Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Everything Bad Is Good For You

Everything Bad Is Good for You
BusinessWeek has a review of Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You, that makes me want to pick the book up, should I find it cheap at the local used book store (I refuse to pay full price for books anymore). The book proposes that as culture has grown more complex over time, we have had to cope -- and the coping, especially with today's pop culture, is actually making us smarter. Why? Pop culture challenges our minds in "new and productive ways." From television, movies, video games and the internet -- culture consumers have had to deal with multi-threaded narrative that requires inference. The consumption of new media requires to become an active participant -- and exercises different parts of the brain. Johnson credits the new complexity in culture for the fact that our collective IQs have been increasing.

Steven Johnson also authors an article with a similar topic for the latest issue of Wired magazine. In the article, Johnson further assets that video games have played a big part in the rise of our collective IQs. I'm don't fully agree with this assertion -- especially the focus on video games -- and even the extension to pop culture. Yes, our environment has gotten more complex, and in response, our brains have adapted. But are we really smarter? Not necessarily. We've adapted well to our changing world, but that doesn't mean we have greater intelligence that those that came before us. We are good at digesting the sensory input of today, making sense of it and navigating the world before us. Our brains have learned to think in different ways -- but take us out of this environment and plop us into another -- just move a first world person to a third world country, without the amenities of the modern world, and you'd see how quickly the first world person that was nurtured on reality TV, Grand Theft Auto and Paris Hilton escapades, smoke their brains through their ears.

America's Long Middle Finger

This is amusing. Indra Nooyi, President and CFO of PepsiCo, recently gave a speech to Columbia Business School graduates, where she said, amongst other things,
This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.
However, if used inappropriately –just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about.
What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. – the long middle finger – must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand … not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. – the middle finger – sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally.
Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand – giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers – but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.
I posted a larger section of her speech, because apparently, there are some moronic bloggers out there that are absolutely pissed at the affront to America, Nooyi makes. I'm not entirely sure if those offended have actually read her speech before launching into fevered defense of their country.

To those Americans that are offended by her words -- wake up! That's what you do on a regular basis to the world. You extend your middle finger. You do wonderful things around the world, and you're a great people, but whenever some idiot, especially the one in the White House, sticks it out to the world, it undoes all the good you've done. I believe that was Nooyi's point -- if you'd bother to read her speech, you'd get that.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Massive Bullshit
This weekend started early for me. Friday evening I accompanied my older daughter to see Massive Change at the AGO. She was impressed by the show much more than I was. Maybe it was a design thing. She mentioned something about the "fonts" afterwards and tried to convince me that there was some "design" to the madness we saw. (Yes, I'm being hard to get.)

I took a very dim view to the show. Massive Change was underwhelming. It seemed designed for mass consumption by a general public (GP) nurtured on fast food and having the attention span of a TV remote. I'm not being elitist. If I had to put together a similar show for the GP, it would probably resemble the junk food for the brain that Massive Change is. How else to stimulate the numb intelligence of the GP?

As I thought more about it, I realized that I didn't so much as have a problem with the show than I did with what the show had to be for the GP consumption. It had to be browser pop-ups to lure the GP in -- the few second soundbite that served as content was annoying. It painted too much of an optimistic view of the innovations trying to save the world -- and could only result in a complacent GP. Instead of serving as a wake-up call for the GP, it reassures the masses that everything is OK, we should feel good about ourselves, because the world will be saved. Further, complex issues are dumb down to simple black and white options for the GP.

The show seemed to expect a dimwitted public -- and in serving those expectations did itself and the public a disservice. It failed to challenge the intellect and spur open debate on the massive change rippling across the globe. A missed opportunity. Like the public, the show was an opportunity for a bunch of artsy organizers to feel intelligent, pretend they knew something and feel good about themselves. For me, it was just shit. I wouldn't know how better to reach the public -- but I know I wouldn't feel good if that show was what I accomplished.

Hacker Hunters

BusinessWeek, May 30, 2005
BusinessWeek has a special report on the FBI's takedown of cybercrime organization Shadowcrew, in October of last year. Shadowcrew was an organization that operated on the internet, specializing in "identity theft, bank account pillage, and the fencing of ill-gotten wares on the Web." They had members in the thousands, spread across the world, and organized online in a strict hierarchy. Organized crime has gone global, exploiting information technology for their profits.

Shadowcrew's demise came at the hand of a gang member turned snitch. The law was hot on the trail -- surprisingly, collaborating across jurisdictions -- but still, the web allows for a level of anonymity that needed to be cracked. The aid of the snitch allowed the FBI to create VPN for Shadowcrew, thereby having all their traffic routed through the FBI's systems. It was analogous to an old fashion wiretap. It was high tech meet old fashion tactics, and it made a public dent in the $17.5 billion organized crime business.

Although the FBI is being very public with this bust -- trying hard to send a message to the crooks -- they're still fighting an up hill battle. 1) Cybercrime is global, and law enforcement from the West is up against the uncooperation of many countries -- especially Russia, which is holding on to a cold-war mentality in protecting even its criminals from US justice. 2) Law enforcement needs to beef up their resources -- they're still struggling to chase the criminals. Legislatures still have to take cybercrime serious enough to spend money. 3) The laws still haven't caught up with the internet. On one hand, laws seem to go too far and bring the internet, especially commerce, to a grinding halt -- and on the other hand, are too relaxed, and are exploited by the criminals.

