Saturday, November 29, 2003

Patriot Act - part deux The US government obviously hasn't learned the lessons of history. Back in the heyday of the cold war, 'commies' were prosecuted in secret. Now, the US government is giving more and more power to the FBI -- and trying to give more to the CIA and military -- to subpoena information from private companies and individuals, who would be under gag order, in the form of 'national security letters.' Request via these letters don't require judicial oversight, don't have to be made public, but evidence derived from them could be used to persecute and harass individuals. Nothing like protecting freedom. Makes you wonder who the terrorists are down south.
Uni-Wheeled Personal Transport Bombardier is out to make a uni-wheeled personal transport, called the Embrio. Think of the Segway going extreme! The concept is still in design phase, and a prototype is pretty far off, so for now, you'll have to settle for an animated video of what the Embrio may look like.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Cavalcade of Lights

Cavalcade of LightsStrange Fruit presents The Spheres. Toronto will be kicking off their year end festivities this Friday, and running to the new year, with the First Lighting ceremony. Check out the agenda and the venues. I would love to see the new Strange Fruit and Circus Orange shows.

I saw Strange Fruit before. Photos of their visit to Toronto can be found at the Street Festival galleries.
iTunes Cracked DVD Jon has done it again. Four years after cracking the DVD security system, allowing DVDs to be copied and spawning a small industry that produces and markets DVD copying programs, he's cracked Apple's MPEG-4 security, allowing MP4 files playing in QuickTime to also be streamed into an unprotected file. His program, QTFairUse, was released as an open source project on the internet last week.

Monday, November 24, 2003

MIT Technology Review Dec/JanMIT Techology Review Dec. 2003/Jan. 2004. Check out the latest from MIT Technology Review magazine. The online version allows you to view some articles online, while of course, requiring you to have a subscription to view the rest. Articles of note: 7 Hot Projects; Prototype - technologies heading from the lab to the real world soon; and Innovation News - emerging technologies.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Hidden Cost of In-Store TechnologyRead the article at Integrated Solutions for Retailers. While everyone's pretty much up in arms about the benefits of RFID - from total visibility of the supply chain, to insane control over in-store promotions and loss prevention, little do the pundits speak of the hidden costs. If you're running a business that's been around for more than 10-years, you most likely have a hodgepodge of in-store infrastructure that can barely keep up with the demands of your POS, inventory, merchandising and fulfillment needs. I wouldn't be surprised if most in-store infrastructure is still non-ethernet networks, using some long dead protocol to creep data from one place to the next, let alone corporate HQ or the varied suppliers that are hungry for POS data. To realize the prophesies of RFID, most in-store infrastructure will need a complete overhaul, then connectivity to corporate HQ will need to be expanded. That done, centralized IT will have to figure out how to collect the massive data dump, aggregate, analyze and make sense out of the whole mess. I know one thing for sure -- this ain't going to happen anytime soon. I'm willing to bet that 10-years from now, we're still going to be hearing from consultants of the promises of RFID.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Pep Talk Here's a great article about the pep talk from Forbes Magazine. The article is well written, and covers the pep talk given by various leaders, both real and fictional, and why they seem to inspire followers to go out there and go for blood, even though it may be a futile situation. The article is great for the number of quotes it uses to get its point across -- a great collection of rousing speeches.
HP Grid-Computing Before Oracle invented grid computing, other companies were using it. Here's an article from InformationWeek, on HP's launch of a grid computing initiative, and the benifits they project to reap!

