Saturday, February 24, 2007

Indigènes / Days of Glory (2006)

Indigènes -- a French term used for the African soldiers during the second world war, meaning "natives" -- is a more appropriate title for this movie, than the English release title, Days of Glory. There was little glorious about the participation of North African soldiers in the French army of WWII. Although the North Africans fought for the French motherland, France was hardly open arms for the Africans -- if anything, to this day, those soldiers that are still alive continue to be marginalized and not treated with the same respect of their French counterparts. The movie is about France's shame -- a shame that some are willing to acknowledge, but others, like those of the National Front, dismiss as lies.

Indigènes follows a group of Algerians who join the French army as they fight through Italy and Provence to liberate France from the Nazis -- focusing on four, each having their own reasons for fighting in defense of their colonizer. Abdelkader believes in the French ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité; Yassir is there just to get rich, liberating treasures wherever they're found; Saïd wants to escape poverty at home -- and Messaoud is looking to find a new life and love in France. Along the way, they are tested and transformed by the war and the bigotry they encounter.

The individual stories are powerful and superbly performed. The injustices are painful to watch. This is history, but also a potent mirror on the state of the world. The injustices continue today. The hope of the characters crushed with their fallen bodies; with history that continues to repeat itself; with bigotry that remains unchanged. The movie is powerful and moving, and hopefully will be seen by more than just the converted. This is a war movie of two wars -- with one that continues to be fought today, in desperate need of more infantry. Liberté, égalité, and fraternité: it shouldn't be so hard to accomplish.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth is an amazing movie, set in Francisco Franco's Spain, at the closing of World War II. It tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who's mother is remarried to the brutal fascist, Captain Vidal -- and is pregnant with his son. Ofelia and her mother are not loved by Vidal -- he considers Ofelia a nuisance and her mother only a vessel for his son. While waiting for his son to arrive, Vidal goes about reigning terror on the populace of small town and hunting down Republican rebels. In this horrible world, Ofelia seeks comfort, and finds it surprisingly one night, in the form of a praying mantis that morphs into a fairy. The fairy leads Ofelia to a hidden labyrinth, where she meets a faun, who tells Ofelia that she is Princess Moanna of the underworld, and he has been looking for her to return her home. To prove that she has her essence intact, the faun instructs Ofelia to complete three tasks before the next full moon.

Ofelia sets about to complete her tasks as the world around her tumbles out of control. Ofelia's mother is sick and is getting worse as the pregnancy nears term; Mercedes, the servant who cares for Vidal's household and has a bond with Ofelia, is a spy for the Republican rebels; Vidal trusts no one, and grows more malevolent -- capturing and torturing rebels, killing anyone who gets in his way. Ofelia completes her first task fairly easily by retrieving a golden key from the stomach of a giant frog that lives at the root of a dying tree. She runs into trouble in her second task however, which sends her to the lair of the Pale Man to retrieve a dagger. She is warned by the faun not to eat anything from the Pale Man's table -- but she samples grapes which wakes the Pale Man who quickly gobbles up two of the faeries. Ofelia barely escapes, but the faun, upset at the death of his faeries, declares that Ofelia will never go back to the underworld and leaves her.

Alone, Ofelia bears witness to the death of her mother and the birth of her brother. Vidal grows more nasty, and captures Mercedes and Ofelia trying to flee. Ofelia is locked up, while Mercedes is taken to be tortured. When all hope is lost to Ofelia, the faun reappears to give her a last chance, only if she promises to obey his directives. She is told to steal her baby brother and bring him to the labyrinth in order to return home. She doesn't understand the instructions, but obeys, in hopes of leaving the horror behind. At the labyrinth, Ofelia is told by the faun that innocent blood, that of her baby brother, must be spilt in order for her to return home. She is horrified, and refuses. At this the faun leaves, but Vidal catches up with Ofelia and shoots her after retrieving his son. As Ofelia dies, she is transported to the underworld. There she sees the King and Queen -- the Queen looking just like her dead mother from the world above ground. She is told that she had completed her third task well, and had made the right choice in not sacrificing her brother.