I posted about this case last month after reading a similar special report in Baseline magazine. This article is still an interesting read, and reveals some more aspects of the case.

One bone that I do have to pick with the article is the misuse of the word hacker. It's just reenforcing the misconception of hackers out there. Hackers are not criminals. It would be like labeling Spitzer's gang as CFO Hunters, as they takedown corporate criminals -- but we don't, because we know that not all CFO's are criminals. Criminals are criminals. Hackers are hackers. I didn't expect BusinessWeek to be that ignorant.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

omgwtf.superlime.com

This site is just a fun-filled waste of time. Enjoy! [And some stuff there just ain't for the kiddies.]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Articulated Optical DVD

DVD
Iomega was granted a patent in the US for what they call an Articulated Optical - Digital Versatile Disc (AO-DVD). Iomega has found a way of encoding data on a DVD disc using reflective nano-structures in a highly multi-level format. It will allow future discs to store anywhere from 40-100 times more information and achieve transfer rates of 5-30 times that of today's DVDs, while costing the same price.

Open Movie

The following announcement was made on the Project Orange website:
The Blender Foundation and the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/Time Based Arts, have agreed on producing a 3D Animated Movie Short, to be created with the Open Source 3D suite Blender and other OS tools such as Yafray, Python, Verse, Gimp, and Cinepaint.

The resulting movie will be released under an open source license -- including all the production files and software created to make the movie. The movie will be released on DVD and to theatres -- of course, it will also be available to download from the internet -- most likely as a torrent -- legally. If it's entertaining, people may actually shell out money to watch it. But that's hardly the point. It's about the art open source movement changing the world. If you have talent, apply at the Project Orange site -- they're looking for contributors.

Voyager 1 Passes Termination Shock

Voyager 1 and 2
It was recently confirmed by NASA that the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed through the termination shock region -- the region of space where the solar wind starts to mix with the thin interstellar gas of the space between stars. In this region, the solar wind slows as it encounters the interstellar gas and becomes denser and hotter. In December of last year, Voyager 1 started to measure increased magnetic field intensity that has persisted -- an expected result from the accumulation of electrically charged particles from the solar wind. Twenty-seven years and counting, the Voyager spacecrafts are expected to continue operating for at least another 15 years.

Check out the NASA site above for some cool animation and detailed explanation of what scientists think the boundary of the solar system and interstellar space looks like.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Alan Moore Gives Warner the Finger

V for Vendetta
Alan Moore, comics writer extraordinaire, is departing from DC Comics -- owned by Warner -- for good. The reason? Moore doesn't want to be associated with the movie based on his V for Vendetta comic, which the Wachowski brothers are writing and producing. However, in a press conference, producer Joel Silver announced that Moore was involved and was excited about the movie adaptation. So why is Moore pissed? He's been burned too many times by the movie industry and has just had enough. So, in retaliation for not getting Warner to publish a retraction of Silver's statement, he is pulling his future work from DC Comics.

For those who don't know, Moore is the writer behind some of the most well written comics, such as, Watchmen, From Hell, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Constantine.

V for Vendetta should be in theatres in November 2005, and stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Moon

In anticipation of returning to the Moon in 2015, NASA plans to launch LOLA in 2008 to map the lunar terrain using a high-precision laser altimeter in orbit. The mapping will produce a 3D map of the lunar surface -- good enough for any crazy buggy ride. I can just picture it -- 2015: astronauts return to the Moon -- they get lost while out on a buggy ride. No problem. They pop up the laptop, open Firefox, and Google themselves a map of their present location (GPS helps) with directions home.

Star Wars Episode III on BitTorrent

Here's an entertaining article on the pre-release of Star Wars Episode III on the BitTorrent network. The MPAA has come out swinging [DOC], blaming the BitTorrent network for providing the illegal copies of the movie. I'm out with the guys tonight to see the movie -- it's supposed to be the better of the three movies. After all the fuss, it had better be.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Roach Mobile

Garnet Roach Robot
Garnet Hertz, a grad student from University of California, Irvine, has built a robot that is controlled by a giant Madagascan hissing cockroach. The roach sits affixed on top of a ball that functions similarly to a trackball mouse you use to move the pointer around your computer screen. The cockroach moves the ball, and controls the direction the robot travels. Sensors on the robot detect obstacles in the robots way, and triggers a flash of light into the cockroach's eyes. Cockroaches tend to avoid bright light, and the roach changes direction, causing the robot to change direction. In this contraption, I believe roaches are disposable. Many were harmed in the making of this robot.

One day, when the roaches take over the world, they will get their revenge.

Socialized.Net

Here's a concept to give the folks at the MPAA a heart-attack and have the lawyers rubbing their hands in glee. BitTorrent works by leveraging tracking sites that distribute .torrent files. The .torrent files are the heart of the BitTorrent network. But with the recent legal onslaught against tracker sites, it's becoming harder for your average internet criminal to break the law. Welcome to Socialized.Net -- a technology demonstration of how a P2P search infrastructure could be leveraged to help you find .torrent files, while reducing the exposure to a centralized legal salvo. Instead of using trackers to centralized the distribution of .torrent files, they will be found amongst your peers in a social network. Navigating a social network for .torrent files would be difficult of course, unless that network also had a handy-dandy search engine. Very interesting.

