Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kids got some sticks

Holy crap this kid can play the drums. 7 and a half minutes of stick hitting stuff. Owning it. Making the drums his bitch.

We have a contender.

Blow me for the time

It sounds nastier than it is. A solar watch that only uses the solar energy to power the time circuitry - it gets its power for the display from blowing on the red vanes circling the perimeter of the watch face. The idea is simple - why waste valuable energy displaying the time when we're not looking?

Very cool. No pun intended.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

White Noise blog is 7!

It just occurs to me that today is the 7th anniversary of this blog.

I think the whale became ecstatic

An incredible video of people trying to free a young whale from a net and the whale's reaction when they succeeded.

Pet people power-trip peeves the Plesz

I don't own a dog, so what I'm about to post may inspire correction or explanation from actual dog owners.

Darlene and I were enjoying a nice breakfast at a local diner that has an outdoor patio. Another family who were also enjoying the patio had decided to bring their small dog along. They tied its leash up to the patio fence and were fastidiously trying to keep the dog on the other side of the fence. The dog wanted no part of it. The dog kept trying to get closer to the family, but the family kept putting the dog back on the other side of the fence. Worse, the family was trying to persuade the dog to stay in one fixed place, really no bigger than the length of the dog itself. They at least had the decency to place it in a spot that was shaded from the sun, but of course a dog being a dog, it wanted to roam at least the distance allowed by the length of its leash. The owners would have none of this and kept pushing the poor animal away, back to its temporary prison.

This really pissed me off. It's a god-damned animal. Animals were not born to sit in a small circle while their owners live it up. The dog would have probably appreciated it more to be left at home, but no. Let's bring it along and force it to do our bidding. When other people gazed upon what was going on (the dog not cooperating and the owners being stern with it), the owners, realizing that perhaps some folks didn't understand what the deal was, explained that 'the dog needs to learn'. I wasn't aware that dogs understand English to the point of comprehending that "You have to stay right there. Don't move from that spot." means "We don't want you to be a dog right now, we would rather you pretended to be an inanimate statue."

Did I mention that it made me upset?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tablets - the new computer for people who can't figure out computers

I started using the iPad not long after it was released. I’ve had a chance to play with it for a while and have come to a conclusion. If you’re a techno-geek then you’re probably going to focus on a small tablet's limitations. No Flash? Anyone? No USB? Wha..?

So from now on, look at it this way - small tablets are best suited for people who can't figure out computers. I refer to people who are scared, intimidated, or simply averse to using computers. For these people, small tablets like the iPad are a good choice. The GUI is simple, the user experience is uncomplicated and there's not much to cause confusion. Nor is there much to go wrong.

Tablets like the iPad are also perfect for kids. Since kids naturally touch, they can learn the multi-touch interface fast, intuitively. My 3 year old grand-daughter needed little prodding to figure it out. She's swiping like a pro.

If you are a person that makes use of all that a full blown PC or Mac offers, then you might be impressed with the design of a small tablet, but be frustrated that it can’t do a lot of the things you’re used to doing with a full featured computer. With no USB connection, you're stuck getting files on and off the thing either through the custom cable connection or via email [out of the box].

I have tried on many occasions to use my iPad in place of a laptop and it does an adequate job in most cases, but there are limitations. The small tablet may someday become a replacement for a laptop, but we're not quite there yet. This relegates a tablet to a companion device. It may also become the go-to device for the ultimate in portability. Let's face it, an iPad is much lighter than a standard laptop. But there are some who will argue that if it's lightness you're after - buy a Macbook Air. I would totally agree - if it had a touch screen and was cheaper. Netbooks? Don't even get me started. I think these things were a transitional device that were more or less rendered obsolete by small tablets. Under-powered, horrible battery life... everyone I know that has both an iPad and a netbook - the netbook is accumulating dust somewhere on the back corner of a crowded desk.

My experience with my iPad on vacation as an internet terminal has been mostly amazing (except for the missing Flash - do you hear me Steve Jobs?). But I've truly lost count of the number of times I've had dealings with clients and friends who just can't get their head around the typical day to day issues of using a computer and I started to imagine how much simpler their experiences would be if they owned a small tablet, let alone how much freer they would be to roam around their home (or the world) with this device. A tablet isn't just a toy - although it can be if that's what you're looking for. A tablet can be a remote control - for many types of devices and systems - even your desktop computer. It's a portable internet terminal. It's a digital photo frame. It's a game platform. It's a reader. It's a giant GPS-enabled map. It's easier to read than the screen of a smart phone, and for guys like me with not-so-perfect eyesight, that's a bonus.

There are situations where tablets can be useful in the business world as well.

Field workers - For people not at a desk all day, who need to go on site and meet with clients, show them photos or illustrations, and get them to sign documents, the tablet makes perfect sense.

Single-purpose tasks - Tablets are great for doing single tasks like presenting photos, as a document viewer for large documents, a survey tool for people to fill out forms, and so on.