All ends well ... or does it? The movie never confirms whether Ofelia's fantasy world is real, or just a place for she escapes to in her imagination. No one other than Ofelia sees the magical creatures or objects from the underworld, that she comes into contact with. Even in her dying breath, as we see the underworld, and see the Queen, we are left to suppose that maybe it was just her imagination, as the Queen looks like Ofelia's dead mother. The movie tells a sad story, with the only hope to be found in Ofelia's fantasy world. If her fantasy world isn't real ... then the story truly is a bitter pill.

Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish language film, originally titled El Laberinto del Fauno, that is written and directed by Guillermo del Toro -- the great director of such hits as Hellboy and El Espinazo del Diablo. (In fact, del Toro has commented that El Laberinto del Fauno may in some ways be thought of as a sequel to El Espinazo del Diablo.) The film is dark and melancholy, with the fantasy elements blended seamlessly into reality-setting of the film. While del Toro is a superb storyteller however, in this movie, as with some of his previous films, there is a lack of depth to his main characters. While Ofelia is played extremely well by an eleven-year-old Ivana Baquero, her character isn't developed as well as it could have been. Left unexplored is the little girl who could be so imaginative as to perhaps invent a fantasy world to escape to. Del Toro instead, stayed at a fairytale level with his storytelling, requiring his audience to accept the story as-is -- which is OK, but some depth would have been better. The same could be said of Mercedes and Vidal. The audience isn't given enough depth to either one -- although it's easy to not miss the depth in Vidal, as Sergi López's performance as an evil tyrant was superb.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

SCO vs. Pamela Jones

SCO's Blowhard
Desperate times are at hand -- have been at hand -- and continues to be at hand, over at SCO. Desperate times also seem to bring out the conspiracy theorists -- but then again, when you're flipping insane, which is a safe description of anyone still in the employ of SCO -- the jump to conspiracy theorist could be achieved with just a small little stumble, no leap required. SCO is now going after a long-time critic of their suit against IBM, Pamela Jones, a blogger on Groklaw. SCO is trying to find Jones to serve her with a deposition to appear in court because they suspect she isn't real, but is actually a team of IBM lawyers spreading propaganda against SCO. Only problem is, they can't find her.

Yeah, and right now, I'm Data Mirror lawyer trying to bring an end to Teilhard.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Are we wrong about climate change?

Climate Change
The UK Sunday Times carries an article suggesting that the 2,500 scientists from 130 countries were simply wrong in their findings that global warming is happening and human activity is the main contributor. Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, writes that perhaps a greater contributor to the recent changes in the global climate may be solar in orgin. Calder presents evidence that changes in the Sun's magnetic field may be temporarily changing the nature of the shield that protects the solar system from cosmic rays originating from extrasolar sources.

The evidence Calder presents is plausible. This is science for you. The debate continues. The truth hasn't been found. In every scientific field, until proposed theories can stand up to critics, they continue to face scrutiny. What the general public fail to understand is that this is just science at work. It's slow, tedious, sometimes sure of itself, sometimes not -- and regardless, could be wrong. That's how it is.

In this case, a couple of thousand scientists could be wrong. But when the vast majority warn of impending doom unless we change our ways, and there are few a credible naysayers that contradict them, I think the prudent choice is to heed the warning. Even if the conclusions are wrong, the fact still remain that we're altering our climate, environment and life on this planet for the worse. That should be enough of a wake up call to panic and do something about it. We have the means today. There's no excuse. The only thing that prevents us is the will to do the right thing -- regardless of the debate over the cause of climate change.

EU to Whip Floggers

The EU is set to introduce new rules to turn the screws on businesses and individuals who use blogs, forums or other online entities to misrepresent themselves as consumers. As more consumers take to the internet looking for reviews and information on products and services, the more businesses are realizing that they can influence consumer habits by creating the opinions that consumers seek. You would think with the risk, businesses would not misrepresent themselves -- surprisingly however, many do, or take third parties on the payroll to spin the yarn for them. Next year, companies that get caught representing their opinions as that of consumers will be recognized as such by a trading standards body -- or will face prosecution. It's great that the EU is taking consumer rights seriously, even as they continue to erode in North America. Our governments could learn something here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bridezilla and flogs

You can't even trust the bloggers anymore. Advertising has insidiously wormed its way into blogs, podcasts and videocasts. Is nothing sacred anymore? Actually, nothing was ever sacred when it came to advertising. Next time you read a blog, ask yourself if it's for real, or if it is some machination of a corporate spin department. Read more at the National Post.