Monday, May 23, 2005

New Photos

I've uploaded some new pictures, taken during my first bike ride this spring, on May 14th. Click on the photo below to be taken to the gallery on Webshots. Enjoy!
Click to see the set.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Large-Scale Collective IQ

Another interesting presentation from IT Conversations is a presentation from November 2004, by Douglas Engelbart -- credited with bringing (or helping to bring) the mouse, hypertext, multiple windows, bit-mapped screens, shared screen teleconferencing, and outline processing into the world. In this presentation -- available in audio from the site, with a link to the PowerPoint slides -- Engelbart discusses the acceleration of change which in turn accelerates change. The perspective is technology impact on society, and the ability of organizations to keep up with the pace of change, its complexity and the urgency to change in order to stay ahead. To keep up, organizations need to "become increasingly faster and smarter at their core missions" -- which in turn drives them to "become faster and smarter at how they continue to improve."

I haven't listened to this presentation yet, but it's on my list -- once I have an hour to spare.

Lessig on Perils of "Remixing" Media

Lawrence Lessig waxes eloquent on his favourite topic at the Web 2.0 Conference. There's nothing new in his talk, but he's always a dynamic and funny speaker. His topic is the changing media landscape. A democracy thrives on open dialogue -- where ideas can be discussed, analyzed, and critiqued. Traditionally, this role has been filled by broadcast journalists -- but more and more, the general public can wade in on the discourse via the internet -- especially using blogs. Copyright protection of broadcast works however, potentially stymies the discourse -- as expressing views via "remixing" of media can lead to collisions with the law. Lessig discusses the dangers of moving from today's free to a permission culture, where permission must be granted before media can be reproduced. Lessig is always interesting to listen to -- and his presentation can be download in audio from the IT Conversations website.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Casualties for Democracy

The New York Times reports on the latest revelation by the US Army on the torture-deaths of prisoners -- suspected as innocents -- in Afghanistan. The article itself is quite disturbing. It details the events leading up to the death of a 22-year old taxi driver who was picked up after a bombing in front of a US Army installation. He was interrogated. He was tortured. He was left hanging by his wrists. Beaten repeatedly -- beaten on his legs so much, that he could no longer bend them to walk and had to be dragged to the interrogation room. His US Army captors would come by and beat him, like other prisoners, because they found it funny when the prisoners screamed out in pain for "Allah" (God). All this perpetuated by those from the land of the brave and free -- those that were sent there to bring freedom, democracy and a better life.

For those that were beaten and tortured to death, I'm sure their families can take comfort in the knowledge that in war for democracy, sometimes the wrong people just get the shit beaten and stomped out of them for some fun for the good ole boys that came to rescue them.

Capital "C" what?

I am not a capital “C” Catholic but most of my high school friends are. I do not feel the need to go to church every Sunday, but they do. I am not the type of person that you are likely to find in a missionary. In fact, the very mention of the term “missionary” brings images of horror (thankfully) beyond my imagination to play in front of my mind’s eye.
When I think of the word “missionary” the first thing that comes to mind are the Jesuit missionaries in the ‘new world’, trying desperately to beat the Natives into accepting a faith that is not their own. It makes me wonder why Catholic figures like Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha actually gave in to these missionaries. This woman for instance, was of Catholic Algonquin and Mohawk descent – why couldn’t she have chosen to live out her life as a non-Catholic Algonquin, or a Mohawk? There is one simple answer: because people of my religion have forced upon others their own faith as superior. The line: the Native Americans need a patron saint is ridiculous in my mind. I am ashamed to be a member of a religion that would be so vile and ethnocentric as to force their ways on others so violently.
Perhaps, just perhaps, all the natives needed was to be left to celebrate their faith in their own way just as anyone should have the right to do.

Google and Torrents

Here's an interesting use of Google, as reported on unmediated -- finding torrent files that are associated with lots of illegal content. Using Google's file type search -- filetype: torrent Illegal Content -- you can search and find torrents. If you know the torrent hash for the file you're looking for, you can also search for that -- and it works. Drazen @ unmediated suggests that this may be a way of using Google to find those who pirate illegal content. Interesting.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Malware Fights Back

A Top 10 List:
1 Adware.NewDotNet
2 Adware.180Solutions
3 AdWare.WildTangent.b
4 AdWare.BetterInternet
5 AdWare.ToolBar.MyWebSearch
6 Adware.Gator
7 Adware.Gator.a
8 AdWare.FunWeb.d
9 Adware.ToolBar.ISearch.d
10 AdWare.BetterInternet.b
Here's one that is just an abuse of the legal system. Adware vendors -- you know the people who infect your computer with pop-ups, advertisements and secret applications that log your surfing behaviour and cough up ads when you surf -- are taking the anti-spyware fight to the vendors that are making anti-spyware software or hosting discussion groups. They don't want to be accused of being malcontents who make their living at the expense of end users. So they're suing. The big anti-spyware vendors can fend them off, but the smaller players, without the deep pockets, are having to turn tail. Check out this site for the results of the litigations.

