Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pat Robertson

I have to agree with PJ Onori's response to the whole Pat Robertson fiasco -- "I find it sad that one must resort to a news broadcast on Comedy Central for the most sane coverage of our nation's news." Yup. It does say something when Jon Stewart has relevancy, and the media that is relied upon for news no longer does.

Game Shelving

Tetris Shelves
Inhabitat has a posting on some cool Tetris inspired shelving from Brave Space. It's shelving in the shape and proportions of Tetris blocks. With the shelves, you can assemble, reassemble and play with your furniture. The pieces are sold individually, and are friggin' expensive. However, if you have the money, there's nothing that says cool like being able to assemble your own furniture from Tetris pieces.

When you really think about it though, there is no reason why you couldn't just build the pieces yourself. It looks easy enough. Be sure to check out the other posts at Inhabitat, for some really cool designs that could make your living that more interesting.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Droogle.ca

Droogle Canada -- this is amusing site -- slightly drunk, but that's what happens when you're a search engine that has sampled over 25,000 drinks. Enjoy! And remember, drink responsibly!

CIO Evolution

CIO, August 1, 2005
CIO Magazine is carrying an article by process guru, Michael Hammer, on the evolution of CIOs from being the head of technology, to becoming the process evangelists, process owners, and in the jargon of IBM -- who Hammer uses an example -- business transformation executives. Hammer points to process focus as a role well suited to the IT executive, and one that IT needs to adopt in order to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving business landscape that sees the classic role of IT going into extinction. IT functions are becoming commoditized; outsourcing opportunities loom large for businesses that view their IT organization as an expense; and new applications are giving power to tech-savvy business users to serve themselves. It's change or die.

Relevancy -- that is what IT can gain from becoming process focused. And IT is well suited for the task. IT already has a view across organizational boundaries via the systems they support -- visibility that is required, as processes tend to cross organizational units, or are leveraged from one unit to the next. IT has already encountered processes via systems development and project management methodologies, and via the implementation of ERP packages. Hammer uses IBM as an example of a company that has embedded the process owner role within the IT executive function. Process ownership doesn't mean the execution belongs to the owner -- it means the owner is responsible for ensuring the processes in place add value to the business -- and has accountability for improving those processes or drive adoption across business units. While IT has many process strengths, it does have one weakness however -- change management. IT professionals are not natural change management practitioners. To succeed, "IT will have to change its style. Collegial, creative and flexible -- rather than defensive, pedantic and rigid -- the key word for the new IT organization is collaboration."

This issue of CIO magazine also has a pretty good article that harks back to my previous life in the Supply Chain industry. Check out the Perfect Order: Achieving the Holy Grail of "perfect orders" involves more than just plugging data into software. Companies must also restructure their supply chain processes from end to end. Now you understand my enthusiasm for Hammer -- having lived in Supply Chain for most of my career, I've become quite a believer in business process adoption.

Kaena: The Prophecy

Kaena: The Prophecy
Finally saw Kaena: The Prophecy -- and it was a superb movie. It is a French produced, SciFi, CGI-animated movie, that uses classic themes to deliver a nice adventure story. The visuals are spectacular -- graphically rich, with constant, fluid motion -- it's a feast for the eyes, and can probably only be appreciated on a large screen. The imagery is so intense, that it will bear watching multiple times -- even without sound.

The plot: Kaena is a young girl living with a tribe of humans on the Axis -- a world above the world -- a world that is a huge entanglement of vines, supporting an entire ecosystem. The human tribe harvests sap from the vines for offerings to its gods -- gods that hide a terrible secret and will kill to keep it so. Things are not well with Kaena's world -- the vines are drying up, and there are constant quakes. Where are the gods that the people, led by their priest, pray to? Kaena doesn't believe the gods care about her people. She keeps dreaming of a blue world, beyond the Axis, that waits for her. The dreams lead her to escape from her village in search of the blue world. Along the way she will meet the last of an alien race that crashed into the Axis over a hundred years ago. She will meet worms that are far more intelligent and advanced than anything from the village she came from. She will find her destiny -- given charge of vast knowledge, the future of her people and the Axis.

A truly marvelous film, with a great story that will keep you watching. Definitely worth the rental.
Kaena: The Prophecy

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Prophecy: Uprising

The Prophecy: Uprising
The movie wasn't bad, as I was expecting -- it did go direct to video, but I'm not sure why. The movie can stand alone from the other Prophecy movies, as it is set in Europe, with new characters, that doesn't build on the characters already explored. (That's me saying that only having seen two of the previous movies.) It's the usual mumbo-jumbo with the good angels trying to prevent the two warring groups of bad angels from destroying humanity. What's good about the movie is the mystery, the pulling together of the pieces to solve the puzzle. I won't bore you with the details. There is some violence, some blood, but not the cool factor of the first movie. The atmosphere was missing, and that made it less scary. Worthwhile rental for a slow night.

How the Bratz Beat Barbie

Baseline
Baseline magazine's August issue has a cover article chronicling the fist fight between Barbie and the Bratz dolls. The article is really about competitive intelligence. Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls, had the information that showed Barbie's popularity was waning. Girls wanted "attitude and ethnicity, not pert and pale." Tweens "were losing interest in traditional Barbie, attracted to pop stars in heavy makeup and trendy clothes." For tweens, Barbie was a baby toy. Mattel knew the phenomenon called age compression was occurring in their consumers -- girls wanted to grow up fast -- and Mattel wasn't doing anything about it. MGA, the maker of Bratz dolls came along at the right time -- when the industry was making a shift -- and had the right product to capitalize on the shift. In the first six months of their introduction, MGA sold $20 million of Bratz dolls. It would take 14-months for Mattel to follow with My Scene dolls that matched MGA's racy dolls. Since then, new players have joined the market, feeding girls the grown up image they crave: Integrity Toys' Janay and Friends; Tolly Tots' Girls on the Go; and Disney's Princess.

Baseline as usual, does an excellent job at the technology deep dive -- going to details, while maintaining the business context so it all makes sense. I won't summarize their analysis of competitive analysis software and processes -- nor point out the specifics of how, despite having the data, Mattel's systems couldn't help the company extract information from it. As well, there were the psychological problems. Mattel was complacent, secure in their unassailable position in the industry. No one could take them on. Or so they thought. I won't go there -- instead, I'd like to turn to industry shift -- the fact that tweens are "growing up" faster today, than ever before.

This is going to become a huge cultural problem. Children coming rapidly of age, but being unprepared for the realities of being a grown-up -- both emotionally and physically. It is something that we as a society, have allowed to happen to the future generations. Obsessed as we are with going beyond selling, to capturing minds, we've targeted the least prepared for a marketing onslaught. Baseline chronicles the efforts Mattel takes in understanding its target market. There is something wrong with a society that preys on their young. Yes, I am placing guilt on all of us. It's not the corporations -- the big and mighty companies that are doing this -- they're simply the channel. It's not just complacency. It's choice. There are parents working in those big, bad companies. There are parents working in those marketing firms. There are child psychologists that were trained to heal, but are instead applying their knowledge for nefarious ends. They are all us. We have allowed it to happen by not stopping it. We've allowed it to enter our homes by not stopping it. We've allowed it to take over, by not parenting.

Where will this future take us? Maybe this will not have significant impact to the coming generations -- individuals may be scarred -- but not entire societies. But what will we become several generations from now? That future is being built today. Our every action shapes that future. Just how will we shape it?