The meeting hub - For people who are in meetings all day, a tablet can be an ideal computer to quickly access email, calendar, address book, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can take notes. You can show off charts. There’s also something more social about having a tablet sitting flat on a table and tapping a few notes on it than putting a laptop screen between you and other people.

Inexpensive kiosks - Tablets can be used as a low-cost kiosk. The iPad already has a number of apps for this. You can set up a video or presentation on a loop, or create something more interactive. A business could even build its own app and run it on the tablet.

'The Squatch'

This is the bestest, most funniest painting I've seen in a long time. Robert Brandenburg takes thrift store paintings and adds something special to them to add a little character, a little sass. This innocuous winter forest setting is perfect for a distant, out-of-focus Sasquatch.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hyper-miling in my '09 HCH

Recently, I've learned more about hyper-miling in my Civic Hybrid. This isn't something you learn in driving school. Or from the Civic manual. Luckily, there are people out there who take the time to discover what their cars can and cannot do, exploit it to the limit and post their findings online.

Unlike some hybrid cars that have a dedicated EV mode, where nothing but the electric motor is driving the car until the battery runs down, series hybrids like the Civic can't do this. But it has been a known fact that the Civic hybrid does have the capability to run only on electricity when the conditions are right. Honda just doesn't bother to tell you how to do it, or how you would even know you're doing it. It's not like there's a light on the dash that comes on when you're in fully electric mode.

It all has to do with the state of charge (SoC) meter to the left of the tachometer and the multi-function display that shows coolant temperature or mileage to the left of the speedometer. In this case, you want the display selected to show mileage, not coolant temperature.

Now as I said before, Honda doesn't quite explain this to you in full but when you step on the gas, how far you press and with how much aggression, completely affects what happens next. The more 'gas' you summon, you could get a combination of more engine revs coupled with assist from the electric motor. But if you ask for more gas less aggressively, you might get more engine RPM but without any electric boost. So the key is to have a much more sensitive foot. It's kind of like having turbo. You only get it when you need it.

When you ease off the gas, again, it all boils down to how quickly you let off. A sudden, complete removal of your foot causes the engine to slow down, then shut off and the energy from your speed is recouped into electricity. Now a lot of people are fooled into thinking that while they are coasting that the engine is still running, because the tachometer still registers at about 1000-1100RPM, but in fact the fuel system has been completely shut down. The only way you would know that is by observing the l/100km gauge to the left of the speedometer. If that sucker is registering nothing (as in 0 litres per 100km), it means there is no gas being used - the engine may be turning, but it's essentially off. To prevent this from creating engine drag, Honda does a few tricks with the valves etc. So, as you quickly let off the gas pedal, you go from using gas and possibly electricity, to the engine being off while recharging the battery with no real transition. But if you very gently ease off the gas pedal, something wonderful happens. First, the amount of electricity used falls off to nothing (using the turbo analogy - the turbo shuts off). Then the amount of gas used drops off. Keep letting your foot off the pedal and you use no gas (the engine shuts off), but you don't go so far as to engage the recharge feature just yet. Now you're coasting. No energy output, no energy capture.

Why would you want to coast? To maintain speed as long as possible while using no fuel. You're now taking advantage of the Civic's great aerodynamics and the low rolling resistance tires to coast farther. If you ease off the pedal some more, the gauge shows you starting to recapture energy by recharging the battery. The more you let off the pedal, the more you recapture, depending on the amount of inertia you have working in your favour. Downhill, you collect a lot more energy than on an even road. Going up hill - forget it, you're not recapturing anything, you're just trying to keep the car moving.

If you press the brake pedal, you now use the electric motor as a far more aggressive generator and the meter shows even more energy re-capture. But if you stopped easing off the gas pedal just as you reached perfect coasting condition and then ever so gently press back down on the gas pedal, you will turn into an electric car. You are now driving on pure electricity - no gas. You can tell because the IMA gauge is showing a boost, but the mileage gauge is still showing 0l/100km. On a flat stretch, it's not quite enough to maintain speed, but your coasting will last 2-3 times as long as without any help. If your going slightly downhill, you can actually pick up a bit of speed using no gas at all.

This all may seem like a lot of work, but if you keep your eye on the mileage gauge to see how much gas you're using (if any at all), you can increase your mileage in a big way. I average 5.3l/100km now (44mpg). With a lighter foot and an eye on the gauges, I could get that down to 4 (60mpg). I've even heard stories of short trips that resulted in as little as 2-3l/100km (80-100mpg).

A river runs through it

Pervious concrete. It allows water to go through it. Imagine roads that don't need storm drains because the rain goes right through into the ground. Driveways, parking lots...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Virtual grocery shopping - I like it

Something I never quite understood why it shouldn't catch on is the concept of online grocery shopping with scheduled delivery. Aside from produce and other fresh food, where personal selection is usually preferred, I see no reason why people should have to drive to the store to pick out standard grocery items, stand in line to pay and get it home while we could be doing much more important things.

In South Korea, this idea took off quickly and you can now grocery shop while waiting for the subway by looking at products on a wall-length billboard with photo-realistic images of essential supermarket supplies. You order what you want by snapping pictures of the QR code representing the item. Tesco delivers your order to your door at a time of your choosing.