Friday, November 21, 2003

2004 Aprilia 1000 RRSV 1000 R NERA 139-hp. Capable of speeds up to 170mph. It's Italian. And I'm certain it roars. It's a guy toy. And a dangerous one at that.
IT Outsourcing Another article from the Retail Council of Canada, regarding the outsourcing of IT. While decisions are not complicated for outsourcing of commodities, they can be for the outsourcing of business processes. The article suggests that it's easier to outsource areas that are not customer facing, and less so for those areas that directly touch customers. The gist of which is: if it's a competitive advantage to your business, don't give it to someone else to run.
Home DepotHome Depot Hammers Away At Canadian Market, by Carolyn Green. Here's an interview of the President of Home Depot Canada, Annette Vershuren. Since Home Depot's move to Canada, they've expanded from the 19 stores they started with, to around 100 today. That's an incredible growth in just seven years. In the interview by the Retail Council of Canada, Annette Vershuren reveals some of the company's targets over the next little while -- they're planning on continued growth -- which may come at the expense of others.
Portfolio Management Here's something that's apparent to anyone in a process based organization -- "the process, and not technology, makes for effective IT governance." It drives me up the wall when I'm talking to technology people and they just don't get it -- the mindset of many is still a couple of years behind, where it was spend, spend, spend. This article from InformationWeek, talks about portfolio management, and it's application to the management of IT -- where IT assets and projects are analyzed in terms of goals, risks, costs and returns. Business groups have been practicing this for years, however IT is only now getting started on managing themselves as a business.
PiracyLegitimate music-downloading sites should have been offered earlier, says Wheeler, News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment senior VP of content protection. The movie industry is now in approaching the precipice that the music industry lept over -- how to deal with consumer demand of digital content, anytime, any where, and on any damn device they want. The music industry was slow to embrace digital content, and was left to catch up, while launching lawsuits against their customers. The movie industry is looking to learn a lesson from their media brethren -- and hopefully their approach will not piss off the consumer, but deliver the goods. My advice to the industry: flood the market with DVDs -- cheap DVDs. People will pay the $10 to buy a cheap DVD, even one they may not like that much, just because of the convenience -- make it so that DVDs become an impulse item and the market will be saturated -- who'll need to pirate movies after that? Read more at InformationWeek.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

GE & RFID GE is jumping on the RFID bandwagon -- but they're not adopting the agressive posture that Wal-Mart and the DOD has. GE's Power-Plant Systems division has a voluntary request out to suppliers to start using RFID. Read the article at InformationWeek.
Mac SuperComputer It's in line to be the third fastest supercomputer in the world, sustaining a speed of 8.7 teraflops -- and it's built from off the shelf Macs. I kid you not. The VirginiaTech Terascale Cluster, consists of 1,100 Apple Macs, each with two 64-bit IBM CPUs. The whole system cost around $5m -- cheap in the world of supercomputing. Check out the current ranking of supercomputers.
The Passion The Mel Gibson film to be released Feb. next year, has already received its share of condemnation -- mostly from people who haven't seen it, but are willing to jump on the bandwagon and denounce anything that looks at the life of Christ. Here's an article from the New York Post, that got a review copy of the film and invited a panel consisting of a Rabbi, a Professor, a Priest, and a random person (a Baptist) to view the film -- their comments after seeing the film is on the site.
Enron's Continuing SagaHeiress In Handcuffs As the US government continue to put the screws on Enron's executives, more information is emerging on how a small group of people managed to scam billions. This BusinessWeek article focuses on Lea Fastow, wife of Andy Fastow, former CFO. Lea Fastow was a former middle-manager with Enron, before quitting to have her kids. But she participation in the company's financial activities didn't stop there. She's accused of helping her husband swindle money from the company, and the US Justice Department is going after her, in order to put pressure on her husband to squeal. The article is a most entertaining read!

Monday, November 17, 2003

Supply Chain drives Innovation Another article from InformationWeek. Think innovation is always the domain of Tech companies with limitless R&D budgets? Think again. Innovation in business technologies is driven by some unlikely sources -- say Supply Chains of retail companies. Read this article from InformationWeek to see what the likes of Wal-Mart, McKesson, GM, P&G, and the like, are doing to drive innovation.
Sourcing LinuxAh ... the penguin! An article from InformationWeek magazine. The SCO lawsuit against the world that uses Linux continues. IBM, the main target currently, is digging its heels in, and digging into its pocket to fight the suit. But, the suit does raise interesting questions. Regardless of the validity of SCO's claims, questions around the process for accepting code into the Linux fold abounds. Who's to say that the code supplied by developers, as noble as their motives may be, may not infringe on someone's patent?
But don't forget your child in overhead compartment ... Innovative design -- for parents who take their children on regular flights with them. I like the concept! Imagine strapping your child on your carry-on luggage and dragging him/her through the airport with as much ease as you drag your carry-on luggage. Cool!
Borneo's Forests Every year, an area half the size of Switzerland is felled in Borneo. Once the trees are gone, the animals that found shelter there go with them -- wild orangutans, sun bears and clouded leopards -- all of which could be extinct in 10-20 years. What happens when there are no more trees? Unemployment for the loggers that are today chopping down the trees. But there is hope. With help from environmental groups, logging companies are trying their hand at environmental ways of harvesting the forest without raping it. Why the sudden change? And who gives 2-cents about another third world country that is being taken advantage of? Believe it or not, big western retailers -- that's who. Big western retailers that are scared that their consumers my boycott their products if they are the result of third world pillaging. Go figure -- a little protest goes a long way. Hopefully, it's not too late. Read the article in BusinessWeek.
Tweak Windows Here's a couple of sites to help you get the crap out of Windows so your system can perform better.
  • Annoyances.org - this based on books of the same name. You won't find all the books contents here, but a lot of tips, articles, etc., to help out anyway.
  • XP Tune Up - this site is pretty much for XP Pro, though most of the tips will work with XP Home as well.
  • Windows Support Center - this isn't an MS site, but it's staffed by Windows Pros.
  • Sunday, November 16, 2003

