe home page, and it’s broken. The entire thing. Not just a single article, but the entire newspaper is dead.

This page is currently not available
Our apologies… We are unable to deliver the page you have requested.
Please try clicking the “Reload” or “Refresh” button on your Web browser to loading this page again. Or, you may want to return to our homepage.
To report this problem, please e-mail us at help@globeandmail.com.

What this means is that, at the moment, the only financial information available from Canada’s national newspaper is a pitch for penny stocks.

This is definitely not The New York Times

January 9, 2007
Apple Computer Inc. R.I.P.

The newly announced iPhone from Apple is a thing of beauty, as is to be expected. Whether this is available in Canada in time to be useful to me is a more complicated question.

Perhaps a bigger indication of a new future is the fact that Apple Computer Inc. is no more — replaced by Apple Inc.

Apple gave birth to the era of the personal computer with the Apple ][. Today is the end of that era, and the dawn of a new one.

Posted by skooter at 1:34 PM
Tags: Apple, iPod

January 6, 2007
Bell HotSpot's Usability Problem

Bell HotSpot home page

I sat down in a Starbucks today and connected to a Bell HotSpot. Bell is runing their HotSpots as a user pay wireless service. With blocks of time that can be purchased by the hour, the day, or the month. Vacouver’s FatPort operates on a similar business model, and has been doing it for about five years now.

Here’s how Bell is making a big mistake.

When you connect, the HotSpot site defines a new Home for your browser. It does this by redirecting any request for a web page to the HotSpot service login page, unless you’ve already logged in. Basically it says “I’m not going to let you see that until you’ve done this first.”

This login page is, of course, the sales opportunity for Bell. It’s where you enter your credit card number and purchase a block of time.

One hour is CDN$7.50. This is a ridiculous price and too short a time frame. FatPort figured this out a long time ago and started offering a four hour block of time for CDN$9.95 (compared to their price for one hour of CDN$4.95.) This was a decent length of time for those who didn’t want to commit to a full day or a monthly account but was doing some work for a while in a coffee shop or some other, similar location.

But this isn’t Bell’s mistake.

A month of service costs CDN$35 and can be a pretty good deal if you spend a lot time at HotSpot locations.

That’s the key to the problem here: I can’t find out where the locations are unless I’m already logged in. This page provides a link to them although that link was broken when I checked.

Of course, it’s impossible to get to that page unless you’ve already paid. I suppose I could be sitting at home (as I am now) connected through my wireless network planning for some future purchase of a mothly HotSpot account, but it seems much more likely that someone would make this choice at the point of purchase — the HotSpot itself.

A lost sales opportunity.

Posted by skooter at 5:11 PM
Tags: Bell, Information Architecture, Usability

December 31, 2006
i-CY

I have pretty good resistance to overwhelming my house with penguin things, and yet I believe I will want one of these when they are finally released in March.

Posted by skooter at 5:25 AM
Tags: Penguins, Toys

December 14, 2006
PowerBook Brain Transplant

My PowerBook G4 is now almost three years old — it dates from March of 2003. Time for a brain transplant.

Some 30 screws needed to be removed, the keyboard and the trackpad to replace the 60GB hard drive with an 80GB Hitachi. Not enormous, but enough to give me breathing room until later this year when the time comes to buy a new one.

Posted by skooter at 10:49 PM
Tags: Apple, Mac, Upgrades

December 12, 2006
Best Error Message Ever

Error messages can be funny sometimes, but this one takes the cake.

Windows Media Player Error Message Help

You’ve encountered error message 80042013 while using Windows Media Player. Additional information is not currently available for this error.

Of course, it’s such a cliche that it’s from Microsoft.

Posted by skooter at 4:27 PM
Tags: Microsoft, Technical Communications

December 11, 2006
Media Bias

Media bias is a common accusation in the world of politics. Welcome to the world of technology journalism.

This is probably the most biased produt review I’ve ever read failing even to mention that the Zune in question is a first generation unique, while the iPod is a fifth (or sixth, if you count the last revision which many people consider a “half” version.)

I’m not saying I don’t like iPods, but at least be realistic before we make comments like this:

And, obviously, there’s Microsoft. Can you imagine any other company whose corporate culture would allow it to release such a flawed product? What do you suppose would happen to an auto company that produced a car with no steering wheel or seats that spontaneously exploded after three uses or three days?

Posted by skooter at 1:12 PM
Tags: Apple, iPod, Microsoft, Zune

November 2, 2006
New iPod Shuffle

A shiny new iPod shuffle was at my door this morning.

This thing is almost impossibly small — smaller than a compact flash card. I’m looking forward to it.

Of course, this now means that my last excuse for not running has disappeared.

To the pavement on Sunday, as I’ll be out for a couple of days.

Posted by skooter at 11:02 PM
Tags: Apple, iPod, Music

October 29, 2006
Why Web Design Doesn't Mean Web Success

A nice article whih dances around the high level discussion of why flashy web tools don’t make a succesful web site:

Why award-winning websites are so awful

Two comments are of particular interest:

The Danes (and other Scandinavians) are probably the most sophisticated web practitioners I have had the pleasure to deal with. When I deal with countries that are at the bottom of the curve when it comes to web adoption and ecommerce expertise, award-winning websites driven by Flash and wow factors tend to be top of the agenda.

The Danes understand that a website needs to be designed for the customer, not for the organization, and certainly not for the web team. The most dangerous thing that web professionals can do is assume that what they really care about is what their customers really care about.

The argument here is not that design should be ignored, but that design should be used properly. Simply put: the job of design is to get out of the way, not in it—at least in an environment where the goal is to communicate to customers effectively.

Posted by skooter at 8:26 AM
Tags: Online Marketing, Web 2.0

October 5, 2006
We Just Found a new Digital Camera

Canon's new G7 It’s well known that I was a big fan of the Canon PowerShot G6 and considered it the best digital camera for most uses. It was discontinued, and for the past while I’ve been recommending the Canon PowerShot S3 IS which is a great camera with an extremely long zoom — it is, in fact, probably better for most consumers than the G6 was.

When it comes to cameras, I don’t fall into the category of most consumers as evidenced by my complete lack of a digital camera right now.

Now, there’s a new game in town and I think I like it enough to buy it.

See those knobs and dials on the top? That’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for. Why we spent decades refining camera ergonomics only to turn them into computers when we went digital, I’m not sure. Cameras have always been about knobs and dials and switches, and much less about buttons and menus. Sure…the latter are necessary but should be reserved for only those functions that get set once and forgotten.

Suddenly, I’m very excited.

Posted by skooter at 5:50 PM
Tags: Cameras, Canon, Photography

October 3, 2006
A National Embarassment

The Globe and Mail’s web site is a national embarasment.

Don’t get me wrong — the Globe remains the only newspaper published in Canada that I can actually read. By comparison to the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Star or any other regional paper, the Globe is the gold standard.

It even, dare I say it, approaches the quality of the New York Times.

But the web site is a national embarassment.

I’ve thought this for a long time, but the scales finally tipped the other day. Why? They’ve inserted advertising into their RSS feeds, and they’re not even doing that well. They are, in fact, trying to make their advertisements look exactly like headlines.

This is a heinous deception, and it needs to be stopped.

The Globe’s RSS feeds provide a convenient way to scan headlines and stories. Using Safari, I know when new articles have been posted (and how many have been posted) without having to randomly hit the web site. Most newspapers are doing this, and it’s extremely useful.

These feeds are also used to feed content to third party aggregators such as Google News or your personal pages. They serve a good purpose.

Slate Magazine started inserted ads in their RSS feeds ages ago, but I hardly noticed. Banner ads, similar to those that appear in web pages, started appearing. I can either pay attention or skip them as I see fit.

The Globe and Mail RSS feed as viewed in Safari. The red arrow has been added to clearly indicate the RSS feed.

The Globe has taken another route — inserting the ads as a headline, with the word ADV: in front of the headline. These headlines are virtually impossible to distinguish from the newspaper headlines — this makes this nothing more than a devious method of forcing you to read them.

It also makes it extremely annoying.

This is only the start of the list of things that are horrible about the Globe’s site. Try chaging the font size of your page and it breaks; the commenting feature takes the approach of not posting anything until it’s approved by editors; the home page is virtually impossible to scan visually and makes it extremely difficult to find any articles in sections that aren’t featured articles; an enormous banner ad appears above the paper’s masthead; pictures from newspaper articles don’t appear online.

There’s a stark contrast to the New York Times, which has continued to lead the newspaper world in its use of online tools. Their RSS feeds work and a quick look at the headlines on the home page gives you an overview of the entire paper’s contents. The general impression is of an organization where the news comes first, not the advertising.

This is a national embarassment, and I can’t figure out why it’s been allowed to go on for so long.

Posted by skooter at 6:14 AM
Tags: Advertising, Globe and Mail, RSS

September 19, 2006
Napster on the Block

Napster is up for sale again

Napster, the subscription music-download service, is looking for a buyer. The company, which got its start as a free music-download, file-sharing site, said Monday that it had hired UBS to find a major strategic partner or to be acquired completely.

The possible sale is the latest sign of the pressure facing music-download sites, many of which are forming alliances with makers of music-playing consumer electronics devices.

Does this mean that investors are starting to make sense?

Napster was the original P2P network — the one that started the trend of stealing tunes. It had huge awareness, but because it was a central network it failed. Think of Napster as the hube at the middle of an infinite number of spokes. That single hub made it easy to take down.

With a huge brand name, it got bought and attempts were made to turn it into a pay service based on a subscription model. The argument went something like this: 10,000 songs on your iPod from Apple would cost $10,000 — why not subscribe for a low fee every month instead?

Never quite really taking off for a few reasons (I think they failed to recognize that making it a subscription meant I had to pay every month, wherease there can be entire months where I don’t buy any music) it’s now up for sale.

Is anybody going to buy this? Probably not. I hope not. If they do, it will be a bad sign — with Microsoft’s recent Zune announcement, no one without pockets as deep as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs should launch right now. It’s a faltering industry that’s just gone through its first major correction.

Posted by skooter at 9:32 AM
Tags: Downloads, File sharing, Music, P2P

September 14, 2006
Goldmine -- Worst Contact Manager Ever

I have a curse in my life, and that curse is named Goldmine. The dialog box pictured below is a good example why.
Goldmine merge record

You’ll note that the text of the dialog box instructs the user to select either the Parent record, while the buttons refer to a Default Record and a Non-default Record without providiing any information about:

  1. Which one will be considered the Parent
  2. Which of the records is the Default Record and which is the Non-default Record

The list of nightmares this program gives me is far too long. High on that list (probably the first) would be its reliance on the horribly inept Berkely DB Engine or the grossly overpriced Microsoft SQL Server.