Spears and Federline on Letterman

Poop
I usually don't blog on shit like this, except that it was weird? a spectacle? kinda like that piece of something on the floor that you're not quite sure what it is, so you have to investigate, even though you highly suspect it's your pet's poop? Something like that anyway. Here's stupid Britney Spears and her dumb-ass husband Kevin Federline doing Letterman's top 10 on his show.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Subway Edification

Consumer Goods
  • New Strategies in Consumer Goods -- CPG companies have survived in the past due to strong brands and productivity improvements. The landscape for CPG is changing however. Customers want lower prices; retailers are getting the upper hand on CPG companies and are selling their own brands; CPG companies have reached the limits of what productivity they can squeeze out of their operations; and competition is coming from the emerging markets. How will CPG compete in the future? Build capabilities in their core functions; serve emerging markets better; improve execution -- market and innovate better; sell value, not just brands; leverage their scope and size; and offer new services.

  • 2005 Innovation Awards -- from Network Magazine comes another award. It's a rundown of the innovative network companies that developing new products to help IT deliver on business needs. More and more, companies have to do more with less and do it cheaply. Forget wasted CPU cycles, under-utilized storage and bandwidth. Say hello to collaboration tools, web services, business process automation, virtualized CPU and storage, real time applications and intelligent networks. For a crystal ball view into the future of what's coming to the datacentre, check out InformationWeek.
  • Sony Picture Goes Digital -- Sony has partnered with Ascent Media Group to utilize HP's Digital Media Platform to convert its entire catalogue of films to a digital streaming format. Sony is already building high capacity fibre connections to Ascent, who will be responsible for delivering the digital content to theatres and television stations. Sony's Jeff Hargleroad says, "This project marks a significant step towards the future of file-based digital-content delivery." Hey Sony -- use BitTorrent!
  • Digital Force -- and on the note of digital movies, check out this article from InformationWeek regarding the movie industry's transformation from an industry of celluloid to one of bits and bytes.
  • Asia's Edge
  • Tech Powerhouse -- the next IT powerhouse will be Asia -- China and India know it. Despite their sometimes strained relationship, China's Prime Minister recently visited India for talks and more of a relationship building exercise. While they have border disputes, business is still business, and China is setting itself up to focus on hardware while India focuses on software and services. To the US this means that the current stranglehold they have on global standards and clout in the IT industry is about to change. Control and leverage is about to be lost -- call it a benefit of globalization.
  • Cell Phone Games
  • Taking Video Games to the Next Level -- cell phones will soon be able to cook your food and do the laundry. I'm convinced that mobile phone makers will get them to do unimaginable feats shortly. But, before we get there, let's play some video games.
  • Wanted: A Big Broom For China's Banks -- as China develops rapidly and gains acceptance on the world's business stage, they're having to deal with a troubling problem -- their banks. In the past, China's banks were there to prop up state companies, and self serving executives helped themselves and friends -- causing the government to repeatedly having to bail them out. Now China is looking for regulatory controls and audits. Welcome to the world.
  • Pakistan: Better Late Than Never In Outsourcing -- Pakistan is trying to join India in luring IT work away from the developed nations. Like India, Pakistan has a huge English speaking population, are hungry for work and has a budding IT industry. They're a few steps behind India, but watch out world -- here comes another outsoucing pain.
  • Argentina: Reversal Of Fortune -- a middle class is returning to Argentina due to a surge in middle class jobs and higher than average Latin American education levels. It's interesting to watch as the developing world emerge to join the ranks of the first world countries. Unlike the first world nations, they're not going to achieve prosperity and success by pillaging poorer countries. Work for success -- what a concept.
  • How The Net Is Remaking The Mall -- the rate of big boxes opening up in the retail industry is shrinking -- thanks, believe it or not, to the internet. It's not that ecommerce retailing is stealing money from the bricks and mortar stores -- although they are -- more significantly, they're changing the concept of shopping. Consumers are now more educated and savvy in their shopping thanks to the internet. To bring in consumers, the new trend in bricks and mortar retailing is towards "lifestyle centres."
  • Lenovo and IBM: East Meets West, Big-Time -- here's an update on how IBM and Lenovo are doing on the post sale integration of two quite different cultures and operations. It's an interesting read from a social science perspective.
  • MIT Nerds

    The kids who make to MIT are nerds. And proud of it. While they have led quiet, socially isolated lives before arriving at MIT -- when they got there, they found a university teeming with people just like themselves. Smart, eccentric, craving challenges, and incredible under stress. MIT's grads have gone on to change the world. You may not know who they are, but there is a great likelihood that some part of your day touches on something dreamt up by an MIT grad. Read an excellent profile of the MIT student at Discover magazine -- and if you've ever made a nerd's life miserable -- or are thinking about doing it again -- think twice. It would be like a gnat laughing at a human for not being a gnat.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

    Intellectual Disability

    I just came across the "intellectual disability" label. Not sure what it meant, so I looked it up. It's the new label (for me anyway) for those with mental handicaps. Fine. But "intellectual disability?" To me it's an insult. Intellectual disability just means someone doesn't have the ability to be smart. That applies to a lot of people I know who suffer from no mental handicap. A lot of people with mental handicaps are actually smarter than some of the dummies I know that would qualify for the intellectual disability label. I don't know -- maybe I'm harping about nothing. Maybe I'm not accepting of change -- but I just don't think another euphemism was needed -- especially one that went from labeling a person with a disorder as having a mental handicap to one that just calls them a dummy. Please folks -- enough with the euphemisms -- enough with the dumbing down of language for the politically correct.