    Customizing Windows So, you tired of the drab Windows GUI? Not to worry, there are many folks with nothing better to do with their time either. Check out some of the spiffy, snazzy, and jazzy ways you can unwind your middle finger at Mr. Gates. All for fun of course -- and if your computer dies a horrible death, don't blame me! From a design perspective though, you will find some really creative stuff happening here.
  • winCustomize - an online community dedicated to so much desktop mods, you'll either spend the rest of your life here or run away screaming! Here's a few of the cool images I found at the site for wallpapers: Archangel (from X-Men), Rift, Stained, Purple Lightness, Digital Inversion, Gyrations, Titan Reflections, and Navigation. There's actually much more there than I have time to browse through.
  • File Forum - this site has more than just pretty things. It actually has files covering just about every aspect of your PC.
  • Stardock - these guys are professional -- so professional, that you have to buy their products. But what great produts they are!
  • Mac Desktops - OK -- not for PCs -- although you could download a Mac wallpaper and scare the hell out of people in the office.
  • XP Theme - this is a site for changing XP. If you use XP that is. There are some cool wallpapers, but you gotta register before you get to them, and I didn't.
  • Free Images Here's a great site with free stock photos.
    Artificial Life Can computers think? Well, not yet, but here are a few folks that are working on making that happen:
  • 20Q.net - this is an online project to create a neural-net on the net. Contributors -- that is you -- participate by helping to train the program to recognize objects already in its database, or to add new objects to its database.
  • Conway's Life - here's an example of evolution in the computer, using a cellular automata simulation.
  • Bitozoa 2 - another evolution simulation.
  • Cafun - a set of Java applets that allows the simulation of complex systems.
  • Mbiti World - here's another simulation of evolution.
  • Boppers - a simulation program that was included in an artificial life book from the 90s. The book is posted online as well.
  • Planet Wator - another artificial life simulator.
  • US Backs Away from saving Ozone You gotta wonder what's up with Americans -- they had agreed with the world to lower the use of the Ozone eating chemical, Methyl bromide, by 2005 -- but are now asking for that ban to be lifted so they can increase use to around 38% in 2005. Why? Cause they need time to find alternatives -- yet, there is Dow Chemicals, proclaiming that they do have an alternative, that's not damaging to the ozone layer, and is already in use in 30 countries. What gives?

    Saturday, November 15, 2003

    Guantánamo Bay US imperialism continues to this day. Here's a short, and not so sweet, history of Cuba's Guantánamo Bay, where the US maintains a Naval presence, despite having hostile relations with the Cuban government. A case of the strong imposing its will on the weak. And in oil rich Iraq -- is there any hope for better?
    Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon I just finished this 600+ page book. It kept me with it, all the way to the end -- and I still wanted more. Like Barker's other fiction, this book is a mixture of fantasy & horror -- it's well written, and even after scary the hell out of you, it will make you want to keep picking it up. Barker creates a world inhabited by the ghosts of dead movie stars, that had led less than good lives -- their indulgences served to keep them alive after dead, imprisoned in Coldheart Canyon. In that place, with time and rules of its own, unspeakable horrors play in an endless loop, and for the the few people about to be trapped there, the only way out will be to win the fight against the mistress of Coldheart Canyon -- a former actress of the early 20th century, who's very much alive, powerful and young -- and powered by the secret that lies beneath her dream palace. If you're not afraid of being spooked, especially by the ghosts who will follow you out of the book to haunt the recesses of your everyday life, try this book. (And don't if you're queasy!)