Non-partisan well wishes please

In the comments of the news story today that NDP leader Jack Layton is stepping aside to battle yet another round of cancer, I rolled my eyes while reading remarks like this: "I'm not a supporter of the NDP, but I wish Jack a speedy recovery." Seriously, was the first part of that sentence even necessary? Does anyone really care if you're not an NDP supporter in this context? It's as if they're embarrassed to be wishing someone well whose political agenda they don't agree with. I think the country will excuse your Conservative-ness or Liberal-ness while you put your partisanship aside to wish the guy well. Holy crap people.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My thoughts on our dependence on fossil fuels

Moving to an economy not based on fossil fuels is a challenge. The Liberals tried to steer us in that direction by introducing a carbon tax, but of course that went nowhere. It's like saying to an alcoholic, "You can keep drinking, but now you have to pay us a fee every time you have a drink. The bigger the drink, the bigger the fee." But is a carbon tax the reasonable choice? I suggest that it is, but we don't have the stomach for it or a lot of political will to make it happen - too risky.

The problem is that our economy is so dependent on fossil fuel that the biggest players fear what a carbon tax would do. Let's face it, we depend on fossil fuel and its derivatives for so much. Fuel for our vehicles, heating our homes and businesses, industrial applications, plastics, the list goes on. Worse, much of what we consume depends on fuel to get from the source of the raw material to the production facility and on to our stores. Then to our homes.

The thing about a non-renewable resource is that it is an independent economic machine in its own right. As the availability of a resource gets to the point where it cannot meet the demand for that resource, its value increases. But the industries that are part of the supply of this resource not only charge more money for the resource, they also generate more taxes. So not only does industry benefit when the price goes up, but there is a domino effect that ripples through the economy. The only ones who suffer are the consumers, but when there are few alternatives to heating, energy production, plastics, energy to propel our vehicles, there's not much that can be done.

As time goes on, fossil fuel will become more precious, driving up all costs associated with the use of that fuel. This is great for anyone with stocks (or jobs) in the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, the profits made on the backs of fossil fuel dependence are not being used to pave the way for the inevitable alternatives we will need to seek, develop and perfect before fossil fuel becomes so expensive as to negatively impact on the economy and the standard of living. So in principle, what the Liberals tried to do by introducing a carbon tax was the wise approach. The more you use fossil fuel, the more you pay, while research and development into the alternative energy sources are funded by the extra tax. Why should the alternatives be funded? To speed their development in order to make alternatives viable and affordable in time for the necessary switch to other sources of energy and raw material for things like plastics. The carbon tax not only makes it more expensive to continue relying on fossil fuels, it makes it cheaper to use alternatives. Here's an analogy: If junk food were 5 times as expensive (due to a junk food tax) as it is now, people would be more likely to buy things like fruit for snacks. Plus, the extra money derived from the junk food tax could be used to help society switch to healthier foods.

Canadians (or at least - Conservative Canadians) seem to have adopted the stance that a carbon tax is an attack on the fossil fuel industry. They're not entirely wrong - it is. But if the industry were using its profits to ease the transition to an alternative energy economy now, a carbon tax wouldn't be necessary. The fossil fuel industry and all of its allies seem to have blinders on, spending money only on future exploration, extraction, processing and delivery of fuel, while ignoring the need to prepare for the day when the cost will make this fuel too expensive for the average consumer, never mind the fact that there won't be enough to go around.

Some countries have the right idea, having implemented a carbon tax anywhere from last year to decades ago. This money can be used to invest in the energy sources of tomorrow, so that when we have to start switching, the cost should be reasonable and potentially less than what we pay now. Simple economics says that a renewable source of energy should cost less considering that it won't run out. We just need to motivate ourselves to begin the transition now.

How do we do that? By weaning ourselves off of the oily teat by adopting new lifestyles, new behaviours and new technologies. In North America, we construct what must be the most energy-inefficient homes in the world. Even in countries that have a winter similar to ours, advanced home construction renders new homes so well insulated that they can be heated with one small space heater. These homes also stay cooler in the summer. Our cities are all planned around cars. Not only do we go out of our way to accommodate cars over every other mode of transportation, we spend billions trying to keep these infrastructures repaired - no easy task. Our entitlement attitude toward the car is so ingrained in North American society that people actively protest when bicycle infrastructure is planned that would interfere with vehicular traffic. The general attitude is that transit is for poor people, engine idling is a right, speed limits are for wimps, and cyclists are militant hippies with a Jehovah's Witness-like conversion mentality. I'm actually surprised that there aren't discussions over the viability of sidewalks. "Down with sidewalks! We need more car lanes!"