Related reading:
  • TweenSpeak
  • Consumer Socialization of Children: A Retrospective Look at Twenty-Fice Years of Research [PDF]
  • Not of Whole Cloth Made: The Consumer Environment of Children [PDF]
  • The Impact of Pre-School Childrens Requests on Their Parents Choice of Brands:An Empirical Analysis [via Google]
  • Children as Consumers
  • Wake Up America

    Bush
    BushFlash presents: anti-George W. Bush propaganda.

    On a completely unrealted front -- I just got there from BushFlash -- check out the sick and twisted animation of the Non-Livingtons.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    Earth's Core Spins Faster Than Surface

    Earth's Core
    Live Science is reporting that geophysicists that reported the Earth's inner core spins faster than the surface of the planet in 1996, will be confirming that results in the journal Science. Over 700 to 1,200 years, the Earth's inner core apparently gains one full extra spin over the surface of the planet. This knowledge could lead to a better understanding of how the Earth generates its magnetic field.

    The Earth's core operates like a giant electric motor, in which the spin of the motor is driven by a magnetic field. In the Earth's core, liquid iron rise and fall from the liquid outer core onto the solid inner core. The rising and falling of the charged liquid iron generates a magnetic field that rotates the inner core "like a huge rotor in an electric motor."

    The Lair of the White Worm

    The Lair of the White Worm
    Just watched the Lair of the White Worm -- Ken Russell's adaptation of the Bram Stoker's novel -- which I've never read, but I may now put on my hit list. The movie is ... well ... funny. Intentionally so. The scene where Lady Marsh burns her snake and ladders game ... she gazes into the fire and whispers, "Rosebud." Hugh Grant plays a funny Lord James D'Ampton -- unintentionally, while sipping tea. Then there is Peter Capaldi Angus Flint, a Scott, who had to put on the outfit and play the bagpipes. And there were more like that.

    The horror bits ... well, good vs. evil; the christian god vs. some snake god ... that's the white worm for you. The plot that's strung together is rather silly, and again, I think it was done intentionally so -- sort of a campy horror. Lady Marsh returns in spring to her village to bring back her long sleeping snake god with a virgin sacrifice -- a snake god that's been sleeping for some time since Lord D'Ampton's ancestor supposedly killed it -- the whole knight slaying the dragon thing. Lady Marsh is some kind of snake-vampire, whatever that is, and can infect people she bites with her venom. She loses her chance with her first virgin sacrifice, but then locates another. Unfortunately, she's the girlfriend of Lord D'Ampton, who isn't about to lose her -- and her sister, has a boyfriend who's a budding archeologist, and has found the skull of the white worm (ie. ancient snake god). Together the girls manage to get themselves captured to be sacrificed, and the boys must come to the rescue, all the while sipping tea, playing bagpipes and promising themselves that they should go down to the pub to get a pint. Very British.

    The whole movie actually works on a campy, comedic-horror level -- never quite descending to B-movie status -- but never becoming really creepy or scary. As usual with a Ken Russell movie, there is blood, some nuns, and Christ on the cross. (And I'm purposely not going to explain that.)

    The movie can be ordered from Amazon really cheaply! Amazon also got some good reviews of the movie.

    Men are Smarter than Women

    According to a study by Paul Irwing and Richard Lynn, to be published in the British Journal of Psychology, men are smarter than women -- due to genetic differences in intelligence -- men have larger brains than women. This shows up in men having a slight advantage over women in IQ tests, getting more Nobel prizes than women, and having more chess grandmasters than women. People who are about to take this too seriously, should note that Lynn has in the past published papers arguing that there are differences in intelligence between different racial groups.

    I'm not sure if these "researchers" have factored the environment, social or economic conditions into their study. It would seem to be the intelligent thing to do. It's also interesting to note that the researchers are both men. Psychologists no less.

    Books I Want Cheap

    Summary of summaries that I recently read.

    MarketBustersMarketBusters by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian C. MacMillan -- Marketbusting is described as an action taken by a company that gives it a decided edge on its industry peers. This book offers five core marketbusting strategies, and lists forty supporting moves that a company can take within those strategies to go gangbusters on the competition. It's aimed at the executive types that actually work on strategies that steer businesses -- but, as I was reading the summary, I was thinking of it from my perspective, and on how I can apply some of the thinking with respect to my internal customers. If you're a department within an organization, think of these strategies as proactive steps to prevent yourself from being outsourced.

    The five strategies and related moves:

  • Transform your customer's experience. Moves: 1) Replace the existing consumption chain with an alternative. 2) Use technology to combine or replace links within a chain. 3) Make some links within the chain, smarter. 4) Eliminate bottlenecks in the links of the chain. 5) Monopolize the events that trigger the start of the chain.

  • Transform your offerings. Moves: 1) Improve the things your customers find positive. 2) Eliminate the things your customers find annoying. 3) Break up existing segmentation of customers. 4) Infuse offering with empathy. 5) Add a compelling parallel offering. 6) Make things simple. 7) Get the value you deliver.

  • Redefine key metrics. Moves: 1) Radical change to the unit of business. 2) Radical improvements to productivity. 3) Improve cash flow velocity. 4) Use assets differently. 5) Improve customers key metrics. 6) Improve customers personal productivity. 7) Help improve customers cash flow. 8) Help improve customers quality.

  • Exploit industry shifts. Moves: 1) Move beyond industry swings. 2) Capitalize on the effects resulting from industry cycle shifts. 3) Launch disruptive responses to industry cycles. 4) Exploit shifts in industry constraints. 5) Capitalize on the effects resulting from constraints. 6) Disrupt an industry during a shift in a key constraint. 7) Exploit industry structure for the next lifecycle stage. 8) Understand second-order effects of next stage. 9) Redirect, disrupt or alter the evolutionary trajectory. 10) Exploit a shift in the value chain. 11) Exploit second-order shifts in the value chain. 12) Reduce costs or constraints to disrupt value chain.

  • Exploit emerging opportunities. Moves: 1) Shift a dimension of merit. 2) Create market via cautious evangelism. 3) Build a better mousetrap. 4) Do inventive missionary work. 5) Make a land grab. 6) Create a niche to win. 7) Run the arms race. 8) Bet on blue-sky ventures.

  • I realize that a lot of these moves are going to be useless without the context -- for that, you'll have to read the book -- or if you're lazy, the book summary. And before you off half-cocked, realize that planning something, and doing it, are two completely different things. You can have the greatest plan and still fail with the execution.


    According to KotlerAccording to Kotler by Philip Kotler -- This book is written by the supposed, "world's foremost authority on marketing." From the summary, it looks like it would be a very easy read, full of insights and relevant industry examples -- and would be a good start for someone getting into the marketing industry. I like Kotler's definition of marketing's mission: "to sense people's unfulfilled needs and create new and attractive solution." From answering some basics about marketing, he moves on to issue some forecasts on industry trends, then describing why brands and brand building is so important and concluding with short trestle on the importance of service. This book is definitely on my "get cheap" list!


    The Loyalty AdvantageThe Loyalty Advantage by Dianne M. Durkin -- The premise of this book is rather simple: "Employee loyalty drives customer loyalty which drives brand loyalty." How very true -- and it's one of the biggest factors management could influence to allow their business to make more money. When people feel that they are contributing, making a difference, they're happier -- and happier employees are smarter -- basic biology -- which is quite the opposite when you look at employees working for pointy haired bosses and companies that don't value their contribution. Employees in those companies are unhappy, stressed out, make more mistakes and generally don't care.

