Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Selling tactics at big box electronics stores

I helped a client buy a laptop recently and as a result, got to experience first-hand the tactics box store salespeople use to try to get more money into their till.

We knew exactly which model of laptop my client wanted, so there was no need to discuss that. The first thing the salesperson tried to do was add a printer. "No thanks." How about some anti-virus? The laptop only comes with a trial version of Norton which stops working after 6 months. "At which point we can simply buy the code online necessary to make it work longer - we don't need to buy anti-virus from the store." I didn't have the heart to tell the poor soul we wouldn't be using the on-board anti-virus at all, but getting a fantastic free product online instead.

But it didn't stop there. We were offered the obligatory 'extended warranty' speech. "We won't be needing that," But if your laptop breaks, we can fix it right here. If you don't get the extended warranty, you have to ship your laptop to the manufacturer. Unfortunately for the salesdude, I am aware that even if we do purchase the extended warranty, anything requiring a new part that isn't deemed a 'user replaceable part' and our laptop is still sent to the manufacturer. These box store repair shops aren't authorized repair outlets. Then he tries a desperation move to salvage the warranty debate. If your laptop needs to be 'in the shop' for more than a couple days, we provide a replacement free of charge. What they mean by that is 'We'll give you a new laptop as a loaner and charge your credit card the full purchase price of the loaner. When your laptop returns from repair, we take the loaner back and credit your card back.' Yes, that's how they do it. Pass.

But they weren't done trying to wrestle some extra cash from my client. Oh no. Your new laptop is pre-loaded with all sorts of trial software and isn't running at peak performance. We offer to set everything up, uninstall the junk software and give the thing a tune-up for $200. "That's OK," I said, "I'm his IT guy."

And we were done. You should have seen the look on our poor saleperson's face. He looked...... beaten.

At least the lyrics are in context

A group of 172 students at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) made a lip dub video clip to the song I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas - in one take.

Imagine an electric car that will recharge in 10 minutes

The kids at MIT are developing an electric car (really just a hacked Mercury sedan) that will go 320km (200 miles) on a charge and fully recharge in less than 11 minutes. They've already converted an old Porsche into an electric car.

Two issues: 1. The price would be high due to the expensive type of battery used ($80,000 so far). 2. There is no such recharge system in existence that would provide the power needed to recharge this car (350kW – enough electricity to power 20 houses at once).

Advertising... a waste of money

Pepsi doesn't feel that they need to advertise anymore. In the words of CEO Indra K. Nooyi, "Frankly, it just feels sort of weird and desperate to put all this energy into telling people what to drink. If they don't like it, then they don't like it."

LOL. The Onion is a funny web site, no?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rig this up to solar and you get free water

Atmospheric Water Systems thinks the best place to get your next glass of pure water, is from the air around you.

With a relative humidity of 50%, one of their consumer sized models can extract 8 gallons (30 litres) of water per day. It is filtered and delivered hot or cold.

Rev on the red line

I have a feeling only people born before 1970 would identify with this:

How many of you remember revving your engine before shutting off your car?

We don't do that anymore, do we? Heck, when was the last time you revved your engine (in neutral) at all?

(Motorcyclists don't count)

Beading the dirt out of your clothes

That's not a typo - beading, not beating.

New ideas for appliances to conserve their use of water (and detergent) just keep coming. There is a new clothes washing system that could save 90% of the amount of water used. This new system uses special nylon beads to tumble wash clothes with significantly less detergent and eliminates the need for tumble drying. Xeros claims that if everyone in the US switched, "it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road and would save 1.2 billion tons of water per year – the equivalent of 17 million swimming pools".

The beads can absorb dirt over hundreds of washes, and once they’ve been used they can be easily recycled.

Birth certificates - not just for people anymore

Time for a quick poll. If you bought a Cabbage Patch Kid (just work with me people) and opened the box to find that the birth certificate was missing, would you bring it back?

If you said yes, you side with Darlene, if you said no, I agree with you. I just don't see that the missing birth certificate is going to diminish the enjoy-ability factor of the doll. But that's just me.