Planning priority needs to switch to mass transit based infrastructure. Our Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it best when he stated that transit shouldn't be the last resort, it should be the preferred option by the general public. The only way we can beat our dependence on fossil fuel is to tilt the scales in favour of the alternatives. The ring road around Calgary should have opened with a car pool / HOV lane already built into it. Deerfoot Trail should have an HOV lane, even if it means widening the road. Bus routes need revamping to make it easier and faster to get from any point A to any point B in the city, not just from the outskirts to downtown. We need to stop talking about modernizing mass transit and get it done today. We need high speed mass transportation - on the ground. We need to build neighbourhoods that allow for bicycle freeways, the sharing of cars, the sharing of the production of hot water and electricity. We need to revisit the idea of locally produced food, even food grown in our own front and back yards. Locally produced food is expensive to buy not because it is more expensive to grow, but because there isn't enough of it. Besides, the way fuel costs keep rising, the cost of importing food will soon outpace the cost of growing it in small batches near our homes. We could even grow tropical produce if we built heated greenhouses using waste energy from local power plants and situated them near to the power plant.

We need to start building more wind farms in windy areas, develop new wind harnessing technologies that are less harmful to wildlife, more appealing to the eye and have the ability to store energy for times of peak usage. We need to develop and harness existing methods of storing energy to make wind power more viable. Places in Europe have already done this, which is why they are able to use wind to power more of the grid than we can.

There are countless deserts that could supply the world with solar energy and if we can fins a way to capture the sun's raw energy outside of our atmosphere and get it down to the ground, we won't even be having this conversation anymore. The supply of energy available outside of our atmosphere is unfathomable.

So the next time you fill up, think about what your life would be like once the price of gas reaches $3 per litre and it costs $400 to fill up that truck. Or an orange is worth $5 in the grocery store because of how much it cost to get shipped to your city. Or your winter natural gas bill reaches $300 for one month. Or your electricity bill is $300 per month because in your location, the local plants burn natural gas. Or the price of milk doubles because the plastic container is much more expensive to make due to the cost of oil. Wouldn't you rather have other alternatives to fossil fuels already available to switch to at this point? At the pace we're going, I'm not convinced we will have them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Demand euphoria!

You're not having a bad streak...'re just focusing on the bad.

It’s not unmanageable when we get one unexpected problem, but for some people, bad things seem to come in bunches. The belief that good and bad luck runs in streaks is common. There may be some good reasons why apparent streaks happen. Causation in the real world is complex. The factors that cause one thing to go wrong may have a connection to other things that therefore also go off the rails. In other words, left unchecked, when one things goes bad, related things will go bad too. Sometimes we recognize these connections, but when we don't - that’s when the string of events is perceived as a bad streak.

A domino effect can occur when one thing goes wrong and directs our attention and focus away from unrelated but important matters and those important matters end up suffering as a result. Our emotional response to one bad situation makes us susceptible to more bad situations. We don’t think clearly when we’re upset. We start wondering what else can go wrong which puts us into a vicious cycle that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we choose to believe in streaks of luck, that compounds the problem.

Those that follow a metaphysical philosophy will tell you that it goes even deeper then that. If you subscribe to the concept that you create your own reality, then when you say you are on an unlucky streak, the universe provides you with additional evidence to support your theory. Even if you don't believe in any of that mumbo-jumbo, a focus on the negative reveals all of the bad things that are happening and the lens of negativity distorts them, making them bigger than they really are while obscuring the good things that might be happening at the same time.

What to do when you’re having one of those days? If you can, call it a day. A good night’s sleep solves many a problem. A new day’s perspective often comes with obvious answers. If you can’t call it a day, at least take a break. A walk outdoors works wonders.

If you’re dealing with an immediate situation, you have to deal with it now. Take a deep breath and reset your thinking. Think like Spock. Recognize your irrational emotional response and analyze the situation logically. Your inner intuition may be heard more clearly.

Then of course there's the valuable perspective shift of 'will this matter in 6 months?' If the answer is 'no', you're probably spending way too much time fretting about the situation. "This too, shall pass."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pick your vice

Imagine your household income dropped to a level where you could no longer afford cable / satellite TV, internet and cell phone together. You had to pick one and drop everything else.

Which would you pick to keep - and why?

Karl's wish for tax reform

I have an idea for a tax reform that I think would make a lot of people happy in Canada. What always struck me as odd is that even though income tax is always deducted at source (except for self-employed people, but that can be fixed), the government still expects you to tally up all the money you've made at the end of the year and you are in effect re-assessed as to how much tax you owe. I find this not only insulting, but highly inefficient. If I'm getting my tax deducted at source, what they deduct is what they should get - period. The problem is that the government spends too much time figuring out ways to tilt the scales in their favour, complicating things for everyone, them included. It shouldn't matter if you earned money from 3 different sources during the year. Whatever is calculated as the appropriate tax to deduct is at each source of income is all that you should ever owe. There should be no reason to file a tax return unless you earned money from a source where the tax was not deducted at the time you got paid. There should be no need to examine your tax situation until you get audited. Just keep your pay stubs and proof of other forms of income and let them sort it out as necessary.