Securely Providing Advertising Subsidized Computer Usage

What were they thinking when they filed this patent? Microsoft has filed the Securely providing advertising subsidized computer usage patent last week with the US Patent office. The patent proposes a method to provide free computer access in exchange for eyeballs staring at advertising. Sounds like an idea that has been tried and failed already, except Microsoft adds a new twist to it. They will guarantee that consumption of the advertisements by the user has actually happened by having the user interact with the ad. If the user doesn't provide the correct response, the free computer will cease to be free. Who would go for such a deal? Well, Microsoft doesn't specifically say, but they're targeting you and me, including the kiddies who are in school. Yup, you got that right -- schools.

The patent itself presents nothing remarkable. Eyeballs for free stuff has been around for a while, but this patent does stand a chance of making it, thanks to inept US Patent Office. I've always had a problem with process patents, and this is one of them, that conjures nothing remarkable. I wouldn't be too surprised if the lawyer that filed this patent wasn't the idiot that actually came up with the brain dead scheme.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

YouTube Censorship

People seem surprised when they are censored, have accounts deleted and generally get their asses kicked off web 2.0 properties. They shouldn't be. Recently, Nick Gisburne gained the attention of YouTube staffers for the wrong reason. YouTube claims that Gisburne had had too many videos flagged as inappropriate, and wasn't stopping his uploads, so they deleted his account, all his videos and the community that had been subscribing to his work. What Gisburne uploaded and why YouTube found it offensive is one point here, and I'll get to it in a bit -- first however, people, Gisburne included, continue to feel they have ownership of the community they've created on top of the YouTube -- or any other web 2.0 -- platform. The truth couldn't be further from this supposition. The communities created by user generated content doesn't actually belong to the content creators, and can very quickly dissipate in an interpretation of the terms of use policy. YouTube, like other companies, include a caveat that specifically warns that terms of use could be violated if a submission contains
  • falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage YouTube or any third party;
  • material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate.
That pretty much shuts the door to any content other than the carefully scripted, banal fodder that is fed to the comatose patrons of television land. Have you visited YouTube lately? Much of what is there is shit. Gisburne learned this hard way, twice.

Whatever his intentions, Gisburne's video posts definitely conspire to evoke a response -- perhaps even [gasp] a dialogue. What Gisburne is guilty of is posting videos of select Bible and Qu'ran quotes -- some of the more gory and violent aspects of the holy books. The result has been remarkable. Apparently, YouTube repeatedly removes and deletes accounts where quotes from the Qu'ran are used -- but, they leave the Bible equivalent, online. Obviously, YouTube believes it will take some heat for allowing the Qu'ran videos from Islamic fundamentalists -- but feel that they can handle the Christian right. So what's with the double-standard YouTube? Other than the standard line of inappropriateness, YouTube has not publicly responded to the charges.

The Qu'ran verses.
(This video may not work for long.)

The Bible verses.


Here's a community site that caters to the denizens of the cubicles, factories and other places of toil, where life goes to pay penance for the little respite it is afforded. The site aims to make the pain a little less, by giving you the inside dope on managers and companies -- allowing you to query your future before you sign your life away. Thus far, there doesn't appear to be much content on the site -- and of course, it's heavily focused on the US. I wonder how long it will take before corporate HR types descend to populate the site with propaganda. Hmm ... being a manager myself, maybe I should shout out my own accolades before my staff tear a strip off my hide!

Guardian of the Realm (2004)

What a load of poop! That's what Guardian of the Realm was. The premise of the movie had the makings of b-movie gold, but alas, the execution rusted the gold potential and make it into poop. The movie is about demons -- those denizens of hell that want to take over the world to turn it into hell. I could never understand the motivation. Wouldn't it be a whole lot better to have the world the way it is and just keep messing with humans? I suppose demons aren't that smart ... but neither are the people in this movie, and none of them apparently, had seen a horror movie.