    OK, I'll shut my trap now.

    Existentialist <-- That's me!

    You scored as Existentialist. Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.


    Existentialist

    94%

    Materialist

    88%

    Modernist

    75%

    Cultural Creative

    75%

    Postmodernist

    56%

    Idealist

    56%

    Romanticist

    31%

    Fundamentalist

    13%

    What is Your World View? (corrected...hopefully)
    created with QuizFarm.com

    Monday, May 16, 2005

    Giving Blood

    Japanese researchers have developed a breakthrough fuel cell that runs on human blood. The fuel cell draws electrons from glucose in the blood to produce electricity. The application for such fuel cells would be in artificial organs -- such as hearts -- where surgery usually has to be repeated every so often to replace batteries. With batteries powered by the person's own blood, such repeat surgeries may be a thing of the past. Naturally, some people will be wanting to hook their iPods up to their veins. It would be a new and novel use for needles.

    Google Content Blocker

    Ever want to surf the web without all the annoying content? Ever just want to see those cool Google AdSense Ads? Then check out this spoof. [Thanks for the link Darren.]

    Laboratory String

    The universe is made up of two types of particles -- together, they carry the fundamental forces of nature. The particles: bosons, such as photons and gluons, and fermions, such as quarks and leptons. Together, bosons and fermions make up everything. Supersymmetry is a theory that binds bosons and fermions via string theory -- the theory that states that all fundamental particles are vibrations on tiny (supersymmetric) strings, at sizes of 10-33 metres. Of course, none of this has been observed -- mere speculation with a hell of a lot of math. Now, researchers from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands have proposed making a "non-relativistic Green-Schwarz superstring" by trapping an ultracold cloud of fermionic atoms along the core of a quantized vortex in a Bose-Einstein condensate. [See a short article on PhysicsWeb.]

    What does it all mean? Check out their proposal [PDF] and try to understand it -- but what it does mean, is that if it works, for the first time there will be experimental evidence that superstrings aren't just a mathematical construct -- and that will take us closer to the theory of everything.

    Aurora

    This past weekend, a coronal mass ejection from the Sun hit Earth's magnetic field, lighting up the sky. For those who saw the spectacular colours -- lucky you! Apparently it was quit brilliant -- visible as far south as California.

    Goblet of Fire

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    The next installment of the Harry Potter movies, Goblet of Fire -- slated for a November release -- has a teaser trailer posted on Apple's movie trailer website. Check it out!

    Sunday, May 15, 2005

    Movies @ Google

    Google has drifted into the movie review business and more, with what is apparently a new service. Unfortunately, the service is only fully available in the US so far. Compare this search for Kingdom of Heaven at Google.com and at Google.ca. With the US service, you can also get showtimes and theatre listings. To get the reviews on any Google country pages, Google introduces the "movie:" search operator. Just type in "movie: Name of Movie" without the quotes, and you'll get reviews galore. Keeping with their image of a company with sense of humour, Google also places the following text at the bottom of the review listing: "The selection and placement of reviews on this page were determined automatically by a computer program. No movie critics were harmed or even used in the making of this page."

    The North York Concert Band and "Music without Borders"

    Greetings all esteemed readers of floccinaucinihilipilificate.

    It's concert season for the North York Concert Band, a community based band in the northern Toronto region of North York. I am a member of said band and as such, here is my sales pitch. This is directed towards those of you with an appreciation of music.

    Our concert is on Sunday, May 29, 2005 at the Al Green Theatre located at 750 Spadina Avenue. Tickets for "Music without Borders" are $15 each for adults, and children under the age of 12 are free. We will be playing a variety of music that is sure to please all, including pieces written by Canadian composers, gospel/blues, swing medlies, classical music and even a piece arranged by one of our very own.

    I encourage you to visit our website where you'll find this informaiton and be able to listen to pieces that we've performed in past concerts. If you wish to order tickets or require more informaiton, Syd Gangbar is the guy you'll want to talk to at 416-470-0272. So come visit the North York Concert Band and order your tickets today!

    New Rodent Found

    A new rodent family has been found in Thailand, where it's known to locals as Kha-Nyou. The rodent is a nocturnal vegetarian, preferring the cover of the forest. It gives birth to one offspring at a time instead of a litter -- and DNA analysis suggests that it diverted from other rodents some millions of years ago. In Laos, Kha-Nyou is usually found in the food markets.

    Wildlife Conservation Society image.

    Saturday, May 14, 2005

    Nuclear Battery

    Reseachers at the University of Rochester are developing a new battery that will last decades and be potentially hundreds of times more efficient than conventional nuclear batteries. Such batteries would find a niche in applications where power is needed in inaccessible places, or places under extreme conditions, where the option of replacing or recharging a battery is limited -- applications such as implanted medical devices or space and ocean probes. The process being exployed to create such a battery is betavoltaics, where electrons from nuclear decay is captured and used to generate an electrical current. Unfortunately, electrons emitted via nuclear decay are sent off in random directions -- mostly missing the electron capture mechanism. The innovation made by the researchers was to make the capture mechanism with pits -- each pit being filled with radioactive gas. Decay then occurs in the cocoon of capture mechanism pits -- increasing electron capture yield and therefore increasing electrical output. In essence, the researchers have increased the surface area of the capture mechanism.