The government might argue that this would earn them less tax revenue, but you simply adjust the tax rate to make the change revenue neutral. Simply put, a change like this would eliminate redundant government positions, or allow the government to audit more people - take your pick. Tax time would be a phenomenon only for those who did not deduct tax at source and there would be no money owing or rebates in the spring. If the company you work for didn't bother to deduct the right amount of tax for what they pay you, it should fall on them to explain why and be responsible for the shortfall.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things that impressed me about Vancouver

The characters. I saw some amazing people in some amazing outfits. I wish I had managed to snap a few pics, but they caught me completely by surprise and unprepared.

Transit. Now that Vancouver has 3 Sky-train lines, getting around was a breeze. No car, no taxi, no problem. With Google Maps, getting anywhere was simple to plan and execute on foot or by transit. We took the Sky Train from the airport to downtown and back as well.

Green. Holy humidity Batman! So much green. Vancouver's regular showers ensure that anything that can grow.... does. In spades. Flowers everywhere. Trees that seem to grow while you watch. Add to that a growing community garden culture right in the heart of downtown. People growing their own food, mere blocks from their homes. Impressive. Necessary.

Green vehicles. Living in a place where the mercury rarely dips below freezing means year-round transportation options impractical in other parts of Canada. Bicycles, mopeds, scooters, electric bikes, motorcycles, Smart cars and hybrids abound. I think two out of every three taxis were hybrid cars. Even the buses are electric to a large degree in the downtown core. Colour me impressed.

Speaking of bicycles, even though Vancouver streets are far from expansive, they have dedicated bike lanes. Everywhere. It was not uncommon to see lane configuration in downtown Vancouver that looked like this: HOV / bus lane; bike lane; car lane; centre line; car lane; HOV / bus lane. Sure, you could drive, but why?

Free wi-fi at the airport. It seems like a little thing, but it put a smile on my face.

Pork city!

Christopher Walken reads The 3 Little Pigs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

She just wants to make peas with the city

A woman in Michigan is facing the threat of jail time because instead of growing green grass, flowers and trees in her front yard like most other people, she planted a vegetable garden. The city planners' best excuse for why her garden wasn't 'suitable', is that in the dictionary, suitable means 'common'.

Not in any dictionary I have access to.....
(pictured - a random vegetable garden in a random yard)

Blog post #7777

That's a milestone. Unofficially, the number of posts has been much higher, as I do delete (to appease the copyright trolls) the 'song of the day' posts after 30 days. But officially, it's 7777. Does that qualify as prolific?

Things I've done with my iPad recently

Brought on vacation to keep (and edit) my itinerary.
Checked email.
Mapped transit route to different places.
Read children's story books to grand-daughter (actually it read them for us).
Raced a car around some tracks - steered with iPad.
Browsed the web sitting in a Starbucks looking for neat places to visit in Vancouver.
Blogged and checked Facebook while on the road.
Controlled my Sonos multi-room wireless sound system.
Ran programs and accessed files on my Windows desktop at home from the Mayor's office (using Team Viewer).

[pictured - some random girl - not Olivia]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In the doctor's office

Not only will I NOT turn off my cell phone, I'm taking pictures and texting while I'm in the examining room.

"Oh... Hi Doc. Oh nothing, I'm just.. HEY!! Watch where you stick that thing!"

Something weird going on at Quiznos

Sometimes I go for lunch at the Quiznos in Airdrie, near where I work. I don't know if what I'm about to describe is typical of all Quiznos, because I don't go there often, so your mileage may vary.

At the Quiznos in Airdrie, they've instituted some kind of musical torture where the music playing over the sound system is real, identifiable music by known artists, but the timbre of the music has been artificially altered, as if it was run through an Alvin and the Chipmunks filter. The tempo of the music is just right, it's only the timbre of the instruments and vocals that has been shifted one or two octaves higher than it should be.

I don't know why they're doing it. Maybe to appease the copyright gods. Maybe the people running the store have a defective mp3 player. Maybe these employees like listening to electronically altered music. I don't care what the reason is. STOP IT! As I was eating my Angus beef sub (what made them famous - according to the sign), I felt myself slowly going batshit insane, my brain instinctively telling me that what I was hearing was an abomination, a mutation, and it grated against every fibre of my being. Benny and the Jets played a-la Alvin and the gang is a guaranteed recipe for mayhem and disaster. I had to quickly finish my meal and get the hell out of the store before I felt the urge to grab a handful of jalapeno peppers and mash them into my face.

Maybe that's the point - irritate the hell out of the customers so that they don't loiter. It's an effective tool, but I can easily see someone on the brink being driven into an uncontrollable rage and terrorizing the store and everyone unfortunate enough to be in it at the time.


Monday, July 18, 2011

10 reasons why we hate FB

"See what happens when worlds collide!?"

New logo trial #2 - the exploding logo

So, yesterday I posted what could be described as the vibrating logo. Today an alternate one. Thoughts? Anyone?

Managing Facebook friends

Some people measure their Facebook experience by how many friends they have. I measure my experience based on how many people engage me in semi-regular conversation, even if it's indirect conversation (friend to another friend - also known as eavesdropping).