    The book offers five steps that a company can take to build loyalty in employees, customers and other stakeholders. Again, without the details in the book, some of this will be completely out of context -- the summary is helpful, but I think I will have to get the book. And again, this book talks to the executive types -- but the lessons in it can also be leveraged by anyone with employees reporting to them. The steps:

  • Assess your company's current situation and target your stress points. You don't actually have to wander far from your department to sense how things are going. Realize that at the department level, some things may be doable -- and some are just way outside your control.

  • Create focus and strategy through shared vision, values and positioning. At the department level, even if you don't agree with some of the crazy stuff going on, you can at least turn to the vision and values that are in place. Those are usually well thought out, and can hold their own despite the storms that may rage around them.

  • Use communication to develop credibility and support. I think it takes more than communication. It takes action, but you also have to communicate that action is happening. Too often there are a lot of words, but no proof in the pudding -- cause there's no pudding.

  • Establish an infrastructure for success. This is all about ensuring that the people, processes, tools, etc., that are in place, are the right ones. There's no need to marshal the troops to head into battle if there's an insurmountable wall in the way.

  • Foster ongoing success through continuous evaluation and feedback. This is so important. If you leave things, the environment will change and what was once the right thing may no longer work. You would never know unless you ask.

  • To ensure there is loyalty there, that your business can thrive, is to have leadership. Without it, there's just a lot of floundering. I'm definitely going to have to get this book.

    Amazon Women on the Moon

    Amazon Women on the Moon
    Saw this movie last night too. Yup -- three movies, one night. This one was a blast from the past, as I had seen it way back then. I think I actually saw it on TV in the late 80s -- it had it's theatrical release in 1987. I remember it being very funny. Maybe my tastes have been refined (honed?) over the years -- or memory is a lair -- either way, it wasn't as funny this time around. That's not to say it was without humour. It had its moments, and is definitely one of those movies you want to watch late at night when there's absolutely nothing else on.

    This time around, it was interesting catching the many now familiar faces, when they were younger, and were desperate for a gig. There was Arsenio Hall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joe Pantoliano (still without hair, but wearing a rug), Lana Clarkson, David Alan Grier (lacking any soul), B.B. King (trying to save Blacks without Soul), Rosanna Arquette, Steve Gutenberg, Robert Picardo (with hair), and the list goes on and on. The movie is a spoof of 1950s SciFi movies -- this one being played on TV, uninterrupted -- except the station keeps having technical difficulties. The technical difficulties are filled with comedy sketches like "Blacks Without Soul," "Titan Man," "Video Date," "First Lady of the Evening," "Son of the Invisible Man," and "Bullshit or Not" -- to name a few. Each had their moments, but aren't necessarily linked together.

    Watchable, and will help pass the time.

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    The Passion of Darkly Noon

    The Passion of Darkly Noon
    This is a very weird movie, starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd and Viggo Mortensen. Fraser plays a guy raised by some religious fanatics -- they're killed by a mob and he gets away. He's found in a forest and is nursed back to health by Judd, who lives in the forest with her mute boyfriend, Mortensen. Mortensen has this habit of wandering in the forest for days. Fraser is nursed back to health when Mortensen is away -- and he slowly falls for Judd. When Mortensen returns, jealousy finds Fraser. Lots of weirdness ensues. Is Judd a witch? As some believe? Is the forest evil? Why is Fraser's dead parents talking to him? Enticing him to do the lord's murderous duty?

    Atomik Circus

    Atomik Circus
    I just saw this French movie, starring Vanessa Paradis, Jason Flemyng, Benoît Poelvoorde and Jean-Pierre Marielle. It was hilarious. If you like b-movies, you'll enjoy this fine representation of the bad art. (Yes, I used art to describe the movie.) What's it all about? Well, Paradis plays a musician -- there's a stretch for you -- and Flemyng her boyfriend. Poelvoorde plays a sleazeball from the music industry who just wants to get into Paradis pants after they've first met. That's the setup. Now add a father who doesn't like the boyfriend, as he blew up his bar -- and is sentenced to prison. He escapes as hovering aliens with tentacles land on Earth and are hell bent on killing everyone. They decide to start in a small Frech hick town (is there even such a thing?). The music industry guy is infected by the aliens and becomes a bad ass who wants to do something not-so-nice to the girl. The boyfriend escapes from prison as the aliens start the killing spree. The boyfriend, the father and the girl now have some alien butt to kick. Read a complete review at Twitch.

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    Guess-the-google

    A very addictive online game based on Google's image search. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    The Marketing of IT

    I just read a Forrester "Best Practices" report titled: The Marketing of IT. As the article introduced one of the biggest problems facing IT, I kept shouting (quietly, as I was on the subway), "Yes! That's what I keep facing!" Or telling people -- or something like that anyway. The report resonated with me. I'll spare you the details of the resonating -- and because going into the details will open some can of worms I'd rather not get into. Forrester summarizes the problem with:

    IT's inability to market effectively cements its cost center role in the enterprise: communicating status but not value, fulfilling requests but not solving problems, and partially deploying technologies but not delivering expected results.


    How's that for a loaded gun? IT stumbles -- and it's an industry wide problem. Long, the exclusive domain of the geeks -- and I mean that in with the utmost respect -- the role of IT has changed as business has grown in its dependence of technology. With business reliance of IT greater than ever as the pace of change increases, there has been movement in IT to become a business to serve the business. IT however, has adopted business practices close to home, such as, project management, accounting and other metrics driven processes. While there has been improvements, Forrester points to stumbling that continues:

  • IT fails to communicate how good they're doing, and so clients are left to form their own opinions.

  • IT continues to be order takers, delivering, but not necessarily delivering on what is most needed -- innovation and value.

  • When IT delivers new technologies, the rollout is so slow, if it's ever completed, that benefits are hardly ever realized.

  • If you buy it or build it, and implement it, they will come -- only a lot of times, they don't come and IT fails.


  • IT's solution to these problems -- as much problems of perception as they are of delivery -- communicate! Forrester points out that we in the IT industry have been communicating, only no one is listening, or they don't understand the gobbly-gook we're speaking. Guess what? You can yell through a megaphone, but you can't make them listen. Forrester's solution: Marketing. If Marketing can sell you so much of the crap you don't want, it can surely sell IT -- the good stuff organizations really do need. Every IT effort -- be it a project, or a KTLO initiative -- is an opportunity to market IT to its clients. But how often do any of us do it? How often do we tell our clients that we're about to do something, we're doing it, and we've just done it -- and there, things are better off now for our efforts? Hardly! As Forrester points out, we continue to allow ourselves to be a black box. We're our worse enemy. It's not the business fault for not understanding us, and not thinking we amount to much in IT -- it's our own damn fault.

    IT marketing according to Forrester, is "the business activity of presenting IT's products, services, and capabilities to constituents in such a way that makes them eager to fund an utilize." The emphasis on "in such a way" is mine. Marketing is great, but if you screw it up, you just end up looking like an idiot at best -- worst, you won't even be noticed. Forrester suggests the following approach:

  • Develop a Marketing Plan -- Forrester lists the 4 Ps of Marketing. OK, it's Marketing 101 -- Product, Price, Place and Promotion. There are a few more: Participants, Physical Evidence and Process. But let's start with 101 before we head to grad school.

  • Execute on the Plan -- ie. rollout your marketing campaign. You'll need to know what your objectives, audience, channels, champions and metrics are. Remember that one size does not fit all, and customize your campaign accordingly.