A bunch of derelict choir boys started off this little adventure by freeing a demon that had been imprisoned by Buddhist monks centuries earlier. If these guys had seen horror movies, they would have know that the first thing the freed demon would do is kill them. Which is what happened -- more or less -- a couple of them had their bodies used as hosts for other demons. Meanwhile, the uber-demon, picks the girlfriend, Nikki (played by Lana Piryan), of one of the losers, to inhabit. In no time, Nikki manages to shed her everyday clothes and don the latest in goth-chick-demon-wear. This of course is standard fare for the genre, and is suppose to work when you have no story, no acting and just all around crap to deliver. Demon-Nikki then sets out to kill and find an innocent to sacrifice on the next full moon, so s/he could finally come to full power, rain balls of fire on humanity and remake the place with the latest decor from hell.

Set against Demon-Nikki is Josh Griffin (played by Glen Levy) and Alex Marlowe (played by Tanya Dempsey), who belong to a secret, high-tech group of bounty hunters. The dialogue between Josh and Alex will leave you squirming more than any of the horror to be found in this movie. It's totally laughable. At least Demon-Nikki tries -- but the accent that Lana Piryan has just make her lines sound like a joke as well. Josh and Alex gets help from other demon fighters and their switchboard operators that seem to have more computing resources than the CIA at their fingertips. Along the way, there are demons to be slain, detective work to be done and driving around in a cheap Ford sports car. Josh and Alex bond by admiring each others choice of weapons, in which has got to be one of the most excruciating painful scenes in a movie. The dialogue and acting was so terrible!

The movie eventually came to a dull ending, with lots of kung-fu fu moves against grimacing demons; some sword play; the emergence of the demon to full power to battle our hero, the newly blessed, Josh. Alex you find out in the finale, is an angel, and s/he does some mystical hocus pocus to transfer the angel-power to Josh. It's as bad as it sounds. This movie makes Buffy look good. I recommend it for those nights when you can't get to sleep and you want some entertainment as light up that giant stogie you've been saving for a special occasion.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama vs. Clinton

I hate to be cynical about this. But the Obama-Clinton battle is just a waste of time. The Democrats need to field a candidate that actually have a chance of winning. America will not elect a black president, no matter how qualified, or how effective a promise he is. Neither will America elect a woman president, no matter how qualified, or how effective a promise she is. The Clinton-Obama contest is only a distraction to the Democratic Party and entertainment for the American people, because at the last moment, they will elect the Republican idiot. Why? There are many more stupid Americans than there are smart ones. That's the problem with democracies. One person, one vote, no matter how ill-informed and unqualified that person is, they have equal voice.

Ah ... but it's nice to dream, isn't it?

Screwed by Comcast

Ever been screwed by the man? Then you will find this story of Frank and Elizabeth's abuse by Comcast quite familiar. Frank and Elizabeth run a small business, and use Comcast for broadband access to the internet. Their business depends on it. One day, they tried to use the internet and found out to their dismay, that they were disconnected. Comcast had disconnected them as they had violated their unlimited usage account by exceeding their bandwidth cap. WTF??? Yes, you read correctly. Unlimited usage apparently doesn't mean unlimited bandwidth usage. It means there is a bandwidth limit. When Frank contacted Comcast to find out how he violated the terms of the contract, they told him he used too much bandwidth, but refuse to tell him what the limit was, as they couldn't divulge that information to customers. WTF???

Right. So, think it couldn't happen to you? It has happened to me -- with Rogers, right here in Toronto. Rogers suspended my account a couple of times for excessive bandwidth usage, and when I contacted them, they refuse to even tell me how much bandwidth I had used -- and by how much I went over -- and, like Frank, I have an unlimited usage account. So, where does that leave us? Consumers have little-to-no protection in situations like this, as no one has yet launched a class action suit against these bozos. The government, the FTC down south and the CRTC here, are just not that interested in consumers. The other thing, the abuse of language. Unlimited. It means unlimited! Nothing but.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Throw Down Your Arms: Sinéad O'Connor

I've been listening to Sinéad O'Connor's Throw Down Your Arms and The Black Album for a couple of weeks now -- and whatever people may say of O'Connor's personal life, her public life, and everything in between, she does have a great a voice.