But since Darlene made a big deal about getting one with its birth certificate included, I am now officially referring to her as a 'birther'. You knew I had to go there, didn't you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Airport security inspections could get nasty now

Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane with his shoe. Now we get our shoes inspected at airport security gates.

Some idiots thought they could blow up a plane mixing chemicals disguised as energy beverages and hair gel. Now we can only take 100ml of liquids and gels on a plane.

Now a terrorist has tried unsuccessfully to blow up a Saudi prince with a bomb in his ass.

Be afraid........

Sit and spin

Honda is working on a new personal mobility device. You steer by leaning.

It's kind of like a Segway for indoors that you sit on.

HAL "Hybrid Assistive Limb"

This is something that could really solve a lot of problems for people with mobility handicaps as it could potentially take a lot of wheelchairs out of the picture and offer freedom and independence to a lot of folks who have difficulty getting around. The video page's printed information (on the right of the page) explains a bit about the device.

Am I the only one that got visions of stormtroopers walking around watching this video?

Washing dishes using only steam

Dishwashers are relatively eco-friendly in their use of water and energy, but they still could be better. The Steam Dishwasher is a counter top design good enough for a small family. It uses pressurized steam to dislodge food particles on dishes and sanitize them at the same time. A hearty rinse after the cleaning process gives you squeaky clean dishes - with no detergent!

But it's even better. The water used in the steam and rinsing is collected in the recycling bay and using Membrane Technology, the grime and food particles are separated from the water. The clean water is recycled to be used again for the next wash. Contaminated water, too harsh for reusing is discarded and only then does the machine get more fresh water. Sanitized dishes, no soap, less water used - that's a good combination.

Privacy online..... there is none

Are you ready to get a little freaked out? Go to this web site to see what the internet (potentially) knows about where you've been online. The initial visit reveals which of the top 5000 web sites you've been to. The links on the left reveal much more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All that power has to come from somewhere...

Here's a page that measures the environmental impact of cell phones. The stat I found most interesting was how much energy is wasted leaving a cell phone plugged in after it has fully charged.

Now for a potential solution.... a solar powered cell phone charger / supplemental battery system by Novothink. Now your phone can run (at least partially) on the sun. I've read the specs - for casual mobile phone use, you'd need around 2 hours a day of exposure to the bright sun to stay off the grid (3.5 hours on a cloudy day supposedly). I think we need another step in the evolution of the efficiency of solar cells for this to become completely practical, as I think it's more reasonable to charge a phone in the sun in 30 minutes.

The new breed of car - from Europe

The latest European concept cars.

Less gas, more electricity, lots of speed if you want it.

It has begun

One of the obvious issues with early adopters of the electric car culture is the lack of a recharge infrastructure.

Well, in California, the first steps toward building that infrastructure are under way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The recharge stations are equipped with 30kW solar arrays, so the electricity is coming from a renewable resource, which is awesome.

Assuming the battery enigma isn't solved, hydrogen is the way to go

The problem with switching to a new alternative fuel infrastructure is that there's still debate over whether electric will win over hydrogen fuel cell as the preferred option, or maybe both will come out victorious. The confusion will not help car manufacturers woo consumers to their side easily.

In the meantime, Germany has decided to embrace the hydrogen economy and is preparing to outfit the country with a hydrogen infrastructure by 2015. This coincides with a revelation that most auto makers will have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2015 as well.

My take on this is that technology is changing too rapidly for wholesale infrastructure changes to keep up. Assume we do embrace the hydrogen solution like the Germans are doing, then battery technology sees a leap in technology - what then? I think the 'energy delivery' system of the future will need to be flexible enough to delivery energy in whatever form we need. Fill up stations of the future might even be the recycle point for bio-diesel, where restaurants dumps their old cooking oil and an on-site processing system filters out the food so that diesel cars can fill up with fuel that smells like fish n' chips.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wait...... what?

OK..... I just learned something new. You know Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay, right? Did you know her mother was Jayne Mansfield?

I did not know that.

[Update] Darlene informs me that she did tell me this once. All that matters however, is that my brain thinks it is new information and I present it to you as such. If I start repeating myself about other stuff, please....... keep it to yourself, OK?