    Think of the applications. You may soon see people walking around with the nuclear symbol emblazoned on their chests (nuclear powered pacemakers) or on the case of their laptops. Cool!

    MPAA Against Sharing TV

    Doctor Who appeared on the net before it was aired.
    The MPAA, fooling themselves into thinking they can stamp out file sharing, have now upped the ante and are targeting sites that host torrents for television shows. Lawsuits have been filed. It's still OK to record TV shows -- but if you share them, even for free, you're in trouble. Yet again, another industry is failing to get on top of the innovation bandwagon and exploit the net. Suing customers and fans is an act of desperation from an industry that can't seem to come up with other options.

    Before you Blink

    The Tipping Point
    Tip!

    That's right, tip.

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book The Tipping Point just before he wrote *blink. (Pretty good cover design and typesetting, I might add.)

    blink The premise of the book is the tipping point, or the point in time at which something reaches critical mass, and has the ability to affect drastic social change. This book is very well written, and is based on an accumulation of examples to illustrate this simple concept. Gladwell goes on to explain that the tipping point is something that cannot be quantified, because, like a trend, it catches like wildfire. He uses the New York crime reate in the late eighties and early nineties as an example, saying that there was a point in time were crime ran rampant, even in New York's subways. To stop the crime, the new transit police chief, William Bratton, simply cracked down on fare beating, arresting dozens of fare beaters with concealed weapons and, incidentally, criminal records. After a short period of this strict adherance to the details, subway crime of all kinds dropped off sharply, simply because it was stopped at the gates. Even though this fare beater clean-up took four years to complete for the entire subway system, when the tipping point was reached, the crime rate plummeted. Gladwell also brings up such terms as the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context and uses them to explain how ideas catch on, and are able to change society drastically.

    This book is straightforward, an easy read and Gladwell's insights and explanations make the book worth it's price.

    Friday, May 13, 2005

    The End of the World

    On Friday the 13th in April, 2029, the world will come to an end -- or at least, that's what some people will want you to think in 2029. That's when asteroid MN4 will have a close encounter with Earth. It will be visible as the brightest star in the sky, moving at the speed of satellites in orbit. Will the world end? It all depends on how much you faith you have in the calculations of the guys from NASA.

    Staying Awake on the Subway

  • The Flight of the Creative Class -- a book by Richard Florida that I may be interested in picking up if I find it at a the local used book store. The premise of the book is that increasingly, the entire global economy revolves around innovations coming from the world's creative classes -- and America is becoming more and more unattractive to those people, who favour social and economic equality, political tolerance and education, because of the changing values in America. OK premise, but I don't think America is any danger of losing its creative classes to the world. America is still rich and free -- and that's good enough for most people.


  • Just What GM Needs -- Kirk Kerkorian has come a-knockin' on GM's doors. The billionaire investor's interest is hardly philanthropic, but neither is it like carrions circling in the sky. GM is still viable, and Kerkorian's 9% stake in GM is sure to pan out when the company makes a turnaround. The speculation now is how much patience will Kerkorian have for GM's pace of change, and will he try to force Wagoner to make quick changes to stop GM bleeding money.


  • Bristling With Promise -- The Hedgehog signaling pathway is a complex network of proteins that cells use to communicate. They can be used as a switch to turn certain cellular activities on or off. Potentially being used to signal to cancerous cells to stop growing, or slow the progression of a variety of other diseases. In embryos, the Hedgehog signaling pathway is quite active, ensuring organs in the body develop -- in adults however, their activity slows -- but will sometimes reactivate in full force to respond to bodily injury. Scientists are studying the Hedgehog pathway, and other similar pathways as a means of managing certain diseases -- however, the first treatment that has made it to the market is one that will coax hair follicles to regrow.


  • Personal Tech -- BusinessWeek also has great review of the latest tech-toys for the road. See the latest in mobile phones, handhelds, iPod add-ons and satellite radios. It will cost you nothing to read and fantasize.
  • Thursday, May 12, 2005

    This is my blog for tonight

    I was reading some very interesting articles today in the National Post, now that I work there. I read an article titled Mayor Kisses Off Protocol by Planting Two on Princess in the front section of Wednesday's National Post. What an article! I don't see the problem with the mayor of Montreal, Jerald Tremblay, greeting Dutch royalty with two pecks. I think that if the action had been grossly unappropriate, then the papers should have made a big stinkin' deal out of it, but as it was it was just a greeting. The Princess was taken aback by this greeting and temporarily forgot about proceeding directly into the prepared speech for the occasion.

    What I do object to is how the paper described the Dutch Princess Margariet's husband as having to 'save' the situation. What he said bothers me, "You start all this kissing, it's easy for her to forget what she has to do". GRRR!