Throw Down Your Arms, released in 2005, is O'Connor's foray into reggae music and was produced by reggae gods Sly Stone and Robert Shakespeare. The album is a double CD release, with one CD featuring the original versions of the songs performed by O'Connor, while the second has dub versions. If you haven't heard O'Connor doing reggae, it's certainly something. If you're an O'Connor fan, you might take to it -- even if you're not a fan of reggae music. If you're a reggae fan, this album may take some playing before it takes hold. Surprisingly however, the album has apparently been receiving good reviews. The album contains some pretty good songs, including Downpressor Man and Bob Marley's War -- which O'Connor has performed live on a number of occasions to mixed reaction, mostly due to the politics she brought to the performances. (Incidentally, Throw Down Your Arms was released on October 4, to coincide with the anniversary of Haile Selassie's speech to the UN.) Curly Locks and Vampire however, are my current favourite on the album. Curly Locks is sweet, while Vampire is weird, but has a great beat.

The Black Album is a bootleg album, consisting of 8 CDs, that was released back in 2001. It features songs that O'Connor voiced, sometimes with other artists, but were never released on any of her albums. Some are singles, live versions or were released on tribute, charity or other artists albums. This album is for the fan, and you can probably get it on eBay. It's not available for public sale, being a bootleg. Some of my favourites from The Black Album include: Release with Afro Celt Sound System; You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart with U2; Vampire (Empire) with Bomb the Bass; Kingdom of Rain with The The; Monkey in Winter with The Colourfield; The Foggy Dew with The Chieftans -- a song so sad, that on occasion, has choked me up; Visions of You with Jah Wobble; The Wild Rover with Soldat Louis and Shane MacGowan; live and remix versions of Fire on Babylon and Troy; an extended version of Madinka; Mraya with Abdel Ali Slimani; Guide Me God with Ghostland; Everyman's An Island with Jah Wobble; The Value of Ignorance; Be Still with Feargal Sharkey; a remix of But We Hungry (Them Belly Full); and This is a Rebel Song. Like I said, you've got to be a fan.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Canada on Net Neutrality

Michael Geist has the early warning on the Conservative government's leanings on the net neutrality issue -- and it ain't good for consumers. In the post, Geist provides evidence that government is aware of the telcos intent on prioritizing and levying fees on internet traffic that travel their networks, and don't intend to do much about it. The government is content to sit this one out, abdicating their responsibilities to Canadians to the debate that is happening in the US on the topic. However, policy makers have been successfully lobbied by the telco industry, and from the evidence Geist published, have already determined that the government's position will be to leave consumers at the mercy of the carriers. That means is the gatekeepers to internet content is shaping up to be the telecommunication industry -- who have been steadily rolling out their own content. This just can't be good for any of us.

Updated: Feb. 12, 2006
  • Geist tears into Maxime Bernier, Minister for Industry in today's issue of the Toronto Star, exposing Bernier for what he is: a "parrot [to] the corporate line" of the telecom industry, aka Bell, Telus and now Rogers. Bernier is not only content to tow the corporate line, he makes absolutely no excuses for it, going so far as to counter the government's own commission on the subject,
    which recommended that Canada introduce legal protections to "confirm the right of Canadian consumers to access publicly available Internet applications and content of their choice by means of all public telecommunications networks providing access to the Internet."
    From Bernier's perspective,
    "market forces have served Canadians well when it comes to the Internet. Public policy must consider a number of aspects of this broad issue, including consumer protection and choice [and] enabling market forces to continue to shape the evolution of the Internet infrastructure, investment and innovation to the greatest extent feasible."
    [Thanks to DH for this article.]

The Psychology of Security

Bruce Schneier has an essay exploring the psychology of security [PDF] posted on his site. In it, he points out that we're rather irrational beings who are driven by primitive motives buried in our psyche. Most of the time. we're unaware of our subconscious biases -- yet, those biases play a large role in the decisions we make on security -- security of our businesses and our computer systems. We can be driven by fear or the optimism bias. With fear, we tend to exaggerate the risks, and tradeoff freedom and flexibility, for more security. With the optimism bias, we tend to think that the worst would never happen to us, but rather to someone else, and tradeoff security, for freedom and flexibility. Being aware of the irrational responses to security is fairly important, in order to know when your fear or optimism bias are being manipulated by those driven by their own agendas. It's also important for you to know that you have irrational tendencies -- and perhaps, being aware, use facts and logic to dictate your response to security issues.