There seems to be a bit of a social stigma associated with adding and removing friends on Facebook, to the point where some people don't know how to say 'no' to a friend request (is that even possible?!), nor do they know how to de-friend someone. I joked online yesterday about someone de-friending me in broad daylight (as in - they announced publicly via a feed comment that they were 'FB friends - OFF'ing me due to something I had said which they found offensive), but the fact is I don't really care if I have been removed from your list of friends. It's your list. If I don't measure up anymore.... too bad for me. I might be disappointed, especially if I enjoyed your FB feed, but I won't take it personally. Let's not even call it de-friending. Let's call it what it really is - house cleaning.

Here is how I manage my own FB friends (not including family members - they are permanent list members). I go through my friends list every few months and ask these simple questions:

1. Has this person said anything to me on FB in the last couple of months?

2. Does this person update their FB status regularly, thereby updating their friends (and consequently - me) regularly?

3. Does this person keep their FB feed output relatively spam-free? In this case, I use the word 'spam' to describe anything related to the enrolment, milestones and invitations regarding other Facebook apps and games.

4. Is this person a member of one of my FB groups?

If the answer to at least one of these questions (preferably two) is 'Yes', then I keep them on the list. Otherwise I may elect to remove them. If you're not engaging me in semi-regular conversation, not commenting on anything I post, not updating your feed with news about your life, then what is the point of being your Facebook friend? I don't keep telephone numbers of people I never talk to on the phone in my contact list on my phone. Although some people take de-friending as a personal affront, I think this is a mistake. But sometimes, removing someone from the list is overkill. For starters, it is possible to keep FB friends around in case they want to message you or comment on something, but you want to simply remove their constant ramblings about their cats or how well they're doing in Farmville. This is easily accomplished by filtering your news feed. I'm joking of course, I love hearing about your cats. Farmville.............. not so much.

Keeping my news feed clean and relevant is the reason I ended up deleting all of my 'likes' from FB too. At a certain point, my feed got jammed up with junk about the music and authors and other interests that I liked. Not cool.

At the end of the day, I like my news feed to enlighten me with relevant news about people I engage with and there's no better way to achieve this than by trimming the friend list a little. I have even been known to remove people from the list only to add them again later - so removal is not necessarily permanent. But just because we added each other on FB at some point in the past doesn't mean we're FBBFF. All friendships, especially my online ones, are subject to re-evaluation. That may seem cold, but it's really just prioritization of time. Because once you get to my age, you have to try and wring out every ounce of value from every minute of every day. It's nothing personal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

New logo trial

How do you like my new blog logo? You know - up there at the top of the page. I'm trying out a new one.

Changing the world

Wikileaks may not be everybody's cup of tea, but they sure have stirred things up and maybe that's a good thing. This Mastercard ad parody is priceless.

Back from YVR

Try as I might, I was not entirely successful keeping the rain out of Vancouver while we were there. Thursday was a little rainy but it did improve as the day wore on. Friday was cloudy but the rain held back and Saturday was a wetfest. Hey - it could have rained the whole time and it did not.

We discovered a few new eateries. La Brasserie serves up quirky comfort food that's part Euro, part Canuck. I had the chicken and Darlene had the steak (pictured). We shared a Käsespätzle. It was accompanied with home-made mayo and ketchup. Home-made! The other place was Frenchie's Diner. Great smoked meat from a former Montrealer.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hotel nickel and dime game

When people book a holiday, they are looking for value. Hotel prices are high enough in an economy that is skating on thin ice, so when you compare hotels, you're hoping that you're comparing on a level playing field. I totally understand when hotels have to charge extra for parking and why some packages include a meal while others don't.

But for the same reason that you don't charge guests to use the pool, I believe that the days of charging hotel guests for Internet connectivity should be behind us. $15 per day. That's what the Hyatt wants for Internet access in your room. Starbucks, who have a store in the lobby of the Hyatt in Vancouver, gives their Internet away for free. So you would think that this would motivate the Hyatt to give their Internet away too. You would be wrong. Worse, guests rating this hotel on Trip Advisor have complained that when a guest connected with more than one device, they were charged for $15 per day - per device. The Hyatt reimbursed them, but blamed the error on the Internet provider. Even at other hotels that charge for Internet in the room (and there aren't many), to save money you could always get free Internet at the business centre attached to the lobby. Not at the Hyatt. They want $5 just to connect for a few minutes even in their business centre.

I think the Hyatt needs to remember that holiday consumers are fickle and have a long memory. They typically don't return when the bed is uncomfortable, or when the room is in poor shape, or in this case, when they feel they're being nickled and dimed for what should be an inclusive service.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Doing my husbandly duty...

... and taking Darlene out of town to recharge her batteries for a few days.

Does the picture give away where we're going? (Hint: It's just over an hour flight from here)

See you all soon.

Don't worry

Top 100 pics from Hubble

One of the reasons why I was hoping we'd have become a space-faring race by now, or at least made trips into orbit ubiquitous, is star gazing. The Hubble telescope has brought us some awe-inspiring pictures of space that could never be achieved here on Earth. If we could readily travel to orbit, we'd perhaps be able to witness spectacles like this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's zombie-riffic

For every zombie fanatic, the perfect gift - the zombie doorstop.