  • Build Brand Equity -- your brand is the most valuable possession you could have, squander it at your peril. Your brand can be used to create awareness, build lasting trust and attract interest in your organization.


  • In IT, we're motivated to do the right thing. None of us go into work to be the pointy-hair boss -- yet, that's how we're perceived. We can be perceived for the value we add -- and we can add value. All we have to do is think of ourselves as a business. If we were an outsourced service provider, and not the entitled IT organization, how would we face our clients? You bet your ass we would face them differently -- either that or be out of business. Microsoft, IBM, Oracle ... to name a few ... ever wondered how they became the powerhouses they are? Simple -- they sell stuff.

    Related link:

    Seven Ways to Bridge Marketing and IT

    Random Sites

    Because I thought they were amusing, interesting, or otherwise, sites that you couldn't live without:

    Vista Window Company -- not just another multi-billionaire's company. In fact, they probably don't even make millions.
    Meet the World -- a Brazilian artist using the flags of the world to introduce you to the country's population.
    GigPosters -- a site that archives the posters used promote shows and events. Check out some cool art by some happenin' designers.
    Weight Watchers Recipe Cards, circa 1974 -- see a disgusting blast from the past. People actually ate that shit. (Some still do.)

    Source: eWeek.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    Blood Feud

    I read this sad tale of racism in the most unexpected of places, in the latest Wired magazine [see Blood Feud, available online on Aug. 29th]. It all began a long time -- when blacks were freed of slavery in America with the 13th amendment to the US constitution. Natives, who had also kept some black slaves, freed their slaves -- and those blacks, continued to live as part of the native tribes they belonged to -- marrying, living and becoming part of the tribes. The black-natives voted in elections, sat on tribal councils and received benefits. Everyone got along. Then in 1906, US senator, Henry Laurens Dawes, in an attempt to "civilize" native territory, set up what became known as the Dawes Roll. A commission of white clerks from Washington descended on Oklahoma and set about to give 160-acre plots of land to natives. The commission was deluged by applicants -- and surprisingly, some were whites and blacks, claiming to have native heritage. The clerks, mostly by sight, determined who were natives and who were not, putting them into two distinct groups. There were the natives on the Dawes Roll, and those that looked African, labeled "freedmen" and were not considered to be native, on the Freedmen Roll -- even if they were of native descent. In some cases, siblings were placed on differing rolls.

    The Dawes Roll eventually slipped into history and all was good for almost 90-years, when the US government granted the sovereign native nations, the rights to set up and govern casinos on their territory. Suddenly all natives were no longer equal. All natives were to benefit from the profits of the casinos, except those that were visibly mixed. The Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma -- the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole -- suddenly found history. They found the Dawes Roll and they changed their laws. If you could prove you were a descendant from someone on the Dawes Roll, you would gain citizenship in their nation. If you came from the Freedman Roll, you were no longer native, regardless of what you looked like, or how much native ancestry you had in you -- regardless of whether your family were considered natives for generations, and could trace your lineage back to the 18th century with your tribe. The descendants of the Freedmen that wanted back in turned to the courts for help, but the US judicial system decided they couldn't interfere in the native issues that were governed by native laws. So the Freedmen descendants appealed to genetics. DNA testing to be exact.

    In a recent presentation to the Descendants of the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes conference, on genetic testing in a small sample of black-natives, there was a surprise. The Descendants didn't really get the undeniable proof they were looking for. The small sampling had 4-76% African ancestry, 0-62% European ancestry and 0-30% Native ancestry, averaging in at only 6% -- the same amount found in other African-American populations. Their native ancestry wasn't that unique. However, and this is where it really got surprising -- it may be the European ancestry that really matters. The Descendants averaged in at 18% with European ancestry, and that may be roughly the same amount of European mixing that could be found in the so-called pure-blood natives, who have had encounters with Europeans since the 17th century. Other black populations show a lower average European ancestry.

    One thing that genetics keeps reminding us of is that we're all the same. We're no different from each other. Here's another example that topples another myth -- that of the pure-blood. Who is pure anymore? None of us are, especially those claiming to be pure -- and therefore having some level of superiority over another group. The shocker of this whole article was the stance taken by the Five Civilized Tribes. It amounts to nothing more than discrimination of their own people -- people who are genetically similar to them, but just happened to have looked different to a bunch of white clerks back in 1906.

    Related links:
    Trail of Tears -- the forced removal of the Cherokee tribe by the US Government.
    Who Is a Seminole, and Who Gets to Decide? -- NY Times
    Genetics, Culture and Identity in Indian Country [PDF]
    Red Bird, Oklahoma: An Investigation of an All Black American Town [PDF]
    The Cherokee Removal and the Fourteenth Amendment
    Declaration of Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere Regarding the Human Genome Diversity Project

    NASA Grounds Shuttle

    Yet again, NASA's shuttle fleet -- or what's left of them -- have been grounded. This time until 2006, due to the continuing problems NASA is encountering with the foam insulation on the external fuel tank. It was a similar problem that caused Columbia to break apart as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. NASA then went on to spend over $200 million in two years trying to prevent the foam insulation from coming off -- all for naught it would appear.

    NASA's new focus on the shuttle is to ensure that the last components of the space station can be lifted to orbit before the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. Hopefully by then, replacements will be flying -- but don't hold your breath.

    Monday, August 22, 2005

    Gas Prices

    It's not the ridiculous high gas prices that gets me -- although it contributes a bit to my distaste for oil companies, oil corporations and just about the entire industry -- it's the constant ups and downs. Tonight, I drove 15-minutes to pick up my daughter from the subway, and along the way, I saw the gas price change at one station from 90.5 to 89.5. A one cent drop in 15-minutes. Other gas stations along my route had different prices. It also makes me cringe when I see the massive line-ups when there is a one cent drop. The psychology of the masses is truly amazing. If people had to fill up with 50-litres of gasoline, then a one-cent difference would amount to 50-cents out of their pockets. People sustain brutal line-ups, tempers flaring, to save fifty-cents! Don't you get it people? The gas bars are aware of you psychological dysfunction, and are playing you. Don't bother going in there and harassing the clerk -- which I've seen some people do -- they don't have control, and their minimum-wage-ass don't give a shit that you're pissed with the ups and downs. You have a problem with it? Protest the oil companies -- or better yet -- screw the oil companies. Take public transport, or get rid of your gas guzzler and opt for a hybrid. Hit them where it hurts.

    End of rant.

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    Car Battery

    Today, I happened to look at the Charing System Gauge, otherwise known as the Battery Indicator, of my car and was in for a little bit of a shock. The indicator was down to low, sometimes dropping below low, and it wasn't indicating any charging as I was driving. We've had severe rainfall here in the last couple of days, and I'm not sure if that was a contributing factor. The battery isn't that old, so it can't be age.

    Tonight I decided to lift the hood of the car to look at the mess of machinery under it. I'm mechanically challenged. The stuff under there scares me. The battery was sitting there with acid all over the terminals. So, I got a brush from my trunk and brushed off the acid, inhaling deeply of the resulting noxious cloud. Now I have this metallic taste in my mouth. I think I will gargle with some household chemicals later in an attempt to exhale fire. That feeble attempt at fixing the problem didn't really fix shit. The battery still won't charge.

    So, I consulted the car's manual -- a couple of steps before the last resort, which would be asking someone to fix it for me. The manual says:

    If you see any corrosion on the battery cables or terminals, remove the cables from the terminal and clean them both with a wire brush. You can neutralize the acid with a solution of baking soda and water. Reinstall the cables when you are done cleaning them, and apply a small quantity of grease to the top of each battery terminal to help prevent corrosion.