Posted by skooter at 8:44 PM
Tags: Databases, Usability

Zune

Microsoft is finally announcing the long anticipated Zune media player

Zune marks the latest in a long line of iPod killers. I’m reminded of a funny story for a year ago or so on Wired about how popular iPods were on Microsoft’s campus, and the brass’ attempts to squelch it.

On the good side of things, I wrote this a long time ago and Microsoft seems to have finally figured out one thing:

some better news on the codec front: the Zune supports h.264, MP3, AAC and WMA

That thing is simple: if you can’t play my iTunes library, I’m not buying you.

Zune still won’t be able to play tunes purchased at the ITunes Music Store but that’s a different story and would require a licencing deal with Apple.

Oh? That next toy I talked about? A new generation two iPod Shuffle. Why? Because it’s small, perfect for exercise, and includes a built in belt clip all for the low low price of only $89. Mostly, though, because it’s compatible with all my music.

Sorry, Sony, but I want my AAC.

Posted by skooter at 11:13 AM
Tags: Apple, Microsoft, Music

September 8, 2006
Why Smart People do Dumb Things

The always interesting Guy Kawasaki writes a good article and (sort of) review of the book Why Smart People do Dumb Things and explains the importance of backing up your hard drive.

Which I, incidentally, have not been doing lately. In part I’m holding onto every last penny for a new computer, at which point a new backup drive will be required. This is a lame excuse.

Posted by skooter at 9:37 AM

August 21, 2006
The Oil we Eat

America’s biggest crop, grain corn, is completely unpalatable. It is raw material for an industry that maufactures food substitutes. Likewise, you can’t eat unprocessed wheat. You certainly can’t eat hay. You can eat unprocessed soybeans, but mostly we don’t. Agriculture in this country is not about food; it’s about commodities that require the outlay of still more energy to become food.

The Oil We Eat Following the Food Chain back to Iraq, Richard Manning
Harpers Magazine, February 2004, pp. 43

Posted by skooter at 11:36 PM
Tags: Articles, Energy, Environmentalism, Oil

July 30, 2006
Computing's Weakest Link

Over at Newsweek, Steven Levy has an article about the 50th anniversary of the hard drive.

The Hard Disk That Changed the World
IBM delivered the first disk drive 50 years ago. It was about the size of two refrigerators and weighed a ton.
by STEVEN LEVY, The Technologist

August 7, 2006 issue — If there’s a bottle of vintage champagne you’ve been saving, next month is the time to pop it open: it’s the 50th anniversary of hard-disk storage. Don’t laugh. On Sept. 13, 1956, IBM shipped the first unit of the RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) and set in motion a process that would change the way we live.

Hard drive’s are computing’s weakest link — more data is lost to bad magnetic media every year than can possibly be imagined, and it’s thanks only to intelligent system administrators and redundant backups that this isn’t catastrophic. These precision machines spinning at upwards of 5,200 revolutions per minute are the pulse of our digital lives, and the weakest link. A crash is inevitable, it’s just a question of when — and don’t realistically expect any advance warning.

50 years is a very long time in the world of technology: it speaks to the aggressiveness with whic manufacturers have been able to boost capacity that hard drives are even more relevant today than they were when computing hit the mainstream in the early 80s.

If you’ve got money to invest, invest it in next generation storage technologies: this equation will change, and the future will likely rest on some form of optical technology.

Posted by skooter at 3:51 PM
Tags: Data, Storage, Technology

Technical Changes

I’ve spent much of this sunny, gorgeous Vancouver morning indoors making some technical changes to the structure of the site. Things should appear to be completely unchanged — these are performance related improvements for the most part.

Some of the galleries have been relocated as part of a physical content restructuring which may affect any bookmarks. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Posted by skooter at 2:27 PM
Tags: Movable Type, Personal, Technology

July 19, 2006
Some Things Should Not Be Necessary

Technology has, and will continue to, provide solutions to many everyday problems.

Then there are the things that shouldn’t be problems at all.

Reuters is reporting that hospitals are considering embedding RFID tags in surgical tools to prevent leaving them in patients. After closing a patient, doctors would wave a receiver over the body to look for the chips which would indicate that something was left inside

Posted by skooter at 11:44 AM

July 12, 2006
Seed Magazine

My new favourite online magazine is Seed Magazine, a science publication I stumbled across quite by accident.

My introduction was a pointer to a short film titled Lords of the Ring which is, in fact, quite a brilliant little piece about a complex subject: the CERN Particle Accelerator located 100 metres beneath the surface of the Earth in Geneva, Switzerland.

Well worth watching and checking in with regularly.

Posted by skooter at 9:38 PM

July 4, 2006
At What Cost?

Perhaps we, as a society, should not be pushing the space race at any cost.

It’s possible that this is a less noble cause than it seems, and it’s likely that less is being learned than NASA appears to admit.

It’s also possible that three problematic missions in a row is a sign that the Space Shuttle, the gloriously elegant transport that inspired the dreams of my generation in the same way that the Apollo missions did for an earlier one, has outlived its life.

If this ship launches, against the advice of numerous engineers and scientists more knowledgeable than I, I hope that all goes well and that — if it does not — those who pushed this for their own political purposes pay an appopriate price.

Posted by skooter at 9:27 AM
Tags: Exploration, NASA, Space

June 28, 2006
TED - Technology. Environment. Design.

I learned about the TED Conference a few years ago. I can best describe it as both food for and a celebration of the creativity of the human mind. Speakers come from a wind ranging field, as befits an event started by a man such as Richard Saul Wurman the grandfather of information architecture.

The TED team has created TED Talks. I listened to the Al Gore presentation today and it was, as TED presentations often are, absolutely riveting.

Listen. Now.

Posted by skooter at 11:25 PM
Tags: Conference, Design, Technology, Videos

June 17, 2006
Bill Gates, Microsoft & the end of the Homebrew

Bill Gates announced his retirement a few days ago — or, more accurately, a schedule for his retirement.

This is the single biggest moment in business of the last decade, in my opinion. It’s more significant than the collapse of Enron and Worldcom

I’ve spent the last couple of days muling over what it means, chatting with people who work at Microsoft — with varying degrees of loyalty — and generally considering where we head now (whoever we is, anyway.)

The question I keep coming back too — and this says a lot about my personal bias — is what does this mean for Steve Jobs?

One way to phrase this question is to ask “Does this mean Steve Jobs wins?” I have done this, and in general I think the answer is yes…but it depends on how you define “win” of course.

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates were all around during the days of the “Homebrew Computer Club.” These guys…these nerds with soldering irons got together about 30 years ago and literally lit the spark that changed the world.

Those early years were interesting and exciting, with Apple and Microsoft the most enduring legacies. For years Apple hardware competed with IBM hardware running Microsoft software. We stared at green screens, clicked away on keyboards and typed archaic commands. Email was a luxury for the few, as was networking.

And then came the Macintosh.

It’s often been said that Steve Jobs didn’t invent the Macintosh and was, in fact, initially opposed to it until he finally took credit for it. I’ve got no problem believing this, but there’s little doubt that the second mass wave of computer development was started by Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs.

And then came Windows.

When mouse based interfaces became the dominant reality, Microsoft finally started working on Windows. Not a serious competitor as a graphical operating system until version 3.0, Windows provided businesses with what they needed: a path forward from DOS without buying all new hardware.

Like it or not, Windows led to a situation in the late 1980s where the death of Apple was almost imminent. Despite brilliant technological leaps like the Newton, Apple rapidly slid towards irrelevance. Under the leadership of Gil Amelio, death seemed imminent.

During this time, Steve created NeXT and a viable vision for a new computer. These machines were beautiful, offered a true Object Oriented Operating System and were built on a proven solid Unix core. In 1989 Byte magazine raved about the Cube.

Enter iMac With the media on a Macintosh death watch, the unthinkable happened: Apple bought NeXT to create a new version of the platform. At the time I thought this was a nice move…I was working in finance on Bay Street and the manager of our major technology fund thought I was a fool and Apple would die. He figured it was a waste of money.

Unthinkably, Steve Jobs came back to Apple and introduced the iMac. Candy coloured computers running the same old software that was completely useless for business. With the Internet becoming increasingly important I was using Linux for a while and was deeply frustrated with the aging Mac OS.

Windows, meanwhile, revved up from 3.0 to Windows 98 and Windows NT. NT was a decent operating system but did little to address the issue of usability. It was, however, installed in millions of workstations. With over 90% market share, it looked like Windows had won.

As it turned out though, people loved those candy coloured computers. They sold well enough to keep Apple viable until the next change.

Mac OS X and Windows XP Mac OS X hit the streets with much fanfare. It was a huge move forward.for the Mac, but initially was pokey and slow. It also had a habit of crashing a bit more often than rumours suggested. Less than Windows XP to be sure, but it was still problematic enough to be painful. Steady improvement happened though while Microsoft created a road map to the update from XP — Windows Vista.

While Apple, under the leadership of Steve Jobs yet again, steadily improved their operating system Microsoft, under the leadership of Bill Gates and his brash partner Steve Ballmer, continued to push back the release date for Vista. Vista was increasingly the greatest piece of vaporware in history.

None of this mattered though, in part because of the iPod. The iPod will, more than any other device in history, be remembered as the device that pushed invisible computing forward. Cell phones really preceeded it, but they sort of took a stealth approach. The iPod was always very clearly a computer device, but it was just…there.

The iPod was just the latest stroke of genius from a Steve Jobs led Apple in a long line of strokes of genius. Much more so than OS X, it brought success back to Apple, and firmly ensconced Steve atop the Silicon Valley pyramid.

Bill Gates’ resignation comes when Steve is on top and the incredibly slipping release schedule for Vista has led to more bad media coverage than is health for any organization. The failure of Xbox to make a significant dent in Playstation 2’s sales remains a hurdle, although Xbox 360 is a clear leader of the home gaming pack right now in technology if not sales. Microsoft’s miserable failure in competing with the iPod is an ongoing embarrasment, exaccerbated by the increble popular of white headphones on Microsoft’s campus.

Microsoft’s 90% market share is often cited as certain evidence that the battle has been won, and that Microsoft won it.

As transforming as the last 30 years have been, the next 30 are likely to be more so. The pace of change in technology never ceases to amaze me, and just when I think I’ve figured it out something happens.

More often than not, that something comes from the direction of Cupertino and not Redmond.

Bill Gates’ departure is a moment in history and a tipping point in the world of computer software. For the time being, Steve Jobs gets to enjoy his status as Last Man Standing of the original Hombrew crowd. It’s a brief moment of victory in a business that does not often allow for such brief moments.