On a related note, check out this Wired article on how fears can be manipulated.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jobs on DRM

Steve Jobs has published his thoughts on music, and basically, what it boils down to is that DRM sucks, and you can blame the music industry for it. A lot of people have been pushing Apple, being the largest supplier of DRM-protected music, to either open FairPlay to the industry to allow interoperability, or drop DRM altogether. As Jobs points out, this isn't really his call. The music industry -- the big four -- have placed the DRM restriction on digital music distribution, in order to control distribution of their music. As crazy as it may seem, the music industry however, has not wholeheartedly embraced DRM. For the 2 billion of DRM-protected songs that were sold online last year, there were 20 billion songs sold by the music industry, completely DRM-free, via unprotected CDs. Why do they do this? Because the music industry wants to make sure their songs can be played by as many CD players as possible, and those device manufacturers have not included DRM in their CD players. With the MP3 player market however, the music industry saw an opportunity to take consumers hostage and extract payments for the same song on multiple devices. This is not about piracy. If it was, CDs would be DRM protected.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tagish Lake Meteorite

A meteorite that crashed into the frozen Tagish Lake, Yukon, in 2000, is causing quite the stir in scientific circles. The meteorite, a carbonaceous chondrite, containing carbon, silicates and amino acids, may be an example of the wombs from which life as we know it, got started. That in itself is remarkable, but even more remarkable, is the age of the meteorite. It has been dated to be older than our solar system, and contain embedded grains which may be billions of years older than the meteorite itself. The grains are composed of isotopes that could only be formed in extremely cold environments, such as molecular clouds or protosolar discs -- celestial objects from which our solar system would later coalesce from. The meteorite is the oldest object we have yet found on Earth.

How cool is that?!

Beyond the Green Corporation

Meeting humanity's needs without harming future generations. It's an old ideal, broadly endorsed by economic development experts, environmentalists, and human rights activists, but formerly too touchy-feely for many American business leaders. Now, however, it's at the top of the agenda of growing numbers of U.S. CEOs, especially young ones.
BusinessWeek introduced sustainability to its audience in a recent issue that looked at the progress corporate social responsibility has made in recent times. Sustainability is no longer the fad that businesses pay lip-service to in order to appease employees and customers, while they continue to reap the rewards of plunder. Sustainability is now a strategic business imperative, that corporations gambol with at their peril. In the developed nations, corporations are no longer secure in their stations in industry. Product differentiators are fast disappearing, while the importance of lifestyle marketing and brand value is on the increase. Loyalty is transient, as more choices become available from the global market. Regulatory constraints likewise continue to put the squeeze on businesses to adapt to survive.

The playground of third world nations is not so nice anymore, either. Product, brand and price loyalty are all in a flux as the state of consumer behaviour evolve rapidly. The value of brand however, remains important. While regulations remain in disarray, they are also catching up to those of the developed nations, and companies that abuse their stations, flout their future for tactical gains. Today's corporate giants are being supplanted by homegrown businesses in the developed nations. Where does that leave today's high flyers? In strategically precarious terrain. Seems apt, since these corporate powerhouses have been on a feeding frenzy for so long without any payback.

So why are businesses doing it? Fear would seem a big motivator, but if only it was that simple. Corporations are motivated to create shareholder value -- to be greedy, in simple terms. And it's turning out that sustainability isn't such a bad gig after all. More and more, evidence is mounting that doing good actually does have a payoff. With the shifts in consumer behaviour and focus on the environment, smart businesses are seeing the lucrative payoffs in store for those that get on the bandwagon early. While the evidence remains mixed on short term financial performance, more CEOs, especially younger ones, are placing bets that longer term, being socially responsible is bound to payoff. Logically, it does make sense. Do good to the environment, communities you operate in and the needy-world at large, and you're bound to have happier employees, welcoming communities and customers that give you a place in their lives.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What We Don't Know

Wired Magazine is running a cover article this month on the really BIG questions -- 42 of them to be exact -- by John Hodgman, nerd in chief on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. It's an easy pop-science read, good to fill the void of a perfectly boring day, without the loss of brain cells that usually accompany a dose of television. Here, to tickle your curiosity, are the questions I found of interest:
  • Is time an illusion?
  • How does a fertilized egg become human?
  • Why do we sleep?
  • How can observation affect the outcome of an experiment?
  • How do entangled particles communicate?
  • What is the universe made of?
  • Is time travel possible?
  • What happens to information in a black hole?
  • How does the brain calculate movement?
  • How does the brain produce consciousness?
  • Is the universe actually made of information?
  • Can mathematicians prove the Riemann hypothesis?
  • Why do we die when we do?
  • What causes gravity?
So, why exactly 42 questions? A nerd would know the answer to that one.