    Tomorrow I plan on bringing this little adventure to conclusion. I don't have a wire brush, but I think some sandpaper should suffice. Just not sure what I will be using as grease. Just what can you use? Do they actually sell grease at the local Canadian Tire? I suppose after I get the cleaning done, I could go for a drive and find out. Before I demonstrate my ineptitude however, is there any advice? -- on the above and on safety -- just so I don't experience an ill-timed and humorous ending.

    Saturday, August 20, 2005

    Lawful Access Legislation

    In a speech to the Canadian Association of Police Boards, Canada's Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Irwin Cotler, revealed plans to introduce new lawful access legislation in the near future. The legislation will allow law enforcement officials to intercept internet communications and access data pertaining to internet usage, by Canadians. Disturbingly, discussion papers being circulated on the legislation by the government, points to a complete lack of oversight. Police would be able to request information from an ISP on a user, without having to obtain a court order, as is the case today. This legislation is highly suggestive of similar legislation that has been enacted in the US in the guise of combatting terrorism. Canada is following the US lead in not giving a damn about the privacy rights of its own citizens.

    Future of Comics

    Sarah Boxer writes about the evolution of comic books from the printed media to the digital, in the NYTimes. Comics haven't fully made it on the web. They're either limited by the necessitity to scroll to see the entire page, which makes the final product inferior to the printed page -- or, they've become inferior animation -- neither comic or full blown animation. It's clear that innovation hasn't reached the digital comic book as yet -- and to some degree, the digital comic book shares the same problems that other printed artform has in the translation to the web. The biggest problem is in the appreciation of the art by the end consumer. The digital world still hasn't given end consumers the touch, feel, smell -- the initimacy -- that printed on paper art provides -- be it a novel, a comic book or a piece of art. It's not tactile. It can't be savoured. It's just not real enough. There's something personal in appreciation of art that the digital doesn't convey. Digital paper may one day get us there, but it's going to take more than evolution to get us there. A revolution perhaps -- as the masses won't be easily converted.

    Boxer provides the following links in her article to give you a sample of online comics:

    OnlineComics.net
    Blank Label Comics
    Coconino World
    Webcomics Nation
    Web Cartoonists Choice Awards

    Lisa See Interview

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
    I'm listening to a fascinating interview of Lisa See, author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." The interview, conducted by Dr. Moria Gunn, discusses See's discovery of an ancient Chinese written language, nu shu, known only to women in a remote Chinese province. [clip] The language has been kept secret for 1,000 years, and See's discovery, inspired her to write her latest novel. The interview also goes into some details of ancient Chinese practice of feet binding, in which, over a period of two years or so, a child's feet, at the toes, would be folded back to meet the heel. The bones would be broken, and basically the women would be left to walk on their big toes.

    Google vs. Yahoo!

    Yahoo! recently claimed that their search engine index had grown to 20 billion items, over twice as large as Google's 8.1 billion. Quite the bragging rights that gave Yahoo!. An independent study however, by the NCSA, has found that while Yahoo!'s claims can't be verified, Google remains the search engine with the most. Consistently, Google kept returning more results, especially for obscure searches, which this study focused on. (Both Google and Yahoo! truncates results after 1,000 results, so the researchers decided to look at obsucure searches.) Yahoo! only returned 37.4% of the results that Google did.

    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact

    I just read Henry Mintzberg's "The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact" in the Harvard Business Review -- originally published in the July-August 1975 issue, and republished in 1990 -- but still, very true today.

    Mintzberg recaps the classical understanding of the manager's job, as one that plans, organizes, coordinates, commands, and controls -- borrowing this definition from Henri Fayol. He cautions however that, "at best, they indicate some vague objectives managers have when they work." It is by no means what a manager really does. If you're a manager, think about this. Are those really the functions of someone in command? Mintzberg goes on to site research into what a manager really does on the job to create his own definition of what management is. He first introduces and dispels four myths about the manager's job, and in the process, laying to rest Fayol's definition.

    1. Folklore: The manager is a reflective, systematic planner.
    Fact: Study after study has shown that managers work at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterized by brevity, variety, and discontinuity, and that they are strongly oriented to action and dislike reflective activities.

    2. Folklore: The effective manager has no regular duties to perform.
    Fact: Managerial work involves performing a number of regular duties, including ritual and ceremony, negotiations, and processing of soft information that links the organization with its environment.

    3. Folklore: The senior manager needs aggregated information, which a formal management information system best provides.
    Fact: Managers strongly favour verbal media, telephone calls and meetings, over documents.

    4. Folklore: Management is, or at least is quickly becoming, a science and a profession.
    Fact: The managers' programs -- to schedule time, process information, make decisions, and so on -- remain locked deep inside their brains.


    Mintzberg then defines a manager's job in terms of ten roles or behaviours identified with the management position. These are:

    Interpersonal Roles
      Figurehead
      Leader
      Liason
    Informational Roles
      Monitor
      Disseminator
      Spokesperson
    Decisional Roles
      Entrepreneur
      Disturbance Handler
      Resource Allocator
      Negotiator


    The interpersonal roles, Mintzberg outline, comes from direct authority and involves interpersonal relationships. The informational roles arise from contacts both vertical and horizontal of the organizational unit, as well as internal and external to it. The manager by definition of this role, knows more than her subordinates does. The decisional roles arise from the informational and interpersonal roles -- the manager has formal authority, and also has the information to make decisions impacting the organization.

    Hence Mintzberg's definition of management. It is these roles, working as "an integrated whole," that results in management. You can't have a manager without all of these roles, although an individual manager may use these roles to differing degrees. Mintzberg concludes with:

    If there is a single theme that runs through this article, it is that the pressures of the job drive the manager to take on too much work, encourage interruption, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid the abstract, make decisions in small increments, and do everything abruptly.

    ... the manager is challenged to deal consciously with the pressures of superficiality by giving serious attention to the issues that require it, by stepping back in order to see a broad picture, and by making use of analytical inputs. ... the danger of managerial work is that they will respond to every issue equally and that they will never work the tangible bits and pieces of information into a comprehensive picture of their world.

    The manager is challenged to gain control of his or her own time by turning obligations into advantages and by turning those things he or she wishes to do into obligations. ... First, managers have to spend much time discharging obligations that if they were to view them as just that, they would leave no mark on the organization. ... Second, the manager frees some time to do the things that he or she -- perhaps no one else -- thinks important by turning them into obligations.

    Mintzberg crafts a great and thought provoking article -- an article that retains its relevancy despite being published 30-years ago. I recommend it as a highly informative and entertaining read.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    BBS Documentary Collection

    Before the Internet hit prime time, kiddies looking for some online action hooked up to a network of Bulletin Board Systems and made their world a bit smaller. Now, Jason Scott of TEXTFILES.COM and the Internet Archive, have teamed up to bring Scott's extensive interviews that were conducted for a documentary project on BBSes, online -- free, under a Creative Commons license for all to enjoy.

    Google loses to GEICO

    The Register is reporting that Google has lost an AdWords case to GEICO. Apparently, while not allowing the use of GEICO's name in the content of AdWords, Google had sold the trademarked name in keyword search advertising. That is, if you searched for GEICO using Google, then you would end up seeing advertising from whoever bought that term -- even though the name GEICO would not appear in the ad itself. I don't agree with the ruling. Google should be able to sell advertising against any search term if they so wish. Google search is not a public service -- it's a private business. In effect, GEICO is saying that Google has a responsibility to them to ensure that when an internet user searches for GEICO, they don't see advertising for other insurance companies. I don't think Google has such a responsibility. They haven't violated GEICO's trademark in anyway. I'm sure this loss is going to open a can of worms for Google.