    Movies

    Dil Ka RishtaMy family and I were over at my Mom's this past Saturday. It's difficult to buy gifts for parents (and spouses for that matter), so perhaps the best gift for my Mom was to have us over, spending time. My Mom wanted us to watch a Bollywood movie with her, so she put on Dil Ka Rishta. It's been a while since I saw a Bollywood movie (Bride and Prejudice doesn't count) -- and it was typical of a Bollywood movie -- singing and dancing and all -- although I was surprised that there wasn't as much singing and dancing as I was expecting. The story is formulaic. I've seen it before. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. But ooops! Boy can't have girl, as she's in love with some other guy and they're about to get married. An accident occurs, and girl loses her memory -- chaos ensues, and boy finally gets girl. The movie stars Aishwarya Rai (the star of Bride and Prejudice), Arjun Rampal and Priyanshu Chatterjee. I'm only familiar with Ash, as I believe she's the current reigning queen of Bollywood. The movie probably wasn't the best of Bollywood, but it was entertaining. It's got a few songs that I'm currently listening to over and over -- and you can too, freely, online -- listen to Saajan Saajan, Dil Ka Rishta and Dayya Dayya Dayya Re.

    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyI also saw the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the last couple of weeks -- twice. Once with my wife and once with the guys from work. The consensus was the same. The movie wasn't the best. The translation from book to movie lost something -- the biggest problem was that the book relied heavily on language for the humour. The movie couldn't have the characters do standup -- neither could it narrate the entire movie -- so a lot of Douglas Adams' humour was lost in the translation. As a standalone SciFi movie, it would barely standup on its own. Don't get me wrong though. I was entertained by the movie -- once. Not the second time. I hope they don't make a sequel.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2005

    The Ugly Road Ahead

    BusinessWeek -- May 9, 2005
    GM's in trouble -- and it represents a frightening prospect for America. GM is "no ordinary company." It's representative of the American industrial might -- it's a conglomerate. It's huge and sprawling, with annual sales of $193 billion and supporting close to 1 million jobs. Annually, it puts $8.7 billion into assembly workers pockets. In 1998, a union sponsored strike that lasted 54 days, shutting down GM, resulted in 1 percentage loss to the US economic growth rate for that quarter. What's bad for GM is bad for America -- and there may be nothing that anyone can do about it. GM is about to shrink, whether they like or not.

    The trouble: GM lost $1.1 billion in the first quarter of this year. They have a $1,600 per vehicle legacy cost -- mostly due to retiree health and pension plans. That's $1,600 off every car sold going to retirees that its Japanese rivals don't have to worry about. In the last five years, GM has lost 74% of its market value -- $43 billion. Today, the sum of its parts are worth more than the whole. Today GM is burning through more money than its making. To top it off, GM automotive is not productive. They're producing too many vehicles and not turning a profit. To move to productivity, GM needs to slash production -- but there's the catch. They can't close plants without a cost. The union has contracts that sees GM continuing to pay employees their wages and benefits if plants are closed.

    To make matters worse, GM may not see the trouble they're in. GM has always been number 1. They can't fail. They've never failed. It's cultural and psychological -- and if they can't see the trouble, how can they get themselves out of it?

    For related reading, refer to the following:
  • Modeling General Motors and the North American Automobile Market [PDF]
  • The Evolution of the US Automobile Industry and Detroit as its Capital [PDF]
  • The capabilities of new firms and the evolution of the US automobile industry [PDF]
  • Monkey-Boy Supports Gays ... from behind anyway

    It appears that Steve is gay after all. In a letter to employees, Steve Balmer has reversed his position on the issue of supporting anti-discrimination legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate via sexual orientation. Too little, too late however. Balmer is coming in from behind with his support after the legislative session is already over -- but he does promise to support such legislation in the US in the future. As for the rest of the world -- Balmer doesn't want anything to do with you.

    Flexible Concrete

    Just when you thought certain things couldn't be improved upon, along comes an engineer tinkering. Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed concrete comprising of 2% tiny fibres. The addition of the fibre had the remarkable effect of making the concrete 500 times more resistant to cracking, 40% lighter and flexible. This summer the concrete will be put on a real world test, as the Department of Transportation in Michgan retrofits a section of a bridge -- limited real world use is already in place, and there are plans to use the concrete in more roadway construction.

    Monday, May 09, 2005

    Prime Time for Real Time

    Intelligent Enterprise -- May 1, 2005
    Today's acronyms are: BPM, BPA, SOA, ESB and POA. It's the stuff of an IT architect's wet dream. BPM (in addition to BPA and POA) is supported by the SOA and ESB technology plumbing -- and, as this article from Intelligent Enterprise summarizes -- can be exploited to automate real-time enterprises -- who's defining trait is "for squeezing time and associated costs out of processes, transforming how companies operate and even the very businesses they're in." Time-based competition leverages the capabilities of real-time enterprises and BPM to give the business the ability to "build and manipulate end-to-end processes." With this flexibility, businesses can respond to the real-time changes of their business climate; meet the ever changing demand of customers; execute dynamic marketing strategies to increase customer base and sales; and deliver competitive advantage.

    Changing from an information-based to a process-based IT department isn't an easy task -- but it doesn't have to be impossible. SOA for instance, makes it easier to leverage on legacy systems with hard-coded processes, to an environment that thrives with change -- allowing the extension of processes internally, as well as externally to service providers and trading partners. IT departments however need to embrace this paradigm shift -- a shift that sees the creation of a different type of business process -- one that leverages on the hard-coded processes in legacy systems, but is dynamic and responsive, easily being manipulated by business users to enable new business processes. "IT must move from the Information Age to the Process Age to enable time-based competition. The real-time enterprise is the process-managed enterprise."
    A conceptual architecture -- click for larger image.