McDonald's 24/7

Super-size Me
The typical American, with time constraints and family with conflicting schedules, dine out around five times a week. An unbelievable number of time nosh at the McDonald's trough. The number one fast food business feeds 27 million people every day, and its popular meal continues to be a double cheeseburger with fries. While the rest of the world is waking up to health reality of a population gorging its way to obesity -- McDonald's remains a throwback. Yes, you can find some healthier choices at McDonald's, but the company also refuses to change its tried and true, as it would mess would mess with the taste of the portly goodness it serves. Despite this, McDonald's is currently at the top of its game, and all indications predict they will continue to have an outsize share of the paunchy market.

McDonald's CEO revels in the knowledge that they have "cracked the code in the United States" -- that Americans love to eat -- all the time -- and are too lazy to cook for themselves. BusinessWeek is carrying a cover article on just how McDonald's plans to continue growing its relevance in the American market. McDonald's is going 24/7 in a big way. They achieved market saturation with locations, so know they're expanding their waistlines to fit the entire day. Franchisees are being encouraged to remain open all day long, to catch everyone who needs to nibble. This by itself isn't anything remarkable. Other fast food chains have been dabbling with the 24/7 concept, and retailers in general have been experimenting with extended hours to meet the needs of their particular demographic. What was revealing, was the insight on the typical McDonald's customer.

BusinessWeek introduced a Julie Brown, who drives her Hummer to McDonald's to pick up breakfast for her daughter and the rest of the high school swim team, while they practice. What's the typical breakfast Julie can find for her daughter? How about the McGriddle? That's two maple syrup filled pancakes sandwiched with a combination of either sausage, egg, cheese and bacon. Angie Stallings is so busy as well, that she takes her 13-year-old daughter to McDonald's at least three times every week, usually dining on the double cheeseburgers. Angie apparently doesn't have time to cook, but realizing what McDonald's will do to her waistline, she has started walking a mile at least four times a week. Hmm ... Hummer to McDonald's ... and walking off McDonald's because there's no time to cook ... are you getting the picture of a typical McDonalds customer?

Related links:

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why I'm Afraid of Vista

Microsoft's Windows Vista looks cool. I saw it the other day at a local computer store. I was tempted to install it to take a look, and perhaps even use it for sometime. (I have this freedom, as my company's enterprise license agreement with Microsoft allows me to use various pieces of software for development purposes.) While Vista is slick, supposedly more secure and perhaps provision some performance gains over previous MS operating systems, I'm still leery of it. Why? Well, I'm just not sure about MS' security -- and by this, I don't mean just the fight against viruses and spyware. I'm also concerned about MS' insistence of validating the OS and revalidating it on a regular basis by uploading data from my machine to MS HQ.

Now, I read on a post by Michael Geist that maybe I have even further cause for concern -- and those are buried in Vista's fine print. Apparently, even after I've obtained Vista, it's still not mine -- and not mine to use how I wish to use it. The MS fine print allows MS to remove software they deem as "spyware, adware, and other potentially unwanted software" -- although they don't define those terms, and MS is sole entity to determine what those terms mean. Further, as Geist points out,
the terms and conditions remove any doubt about who is in control by providing that "this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights." For those users frustrated by the software's limitations, Microsoft cautions that "you may not work around any technical limitations in the software."
As a consumer, if I want to use Vista, I have absolutely no choice. I have to accept their terms. However, an enterprise may not be in the same position, as they have more to bargain with. I'm concerned that MS has basically said that they have control over how you use the software you've purchased, and are effectively enforcing their control. Where else are such controls demanded and enforced?

Updated: Feb. 6, 2007
  • c|net's Robert Vamosi writes about Windows Vista's half-cocked firewall. It's a must read for those who are going to install Vista, as outbound firewall protection, while present, allows all outbound traffic flow by default.
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