    Friday, November 14, 2003

    Snippets.org If you're a programmer, this may be of interest to you. It's a non-profit, open source kinda thing. Developers post snippets of their code online, for others to make use of. The free code made available can be used for personal or commerical purposes. This is just a site by programmers for programmers. Cool!

    Thursday, November 13, 2003

    Other Discover Articles of Note From the November issue, here are some other articles that was of interest:
  • Appeal of the Rare - the world's largest ball of twine; the world's largest ball of barbed wire; rare things worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; why? Why are humans attracted to the biggest whatever? or the smallest? or the weirdest? Check out this article for some remarkable insights into how and why we perceive things the way we do.
  • Is there a Biological limit to life? - we're growing older and older -- but is there an upper limit to life?
  • Secret Life of Ants - check out the interesting world of ants. And if you're really into ants, check out the Ant Colony site!
  • Discover Awards 2003 The November 2003 issue of the Discover magazine, fires off the annual awards for innovation in Space Science and Technology. I liked the story of Franklin Chang-Diaz -- here's a boy coming from a third world country to America, and finding the American dream, living it, and going to space as an astronaut. Chang-Diaz is also a NASA physist, working on next generation propulsion systems.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2003

    Toronto Star's Internship Program This would be a cool job opportunity!

    Monday, November 10, 2003

    Möbius Forum: Leadership, Values, and Spirituality in Business From Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge site, here's coverage of a conference they hosted in the spring of 2002. The conference was centred around wellness and leadership in business. The coverage will allow you to take a pause from your day to think a little. Check out the site as well, it's loaded with great content.

    Saturday, November 08, 2003

    Matrix Revolutions I've seen the movie. And I need to see it twice more probably. I've heard quite a few grumblings about the movie. People didn't like it. I loved it. A lot of people will not (have not) like the ending. My first reaction was -- 'is that it?' But then I started thinking about it. I think that's the mark of a good movie. It doesn't give you everything. It leaves something there for the myth to build on -- for the story to continue on. I think Revolutions leaves a rich world, with many potential stories for the future.
    Miss Digital World This was inevitable. Italy has launched the search for the most beautiful, female digital creation. 'Nuff said.

    Friday, November 07, 2003

    War Games Oh, why the hell not? Some folks are looking to making reality games on the latest military exploits -- say, the invasion of Iraq. Read this MIT article, and think about what this says of our culture.

    Tuesday, November 04, 2003

    The Luddites Yes, that is the correct spelling. The word originates from a 19th century textile workers in England, who rioted because they opposed the automation of their jobs -- today the word refers to anyone who opposes technological change.
  • The Luddites - here's a compact history from England's SchoolNet.
  • From the University of Colorado - more references than you can shake a stick at!
  • A Google Search - OK, go ahead, shake your stick!
  • Monday, November 03, 2003

    Hepatitis C Here's an article in the Economist on the fight against Hepatitis C. The blood disease has 170m victims worldwide, compared to HIV's 42m -- however, because AIDS kills 3m annually, compared 500,000 by the HCV, the alarms aren't the same. Nevertheless, at those numbers, HCV is still an epidemic.