I don’t suspect Steve will spend too much time gloating — he’s probably spending a great deal more working on the next insanely great thing.

Posted by skooter at 10:24 PM
Tags: Apple, Microsoft, Operating sytems, Usability

May 25, 2006
Best Game Review Ever

Far be it from me to suggest that the fact that the Da Vinci Code has sold over 40 million copies indicates a severe problem with the status of literacy, but how it achieved this while also being the most universally derided work of fiction I’ve ever heard of is simply amazing.

There’s a video game adapatation of the movie out, and Wired has published a great review

You’ll find the puzzles in The Da Vinci Code game to be intricate and challenging. If you have recently sustained a major head injury.

In fairness, the emphasis is mine.

Posted by skooter at 3:40 PM

May 19, 2006
R.I.P. Powerbook

Apple has introduced the new MacBook Pro to replace current iBooks.

Most interesting on the front of the Apple Store is the disappearance of the PowerBook name.

May she rest in peace and perhaps, with the next revision, return. PowerBook was one of the most venerable names in the technology business with extremely high brand recognition. It will be back, I’m sure.

Posted by skooter at 11:40 AM

May 4, 2006
Magazines Online

Silly readers, tricks are for kids.

I’m receiving Information Week through their complimentary professional subscription but online only. This means I get an email ever week, and I click a link to view the magazine.

I was getting a Mac publication as well for a while, with the distinction that it downloaded to my PowerBook and I had to use the Zinio Reader software to view it.

Great. More software to install.

The real question is — and I hope I’m not the first person to ask it — why are these paper publishers trying so hard to emulate their paper publication online?

Anybody who’s used these two software tools knows the interface. First you see the cover, then you click a page or a button to turn the page. The software — in both of these cases, at least — then animates the motion of the page turning.

Ummm…why?

Displaying nothing more than a scanned magazine page with fake animation of pages turning reminds me of the early days of TV (ok…in fairness, I wasn’t there so it doesn’t remind me of it but I think you get the point.)

Back in the day, TV was described as “radio with pictures.” This, of course, led to a bunch of shows which were nothing more than popular radio shows broadcast on TV. Sort of like that silly Howard Stern TV show which is filmed in his broadcast booth, but without the strippers.

Zinio Reader is more than one step forward and two steps back — it’s a return to the dark ages for online media. This scourge should end, and it should end quickly. Controlled circulation publications are ideally suited for online delivery using secured logins as a delivery method. Why these technology publications aren’t choosing to do this in this way I fail to understand.

Posted by skooter at 2:31 PM
Tags: Software, Usability

May 1, 2006
Woo Hoo - Outside gets RSS

The wonderful Outside Magazine has finally gotten RSS feeds

Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1999!

The best part is, of course, they don’t work with Safari’s integrated RSS support, thanks to a server side error.

Posted by skooter at 6:33 PM

April 30, 2006
New Toy

From the manual for my new toy, which I didn’t realize was quite such a complex piece of technology;

Toasting is a combination of cooking and drying of the bread. Therefore, deifferences in moisture leve from one bread to another can result in varying toasting times.

Posted by skooter at 12:51 PM

Two Rich Minds Departed

This week has seen the departure of two of North America’s distinguised thinkers: Jane Jacobs and John Kenneth Galbraith. Both were erstwhile Canadians.

Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities is a classic text to anyone interested in urban planning. It went against conventional wisdom of the time and, to this day, remains an insightful thoughtful viewpoint.

Jacobs called both Toronto and Vancouver home for extended periods of time, and was proud to have been associated with both communities.

John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most influential liberal economists of our times. Born near London, Ontario Galbraith was a Harvard professor and trusted advisor to a number of democratic presidents. His influence over American monetary policy was significant, and serves as evidence that the decline of liberalism in modern American economic thinking may, in fact, be linked to the general decline of America’s economy and its political relevance in the world.

Galbraith’s The Affluent Society was republished to celebrate an anniversary, and I read it years after I’d left school. It’s worthy reading for anybody with an interest in modern economics, despite the fact that it was written many years ago.

Posted by skooter at 9:15 AM
Tags: Economics, Obituaries, Urban Planning

April 6, 2006
Thin Systems

Nicholas Negroponte is still thinking different even as the rest of the world does not.

Negroponte: Slimmer Linux needed for $100 laptop
CNET News.com

“People aren’t thinking about small, fast, thin systems,” said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit association, in a speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here. “Suddenly it’s like a very fat person (who) uses most of the energy to move the fat. And Linux is no exception. Linux has gotten fat, too.”

Why does this matter?

First, the goal of a $100 laptop is an admirable one, even without considering the unique needs of the third world. Most people do not much more than email and surf the web these days — spending more on your computer than you do for your computer’s communication link makes not much sense.

Second, as Negroponte has long pointed out, there will always be a finite limit to resources in the world. This is as true of bandwidth and processing power as it is of oil, although the specific economics can vary.

The process of fabricating silicone is a wonderful example of doing more with the same resources. The single greatest impact on the increase in available computing power within current resources has come as a result of vastly increasing the density of the silicone to such a degree that we long ago passed what we thought was physically possible, and yet we still keep going.

The same cannot be said of bandwidth: as the number of people who have come online has increased, the solution to perceived bandwidth problems has been to simply install more. As a result, despite theoretical economies of scale your DSL connection still costs about the same as it did when DSL had no economies of scale.

Negroponte argued in Being Digital that the solution to the world’s bandwidth problem came not from laying more pipes ad infinium (although it was important to recognize that more pipe would be laid) but rather from doing more with what we have. Better compression codecs (h.264 anyone?) will be needed anyway, particularly as more and more of the world just keeps filling that crazy pipe with data.

Negroponte’s vision is the sort that keeps the world moving forward: it’s a shame that some haven’t yet learned that learning to do more with less is better done early when one can plan, than late when desperation sits in.

Posted by skooter at 2:43 PM
Tags: Conservation, Hardware

April 5, 2006
Ok. Now I want an Intel Mac.

This is seriously cool stuff.

Boot Camp lets Macs do Windows

Today Apple announced Boot Camp, a public beta of a Mac OS X Leopard feature that lets users of Intel-based Macs install and run Windows XP directly on those systems. Jason Snell notes that instead of crippling the recent hack that allows Intel Mac to run Windows XP, Apple has released a legitimate version that does what the hack did—and in true Apple fashion, a whole lot more.

Posted by skooter at 8:33 AM

March 29, 2006
So What's the Volume Control For, Then?

The level of inanity with which people treat their right to complain never fails to amaze me.

Turn it down, people, turn it down.

Apple Releases Software to Set IPod Volume
CUPERTINO, Calif. Mar 29, 2006 (AP) — Owners of recent iPods will now be able to set how loud their digital music players can go. Apple Computer Inc., facing complaints and a lawsuit claiming the popular player can cause hearing loss, made the setting available as part of a new software update Wednesday. The free download applies to the iPod Nano and the iPod models with video-playback capabilities.

Incidentally, every iPod since day one has shipped with Soundcheck which essentially does this by leveling all the sound.

It never fails to amaze me how a headline can spin out of control, even though I’ve been part of making it happen in the past.

Posted by skooter at 10:14 AM

Spotlight Works, Windows Desktop Search Doesn't

I spend a great deal of time these days flipping back and forth between my PowerBook at home and my Windows desktop at work. One of the many things I missed about the Mac was Spotlight — Apple’s much hyped search technology for desktops.

Spotlight works, and once you’ve gotten used to being able to search for anything with a single click it’s addictive. Smart folders and smart mailboxes are amazingly useful.

This got me to thinking, at work, that I would download Google Desktop. After spending the weekend with a friend who works for Microsoft, I snagged Microsoft Desktop Search — she insisted it was better — and installed it too.

Both fall short, for a really simple reason.

Indexing Speed

All of these products work on a very simple premise: an index. When I installed Tiger, I lost about 1GB of hard drive space, presumably to the index for Spotlight. This index took about two hours to build — two hours during which my computer was slow, and non-responsive and generally very annoying.

Both Google Desktop and Windows Desktop Search do the same thing, albeit even more painfully — trying to use your computer while Google Desktop is indexing just doesn’t work.

At this point in time, all three technologies area bout the same. We’ve indexed the drive, and all of the files we have on it can be searched. With the same files in place, typing in the same search we get substantially similar results.

So what’s wrong?

Files change.

Indexing Current Work

The content of your computer’s hard drive is a work in a progress. Open a file and change, for example, the words Battlestar Galactica to Serenity and the file has to be reindexed. Type a new letter to your incarcerated boy (or girl) friend and the file has to be indexed.

On my Windows machine, this takes time. As I sit here, I’ve edited a Word file to include a new header and changed its filename. This was 20 minutes ago — Windows Desktop Search hasn’t yet found it, and Google Desktop Search just now picked it up.

Spotlight would have had it in the index immediately.

What’s Happening Here

Without analyzing a bunch of technical documentation, what I presume is happening is that every time a file is saved the Mac OS is sending a message to Spotlight which updates its index. As a result, Spotlight is pretty much guaranteed to be the most current index possible — never more than a couple of minutes out of date.

Why this isn’t happening with Windows Desktop Search I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s the wide variety of OS implementations over the years — I’m still astonished when I get, on a Windows XP box, Windows 98 style file save dialog boxes. Perhaps some apps can do this and others can’t (although my Microsoft Office is the most recent version, and one would expect it to communicate correctly.)

There’s also the looming question of why Google Desktop Search has already found it, and Windows Desktop Search hasn’t. That one will, I suspet, remain a mystery to me for some time.

I still love my Mac, and a good portion of that is the completeness with which Apple treats the user experience. The attention to details is evident on a regular basis.

Posted by skooter at 8:26 AM

March 13, 2006
What a Wonderful Repository of Human Knowledge

The internet is such a wonderful repository of human knowledge — tonight I learned this:

If your eyeballs fall out of their sockets repeatedly, you might be a candidate for a lateral tarsorrhaphy

Gotta love this thing. Slate Magazine is still one of the best places to visit without paying for a subscription.

Posted by skooter at 10:02 PM
Tags: Articles

February 17, 2006
Silly Online Quizzes

It may be entirely unsurprising to those who know me that I have scored Serenity in this quiz.

Posted by skooter at 9:16 PM

February 16, 2006
Why I Shoot Film (yes...again)

David Pogue writes the Circuits column for the New York Times and has long been one of my favourite technology journalist. He is, in a general sense, an excellent writer on a topic that can be difficult to write about.

After suffering a catastrophic hard drive crash, David used a prominent national data recovery company to recove his data. The interview was edited, and today he published more of it in his weekly email message.

Remember, it’s this guy’s business to mine and recover digital data…here’s how it goes.