    China & India: Future Shock

    BusinessWeek: August 22/29, 2005
    BusinessWeek latest issue has a cover article on the coming global dominance of China and India. It's more of the same that has been making the rounds in the media lately, but this article provides a timely and updated summary. BusinessWeek explains that "in the coming decades, China and India will disrupt workforces, industries, companies, and markets in ways that we can barely begin to imagine." Those in the developed nations should take note. If companies adopt a wait and see attitude, they will find themselves surpassed by those that are today taking steps to leverage the might of the two emerging giants.

    You can see the signs of China's success in their cities that are being systematically being transformed by gleaming, state of the art infrastructure. India on the other hand is grappling slowly with its change. The transformation is happening, but the infrastructure accompaniment is slow to change. In some ways, this has result in two countries that are uncannily playing off each other's strengths. China is focusing on mass manufacturing of just about everything, including technology. India on the other hand is mastering software, design, services and precision industry. Combined with both their untapped, cheap, and educated labour masses, their future is inevitable.

    By 2050, according to some predictions, India will surpass Germany to become the third largest economy, while China will surpass the US to become the number one. Together, the two countries will account for half the global output. They will also account for a significant portion of the consumers of that output -- making them significant growth opportunities for many businesses from the developed nations. China and India will also push their interests on the global stage -- especially in areas like Africa and the Middle East. There's also likely to be military tensions between China and the US, and perhaps even China and India.

    BusinessWeek paints quite the compelling future for China and India, and strive to deliver a message to the industrialized nations. Like it or not, China and India will be reshaping the current dominance of the global marketplace. It is inevitable. There's no fighting it. We have to learn to live with it, and make room for them. Along the way, the global economy will become ever more interdependent.

    Related links:

  • For a little history of the region, click here for a BusinessWeek flash animation.

  • BusinessWeek also has a set of cool slide shows -- multimedia presentions on China & India, covering, "What's Cool," "A Day in the Life," and "China's Dirty Face."
  • China-India Entente Shifts Global Balance -- YaleGlobal Online
  • Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Terry Pratchett's Thud!

    Terry Pratchett's Thud!
    Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel will be released in the second week of September. Thud! will chronicle the further mis-adventures of Commander Samuel Vimes and the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. I'm looking forward to the novel, as there's always a dry spell between Pratchett books -- and he's an author that I am a little obsessive about. The man has wit and hilarity in his scribe. The teaser e-mail that brought the news of the forthcoming novel included the following descriptive:
      It started out as a perfect day -- the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch shaved himself without a single nick. And then he went to work.

      THUD!

      Suddenly, Vimes is in the thick of looming disaster -- he's got an unsolved murder to crack, an impending war born of age-old animosity to avert, a new recruit he'd really rather not hire, not to mention a pesky government inspector asking all the wrong questions.


    So I looked the novel up at Amazon, and got an even better teaser:
    It's a game of Trolls and Dwarfs where the player must take both sides to win ...

    It's the noise a troll club makes when crushing in a dwarf skull, or when a dwarfish axe cleaves a trollish cranium ...

    It's the unsettling sound of history about to repeat itself ... THUD!

    It's the most extraordinary, outrageous, provocative, insightful, and keenly cutting flight of fancy yet from Discworld's incomparable supreme creator ... Terry Pratchett

      Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch admits he may not be the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer -- he might not even be a spoon. But he's dogged and honest and he'll be damned if he lets anyone disturb his city's always-tentative peace -- and that includes a rabble-rousing dwarf from the sticks (or deep beneath them) who's been stirring up big trouble on the eve of the anniversary of one of Discworld's most infamous historical events.

      Centuries earlier, in a gods-forsaken hellhole called Koom Valley, a horde of trolls met a division of dwarfs in bloody combat. Though nobody's quite sure why they fought or who actually won, hundreds of years on each species still bears the cultural scars, and one views the other with simmering animosity and distrust. Lately, an influential dwarf, Grag Hamcrusher, has been fomenting unrest among Ankh-Morpork's more diminutive citizens with incendiary speeches. And it doesn't help matters when the pint-size provocateur is discovered beaten to death ... with a troll club lying conveniently nearby.

      Vimes knows the well-being of his smoldering city depends on his ability to solve the Hamcrusher homicide without delay. (Vimes's secondmost-pressing responsibility, in fact, next to being home every evening at six sharp to read Where's My Cow? to Young Sam.) Whatever it takes to unstick this very sticky situation, Vimes will do it -- even tolerate having a vampire in the Watch. But there's more than one corpse waiting for him in the eerie, summoning darkness of the vast, labyrinthine mine network the dwarfs have been excavating in secret beneath Ankh-Morpork's streets. A deadly puzzle is pulling Sam Vimes deep into the muck and mire of superstition, hatred, and fear -- and perhaps all the way to Koom Valley itself.


    Oh, I'm quite looking forward to the book. And I may even have to pick up the the companion picture-book, Where's My Cow?, that will be released at the same time.

    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
    I've completed J.K. Rowling's latest excursion into the magical world of Harry Potter. If you haven't read the book as yet, go on, read further, there are no spoilers. I wouldn't do that to you. If you've read the previous five books, you need to relish the sixth -- enjoy it.

    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a bit of a departure from the previous five novels -- or, if you're perceptive, it continues on the trajectory of the other five books, departing as expected. Departed how? Well, the novel has grown in size from the previous novels. There are a lot more pages, and lot more of it deals with character exploration. Harry and his friends are now rapidly approaching their 17th birthdays, so there's lot to tell about them. Tumultuous emotions -- both anger, jealousy, love -- yes, there is someone that makes Harry's heart go thump in the night. The main characters do get equal pages with Harry. You also see Harry's world treating him different for once -- maybe a little more respect for the kid who has repeatedly kicked butt since book 1. Dumbledore acknowledges to Harry for instance that Harry will have to face down Voldemort and kill him. The novel is darker, lighter and more adult. Rowling surprised the hell out of me by having one character refer to another as a "slut." I'm surprised that this is still the Scholastic fare. I suspect that Rowling will lose the little ones with this latest outing of her characters -- but if they started with Harry Potter at the right age, they can almost grow up with him.

    There are surprises in the novel, and deaths -- just about everyday someone is being killed by the Death Eaters -- but we expected that from the end of the previous novel. What we didn't expect -- OK, I didn't -- was the death. Yes, there is one of those. It surprised me. Who would have thought? It leaves the 7th and final novel of the series with that more anticipation behind it. Just how will Rowling complete the series? And will there be more deaths? There are lots of speculation on how the series will be concluded, and there are quite a few obsessive people following every bread crumb as a trail out there -- so I'll speculate no further. However, I will say that I look forward the 7th book.

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    Flash Funnies

    I just got to this site via a friend. Some very humorous flash funnies. I love it!