If it smells like an oligopoly....

The CRTC is hearing competing ideas about how independent internet service providers should be billed by the large internet service providers such as Bell. These hearings could affect what smaller ISPs end up charging their customers - who chose them in part because of the better value and higher bandwidth limits being offered.

Bell argues in favour of charging independent ISPs based on their customers’ total internet usage. A while back, Bell proposed a new usage-based fee structure that outraged small ISPs, along with internet advocates and savvy internet users. The structure used fixed caps on bandwidth and “overage” charges per user. Those against the new model argued that it would prevent independent ISPs from being able to provide competitive internet packages, which would lead to their demise, which would reduce choice in the marketplace. Bell not only doesn't see what the problem is, they actually insist that they think their customers are happy with what they pay for internet services.

Bell argues that usage-based billing is necessary to deal with internet congestion caused by heavy internet users. Critics don't believe network congestion is a major problem and suggest that if it is, the big providers should just invest more in their networks.

What I find interesting is that companies like Bell on the one hand complain that their network is congested, but then get into bed with content providers and offer TV services over their own networks.

If I can use a highway analogy, that would be like the owners of a highway system saying "The highways are too crowded, so if you're going to use them so much, you'll have to pay an extra toll." Meanwhile, friends of the owners of the highway system get to use them toll-free.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

P B & Jealousy

Dr Drowning..... in bass

So with all the hype surrounding Beats headphones by Dr Dre, I had to try them out. I chose the $400 Pro model. Well, now I know why they're called 'Beats'. Holy Spunkmeyer! You could say they're a little bass-y. In fact, way too much bass. It's artificially overpowered and completely muddies the sound.

I'll take my $99 Sony Studio Monitor DJ headphones any day.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Rant of the week - copyright (yes - again)

I have had it up to here with copyright. It's so broken now. And it pisses me off.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the purpose of copyright is: "To encourage a dynamic culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public." Do you believe that this has been accomplished? Do you know many artists (aside from the superstars) who 'lead a dignified economic existence'? Do you consider yourself as having 'widespread, affordable access to content'? The big entertainment lobby makes tens of billions of dollars per year, where does all that money go? To the artists? Not likely. So remind me again who copyright is protecting... really.

In the US, the terms of copyright are mythical. Copyrights associated with author's death are 'life + 70 years' or in the case of copyrights associated with publication date, '95 years from publication or 120 years from creation whichever is shorter'. Does this seem reasonable to you? How exactly does this encourage a dynamic culture?

The problem with copyright as it exists today is that we're now expected to believe that copying other peoples' work is bad. If you look at the history of created works of any type over time, you will find that each work is inspired by, is a derivative of, or pays homage to a previous work. This has always been the case (Soon I'll be posting links to a phenomenal set of videos that proves this point very nicely). But we've allowed the entertainment industry to consider acts of creation through inspiration and copying for the purpose of parody and reporting to become synonymous with stealing. Is it really stealing? At what point do you draw the line between inspiration and theft? In my mind, theft of creative work only exists when you are pretending to be the original artist and copying their work with no credit.

For example. If a Pink Floyd tribute band performs a live concert playing an entire classic Floyd album, some camps would have you believe that this is Intellectual Property (IP) theft. I don't think it is at all. The original band has made money selling the original recording. They have made money performing their original material in concert. They have made money selling paraphernalia. I look at it this way - if Pink Floyd were still performing today, tribute bands wouldn't be in as much demand. Tribute bands don't exist because they are thieves. They exist because people can't get enough of a good thing and the source of the good thing isn't meeting their needs. The Floyd could make millions if they kept performing - but they choose not to. It doesn't matter why. So if they wanted more money, they only have to create more works or go on the road and perform.

Copyright really became a hot topic in the music industry when artists started using music samples in their new works. The original artists who created the music that was sampled wanted their cut or didn't even want the samples used at all. Again, my argument is simple - nobody stopped you from making derivative works using your own stuff. If somebody else comes up with a great composition based on pieces of other works, those original authors should be proud. I'm convinced that the samples make the original works more valuable, not less. In the grand scheme of things, the original artists end up with more money as a result of the renewed interest in the source material. Sampling doesn't just occur in music either. Dig deep into any classic Disney story and you will find elements, characters and plot lines lifted from earlier works (from Disney and others) with no attribution whatsoever. But you don't hear anything about this for a number of reasons. One - many of the original artists are dead. Two, the thieves are financially powerful and have legal might.

Unfortunately, big entertainment would have you believe that copyright is essential and it's the artist that matters, blah blah blah. What they don't tell you is that while they're suing YouTube or sending baseless DMCA take-down notices to regular consumers of content for infringing on protected works, they're putting their own stuff on YouTube and stealing royalties from artists by creating unauthorized greatest hits albums, whose profits often go directly to the label and nobody else.