    Sunday, November 02, 2003

    Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful? The print version of this was sent to me by a business colleague - we had this debate a month ago about what's left for North Americans -- what's really left that we can call our own -- in other words, is there a future? He mentioned this article in BusinessWeek. The article takes a critical look at Wal-Mart, and it's policies detrimental effects on suppliers, workers, communities and even the American culture. Wal-Mart's mantra of low prices and it's dominance of the world retail market is unquestioned -- unchallenged. It had revenues topping $245b US last year. It's three times larger than the number two retailer, France's Carrefour. Weekly, over 138 million shoppers flock to it's 4,750 stores. Last year, 82% of Americans made at least one purchase at Wal-Mart. Last year, Wal-Mart was responsible for cutting $100b US from consumer spending, by having everyone march to their low prices. Economists have labeled this the "Wal-Mart effect." Wal-Mart has 30% of the US market, and analysts project that could reach 50% by a decade. Wal-Mart has a huge share of the top consumer products in the US market, controlling:
  • 28% of Dial's sales
  • 24% of Del Monte Foods' sales
  • 23% of Clorox's sales
  • 23% of Revlon's sales
  • 32% of disposable diapers sales
  • 30% of hair care sales
  • 26% of toothpaste sales
  • 20% of pet food sales
  • 13% of home textiles sales
  • 15-20% of CD/video/DVD/magazine sales
  • 35% of food sales
  • 25% of drugstore sales.
  • So what's the problem? Well, for starters, Wal-Mart pays it US sales clerks about $1,000 below the poverty line in the US. Wal-Mart polices culture by forcing publishers to change/hide or remove entirely content from CDs, videos, DVDs and magazines. Wal-Mart even refuses to sell Preven, the morning after pill. In communities where Wal-Mart moves in, other businesses are driven out, and there's usually no net benefit from having a Wal-Mart store due to the low wages, and the concessions Wal-Mart wrings out of local governments. Now think of this: what if Wal-Mart collapses? The ripple effect on the US economy and the world economy would be tremendous. So how far should they be allowed to go?

    Saturday, November 01, 2003

    A Map of the Universe Following on the footsteps of Mercator, a group of Astronomers have produced a map of the universe. The map includes objects starting out from our Solar system and the Kuiper belt, to galaxies and quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Download it, print it out, and wallpaper your room with it to be cool! The actual map can be found here.
    Black Hole Life PreserverClose up (but not that close) of Black Hole NGC 4438 D.J. Gott of Princeton University, and Deborah L. Freedman of Harvard University have figured out how to survive a black hole. Well, you'll die anyway, but it will happen so fast, you won't feel a thing. If you fell into a black hole feet first, the force of gravity would crush your sides -- your toes would have a stronger pull on it that your head -- your 'spaghettification' would occur in under 0.1 second. Long enough for the pain signals to arrive in your brain. Gott and Freedman have figured out that all you need is something to slow the 'spaghettification' effect -- long enough so that you die before the pain signals reach your brain. What you need is a girdle -- a life preserver that would pull up on your feet and down on your head, countering the pull of the black hole. The girdle would give you 0.09 second more of life -- long enough. And the girdle in question? Well, it would need to be 12,800 tonnes in mass, and about 100 miles wide -- the size of asteroid -- but it should work!
    arXiv.org Print Archive Grab a six-pack of Jolt. Sit down in front of the computer. Guzzle one back. Surf to the arXiv Print Archive site, and click on something that strikes your fancy (I head for Astrophysics). Pop open another Jolt, and let the information overload begin! The arXiv is a great archive site for science research papers. There isn't enough time to read everything you will find of interest.
    Spin on Light This was news to me, when I read it in Scientific American -- about a decade ago, it was discovered that one of the properties of light is that it has orbital angular momentum (OAM). But not much has been done with the information since -- astronomer Martin Harwit however, thinks that information can be conveyed using the OAM of light -- and perhaps, astronomers should start making observations of OAM. Not only that, but far advanced life could be using that property of light for communication purposes. Down here on Earth, it's actually quite surprising that the OAM property of light hasn't been exploited yet to stuff more information down the fibre optic tunnels that link computers across distances. Today, information is packed in light using the polarization states of a photon to encode a bit at a time -- but if a photon's OAM can be measured accurately, and efficiently, more information can be packed into a photon, as there is potentially an infinite number of OAM. The more accurate our measurement of OAM, the greater number of bits can be encoded in a photon. And this is cool!
    Information Security Here's a great magazine for those who wish to keep pace with the latest in the Information Security arena.
    Disney Tattoo Guy I don't get it. I suppose, I'm not supposed to get it. This guy proclaims himself to be Disney's #1 fan. He has about 1,000 Disnet tattoos, 15,000 Disney collectibles and has built a customized 'Disney' house. Why?
    US Defense Dept. to use RFID Looks like WalMart will have company is requiring suppliers to adopt RFID technology. The US Defense Logitics Agency, responsible for sourcing supplies from more that 24,000 suppliers for the DOD, will require those suppliers to use passive, pallet & case RFIDs by January 2005. WalMart's initial push was to have its top 100 suppliers ready by 2006. The DOD is taking an aggressive stance on the technology. Today, the DOD relies on handheld scanners and manual means to confirm receipts.
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