There's still time.....

It's been a while since I stayed up until 3am. But last night (or should I say this morning?) I did just that in support of Loose Moose's 30 hour Improv Marathon. I was helping out between 10pm and 3am and got to watch the Midnight Talk show with Andrew Phung and Gavin Williams.

I wasn't sure how the marathon was going to work, expecting all the improvisers to come and go at various points during the 30 hour period to get some rest between performances, tech work (lights, scene-ography), and front-of-house tasks (box office, bar, usher). But a dedicated if not insane quintet of company members made a pact to work the whole 30 hour marathon - non-stop. This group of hardy souls are pictured here, caught in a tableau performed during the Midnight Talk show. I managed to get an interview with Gavin before I left, to be edited and published in the near future.

There's still time to catch this madness, as the performances continue all day Saturday until the finale around midnight.

P.S.: Yes........ I am up at 8am blogging about this. Yes.......... I am insane.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two movies in one

I just love these movie poster mash-ups, where they take two movies and blend them together in a newfangled movie poster.

Well done.

Turning a frown into a smile could be a cure

There's so much we have yet to learn about the relationship between mind and body - specifically, the ability of self-healing. Only recently have some doctors come forward to admit that they habitually treat some patients with placebos in certain circumstances, with positive results. So there seems to be at least some evidence that people can get well on their own in many situations - they just have to believe that there is some force helping the body heal.

I would like to take the discussion one step further. I have a belief that positive and negative emotion can manifest in the physical realm. I have not yet found such a study, but I am willing to wager that if unbiased medical researchers were to study the potential link between emotional state of mind and the body's capacity for healing and disease / ailment worsening, they would find that negative emotional states are like fertilizer for what ails us. Conversely, positive emotional states, both in our selves and in the friends and relatives that are close to us, have an impact on our ability to get better. I think this would be a significant thing to study for cancer patients alone.

Even if you aren't quite sure whether this concept is real, I believe you owe it to the people you care about to surround them with positive emotion and remove all possible types of negative emotion and thought. I think many people would be surprised to discover how effective this approach to the healing process can be. Let's face it, even if you don't believe in any of this stuff, focusing on the positive can't hurt.

That's my feel good thought for the day.

Will the online version be free someday?

Did you know that the Oxford English Dictionary is still printed?

* 20-volume print edition: $995
* Compact edition (with magnifying glass): $399
* CD-ROM edition: $295
* Annual subscription for online version: $295
* Monthly access to online version: $29.95

You have to admit, no online dictionary can touch the details that come with each entry in the Oxford dictionary. Not yet.

Found at J-Walk blog.

Do as I say....

When artists decide to take a stand on the side of anti-piracy, they should be sure that they aren't unwittingly demonstrating the case for the other side of the argument.


Cory Doctorow weighs in with a few extra points.

Camera hunt (London edition)

I love browsing my Facebook friends' photo albums to see the lovely places they've gone to on vacation. One of the more recent albums I've looked through was of a friend's trip to the UK, with a stop in London.

Then it occurred to me - an idea for a new game. Any time you have an opportunity to look at someone's pictures of London, try to find a camera in every picture. And I don't mean someone's personal film or digital camera, I mean a security camera (traffic cameras count in my version of the game). I'm willing to venture that you will have a tough time finding any pictures that don't
have a security camera somewhere in the frame, unless the shot is a long focus of a distant landmark.

Try it out. Let me know how you did.

It's a marathon of laughter

[Update - This is a repost to remind everyone hungry for some witty entertainment, even in the wee hours of Saturday morning, to come out and support this fun marathon. Trouble sleeping Friday night? You know where to go.....]

The Loose Moose Improv Theatre Company is putting on a 30 hour improvisation marathon. That's not a typo - 30 hours of improv greatness. It starts at 6pm Friday September 25th and ends around midnight Saturday September 26th.