So as you can see, my underlying philosophy when it comes to copyright is that it has become too restrictive. It continues to be more and more about greed. Copyright only serves to stifle creativity, the kind that has permeated our culture since its beginning. When I see someone take a classic comic and turn it into something new, something fresh based on the original characters, the original work is not diminished in my mind. It is strengthened even more. It's not time to make copyright stricter. It's time to take the shackles off and let creators be inspired as never before.

Update on our grand-daughter

Things our 3 year old grand-daughter is doing:

Making up her own words for new songs from existing melodies.
Performing surgery on a model of the human body and putting the organs back in the right places.
Counting on an abacus.
Spelling her name on the computer keyboard.
Counting to 30.
Counting to 5 in Spanish.
Completing 24 piece puzzles.
Singing in French.
Trying to draw Bert.
She made her first batch of jello.
Flying a plane in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Not successfully, but hey - she's 3...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

What pirates are made of (pie(rate) chart)

Where's the panache? Where's the oomph?

Calgary Transit is coming up with a new electronic fare card system in the near future and they're holding a contest to pick a name for the card. I missed my opportunity to offer a potential name by this much [holds fingers really close together], but Calgary Transit have apparently picked the best potential names from 5000 submitted names and are allowing people to vote on them. The top 3 names are:

Connect... Range... and Energy.

[yawn] Seriously? [bigger yawn] I'm about to pass out from boredom. Come on! That was the best you guys could come up with from the 5000 submissions? There is absolutely nothing in there that can be identified with Calgary. Sometimes I wonder about the bureaucrats in this city.

So, what would I have suggested? Off the top of my head: Chinook Card; Coyote Card; Bow Card; CalTrans Card; Purple Card (in honour of our 'Purple Prince' who is striving to quickly modernize our transit system, Mayor Naheed Nenshi)......

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Music industry is the industry that cried wolf

A 2-part series at Techdirt that does a cheeky (but fairly accurate) job recalling the whole story of the industry that keeps crying wolf:

The Many Killers Of The Music Industry- The Analog Era
  • Bedroom Composers
  • The Player Piano
  • Records
  • 8-Track
  • Cassettes

The Many Killers Of The Music Industry- The Digital Era
  • Compact Discs
  • MiniDisc
  • MP3
  • The "Cloud"

The Picard proposal


Aye aye sir.....

Monday, July 04, 2011

How WWII really ended

Mousers needed

Unintended consequence of forcing house cats to be licensed: Fewer outdoor cats. Which has led to an explosion in the field mouse population in the Calgary area.

Where I work, there are 2 outdoor cats wandering the grounds of 3 of the company's buildings. I have yet to see a field mouse and we are surrounded by fields.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Some ideas only look good on paper

Another example that politicians may have their supporters' ideology in mind when they pass laws, but not reality.

Georgia's tough anti-illegal-immigrant law drove out a sizable fraction of the migrant labour pool and as a result, "millions of dollars' worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops [are] unharvested and rotting in the fields."

The jobs the migrants did paid so low that prisoners turned it down.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


My new band name.

(If I had a band)


Every song is a memory

When Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon came out, I was 12. I knew nothing about music, relatively speaking. What I did know, I knew from my dad. He listened to CJAD-AM radio in Montreal. CJAD played music from the 1950s and 1960s. My dad's music collection was all about big band, Tijuana brass and jazz trios, with a dose of pipe organ music thrown in for good measure. My peers would have been listening to CFOX - yes, that station was originally on-the-air in Montreal, and CHOM-FM, a rock station (now a classic rock station, that currently plays the same stuff it played 30-40 years ago).

I was out of tune with the new music of the day and just got glimpses of it through my friends and schoolmates. So the first time I heard the song Money by Pink Floyd, I was probably 13. The only reason I heard it (and I heard it often), is because a certain girl who lived a block away would play it on her family's stereo while her parents were out. Play it loud. I was hanging out with her younger brother at the time. So, because she liked the song so much, I grew to like it too. The song itself meant nothing to me - I didn't identify with its content, the album's meaning, the importance of the band - nothing - at least not yet.

Only later, when my own musical awakening began, did I discover Dark Side of the Moon for myself and realize what it meant, why it mattered, how it stood up as a ground-breaking piece of music. I'm not sure how much of an impact having previous exposure to Money made in my appreciation of the whole album later on in life, but I'm sure it did have a positive impact.

Friday, July 01, 2011

I O donuts

Yelp to the rescue again

On the advice of other Yelpers (, Darlene and I went to Okotoks for a little drive and tried out The Heartland Cafe on McRae Street, housed in an old converted church. I tried the Mac & Cheese and Darlene had the chicken clubhouse on foccacia bread. Yummy. The dessert menu was practically screaming at us to try something, so Darlene tried the carrot cake and I took a chance on the coconut cream pie, both home-made from scratch. I can honestly say it was the best coconut cream pie I've ever had and the carrot cake, while not up to Darlene's standard, was pretty darn good. I've heard breakfast is good there too so we'll have to try to get down there one of these mornings to see.

Thank you Yelp! We never would have known if it wasn't for you.