David Pogue: Let me ask you a related question. Everything is going digital. Digital music, digital photos, digital movies. Is that a dangerous trend? My mother once bemoaned the fact that rough drafts of famous novelists don’t exist anymore, ‘cause it’s all word processed, and no one will ever know the composing process.

SG: Yeah. One of our recovery guys said something one time, that in 100 years, anything we put on electronic media will not exist. Yet anything published will still be around. And I think he’s right.

DP: So things on paper-

SG: So your books will be here.

The italics are mine, added for emphasis.

Still wonder why I shoot film? I’ve got a rich, beautiful print from a black and white negative hanging on my wall that reminds me quite a bit: that negative is about a hundred years old at this point.

I’m not saying I don’t like digital, but I definitely still like film.

Posted by skooter at 8:58 PM

February 8, 2006
Feynman

But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
Richard Feynman

Posted by skooter at 4:34 PM

Are Hyrbrid's Really Saving Us?

A great article at the New York Times questions whether Hybrids are really saving the planet

Don’t get me wrong: I conceptually like the idea of a hybrid car, and would buy one if money weren’t an issue — it’s just that the hype is far greater than the reality.

Some reasons why:

I still maintain that the world would be a much better place if anything larger than a 6 cylinder car were simply not manufactured for all but non-commercial use. 6 cylinders is more than enough to tow a boat, haul timber or firewood or do any number of things that most people who own engines larger than this never do. The onus would then be on government to enforce the non-commercial aspect of the legislation. Not too difficult given that citizens file tax returns.

Some argue that current gas-guzzler taxes are doing this already…this may be true, but these are a modest amount relative to the cost of vehicles.

Hybrids are not the long term answer, nor are they even a very good one for the short term. I’d rather have them than not, but they’re really more of a patch than a solution.

Posted by skooter at 10:06 AM

January 24, 2006
Barenaked Ladies

Activity logs are a wonderful thing. You can, really, see just about everything that happens on a web site.

If, for example, the same person returns day after day and enters the same search with their caps lock key on, it shows.

Recently, someone searched this place for Ed Robertson which just seems odd, given that there are much better sources of information about him.

Ed is one of the Barenaked Ladies lead singers. I went to high school with these guys — so did most people in Scarborough, at one point or another — and have little of interest to report. There are five stories I like to tell about Ed specifically.

  1. I took driving lessons with his wife
  2. I watched Ed fail a grade 12 calculus course (further proof that good calculus skills — which I possess in spades — are not needed or a guarantee of financial success.) Short version: he overslept. No black mark there.
  3. Ed used to lend me his Rush records. Ed had a lot of Rush records. Ed had every Rush record that had been released, and would never lend the extremely limited pressings (I recall a purple vinyl edition of Hemispheres, but my memory may be inacccurate.)
  4. I have some very old photos from their first contract signing (there were very few people there,) at the Scarborough Civic Centre which I may one day scan and post.
  5. I toured New Brunswick with the Barenaked Ladies once; sure, I was like 12 and playing french horn in the school band, but Ed & Steve were in the band too…Tyler and the Creegan’s weren’t (they went to another school) and they hadn’t started calling themselves the Barenaked Ladies yet but I still think it counts

Posted by skooter at 10:06 PM

January 16, 2006
The E-Campaign

The NDP is winning the e-campaign.

Posted by skooter at 9:54 PM
Tags: Federal Election 2006, NDP

January 12, 2006
Nikon Says Goodbye to Film

According to Wired Magazine Nikon is moving heavily out of the film business.

An excerpt:

Nikon’s Focus Turns to Digital

Nikon, the Japanese camera and precision equipment maker, said Thursday it will focus on digital photography and stop producing most of its film cameras, except for a few professional photographer products.

“Nikon will discontinue production of all lenses for large format cameras and enlarging lenses. This also applies to most of our film camera bodies, interchangeable manual focus lenses and related accessories,” it said in a statement on its British website.

The company expects stock of analog products to sell out in retail distribution in the summer of 2006.

My concerns?

In a word: lenses.

First, I shoot Canon gear so this announcement means not so much to me. I’ll never shoot Nikon gear - I don’t like the ergonomics, but mostly I have too many lenses.

Digital cameras have two little secrets that many people conveniently overlook: the first, and most obvious one, is batteries. They like them. They love them. They suck back batteries like there’s no tomorrow. This is, of course, the general weakness of the Society of the Future™

The second, and less obvious one, is the size of the sensor chip. The vast majority of sensor ships are smaller than a standard 35mm negative. This means all those lenses you’ve been shooting for decades — sized for 35mm lenses — change in length.

On a Canon Digital Rebel XT the conversion factor is 1.6x. This means my sexy 400mm f5.6 lens and teleconverter combination becomes a 640mm f5.6 lens. Even sexier, right?

Hold your horses: what about that incredible ultra-wide 20mm lens I have? Suddenly it becomes a fairly dull and not so wide 32mm lens.

For years, photographers everywhere protested everytime somebody came out with a film format smaller than 35mm — APS in particular was the subject of much scorn. Suddenly, with digtal cameras, everbody’s falling all over themselves.

Canon makes the 5D, and made the 1D which have full frame chips. With full frame chips coming down in price, I expect that a sub CDN$2,000 full frame camera will replace the 20D in the next revolution, and all my lenses will work well. This I will seriously look at.

Nikon has spent years manufacturing lenses for the “full-frame” 35mm format, and suddenly they need to rejig all their lens factories?

Huh. Odd strategy.

There’s been a long standing rule in camera equipment: good glass is always a good investment. If I were shooting Nikon, I’m not so sure I’d think so right now.

Thankfully, I shoot Canon.

Posted by skooter at 10:08 PM

December 20, 2005
Internet Explorer for Mac: R.I.P. or Good Riddance?

Microsoft has officially announced that it’s removing Internet Explorer for the Macintosh from being downloadable, about a year after announcing the cessation of development.

Does it matter anymore?

It’s my view that Internet Explorer’s relevance as a web browser is entirely based on being the 25 foot Gorilla of the industry. Even the Windows version hasn’t been substantially updated in quite some time, and it’s probably the least standards compliant browser available.

I deleted the Mac version some time ago, and largely use Safari these days with Mozilla filling the occasional very rare gap.

So I’m on the side of Good Riddance. I’d like to see less reliance on quirky Internet Explorer only tricks to make things work, and I’m quite pleased to be using a highly standards compliant browser in the modern era.

Posted by skooter at 9:55 PM

December 6, 2005
Riding up to the Internet?

Yes, in the Senate chamber today of The Greatest Nation On Earth™ Jack Valenti — the former president of the MPAA — spoke out against television and, as part of his blast, expressed concerns about any child’s ability to “go riding up to the Internet.”

Which is just odd.

Posted by skooter at 11:09 PM

A New Model for TV?

My iPod is not of the video variety, having a lowly black and white screen. This doesn’t bother me, as I kind of want less TV in my life rather than more anyway.

Nonetheless, this caught my eye with great interest:

NBC Universal programming now available on the iTunes Music Store spans from the 1950s to the present, including NBC’s “Law & Order,” “The Office,” “Surface,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” the USA Network’s Emmy Award-winning “Monk” and Sci-Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” as well as classic TV shows including “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Dragnet,” “Adam-12” and “Knight Rider,” on the iTunes Music Store beginning today.

Could Steve Jobs have actually found a new, workable model for TV distribution?

Initial shows available on the iTunes Music Store were limited to those broadcast on ABC, a network owned by Disney. There was a great deal of speculation that Disney was caving to Jobs’ request simply to maintain their distribution deal for Pixar films, which have made them a boat load of money (a really big boat, incidentally.)

With NBC jumping on board, the story gets very very interesting. An awful lot of people thought this would fail, for some very good reasons. Looks like like maybe not so much.

Beware that reality distortion field though. It’s always hard to tell how much of an effect that has.

Posted by skooter at 10:32 AM
Tags: Apple, Battlestar Galactica, Television

November 16, 2005
Brand Spanking New

After quite a bit of time and work, there’s a brand spanking new site over at www.penguinstorm.com

There’s still work to be done (editing needed, and more content added - particularly a couple of items under the history section) but it’s ready enough to no longer be an embarassment.

All executed within Movable Type.

Posted by skooter at 10:11 AM

November 13, 2005
Tonight We're Going to Party Like It's 1999

Why does the Globe and Mail cotinue to slip backwards in time?

The Globe has persistently shown a complete lack of understanding of how to embrace the Internet, and has now embraced the intensely misguided strategy of demaning registration in exchange for poor content.

If the content online were worthwhile, and mandatory registration got access to the majority of it, it may be a decent strategy. It certainly worked for the New York Times.

But alas, the Globe Online offers not nearly the content of the Times, even with the new pay for some content model in place at The Old Grey Lady

Posted by skooter at 8:46 PM

November 12, 2005
A Giant Amongst Business Writers

Peter F. Drucker has died today. Drucker is a giant among business authors and journalists, with few even in the same league.

Drucker’s writings were consistently perceptive, and ahead of their time. It’s a shame that more don’t choose to learn from the man. Our world would be a better place.

Posted by skooter at 6:30 PM
Tags: Books, Obituaries

(No So) Fast Company

This used to be such a great magazine; I guess things slow down over time.

Yellow Cabs Get Green

In short, hybrid taxi cabs are so common in Vancouver these days that I can’t imagine being in anything else. Of course, no one actually uses taxis here…we walk everywhere instead.

Posted by skooter at 8:36 AM

November 11, 2005
My Vote For "Most Likely to Circulate"

Image courtesy of this guy although I found it on 43 folders.

Posted by skooter at 9:36 PM

November 9, 2005
Presentation Styles

A good, if somewhat straightforward, analysis of presentation styles contrasting Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Posted by skooter at 10:20 PM

Wasn't "Hyperlinking" The Whole Point of This Thing?

I still can’t figure out why, 10 years, after its initial launch the good folks at ZDNet don’t get the web.

405x126

The excerpted paragraph above is from an article posted today. Why there is a specific reference to the Nikon web site but no link to the Nikon web site is beyond me.

Posted by skooter at 8:12 PM

November 4, 2005
What is a Library?

This news from the BBC today is interesting, in the face of opposition to Google’s similar plans.

Microsoft scans British Library
Microsoft’s digital library plans are separate to Google’s

About 100,000 books in the British Library are going to be scanned and put online by software giant Microsoft.

The books, which are out of copyright, will be digitised from 2006 and put online as part of Microsoft’s book search service next year.

Microsoft is already working with the Open Content Alliance (OCA), set up by the Internet Archive, to put an initial 150,000 works online.

A separate global digital library plan by Google is also under way.