Each hour of the marathon will consist of 50 minutes of performance followed by a 10 minute break. Over the 30 hours, a wide range of improvisation formats will be utilized, including some that are well known to Moose audiences, such as Theatresports, Gorilla Theatre, and Micetro Impro; as well as unique formats created specifically for this 30 hour challenge such as The Breakfast Show (for the early risers) and Bowchikabow (for the late night crowd).

So whether you want to stay as long as you can or you just want to stop in randomly in the middle of the night, you will receive priceless entertainment at a very reasonable cost.

Friday 6-8pm: $10 / $8 students
Friday 8-10pm: $12 / $10 students
Friday 10-12am: $10 / $8 students
Saturday 12am-12noon: $10
Saturday 12noon-6pm: $8
Saturday 6-8pm: $10 / $8 students
Saturday 8pm-12am: $14 / $12 students

All 30 hours: $30
Friday 10pm onward: $25
Saturday 12noon onward: $20

Watch the Loose Moose web site for a full schedule which is now published. I will likely be dropping in late Friday for as long as I can stay awake and will be working Saturday night 6-9pm. Hope to see you there........

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What is it - edition 10

Time for another edition of 'what is it?'.

I'll let a few people give it a go before any hints are given.

[Update] Any takers before I call it? Royce almost had it before she gave up....... (that should do it)

Finding TED talks the easy way

I've mentioned the TED talks before - briefly, TED is a conference held in various places around the world where the best minds come to showcase leading edge ideas to attendees. Luckily, most of these presentations are recorded so that anyone on the internet can watch them later, but the TED site doesn't exactly organize the videos extremely well.

Luckily, we have people who give of their time to sort through the collection and produce spreadsheets like this one, where all the talks available are sorted in order of date published, so that you may watch them in order. Or you can sort them by conference or by name of presenter. I look to TED as the world's greatest classroom, often daring to watch videos on topics I'm not normally interested in and coming away with a profound feeling of respect and awe. The best part is that all of this is knowledge is free and I think this perfectly sums up what makes the internet so freaking fantastic.

Parents: Want your kids to learn about the world from the people doing the most to make things happen? Get them to watch some TED presentations with you. Because now more than ever, the people best equipped to change the world are those who arm themselves with the latest information. And now much of that information is being released to the world for free.

Isn't that grand?

Using music videos as inspiration for an ad

Here's a neat commercial that is based on the original video for Minilogue's Hitchhiker's Choice.

The concept is the same, just the video's content is different.

Clowns in space!

The billionaire founder of Cirque Du Soleil from Quebec will be one of the newest space tourists to the ISS in orbit. He plans to bring clown noses to help keep things light.

Host a party! To celebrate the launch of Windows 7!

Maybe you've heard - Microsoft will be releasing a new version of Windows soon. Windows 7 is going to be less of a change than XP was to Vista, but will likely fix a lot of what's wrong with Vista performance-wise, while introducing some new features.

Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, have decided the best way to help roll out their new product is to encourage people to host a Windows 7 launch house party with demos of Windows 7 features and such. Here's a group of actors pretending to discuss how awesome that would be.

Who comes up with these brilliant ideas anyway? If I were to host such a party, I'd be surprised if anyone showed up. I'd have to lie and just say I was having a BBQ. But as soon as the guests realized what was going on, they'd probably leave and vow never to come back again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why do we drive on a particular side?

Why do we drive on the [insert side of road driven on in your country]?

Why do countries drive on the lef or right side of the road? If you care, there's a decent article here. As you will see, not all of Canada always drove on the right side.

Bonus road trivia: According to year 2000 figures, the UK has more kilometres of paved highway (371,603km) than Canada (318,371km).

The apparent solution to better coffee - no heat

I am suddenly intrigued by a coffee (and tea) brew method that I just came across called cold brewing. The concept is simple - you essentially add cold water to course grinds (or loose leaf in the case of tea) and let it cold brew on the counter for 12-24 hours, depending on the specific system used and the desired strength. Once the brew process is over, the resulting concentrate is filtered and stored and is added to hot (or cold) water using a roughly 1:4 ratio to create the perfect cup o' joe (or tea). The concentrate can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The reason given for cold brewing (aside from not needing any power) is that it supposedly makes coffee with no bitterness at all and 70% less acidic, making it stomach-friendly. This means no heartburn.