    Friday, May 06, 2005

    Lucas Wannabes

    On the eve of the final Star Wars film, AtomFilms releases the 2005 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Talent? Comedy? Adventure? People with no life? Yup, all of the above.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Texan Stupidity

    America continues to baffle me. This turn from the land of the free to the land of fundamentalist christians is looking more and more like the axis of evil country, Iran. The following details an act of Texan police misuse of authority to uphold the right-wing, fundamentalist, hate-filled, bigoted agenda of the American christian conservatives -- in this instance, as represented by the woman hell-bent on destroying the achievements of women everywhere, Ann Coulter. Read it all. Be disturbed. It's happening to Texas. How long before it happens where you live? This shit has got to stop. [This story came via the Canadian Cynic.]

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Cheerleading Causes Pregnancy and STDs

    Well, so says Texas, which recently approved a bill to restrict “overtly sexually suggestive” cheerleading to more ladylike performances. I got this from habitatgirl. Are Americans going mad?

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    US to Canada -- DMCA is Good!

    The US recently attacked Canada in its Special 301 Report on intellectual property rights. Apparently, Canada's amendments to the copyright act just doesn't go as far as the US would like. The US would like Canada to adopt provisions that is mirror to the US laws. Yeah, OK. Too bad the US isn't as vigilant in protecting the environment -- ratifying the Kyoto Protocol isn't as important as protecting the "property" of big business apparently. I know, I know -- you've gotta have your priorities straight.

    Time Traveler Convention

    They must feed the students at MIT specially formulated brain food, because they keep coming up with ideas that are sheer genius, if they weren't so silly. The latest brilliant idea is to host a Time Traveler convention on May 7, 2005, 10:00PM EDT at MIT's East Campus Courtyard -- coordinates: 42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W. There will only ever be the need for one such convention. That's the brilliant idea. Publicize the convention so that thousands of years from now, when time travel is possible (you've got to be an optimist), time travelers will converge on the time and place for the convention. As the convention gains notoriety through time, it will continuously grow, becoming more and more popular -- perhaps needing a bigger venue. On May 7, 2005, we'll know if the brilliant idea was really just a silly idea. If no time travelers arrive on May 7, 2005 -- then the date wasn't made sufficiently public -- so there's always next year. After all, if it's not next year, some year in the future will become the popular time for the convention.

    Celera Capitulates

    Celera has announced that it will be donating its DNA database to the public. Finally. After racing the government's Human Genome Project to map the human genome and won, Celera kept its data under wraps, selling subscription access to it, while the National Human Genome Research Institute made its findings public. Celera is realizing that what it is selling is freely available. Celera will also make available its mapping of the rat and mouse genome -- important genomic data for researchers. So what's up with Celera? They're hoping to reap rewards from their drug research business.

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    Articles of Note

    This past week, the following kept me awake on the subway rides to and from work:
  • Desktop Factories -- a short review of Fab, by Neil Gershenfeld. Fab refers to fabrication, and in this context, personal fabrication -- the creation of almost anything at home. Fabrication systems usually include "a milling machine for making precision parts, a cutter for producing simple printed circuit boards, and software for programming cheap chips called microcontrollers." With these machines, conceivably anything that can be imagined, can be manufactured, including the fabrication machines themselves. If the concept takes off and prices drop, the results would be nothing short of a revolution in manufacturing and retailing. For more related to this topic, check out Building from the bottom up [PDF]; Fabrication of novel biomaterials through molecular self-assembly [PDF]; Ink-Jet Printed Nanoparticle Microelectromechanical Systems [PDF]; FAB LAB: An Alternate Model of ICT for Development [PDF]; Fab Lab Central.
  • Carving Up The Carmakers -- the North American car makers are not doing so well, and this article uses GM as an example. They're doing so bad in fact, that their financial businesses are worth more than their manufacturing businesses -- that valuation leaves the carmakers ripe for private investors to move in, carve them up and make a killing.
  • And You Thought Oil Was A Worry -- there is a growing dependence on natural gas as an alternative to oil. Lowering the dependence on the Middle East for energy is good thing -- but the natural gas producers of the world are waking up to the potential of forming their own cartel to control prices, increase their control of the market and their profits. From one dependence to another -- just goes to show you, nothing beats conservation.
  • The 'Unrecognized Epidemic' -- Beryllium is lighter than aluminum, stiffer than steel and a great conductor of electricity. For those reasons, it is being used increasingly in electronics, computers, and cars. The cost however is severe -- beryllium dust is more toxic than plutonium -- and today's legislation is hardly sufficient to protect those working with the metal.
  • Cable TV Could Get Its Mouth Washed Out -- Democrats are joining with Repulicans to protect family values, and their target is cable television. Gotta love politics -- there is hardly any investment in families, but lip service will be paid to the cause, and a scapegoat will be used.
  • Stella Awards

    The Stella Awards are made out for the "most most frivolous, ridiculous, successful lawsuits in the United States" -- and are named for 81 year-old Stella Liebeck who successfully sued McDonald's in 1992 for spilling hot coffee and burning herself. It Is What It Is has the top 5 listing of Stella Award winners. Check them out -- they rival the Darwin Awards. (Yes, and I know -- two different lists -- they're equally funny.)
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