What makes Bill Gates good and Google bad? And what is a Library exactly?

For starters, this plan includes copying materials are out of copyright only. while Google is attempting to justify posting copyrighted materials and claiming that the project is substantially similar to a physical lending library. Google’s argument has some validity, but you can guarantee that people will use the data to create unpaid for illegal copies of materials. I watched someone once print several hundred pages of a Harry Potter novel - pointing out that the paper he was using would cost more than buying the book, not to mention the several hours of time (including the imposition on other employees, who needed to use the printer) that were being wasted. Mass produced books are relatively cheap, really.

The notion of a library hasn’t changed much over the decades. While many search online catalogues to find books and the old notion of a card catalogue seems quaint, we ultimately still trudge our way down to a building with books on huge lengths of shelves to pick things up. We browse, aimlessly wandering aisles and whisper in hushed tones to other people as we do it - apologizing for brushing up against people in voices so quiet they can’t be heard.

Libraries are repositories of knowledge, but they are also managed repositories of knowledge. This is where the Internet and libraries divide. The Internet is a self managed system, while libraries are actively managed. This editorial function is key - the Internet isn’t even a self organizing system - there is no organization, and this chaos causes no end of problems.

There’s nothing wrong with removing the physical aspect of visiting a library - it’s the knowledge that’s important. I personally can’t wait for the day that I can browse the British Library from home. This is a privilege that I would have been denied, were it not for technology. While I’d rather be in the building browsing it’s shelves, it’s the flow of knowledge from generation to generation that’s important, not the way it’s done.

At one point, knowledge was transfered by carving it into stone - we’ve long since moved to a model that uses paper and ink, paper and carbon and now bits and bytes to do it. We still carve stone, but it’s not as important as it once was.

These bits and bytes carry much power though.

Posted by skooter at 8:18 AM

November 3, 2005
What not to say in your Craigslist posting

I regularly cruise the Craigslist furniture listings, and was pretty tempted by this.

120cm x 170 cm in good condition. no stains, non smoking, no pets, vacumed on a regular basis. In fair condition 6/10. still pretty clean. used in bedroom. Clean enough to lie naked on for a minute or two. Originally sold at ikea at $20. Yours for $5.

Posted by skooter at 8:47 AM

Midway, British Columbia

Midway, British Columbia is home, in a manner of speaking. I’m from Ontario, but the family is from out here.

Like most small towns it’s not very economically diverse; like most small towns in British Columbia, it’s a one horse town. Now comes news that the only employer in town paying reasonable salaries is closing.

While Toronto fights against urban sprawl, this is British Columbia’s problem - sprawl of a different sort. The province is full of these types of places. They’re too far from the next town over - usually at least an hour - for it to be convenient and too small for any new employers to move to town. Old industries of the sort that moves atoms and not bits stays in place as long as the cost of keeping their atoms in place is cheaper than the cost of moving them.

Eventually, however, the scale changes and these employers leave these towns, and these towns become ghost towns, and little bits of history disappear along with the towns.

Posted by skooter at 7:26 AM

October 26, 2005
Zombie copy

A great article from the editor of A List Apart about writing copy on the web. Simple, straightforward and to the point - exactly as your copy should be.

Posted by skooter at 9:03 PM

October 23, 2005
Powered by Textile

This site is also now powered, fairly substantially, by Brad Choate’s Textile plugin which creates an abstraction layer for the site’s HTML, allowing interesting things to happen much more easily.

Posted by skooter at 10:11 PM

October 21, 2005
Pictures

A lot more pictures, yet another new stylesheet and hopefully the fun stops here. We shall see.

And again with the let me know if there’s a problem with the stylesheet

Posted by skooter at 8:34 AM

October 19, 2005
Move to 100% CSS

This site is moving to 100% CSS. I can easily test in both Safari for Mac and Mozilla, but if you notice any anomalies let me know.

An addendum to the note about CSS. The calendar on the right is a table, and I’ve been too lazy to revise it. It’s a piece of Movable Type code, and I’ll see what I can do. Conceptuatlly, however, I’m not opposed to using tables, I just don’t think they’re suitable for use as full page layout in the modern era.

The two stripes across the top of the page are also executed with a table, because I recall some odd problems when I last used DIV’s to lay them out. These will change, but it’s not a major concern. There are several different ways to accomodate this, and I’m debating which one to tackle really.

Posted by skooter at 6:52 PM

September 21, 2005
Change in the Wind at Microsoft

There’s change coming at Microsoft.

Microsoft Announces Major Reorganization - New York Times

This change is almost certainly a response to moves made by the new behemoth of the internet age, Google. The question is are they motivated by fear, or a vision for a different future?

Fear is not a good motivator, although there are many who think that the entire history of Redmond’s largest software company can be described by it: the predatory tactics the company is well known for are a classic symptom.

Posted by skooter at 7:09 AM

September 18, 2005
More Variety for Mac Users

One of the longest standing issues for the Macintosh has been the lack of software: were it not for Microsoft Word for Mac OS X, I would be unable to use my PowerBook for daily computing - nothing makes it more useful to me than seamless document compatibility.

On other fronts, the Mac has always had fewer choices and even if those fewer choices are better, this has posed a marketing challenge. Where Windows users choose from dozens of astronomy titles, Mac users have one or two (that theses are “best of breed” simply means they cost more, but doesn’t address the perception issue.)

Now, perhaps, a faint ray of hope from that most unlikely source, Microsoft:
Microsoft offers development tools for Mac, Web | CNET News.com

If Microsoft developers can more easily deply software on the Mac platform, perhaps we’ll see an increase in available titles.

Choice, in this case, benefits everyone: Windows developers will be able to chase larger markets (a minor blip on the Windows market could be a bona fide hit on the Mac market); consumers will be able to choose from more software.

Of course, I suspect that software that moves from Windows to the Mac will, as it currently does, fail to conform to the interface standards Mac users are used too. Savvy developers who actually care about the Mac market may address this issue.

I see nothing bad here though, in the big picture.

Posted by skooter at 8:34 AM

CSS Validation

Thanks to the magic of the W3C CSS Validation tool, this site should now look as it’s supposed to in Internet Explorer and Mozilla.

As it turns out, I was missing and ending curly brace and while Safari implied one when the next opening curly brace appeared, Mozilla did not - every still after that line of code failed.

Posted by skooter at 7:38 AM

August 28, 2005
If it's invisible, does it still have to be waterproof?

Ok. This is really cool.

Posted by skooter at 8:57 PM

August 19, 2005
Sony's new MP3 players

Sony’s new MP3 players are getting laughed at, and there’s much talk about how the company that invented the walkman lost the lead to Apple.

Here’s a question: all of these competitors now play MP3 and a variety of other formats by default: why don’t any of them play AAC?

Contrary to popular belief, AAC is not proprietary - only Apple’s encrypted version is. My entire iTunes library is now in AAC format.

Want my money? You really think I want to convert all these files again to yet another format?

Think again. My next audio toy will be AAC compatible, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be made by Apple.

Posted by skooter at 10:49 PM

August 18, 2005
Movable Type

After a few alpha or pre-release versions, I’ve moved to Movable Type 3.2 beta 4. This is a nice piece of work.

There’s always been a couple of minor frustrations with this software - the biggest one for me used to be the archive file structure configuration. It was complex, but powerful. Now it’s easy, but powerful.

Software upgrades are always fun, and this threw me for a few days. Having finally done it, I’m pretty pleased. Poking around for new features now.

Posted by skooter at 10:18 PM

July 6, 2005
Segway's Overhyped? Never.

Don’t get me wrong - I like the Segway, but since it was launched I’ve said it was a lot of hype and generally not useful. This is one reason why:

The Globe and Mail: Ontario ruling a Catch 22 for Segways

But you know, The Germans disagreed with me, so I must have been wrong.

Posted by skooter at 10:03 PM

June 22, 2005
Solar Sails (redux)

According to news reports, the deployment of the Planetary Society’s solar sail failed due to a problem with a booster rocket.

Or, maybe not.

I’ve got my fingers crossed, and my eyes firmly gazing skyward. I’m sure we’ll know by end of day.

Posted by skooter at 8:29 AM

June 19, 2005
Blackberry Keyboards are the Devil's Scourge

As a demonstration, an email message I got:

gr8 to hear from u. I’m DT on Tuesday. If u r at ******
d’u want to meet up at lunch time?

Now, this is a short message in the first place, but I think that it’s special contribution to the disintegration of our language should be noted.

And something happens in Waterloo and a worldwide network of email uses loses all access? Hardly the type of robust system I’d expect.

Never did like these things. Haven’t yet found a reason to.

Posted by skooter at 11:13 AM

June 16, 2005
Sailing on the Wind of the Sun

When I was a kid - a teenager I guess - space exploration was exciting; the stuff of legends and heroes. Men (and, later, women) probing the vast unknown in an attempt to further man’s knowledge.

When Challenger exploded, my science teacher wheeled a television into the classroom and we watched it. For me, this was a defining moment. I remember the sinking feeling, and can’t think about it without digging into an emotional well. When Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, I’d been living on Bowen Island for a couple of weeks, and turned the TV on for the first time to see images that I needed to see to believe, after first hearing it on the radio.

The post Challenger (and post-Perestroika) era has seen a stagnation of exploration. Shuttle missions have seemed conservative, and the insistence on manned missions at all has been questioned. These men may be heroes, but even heroes are men: men need to breathe and eat, and in the hostile environment of space these activities alone consume a lot of energy. There have been a few succesful robotic missions that, despite the fact they have returned tremendous scientific value, have done little to boost NASA in the eyes of America’s politicians and public. European, Russian and Chinese space agencies continue to move forward, but still follow in NASA’s large shadow.

Escaping our atmosphere consumes energy too, and it’s long been the dream of both scientists and science fiction writers to eliminate this .

Today, in Wired, this article offered a glimpse of a new world: Wired News: Cosmos 1 Set to Test Solar Sail

The solar wind is both like and unlike our terrestrial wind: the great differentiator is the notion of resistance. A terrestrial boat needs to overcome the tremendous drag produced by a hull in the water - a solar sail experiences no such resistance at all.

So when compared to winds blowing on Earth, they operate in reverse: getting a solar sail moving is easy, stopping it takes energy. Once moving, the almost imperceptible energy striking the sail continues to grow and grow producing, in essence, a constant gentle acceleration curve. At least that’s my understanding of the science.

It’s not a a wind, per se. Or it is, depending on how you define it. The Solar Wind consists of photons - light particles. Essentially the argument is that as the sun’s rays stretch out into the galaxy, they are continuously pushing objects on some level. For an object like a planet - enourmous in size and mass - these photons do little; but build something small and light enough, with a large enough collector and these photons can be harnessed into propulsion (albeit in an outward direction from the sun only.)