One of the more practical cold brew systems I've seen online is this Hourglass model, which has all the parts you need to make coffee or tea with no heat and 12 hours to spare.

Has anyone had any experience with this process?

Using the force at Tesco

The founder of the Jedi religion was asked to leave a Tesco convenience store in the UK for not following the store policy of removing the hood while in the store. Understandable - store security cameras can't identify you if you have a hood on.

Tesco's response was rather tongu-in-cheek: "Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood. If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."

Sometimes, only consumers can make sense of it all

John Hargrave gets the Wonder Bread CSR (Interstate Bakery) and the Oscar Meyer CSR (Kraft) on a conference call to try and solve the mismatch in numbers between hot dog packs (10) and hot dog bun packs (8) in the US.

It's being done more as a prank call, but what a great idea.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I heart trains part deux

I was sitting in our home and I could hear the freight train horn and the sound of the diesel locomotives a few hundred metres away echoing along the Bow River valley. I was mentioning to Darlene that I love the sound of the train - it reminds me of my childhood home. I've already mentioned my love of trains. As I blogged in the other post, the town I grew up in was defined by the train service that ended in Deux Montagnes, but there was more to it than that.

The train line not only carried commuter trains, but freight as well. The tracks split our town basically right down the middle, then headed north into farmland. So needless to say, we could always hear the sound of the locomotive horn through most of the town. But there was a side spur that went off to the west almost as far as Oka. I recall walking that line heading west a lot. It wound through forest, past suburban back yards and on to a true vacation spot in Pointe Calumet. Walking this line was the quickest way to get to the beach at 'the Pointe' on foot (9km or 5.5 miles), although walking the train tracks isn't exactly efficient. Yet that's what I did - a lot. That west spur was eventually closed and converted and expanded into a paved bicycle and walking path, which is much easier to walk now.

While there wasn't much to explore north of town on the main line, head south and you crossed the Mille Iles River into Laval Ouest and onwards toward the city of Montreal. Although crossing this train bridge on foot was illegal, many kids did it anyway because it was the shortest path across to the island of Laval. The next nearest bridge was a good 3 km further down the river and made you go very far out of your way. Crossing the train bridge was risky, because although you could predict the regular commuter train times (like any young kid would even bother checking), the freight trains were less predictable. So there were many tales of kids who got caught on that 300 metre (1000ft) span, having to drop down below the ties to escape being hit by the train. Or they had to try to get to the mid-span island (more on that in a minute). Ever tried running on tracks? You don't want to slip and fall when the river rages 100 feet below you. Adding to the fun and mystique of this bridge, about two thirds of the way across from our side there was a tiny island you could visit. Right next to that island was a much bigger island in the middle of the river which could be reached by walking across when the river was shallow, which was pretty much all summer. That island was the site for countless parties and other gatherings. I found myself on one or the other of those wooded islands quite often in the summer, as it was a great place to be alone with your thoughts (so long as no other kids had the same idea), or be one with nature and enjoy the cool river breeze in the heat of summer. I may have smoked my first cigarette there. It's not like anyone would see you.

Now (as seen in the picture) you can cross without the risk thanks to a control dam that was built across the river right beside the bridge which has a pedestrian crossing built in. I'm guessing the bigger island isn't hosting as many parties anymore with the police having much easier access courtesy of the dam.

More wine tips

Another short video by Kathryn Borel Jr., explaining why you're supposed to taste the wine at a restaurant.

"A man will never be as good as a Cadbury chocolate"

Hilarious video of a man who almost measures up to the value of chocolate on a date.


From Argentina I believe....


Oh....... if only a commute from work was this much fun.....

A clever ad for Barclay's in the UK

100 web sites for kids

The title says it all. 100 web sites for kids.

For my readers with children / grandchildren. Or who just want to be a kid for a while.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eclectic building design

If you are as big into architecture as I am, you'll love this collection of unusual buildings from around the world.

There's actually 2 parts, so when you get to number 84, click the continue button, as there are more to view.