    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    What Business Can Learn From Open Source

    Paul Graham has written quite the essay extolling the virtues of open source and blogging (and I would add wikis and other social computing to the mix) for business. He asserts that the biggest lesson open source and blogging has to teach business isn't about technology -- it's about the forces that have been driving the movements. Blogging and open source leverage the web as a platform to foster collaboration -- bringing people together to do things they love to do, for free -- unlike business, where people don't necessarily work on the things they love. Working for the love of it always produces results that surpass what business can produce. Graham takes a swipe at the professionals -- their elitism, culture and environment -- and what they have achieved with business. He believes that their culture is rapidly being surpassed by a culture of collaboration and cooperation -- where real results are being achieved, by ordinary people, doing the extraordinary -- working. Graham feels, and rightly so, that a lot of time is wasted by business, by professionals, in the 9-to-5 day of pretending they are accomplishing things. Business directives are handed down from a central authority -- quite the opposite in open source and blogging, where it's more like the market economy -- or Darwinism -- the better ideas, the better products are the ones that are adopted, strengthened and fostered. Think of it as social capitalism.

    The article is filled with ideas that have been percolating for a while. Graham has done a good job articulating the revolution that has been happening -- it's effects are being felt socially, economically and even politically. It threatens to change the world -- and along the way some old prejudices are being removed.

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    NAFTA Softwood Lumber Ruling

    The US has decided to disregard a NAFTA ruling that says it has violated NAFTA rules by applying contervailing and anti-dumping duties to Canadian softwood lumber exports. The US has applied the duties because softwood lumber is harvested from publicly owned lands in Canada, while they are harvested from private lands in the US. The US considers the harvesting from public lands a subsidy. I don't know the details of the case, or what the NAFTA rules says about cases like this, but it won't stop me from drawing a conclusion: namely that the US is correct. I'm sure we make the lumber from public lands cheaply available to the lumber industry. I also have a problem with the Canadian government allowing our forests -- that's yours and mine, as it is public -- available for private companies to savage and then sell cheaply to hungry American industries. Here's one time where I actually am agreeing with the US government. I hope the Canadian federal government does what it usually does when confronted by the Americans -- cave in. This is one them when having a yellow streak comes in handy. Let the Americans destroy their own forests if they want.

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Buried Perspicacity

    There are numerous articles I wish to share, comment on, and simply offload from the last few weeks. I haven't had a chance. Blame the interruption of life. But that's a good thing. No it is.

  • Raunchy Burger King -- Burger King's has gone and done it again with marketing that targets the 18-to-34 set. First they had Subservient Chicken -- now, they have Coq Roq. Guys dressed as cocks, playing rock music. They certainly got some attention -- especially for the sexual overtones.

  • BusinessWeek: August 15, 2005
  • Podcast: David vs. Goliath -- Apple, the iPod and especially some do-it-yourselfer evangelists have combined to make podcasting one of the fastest technology adoptions in recent times. In less than a year, podcasting has moved from the realm of the geek domain of early adopters to the mainstream media companies. Sure, podcasting's potential is still being realized -- but, already the popular shows are more and more becoming those of the large media companies.

  • Blogging As You Go Belly Up -- here's a tale of a CEO of a small business that discovers blogging, as a means to getting closer to his customers and suppliers -- just when his business starts going under. He was advised to create a scandal in order to increase attention -- he got a little more than he bargained for. While he was blogging, his company went under. Was it because of his blog? Did it steal his attention away from his business? What he didn't expect, but also didn't stop, was the ferocious complaints from his customers and the soliciting from his competitors.

  • The Debate Over Doing Good -- For a long time, businesses didn't pay much attention to philanthropy -- yes, they gave, but it there wasn't much vision in the giving -- no direction. Now social responsibility is becoming a strategic imperative for businesses. It has become a requirement for them to be a participative member of their communities, the communities of their customers and employees. Companies are now beholden to not just shareholders, but also their stakeholders. And there is a value proposition. Companies that address their stakeholders are more likely to fare better under public scrutiny; attract an inspired workforce; and gain customer loyalty.

  • Big Mess on Campus -- here's a book review of a book parents with kids heading to post-secondary education would do well to read. Binge: What Your College Student Won't Tell You, by Barrett Seaman, is quite the revelation. I never had this university experience. I had experiences -- but I was never experienced.

  • BusinessWeek: August 8, 2005
  • Revenge of the Nerds -- Again -- Google and Yahoo! are on a hiring binge, and the best and brightest from other tech companies are slowly being lured away. The nerds are on the move, and it's not for money or status -- it's for the primary motivator of the brilliant -- compelling problems and freedom to be creative in solutioning them. Makes me jealous, but I realize I'm not smart enough to be jealous.

  • Blogs Under Its Thumb -- blogs are rapidly growing in China, despite the censorship of anything democratic, political or explicitly sexual -- those wanting that content have to host somewhere else. Try as they might though, the Chinese government has already opened Pandora's box. There is no closing it. Call it the quiet, peaceful, social revolution.

  • The State of Surveillance -- to some degree, Britain was more prepared for terrorism at home than the US was in 2001. They had years to prepare, due to the IRA operating in their backyard. Despite that preparation, and the heightened alert since 9/11, some amateurs still managed to wreck havoc. All the preparation wasn't prepared to stop someone who didn't care if they were on camera, as they were bent on killing as many people as they could, and themselves. The future of the high-tech surveillance society is coming however, and it promises to stop the bad guys before they can kill -- but it will do so most likely by taking away some of our freedoms -- or making us all watchers. Today we have cameras, bomb sniffers, biometrics and chemical/bio detectors. Coming soon are millimeter-wave cameras and vein maps. Not too far off are t-ray cameras and nano-chemical sensors. And, on the horizon are remote iris tracking, ears and gait detection, odor sensors, saliva scans and universal sensors.

  • How Motorola Got Its Groove Back -- the recent success of Motorola's Razor is an example of a new push by western companies to emphasize creativity and innovation. Read how Motorola did it.
  • Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    Bush Moronics

    Further evidence that the American Empire truly is declining -- George W. Bush has come out in favour of teaching students in American schools, not just the theory of evolution, but also "intelligent design."

    The Secret Life of Sperm

    Nature has a neat article summarizing recent results coming from the new light being shed on sperm. Long thought of just the "delivery boys" for male DNA to the egg, studies are now questioning whether there isn't more going on in the sperm. The studies promise to bring further understanding to fertility and the evolution of sex. Studies are showing that defects in sperm can result in the disruption of embryo development and could be a cause for miscarriages. Sperm can be broken into three sections: the tail, that propels the sperm to its destination; the mid-section that has an array of mitochondria to power the tail; and the head, that contains the DNA, but also messenger RNA and proteins. It's the RNA and proteins that are causing researchers to question their understanding of sperm. When the sperm enters the egg, the entire sperm goes in -- tail and all. It isn't only the DNA that is released into the egg, but also the RNA and proteins. The proteins that get delivered by sperm, and the protein that the RNA is coded for, seems to be important for embryo development and affects the activities of genes. Some of the RNA delivered by the sperm are unique -- not existing in the egg already. This has led researchers to conclude that the sperm is more than just a DNA delivery mechanism, but an active participant with the egg in creating and developing the embryo -- new findings that are showing just how miraculous life really is.

    Sperm

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    10 Years That Changed the World

    Wired, August 2005
    Wired's latest cover article examines technology's navel lint of the past 10-years -- the years of excitement, the ups and downs, the bazillions that was made and lost, and how we're all better for where it got us. Wired credits Netscape going public 10-years ago with giving the power to the people -- acting as a catalyst for the growth of the web, and allowing such concepts as blogs, wikis, peer-to-peer and open source to in turn be a catalyst for social transformation. Yes, social transformation. The web, the internet, and all those hyperlinks out there didn't amount to a squat in the world of commerce when compared to its impact on culture. Today, we hardly know what the internet truly is -- it's vast, interconnected, redundant, etc., etc. -- but what does all of that truly mean? We can physically describe it and understand how its parts function to make the whole -- but what the impact of the internet on us is hardly understood -- and what lasting effect its transformative influence will have on global culture is something that's probably only visible with hindsight.