What does this potentially limitless and free source of propulsion hold in store for our future? Perhaps a renewed enthusiam for unmanned missions, which will be able to operate even more cost effectively as they reach out to the ends of our known universe. These unmanned missions have been amongst the most scientificly triumphant missions of our times - think of what has been revealed by the Hubble Telescope as compared to, for example, what was actually discovered by Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” for mankind. Make no mistake, that single step was motivated by the Cold War, not pure science - while this doesn’t diminish from what was an amazing technical achievement, science presents us with a much nobler cause.

Perhaps, also, farther reaching manned missions. By launching from space - eliminating the tremendous amounts of energy required simply to overcome the Earth’s gravitational pull - missions may be able to travel farther in less time than ever before. The orbital mission of Jupiter that Arthur C. Clarke envisioned in his great masterpiece 2001 may yet come to pass, albeit slightly later than expected.

For this to be successful, spacecraft will need to be constructed in space, assuming that it’s more efficient to transport raw materials than assembled products (this may not be the case, but it will certainly be more space efficient to do so.) We are, it seems, years away from this. Nontechnology and self replicating machines are being developed today, and these tools will be an important and integral part of it.

But imagine the possibilities. The last 100 years have seen the world change in tremendous ways; the next 100 hold so much potential.

The new age of discovery may be just begining, and I suspect it will be as revolutionary as previous ones. The day this Solar Sail sets flight may go down in history as the dawn of this age; an age where new heroes will be born.

I’ll have my fingers crossed, and my eyes firmly fixed on the stars. Here there be dragons the maps once said, but maybe for not much longer.

Posted by skooter at 11:16 AM
Tags: Exploration, Science Fiction, Space

May 31, 2005
Bastards. I was first.

Just last Friday, I declared the Summer of Skot

Now those bastards over at Google have declared the Summer of Code

This is my summer, not yours Google. I will dominate.

Posted by skooter at 7:01 PM

May 29, 2005
bookmarks bar of the beast

Imagine my horror as I gazed upon my bookmarks bar to see the number of unread RSS articles I had (indicated by the numbers in brackets.)

Coincidence, or the devil’s work? You can come to your own conclusions.

I have, incidentally, put an an entire gallery of Ottawa photos.

Posted by skooter at 12:13 PM

May 27, 2005
Macs are good; Windows is good; Macs are better; Windows is better

Leave it to David Pogue, as usual, to cut through a great deal of the fluff around the Mac vs. Windows debate.

From the Desk of David Pogue: Ground Rules for the Windows-Macintosh War

It’s the New York Times - it’s worth registering.

For what it’s worth, I can use both equally well. I use a Mac because I’m more productive, although neither operating system makes up for my propensity to waste time.

Posted by skooter at 10:11 PM

May 25, 2005
branding madness. redux.

My thoughts on branding are well known, but my boss pointed out this example to me today and I just had to chuckle.

AUCTIONIZE: ebay’s next competitor to sell itself… on ebay of course!

This is a guy who put a “buy now” price of US$250,000 on a brand. Not even an established brand, just a brand.

How many things are wrong with this picture?

The brand in question has no product - there’s a URL, a logo, some rights to phone numbers - no existing product.

A quote on the site claims that this is certainly worth something - citing legal fees and other costs associate with establishing brand as value, but doesn’t say how much.

This ignores a fundamental reality: brands are built on product, not vice versa. Red Bull has become extremely well known not thanks to the name, logo or marketing but thanks to that stuff in the can (ever tried it? Don’t.) Similarly, the most fundamental aspect of Coca-Cola’s brand is the sugar water in the red can, not the logo. Have doubts? How many times have you asked for a Coca-Cola Sprite? Didn’t think so.

The best thinga bout this sale is that it’s happening on eBay. Owner seems to find this amusing, but really it reinforces the ineffectiveness of the brand - why not hold the auction at the auctionize url itself?

Of course, there’s no bids - or there weren’t 22 hours prior to the sale’s closing. Good thing too - since the seller is asking for payment by PayPal, the commision on the sale would really only serve to reinforce the eBay brand itself.

Silly me. I always said product first. I pity the people who needed this as an example, and those who think it’s an example of branding’s strength.

Posted by skooter at 4:23 PM

May 11, 2005
Hey, well, here's exciting news

Now you can subscribe to this blog through an RSS feed which, for some reason, I had earlier disabled.

I like RSS, although it’s particularly well suited to certain types of content and this may or may not be amongst them. There may be too many pictures, but I’m going to tweak the feed so that it works a little better.

More later. For now, bookmark away using those dedicated readers, or Safari 2.0 if you’ve got it.

Posted by skooter at 9:07 AM

May 9, 2005
I'm bookmarking this under news:fake news

Huffington Post Front Page

Arianna Huffington debuted today, calling herself a journalist.

A surer sign of the apocalypse I’ve never really seen before. I still shudder at the thought of her run against Arnold for the California governorship. The horror. The horror.

And really: Arnold won…so that’s saying something, I think.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens here over the next little while. I’ve already nagged a bit about this article in particular but I’m astounded by how many of these articles are written by Hollywood celebrities. Truly amazing.

Posted by skooter at 5:52 PM

May 6, 2005
tiger : mac os 10.4

Integrated RSS in Safari is pretty slick. It makes RSS feeds much more useful, and much different in my view.

I’m a bit disappointed in Dashboard, which is pokey and not yet finished, it seem. I can’t use the Stickies app which, as it seems to have difficulty entering text. I also find the iTune widget too slow to respond, and if I need to have the application open anyway why would I bother? Perhaps this will improve. There are obvious network issues in Widgets that pull information from the web.

I haven’t even begun to explore Automator, but it’s a powerful tool. Like most such things, it will be come much more so as more apps become enabled.

Spotlight is a very slick operating system wide implementation of an old technology. Apple’s first truly useful desktop search, although there have been windows examples in the past that have worked well.

So my two cents is that I like it, but not as much as I really wanted too.

Posted by skooter at 8:48 AM

April 28, 2005
I have a TV

This is bigger news than it might seem, since I haven’t really had one for about a year now. It’s been longer than that since I had cable.

But someone offered one, and I accepted. Ideally I’d have a high quality 14” small TV, but this is a 20” Hitachi that’s old enough to not have an S-Video input.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this works out, I think. Last night, I plugged it in a for a moment, turned it on and was watching Everybody Loves Raymond.

This, of course, reminded me of why I got rid of my TV in the first place.

I’m hopeful, but won’t hesitate for a moment to get rid of it should I need to.

Posted by skooter at 10:04 AM

April 26, 2005
this is wonderland. this is toronto.

I’m watching TV for the first time in as long as I can remember really. i kind of watched some in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, but not really. It was sort of just there.

So I’m watching This Is Wonderland on CBC, and realizing how much of a Toronto show it is. Street Legal was like this too, set on Queen Street with the law offices above my favourite science fiction book store which has long since moved.

But tonight’s episode ended in a Timothy’s coffee shop and we don’t, quite simply, have such things in Vancouver. It’s not even like the Second Cup, which is here but rare - Timothy’s just doesn’t exist.

I do miss Toronto a little sometimes. I used to go to Timothy’s with a friend a lot, and I miss those visits. The west coast attitude about Toronto is unfair, and unjustified.

I’m not going back anytime soon though. Maybe a short visit in the fall. This is the best place on earth, and I’ve got my feet planted on the ground.

Posted by skooter at 9:56 PM

April 13, 2005
Movable Type, Bringer of Joy

The good folks over at Six Apart, creators of Movable Type, have finally introduced schwag. I don’t do schwag, but I want this.

On the topic of Movable Type, I’m mucking around with plugins and extensions a bit more. Hopefully some new fun to be had here.

The first sign of this is on the right - yes, over there - at least on the home page. I’m pulling random entries from the Gallery blog to feature photos. Don’t be afraid to click, there’s an easy way back.

Yes, I’ll add more galleries soon.

Posted by skooter at 9:47 PM

April 12, 2005
Tigers, tigers, everywhere.

After the most interminable wait ever, Tiger has been officially announced for April 29th.


This, friends, is going to be exciting. Hold off on buying that Mac Mini though - wait until it ships with it, since the upgrade is going to to cost you 25% of the cost of the machine.

Posted by skooter at 8:38 AM

April 2, 2005
Tiger. Redux

Yesterday came and went without the much rumours Tiger goes gold master announcement from Apple.

Steve: what did I ever do to you? Really. I mean, come on.

I no longer want Tiger. I now need it. Absolutely need it.

Gimme what I need Steve.

Posted by skooter at 5:19 AM

March 29, 2005
Return of the Mac

Didn’t believe me? Read this.

Return of the Mac

Posted by skooter at 11:35 AM | Comments

Yo Steve.

I want Tiger.

Now.

Apple - Mac OS X

You can go back to your regular life now.

Posted by skooter at 9:03 AM

March 21, 2005
Do Computers and Kids Mix?

I was raised with a Macintosh in hand. Maybe not quite - I was 13 when the Mac debuted, but I already had a computer at home when the first Macs arrived in our school lab thanks to Apple Canada. This made this article particularly interesting:

Telegraph | News | Pupils make more progress in 3Rs ‘without aid of computers’

What’s that? No computers for kids? How will they ever learn?

Easy: by making mistakes.

I’m going to try to dig it up, but some time ago I read a study that outlined the difference between “messy media” and “clean media”. Computers fall into the latter category, while crayons are in the first.

Messy in this case, doesn’t mean that mess on your wall that kids make - at least not literally. Conceptually, it’s the same idea though.

Computers are wonderful things: word processors mean you can make an error, correct it, and no one is ever the wiser. It’s as if the mistake never existed.

That’s the problem for kids, of course. It’s one of them anyway. Kids creativity is stifled a bit by the fact that all the work they do on computers takes place in this little box, often sitting in the same place. This creates a stifling, closed environment.

I’ve been shocked at the rapid move of photography schools into digital: I’ve taken some really bad photos over the years - overexposed, underexposed, poorly composed…whatever. Each of these photos is a learning opportunity; each of these photos would have been erased long ago in my digital camera. Digtal cameras encourage a rapid increase in the quanity of photos taken, which doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the quality of photos.

Technology is a wonderful thing, in the right place, and I’m no luddite - I think the last time I left the house without my laptop was sometime around 1993 - but it does have its costs, and these need to be factored into the equation.

In my view, there’s nothing wrong with exposing young kids to computers but it needs to be done carefully. I’d rather have a 4 year old finger painting than using a mouse.