Notable is that 3 are from Montreal.

First gadgets

A trip down memory lane with a visit back to look at the first of each kind of gadget. Pictured is the first portable computer, the forerunner to the laptop. I remember my first portable computer in the military. It was quite similar to the pictured (slightly bigger screen though) and it made me laugh. Check out the floppy disk drives. Ahhhh, the good ol' days......

Bring a knife to a champagne party

In case you ever wondered how to sabre open a bottle of champagne.

Surreal GPS

Cute video about a guy whose GPS experience becomes a little surreal.

Folding music on itself

Get ready to have your musical mind blown by this Moebius-ifying of a Bach work, the Crab Canon. And by Moebius-ifying, I mean taking the music and playing it from end to beginning at the same time it is also playing normally.

Makes me wonder how many modern tunes benefit from this same treatment. I'm sure someone will develop a program that instantly lets you find out......

Sunday, September 20, 2009

By request

Who said I'm not willing to embarrass myself on the internet?


There ya go Jim..... my grad picture from 1978.

I had no idea this was even going on

Did you know that the RIAA go into American schools where they lobby for curriculum to include biased lessons on copyright law? I say biased because they only try to instill that 'songlifting' is as bad as shoplifting and there is no mention whatsoever of the important rights of fair use. Not surprising, as Big E doesn't really believe in fair use at all. Now, the RIAA even ask kids in school to go to the media to talk about the RIAA copyright projects they're working on. So now the kids are being employed as unpaid RIAA PR people. Nice work.

Parents - you want something worth keeping your kids home for the day so they don't get 'brainwashed'...... ? I'd say this is it.

Luckily, there is a much more balanced place to learn about copyright law.

Here we go again

It seems that even the UK is opting to try a 3-strikes law of their own. The entertainment cartel's power seems to know no bounds. Which country is next?

This is why politicians and technology don't mix

Remember the 3-strikes HADOPI law that France tried to pass back in the spring? The one that was defeated due to it being unconstitutional? Well, the French government didn't give up. They passed a slightly altered version of the law that would go easy on children caught downloading copyrighted material and stipulates that internet users with a Wi-Fi connection must prevent unauthorized users from accessing it.

OK, first of all, you cannot without reasonable doubt tie an IP address to a person or even a physical address because it is easy to spoof internet protocols. Of course, the entertainment industry know this, so they've succeeded in fooling yet another government that 'proof' isn't needed to prosecute someone for illegal file sharing.

Second, how does a court prove who in a household did the downloading? "Oh! That must have been my 5 year old. He doesn't know any better. Are you going to charge my 5 year old?" Yeah, that's going to work out just fine.

Third, the stipulation that internet users with a Wi-Fi connection must properly secure them is foolhardy. Anyone who knows anything about wi-fi security will tell you that a determined hacker will penetrate a wi-fi network even with the latest in (consumer grade) protection measures enabled. Worse, most home wi-fi users have no clue about the security status of their network let alone if any unauthorized access is taking place.

So I have a message to the governments of the world. You are engaged in the kind of game that is akin to a con artist trying to convince a financial neophyte that investing in a pyramid scheme is a sure thing. Politicians don't truly understand technology, yet they feel quite entitled to define technology law, with only the assistance of the most selfish and greediest of lobbies.

I hope the citizens of these countries wake up.

I believe we evolved from morons

According to a Gallup poll taken earlier this year, only 39% of Americans say they believe in the theory of evolution, while 25% say they do not believe in the theory, and 36% don't have an opinion either way.

If we separate Americans into certain demographics, a definite trend emerges.

Bible quote

I was wondering how long it would be before someone started using the bible against those who often use the bible to justify their own stance.

Yes, I know. Not everyone agrees with one view or the other. That's perfectly understandable and I don't offer any judgment toward either side. But if you're going to quote scripture, expect it to eventually get quoted back.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Always fresh samples.... always

OK, so we discovered IKEA in Beijing. How about WalMart?

Oh yes, they have WalMarts and from the sounds of it, they are so much better than North American ones.

A photo slideshow here. A short article about them here.