    With hindsight, the Wired article takes us back to visit the last 10-years, to gaze upon the wonder of the world we have become. It's a marvelous, scary, otherworldly world. It's a world so rich and complex that it challenges our imagination. Looking back, only a few had an inkling of what was going to happen -- but they only saw the technologies. They only saw the bits and bytes of the details. The world that eventually materialized from those zeros and ones was a world none of them saw coming.

    Saturday, August 06, 2005

    Relativity Revisited

    In celebration of the Year of Physics, the journal Nature is making available online, the 1921 special issue that celebrated Einstein's theory of general relativity. The issue includes articles by Einstein, Cunningham, Dyson, Lorentz, and Eddington. Now, how often do you find such giants in one publication?

    Google and Privacy

    A CNet article postulating on the potential danger of the personal data being amassed by search engine companies paints a scary picture. Google has been taking the brunt of the fear of what it could do with the personal information, but consumers remain relatively unconcerned because the Google brand represents such trust -- but we should never forget that Google and the other online giants that gather personal information, are private companies, and are not necessarily providing a public service for altruism.

    Search engines knows where you're been online, what you've done there, and by combining data, could infer why you're doing it. Could such data be used to build a risk profile on individuals? Could the law enforcement authorities use such information to scan for citizens who may pose a danger -- in profile only -- to the public? You bet. Alternatively, more and more of such information is seeping into the public domain exactly because search engines are so good. In effective, the public could also do some watching -- although not at the granular detail that search engines capture.

    Yahoo! Audio Search

    Yahoo! has launched the beta version of their audio search. The new search engine has apparently catalogued audio files from around the internet -- music and voice, including those on sale at online music stores. In one fell swoop, Yahoo! has moved to position itself as the gateway to online music stores, the same way other search engines, especially Google, has positioned themselves as the gateway to great information storehouse of the internet. Interestingly enough, the results for music searches provides a list of competing online music stores, one of which is Yahoo!'s Music Unlimited store. It opens the possibility that Yahoo! could use it search function to undercut prices offered by competing stores, by automatically adjusting prices in the search results. Whoever said that internet search was a public service?

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
    I just finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It's taken me quite some time to finish the 782-pages tale of English magic, English magicians and whole lot more of just plain English. I'm now all Englished out. Clarke's novel is set in the late nineteenth century, and follows the adventures of one Mr. Norrell, a boring, bookish, selfish and very British, magician, and his quite different pupil, Jonathan Strange -- who grows beyond his master and eventually becomes a rival. I won't dwell to much on the story, as summaries are available online. The story is an enticing one, and has garnered comparisons with J.K. Rowling -- although that seems to be more from people who haven't read Clarke's novel, because the comparisons couldn't be more wrong. Rowling is entertaining -- Clarke on the other hand has a good story on her hands, but goes on to suffer the reader with her Jane Austen imitative. In fact, Clarke's writing has more in common with Austen's than it does with Rowling. If you happen to think Austen is a bore, then you won't want to pick this novel up.

    I think Austen is a bore, and so I suffered through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story was encased in the plodding details of English society and norms. Clarke has a fascination with the English language, English society and bringing characters to life. As painful as her character development was -- and the endless footnotes on quite unremarkable facets of magic -- her characters do come to life. She succeeds in getting the readers into their heads. I stayed with the book however, because the story was good. Towards the end I could hardly put it down, as Clarke took her reader plummeting to the conclusion. After the slow, plodding story, the pace at which it was concluded was refreshing -- although it left me wanting, as Clarke no longer shared what was happening within her characters heads.

    Read this book at your own risk. It's not an easy read, and requires quite a bit of patience. It could have been cut down quite a bit and still be just as effective. The book is already being adapted for the silver screen, so expect it in theatres in a few years. Don't expect it to be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings however, English society of the late nineteenth century is way too dour for such action.

    Masala! Mehndi! Masti!

    I was at the Masala! Mehndi! Masti! South Asian festival at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre tonight, with my youngest. The festival started on Wednesday of this week, and will run through the weekend to Sunday. Early predictions put the visitors to the festival at topping 100,000 people. From what we saw tonight, I'm sure they will surpass that number. There were a lot of people there. So many, that it made leaving -- even early -- like pushing through molasses. It was a good night though. The wind was great coming off the lake -- it wasn't cold, nor hot. Almost perfect. My youngest and I dined on Indian food -- there were many stalls under the food tent, and every one of them was Indian, serving pretty much the same things. We caught two performances: Tantra and Tina Sugandh. Tantra played classical Indian music, and the guys were really good. An old idiot in front of us kept shouting out at them to play some "raaja" between each piece they played. Tina Sugandh was something else. She started out by herself on the stage, dancing and singing some pop tune (in English). I wanted to get the hell out of there. She was strutting like Britney Spears wannabe. However, she followed her first number with a catchy tune that included her band. The best came when she invited her parents onto the stage to play some traditional hindi music -- a couple of which I recognized. The audience actually came alive when her parents joined her -- and not just because of the traditional songs -- her dad has quite the stage presence. Tina Sugandh herself appeared at times to just be trying way too hard.


    Masala! Mehndi! Masti! @ Toronto's Harbourfront Centre

    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Random Sites

    43 Places -- this is a blog-type community that makes the world a smaller place. It allows users to share the places they live in with the world. It also allows travellers to share their experiences of different places they've visited. The community it creates, allows people who wish to visit places, to ask questions of those who live there, or have traveled there. An interesting concept. If you have a blog, 43 Places will also help you get your posts at 43 Places to automagically update your own blog.

    DONTCLICK.IT -- this is an experiment in interface design ... I think. The interface of this website can be navigated by moving the mouse around, no clicking required. If however, you can't break from the clicking habit, they suggest the mousewrap -- a painful way of getting you off the habit.

    Yotophoto -- this is a photo search engine that targets free-to-use stock photos and images. You search for an image, read the license terms, and then use the photo in your project.

    Portable Freeware -- here's a site that's a hacker's dream. It takes you back to the good ole days, when coders coded code -- code that was easy, easy to use. The site catalogues freeware applications that can be downloaded, extracted into a directory, and run -- without installation. This allows you to load up portable storage media with these apps and walk around with your own geek bag of tricks. Neato!

    Copyscape -- another interesting search engine. Enter a URL of a specific page on your site, and Copyscape searches the web to see if you've been plagiarized.

    the Wonderful World of Longmire -- just a whole lot of silliness!

    Wednesday, August 03, 2005

    Tobermory Vacation Photos

    I've uploaded some of my vacation photos from Tobermory to my Webshots account. Enjoy, and tell me what you think!

    Click for the Album.

    A Scanner Darkly

    Another Philip K. Dick novel is being adapted to the big screen. Starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane, A Scanner Darkly tells a tale set in the not too distant future, where the war on drugs has been lost, and an undercover cop is set against his friends. It's a Philip K. Dick story, so it's bound to be good if the adaptation doesn't screw too much with it. The movie has an interesting twist with the use of interpolated rotoscoping to transform the live action footage to animation. The trailer gives a preview of what's in store for us in 2006. It looks visually stunning.

    A Scanner Darkly
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