At some point a line is crossed, but there are other issues to keep in mind: Google is not a library and, in many cases, the quality of information on the Internet is not all that reliable (Wikipedia is a wonderful thing, but is known to have some very real problems.) Kids need to learn to get out, explore the world and learn. They’ll probably learn more about a swamp by going out in their rubbers and sticking their hands in the mud than they ever will from Google.

If it were my kids, I’d be washing those hands everday. It’s probably more fun anyway.

Posted by skooter at 8:19 AM

March 18, 2005
Search Engine Optimization

This article, recently in Wired News, has an interesting take on the topic of search engine optimization:

Wired News: Search Rank Easy to Manipulate

I’ve made some reasonably provocative statements about search engine optimization in the past (all of which I would stand by today) and this article does little to change them. It does, however, provide a counterpoint and a compelling argument for why I am both right, and wrong.

Google’s page rank is perhaps the worst kept secret and most unknown feature of that most popular of search engines. It’s based on a fairly simple premise: if your page contains good, and popular, content people will link to it. Follow this to its logical conclusion, and you decide that pages with more links should be ranked higher in search results.

So far so good, until you factor in the fact that links can be bought and sold pretty readily. Amazon is basically doing this with its affiliate program: paying you to link to their site.

The best example is an ongoing gag: Google the words miserable failure and it’s likely — unless they’ve changed the algorithm again — that you’ll get George Bush’s resume.

I like that last one. but the subtext there makes a point: this worked for a while, and then it stopped. I suspect that the Google boys have just given up on locking it out, so it’ll stay now. But at one point, they tweaked things so that this changed.

With a sufficient budget, you can buy your way to the top in Google. This is absolutely true.

It’s equally true that Google can change the page rank rules so that your top listing is gone in a heartbeat.

This shouldn’t prevent you from enlisting search engine optimization as a marketing strategy, but it reiterates a point I’ve been making consistently: paying for search engine optimization is not the same as paying for adwords, and your marketing budget should be adjusted accordingly.

Search engine optimization is not a one time buy: it’s an ongoing strategy. Results need to be reviewed regularly, and strategies adjusted accordingly.

Posted by skooter at 11:07 AM

March 16, 2005
Is Free Newspaper Content Dead?

The New York Times (free registration required) has a very interesting article online:
“A big part of the motivation for newspapers to charge for their online content is not the revenue it will generate, but the revenue it will save, by slowing the erosion of their print subscriptions,” Mr. Atwood said. “We’re in the midst of a long and painful transition.”

Ken Sands, the online publisher, who until a month ago was the managing editor of the print edition, said the paper decided to charge for the Web in an effort to save the print edition.

“We had the sense that a lot of people had canceled their print subscriptions because they could read the paper for free online…The online business model won’t ever be able to support the whole news infrastructure.”

Posted by skooter at 8:54 AM
Tags: New York Times, News, Newspapers, Publishing

February 27, 2005
Jef Raskin

Jef Raskin, one of the primariy instigators of the Macintosh, passed away yesterday.

97% of the installed base doesn’t know what they owe this guy. Were it not for him, you wouldn’t have the less crappy version of windows you currently have to use.

3% of the installed base does know, and are happier people for it.

Jef - you will be sadly missed.

Posted by skooter at 2:19 PM

December 21, 2004
Slate Magazine is changing hands

According to this article on Slate the publication is changing hands. Bill Gates is out of the content business.

I like Slate. I think that while Salon Magazine grew by appealing to our eternal interest in all things sexual, Slate tried to stay above the fray (not coincidentally the name of its discussion forums.)

Congratulations to the new owners, and I only hope that the content remains publicly available. I’m sure the new owners — the Washington Post — have a plan to start charging for content, I still firmly believe that there’s a viable audience for free news on the web. We just have to get the advertising mix right.

Posted by skooter at 6:53 PM

December 4, 2004
rm -R IBM PC*

There are so many stories circulating that IBM is negotiating with Chinese manufacturers to get out of the PC business that it’s hard no to believe them.

is this the end of an era?

As someone who:
a) Once turned down a job with IBM’s PC marketing division (for which I am eternally branded as silly), and
b) Once consdiered buying a freaking 386SX based PS2 system because the highly proprietery system bus was really sweet

I’m not quite sure how to feel.

The truth is, at heart, I’ve always been raised an Apple kid. They bought me when I was in grade 4 (don’t ask what year that was) and I’ve been bitten ever since. I came very close to turning my back, but stayed only becuase OS X hit.

The thing that almost made me turn my back? FreeBSD on an IBM ThinkPad T20.

ThinkPad’s are very nice machines. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my Powerbooks, but I give ThinkPads a minor edge on the keyboard front. They’ve got really really nice keyboards; they’re very well assembled.

They are, at heart, the only Intel based laptops I would buy.

A T20 at CDN$1200 was almost irresistible. I resisted.

FreeBSD is the core of Mac OS X. Comparing FreeBSD 4.8 and newee to Mac OS X 10.0 was pretty fair. Mac OS X had an interface edge, but was very rough. Thank god for Panther; I can’t imagine using anyting else at this point (but can’t wait for Tiger.) Meow.

The rest of IBM’s line? Who knows. Pretty indistinct, although they’ve been shipping black towers for a very long time, but never managed to make them cool. Having said that, a very non-computer savvy friend when he was looking for machines for his family picked up the phone and called IBM. Admittedly, budget wans’t a huge issue for him, but he also didn’t spend a lot of money. The IBM brand was what mattered.

IBM’s departure could leave an interesting dent in the PC industry. Most notably, it takes one of the computer superbrands out of the industry, at least from the public’s perspective (either that, or sells the rights to the name and therefore dilutes the brand to the point where it doesn’t matter.)

This will essentially leave 2 superbrands in the Industry (sorry Dell, but you don’t quite cut it yet. HP? Pshaw. Have you run a BIOS update recently? Tried buying a power supply? How about installing XP SP2 on an HP/Compaq laptop? These guys are amateurs.)

Microsoft

and

Apple

So the future could be even more interesting than the past.

Posted by skooter at 12:55 AM

November 22, 2004
Blogging the Tiger Tech Talk - Again

The sheer volume of technology here is amazing, and the number of laptops is a perfect demonstration of Apple’s dominance in this growing segment.

There are at least 20 15” Aluminum PowerBooks here, and the same number of iBooks. A few 17 inches in attendance, but very few 12” PowerBooks. 15 is definitely the place to be here.

This vindicates my choice.

Off to the Dashboard session. This stuff is cool.

Posted by skooter at 2:29 PM
Tags: Apple, Mac

Blogging Tiger Tech Talk

Not the content of the talk of course; this thing is NDA’d. That’s my way of saying “I know something you don’t know.”

But seriously, get here open up a laptop and there’s like 4 access points for a wireless network. Not just one, but four.

Apple knows how to run an event. The last IBM event I went too offered no Internet access at all, even though they were promoting their wireless access point technologies.

If you’re going to do something, do it right.

Posted by skooter at 11:04 AM
Tags: Apple, Mac

November 14, 2004
Microsoft Word: Tracking Changes

For years now, I’ve been using Microsoft Word’s change tracking features to produce documents. Frustrating though it may have been, it provided a feature that was eminently useful.

I’ve only recently begun using Microsoft Word 2004 and the person who designed the new interface for change tracking deserves to be worshipped, if only because they managed to overcome years of inertia on a little used feature to make it truly useful.
MS Word Track Changes Interface

Historically, change tracking left a document with both new and deleted text interspered. Deleting a word left the word in place, but changed its formatting so that it was indicated as being removed (by default this meant it became red and got slashed through.)

This new interface pulls the changes out into a kind of virtual post-it note. This provides so many advantages, I’m not even sure I could describe all of them. The key ones, however, are:
- it keeps the flow of the modified text continuous; because the change is removed from the document, you can now read the text as intended without interruption
- it provides full access to the changes, and a clearer indication of formatting changes. Formatting changes were difficult in the the old interface, but in this one the pull-out box indicates when these have been made
- it makes accepting changes easier, by providing a checkbox to accept or reject the change at the top of the pull out box (not clearly shown in my screenshot, but try it.)

Really very nice work here. I had stopped using this feature becuase it tended to confuse people that I sent documents to; I’m using it again, if only for my benefit.

Posted by skooter at 3:43 PM

November 11, 2004
I've been seeing a lot of these lately...


This specifically is a 333MHz PowerPC G3 from a Lombard Powerbook, and if you’ve got something similar this is basically what makes your life tick.

Posted by skooter at 4:40 PM

October 12, 2004
CBC's new streaming format

The CBC, in their infinite wisdom, has changed their choice of streaming media formats.

In 1996 I purchased a RealMedia server and was - I think - the second customer in Canada for Real; the first was CBC. While Real’s format was revolutionary at the time, it also required expensive dedicated servers to provide reasonable throughput. An HTTP streaming option was available for those who didn’t need much capacity, but this was never widely used or announced.

Ditching Real was a good thing, but why would CBC choose Microsoft’s Windows Media Player?

The CBC has essentially switched from one expensive proprietary technology to another: why not switch to streaming MP3 files?

The Windows Media files offer reasonable quality - certainly better and more reliable than the old Real format - so much so that I often listen to it instead of the crappy AM signal that we get here in Vancouver for CBC Radio One (why it’s still on AM is an issue for another day.) Streaming MP3 would have eliminated the requirement for a proprietary server technology and allowed me to listen using whatever technology I choose, instead of being dependent on Windows Media Player.

What’s going to happen when Microsoft stops making Windows Media Player for the Mac. It will happen one day, and CBC will be facing the same dilemma again.

So I’m begging the CBC to move to open source technologies; our world will be a better place for it, and our tax dollars won’t be going to Redmond, Washington.

Posted by skooter at 8:49 AM

October 5, 2004
The 12 inch iBook

If you ever feel a compelling reason to buy a PowerBook, do not under any circumstances buy a 12 inch iBook. This has been my advice for some time now, but having just done a hard drive upgrade on one I feel even more passionately about it now than I did before.

It’s just not worth it; at some point, you’ll have a problem and the price difference will be more than made up for by the cost saved on repair.

Exceptions will be made for those who absolutely need the smallest laptop they can get, and are on a tight budget.

Posted by skooter at 9:39 PM

September 30, 2004
This isn't the house I want, but it's pretty cool

Dilbert’s ultimate house is out, and if nothing else this is why you should check it out:

Any decent engineer could tell you that the way to design a house is to first gather the requirements about the occupant’s lifestyle and THEN design the house, taking into consideration the best thinking in energy efficiency, economy, and maintenance. So that’s what we did, sort of…

It’s the “sort of” that I really like there, becuase anybody who’s ever developed software in any context knows that the “sort of” is an integral part of the process.

Posted by skooter at 10:43 AM

September 22, 2004
Movable Type Galleries

Fiddling around with Movable Type to deploy picture galleries; I’m likely to use some variation on this for a commercial deployment in the next couple of days, since it’s fairly adaptable.

So a new photos section with photo galleries. I’m not at this point going to apologize for having photos in two locations, but am going to think about how to integrate these, or label them appropriately.

Posted by skooter at 9:31 PM

September 15, 2004
The Globe and Mail web site has slid rapidly to a payment model

It seems like in just the last few weeks, pretty much everything on the Globe & Mail web site has moved towards a pay-per-use model. This doesn’t bode well.

From a technological perspective, there are two ways to look at the internet. The first is the freedom of distribution model: using the internet, your distribution is no longer limited by geographic area in any way - you can push your content out to any corner of the world at no incremental cost to you. Information, it’s often said, wants to be free; this is how you achieve that.

On the other hand, the internet also allows you to severely control your distribution. Content can be locked down by a variety of means ranging from passwords (easy to share) to IP address (difficult to share.) The techno-literate have persistently found ways around virtually every method of content control, but for the average person these restrictions can be highly effective.

The Globe Canada’s National Newspaper—has chosen to lock their content down, severely restricting the flow of information. For years now, the Globe remained the only substantially free newspaper web site in Canada, with the National Post and other CanWest publications having crossed the rubicon years ago. This gave the Globe a special stature, shared with the New York Times in the United States, which is without doubt North America’s daily.

This last part is what concerns me: not the technological aspect, but the content aspect. If the Globe and Mail is truly “Canada’s National Newspaper” it is only hurting itself by restricting access. The Globe’s reach is due, in large part to its ubiquity: every library & coffee shop across the country has a Globe & Mail in it somewhere; this content is already free. All of the Globe’s content gets put into Infoglobe, a searchable archive available at most public libraries.

I’m not sure what prompted this move: perhaps, and probably, a lack of advertising and advertising dollars. If this is the case I can imagine any number of better solutions: by registering users, the Globe could collect enough personal information to present highly targeted advertising, thus increasing the value of each click.

The Globe has also never done a good job of using email to push their headlines out to visitors: it seems to me that I registered for a list, and they certainly have my email address on file but I have not once received a daily email message with a list of the Globe’s headlines. This is a stark contrast to the situation at CanWest, from whom I get at least 3 updates a day (including the Ottawa headlines.)

There are better solutions for Canada’s national newspaper: charging money is an easy solution, but a bad one.

Posted by skooter at 7:30 AM
Tags: Globe and Mail, Media, National Post, News

September 1, 2004
New iMac

Apple has finally introduced the new G5 iMac, and this is a beautiful machine; maybe too beautiful.

I never really liked the old iMac; I liked it more in person than I did in pictures, but it still never grew on me. The half globe base always kind of looked odd, and the arm that suspended the screen was - well - unattractive.

This new machine is beautiful; taking styling cues from the current line of PowerBooks and the iPod, it’s basically a wide screen with a thin frame and integrated speakers on the front. Media drives are all accessed along the side of the machine while ports line up on the back.

The problem is this thing is so beautiful no one’s ever going to want to plug anything in, and Apple hasn’t done anything to help you avoid having too. WiFi’s not included (but can be added) and neither is Bluetooth.

Take a look at these pictures which are all being taken with Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse, the better to keep the computer looking sleek and refined. The problem is that for you to do that you need to add a Bluetooth module. Careful cable routing might work, but this is still a work of art that shouldn’t suffer from the indignity of having cables attached.

Despite this, if I were buying today this would be my poison. No doubt. I’d just make sure to buy the Bluetooth module and the wireless keyboard and mouse, adding about $300 to the price of the thing.

addendum

Matthew Ingram at the Globe and Mail has posted his thoughts on the iMac, with an emphasis on a couple of points. The first is that iTunes/iPod is great, but not enough to make up for the reduction in computer sales. The second is that Dell will probably introduce a cheaper computer with a faster chip.

Phooey on the last point, Matt. I’m an aggressive Mac booster, but not an agressive Mac seller. While I’m happy to install and configure Macs as much as I can, I rarely push friends to buy them - instead, I let them make their own decision.

The perception that PCs are faster is a red herring: while they may be technically faster, every single person I know with a PC complains that their machine is too slow within months of buying it.

In contrast, every single person I’ve switched to a Mac since the release of OS X and the virtual elimination of system crashes has loved it, even 3 years later.

So that Dell machine may be slightly faster, but trust me: that iMac is a much smarter purchase. You’ll be happier for longer, and what could be better than having a smile on you face?

Posted by skooter at 9:22 AM

August 22, 2004
Movable Type/PHP

Movable Type 3.01D is now driving this thing full time; all of the primary can be viewed either through the default home page generated by Movable Type, or through the alternate home page based on the original PHP only architecture.

Why is this significant?

One of the things I always liked about this site was that it was (give or take) a one page web site; a single template that lets me roll new pages easily.

Movable Type has let me maintain that advantage while also giving me the advantages of the Movable Type content management system; while I never had a problem updating pages by hand (my HTML skills are good) it was always a pain in the butt; Movable Type eliminates the need for me to fuss around with basic stuff like break & paragraph tags, and makes it easier to add new stuff.

At the same time, I can still generate a page on my own using the same template with whatever HTML I want. You get a consistent (and hopefully easy to use) interface, while I get the ability to choose the best way to roll out whatever content I want to roll.

It’s a win-win situation.

More fun to come I’m sure, but for now this’ll have to do.

Posted by skooter at 7:53 PM

August 19, 2004
How the Mighty Have Fallen

Northern Telecom is laying off 3,500 workers - again. Is there an end in sight for this company?

I dumped my Nortel stock a while ago; I will confess to having a little sympathy for those who didn’t, and for those who bought it at $69 or so even when every (and I do mean every) respectable fund manager was calling it overvalued at that point in its long slide. I paid about $24 for my most expensive batch, and at the time it seemed like a not unreasonable call.

Nortel is firing 7 employees from its accounting division; I’m fairly amazed that the Canadian press which so quickly skewered Enron for its accounting fraud, is going so lightly on Nortel. This was our stock market darling - the largest company (by valuation) on the TSE for a time. Maybe it wouldn’t be good for business? That, of course, is the business of the TSE not the the business of Nortel.

What’s equally amazing is how this fraud was able to be perpetrated for so long at one of Canada’s most widely held companies without any mutual fund managers knowing about it. I can understand at the individual investor level - if you’ve thrown your thousand dollars into it, you’re likely just along for the ride and aren’t going to have the time, inclination or ability to dig into the financials to uncover anything of this scope.

Your Professional Mutual Fund manager though is supposed to do this for you. There’s no way this should have slipped past these guys - they get paid good money to manage your money, and you’re the person paying them. If the guy managing your mutual fund doesn’t know that he’s dumping money into a sinkhole, how can you really trust him?

I don’t have a solution here - not a magic one anyway - and the problem here may in fact be that the fraud was so well perpetrated that nobody on the outside could have penetrated it. I have trouble believing this; 9 people have been fired directly as a result of this so far, and that’s a pretty big consipracy.

But I intend to demand better from my mutual funds in the future, and I hope you do to.

Posted by skooter at 9:08 AM

January 16, 2004
In Hollywood, the Mac is King

Having killed my cable, I’ve had little interaction with video of extended length; because it was in the library, I rented Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending

My favourite line, uttered by George Hamilton:

“Miss most about L.A.? I miss my support group. I’m a member of a support group of film executives who can’t afford their own G5s”

Posted by skooter at 11:22 PM
Tags: George Hamilton, Movies

January 11, 2004
Blogging in the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Catching up on U.S. election news, the good folks at Campaigns Online provided a link to an interesting piece on NPR about the use of Blogs in the 2004 presidential campaign.

This - as often happens - sent my mind spinning in a number of directions, some relevant and others note. Here we go:

Posted by skooter at 11:26 PM
Tags: Blogging, CBC, NPR

October 7, 2003
"Igor - hand me that brain"

Well, installing a new hard drive in my old Pismo generation PowerBook proved to be more fun than I had anticipated. Despite my attempts not to, I had to remove the processor card - the hard drive cable connects underneath it, and the connection had come undone. This card, unsurprisingly, holds your CPU. Immediately after reinstalling it, I found myself with a PowerBook that wouldn’t turn on.

That heart-attack your just heard was, in fact, mine.

Well, a bit of jiggling around and it turns it is was just not seated properly: everything booted up nicely.

These lovely folks have a piece of software called Carbon Copy Cloner which many people swear by. In my case, it was utterly useless and I had to go the old route of doing a clean install of Jaguar, installing all the updates and then manually moving a bunch of files around.

You know, Apple should really have some sort of utility to do this: call it “Import Files from Another User” or something. Would really make life a lot easier.

Anyway, my almost 4 year old PowerBook has a smokin’ new 5400rpm 40GB hard drive, and it’s noticeably faster (and a lot roomier.) I’m pretty happy, after all the pain.

Posted by skooter at 9:33 AM

October 6, 2003
How Much Information Is Too Much Information for a Free Mailing List?

A few days ago I removed myself from the reasonably informative Wired News mailing list, ostensibly so that I could resubscribe under a different email address. This may have been a mistake.

Joining the list again (or, more to the point, trying to join the list again) has to be one of the more difficult things I’ve tried to do. It appears the days of a simple “Enter your email address to get Wired delivered directly to your inbox” are long dead. The Wired page no longer even has an option to enter your email address, nor does it provide a clearly labelled link to “Get Wired News Daily by email.” Following the link to “Get Wired News on the go” is futile: only for users of AvantGo or other handheld devices apparently.

Following the “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the page leads to some guidance: the page you get to has a link to a so-called bucketful of options. Alas, another link is required.

The “Sign Up” link on this page takes you to the Terra Lycos member login/sign-up page. Corporate ownership rears its ugly head yet again. Of course, you’re now required to give them a bucketful of information.

So, it would appear that the days of my receiving Wired News by email are done, along with Wired’s pro-tech pro-information-distribution attitude.

Posted by skooter at 11:48 PM

July 24, 2001
It's not just any software, it was probably the most popular software in the world before Outlook became a scourge

Eudora Welty has died. Not many people know that the email application Eudora was named after her, and when I reminded Qualcomm (who now owns the application) they agreed to put a tribute up on their home page. Eudora was also featured in an episode of the Simpsons when she dated Krusty the Clown.

Posted by skooter at 9:17 PM

July 19, 2001
King & Dufferin: its not an industrial hole anymore, its an upscale industrial hole

A King and Dufferin gallery.

Posted by skooter at 9:18 PM

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